Some members or positions on the Bruins seem to come up for speculation on a daily basis. Some times it is highlighting a weakness, sometimes it is because of excess depth. David Krejci’s name has come up more often than before recently. Someone asked me what I would consider a good return on him. Personally I wouldn’t trade him before the All Star game at the earliest and even then to the return would have to be advantageous. For all his potential, Seguin isn’t as solid at center as he is at wing, nor has he at this point proven he can be consistently better than Bergeron, Krejci, Kelly, and arguably Peverley at the position.

Scenario one:

Player for player even swap. I don’t see too many names on the market that might be both available and of equivalent value when age, contract and injury history are considered. Ideally the player coming back would be either a shooting power play quarterback defenseman who can be relied upon in his own end as a 2-4 guy. The other option would be a productive winger who isn’t a disaster in their own end, and can get 6-10 powerplay goals a year if given a reasonable amount of time  on the man advantage.

Scenario two:

Trade for picks and prospects. Given what the going rate for players was going into last years trade deadline, his RFA status on July 1, that he lead the NHL in post season scoring on route to a Cup, and having been the leading scorer on the Bruins a first round pick should be the minimum. The first should be for a team projected to finish with a top ten pick. Ideally a prospect would come back, or a conditional second round pick.

For a swap for prospects it would need to be a pretty exact fit for the Bruins current needs and likely be someone who could be playing in the NHL successfully but wasn’t do to depth on the trade partners team.

Scenario three:

As part of a large scale trade I can’t see including more than two prospects or one other roster player and one prospect for anyone but the untouchable level players in the NHL. Since I don’t see Bobby Ryan, Duncan Keith, or other players at that level becoming available, I suspect if we saw that size trade in the Bruins at this time it would signal bigger issues than there are any indications of.  But if the Ducks were to offer up Bobby Ryan for Krejci, McQuaid and a prospect or 2nd round pick or later, I’d have to look really hard at the idea if i were sitting in the corner office.

 

The Western Conference has quite a few storylines to keep the NHL’s scribes busy this year, most on the ice, some off. Ownership issues reign supreme in Coyote territory, the Blues and Stars are likely to change hands soon, and several major players are entering their walk year.

Northwest Division:

The northwest is pretty clearly divided between the haves and have-nots, of all the western divisions I expect my predictions here to hold up best.

Calgary Flames. As long as Iginla is healthy this team always has a shot. If they somehow managed to get some scoring depth the sky is the limit. They’ll likely finish second in the division.

Edmonton Oilers, still a so young the squeak. They will win about any game that their opponent allows to become a track meet and shootout, and lose any time they have their perilously thin backend exposed.

Vancouver Canucks. While not as talented as last season, two of the additions bring a higher level of mental toughness than was seen on the ice from this team last year. Marco Sturm and Byron Bitz probably don’t have a shot at the Conn-Smythe next June, but they can sure as hell support whoever of their teams leading lights gets closest to it. They should win the division again, for what it means.

Minnesota Wild. Unless one or more of their prospects turns out to be a stud this season they appear to have shuffled the deck chairs and done little else this off seasons. The trades weren’t bad but did they address the problems and not create other problems just as pressing? A bubble team that could as it stands finish anywhere between 7 and 11.

Colorado Avalanche. Fans in Denver and surrounding area should take advantage of the opportunity to watch Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog play without the pressure of making the playoffs. This team drafted well, but the current defense and likely penalty kill will drag this team into the lottery abyss.

Central Division:

This is honestly the  most interesting division in the west to forecast.  You can make a reasonable argument for any of the five teams to win the division. Unfortunately for the teams in the division this isn’t because any has an overwhelming strength at all positions.

Chicago BlackHawks, like the Wild, they did a great deal of deckchair shuffling to questionable effect. Having had the opportunity to watch Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell, not to mention Jamal Mayers live and over the course of several season I’m not sure how they push this team over the top or even nearer it. On the other hand the cup hangover should be long over for the talented young core who are still hungry. Probably in the playoffs.

St Louis Blues What has been a combination frat party and hospital ward for the past two or three years could turn into an uptempo hard checking playoff team if it can tone down either of those aspects. Talented yes, focused, sometimes, healthy, in spurts.  If you really want to know where the team will finish, pull out your d30 and roll it a few times that should be just as accurate as anything anyone else can tell you.

Nashville Predators. Same Preds different year. Great defense, top notch goaltending and a giant question mark about where the goals will come from. This year there is the added question of which if any of Suter, Weber and Rinne will return next season. Fun times in Music City.  Almost certainly a playoff team, and possibly the division winner.

Columbus Blue Jackets. What an interesting off season. They imported a sniper. They imported a powerplay quarterback, and they (in theory) lowered their overhead. If things gel, and certain new defensemen can avoid multiple suspensions they too have the weapons to make the post season.

Detroit Red Wings, will this be the victory lap for Lidstrom? Who knows. The odds of this team making the playoffs come down to a flip of the coin. They have some huge talents, huge liabilities and huge unknowns.

Pacific Divsion

Far and away the strongest division in the conference it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see the conference finals come down to two teams in the division.

Phoenix Coyotes. With the departure of Bryzgalov in the off season they are the weakest link. Not a playoff team, and possibly a lottery team.

Dallas Stars. With last seasons renaissance in goal, a mostly stable roster, a team that learned to play without a superstar forward, and the infusion of a seemingly rejuvenated 30+ goal scorer they might be the sleeper in the conference to make it to the post season. I’d be surprised if they didn’t flip positions with the Coyotes and make it in to the playoffs over them.

Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks had their most important player move happen when Jonas Hiller came off the injured reserve. With a full season under his belt and having managed to be a plus player in the post season after 75 games in the red Cam Fowler should be an even more important piece of the roster. Devante Smith-Pelly may end up in the Calder conversation. Oh yeah, they’ve got these guys named Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf up front who are supposed to be pretty good too (if anyone can confirm this leave a comment) to play with Vishnovsky. All this will likely lead them to third in the division.

LA Kings. If this team can gel as a unit and put up more goals they are likely to be finish around the 110 point mark.

San Jose Sharks. This is one of those teams that seams to own the regular season without even a signed offer sheet on the playoffs. They have a very good chance of winning the division if they can keep their goaltenders from having to be any better than average.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

What a year to be a hockey fan in Nashville. After years, and years of futility they finally make it out of the first round and give the eventual conference champions a couple good pops on the chin. Joel Ward and Pekka Rinne put themselves in the Conn-Smythe discussion, and they knocked off Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and the rest of team quack on their way. Then over the summer Ward departs and franchise icon Shea Weber is only signed to a one year deal.

High Card:

Pekka Rinne emerged from undeserved obscurity last season. Apparently even being in flyover country can’t keep you off the medias radar when you put up a .930 GAA in a division with the reigning champions and Detroit Red Wings.  Even when Weber failed to get a point in their six game tilt with the Canucks he never allowed more than three goals.

Wild Card:

Shea Weber. It’s hard to come up with reasons to worry about his on ice performance when even a broken foot heading into the Olympic year didn’t slow him down. That said,  no one with enough wit to find Nashville on a map can wonder how long Weber will stay. If he doesn’t feel the team is going the right way at the All Star break does he tell David Polie and encourage him to trade him for a fortune t0 a team that’s more able to spend money? It is unthinkable that there’d be more than three teams who didn’t at least put together a package for the Predators for him. How much will speculation about his contract status affect the team around him is another major question.  Weber had the best season of any defenseman last season, regardless of who the award went to. Will he stay or go is the question, what is the return if he goes?

 

When the lockout ended and the sport we loved resumed action much battered and bedamned in the public perception, no one was sure how the salary cap would work. Now we know how it’s worked around, we also know how it fails. We’ve seen artistic arrangements that let teams spread out the money for a contract well past when anyone expects the player to still be on that team or in the NHL at all. We’ve seen two contracts voided, and worse we’ve seen a hyper-inflation that is damaging the very teams it was supposed to protect.

In the six seasons since the lockout ended, the salary cap his sky rocketed from $39million and change to over $64 million.  The salary floor for 2011-12 is 20% higher than the ceiling was six years ago. Assuming teams spend their money equally well, a small market team, or simply one where hockey is not as entrenched as it is in Boston, Montreal or Toronto is now spending about twice as much to be competitive.  What part of the economy has expanded even 20% to support this? The US jobless rate has been at near historic levels nearly the whole time. A team ( at least partly through bungling ownership) has been relocated to a place its chances are only so-so , the Coyotes have been in a state of meltdown almost since they arrived from that same city that couldn’t support a team, and others have enormous amounts of rumors swirling around them.

I’m not sure anyone could track down all the issues with ownership that at least appear to be (blissfully) in the past in Tampa Bay, Columbus (a nice little city) is one of the teams that should have noticed the sharp, shiny teeth of their wolf in lease clothing and negotiated better and these are just two easily spotted issues. Even the Nashville Predators who have one the top goalies on the planet, the guy who should have won the Norris Trophy this season, and a high quality defensive unit haven’t hit a level where they are a money printing machine. The Dallas Stars and St Louis Blues are two other teams who have giant question marks in the ownership column.

When you look at the last few free agency periods they can’t help but make you think of someone who goes into a bar, gets falling down drunk, blindfolds themselves and takes home the first person to grab their arm at last call. Some of the contracts handed out bear no resemblance to the talent level of the players.  Worse, it is preventing players who are more talented from being promoted out of the AHL or major juniors or called in from collegiate play. Many of these players will stagnate if not challenged by high end skill sets.  For teams rebuilding, or trying to build their market (which by all reasonable indications takes about a generation) having the ability to take a high draft pick and put them into the NHL lineup  quickly where they can grow in front of and in turn help feed their home market is rapidly diminishing.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers have two of the most promising prospect stables of talent in the NHL, and yet between the two of them they went out and signed or traded for well over forty million cap dollars this season. Deals like Kopecky’s, which rewards a marginal third line player who’s never topped fifteen goals, in four seasons has only cracked twenty points once and is a career minus 19 with each year of his career having been spent on a playoff team, one of them a Cup winner.  With a saner cap floor the Florida Panthers might have brought up anyone of their well regarded forward prospects.

The question is what’s in it for each group who will be involved in setting up the next CBA, Without at least two of these groups pushing for it the leagues mid to long term future is at best highly unstable. The NHL could be looking at a situation like the NBA where more than half the teams are losing money, and teams are shuffled across the map on a regular basis. So what’s in it?

For building and or rebuilding teams (this includes future expansion teams) the ability to bring up prospects through the team as the foundation for a team and get them to the NHL at the earliest moment they are ready minimizing developmental costs, and preventing having to overpay free agents. It also maximizes fan appeal by leveraging the cache high draft picks have and turning it into revenue in the form of ticket sales, merchandise and TV ratings.

For established teams with a solid product if the salary floor is lowered they will transfer less money struggling teams that they can keep or reinvest in arena enhancements, training facilities, scouting staff or use towards building a replacement venue.

For players the answer is simplest of all; jobs. With the difficulty that NHL has had in finding viable owners of any sort for the last decade, the possibility of contraction can’t be ignored. While the KHL is a newer entity, one of the premier Russian club teams folded its doors last season because of what some would call a non-viable economic situation in that league. With more ownership profitability, the probability of expansion goes up, which will create more jobs and likely extend the careers of players. A stable NHL which can keep producing Bobby Ryan’s, Alex Ovechkin’s, Steve Stamkos’s, Ryan Miller’s, Duncan Keith’s, Taylor Hall’s, Shea Weber’s  and have them spread out across the continent has the real chance to expand as far as 36 teams without even saturating markets.

These, and other reasons are why the next CBA must include provisions similar to:

A fixed salary floor shall be set at no higher than forty million per year for the first five years of the agreement provided teams are in distress, or subject to a leasing agreement that would prohibit them from spending to the cap ceiling:

  • Have a NHL roster including at least 8 players who were either drafted and developed by the team, or who have played 25 or less NHL games for other teams.
  • At least 35% of the difference between the distressed floor and standard floor must be used towards buying out or buying down a lease or a facilities upgrade.

 

 

Waiving the bloody shirt of a fallen comrade is a tradition that stretches back centuries at least, and likely millennia. The Bruins are not alone in having reason to rally under one in the last few years. The owners claim they want headshots gone, yet the NHL has yet to hand out as large a suspension for events that might end someones life as they have for the still serious transgression of stomping on an opponents foot with a skates. All the responsible players who have crossed the line and been punished have come back with differences that are noticeable. The scum, like one Pittsburgh Penguin who shall remain nameless, make the appropriate mouth noises right on cue and go back to trying to hurt people, not because they don’t understand the situation, but because they don’t care.

It was gratifying to see the various players express their concern for a guy who plays with an edge, who’s big, strong doesn’t intimidate and who has through his play no doubt injured others, not negligently, but accidentally.  Among the numerous NHL players to express concern in the aftermath of Rome’s Carthage campaign, was Max Pacioretty.

My thoughts and prayers are with Nathan Horton and his family right now.. hoping for the best for him
@MaxPacioretty67
Max Pacioretty

There are those inside and outside the hockey community who would say Pacioretty has all the reason in the world to hate at least one member of the Bruins, and yet his message is clear.

Welland Ontario not to happy about the hit. Hope Horton's OK.
@BizNasty2point0
Paul Bissonnette
For the new fans, Paul Bissionnette is like the Bruins beat cop Shawn Thornton, a guy who’s job description includes a certain measure of physicality that can be objectionable to some was also among the first players to express their well wishes for Nathan Horton.

New York Rangers forward Brandon Prust, Atlanta Thrasher Anthony Stewart, Anahiem Duck Bobby Ryan, former Bruin Blake Wheeler are just a few of the other NHL players to express their disgust and concern over this via Twitter.

I’m not a player, I’m not in the locker rooms. But if this many of the still few players are concerned enough to make public statements over this, perhaps its time to do more than speak. The NHL administration has shown precious little inclination to make an example of anyone, and now another man has been injured because a player who was at best negligent and possibly malicious knew the consequences of his actions would at worst result in a game or two off to let the bruises heal before he got back on the ice. Perhaps now is the time for the NHLPA to take a step towards policing itself. If it today lacks the power to censure members, that is not a thing they can allow to stand for long.

Its rarely mentioned in public, and then only in hushed or possibly disgusted tones. It’s considered more than a bit gauche to dabble in, and actually using it when most of the men who are your peers can not is considered a badge of shame. Sure you release a lot when you get this weapon to work, and it can sometimes create a mess. No doubt the use of it will make other GM’s and fan bases utter similar length words that start with the same letter. Yet, the offer sheet is a legitimate tool.

If you’ve had poor luck drafting, this can be the perfect way to repair it while fine tuning your staff. You traded the wrong prospect for a never-was? Or maybe you’re the new Sheriff in town and it’s time to convince the fan base its time to come back to the arena. Then too there is the other side of the offer sheet. You have to consider the effect it will have on the team that currently owns a coveted RFA. Jacking up the price of an RFA even if you have zero intent of signing them is a savvy move, just be prepared to have your bluff called.

Below are some RFA’s who if they received an offer sheet could really hurt their current team whether the player was signed away or not.

Carey Price:

The Montreal management already traded away a young stud goalie. With only sixteen players signed, and just $8.2 million in cap space, an offer that pushes the cost of Price north of $4 million probably means they have to move or bury a big contract. If they let him go, even taking the picks ( a first and a third) that leaves the choice of signing one of the ten thousand UFA goalies, or hoping that Desjardins can do better than projected.

Devin Setoguchi:

This young goal scorer might be the answer to the offensive woes of teams like the Oilers, Panthers, or Flames. Paired with a good center, or offset by a good sniper on the other wing he has the potential to do a lot of damage. The Sharks have proclaimed other players a priority, and have more than $49 million committed to just fourteen players including backup goaltender Greiss.

Mark Stuart:

Despite three different trips to the injured reserve last year, and an offensive upside that’s mostly non existent, Stuart is a key piece of the Bruins blueline. More importantly their depth after him is nearly teaspoon deep. Anyone better than him that is a UFA is going to cost more. He’s a shut down defenseman who skates well, hits hard and is tough enough to playout a game in which he broke his sternum about midway through. Despite the lack of offense, he’s a career +29 in 252 games with the Bruins reaching the playoffs in just two of his tears on the team.

Marc Staal:

One of a trio of brothers hailing from British Columbia, this is the defenseman currently the property of the New York Rangers.  Staal was second in scoring for defensemen, played all 82 regular season games, led the team in TOI, and played a big part in the Rangers 7th ranked penalty kill. With over $45 million committed to just 14 players the Rangers are probably ripe for the picking. With a contract like Reddens on the books somethings got to give if someone pulls out an offer sheet.  Does Carolina make a move to try and unite the brothers Staal?

Bobby Ryan:

With twenty two million left to spend and eighteen players already in the bag, it might seem odd to see a Duck in my sights, but lets face it It’s Bobby Ryan.  In two full NHL seasons he has 66 goals. Last season alone he through more hits than Chris Pronger. He’s a number two draft pick and has been consistently healthy through his NHL career.

Niklas Hjalmarsson:

Despite having played just one full NHL season by the end of the playoffs he was third in TOI for the Blackhawks in the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks define ‘cap trouble’ this off season, and despite a hefty dose of faith in the 23 year old, and the trade of Brent Sopel, I’m not sure they would even try to match an offer sheet.

Tomas Fleishmann:

Despite missing time, this center managed to improve across the board in offensive categories. The Caps have a serious (although possibly unrecognized given their draft performance) need for defensive defensemen, and just a hair under twelve million to add eight players to the roster. With all the teams looking for centers, this RFA might be a better choice than some of the UFA’s or trade possibilities.

Note this post was completed before the Versteeg trade and Bowman’s denial that anyone could swipe Hjalmarsson or Niemi via offer sheet. I consider the possibility of an offer sheet pretty low for anyone but Chicago matching one is an even lower one with a reported $4.19m* less in cap space than other teams due to bonuses and salary last year.

* @mirtle www.jamesmirtle.com