Sep 162005
 

Off-season activity: The 2003/04 NHL season abundantly displayed the holes in their roster that Edmonton needed to fill: a starting goaltender, a number one centreman, and a mobile, puck-moving defenceman. In the two off-seasons that have followed, they’ve made half-fearted attempts to fill all these roles. The starting goaltender duties in 03-04 were split by a suddenly-ineffective Tommy Salo and an extremely unproven Ty Conklin. Things look better this year for the Oilers, with Conklin having disproven some of the doubters with strong play in relief of Salo, and for Team USA internationally. Battling Conklin for playing time will be Jussi Markkanen, fresh off an MVP-calibre season in Russia, and previous back-up roles for the Oilers and New York Rangers. A pre-season injury means that Markkanen will likely miss all of training camp, so expect Conklin to assume the role early on. The duo of “Conkkanen”, although unproven, could surprise, and should at least be an improvement over Salo’s shoddy play of last season.

The number one centre spot, a position not truly filled since the departure of Doug Weight, was briefly occupied by Petr Nedved last season. With Nedved’s departure to the Coyotes, MacTavish hopes to fill the number one centre spot with one of Shawn Horcoff or the newly-acquired Michael Peca. While this is an improvement over the gaping hole in that position last season, and the team depth (with Marty Reasoner, Jarret Stoll and possibly Rob Schremp) is actually quite good, this should be a position of concern, as both Peca and Horcoff are better suited to the number two slot. The expectation is that Peca will handle most defensive assignments, while Horcoff, fresh off a fantastic season in Europe, will be given more chances to shine offensively. It could work, but if it doesn’t the Oilers have ample salary cap space remaining, and could acquire a player at the trade deadline, a fact that already has some fans suggesting a return of Doug Weight.

However, according to GM Kevin Lowe, the biggest area of concern for the Oilers was the lack of a true puck-moving defenseman. Although the Oilers were evidently serious bidders for the services of Scott Niedermayer, once that possibility fell through Lowe quickly orchestrated a deal, sending a package including Eric Brewer and former first-round pick Jeff Woywitka to St. Louis for Chris Pronger. Pronger instantly improves the Oilers blueline and should serve as an anchor on the powerplay and penalty kill, which were poor last season. Along with returning blueliners Jason Smith, Steve Staios, Igor Ulanov, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Alexei Semenov and Cory Cross, the Oilers look to have one of the better defensive units in the league.

Also acquired during the off-season was versatile forward Todd Harvey, an intense, irritating sort of pest who should add an element that the Oilers missed in 03-04. When combined with the acquisition of Michael Peca, the Oilers hope to be a grittier, more physical unit up front than they were last season.

Rookies & Prospects: The only two rookies on one-way contracts are wingers Jani Rita and Brad Winchester, both of whom should crack the Oilers roster this year. Winchester was one of the few players on the Road Runners last season who upped his stock with Oilers brass, and the 6’5” bruiser should see 4th line minutes this season. Jani Rita, who has been on the verge of making the Oilers roster for several seasons now, must make the team or his days with the organization are likely numbered. The 1999 first-round pick has good physical tools, but often shows a lack of intensity and defensive awareness, and is not a favourite of coach Craig MacTavish. That said, he had a good season in Finland during the lockout, and has nothing left to prove at the AHL level. This is a make or break season for him.

With Markkanen possibly out to start the season, the door has opened for one of Jeff Drouin Deslauriers, Devan Dubnyk or Mike Morrison to crack the team as Conklin’s backup. Although Morrison played well at the AHL level last season, Deslauriers will likely get the call. Dubnyk will return to junior.

Other Oilers prospects, notably Rob Schremp, Yan Stastny, and Danny Syvret, could crack the roster, but all are dark horses. Schremp, barring play that would force the Oilers to use him in their top-six, will return to junior while Syvret and Stastny will playi in the AHL and see time in the big leagues in the event of trade or injury.

Expectations: This season’s Edmonton Oilers look much better than the club has in previous years. Pronger and Peca are significant upgrades, and losing Salo is addition by subtraction. Moreover, the core of the club remains intact, bringing needed chemistry and consistency to the team. This team should make the playoffs, likely ending up between the 5th and 8th seeds in the Western Conference. However, given the renewed focus on divisional play, as well as questions in net and up front, it may be too much to expect the Oilers to do significantly better than that this season.

 Posted by at 9:51 pm

New contributor

 Announcements  Comments Off
Sep 162005
 

I’d like to welcome Jonathan Willis to the HockeyAnalyis.com contributors list. Jonathan doesn’t have a blog of his own but will write the occasional article for HockeyAnalysis.com, mostly focusing on the western conference.

 Posted by at 9:51 pm
Sep 152005
 

One thing that we are seeing in the NHL under the new CBA is that some veterens are going to have to accept minimum or close to minimum salary contracts if they want to remain in the NHL. Mariusz Czerkawski who signed with the Leafs for a paltry $500,000 is an example. The best Bryan Marchment could do is accept an invite to a training camp. Defenseman Brad Brown was forced to accept a 2-way contract. All this is because teams are limited by the $39 million salary cap. The ‘depth’ players are going to be forced to take league minimum wages.

But the rookie salary cap is $850,000. That could create a dilemma for teams that are close to the salary cap, such as the Leafs. A guy like Carlo Colaiacovo who signed his rookie contract under the old CBA might actually make $950,000 should he make the Leafs. But a guy like Marchment or Brown would probably make no more than $500,000. Is it possible that Colaiacovo could see more time in the minors because of this? Yes, quite possible, unless he can clearly outplay those cheap veterens. It doesn’t seem like a big savings but if you can do that at 2 roster spots you could save $800,000 over a year. That might allow you to bring a $2.5-3 million per year player in come trade deadline time since only that players remaining salary will count towards a teams cap, not his full year salary.

Now guys like Sidney Crosby or guys who play on teams who are well below the salary cap will not be affected. But the mid-late first round picks who still sign at or close to the rookie cap might find their progress slowed because of this. Players can also become unrestricted free at age 27, or after 7 years in the NHL which means someone starting his NHL career at 18 years old could potentially become an unrestrictied free agent at age 25. Because of these two factors is is quite possible that we will see fewer and fewer prosepcts, especially 18 and 19 year olds, being rushed to the NHL. Teams will likely try to save some cap space, save a year of unrestricted free agency (gaining a year of a players prime). A guy like Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins is a guy who might not have began his NHL career at 18 under the new CBA.

 Posted by at 9:36 pm
Sep 152005
 

(Also posted at The Devils Advocate)

What they lost: Experience and leadership. Mike Peca, Adrian Aucoin, Dave Scatchard, and Marius Czerkawski are all gone. Peca was their captain last season, and before him it was Kenny Jonsson who will play in Sweden this year. Peca has also won the Selke trophy twice in his career as the best defensive forward… making him a player who is not easily replaced.

What they gained: Stepping into the Nassau Coliseum this year are Miroslav Satan, Alexei Zhitnik, Mike York, Brad Lukowich, and Joel Bouchard. Satan is a skilled forward who can be relied upon to score consistently. Zhitnik is a good defensive acquisition in the “new NHL,” with puck-moving and skating as valuable skills on the blueline. I’ve also always been a big Mike York fan. The Rangers were stupid to let him go, and it would be poetic justice if he thrives on Long Island.

Staying at home: The players remaining on the Island are somewhat mysteries. Alexei Yashin is still among the highest paid players in the NHL, but his performance on the ice hardly ever merits it. He needs to step up this year, just as he has needed to for the past several years. Rick DiPietro could finally live up to his potential this season… I expect him to be a bright spot for the Isles this year. Janne Niinimaa is still there and Mark Parrish just re-signed. But perhaps the best thing the Islanders have going for them is 2nd year forward Trent Hunter. He was a finalist for the Calder last season and led the team in goals and points. If the Isles want to succeed this season, a lot falls on the shoulders of this promising young man.

Bottom line: This year could be the start of something good for the Islanders. They won’t be a playoff team, but they also won’t be as bad as they were when they had the Gorton’s Fisherman as their logo. On paper, they’re just as good as they were last season. Their young talent will make or break this team. I think Hunter and DiPietro will be very good this year, but the lack of veteran intangibles and leadership on this team will leave them in fourth place in the division.

 Posted by at 9:09 am
Sep 132005
 

(Also posted at The Devils Advocate)

Let me start off by saying that it’s great to join HockeyAnalysis.com. Over the next week or so, I will be taking a look at the Atlantic Division. The first team up is the New York Rangers.

What they lost: A ton of stars and payroll. Bobby Holik, Eric Lindros, and Mike Dunham have all been lost since the Broadway Blueshirts last took the ice, and even more were shipped out before last season’s trading deadline. The biggest blow to the Rags could be the loss of captain Mark Messier, the most recent future Hall of Famer to retire after the long layoff. They also lost their chance to bring back Brian Leetch, who signed in Boston. The Rangers have been somewhat of a running joke around the NHL for their high payroll and low output, so they’re switching to a youth movement in hopes of rebuilding and changing their fortunes.

What they gained: Finishing several consecutive seasons low in the standings does have its benefits. The Rangers now have a stockpile of young talent led by Fedor Tyutin. Their future in net looks bright with Henrik Lundqvist and Al Montoya battling for the #2 spot behind Kevin Weekes. As far as veteran additions, the Rangers picked up Steve Rucchin, Ville Nieminen, Martin Rucinsky, Jason Ward, Marek Malik, and Martin Straka. None of these guys are mega-superstars, but that’s exactly what the Rangers need. These could be the character players they’ve needed for the past eight years.

Staying at home: The Rangers did not do to Darius Kasparaitis what they did to Bobby Holik, and now he is the backbone of their defense. Jaromir Jagr will be expected to provide the offensive spark for this team, and justifiably so. He is arguably the most talented played in the NHL (I’d argue on his behalf), and if his heart is in the game, no one can stop him. Other notable returnees are Tom Poti and Michael “Born to Play for the Islanders” Nylander.

Bottom line: This is not the year the Rangers make a triumphant return to the playoffs. Make no mistake about it, this is a rebuilding season, and their final standings will be a reflection of it. Four or five years down the road, the Rags may be contenders once again, but not this year… not with this team. They’ll finish dead last in the Atlantic.

 Posted by at 10:41 am
Sep 132005
 

I’d like to announce a new contributor to HockeyAnalysis.com. His name is Bill Lyman and he currently writes a New Jersey Devils blog called The Devils Advocate. Bill will be writing about New Jersey as well as their division rivals and maybe other topics on occasion.

 Posted by at 2:21 am
Sep 122005
 

The free agent frenzy is mostly over and teams are getting ready to open their training camps. It’s time to really start looking at the upcoming NHL season. Today I am going to look at a team that I think could really surprise people this upcoming season. No, I don’t think they can win the cup but I think they can make the playoffs and maybe even win their division if all things go well. That team is the Atlanta Thrashers.

In 2003-04 the Atlanta Thrashers finished second in their division behind the Tampa Bay Lighning but only 10 in the conference and 13 points out of the playoffs. It was not a great season for the Thrashers overall. It was a great season for Ilya Kovalchuk who ended the year tied for first in goals scored and tied for second in points. Kovalchuk is one of the best young players in the NHL and has a bright future. Atlanta needs to get him signed on a long term contract and if they do the Thrashers too will have a bright future.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 12:28 am
Sep 102005
 

The Maple Leafs today announced they have signed Mariusz Czerkawski to a one year contract. While no terms were released rumours are it is in the $1 million range. They are also apparently talking to veterens Steve Thomas, Mike Keane, Bryan Marchement, possibly Jason York, and quite possibly others as well. Is this John Ferguson Jr’s strategy all along or is he just trying to save face for missing out on other free agents during the early August free agent frenzy?

Howard Berger obviously believes JFJ is just saving face and attempting to give coach Pat Quinn some veterens to work with rather than depending on Kilger, Ponikarovsky, Antropov, Wilm and others who haven’t shown a whole lot at the NHL level.

nd Ferguson’s respect for Quinn has been even more apparent in the past couple of weeks. Though he signed Eric Lindros and Jason Allison and traded for Jeff O’Neill to replace some of the veteran wingers who left the team, Ferguson had to know he could not go into the season solely dependant on unproductive players like Nik Antropov, Alex Ponikarovsky, Chad Kilger and Clarke Wilm to occupy key roster positions. Or, promising newcomers Kyle Wellwood and Alexander Steen. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be fair to commit to Quinn for two more seasons, and then deprive him of the type of accomplished veterans he’s routinely deployed in his Toronto years. –Howard Berger

But maybe this was JFJ’s strategy all along. JFJ always stated he had a plan and to me it looks like he has a good one. While the Montreal Canadiens are out giving Alexei Kovalev 4 year, $18 million contracts, the Leafs sit tight, wait it out and then pick up Czerkawski at only a tiny fraction of the cost.

Over the past 5 NHL seasons Czerkawski scored 35, 30, 22, 5, and 25 goals. That’s a total of 117 in 367 games. Over the same period Kovalev has scored 26, 44, 32, 37, and 14 goals. That’s a total of 153 goals in 384 games. Kovalev definitely has more goals but half of that time he was playing with Mario Lemieux while Czerkawski was for the most part playing with Yashin or, in his 5 goal season, on the third line in Montreal. One would naturally expect Kovalev to produce better offenive numbers playing with Lemieux.

I won’t argue that Kovalev is almost certainly the better player but the difference between the two is not huge and certainly Kovalev isn’t a $4 million per year better player than Czerkawski. Looks to me like the Leafs get a steal with this signing. Whether it is JFJ’s off season plan or he’s just trying to save face we will never know, but let’s give the guy credit for making a smart signing at a bargain basement price.

 Posted by at 3:39 am
Sep 092005
 

Welcome to my new website which is a spinoff of my personal blog Different Thinking I found that I was writing a ton of hockey related articles and decided that maybe it would be best to create a hockey specific site. I intend to expand this beyond a personal blog though and hope to get sever other bloggers contributing articles as well. If you run a hockey blog yourself and want to cross post some of your stuff here or just feel like writing a hockey article for here exclusively click on “Become a contributor” in the menu to the right.

The focus of the website will be more analytical in nature and not just a redux of last nights hockey games or a regurgitation of stuff that can be found in the mainstream media. You can find that sort of thing everywhere and no need to add to it. It is my hope that the articles posted on HockeyAnalysis.com will dig deeper into the sport of hockey, and the NHL in particular. HockeyAnalysis.com will feature articles on a number of subjects from a detailed analysis of a teams strengths and weeknesses to winners and losers in the free agent market to how to best live in a salary cap world.

Over the next several days I hope to post a few original articles but in the meantime I have included a few posts previously posted on Different Thinking for you to read. Also, if you have any ideas of what you would like to see from HockeyAnalysis.com feel free to submit some suggestions in the comments to this post. Finally, feel free to jump into the message boards (click HockeyAnalysis.com Forums in the menu to the right) and start a hockey discussion going.

Oh, and if you operate a hockey related site and want to exchange links, click on Link Exchange in the menu for details on how to get a link to your site on HockeyAnalysis.com.

Thanks for visiting HockeyAnalysis.com.

David

 Posted by at 9:36 pm
Sep 092005
 

The Leafs-Sens rivalry might be becoming the biggest rivalry in the NHL these days and I found it interesting that during a call-in show on Team 1200 this afternoon that revolved around the Hossa-Heatley trade a large portion of Senator fans analyzed the deal with the Leafs in mind, either comparing the new Sens to past Leaf teams or whether this trade would help the Sens beat the Leafs in the playoffs or the more than occassional jab at the Leafs and how they won’t even make the playoffs so it won’t even matter. So the question really arises, can the Leafs compete with the new look Sens. Let’s look into that question a little deeper.
Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:22 pm