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Like Trevor Gillies and his antics in the Penguins brouhaha, the league's negative headlines have far outweighed the good. Case in point - Sidney Crosby has now missed two months with a concussion and is now unlikely to return this season, and while that topic has dominated Maclean's covers and sparked talk of amending the rulebook in this week's GM meetings, the best story this season has been the playoff race. Never before do I remember such a close race in the West and two such intriguing storylines with the Leafs and Devils. But one thing's for sure: the Canucks will have to have a colossal collapse and the Wings would have to catch fire if the want to claim the West title. The former is unlikely to happen. This means that the Canucks enter the post-season as the number one seed, locking up home-ice advantage for, perhaps, the entire journey. With so much media scrutiny, so much pressure, and so many past meltdowns, you can't help but think that the Canucks are looking ahead to who they might face. They probably aren't, since they're such a level-headed team, and are concentrating on finishing the season on a high note. But of Minnesota, Anaheim, Nashville, Calgary, Dallas, and Phoenix (excluding Chicago and Los Angeles, who both have 7 wins in their last 10 and are most likely to finish in the top 5), who does Vancouver match-up the best? The worst? It is becoming increasing unlikely that the Wild will make the playoffs, but if they do, it'll present the Canucks with one of the most interesting match-ups. it's no secret - the Canucks stink at the Excel Energy Center in Minnesota, save Cory Schneider. The Canucks are tough at home and if they sweep the first two games then it's all fine and dandy. The only story that really matters is what to do if Luongo struggles. It's unlikely to happen for the 2011 Vezina-nominee (yes, I said it) but having such a strong backup eventually creates goalie controversies to varying degrees. The Ducks have a chance if they have Jonas Hiller, another would-be Vezina-nominee had he not been sidelined with vertigo, in the lineup. Dan Ellis may be hot right now and Ray Emery may be a feel-good story, but even with the addition of Beauchemin the Ducks just don't have enough depth up and down the roster. If the Canucks can play a clean game and keep Teemu Selanne off the powerplay and keep the Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line from dominating, this should be an easy series. The Predators have not won a single playoff series in their history and it's not going to happen this year if they face the Canucks. Even with the unheralded Pekka Rinne, like the Ducks, the Preds just don't have the depth. The Shea Weber-led defense may frustrate the Canucks but the lack of scoring oomph in the Preds lineup may be even more frustrating for Barry Trotz. Let's not mentioning that the Preds will be playing 5 defensemen instead of 6 due to Shane O'Brien's constant bouts of Roxy flu. Of all the teams mentioned, Calgary scares me the most. They have a good goalie, an experienced blueline, and the ultimate warrior in Jarome Iginla. They've been a completely different team since Darryl Sutter was fired and are now playing the kind of hockey everyone expected them to play. They've got enough grit, size, toughness, and skill to at least make this a series. David Moss and Rene Bourque provides some good depth. The only questions here are the Canucks' health on defense and Calgary's poor matchups at centre against the Canucks. The Stars were in danger of missing the playoffs a couple weeks back after Brad Richards went down with an injury and the team was sent into a mini-downward spiral. Since then, the Stars have 6 wins in their last 10 and are trending up. Alex Goligoski was a good pickup for a team lacking offense from the blueline, even if the price was a little high. Marc Crawford is behind the bench and on squads that he's coached that don't feature Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, he's only made it past the quarterfinals once. There's nothing on this Dallas team that really scares me - except for a potential writhing Mike Ribeiro suffering from extreme "back pain." There's just enough drive from Brenden Morrow and Langenbrunner and skill from Benn and the very underrated Loui Eriksson to cause the Canucks some trouble, but remember that in head-to-head matchups this year the Canucks swept the season series outscoring them 20-5. Phoenix is an interesting team. They've got a great coach, good goaltending, a mobile defense headlined by Keith Yandle, and a crop of forwards that gets the job done without an elite forward. If Ilya Bryzgalov gets hot, and we've seen this happen with many, many undeserving Cup finalists, watch out. But that's about it. But here's the REAL low down. When Kyle Wellwood returned with the Sharks, he was quite vocal about the experience and maturity level in the Canucks' dressing room, saying that there's still "lessons to learn." In a way, he is right - the Sharks look much better right now than I've seen in years past and the Capitals enter the post-season as a virtual unknown because of their new commitment to playing defense. Both teams have choked in the playoffs rather dramatically. Upsets over the number one seed in the first round are rare in any sport, but for the past two consecutive seasons, it's happened in the NHL. In 2009, the President's-winning Sharks were upset by the Ducks despite the Sharks setting franchise records in wins (53) and points (117). In 2010, the Habs defeated the President's-winning Capitals in the first round despite the Caps' awe-inspiring 121 regular season points. Both the Ducks and Habs featured hot goalies - Jonas Hiller had shutouts in Games 1 and 4, perhaps the vital games in any series, and everyone knows the Jaroslav Halak story. This is why Phoenix may pose the biggest threat if Ilya Bryzgalov, or even Miikka Kiprusoff, gets hot. The Canucks are set to shatter their franchise record of 105 points and could very will finish the season close to around 115 (7 wins in 11 games - not impossible).
I must admit it's weird not seeing mounds of snow on the streets in December, seeing how as I have spent the majority of the past four winters in Nova Scotia. But either way, it's the season of giving. So, in honour of that, here are your 20 worst trades in the NHL since the lockout! In chronological order! Hooray! August 3, 2005. Edmonton trades Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch to St. Louis for Chris Pronger. The advent of the salary cap and a potential new ownership meant the Blues had to shed salary to make themselves more financially attractive. Brewer remains in the Blues organization and is their current captain but isn't expected to last beyond this season. Woywitka shuttled between the AHL and NHL for some time and is currently in the Stars' organization. Lynch, a former second round pick, has played the last three years in Austria. Pronger would sign an expensive five-year extension and was a smashing success with the Oilers in his first season, leading them to the finals. August 26, 2005. Minnesota trades Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix for Erik Westrum and Dustin Wood. The Wild saw Michalek, who was undrafted, in 22 games and decided he wasn't worth their time before sending him to Phoenix. What a decision that turned out to be. Westrum played only 27 games at the NHL level and has been playing in Switzerland for the past couple of seasons while Wood never saw time in the NHL. Michalek spend five productive years in Phoenix, leading the league in blocked shots one year and guiding the Coyotes to their first postseason appearance since 2003. <img src="http://www.bestsportsphotos.com/images/t_20631_07.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">November 30, 2005. Boston trades Joe Thornton to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau. This trade eventually cost then GM Mike O'Connell his job. O'Connell, to be fair and honest, wasn't a bad GM - Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci were both drafted by him - but he often butted heads with owner Jeremy Jacobs, who refused to open his pockets to retain their prized free agents like Sergei Gonchar and Brian Rolston. The Bruins were struggling at the time, and perhaps misguided by his anger towards ownership, he traded Thornton for three depth players. The trade sent the Bruins back five years. Thornton would go on to notch 92 points in 58 games with the Sharks and win the Art Ross that year. Primeau and Stuart lasted two season each before departing and Sturm was recently sent to Los Angeles for free. Interestingly enough, O'Connell is currently the Kings' Director of Pro Development. December 5, 2005. Philadelphia trades Patrick Sharp and Eric Meloche to Chicago for Matt Ellison and a 3rd round pick in 2006. Ellison played just 7 games for the Flyers over two seasons before moving onto Milwaukee in the AHL and then the KHL for the past two seasons. Meloche did not play a single game for Chicago and is suiting up for his fourth season with Straubing in the DEL. Sharp, however, has become one of the leaders of a young Blackhawks franchise. Unable to find quality playing time on a deep Flyers roster, Bobby Clarke gave him a chance by shipping him to Chicago, where he has become one of the league's most versatile and intelligent players. Sharp's 11 goals in last year's playoffs was tied for the team lead with Byfuglien. Sharp is shooting for his 5th straight 20-goal season. June 23, 2006. Florida trades Roberto Luongo, Lukas Krajicek, and a 6th round pick to Vancouver for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen, and Alex Auld. For all the hate Dave Nonis has drawn in this city, this should be the deal that negates everything. Luongo, as we all know, is an elite goalie with an Olympic gold medal. Bertuzzi was never quite the same since the Steve Moore incident and lasted just 7 games in Florida before being swapped for Shawn Matthias. Auld was horribly miscast as a starting netminder and the steady but unspectacular Allen remains the only souvenir for Florida in that trade. Oh, and that supposed throwaway 6th rounder? Turns out the Canucks got a pretty decent prospect. You might've heard of him. Sergei Shirokov? <img src="http://miamisportsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/luongo.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">June 24, 2006. Toronto trades Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft. Probably angry that Vancouver was making all the headlines around the league, John Ferguson, Jr. and the Leafs panicked and made a goalie move of their own, moving promising netminder Rask for former Calder winner Raycroft. To be fair, the Leafs had another netminder in the system, Justin Pogge, but he turned out to be a bust. Raycroft is now a career journeyman and backup, and while Rask is stapled to the bench due to Tim Thomas' otherworldly play, he is arguably the most promising goalie in this league. February 3, 2007. Boston trades Kris Versteeg to Chicago for Brandon Bochenski and a conditional 5th round pick in 2008. This was a trade that flew completely under the radar, perceived to be a rather insignificant minor league deal. Versteeg has since been moved to Toronto, but he was a key cog in the Blackhawks' makeup and was a vital secondary scorer with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. For a team that doesn't have a lot of high-end offensive skill, the Bruins would probably like a re-do for this one. As for Bochenski? After teasing fans with 13 points in 20 games playing alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, he had trouble sticking with NHL clubs and despite being a very talented AHL scorer (33 goals in 35 games once), he now plays in the KHL. February 27, 2007. San Jose trades Josh Gorges and a 1st round pick (Max Pacioretty) for Craig Rivet and a 5th round pick in 2008 (Julien Demers). At the time, it was a good trade for San Jose because the Sharks were ready to win now and Rivet gave them one good year, with 35 points and 104 PIM. But it's these kind of deals that have really cost San Jose, who are struggling to keep up with their younger and better stocked Pacific Division opponents. Rivet was traded to Buffalo for two second round picks (Bill Wrenn in 2009 and the other sent to Carolina, who took Mark Alt) and, most likely due to injury, has seen his play nosedive. Meanwhile, Gorges has become one of Jacques Martin's most dependable defenseman and regularly plays against top opposition and logs 20 minutes a night. Pacioretty has yet to find his place in the NHL but he's a player with good offensive potential with 32 points 27 AHL games and 3 points in 3 NHL games this year. <img src="http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/01cFg5M41QfN8/340x.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">June 18, 2007. Nashville trades Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia for a 1st round pick. You can't entirely blame David Poile for this one. The Preds were going through ownership trouble amidst accusations of financial fraud with minority owner William Del Baggio, and could not retain any of its stars, despite at one point being able to land Peter Forsberg for a playoff push. The Flyers quickly locked up the two players and both have been vital to the franchise since. The two players combined for 28 points in last year's postseason. But the real kicker for me is that the 1st rounder the Preds acquired was their own and had been traded to Philadelphia last year for, you guessed it, Peter Forsberg. Perhaps the only redeeming fact is that the Preds used the pick to select former Giant defenseman Jonathon Blum, and I know better than to question the Preds' scouting department when it comes to blueliners. February 26, 2008. Tampa Bay trades Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist to Dallas for Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, and a 4th round pick in 2009. Unable to foot the bill for their star players' salaries, the Lightning elected to part with Richards, who was in the third year of a 5-year, $39 million contract. Diminishing point totals scared management into action, but you'd think for a former 91-point player they could've gotten a better deal. Smith hasn't posted more than 14 wins a season in his career. Jokinen was later traded for a bag of pucks. Halpern is now in Montreal and that 4th rounder was later sent to Edmonton. Meanwhile, Richards posted yet another 91-point season last year and should the Stars elect to deal him, they'll certainly get a better haul than what Tampa got for him. July 1, 2008. Edmonton trades Joni Pitkanen for Erik Cole. The Oilers should've seen this one coming. Cole scored 30 goals in 60 games the year Carolina won the Cup, but dropped to 29 and then 22 before the Oilers snagged him. His tenure in Edmonton lasted just one disappointing 16-goal year before he was shipped back to Carolina, where a slew of neck injuries has really affected his production. Cole's point production the last five years since 2006: 61, 51, 27, 15, 16. Pitkanen, on the other hand, has emerged as one of the league's best unheralded puck-moving defenseman, having notched 46 points last year and with 18 in 29 this year is poised to hit that 40-point mark again. <img src="http://cache3.asset-cache.net/xc/77804113.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921E86F5CE8BE5D78FB39989BC62F51603617BBE599935116B54EB022E0AB10AD13"class="imageFloatRightFramed">July 4, 2008. Tampa Bay trades Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich to San Jose for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, a 1st round pick in 2009, and a 4th round pick 2010 (James Mullin). Boyle had just signed a six-year, $40 million extension in late February, but just four months later ownership decided that his contract was not economically feasible and forced him to wave his no-trade clause. While San Jose's playoff woes have been well-documented, Boyle has been one of the best offensive blueliners in the league, posting two consecutive 50+ point seasons and 18 points in 21 playoff games with the Sharks. Carle suited up for just 12 games in Tampa Bay before moving on to Philadelphia, Wishart is still developing in the AHL, and the 1st rounder was packaged to Ottawa for Andrej Meszaros, who had 33 points and -18 rating over 2 seasons in Tampa, despite totals of 39, 35, and 36 in the three previous seasons with Ottawa. December 14, 2008. Anaheim trades Andy McDonald to St. Louis for Doug Weight, Michal Birner, and a 7th round pick in 2008. For now, Saku Koivu will do, but before that the Ducks had an awful time trying to find secondary scoring. McDonald and Getzlaf formed a fantastic 1-2 punch down the middle when the Ducks won the Cup in 2007, but figured Doug Weight, six years older, was the better option. The Ducks' 2008 campaign didn't last past the first round and Weight left for Long Island. Birner has since returned to Finland and the Blues eventually re-acquired their 7th rounder in a separate deal and drafted Paul Karpowich. McDonald has 154 points in 199 games (0.77 ppg, vs. Koivu's 0.65 ppg) for the Blues. Getzlaf's current point total is nearly double Koivu's and the Ducks continually rely on their big line of Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan. February 7, 2009. Carolina trades Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar, and a 4th round pick in 2009 to Tampa Bay for Jussi Jokinen. Jussi Jokinen wasn't adjusting well to life in Tampa Bay, with just 16 points in 46 games in his first full season with the Lightning. Arguably the league's best shootout player, Jokinen netted 30 goals for Carolina last year playing alongside Eric Staal, and while he's off to a slow start this year he's still third in team scoring. As for Tampa? Neither Brookbank nor Melichar are in the system, and that pick was later traded to Toronto for Richard Petiot (no longer with Tampa), only to be forfeited by the league due to a dispute over Jonas Frogren's contract. So, really, the Canes got a 30-goal scorer and showed off the Leafs' infinite front office wisdom for free. I'd say that's a pretty good deal. <img src="http://www.spox.com/de/sport/ussport/0903/Bilder/christian-ehrhoff-san-jose-sharks-nhl-514.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">August 28, 2009. San Jose trades Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver for Daniel Rahimi and Patrick White. Nonis will be remembered, quite unfairly, as the GM who went off the board and chose Patrick White in the first round in 2007. After Nonis was fired and Mike Gillis stepped in, it was made apparent to him that White, who had scored only 13 goals in 81 game over two seasons at Minnesota, was not in the Canucks' long-term plans. The Sharks were in a cap bind with the acquisition of Dany Heatley and were forced to jettison Ehrhoff, who had hit the 40-point plateau for the first time in his career. Ehrhoff finished his first campaign with Vancouver with 14 goals and +36 with over 22 minutes per game. Rahimi has since returned to Sweden, unlikely to return, and White has just 1 goal so far in his senior year. September 12, 2009. Ottawa trades Dany Heatley and a 5th round pick (Isaac Macleod) to San Jose for Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, and a 2nd round pick. Bryan Murray had his hands tied with this one because Edmonton truly offered a better deal, one that centred around Dustin Penner. Cheechoo was already a shadow of his former self and the 2nd round pick was later flipped to the Islanders for Andy Sutton, now with Anaheim. Michalek, the younger brother of Pittsburgh's Zbynek, is a big, bruising winger, but has just 7 goals in 31 games this year. He's struggling big-time and can't even provide secondary scoring the Sens desperately need. Heatley, on the other hand, was one goal shy of 40 in his first season as a Shark last year. September 18, 2009. Boston trades Phil Kessel to Toronto for a 1st (Tyler Seguin) and 2nd round pick (Jared Knight) in 2010, and another 1st round pick in 2011. In defense of Brian Burke, I don't think anyone predicted the Leafs to finish second last. The jury's still out on this one but with another trying season that 1st rounder in 2011 looks to shape up to be a top 15 pick for an already deep Bruins squad. Seguin, despite being a healthy scratch lately, has wowed with his speed and hands, while Kessel continues to labour and is on pace for just 27 goals. Toronto's 75 GF is only higher than New Jersey and the Islanders. The scales in this trade could still in the Leafs' favour, especially if Seguin or the 2011 1st rounder doesn't pan out, but the chances of that happening are quite slim. January 21, 2010. Calgary trades Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie to Toronto for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White. In a trade that features marquee talent, the team getting the most talent always wins, so score this one for Toronto. Stajan and Hagman are the only remaining Flames from that trade and while both have been quietly producing the team scores too few and far between and rank 2nd last in the West. While "Neon Dion" hasn't fared much better in Toronto, he's by far the most talented player out of this group and Keith Aulie, as I've said before, is an absolute keeper. Keep in mind Toronto's one the youngest teams in the league and they're trending up, unlike Calgary. June 24, 2010. Chicago trades Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu to Atlanta for Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin, New Jersey's 1st round (Kevin Hayes) and 2nd round picks (Justin Holl) in 2010. July 1, 2010. Chicago trades Andrew Ladd to Atlanta for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2nd round pick in 2011. We all know how this happened. As much as Dale Tallon was instrumental in building that Cup-winning squad, he was also terribly inept at handling the cap and didn't file RFA paperwork on time and, as a result, had to overpay to keep his team together. He was fired for his blunder and Stan Bowman was left to clean up his mess, inevitably leading to a mass dump of players to Atlanta, who had just hired Rick Dudley, Tallon/Bowman's assistant in Chicago, as GM. Reasoner was later swapped for Jeff Taffe while Crabb left for Toronto as a UFA when the Hawks still didn't have cap room to keep either. The Thrashers, meanwhile, have a blueliner garnering Norris talks in Byfuglien (33 points in 34 games), named a new captain in Ladd, and have serviceable depth with Sopel and Eager and a decent prospect in Aliu. The Thrashers sit atop the Southeast Division, a place where the Caps had been comfortably sitting for the past 3 years. The Hawks? Currently sitting 8th in the West with 14 losses, third most in the West, and in danger of following in the footsteps of Edmonton and Carolina, both teams who finished in the Finals yet missed the playoffs a year later. <img src="http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0c9f0M9dRg3Je/x350.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">November 30, 2010. Washington trades Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for Scott Hannan. The Avs were moving in another direction, and as a fast and speedy team the cement feet quota had already been taken up by Adam Foote. The Caps were loaded with talent but still couldn't figure out how to play defense, and with the emergence of centres Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, Fleischmann was expendable. The trade made sense for both teams but it couldn't turn out any more lopsided. Since moving to Matt Duchene's left wing, "Flash" has re-found his offensive game, putting up 11 points in 9 games and named the NHL's second star of the week. Despite snapping their losing streak against Ottawa, Hannan hasn't provided the defensive presence the Caps were looking for and is a woeful -9 in 9 games. And there you are, the 20 worst trades since the lockout. There have been some big ones, including the Marian Hossa-Dany Heatley, Jay Bouwmeester, and two more Chris Pronger trades, but in those trades I felt at least both teams have been able to walk away with something substantial. Even the Antoine Vermette trade netted the Sens a decent prospect in Robin Lehner. No trade is fair - there's a reason why some teams continue to struggle while others remain consistently good. I was tempted to touch on the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, but it wasn't the trade that killed the Devils, it was that extension over the summer. Tracking the picks that have been moved over the years has been a real pain, but here's an interesting tidbit I found. I was originally going to include the Edmonton-Anaheim deal that sent Pronger to the Ducks but I held back because of this little nugget. In exchange for Pronger, the Oilers received Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, Anaheim's 2007 1st rounder, 2008 2nd rounder, and another conditional 1st rounder. The 2007 1st rounder was sent to Phoenix, who selected Nick Ross, and the 2008 2nd rounder was sent to the Islanders, who took Travis Hamonic. The conditional 1st rounder would be awarded on the condition that the Ducks reach the finals. (I vaguely remember an article that said Oilers brass were rooting for the Ducks so they could get that extra first rounder.) Anyway, the Ducks did make the finals in 2007 so their 2008 first rounder, 22nd overall, was given to the Oilers. And who did the Oilers end up picking? Jordan Eberle. Hope you enjoyed this post. Happy holidays, folks.
With Ryan Getzlaf healthy and Corey Perry's emergence as the West's best power forward, the Ducks boast one of the league's best duos. What should be concerning is their defense. The Ducks are expecting Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson, Stu Bickell, Luca Sbisa, and perhaps Cam Fowler, if he makes the team, to log consistent NHL-calibre minutes, but if they can't then the Ducks' atrocious 251 GA (fourth-worst in West) could look even uglier. Offense: B, Defense: C+, Goaltending: B- Other than Jarome Iginla, the Flames are chock-full of underachievers (Matt Stajan, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester) and good depth players (Rene Bourque, Nik Hagman, Ian White). Given the strength of the Western Conference and the lack of consistent weapons the Flames boast making the playoffs will be a challenge. Miikka Kiprusoff is once again expected to play at least 75 games given the relative inexperience of his potential backups (Henrik Karlsson, Leland Irving). Offense: B-, Defense: B, Goaltending: B Oh, how the mighty have shot themselves in the foot. Dale Tallon's mismanagement of the cap has given Stan Bowman headaches with no outs. It's a good thing Tallon has a good eye for talent with a whole new slew of youngsters ready to make their mark for the defending champs having lost a bunch of good depth. The Hawks are finally under the cap but have a questionable duo of Marty Turco and Corey Crawford manning the pipes. If the goaltending can't hold then forget about a second consecutive Cup title. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: C+ <img src="http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/thumbnailfull/craig-anderson-2009-10-15-23-10-58.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Like Phoenix and Buffalo, a big reason for the Avs' success was the play of Craig Anderson. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't come with either Ryan Miller or Ilya Bryzgalov's pedigree. The Avs won't catch anyone off-guard this year because there most likely won't be any breakout performances (Chris Stewart) or surprising rookies (Ryan O'Reilly). Kyle Quincey has become the Avs' best blueliner but he's going to have a big workload in front of him and Anderson needs bailing out. Offense: B, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- Columbus was just on the cusp of breaking out before Steve Mason hit the sophomore wall and the whole team imploded. The team has the pieces in place, although they may be one top pair defenseman away, to be a playoff team. All that has to happen is for everybody, especially Derick Brassard, to perform. Rick Nash is slowly growing into his leadership role and Antoine Vermette still has untapped potential. The Jackets are a young team led by rookie coach in Scott Arniel but GM Scott Howson's acquisition of seasoned veteran Chris Clark will help smooth the bumpy ride. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- One thing about Marc Crawford's squads is that they can really score. That's all great but it's worth nothing if you can't defend and win some games. The six highest paid players on the Stars' payroll have no-trade clauses and none of them, save Loui Eriksson, are entering their prime. With the uncertainty behind the ownership of the Stars, the club has been forced to cut costs. The team has a good group of talented individuals but it's a club that's in limbo. They're not exactly contending for the playoffs and not exactly re-building (which they should) either. Joe Nieuwendyk has provided more stability than the failed Les Jackson-Brett Hull experiment but it hasn't gotten off to a good start. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: C+ <img src="http://nbcsportsmedia.msnbc.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photo_StoryLevel/080515/080515-Nicklas%20Lidstrom-vmed-234p.widec.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Never count out the Red Wings, especially when Nicklas Lidstrom is back to give one last kick at the can. Given the cap troubles of the Hawks and their cost-cutting measures, the Red Wings are in a position to re-take the Central Division crown. It's a golden opportunity for the Wings this season with Jiri Hudler back and GM Ken Holland added some great depth in Mike Modano and Ruslan Salei. Johan Franzen is healthy. If Valtteri Filppula can play like we all know he can, watch out. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- It's hard to get excited about the Oilers' upcoming season but they will feature a bevy of potential superstars: Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle, and Linus Omark. If you're going to watch the Oilers don't expect a win but do expect some razzle-dazzle from its youngsters. The franchise is clearly in re-building mode but I'm not sure if they've found the right coach in Tom Renney. With Sheldon Souray most likely gone 27-year old Ales Hemsky is considered a veteran and will have to help these players grow.. Offense: B-, Defense: C+, Goaltending: C The Kings have been inching towards the top ever so slightly since drafting Anze Kopitar. There's a good collection of young talent, veterans (Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, Rob Scuderi), and prospects (Brayden Schenn, Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Jonathan Bernier) for the Kings to forge ahead. They will be big players at the deadline, looking for that extra piece. While they have no game-breaking winger yet, which was why GM Dean Lombardi went after Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings still have a very solid group that can compete. Willie Mitchell stabilizes the blueline and Drew Doughty has become of the true elite blueliners in this league. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- After committing some big dollars to Martin Havlat (with a few parting shots at Chicago) and a promise from rookie coach Todd Richards to implement a more attacking system, the Wild responded by finishing 13th in the conference. The Wild were relatively quiet this summer save for Mikko Koivu's overpriced extension and the signing of Matt Cullen, but the general belief in Minnesota is that this team can play much better. There's toughness up front with this group but a little short on skill. Brent Burns is still the major X factor and if he plays well he's a great spark for the Wild attack. Offense: B-, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+ Anyone who appreciates hockey has to appreciate the Predators. Led by GM David Poile and Barry Trotz, one of the league's best coaches, the Preds play a blue-collar game and win on a consistent basis. Never mind that they've never won a single playoff series – that they've managed to even make the playoffs consistently with such a strict payroll budget is astounding. Expect more of the same this year. Some things just don't change. Offense: B, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ If the Phoenix Coyotes can win 50 games again this year Dave Tippett may be the best coach in the league. The roster isn't anything to smirk at but it's not exactly intimidating either. The Desert Dogs' fate will be solely based on the play of Ilya Bryzgalov. Picking up Ray Whitney was a shrewd move for a young team and if they can get Kyle Turris and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to make significant contributions they are a dangerous team. But count me in as one of those doubters, especially after losing shot-blocking machine Zbynek Michalek. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: A- Some people don't think the Sharks can win without Evgeni Nabokov, but with an offense that features at least two 40-goal scorers (Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau) and one of the league's best playmakers in Joe Thornton, there's no shortage of weapons up front for Todd McLellan although the bottom six isn't great. Dan Boyle is best powerplay quarterback in the West and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's production can't dip any further. Whether or not this team can succeed in the post-season is yet another question. Offense: A, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ Things were looking so good in St. Louis when they took a giant step back. There's enough talent up front even but David Backes and Brad Boyes need to regain their scoring touches. Jaroslav Halak is more than an adequate replacement for Chris Mason. Erik Johnson is a stud defenseman but they still need Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman to stay healthy. Easier said than done, of course. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+ <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3416/3276791653_6041358afd.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Bar none, the Canucks are the best team in the West. This isn't just some hometown bias working here, it's the truth. No other team can match the Canucks' depth, up front or on the blueline, and there shouldn't be any questions in net... unless Keith Ballard knocks out Roberto Luongo. We may see Mason Raymond score 30 this year and while many didn't like the Raffi Torres signing, I definitely did. After losing out on Arron Asham you can't go wrong with a former 27-goal scorer with some sandpaper for only $1 million bucks. Offense: A+, Defense: A, Goaltending: A STANDINGS 1. Vancouver2. San Jose3. Detroit4. Chicago5. Los Angeles6. Phoenix7. Nashville8. Calgary9. St. Louis10. Colorado11. Columbus12. Minnesota13. Anaheim14. Dallas15. Edmonton
As the drama that continues to be the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes ownership and possible relocation saga unfolds, another nasty little detail comes out 'in the wash' at the close of last month. While it took me a few days to collaborate some of the details surrounding the management issues, I realize that the release of Doug Moss as President and COO of the franchise (since 2002) is just another red flag as the team is paving the way now for the Ice Edge Holdings prospective ownership group. The current owners (the league itself) thanked Moss for his service and stated that he was leaving 'to pursue other business interests'. That does not seem like something one would do just a day after appearing with GM Don Maloney on the 'Yotes official webpage to do an open question-and-answer session with the fans of the hockey club. There is movement in the desert and in order to do so...the league had to clear the moss. 6 July 2010 / Robin Keith Thompson Read more about this on my blog: http://prosportsblog...or/thewordbird/ or work your way over to Chiller Instinct to get the low down: http://chillerinstinct.com/