Sergei Samsanov is one former Bruins forward I know many fans miss. He’s currently an unsigned UFA. After time with the Habs, BlackHawks, and Oilers he settled in for a three and a half year stay with the Canes before being dealt to the Panthers. Apparently, guys like Thomas Kopecky, Dan Carcillo, and Benoit Pouliot are more valuable than someone like Samsanov who has averaged more points per game than Ryan Kesler. Surely this undermines the popular perception that a large percentage of the general managers in the NHL are idiots.

Byron Bitz is on the disabled list with a sports hernia that caused him to miss all of last season for the Florida Panthers. This season he’s keeping the Canucks medical staff busy. In his last game on March 27, 2010 he had a line of 0-0-0 with 0 shots on goal, and a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins like 0% faceoff rate.

Joe Thornton who has finally gotten people in the media to realize that he can’t carry a team himself, is off to a slow start with 0-0-0 -1 line to start the season in San Jose. To be fair, his face off winning percentages are obscene through three games: 73.7, 82.7 and 62.5, perhaps he’s saving spare wins to send to the CBC’s latest darling in Edmonton for Christmas?

Brad Stuart is perhaps the best former Bruins defenseman still playing in the NHL, or like Detroit’s goalies perhaps he’s just being carried by a good team. Not exactly known for his offense the soon to be thirty-two year old has still managed to put up good numbers in the playoffs, and tolerate being called Junior by most of the Red Wings roster.

Derek Morris was highly unproductive in for the Phoenix Coyotes in the playoffs last year. Fortunately for him his “out with an injury” excuse left him a much better reason for it than the guys who were on the ice. Despite only playing 58 games for Boston he was pretty productive here before being sent back to the desert where he look up to see Paul Bissionette waiving at him from the pressbox every night.

Former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft enjoyed what can be called a renaissance the last two seasons and has been quietly going from full time punchline to part time plugger. Interestingly enough he seems to thrive in mediocre teams, which probably means he’s int he right place for the next year or two.

Every year, on every team in any sport on the planet someone is blamed for each failure. The failure doesn’t have to be real, doesn’t have to be their fault, they just end up being blamed. Before last season, and well into early spring Bob Gainey’s named was linked to more jokes than perhaps any other GM in the NHL. With the Smurfs he’d assembled for his forwards, and the money spent on their salaries even his firmest adherents had to wonder what’s he thinking? I didn’t even expect them to make the playoffs, and then they rattled off back to back series wins against the defenseless although offensively gifted Capitals and Penguins.  With his successors offloading of Halak to clear up the goalie controversy, it’s only a matter of time before we find out if Gauthier is similarly ridiculed or at least temporarily granted the status of hockey genius.

In Chicago, Dale Tallon was questioned to the ends of the earth for his unique and singular salary cap arrangements. The BlackHawks won the Cup and most was forgiven. Just days after the bright spot in flyover country celebrated the end of its Stanley Cup drought, the fire sale began.  Over the next several weeks, roughly eighty goals and six thousand* minutes of time on ice would disappear over the trade horizon. If the BlackHawks who finished just ten points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings don’t have a strong showing, who will be fingered? Will Tallon get the blame? Will someone who’s looking at the championship season through the golden glow of never-was claim Turco is a lesser goalie Niemi? Or perhaps the Bowman family mystique will gather a little tarnish and the current GM will be blamed for not getting a better exchange for the departed Versteeg, Sopel, Byfugelien and others?

In Boston, not without a great deal of reason, Denis Wideman and Michael Ryder were the undisputed owners of the dog house. Wideman who’s season is best summed up in the video of him picking his nose, and not just his collision with slighter partner Matt Hunwick but the subsequent fall to the ice was actively booed at home. Ryder was far less spectacular in his gross failures seeming to have just as much positive impact on a given game from the bench as from the ice. Then too there is the fact he is the only person who saw the vicious and career threatening hit on Marc Savard from beginning to end, and did nothing about it. This season with with Wideman banished to hockey (and sports in general) exile in south Florida, Ryder needs to do everything he can to stave off the ire of the fans, and earn his next contract. If he puts in a concerted effort he might just avoid being the most irksome member of the organization. Claude Julien is probably the man next most likely to find himself on the outs with fans. His loyalty to players is both a gift and a curse, he undeniably wanted Ryder and Wideman to succeed last season and gave them every opportunity to do so. Yet, the refusal to sit either of them for even a period, much less a game or two in the press box provided no incentive for an admittedly thin AHL prospect group to do better, and an early benching of two long time ‘coaches guys’ might have kept the Bruins from having to dump Derek Morris.  Punishments that that are aimed at the principle and pour encourager les autres are a long, long tradition because they work.

It will be will be interesting to see who emerges as their teams scapegoat this year. Will the blame be at ice level as is likely in some cases? Will General Managers like George McFee be called on the carpet for failing to improve their teams defense, if (when) they are ripped apart in the playoffs for this very failing again? Will Rick Nash, RJ Umberger and Steve Mason get all the blame in Columbus for a team with more than seven million in cap space failing to make any noise in the playoffs? How about the situation in Nashville? They have two of the best defensemen in the NHL in Weber and Suter, and not a great deal else. Will the coach be cast from the chariot at the end of the season (or sooner) if they fail to thrive? And too, one must wonder who is to blame for the status of the Islanders new arena.

*Six thousand is roughly a quarter of the 24,600 minutes of play by skaters in each season assuming no penalties.

Back on June 2, I tossed the gauntlet out at the hockey blogging world.  Create a team off the UFA list, pick the first players to resign, keep it under the cap for next year, and keep the deals realistic. In other words no 65 year deals for a certain Russian winger. And no $200,000,000 payrolls.

So here we go.

1st Domino:

Defenseman:

Anton Volchenkov. I just can’t see him making it long if his demands are at all reasonable with the number of teams that need a strong defensive defenseman.

Forward:

Matthew Lombardi, too many teams from the Flames to the Wild and the Canes need a good center right now.

Goal:

This is the pick i have the least confidence in, but I’m picking Dan Ellis.

Team UFA $57.4m All dollar figures in millions, $.400 would be $400,000

F

I. Kovulchuk $8.8m M. Lombardi $2.75m  B. Guerin $2.5

A. Frolov $4.25    M. Cullen $2.9  R.Torres $2.8

A. Ponikarovsky $2.8  K. Wellwood $1.5m C. Armstrong $2.5

M Satan $1  G. Metropolit $1.5  E. Artyukhin $1m

J Shelley $.800

35,100,000

Defense:

A Volchenkov 4.2m  D. Morris 3.5M

J. Leopold 3.2m   D. Hamuis 3.7m

A. Lilja 1.85m    S. Hnidy .850

T. Conboy .750

18,050,000

G:

D. Ellis 2.5M

M. Biron 1.75

4.25

Part 3 Worst Contract:

Ordinarily one could just flip a coin and insert the Rangers or the Canadiens, but since both are so cash strapped I’m going to go with a team desperate to make the playoffs.

The Panthers.

Part four Where’s Ilya:

Since this is my pick to make the Western Finals this season, with or without him and they have  a good chunk of cap space available too, I’m going with the sexy pick:

The LA Kings.

If you’re gonna take part, remember I need to get a link to your post tweeted or emailed to me by noon ET on June 30.

Follow this conversation on twitter with #nhlufachallenge