Jul 182008
 

A couple days ago I asked who were the best defensemen in the eastern conference and which teams had the best group of defensemen in the conference. The results are in and it seems Zdeno Chara is the consensus pick for the best defenseman in the eastern conference. After him Sergei Gonchar, Jay Bouwmeester, Andrei Markov, Tomas Kaberle, and Mike Green seemed to get the most recognition with Kimmo Timonen, Chris Phillips, Pavel Kubina, Bryan McCabe, Wade Redden, Ryan Whitney, Mike Komisarek, and Marc Staal getting considered as well.

It seemed much more difficult for us to pick the teams with the best defense. The NY Rangers, Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh seemed to be popular picks with Florida, Philadelphia and Toronto considered by some as well.

Now for a few of my thoughts. First I was a bit surprised at how many people picked Boston as having a top 5 defense. Clearly they did so because they have Zdeno Chara but to me after him they have a lot of average at best players.

People obviously chose Boston because of Chara because after him I really don’t see a lot of top end talent. They certainly have some decent players but nothing too special. It is interesting that the Leafs were the only team where 3 defensemen were considered by at least one person to be in the top 5 and yet most people didn’t consider them as a top 5 team. Dennis Wideman has some offensive puck moving ability but defensively is average at best and Mark Stuart has some promise but neither of the are what you would call top level defensemen. The rest of them are pretty much 3rd pairing or depth guys. I guess having Chara means a lot but I am not convinced they should be a top 5 team.

Another team that surprised me to get as much top 5 consideration as they did is the Ottawa Senators. They seem to still be getting a lot of recongnition for their defensive play during their run to the finals in 2006-07. But the current defense is significantly different. Gone from the cup run defense are Wade Redden, Joe Corvo, and Tom Preissing, their top 3 scoring defensemen from that season. It also shouldn’t be over looked that the Senators had the 7th worst goals against average in the NHL last season. This coming season they will feature an unproven rookie (Brian Lee) and a guy who has played mostly forward over the past couple seasons (Schubert) in their top 6. As of right now I view them as having a below average defense and barring a trade or surprising seasons by Brian Lee and Schubert will be a weak spot for the Senators.

Toronto is almost the opposite of the Senators. The Leafs are awash with offensive defenseman but have really been hurt by not developing a true shutdown defense pairing. Part of that I believe is coaching but part of that is just not having that one pure defensive defenseman on the team. The Leafs are hoping the addition of Jeff Finger and Jonas Frogren will help address that concern and further down the road 2008 first round pick Luke Schenn should be that guy. Since the lockout Tomas Kaberle has the 3rd most points by a defenseman trailing only Nik Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar and Bryan McCabe is 14th on that list. When considering points per game, Kaberle is 5th post lockout (behind Lidstrom, Gonchar, Zubov and Niedermayer) and McCabe sits in 10th spot just behind Dan Boyle. Pavel Kubina is no slouch with the puck either finishing 18th in scoring by defensemen last season. So while they may not have the defensive shutdown defenseman like some teams do their overall skill and depth is good enough to get them in the top 5 in the eastern conference in my opinion.

So with that said, here are who I consider top 5 defensemen and teams in the east.

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Sergei Gonchar, Tomas Kaberle, Kimmo Timonen, and Jay Bouwmeester

Teams: Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia

Jul 162008
 

I don’t think anyone can deny that many of the top defensemen are in the western conference (Lidstrom, Pronger, Niedermayer, Phaneuf, etc). This off season Brian Campbell and Dan Boyle found new permanent homes in the western conference. Some of the better young defensemen/prospects are in the western conference as well (Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson, Drew Doughty, etc.). With that, I post the following question to you all:

1. Who are the top 5 defensemen in the eastern conference.

2. Taking into consideration both talent and depth, list the 5 teams with the best group of defensemen in the eastern conference.

Please post your answers as a comment. In asking these questions I hope to get a bit of a discussion going as well as hopefully give us all a bit more insight on hockey around the NHL. If this goes well I’ll pose more questions in the future. I plan on following up this post in a few days with my answers and my thoughts on the discussion.

To help you out, here is a list of each teams currently signed (or unsigned RFA) defensemen who are likely or could possibly make play next season (to the best of my knowledge).

Atlanta Thrashers: Ron Hainsey, Tobias Enstrom, Garnet Exelby, Niclas Havelid, Ken Klee
Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Andrew Alberts, Mark Stuart, Shane Hnidy
Buffalo Sabres: Henrik Tallinder, Jaroslav Spacek, Toni Lydmin, Craig Rivet, Nathan Paetsch, Andrej Sekera
Carolina Hurricanes: Joe Corvo, Joni Pitkanen, Niclas Wallin, Dennis SEidenberg, Tim Gleason, Frantisek Kaberle, Josef Melichar, Anton Babchuk
Florida Panthers: Jay Bouwmeester, Bryan Allen, Nick Boynton, Karlis Skrastins, Mike Van Ryn, Keith Ballard, Steve Montador, Cory Murphy, Noah Welch
Montreal Canadiens: Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, Mike Komisarek, Mathieu Dandeneault, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon, Ryan O’Byrne
New Jersey Devils: Colin White, Paul Martin, John Oduya, Vitaly Vishnevski, Mike Mottau, Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, Sheldon Brookbank
New York Islanders: Mark Streit, Andy Sutton, Brendan Witt, Freddy Meyer, Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais, Chris Campoli
New York Rangers: Wade Redden, March Staal, Michal Rozsival, Dmitri Kalinin, Paul Mara, Dan Girardi
Ottawa Senators: Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Jason Smith, Andrej Meszaros, Brian Lee, Christoph Schubert
Philadelphia Flyers: Kimmo Timonen, Derian Hatcher, Randy Jones, Lasse Kukkonen, Braydon Coburn, Randy Jones, Ryan Parent, Ossi Vaananen
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Hal Gill, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton, Rob Scuderi, Darryl Sydor
Tampa Bay Lightning: Matthew Carle, Filip Kuba, Paul Rangers, Shane O’Brien, Andrew Hutchinson, Mike Lundin, Alexandre Picard
Toronto Maple Leafs: Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Jeff Finger, Carlo Colaiacovo, Antron Stralman, Ian White
Washington Capitals: Mike Green, Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina, Brian Pothier, John Erskine, Jeff Shultz

Jul 102008
 

Greg Ballantine of The Puck Stops Here has more information on the Frogren mess.

The snag is that Frogren was drafted in 1998 by the Calgary Flames, but never given a contract offer. Under the pre-lockout CBA, such a player was classified as “defected” by the NHL if he later came to the NHL with a team other than his drafting team (which no longer held his rights). This classification is a poor name because it doesn’t actually have anything to do with a player defecting. It was agreed, in negotiating the expired IIHF player transfer agreement that it would be best to treat such cases the same way defecting players are treated. This language was left in the current CBA, probably without considering consequences. Defecting players, regardless of age, were to be required to sign entry level contracts.

Anyone who has browsed through the CBA will realize what a confusing mess it is as certain parts of it over rule others and unless you have read and understood every single aspect of it you really can’t say you understand any of it or how it applies in any particular situation. This seems to be what is happening here.

The problem arises because of the defected status stuff that essentially has been carried forward from the old CBA to the new one. I won’t go into the part of the CBA which defines what a defected status player is and why Frogren is such a player but assuming he is (which seems to be the case) here is what the new CBA outlines in regards to compensation and entry level contracts:

Defected Players. Any Player who met the qualifications of defected status as per the terms of, and as of the date of expiration of, the expired CBA shall remain defected for a defined period of time, following which the player shall becme free of the exclusive negotiating rights of his drafting club and shall be eligible to enter the league as an unrestricted free agent. The defected status of players selected in the 2002 entry draft, or prior, shall expire as of June 1, 2006… Any player who remains an unsigned draft choice at the time his defected status expires in accordance with this paragraph shall be subject to having to enter the league through the entry level system in accordance with the provisions of article 9 of the expired CBA, including without limitation, the salary scale set forth therein, following the application of the 24 percent roll back as provided for in Paragraph 1(a) above, provided, however, that such Players shall at a minimum be required to sign a one-year entry level SPC to enter the league, regardless of the players age at the time the SPC is signed and, provided further, the player may negotiate for performance bonuses only as permitted by the rules set forth in Article 9 and Exhibit 5 of this agreement governing entry level performance bonuses, and as allowed under Article 50 of this agreement.

Confused yet? I think I am. So, it seems that Frogren is subject to the salary scale outlined in the 1995 CBA, but the bonus scale outlined in the 2005 CBA. How odd is that? So, we need to refer to Article 9 of the expired CBA. According to the salary scale in Article 9 of the 1995 CBA, Frogren is entitled to a maximum of $975,000 less 24% or $741,000, up to 10% of which could be as a signing bonus.

Additionally, the maximum performance bonuses the Leafs could offer are:

$212,500 if he is in the top 4 defensemen in ice time
$212,500 if he scores 10 goals
$212,500 if he gets 25 assists
$212,500 if he gets 40 points
$212,500 if he gets 0.49 points per game
$212,500 if he is among the top 3 defense on Leafs in plus/minus
$212,500 if he is in the top 2 Leafs defensemen in blocked shots
$212,500 if he is on the all rookie team
$212,500 if he makes the NHL all-star game
$212,500 if he is the all star game MVP

There is a good chance that none of those will occur so putting in ‘easy’ bonuses to up his salary is likely out of the question.

The rumour was that Frogren would earn $450,000 (which is actually below league minimum so I question this number) this upcoming season and $900,000 in year 2 and a $700,000 signing bonus. If Frogren is limited to $741,000 plus likely unachievable bonuses as it seems the CBA outlines then Frogren will fall well short of the money he would have collected under the rumoured contract and one would then wonder if he would be able to buy out the final year on his Farjstad contract.

Ultimately this is a mystery that will take some time to unfold and we’ll have to wait and see if the NHLPA will file a grievance and under what reasoning they will do so.

Jul 102008
 

There are some strange happenings in regards to the Toronto Maple Leafs attempts to sign Jonas Frogren and one has to wonder if and why the NHL is standing in the way of the Leafs signing the Swedish defenseman. Yesterday was the day it was expected that the Leafs would finally announce the signing of Frogren but instead news came out that the league had nixed the deal stating that Frogren had to be signed to an entry level contract, not a standard contract.

Yesterday news came out that the NHL has rejected the Leafs contract with Jonas Frogren stating that his contract needs to be an entry level contract. Steve discussed the issue saying that the contract issues made no sense because the CBA states that a player age 28 isn’t required to sign an entry level contract and although Frogren is 27 now he will be 28 on August 28th so the Leafs just need to wait until then.

But it gets even stranger because in the same section of the CBA that states that a player aged 28 does not need to sign an entry level contract it also states the following:

9.2. Age of Players. As used in this Article, “age,” including “First SPC Signing Age” means a Players age on September 15 of the calendar year in which he signs an SPC, regardless of actual age on the date he signs such SPC.

Now I don’t give Gary Bettman and his gang a lot of credit but I will give them the benefit of doubt and assume that they are able to read. Now I believe my reading comprehension skills are not too shabby either and when I read the above it seems clear to me that Frogren’s age when he signs the contract is not an issue but rather his age on September 15th of the year he signs the contract. Now my understanding of the calendar is that August 28th is before September 15th and thus Frogren will be 28 on September 15th. Hmmm, maybe they can’t read all that well.

So you would think that Fletcher just had to call up Mr. Bettman and inform him of the rules and the contract would go through. But apparently that hasn’t happened, or at least Bettman didn’t accept Fletcher’s argument. Instead Frogren’s agent Don Meehan said “We are working with the NHL Players’ Association to resolve the matter.” So it appears that the NHLPA is going to have to file some sort of informal or formal grievance on behalf of Frogren to get the deal to be accepted.

So, what could be the issue? Well, as many of you are probably aware, the NHL and the European teams no longer have an IIHL transfer agreement in place. The transfer agreement allowed NHL teams to bring over their European prospects at a cost of $200,000. But now there is no agreement and thus NHL teams are technically free to bring over whoever they want, potentially even players signed to a contract with a European club with no compensation required. Essentially the NHL could grab any European player regardless of their contractual situation with no consequences. Conversely the European teams could do the same. In essense a contract signed in one league is not required to be honoured by other leagues.

This is a potentially big issue for the NHL because of the cration of the new Russian super league. If the Russian Continental Hockey League is not required to honour NHL contracts there is no obligation by Continental League teams to wait for an NHL players contract to expire before the lure them over to Russia to play. The fear is that at some point down the road, maybe one year, maybe 5 years, some Russian team will offer Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin a $20 million a year contract that Ovechkin or Malkin can refuse and the NHL will lose one of their prime superstars. So, it is in the best interest of the NHL to not get into the habit of breaking existing contracts and set a precident.

And guess what? Jonas Frogren has an existing contract with Farjestad. The Hockey News Ryan Dixon has an interesting story on the Frogren contract and how he himself is going to buyout the final year of his Farjestad contract.

In the absence of a player transfer agreement between the NHL and IIHF, teams associated with both organizations have agreed not to go after players currently under contract on either side of the Atlantic.

The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement prevents teams from negotiating individual release fees with each other, but by giving Frogren the money directly by way of a salary – which will count against the cap – the Leafs found a way to get it done.

To get around those issues the Leafs are seemingly intending to give Frogren a hefty signing bonus which Frogren will use to personally buy out the contract he has with Farjestad. So if this is all true, could the NHL big wigs be looking at the hefty signing bonus and Frogren’s personal buyout as a workaround to the system and ultimately create a fear that this could be the first step down a downward slope to a near anarchy system where contracts on both sides of the ocean are not honoured as the NHL hopes they will be? Could this be the reason why this seemingly imminent announcement more than a week ago still has not been announced and is this the reason why the NHL is playing every possible card in the book to hold up the signing, including playing semantic games with CBA rules that are seeming perfectly clear to anyone able to read? It is the only possible motive for the NHL nixing the deal that I can see.

Jul 042008
 

It is still very early but lets take a look at which teams might contend for the title of the worst in the NHL for 2008-09 and win the right to draft John Tavares first overall. I am basing this solely on their current rosters of signed players, not projections of who they might sign. Some of these teams are likely to make more moves to get them off the list.

Bad but not Quite Bad Enough

Florida Panthers: They have pretty decent defense and goaltending but after trading away their only top tier forward in Olli Jokinen they will struggle mightily to score goals unless Stephen Weiss and Rostislav Olesz can really take their careers up a level. They have the talent but they haven’t executed very well so I have my doubts. Vokoun will likely steal enough games not to have them end up in last place but they still aren’t a good team.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The number 1 line will be Umberger, Huselius and Nash which isn’t bad but isn’t a great #1 line either. And after those three there really isn’t much to get excited about. Their defense is OK but there isn’t a lot of high end talent there either. The only savior might be in goal where Pascal Leclaire had a break out year last season and looks like he might become one of the better goalies in the NHL. If Leclaire can’t repeat last years performance the Blue Jackets could easily fall into contention for the last spot in the NHL.

Colorado Avalanche: If Sakic and Forsberg both decide to re-sign then the Avalanche can be taken off this list but until they do they are a bad team going in the wrong direction. The goaltending tandem of Budaj and Raycroft will likely fall somewhere between mediocre at best to horrifically bad at worst. They are certainly not a playoff contender as the team currently stands and with a key injury here or there they could fall into contention for one of the last spots in the NHL.

Vancouver Canucks

After the Sedin’s, Luongo and a couple of injury prone defensemen there really isn’t much to get excited about. They couldn’t score many goals last year and they have lost their 3rd best point producer and captain Markus Naslund. Luongo is the only thing currently saving them from the cellar.

The True Contenders

St. Louis Blues: The Blues showed some promise early in the season last year but then completely fell apart and finished with the second worst record in the western conference. The only major move they have made is acquiring goalie Chris Mason from Nashville but I am not convinced he is an upgrade over what they had. The Blues were a bad team last year and are still a bad team.

Los Angeles Kings: Taking a look at the current Los Angeles Kings roster and it is pretty scary as they currently only have 4 defensemen listed (Jack Johnson, Matt Greene, Tom Preissing and Peter Harrold) and their goaltending is downright horrible consisting of Erik Ersberg and Jason LaBarbera. They do have some decent talent in Kopitar, Brown, Frolov, etc. but overall they are a horrible team.

Atlanta Thrashers: Outside of Kovalchuk and an aging Kozlov there isn’t a lot of talent on this roster. Armstrong and Christensen are nice complementary players picked up in the Hossa trade and Enstrom was a nice rookie surprise last year but there really isn’t much else to get excited about. They over paid for an over rated Ron Hainsey and once top goalie prospect Kari Lehtonen hasn’t developed all that well while suffering through injury issues. Overall they are a horrible team without much near term upside.

New York Islanders: Back in the late 1990’s Doug Weight and Bill Guerin formed a pretty good tandem in Edmonton but it is now 2008 and they are no longer front line players. The problem for the Islanders is they need them to be front line players if they are going to be very good. There are zero star players (save maybe for DiPietro) on the Islanders roster and the number of good players is minimal as well. Ted Nolan has proven a few times to be a very good coach but this team is downright awful and even he won’t be able to make this team anything more than a prime contender for the worst team in the NHL.

Jul 032008
 

Here are some of my thoughts on the free agent signings so far.

1. I want to give the finger tor all those who are outraged at the Jeff Finger signing and who have seen him play fewer than two games. Yes, that is pretty much everyone. As a Leaf fan I am a little skeptical of the Finger signing but I am going to reserve judgment until at least December when we will have seen him in action for a couple months and that is what all you Leaf fans should do. It astonishes me how many people will call it a bad signing without even knowing a thing about the player being signed.

2. Wade Redden for 6 years at $6.5 million has to be one of the worst signings of this off season. Redden has some skill but he has been pretty weak the past season or two and while a change of scenery might help him, I am almost certain he won’t come close to living up to that contract.

3. The best signing so far has been Brian Rolston by the New Jersey Devils. Not only will Rolston add some much needed offense to the Devil’s lineup, having played with the Devils previously and the Wild the past several seasons he will fit in perfectly to the Devils defensive system. Now if the Devils could just improve their defense crew they will be back to a Stanley Cup contending team.

4. Whatever happens with the Finger signing, I think Leaf fans will be pleased with the Hagman signing. He’ll add some much needed speed and defensive ability to the Leafs lineup. Just don’t expect 25 goals from him, but 15-20 is certainly possible. The Leafs won’t be as bad as everyone thinks/assumes.

5. The most active teams this off season have been Tampa, Edmonton and Columbus though I am not sure any of them are significantly better, particularly if Tampa goes and trades Dan Boyle. Columbus signing of Mike Commodore for 5 years at $3.75 million is a contender for worst signing this off season. It would not surprise me if all three missed the playoffs again.

6. Detroit is scary good, but you already knew that didn’t you.

7. Can everyone please stop asking “why did we have the lockout when we are seeing these crazy high salaries once again”. Whoever says that should immediate walk the stupidity plank because they don’t have a clue. First, the salary cap rising to $56.7 million only did so because the revenues are there. That is called linkage which the owners demanded and got. Second, pre-lockout players were getting up to $10-12 million contracts and second tier players like Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik were getting $9 million per season. The high end salaries now have not caught up to pre-lockout levels.

8. It might take another season but the Phoenix Coyotes are assembling a very good team with a mixture of size and skill.