Jun 232012

The Jordan Staal trade was interesting because I thought that Carolina would realize their unique bargaining position and capitalize. They did, and I thought the price was relatively moderate for a guy like Staal, especially considering what Columbus GM Scott Howson is trying to get for Rick Nash.

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Sep 222011

Crosby is not only the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but also the face of professional hockey around the world. When he suffered his second concussion in early January the Penguins hopes of another Cup run were all but dashed. However, now that he is well on the way to a full recovery, Crosby and the Penguins are once again ready to make a serious challenge for hockey’s ultimate prize. Continue reading »

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!

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 202011

Sit back and relax, Peter Chiarelli. Other than thinking about what ring size he is, the Bruins are set-up perfectly to defend their title. He needs to worry about two things: making sure Tomas Kaberle finds Logan International and boards his flight on time and extending Brad Marchand. The Bruins have already committed about $50 million for next year already but the cap is expected to top $60 million, and with Marc Savard‘s career seemingly over, that’s roughly $15 million for the Bruins to re-sign Marchand and loads more. One banner just isn’t enough anymore in Titletown. Sidenote: I find it interesting that two of the brighter GMs in the game, both former player agents, met in the Finals. The two teams have two very similar yet distinct cap structures. For example, the Bruins choose to spread out their salaries on forwards and have one $7 million guy in Zdeno Chara. For the Canucks, it’s the opposite – the salaries are spread out on defense and two $6 million twins. That’s why there is no clear standout on the Canucks’ defense (Bieksa, Hamhuis, or Edler?), just as there is no clear standout on the Bruins’ offense either (Lucic, Bergeron, Horton, or Krejci?).

It’s a great summer if you’re a Sabres fan. A new owner, tons of salaries coming off the books, and more importantly, this new guy’s willing to spend. And Tim Connolly is a free agent (rejoice, Buffalo!!!!). Boy, it really looks like this team’s going to be really fun to watch too. A lot of small players but with tons of skill and they won’t have to worry about employing an enforcer because the bangers like Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian have been signed. Of course this team still hinges on Ryan Miller, and do I think we’ll see 2010 Olympics Miller? Nah. But he’s still a very, VERY good goaltender and he’ll give you a chance to win every night. The only hole (and it’s actually kinda big) I can see is on defense, where it looks like (overrated) Jordan Leopold is going to be counted on for some big minutes again. But it’s fine, Tyler Myers, I know you were a bit overwhelmed last year and hit a bit of a wall, but Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk are coming along nicely too.

Jim Rutherford‘s already went on record and saying that he wants to revamp his defense. Good idea, Jim, but with who? Word is that they’re going to let Joni Pitkanen walk, which means their highest paid defenseman will be Bryan Allen ($2.9 million) and Tim Gleason will have to play about 30 minutes a night. (Again, I have to re-iterate my point that the Hurricanes would not be in this situation had they not dealt away Jack Johnson so rashly.) I think Rutherford’s looking to really beef up his blueline. We saw how important it is to have a guy who can help clear the front of the net. Lots of salaries coming off the books too and it doesn’t look like Jussi Jokinen will be back either (a thumbs up to any GM who signs him, this guy can really score when you need a goal). There’s not a whole lot I like in the pipeline – their supposed early round “scorers” have become more two-way grinders at the NHL level. I don’t think a full-on rebuild is necessary but this team’s got to improve their top six and top four.

With just around $18 million committed towards next year’s roster, you just have to hope that Dale Tallon has learned his lesson and doesn’t hand out some idiotic 8 year, $57 million contract to fill ONE need. But then again, the Panthers have plenty of needs, so that might not be so bad after all if they want to reach the cap floor… Anyway, this team’s going to be the worst team in the league (by a healthy margin, I think) but if you check out that pipeline, especially the 13-player haul Tallon made at last year’s draft… Wow. Erik Gudbranson, Jacob Markstrom, John McFarland, and Quinton Howden will join Dmitry Kulikov, Evgeni Dadonov, Keaton Ellerby, and Niclas Bergfors (if he returns) in a couple of years. You just hope that these guys don’t end up enjoying the sunshine more than the ice and end up forgetting why they played hockey in the first place. But Tallon – man, does he have an eye for talent or what?! Also, don’t expect Kevin Dineen to last. Like his predecessor Peter DeBoer (good coach), he has NOTHING to work with. By the time all those kids are ready, Dineen will have been long gone.

If the Habs can somehow get rid of Scott Gomez (close to impossible), this would be the team I would love to run this summer. As it stands, the Habs have about $20 million to spend but that doesn’t include at least five RFAs that I think are already pencilled in for a roster spot next year (with Gomez gone that number’s close to $30 million). The best part about this team is that they have a $6 million goalie making only $2.75 million this year and I honestly think Carey Price has the potential to be the best goalie of his generation. They have to take advantage of Price and PK Subban‘s ($875,000 salary) bargain bin value. The key decisions aren’t necessarily on forward where it will be quite an offense by committee (when’s the last time the Habs had a marquee forward?). The Habs will have to decide if it’s worth retaining the talented but oft-injured Andrei Markov for close to $6 million a year. Roman Hamrlik‘s void will have to be filled too. (For the record, I think only James Wisniewski will be back. He fits in Montreal and I think he was quite good for them.)

Everyone’s going to be watching the Zach Parise arbitration case closely and if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, he’s going to be the hottest commodity in recent memory. You know Lou Lamoriello wants to keep him but it’ll be a tight cap fit, which means no money to shore up an atrocious defense. If you look at the Devils’ cap structure, other than Ilya Kovalchuk‘s idiotic contract, there’s actually some logic behind it (other than Brian Rolston‘s). By all means, Parise was supposed to be the Devils’ $6-7 million dollar player, but I guess making headlines was more important for the Devils’ owners. I noted last year that the Devils will have trouble moving the puck up the ice to their forwards after losing Paul Martin and they did (for awhile, they were THE lowest-scoring team. Even Atlanta didn’t have trouble scoring), so I hope Lamoriello does something about that. That’s also not mentioning that the Devils are going to sorely, sorely miss Jacques Lemaire. When Ilya Kovalchuk sings your praises, and you’re “lucky” enough to be his coach, that’s got to say something. (Sidenote: I wonder if Marian Gaborik misses him at all. He had a good thing going on in Minnesota.)

(Is it just me or do East teams have MUCH better logos?) That’s about the only positive thing I can come up with for the Islanders before going on a tangent about Garth Snow and Charles Wang. Like Panthers fans, Islanders fans should be excited because they got exciting young talent. There’s no questioning that there’s a solid amount of young players in their system. The only problem I have with the team is that I don’t trust a single guy in their front office. I think this franchise DESPERATELY lacks direction and values. The old glory days with Mike Bossy, Billy Smith, and Denis Potvin? Forget about it. This team needs an owner who won’t meddle and a GM who isn’t a puppet. After the Evgeni Nabokov incident, the Chris Botta controversy, and the embarrassing Pens-Islanders brawl, do you really trust anyone upstairs to make the right decision? The organization just doesn’t breed too much goodwill, y’know? And that kind of stuff going on upstairs trickles down to the locker room. Don’t believe me? Just ask Brent Sutter. (All right, I’ll stop the bashing. If there’s one real positive, it’s this: from the hash marks in, no one is more dangerous than John Tavares. He’s unreal).

If you love hockey, you’ll love the Rangers. A lot of history, a legendary home arena, an extremely colourful and effective coach in John Tortorella, and a team that won’t quit. The team’s play hinges on Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan (NY-native with “future Rangers captain” written all over him) up front and that’s going to be a big problem this summer. With rumblings that Chris Drury‘s buyout may not go through due to a lingering injury, the Rangers will have a harder time fitting both under the cap and have virtually no chance at Brad Richards. A lot of what the Rangers can do depends on what happens with Drury, but they do desperately lack an offensive weapon. Marian Gaborik is a fantastic talent who can make an entire rink go “Ooohhhh!…” but the problem is that he just doesn’t do it enough and getting another star might help take some pressure off him.

I feel bad for Jason Spezza because I think he’s a world-class player stuck on a team that’s clearly in transition. In hockey terminology, that’s usually not a good thing. While some teams trend up, the Sens are trending down (or stagnant at best) because in the cap world, the general belief is that you need to suck for a few years, get high picks, then let it all play out. But given what’s transpired the last few months of the season, starting from making Cory Clouston a lame duck coach and then confusing everyone by extending Bryan Murray when the team was stinking and a “new direction” was needed, I’m not so sure I trust that Eugene Melnyk knows what he’s doing. It certainly doesn’t help when Brian Lee (a pick that I clearly remember hating on) hasn’t panned out too well or when he stupidly throws money at a high-risk player like Sergei Gonchar. Even the free agent “finds,” like Jesse Winchester and Stephane Da Costa, were overhyped and rather ordinary. (Da Costa played just four games, but I thought he was close to invisible in all four. He looked lost.)

I had picked the Flyers to come out of the East at the beginning of the season (Red Wings for the West). I predicted correctly that the Flyers were going to go with Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton to start the season (simply because there were really no other options – Sergei Bobrovsky was a nice surprise, though) but also wrongly predicted that tandem would hold. Well, it did, in the sense that they still made the playoffs, but there was no question that goaltending was Philly’s biggest weakness. The Flyers head into next season with essentially the same roster, but acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov‘s rights was huge. Even if signing him means losing Jeff Carter, that’s a swap I’d gladly make – I fill a gigantic hole with an All-Star goalie and take off an 11-year contract I’m already starting to think I don’t want. A 2012 Flyers-Bruins East final? Oh, man…

It took awhile for the 2011 Penguins to get going, but once everyone was healthy and in sync, this team FLEW. Sidney Crosby is undoubtedly, unequivocally, unquestionably the best player in the game and he makes everyone around him better. But then everyone start to get hurt and the April lineup looked so drastically different from the one in January. With another early exit (albeit with some big positives, like Jordan Staal unleashing his offensive fury), parts are going to be switched yet again. Ray Shero‘s always been aggressive, which is great, but he just hasn’t hit that home run. I think that James Neal deal came close but it’s TBD because he hasn’t played a single shift with Crosby yet. I don’t think Pascal Dupuis will be retained and that means a top six role has potentially opened up, but that also depends if the Pens are willing to consider moving Evgeni Malkin to the wing permanently (which would arguably make him the best winger in the game). All Shero’s got to do is worry about the forwards. The defense and goalie are good until 2014.

This playoff run was HUGE for Steven Stamkos. He showed us what kind of player he is with the way he battled, even when he wasn’t scoring. He’s the second-best centre in the East. He’s a future Hall of Famer, the Bobby Hull-like scoring wizard of our generation. I’ve been impressed with Steve Yzerman so far – he won the recruiting war for Guy Boucher, signed the right players (Mattias Ohlund, Dominic Moore), claimed the right players (Dwayne Roloson), and traded for the right players (Eric Brewer). I’m thinking that Roloson comes back for another year, but he’s going to need a backup to fill in for 20-30 games, and that defense needs to be beefed up with better supporting players. Clutch scoring may have saved the Lightning’s asses in the playoffs but I’m not confident in Sean Bergenheim or Teddy Purcell‘s abilities to generate consistent offense. I think they could use another top six forward to help them out, and it’s not going to be Simon Gagne, who was a complete bust. (…maybe Brad Richards?)

For all the Brian Burke haters, compare the roster he inherited to the one he has built. The 2011 Leafs would absolutely murder the 2008 Leafs in a game. (Their records are very similar, but I think that’s more a coaching problem. I don’t think Ron Wilson is the right guy for this team. He’s a good coach, but not a good fit). I think Burke’s done a great job in Toronto overall, even though I agree that there are some eyebrow-raising contracts. This team’s definitely trending up. They’re missing a few key pieces (a centre, for one), but in the wide-open East if things fall into place you’re looking at a playoff team (albeit probably swept in the first round). I think Phil Kessel is good but quite obviously not a franchise player (he’s not even paid like one really) but the team is at least taking shape (or a shape, at least). There’s enough in the pipeline to be intrigued but nothing spectacular, although I do have a good feeling about Nazem Kadri, which hasn’t been too often when it comes to the Leafs. Sidenote: I just can’t see Brad Richards in Toronto. He’s a low-key guy and Toronto’s not a low-key city but there’s no doubt he would make that team a lot better.

The Caps are a very, very good team, but with the amount of Russians they’re quickly accumulating on that roster and those jersey colours, this might as well be Soviet CCCP squad. (The Alex Ovechkin ripple effect – Russian kids are more willing to leave their country to have a chance to play with their national hero, making the Caps more likely to gamble on Russians than most other teams). The East GMs are a rowdy bunch (very aggressive, very old school – Holmgren, Burke, Shero, Tallon, Sather, etc.) and George McPhee‘s one of the rowdiest. He won’t shy away from making comments and he’s less shy about making big moves. He’s got a lot of interesting questions this summer, though. In the past most free agents the Caps have acquired have been rentals, but Jason Arnott was huge for them and may stick around for awhile longer. I don’t think there’s any questioning that Brooks Laich will be back, but Semyon Varlamov is reportedly fielding offers from the KHL. The biggest question mark, in my mind, is behind the bench. At this point I’m growing increasingly skeptical of Bruce Boudreau‘s ability to get this team over the hump. I think he routinely gets outcoached and his f-word schtick must be getting stale by now (I was done by episode 2 of 24/7). I’m sure he’s an offensive mastermind, but maybe a new voice in the room would go a long way. He’s on a very short leash, that’s for sure.

Even if True North says otherwise, they’ll always be the Jets to me. I’m a little shocked that Rick Dudley, and potentially Craig Ramsay, were fired. I think it takes about a full year for players to adjust to a new coaching staff and system, and after such a promising start to the season, the Thrashers Jets will have to start fresh again. Whenever that happens, there’s usually no playoff berth at the end of the year. It’ll be busy for them this summer as they get caught up to speed but I don’t expect any big roster moves, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets went on the offensive and attempted to move up in the draft to make a little splash. The Jets won’t be a cap team but they’ll have the money to retain their players (as long as the Canadian dollar holds), and once Ron Hainsey and Nik Antropov‘s atrocious contracts are off the books, we could see them be a really good team. Lucky for them they’ll be in the Southeast Division this year because once this team moves to the West, the competition is going to be so much tougher.

All logos courtesy of sportslogos.net.

Mar 222011

Not very often does the NHLPA and the league agree on things. It’s led to two lockouts in the past fifteen years but public enemy no. 1, Matt Cooke, looks like the bridge between the gap. For the first time, in a much publicized event, the PA nodded at the league and quietly accepted their decision to suspend Cooke for the rest of the season and the first round of the playoffs. Matt Cooke has no defenders anymore.

Cooke is no first-timer – he’s a repeat offender who’s effectiveness and skill as a hockey player, like Sean Avery, is overshadowed by his antics. Cooke’s decision to lay out that type of hit was such an absolute bone-headed error in judgment. I have no sympathy for Cooke either, but it was also the worst time to make that kind of hit, amidst suspensions to both Dany Heatley and Brad Marchand and the GM meetings.

When Lemieux criticized the league for not punishing the Islanders’ puke-inducing buffoonery harsh enough, people called him a hypocrite because he’s Cooke’s employer. But Lemieux’s the owner of the Penguins – did you really think he was going to come out and say: “Matt Martin? 4 games? That’s fair! Awesome!” Of course not.

Just because Lemieux criticized the league for letting his opponent get away with a dangerous sucker punch doesn’t means he’s dancing with glee when Cooke gets off easy. He’s not complaining about the league being harsh on his own players, which is usually what GMs and owners whine about (Boudreau on Ovechkin’s 2-gamer), he’s complaining about the league being too lenient on other players. Those who do think about criticizing the league about being too lenient on their opponent stop just short, like Jacques Martin on Zdeno Chara. That his team was on the receiving end of a brawl gave him a chance to speak up. Lemieux collectively spoke the mind of all the GMs. Lemieux’s a good owner and good owners protect their players (case in point, the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban, who famously ran onto the court to stop a fight. God, I wish he buys the Stars – imagine the entertainment value). And we’re faulting Lemieux for that? C’mon, man.

Lemieux still ended up donning the black and gold, though

Lemieux’s a good guy – he’s practically a Pittsburgh legend now that he’s got the city three Cup titles (two as a player, another due to Crosby) and saved the Penguins from extinction. I think Lemieux’s changed dramatically from the immature and grumpy 18-year old who refused to wear the Penguins jersey or shake GM Eddie Johnston’s hand when they made him their first overall pick because contract negotiations weren’t going well. He’s never been a dirty player. I don’t think he likes it when Cooke is elbowing guys in the head. But he’s not going to come out and say anything about it either, because believe it or not, Cooke can be an effective hockey player. The Penguins, on most nights, are better with him in the lineup.

But Cooke’s elbow on Ryan McDonagh signaled that enough was enough. Mario Lemieux just couldn’t stomach it anymore. He knew what was going to happen and he silently agreed to agree with whatever sort of decision the league comes up with. He knew the NHL had the golden opportunity to throw the book at Cooke and expected anything but a lenient punishment.

Even if the Penguins made it to the second round, I don’t think the Penguins will dress Cooke. At this point it just isn’t worth it. Cooke’s not a commodity any team will want because the headaches he causes aren’t worth whatever skill or talent he may possess. Matt Cooke is no Dany Heatley – which is why Cooke may have played his last game as a Penguin. It is also why Cooke may have played his last game in the NHL for the foreseeable future.

Feb 232011

When is it too early to give up on your young players? In a span of a week, Erik Johnson, Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, and James Neal all changed addresses. Johnson and Shattenkirk are only 22 while Stewart and Neal are 23. Yet, their respective teams felt ready to trade them anyway, a curious decision given that the current CBA rewards teams who draft and develop well. So, what gives? What made Greg Sherman, Doug Armstrong, and Joe Nieuwendyk say: “You know what? I don’t like what I’m seeing and I don’t think I’m going to like what I think I’m going to see five years down the road either. Let’s see what we can get.” Let’s break down those trades. (Okay, I realize this may be a couple days late, but I needed time to digest everything.)

Let’s start with the easy one: Ray Shero absolutely fleecing the Stars by swapping Alex Goligoski for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. As good as Goligoski is, and he has been constantly overshadowed by Kris Letang this year, and as desperate as the Stars need scoring defensemen, that was a pretty hefty price to pay. It is a trade that fills the holes on each team, but were the Stars that desperate for help on the back end that they were willing to give up a first-line scoring forward and a top four defenseman? Keep in mind that with Brad Richards out with a concussion and a team mired in a slump, the Stars are in real danger of not making the top 8. Crawford loves activating his defense and Goligoski will fit in well with his offensive ability but this is a team that needs to allow fewer goals, not score more (172 GA, -8 differential).

The big problem in Dallas right now is ownership, and whether or not dealing Neal is a precursor to extending Brad Richards is still unknown. For the moment, Joe Nieuwendyk is willing to listen to offers, but Richards is concussed. Richards has made it known that if he is to sign an extension, he wants the ownership mess cleared up first. He was burned already once in Tampa when the Lightning sold off all their expensive contracts (Richards, Dan Boyle) in order to make themselves more fiscally attractive to buyers Oren Koules and Len Barrie. If Nieuwendyk can’t extend Richards, the deal looks even worse.

Meanwhile, Crosby is elated he finally has a top-line forward to play with. It also means that Dan Bylsma finally has two legitimate scoring lines, with Crosby and Neal on one and Staal and Malkin on the other. It gives the Pens an extra scoring dimension, something that has been severely lacking since Mario Lemieux’s retirement. With Letang, Orpik, and newcomers Michalek and Martin, the Pens have a very well-rounded top four, which made Goligoski expendable. Matt Niskanen, like Niklas Hjalmarsson in Chicago, was expected to make major strides this year, but both players have taken a huge step back. Neither player looks very comfortable on the ice and it’s no surprise either that both teams are currently on the outside looking in. Under Bylsma, recently named one of the coaches NHLers would most like to play for, expect Niskanen to bounce back in a big way. Even with Boston’s recent acquisitions, I think Pittsburgh still matches up best to Philadelphia.

Unlike the Stars-Pens swap in which there are potentially big financial ramifications, the Blues-Avs swap was a pure hockey trade. A swap of four players in their twenties, three of which are only 22 and 23. Kudos to Greg Sherman and Doug Armstrong have the gonads to pull the trigger, but you can’t help but think that Armstrong, the much more experienced of the two, made out like a bandit. Peter Stastny, father of current Av alternate captain Paul and former a former St. Louis and Nordique star, ripped into Sherman, saying the trade “destroyed the team.” (See? It helps waiting a while because of tidbits like these, although my original stance on the trade remains unchanged.)

The two biggest pieces in the deal are obviously Chris Stewart and former no. 1 pick Erik Johnson. By dealing away Johnson and captain Brewer, the Blues are handing the reigns over to David Backes, who will be named captain prior to the start of next season, and Alex Pietrangelo, who has taken some major strides this year. With a smallish lineup (TJ Oshie) that doesn’t play a particularly physical game (Patrik Berglund, David Perron), having Stewart busting down the wing or screening the goalie gives them loads of help and relieves some pressure of Backes. The bruising winger can put the puck in the net and will be a mainstay in their top six for years to come. Kevin Shattenkirk, the other player going to St. Louis, was a highly touted NCAA product out of storied Boston University where he was captain in his junior year. After a short 10-game stint in Lake Erie he was called up and has been a mainstay since, although his defensive play is still developing.

In Colorado, outside of Peter Mueller, who has yet to dress this year due to post-concussion symptoms, and the aging Milan Hejduk, the Avalanche now have no significant wingers to speak of. I get where the elder Stastny is coming from – Stewart is a rare specimen and given the rash of injuries the Avs have suffered this year and their youth, it would have been wise to give them some more time. With all due respect to Jay McClement, but a blue-collar player like him can be easily replaced, so essentially, it was Johnson for Shattenkirk and Stewart, with draft picks being swapped as well.The worst thing a GM can do to a young team is give up on them too fast, just as Mike Milbury had done in Long Island, and set the franchise back decades. But acquiring Johnson certainly gives the Avs some defensive stability, although Johnson is clearly still a few years away from being Norris material, and even then that is only speculation. The road to being an elite NHL player is not easy.

Time will tell which team got the better end of the deal but for now, I agree with the elder Stastny.