it just me or is something seriously wrong with this NHL off season? OK –
so I’ve (almost) gotten over seeing my beloved Oilers lose to Carolina in Game 7
of the finals, yet there’s a new aura of mystique skating its way around the
league. I go through days and nights checking the free agent trackers and
wonder out loud “what’s going on?” Surely I can’t be the only one?
seen more movement in the first week of free agency than we saw at the last
three trading deadlines combined. I’m hearing players say they didn’t want to
leave their existing teams (a few of them reduced to tears as they said it),
they would have taken less money to stay, yet are excited for the opportunity
elsewhere and were looking at the bottom line – they need a job next season.
The business side of the game rears its ugly head yet again – and with the
advent of the new salary cap era it’s only become more intriguing.
course, what we’re seeing here is nothing new to fans of the NFL and NBA,
two sports operating under a cap system for some time now. We all know the
“only one team can win the sacred trophy” story. The one team both lucky enough
and skilled enough to win it all will try as much as possible to retain the core
of the championship, and the rest of the league will scramble to catch up. I
expected movement to come yet never in a million years did I expect every summer
to see an overhauled league.
Looking at all the movement and free agent signings it appears the only team
willing to stay the course with most of their team is the Stanley Cup Champion
Carolina Hurricanes (there I said it), but even they’ve lost two key players in
their goalie Martin Gerber (Ottawa) and Doug Weight (St. Louis). Given the
playoff Cam Ward had it’s easy to see how and why Gerber was expendable, but
Weight was instrumental in the Canes’ run to the Cup, at least up until he
injured his shoulder. So far, it’s hard to imagine Carolina not making another
run for it. Weight has been replaced by Trevor Letowski and the main components
of the team we just saw hoisting the Cup remain. Of course, 29 other teams will
have something to say about whether or not they repeat as champs.
the other side of the ledger, the Edmonton Oilers are having a rough time
even forming a roster for next season, let alone trying to retain some key
names. Just minutes removed from the losing end of Game 7, Chris Pronger
quietly requested a trade, citing personal reasons. Of course as always the
media jumped on this story quicker than he can one-time the puck. So not only
did Kevin Lowe have to worry about which free agent players to make qualifying
offers to and which ones to give a golden handshake to, he now had to contend
with the fact his #1 defenseman wanted out. The trade to Anaheim for Joffrey
Lupul, Ladislav Smid and draft picks was inevitable, but also seemed to take the
focus away from more pressing issues. For a short time I thought Pronger would
go to St. Louis for Doug Weight, but given how the fans at Rexall Place booed
him during the finals I wonder if he would even report to training camp. While
it’s true Lowe has been able to retain two of the most important parts of the
playoff run in goaltender Dwayne Roloson, and sniper Fernando Pisani, he was
unable to convince Jaroslav Spacek (Buffalo) or big Georges Laraque (Phoenix) to
sign on the dotted line. To make matters worse, Zdeno Chara was apparently
offered $7 million a season but he ended up in Boston. Dick Tarnstrom also
seems to be thinking long and hard about whether to play in Edmonton or in
Sweden. Perhaps this was part of the thinking behind the signing of Daniel
Tjarnqvist, a fellow countryman and Gold Medalist to boot. My thinking is at
least the goaltender is locked in for 3 years, barring any family matters.
Whether or not the torch can be passed on to some of the younger prospects
remains to be seen. I can’t imagine Lowe sitting tight much longer, but then
again he’s cleared up so much cap room it’s getting ridiculous. Did I mention
Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll and Ales Hemsky are all looking at arbitration? Hey
Kevin, Teppo Numminen is an unrestricted free agent…
Pronger now roosting in Anaheim, the Ducks, new shortened name and new logo
and all may just have the best one-two punch on defense with Scott Niedermayer
on the other side. How is Randy Carlyle going to distribute the ice time
without keeping one of them under 30 minutes? I’m glad I’m not the coach, but
I’ll tell you one thing – if it wasn’t already, the Ducks’ power play just
became a lethal weapon. I wonder about the design of the new uniform – there
must be plenty of Toronto Blue Jays fans in Mickey Mouse land.
don’t mean to pick on Colorado, but remember last year I predicted they’d
miss the playoffs? Well even though I was wrong, this year I’m guaranteeing
it. Jose Theodore in net, no Rob Blake, no Alex Tanguay? Most importantly, no
Pierre Lacroix! Oh yeah, Joe Sakic is back for one more year, but he is only
one player and he isn’t getting any younger. Somehow, the general manager sees
something Chicago and Ottawa couldn’t see in Tyler Arnason. For the Avalanche’s
sake I hope the training staff has stocked up on enough propecia to go around.
Another team I’m predicting will either miss the playoffs or go out in the
first round (again) is Detroit, as funny as it sounds. It seems the team has
told Manny Legace they’re going in a different direction (and what’s most
surprising is not one of the remaining 29 teams has so much as made a phone
call). As for the number one goaltending job, it will either go to Ed Belfour
or Dominik Hasek (if they’ll have him back). Given the age and injury woes of
both over the past couple of years don’t expect much from the Wings. This is
further complicated by Steve Yzerman’s recent (and proper) decision to hang up
the skates after what has been a fine NHL career. It’s also not certain if
Brendan Shanahan will return. At least they still have iron man Chris Chelios
who will probably skate until he’s 65, and Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.
I guess the only question is, which one gets to wear the “C”?
the battle of Alberta wasn’t already heated enough, expect it to reach
another level this season. The Calgary Flames were expected to build upon their
2004 Stanley Cup run, but couldn’t score enough to get them past the first
round. Recognizing this, the Flames have added some scoring power to support
Jarome Iginla, and some exciting young prospects to carry the torch when the
stars either move on or retire. Alex Tanguay and Jeff Friesen both give both a
veteran presence and more scoring. With the addition of Andrei Zyuzin from
Minnesota, an already strong defense is solidified. Jamie McLennan will step in
when needed to give Miikka Kiprusoff a rest now and again. And don’t think for
a second nobody noticed their first round draft pick was also a goaltender, (WHL)
Everett’s Leland Irving. With the Flames and Oilers both getting so close to
glory you can bet the eight games these two play against each other will be the
most meaningful in two decades. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them clash in the
post season again? I guess I’d better be careful what I wish for.
After missing the playoffs by the skin of their teeth last season, John
Ferguson Jr. of the Toronto Maple Leafs wants to make sure it doesn’t happen
again (and probably knows he’ll be solely to blame if it does), so he’s done
everything possible to right the ship, starting with the hiring of Paul Maurice
as head coach, and almost a complete overhaul of the team (at least by Toronto’s
standards). In a move that surprised even me, the Leafs bought out tough guy
Tie Domi, and not so surprisingly decided not to pick up the option year on Ed
Belfour. A trade on draft day sent Andrew Raycroft from Beantown to the Big
Smoke. After it seemed like it would never happen, top defenceman Bryan McCabe
was inked to a multi-year contract. Not long after Tampa Bay’s Pavel Kubina
accepted a four year deal and Boston’s Hal Gill signed a three year term. Talk
is cheap, but the Leafs apparently aren’t done. Any day now expect Michael Peca
to sign a free agent contract, and the Big E. may be back too. Anson Carter is
rumored to be in negotiations with Ferguson as well. The scariest move for me
is the new coaching staff. Expect a new attitude from the Buds this year. All
this change almost makes them likeable again. Before you check my temperature,
I said almost.
John Muckler kept an eye on his provincial rivals at work, he knew he had to
do something about his goaltending dilemma. With all due respect to Ray Emery,
the Ottawa Senators have for years lacked the bona fide number one goalie.
While Emery may still end up being the man down the road, this team needs to get
over the proverbial hump and now. But is Martin Gerber really the answer?
Sure, he had almost an identical regular season to Hasek and Emery combined, but
like Hasek disappeared when it counted most. Luckily for Carolina it didn’t
cost them, but in Ottawa we all know the story. Losing Zdeno Chara to Boston
hurt big time (pun intended). Wade Redden is coming back for Chris Pronger-like
salary, and they need him dearly. A nice move was getting Joe Corvo from Los
Angeles. Finally the Senators may have the power play specialist they’ve been
missing ever since Steve Duchesne was traded for Christer Olsson (who played a
whole 25 games before bolting to Sweden). The top line of Daniel Alfredsson,
Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza is staying put for another year, but Martin Havlat
appears to be commanding more money and a longer contract than Ottawa is willing
to offer. It’s the Yashin and Hossa syndrome all over again. Expect him to be
traded, either to New Jersey (talk is Patrick Elias would like to play with him)
or to a Western Conference team. For the rest of the restricted free agents,
there won’t be a whole lot of cap space left, but owner Eugene Melnyk has
apparently given the green light to max out the payroll if necessary. History
has shown the rest of management would rather not – but if they want to continue
building towards a Stanley Cup they may not have much of a choice.
team making the most splash this off season is the Vancouver Canucks.
Another team needing a goaltender got one, as they traded Todd Bertuzzi and all
of his baggage along with mediocre goalie Alex Auld to Florida for Roberto
Luongo. Historically Luongo has performed best when the spotlight is on him
(think back to the semi-final game of the 2004 World Cup and previous IIHF World
Championships). For whatever reason, he just didn’t work out in a Panther
uniform. Now he emerges in what is almost as wild a hockey market as Toronto,
with huge expectations to take the Canucks to the next level. It isn’t going to
be easy, however, but they did manage to hang on to Mary Kate and Ashley, er I
mean, the Sedin twins, and they were able to secure Willie Mitchell to replace
the departed Ed Jovanovski (Phoenix). It remains to be seen how Markus Naslund
will play now without his buddy Bertuzzi on his wing, but he is as professional
as they come. One thing Vancouver has is a lot of depth on the forward lines,
whatever they can’t acquire through free agency or trade they should be able to
call up from Manitoba. Let’s not also forget the Canucks, like Toronto, will
have a new coaching staff.
the land of le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge, it’s business as usual. The Montreal
Canadiens are going with a formula that came very close to pulling off the first
round upset of the year (imagine if the Hurricanes didn’t have the guts to put
Cam Ward in net in Game 3?). Bob Gainey will resume his front office duties and
step away from behind the bench to allow Guy Carboneau to coach this team back
to glory. There’s talk Kirk Muller may join him as one of the assistants.
Cristobal Huet, with a full season to play should challenge Kiprusoff and the
best of them for the Vezina trophy, provided he can stay healthy. The question
is was Huet a one hit wonder? Fans in Los Angeles will tell us definitely not.
The Habs have brought back many familiar faces and surprisingly enough haven’t
had to spend a lot of money to do it. Perhaps this year we’ll get to see Corey
Locke and Guillaume Latendresse finally get their shot at the big league. You
won’t see too many of the players who played smaller roles come back, guys like
Raitis Ivanans and Pierre Dagenais weren’t given qualifying offers, but for the
most part this team should be more or less the same as it was last year. It’s
hard to say if David Aebischer will be back, but Yann Danis is no slouch.
worst to first? If John Davidson has his way, the St. Louis Blues will be
an exciting team to watch going forward. With new owner Dave Checketts and J.D.
at the helm, the Blues may need to change their name as they are expected to do
anything but sing the blues – on paper. Doug Weight couldn’t resist leaving a
Stanley Cup winner to be reunited with his former Oilers and Team U.S.A. buddy
Bill Guerin. Will they still have enough chemistry to lead the charge? If not,
here’s hoping Jay McKee can fill the void on defense missing since Pronger
left. Petr Cajanek, Dallas Drake, Ryan Johnson and Matt Walker will be back,
and Dan Hinote should be at least a 20 goal man. I was surprised the Blues
didn’t make a pitch for goaltender Ty Conklin, another fixture on the national
team, but there is talk they are going for a big name. Although they haven’t
contacted him yet, maybe Manny Legace is the guy? Reinhard Divis could be back,
but is also unrestricted and is far from being the go to guy. Legace, Mike
Dunham, Brian Boucher, Martin Prusek and Hasek – these are the only unrestricted
goalies left, provided Belfour signs with Detroit. I smell a blockbuster trade
there’s any team in salary cap trouble, the Tampa Bay Lightning is it.
After signing three players to almost half of what the cap allows, the Bolts are
scrambling to form somewhat of a roster around Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St.
Louis and Brad Richards. This means they had to say goodbye to John Grahame
(Carolina, oddly enough) and Pavel Kubina (Toronto) and say hello to cheaper
talent like Filip Kuba, Marc Denis and Doug Janik. Ruslan Fedotenko will be
back. A mere fraction of the Stanley Cup winning team of a few years ago, Tampa
Bay may play second fiddle to their cross state rivals in Sunrise before long.
There are a few familiar names heading back to the NHL this year after a
brief exile overseas during the lockout. Defenseman Karel Rachunek will return
to the New York Rangers after spending some time in the Czech Elite League.
Forward Glen Metropolit returns from Switzerland and signs on with Atlanta, as
does Goaltender Fred Brathwaite (Russia), and Left Winger Jason Krog (Europe).
Nikita Alexeev is returning to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and draft pick Evgeni
Malkin should finally make his way over to play for Pittsburgh.
know I’ve just talked at length about a mere fraction of the 30 NHL teams,
but the main theme is obvious – teams can no longer afford to load up with
superstars and are forced to form a competitive roster under the parameters of
the new salary cap. Sure, market value goes up for some players, but at the end
of the day, general managers and agents alike have to fit them within the
system. My understanding is this off season will see a record number of players
go to arbitration; many will be in vain as they will have to just accept the
fact the team they represent just can’t meet their demands and expect to fit
within their salary structure. What we’ve seen so far is just the beginning.
With all the movement we’ll see this year and years to come, die hard fans may
find themselves becoming casual hockey fans, unable to watch one team
exclusively because they can’t identify with their favorite stars anymore,
unless they change their allegiances. The dynasty team as we had come to know
it, may never exist ever again. For me it’s both an exciting and frustrating
time, but if the evolution of the game is better for it, then bring it on!
FUTURES & MORE…
Well, no real surprise this year to the annual award winners, but I do have
an issue with one – the Lester B. Pearson award – given to the player judged
most valuable to the league as voted on by his peers. Jaromir Jagr was the
winner this year. OK, so he may have garnered the most votes, but I have a
question – why? If you take away the magical season he had in New York, how do
you vote for a player who just two years prior up and quit on the game he
supposedly loves and on the team who was signing his paycheck? I kept hearing
all season long how the lockout year allowed him an opportunity to go play in
Siberia and gain a new perspective of the game and appreciation for the sport,
and for all intents and purposes changed his outlook on the game and allowed him
to be a better person both on and off the ice. Baloney. I won’t deny him the
experience as a positive one, and I won’t deny him the fantastic year he had,
but for years we all knew he had it in him – so why now and not before? I
obviously am not a player and don’t have a vote, so maybe I’m reading too much
into it. I guess for better or for worse Jaromir Jagr is a force to be reckoned
with in the NHL – or I guess at the very least we shall see. I for one still
have a lasting memory of him quitting on Pittsburgh and demanding a trade and
then doing the same in Washington. How does one year away from the NHL change
one’s perspective so drastically? Mr. Jagr – you have some explaining to do.
for the rest of the awards, congratulations to Joe Thornton for the Hart
(and Art Ross), Miikka Kiprusoff for winning the Vezina and Jennings, Alexander
Ovechkin for the Calder, Rod Brind’Amour for the Selke, and to Nicklas Lidstrom
for yet another Norris.
mentioned before the NHL entry draft was a little weaker this year, but as
always there were a few diamonds in the rough chosen in the first round. As
always here is my take on the top five potential NHL stars as well as a few
notables to watch out for.
Louis, forever in the rebuilding phase, decided against trading the first
pick and drafted Erik Johnson from the U.S. under-18 program. He will attend a
college program this year, but scouts say he is better at 18 than Chris Pronger.
If this turns out to be true the Blues are on their way.
Sutters are being reincarnated in a big way, and with a new name – Staal.
Of course Eric Staal won the Stanley Cup this season, Marc Staal was drafted
last year, and this year Jordan Staal was drafted 2nd overall by the
Pittsburgh Penguins. The youngest of four brothers, Jared Staal, was an OHL
priority pick of the Sudbury Wolves, so look for him in years to come. With
Jordan, this is potentially four first round draft picks the Pens could have in
their lineup when the season starts – Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni
Malkin, and Staal. Jordan is almost a mirror image of brother Eric, and both
now hold the distinction of being the highest drafted brothers since Pierre and
draft as a whole saw a lot more players picked from the NCAA and WCHA than
ever before. This speaks volumes about the college program in the U.S. and is
good news in general to the sport as a whole. The Chicago Blackhawks picked the
highest University prospect as they went with Centre Jonathan Toews from the
University of North Dakota. I for one figure more hockey exposure in America
can’t be a bad thing. Toews is touted as a complete player and a born leader –
something Chicago could really use.
Washington Capitals had Alexander Ovechkin announce their first round
selection, Centre Nicklas Backstrom, fourth overall. Scouts compare him to a
young Peter Forsberg. If he ends up being half as good I’m not sure much more
needs to be said.
was rated the top prospect going into this past season, but obviously his
stock fell a little bit after a sub par season for the University of Minnesota.
But the Boston Bruins at this point don’t care. They now hold the rights to
Phil Kessel, arguably one of the best pure scorers in the entire draft, and they
make him their highest pick since big Joe back in 1997. They already let one
fish get away (or to be exact a Shark), you can be sure they won’t make the same
few more notable picks – Columbus drafted Derick Brassard 6th
overall from Drummondville of the QMJHL. The thinking is he could potentially
centre a line with Gilbert Brule and Rick Nash, a very explosive line to say the
least if it materializes.
Angeles picked the first goaltender in the draft 11th overall –
Jonathan Bernier of QMJHL’s Lewiston. It’s the first time since Jamie Storr was
picked 7th overall in 1994 the Kings get the top ranked goalie.
They’ve given a few of those away lately (Huet anyone?)
love this story – the New York Rangers draft Bobby Sanguinetti 21st
overall. Bobby played junior hockey for the OHL’s Owen Sound, but is originally
a local New York kid who used to accompany his father at Rangers games –
including a few during the 1994 Stanley Cup run. When Owen Sound came calling
he had a big decision to make, either go play there or go to University
locally. Well the move to Owen Sound paid off, and now the player who went to
more Rangers games than he can count as a kid will be playing for them. Talk
about living the dream.
Chalk one up for Bobby Clarke – he drafted “whatshisname” – aka Claude
Giroux. By the way, Bob, just thought you might like to know Giroux won the
QMJHL’s rookie scoring title last season with 103 points for the Gatineau
Olympiques – good enough for 11th overall in the league. He is
compared to Doug Gilmour in the sense he demonstrates a similar heart, vision
and dedication to the game.
While the Sudbury Wolves will be busy turning Jared Staal into a future NHL
star, they may have produced another in Nick Foligno, brother of former NHLer
Mike Foligno. Ottawa drafted him 28th overall, and could give the
Senators a whole new dimension of tough, but then again, the Senators aren’t
exactly lacking in toughness, they’re lacking in heart in my humble opinion.
Time will tell if this draft pick will pay dividends for the Sens or for another
team by way of a trade.
always you can check out the whole list of NHL prospects at the nhl.com
AHL is paving the road to mandatory visors next season as every player will
be required to wear protective face shields. Depending on how well this goes
over, expect something similar to go down in the NHL before long.
taken a whole year, but if you’re interested in viewing the Collective
Bargaining Agreement in all its glory, check it out at nhl.com. I will say this
– it’s an interesting read if you have some time on your hands. I just wonder
how close to the real thing this actually is and what omissions, if any, have
been made. Furthermore, why did it take so long to make the document public? I
don’t think we’ll ever know.
We’re all but two weeks into the summer but it’s already heating up both on
and off the ice. Keep checking back for more periodically – you know the name –
Adam Hill – and I’m always Puckin’ Around – ready, willing and able to talk
hockey – even when there’s a heat wave outside.