The Edmonton Oilers have just inked Taylor Hall to a new contract. Despite the ownership demand in CBA negotiations, that contracts not exceed five years, Taylor Hall got seven. He also got six million a year. At six million, he’ll be making more than Selke Winner Patrice Bergeron, former scoring champ Martin St Louis, four time 30 goal man Phil Kessel, Calder winner Jeff Skinner, more than Ryan Kesler who is another Selke winner, and more than a few other names you might just recognize: Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown, all of whom have their names on the Stanley Cup.

Aside from being first overall pick, what has Taylor Hall done? Yeah, I can’t think of anything either. Yes, he’s played in two NHL seasons producing forty-nine goals which isn’t anything to sneeze at. However, on a team that isn’t that deep andhas to rely on its forwards producing oodles of goals to have a chance to win he’s also gotten a lot more ice time than other players his age. More importantly, he’s only managed to be on the ice for three quarters of each season. In two seasons he’s missed time for shoulder and ankle injuries and a concussion. That’s Simon Gagne or Martin Havlat level fragility.

What are the Oilers suits thinking? If they’ve signed him that long for that much, what is Jordan Eberle going to command? Eberle is hands down the most game impacting young forward they have, based on the last two seasons the race isn’t even close. Eberle produced more points in less time on ice while playing the penalty kill two seasons ago in a close race, and last year was a walk off winner of the points chase. Based on production and good sense, Eberle who smacked aside the thirty goal mark in his second season should be worth at least another million a year.

Except this is the Edmonton Oilers we are talking about, good sense is not only not required it will likely be used against you. This team has a drafted, developed and retained one defenseman worth naming in the last decade and a quarter; Theo Peckham. That’s it, he’s the best they’ve done since Taylor Hall was 8 years old. They let Matt Greene of the Kings escape, and therein lies the total of their claims to drafting and developing the players you need most in the current NHL. Out of more than thirty tries, they’ve produced two viable NHL defensemen.

If the Oilers compensate Eberle around what Hall has gotten, they will still need to find a way to retain Gagner, Nugent-Hopkins, a viable defense, and of course figure out what to do with Yakupov, Schultz, Paajarvi, and others in the not to distant future. Anyone predicting the Oilers will either have to sacrifice talent to get people under the cap, or spend years icing a very unbalanced team is clearly more qualified to run a hockey team than anyone of the current Edmonton suits.

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a hot mess. Certain members of the family care way more about where players are from than how good they are. Some players just don’t show up very often. Then too, there is the question of what sort of maturity (if any) the roster possess as a whole.

Good News

  • Phil Kessel will almost certainly turn in another damn good October.
  • All of last years youngsters gained valuable NHL experience, and several of them got AHL playoff experience playing for the Marlies,
  • Their most important forward, Mikhail Grabovski is locked up long term.

Bad News

  • Goaltending is more than a question it’s a problem.
  • The issue of consistency for the whole team is still up in the air,
  • The defense needs to tighten up dramatically.

Forecast

High: Bubble team, finding some equilibrium in the neighborhood of their best play and shifting three of their overtime losses to regulation wins, and three regulation losses to wins would be a nine point swing. It’d be easy to point out six close games they could have done better in.

Low:  Afterthought/lottery. Injuries to Kessel or Grabovski up front, or Reimer failing to improve or getting worse will doom this team.

X-Factor

Neither the Sabres nor the Canadiens improved much, if at all this off season, and with the young players coming in a little more confident and experienced, this team could see a big bounce if Reimer returns to the .921sv% he put up over his first half season in the NHL. How much pressure Burke feels to make a good impression on the new ownership and keep his job will also be important. You also can’t forget the possibility of a big trade that improves the goaltending.

The San Jose Sharks are an interesting team. By almost any logic this or last off season were the time to blow the team up. And yet they remain. In fact they grow. Last seasons sixth place finish was hardly what people have come to expect of the team.

Good News

  • The acquisitions were clearly targeted to address their god awful penalty kill.
  • Two seasons ago, before injuries ended their second-season the team looked like it knew how to win in the playoffs.

Bad News

  • The key players on this team are not young. Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, Stuart will all be at least 33 before the season closes.
  • Depth?
  • Character of second tier guys, specifically Pavelski who wasted twenty minutes of ice time a night in last years playoffs need to be answered in the affirmative.

Forecast

High: 6-9  Arguably the division has gotten easier with so much talent leaving Phoenix Some  of it landed in Dallas, but the Kings also had a long, long run and could be weaker this year at least in the regular season.

Low: If they don’t fix their penalty kill, or Niemi and Greiss are not average to above average all season, It is likely Todd McLellan and several names off their roster will be going to a different rink before seasons end.

X-Factor

The big one with the San Jose Sharks is can they take the regular season seriously enough to get home ice and then stay healthy in the post season. The trend in the NHL the last three years has been to end long cup droughts, there’s qualifies.

The Panthers had one of their best seasons ever last year. A division title, a huge surge in fan interest and an absolute dog fight in their first playoff appearance in a very long time. Most of their talent was retained, and a bit more was added.  Some questions remain about key positions, but for year over year improvement two seasons ago to last year, the organization has a lot to be proud of.

Good News

  • Their young players gained valuable experience last season.
  • They retained their core.
  • Their coach has had a full season to learn the tendencies of most of the roster.
  • It is still the the Southeast division so they can count on at least two of their division rivals to be a hot mess all season.

Bad News

  • Depth at center and proper use of players their has yet to be addressed, Peter Mueller might help, but his health is only slightly better than Rick Dipietro’s.
  • The goalie tandem is still old and highly variable in quality.
  • The quest for a solid trio to make a quantifiable number one line this season will be ongoing.

Forecast

High: 89-97 points  They were not a healthy squad last with just one top six forward, and one top defender playing in all 82 games.  They had a lot of help from a division that was quite mediocre.

Low: If the wheels come off the goaltending, or the other teams in the division play just well enough to get three more regulation wins each the Panthers are going to be crispy kitties. They realistically they need to play better than last season to get the same results.

X-Factor

If the Panthers manage to pull off a trade for a quality center or goaltender that can contribute a lot to the teams success this because a whole new game. If there is a sophomore slump behind the bench things could get ugly fast.

The Minnesota Wild made the biggest splash of any team this off season. The secured not only Zach Parise, but Ryan Suter as well. Either player would be more than enough to launch any hockey mad market straight to cloud nine. Adding the pair at once simply turned the enthusiasm for the the team to 11 and then broke the nob.

Good News

  • Suter and Parise both went deep into the playoffs last season and legitimate top shelf players either is an impact player and both are used to defense first systems.
  • It is hard to imagine the team being as unhealthy as it was last season.
  • Last seasons team, without Parise and Suter was strong enough to lead the whole NHL on December 2nd last season, before the injury bug set up shop in the locker room.

Bad News

  • Dany Heatley may have had his feathers ruffled with his sudden demotion to fourth or fifth wheel.
  • The question of middle line depth remains.
  • Neither Backstrom nor Harding has put together a full season without a health issue in recent memory.

Forecast

High: Bubble team7-9 spot with a twelve to fifteen point improvement is not outside possibility for this team.

Low: After thought. If the team can’t coalesce, there are injuries to the key players, or the coach and management turn into vegetables that can’t figure out how to use their assets the team could only see a 3-5 point improvement.

X-Factor:

Both Parise and Suter went deep into the playoffs, neither has down so recently. There is a high probability they will report to camp in less than their best professional shape.

When the Boston Bruins drafted the younger brother of the Montreal Canadien’s P.K. Subban it created a tiny bit of consternation among fans of the spoked-B. First their was the question of why the team needed yet another goalie. Even with the question of how long Tukka Rask would continue to wear the black and gold left out, to some it was a curious move.

Worse, he was P.K.’s brother. For some that was unforgiveable. The elder Subban is not only a Hab, he’s a diver, a bit of a pest and worse aHab. Some fans will never get over it.

The question for Malcolm’s Militia is: What does he have to do to be playing in Boston this year?

The shortest answer for that is: A Lot.

The long version:

Currently the Boston Bruins have Tukka Rask and Anton Khudobin signed to NHL deals for this season. Rask is the presumed starter, but Khudobin looked very solid in camp last fall against NHL players. Both are signed only through the end of the season, and together they  represent 100% of the teams NHL experienced goaltenders. Niklas Svedberg has put up solid numbers in Europe, and his numbers last season for Brynäs were eye popping in the playoffs. He’s currently signed to a two year deal and has the professional experience some of the younger players lack.

Michael Hutchinson is on the last year of his entry level deal and unlike Svedberg, has played in North America pros. In less games he also put up better numbers than Khudobin in Providence last season. One third of a goal better in GAA and almost 1/1oth better sV%. That’s four goaltenders signed with professional experience. Adam Morrison was also added to the mix, he’s spent his CHL time playing for some not especially good clubs and got into a pro game in Providence last spring.

Five goalies, two Boston roster sports. Then there’s Malcolm. No professional experience of any sort. Injured for part of last season. I’ve seen one or two scouting reports pointing out a weakness that would get eaten alive if uncorrected at the NHL level.

It is entirely possible for him to come into camp and do very well. Possibly even be the best goalie in camp. That still might not be enough to get him the NHL contract he doesn’t yet have. More than one member of the Bruins management stressed during interviews at Development Camp that goalies take time to develop, need to go through a process, and that pushing them a long quickly is undesirable.

The last decade of NHL history is awash in goalies who got to the NHL young, had success and flamed out. One is still playing in Columbus. Others have dropped out of the NHL into the AHL or total obscurity. It happens more with younger goalie than older ones. It happens often enough that most people don’t expect to see goalies under 21 playing in the NHL at all, and some put the arrival date even later.

But that is only half of the non talent based issue. The other half is that as cautious as the Bruins front office and coaching staff are, there is no way they let themselves go into a season where from the goal line out they still have all but two of their Stanley Cup winning team, and have any less NHL experience than they can possibly manage. Even with Rask and Khudobin as what most will expect to be 1 and 2, that is still less than 100 regular season NHL starts combined. It would be a bit much to ask of either one to start their first season as a number one goaltender and mentor someone not much younger at the same time. And unless a trade could be made for either Rask or Khudobin if one is pushed aside, the Bruins would end up giving up one of them for free. It is unlikely Rask would last a whole half hour on the waiver wire, and Khudobin might last 45 minutes.

It is not impossible that Malcolm Subban plays in Boston in the regular season this year, it is not however very likely.

There are possibly more than those on this list. Any players who miss the list; Work Harder. Anyone who’s on the list; don’t you dare prove me wrong.

Left wing is probably the shallowest position in the entire NHL. The Stanley Cup winning LA Kings didn’t have a career left winger anyone would tab as a “big game player” at any point last season. Some teams succeed without them, but here’s some of the better names people don’t talk about enough.

  • Curtis Glencross: Solid mid twenties goal guy on reasonable minutes on a team that has Iginla, Bouwmeester and the Ice Girls as top shelf talent. With a good team he’s going to be in the hunt for 30 goals on a regular basis. He’s got respectable size, a small salary, and is willing to hit.
  • Ryan Malone: More than willing physical player. solid points contributor, has played for both the Penguins and his current team the Lightning.
  • Brad Marchand: Speed, skill, will and a able to play smart and aggressive in big games.
  • Chris Kunitz: 18 powerplay points on a Crosby-less, and occasionally Malkin and Letang deprived Penguins team last year. 20+ goals is automatic.
  • Matt Moulson: Should be a superstar by now, I mean he has played every game of the last three seasons, and has put up 97 goals in that time. Maybe someone would notice if he weren’t playing on Long Island.
  • Jason Chimera: What a story last season. The man was finally given solid, and regular minutes and he tosses twenty goals in like he’s done it every year of his career. Great work ethic he might just be the hardest working forward the Capitals have.
  • Ryan Clowe: Heart of a lion. Two years ago in the playoffs he had a shoulder so bad he couldn’t put his jersey on himself; he still put up 15 points in 17 games.

A team USA hockey squad without New England ties would be something close to criminal. No, I take that back. It’d be a crime against the region that hosts America’s oldest NHL franchise, and nurtured the Hartford Whalers for decades. New England is where the AHL has their home offices. The Manchester Monarchs, the Providence Bruins, Springfield Falcons, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Worcester Sharks, Connecticut Whale, and Portland Pirates all have their roots deep in the communities of New England. The Eastern Junior Hockey league holds sway over young players. Hockey East is the battle ground for some of the best academic and athletic institutes in the world.

At the current camp for team USA’s world junior squad their are four New Englanders. At six foot five overlooking Jon Gillies would require a monumental effort. One look at the numbers the towering tender has put up for the Indiana Ice over the last two years say putting the puck past him is no easier. Concord New Hampshire and South Portland Maine both claim him.

Colin Blackwell, a draft pic of the San Jose Sharks is in camp as well. The North Andover, Ma native doubled up his New England ties and is a Harvard scholar-athlete. ECAC competitors would probably rather he didn’t sharpen his skills any further at the international level as his rookie campaign’s assist total was third among forwards for Ted Donato’s Crimson.

A north shore home address didn’t stop Jim Vesey from skating into the draft as a member of the South Shore Kings of the EJHL. Nashville got a the EJHL MVP in the third round. While he’s likely headed to Harvard this fall, if he does end up playing for the Predators he would be joining Hal Gill of Concord Ma, and Colin Wilson of Greenwich Ct on the roster.

North Andover is represented by 2012 Boston Bruins draftee Matt Grzelcyk. The blueliner is headed to Boston University after having helped Team USA reach the post season in the USHL last year. Soft hands, and wheels to spare are Grzelcyk’s stock in trade.

John Gaudreau who hails from Carneys Point New Jersey will be returning to the home that adopted him sometime during last years Boston College campaign where he put up some eye popping numbers.

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.