Monday, July 30, 2012

Coming Up Short

This year’s UFA market proved pricey. A lack of supply forced GMs to overpay for assets. Using “overpay” might be premature, because the future has yet to be played out, but when previous statistics don’t correlate with a contract’s price, questions should be raised. Of course, this happens every year. Voids in every club’s rosters need to be filled with an insufficient UFA pool. Not every team wins. But what’s really intriguing about this off-season is that there were a few teams with money to spend that came up short. Organizations are constantly asking themselves: Is it better to hold money and wait for future endeavors or overpay a player or two to fill needs now? Here are some teams that came up short, with activity, so far this summer.

Vancouver Canucks
Although Vancouver landed Jason Garrison, one of the best available UFA defenseman, they lost Aaron Rome and Sami Salo in the process. The organization also let Marc-Andre Gragnani, a critical piece in the Cody Hodgson trade, walk and sign with Carolina for less than a million. I guess this leaves room for Keith Ballard to try and earn his paycheck. But defense wasn’t the main focus for the Canucks this off-season. It was moving Roberto Luongo, who still remains on the squad. The club expressed its interest in moving forward with Cory Schneider as their number one goalie and Luongo expects to be moved soon. The departure of his cap hit will allow decent talent to come back. But, potential trade partners KNOW Luongo needs to be moved, so this ties Mike Gillis’s hands a bit. Rumors have Toronto and Florida as potential destinations for Luongo. Both teams have a number of offers they could generate. Who offers the most?

Detroit Red Wings
After Nick Lidstrom retired, Brad Stuart departed for San Jose and Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed with Minnesota, the Red Wings are left with glaring holes in their lineup – namely on defense. As it stands now, their top-six defensemen are Niklas Kronwall, Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith. It’s not a terrible group, but definitely doesn’t compare to last year. It’ll be interesting to see if Detroit stands pat, makes an offer to a UFA (Carlo Colaiacovo, Pavel Kubina, Cam Barker, Randy Jones or Brett Clark), proposes a trade (Keith Yandle) or gives its prospects a shot at a roster spot. For now, it appears as though the Red Wings have opted for the last option. Will the young guys show up or will the Wings finally fall off?

Pittsburgh Penguins
Why haven’t the Penguins been able to lure a scoring winger into town? Who wouldn’t want to play with Sidney Crosby, right? No matter the reasons, Pittsburgh is left with an unfilled slot on Crosby’s wing. This is really a moot paragraph. Crosby is an elite player and the Penguins are a very good team. Whoever is on Crosby’s line will do well. Ask Pascal Dupuis. It’s strange that the Penguins haven’t improved their defense either, especially with so much money to spend. Brooks Orpik is rock-solid and Kris Letang is an all-star defenseman. But even with him them in the lineup, help is needed. Let’s not forget the departure of Zbynek Michalek.

Philadelphia Flyers
Chris Pronger isn’t likely to play for a while, so the Flyers took a shot at acquiring Shea Weber. Nashville matched their offer sheet and during the process, Philly lost Matt Carle via free agency to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The acquisition of Luke Schenn definitely helps, but one can’t help but wonder what Paul Holmgrem will try next. He said he’s satisfied with his team, but if that were the case, why is he trying to claim everyone in sight? You can’t blame him for trying and, to be honest, the Flyers are still going to be competitive next season with or without anymore additions. In a few years though, the team is going to have a bunch of young talent in need of significant raises.

Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have resigned Johnny Oduya and acquired Sheldon Brookbank since free agency opened on July 1st. Like most teams, the ‘Hawks attempted to woo Zach Parise. When that failed, there were few option left in the market. Chicago has a very good team, both on offense and defense, but would love to make a significant addition. Corey Crawford hasn’t solidified himself as the starter just yet, so Chi-town could still make a move for a goalie (Roberto Luongo, Jonathan Bernier, Craig Anderson, Brian Elliott).

New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils lost an important player in Zach Parise, but it’s not going to be seriously detrimental to the organization. Lou Lameriello has been able to maintain a competitive team after losing significant players in the past (Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Jason Arnott, etc.). Still, that void needs filling and quickly. Luckily, before Parise chose another destination, the Devils were able to resign some significant players (Stephen Gionta, Peter Harrold, Bryce Salvador, Steve Bernier and Martin Brodeur). I’m excited to see how this team responds with Parise. Let’s not forget, they were the 2nd best team last year.

Who else do you think came up short this off-season?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weber Worry

Faced with a signed offer sheet for their franchise player, David Poile, general manager of the Nashville Predators, has a crucial decision to make: match the expensive offer sheet submitted by the Philadelphia Flyers or let Shea Weber go in exchange for four first-round picks. 

Easy, right? Match the offer sheet. He's arguably the league's best defenseman and you could have him on your team for the next 14 years. Problem: bonuses. Nashville is a tight-budget team and they may not be able to afford Weber's minimum of $26 million over the next 11 months. That's a ton of cash in a small amount of time. Is it possible? I mean Poile did say he'd match ANY offer. This leads us to my next question.

Did Weber sign the offer sheet because he wants to remain a Predator and figured Poile would match it? If so, why is his agent talking up Weber's desires to play in Philly? You can't blame Weber for securing his financial future (by the way Shea, it's VERY secure). He just accepted what was offered. 

If Poile doesn't match, he'll look like a hypocrite. But would it really be detrimental to Nashville's future to let him go? Probably yes, but Nashville has always found a way to stay competitive - six playoff appearances in the last seven years.

Let's say Nashville can't or doesn't match the offer. The Flyers are suddenly THAT much better. What about the Predators? They now have eight first-round picks in four years. Not too shabby. But, there is a huge void to fill in the defense. Maybe they could look into acquiring Luke Schenn, or another player, in the deal. Or, package some of those picks into deals with other teams. Are they any teams out there with an excess of defensemen and salary? You know it. 

One perfect trading partner would be the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have a handful of up-and-coming defensemen (Mike Weber, Alexander Sulzer, Andrej Sekera, Adam Pardy, Tyler Myers, Brayden McNabb and TJ Brennan) with a lack of support down the middle. What a coincidence! The Predators have some great centers (David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Paul Gaustad, Nick Spaling, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith). Myers, Legwand and Fisher are unlikely to be moved, but Andrej Sekera and Adam Pardy seem like decent pieces. If Colin Wilson's RFA status would go away, he'd be a good fit in Buffalo.

So my question is: if you are David Poile in this situation and can't afford Weber's offer sheet, what do you do? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Stories

Talk about a hiatus, right?

I realize few people read this blog, but I still feel guilty, having not contributed since April. No excuses. Although, in my defense, I was in the process of obtaining new employment and relocating to Minneapolis, MN. Still, it’s going to feel great getting back into the mix (ITM) here. And we have a lot to cover: free agency, arbitration, trades, etc. So let’s get down to business!

I skipped the draft because, although it’s vital to a franchise’s success, I know very little about the emerging talent. However, it’s always intriguing to see who made the most productive selections a few years down the road.


Let’s begin with some trades. I think the biggest trade thus far this summer was Jordan Staal. He was traded to the Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a 1st round selection (Derrick Pouliot). The ‘Canes are now in possession of three Staal brothers. Crazy. Shortly after being traded, Staal signed an extension paying him an average salary of $6 million a year for the next ten years. Crazier. Although a steep price tag, Staal is no longer tailing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. As a great two-way forward, his ice-time will increase and so, undoubtedly, will his production. Meanwhile, the Penguins get two very good young prospects and a high draft pick. This is the definition of a win-win situation.

Tomas Vokoun’s rights were traded to Pittsburgh in early June for a 7th round pick. They subsequently signed him to a two-year, $4 million deal. After Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff debacle this year, Vokoun makes a solid 2nd option.

Keeping with goalie issues, Steve Yzerman is hoping he has finally found his man. I was certain it was going to be Jonathan Bernier. I was wrong. The Lighting GM traded two 2nd round selections and Sebastien Caron for Anders Lindback, Kyle Wilson and a 7th round pick. After acquiring Lindback, Tampa Bay signed him to a two-year deal worth $3.6 million. Linback spent the past few seasons living in the enormous shadow of Pekka Rinne in Nashville. This is a perfect opportunity for Lindback to cast an enormous shadow of his own.

The New York Islanders made a little noise as they traded a 2nd round pick for Anaheim’s Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky has one year left on his contract worth $5.6 million. If he’s paired with Mark Streit, they’ll form a pretty formidable offensive pairing. Not bad at all, especially for a team with plenty of offensive talent but lacking defensively.

The Washington Capitals acquired Mike Ribiero from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Cody Eakin and a 2nd round pick. Ribiero’s skill will fit nicely into the club’s 2nd line center position. Brooks Laich did a really nice job last season, but can also play the wing, likely on the 2nd line. Washington’s powerplay just got THAT much better. Wow.

James van Riemsdyk was swapped for Luke Schenn. Another win-win for both teams – Toronto and Philadelphia. Philly needed defensive help in the absence of Chris Pronger and we all know how Brian Burke wanted to get bigger up front. And it looks like the Leafs may try JVR at center. I think that makes like five centers on that team. Oh well.

Though not Earth-shattering, there were a few other trade acquisitions before free agency. Zybnek Michalek made his way back to the desert. Jonas Gustavsson signed a two-year deal with the Red Wings after having his rights traded. Benoit Pouliot is in Tampa Bay – a solid addition. Derek Roy was traded to the Stars for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. The Sabres get some grit and Dallas gets a valuable point-producer to compensate for the loss of Ribiero. Dennis Wideman is now a Flame. An expensive flame ($5.25 million) at that…for the next five years. Ouch. And finally, the Blue Jackets traded Marc Methot for Nick Foligno. The Senators get a legitimate defensive defenseman and the Jackets receive a talented forward. Foligno signed a three-year deal worth $9.15 million with Columbus.

No Free Agency For You

A few key players were retained before the “dreaded” July 1st deadline. In mid-to-late June, Johnny Oduya, Barrett Jackman, Josh Harding, Cory Sarich, Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill, Travis Moen, Martin Biron, Lee Stempniak, and Jarret Stoll signed extensions with their current teams. Obviously, a bunch of signings were left out of this list, but these were the most significant ones in terms of dollars. If we’re not talking green, I think the Devils did a great job retaining Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier (the Stanley Cup Final goat), Ryan Carter and Peter Harrold – all significant role players. These turned out to be more important than initially thought as Zach Parise left to be closer to home.

Free Agency

While I’m on the topic, I’ll jump into the big storyline of the summer. The two most highly sought after free agents of 2012, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, both signed with the Minnesota Wild on July 4th – each for $98 million over 13 years! Oh, snap! It would appear as though the Wild finally have a real identity. While I’m excited for the franchise, I don’t know if this automatically makes them a legitimate contender. A playoff team? Absolutely. Suter and Parise are two classy individuals with strong work ethics. Zach Parise on a line with Mikko Koivu will scare a number of Western Conference coaches and defensive pairings. I truly do hope it works out for Minnesota, especially because I live in the area now.

Free agency began on July 1st and it didn’t take long for players to be snatched up. I’m going to mention the most significant signings in my opinion. After that, I’ll list the others.

Ryan Smyth was brought back by the Oilers for two more years at $2.25 million per season – a major decrease. I’ve always respected Smyth for his loyalty to Edmonton and his ability to grind game in and game out. He also provides excellent veteran leadership to an extremely young and talented offensive team.

Scott Clemmensen stays in Florida for another two seasons. The contract is worth a total of $2.4 million. While not the best goalie, or back-up goalie, in the league, Clemmensen is definitely reliable for 25-35 legitimate performances a year.

David Moss was scooped up by Phoenix with a two-year, $4.2 million deal. Moss is a great role player with some offensive upside. I am certain he will be a valuable asset to Dave Tippet and company. He’ll fit right into their mold.

Joe Corvo heads back to Carolina after a decent season with the Boston Bruins. He signed a one-year, $2 million contract. I would say that’s a fair number for his services. The ‘Canes are familiar with his play, so little risk exists.

I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t label Torrey Mitchell as a significant signing, but I do. The Wild came calling for his services right away, paying him $1.9 million for the next three years. Mitchell has a great work ethic and will certainly be a valuable role player in Minnesota’s organization.

Ray Whitney signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Dallas. At 40, one could consider this a risky signing. Doubt it! Whitney is a class act with a high hockey-IQ. He can pass, finish, play the powerplay – just about everything. And after a tremendous season last year, he was due for a nice raise.

Dustin Penner re-upped with the Kings for another season at $3.25 million. He had another subpar year, but really came alive in their Stanley Cup run. This was a legitimate risk and a fair price for Los Angeles. Penner is capable of being a seriously impactful power forward, but will he deliver?

The Montreal Canadians picked up some sandpaper in Brandon Prust, spending $10 million in the next four seasons for his services. Personally, I think it’s a decent signing. Yeah, it’s a tad pricey, but Prust has a lot of heart and continuously sticks up for his teammates. It’s hard to put a price tag on that.

Sheldon Brookbank deepens the defensive corps of the Chicago Blackhawks with his two-year, $5 million contract. Brookbank is a solid shutdown guy and should give Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook some rest (if they even get tired).

Greg Zanon was picked up by the Colorado Avalanche for two years at $2.25 million per season. Zanon blocks a ton of shots and will give the Avs a reliable option in any circumstance. You can’t have too many of these guys around.

Filip Kuba is a Panther for the next two years. Each year pays him $4 million. Florida now has an incredibly expensive defensive group. Hopefully, they will continue to spend money and retain talent.

PA Parenteau was signed by Colorado for the next four years with a $16 million contract. Parenteau has 120 points in the last seasons and is going to look awfully nice next to either Paul Stastny or Matt Duchene. Colorado is looking like a formidable club next year.

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed veteran defenseman Sami Salo to a two-year, $7.5 million contract. While Salo has an injury history, he also possesses a booming slapshot that will absolutely be utilized on Tampa’s powerplay.

Bryan Allen moved across the country from Carolina to Anaheim for a nice three-year, $10.5 million contract. After losing Visnovsky, the Ducks needed to fill a void. Allen isn’t as offensively productive as Visnovsky, but plays a strong, physical game.

Jason Garrison, a highly sought after defenseman in a weak free agency pool, was rewarded with a six-year, $27.6 million contract by the Vancouver Canucks. Garrison definitely has offensive potential and earned this new deal with his performance this season, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can replicate those numbers this year with an improved cast around him.

Olli Jokinen signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets. Jokinen is going to a valuable addition down the middle, but for $4.5 million a year? He did have his most productive season in a while with 62 points, but having Jarome Iginla on your wing tends to do that. Maybe Evander Kane will be his new Iginla (stop being racist, that’s not what I meant).

Jaromir Jagr joins Ray Whitney and Derek Roy in Dallas, but for one year at $4.55 million. So, the Stars lost Mike Ribiero up front but filled his shoes with Jagr, Whitney and Roy. That’s a nice, albeit more expensive, upgrade.

Steve Sullivan is headed to Phoenix for one year at $1.85 million. A shadow of his former self, Sullivan can still make a valid contribution up front.

Once Ryan Suter was off the market, a plethora of teams began targeting Matt Carle. The winner: Tampa Bay Lightning. They signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract. He’ll be a valuable minute-eater as well as an asset offensively. It’s a pricey contract, UFA defensemen were hard to come by this year.

Most recently, Jamie Langenbrunner resgined with the Blues for another year at $1.25 million. His veteran leadership was key to St. Louis’s successful season. Chris Neil followed suit and re-upped with the Senators for $5.75 million over 3 years. That’s a pretty sweet deal for a tough guy with a bit of a scoring touch.

Other notable signings: John Mitchell (Colorado), Zenon Konopka (Minnesota), Colby Armstrong (Montreal), Guillaume Latendresse (Ottawa), Adam Burish (San Jose), Brad Boyes (New York Islanders), Matt Carkner (New York Islanders), Alexei Ponikarovsky (Winnipeg), Tanner Glass (Pittsburgh), Arron Asham (New York Rangers), Francis Bouillon (Montreal), George Parros (Florida), Chris Mason (Nashville), Jay McClement (Toronto), Jordin Tootoo (Detroit), Aaron Rome (Dallas), Taylor Pyatt (New York Rangers), Al Montoya (Winnipeg), Ruslan Fedotenko (Philadelphia) and Jeff Halpern (New York Rangers).

Rumors and Rumblings

Now that we’re almost two weeks into free agency, the majority of impactful UFAs (sans Shane Doan and Alexander Semin) have been claimed. The teams that were unable to fill their needs via free agency now turn to possible trade opportunities. The biggest names currently circulating in these discussion are Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Keith Yandle, Roberto Luongo and Paul Stastny.

Rick Nash is arguably the most sought after player of the five. Along with Roberto Luongo and Bobby Ryan, Nash approached management about a trade. Scott Howson threw his franchise player under the bus before the draft when he explained Nash’s desires. Thus far, there have been a number of teams interested, but Howson’s asking price is astronomical…for good reason. Rick Nash is under contract for another three years at $7.8 million per season. In my opinion, his play merits that figure. He is the epitome of a power forward. On a good team, Nash could league the lead in scoring. A current snag in Howson’s trade plans: Nash has a pesky no-trade clause (NTC) in his massive contract. So not only is he requesting to be traded, but can now pick where he wants to go. Nash has dwindled his wish list down to the Bruins, Rangers, Red Wings, Sharks, Flyers and Penguins. Not surprisingly, these teams have been contenders for a while. And if one were to add Nash, which will happen, it’ll take that team to new heights at the cost of future talent. The Blue Jackets have always struggled to find a legitimate center to play with Nash. That wouldn’t be a problem with any of his potential suitors (Krejci, B. Richards, Datsyuk/Zetterberg, Thornton/Pavelski, Giroux and Crosby/Malkin).

Up next, Bobby Ryan. Ryan was a punk and addressed the media about his trade desires. Tisk, tisk. Common sense and courtesy aside, he is a fantastically talented, young forward. His cap hit ($5.1 million) over the next three seasons is very reasonable as well. Unlike in Columbus, Anaheim can dump him wherever they want. Sidenote: if a player requests a trade, a no-trade clause should become null and void, IMHO. Similar to Nash, there are a number of callers for Ryan’s services. The Flyers are rumored to be the frontrunners because Ryan grew up near the area. I would begin to list possible destinations, but really, what team isn’t interested in this guy?

I don’t understand the rumors around Keith Yandle. He’s an extremely crucial piece to Phoenix’s franchise and he comes at a bargain – at least compared to this year’s free agency signings. I know the Coyotes would find a way to do without him, but why risk it? Yandle is going to be a great player for a long time. Certainly there are other teams knocking at the door, especially those that lost the Suter sweepstakes, and listening doesn’t hurt anything, but it’d serve to ‘Yotes well to keep this guy. Imagine the Coyotes without Doan or Yandle. Eek.

Recent reports and interviews have all but guaranteed Roberto Luongo’s departure from the Canucks. Cory Schneider has solidified his position as Vancouver’s go-to goalie and Luongo, while still a very good goalie, is no longer needed. A nonessential $6 million player will be moved. The question is: Where? I believe it’s down to two teams, Toronto and Florida. Both teams currently lack a legitimate goaltender, although Jose Theodore isn’t terrible and Jacob Markstrom is in the pipeline. Theodore would almost certainly be a piece of this trade if it does go down. He’d a be a great mentor/backup for Schneider. The situation in Toronto has been dismal. James Reimer has shown flashes of brilliance but always returns to mediocrity. It may be the team in front of him, but struggles persist. Gustavsson didn’t work out and Scrivens comes in and out. Luongo would be a solid solution to this problem, even with a hefty $5.3 million cap hit for the next century or whatever.

Paul Stastny is an intriguing name. While he hasn’t flooded the rumor mill, his name is always circulating. This is likely due to the development of centers Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Stastny has two more years left at $6.6 million per season, which may be scaring a few teams off. Honestly, I think he’s worth it. Stastny isn’t the flashiest player, but he works hard and does all the little things right. He’d a be a perfect fit for a team lacking depth at center (Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas or Calgary).


I had a ton of fun writing this post, so expect more to come.

Honestly, it’s always encouraging to know people read this, so please comment here or hit me up on the Twitterverse: HolyJumpin40.

Later gators!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Playoff Predictions

I once again apologize for the long absence from posting (to the few of you that actually read this). I've been busy studying for insurance exams. Not exciting.

Good news though: the NHL playoffs are here! Below is a quick summary of each matchup as well as my predicted outcomes. As usual, I'll probably be wrong and that's why I love this game.

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)

Right off of the bat, I'll stick my neck out. My words may not taste so great down the line, but I think this series is going to be more competitive than most think. The New York Rangers finished atop the Eastern Conference for a reason. They have fantastic coaching, goaltending and defense. These are all crucial elements to success in the playoffs. In all fairness, the Senators also have each of these. Paul McLean is a terrific coach. Craig Anderson is no Henrik Lundqvist, but is still a reliable goaltender with playoff experience. Their defense isn't comparable to New York, but their offense is potent. It's going to be important for Ottawa to come out of the gates quickly, especially starting on the road.

Crazy prediction: there will be more than 30 goals in this series
Outcome: Senators in 7

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)

At the end of this season, the Capitals pushed as hard as they could to squeak into the playoffs. That's all they'll do. The Boston Bruins have tasted glory and are hungry for more. Really, this series is going to come down to structure and goaltending. Although Washington's offense is dangerous, they have goaltending troubles. Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth are hurt, putting success on young Braden Holtby's shoulders. Unfortunately for the Caps, at the other end of the ice is Tim Thomas. He didn't finish the season strong, but Thomas is a world-class goaltender. At the end of the day, the Bruins are just a more well-rounded team.

Crazy prediction: Tim Thomas has two shutouts in this series.
Outcome: Bruins in 6

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

Does playoff experience matter? Yes. Who has it in this matchup? New Jersey. The Panthers haven't made the playoffs since the Paleolithic Era. In contrast, the Devils are a staple in the playoffs. I love seeing new teams in the playoffs, but this matchup doesn't bode well for Florida. They had an incredible season and nothing can take that away, but this series will be dominated by the Devils. For me, the only way the Panthers can edge out this series is if their defensemen contribute offensively. Brian Campbell, Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov need to return to their early-season form.

Crazy prediction: this will be the only sweep of the 2012 playoffs.
Outcome: Devils in 4

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)

This is definitely going to be the best first-round series. These two teams are highly skilled, motivated and, most importantly, absolutely loathe each other. If the Flyers can stay healthy, they have a fighting chance. They've played well in Pittsburgh as of late, but the playoffs are a different monster. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal combine for the strongest roster down the middle. This will be key to their ultimate success. The outcome of this series will depend on the play of Ilya Bryzgalov. Which of his five faces phases will we see?

Crazy prediction: Jordan Staal records eight points in this series.
Outcome: Penguins in 7

Western Conference

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

The Vancouver Canucks once against earned The President's Trophy as the league's most successful team during the regular season. The Los Angeles Kings battled for a playoff spot up until the last day of the regular season. In every department, the Canucks are a stronger team. Jonathan Quick is going put up a good fight, but LA's lack of offense will be their downfall. Vancouver is big, speedy and experienced. I think the Kings can maybe steal a game or two, but that will be it.

Crazy prediction: Cory Schneider will replace Roberto Luongo.
Outcome: Canucks in 5

St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)

The St. Louis Blues are a defensive juggernaut. Their goaltending is out of this world as well. These will be the key differences in this matchup. For San Jose, Antti Niemi is a playoff-proven goaltender who plays consistent hockey, but for how long can he carry them? The Sharks have a plethora of playoff experience and will rely heavily on those players to come through. If these players don't step up, the Blues will take advantage of their chances. They're finely structured and make few mistakes. Special teams will make or break one of these squads.

Crazy prediction: Joe Thornton fights David Backes...twice.
Outcome: Blues in 7

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)

Is Jonathan Toews healthy? That's the only question worth answering. If he is, the Blackhawks are almost a shoo-in for this series. If not, the Coyotes will probably take it. I'm assuming he won't be. Like the Blues, the Coyotes are a very structured team. They rely heavily on their system, focused on defense, to win games. Both teams have playoff experience these past few years, so pressure isn't as issue. The Coyotes have home-ice advantage which will be a defining factor in this series. The ultimate difference in this matchup will be goaltending. Mike Smith has been playing superb hockey as of late and will edge out Corey Crawford.

Crazy prediction: Radim Vrbata scores six goals in this series.
Outcome: Coyotes in 6 

Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

This is a total toss-up. These two teams know each other all too well. They're both skilled, playoff savvy and coached to a T. Pekka Rinne is one of the league's best goaltenders and will continue to be a huge thorn is Detroit's side. The Preds have tremendous depth. It's nearly impossible to contain every line night in and night out. Home-ice advantage may be the deciding factor in this matchup. Honestly, this series could go either way, but I'll stick with my gut.

Crazy prediction: Patric Hornqvist tallies the most points of any player in this series.
Outcome: Red Wings in 7

For the full playoff-bracket prediction, click here.

What do you think is going to happen?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Playoff Watch: Episode One

It may be late in the playoff push, but I thought I'd hop on it. Here's what we're currently looking at:

Sure things - NYR, PIT, PHI & NJ
Fighting - FLA, WSH, BUF, WPG, OTT, TB, BOS

Only an epic collapse would allow Boston and/or Ottawa to miss the playoffs.

Sure tings - STL, VAN, DET & NSH
Fighting - DAL, CHI, PHX, COL, SJ, CGY, LA, ANA

Only an epic collapse would allow Chicago to miss the playoffs

Remaining Schedules

Florida (13GR) - BOS, BUF, PHI, CAR (x2), EDM, NYI, MON, MIN, CBJ, DET, WPG, WSH
Washington (12GR) - WPG (x2), CHI, DET, PHI, MIN, BUF, BOS, MON, TB, FLA, NYR
Buffalo (11GR) - FLA, TB, MON, NYR, MIN, WSH, PIT, TOR (x2), PHI, BOS
Winnipeg (12GR) -  WSH (x2), CAR, PIT, NSH, OTT, NYR, CAR, TB (x2), FLA, NYI
Ottawa (11GR) - MON (x2), TOR, NJ (x2), PIT, WPG, PHI, NYI, CAR, BOS
Tampa Bay (13GR) - TOR (x2), STL, BUF, EDM, NYI, PHI, BOS, NJ, WPG (x2), WSH, MON

Dallas (11GR) - CHI, PHX, VAN (x2), CGY (x2), EDM, SJ (x2), NSH, STL
Chicago (11GR) - DAL, WSH, CBJ, VAN, NSH (x2), NJ, STL, MIN (x2), DET
Phoenix (11GR) - CGY, EDM, DAL, COL, SJ (x2), STL (x2), ANA, CBJ, MIN
San Jose (13GR) - NSH, DET, ANA (x2), LA (x3), BOS, PHX (x2), COL, DAL (x2)
Calgary (12GR) - PHX, EDM, CBJ, COL (x2), MIN, DAL (x2), LA, VAN (x2), ANA
Colorado (10GR) - NJ, NYR, CGY (x2), PHX, VAN (x2), SJ, CBJ, NSH
Los Angeles (12 GR) - ANA, NSH, SJ (x3), STL, BOS, VAN, CGY, EDM (x2), MIN
Anaheim (11GR) - LA, NSH, SJ (x2), STL, BOS, PHX, EDM (x2), VAN, CGY

In the East, I really believe there are only two spots open (3rd & 8th) and one belongs to Winnipeg, Florida or Washington. With all of the divisional games between these Southeast teams, it'll be interesting to see how this finishes up. My guess is as good as yours. Florida plays six of its next 13 games against playoff-potential teams. Washington has ten; Winnipeg has nine. On the other hand, Florida plays seven of its remaining games against teams out of the playoff race. Washington has two; Winnipeg has three. Let's break down the ratio for the other teams battling (games against teams fighting for playoffs/games against teams out of playoff chase). Buffalo (7/4), Ottawa (6/5), Boston (11/2) and Tampa Bay (8/5).

Best chances of making the final two spots: Florida and Buffalo (even three points back).

The Pacific is the Southeast Division of the Western Conference. This will be the most intriguing aspect of the playoff push. The three games remaining between San Jose and Los Angeles will be exciting, especially after they met last year in the playoffs. I think there are really only four spots open in the West (3rd, 6th, 7th and 8th). How about using the same ratio for battling teams in the West? Dallas (10/1), Chicago (8/3), Phoenix (7/4), San Jose (13/0), Calgary (9/3), Colorado (9/1), Los Angeles (9/3) and Anaheim (9/2).

Best chances of making the final  four spots: Chicago, Phoenix, San Jose and Calgary.

In all honesty though, any team can win on any given day. That's why the NHL is supreme. Here's to an exciting playoff run!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Deadline Recap

With a total of 16 trades, this was definitely the thinnest deadline in recent memory. To be fair, it was expected. A large disparity between the number of buyers and sellers drove prices too high for most GMs. The Rick Nash experiment was hopeful at best. To finalize a deal of that magnitude in only a few days is near impossible. He will be gone in June however. Mark my words. Scott Howson made the situation worse with his post-deadline press conference. He won't be employed much longer after his dealings this past year.

Although this wasn't the most active of deadlines, there were still a number of significant depth moves. Let's breakdown each team's movements.

Anaheim Ducks
In: Mark Fraser, Sebastian Erixon, Ryan O'Marra, Riley Holzapfel
Out: Dale Mitchell, Andrew Gordon, Bryan Rodney, Maxime Macenauer

Overall Grade: B-

I'm not even going to pretend to know half of these names or their potential. But I will notate the moves Anaheim did not make. They held onto Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan - two of the players rumored to be traded. While Selanne's contract is up at the end of the season, he still has gas in the tank to help with a final playoff push. Ryan is on the books for another three years. That's terrific news for Duck fans. It will be a tough accomplishment, but players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Saku Koivu, Lubomir Visnovky and Jonas Hiller, the Ducks have a shot at the playoffs.

Boston Bruins
In: Brian Rolston, Greg Zanon, Mike Mottau
Out: Steve Kampfer, Yannick Riendeau, Marc Cantin

Overall Grade: A

Brian Rolston is now the highest-paid Bruin. While that's a little unsettling, their new lineup is not. Zanon is a tremendous shot-blocking defensemen who plays important minutes. Mottau is a solid seventh defensemen if someone gets injured down the line. This enhanced lineup will contend for another Cup. Great moves!

Buffalo Sabres
In: Cody Hodgson, Alexander Sulzer, 1st-round pick (2012)
Out: Paul Gaustad, Zack Kassian, Marc-Andre Gragnani, 4th-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: B+

Cody Hodgson is a player who I think will thrive with increases ice time and responsibility. His shot is top-notch and he's a tremendous two-way center - something the Sabres desperately needed. Unfortunately those players don't come cheap. Zack Kassian is a great power forward with soft hands and Marc-Andre Gragnani was a pretty decent puck-moving defenseman. Honestly, that was fairly even, mutually beneficial trade. The Sabres also swapped a 4th-rounder and Paul Gaustad for a 1st-round pick. Gaustad was an important piece, but a 1st-round pick is a nice return. He may very well go right back to the Sabres after this season.

Calgary Flames
In: Nothing
Out: Nothing

Overall Grade: D-

Once again, the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. I guess they made one move when they traded Rene Bourque for Mike Cammalleri. While this team may squeak into the playoffs, that's all they will do. Lame. 

Carolina Hurricanes
In: Nothing
Out: Nothing

Overall Grade: C-

The only reason the Hurricanes have a better grade than the Flames is because thethey have some talented, young individuals in their pipeline. Calgary, not so much. I still think the 'Canes could have got something for Jaroslav Spacek.

Chicago Blackhawks
In: Johnny Oduya, 5th-round pick (2012), Future considerations
Out: John Scott, Brendon Segal, 2nd-round pick (2013), 3rd-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: B-

The 'Hawks received a good defenseman in Oduya. He'll be a valuable asset on a back-end that's struggled to meet expectations this year. The team has played two more games than the 9th-seeded Los Angeles Kings - who sit 5 points behind Chicago - and has difficult match-ups left in the Central. A lot of work is still ahead if they want to make it back into the playoffs.

Colorado Avalanche
In: Jamie McGinn, Steve Downie, Danny Richmond, Michael Sgarbossa, Mike Connolly
Out: Kyle Quincey, Daniel Winnik, T.J. Galiardi, Mike Carman, 7th-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: C+

Although they obtained valuable pieces in Downie and McGinn, they also paid a hefty price with the departures of Winnik, Quincey and Galiardi. This all is taking place as the team makes a nice push for the playoffs. Why mess with a good thing? No, the playoffs aren't definite, but it seems as though the Avs gave up too much and got back too little. 

Columbus Blue Jackets
In: Jack Johnson, Curtis McElhinney, Conditional 1st-round pick, 2nd-round pick (2012), two 4th-round picks (2012), 5th-round pick (2013)
Out: Jeff Carter, Samuel Pahlsson, Antoine Vermette

Overall Grade: C+

After an absolutely dreadful season, the Blue Jackets cleaned house as expected. They received a plethora of picks and Jack Johnson for the skill of Carter, Pahlsson and Vermette - three very good players. After Rick Nash leaves this summer, it'll be interesting to see how the team looks. They will definitely be better equipped in five years. The next few will be embarrassing however. The real prize: Nail Yakupov!

Dallas Stars
In: 2nd-round pick (2012), 3rd-round pick (2013)
Out: Nicklas Grossman

Overall Grade: B

The Stars didn't trade away Steve Ott or any other valuable pieces, which is a plus. Theyare currently fighting for a playoff spot and, in my opinion, have a decent chance of getting it. Grossman brought back two  solid picks that will better this organization down the line.

Detroit Red Wings
In: Kyle Quincey, Conditional 7th-round pick (2013)
Out: Mike Commodore, Sebastien Piche, 1st-round pick (2012)

Overall Grade: B-

The price for Quincey was a bit high, but the Wings are familiar with his play and he'll definitely be counted on in the lineup. After Jonathon Ericsson suffered a broken wrist, I thought the Wings would go after another defenseman, but instead traded away Mike Commodore. We'll see how this team fares if there's an injury down the line.

Edmonton Oilers
In: Nick Schultz, Bryan Rodney
Out: Tom Gilbert, Ryan O'Marra

Overall Grade: C-

Tom Gilbert > Nick Schultz. I'm not quite sure why the Oilers made this move. It only saves $1.5 million over the next three years. Oh, Edmonton. The good news: another top pick. Is there a cap on how many lottery picks you can get in a row?

Florida Panthers
In: Jerred Smithson, Wojtek Wolski
Out: Mike Vernace, 3rd-round pick (2013), 6th-round pick (2012)

Overall Grade: B+

Smithson and Wolski are both NHL-caliber players and will bring added depth to a Panther team on the playoff bubble. Florida has surprised a lot of critics this year, including myself, and these additions should be of some help. 

Los Angeles Kings
In: Jeff Carter
Out: Jack Johnson, Conditional 1st-round pick 

Overall Grade: B-

Carter should provide some scoring depth to a team that desperately needs it. Dustin Brown was retained and King fans should be ecstatic. Jack Johnson will be missed on defense, but LA does have some pretty good prospects. I really want to see them make the playoffs. 

Minnesota Wild
In: Tom Gilbert, Erik Christensen, Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Vielleux, Steve Kampfer, 2nd-round pick (2012), Conditional 3rd-round pick (2013), 7th-round pick (2013)
Out: Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Casey Wellman

Overall Grade: B-

I guess the Minnesota Wild are calling it a season. They traded away three of their top defensemen and acquired a number of draft picks. Gilbert is a nice addition to replace one of those lost defensmen and Jared Spurgeon has had a terrific year. Hopefully, these picks turn into something. It'd be nice to see the Hockey State succeed.

Montreal Canadiens
In: Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, two 2nd-round picks (2012 & 2013), Conditional 5th-round pick (2013)
Out: Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill, 5th-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: C

The Canadiens traded away a talented, yet frustrating, forward for two "meh" picks. They also lost Hal Gill. This team needs to get its act They don't take hockey lightly in Montreal. Let's hope Geoffrion's bloodline kicks in soon.

Nashville Predators
In: Andre Kostitsyn, Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad, 4th-round pick (2013), 5th-round pick (2013), 6th-round pick (2012)
Out: Jerred Smithson, Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, 1st-round pick (2012), two 2nd-round picks (2012 & 2013), Conditional 5th-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: A-

The Nashville Predators are serious contenders in the Western Conference now. They added a potential scoring punch, a shutdown defenseman and a face-off wizard - not to mention a few late picks in the coming drafts. Sure, the price was steep for these pieces, especially Gaustad, but the Predators realize they have a good team NOW. It helps that Ryan Suter and Shea Weber need new contracts come June. Convincing much?

New Jersey Devils
In: Marek Zidlicky
Out: Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux, 2nd-round pick (2012), Conditional 3rd-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: B- 

Although the Devils gave up a lot for Marek Zidlicky, he fits into their current situation quite well. If we look at the other trades, Johnny Oduya was worth a second and a third. Zidlicky is that, plus three NHL players? Admittedly, Foster is the only real impact player. Zidlicky is signed for another year and will definitely provide stability on the blueline. He should help their playoff run if Martin Brodeur can stay strong, which shouldn't be an issue. 

New York Islanders
In: Yannick Riedneau, Marc Cantin
Out: Brian Rolston, Mike Mottau

Overall grade: C-

The Islanders cleared some cap space as usual, getting ready for "the future." When is that by the way?

New York Rangers
In: John Scott, Casey Wellman, Mike Vernace, 3rd-round pick (2013)
Out: Wojtek Wolski, Erik Christensen, 5th-round pick (2012), 7th-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: B-

The Rangers didn't need to do much. They shed some figurative weight, while getting literal weight back in Scott. He'll provide some grit to a team that's, well...gritty. New York may be for real this year. Long live King Hank. 

Ottawa Senators
In: Matt Gilroy
Out: Brain Lee

Overall Grade: ?

Only time will tell if this was a good swap - both very young defensemen.

Philadelphia Flyers
In: Pavel Kubina, Nicklas Grossman, Matt Ford
Out: Kevin Marshall, Jon Kalinski, two 2nd-round picks (2012 & 2013), 3rd-round pick (2013), Conditional 4th-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: B+

The Flyers gave up a few picks in the coming years, but got back two solid defensemen they desperately desired - brought by the absence of Chris Pronger. Philadelphia is set to do some damage in the playoffs if their goaltending can be consistent enough.

Phoenix Coyotes
In: Antoine Vermette
Out: Curtis McElhinney, 2nd-round pick (2012), 5th-round pick (2013)

Overall Grade: B+

Vermette adds speed to an all ready fast team. They gave up a few picks and a back-up goalie, but it's a small price to pay for a very good center. The Coyotes have played extremely well as of late and this move is only going to add fuel to the fire.

Pittsburgh Penguins
In: Nothing
Out: Nothing

Overall Grade: B

Why mess with a good thing? Evgeni Malkin is carrying the team while Marc-Andre Fleury has another strong season.

San Jose Sharks
In: Daniel Winnik, T.J. Galiradi, Dominic Moore, two 7th-round picks (2012 & 2013)
Out: Jamie McGinn, Michael Sgarbossa, Mike Connolly, 2nd-round pick (2012)

Overall Grade: A-

I believe the Sharks are a better team post-deadline. Winnik, Moore and Galiardi are tremendous role-players. McGinn will be missed, but San Jose is set up for another Cup run in a difficult Western Conference. This team could use an appearance in the Finals.

St. Louis Blues
In: 2nd-round pick (2013)
Out: Ben Bishop

Overall Grade: B

There is no need to alter this team. Ken Hitchcock has made them a legitimate contender.

Tampa Bay Lightning
In: Keith Aulie, Mike Commodore, Brian Lee, Brendon Segal, Sebastien Piche, Jon Kalinski, 1st-round pick (2012), two 2nd-round pick (2012 & 2013), Conditional 4th-round pick (2013)
Out: Steve Downie, Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina, Carter Ashton, Matt Gilroy, two 7th-round picks (2012 & 2013 - conditional), Future considerations

Overall Grade: B+

Talk about a rebuild. After a terrible season, GM Steve Yzerman shook up the roster. He let some good players go for a few picks - all in the top four rounds. I think their biggest concern is goaltending right now. We'll see what happens with Cory Schneider at season's end. Schneider for some top picks...I think so.

Toronto Maple Leafs
In: Carter Ashton, Dale Mitchell
Out: Keith Aulie, Mark Fraser

Overall Grade: C-

The team needed to address a few issues - goaltending especially. Prices were too high and a deal couldn't be made. It's time to get back to fighting for that playoff spot. Good luck.

Vancouver Canucks
In: Zack Kassian, Samuel Pahlsson, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Andrew Gordon
Out: Cody Hodgson, Alexander Sulzer, Sebastian Erixon, two 4th-round picks (2012)

Overall Grade: B+

Hodgson is a good prospect and will be sorely missed in Vancouver. That being said, the Canucks added some nice pieces. Pahlsson is an extremely reliable two-way center, Kassian is a big body with soft hands and Marc-Andre Gragnani is a young puck-moving defenseman.  The Western Conference is going to be a real battle this year.

Washington Capitals
In: Mike Carman, Kevin Marshall
Out: Matt Ford, Danny Richmond

Overall Grade: F

What's the best thing to do with a struggling team? Stand pat. Tisk, tisk.

Winnipeg Jets
In: Maxime Macenauer, 2nd-round pick (2013), 3rd-round pick (2013)
Out: Johhny Oduya, Riley Holzapfel

Overall Grade: B-

While Oduya brought back some decent picks, he's going to be missed on defense. Still, Zach Bogosin, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom provide the Jets with a good core of d-men. I'd have like to see the Jets add a piece on offense, but hopefully the team can keep up their recent winning ways.


That's it! Does my Stanley Cup Final prediction change? Yes. Instead of Pittsburgh going to the Finals, I'm going to have to pick Boston.

Boston vs. San Jose

What do you think?