Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

At least that's what this time is supposed to be. However the dominos have already begun to fall days before things kick off on the floor of the Staples Centre on Friday. Jaroslav Halak was by far the biggest chip to drop so far when he was traded last week to St.Louis for two prospects, Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. That trade has been, for the most part, universally paned by fans and bloggers however many hockey people have said that Montreal got some good pieces in the two young forwards with Eller being a big talented centre who plays with edge and Schultz was the captain of the Calgary Hitmen where he was a big, tough winger who can chuck em'. Many people in hockey believe that the new regulations on goalie equipment coming in this year will drastically reduce the effectiveness of Halak (I call BS on that one. Halak as usual will work his way through that) and that Price just has too much potential to give up on and his work ethic and attitude improved by leaps and bounds after the midway point of the season. However his still can have immature moments (ie. getting two 10 minute misconducts in the Washington series) and the jury is still out on whether or not he can reach his full potential. No matter which way you slice it this was a very gutsy trade that will either end up looking great for GM Pierre Gauthier or this will go down with the Patrick Roy trade, Chris Chelios trade and LeClair and Desjardins trade as one of the worst trades in franchise history.

The second chip to fall was the Nathan Horton trade from Florida to the Boston Bruins after requesting a change of scenery. Horton, the centrepiece to the deal, is a former 3rd overall pick in the 2003 draft and has yet to live up to his lofty promise like many young players in Florida. Horton is a big power forward who can skate and has soft hands. His best season came a couple of seasons ago when he had 31goals and just over 60 points. Since then however his play has dropped off and not only have his work ethic and desire to win been universally paned, but people have questioned whether he truly enjoys playing hockey. If the change and the pressure of playing in Boston can change him around however Boston may very well take the next step towards the Stanley Cup next season. Gregory Campbell is an extra forward who will provide depth and energy but not much else. In return Florida received Dennis Wideman, the 15th overall pick in this years draft and a 3rd round pick in next year's draft. Wideman is a good puck moving defenseman who became Boston fans wipping boy last season after getting off to a rough start and didn't recover until near the end of the season and performed quite well in the playoffs with 12 points in 13 games. If Wideman can keep his play on track from were it was at the end of the season then the Panthers have the makings of a potentially great backend with Dimitri Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby as a shut down guy and one of either Erik Gudbranson, Cam Fowler, and Brandon Gormley that they'll take with the 3rd pick (my guess in Gudbranson). The 15th overall pick hasn't delivered alot of success in recent years however this year's draft is supposed to be very deep so the Panthers may be able to snag a quality prospect in that spot such as Alex Burmistrov, Emerson Etem, Mark Pysyk or Dylan McIlrath. The 3rd round pick next year in a reportedly horrendous draft is a crap shoot.

Then today the Chicago Blackhawks did what most felt they had to do in order to shed salary by agreeing to trade playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and prospect Akim Aliu to the Altanta Thrashers in exchange for the 24th overall pick, a second round pick, Marty"Joe Sakic"Reasoner, and prospect Jeremy Morin. This was a straight up salary dump as the 'Hawks try to get themselves under the salary cap as the huge extensions for Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews kick in. Byfuglien is a pick powerful forward who can also play defence but has yet to show the consistency to be called a top end power forward. After an impressive playoff Big Buff has reached a crossroads in his career. He'll either go the John LeClair route and will explode after having a big playoff like LeClair did after winning the cup with Montreal in 1993 or he'll be the next Fernando Pisani and will just be a depth player for the rest of his career. It'll be interesting to see how he turns out. Sopel is a guy that the Blackhawks were trying to get rid of last season but he had no trade value until he had a highly impressive playoff for the Cup champs. He's solid in his own end and can put up numbers if called upon but he's a better player if you don't ask to much of him. Ben Eager is a modern day tough guy, he'll take on all comers and he can actually skate and play the game. A very underrated pick up in this trade. Aliu is a high end prospect who's always had some kind of controversy or off ice problem following him so perhaps a market where no one is paying attention will be better for him. Plus with Jack Skille and Kyle Beach ready to make the jump soon he was expendable. The 24th pick could very well land a good player for Chicago in a deep draft year as well as the second rounder. Morin is a forward prospect and a great shooter but apparently his skating needs major work. All in all this was about one team that needed to shed salary and another that needed to take salary on a show immediate improvement next season.

**Update** The Edmonton Oilers have acquired forward Colin Fraser from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 6th round pick. This was a great pickup for the Oilers. A big centreman who can provide success in the faceoff circle, grit, and leadership. If the vultures weren't circling the Blackhawks they probably could have gotten more then a 6th round pick.

The San Jose Sharks have re-signed Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau to 4 year contracts. In Pavelski's case, the Sharks have re-upped their best young player and the guy who was their playoff MVP this year. He can do just about everything on the ice and the Sharks also managed to buck the trend of handing out massively long contracts to young players as well. With Marleau re-signing it means not only that Marleau will be a life long Shark but also with Tomas Plekanec re-signing in Montreal this week as well an already weak UFA market is down to only one top flight free agent in Ilya Kovalchuk. Let the bidding for Matthew Lombardi begin!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Buyout Season!

Now that the Stanley Cup is over most people's attention has turned to the 2010 entry draft in Los Angeles or free agency which kicks off on July 1st. However between June 15 and 30th a very underrated and suddenly becoming important event is occurring: buyout season! This is the time of year when GM's have a chance to buy their way out of the stupid contracts that they've given out over the years. The most notable was Alexei Yashin who was bought out a few years ago by the New York Islanders with five years left on his deal. However the bad part that comes along with this process that punishes teams for doing this is that they have to pay off a percentage of the contract over 2 times the remaining years which means that for a total of 10 years the Islanders still have somewhere north of 1.5 million on their cap dedicated to Alexei Yashin. The Montreal Canadiens bought out Georges Laraque today and this will leave 500,000 on their cap for the next two seasons. These contracts were examples of GM's getting overzealous in handing out their owner's money trying to improve their teams but paying way too much to do so. This period is a bitter reminder of those times.

There are plenty of candidates for buyouts on Canadian teams and around the league. The Oilers have 3 potential candidates for buyout: Patrick O'Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, and Ethan Moreau. All three of these players had horrendous seasons and probably should be part of the Oilers next season for themselves and for the team. Moreau, the vet who is not aging gracefully, might be able to fetch a bag of pucks while O'Sullivan, whom basically became Joeffery Lupul 2.0 this year, might be able to fetch a low round draft pick. Nilsson will probably be bought out and is destined for Europe. His talent level isn't intriguing enough to make up for his lack of desire and interest. Buying him out will result in a 1 million dollar cap hit for the next two seasons. Jonathan Cheechoo will likely be bought out by Ottawa. Cheechoo looked like he might become one of the top goal scorers in the NHL after a couple of thirty goal seasons and then exploding for 56 while playing with Joe Thornton however injuries have effectively derailed his career. A 1.75 million cap hit for the next two years will count against Ottawa's cap. Jeff Finger in Toronto might be a candidate for a buyout there after Cliff Fletcher signed him to a ludicrously inflated contract two years ago, Andrei Kostitsyn might be cut in Montreal, The Flames swapped Olli Jokinen's brutal contract for Ales Kotalik's even worse contract and is a buyout candidate. Chicago's Cristobal Huet is perhaps the most discussed buyout candidate, as he never seemed to leave the bench in Chicago post-Olympic break, and is making 5.75 million. That is way too much money and cap space for a backup goaltender. There are likely others that will be bought out over the next two weeks.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coaching retreads starting to fade out of the game

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that the Columbus Blue Jackets have offered their head coaching position to AHL coach of the year, Guy Boucher, who just finished up his first season as a head coach in Hamilton. The Blue Jackets are in need of a new head coach after firing NHL veteran coach and Stanley Cup winner Ken Hitchcock this past season. Hitchcock was fired in large part due to his inability to relate to and work with younger players such as Derrick Brassard, Kris Russell, Steve Mason, Jake Voracek, and especially Nikita Filatov who went back to Russia because his relationship with Hitchcock had become unbearably toxic. This has become a theme in the last 2 to 3 years in the NHL when it comes to coaches and whether or not they can hold onto their jobs. In the salary cap world of the NHL you need to have young cheap assests on your team that can be a big part of your team and coaches need to be able to work with those young players. You need to be able to let them make mistakes and learn from them and be able to balance using tough love but also positive reinforcement and coddling as today's hockey players earn close to and sometimes more then a million dollars their first year in the league and the mentality of today's player is different. There is not only a sense of entitlement from a yound age (ie. Sergei Kostitsyn) but also many seem to be fragile mentally as compared to the old day players don't seem to react as well or willingly to iron-fist tactics of coaches like they used to if the coach's name isn't Scotty Bowman.

Hitchcock was not able to do that with the guys in Columbus and he isn't the only pre-lockout NHL head coach who's ways have become obsolete when it comes to running a bench. Mike Keenan was run out of Calgary after two years because his tactics simply did not connect with his players (interestingly enough his replacement Brent Sutter has suffered the same problem not only during his stop in New Jersey but also this past year in Calgary), Marc Crawford has worn out his welcome in Vancouver and Los Angeles since the lockout ended so how long before his strong arm tactics start to fall on deaf ears in Dallas? Craig MacTavish's inability to work with the young players in Edmonton (ie. Dustin Penner, Joeffrey Lupul, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, etc.) eventually he lost his job and was replaced by the even more old school Pat Quinn who lost the young Oilers players before even a full season was up because he refused to allow them to make mistakes and become better because of them as he ripped them in the media constantly. John Tortorella and Ron Wilson have long had reputations as brutal taskmasters who's first choice as a motivation tactic is to publically and privately rip individual players which works in the short term but will cost them their jobs in the long term (except for Wilson because his buddy Burkie would rather change the players then the coach) and Michel Therrien would also fall into this catagory and Al Murray lasted about two years before getting the ax in St.Louis. While he has saved his job for at least one year with a Cinderella run to the Conference Finals, Jaques Martin once again reinforced his reputation that he started in Ottawa with his handling of Jason Spezza of being unable to work with young players. His handling of Ryan O'Byrne with constantly jerking him in and out of the lineup in favor of the human turnover machine, aka. Marc-Andre Bergeron, and stapling him to the bench after one mistake in games in not condusive to allowing him to grow as a player and it was the same thing with Max Paciorrety whom the Habs eventually had to send back down to Hamilton to try and find him game again under Boucher.

Because of this changing of the guard teams have begun to go in search of new blood for the head coaching ranks of the league either from the CHL or the AHL. Bruce Boudreau, a long time AHL coach, replaced the defensive minded task master Glen Hanlon in Washington three years ago now and the Capitals exploded under his leadership. Peter DeBoer, former coach of the Kitchener Rangers, has done an admirable job with the talent given to him by the aformentioned Jaques Martin during his time as GM in Florida. Cory Clouston, Joe Sacco, Sean Gordon, and of course Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh represent the new wave of head coach's in the NHL who understand and are able to work with the young players in the league today. The smart teams are hiring these guys to work and grow with the young, rebuilding, progressive teams in the league and it's only a matter of time before everyone jumps on the bandwagon.