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 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.

Dec 042008
 

There’s been a lot of talk about Sean Avery‘s recent comments and its suspension but I think there’s still some issues to discuss. There’s been some talk about the league’s motivations behind the suspension, considering that a hit from behind to the head these days gets you only 3 games. Here are some things to take into consideration as well.

1 – Avery’s smart. He knows what he has to do to drum up some excitement. A while ago he made a comment about how villains and heroes sell and he has no problem playing the villain. He relishes that role. A part of me actually thinks that he’s trying to leave a legacy the size of his ego – after all, there is already a “Sean Avery” rule. While his comment was a generalization, there’s no mistaking that it was directed at Dion Phaneuf and Elisha Cuthbert. The only thing that’s a little confusing is that he’s trying to build excitement for a game against the Flames in Calgary. To my knowledge, nobody ever needs to build up excitement for a hockey game in Canada. It’s built-in. If the game had been in Dallas, it might’ve been a little different.

2 – I didn’t find his comments that crude. It’s an off-hand comment that guys often say to each other to get the blood boiling. There have been a lot worse things said on the ice, and the line between trash talk and personal attacks is pretty fine. Denis Gauthier and Georges Laraque have both claimed to be victims of racial slurs. However, the fact that he choose to premeditate his comments and say it off ice in front of cameras was what got him into trouble. Had he said the same comments on the ice, there wouldn’t have been any ramifications at all.

3 – I think an often overlooked aspect in a physical game like this is escalation. It’s going to sound a little crazy, but what if the league wanted to protect Avery? Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla chose to ignore his comments, but you have to remember that, as non-factor as it was, Todd Bertuzzi is on the same team. Avery was asking the Flames to feed him his lunch, there’s no question about that. There’s a general bounty on all pests in the league, and perhaps none may be bigger than Jarkko Ruutu‘s, but only because Avery can still be an effective hockey player without his big mouth. What if Paul Mara had gone completely nuts and decided to pummel Ruutu whether he wanted to or not in that Rangers-Senators game? Had something happened to Avery, there would’ve been talk about the league’s clear disregard for player safety.

4 – The NHL is suspending Avery on the basis that his comments were detrimental to the league and game. What if he had just said, “Phaneuf should stop falling in love with my sloppy seconds”? Would that have made a difference? That in itself is a personal attack, albeit public, but at least Avery didn’t mention “NHL,” or “league,” or “other players.” I think that if he had chosen his comments a little more wisely, after all, he is often under the league microscope, he wouldn’t have been suspended. The comparisons to the other leagues about trash talk are baseless because of each sport’s unique culture. The cross-references to the NBA or NFL or MLB are all moot points. However, how many games Avery gets suspended for will raise further questions of disciplinary action and set a precedent for comments like these.

5 – The Stars have pretty much banished Avery. There’s no way Avery would want to come back to a team that has left him out to dry. It’s hard to stick up for a guy that is supposedly a cancer in the locker room, but he is their teammate. The fact that a traditionally close-knit team like the Stars have refused to stick up for a teammate tells us how dysfunctional that locker room really is. The Stars can’t buy out Avery until June and there won’t be many takers for Avery. The best solution for the Stars is to send him to the minor leagues and let his play do the talking before he gets another chance in the league. Brett Hull needs to find a way to offset his mistake.

Anyway, this topic has been beaten to death, and it’s time to move on. For the Stars, it’s time to right the ship. If they can’t put together a string of good games, changes are in the making. It may be time for the Stars to look outside of their organization for help.

Nov 192008
 

- No surprise from anyone that Dustin Penner got benched by Craig MacTavish. The $4.25m man never lived up to expectations and probably never well. Brian Burke felt that the massive overpayment would have ramifications on the free agent market, but it didn’t, but regardless Burke gets the last laugh because now the Oilers are stuck with Penner for a long time. Except the hockey gods are giving Penner another chance, now with Fernando Pisani is sidelined with a broken ankle.

- Craig Hartsburg is once again going to re-unite the Pizza Line. I never understood the fascination with breaking them up in the first place, it never went anywhere and the only good thing that ever came out of it was the fact that now everyone knows the Big Three can’t be separated. The Sens have been plagued with a lack of secondary scoring, and they’ve failed every summer to bring in that player, but you have to wonder if spreading around the talent is even an answer to that. Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette need to step up their game for them to be competitive. However, the Sens will continue to have problems if 1) they don’t replace players lost and 2) the players refuse to listen.

- Speaking of linemates, a lot of fans in Vancouver have been frustrated by Steve Bernier‘s lack of production with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but is it really his fault? I think the problem with that line is that the Sedins refuse to play to Bernier’s strengths. That’s not to say they should change their puck-cycling game, but too often we hear “I’m still trying to figure out the twins’ tendencies” rather than “we’re still trying to figure out Bernier’s tendencies.” Canucks management, throughout the years of its revolving door of right wingers, have cemented in their heads that there is a player out there that can perfectly compliment their game. I say that will never happen unless the Sedins do something about it.

- There’s been a clear lack of respect on all fronts in the game, on and off the ice. Off the ice, we’re seeing insubordination and a lack of respect for coaches. Case in point, Barry Melrose. Players have complained about his lack of preparation, but I really feel the players weren’t ready to listen to him since day one, and the writing was on the wall for him. There are grumblings from Ottawa that the same thing is happening. When the players dictate how management and coaches handle their duties, that’s when you know you have a problem. On the ice, I don’t think there’s been more head shots, hits from behind, puck-chasing, and board-crashing related injuries in a span of a month.

Oct 082008
 

I believe we are in for some serious surprises in both conferences as I don’t think there are many teams that are sure bets to make the playoffs and in both conferences, particularly the west, there are several younger teams ready to make a push for a playoff spot. All that means that some teams expecting to make the playoffs won’t.

Eastern Conference

1. New Jersey Devils
2. Montreal Canadiens
3. Washington Capitals
4. New York Rangers
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
6. Buffalo Sabres
7. Ottawa Senators
8. Boston Bruins
9. Philadelphia Flyers
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
11. Carolina Hurricanes
12. Florida Panthers
13. Toronto Maple Leafs
14. Atlanta Thrashers
15. New York Islanders

I think the Devils may have made the best off season acquisition by bringing in Brian Rolston from the Minnesota Wild. Rolston is a perfect fit for the Devils and will bring them some much needed offensive balance which I believe will push them into top spot in the eastern conference.

The Montreal Canadiens had a breakout season last year and will once again challenge for top spot in the eastern conference but I don’t believe Kovalev will have as good of a season and that will drop the Canadiens back a spot or two.

The Washington Capitals are the class of the southeast division and should get the third seed and I believe the Rangers and Penguins are good enough for fourth and fifth seeds. The Penguins would easily be ranked higher if it weren’t for the two long term injuries to Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

This is where things get interesting. If the Ottawa Senators found a way to add a top 4 defenseman to the mix and get consistent solid goaltending they would easily compete for the top several spots in the eastern conference. But as it stands now I think the Senators will once again struggle for consistency in goal and I don’t like any team that has an aging Jason Smith as their #4 defenseman and Lee and Picard as the third defense pair with a combined 98 games experience. If one of Phillips, Volchenkov or Kuba gets injured for a lengthy period of time this team could miss the playoffs.

I believe the Buffalo Sabres will be a surprise team this year. They have an excellent young set of forwards that learned a lot last year having to take over leadership roles with the losses of Briere and Drury. They are now ready to step up their games and take the Sabres to the playoffs once again.

The Bruins, Flyers, Lightning and maybe the Hurricanes will all struggle at times this year and any of them could miss the playoffs. I am just not sold on any of those teams having the defense and goaltending to really be a top team in the NHL. Some of you may be surprised that I include the Flyers in this group but I am still not sold on Biron being a top level goalie and I think they could use some help on defense as well with the loss of Derien Hatcher. Problem is, they don’t have much cap space to add such a defenseman. The surprise in the east could be the Flyers missing the playoffs.

The final four probably won’t get many disputes. The Panthers, having traded Jokinen, probably don’t have the offense to compete though their defense and goaltending is more than solid. Toronto could probably end up a bit higher in the standings, but I don’t think that is a goal of theirs and are likely to continue trading away players and playing youngsters over veterans, even if the veterans are better right now. The Thrashers and Islanders are just plain bad with little or no signs of life this year or in the future.

Western Conference

1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Anaheim Ducks
3. Minnesota Wild
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Dallas Stars
6. Edmonton Oilers
7. Calgary Flames
8. Chicago Blackhawks
9. Phoenix Coyotes
10. Vancouver Canucks
11. Colorado Avalanche
12. Nashville Predators
13. Columbus Blue Jackets
14. St. Louis Blues
15. Los Angeles Kings

No surprises at the top of this list as the Detroit Red Wings are the class of the league. They only question is whether they will suffer the Stanley Cup hangover that so many teams do. Being a veteran team who have gone through this before I don’t think they will and should easily be the best team in the western conference and the league.

Next up are the pacific division trio of Anaheim, San Jose and Dallas. All look to be very solid teams but I think Anaheim’s defense should allow them to take top spot followed closely by San Jose and Dallas not too far behind.

The Northwest division is real tough to predict because they all seem to have holes in their lineups. The Wild have lost Demitra and Rolston and I am not convinced bringing in Brunette and Nolan is enough to offset that loss. Calgary looks solid but only if Kiprusoff rebounds from an off season. In fact, Kuprusoff’s career is in a downward trend as his save percentages have dropped 4 seasons in a row from .933 to .923 to .917 to .906 last year. If he drops any more, the Flames could drop out of the playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern as well not looking any better than last year. The Colorado Avalanche didn’t do much to excite me this off season and I am not at all sold on a goaltending tandem of Budaj and Raycroft, which has the potential to be among the worst in the league. The aging avalanche are also injury prone and that combination will likely see them drop out of the playoffs. The only team definitively on the rise are the Edmonton Oilers who look to make a jump to the playoffs.

The other two young teams looking to make their jumps into the playoffs are the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks. Both will challenge for a playoff spot but probably only one will get in. I am putting the Blackhawks in because I believe the Coyotes need another year or two to develop their young players and they Phoenix is in a much tougher division.

In the playoffs, I am predicting San Jose will face New Jersey in the finals with New Jersey winning the cup. Regular Season MVP will be Alex Ovechkin, Norris Trophy will go to Dion Phaneuf, Vezina will go to Martin Brodeur and coach of the year will be Brent Sutter of the Devils. The top rookie will be Derick Brassard of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Oct 042008
 

- Mike Smith proved that he can handle the load. And it also proved that the Lightning need more time to gel together, after their choppy game. Speaking of turnovers, Andrej Meszaros played one of his more subpar games. I still question whether or not he deserves the ‘A’. The Lightning couldn’t get anything going, and none of the lines other than the top line showed any real chemistry. If it wasn’t for Smith the game could’ve been a blowout had the Rangers not been so rusty.

- The Rangers’ top line looks good, but the second line, other than Brandon Dubinsky, were relatively soft. Nigel Dawes was caught standing too still on the powerplay and failed to really connect on any of his passes, and Nikolai Zherdev once again showed that he has the talent but he’s never really quite “there.”

- From what I saw, Janne Niskala could be a major gamebreaker for the Lightning this year. He’s got great poise with the puck, good patience, and like Marc Crawford said (who provided a good commentary), 19 goals in the AHL is quite something.

- I noted in the Rangers’ preview that they need to work on their powerplay. And they still do. Even with Paul Mara‘s rocket shot and the addition of Wade Redden, their powerplay was still an abysmal 1-7. The Lightning took a lot of dumb penalties and were often caught hooking and tripping when a much smoother Rangers team controlled the tempo. The Bolts have some work to do.

- Steve Stamkos looked great. He didn’t figure in the scoresheet and played only a little over 8 minutes, but he made a key defensive stop on Naslund and showed off some great speed. He could’ve had a goal but a rolling puck was quickly snatched by Henrik Lundqvist, who had a relatively quiet game.

- Matt Carle led all skaters with 29 minutes. He sure didn’t look like a guy who deserved 29 minutes out there. Look for Barry Melrose to use him a lot, and judging from the shift charts and ice times Melrose doesn’t give too much work to his bottom feeders.

- Martin Gerber wasn’t as sharp as the Sens would’ve liked, but they were outplayed in two periods by a better Penguins squad. The Sens were caught way too flat-footed and had Sergei Gonchar or Ryan Whitney been healthy the Pens wouldn’t have struck out 7 times on the powerplay.

- The Sens’ penalties means they played much of the first period with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza on the bench. A couple of months ago, I posted that Henrik Zetterberg is a better player than Alexander Ovechkin because Zetterberg is the more complete player. He is talented enough to play in all situations of the game, a sign of a true superstar. The Pens started to deploy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their PK, and it showed. The Sens then followed suit on a shorthanded marker by Spezza. No team will ever win the Stanley Cup if their best players can’t play in all situations of the game.

- The HNIC crew, especially Mike Milbury, say that Spezza needs to stop showboating and being too fancy if he wants to be a truly elite player. While this is true, some players just have to be that flashy. They’re good enough to pull off their moves, but if you restrain them you really take away that aspect of their game. I think that’s what happened with Jacques Martin and Spezza. Some players, you just have to turn them loose. Turnovers will be a key aspect of their game, but don’t let the opponent dictate what weapons you employ.

- The stadiums were awfully quiet. Reports say sold-out crowds, but the game in Stockholm looked liked the fans totaled less than a thousand. Definitely not a regular season opener atmosphere, and it really showed for the Sens and Lightning, both of whom were the designated home teams.

Ottawa Senators

 Ottawa Senators  Comments Off
Oct 032008
 

No other team in the NHL teeters as much as the Sens on being a Cup contender or just merely a playoff contender. The Sens are talented, but asides from their top players the rest of the roster looks rather average, and once again, because they failed to add some much needed scoring depth, will have to rely on their Big Three. With new coach Craig Hartsburg behind the bench, the Sens will be looking to establish an identity after a monumental collapse last season with John Paddock and the Ray Emery debacle. The Sens are one year removed from being swept in the first round, and two years removed from being Eastern Conference champs. It’s unlikely that either will happen this year, but what will happen is a big mystery.

The Sens have been searching for offensive depth for years. They failed to do that once again this summer, being able to land agitator Jarkko Ruutu after trade deadline acquisition Cory Stillman left for sunny Florida. There weren’t enough quality free agents the tight-pocketed Bryan Murray chose to splurge on, and as a result the Sens forwards corps returns relatively unchanged. The only new face that could make a significant impact is Jesse Winchester, who was signed late last year after 4 strong seasons at Colgate University. The 25-year old, 6’1″, 200 lbs., centre is expected to get a long look at the top line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. The Sens, trying to balance out their scoring, will have Daniel Alfredsson on the second line with the versatile Mike Fisher and speedy Antoine Vermette. By all accounts Winchester has been only slightly above average with Spezza and Heatley, but the Sens’ coaching staff is confident that he will be able to stick, unlike Brandon Bochenski a couple of years ago. If it doesn’t hold, and history is going against Winchester, Hartsburg will have no choice but to re-unite the Big Three, and hope that Fisher and Vermette can take over second-line duties. After all, Fisher and Vermette did combine for a solid 100 points in 160 games. Chris Kelly, centering the third line, will be expected to chip in as well, while the hard-hitting Chris Neil and Nick Foligno will once again provide some sandpaper and jam. If all else fails, the Sens have a pretty good group of youngsters waiting in the wings in Binghamton, including Europeans Ilja Zubov and Alexander Nikluin, as well as AHL All-Star Josh Hennessey. The offense finished first overall in the league last year, and it’s difficult to see the Sens finish any lower than fifth in that category. Even strength wise, with Spezza’s playmaking ability and Heatley’s shooting, it’s hard to see any other duo in the league be on the same wavelength as those two. Surprisngly, however, the Sens’ powerplay was a rather pedestrian twelfth, and perhaps Hartsburg can implement a new system to improve in that regard.

Say what you want about Wade Redden, about his inconsistency and turnovers, but the fact of the matter is, losing him hurt the Sens. He hasn’t been quite the same since Zdeno Chara‘s departure, but the Sens wouldn’t budge from their $3.5m figure and with Redden’s departure it means that Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are the de facto top pairing. It’s a little worrisome, because although Phillips and Volchenkov are tops defensively, there’s not much going on in terms of offense – the two defensive stalwarts combined for only 33 points. By comparison, Redden had 38 in a disappointing year, and the recently departed Andrej Meszaros had 36. Jason Smith once again brings another stabilizing presence, but his offensive game is even more limited, which means that the puck-moving duties will solely be placed on the shoulders of Filip Kuba, acquired in the Meszaros trade, and rookie Brian Lee, the Sens’ first round pick in 2005. Lee showed promise in his short Sens’ stint last year, and the Sens might have to throw him into the fire. Kuba was Tampa’s powerplay quarterback last year, averaging close to four minutes of powerplay time per game, but managed to only score 6 goals, and only 2 on the powerplay. Without a true powerplay quarterback the Sens will be hard-pressed to ice a powerplay as lethal as their even strength offense, as strange as that might sound, but the upshot is that the Sens could potentially ice a powerplay with 5 forwards, something Edmonton had experimented with last year.

Martin Gerber enters the season without having to look over his shoulder, and seems ready to take on the challenge, complete with a newly painted mask. The much maligned goalie has often been booed, but played well enough last year down the stretch to quiet some critics and show that he does have the skill set to be a regular number one goalie. Inconsistency has eluded him, which has fueled rumours of a Gerber-Nikolai Khabibulin swap, but with Alex Auld pushing him should help Gerber focus. The Sens’ defense was a weak 24th, but a lot of it had to do with injuries, mainly Volchenkov, but also inconsistent goaltending. It’s PK wasn’t much better at 22nd, but with Hartsburg behind the bench, expect the Sens to be held more accountable and improve in both categories.

The Sens are 4m away from the cap ceiling, and that may be as high as they’re willing to go to start the season. That leaves ample room for emergencies or acquiring extra depth if they wish to do so. Once the season gets underway, and as the rosters start to really shape up, the Sens may wish to pursue better players via trade. The Sens, behind a dedicated owner in Eugene Melnyk, are prepared to do whatever it takes to bring the Cup to the nation’s capital.

Projected lineup:
Dany Heatley – Jason Spezza – Jesse Winchester
Antoine Vermette – Mike Fisher – Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno – Chris Kelly – Chris Neil
Jarkko Ruutu – Dean McAmmond – Shean Donovan

Anton Volchenkov – Chris Phillips
Filip Kuba – Jason Smith
Christoph Schubert – Brian Lee

Martin Gerber – Alex Auld

scratches: Cody Bass, Alexandre Picard

Coach: Craig Hartsburg
GM: Bryan Murray

Predicted finish: 2nd Northeast, 7th East

Sep 222008
 

Training camp’s all about establishing chemistry and figuring out which players go where. ESPN’s Sean Allen provides some insight and here are the highlights:

Zach Bogosian seems to be penciled in to make the team, and Allen figures him to hit the 40-point mark, but I highly doubt it. I think their top powerplay quarterbacks are going to be Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom.

With Justin Williams out for most of the season it means a spot has opened up beside Eric Staal. The likely candidate is Patrick Eaves, although Sergei Samsonov, who has rejuvenated his career in Carolina, may get a call too. I also think that perhaps Tuomo Ruutu or AHL standout Ryan Bayda may get some looks.

Even with Joe Sakic‘s return, the Avs are pegging Paul Stastny as their number one centre, who will most likely have Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski on his wings. Sakic will get Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos, although given Hejduk and Sakic’s chemistry together I would think they would stay on the same line, with Smyth and Wolski switching spots.

The Wings want balance and they have publicly stated that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will start on different lines. This means that Marian Hossa is definitely getting first-line minutes. Allen notes that Valtteri Filppula may drop to the number three centre slot, but I think that spot is still Kris Draper‘s and Filppula may just end up on Zetterberg’s left wing. Dan Cleary was Allen’s choice as Zetterberg’s left wing but I think he’s better suited for the bottom two lines.

With the addition of Robert Lang, it looks like Saku Koivu will be starting the season on the third line, potentially with Guillaume Latendresse and Chris Higgins, giving them one of the most talented third lines in the league. Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn may find themselves on the same line with top centre Tomas Plekanec, allowing the enigmatic Alexei Kovalev to lineup with former Penguins teammate Lang.

Craig Hartsburg wants to break up the Big Three (again) and see where it takes them (again). John Paddock tried that last year with mediocre results and with no significant changes up front it remains to be seen what Hartsburg will do, but it’s almost a sure bet that captain Daniel Alfredsson will start on a separate line. The coveted spot beside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley will be up for grabs, but it looks like the leading contender is little-known Jesse Winchester. Allen notes that Alfredsson may get Nick Foligno and Chris Kelly as linemates, but I would think the speedy Antoine Vermette and/or Mike Fisher would be better fits.

The Leafs may experiment with former Hab Mikhail Grabovski on the top line, but I would think that a combination of Jason Blake and Nik Antropov, along with either Alex Steen or Alexei Ponikarovsky would be it.

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.

Aug 302008
 

So the Lightning were in fact seriously interested in Andrej Meszaros, and they got what they wanted, once again. The young blueliner was unable to come to terms on a contract with the Sens, after asking for roughly $1m/year higher than what Bryan Murray was willing to give. In exchange, the Sens will receive two blueliners, Filip Kuba and Alex Picard, as well as the first round pick acquired from San Jose in the Dan Boyle trade.

This is not a sign-and-trade deal, meaning that the Lightning will have to negotiate with Meszaros on a new contract, although that should not be a big stumbling block. Sources say that the Lightning will have a six-year, $24m offer on the table, an average of $4m against the cap per year. The Bolts, after shedding Kuba and Picard’s salaries, will be adding a paltry $0.2m to their salaries. The Sens take on $3.8m in the swap.

TSN’s poll shows that, at first glance, 63% of voters believed that the Sens walked away with the better deal, and I agree. Meszaros is a young defenseman with tons of upside, but so is Picard, and Kuba is no slouch either, averaging almost 25 minutes a game while posting 30+ points for the second straight year. Added to the Bolts’ package is a first round pick, which will undoubtedly be a late one, but in a deep draft year the Sens will happily take it. For roughly the same price, the Sens added some depth to their blueline without sacrificing their top two defensemen, any forwards, and/or youth. The Bolts, however, despite claims from Oren Koules that they’re looking to add more veterans and depth to their blueline, traded away one of their oldest players and a young prospect for a player who is coming off a difficult sophomore season, also shortening their depth chart by one player. Again, a bit of a perplexing move by the Bolts, who have still yet to address their problems at forward.