There are three clear things to understand about what Jim Rutherford has done. First, he signed a player who was art of a Stanley Cup win, in a lot of minds that’s important. Second in keeping Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold he has a known quantity in net for the foreseeable future. Third and most importantly, he has decided he doesn’t want to correct one area of opportunity via the draft or shrewd trades.

The contract itself is actually team friendly. Fleury will get a reported $5,750,000 per year for four years. That will put him in the same range as Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard who are, about average NHL netminders. These teams have all decided they want to go with good enough at the goaltending position, and make various attempts at the best in other positions and in system execution. None of them are likely to win the Vezina this year or next year, but they aren’t likely to

What are Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers like when it counts? In the last five NHL playoff runs he had 13 games (Columbus 6, Rangers 7) and a .915%, going back to the previous year he had 5 games played (Islanders) and lost the starting job to Tomas Vokoun after turning salarya sv% of .883. The year before that was a seven game series (Flyers) where he turned in a performance that can’t be accurately described with a nice word than putrid for his .834%. In 2010-11 his .899 sv% was good enough to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And courtesy of the wayback machine we know that back in 2009-10 his .891 sv% got the Penguins out of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, before he and the Penguins fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the final of which he played just twenty five minutes of and allowed four goals on thirteen shots.

The key to the deep playoff runs when they won the Stanley Cup (where he still allowed more goals than anyone) were a better defense than what has been seen in Pittsburgh since. If the Penguins who between Letang, Crosby, Malkin and now their netminder have $31,200,000.00 committed to just those four players can spend money on quality defense first defensemen, they might do better in the future than the recent past. With a total salary cap currently at $69m, spending almost half of it on four players, only two of them elite, seems like it might not lead to a long tenure for General Manager Jim Rutherford.

Change, chaos, and crushed expectations are the only constants in the NHL. This year will be no different. Their are a fistful of players, coaches, and general managers who might not be in the same position next year. For some it s the hand they were dealt, for others they were the dealer.

Marc-Andre Fleury

The Flower needs to bloom like never before this season. Yes he won a Stanley Cup, but he also allowed more goals than any other keeper that year. Since then he’s been a consistent disappointment in the playoffs, even losing the starting job in one year. This is the last year of his contract, there’s a new general manager, a new coach and some important departures on the blueline. As of now, only 3 of his 8 playoff appearances have ended with a saves percentage over .900.

Joe Thornton

Not only has he had the captaincy of the San Jose Sharks stripped from him, the last week or so of camp he was skated with players who would have trouble holding onto a second line job in the AHL. I don’t know if the messages is coming from coaching alone or if it has the blessing of management behind it. While Joe Thornton is not the MVP level player he was five or six years ago, he’s still a top shelf player, but who knows how long he’ll put up with the disrespect in the building, on the other hand management could decide he either accepts a trade or he doesn’t play.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

The general manager of the Winnipeg Jets has taken “more of the same only different” to a new home. Specifically the general manager who took over when the Jets set Atlanta firmly behind the afterburner and headed true north. Since landing in Manitoba the Jets have sputtered, muttered and done little else. Any objective observer has to question his personnel decisions, his long term strategy, and even his hockey sense.

Garth Snow

In the topsy-turvy world of the NHL, it is a little hard to believe that Garth Snow has been on the job since 2006. That’s a pretty long time in NHL time, more than dog years almost technology years. While its hard to tell how much of the failure to thrive of the Islanders is his doing and how much is Wang’s this team has not won a playoff round in his tenure. They have in fact only won three playoff games. The recent moves should make the team measurably better both in the regular season and the playoffs, that still may not be enough to keep him in place once ownership changes.

It seems every other blog post at the start of the season, the run up to the trade deadline, and again around free agency is deploring the plight of some franchise who is being strangled by the cap ceiling. Without even looking you can imagine all the articles on who the Chicago Blackhawks could have gotten if only they didn’t have “cap trouble”. You could probably while a away the entire off-season reading the articles decrying how cap trouble is depriving the Pittsburgh Penguins of the ability to (finally) find the right wingers to propel Sidney Crosby to his clearly fated 250 point season. You have a better chance of driving four consecutive Boston rush hours without seeing a moving violation than you do of not finding on average one post per site detailing how awful it is that the Bruins are being handcuffed by this contract or that and it being the cause of all their cap trouble.

You could rinse and repeat for all the other top ten teams to the salary cap. And that’s exactly what you should do. Wash your mouth out with soap and keep doing so every time you use the cop out of cap trouble to describe where a team stands or its current woes. Cap Trouble doesn’t exist. Management trouble is what you are talking about. Every front office in the league is working under the same ceiling.

How do teams get into this mythical place? Poor decisions by its leadership. In some cases players selected by a previous regime are still in place and those contracts are an anchor. The current CBA addresses that as well, in addition to the traditional buyouts teams were granted two get out of jail free cards handily labelled compliance buyouts that are perfect for jettisoning dead weight. Barring ownership interference, there’s not really any excuse for any General Manager or President to have a single contract they don’t want on their roster if they’ve been in their position more than four years.

Some of the sub-prime choices come as part and parcel of an inability to draft and develop talent. Here’s a hint; if your fanbase can’t identify three players drafted, developed and promoted to a spot in the roster where they succeed for each five years you’re in office, you probably are doing a poor job with at least one of the drafting or developing. Three should be regarded as minimum figure, especially if your team was bad in the early years of your tenure.

If you’re drafting and or developing poorly, you’re paying for it elsewhere. You’re either holding on to players past their usefulness, overpaying pending free agents to retain them or throwing cash at the free agent market like Mardi Gras beads. One of the cash equivalents that most just don’t pay enough attention to is the quantity of no trade and no movement clauses. If cash, readily replaceable is the equivalent of Mardi Gras beads, NTC’s and NMC’s are like diamond engagement rings, or maybe having a kid together. When more than a quarter of your roster has them you’re probably doing something wrong. If you get to one third or one half your roster, dust off an update your resume and remember where the file is, you’re gonna need it.

Another management failure that leads to misspending is undervaluing a player who fits right and then having to replace them because they refused to play at a Wal-Mart wage. Are some of those players overvaluing themselves? Absolutely, and those should be parted with, via trade if possible. But most, can be gotten back into the fold for about the fair market value for their talent. Free agents that you have to bid against the free market on the other hand almost always cost more than whoever they are replacing. Likewise, when you have to trade from a position of weakness to address a hole in your roster you will overpay unless you’re dealing with someone completely unimpeded by clue.

One last time: There is no such thing as cap trouble, there is only management trouble which influences the whole organization and how it spends money. If you think this post was written specifically about your own team, well, they probably were considered. But no, this is one of those trends in the NHL that reminds me of cars sliding uncontrollably across an icy surface at each other, it rarely ends pretty or with lots of smiles.

An NHL coaching job is nothing if not a reminder that all things are temporary. The Philadelphia Flyers made a coaching change, and improved. The Florida Panthers who are a lesser talent made a coaching change and they too improved.  There are teams struggling now, some because of talent, others because of execution.  And while trades, demotions and benchings have and will happen, the person who pays most for poor performance of a team is the head coach.

Todd Richards:

With the NHL’s reigning Vezina trophy winner, and blue chip picks in Jack Johnson, Tim Erixon, Ryan Murray, and Marion Gaborik studding the roster ably complimented by James Wisniewski, RJ Umberger, Nikita Nikitin, Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno a team shouldn’t struggle. They won’t be a world beater, but being tied for last in a mediocre division isn’t where they should be. Yes, once he’s healthy getting Nathan Horton into the lineup should help, but entering action on the 25th the team is 9 points out of the last wildcard spot in the east and only eight points off the league basement.

Jack Capuano:
Capuano may end up being a victim of his own success. Last year the team proved they were capable of playing their way into the post season. They went toe-to-toe with the Pittsburgh Penguins and gave an excellent showing. By comparison, this years on ice product is putrid. In overtime or regulation they’ve lost two thirds of their games. John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo are doing their part but it seems Capuano is either misusing or not motivating the other warm bodies on the roster. While it can be argued that Garth Snow failed him by not securing better goaltending, general manager’s are a lot less disposable than coaches.

Injuries were the definition and demise of the Ottawa Senators season 2012-13 season. Players who made it through the regular season healthy were as rare as honest politicians. Scoring was perhaps even rarer with only three players crossing the ten goal mark and a 27th place finish in goal for. As bright spots go, aside from unexpected depth at goaltending, there wasn’t much to speak of. Certainly, when you consider that half the games were played not by starter Craig Anderson but by two backups it is safe to say none of the shine on this season would require you to shade your eyes.

The off season saw the aging face of the Senators Daniel Alfredsson leave in a huff for a team just across the border.  General Manager Bryan Murray brought in the long scapegoated Bobby Ryan in exchange for depth. Arguably if the Senators had managed to massage Alfredsson’s ego enough to get him to stay the team would have had the most offensive depth it had seen in at least half a decade. But for now, this team belongs to Craig Anderson, Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris, Cory Conacher, and whomever else can carve themselves a piece of the pie. Among the most curious moves of the NHL off season was the signing of Joe Corvo, even at the rate he’s signed for, there are better uses for money.

The regular season opens with the Senators on a six game road trip. The Buffalo Sabres are the first team they will try to beat on the road, then fellow Ontario team the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that a tour of California, facing the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and finally a home coming for Bobby Ryan in Anaheim to drop the puck against the Ducks. Four out of five made the playoffs last year, and two back to backs will keep things lively for Paul MacLean and company.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Anaheim Ducks

Weakest opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home games: 0

Projected points: 4+

October does not have a pretty schedule in store for the Ottawa Senators. That said, many coaches like early road trips as both a bonding aid, and a way of eliminating home life distractions. Paul MacLean is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and while most of the team is the same as last year, the loss of Alfredsson’s leadership will make a difference. If the team manages to find time to sign Jared Cowen and return him to the line up, Cowen, Eric Gryba, and Patrick Weircioch can apply those hard earned lessons from last season and go about making up for the defensive deficiencies of the offense only Erik Karlsson.

Vacant Office

With Gauthier and Gainey both out the door on Montreal, the search will begin in earnest for the new hand at the helm. If Molson is serious about getting the team to contend again, he almost certainly needs a person who’s crazy enough to want to step into the inferno that is the Montreal daily lot, and experienced enough with building a contender or champion to have a shot at lasting. Dale Talon is probably having too much fun in Florida to consider making a lateral move even if it is to an original six franchise. Jim Nill of the Detroit Red Wings springs to mind as someone who might be a great fit, he’s overseen their prospect development for years and has been part of that organization since before the lockout. While more likely to want to move west than north, Dave Taylor of the St Louis Blues has extensive experience and could be the steady hand that is needed. Another really intriguing choice might be Lorne Henning of the Vancouver Canucks, he’s won Cups as a player and coach.

Back To The Blueline

Joe Corvo having sat out several games as a “banged up but healthy” healthy scratch,  will be back in the lineup for the Boston Bruins tonight. The Washington Capitals will get to face him instead of defensive stalwart Dennis Seidenberg. A cut suffered in a game against the Kings that became infected is to blame. Interestingly Mike Mottau is not going back in. Tim Thomas will man the crease. Assuming a magic number of 95 to clinch a playoff spot in the East this year, the Bruins will nail one down with a win, and the Capitals would need to win to retain any hope with just four additional games remaining

Two Will Do

A look at the schedule of action in the NHL for today will tell you the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars are both hoping for the exact same thing; a two point game between the Coyotes and Sharks. With two points and four regulation or overtime wins separating the four teams, we might not know who lands where until the final game goes into the books. Dallas, having the most in the ROW column has the first tie breaker if there is a points tie between them and another team, but it will be close.

And The Pink Slip Goes To

With Gauthier out the door in Montreal, it looks like open season on general managers is in effect. My guess is there will be three more general managers who get the ax between now and the middle of the playoffs. I suspect one from the southeast division, and possibly two from the Pacific. Almost any others would be a modest surprise, some would be an enormous one.

Like many hockey observers I’ve been puzzled by the Vancouver Canucks for a quite some time. They have a solid amount of talent. They even assembled some pretty impressive depth. What mystified me for most of the last week or two is how they could have assembled so many misfits and insensible boors in one place.

One of the Sedin’s went on a clearly well rehearsed rant the other day about what a talking head said about him and his dear twin. Well, guess what? When you’re an athlete or other entertainer the people who’s job it is to dissect the performance of your branch of entertainment will occasionally do something other than pat you on the head and say “good boy”, especially when you’ve earned a swat in the head. Anyone who can take shots at the maturity of another adult but who together has held up NHL franchises not once but twice by refusing to play without your twin brother has no basis for questioning other peoples maturity. Clearly there’s nothing in the world more offensive than a pop culture reference to describe the play of more than twelve million dollars worth of not very much. Personally I’d have gone with Flora and Fauna Addams, but that’s just me.

Riding shotgun with the Insecurity Twins is a player who actually bit another player during a scrum. He then claims he didn’t bite him or that it wasn’t intentional. Somehow he didn’t get suspended. Ruutu and Avery among others would love to get that leeway.

The Aaron Rome hit speaks for itself, and I’ve covered it in previous posts. In summary at best it was a case of a mental lapse. Most likely it was the arrogance this team has shown from the word go. Functionally it doesn’t matter, except to Nathan Horton who was knocked cold by a disgusting lack of sportsmanship, his family, the Boston Bruins, their fans, and of course the millions of people who have come to loathe this iteration of the Vancouver Canucks.

The latest is of course the waffling of the Canucks goalie on his statements regarding the man likely to beat him for another Vezina trophy.  First he claims to he would have made the save on the one goal Thomas allowed. Which brings you to wonder how he could possibly have allowed 12 goals on less than sixty shots in the previous two games. Anyone who’s had the chance to peruse the stats for the two goalies has to ask themselves if Luongo’s graps of reality would be helped with a little less time spent on his well oiled locks.  Tim Thomas not only has better career regular season numbers than Roberto Luongo but also has better career playoff stats. This is no doubt surprising to anyone who only looked at or heard his comments given that Luongo is claiming to be a better goalie. Not only is the Vezina winner consistently better in both the regular and post season he’s consistently improved upon his regular season numbers in the playoffs, this is not something anyone well informed could say about Luongo’s own post season adventures.

But the on ice arrogance of the Canucks should surprise no one. The front office is clearly culpable in crafting this masterpiece of moral ambiguity. Just before the series started the favorite hatchet man, drinking buddy, and advice guru of General Manager Mike Gillis penned an opus declaiming the evil aligned against Vancouver’s brave warriors. I’m hardly a fan of Colin Campbell (go search his name or ‘wheel of justice’ in the search box) but it was amazingly coincidental that Tony Baloney dropped this article just days after the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in years? Neither Campbell or the office of discipline have shown themselves to be friends of the Boston Bruins over the past few years. One wonder what he and they would have spun up had another team advanced.

For long time fans of Marc Savard, this press conference was scary on a number of levels. Obviously Savard’s health does come first, and it’s alarming in the extreme to watch a guy who normally burbles and rarely stop talking even long enough to breathe, stumble over words, and speak in a slow staccato. Savard as we all know normally speaks confidently, with humor, and energy. When he talked about feeling normal during the game before he was hit by former teammate Matt Hunwick. Savard does not blame Hunwick, and states that Matt has contacted him not once, but twice.

With his ability to track questions, and dodge them I’m less anxious about this being a career ending injury than I was before the conference.  Chiarelli states he definitely feels there is an equipment issue that needs to be addressed.  I suspect we’ll see some changes to the NHL’s equipment by the time next season starts.  Peter also said he is taking a look at Zach Hamill as a center, but hesitated only a moment before saying they were hoping to make a long run in the playoffs, and might want an experienced player.

One other bit of nonsense that can be brushed aside as pure idiocy is the nonsense about his being unpopular. Chara, Bergeron, and Recchi were all in attendance, Kampfer was there to help him off the ice and Matt Hunwick a former teammate contacted him not one but twice.

A couple times in the last two or three weeks I’ve heard people say that teams take on the personality of their head coach. Specifically they were saying this in an effort to criticize Claude Julien. I just don’t think I can agree. The coach is on a day to day basis the most influential member of club management, but that’s about where it ends.

The general manager on the other hand not only selects the coaches, and the players, but selects the scouts, the assistant general managers, and trainers. They also set the priorities of personality, and physical attributes they value. It is also the GM who (in most organizations) has the final call on trades, draft choices, and what players are assigned to and recalled from a minor league affiliate. On top of that, they have the final say what free agents are pursued or resigned.

Bearing those things in mind, let’s look at two general managers that have been appointed recently, and the types of players they have brought in, made captain, and attempted to move.

First Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs:

  • Dion Phanuef, aggressive, hard skating defenseman who has drafted high and has a reputation for playing on or over the edge. Has not had his defensive game flattered much in the last couple seasons. Also has a reputation for not having his head in the game for long stretches of time. He was brought into the Maple Leafs via a trade with the Calgary Flames. After twenty six games of tepid play last season, he was named captain in the off season, a position that had been vacant since the departure in 2008 of Leafs icon Mats Sundin.
  • Phil Kessel, was acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for two first round draft picks  and a second round pick (Tyler Seguin 1st 2010, Jared Knight 2nd 2010, and upcoming 1st 2011). Kessel was and remains widely praised for exceptional speed, and a shot release that puts him in the top ten or fifteen players in the league in both. He’s also got a well documented history of failure to perform against top teams, isn’t gifted with an impressive work ethic, and probably accumulates almost as many hits her year as Tim Thomas. He’s not shown a willingness to play through pain for the good of the team.
  • Mike Komisarek, picked up after he earned himself a one way ticket to anywhere but the Bell Centre. He’s a defensive defenseman, who plays with an edge, engaged in a very one-sided feud with Bruins winger Milan Lucic where he lost a couple fights, including one where he spent months on the shelf as a result of an injury sustained during the fight. He gouged the eye of the much smaller Matt Hunwick and hasn’t covered himself in glory as a Leaf.

Now a look at some of the key free players Peter Chiarelli has brought to the Boston Bruins.

  • Zdeno Chara. Has responded well to both coaches he’s played for a Bruin, his former Islanders General Manager’s lone complaint of him is that he wanted to much money. He came into a town with a history of elite defensemen and earned himself a Norris trophy. Has, been a fixture of the team, played the 2009-10 season with a dislocated finger. Soft spoken off the ice and willing to give time to fans.
  • Marc Savard. Came in a point per game player with a reputation for soft play, and defensive nonexistence. In the time he’s been in Boston, his points total has dipped slightly, but he has also been a large contributor to the penalty kill, and has led the team in scoring three of the four plus seasons here. By nearly any conceivable measure, he signed a contract extension well under his fair market value to remain a member of the Boston Bruins.
  • Mark Recchi. As the NHL’s elder statesman by more than two years, on the surface it’s an interesting question as to why he’s on the roster at all. That is until you remember he’s one of the handful of players to hit over 1000 games, 1000 points, and 1000 penalty minutes. Also, certain minor stars of the NHL like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos credit him with helping them hugely. Add that to the Bruins pretty young roster, and the upcoming talents and he’s a very, subtle element in the developmental progression of several players.

When you look at the rosters of both teams, see interviews with the core players, and look at who’s wearing the letters on the front of their jerseys you’ll notice that for the most part the Bruin’s players are soft spoken, introverted, and even if they play a very physical game, lean towards the cerebral thinking mans player. If you look at the Maple Leafs roster, you get one dimensional, high risk high reward style players who are more emotionally driven. I don’t think you could watch five minutes of footage of both GM’s and come away with any impression other than that these are the men who have crafted their teams.