Monday, May 25, 2009

The Future

For over a decade two of the greatest franchises in the history of the NHL, The Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens, have been mismanaged, poorly coached and combined with very poor drafting and other bad managerial decisions these things have lead to their downfalls into mediocrity. The Oilers finished out of the playoffs for the third straight year and a year after finishing first overall in the east the Montreal Canadiens absolutely flamed out this year and were obliterated in a first round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins. They both have very similar current problems to go along with the long standing ones: lack of size, competitive drive, underachieving young players, no head coach, they’re not exactly the most desirable places for UFA’s to head to and they both hold mediocre draft positions. Here’s what they both need to do to build their teams into annual contenders.

Edmonton Oilers: New GM Steve Tambellini is stuck somewhere between a quick fix and a long term rebuilding project. Kevin Lowe has left him a mixture of young talent still to be groomed with the potential to be a great corps (Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Tom Gilbert, checking centre Kyle Brodziak, Ladislav Smid, Patrick O’Sullivan,) and some prospects (Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham, Riley Nash, Jordan Eberle, Jeff Drouin-Delauriers, Rob Shremp and Devin Dubnyk). However he’s also left him a group of high priced veterans who are either just overpaid for who they are (Pisani, Moreau, Staios) and a few who are grossly underachieving but who are earning top dollar (Horcoff, Penner, Vishnovsky, Hemsky). First thing to take care of is the impending UFA’s (Denis Grebeshkov, Ales Kotalik, Dewayne Roloson) and if I were Tambo my first priority would be re-signing Grebeshkov as I feel that he greatly improved himself this season, is arguably their most dependable puck moving defenseman and he’s still relatively young. Kotalik is dispensable but if he’ll come back for a relatively low contract number why not re-sign him. Dewayne Roloson is tricky. I’d bring him back but only on a one year contract and the Oilers two younger goalies have got to get way more playing time then they did last season because Oiler brass really does need to know what they have in their younger goalies as Roloson is now 40 years old and you don’t know when his performance will absolutely plummet. Next up is the draft and the Oilers, by my estimation will have to decide whether or not they’re willing to reach for that size and toughness they desperately want up front or take one of the two potential elite offensive defensemen that will probably be available at #10 overall in the first round. So right now I’d say it’s between Zach Kassian, Ryan Ellis and Dmitry Kulikov with an outside chance at Nazem Kadri. Free agency is a little thin on quality this year, and with the cap supposedly going down after this coming season I’d sit tight in that area if I were Tambellini and hope that the young players and Ales Hemsky steps up even more next season. And let’s not forget the head coach! If you want an experienced available coach I’d suggest either Peter Laviolette or Tom Renney. Little known coaches that I’d suggest might be the Manitoba Moose’s Scott Arniel or the Hamilton Bulldogs’s Don Lever. Tambo is playing his coaching choice very close to the vest so it’ll be very interesting to see who he indeed does pick.

Montreal Canadiens: Well, this past season was a disaster. We were bombarded with 100th season publicity and talk that the Habs were the favourite to represent the east in the Stanley Cup final and then the team folded under all the expectations. The veterans were either injured or would go through long confidence sucking slumps; Kovalev went through his usual every 2nd year drought and Saku Koivu plain and simple is done as a good player. About half the Habs roster is going to be UFA/RFA after this season including basically the whole corps of the team. The Habs three notable RFA’s are Guillaume Latendresse, Tomas Plekanec, and Christopher Higgins. Latendresse has developed along with Maxim Lapierre into a very efferective 3rd line combo and has consistent 20 goal potential so he is a definite re-sign. Higgins is also developing into a consistent 20 goal potential shut down forward in the mold of a Bob Gainey. Plekanec on the other hand is a player that at most I would give a one year contract and then would trade him at the first sign of a good deal or that the team is ready to make the next step to becoming a cup contender because in his 3 trips to the playoffs he has disappeared every time and he consistently shies away from physical contact. UFA players that I believe should not be brought back for sure (mainly for cap, health and age considerations) are Francis Boullion, Patrice Brisebois(who will retire) and Tom Kostopoulos as Gregory Stewart will be doing his job and is younger and cheaper. After that Bob Gainey basically has to consider the price and length of contract that his other UFA’s want. Mathieu Schneider is someone that I believe could be brought back to man the point on the PP as he is still very effective their but there’s no way he should be getting as much playing time or money(5.75 million) that he did last year and I’d give him just a one year deal at around 2 million as any contract given to a player over 35 counts against the cap for the duration even if the player retires. I do not believe that Mike Komisarek will be back as he will get mega-bucks in free agency that he is not worth and I believe that he is done with the organization after his atrocious play at the end of the season so if the rumors are true that Francois Beauchemin wants to come back to MTL I’d sign him in a heartbeat to replace Komi. The development of Ryan O’Byrne as a potential big physical shutdown defenseman is something to keep an eye on and it looks as if top prospect Alexei Yemelin will sign this summer and he is a nasty piece of work ala Darius Kasparitis. Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang have all said that they’d like to come back and that money isn’t the issue but the term. Tanguay I’d bring back for 4-5 years but at about 4 million at most, Kovalev warrants a 2 year deal at most at around 2-3 million but Lang get’s a one year deal. Even though he played very well last year he’s 39, was already not a great skater and suffered a severed Achilles tendon. Tanguay has already said that he won’t sign until a new head coach is named and with most players probably won’t sign until one is named Gainey should probably get a move on. Team President Pierre Boivin has already screwed management by telling people that the team will hire an experienced french speaking coach so names such as Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford are sure to be mentioned and interviewed. Don Lever, given his very good work with young players in Hamilton should get very long consideration although he’s not a francophone so the French media would cry bloody murder. And of course the wild card who apparently Tanguay has said that he’d love to play for is his ex-teammate, a man who’s arrogance would make him so self assured that he would be able to withstand all attacks from the media and he’s so crazy that he just might work, of course I’m talking about Patrick Roy. All his ex-teammates say he will make a great coach and all his junior players love him, plus he may be one of the few people to be able to instil the competitive drive in Carey Price that he so desperately needs but the Colorado Avalanche have offered him the position of coach and GM so we’ll see how that turns out. Finally the Habs are drafting in the #18 hole in the draft and a big forward is just what this doctor prescribes for what ails the Habs. If Zach Kassian inexplicably drops that far the Habs should snap him up in a second. Others include Brandon forward Scott Glennie (6.01/174 lbs), Guelph centre Peter Holland (6.01/178 lbs), Carter Ashton of Lethbridge (6.02/190 lbs) and wildcards Chris Kreider from Andover Maryland and local centre Jordan Caron (6.02/196 lbs). I’d take any of the Canadian players myself.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ovie vs. Crosby

The dream playoff matchup that the NHL head office has dreamed of since 2005 finally happened this spring and indeed so far it has lived up to the hype. The game of one ups manship between the game's two biggest stars has been phenomenal to watch, especially game 2 when both of them recorded hat-tricks. If Gary Bettman wasn't so busy trying to defend his disastrous sun-belt market franchises from Jim Balsillie he'd probably be wetting himself with glee at how well this series has gone. It's been a fantastic marketing tool for the NHL almost like (although not quite the same as they aren't meeting for the Stanley Cup) Magic vs. Bird during the 80's for the NBA. This series has also done something very important, it has shown just how different their styles of play are and that they can't deffiate from those styles if they want to be effective. When Crosby was trying to go goal for goal with Ovechkin during the first two games his team was losing because if Crosby is trying to score goals the play of his linemates plummits. Crosby is a passer, not a goal scorer. His passing and playmaking are what make his team and linemates better then they would be on their own and as he was trying to match goal total's with Ovechkin his team was suffering. However in the last three games he's gone back to his playmaking self and to no suprise the Penguins are faring much better. As we all no Ovechkin is the premier sniper in the NHL and he has 7 goals in 5 games in this series. He's a decent passer but his forté is definitely shooting the puck and this opens up room for his teammates as the opposition is constently focused on shutting down Ovechkin.

This series has also proved that right now anyway, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a better team then the Washington Capitals especially on the defensive side of the puck. Offensively the teams are pretty much even but on the back end the Penguins are definitely superior as well as their overall play in their own end. Capitals all-star defenseman Mike Green has completely disappeared this spring in both of the Caps playoff series and this has significantly weakened the Capitals backend play as there really isn't much beyond him on their blueline and at this point in time Marc-Andre Fleury is outplaying Simeone Varlamov. The Penguins will likely win game six and go on to the Eastern final as the Capitals have much to improve on in the own end but whether they can do it in time for a series victory or if it's something that they'll have to do in time for next season to go further into to post-season is another question.