This series will focus on how each NHL team can prepare for next season. I’ll be doing a few teams at a time.

Philadelphia : It’s hard to say what to tweak on a team that takes off in the playoffs, shows incredible resilience, has a ton of grit, and is a very deep team. The obvious answer is goaltending, and with good reason, yet Leighton had a better Sv% than Niemi did who went home with the Cup or Fluery who was the last winning goal tender. Leighton’s .916% was actually second in the playoffs this year.

What they really need to tweak is their depth at defense, having a fifth defender or even a sixth who can play even 10 to twelve minutes a night would do the top four a world of good.  The other key area is pure and simple physical fitness. Mike Richards is well known for disdaining the gym, and he and more than a few Flyers looked too tired to execute properly. They had the will and strength to win, but they flat out lacked the juice to power themselves to finish line. In game six they went extended stretches without offensive pressure.

Capitals:  A team that ran away with the scoring race showed they still have room for improvement, and that perhaps the management doesn’t understand the difference between the regular season and the playoffs.  They had the same fundamental flaw this year as they did last year. Like other teams that will be covered in later posts, they don’t have anything that even slightly resembles a shutdown defensive unit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pairing like Gill & Scuderi as was the Penguins in their most recent Cup win, or the sort of committee work that Montreal used to shutdown two teams they were given no shot against. It might be time to deal Semin or Backstrom to bring back a known quantity like Suter, or someone with similar credentials from an offense starved team.

Vancouver:  They may actually have the easiest fix. This year between the preseason, regular season slog, Olympic’s and playoffs Luongo played around ninety games. That’s a huge workload for any goalie, for a guy who is the team captain on top of that there is little surprise he looked so worn by the time the Canucks run ended.  Adding a goalie who can play twenty five games and give the team the chance to win thirteen or fourteen of them is possibly the best remedy for what ails this team. Martin Biron, Alex Auld, or Dan Ellis might be had for reasonable cap hit.  Who knows, maybe they take a chance and draft one of the top goalie prospects?

Edmonton: Tempted as I am to say almost anything that isn’t quite fair. They did have an impressive last few weeks to the season tossing W’s up over LA, Detroit, Colorado, Vancouver, and San Jose, all playoff teams on their way to a .500 record in their final dozen games. Part of their problem was simply being one of the five youngest teams in the NHL.

The first thing they can do right this off season should be easy; draft Hall or Seguin. It doesn’t matter which, both are a right choice. This is a similar situation to the Ovechkin/Malkin draft. In this case it might make sense to actually draft for need, NHL teams seem to have a fixation on drafting “the best available player”, regardless of how he fits into their system. This is what led the Bruins to draft Kessel, despite his not being a sound fit. The question for the Oilers is which need. Do they take their adequate centers and gift them with an offensive machine? Do they give their wingers the man who might be the best center of the last two or three drafts? Or do they count on the versatility of one of these young men to allow them to draft the player they like best and tweak further by moving other pieces?

If I’m the front office and ownership in Edmonton, I can’t help but notice the success the Blackhawks, Penguins, Capitals and to a lesser extent the Coyotes have had recently after being very bad for a while and drafting well.  Personally I’d want to trade as many of the 26-30 year olds on the roster for top sixty picks in the next two drafts and use that foundation and some careful free agents to create a strong playoff team two season from now.


Over the past couple months, a number of people have wondered if perhaps it wasn’t time for the C to come off Chara’s jersey. The most persistently named new destination for the captaincy has been Patrice Bergeron. There is no argument anyone can make to me that Bergeron would not make a good captain, but that isn’t the question. The question is if he would make a better or at least different captain.

Last season Zdeno Chara was 16th in scoring for defenseman in the NHL, in the 08-09 season he was 12th and had six more points. The 08-09 season was as all remember the year he just about walked away with the Norris trophy dominating all three zones.  In 08-09 Chara also had the #9 scorer for forwards in Marc Savard, the #31 in David Krejci, the #55 in Mark Rechhi, the #57 in Phil Kessel, #81 in Michael Ryder, to support him. That’s five forwards in the top 100 on a team that was second in goals scored, the team also boasted seven forwards who scored twenty or more goals.

In the 2009-10 season the highest ranked Bruins forward was #84, Patrice Bergeron. That’s three positions lower than the fifth highest player for the previous years team.  So pinning the lack of offense on Chara is a non starter, especially when none of the defenseman ahead of him on the points last had anywhere near as many as his league leading shots on goal.

Another point to consider is leadership qualities. Chara has in his time here displayed remarkable conditioning, has managed to chase down Ilya Kovulchuk from behind to break up a break away without taking a penalty, has fought some of the (other) biggest, meanest men in the NHL, played an entire season with a dislocated finger, averaged more than one hundred each blocked shots and hits while playing through other injuries and not quitting on his team ever.  Bergeron has played through similar situations, and led in key stats for his position. The two of them have irreproachable work ethics, and tenacity that is probably not great for their long term playing prospects. I doubt either one will be playing in the NHL at Recchi’s age.

Both Bergeron and Chara are quiet, soft spoken guys who do a great deal of community service and make themselves available to the press are on a regular basis. They play hard, practice hard and if anyone doubts the heart of these two they just don’t know hockey or either player.

One quality lacked by both players, and probably the only one you can use as a legitimate attack on either as leaders is that neither is likely to be the guy who goes into the locker room after the team played a poor period and kicks over trash cans, throws things and calls people out by name. Neither guy is a fire eater in the way Phaneuf and Pronger are said to be. On the other hand, I don’t think I can picture Toews, Lidstrom, or Crosby doing any of those things either. Ray Bourque probably wasn’t big on those qualities either.  While I think that the team needed at least one fire-eater all season, I don’t see someone who can be both an elite level player and fulfill that role on the roster.  Recchi has been mentioned for his passion, but I don’t think he qualifies as elite, and isn’t an improvement over either Chara or Bergeron in other categories.


Pronger:  Pronger took two penalties, at least one of which was just dumb. Gotta love his game, he never quit and didn’t make any stupid hockey plays even under pressure, even when the team was down and struggling.

Hit: Tough to say, Richards laid out a couple bodies, Buff ran through Coburn, and several minutes of the second period seemed to be inspired by Drowning Pool.

Conn Smyth: Eh. Toews no doubt earned the honor, but he didn’t make this series his own anywhere but the faceoff dot. And yet, that was enough. He provided enough of a distraction for the Flyers top defenders to loosen the jessies on the rest of the team.

Top players:  Kane broke loose with a three point night, including the goal that got his team the Stanley Cup, and Briere quietly had a three point night, was a +2 and went 60% in the faceoff circle.

Gallery or Guarded: The answer to this one should satisfy fans of both styles of play as we saw both tight defensive hockey in bursts, and a track meet for stretches.

BQ: He used words.


It’s game six, one team can clinch and that’s just barely the most interesting question of the day. Here’s a couple I can’t wait to see the answer too:

Will Chris Pronger take out any anger he may have over a certain picture on the Chicago players? Or will he lay his hits on the media during interviews?

Will the biggest hit of the night be by one of the usual hulking suspects, or will Mike Richards show us once again that big hits can come in small packages that don’t know where the weight room is?

Will one of the candidates step up and etch their name into the Conn Smyth trophy tonight?

Can the top lines and top players buck the trend of this series and fill the score sheet as we’re more used to them doing?

Will we see another wide open shooting gallery where its not a question of if the goaltending will be victimized, but how often or will we see the type of tight defensive match both squads are capable of?

Bonus Question:
How did Gary Bettman explain “Chrissy Pronger” to his daughter?


Two teams I can name had difficulty scoring last year, and yet each had one enigmatic player in the fold who had the pedigree to be a or even the go to guy on their squad. One organization admitted no rift between itself and their wayward lamb while exiling them to the outskirts of Siberia, the other gave their will-o-wisp forward adequate ice time and a rotating cast of opposite wingers, and three or four different centers.

Neither team got what they wanted. I speak of course of Nikita Filatov, at least nominally of the Columbus Blue Jackets even though he spent most of the year in the KHL on loan to a team that was supposed to let him grow as a player with plenty of ice time. CSKA Moscow of the NHL finished their season without straining their endurance with a playoff run, much as the Blue Jackets did

Michael Ryder who had the odd off ice distraction to deal with also had to work with a center who some feel returned from off season hip surgery too soon, and a linemate who experienced what can be gently called a sophomore slump. He spent time trying to find chemistry with Marc Savard, which failed miserably, again. Watching the two of them together and expecting something positive to happen was like waiting for a bowling bowl to dissolve in a tub of baby shampoo. His time with the teams other centers was only slightly better. This was his second worst NHL season, and the second to last of his contract.

From watching the two players I’m convinced they are in the wrong type cities. I have seen nothing to indicate Ryder can stomach the attention of playing in a big hockey market. Remember Boston is a city that six years after he played his last game in Bruins uniform can still be seem sporting PJ Stock t-shirts and jerseys to games.  For all the heart and hard work Stock had, he scored exactly one goal in a Bruins uniform.

Filatov who is younger, a bit more outgoing and uptempo was born in the hot bed of Russia’s social and political nexus. Moscow is much more like a top tier North American hockey market in it’s size, sprawl, and concentration of humanity and scrutiny than Ryder’s more pastoral Bonavista New Foundland.  By comparison, Moscow is estimated to be over ten million people, making it about a third the population of all of Canada, much less the less than four thousand people currently living in Bonavista.

So the trade is simple. Filatov is an RFA with two seasons left on his entry level contract who was drafted sixth and had nearly a point per game for CSKA. Ryder will be a UFA on July 1, 2011, is making $4million a year, and has four times scored twenty five or more NHL goals in a season.

To Boston:

Filatov

3rd round pick 2011

To Columbus

Ryder

2nd round pick 2011


Since there just aren’t enough possible angles to cover free agency from, I decided we all need one more, well maybe it’s three more. So here goes.

Bloggers who wish to participate should comment here, or send me a message @pucksage on Twitter to be linked to and for bragging purposes. All entries must be up by the Noon ET on June 30, 2010. Bloggers can participate in any or all parts of the challenge. For the sake of everyone using the same source, we will use NHLNumbers ( www.nhlnumbers.com ) for the free agent listing and TSN.ca or NHL.com for any signings that don’t make the NHLnumbers site by deadline. You can of course make more than one post to cover each part.

Part 1: The First Domino

Pick a player at Forward, Defense & Goal off the UFA list who you expect to be the first to be signed.

Part 2: Team UFA

Very simple, really. Make a team 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goalies that is all off the UFA list and under the cap. Projected salaries for each player should be realistic.

Part 3: Worst Contract

Name the team likely to hand out the most absurd contract on July 1.

Part 4: Where’s Ilya

That right, you too can gaze into your crystal ball, ask your magic 8 ball or ouijia board or just sprinkle some Angel Dust on your Poptart and use it to tell the world where Ilya Kovalchuk will be playing next season.

Remember, prizes are bragging rights, pity beer from your friends, and not having to think of something to blog for at least one day. Void where prohibited!


The Bruins might be forced to sacrifice one of their top three centers to either reel in a top scoring winger, free up cap space, or possibly a puck moving defenseman.

Marc Savard has led the Bruins in offense three of the four seasons he’s been on the team. In his time here he’s developed his defensive game to a point where he’s consistently killing penalties. He’ll be 33 at the start of the next season, and just signed a long term contract. He’s not known for being a gym rat, and had a concussion this season that he appeared to recover from fully.

Patrice Bergeron is larger and more physical than either Krejci or Savard. As one of the members of Canada’s Olympic team, it’s probably safe to call him one of the thirty to fifty best players in the world.  Neither Savard or Krejci has ever scored 30 goals in a season. He’s hands down Boston’s best faceoff man, and is probably peaking now as a player and will stay at that level another 2-4 years depending on health.

David Krejci when healthy and on his “A game” is a dynamic play maker with world class vision of the ice. His faceoff prowess is nothing to write home about, but not going to cost him playing time. He’s been effective on both sides of the puck, and can be counted on to play if he can be made to stand and still hold onto his stick. He’s the youngest of the Bruins top 3 centers and will probably peak in a year or two. He was hit with a nasty wrist injury that ended his season early, but should be back for training camp and the Bruins European Vacation this fall.

The other centers in the system lack the experience or pedigree to be highly valuable, but may find themselves part of a trade package.  Not to be forgotten among the guys who were drafted at center is Blake Wheeler. We’ve seen him played exclusively on the wing here, Wheeler has the size, reach, speed and defensive prowess to make some people  ponder him at pivot.


Much has been made of the probability of the Bruins drafting Seguin and the need to then trade a center. First as Bergeron, Krejci, and Sequin have all played wing and will probably do so again this is not a given. Chiarelli has expressed his confidence that both Sequin and Hall can play all three forward positions so if the Oilers take Sequin and Boston fans are left to deal with those sloppy seconds, it doesn’t mean we will see Hall playing at the position he is best know for. Add in the fact that despite his paltry offensive numbers Vladimir Sobotka has a lot of fans in the Boston area and that he’s better at center than wing and you’re at four pivots  without even considering prospects or UFA’s.

Among those prospects are 2008 first round pick Zach Hamill who saw his first NHL action this season. Many expected him to make more appearances this year, especially after he helped lead rookie camp and was one of the final cuts during regular training camp.  Like Krejci, he’s a smaller player who’s more a skilled player than a grinder. He appears to have half a step or more of speed on Krejci. In his sole NHL appearance, he put in a more than creditable 12:08 of TOI with 1:36 of powerplay time. Both Bergeron and Savard were out of this game, and he finished with an assist and +1 against the high powered Washington Capitals.

Maxime Suave is another of the youngsters listed at center who has played at other positions which will probably help him into the NHL sooner.  I wanted him here after watching him in training camp and the preseason. He’s got speed, a willingness to shoot that on the whole is lacking on the Bruins, and just a touch of on ice swagger. The word that described him best at camp was raw. I can see him being the 13th forward to start the season if he’s doesn’t carve himself a top 9 spot in camp.  Like his draft year-mate Colbourne, Suave was signed to a pro contract late this season and played a handful of games for Providence.

Joe Colbourne is billed as “the second coming of Thornton” by some loudmouths. I hope that’s true, in fact if he turns out to have 2/3’s of the talent and skill of Joe Thornton I doubt he’ll ever be scrambling to find NHL work for as long as he’s healthy enough to play.  One of the things that the Bruins have been trying to do since Chiarelli took the reigns in Boston was get bigger at forward. at 6’5 he won’t be quite the largest player on the team, but he’s a whole lot taller, than Savard, Krejci, Recchi, Sobotka and either of the other prospects. Unfortunately at this point he’s still raw boned. He’s listed at five inches taller than Bergeron and four pounds less.  Like Wheeler he’ll need to fill out some before the size is good for anything but reach. Taken in the first round in 2008, he’s well regarded in a draft that looks like it’s going to take a while to creep into the NHL. Just about half of the first round, none of the second and just a handful of others have played in even one NHL game.


First let me say that in the Rask vs Thomas war, I’m a Bruins fan first, a fan of great hockey, and then a fan of one of the goalies. That said, if Thomas doesn’t start the next game Julien should be looking for a new job in a month. Before we get into stats, just rewind the game in your head and look at Rask’s positioning, posture and form. Tonight, Rask looked like he was trying to play Thomas’s style. This is unfortunately a style he is not a good match for. One of the things I noticed early was that he was playing very deep in the net for most of the first two periods. Second, he left his feet and was lying belly down on the ice more than once. He is not fit to do that and spring back onto his feet. It’s not his style, therefore the muscle groups are not trained and strengthened towards doing that. Next, between plays instead of his normal skating-saunter around the crease and occasionally to the corner with his water bottle, he was hunched over hands on knees and head down. When he did go down, in particular on the goal where Wideman’s stick broke leading to a rush he did not square his shoulders and game up several additional inches on either side of his frame by failing to do so. He also made a rather uncharacteristic and ineffectual attempt at a poke check. This is not a part of his normal tool kit, and like handling the puck outside the crease it is not a strength of his game. The posture, the break down in form and the uncharacteristic play speak quiet strongly, what they say is that Philly has gotten into his head and now have him off his game. The Flyers unlike a lot of teams are happy to crash the crease and be physical with their opponents goaltender. Some goaltenders will meet this with aggression of their own thus allowing them to reclaim some of their space, others retreat. When Thomas gave up the goal to the Flyers during the Winter Classic, it was because he refused to let them stomp about in his crease with impunity. When Rask is crashed and poked he waits for a whistle and skates to a corner. Thomas played the Flyers twice this season, and faced a total of 63 shots, on which he game up three goals. In the last two games Rask has faced 56 shots and given up nine goals. This is a team that has his number, as some teams can simply dominate a particular goalie. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, its simply what happens when talent, observation and opportunity align. It should be recognized by the coaches and looked at like any other decision, just as baseball teams will opt to load up on right or left handed batters or go to the bullpen for someone with a good breaking ball over an equally good slider. The worrisome thing about Rask in goal is that even at his young age, he has set a trend for himself in post season vs. regular season performances. In his three professional seasons, two in the AHL, one in the NHL his post season numbers are significantly worse than his regular season numbers. Some might say his numbers were so good this year that he couldn’t help but be slightly worse in the playoffs. That’s debatable, Thomas finished last years season with the best GAA and SV% in the NHL, after 11 games both of those numbers improved. Rask has now played 11 games this post season, against two teams whose combined regular season goal total is lower than the two teams Thomas faced last year. Carolina and Montreal combined for 478 regular season goals in 08-09, Buffalo and Philedelphia combined for 458 goals in the 82 game season. In fact Thomas’s last three regular season numbers are all marginally worse than his post season numbers. To put it in the simplest terms, the Bruins had the wrong goalie in net today, and its not surprising the Flyers have managed to get their nose back into this series.