The Canucks have been the whole show in a pretty pathetic division for a couple years. The division won’t be quite as bad this season and that could be either better or worse for them. As noted at the trade deadline, this team abandoned their identity then, and collapse came pretty close on the heels of doing so.

Good News

  • The Sedin’s are healthy.
  • Jason Garrison is a sound addition.
  • Kevin Bieksa is signed long term.

Bad News

  • Ryan Kesler is injured, again, to start the season.
  • No major changes have been made to a possibly complacent team.
  • The goalie drama will continue to be a distraction.

Forecast

High: There’s no question this team should win the division and challenge for another President’s Trophy.

Low: If the Luongo/Schnieder drama becomes really ugly, Kesler is out longer than expected, and one or more of the teams in the division play better there is a small chance they fall to 4th or 5th if they lose the division.

X-Factor

Whatever happens in net, or off ice this team needs an identity. The Kassian for Hodgson trade was a poor one in terms of adding an element that fits, if Luongo is indeed traded whoever comes back in his place needs to either be someone the team will rally around as a new leader, or slide into the murky waters of the Vancouver media scene without a ripple.

Lots, and lots of action on day one with perhaps the most talked about contract going to someone who only held the spotlight for one season, Jason Garrison. I’m not a big fan of contracts over five or six year, so I won’t assassinate anyone based on those, but there were a number of not bad signings, and only a few of the horrible ones.

Best Low Risk Contract:

Brad Boyes to the New York Islanders. Boyes has all the skill he needs to become a terror to defenses and goaltenders across the NHL, anyone who pots seventy-six goals in two seasons, has to have them. What he hasn’t had in recent years is anything like consistency. If he get’s it back and hits the 20 goal mark the Islanders are well ahead on the deal, if he hits 25 to 30 the Islanders made money.

Worst Collection of Signings:

Montreal Canadiens, some of the players signed yesterday are going to contribute and be a big part of the team, but they don’t address the teams biggest underlying issue: offense. The team has finished 20th, 23rd, and 26th in goals for the last three seasons and yesterday’s additions don’t address that.

Best Blueline Upgrade:

Anaheim Ducks, Sheldon Souray will bring some experience to help fine tune Cam Fowler and some of their other prospects, Bryan Allen is a smart stay at home defenseman who’s probably destined to become Hiller’s very best friend.

Worst Sentimental Signing:

Dustin Penner who scored seven goals in the regular season, and three in the post seasons was brought back for $3.25 million, which is a lot to pay for someone who produces like a 4th liner.

Best Stealth Move:

Jeff Zatkoff was picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and might just be their goalie of the future. The American netmidner has had success at the college level, played well in Manchester and could unseat one or two of the names ahead of him if given an honest shot.

Best Team Movements:

Every team that didn’t over pay in a horribly thin market.

 

With the first two rounds of the playoffs gone and done, it’s time to look at the tenure of some people who might be gone and done where they are.

1: Brandon Dubinsky, has not had a good year. Injuries haven’t helped. But thanks to lower production of his own, and the surprising contributions of Hagelin and Kreider, it might be time for the Alaskan to find a good real estate agent and queue up some moving companies. The worst points total of his career is only marginally abated by the best plus/minus. His cap hit is manageable, and a change of scenery could reinvigorate him. The Rangers could use the cap space, and lots of teams could use his two way play.

2: George McPhee, this was to many a make or break season for the Capitals general manager. He’s fired a coach, shuffled players and still not managed to get the team a cup or even a finals appearance. Spotting talent isn’t the problem, stirring the pot appears to be.

3: Alex Semin, as has been rumored forever the pending UFA might just get an offer he can’t refuse from a KHL team. As little success as the Capitals have had in the playoffs, and as much of the blame as he gets it would be a surprise to see him back in a Capitals uniform next season, particularly if McPhee is not in the corner office.

4: Jason Garrison burst onto the scene this year and scored goals seemingly at will for the Panthers. He’s a UFA this summer. While Dale Tallon has shown a willingness to spend to get the guys he wants, if the GM goes big game hunting Garrison might be better served to sign elsewhere early before he gets left out in the cold.

5: Carlo Colaiacovo the Saint Louis Blues rearguard got just his second taste of the NHL playoffs this year picking up three points in seven games. With new ownership coming in it’s hard to imagine they won’t make upgrading the regular season’s 21st ranked offense a priority, which could squeeze out even valuable talent.

6: Dale Hunter, even if McPhee stays, its an open question as to if Hunter wants to come back. He was part of the most successful major junior franchise of our era, and took a job managing some misfits at the NHL level. He did as good a job as you could expect with that cast of characters, but still didn’t take them any place they haven’t been.

7: Keith Aucoin, as a career AHL player who finally got called up to the big dance and played respectably, he should get some calls from a few teams looking to sign him to an NHL deal next season. The Capitals could be that team, any franchise looking for some character depth guys could take a one or two year flyer on him too. Who could blame him if a team calls him and says “two years one way one and a half million”?

8: Dennis Wideman, it is of note that none of the NHL teams he’s played on has ever reached the conference finals, Boston, Washington, St Louis, Florida have all been halted in the second round or sooner with him on the roster. The pending UFA and All Star is part of a very crowded blueline, and looking to split the Caps available money with Mike Green, John Carlson, and others.

9: Sergei Kostitsyn probably managed to avoid any of the muck his brother splashed about, but his contract is up and Nashville will soon be doing whatever it can to retain at least one of it’s stud defensemen, that probably does not include extending large contracts to players who put up 17 goals in the regular season, and then collect just two points in ten post season games.

10: Brad Boyes someone looking for a rehab project should look no further. There are very few players in the NHL with a better wrist shot than Brad Boyes. There are also very few players in the NHL more inconsistent. Yes injuries have been a factor, but at some point it’s time to cowboy up.

11: Nail Yakupov the consensus number one pick is unlikely to end up back in juniors next season. Currently the Edmonton Oilers (again) hold the first overall pick. With their lack of true defensive power, will they decide to move the pick if it will land them one or more solid defenders?

Good News Bad News For Both the Bruins and Capitals

Item 1: The Bruins solved Holtby.

Item 2: The Capitals won anyways.

***

With Raffi Torres gone for the foreseeable future it will be interesting to see if the much discussed penalty free buyout is included in the next CBA if the Coyotes or whoever they are and wherever they are by next fall, decide to use this on him. His contract isn’t outrageous unless of you believe he shouldn’t have one at all, so it is possible a buyer would decide to bury him in the AHL if he didn’t change his game.

***

Missing defensemen are becoming more common. The Florida Panthers are playing without Jason Garrison. The Philadelphia Flyers are definitely missing the services of Grossman. The Boston Bruins will very likely not put Corvo on the ice next game after he blocked a shot earlier today.¬† Hal Gill hasn’t played in a while for the Nashville Predators.

***

The Florida Panthers series against the New Jersey Devils has to be the most entertaining series in the opening round. The tempo has been solid, the play tight. There’s been offense, there’s been defense and lots of drama. You might not be used to seeing half of one roster on TV and in arena advertisements a few dozen times on your way to your seat, but hot damn the actions been good.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on the other hand have been painful to watch. The sloppiest hockey the NHL has seen since the preseason following the lockout. Stupid penalties by players who should know better, and goaltending who’s most consistent well executed play is digging the puck out of the back of the net.

***

For those who missed it, the NHL network is playing OHL games midday you can get a look at top prospects like Cody Ceci in action.

***

How good it is for the NHL as a whole and the teams individually for both the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes to win their first division titles can’t be understated. Florida will probably not ever produce NHL superstars at the rate that Ontario does, but there is a big enough population there so that even if only 1% of teens reach the USHL, division one college or CHL level hockey, that is still a very large number of young men. Arizona isn’t a small state either and it could if the Coyotes stay and are successful match Saskatchewan or Newfoundland. Between the two states you’ve got a population almost equal to all of Canada which is why they ar ethere in the first place: advertising and tv money if nothing else.

There are some players who are quite valuable to a team, and every time I take a look at their contract status I wonder who is responsible for them not being extended by now. Some are obvious, some not so, but all are key to their teams this season and in the future.

Zach Parise is the the clear cream of the crop among forwards and arguably over all other pending UFA’s. So what’s the holdup, he’s repeated so many times that he wants to stay in New Jersey that it’s (probably) gone beyond the point where we have to doubt it.

Josh Harding of the Wild is one of the three or four best backups in the NHL this season. He’s closing in on the same number of games he played last year with better numbers. If he isn’t extended by the Wild, I can’t imagine him not getting offers to start in four or five cities that will need goaltending next season.

Shawn Thornton, not only did he have a beautiful snipe in last nights game on a short handed penalty shot but he keeps his cool and doesn’t take stupid, selfish penalties which puts him ahead of certain Washington Capitals who have been the subject of trade rumors since the dawn of time.

Jason Garrison of the Florida Panthers is having a breakout season. his paring with Brian Campbell has been a huge key to the resurgence of the former Blackhawk and Sabre. If leading the NHL in goals by a defenseman isn’t reason enough to extend someone I don’t know what is.

Ray Whitney is aging, but not declining. The Coyotes left wing is on pace to bounce back over 60 points and with a hot streak break seventy. Not bad for a guy who’s thirty and a lot or on a team ranked 24th in goals for. Imagine where he’d be with a slightly better crew around him.

Mikhail Grabovski, if anyone knows what’s up here do tell. Based on his usual performances even on a team that had to aspire to average for the last half decade, it’s safe to say there are roughly 29 other teams who could find roster and cap space for him. Any GM who didn’t at least call his agent if he’s not signed before July 1 should be dismissed.

Jiri Hudler solid depth forward and with the Red Wings struggles to promote drafted prospects this guy should be a must sign.

Ryan Suter is the elephant in the room of UFA’s to be. If traded now or soon he could bring back virtually anything the Predators wanted. If he is retained and Weber is as well, they still have the best defensive one two punch in the NHL. If he walks in July with no return GM David Poile will be lucky if the organics that end up on his face are anything as innocuous as egg.

The Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers square off for a battle of their divisions apex predators tonight at the Garden. It is the last game before the break so expect an all out effort from both teams. In the last game Bruins-Killer Jose Theodore pulled his Vezina act out of storage and stonewalled the black and gold, again. Jason Garrison who leads all defensemen in goals punched his ticket to the hardest shot competition:

Crazy ending tonight. I owe @ for that save in the 2nd! @ cracked my mask, gotta get a new one. #backtothedrawingboard
@CraigAnderson41
Craig Anderson

which puts him up there with guys like Zdeno Chara and Brian Rolston in the mask cracking fraternity. The Bruins can reclaim first in the conference with a win and and Flyers loss. The Panthers look to rebound from a late loss to Craig Anderson and the Senators before the break.

Bruins:

  • In net Tim Thomas will look to improve upon his 1.84 GAA and .943 Sv%
  • Rich Peverley will be out
  • have scored zero and allowed one 4 on 4 goal.
  • have the 2nd best PK rolling along at 86.7% overall and 90.1% at home
  • Milan Lucic returns from a 1 game suspension for a play the ‘wronged’ player didn’t feel was bad.

Panthers:

  • have a list of injuries that includes top center Weiss, Sturm, Upshall, Samuelsson and more
  • Jose Theodore will be in net
  • take the third least minor penalties in the NHL but lead the NHL in game misconducts
  • have won 2 out of 6 shootouts this season
  • are 49.9% in faceoffs as a team, good for 14th in the league
  • have a better goals for average on the road than at home (2.79 vs 2.44)

 

Tonight the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers face off for what may be the last time where both of them are leading their division. Next year they slide into the same conference and the rest of the seasons progress is anyone’s guess. If the Bruins win, and the Flyers beat the Penguins (in regulation or over time) the Bruins would lead the conference.

Panthers:

  • 11th in both goals for and goals against
  • Jason Garrison leads all NHL defensemen in goals and is +12
  • Brian Campbell is 2nd in overall scoring for defensemen and is +7
  • They have three forwards in double digits for goals, Stephen Weiss 11-18-29 +15, Tomas Fleischmann¬† 12-16-28 +15. Kris Versteeg 12-16-28 +14
  • Marco Sturm is playing for the Panthers, Craig Ramsay is an assistant coach.
  • Florida has the 4th best powerplay in the NHL.
  • Former Dallas Stars tough guy Krys Barch was picked up by the Panthers this week.

Bruins:

  • Tyler Seguin will return to the lineup after missing last game.
  • Tim Thomas is expected to start
  • Shawn Thornton, Greg Campbell and Daniel Paille are the Bruins on a points scoring streaks, all for two games.
  • Tyler Seguin will play his 100th career NHL game tonight,
  • Bruins have the 4th best penalty kill in the NHL
  • Are 24th in blocked shots
  • Tonight is Shawn Thornton’s 396th NHL game
  • Zdeno Chara is 5 assists short of the 300 assist mark

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

Players:

  • that Niklas Lidstrom (10) would have more penalty minutes than Matt Cooke (8)
  • Jason Garrison would lead NHL defensemen in goals, have a +10 for the Florida Panthers, and not be in the top 25 in points for defensemen
  • No one who has won an Art Ross or Rocket Richard would be in the top three for either goals or points
  • Bobby Ryan would be the most interesting name in the trade rumor mill
  • Tim Thomas would go 9-0-0 in November
  • a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs would be a NHL star of the month in November, and it wouldn’t be Phil Kessel but Joffery Lupul
  • two of the most visible sufferers of head injuries in the NHL, Max Pacioretty and Sidney Crosby would be embroiled in controversy over having delivered them

Teams

  • the 30th place Columbus Blue Jackets (5-3-2) would have a better record over their last ten than the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4-1)
  • the Northwest division, would be led by the team with the second least goals division, the Minnesota Wild
  • the 27th best offense would belong to the team leading the Western Conference in points, also the Minnesota Wild
  • the team with the best goals against in the league would be less than a month into a coaching change, the St Louis Blues
  • the Pacific leading Dallas Stars would be the only team to lead their division with a negative goals differential
  • the New Jersey Devils could have the best penalty kill in the NHL, but allow the most short handed goals against
  • not one of the six division leaders (Pittsburgh, Boston, Florida, Detroit, Minnesota, Dallas) would possess a top six powerplay
  • the Carolina Hurricanes with the 29th best defense, and 26th best penalty would lead the NHL in short handed goals
  • three coaching changes in one week in the NHL would lead to two new to the NHL head coaches, and one guy switching coasts.