There are some teams that just aren’t going anywhere this season no matter how well they do in the regular season. For some, just getting run out of town in the first round of the playoffs will be a moral victory. But let’s be honest; moral victory is just another way of saying we aren’t good enough for the real kind, and we aren’t going to try. Not all of the teams with players on this list fall into the category of non-contenders, some have to make room under the falling cap.

Victor Fasth: What an amazing start to an NHL career. The Ducks new netminder has won his first 8 (and counting?) starts in the NHL. This would be far less amazing if he were playing behind a team that showed it was a playoff contender. The other two guys to get off to a start like this are Ray Emery who is worthy of every accolade for endurance and determination to stay in the NHL, neither he nor Bob Froese are going to make it into the top 50 list of goaltenders one would build a franchise around.

Joe Pavelski: Fourteen games into the season “Little Joe” has 14 points. Unfortunately he’s is only got two of those in his last six games. If he were Russian the terms from up north would be stronger than the “inconsistent” I’ll use. With 1/3rd of his goals on the powerplay this season, and for his career, maybe a change of scenery could get this player to the next level. With two more years on a reasonable contract he could help a team that will really contend over the top. His career high 31 goal season last year, and his fast start this year might just get a team to bite.

Martin St. Louis: While I don’t see his quality of play crashing anytime soon, he is the best trade piece the team has for a long term improvement. The team is 24th in goals against, familiar territory for the Lightning. With two years left on his deal, if he can be persuaded to waive his NMC, the return could be gigantic. Lecavalier is untradeable at his current production, trading Stamkos is absolutely a laughable idea, but St Louis could return the right picks or players to shore up an awful defense in front of their solid goaltender. For the undrafted Catamount Alumni he might just get to hoist Lord Stanley if he lands in the right place.

David Krejci: As we all know most forwards peak between 26-28 years of age, then begin to decline and often first liners at 24 are 3rd liners not to long after they peak, assuming they are still in the NHL at all. David Krejci turns 27 on the day after the season ends. He’s off to a point per game pace, he’s shooting well with a career high 17.4%, he’s completely healthy, and he’s the highest paid forward on the Boston Bruins this year. As Stanley Cup champion, a decent faceoff man, and a top 10-15% passer, he’s got value. There are teams up and down the league that can use an offensive center. With cost certainty built in for two more years he’s not much of a risk for teams who need to juice their offense.

Andrei Markov: With a quarter of the season gone, Markov has proved, finally, that for the first time since 2008-9 season that he is indeed healthy. Sell, sell now! He played 13 games last season, he played seven the year before. Those are Rick Dipietro numbers. On top of the questions of health he is somehow the teams highest paid skater. Yes he’s produced, he’s gotten hit and delivered hits, he’s blocked shots too. But be smart, make him someone else’s problem the next time he ends up on the shelf for an extended stretch.

Thomas Vanek: As constituted the Buffalo Sabres are about as likely to win the Stanley Cup this season as are the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets or Calgary Flames. While Vanek has never even approached the 12g 13a 25p in 15gp pace. Despite being on a team that has had no playoff success in his tenure, Vanek has produced a point per game pace in the playoffs over a 10 game appearance in the 2006-07 year. People, possibly including Terry Pegula, are coming to the conclusion that the current Sabres mix is not configured to win. Vanek, could net even more than Nash. Vanek has, despite scant little more success and being surrounded by middle draft picks to Nash’s high end picks, it is Vanek and not Nash who has the better (slightly) points per game percentage: 0.83778 to 0.81222. Best of all, Vanek is $600,000 cheaper per year.  For the Sabres moving him before the deadline with just one year left on his contract lets them maximize their return and take a long look at more of their prospects and or whoever they get in return.

Oh what an off season. The surprise firing of Brian Burke, the lack of contract for P.K. Subban which will no doubt fuel the “Subban to Boston” rumor mill, and Chris Bourque son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque coming home to Boston.

Buffalo: This is Ryan Millers last change to prove his Vezina winning season wasn’t an aberration. Twenty five or twenty six wins out of thirty to thirty games would shut up all his critics. The rest of the team still has to help by doing little things like scoring goals and defending each other on a consistent basis, which will be harder without pivot Derek Roy, but Hodgson and Grigorenko are very capable of filling that hole.

Toronto: With Burke out, and Nonis in, every player and member of the coaching staff should consider this an extended audition. Goaltending is still a big question. Playing coherently as a team and not as a collection of individuals is still a complete unknown to this team. Getting it together will be a monumental, but hardly impossible task. They remain, as they have for over a decade, a work in progress.

Montreal: Last season was pretty much the perfect storm of a season. Everything that could go wrong did, sometimes twice. Injuries, coaching chaos, front office shenanigans, a divided locker room, and all under the benevolent eye of the Montreal hockey media. The good news for Habs fans is it would be nearly impossible to be that bad, that injured, that messed up and that chaotic two seasons in a row. American Galchenyuk and Armstrong of Saskatchewan bring new blood and loads of potential help to the team.

Ottawa: The Senators voted themselves into the playoffs last year and someone rewrote the definition of best defenseman so Karlsson could win, but last year they got in with a lot of help from Buffalo and Montreal who both filled their pants more often than they filled the net. The team itself likely isn’t worse than last year, but they will be playing against better competition.

Boston: While some area scribes think the whole season comes down to Rask for the Bruins, its not that simple. The Bruins have three defensemen they can rely on: Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference, and then bunches and bunches of questions. McQuaid has been steady when healthy, Boychuk is up and down, and the rest of the platoon aiming for the 4-7 slots all have big, big question marks. Warsovsky is not a gifted skater and by comparison even David Krejci is a hulking behemoth. Hamilton hasn’t played a single professional game, and was just a part of the Canadian meltdown at World Juniors. Aaron Johnson is now his sixth NHL stop (assuming he plays in the NHL here) at age 29, and has only crossed 50 games twice. Those are the best bets for those slots but anything can happen.

Top Dogs: Boston and Buffalo duke it out until the end, both Khudobin and Rask are capable of playing red hot for weeks, and the guys behind them are itching for them to fail.

Joe Thornton is the name of the day. For those who someone missed it, he’s still one of the best centers in the game. He’s got a 200 foot game, plays physically, and nearly as dirty as Sidney Crosby or Danny Briere at times. He skates well, is one of the three best passers of the last 30 years, and he’s never won a cup.

Some teams and how he’d fit in:

  • Boston: a full circle story with him going back almost certainly means a trade package like Krejci,  Spooner or Khoklachev, O’Gara, a 1st and likely another prospect or pick goes back. If the roster isn’t ripped up too much he’s likely the cure for what ails the teams powerplay. He’s done the major hockey market media before so the adjustment would be slight, and he likely still knows his way around the North end.
  • Nashville: This is almost the perfect landing spot for him. Even if half the fanbase hated him yesterday, him landing their tomorrow in the wake of the defection of Suter and the Weber scare means they have not just a high end player to fill out the roster but a face for the forwards and a tutor for the young prospects in the system.
  • Chicago: while their search has been for a  second line center, this might just fill the whole. Kane, Hossa, Sharp and the other wingers probably wouldn’t complain too much about second line minutes next to him. 
  • Calgary: Jarome Iginla has never had a legit top line center to play with. Joe Thornton would be that. The Flames may not have what is needed to ship back in return, but career years for both as a duo aren’t out of the realm of possibility. 
  • Phoenix: The desert dogs are so far under the cap floor they’ve probably got mushrooms growing on their heads. Even if they added Thornton without sending back a single roster player they would still be almost two and a half million under the floor. Throwing Thornton down as an inducement to keeping Doan would probably help a tiny bit. 
  • Florida: If there’s one thing we know about Dale Tallon it is that he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade. The Panthers need a good center, they also have one of Thornton’s buddies, Bryan Campell who stayed at Thornton’s place after being traded out of Buffalo. 
Obviously the pending CBA negotiations are going to be a big factor, especially for teams paying closer to the cap floor than the ceiling, but it should not be forgotten that Joe Thornton does have a NTC/NMC. If Jumbo Joe does get moved, it will likely be the biggest trade of the offseason. Yes, bigger than the possible Bobby Ryan or the just elapsed shuffling of Nash to the Rangers. Both are younger than Thornton, and talented, but neither has the potential to impact the game at the same level. 
Whoever is going fishing in the shark tank should be dangling, forwards, draft picks, forwards and more forwards. The Sharks one strength in terms of prospects is on the backend. Their forward pool is nothing to brag about, and years of trading for established talent and playoff finishes have left them drafting in the bottom half of each round each year for about a decade.

The Bruins have been one of the much rumored most interested and or best bidding in the suitors for Bobby Ryan since word came out that he was disgusted by being scapegoated for the last two or three seasons. It is hard to look at his career and not imagine what a boon he could be any team. Four full NHL seasons, four 30+ goal seasons. Big body. Willing hitter. Accurate shooter. Willing to drop the gloves.

But for a team like the Boston Bruins who have a top five offense, he isn’t necessary. Particularly not if it involves mortgaging the future. The next two drafts will hold some quality defensemen the Bruins should not cost themselves opportunities at. First round picks should be off the table in any trade discussions. If you ask seven serious Bruins observers how many of the defensive prospects in the Bruins system have a strong chance at playing top 3 minutes for the Bruins, the list will be quite short. The list that everyone agrees on might not exist at all.

If we put discussion of Hamilton and Krug on the shelf my list  it isn’t very long and two of them are college players. Either of them could wash out, likely both are three to four years away. Looking at the AHL and ECHL players some have been called up and looked not anywhere near ready, others have been in the system several years and never gotten called up. Then there are the guys fresh out of the very short college seasons. No few people would say these players will need two years of good health and lots of playing time just to be conditioned enough to play a major role in the NHL.

Going back to Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton the two have one thing in common. If you guessed size, please go find an eye doctor, and do have someone else drive you. Both are known best for their offensive contributions. If there’s one thing we know about Bruins fans, its that they expect defensemen to have a large component of defense in their game. Corvo, Kaberle (who is and was better than Corvo), Wideman, Montador and others have all been ridden out of town on a rail for their defensive deficiencies. Corvo’s vilification won’t be the last time, and it is unlikely either Krug or Hamilton would escape a similar fate if they don’t have at least an average defensive presence.

If the Bruins were to trade for Bobby Ryan they would be better served to move an extra forward, or even two in place of a first round pick in either of the next two drafts. Zdeno Chara has six seasons left on his contract, that means the window for him to mentor and develop high ceiling defensive prospects is pretty small. If someone like Seth Jones or one of the other well regarded defensive prospects is available, they need to be able to take him.

One of the most common proposals I’ve seen for Ryan is: Krejci, a 1st and a prospect. Switching out two seconds, or an additional forward prospect for that first round pick makes much more sense. It will give the forwards left in the system more ice to develop, and securing a player like Ryan means you can consider their roster spot filled for a good number of years.

The Krejci for X discussions across the Boston sports scene have never been hotter. Bobby Ryan is the current most lusted for player, but moving him, even for a good return creates issues of who slides into what position.

As we all know by now Chiarelli’s lust for drafting small skilled forwards is as great as making moves for defenseman no ones ever heard of. The problem isn’t so much a question of do we have someone else who can play center but a question of who makes the most sense. If this is “a bridge year” it almost doesn’t matter who is the other pivot. If the team is in “win now” mode or at least wants fans and media to believe it is, then it might matter a touch more. Off ice issues will have to be weighed in as well.P

The case for moving Seguin to center and putting him between Lucic and Horton is one that will likely make the rounds. The problem is all three can be regarded as shoot first players. I don’t claim to be the worlds foremost mathematician, but three shooters (not counting the defensive pair) and one puck doesn’t add up to well. Another consideration is that Seguin has so far shown to be indifferent at faceoffs. Moving Bergeron to between the two big bodies would put the maximum amount of size in the top nine forwards together, and they did look good together for stretches last year.

Moving either is less than desirable for another reason. Together the Selke winning Patrice Bergeron flanked by Brad Marchand and Tyler Sequin were the most consistent line on the team all season. Given the departure of Benoit Pouliot and assuming Krejci is indeed traded they could be the only trio of the top three lines to return.

Chris Kelly played the best hockey of his career last year and did some of it with Milan Lucic to his left. He’s never held a top or second line role for long since arriving with the Bruins. The same can be said for Rich Peverley who’s played up and down the Bruins lineup. Peverley’s offensive upside is a little bit higher, but he’s also had more health and consistency issues over his career. Plugging him into the pivot slot between Lucic and Horton would certainly improve both the speed and defensive quality of the line. Peverley has averaged top line type minutes in his career, but mostly at wing and not center and in Claude Julien’s system the center position is the lynchpin of transition, defense and offense.

There are also the AHL players and Juniors graduates. Ryan Spooner’s hands have been compared to Marc Savard. I’ll leave that comparison alone for a half decade or so, but say that they are pretty damn slick. Size and adjusting to the NHL are questions 1 and 1a, speed, skating, passing aren’t in question.  Carter Camper and Max Sauve both earned time in Boston last year, both have played the pro game, both have done well. Sauve’s durability is issue number one, but like Spooner is an excellent passer and has a ready shot. Camper is also on the small side, but led the Providence Bruins in scoring despite the time he spent in Boston.

Also to be considered is new acquisition Christian Hanson who’s half season of NHL games is more than just about all his competition combined. At 6’4 and 222 he’s got size to spare over any of the other claimants. Then there is Alex Khoklachev. The skilled Russian is in the same size range as Spooner, Sauve and Camper. He signed his entry level deal at the recent Boston Bruins development camp, and also signed a deal that would will take him to the KHL. The KHL contract is for one year, to the club his father is the manager of. If however he makes the Boston Bruins out of camp he stays here in North America.

Another possibility is trading for a skilled center who can play about as well in similar ice time as Krejci. A team like the Edmonton Oilers could certainly use some better depth defense, and the looming arbitration date with Sam Gagner lowers the likelihood they will retain him after that date. The Panthers barely used Mike Santorelli last year, and he would come with a low cap hit.

Also to be considered is sliding Greg Campbell up to the third line and sliding in either a rookie, Hanson, or Whitfield into the Merlot line. Campbell has done well in a Bruins uniform managing the heavy grinding role of the fourth line and the smart penalty kill minutes and making it look easy.

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.

The season is over. In the wake of a hard fought series against a team that had the Bruins number all season, it’s hard to see how anyone can be devastated. This isn’t the loss to the Flyers after going up three games to none. It’s not a loss to a truly hated team like the Canadiens. It isn’t even loss where there was a complete breakdown and most of the team didn’t show up like in the last playoff tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The top players could have been better. Marchand had one impact game. Krejci as was the case all season showed up when he wanted too. Lucic was limited in impact. But as a whole the top six were not effective, and the defense was lacking in consistent physicality. Denying that Adam McQuaid is both more physical than Corvo, Mottau or Zanon is just silly. He’s also better equipped to deal with hits and drives of the large aggressive forwards of the Capitals.

For that matter, as much as the top nine forwards tried, only Lucic is over 200lbs and aggressive. Rolston is listed at 215lbs but not exactly going to make anyone cower in fear, Jordan Caron is 202lbs and has a bit too much puppy bounce to scare anyone. That’s it for 200lb plus forwards other than Shawn Thornton on the entire roster. The Capitals on the other hand had only two forwards and one defenseman on the whole roster listed below the 200lb mark.

In goal, the series saw Tim Thomas allow one less goal than last years first round series against the Montreal Canadiens. He turned in a more than reasonable 2.23Sv% and 2.14GAA. The issue was at the other end of the ice where shots on goal came from the blueline or the wall. The powerplay was again a wasted two minutes. Only two players had more than one goal. The Bruins, and likely no NHL will ever go anywhere when the top two scorers in a playoff round are Rich Peverley and Andrew Ference. The two are good soldiers, but they should not be leading the army.

Was uneven and curious officiating an issue? Yes. There were calls that should cost people jobs. They were about even in which team they put at a disadvantage, but the Bruins powerplay was worthless and they didn’t capitalize on the chances to put the puck in the net, on the ice at least, it comes down to the teams failure to execute.

The Boston Bruins 7th Player Award is one of those awards that is so hard to judge. If you look at any given to week span of the marathon you could award it to a good dozen players in a deep team. Other years you wonder if anyone deserves it. This year is another hard year to judge. Many players have been what they are expected to be. Some have been better for parts of the year, and at or below expectations the rest. Some of been good but not way over expectations.

My criteria:

  • Player has to consistently do what they are expected to do.
  • What they do outside that role has to be positive and fairly consistent.
  • Must play Bruins hockey.
  • Exceed at least a third of the other players at that position, minimum.

Off the top of the list we have the positively eliminated:

  • Patrice Bergeron he’s the team MVP, which isn’t what the 7th player award is.
  • Zdeno Chara, has been up and down this year, but still worth every bit of his pay.
  • Brad Marchand, he came in and has handily exceeded last years numbers, not hugely but done slightly more than expected.

The negatively eliminated:

  • Tyler Seguin, hot and cold, hot and cold, hot and cold…
  • David Krejci, see above.
  • Joe Corvo, ah no. No ones expectations were that low.
  • Benoit Pouliot, his numbers are worse than last year when he was with the Habs.

If we toss out the goalies who most Bruins fans seem to think are guilty of something north of murder and not quite as bad a child molestation or not liking hockey if they let in two goals in a night we are left with a small pool of guys who have performed about to expectations or above.

  • Chris Kelly is playing 30 seconds less shorthanded time than last year, but has had an uptick in offense and faceoffs, but he’s been quite hot and cold offensively.
  • Dennis Seidenberg is an interesting choice too, he’s playing more ice time than last year, has tripled his +/- despite not playing much of the year with Chara.
  • Shawn Thornton would be all sorts of fun to give the award to, he’s having his second best career offensive season, had that truly filthy shorthanded goal, and has earned his PIMS with 19 fighting majors and better kept his peace when getting egregiously bad calls against him.

In truth either of those three would be a more than acceptable winner. At one point it looked like Chris Kelly was going to run away with the award. He leveled off a bit when Rich Peverley went out, but has picked up lately with the addition of Brian Rolston. If you ignore October and the first week or so of November Lucic has been stellar this season, playing as a one man line more nights than are fair to him but it is unlikely he hits 30 goals again this season. Which leaves just one man clearly worthy of the 7th Player Award.

Andrew Ference. Despite missing ten games with an injury he’s exceeded his best offensive year as a member of the Boston Bruins by 25%, with games left to play. He’s been as solid as we could hope for defensively. He’s increased his shorthanded time on ice, over last year and has brought the fast, physical game we’ve always expected of him. On and off the ice he’s a contributor.

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.

In the Northeast division, there are this year or next only a handful at this salary or more. The Montreal Canadiens have three on the list, Scott Gomez, Thomas Plekanec, and Brian Gionta, combining for a cap hit of $17,357,143. The Ottawa Senators have just Jason Spezza making north of five million, and he’s got making a cool seven million with a no trade clause. The second highest paid forward in the division is Thomas Vanek, who along with Pominville are over the threshold for the Sabres. Boston boasts Patrice Bergeron, Brian Rolston and David Krejci. The Maple Leafs lay claim to Mikhail Grabosi and Phil Kessel.

A brief look at the disposable:

  • Gomez is a punchline. He appears to be liked by his teammates, but with 38 points in the 2010-11 season, and a boatload of missed games in the 2011-12 season that’s allowed him to put up 11 points in 38 games, he’s not in anyway living up to his contract. While it’s true no one forced the Rangers to sign him to the contract or the Canadiens to trade for him, he’s unlikely to see another contract worth north of $2million anywhere in the NHL when his deal expires in two more seasons. He’ll be 34 by then and can retire if he chooses having suffered through his $51,000,000 seven year contract.
  • Phil Kessel is exactly the player he was at the end of his second season. He’s a one dimensional goal scorer who disappears for weeks at a time. He shows up and blows the doors off the league working hard for October, showing interest in November and then might as well not exist the rest of the season. He’s shut down on a regular basis by smart defense regardless of it is the top pairing or the third against him. He “didn’t want to be traded” from Boston, and landed in Toronto to the tune of $5,400,000 a year and frequent “Thank You Kessel!” chants. If he did any thing other than score or at least did it consistently all year he’d be an elite player, as it is his contract is dead money December 1st onward.
  • Brian Rolston, while part of his issue is simply not fitting into the plan and system on Long Island, his age has more than a small part in it. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be in the NHL in two years, and how much he plays from now until the end of the season in Boston depends on how fast Horton and Peverley work their way back into the lineup.

 

The interesting:

  • David Krejci is nearly a mercurial as Phil Kessel. He shows up willy-nilly, sometimes for a game, other times for a week or even a month. Then like responsible government he becomes a myth for days, weeks and months at a time. His saving grace is that even if he’s not particularly physical he’s willing to hit, take a hit to make a play and can be counted on not to make reasonable efforts defensively when engaged.  Next year the soon to be 26 year old becomes the highest paid Boston Bruins forward with a cap hit of $5.25m.
  • Brian Gionta may be proof that going from the Atlantic division to the Canadiens is a bad career move. No one would bat an eyelash at the numbers he put up for the Devils and his current contract. Unfortunately when your production drops about 20 percent people tend to notice. Not a complete waste of a contract, but possibly they are putting him on the ice too much. His last year in New Jersey he played about four minutes less per game and produced twenty percent more points, including picking up shorthanded points. Nineteen and a half minutes a night is a lot for any forward. At an even $5m he’s worth watching to see what happens if and when a new coach takes over, especially if the team drafts a high end forward like Filip Forsberg or Alex Galchenyuk who might make the immediate jump to the NHL.
  • Thomas Vanek is another curious case. The last three seasons have seen his numbers spiral. Even if you throw this season where the Buffalo Sabres had more injuries than can be counted out, the last two years are still wanting. He’s got a ton of ability, but is very, very streaky. Realistically he hasn’t much support around him in recent years, and that will drag any one down. But after two 40+ goal seasons, more is needed. Maybe if he’s paired with skilled import Hodgson he’ll revitalize himself.

The cream:

  • Jason Spezza for all the negative press he’s earned over the years is still a very highly skilled center working around the fact he’s been marooned on a team with little NHL talent for the last several seasons. Hometown All Star appearance aside, with one more goal he’ll be the least heralded 30 goal man in the NHL. He’s won almost 54% of his faceoffs this season, won over 56% last season and is over a point per game this season while spending a lot of time on lines with guys you probably can’t name. The Ottawa Senators star center is on the books for $7m a year with a no NTC>
  • Patrice Bergeron in any reasonable version of the universe Bergeron would probably own at least two Selkie trophies. That could finally be addressed this season.  He wins faceoffs, is arguably eclipsed defensively only by Norris trophy winner Zdeno Chara on the Boston Bruins. He’s a former 30 goal scorer who has not often been gifted in terms of his linemates offensive abilities and despite that he’s 6th in total points for the fabled 2003 draft, just 6 points behind Zach Parise, and ahead of a number of big names taken ahead of him like Richards, Carter, Kesler, Eriksson, and Brown among others. He’s taking home $5m with a no movement clause.
  • Thomas Plekanec is living the post Thornton pre-Savard era of Patrice Bergeron’s career in Montreal. There’s very little offensive help and he’s spending entirely too much time on the ice. With almost 21 minutes a night of ice time sucking down his reserves his production would plummet even if there were someone to pass the puck too. More than three of those minutes are spent standing in front of slapshots as he plays and produces points short handed. If I’m going to point to a guy in the league currently “under producing” and say it’s the system or team, it’ him. The $5m and ntc are about what he deserves simply for taking the mess the team is quietly.
  • Mikhail Grabovksi is the newest member of the club. If I were taking over the general managers job in Toronto, immediately after scheduling weekly time with a therapist, I’d put him officially on the teams “untouchable” list. Much like Plekanec or Bergeron he’s a gamer. He shows up ready to play and play hard. He may or may not prove to be as offensively gifted as some of the other players on the list, but he doesn’t take nights off and he brings his game no matter how bad the teams situation is.