Joe Thornton is the name of the day. For those who someone missed it, he’s still one of the best centers in the game. He’s got a 200 foot game, plays physically, and nearly as dirty as Sidney Crosby or Danny Briere at times. He skates well, is one of the three best passers of the last 30 years, and he’s never won a cup.

Some teams and how he’d fit in:

  • Boston: a full circle story with him going back almost certainly means a trade package like Krejci,  Spooner or Khoklachev, O’Gara, a 1st and likely another prospect or pick goes back. If the roster isn’t ripped up too much he’s likely the cure for what ails the teams powerplay. He’s done the major hockey market media before so the adjustment would be slight, and he likely still knows his way around the North end.
  • Nashville: This is almost the perfect landing spot for him. Even if half the fanbase hated him yesterday, him landing their tomorrow in the wake of the defection of Suter and the Weber scare means they have not just a high end player to fill out the roster but a face for the forwards and a tutor for the young prospects in the system.
  • Chicago: while their search has been for a  second line center, this might just fill the whole. Kane, Hossa, Sharp and the other wingers probably wouldn’t complain too much about second line minutes next to him. 
  • Calgary: Jarome Iginla has never had a legit top line center to play with. Joe Thornton would be that. The Flames may not have what is needed to ship back in return, but career years for both as a duo aren’t out of the realm of possibility. 
  • Phoenix: The desert dogs are so far under the cap floor they’ve probably got mushrooms growing on their heads. Even if they added Thornton without sending back a single roster player they would still be almost two and a half million under the floor. Throwing Thornton down as an inducement to keeping Doan would probably help a tiny bit. 
  • Florida: If there’s one thing we know about Dale Tallon it is that he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade. The Panthers need a good center, they also have one of Thornton’s buddies, Bryan Campell who stayed at Thornton’s place after being traded out of Buffalo. 
Obviously the pending CBA negotiations are going to be a big factor, especially for teams paying closer to the cap floor than the ceiling, but it should not be forgotten that Joe Thornton does have a NTC/NMC. If Jumbo Joe does get moved, it will likely be the biggest trade of the offseason. Yes, bigger than the possible Bobby Ryan or the just elapsed shuffling of Nash to the Rangers. Both are younger than Thornton, and talented, but neither has the potential to impact the game at the same level. 
Whoever is going fishing in the shark tank should be dangling, forwards, draft picks, forwards and more forwards. The Sharks one strength in terms of prospects is on the backend. Their forward pool is nothing to brag about, and years of trading for established talent and playoff finishes have left them drafting in the bottom half of each round each year for about a decade.

Someone needs to explain to several NHL general managers the concept of not letting others set the value of your commodities. Set the price and move on. If you have a good player lock them up as soon as possible and then move on. You’ll be setting the bar for others, not the other way around.

For example, Alex Semin who has averaged 24.5 goals a year in the last two seasons just signed a one year deal, for seven million. After having his production tail off after a six million dollar deal the year before. His 21 goals this last season put him 85th in the NHL in goals scored. It did put him in the same neighborhood as Jeff Carter who only played 55 games and David Perron who played 57. Their contracts have hits of not quite four million and just a smidge over five and a quarter. But hey, they have long deals surely security is worth them being paid half or two thirds of Semin’s total next year right?

On to the RFAs:

  • P.K. Subban, assuming you aren’t a Bruins fan the biggest complaint I’ve heard about him in his career is “he practices too hard”. Oh gosh, that is just horrible. Nothing can fix an attitude like that. Even if you are a Bruins or Leafs fan, he’s a top 5% among defensemen talent. Of the 297 defensemen to skate in the NHL last year, he was 14th in total ice time right behind Zdeno Chara.  He’s almost certainly got the best possible combination of talent and drive of any skater on the team. The Canadiens cannot afford not to have him on their roster. Leaving aside Kaberle who plays no shorthanded time and more powerplay time, none of their other defensemen came even close to producing as many points as Subban. Weber and Gorges combined had less points.
  • Michael Del Zotto while the Rangers arguably have the talent to absorb his loss, why would they want to? More than four minutes a night of powerplay time, and led all their defenseman by nine points from the man advantage, plus he was good enough to earn three times as much penalty kill time per night as Erik Karlsson under John Tortorella who may just be the only coach in the NHL who could be led to say “the trap is dangerously offensive minded”? Year over year his ice time climbed two minutes over the previous season, with his shorthanded time tripling. If that is a guy you can afford to lose or let the price get set too high, you might be doing things wrong.
  • John Carlson had as many points at the All Star break as Lidstrom. He had a better claim to the All Star spot than Wideman, especially from a team marketing point of view. And yet today, with the summer half over the teams 22 year old number one defenseman sits home without a contract. There really isn’t an excuse for this. Mike Green can be made into one, but he average less TIO, has not been healthy in his career three seasons, and it is not a good comparable on the ice. Carlson plays in all situations, and is improving daily. Risking him backsliding because a deal couldn’t be reached before camp is just absurd.

The Bruins have been one of the much rumored most interested and or best bidding in the suitors for Bobby Ryan since word came out that he was disgusted by being scapegoated for the last two or three seasons. It is hard to look at his career and not imagine what a boon he could be any team. Four full NHL seasons, four 30+ goal seasons. Big body. Willing hitter. Accurate shooter. Willing to drop the gloves.

But for a team like the Boston Bruins who have a top five offense, he isn’t necessary. Particularly not if it involves mortgaging the future. The next two drafts will hold some quality defensemen the Bruins should not cost themselves opportunities at. First round picks should be off the table in any trade discussions. If you ask seven serious Bruins observers how many of the defensive prospects in the Bruins system have a strong chance at playing top 3 minutes for the Bruins, the list will be quite short. The list that everyone agrees on might not exist at all.

If we put discussion of Hamilton and Krug on the shelf my list  it isn’t very long and two of them are college players. Either of them could wash out, likely both are three to four years away. Looking at the AHL and ECHL players some have been called up and looked not anywhere near ready, others have been in the system several years and never gotten called up. Then there are the guys fresh out of the very short college seasons. No few people would say these players will need two years of good health and lots of playing time just to be conditioned enough to play a major role in the NHL.

Going back to Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton the two have one thing in common. If you guessed size, please go find an eye doctor, and do have someone else drive you. Both are known best for their offensive contributions. If there’s one thing we know about Bruins fans, its that they expect defensemen to have a large component of defense in their game. Corvo, Kaberle (who is and was better than Corvo), Wideman, Montador and others have all been ridden out of town on a rail for their defensive deficiencies. Corvo’s vilification won’t be the last time, and it is unlikely either Krug or Hamilton would escape a similar fate if they don’t have at least an average defensive presence.

If the Bruins were to trade for Bobby Ryan they would be better served to move an extra forward, or even two in place of a first round pick in either of the next two drafts. Zdeno Chara has six seasons left on his contract, that means the window for him to mentor and develop high ceiling defensive prospects is pretty small. If someone like Seth Jones or one of the other well regarded defensive prospects is available, they need to be able to take him.

One of the most common proposals I’ve seen for Ryan is: Krejci, a 1st and a prospect. Switching out two seconds, or an additional forward prospect for that first round pick makes much more sense. It will give the forwards left in the system more ice to develop, and securing a player like Ryan means you can consider their roster spot filled for a good number of years.

Claude Julien signed a contract extension today that will see him stay in Boston a while longer. Julien has won at every level he’s coached and while he’ll likely deny it, he’ll get the opportunity to be the winningest coach in Boston Bruins history. He’s currently 133 wins from tying the legendary Art Ross for that spot.  Having averaged just over 46 and a half wins a season in the last three seasons with Boston, he has a chance to hit that number in less than four years.

The current rosters standouts Patrice Bergeron (age 26), Brad Marchand (age 24), Tyler Seguin (age 20),  Zdeno Chara (age 35), Milan Lucic (age 24) are all likely to be at or near the top of the their games at least that long. With young guns like Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight and Alex Khoklachev beating down the door for top six spots, and Tommy Cross, Dougie Hamilton, and Torey Krug ready, willing and able to stake a claim to a stretch of the blueline it is unlikely the general talent level will drop off soon.

In goal? Well, there Hunger Games features competition no more fierce than the fight for the Boston crease. Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin will be the presumed one-two punch headed into camp but they should not sleep easy. Michael Hutchinson made great strides in adjusting to the pro game last season, Adam Morrison is 100% focused on achieving his best. There’s this uber-athletic first round pick named Malcolm Subban as well. One look in his eyes will tell you he sees himself wearing the spoked B and playing the bulk of the schedule real damn soon. As if those gentlemen weren’t enough to make the competition vicious, there’s the Swedish Ron Hextall, aka Niklas Svedberg who at the ancient age of 22 has picked up four fighting majors in his native Sweden. Going the college route are two guys everyone else wants to watch over their shoulders, Lars Volden and Zane Gothberg.

Sometime in early October, assuming we have a season and that it starts on time, Julien should pick of the four wins he needs to pass Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry for third all time among Bruins coaches wins. Next up is Milt Schmidt who has done everything for the team but fly the jet. To pass Schmidt Julien will need 18 wins, something he’d probably like done before Thanksgiving, but more likely just before Christmas. After that its a long haul to catch Art Ross. Bruins fans are hopeful he’ll pick up certain key hardware along the way at least once more.

Scott Howson takes a lot of heat. Some of it deserved, some of it just plain silly. Could things with Nash have smoothed over? Possibly. But even for a hockey player who’s the face of a franchise Rick Nash played an unbelievably passive aggressive game with the media, the fans, the Columbus team and well anyone not his agent. No one can blame him for wanting to go to a place that will improve his chances to win.  The way he did it probably half a step below Dany Heatley’s methodology and without having ever faced the pressure of a long established hockey market.

So what do we know about Scott Howson’s plan going forward. Well, he’s nailed down three of the planks any good team is built on. Depth is number one. As the Sedin twins, Stamkos and company, and others have well illustrated over the years you can’t win with just one or two elite talents and a roster full of four-A players. With Dubinsky who might prove to be a top center if given room to grow but is already comparable to Kesler or Plekanec they have one undeniable top two center. Anisimov gives more offensive talent at a younger age than second and third lines have seen in Columbus.

Defense is the tricky one to build. Defensemen as rule take longer to mature than forwards, but they tend to stay at their top level longer. With Wisniewski and Johnson as two veteran mentors to younger players Tim Erixon and Ryan Murray are less likely to get thrown into the deep and and left to flounder like Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. Taking that two hundred games to learn defense at the NHL level will give the Blue Jackets a more dynamic defensive unit in the near future than much of the central division can claim. Don’t overlook Nikita Nikitin as part of this defense. He’s an all situations defenseman who’ll end up playing top four minutes.

The model that has worked best in the last decade for building teams has been draft your core and fill in the rest later. The Penguins, BlackHawks, Bruins and Kings all boasted a lot of home grown talent when they hoisted the cup. This year the team will have three first round picks. While they could flip one or all of those for NHL players or NHL ready prospects, I would in no way be surprised if Howson uses all three selections. Hockey’s Future gives them a very low rating for total prospect pool talent and three first round draft picks of the right kind will go a long ways toward reversing that.  With the talent that is expected to be available in the first round next year, they could be a contending team in not too long if their goaltending can settle in and produce at an average level.

Some may not like Howson. Some make not like the Howson plan even if it didn’t have his name on it. That said, it does appear there is a plan, and he’s certainly demonstrated he won’t be deviating from it for anything less than direct godly intervention.

During last years realignment debate several things became apparent. Some of them are league needs, some are player needs and some are fan and or team needs.

  1. Realignment needs to preserve as many major rivalries as possible.
  2. Travel should be as equal as possible given the concentration of teams.
  3. Every team should have a mathematically equal shot at a division title.
  4. Every team should play every team.
  5. Care should be taken so that teams with growing markets have the best footing possible without cutting the legs off the established teams.

That said, the three by ten model is the most logical for all those reasons and more. With five division winners in each conference every team should be in the chase each season. More titles means more division championship t-shirts, hats and other merchandise. A schedule that include a home and away date between all thirty teams also means teams like Phoenix and Columbus will see Crosby yearly, the Carolina Hurricanes will host the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings

Basic setup:

  • Three team divisions
  • Five divisions per conference
  • 8 games against the other two teams in your division for a total of 16
  • 3 games against the other 12 teams in your conference for a total of 36
  • 2 games against the 15 teams in the other conference for a total of 30.
  • Same 82 game schedule length.

Yes three games against conference rivals means one home and two away some years and the reverse the other. Ideally two division pairings would alternate year by year so schedule maker, fans and media can have a decent idea of what to plan for each season even before the official schedule is released.

Possible Divisions:

West:

  • California: Sharks, Kings, Ducks
  • Mountain: Avalanche, Coyotes, Stars
  • Canada West: Flames, Oilers, Canucks
  • Plains: Jets, Wild, Blues
  • Lakes: Blackhawks, Red Wings, Predators

East:

  • Southeast: Panthers, Lightning, Hurricanes
  • Appalachian: Blue Jackets, Penguins, Flyers
  • Eastern Interior: Capitals, Maple Leafs , Sabres
  • Metro: Rangers, Islanders, Devils
  • Northeast: Senators, Bruins, Canadiens

An argument can be made for flipping the Senators and Leafs based on how much the teams have show they are willing to spend over the last few years, but geographically this puts Washington’s two division rivals as close as can be without putting them into a division with the Flyers and Penguins. There is also the argument that the Red Wings should be moving east and not the Blue Jackets. For that I’ll point out the west needs the Wings as a draw to small market teams. Columbus is also at the end of a highway from Pittsburgh and driving to and from there, giving it a rival within easy driving distance.

The current labor situation is filled with reasons to reexamine what we know. Let’s start with the facts:

  1. The NHL Ownership has staked out a position that appears to be a draconian assault on the players union.
  2. Anyone paying attention for the last two or three years knows that this CBA is first, second and third a dispute between the various classes of owners.
  3. The NHLPA in the last labor dispute was to put it in precise technical terms rolled and raped.
  4. Despite the war drum beating that led to the hiring of Donald Fehr, the PA has done little to convince anyone they won’t backdown.
  5. The NHL will not survive as we know it if a season is missed.
  6. Star players who take part in the process will take a hit in public perception, regardless of outcome if the dispute drags on.

It’s now been a week since word of the owners proposal hit the media. The owners haven’t made any public move to retreat from what many consider a declaration of war. It is hard to argue that this failure to address it does not in fact amount to an endorsement of the so called leak. The players association has not taken any visible position on this. No player I’m aware of has taken a position. Given Donald Fehr’s reputation, the number of active players, and likely PA employees who were part of the last lockout, it is unlikely that even if Fehr proves entirely ineffective, that the players will agree to the proposed terms.

The owner versus owner dynamic is still the axis of this fight that is most important. Teams like Montreal, Toronto and Boston can spend at a nearly unlimited level. Not every team can and even among the deep pocked teams with abundant fans not all will. Among the 29 ownership groups there are likely four camps of various size and cohesiveness. The first will be the owners bleeding money even with revenue sharing. While likely the tightest group, those who see a fix for their woes will be pliable, it could be an arena deal that gets them out of a bad situation and into more revenue, or could simply be reduction in the amount they are forced to spend.

Group two will be the group who are in a market they haven’t managed to saturate yet and are most sensitive to the effect a lockout will have, likely this will be the group of “swing voters” who go in whatever direction they think will prevent even the threat of a work stoppage. Group three is made up of the owners who believe they can spend their way to success and don’t care who they run over. Ten minutes before the next CBA is ratified they’ll have half a dozen ways to circumvent the parts they don’t like as part of their general operations plan.

Group four is the most interesting to me. This group will be the owners who have money and intend to keep it. They aren’t interested in a lockout, but won’t allow a deal that will affect long term revenue negatively. They will be in favor of any plan that keeps revenue sharing at just barely above the point where average management of an NHL team will keep it in existence. A fly on the wall who hears owners or their representatives talking the non ticket and arena sales revenues benefiting everyone will be listening to this group.

Earlier this year, two time Vezina winner, Jennings Award winner, Conn-Smyth Winner, and Stanley Cup Champion Tim Thomas would (likely) be taking the season off.  He has one year remaining on his contract, had some personal issues to deal with and even waived his no trade clause after years of balking at doing so to give the Bruins some room to work with. He’s also a politically aware American who went through the last NHL labor dispute. Given his level of play in 2003-4 in the AHL where he put up a .941 save percentage in 43 games, and then went to Finland during the lockout with a lot of other NHL talent and put up world beating numbers, the last lockout probably cost him a great deal of money. By making it know ahead of time he was dedicating the year to family, the hockey camps he’s protecting his health, his brand image by being semi-retired, and staying out of the infighting that will likely consume another NHL season.

There are three things the Flyers should want back in any trade that removes their captain and best player:

  1. Skill. It doesn’t matter if it is offensive skill, or defensive it has to be a player who will get top six or top two minutes.
  2. Leadership, if the worst for the Predators does happen and they lose their Captain after having lost Suter already, there is no way the current team is going succeed without an infusion of additional leadership.
  3. Marketability. The loss of Weber to the Predators is greater than the loss of Sundin to the Toronto Maple Leafs, greater than the loss of Lidstrom to the Detroit Red Wings and greater even than the loss of Gretzky for the Oilers, Kings or New York Rangers. He is their first great star. He is the team identity, he has a solid shot at the hall of fame, and their is no one on the roster to fill that void.

Of the players currently under contract to the Philadelphia Flyers, there are some players who are highly desirable. Danny Briere is talented, a playoff wizard, hasattitude and might just be the perfect player to slide into the gap in the Post Weber-Suter era, having played in Buffalo when they were at low ebb he’s seen unsightly situations before and still gone on. If only he didn’t have non-movement special (aka The Calgary Special). Claude Giroux is almost certainly off the table from the Flyers standpoint. If he’s not, you have to take his two concussions in four seasons into consideration.

Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are both young, dynamic and highly respected players. It is uncertain what they will be in the next two or three years. Schenn produced even in the playoffs, but might get less interest from the Predators for a certain lack of defensive prowess. Couturier on the other hand has a both offensive flair and defensive chops.

While recently added to the team, Wayne Simmonds could be a godsend to the Predators. He’s big, he plays a touch mean, he’s got skill and he put up 28 goals playing essentially third line minutes. The question with Simmonds is can he keep up or increase that production playing first or second line minutes? Hartnell is a bit older than any of the other forwards the Preds should consider except Briere, but there’s upsides. First he played in the Preds system before and knows what to expect from it and the fans. But, consistency is not Scott Hartnell’s thing. Over the last four seasons he’s scored 30, 14, 24, and 37 goals without having missed any time.

The Flyers don’t have an impressively deep prospect pool and any conversation for the Predators that doesn’t include Scott Laughton is probably a waste of time. Goaltending? Not the Flyers strong suit. Defense? The Predators might want a medium term fix like Coburn to hold things together until Josi, Blum, or someone else can step into the vacuum. I would, in the Predators shoes also take draft picks. Multiple second round picks are worthwhile, and even third, fourth and fifth round picks are common currency in trades and still able to produce solid NHL players. Weber himself is a second round pick, Chara a third round pick and both of the St Louis Blues goalies last year were ninth rounders.

In bringing players back to the Predators attention does have to be paid to what is going on in labor negotiations. If the owners succeed in shanking the NHLPA with the proposed radical reduction in revenue shared, the cap will drop severely. If that happens and they move too much money back to Nashville’s books, they might be forced to jettison dearly bought offensive depth.

Update at bottom

News broke that Shea Weber had signed an offer sheet with the Predators.

Breaking: Shea Weber agrees to offer sheet with Philadelphia. 14 years, upwards of $100 mil. Preds have 7 days to match. Wow!!
@DarrenDreger
Darren Dreger

Exact details are unknown, but Dreger suggest it is a huge deal. At $100million and fourteen years the compensation would only be two first round picks, a second and a third. As the Philadelphia Flyers are unlikely to finish outside the playoffs anytime soon, that means picks no higher than 16 and probably in the mid twenties. If the total compensation passes $7,835,220 a total of $109,693,080 that compensation would go to four first round picks.

That is where the question gets murky. With their own system depth at defense, and their own picks they can turn four first round picks into a number of players. Next years draft is topped by defensive stud Seth Jones, Marsellis Subban cousin of P.K. is also in that draft class, Jordan Subban is another defender due in the next two seasons. Offensively the Oilers probably need to shed one or two top six forwards to make room on the roster and under the cap for players like Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and more. This could be a reformation of the team, and for the better. They’ve never been a balanced team. They do need something in the way of top 30% of the league offensive players which they do not have to compliment the teams defense and Rinne in net.

If the offer hits the four first tipping point it might, just possibly be wiser to decline to match.

The other important question to ask is: Will the Flyers deal fit into the current CBA, or will they get whacked like the New Jersey Devils did over the first Ilya Kovalchuk contract? At twenty-six he’s been mostly healthy through his career, but has had a concussion that cost him games, and the eastern conference as a whole, and the Atlantic Division in particular have a lot more larger, more physical forwards to counter than the Central division offered.

I’m told by Bob Mand @HockeyMand:

it’ll be 4 1st-round picks regardless. After five seasons, the AAV isn’t the basis of compensation – you divide the total salary by 5 y (so, for a 20 y, $2m deal the comp. would be four 1sts, not a 2nd-round pick). Unless total comp is under $40m, its automatically 4 firsts.

Logical, and makes the choice harder.