Entries Tagged 'Series: How to improve for next season' ↓
January 12th, 2012 — Feature: Trades that should, Series: How to improve for next season
The Kings are one of seven teams to make a coaching change this season. It has improved their winning percentage, it hasn’t improved their scoring. The Kings are still last in the league in goals for. As has been mentioned before, they don’t have any viable left wings. On the left side they have Dustin Penner, Simone Gagne, Scott Parse and little else. Penner’s stats speak for themselves. Gagne is shockingly out with an injury. Scott Parse will miss the rest of the season. As well as Quick has been playing, adding someone on the left who has traditionally been able to damage is an obvious need.
On the other end of the continent, the Montreal Canadiens are in shambles. Mike Cammalleri publicly expressed some displeasure with the way things are going. The Canadien’s too have made a coaching change, and thanks to the cities rampant anglophobia, made the sitting coach a lame duck. Sitting 12th in the east and fifth in the northeast division isn’t a place anyone is used to seeing the Habs. With fights breaking out in practice, It’s clearly time for a shakeup on the ice in Montreal.
Sending Cammalleri to California gives the Kings a bonafide threat, and lets them add him to Kopitar, Brown and Richards as a fearsome foursome. Going back, the Habs should probably look for the Kings 1st round pick, and at least one or two AHL’ers or prospects who should be NHL ready next year. Cammalleri did play with the Kings before, and was highly productive there including a 39 goal season. With two (or with other moves possibly more) first round picks used wisely, the Habs could put themselves in good position to be the first Canadian city to win the cup since the last time they won it in 1993.
November 25th, 2011 — Series: How to improve for next season
The Montreal Canadiens have had two problems the past several years. The first is an injured and aging defense. The second is an undersized and not especially skilled forward group.
Starting with the defensive unit, the injuries this season and last have actually been a mixed blessing. Without the various injuries I don’t think Subban would have gotten the shot he has. Yannick Weber would still be buried in the minors, and no one would know who Rapheal Diaz is. Subban is a hugely skilled asset, with wheels, will and a scoring touch. Despite injuries to Markov, Gill and Campoli this group, with the assistance of Carey Price, has the 8th best goals against average in the NHL. That’s not a bad number for a group who’s most experienced defenseman is Josh Gorges who is a creaky and venerable 27 years old with just under 400 NHL regular season games to his name.
Max Pacioretty is emerging as something more than a bottom six checker or grinder. Michael Cammeleri is a gifted goal scorer and has been he most offensively the most dependable source if offense the last few seasons. After that, even taking the talented Plekanek into account, there’s not much offense to be had. This year the Habs are 20th in goals for, last season they finished at 23rd in goals for.
When the older defensemen return, they can use the silver lining of the first problem to help solve the second. Markov, Gill, and Spacek between them represent a good deal of talent, experience and leadership. There are at least half a dozen NHL teams with much shallower defensive pools who would pay and pay well to get one of them. Bringing back a gifted goal scorer or a high first round pick that could be turned into a goal scorer has to be a priority. Even if it’s a young talent that takes a season or two to blossom, the young blueline and Carey Price can wait. But the team on the ice and in the trainers room just isn’t going to do the trick.
November 4th, 2011 — Series: How to improve for next season
Every dynasty has its end. The Hapsburgs, the Mings, the Boston Celtics, and so too does the Red Wings organization find itself at the end of its time as an elite power. It is one of those inevitabilities of human history. Some times great dynasties come to an end because they simply run out of heirs. In other cases outside forces conspire to tear them down, or simply overshadow them. Other times the faith in the cause or the bloodline runs thin and the pinnacle of the dynasty is simply no longer great. Whatever the cause, the Detroit Red Wings are there.
In 2008 when they last won the Stanley Cup they were the best team everyone wanted to be. They gave up less goals than anyone, they had the best goal differential and won their division by a jaw dropping 24 points. The next year they would slide into the the playoffs with three straight losses, 51 wins, and having given up 60 more goals than the year before on their way to losing in the Cup finals. Fast forward to last year : the goal differential shrank from +73 to +20, they would lose in the second round for the second year in a row to the San Jose Sharks, and Lidstrom would finish the year as a minus player for the first time in his career.
This year they are on pace to score 179 goals. That is a number than any of the lottery teams has scored in the past several seasons. Their goals for goals against differential is a negative number, and if they playoffs started today they’d be looking at a long golfing season. Only perennial lottery team the New York Islanders have scored less goals than the Red Wings this season, and that team has played fewer games, and has a better goals against average. Dire is perhaps the only word that can describe the situation. Amazingly the St Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets are the only cushions between the Motor City heroes and the conference basement.
To make matters worse, they don’t have much in the way of prospects to call up. In the past decade they’ve only made four first round selections. One of those Jakub Kindl is attempting to stick with the team for the third time. 2007 selection Brendan Smith has yet to earn a call up despite good numbers in the AHL last year. Thomas McCollum was picked at the end of the first round in 2008, and has earned one NHL appearance and gave up three goals to the Blues in less than fifteen minutes, he’s assigned to the Wing’s ECHL affiliate this year. Their 2010 first round pick is a college athlete currently attending Notre Dame, Riley Sheehan has been middling on the Fighting Irish team. For later round picks, you have to go all the way back to 2006 draft class to find three picks who have hit double digit games played in the NHL. One of those three is Shawn Matthias is Florida Panther, right wing Jan Mursak has 1 point in 19 games and is currently on the injured reserve, and 2006 left wing pick Cory Emmerton is has only broken double digit minutes once this season, despite heading into their last game with as many points as Cleary, Helm or Abdelkader.
Over the last several years the talent leaving has been an even bigger problem than what has been drafted. Brian Rafalski was lost to retirement last year to be replaced by the well traveled Ian White. Chris Chelios is long gone, Shannahan is now one of the NHL’s best known suits, and Lidstrom while still on the ice, is not the player he was when he last hoisted the Stanley Cup. The teams forwards don’t dominate any more, and depth at every position is lacking.
The brain trust in Detroit has a stark choice to make: tarnish the reputation of the organization by riding aging players down in flames or give them the opportunity to help other teams and restock the team at the same time. Of their top five scoring forwards last season only two had a positive plus minus. All five of them are 31 or older. Even if they managed to restock with a set of high end players like their division rivals the Chicago Blackhawks did, that takes 4-5 years and that would put Zetterberg and Franzen the youngest of the set at 35, and Bertuzzi would be at least 40.
In stark contrast to their neighbors to the north the Calgary Flames they are largely unencumbered by no trade and no movement clauses. Even with a contract that stretches until 2020, Franzen would catch a return of at least a first round pick and a prospect. He’s got size, plays both wings and has been to the promised land. For Pavel Datsyuk the sky is literally the limit, a quiet conference call with the teams he’d be open to moving to could yield the largest haul since Gretzky was shipped to the Oilers, possibly larger if a contract extension were worked into it. Even the teams that normally shy away from the ultra long contracts are likely to step to the plate if Zetterberg is offered up. Without a non-movement clause the 2008 Conn-Smyth winner opens the field to anyone who can pony up the picks, prospects and roster players that most appeal to Jim Dellevano, Ken Holland and their advisers.
A look at the ISS, TSN and other prospect rankings for this years draft class says there is plenty of potential to turn their defense around in short order if they have multiple first and second round picks. If they sold off early and mostly went with picks and prospects they might even have a shot at Yakupov. With all their talent in place they are one point above the lottery as winter closes in. If they hit ctrl+alt+delete soon enough they have a chance of regaining dynasty status in two or three year and staying their a long, long time.
June 28th, 2010 — Series: How to improve for next season
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:
June 20th, 2010 — Series: How to improve for next season, Series: Various
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.
June 15th, 2010 — Series: How to improve for next season, Series: Various
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.