The Detroit Red Wings captain and identity is retiring today. He’s been a loyal soldier. He’s been a great defensemen. He’s been the fulcrum by which the Illitch family and their staff have moved the hockey world. In short he’s been the best thing to happen to the Detroit Red Wings in the past three decades.
The smooth skating Swede is rightly lionized for what he did and was. He piled up points every season with ease. His positioning was impeccable. Lidstrom personified the immutable, and unflappable anchor so many teams have spent years chasing. Cool, calm and competent even in the face of oncoming power forwards like Jarome Iginla. Quietly able to quench the talents of Crosby and Malkin in their first Stanley Cup meeting even in the face of advancing age. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do.
But was is he the greatest defensemen of all time? No top five? Also no. He played the bulk of his career against and with some of the players who belong in that discussion and never won a single Norris trophy until he was along in an era of unusual scarcity of great defensemen. He played against Brian Leetch, Raymond Bourque, Al MacGinnis and Paul Coffey and never won a single trophy until after they were long past their primes or retired. He played against some good defensemen, but as soon as the neighborhood got crowded again, Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara claimed the trophy rightfully, and Shea Weber was robbed of at least one as well.
Should Red Wing fans, indeed all hockey fans respect the career of Lidstrom? Absolutely. But the competition he played against at the height of his physical and mental prowess was not the crucible that the legendary defensemen faced. He didn’t innovate the position as Orr did, he didn’t have to carry the team himself as others on the list of all time greats have. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which he isn’t a first ballot hall of inductee, which he certainly deserves.
This is the the beginning and end for more than just the two organizations playing in the finals. Teams that were eliminated in the first round, or never made it in will spend this last stretch of the marathon evaluating what works best for other teams, who might reach the free agent market, and of course looking at the draft. With the general managers meeting today, some trades will go down as well.
For the Los Angeles Kings, many of whom have never played in the second round before this year, this is a huge adjustment. It’s not just the size of the stage that may start pressing on them. It’s the duration of the season. The bulk of the roster hasn’t played extended NHL hockey. Yes, they are a pretty young group. They have also been lucky enough to have some short series. But this is still an extra two months of hockey, and the Phoenix series was certainly not a gentle one.
Back on the east coast the New Jersey Devils have a far wider span of age and playoff experience. Marty Brodeur has been to the top of the mountain three times. Ilya Kovalchuk had never seen the second round before this year. The Adam’s had never seen the NHL post season until this year. Marek Zidlicky doubled his playoff experience along the road to the finals. The Devils are also a noticeably older team than their opponents, with nine players over 30 to just four on the Kings.
We all know who the best players on each team are. The question is of course who will be the best players in the Stanley Cup Finals. The last two Cup clinching goals were a rarity. Both Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks were already players most hockey fans were familiar with. The two were key parts to their teams and if you were identifying weaknesses or needed changes they’d be on the short list of players titled must keep. That’s not always the case in the Stanley Cup. It isn’t even often the case.
So who will come up big this year? Will Dwight King and Jordan Nolan be the guys who tip the balance of this series? Will Mark Fayne and Peter Harrold finally make the hockey world stand up and take note of who they are? None of the four is even close to a household name today. The Stanley Cup finals can turn some from anonymous grinder to sensation in one flick of the wrist.
For the organizations as whole, the finals appearance is huge. The Devils started the year with ownership concerns. The Kings have spent more than four decades in the NHL and only put their hand on the gate to the promised land once. Tonight for both teams, win or lose is the confirmation that the organizations are build right.
The Stanly Cup Finals are also a beginning. Even wit the looming labor negotiations, someone has to decide what to do with the sixteen pending UFA’s between the two teams. Someone has to figure out which of the RFA’s to tender qualifying offers to by July 1. For team with college players, and prospects playing out contracts overseas, we’ve hit critical mass on inviting these players to camp. Then there’s the behind the scenes contracts for coaches and managers, and of course European, juniors and college free agents. There’s no off season in hockey, just a time when less hockey is played.
The Minnesota Wild are in an interesting position this coming NHL Entry Draft. They don’t have a bad team, certainly not a bad core. They just can’t seem to catch a health brake. Despite a rotating cast of well, every position they were thirteenth in goals against. They were fifteenth on the penalty kill as well. They just couldn’t stay healthy.
They’ve likely got a big crop of inbound rookies, including Charlie Coyle. They have depth at defense without a true stud, but do they really, really need one? As good as their defense, and when healthy goaltending are, they might not. The New Jersey Devils don’t really have an elite Norris level defenseman. So while adding Matthew Dumba or Ryan Murray to the team could hardly hurt the team, its arguable that the amount of help will be minimal.
Offense is definitely issues number one and three. Number two being durability. If I’ve got the call to make for the Minnesota Wild I’m not sure where I lean. It’s probably Yakupov will be gone at number one, even if the Oilers trade the pick. If he isn’t, he had two or three separate injuries this year, one of them to the knee. I think I’d have to look long and hard at any trade offers that were for an offensive talent who is willing to play three zone hockey.
The most salient question one can ask about what to do at the draft is: When do we feel our window is? If you believe it’s one to two years, trade for NHL talent now. I you believe it’s five years wide, well, you may still want to trade for NHL talent. But if you’re more interested in building a team that will play well for the next six or eight years regardless of if you get a cup or not, Grigorenko, Forsberg, Galchenyuk are not talents to sneeze at.
Assuming Hackett is the goalie of the future, the window is pretty wide. Backstrom has a few good years left (if healthy) and if Harding isn’t going to be retained this off season, his rights might be packed with a third round pick in exchange for an additional high second or depth player.
While I don’t think anyone in the top five can afford to pass over elite defensive talent, if there’s one team that can it’s certainly the Wild. If rumblings about a certain Minnesota born left winger wanting out of an east coast team are true it might be worth the first round pick just for the negotiating rights, especially since that team will either pick 29, 30 or not at all. Minnesota may be “the state of hockey”, but that doesn’t mean the fans will wait forever for contender or a winner.
Back half an eon ago, at least in terms of news cycles I previewed the series. Depth and health were the two keywords, and whiled they did play a pivotal part, the component I don’t think anyone looked at was something that seems obvious.
The New York Rangers did not have any killer instinct. They were good at evening games up, or popping in goals here and there. They had solid defense for the most part. But getting ahead and standing on their opponents throat? Nope, didn’t happen.
By The Numbers:
4 : The number of games in the series Lundqvist had a sub .900Sv%.
10 : The number of years Brodeur is older than Lundqvist.
3 : The number of Rangers who finished the post season with more points than Artem Anisimov.
0 : The number of shutouts in this series by Brodeur
19:29 : How many minutes Adam Larsson played in this series.
1 : The number of points Gaborik had in the series.
3: Chris Kreider’s points total for the series.
After killer instinct, the Rangers biggest failure was simply not playing sixty minutes of hockey. Bad first periods, mixed second and third periods are no way to win against talented teams. The Devils biggest corporate asset was the ability to withstand the frankly scary Ranger surges and still maintain composure. First to last this was a series that the New Jersey Devils were more willing to sweat blood for. The Devils got contributions from more players, and were consistent game in and game out.
Zach Hamill who the Boston Bruins drafted in 2007 in the first round is no longer a member of the Bruins organization. The first few years of his stay were more eventful for their injuries than their production. Two years ago he emerged to lead the Providence Bruins in scoring. Last season he spend a good deal of the season with the Boston squad, but was in and out of the lineup. His role was undefined (as were many this year) and he was played up and down the lineup. He may not have managed to score, but I can’t think of a single game he wasn’t all in. That was highly unusual for the 2011-12 Boston Bruins.
Chris Bourque, yes son of The Bourque was a fourth pick in 2004 of the Capitals. Taken at #33 he was off the board 30 and 31 picks before the Bruins first two selections of that draft, David Krejci and Martin Karsums. Bourque accumulated 93 points to lead the AHL in scoring in the regular season in just 73 games for the Hershey Bears. In what seems to be a common occurrence for Capitals picks, the former Cushing Academy and Boston player, absconded to the KHL for a season. Well, part of a season. He only played eight games for Mytishchi Atlant before once again decamping, his next landing spot was the Swedish Elite League, and their Lugano team where he put up 33 points in 39 games.
In a head to head comparison the two are pretty similar, although Bourque is the elder by a couple years. Bourque carries a bit more bulk and has had more success (with better teammates) in the minors than Hamill. However in the NHL while neither has been in danger of needing to book a flight to Vegas for the NHL awards, here Hamill shows better. In 33 career NHL games Bourque has just four points. Those four points would have been garnered during the Capitals offensive high point under former coach Bruce Boudreau. Hamill in 20 games under the defensive thumb of Julien has also accumulated four points and one third the penalties.
The question of what happens next is still well up in the air. Hamill will be an RFA in need of a qualifying offer and contract with by July first. Bourque will be a UFA on the same day. At this point neither player has covered themselves with NHL glory, and both organization could be ready to move on entirely. The Bruins brass include Cam Neely and Don Sweeney who both played with Chris’s father, and would have known him for years, but that doesn’t mean either is ready to do anyone any favors. The Capitals have had yet another early end to their post season, and have had a decidedly mix bag from former Boston Bruins. Hendricks and Knuble have contributed, Wideman is unlikely to be resigned, and Jurcina for example spent time with the Capitals before going to the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders.
It is entirely possible both players will not be playing for the teams that just traded them. The Bruins for their part could be looking to clear contracts, the Capitals while arguably in need of depth centers, might not be looking in exactly the direction of Hamill.
As we’ve seen more and more over the last several years, to win the Stanley Cup, you need balance. Right now the Edmonton Oilers lack the balance of champions. Right now they lack the balance even to be a playoff team. Given that they play in the worst division in hockey, that’s saying quite a lot. To go where the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins have been recently, they must address this.
The Oilers leadership will probably not be able to resist the urge to draft Yakupov first overall. It’s hard to call this an out and out mistake as he’s talented at a level that doesn’t come along often. He’s been the consensus number one since the last draft. But he is not what they need. What they need is at least one top paring veteran defenseman (3 years or more) who can mold some of they young talent and give the teams defense an anchor. They also need or more talented variety of depth than what they currently possess.
Trading out of the number one spot would likely give them at least one other 1st round pick, or possibly multiple top sixty picks. If they did decide to draft Yakupov and trade one or more of the other young guns, both Nashville and St Louis present interesting options to swap forward for defense. Both the Predators and Blues could use a top six or even top 3 forward to help push them over the hump. Both teams have depth on their NHL bluelines and organizationally. Both teams are, or at least should be in “win now” mode. They have most of the assets, and the tangible will, further bringing in players like a Paajarvi before they stagnate in the AHL could be just the ticket to success.
Some combination of a #1 or #2 defensemen (note an elite/Norris worthy candidate is not needed, a Bieksa or similar player is enough) and a solid, motivated second pairing defensemen would give the talented group of forwards on the team presently the chance to use their energy in the offensive zone. One of the biggest issues I observed in the Edmonton Oilers defense this season was an inability to get the puck out of the defensive zone. That makes all other aspects of the game harder to execute. It’s not rocket science, but it still needs to be done.
Despite the short duration, the Coyotes and Kings put on one of the best shows of this post season. This is what division mates are supposed to look like. The pace was great. The action, physical, crisp , relentless and for the most part clean.
While it will offend some folks in tinsel town, Mike Smith was the better goalie in this series. Smith had to face almost twice as many shots and still ended up with truly impressive numbers. Quick was spectacular making the flashy and the routine saves night in and night out. This one series, he was merely the second best goalie on the ice.
The biggest impact on the outcome of the series was the fact that the Kings simply have everything going right for them. The two teams split the regular season series. The Coyotes finished above the Kings by only a couple points. Both teams skated well, both teams defended smartly and attacked the net.
When it came down to crunch time in game five the Kings best players stepped up. Drew Doughty played, and expressed his (well justified) opinions to the officials, and along the way got a goal and an assist in more than 30 minutes of ice time. Mike Richards had five shots, won twelve faceoffs, and got a goal. Anze Kopitar put in over thirty minutes of ice time, blocked a shot, got five on net and one in. Jeff Carter teed up two for teamates to put past Smith. Jonathan Quick’s closest competition for the Conn-Smyth, Dustin Brown continued his What Can’t Brown Do For You? tour with ten attempted shots, one block and five hits.
That’s a hellacious amount of talent to try and contain. The Coyotes had to be beaten in overtime. You can’t help but wonder how deep the pockets of the new owners will be, and if they will try to keep this core together for another year or two and use their first few months at the reigns to go big game hunting and bring in a top forward or two to deepen the scoring.
The Kings are now faced with the unenviable task of facing the Stanley Cup finals as the avowed favorites, without the advantage of home ice. They will also be flying all the way across the country to start the series against a still unknown opponent. Of the teams staff, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi have hoisted the Cup. Penner as an Oiler, and Scuderi as part of the Penguins most recent win. While there has been no sign of folding under pressure in Coach Sutter’s squad to date, this is the big dance and with just three players over the age of thirty (Mitchell, Scuderi, Williams) on the entire roster there is a heightened chance for unhelpful emotional swings.
Report out of Europe indicate another addition to the goalie stable. The Bruins who signed WHL standout AdamMorrison have added another talent to the equation. Now before we dive into who might or might not be traded Niklas Svedberg does have some pretty outstanding numbers in the playoffs, and more than respectable numbers in the regular season, but has never played a single game in North America. According to Elite Prospects he also appears to have another year on his contract.
Also of note is Svedberg’s reported stats. Listed at six-two and one-seventy-six he’s both taller and thinner than Krejci. With height and weight identical to the Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller, it doesn’t mean he can’t succeed or even thrive in the NHL environment, simply that injuries are likely on a frame without much in the way of extra muscle or insulation.
Svedberg seen here in white, is an interesting addition for the Boston Bruins who have prospects, Michael Hutchinson, Lars Volden, Zane Gothberg (@ZanoInsano_29), RFA to be Adam Couchraine, the previously mentioned Morrison, in addition to starter Tim Thomas, backup Tuukka Rask, and Anton Khudobin. It’s hard to argue that Khudobin is not NHL ready after a second solid season’s numbers behind a poor team, or that Hutchinson is not progressing nicely when he finished tied for third in sv% in the AHL in his second professional season.
It is unquestionably for the best that depth is added, and that the depth be of high quality. After two (and counting?) Vezina seasons from Thomas, and a legendary Stanley Cup run that saw him become the first American goaltender to win the Conn-Smyth trophy, it’s unlikely any goaltender not playing at an elite level will survive the not so tender mercies of Bruins fans and media.
With speculation about Tim Thomas potentially being traded, and his age, added to the questions of Rask’s health and contract (RFA) we could see a seeming embarrassment of riches disappear in a single afternoon or two. One things for certain, if the Boston Bruins are going to have playoff success in the post-Thomas Era, they will need goaltending that doesn’t lose them games.
One of the things the NHLPA and Ownership desperately need to come together on is a reasonable system for suspensions and fines. Currently Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety can decide to suspend a player for a hundred games with no real recourse for the player, the players association or the team that player is a member of. Not only is there no written and unambiguous system for fines and suspensions there is no sane appeal system.
As we’re currently experiencing with the Raffi Torres suspension, there is no deadline on the reviewer to enact their decision. Worse the appeals court as it were is the person who put Shanahan in place. So Bettman is put in the position of either undermining his employee(s) or looking ineffectual. Further either call he makes is a judgement call. As it is, he can simply drag out announcing any finding until after the suspension is served in full. Without a firm time limit no one even has firm ground to stand on to say he’s taking too long.
Any arbitrator should not be an NHL employee. It should certainly not be decided by any one person. Either a group of three players or player representatives together with a retired official as tie braking judge and three general managers or team governors should be involved, or possibly an entirely independent arbitrator.
But before there can be an appeals system, there needs to be a valid process for discipline. Currently, as evidenced by the spaghetti thrown at the wall approach we’ve seen this year there is no system, and we don’t even know what’s a capital offense and what’s jay walking. As inadequate as many feel some of the punishments spelled out in the NHL rulebook are, at least they exist.
The jockeying for position at the negotiations has already begun. It would be nice if both sides remembered this minor issue while trying to steer the league into the future. When you can’t get through a single playoff series without one or both teams and their fanbases, not to mention the neutral fans questioning the system, its efficacy, and the quality of it’s agents on a daily basis there is more than a problem, you have a threat to the long term health of the league.