Friday, May 24, 2013

2013 Dallas Stars Season Review

It has been a daunting exercise to figure out if this team is trying to rebuild, or trying to make the playoffs. Some of the deals that GM Joe Nieuwendyk made confused pundits and fans alike; or should I say former GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who was fired at the end of the season and replaced with long time Red Wing assistant Jim Nill. It's hard to say which deal ultimately cost him his job; the Ribeiro for Eakin, Ryder for Cole, or Morrow for Morrow. Two of those three deals will make the team better long term, but may have cost them a playoff appearance in the near term. That franchise is bleeding money. How bad did that owner want some home dates in the playoffs? Did Joe make rebuilding moves when his owner wanted to make the playoffs? Looks like it.

For a team fighting to make the playoffs, they sure seemed eager to trade active assets for draft picks and prospects (even while in the middle of battling to make the playoffs). Would this team have made the playoffs if they still had Mike Ribeiro? Erik Cole certainly didn't earn his salary, while Michael Ryder was a top player in Montreal. Cole had 7 PTS in 23 GP when acquired. Why did the Dallas Stars trade their top goal scorer for a guy that Montreal could not get rid of fast enough?  If they fancied themselves a playoff team, it would have made sense to hold on to their top players. Maybe I'm just stupid.

They managed a nice little 5 game winning streak after unloading several of their best players at the deadline. Alex Chiasson came in and scored 6 goals on his first 13 shots and will enter next season with higher expectations. Alex Goligoski took a step forward with 27 PTS and the best plus minus on the team. Jamie Benn proved that he's worth the money he wanted to be paid. He is quickly establishing himself as an invaluable franchise player.

Preseason Rank: 26
Midseason Rank: 17
Final Rank: 21
GM Grade: F

1st Star: Jamie Benn
2nd Star: Loui Eriksson
3rd Star: Kari Lehtonen

UFAs: Eric Nystrom, Jordie Benn
RFAs: Tom Wandell, Lane MacDermid, Richard Bachman

Best Contract: Loui Eriksson 3 more years at $4.25M
Worst Contract: Erik Cole 2 more years at $4.5M

What I said about them in preseason:  Management playing hardball with Jamie Benn doesn't make much sense to me, given that he should be the focus of the franchise. Are they trying their best to win, or are they in a rebuilding mode? They brought in some old bodies like Jagr/Whitney, and the jury is still out on how good they'll be another year older.


What will Jim Nill do going forward as the new General Manager? It won't be rebuilding, that's for sure. He's going to try to win, and has the benefit of no bad contracts on the roster (not including Eric Cole, who has threatened to retire because he hates the CBA). Joe Nieuwendyk was pretty good at picking up quality young prospects, so Jimmy will be taking over a strong situation. It remains to be seen however if the owner will allow him to spend more money, as the Stars bleak financial situation has forced them into penny pinching the last few years.

2013 Nashville Predators Season Review

This team fell short of my expectations, and seemed to miss Ryan Suter far more than Detroit missed Nick Lidstrom. Pekka Rinne was not nearly as dominant as last season, at least not in the 2nd half. Early in the season there were Rinne whispers for the Hart Trophy, but afterwards he fell out of even the Vezina conversation. The season did not end well for the Predators, as we learned that Rinne needed hip surgery, which helps explain his dramatic drop in performance. The sad truth for the Preds is that their team is now built around their goaltender who is starting to show signs of wearing down amid a heavy workload.

Mike Fischer was the most productive forward when healthy, followed by David Legwand. Patrick Hornqvist had 14 PTS in 24 GP, and was one of many injured players on the Predators roster this season. What this team lacks more than anything is an elite level goal scorer, on a roster over-loaded with role players. They need an ace. Without such a player, they will be forced to play a very tight defensive system to be even marginally competitive, which won't help sell tickets in a weak hockey market.

Paul Gaustad has to be a black eye on Craig Poile's resume. When he traded a 1st round pick for a 3rd line face-off guy, he made a big mistake, which was only compounded when he signed him to a long term extension. Gaustad had 5 PTS in 23 GP. Poile did save face by trading Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg at the trade deadline, when it was clear Nashville was going nowhere. Forsberg crossed the pond before the end of the season and has already accumulated a few games of NHL experience. There are some decent prospects in the Nashville system, which they will want to elevate sooner rather than later.

Preseason Rank: 12
Midseason Rank: 20
Final Rank: 28
GM Grade: D

1st Star: Shea Weber
2nd Star: Pekka Rinne
3rd Star: Ryan Suter um, I mean Mike Fischer

UFAs: Brandon Yip, Kevin Henderson, Chris Mueller, Chris Mason
RFAs: Roman Josi, Bobby Butler, Jon Blum, Victor Bartley, Matt Halischuk, Daniel Bang, Nick Spaling

Best Contract: Colin Wilson 2 more years at $2M
Worst Contract: Paul Gaustad 3 more years at $3.25M

What I said about them in preseason:  They certainly are not better than last season. Kept Weber, lost Suter. They are not as good. Last year was their year, and they lost to Phoenix.  They will be a marginal playoff team for at least a few more seasons, but their window is closing shut very quickly.


Is it blasphemous to say that the Predators should strongly consider trading Shea Weber this summer? There may be some dark times ahead, and the team may not be able to pay out the remaining years on that contract. We will see how their attendance holds up if this is not a playoff team any longer. The lack of offensive displayed by the Preds this season was embarrassing; compound this with Pekka Rinne falling from the elite tier of goaltenders (into the above average tier), and what you've got is a very disappointing season. As of right now, there is no reason to think that next year will be any better than this train wreck, unless Rinne makes a full recovery from hip surgery.

2013 Anaheim Mighty Ducks Season Review

The Mighty Ducks shocked the hockey world coming out of the gate on fire on their way to clinching the 2nd seed in the Western Conference. They were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings, reminding everyone that they may have been who we thought they were. Much of this team's success could be attributed to the resurgence of defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who played out the remainder of the season on a torn knee. His loss would have been devastating, but he toughed it out. Hopefully that bravery did not cause more long term damage. It was clear during the playoffs that Anaheim's defense was unable to effectively deal with Detroit's speed up front.

Ryan Getzlaf had a MVP calibre season, and should have garnered more support for the Hart Trophy. He turned it up a notch, and won himself a very sweet contract. Corey Perry (a former league MVP) got himself the same lucrative contract, but after a far less impressive season. It finally looked like the ageless Teemu Selanne's age had finally caught up with the "Finnish Flash". Selanne scored 12 goals, but had by far the worst plus/minus on the team at -10. Bobby Ryan was mostly effective (30 PTS in 46 GP), but Anaheim will need extraordinary play from ordinary defensemen going forward to replicate the same kind of success they experienced in 2013.

It's not quite clear why the GM was nominated for Executive of the year. Yes the team turned around their fortunes from last season, but the only move of significance made in the last 365 days was Victor Fasth, who didn't even play in the playoffs. Yes, Teemu came back, but I'm not sure how much of that can be credited to the General Manager. Did he fly to Finland and beg? Bruce Boudreau should get most of the credit for turning this roster around, not the boss upstairs.

Preseason Rank: 25
Midseason Rank: 5
Final Rank: 4
GM Grade: B-

1st Star: Ryan Getzlaf
2nd Star: Francois Beauchemin
3rd Star: Corey Perry

UFAs: Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Dave Steckel, Matt Lombardi, Ben Lovejoy, Toni Lydman
RFAs: H. Zolnierczyk, Matt Beleskey, Kyle Palmieri

Best Contract: Emerson Etem 2 more years at $875K
Worst Contract: Corey Perry 8 more years at $8.6M

What I said about them in preseason:  If ever there was a dynasty here, it's over. Perry and Getzlaf are pending unrestricted free agents, but clearly the loss of Pronger and Niedermayer were a death blow to this team's elite status. It will be a long time before they win another Cup.


We will see the true skill of this General Manager by the success of this roster next season. If it all comes crashing down, then he's overrated. If they once again find themselves near the top of their conference, then we'll know they are for real. Emerson Etem has to be their brightest light of the youngsters and with Kyle Palmieri give the Ducks a solid foundation for the future at the forward position. Last year's first round pick defenseman Hampus Lindholm (that guy on the bike at the combine) missed most of the season with a concussion. The Ducks need him to one day be the great athlete they saw ride that bike like nobody else could.

2013 Montreal Canadiens Season Review

It is safe to say that this team not only exceeded my expectations, they crushed them. I was convinced this would be one of the worst teams in the NHL, and they were anything but, at least until it all came crashing down in the playoffs at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. Player 27 and player 11 were excellent rookie additions to this roster, and certainly brighten up the future of the franchise. Player 79 came back healthy and was fantastic by all accounts (especially early), helped no doubt by the Norris caliber play of player 76. Player 67 and player 14 were once again effective as top line players and will be heavily relied upon for their offense in the future.

2013 started out great for player 31, who was an early candidate for the Vezina Trophy. His play began to diminish as the season unfolded, culminating in an impressive collapse after the Habs clinched a playoff spot. 31 had one good game in the playoffs, which was more disappointing than his late season play. There is a bright future ahead for this roster, but they are going to need strong goaltending to make it happen. Defenseman player 74 has proved his value with his physical play, but he's now out for the next 6 months after ACL surgery.

The most troubling aspect of the Habs success this season is my steadfast belief that Michel Therien is a terrible coach. The fact that his name was mentioned in Jack Adams conversations caused me physical discomfort, but I was very pleased to see that he was not nominated. It was not until the Habs hasty retreat from the playoffs that some of the shine started to come off Therien, as he personally led this team straight into a meltdown against a lower ranked opponent. He lacked composure, and it filtered down to his players. The fat, bug-eyed, walrus got the better of them.

Preseason Rank: 28
Midseason Rank: 3
Final Rank: 3
GM Grade: B+

1st Star: Player 76
2nd Star: Player 67
3rd Star: Player 14

UFAs: Michael Ryder, Colby Armstrong, Jeff Halpern, P. Nokelainen, Davis Drewiske
RFAs: Ryan White, Mike Blunden, Gabriel Dumont, Yannick Weber,

Best Contract: Player 76: 1 more year at $2.9M
Worst Contract: Player 31: 5 more years at $6.5M

What I said about them in preseason:  Some say "accelerated compliance buyout" others say the "Scott Gomez rule". Scotty is gone, this team will compete for a playoff spot until the end of the regular season, but they will fall short.


The future is brighter for Montreal than many other teams in their position. Marc Bergevin's first season as GM proved to be very strong, especially getting player 76 to agree to a low ball contract, only to see him nominated for the Norris Trophy. The double edged sword being that 76 will probably demand a $6-$7M annual deal in 2014 when Montreal could have locked him up to a 5 year deal at $5M. They will return next season with mostly the same line-up from 2013; hopefully with player 81 will be healthy and ready to go and player 61 being a little bit more careful with his blind passes.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

2013 Vancouver Canucks Season Review

After advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, the Vancouver Canucks have now been eliminated in the first round for back to back seasons (while posting a 1-8 record in those series). San Jose easily knocked them out in 4 straight games, and now head coach Alain Vigneault has been fired (when one could easily argue that GM Mike Gillis did not give him the best cards to play with). They probably have one year left being a very competitive team, which also happens to be how much time is remaining on the Sedin contracts.

Next year they will be leaving the friendly confines of the Northwest division, a very weak division that they feasted on for back to back President's trophies (2011 and '12). They will continue to play Calgary and Edmonton often enough, but will have more games against the tough California teams. The schedule doesn't get any easier for a team accustomed to an easy schedule. Zack Kassian started 2013 on fire, but then pulled off a vanishing act for the rest of the season. Jordan Schroeder was drawing comparisons from Canuck fans to Marty St.Louis early in the schedule, but that all came crashing back to earth soon enough. Vigneault's biggest weakness as a coach was his inability to develop young players, which was "alright" because the team has very few talented young players.

Cory Schneider had a fantastic season in goal, then got hurt at the end of the season, barely even practicing for a 2 week period before being thrown back into the fire. He did not play his best in the playoffs, where Luongo managed to play great hockey. Lou was a big monkey for Schneider to carry around on his back all season, but guaranteed he won't have that problem next year. The Canucks will return with a solid core on defense, which combined with Schneider will help them remain competitive.

At the end of the day, this was a failed season for Mike Gillis, who's best move was acquiring Derek Roy, who made virtually no positive contribution to the team's playoff success. The biggest black eye for Gillis was keeping both goalies for the entire season, instead of making a deal that everyone knew he had to make. His reign at GM has seen some terrible trades, some brutal free agent signings, and a few decent moves. Next year he is going to find himself handcuffed by the salary cap and will have to make some very difficult decisions. We'll see how his boss likes writing a cheque to get rid of his mistakes.

Preseason Rank: 7
Midseason Rank: 10
Final Rank: 13
GM Grade: D+

1st Star: Henrik Sedin
2nd Star: Daniel Sedin
3rd Star: Cory Schneider

UFAs: Derek Roy, Manny Malhotra, Mason Raymond, Maxim Lapierre, Tom Sestito, Steve Pinizzotto, Andrew Alberts, Cam Barker
RFAs: Dale Weise, Chris Tanev, Derek Joslin

Best Contract: Kevin Bieksa 3 more years at $4.6M
Worst Contract: Roberto Luongo 9 more years at $5.3M

What I said about them in preseason:  Last year's President trophy winner is not any better, and might miss 2/3 of their second line for 10-20 games. They are a playoff team, but no chance that they finish in first place. Gillis is trying to put on a brave poker face that he's content to keep Luongo all season, but his team has serious holes and he should be desperate to make a deal. Nonis would be smart to call his bluff.


There are dark times ahead for the Vancouver Canucks. Once the Sedin BROTHERS are gone, this team will not make the playoffs. It's possible that they sign contract extensions during the summer, but there is a really good chance that the Canucks lose their best players in 2014. The Canucks are going to be tight against the salary cap before signing any free agents, so rest assured that Mike Gillis will have to either move Luongo or eat the contract (which will be an expensive transaction for the owner). They should make the playoffs next year, but after that, there will be many rainy days on the forecast.

2013 Colorado Avalanche Season Review

Losing Gabriel Landeskog early in the season derailed this Avalanche team before it could pick up momentum. They played some very strong games, but could not sustain any success for any significant duration. Matt Duchene re-established himself in the upper echelon of NHL players, but his supporting staff was woefully insufficient. PA Parenteau proved to be a great signing, and was the 2nd best player on the roster. Losing Steve Downie for the season significantly diminished their team toughness, but ultimately the forward position was not this team's biggest problem. Paul Stastny continued to steal his $6.6M, but that robbery will only last 1 more season.

The whole drama with Ryan O'Reilly was ridiculous. They backed up the Brinks truck to re-sign David Jones, but then nickel and dimed O'Reilly, who is unquestionably the better player? Just because they got Duchene to jump on a low ball offer like Kramer in that one episode of Seinfeld, doesn't mean they should have locked out O'Reilly until he accepted the same deal, especially considering this team was nowhere near the salary cap. When Jay Feester finally extended that offer sheet, Colorado quickly matched and O'Reilly scored 20 PTS in 29 GP, going on to play for Team Canada instead of going to Las Vegas with many of his Colorado teammates.

The future does not look as bright as it once did for Erik Johnson, who had a very disappointing season. Jan Hejda was their best defenseman, and that ain't saying much. Show me a blueline anchored by Hejda and Zanon, and I'll show you a team that sucks, regardless of who they have at forward. Their greatest weakness is on the blueline, which is why Seth Jones will be the number one pick in the draft. JS Giguere and Semyon Varlamov return for another year in the net (hardly exciting), but if the Avs decide to make a deal to upgrade their goaltending, they have plenty of quality young assets to offer.

Preseason Rank: 17th
Midseason Rank: 26nd
Final Rank: 29th
GM Grade: F

1st Star: Matt Duchene
2nd Star: PA Parenteau
3rd Star: Gabriel Landeskog

UFAs: Milan Hejduk, Chuck Kobasew, Pat Bordeleau, Sean Sullivan
RFAs: Brad Malone, Tom Vincour, Aaron Palushaj

Best Contract: Matt Duchene 1 more year at $3.5M
Worst Contract: David Jones 3 more years at $4M

What I said about them in preseason: Loads of potential, but this might be a season too soon for the Avalanche. Landeskog is a stud. How good this team actually performs depends much on Semeon Varlamov and Erik Johnson. If those two are big, this team could make some noise.


Coach Joe Sacco has been fired, most likely because of the JS Giguere rant late in the season about how the team had given up and checked out, though it could be argued that management was equally responsible for the team's futility this season (even if it did pay off and win the Avs the #1 pick in the draft). They will be more than happy to add Seth Jones to this team next season, a team that will once again boast a very talented group of young players.With the first pick in the draft, there is a 99% chance that they will draft Seth Jones (no matter what Nick Kypreos says).

2013 Winnipeg Jets Season Review

The Jets barely missed out on the playoffs in 2013, fighting until the last week for the last spot. Goalie Pavelec ran either hot or cold, playing either great or terribly, which has been his calling card for his whole career. This team got closer to a playoff spot than I predicted. They were hit hard with some key injuries at some key points in the season (Tobias Enstrom leading the team in scoring at the 1/4 mark before getting injured); but that is an obstacle that many teams have to deal with and can hardly be used as a legitimate excuse.

Andrew Ladd has established himself as a bonafide captain and a substantially under-rated star in this league, who has a very appealing contract, an absolute steal. Evander Kane certainly had a fantastic season, especially after getting cut from the KHL during the lockout. Blake Wheeler also took a giant leap forward, but happens to be coming up as a restricted free agent. His production this year would value him in the $5M-$6M per season range. This will be a challenging negotiation for the GM who already has Ladd, Kane, and Byfuglien locked down to fair, long-term contracts.

It is becoming clear that the Jets may want to change goaltenders. Pavelec does a reasonable job at the price he's paid, but he's never going to be a top goalie at the skill level required for an extended playoff run. He has some great games, but he also has some terrible games; the Pavelec experience is like a roller-coaster that always makes you feel sick at the end, even if there were exciting peaks. There will be plenty of goalies available this summer if the Jets don't have a youngster ready to challenge for the number one spot.

Preseason Rank: 27
Midseason Rank: 21
Final Rank: 20
GM Grade: C-

1st Star: Evander Kane
2nd Star: Andrew Ladd
3rd Star: Blake Wheeler

UFAs: Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Santorelli, Antti Miettinen, Aaron Gagnon, Ron Hainsey, Grant Clitsome, Derek Meech.
RFAs: Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Alex Burmistrov, Eric Tangradi, Anthony Peluso, Zach Bogosian, Zach Redmon, Paul Postma, Arturs Kulda

Best Contract: Andrew Ladd 3 more years at $4.4M
Worst Contract: Andrej Pavelec 4 more years at $3.9M

What I said about them in preseason:  If your future is Andrej Pavelec, I'm not sure that future is very bright. Evander Kane stunk it up in the KHL, and the season will be half over before Byfuglien finally plays his way into shape. Maybe next season they play their way into a playoff spot, but it won't be in 2013.


The Jets have a very hefty free agent list this summer (and no that does not include Byfuglien), and is not hampered by any truly bad contracts ($5.75M for Tobias Enstrom may be a little rich). They have a solid core of players in place, and have the opportunity to get significantly better in the next few years. Let's hope that they have confidence in their General Manager, who failed to add any helpful pieces by the trade deadline, while the Jets fell just a few points short of a playoff spot. They have enough pieces in place that this could become a top team next season, but there are also a lot of holes to fill. 62% of their roster are free agents.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013 Buffalo Sabres Season Review

Twas a season that everybody in Buffalo would prefer to forget, to have wiped clean from the record books as though it never happened. There were but 3 bright spots, Vanek, Hodgson, and Ott. The rest of the roster sucked, or at least failed to meet expectations. Vanek started the season on fire and was in the early conversation for the Hart Trophy, only to be hampered by injuries later in the season (finishing with 41 PTS in 38 GP). Despite the hype for rookie Mikhail Grigorenko, he only managed 5 PTS in 25 GP before being sent back to junior. Young players failing to meet expectations was the most significant epitaph on the Sabres season.

It looks like the Ryan Miller train is not the steady, reliable force it once was; as the franchise goaltender has been on a slow steady decline ever since his Vezina campaign of 2010. He has basically become a cry baby who willingly throws his teammates under the bus in press scrums. Granted, there has been very few positives for him to talk about, but for some reason he feels it is his role to complain to the media on a daily basis. That can't end well. If you don't have anything nice to say Ryan, maybe you shouldn't say anything at all? With one year left on his contract, rumours are that Ryan Miller will be traded before that contract expires. If he is moved, we'll see if they can find a Vezina caliber replacement. Matt Hackett was a great acquisition in the Pominville trade, and Jhonas Enroth played well in 12 appearances this season.

Head coach Lindy Ruff survived many lows to have the longest tenure of any coach in the NHL, that was until 2013 when he was fired mid-season. In all honesty, the GM probably should have been dismissed as well, because when you look at this roster and their contracts, there are many bad contracts, very few good contracts. By far the best move the GM has made was acquiring Cody Hodgson from the Vancouver Canucks (scoring 34 PTS in 48 GP) at last year's trade deadline.  He did extract a rich bounty from Minnesota in the Pominville trade, and was smart to pick up Steve Ott. Because of those moves, it's hard to give the GM a failing grade.

I feel sorry for that guy on the Puck Podcast who picked Buffalo to win the Stanley Cup. He picked Los Angeles to win last season and made his 2013 prediction with supreme confidence. He has to be embarrassed. This team was embarrassing.

Preseason Rank: 20th
Midseason Rank: 28th
Final Rank: 25th
GM Grade: D

1st Star: Thomas Vanek
2nd Star: Cody Hodgson
3rd Star: Steve Ott

UFAs: Jochen Hecht, Adam Pardy, Alex Sulzer
RFAs: Cody Hodgson, Brian Flynn, Mike Weber, Jhonas Enroth

Best Contract: Steve Ott 1 more year at $2.9M
Worst Contract: Ville Leino 4 more years at $4.5M

What I said about them in preseason:  I'm waiting for this team to be good. They have a high upside and could come out of nowhere to make a playoff run. It's just as likely they suck and don't make the playoffs. It's 50-50.


The future is clouded. It's tough to predict where this roster is heading, especially if the Ryan Miller era is over. This team very much needs Tyler Myers to pick up his game and start earning his $5.5M salary, otherwise the last 6 years on that contract will be an albatross that drags the team down (which when combined with the Leino contract becomes very cumbersome). They lack size up front, so it could be argued that Zack Kassian was more what they needed than Cody Hodgson, but players with that kind of offensive talent are hard to come by. Will they be a playoff team next season? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing that's clear, there is no Stanley Cup waiting in the near future for this franchise.

Monday, May 20, 2013

2013 Toronto Maple Leafs Season Review

It's fair to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs exceeded the expectations of many professional pundits and fans alike this season. Not only did they manage to comfortably make the playoffs (which few thought they would), but they pushed the mighty Boston Bruins to 7 games after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Leaf Nation was on cloud 9. Tens of thousands of people were dancing in the streets, celebrating each goal like they won the Stanley Cup, taking a 4-1 lead into the final 10 minutes of game 7, victory all but certain. Then what happened? They choked in magnificent fashion, blowing the game and sending their fans home in complete shock. The biggest choke in the history of NHL game 7s. The biggest lead anyone has ever choked away in that situation. Oh well, better luck next year...

Nazem Kadri exploded onto the scene out of training camp on his way to scoring 44 PTS in 48 GP, much to the delight of Don Cherry, one of his most vocal supporters. He was a top player right from the first week, and helped the team win some important hockey games early while some of their other scorers (like Phil Kessel) struggled to get on track. Credit to Matt Frattin, who was one of their best players early in the season before getting injured (I had him as the team MVP by week 3). Joffrey Lupul was on fire when he was healthy enough to get on the ice, but injuries continue to be a concern going forward. Trading Luke Schenn for James Van Reimsdyk is looking like a great trade, with JVR being one "American college guy" Burkie was smart to acquire.

Many people said James Reimer was not reliable enough to be a legitimate starting goaltender after a disastrous 2011/12 campaign, which fuelled Roberto Luongo trade rumours right up until the late season trade deadline. Mike Gillis lost the game of chicken, leaving the Leafs with just Reimer. He played some spectacular games down the stretch, but also played some bad games. He just may be one of those "roller-coaster" goaltenders who will make fans run the gauntlet of emotions. Enjoy the highs, survive the lows.

Preseason Rank: 23
Midseason Rank: 5
Final Rank: 6
GM Grade: B-

1st Star: Phil Kessel
2nd Star: James Reimer
3rd Star: Nazem Kadri

UFAs: Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Colton Orr, Ryan Hamilton, Ryan O'Byrne, Tim Connolly, Mike Kostka
RFAs: Mark Fraser, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Joe Colborne, Frazer McLaren

Best Contract: James Van Riemsdyk 5 more years at $4.25M
Worst Contract: Mikhail Grabovski 4 more years at $5.5M

What I said about them in preseason:  With Brian Burke getting fired, who knows what's going to happen. Dave Nonis has moved to drop Lombardi and Connolly, so it's not like he's taking a run at this season. If they are taking a shot a a rebuild, then they wouldn't want Luongo.

Hindsight: Perhaps my assertion that burying Connolly in the minors was a sign they wanted to tank the season, was a little off. He has NHL level talent, but perhaps it was addition by subtraction.


It has to be considered a good year for both Dave Nonis (and by osmosis Brian Burke), as this roster is definitely on the up swing. There are brighter days ahead for Leaf Nation, who got a taste of playoff hockey this year for the first time in a long time. They have quality prospects in the system, a core of quality young hockey players who should ensure this roster is competitive for a long time. Despite snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the most epic manner imaginable, there are many reasons for Leaf fans to be optimistic about the future (certainly more so than Canucks fans).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2013 Tampa Bay Lightning Season Review

Tampa was a team that got off to a very fast start in 2013, but could not sustain that level of play over the entire shortened season. By season's end, they were who I thought they were. Anders Lindback was strong in the first few weeks, then it all fell apart. Cory Conacher's emergence as a NHL level offensive talent was the early season success story, but eventually he was traded for another top back-up goalie (who also proved unable to reverse the team's sinking fortunes). It was a fast start followed by a slower and gradual decline.

Kudos to Vinny for coming to camp in shape and ready to play this season, but that is still a terrible contract for a 32 year old player. Eventually LeCavalier fell to injury, which seems to have become all too common for the aging star. $7.7M is a heafty annual price to pay for Vinny's mid to late 30s. Steven Stamkos is similarly expensive, but he is one of the top producing snipers in the entire league. Stamkos is a unique talent that you build a team around. It's also possible that the defense is entirely inadequate to become a legitimate contender. Lindback was accustomed to playing behind Suter and Weber, which may have inflated his performance in Nashville.

The coach got fired during the season, if for no other reason than because he can be fired. In reality Anders Lindback probably deserved to fired more than Boucher, but clearly this was an under-achieving team. It had become clear that the veterans had stopped buying into the Boucher system, which many speculate first began during that infamous game against Philly where the Lightning would not send in a forechecker. Ever since that game, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been on a downward trend (the first 3 weeks notwithstanding).

Preseason Rank: 22
Midseason Rank: 7
Final Rank: 24
GM Grade: D

1st Star: Steven Stamkos
2nd Star: Martin St.Louis
3rd Star: Ted Purcell

UFAs: Matt Garon
RFAs: Benoit Pouliot, Keith Aulie

Best Contract: Victor Headman 4 more years at $4M
Worst Contract: Vinny LeCavalier 7 more years at $7.7M

What I said about them in preseason:  Steve Yzerman is probably my greatest childhood hero, even more so than Spiderman or the Ghostbusters. Tampa had a tremendous year in 2011, but fell off a cliff in 2012. Talented young players mixed with some older championship experience. They should be decent, just a few cards short of a winning hand.


The aura of magic surrounding General Manager Steve Yzerman is slowly fading away. They have gone from playoff Cinderella to consecutive playoff misses. There has to be significant pressure on GM Steve Yzerman to try and rebuild while also trying to keep the team as competitive as possible. You can't tank a season with Stamkos and St.Louis on the ice. Will Ben Bishop become the goalie of the future? This roster is one or two moves away from being very dangerous, but that time is not right now.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

2013 Edmonton Oilers Season Review

This team fell short of the very lofty expectations of a great many people. They had a decent start, then gradually got worse as the season progressed. They won enough games to be in playoff contention at the trade deadline, then it all came crashing down. At one point Mike Keenan ripped them for being too soft; lots of talent, not nearly enough grit. Taylor Hall has established himself as a elite player in the NHL, but he lacks the proper pieces around him. In goal Devan Dubnyk elevated his game, but it still proved insufficient to make a trip to the post-season; as this team now has the longest active playoff drought in the NHL.

Despite his frequent inclusion in trade rumours and all the talent on this roster, Sam Gagner was the second best player on this team, while leading the roster in face-off wins. Gagner was also one of the team's best penalty killers and power play men. He plays so many roles that it might be smart for the Oilers to retain his services, with him being a restricted free agent. Magnus Paajarvi had a decent showing with 16 PTS in 42 GP, which represents a resurrection of his career from the dead. Ryan Nugent-H took a step backwards in 2013, which may have been caused by a bad shoulder. His small frame might be too fragile for long term success in the NHL.

It's great that they have drafted the best forward available with their top pick in the last 6 drafts, but perhaps they should have mixed in a few defensemen to balance out their line-up. Ultimately their blueline was far from what it needed to be, and the General Manager did nothing to strengthen that position. Steve Tambelini probably deserved to be fired, I'm just not sure that I agree with his replacement. Kevin Lowe was a terrible GM and I'm not sure how much influence he's going to have on Craig MacTavish, who was already inside Lowe's inner-circle. Justin Schultz was their best defenseman, certainly so from an offensive perspective. They have a power play quarterback. The forward lines need more grit, and the defense needs a top shut down guy to complement the puck moving Justin Schultz.

Preseason Rank: 9
Midseason Rank: 24
Final Rank: 23
GM Grade: F

1st Star: Taylor Hall
2nd Star: Sam Gagne
3rd Star: Jordan Eberle

UFAs: Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell, Jerred Smithson, Ryan Whitney, Andy Sutton, Mark Fistric, Nikolai Khabibulin
RFAs: Theo Peckham, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi

Best Contract: Jeff Petry 1 more year at $1.75M
Worst Contract: Shawn Horcoff 2 more years at $5.5M

What I said about them in preseason: I was in an AHL pool this fall before the NHL lockout. The Oilers young guns where destroying the competition. If Devan Dubnyk is decent, this is not just a playoff team, but a potential contender. The best collection of young talent that I have seen in a long time. If they get weak goaltending, they will struggle.


Craig MacTavish has promised bold moves, so we shall see what happens. It might be time to consider trading one of their many young talented forwards for an anchor on defense. Any year now this team is ripe to explode, and every year they don't is a year to be disappointed. The motto of this team should be playoffs or bust, and if they miss again next season, Craig MacTavish should be fired. 

2013 New Jersey Devils Season Review

The New Jersey Devils started this season much as they finished the last one, on fire. In my week 3 Power Rankings, the Devils ranked #2 and it looked like they were getting along just fine without Zach Parise. Kovalchuk, Clarkson, Elias, and Brodeur carried this team through the early weeks; then Brodeur got hurt, Kovalchuk got hurt, and this team just completely lost their mojo. David Clarkson was a beast in the first half, but tailed off considerably in the second half. He is the Devils top unrestricted free agent this summer, and there is no question that he earned himself a significant pay raise.

Maybe I have been wrong about the Kovalchuk contract, and he's totally worth that much money, and a significant chunk of a cash-strapped team's operating budget. As soon as he got hurt (in combination with a Marty Brodeur injury) this team completely collapsed. Evidently leaving Kovalchuck on the ice for half the game to coast around and pick his spots to turn on the boosters is a winning strategy in the NHL. This is nothing new for Ilya, but forgive me if I question how many more years he can sustain 26 minutes of ice time per game.Or does that much ice time increase his fatigue to the point where he is at a greater risk of injury?

Adam Henrique had a forgettable season, with a 40% decline in his points per game production from last year. I can't say that I watched enough Devils games to adequately explain why Henrique took a step backwards, except to say that it happened. Blame it on the loss of Parise, blame it on the shortened season, blame it on the rain, I don't care. He fell from 35 assists in 74 GP to 5 assists in 42 GP. He stopped setting up goals, while his own goal scoring rate remained reasonably constant. He is a centerman who loses more face-offs than he wins, and he's a restricted free agent this summer.

Preseason Rank: 14
Midseason Rank: 9
Final Rank: 22
GM Grade: D

1st Star: David Clarkson
2nd Star: Ilya Kovalchuck
3rd Star: Patrick Elias

UFAs: Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson, Steve Sullivan, Alex Ponikarovsky, Tom Kostopoulos, Marek Zidlicky, Peter Harrold
RFAs: Jacob Josefson, Matt D'Agostini, Adam Henrique, Andrei Loktionov

Best Contract: Andy Greene 2 more years at $3M
Worst Contract: Travis Zajac 8 more years at $5.75M

What I said about them in preseason:  Another team that only got worse in the off-season, Brodeur is another year older, and they lost Adam Oates and Larry Robinson from their bench. Sorry Devils, you are taking a step backwards this season, despite your recent appearance in the finals. It will be at least a decade before the Devils make it to another final.


Looking at this team's free agent list, Lou Lamerello is going to be very busy this summer, and is in a position to lose some very important players. Nobody outside that front office will know what Lou's internal budget it, but it's safe to assume they won't be spending to the cap given the team's financial woes. The smart money says many of these players will find new teams, unless many of them are willing to take discounts to play for a non-playoff team. Yeah right. Good luck with that. There are dark times in the near future for the New Jersey Devils fans.

2013 Philadelphia Flyers Season Review

I thought that this was a playoff team and I was wrong, as this team played far worse than expected this season. They boast a talented group of forwards, but their blueline took a significant tumble in the wrong direction. Their goalie was good, but not great, when he's paid to be better than just good. When Scott Hartnell went down with a serious injury early in the season, this team lost it's soul, from which they never completely recovered, even when Hartnell returned.

Jakub Voracek emerged as a star, which is good because Jeff Carter was 4th in the league in goals (Jakub finishing 8th). Claude Giroux is still among the top 15 players in the NHL (he finished tied for points with Zetterberg and Toews), though I am backing off my preseason assessment that he is top 5. Claude will be back next year at an absolute steal of a price ($3.5M). When Claude becomes a free agent at the end of next season, this team will owe him back pay, and they will pay it. In so far as Hartnell is concerned, his production last season may have been an aberration never again duplicated, which may or may not have to do with the departure of Jaromir Jagr.

Luke Schenn was a decent role player, unfortunately their greatest weakness was lack of high end talent to play in the top pairing. Schenn is a good guy to have on a 2nd or 3rd pairing, but he's not in that elite tier.
Kimmo Timonen is getting old. He might still be a usable defenseman, but he shouldn't be any team's #1 guy. Same with Schenn. Braydon Coburn and Bruno Gervais did not play well. They missed Matt Carle, even if Tampa didn't seem to improve much by getting him.

Preseason Rank: 6
Midseason Rank: 19
Final Rank: 18
GM Grade: D+

1st Star: Claude Giroux
2nd Star: Jakub Voracek
3rd Star: Wayne Simmonds

UFAs: Simon Gagne, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jody Shelley, Mike Knuble, Adam Hall, Matt Walker, Kurtis Foster, Kent Huskins
RFAs: Erik Gustafsson, Brandon Manning, Oliver Lauridsen,

Best Contract: Claude Giroux 1 more year at $3.75M
Worst Contract: Ilya Bryzgalov 7 more years at $5.7M

What I said about them in preseason:  Ilya Bryzgalov was a train wreck last season and Philly was still a top team. It can't get any worse, infact it will probably be a little bit better. Claude Giroux is now a top 5 player in this league. Their defense is not as good as it was, but Luke Schenn was a smart addition.


Philadelphia will be a lot like Detroit this offseason, trying to pounce on every upper tier defensemen who may become available. They are a Shea Weber or a Ryan Suter away from being a top 10 team, sadly there are no such players currently available. They will strongly consider buying out Danny Briere, who is not worth $6.5M per season. The Flyers have plenty of appealing young assets that they could offer up in a trade for a top tier defenseman, which you can expect them to try. If they are not successful in plugging that hole, then next season may be another struggle to even reach mediocrity.

2013 Carolina Hurricanes Season Review

Losing Cam Ward for the season ultimately cost the Hurricanes their season. This General Manager had a pretty good year, but his decision not to acquire a replacement must be considered a failure of management. Dan Ellis and Geoff Peters, combined with a mediocre at best defense proved to be too much for their top forward lines to overcome. Had Cam Ward stayed healthy for the entire season, then the Hurricanes story would have been far different in 2013. They had a roster that should have been good enough to win with a Ben Bishop or Nikolai Khabibulin type replacement. This was a god season for this team until the bottom fell completely out in the final 1/4 of the schedule.

Their 1st line of E.Staal, Semin, and Tlusty was terrific, the 2nd line was average at best, and they received very little production from their 3rd and 4th lines. Next year Jordan Staal gets even more expensive, and Alex Semin has a new 5 year $35M contract. They will have to find scoring depth on a tight budget, considering how much money they are sinking into their top 2 lines. Jeff Skinner had 25 points in 42 games and was a -21. This was not a strong season for a kid about to get a $4M raise. The salary cap pinch will rock them like a Hurricane next season, especially when filling out their blueline (where they clearly need help).

Preseason Rank: 15th
Midseason Rank: 11th
Final Rank: 27th
GM Grade: C-

1st Star: Eric Staal
2nd Star: Alex Semin
3rd Star: Jiri Tlusty

UFAs: Chad Larose, Tim Brent, Joe Corvo, Marc Bergeron, Bob Sanguinetti, Dan Ellis
RFAs: Jared Staal

Best Contract: Jay Harrison 3 more years at $1.5M
Worst Contract: Jeff Skinner 6 more years at $5.75M

What I said about them in preseasonAdd Jordan Staal and Alex Semin to a young line-up that is only going to improve with experience, and you should have a playoff team in Carolina. Cam Ward has proven he take a team to a Stanley Cup, the biggest question is who quickly will their young defense reach their potential?


All should return to normal when Cam Ward returns healthy, and we should see this young roster start to realize its potential in the near future. They have some big contract extensions coming onto the books next fall, and still lack the proper horses on defense required for a being a true contender. Marc Staal is still 2 years away from free agency. It will be a struggle to field their roster under cap, assuming they are even allowed to spend to the maximum. There are no important contracts to get finished, as the extensions have already been handed out, and they weren't cheap. Granted, they did not have any serious horses on the blueline when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. Maybe they can make due with what they've got.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 Columbus Blue Jackets Season Review

Going into the season, I thought that this was the worst team in the NHL. This assessment seemed mostly true until late Feburary when goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made a small adjustment in his game that started an incredible Vezina caliber hot streak that lasted until the final game of the regular season. They fell just a point short of a playoff spot, an accomplishment only made possible due to miraculous goaltending. Many pundits felt that had this team qualified for the playoffs, that Bobrovsky would have been a legitimate candidate to win the Hart Trophy. There is no question that no player in this league had a greater singular impact on all his team's success than goalie Bob.

The Blue Jackets were the first team to fire their General Manager. That had as much to do with where the team currently was in the standings as anything, but eventually time would show that Howsen's trade for Bobrovsky from Philadelphia was arguably the best trade any GM made in the last year. The worst moves Howsen made as a GM were on the free agent market, with cumbersome contracts awarded to James Wisniewski and RJ Umberger. The new regime of Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson should help build this franchise that is loaded with draft picks in a very strong draft.

Preseason Rank: 30th
Midseason Rank: 29th
Final Rank: 16th
GM Grade: C+

1st Star: Sergei Bobrovsky
2nd Star: Mark Letestu
3rd Star: Fedor Tyutin

UFAs: Vinny Prospal, Blake Comeau, Adrian Aucoin, Mike Leighton
RFAs: Artem Anisimov, Sergei Bobrovsky

Best Contract: Matt Calvert 2 more years at $987K
Worst Contract: James Wisniewski 4 more years at $5.5M

What I said about them in preseason: They suck.


What a difference an elite goaltender can make. In his first 3 NHL seasons, there have been few people advocating Sergei Bobrovsky as strong as I have. I've owned him more often than not in my fantasy hockey leagues and once even wrote a blog post titled "What About Bobrovsky?" that scorned the Flyers for sending him to the minors right before the playoffs in 2011. Despite being an outspoken Bobrovsky advocate prior to this season, what he did in 2013 blew away even my expectations. Is this going to last forever? It's very difficult to say with goalies. If he's this good again, and from the beginning of the season, then the Blue Jackets will challenge for a playoff spot in their new Conference.

2013 was too little, too late. Bobrovsky only started performing feats of magic in about week 7 of 13. Prorate Bobrovsky's 2nd half into a full 82 game schedule, and Columbus would likely find themselves in a playoff spot, comfortably even. He is also a restricted free agent this summer, and a new contract won't be cheap. A whole season of Marian Gaborik will help the team score more goals and win more games, in theory anyways. This team is heading in the right direction.