Sep 112012
 

1.) Boston Bruins: The Bruins are big, mean, and talented throughout their roster. They boast incredible depth at both forward and defence, able to go toe to toe with any team in the league. Despite the departure of Tim Thomas, the Bruins should be fine in net. Former Maple Leaf Tuuka Rask has shown in the past that he can handle the #1 job. Expect the Bruins to battle for top spot in the east all season long.

2.) New York Rangers: With the addition of Rick Nash to last season’s Eastern Conference finalist core, the Rangers are primed for success in 2012-13. Anchored by the unflappable Henrik Lunqvist, the Rangers will ice a solid d-core and a trio of game breakers up front. Few teams can match the overall depth of the Bruins, but the Rangers are definitely one of them. Continue reading »

Jul 032012
 


When the news broke that Jason Garrison had signed with the Vancouver Canucks I was ecstatic. But I was also confused by the amount of hate that the signing was garnering on the internet. Apparently the Canucks had just committed 6 years to a one-and-done power play specialist. However, a deeper analysis of Garrison’s road to the NHL as well as some oft-overlooked stats paint a much different picture. Continue reading »

Jun 202012
 

Tonight’s the NHL Awards, without Jay Mohr to boot, which will make it infinitely better than last year’s. Without further ado, here are my predictions for this year.

Continue reading »

Apr 132012
 

I’m not convinced the Panthers even have a shot. After winning five straight from March 13-20, including a convincing win over Boston, the Panthers had just two wins in their last 10 games. That’s horrific, so bad that Florida nearly dropped out of the playoffs completely despite spending most of the season at the top of the Southeast Division. The Panthers got lucky – the Lightning regressed to the surprise of no one with shoddy defence and goaltending, and the Caps have been up-and-down like a yo-yo since the beginning of the season. Puck luck gets you only so far, and the Devils are salivating what will be an easy matchup for them and a long wait for their next opponent.

Continue reading »

Nov 202011
 

John Tortorella is a media darling because he gives people some very good soundbites. He’s a very honest person who is team-first about everything, and he appreciates the hard-working players, which makes Ryan Callahan such a great and logical choice for captain. He went off again last week about Dan Girardi’s snub on the all-star ballot, and it’s not surprising because everyone knows the ballot is a joke. Check out Armchair Hockey’s 2011-12 All-Stars after the jump.

Continue reading »

Jul 112011
 

Hey guys. I am very excited to be joining Jason here at armchairhockey.net, the best kept secret on the internet! (Now let us fix that!) He provides in depth analysis of all things hockey; hopefully I can contribute something here and there. To kick things off, here are some musings on the Free Agency Period in the same vein as Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts (which happens to be the best blog in hockey.)

-The Florida Panthers certainly emerged as the biggest players during this year’s free agency period. Dave Tallon has acquired no less than 11 NHL players in the span of a few short weeks. Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Thomas Kopecky, and Angelo Esposito were all brought in via trade while Jose Theodore, Scottie Upshall, Ed Jovanovski, Marcel Goc, Thomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, and Matt Bradley all signed as free agents. But how many more games will they win without Thomas Vokoun in net? The Answer: not many. It is easy to applaud Dave Tallon for his work so far this offseason, but the harsh reality is that he let his best player walk for nothing. Moreover not a single player brought in makes market value or less.

-On another note relating to Florida (and several other teams… cough… Buffalo…), NHL GM’s should be scared at the current trend of contracts/contract negotiations. Several years back Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe had a very public spat over offer-sheets. Well, old Burkie was right. Lowe essentially killed the “2nd” contract. Traditionally, talented youngsters would sign a 2-3 year contract after their initial ELC. A good example is Shea Weber signing a $4.5 mill 2nd contract. Compare that to what Drew Doughty is likely to sign for this off season. With the death of the 2nd contract, the NHL has seen a startling rise in the price tag for young players. The actions of a few GM’s this offseason, including Tallon, have simply jacked up the prices further. A new trend has been set, one in which mediocre free agents are wildly overpaid to allow a team to reach the new Salary Cap floor. These are two dangerous trends that need to be rectified in the next CBA.

-In what world does it make sense that Thomas Fleischmann makes only $500 000 less than Ryan Kesler? Or that Scottie Upshall makes $1 million more than Alex Burrows.

-Buffalo was another big player during this free agency period, although most of their moves were made via trade. Bringing in Christian Erhoff and Robyn Reghr should do wonders to insulate Tyler Myers on the back end. However it will be important for Buffalo to ensure Marc-Andre Gragnani is not buried in the depth charts. After all he did lead the Sabres in post-season scoring last year.

-Did I mention that Erhoff, a 50 point d-man, will be making $18 million over the next two seasons? For comparisons sake, Crosby will make $17.4.

-While Buffalo is now the highest spending team in the league, I would be surprised with a top-4 finish in the East. They lack star power up front and will have a tough time dealing with Philly, Boston, Pitty, and Washington.

-If Kevin Bieksa can continue playing like he did during the Canucks recent cup run, $4.6 over 5 years is going to look beautiful. James Wisniewski, a d-man cut from the same mould, signed for more money and more term in CBJ. Mike Gillis may be the best GM in the NHL when it comes to convincing players to take hometown discounts.

-Washington took huge strides in the East, establishing themselves as the sole team to beat. Retaining Brooks Laich was a must for GM George McPhee. Bringing in Joel Ward for some added grit/depth was a solid move. It also never hurts to have the best UFA goalie (and in my opinion a top 5 goalie in the NHL) ask to play for only $1.5 million. Based on the Vokoun move alone, George McPhee “won” Free Agency.

-While I was not surprised to see Dwayne Roloson re-sign in Tampa, I was surprised that Yzerman did not make a play for his future replacement. Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier are the most likely targets. However neither will come cheap. I don’t believe Dustin Tokarski is their answer.

-Sigh… another two years of Andrew Alberts. That being said, I don’t think the coaching staff can possibly deny Chris Tanev a full time spot on the Canucks roster this October. The kid has ice in his veins.

-I would give Mike Gillis a solid B for his efforts this offseason. My biggest fear was that the Canucks would not make any changes, unfortunately this largely turned out to be the case. However re-signing Bieksa, Maxime Lapierre, and Chris Higgins were musts in my opinion. I could have done without Andrew Alberts and Marco Sturm along with their combined $3.725 cap hit.

-While most of their moves were made via trade, Philly has to be mentioned here. Did any team do more to shake up their core? No. Did Philly improve as a team? Maybe. With so many moves it is difficult to tell. Right now I would say the first couple of months will be a big adjustment as they learn to live without Mike Richards, although they very well may have acquired Mike Richards 2.0 in Braydon Schenn.

-I cant wait for the first time Philadelphia plays in Pittsburgh. Maxime Talbot and Jaromir Jagr should bring food testers with them on that road trip.

-I was very surprised Winnipeg did not make more moves this offseason. I understand that there must have been a lot to deal with the relocation, but every team in their division got better (with the exception of Tampa, who was already much better). Bringing in some familiar faces in Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien was a start, but neither would look out of place as full time AHL’ers. Trading for Eric Fehr was a good move, but not enough. I foresee a rough season playing against Carolina, Tampa, Florida, and Washington.

-Glen Sather is at it again! The same guy who made Scott Gomez and Chris Drury $7 million per season players is getting ready to shell out $12 million to Brad Richards next year. I don’t care if his annual cap hit is only $6.66 million. Brad Richards is simply not that valuable. Both Henrik and Daniel combined will make $12.2 million next season. Good job Glenn.

-That “fair” cap hit may even come back to bite the NYR in the ass as there are rumblings that Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan could both be awarded similar deals in arbitration.

-Of all the years to take a player to arbitration, this year has to be the worse. What is Sather going to say when Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky’s agents point to the newly signed contracts of Ville Leino and Thomas Fleischmann? Under the current market prices, both players will fetch upwards of $5 million. Let’s hope everyone comes to their senses before the hearing and they get a reasonable deal done.

-My steal of Free Agency has got to be Zenon Konopka to Ottawa for 1 year at $700 000. This guy is a good Canadian kid who will fight, check, and chip in about 15-20 points a year playing on your teams 4th line. Oh yea, he is also one of the better faceoff men in the league. He instantly improves any team’s bottom 6.

-I will end my musings with Thomas Kaberle to Carolina for 3years and $4.25 million per. I have to say I am glad he got his money. He was one of the more reliable dmen in the league for a long time, despite playing on one of the worse teams in the league. Ron Wilson is a poor coach, and Kaberle should not take it personally that he did not succeed under him. With Kaberle and Joni Pitkanen manning the points, I could see a big boost in Carolina’s PP% this season.

2011 Draft Grades

 Posted by at 3:02 PM  2 Responses »
Jun 282011
 

The first day of the draft featured no real surprises. Some teams made some great moves, others not so much. Some chose to focus on the draft while others continued the wheeling and dealing that has become so commonplace this summer. Here’s the original mock draft. (Rounds 1-2 and only noteworthy prospects taken in round 3 or later were considered.)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1), Oscar Klefbom (19), David Musil (31), Dillon Simpson (92)

The Oilers made no surprises by taking RNH first overall, then proceeded to round out their depleted defensive corps by getting Klefbom, a highly-regarded Swedish defender who has Erik Karlsson-like offensive upside, a shut-down type in Musil, and dipping into history a little by taking Dillon Simpson, the son of former Oiler Craig Simpson. A great haul by Steve Tambellini and I think adding Ryan Smyth is going to be a popular move. I don’t think I can fault any of those moves. Grade: A+

Matt Nieto (47)

The big move on draft day wasn’t the picks, it was getting Brent Burns for cheap. Now with the back end further solidified (much needed), the Sharks are much better and deeper team. Their powerplay is dangerous now with Burns and Dan Boyle, even though both are right-handed (Boyle is obviously the triggerman, Burns more the rover) and Nieto, a goalscorer, certainly is able to replace Devin Setoguchi, who must’ve been choked after signing a three-year extension to stay in the Bay Area. Grade: B for Nieto (aka Setoguchi clone), an A+ for the day.

Mika Zibanejad (6), Stefan Noesen (21), Matt Puempel (24), Shane Prince (61)

I don’t think much of Puempel (can’t play defense) and I’m not too familiar with Noesen (grinder at NHL level), but I Zibanejad was a great pick (made much more sense than Couturier, who I had them picking) and Prince is a splendid speedster with some great hands. With 63 assists for the 67′s, Prince was a major reason why Tyler Toffoli (Kings, 47th overall in ’10) had such a great year (57 goals). Bryan Murray‘s serious about this re-build and the draft was a great start. Grade: A

Mark McNeill (18), Phillip Danault (26), Adam Clendening (36), Brandon Saad (43), Maxim Shalunov (109)

The Blackhawks know how to pick players and I like all five picks. After losing so much depth due to Brian Campbell‘s contract, Stan Bowman completely re-stocked, taking a big centre, a skilled playmaker, a puck-moving defenseman, a power forward, and a mystery Russian that no doubt has some sick hands. Bowman covered all the bases so what’s not to like? Grade: A

Chris Gibson (49), Nick Shore (82)

Like the Sharks, the Kings big moves weren’t made with the draft, but rather acquiring a potential power-altering player in Mike Richards. It’s a foregone conclusion that Jonathan Bernier is leaving some time down the road, which makes picking Gibson a smart move. Nick’s older brother, Drew, is a prospect for Florida and both play for the Denver Pioneers. Grade: B+ for draft, A for the summer (would be an A++ if they managed to keep Brayden Schenn, but that deal wouldn’t have happened then).

Gabriel Landeskog (2), Duncan Siemens (11), Joachim Nermark (93)

The Avs were rumoured to like Huberdeau better, but I guess a Peter Forsberg parallel is hard to pass up and Landeskog was my second-ranked skater anyway. Siemens is a good pick although I think he went a little high because I see him more as a Bryan Allen stay-at-home type (Klefbom was available). Nermark plays for Linkoping in the Elitserien and was the top scorer at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament with 11 points in 5 games. It’s a great value pick in round 3. Grade: B+

Dougie Hamilton (9), Alexander Khokhlachev (40)

With such a young corps of forwards (Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton lead the way at age 25,Tyler Seguin is the youngest at 18), the emphasis is on replacing Zdeno Chara on the blueline sometime down the road. Thanks to the Phil Kessel trade and the Leafs’ (somewhat) unpredicted woes, the Bruins entered the top 10 and took the second-best defenseman in the draft. Khokhlachev is a great pick at 40, a high-end scorer that the Bruins can take a chance on. Grade: B+

Ryan Murphy (12), Victor Rask (42)

Murphy’s a GREAT pick but Jim Rutherford HAS to be patient – there’s no use selecting such a high-end defenseman and then end up trading him away for multiple inferior pieces (cough, Jack Johnson, cough). Murphy will follow top prospects Justin FaulkJamie McBain, and Brian Dumoulin as Rutherford revamps his blueline (which may still feature Joni Pitkanen, despite previous rumours suggesting otherwise). I thought a team might’ve taken a stab at the Swedish Rask in the late first (Detroit or Vancouver) but he slipped as the year went on and still a valuable prospect. Grade: B+

Rickard Rakell (30), John Gibson (39), William Karlsson (53), Joseph Cramarossa (65), Max Friberg (143)

Interesting that the Ducks went with a Swede in the first round, since the last Euro they took in the first round ended up not playing a single game for them (Ladislav Smid, 2004). Taking Gibson was great though, with Jonas Hiller battling some head problems. Friberg was a name that really popped out for some reason, and it was only through a little digging that I remembered watching the kid at the WJC for Sweden (he’s not on hockeyDB, so check out EliteProspects.com). He’s a speedy little guy, but like other late Euro picks you have to wonder if he has the skill, size, and drive to compete in the NHL. Intriguing indeed. Grade: B+

Ty Rattie (32), Dmitrij Jaskin (41), Joel Edmundson (46), Jordan Binnington (88), Ryan Tesink (162)

I really like the Rattie and Jaskin picks, as the Blues stay true to their draft trends by taking skilled wingers. Binnington’s the top ranked OHL goalie and might take awhile to develop, but that’s fine because the Blues are trying to get Jake Allen and Ben Bishop over that developmental hump. Tesink is yet another Sea Dog that will benefit greatly from playing with some high quality players. Grade: B+

Tyler Biggs (22), Stuart Percy (25)

Brian Burke loves his forwards big and bad, which means he wasn’t going to walk out of Minnesota without one of Biggs or Saad and Percy, his personal favourite. Biggs is your prototypical power forward – a bruising 6’2″, 200 lbs. winger with decent hands. However, you can’t help but think that Burke’s a little more than irked that he lost out on Mike Richards (offered a Nazem Kadri/Nikolai Kulemin package). Grade: B+, for getting the guys he wanted

Jonathan Huberdeau (3), Rocco Grimaldi (33), Rasmus Bengtsson (59), Vincent Trocheck (64)

Quite an eclectic group by Dale Tallon. Huberdeau’s a high-end scorer and he’ll be the future centre of the franchise (move aside, Stephen Weiss). Huberdeau’s not a Jonathan Toews-type player, far from it, but Tallon envisions this guy playing a similar role for a floundering franchise (I actually see Huberdeau as more Patrick Kane). Grimaldi’s a Martin St. Louis type, standing only 5’6″ but speaks like a champion. Here’s what he said prior to the draft about his stature and career:

“It’s impossible,” said pride. “Risky,” said experience. “It’s pointless,” said reason. “Give it a try,” whispered heart.

Hard to pass up on a guy like that although Hart Trophy material he is not. Bengtsson should not be confused for the footballer of the same name who plays for FC Twente in the Eredivisie (the Netherlands’ pro soccer league) but apparently wowed everyone at the combine with 3.6% body fat. Trocheck averaged about a point per game for Saginaw. Grade: B

Sean Couturier (8)

The Flyers envision Brayden Schenn and Danny Briere as their top two centres (I think Claude Girouxstays on the wing) and Couturier is a great number three. Word is that the Flyers would’ve picked Siemens (a definite reach, but they also need defensemen) if Couturier had already been taken, but his stock kept falling little by little since the WJC. Paul Holmgren sounded ecstatic that Couturier fell to him and there was no way he’d pass this up. Grade: B

Ryan Strome (5), Scott Mayfield (34), Johan Sundstrom (50), Robbie Russo (95)

There was no way the Islanders weren’t going to pick Strome to compliment John Tavares. Mayfield’s committed to Denver next year and he projects to be a number three or four dependable defenseman while Russo is definitely the more offensively gifted prospect (wore Mike Green‘s 52 for the US Development Team and committed to Notre Dame next year). Grade: B

Jamie Oleksiak (14), Brett Ritchie (44), Matej Stransky (165)

I honestly thought the Stars were going to take Armia, with their solid history of developing Finns (Jere Lehtinen, etc.) and they needed a centre with Brad Richards leaving. Oleksiak’s size is a HUGE draw but plays on an average team (Northeastern won just 14 games last year) in a really tough conference (Hockey East) which may or may not be a positive. Stransky, on the other hand, could be an absolute STEAL. A Czech native, Stransky just completed his first season with Saskatoon and any European who is willing to play junior hockey earns bonus points with me. Grade: B

Joel Armia (16), Dan Catennaci (77)

As TSN showed, this is the first European taken by Darcy Regier since… well, Dennis Persson in 2006 (0 NHL games). You can’t fault his logic – those North American kids have really served Buffalo well and if I ever became a GM (drool) I’d have a similar draft strategy. Most Finns play a rough and tumble game though, so Armia isn’t a reach. Catenacci follows the long line of undersized skill forwards (5’10″, 71 pts in 67 GP) in Buffalo’s system. Grade: B

Vladislav Namestnikov (27), Nikita Kucherov (58)

Steve Yzerman surprised me by taking a Russian, although given his stature in the game it’s hard to say no to him and the fine Florida weather. Namestnikov also plays for London in the OHL under Dale Hunter, which really almost doubles his value. Kucherov is an 18-year old who suited up for CSKA for 9 games and while I know close to nothing about him, it’s hard to imagine him NOT being your typical skill-oriented, speedy Russian. If Yzerman ever has trouble convincing these Russian kids to stay, I’m sure Igor Larionov and Sergei Fedorov are just a phone call away. Grade: B

Nicklas Jensen (29)

Was I surprised about this pick? Absolutely not, especially with how fellow Dane Jannik Hansen has performed. Jensen’s a player very much in the same mold, a hard-working, two-way forward who can play all three positions and has some scoring ability (thinking back now, the Johan Franzen comparison might be a bit of a reach). Sound familiar? It should, because this has been the Canucks’ MO for drafting since the Burke regime. Jensen will make the NHL but what sort of impact will he make? Grade: B

Tomas Jurco (35), Xavier Ouellet (48), Ryan Sproul (55)

It doesn’t shock me at all that the Wings took Jurco, who slipped out of the first round. They’ll take their time with him, of course, but I keep wondering when Ken Holland will make that big move and take a marquee forward to replace Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the future (probably never). Grade: B, because we know their scouting department is great.

Magnus Hellberg (38), Miika Salomaki (52)

With Shea Weber getting at least $6 million, the normally cost-conscious Preds may have a problem on their hands if ownership can’t approve another $6 million deal for Pekka Rinne. Hellberg was the first goalie to be taken, even though both Chris and John Gibson were ranked higher. Salomaki is a Finn, the Preds have been pretty good with those (Kimmo Timonen) and was among the top 10 European skaters. Did I mention these two players have some pretty badass names? Draft: B

Mark Scheifele (7), Austen Brassard (149)

I thought the Jets would make much more noise at the draft considering the strong contingent of fans they have, but the only ripples they caused was going off the board a little and taking Scheifele (not really sold on him yet either). With Dustin ByfuglienTobias Enstrom, and Zach Bogosian it made sense to pass on Dougie Hamilton, but I wonder if Kevin Cheveldayoff couldn’t have traded down… Grade: B-

Sven Bartschi (13), Markus Granlund (45), Tyler Wotherspoon (57)

Jay Feaster‘s first draft since his Tampa days went pretty well, although I was very surprised he didn’t go after a centre (Armia or McNeill, who I thought they would take) until pick 45. Markus, the younger brother of Mikael, is one of Minnesota’s top prospects. Wotherspoon’s a stay-at-home type defenseman with a bit of a mean streak playing on a stacked Portland Winterhawks squad. Not a bad haul but the Flames still don’t have a C. Grade: B-

JT Miller (15), Shane McColgan (134)

I’m not too familiar with Miller, but knew he was a kid whose stock rose considerably as the year went on. The Rangers aren’t averse to taking risks at the draft and Miller was ranked 23rd among NA skaters by Central Scouting. McColgan, on the other hand, was projected to be a first rounder but faded quickly early in the season, much like Ambroz, though he did recoup some lost value with 19 points in 10 playoff games with Kelowna. Grade: B-, but also a high potential for a C-

Connor Murphy (20), Alexander Ruutu (51), Lucas Lessio (56)

I know better than to question most of Don Maloney’s moves, but most Coyotes draft picks don’t blow anyone away. Even Kyle Turris, praised by Wayne Gretzky himself, took awhile to assert himself in the lineup. The sample size for evaluating Murphy is small (just 9 games for the USNTDP) and I didn’t even have him in my first round mock draft but the Coyotes obviously saw enough to make a bit of a gamble. Ruutu, no relation to Jarkko and Tuomo, is the son of the Coyotes’ scout, Christian Ruutu and plays in the SM-liiga despite having been born in Chicago. Grade: B-

Jonas Brodin (10), Zack Phillips (28), Mario Lucia (60)

If I remember correctly, Brent Burns was traded after they took Brodin, although I’m sure taking Brodin had NOTHING to do with that trade. I’m not sold on Brodin – at 10 I think it’s a bit of a reach, especially with Klefbom (19th, Oilers), Siemens (11th, Avs), Murphy (12th, ‘Canes), and Beaulieu (17th, Habs) still available. Phillips brings some much needed size to the Minnesota lineup and in a bit of a shocker they plucked Lucia from their own backyard, drawing cheers from Xcel. Lucia’s father, Don, is the head coach at the University of Minnesota. Grade: B for picks, C+ for the day (we’ll see how Charlie Coyle turns out)

Adam Larsson (4), forfeited pick (69)

The Devils got really lucky and they know it. Larsson’s just what the doctor ordered for the Devils’ cement-footed defense. The Devils usually aren’t big players on draft day although I would’ve liked to see a move to replace the forfeited pick (thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk and his first cap-circumventing contract). Grade: A+ for Larsson, C for the rest.

Joe Morrow (23), Scott Harrington (54)

Morrow must’ve been too good to pass up at 23 because I would’ve taken a scoring winger, like Jurco, Nieto, or Rattie. Long-term, I’m not sure where Morrow fits, assuming that Ray Shero‘s happy with his defensive corps right now (I would). Either way, that’s a decision for later, but what confuses me even more is taking another defenseman in round 2. Are the Pens going after a winger on July 1 that we don’t know about? Grade: C

Patrick Koudys (147)

Koudys wasn’t the only Caps pick but certainly a player I felt could make the biggest impact down the road. Entering his sophomore year at RPI, Koudys is a stay-at-home that may stabilize the Caps’ back end. For the most part, the Caps have been good at drafting but given George McPhee‘s aggressive ways (dealing away picks) it might be quite some time before we see an early round impact prospect from Washington. Draft: C, for nothing spectacular

Nathan Beaulieu (17)

Interesting the Habs went with a CHL prospect, considering that from ’06-’09 they took a string of NCAA players (Louis Leblanc played one year at Harvard before joining the Q), but at 17 Beaulieu was too hard to pass up. Of the four Sea Dogs players (Huberdeau, Phillips, Jurco), only Beaulieu is a defenseman. He may be tall, but it’s hard to see any Q defenseman play a dominant physical game. He projects more to be a puck-mover, and maybe a second unit PP QB. Grade: B+ for Beaulieu, a C for nothing else of note.

Boone Jenner (37), Seth Ambroz (128)

With that Jeff Carter trade (the Jackets haven’t heard from him and he’s yet to make a public statement) and these so-so picks (two players whose stock fell considerably, now the Jackets are just crossing their fingers), the question isn’t whether or not they’ll make the playoffs (they won’t) but how long Scott Howson will be able to keep his job. Anytime you can acquire a player of Carter’s calibre is a bonus, but he’s not the type of player the Jackets need, not to mention he’s got that hideous contract. Draft: B-, and a C- for all the moves so far.

Wow. That was long. Thanks for reading!

Jun 262011
 

It’s no secret that big contracts in hockey are hard to move.

Or “were” hard to move, I should say.

There are three major points that a player with a big contract has to qualify for if his team wants to move him.

The first obvious concern is cap space but since Gary Bettman has decided that the cap ceiling should be at $64.3 million and the cap floor at $48 million, which is higher than the ceiling when the cap was first introduced in 2005. A $5 million increase is substantial. With contracts petering out now (you won’t see another player get GROSSLY overpaid, simply because GMs and players have both learned that you need to take a little bit back to win), it’s much easier to move people. In order to absorb contracts like that and facilitate player movement you need to give teams enough cap space to be able to acquire those players.

Second, and going back to the cap, the $48 million floor is ridiculous. While this certainly makes for better hockey (more player movement, more flexibility with retaining players), it also means that there’s a big potential for severe overpayment. It’s one of the MAJOR reasons why Dale Tallon got Brian Campbell. There was just no way Tallon was going to spend $33 million on free agents to fill 10 spots (7 forwards, two defensemen, one goalie). He’ll have a tough enough time getting free agents to play in Florida anyway (unless they’re old and about to retire). The Blackhawks lost Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien due to cap constrictions and this new increase in the cap allowed other teams to inquire about Campbell, because believe me, if the Blackhawks could’ve gotten rid of him last year, they would’ve pulled the trigger in a heartbeat. For small market teams, the idea that they HAVE TO spend $48 million on players is a gigantic headache. I think most teams will NOT bother to reach the ceiling, unless they have to. More self-imposed caps will be instituted.

$5.4 million to play AHL hockey? Done.

Lastly, the player with those gaudy numbers has to be good. Like, Mike Richards good. No one wants to acquire a dead weight piece like Sheldon Souray, who will cost any team that acquires him $5.4 million of the cap. I’m sure Vincent Lecavalier, who last year was about as un-tradable, is in much more demand this year. (The Habs won’t be able to get him until they get rid of Scott Gomez, which for their sake I hope happens soon). There really is no such thing as an “un-tradable” contract anyway (unless the player has a NMC/NTC) but it takes two to tango and finding a partner, I think, was one of the most difficult things as a GM under the CBA.

Teams yet to reach the cap floor (just about every team can acquire a Kovalchuk-type contract, while only 2-3 teams could this time last year):

Carolina: $17 million to reach
Colorado: $19 million
Columbus: $6 million
Dallas: $13 million
Detroit: $1 million
Edmonton: $3 million
Florida: $26 million
Nashville: $8 million
NY Islanders: $16 million
NY Rangers: $14 million, assuming Chris Drury gets successfully bought out.
Ottawa: $6 million
Phoenix: $18 million
St. Louis: $7 million
Tampa Bay: $8 million
Toronto: $5 million
Winnipeg: $12 million

Jun 182011
 

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.

The 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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