This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

The Washington Capitals welcomed the sixth coach of the George McPhee era. This one is hall of fame inductee Adam Oates. With no real training camp or exhibition period, the Capitals were trying to absorb their new system for at leas the first month of the season. Among his other innovations was moving Left and Right Wing All-Star Alex Ovechkin from the former to the latter. The first half of the season was not pretty.

With guile, wisdom and no doubt some threats Oates got the team to the playoffs. Since last season, the Capitals have waived good-bye to Roman Hamerlik, Tom Poti, Mike Ribeiro and a few other well known faces. Perhaps the best signing this off season was the Capitals picking up Mikhail Grabovski. As compelling in terms of addition is having Brooks Laich and Mike Green both entering the season healthy.

Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and the crew will open the season with a roadtrip to the windy city where they’ll get to watch the Chicago Blackhawks raise their newest banner. After returning home for a game they will hows the Calgary Flames who start the season without Jarome Iginla for the first time in well over a decade. The Dallas Stars will be their next port of call and they’ll face Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the revamped forward group in the Lonestar state. Back home they will have showdowns with Eric Staal and his Carolina Hurricanes and Gabriel Landeskog’s Colorado Avalanche.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7

The Metropolitan division will be brutally tough.  I have no doubt Adam Oates will do everything he can to motivate the team and let them jump on the division lead early. They don’t have any really stiff competition other than the Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Dallas Stars are no longer pushovers, and even the Avalanche aren’t a gimmie, this is a better team than four of their first five opponents on paper. They need to prove it on the ice.

Summer is here and the time to restock, rejuvenate and reevaluate teams and staffs is here again. Some teams get better, others stay about the same, and some get worse.

Worse:

The Toronto Maple Leafs are inarguably worse than they were at the end of last season. They took the group that got them to within one goal of the second round and gutted it. They bought out a forward who played 22 minutes a night, they traded away three picks for a guy who has never hit the 20 goal mark. For a team that is clearly trying to reforge itself, that is highly curious. Worse, with all the movement of players in and out, a group that finally played well enough to perform like a team is likely back to being a gaggle of individuals. What is Dave Nonis thinking?

Better:

The Edmonton Oilers have two things they didn’t have last year. The first is a veteran blueliner who had won the Cup recently. The second is someone who was solid defensively, but also know show to get the puck out of the zone. Both of those attributes reside in one Andrew Ference. Reacquiring Denis Grabeshkov will only add to the strength of their blueline. Up front the added playoff tested forward David Perron. He’s a little bit older than the youngest forwards on their team, but close enough in age for him to blend in. Better still, they managed to extend Sam Gagner who has been their best center for at least two or three years without breaking the bank. The addition of veteran Jason Labarbera to their crease only makes a playoff spot that much more likely.

Worse:

For the Calgary Flames adding Karri Ramo and Kris Russell just isn’t enough. Even if they have three rookies break camp with them and garner serious Calder attention, they are not any closer to a playoff team than they were last year. Ramo had a poor start to his NHL career with Tampa Bay and the Flames defense is about equal to what Tampa Bay had then with the benefit of having fewer superstar forwards in the conference to play against he may only be slightly better than he was then.

Better:

The Phoenix Coyotes got better just by stabilizing ownership. They then added Mike Ribeiro as their top center. They added depth forward Brandon Yip, and it is likely Henrik Samuelsson and Max Domi will compete for roster spots at training camp. Adding either of the youngsters to  Vrbata, Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Ribeiro,  who slid into a roster with Ovechkin and the other highly skilled caps could finally vault the Coyotes offense into the top third of the league.

Some teams do well at of free agency, others are unmitigated disasters. Today we get pretty good ideas as to what teams will look like in the fall, and which teams are going for it now, next year or no time soon.

Anaheim Ducks: Win. Today they traded star forward Bobby Ryan to the Senators for the Ottawa 1st round pick, Jakob Silfverberg a 2nd round pick, and Stefan Noesen the Senators the 1st round pick out of Plano, Tx from 2011. Good move for the Ducks long term who have very little depth and lots of older players.

Boston Bruins: Win. Adding a hungry veteran who now has recent playoff experience, no bad contracts and overall a younger, hungrier  roster than they started last year with.

Buffalo Sabres: Lose Extending a new deal to Matt Ellis isn’t going to push the Sabres into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames: Lose While they didn’t make any horrible signings (for a change) the contracts they did sign for AHL players and guys who will never be stars don’t push the team forward. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Win They signed a very solid 2nd goalie in Anton Khudobin, and resigned Michal Jordan which is enough to make up for giving a contract to Mike Komisarek.

Colorado Avalanche:

Chicago Blackhawks Draw. They reupped with Handzus on team friendly deal, but didn’t have the cap space to land any of the big fish on the market, and they lost their top end backup today.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Draw Nathan Horton is a great addition, the contract term is less than ideal. Signings other than Bobrovsky are non impacting.

Dallas Stars: Draw While there are defensive signings they could have made, and arguably better goaltenders, but with the moves they made on the fourth they don’t really need to do much to improve over last season.

Detroit Red Wings: Draw They opened the floodgates to renewed eastern conference rivalries by poaching Daniel Alfredsson, signed Stephen Weiss long term, but still didn’t shore up a mediocre defense. 

Edmonton Oilers: Win They improve their defense both by the addition of Ference and the subtraction of others, they didn’t give out any horrible contracts or let anyone of value get away.

Florida Panthers: Lose They are in a much, much tougher division this year and for the next couple years and did nothing to fix a woeful team.

Los Angeles Kings Draw No improvements, no idiotic contracts simply adding a depth defenseman.

Minnesota Wild: Lose There was no reason to add Matt Cooke to the roster, it won’t make them a better team, they already have a solid penalty kill and beyond that they traded a roster player for a draft pick and kept to depth defensemen.

Montreal Canadiens Draw Danny Briere is a good get for a pretty thin market. Compared to Mike Fisher and David Booth who have the same cap hit, Briere is not so bad. You can always do more, and you can clearly do worse.

Nashville Predators: Lose Victor Stalberg is a solid get. The other signings for the love of hockey why?

New Jersey Devils Huh? This is the team that was bankrupt not too long ago right? They sign Michael Ryder to a really solid contract, they sign Ryane Clowe to a contact that will be the NHL’s go to punchline for the next several years, they resigned Patrik Elias until he’s eligible for social security. On top of that they have Dainius Zubrus signed until a week past decomposition. These contracts are a bit much to get their hands on Centrum Silver’s advertising dollars.

New York Islanders Win Locking up Travis Hamonic long term for not much money is big enough that all their other moves are irrelevant.

New York Rangers Lose I think Glen Sather overslept and his secretary just signed guys that were once on good teams. Benoit Pouliot, Aaron Johnson, and other players 85% of Rangers fans won’t be able to name at the All Star/Olympic break.

Ottawa Senators Win Getting Bobby Ryan without having to give up any core pieces is pretty spiffy. Sure they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson but in fairness his ability was not at the same level it was five years ago, and he was looking for more money than Ryan who is still in his prime.

Philadelphia Flyers Win (I kid, I kid!) It almost doesn’t matter who they signed because they didn’t hand out an absurd contract on day one (they got Streit and Lecavalier handled early) oh wait, they gave Giroux (multiple concussions) that contract and an eminently redundant no movement clause, because those really mean something in Philly. Emery is a good get, and that’s about it for the positives.

Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Win Adding Ribeiro at center is an upgrade even if you only look at his Dallas years, adding Greiss as a solid backup means Smith might not have to play 70 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins Draw Correcting the mistake that lead to Rob Scuderi being let go after they won the cup is all well and good, but four years too late. They also don’t have enough cap space to add a 12th forward.

San Jose Sharks Lose Over the cap, and undertalented.

Saint Louis Blues Lose No viable movement, and a core that isn’t getting any younger.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lose Nothing says “cluefree” like signing a forward who has never topped 23 goals to a five year five million a year contract and failing to improve the teams biggest weakness.

Toronto Maple Leafs Lose The Clarkson signing is for about three years too long, the Bozak signing is so-so, and the Grabovski buyout is inexcusable.

Vancouver Canucks: Win Brad Richardson is a solid addition at a good price, and Yannick Webber may prove to be a find for their defense.

Washington Capitals: Draw Adam Oates made good strides with the team last year, prospects and getting Karl Alzner inked should get them to as good or better than their place last year.

Winnipeg Jets: Win No free agent signings (shocking I know) but they did pick up a solid forward addition in a trade for a reasonable price.

No team wins without at least one very good center, most teams have more than one. In no particular order.

 

Derek Roy (age 30): While the last year or two have not been his best, he did get the extra rest of the lockout, and an unimpressive playoff run with the Vancouver. At 5’9″ and 184 lbs he’s not quite imposing, but has in the past managed to be effective against defenses like Boston and Montreal.

Michal Handzus (age 36): Probably the strongest faceoff man available in this free agent crop he’s also shown there is still gas in the tank playing 15 games in is native Slovakia, the bulk of the season with the San Jose Sharks before being swapped for a fourth round pick to the Blackhawks. In 23 playoff games Handzus put up 11 points while averaging about 16 minutes a night. Arguably he’s the best 2/3C available.

Mikhail Grabovski (age 29): The Maple Leafs somehow came to the conclusion Grabovksi was no longer needed, and that the team would be better off playing him to go away. On the ice Grabovski is aggressive, physical, impossible to intimidate and has produced three 20 goal seasons during his Maple Leafs tenure topping off at 29. Even with somehow landing in Randy Carlyle’s during the regular season and playing just 15:34 in the regular season his “poor play” got him burdened with additional minutes pushing him to 19:03 per game in the playoffs.  So in the break down between the stats guys, and the independent “eyeball test” guys, and the teams evaluation you can decide who you want to believe.

 

Mike Ribeiro (age 33) : While playing with the restructuring Washington Capitals under first year head coach and hall of fame inductee Adam Oates Ribeiro put up one of two point per game seasons in a NHL career that stretches back to 1999-2000. The former Montreal Canadien, and Dallas Star got into his first NHL fight with the Bruins Brad Marchand last season. Not the oldest center available, but certainly showing he’s willing to learn a few new tricks.

Tyler Bozak (age 27): Perhaps the most derided player on the list, Bozak plays with high energy, played the regular season at over 20 minutes a game, and the post season at almost twenty two. Last seasons short handed TOI was about triple the previous years. There aren’t a lot of younger centers available. and a general manager and coach that think they can get him for the right price and develop him

Danny Briere (age 35): Briere is among the legion of players signed to long term deals in Philadelphia and either traded or bought out. Small, a bit dirty and perhaps losing a step of late. While hes probably due for a significant pay cut, there’s no question his playoff prowess is more than tempting; 108 games played and 109 points, 50 of them goals.

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

Players:

  • … Chris Stewart, Brad Marchand and Jiri Tlusty would be in the top 21 goal scorers in the NHL and Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, and Phil Kessel would not.
  • … Luke Schenn would be second among Flyers defensemen in +/- and one of just three players with a positive +/- to play more than 20 games
  • … in the same number of games, John Tavares would have more more points (31) than Jonathan Toews (29).
  • … Thomas Hickey would play more minutes and shifts through two thirds of the season than Lubomir Vishnovsky.
  • … Artem Anisimov’s 80% shootout success rate would lead the league.
  • … Ben Bishop would be 3-0 in shootouts and Robin Lehner would be 0-3, both for the Senators.
  • … the active leader in game winning goals, Jaromir Jagr would have just one through 27 games played.
  • … Ilya Kovalchuk would have four short handed goals, four game winning goals, and just ten total.
  • … in just 19 games played the leagues penalty minutes leader would be Mike Brown
  • … the top five shooting percentage leaders in the NHL would be 1: Patrik Berglund  29.2% 14 goals 2: Mike Ribeiro 27.8% 10 goals 3: Chris Kunitz 26.9% 18 goals 4: Alex Tanguay 26.5% 9 goals 5: Brad Marchand 26% 13 goals

Teams:

  • … having fired their general manager at the start of the season and made no significant trades, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be tied for sixth place with more ROW than any team below them and even or less games played than any team within five points.
  • … that in less games, the New York Islanders would have scored more goals than the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • … the Tampa Bay Lightning who are second in goal per game would have only one player with more than ten goals.
  • … half of the top ten powerplays in the NHL would belong to teams currently out of playoff position; Capitals, Islanders, Oilers, Flyers, and Flames.
  • … with at least 27 games played, the Canucks, Flames, Lightning, Canadiens, Penguins, and Wild would all have failed to score a 4 on 5 goal.
  • … each having played 28 games only the Oilers and Ducks would not have a 4 on 4 goal.
  • … the Northwest division would be separated by the least points with just ten between the division leading Minnesota Wild and the fifth place Colorado Avalanche.
  • … six of the top ten shot blocking teams would be out of the playoffs: Colorado, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Nashville, and Phoenix.
  • … the only two teams without a regulation loss in their last ten games would be the Columbus Blue Jackets (7-0-3) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (10-0-0)
  • … eleven teams would have a double digit negative goal differential while just eight have positive double digit differentials.

How much of this would you have believed in if I told you in September?

The Phoenix Coyotes, currently owned and administered by the National Hockey League signed young star blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a sweet, sweet deal worth $33 million over six years. Of note is that the heavily backweighted nature of the contract means whoever  buys the team (may it be soon) will pay him two times as much in 2018-19 as the NHL will pay him next season. As long as he continues to improve it should still be a good price.

Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Wild are just two points out of the Northwest division lead. Sure, for the past ten decades that’s been a lot like finishing second in the Special Olympics, but this year staying close means even if the don’t overtake the flat in their last ten Vancouver Canucks, the 6-4-0 in their last ten Wild on the other hand are trending in the right direction and have allowed 8 less goals in the 26 games each has played. The Xcel Energy center will be quite juiced up in May if the return of native son Zach Parise helps spark the team to a playoff berth.

Vladimir Sobotka will play in his 300th career game tonight. #stlblues
@StLouisBlues
St. Louis Blues

 Sobotka was traded to the St Louis Blues from the Boston Bruins for David Warsovfky after the 2009-10 season and has appeared in 165 regular season games for the Blues. Warsovsky has yet to even get a cup of coffee in the NHL, Vladimir Sobotka has played an additional 9 playoff games. Currently Sobotka is fourth on the Blues in goal scoring.

The Tampa Bay Lightning waived, and their division rivals the Carolina Hurricanes, who happen to read lead the division, claimed Adam Hall. The Michigan native has played for the Nashville Predators, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins since coming into the NHL in 2001. Canes fans should expect Hall to slide into the penalty kill. It is interesting that the Lightning who are 13th in the NHL on the penalty kill should waive him, unless one looks down form their position rather than up. The Hurricanes on the other hand are 22nd in the league as of today and will likely give the UFA to be a workload similar to the 2:11 of shorthanded time on ice he had with the Lightning.

Monday evening, Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers will play his 1000th NHL game. The bastion of the blueline has been in a Flyers uniform since the 2007-08 season and will be celebrating his birthday as well. The Finnish native was drafted in the 10th round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings whom he never played a game for.

Mike Milbury thinks Mike Ribeiro of the Washington Capitals will be available at the deadline. Long his favorite team, Milbury had little more than “buyer beware” to say of the former Dallas Star and Montreal Canadien.

The NHL Entry Draft is perhaps the most exciting day on the NHL schedule. July 1st as the start of Free Agency is fun, but not as good. The trade deadline is probably third, after opening day. The trades are just one of the things that make the day fun.

The New York Islanders made a savvy pickup relieving the Anaheim Ducks of Lubomir Visnovsky. The soon to be 36 year old is on the last year of his contract and will likely be in the dual roll of top defensemen and mentor to the young blueliners. Calvin de Hann will undoubtedly benefit from Visnovsky’s nearly 800 games of NHL experience, this years first round pick Reinhart may get some time riding shotgun as may Scott Mayfield. The Islanders gave up a 2nd round pick in next years draft

The Pittsburgh Penguins sent Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Harrison Ruopp, Marc Cheverie and pick #81 (3rd round). This was the second trade of the night for the Penguins.

In the biggest trade of the day, the worlds best 3rd center Jordan Staal was relieved of that title and an address in Pittsburgh area. Instead he’ll be playing with elder brother and fellow Stanley Cup champion Eric Staal. There are a number of possibilities for how Jordan and Eric are deployed separately and together. Going back tot he steel city are, Brandon Sutter, this years 8th pick Derrick Pouliot, and Boston College alumni Brian Dumoulin. This is a win, win bigger trade. The Hurricanes overpaid, but got a player who wants to be there, will have chemistry with at least one other player, and yes is very highly talented.

The Washington Capitals grabbed Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for Cody Eakin and the 54th pick. That second round pick will be deployed sometime saturday morning. This is a curious move for the Capitals who have had one or two questions about their commitment and character and Mike Ribeiro is well, Mike Ribeiro. On the other hand I not only haven’t figured out what method George Mcfee is using to shape the team, I haven’t figured out how he’s still employed.

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

Teams:

  • there would be three eastern conference teams in playoff position who did not make the playoffs last year: Ottawa, Toronto, New Jersey
  • only two teams would be in position to make the playoffs in the west who did not make it last year: St Louis and Minnesota
  • on today’s date the New York Islanders 5.4% would statistically have a better chance at the playoffs than the Buffalo Sabres 3.2%
  • the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres would be the two northeast teams most likely to be in the NHL entry draft lottery
  • the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks would all have records no better than .500 over their last ten and still hold their division lead
  • three of the top ten powerplays by percent in the NHL would belong to non playoff teams: #2 Edmonton Oilers, #7 New York Islanders, #9 Colorado Avalanche
  • the team that had allowed the most shorthanded goals 13, and 5 more than the next nearest team the New Jersey Devils would be in playoff position
  • Of the top five teams in blocked shots, only one would also be among the five that allowed the least goals, the New York Rangers

Players:

  • Sam Gagner would enter play today with more goals than Patrick Kane
  • Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals would be trailing Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets in goals, assists, points, hits and PIMS
  • 39 year old Ray Whitney would be the highest scoring player in the entire Pacific division and twentieth in the NHL
  • of the top five goal scorers in the NHL the oldest would be the creaky and distinguished 25 year old Evgeni Malkin
  • three of the four top shorthanded goal scorers would all play for the same team: Adam Henrique, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk
  • the three defensemen facing the toughest competition by Corsi would be: Jay Bouwmeester, Chris Butler, Sheldon Souray
  • four members; Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder, Mike Ribeiro, of the Dallas Stars would have as many or more points as departed “star” Brad Richards
  • of the five goalies with the most wins, two would be Americans and only one Canadian

… which if any would you have believed?