October 18th, 2011 — 2011-12 Season Stories
The NHL entry draft always has a ton of drama surrounding it. Most of it centers on the first selection and teams that may or may not be dealing from the bottom of the deck to improve their lottery odds. In some cases it is a team that trades away its known talent around the deadline for high picks, or a bushel of middle picks they hope to use to move up at the draft. Often the chase for high picks in the draft begins two or three seasons out with projections of a draft class that might or might not be stronger than the ones on either side of it.
This year despite a lackluster twenty five points in his seven games is Nail Yakupov is the consensus number one pick. Comparisons by scouts already have him as the same level of player as Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin.
@ @ @ and he will be only the third Russian to go no 1 (Kovalchuk/Ovechkin) That's pretty good company
@ @ @ barring injury, yakupov will make it impossible to not go no 1. No chl plyr has his impact this year
Of the bottom seven teams from last year, only three of those teams are in the same zone now. The Senators, the Jets, the Blue Jackets are all performing poorly thus far. While it is only a few games into the season history tells ups the NHL’s standings at any point in October are less important than any other month. Most would say these three teams are performing at about the projected level.
Of the team that were in the playoffs or that no mans land between the top eight in each conference and the draft lottery some have had significant talent leave without a compensating inflow of talent. Highest on that list is the lost of Ilya Bryzgalov by the Phoenix Coyotes. The Dallas Stars also hold a prominent place on the list as well with the loss of Brad Richards. With the post-Iginla era cresting the horizon the Flames who missed the playoffs last year might not have to do much hit the lottery.
Already playing the western conferences toughest division, they lost a goalie who has been nominated for the Vezina in 2010 and played 202 of their previous 246 regular season games. The Coyotes have also had a very long running set of negotiations with Kyle Turris over his contract. The combination of the loss of a center on a team without much depth their to a labor dispute, and a world class goalie has the potential to be huge.
The Dallas Stars, one of the NHL teams going through ownership drama, did bring in two time 30 goal man Michael Ryder the talent shipped out is not balanced. With James Neal sent to the Penguins at the deadline, and Richards lost to free agency there is still a big gap between what the team was and where it is now. Michael Ryder turned in a playoff performance that made it possible for him to get an NHL contract this year, and has looked solid thus far how long will it last? Ryder has a well documented history of highly irregular production. If he’s producing regularly at the end of January might he get traded to a team needing to get better for a playoff push? Picking up a second round pick (or potentially more) for the second year of his contract would have to be tempting.
Jarome Iginla is 34 years old. Jarome Iginla is playing on the team with the second highest average age in the NHL. Jarome Iginla is playing on a team that hands out no movement clauses like Halloween candy. Jarome Iginla is awesome, no really. Awesome. He’s never had a center who could stay within shouting distance of him and has still put up huge numbers. Unfortunately for the man with the longest name in NHL history, he’s also on a team with minimal hope of winning the Stanley Cup before his current contract expires after next season. For him a move to a strong team he could put over the top might become appealing, especially if he leaves on good enough terms to return in two years (see Keith Tkachuk) to the city he’s spent his career in. For the team, getting back prospects or picks and moving closer to this seasons holy grail might be irresistible. Done right it can be as well received as Ray Bourque’s departure from Boston.
While the Edmonton Oilers have a rather Penguins like string of high draft picks already and are off to a start that has them tied for sixth in points it is unlikely they stay there. After tie breakers they are in 9th in the west. Worse, through four games they have nine goals, five of them credited to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While there’s no doubt adding Yakupov to the lineup could take a young offensive unit to the heights it hasn’t seen since a certain trade with Los Angeles before most of their roster started playing hockey, the NHL isn’t the same animal it was then. So if they somehow managed to get the first pick in the draft, again, and decided to build their blueline up instead, Mathew Dumba, Nick Ebert, Ryan Murray, Jacob Trouba are just a few of the high end defensemen who could be picked up with an extra pick or two in the top forty-five picks.
The fun quest all season will be to see who can get publicly hammered with the least attention for it.
October 6th, 2011 — Uncategorized
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.
When you’re the defending Stanley Cup champions and only one of the three players lost during the off season can be considered key, and no one had any injuries that extended to the start of the new season, you’re very, very lucky. The Bruins are in just such a place. They have what has to be counted as the best goalie tandem in the NHL. They have Zdeno Chara returning on the blueline, they imported a blueliner to give their power-less play a shot in the arm, and they promoted youngsters to fill positions. Better still, they have all sorts of cap room to play with if the need arises.
When the chips are down there’s one guy who always shows up on this team. It showed when he was forced to the shelf in the playoffs. It showed more with his play in games six and seven of the Stanley Cup final. Patrice Bergeron took over game six, and owned game seven. He plays at a high level in every situation and never quits or loafs. Simply put he’s both skilled and the emotional epicenter of the team.
Tyler Seguin had a passable season last year. His play under similar a coach from the same mold compares favorably to Joe Thornton’s rookie year in the regular season. In the playoffs he wasn’t able to remain a consistent threat to the opposition but showed blinding flashes of brilliance. This off season along with a tattoo or two he picked up a few pounds of muscle and hopefully had time to assimilate the seasons lessons. If he can build on what he learn last year a fifty point season as a sophomore coupled with reasonable faceoff performance and advances in puck protection would be a more than acceptable second season. Expecting any more than that without some serious injuries higher on the depth chart is not reasonable. But even at that level of contribution it would pick up a good deal of the scoring lost with Ryder’s departure. If he somehow slumps or even just fails to improve I can’t imagine he’d enjoy stepping onto the Garden ice by mid December.
October 6th, 2011 — Uncategorized
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.
Another city, another ownership question. This particular question may have cost them their best player in the off season as Brad Richards departed the Lone Star state for the Big Apple. Also gone living legend Mike Modono (@9Modono), in Michael Ryder, Sheldon Souray, and seemingly high expectations.
Alex Goligoski is if not the best player, one of those who has recent cup winning experience and a healthy dose of talent. The blueliner came over from the Penguins and is a late deal that sent James Neal the other way. While I’m sure no one would complain if he went with his post trade point production, it is probably a little much to expect him to duplicate the 15 points in 24 games pace he was on after landing in Dallas.
Another recent Stanley Cup champion could play a large part in returning this franchise to the post season. The former thirty goal scorer saw his role reduced as time elapsed in Boston. Last year however towards the end of the year, and through the playoffs he showed the polish and animation that lets the world know even more than the stat sheet Michael Ryder’s feeling the mojo. With Richards gone someone is going to need to replace the goals he scored and as long as he stays confident Ryder is capable.
September 23rd, 2011 — Uncategorized
Training camps exist for two reasons. The first is to get everyone in sync, the second is the one that is even more exciting; stirring the pot and seeing what stands out. As is the case in training camps across sports the highest draft picks, newest free agents and biggest stars get the lions share of attention, but if those people were all that mattered Ray Bourque would probably have won half a dozen Stanley Cups and not one.
Coming into this summer I had expected to watch no more than half a dozen of the young forwards vie for the last of the roster spots. With the poor showing of the Providence Bruins last season, and a draft that was likely successful, but not something we’ll be able to answer definitively for four or five seasons the attention of nearly all Bruins watchers turned to the guys who led Providence in one offensive stat or another. Some focused on a particular physical type as well. And as usual the prospects still playing in juniors who looked best back in development camp had their own spot on the watchlist.
I’m guessing very few of these lists included Lane MacDermid. His goal scoring doesn’t explain his being drafted. His assist totals are no more spectacular. Many people probably wrote him off with a dismissive comment about his PIMs totals. And yet after the intersquad scrimmage and first preseason game, he sits with the highest point total of any Bruins player. Twice assisting on goals in the scrimmage and being the lone goal scorer for the black and gold in their loss to the division rival Ottawa Senators. This is clearly a case of what the biggest difference between the Bruins and Canucks. Specifically, the triumph of will over skill. It may only be two games, but MacDermid has clearly decided to make the most of every moment on the ice. Equally clearly others have not.
The other prospect playing better than many expected is this years fortieth draft pick. Center and left wing Alexander Khokhlachev certainly entered camp in the shadow of the older players at camp (all of them). The young man hoping to make himself a Windsor Spitfire’s Alumni is making a good case for himself. At development camp he showed himself adept at faceoffs, passing and was willing to travel the whole ice service to make plays. In the intersquad scrimmage he potted two goals past a #1 goalie, and did it with guys who were probably not on anyones short list to replace the departed Recchi and Ryder in the top nine forwards.
It is still early days with a lot more camp left, but watching the drive of these two players has certainly made the preseason more interesting.
September 10th, 2011 — Uncategorized
The ongoing saga of Brad Marchand’s dance with the Boston Bruins brass has reached the level of absurdity. No, I take that back. It passed absurdity a long time ago. Adam Mcquaid was re-signed and his existing deal wasn’t set to expire until next summer. Joe Corvo was acquired a long time ago. Sure forty goal man Benoit Pouliot was signed just days after the cup was raised. And just in-case anyone has forgotten it the 35 year Chris Clark who has a history of knee injuries was invited to training camp. Just today, the team extended Providence Bruins defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, who went -8 with one goal last season.
While at least one of those moves was something that could be a serious positive impact on the team. Doing all of these ahead of signing a key forward who’s contract has expired is very much like sliding a chair under the doorknob to your backdoor to keep burglars out while leaving the front door, and every large window open and a trail of hundred dollar bills from the mantle to the curb. When you draft a player who’s somewhere around seventeen, what your drafting is potential and work ethic. The two don’t march in lockstep and one often fails to materialize. In the case of Brad Marchand we saw sports of both two seasons ago. Last season, when no one expected him to make the team, and he started the year in the pressbox before a stay on the fourth line. In January he was key to Patrice Bergeron earning first star in the NHL. In the post season he scored in every round of the playoffs.
So what gives? Are they hoping he might be versatile? Let’s see, he scored short handed, even strength, and on the powerplay. He delivered hits, drew penalties and blocked shots. He produced in the early season, the midseason and the late season. He produced on the fourth line, he produced with and without Bergeron on a production line. He had two goals in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. He handled the media well. I suspect his jersey and tshirt have been selling quite well too.
So what’s the hold up? We know if they got the extensions for Bodnarchuk and Mcquaid done, a: the nice folks in the NHL offices are still talking to them and b: someone with the authority to sign deals has been sober enough to do so on at least two occasions. Regardless of what the hold up is, a deal could and should have been done by now. In the present day NHL there is no such thing as an unmovable contract. This applies doubly to Stanley Cup champions. If Scott Gomez and Brian Campbell can be moved with contracts that were deemed unmovable when they were signed, I can’t imagine any number that could be hung on Marchand that kept the team near the cap as currently configured.
Did Marchand suddenly become unmanageable? See above. Dany Heatley has been moved and has done far less in the playoffs. Nikita Filatov was made team captain of one of the Russian national teams despite the circumstances with the BlueJackets, then he too was traded to a rebuilding team. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from watching the NHL the last few years it’s that if there is talent there’s a taker. So assuming the number is five million a year. That’s less than Kessel got, and Marchand has proved he’s willing to work hard with and without the puck, and be creative going to the net.
So what’s the worst that happens? With Savard’s cap space even Chara can’t reach the cap ceiling. If the number proves too much exile him to Florida where Dale Tallon is doing his usual bang-up job of cap management. Or ship him out to St Louis where he and Sobotka can shop in all the same clothing stores. Heck, given the biggest trade the Avalanche made over the summer Marchand could probably fetch a first, a second a prospect and the luxury box revenue.
Whatever the reason Marchand isn’t signed at this point, even if it is part of a sign and trade is no longer a good one. Camp opens in days. It is now a distraction to the team as well as fans and management. Why should he go into camp with his usual fire if he’s got no safety net? What about the other players? What about putting lines together, penalty kill use, and all the other roles he played? Then there is the question of how much turnover is a good thing. Given the likelihood Marchand doesn’t return that will be Marchand, Ryder, Recchi off the forward lines. That’s a lot of ice time across even strength and special teams. Essentially it is a whole forward line lost, for a team that struggled on the powerplay, and isn’t over blessed with speed letting Marchand go or having him sit out without a contract is absurd.
August 5th, 2011 — Uncategorized
The Boston Bruins slayed the dragon on June 15th. They ended a Stanley Cup drought that stretched back longer than anyone on the team today has been alive. As a Stanley Cup champion they suffered injuries to the body of players that made up the winning legion. Some championship teams have been killed outright by massive loss of talent. For others, just as has been the case throughout the history of warfare disease has collected a far higher body count than enemy action. In the case of NHL teams, and certain nations throughout history victory disease is the quietest and most insidious killer.
Gone are leading powerplay producers of last season future hall of famer Mark Recchi and two time 30 goal man Michael Ryder. Departed from the blueline is the man they paid a kings ransom for just prior to the trade deadline. In their place we have Benoit Pouliot, who’s extraordinary NHL exploits speak for themselves. We have an empty roster spot that will possibly be filled with an AHL graduate or major junior prodigy. The blueline has actually been downgraded. As poorly as Tomas Kaberle performed he is still over the course of his the holder of greater efficacy than the Joe Corvo, and has avoided the off ice issues. Kaberle has been .13 points per game better than Corvo and even put up a better shooting percentage.
While it was nice to Adam Mcquaid extended it’s hard to say that the future of the club over the next four season would be radically degraded without him inked to an extension after his rookie season as an admirable third pairing defenseman. With Marc Savard unlikely to ever play again the same can not be said in regards to David Krejci who centered the top offensive line this season. His contract would have expired at the same time as McQuaid’s and unlike the brawny blueliner he’d have been eligible for arbitration. While he played behind the now two time Vezina Trophy winning, Jennings winning, Con Smyth winning 37 year old Tim Thomas Tuuka Rask is also probably a shade more important over the medium term than McQuaid, no rumor has reached me of an extension offer being dangled in front of him either.
The first elephant in the room is however the fact that training camp looms close ahead while the echos of celebration fade away and a forward who scored more playoff goals as a rookie than Mario Lemuix, who led the team in shorthanded goals in the regular season, and who clearly demonstrated his desire to improve year over year is still not re-signed. So far the lack of signing has been blamed on; illness, vacations, Stanley Cup days, El Nino, conflicting schedules, the hunt for the Amstel Light drinker and Brad’s ever absent shirts. The second elephant is that several of the better teams in the eastern conference have been staging a noisy arms race since before the draft. The Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Buffalo Sabres have all been hugely active in trades and free agent signings, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to get back not one, but two Hart Trophy winners. The Bruins who finished a slim seven points ahead of Buffalo, and behind the Flyers, Capitals, and Penguins have put pop guns into their lineup while the competition loads up with surface to air missiles.
Fans have to be wondering what the commitment of the Bruins front office is to being the first team in the post lockout era to repeat is. The Bruins powerplay still hasn’t been adequately addressed and fans across the globe still wince in memory of it. The team has downgraded the productivity of its on ice product as Corvo’s sole advantage over Kaberle is his willingness to shoot the puck, and Pouliot has yet to put together a season as good as even Recchi’s least productive. For Bruins fans, the summer of love looks to run directly into the winter of discontent.
July 6th, 2011 — Uncategorized
After a dismal powerplay during the post season, and an aggressively mediocre power play in the regular season, one would have thought fixing this would be priority number one. A week into free agency the power play is worse than it was not better. The inconsistent Michael Ryder has moved on. Mark Recchi has retired after a glorious career. They have not been replaced.
Michael Ryder for all his faults, was one of the top two forward contributors to the powerplay. Mark Recchi, for every minute of his age was the other. Recchi led the entire team in powerplay points. Ryder was first on the team in powerplay goals. To replace them, Peter Chiarelli signed Benoit Pouliot. The latest Habs discard had exactly one powerplay goal last year. One powerplay goal is exactly the same number that Greg Campbell had. The issue is not just his lack of production, but how bad what little production he had really is. Campbell saw a bare 17 minutes of powerplay time. Pouliot was on the ice for four times that. Campbell even managed to add an assist in his powerplay time, Pouliot, not so much.
So here we sit, a week into free agency. All indications point to Marc Savard not being on the ice to start the season. The top points producers from last years powerplay are gone. A roster spot has been filled by a chronic underperformer with less career goals than one of the players lost had just last regular season, his worst full season to date. What are we to expect? A full season going by with teams hacking away at our best players because they know the powerplay is no threat? Should we expect Claude Julien for all his other strengths to suddenly take untested prospects and make them the movers and shakers of the powerplay? And if so, which ones? The Providence Bruins last year had a powerplay that was not only the worst in the AHL but five percent more useless than Boston’s. I suppose its possible Julien will take an entirely different route from what has won him coach of the year awards both the AHL and NHL, and most recently allowed him to hoist the Stanley Cup with his team. I don’t see it, but sure, we could very well spend the year watching Maxime Suave and Jordan Caron getting two plus minutes a night of powerplay time. I think we’re just as likely to see Tyler Seguin lead the team in fighting majors at the end of the season as to see that, but it is possible.
July 2nd, 2011 — Uncategorized
It’s not a secret that I find the Benoit Pouliot deal a tiny bit incomprehensible. You might say I find it just as curious as calling the anarchists who show up to sporting events with Molotov cocktails, gasoline and ski masks and then proceed to instigate a riot no matter the outcome “sports fans”. As a rule, most sports fans who’s team lose are too dejected to do anything more harmful than toss back a couple more adult beverages and eat something with enough salt to treat their driveway for two snowy weeks.
Of the moves made, and not for people who were in the system, and played an important role, here are the rankings:
- Pouliot, thumbs down. He’s not a very high bar to pass. Looking back at the 2005 draft it was about as thin as they get. No forward above the 4th round with as many games has less goals. He’s not very disciplined. He’s not a good goal scorer. He’s made 22 playoff appearances without a goal while going -5. He’s now on this third team since being drafted six years ago and has yet to play his 200th NHL game despite being a high draft pick who turned pro in 2006-7.
- Khodoubin, thumbs up. Best move of the day, with Rasks knee a question mark to start the season, the question of what will be down with two goaltenders who are #1s, and the uncertainty of the long pro season, great move. Better still, we’ll have a good idea how much of the Providence Bruins performance is due to the goaltending, and how much is the play in front of them. I’m honestly surprised no NHL team grabbed him as at least a backup. He managed to go from the Houston Areo’s an AHL Calder Cup Finalist, to the Providence Bruins who didn’t make the playoffs and improve both his GAA and Sv%.
- Whitfield. thumbs up. Work ethic, work ethic, work ethic he was captain of the Providence Bruins last year and likely will be the next two years. Not especially gifted physically, but knows where to be and how to read plays.I suspect he’ll probably have a job as a coach as soon as he hangs up his skates.
- Ryder, thumbs up. Sorta, he played better in the late season and playoffs than in his previous 18 months in uniform. Part of the post season success was linking up with Seguin and Kelly, particularly Seguin. That said for much of stay in Boston he wasn’t even a passenger he was luggage. If he’d signed a 1 year pact for what he signed on for in Dallas, I wouldn’t have complained, I think the one year deals are good for motivation of “enigmatic” players like Ryder and Semin.
- Marchand, thumbs down. This is a provisional thumbs down, but the teams who have been left out, or teams like the LA Kings who have a bleeding need at left wing might be tempted to throw out an offer sheet. With the exception of Selanne, no UFA forward on the market scored more goals than Marchand did last year. Morrison had 2 more points last season, everyone else left was noticeably less of a contributor. Also, with Recchi retired, retooling an entire line for no better reason than dickering over a contract with a player who proved he was willing to put in the work to improve year over year and contributed in all areas is a bit silly.
- Kaberle, thumbs up. Despite the nonsense spewing from the folks on TSN/NHLnet on July 1, Kaberle was mostly a non factor. For comparison, Ference had 0:50 of PPTOI per game in the playoffs and Kaberle had 3:46, Ference had two assists, Kaberle five. No NHL team has ever depended on Ference for propping up their offense, and yet in the second season Ference had four goals, which is exactly four more than Kaberle produced. Any contract more than 1 year is a bad idea. Anything approaching the contract he had is unwarranted. I don’t see how one of the free agents or prospects could fail to match his performance with the Bruins for a lot cheaper.
No move can ever be evaluated 100% fairly until the contract is up or some amazing achievement has been made, but history says a lot about each of these players.
June 30th, 2011 — Uncategorized
With the Boston Bruins having won the Stanley Cup, and Brad Marchand having score as many goals as Jeremy Roenick or Mario Lemeiux in the playoffs. Like Niemi the year before last, he also managed to be a contributor to a Cup winner as a rookie, and in the last year of his contract.
In adding up the factors against him getting a big pay day here are the big ones:
- Was suspended for two games.
- Has only played one full season in the NHL.
- In the partial season he did play he failed to score a single goal and was a minus player.
- Took undisciplined penalties including multiple ruffing calls, and a throwing the stick penalty.
In his favor there are a few marks.
- Led all rookies in short handed points.
- Scored points short handed, at five on five, and on the powerplay.
- Was not afraid to go to the “dirty areas”.
- Played well as both a checking line forward and a more two way forward.
- Was a +/- leader in both regular and post seasons.
For comparison here are some of the other guys who scored forty-one points in the regular season last year:
- Devon Setoguchi: just signed to a new three year deal for three million a year, has been a thirty goal man, but also missed time each of the last two seasons. Does not play shorthanded.
- Mike Santorelli: Had a short handed goal last year, was the second leading scorer on an abysmal Panthers team, but had one of the worst +/- on the team. $600,000 one year contract expires the end of the upcoming season.
- Michael Ryder. Highly inconsistent during the regular season on the same Boston Bruins, very solid post season, his four million dollar per year deal is set to expire 7/1, is a two time thirty goal scorer.
Current market forces not being something you can ignore, here are some of the recent signings:
- Tomas Kopecky, has not topped 15 goals in his career and is seven years older than Marchand, did not play shorthanded last year, and just signed a four year contract worth three million per year.
- David Jones is four years older, has also played just one full season in the NHL, scored 27 goals last season, one year contract for two and a half million.
- Brooks Laich, had his second lowest career goal total last season. At 28 his points total last season was lower than either of the previous two years. Has just signed a six year deal with a cap hit of four and a half million a year.
- Nathan Gerbe of similar size to Marchand, has signed a new deal worth a shade under one and a half million a year, only scored sixteen goals and 31 points in 64 games last year.
To me, given the speed, ability to agitate, and ability to play in all situations and his chemistry with Patrice Bergeron, I’d call two and half million a little low, and probably barely fair a deal between $2.75 million and $3.25 woud be about market value for any deal under four years. A deal over four million, or longer than four years could be somewhat questionable, no matter how much we like him.