Why does the NHL need to expand into markets other than North America? That’s easy, the choice is their own expansion or the KHL’s. The Kontinental Hockey League has wooed stars with big names and “glue guys” away, in order to be the biggest fish

The European problem is one that has been addressed in different ways by North American sports leagues. MLS would prefer you not compare the to Europe. The NHL travels yearly to Europe, at at least London to play a game. This is far scaled back from their quasi-independent, quasi-development league that continent spanning money pit etched in the history books as NFL Europe.

The NHL has addressed the European question with transfer agreements that sometimes are enforced, and others not. It has played regular season neutral site games across the continent with fans at the home arenas of half a dozen teams being shut out of a regular season game and usually a preseason game or two. Another way European audiences have been targeted is having NHL teams play exhibition games against local teams.

The problem of expansion into Europe full time isn’t just one of competition, its logistics, there is quality of play, financial concerns, and of course fomenting strong rivalries, something the NHL failed to do in the now dissolved Southeast division. Putting one or two teams outside North America is pointless. The team or teams would spend so much time traveling back and for the “balanced schedule” the NHL is currently in love with that it could be a cap exempt All Star roster and they’d be lucky to make the playoffs.

The basic solution is obvious, go back to a division heavy schedule and place or create an entire division in Europe. North American based teams could be scheduled to play four or more games in Europe, and the  European teams given a six or seven game minimum North American tour to help minimize travel times and dragging out the already long NHL schedule further. Ideally, the NHL trade deadline would be past of 36 or so total break in NHL games.

The logical number for teams to be added to the NHL is six if it going to go to Europe. That means you can have nights where every NHL team is in action, and the league can be split into six divisions each of six teams. On the revenue front, the NHL would have a ready made solution for getting live matinee games on the TV schedule, with the time difference between London, Bern, and other European ports.

Next a look at why it makes more sense to put some teams in Europe over other places in North America.

With Mike Fisher’s injury given a preliminary recover time that takes until about the time of the Winter Classic, assuming no set backs, the Nashville Predators are now in dire need of a quality center. Having spent the assets to acquire James Neal and Filip Forsberg in the last fifteen months, the time and the circumstances are right to double down and aim for a playoff position again.

Shea Weber is signed, rested, and should have a chip on his shoulder after another season where he probably should have gotten the Norris, or at least finished second. Seth Jones has spent a year learning the NHL. Craig Smith and Colin Wilson are now tested NHL players who have weathered the storm of disastrous seasons. Most importantly Pekka Rinne is healthy and ready for the hunt.

Out on the coast are the Boston Bruins, for many reasons the team is in cap jail and the situation isn’t going to get better any time soon with Soderberg, Boychuck, McQuaid, and Hamilton all due new contracts next year, and that’s with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith still unsigned right now. With moderate salary increases you’re likely looking at about $12 million in salary minimum between these players. Someone has to go.

Bergeron has a no movement clause and trading him for anything less than 6 first round draft picks, the Holy Grail and a roster player is likely to result in Peter Chiarelli being burned in effigy outside the Garden, (and also lower concessions, ticket sales and merchandise).  Chris Kelly, when healthy, is a great penalty killer, a top shelf checking line center, and the type of all around good dude that teams seek out, unfortunately he finished last season on the shelf, and has a full no trade clause. He’s also not the type of center the Nashville Predators currently need.  Greg Campbell is a fourth line version of Kelly with all the same problems, excepting the no trade clause.

Realistically, that leaves Carl Soderberg who has one season of NHL play to set his value and David Krejci. Krejci has found success with wingers as varied as Milan Lucic Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, and incidentally lead the NHL in post season scoring. Moving Soderberg has essentially no impact on the Boston Bruins cap situation, it would give them about $2.6 million in cap space, about enough to renew Krug and Smith if the brass turns the screws and risks alienating both players and their agents but not really enough to add a replacement as well.

That makes David Krejci the default candidate, that he’s also the most likely to bring in a quality return is fortuitous for the Bruins. If you use the Phil Kessel trade as a benchmark you will get back a solid return and don’t spend any roster space on it. If you go with something closer to the Joe Thornton trade you retool with a mixed bag. Brad Stuart was the best defenseman on the roster when he arrived, Marco Sturm would play for several seasons and score the winning goal in the Bruins only Winter Classic appearance.

Many observers would say the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators are both a crossroads. The Predators need to reach and advance in the playoffs if they are to be financially solvent, and grow their fanbase. The Boston Bruins have several talented prospects at center where the risk is stagnation and regression with an speedy return to a system and roster that looks like the 2005-06 roster if they don’t promote one or more players. The NHL and all it’s feeder leagues are better when more teams are competitive.

The right trade for both teams is one where both teams win. The Predators need to reestablish the themselves as a playoff team if they hope to extend James Neal, and you have to be pretty jaded not to imagine fans in Smashville enjoying a line with David Krejci centering James Neal and Filip Forsberg.

While correlation is not causation, it is interesting to note how many of the players who filed for arbitration are doing so as part of teams that have rather small amounts of cap space per player left and the need to fill multiple spots.

The NHLPA put out this list of men who filed to have their contract value determined by a third party.

Starting at the top is Brandon McMillian of the Arizona Coyotes, drafted 85th and having spent a post draft year back in the WHL he’s piled up enough points to be 37th in scoring in his draft class with 6 of his 32 points coming in the 22 games he’s spent in a Coyotes uniform where he averaged about 12:35 a night including  about 0:45 short handed. It’s unlikely he gets more than $850,000 and closer to $775,000 is more likely.

Matt Bartkowski of the Boston Bruins is also a 2008 draft pick, and has been in and out of the NHL lineup since being acquired, but in that four years he’s racked up just 84 NHL regular season games. However, last season he played more than a bit part in 64 games averaging more than 19 minutes a night. He has 20 points all assists in 84 regular season games, and 3points including 1 goal in 15 post season games. Ben Lovejoy is a good comparable (if older) he had the same number of points and was only one worse in +/-, Lovejoy made $1.1million, Jeff Petry likewise had similar numbers and is the same age, he made $1.8 million. Given the Boston Bruins depth at the position, and how Bartkowski has been passed over in the depth chart more than once, if he’s awarded anything north of $1.5m I expect the Bruins to walk. An arbitrator could pin the number anywhere from $1million to $1.8, but I lean toward the lower end.

Joe Colborne is a 6’5 center for the Calgary Flames, he played just a touch over 14 minutes a night and put up a line of 10-1828 -17. Last year’s 80 NHL games are the vast majority of his 96 NHL games. His qualifying offer would have been $660,000. with so little NHL experience, and the other changes in the Flames roster, somewhere between the QO and $725,000 is what he can expect.

Antoine Roussell of the Dallas Stars is possibly the most interesting case this year. A break down of his 209 penalty minutes shows he may be the most disciplined guy to break that mark in years. Very few of the minutes were lazy penalties like hooking and their wasn’t a single high sticking call. 139 of 209 PIMS were one form of major or another. If you had only that to go by, you’d be comparing him to players like Shawn Thornton or Tom Sestito. Add in a 1:40 a night killing penalties, and a line of 14-15-29, and you have a very interesting player. In goals he was tied with players like Matt Stajan ($2.5m)  and Kyle Palmieri ($1.35) . Honestly depending on what the arbitrator decides to set as his biggest contribution, he could end up anywhere from the $650,000 which is just over his QO, to $2.5 a reasonable guess is the $1.1 to $1.4m.

Cameron Gaunce, not entirely sure why he filed for arbitration unless he’s trying to get released and go to Europe or become an RFA. He played just 9 games all of last season, and has a total of 20 NHL games and 1 point. A six foot one defenseman isn’t exactly rare in the NHL, one wonders if the arbitrator will spend longer writing out the decision or proof reading it.

Jimmy Hayes of the Florida Panthers made the most of his 11 minutes a night picking up 18 points with 11 of them goals after being shipped from Chicago to Sunrise. Six and a half feet tall and more than 220lbs the right shot, right wing is a veteran of the NAHL, USHL. and Hockey East before going pro, he has also been traded three times since 2008. He finished with 2 fewer points than Bartkowski with about half the minutes, I wouldn’t expect much more than league minimum.

Dwight King is a homegrown bottom six forward who has now been part of two Stanley Cup wins. His 30 points last year put him ahead of team captain Dustin Brown, 3 of his 15 goals came on special teams, he played well both home and away, and left him 7th on the team in scoring. Of comparable production are Rich Peverley ($3.25m), Tobias Enstrom ($5.75m), last year King made $775k. A $2.25M payday isn’t out of the question, but expect something a bit closer to $1.8m.

Justin Fontaine is another really interesting case. Last year he was true rookie for the Minnesota Wild playing 66 regular season games and 9 playoff games. The Bonnyville Alberta native was 4th on the team in goals with 13 and did it in a spare 12:15 a night. His pre-NHL career could indicate there’s  solid chance this numbers climb.

Lars Eller has to be one of the most frustrating players for fans and management to watch. He shows flashes that make you think he’s got the juice to be a 20+ team 2nd line center, and then wallows about the ice making you wonder why anyone gives him more than fourth line minutes for interminable stretches. Of his 58 minor PIMS last 48 could be called lazy or careless penalties. Another two or three years at his current salary would bring him to UFA status, and give him a chance to decide who he is as a player.$1.75 to 2.1 isn’t outside possibility but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Montraal Canadiens say thanks but no thanks at anything over $1.8.

P.K. Subban, he’s arguably the best defenseman in the NHL under 27, he’s won a Norris, he was nearly a point per game player in the playoffs last season and three of his four NHL season, including the lockout shortened one, had double digit goal totals. At 25 if the Habs can sign him for 6+ years they should. The 6.25price range for similar aged and quality defensemen is $6.25-$7.5, and that is about where he should sign.

Part two coming soon.

 

In life, in business, in relationships and in the NHL, neither success nor failure are instant. On occasion it appears that a team or business has succeeded or failed in the blink of an eye, what you are seeing is that iceberg tip those final twenty stories of a skyscraper that bring it above the rest. On July one, Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely swept over the horizon and promptly fell flat on their faces. They made exactly one move on the day. They signed a no name plugger who will likely never see NHL action in a Bruins uniform.

But where does this spectacular failure stem from? Last season yes they went over the cap by about 4.7 million. Yes, with that money they could have kept Jarome Iginla, but they’d still have needed to come up with money for rookie sensations Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, and likely Matt Bartkowski and or Matt Fraser. But why did they get to this place? How? When they won the Stanley Cup they had more depth than last year at every position, they had as much youth, they were just as close to the cap (they went over that year too).

The answer lies in the composition of the roster. There is exactly one player on who played most or all of last season in Boston who was drafted and developed since Peter Chiarelli took over, and that’s Dougie Hamilton. One of 23. You can add in Ryan Spooner if you’re feeling generous since he was exceptional at the AHL level and held a place for a good stretch of games mid season as well. If you go back to the Cup year, Tyler Seguin was the lone player to be drafted and developed here and well, he didn’t last long.

Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, are all players that were drafted before he took the helm. Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Loui Erikssn, and all the rest were either brought in via trade or free agency. The player not named Seguin (Dallas Stars) and or Hamilton to be drafted since Chiarelli took over is Jordan Caron. He of course has produced less points than Shawn Thornton during his tenure.

What does this mean? It means the Boston Bruins have overpaid for free agents from Michael Ryder,  Steve Begin, and Joe Corvo and spent too much to get under achievers like Tomas Kaberle in trade. It means that instead of bring up young players like the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, they brought in guys who no one will remember fondly like Peter Schaefer, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jay Pandolfo because the draft has been largely an excuse for other teams to laugh down their sleeves at consistently inept drafting.

The overpayment on free agents has translate into what can conservatively be figured at a 10% increase in the salary many of the Bruins developed players have received since. It means that instead of drafting players who fit the system, Peter Chiarelli and company have waited until two or even three years of RFA status of a player have been burned meaning not only will they over pay these players  who have little to no loyalty to the team, it means that even if they aren’t overpaid they will likely hobble the team with an unneeded no trade or no movement clause for a player who is a nice fit but is eminently replaceable.

This level of personnel mismanagement also means bafflingly bad trades that give up guys like Vladimir Sobotka and Kris Versteeg for guys no one remembers the names of. After half a decade and what most regard as a flukey Stanley Cup win the Bruins attempted a course correction with a change in scouting directors. The first run with the new leader shows he probably has as deft a touch in his current position, as his more famous brother had at coaching in the desert.

Cap mismanagement, inability to draft and negligible ability to recognize which players can be got without a no movement or no trade clause, and an over devotion to player like Caron and Hamill who consistently fail to live up to expectations that’s a hell of a dossier for his next position.

With Jason Spezza already dealt the market has seen its first bellwether. We know what the trade value for a top level offensive center. At 31, there’s still a chance Spezza could sign long term and be a big part of the Dallas Star’s success in future. Who else will set the standard for guys like them?

Jarome Iginla, the only UFA who scored 30 goals last season. A first ballot hall of famer who proved that even in the playoffs he can produce without a center showing up for work.

Josh Gorges, the defensive defenseman is overdue for change (even if it is really difficult to imagine the Montreal Canadiens without him) entering next season with four years remaining at under four million, and 30 years old he’s a 2/3 defensemen in 25+ systems in the NHL.

Paul Stastny, a young, effective forward. One can ask if he’s a piece or a complimentary player, but there’s no denying when he’s dialed in he’s damned effective.

Brooks Orpik at 33, the clock is ticking if a Stanley Cup ring is in his future. Does he feel the Penguins are moving in the right direction? Can someone offer him a great ride on a top contender? Those are the factors that will weigh in on his choice.

Ryan Miller, hands down the best goalie in the batch. Would he be the perfect fit for the Minnesota Wild? He’s been healthy which none of their guys have, he’s played with several of the the key guys on the roster in the Olympics.

P.K. Subban, the top free agent of any kind this year is an RFA defenseman, he should receive offer sheets and arguably with Gorges likely departing he should sign one of them. Whatever price is set for him, whenever and wherever he signs will be the high water mark for defenseman for the next couple years.

Jaden Schwartz put up good offensive numbers on a defensive team, with 25 goals and 56 points, its going to be hard to argue what he signs for won’t impact other RFA forwards this summer.

Anton Stralman is a defenseman who made himself more valuable with his playoff run. Is he an elite #1 defeneman, no. But then there are only about four to six of those in the NHL right now. Based on his playoff run, there are some, starting with his agent who will argue he’s in that next group of defensemen.

At some point in an athletes career, they realize their time is done. For some it is when they can no longer get a contract, in other cases they simply can’t making it onto the ice or playing field. When its time to say good-bye to their time as a player, many paths are taken. Some guys go into the broadcast booth having planned it out since junior hockey. Others just want to sit out porch and watch their kids play. A few will go with dramatic career changes that bring them someplace as far removed from athletic competition as the world of fashion or politics.

Having watched a lot of two particular players getting towards the end of their playing tenure, I wonder if the best use of their talents might be behind a bench. Having watched just about all of Hal Gill’s career, you can’t doubt for a minute he has a deep understanding of the game that allows him to take advantage of his average athleticism. He’s been invaluable in several systems under widely different coaches and playing philosophies. Given the number of coaches in the NHL now who were less gifted defensemen than he is, and who likely mentored less men along the way, a coaching position in the NHL, AHL or elsewhere might be the perfect occupation for the next twenty or so years for the towering Massachusetts native.

The other man is possibly even more interesting as a potential coach. Of limited finesse, and clearly a self-made player Shawn Thornton might just be the next Gordie Dwyer. As you no doubt know, Dwyer was a highly physical player who made the transition to major junior head coach. Along the way Dwyer more than double the number of wins his squad put up from first year to second. Thornton has proved a valuable asset to his teams over the years with his gloves on and off, demonstrating an understating of his teammates that allowed him to steer them in the teams best interest. During his professional career he’s played both wing and defense.

Both Thornton and Gill epitomize the adaptability needed to stay in the NHL long term, both have been a part of Stanley Cup wins, and seen all the changes the last decade or so have thrown at players, coaches, fans and the families of players. Either gentleman could be exactly the right cog to help an organizations move forward if they step behind the bench.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the most disappointing team in the NHL every year since they won the cup in the entire eastern conference. The Sharks arguably are worse, but then San Jose never actually won offering up the proof that they could, the Penguins did. Why is the new broom needed?

The problem isn’t lack of talent. Whatever else can be said of Crosby, Letang, and Fleury, they have not covered themselves with glory in the playoffs. When they did win the cup, Malkin was the Conn-Smyth winner, Fleury allowed more goals than any other goaltender in that post season. Crosby now has seventeen post season games with just one goal. In this years post season he generated zero points in six games. Letang was scoreless in ten games. In his case, he is coming back from a stroke and a lot of time off, but since being drafted he’s only crossed 75 games in one regular season. Whatever good Letang may do a team offensively, and that’s undeniable, defensively he leaves room for notable improvement.

If anyone needs explained to them why Marc-Andre Fleury needs to be ousted from the Pittsburgh crease, I really can’t help you. He’s a living blooper reel of post season gaffes. His ability to track the puck in pressure situations in almost non-existent. This years .915 sv% is by far his highest in five post seasons, last year he lost the starting job to a man who hadn’t played in the playoffs in about a decade.

Dan Bylsma has failed to keep this team focused in the playoffs every year since his first full season. Five playoff runs, all ending with him looking befuddled on his way to the handshake line after no visible attempts to camp the troubled waters on his bench in the previous several games. The last two years they’ve gotten through their first rounds not because they deserved to win based on the way they played, but because neither the Islanders nor Blue Jackets possessed any measure of playoff experience. This year with America’s best hockey players on his roster for the Olympics he did nothing. The team failed to medal because he is a one trick pony; put the two best offensive players together and pray. That’s it.

Ray Shero has been hunting a white whale for years. Year in, year out he goes out and looks for “someone to play with Crosby”, he brings someone in, they don’t gel, and that person gets shuffled to Malkin’s line where they normally produce at least at the level they did before arriving there. But the subtext to what Shero has done the past half decade is even more alarming when you realize who most of the players brought in were. Last year it was Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, both former team captains, in the past almost everyone brought in has worn a letter. Why? Whether he is willing to admit it or not, some part of him recognized the lack of leadership at ice level. And yet, he kept doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

For Pittsburgh to improve the changes need to be wholesale; Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma need to be given their walking papers. Sidney Crosby and at least one of Marc-Andre Fleury or Kris Letang need to go as well. Without changing the supposed leadership, and the actual faces of the team you can’t change its direction, mental composition or yearly fate.

A compilation of improbably stats and situations from the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Teams

  • Five games into the divisional finals, the Minnesota Wild have still not lost at home, the path here included a seven game series against a team coached by a Jack Adams finalist, and being the lower ranked team in both series.
  • The Ducks have played thee different goaltenders, including a 20 year old American, a 24 year old Dane, and 32 year old from Switzerland.
  • The Minnesota Wild are the only team not to have been shutout this post season.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team to have two players suspended this post season.
  • The Anaheim Ducks after being average in penalty minutes during the regular season at 10.9 minutes per game, are the most penalized team left in the playoffs at 20.4.
  • Of the three teams with more than one shutout during these playoffs, the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Minnesota Wild, the Wild have had two goalies produce one; Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgaloz
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins lead all remaining teams with three wins when trailing after the first period.

Players

  • Erik Haula leads all rookies in post season goals with 3.
  • Two rookies have shorthanded goals in this years playoffs, Ondrej Palat and Brian Gibbons.
  • Brad Richards leads all players in powerplay time on ice with 61:57, but has just 1 powerplay point.
  • Three defensemen are over a point per game in the playoffs; P.K. Subban 1.33, Brent Seabrook at 1.25, and Jack Johnson at 1.17.
  • With 11 even strength points in eleven games, Anze Kopitar leads all forwards in ESPPG.
  • Brothers Mikko Koivu 57.5% and Saku Koivu 56.9% rank 2nd and 3rd in faceoff winning percentage among players still active.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed more goals than any other goalie, as he did the year he and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
  • Jonathan Quick leads all goaltenders in penalty minutes with 4.
  • Sidney Crosby is 102nd in goal in the playoffs, well behind household names like Brendan Gallagher (4), Charlie Coyle (3), Nick Holden 3, Mathieu Perrault (2), and Raffi Torres (2).

We’re four games into the latest battle in a playoff war that stretches back to before the grandparents of several players on either side were born. We’ve seen one goaltender continue a career year, one defensemen further etch his name into league history, a call up redefine the series with a single shot, and a man who waited half a decade to make his NHL debut outshine his entire team. And someone still needs to win two games.

For the Montreal Canadiens, they came into the series and odd form of underdog. Yes the finished a distant third in the division, a long way down from the President’s Trophy Winning Boston Bruins. But they also won the season series between the teams and most of the last double handful of regular season games.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Carey Price has been spectacular. He’s got three games in this series with a sv% of .929 or better, and seems to be stopping everything.
  • Offensively, P.K. Subban has been top notch. He’s gotten timely goals on the powerplay and at even strength and has piled up six points in four games which is more than a little good.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Find a way to smother the third line. Carl Soderberg has been the most consistent Bruins forward this series, he’s been 1/4th of an inch from scoring or assisting on a goal a dozen times and they can’t get allowing that.
  • Keep Price’s lines of sight clear, when there have been any amount of bodies in front, goals are going in.
  • Spend more time in the offensive zone, the amount of shot, and shot attempts they’ve given up makes it shocking they are even in the series.

The Boston Bruins entered the post season prohibitive favorites. They were expected to run the board and have time to take a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas between rounds. After a gaffe against the Red Wings (who also won the season series against the Bruins) the Kings of Causeway laid rubber from Boston to Motown and back.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Patrice Bergeron (four points), Zdeno Chara (+5), Brad Marchand (5pts +6) have been the stars they’re billed as.
  • Depth and balance, despite Krejci’s wasted minutes, others have been around to fill the void; Smith, Fraser, Paille have taken his ignored burden and spread it on their own shoulders.
  • Better coaching, Claude Julien, Doug Houda and company have outmaneuvered their opposite number.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Get Lucic and Iginla some help, it doesn’t matter if they locate Krejci’s drive and hockey sense or put someone else between them, the number of times these two, one 240 or so and the the other a soon to be 37 year old have made it to the net or corners while Krejci is almost in the zone or just entering is staggering.
  • Prop up Rask’s confidence any way they can. He’s got exactly one game this series with a sv% over .894. No one expects him to be stellar all the time, but average isn’t something he should be looking up at.
  • Communicate better from the bench to the penalty box, they’ve had brain farts in front of the net, at the offensive blueline, and everywhere else.

There is no extreme advantage in this series. Head to head the Canadiens have produced better results, but against the league at large the Bruins are handily better. The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup more recently, but there is a lot of playoff experience on the Montreal roster as well.