Oct 022010
 

As we head towards the start of the 2010-11 season, lets take a look at 9 teams who may struggle in goal.

Philadelphia Flyers – Michael Leighton has been a waiver claim 4 times in the past 4 years and another time was traded straight up for a 7th round pick.  Despite playing well at times last year, he isn’t anyone I’d be comfortable depending on and he will be starting the season on IR with a bad back.  Brian Boucher has had moments of great play in his career too but has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a backup.  This is not the goaltending a supposed Stanley Cup contender should have.

Ottawa Senators – The Senators had the third worst save percentage in the NHL and they chose to come back with the same tandem and they haven’t looked any better in the pre-season.  Pascal Leclaire might be the worst goalie in the NHL over the past couple seasons (challenging Toskala for that title) though the Senators hope that is in part due to his injury issues.  Brian Elliot looked like he was in the process of transitioning from prospect to reliable NHL starter but he also struggled at times, and didn’t look good in the playoffs.  What Elliot’s NHL career looks like is still a big question mark.  Adding to the problem is the Senators lost a key defensive defenseman in Anton Volchenkov and added an offensive defenseman in Sergei Gonchar so the team may choose to go with a more offensive style of play which would only expose their goaltending issues even more.

Dallas Stars – Kari Lehtonen isn’t a bad goalie, just an unhealthy one.  Only once in his 5 year career has he been able to start more than 45 games.  Behind Lehtonen you have Andrew Raycroft who probably has been one of the worst goalies post lockout.  If Lehtonen gets injured yet again, it could be trouble for the Stars.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs have had terrible goaltending the last several years.  The good news is there is no one on the Leaf roster named Toskala or Raycroft so that has to be a positive.  But, with that said young Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t proven anything and has looked iffy in the pre-season and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere is past his prime.  That said, I think Giguere will have a more steady influence on the team even if he isn’t a great goalie anymore and at least there is hope that Gustavsson can provide some upside as he develops.

Montreal Canadiens – I don’t understand the logic of trading away Jaroslav Halak who in addition to being a playoff hero also posted a 26-13-5 record with a .924 save percentage in order to keep Carey Price and his 13-20-5 record and .912 save percentage.  Price has looked shakey in the pre-season and if he doesn’t turn it around it could be a long year in Montreal.  New backup Alex Auld can be a decent backup but not someone I’d want to have to depend on too much.

Washington Capitals – Like the Flyers, the Capitals are Stanley Cup contenders with big question marks in goal.  While the Flyers have a pair of goalies with more experience than the Capitals the Capitals have a pair of young goalies with potential to have very good careers.  Both Seymon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have been solid in goal at times but combined they have just 47 NHL regular season starts.  The good news is the Capitals have enough offense that they don’t need great goaltending but even so, that is a lot of pressure to put on a pair of youngsters with no veteran goalie around to support them.

Edmonton Oilers – Khabibulin is one of the most streaky goalies around.  When he is good, he can be really good, but when he is bad he can be awful, and there isn’t much behind him to support him during those bad streaks.  All that said, goaltending isn’t all the Oilers will have issues with.

NY Islanders – Rick DiPietro can’t seem to stay healthy and Dwayne Roloson is 41 years old.  The potential is there for the Islanders to have serious goaltending problems this upcoming season.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have shown potential to be decent NHL goalies but neither have played well enough to be called a reliable starter and neither are coming off good seasons.  Despite some good talent up front, it could be another long season for the Lightning if one of these guys can’t step up their games or the coaching can’t optimize the ‘go with the hot goalie’ strategy.

Honourable Mentions:  Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.  I am not overly worried about Turco in Chicago, I think he can still be a reliable goalie for 50-60 games.  Can Crawford deliver in his 25-30 games though?  I am also not that worried about Niemi and Nittymaki in San Jose.  I think between them they will provide solid goaltending, but it probably won’t be as dependable as Nabokov’s.

Jun 252009
 

The 2009 NHL entry draft takes place tomorrow evening so lets talk draft and trade rumours. The first thing that everyone needs to know is that not all players drafted tomorrow night in the first round will become NHL star players, or even good NHL players. The truth is the majority of those drafted in the first round tomorrow will go down in history as ‘draft flops’. That is unfortunate because most of them aren’t flops, they are just subject to the laws of reality and the reality is that it is simply not possible for every top 18 year old hockey player to make the NHL and excel. There just aren’t enough NHL roster spots for that to occur.

Toronto media and fans love to talk trash about the Leafs drafting ability over the past decade or two but it is really unfounded. Many call Nik Antropov a bit of a failure because while he is a good player, he didn’t turn out to be a star as one would expect from a 10th overall pick. Let me toss out 10 names for you: Jocelyn Thibault, Nolan Baumgartner, Radek Dvorak, Lance Ward, Brad Ference, Bransilav Menzei, Mikhail Yakubov, Dan Blackburn, Eric Nystrom, and Andrei Kostitsyn. Those names represent the 10th overall draft picks in the five years before Nik Antropov was drafted in 1998 and the five years after. Dvorak has had a pretty decent career as a second line player. He’s played 976 games, scored 194 goals and racked up 502 points. Kostitsyn is a skilled player that looks to have a promising career probably not unlike Dvorak’s though possibly a bit better. He currently has 52 goals and 108 points in 186 games played. Jocelyn Thibault had a pretty decent career has a second tier starter or solid backup. The rest didn’t really turn out to be much of anything. So is Antropov, who currently sits at 527 games played with 132 goals and 304 points, a bust. Not even close. Rather, he seems more like the upper end of the scale of what you can expect with the #10 pick. Yes, there will be the odd truly star player taken 10th overall like Teemu Selanne in 1988 but they are rare.

For more discussion on draft picks and the likelihood that they will become NHL regulars you can take a look at my Draft Schmaft post from a few years ago. Scott Cullen over at TSN.ca has a similar analysis and you can also find an interesting draft analysis over at Pension Plan Puppets.

There has been a lot of talk about Brian Burke’s public statements that he would love to trade up in the draft and select John Tavares. This task just became more difficult when it seems that Oren Koules has won the power struggle over Len Barrie. Koules it seems is more interested in cutting salary to levels very close to the salary cap floor ($40 million). If this is ones goal it probably means that you want young players on your roster so they are more likely to keep the pick and are less likely to be interested in someone like Kaberle who, outside of Luke Schenn (who is unlikely to be traded), is their most valued asset. It seems more likely that Burke could trade up with Atlanta to get the #4 pick where he could select Evander Kane or Luke’s Schenn’s brother Brayden. My gut tells me that if Burke can’t trade up to get into the top 5 and one of the top 5 for some reason doesn’t fall to #7 he’ll seriously consider looking at trading down and picking up an extra pick or two in the process, not unlike what the Islanders did last year when they traded the 5th overall pick to Toronto for Toronto’s 7th overall pick and a 3rd round pick and a 2nd round pick in this years draft and then flipped the 7th overall pick to Nashville for the 9th overall pick and a second round pick. So the Islanders dropped from 5th to 9th and picked up two second round picks and a third round pick in the process. Burke may try to do something along those lines to help fill out the Leafs prospect pool.

Another Leaf rumour going around is that the Leafs are interested in Wade Redden. This has shocked many because most people see Redden as a flop and at his salary and contract length is a waste of time. There is some truth to this. His game has fallen off a bit the last couple of seasons and he is over paid at $6.5 million but he is still a good player capable of playing big minutes (he was 23 in time on ice per game for defensemen at 23:24) and in the right trade, it could make sense. First off, acquiring Redden would make it easier to trade one or both of Kaberle and Kubina which should land Burke with more prospects or draft picks which would amount to cheap players being on the team to offset Redden’s expensive contract. Second, it may be possible for the Leafs to rid themselves of a big contract in the process by, for example, including Jason Blake in the deal. It may also be the case that the Rangers, who have cap issues, may be looking to get rid of Redden at any cost and may be willing to include a draft pick and/or a prospect in the deal just to make it happen. Burke is looking long term and he desperately wants to stock up on prospects to make that happen and if he can flip Kaberle and Kubina (and their $9.25 million in contracts for the upcoming season) for prospects and pick up Redden to offset that loss and maybe pick up a draft pick or prospect or dump a big salary of his own as well it may very well make sense to make that move and it should not be dismissed as a mistake in the process.
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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 132008
 

Despite the fact that the Lightning defense still seems a little suspect, boasting little veteran presence or even a big name, Oren Koules maintains that he is satisfied with his current defensive corps. The Lightning still have to get under the cap enough to ensure that they can accommodate Steven Stamkos‘ cap hit, which would be 3.75 should he reach all performance bonuses. Remember that this upcoming season is the last year of the current CBA agreement, and that there will be no performance cushions. Nashville, as noted in the article, remains a very enticing trading partner, with 13 draft picks in 2009 and a plethora of young talent on their blueline. A trade makes sense for both teams, as JP Dumont has voiced his opinion that the Preds need more bite. Jussi Jokinen, who will be replaced by Vaclav Prospal on the top line, Michel Ouellet, and Jason Ward remain their biggest trading chips. The Lightning enter next season as a Southeast Division contender once again, although it remains to be seen if a young defensive corps and Mike Smith will hold up. David has a more in-depth look at the Lightning’s roster here.

Mark Parrish apparently is the Canucks’ answer should they fail to land Mats Sundin. Folks at TSN are calling it Mike Gillis‘ “Plan B,” although it should be more like “Plan D,” considering the discrepancy between Parrish and Sundin. As the Sundin saga dragged along (it’s now rumoured that he is leaning towards retirement, if only anyone knows what means nowadays), it was clear that the Canucks had no answer should Sundin not sign. Gillis maintains that he has been talking trade with several teams regarding one or two defenseman on his team, but I would think that he would like to keep his defense intact. When Parrish was bought out, he was immediately linked to Vancouver and Nashville, two western teams that have had plenty of looks at the big forward. Both teams were in similar situations and needed to get bigger and better offensively. A lot of fans in Vancouver aren’t very happy with how things have gone this summer, after all, Gillis had promised sweeping changes and a drastically different team with offense as its number one priority. So far, the only sweeping changes have come upstairs and the team remains arguably as potent offensively as it was last year, which is to say, still not very potent. Should Parrish find himself in Vancouver he will get looks on the top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, but for now Steve Bernier seems to be the favourite going into camp. It’s tough to gauge what sort of money Parrish will get, but I would be very surprised if it is anything over a year.

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.

Aug 102008
 

For Garth Snow and the Islanders, their search for a new head coach to replace Ted Nolan has come down to three candidates: Bob Hartley, Paul Maurice, or the AHL’s Scott Gordon.

Hartley’s NHL coaching career started in 1998 in Colorado, whose strong QMJHL and AHL records had caught the eye of then-GM Pierre Lacroix. He enjoyed 4 very successful years in Denver, including a 52-16-10-4 record and a Stanley Cup win in 2001. He was fired the following season in 2002 after a slow start, and joined the Thrashers a month later. Although he had gone from a perennial contender to a basement dweller, it didn’t stop Hartley from winning. In 2007, the Thrashers set a franchise record with 41 wins and their first ever playoff birth. But once again, despite his success the previous season, his Thrashers were off to a cold start and he was fired by Don Waddell after going pointless in six straight games. Despite all this success, depending on who you ask, Hartley isn’t exactly an angel. In 2005, against the Lightning, Thrasher Eric Boulton elbowed Paul Ranger in the head, resulting in a concussion and a fractured jaw. Boulton was subsequently suspended for six games, but it didn’t stop John Tortorella from lambasting the enforcer, saying that “no one wants to see him on the ice.” After the suspension, Boulton pleaded innocence, and claimed that he was only doing what he was told to do, implying that a frustrated Hartley had told him to get out there and headhunt. After all, Boulton is an enforcer and that’s what he’s employed by NHL teams to do. It was never definite whether or not Hartley asked Boulton to headhunt, but Hartley was under fire for a short while and since then the Thrashers and Lightning have enjoyed quite the rivalry.

To be honest, I never liked Maurice. He did a great job in Carolina, but I thought from the beginning that he was a terrible choice for the Leafs. Despite his successes, it’s always been overlooked that he is a poor special teams tactician. Throughout his coaching career, Maurice’s teams have traditionally never been good at killing penalties. In 2001, the Hurricanes had the second-best PK% in the league, but it all went downhill from there. When the Hurricanes made the finals in 2002, they were tied with the Devils with the worst PK% for playoff-bound teams in the East, with 83.7%. In his next full years, Carolina would rank 24th on the PK. In his first season with the Leafs, they had a 17.7% PP (17th) and 78.5% PK (27th). This year, their PP was 17.8% (15th) and PK 78.1% (29th). It can be argued that Maurice didn’t have the right players to work with (Peter Laviolette hasn’t exactly gotten the Canes’ PK out of the basement yet either), but I don’t think it’s a valid excuse for a playoff contender to finish near dead last in the league. He was under a lot of scrutiny in Toronto, and perhaps a move to a less hockey-crazed city would be a good change of scenery and hopefully be able to repeat the successes he had while in Carolina.

Gordon is the least well-known of the three, but is apparently well-respected in hockey circles. The former netminder enjoyed three successful years at Boston College, and started his coaching career in the IHL before moving onto the ECHL then head coach for Providence in the AHL in 2003. The 45-year old was the winner of the Louis Pieri Memorial Award, annually given to the best coach in the AHL. Considering the recent success of promoting AHL coaches (ie. Bruce Boudreau), it could be a good idea to take Gordon over the other two.