This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

Last season ended in ignoble fashion as the Coyotes were swept onto the golf course in surprisingly easy fashion by the Detroit Red Wings.  While Doan, Vrbata and Yandle all had more than a point per game a total of ten goals in four playoff games is a pretty poor showing. Worse from the teams perspective is that the off season saw the departure of Ilya Bryzgalov. The only possible bright spot in the departure of one of the NHL’s best known goalies is that he won’t be helping any conference rivals this season.In his place are two goalies who have never been #1’s in their NHL careers.  There is however hope, Keith Yandle was locked up for five years and Paul Bissonette ( @BizNasty2point0 ) was just extended two years as well.

 

High Card:

Shane Doan is the most important known quantity in the Coyotes portfolio. He’s a complete player. He scores, leads, fights, hits, occasionally gets suspended and never goes back to the bench having had a seconds rest on his shift.  He’s been good for 20-30 goals a season since 99-00, and has be stated repeatedly he wants to stay in Phoenix.

Wild Card:

While taking a shot at the potential of the goal-tending would be really easy, a bigger question is the teams best defenseman since there has at least been solid reason to hope there. Keith Yandle has improved hugely in point production. He went from above average range to top three in the NHL earning second start honors from the NHL along the way. If he keeps playing like an elite level defenseman even though Ed Jovanovski one of the few older players on the team departed over the summer for Sunrise Florida.  If he even retreats to his previous level of achievement, combined with the decrease in goalie quality the team is unlikely to make the post season at all.

 

The story of the off season thus far is the moves Florida General Manager Dale Tallon bringing his former players to him. The big splash was the once unmovable, inexcusable big deal given to Brian Campbell. Tallon brought in one of the NHL’s prototypical puck-moving defensemen, a small smooth skater with a great pass. Next up is the nearly incomprehensible $3,000,000.00 per year to depth forward Tomas Kopecky. Kopecky has never topped 15 goals per year. By comparison, Michael Ryder the two time thirty goal scoring, Stanley Cup Champion is going to make only half a million more.

Today the never fully unpacked Kris Versteeg joined the Florida Panthers.  Versteeg, who was once traded for the electric Brandon Bochenski, was today acquired for a second and a third round pick. This is actually a jump in value. Versteeg since leaving the Bruins organization has had several cities to call home. From Boston he went to Chicago just long enough to win the Stanley Cup. From there he was part of the enormous firesale that saw him go to Toronto for just long enough for his passport to come in. Next stop was the Flyers where he was on hand to experience the second round sweep by the Boston Bruins. Now the NHL’s most famous rapper has disappeared from the city of brotherly love faster free cheesestakes.

Added to the mix are several newcomers to the Tallon constellation. The eldest is Ed Jovanovski who once upon a time was drafted by the Florida Panthers. Scottie Upshall is another of the players who can be a native tour guide in almost half the cities in the NHL. The crease was the next position to be scratched off was goaltending. Marcel Goc and Jose Theodore (hopefully) will be filling the void in net while prospects develop. All in all an odd week, with some very interesting guys in the fold, but no real high end talent. They can be an interesting team to watch this season, and will probably rack up more points than last season, but a playoff berth is not in the cards without direct demonic intervention.

The Bruins are in better shape after a Cup win than any team in recent memory.  With one player retiring, one notable RFA and two UFA’s, its hard to figure out what to add to the mix. Will a fresh face with some snarl be enough to ward off victory disease? Maybe an elite scorer to take the spotlight from sophomores Marchand and Seguin? Perhaps a big splashy trade that reels in a huge name, moves one or two bodies and makes room for even more prospects to make the team out of camp?

Here are a couple categories of moves:

 

Return of the Mack:

  • Sergei Samsanov a former first round pick of the Bruins is a free agent. He’s still got the ability to break a defenders ankles with his speed and agility, takes his training seriously and would be fun to watch with Seguin.
  • Marco Sturm was a key piece who played in all situations, wore the “A” quite frequently during his stay.
  • Chuck Kobasew, everyone loves his willingness to sacrifice the body, his stay in Minnesota hasn’t been his best stretch of hockey ever, on the other hand the Wild aren’t exactly the best team ever.
  • Nick Boynton, as depth defensemen go, not a bad choice. Another former first round pick who’s been deep into the playoffs.

 

The Forever Rumored:

  • While the rumor was quieter this year as the Hurricanes were closing in on a playoff spot of their own, Erik Cole is still an attractive piece. An upgrade in size to Recchi, a solid veteran, and more physical than Ryder.

Pilfering the Neighbors:

  • Brent Sopel, another solid depth defenseman who has been there and done that. Hasn’t been in Montreal long enough to get his diving badge.

 

While I don’t actively hate the idea of any of the above players, and for the right price would jump at two of them, some of the right moves might be:

  • Anton Babchuck. The third highest scoring defenseman entering free agency. Played in all situations, is physical and can help the powerplay.
  • Teemu Selanne. Sure it’s a pure pipe dream, but he’s still got the goods, well pending the recovery from his surgery.
  • Tyler Kennedy, has shown steady improvement each season with Pittsburgh, solid skater, has been useful to the Pens powerplay here and there.
  • Scottie Upshall. Plays both wings, great speed, Bruins killer, tenacious.
  • Ed Jovanovski. Has been a powerplay contributor in the past, has yet to win a Cup so the hunger should still be there, should be due for a solid points jump over last season. Solid veteran.
  • Radim Vrbata. Ten powerplay goals last season (2 more than Ryder), point per game in last years playoffs on a team that mostly didn’t show up.

 

 

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

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

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

The Offer Sheet is probably the most over-hyped and under used tool in any teams arsenal, but it remains appealing, very appealing especially if the targeted player isn’t in your division. The unicorn puck moving defensemen is the most lusted for player type in all of the NHL right now. This summer the opportunity for some high end men in that position is huge. A number of teams could improve greatly there, and other strong teams could deal from a position of strength or at least long term sustainability from here until the fall.

Two of the most interesting defensemen who have expiring deals are playing together. One is if not at the end of his career, at the late middle. The other is approaching or at the top of his powers. The ownership in Pheonix needs to decide how deep their pockets are, and if they can afford several more seasons of mediocre hockey without making it to the conference finals at least. So the negotiations for UFA to be Ed Jovonovski and RFA Keith Yandle are both hugely important. While trading Yandle to a lottery team might allow them to bring back a first round pick that could be used for Larsson or some other elite prospect, it’s doubtful that any rookie is going to jump into the NHL, especially from Europe, and spend even a single day atop the NHL scoring stack for defensemen.  I’ll be amazed if Yandle’s salary less than doubles next season.  Jovonovski is probably looking at a cut in pay to around four million a year or possibly a bit less. He’d make a great compliment to a team with a good deep roster and a good shot at the cup.

The like many of the “budget” teams, the Atlanta Thrashers have to fear someone putting a gun to their head and hard for one of their studs. Dustin Byfuglien is that stud. He’s lead the scoring race for defenseman for a lot of the season, he’s big, he’s lethal on the powerplay and skates pretty damn well for a guy drafted in the 7th round and told to go to the AHL and lose some weight when he turned pro. Five million a year is probably a little on the low side for a ring bearer, and the six plus he might get elsewhere is potentially outside the budget. With a total of 5 RFA’s and 6 UFA’s to sign or replace July 1st, the balance of money and need could lead to one of their best being on the outside.

The most talented player on the Nashville Predators roster is unquestionably Shea Weber, this season he’s making $4.5 million, tying him for second highest paid player on the team with David Legwand. Weber leads his team in scoring and maybe the only player on the team casual fans can name. While it’s entirely possible Weber and or management didn’t want contract negotiations to be a distraction during the season, it’s now approaching the eleventh hour. If Weber leads the team into the second or third round of the playoffs, its doubtful his contract demands will go down. Trading him now would be insane, not trading him if he’s unsigned at the draft could be just plain stupid.

While probably a bit under most peoples radar given that he plays in the hinterland, has three legitimate household names at forward, and one at goal on his team and the team singed a big name free agent last summer, Christain Ehrhoff of the Vancouver Canucks is likely to draw more and more attention as the regular season wains and the playoffs being. With Edler out with a back injury, Ehrhoff leads the Vancouver defense in scoring, and compliments it with a quite respectable 72 blocked shots. The soon to be 29 year old German is part of a crowd of players who will be UFA’s this summer on a team that is projected to have spent over the cap already.  I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t at least test free agency. Who knows where he’ll land if he does?

Drew Doughty is probably the most wanted and least attainable  of this summers RFA’s, adding him to the mix in Washington or Saint Louis would be a tectonic shift in their makeup, pairing him with Chara and Boston, or Pronger in Philadelphia makes their teams instant cup favorites. That said, I can’t see any feasible offer sheet not being matched by the Los Angeles Kings. For that matter, unless there are other major subtractions from the team first I can’t see Doughty wanting to move. He’s got great weather, the most underrated center in the game in Anze Kopitar, solid goaltending in Quick, and a captain who’s got the right attitude. Management has shown it knows how to draft and develop as well. Appealing as it might be to see someone waive a $7 million dollar a year contract under his nose, I’m not willing put money on it.

Of all these players I’d have to say Jovonovski and Ehrhoff are the most likely to be wearing a different uniform by the time training camp starts.

It’s as big a secret as Perez Hilton’s sexuality that the Boston Bruins are in a bad cap place. The sword of Damocles has been doing more dangling than Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar combined. Before the season started, it was widely speculated who would be signed at all, who would be dealt, and who would stay. The return of Marc Savard’s post concussion syndrome, and Marco Sturm’s long recovery from a second knee injury provided a stay of execution for both the front office, and the players. With Savard recently cleared for contact, and Sturm skating urgency is the word of the day. The on ice play of some members of the Black and Gold has made what was expected to be a clear cut case of dumping salary far more murky.  Here’s a look at some of the players who are highly unlikely to be moved in the next week or two.

First on the list of players going no where is Tim Thomas, last season he battled a hip injury, a hand injury, a team that spent most of the season forgetting that they were supposed to play in front of him. This year he’s returned to his Vezina winning form, a form that includes acrobatics that might land him a job in Cirque du Soleil if he ever considers a career change, and a shutout collection that seems to grow weekly. To put things in perspective, in his Vezina season where he split duties with Manny Fernandez, he had five shutouts in fifty seven games. This season in thirteen he has four.  He currently leads the NHL in Sv%, GAA, and SO. He also has a NMC he’s unlikely to waive.

Next on the list is Olympic Gold Medalist, faceoff ace, best all around player and longest tenured skater, Patrice Bergeron. He’s a leader both on and off the ice, is an emotional catalyst for the team, can play center where he has been for the past several season, or wing where he was drafted. Bergeron plays in all situations, and is one of the guys who can be counted on to show up and play every shift of very game.  Even if one of the youngsters should emerge as a better option at center the not-quite greybeard can easily be slip back to right wing. He was resigned to a new three year deal back in October as well. As the organization has made it a goal to get bigger at forward losing the largest of the top three centers, who also outmasses Seguin, Spooner and Suave seems like a step backward.

Milan Lucic isn’t going any place. He’s probably not going anyplace even if he asks to be traded. Leaving aside the burgeoning power forward’s on ice contributions, he’s good for merchandise sales. Given the huge cheers that spring up from the Garden Crowd’s whenever he touches the puck or pummels someone, even if he did ask for a trade I don’t think I’d want to be the GM who traded the man who is currently the teams goal scoring leader, has turned in one of the best post season +/-‘s in the last several years, and has worked consistently at improving one aspect of his game every season since he got here. Just go look at footage of his skating from his rookie season, and then look at his skating now. Then, go look at his second season and pay attention to his shot release.  His release wasn’t quite slow enough to be clocked with a sun dial, but it’s no where near the speed it is today. Also, he’s leading Phil Kessel in goals, points, and plus-minus right now.

Zdeno Chara, it may seem strange that I have to list a six foot nine, two hundred sixty pound, Norris Trophy winning blueline monster who happens to be the team captain on this list, and I agree. However, there are certain chowderheads in the local media who don’t buy Chara as a number one defenseman, much less an elite defenseman who can’t be left any objective list of the top ten defensemen in the NHL, and will probably appear in most top five lists.  While his $7.5 million cap hit would erase the cap crunch in one move, the question becomes what sort of value are you getting back? None of the comparable defensemen (Keith, Weber, Doughty, Pronger, Lidstrom) are going to come cheap (if at all), and both Pronger and Lidstrom are older than Chara. I can’t see the front offices in Chicago, Columbus or LA doing anything but laugh hysterically at the thought of trading their studs. For the next tier down, (Suter, Seabrook, Markov, Jovanovski, Bouwmeester) you’re looking at players who are either not going to be available, one dimensional, or who have consistency issues.  While a blockbuster trade that sent Chara and Ryder to Atlanta for Byfuglien, Kane and a pick might work in a fantasy league, and would be exciting, I think I’ll fail to hold my breath on it happening.

Marc Savard, not only is he aging, not very athletic, and possibly subject to bias from high up the NHL pecking order, he’s now making a second comeback from at least his second concussion. He’s got a no trade clause he’s unlikely to waive, and on top of that he’s still a dynamic playmaker with sensational passing skills on a team that’s offense is shaky.  I don’t see him wanting to go anywhere else, even to a team where he’d have as good a shot at winning a cup as he does in Boston (or better) in the next year or two.

Marco Sturm. As the longest tenured German in NHL history, you might expect him to be older than his 32 years. Despite the injuries of the last two years he’s been a remarkably consistent and healthy player. In the last seven seasons that he’s played 64 or more games he’s never failed to score less than twenty goals.  With the depth up front he has a solid shot at breaking twenty goals again. There’s even a possibility he’s reunited with old running mate Patrice Bergeron. This is the last year of his contract, and he’s got to be playing not just for pride this year, but for his future employment. He’s another of the Boston players with solid three zone play.

Next Post:  players it may be most beneficial to trade.