For part 1 look here.

Mattias Ekholm when you get your first taste of the NHL in a season when the whole team is struggling to only suck a little, its hard to saw where your talents (or lack their-of) end and the teams balance begins. Roughly 17 minutes a night is a sign your coach has at least some trust in you, and having very slightly better road numbers than home in a very competitive division. It would be interesting to see how heavily his international experience in the SHL is counted, if at all. Only one year of NHL time to go on, and that with a poorish -8, its unlikely he gets north of $925,000.

Kevin Poulin is a goalie in the New York Islanders who like their next period of dominance has been a year away for as long as anyone can remember. His sv% is actually regressing at the NHL level since his debut. More than one goalie has put up better numbers in the last few years in an Islanders uniform. Arbitration may bring his deal below the qualifying offer level presumably he’d seek a higher AHL salary. Anywhere in the mid $600k range.

Derick Brassard was fourth in points for the Eastern Conference champions, had four game winners in the regular season and two in twelve games in the playoffs. Brassard is a solid player who plays all out on a pretty regular basis.  One comparable is Dave Bolland, who recently cashed in for $5,500,000 per year. Another would be Boston’s Chris Kelly $3,000,000 and a realistic salary is anywhere between them given the way Bolland playing in a market with a low ability to attract high end free agents jacked up his price.

Chris Kreider is either still developing as a player or a class one Kovalev level enigma. In the regular season he was a pretty unassuming 3rd line level contributor. In the playoffs, he was nearly a point per game. The really wonky part of this is that he only played about a minute more per game in the playoffs than he averaged in the regular season. Want even loopier? In his last 10 regular season games (March 7-24) he wasn’t playing much going pointless in 6 of them, playing under 10 minutes in two, and only crossing 15 minutes twice. Then when he returned in the playoffs, 13 points in 15 games after over a month with no game action. His NHL career is rather oddly shaped, he’s played 41 post season games and is over half a point a game in them, which is higher than his regular season conversion with 89 and 40. His price tag could go anywhere from as low as $1m to $2.75 depending on where the market is set before his arbitration, depending on the length of the contract the high end might not be so bad at 4+ years for the team for a 1-3 year deal expect them to push for something lower.

Mats Zuccarello is another of the New York Rangers players filing for arbitration. It’s hard to decide with so little NHL time on his dossier if he’s destined to be a top six guy, or a bottom six guy. Which place the arbitrator assigns him will go a long way towards setting his price. As a guy who has yet to break 20 goals in the NHL. a bottom six designation is most likely, so $2.25m is about the max you should expect to see him.

Derek Grant has a full 25 games of NHL experience and has averaged under 10 minutes a night. A fourth round he hasnt got much to build a case around but you can bet his 2:14 a night of shorthanded time will play a prominent part in his positioning of his team value. I don’t expect him to cross $750,000 but like the other guys in the lower range of the pay scale he may be angling for a one way contract or higher AHL salary.

Nick Spaling is part of the return for the Pittsburgh Penguins on James Neal. It is pretty doubtful anyone expects him to produce like Neal, and they just can’t afford to. His playoff experience and contributions are negligible, but under the most conservative and defensive minded coach in the NHL he gained minutes and responsibility steadily. He made $1.5m last year on a one year deal and was traded in the off season giving the Penguins exactly zero experience with him in their system and city. He does have a history of being a pretty disciplined player on ice with very few penalties at all.  Anything from $1.3m up is possible, P.A. Parenteau had the same number of points and just inked a deal for four years worth $4m as a UFA, Nathan Gerbe produced at the same level and will make $2m, Carl Hagelin was again in the same range and was paid $2.1 last year and will get $2.4m this year. A three year deal at $2,300,000 per should be comfortable for both, even if each side thinks they could do better.

Jason Demers is a solidly built right shooting defnsemen who played just under 20 minutes a night in the Sharks system last year in the regular season and playoffs.  As a right shooting defenseman, if he is award more by the arbitrator than San Jose wishes to pay, he can expect to be employed again anyway in a matter of days. Interesting to note is how both his short-handed and powerplay time went up in the playoffs. He has a noticeable, if not career threatening history of injuries. Slava Voynov plays with a similar level of physicality, is also a right shot defenseman with essentially the same body size and his contract (signed last year) is worth $4.16m. Former teammate Dan Boyle had similar points and is much signed a UFA deal for $4.5m per year, Cam Fowler last year signed a five year four million a year deal. Anything under $2.5 is unrealistic as is anything over five. I’m guessing a deal in the near neighborhood of Vlasic’s $4.25 will be worked out with the biggest variances being term and if Demers gets a no trade clause as well.

Cody Franson is another right shooting defenseman. He’s a bit larger than Demers, but points wise they are about the same guy. Franson accumulates more hits and blocked shots, and has steadily increased his offensive production. His overall defensive game may limit him to a smaller contract than Demers will get, but identical deal wouldn’t be unfair.

James Reimer lost the starting job over the course of last season with a sv% .012 lower than creasemate Jonathan Bernier. That said, last year was clearly his worst NHL season for goals against average, and last season he brought the team into the playoffs. With the exception of the lockout shortened season he’s never played the bulk of the schedule in either the AHL or NHL. He and his will undoubtedly argue for starter money, but reality says he’s a backup and a good one. Comparable are Anton Khudobin, $2.25m, Ben Bishop, or Alex Stalock so a deal between $1.8 to $2.2m is a solid landing zone.

The trade deadline always has surprises. Sometimes it is who doesn’t gets traded, sometimes it is how lopsided a trade appears to be. Right now all eyes are on Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers, Ryan Kesler the Selkie winning Vancouver Canucks defenseman and of course the healthy goalie void for the Minnesota Wild. Drawing their own buzz are Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza, future first ballot hall of famer Martin Brodeur, and Matt Moulson the three time thirty goal scorer currently taking line rushes for the Buffalo Sabres.

Some names that could be moved who aren’t getting the attention:

Bryce Salvador:

With one more year left on his contract he’s more than a rental, and given that he’s going to be 39 before his contract expires that might give some teams reasons to hesitate. On the other hand he’s a very savvy stay at home defender who has more than once in his NHL career met or exceeded his regular season goal total in the playoffs. Teams that are looking to add a defenseman before the playoffs could do much, much worse than the Brandon Manitoba native.

Brooks Laich:

The soon to be 31 year old forward for the Washington Capitals has seen better seasons than his last two in the nations capital. The three time 20+ goal man has not cracked that mark since 2009-10 season, and it is curious why that is. The Capitals trail all teams in the playoff structure in ROW and not surprisingly sit third in the eastern wild card race. A team looking for a 2nd or third line scorer might roll the dice on a player who has all the markings of a guy in need of a change of scenery.

Evander Kane:

It has been consistently rumored that the pugnacious winger is unhappy in Winnipeg. The young 30 goal scorer might not be a player you want to trade, but the depth brought back from that sort of trade could be exactly what is needed to right the ship for the Jets. If Kesler’s asking price is a roster player, a first round pick and solid prospect despite greater age and an extensive injury history, what could the return for a younger, grittier player with four years left on his deal be?

Kevin Bieksa:

With all eyes on a potential Kesler deal, it is easy to overlook Bieksa. Both have no trade clauses, and two years remaining on their contracts, both made an impression on fans around the world in their run to the Stanley Cup finals a few years ago as being the only Canucks skaters to put up a fight in game seven of the the finals against the Bruins while the rest of the team just laid down on the job. While he’s lost a noticeable amount of games to injuries, he’s still had solid offensive production throughout his NHL career.  If the Canucks brain trust decide to turn the page on the rosters core group, Bieksa could be asked where he wants to go.

Brad Boyes:

Last year when he put up 35 points in 48 games in the regular season it was assumed that most of the revival of Brad Boyes was due to playing next to John Tavares. This year however he’s playing in Florida on a team much less well structured or talented than last years Islanders and has put up 17 goals in not a great deal of ice time giving him the team lead in goals. He’s second in scoring on the sons of Sunrise, and earlier this year picked up his first shorthanded goal since the 2006-07 season. As a rental or a player with potential to play someplace for two or three years, Boyes is solid option.

Cody Franson:

The 26 year old blueliner has seen a dip in per game production over last years grueling pace. If the Maple Leafs decide to make changes, this pending RFA blueliner might find himself playing in a different jersey real soon. Due largely to highly uneven goaltending, the Leafs have the fifth highest goals allowed per game. Franson might find himself moved for any number of reasons, from a crowded blueline, to the desire for someone better than average defensively to replace him in the lineup

The Canadian talent pool is deep enough to field two teams and have both of them medal most years. That said, some names being left off even the initial roster are baffling.

Forwards:

  • Jaime Benn is an enormously talented winger who was forced into the center slot last season and still came close to dragging his team into the playoffs.
  • Jarome Iginla is a head scratcher, unless he said he didn’t want to be there, or is going to be having a surgery that require a long recovery, he’s got all the tools anyone could want on their roster why he isn’t listed is at best curious and at worst an embarrassment.
  • Nathan Horton he was the leading Canadian scorer on the right wing in the playoffs, he’s won a Stanley Cup and even if he’s not due back from injury at the start of the season he’s still a big game force.
  • Pascal Dupuis, another talented right winger who led all Canadian right wings in goals in the regular season and plays in all situations. He’s never had a chance to play for his country, and has more than paid his dues in the NHL.
  • Matt Moulson is probably being snubbed for going to an American College and not playing Canadian Junior, but three 30 goal seasons in a row isn’t something you leave aside lightly.
  • Evander Kane if you want to upgrade the teams aggression without sacrificing skill there are few better names to insert.
  • Wayne Simmonds might just be one of those pugnacious wingers you take over Kane, but it’d be a close thing.

Defense:

  • Francois Beauchemin is a pure workhorse capable of playing gigantic minutes, staying disciplined, and willing to sacrifice his body for the team.
  • Cody Franson was third among Canadian defensemen in scoring this season, and fifth for the playoffs despite only playing one round. He’s young, talented and mobile.
  • Dan Girardi in any sane universe he’s going to be one of the first three names out of the mouth of someone reciting the list of the NHL’s best shutdown defensemen, apparently that isn’t good enough for Team Canada. He was also fifth total minutes played among Candian NHL defensemen last year. Go figure.

Goal:

  • Devan Dubnyk has played for the his country several times, including this years Spengler Cup, and turned in service that ranges from strong to exemplary. How he’s not invited at all is the single biggest mystery on of the whole years roster.

The RFA defensemen are the cream of this years free agent crop. There are at least three number one or potential number one defensemen in this crop. and another half dozen who can play in the two or three spot.

Alex Pietrangelo, the best player due a contract this year. He is the three zone soldier who is the bulwark the St Louis Blues defense is built on.  Pietrangelo produces solidly in the regular and post season and plays big minutes in all situations.

Cody Franson,  way back when he was traded from Nashville to Toronto (two years ago) I said he was the best piece of talent in the deal. This year in the Maple Leafs return to the playoffs he put up 6 points in seven games against the Boston Bruins, while playing almost 23 minutes a night.

Jared  Cowen selected nineth in the 2009 draft, this towering blueliner spent most of the past season on the injured reserve returning in time to play all ten of the Senators games, and 18:33 of TOI/G. While he’s played fewere gaes than either Franson or Pietrangelo, it is really tough to look at what he has done, and the situations he’s been used in and not contemplate adding him to the team.

Zach Bogosion if he had spent his career anywhere other than the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, he’d probably be a household name by now. If you nee a guy who can jump into your middle pairing and who still has the potential to move up from there in the future this is the guy.

Ryan McDonagh the Rangers defense is built around guys who can lay the body into an opponent, block shots, and skate long and hard. Huge minutes have come McDonagh’s way in the regular season, and the second season.

Karl Alzner the Washington Capitals rely heavily upon Alzner, two years ago through fourteen playoff games he led the team in time on ice, this year in seven games he played over three minutes a night of shorthanded time on ice.

Jake Muzzin in perhaps the deepest NHL quality talent pool Muzzin has fought his way into a strong position as part of its top six. Muzzin is a it more defensive minded thatn most of the men on this list but he’s also demonstrated a capacity to play mistake free hockey against quality opponents, he was second on the Kings this season with an on ice save percentage of .934.

 

The NHL playoffs always seem to feature some players who have good even great performances and still lose. This year is no different. Who the unfortunate losers are this year is a bit different. Many are either playing in the post season for the first time, or playing with a new team since the last time they saw the second round.

Vladimir Sobotka was a certified force for the dearly departed St Louis Blues. He tied for the team lead in points, he leads the entire western conference in hits, went 55.8% in the faceoff circle, and despite being on the losing team was a +4.

Travis Hamonic had a job that no NHL defenseman looks forward to without serious concerns about how best to accomplish it; facing down Sidney Crosby. When that NHL defenseman has to take on Sidney Crosby in their very first taste of professional playoff hockey, and their first taste of playoff hockey since the 2009-10 Memorial Cup tournament, they’ve got a big job. Hamonic kept Crosby from scoring a goal in three of the five games he played in and helped leave Crosby a minus player while averaging 25 minutes a night.

P.K. Subban, love him, hate him, you damn sure should respect him. The first time Norris Trophy finalist is one of those players who draws the eye and even those new to hockey notice his play instantly. He played over five minutes of special team time per game, had two each of goals and assists, along the way. No matter how dismally his depleted squad played he didn’t give up.

Cody Franson, smooth skater, great passer and went into game seven against the Bruins ready, willing an able to kickstart a team that was in its first playoff round in a decade. He waltzed onto the ice and scored two goals in that game, and finished the playoffs with six points,. The 6’5  defender was part of a trade of some very forgettable pieces back in 2011, and will likely be the only player in that trade anyone an name in two years.

Emerson Etem, you have to wonder how the series would have ended if Etem and the rest of the young guns were allowed even another two minutes a night. Etem was a +4, had three goals, two assists and did it all in just 12:50 a night.

 

Way back in September and October as I was evaluating teams I had this to say about the Maple Leafs:

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Which made the early third of the season very entertaining as Phil “Mr October” Kessel did his normal explosion out of the starting gate and Dion Phanuef held up his end of the bargain on the backend. The team was healthy, motivated and many players were competing for jobs. Then there were the injuries. Then the holes in their game got exposed as other teams got rolling. As November turned to December, the team as a whole began its slow backslide. December first they were one point behind Boston for the division lead, but their leaky goaltending and under skilled defense began to show. The scoring was fine, and has remained so, but through 25 games they allowed 80 goals. As of December 1st only two teams had allowed more goals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have three fundamental issues no coach can fix.

  1. Bad, fragile goaltenders. Both physically and mentally the goaltending in Toronto is well below championship caliber. James Reimer is up and down, but is in no meaningful way a better goalie than Steve Mason, he is playing on a better team with slightly more capable defense, but that’s about it. Health issues and the name on the back of the jersey seem to be the only difference between Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson the only consistent thing about his play is that whatever mode he’s in lasts about a month.
  2. Youth. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second youngest team in the NHL. On the current roster there are only three players over the age of thirty. This is particularly bad for defense as it really does take a good 200 games to figure out how to play defense (well) at the NHL level.  Coming into today Franson, Gunnarsson, Gardiner are all under that number.
  3. Weakness at center. If you look at the last four teams to win the Stanley Cup about the only thing they all had in common was strength at the center position. Aside from Grabovski who just doesn’t seem to mesh with Kessel and Lupul, I can’t think of another center who could legitimately be considered at least a strong #2 center. Connolly you can make a case for but with his health issues, I can see coaches shying away from trying to build their offense around him.

Until at least the goaltending and center position are shored up, hitting the playoffs is fighting well out of the teams weight class. It can get there with a hot streak, and playoff experience is good for young players but expecting to climb as high as sixth and avoid Boston or New York in the first round is a stretch with so few games remaining  Against those two team a moral victory could be declared if they play a fifth game. Ron Wilson was not the problem with this team. On the ice there are a couple players who just don’t get it, and some who don’t have NHL talent. Randy Carlyle may or may not prove to be a better coach for this team, but simply ousting Wilson isn’t a solution.

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.

 

Brian Burke pulled another one out his sleeve just hours before I wrote this by picking up one of the NHL’s faceoff from the cap constrained New Jersey Devils for a fourth round pick. Add this to picking up Cody Franson and John Michael-Liles in the off-season and there is reason to hope the teams late surge last year might be more than a mirage. If you toss University of Wisconsin alumni Jake Gardiner into the mix you’ve got half your blueline revamped in one short off season.

 

High Card:

Mikhail Grabovski has demonstrated that he’s the best forward on the team since arriving. Well rounded, aggressive and skilled. While no ones is going to pick him to win the Art Ross, he is quite likely to be the Toronto Maple Leafs MVP again. Kessel put up a few more points than Grabovski last season but was a turnover machine. Grabovski is much more of a Jordan Staal or Mikko Koivu type two way presence and is the type of guy who gets it.

Wild Card:

Is it real or is it beginners luck, that’s the question James Reimer has on his plate this season. A .921 2.60 20-10-0-5 line on a team that couldn’t collectively beat one of their wives previously is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately it was clear to anyone who could do math the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t going to have their travel plans restricted by work in mid April by the time he arrived on the scene.  Will the pressure of potentially jumping into the post season be too much for what is probably the divisions fourth best team and their goalie?

The Boston Bruins have the very unique opportunity to stay largely intact after a Stanley Cup Win, and potentially repeat. This hasn’t been done in years. Given that they finished their historic run just days before the NHL Entry Draft no one should be shocked they made no moves during the pause for breath between the two.  Since then they have made two moves. They signed a forward who is twice discarded. They traded a fourth round pick (the round both Marc Savard and Mark Recchi were drafted in) for a defenseman with a spotty off ice past who has been a minus player two of the last three seasons.

While I don’t think anyone could rightly complain about their two first round picks, neither will impact the line up this year or next. At six five and well under 200lbs Hamilton will need at least a year to bulk up enough to play at the NHL level, and likely a year in the AHL first as well.  Khokhlachev is a late 93 birthday with just one year of playing in North America under his belt. He’s likely as much as three years away unless he blows everyone’s doors off between now and the opening of the regular season. Neither of these guys, nor Corvo are likely to improve the powerplay this season.

Verdict: Loser short term.

The New York Rangers went big game hunting and pulled in the biggest name on the market in free agency. Brad Richards signed a long term deal for what is at least currently a pretty good cap hit for his talent level. The theory is clearly that he can make Gaborik and whoever ends up on his other wing more effective. The only other free agent signing was the aging Mike Rupp who will provide some physicality.  As for the draft, not much was done to correct their scoring woes. They left quite a few big names on the board in the first round, and their later picks are all likely long term prospects.

The Rangers off season is heavily marred by their having more players file for arbitration than any other team. Four players filing by itself would be bad enough. That last years two most effective forwards head the list, and that the defenseman number three in ice time joins them is potentially disastrous.  With sixteen player signed and less than sixteen million to fill the roster you have to wonder how they intend to do so. Montreal’s Plekanek, Boston’s Bergeron, and Minnesota’s Koivu are all reasonable comparisons for Dubinsky and each has a cap hit around five million.  When you add Brian Boyle who had more than twenty goals last season to the list of those filing arbitration, you have to wonder if they players themselves will need name tags when camp opens.

Verdict: Losers.

The Maple Leafs General Manager was roundly criticized for being Afghanistan rather than at the Brad Richards soiree or otherwise preparing to throw gobs of cash at one of the worst free agent markets in recent memory. Still once you roll in the premium bad team have to pay for free agent talent, and the markets paucity of it signing Tim Connolly away from a division rival works on a couple levels. First, it gets him a center with talent they should allow him to leave Kadri and Colborne in the AHL to develop another year. It adds recent playoff experience and  someone who is familiar with the system at least from the outside, while making your division rival replace someone.

At the draft, they picked up some solid prospects who mostly appear to be works in progress and don’t project towards hitting the NHL in the next year or two. In trades they jettisoned Brett Lebda while picking up another NHL experienced center, and defenseman in exchange. Given the injury history of Connolly and Lombardi it is something of a risk, but when you come right down to it all players are. Cody Franson is probably the best of the additions so far this off season.

Verdict: Winners. It’s clear that Burke is retooling slowly and he’s been pretty consistent in that, but in picking up some Franson, Connolly, and Lombardi all of whom have that recent playoff experience he doesn’t want his dressing room going into the playoffs blind if they should sneak in this year or next.