The departure of Ryan Suter hit the Predators hard. Their defense went from 9th in the NHL to 20th, their offense was 30th in the NHL as well. Despite the star power and impressive talents of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne, the team finished 27th in the league. Injuries were a problem and only Shea Weber, David Legwand, and Roman Josi played the full 48 games. No one on the team broke 30 points, and only three players even managed double digits in goals; David Legwand with a dozen, Gabriel Bourque with eleven, and Mike Fisher with ten. Even promising sophomore center Craig Smith regressed in the abbreviated season.

For the Nashville Predator’s retooling includes bringing Matt Hendricks to music city. The left shooting center is an alumni of St. Cloud State, the Colorado Avalanche and most recently the Washington Capitals. Another college boy graces the roster in the form of University of Michigan left winger Eric Nystrom who has since played for the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars. Filip Forsberg was added to the organization April 3rd via the Washington Capitals, the 2012 1st round  played in Sweden’s 1st division last year. It is likely Austin Watson, Joonas Rask and Taylor Beck will push for full time roster spots with the departure of Martin Erat. A backup goaltender will need to emerge to spell Pekka Rinne as well.

The season opens to a mixed schedule. The Blues are tough defensively and will open the season with a visit from the Predators, the Avalanche will be next on the opening two game road set the next night. Then they are home for five straight games at home. The home stand opens with Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, and the Minnesota Wild. Next to visit will be Jake Gardiner, Tyler Bozak, and the Maple Leafs. Next up are John Tavares and his New York Islanders. Their opening five have four team who were in last years playoffs, but all four were eliminated in the first round.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Minnesota Wild

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

If Barry Trotz can get all his meat eaters hungry and hunting together when camp ends the Predators opening sortie will tell us a lot about this years edition of the team. No one is particularly worried about Shea Weber or Pekka Rinne and their ability to bring their “A game” in the new season.  The questions revolve around Mike Fisher who’s frequently inform, Colin Wilson and the status of his recovery, as well as the integration of new players.

I was not among those surprised the Wild made their return to the playoffs last season. Mikko Koivu has long been one of the most underrated players in the NHL, and adding Suter, Parise as well as several young and talented players to the team was only going to do good things for the team. Jonas Brodin was lauded right and left, but no less of a success was Jared Spurgeon. The late season addition of Jason Pominville wasn’t quite enough to get them a division title, or keep them from being bounced in the first round, but the playoff experience will do them good this year, and for years to come.

In the off season they added Keith Ballard. At best he can contribute as a top four defenseman, at worst he’ll be a voice of experience on an inexperienced blueline. The most controversial signing of the off-season was former Pittsburgh Penguin and Washington Capitals forward Matt Cooke. Cooke is well know for the numerous injuries he’s caused, and the disdain which his claims of reform draw in many quarters. Also looking for a new start is former New York Islanders first round pick Nino Niederreiter. Unfortunately for Wild faithful, none of these players will be the biggest question mark of the year. That distinction will as it has for years reside in the crease as Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and others fight for good health and crease time.

As soon as they cross the starting line this season their ability to score on good goaltenders will be put to the test. The Kings and Ducks both pay visits to the Twin Cities before the Wild play their one road game in the opening set in Nashville against Shea Weber, Seth Jones and the Nashville Predators. The Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars will complete the Wild’s first set of the season. No back to back games, and playing four of five at home is a good sign for the opening stretch.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 2

Best opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest opponent: Dallas Stars

Home games: 4

Projected points: 6

The Minnesota Wild enter the season as one of the top three teams in their division. Staying healthy and avoiding running into a buzzsaw in the first round of the playoffs have to be their priorities. With a little confidence and a dash of machismo the Wild have the tools and talent to play in the second round. Fans looking for a more exciting brand of hockey than this franchise was once known for should keep their eyes on Pominville, Coyle, and Niederreiter.

With the diverse origins of the teams former divisions, the central division might as well be the called “the melting pot”. Two former Northwest teams, a former pacific team, three of the former central division’s teams and an alumni of the southeast division just for good measure. While some teams know each other pretty darn well, the intensity of long time rivalries might just be lacking.

Chicago: We know the Blackhawks didn’t have a fire-sale this time. Who knows, they might escape a cup hangover too. Not likely, not as late as the season ran and as many people as they retained. On the plus side, there were no injuries to key players that will shorten the returning roster going into training camp. We know that with cross conference play, the BlackHawks will have to play more good teams next season than last season.

Colorado: We know Patrick Roy has a new job with the Avalanche. We know this is the longest predicted hiring in the history of the NHL. We know they still have nothing that resembles an NHL defense. We know the franchise has yet to put into evidence a viable plan for a return to relevance. We know Cory Sarich and Alex Tanguay are the biggest additions to this team. We know its gonna be another ugly season.

Dallas Stars: We know the team believes they’ve addressed their needs at center. We know the team dumped a first round pick defenseman, an All Star quality forward and some b prospects to get a guy who was playing third line wing, and a guy with epic scoring droughts. We know Jamie Benn is still the best player on the team, and that Alex Goligoski is still the most underrated player on the team. We know that Rich Peverley is likely to improve the penalty kill 2-3% all by himself. We know that Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley are a remarkable uptick in foot speed over Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder.

Minnesota: We know that after a run to the playoffs last year with a very, very young and inexperienced crew the team should be better this year. We know that with little in the way of real losses in players team chemistry should be good. We know the team needs to hit the playoffs and win a round to be financially viable. We know they really, really need to find a goalie who can be healthy for a whole season. We know the team is just about a shoe in for a playoff spot in a bottom heavy conference.

Nashville: We know the teams defensive top four is set well into the next collective bargaining agreement. We know Pekka Rinne will play close to seventy games. We know they still need a backup goalie. We know they haven’t done a thing to improve their forward core group in years. We know they will make the playoffs in Rinne, Weber, and Ellis are healthy and productive. We know that without upgrades to complete a viable top six they will eventually be beaten by a playoff team that can score consistently.  We know most people would be shocked to know the Predators were the prey on the penalty kill last year ending up 29th with a 75.5% effectiveness.

St Louis: We know the Blues traded out odd duck David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi who they still haven’t signed. We know they have 14 forwards signed. We know that despite it being as close to the end of their last season as it is to the beginning of the new one, their franchise corner stone Alex Pietrangelo is still not signed. We know they will return two goaltenders to the crease whose inconsistency is the one thing you can count on.

Winnipeg: We know that with their first season playing as a western conference team many of the teams players will have to get used to a different traveling and playing schedule. We know that with eight defenseman signed, UFA’s Mark Stuart and Paul Potsma may not want to renew their magazine subscriptions too soon. We know that Devin Setogouchi isn’t a big enough offensive upgrade, but that Michael Frolik might be the perfect solution to their penalty kill woes. We know Olli Jokinen will continue to baffle and befuddle people across the hockey world.

Two trades:

Cal Clutterbuck & the 70th pick went from the Minnesota Wild to the New York Islanders for Nino Niederretter.

Cory Schneider went from the Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils straight up for the 9th overall pick, which Gillis used on Bo Horvat of the London Knights.

1st:

Nathan MacKinnon of the Mooseheads, goes to the Avalanche. It isn’t a surprise that they went with someone other than Jones, but it should be a disappointment. The Teams defense has been awful for years, and some years not even that good.

2nd:

Aleksander Barkov, a center that might be the perfect solution to upping their offensive ante. The Panthers need depth at every position, and this is a solid start.

3rd:

The Tampa Bay Lightning completely ignore their need to build a defense, and draft a Center and Left Winger Jonathan Drouin. Very highly regarded player, but is this the pick that eventually dooms Yzerman’s tenure as general manager?

4th:

Seth Jones is taken by the Nashville Predators, they could have taken a center here and not done themselves a disservice, but a guy with the potential to replace (and surpass?) Ryan Suter.

5th:

Carolina selected Elias Lindholm and gave themselves a very solid option at center in a year or two, and will give them a lot of flexibility going forward.

6th:

Calgary finally got a top notch center in Sean Monahan. They will need to add more on the wings. With the centers taken in the last two or three years, this is a pretty smart pick as they just about have to hit on Monahan and one or two more

7th:

It was not a surprise that Darnell Nurse was the second defenseman taken, just a surprise that Edmonton took him. The Oilers are a year or two from now a notch or two above

8th:

With all the questions surrounding Tyler Myers, the Sabres went back to the well and picked defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

9th

After trading Cory Schnieder for this pick they select Bo Horvat a strong two way center who may start in the NHL on their third line. We all know London Knights players are going to be solid in all three zones, so this might be a positive turning point for the Canucks after trending downward for a couple years.

10th:

The Stars tool big bodied RW Valeri Nichushkin as their pick. With not many larger forwards on the team this is a solid pick.

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

Teams:

  • that the Anahiem Ducks, the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes would all lead their divisions as we crept up on the halfway mark.
  • that the Vancouver Canucks would lead the Northwest division and the Washington Capitals would be in the basement of the east with identical goals for per game at 2.74.
  • the defensive minded Phoenix Coyotes would have have a goals per game advantage on the star studded San Jose Sharks of .59 goals per game.
  • the Tampa Bay Lightning would lead the league in goals per game and be in 11th place in the east.
  • of the top five powerplays by percentage, only two would belong to division leaders; Pittsburgh and Anahiem, while two more belong to teams outside the playoffs; Washington and the New York Islanders with the Saint Louis Blues leading the race for second in in the central division.
  • the New Jersey Devils who finished last season wit the best penalty kill at 89.6% would be 25th on March 2nd with a 77.4% kill more than 2% lower than even the Columbus Blue Jackets of last season.
  • on March 2nd three teams would be .500 or better when trailing after 2 periods; Chicago, Anahiem, Boston.

Players:

  • four players would have drawn at least three penalties per 60 minutes played; Patrick Kaleta of the Sabres, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings, Mark Fistric of the Edmonton Oilers and Torrey Mitchell of the Minnesota Wild. (minimum of 10 games played)
  • Jay Bouwmeester would finish 10.1% more shifts in the offensive zone than he started there while Shea Weber would finish 2.4% less shifts in the offensive zone than he started.
  • Kevin Klien of the Nashville Predators would have played the most games without getting a single penalty at 21 while playing more than 20 minutes a night.
  • of all players with at least 200 faceoffs, Paul Gaustad would lead the NHL in winning percentage at 63.8%.
  • of the top ten points producers, only six would be on teams currently out of the playoffs: #1 Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning #3 Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, #4 John Tavares of the New York Islanders #7 Martin St Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning #9 Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers #10 Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders
  • Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers would have more powerplay points than; Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals, Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks and Teemu Selanne of the Anahiem Ducks.
  • two time Stanley Cup champion Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings would lead the league in shorthanded time on ice per game at 4:24, an 11 second per game heavier load than last season leader Francois Beauchemin

The short answer to all questions of player value is: What ever they can get someone to pay for them.  In this case, Subban is what every team needs and wants: a highly talented, mobile, young defender with offensive skill, defensive savvy, and his best years ahead of him.

Q: So where does he rank in terms of both actual skill, and potential:A: In my book, top ten for NHL defensemen.

In whatever order you like, you can put Chara, Keith, Weber, Pietrangelo, Suter, Doughty ahead of him. The next tier of his true comparables is harder to gauge as that group has more and variability in strengths and weaknesses as well as age. That group includes the Capitals John Carlson, the Jets Dustin Byfugelien, Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, Canucks blueliner Kevin Bieksa, and when used properly, Jay Bouwmeester of the Flames.

Of his comparables:

  • John Carlson is the closest in age and accomplishments, Carlson is better defensively, Subban is a little faster and better offensively. Carlson is also 23 and signed a team friendly pretty fair contract with a cap hit of four million a year in a town where he was at the time about the sixth or seventh biggest name.
  • Kevin Bieksa is the oldest of his comparables, is the fifth or so biggest name behind Kesler, the Sedins and whichever goalies the press is hectoring between pillar and post out in Vancouver. No Cup for Bieksa, but one of the NHL’s more dependable blueliners and is not the type to give up even if a game is out of hand. He’s got a talent laden blueline around him and has for years, not a natively gifted offensively, but knows where he fits in on his offensive minded team. Cap hit of $4.6 million.
  • Jay Bouwmeester was when he signed his current contract with the floundering Panthers about the most talented player and arguably the biggest name on the team. He plays huge minutes including more than two minutes a night on each special team. He blocks over 100 shot each year. His cap hit is $6.8m
  • Brent Seabrook is often overlooked in Chicago even if a good look at the numbers doesn’t bear that out. Skilled going in both directions, Seabrook would be the cornerstone of a lot of franchises in the NHL. He has similar offensive numbers, on a more offensively gifted team, to Subban. Was a big part of the Cup run for Chicago a couple years back. 5.8million.
  • Dustin Byfuglien is the Jets most sizeable defeneman, played his part in hoisting the cup for the windy city, and aside from some injury issues has been a dynamic player since landing in Atlanta-now-Winnipeg. Less defensive acuity than Subban, just as good a skater with a lot more size, and possibly the best known player on his team. His cap hit is 5.2million.

A couple of contracts his agent is sure to bring up:

  • Erik Karlsson, who was mysteriously awarded the Norris, has almost negative defensive ability, and a contract for a $6.8 million cap hit, despite never making it out of the first round of the playoffs and playing a very soft game.
  • Dennis Wideman, the wildly inconsistent 29 year old now on his fifth NHL team was an All Star last season, carries a 5.25m cap hit, and no team he’s played for has ever made it out of the second round of the playoffs.
  • Dion Phaneuf who is one of those guys who was billed as the second coming of god in his early years, and is still picked for a Norris yearly buy some pundits has a large cap hit at 6.5million, but hasn’t seen a playoff game since 2009 and has been above average if not elite for the Toronto Maple Leafs since arriving.

If you crunch the numbers on his true comparables and leave out the laughably overpaid Karlsson, the Semin-level-enigma that is Wideman, and Phanuef, you’ve got an average cap hit of 5,280,000. That’s not really an unfair number for a short term contract, but realistically with only modest improvement in the next three years he should be in the running for legitimate Norris win, and a couple 50+ point seasons.

If your considering an offer sheet or trade for Subban, what does a roughly five point three million dollar contract offer sheet cost? That depends on where you expect to draft, and how well you’ve done drafting. For any amount in the price range of his comparables, assuming Montreal doesn’t match it, you’d be giving up selections in each of the first three rounds of the draft.

If you expect to draft in the top 10 this year, it might not be worth it.

If you expect to draft 11-20, you have to consider it very, very strongly.

If you expect to draft 21-30 this season you’re probably derelict in your duty if you don’t.

An immediate impact player, especially at a reasonable price and especially long term (four+ seasons) is better than potential that is years away. If as an organization you think Subban is the player that can put you over the top for a cup win, or even just generate enough buzz to sell 3000 more tickets a game you almost have to go for him via offer sheet or trade. If you’re in the division you can doubly impact the Habs by lowering their level of talent and improving yours. As poorly as the Habs have drafted in the last decade, them muffing on the draft is almost a given.

What an off season in the Central Division. Lidstrom retires, Suter defects, Weber signed to an offer sheet that was then matched, Kane coming to camp with “something to prove”, and more. This is now a much weaker division than it was last year, it is essentially a two horse race.

Detroit: Let the rebuild begin. While they have a good goaltender, Jimmy Howard is now the biggest star on the team, and that is an issue. Datsyuk has scored less goals each of the last four seasons, Lidstrom is gone, and while I like Colaiacovo more than some, I think he’s not going to restore this blueline to what it was even two seasons ago by himself. They may squeeze into seventh or eighth, but don’t expect them to stick around.

Chicago: The two biggest questions about this team after the health of Jonathan Toews aka the best center in the West, are: 1: Can they play on the road 2: Can their goaltending not suck. If they fixed these in the off season (unlikely given who they still have in goal), they are a monster, if not, the playoffs will not be kind.

Nashville: While they lost Suter, they still have Weber and Rinne. Yes their forward group still needs a smart upgrade, they may actually be the strongest team in the division. Rinne hasn’t done it in the playoffs yet, but he’s perfectly capable of playing 40 games in this shortened regular season and dragging the team into the post season with minimal support.

St Louis: With everybody healthy for the first time in a short eternity, the Blues might just be the strongest team in the West, they absolutely have to improve on their 21st overall in scoring last regular season. A healthy Andy McDonald, David Backes, and David Perron could go a long way in a short time. This year, maybe just maybe Alex Peitrangelo will get some recognition and respect outside of this site and Blues beat writers.

Columbus: While I don’t expect this team to be in the playoffs, their defense is now much better. With the addition of a hopefully resurgent Dubinsky to go with likely future Captain Jack Johnson, this team is on the right path.

Top Dogs: Nashville edges St Louis on the back of an angry Weber.

The NHL Owners are set to end the greatest financial era of the NHL as a whole has seen in the modern era. They are doing that despite knowing the consequences. They earned money hand over fist despite an world wide economic recession. There are no grounds, other than greed, on which to base this lockout. Money is important, teams need it not just for day to day maintenance, or for covering the costs of new or upgraded practice facilities, and to compensate the owners for their work and investment, but to take care of the future.

Closing the door to players, denying millions of fans across the globe their addiction, that’s not taking care of the future. The owners claim, the NHL doesn’t need and shouldn’t have contracts longer than five years. Yet 9 of the last 150 contracts on CapGeek.com are for six years or longer. Among those signing long deals are Tyler Seguin in Boston, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall in Edmonton, Shea Weber in Nashville, John Carlson in Washington, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell in Phily, and one or two others. Of them all, Simmonds is the least well known, and even he’s gotten some traction. How in the world do these deals, combined with the ownership statements convince anyone the NHL Owners are negotiating in good faith?

Just a few short years ago the owners were in a different position, teams like the Penguins were failing. Chicago hadn’t been good in years, the Kings were laughable, the Bruins were just bad, no big involved. League revenue was low because the teams in big markets were at the low ebb. Today that’s not true. The Penguins continue to draw at home and away. Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles have all won Stanley Cups in recent years and the fan bases are well engaged.

That won’t last through a lockout. No one in the world believes that if the NHL loses a season we’re going to get anything close to the quality product we’ve seen in the last season and two post seasons. The Coyotes and Kings leading up to the Stanley Cup final was tense, physical, emotional hockey, The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers having a series long shooting gallery was thrilling to watch. The reason it won’t be as good is players will get out of sync with their teammates. Some players will opt to stay in the KHL or SEL, still more will retire.

Are their some bad deals handed out to NHL players? Absolutely. But the people authorizing those deals have no one to blame but themselves. Some of the NHL’s worst contracts amount to just short of stealing by the players. On the other hand, the simple truth is that those contracts amount to taking some extra pennies from the tray at the store, in comparison locking out for a season is lighting your own wallet on fire.

Joe Thornton is the name of the day. For those who someone missed it, he’s still one of the best centers in the game. He’s got a 200 foot game, plays physically, and nearly as dirty as Sidney Crosby or Danny Briere at times. He skates well, is one of the three best passers of the last 30 years, and he’s never won a cup.

Some teams and how he’d fit in:

  • Boston: a full circle story with him going back almost certainly means a trade package like Krejci,  Spooner or Khoklachev, O’Gara, a 1st and likely another prospect or pick goes back. If the roster isn’t ripped up too much he’s likely the cure for what ails the teams powerplay. He’s done the major hockey market media before so the adjustment would be slight, and he likely still knows his way around the North end.
  • Nashville: This is almost the perfect landing spot for him. Even if half the fanbase hated him yesterday, him landing their tomorrow in the wake of the defection of Suter and the Weber scare means they have not just a high end player to fill out the roster but a face for the forwards and a tutor for the young prospects in the system.
  • Chicago: while their search has been for a  second line center, this might just fill the whole. Kane, Hossa, Sharp and the other wingers probably wouldn’t complain too much about second line minutes next to him. 
  • Calgary: Jarome Iginla has never had a legit top line center to play with. Joe Thornton would be that. The Flames may not have what is needed to ship back in return, but career years for both as a duo aren’t out of the realm of possibility. 
  • Phoenix: The desert dogs are so far under the cap floor they’ve probably got mushrooms growing on their heads. Even if they added Thornton without sending back a single roster player they would still be almost two and a half million under the floor. Throwing Thornton down as an inducement to keeping Doan would probably help a tiny bit. 
  • Florida: If there’s one thing we know about Dale Tallon it is that he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade. The Panthers need a good center, they also have one of Thornton’s buddies, Bryan Campell who stayed at Thornton’s place after being traded out of Buffalo. 
Obviously the pending CBA negotiations are going to be a big factor, especially for teams paying closer to the cap floor than the ceiling, but it should not be forgotten that Joe Thornton does have a NTC/NMC. If Jumbo Joe does get moved, it will likely be the biggest trade of the offseason. Yes, bigger than the possible Bobby Ryan or the just elapsed shuffling of Nash to the Rangers. Both are younger than Thornton, and talented, but neither has the potential to impact the game at the same level. 
Whoever is going fishing in the shark tank should be dangling, forwards, draft picks, forwards and more forwards. The Sharks one strength in terms of prospects is on the backend. Their forward pool is nothing to brag about, and years of trading for established talent and playoff finishes have left them drafting in the bottom half of each round each year for about a decade.