Ever since the speculation of  Jordan Staal moving to the Carolina Hurricanes came into being, what the lines will look like in Raleigh has been question one. There are half a dozen possibilities worth considering, and immeasurable others.

Both Jordan and Eric Staal have played the wings, Jordan more often given his now former teammates. Skinner, and Ruutu have also played out of position as well. If the Canes decide to go loaded for bear and make their top line a three man threat lines could shake out like this( R-C-L) :

  • E Staal – J Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – T Ruutu – J Skinner
  • J Jokinen – T Brent – C LaRose

If they look to go for something that looks more like a top nine than a top six:

  • J Jokien – E Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – J Staal – J Skinner
  • A Stewart – T Ruutu – C LaRose

Personally speaking, I think the latter set of lines is more sustainable over the course of a season.  If Kirk Muller and company are smart, the they’ll make adjustments as the season goes along, and based on the competition. If they aren’t, well we’ll all get to refresh our lists of available NHL coaches. I suspect that a top criteria for figuring out who makes the cut this year at forward will be how well they play defensively because whatever else happens, even if a significant addition is made to the defense, the forwards will have to contribute to the defense of this team even more than last year.

This season will see lots of players in unfamiliar situations. Some are on new teams, some have had their teams overhauled, and others will be climbing up the depth chart. With all the movement, all the acquired experience, some players are due to rise and rise fast.

Jiri Tlusty has spent two full seasons in the Carolina Hurricanes system after three years with the Leafs. In that time he’s only hit double digits in goals twice. Last season was one of those years, and this might just be his year. In his 228 career games he’s go a meager 74 points, this year don’t be surprised if he cracks the 20 goal and fifty point plateaus, 25/55 isn’t outside possibility either.

Brandon Sutter has the unenviable job of filling Jordan Staal’s spot in the Pittsburgh Penguins depth chart. The good news for him is that everyone is expected to start the season healthy, meaning even if he’s on the ice, given the Penguins depth at forward, he’ll be the third or fourth player most opposing defenses look for, at least for a little while.

Anton Khudobin regardless of who owns the title of number one goaltender in Boston by the end of the season, all Khudobin has to do to have played his last AHL game is simply play smart. If he can do a solid job even as the number two, he will get a lot of interest from other teams when he becomes a UFA next July 1.

Justin Falk I’m a firm believer the best thing you can do for a young defenseman’s development is give them a good mentor. Falk and the Wild’s other youngins are going to have Suter to lean on. Look for his points to double, and his plus-minus to get a lot easier to look at.

Bryan Allen has never been known for his offensive touch. This year he’ll be playing alongside guys like Cam Fowler, and behind Perry, Getzlaf, and possibly Ryan. If Hiller can regain his mojo Allen might just have personal best point totals, and make it to the post season for the first time in since the last lockout. With all the offensive talent on this team, him hitting 30-35 points, as much as ten more than his previous career high is almost a given.

David Perron given the injuries this man has faced in the last couple seasons, last year might be considered a breakout season. 42 points in 57 games is a solid contribution on a very defensive minded team. Do not be surprised if he pops in seventy points this season. It is more than within his talent, and that even allows for the defensive nature of the Blues system.

Sam Gagner Its hard to remember that despite the 8 point night Gagner had about an average season for himself last year. Coming into this season though, there is no reason he can’t get slotted in between top six talent. Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, Smyth, and potentially Yakupov this team should have a good amount of offense.

Well, anyone wanting to know if the Caens were going to be active this off season got their answer early. After not engaging  in  their nearly annual salary dump at the trade deadline, they went out and got some pieces. Whatever else can be said about this years squad; they have the most effective two way one and two punch at center (assuming the two Staals both play on their own lines) in the division. Stamkos is better offensively, Backstrom is no slouch, but neither has a second in the same neighborhood.

Good News

  • Holy hell the forward talent; Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin are as good a set of top forwards as it gets.
  • Justin Faulk has a full season of experience to his credit and can only get better.
  • None of the other teams in the division have made any major moves to improve.

Bad News

  • As good as the forward crew is, the defense isn’t the loss of Allen and the return of Corvo really cuts into the quality of defense.
  • Goaltending is a concern, Cam Ward his worst save percentage in four seasons last year, and Boucher isn’t going to inspire much confidence.
  • It is doubtful the chaos that enveloped the Capitals last season, or the off ice concerns for the Jets will carry over to this season.

Forecast

High: Bubble team, with the funk Eric Staal was in for much of last season, and the time lost for Jeff Skinner piled onto the additions of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin the chance for the Canes to score fifty goals more in 2012-13 than in 11-12 is actually a conservative estimate since more players will slide into their proper spots on the depth chart.

Low: Afterthought.  The defense on this team is thin, while I’m not the Alex Semin detractor that certain TSN types are, he’s not going to contribute to this teams defense. I’m also not convinced Ward has the goods the be a world beater and play65+ games. Maybe if he could play 50-55 games, but you still have to wonder about what contribution Boucher can make and still allow the team a chance at the playoffs.

X-Factor

The big question for this team is how well can this teams forwards who will have to carry them do so. Realistically they look a lot like last years Flyers with how the team is balanced. In their favor is a weaker division, on the other hand their forward pool is not quite as deep.

The NHL Entry Draft is perhaps the most exciting day on the NHL schedule. July 1st as the start of Free Agency is fun, but not as good. The trade deadline is probably third, after opening day. The trades are just one of the things that make the day fun.

The New York Islanders made a savvy pickup relieving the Anaheim Ducks of Lubomir Visnovsky. The soon to be 36 year old is on the last year of his contract and will likely be in the dual roll of top defensemen and mentor to the young blueliners. Calvin de Hann will undoubtedly benefit from Visnovsky’s nearly 800 games of NHL experience, this years first round pick Reinhart may get some time riding shotgun as may Scott Mayfield. The Islanders gave up a 2nd round pick in next years draft

The Pittsburgh Penguins sent Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Harrison Ruopp, Marc Cheverie and pick #81 (3rd round). This was the second trade of the night for the Penguins.

In the biggest trade of the day, the worlds best 3rd center Jordan Staal was relieved of that title and an address in Pittsburgh area. Instead he’ll be playing with elder brother and fellow Stanley Cup champion Eric Staal. There are a number of possibilities for how Jordan and Eric are deployed separately and together. Going back tot he steel city are, Brandon Sutter, this years 8th pick Derrick Pouliot, and Boston College alumni Brian Dumoulin. This is a win, win bigger trade. The Hurricanes overpaid, but got a player who wants to be there, will have chemistry with at least one other player, and yes is very highly talented.

The Washington Capitals grabbed Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for Cody Eakin and the 54th pick. That second round pick will be deployed sometime saturday morning. This is a curious move for the Capitals who have had one or two questions about their commitment and character and Mike Ribeiro is well, Mike Ribeiro. On the other hand I not only haven’t figured out what method George Mcfee is using to shape the team, I haven’t figured out how he’s still employed.

Change and unequal cycles of it are a constant in the NHL. The vogue for over a decade was to draft goalies in the first round, sometimes even very high or first overall. Drafting for need is now frowned upon. And in the last decade we’ve not seen more than two or three major trades. But that trend was almost certainly broken when Ilya Kovalchuk went north.

Since last summer two of the major names from “the golden draft” were traded by one team. One of them was traded a second time. Now the rumor mill is swirling around names from border to border and coast to coast. Jay Bouwmeester is one of the best (and most misused) defensemen in the NHL. There are four defensemen who I’ll accept flat statements of defensemen being better than him, and another four or five who with a different tool set are as good, no more. He’s likely the odd man out on the Calgary Flames roster.

The Nashville Predators have not traditionally been big spenders. A year ago they went to arbitration with one of the best defensemen in the game. This year if they don’t sign him long term it is quite likely he’ll disappear over the horizon next summer. On top of the very real possibility of losing this year’s (and last year’s) rightful Norris trophy winner Shea Weber, their other franchise quality defenseman has decided to test the free agent market. If the Predators can’t find a way to keep both they may just decide a radical rebuild is in order and trade their captain while they can still get something for him instead of letting him walk as a free agent for no return. Without Weber and Suter the Predators would be lucky to win 20 games, and that’s with Renne stealing at least six or seven. With one of them if they manage to get some help up front and a passable replacement they arguably have the balance to go far.

Jordan Staal has more rumors swirling around him than a Hollywood starlet the morning after an serious bender. Most of them are Hurricane shaped rumors. But given the 23 year old stars prowess, even the denial of his availability by Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero probably won’t do much to dampen the rumors. As long as those rumors persist, the 30 goal scoring “defensive forward” is going to generate a lot of attention. If there are two teams in the NHL that don’t at least kick the idea of adding him to their roster around their warroom, I’d be saddened greatly.

With all the excitement around the fresh chum in the water its almost possible to forget the #Ranson4Rick saga is entering its sixth or seventh month. Rick Nash is unarguably a high end talent who had the misfortune of being drafted by a team with nearly a thimble full of clue. Some might say he’s been stewing in organizational failure so long he’s never going to have that extra juice to be successful in the playoffs he’s seen exactly once in nine seasons. Depending on who you disbelieve least, the rumors have him going anywhere and everywhere including the San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and a couple of basement dwellers not much better than the Blue Jackets.

 There are conflicting reports on the truth of Evander Kane refusing to sign in Winnipeg, but honestly how many rugged, physical, 30 goal scoring 20 year olds come across the trade market? On a sign and trade there’s no conceivable way he’d fetch less than two first round picks or a pick and player. A team like the Los Angeles Kings who may lose some bodies to free agency could certainly slide him into the mix and improve themselves. The Anahiem Ducks would likewise become a much more formidable opponent. As for the Phoenix Coyotes with the aging core that they have been built around, a youngster who has a similar rugged playing style to Captain Shane Doan and more offense isn’t a bad way to pass the torch. If the ownership situation is resolved there I’d be shocked if there were no major moves in the first few months.

So is this the summer scribes across the continent get to write about things that have or are happening? Will we see more posts on how lineups project and a reordering of the standings than on fighting or contracts that are too long? Maybe just maybe the hockey media will stick to hockey and not TMZ like personal life stories of players? Could we get a trade or two that redefines the next decade of hockey? Please??

The Carolina Hurricanes are currently set to draft eighth overall. That puts them in a sweet spot where one or two of the projected top five could still be available. Certainly there will be some impact talent. The question is of course what do they want to do with that pick.

Cam Ward is only 28, and had a very solid .915 sv% last season. His sixty-eight games, thirty wins and five shutouts speak of one solid position to build upon. They also have captain Eric Staal who after early season woes led him to his worst 82 game total since the 2005-6 season. The third and fourth lines are stocked with some solid players on the rise like Jiri Tlusty and Brandon Sutter, the only top six forward other than the Captain Canes fans might expect to see stick around for a few years in Jeff Skinner.

Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain highlight the blueline. The free agent market being a bit thin, I suspect management will want, if possible, an NHL ready player to step into either the top six forwards or top four defense. Neither of which is all that easy, particularly if the player is coming from college or a shorter european league season.

Last season they were 16th overall in goals for, just 15 goals short of the 10th place spot. The 16 spot put them ahead of Phoenix, St Louis and Los Angeles, all of whom got out of the first round of the playoffs last year. Defensively they were 25th, which is slightly misleading. They were just one goal allowed behind Ottawa, six goals behind Chicago, and a dozen behind Philadelphia and Washington.

Assuming they are on the board, Cody Ceci or Morgan Reilly are going to slide into the blueline more than acceptably. At forward Sebastian Colberg has a good shot at getting called. Colton Sissons of the Kelowona Rockets in another interesting possibility. A trade out of this position is likely, especially given how many pending UFA’s are on the list.

The dividing line between the upper echelon of the NHL’s forwards in terms of pay and the merely competent is always sliding upwards. Right now the line is slipping from the five million mark upwards. Without knowing what the next CBA will look like, much less the next two or three annual caps we’ll take a look at the league and who’s earning about twice the leagues average salary or more.

The Southeast division has an interesting topography in terms of forwards who meet this strata. Two teams have no forwards making five million dollars or more a season. The Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets are those two teams, arguably they have forwards who might make it there on their next contracts, The Carolina Hurricanes have just one forward making more than five million dollars a year, and he is the second highest paid player in the division. The Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning each have three accounting for about one third of the payroll of each team.

The Disposable:

  • Vincent Lecavalier has fallen far from grace. At one time the arguably best forward in the NHL, certainly top five. A combination of factors has removed him from the elite. Some would argue he’s the only reason there is still a team in Tampa Bay, and there is more than a little truth to that. However, he is not currently earning his salary on the ice. Injuries, lack of NHL quality complimentary players, and chaos on and off the ice in recent years have taken some of the wind out of his sales. If he manages to get healthy for a long period of time and overcomes his limited athleticism before he ages much more he could elevate his play again, but all signs point in the other direction.
  • Alex Semin is a goal scorer. That’s it. And he’s only a goal scorer when he’s healthy and motivated. Which isn’t often. Since entering the NHL in the 2003-4 season he has played in 80 or more games exactly zero times. Three of the six years since returning to the Washington Capitals after a two year trip to Russia around the lockout he has played 65 games or less. He also has a plethora of penalties each year that scream of immaturity and poor preparation. This year three diving penalties, eight hooting, and six tripping penalties. But at 28 years old he’s still young so we should all hold out great hope. He is I believe the only player to be called out by current teammates in the media for lack of commitment,.

The Interesting:

  • Steven Stamkos is an elite goalscorer. As evidenced by taking a slapshot to the face and coming back to play in the same period last year in the playoffs he’s not exactly going to sit unless he’s got to. Unfortunately at this point in his development he’s simply a gutsy goal scorer. He’s not particularly responsible with the puck, he doesn’t kill penalties, his faceoff win percentage is uninspiring, and given the number of PIM’s he manages to rack up without dropping the gloves he may want to work on his temper a bit, or get sneakier.
  • Niklas Backstrom is in this category only because of the giant question mark over his head regarding how good he in the wake of his serious concussion. We’ve seen players like Patrice Bergeron take over a year to fully recover, we’ve seen guys like David Booth come back and never be the same, and we’ve seen guys like Marc Savard who have (likely) had their career ended. Enormously talented, it’s hard to remember this is just his fourth year in the NHL A meteoric rise at Ovechkins side was questioned because of who he was playing with, now it’s clear the synergy between the pair is indeed two way.

The Cream:

  • Alex Ovechkin, down year or not he contributes physically, passes, skates hits, and yeah he can score goals. You can argue he has more to contribute (and he does) all you want, but the truth is he just about single handedly dragged the team into the playoffs in the years before Carlson and Alzner provided defensemen who could play defense. When he’s on he’s incredible, when he’s off he’s disappointing with nearly forty goals.
  • Martin St Louis is the little engine that could, and did, and continues to do. He’s adapted his game to become more of a distributor of the puck in the last several years. He can still score at a more than respectable rate, he’s credited with almost 20 more takeaways than giveaways this season and he’s highly disciplined. Dollar for dollar the best of the $5,000,000 forwards in the southeast division.
  • Eric Staal, like Ovechkin, Staal is not having the best season of his career. He is however the single player in the Southeast division who has been burdened with doing the most with the least for a very long time. Unlike the rest of the $5 million dollar forwards in the division he’s a regular contributor to the penalty kill where he has pretty consistently picked up points since his rookie year.

Arguably, two forwards in the division could join the 5+ club soon. Kris Versteeg of the Florida Panthers, is rather well traveled but has fit in as well in Florida as he seemed to in Chicago. Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets is on the last year of his entry level deal, if he decides to play hard ball in the negotiations or signs a long term deal, he could bounce over the five million mark as well.

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

Teams:

  • The Saint Louis Blues would be the first team to 100 points
  • the New York Rangers would be first in the NHL in points with the 29th ranked powerplay
  • the Pacific Division team (The Los Angeles Kings) with the best goals differential, would also be the team in the division with the least goals scored
  • the Florida Panthers would have a winning road record at 16-15-5 and the Detroit Red Wings would at 16-20-3 would not
  • the NHL’s best powerplay would be owned by the Nashville Predators
  • only eight teams would have a winning record in the shootout
  • one team the Carolina Hurricanes would be winless in that gimmick
  • the Nashville Predators would lead the league in wins when giving up more shots than their opponent with 28
  • the Boston Bruins would have the best winning percentage when being outshot by their opponent at .690%
  • the ‘clean’ playing Vancouver Canucks would have spent the 6th most time killing penalties on the season

Players:

  • Rookie defenseman Jared Cowen would be two hits away form 200 hundred on the season and have more than 70 blocked shots
  • Chris Kelly would enter the stretch run with more PIMS than Matt Cooke
  • Rene Bourque would be suspended more than Raffi Torres
  • Alex Ovechkin would enter the last two weeks of the season with less points than Blake Wheeler
  • John Tavares and Phil Kessel would both be in the top ten in scoring and on non playoff teams
  • Ray Whitney would lead the entire Pacific Division in scoring at 39 years old
  • of the top 10 scoring defensemen Erik Karlsson would be one of only two with more than 55% offensive zone starts
  • with two weeks left in the regular season no one would be sure if there would be three 40 goal scorers this season
  • after back to back Art Ross wins neither Daniel Sedin nor Henrik Sedin would be in the top ten in the NHL for scoring

One of the most surprising things about the NHL is how little it does to effectively give itself long terms stability in terms of fan attention. I’ve discussed once or twice or maybe, just maybe quite a few times, some of the NHL’s marketing failures opportunities for improvement. One of the ways that other industries do this is with their award shows.

The hype heading into the award shows from the announcements to reissuing of books, movies and myriad merchandise with award logos for both winners and nominees remind even the least interested that a given actor, writer, or musician is worth noting. The NHL Awards show is far less horrible than its equivalents. In fact it is probably the best produced NHL event of the year. Sure, the quest for ever more vanilla performing acts and positively whitebread presenters takes it down a notch, but it is at least interesting.

The current awards are mostly decided well in advance of the award show and handing them out is a mere formality. Figuring out who won the scoring race isn’t that hard. The Jennings Trophy only requires knowing what it’s awarded for. The others are drawn from a very small pool of players who are known before training camp even starts.

Currently the only two awards that have serious questions surrounding them by Thanksgiving (American or Canadian, take your pick) are the Jack Adams for best coach and the Calder Trophy for best rookie. While I have my favorites for each (See Southeast division for the first, and either the Atlantic or Northwest for the second) you can debate the merits of them and what each individuals impact was. The arguments for Hitchcock as this years Jack Adams can be made quite strong, and you can still give the Calder to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but neither would be my choice.

More importantly neither award possesses much panache or widespread appeal, and even rookies as celebrated as Nugent-Hopkins, Hall or Stamkos might not sustain the public attention long.  A look at the list of recent winners includes Steve Mason, Andrew Raycroft, Tyler Myers, and Barrett Jackman who have been at best average since, and again the focus for the them is no more than six players by the All Star game at the very latest.

An award for an emerging star might however captivate widespread attention. It wouldn’t need to be the most important player on a given team, or even the most valuable at a given position in a year, just someone who’s made their team better and had a much larger impact that previous years. This year alone without even stretching the definition you’d have nominees in Ray Whitney and Mike Smith of the Coyotes, Blake Wheeler of the Jets, Jamie Benn of the Stars, Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes, Ryan O’Reilly of the Avalanche, and half a dozen others. Getting these players and their teams the additional attention of frequent speculation for the award or the win itself can’t hurt the teams revenue. It would undoubtedly lead to more ticket sales in the attendance challenged markets, more merchandise sales in any market, and greater league revenue as hole.