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Found 6 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. All things considered, Kevin Bieksa seems to be on the outside looking in. With the acquisitions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard the Canucks don't have enough room to keep everyone. Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff aren't going anywhere, so at $3.75 million Bieksa is a very expensive third pair defenseman. Salo, Hamhuis, and Ballard all have no-trade clauses. I imagine none of the three will be asked to waive those clauses and if asked would be unwilling. Ben Kuzma of The Province lists Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, Columbus, and Dallas as potential suitors, but to me none of those teams make sense, especially when Mike Gillis wants to make "a hockey deal." <img src="http://canucksarmy.com/uploads/old/2009/04/kevin-bieksa_1.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Now in mid-July, training camp is about two months away. It gives Gillis ample time to find a trade he likes, but as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Considering how long this Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes has been going on, Gillis may end up having to jettison Bieksa in a hurry. It would be a little awkward for Bieksa to show up at camp when he knows he's going to be gone. If Gillis wants to make a hockey deal, I can't see him trading Bieksa to a Western Conference team, although it may end up having to happen. As many as ten teams reportedly asked about Bieksa at the trade deadline and perhaps around the same at the draft but obviously nobody offered anything concrete that Gillis liked. Here's a look at some ideal trading partners. Anaheim - The Ducks are swimming in shallow water with their current blueline. Ha. Ha. Ha. Even with the addition of Toni Lydman, the retirement of Scott Niedermayer automatically makes their blueline go from above average to mediocre. Bieksa would be a good fit in SoCal and had Brian Burke still been their boss it would've happened already. But Anaheim is a conference opponent and has bigger things to worry about (re-signing Bobby Ryan) before making any other decisions. Buffalo - It's close to Ontario so maybe Bieksa can find some solace in being traded to one of the most boring cities. Looking at the Sabres defense, I'm going to take a gander and guess that Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier are planning on Ryan Miller to steal at least 10-15 games. The Sabres do have some young players - Philip Gogulla, Paul Byron - worth taking a second look at. Carolina - Quick, name the 'Canes top four. If you guessed Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, Anton Babchuk, and Tim Gleason, give yourself a pat on the back. It may not seem like much, but this group is underrated, starting from the puck-moving ability of Pitkanen to the consistent play of Gleason. Adding Bieksa gives them some toughness and it seems like 'Canes fans wouldn't mind seeing Bieksa there either (although I'd have to pop Wage's bubble and speak for Gillis: "No, thanks."). Digression: Guy to watch for last year was Brandon Sutter. This year it's not Zach Boychuk or Drayson Bowman. It's Jamie McBain. Bonus points for a cool name. Columbus - Of Kuzma's suggestions, this makes the most sense. If Bieksa heads to Ohio, he automatically becomes one of their go-to guys, although I don't think GM Scott Howson and the money-conscious Jackets would like a $1 million seventh guy (Marc Methot). I also believe that Howson would be reluctant to give up any picks or prospects, considering the somewhat promising future of the organization. Although rumours did indicate that Howson was dangling Nikita Filatov I can't see the Russian winger fitting into Gillis' smart hockey, team-first locker room culture. Dallas - Kuzma has already reported that the Stars are on a restricted payroll. That counts them out already even with the Marc Crawford connection. I can't see them adding more salary after re-signing their RFAs. <img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/189/441393950_df854bd0e5.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Florida - Trading with the Cats has always served us well so why not do it again? Bieksa slots in easily as a top four defenseman and that puts less pressure on Russian sensation Dmitri Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby to perform. It seems unlikely, however, that Dale Tallon would part with any picks or prospects as he begins to put his stamp on the team. A name of interest, since Gillis loves his BC boys, is Michal Repik, a Czech native who honed his hockey skills under Don Hay and the Giants. A key player to watch out for on the Panthers is Evgeni Dadonov. I got the chance to see him last year at the Panthers training camp in Port Hawkesbury in an exhibition game against my alma mater, St. Francis Xavier. The kid can fly. And snipe. Los Angeles - If the Kings land Kovalchuk, forget about it. The Kings have $16 million in cap space as of right now, and if Kovalchuk gets what he wants at least half of that will count towards the cap. Tack on Bieksa's salary and it looks workable, but even with Michal Handzus ($4 million) and Justin Williams' ($3 million) contracts expiring next year Lombardi needs to leave enough room to re-sign RFAs Wayne Simmonds, Jack Johnson, and Drew Doughty. In the long run it just doesn't make sense, especially if you consider the fact that the Kings and Canucks are developing a rivalry of sorts. NY Islanders - The Isles need to reach the cap floor. Adding Bieksa won't solve the problem but it helps in the number books and on the ice. With their years of futility it won't be hard to pry a decent prospect from GM Garth Snow although the former Canuck 'tender is quickly developing a reputation around the league as a tough negotiator. San Jose - The Sharks do have enough room to accommodate Bieksa and could use another body on defense but the best package Gillis may get offered by Doug Wilson is a late 1st rounder and a mid-level prospect. Not a bad haul, but again, the Sharks are a Western Conference team that will be playoff staples and their pipeline isn't exactly overflowing with quality prospects. EDIT: Tampa Bay - The Bolts have a good group of forwards and maybe now Vincent Lecavalier can stop whining about not having Vaclav Prospal as his winger with Simon Gagne in the fold. The defense needs work and with arguably their toughest defenseman gone they could use some grit on the back end. Philly fans are going to love Matt Walker. It seems as though Steve Yzerman has been given the green light so the normally cost-conscious Bolts won't be adverse to adding salary. Washington - I honestly thought the Caps would land Anton Volchenkov on July 1. It didn't happen so the Caps defense remains the same: offensively gifted but defensively clueless. Adding Bieksa puts some much needed sandpaper on their back end and as of right now Jeff Schultz is their shut-down man. Yikes. John Carlson and Karl Alzner are all but guaranteed spots for next year's lineup but the Caps' pipeline features plenty of intriguing players like Anton Gustafsson (the son of Team Sweden coach Bengt Gustafsson), Patrick McNeill, Francois Bouchard, Andrew Gordon, and Mathieu Perreault.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!