We are days from free agency when the NHL feeding frenzy will erupt and every GM with a roster spot and a dollar will turn into a shark in well chummed water. That means the time to solve their roster and cap problems.

As things stand they are almost one and a half million over the salary cap. That includes just six defenseman. It also includes thirteen forwards including the thirty-eight year old Marian Hossa who is signed for this and three additional seasons at nearly six million a year. Think about that. Even if he comes back next year having recovered from his skin ailment. He’ll be 39 years old, having suffered a season erasing illness, and still pretty expensive.

If they put Hossa on LTIR they’ll have $3,829,372 in cap room. They’ll need to replace him on the roster, and add a defenseman. With two guys on their entry level contracts you’re looking at about two million, minimum. And that leaves very, very little room for the inevitable injuries. Given the way the mumps have spread among Canadian players in the last half decade, it likely means you’ll need space on the roster and under the cap for a few days for two to three players at a time.

They are almost certainly going to need to trade someone. Hossa has a full no movement, and won’t be attractive without including some kind of overpayment going the other way. The Buffalo Sabres could certainly use someone who is part of the fairly expensive core of the Blackhawks, unfortunately there are six, count them six players including Hossa who have full no movement clauses. Marcus Kruger adds to the mess with a seven team no trade list.

To complicate things further, they have RFA’s Tomas Jurco, Anton Forsberg, and Dennis Rasmussen they need to do something with. Stan Bowman likely can’t keep Johnny Oduya, Andrew Desjardins, and Brian Campbell. There’s a lot to do. I’ve said before there are no cap problems, only management problems. There may be a path forward from here, but unless Vegas, Carolina, and Florida start earning enough to push the cap up about fifteen million in the next two years, they have long term problems of the sort that lead to complete turnover in front offices.

This years NHL entry draft was described as lacking the ultra high-end talent that we saw in the two previous drafts which produced Eichel, Matthews, and McDavid. A more in depth look at the scouting reports will show you you’re looking a a higher percentage of middle six forwards, 3-5 defensemen, and strong number 2 and journeyman goalies than in more exciting years.

In some ways this is the perfect year for an expansion team to come into the league. In drafts where you have two or three elite players at the top like the Ovechkin/Malkin draft, you may not have as much depth, or as much consistency further down the rankings. The first round this year saw the mild surprise of Nico Hischier going first, despite nearly universal projections for him to go one slot behind Nolan Patrick of that Patrick family.

I suspected that given all the turmoil in New Jersey over the last two or three years health would be a priority. I was not surprised. Gabe Vilardi was expected to go in the top five and slid nearly out of the first round. Owen Tippett is headed to Florida where I predict a sunburn or two, and not just on the back of the neck of opposing goaltenders.

Don’t anyone sleep on the trade of Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera and Morgan Frost. Lehtera was exposed by the Blues and one has to wonder if there were hard feelings before or after he learned he was not that highly valued by the Blues. This trade has the potential to workout for both sides, but it doesn’t feel like an even trade. The Blues also traded Reaves for Sundqvist, and it so both they and the Penguins will have a very different feel next year. Assuming Reaves ends up playing.

While the trades during the first round were interesting, the Rangers and Coyotes have just about transformed their rosters.

 

As a life long Boston Bruins watcher it’s hard to believe I’m about to write this column. I’ve tweeted about their biggest need before. I’ve posted to Facebook too, and anyone who’s heard me talk about the makeup of the Boston Bruins team in particular and the organization as a whole has probably heard me expound at least once.

The biggest need of the Boston Bruins isn’t a talent. It isn’t a position. Instead, they desperately need an attitude. Or maybe personality is a better term for it.

When you look up and down the roster who is the fireeater? Who is the guy you know will be angry enough after a bad game or getting porked by the officials that police and Garden security flinch away when he leaves the ice? On bad days when teammates are a two zeros and six miles 100% which of these dudes is going to drop f-bombs like he’s auditioning for a Tarantino film?

I don’t see that guy. Marchand is probably the snarliest guy day in and day out. You can probably put Krug into your top five most belligerent players too, but it doesn’t matter. The two of them are a cinder blocks short of 5’10. They are also wildly underappreciated for their very real, very formidable skill sets. 

The fire started to wane when Mark Stuart was traded. Tim Thomas retiring Andy Ference being let go, even Johnny Boychuk had some visible heat. We’ll skip entirely the Mellott Line, and merely lament the back injuries that laid low Nathan Horton. Milan Lucic was evicted from the Hub.

Who has replaced even a fraction of that passion? Who is the surly son of a Bruin that tips the shop the right way when the rest of the crew is asleep on the bench? 

No one

That needs to be fixed.

.

As a life long Boston Bruins watcher it’s hard to believe I’m about to write this column. I’ve tweeted about their biggest need before. I’ve posted to Facebook too, and anyone who’s heard me talk about the makeup of the Boston Bruins team in particular and the organization as a whole has probably heard me expound at least once.

The biggest need of the Boston Bruins isn’t a talent. It isn’t a position. Instead, they desperately need an attitude. Or maybe personality is a better term for it.

When you look up and down the roster who is the fireeater? Who is the guy you know will be angry enough after a bad game or getting porked by the officials that police and Garden security flinch away when he leaves the ice? On bad days when teammates are a two zeros and six miles 100% which of these dudes is going to drop f-bombs like he’s auditioning for a Tarantino film?

I don’t see that guy. Marchand is probably the snarliest guy day in and day out. You can probably put Krug into your top five most belligerent players too, but it doesn’t matter. The two of them are a cinder blocks short of 5’10. They are

There was a nice quiet day of trades in the NHL heading into the Expansion Draft that will allow the Vegas Golden Knights to plump up their organization.

4: In Division Trade

When you make a trade within your division, you’re almost certainly always saying that someone involved is irrelevant. When the Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev went down we learned something. We already knew the Canadiens make goofy trades for frequently non-hockey reasons. So we either learned that Yzerman doesn’t in anyway value the player he spent a year refusing to trade even when Drouin failed to report to the AHL, or that he’s revealed the depth of his respect for the Montreal organization.

It’s almost certainly the latter. Given the lack of skilled, speedy offensive centers who can keep up with Jonathan Drouin in Montreal, and who the head coach is, the math isn’t hard. Yzerman expects Drouin to be less impactful in Montreal than he was in Montreal. Clearing five point five million from his cap didn’t hurt, but sticking a player on a team who you can expect to produce at about seventy five cents on the dollar doesn’t happen often, when it’s a division rival its cheap at twice the price.

3: Commitment?

For years the Arizona Coyotes were wed in holy matrimony to Mike Smith, the Calgary Flames on the other hand had a soured soiree with Chad Johnson. Smith had Vezina quality seasons in a Coyotes uniform, and was also awful With nearly 500 regular season starts, the veteran has seen a lot, but its likely the 35 year still has a few good seasons on the clock.

Johnson has played only about a quarter as many games and is one of the better gents in a backup roll in the NHL. In a starting role he’s untested.

The question is are the Coyotes unwilling to keep their commitment for the final two years of Smith’s contract, or was the newest Calgary Flame wanting out of town due to the uncertainty that seems to be as thick in the wind as the sand?

 

2:  Franchise or Franc-choice?

Nathan Beaulieu was talked up in two languages as the best thing to happen to Montreal’s blueline in a long time just a couple years ago. In the Montreal tradition, like McDonagh, Subban, Weber, and half a dozen others expected to be NHL contributors, he’s moved along, and again to a division rival. The Buffalo Sabres who just added their general manager, add a defensemen picked 17th for a third round pick. Is Beaulieu going to achieve what McDonagh or Subban have? Probably not, but Yannick Webber was let go for nothing by the Montreal Canadiens, and like his fellow recovering Hab P.K. Subban, he just ran to the Cup finals.

With just over 200 games played in the NHL, we’re starting to see who he really is. Was it not speaking French? A lack of faith in him from Julien, or just another Habs blunder.

1: Two Little is Not Enough

The Coyotes did make a move. They should have made more. With teams like the Matt Dumba, and Hampus Lindholm or even Codi Ceci potentially available, the most vulnerable team to losing anyone did themselves a great disservice by not making a second notable move to enhance the defense. Even if they decided not to keep Dumba or another player after a trade, its certain the value he holds would allow them to pick up another piece or two to help them move in the right direction.

The Stanley Cup Finals are over. The hockey season is over. And worse, the NHL Front Office and Pittsburgh Penguins have won.

A team that had numerous favorable calls made for them, and at least as many calls not made against them most notably the debacle of Sidney Crosby slamming P.K. Subban’s head into the ice. Not just for the non call, not just for the non suspension, not just for the racial overtones, not for completely ignoring the concussion protocol, but because it showed explicitly what everyone who has any ability to decipher an NHL game already knows: The front office care more about which market, and player, wins the Cup than it does about what is actually best for the game, the players, or the fans.

As if further proof were needed, the Conn-Smyth went to about the fourth or even fifth most influential player on the Penguins winning the Cup. Matt Murray was stellar behind a banged up defense. Geno Malkin was unarguably better, Jake Guentzal played in hall of fame territory. Brian Doumalin was quietly the best of the Penguins defense from their 83rd game of the season right until the end. Justin Schultz did a great deal to fill the Letang void. Then there was Crosby.

In a season when Crosby should rightly have been suspended for nearly removing the finger of Marc Methot, a playoff suspension, as a repeat offender after Crosby attempted to injure Subban would have taken him out at least two games. But using the marking plan that has been in place since 2005 is far, far more important than doing what is right.

 

The time is now. No one knows how this series will end. History and statistics are on the side of the Pittsburgh Penguins who are up two to nothing. If it gets to three nothing, the team with that lead wins almost all the time. But games aren’t decided by historical statistics, they are decided by the men on the ice.

If Pekka Rinne remembers not the last couple games, but the last couple months and plays the way he did against Chicago, and Anaheim, and Saint Louis, he’ll be a completely different player. If James Neal can recall that he’s capable of thirty and forty goal seasons, and focuses on the game he might, might just score a goal for the first time in seven games. Similarly Victor Arvidsson who ran the board in the regular season hasn’t scored since April, in the first series, against the Chicago Blackhawks. Whatever jitters he has need to die as thorough a death as the notion Nashville isn’t a hockey town.

Arvidsson, Neal, and Rinne aren’t alone on the ice and aren’t even the only problems. The number of penalties the team has taken needs to be addressed. While I’m all for physicality, and on ice leadership and will never complain about two willing combatants going after it, Subban is a huge part of the team’s success both offensively and defensively. He’s not the first guy to punch Malkin in the face, he won’t be the last, but even on a defense as stacked as Nashville’s Subban is not a player you can lose when your back is against the wall, you’re already down your best center and you’re in the fight of your life with no one stepping up.

This team is better than the part time effort they are putting in. They haven’t played a sixty minuted game since maybe game six in Anaheim, and they won’t be winning their last game of the season if they play 37 to 40 minutes a night until the series is over.

Who is Anders Bjork? One of the newest official members of the Bruins organization. As a college player he is probably a little more likely to start the season in the spoked-P than on Causeway. Even for a player who goes into the college post season there is not the density of games a WHL prospect or even a skater in the USHL would play. Because of that conditioning will be a question in everyone’s mind even if he hits training camp in September and destroys every facet of the physicals. The NHL regular season is twice as long as the most regular season games he’s ever played.

At 5 foot eleven and a hundred and eighty three pounds the Wisconsin born forward is about the same size as longtime Bruins center David Krejci. One of the many products of the United States National Development program. Internationally he’s collected a U18 Gold medal, and a U20 Bronze. The Bruins picked up the man with a very well filled out hockey pedigree at 146 in 2014. Only two players taken after him have played in the NHL to date.

What’s to like about him?

Hands and feet. He can skate, he’s got a more than respectable shot, and he passes well. He has also increased his output every single season to date.

What should you worry about?

I wanted about a dozen Notre Dame games over the last two years, and that is not a team that has a strongly structured style of play. The team was typified in my viewings with strong play by individuals. While Cassidy isn’t Julien, to play in Boston he’s going to have to adapt to the system pretty quickly.

What won’t you see?

Lots of penalties, he’s not a particularly physical player, and while he doesn’t initiate a lot of hitting or extras, he also doesn’t let it draw him into stupid retaliatory penalties.

Projection:

Middle six production. Somewhere between 18 and 26 goals a season, and from 55 to 70 points is a pretty reasonable expectation if he sticks in the NHL.

Every game teaches lessons. Sometimes the lesson is subtle, it might apply to just one player, just one matchup. Or it might show the balance between various units on the opposing teams.

What they should have learned:

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Use your speed through center ice.
  • Five men pack in the defensive zone to support the puck.
  • Don’t underestimate the speed of the Predators, especially their defense.
  • Trying to play counter punch hockey with a team faster, and about as offensively gifted is perilous.

Nashville Predators

  • Don’t get distracted by officiating.
  • Never, ever take your foot off the snake.
  • Support Rinne, especially when there are long gaps between shots on net.
  • You can play with the defending champions.

It’s pretty simple at this time of year. You either reset and recover after a grueling loss or you are sure to suffer another one.

Three to Watch:

Predators:

  1. P.K. Subban, he’s hot right now, when he’s on a hot streak he can take over and dominate, and he’s got the perfect complements in the rest of the Nashville defense to do that.
  2. James Neal he said before the series started “they didn’t want me” in regards to his former team the Penguins. He’ll love making them pay in multiple ways.
  3. Pekka Rinne he has not allowed three or more goals in back to back games all post season, and after his last four goal game he only allowed one.

Penguins:

  1. Phil Kessel, zero shots on goal is not a common occurrence, and no one should expect a sequel.
  2. Justin Schultz he had a very quiet sixteen minutes of ice time, well below his normal twenty one range.
  3. Matt Murray, like his counterpart he needs to be better to give his team a shot at winning. An .885% isn’t good, it isn’t even average and on any night the opposition plays respectably it’s a loss.

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