1) This week marked the end of the Lindy Ruff era in Buffalo. Ruff, who was in his 15th season behind the Sabres bench, was the second longest tenured coach in pro sports behind the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. After so long, his message was falling on deaf ears. However, the problems in Buffalo run a lot deeper than just the coach. This team is poorly put together, lacking any sort of discernible identity.
Al Montoya has emerged as the Islanders’ best goalie and since the Islanders are going to be saddled with Rick DiPietro’s contract forever, Evgeni Nabokov is the odd man out. That’s fine for Nabokov, I would imagine, since he didn’t want to be there in the first place and it doesn’t look like the team will be making the playoffs, sitting last in the Atlantic.
The problem, though, is the Blue Jackets are interested, and that means moving on to an even worse team and market.
1. Boston Bruins
Additions: Joe Corvo, Benoit Pouliot
Losses: Tomas Kaberle, Michael Ryder
Injuries: Marc Savard (concussion), Nathan Horton (concussion)
How could you not rank the reigning champs first? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” but the Bruins still upgraded Kaberle to Corvo (a better fit) and replaced Ryder with Pouliot. This young Bruins squad is good and they’ve got the winning experience to back it up. Did I mention Tim Thomas is a Hero?
2. Chicago Blackhawks
Additions: Andrew Brunette, Dan Carcillo, Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell, Ray Emery (tryout)
Losses: Chris Campoli, Tomas Kopecky, Brian Campbell, Marty Turco
Bowman’s biggest accomplishment this summer was making his team cheaper but better. Kopecky and Campbell took their $10 million to tax-free Florida, while Bowman’s gone out and picked up serviceable guys like Brunette, the stone-footed yet ageless wonder, O’Donnell, to give Patrick Kane’s head a smack once in a while, and Carcillo, because Blackhawks party limos need better parties. And if you’re not rooting for Emery, you’re a jerk.
3. San Jose Sharks
Additions: Brent Burns, Michal Handzus, Martin Havlat, Colin White
Losses: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Wellwood
If Brent Burns is the solution to all of the Sharks’ problems, his value alone would outweigh all of their losses. White further solidifies their blueline, which all of a sudden looks quite formidable, although I wonder why they passed on Hannan, who not only is a familiar face but also more familiar with the West’s style of play. Having Handzus also means both Couture and Pavelski move into the top six permanently, giving the Sharks the second scoring unit they’ve been longing for.
4. Vancouver Canucks
Additions: Marco Sturm, Owen Nolan (tryout), Todd Fedoruk (tryout)
Losses: Christian Ehrhoff, Raffi Torres, Tanner Glass
Injuries: Ryan Kesler (hip), Mason Raymond (back)
The Canucks breezed through the season and came within one game of winning the Cup, but with the way the series played out, you could’ve argued for the Canucks to either revamp the roster or give this core another chance and find support in both schools of thought. Gillis, ever the players’ GM, chose the latter. But the injury to Kesler and the Canucks’ penchant for slow Octobers (5 L in 9 GP) means the Canucks must bring their A-game from the get-go. And if Gillis thinks Nolan is the Mark Recchi-type the team was missing in June, I point to Recchi’s two rings earned prior to joining the Bruins.
5. Detroit Red Wings
Additions: Ian White, Mike Commodore, Ty Conklin
Losses: Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper, Mike Modano, Chris Osgood
The Red Wings are like those Canadian Chevy commercials from the early 2000’s: “Tried, Tested, and True” – while Commodore’s game has slipped, Holland again prefers his well-traveled and experienced vets and shied away from the market. The additions are solid and the emergence of Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar couldn’t come at a better time, with ALL of the Wings’ personnel losses due to retirements (except Modano… but it’s close for him too).
6. Washington Capitals
Additions: Tomas Vokoun, Roman Hamrlik, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward
Losses: Semyon Varlamov, Scott Hannan, Eric Fehr, Anton Gustafsson
Injuries: Tom Poti (groin)
Whatever morale the Caps had built up after dismantling the hapless Rangers in five games was quickly obliterated by the Lightning in four games. Ovechkin was ineffective (for his standards) and only managed to match last year’s point totals. This summer the Caps received their makeover, landing a veteran goalie and adding more physical wingers, but given how uninspired the locker room is rumoured to be, you just wonder if the Caps will be anything more than just regular season paper tigers.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
Additions: Steve Sullivan
Losses: Max Talbot
Injuries: Sidney Crosby (concussion)
Of all of the Penguins’ UFAs, Talbot was the last player I thought Shero would let walk. Regardless, the Penguins’ future depends on Crosby’s health. If he’s 100%, the Pens are undoubtedly the best team in the East. Without Crosby the Pens are much less dynamic, as would any team without the league’s best player, but a Malkin-Staal 1-2 punch isn’t bad either. There’s enough for the Pens to seriously contend but they need Crosby, as does the NHL.
8. Los Angeles Kings
Additions: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Colin Fraser, Ethan Moreau
Losses: Ryan Smyth, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Alexei Ponikarovsky
Injuries: Colin Fraser (foot)
The two biggest trade chips Lombardi dealt away are aged 20 and 23. The pair of former Flyers, the two new big acquisitions, are aged 26 and 31. It’s “win now” time for the LA Kings.
9. New York Rangers
Additions: Brad Richards, Mike Rupp, Tim Erixon
Losses: Chris Drury, Matt Gilroy, Bryan McCabe
Gaborik’s deal looked great when he was churning out 4-goal games on a regular basis, but by his sophomore year the Rangers were really regretting that contract. Could Richards turn out the same? There are two opposing opinions of Richards: one, he’s a playoff performer who’s averaged more than a point per game for the past two seasons; and two, he’s a minus player, a powerplay specialist who benefits from having good wingers. I tend to buy into more negative opinion, if only because the players Sather throws money at are consistently disappointing. (Steve has more on the Rangers here.)
10. Buffalo Sabres
Additions: Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr
Losses: Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer
My opinion of Terry Pegula went downhill pretty fast. Just because you have money doesn’t you can just throw it around and expect things to work out, but while the Sabres are enjoying their new-found optimism I shudder to think what the future ramifications of Ehrhoff’s contract are. The Sabres are a much deeper team and could use a bounce-back year from Tyler Myers, but the real worry is cap management.
11. Philadelphia Flyers
Additions: Ilya Bryzgalov, Brayden Schenn, Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek
Losses: Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Brian Boucher, Kris Versteeg, Nikolay Zherdev
Injuries: Chris Pronger (back)
There’s no argument that the Flyers are the biggest unknown heading into 2011-’12. It’s like the Flyers started June as Ke$ha then came out of July looking like Hilary Duff – the image is undoubtedly cleaner (and more sober), but we’re still not sure whose music we hate more. The season hinges on Schenn while the playoffs hinge on Bryzgalov. That’s a lot of pressure for a rookie and goalie who likes going to parks. And yes, Jagr did completely poo-poo on his legacy in Pittsburgh, but I’m betting by the end of the year he’ll be the most hated person in all of Pennsylvania. Actually, you can take that to the bank.
12. Anaheim Ducks
Additions: Andrew Cogliano, Andrew Gordon, Kurtis Foster
Losses: Teemu Selanne, , Ray Emery, Todd Marchant, Jarkko Ruutu, Andy Sutton
The superstar trio of Getzlaf, Ryan, and Perry can keep the team afloat without Selanne, but they need more sidekicks and Visnovsky’s 68-point performance will be hard to replicate. Heads will turn to Andrew Gordon, the former St. Cloud St. star who is a prolific AHL scorer and will get his opportunity to shine in Anaheim after being buried in top-heavy Washington. We’ll see if the 26-year old goes the way of Matt Moulson or Jeff Tambellini (coincidentally, both are former Kings, except Moulson managed to stick around on Long Island).
13. Tampa Bay Lightning
Additions: Mathieu Garon, Matt Gilroy, Ryan Shannon
Losses: Sean Bergenheim, Simon Gagne
I’m disappointed in Yzerman’s quiet off-season. With a Conference Finals appearance it would’ve been the perfect time to attract some good depth players and even though the market wasn’t very good (didn’t stop Tallon), there were a couple of players the Lightning could’ve used. Instead, the Lightning lost Bergenheim to in-state rival Panthers and Gagne to LA. Picking up Garon may be the shrewdest move of the summer, since expecting Roloson to start 60+ games would be foolhardy. We’ll also have to see if Guy Boucher’s magic touch is for real.
14. Calgary Flames
Additions: Scott Hannan, Chris Butler
Losses: Robyn Regehr, Adam Pardy, Steve Staios, Tim Erixon
With everyone in the organization breathing a little easier without Darryl Sutter around and having survived the “Iggy to LA?” scare, Feaster’s promises of change brought in a new wave of optimism. Dealing away Regehr (thanks to Pegula) and letting Staios walk were no-brainer decisions and just as you thought Feaster was turning the franchise around, he commits no-trades to Tanguay, Glencross, and Babchuk, bringing the total number of NTCs on the Flames’ roster to 12 (of 20 regulars). But remember, the Flames went 24-11-9 under Feaster, so maybe it was all psychological.
15. Nashville Predators
Additions: Niclas Bergfors, Zack Stortini
Losses: Joel Ward, Cody Franson, Shane O’Brien
Retaining Weber was Poile’s biggest and best move this summer. Without him, the Preds are rudderless and would forced to rely solely on Pekka Rinne. The Preds are at a natural disadvantage when it comes to luring free agents due to their small market business model, but if they don’t add some significant bodies to show Weber that the team is willing to spend and win, I think he leaves. Brace yourself for a potentially excruciatingly slow divorce, Nashville. Barry Trotz is the one constant in Nashville.
16. Montreal Canadiens
Additions: Erik Cole, Peter Budaj
Losses: Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Brent Sopel, Paul Mara, Benoit Pouliot
It doesn’t really matter when you have Price in net, but the return of Markov and Gorges should offset the quadruplet of defensemen Gauthier allowed to walk. But with the saved money Gauthier opted for Cole, a player coming off his first ever injury-free season and eclipsed the 80 games played mark for the first time since 2004. Price and Subban become RFAs next summer and you can’t help but think that Gauthier missed a golden opportunity to beef up his roster and failed to capitalize on the low cap values of Price and Subban ($3.625m combined, when their on-ice value is closer to $10m).
17. St. Louis Blues
Additions: Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, Brian Elliott
Injuries: David Perron (concussion)
I think the idea behind signing Arnott and Langenbrunner was not only to stabilize a young locker room, but to also give some of the team’s developing young talents, like Patrik Berglund, a big nudge in the right direction. A talented team is not a winning team until a clear leader has been appointed. The team has to decide whether or not this is the right core for the next five years. It’s showtime in the “Show Me” state.
18. Toronto Maple Leafs
Additions: John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson, Matt Lombardi, Tim Connolly
Losses: J-S Giguere, Brett Lebda!
Injuries: Matt Lombardi (concussion), Colton Orr (concussion)
Getting rid of Giguere and Lebda alone was a big step forward for Burke, but signing Connolly, upgrading Kaberle to Liles, swiping Franson, and learning Lombardi is getting healthy gives Leafs Nation rational reasons to be optimistic. Best case scenario: Lombardi and Connolly both stay healthy and the Leafs make the playoffs because of it. But the landscape also has to be conducive for the Leafs to sneak in – one of Washington, Philly, Pitt, Boston, Tampa, Montreal, Buffalo, and NYR has to drop out of the top 8… and it’s difficult to pick which one. (Habs would get the most votes, I imagine).
19. Carolina Hurricanes
Additions: Tomas Kaberle, Anthony Stewart, Brian Boucher, Alexei Ponikarovsky
Losses: Joe Corvo, Cory Stillman
I’d snort if you signed Poni for $3.2 million, but at $1.5 million I might even take you seriously. He was laughably horrendous for the Kings last year but like Calgary’s gamble with Tanguay, what if Poni pots 40 points? Picking up Boucher was also an astute move because Justin Peters couldn’t cut it (pure ugly: 3.98 GAA, .875 SV%). It also still amazes me that Eric Staal can be one of the league’s worst in the circle (amongst FOW leaders only he and Grabovski are sub-50%) and he’ll need Jeff Skinner to light it up again if they want to make a late playoff charge.
20. New Jersey Devils
Additions: Peter DeBoer
Losses: Colin White, Brian Rolston, Trent Hunter
Injuries: Travis Zajac (Achilles)
The big addition was DeBoer, a good coach who got stuck on a really bad team. I originally thought Hunter would dress for the Devils, since he’s the type of blue-collar winger they like, but Lou’s cold – he bought out Hunter and veteran Colin White and jettisoned Rolston a second time. They were forward-moving moves though, but losing Zajac for 3 months with a torn Achilles was a definite step back. The biggest reason for optimism? Zach Parise’s return.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
Additions: James Wisniewski, Jeff Carter, Vinny Prospal, Mark Dekanich, Curtis Sanford
Losses: Mathieu Garon, Jakub Voracek, Ethan Moreau
Injuries: Kristian Huselius (pectoral)
After the Flyers, the Jackets are the NHL’s number two biggest unknown. The big question everyone’s asking is how well Carter will mesh with Nash. You’ll have supporters and detractors, but if Nash-Carter combine for less than 70 goals the team’s in trouble. The real question for me is how long Steve Mason can convince Howson he’s not a bust. The team’s biggest safety net last year was Garon (10 wins) and he hasn’t been adequately replaced, with apologies to both Sanford and Dekanich.
22. Dallas Stars
Additions: Glen Gulutzan, Michael Ryder, Vern Fiddler, Jake Dowell, Adam Pardy, Sheldon Souray, Eric Godard
Losses: Brad Richards, Marc Crawford
If it’s any consolation to Crawford, the Stars sans Richards are even less likely to make the playoffs. (I don’t think the issue with Richards was money – the Stars spent close to $10 million on this year’s roster alone – but I do think the pull of playing on Broadway in MSG under Tortorella on a good team was just too great. Brad Gardner wrote a must-read piece on Richards.) Ribeiro becomes the de facto number one centre and if that’s not bad enough, there’s now a huge void on the second line. A lot of their success will also depend on Lehtonen’s health, whose 34 wins last year were the most by a Stars goalie since 2007.
23. Minnesota Wild
Additions: Mike Yeo, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Josh Harding (knee)
Losses: Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Todd Richards, Cam Barker
A lot of dead weight was sent packing to San Jose, but a lot of dead weight came back with it. What the Wild are really counting on is Mike Yeo, Todd Richards’ highly-touted replacement, tutored by Bylsma and aced the AHL test last year. Are the Wild, the 20 players that make up the nightly roster, any better though? I’m not convinced, especially for a team that has little resembling a six-man defense corps.
24. Colorado Avalanche
Additions: Semyon Varlamov, Jan Hejda, J-S Giguere, Shane O’Brien, Chuck Kobasew, Peter Mueller (concussion), Joakim Lindstrom
Losses: Peter Budaj, Brian Elliott, Tomas Fleischmann
All the pieces are there, but it’s just now a question of how they’ll fare, both new and returning players. I know Varlamov and Giguere can stop pucks between alternating visits to the IR, but I’m not sure which direction Erik Johnson’s trending or if Mueller even remembers how to get to the rink. Is Stastny staying or going? How will the high air affect SOB’s drinking? Why didn’t Sherman just offer sheet Varlamov? If everyone gels and Duchene takes the next step though, watch out.
25. Winnipeg Jets
Additions: Kevin Cheveldayoff, Claude Noel, Eric Fehr, Tanner Glass
The Jets fly into the season (first and only time I do this, I swear) largely unchanged. The summer was spent getting caught up to speed, recruiting for AIRCOM, leaking the logo, and deciding which players would whine the least about living in Winnipeg. They flew out of the gates under Ramsay/Dudley (6 games over .500 by December) but faded down the stretch, and with no improvements look for them to post similar numbers to last year. The Jets should feel lucky they’re in the Southeast this year – once they move west they’ll quickly become cannon fodder.
26. Florida Panthers
Additions (deep breath): Jose Theodore, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Matt Bradley, Marcel Goc, Kevin Dineen
Losses: Tomas Vokoun, Sergei Samsonov
I’m still convinced that Tallon will have dealt half of these players by Deadline Day 2013, and that none of them will still be a Panther if, and when, the Panthers become legitimate contenders. There’s really no pressure to win in Florida, which sends off all sorts of warning flags in my head about the competitiveness of this team, but there’s enough fight in Kopecky and charm in Versteeg to keep things interesting. Theodore wasn’t bad in Minnesota (15 wins, .916 SV%) but does he still have the ability to carry a team?
27. New York Islanders
Additions: Mark Streit (shoulder), Brian Rolston, Marty Reasoner, Evgeni Nabokov
Losses: Zenon Konopka, Trent Hunter
The Islanders’ PP was only 17th, but the return of Streit will certainly change that. I have no doubts that the Islanders will be busy scoring goals, but I’m wondering how they’ll manage to keep pucks out of the net. The Islanders’ options in net are: a 26-year old whose career NHL SV% is inexplicably 20 points higher than his AHL SV%, a mouthy never-was who has won only 11 games over the past 3 years (but signed for 9 more), and a Russian who didn’t want to be affiliated with the team at all.
28. Edmonton Oilers
Additions: Cam Barker, Andy Sutton, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Smyth
Losses: Andrew Cogliano, Kurtis Foster
Injuries: Ryan Whitney, Gilbert Brule (concussion)
Lombardi publicly declared he’d rather invest in Bernie Madoff’s word than Tamby’s after the Fraser-Smyth fiasco, and the Kings have officially filed a grievance. I find it curious that the Oilers under Tambellini, and Kevin Lowe before that, are a team that no one really likes to deal with. By rights the talent level of the Oilers doesn’t warrant a 28th rank but they still have a lot of learning to do. With their wealth of scoring talent this is still a team that went 0-37 with the man advantage through January. Defensively and in net the Oilers are still very much behind. James Mirtle and Tyler Dellow sure didn’t mince words in their assessment.
29. Ottawa Senators
Additions: Zenon Konopka, Alex Auld, Nikita Filatov
Losses: Cory Clouston, Alexei Kovalev, Pascal Leclaire
The Sens had their yard sale at the deadline and did their damage at the draft, although I think picking up Konopka was a very understated move (307 PIM, 57.7 FO%). I like that Murray has kept Spezza around (still considered young at 28) because I think he’s still a very talented playmaker and hard to replace. The Sens will ice a very young team (read: lose a lot of games) so players like the high-scoring Bobby Butler are the ones to watch. We’ll also have to see if Anderson is worth 4 years and $12.75 million (I doubt it).
30. Phoenix Coyotes
Additions: Mike Smith, Raffi Torres, Boyd Gordon, Kyle Chipchura, Petteri Nokelainen (again)
Losses: Ilya Bryzgalov, Ed Jovanovski, Vern Fiddler
The last line of defense on any team is usually the goalie, but for Tippett it’s Keith Yandle. The brick wall that once was Bryzgalov has become one made of straw (or sticks?) with a Smith/LaBarbera tandem (combined 20 wins last year – Bryz alone had 36). The Coyotes’ 2.68 GA/G (13th) will balloon and their middle-of-the-pack, offense-by-committee (G/G was 14th, 8 15+ goal scorers) won’t be enough to bail them out. The Coyotes had 99 points and could face a 30+ point drop. It’s not so much that the Coyotes are THAT much worse without Bryz and Jovo, but because everyone else is getting better.