The most engaging opening round series game for game last spring was the Saint Louis Blues squaring off with the Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately for the Blues the series ended with them breaking down and not packing for another series. The bottom line was a lack of scoring, their regular season average was cut almost in half when the playoffs rolled around. In a six game series they scored just nine goals, and only TJ Oshie and Alex Steen had more than one.

In the off season they took care of some business. Alex Pietrangelo was extended, as was the new guy Jay Bouwmeester. One look at the roster, and with one exception, it becomes clear the team is looking to improve from within. The most notable change for fans will be the absence of David Perron who was moved for Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, and a draft pick. Also new to the lineup is former Buffalo Sabre, Dallas Star, and Vancouver Canuck Derek Roy. Those players were brought in to augment David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko and Chris Stewart, and maybe, just maybe drag the teams offense into the top half of the NHL.

As an opening fistful, the Blues can’t complain. They have their first five games spread out over twelve days, and are home for all five. Games one and two are against the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers. As of right now the goal situation for both franchises is iffy. Next up are the Chicago Blackhawks, a team they know well even if they now have several new faces on their roster. Rounding things out are the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks. All five games are at home.

Number of days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 1

Best opponent: Chicago BlackHawks

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 5

Projected points: 5+

These first five games are a great opportunity for the Blues. If they can get manage to get three goals in three or four of their first five, they are aimed straight at the post season, and arguably challenging for the division crown. With their three netminders and stringy defensive style, they don’t really have an excuse not to be in the playoffs. Of the other teams in their division, only the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks were in the playoffs last season, and while the other teams have made changes it is hard to say any of them are better teams than the Blues.

The deadline is coming!

The deadline is coming!

And it is a glorious thing, the western conference has a lot of interesting parts that make it hard to say who will be buyers or sellers. Some of the bottom teams have improved a lot, some of the middle teams aren’t as good as they look, and some of the top teams are just scary.

Chicago: If there’s anything this team could use other than better centers not named Toews, I’m not sure it really matters, they are scoring lots, allowing little, and beating people on a regular basis (at least the ones who aren’t from Anaheim). Extra depth for the playoffs wouldn’t hurt but how do you tinker with a team that’s lead the league since the word go?

Anaheim: With just one player in the top 40 in the NHL’s scoring race, and a defense where the TOI split between #1 and #6 is about four minutes, one wonders how this team has been the the second most consistent team in the NHL this season. This team doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses, unless it is a lack of playoff experience up and down the roster.

Vancouver: We know the Canucks are desperately trying to win he very last northwest division title. We know they have less ROW’s than Minnesota who also have a game in hand. We know the team traded away the talented young Hodgson even though Kesler is rarely healthy and they don’t have a viable 2nd center without them. We know after year of being at the top o the NHL’s scoring race, the Sedins who sat on the couch during the lockout are behind guys like Sam Gagner, Patrice Bergeron, Mikko Koivu, and Chris Stewart in the scoring race.

Minnesota: We knowWild will be the word for the emotions of fans in the state of hockey when they get to see their first playoff game in a few years. There’s still a good chance they win the division. We know that Mikko Koivu might finally get some of the adulation and national attention he deserves if they win a round or two in the playoffs. We know they need to do something pretty damned extreme to get their goalie and a respectable roster put together by opening night this fall. We know it is a crying shame Jonas Brodin won’t even make the long list for the Calder.

Los Angeles: We know the Kings who weren’t notoriously good at scoring last year are very quietly number seven in goals for this year. We know that their number one goaltender has had a performance dip year over year.  We know this team will be a different variety of difficult to beat in seven games than last spring.

Detroit: With the trade of Huskins for a conditional 2014 draft pick, and hometown boy Danny DeKeyeser, we’re starting to get a look at what the team will look like in a year or two. We know that with 27 skaters having taken the ice in 34 games and just two players with 10 or more goals, long term answers need to be found.

San Jose:  82 goals for, 82 goals against tells us this team is rather mediocre. I can’t see a high price on some of their middling talent, but I can’t see this team selling big before the deadline, ownership has apparently decided to drive this core group into the ground, meaning Sharks fans can expect another year or two of making the playoffs and getting made into chum in the second season.

Saint Louis; Good news, bad news. We know the team is scoring better than last season, we also know the team is allowing more goals than last season. We know the team needs to find an identity, and see if they can get more recognition for Pietreangelo.

Dallas: We know this team needs to find defenders who can get the puck out of their own zone. We know this team has lots of old guys left and the team wouldn’t be made worse medium term to get rid of every forward over thirty.

Columbus: We know if this team won half their games on the road instead of one fourth they’d not only be a playoff team, they’d be poised for home ice advantage at least through the first round.

Nashville: What ails this team isn’t just the loss of Suter, they are missing some of the same drive the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins lack. They also still don’t know how to score.

Edmonton: We know the Oilers defense is made out of wet tissues, we know the offense is struggling despite the nearly point per game production of Sam Gagner, we know the team isn’t going to be fixed until the leadership is changed.

Phoenix: Like the desert they play in, this team is hot and cold, last season they won the division and went to the conference finals last season, and this season they are in the basement. We know the ownership drama may never end. We know the Coyotes need both depth and quality.

Calgary: We know handing out too many no movement clauses makes rebuilding difficult. We know failing to acquire good young talent makes rebuilding difficult. We know being publicly shown to have no clue, and no ability to make deals makes rebuilding difficult.

Colorado: We know if this team was playing in a top tier hockey market the media bludgeoning would make their record and team stats look pleasant. We know this team will probably draft a high end talent and then fail to develop them.

 

 

 

 

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

Players:

  • … Chris Stewart, Brad Marchand and Jiri Tlusty would be in the top 21 goal scorers in the NHL and Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, and Phil Kessel would not.
  • … Luke Schenn would be second among Flyers defensemen in +/- and one of just three players with a positive +/- to play more than 20 games
  • … in the same number of games, John Tavares would have more more points (31) than Jonathan Toews (29).
  • … Thomas Hickey would play more minutes and shifts through two thirds of the season than Lubomir Vishnovsky.
  • … Artem Anisimov’s 80% shootout success rate would lead the league.
  • … Ben Bishop would be 3-0 in shootouts and Robin Lehner would be 0-3, both for the Senators.
  • … the active leader in game winning goals, Jaromir Jagr would have just one through 27 games played.
  • … Ilya Kovalchuk would have four short handed goals, four game winning goals, and just ten total.
  • … in just 19 games played the leagues penalty minutes leader would be Mike Brown
  • … the top five shooting percentage leaders in the NHL would be 1: Patrik Berglund  29.2% 14 goals 2: Mike Ribeiro 27.8% 10 goals 3: Chris Kunitz 26.9% 18 goals 4: Alex Tanguay 26.5% 9 goals 5: Brad Marchand 26% 13 goals

Teams:

  • … having fired their general manager at the start of the season and made no significant trades, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be tied for sixth place with more ROW than any team below them and even or less games played than any team within five points.
  • … that in less games, the New York Islanders would have scored more goals than the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • … the Tampa Bay Lightning who are second in goal per game would have only one player with more than ten goals.
  • … half of the top ten powerplays in the NHL would belong to teams currently out of playoff position; Capitals, Islanders, Oilers, Flyers, and Flames.
  • … with at least 27 games played, the Canucks, Flames, Lightning, Canadiens, Penguins, and Wild would all have failed to score a 4 on 5 goal.
  • … each having played 28 games only the Oilers and Ducks would not have a 4 on 4 goal.
  • … the Northwest division would be separated by the least points with just ten between the division leading Minnesota Wild and the fifth place Colorado Avalanche.
  • … six of the top ten shot blocking teams would be out of the playoffs: Colorado, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Nashville, and Phoenix.
  • … the only two teams without a regulation loss in their last ten games would be the Columbus Blue Jackets (7-0-3) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (10-0-0)
  • … eleven teams would have a double digit negative goal differential while just eight have positive double digit differentials.

How much of this would you have believed in if I told you in September?

While motivation has its place in the legion of defects that ended the Bruins problems, there is another one that needs to be addressed. On the physical axis the Bruins are neither uncatchably swift nor menacing and hulking. Just two of the forwards who started the year in the teams top six are over two hundred pounds. Shawn Thornton is the only returning regular who is also over that mark. By comparison the Washington Capitals have just three players on their entire playoff roster who are less than two hundred pounds. They use their size not just offensively to outhit the Bruins, but defensively to protect the puck.

The Bruins had to match David Krejci who is neither swift nor physical, not hulking or menacing (except maybe to a Flame turned Hab turned Flame), Benoit Pouliot who has skates that seem to be stuffed with flubber, and the increasingly game but alarmingly spare Tyler Seguin against much larger players every shift. Not one of these guys can be counted on to regularly win pucks along the wall or standup (or layout) opponents coming across the blueline.

The prospect pool doesn’t look any better. Most of the Providence roster will probably never be regulars on an NHL team. Josh Hennessy of the incredible 2003 draft was a nice thought and has some size. But Max Suave makes Krejci look obese, and has durability issues. Jamie Arniel took two steps back this year and is about as bulky as Krejci. Zach Hamill is certainly game enough, it remains to be seen if he can stick at the NHL level.

Chiarelli and Neely have not drafted much other than “small, skilled forwards”. The team desperately needs another power forward. The attitude is a heavy burden to carry for one or two top six forwards for 82 games, the preseason and however much of the post season a team managers. Assuming the clock has really expired on this version of the San Jose Sharks, a perfect acquisition regardless of if Horton recovers or not is Ryane Clowe. He’s got one year left on his contract, he’s big, he’s hungry for success, and its not possible to be informed and doubt his heart. Twenty three fighting majors in the past two seasons says he’s not gonna back down easy, two hundred and sixty hits and 42 goals mean he’s constantly involved.  David Jones is another who fits the bill. And I’ll renew my plea for Chris Stewart’s addition, I think being added as a regular to a team with a bit more belligerence than the Blues, and hypothetically penciling him on Bergeron’s right next season with Marchand returning on the left gives a physicality, speed and skill to both top lines.

Physical players like Milan Lucic certainly need to contribute more contact and more on the score board. It is however the responsibility of coaching and management to make sure these heavy bodies are well rested in the last week of the season so that they can enter the playoffs ready to be impact players. It is the responsibility of the players to be fit, and to make sure they are both rested and motivated. More than a few players are guilty of two or more failings on that list.

The front office tried to get by on reputation this season. So far no signs point to them changing that stance. The presumption both Adam McQuaid and Nathan Horton will be healthy to start the season has a striking resemblance to the inertia that saw them expecting a full recovery for Marc Savard. The draft, trades and free agency should all be at the least explored to find more physical players who can play.

With the news that top line right wing Nathan Horton has taken a step back in his recovery we’re faced with two important concerns. The first is for Nathans health. I love hockey, I like watching him play when he’s ready to roll out a strong game. But there’s no player I want to see on the ice more than I want them to be able to function in daily life. If he has reached the point where that is threatened it is time for him to hang up the skates. He’s won a cup. He’s made some good friends on the team and elsewhere and he’s gotten the opportunity to see the world. He can retire content in how much he achieved, no one can doubt that the Bruins were a better team with him in the lineup. When he had his A game he was a monster, when he had his B game he was still a force. But is it time? Should he shut down for the rest of the season now and hope to return for the playoffs? Should he just go home now and start working out in late July towards a return in the fall? That’s something he, his doctors, family and the team have to decide.

The other key question is who do they replace him with. Cap space isn’t an issue unless they plan on adding Iginla and Carter. Even then, they could add a full 13 million without putting his salary on the LTIR, and that’s without putting Savard their either. Short term or long term replacement is part of the equation. Chris Stewart who I mentioned in a previous post may or may not be available. If he is, he’s just about perfect. He possibly needs a change of scenery, he’s aggressive, big bodied, can score and his contract expires at the end of the year.

David Jones of the Avalanche is another player who might need a change of scenery. Or possibly just reasonably healthy top centers to play with. He’s got an inexpensive contract as well and could possibly be had for no more than a prospect or middle round pick.

The Phoenix Coyotes have Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney who would all look pretty damn spiffy in a Bruins uniform. But I don’t see them being moved at all. The Coyotes enter play tonight still in 8th place. They have played more games than most of the west, but 8th place is still a playoff spot and as long as they have that, I don’t see a trade happening. I can’t picture them wanting to give the appearance of tanking on purpose.

Internally, I think it might be time to try Jordan Caron in a top line role. Give hims 17 or 18 minutes of time a night and see what happens. When he plays confidently he plays effectively. He’s proven an effective penalty killer and it is past time we found out what he can do with the opportunity to earn a top six role over a couple weeks time.

If depth is the desire and Horton is not expected back picking up one or two of the above and or the much rumored Tuomo Ruutu, the New York Islanders pending UFA P.A. Parenteau who like Horton is a right handed shot. For pure nostalgia, I’d bet Kobasew or Boyes could be had, but I can’t see them providing offense at a high enough level to justify a lot spent to get them. Given the chronically woeful state of Edmonton’s defense, sending out a prospect or two from the blueline that brought back Gagner or Paajarvi-Svensson would be win-win for both teams.

Whatever is decided, the drop dead date is the deadline. Much as I have faith at least one or two of the guys in Providence will turn into NHL guys, it doesn’t look it’s this year.

Assuming the top UFA’s to be like Suter and Parise are not available at the dead line, here’s a look at the best teams in the NHL and what could be done to put them over the top.

New York Rangers:

The Rangers lead the east in total points,Lundqvist is a beast and the team is in sync. What the could use is a little nitrous in the offensive tank. Of all six division leaders only the Panthers have less goals. The highest scoring left wing on the team is rookie speedster Carl Hagelin, making Ray Whitney a solid pick to slide in as an offensive upgrade who’s played well in a system that requires a defensive accountability. Better he’s old enough John Tortorella won’t hate him on sight.

Detroit Red Wings:

As always a well balanced team, but a look at the minutes played by defensemen says there is a clear divide between the guys Babcock and company trust and everyone else. A veteran defenseman who can contribute to the system is the item to covet.  Jaroslav Spacek would slide nicely into the 5-6 if he get’s some powerplay time at worst he’ll provide a different look than the crew that has them 16th in the NHL.

Boston Bruins:

It’s hard to tweak the defending champs when they have the best goals differential in the NHL, and have strong special teams. That said they’ve suffered some serious brain cramps lately, and Nathan Horton’s outlook is rather murky. Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli have a near fetish for depth on defense, and Marek Zidliky could almost certainly be talked into waiving his NTC, and there have been hints about Chris Stewart of the St Louis Blues being available. As short term stand-in for Nathan Horton he’s intriguing.

Vancouver Canucks:

Statistically this team is very similar to some of the Red Wings teams of the past, but I don’t see the same mental makeup. Those teams could deal with other teams playing a more gritty style and still win, I’m not sure this team can. Someone who combines enough skill to be on the ice fairly often, and enough composure to roll with the punches as they come up against imposing teams. Bryan Allen might be an  option, he’s likely to throw the body, and can eat up some of the PK time in the playoffs.

Florida Panthers:

While many aren’t quite ready to put the word “contender” on the board next to their name, they’ve led their division most of the season. Upgrading a 23rd ranked penalty kill going into the second season is never a bad idea. For that Hal Gill could be a their savior. Offensively there are a number of players who could help them climb a bit closer to the top offensive teams in the NHL.

San Jose Sharks:

The 26th ranked penalty kill isn’t something any team wants going into the playoffs. Mark Eaton is a UFA to be, and currently plays a good bit of time shorthanded on the Islanders 8th ranked PK, so is Steve Staios.

Philadelphia Flyers:

A defensive upgrade is a must. If they want more than a rental, or someone who’s not discussed here it probably mean sacrificing a roster player like Briere or Schenn. Having given up the most goals of the top four teams in each conference they’ll be lucky to escape the first round without some sort of fix. If the Wild become sellers or swappers, Clayton Stoner might be a good fit, likewise if the Stars sell Souray could be on the table.

Nashville Predators:

Pekka Rinne has been huge for this team, and Weber and Suter have put in their normal performances that earn superlatives like at rate similar to Scott Gomez’s dollars per point.  What the team needs is a skilled goal scorer. They aren’t desperate for goals at 12th in the league which is one behind the New York Rangers, but they are led in goals by Hornquist and Fisher who each have fifteen goals. They very quietly have the 2nd best power-play in the NHL but as we saw last year special teams don’t always decide championships. Cap space not being a serious issue, taking a flyer on Alex Semin might not be the worst idea ever, but for a player who can add some playoff experience, Jason Blake has some attractions, as does Ray Whitney.

Last night in London Ontario Canada a disgusting thing happened. Wayne Simmonds a hockey player who happens to be a black man was the subject of a racist attack. Simultaneously across the web condemnation of the incident spread as fast as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and all the bloggers and news sites could put together words. Almost inevitably the sympathy and out rage slipped over into condescending pity. Intentional or not, this is the type reaction that can be worse than the attack itself, particularly in a case like this where there was no physical danger to Simmonds.

Like Wayne Simmonds, Kevin Weeks, Chris & Anthony Stewart, Evander Kane and several others I’m a black man who has come to love hockey. Like each of them I’ve faced racism in numerous forms. For a well meaning person to say of another adult:

That poise is incredible, that a 23-year-old kid can endure such an ugly situation and focus on the upside of the impact on his team, it’s truly praise-worthy.

is quite vulgar. There is no way in hell this is the first time Simmonds has had to deal with racism in one form or another in public or private. It’s also not the second or the fifth or fourteenth. Quite honestly no one with poise it takes to become a professional athlete much less get drafted in the top two rounds of any league should be expected to have any less poise. For a minority who has had to live with this sort of nonsense their who life to be expected to go to pieces over something non-threatening is in the kindest possible words inherently absurd, painfully ignorant and worse in no way surprising.

I’m not surprised because unless you’re confronted with a reality frequently and intrusively, it might as well not exist. I can no more imagine living in a war zone like the Israel/Palestine area than I can being white or fine boned and small. I know that no matter what I accomplish, no matter who I associate with the first thing anyone will notice about me when they see me is the color of my skin. Wayne Simmonds knows this, its a reality that comes with a set of baggage that makes incidents like this more disgusting than hurtful, more pitiful than painful. The type of attack, and the egregious pity spring from the same well. The assumption that this non threat was going to shatter the world of an adult is absolutely inane. World shattering, or at least world altering is reserved for things that will cause death or damage, dealing with this sort of human produced filth is for any reasonably well balanced adult about as traumatizing as a bad case of the flu.

Wayne himself said:

“When you’re a black man playing in a predominantly white man’s sport, you’ve got to come to expect things like that,” Simmonds said. “Over the past 23 years of my life, I’ve come to expect some things like that. But I’m older and more mature now, I kind of just left things roll off [my back]. I try not to think about stuff like that.”

While I’m highly disgusted at the banana thrower, and note it was big enough news that even a national radio show like JT The Brick who normally skips hockey all together was commenting on the issue, the focus needs to be on finding the asshat who threw the banana not on anything else. Hockey is still too much of a niche sport in a lot of places to let this type of incident become as common in North America as it has been at various times in soccer in Europe.   It should be noted I am not calling Eric T. a racist. I don’t believe he is, I also don’t actually care. But, ignorance is damning, and ignorance is what is shown in his choice of words. Fortunately mild cases of ignorance are curable with a bit of effort.

Everyone knew coming into this game that the Toronto Maple Leafs were not merely hungry, but ravenous. The Bruins were coming in off a pasting of the Chicago BlackHawks. The two teams have traded back and forth over the years with the two most recent ones being blockbusters with Kessel going north in the first and Kaberle coming south in the second.
The Maple Leafs got a pair of lucky bounces that while the result of hard work, were never going to be drawn up on any coaches board. The Bruins battled well after the first fifteen minutes, with several players looking very good, some looking like it was morning skate, and one player looking like he wasn’t sure why he was on the ice. Marchand showing his heart, hustle and skill by blowing past the Maple Leafs defender and scoring a shorthanded goal. Michael Ryder who had been scratched several games and came back and played well, not just for a contract but like he wanted to win. Lucic was pugnacious getting in Komisareks face and eventually dropping the gloves with career bench warmer Jay Rosehill.
The problem player, and the problem that failed to be addressed at the trade deadline was Thomas Kaberle, and the powerplay. Zero for five on the powerplay with a guy billed as one of the best powerplay quarterbacks and puckmoving defensemen in the NHL. The truth is that Kaberle isn’t that good, and the Bruins powerplay is worse than it was when he arrived and worse than last season with Mr. Maybe-Sometimes and without Marc Savard for most of the year. Kaberle has exactly as many powerplay goals as he does shorthanded ones, which as you probably guessed is zero. As an “offensive dynamo” you’d expect him to have more game winning goals on the season than someone who gets pitched into the net more often than he scores like Mark Stuart, but nope they each have one.
Since his acquisition we’ve been shown little to justify the price that was paid to get him. He was the last of the three trade pieces to score a goal, and did it against Alex Auld who had been on the ice all of three minutes in relief. Early in the game  he failed to perform a simple clear and made a better setup for his protege Luke Schenn than he has for any of his current team mates.  Tonight, in overtime, on a powerplay, in the last minute of play, Kaberle turned to retrieve a puck that  had been cleared by the team some people aren’t sure he knows he’s been traded from, and went up the ice at a pace Gordie Howe could probably still surpass going backwards. That’s not a winning player, that’s not winning hockey, that’s not what the Bruins needed.
Instead of Chris Kelly who’s been largely invisible, and Kaberle who’s picture should adorn a dictionary entry for ineffectual. If the front office had had the manhood to go after Chris Stewart, then of the Avalanche, well, he has 20 points in 21 games since landing in Saint Louis, seven of those points are powerplay goals.Since they arrived, Kaberle has seven points, Peverley six, and Kelly 2. Presumably had the Bruins ponied up, Joe Colborne, a first round pick and a conditional second round pick as the did to get Kaberle ($4,300,000 per year), they could have grabbed Chris Stewart($2,500,000 per year) and possibly had the cap space to keep Mark Stuart instead of signing a guy who hadn’t played in 10 months, in Shane Hnidy. Chris Campoli (#1,400,000 per) would have been as worthy an addition as either Kaberle or Kelly.
So, who’s to blame for tonights loss? Not Ryder or Thomas, its neither Krejci nor Chara, Ference chipped in a goal, and McQuaid was impressive. If there is blame to be laid, and I don’t see how there couldn’t be, it goes Kaberle for being lazy, and unfit for high stakes hockey, Chiarelli for failing to recognize it, and Neely for allowing the trade to be made at all.

The five most interesting stories to watch from now until the the trade deadline.

  • How far will the dismantlement of the Colorado Avalanche go? I was shocked to see Calder Trophy candidate Kevin Shattenkirk shipped out.  Stuffed into the wagon along with him was 23 year old power-forward Chris Stewart, and a conditional pick. Going the other was was Erik Johnson a defensemen with a great pedigree, who has lost his luster.  Paul Statsny is rumored to be available,
  • What will the NHL’s newest owner do with his team? He stated on NHLLive today he was more likely to make future moves than put band-aids on this season, but with players like Statsny, Brad Richards, and who knows who else coming or potentially coming on the market, will he say I want that one! Brad Richards, Ed Jovonovski, and others could contribute to the team for a while.
  • Who blinks first? The Western conference is so tight you can probably get almost anything from those who are determined to succeed now. We’ve see the Avalanche run up the white flag while the Kings have been really quiet. With Carolina having played two more games than the Sabres they have to be looking over their shoulders. If they decide to keep restocking via the draft Cole, Samsanov, Pitkanen, and Jokienen could fetch some decent picks or prospects.
  • What Will Lou Do? The New Jersey Devils general manager has perhaps the hardest calls to make this silly season. He’s got a team that’s playing world beating hockey and is following teams down dark alleys and going through their pockets for loose points, but the odds of getting to the playoffs are really stacked against them. Purely from the cap management point of view, shaking the team loose of Rolston’s contract or one of the other larger contracts on the books for next year could keep them from being an embarrassment to the NHL again next year as they were when they were icing understrength rosters thanks to injuries and cap issues.
  • Hands down the most interesting issue of the off season is what happens to the big name UFAs. As we saw with Bouwmesster recently they are the players that will have reverberations on and off the ice for years to come no matter what call is made. Brad Richards, Shea Weber, Ilya Bryzgalov, Simon Gagne, are all the type of player that when healthy can push an organization from bubble to playoff team and playoff team to contender or cup favorite. If not signed, all four of these guys will be free to sign anywhere they please July 1st. There are lost of people who think Richards would look great in a Sabre’s uniform so would Weber for that matter either of the two when added to Miller, Vanek and Myers gives you a hell of core. The Predators and Lightning are pretty firmly in the playoffs, but an offer too good to refuse is always possible.

Bonus story: How many more times will someone at Versus make the histerical statement that the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have the hottest rivalry in the NHL?