May 222006
 

Am I reading this right? Did Brad Richards really sign a 5 year contract that will pay him $7.8 million per year? Is the Tampa Bay management insane? It appears the answer to all of those questions is yes. How sad for Tampa Bay Lightning fans.

Here is the problem. Richards will make $7.8 million a season. Martin St. Louis will make 5.25 million a season. And Vincent Lecavalier will make 6.875 million per season. Combined those 3 guys will make nearly $20 million dollars, or just over half of this past seasons salary cap. Maybe we should read this as a sign that the salary cap will go up dramatically for next season but even if it goes up to $45 million, is Tampa really going to spend to the cap level? How much talent are they going to be able to afford for the other 17-20 players on their roster? Boyle, Sydor, Prospal, Modin and Burke are also signed for next season for a bit over 11 million combined. That’ll be $31 million for 8 players. That’s rediculous. Now don’t get me wrong. Richards is a pretty good player. The best player on that team. But he isn’t a $7.8 million player. Nor is Lecavalier a $6.875 million player (he has never even had an 80 point season). How they are going to fill out that defense and add a quality goalie for no more than $10 million is well beyond me. One has to wonder if maybe St. Louis or Lecavalier mighe get traded but I am not sure who would want to take on those contracts. Maybe San Jose would be willing to rid themselves on Nabokov’s $5.375 million per season contract for St. Louis’s $5.25 million per season contract (that’s a trade that might make sense for both teams). Maybe Montreal would be willing to take on Lecavalier’s contract but not sure what they would be willing to give up in return. And honestly, I have a hard time seeing the Lightning trading Levavalier. They seem to have always held him in higher regard than he probably deserves. I’ll predict now that Tampa won’t be a serious cup contender again for the next 3-5 years.

May 192006
 

We are down to just 4 teams left in the NHL playoffs and at the start of the season I don’t think anyone would have even predicted 2 of these teams to be in the conference finals let alone all four. So here is how I see the conference finals playing out:

Edmonton vs Anaheim

Regular Season Series:
October 10: Edmonton 4 at Anaheim 2
January 25: Edmonton 6 at Anaheim 3
February 6: Anaheim 5 at Edmonton 6 (SO)
April 13: Anaheim 1 at Edmonton 2

Edmonton pretty much controlled the season series winning all 4 games, of of which was in a shoot out. I have been a bit surprised at how Anaheim has played so far in the playoffs. It’s not that they don’t have the talent, but they have a lot of inexperience on their team and that is often just asking for trouble come playoff time. But so far so good. The Niedermayers, Selanne and Marchant are going to have to continue to exert their veterent leadership if Anahein is to continue its success. Edmonton has defeated 2 very strong teams in Detroit and San Jose to get to the conference finals and has done it by utilizing a very balanced team with 3+ solid forward lines, a group of 6 solid defensemen and excellent goaltending. The Oilers have 7 players with 3 or more goals compared to Anaheims to and that depth combined with a better mix of veterens and youth will take them to the Cup finals. Edmonton in 6.

Buffalo at Carolina

Season series

November 9: Carolina 5 at Buffalo 3
February 12: Buffalo 3 at Carolina 4 ( SO)
March 22: Carolina 4 at Buffalo 3
April 18: Buffalo 4 at Carolina 0

These are two of the more streaky teams in the NHL this year. Buffalo has had winning streaks of 8, 7 and 5 games (twice) this year and a 6 game losing streak and 6 losses in 7 games. Carolina has had a couple of 9 game winning streaks as well as a 7 game winning streak in these playoffs and though that have avoided any lengthy losing streaks have been somewhat mediocre outside of those winning streaks. Both teams are playing very good hockey heading into this series but the streakiness nature of how these teams have played means it has the potential to be a short series should one team faulter early on. In fact, I could see this series play out similar to the Buffalo series. The first game will be an up tempo game with both teams trying to establish their offense and hopefully knock some confidence out of the opposing teams rookie goalies. The winner of the first game could gain some valuable momentum while the loser loses a bit of their confendence just as Ottawa seemed to do in their series. This would be especially true of the younger, less experience Sabre team should they lose in the first game. The problem for Carolina is that although their defense is fairly experienced they might not have enough mobility to keep Buffalo’s speedy forwards in check. I am really torn as to who to pick in this series. I really like the Sabre’s team and think that overall they are better, but I also like the superior veteren leadership and experience that the Hurricanes have with guys like Brind’amour, Recchi, Weight, Stillman, Hedican, Wesley. I’ll take Carolina in 5.

May 152006
 

Ok, I am back from vacation and a lot has happened over the last 10 or so days that I was away. Since I was in Florida where hockey news is sparse and hockey coverage on TV was non-existant I was dependent on the internet to keep up to date on what was happening. Let me say that I am not surprised that Buffalo defeated the Senators. In fact, I predicted it, though I am a bit surprised they did it in just 5 games. So, what was wrong with the Senators. Well, before the season I thought there were three question marks with the Senators.

1. Goaltending. After playing just 14 games in 3 years can Hasek return to form and stay healthy?

2. Spezza. Can Jason Spezza peform like a true #1 center which is something Ottawa has lacked for several years.

3. Experienced depth, especially on defense. The top 10-12 players on the team looked excellent but they were going to have to depend on a lot of inexperienced players.

Though not a prime reason for losing, goaltending did seem to be a bit of a factor. Hasek wasn’t healthy and though Emery played great at times, at other times (like game 1) he wasn’t there to make the big save. Miller clearly out played Emery.

Though Spezza performed excellent at many times during the season and post season, at other times his inexperience and someone weak defensive play showed. He clearly has the talent and ability to be a dominant #1 center but his inexperience still showed at times. His game needs a bit more refinement and I think he, like many of his team mates, has to use his size a bit more.

I got a lot of flack for listing Ottawa’s lack of experienced defense depth as a weakness and it didn’t show up as a problem in the regular season but it seemed to in the playoffs. Pothier played fairly well but by all accounts Mezsaros had a pretty mediocre playoff and Volchenkov struggled at times too. And when Phillips and/or Chara stuggled with injuries the team was hindered because they couldn’t lighten their work load any because they didn’t have an experienced defenseman who could step up and take on more minutes of ice time.

But maybe the biggest problem with this Senators team is they just seem to not know how to win. They seem to rely on talent far too much and not enough on hard work. Too many players on this Senators team just do not have that never quit even if I have to plow through a brick wall attitude. A little bit more effort from one of several players on that overtime goal on Saturday night and the goal doesn’t go in. Talent is great but hard work is what wins and I just feel they Senators as a team, and especially their top tier players, don’t put in that extra effort in. This team needs some quality, hard working veterens with playoff experience. A Chris Drury type. Or a Teppo Numminen. People talk about signing Joe Sakic, and certainly he would help, but the Senators don’t need his talent, just his experience. All they need is a player or two who has experienced playoff sucess and who will work his butt off and pressure the more talented players on the Senators to do the same and show the team what it takes to win. The team needs to be taught to win as apparently it isn’t learning how to do it on their own.

Finally, before the season I also posed the question of if the Senators faultered in the playoffs again, should the Senators consider trading Daniel Alfredsson. Think about it. The Senators have suffered playoff disapointments for several years now. Since the last disapointment Lalime was shipped out of town, Spezza replaced Bonk as the #1 center, Heatley replaced Hossa as the co-number 1 winger and Bryan Murray replaced Jacques Martin as coach. Apparently none of those were the problem so could the problem be with the captain Alfredsson? Should the captain and the supposed leader of the team finally get some blame for the constant playoff disapointments? What do you all think? Vote in the poll in the right sidebar.

May 022006
 

I am going to be (mostly) without internet access over the next week to 10 days so I figured I would post my thoughts on the playoffs so far now as well as some thoughts on the potential second round matchups.

Eastern Conference:

Moving on: Ottawa, New Jersey

Carolina-Montreal and Buffalo-Philadelphia series are still yet to be decided but as of right now I think Carolina and Buffalo are looking in good shape to move on. If that happens Buffalo will play Ottawa and Carolina will play New Jersey. I like Buffalo and New Jersey to win in the second round in that scenario. Buffalo has too much talent and skilled depth up front and I think they will be able to poke holes in the defensive play of the bottom half of Ottawa’s defense and their young forwards. And I expect Miller to match or better the goaltending that Emery provides Ottawa. I would also expect New Jersey to continue their hot streak should they happen to play Carolina in the second round. As good as Cam Ward has been he is out classed by Brodeur and the Hurricanes defense will have fits with the speed and skill of Elias, Gionta and Gomez.

In the other potential scenarios Ottawa could play Montreal or Philadelphia and I would expect they would win either of those series fairly easily. The Devils would also likely beat Philly if they should meet but if the Devils and Sabres met in the second round we would be in for one dandy of a series. As good as New Jersey has been the Sabres could definitely give them a big challenge. I’d predict the Devils to win but it could go either way.

Western Conference:

Moving on: Colorado, San Jose, Edmonton

If Calgary wins, and I expect they will, the second round series will be Calgary vs Edmonton and San Jose vs Colorado. I think San Jose would defeat Colorado relatively easily but the Calgary-Edmonton series would be a hard fought battle that either team could win. These rivalry series are always hard to predict because you never know how each team will react to all the off-ice distractions associated with them. If I had to predict the series I would predict an Edmonton upset win over Calgary. I am just not convinced that Calgary has the offense to get it done and it is costing them against the Ducks.

If the Ducks win then Edmonton will play San Jose and the Ducks will play the Avalanche. In this scenario I think the Sharks and Avalanche would win. I hope Calgary wins though because I think the hockey world would be in for a real treat with a Calgary-Edmonton series. Of course I am sure the NHL is routing for the Ducks because of wanting the Los Angeles market represented but honestly I just don’t think the hockey would be near as interesting. I can’t get too excited by a Ducks-Avalanche series.

Ok, that is the best I can do for now. If I get an opportunity I may drop in and expand on some of this once the second round matchups are finalized but either way feel free to use the comments of this post to discuss your thoughts on the rest of the first round and the upcoming second round of the playoffs.