Sep 042008

For Mats Sundin, whose latest press conference revealed no new information about his hockey career. The Swede is still contemplating offers from as many as 6 teams, and potentially be the stumbling block of all the trades that would’ve been made already. Sundin now says that he will not make a decision before the NHL season, which means that guys like Mathieu Schneider, who was expected to be moved depending on where Sundin signs, won’t have to anymore. The sitting Duck has been itching to find out his new home, and sources say it is rumoured to be a strong Eastern Conference team. The Sundin saga has dragged itself out for far too long, and I doubt any new news will surface until he puts the ink on the paper.

And all smiles also to…

Brad Isbister, who has now found a home in Ottawa, thanks to Bryan Murray‘s new-found hobby of collecting former Canucks, including the speedy yet diminutive Ryan Shannon.

Jarret Stoll, who has finally inked a contract with the Kings worth $3.6m/year over 4 years. The two-way centre was on his way to a breakout season with the Oilers after an impressive 68-point season, but sputtered to start the season and never regained his form. The Kings are also happy that they are now $3.6m closer to the cap floor. $9m more to go, Dean.

Alex Pietrangelo and Zach Bogosian, who have agreed to entry-level contracts with the Blues and Kings, respectively. Pietrangelo will be a long-shot to crack the Blues’ regular lineup, but Bogosian, with a strong camp, may be able to secure a spot on the Kings’ blueline.

Anaheim Ducks

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Sep 032008

It’s a month until Opening Night, and so as a countdown I’m going to do a short preview of all 30 teams, 1 team per day, in alphabetical order. So, we kick off the countdown with the Ducks…

The Ducks looked lost and fatigued in last year’s playoffs. While Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne‘s returns gave the Ducks a quick boost, they were no where near playoff shape, having missed the majority of the regular season. Their offense took away some pressure off Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who found themselves thrust into a first line scoring role after Selanne’s short absence and Andy McDonald‘s departure. The Ducks won the Cup in 2007 because their scoring went two units deep, on offense and defense. Getzlaf and Perry were an excellent second line to compliment Selanne, and Dustin Penner‘s emergence came at the most opportune time. Now that Selanne and Niedermayer are committed to return for an entire season, don’t expect the Ducks’ offense to rank anywhere close to last season’s rank (28th). The Ducks’ kids will also be counted on to provide some offense, most notably from rookie Bobby Ryan, who has proved that the AHL is no longer the right league for him. The Ducks’ 197 GF were among the league’s worst but they could boast as many as 3 30-goals scorers this season: Getzlaf, Perry, and Selanne.

The Ducks have arguably the best 1-2 punch on defense in the league. Niedermayer is one of the most decorated defenseman of all-time, and Chris Pronger is an annual contender for the Norris. With Niedermayer back it means a potential bounce-back season from Francois Beauchemin (just 2 goals last year), his long-time defensive partner in Anaheim, and allows Pronger to move back to a much-delighted Sean O’Donnell as the shut-down pair. The main intrigue, however, lies on the third pairing. Kent Huskins is the favourite for the fifth spot, but the sixth spot remains up for grabs, and while Steve Montador has more NHL experience, rookies Brendan Mikkelson, Brian Salcido, and Brett Festerling will all figure into the mix. All three are coming off very impressive AHL campaigns, although with the Ducks’ hard-hitting style Mikkelson (6’2″, 205) has the edge.

J-S Giguere has his fair share of doubters, after being pegged as a “big pad” goalie. However, even with the pad restrictions he has backstopped the Ducks to consecutive playoff appearances while posting 3 straight 30+ win seasons. Backup Jonas Hiller is more than capable, and perhaps could find himself as a starting goalie elsewhere, but for now expect him to play anywhere from 25-30 games, giving Giguere some much-needed rest for the playoffs.

Selanne has yet to sign, but reports from Finland says he will. Mathieu Schneider will be moved in order to accomodate him, but that still won’t be enough, which possibly means that the fleet-footed Todd Marchant may be going out the door, along with his $2.65m salary. Marchant’s limited offensive upside despite his good skating have rendered him as a fourth line centre behind Samuel Pahlsson, and at that price tag he’s simply too expensive. The Ducks have at least 3 kids (Petteri Wirtanen, Andrew Ebbett, and Ryan Carter) and Joakim Lindstrom waiting in the wings to take his spot. Logan MacMillan, who signed with the Ducks this summer after 3 seasons with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, is a long-shot to make the squad.

One of the x-factors to Anaheim’s success is Chris Kunitz. Like Penner, Kunitz exploded onto the hockey radar in the playoffs, whose hard-nosed play despite his rather small stature (he stands only 6’0″) was applauded by all. However, after being named alternate captain, Kunitz has developed a propensity to disappear for stretches, especially if he’s not on Getzlaf and Perry’s line. Some of that can be attributed to coach Randy Carlyle‘s line-juggling, but the Ducks need more out of the left winger, whose production slipped from 60 to 50 points. The third defensive pairing must also hold together, even though Pronger and Niedermayer can log over 50 minutes a night combined.

Projected Lineup:
Chris Kunitz – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry
Andrew Miller – Brendan Morrison – Teemu Selanne
Travis Moen – Samuel Pahlsson – Rob Niedermayer
Brian Sutherby – Todd Marchant – Bobby Ryan

Scott Niedermayer – Francois Beauchemin
Sean O’Donnell – Chris Pronger
Kent Huskins – Steve Montador

J-S Giguere – Jonas Hiller

scratches: George Parros, Brad May, Ryan Carter

Head Coach: Randy Carlyle
GM: Brian Burke

Projected finish: 2nd Pacific, 4th West

The Other One

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Aug 302008

We know that Joe Sakic‘s coming back. Mats Sundin‘s still deciding. But what of Teemu Selanne? The Finnish Flash has remained quiet this summer, but reports from Sportsnet and a Finnish source say that he is returning this year – after the Ducks move Mathieu Schneider of course.

The Ducks are roughly $1.5m over the cap space with Schneider, which begs the question of how much Selanne is coming back for. If Schneider was dealt with the Ducks not taking on any additional salary (I highly doubt they will), they’d be roughly $3m-$3.5m under the cap, a perfect figure heading into the season as an emergency cushion, as Bobby Ryan, Petteri Wirtanen, and Logan MacMillan are on bonus-laden, entry-level contracts. The Ducks have to ensure they have enough cap room to accomodate their bonuses should they reach them. That being said, the question is, how cheap will Selanne come? Sakic re-signed with the Avs for $6m, but the Avs had made sure they had ample room to accomodate their captain, and sit roughly $5m under the cap.

While Selanne’s situation is a little different than Scott Niedermayer‘s in the sense that Selanne’s not under contract, Brian Burke‘s moves to replace Niedermayer (Schneider), are now preventing him from re-signing Selanne, but not for long. Either way, adding Selanne gives them another formidable offensive weapon, and whatever Selanne signs for, I don’t think this will be the end of the moves made by the Ducks before Opening Night. Todd Marchant ($2.5m) is still rumoured to be on the block.

Aug 272008

More on Mats Sundin. The endless carousel goes ’round and ’round, with still no end in sight.

“This is the song that never ends,
As it goes on and on my friends.
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was,
And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…”

While Sundin sits on his sofa and mulls over his options, teams are getting anxious, reports Bruce Garrioch. Sundin is going to be the first domino to fall – once he decides what to do, there will be a flurry of moves as teams move to their Plan Bs. Others are waiting to see where he signs, because some players on the block, like Mathieu Schneider, are of interest to team(s) who are in the Sundin sweepstakes as well. I think that team’s the Habs, and here’s why.

The Rangers sit only $2m below the cap ceiling, and wth Sundin they’ll have to clear at least $7-8m (assuming that Sundin signs for $7m/year) to accomodate him. Only 3 Rangers are making more than $7m, and two of them are, you guessed it, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, the Rangers’ big spendings last summer. Getting Sundin will give them arguably the strongest group down the middle (perhaps Dallas can challenge), but to accomodate Sundin one of them has to go. It seems a little strange that Glen Sather would deal away a younger player on a long-term contract for a short-term, one-year fix like Sundin – but then again, it is Sather, and he’s known for bold moves. Once Sundin retires, the Rangers will once again have money to play with, and once again in search of another scoring centre. Gomez can be moved to the wing since Drury is better at face-offs, but in actuality it was Drury who spent more time on the wing last year than Gomez. Not including this year, Gomez has 4 years remaining on his contract while Drury has 3. Gomez’s cap hit is slightly higher than Drury’s, but he is 3 years younger. I don’t think either player will be too pleased with the Rangers if they get traded, but they will give the “it’s part of the business” speech regardless, even though both sides had publicly stated that they’re committed long-term and the contract was signed in good will.

If the Rangers are ready to go to such drastic lengths to accomodate Sundin, then I would think that they’d be ready to accomodate Schneider as well. Schneider’s $5.625m cap hit is smaller, but the Rangers will still have to clear some $6m of cap space, and that’s harder than accommodating Sundin. Even with a package of Paul Mara and Petr Prucha that’s not enough. I’m not too sure who would be sent away should Schneider end up a blueshirt, but I would think that both Gomez and Drury would stay. I would rule Wade Redden, Dmitri Kalinin, and Michal Rozsival out of the question, considering they’ve just signed this summer. It does not speak well of the Rangers organization if they do trade either of them, after all, they’ve finally clawed their way back to respectability with “proper” team building. Paul Mara would be an interesting option, but with his $1.95m salary he’d have to be packaged with someone else. Added to that speculation is the fact that Schneider is a native of New York City.

The Habs have $6m in cap space. Without moving anyone, they can accomodate Schneider, but for the sake of having emergency cap space, they’d only have to deal away one player, and considering that their player salary structure isn’t as extreme as the Rangers, they have a lot of mid-salary players they can part with, including Francois Bouillon and Mathieu Dandenault, who are going to be UFAs next summer. Simply put, I think the Habs will have a much easier time accomodating Schneider’s salary than the Rangers, and they do have plenty of youngsters to offer Anaheim. Tack on the fact that Bob Gainey has made it known that he’s less than optimistic about Sundin going to Montreal, he may have had enough of the waiting game and elected to bolster his blueline instead.

Toronto and Vancouer are long-shots to land Schneider, and I would think that Vancouver has little to zero interest in the veteran blueliner considering their current defensive corps. Toronto could make a pitch to replace the soon-to-be-Panther Bryan McCabe, but I don’t think adding more salary, especially with a 39-year old, is in the team’s best interests going forward.

While the Habs and Rangers are fine without either Sundin or Schneider, there’s no doubt that the addition of either would help, it just all depends on who’s going out the door.