There are a number of teams with really good centers.

There are a number of teams who need good right wings.

Nearly every team is trying to keep their young lions in the minors or junior until  the expansion draft is a done deal.

Having watched Eric Staal’s career start circling the drain about three years ago, one has to wonder what the cause is:

  • apathy
  • cumulative injuries
  • playing (in Carolina) with a mostly AHL lineup
  • playing (in New York) under a coach who can’t or won’t make adjustments at any point after training camp

It is hard to say, but assuming he’s healthy and motivated, the best thing he could do would be to take a short money deal for one year to prove himself and maybe get another crack at the playoffs. On paper, barring the last couple seasons (and without the crippling price tag) he’s still a very attractive commodity. He’s big, he’s still got speed, he’s willing to hit, his shot is still something no goalie looks forward to having come at their head, and he’s free of a the types of injuries that make front offices panic.

Pushing his agent for a one year deal in a city with two or even three different style centers for him to play wing with would be the best situation. Assuming the Penguins had space Malkin, Crosby, and Staal on one team would be enough to make most defenses break before the midway point. So where are some spots that might be ideal for Staal?

  1. San Jose: The Sharks were in the finals for the first time in franchise history, adding a big body to play with on either of the top two lines would be an enormous boon.
  2. Arizona: The Coyotes missed the playoffs last year but have some incredibly talented youngsters on the roster. Domi, Duclair, and Staal could be dominant line. For a more veteran unit welding him to Vermette and Hanzal could be a very reliable two way line with more than a little offensive punch.
  3. Boston: With Bergeron, Krejci, and Spooner as the three top options at center, if Staal can’t regain his form here, he just needs to hang the skates up. The three play different styles and tempos and one would almost have to fit with one of them.
  4. Washington: Here Staal might just be a strong contender for a center slot in addition to his chances to play right wing opposite Ovechkin. Both Staal and Ovi are headed towards the end of their peak years, and the two together is something I don’t think many would want to defend.
  5. Nashville: Like Washington this might be a place for him to spend time at center and make big contributions. Laviolette would have to love the idea of Johansen and Staal dishing to Forsberg and Neal on two separate lines, or for that matter the four together as a high powered man advantage.

Wherever he sets his sights, he shouldn’t be aiming any higher than four million unless he’s just looking for an excuse to head to the KHL.

The Boston Bruins finished last season in one of the worst spots imaginable; too bad to be in the playoffs, and less awful than the lottery teams. They drafted in the murky middle, and don’t seem to have a plan. Who they drafted didn’t seem to address any needs, and given how close to drafted to the consensus for each position, it didn’t seem to be the result of any insight. They drafted a local boy who played a couple years with another local boy, from a local college. The home town picks of late remind me of the rampant homerism the Montreal Canadiens were indulging in around the time Louis Leblanc was drafted.

Right now their needs are even more pronounced now than at this time last year. Last year they had a healthy Loui Eriksson. Last year at this time they had hope for a rejuvenated Chara and Seidenberg. They had the promise of a purportedly healthy David Krejci. They even had somehow nurtured the belief Rask was an elite number one goaltender. Last year was awash in hope, including the hope of a brand new and invigorated General Manager, might point the rudderless franchise towards the rising sun of league relevancy.

Today, there is none of that. Tuukka Rask not only didn’t have an elite season, he finished behind twenty-six other goaltenders who played thirty or more games. That makes him far less than elite. Chara had several stretches of looking above average that were certainly heartening, but never showed his Norris form. Seidenberg widened his history of not playing well consistently with anyone on the roster. Krejci missed ten games and was had multiple weeks of being the third or fourth best center on the team.

What was done about an aggressively mediocre team? Did leadership say; This just won’t work, let’s flip as many players as we can for assets and rebuild? Nope. Did they add long term help? Again no. They voided their bowels on a several assets and downgraded to Jimmy Hayes from Reilly Smith, and brought in Liles who was aggressively inconsistent, and Stempniak who they could have had at the start of the season. Five draft picks, and a prospect to get two rentals. Essentially, they’ve done nothing positive in more than year. There were two agonizing highlights over the last year. At the top of the roster Marchand, Bergeron, and Eriksson had stunning and futile seasons carrying the team as high as they could. No one could ask more of them, and Eriksson can almost certainly go anywhere that can afford him after returning to the top of his form even while alternating between right and left wing and among lines. At the bottom of the roster Noel Acciari bringing a level of energy to the bottom six that might not have been eclipsed by anyone since P.J. Stock, and his penalty killing and defensive play were outstanding.

But it was all for nothing. The effort of the men assembled could not overcome the lack of talent in the roster. They need right wings desperately. After Pastrnak, the next best right wing is anyone’s guess and that’s not comforting. No one right now has any idea who the defensive pairs will be, or the backup, or the best winger not named Marchand. The two best defensemen heading for UFA status were had for less than trade chips than it took to get Stempniak and Liles, and either is worth more than both.

At the draft while everyone from the Panthers to the Coyotes was wheeling and dealing to get their team to a better place. What did the Bruins leadership do? Charlie Jabobs CEO of the organization walked on stage to make the first pick. They traded their seventh round pick for, a seventh round pick from someone who will almsot certainly have a better season next year and hence make the pick mean even less than the average late seventh rounder.

Boston Bruins fans should be aquiver with hope. Simply aquiver.

July 4, 2013 I analyzed the Seguin (and company) for Ericsson (and company) trade, and said to ask in five years to see who won. Given the number of young players in the deal (Seguin, Morrow, Fraser, Smith) it is still to early to tell who won the trade. That doesn’t mean either team is getting what they want.

Loui Ericsson was the biggest, best known return for the Boston Bruins. Last year his season was crushed as thoroughly by two concussions as he was by the hit that lead to the John Scott suspension. This season the former 36 goal scorer is fourth on the team in scoring. That would be a lot more impressive if he had more than three goals to his name. Or if he were assisting like a hall of fame bound center, but he’s not. It’s not all his fault, but the Bruins aren’t even in the top 10 in scoring for the first time in years, they are in fact in the bottom third. Ericsson has been consistently dissapointing, not every bit of it can be laid at his skates, but the fact remains they traded for a top line winger and got a depth player.

Tyler Seguin is scoring at a level commiserate with his OHL resume and his second overall selection. That’s awesome. It gives the fans something to cheer for, and gives the team a chance to win every night. Right now he even leads the team and the NHL in goal scoring. Not to shabby an accomplishment. But the Dallas Stars wanted him to be a center when they picked him up from Peter Chiarelli and company who were weary of his off ice youthful exerberence and on ice indifference to three zone play. If you take a look at who he has played with over the course of the season he’s spent about half of his time at right wing playing with Jason Spezza.

The problem there is that the Stars wanted Seguin not just at center but as their number one center. Call me kooky, but in my book your number one center doesn’t play wing to the guy brought in to player further down the depth chart. Seguins failure to thrive in the center position pushes the teams thin depth out of balance. The Stars are 10th in total goal for, and way down in 23rd on the powerplay, that’s not a failure of talent its a failure of balance.

Seguin isn’t taking many faceoffs and what few he’s taking he’s not winning. Cody Eakin, Jason Spezza, Vernon Fiddler, Shawn Horcoff, are all ahead of Seguin in faceoffs taken. Just a handful behind Seguin is left wing Jamie Benn. Even the notoriously poor faceoff man Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is better at winning draws than Tyler Seguin. The bottom line is that Seguin’s abject deficiency at faceoffs, whatever the reasons for it may be, is hurting the team, and will continue you to hurt the team until it is remedied or they bring in yet another number one center. What that turns all his goal scoring into is failing with style.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten off to a great start this season. They lead the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand. They are the only team in their division with a double digit goal differential. No one has a better or even a comparable powerplay, and their goaltender is having a career year. Sidney Crosby is producing at a rate he never has before, and he, Hornqvist and Malkin are all producing half or more of their points on the powerplay.

That’s the problem. Most of this is completely unsustainable. The Penguins powerplay is rocking along at 35.6%. Going back all the way to the 2005-06 season, the best a powerplay has finished is 26.8%. That’s 9% below what the team is rolling along at, and still well above the 21-22% the top powerplays have finished at in the last decade. When you consider that they are 13th in 5 on 5 scoring, you have to wonder how hard the fall will be.

Marc-Andre Fleury is saving a noticeably higher number of pucks than is normal for him. A career .911% save percentage with over 500 games played and no full season higher than .918, means people shouldn’t fall in love with his current .924. Through 12 games played he is also facing more shots per game than anytime in the last five years.

While there are lots of reasons for the decline, the Pittsburgh Penguins are near the top of the league in scoring in the first and second periods, and twentieth in third.  In the third period they’ve also allowed more goals than in any other period, 30% more goals than in either the first or second period. Is it conditioning? Is it desperation by the other team? Or are the Penguins just getting caught playing passively and running out the clock as happens to many teams?

Unsustainable powerplay, high reliance upon it for scoring, weak 3rd period, a goaltender fighting above his weight class all on one team add up to a team that will slide backwards at some point soon.

There are three clear things to understand about what Jim Rutherford has done. First, he signed a player who was art of a Stanley Cup win, in a lot of minds that’s important. Second in keeping Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold he has a known quantity in net for the foreseeable future. Third and most importantly, he has decided he doesn’t want to correct one area of opportunity via the draft or shrewd trades.

The contract itself is actually team friendly. Fleury will get a reported $5,750,000 per year for four years. That will put him in the same range as Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard who are, about average NHL netminders. These teams have all decided they want to go with good enough at the goaltending position, and make various attempts at the best in other positions and in system execution. None of them are likely to win the Vezina this year or next year, but they aren’t likely to

What are Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers like when it counts? In the last five NHL playoff runs he had 13 games (Columbus 6, Rangers 7) and a .915%, going back to the previous year he had 5 games played (Islanders) and lost the starting job to Tomas Vokoun after turning salarya sv% of .883. The year before that was a seven game series (Flyers) where he turned in a performance that can’t be accurately described with a nice word than putrid for his .834%. In 2010-11 his .899 sv% was good enough to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And courtesy of the wayback machine we know that back in 2009-10 his .891 sv% got the Penguins out of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, before he and the Penguins fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the final of which he played just twenty five minutes of and allowed four goals on thirteen shots.

The key to the deep playoff runs when they won the Stanley Cup (where he still allowed more goals than anyone) were a better defense than what has been seen in Pittsburgh since. If the Penguins who between Letang, Crosby, Malkin and now their netminder have $31,200,000.00 committed to just those four players can spend money on quality defense first defensemen, they might do better in the future than the recent past. With a total salary cap currently at $69m, spending almost half of it on four players, only two of them elite, seems like it might not lead to a long tenure for General Manager Jim Rutherford.

The Boston Bruins are not in good shape. They’ve lost half of their top six defensemen. Their offense is stagnant. They have cap issues galore. Today, the Boston Bruins are fifth in wild card race, otherwise known as 11th in the conference. With both Chara and Krug gone, that’s a very high percentage of the ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone and most of the offense from the blueline. Miller, like Chara played significant shorthanded time.

Even if/when Zdeno Chara is fully recovered from his knee injury, he’ll need at least a month to get his timing, and conditioning back. Torey Krug will likewise lose some conditioning and some dexterity in the hand with broken finger. As we’ve seen, Dougie Hamilton is nursing a hand injury as well. Despite the slash to hands by Minnesota Wild star defenseman Ryan Suter Hamilton is still playing but the next slash or puck to the hand could easily add him to the injured reserve.

The Bruins offense is in shambles, the Bergeron line looks like they’ve never played together. The best line the Bruins have features Chris Kelly who in his first ten NHL seasons hit 20 goals just once. Carl Soderberg who was a star in Sweden’s second tier league despite having only one fully functional eye. The last member of Swede2K is the frequently concussed Loui Eriksson who is being forced to play on his off wing. A quick look at the goaltending shows the number one goalie is 8 games into the season and has a save percentage under .900.

While no reasonable amount of players moved is going to get the Bruins the most ping-pong balls in the draft lottery, that isn’t an argument against trying to refresh the talent pool in the NHL, AHL, an junior hockey. The NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise Florida next June is expected not only to have very high end talent at the top but be deeper than most. Some have even compared it to the 2003 draft.

The team can easily shed a number of players, trading one of Brad Marchand or Milan Lucic should net either a top line right wing or the assets to get one. Moving Loui Eriksson could return a 1st round pick in the current draft, and maybe a young prospect. Matt Fraser, Adam McQuaid, Chris Kelly are all worth a second round pick or more. Assuming anyone wants Simon Gagne, or Jordan Caron at worst they bring back a mid round pick and clear a contract.

If the Bruins reduce the roster enough to have cap space to sign Dougie Hamilton, Carl Soderberg, Torey Krug, Reilly Smith, and a free agent or two in July it would be worth it. Having the ability to draft some NHL ready prospects in June, and give players already in the system extended NHL playing time is a win-win scenario. Assuming Peter Chiarelli is the right man to man to fix the team, a little short term pain could reset the team for long term success. With the right players moved, the Boston Bruins drop to 23rd to 26th in the NHL. That means top ten picks in each round they have all their own picks, and whatever picks they acquire. The other option is to overplay whoever happens to be healthy letting the team limp into the playoffs, and getting no better than mid round picks in each round but five to seven more wins in the regular season.

Last night the Boston Bruins lost their captain Zdeno Chara to reported knee injury. The list of accolades and accolades for the man passed over fifty five times in the 1996 draft doesn’t need to be repeated. But they do impact what happens in his absence. Chara vacating the lineup for two to three weeks is probably good for development of the other defenseman, namely Hamilton, Krug and whoever gets called up.

There are three questions:

  1. Is it a short term injury or a long term injury?
  2. If its long term, will he return at all?
  3. What type of replacement should the team go for in the medium to long term?

Currently the Boston Bruins say he’ll be out four to six weeks with no surgery needed. That means December, early in the month if things go well. But given all the complications possible in joints that endure much less stress than a 24 minute a night nearly seven foot tall bruising NHL defenseman, the probability it will take Chara more than six weeks to return is very real.

But, given that the man has played through broken fingers to the point where he no longer has feeling in two of them, he might not even have felt the injury given all the other damage to his body over the years. That monstrous hit he laid on John Tavares could just be the last time he’s seen on the ice until his jersey is hoisted into the rafters. Let’s not forget that while he’s a physical fitness freak, two weeks after the trade deadline he’ll be 38 years old. While the evidence shows Father Time does play favorites, being a top player in a physically demanding collision sport means everyone leaves the sport younger than they want to.

A laundry list of the Boston Bruins prospects in college or in the minors won’t turn up anyone who can contribute even 75% of what Chara does. Rob O’Gara is tantalizing, Linus Arnesson has more than a few admirers, and Joe Morrow was actually taken just a few picks after Dougie Hamilton. One or more of those young men may have to be part of a package to bring back a viable top three defenseman to fill in for any period longer than seven or eight weeks.

The list of who might be both useful and available isn’t that long. Marc Staal has been supplanted by Ryan McDonagh on the New York Rangers depth chart, but he’s still a pretty damned effective defenseman. He’s also a UFA on July 1, and the Rangers will likely not have room to sign him. As a pure defensive defenseman, Mark Stuart might just be the answer. Like Chara he plays over three minutes a night of short handed time on ice, he is familiar with Claude Julien’s system, the Boston fans and media, and he’s a leader, he’s not a top three defenseman but given the market for defensemen, he might be a good fit.

Luke Schenn is another intriguing possibility. The Flyers season isn’t going any better than Boston’s and while the Fyers have less in the way of young building blocks they also have a new general manager who has yet o really put his stamp on the team. With another year on his contract, and then a raise due after that he’s more than a rental. He’s only slightly older than Hamilton and Krug but has more NHL experience than both put together. The Arizona Coyotes might be convinced to part with Zbynek Michalek. He’s a solid 21 or so minute a night guy who plays hard and reliably.

Whatever the Boston Bruins do, short, medium or long term the post-Chara era must be planned for, and planned or now.

Rumors are flying about Brian Campbell and his days being numbered in Sunrise Florida. While the Red Wings are the most discussed landing spot, as they are for every defenseman, the biggest questions is not where should he go (if anywhere) but what for.

Brian Campbell first has the mystique of being a Stanley Cup champion. Second, he’s an offensive minded (although more complete than many give credit for) defenseman. Second, he’s been impressively healthy. His last missed game was back in the 2010-11 season. He’s got almost 100 games of NHL playoff experience, and while he’s not going to challenge the best of the league for speed anymore, no one thinks he’s slow. His average nights work minute wise is also impressive clocking in each year at 25-26+ minutes per game.

On the other hand he’ll be 36 before the next Stanley Cup is handed out, has played possibly a dozen meaningful games since arriving in Sunrise, and then there’s his contract. He’s making over $7.1m a year. His points totals are erratic swinging wildly and widely from year to year. It isn’t news, and arguably isn’t relevant that he’s undersized and not a physical presence.

‘So what should the Florida Panthers be asking for in exchange for their best known skater?

  1. Young defensive talent.
  2. Healthy mid career forwards who can help Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov, and Bjugstad drag the team into the playoffs at least two or three years in a row.
  3. Several draft picks, at least equal to what the New York Islanders paid to acquire Johnny Boychuk which was two seconds and a conditional third.

Why is he worth more than Boychuk despite age and a larger contract?

  1. He’s much better offensively, even in the down years.
  2. Speed.
  3. An additional season beyond this one in which a team would have price certainty and the option to turn him over for additional or at least different assets.
  4. He’s played in big, small and “non traditional” markets and should be able to adjust on ice and of to whatever conditions he’s presented with pretty quickly.

The Boston Bruins are desperately in need of experienced right wings to balance their lines and get their top six to look like it. What’s needed is right wings who have playoff experience, play the right wing naturally, and be on teams either trending towards a rebuild or at most not considered centerpieces of the teams future. That means the injured Evander Cane who plays left wing and center is out, Jordan Eberle is not even worth thinking about, and players who bounce between positions are suboptimal.

Here’s three reasonable names.

Alex Semin

If there’s any guy hungry to prove himself, and who knows how to find the back of the net it is Semin. He’s got top shelf hands, passes well, and while he’s not the best skater in the league is still above average.  The cost would be high, and so is his salary, but with three season more on his contract, it would allow for drafting and developing replacements.

Brad Boyes

Yes a retread, and yes he’s not a long term solution, but he’s managed to put together solid numbers the last two seasons despite playing on sub-par teams. With a low salary, a familiarity with the teams core, and two years of good health, now might just be the time to bring home a former fan favorite.

Blake Wheeler

Another familiar name, but at 28 he’s the youngest name so far, he’s a great skater, turned in 28 goals last year on a not great team. He’s consistent, a great skater, has a well rounded game, and most importantly did well as a young player under Claude Julien.

For some interesting names that are a bit of a reach, but might still work.

Colton Sceviour a Dallas Stars prospect who has done a lot of scoring in the AHL.

Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, is arguably the best fit, and probably the hardest to pry loose from his current team.

Jarome Iginla, see Wayne Simmonds, and also Brad Boyes.

Vladamir Taresenko while he might be squeezed free from the St Louis Blues, its questionable if he’d make enough impact to push the team where he’d want to go.