Aug 282008
 

A month ago both sides seem to be optimistic about a new deal. Now that training camp is fast approaching and Joe Sakic has re-signed (rejoice, hockey fans), Andrej Meszaros and the Sens seem to be drifting further and further apart. Despite claims from both sides in earlier months that a contract extension was near, it seems as though that may be quite contrary to the truth. The young rearguard, who is coming off a rather disappointing sophomore campaign after a marvelous rookie one, is asking for around $4.5m/year, while the Sens remain adamant that $3.5m/year is a much fairer number.

Should the Sens give in to Meszaros’ asking price, it would make him the Sens’ highest paid defenseman – fellow teammates Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are playing for at least half their open market value. The length of the deal is apparently not a concern to Meszaros, but money is. Bryan Murray claims that he has offered the Meszaros camp contract offers ranging from one to five years, but has not heard much feedback, possibly because Meszaros is refusing to take into consideration any offer that isn’t near his asking price.

Meszaros is still currently a RFA and subject to offer sheets. While Murray won’t pony up $4.5m/year, you can bet that there are teams out there that will pay up for the former WHL standout, and force Murray’s hand. Should Murray lose Meszaros, he has stated that he will not be replacing him via trade of free agency, but will instead promote from within, which is great news for Lawrence Nycholat, Matt Kinch, and Matt Carkner, all three coming off good seasons with Binghamton, Ottawa’s AHL affiliate.

Either way, expect a flurry of moves after Mats Sundin makes his decision and Mathieu Schneider (which Murray claims he has little interest in) is moved.

EDIT: THN reports that a rival team has made an offer sheet to Meszaros for $5m/year, but Murray has denied any knowledge of such a thing and the Ottawa Sun claims that two league sources have denied it as well. The rumoured offer sheet was apparently made by Tampa, but that’s impossible. If the Lightning did make the offer sheet, they’d be subject to be give up their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks. Under the CBA, all picks must be the team’s original picks – meaning that Tampa cannot substitute any of those picks with picks they’ve acquired from other teams. The Lightning’s original 3rd round pick is owned by Pittsburgh, who acquired it in the Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts trade.

Aug 242008
 

Rather slow news day, but a couple quick rumours:

Andrej Meszaros has yet to sign, and could still be given an offer sheet. Meszaros reportedly has a standing offer from the KHL for $4m/year, but is still willing to negotiate with the Sens, in the hopes of reaching an agreement before camp. It’s a little odd that he hasn’t signed already, considering how “close” both sides said they were. I’m not expecting to see Meszaros in anything but a Sens uniform, however.

Vitaly Vishnevksi has been placed on waivers by the Devils to clear some cap room. The Devils have only roughly $1m in cap space and will need at least triple that for emergency purposes to open the season. However, it remains to be seen is Vishnevski, who has two years remaining (including this year), will be bought out, or simply demoted.

Josef Boumedienne makes his return to the NHL as a Leaf on a two-way contract. He is signed purely for depth purposes, and is not necessarily a sign that Bryan McCabe is moving for sure.

Aug 222008
 

“Vicarious liability.” That’s the technical term for the liability that is imposed on the employer for the conduct of his/her employee, on the grounds that the employer should be held accountable for third party losses. Bruce Dowbiggin at the Calgary Herald argues that the recent turn of events in the Steve Moore case could set a precedent to the NHL’s policy of allowing “extreme violence” in the sport. This trial is extremely significant for the NHL because unlike the Marty McSorley or Dino Ciccarelli case, this is a civil case, not criminal.

Marc Crawofrd has vehemently denied any responsibility for Todd Bertuzzi‘s actions, and had argued that he was in fact trying to get Bertuzzi back to the bench moments before the sucker punch. Dowbiggin’s source claims that the trial will come down to Moore’s own decision to play that game. Should Moore have willingly dressed for that game, he will have to assume some responsibility, since it is assumed that there would be some concern for injury and high levels of risk.

However, Moore is arguing that the form of violence he was expecting was not “clean,” meaning it wasn’t a body check or a fight. He is further arguing that Bertuzzi had used unreasonable force, and if the judge sides with Moore there could potentially be a big payday for Moore. Should Moore win, the NHL head office may have to make drastic policies in allowing vigilante justice and violence, and perhaps change the overall face of the game. Intimidation tactics like the ones the Broad Street Bullies and the Ducks used may very well be a thing of the past.

Dowbiggin’s source also doesn’t think the blame should solely lie on the shoulders of Crawford, Canucks management, or Orca Bay, but the league as well:

“The NHL could have avoided this. Knowing the level of tension involved in Moore’s hit on Naslund, they could have simply suspended Moore for the two remaining games against Vancouver. That would have solved it. But the league was so arrogant it thought nothing would come of the situation. That let it happen. Now, they’re in a position where it may rebound on them big time.”

Apparently no one else in the world has 20/20 hindsight like Dowbiggin’s source. I would think that the league would’ve come under a lot of fire if they had to suspend Moore for “safety reasons.” Could you imagine to what lengths the league would take precautionary actions for a guy like Sidney Crosby? Would future Buffalo-Ottawa games not feature Ottawa’s entire top line? I’m sorry, but that’s just a bunk argument.

Aug 172008
 

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

Again, I’m going to have to disagree with THN over this. If the Pens had managed to keep Ryan Malone and/or Marian Hossa I’d be inclined to agree that they would finish atop their division, but they won’t. When you potentially have Miroslav Satan as your top scoring winger you’re not going to go anywhere fast. The rest of the team remains largely the same.

I have a hard time believing the Sens will finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. Despite the fact that Wade Redden‘s game is in decline, losing him will hurt because they didn’t replace him. The Sens are still looking for ways to fill out the rest of their roster, but like so many other teams in the East, goaltending is their primary concern. If Martin Gerber doesn’t hold up, they’re slightly above average at best by virtue of their incredible top line.

The Bruins are going to make some noise this year, especially with a completely healed Patrice Bergeron. Michael Ryder will head into camp as the favourite to land the first line right winger slot, and considering the success Claude Julien had with Ryder, along with an elite playmaking centre in Marc Savard, he could be a very nice surprise. Once again, however, they head into training camp with a 1A-1B tandem of fan favourite Tim Thomas and the disgruntled Manny Fernandez.

The East is much more clear cut than the West because so many teams have holes. The Habs, arguably the best team in the East, also has a shaky goaltending situation considering how Carey Price fell apart last year. These goaltending problems also plague at least 3 of the playoff teams listed. It’ll be interesting to see how this season plays out – a lot of teams have areas to improve, and considering the mass exodus of players from the East heading West, this year could be rather different.

Aug 122008
 

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 262008
 

Here are a few of my thoughts about the trade deadline action.

Short Term Winners

Pittsburgh Penguins – Adding Hossa, Dupuis and Gill has the potential to make them a really scary team. Think about it. In recent weeks the top line of Malkin, Sykora and Malone have been one of the best lines in the NHL and over the next week or two you will add Crosby and Hossa to fill out a 1A line. Losing Armstrong and Christensen will hurt the third line but with a top 2 lines that good they may not need a third line. In Hal Gill they add a very big, physical, defense first defenseman that will make life for opposing forwards much less pleasant. If Conklin continues his stellar play it isn’t hard to conceive that the Penguins are now easily the best team in the East.

San Jose Sharks – Brian Campbell is exactly what the Sharks needed. They have the talent up front and they have some solid defensive defensemen but what they didn’t have was that top tier puck moving defensemen and PP quarterback. Campbell is that guy. They still need some of their other players to step up their games if they want to be true Cup contenders but the Sharks should be a lot better today than they were yesterday.

Long Term Winners

Atlanta Thrashers – We knew they were going to trade Hossa but by getting two very solid young and cheap 3rd line players, a good prospect and a first round pick they got more than I thought they would. They now have some young depth role players that they very much needed and if they can add a nice centerman in the off season with the money they saved from Hossa they will have the makings of a nice core of players.

Losers

Montreal Canadiens – If you think you have a chance to make a run in the playoffs I don’t understand the thought process of trading your top and only established goalie for a second round pick. The Canadiens are now rushing Price to the NHL and while he has looked great at times he has looked mediocre at times too. Rushing goalies to the NHL is never a good thing. Just look at Marc-Andre Fleury as evidence. This move puts Price’s confidence and development at risk. On top of that GM Bob Gainey was talking for a couple weeks about wanting a big name player to add to the team but he came up empty here too. He wasn’t even able to add some needed size to the line up. Overall the Canadiens are not as good a team after this evening as they were this morning.

Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks aren’t losers because they made a bad trade but they are losers because they weren’t able to make a trade they desperately needed. That is to add some much needed offense to the lineup. With a bit more offensive punch they could have been a threat in the playoffs. Instead they may not make the playoffs.

Undetermined

Dallas Stars – I am partly surprised that they didn’t have to give up more to get Richards but Richards with his huge contract is also a significant long term risk. No doubt that Richards will help the Stars but will he help them to the tune of $7.8 million salary? Last year Richards got 70 points and he is on about the same pace this year. That’s not bad but that’s not $7.8 million value. People will say that it is largely due to the fact doesn’t play regularly with top level players which is partly true (he does play on the top PP unit) but he also plays in the horrific defensive southeast division. Richards has 28 points in 23 games against southeast division opponents and 29 points in 39 games against the rest of the league. That is 60 point pace against non-southeast opponents and I can assure you he isn’t going to a team in Dallas that is loaded with offensive players. Maybe this trade will invigorate Richards and he will return to his 90 point form but that is far from a certainty and until we see what Richards does we don’t know if Dallas does well in this trade or not.

Ottawa Senators – If you go by acquisition cost, Martin Lapointe’s value is somewhere between Wade Belak and Rob Davison. That would indicate that Lapointe won’t mean a whole lot to the Senators and he probably won’t. But the Senators have the talent to make a run in the playoffs regardless of what they did today but they are also in a downward spiral and if they can’t turn it around and they exit the playoffs early I am sure we will all look back at this trade deadline and say they should have done more.

Feb 252008
 

It is a crazy thought but could the Senators miss the playoffs? You may think it is rediculous to think that the Senators could miss the playoffs but the Senators are only 9 points out of 9th spot currently held by the Philadelphia Flyers who a few short weeks ago were in as comfortable a playoff position as the Senators are now. The Senators are a dismal 4-6-2 in their last dozen games and with several important important games coming up followed by a tough west coast trip they have to turn their game around soon.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) the Senators play the 7th Boston Bruins and Thursday they play the 8/9th place Flyers. On Saturday they have strong Pittsburgh Penguins after which they go on a tough west coast road trip with games against Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix before coming back east for games with Boston and Montreal. If the Senators can play .500 or above during that span of 9 games their playoff hopes look good but that is a real tough schedule.

The star forwards on the Senators are currently playing horrible hockey. Fisher has just one point in 11 games. Alfredsson has 2 in 7 games while Heatley and Spezza both have 3 in 7 games. A Senators fan might hope for a big time trade deadline deal to turn the team around and while that is possible it is actually fairly rare that a deadline deal has a major immediate impact on a team. Plus one of their biggest problems since their hot 15-2 start has been inconsistent goaltending and I can assure you that the Senators are unlikely to be able to address that weakness before tomorrow’s trade deadline.

It certainly would have been unbelievable after the first month and a half of the season and even a few weeks ago but if the Senators can’t turn their fortunes and struggle for the next couple weeks they could certainly find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Feb 112008
 

Today we saw the first significant trade leading up to this years trade deadline as the Ottawa Senators traded Patrick Eaves and Joe Corvo to Carolina for Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore. Although this trade should help the Sens this season, a word of caution has to be put out concerning the trading for players from the southeast division.

The southeast division is one horrible division and it could be argued that 5 of the worst 10 teams in the league play in the southeast division. A big reason for this is bad defenses and outright horrible goaltending (Tomas Vokoun aside). The three worst teams in terms of team save percentage are Tampa (.881), Washington (.889) and Carolina (.891) while Atlanta (.904) is a marginally more respectable 12th worst. Because of this weak goaltending offensive players who play in the southeast division often look better than they probably are. Cory Stillman is a perfect example.

Cory Stillman vs SE division: 18GP, 11G, 11A, 22PTS
Cory Stillman vs rest of league: 37GP, 10G, 14A, 25PTS

In double the games he has fewer goals and only slightly more points.

And it isn’t just Stillman. Here are a few other big name trade acquisition possibilities.

Marian Hossa vs SE: 19GP, 11G, 10A, 21PTS
Marian Hossa vs Others: 36GP, 13G, 14A, 27PTS

Olli Jokinen vs SE: 20GP, 9g, 15a, 24pts
Olli Jokinen vs others: 38GP, 20g, 14a, 34pts

Jokinen has actually done well in terms of scoring goals against the rest of the league but his overall point totals are still lower.

Vaclav Prospal vs SE: 22GP, 12g, 15a, 27pts
Vaclav Prospal vs others: 34GP, 11g, 13a, 24pts

When it comes to acquiring offensive players from the southeast division it is definitely a case of buyer beware. They may not be everything you hoped they would be.

Oct 042007
 

The Dany Heatley signing by the Ottawa Senators yesterday had me asking that exact question. It is expected that the Senators are going to desperately try to sign Jason Spezza to a long term contract as well and it is probably safe to assume that he will earn somewhere between $7 and $7.5 million bringing the total for the Spezza-Heatley duo to close to $15 million. So the question is, if you spend that much on two forwards, can you build a good enough team to win the Stanley Cup? It is an interesting question that I think Ottawa GM Bryan Murray and other GMs around the league should seriously ponder.

A prime example for the no, it can’t be done side is the Tampa Bay Lightning who have spent ridiculous amounts on three forwards – Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis. Those 3 guys eat up approximately $20 million in salary cap space and as good as those three are the Lightning haven’t been able to build enough of a team around them to be much more than a fringe playoff team in a weak division.

If/when Ottawa locks up Spezza long term they would have Spezza, Heatley and Fisher locked up long term at total salary of about $19 million and I am not sure that trio is any better than the Tampa trio. Can Ottawa accomplish something that the Lightning can’t by building a better team around those three over the long haul? Let’s investigate.

If Jason Spezza gets signed they will have nearly $41.5 million spent on the following 12 established players going into next season:

Forwards:
Spezza
Heatley
Alfredsson
Fisher
Neil
McAmmond

Defense:
Phillips
Volchenkov
Corvo
Schubert

Goaltending
Emery
Gerber

Even if the Senators spend to a $50 million budget that leaves just $8.5 million to fill out their roster with ~10 more players so they can spend an average of $850,000 per player. That means definitely say goodbye to Wade Redden or any other high calibre puck moving defenseman. So the question then becomes, can you win the cup with a defence that doesn’t consist of a high quality puck moving defenceman that kills penalties and can anchor the power play? The Ducks had Niedermayer and Pronger. The Devils had Niedermayer and Stevens/Rafalski. The Red Wings had Lidstrom and Murphy and Chelios. The Dallas Stars has Zubov. The Lightning had Kubina and Boyle. The NY Rangers in 1994 had Zubov and Leetch. So, I am not sure next years projected defence crew of Phillips, Volchenkov, Corvo, Schubert, Meszaros and Brian Lee would be good enough to win a Stanley Cup. Look what happened to Edmonton when they lost Pronger before last season. Let’s watch what happens to the Devils now that they have lost Rafalski. It will be interesting to watch.

Goaltending is another key aspect of every Cup winning team and for a team that wants to be a perennial cup contender, they need an established quality goaltender. Yes, the Senators have Emery signed for three seasons at $3.2 million per season, but I don’t think has yet proven himself to be an elite goalie and when he does, he will command far more than $3.2 million. So in the short term (for the next few years) they could be in good shape having a good goalie at a reasonable price, but beyond that, can they afford to keep him at $6 million when $15 million is being spent on two forwards? And if they do, what will it do to the secondary scoring among the rest of the forwards. Could they afford to keep a Vermette or Kelly around?

I guess the point I want to get with this post is not so much questioning whether the Senators are making a mistake should they choose to lock up Spezza along with Heatley long term at big bucks but rather to prompt a discussion of what is the correct way to build a long term cup contending team? Is it building around a couple of high priced forwards like the Lightning have done, the Rangers seemingly are doing, and the Senators may end up doing or is it going more the route of the Ducks where the team is built around a star goalie (Giguere), and a couple of top tier defensemen (Pronger and Niedermayer last year and Pronger and Schneider this year) and not spending more than $4 million on any one forward (Bertuzzi is the top paid Duck forward at $4 million, Selanne was the top last year at $3,750,000) but having a deep group of forwards with three lines that can score and play two-way hockey. We know what happened when the Ducks and Senators met last spring, but is that a usual outcome when these two differently built teams meet or just one of those things where the Ducks were just playing better at the time, got the momentum and ran with it?

It is my personal opinion that goaltending, a top tier defence and depth up front is the better route to go but what do you all think? Can the Rangers win without a top tier puck moving defenseman? What about San Jose? Can the Senators be perennial Cup contenders (not just a good team that makes the playoffs every year but a true top tier cup contender) with a core of Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson, Fisher, Volchenkov, Phillips and Emery surrounded by a number of young players on cheap rookie contracts (like Eaves, Foligno, etc.) and aging veterans making under $1 million (like Donovan, Richardson, McAmmond, etc).?

And maybe a similar question would be this: If you had the choice, who would you rather build your team around, Heatley and Spezza or Luongo and Phaneuf (with the latter possibly being a tad cheaper)?

Oct 032007
 

In honour of the start of the new season and another Leaf-Sens rivalry game, here are some interesting, maybe surprising, stats related to the Leafs-Sens rivalry (mostly ammo for Leaf fans)

Leafs top 6 forwards: Sundin, Blake, Antropov, Tucker, Wellwood, Ponikarovsky
Sens top 6 forwards: Heatley, Spezza, Alfredsson, Fisher, Vermette, Kelly (based on points last year, not projected lineup)

Goals scored by Leafs top 6 last year: 142 in 386 games or 0.37 goals per game
Goals scored by Sens top 6 last year: 169 in 453 games or 0.37 goals per game

Next 3 forwards:
Stajan, Steen, Pohl: 103 points in 238 games
Eaves, McAmmond, Neil: 89 points in 236 games

Shots on goal last season:
Leafs: 2681 (3rd in NHL)
Sens: 2651 (4th in NHL)

I better not hear any more about the Leafs mediocre offensvie punch while the Sens are an offensive powerhouse.

Shots Allowed last season:
Leafs: 2330 (7th fewest in NHL)
Sens: 2479 (11th most in NHL)

Must be that crappy Leaf defense eh?

And now for an interesting player comparison of two players drafted in 1998.
Career stats:
Fisher: 384GP, 92g, 192pts, +49
Antropov: 374GP, 78g, 189pts, +57

But somehow Fisher is a $4.2 million hero in Ottawa and Antropov is (more often than not) a $2 million underachieving flop of a first round pick (though that seems to be changing).