Aug 132008
 

Despite the fact that the Lightning defense still seems a little suspect, boasting little veteran presence or even a big name, Oren Koules maintains that he is satisfied with his current defensive corps. The Lightning still have to get under the cap enough to ensure that they can accommodate Steven Stamkos‘ cap hit, which would be 3.75 should he reach all performance bonuses. Remember that this upcoming season is the last year of the current CBA agreement, and that there will be no performance cushions. Nashville, as noted in the article, remains a very enticing trading partner, with 13 draft picks in 2009 and a plethora of young talent on their blueline. A trade makes sense for both teams, as JP Dumont has voiced his opinion that the Preds need more bite. Jussi Jokinen, who will be replaced by Vaclav Prospal on the top line, Michel Ouellet, and Jason Ward remain their biggest trading chips. The Lightning enter next season as a Southeast Division contender once again, although it remains to be seen if a young defensive corps and Mike Smith will hold up. David has a more in-depth look at the Lightning’s roster here.

Mark Parrish apparently is the Canucks’ answer should they fail to land Mats Sundin. Folks at TSN are calling it Mike Gillis‘ “Plan B,” although it should be more like “Plan D,” considering the discrepancy between Parrish and Sundin. As the Sundin saga dragged along (it’s now rumoured that he is leaning towards retirement, if only anyone knows what means nowadays), it was clear that the Canucks had no answer should Sundin not sign. Gillis maintains that he has been talking trade with several teams regarding one or two defenseman on his team, but I would think that he would like to keep his defense intact. When Parrish was bought out, he was immediately linked to Vancouver and Nashville, two western teams that have had plenty of looks at the big forward. Both teams were in similar situations and needed to get bigger and better offensively. A lot of fans in Vancouver aren’t very happy with how things have gone this summer, after all, Gillis had promised sweeping changes and a drastically different team with offense as its number one priority. So far, the only sweeping changes have come upstairs and the team remains arguably as potent offensively as it was last year, which is to say, still not very potent. Should Parrish find himself in Vancouver he will get looks on the top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, but for now Steve Bernier seems to be the favourite going into camp. It’s tough to gauge what sort of money Parrish will get, but I would be very surprised if it is anything over a year.

Aug 132008
 

Last season the Tampa Bay Lightning fell apart at the seams and had a downright awful year which led to the trading of two of their top players and a significant overhaul of their roster. At the trade deadline Brad Richards was traded to the Dallas Stars for Mike Smith, Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen. This summer, under a new ownership group, we saw top defenseman Dan Boyle traded to the San Jose Sharks with Brad Lukowich for Matt Carle, a prospect and a couple draft picks. The Lightning also managed to sign a number of free agents including Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Vaclav Prospal, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Evgeny Artyukin, Adam Hall and Olaf Kolzig. Maybe their biggest addition of the summer is the drafting of Steve Stamkos who they hope will be a star in the NHL for the next 15+ years.

The goal of all these moves is to become this years version of last years Philadelphia Flyers who made a major jump from last in the NHL to a conference finals appearance. There is no doubt that the Lightning have made some bold moves, but are they ready to contend for an Eastern Conference Championship? I am not so sure.

Let’s take a look at a projected Lightning lineup.

Forwards
Prospal-Lecavalier-St. Louis
Malone-Stamkos-Vrbata
Jokinen-Gratton-Ouellet
Roberts-Craig-Recchi
Extras: Hall,Tarnasky,Artyukhin

Defense
Ranger-Carle
O’Brien-Kuba
Lundin-Picard
Extras: Hutchinson, Smaby, Wishart

Goal
Mike Smith, Olaf Kolzig, Kari Ramo

The top line of Prospal, Lecavalier and St. Louis stays intact from last season (before Prospal was traded at the deadline) and has proven itself to be one of the better top lines in the league. The second line is a mix of a couple of free agent signings and first overall draft pick Steve Stamkos. It is really difficult to figure out how well this line might come together but they have the ability to be a very solid second line as well. But as good as the top 2 lines are offensively, one might question whether they have the defensive awareness of other top lines (particularly Detroit’s top line of Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom). Beyond the top 2 lines they have some good depth with a mix of skill, experience and leadership. All things considered the Lightning have assembled what could be (if they come together in the right way) one of the better groups of forwards in the league.

But that brings us to two potential sore spots. Defense and goaltending. With the departure of Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich, Filip Kuba and Andrew Hutchinson (who played all of last year in the AHL) are their only defensemen over the age of 25. That is going to put a lot of pressure on Paul Ranger, Matt Carle and Shane O’Brien. All three of those guys have a variety of positive attributes but one has to wonder if any of the three are ready to lead a team to a long playoff run.

Often the best counter to a young defense is to offset it with top tier goaltending. Problem is, I don’t think the Lightning have that either. Key to their hopes is Mike Smith, acquired from Dallas as the key component in the Brad Richards trade. Unfortunately Mike Smith has just 57 games of NHL experience with decent but certainly not near the top of the league .905 save %. Management brought in veteran Olaf Kolzig to help Smith out but in 54 games with the Capitals last year Kolzig looked mediocre at best with a 0.892 save %. One has to wonder if Kolzig has another year left in him or whether he would have been better off retiring.

To summarize, the Lightning should be able to score a lot of goals, particularly if Stamkos can have a solid rookie season. Unfortunately they will also likely give up a lot of goals which will limit how much success they will have. Poor defensive teams sometimes make the playoffs but rarely go deep into the playoffs. In a weak southeast division the Lightning are almost a lock to make the playoffs but I would be surprised if they managed to make much of a playoff run. Their defense and goaltending just aren’t ready for that yet.

Aug 122008
 

The Islanders just earlier today named Scott Gordon as their new head coach for the upcoming season. The AHL coach of the year will not return to Providence to defend his coaching title, moving up the ranks for his first big league job. I’m sure Garth Snow is hoping that Gordon will grow with this young Islanders squad, and there’s no doubt this team will be going through some growing pains, although Doug Weight was signed to make the transition easier for the kids. The 45-year old Gordon beat out Paul Maurice and Bob Hartley for the job. Reading Snow’s comments, it seems like there won’t be any “philosophical differences” between the two, unlike the strenuous relationship he had with former coach Ted Nolan. Asked about what type of system fans should expect to see come October, Gordon has emphasized a defense-first system, although I wonder how he’ll accomplish such a thing without a marquee defenseman. Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton are serviceable shut-down guys, but they’re not considered top-pairing calibre players. However, they do have Trent Hunter, whom I believe is one of the most underrated two-way players in the game today. I also wonder if this means that Mark Streit will be asked to be more defensively responsible than he has in the past, which may lead to lower offensive production.

The Hockey Hall of Fame has caught fire in recent years for turning a blind eye towards female hockey players and their contributions. The US HHOF named their four inductees today, headlined by Cammi Granato, making her the first woman to be ever inducted into the Hall. Granato, arguably the most famous female American hockey player led the Americans to an upset over a heavily favoured Canadian squad at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, capturing their first and only gold medal in Olympic competition. She currently works for NBC’s hockey coverage and a partner of BelaHockey, a hockey manufacturing company that caters exclusively to female hockey players. She will be inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame on October 10 at the University of Denver along with Brett Hull and former Ranger teammates Brian Leetch and Mike Richter. Take a page out of their book, I say.

Aug 122008
 

The NHL just recently released their preseason schedule, and you can see the entire list here. A couple things that are sticking points…

- I like the fact that instead of having regular season games in Europe they’re playing preseason games, and against European clubs, no less. The games mean less to them and their jetlag will be overcome by Opening Night. Following in David Stern‘s footsteps (surprise), Gary Bettman has decided to try and market the NHL game globally, even though a large number of current NHLers are not from North America, unlike the NBA, which averages about 1-2 Europeans per team. Some even have none. While I think playing preseason games elsewhere in the world is a great idea which will perhaps build popularity and overseas interest (much like basketball and baseball), I sincerely hope Bettman doesn’t even remotely consider establishing franchises in Europe as Paul Godfrey once idiotically suggested on OTR.

- This will perhaps be the first time we get a better sense of how good the other European clubs are, playing against NHL teams. Back when the all-star game featured NHL all-stars against the Russian national teams, it wasn’t pretty. The KHL (formerly RSL) has always contended that their teams were as good, if not better, than some teams in the NHL. We will know soon enough on October 1 when the Rangers face Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Bern. The Lightning will face the DEL’s Eisbaren Berlin, the reigning league champs, while the Sens will face off against the SEL’s Vastra Frolunda and the Pens against the FNL’s Jokerit Helsinki.

- A lot of games will be played in cities that do not feature a NHL team, but perhaps future potential franchise expansion or re-location destinations, including Halifax, Kansas City, Winnipeg, London, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas at the storied MGM Grand. There’s little doubt in anyone’s minds that the Halifax, Winnipeg, and London games will be jam-packed, but what of Salt Lake, Kansas and Vegas? You can bet that Bettman will be on hand to personally oversee the games, as it features three very real destinations for expansion or re-location. Should the games create a lot of buzz and sell-out well in advance (I don’t think it will), you can bet that Bettman will bring up expansion once more. It’s very interesting to note that no games will be played in Hamilton. A shot at Jim Balsillie? Maybe.

- The most idiotic game? The Kings against the Sharks in Utah on a Sunday. If Bettman has forgotten, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons), is the predominant religion of Utah, and its followers account for roughly 60% of the state’s population. The ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies averages a little under 4000 fans per game in a 10 100 seat capacity arena. Taking a quick peek at their upcoming schedule, the Grizzlies don’t have a single Sunday home game until March. I think they’ll have quite a hard time filling the stands.

Aug 112008
 

Mark Parrish and Glen Murray may find a new home soon. The Predators counted on Alexander Radulov entering the season as one of their main scoring threats, but now that the emerging sniper has returned to Russia, it leaves a big hole on their offense. Although the Preds have decent offensive punch, without Radulov they really lack a game-breaker forward. Even with Steve Sullivan back, their wingers remain largely undersized and only above average. The Preds have never blown teams away with their offense, but rather with their grit and determination (losing Darcy Hordichuk will hurt, trust me), deep defense, and good goaltending. Neither Parrish or Murray, especially the latter, are the big goalscorers they used to be, but if the Preds are looking for depth they might be the answer. It is a much better option than trading away valuable assets on their blueline (they’ve already lost Marek Zidlicky to the Wild) for the Lightning’s unhealthy excess of forwards. Parrish has publicly stated that he is considering the Preds as one of his potential destinations.

The Kings have suddenly jumped back onto the NHL news wire, after remaining very quiet during the free agent frenzy. The purple and black have reportedly signed prospect Drew Doughty to an entry-level contract. The second overall selection in this year’s draft was a key player for Canada in the WJHC’s, being named the tournament’s top defenseman. The Kings have clearly got a very poor defensive corps, and although Tom Preissing has been respectable , he’s not exactly first pairing material. Should Doughty make the team out of training camp, I highly doubt he’ll be getting top four minutes. Preissing, Jack Johnson, and Matt Greene will be their top three, with potentially Denis Gauthier or Peter Harrold rounding it out. Doughty, because he’s so impressive, does not deserve to play only 10-15 minutes a game. Defensemen, as a general rule of thumb, take longer than forwards to develop, and I don’t think another season at Guelph would hurt. He is clearly heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition, but I’d rather see him log 25 minutes with the Storm rather than riding the pine in the NHL. He’s still got tons of room to improve and sitting on the bench won’t help. I think the Kings are going to let him play 9 games and then send him back to the OHL. Anything less or more is a waste of time for all involved.

Aug 102008
 

For Garth Snow and the Islanders, their search for a new head coach to replace Ted Nolan has come down to three candidates: Bob Hartley, Paul Maurice, or the AHL’s Scott Gordon.

Hartley’s NHL coaching career started in 1998 in Colorado, whose strong QMJHL and AHL records had caught the eye of then-GM Pierre Lacroix. He enjoyed 4 very successful years in Denver, including a 52-16-10-4 record and a Stanley Cup win in 2001. He was fired the following season in 2002 after a slow start, and joined the Thrashers a month later. Although he had gone from a perennial contender to a basement dweller, it didn’t stop Hartley from winning. In 2007, the Thrashers set a franchise record with 41 wins and their first ever playoff birth. But once again, despite his success the previous season, his Thrashers were off to a cold start and he was fired by Don Waddell after going pointless in six straight games. Despite all this success, depending on who you ask, Hartley isn’t exactly an angel. In 2005, against the Lightning, Thrasher Eric Boulton elbowed Paul Ranger in the head, resulting in a concussion and a fractured jaw. Boulton was subsequently suspended for six games, but it didn’t stop John Tortorella from lambasting the enforcer, saying that “no one wants to see him on the ice.” After the suspension, Boulton pleaded innocence, and claimed that he was only doing what he was told to do, implying that a frustrated Hartley had told him to get out there and headhunt. After all, Boulton is an enforcer and that’s what he’s employed by NHL teams to do. It was never definite whether or not Hartley asked Boulton to headhunt, but Hartley was under fire for a short while and since then the Thrashers and Lightning have enjoyed quite the rivalry.

To be honest, I never liked Maurice. He did a great job in Carolina, but I thought from the beginning that he was a terrible choice for the Leafs. Despite his successes, it’s always been overlooked that he is a poor special teams tactician. Throughout his coaching career, Maurice’s teams have traditionally never been good at killing penalties. In 2001, the Hurricanes had the second-best PK% in the league, but it all went downhill from there. When the Hurricanes made the finals in 2002, they were tied with the Devils with the worst PK% for playoff-bound teams in the East, with 83.7%. In his next full years, Carolina would rank 24th on the PK. In his first season with the Leafs, they had a 17.7% PP (17th) and 78.5% PK (27th). This year, their PP was 17.8% (15th) and PK 78.1% (29th). It can be argued that Maurice didn’t have the right players to work with (Peter Laviolette hasn’t exactly gotten the Canes’ PK out of the basement yet either), but I don’t think it’s a valid excuse for a playoff contender to finish near dead last in the league. He was under a lot of scrutiny in Toronto, and perhaps a move to a less hockey-crazed city would be a good change of scenery and hopefully be able to repeat the successes he had while in Carolina.

Gordon is the least well-known of the three, but is apparently well-respected in hockey circles. The former netminder enjoyed three successful years at Boston College, and started his coaching career in the IHL before moving onto the ECHL then head coach for Providence in the AHL in 2003. The 45-year old was the winner of the Louis Pieri Memorial Award, annually given to the best coach in the AHL. Considering the recent success of promoting AHL coaches (ie. Bruce Boudreau), it could be a good idea to take Gordon over the other two.

Aug 092008
 

As you can see, there have been some major changes to the HockeyAnalysis.com front page. This is just the next step in what I hope will be a transformation from what was my personal hockey blog to what I hope will become one of the premier fan-centric hockey websites.

HockeyAnalysis.com came to life after in 2005 after the 2004-05 lockout season as a an outlet for me to discuss what I am passionate about. Hockey. One of the goals I had for HockeyAnalysis.com was to add some depth to the hockey conversation taking place in the mainstream media and on most websites and blogs. I believe I have accomplished that goal on a small scale. I have tried to dig a bit deeper into both statistical analysis, team and player ratings, and I have delved a little bit into CBA and business issues. But I believe there is much more to be done and much more than I can do on my own.

Since the beginning I always had the intention to grow Hockey Analysis by bringing in other smart hockey minds to help me in my goal of understanding hockey issues on a deeper level. Early on I brought in a couple of co-writers for the blog and and while the two people I brought on board made some early contributions they soon lost interest and moved on. But this past year I decided to give it another try by bringing on more bloggers who could contribute team blogs and specialty blogs. For the most part this venture has been fairly successful as we now have close to half the teams covered in some way, have a specialty fantasy blog and a rumours blog. This update was in large part a result of the success of the team and specialty bloggers. I think it is only fair for me to convert the front page from my personal hockey blog to more of a site portal page to help promote the great work each of the writers have done.

For those who were regular readers of my personal blog, do not fear I will still be writing and doing all the same stuff I used to do but I will probably do a whole lot more as well. The front page now features a News and Rumours section which myself and Jason (from rumours.hockeyanalysis.com) will contibute articles too. The News and Rumours section will feature everything that myself and Jason have written in the past but will also contain shorter ‘news only’ posts that will report on major hockey news stories but may not have the same level of analysis that some of our posts did in the past. These posts will serve as both an information source for our regular readers and as a starting point for discussion where you the readers can post comments with your thoughts and opinions.

I have also introduced new message boards which will server as another spot for general hockey discussion. With a little effort from the Hockey Analysis bloggers and you the readers I think we can make the Hockey Analysis forums the best place for hockey discussion on the web.

This is not the final step in the growth of HockeyAnalysis.com. Over the next few weeks, months and likely years we will be undertaking more changes. In the not to distant future I hope to have each team blog set up in their own team color scheme. Down the road I will be looking a introducing newsletters, hockey pools, podcasts, and possibly video segments. I am also always on the lookout to add some quality bloggers to either take over one of the team blogs that does not have a writer yet or write a specialty blog of some kind. I am always open to ideas or suggestions so feel free to toss in your two cents.

Thanks for visiting HockeyAnalysis.com and I hope you enjoy the changes.

David Johnson

Aug 072008
 

Everyone’s least favourite fictional hockey rumour blogger is back at it again. Yup, Eklund has yet another Mats Sundin rumour.

Did we stumble on what the holdup may be?

The source, who has MANY years experience in the NHL, told me this…”I just heard that Toronto wants Sundin back and Sundin wants back in Toronto. Toronto will sign him today as long as Mats is willing to NOT include a NO TRADE CLAUSE in the contract.. That is the hold up currently and ONLY that.”

Every day Eklund has some kind of Sundin rumour. The other day he had him on the verge of signing with the Canadiens and now he has him on the verge of signing with the Leafs, if only Fletcher would give him a no trade clause.

Guess what friends, Fletcher has offered Sundin a no trade clause and has publicly stated he has no issues with offering him such a clause.

From a CBC article

Sundin earned $5.5 million last season and refused to waive his no-trade clause prior to the trade deadline. Fletcher had indicated in early June that if the Leafs were to make an offer, they would have no qualms about giving Sundin a no-trade clause again.

“If Mats comes to me and says, ‘I will sign, but I have to have a no-trade contract,’ and it is a one-year contract, he has got it,” Fletcher said.

The only hold up in the Mats Sundin saga is Mats Sundin himself. Mats Sundin is unsure if he wants to play at all next year, let alone has he decided where is is going to play. This is nothing new. Last summer John Ferguson Jr. offered Mats a one, two, or three year deal with no trade clauses and Mats took the one year deal because he wasn’t sure he wanted to play more than one more season. He has said all summer, directly or through his agent, that he has not yet decided if he wants to play next season. He just got married and it is perfectly understandable if it is now that he decides to hang up the skates and retire. But it is also perfectly understandable if he wants to take his time to make that decision.

I have heard people compare the Sundin situation to the Brett Farvre situation but the situations are completely different. Farve had a contract, retired, and then came back leaving his team on the hook for his salary in a salary cap league. Mats Sundin has no contract, he is a free agent and he will leave no teams obligated to pay him a dime should he decide not to retire. If Sundin’s is holding up or messing up any teams plans for next season then only that team is to blame because they chose to wait for Sundin. They didn’t have to. The Favre situation is analagous to the Scott Niedermayer situation from a year ago when Niedermayer chose to return and put the Anaheim Ducks in a tough position of having to deal away Andy McDonald to make room for him.

Sundin is a private person. He doesn’t tell many people about his decision making process or which direction he is leaning. Even his agent isn’t sure of what he is going to do or which way he is leaning. My guess is the only person who knows really what he is thinking is Mats himself, and possible his new wife. Anyone who tries to portray the situation as any different is feeding you a load of nonsense. Anyone who is giving you daily updates of which team is in the lead for Sundin’s services next season is feeding you a line of fiction. It’s all bogus. It is a shame that fans get all hyped up about such nonsense.

Oh, and why aren’t we hearing a daily Joe Sakic watch?