For part 1 look here.

Mattias Ekholm when you get your first taste of the NHL in a season when the whole team is struggling to only suck a little, its hard to saw where your talents (or lack their-of) end and the teams balance begins. Roughly 17 minutes a night is a sign your coach has at least some trust in you, and having very slightly better road numbers than home in a very competitive division. It would be interesting to see how heavily his international experience in the SHL is counted, if at all. Only one year of NHL time to go on, and that with a poorish -8, its unlikely he gets north of $925,000.

Kevin Poulin is a goalie in the New York Islanders who like their next period of dominance has been a year away for as long as anyone can remember. His sv% is actually regressing at the NHL level since his debut. More than one goalie has put up better numbers in the last few years in an Islanders uniform. Arbitration may bring his deal below the qualifying offer level presumably he’d seek a higher AHL salary. Anywhere in the mid $600k range.

Derick Brassard was fourth in points for the Eastern Conference champions, had four game winners in the regular season and two in twelve games in the playoffs. Brassard is a solid player who plays all out on a pretty regular basis.  One comparable is Dave Bolland, who recently cashed in for $5,500,000 per year. Another would be Boston’s Chris Kelly $3,000,000 and a realistic salary is anywhere between them given the way Bolland playing in a market with a low ability to attract high end free agents jacked up his price.

Chris Kreider is either still developing as a player or a class one Kovalev level enigma. In the regular season he was a pretty unassuming 3rd line level contributor. In the playoffs, he was nearly a point per game. The really wonky part of this is that he only played about a minute more per game in the playoffs than he averaged in the regular season. Want even loopier? In his last 10 regular season games (March 7-24) he wasn’t playing much going pointless in 6 of them, playing under 10 minutes in two, and only crossing 15 minutes twice. Then when he returned in the playoffs, 13 points in 15 games after over a month with no game action. His NHL career is rather oddly shaped, he’s played 41 post season games and is over half a point a game in them, which is higher than his regular season conversion with 89 and 40. His price tag could go anywhere from as low as $1m to $2.75 depending on where the market is set before his arbitration, depending on the length of the contract the high end might not be so bad at 4+ years for the team for a 1-3 year deal expect them to push for something lower.

Mats Zuccarello is another of the New York Rangers players filing for arbitration. It’s hard to decide with so little NHL time on his dossier if he’s destined to be a top six guy, or a bottom six guy. Which place the arbitrator assigns him will go a long way towards setting his price. As a guy who has yet to break 20 goals in the NHL. a bottom six designation is most likely, so $2.25m is about the max you should expect to see him.

Derek Grant has a full 25 games of NHL experience and has averaged under 10 minutes a night. A fourth round he hasnt got much to build a case around but you can bet his 2:14 a night of shorthanded time will play a prominent part in his positioning of his team value. I don’t expect him to cross $750,000 but like the other guys in the lower range of the pay scale he may be angling for a one way contract or higher AHL salary.

Nick Spaling is part of the return for the Pittsburgh Penguins on James Neal. It is pretty doubtful anyone expects him to produce like Neal, and they just can’t afford to. His playoff experience and contributions are negligible, but under the most conservative and defensive minded coach in the NHL he gained minutes and responsibility steadily. He made $1.5m last year on a one year deal and was traded in the off season giving the Penguins exactly zero experience with him in their system and city. He does have a history of being a pretty disciplined player on ice with very few penalties at all.  Anything from $1.3m up is possible, P.A. Parenteau had the same number of points and just inked a deal for four years worth $4m as a UFA, Nathan Gerbe produced at the same level and will make $2m, Carl Hagelin was again in the same range and was paid $2.1 last year and will get $2.4m this year. A three year deal at $2,300,000 per should be comfortable for both, even if each side thinks they could do better.

Jason Demers is a solidly built right shooting defnsemen who played just under 20 minutes a night in the Sharks system last year in the regular season and playoffs.  As a right shooting defenseman, if he is award more by the arbitrator than San Jose wishes to pay, he can expect to be employed again anyway in a matter of days. Interesting to note is how both his short-handed and powerplay time went up in the playoffs. He has a noticeable, if not career threatening history of injuries. Slava Voynov plays with a similar level of physicality, is also a right shot defenseman with essentially the same body size and his contract (signed last year) is worth $4.16m. Former teammate Dan Boyle had similar points and is much signed a UFA deal for $4.5m per year, Cam Fowler last year signed a five year four million a year deal. Anything under $2.5 is unrealistic as is anything over five. I’m guessing a deal in the near neighborhood of Vlasic’s $4.25 will be worked out with the biggest variances being term and if Demers gets a no trade clause as well.

Cody Franson is another right shooting defenseman. He’s a bit larger than Demers, but points wise they are about the same guy. Franson accumulates more hits and blocked shots, and has steadily increased his offensive production. His overall defensive game may limit him to a smaller contract than Demers will get, but identical deal wouldn’t be unfair.

James Reimer lost the starting job over the course of last season with a sv% .012 lower than creasemate Jonathan Bernier. That said, last year was clearly his worst NHL season for goals against average, and last season he brought the team into the playoffs. With the exception of the lockout shortened season he’s never played the bulk of the schedule in either the AHL or NHL. He and his will undoubtedly argue for starter money, but reality says he’s a backup and a good one. Comparable are Anton Khudobin, $2.25m, Ben Bishop, or Alex Stalock so a deal between $1.8 to $2.2m is a solid landing zone.

We are one week into the NHL season. With so few games having been played, and so many new players and coaches, the standings at this point are almost meaningless. The points matter a little, but even the teams that are 3-0-0 or 0-3-0 have only played 3.6% of their schedule.

Off The Ledge:

Buffalo Sabres fans, your team isn’t as bad as things look now. Despite the teams woeful start, the goaltending is still solid. Seven goals against in three games means Ryan Miler and Jonas Enroth are doing their part, the defense is at a minimum useful but the very, very young forward group hasn’t gotten in sync yet.

Philadelphia Flyers faithful should all retreat from the rooftops and bridges and find a good beer and cheese-steak. With two goalies still new to the system, and a several skaters who are either new as well, or spent some time out with injuries last year. While not many people are betting on Ray Emery to turn in the same (or better) numbers as last season, he’s a better goalie than he’s shown in his single outing this season.

Edmonton Oilers true believers have seen this before, and well, it was supposed to be different this year. Just as it was supposed to be different each of the last half dozen season. Unlike any of those years, I actually think this will be a better season.  They have veteran leadership, Taylor Hall is already doing better at faceoffs than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and top center Sam Gagner will be back by Thanksgiving to lighten the load for the team.

Don’t Plan The Parade:

Colorado Avalanche fans should be ecstatic right now. Somehow their team has scored nine goals and allowed just two through two games. Sure they’ve got offensive talent and Semyon Varlemov is underrated as a goaltender, but this isn’t merely over achieving for a team with a very very similar defense to last years 27th in the league team.

Toronto Maple Leafs A three and zero start is impressive, and not exactly luck. Their game against Montreal they slipped by with a one goal win. They did be the Flyers by two goals, but against the best of their opponents they had to win  in the coin flip competition known as a shootout. Possibly more importantly, there is a brewing goaltending controversy with Bernier and Reimer, and the two players leading the team in scoring; Mason Raymond and Joffrey Lupul are hardly the pictures of perfect health.

 

After years, and years of futility, questionable contracts, and slow incremental improvement, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally made the playoffs. Better still, they didn’t even back in on a last game overtime loss, they snagged the five spot in the conference, in regulation or overtime wins they were tied for second in the east.

Which makes the dismantling of the team even more baffling. They dumped Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens and picked up Jonathan Bernier. They shipped out 3 picks for the Dave Bolland. Former New Jersey Devil David Clarkson was signed to a weighty deal. And most puzzling of all, Mikhail Grabovski was bought out. This is a guy who wanted to retire there, never took nights off, and was one of the better two way player in the NHL last season.

This year the team once know as the Toronto St Patrick’s, will open on the road against the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday October first, then head south to square off with the Philadelphia Flyers the next evening. A two set will open their season at home when they host the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche. Game five sees them back on the road against Seth Jones and the Nashville Predators.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 2

Projected points: 4+

With all the changes on the roster, chemistry will take time. New lines are the order of the day, and new defensive pairings as well. Jonathan Bernier will have to learn the habits of all his defensemen, and they his. James Reimer will need to show he has bounced back completely from the late game collapse against the Boston Bruins. Whatever you may think of their talents, Nazim Kadri and Tyler Bozak are going to be known quantities as the likely centers of the first and second lines, that will make a difference in how teams play them. How will they adjust? Who will end up in Randy Carlyle’s dog house this year? The answers to those questions will tell us if the Toronto Maple Leafs have games after April 12th. The other weighty questions for the team are how well will Kessel and Phanuef play in their contract year? Phanuef is 28, he can reasonably expect to play at or near his current level at least five to seven more years. Will he play conservatively so as not to risk injury? Will Kessel play selfishly trying to inflate his goal total so he can sign a another long deal? For Phil Kessel if he stays healthy he could be contributing as much as much as Chris Kunitz or more in 8 years. If the team feels the can’t sign one or both players and trades them, how is that going to affect the dressing room?

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a hot mess. Certain members of the family care way more about where players are from than how good they are. Some players just don’t show up very often. Then too, there is the question of what sort of maturity (if any) the roster possess as a whole.

Good News

  • Phil Kessel will almost certainly turn in another damn good October.
  • All of last years youngsters gained valuable NHL experience, and several of them got AHL playoff experience playing for the Marlies,
  • Their most important forward, Mikhail Grabovski is locked up long term.

Bad News

  • Goaltending is more than a question it’s a problem.
  • The issue of consistency for the whole team is still up in the air,
  • The defense needs to tighten up dramatically.

Forecast

High: Bubble team, finding some equilibrium in the neighborhood of their best play and shifting three of their overtime losses to regulation wins, and three regulation losses to wins would be a nine point swing. It’d be easy to point out six close games they could have done better in.

Low:  Afterthought/lottery. Injuries to Kessel or Grabovski up front, or Reimer failing to improve or getting worse will doom this team.

X-Factor

Neither the Sabres nor the Canadiens improved much, if at all this off season, and with the young players coming in a little more confident and experienced, this team could see a big bounce if Reimer returns to the .921sv% he put up over his first half season in the NHL. How much pressure Burke feels to make a good impression on the new ownership and keep his job will also be important. You also can’t forget the possibility of a big trade that improves the goaltending.

Way back in September and October as I was evaluating teams I had this to say about the Maple Leafs:

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Which made the early third of the season very entertaining as Phil “Mr October” Kessel did his normal explosion out of the starting gate and Dion Phanuef held up his end of the bargain on the backend. The team was healthy, motivated and many players were competing for jobs. Then there were the injuries. Then the holes in their game got exposed as other teams got rolling. As November turned to December, the team as a whole began its slow backslide. December first they were one point behind Boston for the division lead, but their leaky goaltending and under skilled defense began to show. The scoring was fine, and has remained so, but through 25 games they allowed 80 goals. As of December 1st only two teams had allowed more goals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have three fundamental issues no coach can fix.

  1. Bad, fragile goaltenders. Both physically and mentally the goaltending in Toronto is well below championship caliber. James Reimer is up and down, but is in no meaningful way a better goalie than Steve Mason, he is playing on a better team with slightly more capable defense, but that’s about it. Health issues and the name on the back of the jersey seem to be the only difference between Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson the only consistent thing about his play is that whatever mode he’s in lasts about a month.
  2. Youth. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second youngest team in the NHL. On the current roster there are only three players over the age of thirty. This is particularly bad for defense as it really does take a good 200 games to figure out how to play defense (well) at the NHL level.  Coming into today Franson, Gunnarsson, Gardiner are all under that number.
  3. Weakness at center. If you look at the last four teams to win the Stanley Cup about the only thing they all had in common was strength at the center position. Aside from Grabovski who just doesn’t seem to mesh with Kessel and Lupul, I can’t think of another center who could legitimately be considered at least a strong #2 center. Connolly you can make a case for but with his health issues, I can see coaches shying away from trying to build their offense around him.

Until at least the goaltending and center position are shored up, hitting the playoffs is fighting well out of the teams weight class. It can get there with a hot streak, and playoff experience is good for young players but expecting to climb as high as sixth and avoid Boston or New York in the first round is a stretch with so few games remaining  Against those two team a moral victory could be declared if they play a fifth game. Ron Wilson was not the problem with this team. On the ice there are a couple players who just don’t get it, and some who don’t have NHL talent. Randy Carlyle may or may not prove to be a better coach for this team, but simply ousting Wilson isn’t a solution.

The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will square off Wednesday in Toronto, and Saturday in Boston. Amazing as it is to be talking seriously about the Maple Leafs and the playoffs, not to mention the importance of a two game set in November, it’s a reality. With more than a quarter of the season gone the Leafs enter this pair of games atop the Northeast.

The Bruins sit just one point behind them, and have had a strong November. With two meetings already in the bag, and the Bruins having won both games handily these two games will provide an opportunity for both teams. The Leafs can get back even with the Bruins by winning both, or at least remain competitive with a split. The Bruins with two wins can go forward knowing they have nailed down one of the tie breakers. As difficult as it is to imagine a team like the Leafs can give up over three goals a game and remain in the running, they hold a playoff spot now.

In the previous two games the Bruins won by a combined 13-2. Tyler Seguin has a hat trick, in Toronto. Phil Kessel has not had a goal and is -2. The Bruins enter Wednesday’s game without any injuries. Toronto is missing Colby Armstrong, James Reimer, Matthew Lombardi, Mike Komisarek is also on the IR.

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.

From what’s been said in Chicago it’s time for the Cup hangover and drought to end and end now. The influx of new players is heavy and interesting, but the talented core remains the same and that’s what will bring success if the team can wrest it from their opponents.

High Card:

Duncan Keith is expecting a year more like the one that saw him win the Stanley Cup just months after taking home a Olympic Gold. In an  interview he said he didn’t take good enough care of himself between winning the cup and the start of last season. It’s unlikely a member of the triple gold club could fail to fix a problem having identified it, and with this Norris winner back in form it transforms the whole team.

Wild Card:

Filling the crease for the departed rookie sensation Antti Niemi couldn’t have been an easy job for Corey Crawford. He did however go out and do the job better, in more games behind a worse team. Like James Reimer in Toronto he no longer has the advantage of being new. Other teams will have a good load of material from last year to supplement with any of this years tapes.  One of the interesting challenges will be having Ray Emery as a backup to start the season as the older goaltender will be both fighting for ice time and a contract for next season.

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.

 

Brian Burke pulled another one out his sleeve just hours before I wrote this by picking up one of the NHL’s faceoff from the cap constrained New Jersey Devils for a fourth round pick. Add this to picking up Cody Franson and John Michael-Liles in the off-season and there is reason to hope the teams late surge last year might be more than a mirage. If you toss University of Wisconsin alumni Jake Gardiner into the mix you’ve got half your blueline revamped in one short off season.

 

High Card:

Mikhail Grabovski has demonstrated that he’s the best forward on the team since arriving. Well rounded, aggressive and skilled. While no ones is going to pick him to win the Art Ross, he is quite likely to be the Toronto Maple Leafs MVP again. Kessel put up a few more points than Grabovski last season but was a turnover machine. Grabovski is much more of a Jordan Staal or Mikko Koivu type two way presence and is the type of guy who gets it.

Wild Card:

Is it real or is it beginners luck, that’s the question James Reimer has on his plate this season. A .921 2.60 20-10-0-5 line on a team that couldn’t collectively beat one of their wives previously is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately it was clear to anyone who could do math the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t going to have their travel plans restricted by work in mid April by the time he arrived on the scene.  Will the pressure of potentially jumping into the post season be too much for what is probably the divisions fourth best team and their goalie?

It’s time once again for a look at how the best and most interesting of the NHL’s rookies match up against the 2,971,249,619.63 Ruble man.

Starting at the backend with the goalies, the once clear leader in this position has come back to the pack a little, but bursting onto the scene is James Reimer who has the dubious distinction of being the Toronto Maple Leafs newest rookie goalie.  In just eight games he’s become the teams leader in GAA and Sv%. With about one fourth as many starts at Giguere or Gustavsson he’s just two wins short of “The Monster”. Among rookies with more games, only Corey Crawford has a better GAA than Reimer’s 2.24, and no rookie net minder who has played more has a better Sv%.

The names to know:

  • Segei Bobrovsky with a .920 Sv% and 2.42 GAA “Bob” is what the rookie goaltending situation is like. With 21 wins in just 32 games for the Philadelphia Flyers the Russian is 11 in wins for NHL goaltenders and tied with Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundquist, but just 4 wins behind the league leader Jonas Hiller.
  • Corey Crawford of Chicago owns the GAA lead among rookies with at least fifteen starts and is .23 ahead of Bobrovsky, while only .001% behind Bobrovsky in Sv%.

If defense wins championships here are some future household names:

  • John Carlson of the Washington Capitals is leading all rookie defensemen in blocked shots and takeaways. He’s also third in scoring among freshmen blueliners.  Carlson is the leader among his class of defensemen in shorthanded tie on ice, leading the next comparable player PK Subban by 28 seconds per game.
  • Cam Fowler heard the Ducks call at the draft back in July having slid all the way down to twelfth after most scouts had him neck and neck with Hall and Seguin. Today, he sits atop the rookie defensemens scoring race, also taking top honors among the same group for powerplay points. Among all rookies he’s seventh in scoring.
  • Kevin Shattenkirk in 9 less games is just one point behind Fowler in scoring for the Colorado Avalanche, and has a +/- that is 8 better.

Among forwards, the race has been altered by the team dynamics. Brad Marchand of the Bruins is playing on a line with the Bruins leading scorer Patrice Bergeron and is having a blazing hot stretch that has seen him pocket 12 of his 23 points since January first, including a 4 point game in Colorado. Taylor Hall has seen his team winnowed by injuries and been moved from wing to center.

  • Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks is perhaps the only bright spot for a team that has spent quite a bit of time in the division basement and is outside the playoffs heading into the All Star break. He leads all rookies in goals, and is second in scoring. On the Sharks he is one of just 8 players with a positive +/- and leads the team with a +11, a five count ahead of his next nearest teammate.
  • Jeff Skinner leads all rookies in scoring, and is a +3 on a team whose total goal differential is -3 and is baying at the heels of the Atlanta Thrashers for the final playoff spot in the east. If the Hurricanes do indeed make it into the playoffs, win lose or draw this man needs to get a serious percentage of the votes for Calder.
  • Taylor Hall has scrambled his way into third in rookie scoring despite a lack of quality on his team for support. Third in goals, third in points, he leads his team in goals and is just one point off the team lead.
  • Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins has played more shorthanded time per game than any of the six forwards who have scored more with 1:33 of time per game with a man in the sin bin. He is tied for all NHL short handed points with five and leas the entire NHL in shorthanded goals. For rookies he’s seventh in hits, second in shooting percentage, first in +/-, all in a package (generously) listed at 5’9.

Assuming I were voting on the Calder Trophy race and it was due today my top five would be: 5th Bobrovsky 4th Couture 3) Marchand 2) Carlson 1) Skinner

Ilya Kovalchuk has a line of 14-15-29 -29 in 48 GP. This would make him 4th in rookie scoring. His -29 is worst in the NHL, 44.8% of his points have come on the powerplay.