The Central division is the toughest in the NHL. Last season five teams from the division made it into the playoffs something no other division in hockey matched. In the division you’ve got dynamic goal scorers Norris quality defensemen, top flight goalies and not a lot of mutual love.

Top Shelf

Chicago Blackhawks

They got edged for a trip to the Finals, and will likely be trading someone pretty soon. Two of their core forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning, but they are probably the best balanced team in the conference. They’ve got got great forwards, strong defense and adequate goaltending.

St Louis Blues

This team is likely to take a half to a full step back this year. Elliot has never thrived as a number-one goalie, and Jake Allen is still an unknown quantity. That said, they may have the best top three for defense in Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, and Bouwmeester. They downgrade slightly going with Steve Ott over Vlad Sobotka, but did add Paul Stastny. Jaden Schwartz remains unsigned and doubtless need to do some catching up when he gets back into the fold.

Wild Cards

Minnesota Wild

Mikko Koivu led the team to the playoffs where he, Ryan Suter and the rest waged a fierce battle in the second round with the Blackhawks. Out are Clayton Stoner and Dany Heatley. Goaltending remains as unsteady as ever, but that doesn’t distract this team. Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund and the rest will have to dig deep and pull in some more offense, but this team is capable of laying anyone out.

Colorado Avalanche

The advanced stats and the eyeball test said this team should not have been as dangerous as they proved to be in the regular season last year. It took until the playoffs to prove it. They did lose long time contributor Paul Stastny, and replaced him with the notably older Jarome Iginla. I don’t expect them to fall out of the playoffs, but 112 points again is not that likely. It will be interesting to see how older players like Briere and Iginla adjust to playing at altitude.

The Rest

The Dallas Stars

Finally a return to the playoffs last year. This year among other moves was punting the push and passion of Alex Chaisson for Jason Spezza’s finesse and offense. Anders Lindback will be this years backup in the crease. With a full season under his belt Valeri Nichushkin should be crossing the 20 goal mark this year. Given the changes in the roster, and the injury history of some players, this team a not a lock for the playoffs, but I don’t see them in the lottery.

Nashville Predators

In the off season the Predator made several moves that collectively add up to some big question marks. James Neal an elite sniper was added at the expense of Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, Viktor Stalberg and Derek Roy were brought in to rearrange the forward group. I have no idea what these players will look like this season, and I don’t think anyone else does either. On the plus side, Pekka Rinne will have a full summer of health under his belt, Seth Jones and the other youngsters have played through the worst of things and the light is indeed brighter this year. Whatever else, the Predators have Shea Weber, and their opponents do not.

Winnipeg Jets

The weak sister of the division, the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs in years. Ownership needs to decide if they are building or breaking down, because what they are doing isn’t going to get them a Stanley Cup. They have a lot of talent in Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and Dustin Byfuglien. When you look at the talent level at the top, and an average to above average middle of the roster, you have to wonder if it isn’t either the environment or the players themselves. Without reinforcement, and a strong on ice system, this team is not making the playoffs.

This feature will follow the various non-news tv shows surrounding the NHL and NHL teams.

What a confusing morass of not a lot. This is an anti-documentary. Zero context, just nothing. They show all 11 goals in the first game without any sorta backbone to it. Utterly formless.  No setup for the goals, no looks at the bench, and you don’t even get an idea how each players is doing in the post season with a given goal. After watching the goals for the first two games, I’m reminded how ugly most of the goals in that series were. But don’t worry, there are exciting interviews with Chris Pronger and Ben Eager. And by exciting I mean Patrice Bergeron’s appearance on NHL36 was more engaging, and Jonathan Toews shows more change of expression on an interview.

Brent Sopel’s goal immediately follows a goal only after review. Also, Michael Leighton is not an NHL goalie He is certainly a traditional Philadelphia Flyers goalie, but his ability to stop pucks is rival only by the ability of the city of Brotherly Love to suck the talent out of netminders. Also, Claude Giroux was useful in this series.

If you had only this show to work on you’d think all the goalies were awful, Dave Bolland was an All Star, and that Chris Pronger was the only Flyer allowed to talk to the media. Fortunately, the playoff beards are mighty. Kris Versteeg looks like a viking,

At 50 minutes into this long program you get to the start of game six. Its a blessing. There isn’t much to recommend this program, and given the weirdness of Kane’s cup clincher, Hossa getting the Stanley Cup from Toews is probably the real emotional highlight of the show.

What horrible production, this was a highlight show without the setup, and a documentary with and documentation. Even as a chance to relive the events if you watched it all, it lacks severely.

The Canadiens:

Are clearly trying to get Carey Price into a rhythm early. In the last month of last season he edged away from the solid pace he’d set the first two thirds of the season. Douglas Murray, Jarred Tinordi, and Darren Dietz are all auditioning for defensive partners and call up priority. The forward group stretches the definition of NHL veteran just a tiny bit by including “puncher” Nick Tarnasky who last set foot in the NHL in the 2009-10 season and Ryan White has a similar PIMs to Points ratio. Max Pacioretty who led the team in scoring in the regular season and was badly battered in the playoffs is back on the ice. Most of the rest are late round picks, and undrafted players.

Goalies:

  • 31- Carey Price
    65- Robert Mayer

Defensemen:

  • 6- Douglas Murray
    24- Jarred Tinordi
    26- Josh Gorges
    55- Francis Bouillon
    76- P.K. Subban
    84- Darren Dietz

Forwards:

  • 32- Travis Moen
  • 37- Gabriel Dumont
  • 45- Michael Blunden
  • 48- Daniel Brière
  • 51- David Desharnais
  • 53- Ryan White
  • 60- Christian Thomas
  • 67- Max Pacioretty
  • 71- Louis Leblanc
  • 72- Nick Tarnasky
  • 75- Charles Hudon
  • 86- Stefan Fournier

Boston Bruins:

While most observers expect Johnson to be the backup to starter Tuukka Rask in Boston at least to start the season, the job won’t be handed to him if he isn’t at least adequate. Adam McQuaid will be in the novel position of the most veteran defenseman on the Bruins roster, in fact he’ll have more NHL experience than all of the other blueliners combined. Ben Youds is an undrafted, right shooting Minnesota born college alumni. The forward group is very interesting. New to the team are Jarome Iginla and Matt Fraser, Rob Flick and Carl Soderberg both joined the roster late last season. Craig Cunningham, Alex Fallstrom, Ryan Spooner, and Anthony Camara are all prospects that will be looking to make the team

Goalies:

  • Chad Johnson
  • Malcolm Subban

Defensemen:

  • Matt Bartkowski
  • Tommy Cross
  • Torey Krug
  • Adam McQuaid
  • Kevan Miller
  • Zach Trotman
  • Ben Youds

Forwards:

  • Anthony Camara
  • Craig Cunningham
  • Alex Fallstrom
  • Rob Flick
  • Matt Fraser
  • Jarome Iginla
  • Nick Johnson
  • David Krejci
  • Milan Lucic
  • Daniel Paille
  • Carl Soderberg
  • Ryan Spooner
  • Shawn Thornton

Anyone expecting much out of this game is delusional. At best you can expect a few mights, the Habs fighters are answered by Shawn Thornton, and Milan Lucic, Anthony Camara while not large has dropped the gloves a few times, and even Ryan Spooner warned New England Hockey Journal’s Kirk Luedeke not to leave him off the list:

Ryan Spooner chastises Kirk Luedeke for leaving him off the fighters list. from twitter

Ryan Spooner chastises Kirk Luedeke for leaving him off the fighters list.

The City of Brotherly Love played host to three of the four horseman of the Apocalypse last season, or at least the Flyers locker room did. Players that weren’t injured were often ill, and despair cloaked the stands and fanbase days into the season. Four different goaltenders saw action during the season, and only one of those four, Steve Mason, is with the organization today. Ilya Bryzgalov was bought out as the end point of a debacle, the other two just went away.  Thirty-five skaters played for the team last year.  Thirteen of those skaters were defensemen and none of those played in every game. Of the 22 forwards, five were goalless, seven managed not even an assist. If you’re just tuning into hockey, it will not surprise you to learn the Philadelphia Flyers did not make the playoffs.

The off season saw Bryzgalov bought out, and also the wizrd of playoff points Daniel Briere. Thanks to a cap situation that looks like Medusa, the list of players signed in the off season reads like a who’s who of has beens and almost weres. Vincent Lecavalier was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and yet it only took the Flyers days to decide he needed a five year contract with a no movement clause big enough to make him their second highest paid forward. In the 11 years since Kris Newbury was signed he has totaled no more than 11 games in the NHL in any season. Jay Rosehill possesses no qualities that don’t exist elsewhere on the roster, and where they do exist they come with more skill. While Mark Streit isn’t a bad player, he’s a +35 contract for four years at more than five million a year. This is a guy who is going to be 36 before the winter holidays, and owns very little playoff experience.

The first five games for the Flyers season aren’t all that bad as schedules go. They start the season at home hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs before jetting north to face the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are the first half of a back to back that ends in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. Then the Broad Street Bullies head home for games against the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points : 3+

Players like Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, and the often injured Claude Giroux mean the Flyers have a chance to win any game on the strength of their offense. The depth of the defense, the adaptability of their coach Peter Laviolette, and the quality of play of netminders Ray Emery and Steve Mason will be the key points of the season. Youngsters like Scott Laughton, Nick Cousisns and Mark Alt will take aim at the heavens, but for this team to succeed they need good health and veteran contributions in their own zone.

The Montreal Canadiens had an impressive regular season edging the Boston Bruins for the division title. Second place in the east was their reward for a job well done. By April the injury bug was already on first name basis with the whole organization. A decimated team went up against the Senators in the first round and bowed out in five games. The playoffs certainly didn’t end the way they wanted, but the regular season has to be counted a ringing success. P.K. Subban went from a contract dispute to a Norris Trophy winner in less than 50 games, Andrei Markov did the seemingly impossible and remained healthy for 48 straight games as well. Max Pacioretty led the team in scoring. Rookies Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchnyuk brought intensity, skill, and much needed scoring to the team.

When you enter a season looking to bounce off the eastern conference floor, you can’t ask for much more. This off season they added Danny Briere with a two year deal, and former San Jose Shark and Pittsburgh Penguin Douglas Murray on the defensive end. Looming over the team is an impending cap crunch. If the salary cap stays roughly the same, they are going to need to shed salary to be cap compliant in 2014-5. We saw that work to the advantage of the Blackhawks in the first of their most recent championships, can the Canadiens do that?

This season opens with a divisional rival visiting. The Maple Leafs pay a visit on October 1st, and the bleu, blanc, and rouge next host the Philadelphia Flyers before a three game tour of Western Canada. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will all play host to the Habs. The only back to back set is in Alberta, and that’s after four days off and then there’s a two day break before meeting the other team named for residents of Canada.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Canucks

Weakest opponent: Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

October promises to be a character test month for the Canadiens. There aren’t many top tier teams on their schedule. Only five of the teams they square off with were in the playoffs last year. Eight of their games are at home, with just five away in the seasons opening 15%. In the opening month, of those non playoff teams the Flyers and Oilers can be said to have improved, while the Flames and Stars are arguably only different than last year.

The biggest obstacle to this teams success lies within their own organization. The conflicts at ice level that received so much attention two seasons ago, did not appear to have been resolved at the end of the playoffs. The rumor mill insists those are not the only conflicts in the organization either. If the majority of the gentlemen working in the CH can pull together, there really isn’t a ceiling on what this team can do.

Some teams do well at of free agency, others are unmitigated disasters. Today we get pretty good ideas as to what teams will look like in the fall, and which teams are going for it now, next year or no time soon.

Anaheim Ducks: Win. Today they traded star forward Bobby Ryan to the Senators for the Ottawa 1st round pick, Jakob Silfverberg a 2nd round pick, and Stefan Noesen the Senators the 1st round pick out of Plano, Tx from 2011. Good move for the Ducks long term who have very little depth and lots of older players.

Boston Bruins: Win. Adding a hungry veteran who now has recent playoff experience, no bad contracts and overall a younger, hungrier  roster than they started last year with.

Buffalo Sabres: Lose Extending a new deal to Matt Ellis isn’t going to push the Sabres into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames: Lose While they didn’t make any horrible signings (for a change) the contracts they did sign for AHL players and guys who will never be stars don’t push the team forward. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Win They signed a very solid 2nd goalie in Anton Khudobin, and resigned Michal Jordan which is enough to make up for giving a contract to Mike Komisarek.

Colorado Avalanche:

Chicago Blackhawks Draw. They reupped with Handzus on team friendly deal, but didn’t have the cap space to land any of the big fish on the market, and they lost their top end backup today.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Draw Nathan Horton is a great addition, the contract term is less than ideal. Signings other than Bobrovsky are non impacting.

Dallas Stars: Draw While there are defensive signings they could have made, and arguably better goaltenders, but with the moves they made on the fourth they don’t really need to do much to improve over last season.

Detroit Red Wings: Draw They opened the floodgates to renewed eastern conference rivalries by poaching Daniel Alfredsson, signed Stephen Weiss long term, but still didn’t shore up a mediocre defense. 

Edmonton Oilers: Win They improve their defense both by the addition of Ference and the subtraction of others, they didn’t give out any horrible contracts or let anyone of value get away.

Florida Panthers: Lose They are in a much, much tougher division this year and for the next couple years and did nothing to fix a woeful team.

Los Angeles Kings Draw No improvements, no idiotic contracts simply adding a depth defenseman.

Minnesota Wild: Lose There was no reason to add Matt Cooke to the roster, it won’t make them a better team, they already have a solid penalty kill and beyond that they traded a roster player for a draft pick and kept to depth defensemen.

Montreal Canadiens Draw Danny Briere is a good get for a pretty thin market. Compared to Mike Fisher and David Booth who have the same cap hit, Briere is not so bad. You can always do more, and you can clearly do worse.

Nashville Predators: Lose Victor Stalberg is a solid get. The other signings for the love of hockey why?

New Jersey Devils Huh? This is the team that was bankrupt not too long ago right? They sign Michael Ryder to a really solid contract, they sign Ryane Clowe to a contact that will be the NHL’s go to punchline for the next several years, they resigned Patrik Elias until he’s eligible for social security. On top of that they have Dainius Zubrus signed until a week past decomposition. These contracts are a bit much to get their hands on Centrum Silver’s advertising dollars.

New York Islanders Win Locking up Travis Hamonic long term for not much money is big enough that all their other moves are irrelevant.

New York Rangers Lose I think Glen Sather overslept and his secretary just signed guys that were once on good teams. Benoit Pouliot, Aaron Johnson, and other players 85% of Rangers fans won’t be able to name at the All Star/Olympic break.

Ottawa Senators Win Getting Bobby Ryan without having to give up any core pieces is pretty spiffy. Sure they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson but in fairness his ability was not at the same level it was five years ago, and he was looking for more money than Ryan who is still in his prime.

Philadelphia Flyers Win (I kid, I kid!) It almost doesn’t matter who they signed because they didn’t hand out an absurd contract on day one (they got Streit and Lecavalier handled early) oh wait, they gave Giroux (multiple concussions) that contract and an eminently redundant no movement clause, because those really mean something in Philly. Emery is a good get, and that’s about it for the positives.

Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Win Adding Ribeiro at center is an upgrade even if you only look at his Dallas years, adding Greiss as a solid backup means Smith might not have to play 70 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins Draw Correcting the mistake that lead to Rob Scuderi being let go after they won the cup is all well and good, but four years too late. They also don’t have enough cap space to add a 12th forward.

San Jose Sharks Lose Over the cap, and undertalented.

Saint Louis Blues Lose No viable movement, and a core that isn’t getting any younger.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lose Nothing says “cluefree” like signing a forward who has never topped 23 goals to a five year five million a year contract and failing to improve the teams biggest weakness.

Toronto Maple Leafs Lose The Clarkson signing is for about three years too long, the Bozak signing is so-so, and the Grabovski buyout is inexcusable.

Vancouver Canucks: Win Brad Richardson is a solid addition at a good price, and Yannick Webber may prove to be a find for their defense.

Washington Capitals: Draw Adam Oates made good strides with the team last year, prospects and getting Karl Alzner inked should get them to as good or better than their place last year.

Winnipeg Jets: Win No free agent signings (shocking I know) but they did pick up a solid forward addition in a trade for a reasonable price.

No team wins without at least one very good center, most teams have more than one. In no particular order.

 

Derek Roy (age 30): While the last year or two have not been his best, he did get the extra rest of the lockout, and an unimpressive playoff run with the Vancouver. At 5’9″ and 184 lbs he’s not quite imposing, but has in the past managed to be effective against defenses like Boston and Montreal.

Michal Handzus (age 36): Probably the strongest faceoff man available in this free agent crop he’s also shown there is still gas in the tank playing 15 games in is native Slovakia, the bulk of the season with the San Jose Sharks before being swapped for a fourth round pick to the Blackhawks. In 23 playoff games Handzus put up 11 points while averaging about 16 minutes a night. Arguably he’s the best 2/3C available.

Mikhail Grabovski (age 29): The Maple Leafs somehow came to the conclusion Grabovksi was no longer needed, and that the team would be better off playing him to go away. On the ice Grabovski is aggressive, physical, impossible to intimidate and has produced three 20 goal seasons during his Maple Leafs tenure topping off at 29. Even with somehow landing in Randy Carlyle’s during the regular season and playing just 15:34 in the regular season his “poor play” got him burdened with additional minutes pushing him to 19:03 per game in the playoffs.  So in the break down between the stats guys, and the independent “eyeball test” guys, and the teams evaluation you can decide who you want to believe.

 

Mike Ribeiro (age 33) : While playing with the restructuring Washington Capitals under first year head coach and hall of fame inductee Adam Oates Ribeiro put up one of two point per game seasons in a NHL career that stretches back to 1999-2000. The former Montreal Canadien, and Dallas Star got into his first NHL fight with the Bruins Brad Marchand last season. Not the oldest center available, but certainly showing he’s willing to learn a few new tricks.

Tyler Bozak (age 27): Perhaps the most derided player on the list, Bozak plays with high energy, played the regular season at over 20 minutes a game, and the post season at almost twenty two. Last seasons short handed TOI was about triple the previous years. There aren’t a lot of younger centers available. and a general manager and coach that think they can get him for the right price and develop him

Danny Briere (age 35): Briere is among the legion of players signed to long term deals in Philadelphia and either traded or bought out. Small, a bit dirty and perhaps losing a step of late. While hes probably due for a significant pay cut, there’s no question his playoff prowess is more than tempting; 108 games played and 109 points, 50 of them goals.

Some of the biggest cities are really tight to the cap, the Bruins, Flyers, and Lightning could all use a touch more cap space to deal with. Both the Bruins and Flyers are likely to lose pieces to free agency. The Canadiens are in danger of losing Ryder and Armstrong. Boston is supposedly getting attention on Seguin, and the Lecavalier to Montreal rumors won’t die until he’s retired or the Canadiens move, unless of course he does sign there.

What We Know

(By New Divisions)

Division C

Boston: After a run to the finals with lots of injuries, and some key contracts that are due, the Bruins could be in for a bigger offseason makeover than expected. With Horton headed to free agency, questions about Seguin and a previous lack of depth at that position, the right wing position is an area of need.

Buffalo: Miller rumors persist, as do rumors of trading nearly everyone. With the eighth and sixteenth picks overall, the Sabres should be able to get at least one more building block that enters the lineup and contributes within two seasons. It is an open question if that time frame is enough to keep Regier in the general managers office.

Detroit: Moving back into the eastern conference might be an advantage in start times and travel for the Red Wings, but they are no better than the third best team in their new division. They are fortunate enough to have a solid goalie, and two stars at forward, not much else is worth noting about the team with the longest active playoff streak.

Florida: The Panthers have just about declared the starting job for Markstrom by putting Scott Clemmenson on the market. Taking home a 2nd round draft pick or solid NHL player for that trade would be great. With the 2nd pick they ought to be able to solidify one position on their team. Tallon has shown he isn’t afraid to spend on free agent so don’t be surprised by surprises in Sunrise.

Montreal: Having returned to the playoffs last year after an embarrassing hiatus they need to take a long hard look at who they expect to be the core of the team going forward. There are some clashes between players that are visible on TV, they may or may not be short-lived events. But, building around a hollow center isn’t the best of ideas. It may feel wrong to do it, but making a move to ship out a good soldier or two for more cap space, less conflict and younger picks or prospects might be the best thing to do. The Norris trophy winner also has just one year left on his contract.

Ottawa: The first two questions the Senators leadership should be asking about any player they want to sign or draft are: can they stay healthy, and are we sure about that? From there fitting them into the roster or the farm system is the next step. With a bit more health the Senators might just have knocked off the Penguins. Adding a veteran playoff competitor like Briere, or Horton might push this team to the next level.

Tampa Bay: With the expiration of the Southeast division, the Lightning find themselves more in need than ever of improving a threadbare defense. In the last three seasons they’ve finished 28th, 30th, and 21st. They’ll be drafting in the lottery forever at that rate. Swapping for defense with a team deep at the position like St Louis or adding veteran Andrew Ference would be a step in the right direction.

Toronto: They made one of the more interesting moves of the offseason by picking up Bernier. Some say there was no need and Reimer was good enough, neither Nonis nor I agree. They have a clutch of offensively gifted defenseman, a lot of roster space, and decisions to be made on Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and most the defense they iced last year. They are in a position of great flexibility but also a lot of vulnerability. The next two weeks will likely tell us how long it will be before the Maple Leafs next playoff appearance.

Division D

Carolina: With the Staal brother, Semin, Skinner, and Tlusty offense won’t be an issue for this team so long as Faulk and his henchmen can get the puck out of their own zone and away from the triage unit that served as goalies last season. Improving the defense could come at the cost of Ruutu or several draft picks. For the first time in recent memory the Hurricanes don’t have a huge amount of cap space either. With the new divisions configuration, they need to act and act smart.

Columbus: The Blue Jackets came within 2 points of getting into the playoffs last year. The most important thing they can do is to sign their goaltender Bobrovsky, after that getting some scoring and puck distributing touch up front will make them a much better team. With three first round picks 14, 19, and 27 as well as their own 44th pick, via trade or draft this should be a productive weekend for ‘Lumbus. If Lecavalier could be landed at a reasonable cap hit together with Dubinsky the team team could have a very strong 1-2 punch at center.

New Jersey: The Devils are rumored to have two suitors interested in buying the “financially stable” team. Its unknown what impact that will have on team activity over the next week to ten days, but the team has enough holes almost anything is a good move. A slick passing center to maximize Kovalchuk’s shot, an aggressive defender or two to keep Broduer from having to work to hard, a future goaltender so the team doesn’t experience its own Flyers like run of disasters in net going for stop gap after stop gap. It might just be a good idea to resign Henrique and Clarkson before to long too.

New York Islanders: The  Islanders really should reup with Hamonic, and if at all possible swing a deal for another blueliner with playoff experience. It also might not hurt to have an NHL worthy goaltender under contract. It is likely the empty forward roster spots will be filled with the return of some combination of Boyes, Bailey, Aucoin and prospects.  Hickey was a solid find too, his contract is up as well.

New York Rangers: A new coach is coming, and no one knows what he’ll bring to the roster. It is hoped he can perform some necromancy on the powerplay and get it to shamble along. Brad Richards is being given one more chance after playing less minutes and posting less points against the Bruins than their enforcer Shawn Thornton. Former coach John Torterella said the team wasn’t “stiff” enough. With most key position filled, the Rangers can afford to be picky with free agents, but might want to get a head start on locking up core players. Only one defenseman is signed beyond next season,  neither goalie is, and there are just three forwards who are.

Philadelphia: The bloodletting began with the Bryzgalov and Briere being bought out. It is unlikely to end any time soon as this team is a disaster cap wise and not much better on the ice. To make matters worse Coburn is one of the names most active on the rumor mill and their defense is not pretty even with him.

Pittsburgh: Kris Letang has the gratitude of Penguins scribes for giving them something to write about. He’s rejected long term huge money deals. I’ll be shocked if he’s a Penguin on opening night and even more shocked if he’s still there after the trade deadline. The Penguins still need to come to terms with the issues with Fleury, and there is something wrong with the mental makeup of this team when the playoffs arrive. They’ve lost composure and the ability to play at both ends of the ice in the same game over the last three post seasons. Maybe they should reacquire Gill and Scuderi?

Washington:  Oates had done solid work rehabilitating this team, but he can only work with what he’s given. A big roster shakeup is overdue for this team. Regardless of what they say to the media, there is too big a gap between their regular season scoring and their post season scoring for this team to believe in itself. Without that swagger you just can’t win in May or June.

The Philadelphia Flyers have made no secret of their ability to spend money. They’ve made free with the funds for years. This year they are the top spending team, next year they are the top spending team. This is a problem because with 19 players signed for next season, and the cap set to decline sharply, they will have $2,225,119.00 to sign the needed bodies. As things stand, they will need to add two forwards and a netminder. Of course if if you can get all three for league minimum of $550,000 each, you can rest easy with three fourths of a million left over. Well, you can rest easy if there’s no injuries in an 82 game season, no one misses a game due to illness or personal issues and of course everyone gives their all skillfully everynight and no one needs the motivation provided by the view from the press box.

So what is the problem? They overpaid their goaltender. A guy who has won nothing, has a spotty playoff record, and who had never played in the more skilled Eastern Conference.  Yet they signed him to a nine year contract with a cap hit higher than the two most recent Vezina trophy winners at the time it was signed. To make matters worse they gave him a full no movement clause.

Chris Pronger’s contract is not only a 35+ contract, it has a full no movement clause. Sure, Chris Pronger was a top 15 defenseman at the time he was signed, but he’d had several injuries even then. His injuries include time off the ice due to; knees, wrists, ankles, shoulders. Those are pretty important parts of the body to any player. To a defenseman who relies on hard hits and bad attitude to patrol the ice, they are doubly important. Add to that his suspension history, and the fact he was over 35 at the time and you have to wonder what exactly Holmgren thought he was doing when signing Pronger to a seven year contract to a guy over 35.

Kimmo Timonen is a favorite of a lot of NHL fans and proud son of Finland. He’s been there and done that in his time in the NHL. Unfortunately Timonen will be 38 years old in less than three weeks. His goal scoring has already slowed down. And guess what? Even without Pronger and with a real and desperate need for defensive prowess, Timonen’s ice time is down year over year every year. Not surprisingly his goal production is down. Because I have such bright readers I’m sure you will have figured out that yes he to has a full no movement clause.

As Frank Seravalli let us know, Danny Briere has no interest in waiving his no movement clause. This despite interest from two teams with much better chances of winning the Stanley Cup in the next two years than the aggressively mediocre Flyers. Briere unlike Pronger who isn’t playing at all, or Timonen who is declining could contribute to another team and get a good return. With just two years left on his contract if he stays healthy he could be back in Philly in two years when whatever return he nets the city where his heart is cold be contributing to the lineup.

These four players all have or had at least the potential to be in the top 10 or 15% of the of players at their position in the league. If they were the only ones who could put the kibosh on a trade I wouldn’t be writing this post. Unfortunately Brayden Coburn who is overpaid by about 30% has a no trade clause. Grossmann who is overpaid by about the same amount also has a no trade clause, and he’s barely fourth in TOI/G for Flyers defensemen. Scott Hartnell who has highly variable contributions year to year has a no trade clause, Ruslan Fedetenko does as well. All of these add up to a staggering $37,385,714.00 in cap space this season. It does not take an astrophysicist to understand that’s over 50% of this years cap space in contracts that are either impossible to move or can only be moved by going back on your word.

Not only does this stratospheric stack of handicaps make the team harder to improve through trades for roster players, because of who doesn’t have no trade or no movement clauses you can either shuffle third and fourth line players and 6-8th defenseman, or deal important roster players like Giroux or Simmonds who you might not want to move, but who you might not have any choice but to part with. With the current roster configuration the team can’t even afford to call up players on entry level contracts to fill in. Ones things for sure, someone in the Flyers power structure is going to spend the next three or four years cursing these deals as they will almost certainly be left with two equally unpalatable choices; sit idly by and let time solve some of the problems, or trade away talent for pennies on the dollar and hope against hope the farm system can fill the voids.