Going into this season, defense was Anaheim’s biggest question (18-year old Cam Fowler had surprisingly made the squad) and it was answered pretty emphatically. (2.84 GA/G was 20th worst). Going into next year, defense remains Anaheim’s biggest question (asides from Jonas Hiller‘s increasingly strange injury history – back spasms, fatigue, vertigo) but thankfully it’s to a much smaller extent. Francois Beauchemin is back and Luca Sbisa has arrived. Should Teemu Selanne elect to retire (I doubt it) the Ducks have a huge top-six void to fill but they’ll be quite fiscally responsible until 2014 when Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Lubomir Visnovsky become UFAs. Don’t expect much from the Ducks – they like what they have (as would I) and they have some good stuff in the pipeline (Emerson Etem, Mark Mitera, Peter Holland, and Igor Bobkov, the Russian backup who won the title game at the 2011 WJC in which Dave Cameron‘s Canadian squad notoriously blew a 3-0 lead.)
I think getting rid of Darryl Sutter was HUGE for the Flames. When family and business mix together the results are usually anything but smooth. Jay Feaster now takes over (no surprises there) the team he defeated for a Cup in 2004. I think Feaster’s going to be good although I can’t say I didn’t scratch my head when he gave Curtis Glencross a four-year contract with a no-movement clause. With 9 other roster players with some form of no-trade clause, it doesn’t give Feaster a heck of a lot of flexibility, which is unfortunately what Calgary needs most if they want to compete. It’s rather unfortunate that arguably their best player this year, Alex Tanguay, will be looking for a well-deserved raise that he won’t get with the Flames, who already struck out once by letting Mike Cammalleri walk. The Flames have the players to be a playoff team, the only question is whether or not they can perform. I’ll say this though: as long as Jay Bouwmeester is a Flame, they’ll never win. Too much money tied up in a second-/third-tier defenseman (yes, I would rather have “Neon” Dion Phaneuf). The Flames need just about everything: a first-line centre, fleet-footed defensemen, a backup goalie, and most importantly, prospects. Unfortunately, there’s just little of anything with value in that organization (no, Jarome Iginla isn’t going anywhere, unless he wants to).
Okay, now they have a goalie Joel Quenneville actually trusts in Corey Crawford, and he looks like a keeper. Unfortunately, thanks to Dale Tallon, this team’s cap structure is still a complete mess, mostly thanks to Brian Campbell. The Blackhawks won’t get equal value for Campbell – he’s overpaid and everyone knows it. It’s one of the only ways the team can keep the core intact but I imagine the Hawks would be reluctant to trade him because he was one of the better defensemen for them this year. Campbell value’s trending up, which makes it an optimal time to trade him, but not many teams want that ugly contract. The Hawks aren’t in a position to do much over the summer and I don’t imagine they will (had they beaten Vancouver, they would’ve gone deep as well). With still a bunch of good prospects in the system and no cap room, look for Stan Bowman to simply be patient and wait.
Where to begin? Saying the Erik Johnson trade totally screwed this team is a huge understatement as the Avs stumbled and fell to the bottom of the pile immediately following the trade. Nordique legend Peter Stastny ripped the management on air while Johnson and Chris Stewart took a few parting shots at their old GMs. When all those involved in the trade come off as irritated and bitter, you know that’s not a good thing. Stastny was right – the entire trade threw both teams off kilt. There’s been lots of rumblings that the organization is also really regretting the extension they gave Paul Stastny and if you look at the cap structure you can see why: He’s the only Avs regular signed beyond 2012 at a pretty hefty $6.6 million price tag. I had so much confidence in Sherman and Joe Sacco after what they pulled off last year (Craig Anderson was a coup, but also a fluke it seems) but that trade shattered it. If Tomas Vokoun does sign with the Avs, as rumoured, then he’s clearly going there for a paycheque. This team’s not even remotely close to being a contender and quite frankly, I don’t like what Sherman’s done so far at all.
As always with the Jackets, they’ve become stagnant once again. If Scott Howson does get Jeff Carter, that could be one of the biggest deals in franchise history. If Carter can regain his scoring touch and focus, the Jackets become playoff contenders again. But as you can clearly see, that’s about two if’s too many. Columbus’ top prospects may be talented, but most aren’t panning out, from Gilbert Brule to Nikita Filatov to Derick Brassard. Jakub Voracek was the only player to have really took leaps forward but he might be on his way to Philadelphia. The big piece the Jackets want to hurry is Ryan Johansen, who is probably going to make the team next year considering their lack of depth up front and could take some pressure off Antoine Vermette, who is sorely miscast as a first line player. What can’t the Jackets use? Steve Mason was shaky, the defense has no standout (Fedor Tyutin comes closest), and still no sidekick for Rick Nash. The jury’s still out on Howson but he’s dangerously close to being more Doug MacLean than not (in terms of accomplishments, anyway).
Brad Richards or no Brad Richards, this team wasn’t going to be winning a Cup anytime soon, so for an ownership situation that is anything but stable, you might as well save the $7 million or so you might give Richards for the next five years. As with most teams that have owners unwilling to spend money on an asset they’re ready to get rid of, Joe Nieuwendyk doesn’t have a lot of money to play around with, but it’s not like any of Dallas’ players are worth forking big cash over. Asides from re-signing Jamie Langenbrunner for sentimental reasons, there’s no reason to bring any of their UFAs back, except the problem with that is the Stars don’t really have anybody in the pipeline ready for a regular shift in the NHL. When Mike Ribeiro is your number one centre and Stephane Robidas is your best defenseman, you’re just not expected to win a lot of games. I thought the Trevor Daley extension was fair but a tad too long, but didn’t like the James Neal trade one bit. It’s Nieuwendyk’s first significant summer so we’ll wait and see.
Everyone’s high on Brendan Smith, the former Wisconsin Badger who averaged over a point per game as a defenseman in his junior year. I’ve never seen him play so I can’t pass judgement, but the general feeling is that Ken Holland might issue the 22-year old a ‘pass’ and inject him right into the lineup, an even more plausible notion with Brian Rafalski abruptly retiring and Nicklas Lidstrom‘s future TBD. But that’s great for Holland because now he has tons of money to play with to beef up their blueline, clearly their number one concern, through offer sheets and whatnot. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg aren’t getting any younger, so I expect the Red Wings to start moving their youngsters up the ladder, starting with Tomas Tatar and Cory Emmerton.
The youth movement continues and for Steve Tambellini, braving the storm will be his biggest challenge. The worst thing to do is to make rash decisions, so that means even thinking about high-demand UFAs or trading Ales Hemsky is a big no-no. I strongly believe the Oilers should take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a slight but natural centre to set up their high-scoring wingers. They missed out on a potential franchise centre last time (Tyler Seguin), opting for winger Taylor Hall, and they won’t be making the same decision this time. Since Nikolai Khabibulin is signed for another two years (good grief!), the smart thing to do is to shore up that atrocious blueline. And do something about Sheldon Souray, goddammit.
Dean Lombardi is in the same boat as Tambellini, in that both GMs will have to be patient with their players, except the Kings are about five years ahead of the Oilers, and that’s with the league’s best prospect, Brayden Schenn, still waiting in the wings. There’s lots of great, young, affordable talent already (Dustin Brown at $3.2 million, Jack Johnson at $4.4 million, and Jonathan Quick at $1.8 million) and more pieces coming in: Canada’s WJC captain Thomas Hickey and high-scoring junior forwards Tyler Toffoli (108 points), Linden Vey (116), and Jordan Weal (96). What’s not to like? Lombardi’s biggest challenge? Getting Drew Doughty to ink a lengthy extension, bringing back Michal Handzus at a discount, and driving Alexei Ponikarovsky to LAX. It’s a job any GM would love to have.
As my friend Steve asks me, “doesn’t it amaze you how the Minnesota Wild are a cap team?” Yes, it does, Steve. (I’ll wait while you fact-check. Here, I’ll even help). Now you’re asking yourself: “what the… how?!?!” Well, it’s what happens when you commit big money for a second-line whiner ($5 million for Martin Havlat), a piece of glass ($4.1 million for Pierre-Marc Bouchard), and vastly overrate the value of your own player ($6.75 million for Mikko Koivu). I think GM Chuck Fletcher‘s done an OK job so far but two things raised question marks in my mind: 1, asking Todd Richards to employ an aggressive style with an offense that doesn’t feature high-end talent and a blueline that routinely turns over the puck and 2, overrating and overpaying his franchise player’s market value even though everyone knew Koivu was going to stay for a salary anything above $5 million. (I think the Wild panicked and didn’t want to risk losing Koivu like they did with Marian Gaborik, so they just threw money at him and hoped for the best). The good news is that Fletcher has some money to play around to boost his top six, the bad news is that I’m not sure what he’s going to do with it.
With the playoffs finished, the West team that generated the most interest were probably the Preds. Barry Trotz‘s teams have routinely proved that you only need one ingredient to win: heart. You’d have to be from another world if you didn’t think the Preds give it their all every shift. It’s also easy for the rest of the team to fall in line when your three key players (Shea Weber, Mike Fisher, and Pekka Rinne) are born leaders and also your hardest working players. If the Preds want to win in the playoffs, the stars have to align. There’s no way for the Preds to compete against teams with high-quality talent but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance. The Preds rarely dip into the FA pool and with such a successful season (first ever series win in franchise history and a loyal fanbase) they really won’t need to. Other pressing matters are at hand, like extending impending UFA Joel Ward and impending RFA Weber, who I think will stay. The Preds have taken him to arbitration, which means teams can’t make offer sheets and makes it all the more likely that Weber stays. The Preds rarely break the bank for ANY player, but if there’s anyone they should throw money at, it’s Weber.
Arizona Phoenix Coyotes are in ownership limbo like Dallas, except much worse. We know this team is going to be a cap floor than cap ceiling team, in part because they’ve already dealt away their most expensive player. Technically, Shane Doan, Ed Jovanovski, and Michal Rozsival (I’m positive he was acquired to help the team hit the cap floor next year) earn more but you get the idea – Ilya Bryzgalov‘s asking price was higher than all three (although it’d be lower for Philadelphia because they’re in a cap bind and a much better team). Who knows where this franchise will end up (my 3 guesses: Hamilton, Kansas City, Quebec) and until then, ownership won’t OK any long-term deals. No starting goalie, no good value defensemen, no marquee forward, and Keith Yandle probably won’t be getting the raise he deserves (both length and dollars).
If you want to win in the playoffs, your best players have to perform. Vancouver and San Jose both lost for the same reasons. At $7.5 million a season, 3 goals in 18 playoff games from Dany Heatley just won’t cut it. Joe Thornton nearly doubled his total (17 to 9). FYI, Heatley has just 5 goals in 32 playoff games with the Sharks, and just 15 in 66 games for his career. Patrick Marleau may get criticized a lot but his 7 goals were tied for the team lead. Other than upgrading that blueline (a big must), Doug Wilson has to decide what he wants to do. Devin Setoguchi is a RFA this year and Logan Couture is up next year and I would take both over Heatley. If you’re earning $7.5 million on my team, you have to at least be a player I can count on to produce, and not just on the second unit powerplay (and sometimes not even).
Things were looking good for the Blues, and as much as I don’t understand the Avs’ decision to deal Chris Stewart, I totally understand the Blues’ reasons for doing so. (Losing Erik Johnson, whose development has somewhat stalled, was okay because Alex Pietrangelo was emerging into a can’t-miss and Kevin Shattenkirk is a very capable sidekick, and the team needed more size and jam up front to help out David Backes.) The thing with the Blues, however, is that they don’t have that one marquee forward to tie everything together. Instead, we got a hodgepodge of second-tier forwards miscast as first-line players. There have been flashes in which guys have been willing and able to step up their game to carry the team (TJ Oshie came close), but no one has been consistent. The still injured David Perron and the recently extended Patrik Berglund are still your best bets, though.
Did the playoff run answer some important organizational questions? Definitely. I think in both Alain Vigneault and Mike Gillis‘s post-season pressers, they voiced a certain amount of dissatisfaction and disappointment, although to their credit they didn’t name anybody. They don’t have to say anything but we do know this: Roberto Luongo is mentally soft, the Sedins clearly still can’t figure out what it takes to win in this league, a killer instinct-type edge is still missing, and Ryan Kesler is clearly the heart and soul. There won’t be much to improve on for the defending West champs, and it won’t be possible to make changes with the core locked up long-term already. The big homework assignment for the Canucks is keeping everyone together (priority: Kevin Bieksa) and finding players with a little more heart, jam, and grit (read: Canadians).
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