Mid-summer hockey thoughts

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Jul 242009
 

We are approaching mid-summer, though the weather seems to indicate it is still late spring with below average temperatures and lots of rain. That said, the NHL draft is over as is the prime free agent season and while several teams have new looks and have pretty much set rosters, other teams still have moves to make. Here are a few mid-summer hockey thoughts.

Are the Philadelphia Flyers a better

The Philadelphia Flyers made one of the boldest moves of the summer trading away Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and a couple of first round picks for Chris Pronger. As good as Pronger is though, are the Flyers a better team? In addition to losing Lupul they have also lost Mike Knuble to the Capitals via free agency and between Lupul and Knuble that is a loss of 52 goals. That is a big hit to the Flyers offense that they will have to make up. A healthy Briere and the development of Claude Giroux or James Van Riemsdyk could offset some of that loss. On defence Pronger definitely makes the Flyers a better team. With Pronger, Timonen, Coburn, Jones, Carle and Parent they will have one of the better defences in the NHL but there isn’t a lot of depth beyond those top six so staying healthy will be important. But the real problem for the Flyers has been their problem for the past 15 odd years. Goaltending. Last year the Flyers had the 6th best team save percentage as Biron had a .912 save percentage and Niittymaki had a .912 save percentage but both goalies suffered from inconsistent play from time to time. While Biron and Niittymaki are far from elite level goalies, both played fairly well in goal last year but neither of them were welcomed back to the Flyers. Replacing them will be Ray Emery returning from the KHL and Brian Boucher who had a good year in San Jose last year but over his career he hasn’t proven to be anything more than a decent backup. It may not be a stretch to say that Ray Emery will be a key to how good the Flyers will be in 2009-10. Is Emery capable of playing 60 games of quality goaltending? It is certainly possible as he played 58 games for Ottawa in 2006-07 posting a 33-16-6 record with a .918 save percentage. Problem is, he followed that up with a dismal 2007-08 season going 12-13-4 with a very weak .890 save percentage. It seems he had a good year in the KHL last year so maybe his 2007-08 season was an off year but it seems clear to me that for the Flyers to be a better team Ray Emery has to be pretty solid in goal and that is a big question mark. Without decent to good goaltending the Flyers can’t be considered among the top Stanley Cup contenders.

Are the Calgary Flames better

The Flames made a similar move to the Flyers in acquiring Jay Bouwmeester but are they really a better team? To make room for Bouwmeester the Flames had to part with Jordan Leopold, Adrian Aucoin and most importantly Mike Cammalleri. Last season the Flames finished 8th in the NHL in goals but Cammalleri scored 39 goals for the Flames and was a big part of the Flames offense. A full season of Olli Jokinen will pick up some of the slack but the Flames offense will be centered around Jokinen and Iginla and not a lot more. Additionally Rene Bourque scored 21 goals (in just 58 games) last year which was a career high and it might be a stretch to expect him to repeat. It is difficult to imagine the Flames offense next year being as good as last years. The defense is in many way comparable to the Flyers with an excellent top four of Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr and Sarich and a couple of decent guys to fill out the depth charts but not much beyond that if there many significant long term injuries. But like the Flyers, the problem I see with the Flames is in goal. That may surprise some but Kiprusoff has been relatively average the past few seasons. His save percentage has dropped from .933 in 2003-04 to .923, .917, .906 and down to .903 last season. That is not a trend that a Flames fan would enjoy seeing continue but is there really any reason to believe it won’t? One of the problems has been that the Flames have never brought in a good enough backup to give Kiprusoff any rest time and another off season seems to be passing by where they have chosen not to address that issue. I don’t see the Flames being any better this upcoming season and may in fact take a step back.

Should the Leafs keep Kaberle

There have been a number of rumours this summer about the Leafs trading Tomas Kaberle. The biggest rumour was Kaberle to the Bruins for Phil Kessel but in recent weeks the rumours have died down and the other day Burke came out and stated that he believes that Kaberle will start the season with the Leafs. For Leaf fans, I think this is good news as I believe that keeping Kaberle is in the Leafs best interest. Going into next season the Leafs could have a top 4 defence grouping of Kaberle-Beauchemin-Schenn-Komisarek. That is a pretty good group with a nice mix of offense and defense and physical play and when you round it out with two of White, Van Ryn, Finger, Exelby, Frogren and Stralman and you have one of the better top 6 in the league.
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