Jan 242006
 

What is it with Ottawa sports writers and their fascination with wanting the Leafs to trade Sundin. Today Bruce Garrioch is the guy who thinks the Leafs should trade Sundin. But let’s put the matter of whether the Leafs should trade Sundin or not to the side because I have some other beefs that need to be dealt with. That is the lack of logic, thought and basic understanding of the salary cap that Garrioch exhibits.

Moving Sundin to a contender with cap room shouldn’t be difficult.

Sure, but name a contender with cap room? Right. There aren’t any.

A couple of teams on the radar screen could be the Canucks and Flames. Both are looking for help at centre.

Yup, and so might the Oilers, but none have that much cap room. Earlier this year Vancouver was shipping players back to the AHL between game just to save a few thousand dollars here and there. Calgary could probably work in Sundin’s contract this year but they won’t be able to fit almost $7 million in next years salary under the cap (if they could even afford that). Same goes for the Oilers.

Wouldn’t Sundin look a lot better with Vancouver’s Markus Naslund or Calgary’s Jarome Iginla as one of his wingers?

Naturally, the Canucks would have to include centre Brendan Morrison in any deal, but it might be a nice package that could include goalie Ed Belfour if the Leafs drop out of the post-season race.

Ok, so let me get this right. You want the Canucks, who were trying to save a few thousand dollars here nad there earlier in the year, to take on more than $11 million in salary and only give up Brendan Morrison? Even if you included Bertuzzi’s salary they still probably couldn’t afford it. Does Garrioch has a brain, and if he does, does he know how to use it?

Sources say the Flames are among a group of teams that has been dialling up Florida GM Mike Keenan to see if he’s going to move centre Olli Jokinen, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season.

Bruce, do you know why the Flames are interested in Jokinen? Because he doesn’t make $7 million next year. There was some talk that the Flames might also try to bring Marc Savard back should Atlanta fall out of the playoff race and want to trade him. Why? Because he doesn’t make $7 million next year (he’s a UFA too).

Of the contending teams, the New York Rangers might be able to afford him but they don’t really need a center now that they have picked up Sykora. Nashville might have the cap space too and could probably use a center but can they afford that big of a contract?

Jan 242006
 

We have another 9 games on the schedule tonight with a few more good ones to watch. Gotta love these conference and divisional battles.

Buffalo/Rangers – Two surprisingly good teams face each other in what quite possibly could be a preview of a first round matchup. If that is the case then this is a battle for home ice advantage. These are two fairly evenly matched teams and it should be a pretty close game as indicated by it being a pick-em game. I’ll give the Rangers a slight edge since they are the home team and will predict a 3-2 Rangers win.

Columbus/Vancouver – Who’d have thought that a Vancouver/Columbus game would be too close to call by my prediction algorithm. But then, who’d have thought that Vancouver would be shut out by the lowly St. Louis Blues. Despite playing on back to back nights on the road I am going to predict a 5-2 Vancouver win.

Detroit/Nashville – The Wings and Predators play their second game in a row on back to back nights. Last nights game was a 2-2 tie with the Predators getting the win because they started the game with a 1-0 lead. Tonight they won’t have that lead so I’m predicting a Detroit win in another very close game.

Colorado/Calgary – This games features Colorado’s good offense against Calgary’s good defense. Calgary is the better overall team but having played last night they are at a bit of a disadvantage which gives Colorado a bit of an edge. I’ll predict a Colorado 4-2 win.

San Jose/Los Angeles – Another big divisional game for the Sharks. If the Sharks are to get back in the playoff race they have to win games against teams like the L.A. Kings. And tonight I think they will do just that. Sharks 5, Kings 2.

Home Team Road Team Predicted Winner Confidence
NY Islanders New Jersey NY Islanders Some
NY Rangers Buffalo Pick N/A
Atlanta Boston Atlanta Some
Columbus Vancouver Pick N/A
Tampa Bay Florida Tampa Bay Good
Detroit Nashville Detroit Some
Minnesota Phoenix Minnesota Some
Colorado Calgary Pick N/A
San Jose Los Angeles Pick N/A
Jan 232006
 

For those of you who are Leaf fans, or just observers of the Leafs, I don’t need to tell you that the Leafs have struggled in recent weeks and have been somewhat inconsistent for much of the year. The question is why, and what can be done about it.

The first thing to do is not to over react like some media members seem so quick to do. Today everyone seems to be writing about how Pat Quinn has lost the dressing room and should/might be fired and Erin Nicks of the Ottawa Sun can’t find anything interesting to write about the Senators so came to the conclusion that the Leafs should trade Mats Sundin. Now I am not necessarily saying that either of those things should not happen but we have to put some things in perspective.

First off, Mats Sundin probably can’t be traded. There just aren’t many teams that can, or would want to, take on his big contract. And Pat Quinn, sometimes I think people in the media regurgitate stories they have written in the past. There has probably been a fire Pat Quinn because he has lost the dressing room articles been written in each of the past 5 seasons. Maybe that means his time is due, but maybe it just means that members of the media have a hard time coming up with new thoughts. Maybe more of a systems coach would be more suitable for the younger players but generally it hasn’t been the young players that have been the problem. It’s the veterans that haven’t played up to the level they should.

So, what is the story with the Leafs. The first thing we need to do is understand what this Leaf team is. When healthy, or even mostly healthy, (which has rarely happened this year), this Leaf team is a good team. Not an elite team, but a good team. Some might argue with the premise that the Leafs are a good team but the facts show otherwise. They are four games above .500 despite dealing with a lot of injuries and despite having one of the tougher schedules in the eastern conference. So the healthy Leafs are a good team. There are three things that I think the Leafs lack from being an elite team.

1. That dominant offensive star forward. The Leafs have pretty good depth up front with the emergence of rookies Steen and Wellwood and the progress that Stajan and Ponikarovsky have made as well as the veterans that are on this team. What they lack is that forward that you can build an offence around. You know, the 40-50 goal winger or 100 point centerman. To some extent they have lacked this for quite a while but with Sundin not being as good as he has in past years this is more evident.

2. A good #3/4 defence pairing. Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle have shown themselves to be more than capable #1/ 2 defence pair. In Klee, Berg, Khavanov I feel they have some good #5/6 guys. What they lack is that solid #3/4 pair. For the most part I like what Colaiacovo has shown this year. He has been more physical than I expected and overall has been pretty good. I just don’t think he is capable of anchoring the second defence tandem yet.

3. Top tier goaltending. The biggest problem in my mind is goaltending. Ed Belfour has shown flashed of brilliance but that brilliance only seems to last a game or even a period long. On Saturday he looked amazing stopping something like 8 shots on an Ottawa first period 5 on 3 power play but then looked ordinary on some of the 7 goals he let in. Belfour’s goals against average is 3.35 and his save percentage is just .891. That just isn’t good enough for any contending team. Just take a look at the New York Rangers and you’ll see what good goaltending can do for you. Or the Calgary Flames.

So the question becomes, what needs to be done to address those issues. When addressing these issues we need to keep in mind that the Leafs have always been better positioned for next season than this season and have seemingly deliberately left themselves with a very open budget and lots of cap flexibility for this off season. This means not trading the farm for short term fixes. But that doesn’t mean things can’t be done that will help both this season and beyond. I am going to address the issues listed above in reverse order because that is also the order from easiest to most difficult.

Goaltending. The first thing this team needs to realize is that Ed Belfour seemingly can’t provide the goaltending that a contending team needs. He just hasn’t been good enough. The second thing we need to consider is that the future of the Leafs is in either Justin Pogge or Tuukka Rask but neither of them will be ready for at least a couple years. That brings us to Tellqvist. The Leafs need to figure out if Tellqvist is capable of being a #1 guy or whether they will need to find another #1 guy now or in the off season to hold the fort until Pogge or Rask are ready. With these considerations in mind, the first thing I do is make Tellqvist the starting goalie (hopefully starting tonight with a good test against the Senators) and if at all possible trade Belfour. That may not be possible considering his contract but there are several teams looking for goaltending. Tellqvist has been the better goalie this year and the Leafs need to know if he can be their guy in the future so this move seems to be a no brainer.

Defence. The first thing the Leafs need to do is get McCabe and Kaberle signed long term. It might cost you a combined $9-10 million to do that but it will be worth it. Get it done ASAP. You will only pay more in the off season. The next thing I would do is trade for Adrian Aucoin. He’s having a horrible, injury riddled year in Chicago but because of that Chicago will be desperate to get rid of his contract and he might not cost much to acquire. He still has 3 years and $12 million on his contract after this season but with the salary cap seemingly set to rise by several million that amount of money might not seem unreasonably for a player like him if he can return to the form he was with the Islanders. And he is capable of playing 25 minutes a game and that is exactly what the Leafs need. McCabe, Kaberle, and Aucoin would be the anchor of a pretty solid defence if you ask me. Plug in Coliacovo in the #4 spot and I think you have the makings for a pretty good top 4 for many years. I would then consider trading two (if not all three) of Klee, Berg and Khavanov for whatever draft picks you can get for them and use some combination of youngsters Kronvall, Jay Harrison, Ian White, and Brendan Bell as your #5/6 defensemen. At some point the Leafs have to see if these guys are capable of playing a role for them in future years. All of them have the potential to be every bit as useful as someone like Khavanov.

The most difficult issue to resolve is what to do up front and finding an elite level forward to anchor the offence. This I think is going to take a bit longer to resolve. According to my numbers the Leafs only have four players signed for next season. Sundin, O’Neill, Domi and Belak for a total of just over $10 million. I guess Steen is also signed as might be Wellwood. So lets say you can have all six of those guys for a total of $12 million. If we factor in McCabe, Kaberle, Aucoin, Colaiacovo and either some cheap rookies (see above) or veterans the total cost of the defence would be around $17 million. If we assume Tellqvist can carry the load in goal (and I think he can) and you add a relatively inexpensive, but experienced, backup your defence and goaltending will cost around $19-20 million. So we have around $32 million allocated to goaltending, defence and six forwards for next season. That means somewhere around 8 forwards will need to be signed for about a total of around $8 million, maybe a tad more depending on where the cap is set. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to play with. Stajan and Ponikarovsky can probably be signed for $1 million each and you can probably go with 3 fourth liners like Wilm and Kilger for $500,000 each but that still leaves you needing to fill 3 spots, likely on the top 2 lines, for just $4.5 million. Signing Tucker might take $2 million of that. Unfortunately at almost $7 million per season Sundin is taking up the money that should go to the elite forward. This may mean having to wait for the following offseason when Sundin’s contract expires to add that elite level forward. They also need to focus almost exclusively on drafting forwards this summer.

(As an aside, does anyone know how signing contract extensions work? If the Leaf sign Sundin to a 2 year extension at $2 million per year, is the hit to next years cap still $6.9 million or is it the average of the 3 years – in this case $3.6 million: ($6.9 + $2 + $2)/3. If this is the case then maybe they can work something out to spread the cost of Sundin’s high contract next year over several years).

Update: Eklund, who I am no big fan of but on a rare occasion he posts some viable rumours, say the Leafs are interested in trading Allison (nothing new here) and ther are possibly looking at Arnason of the Blackhawks. I like Arnason but he isn’t going to be the elite forward the Leafs need. But he is fairly young, skates well and is better defensively than Allison so would be a bit of an upgrade.

Jan 232006
 

There are 9 games on the schedule today which means a very busy schedule for a Monday. Some good geographic rivalry games too like Philadelphia/Pittsburgh, Ottawa/Toronto, Calgary/Edmonton and Los Angeles/Anaheim plus a very good division rivalry in Detroit/Nashville. It’s too bad we get such a sucky schedule yesterday and then so many good games today. I must say, the schedule has been pretty horrible this year and the NHL really needs to work on it a bit for next season.

I can’t really argue with most of the predictions my algorithm spit out and I can’t see a lot of upsets happening. Maybe Los Angeles/Anaheim could surprise with an Anaheim win but aside from that the predictions seem reasonable and likely.

In the two pick-em games I am going to predict Detroit to win a close game over Nashville, 3-2 and I’ll pick the home team Edmonton to beat Calgary 4-3.

Here are my success rate statistics so far.

Strong: 92 of 127, 72.4%
Good: 134 of 207, 64.7%
Some: 92 of 170, 54.1%
151 games were pick-em games

Home Team Road Team Predicted Winner Confidence
Philadelphia Pittsburgh Philadelphia Strong
Washington Boston Washington Some
Carolina Montreal Carolina Good
Ottawa Toronto Ottawa Good
St. Louis Vancouver Vancouver Good
Nashville Detroit Pick N/A
Dallas Phoenix Dallas Good
Edmonton Calgary Pick N/A
Los Angeles Anaheim Los Angeles Good
Jan 222006
 

Just 2 games on the schedule today, one good one, one not so good. The first game sees New Jersey put their 9 game winning streak on the line against the New York Rangers. This could be a battle of the goaltenders as Brodeur for New Jersey has been very good in recent weeks and Lundqvist for the Rangers ha been excellent all year. But since both goalies played yesterday there is a chance that one or both of them (more likely Lundqvist than Brodeur) will sit. If Lundqvist doesn’t play, New Jersey wins easily. If he does play this will be a close game. I’ll predict a 3-2 Ranger win. The other game features to weaker western conference teams, Minnesota at Chicago. There isn’t much to get excited about here so I’ll forgive you if you pay no attention to it. But it is a pick-em game so it might be close. I’ll predict a Minnesota win.

Home Team Road Team Predicted Winner Confidence
NY Rangers New Jersey NY Rangers Some
Chicago Minnesota Pick N/A
Jan 212006
 

It’s another very busy day on the hockey schedule with 13 games being played. And now that we are back to mostly within conference games they are more interesting and important games to watch as well. Here are a few of those.

Detroit/Colorado – Some of the players have changed but the rivalry is still there and both teams have some quality talent on them. Detroit is fighting for first in the conference and Colorado is still trying to secure a playoff spot but the differences between these two teams are not that great. The differences can pretty much be attributed to goaltending. Detroit has generally had good goaltending and Colorado’s has been woefully inconsistent. The game is a pick-em game but I’ll predict a 5-4 Colorado win.

San Jose/Los Angeles – Another division rivalry and although the Kings currently hold 12 point lead over the Sharks that is somewhat misleading as the Kings have also played 5 games more than the Sharks. Come March/April I think these two teams might be battling each other and several other teams for the final few playoff spots so this game could be an important indication as to how the rest of the season will be played out in the Pacific division.

Toronto/Ottawa – This installment of the battle of Ontario take place at a time when neither team is playing up to par. Toronto is seeing their injuries catch up to them as they have lost their last 4 games with Tucker, McCabe and Lindros all out of the lineup. Ottawa has finally gotten most of their injured bodies back in the lineup but it didn’t seem to help them much against Anaheim the other night when they were clearly outplayed and out worked. It’s amazing what rivalries can do to wake up a team so expect both teams to play better tonight but the injury riddled team will still be in tough against the Senators.

Atlanta/Tampa – The playoff race in the eastern conference is extremely tight at the moment with the 5 teams ranked 6 thru 10 all having between 48 and 53 points. Atlanta and Tampa are two of those teams and are just 1 point apart. This is an extremely important game for both teams and the fact that it is a pick-em games indicates that could be a very close game too. I think Atlanta will win by a score of 5 to 3.

There are two other pick-em games on the night. In those two games I’ll pick the Rangers over Boston and Edmonton over Phoenix.

Home Team Road Team Predicted Winner Confidence
New Jersey NY Islanders New Jersey Some
Pittsburgh Philadelphia Philadelphia Good
Colorado Detroit Pick N/A
Los Angeles San Jose Los Angeles Good
Boston NY Rangers Pick N/A
Ottawa Toronto Ottawa Good
Atlanta Tampa Bay Pick N/A
Washington Carolina Carolina Good
Nashville Columbus Nashville Strong
Calgary Buffalo Calgary Some
Phoenix Edmonton Pick N/A
Vancouver Montreal Vancouver Good
Anaheim Florida Anaheim Good
Jan 202006
 

I have watched a fair number of Ottawa Senators games this year and I have to say that this is one of the hardest teams to figure out. They started the year out dominating everyone winning most of their games. But since early December they have been much closer to average than dominating.

The image below show the number of points Ottawa (blue) has gained in running 10 game segments (i.e. point 1 is points in games 1-10, point 2 is for 2-11, 3 is 3-12, etc.). For the first half of their schedule up to now they floated around the 16 points in 10 games mark but then quickly dropped to the 12 points in 10 games mark. So which is the real Senators? The 16 point team or the 12 point team? Also shown on the chart is the trend line which is clearly a strong downward trend (and statistically significant).

I’ve also included 2 other top eastern conference teams, Carolina and Philadelphia for comparison sake. Carolina started off very good, then slumped to as low as 9 points in 10 games but has returned to being very good again. Philadelphia has been much more consistent but has struggled significantly in last week or two.

OttawaCarolinaPhiladelphia 10 Game Comparison

Jan 202006
 

We had 12 games last night including 4 which ended up going to a shoot out. Let me make a bold prediction and say that tonights games won’t be quite as entertaining. Starting off the night we have a match up none of us has been waiting for as St. Louis takes their woes to Columbus. If that game doesn’t get you excited then maybe the match up of Chicago and Minnesota will. What? You say that one doesn’t get you excited either? Well, let me say that there is a chance that the Dallas-Tampa game might approach half decent. But the best news is that it is Friday. The weekend is here and I am sure you can find something more interesting to do than watch some lowsy hockey games. (My apologies to any fans of those teams mentioned but honestly, for the most part your teams don’t draw a lot of interest outside of the local markets)

Home Team Road Team Predicted Winner Confidence
Columbus St. Louis Columbus Good
Minnesota Chicago Minnesota Good
Dallas Tampa Bay Dallas Good
Jan 192006
 

We have a very busy schedule tonight with a total of 12 games. Unfortunately not a lot of them are of the exceptional matchup variety. There are 10 games which have strong or good confidence predictions and not many of them I see being potential upsets but here are a few thoughts.

Nashville/New Jersey – New Jersey hasn’t lost in 2006 and has won 7 in a row. Nashville is predicted to win but this is one game which could end up in an upset.

Montreal/Calgary – Calgary is the better team and should win this game but every team who makes a big trade or a coaching change often gets a temporary boost in performance. Montreal is no exception having defeated San Jose and Dallas since changing coaches. The question is, will it continue? A Montreal win is a decent possibility in this game.

Phoenix/Florida – I am not quite sure why Phoenix is listed as a ‘Good’ favourite to win. It should be closer than that and I think this will be an upset and Florida will win the game.

Atlanta/Los Angeles – Los Angeles is struggling having lost 4 of 5 while Atlanta is hot having won 5 in a row. Despite playing on back to back nights on the road, I think Atlanta will upset the Kings.

In the pick-em games I’ll predict Buffalo will defeat the Canucks and San Jose will win at home over Edmonton.

Home Team Road Team Predicted Winner Confidence
Philadelphia Boston Philadelphia Good
Washington St. Louis Washington Good
Carolina NY Islanders Carolina Strong
Ottawa Anaheim Ottawa Strong
Pittsburgh NY Rangers NY Rangers Good
Nashville New Jersey Nashville Good
Chicago Colorado Colorado Good
Calgary Montreal Calgary Good
Phoenix Florida Phoenix Good
Vancouver Buffalo Pick N/A
Los Angeles Atlanta Los Angeles Good
San Jose Edmonton Pick N/A
Jan 182006
 

Ottawa continues to top the NHL Power Rankings but the Carolina Hurricanes are right on their tail and Dallas is not to far behind either. A Carolina win combined with an Ottawa loss might be enough to knock the Senators out of the top position which they have held from week 1.

The big gainers on the week are the Colorado Avalanche as they rose from 13th to 6th. An 8 game winning streak tends to do those things. The other big gainer is Detroit who moved from 8th to 4th. On the dropping side is the Nashville Predators who fall from 5th to 9th. It seems that every week there is a lot of movement in positions 4 through 10 as there are a lot of teams ranked fairly closely together.

Rank Last Week Team Win-Loss Power Rank
1 1 Ottawa 31-13 15.0
2 3 Carolina 31-14 14.5
3 2 Dallas 30-15 13.9
4 8 Detroit 30-15 13.0
5 4 Buffalo 29-16 12.8
6 13 Colorado 27-20 12.2
7 6 Calgary 26-19 12.1
8 7 Los Angeles 28-20 12.0
9 5 Nashville 28-17 12.0
10 9 Philadelphia 28-18 11.8
11 10 Vancouver 26-20 11.6
12 11 Toronto 24-21 11.1
13 12 Edmonton 24-22 11.0
14 15 Montreal 22-21 10.7
15 14 NY Rangers 25-21 10.3
16 16 Phoenix 22-24 9.9
17 18 San Jose 21-22 9.8
18 17 Tampa Bay 23-23 9.8
19 21 NY Islanders 20-25 9.2
20 22 New Jersey 22-24 9.1
21 19 Minnesota 20-25 9.1
22 23 Atlanta 22-24 9.0
23 20 Anaheim 19-25 8.6
24 24 Boston 17-28 7.6
25 25 Florida 18-29 7.2
26 26 Washington 15-29 6.8
27 28 Columbus 16-30 6.2
28 27 Chicago 15-31 5.9
29 29 Pittsburgh 11-35 4.2
30 30 St. Louis 10-34 3.7