Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nicklas Lidstrom Retires

Amazing grace, how Swede the sound; that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now, I see

As a Red Wings fan, there are no better words with which to say goodbye to a great player like Nick Lidstrom. Those of us old enough to remember the dark days before Lidstrom joined the Wings can better appreciate his impact to this franchise than those young fans born into the dynasty. I was 12 years old when he played his first game in 1991, and needless to say my life as a Red Wings fan to that point could only be described as miserable. From 1970 to 1986 the Wings missed the playoffs 13 times (the "Dead Wings" era). As the 1980's came to an end, Steve Yzerman had already begun to lift the franchise out of darkness. In 1989 the Red Wings drafted Nick Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Vlad Konstantinov, and a dynasty was born. My life as a fan would never be the same.

We watched Lidstrom hoist the Stanley Cup 4 times after a 42 year drought from 1955 to 1997. During a career that spanned 20 years, Nick never once missed the Stanley Cup playoffs, a feat not easily accomplished. He never missed more than 6 games in a season until 2012. He won the Norris Trophy 7 times, including 4 of the last 6. The Swedish D-man also set some firsts for European born and raised players; the 1st European to win the Norris, the 1st to win the Conn Smythe, and the first to be the captain of a Stanley Cup champion. He also won an Olympic gold medal for Sweden. He made our lives better as fans, and there will be an emptiness next season when the Wings return without Lidstrom in the line-up.

He retires as one of the greatest defensemen ever to play the game, and leaves the franchise with an uncertain future. General Manager Ken Holland now finds himself under immense pressure to fill a gaping hole on the blue line while Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still playing at an elite level. Hopefully Mr Ilitch still has some money left after dumping all that cash on the Tigers. Red Wing fans everywhere should unite and eat as much Little Caesars pizza as you can stuff in your mouth. Think of it as buying a new all-star defenseman, one pizza at a time.

Some fans and pundits will say that it was time for Lidstrom to retire. We'll have to agree to disagree. Even though his skills had begun to diminish, he was still an effective player who could make a positive contribution to any team. I'm not one of those fans who wants to see the great players "retire on top", I'd much rather squeeze every last drop of greatness they have left. Then again, I have still not completely recovered from my mild case of post traumatic stress disorder after the abrupt early retirement of Barry Sanders. Nick, if you change your mind and want to come back for one more year, we'd love to have you a discount of course...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2011/12 New York Rangers R.I.P

The New York Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in 2012, but ultimately leaned too heavily on their top 4 D, played too many games in the playoffs, and simply ran out of gas. The team MVP was easily Henrik Lundqvist, who is the most likely candidate to win the Vezina trophy. Ryan Callahan took a step forward, and is now recognized as one of the league's premier two way players. Brad Richards was effective, earning his $12M (the cap hit was only $6.6M due to the lopsided nature of his 9 year contract). Rangers fans might be disappointed that the team did not make the finals, but given expectations at the beginning of the season 2012 must be considered a success.

There were disappointments for the Rangers in an otherwise successful season. Brandon Dubinsky took a major leap backwards, falling from 54 PTS to 34 PTS after signing a generous 4 year extension last summer. He was barely noticeable in the playoffs, with just 2 assists in 9 games. There is little doubt that Rangers fans won't remember this season for Marian Gaborik's 76 regular season PTS, but rather for the extended periods in the playoffs when Gaborik disappeared. When he wasn't being benched, he was practically invisible for most of the post season. That's not what they're paying him $7.5M to do.

As they enter the summer, they'll need to resign Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman, and Brandon Prust, which they should have the space to do unless they want to bring in a big ticket free agent (as the Rangers often do). This will be a good team again next season, but they must do a better job of spreading out the minutes on their blueline. Stepan and Hagelin are back at $875K, Kreider looks like he could be a star at $1.32M, while Callahan at $4.27M is looking like one of the better contracts in hockey. Girardi is a bargain at $3.3M, as is McDonagh at $1.3M. Staal at $3.97M ain't too bad either. There are good reasons for Rangers fans to maintain their optimism heading into 2013.

Monday, May 28, 2012

2011/12 NHL Games Played By Draft Pick

Which draft picks scored the most points in the NHL this season? Not counting undrafted players, 41% of all NHL games played were drafted in the top 30 (ie: the 1st round in a 30 team league). The 1st round might only represent 10%-15% of all draft picks, but they played 41% of the games this season, illustrating how valuable they are compared to later rounds. Is correlation or causation? Are 1st round picks just that much better as players, or do teams invest more resources in developing them? The answer is probably a little bit of both.

There is an area graph included below to illustrate the big picture.

Now here is the same graph except with PTS on the Y axis instead of GP, showing an even larger disparity between the 1st round and the rest of the draft.

Here is a similar chart, except for career NHL GP for every player drafted from 1990 to 2005. To make things clearer, they are sorted in groups of ten, starting with the top 10 picks.

Friday, May 25, 2012

2011/12 Phoenix Coyotes R.I.P

Will this be remembered as the season that the Coyotes exceeded all expectations advancing to the Western Conference finals, or the year that referees conspired to have the LA Kings knock them out of the playoffs in 5 games? They wear the same colour jerseys after all, which explains how LA dominated the series on the road to an easy victory (if you believe Keith Yandle). Frankly, it didn't matter whether a penalty was called when Dustin Brown hit Rosizval, the Coyotes were never going to win this series. It was an impressive playoffs for the desert dogs, thanks in large part to the emergence of Mike Smith as an elite NHL goaltender. He's the reason that they even made the playoffs and he was the reason they beat Chicago. He deserves more praise than any other player on the roster.

Antoine Vermette proved to be a useful acquisition, leading the team in post-season scoring. Lack of offense from the forward position was one of this team's biggest flaws. Ray Whitney dried up in the 3rd round after leading the team in regular season scoring. Even if the 40 year old decides to come back for another season, his ability to sustain a long playoff run ain't what it used to be. Martin Hanzal gets bumped up to $3.1M, which is a great price for that callibre of player. Pyatt, Rozisval, Aucoin, Doan, Langkow, are all UFAs who may or may not return. The team has flexibility heading into the offseason, more so if they can resolve their ownership issues. Once they have been relocated to Canada, expect the franchise to stabilize.

Keith Yandle has emerged not only as a conspiracy theorist, but also as an elite NHL blueliner. Oliver Larsson has also received abundant praise from pundits who have declared him a future star player. Klesla and Morris remain under contract for 2 more years, while goaltender Mike Smith has one more year at the bargain price of $2M. The team will remain competitive next season, but is really only a bubble playoff team at best, totally dependent on Mike Smith carrying his teammates on his shoulders. I'm not yet convinced that it a recipe for long-term success, but Smith had a knack for proving me wrong this season.

2011/12 NHL Scoring By Draft

This is a 2011/12 NHL scoring list according to draft, each player's production for this season is counted according to what year he was drafted. For example, this year the 2003 draft class played 4007 games and scored 1830 PTS. Below is the leading scoring by draft list, followed by a chronological chart according to games played.

Draft GP G A PTS
2003 4007 704 1126 1830
undrafted 4889 555 957 1512
2004 3653 569 875 1444
2001 2925 455 892 1347
2006 2827 527 719 1246
2005 3234 450 785 1235
2008 2792 396 734 1130
2002 2814 431 694 1125
2007 2664 412 642 1054
1998 1915 337 526 863
2000 2159 278 494 772
2009 1983 257 474 731
1999 1371 226 391 617
1997 1167 184 387 571
1996 1520 117 328 445
1994 817 131 222 353
1993 874 96 225 321
2010 768 127 182 309
1995 626 112 186 298
2011 344 71 106 177
1991 340 37 97 134
1988 82 26 40 66
1992 206 9 50 59
1990 73 19 35 54
1989 70 11 23 34

Monday, May 21, 2012

NHL's Most Expensive Forwards Per Point 2012

Who were the NHL's 100 most expensive forwards on a per point basis in 2012? The list only includes players making over $1.5 million per season (since they can hardly be considered expensive) and those who played at least 20 games. The list is ranked according to dollars spent for each point, except that all players are adjusted to 82 games played, so technically it is more like dollars paid for points per game. In this new age where players can be held out for months with a headache and guys get 20 game suspensions for hits that were legal 2 years ago, it seems only fair to use PTS per 82 GP divided by 2011/12 salary cap hit as the key variable to sort the most expensive forwards. The unadjusted dollars per point is still included in the data if you're interested, but it is ordered according to the adjusted value.

For example, The Leafs paid Colby Armstrong $1M for each of his 3 PTS, but had he played 82 GP and scored the 8 PTS he was on pace for, that would have been $353K per point (still good enough for #2 on the list). Nino Niederreiter played 55 games and had one point, for $2.8M. He's just a kid though, the veterans had larger body of work before getting their current contracts.

There are players like Pahlsson and Stoll that serve a purpose greater than goal scoring, but the guys on this list who are paid to produce offense constitute some of the NHL's worst contracts.

adj adjusted unadjusted
Player  Team GP PTS *PTS $/*PT $/PT
Nino Niederreiter NYI 55 1 1.5 $1,874,695 $2,795,000
Colby Armstrong TOR 29 3 8 $353,659 $1,000,000
Eric Fehr WPG 35 3 7 $313,008 $733,333
Scott Gomez MTL 38 11 24 $309,946 $668,831
Marco Sturm FLA 48 5 9 $263,415 $450,000
Scottie Upshall FLA 26 5 16 $221,951 $700,000
Dustin Penner LAK 65 17 21 $198,171 $250,000
Jason Blake ANA 45 12 22 $182,927 $333,333
Brian Rolston BOS 70 24 28 $180,069 $210,938
Jarret Stoll LAK 78 21 22 $163,066 $171,429
Shawn Horcoff EDM 81 34 34 $159,792 $161,765
Ville Leino BUF 71 25 29 $155,854 $180,000
Samuel Pahlsson VAN 80 17 17 $152,080 $155,882
Blake Comeau CGY 74 15 17 $150,407 $166,667
Joel Ward WSH 73 18 20 $148,374 $166,667
Matthew Lombardi TOR 62 18 24 $147,019 $194,444
Matt Stajan CGY 61 18 24 $144,648 $194,444
Dany Heatley MIN 82 53 53 $141,509 $141,509
Alexander Ovechkin WSH 78 65 68 $139,587 $146,746
Brad Boyes BUF 65 23 29 $137,858 $173,913
Ryan Smyth EDM 82 46 46 $135,870 $135,870
Daymond Langkow PHX 73 30 34 $133,537 $150,000
Rick Nash CBJ 82 59 59 $132,203 $132,203
Manny Malhotra VAN 78 18 19 $132,114 $138,889
Rene Bourque MTL 76 24 26 $128,726 $138,889
Brian Gionta MTL 31 15 40 $126,016 $333,333
Vincent Lecavalier TBL 64 49 63 $123,082 $157,699
Paul Stastny COL 79 53 55 $119,972 $124,528
Wojtek Wolski FLA 31 12 32 $119,715 $316,667
Michael Frolik CHI 63 15 20 $119,512 $155,556
Jochen Hecht BUF 22 8 30 $118,216 $440,625
Mike Richards LAK 74 44 49 $117,932 $130,682
Eric Staal CAR 82 70 70 $117,857 $117,857
Mike Cammalleri CGY 66 41 51 $117,787 $146,341
Alexander Semin WSH 77 54 58 $116,509 $124,074
Brandon Dubinsky NYR 77 34 36 $115,997 $123,529
Brayden Schenn PHI 54 18 27 $113,780 $172,778
Daniel Briere PHI 70 49 57 $113,240 $132,653
Tim Connolly TOR 70 36 42 $112,636 $131,944
Thomas Vanek BUF 78 61 64 $111,384 $117,096
Brooks Laich WSH 82 41 41 $109,756 $109,756
Brenden Morrow DAL 57 26 37 $109,615 $157,692
Patrick Marleau SJS 82 64 64 $107,813 $107,813
David Booth VAN 62 30 40 $107,114 $141,667
Mike Santorelli FLA 60 11 15 $106,430 $145,455
Jarome Iginla CGY 82 67 67 $104,478 $104,478
Eric Belanger EDM 78 16 17 $104,040 $109,375
Jeff Carter LAK 55 34 51 $104,017 $155,080
Mikko Koivu MIN 55 44 66 $102,896 $153,409
Antoine Vermette PHX 82 37 37 $101,351 $101,351
Brad Richards NYR 82 66 66 $101,010 $101,010
Marian Gaborik NYR 82 76 76 $98,684 $98,684
Tuomo Ruutu CAR 72 34 39 $98,135 $111,765
Jamie Langenbrunner STL 70 24 28 $97,815 $114,583
Nik Antropov WPG 69 35 42 $97,670 $116,071
Mike Knuble WSH 72 18 21 $97,561 $111,111
Ales Hemsky EDM 69 36 43 $95,833 $113,889
Ryan Kesler VAN 77 49 52 $95,819 $102,041
Patrick Kane CHI 82 66 66 $95,455 $95,455
Magnus Paajarvi EDM 41 8 16 $95,313 $190,625
Tomas Plekanec MTL 81 52 53 $94,981 $96,154
Paul Gaustad NSH 70 21 25 $93,496 $109,524
Ryan Getzlaf ANA 82 57 57 $93,421 $93,421
Chris Stewart STL 79 30 31 $92,327 $95,833
Andrew Cogliano ANA 82 26 26 $91,923 $91,923
Tomas Kopecky FLA 80 32 33 $91,463 $93,750
Joe Thornton SJS 82 77 77 $90,909 $90,909
Sean Bergenheim FLA 62 23 30 $90,403 $119,565
Brett Connolly TBL 68 15 18 $90,298 $108,889
Anze Kopitar LAK 82 76 76 $89,474 $89,474
Bobby Ryan ANA 82 57 57 $89,474 $89,474
Michael Grabner NYI 78 32 34 $89,177 $93,750
Matt Cullen MIN 73 35 39 $89,024 $100,000
Derek Roy BUF 80 44 45 $88,692 $90,909
Henrik Zetterberg DET 82 69 69 $88,164 $88,164
Martin Havlat SJS 39 27 57 $88,076 $185,185
RJ Umberger CBJ 77 40 43 $88,034 $93,750
Andrew Ladd WPG 82 50 50 $88,000 $88,000
Shane Doan PHX 79 50 52 $87,671 $91,000
Zach Parise NJD 82 69 69 $86,957 $86,957
Corey Perry ANA 80 60 62 $86,585 $88,750
Vernon Fiddler DAL 82 21 21 $85,714 $85,714
Mason Raymond VAN 55 20 30 $85,518 $127,500
Pavel Datsyuk DET 70 67 78 $85,366 $100,000
Simon Gagne LAK 34 17 41 $85,366 $205,882
Michal Handzus SJS 67 24 29 $85,112 $104,167
Dave Bolland CHI 76 37 40 $84,542 $91,216
Pierre-Marc Bouchard MIN 37 22 49 $83,681 $185,455
David Backes STL 82 54 54 $83,333 $83,333
Jason Spezza OTT 80 84 86 $81,301 $83,333
Matt Duchene COL 58 28 40 $80,836 $114,286
David Legwand NSH 78 53 56 $80,764 $84,906
Milan Hejduk COL 81 37 37 $80,092 $81,081
Daniel Sedin VAN 72 67 76 $79,942 $91,045
Jonathan Toews CHI 59 57 79 $79,525 $110,526
Andrei Kostitsyn NSH 72 36 41 $79,268 $90,278
Drew Stafford BUF 80 50 51 $78,049 $80,000
Nicklas Backstrom WSH 42 44 86 $77,993 $152,273
Ryan Malone TBL 68 48 58 $77,744 $93,750
Daniel Cleary DET 75 33 36 $77,605 $84,848

Saturday, May 19, 2012

NHL 2011/12 Leading Scorers Under $1 Million Dollars

Who were the leading scorers in the NHL in 2011/12 who made under $1 million dollars in 2012? This list is derived from cap hit, not actual salary. Many of these players are free agents, so I've listed which ones are restricted and unrestricted. #1 on the list is Jamie Benn, who can expect a healthy pay increase this summer

Agent Player Team GP G A PTS
RFA Jamie Benn DAL 71 26 37 63
David Desharnais MTL 81 16 44 60
RFA Ryan O'Reilly COL 81 18 37 55
Derek Stepan NYR 82 17 34 51
Adam Henrique NJD 74 16 35 51
Matt Read PHI 79 24 23 47
UFA Kyle Wellwood WPG 77 18 29 47
Frans Nielsen NYI 82 17 30 47
Marcus Johansson WSH 80 14 32 46
UFA Petr Sykora NJD 82 21 23 44
Viktor Stalberg CHI 79 22 21 43
Carl Hagelin NYR 64 14 24 38
Colin Greening OTT 82 17 20 37
RFA Jamie McGinn COL 78 20 17 37
Craig Smith NSH 72 14 22 36
Jiri Tlusty CAR 79 17 19 36
RFA P.K. Subban MTL 81 7 29 36
RFA Tyler Ennis BUF 48 15 19 34
UFA Jason Garrison FLA 77 16 17 33
RFA John Carlson WSH 82 9 23 32
RFA Nikita Nikitin CBJ 61 7 25 32
RFA Mathieu Perreault WSH 64 16 14 30
Matt Halischuk NSH 73 15 13 28
UFA Tim Stapleton WPG 63 11 16 27
RFA Jamie McBain CAR 76 8 19 27
RFA Darren Helm DET 68 9 17 26
Marcus Kruger CHI 71 9 17 26
UFA Joey Crabb TOR 67 11 15 26
Zack Smith OTT 81 14 12 26
RFA Nick Johnson MIN 77 8 18 26
Drew Miller DET 80 14 11 25
Mark Letestu CBJ 62 11 14 25
Erik Condra OTT 81 8 17 25
Shawn Matthias FLA 79 10 14 24
Tim Brent CAR 79 12 12 24
Bryan Bickell CHI 71 9 15 24
Travis Hamonic NYI 73 2 22 24
UFA Daniel Winnik SJS 84 8 15 23
Andrew Shaw CHI 37 12 11 23
Jay Harrison CAR 72 9 14 23

Friday, May 18, 2012

Which Active NHL Players Increase Production The Most In Playoffs?

Which active NHL players elevate their offensive production the most in the playoffs? Of the players who played in the NHL in 2011/12 and have played at least 20 career playoff games and 100 career regular season games; Sean Bergenheim has had by far the biggest increase in playoff points per game over regular season production. Below is the list of the top 20 active players with the largest increases in points per game production in the post season.

Career Regular season Career Playoffs
Player Team GP PTS  P/GP  GP PTS P/GP
Sean Bergenheim FLA 388 132 0.34 23 17 0.74
Joel Ward WSH 314 117 0.37 32 22 0.69
Drew Doughty LAK 316 162 0.51 23 19 0.83
Ville Leino BUF 220 98 0.45 37 28 0.76
Dustin Brown LAK 595 359 0.60 23 21 0.91
Eric Brewer
840 231 0.28 30 17 0.57
Claude Giroux PHI 285 243 0.85 50 55 1.10
Johan Franzen DET 472 275 0.58 88 73 0.83
Mike Cammalleri CGY
0.76 32 32 1.00
Dave Bolland CHI 297 154 0.52 49 37 0.76
Daniel Briere PHI 813 643 0.79 108 109 1.01
Maxime Talbot PHI 469 142 0.30 77 39 0.51
Keith Yandle PHX 365 187 0.51 24 17 0.71
Robyn Regehr BUF
0.19 41 15 0.37
Johnny Boychuk BOS 202 46 0.23 45 18 0.40
Martin St Louis TBL
0.92 63 68 1.08
RJ Umberger CBJ
0.57 26 19 0.73
Rostislav Klesla PHX 596 147 0.25 20 8 0.40
Saku Koivu ANA
0.77 60 55 0.92
Steve Downie COL
0.50 23 15 0.65

NHL Active Leaders Career Games Played Without Playing In Playoffs

Who in the NHL has played the most regular season games without playing a single game in the playoffs? Here's the top 20 list, with Jay Bouwmeester leading by 173 over Ron Hainsey. The team with the most players on the list, the Winnipeg Jets with 4. This list is as of the end of the 2011/12 regular season, and only includes players who played at least 5 games in the NHL this season.

Jay Bouwmeester CGY 717
Ron Hainsey WPG 544
Chris Thorburn WPG 426
Kyle Brodziak MIN 419
Andrew Cogliano ANA 410
Ladislav Smid EDM 409
Tom Gilbert MIN 404
Tobias Enstrom WPG 380
Sam Gagner EDM 366
Clarke MacArthur TOR 363
Bryan Little WPG 356
Rostislav Olesz CHI 355
Tim Jackman CGY 348
Patrick O'Sullivan PHX 334
Mikhail Grabovski TOR 319
Frans Nielsen NYI 319
Blake Comeau CGY 319
Luke Schenn TOR 310
Cal Clutterbuck MIN 304
Nikolai Kulemin TOR 303

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2011/12 Washington Capitals R.I.P

2011/12 saw the Washington Capitals win a playoff series against the defending Stanley Cup champions and then push the #1 seeded New York Rangers to seven games, but ultimately this was a season that might be remembered as the year Alex Ovechkin's career took a turn for the worse. His point totals have been in steady decline from 109 PTS in 2010, to 85 PTS in 2011, to 65 PTS this year. Perhaps the decline is explicable by extended injuries to Mike Green and Niklas Backstrom, two players who can substantially improve the team's offense, increasing scoring chances. Or maybe, just maybe, Big Al's light was one that shined too bright. He'll be turning 27 in September which more often than not is the age when NHLers hit peak performance.

Ovechkin was benched by Boudreau, and Boudreau was fired (Bruce was only unemployed for a few days), then Dale Hunter came in to finish the season and he resorted to benching Alex the Great (or maybe we should call him Alexander the Above Average). Now Dale Hunter is going to return to his Junior team instead of coming back. Both stories end with Ovechkin's ass sitting on the bench when it mattered the most. Will he be at best a point per game guy going forward, or can he return to triple digits? He's infamous for partying harder than he trains in the summer time. He also plays a very physical, high velocity game that could wear out his body before its natural expiration date. He's under contract for 9 more years at $9.5M per.

On the bright side, Braden Holtby has seemingly emerged as the franchise goaltender (with arguably the #1 mom in the NHL) returning for a cheap $637K. Neuvirth is a decent plan B at $1.1M should Holtby falter. Both goaltenders are restricted free agents in 2013. Holtby's pre-game ritual is bordering on obsessive/compulsive as a means of getting his brain into a hypnotic trance. Not that it's rare among gatekeepers, but Braden really pushes the boundaries of ridiculousness. I suspect that if he ever gets out of his "zone", he might collapse completely and never be able to get it back. It's good to have a nervous breakdown insurance policy on a goalie like Holtby.

Alex Semin is gone. I'd be shocked if he gets another $6.7M deal, as his annual value should be in the $4M -$5M range. Mike Green and John Carlson are RFAs. Carlson should get a significant wage bump (at least $4M), but Green is already in his fair wage range at $5.2M. He's shown to be prone to injury, though when he's at his healthy peak production, he's worth over $6M. Dennis Wideman is also a UFA, and it is not clear if Washington will be able or willing to bring him back at a higher price. Most of this team should be back next season, minus Semin, possibly Knuble and Wideman. They will be competitive again and challenge for a playoff spot, but it does not appear that there will be a Stanley Cup in this team's near future.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Will There Be A Compliance (or Amnesty) Buyout Clause In 2012 NHL CBA?

The current NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire in September and as we approach a new free agency period in July, a number of teams would probably like to know if the next CBA will include a one time amnesty buyout that will not count against the salary cap in future seasons. In the last CBA there was a one week "compliance buyout" period prior to free agency, which saw Bobby Holik's deal wiped off the books (Bobby of course, still got paid). The question to be negotiated is how much of the money remaining on the contract will the team have to pay? That could be anywhere from 100% to 50% (paid out over the remaining term), and allows the player to become a free agent and sign a new contract while still being paid for the old one. There regular buyout clause that came into effect after the compliance period allows teams to buy out a contract for 2/3 the value remaining, but its value (divided by two) still counts against the team's salary cap limit (for 2 times as many years).

Because buyouts allow players to be paid twice, the NHLPA should want the buyouts, even encourage them (especially the higher the percentage). The argument against the compliance buyouts is that only the richest teams can afford them and it allows them to escape their mistakes without paying a cap penalty; providing a luxury that  lower revenue teams can't afford. The Penguins would surely love to wipe the Martin and Michalek contracts off the books, but would rather pay too much for mediocre production than pay them to play somewhere else. That's why in 2005, aside from Holik the compliance buyout was hardly used (plus they managed a 25% across the board reduction in salaries that they won't get in 2012).

There might be significantly more buyout candidates in 2012 than 2005. However the richest deals are still essentially "buyout proof". Is Tampa going to pay LeCavalier $40M - $60M to play for somebody else? Even if that money is spread out over the duration of the contract, it's a lot of money to spend for nothing but cap clemency. If there is another compliance buyout, rest assured that Scott Gomez and Wade Redden will be the first to go, while others like Mike Komisarek and Keith Ballard will be tempting targets for their cash rich teams.

Will there by a compliance clause in the new CBA? Some General Managers will fight for it, and the players would be smart to allow it (optimistically at 100% the value of the contracts), it just remains to be seen if a majority of NHL teams will support the rich team buyouts. Montreal certainly wants buyouts. Toronto too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2011/12 Philadephia Flyers R.I.P

After a stunning and emotional upset win over the Stanley Cup favourite Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers fell flat on their faces in round 2, being ousted in 5 games by the New Jersey Devils. It was a series where Ilya Kovalchuck looked like the best player in the world, not Claude Giroux. On the series winning goal, Bryzgalov shot the puck off David Clarkson and into the Philly net. It was not a pretty way to finish an otherwise strong season, but it was an appropriate representation of their defeat. The Flyers played maybe 3 periods in the Devils series with the same passion and effort as they did in the emotionally charged round against the Penguins. They invested too much energy in round 1 and came up lame in round 2.

These playoffs proved to be coming out party's for young stars Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Matt Read. Voracek is an RFA who can expect a modest pay raise from his $2.25M (he'll probably land around $3.5M). Jaromir Jagr is an unrestricted free agent, but it is unclear if the old man is interested in coming back for another year or returning to Czechoslovakia. He's still an effective player if he does decide to play another year. Aside from Voracek and Jagr, the only FAs of consequence are Matt Carle and Pavel Kubina. Carle logs 25 minutes a night for the Flyers and is a critical component of this roster, where Kubina is expendable.

The Flyers are carrying some great contracts. 2 more years of Claude Giroux at $3.75M, Talbot $1.75M, Simmonds $1.75M, Couturier $1.35M, and Read $900K. That being said, they are also carrying some terrible contracts. Pronger will continue to count $5M for 5 more years, even if he retires (the best thing for Philly would be if stays on injured reserve for the duration of the contract instead of calling it quits). Ilya Bryzgalov at $5.6M until 2020 is looking like a really bad idea. Timonen is overpaid at $6.3M, though he's only got one year left. Briere has 3 more years at $6.5M, which he seems to earn come playoff time after relatively lackluster (often injury plagued) regular seasons. James Van Reimsdyk's extension kicks in at $4.25M in October, with Coburn and Grossman also getting multi-million dollar pay increases.

Philly is going to be dancing around the salary cap for another few years. They should fight for an amnesty clause in the next CBA and possibly buy out a few contracts. The good news is that they have a solid young core, with the good contracts offsetting the bad contracts. The big question will be whether or not they can get their philosopher goaltender to settle down and carry the franchise. They have enough scoring that they don't need Ilya to be Mr Universe, he just has to stop letting in bad goals. The Flyers will be a playoff team again next season, possibly even a Cup contender. But the 2011/12 Flyers were left by Devils, bruised and battered on the streets of Philadelphia.

2011/12 Nashville Predators R.I.P

The Nashville Predators have been slain by the Phoenix Coyotes, an upset that took many by surprise. Preds GM David Poile added the most talent before the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Gaustad, Hall Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Alex Radulov coming down the stretch. With hindsight being 20/20 perhaps they added too much too late in the season, and team chemistry was never able to catch up. Radulov and Kostitsyn breaking curfew for a night on the town before game 2 and their subsequent suspensions might have killed their season, and it's unlikely either player will be back in the fall. A lack of commitment to defense and the partying incident have reduced Radulov's North American value, so he'll probably stand to make more money by returning to the KHL than he'd make on this side of the pond.

Legwand and Radulov led the team in scoring with 6 PTS each, Gabriel Bourque scored 5 PTS in 10 GP and Andrei Kostitsyn chipped in with 4 PTS in 8 GP. Mike Smith outplayed Pekka Rinne in round 2 in a series that saw the Preds offense completely dry up when it mattered the most. Clearly a 1st round pick was too much to give up for Gaustad. Yes he won 60% of his faceoffs, but he also scored just 2 PTS in 10 GP and only averaged 11:35 per game of ice time. That's not the kind of production you need to get in return for a #1 pick. Then they traded two 2nd round picks and Blake Geoffrion to Montreal for Gill and Kostitsyn, which didn't exactly pay off, but at least came at a better price. The 2010 Montreal Canadiens advanced to the conference finals with Gill and both Kotitsyn brothers, so it's not like the Belarussian brothers have no history of winning playoff games.

This will be a difficult offseason for Poile, as he must resign 8 UFAs (A.Kostitsyn, Gaustad, Suter, Tootoo, Yip, McGrattan, Gill, Bouillon) and 7 RFAs (Weber, Radulov, S.Kostitsyn, Wilson, MacLellan, Hillen). Next year Pekka Rinne's salary bumps up to $7M. It is unclear if Poile will be given the green light to spend more money next season, now that the team flamed out in the 2nd round. Were their 5 home playoff games enough to raise the necessary money to make the necessary expenditures to keep this roster together? We'll find out this summer. We'll see how much they offer Shea Weber, but the qualifying offer will have to be at least $7.5M. I know a few absurdly optimistic Canucks fans here in Vancouver who are convinced that Weber wants nothing more than to play in British Columbia. Ryan Suter is all but gone.

It's unlikely that Nashville will be a better team next season. By the summer of 2013 they could find themselves without Suter or Weber, which would pretty much destroy any chance this team has of winning a championship anytime soon. They may have one of the best goaltenders in the league locked in to a long term contract, but look for Rinne's numbers to take a serious hit if he does not have Weber and/or Suter in front of him. The stunning sudden collapse of the Predators also helps prove that multiple players on the same team shaving Mohawk hair cuts onto their heads is never a recipe for success. Shave your head if you'd like, but with Mohawks, nobody wins.

Monday, May 7, 2012

2011/12 St. Louis Blues R.I.P

The number two seed in the Western conference St Louis Blues were swept in the 2nd round by the Los Angeles Kings 4 games to nothing, proving that this roster was not nearly as effective as their record would have you believe. Either that or the Los Angeles Kings are far better than anyone originally gave them credit for, going 8-1 against the top two seeds in the conference. Andy MacDonald and Patrik Berglund led the Blues in playoff scoring with 10 PTS and 7 PTS respectively. Brian Elliot returned to earth at the worst possible time while the other half of the dynamic duo Jaroslav Halak was sidelined with injury. David Backes, TJ Oshie, Chris Stewart all proved to be playoff disappointments. Oshie has proven to be a solid banger, but his offensive upside is limited.

The Blues have their goaltending locked up for 2 more years at a reasonable price ($3.75M for Halak and $1.8M for Elliot), and either player would likely fetch a healthy bounty if peddled on the trade market. That being said, it's entirely possible that Elliot's miraculous season was more mirage than reality, a benefactor of the Hitchcock defensive system. After their untimely exit from the playoffs, Elliot would likely be deemed the more expendable of the two, though $5.5M is not an obscene amount to be spending on team goaltending. If it's true that St.Louis was completely overrated, what does that say about the San Jose Sharks?

Ken Hitchcock will probably win coach of the year for turning this team's season around, but if we know anything about Hitch it is that as a motivator he personifies the economic term "diminishing marginal returns". He made headlines for his "mr nice guy" routine this season, but his antics have historically worn thin with the players. He lasted 7 seasons with Dallas, but then only 4 years in Philly and 4 Columbus. He won a Cup the year Dallas had Modano, Hull, Nieuwendyk, and Belfour. Will the Blues be better next season? The smart money would say no, if not for the fact that they have a solid core of young talent.

On defense Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Kent Huskins are unrestricted free agents. The Blues have plenty of cap money to play with, so they'll be able to retain whoever they determine that they want and will pay market price for.  This season saw the emergence of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo as dangerous offensive defensemen, complimented by valuable role players that now need to be resigned. Pietrangelo is even being proclaimed by some to have already arrived in the elite tier of NHL blueliners. It's clear that he's the calibre of player that you can build a team around.

On forward, Arnott, Langenbrunner, Nichol, and Porter are UFA, while Stewart, Oshie, David Perron will all command a pretty penny as RFAs ($3.5M - $5M each per season). The most glaring need on this team is for an elite offensive player, as Oshie, Backes, Stewart all look to have a ceiling around 60 PTS. They have the money available to buy a guy like Parise, provided ownership allows them to spend to the cap. This is a team with an impressive collection of role players, but they need a game breaker if to truly be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Benching Radulov And Kostitsyn

When Barry Trotz made the decision to keep two of his best offensive players on the sidelines because he didn't want to mess with the team's game 3 winning formula, he made a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" decision. His gamble did not pay off in game 4 as the team was shutout 1-0 by the Coyotes and now goes back to Phoenix down 3-1 in the series. Perhaps this was a no win scenario from the beginning. The two Russian players broke curfew partying the night before game 2 and were suspended by the team for game 3, which saw the Predators play their best game of the series. Unfortunately lightning proved unable to strike twice, and lack of offense has now put the Preds on the brink of elimination. That being said, had he played them and the team lost, the coach would have been hammered for messing with what worked in game 3.

There were some pundits at the time of Radulov's return to the NHL who speculated that adding this guy wasn't necessarily a good thing. Sure he has offensive skill, but he shows little concern for defense and isn't exactly what you'd call a character guy. Would the Predators have been better off had Radulov stayed in Russia? We may never know. In all likelihood Radulov will return to Russia next season, as his NHL value has taken a serious hit this week. He's not going to strike it rich next season on an RFA contract. He's not Drew Doughty. He's more like a less talented version of Alex Semin. If I had to bet money on it, I'd say he's back in the KHL next fall.

We heard many saying this season that Radulov was the best player not playing in the NHL. He led the KHL in scoring with 63 points, but before you start inflating the value of 63 KHL PTS, note that NHL washout Brandon Bochenski was not far behind with 58 PTS in 49 GP. Bochenski had 68 PTS in 156 NHL GP prior to packing up and moving to Russia.

As fate would have it, on the same day that Radulov and Kostitsyn sat out game 4, a founding member of the Beastie Boys passed away. Rest in peace. The party anthem of my generation.

Doughty And Kovalchuck Earning Their Paycheques

The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils each took leads in their respective 2nd round series tonight as Kovalchuck and Doughty earned their $13.5M, each collecting 3 points with crucial goals. We'll see how they perform over the lifespan of their long contracts, but tonight they proved worth every penny. Kovalchuck missed the last game and came back with a furry (1G, 2A), including a long pass to Ponikarovsky on the game winner in overtime. New Jersey is now leading 2-1 in their series with Philly, as the Flyers look tired, banged up, and running on fumes. Claude Giroux was playing in obvious pain, and Couturier left the game hobbling on one leg, he did not return. We are only in the second round of the playoffs and it really looks like the Philly Flyers have run out of gas.

Los Angeles won 4-2 to take St.Louis to the brink of being swept. Brian Elliot is starting to revert to his old self, ironically as it has been announced that Halak will be out for the rest of the series. St. Louis is pretty much done and hasn't looked very good in the process. Given how easily that the Blues dispatched San Jose, that reflects very poorly on the Sharks. The Kings are almost certainly heading to the conference finals, the only question is who they'll play.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2011/12 Toronto Maple Leafs R.I.P

Twas a season of great disappointment for Leaf Nation, as the team missed the playoffs yet again with their post-season drought slowly closing in on a decade. It was a season that saw fans sarcastically cheering easy saves by their goaltenders, at times chanting "fire Wilson"; then a few weeks after he was fired chanting "re-hire Wilson". The season started out great, with many (myself included) predicting a playoff spot. The team however, had a weakness larger than Allan Bester's five hole, and that was their goaltending. Did the goaltending collapse because the team in front of them collapsed, or did the team collapse because the goaltending collapsed? Leaf fans could drive themselves crazy trying to solve this chicken and egg puzzle.

Phil Kessel is an exciting offensive player, but he might very well be the biggest defensive liability in the game at the forward position. Dion Phaneuf might be entirely over-rated. That Grabovski extension, 5 more years at $5.5M is certainly no bargain, arguably a substantial overpayment for a team already jammed against the cap with $55M in contracts signed for next season and a new CBA coming this fall. Mike Komisarek looks like dead money at $4.5M, Connolly ain't cheap at $4.75, Lombardi and Armstrong also make more money than they are worth. Rest assured that Brian Burke will push for a one time buyout in the next CBA, like teams had at the start of the last CBA.

While Leaf fans spread speculation that they will add a Parise, Nash, or Getzlaf this summer; the inconvenient truth of the matter is that Brian Burke's #1 priority will be acquiring a #1 goaltender. That's the bottom line. It could be Roberto Luongo, it could be Tim Thomas, maybe even Kiprusoff if Calgary decides to move him. There are some more long shot options like Lindback, Josh Harding, Bernier, Greiss, Theodore, or perhaps Tomas Vokoun. The better the player, the more he's going to cost. Make no mistake, if the Leafs miss the playoffs next season, Burke's job will be in serious jeopardy. Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul were the big positive stories of the season for this team, as Burke has assembled a decent collection of prospects. He has pieces of value to move in the trade market, but he must shed salary to take on salary. Resigning Kulemin is another problem.