5 Quick reasons each why Savard or Thomas should go

Savard:

5) Cap Space. Honestly, unless Suave, Colborne or the like are showing more promise than even their biggest boosters think, this is a silly reason. About the only UFA forward still out there that could potentially be signed for 4 million a year and be worth it is Alexander Frolov, Tanguay and Nolan might be worth it but either would be happy with a $2.75 mil deal based on their age, the chance for success and their last year.

4) With Hall or Seguin coming in on top of Bergeron, Krejci, Sobotka, Colborne, Caron, Hamill, Campbell, Arniel, Goggin, Nelson, Riendeau, Soderberg, Tremblay, and Whitfield (not to mention whoever they draft) it might be argued that the Bruins have a number of men who can play center. True, at this point after Bergeron and Krejci the rest are either unproven or proven borderline in the NHL, but no team has absurd depth at all positions, and several of the men after the first two could hold down the third and arguably the second center slot on over half the teams in the NHL.

3) For all his amazing talents, Savard is not a very athletic player. With the generally younger team the front office has constructed in the last two off season, he’s become one of the slower men on the ice, and is possibly the least physically fit. As Mike Richards and other members of the Flyers proved a couple weeks ago, conditioning wins championships.

2)  The potential return is enormous. With his cap friendly deal, his consistent point production, and his recent transition into a three zone, two way player who is savvy in all situations, its not outside question to bring back a pair of first round draft picks or a fist full of prospects. Trading him to say Columbus even without a roster player coming back might yield former #6 pick Nikita Filatov, and former #21 John Moore.

1) It’s possible management doesn’t like him.

Thomas

5) Rask had an amazing season. Clearly the younger, cheaper goalie is the way to go.

4) Thomas’s contract is too long. At his age a three year deal would have made much more sense, and as his hip injury proves, he’s not holding up well.

3) The team is more comfortable playing in front of a goalie with a slightly less bizarre style.

2) Thomas will cause problems as a back up. Of all the reasons I’ve heard, or pondered for moving the former Vezina winner this is the most absurd. He had at least two injuries last year and still managed better numbers than most goalies, that said it is theoretically possible.

1) The potential to move him for a good return in picks or prospects is too big to resist.

With fourteen players signed, and nine million dollars left under the cap, the Bruins are probably done tweaking their defense prior to the season. It’s highly unlikely whomever they draft at number two will fail to make the squad, and that will be a two or three million dollar cap hit by itself. Marco Sturm is unlikely to return to the ice before December with his second season ending knee injury in a row and a six month recovery time. I can’t imagine the Bruins rushing him back into the lineup. If he’s on the LTIR for sixty days that will save the Bruins roughly $1,129,032 in cap space, which is just slightly more than the paid Recchi last year.

Assuming the forward lines look roughly like this:

Lucic – Savard – Horton

Hall/Seguin – Bergeron – Recchi

Wheeler – Krejci – Ryder

Paille – Sobotka – Thornton

You’re left with Sturm on IR, and Suave, Colbourne, Hamill as the likely candidates for 13th forward.

Defense assuming the Boychuck & Stuart are resigned will probably be:

Chara – Seidenberg

Stuart – Boychuck

Ference – Hunwick

Both top pairings can do 25-28 minutes a night. The 6-9 spot is the complicated part. McQuaid played a handful of regular season games, and nine playoff games but looked unsteady in the post season. Hunwick looked good with some defense partners and is the best skater of everyone who played defense in Boston last year. Ference is oft injured, like Hunwick on the small side, and some might say overpaid. Penner played a bare two, and while Alexandrov led his KHL teams defense in TOI he’s yet to play even a single AHL game and like Penner, Ference, and Hunwick is well under 200lbs.

I suspect we will see one more move made at forward to free enough cap space to resign and carry players. At a rough guess, Stuart and Boychuck will come in at a total near six million as a high, and just over four million as a low. If we go with the lower number and assume Hall or Sequin’s cap hit is 3 million, that leaves only 2 million to play with. Two million in cap space with five roster spots left to fill is not going to work.  If Savard is moved that gives the Bruins much more latitude to both sign players before the season, and potentially bring back a solid player immediately but will most likely mean a salary coming back. Krejci going might mean a pick and a prospect coming back without a salary, and gives some wiggle room in the cap.

Assuming the Boston Bruins really are actively shopping the Ottawa native, there are probably a finite number of teams he’d be willing to go to who might want him in return. It’s a safe bet that the Pens, Wings, and Flyers aren’t holding open any spots on their dance card for him. The Oilers, Panthers, Stars, Lightning are all out for a number of reasons. It’s highly doubtful the Bruins would be willing to trade him within the division unless they could get more goal scoring help on wing, or possibly more leadership.

So let’s look at some places that might want Savard for the long haul.

Atlanta has the lures of familiarity with the city, and great weather. They also have a dynamic young roster without a great deal of depth at center. The team is far more balanced than it was when he left several years ago, and has one of the better defensive corps in the division.  They have the #8 pick as well which if Boston simply wishes to reload and get younger, larger and more aggressive as they’ve stated for years might be a great place to snatch Niederreiter or some other catch. On the negative side, the Thrashers have an ownership group that lacks cohesion, and is (perpetually) rumored to want to sell.  They are probably also a good defensive defenseman away from a playoff appearance.

Calgary has the lure of familiarity, a familiar face in premier power forward Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla. To compliment him there is emerging star Rene Bourque, one of the NHL’s ten best defensemen in Jay Bouwmeester, and top tier tender Miikka Kiprusoff, all hungry to hoist the Cup.  Any trade with the Flames will almost certainly require the Bruins to take back some, and possibly a lot of salary as the Flames are over $53 million with just 18 players signed. There is also the question of how willing the Flames management would be to put the teams future in the hands of two aging stars with high salaries.

Columbus while in the minds of hockey purists (or fat heads) this place is a backwater, their average home head count was only about a hundred below the New Jersey Devils. With Rick Nash, RJ “the Capitals Defense will sink them” Umberger, Nikita Filatov (The Russian Phil Kessel?) and others just looking for a top tier center Savard would have the opportunity not only at a Cup or two, but possibly of having his jersey retired their if he plays out his contract with a cup win or two. Sure it’d be easier to get ones number retired in a newer market than in a place like Montreal or Boston, but a retired jersey is not something most athletes can claim.

Minnesota, a team that seems to have been looking for a good center since they came into the league currently leans heavily on the undervalued services of Mikko Kiovu. The Wild could be in a worse cap position, have a solid goal-tending position, a defense that was hampered by a lack of anyone to do anything with their outlet passes, and sniper Havlat to ride roughshod over defenses on Savard’s wing.

Ottawa, while trading Savard inside the division is probably not on Chiarelli’s top ten list of things to do this off season, if the Senators do indeed trade Spezza, production wise Savard is probably the best available replacement. Coming into last season the two were two or three points apart for the past several seasons, with Savard having spent a great deal more time killing penalties and Spezza having blocked a few more shots in that time. In terms of cap hit, Savard’s is lower and shorter to off set the age difference. Assuming the Senators do part with Spezza, if they don’t bring back a solid defenseman for him, the difference in Cap hits might allow the Senators to retain Volchenkov. For Savard, Ottowa has proven they can play hard against top tier teams, and its his home town. Being on the first team to raise the Cup in your home town isn’t something many men will ever have the chance to do.

While I’m not 100% convinced the Bruins should or will trade Savard, these are currently among the most interesting possibilities.

Did the Boston Bruins were raped and rolled today?

While dumping Dennis Wideman to acquire some offensive finish and size in Horton they were forced to part with far too much. Wideman for Horton is about even in salary, by reputation they are not highly self motivated, and age wise they are not far apart. Selling Wideman down the I95 to a team actively looking to get rid of Horton should not have required much, a third round pick, maybe a second. To take on the additional baggage of an RFA forward who’s yet another in their retinue of small, bottom six players.

On top of this they gave up a highly valuable first round pick. Had this been last years draft, sure send it packing without regrets the 2009 draft class was just that weak. With the possibility of blue-chippers like Etem, Neiderieter, Campbell or other high end talents sliding out of the top 10 there’s little doubt the 15th pick in 2010 will be more valuable in a year or two than any of the men now packing their bags for a new city.

Let’s take a look at some possible why’s to this otherwise inexplicable overpayment:
The Bruins have no intention of signing Campbell, and will either repackage him or let him walk and take the compensation (if any).
Management views Campbell as a replacement for Begin, Paille or another bottom six forward and expect to sign him cheaper than the player he’s replacing.
Campbell is bound for AHL where he will spend the year mentoring younger players.
Management decide that it unlikely they could unload further salary (Ryder, Ference for example) for any meaningful return and would not be able to fit the cap hit of whomever is drafted #15 under the cap and expect their choices at that position not to opt for college or be eligible for the AHL.
Maybe the Bruins brain trust just doesn’t view this draft as being as deep as many in the media do.
Maybe, just maybe the Bruins believe they got two top six forwards back because they know something the rest of us don’t.

Only time will tell, if this was a Raycroft for Rask or a Versteeg for Bochenski trade, but not only does this move deprive the Bruins a high end player one or two years away from playing at a high level in the NHL at most, it robs them of even the threat of an offer sheet next year as well.

While it doesn’t free any cap space, it does reduce blueline clutter, hopefully opening the door for both Stuart and Boychuck to be resigned to multi-year deals.

LA: There’s a lot to love about the Kings. You’ve got one of the four or five most talented defensemen under 25 in Drew Doughty, and joining him on the blueline one of the shut down tandem from the Penguins most recent Cup win,  in Rob Scuderi, and then the highly regarded Jack Johnson. Up front you have one of the most underrated centers in the league in Anze Kopitar, team a team captain who reminds me of a young Shane Doan in Dustin Brown, and Alexander Frolov who as involved in trade rumors from training camp through the deadline.

What’s not to love? Well, there’s the more than four goals per game they gave up, which was in fact the most of any playoff team  There’s the equally bad penalty kill, which dropped from a middling 80.3% in the regular season to 75% in the post season.  But the most glaring fault is that they scored just seven of their eighteen post season goals 5 on 5, while giving up seventeen total 5 on 5 goals.

While penalty kill, and goaltending both need to improve for a solid run next year, they need to address the effort they make at even strength. Part of this is simply maturity, they were the second youngest team in the NHL last season, and for much of the team this was their first taste of the playoffs. The teams veterans need to step up and help steady the ship.  One of the veteran goaltenders available as a UFA might be a wise investment as a mentor and competitor for Quick. And I don’t see anyway adding a blue collar guy like Shane Hnidy or Colby Armstrong could hurt the team. A guy like that has a steady output and disposition that can be invaluable.

Atlanta: The Atlanta Thrashers led their division in PK% last season, unfortunately they were in the Southeast division and all that got them too was to be the highest team in the bottom half of the NHL’s PK%.  It is however a strength they can build on. Surprisingly, their powerplay was woeful, even the anemic Boston Bruins, and Carolina Hurricanes were their betters. They finished number 12 in scoring during the regular season, handily beating several of the teams that did make the playoffs.

The Thrashers are in a very comfortable place going into the draft and free agency. They have $28.93 in committed cap space to just 12 players, that number will likely change soon as RFA’s Bryan Little and Niclas Bergfors are due a contract.

If I’m sitting in the GM’s office with 2 first round picks and nine overall, I’d have several of the more cash strapped teams firmly in the cross-hairs and try to pot a deal that get’s me a big name forward that lets me replace some of the star power lost when Kovulchuk was traded. With the 8th and 24th picks, and a viable defense a solid goalie pick like Pickard, isn’t outside question with the second of those two picks, especially if they can sign a veteran like Turco to be the #1 now while mentoring their goalie prospect.

Columbus:  This is a team that is designed not to lose. Last year they were aggressively mediocre. They were #17 in PK%, 14 in PP%, and right around the middle of the NHL in other team categories. Their mission this off season should be to figure out who they want to be when they grow up. They don’t appear to have a team identity.  Or at least one that isn’t so Clark Kent bland as to be nearly invisible.

They don’t have much depth at forward, with four players scoring just 1 goal short of half their goals for lest season. Do they use their picks to snatch up say Connolly or Etem at #4 and hope for Kabanov to still be on the board at #34 in an effort to put their offense over the top? Do they snatch Campbell or Gudbranson and trade a later pick and or player for an RFA defenseman who can help them? It almost doesn’t matter, they just need to pick an identity and seize it with both hands.

Anaheim: If I asked you to name the top five regular season could you? If you left the Ducks out, you fail. They were tied with San Jose for percentage and finished fifth in this key statistic. They finished the season 7th ahead in the NHL in total goals for. With the 24th ranked penalty kill, and the third most penalties of any team it’s hard to say if the PK itself is horrible, or if they just show it off so much it is easily dissected, which ever is the case, they need to be more disciplined.

They’ve got a very solid goalie in Hiller, but their defense is the single biggest area of opportunity.  They’ve got money to spend with less than $39 million committed to a mostly full roster. Do we see an offer sheet from? Gunning for Ryan Parent, Mark Stuart might make sense given their situation. They might also take their two first round picks and ship them to the cap strapped Flames for Bouwmeester as a replacement for Pronger and Neidermayer.

This series will focus on how each NHL team can prepare for next season. I’ll be doing a few teams at a time.

Philadelphia : It’s hard to say what to tweak on a team that takes off in the playoffs, shows incredible resilience, has a ton of grit, and is a very deep team. The obvious answer is goaltending, and with good reason, yet Leighton had a better Sv% than Niemi did who went home with the Cup or Fluery who was the last winning goal tender. Leighton’s .916% was actually second in the playoffs this year.

What they really need to tweak is their depth at defense, having a fifth defender or even a sixth who can play even 10 to twelve minutes a night would do the top four a world of good.  The other key area is pure and simple physical fitness. Mike Richards is well known for disdaining the gym, and he and more than a few Flyers looked too tired to execute properly. They had the will and strength to win, but they flat out lacked the juice to power themselves to finish line. In game six they went extended stretches without offensive pressure.

Capitals:  A team that ran away with the scoring race showed they still have room for improvement, and that perhaps the management doesn’t understand the difference between the regular season and the playoffs.  They had the same fundamental flaw this year as they did last year. Like other teams that will be covered in later posts, they don’t have anything that even slightly resembles a shutdown defensive unit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pairing like Gill & Scuderi as was the Penguins in their most recent Cup win, or the sort of committee work that Montreal used to shutdown two teams they were given no shot against. It might be time to deal Semin or Backstrom to bring back a known quantity like Suter, or someone with similar credentials from an offense starved team.

Vancouver:  They may actually have the easiest fix. This year between the preseason, regular season slog, Olympic’s and playoffs Luongo played around ninety games. That’s a huge workload for any goalie, for a guy who is the team captain on top of that there is little surprise he looked so worn by the time the Canucks run ended.  Adding a goalie who can play twenty five games and give the team the chance to win thirteen or fourteen of them is possibly the best remedy for what ails this team. Martin Biron, Alex Auld, or Dan Ellis might be had for reasonable cap hit.  Who knows, maybe they take a chance and draft one of the top goalie prospects?

Edmonton: Tempted as I am to say almost anything that isn’t quite fair. They did have an impressive last few weeks to the season tossing W’s up over LA, Detroit, Colorado, Vancouver, and San Jose, all playoff teams on their way to a .500 record in their final dozen games. Part of their problem was simply being one of the five youngest teams in the NHL.

The first thing they can do right this off season should be easy; draft Hall or Seguin. It doesn’t matter which, both are a right choice. This is a similar situation to the Ovechkin/Malkin draft. In this case it might make sense to actually draft for need, NHL teams seem to have a fixation on drafting “the best available player”, regardless of how he fits into their system. This is what led the Bruins to draft Kessel, despite his not being a sound fit. The question for the Oilers is which need. Do they take their adequate centers and gift them with an offensive machine? Do they give their wingers the man who might be the best center of the last two or three drafts? Or do they count on the versatility of one of these young men to allow them to draft the player they like best and tweak further by moving other pieces?

If I’m the front office and ownership in Edmonton, I can’t help but notice the success the Blackhawks, Penguins, Capitals and to a lesser extent the Coyotes have had recently after being very bad for a while and drafting well.  Personally I’d want to trade as many of the 26-30 year olds on the roster for top sixty picks in the next two drafts and use that foundation and some careful free agents to create a strong playoff team two season from now.

Over the past couple months, a number of people have wondered if perhaps it wasn’t time for the C to come off Chara’s jersey. The most persistently named new destination for the captaincy has been Patrice Bergeron. There is no argument anyone can make to me that Bergeron would not make a good captain, but that isn’t the question. The question is if he would make a better or at least different captain.

Last season Zdeno Chara was 16th in scoring for defenseman in the NHL, in the 08-09 season he was 12th and had six more points. The 08-09 season was as all remember the year he just about walked away with the Norris trophy dominating all three zones.  In 08-09 Chara also had the #9 scorer for forwards in Marc Savard, the #31 in David Krejci, the #55 in Mark Rechhi, the #57 in Phil Kessel, #81 in Michael Ryder, to support him. That’s five forwards in the top 100 on a team that was second in goals scored, the team also boasted seven forwards who scored twenty or more goals.

In the 2009-10 season the highest ranked Bruins forward was #84, Patrice Bergeron. That’s three positions lower than the fifth highest player for the previous years team.  So pinning the lack of offense on Chara is a non starter, especially when none of the defenseman ahead of him on the points last had anywhere near as many as his league leading shots on goal.

Another point to consider is leadership qualities. Chara has in his time here displayed remarkable conditioning, has managed to chase down Ilya Kovulchuk from behind to break up a break away without taking a penalty, has fought some of the (other) biggest, meanest men in the NHL, played an entire season with a dislocated finger, averaged more than one hundred each blocked shots and hits while playing through other injuries and not quitting on his team ever.  Bergeron has played through similar situations, and led in key stats for his position. The two of them have irreproachable work ethics, and tenacity that is probably not great for their long term playing prospects. I doubt either one will be playing in the NHL at Recchi’s age.

Both Bergeron and Chara are quiet, soft spoken guys who do a great deal of community service and make themselves available to the press are on a regular basis. They play hard, practice hard and if anyone doubts the heart of these two they just don’t know hockey or either player.

One quality lacked by both players, and probably the only one you can use as a legitimate attack on either as leaders is that neither is likely to be the guy who goes into the locker room after the team played a poor period and kicks over trash cans, throws things and calls people out by name. Neither guy is a fire eater in the way Phaneuf and Pronger are said to be. On the other hand, I don’t think I can picture Toews, Lidstrom, or Crosby doing any of those things either. Ray Bourque probably wasn’t big on those qualities either.  While I think that the team needed at least one fire-eater all season, I don’t see someone who can be both an elite level player and fulfill that role on the roster.  Recchi has been mentioned for his passion, but I don’t think he qualifies as elite, and isn’t an improvement over either Chara or Bergeron in other categories.

Pronger:  Pronger took two penalties, at least one of which was just dumb. Gotta love his game, he never quit and didn’t make any stupid hockey plays even under pressure, even when the team was down and struggling.

Hit: Tough to say, Richards laid out a couple bodies, Buff ran through Coburn, and several minutes of the second period seemed to be inspired by Drowning Pool.

Conn Smyth: Eh. Toews no doubt earned the honor, but he didn’t make this series his own anywhere but the faceoff dot. And yet, that was enough. He provided enough of a distraction for the Flyers top defenders to loosen the jessies on the rest of the team.

Top players:  Kane broke loose with a three point night, including the goal that got his team the Stanley Cup, and Briere quietly had a three point night, was a +2 and went 60% in the faceoff circle.

Gallery or Guarded: The answer to this one should satisfy fans of both styles of play as we saw both tight defensive hockey in bursts, and a track meet for stretches.

BQ: He used words.

It’s game six, one team can clinch and that’s just barely the most interesting question of the day. Here’s a couple I can’t wait to see the answer too:

Will Chris Pronger take out any anger he may have over a certain picture on the Chicago players? Or will he lay his hits on the media during interviews?

Will the biggest hit of the night be by one of the usual hulking suspects, or will Mike Richards show us once again that big hits can come in small packages that don’t know where the weight room is?

Will one of the candidates step up and etch their name into the Conn Smyth trophy tonight?

Can the top lines and top players buck the trend of this series and fill the score sheet as we’re more used to them doing?

Will we see another wide open shooting gallery where its not a question of if the goaltending will be victimized, but how often or will we see the type of tight defensive match both squads are capable of?

Bonus Question:
How did Gary Bettman explain “Chrissy Pronger” to his daughter?