The rumors surrounding Evander Kane have been higher hip waders for two plus years. There’s his supposed off ice issues. There’s the rift that is said to exist between he and management and or coaches. There’s the fact that fans in 29 cities not named Winnipeg that are home to NHL franchises would love to have him. There is also the fact that the Jets are more likely to be tanking in February than looking to add depth for a playoff run.

The latest round of hot air and hearty keystrokes has Kane, the 30 goal scoring 22 year old who is 3rd in his draft class in goals and points headed to Montreal. On the exhaustive list of players the Jets would supposedly get in return for him are Max Pacioretty. Such a trade would free up an additional three quarters of a million in cap space the Jets don’t particularly need. What else it would do for the Jets is unknown.

The question is what is Evander Kane worth? If you use the Phil Kessel benchmark of two first and a second round pick, you may be at least in the right ball park. Kane has not scored as many goals in one season as Kessel has, but he’s also never had as much offense around him. On the plus side for Kane is much more physicality, no history of cancer and an ability to shrug off media attention.

If your the Winnipeg Jets, the return for your best young talent needs to be high. The teams needs are pretty noticeably: a center capable of excelling in the one or two slot, a long term solution in goal, and a 22+ minute a night defensive defenseman who can help protect whoever is in net from some of the NHL’s top talent. Getting experienced number one centers is not easy, just look at the number of guys the Calgary Flames have tried to put into that position. Right now the Anaheim Ducks have an embarrassment of riches in net, and one of their younger goalies would be good mix for a Winnipeg team still building. Dan Girardi who is a UFA this off-season fits the mold of a shutdown defender, as does the Boston Bruins Dennis Seidenberg.

Another way for the Winnipeg Jets organization to approach this might be to aim for adding quality second line and second pairing depth via the draft. If they could swing a deal for Kane and five or even four relatively high second round picks they might just be better off long term. In Atlanta as the Thrashers or now Winnipeg as the Jets the franchise has never been known for its depth. Is this the time to go for it? As it looks very much like they will have at least one top ten draft pick of their own in the near future, it might just be.

The biggest story of the NHL off season isn’t a trade, an offer sheet, an unfortunate death or even an absurd signing. It is the retirement of one of the most talented players in the NHL. Ilya Kovalchuk announced he would be leaving the NHL and returning to Russia through the New Jersey Devils website today. His official reason of wanting to be with his family is certainly a key component, but no one, even if they expect to recoup it walks away from the nearly eighty million he was due as Devil over the next few years easily.

The other contributing factors are a bit murkier, but we can certainly narrow down key components, the first of which is how little success such an enormous talent has had in the NHL. With Atlanta he was surrounded by rosters most of the USHL or CHL teams could have handily defeated in a seven game series, possibly in a sweep. The team continually drafted high despite being in a division that was the NHL’s punching bag for almost a generation. Two years ago when he finally got to the Stanley Cup finals after a season in which he should have won the Hart, the Ted Lindsey and gotten votes for the Selke, his hopes of winning the Cup were exsanguinated, largely by his own teammates and a body that had given more than it should be called upon to. Given the well documented financial troubles of the New Jersey Devils, he had to be convinced he was no going to get back to the Finals any time when he had a claim at being a top ten NHL talent.

Recognition is another element. Kovalchuk is good. He’s more than good, he’s the definition of elite. In his career he’s played with exactly one top ten offensively talented center, and he didn’t have Marc Savard for long. In the early years of his career he played with little in the way of NHL talent of any description. In his most recent four seasons he’s played in a very defensive minded system where he played 24-26 minutes a night with large amounts of it shorthanded. He leaves the NHL with two fifty goal season, three forty goal seasons, and four thirty goal seasons. Only once was he a first team All Star, he never won a single Hart trophy or Ted Lindsay, and much of that can be laid at the feet of the Canadian media and their xenophobia. Russian players get as much negative attention from the Canadian media today as Russia itself did from America during the Cold War. If a Russian player does something questionable or negative it will be talked about for years to come, a Canadian or Swede who did the exact same thing might have to suffer through a week of questions and recriminations. He’ll leave the NHL a point per game player, a solid two way player, and probably never even get mentioned for the hall of fame.

NHL stability is another question that has to have pooped into his head a time or two. During his there were two lockouts, one resulting in a whole season being wiped away. The team who drafted him had ownership more interested in pinching pennies and suing each other than in building a viable franchise. The team he was traded too and eventually signed to a long term deal with was bankrupt. The Coyotes were forever unstable. The Islanders are still a question mark. The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets had issues that threatened their existence. The Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg. All Star and Winter Classic games, a major source of league revenue, were cancelled. And of course players have had to give back money to the league more than once.

The Devils will go on without him, as will the league, neither will be better off without him.

 

The Avalanche are in the midst of yet another signing saga. At present they’ve spent the past eight months holding their leading faceoff man and leading scorer from last season by the choke chain known as “RFA status”. The other marks in O’Reilly’s favor are nothing to sneer at. He had two overtime tallies, led the team in assists, won 53% of his faceoffs, potted four powerplay goals, played in all situations and generally contributed to the teams success.

The level of the teams success sheds a different light on his accomplishments, so does the fact that it was his third season and one where he more than doubled his career  assist and points totals on a team that finished 20th in the NHL. Anyone who doesn’t see the potential for steady growth for the 22 year old 200lb center is probably convinced we’ve seen the best from Taylor Hall and John Tavares. I don’t think anyone puts the ceiling for O’Reilly quite that high, but the chance for growth is coupled with one regression as well. He could just as easily turn into a half hundred other forwards like Peter Schaefer who got some ice time, got lucky and then fell apart when he had to repeat it.

If the Avalanche are determined not to give into his teams demands, where else he could land is a matter of finding a GM who sees O’Reilly continuing to get better, and has the assets and the inclination to go after him. Kent Wilson of FlamesNation thinks the Calgary brass must make a play for him. While it is unarguable that the Flames are a bit cool at the pivot position, what they have to offer up isn’t much. The Flames farm system is rated 23rd best in the entire league. Would a package of Jankowski, Seiloff and a 2nd round pick do the trick? And would that package actually be good for either team?

The Florida Panthers are currently underwater on faceoff win percentage, 23rd in the NHL in goals, and almost as poorly off in the east as the Avalanche are in the west. It’s highly unlikely any talks around the Panthers actually include Jonathan Huberdeau since the rookie is currently leading the team in goals, but perhaps Kris Versteeg is due for his sixth jersey since draft day and draft pick or two could accompany him back to the western conference. O’Reilly and Huberdeau could arguably be the best 1-2 punch at center in the Southeast division in a couple years.

Assuming Washington wants to make a shakeup, and they probably should, Backstrom and O’Reilly as a the moving points of the offense for the Capitals could actually get the team out of the lottery even before the seasons end, like Backstrom who Ovechkin has played longest and best with, O’Reilly is a left handed shot. Going back could be any number of pieces, ideally Carlson, although that would prove what just about everyone should suspect about McPhee, but Yevgeni Kuznetsov is a very attractive piece, if they can woo him across the pond, in some combination with Tom Wilson, Filip Forsberg and or picks should seal the deal.

It’d be nice to include the Wild in this list but there problem isn’t talent on the ice. The system in Nashville prevents offensive stars, and I don’t see the new GM in Columbus looking to take on a big contract for someone who seems likely to want to wrangle over it ever time. There are other teams who might make a move to juice their line up, but the Panthers, Flames, and Washington top the list of teams O’Reilly, at the right price makes sense for.

After writing up the top defensemen, I looked at the forwards and wondered if all the General Managers had taken vacation or just leave of their senses. The amount of talent left dangling is more than enough to fill out the top six for any team in the league.  In no particular oder, here are the best RFA’s to keep an eye on, and think about for your fantasy team.

  •  Tyler Ennis missed about a third of the season with injuries. This was his second full season in the NHL. While his overall numbers were lower, his points per game and stats become eye popping when you break them down. He put up a respectable .59 points per game as a rookie. In 48 games last season he was a solid .71ppg. He managed 19 takeaways 15-19-34 and +11 as part of a disastrous campaign for the Sabres. In March he put up 19 points in 16 games. The scary part is that he averaged just 16:09 of total ice time and under two minutes of powerplay time.
  • All Star Jamie Benn is somehow unsigned. The Stars had time and money to sign the aging and infirm Jagr, trade for Derek Roy, and no doubt get in a couple rounds of golf. He’s only gotten better year after year. Last years totals were career highs in goals, assist and points. Many would call him the best player on the team, few would put him outside the top three. Somehow he’s still sitting in cold storage given all the respect of a dusty can of store-brand peas.
  • Evander Kane is also on the Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot list of players left to grow mold and discontent. The fact that he is still unsigned in August does nothing to dispel the rumors from early this year that he didn’t want to sign in Winnipeg. 2o year old 30 goal scorers aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. Yet the 4th pick of the 2009 draft who had 173 hits, 31 blocked shots, and just 18 giveaways to his 35 takeaways last year is unsigned with training camp closer than the end of last years regular season.
  • Ryan O’Reilly, his agent, his fans and family are probably a bit confused this summer. Granted they have a good reason. Apparently to the Colorado Avalanche more than doubling your career totals in one year, leading the team in scoring and leading all forwards in ice time while playing in all situations aren’t enough to warrant a timely contract. No, I can’t figure that out either.

Yesterday Justin Schultz chose the Edmonton Oilers. Today his contract will be registered with the league. For the Anaheim Ducks this is an ugly blight on their off season. But things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. He was drafted back in 2008 and has had time to observe the Ducks organization in action for all that time. They’ve gone changed coaches, a player has been publicly and repeatedly scapegoated. Collectively the players on the ice have taken the first half of the season off two years in a row.

Then there is a drafting and development record that doesn’t deserve mention. Justin Schultz is 21 years old, he’s an adult. He didn’t choose the team that drafted him. And a team that doesn’t. compete well and douses its stars in public scorn isn’t someplace many will want to play there. When one of the biggest stars in the league who isn’t know for piping up does so just days before the draft maybe this. should be a wake up call.

Some might see this as a reason to change the CBA. I see this as a way to keep players who don’t feel a team offers what they needm or who may be toxic to stay out of low growth situations. As we saw with Jeff Carter thisyear and others in years past; unhappy players don’t perform well. What team really believes a miserable player is good for their team? Let it go, growand learn from it and move on.

The most asked, least answered question in regards to the Boston Bruins moves in the last four months has to be: Why do we need another goalie? The answer to that may just be that the Bruins suits lack confidence in the twenty-five year old Finn.

Why would they lack confidence in what the constellation of Boston media luminaries line up in his camp describe in terms that make one wonder if Rask might not be the perfect goaltender? Well, three reasons. First is the question of health. A twenty something who has two seasons ended by injury in row does not speak to long term health. The knee issue was the warning shot. The groin hit center of mass.

Second in performance. The first year of his expiring contract was his best. He played 45 games. He had sub 2.00 goals against average. With five to ten more games his .931 save percentage might have earned him a Vezina. It was a solid season he stepped up when Thomas was injured and did a more than presentable job. The next season? Not so much. Yes he was outplayed by Thomas. That isn’t the problem. His save percentage dropped drastically. His GAA shot up. Last season, his save percentage rebounded slightly, but he still only managed a record of 11 -8-3. Worst, is his playoff numbers. In the playoffs his career sv% is two or three notches below his regular season numbers.

Last and most telling is his confidence is indisputably not what it once was. When you watch him in games he plays far deeper in the crease, often standing with his backside thrust over the goal line. When he’s interviewed he’s very, very quiet without the sorta quips that made him a media darling when he first landed. Most of all when things go poorly, where’s the rage? When he had that monumental moment of rage in Providence that ended in thrown milk crates, and equipment strewn everywhere he had confidence. You can’t getthat upset if you don’t believe you’ve been wronged (and he probably was) you have to believe your judgement and knowledge are superior to the other sides. He did. Tukka Rask had the same breed of transcendent, coolly confident swagger you see from Patrice Bergeron and other elite athletes from time to time. It’s gone.

That confidence is gone. Like Tiger Woods, he’s just not as effective after losing his brio. As with Woods, or other players who have suffered a setback, we don’t know if Rask will ever get that natural braggadocio back. Even aside from the health concerns, this is huge.

The chances that a goalie was signed in the Spring, Adam Morrison, another was added just a week or two ago in Svedberg, and then the drafting of Malcolm (@SubbZero30) Subban, and now the development camp invitation to Parker Milner of Boston College might not be aimed at a 38 year old who had one year on his contract exists. It not only exists, it is staring everyone in the face who can see past the end of their nose. Rask is unsigned at this point and I don’t see the Bruins blinking first. The goalie market shrank when the Penguins acquired and extended Vokoun. Bobrovsky being shipped to Columbus didn’t expand the market. It got smaller again when Pavelec was signed.

Unlike Price or Pavelec Tuukka Rask has never spent even one full season as the designated number one guy. The most regular season games he’s played is 45, and that same season accounts for more than half his career minutes played. Cory Schnieder is worth more money, he’s gotten an increased workload each season and responded well. In fact his numbers are better than Rask’s. It would be foolish for Rask and his camp to take much longer in getting him signed.

I noticed a curious trend in the last decade. Few of the young players, say twenty five and under who won the Cup seemed to be major impact players later on. At the same time, players who won a bit later were contributing again and again to at least deep runs. Take Rob Scuderi and Mark Recchi as players who won the Cup towards later, and we’ll look at a few of the players who won young below.

While injuries have played a big part in the recent history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, its hard to argue that Marc-Andre Fleury is not playing well below the level he did when they last hoisted a banner. Oddly, the Cup win represents only a mediocre set of numbers for Fluery. The year before in a loss he finished with a save percentage of .933. In winning the cup he dipped to a pedestrian .908sv% and that represents the last time he was above .900sv% in the post season the trend in games played in the post season and overall performance is not pretty either, this season his save percentage was .834 and that’s about as unlovely as it gets.

Eric Staal was in his second NHL season when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. In that season he crushed out 100 points. On special teams he was magic, 19 powerplay goals and 4 short handed goals are more goals than most players will total in a season, the rest of his 45 goals that year came at even strength. In the playoffs he had 28 points in 25 games. Since then he’s only been in the playoffs once more, and has never again been over a point per game.

Patrick Kane peaked in the year the Chicago BlackHawks ended their drought. He had 30 regular season goals and 88 points in the regular season. In the post season on his way to sending the Philadelphia Flyers home with heads hung low he had an eye popping 28 points in 22 games. In the two seasons since he too has trended downwards. He didn’t score a single goal in this years playoffs, this isn’t what was expected when the Blackhawks brain trust drafted him.

For the Los Angeles Kings, the players who entered this season under twenty five are, Anze Kopitar, Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Andrei Lokitinov, Kyle Clifford. New Jersey Devils fans may or may not want to be a bit more relaxed about the question, with just Mark Fayne, Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefson having entered the season under twenty five.

Am I 100% convinced that winning the Cup at a young age is bad for players? No, but it does factor in. And you really have to ask yourself how could it not sap the motivation at least a little? You aren’t even old enough to rent a car in some states or get good car insurance rates, all your friends are still in high school or college or maybe working some entry level job and you’ve just taken home the hardest trophy to win in sports. Having won a cup you’re assured of getting multimillion dollar contracts until at least two years past the point anyone else would have been forced to retire, and you’ll have a nice piece of bling for your hand to remind you of how great you were once.

The Selke is probably the most under-appreciated award in hockey. It may just be the most under-appreciated award in sports. It goes to one of the most important players on a team, and possibly the league. A team with mediocre defensemen who are gifted with a Selke quality forward can probably expect that forward to save more than a handful of scoring chances and goals a month. Depending on the game, and the opponent it could happen several times a game.  In the case of all three of the players, in this post, and you can order them however you like, they are generally good for disrupting opposition offense once or twice a shift.

Jonathan Toews. Chicago BlackHawks

  • Of the three he’s the most physical. Like his two counterparts he’s good at faceoffs and capable of playing twenty plus minutes a night.  Solid in all three zones and remorselessly chases wins.

Mikko Koivu Minnesota Wild

  • The best skater of the three, and the one who has had the least offensive support in years past. Being stuck in flyover country on a team with little success and no wealth of talent many people haven’t noticed him. Hands down a player to watch and appreciate. I may have been the only person outside the twin cities who didn’t bat an eyelash over his contract.

Patrice Bergeron  Boston Bruins

  • Like the others, he’s good at just about everything. Not as good a goal scorer as Toews, but probably the best of the three defensively. Top notch penalty killer. As game 7 of the most recent Stanley Cup Finals illustrated he’s willing and able to turn defense into offense in the blink of an eye. Arguably the second best defensive player on his team behind the Norris winner Zdeno Chara.

There are several other forwards who play a savvy and effective defensive game, but none are in the same league as these three, no matter how many awards they have one in the past. The next best three are probably: Jordan Staal, Ryan Kesler, and Pavel Datsyuk.

Coming into the series much was made of the fact that Daniel and Henrik Sedin are likely to win the Hart Trophy back to back. A truly worthy accomplishment. This accomplishment is no doubt aided by a division that was almost certainly the weakest in the NHL last season, but still requires hard work. As the conference finals ended there was even talk of one or both of them being near the front of the pack for the Conn-SmythTrophy. The title up above is not in jest, it is a serious question. At a total cap hit of $12,200,000.00 they make up a larger concentration of salary than any two Bruins forwards. And yet of all the forwards who have been in the Bruins lineup for all five games this series they combine for as many points as Kelly, Lucic or Paille.

The surprise isn’t that there are so few names on that list, or even who they are just that there is a list. Not only are they not scoring, the other elements of they game they could bring are sorely lacking. At center Henrik has dismaying 40.78 faceoff win percentage to go with his zero points. Daniel Sedin at wing has two points, and four points. In comparison Patrice Bergeron has three points and a 54.04 win percentage in faceoffs. Michael Ryder who’s had to adjust to ever changing linemates has four points, and seven hits.

Unlike Ryan Kesler who is well known to be nursing a lower body injury, there has been no hint of an injury to either Sedin. True, a physical injury could well be something that happened in a practice or even while traveling or at home. I watched much of the San Jose Sharks series, and all of this one and I haven’t seen any sign of physical ailment despite their going up against several physical players and even one of them flying into the boards after charging Brad Marchand. I still have no idea why, other than facing the Bruins defense, the Sedin twins have so lacked in effectiveness in this series. If you eliminate a physical ailment, that leaves a vanishingly small number of possibilities.