I’ve run a league about since when this blog started, and this year is no different. We have our four core players, a couple others who have been around a bit, and a couple new players.

The league has three each at right, left, center, two goalies and five defensemen and a bench. Just about all offensive categories are counted, as well as hits, most goalie stats and faceoffs. Its not an easy league to play in and every year we have people who never even make it past the draft.

One of the things I believe most strongly in is that Yahoo does overvalue certain players. Some of them are ten or twelve spots high, and that’s more than a round in an eight team league. Some of them are twenty to thirty spots over ranked and if you get distracted, end up having to autodraft, or simply have a technical failure they can ruin your team and destroy your chances of having a good year if anyone in your league knows what they are doing. For the most part I pay very close attention to the don’t draft list, and grab players who fill a stat column after the fourth or fifth round.

This year my list is pretty short, with one reluctant pick in Corey Perry, and two or three head scratchers in Alex Steen, Tyler Toffoli, and Henrik Zetterburg who are all between slightly to high, and far, far to high and ranked towards the space our draft will end.

Also on the list are the Monreal Canadiens Alex Galchenyuk who I love the potential of, but haven’t loved the results of, Mikeal Backlund, Derrick Brassard, and Boston Bruin Frank Vatrano who might not make the roster at all

Who is on your “Don’t draft list”?

Two of the most interesting and impressive forwards of the day were Sean Kuraly and Austin Czarnik. Both are likely fighting for roster spots. The two were notable for largely the same reason; being willing and able to grab pucks around the crease and either put them in the net, or start them out of the zone. Czarnik in particular put a couple shots in the twine the goalies didn’t even have time to react to.

Rob O’Gara was paired with Kevan Miller during drills, and displayed a consistent ability to take pucks from forwards. Including some jobber named Patrice Bergeron.

Matt Grzlecyk was paired with Adam McQuaid during their session. In that time he showed off something I don’t remember noting in the past; a slick and crafty ability to disrupt shots in and a round the crease and get them moving in the right direction. On a couple of rushes he disrupted he showed off soccer feet effortlessly moving the puck from skate to skate to stick. If you’re looking for a defenseman who is solid in his two way game, and stood out today, look no further.

Paul Postma played beside Torey Krug. Postma is coming off a career high in points and games. He looked respectable. He skates well, passed well, and never looked out of place. Despite his 84 points in 74 games in his final season in the WHL, he’s yet to display much offense in either the NHL or AHL.

Some of the forward groupings (not always by position):

  • Bergeron with Marchand & Bjork
  • Beleskey – Ryan Spooner – Ted Purcell
  • Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson -David Backes – Frank Vatrano
  • Sean Kuraly – Zach Senyshyn – Tim Schaller
  • Pastrnak – Krejci – Jake Debrusk
  • Nash – Acciari – Cederic Pare
  • Kenny Agostino – Austin Czarnik – Ryan Fitzgerald

David Backes was in the first session and lead stretches at the post practice stretch. During the first half of the session before ice maintenance he quite frankly did not look good. As practice wore on he stopped tripping, and looked better.

Matt Beleskey looks mechanically more sound than he did at any point after his first injury last year.

Ryan Fitzgerald looked committed to being there, focused and driven, something I couldn’t saw the last time I saw him in a camp.

The four goalies on the ice were Rask, Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban, and Anton Khudobin. You could split them into the pairs by the first and last two and argue quality all day. For my money McIntyre was the best goalie today, and Khudobin did not make the top three. Or even cast a shadow on them.

While it’s an outside chance of him making the team, don’t be surprised if Jesse Gabrielle makes the first or second cut.

From what I saw, and talking to other people at camp, I’d say Frank Vatrano is most in danger of losing a roster spot among the forward to play in Boston last year.

Of the three first round picks from 2015, I was unimpressed by Jakob Zboril in just about every way. Jake DeBrusk never looked out of place, and managed to both steal the puck from, and evade Connor Clifton.

More on Two Man ForeCheck which will be recorded in the evening 9/18.

With a summer full of discussion of various RFA’s remaining unsigned far, far to long, and of course the saga of the unsigned Jaromir Jagr, people have left out the other future hall of fame inductee. This particular winger is younger, still faster, and despite the years still more pugnacious. Obviously I’m talking about Jarome Iginla.

The last few years of Iginla’s career have been spent entombed in the Colorado Avalanche roster. His numbers tailed off. That’s undeniable. What’s also undeniable is that Colorado Avalanche have been the worst team in the NHL for most of the last half decade and beyond. Amazingly, they are getting worse. They don’t have a defense worth naming, their goaltending, which would be uninspired behind a good six pack, can’t pick up the slack, and the forwards… the less said about the defense of the forwards as a collection the better.

Iginla had just eight goals in 61 games for Colorado before being traded. The eyeball test will tell you that’s ungood. No need for fancy stats. What happened when he got to a team that was also struggling enough to fire the coach who brought them two cups? Well, he stretched the twine six times in 19 games. Taken over a an 82 game season that’s on pace for 25 goals (no rounding).  And that’s on a team who’s offense was carried all season by Jeff Carter and the equipment guy who made sure #77 had his skates and sticks.

So right now, 31 NHL clubs are sitting about staring off into space while a guy who has no character issues, is physical, a sniper, a leader, and hungry for a Stanley cup is still unsigned. Based on last years goal totals, if the Arizona Coyotes had gotten 25 goals from Iginla they’d have likely picked up another seven or eight wins on the year, meaning they slide even with or even pull ahead of last years Kings. The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each finished within a win of the playoffs. One win over the course of 82 games. A motivated, experienced veteran goal scorer could be exactly that difference maker.

The Carolina Hurricanes finished just seven points behind the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs last season. they had 15 overtime losses. With a little more leadership, and a little more attitude, not to mention the scoring touch, even they could have seen the playoffs last year. For reasons that can’t be explained, the Calgary Flames when in search of a right wing earlier this summer signed Kris Versteeg. Versteeg may be younger, but he’s not nearly as healthy, has never had a better offensive season than Iginla and seems determined to play for every team in the NHL before he retires.

For all that they had a record winning streak, and finished with their best point total in franchise history last year the Columbus Blue Jackets finished fourth in goals for in the Metropolitan Division. Number 12 would add an incredible element of consistency to a team that had great highs and equal lows last year. Someone, anyone tell me why in a summer where loads of guys were overpaid on long term deals there hasn’t been even a short term deal for Jarome Ignila? Someone let me in on the secret please.

After being months late to the dance, and casting a pall over the Boston Bruins summer, and training camp, the Boston Bruins have in their own sweet time signed one of the most dynamic talents in the NHL under the age of 25. Perhaps, the age qualifier is unfair, but it’s worth noting. Had they failed to sign him they were giving up as much as fifteen years of very productive hockey.

The deal he did sign according to multiple sources is most charitably described as team friendly. This deal is almost two million below what Leon Draisaitl received, and we know how close the two were in points last year. Of the two, I I can’t help but believe the one who has the higher ceiling is being paid the least. Two other comparable players are Filip Forsberg who signed at six million a year last season and was at the time the highest paid forward on the team. And Nikita Kucherov, a player on a team where there is no state income tax.

Looking at the three, Forsberg is hands down the least consistent, he regularly sleep walks through the first half of the season and then has a spectacular second half, usually built around something flashy like ten goals in five games. It is to the point where there are multiple Reddit threads about his inconsistency. He’s remarkably talented, and if he played better in the first half would probably regularly put up about 50 goals. But he doesn’t.

Kucherov is a very solid player, surrounded by quite a few other very solid players of similar age. The Tampa Bay Lightning are awash in young, talented, NHL battle tested players. The Boston Bruins are not. Neither Forsberg nor Kucherov means as much to their team. The Predators are built around the best defense in the NHL. Tampa is silly deep at forward and has one of the two or three best defensemen in the NHL right now in Victor Hedman. Boston? Before the next Stanley Cup is won, all three of the top forwards on the Boston Bruins will be over 30.

Who else do the Boston Bruins have for young talent? Vatrano has shown flashes, but no consistency. Ryan Spooner is a confirmed middle six guy. Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato, Jesse Gabriel, Zach Senyshyn combine for zero point zero goals, assists, points, and NHL minutes played and they are likely the four best forwards in the system after Pastrnak. Not many people are projecting any of them to meet or exceed Pastrnak’s mature, three zone, consistent effort and production. If this deal is just a precursor to trading the young Czech sensation, this year or next, something none of us know for sure, who replaces him?

The Boston Bruins have once again stated loudly, clearly, and monotonously they don’t spend money. This is why the last two high end free agents to arrive in town did so more than a decade ago when Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard landed. None of the free agents who have ever been high end and played in Boston have done anything like their peak numbers here. The reason is simple; Why should they waste time negotiating with a team that isn’t going to get them to reasonable market value, and because of that won’t get them complimentary teammates that can help them win a cup?

Why not listen to the latest episode of Two Man Forecheck while you read?

Last season the Atlantic division sent four teams to the playoffs. It did not go well, the division winning Montreal Canadiens were beaten soundly by wild card and Metropolitan division middleweight Rangers. The Ottawa Senators downed the Boston Bruins and were the only division team to advance to the second round. The Toronto Maple Leafs crossed over to battle the Washington Capitals and fell to a team that’s not ever shown itself in the best light in the playoffs.

What’s happening with the Atlantic Division this year?

The Buffalo Sabres have gotten a full season from All American stud Jack Eichel, and his linemate Evander Kane. Together the pair rank among the top duos in the league, particularly at even strength where most game minutes are played. This year they’ve brought in under rated veteran defenseman Marco Scandella to strengthen a blueline that was misused and under performing last season. Behind the bench they have rookie head coach Phil Housely who is the architect that made the Nashville Predator’s defense so effective. In net they add Chad Johnson to one of the best goalies in the NHL.

The Florida Panthers regressed notably last season. They had one decent stretch of wins but were just three points better than the Sabres, and still 14 points short of the playoffs with a losing record. Like the Sabres they added a first time NHL head coach in Bob Boughner, who will have Jack Capuano and Rob Tallas helping him steer the club. Aside from naming Chris Pronger an Shawn Thornton VP’s, and signing a couple of draft picks (Owen Tippett, Sebastian Repo) to entry level deals, not much else has gone on.

The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs by just one point thanks to catastrophic injuries up and down their lineup. Towards the end of the year they traded Ben Bishop who had been their number one net minder.  Incoming are Dan Girardi formerly of the New York Rangers, and Chris Kunitz late of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While I suspect a large part of why the two older players were brought in is leadership, no leader can prevent injuries. A return to good health is likely the best off season transaction they could make.

The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs and are currently embroiled in a contract dispute with a one of their better young forwards. The two biggest changes for the Wings in the last twelve months were both off ice. ‘The Joe’ is gone, bringing about an era in a building that isn’t an embarrassment to professional sports. And Mike Ilitch, owner, and driving force behind much of the hockey growth in the Midwest and beyond has passed away. Not enough has changed at ice level for the team to do much worse or much better.

Montreal Canadians, in the last twelve months no Atlantic Division team has changed more. New coach, an almost entirely new blueline including Joe Morrow and Karl Alzner. Up front the Radulov experiment came to an end. Last year’s 103 points are going to be hard to duplicate, but Julien has showed he can drag worse teams than this one to the playoffs, and squeeze 100 or more points out of nearly any roster as long as they show up.

The Boston Bruins had a topsy-turvy season that saw their two best forwards start the year slow. They fired their Stanley Cup winning coach, reshaped their roster, and lucked into a playoff spot. This year Brandon Carlo has a full season under his belt, Charlie McAvoy may well steal the show, and David Pastrnak is still unsigned. It remains to be seen if head coach Bruce Cassidy can recapture the magic that buoyed the team into a playoff spot last spring. The roster will need a lot of young players to step up and not just claim ice time, but own roster spots.

Last years Toronto Maple Leafs were the sensation of last season. They had dazzling rookies, stellar goaltending, and a coach with an aura of greatness. They ran hard towards the playoffs and never anything slow them down. They also had extraordinary good luck in health. Their top 11 scorers missed a total of 10 games. They put on a strong showing in the playoffs, and growth seems likely. The addition of Patrick Marleau for three seasons and more than six million has to be considered at least a little curious given the raises that will be needed for last years rookies next summer and the summer after. The 37 year old spent his entire career to date with the Sharks and has been a very up and down playoff performer.

The post season banner bearers for Atlantic Division were the Ottawa Senators. Despite their inability to fill the stadium, they were perhaps the most consistent team in the division and very quietly finished second. Erik Karlsson will be healthier, Craig Anderson will lack the distractions of last year, and remains a very solid goaltender. They added Nate Thompson and Ben Sexton for depth, but perhaps the most important thing that’s happened to the team was the late year and playoff emergence of the very good Bobby Ryan. He moved crisply, shot precisely, and finished the second round healthy.

Predictions:

Biggest points riser: Buffalo Sabres, I’ll be shocked if they improve less than twelve points.

Most impactful standings rise: Tampa Bay Lightning, Victor Hedman very nearly lifted this team into the playoffs himself last year. There were other contributors, but not enough. Expect them to move up higher than the wild card slot.

Biggest wild card: Toronto Maple Leafs. As I mentioned above, this team was extraordinarily lucky in the way of health. With more than half a dozen rookies breaking out, and making the playoffs the video sessions for the Leafs are going to be much more intense this season. They have about an equal chance of winning the division as they do sliding two or three spots down the standings.

The Boston Bruins have made a history, and largely ramshackle franchise out of refusing to pay forwards. Patrice Bergeron has been one of the most valuable players in the league for most of the time since he was drafted. Brad Marchand has been one of the best wings in the NHL since he was instrumental in winning the Stanley Cup. Even David Krejci never really got a top tier salary, despite being the setup man who took over for Marc Savard and managed to work with multiple iffy wingers for years.

Phil Kessel is one of those guys where both price and term were an issue. He’s got a nearly identical points per game total in his career to Brad Marchand, and if the Boston Bruins had both of themthey likely beat Chicago and collect a second Stanley Cup. Instead they downgraded to Tyler Seguin. Yes Seguin had loads of issue, on and off the ice, inside and outside the arena, but he is still a top tier offensive weapon. They punted Rielly Smith in favor of Jimmy Hayes, and we know how that ended. When they decided to part ways with Carl Soderberg they traded him for a pick who has only scored one goal in two years in the SHL.

Milan Lucic was traded for essentially nothing. They flipped him for Martin Jones who they traded for little. They also got one of the six players drafted in the 2015 first round yet to play an NHL game. In addition they got Colin Miller who was a tire fire on the ice, and who they gave up to protect better players (literally everyone in the system), and who then was ‘lost’.

There are two major issues at play here and no one is addressing both. The first is that how you pay your drafted and developed players greatly impacts what free agents will even take serious phone calls from your franchise. The second is that they haven’t managed to acquire and retain  any quality talent in exchange for what they’ve let go. Seguin is not as good as Kessel, especially not in the regular season. None of the return for Seguin is still in the Boston Bruins system. The return for Milan Lucic is still in question. What they received for Soderberg and Smith was barely worth the time to notify the NHL of the trade.

Free agents? Who was the last top tier NHL UFA to land in Boston. Not guys who are future hall of fame members like Jagr or Jarome Iginla (after a failed trade), but legit stars. It might well be when Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara were signed a long, long time ago. Even they are iffy because Chara was considered leftovers from Redden and the rest of the disintegrating Ottawa Senators defense. Savard was as much of a one dimensional, unathletic, and iffy effort player as can be when he arrived. Both were made better by a very under rated coach.

College free agents? Don’t make me laugh. Blake Wheeler was the last of those worth something to land in the Hub. Causeway is not graced by Will Butcher or Alex Kerfoot, Jimmy Vesey does not wear the spoked-b.  They can’t win with veteran UFA’s looking for the next chapter in their career because of their parsimonious treatment of guys they do develop. They can’t win with college free agents because who wants to take a job with an organization they know is going to under pay?

Even if you consider it gross overpayment to get David Pastrnak a contract that is in the near neighborhood of Draisaitl, that’s the market rate. None of us pay what we want to for gas, we pay what the market demands. It’s time to repair the organizations reputation with the players as a whole. It’s well past time to get Pastrnak under contract before he does something sensible like trot off to the KHL where he’ll make as much money and have to play fewer games to do it. If they wanted to sign him at a lower rate they should have done so when he hit the thirty goal mark during the season, between the regular season and the playoffs. Now the market has been reset and they need to adjust their expectations accordingly.

It’s September 1st.

Some teams are still trying to destroy their futures. The NHL, like any ecosystem is a delicate entity. There are many moving parts, and the ratio of one part to another will impact things two or three steps removed from either. You need players on the rise, players at their peak, and ones who are on the decline. They all contribute just as moths, and blue jays, and red tailed hawks all play their parts.

Marcus Foligno is a great example of a middle six forward who gives much, and is well regarded. The Chuck Fletcher thought it was more important to sign aging Penguins discard Matt Cullen, than to secure the return for trading Scandella. CapFriendly and others currently project Landon Ferraro and Joel Eriksson Ek as making the roster, with either of them back in the AHL the Wild would have right around three million in cap space. If they decide to carry just twelve forwards it would give them an additional cushion for injuries. The issue here is do you pay him better or the same as other left wings who had similar point totals like Justin Abdelkader and Carl Hagelin who both made more than four million last year? Or do you simply try and cram him into a roster that is unlikely to go far in the playoffs?

In the last two season Bo Hovart has increased his point total year over year, jumping from third two seasons ago to first last year, and has a better faceoff win percentage in that time than team captain Henrik Sedin. Somehow with training camp close enough to feel, he is without a contract. He’s scored shorthanded, powerplay, and even strength goals. He’s played over 18 minutes a night. He’s done just about everything a setup man can do on a roster that is 80% ECHL and alumni quality to help the team win. Joe Thornton, Milan Lucic, and Jason Spezza all produced less points last year with far, far more help and hugely better compensation.  Ondrej Palat was on a non-playoff team and produced the same number of points, Logan Coture had the same points total, as did Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov. With all or most of the $14,000,000.00 set on fire at the feet of the Sedin twins coming off the books next year, and no other player in the system in need of a big raise cash should not be the issue. Not when they have close to nine million in cap space to work with.

David Pastrnak has been covered in depth over the summer and all that’s worth adding is that the team president said there haven’t been any talks in months.

With all the glory of last season, the Columbus Blue Jacket’s seem to have gotten a pass on Alexander Wennberg not having been hog tied to their roster yet. Year over year ye’s increased his points total twenty points twice in a row. He played in 80 of the teams games last year. Last season he stepped into the gap created by trading Johansen and ended up the team’s second leading scorer, putting up just two less points than the Nashville Predator’s second most famous Ryan. While the Blue Jackets do have a pretty dynamic cap situation with the number of impact players due contracts in the next two years, they do have to be careful. But in the ultra competitive Metropolitan division who can afford to be without their number one center?

The Detroit Red Wings roster is as run down as the Joe, and while Andreas Athanasiou isn’t the level of impact player the other forwards on the list are. That said, you don’t improve by continuing to leak talent. All players are ultimately replaceable, but alienating players for little good reason when you have a new arena to fill, and pay off is senseless. The optics are also poor when it’s time to get free agents into town, or when the next RFA is due a contract.

Damon Severson is one of three men to crack the top fifty among defensemen in scoring while playing less than twenty minutes of ice time. The other two Brady Skej, and Dmitry Orlov were both on playoff teams. The New Jersey Devils were needless to day, not quite that good. His point total eclipsed Noah Hanafin, Jake Muzzin, and Jonas Brodin. So why is a team with unlimited growth potential wasting time dithering with a solid young defensemen? It’s not like they have 299 other defenders ready to hold the line against the Persians and other NHL teams.