Oct 162009
 

So the word out of Phoenix last night was that the announced attendance for the Coyotes game was 6,899 but that probably more like 5000 people actually showed up. Clearly attendance in Phoenix is going to be a major issue this year, but it won’t just be Phoenix if early attendance numbers are any indication. Here are attendance numbers for three other southern U.S. teams that have played at least 3 home games so far.

Carolina Hurricanes

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
18680 18680 0
18680 16186 -2494
15016 13597 -1419
15635 14053 -1582

Nashville Predators

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
17113 14797 -2316
13259 14209 950
12042 12179 137
14704 13103 -1601

Tampa Bay Lightning

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
18552 17454 -1098
14420 14212 -208
15191 14126 -1065

It is still early but those are significant drops in attendance figures. Nashville is going to be particularly interesting to watch because they need to keep attendance above the 14,000 mark to maintain a full share of revenue sharing. Failure to achieve an average of 14,000 will cause them to lose 25% of their revenue sharing allotment which would equate to close to $4,000,000 which is significant to any team, particularly one that is struggling to break even. If Tampa struggles on the ice and fans become more disinterested because of it this could become a problem for them as well and we already know how unstable their ownership situation is. This despite a significant drop in average ticket price for Lightning games.

What is also interesting is that falling attendance may not be limited to non-traditional southern US hockey markets.

Ottawa Senators

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
20182 18075 -2107
20179 19360 -819
19318 17014 -2304
18952 17732 -1220

The rise in the Canadian dollar will help offset some of the drop in attendance revenue and if Ottawa can play well then I can see their attendance improving, but clearly some of the luster of high flying Senators teams of a few years ago when they sold out every game has faded away.

Detroit Red Wings

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
20066 20066 0
19011 19122 111
20066 17782 -2284

We all know that Detroit is an extremely hard hit city economically and it may start reflecting in the Red Wings attendance this year. The 17,782 that showed up to watch the Red Wings last night is 1,080 fewer fans that last years lowest attendance level of 18,862.

I revisit these teams and also take a look at a few other franchises (Atlanta, Florida, Dallas, etc.) in a few weeks once each team has played a few more home games but early indications are not all that good for some franchises.

Mar 042009
 

Another defenseman has dropped off the trade market as the Ottawa Senators have supposedly signed Filip Kuba to a 3 year, $3.7 million per year contract.  I can’t say that this is a bad deal, but if I was a Senators fan I would really question whether it is intelligent to lock up more players on a team that has been one of the worst teams in the NHL for nearly two full years now.

Also just in, the Senators have traded Antoine Vermette to Columbus for Pascal Leclaire and a second round pick.  This trade makes more sense because the Senators so desperately need a top goalie, but the jury is still out whether Leclaire can be that guy.  He had a very good year last year but has been mediocre otherwise and has been injured most of this season.  This is a gamble that the Senators probably need to make, but is far from a sure thing.  The second round pick makes the gamble worth while.

The bad news for the Senators is they now have 9 players signed through 2010-11 for about $38.6 million in cap space.  If, as some expect, the salary cap drops significantly (possibly beloe $50 million) that won’t leave much cap space left to fill out a roster that still lacks a second line center and a top defenseman.  The players signed are Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza, Fisher, Kelly, Ruuttu, Kuba, Phillips and Leclaire.

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.

Jan 072009
 

Sorry for being pretty absent over the past few weeks. I was away for a couple weeks on vacation visiting family and stuff. But things should hopefully pick up from here on.

I would like to take a moment to announce that Joe, from Joe’s Washington Hockey Blog has moved his blog to Capitals.hockeyanalysis.com and will become the maintainer of the Capitals blog on HockeyAnalysis.com. Joe will be a great addition to HockeyAnalysis.com as the Capitals are challenge Boston for top spot in the east and are a represent the eastern conference and are a serious threat to represent the east in the Stanley Cup finals.

Brian Burke’s first trade as Leafs GM was anything but a blockbuster acquiring Brad May from the Anaheim Duck’s, but it does confirm indicate that Burke really likes to acquire players he knows well. As I have said before, Burke isn’t one to make a trade just to dump a player he doesn’t want or need, he makes trades to acquire a player he wants. He wanted to add more toughness and Brad May was his guy.

Despite the fact that the Senators have one of the worst records in hockey, many people still claim that they are a very talented team playing below where they should be. They have three highly skilled players in Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson but might be the least talented team in the NHL from player #4 on. Their #5 point producer is Alexandre Picard, who hardly had a regular shift in Tampa last year. Brendan Bell, who couldn’t make the Phoenix Coyote’s team last year is not getting a regular shift and nearly 17 minutes a game on Ottawa’s defense. Jason Smith who saw his ice time diminish significantly in Philadelphia last year is now getting 18 minutes a game for the Senators. Winchester, Ruutu, Foligno, Donovan, Phillips, Volchenkov, Kelly, Schubert, Neil, McAmmond, etc. all have their beneficial attributes but being highly skilled are generally not among them. Please, the era of the Sens being one of the most talented teams in the NHL is well behind us.

Don’t look now but the laughing stock of the NHL early in the season are now back in the playoff race. Yes, I am talking about the Dallas Stars who are now one game above .500 with 39 points and trail 8th place Phoenix by just 4 points and have 3 games in hand. The Stars are 9-5-1 since the Sean Avery incident and subsequent suspension. Prior to that they were just 8-11-4.

The Jonathan Tavares sweepstakes will probably come down to three teams, the New York Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers, and the St. Louis Blues. The Islanders are a downright horrible team with no stars and the Thrashers aren’t much better with just one star player who is playing poorly. Both will likely trade away more talent come the trade deadline. Meanwhile, the Blues have been devastated by injuries. It started off with Erik Johnson before the season began and Paul Kariya, Eric Brewer and Jay McKee are out with injuries. This Blues team probably wouldn’t have challenged for a playoff spot but without Johnson, Kariya, Brewer and McKee they just aren’t a very good team. My bet is Tavares goes to one of the eastern conference teams but the Blues will be in the hunt with their injury situation. Honorable mention goes to toe Lightning and Senators who probably will be able to stay ahead of these other dreadful teams.

Kris Versteeg leads all rookies with 13 goals and 33 points and may very well have the inside track on rookie of the year thus far (now that Brassard, my pre-season pick is injured and out for the season) but two guys to watch for are Bobby Ryan and Steve Mason. Ryan has 8 goals and 22 points in just 23 games and has been playing a key role in Anaheim’s offense. Ryan was the second overall pick in 2005 behind some guy names Sidney Crosby and he is finally showing why he was so deserving of being picked so high in the draft. Meanwhile, Steve Mason has gotten the Columbus Blue Jackets in the playoff hunt with a 13-9-1 record with 5 shut outs, a 1.82 gaa and a .934 save percentage. His goals against average and save percentage are both tops in the NHL. If he can continue to play anywhere close to this level for the remainder of the season he’ll be a lock for rookie of the year.