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.

The Boston Bruins are one of the teams with the roughest salary cap position heading into the season. They’re going to have to move someone. Probably more than one someone. Why might the much respected Campbell be part of the departing parade? His value as a penalty killer, his leadership, and the fact that he does have a Stanley Cup right make him worth something. It might be a prospect with 2-3 years before they are NHL ready, or it could be a draft pick.

The most logical teams to land him are teams for whom the difference in their penalty kill last year might have meant either making the playoffs, or advancing once in. So which teams make the most sense? Here’s the short list:

  • Arizona Coyotes.
  • Minnesota Wild
  • New York Islanders
  • Nashville Predators
  • San Jose Sharks

The Coyotes finished last season just two points outside the playoffs with the 26th ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Even with their goaltending issues finding two to three more points with a penalty kill that didn’t suck would have put them in the playoffs.

The Minnesota Wild finished with 98 points and the first Wild Card position. As good as the rest of the team was, with Campbell taking penalty kill minutes from Koivu and Parise who were both playing over 20 minutes a night last season, where do they end up? Do they get enough more points to climb into the 3rd or even second slot in the ultra-competitive central division?

The Islanders are a conference rival, and made other moves to improve their team this off season. One more move that takes them from the second worst penalty kill to something respectable could be what it takes to make the last game in their current stadium a playoff game. There’s already been rumors of Johnny Boychuk going to Long Island, why not make it a package deal?

The Nashville Predators are desperate to get back to the playoffs. New head coach with a new attitude and a like of rugged players who play they game the right way, its a natural fit. The penalty kill prowess, and faceoff wins would almost be a bonus for Peter Laviolette. Maybe a prospect like Saku Maenalanen is the return?

For the San Jose Sharks who have little to no problems in the regular season, Campbell might just be able to help fix their postseason woes. Campbell played well in the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Run, and could help solidify both the locker room and the post season shorthanded play.

NHL.com released a list of the top 14 defensemen in the NHL. While I’m not surprised by any names on the final list, I am a bit dismayed by one or two or at least where they placed. And I’m pleased as can be about one semi-notable exclusion. One name I’d put in, instead of one of the person who did make it without any real merit is quite often overlooked and I’m hoping that this season that comes to an end.

Debating the exact position of each player on the list is futile. Four people voted, and I think that if you had fourteen people vote, you’d get very nearly the same results. There are however three things I can’t wrap my head around.

Too High:

For all that he’s been on two cup winning teams, and for all his admitted prowess, Duncan Keith is not, and has not in the last two or three years been a top five defenseman in the NHL. You can’t be considered among the elite of the elite if you don’t play against the top of the food chain. Keith does not. He shouldn’t be any higher than seven or eight. Still an impressive player, still someone everyone wants on their roster, but not in the conversation for best defenseman in the NHL.

Too Low:

Alex Pietrangelo is far too low. When you consider how much worse the goaltending talent he’s played his career in front of is than the guys Doughty, Weber, and Chara have spent the same years in front of, things take on a different tint. No, he hasn’t won a Norris (neither have Doughty, which he probably deserves, and Weber which is an outright crime) but a measurable chunk of that is the city he plays in. He does all things well, and plays hard minutes. Part of his lack of public affection may just be how few games he’s played, only one player above him on the list has fewer NHL games and Subban plays in a much, much more scrutinized market. For well rounded play, Pietrangelo is Subban’s superior for both defensive prowess and levelheadedness.

Are You Sure About That Name:

Why Erik Karlsson makes the list at all is a mystery. There are sixty or seventy wingers in the NHL with less than 100 games played who have better defensive instincts and ability than Karlsson. I could (barely) swallow him coming in at 13 or 14, assuming their were no better choices. There are however, at least half a dozen that don’t even need a sniff test and probably six three to five more that can be made to work. One of the better choices is John Carlson who has a better differential between zone starts and finishes, a better on ice save percentage, but is actually more productive per minute of powerplay time than Karlsson.

My delight upon mature and sober consideration was unmitigated upon not seeing the name Kris Letang on the list. Having heard of his unjustly vaunted prowess for year after year, it is nice to see his exposure in the playoffs the last two years doing some good. I am surprised to Giordano so high on the list especially with only one real season the spotlight to himself, but he does deserve a spot on the list.

October is over, and with the close of the seasons inaugural month we can finally start to get a handle on which teams are for real and which are just pretenders.

Anaheim Ducks: When will they turn one or more of their wealth of goaltenders in future assets or skater to improve them for the playoffs?

Boston Bruins: Which is the real team here, the one that beat both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks or the one that lost to a severely under-performing New Jersey Devils squad?

Buffalo Sabres: Has the front office identified their first overall pick yet, will it be the right shooting defenseman Aaron Ekblad or savvy center Sam Reinhart?

Calgary Flames: Can’t this team even get tanking right, don’ they know a team that’s tanking isn’t supposed to be tied for 20th after a month?

Carolina Hurricanes: How in the world is it possible to have a team with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlustly, and Ron Hainsey still have the NHL’s 22nd best powerplay?

Chicago Blackhawks: If Joel Quenville’s squad didn’t have the worst penalty kill in the NHL they might be a tear similar to last year’s rampage through the NHL so how can they be so, so bad at the PK and still in the top half of the league for goals against?

Colorado Avalanche: Will the Semyon Varlemov situation affect the chemistry in the room and topple a team that has been a force of nature through the first 30 days?

Columbus Blue Jackets: When will the team figure out they need to either score more or stop more and do so if the want to see the playoffs?

Dallas Stars: Can one of the few rosters in the NHL without a player on injured reserve taking advantage of this window of health to climb the standings?

Detroit Red Wings: Can this team stay in the range of its current 19th in goals for and remain a playoff level team?

Edmonton Oilers: How in all the worlds did this team offend the Hockey Gods so much that they can be on the cusp of 60 goals against while most teams are in the 30’s and no other team has even allowed 50?

Florida Panthers: When Dale Tallon wakes up in the morning is his first question “How in the world can those teams be worse than mine?” or “How is this roster doing so well”?

Los Angeles Kings: Is the entire roster wondering if they didn’t accidentally trade the real Jonathan Quick in the off season for the slob who currently has a .896sv%?

Minnesota Wild: Are any of the Wild’s rivals even mildly concerned that the team holds a playoff spot and haven’t gotten any viable contributions from Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, nor had Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom healthy for two straight weeks?

Montreal Canadiens: Is anyone gonna acknowledge the incredible start Carey Price is off to, 12 starts in 15 games and a .932 sv%?

Nashville Predators: When will the answer to the question “What’s holding the Predators back?” not be “lack of scoring”?

New Jersey Devils: So this is what $63,473,577 buys when a general manager looses touch with the NHL, right?

New York Islanders: The lowest cap hit in the NHL and a playoff spot might be what it takes to inspire a hockey edition of Moneyball, huh?

New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash are on injured reserve and the team has won three in a row for half their wins on the season is a bit eye opening isn’t it?

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson’s old team is actually outscoring his new team, it’d be nice for what is now Jason Spezza’s squad if they could stop pucks as well this year wouldn’t it?

Philadelphia Flyers: For the first time in years goaltending isn’t the biggest problem for the Flyers, is that why the whole roster looks so befuddled on the ice?

Phoenix Coyotes: Did anyone expect the Coyotes to be fourth in goals for a month and three days into the the season?

Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s more surprising about the 2013-14 Penguins, the fact that Fleury is playing above his normal zone, or that defenseman Matt Niskanen has a better points per game number than Kris Letang?

San Jose Sharks: Exactly how many of this teams players will be on their nations Olympic roster in Sochi Russia?

Saint Louis Blues: If 18 points in 12 games isn’t surprising enough to get you to take David Backes and crew seriously, does the fact that the team is second in scoring do it for you?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is it too late to place a healthy bet on this team to make the playoffs and bring in a very nice return?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now that it is no longer October and Phil Kessel who is off to a 9-9-18 start will inevitably cool off, can the Leafs maintain their lofty perch in the standings?

Vancouver Canucks: With a stat line of 4-6-10 through 16 games Mike Santorelli has to be one of the best NHL players per cap dollar in the league this year right?

Washington CapitalsDo you think if Adam Oates adds fellow former Capital Donald Brashear to his coaching staff he can beat some consistency into this roster?

Winnipeg Jets: Is there any more damning statement that could be made about this team than that they might actually be overachieving since they’re best team statistic is an 11th ranked penalty kill?

If there is a more pressure packed position in any team sport than hockey goalie, I’ve never heard of the sport. Not only are they the last line of defense, they are often relied upon to coordinate the skaters in front of them, and provide a catalyst to kickstart the offense. At this time of year the masked men’s work gets its greatest regular season focus. Nearly everyone is healthy, there isn’t much wear and tear on the body coming out of training camp, and winter colds and flus are still weeks away.

Comparing the standings for the league, and the stats for goalies makes it clear that some goalies just aren’t supporting their teams. Calgary’s 3-0-2 record is not quite what people expected of them to open the season. When you realize they’ve scored just one more goal than they’ve allowed and that Karri Ramo who the Flames billed as the best goaltender outside the NHL, and his partner in net Joey MacDonald each sport a .897sv% you have to wonder how long the team can keep its head above water. If there is a saving grace to the Calgary Flames situation in net it must be the less than four million spent on the two goalies this year.

At the other end of the province, Devan Dubnyk’s collapse from .920sv% a year ago, to .829 is baffling. He’s got an improved defense, a coach and captain who are all about responsible play, and yet of the 54 goalies to take the crease this season, he’s 51stin save percentage. Where is the man who played 38 of 48 last season and finished 14th in save percentage and kept the Oilers perilously close to a playoff spot? His two previous seasons show last years mark is a little high, but not a complete fluke. What gives?

Is Cory Schneider’s goaltending skill operating on west coast time? Was it seized by customs after he was traded from Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils? While gaining familiarity with a new team can cause goaltenders issues, and moving across country isn’t easy on anyone Schneider was traded in June, and had all of training camp to get on the same page as his defense. Right now, he’s pretty bad. He’s allowed 6 goals on 53 shots.

On the other hand, close examination of the careers of Semyon Varlemov and Jean-Sebastion Giguere, might have closed a contract with a nefarious entity in the not to distant past. The pair have faced a combined 171 shots through five games. In those games they are unbeaten, with four goals given up.  This leaves the Avalanche as one of two unbeaten teams, and at the top of numerous key team metrics.

Anyone who has watched even a single Buffalo Sabres game knows how well Ryan Miller is playing. Unfortunately for him, his NHL experience is about equal to the combined games played of all the healthy members of the defense. If you were to count minutes played, he’d probably dwarf them. As of yet, none of his defense has displayed an aptitude for a key role as a powerplay specialist or shutdown defender. On the surface it is baffling to look at a team record of 0-5-1 and realize the goalie is the best player on the team. But that’s exactly the case, Ryan Miller has made 144 saves on 153 shots in just four games. It takes an incredible about of talent to build a team where the goaltender has a .941 sv% and a losing record.

This past season was interesting. With the compressed schedule it is hard to keep track of all 30 teams, or even just three or four. There were however been a few noticeable things that have crept into regular appearances in games league wide.

The first is plain and simple stupid that creeps into the play of otherwise sensible players. There is no other way to describe Volchenkov’s suspend-able hit on Brad Marchand. Volchenkov will play his 600th NHL game sometime early next season, he handily dishes out over 100 and often close to 200 hits a season, and yet has just 404 minutes in penalties in his career including the five he was assessed for trying to crack open Brad Marchand’s skull.

The second thing about this season that isn’t surprising, is the absolute collapse of good teams late in games. This season saw numerous games turn around completely not because one team got early bounces and the other got later game bounces, but based on who had played and traveled the least in the past week. If the NHL really wants to be the worlds top skill league, another lockout will damage that as much by talent bleed to the KHL and SHL as by turning in a season of supremely ugly hockey. The third period of games across the NHL were purely ugly this year, it didn’t matter if it was the eventual champions in Chicago, the slick skating Carolina Hurricanes, the lionhearted Columbus Blue Jackets or one of the leagues lottery teams.

Perhaps the biggest thing to suffer in the NHL this season was the officiating. Consistency didn’t exist call to call much less period to period or game to game. In a lifetime of watching the NHL,  can honestly say I’ve never seen the leagues officiating at such a low water mark. The only comparable for NHL Officials this season would be the NFL’s replacement referees, and it probably does the NFL scabs a disservice. Interference calls that were made on a regular basis the first three weeks of the season were weeks dead at the trade deadline. All season long you had as much chance of nailing jelly to the wall as pinning down exactly what was and wasn’t goaltending interference. Some games you could get away with what looked like full stride charges into the crease from the faceoff dot, other games getting pushed into the opposing goalie by their teammate would land you in the sin bin for two minutes.

None of these defects is something you want to sell the game to new fans. Bad hockey, isn’t endearing to existing fans. As the league prepares for its near inevitable expansion, these things have to be addressed. When the NHL sets up it tent in new cities, it needs not just the national sponsors who can be sold on the sexy numbers of big markets and 32 or more major markets, but the local business communities wherever the new franchises land. Why should an advertiser spend millions of dollars to advertise in an arena that isn’t going to see many ticket sales because the product is uncertain, and the market as of yet has no loyalty to it?  There are very few major corporations that don’t pay attention to who they are tying their name to, the recession that has gripped North America and much of the world has weeded out many of those who didn’t. The bottom line is that advertising decisions are made by people, the best people to have making those crucial choices for the NHL and its franchises are fans.

Today is both a beginning and an ending for several teams. The opportunity to advance, and the opportunity to extend are two ends of the same rope.

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered action against the Philadelphia Flyers at noon today. They needed more from the backend. Goaltending was not a duel of excellence but a competition to be less execrable. The defenses only prime time performances for either team in this series were in passing the puck to the eventual goalscorer. Entering action today the “experts” favorite to win the Cup had their backs to the wall for the third straight game. Twice they rose to the occasion and struck back at their cross state and divisional rival striking the net seemingly at will. Today their knees struck the ground and they surrendered.

The Washington Capitals had the chance to play to the level everyone expected of them at the start of the hockey year. They signed a solid goaltender. The brought in gamers like Brouwer and Ward to get the right mix of attitude in the room and on the bench. They were all set to win the east, and potentially the Presidents Trophy. They barely scraped their way into the playoffs costing a coach his job on the way. When they jumped ahead in the series fans and admirers were ready to anoint them top dogs again. They let their foot off the snake. They never held a lead, they took a few silly penalties and missed on a few good shots. They made poor plays giving up odd man rushes and failed to clear the puck from the net mouth.

When two teams with championship pedigrees stepped up to the line today, one grabbed hold and climbed back to even ground, the other team let go of the rope and fell into the abyss of “there’s always next year”.

We’re in that last sprint to the playoffs where will is even more important than skill and organization depth and a little luck can pay off like no other time before the sweet sixteen square off for battle. The bubble teams are the most exciting story this time of year.

If the LA Kings:

  • Are in, it’s because they remembered how to score for another two weeks.
  • Are out, it’s because that shameful reprobate Quick didn’t shut people out and score too.

If the Washington Capitals

  • Are in, its because they finally did more than just listen to a good coach and use their talents.
  • Are out, its because they deserve it. They should have challenged for the Presidents Trophy this season, not a lottery pick.

If the Buffalo Sabres

  • Are in, it will because miracles do exist. This team had everything go wrong this season.
  • Are out, because they had everything go wrong and that’s a lot to overcome…and other teams will sleep easier if they miss the 2nd season.

If the Chicago Blackhawks

  • Are in, it will because the rest of the defense stood up and played like men in Keith’s absence.
  • Are out, goaltending that ranged from godawful to erratically average all season long.

If the Phoenix Coyotes

  • Are in, Mike Smith, Ray Whitney.
  • Are out, lack of depth…a common problem in the division.

If the Dallas Stars

  • Are in, its because they got it done in regulation more often.
  • Are out, puck possession is a weakness, 21st in faceoff percentage, three more won faceoffs per game could have had a big impact.

If the Winnipeg Jets

  • Are in, its because the team dragged themselves in on pure will power.
  • Are out, blame leadership who chose not to bolster the roster at any point in the year.

If the Senators

  • Are in, it will be because someone was taking care of defense for “the greatest defenseman of all time”.
  • Are out, obviously it will be because Nikita Filatov was wasted in the KHL and AHL instead of being on the first line.

If the San Jose Sharks

  • Are in, they can thank coherent play and contributions up and down the lineup.
  • Are out, its because their window has closed.