Jun 202012
 

TSN’s reporting that Bobby Ryan is on the trade block again. Ryan became available after Randy Carlyle was fired and it’s believed the Ducks are looking for building blocks and not win-now players.

I’m kind of baffled by this.

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Dec 242011
 

One my most favourite tournaments is almost upon us. The World Junior Championship, even if it is an over-hyped corporate baby that glorifies and commercializes Canada’s still-innocent youth, is a tournament where a player can truly vault to superstardom. In most years, Canada is the heavy favourite and they’ve been quite deserving of that title, but recently Russia and USA have brought forth yet another wave of future superstars. Team USA unveiled its team today, it’s a very experience-heavy. They’ll of course be relying on star goalie Jack Campbell to backstop them into the playoff rounds again, but with no players placing in the top 10 in scoring in last year’s tournament, the onus will be on coach Dean Blaise and the forwards to create some offence.

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Aug 232011
 

Will the Finnish Flash return for one more kick at the can?

In 2007 the Anaheim Ducks hoisted hockey’s Holy Grail, capturing the Stanley Cup in 5 games over the Ottawa Senators. This was a team brimming with Brian Burke inspired truculence and guided by a room full of seasoned veterans. However the 2011/2012 edition of the Ducks is going to look quite different. Gone are defensive stalwarts Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. Then top-line players Chris Kunitz and Andy McDonald have also departed, as well as the vaunted shut-down line of Rob Niedermayer, Sammy Pahlsson, and Travis Moen. The reigns have been in the hands of the younger studs for several years now and it is their time to guide the franchise. But the most important questions remains, will Teemu Selanne return and can the Ducks contend without him?

Coaching

Randy Carlyle is firmly entrenched as the man behind the Ducks bench. Named head coach of a newly rebuilt Ducks squad in August 2005, he managed one Western Conference Finals appearance and one Stanley Cup in his first two seasons. An exodus of players hamstrung his team for several seasons after, but in 2010/2011 the Ducks re-emerged as a threat in the Western Conference. With a newly minted 3-year deal Carlyle will be the Ducks man this season and moving forward. He should have familiarity with everyone on his roster and will ensure the Ducks continue playing their hard checking, bruising style. He likes to ride his stars, which is good considering the drop off in talent after his big three forwards.

Centers

Ryan Getzlaf is the undisputed #1 center on this team. He is one of the more physically imposing players in the league as well as a top 5 pivot when healthy. Barring injury, he will wrack up the points both at even strength and on the power play. Unfortunately the picture becomes extremely bleak up the middle after Getzlaf. Saku Koivu will center the 2nd line, but lets not kid ourselves on his worth. He is far past his prime and other than an above 50% win rate in the dot, brings little offense to the table. Richmond native Brandon McMillan should see increased responsibilities as the team’s 3rd line center. He is a young and developing NHL’er who will work hard night in and night out. I doubt whether he can fulfill the checking role of a typical 3rd liner pivot, but frankly there is no one else to take this spot. The 4th line will be anchored by Kyle Chipchura. Chipchura works hard and can grind with the best of them, but does not bring anything else to the table. He will not see many minutes or offensive opportunities. OHL alum Peter Holland is next in line should one of the top 4 go down with injury.

*In my original analysis I accidentally overlooked Andrew Cogliano. Given his cap hit (a monstrous 2.39/yr for at best a 3rd liner) Cogliano will undoubtedly be on the Ducks game one lineup. However since his rookie season, Cogliano has shown no improvement, and actually regressed in several areas. He remains one of the quickest players in the league, but lacks the hands and hockey IQ to ever be an impact player at the NHL level. He will most likely take the 3rd line spot over McMillan, but shouldn’t do anything to improve the Ducks overall chances at winning the Stanley Cup.

Wingers

Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are the top two wingers currently signed with the Ducks, and frankly they are two of the better wingers in the league. While it may be ambitious to expect Perry to repeat last years’ performance, 90 points is not out of the question. Meanwhile I expect Ryan to take yet another step in his development (power forwards always take longer) as one of these seasons he will emerge as a player on par with Getzlaf and Perry. Rounding out the top 6 should be Jason Blake and one of Matt Beleskey or Dan Sexton. Either way, the Ducks currently have one of, if not the weakest 2nd line in the NHL. Jason Blake was a legitimate scoring threat for exactly 1 season. His days of 50 points a season are over. Expecting 40 this year may even be a stretch. But for all of the deficiencies of this winger group, at least the Ducks can boast one of the top mustaches in sports. George Parros can fight and then impersonate a 70′s porn star at a post-game costume party. That is about it. However the fan favourite is an absolute lock for an opening day roster spot. Moreover with the atrocious depth at forward he may even see 3rd line minutes… we can only hope. The final two spots will be contested by AHL’ers Andrew Gordon and J-F Jacques and youngsters Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri. None of these bottom 6 wingers will see the ice-time to make a large impact, but Etem does have the highest upside of the bunch. It is unlikely he will crack the roster this year, but he definitely possesses all of the tools to do so.

But what about Selanne? Currently mulling over retirement, Teemu Selanne, should he choose to return, would bring instant credibility to the Ducks 2nd line. Last season he sported the 8th best points per game average in the league, posting an incredible 80 points in only 73 games last year. His return would not only allow the Ducks to ice two scoring lines, but would also provide a major boost to the 1st unit power play. Simply put, the Ducks are a far superior team when Selanne is in the lineup. He changes the dynamic of the power play and also takes pressure off of the “Big 3″ at even strength.

Defense

The Ducks D-core will once again be lead by the diminutive Lubomir Visnovsky. While  his 68 point campaign from a year ago will likely remain a career high, Visnovsky is still one of the premiere puck movers and power play quarterbacks in the entire NHL. With or without Selanne in the lineup Visnovsky will run arguably the most talent heavy 1st unit power play in the game and should provide a steady presence on the back end. Toni Lydman, the metal loving Finn, will complete the top d-pairing. He was vastly under appreciated while on the Sabres, and continues to be in Anaheim. He balances out Visnovsky’s run-and-gun style with rock steady defense and an enormous amount of blocked shots. Behind them Francois Beauchemin will slot in on the 2nd pairing with youngster Luca Sbisa. Ideally the more experienced Kurtis Foster would skate on the right side of the 2nd pairing, but that would leave Sbisa with sophomore rearguard Cam Fowler, who despite his good rookie numbers still needs to learn a thing or two about playing defense in the big leagues. Overall this just an average d-core. When compared to the defense typically needed to contend for the Cup, this group falls far short.

Goaltending

Now free from the concussion vertigo symptoms that began after taking a clapper to the head at the all-star game, Jonas Hiller is claiming to be ready to once again assume the mantle of the Ducks’ #1 goalie. Prior to his injury Hiller was having a Vezina worthy season. However I am wary to lump him in with some of the other elite goaltenders heading into the 2011/2012 season. A common trait among the elite is durability. Until Hiller proves that he can play a full season and not suffer fatigue in the playoffs (eg. 2009/2010 playoffs) I cannot classify him as a truly elite tender, despite his numbers. Without Hiller the Ducks have only Dan Ellis to turn to, which is similar to putting an upturned milk crate in net and hoping to contend for a cup. But hey, at least he feels his role is important to society.

Roster

Ryan/Getzlaf/Perry
Blake/Koivu/Beleskey
Sexton/McMillan/Palmeri
Gordon/Chipchura/Parros
*J-F Jacques *Teemu Selanne
*Emerson Etem *Peter Holland
*Andrew Cogliano

Lydman/Visnovsky
Beauchemin/Sbisa
Fowler/Foster

Hiller
Ellis

Summary

After analyzing the likely starting day roster of the Anaheim Ducks, are they Contenders or Pretenders? For the 2011/2012 season the Ducks are a Pretender. Despite an experienced coach and very top end talent, the Ducks simply do not have the depth required to legitimately contend for a Stanley Cup. They should be able to squeeze into the playoffs as one of the lower seeds (7/8), but will be in tough against the Kings and Sharks within their Division. Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry, Visnovsky, and Hiller (and Selanne if he returns) are all very high quality players. This is a core that rivals any other team’s. However the remainder of the roster is largely spare parts or raw youngsters. The Ducks are several key depth acquisitions away from jumping up to Contender status, even with Selanne in the lineup.

2011/2012 PRETENDER!

2011 Mock Draft

 Posted by at 1:26 PM  3 Responses »
Jun 232011
 

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C - Red Deer, WHL (6’1″, 170 – NHL:1, TSN: 1, ISS: 1)

He’s by far the most talented kid in this year’s class so that totally negates the Oilers’ need to take a defenseman. Truth be told, the Oilers need a centre anyway and last year passed on Tyler Seguin, who was my top 2010 prospect, so they won’t be doing that again. You can’t really go wrong with a WHL kid anyway.

2. Jonathan Huberdeau, C - Saint John, QMJHL (6’1″, 168 – NHL: 3, TSN: 3, ISS: 3)

I hear rumours that the Avs are really high on Huberdeau and with constant rumours about Peter Stastny‘s murky future with the team, I can see Greg Sherman completely revamping the team and going with Matt Duchene and Huberdeau down the middle. They just got Erik Johnson so they’ll pass on Larsson.

3. Gabriel Landeskog, LW - Kitchener, OHL (6’1″, 207 – NHL: 2, TSN: 4, ISS: 5)

This pick was a little hard to make out because I’m not sure how Dale Tallon wants to build this team. Is he looking for a franchise forward or building from the net out starting with Jacob Markstrom? He already has Erik Gudbranson, but if he takes Larsson he could have two potential Norris guys. If he wants to build the Panthers like the Blackhawks, he’ll need a Jonathan Toews-type, a franchise-material player, and that’s what I think Tallon does. He does like his Canadian kids but Landeskog’s like Ryan Kesler - Canadian game, wrong passport.

4. Adam Larsson, D - Skelleftea, Elitserien (6’3″, 200 – NHL: 1, TSN: 2, ISS: 2)

If I’m Lou Lamoriello, I’m ecstatic. Larsson’s a potential top three pick and it just so happens he fell to a team that desperately needs defensemen. The Devils are already playing 5-on-4 in their own zone on a nightly basis thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk anyway so Larsson’s a no-brainer here.

5. Ryan Strome, C - Niagara, OHL (6′, 183 – NHL: 8, TSN: 7, ISS: 9)

The Islanders may be tempted to take a defenseman but Travis Hamonic made an impression this year (26 points, +4, 103 PIM) and Calvin de Haan is turning pro next year. The focus is on offense and the Islanders love high-end skill players (Nino Niederreiter, 41 goals), and since Josh Bailey can’t win face-offs (44%) and Jack Capuano has no other scoring centre, Strome is the best fit.

6. Sean Couturier, C - Drummondville, QMJHL (6’4″, 195 – NHL 6, TSN: 5, ISS: 4)

I wasn’t too impressed with Couturier at the WJC but he still projects to be a solid two-way player, which is what the Sens need after dealing away Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher. The Sens have taken defensemen in their previous two first round picks (Erik Karlsson in ’08, Jared Cowen in ’09) so Bryan Murray has to be leaning towards a forward here. The last time the Sens used a top 10 pick on a forward was in 2001 when they took Jason Spezza (2nd overall) but all the top-flight pivots are already off the board. They’ll pick the Patrick Eaves (2003) and Nick Foligno (2006) type here.

7. Dougie Hamilton, D - Niagara, OHL (6’4″, 193 – NHL: 4, TSN: 6, ISS: 6)

It’s hard to tell what Kevin Cheveldayoff will do because he has no body of work to reference from at the NHL level. I don’t trust Dustin Byfuglien yet so he’ll have to have another 50-point season to convince me (same with Tobias Enstrom) so I’d play it safe and go with the best defenseman available. (Sidenote: once the first defenseman after Larsson goes, the rest will get snapped up in a hurry.)

8. Ryan Murphy, D - Kitchener, OHL (5’11″, 176 – NHL: 9, TSN: 8, ISS: 8)

In another version I had the Jets upping the ante and taking the more talented Murphy, but I think Cheveldayoff will like Hamilton’s size more. The Jackets aren’t averse to picking players who lack considerable size (Matt Calvert, Kris Russell) so they’re not going to be shy about taking Murphy, who will be taken this high thanks to Ryan Ellis (100 points in 58 games) silencing any doubters about small but skilled defensemen. (EDIT: The Flyers just acquired this pick and Jakub Voracek (and another 3rd round pick) in exchange for Jeff Carter. The Flyers need defensemen so this pick remains unchanged – in fact, Murphy makes more sense on Philly, which already has an outstanding Kitchener alum in Mike Richards.)

9. Nathan Beaulieu, D - Saint John, QMJHL (6’2″, 185 – NHL: 5, TSN: 11, ISS: 14)

Since players with French names have served Boston so well (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand), why not continue the trend? The B’s already have Seguin so they’ll want to shore up an old blueline with a kid they can really take their time to develop.

10. Mika Zibanejad, C - Djurgardens, Elitserien (6’2″, 191 – NHL: 2, TSN: 9, ISS: 7)

I imagine the Wild would want to add a little more excitement so I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved up (likewise for Winnipeg). Unfortunately there are no hometown kids to pick this year (not that they would’ve cared to anyway – they traded Nick Leddy and passed on Jordan Schroeder) but the Wild have done some good things with Euros. Zibanejad’s mysterious enough to cause some buzz.

11. Sven Bartschi, LW - Portland, WHL (5’11″, 175 – NHL: 7, TSN: 16, ISS: 11)

I just kinda have a feeling on this one. If Sherman was smart he’d take a defenseman, probably Brodin or Siemens, but I just can’t see it. The Avs were built with some top-flight European wingers back in their heyday and Bartschi fits that Marek Svatos (Slovak) / Wojtek Wolski (Polish) mold, although this is a whole new different regime. (Might as well collect all the countries – Bartschi is Swiss).

12. Duncan Siemens, D - Saskatoon, WHL (6’3″, 197 – NHL: 10, TSN: 13, ISS: 12)

We know Jim Rutherford‘s revamping the defense and Joni Pitkanen is walking. The smart money’s on Rutherford to take a defenseman, although we all know he doesn’t like to do it and the last one didn’t quite pan out so well (Jack Johnson). I think the Hurricanes would like to get bigger and stronger, more Bryan Allen than Pitkanen.

13. Mark McNeill, C - Prince Albert, WHL (6’1″, 204 – NHL: 14, TSN: 19, ISS: 21)

The Flames need just about everything in the pipeline but since there are no defensemen and goalies worth taking anymore, they’ll fill a need by taking a scoring centre. I had Mark Scheifele going to the Flames here at one point but McNeill’s a WHL kid and West teams tend to stick with the Dub.

14. Joel Armia, RW - Assat Pori, SM-liiga (6’3″, 191 – NHL: 4, TSN: 14, ISS: 13)

The Stars have had tons of success with Europeans and Joe Nieuwendyk‘s played with a couple good ones too. Armia’s Finnish, which works in his favour because this is the same organization that’s produced Jere Lehtinen (1992, 4th round), Jussi Jokinen (2001, 6th), and Antti Miettinen (2000, 7th), although none were first round picks. I have a feeling Armia’s going to be a player of similar ilk, but more of Lehtinen’s calibre than the latter two.

15. Brandon Saad, LW - Saginaw, OHL (6’1″, 208 – NHL: 19, TSN: 22, ISS: 24)

From what I’ve heard, Saad was going to go the NCAA route before suddenly changing his mind. He’s big, strong, and he can score, exactly the type of the players the new John Tortorella-era Rangers like. It might be a reach taking Saad this high but that’s why the Rangers are never boring on draft day.

16. Mark Scheifele, C - Barrie, OHL (6’2″, 177 – NHL: 16, TSN: 12, ISS: 18)

The Rangers could use a centre too but I think Saad was too enticing a player to pass up, which means the Sabres can quit whining about Tim Connolly. Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb are already in the system and the forwards lack size, so adding Scheifele helps, even if he needs to add about 20-30 lbs.

17. Jamie Oleksiak, D - Northeastern, H-East (6’7″, 244 – NHL: 13, TSN: 17, ISS: 16)

The Habs love their NCAA kids (Max Pacioretty, Ryan McDonagh) and I think they finally realized the importance of having a real stay-at-home guy like Hal Gill. Oleksiak has the size and infinitely more talent than Gill. With Carey Price and PK Subban the Habs will have to build from the net out in the future, so you might as well beef up the last line of defense a little more.

18. Ty Rattie, RW - Portland, WHL (5’11″, 170 – NHL: 17, TSN: 25, ISS: 28)

I don’t know what it is about the Blackhawks, but they’ve got some really good hockey names going on over there – Sharp(ie), Kane(r), Keith, (Seab(s))rook, (Hoss)a, and Leddy. They’re easy to remember and even easier to come up with lame monikers for. Ratttie will join that group and I really never have any doubts with Blackhawks picks. They just know how to pick ‘em.

19. Jonas Brodin, D - Farjestad, Elitserien (6’1″, 165 – NHL: 3, TSN: 10, ISS: 22)

Now that we have small forwards galore, how’s about we shore up that blueline, Steve? At this point Brodin’s the best defenseman left in the draft and given the recent success of Europeans with the Oilers, they won’t be shy to come over. Some don’t think Brodin will fall this far but I think after Ryan Murphy and co. go, it’ll be awhile before we see another defenseman.

20. Zack Phillips, C - Saint John, QMJHL (6’1″, 181 – NHL: 15, TSN: 28, ISS: 34)

I envision Phillips more as a winger than a centre and Huberdeau and Beaulieu lead the pack in Saint John, but I trust Don Maloney. Whoever he takes has a good chance of making the NHL and even though Phillips’ skating may hold him back, I can see him eventually on a line with Kyle Turris.

21. Oscar Klefbom, D - Farjestad, Elitserien (6’4″, 196 – NHL: 6, TSN: 21, ISS: 10)

The Sens are like the Canucks of the East – little history to speak of when compared to the other Canadian teams in the same conference but just really, really good at drafting Swedes. He can really fire the puck and after what Erik Karlsson showed this year (13 goals), how can you not take him?

22. Tyler Biggs, RW - US NTDP, USHL (6’2″, 210 – NHL: 22, TSN: 15, ISS: 31)

The Ducks are like the Flyers – no matter how small or skill-oriented their teams are, you’re gonna leave the game with bruises and cuts. The Ducks like their players rugged – at least tough enough to play a phyiscal game and score goals (Emerson Etem) - and Biggs definitely fits the bill, even if he doesn’t come with the high-end talent Corey Perry does.

23. Tomas Jurco, RW - Saint John, QMJHL (6’2″, 193 – NHL: 20, TSN: 29, ISS: 25)

From now until the end of Sidney Crosby‘s time, Ray Shero might just as well devote his entire staff to scout just wingers. With the defensive corps locked up long-term and Marc-Andre Fleury in net, the Pens just need to keep mucking about until they find the magic formula. Jurco’s got the hands… but is he top six? The Pens are willing to bet that he is.

24. Nicklas Jensen, LW - Oshawa, OHL (6’2″, 188 – NHL: 21, TSN: 24, ISS: 22)

The biggest criticism against Jensen is that he isn’t a very physical player despite possessing good size. That’s not a problem for the Red Wings, who aren’t afraid to select Europeans or take players that maybe need a little longer than usual to develop. His big size and scoring ability reminds me of Johan Franzen.

25. Boone Jenner, C - Oshawa, OHL (6’1″, 194 – NHL: 18, TSN: 26, ISS: 38)

While there are only a handful of standouts in this year’s class, by the mid to late first round team’s will be drafting based on need. It’s a deep draft in that there’s tons of guys who can play in the NHL, it’s just that they might be only bottom six players. Jenner’s got the right attitude the physical skills to do just that.

26. Vladislav Namestnikov, C - London, OHL (6′, 170 – NHL: 11, TSN: 31, ISS: 37)

Some teams don’t take Russian kids in certain rounds of the draft because there’s always so much uncertainty with them. With the Caps it’s different because the allure of being able to play with Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin is quite substantial. Taking Namestnikov is a great pick and he’s already on the same continent, which always helps.

27. Rocco Grimaldi, C - US NTDP, USHL (5’6″, 160 – NHL: 32, TSN: 23, ISS: 15)

The Lightning surprised everyone by taking Brett Connolly last year and I think they’ll surprise everyone again by going with the smallest player in the draft. I’ve heard tons about Grimaldi but never seen him play, but he’s been compared to Martin St. Louis so that’s great news.

28. JT Miller, C – US NTDP, USHL (6’1″, 198 – NHL: 23, TSN: 18, ISS: 17)

The Sharks scouting staff scored huge points unearthing Joe Pavelski from Wisconsin and Miller may sneak under the radar (ranked 59th by THN). He’s a centre right now but probably fits better as a winger in the NHL and the Sharks are deep down the middle already anyway.

29. David Musil, D - Vancouver, WHL (6’3″, 200 – NHL: 38, TSN: 41, ISS: 27)

The Canucks have let so many kids get plucked from their own backyard, they really should start to defend their territory. The big one, of course, is Milan Lucic (2006), but there have been others, like Cody Franson (2005) and Jon Blum (2007). Kevin Connauton played superb hockey with the Giants (72 points). The Canucks would like to nab a forward here but with Vancouver you can never have enough defensemen.

30. Stuart Percy, D - Mississauga, OHL (6’1″, 184 – NHL: 53, TSN: 34, ISS: 50)

Percy’s the name everyone’s whispering that could be a surprise first rounder, and if that’s the case, there’s a headline to be had, so you know Brian Burke‘s on it. I’m not bashing him, but if anyone can give his team a little more (mostly) positive nudge it’s him. The Leafs could use another forward but Percy’s a good prospect.

All logos courtesy www.sportslogos.net.

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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