What an interesting day, the pool of goalies didn’t thin much, Ilya Kovulchuk is still unsigned, and there are several guys back where the fans are familiar with them.  In some cases the familiarity will bring comfort in others the contempt will only be turned to eleven.

The Calgary Flames made most of the hockey world scratch their head by bringing back the much maligned Olli Jokinen. Criticized for his play, his attitude and not being able to single handedly carry the team to a Stanley Cup one has to wonder if his name is Finnish for Joe Thornton. Also rejoining the Flames is former Bolt, Alex Tanguay who I expect to get back over 20 goals and probably top his whole season point total by the All Star break.

Jeremy Reich, otherwise known as Zdeno Chara’s sparring partner and former captain of the Providence Bruins has been returned to the fold. I like this signing for a number of reasons I’ll go into when I do a Bruins-centric post in the next couple days.

Less bemusingly, Derek Morris who possess one of the best tape to tape passes through traffic was resigned for a pretty cheap deal in Phoenix. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a better deal on the day.  Morris spent part of last season in Boston, and was traded back to Phoenix mid year. He resigned in the home he’d known for years.

Apparently both myself and Ty like Jordan Leopold better than the folks in Buffalo who were still nice enough to sign him for less than either of us had him in our UFA challenge posts.

On the flip side after a tour of the entire eastern seaboard and having left draft picks in more places than Patrick Kanes dna, British Columbia native Dan Hamuis signed a six year deal to play with the Sedin’s in front of his home crowd.

Clearly hoping to reap the benefits of his forty to sixty games on the LTIR over the next three season the Senators signed Sergei Gonchar to their back line. Not only do they get a fragile and aging powerplay quarterback out of this deal, they get to slot young defensemen from their system into his roster slot every time he’s injured.  Based on Gonchar’s last three regular season some lucky youngster will get 81 games of NHL experience where everything that goes wrong will be blamed on the injured Gonchar. Really, that amount of built in stress relief will be invaluable to Aneloski, Wideman and other prospects.

Both Ty and I thought we could exempt the Rangers from the worst contract of the day this year, we were both oh so wrong. Derek Boogard signed for about three times the league minimum he’s worth. In 57 games he averaged just six minutes of time on ice with the Wild last season. If he plays the same 350 minutes he did last season while donning the Blue Shirt this year he’ll rake in about $4714.29 per minute.

And goalie derby 2010 saw Big and Bald Alex Auld land in Montreal, good guy Dan Ellis be reunited with crease cousin Mike Smith in Tampa, while Nittymaki will play rock-paper-scissors with Greiss to decide who San Jose’s #1 goalie is. Marty Turco & and Evgani Nabokov were granted more time for real estate shopping online, while Tim Thomas’s wife got to not pack the family up for the third year in a row. If Biron can flash his glove and stick as fast as he can sign a contract, he will probably win the Vezina since he seemed to have been signed quite soon after the start of free agency.

Marty St Louis signed a deal that will take keep him in Tampa Bay until he’s old enough for an AARP card, or to stop having Chelios and Recchi call him Junior.

All in all, this was one of the more entertaining Canada Day’s in the past few years. Facts from NHL.com TSN.CA, Capgeek.com, and NHLNumbers.com, mistakes and snark my own.

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

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.

10) There will be four or more deals in the first round.

9) A GM drafting between 10 and 30 will go off the chart with an unexpected pick.

8) Neither the Blue Jackets nor the Blue Shirts will draft Kabanov.

7) The Islanders will pick or trade for a goalie during draft weekend.

6) Chicago and San Jose will both make trades.

5) Burke will be linked to as people as a single Madonna.

4) Trade talk around the Bruins will escalate until the end of round 2.

3) Two teams in the Southeast will draft or trade to improve their defense.

2) A team hampered by lack of cap space will get hosed selling players for picks and prospects,

1) An ‘unmoveable contract’ (over 5 million) will be moved.

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.

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?

Two teams I can name had difficulty scoring last year, and yet each had one enigmatic player in the fold who had the pedigree to be a or even the go to guy on their squad. One organization admitted no rift between itself and their wayward lamb while exiling them to the outskirts of Siberia, the other gave their will-o-wisp forward adequate ice time and a rotating cast of opposite wingers, and three or four different centers.

Neither team got what they wanted. I speak of course of Nikita Filatov, at least nominally of the Columbus Blue Jackets even though he spent most of the year in the KHL on loan to a team that was supposed to let him grow as a player with plenty of ice time. CSKA Moscow of the NHL finished their season without straining their endurance with a playoff run, much as the Blue Jackets did

Michael Ryder who had the odd off ice distraction to deal with also had to work with a center who some feel returned from off season hip surgery too soon, and a linemate who experienced what can be gently called a sophomore slump. He spent time trying to find chemistry with Marc Savard, which failed miserably, again. Watching the two of them together and expecting something positive to happen was like waiting for a bowling bowl to dissolve in a tub of baby shampoo. His time with the teams other centers was only slightly better. This was his second worst NHL season, and the second to last of his contract.

From watching the two players I’m convinced they are in the wrong type cities. I have seen nothing to indicate Ryder can stomach the attention of playing in a big hockey market. Remember Boston is a city that six years after he played his last game in Bruins uniform can still be seem sporting PJ Stock t-shirts and jerseys to games.  For all the heart and hard work Stock had, he scored exactly one goal in a Bruins uniform.

Filatov who is younger, a bit more outgoing and uptempo was born in the hot bed of Russia’s social and political nexus. Moscow is much more like a top tier North American hockey market in it’s size, sprawl, and concentration of humanity and scrutiny than Ryder’s more pastoral Bonavista New Foundland.  By comparison, Moscow is estimated to be over ten million people, making it about a third the population of all of Canada, much less the less than four thousand people currently living in Bonavista.

So the trade is simple. Filatov is an RFA with two seasons left on his entry level contract who was drafted sixth and had nearly a point per game for CSKA. Ryder will be a UFA on July 1, 2011, is making $4million a year, and has four times scored twenty five or more NHL goals in a season.

To Boston:

Filatov

3rd round pick 2011

To Columbus

Ryder

2nd round pick 2011