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Found 9 results

  1. As promised, my rundown of potential bodies that could be moved at the deadline: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Toronto, $6 million; Tomas Vokoun, Florida, $5.7 million; Pascal Leclaire, Ottawa, $3.8 million Given that all three teams are out of the playoff race, it would be wise to deal the three starting goaltenders for the future. Giguere is unlikely to return next season, and although he is still the best (excuse me while I hold my judgment on James Reimer) and most experienced goalie on Toronto's roster, he is not the future. The same goes for Vokoun, but his play has been much better than Giguere's. The Panthers already have a highly-touted prospect in Jacob Markstrom, who has a .907 SV% and 2.98 GAA in his first AHL season, but if Dale Tallon thinks Vokoun can be a good stop-gap and a mentor to Markstrom, who is clearly their future no. 1, then I have no qualms if they don't deal him. But Vokoun is the best goaltender on the market and teams looking to add some goaltending insurance (Philadelphia, San Jose) could use him. The ship has sailed on Leclaire, whose career has been plagued with injury and inconsistency. If Bryan Murray can get a mid-round pick for him, he'll pull the trigger and hold a 3-man audition for next year with Brian Elliott, Robin Lehner, and Mike Brodeur. Bryan McCabe, Florida, $5.75 million; Tomas Kaberle, Toronto, $4.25 million; Eric Brewer, St. Louis, $4.25 million <img src="http://dev1.capris.net/TotalProSports/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/tomas-kaberle.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">My bet is that regardless of whether or not the Blues make the post-season, Brewer is available at the right price. McCabe is currently out with a broken jaw and has been on the IR since mid-January, which means he'll be back soon. The Panthers captain is, like Vokoun, not in their long-term plans and along with Kaberle is the best puck-moving defenseman on the market. However, neither McCabe nor Kaberle have had any NHL playoff experience since 2004, when both were on the Leafs. Nashville (14.8%, 24th), Phoenix (16.1%, 22nd), Boston (16.8%, 21st), and Philadelphia (17.4%, 17th) could all stand to improve on the man-advantage. Chris Phillips, Ottawa, $3.5 million; Steve Montador, Buffalo, $1.55 million; Jan Hejda, Columbus, $2 million Phillips may want to stay in Ottawa, but at age 32 his window for winning is closing fast. He has 97 games of playoff experience under his belt but no title. It's hard to see the long-term Senator leave as a rental, but that may end up being the reality. If the Sens want to rebuild, Murray doesn't have a lot to work with and Phillips is the best trade piece he has, despite the horrendous +/-. In past trade deadlines, defensemen come at a much lower price than forwards (Brian Campbell was traded for Steve Bernier and a first rounder vs. while the Thrashers got two regulars, a prospect, and a first rounder for Marian Hossa, both 2008 trades), but Murray could easily net a first rounder for Phllips. The best bang for your buck is probably Montador, who is the only Sabre logging more than 20 minutes a game to have a positive +/- at +9. He's a good depth defenseman and well-rounded enough to log minutes on the powerplay and penalty kill. Hejda is another defenseman who can give you quality minutes on the penalty kill and will come relatively cheap. However, having been in Columbus for most of his career (4 seasons, and given today's sports economy this means he's going to change addresses soon) he has just 3 playoff games under his belt. Alexei Kovalev, Ottawa, cap hit: $5 million <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/senators/images/upload/2009/11/091111_alex.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Kovalev deserves a paragraph of his own. One of the most inconsistent and enigmatic players in recent history, the ultra-talented Kovalev is a waste of space in Ottawa. That being said, he could thrive with the right team. He's certainly not a player that you want to build your team around, but with the right players he's a great point-producer. There aren't many teams that would take a chance on him, given his reputation as a floater and his salary. The best case scenario is that he gives his new team an automatic boost on offense and the worst case scenario is him becoming a healthy scratch. There's really no in-between. Whether a team wins or loses on their deal with Kovalev will depend on what they give up for him. It seems like Kovalev needs a team with a very loyal (almost antagonizing) fanbase (Rangers and Habs, Penguins not so much) to spark his play, but you could argue that Ottawa is the only team he's played for that doesn't have much of a history. Jason Arnott, New Jersey, $4.5 million; Cory Stillman, Florida, $3.5 million; Tim Connolly, Buffalo, $4.5 million Lou Lamoriello is in a rut right now because the Devils are on a hot streak and it sends a bad message if they start dealing their assets now, but the reality is that they're 16 points out of a playoff spot. Having already traded Jamie Langenbrunner, the Devils may be looking to deal Arnott, who is their only significant impending UFA forward but has a no-movement clause. At 37 years old, Stillman can put the puck in the net and has a manageable salary since most NHL salaries have been paid out by the end of February. He could be the really sneaky good pick-up at the deadline, with two consecutive Cup titles under his belt ('04 Tampa, '06 Carolina) and in the latter year he was second in team scoring with 26 points in 25 games. However, Stillman has only played in 4 playoff games the past 5 years. Connolly is another intriguing deadline acquisition. I have a hard time believing that the Sabres are willing to commit another contract to the talented but oft-injured centre. He'll be a good pick-up for a team looking to boost their powerplay, but I don't imagine the market will be very good for Connolly since the bar just isn't set very high with Kovalev. Radek Dvorak, Florida, $1.7 million; Chris Higgins, Florida, $1.6 million Mike Grier, Buffalo, $1.5 million; Rob Niedermayer, Buffalo, $1.25 million <img src="http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/2010/11/22/niedermayer_rob_487_381.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">The Panthers are six points out of 8th in the East, but they could very well be the biggest winners at the trade deadline with five players making this list. But the Panthers really are showing the signs of becoming the next Washington Capitals, making some very adept picks. Remember it was Tallon who assembled the Blackhawks group and if he can package his players, he might be able to land a pick in the first three rounds. The Panthers have been drafting really well lately, having gotten World Junior standouts in Erik Gudbranson, Quinton Howden, Nick Bjugstad, two late cuts in Keaton Ellerby, Jon McFarland, and home run imports in Dmitry Kulikov, Jacob Markstrom, and Evgeni Dadonov. Buffalo may also stand to lose two key veteran players, both of whom are more attractive than Florida's pair. Grier has 94 playoff games under his belt and has made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons. He won't score any goals but he's a worthy pick-up for teams looking to add some PK and bottom six depth. The same applies for Niedermayer, who can play all three forward positions and has a better resume: five consecutive playoffs including three years with 10+ game playoff runs, including a Cup title with Anaheim in 2007. The Sabres have recently changed ownership (transaction pending) with Tom Golisano selling the team to Terrence Pegula, but there have been some conflicting reports about the future of GM Darcy Regier, who some claim has become too complacent with his job while others have continually praised his work. If the Canucks were to make a move, Niedermayer could be a target. His salary seems manageable if we can create some cap room, especially now with Keith Ballard out, or we can move a body. He's got some Cup experience and it's been rumoured in the past that both Scott and Rob would love to return home to BC. I don't think any move for the Canucks is likely but Niedermayer's a player I wouldn't mind inquiring about. Are all of these players being moved at the deadline? Impossible. Are there some I haven't listed? Of course - guys like Kris Versteeg, who still have years remaining on his contract, may get moved, but considering cap space is a premium, there aren't too many teams willing to take on long-term commitments, especially considering the current CBA is going to expire soon yet again. There are too many market factors at work here but these are players that I can think make an impact for their new teams. Since there is only one team that can win the Cup, my belief is that deadline trades end up not making a heck of a lot of difference, especially since the two Western favourites (Vancouver and Detroit) and Philadelphia (my East pick) either don't have enough cap room or are unwilling to tinker with their chemistry, and so are not going to be players at the deadline.
  2. We're a quarter way through the regular season and like any other NHL season, there's been plenty of surprises, both good and bad. Let's recap. If you had told me the Flyers would finally unearth a top 15 netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky, they would've been my pick to win the Atlantic. Michael Leighton is skating again but both him and Brian Boucher would find an uphill battle to unseat the Russian netminder with a 12-3-2 record and sixth-ranked .926 SV% for goalies with at least 10 games played. I noted that Claude Giroux was a star in the making but what he's done this far has exceeded my expectations. So how about that Carey Price!? No longer am I somewhat hesitant to voice my support for the BC native who was picked by the Habs to be their franchise goalie and he couldn't have chosen to break out at a better time. Not having to look over his shoulder for Jaroslav Halak has helped him tremendously, but all he needed was just some time, to mature and soak in everything. And you know when Price turned the corner? When he showed his unwavering support for Halak in the playoffs last year. That type of off-ice maturity bleeds on to the ice. Forget about Marc-Andre Fleury, who's an overrated regular season goalie, Price is the future netminder for Canada. He beats out Cam Ward and Steve Mason for that spot. <img src="http://www.nhlsnipers.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/277-Stamkos-Game-Photo-3.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Even as unreasonable a Steven Stamkos fan I am, what he's done this year boggles my mind. He's not going to score 82, or 76 to tie Teemu Selanne and Alex Mogilny, but my bet is that he scores 60. He's the best sniper I've seen since Brett Hull (even looks like him too) and even though he prefers that left face-off spot he can score in a variety of ways, unlike one-trick pony Dany Heatley. But everyone should've seen this coming. The World Championships are often overlooked because of the playoffs, but Stamkos really stood out with 7 goals in 9 games in the 2009 tournament. While both Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin are both adept at scoring goals, they're really fun to watch and compare because they're so different. Ovechkin's a bull - he'll do everything at high speed with raw talent, skill, and strength, but he'll also do the same thing 20 times even if he's failed the previous 19 times. Hal Gill really showed us how they could shut down Ovechkin by taking away just one of his moves. Stamkos is a different. He's a much more finesse sniper. One of the few teams that has really surprised me is Atlanta. I thought the biggest piece Chicago would miss would be Dustin Byfuglien, but it's actually Andrew Ladd that has been the key cog in Blueland. You'd think that losing your most talented player in Ilya Kovalchuk would hurt, and they were better last year with him in the lineup than without, so that Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsay have turned this franchise around in such a hurry is really encouraging news. Dudley, who was with Chicago last year, clearly knew which players he wanted to target. And finally the franchise is putting some confidence in Ondrej Pavelec. Don't let Boston's eighth rank fool you - they've played less games than everyone else and are currently in a slide, but this team is much better than its record suggests. Nathan Horton, with 8 goals in 22 games, is on pace for 30, the most since 2007. A healthy Milan Lucic gives this team an even more physical dimension and he's proving that he's a legitimate top six winger. Tuukka Rask has only one win (no fault of his own - Boston has scored just 12 in his 7 starts) but Tim Thomas has come back more determined than ever. If you need any proof that a good backup is key, just look at what Boston's been able to do, and to a lesser extent, the Jackets' Mathieu Garon, the Rangers' Martin Biron and Vancouver's own Cory Schneider. Are we finally seeing the Cam Ward that we saw (quite unfairly, actually) win the 2006 Conn Smythe? Ward's been posting the best numbers in recent memory. His goals against is trending down and his save percentage is trending up. Ward turns 27 in February, the prime of his career but it may be all for naught if the Hurricanes can't find more breakout players like Jeff Skinner. Drayson Bowman, Jamie McBain, and Zach Boychuk, all highly lauded prospects, haven't had the same impact. It's hard to see Ward's numbers get even better than they already are now because Carolina's just not a very good team. Ryan Miller isn't the best goalie this year and that shouldn't surprise anyone. It's so hard to predict which goalie is going to the best in the league ever year. There was a time when Martin Brodeur dominated every category but he's on the downside of his career so it's wide-open. Case in point. League leaders in SV%: Thomas, Garon, Ondrej Pavelec, Price, and Brent Johnson. Wins: Price, Jimmy Howard, Bobrovsky, Michal Neuvirth, and Thomas. I guarantee you no one had those goalies at the top of their lists in their fantasy draft (except maybe Howard). If Darcy Regier can turn this team around he and Lindy Ruff will stay, but owner Tom Golisano is under some pressure. <img src="http://images.ctv.ca/archives/CTVNews/img2/20101111/600_maple_leafs_lose_101111_430241.jpg?2"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Florida's been another nice surprise this season. Tomas Vokoun has been spectacular as usual (9-8, 2.44 GAA, .923 SV%) on a team that can't score. Their highest scorer, Michael Frolik, has 13 points and Stephen Weiss still hasn't stepped up his game, which I thought he would with Horton's departure. It's nice to see that the Panthers, like the Canucks with Jeff Tambellini, has given proven AHLer scorer Mike Santorelli, formerly of the Predators organization, a chance to stick with the big club. I used to hate having to watch the Leafs every Saturday night, but now I quite like it. Despite what people may seem to think about their lack of effort, I really think it's just a lack of talent. Sometimes it's visible, but most other times they're just plain bad plays and bad giveaways. Phil Kessel may be taking lots of flak for not scoring but it's not hard to see that he plays hard every shift and it's not really his fault he gets knocked on his butt every other time. All teams need to do to shut down the Leafs offense is to contain Kessel. The Leafs don't have a centre to dish him the puck or a strong winger to create some room for him. Most nights it looks like he's carrying the offense all by himself because Kris Versteeg clearly isn't comfortable being to a go-to guy after playing second fiddle in Chicago. The Leafs have improved, despite that awful Kessel deal, since Brian Burke came in. End of story. As long as Kovalchuk is in a Devils uniform, that franchise is going nowhere. It's not so much that he's a bad player, he's really talented, but it's that contract. If that deal costs the Devils Zach Parise, it'd go down as the worst gamble in NHL history. While Lou Lamoriello still has some pieces in the organization, the Devils are certainly trending down. Martin Brodeur isn't what he's used to be and there's no heir apparent. Jeff Frazee isn't ready yet. Even when his team's struggling, Kovalchuk hasn't changed his game to suit the Devils' system. This inability to adapt or change isn't something that's applied to Kovalchuk, but to a lot of Russians. Ovechkin's gotten better at what he does but he hasn't added to his repertoire like Sidney Crosby or Stamkos has. It's also why I'd take Crosby over Ovechkin any day - because I know Crosby will always strive to be a more complete player (and also because he's a centre). St. Louis will only go as far as Halak takes them. When Halak's head is in the game he's great, but once in awhile he'll just implode and let in 7 goals. With TJ Oshie out for the long-term, there hasn't been anybody who's stepped up their game. Patrik Berglund has responded nicely after clashing with Andy Murray last season but Brad Boyes has just 5 goals, David Backes has 13 points, and Andy McDonald, a good centre but miscast as a number one guy, is the team's leading scorer. The team needs to find the consistency that has to be present to win in the West - the Blues go 3 wins to start November, then allow 29 goals in 5 games, then win 3 straight after that. If there's any team that will challenge Vancouver for the division title in years to come it's Colorado. Does anyone see a little Joe Sakic in Matt Duchene? That draft couldn't have worked out any better for the Avs and Duchene and in three years they may be the scariest team in the West along with the Kings. They need that franchise goaltender but the pieces are all there - Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Ryan O'Reilly, and Duchene. Five years down the road, should Dean Lombardi not put his team in some sort of cap headlock, the Kings are going to be the team to beat in the West. A franchise player in Anze Kopitar, a future fab four with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Colten Teubert, and Thomas Hickey, and a franchise goalie in Jon Quick. They've got a good mix of veterans right now and would be a dark horse to win the Cup despite their inexperience. Dallas may have the division lead right now but the Kings will be so far ahead by the end of the season they won't be able to the Stars in the rear view mirror. Is there any other team that is as misinformed as the Sharks? I feel stupid for picking the Sharks to win the Pacific (albeit barely). The Sharks are a non-Cup contender posing as one. Their defense was porous to start the season and since Marc-Edouard Vlasic can't move the puck to save his life it's now just Dan Boyle, Doug Murray, and four other guys. The Sharks, even with Joe Pavelski, are a one-line team. As much as Todd McLellan wants to mix up the Big Three, he's continued to have to force the trio back together because they can't get anything going without one another. The goaltending is suspect and even though you don't need an elite goalie to win the Cup, you can certainly lose a season with two underperforming goalies. There's just no depth on this team. <img src="http://therattrick.com/files/2009/08/48154_Flames_Bouwmeester_Hockey.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">I've also never seen a player with a worse brain to talent ratio than Jay Bouwmeester. This guy can skate like a wind but thinks like a brick. Really, sometimes the stuff he does just makes you question your own sanity. He's paid franchise player money when he clearly can't play like one. As long as he is the anchor of the Calgary defense, and he has to because he's paid the most, they will never win a Cup. My guess is that by the end of the year the Flames will dump Darryl Sutter and ironically name Jay Feaster, the former Lightning GM who defeated the Flames in 2004, as GM. I'm guessing Brent gets another year because a lack of good personnel isn't exactly his fault. I think this is one of the few times i've praised East teams more than West teams and what we're witnessing is a shift in power. it's probably more apparent this year than ever. All the years of the East being inferior to the West is no more. The East has stockpiled so much talent over the years and slowly their patience is being rewarded. All of the league's young stars - Crosby, Malkin, Backstrom, Stamkos, the Staals, Price - are in the East. While the West may have more parity, more and more the good teams are separating themselves from the teams that still haven't adjusted to life in the cap era. Trophy Tracker: Hart: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Vezina: Tim Thomas, Boston Calder: Jeff Skinner, Carolina Art Ross: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Norris: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Lindsay: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Adams: Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay Selke: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Richard: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay But, wait! Where's Vancouver, you say? Well, they get a blog post all of their own and I think it's going to be a dandy, one that (hopefully) gets some good discussion going. Stay tuned!
  3. When Ilya Kovalchuk scores, Atlanta was six games over .500. When he doesn't, they were five games under. Even Nicklas Bergfors, who averaged a point per game with more quality in ice-time since his departure from New Jersey, is re-signed, expecting 40 goals out of him is like hoping Sami Salo's body can stay intact for an entire season. The rest of the roster is filled with former Chicago depth players and a bunch of inconsistent youngsters like Bryan Little and Angelo Esposito. Nik Antropov can't carry a team. Rick Dudley has a long road ahead of him to turn this franchise around but he already has a great building block with Zach Bogosian, who I think will end up being better than either Erik or Jack Johnson. Offense: C+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- <img src="http://www.boston.com/sports/hockey/bruins/extras/bruins_blog/2010/06/29/Bruins.jpg"class="imageFloatCenterFramed"> The Bruins won't have any scoring problems this year with Nathan Horton, who I think just needed a change of scenery. There's been talk that the Bruins offense could be potent enough that they can afford to send Tyler Seguin back to Plymouth, given their cap troubles. David Krejci is poised to have a bounce back season and Milan Lucic is healthy. I think Dennis Seidenberg is an upgrade over Dennis Wideman and Tuukka Rask could give Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur a good run for their money as the best goalie in the East. Offense: B+, Defense: B+, Goaltending: A If you expect Ryan Miller to repeat what he did last season, history is working against him. Miller's .929 SV% last year is 15 points higher than his career SV%. Even when Martin Brodeur posted his best SV% in 1997 with a .927 mark, he regressed 10 points the following season to .917, which is closer to his career average of .914. The same goes for Roberto Luongo, with a .931 mark in 2004 then .914 the following season. Brodeur has only managed to post back-to-pack seasons of .920 SV% or greater only once. Looking at that defense, and given the trends that work against Miller, I have a hard time believing the Sabres' defense will hold. Offense: B+, Defense: B-, Goaltending: A Heading into his first full NHL season as team captain, Staal doesn't have a heck of a lot to work with. Only Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen could be considered scoring threats but neither are top line players. Erik Cole is a lost cause and Sergei Samsonov lives in his own little world. Joni Pitkanen is great offensively but can only count on Tim Gleason to save his butt. Cam Ward has yet to replicate his Conn Smythe performance. However, GM Jim Rutherford has collected a good group of young talent that should make a significant impact this season, including Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, and early Calder candidate Jamie McBain. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B This is a transitional year for the Panthers who are preparing to give their entire organization an overhaul. Over half the roster are impending free agents and unless they impress Dale Tallon the majority of them will be gone, possibly by the trade deadline. David Booth is a potential franchise cornerstone but has yet to play a full season. There isn't much in the pipeline to speak of although there are three players (Dmitri Kulikov, Jacob Markstrom, and Evgeni Dadonov) that look to be keepers. The only constant for this team will be Tomas Vokoun's play and Bryan McCabe's giveaways. Offense: B-, Defense: C+, Goaltending: B+ <img src="http://committedindians.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/sharks_canadiens22b.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">I'm probably one of the few people out there that believe the Habs' decision to go with Carey Price is the right one. Out of all their young players I think him and PK Subban have the most upside. If anyone thinks the Habs can repeat what they did last year is delusional. What this team lacks in size they make up for in feistiness and toughness but the season is an 82-game grind and the little guys will wear down. Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Markov are probably the only two players on this roster that are paid what they're actually worth. Offense: B, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B Ilya Kovalchuk or not, the Devils always manage to make the playoffs when everyone writes them off. No one's making that mistake this time after GM Lou Lamoriello made a big splash signing Anton Volchenkov, who combined with Colin White may give the Devils the biggest intimidation factor since Scott Stevens. For once they are also to afford to give Martin Brodeur some rest with the more-than-capable Johan Hedberg. The only problem I see with this squad is the transition game from their blueline which features mediocre puck-moving ability when Paul Martin wasn't adequately replaced. Offense: B+, Defense: A-, Goaltending: A+ Like the Panthers, the Islanders have a slew of players set to become free agents in 2011, which means many of them are going to be motivated. Matt Moulson has to prove he's no one-hit wonder, Kyle Okposo really wants to be the East's premier power forward, and Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp both have something to prove. But this team is still too green to make the playoffs. And you can forget about Rick DiPietro – it's about time Snow looks in a different direction. Offense: B, Defense: C+, Goaltending: C+ Asides from that ridiculous contract to Derek Boogaard, I like what GM Glen Sather has done. Adding Alex Frolov takes some pressure off Marian Gaborik's shoulders and Todd White adds some defensive presence. There isn't anything too spectacular about the Rangers' offense other than Gaborik but if Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, the 5'7" Swedish Elite League MVP can deliver the Rangers might have a legitimate second scoring threat. Wade Redden will dress on Opening Night and Marc Staal is still un-signed but Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Matt Gilroy could improve by leaps and bounds this year. Offense: B+, Defense: B-, Goaltending: A+ For a guy who loves playing in Ottawa, the media sure want to run Jason Spezza out of town. A lot of the blame rests on his shoulders, sometimes rightfully so, but he's a talent that can't be easily replaced. If Alex Kovalev can learn to play hockey again things would go much smoother for Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. The blueline has plenty of talent, highlighted by the emerging Erik Karlsson, but asides from Chris Phillips, whether or not this group can defend their own zone consistently enough to help out Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott is questionable. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- If I had to put money on either Chicago or Philadelphia to make the finals again, it'd be the Flyers. They didn't lose much over the summer, save Chris Pronger's injury and the oft-injured Simon Gagne, and realized they have a potential superstar in Claude Giroux and salvaged a talent in Ville Leino. The blueline could use some work and we'll have to see if coach Peter Laviolette can work some magic on Andrej Meszaros. I expected the Flyers to go with a Michael Leighton-Brian Boucher tandem and they did, so there's no way I'm giving them a thumbs down for not going after Jaroslav Halak or whoever. Offense: A-, Defense: A-, Goaltending: B+ The Penguins didn't have any trouble scoring goals after Sidney Crosby decided to do it all himself rather than wait for Ray Shero to find the right wingers. Defense, however, was another story as the Pens allowed 237 goals, second-most out of the eight playoff teams. That was quickly fixed by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, two of the best signings this summer. Coupled with Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski, the Pens have the most well-rounded and capable six-man group in the East. Marc-Andre Fleury, never a fantastic regular season goalie, will get all the help he needs to notch a 40-win season, his first since his sophomore year. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- <img src="http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8912889/tampa-bay-lightning-vice/tampa-bay-lightning-vice.jpg?size=380&imageId=8912889"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">A testament to how much Steve Yzerman is respected in Tampa Bay shows in the names he's managed to haul in: Pavel Kubina, Simon Gagne, and the underrated Brett Clark. Guy Boucher is a big step up over former head coach Rick Tocchet and he'll most certainly build his offense around Steve Stamkos, arguably the East's second-best centre. But let's be realistic here – the Bolts aren't making the playoffs with that roster. They are, however, going in the right direction. Offense: A, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B- The Leafs severely underperformed last year and this team isn't as bad as many people think. J-S Giguere is no Vesa Toskala so at least there's some solace in that. The blueline isn't bad either if you exclude Jeff Finger. (I met a guy once who tried to rationalize that signing when it was announced – I'd love to see him do it now). There are some question marks up front but you have to give Phil Kessel some credit – he did score 30 goals with zero help. If the Leafs make the playoffs they'll sneak in as the eighth seed. It's plausible because after the top six spots the field is wide open. Offense: B-, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ Whatever question marks the Capitals had heading into last season were erased when Semyon Varlamov emerged as a capable number one goalie. Now with Michal Neuvirth pushing him he'll have to stay focused. Alex Ovechkin must be motivated as ever, losing both the Art Ross to Henrik Sedin and Rocket Richard to arch rival Sidney Crosby so watch out, he's shooting for 60 goals. The team's ability to play defense will determine how far they will get in the playoffs but for now pencil them in as the President's Trophy winner. Offense: A+, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ EAST STANDINGS 1. Washington 2. Pittsburgh 3. Boston 4. New Jersey 5. Philadelphia 6. Ottawa 7. Buffalo 8. Montréal 9. NY Rangers 10. Carolina 11. Toronto 12. Tampa Bay 13. NY Islanders 14. Florida 15. Atlanta
  4. More often than not, I agree with Brian Burke - the World Hockey Summit in Toronto that is coming to its conclusion was a fantastic idea... if you could fork over the $450 ticket price and believe that the NHL is willing to implement changes. To me, the Summit is a re-hash of ideas, some great, some not so much, but certainly by no means having a direct impact on hockey in general because of its lack of execution. Increased scoring, financial viability of certain teams, expansion, and the CBA were again the major topics of conversation, some of which are worth discussing. <img src="http://www.tsr.ch/xobix_media/images/tsr/2008/swisstxt20080512_9077705_0.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Even though the NHL is struggling to keep some of its franchises afloat, there has always been talk of expansion, but not necessarily the kind that adds more teams, but rather the geographical kind. In my mind, there's no doubt the Coyotes are going to move, but the question remains when and where. Winnipeg and Quebec City are the oft-discussed destinations in Canada while south of the border the usual culprit, Kansas City, remains the most intriguing option. But what of overseas expansion? It's no secret that hockey is big in Europe and if the NHL is interested in generating revenue, Europe already has an established fan base, unlike the majority of the southern teams in the US. However, International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel is steadfastly against the idea. The underlying motivation behind Fasel's position isn't holding a grudge against Gary Bettman for refusing to commit NHL players to the 2014 Sochi Games, but more for protecting the interests of the European hockey leagues and indirectly, the NHL. The NHL boasts the world's best hockey players in the world but also the biggest revenue streams. As much as Alexander Medvedev thinks the KHL is more lucrative and more talented, that's just not the case. Ray Emery, who spent a season with Atlant Mytishchi, says the competition isn't even close and I'm inclined to agree. If the KHL, who often boasts about its player salaries exemplified by its offer to Ilya Kovalchuk (reportedly close to US $20 million a season, tax free), can't compete against the NHL, then neither can any of the European leagues. By establishing an European division, the NHL can essentially wipe out those leagues. Obviously there will be some fan loyalty to consider, but if the best players play in the NHL's European division, that's where the fans will go. Fan support is clearly dictated by the success of a team's on-ice product. Earlier this summer, Russia's most storied hockey franchise, Moscow Dynamo, whose alumni include Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Ovechkin, folded. If a team of that stature can fold, and while the KHL's financial instability isn't mirrored in the Swedish Elite League or the Finnish National League, it's not inconceivable that other storied franchises like MoDo or Jokerit Helsinki could fold as well. Even if the NHL is willing to pump millions of money into an European division, the logistics would be a major headache. Flight costs, scheduling, and game times are just some of the major problems it will encounter. If the Canucks were to play in Stockholm, they'd have to travel over 7500 km (airplane fuel is slightly more expensive than the already ridiculous prices they charge you at your local gas station) and a 7:00 PM game time in Stockholm translates to 10:00 AM Vancouver time. This severely decreases TV viewership and even if the games are played on weekends some die-hard Canucks fans would find it hard to get up that early. If the Canucks play at home at 7:00 PM, it's 4:00 AM in Stockholm and at that hour there's almost no point in broadcasting the games, especially if the NHL wishes to charge Swedish TV networks a premium for showcasing NHL talent. It's an idea that just won't work on any level and should be laid to rest. The second issue worth discussing is again, the salary cap. Even though Kovalchuk's original deal with the Devils was voided by Richard Bloch, it looks like he's going to be a Devil anyway. While other teams have knocked Kovalchuk's door, I think it's his intention to remain a Devil. You have to wonder if the Kings would've made a second pitch to Kovalchuk had they not signed Alexei Ponikarovsky upon hearing Kovalchuk's 17-year pact with New Jersey. The Kings still have ample cap room but having an extra $3.2 million in the bank could've changed things. If the NHL was so intent on preventing these "cheat" contracts from happening, why not dole out a real punishment, like preventing the Devils from re-negotiating with Kovalchuk? At the end of the day, when Kovalchuk is once again in the red and black, the Devils and Kovalchuk will merely shrug their shoulders. The Devils still got the player they wanted with (most likely) another ~$10 million per season salary contract, albeit shorter. Preventing re-negotiations between the two sides may be crossing the line for the NHL but it's a league that clearly doesn't believe in reason or logic. <img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_S-6RkogBLCs/SZQTkclNhaI/AAAAAAAAArk/rmYHVhfx7hk/s400/DSC_0497.JPG"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The Hawks have also been whining about how inflexible the cap is and may have to loan Cristobal Huet to the Swiss National League A. The victim here is clearly Huet, not the Hawks, and frankly I'm a little disappointed the Frenchman hasn't sounded off. Since day one the Hawks have little confidence in their $5.625 million goalie and have come up with oh-so-original idea to either banish him to the AHL or loan him to European teams. Whether or not you agree Huet is starting material is debatable, but he is a NHL-calibre goalie. Teams that have clearly made mistakes, like Washington with Michael Nylander and the Rangers with Wade Redden, should be punished by having those salaries count against the cap regardless of where they're banished to. The Rangers, and more recently the Caps, now have deep pockets and aren't afraid of paying players to just simply go away. Unlike Phoenix, those organizations don't have problems paying their players but do have problems understanding how the cap works. By this time, entering the sixth year of the current CBA, there should be no excuse. The CBA is far too flexible and makes it far too easy for teams to make their mistakes go away.
  5. This summer wasn't supposed to feature big name free agents. Marian Hossa. Marc Savard. Chris Pronger. Roberto Luongo. Most people aren't shocked this deal was struck down. I wasn't either. When it was announced Kovalchuk's contract was going to be investigated you knew this wasn't headed anywhere good. I was, and still am, surprised an investigation was conducted in the first place. <img src="http://assets.nydailynews.com/img/2010/07/20/alg_resize_ilya-kovalchuk.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Now that arbiter Richard Bloch has nixed Ilya Kovalchuk's deal with New Jersey, it has set off a chain of events that the NHL may never recover from. It's a PR disaster - a league that identified its mistakes too late and now is set to potentially undo a number of transactions that would affect all 30 teams, directly or indirectly. I said in my previous blog post that the NHL's decision to investigate Kovalchuk's contract was a poor one because precedent had been set and it was no secret that all the very, very long-term contracts signed before Kovalchuk's were designed to circumvent the cap. The NHLPA agrees with me - from TSN: "The NHL Players' Association argued that those four deals were approved and that Kovalchuk's deal should be approved as well." It's a simple and logical argument. Remember when Luongo's contract (among others) was signed the NHL had already investigated and deemed it acceptable? Now they're saying it might not. Which is it? This entire fiasco stinks of a small, small man determined to make some sort of history and make everyone play by his rules, not the CBA's or NHLPA's. The issue that should strike a little fear in Canucks fans' hearts is that if Bloch rules Luongo's contract in violation of the CBA he immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent. Scary thought, huh? Rest assured that even if Luongo's contract is voided he will re-sign in Vancouver because this is where he has the biggest chance to win but since these "cheat" contracts aren't allowed it means Mike Gillis will have to retain him at a higher cap hit. A higher cap hit means more cap casualties and the Canucks are still around $2.5 million over the cap. Most players whose contracts may be voided will choose to remain with their respective teams for both monetary and non-monetary reasons. But there are teams who stand to gain from having such long-term contracts voided, like the Bruins, who have been trying to get rid of Marc Savard's contract for awhile (more on that later). <img src="http://tenderslounge.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/roberto-luongo-c-on-mask.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">I get why the NHL doesn't like the deal and I agree it's preposterous, but it's not just Kovalchuk's. What's done is done. The CBA wasn't perfect and it seems like Bettman is taking these "cheat" contracts as a personal slap to the face. Lou Lamoriello is a bold GM who isn't afraid to make some controversial moves but this one was just too bold for Bettman's taste. (There are conspiracy theorists out there that claim this Kovalchuk contract was a sham in the first place and was designed to give Bettman impetus to investigate other "cheat" contracts further but I say that's a pile of poo - Lamoriello wouldn't stoop that low.) The more interesting contract is actually Hossa's. Since Luongo's $64 million, 12-year extension doesn't kick in until this year, there's relatively little penalty. It will require Gillis to get creative once more but no harm, no foul because technically speaking Luongo's contract hasn't kicked in yet. But not Hossa's. Signed in 2009, Hossa's already played out one year of his 12-year, $63.3 million contract. Voiding Luongo's contract also means Bloch has to void Hossa's. In a side-by-side comparison, the two extensions are similar in term, dollars, and structure. So what happens then? If Hossa's contract is to be deemed void then it is void retroactive to July 1, 2009, before Dale Tallon/Stan Bowman built a Cup-winning team. It would mean that the Blackhawks won the Cup with an illegal player and given the impact Hossa had on that team, you could argue that perhaps that Cup shouldn't belong in Chicago. Here's my guess: Luongo, Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen (funny how Gillis, Chiarelli, and Tallon/Bowman have been mentioned but not the NHL's golden boy GM, Ken Holland), Vinny Lecavalier, and Duncan Keith's contracts won't be voided because their salaries in the final years of their contract won't dip below $1 million, which seems to have been the cut-off point Bloch has arbitrarily decided on. Savard's will because he is 1) set to earn just $525,000 per year for the last two years of his contract, and 2) be 40 when it expires, and as Bloch is quick to point out there aren't too many NHLers who play past their 40th birthday. But it's a contract that doesn't kick in until this upcoming season so it's no harm, no foul. Savard will sign with the Leafs and Peter Chiarelli saves himself from a headache even though he loses Savard for nothing. Voiding not one, but two, might even make the NHL look better. The strange one will be Chris Pronger's, whose contract, like Savard's, sees him earn $525,000 over the last two years of his contract. But the Flyers are on the hook for the entire length of that contract so it may be possible that Bloch decides that's enough punishment for Paul Holmgren. If Pronger's contract is deemed not in violation of circumventing the cap then it'll have to be on different grounds than Kovalchuk's. There's no way Bloch can declare Kovalchuk's contract void and Pronger's valid if the criteria is 1) "playable" length and 2) the sub-$1 million pay in the final years of the contract. There's been a lot of talk about signing contracts in good faith. Gary Bettman breeds none. <img src="http://www.vancouversun.com/business/3084395.bin?size=620x400"class="imageFloatMiddleFramed">
  6. <img src="http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/j/ap/devils%20kovalchuk%20hockey--810173562_v2.rp350x350.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Ilya Kovalchuk was all smiles and cracking jokes when he signed a record-breaking 17 year pact with the Devils for $102 million. Even with a declining Martin Brodeur and the future in net uncertain, by signing the Russian sniper the Devils look to remain playoff staples for the next decade. That all came to a crashing halt today. Kovalchuk is now stuck in limbo as the NHL rejected his new contract today citing that both sides are trying to circumvent the cap. The NHL believes that neither Kovalchuk nor the Devils believe that he will play out his contract in its entirety, at which point Kovalchuk will be 44 years old. It's quite obvious that the NHL is making a judgment call on Kovalchuk. The NHL is essentially saying that 1) Kovalchuk can't possibly want to play in the NHL at 44 years old, or 2) that he can't play at the NHL level at 44 years old due to declining skill. It seems as though Gary Bettman has forgotten that up until this year Chris Chelios, at 48 years old, was a NHLer. For comparison's sake, when Chelios was 44 years old in 2006, he suited up in 81 games for the Red Wings, posting 11 points with 102 penalty minutes and a healthy +22 rating. <img src="http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/blackhawks-confidential/gary-bettman1.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">It also bothers me that Bettman is stepping in now. It's absolutely absurd. Where was he for the Marian Hossa contract? When Dale Tallon signed Hossa last summer, he was 30 years old and awarded with a 12-year contract, making him 42 years old when he retires. Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg will be 41 when their contracts expire in 2021. You don't even have to look to far beyond our backyard for another example: Roberto Luongo's new contract, which kicks in this upcoming season, will take him to 2022, at which point he will be 43 years old. Luongo's combined salary for the last three years of his contract? $3.618 million. Kovalchuk's contract isn't the first of his kind. Lou Lamoriello didn't set any precedents. All of these contracts were designed to circumvent the cap by lowering each players' cap hit. If Bettman is calling Lamoriello a cheat then he is also calling out Tallon, Ken Holland, and Mike Gillis, some of the brightest minds in hockey today. All of these contracts were designed to circumvent the cap to a certain degree. I would be very, very surprised if the NHLPA doesn't file a grievance. I would understand Bettman's actions better had this been part of the new CBA, but this is still the one that was agreed on since the lockout. This CBA has proven to be a failure: traditional non-hockey market teams are still struggling, contracts are longer and more lucrative than ever, and there still hasn't been the parity Bettman has been talking about. And what of Kovalchuk? Is he still a free agent? Do the Kings wait for the league investigation to be over or do they move ahead to Plan B? What about the Devils? Does Kovalchuk, one of the league's premier players, head to the KHL for greener pastures now? What's Bettman's plan? Where is this going to go? Kovalchuk's contract may have sent ripples across the league but Bettman's actions and decisions will make waves. This is going to be interesting.
  7. This year's free agent class is probably one of the weakest ones in recent memory but that hasn't stopped teams from throwing their money around. The majority of the signings have been great but others not so much (I'm looking at you, Darryl Sutter). Last year I made a note that Craig Anderson was a great signing by the Avs, although I have to say I didn't see such MVP calibre performances coming from him. He was dirt cheap and more than capable - you can't get any better than that. As usual the first day featured a flurry of signings but after a week the signings are now slowly rolling in. The big fish that remains is Ilya Kovalchuk who has reportedly agreed to a 7 year, $60 million deal with the Devils. He is the one remaining domino that has to fall to set off another chain reaction of events. Expect another flurry of moves as Lou Lamoriello attempts to clear cap space but until then, let's break down what have been great and not so great signings. Buffalo - Jordan Leopold, 3 years, $3 million I've never quite understood teams' fascination with Leopold. A former standout at the University of Minnesota, injuries have really derailed his career after posting 33 points in 2004. Since then, Leopold has either been injured or a healthy scratch and made little impact with the Pens this year. $3 million is a lot to pay a guy who you might get 60 games from. The Buffalo blueline lacks sandpaper already and Leopold doesn't particularly help in that regard. Losing Lydman and Tallinder will really hurt the Sabres this year even if Tyler Myers does manage to build on his rookie campaign. Calgary - Olli Jokinen, 2 years, $3 million and Alex Tanguay, 1 year, $1.7 million Perhaps the most bizarre signings of the day. The argument against these two players is that it's been proven that Jokinen is clearly not the complimentary centre for Iginla while Tanguay's two-year stint in the red and yellow was riddled with more lows than highs despite putting up good numbers. The only part that works in the Flames' favour is that both contracts are short and for relatively little money. For two guys who can put up 70-80 points a season a $4.7 million investment per year is an absolute bargain. However, these moves reek of desperation. It tells us that there's nobody in the Calgary pipeline ready to make significant contributions and that the highly touted Mikael Backlund is not quite ready for full-time duty yet with Jokinen, Stajan, and Langkow down the middle. Colorado - Kyle Quincey, 2 years, $3.125 million The challenge for the Avs going into the future isn't icing a competitive team - with Joe Sacco behind the bench and Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene leading the offense the real challenge is keeping them together. The first step to that is signing their best defenseman last year, and that's Quincey. The Wings may be kicking themselves with this one for years to come (he was waived after failing to make the team) and Quincey was the key piece in the Ryan Smyth deal that sent Captain Canada to Hollywood. Not only did Quincey make significant contributions at both ends of the ice, I thought he really took some pressure off John-Michael Liles, whose -2 rating was 17 points better than what he posted the year before. Edmonton - Alexandre Giroux, 1 year, $500 000 Much like the recently signed Jeff Tambellini, Giroux has always excelled at the AHL level but never managed to translate his success to the NHL. With Washington's deep offense Giroux has had trouble cracking the lineup but he will definitely get his opportunity here. Giroux has put up 200 points in just 138 games in the AHL the past two years but just 5 in 21 NHL games. On a one-way contract Giroux will be motivated and will have a chance to star alongside Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall on the Oilers' offense. <img src="http://www2.pictures.gi.zimbio.com/Phoenix+Coyotes+v+Boston+Bruins+VB3csng__aGl.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Nashville - Matt Lombardi, 3 years, $3.5 million Despite seemingly found his niche in Phoenix after posting career highs in assists (34) and points (53), Don Maloney elected to let him walk and what a pick up by the Predators. The underachieving Lombardi will flourish under Barry Trotz, who has always found a way to make something out of nothing (we will have to see what he can do with Sergei Kostitsyn, however). Lombardi's speed will really compliment a blue-collar team like the Preds. Perhaps Lombardi will flourish once again in a non-hockey market as their number one center ahead of Legwand and the emerging Colin Wilson. New Jersey - Henrik Tallinder, 4 years, $3.375 million and Anton Volchenkov, 6 years, $4.25 million The Devils certainly got better defensively, which is a must now that Martin Brodeur is no longer one of the league's best. After losing Paul Martin to the Pens, Lamoriello shored up his blueline with two capable defenders including Volchenkov, one of this summer's most coveted. Neither comes with a hefty price tag and with Colin White the Devils defense seems impenetrable. It's a shame though that this defense will have trouble moving the puck up the ice to Zajac, Parise, and possibly Kovalchuk. Ottawa - Sergei Gonchar, 3 years, $5.5 million Reportedly talks between Gonchar and the Pens broke down because Ray Shero was not willing to commit three years to the 36-year old rearguard. Because Gonchar is over the 35 age limit, all three years will count against the Sens' cap whether he plays it out or not. There's obviously a risk to that because $5.5 million is a big chunk of the cap, but it seems as though Bryan Murray is willing to wait just a little while longer for Brian Lee, the surprising ninth overall pick in 2005 (one ahead of the late Luc Bourdon) who has yet to make a significant impact at the NHL level, to develop. Gonchar provides a big boost to the Sens' 21st ranked powerplay and will be a worthy mentor to emerging star Erik Karlsson. The real downside to this is that Murray now has 3 players over the age of 35 under contract that he will have to fulfill to the end - Gonchar, Alfredsson, and Kovalev - for a combined total of $15.375 million. A good signing, nonetheless. Pittsburgh - Zbynek Michalek, 5 years, $4 million and Paul Martin, 5 years, $5 million Being able to come to terms with one of the league's best shot blockers and most underrated puck movers is certainly quite the catch for the Pens and more than offsets the loss of Gonchar. While the search for scoring wingers continue, Shero has solidified the back end and with Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik the Pens may now boast one of the best top four in the East. <img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/91385903.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D0818BF4C11B4AFFF0BA841DF76159BCC24592D19F824F1964E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Tampa Bay - Martin St. Louis, 4 years, $5.625 million, Pavel Kubina, 2 years, $3.85 million, and Brett Clark, 2 years, $1.5 million Somehow, between drafting Brett Connolly and signing Pavel Kubina, St. Louis' four-year extension has been overlooked. The Bolts will be on the hook for all four years but it was an astute signing because asides from Steven Stamkos, St. Louis is Tampa's most valuable player. Stamkos, after all, does need someone to play with. Interesting to me that St. Louis signed a four-year pact, giving him ample opportunities to make another case for the Canadian squad in 2014 after being snubbed this year. No doubt Steve Yzerman will be playing a big role in putting that team together. When asked about Brett Clark, most people would probably say, "Brett who?" It's hard to pinpoint exactly what Clark excels at but watch closely next time and you'll notice that he's one of the best positional defenseman out there. At that price Clark may be one of the best signings this summer. <img src="http://www.kuklaskorner.com/images/uploads/hammer.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Vancouver - Dan Hamhuis, 6 years, $4.5 million and Manny Malhotra, 3 years, $2.5 million The Canucks have never quite been big players on July 1 but I think it was a foregone conclusion that the BC native would return home. At $4.5 million, Hamhuis comes relatively cheap and while he doesn't excel at any particular aspect of the game, he will remind Canuck fans of another solid all-round defenseman who also wore #2. Overshadowed in Nashville by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Hamhuis will have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. Don't be surprised if he sets career highs in assists and points with more quality ice-time, specifically on the powerplay. If there's anything I've ever noticed about Malhotra, it's that he's wicked fast. While the price may be a bit cheap for a guy who averages only around 30 points a season, Malhotra's a great third-line centre who will provide some needed footspeed into the Canucks lineup and pressure the opposing defense into making mistakes.
  8. What a wild playoffs. I've been so caught up with everything that I had neglected to add new entries. Apologies. As a gift, here's everything that's been on my mind for the past 2 weeks. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/89/fullj.7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855/7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855-getty-98063257.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - Colorado just simply ran out of steam. Craig Anderson looked exhausted at times and the game time Peter Budaj saw I'm sure gave Anderson some much needed rest, however brief. Matt Duchene hit a wall and had an obvious difficulty adjusting to the more physical playoff hockey after an outstanding rookie season. Chris Stewart really had a coming out party and could become a legitimate 30-goal power forward. The Sharks almost became another punch line to a choking joke again and even though San Jose can breath a sigh of relief, they still won't make it past the second round. Even Dan Boyle was reluctant to talk about his Game 3 gaffe. If they do, it'd be totally on the shoulders of Boyle, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks' vaunted Big Three have once again pulled their disappearing act. Joe Thornton has 3 assists in 6 games and is -4. Patrick Marleau has 3 points and is -2. Dany Heatley has 0 goals in 5 games. You really have to wonder how long Doug Wilson is willing to hold on to this core. And you also have to really wonder if Thornton can really be considered a franchise cornerstone anymore. - There's no secret that there's a double standard in the NHL and their failure to remain objective in all their disciplinary actions just makes the joke even worse. Zdeno Chara should've been suspended as per league rules but he wasn't, and you can expect the same with Marian Hossa for his hit on Dan Hamhuis. To make matters worse, Hossa was the Game 5 hero, giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead against a Nashville squad. I didn't think Chicago would have this much trouble against a team that pales in comparison in talent, but it just goes to show how far blue-collar hockey can get you. The Hawks will have no problem closing this out on the road or at the United Center. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/capress/d8/fullj.1ee1ab3e17070f7eef2792201806597f/capress-hkn_kings_canucks-232609823.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed"> - The Kings skated with such confidence that it totally disrupted with the Canucks' play and if not for Mikael Samuelsson's (he's been fantastic since the "Sweden Snub") shooting the Canucks wouldn't be in this position. Roberto Luongo still really hasn't found his game while the defense can be criticized, his .882 SV% and 3.11 GAA just won't cut it. The penalty kill has been awful, and for those who wonder how Ryan Johnson and his one-goal season can justify more than a million dollars per year, well, there's your answer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects continue to march on. Henrik and Daniel and Ryan Kesler have continued their great regular seasons. The return of Steve Bernier was big, and the always under-appreciated big forward has caused some havoc in front of the Kings net. I think the last 7-2 thrashing totally shot down whatever confidence the Kings had. Give credit to the Kings - they're a young squad that really exceeded expectations this year, and they're going to be Pacific Division heavyweights for a long time with Anze Kopitar up front and Norris-nominee Drew Doughty on the blueline. If the Canucks can't defend the Kings, they'll have headaches with the Blackhawks. Again. - I think in the Detroit-Phoenix series, experience has really tilt the scales in the Wings' favour. Admittedly I haven't been following this series as closely as the other, but each Red Wing win looks more and more convincing. After an ugly 7-4 win, the Wings have absolutely clamped down on Phoenix's offense, with two goals allowed in their last two games. Pavel Datsyuk's simply a magician on ice and he's led the Wings' attack. Nicklas Lidstrom has remained relatively quiet (as usual) but I somehow expected a little more out of him considering that this may be his last NHL playoffs amidst rumours of retiring or returning to Sweden. Usually, half the teams that make the playoffs one year don't make the playoffs the following year (Edmonton and Carolina being the most extreme examples, no Rangers, Blues, Flames, Ducks this year). I have a feeling Phoenix and Colorado will both fall victim to this because the biggest reason for their success has been their goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov and Craig Anderson have had outstanding seasons but they'd have to do it again to prove to me they're not one-trick ponies. - There's no way the Habs can limit the Caps to one goal again. That simply won't happen. Bruce Boudreau was noticeably flustered with his team's lack of offense in Game 5, but they'll find their game soon. You can shut down Alex Ovechkin for one game, but not an entire series. I really think the wild card here isn't goaltending, but rather Mike Green. Green has just 2 assists and is the Caps' fourth highest scoring defenseman behind USA World Jr. hero John Carlson, Tom Poti, and deadline pick-up Joe Corvo. Alex Semin only has one assist and is driving everyone crazy - he earns $6 million next year on a one-year contract and if he doesn't perform then he will be trade bait. Much like LA's Alex Frolov, Semin's desire to compete has been questioned. I've been impressed with the Habs' effort despite being a much less skilled and smaller team, but I think for the most part they've responded well. Size wasn't an issue here but look for the Habs to address that need at this year's draft where there's plenty of big-bodied centres. - I called the upset, and it was Philadelphia. They were simply built for the playoffs and the Devils just couldn't overcome their aggressive play. The Scott Hartnells, Mike Richards, and even Dan Carcillos of the Flyers simply outworked the Devils. Ian Laperriere required 60-70 stitches to fix his face after taking a shot and it's the little instances like that that can tell you about what sort of personality the team has. They'll face Washington next round (if they win) and that's a tough match-up. All you need in the playoffs to go far is a hot goalie and the Flyers have just that with Brian Boucher. At the heels of the Devils' elimination, it should be no surprise that the rumour mill has started to turn again. With a third straight first round exit, I think it's a definite sign that Martin Brodeur can no longer be the man. His .881 SV% and 3.01 GAA was awful for his standards and it has sparked rumours that Lou Lamoriello may be going after Carey Price. - The Boston-Buffalo series was certainly one that caught me by surprise. I knew that neither team would score much, and I thought Buffalo could hold off Boston's physical attack before the fatigue would set in the second round, but I guess I was wrong. Both goalies have been incredible and I still can't really pick which team is going to win, but I'll have to stick with Buffalo and hope they can win two straight. If the Sabres do win, it'd make me 8 for 8 in my predictions. The winner of this series won't last past the second. After Lindy Ruff told the media that whether or not Thomas Vanek would play would depend solely on him, it's going to be very difficult for Vanek to say no, no matter how far away from being 100% he is. - The Sens played great despite missing some several key pieces and going against two of the most offensively talented players in the league and Selke nominee Jordan Staal. It's tough enough beating all three of them, but with a strong supporting cast (although not as strong as the Pens would like) they prevailed. The series does put the Sens in a bit of a curious position, as moving forward they'll have to decide if either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott is their number one guy going forward, or if they're just going to split everything 50-50. - Very quickly, that sets up San Jose and Detroit, Vancouver and Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia, and then Pittsburgh-Buffalo/Boston. It's going to be a dandy, because I see Detroit and Chicago in the Conference Finals and another Pittsburgh-Washington showdown before Chicago claims the Cup. Bold? Maybe. - The obsession with getting the right match-ups has set a new record for too many men on the ice penalties. It's going to cost a team mightily in the Finals and it'll have to be pinned on the coach. Poor bench management leads to poor communication and it won't necessarily be the players' fault. - John Tavares didn't make the list of Calder nominees that includes Detroit's Jimmy Howard, Colorado's Matt Duchene, and Buffalo's Tyler Myers. It's not that Tavares didn't have a good season - he did, with 24 goals to tie for the lead with Duchene but it was Tavares' -15 that didn't do him any favours. If it were my pick it'd be Howard. Duchene was one of Colorado's top scorers and Myers was Buffalo's top defenseman, but both I think were real beneficiaries of having Anderson and Ryan Miller in net. In hockey the most important position (arguably) is in net and without Howard the Red Wings wouldn't have made the top 8. He's much older but he's the most worthy of the league's top rookie award. - The race for the Selke essentially comes down to two players: Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler. There's no contest for the third candidate, Jordan Staal. I was a little perplexed by Staal's nomination, but in part because Datsyuk and Kesler are in a class of their own. You could replace Staal with Jonathan Toews, who I felt should've gotten a vote, and it still wouldn't have been a contest. Kesler will be hard-pressed to beat Datsyuk for the award but I think considering Kesler's showing at the Olympics and his offensive breakout it's his time to claim the award. - The Lady Byng Trophy is usually the least respected major award and it's not totally fair to give it that label and but indeed it is less glamorous. Datsyuk gets his second nomination this year while Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis both enjoyed great seasons. However, I think Datsyuk will go empty-handed once again and St. Louis, who was snubbed by Canada, will take the award. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/blackhawks/images/upload/2009/01/chi_129_6.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - The most interesting race will be for the Norris Trophy. This year's list of candidates features three first-timers with Duncan Keith, Mike Green, and Drew Doughty. I'm still a little uneasy over Green's nomination because his defensive game is nowhere near Keith's (glug glug) or Doughty's. Someone please make a Bobby Orr Award or something for best offensive defenseman. Anyway, back on topic, has anyone else noticed that none of those 3 players are feared for their hitting? It's clearly a changing of the guard not so much in terms of age, but definitely style of play. All three are incredible skaters. Chris Pronger was never an incredible skater. If it weren't for Green's nomination I think it would've went to Shea Weber. My pick is without a doubt Duncan Keith, no question. - Nashville can't even sell out their playoff games against a division rival. Once again, the futility of hockey in non-traditional American markets should give Gary Bettman an idea of what exactly is going on down there but of course he believes they are still viable markets. Bettman got absolutely lucky with the Coyotes' success this season. It also shows, however, how a successful team, no matter the location, can be with the proper management. It sounds like Tampa Bay is headed in that direction but apparently Martin St. Louis wants no part of it and has reportedly requested a trade. - The draft lottery didn't unveil any surprises, but the Oilers are still shrouded in mystery as to who they're going to pick. They've recently re-vamped their front office by firing assistant GM Kevin Prendergast and a number of trainers, but you have to wonder when Steve Tambellini's going to start touching that roster. If I were the Oilers, I'd draft Tyler Seguin and blow up that entire roster. If Tambellini had to pick one player to not trade regardless of the offer, it'd be Sam Gagner. The kid's a wizard with the puck and competes hard. - It's playoff hockey time and we've already seen our fair share of blood, bruises, and shattered teeth courtesy of Eric Belanger. The winner of this year's playoffs will be the team that has lost the most teeth and pints of blood combined. It's always been like that though. Here's to the Canucks and Kyle Wellwood losing all his teeth. Go Canucks Go!
  9. On some days when I can't up from bed in time, or even when I do it's hard to be totally aware of things at the moment, I like to read the recap about the Canucks' effort. From I've read, it sounds like Roberto Luongo did his thing and bailed a dis-spirited team in front of him with some big, big saves. It wasn't until the shootout when you could literally win the game by skating as leisurely as you'd like (which is why it'll never fly in the playoffs) did the Canucks pull out with a win with none other than veteran Pavol Demitra. Good thing we have that guy in net, eh? But anyway, this whole week has really been about players outside of the Canucks organization for once, so, here's a look at the rest of the league, which might be as interesting as the Canucks. <img src="http://media.nj.com/devils_main/photo/ilya-kovalchuk-devils-debut-4c5015598550731b_large.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Not really surprising, some say, that in the end it was the New Jersey Devils that ponied up and got the prized Ilya Kovalchuk. So, I guess they weren't surprised when they found out? So why all the hype and speculation before hand? Couldn't they all raise their hands and say "New Jersey" and be done with it? Anyway, a lot of people have ripped Don "The Nicest Guy" Waddell for the package he got, but it really wasn't bad. That pick could be higher but New Jersey didn't have a higher one and it was a first rounder, anyway. In trades like these it's always quantity over quality, so the Thrashers did get two, or three, nice assets. He did try his best to keep Kovalchuk, who had, at times, been quite vocal about staying, and offered him a $102-million contract, which would've made him the highest paid player in the league. A sign of a team having few options is having too trade him to a Conference rival - they don't have the flexibility to ultimately decide where to send him. Dany Heatley stayed with Ottawa, Mark Recchi went to Boston, and Marian Hossa went to Pittsburgh. In the end, I guess it just meant that Kovalchuk's ultimate motive was that he wanted out of Atlanta. There's no other reason why he would turn that contract down. The move brings Kovalchuk to an underrated Devils offense that includes Zach Parise, USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner, savvy vets Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias, big bodied Dainius Zubrus, and the very, very underrated Travis Zajac. The Devils are going to make the playoffs and with Martin Brodeur in net they have a good chance of going far. They may now very well be the favourites in the East. Their defense isn't spectacular on paper but they more than make up for it with Lou Lamoriello and Jacques Lemaire, arguably the best GM-coach tandem in the NHL. I raved about Brian Burke's move for getting Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but talk about immediate returns. That loss in New Jersey was tough but they did hold the lead for awhile and Giguere's first two starts with the blue and white have both been shutouts. Even if you don't think the Leafs will make the playoffs (and I don't) you have to be pretty amazed how much hope and hype it has created. Not that there isn't anything to excited about, there is with Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, but it's not a bad storyline. Even if they do make the playoffs, it will have to be without Mike Komisarek, who is out for the season. Cody Hodgson is finally back on the ice and has played two games with the OHL's Brampton Battalion and registered three assists. Without either him or Matt Duchene, the Battalion have struggled this year with only 18 wins after recording 47 the year before. It's the first time Hodgson has seen any game action since training camp in September after suffering from a bulging disc that took months of recovery. There was some controversy about the treatment, and Alain Vigneault, who was never one to mince words when it comes to overcoming injuries, didn't exactly have nice words to say. When asked about Vingeault's comments, Hodgson said that he hasn't been in touch with Vingeault since and he's looking forward instead to getting back on the ice. Hodgson says there is the possibility of re-aggravating it or having the pain return but for now he feels good. Canucks management has been equally curt with their answers. It's not exactly sunshine and rainbows when the organization's top prospect doesn't get off on the right foot with the coach, but I don't think there's a whole bunch to be concerned about. <img src="http://www.outcomebuffalo.com/burke.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Last but definitely not least, our condolences to the Burke family for their loss. Brendan Burke, former Canucks GM Brian Burke's youngest son and student at Miami University in Ohio who is also the team manager for the nation's top-ranked hockey team, was involved in a fatal car accident yesterday. Brendan's announcement that he was gay to his family was the subject of an article that appeared in ESPN by acclaimed writer John Buccigross. Brendan Burke was 21. The Leafs posted a big 5-0 win over the surging Ottawa Senators in an emotional affair.