Conquering Europe Part One: The NHL’s Manifest Destiny

22nd
Jul. × ’14

Why does the NHL need to expand into markets other than North America? That’s easy, the choice is their own expansion or the KHL’s. The Kontinental Hockey League has wooed stars with big names and “glue guys” away, in order to be the biggest fish

The European problem is one that has been addressed in different ways by North American sports leagues. MLS would prefer you not compare the to Europe. The NHL travels yearly to Europe, at at least London to play a game. This is far scaled back from their quasi-independent, quasi-development league that continent spanning money pit etched in the history books as NFL Europe.

The NHL has addressed the European question with transfer agreements that sometimes are enforced, and others not. It has played regular season neutral site games across the continent with fans at the home arenas of half a dozen teams being shut out of a regular season game and usually a preseason game or two. Another way European audiences have been targeted is having NHL teams play exhibition games against local teams.

The problem of expansion into Europe full time isn’t just one of competition, its logistics, there is quality of play, financial concerns, and of course fomenting strong rivalries, something the NHL failed to do in the now dissolved Southeast division. Putting one or two teams outside North America is pointless. The team or teams would spend so much time traveling back and for the “balanced schedule” the NHL is currently in love with that it could be a cap exempt All Star roster and they’d be lucky to make the playoffs.

The basic solution is obvious, go back to a division heavy schedule and place or create an entire division in Europe. North American based teams could be scheduled to play four or more games in Europe, and the  European teams given a six or seven game minimum North American tour to help minimize travel times and dragging out the already long NHL schedule further. Ideally, the NHL trade deadline would be past of 36 or so total break in NHL games.

The logical number for teams to be added to the NHL is six if it going to go to Europe. That means you can have nights where every NHL team is in action, and the league can be split into six divisions each of six teams. On the revenue front, the NHL would have a ready made solution for getting live matinee games on the TV schedule, with the time difference between London, Bern, and other European ports.

Next a look at why it makes more sense to put some teams in Europe over other places in North America.


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What the Boston Bruins Opening Night Roster Could Look Like and Why Its Bad

17th
Jul. × ’14

As things stand right now, the Boston Bruins are a quarter million dollars over the cap having gone out and signed Jordan Caron to another NHL contract. If you allow for the Marc Savard contract being put on the long term injured reserve day one of the season that leaves about $3,700,000 to spend. Torey Krug and Reilly Smith are unsigned and there is no sign the players will be members of the Boston Bruins in October when the season opens.

Assuming no trades, major injuries or retirements before the season lets look at each line and pairing.

The Bergeron could see the steady tandem of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand check in for another season together with the right wing who scored the most goals for the Providence Bruins; Seth Griffith. Griffith put up 20 goals in 69 games as first year pro for Coach Cassidy last year.

The Krejci line, or given time on it arguably the Lucic line, would see the return of left wing Milan Lucic and center David Krejci, with yet another winger to work with. This year it would at least be a player familiar with the Boston system. Loui Eriksson is the only logical choice for this spot.

The third line becomes a writhing knot of enigmas, questions, and mysteries. If we assume Chris Kelly is healthy enough to start the season does he go back to center? For now, lets put him at left wing. Carl Soderberg looked his best last year as the season tipped over into the playoffs, at that point he was paying center but could get shuffled back to wing. For now we’ll write his name firmly in the center spot. That leaves the right wing open. With a look at maturity, size and a ability to play a third line checking position in the Claude Julien system, one of the best picks for the open position is Brian Ferlin.

The former Merlot line has lost something, but retains Daniel Paille at left wing, and Greg Campbell at center. Jordan Caron is the likely right wing. If Caron fills in more of the penalty killing duty, this would allow Campbell and Paille to take extra shift with other lines in the event of injuries, illness or under-performance. The Sangria Line is likely set.

At defense we’re looking at a first pairing that has Zdeno Chara and a rotating cast on the other end of the blueline. If it is Hamilton, that puts the best offensive defensemen on the same pairing, for now Seidenberg can be penciled in.

If we put a second pairing of Hamilton and Boychuck we’ve got a solid, if unfamiliar pair would can certainly be counted on for 19-22 minutes a night.

The third pairing will become a rotation of Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski. Thanks to the deep affection the injury bug holds for the Bruins defense, either here or in Providence the three have a working familiarity with each other, and as parings that will see 12-17 minutes most nights, it isn’t as important as upper pairings.

Now for the problems:

  • The most experienced right wing on the team, has never played that position consistently in Claude Julien’s rigorous system.
  • The other three right wings have all of their NHL experience concentrated in Jordan Caron. This is the same Jordan Caron who has been displaced in the lineup over the years by Zach Hamill, Brian Rolston, Carter Camper, Jamie Tardiff, Craig Cunningham, and never showed more value head to head than Shawn Thornton.
  • The defense as a whole is slow. Hamilton is hands down the swiftest, and then its a question of Miller versus Chara. Given how speedy teams like Montreal, Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Carolina are this strikes anyone with a lick of sense as disastrous.
  • With the offense taking a step back, and the defense taking at best, a step sideways it is unlikely the team is as strong overall as last year.

The observant will have noted I didn’t mention a 13th forward. Given that promoting Ferlin and Griffith brings the team to $2.1m short of the cap, and the fact that their will be injuries at some point, there needs to be some flexibility to bring up one or two players to fill those injuries. Despite the front offices’s seeming love of David Pastrnak, he also isn’t here on the roster for a number of reasons. One is simply that his cap hit is higher than any of the other wingers who are currently signed and at his size, its questionable if he’ll make it through camp onto the roster on merit.

There is a case to be made for putting Pastrnak on the roster this fall that has nothing to do with how he does at camp, but that isn’t the point of this article. Realistically, even allowing for higher speed than Griffith or Ferlin, Pastrnak has arguably not played at a level as high as the AHL, he certainly hasn’t played anything like the length of an NHL season. Having played 36 games last year, the jump to an 82 game season is likely to hit him harder than it does most college players who leave school larger and stronger.

If a thirteenth forward is carried, Ryan Spooner, is likely in the mix, or might entirely displace whoever might otherwise win the 3rd line wing. If Spooner plays there pushing Soderberg to one wing and Kelly to the other, seeing him get reps with wingers from the top two lines wouldn’t be a big surprise. You could also argue for a more physical presence in the lineup and slide Bobby Robbins into the space vacated by Shawn Thronton and possibly pushing Caron to the third line or more likely the pressbox.


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Boston Bruins Development Camp

15th
Jul. × ’14

Boston Bruins Development Camp has come and gone. There were over a dozen returning players, new draftees and invitees. While I do wonder how it is they failed to invite any goalie prospects, and had Malcolm Subban filling in for Adam Morrisson, and University of North Dakota star, and Fargo Force alumni Zane Gothberg. There  are literally dozens of colleges within driving distance of Boston, and if the goals of camp is to coach, develop, and protect the health of prospects then it makes perfect sense to have additional prospects in camp.

That said, camp was as always engaging.  The progress some players made over the years is notable. No players stood out as not belonging, but trying to watch two dozen players at once is foolish. Below are the players who stood out most for one reason or another.

Cole Bardreau, of Cornell University stood out among the forwards showing great speed, lateral movement and hands.

Anton Blidh had a hard shot that was a little bit high at times.

Oleg Yevenko was the largest, and oldest of the prospects. The UMass Amherst defensemen didn’t exhibit great skating but was in the right place to use his stick well.

Billy Sweezey of Hanson, Ma was the youngest player in camp and it didn’t seem to mean much. Solid positioning, good skating, respectable size and still a year of high school to go.

Rob O’Garra clearly is an athlete with high level conditioning. The day camp opened when some of his campmates were flagging, he looked like he might be warmed up. The rest of week he never looked like he broke a sweat.

Wiley Sherman, more poised, more precise and clearly having filled out more than a little.

Colton Hargrove, the improvements in Hargrove’s game are pretty obvious, I’m willing to bet if the 2012 entry draft were redone the son of Rockwall Texas would go before 205 this time.

Kyle Baun, after Bardreau arguably the most impressive forward in the group. Good hands, good speed.

Matt Benning was hands down the most impressive player in camp. Not only was his positioning excellent he used stick, body, and skates to separate opposing players from pucks. Northeastern has itself a good looking young defenseman right now.

David Pastrnak seemed to have a bit of trouble keeping his skates on the ice and his uniform ice free, possibly new skates, possibly the sheer pace of camp, or possibly an ongoing skating issue, its hard to say in just a few viewings. I won’t be shocked if he’s invited to camp in September, but given that he’s still under contract to Soldertalje he likely will not break camp with either the Boston or Providence Bruins.

Of all the differences between this camp and years past, is how strongly management curtailed physicality. In years past no scrimmage was complete without double digit numbers of hits by players trying to make sure they remembered by management and each other. This year, there a scant handful. While development camp focuses on skill and athleticism, elusiveness is a skill and leadership may be doing the organization a disservice  not to keep the players on their toes. And on the other end, physicality is a big part of the tool set of many players.

While several of the young men look really great among their peers, it is no measure of how they will perform against the AHL or NHL. Among the forwards, I don’t see anyone among the forwards I would project above the second line. Among the defensemen, assuming their trajectory continues at the same level two or three who could land in the second pairing in most NHL cities, and depending on circumstances you could see a top pairing player or two.


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The Iron Is Hot For A Predators – Bruins Trade

9th
Jul. × ’14

With Mike Fisher’s injury given a preliminary recover time that takes until about the time of the Winter Classic, assuming no set backs, the Nashville Predators are now in dire need of a quality center. Having spent the assets to acquire James Neal and Filip Forsberg in the last fifteen months, the time and the circumstances are right to double down and aim for a playoff position again.

Shea Weber is signed, rested, and should have a chip on his shoulder after another season where he probably should have gotten the Norris, or at least finished second. Seth Jones has spent a year learning the NHL. Craig Smith and Colin Wilson are now tested NHL players who have weathered the storm of disastrous seasons. Most importantly Pekka Rinne is healthy and ready for the hunt.

Out on the coast are the Boston Bruins, for many reasons the team is in cap jail and the situation isn’t going to get better any time soon with Soderberg, Boychuck, McQuaid, and Hamilton all due new contracts next year, and that’s with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith still unsigned right now. With moderate salary increases you’re likely looking at about $12 million in salary minimum between these players. Someone has to go.

Bergeron has a no movement clause and trading him for anything less than 6 first round draft picks, the Holy Grail and a roster player is likely to result in Peter Chiarelli being burned in effigy outside the Garden, (and also lower concessions, ticket sales and merchandise).  Chris Kelly, when healthy, is a great penalty killer, a top shelf checking line center, and the type of all around good dude that teams seek out, unfortunately he finished last season on the shelf, and has a full no trade clause. He’s also not the type of center the Nashville Predators currently need.  Greg Campbell is a fourth line version of Kelly with all the same problems, excepting the no trade clause.

Realistically, that leaves Carl Soderberg who has one season of NHL play to set his value and David Krejci. Krejci has found success with wingers as varied as Milan Lucic Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, and incidentally lead the NHL in post season scoring. Moving Soderberg has essentially no impact on the Boston Bruins cap situation, it would give them about $2.6 million in cap space, about enough to renew Krug and Smith if the brass turns the screws and risks alienating both players and their agents but not really enough to add a replacement as well.

That makes David Krejci the default candidate, that he’s also the most likely to bring in a quality return is fortuitous for the Bruins. If you use the Phil Kessel trade as a benchmark you will get back a solid return and don’t spend any roster space on it. If you go with something closer to the Joe Thornton trade you retool with a mixed bag. Brad Stuart was the best defenseman on the roster when he arrived, Marco Sturm would play for several seasons and score the winning goal in the Bruins only Winter Classic appearance.

Many observers would say the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators are both a crossroads. The Predators need to reach and advance in the playoffs if they are to be financially solvent, and grow their fanbase. The Boston Bruins have several talented prospects at center where the risk is stagnation and regression with an speedy return to a system and roster that looks like the 2005-06 roster if they don’t promote one or more players. The NHL and all it’s feeder leagues are better when more teams are competitive.

The right trade for both teams is one where both teams win. The Predators need to reestablish the themselves as a playoff team if they hope to extend James Neal, and you have to be pretty jaded not to imagine fans in Smashville enjoying a line with David Krejci centering James Neal and Filip Forsberg.


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Detroit: The Answer is Simple

7th
Jul. × ’14

Across the internet writers are asking the question “Why won’t anyone sign in Detroit this year?” that questions is pretty easy to answer even from the outside. The problem is getting the answer through to the inside. While Anton Stralman, Brad Richards and the rest of this years UFA class aren’t guys who are going to reshape a franchise, they all have the ability to be difference makers.

One of the other things that all these players are is heady. Whatever Brad Richards might have been seven or eight years ago, he isn’t a who relies on pure athleticism to earn his ice time. Anton Stralman’s game came into its own as he learned to use his body, position it, and read plays at the level of an NHL defenseman expected to contribute for twenty plus minutes a night. Christian Ehrhoff was just bought out, but still took a one year deal with a contender who is going through a makeover with coach, general manage and significant roster turnover rather than go play in the more stable Detroit organization.

The two word answer to why no free agents signed there this year is; Daniel Alfredsson. Not because anyone thinks he’s a bad guy. Not because he’s impossible to play with, or even because they think he’s going to get too much ice time. The reason is simply what he represents. The Red Wings are still acting as if he is still a viable top six forward who can be a nightly difference maker. Alfredsson isn’t the only guy who the front office is seeing a five years younger version of instead of they player they actually have. While admittedly Lidstrom was a different case, anyone who thinks he was close to the pinnacle of his powers in his last three years in Detroit is invited to leave the narcotics alone and enjoy a long, careful detox.

Alfredsson hasn’t cracked 60 points in the last four seasons. In the past five seasons he’s missed 62 regular season games, he’s got tremendous heart, he’s a natural leader but what he isn’t is someone you should be waiting upon to decide the future of your franchise. Mike Ilitch and everyone on down in the organization have their head turned over their shoulder looking back at the past greatness of the the team as a whole, fragile star Henrik Zetterberg, fading superstar Pavel Datsyuk and the rest of the roster are not fit to challenge for the Cup. The current roster is slightly less than half as talented as the last one to win a cup more than half a decade and hundreds of man-games lost to injury ago.

The Red Wings are as myopic is the Buffalo Sabres were three years ago. They should know better, they’ve seen great teams far, far more recently.Why aren’t free agents signing in Detroit? That answer really is simple, they want to win in the future not live in the past.


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Setting the Payscale: RFA’s Who Filed Pt 2

6th
Jul. × ’14

For part 1 look here.

Mattias Ekholm when you get your first taste of the NHL in a season when the whole team is struggling to only suck a little, its hard to saw where your talents (or lack their-of) end and the teams balance begins. Roughly 17 minutes a night is a sign your coach has at least some trust in you, and having very slightly better road numbers than home in a very competitive division. It would be interesting to see how heavily his international experience in the SHL is counted, if at all. Only one year of NHL time to go on, and that with a poorish -8, its unlikely he gets north of $925,000.

Kevin Poulin is a goalie in the New York Islanders who like their next period of dominance has been a year away for as long as anyone can remember. His sv% is actually regressing at the NHL level since his debut. More than one goalie has put up better numbers in the last few years in an Islanders uniform. Arbitration may bring his deal below the qualifying offer level presumably he’d seek a higher AHL salary. Anywhere in the mid $600k range.

Derick Brassard was fourth in points for the Eastern Conference champions, had four game winners in the regular season and two in twelve games in the playoffs. Brassard is a solid player who plays all out on a pretty regular basis.  One comparable is Dave Bolland, who recently cashed in for $5,500,000 per year. Another would be Boston’s Chris Kelly $3,000,000 and a realistic salary is anywhere between them given the way Bolland playing in a market with a low ability to attract high end free agents jacked up his price.

Chris Kreider is either still developing as a player or a class one Kovalev level enigma. In the regular season he was a pretty unassuming 3rd line level contributor. In the playoffs, he was nearly a point per game. The really wonky part of this is that he only played about a minute more per game in the playoffs than he averaged in the regular season. Want even loopier? In his last 10 regular season games (March 7-24) he wasn’t playing much going pointless in 6 of them, playing under 10 minutes in two, and only crossing 15 minutes twice. Then when he returned in the playoffs, 13 points in 15 games after over a month with no game action. His NHL career is rather oddly shaped, he’s played 41 post season games and is over half a point a game in them, which is higher than his regular season conversion with 89 and 40. His price tag could go anywhere from as low as $1m to $2.75 depending on where the market is set before his arbitration, depending on the length of the contract the high end might not be so bad at 4+ years for the team for a 1-3 year deal expect them to push for something lower.

Mats Zuccarello is another of the New York Rangers players filing for arbitration. It’s hard to decide with so little NHL time on his dossier if he’s destined to be a top six guy, or a bottom six guy. Which place the arbitrator assigns him will go a long way towards setting his price. As a guy who has yet to break 20 goals in the NHL. a bottom six designation is most likely, so $2.25m is about the max you should expect to see him.

Derek Grant has a full 25 games of NHL experience and has averaged under 10 minutes a night. A fourth round he hasnt got much to build a case around but you can bet his 2:14 a night of shorthanded time will play a prominent part in his positioning of his team value. I don’t expect him to cross $750,000 but like the other guys in the lower range of the pay scale he may be angling for a one way contract or higher AHL salary.

Nick Spaling is part of the return for the Pittsburgh Penguins on James Neal. It is pretty doubtful anyone expects him to produce like Neal, and they just can’t afford to. His playoff experience and contributions are negligible, but under the most conservative and defensive minded coach in the NHL he gained minutes and responsibility steadily. He made $1.5m last year on a one year deal and was traded in the off season giving the Penguins exactly zero experience with him in their system and city. He does have a history of being a pretty disciplined player on ice with very few penalties at all.  Anything from $1.3m up is possible, P.A. Parenteau had the same number of points and just inked a deal for four years worth $4m as a UFA, Nathan Gerbe produced at the same level and will make $2m, Carl Hagelin was again in the same range and was paid $2.1 last year and will get $2.4m this year. A three year deal at $2,300,000 per should be comfortable for both, even if each side thinks they could do better.

Jason Demers is a solidly built right shooting defnsemen who played just under 20 minutes a night in the Sharks system last year in the regular season and playoffs.  As a right shooting defenseman, if he is award more by the arbitrator than San Jose wishes to pay, he can expect to be employed again anyway in a matter of days. Interesting to note is how both his short-handed and powerplay time went up in the playoffs. He has a noticeable, if not career threatening history of injuries. Slava Voynov plays with a similar level of physicality, is also a right shot defenseman with essentially the same body size and his contract (signed last year) is worth $4.16m. Former teammate Dan Boyle had similar points and is much signed a UFA deal for $4.5m per year, Cam Fowler last year signed a five year four million a year deal. Anything under $2.5 is unrealistic as is anything over five. I’m guessing a deal in the near neighborhood of Vlasic’s $4.25 will be worked out with the biggest variances being term and if Demers gets a no trade clause as well.

Cody Franson is another right shooting defenseman. He’s a bit larger than Demers, but points wise they are about the same guy. Franson accumulates more hits and blocked shots, and has steadily increased his offensive production. His overall defensive game may limit him to a smaller contract than Demers will get, but identical deal wouldn’t be unfair.

James Reimer lost the starting job over the course of last season with a sv% .012 lower than creasemate Jonathan Bernier. That said, last year was clearly his worst NHL season for goals against average, and last season he brought the team into the playoffs. With the exception of the lockout shortened season he’s never played the bulk of the schedule in either the AHL or NHL. He and his will undoubtedly argue for starter money, but reality says he’s a backup and a good one. Comparable are Anton Khudobin, $2.25m, Ben Bishop, or Alex Stalock so a deal between $1.8 to $2.2m is a solid landing zone.


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Setting the Payscale: RFA’s Who Filed Pt 1

5th
Jul. × ’14

While correlation is not causation, it is interesting to note how many of the players who filed for arbitration are doing so as part of teams that have rather small amounts of cap space per player left and the need to fill multiple spots.

The NHLPA put out this list of men who filed to have their contract value determined by a third party.

Starting at the top is Brandon McMillian of the Arizona Coyotes, drafted 85th and having spent a post draft year back in the WHL he’s piled up enough points to be 37th in scoring in his draft class with 6 of his 32 points coming in the 22 games he’s spent in a Coyotes uniform where he averaged about 12:35 a night including  about 0:45 short handed. It’s unlikely he gets more than $850,000 and closer to $775,000 is more likely.

Matt Bartkowski of the Boston Bruins is also a 2008 draft pick, and has been in and out of the NHL lineup since being acquired, but in that four years he’s racked up just 84 NHL regular season games. However, last season he played more than a bit part in 64 games averaging more than 19 minutes a night. He has 20 points all assists in 84 regular season games, and 3points including 1 goal in 15 post season games. Ben Lovejoy is a good comparable (if older) he had the same number of points and was only one worse in +/-, Lovejoy made $1.1million, Jeff Petry likewise had similar numbers and is the same age, he made $1.8 million. Given the Boston Bruins depth at the position, and how Bartkowski has been passed over in the depth chart more than once, if he’s awarded anything north of $1.5m I expect the Bruins to walk. An arbitrator could pin the number anywhere from $1million to $1.8, but I lean toward the lower end.

Joe Colborne is a 6’5 center for the Calgary Flames, he played just a touch over 14 minutes a night and put up a line of 10-1828 -17. Last year’s 80 NHL games are the vast majority of his 96 NHL games. His qualifying offer would have been $660,000. with so little NHL experience, and the other changes in the Flames roster, somewhere between the QO and $725,000 is what he can expect.

Antoine Roussell of the Dallas Stars is possibly the most interesting case this year. A break down of his 209 penalty minutes shows he may be the most disciplined guy to break that mark in years. Very few of the minutes were lazy penalties like hooking and their wasn’t a single high sticking call. 139 of 209 PIMS were one form of major or another. If you had only that to go by, you’d be comparing him to players like Shawn Thornton or Tom Sestito. Add in a 1:40 a night killing penalties, and a line of 14-15-29, and you have a very interesting player. In goals he was tied with players like Matt Stajan ($2.5m)  and Kyle Palmieri ($1.35) . Honestly depending on what the arbitrator decides to set as his biggest contribution, he could end up anywhere from the $650,000 which is just over his QO, to $2.5 a reasonable guess is the $1.1 to $1.4m.

Cameron Gaunce, not entirely sure why he filed for arbitration unless he’s trying to get released and go to Europe or become an RFA. He played just 9 games all of last season, and has a total of 20 NHL games and 1 point. A six foot one defenseman isn’t exactly rare in the NHL, one wonders if the arbitrator will spend longer writing out the decision or proof reading it.

Jimmy Hayes of the Florida Panthers made the most of his 11 minutes a night picking up 18 points with 11 of them goals after being shipped from Chicago to Sunrise. Six and a half feet tall and more than 220lbs the right shot, right wing is a veteran of the NAHL, USHL. and Hockey East before going pro, he has also been traded three times since 2008. He finished with 2 fewer points than Bartkowski with about half the minutes, I wouldn’t expect much more than league minimum.

Dwight King is a homegrown bottom six forward who has now been part of two Stanley Cup wins. His 30 points last year put him ahead of team captain Dustin Brown, 3 of his 15 goals came on special teams, he played well both home and away, and left him 7th on the team in scoring. Of comparable production are Rich Peverley ($3.25m), Tobias Enstrom ($5.75m), last year King made $775k. A $2.25M payday isn’t out of the question, but expect something a bit closer to $1.8m.

Justin Fontaine is another really interesting case. Last year he was true rookie for the Minnesota Wild playing 66 regular season games and 9 playoff games. The Bonnyville Alberta native was 4th on the team in goals with 13 and did it in a spare 12:15 a night. His pre-NHL career could indicate there’s  solid chance this numbers climb.

Lars Eller has to be one of the most frustrating players for fans and management to watch. He shows flashes that make you think he’s got the juice to be a 20+ team 2nd line center, and then wallows about the ice making you wonder why anyone gives him more than fourth line minutes for interminable stretches. Of his 58 minor PIMS last 48 could be called lazy or careless penalties. Another two or three years at his current salary would bring him to UFA status, and give him a chance to decide who he is as a player.$1.75 to 2.1 isn’t outside possibility but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Montraal Canadiens say thanks but no thanks at anything over $1.8.

P.K. Subban, he’s arguably the best defenseman in the NHL under 27, he’s won a Norris, he was nearly a point per game player in the playoffs last season and three of his four NHL season, including the lockout shortened one, had double digit goal totals. At 25 if the Habs can sign him for 6+ years they should. The 6.25price range for similar aged and quality defensemen is $6.25-$7.5, and that is about where he should sign.

Part two coming soon.

 


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Free Agency Winners and Losers

3rd
Jul. × ’14

With the bulk of the NHL’s best free agents signed, its time to look at who did best.

Metropolitan Division

Winners

Washington Capitals:

They were 21st in goals against last year. What did they do about it? They picked up two 21+ minute a night guys. One who averaged almost 3 minutes a night shorthanded, the other who specializes in lugging the puck out of the defensive zone. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen are at least for the next two to three seasons good gets.

New York Islanders:

Signing up Grabovski long term and sliding him in behind Tavares gives them a smart, two way center who plays with passion. Chad Johnson gives them a pretty solid backup goaltender as well. Are the Islanders suddenly cup favorites? No. Are they are probably eight or ten points better than last season just based on those moves.

Losers

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Greiss is a good pickup, but Ehrhoff is going to cost them one way or another, he’s not good defensively, and if he puts up offensive numbers on his one year contract he’s either bolting for more money elsewhere next year or is going to demand a contract on par with Letang’s. The rest of their pickups were spare change.

Pacific Division

Winners

Dallas Stars:

With the addition of Spezza  (via trade) to the free agent signings the team can look forward to offensive balance for the first time in a decade.

Losers

Arizona Coyotes:

Last year the franchise was on the outside looking in and while Devon Dubnyk is well suited to their needs, I’m not convinced he’s enough to get them into the playoffs.

Central Division

Winners

Chicago Blackhawks:

They found a motivated guy who can play in the 2nd pivot slot and it didn’t cost them much.

Saint Louis Blues:

Taking one of the veteran leaders of a conference rival is always a good get, adding a guy with preexisting good chemistry with some of your top players just makes it even better.

Losers

Vancouver Canucks:

Despite the addition of a good goalie, they are no closer to playoff contention than they were at this time last week.

Atlantic Division

Winners

Tampa Bay Lightning

Adding Anton Stralman to the rest of an underrated cast makes this one of the most credible defensive units in the East heading into the season.

Florida Panthers

They added lots of highly competitive veterans, the skilled Jussi Jokinen, to wrap around their core of young players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They are a very long shot to make the playoffs, but the pieces they added were priced appropriately (and in Jokinen’s case low) and unlike other teams they haven’t crowded other young talent off the roster allowing for young players to come in and win a roster spot and NHL experience for the future.

Losers

Boston Bruins

A laundry list of miscues means that the players signed by this team since noon on July 1 and the departures of a very solid backup and hall of fame forward leave the team worse off than they have been in years. Realistically, I doubt any Bruins fan had even heard of either guy, and its not a stretch to say their agents probably have trouble picking them out of a crowd.

Detroit Red Wings

What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The Red Wings didn’t add any talent via free agency, and history tells us any of their draft picks this year are four or more years from the NHL.


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Peter’s Policy Palsy Pales

2nd
Jul. × ’14

In life, in business, in relationships and in the NHL, neither success nor failure are instant. On occasion it appears that a team or business has succeeded or failed in the blink of an eye, what you are seeing is that iceberg tip those final twenty stories of a skyscraper that bring it above the rest. On July one, Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely swept over the horizon and promptly fell flat on their faces. They made exactly one move on the day. They signed a no name plugger who will likely never see NHL action in a Bruins uniform.

But where does this spectacular failure stem from? Last season yes they went over the cap by about 4.7 million. Yes, with that money they could have kept Jarome Iginla, but they’d still have needed to come up with money for rookie sensations Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, and likely Matt Bartkowski and or Matt Fraser. But why did they get to this place? How? When they won the Stanley Cup they had more depth than last year at every position, they had as much youth, they were just as close to the cap (they went over that year too).

The answer lies in the composition of the roster. There is exactly one player on who played most or all of last season in Boston who was drafted and developed since Peter Chiarelli took over, and that’s Dougie Hamilton. One of 23. You can add in Ryan Spooner if you’re feeling generous since he was exceptional at the AHL level and held a place for a good stretch of games mid season as well. If you go back to the Cup year, Tyler Seguin was the lone player to be drafted and developed here and well, he didn’t last long.

Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, are all players that were drafted before he took the helm. Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Loui Erikssn, and all the rest were either brought in via trade or free agency. The player not named Seguin (Dallas Stars) and or Hamilton to be drafted since Chiarelli took over is Jordan Caron. He of course has produced less points than Shawn Thornton during his tenure.

What does this mean? It means the Boston Bruins have overpaid for free agents from Michael Ryder,  Steve Begin, and Joe Corvo and spent too much to get under achievers like Tomas Kaberle in trade. It means that instead of bring up young players like the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, they brought in guys who no one will remember fondly like Peter Schaefer, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jay Pandolfo because the draft has been largely an excuse for other teams to laugh down their sleeves at consistently inept drafting.

The overpayment on free agents has translate into what can conservatively be figured at a 10% increase in the salary many of the Bruins developed players have received since. It means that instead of drafting players who fit the system, Peter Chiarelli and company have waited until two or even three years of RFA status of a player have been burned meaning not only will they over pay these players  who have little to no loyalty to the team, it means that even if they aren’t overpaid they will likely hobble the team with an unneeded no trade or no movement clause for a player who is a nice fit but is eminently replaceable.

This level of personnel mismanagement also means bafflingly bad trades that give up guys like Vladimir Sobotka and Kris Versteeg for guys no one remembers the names of. After half a decade and what most regard as a flukey Stanley Cup win the Bruins attempted a course correction with a change in scouting directors. The first run with the new leader shows he probably has as deft a touch in his current position, as his more famous brother had at coaching in the desert.

Cap mismanagement, inability to draft and negligible ability to recognize which players can be got without a no movement or no trade clause, and an over devotion to player like Caron and Hamill who consistently fail to live up to expectations that’s a hell of a dossier for his next position.


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