It’s that time of year, when anyone who hasn’t managed to completely abandon social responsibility goes into hibernation for several hours a couple times a week. The NHL playoffs are here.

1: New York Rangers vs 8: Ottawa Senators

The Rangers have the advantages in goaltending, in playoff experience, penalty kill and in team toughness. That’s not to say the Senators are pushovers, but the Rangers had 10 more fighting majors than the Senators. The Senators own a noticeably better powerplay, a more powerful offense overall, and better leadership. Age is roughly the same with the Senators have a larger spread between their players ages.

On paper the Rangers should win this series handily. Unfortunately we don’t know how healthy Lundquist is (again) and the Senators won the regular season series against the “superior team”.

2: Boston Bruins vs 7: Washington Capitals

Can you say goalie issues? I knew that you could! The Boston Bruins still have a healthy Tim Thomas and that’s a damned spiffy thing to have. Unfortunately between the two teams there are two goalies who have never played an NHL playoff game (Khudobin, Holtby), one goalie ineligible to play at all (Turco), and count ’em three goalies currently injured (Rask, Vokoun, Neuvirth) which makes for exciting times for the coaches. For the Capitals who were likely to find themselves out matched in goal anyways, it makes it worse that their likely starter Brayden Holtby has just 21 NHL games (14-4-3) to his name, and none of them playoff games and only seven of them this season.

The Capitals won the season series against the Bruins, on the other hand three of those games came during that ice defiling slump they were in. The bad news for the Bruins who have since resurrected their team identity is that the Capitals have Backstrom back. On paper I thin almost anyone has to give this series to the Bruins, but the Capitals won’t make it easy.

3: Florida Panthers vs 6: New Jersey Devils

These two teams are both making their return to the second season. The Sons of Sunrise as an organization haven’t been in the playoffs in forever, but Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg lifted the Stanley Cup together, Samuelsson, Sturm, Bergenheim, Kopecky, Madden, and Jovonovski bring in another 500 or so games of NHL playoff experience as well. The Devils have an odd mix of experience and new blood, Broduer has been there and done that. but almost no one else has seen even the conference finals. Most haven’t made it out of the first round. Ilya Kovalchuk who should be on the Hart Trophy short list has only played in one playoff game in which his team won. Zach Parise hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since his second year in the league, and he wasn’t expected to be a cornerstone of the team then. Adam Henrique is of course a rookie, and even though he probably deserves the Calder Trophy, he hasn’t played even one professional playoff game and none since the Memorial Cup run a few years back.

The goals for department favors New Jersey slightly, the goals against is a dead heat. The penalty kill is a walkoff for the Devils, but the Panthers hold the edge in the powerplay. The Panthers both generate and give up more shots than the Devils. This series will probably go the distance, with more playoff experience on the Panthers side, unless MB30 looks like the guy of 10 or even 5 years ago, you should not be shocked if the Panthers advance after their first ever division title.

4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5: Philadelphia Flyers

There will be no love in these games. Not unless its a love of winning and rubbing ones opponents face in it. The teams hate each other, the fans would cheerfully massacre the other cities, and the coaches aren’t over fond of each other either. This will be as compelling to watch as last year Boston vs Montreal series, and should be the best opening round matchup in either division.

With the relative tightness of the race, this series will come down to guts and discipline. The Penguins are better at home, the Flyers better on the road. The powerplays have identical proficiency, the penalty killing edge is in the Penguins favor, the teams delivered an identical number of hits, and the Flyers blocked more shots. While neither Bryzgalov nor Fleury did anything they wanna brag about in the last few days of the regular season, neither one had a bad March with the edge going to the Flyers keeper. Fleury has been to the promised land and Bryzgalov has not. That said, Bryzgalov has the better post season save percentage, and Bryzgalovs career save percentage against the Penguins is much, better than Fleury’s against the Flyers (.930 vs .901).

As Jim Ross would say, this one fixes to be a good old fashioned slobber-knocker.

 

Fair market value is one of those wonderful terms that means nearly whatever the user wants it to. In my case it means: What are comparable players making on other teams, and when were they signed? And also what are they doing now vs what they did previously?

Chris Kelly is in his first full season with the Boston Bruins, last season he played 24 regular season games, and the fun little playoff run we all remember so well. Here’s some of the key facts.

First long term view.

  • Is 31 now (November birthday)
  • Has been in the NHL since 05-06 season,
  • Is very healthy. Only 20 regular season games lost to injury since entering the NHL.
  • Has been equally effective at home or on the road throughout his career.
  • Career highs: Goals;15 (twice) Assists; 23 Points; 38
  • Career average points per game: .387.
  • Career plus player.
  • UFA in June.

Short term, current role:

  • 3rd line center
  • top penalty killing forward 75th out of 463 NHL forwards for average SHTOI
  • Currently tied for league lead in short handed goals: Mike Richards, Cal Clutterbuck, Brandon Sutter, TJ Oshie, Patrick Dwyer, Dave Bolland also have 2 shorthanded goals through 11/28.
  • 3rd among Bruins forwards in SHTOI
  • Current average points per game: .727. (Higher than the career average for either Bergeron or Krejci.)
  • Good at faceoffs.
  • Best takeaway to turnover ratio of Bruins top six forwards.

Comparables:

  • Adam Pardy (defenseman) has a cap hit of $125,000 less, has played no more than sixty NHL games in a season, career high of 10 points in the NHL in four seasons. Pardy is younger and larger, playing slightly more total minutes, about a minute less short handed, and hitting more. 1st year of a 2 year deal.
  • Andrew Burnette, of the Blackhawks is 7 years older, on a 1 year contract with a cap hit lower than Kelly’s. Last three seasons were 50, 61, 46 points with the Wild.  Is a career minus player. Does not kill penalties.
  • TJ Oshie on a one year contract, has had serious injuries, seven years younger, higher offensive peaks. RFA at end of current contract. Worst (of 3 and current) NHL seasons is a -1.
  • Manny Malhotra, same age, very similar offensive numbers, has had multiple injuries, better faceoff man, plays about 40 seconds more shorthanded per game. Current cap hit 2.5m, year 2 of 3 year contract.
  • Tomas Kopecky Cap hit 3mil, signed this off season, plays about the same number of PK minutes, not as offensively gifted, in first full season playing PK.
  • Martin Hanzal: Starts new contact next season at 3.1 per year, plays more minutes than Kelly, roughly 7 years younger, giveaway to takeaway fairly similar to Kelly. Very similar offensively.

Given his current numbers, age, and role with the Bruins, I’d say that at a low ball or long term deal $2,850,000 for five plus years or up to $3,333,000 for three years or less would be a appropriate. Given that he’s wearing an A, has played through facial injuries, was a good part of the Stanley Cup win, and seems genuinely well liked by his team mates if I’m sitting in the corner office and its $3.5 a year or he walks for less than five years, I take it and consider myself lucky assuming no no-movement or no-trade clauses.

One benefit to signing him past thirty five if you think he can keep handling the minutes and penalty killing at that age is that it would be a more moveable contract than resigning him then if need be.

The Canucks have traded Marco Sturm and Mikkeal Samuelsson to the Florida Panthers for David Booth, Steve Reinprecht and a 2013 3rd round pick. The Canucks are picking up a spot on the roster as Reinprecht is currently playing in the AHL for over two million a year.

While neither team is off to the start they want, and lack consistency there are almost certainly more reasons than just a shakeup in the lineups for both teams.  Mike Gillis was recently on the radio to respond to an incredibly ill informed editorial.  Roberto Luongo is off to one of his well documented poor Octobers, which for those who haven’t done the math is one of the two shortest months of the season. He’s still managed to have great Vezina worthy seasons. He also turned in two shutouts against the Stanley Cup winners last spring and ended with a Sv% better than the two previous cup winning goalies. With the extra two million in pay going to the AHL and only half a million less being paid out in Vancouver, obviously this isn’t about the money in Vancouver.

Dale Tallon’s club looses one of the longest tenured members of the Sunrise team. Tallon traded out a contract with four seasons left for two guys who will be unrestricted free agents at about the same price tag. So what gives? There has been conjecture that Sturm isn’t yet healthy. If he is great, paired with Weiss he’s capable of 20+ goals, and can play even strength, powerplay and shorthanded. Sturms work ethic can’t be questioned, but his health can. Multiple surgeries, multiple long stretches on the shelf.

Tallon has been anything but shy in adding free agents to the Panthers adding Upshall, Jovanovski, and Kopecky among others this year. A look at who is currently unsigned for next season and do for unrestricted free agency might just provide a look at who is on their radar. The top of the food chain has four mouth watering, fan energizing choices from all three areas of the ice. Pekka Rinne is one of the best goalies on the planet. He’s had a huge hand in the success of the Nashville Predators over the last two seasons, with a team on the upswing with vision he could put a contender over the top. Up front is Alex Semin. Enigmatic, occasionally displaying less than ideal work ethic; sure, immensely talented yes, yes and yes. Just as talented, and even more complete is Zach Parise, presently the captain in the soon to be Brodeurless New Jersey Devils and may be the most interesting UFA to be in the NHL. Currently patrolling the net in front of Rinne is one of the most talented and underrated defensemen in the NHL. While he’s largely in the shadow of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne in Music City Suter is not the type of defenseman who comes along every day and would easily be the number one defenseman in about 25 NHL cities.

Sergei Samsanov is one former Bruins forward I know many fans miss. He’s currently an unsigned UFA. After time with the Habs, BlackHawks, and Oilers he settled in for a three and a half year stay with the Canes before being dealt to the Panthers. Apparently, guys like Thomas Kopecky, Dan Carcillo, and Benoit Pouliot are more valuable than someone like Samsanov who has averaged more points per game than Ryan Kesler. Surely this undermines the popular perception that a large percentage of the general managers in the NHL are idiots.

Byron Bitz is on the disabled list with a sports hernia that caused him to miss all of last season for the Florida Panthers. This season he’s keeping the Canucks medical staff busy. In his last game on March 27, 2010 he had a line of 0-0-0 with 0 shots on goal, and a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins like 0% faceoff rate.

Joe Thornton who has finally gotten people in the media to realize that he can’t carry a team himself, is off to a slow start with 0-0-0 -1 line to start the season in San Jose. To be fair, his face off winning percentages are obscene through three games: 73.7, 82.7 and 62.5, perhaps he’s saving spare wins to send to the CBC’s latest darling in Edmonton for Christmas?

Brad Stuart is perhaps the best former Bruins defenseman still playing in the NHL, or like Detroit’s goalies perhaps he’s just being carried by a good team. Not exactly known for his offense the soon to be thirty-two year old has still managed to put up good numbers in the playoffs, and tolerate being called Junior by most of the Red Wings roster.

Derek Morris was highly unproductive in for the Phoenix Coyotes in the playoffs last year. Fortunately for him his “out with an injury” excuse left him a much better reason for it than the guys who were on the ice. Despite only playing 58 games for Boston he was pretty productive here before being sent back to the desert where he look up to see Paul Bissionette waiving at him from the pressbox every night.

Former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft enjoyed what can be called a renaissance the last two seasons and has been quietly going from full time punchline to part time plugger. Interestingly enough he seems to thrive in mediocre teams, which probably means he’s int he right place for the next year or two.

When the lockout ended and the sport we loved resumed action much battered and bedamned in the public perception, no one was sure how the salary cap would work. Now we know how it’s worked around, we also know how it fails. We’ve seen artistic arrangements that let teams spread out the money for a contract well past when anyone expects the player to still be on that team or in the NHL at all. We’ve seen two contracts voided, and worse we’ve seen a hyper-inflation that is damaging the very teams it was supposed to protect.

In the six seasons since the lockout ended, the salary cap his sky rocketed from $39million and change to over $64 million.  The salary floor for 2011-12 is 20% higher than the ceiling was six years ago. Assuming teams spend their money equally well, a small market team, or simply one where hockey is not as entrenched as it is in Boston, Montreal or Toronto is now spending about twice as much to be competitive.  What part of the economy has expanded even 20% to support this? The US jobless rate has been at near historic levels nearly the whole time. A team ( at least partly through bungling ownership) has been relocated to a place its chances are only so-so , the Coyotes have been in a state of meltdown almost since they arrived from that same city that couldn’t support a team, and others have enormous amounts of rumors swirling around them.

I’m not sure anyone could track down all the issues with ownership that at least appear to be (blissfully) in the past in Tampa Bay, Columbus (a nice little city) is one of the teams that should have noticed the sharp, shiny teeth of their wolf in lease clothing and negotiated better and these are just two easily spotted issues. Even the Nashville Predators who have one the top goalies on the planet, the guy who should have won the Norris Trophy this season, and a high quality defensive unit haven’t hit a level where they are a money printing machine. The Dallas Stars and St Louis Blues are two other teams who have giant question marks in the ownership column.

When you look at the last few free agency periods they can’t help but make you think of someone who goes into a bar, gets falling down drunk, blindfolds themselves and takes home the first person to grab their arm at last call. Some of the contracts handed out bear no resemblance to the talent level of the players.  Worse, it is preventing players who are more talented from being promoted out of the AHL or major juniors or called in from collegiate play. Many of these players will stagnate if not challenged by high end skill sets.  For teams rebuilding, or trying to build their market (which by all reasonable indications takes about a generation) having the ability to take a high draft pick and put them into the NHL lineup  quickly where they can grow in front of and in turn help feed their home market is rapidly diminishing.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers have two of the most promising prospect stables of talent in the NHL, and yet between the two of them they went out and signed or traded for well over forty million cap dollars this season. Deals like Kopecky’s, which rewards a marginal third line player who’s never topped fifteen goals, in four seasons has only cracked twenty points once and is a career minus 19 with each year of his career having been spent on a playoff team, one of them a Cup winner.  With a saner cap floor the Florida Panthers might have brought up anyone of their well regarded forward prospects.

The question is what’s in it for each group who will be involved in setting up the next CBA, Without at least two of these groups pushing for it the leagues mid to long term future is at best highly unstable. The NHL could be looking at a situation like the NBA where more than half the teams are losing money, and teams are shuffled across the map on a regular basis. So what’s in it?

For building and or rebuilding teams (this includes future expansion teams) the ability to bring up prospects through the team as the foundation for a team and get them to the NHL at the earliest moment they are ready minimizing developmental costs, and preventing having to overpay free agents. It also maximizes fan appeal by leveraging the cache high draft picks have and turning it into revenue in the form of ticket sales, merchandise and TV ratings.

For established teams with a solid product if the salary floor is lowered they will transfer less money struggling teams that they can keep or reinvest in arena enhancements, training facilities, scouting staff or use towards building a replacement venue.

For players the answer is simplest of all; jobs. With the difficulty that NHL has had in finding viable owners of any sort for the last decade, the possibility of contraction can’t be ignored. While the KHL is a newer entity, one of the premier Russian club teams folded its doors last season because of what some would call a non-viable economic situation in that league. With more ownership profitability, the probability of expansion goes up, which will create more jobs and likely extend the careers of players. A stable NHL which can keep producing Bobby Ryan’s, Alex Ovechkin’s, Steve Stamkos’s, Ryan Miller’s, Duncan Keith’s, Taylor Hall’s, Shea Weber’s  and have them spread out across the continent has the real chance to expand as far as 36 teams without even saturating markets.

These, and other reasons are why the next CBA must include provisions similar to:

A fixed salary floor shall be set at no higher than forty million per year for the first five years of the agreement provided teams are in distress, or subject to a leasing agreement that would prohibit them from spending to the cap ceiling:

  • Have a NHL roster including at least 8 players who were either drafted and developed by the team, or who have played 25 or less NHL games for other teams.
  • At least 35% of the difference between the distressed floor and standard floor must be used towards buying out or buying down a lease or a facilities upgrade.

 

 

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.