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.

Sep 242007
 

Over the next week I am going to be posting brief reviews of what we can expect from each team in the NHL for the upcoming season. Included will be some team strengths and weaknesses as well as some question marks for what to look for and a final outlook. The question marks will be an indication of what might occur and if it does they could finish better than I expect. Finally, once all the previews are complete I will post my final standings predictions. So, lets start off in the Pacific Division.

Anaheim Ducks
Strengths:
-One of the best goaltending tandems in the league.
-The experience of winning the Stanley Cup.
-Young talent in Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan.
-Chris Pronger (and Niedermayer if he returns)
Weaknesses:
-For whatever reason, recently teams that make the Stanley Cup finals have struggled the following season.
-The loss of Selanne, Niedermayer and Penner takes a lot away from last years cup wining team.
-Questionable health of newcomers Bertuzzi and Schneider
Question Marks:
-Will Niedermayer or Selanne return at some point?
-Can Bertuzzi become the 25 goal, 60+ point guy the Ducks need him to be?
-Will they eventually trade Bryzgalov for some help elsewhere.
Outlook:
-The Ducks should easily make the playoffs but defending the Stanley Cup is going to be difficult with the current lot of players as they likely haven’t adequately replaced the performances of Selanne, Niedermayer and Penner. Of course, that all changes should Niedermayer return because the Ducks would then have an insanely good defense that no team could come close to matching.

Dallas Stars
Strengths:
-Goaltending with Marty Turco and Mark Smith.
-One of the better defensive teams in the league.
Weaknesses:
-They will struggle to score goals.
Question Marks:
-Can Mike Modano, at age 37, return to a point per game player after a sub-par year in 2006-07.
-How much does 37 year old Sergei Zubov have left in the tank to anchor their power play.
Outlook:
-When you look at the Dallas roster you wonder how they managed to have back to back seasons of 112 and 107 points but you have to give them credit for getting them done. It is probably fair to expect more or less the same this season and a playoff spot but unless they can figure out how to score some goals they can’t be considered a true cup contender.

Los Angeles Kings
Strengths:
-Young talent in Frolov, Cammalleri, Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Patrick O’Sullivan, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Bernier.
-Added some good depth (for the short term) with the signings of Nagy, Handzus, Calder, Preissing and Stuart.
-Lots of salary cap space going forward to continue rebuilding process.
Weaknesses:
-To say goaltending is a weakness is an understatement. They were bad last year and probably their best goalie Mathieu Garon walked via free agency. That leaves Jason LaBarbera, who had a solid year in the AHL last year but isn’t generally highly regarded, a very weak backup in Aubin and a 19 year old prospect in Bernier.
Question Marks:
-Will they risk Bernier’s confidence/development and give him an opportunity to play or will the trade for a goalie (Martin Gerber??).
Outlook:
-This is no doubt going to be a transition year for the Kings. I can’t see them making the playoffs, or even being close, but as a franchise they are headed in the right direction. They have lots of young talent and I expect them to be big players in next years free agent market as they have a lot of cap room and the free agent market has the potential to bee better than this years (Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa being two potential prime targets).

Phoenix Coyotes
Strengths:
-Hmmm. Shane Doan maybe?
-They have some decent talent on defence with Jovanovski, Michalek, Ballard, Morris and Boynton.
Weaknesses:
-Pretty much everything but mostly they lack any top end forwards outside of Doan who is more of a second line player.
-Several backup goalies but no starters.
Question Marks:
-How bad will this team be?
Outlook:
-There isn’t much positive going to happen in Phoenix this season so the best Coyote fans can probably hope for is a last place finish and the first pick in next years draft.

San Jose Sharks
Strengths:
-Quality and depth of forward with Thornton and Marleau being one of the best one-two center tandems in the league and Cheechoo and Michalek providing some scoring from the wings.
-Excellent young talent in Michalek, Bernier, Carle, Pavelski, and Vlasic.
Weaknesses:
-The defense lacks a true #1 guy and the loss of Scott Hannan will be felt.
-Overall experience and/or depth at forward, on defence and in goal.
Question Marks:
-How quickly can San Jose’s young players really take their game to the next level.
-Can Nabokov stay healthy and/or will San Jose acquire a quality backup for him?
Outlook:
-The Sharks have the makings of a really good team but they are still missing some parts, particular a true #1 defenseman, and some experience this will hold them back from being true top tier Stanley Cup contenders. I think they need another year or two.

Sep 112007
 

I was going to write up team by team reports, and I may still do that for some teams, but I decided to first post some numerical evaluations of each team in nice and easily readable table format. I have divided each team up into Forwards, Defense and Goaltending and then divided each of those groups into Talent, Depth and Experience/Leadership and ranked each of those nine categories based on a score out of 10. I then summed up all 9 categories to get an overall team score. Below are my results for the western conference. Let me know what you all think. For the most part I am happy with them but if you can provide a good arguement I may consider making slight modifications.

Note: I made the assumption that Niedermayer will not play for the Ducks and I also factored in a few long term injuries (i.e. Steve Sullivan is expected to miss 3 months due to back surgery).

Update:While working on the eastern conference (and in conjunction with Triumph’s comment) I have decided to tweak the overall formula. The new forumula will weight experience significantly less and also give more weight to #1 goalie and less to depth (Vancouver, Calgary, New Jersey, etc. hardly need a backup goalie). This is the new updated table.

Forwards Defense Goaltending Total
Talent Depth Exp. Talent Depth Exp. #1 goalie Depth Exp. Score
Detroit 8 5 7 10 8 8 8 6 10 54.3
Vancouver 7 6 6 7 8 6 10 7 6 52.5
Anaheim 7 7 6 9 6 8 8 7 8 51.8
Dallas 6 7 7 7 7 8 8 8 7 50.3
Calgary 7 6 7 8 7 6 9 4 7 50.2
San Jose 9 7 7 6 7 5 8 5 7 49.8
Minnesota 8 6 7 6 8 7 7 6 4 47.5
Colorado 8 7 7 7 7 6 6 6 5 47.0
Edmonton 6 6 5 7 7 6 7 7 7 46.0
St. Louis 7 6 7 6 7 6 7 6 6 45.8
Nashville 6 7 6 7 7 6 7 4 5 45.2
Los Angeles 6 7 6 7 7 7 5 5 5 43.0
Chicago 7 5 5 5 5 4 7 6 7 40.8
Columbus 6 6 6 5 5 5 6 6 6 39.7
Phoenix 4 5 5 7 7 7 5 6 5 39.2
Sep 052007
 

Ok, it’s time to get back in hockey mode and start looking to the upcoming season which is less than a month away. But first, let me look at a handful of good and bad off season moves.

The Good

Ryan Whitney: While Whitney doesn’t get the media attention of his teammate forwards Crosby, Malkin and Staal, he is one of the best young defensemen in the NHL and had an excelleny year last year with 14 goals, 59 points and a +9. The Penguins made a very smart move locking up Whitney for the next 6 years at a respectable $4 million per season. In a few years they could have a Norris contender in Whitney for about half of what other top defensemen will be making.

Tomas Vokoun: For a price of a couple of draft picks the Florida Panthers went out and picked up one of the best goalies in the NHL. Florida had mediocre goaltending last year and missed the playoffs by 6 points. With Vokoun in net and with some improvement from some of their other young players I expect the Panthers will have an excellent shot at a playoff spot this season and will contend for the division title.

Smyth/Hannan: The Avalanche are a team that made a big splash in the free agent pool but aren’t getting a lot of recognition for doing so. Not only did they sign two excellent players, but they may have signed the most valuable of the top free agents. Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic will provide the Avalanche the best leadership both on and off the ice than any other pair in the NHL and Hannan is a nice defensive defenseman that should help out the Avalanche in their own end. If Budaj continues his improvement in goal, the Avalanche could be cup contenders once again.

Toskala: The price was fairly high but the Leafs addressed their most pressing need with the acquisition of Vesa Toskala. While Toskala is still unproven as an NHL starting goalie, he will most certainly be better than Aubin and will give coach Maurice with a pair of goalies (with Raycroft) so that he can go with the hot hand. The Leafs missed the playoffs by a single point and adding Toskala should easily make up that point and get them into the playoffs.

Keenan: The Calgary Flames big spash of the summer was bringing in an experienced, hard nosed coach in Mike Keenan. Keenan will have the team playing harder, tougher and better defensively which is what took them to the Stanley Cup finals a few years back. Keenan will coach more like how Sutter did and I expect the Flames will be an improved team this upcoming season because of it.

Preissing/Handzus/Nagy/Calder/Stuart – There were rumours that the Kings were going to get into the fight for the high priced free agents (Drury, Briere, Gomez, Smyth) but instead they probably went the smarter route and signed a number of cheaper second tier players. The Kings have some quality talent in Cammaleri, Frolov, Kopitar and others so didn’t really need more talent. What they really needed was some depth and experience to mentor that young talent and take some pressure off them and that is exactly what they added.

Todd White – I don’t know why, but I just really like this move by the Atlanta Thrashers. White is a good two-way player who has enough skill to skate with the talented players that the Thrashers have (he has played with Hossa in Ottawa too) and because he is smart defensively he complements those offensive players perfectly. The Thrashers didn’t have a lot of money to spend but made a smart move in signing White to a $2.375 million/year four year deal.

The Bad Moves

Drury – I like Chris Drury. He is a good, solid, 2-way player with good leadership skills. Problem is, he is a second line player now being paid like a first line star. He might score the Rangers 30 goals and get 65 points, but that isn’t the kind of output I would expect from a $7 million player. For that money they could have signed Peca for the leadership and defensive ability, kept Nylander to keep the successfull Jagr-Nylander-Straka trio in tact (and be certain to keep Jagr happy), plus had some money left over to bring in a quality defenseman.

Hartnell – Hartnell will certainly bring some toughness to the Flyers who have converted themselves to a softer team recently but $4.2 million for a guy who will get you 20-25 goals and 40-45 points? That’s a bit much

Lang – There are some teams out there that can just never seem to make a smart move or the mvoes they make never work out. One of those teams is the Blackhawks. They made a splash a few years ago signing Khabibulin but he has been a flop. Last year they made a splash trading for and signing Havlat and while he started off great, he got injured as he always does. This year they didn’t make quite the same sized splash signing Lang to a 2 year $8 million contract but the return on investment will be just as bad. Lang’s production has fallen from 79 points in 2003-04 to 62 points in 2005-06 to 52 points last year and at 36 years of age, that is more likely an irreversable trend than not and Lang has never brought much else to the game than his offensive abilities. Lang is done as an effective player in the NHL and the Blackhawks just made another bad move.

Toskala – Trading for Toskala was a smart move by the Leafs, giving an unproven goalie (as a starter) an extension at $4 million per year was not a smart move. I just don’t see the benefit to signing Toskala now to that large contract rather than waiting to see how he does as a starter. Even if Toskala came in played excellent and took over the starting role from Raycroft (as the Leafs hope he will do), it is unlikely that he would command much more than $4 million if they signed him in January but the risk would be dramatically lowered. It just smells Gerberesk.

Hamrlik – It is questionable whether Hamrlik will be worth his $5.5 million salary cap hit next season, but I am almost certain he will not be worth anywhere near that $5.5 million salary cap hit 4 years from now at age 36. From Kovalev to Samsonov and now to Hamrlik, Montreal seems to be good for one bad signing every summer.

LA Kings goaltending – While I think the Kings made some good moves at forward and defense, they failed to address their most pressing need of a top goalie. Until they do so, they will be a mediocre team at best and all but certain to miss the playoffs.

Other questioinable moves: Briere ($$, length of contract). Timonen ($$, length of contract). Sarich ($$). Penner (cost of compensation). Rafalski (length of contrtact), Nylander ($$, length of contract).

Mar 082006
 

A couple more trades have occurred over the last couple hours:

1. Luke Richardson to Toronto for 5th round pick and conditional 4th round pick

2. Sharks get Nieminen from Rangers for a 3rd round pick.

3. Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel to L.A. Kings for Denis Grebeshkov and Jeff Tambellini and conditional 3rd round pick

4. Montreal trades Jose Theodore to Colorado for David Aebischer

At this point in his career Luke Richardson isn’t much more than a 5th/6th or depth defenseman but what this deal might be is a precursor to another in which Klee, Berg or Khavanov get moved with Klee being the most likely.

Nieminen is a role player and a 3rd line type of guy. He’s nothing special but every team needs guys like this for depth and penalty killing. This might be a precursor to the trading of Alyn MacAuley who is rumoured to be on the block because he is the Sharks only soon to be UFA. MacAuley provides more offense than Nieminen but plays a similar 2-way, penalty killing role.

The Islanders picked up a couple of pretty good prospects in Grebeshkov and Tambellini but it cost them two pretty good players off of their roster and that is going to hurt and chance they had of getting back in the playoff race. Parrish is a goal scorer with 24 goals and 41 points so far this year and will add some much needed offense to the Kings lineup which was too dependent on Demitra who was severely missed when injured. Parrish is unrestricted free agent at seasons end. Brent Sopel is a solid defenseman as well and will certainly help the Kings especially on the power play with his good shot. Sopel is signed through next season so it gives the Kings some stability on defense going forward. This trade should help the Kings maintain a playoff position but I am still not sold on their goaltending. But you never know, maybe this too is a precursor to another deal. There were rumours of the Kings going after Luongo. Maybe this deal allows them to include a Sopel, Tim Gleason or Joe Corvo in a package for Luongo.

I don’t like the Theodore trade from a Colorado point of view, especially for this season. Theodore just hasn’t been very good this year and is currently injured. He also has a pretty hefty contract taking away some salary cap flexibility for several more years. That said, if Theodore can return to form of a few years ago this could work out well. They have had some luck with former Montreal goalies in the past so who knows. Maybe the change of scenery will do Theodore good. As for Montreal Theodore had worn out his welcome and as good as Huet has been he just isn’t going to cut it. Aebischer has suffered some inconsistancy issues but he is still relatively young with this being only his second season in the NHL as a starter. Most importantly for Montreal is they rid themselves of a hefty contract on a guy who had become a bit of a side show and a distraction for the team.

Sep 292005
 

Pittsburgh Penguins: The only direction they could really go was up, but they have gone up by quite a large margin. They haven’t really lost any significant players but have added Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi, John Leclair, Zigmund Palffy, Jocelyn Thibault and of course Sidney Crosby. Due to their weak defense I am still not convinced that they are a playoff team, especially if Lemieux can’t play a full season, but they are much improved and will no longer be pushovers. They will be dramatically better and could jump to the 80-90 point range.

Atlanta Thrashers: I like what the Atlanta Thrashers have done and I really see big things for this team in the next couple years, if not this year. Gone is Dany Heatley and some mostly ‘depth’ type players but coming to Atlanta is Marian Hossa, Bobby Holik, Niclas Havelid, Greg de Vries and Peter Bondra. But most importantly is rookie goalie Kari Lehtonen who should provide vastly improved goaltending over 2003-04 when Atlanta had one of the worst goaltending in the NHL. They need to get Ilya Kovalchuk signed though.

Chicago Blackhawks: Like the Penguins, there wasn’t really any direction other than up that they could go. The biggest move was adding Khabibulin in net which will be a big improvement over the sub-par goaltending they got in 2003-04. They also added Mathieu Barnaby, Cutis Brown, Martin Lapointe, Adrian Aucoin, Jaroslav Spacek and a few other role players. They will be much better but like the Penguins, a playoff spot playoff spot is still no guarantee but unlike the east, the west is wide open so they have a chance.

Los Angeles Kings: The only players of significance they lost is Zigmund Palffy and Martin Strake but they have added Pavol Demitra, Craig Conroy, Jeremy Roenick, Valeri Bure and goalie Mathieu Garon. Also rookie Mike Cammelleri is ready for prime time after an excellent AHL season in 2004-05 and Alexander Frolov should be ready for a 30+ goal season.

Edmonton Oilers: They added one of the top 3 defensemen in the league in Chris Pronger and that alone should improve them. They also added forward Michael Peca whose gritty physical play should be a welcome addition to the Oilers forwards who are generally more skilled than gritty. They will be better but due to questionable goaltending and a weak set of centermen a playoff spot is anything but guarateed.

Other improved teams: Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers. Possibly Philadelphia if they can stay healthy and the rookies play well. Possibly Ottawa (in the playoffs) if Hasek can be the Hasek of old.

 Posted by at 2:27 am
Sep 172005
 

Anaheim: J-S Giguere should start again for Anaheim, although he may not be recognizable without his over-sized equipment. Russian prospect Ilya Bryzgalov is a strong possibility for the backup role, however, former Ducks netminder Steve Shields has also been invited to camp and could claim the role. The expectation is that Shields and Adam Wall will play net for Anaheim’s farm team.

Calgary: Mikka Kiprusoff headlines Calgary’s attempt to return to as Western Conference Champions, and there is some question as to whether he can maintain the form he showed after being acquired from San Jose. The backup position remains less clear, as Philippe Sauve has struggled at the pro level (he played in the ECHL during the lockout) and Brent Krahn’s numerous injuries have limited his mobility and potential. Sauve, however, is expected to win the job.

Chicago: Given that six goaltenders saw NHL ice time for the Blackhawks last season, the signing of Stanley Cup champion Nikolai Khabibulin should ease the minds of fans. Although Thibault has played well since being acquired from Montreal for Jeff Hackett, Khabibulin is an instant upgrade. Michael Leighton is his likely backup, although he’ll be challenged by Illinois-native Craig Anderson in camp. Corey Crawford is a distant, if talented, prospect.

Colorado: David Aebischer, who unsurprisingly played in Switzerland during the lockout, returns as the undisputed number one man. Peter Budaj, a 22-year old prospect, seems likely to graduate to the NHL as his backup, although he may face a battle from free-agent signee Vitaly Kolesnik, who is currently the top goaltender for the Kazhakstan National Team. 26-year old Tom Lawson and CHL-starter Tyler Wieman are likely ticketed for the minors.

Columbus: Although GM Doug MacLean has stated that Martin Prusek will contend for the starting job, expect to see Marc Denis once again starting in net for the Blue Jackets. Prusek’s inconsistency and injury problems make it unlikely that he will be a viable starter. Pascal Leclaire, long tagged as the “goalie of the future” sits third on the depth chart. Tomas Popperle and Andrew Penner will likely only see minor league duty.

Dallas: Marty Turco, one of the best regular-season goalies in the past three years will start in net again. He hopes to rebound from a poor 2003-04 playoffs, where he went 1-4, with a 3.32 GAA and .849 SV%. Johan Hedberg, who struggled in Vancouver last season, was signed to back him up. Possible (but unlikely) challengers include minor-leaguers Mike Smith and Dan Ellis. Ellis played one game for Dallas in 03-04, making 25 saves for the win, but started the season in the ECHL.

Detroit: Although the combination of Chris Osgood and Manny Legace seems like a duo best suited to a 1a/1b goaltender scenario, coach Mike Babcock is on record as stating that he prefers one starting goaltender. If he in fact implements this system, give Osgood a slight edge to claim the top job, as Legace struggled last season when asked to play more than 30 games. 25-year old Joey MacDonald provides depth, while 2003 second-round pick Jimmy Howard represents a possible future starter.

Edmonton: Ty Conklin and Jussi Markannen will likely rotate games this season, and either could emerge as the starter. Markannen played well during the lockout, while Conklin emerged as Edmonton’s starter in 2003-04. There are questions about depth, as prospect Jeff Drouin Deslauriers needs seasoning and Mike Morrison needs more oppurtunities at the AHL level. Devan Dubnyk, projected as a future starter, will return to junior.

Los Angeles: Given the turmoil in net in previous seasons, it should come as little surprise that the Kings are once again sporting a new tandem. Replacing Cechmanek is 27-year old Mathieu Garon, a veteran of only 43 NHL games. Garon has long been tagged as a future starter, and played exceedingly well in the AHL during the lockout. Whether he can duplicate that success as an NHL starter is still unknown. His likely backup, 2003-04 AHL MVP Jason LaBarbera, has proven all he can in the minors, but with only 5 NHL starts is unlikely to take over if Garon struggles. Adam Hauser provides depth.

Minnesota: As in previous seasons, the tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez will handle goaltending duties for the Wild, with Roloson likely getting the bulk of the work. Fernandez, who has previously requested more playing time, may be dealt. 21-year old Josh Harding provides depth and could eventually succeed Roloson as starter.

Nashville: Tomas Vokoun, who won the gold medal with the Czechs at the 2005 World Championships should again be one of the better starting netminders in the league. Current backup Chris Mason may be pushed by 1999 first-rounder Brian Finley, whose development has been stalled by a serious groin injury, although Finley seems likely to return to the AHL.

Phoenix: For a team that made a mountain of changes in the off-season, the biggest acquisition may be Curtis Joseph, who is likely to relegate inconsistent Brian Boucher to a backup role. This gives David LeNeveu, often described as a can’t-miss prospect, a little more time to play in the AHL, rather than being rushed into the big leagues. Veteran Steve Passmore will provide depth and injury insurance.

San Jose: Evgeni Nabokov will be back again as the Sharks starter, and should again perform well. The 1994 9th round pick played sparingly in Russia during the lockout, playing just under twenty games. Barring injury, Toskala should play a little less than his career high of 28 games from 2003/04. Dmitri Patzold and Nolan Schaefer, who split time in the AHL during the lockout will provide depth.

St. Louis: Patrick Lalime, following struggles in Ottawa, will receive a chance to rebound with a changing Blues team. He should be an upgrade over previous starters Chris Osgood and Brent Johnson. Reinhard Divis, Curtis Sanford, and Jason Bacashihua, all of who played during the lockout will battle for a roster spot, with Divis the likely winner. Marek Schwarz could provide goaltending farther down the line.

Vancouver: Dan Cloutier, having just signed a two-year contract, returns for his fourth season as the starter in Vancouver. He played in Austria during the lockout, going 7-0-5 in 13 games in an inferior league. The real battle will be between backup possibilities Alex Auld and Brent Johnson. Auld has the edge, and seemed to be guaranteed the job before the lockout; however, his play in the minors was eclipsed by depth goalie Wade Flaherty, who took the starting job in the playoffs. Johnson, four years removed from a 34-win regular season and a playoff round with three shutouts, could surprise.

 Posted by at 10:23 am