Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks: Are they ready to return to championship form?

The Chicago Blackhawks got off to an extremely slow start to the season last year, and it seemed that they were still hungover from their Stanley Cup victory the year before. The Hawks are looking to battle the Wings for the top spot in the Central Division and they hope to have an easier time getting into the Playoffs this time around, instead of waiting until the final week of the season to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

What Happened Last Season:  The Blackhawks started the season off extremely sluggish. They were sitting between the seventh-thirteenth seed for most of the season, and with a late surge at the end of the season, they managed to make the Playoffs and were granted the opportunity to face the mighty Canucks in the first round. After losing the first three games, the Hawks came back and forced overtime in game 7, only to lose on a foolish clearing attempt by Chris Campoli that went right to Alex Burrows.

While the results of the season were a bit disappointing, the play of Corey Crawford was a pleasant surprise. The Hawks after losing Niemi due to financial constraints, were placing their trust in Marty Turco. After Turco showed how inconsistent he can be in the first fifteen games of the season, the reins of the starting job were handed to Crawford and he ran with it. I am sure GM Stan Bowman is the happiest man, as he probably had no chance at landing a solid big name goaltender this season. (Although I might add, inviting Ray Emery to camp was an extremely smart backup plan, should Crawford have a sophomore slump).

Summer Cap Space and Off-Season Needs: The biggest need for the Blackhawks this off-season, was to sign some depth forwards and defencemen. In order to accomplish that one of the big contracts on the roster needed to be cleared off the cap. Bowman did just that by trading Brian Campbell and his albatross $7 million dollar cap hit for the next five seasons to the Florida Panthers. Bowman made some solid depth moves by signing veteran Andrew Brunette and Jamal Mayers up front, and the extremely underrated Steve Montador on defence. Combined with the acquisition of Michael Frolik at the end of last season, the Hawks have gotten some solid secondary scoring and will not be forced to rely on the big guns all the time for goal scoring production.

Stan Bowman is a very intelligent general manager. While many analysts, including myself spent a lot of time praising him for the Campbell trade, the biggest and perhaps most important that happened this off-season was trading Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals for a first round pick.Troy Brouwer, while being a talented player, was looking to cash in this summer on a new contract. Bowman realized that players like Brouwer are replaceable cheap on the open market, and if you can get a first round pick for him you go for it. Ultimately Brouwer was replaced with Brunette, a much more talented scorer, and provides some more veteran leadership for this young Hawks roster. Brunette also comes at approximately half a million dollars cheaper than what Brouwer ultimately signed for with the Capitals

What the Future Holds: The Blackhawks will be a surefire playoff team for years to come, and look for them to continue challenging for the Stanley Cup on a yearly basis. They have their core of superstars (Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp and Hossa) all signed through 2015, and it looks like they have found their goaltender for the future as well. If some of the depth and young players like Dave Bolland, Brian Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, Nicklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy can continue to grow, this team will remain extremely dangerous in the future.

The Hawks biggest problem last season, which contributed to their cap woes, was all of the bonuses that their players received after winning the Stanley Cup. This season, the Hawks are only on the hook for half a million dollars in bonuses, and still remain over three million dollars under the cap, look for them to add a significant piece at about the halfway point in the season if they feel that they are in Cup contention.

What I like most about the way that Bowman has handled the cap issues facing his team is the return that he has been getting for his players. When he traded Byfuglien and Ladd in separate trades to the Thrashers (now Jets) last summer, he received a couple of first and second round picks. This year as well, he received for Brouwer a first rounder. The calculation is simple; Bowman is not looking to draft a star player with these picks. He is looking to continue to have talented depth on entry level, or cheap deals to surround his superstars. While it would be nice to draft another star, if he can continue to replace players like Bolland when their contracts get too expensive with first round talent, he will be able to support the talent he has on the roster for many years to come. Just like when Versteeg, Byfuglien, Ladd and Brouwer got too expensive to retain, they were replaced by Stalberg, Leddy, and Bickell, Bowman is accumulating talent to eventually replace these players as well, should they become too expensive in a couple of years time.

Predictions: Without the Marty Turco experiment to start the season, the Hawks will easily make the Playoffs and as always, will be a tough team to beat in a seven game series. I have them finishing fifth in the Western Conference, barely losing to Detroit for the Central Division title.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Carolina Hurricanes: Are they solely relying on internal growth for this season?

The Carolina Hurricanes are one of the least talked about teams in the entire NHL, and have been that way ever since they transferred over from Hartford. What is interesting is that they have kept such a low profile despite being in the Cup Finals twice in the last nine seasons. Only the Red Wings, Ducks and Penguins can boast such a gaudy track record. Part of the reason for the lack of excitement surrounding the team is due to the lack of big name free agents that have been signed over the years. Historically they always have brought in solid veterans a la Brind Amour and Whitney, but always fail to show interest in the big name players. It seems that this summer's game plan was to sign all the former ex-Leafs available on the market, as they signed Thomas Kaberle, Alex Ponikarovsky and Tim Brent.

What Happened Last Year: The Carolina Hurricanes finished the season tenth in the Eastern Conference after making a push for the Playoffs towards the end of the season before finally fading in the last few games. While the Canes did not make the Playoffs, they did have a number of bright spots on their roster. The play of Jeff Skinner was absolutely remarkable, being the only player in the NHL born in 1992, not much was expected from the young Skinner, but not only he did win the Calder Trophy, he was also the youngest player in the history of hockey to appear in an NHL All-Star Game, since the the league started making two teams of All-Star players, instead of formatting the contest as the Stanley Cup winners versus the rest of the league. Together with the growth of Jamie McBain and Brandon Sutter, Canes fans have some young players to be excited for in the future.

Summer Cap and Off-Season needs: The Hurricanes had an extremely peculiar off-season, in which I do not see how they managed to solve any of their off-season troubles. The largest weakness on what was an extremely mediocre team overall, was their lack of depth on the blue-line. The Canes are going to be placing a lot of hope in some of their young prospects on defence to provide them with some depth. Prospect Ryan Murphy, who the Canes were lucky to nab with the 12th pick, has a very good chance of making the team this season at the tender age of 18.

GM Jim Rutherford took part in one of the most perplexing transactions of the summer. He signed former Bruin Thomas Kaberle to a three year deal with an average salary of $4.25 million per season. My assessment of the signing is that he paid market/ marginally above market for his services, which is fair considering he was drawing a free agent to Carolina. However what is perplexing is that he subsequently traded his best goal scoring defenceman, Joe Corvo, to the same Bruins for a late round draft pick. Joe Corvo and Thomas Kaberle are both offensive minded defenceman and the same age. However there are two key differences between Corvo and Kaberle, and both of them are what make this "swap" so perplexing. 1) Corvo is the better goal scorer. He outscored Kaberle 11-4. With Rutherford re-signing Joni Pitkanen, one of the best playmaking defenceman in hockey, it would have certainly made a lot of sense for Rutherford to keep a goal scoring defenceman instead of trading him away. 2) With the Hurricanes barely above tha cap floor it is quite obvious that they are in a financial crisis. With that in mind, it is perplexing to trade away Corvo, their top scoring defenceman who has a salary of $2 million and a cap hit of $2.25 million, only to sign Kaberle at double the amount of money. Also, it is not like Corvo was the highest paid defenceman on the Canes roster. Pitkanen (rightfully so) Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason all have higher salaries for the upcoming season and the latter two should have been the ones to be moved. If Rutherford was not able to move either of them he would have been well advised to keep Corvo and invest that $2 million in another offensive player. I would really love an explanation from Jim Rutherfod, as this sequence of events continues to baffle me a month later.

On offence I really like what Rutherford did with his limited financial resources. He rightfully did not match the $18 million deal that the Canadiens gave Erik Cole, as he is one of the most injury prone players in sports. He replaced him with Alex Ponikarovsky, who despite having an awful season last year is still only a season removed from back-to-back 50 point campaigns. At $1.5 million on a one year contract, there is basically no downside to this signing. Rutherford also added former Leaf favorite Tim Brent, and will be pleased with the work ethic and penalty killing ability of his off-season signing.

The one move that I really liked which nearly makes up (not quite actually) for the Corvo debacle is the Anthony Stewart signing. The Jets chose not to tender him a contract, thus making him an unrestricted free agent, and Rutherford nabbed him for two years at $900,000 per season. With 39 points last season and showing some flashes of star talent, pairing him up with youngsters Sutton and Skinner has the potential to create a fantastic trio for many years to come. Also, with proven talent in the family it is always worth taking the risk!

What the Future Holds: I am not sure exactly the plan that Jim Rutherford is looking to put into place, but the team structure is not very strong by any stretch of the imagination. For a team that is sitting near the floor of the cap with team salary slightly above $49 million, it is almost crippling that $15 million is invested in superstar Eric Staal and slightly above average goalie Cam Ward. Both of these contracts are above average wage for players of their skill set (with Ward being way above average) and a team with an alleged internal budget these contracts are extremely restraining. I am going to go out on a limb that if the Canes will ever climb out of mediocrity, it will either be because they start spending to the cap, or that Eric Staal will be moved, as Ward's contract is simply too prohibitive. Despite the young talent on the roster, I simply do not see a significant improvement in the near future. Yet, I feel a bit nervous to count out the Canes as they always manage to overachieve.

My Prediction: I want to say that they will be close to competing for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but with teams like Toronto, Buffalo and New York improving both internally and via acquisitions, I simply don't think they have much of a chance. I think they will end up 11th in the Conference.

Hope you enjoyed!
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Calgary Flames: Feaster trying a massive re-tooling job, instead of a total rebuild.

The Calgary Flames have been on a downward trajectory ever since they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. The only real constant for the Flames has been the play of Jarome Iginla. After a down season by his standards in 2010, Iggy re-asserted himself as one of the best forwards in the NHL last season. As I wrote in another article a few months ago, the Flames have been stuck in mediocrity and remained up against the salary cap for the past few seasons. GM Jay Feaster did a fantastic job of lowering the cap number, while not letting go of any of his young, talented players.

What Happened Last Season: The Calgary Flames finished about where everyone expected them to- a couple of points out of the playoffs, or as some might say, decent but not quite good enough. The most interesting aspect of the Flames season was how they got there. For the first half of the season the Flames joined fellow Canadian teams like the Oilers, Senators, and Leafs at the bottom of the league standings. At about the halfway point in the season, the Flames turned around and played hockey as if they were a perennial Stanley Cup contender. While the Flames ultimately did not make the Playoffs, there were some good things that came out of last season. Firstly, and most important as well, Iginla showed that he is still one of the best players in the league. He finished third in the NHL in goals, while playing with vastly inferior talent to all the other players in the top ten scorer. Also, the continued growth and emergence of Anton Babchuk and Mark Giordano provided assurance and the depth for the Flames on the back-end, which gave them the confidence to trade Robyn Regehr, and provide themselves with some serious salary cap relief.

Cap Space and Off-Season Needs: The Calgary Flames biggest off-season need was simply to create cap room. My stance on success, is that if your team is currently built in a way that it cannot win the Stanley Cup then you should never be satisfied with mediocrity (which is what I predict will happen in Buffalo) and Feaster took the first necessary step to facilitate the revamping process. In order to re-sign both Curtis Glencross and Anton Babchuk, while still creating some cap room for the future, the plan was to get rid of some unnecessary contracts. The Flames at the end of the season had too many forwards that were making too much money. Nik Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ales Kotalik and Daymond Langkow were all making over three million dollars last season to essentially contribute nothing. Feaster was able to clear about ten million dollars in cap space for the upcoming season, and about $4 million for the following year. The first move that Feaster made was an old-fashioned win-win for both organizations. The Flames dealt from a position of strength by moving Robyn Regehr, one of their high profile physical defencemen, to the Buffalo Sabres on condition that Buffalo would take on Ales Kotalik's salary as well. The Sabres, behind new owner Terry Pegula, have plenty of extra cash and acquiring such a talent like Regehr fit nicely into their new expenditures strategy. Feaster temporarily replaced Regehr with Scott Hannan, and at a 1yr/$1 million deal, it looks like a bargain. While the addition of Hannan will most definitely not make the Flames a contender, it is not like they were going to contend with Regehr in the lineup, and he is a viable enough replacement that it was worth it for the cap flexibility.

A couple of weeks ago Feaster traded the oft-injured Lankgow to the Phoenix Coyotes for the streaky Lee Stempniak. From the Flames perspective this trade has no downside. When healthy Langkow is only marginally more effective than Stempniak, yet makes more than double the amount of money in salary. Both Stempniak and Lankgow have their contracts come off the books at the end of the season, but this will give Feaster some more flexibility to make a move during the season if he wants to add a player via trade. Again love the trade, as Feaster knows this years results are essentially moot and irrelevant.

What the Future Holds: I am going to suppose a theory here, and would love to hear your comments and opinions in the comments section below. Jay Feaster is completely aware that his team is in no position to win the Stanley Cup this season. They do not have the talent to compete with the superpowers in the league, and need a couple of other big name players if they want to really compete. Yet Feaster has chosen to revamp and retool his team instead of rebuilding it. In most cases I would disagree with him, but after seeing the cap clearing moves he did this off-season, the potential is back in Calgary for some success in the near future. At the end of this season the Flames will have 12 players under contract for a total of $41 million dollars. Assuming the cap ends up staying in the range it is at now, the Flames will approximately have $25 million to round out their roster. Although that number does not sound optimistic, I am sure Feaster has taken a look at the players that he does have under contract, and is satisfied and confident that he can significantly improve his roster next off-season. Among the ten most talented players that the Flames have on their roster, only Olli Jokinen is not under contract for next season. So while they need to fill out their roster, they have the money to spend it on some big names, because they will not be losing anyone significant off their roster. Kiprusoff, Iginla, Bowmeester, Giordano, Tanguay, Glencross, Bourque and Babchuk are all still under contract and form a solid foundation for the future. Also, let it not be forgotten that the Flames were only three points out of the Playoffs despite being one of the worst teams in the league for over half a season. Aside from Regehr that core group all still remains intact, and could be looking at a solid influx in talent next summer.

This in many ways explains why Tanguay received a five year contract. Feaster decided to lock him up at a relatively inexpensive $3.5 million per season with the notion in mind that there is a real possibility this team can be a serious contender in 2012-2013. To put in perspective the steal that Feaster got with Tanguay, Ville Leino received a 6 yr/$27 million deal, and only yesterday R.J. Umberger signed for 5 yr/$23 million. At 5 yr/$17.5 million there is no reason not to sign him if you plan on competing in the near future, as his stats and experience both are extremely favorable to those two players that got much bigger deals.

In many ways this plan of action goes against conventional thinking, but I think he has the right idea. Jarome Iginla and Miika Kiprusoff are not going to get any younger, and the time to win when these are your stars is now. He has adapted his strategy to his player base, and if played out correctly, Feaster may end up looking like a genius.

My Prediction: The Flames have not done much to improve for this season and will once again finish outside of the Playoffs and eleventh in the Western Conference. Despite this fall in the standings, I do not think that the future has looked better in Calgary from a salary cap perspective since the cap was instituted after the lockout.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Buffalo Sabres: Darcy Regier cannot control spending after getting more money from ownership.

The Buffalo Sabres have historically been one of the cheapest and poorest teams in the NHL, and were highlighted by their filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003. Well those days appear to be over. On February 23, 2011 the Buffalo Sabres were purchased by local owner Terry Pegula with the promise that the team will remain in Buffalo, and will be competitive for many years to come. Pegula's purchase of the Sabres has created one of the largest off-season expenditures in hockey history. The jury is out on the Sabres will be any better after spending all this money, or will be the new edition of the pre-lockout New York Rangers.

What happened last year: The Buffalo Sabres lost in the Game 7 of the first round of the NHL Playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers after blowing a two goal lead in in game 6 which lead to what was a wild final game. The whole season was filled with ups and downs for the Sabres. They started off the season extremely slowly, winning only three of their first 14 games. After 35 games and the Playoffs far from sight, the Sabres lost their best scorer Derek Roy to injury for the rest of the season. Everything looked lost. Well as we know, they ended up coming back and stormed into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The reason that the Sabres were able to climb back into the Playoffs was mainly due to fantastic production from some of their top offensive players. Thomas Vanek had a great bounce-back season, (and is finally earning at least 40% of his mammoth contract). Drew Stafford broke the thirty goal barrier, and was in the top five in the NHL in goals per game. Tim Connolly managed to play 68 games and had a respectable 42 points and together with the rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe really helped make up for the loss of Roy.

Small note for hockey poolies: Drew Stafford had a remarkable goal scoring campaign this past year. You might be a little skeptical drafting him believing that he was lucky based upon his 17.3% shooting percentage. However, before you pass judgement, it may be worth looking at his first two seasons in the NHL, he shot 19.4% and 15.5% respectively. While in 09-10 he scored on only 7% of shots, that may be the anomaly and the high shooting percentages the norm. He may simply be a remarkable shooter. I would look at him in a mid-late round in a pool that places high value on goals scoring.

Summer needs and Cap space available: Disclaimer- This may be the first time that you read an article that did not like the moves that the Buffalo Sabres did this summer. To put it bluntly I am not impressed. The Sabres are $4 million over the salary cap, and in no way do they look like a Stanley Cup caliber team. In my opinion, and probably the opinion of most hockey analysts, the Sabres needed to upgrade their offence, especially with the loss of Tim Connolly. Well they signed Ville Leino to a whopping 6 yr/$27 million dollar deal. This contract is absolutely ridiculous. Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier should have considered making a statement on a player with a significant track record. Leino has ONE season in the NHL with over 15 points, albeit 53, and no seasons with over 20 goals. In comparison players of the same age, like Dustin Brown making $3 million, Ryan Kesler making $5 million, Mike Ribeiro $5 million, the numbers for Leino look like an absolute joke. In no way does the addition of a good third liner make this team offensively lethal.

Below are the statistics of two players in their best statistical seasons, and in my opinion compare extremely favorably to Ville Leino. The first two stat lines belong to Jonas Hoglund. Anyone that has been following the Leafs since the late 90s knows that these statistics are inflated by playing with Mats Sundin. Nobody ever confused Hoglund with an objectively good player, and definitely would not have received a contract of $4.5 million. Actually in 2002, the first year after these "amazing statistical" seasons Hoglund was rewarded with a whopping $1.54 million dollars! (By the way the Leafs team salary for the season was over $65 million, which is over the allotted amount of the NHL salary cap this season- there goes that justification for Regier)

Year     Team       GP G A PTS
99-00 Mapleleafs 82 29 27 56
00-01 Mapleleafs 82 23 26 49

The below stat line belongs to current Leaf Colby Armstrong. The year in reference is his rookie year that he played on a line with Sidney Crosby. Armstrong was on pace for a 65 point season. Well as we all know, after being traded to the Thrashers, he resettled into his realistic role- a third line player that should make maximum $3 million (which some might consider high) and contribute as an above average third line player.
Year    Team   GP  G  A  PTS
05-06 Penguins 47 16  24 40
Sorry for the tangent but you see my point? Ville Leino played with some great players on the Flyers, and unless he plays with Vanek and Roy, he will see his numbers drop back down to a more realistic total. With the loss of Connolly the Sabres will have a harder time scoring goals then people are anticipating, unless Brad Boyes can return to the 40 goal scorer that he was at one point in his career.

To be fair to Regier he did make some savvy trades and took full advantage of Pegula's open pockets. The Calgary Flames needed to free up some money if they had any interest in trying to get creative and improve their team. (I noted this months before the trade He was willing to take the Kotalik contract off of Feaster's hands together with receiving Regehr and a second round pick, while giving up only depth defenceman Chris Butler. Savvy move for the high spending Sabres.
The other big signing this summer was snatching Christian Ehrhoff from the Vancouver Canucks. While the average salary of $4 million is very manageable, the length of the contract is a bit excessive. Ehrhoff will be 39 years old when the contract is over, and while he will only make $1 million per season in each of the final three years, the cap hit remains at $4 million. Unless Ehrhoff waives his no movement clause, they will not be able to place him in the minors should his career flounder. Risky move but it may pay off for the Sabres.

The final big news in the Sabres summer was announced only today. Tyler Myers was re-signed to a 7 yr/$38.5 million contract. The contract does not kick in until the end of this season, the final year of his entry level deal. This is an extremely expensive high risk deal for the Sabres, and in many ways provides the sort of dilemma that Brian Burke may be facing in his contract negotiations with Schenn. (I think the Myers contract was very much influenced by Tavares deal that he signed yesterday).

The Myers contract includes the first three seasons of his unrestricted free agency. The reason I do not like this signing is quite simple. If you would sign Myers for the final four seasons of his restricted free agency, you could get him signed in the range of $4.5 million per. Less than $4 million the first two seasons and about $5 million for the last two seasons. This would equal a total of 4 yr/ $18 million. Now the calculation continues as follows. What would Myers fetch on the open market as an unrestricted free agency? Let's assume that he will be looking at Shea Weber/ Zdeno Chara money (which is probably his peak potential) he would be looking at a contract in the range of $7 million for three seasons, for a total of $21 million. The sum of $18 million and $21 million would equal $39 million per season, or half a million in savings. Even if I am being conservative and I am under calculating by 10% this would still only equal savings of about $4 million over seven seasons. The risk of having a player with only two years of NHL experience, and playing a high risk style game is not worth 10% savings in contract.

What the future holds: Well the Sabres have a lot of players in long term contract. Ehrhoff, Myers, Vanek, Stafford, Ryan Miller, Andrej Sekera, Gerbe and Leino are all in Buffalo for at least the next three seasons. There are four key players that are unrestricted free agents following the season. Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad, and Ales Kotalik. While the total value of these four contracts is $13.5 million, one of these players is going to be starting the season in the AHL, as the Sabres are $4 million above the cap. Essentially the Sabres will have about $9 million dollars in cap space for next season to replace these players. Hecht and Kotalik will either take significant pay cut to approxiamtely the $1.75 million range, Gaustad would remain at about $2.5 million, and Boyes is the real wild card. If he has another fantastic season, (I think he will) then he is looking for another contract in the $4 -$4.5 miliion dollar range. In other words there is not much room for growth for the Sabres in the next five years. This is the team they are going to have, unless they make some trades, for the foreseeable future. All of the additional money that the Sabres might save in the next two years will need to be pumped into Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. The lack of ability to improve in future off-seasons via the free agent market is my biggest issue with the way Darcy Regier has handled the extra money ownership has given him.
My Prediction: This team definitely has enough talent to remain a playoff team assuming they can stay healthy. One variable I did not focus on is the unbelievable talent that they have in goal. Ryan Miller on his own can push this team over the top and into the Playoff picture. I think they are going to finish 6th in the Eastern Conference.
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Boston Bruins: Do they have what it takes to repeat?

After months of celebrating, and Zdeno Chara buying $100,000 bottles of champagne, it is time for the Boston Bruins to prepare for another grueling season, and attempt to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the 97-98 Red Wings. With the unfortunate news that Marc Savard will not play again this season and possibly for the rest of his career, let's see if the Bruins are able to come back and win another one for him. On a side note, I think it was extremely classy of GM Peter Chiarelli to publicly state that the team will petition to have Savard's name on the Cup, and highlights the respect that he has from his fellow teammates.

What happened last season: Champs! On the back of Tim Thomas, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the first time since the Bobby Orr era. Thomas this past season had the best save percentage since the stat started being tracked in 1983. What was so remarkable about their Cup victory was the resiliency that they showed at so many different times during the Playoffs. In the first round against the Canadiens, the Bruins came back in the series after losing the first two games on their own home ice. In the second round, the Flyers goalies ended up beating themselves, so I guess that doesn't count. In the third round- or the round I would like to call, "the round of Tyler Seguin becoming a superstar after two great games," the Bruins defeated a strong and speedy Lightning team, despite a relatively poor series from Tim Thomas, and went on to face the Canucks in the finals. That resiliency continued in the finals, when the Bruins responded after losing the first two games, to come back and win the series, (or maybe Luongo lost the series) in seven games.

While the unbelievable play of Tim Thomas was the main reason that the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, people often forget that Bruins were the deepest team in the Eastern Conference and possibly the entire league. While the Canucks and Lightning were coming at them with forty goal scorers, the Bruins responded by having three lines of players that are capable of scoring fifty points. The top point-getter on the Bruins had only 62 points on the season, despite the collective team being fifth in the NHL, in the goals scored category.

Another impressive aspect of their Stanley Cup run, was the gut showed by GM Peter Chiarelli, to not only trade some top prospects and picks, but to take key players like Blake Wheeler and Brad Stuart off the current roster, with the foresight to realize the importance that  players with the speed and defensive ability, like Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley can offer. As he does every season, Chiarelli continues to make slight improvements to his roster, ensuring the best results from his teams.

Summer Cap Space Available and Team Needs: For those that watched the Playoffs at all, it was more than obvious that the Thomas Kaberle experiment for the most part failed. He had some good games in the Lightning and Canucks series', but by that point was already relegated to the third defensive pairing. So Chiarelli, in what I consider to be a swallowing pride move, chose to let him walk at the end of the season instead of re-signing the offensive defenceman at $4.25 million.

Immediately after Kaberle was signed for 3yrs/$12.75 million by the Carolina Hurricanes, Chiarelli traded a fourth round pick to the Huricanes for Joe Corvo. In many ways Corvo is the better option than Kaberle for the Bruins. The two of them essentially wash out offensively, with Kaberle being the better passer, but Corvo actually using a shot, the main difference that lies between the two of them is their contracts. While Kaberle is locked in at $4.25 million for the next three years, Corvo is on the last year of his deal that pays him $2.25 million.

This flexibility is exactly what the Bruins and Chiarelli need to ensure that they can be continue to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Trading for Corvo carries with it no downside, since at the worst he is re-signable at the same cap number as Kaberle, and most likely can be re-signed for cheaper.

The second keynote this summer on Chiarelli's agenda was to re-sign Brad Marchand. To this point, there is no deal in place and rumours are beginning to circulate that the Bruins are not ready to meet Marchand's contract demands, and are exploring different trade options. The Marchand situation is really tricky. James Van Riemsdyk has set the market incredibly high by signing his six year deal with an average salary of $4.25 million. From Marchand's perspective, he believes that he should probably be receiving at least the same package, while I am sure that Chiarelli is trying to shrink the size of the contract both in term and dollar. I personally do not see this ending well, and I envision a trade happening down the road. Both sides do not have much of a reason to budge from their demands. The Bruins are extremely deep at centre, with Seguin relegated to the bench last season, and Marchand has already got his name on the Cup , and may now be looking for the few extra dollars that are available to him on the market. However if Chiarelli really wants him re-signed, with a little over $7 million dollars in cap space, (before the Marc Savard contract situation which is a conversation for a whole other time) he can easily retain him.

What the future holds: As mentioned above, the salary cap flexibility that Chiarelli has in the future is vital to ensuring the Bruins are a top team for many years to come. One problem that is sort of unique to the Bruins is their star goalie issue. The Bruins have two star goalies, and both Tuuka Rask and Tim Thomas would be the starting goaltender on most teams in the NHL. This poses an issue for the Bruins in that, next year when Rask becomes a free agent, they will need to keep him, despite having Tim Thomas still under contract-and it will be expensive. Without knowing how long the acrobatic 37-year old will be able to continue to perform at such a high level, they can ill-afford to let Rask go. Look for Rask to sign to a long term deal, at approximately an average salary of $4 million dollars.

The added flexibility next season will also help ensure that David Krecji can be compensated appropriately at the end of the season. While he is still an RFA at seasons end, look for him to get a significant hike in salary to approximately the $5 million dollar range. Things do not get easier the following summer, as Tyler Seguin (RFA), Milan Lucic (RFA) and Nathan Horton (UFA) will all be up for new contracts, and a significant hike in salary will be necessary to keep all of them.

Essentially Chiarelli could not keep Kaberle if he wanted to keep all his stars in the future, and he has Corvo in the interim until young defensive stars like Adam McQuaid and newly drafted Dougie Hamilton are ready to take their games to the next step.

Prediction: The Bruins will finish second in the Eastern Conference, and will once again be a force to reckon with, as I predict they will be for many years to come- especially with Peter Chiarelli at the helm hopefully (for their sake) until he decides to retire.  

Hope you enjoyed, and check out all the other content!
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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Anaheim Ducks: Did they forget that there is an off-season or is management simply naive.

I have been intending to publish my pre-season predictions, and evaluation of every teams summer activity, for quite some time now. However, with the Anaheim Ducks being at the top of the alphabeitcal order, I have been holding off with the hope that their general manager Bob Murray, would come through and actually help improve the weaknesses in his team. Yet, he continues to place all of his eggs in the Teemu Selanne basket, and is holding himself and his team hostage.

What happened last year: The Ducks last year, on the back of Corey Perry's remarkable end to the season, ended up as the fourth seed, in the uber competitive Western Conference. The Ducks ended up losing in six games to the Nashville Predators in the first round. It is difficult to assess the actual season for the Ducks due to the nature of the dichotomy of the performances of their top players. Of their top six players, three overperformed, (Perry, Selanne, and Visnovsky) two under-performed due to injuries (Ryan Getzlaf, Jonas Hiller), and Bobby Ryan played just about as well as was expected from him. Truth be told the overperformances of Visnovsky, Perry and Selanne were essentially unprecedented. Corey Perry's numbers are inflated by the best 16 game goal scoring streak of the decade (19 goals), Visnovsky should have won the Norris trophy, I challenge anyone in the comments section to deny this, and Teemu Selanne had the best offensive season for a player over forty in the last 30 years. Not only was it the best, it was the best by far. His 80 points were in only 73 games, and the second highest total was Mark Messier in 2000-01,  67 points and he needed 82 games to do it. At the same time, not having Hiller for the end of the season and Playoffs, and missing Getzlaf for a significant amount of time, in some ways offsets the skewed numbers that this season represents in assessing the Ducks long term expected performance.

Summer Cap Space Available and Team Needs: You know that classic cliche of, "our goal here is to win a championship" that every general manager preaches? GM Murray may be the first person in a team management position that does not seem to abide by this wishful sentiment. He simply in a Seinfeldesque fashion did nothing this summer, and has his sights set on re-signing Selanne, which will at best make his team as good as it was last season. After spending 96% of the cap last season, he has reduced his teams spending to approximately 85% percent of the cap, albeit before his hopeful re-signing of Teemu Selanne. The same weaknesses that he had on his team last season exist this season as well, and the problem has only become worse. The biggest problem with the structure of the Ducks is, as I have pointed out in previous posts, their dearth of depth talent. What I mean by "their problem has only become worse", is that while last year they had a below average second line and a horrible third line, this year as Saku Koivu and Jason Blake continue to get older and slow down, they will provide less and less secondary scoring. Murray needed to address this issue in the summer, and simply failed to do it. He has over ten million dollars available under the salary cap, and has only one roster spot remaining on the roster. 

To be fair, giving up a second round pick for Andrew Cogliano was a very intelligent and savvy trade. Cogliano was slowly losing ice time and his leadership role with the Oilers, and with a change of scenery can quite possibly develop into the solid second line forward that everyone expected from him when he entered the NHL. Then again, while this was a solid addition, the second biggest addition that Murray made for his team was signing Mark Bell, yes Leafs fans the same Mark Bell that was thrown into the Vesa Toskala trade all those years ago.

Murray seemingly did not get the message that general managers are starting to place a premium on solid second and third line players, and will continue to rely heavily on his top end stars.

What the future holds: The Ducks have no question some of the top end talent in hockey. Up front, they are lead by Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan and hopefully Selanne. Their defence corps has one of the highest ceilings in all of hockey, dependent on the growth of youngsters Cam Fowler and Lucas Sbisa. In goal, the Ducks are set as long as Jonas Hiller can come back healthy and fully returned to form. Dan Ellis is more than an adequate backup and as always is the case with the Ducks, goaltending will not be their downfall. However, due to their general managers inactivity in the free agent market, they will stumble and remain a mediocre team. So while Murray has shown extreme loyalty to his longtime star, he has hurt the short-term prospects of his team.

 In the long-term, things are looking extremely interesting for the Ducks. After this season, Koivu, Jason Blake and Francois Beauchemin will all have their expensive salaries off the books. This will free up over ten million additional dollars, assuming the salary cap does not change. I say in addition, because there will be at least five million dollars in funds available from this season, as Selanne is going to sign in the five million dollar range on a one year deal, and the Ducks have so far only spent $54 million out of the $64 million cap. Seems like with all that space, Murray's strategy may be to spend all that money next season right? Wrong. The following  off-season 2013-2014, is going to be a defining year in the future of the franchise. Getzlaf, Perry, Visnovksy, Fowler and Lydman are all going to be free agents, and at least Fowler, Getzlaf and Perry will be looking for significant raises. While the raises for Getzlaf and Perry will probably be in the $2 million dollar range, Fowler may be looking at a significant raise of approximately $3.5 million. It is too much of a risk to invest heavy money in the summer of 2013, if you are going to possibly lose these stars in the following off-season.

My Prediction: The Ducks will need to rely heavily on the growth of some of their prospects if they would like to match last season's success. Assuming Selanne re-signs their bottom six forwards are: Cogliano, Dan Sexton, Matt Beleskey, George Parros, Brandon McMillan, and Nick Bonino, or in other words essentially minor leaguers. The Ducks will finish 7th in the West, once again overachieving on the backs of their superstars.

Hope you enjoyed, be sure to check back in as I continue my team-by-team analysis.
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Sunday, September 4, 2011

A transcript: What is Luke Schenn's value?

I would just like to take a moment as a longtime Leafs fan to wish my condolences to the Belak family. We all remember the courageous effort that Wade displayed every time he stepped on the ice. His dedication to his teammates was always truly remarkable, and he will be missed. Even though I never had the opportunity to speak with him, he was one of the players that I have always had the utmost respect for, and have only heard wonderful things from people that knew him better. The family should only know happiness in the future.

Don Meehan and Brian Burke negotiating Luke Schenn contract September 3, 2011:

BB: Sit down Don, let's get this over with, but I am going to let you know one thing, I will no longer be held hostage by Drew Doughty setting the market insanely high. This has gone on long enough. I would like to lock up Luke long-term, can we finally just sit down and agree on a number?

DM: That's fine Burkie. I no longer need to wait for Doughty's contractual issues to be settled, I am more than willing to look at the "very fair" value that John Van Riemsdyk received from the Flyers as a guideline for what my client Luke should be looking at. JVR signed for six years at an average of 4.25 million per season. That contract takes away the first two years of JVR's unrestricted free agency. Is that how long you want to have Schenn locked up for? My client has played three seasons in the NHL already, so as per the CBA adjustment in 2008, he needs to play only four more seasons until unrestricted free agency. A six year deal will buy out the first two years of his UFA status despite him not being 27 at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.

JVR received $4.25 million with nothing but the hopes of progress. In his first two seasons in the league he has averaged 18 goals and 37 points. If he warranted a contract like that, then my client Luke, who plays a premium position, and lead all defencemen in hits, deserves a a contract of at least $5 million per season.

BB: Don, as much as I respect your ability to twist and construe anything to provide your client with as much money as you can, don't look at me straight in the eye and tell me you actually believe the crap you are saying right now. The reason why JVR got that deal has nothing to do with how he played in the regular season, it is a combination of his remarkable playoff performance, and the fact that Paul Holmgren has shown himself to be completely blinded by the future of his team that he forgets to live in the present. The day that I give a 9yr/$50 million dollar deal to a goalie, is the day that I will be willing to concede to you that I will give a 21- year old defenceman the kind of money you claim he is worth. Besides if you want to take a Holmgren contract that he handed out to a young player, would you like to compare Schenn to Claude Giroux's annual $3.75 million dollar deal, it makes Schenn look like a $2.5 million dollar player.

DM: Burke you are being completely unfair, Giroux contract is only for three years and does not take away any years of unrestricted free agency. If you would like to structure Schenn's contract like that, we will obviously be willing to discuss a lower cap number- albeit not the $2.5 million that you arbitrarily made up.

However let's forget comparing forwards and defencemen, with 180 full-time defencemen in the league I am sure we can find comparable contracts. This week the Blue Jackets signed Fedor Tyutin to a 6yr/$27 million contract. I think Schenn compares positively to Tyutin. He has double the amount of hits and blocked shots, and while Tyutin's point totals were a little bit higher, that can be attributed to him seeing approximately 2 minutes more PP time per game. Also, if I may add, Schenn has improved on his point totals every season.

BB: Stop acting like your client is irreplaceable. I do not need to sign him into the first few years of his free agency, I am perfectly happy with a four year deal. As for Tyutin, he is a solid player that Columbus could not afford to lose. To get people to play in Columbus you need to pay a bit of a premium. Also, stop comparing Schenn to players in a different age class, or position, there are plenty of players at his position and age group to compare him to. Karl Alzner signed with the Capitals for 2 yr/ $1.29 million per season. I am not lowballing you here, just telling you that 22 year old defencemen who play 20 minutes a night, and have not shown all that much offensive flair do not make all that much money.

DM: I refuse to compare my client to players that have only played one season in the NHL, and also took a hometown discount to play for a Cup contender.

BB: Fair enough, I wasn't trying to compare the two, just wanted to illustrate a point. Let's cut to the chase, Erik Johnson in 2010, signed for 2 yr/$2.6 million per season. This is a contract number I would like to work with. I know that your first claim is going to be that the cap went up from $59.4 million in 2010, the year Johnson signed, to $64 million this season. I am going to calculate the % difference from year to year. A salary in 2010, that was $2.6 million represents a $2.8 million salary at the current number the NHL employs. What I like about this deal is that Johnson does not become a free agent at the end of the contract, rather he retains his RFA status. So Don, if you feel your client will continue to improve and can get significantly more money down the road, would you agree to a 2 year offer at $2.7 million per season? I think we can both agree that your client is not as good as Erik Johnson.

DM: Absolutely not, Luke is not interested in doing this every single season. We want a deal that will make Luke feel comfortable with his team, and continue to retain his job security with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

BB: Ok, that seems fair. I'll increase the offer to a five year deal,, which will eat into one year of UFA status, with an annual salary increase of fifteen percent for years two, three and four, and a twenty percent increase for year five. The reason for this increase is to properly compensate for the growth in the salary cap, as well as for the expected growth in Luke's game and subsequently his value.

Breakdown is as following:
2011-12: $2.7 million
2012-13: $3.1 million
2013-14: $3.57 million
2014-15: $4.1 million
2015-16: $4.9 million

Annualized Cap Hit= $3.674 million.

DM: Is that really what your offer is? $3.65 million for 5 years? Marc Staal last season received a 5 year deal, with an average cap hit of $3.975, and was at a time when the cap hit was $59.4 million. With my clients strong defensive ability, we are looking at a slightly higher number, plus the inflation of the higher salary cap.

BB: So we are getting closer. There are a couple of things that I would like to say about the Marc Staal deal, and explain to you the difference, with our situation. 1: I am not Glen Sather. Bobby Holik, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury Darius Kaspiritis, and the list goes on. He overpays for everyone. However I am willing to use that as some sort of guideline. 2: Marc Staal's contract does not carry a no-trade/movement clause. He could end up in Nasville, Florida, Islanders or any other small market, which will hurt your client's long-term value. The no trade clause to play in Toronto is quite a valuable asset to have. If your client wants reassurance he will have job security here, then I will charge you for it.

Also, Marc Staal this year was an All-Star. He plays more minutes than Schenn, and while I know Schenn is a better checker, and at blocking shots, if we analyze the statistics, the lack of shot blocking is largely due to his linemate Dan Girardi dominating the category. Also, Staal is better in the takeaways department, which is a crucial defensive stat, as well, he has a career high in goals that is higher than five. So did you bring up Marc Staal to lower the contract that I offered you? Or to at least prove my point?

DM: Right Burkie, you don't give out bad contracts, only Sather and Holmgren. What you gave to Komisarek must have made perfect sense at the time didn't it? Staal is not better than Schenn offensively. When you adjust their stats according to Power Play time received, Schenn actually had more points than Staal. My client will not be penalized because your coach chooses not to put trust in Luke's offensive ability. Dustin Byfuglien got $5.2 million from the Thrashers/Jets. The man is not capable of playing defence, and you want to tell me he is worth that? What would you say about $4.6 million for five seasons with a no trade clause?

BB: I maintain my stance, that the Komisarek deal was not all that expensive at the time, for one of the best unrestricted free agents on the market. Regarding Schenn, he receives no PP time, because he does not have an offensive flair. No matter how much time he got he would not have it. Marc Staal is a better play, or at least just as good as Schenn. His contract extends two years into his unrestricted free agency status, he does not carry a no-trade clause, and is getting paid less than $4 million. The contract for Luke only covers one year of unrestricted free agency, includes a no trade clause, so I will counter-offer with $3.9 million. I have increased from my original offer of $3.67 million, and also included a valuable no-trade clause to stay in the biggest hockey market in the world. As for Byfuglien, he had more game winning goals last season, than Luke's season career high in goals- let's just not go there, it is not worth the fight.

DM: $4.4 million.

BB: $4.05 million, or Luke is sitting out the year.

DM: Done. Congratulations, now I have got to go speak with the Kings GM Dean Lombardi, and explain how bad Luke Schenn, is and how Doughty is now worth at least $7.5 million. Good doing business with you Burkie.

BB: (grunts)

Note: This conversation never happened, but rather is a complete figment of my imagination.
Hope you enjoyed!
Look for my team-by-team season preview which will begin this week.
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Does a Jaromir Jagr return to the Rangers make any financial sense?

The New York Rangers, are reportedly interested in bringing future Hall of Famer and hockey great Jaromir Jagr, back to the NHL. Jagr first came to the Rangers, after GM Glen Sather, back in the days when he did not believe in draft picks, or the notion to spend wisely on his players, traded Anson Carter for him in 2004. Jagr played his way out of Washington, to the point that they were willing to pay $20 million of his salary, in the trade. Jagr enjoyed some very successful seasons in New York statistically, but was never able to lead his team deep into the Playoffs. After the Rangers lack of offence against Washington in this years Playoffs, rumor has it that they are one of three teams in the running, if he would return to the NHL.

Does a Jagr return make sense for the direction of this team? Simple answer is no. Signing Jaromir Jagr to a contract will be detrimental to the newfound mentality that has been instilled by Coach Tortorella. After years of having a reputation of trying to buy championships, most recently with the atrocious contracts of Gomez and Drury, (the jury is still out on Gaborik) they have finally replaced this mentality with a hard working commitment to  a defensive system. Guys like Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have become the face of the franchise, and spending money to bring in a player like Jagr may ruin the new look Rangers.

The real area that Jagr would damage the new style Rangers, is the salary cap implications that such a signing would entail. Acording to CapGeek, with the current salary cap at 59.4 million, the Rangers have a little over $18 million to spend on 10 players to fill out their 23 man roster. While that is more cap space than the average team, the Rangers need to re-sign certain key players that have really excelled in their current system. Callahan and Dubinsky, both RFAs, are the two faces of the team on the offensive end, (sorry Gaborik, you lost that title) and need to be compensated accordingly. They will both receive in the neighbourhood of $4-5 million per season. Both of them, especially Callahan, play a defensively responsible game, and provide the two way game that Sather expected from Bobby Holik, when he gave him perhaps the worst contract in NHL history. The other two RFA forwards are Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle. Boyle, a former sixth overall pick, has developed nicely after he looked like a bust on the Kings, and is a central piece to their penalty kill that ranked 6th in the NHL this past season. Together with Brand Prust, they combined for 12 shorthanded points this season. Anisimov is another player that made big strides in only his second season in the NHL, and at the age of 23, looks to be a big part of the bright future for the Rangers. Here is what I would say is the approximated breakdown of the four salaries that must be given out:

Ryan Callahan- $4.5 million per season
Brandon Dubinsky- $4 million per season
Brian Boyle- $2 million per season
Artem Anisimov- $2 million per season

Total: $12.5 million

With an expectation that the salary cap will be raised to $62.2 million, after signing the four aforementioned players, they will have a little less than $9 million to spend on the remaining six spots on their roster. With a number of higher caliber players being unrestricted free agents, (Frolov and Prospal) the Rangers will need to try and find bargain priced veterans, and players from their farm system, to help fill out their roster.

The obvious question that needs to be asked, is how much money will Jaromir Jagr ask for, to come to play again in the NHL. His first two years that he played for Avangard Omsk, Jagr was making $5 million dollars a season. It is also important to remember, that the tax system in Russia, allows for athletes to keep a larger portion of their salaries tax free. This past year, he received a very similar salary, which was more performance based, and less guaranteed salary. Well, lo and behold, he had his best season for Omsk, averaging over a point a game with 50 points in 49 games. Another thing that we know about Jagr, is that he does not take discounts to play. In 2001, he signed a 7yr/$77 million dollar contract with the Washington Capitals, a contract which crippled the ownerships ability to surround him with the pieces necessary for a championship contender. After having a fantastic season for Omsk, expect Jagr to command the same money he was making there, to return to the NHL; around $5 million.

If I was writing this article a year from now, in the summer of 2012, I would be more inclined to say that it is worth it for the Rangers to take the risk on Jagr. The reason for this is because at the end of this season, the albatross of a contract of Chris Drury will come off the books. The Rangers are paying him over $7 million dollars a season, to essentially do nothing. He is consistently injured, and has not provided any value to this team at any point in the last two years. Drury holds a no-movement clause, which does not allow for him to be traded or sent to the minors to be Wade Redden's roommate without his consent. Drury, is hoping for a new contract from someone for next season, so there is about a zero percent chance that he allows himself to be demoted and not showcase his talents for an audition for next year. With over $7 million already tied up in a player that does not fit the structure of the team, it is an extremely risky proposition to spend the necessary money (even if they can actually fit him under the salary cap) to bring in Jagr.

 Rangers fans should be excited for next season even without Jagr in the lineup. The team made the Playoffs, despite Callahan and Gaborik each missing over 20 games, and aside from Lundqvist none of the stars played to the best of their abilities. Michael Del Zotto, suffered from the sophomore slump, and is looking to have a huge bounceback year, and together with Staal and Girardi, look to anchor the Rangers backend for many years to come. Up front, the team is brimming with up and coming talent. Derek Stepan is looking like he is the real deal, and Callahan and Dubinsky play with their hearts on their sleeve every game. Marian Gaborik has the ability to be one of the top ten best scorers in the NHL, when he is properly motivated and should be having a bounceback year next season. The Rangers still have one of the best goalies in the NHL, in King Henrik and with him around they are always in contention. Prust, Boyle, and Erik Christensen are three of the best glue guys in the entire NHL, and provide fantastic depth for this organization. Also, the Rangers had Prospal and Frolov injured for most of the season, and continued to play well with them on the sidelines.  With two players in Wojtek Wolski and Drury coming off the books, combined with their almost $11 million in salaries, the Rangers after the 2012 season will have all that money to spend on players to improve an already solid core.

By bringing in Jagr this season, the Rangers may jeopardize the solid young core that they have put in place, as well as they will create a reversion to their old habits. Sather, my message to you is; unless Jagr is playing for the veterans minimum, which would make him an impossible bargain to pass up, do not bring him in. You will take away from the work that Callahan and Dubinsky have done, and destroy the dynamic of the team that you have created over the past three years. A couple more years in this direction-especially when the team recovers from your Drury mistake, and you have a legitimate championship contender.

Then again when was the last time Sather listened to anyone....

Hope you enjoyed!!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Sharks may have got bitten this series, but they have built themselves up for long term success

The San Jose Sharks suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, to lose for the second consecutive year in the Western Conference Finals. Most analysts will look at the way that they played in the series, and decide that the five games defeat was not indicative of  the strong performance put on by the Sharks. For some unexplainable reason, this assessment is meant to offer some condolence to their fan base. I also believe that the best days for the Sharks lie ahead, but not due to their play in the series. The cause of my excitement is because of the structure of salaries of their team. For this the fans should get excited.

The San Jose Sharks from a salary cap standpoint, are built for long run success. The biggest problem facing most teams recently like the Red Wings a few years ago and the Blackhawks last season, was that their players were all coming into their primes at the same time. Toews, Kane, Keith and Seabrook all needed big contracts at the same time, and in the new salary cap era, it is an unsustainable formula, which has lead to the semi collapse of a team that otherwise could have been a dynasty.

The Canucks are faced with a very similar problem with their defence this off-season. After signing Hamhuis this past offseason to ensure that they have the deepest defence in the entire league, the Canucks will need to re-sign Ehrhoff, Bieksa and Salo this off-season. While Salo, may not get the big bucks again because of his injury concerns, Ehrhoff and Bieksa are both looking for their long term most expensive contracts. With the inexplicable acquisition of Kieth Ballard and his ludicrous 4.2 million dollar deal this past off-season, it will be almost impossible for them to maintain the services of both stars.

Parenthetically, that may have been the weirdest trade in the entire NHL in the past five years. The Canucks, felt the need to go after a 4.2 million dollar player that would be the sixth defenceman on their team, and gave up Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and a 1st round pick. Sounds like Florida got a steal right? Wrong. They promptly waived Grabner and allowed the Islanders to pick up a player that had the most goals in a season for a rookie since Alexander Ovechkin. I think both GM's must be kicking themselves these days and rightfully so.

The Sharks on the other hand, have their players coming through in waves, which will allow them to maintain longevity of their successful team for many years to come. Right now the team has Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley all playing (albeit Heatley has been on vacation for a while) in the prime of their careers on their big money contracts. While they are receiving their big money, the team has young players like Devin Setoguchi (who is an RFA looking for a raise this summer) and Logan Couture playing on their entry level deals. Also, Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski are already playing on contracts that will run through the 2014 season. With all of their top players locked into long term contracts until 2014, the Sharks are not obligated to give raises to their young guys while paying the veterans on the team heavy duty contracts. This recipe will allow the Sharks to continue to hold onto all of their offensive star talent. When Heatley is on your third line, you know that you are a pretty deep team, and the ability to hold onto all of those players is a luxury most teams have not allowed themselves to have.

The defence for the San Jose Sharks which was 4th in the NHL in goals against, also has their glue guys locked up for the foreseeable future. The salary cap situation is very similar on the defensive side of their game. Dan Boyle is still locked into his megadeal for the next few seasons, M.E. Vlasic and the upcoming Douglas Murray (I still cannot believe with a name like that, that he is Swedish) already finished their entry level deals,and  there are no big money players getting older that they need to give a raise to. The defence is actually in line for a significant influx of new talent. Ian White ($3 million) Nicklas Wallin ($2.5 million) and Kent Huskins ($1.7 million) are all coming off of the books this season and if they do come back, will be at significant discounts. With Jason Demers looking like he is ready to join the top six, the Sharks may be willing to throw the extra money available on defence at a star player. Would it not be an amazing story if Kevin Bieksa was somehow lured to San Jose for next season? He sure made a good impression this series.

The goalie situation is very stable as well for the Sharks. Antti Niemi, after his rough start acclimating to the Sharks, ended the season on a very strong level. He had some rough patches during the playoffs, but I think, as does GM Doug Wilson, that Niemi is their goalie of the future. A couple of months ago he received a four year deal that will pay him roughly $3.8 million per year. An extremely fair number for a goalie that has proven that he is capable of leading a team deep into the Playoffs. Also, with Anterro Nittymaki as his backup, the Sharks are set in goal. (Great Sharks trivia: Who is the last Canadian born goaltender to play in a game for Sharks?)

My message to Sharks fans is the following: Over the next three years, the Canucks will need to find a way to fit Burrows, Bieksa, and Ehrhoff into their tight salary cap. The Red Wings were beaten by you this year and are only getting older. The Flyers, do not have a goalie that can stop a wiffle ball never mind a puck. The Lightning are saddled with some bad contracts and will need to shell out top money for Stamkos and Hedman in the upcoming seasons. Boston is really the only team that is in a similar situation financially to the Sharks. Most of the serious competition is not going to be able to afford to seriously improve from the current team that they have now, or even keep all of their top players that they have now. With some savvy free agent signings this off-season and an increase in production from star rookie Couture and a rejuvenation of Dany Heatley, the Sharks core may be the most talented come the end of 2012. For that you should be excited for.

Hope you enjoyed!
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Monday, May 9, 2011

While the answer may not be obvious, there really is no question: the Flyers need a top notch goalie

The first round for the Philadelphia Flyers, almost ended in an absolute disaster. It took them a full seven games, which included a come from behind win in Game 6, to eliminate the injury-rattled Buffalo Sabres. Missing Derek Roy, losing Jason Pominville, and playing with a concussed Ryan Miller, the Sabres really gave the Flyers all that they could.

After escaping by the skin of their teeth, the Flyers had a semifinal rematch with the Bruins. Let's just say the epic comeback of last season did not see a repeat. The Flyers were outscored 20-7 in the four game sweep, and played like the Flyers of 2007 that ended the season with 56 points. One stat the certainly jumps off the table is that the Flyers actually outshot Boston in the series 149-129. The goal differential in light of the shot differential highlights the Flyers long time problem; goaltending.

Paul Holmgren, in what many consider to be the most comical comment of the Playoffs said. "I don't think that we can fault our goaltending at any point in this series." While he is right that the backchecking amongst the forwards was not as good as it should have been, to not blame your goalies that have a collected a 4.50 GAA and an 877 SV%, goaltending is clearly a problem for this team. It always has been, and unless Holmgren can man up and realize it is an issue that needs to be fixed, it may always be a problem.

Just like I did in my last article about the Calgary Flames, (I recommend checking it out if you have not seen it already) I am going to go through the makeup of this Flyers team and what opportunities are available to the Flyers, to improve their goaltending woes.

The Flyers clearly need to get a frontline top goaltender to answer there woes. They have tried the Chicago, and Detroit track, where you put no money into the goaltender, and it has failed them miserably. There are two star goaltenders in Illya Byzgalov and Thomas Vokoun, that are going to be on the open market and will ask approximately $5 million per season. The problem facing the Flyers is how to sign them to a contract. Here is a list of the salaries that the owe to their top 11 players for next season:

Daniel Briere: $7 million
Mike Richards: $6.6 million
Jeff Carter: $6 million
Scott Hartnell: $3.7 million
Kris (crippling trade) Versteeg: $3.1 million
Claude Giroux: $2.75 million
Kimmo Timonen: $5 million
Chris Pronger: $7.6 million
Andrej Meszaros: $4 million
Matt Carle: $3.8 million
Brayden Coburn: $3.2 million

Total: $52.75 million
Note: This is a list of actual salaries, the cap hit on the contracts are varying in both directions.

With the suspected cap hit of 62 million, the Flyers are left with less than 10 million dollars to fill out over half of their roster. This is before they re-sign Ville Leino, their top UFA. Thanks to Holmgren's short-sighted trade for Kris Versteeg without giving up a penny from the current roster, he has left his team in contractual problems that makes the Hawks woes of last year look like nothing. The Versteeg trade made even less sense when you realize that they had absolutely no need for another offensive player. It fails me to understand what the Flyers had to gain.

There are two scenarios that can arise that may allow Holmgren to sign either Bryzgallov or Vokoun. Either they are able to option a player making a lot of money, like Matt Carle or Brayden Coburn to the minors, or trade them. These guys, especially Coburn who is an absolute beast on the penalty kill, may garner attention from teams looking for a young and steady defenceman that carries a short term contract into the new CBA.

The other scenario that may arise, that will allow for the Flyers to sign a goalie, is if the market suffers from the "Turco, Nabokov syndrome." Essentially there is nobody in the market that is willing to pay for a goaltender, so you can either accept minimum veterans salary, or go play for a couple of weeks in Europe, before promptly requesting to come back to the NHL, only to be claimed by the least desirable destination in perhaps all of sports. Hmm....

I do not believe that the Panthers have any interest in re-signing Thomas Vokoun. They have the number one goalie prospect Jakub Markstrom in their system, and in a full rebuilding mode, there is no need for a 35 year old goaltender that will not contribute to any long term success. The only way I see him returning, is if the Panthers give him a huge one year contract. Again, from a hockey standpoint, it makes no sense for either side ti bring him back.

Bryzgallov is a very interesting case. If the Coyotes end up moving to Winnipeg, he has said that he has no intentions of playing there and will move on from the organization. While he may end up getting swayed by money, he has eliminated one of the few teams that will be in the market looking for a goalie. Also, with the ownership in limbo, it may be difficult for them to lay out the money they will need to bring him back to the desert, especially with Kieth Yandle as an RFA that they need to sign.

The only teams that I can see actually interested in investing and pursuing a top notch goaltender, are the Flyers, Avalanche, Blue Jackets and Islanders ( interested in pursuing a healthy goaltender). The Flyers are the only ones that actually have realistic championship capabilities, and will be a huge draw to any goaltender looking for a new home. So while the asking price may be $5 million, the Islanders may be scared off by paying for another goaltender, the Jackets might think that Steve Mason will remember how to play hockey, and the Avs might decide that they can find another one hit wonder like Craig Anderson, and keep their costs as low as they possibly can. With a very limited market, the Flyers may get away with making a lowball offer of about $3 million. While I think Bryzgalov will go to the KHL, I think that Vokoun may bite.

If these avenues do not work out, the only other option left for the Flyers is to make a trade. The one thing that they most definitely have on their side, is that they have a significant amount of assets. While I do not usually like to speculate, the one glaring trade scenario that really seems to work, is the Flyers acquiring Jonathan Quick.

As documented as the Flyers inability to procure a top notch goaltenders has been, the inability for the Kings to land their much coveted partner for Anze Kopitar has been almost as emphasized.The Kings have tried absolutely everything, they have signed Alex Ponikarovsky, traded for Marco Sturm and Dustin Penner, and lost out on the opportunity to choke themselves by signing Illya Kovalchuk to an enormous contract.

With the most heralded and top young goalie in Jonathan Bernier, the Kings should be looking to trade Quick, while he still has value on his low contract. Quick is signed for another two seasons at 1.8 mil each. The Flyers can afford this, and can also provide the Kings with the top line players they need. The Kings have an extensive number of restricted free agents to sign, highlighted by superstar Drew Doughty, and the best young third liner in the game Wayne Simmonds. After all the internal signings are completed the Kings will be left with approximately only 3 million dollars in cap space to begin the 2011 season

With not much flexibility to play around with, it seems the best option for them to acquire is James Van Riemsdyk. He is a on his entry level contract this season, and will be looking for a big pay hike, at the end of the upcoming season. By then, the Kings will be able to afford to pay him the money, with almost 18 million dollars coming off the books at the end of the 2011 season. Ryan Smyth (6.25 mil) Willie Mitchell (3.5 mil) Dustin Penner (4.25 mil) and Jarret Stoll (3.6 mil) even if re-signed will be at a discount from what they are currently making, and will free up some money for the Kings. JVR has certainly showed that he is developing into one of the premier power forwards in the entire NHL, and is the best asset that the Flyers can dangle to acquire a top notch goaltender.

While it will hurt the Flyers in the long run to lose a player pf JVR's ilk, the future for this team is now. With Briere, Pronger and Timonen on the wrong side of 30, this team is built to compete for a championship at this juncture, and must sacrifice a little for the future. The future is not completely lost however, with Carter, Giroux, Richards up front, there is still plenty of talent for the Flyers to continue to score with the best of them. However as is always the case, their success is contingent on finding a goaltender, and that is what they need to do. In essence, when Holmgren traded for Versteeg and the addition of his $3 million salary, all he was doing is ensuring he will need to lose a key piece of his future, it is time for him to admit his mistake and finally do it the right way.

Homlgren- go find a goaltender, and do whatever you have to do to get him. Your comments about goaltending not being the problem makes you sound foolish and in denial of the reality.

Who do you think they should sign?

Hope you enjoyed!
Follow on Twitter @realhockeytalk

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Calgary Flames looking a lot like the 2007 Maple Leafs.........In case you could not figure it out that is not a good thing.

As everyone is talking about the Playoffs lately, I wanted to ensure that Canadian fans did not think that we forgot about the rest of the league. (I mean how could we, isn't Toronto the hockey mecca?!?) Anyways, I was thinking about this article for a while, thought it was very interesting:

Since the free spending days before the lockout, the Leafs have been a total disappointment to their loyal fans in Southern Ontario. The most frustrating thing that faced Maple Leafs fans, was the frustration of knowing that their team was constrained by the cap, from actually gaining talent and growing into a Stanley Cup contender. The Leafs were shuffling in the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference: not bad enough for a great pick, but not good enough to come to the Playoffs. But the truth is, that even had they made the Playoffs, they would have gone absolutely nowhere. They had a less than stellar Toskala in net, as well as the Muskoka Five on exorbitant contracts, not allowing this team to gain any new upper end talent.

Then Brian Burke was brought in and everything changed. The most tenured player on the Leafs roster is Nikolai  Kulemin with 233 games. Whatever you may want to say about Burke, and some of the acquisitions that he has made, everyone will agree that he is not the kind of person that is looking to hedge his bet: he is in it for the big fish. That is the biggest difference between Ferguson and Burke. Burke would never sign a player like Jason Blake, he is another player that falls under my well-documented Stephen Weiss theory. Paid as a top line guy, that can only be a top-liner on a bad team. (Which explains the faults with the Anaheim team, they had too much money tied to a second line, and were left with no depth whatsoever, eventually losing to a franchise with values completely opposite. A different story for a different day). Burkie, as well as Fletcher realized that all of these players had to go, along with their insanely long no-trade clause contracts. He broke this team down to their bear bottom and decided to build up from total scratch. 

Look at the product, gone are the days when Ponikarovsky is masquerading as a legitimate second line player, and McCabe is living on his 5.75 million dollar contract because he defended with the patented can opener in 2002. The new Leafs are no longer middling thirty year olds wallowing in mediocrity, they are a young group of talented players that are growing as a team. Even though Brian Burke has never had the measured success of  JFJ in the standings, there is not a single Leafs fan that believes they were better off before. He has placed them in a situation, where they actually have 2 first round picks as well as 25 million dollars in cap space. When was the last time that happened?!!? 

Our counterparts in Calgary, are starting to look eerily similar to the dark days of mediocrity in Leafsland three seasons ago. Both teams had a legitimate star player towards the end of his career that was still performing, as well as a set of defencemen that were overpaid and tied into very long contracts. The Flames have already decided to bury Ales Kotalik and his $3 million dollar deal in the minors, in a move that was designed to free up some much needed cap space. Keep in mind that this past season the cap was 59 million and is expected to rise to 62 mil, take a look at the numbers for 2012, of the following eleven players:

Jarome Iginla: $7 million
Matt Stajan: $4.5 million
Daymond Langkow: $4.5 million
Nik Hagman: $3 million
Rene Bourque: $4 million
Olli Jokinen: $3 million
Jay Bouwmeester: $6.6 million
Mark Giordano: $4 million
Robyn Regehr: $4 million
Corey Sarich: $3.3 million
Miikka Kiprusoff: $6 million

=49.9 million dollars

While that is not their actual cap hits, some are more, and some are less, the team is paying eleven of their players, which amounts to 40% of their team, over 80% of the budget. This was the kind of general manager that Darryl Sutter became later in his career. My take on it is, that he became nervous about his job and was hoping that if they could sneak into the 8th seed he would be able to save it. That is what caused him to cripple his team with the Dion Phaneuf trade in the end of January. He did not save his team any money on the deal, as is proof of the contract that he was paying Hagman, and that he handed out to Matt Stajan. Rather he was hoping that by adding three decent players, he can balance out a team that will be a low end playoff contender. What has become obvious is that his plan failed, and horribly.

 Compounding the problem is that they need to re-sign or replace their third and fourth best goal scorers: Alex Tanguay, and the hardest working player on the team Curtis Glencross, as well as upcoming star Anton Babchuk. This is all while they are supposed to go out and sign new players so that they will actually get better. What should they do? To perhaps figure out the best plan of action for Jay Feaster to take, let's look at the top eleven players salary-wise on the Leafs 2007 roster. Keep in mind that the salary cap was $50.3 million that season.

Bryan McCabe: $7.15 million
Mats Sundin: $5.5 million
Jason Blake: $5 million
Pavel Kubina $5 million
Tomas Kaberle: $4.25 million
Darcy Tucker: $3 million
Hal Gill: $2.075 million
Mark Bell (what a bad player eh?): $2 million
Andrew Raycroft $2 million
Nik Antropov: $1.95 million
Alex Ponikarovsky: $1.575 million

Total= 39.5 million dollars

These eleven players represented 40% of the team, and 79% of the total team salary. Jay Feaster can learn a lot from the job that Cliff Fletcher and Brian Burke did so quickly the previous three seasons. One thing that he should not do, is sign high priced free agent defencemen like Jeff Finger and Mike Komisarek, it will only hinder the rebuilding process (Sorry, I needed to make my token Komisarek line). Aside from the Mats Sundin contract, the Leafs did a remarkable job of erasing these expensive contracts. While I am in the class that believes that Mats Sundin did enough for this franchise, that we have no right to be frustrated with him when he refused to waive his no trade clause, I still believe that something more could have been done. The two worst contracts on defence were both moved the same way: get nothing in return from a team that does not mind paying a large amount for a player for a short time span. For Kubina and McCabe, the Leafs got Garnett Exelby and Mike Van Ryan in return: a player that was constantly injured, and another that was so bad, it wouldn't have matter if he was constantly injured. Brian Burke traded Tomas Kaberle after holding on to him for so long, acquiring Joe Colborne, a 1st rounder and conditional 2nd round pick, in a deal that is starting to look like highway robbery. Alex Ponikarovsky was traded for Luca Caputi, a hard working prospect that provides the type of grit, Burke looks for in all of his players. Antropov was traded for picks, and the team was forced to buy out the contracts of Raycroft and Tucker (a contract they are still paying). 

Jay Feaster is also handicapped with no trade/movement clauses on ten of his top eleven players. The only one that does not have one in his contract is Mark Giordano, aside from Iginla, the best of all contracts, and one I am sure he does not want to move. While it is important for Feaster to understand the need to rebuild, this does not mean he should trade Iginla.He proved this season that he is still amongst the best in the entire NHL. There is no reason to move him as you will not be able to replace his talent, even at the expensive price tag of 7 million. Kiprusoff, is not movable either, not because he is such an important piece (which he is) rather because there is no market for a six million dollar goalie. Rather. Feaster is going to have to request some of his players to waiver their no trade clauses, a request that I am sure some of them will be more than willing to do. Or at least I hope so for Calgary's sake.

So how to free up space?  Well he most likely will look to move Jay Bowmeester and his massive contract. The contract carries a cap hit of 6.6 million for the next three seasons. Trading him would be very similar to trading Bryan McCabe: which means get nothing in return. This would free up some long term flexibility. Another option would be to trade him for a worse player with a bad contract which is shorter term. Feaster is going to have to realize, that just like it took the Leafs three years to recover, it will be just as bad for him, if not worse. 

While I hate predicting trades and things of that nature, one specific trade keeps on coming to mind. The Columbus Blue Jackets, have the most no-name group of defenceman, with a dearth of talent. They also have a clog up front of good second line players. Re-uniting Kristian Huselius, and his 4.75 million salary for one more year with Iginla, seems like the perfect solution for both teams. Gives a solid D-man to the Blue Jackets, and the Flames will get some long term flexibility. 

The Flames in reality, can call the season a wash, and let $11 million in payroll walk at the end of the season, in Sarich, Hagman and Langkow and give them some of that flexibility that they need. However, certain decisions are pressing for this season, before those contracts come off the books. What to do with Glencross and Tanguay, and Anton Babchuk? Tanguay made 1.7 mil last season, and after clicking with Iginla, and scoring 69 points he will be in line for a significant raise. Glencross made 1.2 mil last season, and proved that he is one of the hardest working third line players in the entire league. As a UFA he will command at least 2.5 mil on the open market. Babchuk finally showed some of his potential last season, first on the team in +/- and first in goals amongst d-men with 11. He needs to be re-signed as well. 

How can Feaster do all this? Well one thing that he needs to understand is that he cannot look forward to improving the team in the free agent market this season. He needs to spend the season establishing which players will be here for the long run, and which will he let their contracts run or try trading. Internally, the first thing that needs to be done is to waive Matt Stajan. If nobody picks him up, you need to put him down in the minors with his good buddy Kotalik. His contract is too prohibitive, running all the way through 2014. With this extra money, you should be able to re-up Glencross and Babchuk.

If ownership allows him to pull a Wade Redden, and place Bouwmeester in the minors, that may solve all problems. It would free up almost 18 million dollars after the 2011-2012 season in cap space. However, I get the feeling that will not happen and a more conventional approach may need to be taken. 

With Giordano and Babchuk the top two defencemen, fan favorite Robyn Regehr may be the odd man out. He has a 4 million dollar contract that runs through the 2013 season, and at that salary should garner Kaberlesque attention. The return on Regehr would also be very similar, and could help start off the inevitable rebuilding process that the Flames need if they want to return as championship contenders. Hopefully for the sake of the fans, it will not come to them losing their longtime fan favorite. 

If all works out by the end of the 2012-13 season, Feaster can shave this off his teams salary:
Matt Stajan: $4.5 million (minors)
Daymond Langkow: $4.5 million (free agent)
Nik Hagman: $3 million (free agent)
Olli Jokinen: $3 million (free agent)
Jay Bouwmeester: $6.6 million (trade/waivers/minors/anything)
Corey Sarich: $3.3 million

Total= $24.9 million

With that kind of cap space, it sounds a lot like the Leafs of 2011, just minus the young players like........... Kieth Aulie (ooohh that burns).

As a passionate Leafs fan, my message to all Flames fans is that they should not get frustrated with the rebuilding process. Finishing in 8th in the conference should not be the end result anyways, and it takes at least half a decade to build a championship contender. The Leafs have not been more exciting to watch and follow since the lockout. The city feels that a winner is coming soon, and the excitement is back in the air. The few years of bitterness can easily be replaced with Reimeresque smiles, you just need to play your cards right.  For that I wish Feaster all the luck in the world, Calgary is counting on you. 

Hope you enjoyed! 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ten key insights that we have learned so far from these Playoffs.

The NHL Playoffs are back, and have been as exciting as ever. We have had memorable games, memorable moments, sorry Phoenix fans, and constant excitement that constantly has left me on the edge of my seat. But with every game played, new lessons have been taught. Playoffs are a time when the empirical truths come to light. While we have always known that Nashville lacks the star power to pull out a series win, (the jury is still out on them this year) the 2011 Playoffs have given us a number of new hockey insights. 

10: Thomas Kaberle is not that good. Peter Chiarelli, a GM that I hold in extremely high regard,  expressed his frustration over the play of Kaberle. In an interview that he held with 98.5 Sports Hub, he proclaimed, "He hasn’t played up to the level that we expected. There have been parts of his game where he hasn’t played in the playoffs for a while and some of those [bad] habits have stuck with him. We expected better." This is his way of saying, I cannot believe I gave up prospects and picks for a player off of the Leafs roster. We torch them when we take THEIR prospects and picks, "cough cough Rask, Seguin." He has not helped their power play, which has been an anemic 9% since he arrived, and has not potted one yet in the Playoffs. The Leafs hope that Boston re-signs him for the sake of their second round pick, but if he continues to play like this look for Chiarelli to cut his losses and look for that puck moving defenceman elsewhere. 

On a side note, something I did not think would happen, but Rich Peverley has been an awful pickup, and it looks like they miss Wheeler's size and skill on the third and fourth line. The trade deadline pickups, did not work out nearly as well as they looked earlier this season. 

9: The success of the San Jose Sharks, rests upon the shoulder of....... Logan Couture and Ryan Clowe.
Just like they supported this team throughout the struggles of the first half of this season, they will have to pick up the slack for their choking teammates again. After three games  this post season, Clowe has the same amount of points as the three "stars". Even last season, making the conference finals, Heatley and Thornton were a combined -18. It is time to accept that they are not the kind of players that elevate their games for the post-season.  The success of last season- thank you Joe Pavelski.

8: Dan Bylsma is an absolute coaching wizard. He has his team up 3-1 in a series, where they are at such a significant talent disadvantage. They tied Philly in points in the regular season, through hard work, and a commitment to defence. Bylsma knew exactly what he was doing when he handed the starting job to Brent Johnson at the beginning of the season: he was lighting a fire under his star goalie, and has him playing the best hockey of his young career. While the Lovejoys, Letestus and Kennedys continue to make an impact up front, this team looks like the team to beat if they can ever get their top players healthy again. Wouldn't Pittsburgh and Washington be such a downer if Crosby cannot play. 

7: Steven Stamkos is a talented goal scorer, who does not rise to the occasion in the big games. If we needed any more proof that Martin St. Louis is the heart and soul of this team, we have seen it in these Playoffs.  Stamkos has yet to score in the post season, and is stuck on only one assist through four games. His diminutive teammate on the other hand has 4 goals and 6 points and continues to be the driving force for this young team. While Stamkos has been a remarkable goal scorer for their team, (aside from the final 20 games, when they were pushing for home ice advantage) Steve Yzerman is going to have to think long and hard about signing him to the big big bucks he will be looking for. With St. Louis being 35 years old, and the albatross contract of Lecavalier, Stamkos will not be with a star playmaker in Tampa in two years from now, and the question is how will he produce. He has disappeared this postseason even with St Louis in the lineup, is he worth the Ovechkin-Crosby money? Not with performances like this...

6: Bruce Boudreau knew exactly what he was doing all season long. Two words that I never thought I would hear in the same sentence: Capitals and defence. All season long this is what their coach has been preaching. Even mired in a seven game losing streak, Boudreau refused to change his course. Taking all the heat for Ovechkin, and Bakcstrom's poor offensive performances this season, he simply did not care. He understood that as long as they did not know how to play defence, they would not be able to win in the Playoffs. With this new commitment to defence, the Capitals are looking primed for a long playoff run. We are also seeing determination from this group, as they battled back from a 3-0 deficit to win in OT, after a beautiful chip pass from Gaborik to Jason Chimera, to set him up with a wide open net.( You think a Gaborik, Stamkos combination would get shutout four consecutive games in a tight playoff series?)

5: One of the best tweets of the post-season: @Sportsnetbroph yesterday that Dan Girardi is deserving of the Vezina. Through four games the guy has 23 blocked shots, a very similar number to Illya Brzgalov. In all probability, the Rangers made the playoffs because of their ability to block shots. This is where they miss Ryan Callahan the most. He is the best shot blocking forward in the NHL by far. He blocked 1.28 shots per game. The second best amongst forwards that played sixty games is Adam Burrish with 1.11. While Girardi has proven to be a great goalie alongside King Henrik, the Rangers miss the leader of their team, on the defensive side just as much as they miss him offensively. In such a tight series, that has featured two games in OT, and the other two very close as well, with Callahan in the lineup, the series could easily be 3-1 in favor of the Rangers.

4: The Blackhawks are not suffering from post-winning syndrome, they just are not that good. The entire season, everyone was waiting for them to break out, and it simply never happened.  With a top heavy team of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook and Campbell, there is no money for them to pay for depth. What may have turned out to be the biggest off-season news, (after Kovalchuk decided to relax with his career-long paychek) is the offer sheet that the Hawks matched for Hjarmalsson. The Sharks offered 4 yr/14 million dollars and completely cash-strapped the defending champions. After their game 4 dominance with Dave Bolland returning with a 4 point night, it summed up the issues that have been plaguing the Hawks all season. They must find a way to re-sign Brouwer in the off-season, or look for mediocrity to settle once again in the Midwest. 

3: Some of the oldest players in the league are still having remarkable seasons. I tweeted yesterday, that I am not sure what is more impressive, Teemu Selanne at 40, or Mark Recchi at 43. Teemu is leading the league in goal scoring with 5 in the post season, and Recchi is tied for the team lead with 3 points in three games. Along with Roloson, Thomas, St. Louis and Lidstrom, some of the oldest players have been making the largest impact this post-season. The post season has been dominated by players 30 and over, or 25 and younger. Offenceman that are in their so-called "prime" are few and far between this post-season, with Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards really being the lone exceptions. It really highlights the importance of experience in the post-season, and the remarkable amount of young talent that is coming into the NHL these days. 

2: Since the beginning of the millennium the Flyers have been dealing with goaltending issues in the post-season. This was supposed to be the year where they finally break through and go all the way, on the shoulders of the infamous Bob. That plan has failed, and badly. He has broken down in the second half of the season, and the duties of leading the angry Flyers fans rests upon the duties of the epitomize of backup goaltending: Brian Boucher. Unless Boucher learns from his AHL-demoted buddy Leighton, "how to lead a team to the Cup, when I have no business there" this is going to be another exit for the Flyers. Perhaps they should learn from there opponents: Get a goaltender, and hope the rest works out, seems to be working okay for the offensively challenged Sabres.  

1: Phoenix does not deserve an NHL team. With the news out that they were most likely moving to Winnipeg, tickets were still available the day of their home Playoff game. How does that happen? They have a team that is 6th in the ultra-competitive West, and they still do not have the support of the city? Never mind going to Winnipeg, they should come to Toronto, and they will get the treatment they deserve, from the corporations that make the ACC sound like a morgue, rather than a hockey game. But in all honesty, with the travelling Quebec fans, begging for another franchise, and the people of Winnipeg still desperate, it is time to move them outta the clutches of corrupt owners and city officials, back to the Great North, where the game is loved. 

As the post-season goes on, I am sure that many more exciting stories will come to light. Anymore great insights, would love to hear of them in the comments section!

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Hope you enjoyed!