Tuesday, June 30, 2009

State Of The Blog Address

Well, you've come this far, and if you've come all this way, maybe you'll go a little further.

I've finally finished all 30 teams - when I set out, I had no idea I was going to spend this much time on this project, but here we are.

My plan for the next few days is mostly to sit and wait. I'm going to take a break tomorrow, I think, just drink in the entire day. July 2, I will look into the best non-tendered free agents, as there's sure to be some interesting items available. July 3, 4, 5, I will break down the Pronger and Gomez trades, as well as any potential Heatley trade that may occur in the next 2 hours. The rest of July will be devoted to breaking down the top 26 UFA contracts signed, by cost/year - it will likely start with Bouwmeester and go from there. August will be spent looking at the top 25 RFA contracts signed this summer - arbitration awards come down in mid-August, so hopefully there's grist for that mill then. September will look at other deals that may have slipped through the cracks - UFA, RFA, trades whatever.

I'm not sure about the format I'm going to use - perhaps I will work that out tomorrow as well. I hope to incorporate advanced statistics into it, but I'm not quite sure how I will do that as yet.

I hope everyone enjoys reading, and certainly feel free to comment on anything. Have a happy Free Agent Frenzy day.

The Washington Capitals - Ovechkining Their Pulse

Introduction

The Washington Capitals made the 2nd round this past season, their best finish since 1998. The team has arguably the NHL's best player in Alexander Ovechkin and a host of young stars. The salary cap monster rises quickly though, and the signings George McPhee have made to augment this club have almost all gone poorly. The Capitals will have some difficult decisions to make in the coming months - a lot of what happens to the franchise depends on how much money Ted Leonsis is willing to spend.

Capitals Salaries
(Estimates in Green, Red Field indicates UFA)


Wow, That's A Lot Of Terrible Contracts: Indeed it is, Sherman. With Nylander, Pothier, Poti, and Chris Clark, the Capitals paid around 13.5 million dollars for almost zero production. Poti was an effective defensive D-man, but he's still overpaid as his once-promising offensive game has completely deserted him. Nylander was a healthy scratch for much of the season, and Pothier and Clark spent most of the season injured, and weren't particularly good when healthy. At least two of these guys have to pick their game up for the Capitals to contend next season.

Projected Lines for 2009-10

Ovechkin-Backstrom-?
Semin-Nylander-Fehr
Fleischmann-Laich-Clark
Gordon-Steckel-Bradley

Morrisonn-Green
Poti-Erskine
Pothier-Jurcina

Varlamov
Theodore

Future Watch

Forwards: LW Chris Bourque has been knocking on the door. He's waiver-eligible so he will likely be on the roster in some capacity. LW Oskar Osala got a look last season as well.

Defense: Karl Alzner had an impressive pro debut and spent 30 games with the Capitals. If the Capitals can find another home for Brian Pothier, Alzner should slide right into his place.

Goalie: Michal Neuvirth was the Bears' playoff goalie for their run in the playoffs - he took huge strides forward and should be NHL ready in two years.

Trades

The Capitals may be looking to fob off Brian Pothier on another team - his 2.5 million might be useful somewhere else or on someone else. Unless the Capitals are also packaging a prospect along with Nylander or Theodore, they are unlikely to be able to trade these players.

Free Agent Discussion

Money to Spend: 5.9 million
Holes to Fill: 1

The Capitals have more than one hole to fill. With Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov both headed to the KHL, they may be looking at upgrading their 2nd line - Nylander has shown no ability to play 2nd line center at this point in his career. Regardless, there's a ton of wingers available - Erik Cole, Maxim Afinogenov, Brian Gionta, etc. who could fill this spot. It's sure to be a huge career boost, so a make-good 1 year deal wouldn't be unexpected. The Capitals cannot get too crazy in free agency - they only have 9 players signed for 2010-11.

Conclusion

The Capitals likely want to upgrade at center, wing, and defense, but barring some surprising trades, that won't be happening. They may be missing their window - Nicklas Backstrom will get a ton of money as an RFA in 2010-11, Alex Semin will too, and the team will be soon sunk by the terrible contracts they've signed to players like Nylander. Somehow getting rid of Theodore or Nylander's deal, even if it means sacrificing 1st round picks down the road, would be ideal - the team could load up this off-season.

Outlook

The Capitals are not among the league's elite, but they're only a step or two away. As long as Ovechkin and Backstrom are there, the team should be at least in the playoffs, but a Stanley Cup may be a long way off.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Vancouver Canucks - Bland and Blander

Introduction

The Vancouver Canucks have a difficult and exciting off-season ahead of them. With the Sedin twins supposedly set to test the market, the Canucks may have to bring in top notch free agents in order to replace them. Despite the fact that it is very unlikely that the Sedins actually end up leaving Vancouver, the Canucks still have a lot to build on from their 2nd round loss this season.

Vancouver Salaries


So Much Room!: The Vancouver Canucks are incredibly well set up over the next few years. Except for the fact that they won't have any players.

Projected Lines for 2009-10

?-?-Bernier
Burrows-Kesler-Demitra
Raymond-?-Hansen
Hordichuk-Johnson-Wellwood

Bieksa-?
Salo-Edler
Mitchell-O'Brien

Luongo
?

Future Watch

Forward: Winger Michael Grabner had almost a goal every other game and should be ready to fill a slot on the big club. Center Cody Hodgson had a huge season in junior but is likely a season or two away from the NHL.

Defense: The unfortunate death of Luc Bourdon seriously impacted the Canucks' future on D, as he was their top prospect. There seems to be no one close to making a significant dent on D.

Goalie: Cory Schneider is as NHL-ready as he'll ever be.

Trades

Kevin Bieksa has already been traded twenty times by Eklund, Mason Raymond 15 by Canucks fans. The Canucks don't really have the kind of asset that needs trading, but they may see fit to exchange a defenseman for a center.

Free Agent Discussion

Money To Spend: 20.0 million
Holes To Fill: 5

The Best Of The Best: This blog has talked about all the mediocre free agents out there in one post or another - if one searches the blog one can no doubt find stuff about them. But now we're going to discuss the Best:

Marian Hossa (7/52.5) - Hossa won't have a real center here, and he's not a perfect fit. He didn't have a real center in Ottawa either. He'd be expected to score 35-40 goals every season.

Henrik/Daniel Sedin (9/47), (9/47) - Identical 9 year deals for the Sedin Brothers break down like this: 7 7 6 6 6 5 4 4 2. Only Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver realistically have the room to sign the Sedin Brothers without major moves - they will probably end up back here.

Marian Gaborik (6/39.5) - Gaborik also wouldn't have a real center, but he's a good enough scorer to not need one. The key, of course, is keeping him healthy

Jay Bouwmeester (8/60) - A coming home of sorts for Bouwmeester, Vancouver can truly blow him out of the water with an offer, if they so choose. It does mean losing the Sedins, however.

Scott Niedermayer/Rob Niedermayer (1/6) (1/2) - It's unclear whether the Niedermayer brothers will play in Anaheim this season - Scott should have a decision on whether they will by July 2014. Regardless, Vancouver is closest to home for the Niedermayer brothers, and they may lure him away.

Conclusion

GM Mike Gillis has some large decisions to make. He needs at least one center and possibly two from a market that likely won't supply many of them. He must decide whether he has to replace Mattias Ohlund, or try to re-sign him. His team has gotten bogged down in the second round two seasons of the last three - is it a Stanley Cup contender? Gillis has one of the hardest jobs this off-season - what he does will either propel the Canucks into the tier of elite clubs with San Jose, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, or condemn them to the second division for several more seasons.

Outlook

The Canucks will be trapped in the second division for several more seasons - they lack the elite-level forwards that the best teams have nowadays. If the Canucks are to go anywhere in the post-season, it will be because of Luongo's stellar play.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Toronto Maple Leafs - Buying A Championship?

Introduction

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in an incredibly interesting position. They have more money coming available in 2010-11 than anyone in the NHL. Brian Burke has been quoted that he will be 'very active' when free agency begins on July 1. The Leafs are actually the team with the room to make it work - acquiring Jay Bouwmeester and Ilya Kovalchuk is a distinct possibility. The problem? The Leafs don't seem to have any players either. Right now, only 5 players are signed for 2010-11. Brian Burke has his work cut out for him. Perhaps he will stop talking to the press for a few minutes to run his team.




Projected Lines For 2009-10

Blake-?-Ponikarovsky
Hagman-Grabovski-Stempniak
?-Stajan-Kulemin
Mayers-Mitchell-Hollweg

Kaberle-Schenn
Kubina-Finger
Van Ryn-White

Toskala
?

Future Watch

The Leafs just drafted C Nazem Kadri - he is likely a few years away. LW Jiri Tlusty had a point a game in the AHL and should finally stick in Toronto. RW Jeremy Williams had 27 goals in 46 AHL games - if he's not a Leaf next year, someone will likely give him a shot. G Justin Pogge was terrible in his NHL stint - it's unclear whether he has a future with the Leafs.

Trades

Wheeler/Dealer Burke will have no problem swinging trades, except for those pesky no-trade clauses left by his precedessor like so many single-edged swords (pointed right at him). The two most likely players to move, Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, also have no-trade clauses. It'd be surprising if Burke didn't make a trade or two before the season. Next year, when Burke has somewhere between 28 and 31 million dollars available and most teams are scrambling around for cap space, Burke could be a repository for bad contracts.

Free Agent Discussion

Money to Spend: $14.5 million
Holes To Fill: 3

While it says the Leafs have 3 holes to fill, they could conceivably upgrade everywhere. They lack top-end talent at every position and have to be interested in all of the best free agents. They are one of the few teams who can legitimately enter their name in the Marian Hossa sweepstakes. Were there a top-line center available this off-season, Toronto would have to be in the discussion. The Leafs may do what the Kings did two years ago - sign people to one-year contracts and attempt to trade them at the trade deadline if they're out of the playoffs.

Essentially, the Leafs can't be ruled out from getting anyone, so discussing who they may get is a pointless exercise.

Conclusion

The Leafs are in an incredibly advantageous position to quickly retool and actually become a formidable threat in the Northeast Division in 2 years. Brian Burke has to be careful not to try to put it all together quickly - the Leafs don't have a lot of prospect depth. This is still a team 2 or 3 years away from serious playoff contention barring some particularly swashbuckling moves from The Great and Terrible Burke.

Outlook

Don't invest in the Yonge Street Parade Corporation quite yet, but the Leafs actually have a positive outlook for the first time since the lockout ended.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Tampa Bay Lightning - Saw VII

We all learned that Oren Koules is the producer of the highly successful Saw franchise - now he's put a horror show on ice.

Best Quote Ever From The General Manager of the Lightning, In a Fax Sent To All NHL GMs:

"Please be advised that in order to avoid any confusion over the next couple of weeks, as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning Organization I am the only person authorized to speak on behalf of the team with regard to player transactions," the email read.

"No other person is authorized to negotiate player transactions. Any questions, feel free to call."

This has a hilarious military strongman sound to it - 'The Rebels have not seized the capital, and we will crush them before the rainy season.'

Tampa Bay Salary


Projected Lines in 2009-10

This indicates a player who is RFA in 2009

This indicates a player who is UFA in 2010

This indicates a player who is RFA in 2010


Malone-Lecavalier-St. Louis

Prospal-Stamkos-Karsums

?-Halpern-Artyuhkin

?-Szczechura-Downie


Meszaros-Ranger

Lashoff-Kraijcek

Smaby-?


Smith

Raamo

Future Watch

Victor Hedman will jump right on to the Lightning defense next season and could be one of their best D men by season's end. Besides very high draft picks, Tampa is traditionally horrible at drafting.

Trades

It is rumored that Vincent Lecavalier is on the block, but unless Tampa is absolutely desperate to rid themselves of his contract, he is unlikely to move. Vaclav Prospal and Ryan Malone are more likely to be dealt.

Free Agent Discussion

Tampa is not likely to sign any free agents beyond depth players.

Conclusion

Tampa is a bad team, they have an excellent top two lines but a lot of dross below that. Expect Steven Stamkos to get better, and expect the goaltenders to seek therapy by November. Tampa led the league in 'Trades That Didn't Make Any F'Ing Sense' last season - they traded Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, and a 1st and 2010 4th. They traded the 1st for Andrei Meszaros, whom they summarily overpaid. They traded Matt Carle for Steve Eminger and Steve Downie. They traded Eminger for Noah Welch, who is a UFA. So they traded Boyle for Meszaros, Downie, Wishart and around 40 games of Steve Eminger. Brilliant work!

Outlook

We'll always have 2004.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The St. Louis Blues - Mmmm, Playoffs

(Editor's Note: Doing these long writeups every day, I kind of feel like Homer Simpson eating 64 slices of American cheese. Sure it starts off great, but eventually you just kind of feel sick and full and empty at the same time. God bless any of you who are still reading all of these.)

St. Louis Salaries


Oh Wait, Wrong Image...




TJ Oshie and Patrik Berglund Are Going To Be Awesome, If They Aren't Already: TJ Oshie had 39 points in 57 games in his rookie season, and Patrik Berglund notched 47 in 76 games. They may have a little backsliding this year, but going forward both may be stars.

The Blues Are Really, Really Well Set Up for 2010-11: 10 forwards and 5 defensemen already 'under contract' and only at 32 million leaves the Blues an absolute ton of room.

Projected Lines For 2009-10

Kariya-McDonald-Boyes
Tkachuk-Berglund-Oshie
Perron-Steen-Backes
?-McClement-Crombeen

Brewer-Jackman
Johnson-McKee
Polak-Colaiacovo

Mason
?

Future Watch

Forwards: No one on the immediate horizon.

Defensemen: Alex Pietrangelo got a look with the Blues last season - he is now 19 years old, and St. Louis thinks he is a future star. They're probably not wrong.

Goalie: Ben Bishop and Marek Schwarz both played for the Blues last season, but both had sub-.900 save percentages at the AHL level.

Trades

The Blues have a lot of depth - players like Jeff Woywitka, Carlo Colaiacovo, B.J. Crombeen, etc. may be rather desirable to other clubs. The Blues could move these players for younger, depth-type prospects if they try to nab a top free agent. However, with the Blues in an insanely favorable position for 2009-10, they may just sit on their hands this season. Eric Brewer and Jay McKee might be fobbed off if the Blues are really looking to make a free agent splash. With almost $10 million in room under the cap, the Blues can make bad contracts disappear (for a price). It's an excellent time to be a Blues fan.

Free Agency

Money To Spend: 10.2 million dollars
Holes to Fill: 2

It's really hard to know what the Blues want or need in free agency. They can certainly fill out their roster - so they have no 'pressing' needs. They could even be a player for Bouwmeester - history suggests the Blues love their free agents. Ideally, the Blues strategy should be to simply jump on a free agent whose price has slipped due to lack of demand. There's no need for them to nose into the game when prices are high early in July - wait until late July or August to pick off a guy without a home.

It's also worth noting that the Blues are one of the very few teams who could sign an RFA to an offer sheet this off-season - it may make sense for them to do it.

The Blues are also in need of a backup goalie - may one land safely in St. Louis

Conclusion

The Blues shocked everyone in the NHL by making the playoffs despite season-ending injuries to Kariya, Johnson, and McDonald. All three of those players should be healthy this year, so it will be interesting to see how St. Louis fares. Going forward, they have a ton of salary cap room, so Ilya Kovalchuk is a definite possibility next season, and they could even be players for Marian Hossa or Jay Bouwmeester if they want to kick off the deep playoff runs early. The window is so short in today's NHL - they just might see fit to do that.

Outlook

The Blues may not make the playoffs next year, but it will be surprising if the St. Louis Blues don't make at least a Stanley Cup Final in the next 7 years.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The San Jose Sharks - Tanking In The Postseason

San Jose Prolegomena - The Real Culprits

San Jose cruised to the President's Trophy this season posting 117 points in the regular season. One thing that might have gone unnoticed during that regular season was the play of one Brian Boucher, who is seemingly a plucky up-and-comer despite being 32 and resolutely a career backup: Boucher posted a 2.18 GAA and .917 save percentage while starter Evgeni Nabokov posted a .910 save percentage with a 2.44 GAA. Some of this should no doubt be attributed to inferior competition - if Boucher starts mostly against the dregs, his GAA and SV% should be slightly inflated. However, Boucher filled in for Nabokov during an injury and the team didn't suffer any lapses.

People like to point to Joe Thornton as the culprit for the Sharks' playoff failures, and he does have to take some blame, certainly; his career shooting percentage in the regular season is 14.9, but in the playoffs it dips to 8.0. Worse still, as a member of the Sharks, it's 6.5 in 41 playoffs games, whereas it's 14.4% over that time in the regular season. Playoff shooting percentage tend to be lower - defenses are better, as well as goaltenders, plus there tend to be less penalties, so let's assume that Joe's expected shooting percentage is 11.5%. The odds of this occurring purely randomly, of Joe shooting 6.5% over that time assuming a normal distribution of shots, is 4.5%, and the odds of him shooting 6.5% or worse is only 8%. Something more is likely going on here. However, Joe Thornton's expected goals over this time frame are around 11, so the Sharks have missed out on 5 goals over the 4 playoff years that Joe Thornton has been around.

Let's look at another player - one Evgeni Nabokov, who was mentioned above. League average save percentage is .906 in the regular season. However, it tends to rise in the post-season for the same reason shooting percentage falls - fewer penalties, tighter defense. Let's assume that expected save percentages are .915. How does Evgeni Nabokov stack up over that time frame?

First of all, it's worth noting that Evgeni Nabokov didn't even play in 2005-06 because he was so terrible during the regular season that the Sharks started Vesa Toskala instead. However, Nabokov has a .908 save percentage over that time. It's worth noting here that the Sharks probably increase save percentage somewhat - to what extent won't be investigated here, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Sharks' expected save percentage for their goalies was .002 to .005 higher. Regardless, .908 over the course of that time versus the .915 that's expected. Evgeni Nabokov faced 815 playoff shots, and stopped 740 of them. Had he stopped the league average, that would be 745.7 saves - a difference of 5.7 goals.

Conclusion: Evgeni Nabokov has been just as responsible for the Sharks' playoff failures as Joe Thornton. He deserves just as much blame. If both players had played up to reasonable standards, the Sharks might have advanced farther in the playoffs.




How's It Looking? Not great. No Rob Blake and the team's only got 6 million left to spend, and that's in the best case scenario. The good news is that the Sharks have a lot of bodies lying around who are cheap and can play on the bottom lines, so at least they don't have to waste money there.

2009-10 Projected Lines

Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi
Michalek-Pavelski-Clowe
Mitchell-?-Cheechoo
Shelley-Goc-?

Boyle-Vlasic
Ehrhoff-Murray
Lukowich-?

Nabokov
?

Future Watch

The Sharks always have players in their pipeline - LW Jamie McGinn played 35 games for the Sharks and should be considered a shoo-in if a spot on the LW opens up. RW Riley Armstrong is waiver-eligible this season and has improved each season in the AHL - this may be his chance at the the big time. Defenseman Derek Joslin had 11 goals in the minors and could also be ready for the NHL.

Trades

The Sharks are heavily involved in trade rumors - whether it's trading Patrick Marleau or Ryane Clowe or whomever else, they are expected to make a deal in the next few days. Dealing Clowe appears to make little sense - he probably hasn't reached his full potential yet and the Sharks can likely negotiate a reasonable deal with him. Jonathan Cheechoo has to be considered trade bait - the former 50 goal scorer only managed 12 last season and may need that famous 'change of scenery'.

Free Agent Discussion

3rd Line Center

San Jose may be interested in the Pahlsson/Madden/Malhotra/Peca/Moore mix out there. Dominic Moore looks like a better fit for them than anyone else. Marcel Goc appears to have been the player that filled this hole during the regular season more than anyone else.

Goalie

If there's any justice, Evgeni Nabokov will be kicked to the curb for something halfway decent, but that doesn't seem possible. The Sharks still need a backup - Boucher may get a look once again as he was certainly capable during his stint.

Conclusion

The San Jose Sharks were once the healthiest team under the cap - no longer. Teams get expensive quickly. While they are certainly in decent shape, it remains to be seen if they can slide Rob Blake under their cap. They are still one of the best organizations at weaning young talent, and despite their lack of playoff success in the past, they've still got a bright future.

Outlook

Stanley Cup contender with a few tweaks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Pittsburgh Penguins - Champions, At Short Last

Pittsburgh Prolegomena - Having Good Wingmen

In 2003-04, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished last in the league, 23-47-8-4. The top nine scorers were under 30 - only two of them are still playing in the NHL. Only nine players who suited up for this team played a game in the NHL this past season and only three of them for Pittsburgh. They were awful - young and awful, with castaway veterans sprinkled in, and little hope of getting better.

Buoyed by the lockout's institution of a salary cap and the addition of young phenom Sidney Crosby, the Penguins actually began spending money. They embarked on a strategy which they have continued until now - go out and find your washed-up wingers, your former goal scorers yearning to breathe free, and stick them with Sidney Crosby. So they signed Zigmund Palffy, John Leclair, and Mark Recchi, all former All-Stars, and waited and hoped. It didn't take - Palffy retired midway through the season and Recchi got traded at the deadline after the team was woefully unsuccessful. In 2006-07, the Penguins did not really use this strategy - they re-signed Recchi, but John Leclair retired in the middle of the season. The team brought in Gary Roberts at the trading deadline as they cruised to their first playoff berth since 2001. In 2007-08, they brought in Stanley Cup champion RW Petr Sykora, fresh off a disappointing year with Edmonton, and of course acquired Marian Hossa at the trading deadline, sending away their young wingers who'd perhaps become overvalued due to the presence of Crosby and Malkin. This year, however, was their 'finest' year yet - they nabbed Ruslan Fedotenko and Miroslav Satan in free agency, then latched on to Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin at the trading deadline.

What all these players have in common is that they were almost all coming off down years, or incredibly old, or both. The Penguins didn't care that Ruslan Fedotenko only had 28 goals in his last two seasons combined, or that he was a healthy scratch twice for the Lightning in their last playoff year. They knew he had some skill and gave him a one-year contract to see if he could recapture the magic that led to his 26 goal season in 2005-06. While he didn't replicate this in the regular season, in the post season Fedotenko was tied for 4th on the team in goals and points, scoring 7 goals and adding 7 assists in the 24 Pittsburgh Stanley Cup games. Miro Satan and Petr Sykora were decidedly less successful in the post-season, but Sykora in particular contributed during the season - for a Pittsburgh team that was on the outside looking in at the playoff picture for much of the season, that must have been a boost.

The lesson here is simple: acquire wingers cheaply, let them play with Crosby and Malkin, they'll play well, and if they demand too much money, let them go and find new players whom no one wants who can still be useful in the right organization. This should be a blueprint for all organizations who have a particular item who is made excellent by pieces around him - Minnesota shouldn't pay dearly for goaltending, for example. San Jose shouldn't go nuts when players score on a line with Joe Thornton.




Lots of Names Missing There: UFAs from the Cup winner are: Miro Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Petr Sykora, Bill Guerin, Craig Adams, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, and Phillipe Boucher. Baseball Prospectus once said that most championship teams hoard the players from the victorious squad as though only they possess the magic of title-winning. GM Ray Shero has to tread lightly here - all his players will now be overrated and almost all of them will sign bad contracts.

Projected Lines for 2009-10

Kunitz-Crosby-?
Dupuis-Malkin-?
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Godard-Talbot-?

Gonchar-Orpik
Letang-?
Eaton-Goligoski

Fleury
?

Future Watch: Eric Tangradi and Luca Caputi are likely the Penguins' best prospects but neither should be in Pittsburgh next year. The Penguins have traded off many of their draft picks in recent years to augment their team - there's not much forthcoming.

Trades

The Penguins should pursue getting rid of Chris Kunitz but that's not likely to happen. Pascal Dupuis was a healthy scratch at points during the playoffs, he may be on the way out also.

Free Agent Discussion

Money To Spend: 8.3 million
Holes to Fill: 5

1st Line RW

Alexei Kovalev (4/20) - Kovalev had his best years with Pittsburgh. They may lack the money for Alexei, but he's a tremendously skilled player who can certainly score 30 goals with Sidney Crosby.
Brian Gionta (4/14) - Gionta scored 48 goals in a season with Scott Gomez's buttery setups - could he do so also with Crosby?
Erik Cole (3/10.5) - Cole had a down year - he might even be convinced to sign for 2 years. He's a big body who can make space for Crosby to operate.
Bill Guerin (2/6) - Dollar Bill is probably the most likely player to fill this role, although emptor should certainly be caveat - he turns 39 in November.

2nd line RW

Anyone can really go here, but the five most interesting names are:

Ruslan Fedotenko (3/7.5) - Ruslan's overvalued due to his 2 Stanley Cup Championships - he certainly steps it up in big games, but he's not so good during the regular season it seems.
Mikael Samuelsson (3/6.5) - Okay, so Mikael's first pass with the Penguins wasn't great (22 GP, 2 G, -21, in 2003). The Red Wings resuscitated him, making him into a solid scoring threat that happens to shoot a ton. It's not really in the Pens' playbook to get a guy who is probably overrated at this moment, but who knows, maybe they want to steal a player from the team they beat in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Todd Bertuzzi (2/4) - Bertuzzi's played for 5 teams since the lockout and hasn't impressed any of them. Calgary's probably not going to bring him back - why not try him out with Malkin or Crosby? He could be a 25 goal scorer on their wings.
Maxim Afinogenov (2/3.5) - Afinogenov has little finish but he can play in a high-powered offense., and it's hard to believe that the skills that led him to score a point a game after the first two post-lockout seasons have completely dissipated. Afinogenov is exactly the sort of player Pittsburgh has been signing of late.
Mark Parrish (1/.8) - Parrish is only 31, his career should not be over. He doesn't do very much well, but he's still an excellent tip man in front of the net. If Pittsburgh signed him, it would not be shocking for him to score 20 goals.


4th line RW

Tom Kostopoulos (2/2.2) - Former Penguin is a ferocious hitter who can chip in a goal or two.
Craig Adams (2/1.5) - Adams is the fringiest of fringe players but he has 2 Stanley Cup rings and can certainly kill some penalties. He was also born in Brunei and went to Harvard.
Brian Willsie (1/.6) - Ultra-fringe player manages to be in the NHL somehow.

Defense

Derek Morris (3/7) - Morris was once thought to be a top defenseman, but he's spent the equivalent of 40 years wandering in the deserts of Phoenix. He could re-acquire some verve playing for a Cup champion.
Rob Scuderi (3/6.5) - Scuderi earned his money with his kick-save in the waning seconds on Johan Franzen. There's not much to suggest he's that good, he's already 30, and provides very little on the offensive side of the puck - he has 3 goals in 300 career games. This is the kind of mistake Cup winners typically make.
Nick Boynton (2/4) - Boynton is a strong defensive player who takes the body - with Gonchar, Letang, and Goligoski on the backline, there isn't really a need for an offensive guy.
Hal Gill (2/3.5) - Gill is 33 and turns 34 in April - his career may be about over. Slow and prone to terrible decisions, his 6'7" height and tremendous reach is what keeps him employed.

Goalie

Any backup goalie will do.

Conclusion

With Evgeni Malkin's long-term extension kicking in, the Penguins are fast running out of money with which to sign players - it is quite fortunate they won the Stanley Cup this season, as they may have missed their window had they not accomplished it this year. Decisions like signing Alex Goligoski to a 3 year deal worth 5.6 million suggest that Pittsburgh is going to lay low this coming season - they'll be a contender, no doubt, but over-the-top moves like Kovalev are less likely - they will be hoping to strike gold in the next 2 or 3 seasons instead. With Letang and Goligoski potentially filling in for Gonchar's offense, the $5 million spent on him might instead be freed up to do something more interesting. In a salary-capped environment, teams must pick and choose when they are going to go for a Stanley Cup - next year will not likely be a year that Pittsburgh pulls out all the stops.

Outlook

The Penguins should be near the top of the Eastern Conference standings next season, and certainly shouldn't be ruled out of another Stanley Cup in the next 3 to 4 years.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Phoenix Coyotes - A Desert Mirage

Editorial Comment On The Phoenix Situation

The Phoenix Coyotes built the Jobing.com arena in Glendale, Arizona in 2003. It cost $180 million, all of it paid for by Glendale. Its tenants are the Phoenix Coyotes and an indoor lacrosse team. The NHL may overestimate the viability of hockey in Glendale, Arizona - the team may just be a huge money loser regardless of what happens. It would certainly be no tragedy to the citizens of Phoenix if the Coyotes skipped town. However, the NHL is trying to enforce two things here - A: that owners of a team cannot just move their teams without due process and B: that teams adhere to the promises made to communities. If the Coyotes leave, Glendale is out an enormous chunk of cash as the possessor of a near-useless arena. This will endanger publicly financed arena projects in the future.

It's entirely possible that the Phoenix Coyotes are not viable in Phoenix and this is just an enormous boondoggle that will play out over the course of several seasons, leaving a welfare team constantly rebuilding while they wait to bolt town. However, the NHL's other owners most certainly have a vested interest in leaving the team in Phoenix, if it is at all possible - they wish to have their cities continue to fund as much of their operations as possible.




Climbing All The Way To The Floor: The Coyotes owe almost $4 million in bonus payments, which should keep them right at the salary floor.

Projected Lines In 2009-10

Hanzal-Mueller-Doan
Upshall-Lombardi-Turris
Boedker-Lindstrom-Prucha
Dawes-Prust-Tikhonov

Jovanovski-Yandle
Michalek-Sauer
Hale-?

Bryzgalov
Montoya

Future Watch: The Coyotes pick 6th overall, and that pick will likely be forced right into the NHL.

Trades

The Phoenix Coyotes may want to make a trade. Good for them!

Free Agent Discussion

A player who played in the NHL last season doesn't realize it yet, but he will end up on the Phoenix Coyotes. The Grand Canyon is only a few short hours away!

Conclusion

The Phoenix Coyotes have an abundance of young players. A plethora. Unfortunately, they do not know what a plethora is - their team will be gutted once it gets any good and its best players sent out past Pillars of Hercules or Calgary or somewhere else. It will be interesting to see just where these young phenoms star; Phoenix isn't likely to be that place.

Outlook

Phoenix will not make the playoffs any time soon. They are a Mickey Mouse franchise.

The Philadelphia Flyers - Missing A Stanley Cup Shot Once Again?

Flyers Prolegomena - How To Rebound From Being The Worst Team In Hockey

In 2006-07, everything went wrong for the Philadelphia Flyers. 44 players and 5 goalies suited up for a wretched squad that fired Ken Hitchcock after the first eight dreadful games only to barely improve on the mark he set. Flyer goalies had an .892 save percentage as the team allowed 302 goals. This wouldn't be so bad if the Flyers offense, usually a strength of the team, also hadn't deserted them - star LW Simon Gagne had a 40 goal season, but the rest of the team combined to score 173 goals. Young phenoms Jeff Carter and Mike Richards struggled. How could the team pull out of this funk? Simple - by importing all of the Nashville Predators' best players.

In February of 2007, Paul Holmgren sent Peter Forsberg to Nashville for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, a 1st and a 3rd. He also sent veteran D Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for young stud D Braydon Coburn, and nabbed then-backup goaltender Martin Biron from the Sabres, whom he later signed. Holmgren was hardly finished; In June of 2007, before free agency, he swung a trade that brought both Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen to Philadelphia for the aforementioned 1st round pick - both signed long-term deals in Philly. Malingerer Joni Pitkanen, a D with loads of talent but not always the ability to use it, was shipped off with veteran re-re-re-tread Geoff Sanderson for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul. The piece de resistance was star centerman Daniel Briere's addition to the club in free agency. The team had added Coburn, Lupul, Briere, Smith, Biron, Hartnell, Timonen, Upshall, Parent, and all for a minimum of cost to the current roster (Zhitnik and Pitkanen). With the improvement of Carter and Richards almost inevitable, the Flyers made the Eastern Conference Finals - a rise that should have shocked no one.




That Doesn't Look As Bad As I Thought: The Flyers don't actually have to make a trade this off-season. The Flyers are helped by the fact that they don't have any restricted free agents to deal with.

2010-11 Looks Unpleasant, Though: Well, certainly. $48 million dollars, no goalies, and still three short on the bench too, and the salary cap is likely to be between $50 and $53 million dollars. The Flyers will have to move one of Lupul, Briere, Gagne, or Hartnell - Briere would be the most likely to move, except that he has a no-movement clause.

2011-12 Is Unpleasant, Too: Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux are RFA that season - both will require large raises.

2009-10 Projected Lines

This indicates a player who is RFA in 2009
This indicates a player who is UFA in 2010
This indicates a player who is RFA in 2010

Gagne-Briere-Lupul
Carter-Richards-Hartnell
Carcillo-?-Giroux
Cote-Powe-Asham

Timonen-Coburn
Parent-Carle
Jones-?

Emery
?

Future Flyers: The Flyers have a stellar farm system. James Van Riemsdyk, 2nd overall pick in 2007, finally signed a contract with Philadelphia, and has to be considered to have a good shot to make the team. Luca Sbisa, the 18 year old wunderkind from Switzerland, played half the season with the Flyers on defense; his upside is not sky-high, but Philadelphia fans should expect him to be a defensive stalwart for the next decade. Claude Giroux may be a future star.

Trades

As mentioned above, one of the high-salaried Flyers is going to have to leave town eventually. The Flyers may get crazy - reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer suspect the Flyers will go after Jay Bouwmeester, but they don't have the money this year or next year. Paul Holmgren is not afraid to pull the trigger on a creative trade, so expect the unexpected from him. The Flyers have to realize with their cap situation that their best shot for a Stanley Cup is this season.

Free Agent Discussion

Money To Spend: 6.2 million
Holes to Fill: 3

Center

If the Flyers go after a center, it will likely be of the Malhotra/Pahlsson/Peca/Madden/etc. ilk. They may go after a left wing instead.

Defense

Bouwmeester is a possibility, however remote. If the Flyers can find a new home for one of their top six forwards, they can bring in one of the Ohlund/Komisarek/Oduya/Spacek/Beauchemin group. If not, they will likely have to stick with the Andrew Alberts/Karlis Skrastins/Hal Gill group. Luca Sbisa could make the team, leaving more money available for other things.

Goalie

Ray Emery can't be thought of as the de facto starter in Philadelphia - the Flyers will likely have a 1A/1B situation set up. Ty Conklin, Scott Clemmensen, Craig Anderson, Antero Niitymaki, etc. etc. all have to be interesting players for the Flyers, and that player will likely get paid around what Emery got paid.

Conclusion

It's hard to talk about what the Flyers might do, because they very well could do anything. They have all kinds of assets to make a trade. They have two of the best young forwards in the league in Carter and Richards, and their top 6 forwards may be deeper than anyone else's in the NHL. The defense, however, is not great and slightly overpaid, so something may be done there. Even with the great young players the Flyers have, they still have a small window with which to be very serious contenders.

Outlook

Playoff team on a short list of Stanley Cup contenders next year, a playoff team with salary cap-induced holes in the near future.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Ottawa Senators - Having The Rug Pulled Out From Under


Senators Prolegomena - The Decline And Fall Of The Ottowan Empire

It should be regarded as no accident that the Ottawa Senators' logo depicts a Roman centurion - much like Rome in the 5th Century AD, the Senators were sacked by Visigoths, and what plunder they managed to hoard, they did so at quite a cost.

In 2005-06, the Senators were favorites for the Stanley Cup - their hopes derailed by an injury to star goaltender Dominik Hasek, who had a .925 save percentage in his time in Ottawa. His replacement, Ray Emery, posted only a .900 save percentage in the playoffs, dooming the tremendous offense. Regardless, the club looked like this:

Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson
Schaefer-Fisher-Havlat
Vermette-Smolinski-Eaves
Varada-Kelly-Neil

Redden-Chara
Volchenkhov-Phillips
Pothier-Meszaros

Hasek
Emery

Stellar club from top to bottom. To put this in perspective, the members of the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators defense are now making a combined 26.5 million dollars, an average above $4 million per player. The bad news is that 4 of them are now playing for other teams, and the replacements for Chara, Redden, Pothier, and Meszaros have been Jason Smith, Filip Kuba, Brendan Bell, and Brian Lee. The fate that befell Ottawa and Buffalo now awaits Boston - their best players will soon get overpaid or leave Boston to poison another team's salary cap.



Yes I Am Aware They Have 3 Goalies: The Ottawa Senators continued their mystifying tradition of buying damaged goods by picking up Pascal Leclaire in a deal with Columbus. Leclaire has had one impressive season but it is hard to imagine him outperforming a goalie who could've been available for half the cost. Either Auld will be traded or Elliott sent to the minors - it's ultimately irrelevant.

2009-10 Projected Lines

Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson
?-Fisher-Foligno
Ruutu-Kelly-Winchester
Schubert-Shannon-Donovan

Kuba-Phillips
Volchenkov-Campoli
Bell-Lee

Leclaire
Elliott

What Happened To Jason Smith? Smith was less than impressive in a Senators uniform - a relic of the pre-lockout clutch-and-grab days, Smith will likely be waived or bought out.

Trades

Dany Healtey has requested a trade. Heatley is 3rd in goals since the lockout and is a superlative scoring talent. He also seems to be a bit of a malcontent, having asked out of two cities now (although the first he can certainly be forgiven for). The Senators MUST get a top prospect/young player out of this trade - they have too many veteran players making too much money.

Free Agent Discussion

Money Available: 8.1 million
Holes To Fill: 1

Left Wing

Alex Tanguay (4/18) - Playmaking left wing could help with Senators' shooting woes.
Nikolai Antropov (4/15) - Versatile Russian can play either wing and center and seems to be continually improving.
Mike Comrie (4/10) - C/LW Comrie was re-acquired by the Sens in March in hopes that he would sign a new deal here. Given that the Islanders were the only team who wanted him when he left Ottawa, it seems rather likely that he re-ups with the Senators.
Ruslan Fedotenko (2/4) - Leaves room to upgrade the defense, if management wishes to.

Conclusion

Ottawa is paying for its years of almost-success by paying players like Chris Phillips and Mike Fisher a hefty sum to do less than they should. Its top line also makes almost $20 million dollars, which leaves only $36 million for the remaining 20 players. Ottawa should look into dealing Dany Heatley for an excellent prospect and 2nd line LW, then sign another LW; they may lose out on that deal overall, but they may leave themselves more balanced to make more trades down the road.

Outlook

Ottawa should contend for the playoffs this season - whether they make it depends on Leclaire's health and what happens with Heatley. Down the road, the Senators have a lot of guys signed for a lot of years and not much of a farm system; they are likely in that heap with the Rangers and Buffalo of Eastern Conference squads who are around 60% to make the playoffs in a given year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The New Jersey Devils - Well, We Do Enter the Next Round-Robin... Or Not

Devils' Prolegomena - The Usage Of Jay Pandolfo (The Bums Will Always Lose)

Jay Pandolfo must truly consider himself clutch. Coming up on unrestricted free agency, Pandolfo managed to have a stellar season - he scored 12 goals in 54 games, a career best rate, despite a severe leg injury that kept him out for much of the season. Having nabbed a Selke Trophy nomination the previous year (one which Alan Ryder of Hockey Analytics thinks he deserved), it was about time for Jay to get paid, and get paid he did. GM Lou Lamoriello gave his checking-line winger a 3 year, 7.5 million dollar deal, which Jay immediately began underperforming. Coach Brent Sutter let him kick around as part of a checking line, but when his play faltered, his ice time was limited, then snuffed out entirely. He was scratched for a stretch of 21 out of 30 games in 2009. However, with the Devils reeling from a six-game losing streak in late March, coach Brent Sutter reunited former checking line mates Pandolfo and John Madden in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 1. Veteran winger Brendan Shanahan was the third man on that line. The trio was soon used to match up against top lines, and used heavily in the playoffs. It is Devils' fans contention that the usage of Pandolfo was the major downfall of the team - or if not that, at least a symbol of an antediluvian mindset on the part of coach Sutter and evident puppet master Lamoriello. Pandolfo was likely a straggler of sorts - he was a -6 as a part of that checking line for the 12 games it was together. However, let us examine some numbers - going through each game of the season, putting the dividing line at 13 minutes and 30 seconds - (under 10 minutes might've been better) - how did the Devils fare when using Pandolfo a lot versus using him less or not at all?

Devils with Pando playing over 13:30: 24-17-6
Devils goals for: 3.02
Devils goals against: 2.55
Shots/game: 32.7
Shots Against/Game: 29.6

Devils with Pandolfo Playing Under 13:30: 21-18-2
Devils goals for: 2.59
Devils goals against: 2.5
Shots/game: 32.6
Shots Against/Game: 30.7

There's a lot more that would have to be done to really understand how Jay's usage affected New Jersey (he had the second worst Corsi number on the team) - but one thing is clear - there is little correlation between Pandolfo's usage and winning and losing. Brent Sutter should not be excoriated for his usage of a checking line in the playoffs - not after losing six straight games and watching his team's shots against/game continue to escalate. Perhaps as his team's shots against/game continued to increase in the playoffs, he should have examined the very strict line matching he was doing, but that's all in the past now; whether Sutter is prone to panicking is something the Calgary Flames might find out.




Say What You Will About The Tenets of Lou-ism, At Least It's an Ethos: Lou Lamoriello played a little Back to the Future by acquiring former Devil Brian Rolston this off-season - Rolston, the most sought after free agent, summarily sprained his ankle and was ineffective for most of the season. His contract was an almost necessary gamble, but much like Michael Nylander's of Washington, it may be a difficult one from which to recover - due to the fact that Rolston was over 35 when his contract was signed, the Devils are on the hook for his cap hit even if he is not on the roster.

We Come Back and Cut Off Your Johnson: The Devils only have 16 returning players, but will pay out 44.6 million dollars in salary - the salary cap may indeed claim their Johnson. And stomp on it and squish it. 2009-10 is even worse - $40 million committed to 12 players means likely 10 million to the remaining 8, or some difficult cuts.

2009-10 Projected Lines

Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner
Elias-Zubrus-Rolston
Pandolfo-?-Clarkson
Leblond-?-?

Martin-?
White-Mottau
Greene-Salvador

Brodeur
?

How The Whole Durned Human Comedy Keeps Perpetuating Itself: RW/LW Nicklas Bergfors has been germinating for four years in the minor leagues, and last season was by far his best. He will surely carve out a spot here for himself. Center Rod Pelley played 66 games for New Jersey in 2007-08 and may fill the fourth line vacancy left by Bobby Holik - that's a lot of bad penalties to take. RW Vladimir Zharkov was +23 for the Lowell Devils, so clearly he's no pushover. On defense, Matthew Corrente was New Jersey's 1st round pick in 2006 and had a successful pro debut. Do not rule out Lou Lamoriello signing someone out of Europe to possibly make the Devils - he did so with Johnny Oduya and less successfully with Anssi Salmela last season.

Trades

New Jersey has a lot of long-term deals and a lot of no-trade clauses. It is unlikely they get anything done.

Free Agents

Money To Spend: 12 million
Holes To Fill: 5

Center


Manny Malhotra (4/10) - Malhotra wins faceoffs, scores a few goals, he's the kind of player the Devils have traditionally loved.
Dominic Moore (4/9.5) - Another ex-Ranger castoff, Moore made himself into an assist man last season, posting 32 - his previous career-high was 12.
Sami Pahlsson (3/6.5) - Checking-line centerman has only scored more than 10 goals once in his career, but does the 'little things' right. Problem is, he does the big things wrong - a career -44 has to make teams wary.

4th Line Center

Blair Betts (3/3.5) - Sam Rosen wakes up with bile in his throat at the thought of Blair Betts leaving the Rangers - Betts is a valued, uh, item for the Rangers that really ties the team together. His work has also been commended as being strongly vaginal - he had only 8 minor penalties last season.
Todd Marchant (2/2) - A million f'ing clams for the speed demon who can still kill some penalties.
Scott Nichol (2/1.6) - Feisty centerman has struggled with injuries but is always willing to drop the gloves.

Defensemen

Mike Komisarek (5/25) - Komisarek has the things that general managers unfortunately love - enormous bodies and physical prowess. While these things are important, so is offensive ability, which Komisarek possess little.
Mattias Ohlund (3/13) - Ohlund may be headed elsewhere if the whole Team Sweden thing falls apart in Vancouver - his consistency is something no doubt prized by Lou Lamoriello, although given what happened with Rolston, he will likely get in a fight with the chief of police of Malibu and be sidelined for three months.
Jaroslav Spacek (3/11) - Spacek has 73 goals in 701 NHL games, and plenty of assists to boot. Newark will likely look like Hawaii to a man used to the Buffalo skyline. 3 years and 11 million dollars may be wishful thinking compared to what Roman Hamrlik is being paid, but the NHL is not always particularly good at valuing talent.
Johnny Oduya (4/14) - Oduya is a fabulous skater and has learned how to play in the defensive zone. Only power play prowess keeps him from getting a $5 million per contract - he is a +48 the past two seasons.
Francois Beauchemin (3/10) - Beauchemin only recorded 1 assist in the 33 games he played this past season, but he's got a Stanley Cup ring and plays a ton of minutes. While almost certainly not a superstar, he is less likely to implode than players like Spacek and Ohlund.

Goalie

The Devils need a backup goalie, although that position could've probably been filled by anyone breathing over the last few seasons. Martin Brodeur should play a maximum of 70 games - if he stays healthy, this likely will not happen.

Conclusion

The Devils were a minute or so away from facing Washington in the second round - their season should not be regarded as an utter failure. They don't really have room to add very much in the off-season, but they've still got one of the best goalies in the game and a young superstar in Zach Parise. That alone should keep them in the playoffs next season, regardless of who coaches the team.

Outlook

Between the years of 1995 and 2004, there were 5 Stanley Cup Champions - New Jersey, Colorado, Detroit, Dallas, and Tampa Bay. Colorado and Tampa Bay are terrible and Dallas missed the playoffs this past season. New Jersey has had better luck with prospects than Colorado, Tampa, or Dallas, but they are certainly no Detroit; the Devils are a playoff team for now, with the chance to go far. However, with loads of veteran contracts on the books and not much in the system at present, it will likely be a struggle to make the playoffs in a few seasons, and their decline may look like that of Colorado and Dallas.



The New York Rangers - Not The Only Large, Unwieldy New York Based Organization To Completely Underestimate The Possibility of Failure

Rangers Prolegomena - A Tiny Essay On Shooting Percentage

The Rangers were last in the NHL in shooting percentage, and it was not even close - they registered a pathetic 7.5%, whereas the next closest team scored an 8.1%. An increase of .6% would've yielded 16 more goals over the 82 game schedule. The Rangers offset this (somewhat) by taking a ton of shots - they were 7th in the league in shots on goal. In the middle of this is Scott Gomez, possibly one of the worst shooters in the league - his shooting % of 7.7 is near the bottom of the league for forwards who play an offensive role. Gomez often tries incredibly low-percentage shots in order to create rebounds - some of those bad 'shots' no doubt result in assists for him and goals for his team.

Normally one would think this is just a fluke and that the Rangers could score 30 or 40 more goals next season, but their top three centers are not tremendous shooters by any stretch - We've already covered Gomez, but Brandon Dubinsky also has a 7.6% career percentage and his hands are one of the few things keeping him from being a bona fide star in the future. Chris Drury may have a 12% career shooting percentage, but that was buoyed by playing in Buffalo; remove those and he's at 10.7%, which is exactly what the Rangers have gotten from him these past two seasons. Recall that shooting percentage is, in itself, not a skill - Chris Drury is still a strong player and worth having on one's team. However, none of the current Rangers are particularly adept at filling the net regularly, and it shows on the team's shooting percentages, both career and otherwise. Glen Sather's master plan seems to have been that Scott Gomez could waken the sleeping sticks on his team, but that plan has certainly not come to pass.



Whither Nikolai Zherdev? Zherdev and John Tortorella did not see eye to eye, and his minutes were reduced down the stretch. It is certainly possible that the Rangers may non-tender their second leading scorer in hopes to acquire something better. Zherdev is a tremendous talent but he appears to lack the finish to justify his lengthy swoons in effort.

Whither Wade Redden? It is a very remote possibility that Wade Redden could be waived. Redden's play was horrid under former coach Tom Renney, but seemed to improve under the new coach, enough that Glen Sather will likely hold off on something so drastic. Were he waived, he almost certainly could not be called back up during the season - the Rangers would have to replace his minutes.

Wow, The Rangers Are In A Bad Spot: The Rangers clearly went with an aggressive free-agent strategy in hopes that the salary cap would continue rising. With a constantly rising salary cap, it would have been possible to salvage bad contracts (e.g. Avery) from teams that needed them gone, plus they could have been one of the few teams to spend up to the salary cap each year. In an increasing salary cap world, bad contracts ostensibly get better because they take up less of a % of a team's salary cap. Now that the salary cap will come down, the Rangers are stuck with four albatrosses - Drury, Gomez, Roszival, and Redden are nowhere near elite at their position, but they are all being paid close to elite money. The Rangers are thus a thoroughly average team.

2009-10 Projected Lines

?-Gomez-Zherdev
Avery-Drury-Callahan
Sjostrom-Dubinsky-?
Voros-Korpikoski-?

Staal-Girardi
Redden-Roszival
?-?

Lundqvist
Valiquette

Future Watch: Artem Anisimov scored 37 goals as a 20 year old in the AHL - it is hard to believe he won't be in a Rangers uniform next season. Defenseman Bob Sanguinetti showed offensive prowess in his first pro season, and right behind him is Michael Del Zotto who scored a point a game in the OHL. The Rangers' future took a serious hit with the unfortunate death of Alexei Cherepanov.

Trades

The Rangers have a lot of bad, unmovable contracts. If they get creative like Anaheim, maybe they package some prospects and bad contracts for good ones, but they don't have very much cap space at the moment. Larry Brooks suggested today that the Rangers might acquire Dany Healtey, but this appears to be an opium-induced dream.

Free Agent Discussion

Money to Spend: 8.4 million
Holes To Fill: 5

Even if the Rangers put Anisimov and Sanguinetti on the roster, their contracts add an extra 1.65 million to the Rangers' bottom line, and means they have 6.8 million to spend on the remaining 3 players. This leaves little money for an elite-level signing, and it's difficult to see how the Rangers can jigger their roster to allow for one. Even taking Zherdev off the roster, they still have to fill the hole he leaves with something comparable in price (e.g. Brian Gionta).

Left Wing

Two cheap options:

Taylor Pyatt (3/5.5) - Pyatt has always had the 'look' of a power forward without the finish. While there's more than enough NHL history to suggest that Taylor Pyatt will never be better than a 3rd line LW, there's also the one season where he scored 23 goals - doing that as a 6'4" 230 pound player will have NHL GMs pounding down your doors 10 years later.
Janne Pesonen (2/2.3) - Pesonen led the Finnish League in goals and points in 2008, but in his debut stateside he could not crack the Pittsburgh Penguins roster. He did manage over a point a game for their AHL affiliate, and may be the kind of Jan Hlavac-style place holder who scores 15 goals and 25 assists.

More expensive:

Nikolai Antropov (4/15) - Antropov did everything that he was expected to as a Ranger. He's got scoring touch around the net, and while he's the sort of player that always leaves fans expecting more, it's not unreasonable that he could fill this hole.

Right Wing

Joel Ward (3/6) - Sather already acquired Aaron Ward and Jason Ward as GM of the Rangers - why not Joel?
Chris Neil (2/3.6) - The Rangers need someone to fight Avery's battles - Neil can also play a bit as well.
Mark Recchi (1/1.8) - Veteran presence may help power play.
Brendan Shanahan (1/1.5) - Ditto.


Defensemen

Paul Mara (2/4) - Paul Mara was re-signed last off-season for one year by Sather; it's hard to tell if it's Mara on double-secret probation from the GM, or if Mara is trying to regain the touch that had him score 42 and 47 points in consecutive seasons; regardless, few players Mara's age sign one-year deals. Mara is prone to terrible penalties but there's nothing he does particularly poorly besides that.
Martin Skoula (2/3) - Skoula is the kind of defenseman the Rangers love - he's got supposedly good puck moving ability, even though this has never really manifested itself.
Mathieu Dandenault (1/1) - Dandenault would make a valuable place-holder for a deadline acquisition. The Rangers suffered almost no injuries last season and got away with playing rookies when the need arose; they will need more depth this season. While Dandenault may not be the guy, they certainly need a player who can play 30 or 40 games without being a disaster.

Conclusion

The Rangers really missed the boat not signing Marian Hossa this past off-season. Instead they came back with Wade Redden, which is a lot like getting an endless supply of Chunkys and Mary Janes on Halloween. They're bland and no one will trade with you. The Rangers do have some impressive looking prospects which should keep their team fresh, but they failed to replace Jaromir Jagr's production this past season and it's hard to see them doing so again this season. With the salary cap set to decrease, they will have an even more difficult time acquiring an elite-level player besides Henrik Lundqvist.

Outlook

An impressive young defensive corps will keep the Rangers' mediocre offense hovering between making and missing the playoffs for the next few seasons.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New York Islanders - Party On, Garth!

(Editor's Note: I know the New Jersey Devils come next alphabetically but I wish to do an in-depth study for them that requires a lot of research - expect it early next week.)


A Yawn That Swallows The Whole World: The famed French poet Baudelaire said that was the definition of 'ennui'. It's also a good summation of how NHL fans feel about the New York Islanders, who are bad now, will likely remain bad in the future, who play in the NHL equivalent of a housing project, and have a former goalie turned GM still piloting the team.

Mark Streit Might Have The Best Contract In the NHL: Mark Streit flourished on Long Island, ending up as a plus player on a rotten team, while playing an absolute ton. He should score less goals next season, but that shouldn't take away from his ability - he is a top defender in the NHL.

2009-10 Projected Lines

?-Weight-Hunter
Bergenheim-Bailey-Okposo
Park-Nielsen-Comeau
Tambellini-Thompson-Jackman

Streit-Witt
Martinek-Sutton
Meyer-Gervais

DiPietro
?

Boy, There's An Opening On The Top Line: If John Tavares wishes to come to Long Island, he just may fill that spot.

Free Agent Discussion

Money Available: 13 million
Holes To Fill: 2

Thoughts: The Islanders have lots of money to spend, and they have to hit the NHL's salary floor, which is right now at 40.7 million. Although this blog has not been counting bonus money, bonus money does count towards the salary floor; the Islanders will likely be paying out as much as 4 million in bonuses, so they only have to spend around 5 million to hit the floor. They may be a dumpster for bad contracts, picking up valuable assets along the way. Another addition like Streit is in order as well - Alex Tanguay is a possibility, Nikolai Antropov another; both players have had up-and-down careers and may only find the kind of money they are seeking from second-division clubs.

Conclusion: The Islanders' third-highest paid player is Alexei Yashin, which sums up the team quite nicely. GM Garth Snow has actually done a not-terrible job in putting together the Islanders, and while they are almost certainly a last place team, there's room to grow. As long as the Islanders do not botch this rebuilding attempt, they should be a playoff team in 3 or 4 years. However, the Islanders have traditionally been outstanding at bungling rebuilding attempts, and the payoff might not come until the Islanders are uprooted to Kansas City.

The Detroit Red Wings - A Day Late And Now A Dollar Short

Detroit Prolegomena - Taking A Cue From the Islanders

One would think that the most successful franchise of the last 15 years would not emulate the least successful franchise over that span, but the salary cap is, as Chris Farley put it in Dirty Work, an odd duck. The facts, however, are plain: The Detroit Red Wings, as well as other clubs, have decided that extremely long-term contracts are beneficial both for players and teams. The Islanders were the first to hit upon this idea, signing promising young goalie Rick DiPietro to a 15 year deal, a deal that prompted howls of laughter from journalists around the hockey world. Rick's injury trouble and poor play have kept the laughter unbroken, but the idea has legs; since then, four players have signed incredibly long-term deals, two of them Red Wings. GM Ken Holland signed Henrik Zetterberg to a 12 year/72 million dollar pact and Johan Franzen to an 11 year/44 million dollar deal. Both happened during the season, which suggests that this stellar negotiator was responsible.

Buoying these deals are two one-million dollar seasons for Franzen and Zetterberg at the very ends of the contract - Franzen will be 38, Zetterberg 39 when these million dollar seasons kick in. Each will of course still have their full cap hit for these seasons. It is difficult to imagine either of these players actually playing these seasons - but the deals are truly brilliant in two senses. First, Zetterberg and Franzen receive almost all of their money in the first seasons of the deal, but thanks to these two seasons at the end of each, their cap hit is reduced throughout the contract. Furthermore, when their cap hit begins to exceed their salary by a great deal (and likely their performance too), they will only be making $1 million per season, and will probably retire instead of playing for that sum. If they do want to play out their entire contract, odds are that Ken Holland will be forced to demote them to the minor leagues - in 2019/20, Franzen and Zetterberg will be making 2 million dollars, but taking up 10 million dollars of the Wings' cap. Now here's where the magic comes in: someone will almost certainly acquire them if they get waived! The league will always have a few sickly franchises that would prefer to have a large cap hit for a small amount of performance, if that cap hit happens to involve a low salary being paid out. Even if not: Detroit's economy is unstable, and if the city never recovers, it's possible that the Red Wings would no longer be a top spending NHL squad. As a result, Zetterberg and Franzen's contracts might stay on the books, providing a money-saving solution for a frugal team. Any way you slice these contracts, Ken Holland came out way ahead; even if both Zetterberg and Franzen develop injury problems later in their careers, he's managed to keep together as much of an NHL dynasty as possible in this salary cap era, and has ensured that the Red Wings will remain near the head of the pack in the NHL for the near-future.

Detroit Salaries


Do People Really Think Hossa Can Come Back? Michael Farber of SI reported that Hossa had signed a long-term deal that would not be reported until the end of the season. However, the team already has 57 million in salary committed for next season, and they lack a backup goalie. It would be a major stretch to think that the Wings could afford Hossa - Hossa is likely gone to the highest bidder.

Are All The Red Wing Players Idiots? The Red Wings seem to underpay all of their players, and beyond that, they get them to agree to money up front deals, e.g. Kris Draper. Draper has a cap hit of 1.583 million but in 2010/11 his actual salary will only be 1.2 million. It's likely that he's no longer a Red Wing in 2010/11, either playing for some minor league team or a team not particularly interested in winning.

Will Lidstrom Retire In A Year? Only Nicklas Lidstrom knows that - but playing the playoffs with a ruptured testicle might influence his decision. Lidstrom has been rumored to return to Sweden since he stepped into the league almost 20 years ago. If he retires, regardless of what the Wings fill that hole with, it will not be as good as Nicklas Lidstrom, who certainly has a case for being the NHL's greatest defenseman of all time behind Bobby Orr.


2009-10 Projected Lines

Holmstrom-Datsyuk-Leino
Zetterberg-Hudler-Cleary
Franzen-Filppula-Helm
Maltby-Draper-Abdelkader

Lidstrom-Rafalski
Stuart-Kronwall
Ericsson-Lebda

Osgood
?

None Of Those Players Are Right Wings: No, they aren't. The Wings are almost certain to lose Mikael Samuelsson and the aforementioned Hossa. The Wings always have an answer to everything so they will no doubt be able to train Darren Helm to shoot right-handed and it will be an improvement.

Okay, But Seriously: It's unclear how the Wings solve this problem. They can certainly move players to the off-wing, but which ones?

Trades

The Wings likely have to make a cost-cutting move somewhere. The most obvious would be Brad Stuart, a player that has been overrated since his selection as the 3rd overall pick in 1998. Stuart was compared to Scott Stevens, but this year he played more like Kevin Stevens after being caught with a prostitute. He clearly has skills but isn't worth the $3.75 million/season the Wings are paying him. Jiri Hudler could also be shipped out, as he is due for a large raise and is arbitration-eligible - with centers in high demand throughout the NHL, Hudler could net a team's best or second-best prospect in return.

Free Agent Discussion

With the Wings lacking money, they really can't afford to sign anyone. Tomas Kopecky could be brought back, but that is about all, barring some massive unforseen trade. The Wings require a backup goalie - they may promote prospect Jimmy Howard, or find someone who can capably play goal for around a million dollars a year.

Conclusion: The Red Wings are the league's best drafters, and as a result they usually have the best team. Even with their brutal Stanley Cup Finals loss, they will still be the favorites to win it all next year. The young players they have now don't look to have the upside of a Datsyuk or Zetterberg, but they will be solid 2nd and 3rd line contributors in a few years time. The only thing that could slow down the Wings' reign of terror is if Lidstrom retires - his retirement will expose Brian Rafalski and severely weaken what has traditionally been the best defensive corps in hockey. Regardless, the Wings will almost certainly be one of the NHL's best teams for the next five years at the very least - it's hard to imagine them not winning another Stanley Cup in that time.