Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goin' down South(east)

We'll now continue our journey down I-95, to some "unconventional" hockey markets. Four of the five teams in the conference came into existence in the 1990s (although you can argue Carolina existed before. Bring back the whale!). Anyway, the Southeast is home to some exciting hockey with the scoring machine in Washington and the Dynamic Duo in Tampa Bay. We also have some news to report that the Chicago Blackhawks have relocated to Miami. Well, alright, that's only partly true, and we'll get into that in a bit.

Last year's standings.

Washington 48-23-11
Tampa Bay 46-25-11
Carolina 40-31-11
Atlanta/Winnipeg 34-36-12
Florida 30-40-12

Washington Capitals: While you car argue it would be difficult for the Capitals to get better, they did it this off season. Amongst rumors of Semyon Varlamov looking to go back to Russia, GMGM (George McPhee) managed to trade him to Colorado for 1st and conditional 2nd round draft pick, which is more than the compensation for his salary if the Avalanche tendered and offer sheet. The capitals also signed Nashville playoff phenom Joel Ward. As if that wasn't enough, they might have made the shrewdest signing this year, Tomas Vokoun, for roughly 1.5 million dollars. The Capitals have had some success with their young goaltenders, but now they have one of the best goalies in the league in recent years at a bargain basement price. Will this be the Capitals year finally? Unfortunately, Vokoun's playoff record is less than stellar, but with a team as deep as Washington's, this could be THE move to bring them over the hump.

Tampa Bay Lightning: What a bizarre summer for the Lightning. RFA scoring machine Steven Stamkos was a challenge to re-sign, but they managed to come to an agreement to keep Stamkos around for awhile. They're also bringing back Dwayne "Rollie the Goalie" Roloson. The ageless wonder continues to defy the critics, as well as nature seemingly. At 41, he appears to play about 10 years younger, with no real signs of stopping. He's possibly the best goalie the Lightning have had since their Cup run in 2004 with Khabibulin. Perhaps the most underrated component to their success is coach Guy Boucher. The Lightning have drafted well, but never managed to click, that is until Guy took the reigns and off they went.

Carolina Hurricanes: Ahh the Cardiac Canes. Or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Carolina Hurricanes have been as enigmatic as they've been exciting the past few seasons. With Eric Staal, Cam Ward and soon to be sophomore Jeff Skinner, the core of this team is still young and highly skilled. The problem lies in their consistency. Will they be a team that looks more at home in the AHL, or will they look like the team that has won the Stanley Cup 06? If the Canes can get their act together and play consistent hockey, they will soon return to the playoffs. If not, it's another year of outside looking in.

Winnipeg Jets (formally Atlanta Thrashers): A brief moment to say how nice it is to see the Jets back in the 'Peg. With that said, I don't see them making the playoffs this year. While it's not impossible, it doesn't seem like they did enough this year to get past their tougher divisional rivals. They do have some quality young players like Kane and Bogosian, as well as Pavelec in goal. This is another team that has the potential to make a run, if they can string together a nice string of wins, but with Tampa and Washington to climb over, it will be an incredibly tall order.

Florida Panthers: This is a team that has made a lot of noise this off season. GM Dale Tallon has stock piled draft picks and took on some salary to make this team more competitive. This year's draft pick Jonathan Huberdeau has a chance to make the lineup, but some of the more established acquistions this year include Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Theodore, Kopecky, Jovanovski and Brian Campbell. that's 3 cup winning Blackhawks acquired in less than a week. While a good portion of these players could be considered overpaid, they are winning vets who have a want to win, which is something that's been missing in Florida for quite some time. Will Jose Theodore returned to his Hart and Vezina winning form and help propel this team up the standings, or will he be simply an adequate stop gap replacement for Vokoun? Only time will tell, but on paper the Panthers have improved quite a bit.

Predictions: The Southeast Division is still a two horse race between the Capitals and Lightning, but the rest of the division has the potential to play spoiler to either their divisional rivals or other teams in the conference. It certainly looks like the Panthers have the potential to make the biggest splash in the division. However, the Cardiac Canes and Cats will still leave their fans perplexed and at times furious I'm sure. Look for Washington and Tampa Bay to duplicate their 1-2 position in the division once again this season.

Washington-Tampa Bay-Florida-Carolina-Winnipeg

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Division previews, take 2

It's time to head down I-95 and take a look at the Atlantic Division. Yesterday I mentioned that the Northeast Division is one of the toughest in hockey. I stand by that in terms of how evenly matched the teams are. To the Atlantic Division I say it's arguably the deepest and/or best division in hockey. Three of the past four Stanley Cup Finals have featured a team from the Atlantic Division, and this division routinely sends multiple teams to the playoffs year in and year out.

Last year's standings

Philadelphia 47-23-12
Pittsburgh 49-25-8
New York Rangers 44-33-5
New Jersey 38-39-5
New York Islanders 30-39-13

Philadelphia Flyers: What a long, strange trip it's been for Flyers fans. In the matter of hours, the faces of the franchise are shipped cross country in some of the most shocking trades in Flyers history. After a lifeless performance by the Orange and Black against Boston, owner Ed Snider put the world on notice, the Flyers were going to get a goaltender. GM Paul Holmgren wasted no time in trading for the rights to pending UFA, Ilya Bryzgalov. With cap issues before the 4million increase, the Flyers would have to make room to fit Bryz's hefty new contract, so out went Jeff Carter to Columbus for the 8th overall pick in the 2011 entry draft (Sean Couturier) and Jakub Voracek. Not even an hour later word was given that Mike Richards went to Flyers West, I mean the LA Kings, for prospect Brayden Schenn and feisty Wayne Simmonds. In the span of an afternon the Flyers announced their new goalie and the departure of their leading goal scorer the past few seasons, and their captain once likened to be the next Bobby Clarke. Oh yeah, they also signed Max Talbot to a long term deal and brought in Jaromir Jagr. Yes, you read the correctly. After July 1, I think it's safe to say that Pittsburgh was more like Pissedburgh. Worse joke ever, right?
This future is now in Claude Giroux and James vanRiemsdyk's hands. In the immediate future however, the veterans are going to handle the leadership. With Pronger expected to be completely healthy in October, and the rest of the D intact, look for the offense to be the question marks. How will Giroux handle being the #1 center, and will he and JvR mesh with either Voracek or Jagr? Also look to see how Bryzgalov handles the increased pressure of a hockey mad town compared to playing the desert, where it's plaus 32 all year. If he can weather the storm and play like he has been, apart from his poor playoff performance this year, Flyers faithful will be loving every bit of his large contract.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens towards the end of the season were those people you see running marathons, finishing long after the competition, but still finishing it despite not winning accolades. Except for the fact that they still almost won the division, despite losing Crosby and Malkin to season ending injuries earlier in the year. Somehow playing the trap can win you the Jack Adams trophy by the way, so aspiring coaches take note. They did manage to blow a 3-1 lead against Tampa Bay in the opening round of the playoffs, but given the injuries the team sustained, just making it is a feat in itself. Now the good news for the Pens is that Malkin is fully healed and ready to go, but the bad news is Crosby's concussion issues have resurfaced with more intense workouts, so when (and just to say it, if) he returns is still in question. Still to be "stuck" with Malkin and Staal as your 1-2 centers isn't a bad place to be. The James Neal trade at the deadline last season and the free agent signing of Steve Sullivan should help the Pens lack of depth on the wing. If and when Crosby returns, the Pens will be a very serious threat to take the division.

New York Rangers: Well the Rangers finally got their center to play with Gaborik. In a move a blind man could see coming, the Rangers somehow "managed" to land free agent gem Brad Richards. Let's face it, Gaborik can shoot, and Richards is more of a playmaker than a sniper, this is a match made in hockey heaven...providing Gaborik can stay healthy, which is always a concern. Couple their all star center/wing combo with a young, but sturdy defense and one of the best goalies in the league in recent years, and you have a team that can make some serious waves. Maybe now the Rangers won't need to wait till the last day of the season to make or miss the playoffs. Maybe.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils were they hottest teams in hockey down the stretch, unfortunately that was about the only time they got hot all year, and ended up missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Floundering under then head coach John McLean, and decimated by injuries, the Devils soon found themselves at the bottom of the league and well out of the playoff picture. Enter Jesus with a comb over, I mean Jacques Lemaire, and the team played with a new found vigor. Kovalchuk found his killer instinct and backup goalie Johan Hedberg was simply phenomenal when called upon. Now the Devils got the pick of the draft with Adam Larsson, the big right shooting Swedish defenseman to help add youth and talent to the blue line and the now healthy Parise to be in the lineup at the start of the season things are looking up for the Devils. Biggest questions for the Devils are how much the injury to Travis Zajac will affect them, and whether or not Martin Brodeur can continue to spit in Father Time's eye and play above his years suggest he should be. If the Devils can do that, they will once again be in the playoff hunt.

New York Islanders: If hockey teams were cartoon characters then the New York Islanders would be Eeyore. It's always raining on the Islanders parade. The potential on this team is immense, but when one thing happens to them, it seems like a million more are right around the corner. Injuries to key players Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit ended their seasons before they began, and of course Rick DLiPietro was injured. We all remember when Ty Conklin literally broke DiPietro's face! It wasn't all doom and gloom for the Islanders though, as they had five 20+ goal scorers, Matt Moulson and rookie Michael Grabner potting 34 goals, six of them short handed. the Islanders also managed to deal with the mess with Evgeni Nabokov, and he will play this season, so once DiPietro gets hurt (and you know it'll happen eventually) Al Montoya and Nabokov should be more than able to handle the goaltending duties for the Isles.
Will last year's first round pick Nino Niedereitter make this year's big club after another season in the WHL? And what about this year's pick in Ryan Strome? The Islanders give their youth every chance to succeed at the NHL level, so it will be an interesting preseason to watch out on Long Island. Even without all the drama of a new arena or possibly relocation, a healthy Islanders club should be a fun club to watch, but I cannot stress the healthy aspect enough. Injuries flat out destroy this team's chance at being competitive in an already cut throat division.

Predictions: With the injury to Crosby looming over Steel City like a storm cloud, I expect them to stumble a bit this season. They will certainly be competitive, but right now I think it's a two horse race for the division crown between the Rangers and the Flyers. On paper the Rangers are the most improved team in the Atlantic, while the Flyers certainly have some possible chemistry issues to contend with before they can be truly considered a contender at this point.

New York Rangers-Philadelphia Flyers-New Jersey Devils-Pittsburgh-New York Islanders. I'll say the top four in the division all have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is this thing on?

*blows the dust off*

Hello motherpuckers! We are a little over two weeks away from training camps opening up, and with that, the season will not be far behind. Time to shake off the cobwebs of inactivity the off season has oh so generously placed upon on, and look towards the 2011-2012 regular season. Only way I know how to welcome in the season is with previews, predictions and breakdowns. So let's get to it. However, I would be remiss to start anything without mentioning the latest in an unfortunately growing list of former player leaving us all too soon. Wade Belak was found dead in a condo in Toronto today. I have heard conflicting reports of how he died, but common theme is suicide. He is the third player to found dead this year along with Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien. There seems to be a connection between "enforcers" and suicide/accidental death now that the league should certainly look into in some fashion before this becomes even more common.

now, on to the "fun" stuff....

last season's standings.

Boston 46-25-11
Montreal 44-30-8
Buffalo 43-29-10
Toronto 37-34-11
Ottawa 32-40-10

The Northeast Division is one of the toughest divisions in hockey. The three most recent Vezina trophy winners are in this division. Tim Thomas-Ryan Miller-Tim Thomas. That's a nice goaltending sandwich right there. Of course we also have Carey Price, who finally staked his claim as the legitimate #1 goaltender in Montreal. How good does that Halak trade look now? And the upstart James "Optimus Reim" Reimer who managed to displace both former Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastian Giguere and Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson as the Maple Leafs starter and goalie of the future. Rounding out this goaltending pinwheel is Craig Anderson. He had a bit of a let down year last season, compared to 09-10, but started to bounce back after being traded to Ottawa. If you like goaltending, you'll love this division.

Boston Bruins: Last year's Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins will enter the season largely unchained. Nothing drastic in terms of roster moves this off season, which will either help or hinder them coming into this season. Gotta love the ambiguity of that statement. With a mostly identical roster, you bring back chemistry and familiarity. Familiarity breeds contempt does it not? The Bruins have won the ultimate prize. While one is never enough, there is always the dreaded "cup hangover" to contend with next season. The Bruins certainly have the tools to compete for the cup again without a doubt, but they are their own biggest obstacle this year.

Montreal Canadiens: Free agent pick up of Erik Cole was a bit of a surprise, but a solid pick up to help bolster their offense. The biggest surprise was the extension given to Andrei Markov, who has had nothing but injuries the past few seasons. It seems like Montreal is banking on Markov overcoming the injury bug. Perhaps Pierre Gauthier is looking to beat the odds two years in a row with this signing. Will Peter Budaj be a better backup than Alex Auld? With the amount of games Carey Price plays in a season, it probably won't matter. In an already tight divisional race every year, it's quite possible the Habs will be even more competitive.

Buffalo Sabres: Apparently the Sabres new owner was like a kid in the candy store come July 1 this summer. Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and trading for Robyn Regehr mark the key off season moves for the now free spending Buffalo Sabres. Whether or not Ehrhoff and Leino will be worth their hefty pay will be a big question mark. Leino played his first full NHL season last year and appeared to be out of gas down the stretch. Ehrhoff had two good years in Vancouver and cashed in big time with a 10 year deal. While Buffalo is a solid team, they're not as good or deep as Vancouver. Will these moves come to get Buffalo over the hump, or will they be ones the Sabres ultimately lament? One move they will not regret is bringing in Robyn Regehr. He can act as the older mentor for Tyler Myers which he was lacking last season. Look for Myers to have a much more consistent year this year, which will also help Buffalo greatly.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles, Matthew Lombardi (good news on his part, concussion symptom free) and Cody Franson are the newest players to don the blue Maple Leaf emblazoned sweater. Draft picks Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy look to be solid prospects to come up in the future. For now, this is going to be the Optimus Reim show. Will James Reimer be a flash in the pan, like so many goalies before him (even Brian Burke has called him out on this possibility), or will he be new coming of Felix Potvin? There is a very real possibility that the Maple Leafs will become more like their division counterparts in the respect that they will go only has far as their goalie(s) will allow. Tim Connolly will also need to stay healthy to be an effective pivot for Phil Kessel. Connolly hasn't played more than 75 games since 2002-2003, and has lost almost two full seasons due to concussions, so that will also be something to watch up in Toronto. Regardless of all that, the Maple Leafs will need to get off to a better start than previous seasons if they wish to have a shot at making the playoffs. Something they haven't done since before the lockout.

Ottawa Senators: Ahh the redheaded stepchild of the Northeast Division. They really are the Edmonton of the Eastern Conference...but without all that 1980's glory. After a great run to the cup finals against the Ducks, the Senators have consistently gotten worse and worse. This team is completely dependent on their top line for essentially all their offense. Couple that with a goalie who has an injury report longer than my arm, and you have a recipe for disaster. Drafting Mika Zibanejad goes towards bringing depth and youth down the middle, but that's assuming the young Swede will be able to crack the line up immediately. I'm not so sure that will happen, and so once again, if anything happens to Spezza or Alfredsson, the Sens could be in serious trouble...unless Craig Anderson pulls some of Avalanche magic and carries this team on his back like he did in 09-10 for Colorado.

Predictions: I want to say Boston will win their division again, but I think Buffalo has made some much needed additions to take the top spot. A healthier Atlantic Division will make it a tall order for the other teams in the east to make the playoffs, but once again it is possible for over half of this division to make the playoffs. I'm going to call it like this though.


Yes, I might be predicting it a possibility that Toronto actually ends the dry spell of playoff appearances. That said, don't plan the parade yet, Leafs Nation. It's a long hard road to get there, and they have to play much better out of the gate to make it plausible. Otherwise, it's the Habs in the third spot and taking one of the 6th-8th spots in the East.

Other divisions to follow shortly, so keep your pants on. Also, new season, new reminders. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Here Lies Da Islanders

'Ey yo! you shuda voted!

Ok, now that I've gotten that awful accent out of the way, let's look at the bleak future of the New York Islanders. Votes are still be tallied, but as of 11:30PM it's looking like 58% say no, 42 yes on a new arena for the Islanders. While this certainly isn't the last hope for the Islanders, it doesn't look too good for the near future.

The Islanders have a dramatic history in the NHL, with their four consecutive Stanley Cup wins in the 1980's, to a franchise put firmly in the skids of mediocrity, to the point where they've essentially been an AHL+ team. I won't rehash all the stupid things Mike Milbury has done as Gm, because he's too oblivious anyway, and we all know them well enough by now. Rest assured he's somewhere forming more idiotic opinions about hockey with Pierre McGuire, who's probably dreaming of Sidney Crosby and Mike Richards. Alas, I digress.

It's no secret that the Nassau Coliseum is one of the most outdated and antiquated facilities in the league right now. It's a pain in the ass to get to, and no one wants to go there anyway to see the Islanders lose another game. Even their own commentators dread watching them play. Don't believe me? Go ahead, click here and see for yourself. Anyway, it's easy to see why the average fan, and those not familiar with the game would vote down a measure to pay for a new arena to be built for a team as woeful as the Islanders. However, they are a young team with tremendous talent that will be, if they can stay healthy, an exciting group to watch.

Update: the AP is calling the vote at approximately 11:40pm as a NO for the new arena. So now Charles Wang and the Islanders will have to explore new avenues to secure a new building. Does this mean the team will be fleeing the island? I highly doubt it at this point, but I can't lie, it's not a bad idea. The Islanders are currently under contract through 2015 with the city/arena so there is still time to go ahead and get something done. With the talent the Islanders have on the rise, it would be nice to see them start to turn it around in a new building, with actual fan support. Whatever happens in the coming weeks, months and even years it'll be worth keeping an eye on. A team like the Islanders won't be moved easily, so the league could possibly get involved. Will it actually come that? Who knows. All we do know is that this part of the Islanders saga is over, but a new one is just beginning.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Brian Burke

Brian Burke. You know him, and you either love him or hate him. It's easy to understand why either way. Burke is the kind of GM who doesn't hide behind jargon or double speak, and he is honest in both his approach to the media and building his teams. He has proven to be successful no matter where he has been, whether it was laying the building blocks for a franchise like Vancouver, or building the cup winner in Anaheim. Now he's been in Toronto for a few seasons, with mixed results. However, most will admit that the future is now bright for the Leafs, first time in a long time someone can actually say that.

After a seemingly disastrous trade with Boston for Phil Kessel, which got them Tyler Seguin and a Stanley Cup as well as this year's pick up defenseman Dougie Hamilton, Burke has managed to right the ship, and the team when on a remarkable late season run, being in the playoff hunt towards the end of the season, after yet another dismal Maple Leaf October. He also managed to recoup a first round draft pick (from boston of all teams) by FINALLY trading the last of the Muskoka 5, Tomas Kaberle in exchance for Joe Colborne, a 2011 first round pick, and a conditional pick in 2012. Let us not forget that he also managed to trade Brent Lebda for Cody Franson and Matthew Lombari (who is still battling concussions, but in a Lebda trade, it's a good pick up)...and there was much rejoicing. yay.

Despite his off season moves, there is another reason to like Brian Burke, and that's simply because he doesn't give one single miniscule puck what anyone thinks of his job. Let us go back to July 1st, the start of this crazy free agency period, and the absolute joke that was the Brad Richards frenzy. Let us not kid ourselves, everyone on their mother knew Brad Richards was going to sign in New York. Why they had that circus is beyond me, but regardless, Brian Burke was overseas visiting Canadian servicemen and women on Canada Day....and oh yeah He's American. Toronto Sun reporter Steve Simmons, who I generally appreciate his candor, went on to say that you don't do that kind of thing on the start of free agency. I can ALMOST understand the point he is trying to make, however in this technological age, there is no way Brian Burke wasn't in contact with the other people in the front office. The Leafs did manage to re-sign Grabovski and MacArthur, who were excellent last year for them, as well as sign Tim Connolly, who if healthy, will be their number one center which is something they sorely need to play alongside Kessel.

Perhaps the most, endearing (
for lack of a better term) quality about Burke is how he speaks to the media. He's upfront, candid and honest. There is no mincing of words or tiptoeing through the tulips with Burke. Case in point, watch this video of the press conference he did a few days after free agency began. Look how he defends his players to the media, and doesn't take shit from anyone. Feel free to jump to about 9 minutes in and hear him respond to Steve Simmons. The fact that he is calling shenanigans on all these long term deals is great too. It's not like he's doing it to be spiteful or to complain for the sake of complaining *coughdeanlombardicough*. He's saying what everyone knows and no one else will admit. For that I have to say kudos to Brian Burke. Here is a guy in the biggest hockey market in the league, essentially giving the league the finger. I can only imagine that when all is said and done, when all these contracts aren't played out, Burke is going to have a shit eating grin on his face. Just to bring leafs fans down to Earth a bit, that'll happen before a parade.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Goalie Faceoff

The dust seems to be settling after the opening weekend of free agency, and it's fair to say most of the high level talent has been signed. Brad Richards made his "shocking" decision to go to the New York Rangers (I really hope you can feel the sarcasm there), and just about everyone who was expected to go, ended up going somewhere. Unlike the goalie bonanza of last year, this year's crop was a bit thinner, but had the likes of Dwayne Roloson (who re-signed in Tampa), Mike Smith (Phoenix) and of course Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun was thought to be the prize of prizes amongst the goaltenders this year, but he only went today after teams like Colorado and Phoenix, who desperately needed starting goaltenders, signed other free agents. The size of Vokoun's contract with the Washington Capitals (1.5 million) has Flyers fans irate at the long term contract they signed Ilya Bryzgalov to and the difference in money. In an attempt to explain both, we're going to compare both goalies as best we can.

Regular Season
(Career stats)
Tomas Vokoun: (632 NHL appearances) 262-267-41 2.56 GAA .917 save% 44 shutouts

Ilya Bryzgalov: (326 NHL appearances) 156-116-35 2.53 GAA .916 save% 23 shutouts

So what does this tell us? While both goalies have played on less than stellar teams for the majority of their careers, statically, Bryzgalov wins more games. The offense of Florida was worse than Phoenix's last season (195-231), the defenses were almost identical (226-229). Both teams ranked 9th in their respective Conferences for goals for, so it's not like we're comparing apples to oranges here. To start splitting hairs, Vokoun just turned 35, while Bryzgalov just turned 31. While goalies certainly seem to perform at higher levels longer than other positions on the ice, you have to wonder how many more "good" seasons Vokoun has in him. The greatest goalie in the game, Martin Brodeur (39) has been on decline the past two seasons, and started showing his age (injuries, late season fatigue) even before that. Yes everyone is different, I'm not suggesting the the exact same thing will happen to every goalie, but it can cause for some concern for a team looking for a durable goalie. Over the past 3 seasons, Bryzgalov has started an average of 67 games, while Vokoun has started just under 60. Again, this is purely speculation, but perhaps the rigors of a starting job are starting to wear on Vokoun. Bryzgalov has also earned a Vezina nomination for his play with the Phoenix Coyotes, while Vokoun has never been nominated for the award.

(Career stats)
Tomas Vokoun: (11 appearances) 3-8 2.47 GAA .922 save% 1 shutout

Ilya Bryzgalov: (27 appearances) 12-13 2.55 GAA .917 save% 3 shutouts (and a stanley cup ring)

For all the worrying that Flyers faithful have done, here comes some news, Vokoun never won a playoff series either! Shocking I know, but it looks like that greener grass over there is the same color. Again the numbers are similar, with Vokoun saving a little more that comes his way, but not enough to win games apparently. Yes, this year's playoff series for Bryzgalov was not very good, but neither was the team in front of him. Aside from Bryzgalov's stint in Anaheim, Bryzgalov hasn't had a team in front of him that can play a complete game. Nor has Vokoun to be fair, but he made those appearances in Nashville who have always played a defensive minded system. In Phoenix Bryzgalov won three playoff games in 09-10 series, while Vokoun has only three wins to his career.

When you break it down, there isn't much of a difference between the two goalies. "But what about the money," I hear you screaming at your computer screen. Alright, let's talk about the money. Is Ilya Bryzgalov getting too much money? You can certainly argue that he is, but after looking at the stats and resumes, Bryzgalov would've been the best free agent goalie on July 1. With the mandate handed down from up on high of Mt. Comcast, the Flyers were almost destined to overpay to make a goaltending controversy a thing of the past. Doubt that will actually solve anything for awhile, since it's Philadelphia, and you can't have hockey in Philadelphia without hearing about goaltending problems. However you want to look at it, Bryzgalov is the first, and best, clear cut number one goaltender they've had since Hextall in the late 80's. It's been something they've been searching for since 96-97 when the playoffs consisted of whoever played better the night before. The great and powerful Snider said it needs to stop, and for better or worse it has, and so the Flyers needed to pay. They would've "overpaid" whoever they ended up signing because they weren't going to be outbid. Similar to when Curtis Joseph and Felix Potvin were both UFAs, and the Flyers sign John Vanbiesbrouck instead. Yes Vokoun signed a 1.5 million dollar deal with Washington, but that was AFTER Colorado traded for the rights to Semyon Varlamov and signed Jean-Sebastian Giguere. It seems like Vokoun took the route of another former Flyers goaltender, Martin Biron, and priced himself out of the game. Looking at some of the "big name" goalie signings this July, it's not like last year. Dwayne Roloson signed for 3.5 million, and Mike Smith signed for 2 million. Vokoun had his eyes on a prize and it looks like he lost.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Steven Stamkos Saga

Nice alliteration huh?

We can really replace his name with a few of the high profile pending RFA's to be lately, but it seems to be that his name is at the top of the list, and on the tips of tongues and fingers everywhere. For good reason I suppose. As currently as this afternoon Tampa Bay has been signing other players (D-men Bruno Gervais and Marc-Andre Bergerson), arguably deemed lesser players, to their roster but have yet to sign Stamkos to a deal. I can hear you asking yourselves already, what pucking gives?! Quite honestly no one really knows, but I'll try to figure it out as best as I can.

According to, the Lightning have 21 million dollars in cap space right now. Let us just assume for a moment, that Stamkos is looking for Vinny LeCavalier type money (a 7.7 mil cap hit until next millennium). With the current state of of long term deals it seems simple enough to ink him to a long term front loaded contract with a cap hit around 6 million dollars. There is some speculation out there that Steve Yzerman trying to follow the Detroit business model where the top end guys take a little less money for the good of the organization, and it looks like Stamkos isn't biting. Why should he? Back to back 90+ point seasons, with 45 or more goals. The kid is turning into everything that he was expected to be, and possibly more. He has every right to ask for more money. Now on June 22nd TSN reported that Stamkos Says He's "close" to a Deal with Lightning. What could've happened within the span of a week to change all that? With mum being the word from all sides, it's hard to gauge. Without trying to dissect this even further, I'm going to skip right to the speculation flying around. Yeah yeah, enough pucking around, I know.

Let the rumors begin. July 1 is literally right around the corner. Tampa Bay has cap room, but it is being reported that they have lost from anywhere from 20-30 million dollars this past season, despite coming within one game of the Stanley Cup finals. That certainly doesn't bode well for a long term lucrative deal for Stamkos. There are also reports that Stevie Y. has said that he's ready for anything, you have to wonder if there will be money enough to match any/every offer sheet that comes through the door. With the cap floor being so high, a lot of teams are struggling to make it there, so an offer sheet could come from teams with cap room to spare, or from a big market club with space and money to burn. Barring an offer that is completely out of reach you have to wonder if Tampa Bay will match year after year until Stamkos becomes a free agent, or they will manage to iron out a deal before someone else comes along with an offer sheet to good to refuse.

Undoubtedly the compensation will be four consecutive 1st round draft picks, as there is no way the Lightning will be unable to match a smaller offer, nor will one be issued in all likelihood. Teams rumored to be in on the possibility of an offer sheet are Toronto and Philadelphia although any number of teams can make a move, as long as they have their picks to offer as compensation. However, it doesn't make any sense for those to clubs. For starters, Philadelphia has only 8.2 million in cap space currently, and still has to reach deals with recently acquired RFA's Voracek and Simmonds, while also attempting to re-sign pending UFA Ville Leino, whom the Flyers have expressed great interest in locking back up. Not to mention the Flyers are in need of some depth players and possibly a younger defenseman to come in and learn the system while playing a limited minutes role until some key veterans retire, which may be sooner than later. Despite what amounts to rumor mongering by Frank Seravelli of the Philadelphia Daily News, it just seems illogical for the Flyers to make that kind of run at a player. Although to be fair to Frank, this is Philadelphia we're talking about so anything is possible. Toronto seems more likely with over 18million in cap space and an overwhelming need for a number one center. However, with the state of their team, and the bitterness over losing two first round picks for Phil Kessel (which resulted in the second overall pick in the draft, Tyler Seguin and a Stanley Cup for Boston) I cannot see Brian Burke willing to give up four years worth of draft picks. However, if anyone is "crazy" enough to do it, it would be Burke.

Another option could be the New York Rangers. While they are front runners for Brad Richards once free agency opens up, if that goes awry, they do have the space and the craziest of all GM's in Glen Sather to possibly pull this off. I see this as a dark horse at best, simply because they're freeing up their cap space for Brad Richards, and given that player's close relationship to current coach John Tortorella, it's hard to imagine Richards going anywhere else. Other teams with cap space to burn and some offensive woes are the Ottawa Senators (who have holes up and down their line up), Nashville Predators (who play a defensive system), St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche (who are currently deepest at center position).

So as free agency prepares to open its flood gates, we sit and watch as these rumors continue to fly. If you take the time to pause for a moment though, it only seems to make sense that he stays in Tampa Bay. Yzerman will be forever defined by what happens in the coming days, possibly weeks. He's smart and competitive, and there's no way he's simply going to be out bid for a player. If a team puts together a deal, he can simply match it for a year and spend all that time negotiating a long term contract. While fans are enjoying the thoughts of Stamkos in their favorite team's sweater, at the end of the day it's just a pipe dream. Anything is possible, sure, but this one is probably the furthest from it, without being officially impossible.