Feb 262009
 

TSN is reporting that the Penguins have found a winger Sidney Crosby by trading defenseman Ryan Whitney to the Ducks for winger Chris Kunitz and prospect LW Eric Tangradi, who was a second round draft pick in 2007.

This trade is most interesting from the Ducks point of view.  The Ducks were able to make this trade largely because of the development of Bobby Ryan who has proven himself to be a top six player.  That made Kunitz expendable.  But even more interesting is the acquisition of Ryan Whitney, a top pairing defenseman, means that it is almost certain that at least one of Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer are likely to be traded, as has been rumoured.  This trade could begin the dominos falling.

Update:  Another minor trade has been made as the Canadiens att some defense depth by trading fourth liner Steve Begin to the Dallas Stars for Doug Janik who has played most of the season in the AHL.  Nothing significant here, just some shuffling of depth players.

Feb 202009
 

So the Ottawa Senators just traded Dean McAmmond and a late first round pick for Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli.  Mike Comrie is set to become an unrestricted free agent so for a team that won’t make the playoffs (though maybe Bryan Murray is dreaming otherwise), he presents very little value in return, let alone the fact that he really isn’t that good of a player anyway.  He’s not good enough offensively (for the most part) to play on the top two lines, and too weak defensively and inconsistent to play on a third line checking role.

So in essence this trade almost comes down to a late first round pick for Chris Campoli.  So, what can Campoli bring you?  Not a lot to be honest.  He has some skill with the puck, which the Senators do need, but on a good team the best you can expect is he will be a third pairing defenseman and maybe play on the second power play unit.  There are a few teams in the NHL he may struggle to make the defense at all (San Jose, Detroit, and maybe even teams like Florida or Toronto when they are healthy).  On the Islanders he played 19:49 per game which is less than Streit, Gervais, Meyer, Martinek, Sutton and Witt.  Last year he played 19:09 which trailed Martinek, Witt and Gervais.  So while the last place Islanders had a use for him, he was hardly a superior, irreplacable component of their defense.

So, have the Senators over paid for Campoli?  Is Campoli’s greatest asset the fact he is signed for next season at $675,000?  And if Campoli is really worth a first round pick, are other cheap, signed, 3rd pairing defensemen also worth a first round pick?  I am not so sure.  A similar defenseman to Campoli is Marc-Andre Bergeron, formerly of the Islanders and now of the Minnesota Wild.  Like Campoli he is primarilly a puck moving defenseman who lacks size and is questionable defensively.  A year ago (Feb 26, 2008) the Islanders traded Bergeron to the Ducks for a third round pick and last summer the Ducks traded him to the Wild for a third round pick.  Yes, Campoli has a little cheaper of a contract, but is that (and whatever Comrie gives you this season) really worth bumping the third round pick to a first round pick?  I am not so sure.

So, either the Senators vastly over paid for Campoli, or else cheap defensemen have suddenly become a highly sought after commodity.  If so, expect Brian Burke’s phone to be ringing off the hook for a guy like Ian White (who is regularly playing 25+ minutes a game in all situations and is set to make just $950,000 next season (with just an $850,000 cap hit).

Feb 192009
 

The NHL trade deadline is less than 2 weeks away so it is time that we take a look at what trades might or might not happen between now and then. Here are some of the selling teams to watch as we approach the deadline.

New York Islanders

The Islanders are clearly the worst team in the NHL this season and they also have several players that they will likely trade. The two soon to be unrestricted free agent veterans that will likely draw the most attention are center Doug Weight and winger Bill Guerin. Despite the Islanders problems both are having decent seasons and will be able to provide some solid secondary scoring for any team looking to make a playoff run. Mike Comrie is another forward that is available but I am not sure there will be much interest. Andy Hilbert is also a pending UFA and could be a useful and cheap addition for some teams who don’t want to spend too much at the deadline.

Atlanta Thrashers

The Thrashers are likely the unanimous choice as the league’s second worst team and they have already made a couple moves, first by moving Jason Williams to Columbus a while back and more recently by sending Mathieu Schneider to the Canadiens. The next obvious candidate to be traded is pending UFA Niclas Havelid who could be a nice pickup for a team looking to add some depth on defense. There has been some talk that either Kari Lehtonen or Johan Hedberg could be traded but more likely a Lehtonen trade will occur in the off season.

Toronto Maple Leafs
One of the more interesting teams to watch will be the Maple Leafs because everyone is wondering what new GM Brian Burke will do. Many are expecting Burke to make a number of significant moves to turn over his lineup, but the reality is Burke is under no pressure (except fan and media pressure which he doesn’t care about) to do very much at all. The reason is, most of the Leaf roster is signed for next season. The only unrestricted free agents on the team are Nik Antropov , Dominic Moore and Brad May and all indications are that Burke would like to sign Moore to a contract extension if the dollars make sense. That means Antropov is the only player that Burke is almost 100% certain to trade and if he doesn’t get the right offers there is certainly a chance that that is all he will do. But if the right offers come along you can expect Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, and Mike Van Ryn to all be available. The public word from Burke is that he does not expect Tomas Kaberle to be traded as he is reluctant to give up someone of Kaberle’s skill set who is signed long term at a very reasonable contract. While this makes perfect sense one also has to wonder if he is attempting to push the price of Kaberle up. Before the season began many thought that goalie Vesa Toskala would be one of the Leafs most sought after players at the trade deadline but that seems unlikely due to Toskala’s poor play. Finally, do not be surprised if the Leafs become buyers of contracts at the deadline. By that I mean the Leafs have the cap space to take on contracts that other teams are looking to dump in order to free up cap space to make another trade and in doing so add a draft pick. For example, if the Penguins needed to free some salary cap space to make another trade, Burke may be willing to take on Miroslav Satan and the remainder of his $3.5 million salary if the Penguins also sent the Leafs a third round pick.

Tampa Bay Lightning

There has been a lot of talk about the Lightning considering trading Vincent Lecavalier but I doubt this happens at the trade deadline. This is more of an off season move if it were to happen. But the Lightning have a couple veterans that might interest contending teams that likely won’t cost too much. Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts. Marek Malik may also draw some attention as a depth defenseman.

Colorado Avalanche

Probably the only team that is a sure bet to be sellers in the western conference at the trade deadline are the Colorado Avalanche and they will have several players available for trade. Pending UFA’s that they are likely to trade are Ian Laperriere and Jordan Leopold. The other big name that is rumoured to be up for grabs is Ryan Smyth but with his contract for 3 more years for a total of $16.5 million that might be a tough sell. Only teams with ample salary cap room in the upcoming years will likely consider him.
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Feb 172009
 

We have had several new bloggers join the HockeyAnalysis.com team over the last week or two so I figured it was time I make an announcement about it.

Flames Blog: Matt who has been doing some blogging in the Fantasy Hockey section has taken over the Flames blog and has already made several quality posts so go check them out.

Second Canadiens Blog: We now have a second Canadiens Blog which is being written by The Flying Frenchman. You can check it out at habs.hockeyanalysis.com.

Colorado Avalanche: Finally, Peter has just been set up to begin blogging for the Colorado Avalanche and he should get started posting shortly.

If everyone could drop by and give these new bloggers a warm welcome that would be great. They should be a great addition to the HockeyAnalysis.com team.

Finally, if anyone is having problems accessing these subdomain blogs, please let me know if you have not done so yet. There seems to be some issues with some DNS servers nor correctly resolving these subdomain addresses and I’d like to get to the bottom of why this is the case.

Feb 132009
 

Teams have about 28-30 games left in the season but if the playoffs started now, what would they look like? Since teams have played a different number of games, instead of using points, I looked at points per game played to rank teams. In the east nothing changed among playoff teams but in the west Dallas and Vancouver swapped positions and Anaheim falls right out of the playoffs. The playoffs match ups would be:

Eastern Conference
Buffalo at Boston
Florida at New Jersey
Montreal at Washington
NY Rangers at Philadelphia

Definitely some interesting match ups there. You have divisional rivals Boston and Buffalo and New York Rangers and Philadelphia and then two less physical, more skilled teams going at each other in Montreal at Washington. A few years ago Florida at New Jersey would have been a complete snooze fest but New Jersey is a bit more interesting team now with the skill of Parise, Elias, Gionta and others and Florida, while a defense first team, has some good young players. Still, with that said, this would not exactly be the most exciting hockey one could see.

Western Conference

Edmonton at San Jose
Minnesota at Detroit
Vancouver at Calgary
Dallas at Chicago

Good news, bad news for Edmonton fans. The good news is you made the playoffs, the bad news is you face a near impossible challenge of beating the San Jose Sharks. As good as Detroit is, Minnesota with their good defense and goaltending could put up a good challenge, particularly if Gaborik can find a way to get back in the lineup for the playoffs. Vancouver vs Calgary would be a match up made in Western Canada heaven. Like Minnesota, Vancouver’s goaltending could post a threat to the Flames, but otherwise the Flames are a better all round team. Dallas at Chicago is the veteran team vs the up and comers. I tend to think that Dallas could upset the Blackhawks but this series might come down to which team gets better goaltending. Turco hasn’t been great this year but you know he has the ability and Khabibulin has been pretty good but might be the streakiest goalies in the NHL so is more than capable of going on a cold streak. Huet is a solid goalie ready to step in if needed though.

What are your thoughts? Which teams do you think will make the playoffs and do you have any dark horse candidates to make a lengthy run in the playoffs?

Feb 092009
 

The possibility certainly exists that 5 of the 6 post-lockout Stanley Cup finalists won’t make the playoffs this year.  Ottawa has all but been eliminated while Pittsburgh, Carolina, Edmonton and Anaheim all remain on the bubble.  Detroit is the only post-lockout conference winner to be securely in a playoff spot.  Is that a result of parity or mass mediocrity?

Brian Burke has a history of reacquiring players he knows well.  This is why he went after Brad May in a minor move and this is why I believe that there is a more than good chance that he’ll try to bring in the Sedin twins this summer if Vancouver fails to re-sign them.  But another player to look at is JS Giguere in Anaheim who has all but lost his job, at least in the short term, to Jonas Hiller, and the Ducks might be interested in shedding salary so they can fill in holes elsewhere in their lineup.  The only caveat is Giguere’s no trade clause but if he’ll likely waive it instead of being a backup.

Speaking of Leafs goaltending, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson put out the challenge to Vesa Toskala to improve his practice habits and in turn improve his game which has been mediocre at best this season.  How much has goaltending hurt the Leafs?  Well, they have the worst team save percentage this year at 87.5%.  If they could improve that to a measly 10th worst in the league, or 90.1%, the Leafs would have allowed 149 goals instead of 188 goals.  Combine that with their 155 goals for and they would have the same number of goals for and against as the Montreal Canadiens, who are sitting in 5th spot in the conference 15 points ahead of the Leafs.

Tampa couldn’t do it, Ottawa is failing at it, and Pittsburgh is on the verge of missing the playoffs because of it.  I am talking about spending a boat load of money on two or three mostly offensive oriented forwards.  Tampa spent a lot of money on Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis and failed to obtain much success.  Ottawa has seen their defense decimated and goaltending faulter because they have spent too much on Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson (and to a lesser extent Fisher).  In Pittsburgh they have spent some money on defense and goaltending in addition to their big two of Crosby and Malking, but that meant that Crosby and Malkin are pretty much playing on their own.

I have said this before but it deserves mentioning again, I think Dave Tippett of the Dallas Stars is one of the most under rated coaches in the NHL.  This team not that long ago was the worst team in the NHL but post Sean Avery they have an outstanding 18-8-3 record which has propelled them into 5th spot in the western conference.

One of the most under rated defenseman in the NHL has to be Dennis Wideman who is having an outstanding season in Boston.  He ranks 6th in points and tied for 5th in goals by defensemen adn his +31 ranking is second in the league for any player.  If he continues to play like this into next season he’ll deserve some consideration for the Canadian Olympic team.

When I scan down the list of top point producers in the NHL this year I see a lot of familiar names but no on ever mentions the outstanding year that David Krejci is having with 56 points and sitting 12th in league scoring.  He is a big reason for the Bruin’s success and ability to survive injuries to Bergeron and Sturm.

Has Jason Blake played well enough to make him tradeable, or has he played so well the Leafs won’t want to trade him.  He is on pace for 30 goals, 65 points and for a guy who kills penalties as well he is more than earning his $4 million salary cap hit this year.

It is hard to be optimistic about the New York Islanders future when their leading point producers up front are Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Trent Hunter, Richard Park and Mike Comrie.  That is not a group of players to build a future around.

Feb 022009
 

Let me start off by saying that I wasn’t a huge fan of the Hartsburg hiring as I don’t think Hartsburg had done anything at the NHL level to show that he is a true top level coach, something that the Senators definititely should have been looking for. But he was available and relatively inexpensive and maybe that is why Murray hired him. But this is seemingly Murray’s second bad coach hiring after John Paddock failed a season ago and was fired less than 12 months ago.

But Murray’s bad decisions go beyond coaching. Some of his player personnel decision have been poor as well, particularly when it comes to his defense. Bryan Murray took over for John Muckler just after the Senators lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup final. That Cup Final team defense consisted of:

Wade Redden
Joe Corvo
Tom Preissing
Andrej Meszaros
Anton Volchenkov
Chris Phillips

That was a pretty solid defense group with a mix of offensive and defensive defensemen. This years defense crew consists of:

Filip Kuba
Alexandre Picard
Chris Phillips
Anton Volchenkov
Jason Smith
Brian Lee
Brendan Bell

One season ago Jason Smith was seeing his ice time diminish in Philadelphia (yet he earned a sizable contract in Ottawa), Picard couldn’t play as a regular in Tampa last year, Bell couldn’t make the Phoenix Coyotes and Brian Lee played mostly in the AHL. And to top it off, Chris Phillips has started to look old and slow this year and sports a teams worse +/- at -20. To make matters worse, Joe Corvo is playing quite well in Carolina and Mike Commodore, who Murray acquired for Corvo and then let go as a UFA, is playing his best hockey ever in Columbus.

Prior to the recent collapse of the team on the ice, the Senators were primarily an offensive oriented team who utilized an excellent transition game and power play to dominate opponents. They would pressure the opposition with speed and quickness, force turnovers, and then mount a quick counter attack. But with much less speed and skill on the back end, that quick counter attack game plan fails before it can even get started.

Craig Hartsburg attempted to convert the Senators into more of a defensive oriented team and to some extent he succeeded as the Senators have given up far fewer goals this year than last, but the problem has been that the defensive focus combined with the lack of skill on the back end means they just can’t score enough goals.

In under a calendar year the Senators have fired John Paddock, seen Bryan Murray take over as interim coach, replaced Murray with Hartsburg and have now fired Hartsburg. That is three coaches, and three coaching failures, in under a calendar year. When will the time come when owner Eugene Melnyk realizes that the problem isn’t coaching but rather player personnel and the management group that brings in that player personnel. But maybe he is still in denial.