It’s not a secret that the 2003 NHL entry draft is one of the strongest drafts in history. It is arguably the strongest. The first skater taken is just a fistful of games from his 1000th NHL game, the guy taken 205th is on track to play his 800th NHL game before the season expires. I’ve made the argument you could put together a team from this draft that would beat a team from any other draft class.

Goaltending is the only position you can say this class might have as a weakness. The goalies taken in 2003 to have played serious time in the NHL are; Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak, Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Marc-Andre Fluery. All of these guys have played at minimum in the high three hundreds for games, and all have a sv% for their career in the teens. While I think Halak is capable of tremendous play, Crawford and Fluery are the guys I’d pick.

Defense is where it starts to get tough. Running quickly through the names draft, I came up with twelve defensemen who have played some really good hockey in their careers. My top four should surprise no one: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as the number one pair. Next over the boards would be Dustin Byfugelin and Dion Phanuef. The physicality, offensive, and defensive ability of this foursome makes it almost irrelevant who the other guys are.

Matt Carle, Tobias Enstrom, and Marc Methot could all be expected to play the 12-14 minutes left over from the top top pairings admirably, but didn’t make the cut. Mark Stuart who’s very good in his own zone if lacking offensively, is clearly, if sadly starting to break down after roughly a bajillion hits and blocked shots. Looking at the third pairing, or arguably the 1C pair, you have to ask what the players have the other guys don’t. One is a gimmie, and that’s championships which means Brent Seabrook. The other is a powerplay specialist, which brings us to Brent Burns. Seventh defenseman is a little tougher, but I can comfortably go with Kevin Klein and sleep well.

I honestly won’t even try and number the top three lines, there’s just no point. You have Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski who it can be argued could all be your number one center, and all of them are worth talking about. Ryan Kesler, David Backes, and Nate Thompson are three more guys you have to look at for penalty killing, three zone play. and unadulterated ability to get under people’s skin. There’s also some guy named Ryan Getzlaf, and that’s just guys who have played a largely top nine position in their careers. Brian Boyle is worth considering for a pure checking line or penalty kill line.

The first gimmie on right wing is Corey Perry, even if he is consistently erratic in his scoring. Dustin Brown would have to be ironed out in practice as to which side he’d play, but thanks to the versatility of the centers, one or more of them will slide to a wing to fill a void.

The left side gives us Zach Parise and Matt Moulson

L to R the lines could look something like this:

Moulson – Carter – Pavelski

Parise – Bergeron – Perry

Brown – Getzlaf – Kesler

Boyle – Staal – Eriksson

Extra: Backes

In a best of seven series, I can’t see any draft class matching this one.

In the last few weeks the Boston Bruins have been ravaged by in recent weeks. Kevan Miller went down. Then Zdeno Chara went down. David Krejci has been in and out of the lineup, Torey Krug went down, Brad Marchand was dinged, and now David Warsofsky is out of action. Zdeno Chara is the biggest factor, and on the surface we know their record is solid since his 4:13 of ice time in the game where he was lost.

October 23rd is the game where Chara went down the tunnel and didn’t come back. It was early in the game, and the rest of the game was chaotic. Matt Bartkowski played 21 minutes and was a minus one. The defensive pairs were shuffled, blended and then shaken for good measure. Even allowing for the Chara injury, the game wasn’t a good one for the men in black and gold. Patrice Bergeron was a -2, Krejci registered just one shot on net and the team never recovered from Chara going down. They dropped the game to a team that’s giving up as many goals as they score.

October 25th they take on a team who just don’t have what it takes to keep the Bruins out of their head. They managed a convincing win against a team that failed to make the playoffs last season, and are at best a bubble team this year.

Next up is the Minnesota Wild on October 28th. Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and company. The Bruins got down early giving up the opener to former New York Islander Nino Niedderreiter. By the end of the second the Bruins were up 3-1 in what was likely Krejci’s most healthy game of the season. In the third period the team failed to show up. No one took control, no one dominated their space, and the boys from the state of hockey popped three by Tuukka Rask to walk out with two points.

The night before Halloween the Boston Bruins played division ‘rivals’ the Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres who are averaging one goal per game. One. Goal. Per. Game. The Boston Bruins gave up two goals to this team, yes, twice the average the team has achieved all season. Then they took overtime to beat the team most likely to be drafting first overall. Yes they gave a pity point to a team that’s so bad no one even pretends the team has a shot at the playoffs.

Next up were the Ottawa Senators. A team who’s best player is Kyle Turris but who lack a legitimate superstar. Again, a team that isn’t considered a threat to division or conference and who no one except maybe Eugene Melnyk thinks they have a shot at Lord Stanley’s silver. The Bruins win against a goalie who put up a .867sv%  on the night. A mediocre team, and they beat the backup.

Next was a visit against a team they should expect the Providence Bruins to beat in a seven game series; The Florida Panthers. Aside Roberto Luongo and Brian Campbell there’s no one worth knowing on the team. Gudbranson, Huberdeau, and maybe Barkov will be name players in two or three years, but right now, nope, nada, talent not found. This team is currently averaging 1.67 goals per game, yes that’s 29th in the NHL with only Buffalo scoring less. The Bruins again gave up a pity point. Yes, they went to overtime with a team that can’t manage even two goals per night for the second time in three games.

Finally in this run without Chara, and others they faced the Edmonton Oilers. There was no Taylor Hall in the lineup. That’s arguably their best player. Andrew Ference was out. That’s their captain, their best defensive defensemen, and two two of them are both physical, good skaters, and guys who don’t take shifts off. What’s left of the team lacks firmness and the team is impressively bad at getting the puck out of their own end. They are 27th in the league for goals allowed with 3.50 goals against per game. Ben Scrivens turned in a .871sv% in the loss.

Against the two teams most likely to be in the playoffs the Bruins lost. They went to overtime against two teams likely to be in the lottery. In short we know they can beat, just barely, wretched teams. We know they aren’t any good against anyone who is any good.

As for the suggestion that Chara might be traded now (possibly for Jordan Eberle who is becoming the new Vincent Lecavalier), with what we’ve seen there is zero reason to think that if the Boston Bruins made it to the playoffs they would make it out of the first round. It’s arguable they wouldn’t even make it to a fifth game if they replaced him with Eberle or any player on the Dallas Stars.

The Boston Bruins are one of the teams with the roughest salary cap position heading into the season. They’re going to have to move someone. Probably more than one someone. Why might the much respected Campbell be part of the departing parade? His value as a penalty killer, his leadership, and the fact that he does have a Stanley Cup right make him worth something. It might be a prospect with 2-3 years before they are NHL ready, or it could be a draft pick.

The most logical teams to land him are teams for whom the difference in their penalty kill last year might have meant either making the playoffs, or advancing once in. So which teams make the most sense? Here’s the short list:

  • Arizona Coyotes.
  • Minnesota Wild
  • New York Islanders
  • Nashville Predators
  • San Jose Sharks

The Coyotes finished last season just two points outside the playoffs with the 26th ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Even with their goaltending issues finding two to three more points with a penalty kill that didn’t suck would have put them in the playoffs.

The Minnesota Wild finished with 98 points and the first Wild Card position. As good as the rest of the team was, with Campbell taking penalty kill minutes from Koivu and Parise who were both playing over 20 minutes a night last season, where do they end up? Do they get enough more points to climb into the 3rd or even second slot in the ultra-competitive central division?

The Islanders are a conference rival, and made other moves to improve their team this off season. One more move that takes them from the second worst penalty kill to something respectable could be what it takes to make the last game in their current stadium a playoff game. There’s already been rumors of Johnny Boychuk going to Long Island, why not make it a package deal?

The Nashville Predators are desperate to get back to the playoffs. New head coach with a new attitude and a like of rugged players who play they game the right way, its a natural fit. The penalty kill prowess, and faceoff wins would almost be a bonus for Peter Laviolette. Maybe a prospect like Saku Maenalanen is the return?

For the San Jose Sharks who have little to no problems in the regular season, Campbell might just be able to help fix their postseason woes. Campbell played well in the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Run, and could help solidify both the locker room and the post season shorthanded play.

Last years playoff appearance wasn’t a fluke. Last years trip to the second round was also not a fluke. After more than a decade of aggressive mediocrity, the Minnesota Wild are set to be a contender or the next several years. Marion Gaborik couldn’t bring them to the this level.  Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson couldn’t sustain the altitude the Wild now call home. Brent Burns, Marek Zidlicky and Alexandre Daigle have nothing to do with the teams success.

Gone is Jacques Lemaire. His stultifying system of play was a prime contributor to the lockout, and locking the Minnesota Wild out of success. Likewise, Doug Risebrough the teams inaugural general manager. Between Resebrough and Lemaire they took a hockey mad market granted a second lease NHL life, and lulled them to sleep and bored the rest of the league from day one on.

Fortunately, those days are over. Chuck Fletcher has ruthlessly, if cautiously extracted every counter-productive element from the roster or behind the bench. He’s built a team that is not only good now, but has the cap space and flexibility to be good for years to come. About a half dozen movement limiting clauses (beyond this season) are light on the roster. Koivu, Suter, and Parise probably weren’t going to be traded anyway. The others belong to guys who are now at or about their peak and want to be with a contender, not just in the NHL.

The core of the team is built around a top shelf center Mikko Koivu, an enormously talented elite defenseman Ryan Suter, and the hugely driven Zach Parise. A strong cadre of experienced, hungry, talented forwards is the next tier with Jason Pominville, Tomas Vanek and Matt Cooke each filling their roles. Their counterparts on defense are less well known but equally worth watch, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella along with Keith Ballard and Jonas Brodin make for a formidable defense.

The key to this teams next five years is how many of their young players are still on the upswing towards the top of their talent. Spurgeon, Coyle, Scandella, Haula, Grandland, Dumba, Neiderrieter, Brodin, and Kuempher are all twenty-four or younger. That’s half a roster who can’t even rent a car in most places. With that many RFA’s heading into their second contract, they still have an enormous amount of control over what they spend and who they retain. At the end of this year they have just three UFA’s to deal with, none of them critical.

Can the team stand to upgrade at goal? Yes, absolutely. They have talent and depth at the position, but a disturbing and consistent lack of health. Goal has been an troubling question for other teams who have made deep runs and even won the Stanley Cup. No one really thinks Chris Osgood was an elite netminder, and you can point at others to have own the Cup in the last two decades and wonder how they made it, which doesn’t make the Wild’s position either unique or insurmountable.

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

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)

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.

Some teams have continued to have a strong off season, others have spiraled into irrelevence through the attrition of free agency.

Best:

Washington Capitals: Locking up Karl Alzner at a very club friendly price was one of GMGM’s best movies. Last year he was second in time on ice for the team, and in the playoffs he was the second leading blueline scorer.

New York Rangers: Familiar face Carl Hagelin was locked up at a reasonable price, and new comer Justin Falk was signed at a bargain basement rate. With Falk’s arrival and the departure of several pieces the Rangers blueline will be younger next season.

Los Angeles Kings: Jake Muzzin is pretty solid young defenseman, and the Kings locked him up for two years at rate that will have some questioning the quality of Muzzin’s agent.

Montreal Canadiens: Michael McCarron, from the scouting reports I’ve gotten, McCarron is desperately in need of a situation where he isn’t the biggest body on the ice and strength and size won’t get him by, if he lands in either the AHL or NHL this year and doesn’t slide into Juniors he’ll get that.

Boston Bruins: Extending Patrice Bergeron and saving the world 25,000 columns on what the team would do without him ought to be counted as a Nobel Prize level act of humanitarian behavior. The NMC is irrelevant, I’m not sure how many general managers or team presidents would be foolish enough to move a player that well regarded and that talented who wanted to stay in the city.

Phoenix Coyotes: Max Domi has the potential to help transform the Coyotes offense, without being the type of defensive liability some of the players on the UFA market have historically been. If he lands in the NHL great, if he doesn’t he’s only played two years in the OHL and I’m sure the London Knights will welcome him back.

Worst:

Toronto Maple Leafs: Joe Colbourne? Why? This is a guy who hasn’t even excelled in the AHL.

Colorado Avalanche: Where is the defense?

Saint Louis Blues: Not getting Pietrangelo under lock and key or (much less desirably) traded for a stellar return is playing with fire, immediately after dipping your hands in gasoline.

New Jersey Devils: Arguably they can replace 27% of their offense from within and on the hopes that Ryder and Clowe can fill the production lost with Parise and Clarkson. I don’t happen to think they’ve own a productive enough offense, and they’ve left some quality hanging about on the free agent market.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s retirement is the start of a new era for the weary franchise. It is also another severe blow to a team that lost Parise two years ago, and will likely lose the teams living avatar Martin Brodeur in another year or two.

For this season with a paltry passel of players on the left wing remaining, they may want to look within or to a trade to add some sort of replacement there. Stop gap measures might include two time evil Alexi Ponikarovsky, Danny Cleary, and Vinny Prospal. Each could help offensively but all are good for no more than two season. Kaspars Daugavins might be a solution for a depth winger, and Steve Begin has at times been an excellent penalty killer.

When it comes to acquiring offensively gifted forwards, the Devils are handicapped a bit by being in the same division as three of the NHL’s top six spenders. Of them Columbus probably doesn’t have the NHL ready talent to spare if they are serious about a playoff spot, Philadelphia can only rely on its forwards this season to get fans into the building. Pittsburgh is a wildcard though. The Penguins are very slightly over the cap with 12 forward 7 defenseman and 2 goalies signed. With as much money as the team will be spending on Malkin, Crosby and Letang starting in the 2014-15 season, they might get proactive and move a player for prospects and or picks. Moving Neal would be a blow to the teams offense, but would free up five million in space to add much needed defensive depth.

Out west, the Canucks are slowly edging towards the end of the Sedin era, and with Hovart likely to make the roster this fall, one or two players on that team might see themselves moved for chips. Ryan Kesler is a versatile two way forward who played college hockey, which Lou Lamoriello is known to like. The Dallas stars have shown they are willing to move some of their older players, Erik Cole could probably be had fairly cheap, and possibly Ray Whitney.

In their own system last season’s most productive AHL forward was Joe Whitney.  Whitney is a Reading, Ma native listed at five foot six, 165lbs and is two years removed from a four year stint with Boston College. 26 goals, 25 assists for the Albany Devils last season. After departing the Sarnia Sting, Reid Boucher put up five points in 11 games last year, after putting up 95 points including 62 goals in his OHL campaign. That’s about the extend of their systems depth.

The best forward left on the market who are not left wings include Grabovski, Jagr, Kyle Wellwood, Damien Brunner and Brad Boyes. If they want to roll the dice on success Max Sauve has always had nice hands if poor luck, Anthony Stewart is a first round pick who never managed to get into the right lineup, Chuck Kobasew shows up for every game with his hardhat and work boots, Simon Gagne has skill of poorish health and Nathan Gerbe is one of those Hockey East guys.