The Dallas Stars ended the second game of their first playoff series since the 2007-08 conference finals exactly where they didn’t want to be. They are down two games to zero, and the games were not as close as the score in the first game would indicate.  Through 120 minutes they have given up eight goals. Only two of those goals came while on the penalty kill. One more was an empty net goal.

Worse, a look at the number of shots in each game says that it isn’t just pure shot totals getting them in trouble. The first game was a high but not outrageous 35 shots against Kari Lehtonen, but the second was not high at all. Just 19 shots found their way through sprawling forwards and stalwart defenders. His save percentage in the two games this series is .886 and .842. Neither of those numbers can be called anything as glorious as average.

But there are alternatives to Lehtonen. Jack Campbell who played for the US National Development team allowed 1 goal in April playing int he AHL. The former 1st round pick also was named Man of the Year for the Texas Stars. Given how poorly the current netminded has done in his playoff exploits, it might be time to give Campbell a call before the opportunity passes the club by.  Closer to home is two time Vezina winner, and playoff warrior Tim Thomas. Yes, Thomas isn’t having his best year, and yes he did not play in the playoffs or at any other time last year, but his career numbers indicate that when the light shines brightest and people say he can’t, that’s the time Thomas glows.

No matter what option Lindy Ruff goes with, assuming he gets the choice, the Stars do need to figure out what to do with their goaltending. The current situation will make a waste of the hard work, dedication, and determination of players like Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and others all season long.

The only original six matchup of the first round could send the victor to a second round matchup with another original six team. For now the Boston Bruins, the team that has dominated the east for the last few years faces off with the Detroit Red Wings the model franchise of the west for many years. The contrast in syles, club directions, and cities couldn’t be greater. One similarity is that both teams have enormous, passionate fans all over the globe. You can’t follow either the team on the road and not spot jerseys for the visitors and hear the chants urging them on.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins did something they haven’t done in a while, finished the regular season with home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have had a lot of turnover since they last raised Lord Stanley’s Cup; gone are Michael Ryder, Andrew Ference, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle, and Tyler Seguin. In their place are Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Erikson. The structure is the same, the mind behind the bench unchanged but the attributes of the men in the spoked-B is rather different.

Best Players

Patrice Bergeron who scored the cup clinching goal not long ago has had his second highest goal scoring season, Zdeno Chara is still the best shutdown defenseman in the league. Jarome Iginla enjoyed yet another 30 goal season, Tuukka Rask had stellar numbers, and David Krejci and Milan Lucic are proving it almost doesn’t matter who is on their line that they will succeed with whoever.

X-Factor

The young Bruins have to stay focused on the very quick, highly talented stars of the Wings and not be dazzled or rattled by Datsyuk, Zetterberg (if he plays) or otherwise fall into Babcock’s inevitable plan to pull the Bruins out of their physical, space denial game.

 

Detroit Red Wings

It was an open question if the Red Wings would make it into the playoffs at all. The fact that they did means Mike Babcock is likely to come up short on votes but still have a great claim to the Jack Adams award for best coach. This roster was riven with injuries, is aging, and no one would have been surprised if their playoff streak finally expired. The good news for the Red Wings is that the Bruins are a good matchup for them.

Best Players

Pavel Datsyuk is not the man he was five years ago, but he is still capable of breath taking plays. Gustav Nyquist was an unknown a fistful of months ago, today he’s the guy who led the Red Wings in goal scoring despite playing just 57 games. Kronwall is one of the best hitters in the NHL and woe to anyone who doesn’t keep their head up. Daniel Alfredsson at 41 is still showing there’s gas in the tank and led the team in scoring, his 121 NHL playoff games, with 100 points in them, is more than many of the Boston Bruins defense total NHL games.

X-Factor

With the injuries they’ve suffered, and the ones they will no doubt collect in the opening games, can this team hang with a deeper squad that is just as well coached? This team had one player crack 20 goals in a Wings uniform, while the opponent had two cross 30 and two more over 20. If as the road team Babcock can consistently create the right matchups to win the series, it will be his finest coaching job to date.

The western conference will kick off the playoffs with the Anahiem Ducks and Dallas Stars facing off in 1st versus wild card matchup. The Jamie Benn led Stars crossover from the Central Division to face Corey Perry and his west winning Ducks. Of the 1 vs Wild Card matchups this is the one where the first place team should be safest. The Ducks are deeper and have more playoff experience, but showed last season they lacked killer instinct. The Stars are clearly underdogs but I doubt this series is over in four or five games.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks started the season strong and spent the opening months of the season sparring for first in the division without sliding below second. The new year opened with them on top of the division, as did every month after. Their padding waxed and waned as the Sharks got hot and cool, but here we are. The Ducks are a remarkably healthy bunch especially when you factor in the extra games and travel their Olympians played. If there is a weakness to the armor of the Ducks it is their special teams, something they’ll likely point to recent Cup winners of and dismiss calmly.

Best Players:

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are the Superman & Batman tag team of the NHL. They play physically, pass, skate, cycle, score, and defend at least as well as any two players who normally take shifts together.

X-Factor

D-E-P-T-H. If Bruce Boudreau uses his second and third lines as well as his full defensive compliment the Ducks are a very tough matchup for any team. Nick Bonino, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Kyle Palmeri are all capable NHL players. Teemu Selanne has already said he’s ending his NHL career, is well rested and knows how to win, he could play a much larger part in the playoffs.

Dallas Stars

Lindy Ruff’s team is a bit of a surprise entry in the NHL playoffs this year. With just 91 points they didn’t amass the most intimidating record in the NHL this year. Offense is where the team shines finishing the season regular 10th in scoring. The team boasts two 30 goal scorers in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but will enter the second season without Rich Peverley lost to a cardiac event and subsequent heart surgery. Alex Goligoski might just have gotten some recognition for a stellar offensive season if Seguin and Benn hadn’t turned in so much offense of their own.

Best Players

Jamie Benn can play any forward position and be in the top tier of the league doing it, but his playoff experience is nil in the NHL. Tyler Seguin has a lot of playoff experience, but we shouldn’t forget the reasons he was traded from the Boston Bruins to the Dallas Stars. Alex Goligoski has seen the playoffs, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and done respectably.

X-Factor

Goaltending. Kari Lehtonen is not a consistent goaltender, he’s put in one his best years to date, but given how often Lindy Ruff saw Tim Thomas when both worked for other teams, might he be tempted to go to the elder statesman  if Lehtonen falters. Comparing the playoff numbers of the two, no one could blame him for doing so.

 

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

 

Players:

  • that Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury would not only have more starts than Craig Anderson but better stats too.
  • that Tim Thomas would have more games played than Tomas Vokoun, Cam Ward and Anton Kudobin combined.
  • Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild would have more goals and points than Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks or any member of the New York Rangers
  • that Jeff Carter’s mystery foot injury of a couple seasons back might not have been a product of not wanting to play or live in Columbus but be part of some other long term health issue.
  • of the four players tied for the lead league in short handed goals at two, Bryan Little, Brandon Dubinsky, Brad Richardson, and Dwight King only King would be on a team currently in a playoff spot.
  • of the 734 skaters to take the ice since the beginning of the season the only player with more than one overtime goal would be Florida Panthers discard and Vancouver Canucks bargain pickup Mike Santorelli.
  • 22 games into the season none of the 14 game winning goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins would have come from Sidney Crosby, while Chuck Kobasew would own two.
  • Josh Harding could be labeled the front runner for both the Vezina and the starting job on the Canadian Olympic team.

Teams:

  • the Detroit Red Wings would have more overtime losses than any other team in the NHL.
  • through the first quarter of the season the Phoenix Coyotes would be fourth in goals per game at 3.29.
  • the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, and Toronto Maple Leafs would be the only teams even or with a winning record when trailing after one period.
  • with 23 games in the books the Buffalo Sabres would not have led at the end of the first period even once.
  • of the four teams with a winning record when trailing first, three would be in the same division the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings, while the Toronto Maple Leafs were the only team from outside the Pacific to do so.
  • the Colorado Avalanche would be undefeated when scoring first.
  • the Anaheim Ducks who are being outspent by 18 teams would lead the league in points.
  • the Buffalo Sabres were projecting for less wins in this 82 game season than in last years lockout shortened one. (18 vs 21)

The Western Conference has run over the east so far this year. The odd thing is how concentrated the losses are, so many of the east’s teams are in complete disarray while most of the weakest of the western teams are either over performing or have finally started to turn the corner on rebuilds that their is an imbalance.

Anaheim Ducks: We know that despite injuries to Sheldon Souray, Matt Beleskey, Viktor Fasth, Jakob Silfverberg, Saku Koivu, and Sami Vatanen, no team has wracked up more points or an equal amount of wins in the six week old season.

Colorado Avalanche: We know the Avs may be led by Matt Duchene, but they are getting contributions deep into the forward pool. In 14 games (or less for some) seven forwards have at least 9 points. Matt Duchene’s 10 goals are complimented nicely by five each from Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, PA Parenteau, and Ryan O’Reilly. We know the goalies are beating the competition with silly ease in wins, neither Giguere nor Semyon Varlemov have allowed more than 2 goals in a win.

San Jose Sharks: We know that two regulation losses in sixteen games is pretty damn spiffy. We know that a certain player might be tempted to celebrate this with his rooster out. We know the Sharks defense is going to be overlooked when people point out why the team is succeeding this season. We know not to get our hopes to high about this team and the playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks: We know that even with Toews and Kane at just under a point per game this team has another gear.  We know it is nice not to be talking about the team’s powerplay. We know they team would rather not talk about their rather dismal penalty kill.

Phoenix Coyotes: We know the media stopped paying attention to this team when the arena deal went through. We know they have as many regulation or over time wins as the San Jose Sharks. We know that their powerplay is just .4 behind their Pacific division rival Sharks. We know that this team won’t get any real attention until the second round of the playoffs, and then only reluctantly from certain media outlets.

Vancouver Canucks: With 18 games played and 11 ROW’s the team is currently in the first wild card spot in the west. We know they have either played well after their adjustment to a new coach or that they are getting good puck luck with four of their last ten games going more than sixty minutes and victories in three of those.

Saint Louis Blues: We know the off season moves, and maturity (and health) are playing a big part in this teams success. We know that this should be the season Alex Pietrangelo becomes a household name. We know Vladimir Sobotka is on pace for a career season. We know Alex Steen will remember every moment of this season.

Minnesota Wild: We know that if this team were allowed just a little more offensive freedom they might just move into one of the divisional playoff spots and avoid the wild card chase. We know that Nino Niederreiter must be enjoying his escape from New York given that he’s played all 17 of the Wild’s games this year. We know being 16th in goals for and 3rd in goals against is very traditional Wild hockey and makes for a lot over very tight games.

Los Angeles Kings: We know this is one of just three teams without an overtime loss. We know that Jonathan Quick and Tim Thomas present a pretty good case for a curse of the Conn-Smythe, at least for American goaltenders. We know that hovering low in the playoff picture has been just about perfected by this team. We know Anze Kopitar’s point per game pace is pretty surprising for this team and will be ignored, again.

Nashville Predators: We know 14 points in their last 10 games should tell us a lot about how bad the Preds first few games were. We know the team is a very uncharacteristic 19th in goals against. We know that having done nothing to improve their forward pool in the off season that no one is surprised they are 21st in goals for. We know that the forward group’s lack of offensive zest will likely cost Shea Weber another Norris and could cost Seth Jones the Calder.

Dallas Stars: We know that despite adding Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin in the off season the team is still being outscored by their opponents. We know that Valeri Nichushkin is the only draft pick from the last four drafts on the roster. We know a Lindy Ruff coached team is never going to be more than mediocre offensively so the rest of the team has to be high end and that this roster doesn’t qualify.

Calgary Flames: We know that a 6-8-2 is about where most people expected this team to be. We know Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler are doing what heavy lifting is getting done in Calgary. We know those same two players are probably preventing the team from locking up the first overall pick that has to be the aim of the front office. We know that as bad as other teams are playing the return of Mark Giordano means management will have to come up with a better plan for tanking.

Winnipeg Jets: We know that this teams lack of a number on center and arguably of a number two center are making the shortcomings on the back end even more apparent. We know the time to burn this roster to the ground and spare no one over the age of 25 is coming real soon.

Edmonton Oilers: We know there’s just no excuse for this team to be this bad. We know they’ve had all sorts of high draft picks. We know Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner are legitimate NHL talents. We know goaltending is a big, big issue. We know that the defense as a whole can’t get out of its own way much less get the goaltender a clear view or move the puck out of their own end. We know that unless they overpay one or three of the pending UFA defensive defensemen in July, hopes should not be high for improvement any time soon. We know that less than twenty games into the season injuries have played a big part with only seven skaters playing all 17 games.

With so few of the division’s teams actually on the Atlantic, or even within an hour or two’s flight of the ocean, the name is a mystery. So is the number of teams that will see the second season. The top two are a gimmie, the next four are just a hairs breadth apart.  With three teams boasting Norris trophy winners, and two Selke winners you’ve got a very tough division to climb the ladder in.

Montreal Canadiens:

Good news: Never underestimate the impact of healthy, mobile, two way blueline. PK Subban, Markov, and company are more than a handful.

Bad news: Carey Price wore out last year from being played too much, this year they have the same backup goalie.

Buffalo Sabres:

Good news: The team is returning the highly likeable Tyler Ennis, and is clearly intent on playing the next stars of the team as much as they can.

Bad news: The lingering trade rumors around goalie Ryan Miller and Tomas Vanek are likely to drag the team below even its modest talent levels.

Detroit Red Wings:

Good news: Datsyuk is still wearing the winged wheel, as are Zetterberg and Kronwall.

Bad news: The off season addition don’t put the team over the top.

Toronto Maple Leafs:

Good news, John Scott didn’t manage to kill Phil Kessel in the preseason, and Tyler Bozak is looking energized.

Bad news: Coaches who drive one good player out of town for unknowable reasons, probably won’t stop their.

Ottawa Senators:

Good news: A healthy Spezza with an angry Bobby Ryan is a recipe for magic.

Bad news: With the players moved for Bobby Ryan, they sacrificed some youth, and maybe a little depth.

Florida Panthers:

Good news: They added a veteran goaltender in the person of Tim Thomas, and they picked up ownership that may just open the money tap.

Bad news: The Panthers don’t have much depth at any given position.

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Good news: Stamkos, Stamkos, Stamkos and some guy named Martin St Louis.

Bad news: Those are 100% of the teams valuable players.

Boston Bruins:

Good news: Savvy off season moves make this team arguably better than the one they won the Stanley Cup with.

Bad news: The only position you can’t say that about is goaltending if only because they’re backup is clearly a backup.

Top three teams:

Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens.

The Bruins are clearly the cream of the crop, The Senators probably have the best goaltender in Craig Anderson when he’s healthy, and the Canadians have admirable depth at forward and defense. The Red Wings, and Leafs are within striking distance of an assured post season berth. The rest of the division would all require some form of hefty upgrade between now and Thanksgiving.

Goalie may be the most important position in all of sports. In hockey they are not only the last line of defense, playing more minutes a year than any skater, they are often the spark plug for offensive breakouts. Some teams have impressive goaltenders who not have played well in the past, but have done so in their system.

Philadelphia Flyers

The last half dozen years have served as a great example of why this team needs solid goaltenders who can play that way in their system. Ilya Bryzgalov was great in Phoenix. In Philadelphia he was bought out two years into a forever contract. When they squared off with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals a few years back they used three different goalies in one post season. It isn’t hard to make the case that a goalie better than Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher or Johan Backlund might have had them hoisting the Cup and not Chicago. This year we will see if their cursed crease can bring down the resurgent Ray Emery, and Columbus Blue Jackets discard Steve Mason. I doubt either goaltender gets taken in first five rounds of any fantasy hockey draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The serial meltdowns of Marc-Andre Fleury are too much for all but the willfully blind to ignore. If once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a certainty, four consecutive playoff flame-outs should be enough for anyone. In the last four seasons his save percentages are .891 following the Stanley Cup win, .899, .834, and most recent .883. Those numbers won’t keep you employed in the regular season. Last year Fleury forfeited the crease to the 36 year old Vokoun who’s first playoff appearance came the year Fleury was drafted, turned in a Sv% of .933 behind the exact same defense, Vokoun is now out recovering from a blood clot.

Calgary Flames

When most of your fans can’t name your goaltenders you’ve either found the new sexy netminder or you found someone willing to get peppered for a pay check. Joey MacDonald is career backup who since entering the NHL in the 2006-7 season has only played in 122 games. Forty-nine of them were in 2008-9 for the New York Islanders. He has a career save % of .903. The likely starter broke into the NHL the same season. He then spent three seasons on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL before fleeing to Europe. While in the KHL Karri Romo never topped 45 games. In the KHL playoffs, all but one post season his Sv% dropped from the regular season. To make it worse, Romo and MacDonald are playing behind a defense that just isn’t good. You could as accurately name the player best in their own end with stats as by picking a name from a hat.

Florida Panthers

New owners, old owners the story has been the same in Sunrise for years: not much quality. If the aim is to improve, at minimum a quality, healthy backup for Jacob Markstrom is needed. Last year Markstrom split 56 games between the AHL and NHL, and tacked on three more world cup games for good measure. The other goalie under NHL contract is Scott Clemmensen the less said about his play last season the better. They’ve brought in Tim Thomas on a professional tryout, but however good he has played in the past hasn’t been signed, and hasn’t played in a year.

Some o these teams are doomed from the start, for others their weakness won’t be exposed until the post season, all of these teams have some form of crease crisis.

Since the last full season lost to disputes between players and owners, there has been one face of a 30 city, league that plays in two nations, adherents of a dozen religions, and millions of people. With the aid of enormous advertising dollars, his own native talent, and the cooperation of the NHL’s owners and media organs, that face has been Sidney Crosby. He won a cup early in his career, and has won a Hart Trophy, the Mark Messier leadership award, the Maurice Richard, and picked up not one but two Ted Linday Awards. We know he prepares the right way, every time he comes back from an injury, he slides right back into place with the same skill and guile as before. His preparation, or skill aren’t the question. They never were.

The question is; can you count on Crosby?

When the chips are down, will he be there. In the past three seasons he has missed more games than he’s played. To put things in perspective, goalies even the elite ones rarely play more games than elite skaters. Sidney Crosby got into 36 games in the lockout shortened season. In a normal 82 game season the busyiest goalies top out at about 50 games. Some will hit the 70s, but those are rarities, those are goalies equivalent to skaters who go two or three season without missing a game at all. Sixteen goalies played as many or more games as Sidney Crosby last year. Of those goalies, Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars and Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild considered injury prone. Evgani Nabokov was 37 and appeared in 41 of the Islanders regular season games, and all six playoff games. Jonathan Quick had back surgery in the off season, and was not himself for stretches of last season and played 37 games with a solid backup.

Sidney Crosby is now entering his ninth NHL season. In exactly 0.0% of his seasons has he played all of the games. He’s come close twice, in two seasons he’s played 81 games. Of all the injuries, that have been disclosed, you can only point to the games lost to groin injuries as possibly being related to fitness, but those can happen in normal training, game action or just day to day life. There isn’t much that can be done about them and most athletes will get them.

It’s the other injuries that are worrisome. The concussions and post concussion syndrome which have cost hims more than 100 games are concerning all individually, cumulatively they are troubling. On top of those are bone injuries that suggest that however willing the spirit might be, the body isn’t able to keep up with the punishment of being an NHL star. Multiple ankle and foot injuries dating from to the first half of his rookie season, and then the mysterious and apparently contagious “lower body injury”, and most recently a facial injury that cost him a dozen regular season games and a playoff match. By comparison Alex Ovechkin who plays a much more physical style and entered the league at the same time has never missed more than 10 games in a season, has played all 82 twice. Another comparison is Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers who’s combined hits and blocked shots trend from the mid 300’s to well over 400 each season. Since being called up in the 2006-07 season has missed just four games to injury.

When the ultimate crucible of the sports world is ended and the Conn-Smythe trophy is handed out you look at the players, and see who performed their best, who reached a new height, who carried their team. Sometimes it is the guy you expect. Those occurrences aren’t a real surprise, Tim Thomas was invaluable in the Boston Bruins win, take it back a year and it is absurd to even ask if the Chicago Blackhawks would or could have won without Jonathan Toews. Flip your history book forward to the Los Angeles Kings becoming the second California team to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup and no one in the world doubts that that Jonathan Quick is the sole reason the made the playoffs much less won the Cup. Look back to when the cup was raised skyward for the fourth time after the lockout and you have either an anomaly in the win, or an incongruity in the NHL’s marketing.

Evgeni Malkin won the Conn-Smythe that year. Malkin and Crosby played an equal number of games. Malkin only averaged 9 seconds more per game than Crosby as well. But break down the numbers and Malkin was better; 7 powerplay goals to 5, 22 assists to 16, and 36 points to 31. At crunch time, Malkin put up 8 points. In the same spot light, Sidney Crosby had just three, essentially 1/3rd the production of his team mate. In the same series Malkin also went way out of character and engage in his first NHL fight earning and instigator and a misconduct.

Injuries undoubtedly played a part in the tremulous performance of Crosby in that series, but isn’t that the point? Every regular season and or post season chips away at him. A sometimes funny man once said eighty percent of success is showing up. So I’ll ask the question; When its crunch time, can you count on Sidney Crosby?

The time until camps open is draining remorselessly away. There are still some high quality restricted and unrestricted free agents who don’t have contracts going into the season. Teams are walking into a trap that not only will leave them short of talent, but deprive them of merchandise sales. With the RFA’s teams that don’t want to make a deal should make a trade and bring in replacement assets or sign a deal and live with it. UFA’s at this point need to either swallow their pride or head for Europe because the number of teams with cap space, and the money to pay veterans isn’t that high.

Mikkel Boedker: RFA Forward

The new Coyotes owners have committed to staying in Glendale, they should make the same commitment to the quality of the roster. Boedker has proven to be a clutch player in the playoffs, has improved year over year. As one othe beter young talents on the team,  he can either be a strong trade piece or further developed into a cornerstone for a Stanley Cup contender.

Ron Hainsey UFA Defenseman:

At 32, Hainsey has more than a little tread left on the tire. He averaged just under 23 minutes a night last year, and picked up his points per game over the previous year. Currently the Winnipeg Jets are looking to go into the season without last years ice time leader, who stood tall for three minutes a night of shorthanded time.

Carlo Colaiacovo UFA Defenseman

Last season was pretty unpleasant for the 30 year old Colaiacovo. Between injuries and the lockout he managed a slim six regular season games, and an additional nine in the playoffs. If healthy, theres no reason not to pay this solid points producer in the same neighborhood as the $2.5m he made the last two seasons. Historically he picks up north of 40% of his points on the powerplay.

Tim Thomas UFA Goalie

Hands down the best goaltender on the market. Yes he took a year off, yes he’s one of the older players in the free agent market, but who else comes close to his resume? Two Vezina’s, a Jennings, an Olympic Silver Medal, a Stanley Cup and an impressive set of career statistics. As a backup or bridge to a new starter, teams could make a short term investment with a great return.

Cody Hodgson RFA Forward

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been deep in high end talent in a very long time, Cody Hodgson’s upward trajectory continues to impress. All the more so for being on a team with questionable commitment and highly deniable talent. In 2012-13, he was the teams second leading goal scorer and second in points overall. If Myers can be brought back to form, he two togetehr could transform the offense of the Buffalo Sabres for a long time to cove.

Derek Stepan RFA Forward

Arguably the best forward as yet unsigned, Stepan has been a mainstay of the New York Rangers for the past three seasons. He broke onto the scene as a rookie and scored 21 goals on a team not gifted with offensed. In the two seasons since there has been no retreat from the promise shown then. Last season he handily beat Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and the rest of his team in scoring. He plays almost six minutes of special teams time a night split between the powerplay and penalty kill. It is hard to come up with a good reason why he isn’t already locked up longterm. If the cap is the issue, there are plenty of players who can be jettisoned to make room.

Alex Pietrangelo RFA Defenseman

Hands down Pietrangelo is the most valuable piece on the board. There are exactly 29 general managers around the league who would snatch him up in a heartbeat if he hits the market. But on September fourth less than a month before opening night Pietrangelo sits unsigned. Last season he spent over 25 minutes a night on the ice, with nearly seven minutes of special teams time each game.

So what gives? Are these teams not committed to winning? Are the owners just cheap, or are the players floating contract demandst just to get out of dodge? Either way, where’s the deal?