Okay, playoffs are arguably better. But during the playoffs only half the teams in the NHL are involved at all, and only a few have any hope.

This is free agency. Everyone has hope of landing the big fish. Everyone has hope of being pushed over the top. And everyone desperately fears the big flop.

This year there are some mighty interesting names to go around. Joe Thornton still has an amazing set of hands and can pass a puck through three defenders, two officials and an airport scanner with his eyes closed. He’s also hockey-old, and on his way to hockey-elderly. But damn, those hands.

Unless one or more general managers blows a gasket over the next two or three weeks Jarome Iginla is likely going to do something he hasn’t done in more than a decade; try out. The Calgary Flames icon is on the backend of his playing journey, and looking for Lord Stanley. Maybe he’s a fit for Hossa’s spot in Chicago? Could he help provide some blue collar attitude to the New York Rangers? Maybe, like Jason Pominville he can go home again. Number 12 taking power plays with Monahan and Gaudreau might be just what the team needs. Adding his feisty nature to Matthew Tkachuk might be the secret ingredient in a very silver cup of soup.

Going a little bit younger Nail Yakopov is not yet 25, and already a UFA. It looks like a first round draft pick was wasted on him. But there has to be something salvageable about him, right? Maybe a tight-knit, disciplined, and demonstrably  hungry and successful team like the Nashville Predators or the Pittsburgh Penguins (who found room for Ryan Reaves) can rehab this once shiny, and still low mileage sport coupe.

Speaking of projects, Jared Cowen is the big, strong defensemen teams swear they’re looking for. The run on then at the draft is proof the desire is real. At just over the 200 games it takes to get defensemen acclimated to the NHL, he’s already played under several coaches. Maybe, just maybe the next coach and team catapult his development to a top four stalwart.

Jonathan Bernier is seemingly the best traveled goalie in the NHL of late. At this point it is hard to tell if everyone wants him, or if no one wants him for long. The veteran backstop carried just about half the load for a Ducks team that went to the Western conference finals. He is at present without a contract.

Karl Alzner is probably the most underrated player entering free agency. He’s a steady middle pairing defenseman who can come into a team, and allow other players to be slotted right where they need to be. He skates well, he’s got reasonable hands and he doesn’t take stupid penalties.  He’ll be almost completely ignored while his soon to be former team mate Kevin Shattenkirk signs a contract that is likely to become an anchor to some franchise for six or seven years. But hey, its free agency. Imagine if we add…  is the order of the day.

The Boston Bruins need to do something with their RFAs and the need to do it quickly. They failed to move a disgruntled and ill fitting Ryan Spooner either at the expansion draft, or the entry draft. They were however lucky enough that someone mistook Colin Miller for a viable option on defense.

In order:

  1. David Pastrnak
  2. Zane McIntyre
  3. Noel Accari
  4. Malcolm Subban
  5. Colton Hargrove

And after that it’s entirely irrelevant who or what order they sign in. Even there, Pasternak far outweighs all the rest. Even saying that, I think both goaltenders are still viable. Noel Accari is in any reasonable evaluator’s mind a solid bottom six forward. Colton Hargrove can do everything Tim Schaller did, and play both wings. He’s also likely to be a bit healthier

With just a couple days left until free agency starts they have 36 of 50 total contracts, and as many as five roster spots available for forwards, plus a seventh defenseman. Morrow might languish in the pressbox for another year after a very strong showing in the playoffs. He too is unsigned.

The Bruins need to clear some dead weight from the roster. Push Hayes and Spooner overboard. Get the younger, hungrier players who will drive harder to be better players every shift into the lineup. Maybe you have to sacrifice Kevan Miller in a trade for O’Gara and Grzelcyk to make a run at the NHL without looking over their shoulders. What they can’t continue to do is let good players stagnate while sewing guys who cut corners and have slapdash effort to the roster.

We are days from free agency when the NHL feeding frenzy will erupt and every GM with a roster spot and a dollar will turn into a shark in well chummed water. That means the time to solve their roster and cap problems.

As things stand they are almost one and a half million over the salary cap. That includes just six defenseman. It also includes thirteen forwards including the thirty-eight year old Marian Hossa who is signed for this and three additional seasons at nearly six million a year. Think about that. Even if he comes back next year having recovered from his skin ailment. He’ll be 39 years old, having suffered a season erasing illness, and still pretty expensive.

If they put Hossa on LTIR they’ll have $3,829,372 in cap room. They’ll need to replace him on the roster, and add a defenseman. With two guys on their entry level contracts you’re looking at about two million, minimum. And that leaves very, very little room for the inevitable injuries. Given the way the mumps have spread among Canadian players in the last half decade, it likely means you’ll need space on the roster and under the cap for a few days for two to three players at a time.

They are almost certainly going to need to trade someone. Hossa has a full no movement, and won’t be attractive without including some kind of overpayment going the other way. The Buffalo Sabres could certainly use someone who is part of the fairly expensive core of the Blackhawks, unfortunately there are six, count them six players including Hossa who have full no movement clauses. Marcus Kruger adds to the mess with a seven team no trade list.

To complicate things further, they have RFA’s Tomas Jurco, Anton Forsberg, and Dennis Rasmussen they need to do something with. Stan Bowman likely can’t keep Johnny Oduya, Andrew Desjardins, and Brian Campbell. There’s a lot to do. I’ve said before there are no cap problems, only management problems. There may be a path forward from here, but unless Vegas, Carolina, and Florida start earning enough to push the cap up about fifteen million in the next two years, they have long term problems of the sort that lead to complete turnover in front offices.

This years NHL entry draft was described as lacking the ultra high-end talent that we saw in the two previous drafts which produced Eichel, Matthews, and McDavid. A more in depth look at the scouting reports will show you you’re looking a a higher percentage of middle six forwards, 3-5 defensemen, and strong number 2 and journeyman goalies than in more exciting years.

In some ways this is the perfect year for an expansion team to come into the league. In drafts where you have two or three elite players at the top like the Ovechkin/Malkin draft, you may not have as much depth, or as much consistency further down the rankings. The first round this year saw the mild surprise of Nico Hischier going first, despite nearly universal projections for him to go one slot behind Nolan Patrick of that Patrick family.

I suspected that given all the turmoil in New Jersey over the last two or three years health would be a priority. I was not surprised. Gabe Vilardi was expected to go in the top five and slid nearly out of the first round. Owen Tippett is headed to Florida where I predict a sunburn or two, and not just on the back of the neck of opposing goaltenders.

Don’t anyone sleep on the trade of Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera and Morgan Frost. Lehtera was exposed by the Blues and one has to wonder if there were hard feelings before or after he learned he was not that highly valued by the Blues. This trade has the potential to workout for both sides, but it doesn’t feel like an even trade. The Blues also traded Reaves for Sundqvist, and it so both they and the Penguins will have a very different feel next year. Assuming Reaves ends up playing.

While the trades during the first round were interesting, the Rangers and Coyotes have just about transformed their rosters.

 

As a life long Boston Bruins watcher it’s hard to believe I’m about to write this column. I’ve tweeted about their biggest need before. I’ve posted to Facebook too, and anyone who’s heard me talk about the makeup of the Boston Bruins team in particular and the organization as a whole has probably heard me expound at least once.

The biggest need of the Boston Bruins isn’t a talent. It isn’t a position. Instead, they desperately need an attitude. Or maybe personality is a better term for it.

When you look up and down the roster who is the fireeater? Who is the guy you know will be angry enough after a bad game or getting porked by the officials that police and Garden security flinch away when he leaves the ice? On bad days when teammates are a two zeros and six miles 100% which of these dudes is going to drop f-bombs like he’s auditioning for a Tarantino film?

I don’t see that guy. Marchand is probably the snarliest guy day in and day out. You can probably put Krug into your top five most belligerent players too, but it doesn’t matter. The two of them are a cinder blocks short of 5’10. They are also wildly underappreciated for their very real, very formidable skill sets. 

The fire started to wane when Mark Stuart was traded. Tim Thomas retiring Andy Ference being let go, even Johnny Boychuk had some visible heat. We’ll skip entirely the Mellott Line, and merely lament the back injuries that laid low Nathan Horton. Milan Lucic was evicted from the Hub.

Who has replaced even a fraction of that passion? Who is the surly son of a Bruin that tips the shop the right way when the rest of the crew is asleep on the bench? 

No one

That needs to be fixed.

.

As a life long Boston Bruins watcher it’s hard to believe I’m about to write this column. I’ve tweeted about their biggest need before. I’ve posted to Facebook too, and anyone who’s heard me talk about the makeup of the Boston Bruins team in particular and the organization as a whole has probably heard me expound at least once.

The biggest need of the Boston Bruins isn’t a talent. It isn’t a position. Instead, they desperately need an attitude. Or maybe personality is a better term for it.

When you look up and down the roster who is the fireeater? Who is the guy you know will be angry enough after a bad game or getting porked by the officials that police and Garden security flinch away when he leaves the ice? On bad days when teammates are a two zeros and six miles 100% which of these dudes is going to drop f-bombs like he’s auditioning for a Tarantino film?

I don’t see that guy. Marchand is probably the snarliest guy day in and day out. You can probably put Krug into your top five most belligerent players too, but it doesn’t matter. The two of them are a cinder blocks short of 5’10. They are

This post will be updated throughout the night. 

1st: Set

Avalanche: Calvin Pickard: Goaltender

Canucks: Luca Sbisa defense  1 year left on his deal

Coyotes: Teemu Pulllinen Forward

Devils: Jon Merrill Defense, 1 year left

Sabres: William Carrier. Left Wing, and also a 2017 6th round pick

Stars: Cody Eakin, Forward

Red Wings: Tomas Nosek, Forward,

Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, Forward, and bet Reilly Smith and 2018 4th round draft pick.

Kings: Brayden McNabb, Defense

3 Defensemen 1 goaltender, 5 forwards. Gotta like this group over all, Between Carrier and McNabb you’re getting a lot of physicality.

2nd phase

Hurricanes: Connor Brickley, Forward 2017 5th round pick

Jets: Chris Thorburn, forward and a 1st round draft pick

Flyers: Pierre Edouard Bellemare, forward Alternate Captain of the Flyers

Lightning: Jason Garrison, defenseman, Nikita Guseve, 2017 2nd 2018 4th

Islanders: J.F. Berube, Goaltender, trade Mikhail Grabovski F, Jake Bischoff D, 1st 2017, 2019 2nd

Predators: James Neal

Flames: Deryk Engelland, UFA D signed, Vegas Resident, for Las Vegas ECHL player

In this round it was clearly ll about stocking the cupboard, 5 draft picks, a 25 year old goalie, two young prospects.

3rd Round

Senators: Marc Methot, defenseman who will be glad to get away from Sidney Crosby while he has all of his fingers.

Canadiens: Alexie Emelin, defenseman, a very, very physical defenseman with some offense.

Oilers: Griffin Reinhart, defenseman high end pick.

Rangers: Oscar Lindberg, center, bottom six guy on most teams.

Blues: David Perron, forward, flashy

Sharks: David Schlemko, defensemen

Bruins: Colin Miller, defenseman

Maple Leafs: Brendan Leipsic, forward, 23.

4th Set

Duck: Clayton Stoner, defense and Shea Theodore Defense

Wild: Erik Haula, forward speedy, get Alex Tuch for 3rd round pick TBD.

Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, center, Sweden David Clarkson, F 2017 1st and 2019 2nd, trade the pick to Winnipeg for their first

Blackhawks: Trever Van Riemsdyk, defenseman,

Penguins: Marc Andre Fleury, Goaltender, 2020 2nd round pick

Capitals: Nate Schmidt, defenseman, missed some time this year, interesting pick.

 

This is a pretty interesting set of players. You have speed, youth, name recognition, not a single player under age 21, and enough defensemen that I fully expect at least two will be traded sometime before the season starts. There will almost certainly be some over agers signed from the CHL and USHL, as well as one or two players signed from European leagues like the SHL and KHL. Expect them to go after two to three key forwards.

The draft picks and true prospects are the real story of the night. As it stands only Reilly Smith is signed for two years past in the team’s first. Fifteen of the players currently the property of the Vegas Golden Knights are signed for only one season, seven more are unsigned UFA’s or RFAs. For me, this would make jersey buying a perilous and uncertain affair.

A look at the best and worst picks soon.

It’s a foregone conclusion that Marc-Andre Fleury will be the Golden Knights first starting goaltender. But how can they get more assets? Two words: One is side and the other is deals. The Vegas Golden Knights have the right, and some might say the responsibility to take some of the players they pick this Wednesday night and turn them over to invest in the future.

The other night I quickly through together a roster based on the idea that they would keep most of the players they took. I hypothesized Jonathan Marshessault might be the way to go, but the Calgary Flames are pretty firmly in need of a winger to play on Sean Monahan’s right, and they picked Reilly Smith and flipped him for young Dillon Dube and a 2nd round pick in 2018?

Maybe they still take Ryan Strome. But instead of getting his jersey number preference they send him to the Vancouver Canucks to vie for the roster spot Henrik Sedin? Strome has turned in a couple solid season playing way, way being Tavares for the Islanders. But he was picked fifth overall. He won’t be arbistration eligible until next summer. He’s likely still worth a first, maybe two seconds.

Maybe they work a double deal with the San Jose Sharks? One part not to take Boedker, and one deal to help them fill a roster spot being vacated by Joe Thornton and or Patrick Marleau. Guys like Nick DeSimone and Manuel Weiderer, and a second round pick for a guy like Jori Lehtera could be a win-win deal for both sides.

While Sami Vatenen is likely the most valuable skater on available given his age and ability, this might be the very, very rare case where trading away a high end, young defensemen is the right move. The Detroit Red Wings for example have been linked to every potential free agent defensemen who plays in the top four over the last five years. The best they’ve landed is an aging Mike Green. Two first round picks and a second round pick might well be worth it to the Red Wings who have all their own picks* over the next three seasons, and seven additional picks.

I’ll freely admit it’s a long shot, and I you can make a case either way for keeping or flipping Fleury, but given teams like the New York Islanders, and oh Philadelphia Flyers who have been searching for goaltenders since about the time they were the expansion teams, maybe, just maybe they can be tempted to overpay for two or more years of stability in net.

I tagged Rob Scuderi from the Los Angeles Kings. He’s a UFA, and well past his prime. He’s also universally well regarded, a Stanley Cup champion, and unlikely to ever play another NHL game. If McPhee were talked into taking Dustin Brown, who is a former captain, a cup winner, plays the game the right way, and is getting more and more disliked in the city of angels because he’s a little bit overpayed. Maybe to take him, and his contract they acquire a second round pick this year, and a third round pick in 2019 and 2020?

While the team has to draft 14 forwards, it shouldn’t be forgotten they have already signed three players, have free agency to fill needs, and much of europe to plunder to fill their NHL and AHL rosters. Don’t be surprised if they have as few as eight or ten additional players actually under contract after the dust from both drafts settles.

Don’t forget the latest Two Man ForeCheck is up and you can hear it on iTunes TuneIn or   Chris Canadas .

 

* The are short one third round pick this year, but they have four belonging to other teams.

The Atlantic Division and all other NHL teams released their protected lists today, and it’s time to dive into the best and worst moves.

Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins bafflingly failed to protect Adam McQuaid who had the best on ice save percentage differential last year. He was hands down higher than anyone else over the teams even strength save percentage. Instead the protect Kevan Miller who is at least as injury prone, and less offensively productive in the playoffs. Colin Miller is exposed as well. Also protected are Riley Nash who is an interchangeable bottom six forward, and to my mild surprise the mercurial Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes were exposed, not that there’s any chance the latter is taken.

Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres have exposed some pretty interesting names. Zach Bogosian as a former high end pick is possibly the most notable, he was also traded to Buffalo for a top end defensive draft pick who has been protected. Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Georges, and Cody Franson represent a huge amount of the leadership and a reasonable amount of talent. As much as I like Tyler Ennis, I am a little surprised that he was protected and not some of the more obvious leaders.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings are clearly going for a youth movement. You don’t need to look any further than who is unprotected to realize this. Kronwall on the outside looking in is damn near staggering, Jonathan Ericsson is another name Wings fans have been familiar with for a while. I’m a little surprised, verging on bafflement that Jimmy Howard is protected, he’s frequently injured, inconsistent, and at 33 no longer a young guy. Jared Coreau makes way more sense to protect since they are finally moving into their long, long overdue rebuild.

Florida Panthers

The two elder statesmen in Florida are unprojected. Luongo, and Jagr are both free for the picking. Neither is a long term part of the Panthers plan, but both are almost critically important right now. Jonathan Marchessault is a bit of a shocker. Yes last season’s offensive onslaught was a career year, and in the absence of several players further up the depth chart, but he’s a pretty heady name to leave dangling. Jussi Jokinen, and Reilly Smith make a modest amount of success to expose, but its hard to imagine other teams not asking for three way deals in the next couple days. Kindl and Demers being on the outside is no surprise since neither is very good. Pysyk would be a head scratcher if it weren’t for Kindl and Demers.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs have some mighty interesting names on the outside. Tom Plekanec is a name that leaps off the page. The rest of the list is sorta like the being one of the younger Kardashians, they’re notable for being notable and who they are near too. Dalton Thrower was a well regarded prospect not long ago, Stanley Cup winner Dwight King was brought in mid season to thicken up the bottom six, Radulov and Emelin as Russians have to be considered higher likelihood losses than they would if anyone other than McPhee were drafting, and beyond that I’m more baffled at who they did pick.

Paul Byron is worthy of being protected? Really? In what universe? Philip Danault and Jeff Petry? If you missed my piece yesterday, stop and read the first bit at least, the rest of this article will still be here.

Ottawa Senators

Bobby Ryan not being protected after the playoff run he had makes sense if you have no memory of the three years previous. Alex Andre Burrows is on the outside as well. I think with his decline of late, age, and new contract he’s likely safe. I can see the arguments for and against exposing both Methot and Borowiecki, particularly given the latter’s season ending injury, it might be some cagey work in Canada’s capital to leave them both on the outside, especially since given their composition, and last year’s success I can’t fault the Senators protected lists even a bit.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Having moved Jonathan Drouin out, there are zero point zero surprises on the protected list. Of the guys exposed it’s really hard to say who they are most likely to lose. Carter Ashton might be the happiest man in the Tampa organization after the Drouin trade, and he’s unprotected. Jake Dotchin and Andrej Suster are worth looking at, Jason Garrison two years ago might have been the gimmie pick, but he’s even older now. Slater Koekkoek is another name it might be worth exploring, but after a hard look at the team, I might pick up JT Brown if I decide to grab a forward from Tampa Bay.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Two and three years ago Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak were pilloried daily in the press. Today they make the protected list for a team that curbstomped all expectations last year. There are some names who were certainly contributors last year on the outside, but no one who if lost is going to cause the team to stagger back into a top five pick next year. This isn’t a surprise given how much of the teams success was carried by rookies and second year players. The biggest thing this list does is tell us who the front office thinks is at least a part of the short and medium term plans for the Maple Leafs.