As we draw towards noon its time to look back at some of the more interesting stories of the last season. Hopefully, we’ll come up with new and exciting things to obsess about over the next year.

  • Marty Broduer’s record chase. Sure it was great watching him snatch up records on what is clearly the home stretch of his career, hopefully they’ll make up for the big bag of fail at the Olympics and being left to play one hundred of the Spartans in the playoffs while most of the other guys were plotting new ink and golf trips with their skates on.
  • Lecavalier to Montreal. Honestly, this rumor is nearly as old as his signing in Tampa. Its also less believable than the one that says good government exists.
  • Sharks meltdowns. The Sharks finally had a good playoff run. Not great but they ran into the meat-grinder that would hoist the Cup a couple weeks later.
  • Price vs Halak. Honestly, this was just tedious.
  • Where’s Calgary’s O? There O did Go! It’s hard to blame a team with one star at forward, one at defense and a bunch of 3rd and 4th line players for sucking, so blame management as they richly deserve.
  • And while I know this is a pipe dream, I can at least hope the “Return of the Jets” rumors die like Theo Fluery’s comeback attempt; Quickly and with few people caring.
  • Uproot the sunbelt, move ATL, FLA, and everything else south of New Jersey to Canada! No one loves hockey down there! Here’s an idea, how about better ownership and management in the sunbelt? Having teams that won consistently might help build fans a tiny bit. Shocking idea I know…
  • Head shots… If the NHL competition committee had half a clue they’d have been heavily penalized when Messier was playing not a generation later.
  • Fighting. Anyone who doubts the place of fighting in pro hockey need only go to a game where there is one and watch the fan reaction.
  • Patrick “20 Cent” Kane. Honestly, it wasn’t funny the first time, it wasn’t funny the 80th time, it won’t be witty or bring nostalgia when someone brings it up in training camp next year.
  • The “Pronger Factor”, yes it’s nice he’s played on finals teams right after being traded. I do kinda think that the purpose of trading for an elite player is to put you over the top and that Chris Pronger. Who knows, maybe next season if he plays his head games with his team mates and gets them into the gym he can win another Cup.

Did I miss any worth mentioning?

Its rarely mentioned in public, and then only in hushed or possibly disgusted tones. It’s considered more than a bit gauche to dabble in, and actually using it when most of the men who are your peers can not is considered a badge of shame. Sure you release a lot when you get this weapon to work, and it can sometimes create a mess. No doubt the use of it will make other GM’s and fan bases utter similar length words that start with the same letter. Yet, the offer sheet is a legitimate tool.

If you’ve had poor luck drafting, this can be the perfect way to repair it while fine tuning your staff. You traded the wrong prospect for a never-was? Or maybe you’re the new Sheriff in town and it’s time to convince the fan base its time to come back to the arena. Then too there is the other side of the offer sheet. You have to consider the effect it will have on the team that currently owns a coveted RFA. Jacking up the price of an RFA even if you have zero intent of signing them is a savvy move, just be prepared to have your bluff called.

Below are some RFA’s who if they received an offer sheet could really hurt their current team whether the player was signed away or not.

Carey Price:

The Montreal management already traded away a young stud goalie. With only sixteen players signed, and just $8.2 million in cap space, an offer that pushes the cost of Price north of $4 million probably means they have to move or bury a big contract. If they let him go, even taking the picks ( a first and a third) that leaves the choice of signing one of the ten thousand UFA goalies, or hoping that Desjardins can do better than projected.

Devin Setoguchi:

This young goal scorer might be the answer to the offensive woes of teams like the Oilers, Panthers, or Flames. Paired with a good center, or offset by a good sniper on the other wing he has the potential to do a lot of damage. The Sharks have proclaimed other players a priority, and have more than $49 million committed to just fourteen players including backup goaltender Greiss.

Mark Stuart:

Despite three different trips to the injured reserve last year, and an offensive upside that’s mostly non existent, Stuart is a key piece of the Bruins blueline. More importantly their depth after him is nearly teaspoon deep. Anyone better than him that is a UFA is going to cost more. He’s a shut down defenseman who skates well, hits hard and is tough enough to playout a game in which he broke his sternum about midway through. Despite the lack of offense, he’s a career +29 in 252 games with the Bruins reaching the playoffs in just two of his tears on the team.

Marc Staal:

One of a trio of brothers hailing from British Columbia, this is the defenseman currently the property of the New York Rangers.  Staal was second in scoring for defensemen, played all 82 regular season games, led the team in TOI, and played a big part in the Rangers 7th ranked penalty kill. With over $45 million committed to just 14 players the Rangers are probably ripe for the picking. With a contract like Reddens on the books somethings got to give if someone pulls out an offer sheet.  Does Carolina make a move to try and unite the brothers Staal?

Bobby Ryan:

With twenty two million left to spend and eighteen players already in the bag, it might seem odd to see a Duck in my sights, but lets face it It’s Bobby Ryan.  In two full NHL seasons he has 66 goals. Last season alone he through more hits than Chris Pronger. He’s a number two draft pick and has been consistently healthy through his NHL career.

Niklas Hjalmarsson:

Despite having played just one full NHL season by the end of the playoffs he was third in TOI for the Blackhawks in the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks define ‘cap trouble’ this off season, and despite a hefty dose of faith in the 23 year old, and the trade of Brent Sopel, I’m not sure they would even try to match an offer sheet.

Tomas Fleishmann:

Despite missing time, this center managed to improve across the board in offensive categories. The Caps have a serious (although possibly unrecognized given their draft performance) need for defensive defensemen, and just a hair under twelve million to add eight players to the roster. With all the teams looking for centers, this RFA might be a better choice than some of the UFA’s or trade possibilities.

Note this post was completed before the Versteeg trade and Bowman’s denial that anyone could swipe Hjalmarsson or Niemi via offer sheet. I consider the possibility of an offer sheet pretty low for anyone but Chicago matching one is an even lower one with a reported $4.19m* less in cap space than other teams due to bonuses and salary last year.

* @mirtle www.jamesmirtle.com

There were just two other bloggers brave enough to take part in my UFA Challenge. They are Brian LeBlanc of NC Sports Talk and Ty Anderson Bruins blogger at Hockey Independent.

One of the more interesting differences was on defense, where not a single man made all three squads. Lilja was on both mine and Brian’s teams with $100,000 separating the two salaries.

For total payrolls, I kinda outspent the others, but happen to think I also have a better team. Not that I think any of the three could win the Cup.  I spent $57.4 M, and probably have the youngest average age. Ty spend $52.7 (on one fewer player) and probably put together the grittiest forward group. Brian spend less than either of us with a total cap hit of $49.2 and probably has the most name players at forward and goal.

Brian and Ty picked the same goalie tandem of Turco and Nittimaki, all three of us put Kovulchuk at around the $9m mark. Much as I loved Miro “The Hero” Satan in Boston, I think Allan Walsh would prefer to sit down and negotiate a real contract with either Ty or Brian more than myself.

For more puck talk, follow us at Twitter:

Me: @pucksage

Brian: @puckdrops

Ty: @_TyAnderson

But not until you go tell those two what you think of their entries.

Today’s interview is with Scott Norton of Norton Sports, former coach and player who is now agent to a number of hockey stars present and future.

Krys Barch is one of your clients and there are reports he as been resigned to a two year deal just before free agency. Between the two of you, you must have felt comfortable with the Stars despite rumors of financial difficulty. Did these rumors play a part in your negotiations or decision to assist Krys in resigning with the Stars?

Krys has not re-signed with the Stars.  Talked re-opened, and we are optimistic that something can be done soon.  The rumors of their financial situation has not played a role in Krys thinking at any time.

Krys Barch is one of the tougher players in the game, what’s he like off the ice?

Krys is as nice a guy off the ice as he is tough on the ice.  Him and his wife have two little children, and he is a great family man who spends a lot of time with them.

The Montreal Canadiens bought out legendary enforcer George Laraque, and it appears teams see the role of enforcers as a whole is diminishing, does this play a part in the way you evaluate young players who might project strictly as an enforcer?

I think more and more you have to be able to skate and play the game.  The one dimensional enforcer is becoming extinct, thus why a player like Krys who can really skate and play meaningful minutes is becoming so valuable to teams.

Matt Climie also currently Stars property has the uphill battle of securing a job in this very crowded goalie UFA class. How do you evaluate which teams might suit him best?

At this point, we are just biding our time with Matt until July 1 and Free Agency begins.  Matt is an interesting prospect who we do not believe is even close to hitting his peak.  Most of the goalies in the UFA class are nearing the end of their careers, Matt is just beginning his.

If you don’t feel Matt Climie is likely to get an NHL contract, how soon would you begin exploring offers overseas?

Through my Russian associate, we have been receiving interest in Matt for a while now.  In the next week or two, I will have to sit down with Matt and weight out what situation is in his best interest for next season and moving forward.

For those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to see him play, can you describe Matt’s playing style?

Matt is a big, aggressive goalie.  He uses a butterfly style like so many of the top goalies today, and he is very athletic.  He handles the puck extremely well for a goalie, similar to Turco or Brodeur.

At what age do you begin to consider signing clients?

My target age has changed in the last few years.  I used to have to go after the 15 and 16 year olds to try to get the best kids.  Now, agents are approaching those players when they are 14, and sometimes even 13.  That is just too young for me and my thought process.  I have now targeted college players, and have become very successful working with guys like Climie who are college free agents.  I run Norton Sports Management as a boutique agency where I pride myself on individual attention for each client.

Kevin Dallman former Bruin, Blue, & King is one of your clients and doing quite well in the KHL, does he have any desire to play in the NHL again?

Kevin and I talk all the time about this question.  Kevin went over to the KHL a couple of seasons ago, and became a star. His game and confidence are back where they were when he played in Guelph (OHL) and was named Defenceman of the Year.  I think Kevin would like to come back to the NHL at some point, and try to win a Stanley Cup.

If you have a client with unreasonable expectations of what they should be paid, how do you reshape their expectations?
That is a very difficult question.  With any of my clients, I feel honesty is the ONLY policy.  I am very straight forward whether it be my evaluation of a client’s play or at contract time.  It is critical to an athlete’s career to realize who they are and what they need to do to get better.

Brent Sopel recently appeared in the Chicago Gay Pride parade with the Stanley Cup, was the perception of the sports worlds general homophobia a concern for any of the decision makers in having him there?

First of all, I want to say how proud I am of Brent and his wife Kelly.  This was a huge decision for them, and really was a historic day.  Brent and I spoke about this a couple of weeks ago when we came up with the idea, and we all agreed that every person deserves a chance in life.  Brent and Kelly are extremely giving people having started their own charity “Angels get their Wings”,* and the parade was just another opportunity to give back to the city and the community.
What type of information do you have at hand about a given UFA client when discussing them with teams?

Having a background in hockey and coaching allows me to talk about clients both as players and commoditites, I know each of my clients thoroughly and come negotiation time, am prepared to discuss their last game, last season and/or whole careers.

Would you describe what July 1st is like from your perspective for readers?

July 1 is an exciting day for many, many players who have waited their careers to become unrestricted free agents.  On the other side, July 1 can be the start of a very nerve racking time for players who are just hoping for another chance.  Readers have to remember that most UFA’s do not get signed on July 1, and them and their families are waiting every hour to see where their lives will be going.  It is an anxious time for a lot of families.

Any parting words?

Thank you for this opportunity to tell your readers more about myself and the wonderful people I have the good fortune of representing.

*Website under construction, stay tuned.

Back on June 2, I tossed the gauntlet out at the hockey blogging world.  Create a team off the UFA list, pick the first players to resign, keep it under the cap for next year, and keep the deals realistic. In other words no 65 year deals for a certain Russian winger. And no $200,000,000 payrolls.

So here we go.

1st Domino:

Defenseman:

Anton Volchenkov. I just can’t see him making it long if his demands are at all reasonable with the number of teams that need a strong defensive defenseman.

Forward:

Matthew Lombardi, too many teams from the Flames to the Wild and the Canes need a good center right now.

Goal:

This is the pick i have the least confidence in, but I’m picking Dan Ellis.

Team UFA $57.4m All dollar figures in millions, $.400 would be $400,000

F

I. Kovulchuk $8.8m M. Lombardi $2.75m  B. Guerin $2.5

A. Frolov $4.25    M. Cullen $2.9  R.Torres $2.8

A. Ponikarovsky $2.8  K. Wellwood $1.5m C. Armstrong $2.5

M Satan $1  G. Metropolit $1.5  E. Artyukhin $1m

J Shelley $.800

35,100,000

Defense:

A Volchenkov 4.2m  D. Morris 3.5M

J. Leopold 3.2m   D. Hamuis 3.7m

A. Lilja 1.85m    S. Hnidy .850

T. Conboy .750

18,050,000

G:

D. Ellis 2.5M

M. Biron 1.75

4.25

Part 3 Worst Contract:

Ordinarily one could just flip a coin and insert the Rangers or the Canadiens, but since both are so cash strapped I’m going to go with a team desperate to make the playoffs.

The Panthers.

Part four Where’s Ilya:

Since this is my pick to make the Western Finals this season, with or without him and they have  a good chunk of cap space available too, I’m going with the sexy pick:

The LA Kings.

If you’re gonna take part, remember I need to get a link to your post tweeted or emailed to me by noon ET on June 30.

Follow this conversation on twitter with #nhlufachallenge

Any draft in which you can get a personable, self motivated, healthy high end player has to be considered at least modestly successful. When they player happens to be versatile, prolific, and comparable to Steven Stamkos and other players who deserve at least the tentative title of franchise corner stone the draft shouldn’t take much more than that to be wildly successful. If only that were the case in the Bruins 2010 draft selections.

While it’s become a truism in hockey (at least in public) that one should draft for quality over need, it gets increasingly hard to see where the Bruins have done that for the past several years, or that other teams are consistently doing that.  Take for example the tenth selection in this years draft. While Dylan Mcilrath is not anyones idea of a poor defenseman, both Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley were still on the board, both of whom many expected to go in the top five. The two qualities McIlrath had in excess of Fowler and Gormley are size and aggressiveness. Given the Rangers top six forwards acquired just three major penalties last season it’s not hard to conclude that Sather expects McIlrath to inject some testosterone into his blueline. This is a clear, and savvy use of drafting for need. If only the Bruins had done so as well.

As my last post was meant to illustrate, the Bruins have an enormous number of players either drafted at or playing now at center, more than any other position by far. As the acquisitions of Seidenberg, Boychuck, Morris and others over the last couple years clearly outlines the Bruins have not spent nearly as much energy scouting and drafting defensemen. The only men who were drafted by the Bruins and played a regular role on their defense last year were Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick. The Ducks drafted both Emerson Etem and Cam Fowler, addressing their needs, with quality.

The Bruins on the other hand opened their eyes and let the golden boy Tyler Seguin fall into them, and otherwise assumed a prone position and waited hoping something good would fall into their hands. When good, and potentially very good players were free , they failed to take them.  When they had the opportunity to scoop up the coveted Petrovic, a puck moving defenseman with the 32nd pick, they added yet another small center. Without batting an eye they also skipped over the chaotic Kabanov whose talent is undoubted.  Thirteen picks later, they again skip Kabanov for the undersized Spooner.

Of the Bruins picks at forward in this draft, only Florek who is two years older than most draftees pays even lip service to the Bruins stated desire to get bigger at forward. Florek was the Bruins fifth round pick.

With their first seventh round pick, the Bruins picked an Andrew Ference like Russian defenseman who plays less minutes than the Bruins 2006 2nd rounder Alexandrov, whom the Bruins have yet to get into their uniform for even a single appearance in the AHL or NHL. While that is expected to be remedied this fall, I can’t help but wonder how much better the Bruins would have done against Carolina if Alexandrov had been skating in Black & Gold two years ago and not Steve Montador.

So, from overlooking talent that may be a challenge in Kabanov, failure to fill the teams needs on defense, and standing around doing nothing while good players free fell potentially into their laps, the Bruins final grade for the 2010 draft is:

C-

A contact of mine working in a hotel in Orange County faxed me a hotel napkin with what is believed to be Peter Chiarelli’s handwriting detailing the Bruins Roster and line assignments for the upcomig 2010-11 season.

The scan I made of it is too grainy to upload, but here’s what it says:

Lines:

Savard – Bergeron – Krejci

Caron – Colbourne – Seguin

Hamill – Arniel – Campbell

Nelson – Knight – Whitfield

Defense:

Riendeau – Goggin

Tremblay – Soderberg

Sauve – Sexton

When contacted the Bruin’s office would only comment that Chiarelli felt it was a move towards providing more creativity at forward and finding enough puck moving defensemen to satisfy the teams needs.

Wow round one was nearly as long as a baseball game, with all the drama of an entire MLB season. Players fell from the stars into merely high orbit, and others came over the horizon sewing chaos as general managers dared to reap the whirlwind.

George McFee yet again failed to do anything to get his blueline off life support. Instead he opted for another young Russian who is compared to post season godsend Alex Semin.

Brian Burke unflinchingly defended the Kessel trade again even repeating his hope his Boston counterpart would get players he really liked and wanted.

Hall & Sequin went alphabetically and neither seemed shocked to go where and when they did.

Kabanov is still on the board.

Both Gormley & Fowler fell not just out of the top five but out of the top ten.

Kaberle is still a Leaf and Hamuis is now property of the other Quaker State team.

Bettman was booed.

Eleven Americans were taken in the first round, and Canadians immediately began face saving gestures by loudly proclaiming Fowler to be only half an American as he has dual citizenship.

The GM of the Wayward Whale allowed his bias against drafting defensemen to override the visible and unassailable success of guys like; Weber, Doughty, Keith, Seabrook, and numerous lesser lights. Instead he takes a figure skater.

Thomas:
5) He’s a freaking Vezina winner stupid.

4) Despite at least two injuries Thomas had the same number of shutouts in eleven less games than the year he won the Vezina.

3) Thomas put up better post season numbers behind a poorer defensive unit than Rask did in the teams last two playoff appearances. And unlike Rask his post season numbers were better than his regular season ones.

2) If the Bruins management is really desperate to free up cap space and have (wisely) ruled out buyouts, they should assign Ryder to Providence immediately and plan to promote a youngster or sign a UFA.

1) As young goalies like Price, Raycroft and Mason have proven a good rookie (half)season by a goalie is highly indicative of future success.

Savard:

5) Because short of rapists, and true locker room cancers one should love the elite play even if you hate the player.

4) Even if Seguin or Hall (or Colbourne or Caron or…) is the second coming, they are unlikely to have the endurance to play at a high level come April, May and June.

3) Let’s see, he’s one of the most productive players in the post lockout era. He’s even done it with bad linemates.

2) If the Bruins management is really desperate to free up cap space and have (wisely) ruled out buyouts, they should assign Ryder to Providence immediately and plan to promote a youngster or sign a UFA.

1) Players as productive as Savard in any sport sell tickets, sell merchandise, sell jerseys, and in some cases even sell hockey to people who otherwise might not give a damn.