Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Carolina Hurricanes: An In-Depth Look
We see NHL teams moving from Quebec City and Winnipeg and the NHL putting teams in a place like Raleigh, North Carolina…and it’s not easy for us to take. When we see pathetic crowds and empty seats in these ‘non-traditional’ markets like Raleigh and Miami/Sunrise, and we see teams that don’t do very well in the standings…well, they make easy targets.
The Hurricanes – Are they a failure at the gate?
Average Fans Per Game
2003-04: 12,171 (29th)
2002-03: 15,682 (19th)
2001-02: 15,508 (24th)
2000-01: 13,355 (29th)
It’s no surprise that the Canes rank near the bottom of the league in NHL attendance year after year. Still, if they could maintain ~15,500 on a nightly basis, they could prove themselves a sustainable market in the long term.
How about in the Standings?
2003-04: 28-34-14-6 76PTS (missed playoffs)
2002-03: 22-43-11-6 61PTS (missed playoffs)
2001-02: 35-26-16-5 91PTS (Lost to Detroit in Stanley Cup Finals)
2000-01: 38-32-9-3 88PTS (Lost in Round 1)
1999-00: 37-35-10-0 84PTS (missed playoffs)
1998-99: 34-30-18-0 86PTS (Lost in Round 1)
1997-98: 33-41-8-0 74PTS (missed playoffs)
Until the last couple of seasons, the Hurricanes were constantly mediocre and either just missed the playoffs or just made the playoffs. Apart from a Cinderella run to the Finals in 2002 (Pythag Standings show them to be a .500 team), the Hurricanes have been treading in quicksand over their history.
Over the course of writing on this weblog, I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with a few Hurricanes fans. They have their dumb and hokey fans like any other team, but they also have a fair share of smart and dedicated hard-core fans. You’d have to be Ron Jeremy-hardcore to stick with this club.
One of these fans, Camille (aka The Acid Queen) helped me analyze this year’s Carolina Hurricanes and their chances at any success in the Southeast.
Let’s take a look at the Carolina Hurricanes in more depth.
Snobby Canadian hockey fans (even myself) refer to Raleigh as “NASCAR Country”. Why would hockey succeed in a place that is known to us for watching people drive around an oval and turn left for 3 hours?
Well, according to Camille and Raleigh News and Observer writer Luke DeCock (nice name), this simply isn’t the case.
"There hasn't been a race here in 50 years. There isn't a track here. Charlotte is the world stock-car capital, but that's almost four hours and significant social drive away."
Canadian fans probably lost all rights to run NASCAR smack on Raleigh when Rogers Sportnet, the rights holder to some of the Leafs games, (yeah, that’s right) asked the NHL to reschedule a ‘Canes-Leafs’ game to accommodate the broadcast of a NASCAR race on Rogers Sportsnet.
What? You don’t believe me? Then I’d suggest you read this announcement and weep.
As Kurt Angle would say, "It's true, it's DAMN true"
With that out of the way, I’d like to delve further into the Canes chances this year and look at the moves they have made.
Coaching – For their entire existence in Raleigh (and Greensborough), Paul Maurice and his hair was their Head Coach up until the last NHL season when he was relieved in favour of ex-Isles coach Peter Laviolette.
The Hurricanes showed, and have always shown, too much loyalty to a member of their organization that produces consistently bad or under-average results. GM Jim Rutherford has managed to hold his job since Richard Nixon was president, for reasons unknown to the rest of us.
Anyway, Paul Maurice is out and Lavi is in. What changes can we expect between the two men?
1. Communication – According to Camille: “Paul Maurice never communicated with his players--EVER. Just ask Sandis Ozolinsh, who once said in the N&O "I don't know what Coach wants when he just looks at me funny" (he was traded three weeks later). He once bragged that he never talked to his goalies, and then wondered why the goalies were complaining that they had no idea what the hell to expect from the coach.“
Expect Laviolette to be the complete opposite of Maurice and give each player a defined role and job on the team. Peter always held his Islanders accountable if they didn’t show up on a particular night, but made sure the players knew exactly what was expected.
2. Trusting the Rookies – If you were a rookie under Paul Maurice, chances were that you were plunked on the 4th line unless the coach was actually forced into giving them ice time. While veterans were getting all the ice time (and being run into the ground), it would take a stellar performance from a rookie to get himself some ice time. If the Canes ever want to build something, they need a coach who will give their young players (such as Eric Staal) some real ice time.
3. “It ain’t broke…so let’s fix it!” – Camille notes Paul Maurice’s annoying tendency to frequent change lines even when such changed were not needed: "Any time a line would start to show signs of serious production, the players would get shuffled around to other lines "to even out the scoring"--and then Maurice would wonder why those players that had been scoring before suddenly stopped scoring. "
4. Excuses…Excuses… - In front of an open mic after a 4-1 loss against St. Louis in 2000-01, Shane "Whatchu talkin bout" Willis wrote his ticket out of town with the comment, “Coach told us to blame the small crowd.” – Maurice had a unique way of finding some unrelated reason why the Canes lost games. It was never a lack of talent, coaching or work ethic…it was either the alignment of the moons around Jupiter, small crowds, or poor officiating that did the Canes in night after night.
5. Offense! – Paul Maurice wondered why any team would need to score more than 3 goals to win a hockey game. Laviolette would rather pressure the puck and play an aggressive offensive forecheck compared to Maurice’s laid-back style.
With an improvement in the coaching rankings comes a similar improvement to the roster. Here is a look at the Hurricanes as of right now.
Without knowing Cam Ward’s exact salary, I can speculate that the Hurricanes will open up the season with a payroll of about $28mil USD. The salaries are spread nice and smooth like peanut butter on rye and only Rod Brind’Amour and Bret Hedican are really overpaid for their production levels. Even then, none of these two contracts are really an albatross hanging on the Canes.
Goaltending – The biggest question mark on the team as the Canes will trust their #1 duties to former backup Martin Gerber and the backup duties to 21-year old Cam Ward.
Gerber was an exceptional backup for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks the past two seasons and has a pretty good resume built up over the past few seasons.
2001-02: Gerber was with Farjestads BK in Sweden and put up a 92.2 SV% and 1.96GAA in 44 games in the Elite League
2002-03: Gerber spent his first season in the NHL and played 22 games as the backup to Giguere, compiling a 92.9 SV% and 1.95GAA
2003-04: Gerber performed exceptionally well again as the backup for Giguere, compiling a 91.80 SV% and 2.26GAA in 32 games.
Gerber will be 31 when the season starts and has proven himself at every level. I think he’ll have the tools and ability to give the Canes at least average-level goaltending for the season, if not more. This will be his first real chance to play a significant chunk of a North American schedule.
Cam Ward was the Canes 1st round pick in the 2002 Entry Draft and he looks like a real gem. Ward spent his first year in the AHL last year with the Lowell Lock Monsters and put up a 1.99GAA and 93.7 Save Percentage in 50 games. Ward has been steadily improving and it looks like the Canes will be handing him the backup reigns after just 1 NHL season. It might make sense for the Canes to get an experienced NHL backup and let Ward play another year in the AHL, but Ward would have a hard time improving upon his AHL performance of 2004-05.
The Hurricanes lacked some serious offense from the D in 2003-04 as Sean Hill, who is now gone, lead the club with 39 points and Bret Hedican was 2nd amongst DMen with a whopping 24 points.
Rutherford remedied that problem by bringing in puck-moving defensemen such as Oleg Tverdovsky and Frantisek Kaberle into the mix. While Tverdovsky is no longer than 55point offensive power that he was in his Coyotes days, he will give the Canes the heady PP QB-type that they have lacked since Paul Coffey and Sandis Ozolinsh played in Raleigh.
According to Camille, Bret “Soccer Dad” Hedican is a HUGE question mark for the Canes coming into the season: “He had back surgery in the offseason and has a pending medical claim with/against the team (from before the lockout), so I don't know if he's coming back.”
If Hedican doesn’t come back, this will give Mike Commodore and Bruno St. Jacques (I love that name) more opportunities.
Although Jeff O’Neill was sent ‘home’ by the Canes, his departure could easily be addition by subtraction. Given his lazy off-ice work habits and defensive deficiencies, the Canes were better off cutting that rotten bait and starting anew with some fresh blood, such as off-season steals Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney.
New captain Rod Brind’Amour leads a decent forward corps that has a bit of everything (size, grit, defense, and offense) and the Canes have good depth on the wings.
Given the weakness at center, Josef Vasicek, fresh off of a monster season with Slavia Prague, may be shifted back to the middle to give the Canes more offense. If Pavel “Krispy Kreme” Brendl or Radim Vrbata can provide the offense that is expected out of their talented hands, then the Canes could have 3 really solid and balanced forward lines followed by a decent 4th line.
Overall, the Canes have made some good improvements under the radar of the mainstream media. While others have derided the Canes for making ‘small’ or ‘few’ improvements, I see some great value signings (an 80-point forward for 1.75mil!) and a sudden ability by GM Jim Rutherford to identify and fix holes on the roster.
While I didn’t pick the Canes to make the playoffs, I do expect they will be a tough team to beat on most nights. With coach Peter Laviolette, this team COULD make the playoffs if everything goes right for them. I expect an improvement on the 28-34-14-6 record from 03-04, providing the goaltending duo of Gerber-Ward doesn’t totally crumble like a 17-month old gingerbread house.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Castro Valley Comments
In my few days here in Castro Valley (halfway between San Francisco and San Jose), I have seen about 2 inches of NHL transactions in about 100 pages of sports coverage in the San Francisco and Oakland papers. The same papers had more coverage of the Canadian Football League (scores and standings) and some Under-16 diving tournament than of the NHL. If it wasn't for the Internet and our precious Canadian websites likes TSN and Slam!, I'd never be able to follow hockey in this place.
Some random comments and such...
1. I drove by the HP Pavilion in San Jose - It's a nice looking arena, and a nice clean downtown, but the name is so gaudy! General Motors Place can be shortened to a very generic sounding 'GM PLACE', by HP Pavilion is the Hawaiian shirt equivalent of corporate stadium names.
2. The Edmonton Oilers moves to load up on salary and get Pronger/Peca for $10mil and Mike York, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch were questionable, but they've been busy the past 48 hours making some quality transactions.
i. They signed Danny Syrvet to a 3-year entry level contract. I'm amazed Syrvet went completely undrafted in his first time through... He'll help replace Woywitka and Lynch in the system.
ii. Then, they traded a 4th round pick for Yan Stastny. The Bruins loaded up on forwards and had no room for Stastny, who ripped up the Deutsch Elite League and played for Team USA in the last World Championships. Stastny wasn't going to get his chance with the Ruins, so the Oilers snapped him up and could get a real steal if they give Yan a shot in the NHL.
3. The Penguins agreed to meet the arbitrator's award of $1.6mil for offensive defenseman Dick Tarnstrom. What kind of parent names their kid 'Dick'?
Anyway, $1.6mil is a pretty good deal for the Penguins, and I don't understand why the media think that Tarnstrom is going to be traded. Is his salary a burden to the Penguins?
How many other teams would line up for a defenseman who scored 52 points in 80 games last NHL season and cost just $1.6mil for a season? I'd be shocked if it wasn't '29'.
Despite his defensive shortcomings, Dick is one of the few defensemen who can produce high offensive numbers in a low-scoring NHL era. Given how hard it is to produce offense in today's NHL, Dick is severly underpaid. That's two arbitration awards that have been on the 'low' side for the player. Is Bettman strongarming the arbitrators? Hmm...
(Oh, and the Penguins got this guy off of WAIVERS from the New York Islanders. How sweet is that?)
4. If you are a resident of New York, a fan of Team USA, and have a bunch of disposable income, then there is an upcoming event you may be interested in.
Has it already been 25 years???
MIRACLE AT THE PALM!!
25th Anniversary "Reunion Bash" Celebrating The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team's Gold Medal Victory To Be Held At Legendary Steak House, The Palm Restaurant
The reunion will be emceed by ESPN's Woody Paige and attended by stars from the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team, including Jim Craig, Dave Silk, Steve Janaszak, Mark Wells and more. Fans will have an opportunity to meet and take pictures with the players, bid on unique Miracle on Ice memorabilia to raise money for charity, and relive one of the greatest moments in the history of pro sports.
The event is open to the public at a cost of $250, which includes open bar and steak from The Palm! For more information, and to purchase tickets, please call 212-532-8900.
Monday, September 19th
"Miracle on Ice" Happy Hour - 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Dinner/Celebration - 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
The Palm Restaurant
250 West 50th Street, on the corner of 8th Avenue
New York, NY
Saturday, August 27, 2005
"Hey Butthead, He Said..."
I'll be in San Francisco until September the 6th. Posting will be light until then.
In the meantime, I see Milan Kraft has decided to join Evgeni Malkin in Russia as Kraft Dinner signed a contract with Avangard Omsk. Given how much I paid for Kraft in a fantasy league 3 years ago, this really does piss me off. I figured the guy could have syphoned off a few easy points this season with all of the talent Pittsburgh has.
** Dave Andreychuk signed with the Tampa Bay Lightnings for 2 more years. I wonder if he has yet another 20-goal season in him!
It's amazing how consistant of a goal scorer Andreychuk has been over his career. In his 22 NHL seasons, Andreychuk has scored 20 or more goals 19 TIMES!!! (including the last 5 seasons).
Wow, doesn't that make you feel old? He's been playing since I was 4 years old. Some of you whippersnappers weren't even born when he was screen guys like Mike Liut.
The only seasons in which Andreychuk did not score 20+ goals were in 1982-83, his rookie season in which he played only 43 games, and then a 2-year span in 1997-98 and 1998-99 when he looked like a cooked turkey.
I'm hoping he can make it 2 more 20-goal seasons before he is done. He's already got 634 goals and 686 assists in 1597 games. He's a Rafael Palmerio type Hall of Famer, without the steroids and Viagra.
Stat Split of the Day:
Marian Hossa, who was recently dealt to the apathetic hockey market of Atlanta, is a remarkably consistant player no matter where he plays
Home: 40GP 22-19-41 +9
Road: 40GP 23-16-39 -1
Home: 41GP 20-22-42 +2
Road: 40GP 16-24-40 +2
Friday, August 26, 2005
Canucks Cap Cooke-out
The Canucks sit at $37.4mil (minimum salary commitment needed) with both Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu’s contracts unsettled as of yet. If the Canucks want to resign both and get one more decent blueliner, they really don’t have much margin for error.
If I were the Canucks GM:
1. I’d let Jarkko Ruutu go. Let him go for nothing or trade him for a breakfast burrito and large coffee. I’ve already argued how Ruutu hurts the Canucks by simply being on the ice…so why not do a little addition by subtraction? The Canucks can play a Josh Green or a Tyler Bouck and save about $100,000. This may not seem like much, but you have to manage every single dollar in a marginal-benefit method under a CAP system. Why pay more $ to Ruutu when you get the same calibre of play from a cheaper player?
2. Re-sign Matt Cooke. His contract demands don’t seem to be outrageous, and he really is important to the Canucks as a player who can hit, check, score the odd goal, and play both wing and center. Cooke is quite versatile and more valuable than non-Canucks fans would realize.
3. Demote 1-2 players. The Canucks only need to carry 22 players to start the season. They can call up anyone from the farm in case of injury, but any salary carried on the pro roster at any time counts towards the overall $39mil cap. I would send Butenschon or Baumgartner and Bouck or Green down to snowy Manitoba.
4. Sign Scott Lachance – If the Canucks have any cap room left, they really need to sign a cheap defensive defenseman who can play 50-60 games and not suck like a late-career Mark Messier. Murray Baron? As old and slow as he is, I’d take him over Baumgartner/Butenschon.
In any event, Nonis will have to do a bit of ballet dancing as he is hovering dangerously close to that $39mil figure and has one more important cog to deal with before the Canucks can move on with the 2004-05 season. I’ll give credit to Nonis for doing a fair job thus far. In my opinion, Nonis hasn’t been great, nor he has been poor…the Canucks look good heading into the season, and this will be their best shot at the Stanley Cup until Jovocop leaves one way or another.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Roberto Luongo Loses Big in Arbitration
Sportsnet has learned the Panthers' netminder was awarded a new deal which will see him receive $3.2 million next season.
Earlier this week Luongo turned down a five-year, $25 million offer from the Panthers.
Now, either Luongo really wanted out of Florida, or he expected to hit the jackpot ala Nikolai Khabibulin once he was in Unrestricted Free Agency territory.
As it stands now, poor Roberto has been robbed the past couple of seasons. First, he sees the Vezina Trophy get awarded to an inferior goaltender in Martin Brodeur. Then, he gets a spanking in arbitration...it’s strange how an arbitrator can award Luongo a lower-than-deserved salary when past arbitration awards were grossly tilted to the player’s side of things. (If you haven’t figured it out, Luongo, to me, is the best goaltender in the NHL and it’s not even close)
Let’s compare Luongo to two goaltenders that will be paid a lot more this upcoming season: Martin Brodeur and Nikolai Khabibulin.
Roberto Luongo - $ 3,200,000 (26 years old)
2001-02: 58GP 16-33-4 2.77GAA .915 SV%
2002-03: 65GP 20-34-7 2.71GAA .918 SV%
2003-04: 72GP 25-33-14 2.43GAA .931 SV%
Martin Brodeur - $ 5,237,238 (33 years old)
2001-02: 73GP 38-26-9 2.15GAA .906SV%
2002-03: 73GP 41-23-9 2.02GAA .914 SV%
2003-04: 75GP 38-26-11 2.03GAA .917SV%
Nikolai Khabibulin - $ 6,750,000 (32 years old)
2001-02: 70GP 24-32-10 2.36GAA .920SV%
2002-03: 65GP 30-22-11 2.47GAA .911SV%
2003-04: 55GP 28-19-7 2.33GAA .910SV%
How did Luongo get stuck with a salary that doesn’t come to close to these other two fellows?
With Brodeur you get a goalie who can play a lot of games and post good GAA’s and Wins. Of course, we know the wins and GAA are mainly team dependant, so Brodeur can thank Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer for helping pad those stats. Brodeur’s SV%’s are rarely near the top of the heap, and he’s definitely not the type of goalie who can do the things Luongo can.
With Khabibulin, you’ve got a goaltender who has been declining somewhat and is likely to decline faster than Brodeur because Nik is a reflexive goaltender compared to Brodeur’s more fundamentally sound style.
As for Roberto, he has suffered behind a poor team throughout his career (Islanders or Panthers) and his Wins and GAA suffer because of that. If the Panthers successfully argued that Luongo wasn’t a winner like Brodeur and Khabibulin, that is the only way I can see the arbitrator taking their side. Looking at the talent level, age, and save percentages, Luongo is the superior goalie RIGHT NOW and should be paid more than either Khabibulin or Martin Brodeur.
So, will Luongo pout and piss and moan and let this affect his play with the Panthers? Will the Panthers try and trade an unhappy camper before training camp? With Mike Keenan running the show, this soap opera is just going to get more interesting.
(PS: Roberto, you are still getting paid millions to play hockey. You aren’t going to starve and you aren’t go to miss your next mortgage payment. Please not to wet your diapers too much over this. Thank you.)
We're Gonna Party Like it's 1999!
Just some interesting things then and now…
A 5’9” winger by the name of Martin St. Louis appeared in 13 NHL games with the Flames and had a whopping 2 points and averaged 8:15 of ice time per game. Despite some impressive AHL numbers (62 points in 53 games), St. Louis looked like another puny AHL All-Star and nothing like the future NHL MVP.
THN listed the Top 10 Flames prospects, and Marty was nowhere near the list.
1. J-S Giguere
2. Daniel Tkaczuk (105 points in 58 OHL games!)
3. Robyn Regehr
4. Rico Fata
5. Blair Betts
6. Toni Lydman
7. Dmitri Kokorev
8. Chris Clark
9. Sergei Varlamov
10. Steve Begin
While the Flames had a pretty impressive list of prospects (and, boy, did Daniel Tkaczuk bomb), it’s amazing to think that Marty didn’t even make a Top 10 team list for Top prospects.
Well, the Canes always have crappy looking Top Prospects list. 1999 was no exception, as the Top 3 ‘Sure Fire’ NHLers were Jeff Heerema, Shane “Whatchu talkin bout” Willis and Nikos Tselios. Mmm hmm..
#9 and #10 and not given much respect? Eric Cole and Josef Vasicek – Who we know went on to have much better careers. Hey, prospecting is speculation, no matter how you slice that cookie.
Yep, 1999 saw the Oilers with yet another bad looking Top 10 Prospects list of their own
1. Chris Hajt(!)
2. Alex Henry
3. Michael Henrich
4. Shawn Horcoff
5. Dan LaCouture
6. Michel Riesen
7. Jason Chimera
8. Paul Comrie
9. Brad Norton
10. Matthieu Descoteaux
…and their top pick that offseason? Jani Rita… it’s hard to build any franchise when you draft and develop players that poorly.
Under BUDGET EXPECTATIONS:
Don’t expect much to change for the financially strapped Oilers, who spent nearly US$ 22mil last season.
“We have a budget and we must adhere to it,” said Sather, who will once again try his best to piece together a fiscally responsible club.
Hmm, so the Oilers were whining when their payroll nudged over $22mil, and now they can spend $30mil+ without blinking an eye. Mmm hmm
…and we know how Glen Sather forgot all about budgeting once he left for the Big Apple.
When I was wrote for hockeysfuture.com back in 1999, I was covering the Panthers and gave a glowing review of a young prospect named Dan Boyle. People thought I was smoking some fine B.C. bud for touting a small, thin, offensive defenseman that played like a 4th forward made Sandis Ozolinsh look like Adam Foote. Boyle had 3 goals and 5 assists in 22 games with the Panthers the previous season in an exciting NHL debut season.
At least THN backed me up with a glowing review of their own, giving Boyle the UNSUNG HERO tag:
Boyle didn’t play his first NHL game until February 18, but he added mobility and offensive thrust from the blueline. He gambles with the proper tinge of restraint.
With him on the ice, the Panthers are looser, more excited…and more exciting.
Well, I told ya so! :)
I also said Josef Marha (d’oh!) would be a fine playmaking centerman…so it all evens out, in the end
The Montreal Canadiens leading scorer from 98-99 was Saku Koivu…with just 44 points (14+30) in 65 games. The Habs, amazingly, managed to finish 19th overall in the NHL…which is impressive given their utter lack of offense.
The New York Rangers selected Pavel Brendl with their top pick (4th overall). Brendl looked eerily similar to what Canadian Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper looks like now (If you are Canadian, you’ll know who the hell I’m talking about)
Tampa Bay Lightning
They had just come off of a 19-54-9 season and their leading scorer was Darcy Tucker with 43 points and team worst –34 in 82 games. Given their Top 10 Prospect list looked like this…
1. Paul Mara
2. Eric Beaudoin
3. Mario Larocque
4. Brad Richards
5. Kyle Kos
6. Zac Bierk
7. Matt Elich
8. Eero Somervuori
9. Karel Betik
10. Dmitri Afanasenkov
…and their top pick was Sheldon Keefe (the troubled buddy of Mike Danton), it’s amazing how quickly the Lightning were turned around into a Stanley Cup contender by GMs Jay Feaster and Rick Dudley.
The Toronto Maple Leafs wasted their 1st round pick (24th overall) on Luca Cereda. Everyone but the Maple Leafs knew this was a bad pick when it was made. The smug look on the Leafs’ Anders Hedberg when he made this pick was priceless. It was like being happy about getting crapped on by a seagull.
…and the Vancouver Canucks drafted the Sedinbots. To this day, I still can’t tell which is Henrik and which is Daniel unless they have their sweaters on. 1999 was the height of the Messier Era in Vancouver...just dark dark days.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
EuroUpdate: Petr Sykora, the Sequel.
1. Petr Sykora II signed a 1-year deal with the Washington Capitals. Sykora, the brother of ex-Shark/Flyer Michal Sykora, had been rumoured for years to be coming to the NHL, but really showed no interest in doing so.
Sykora is a right-shooting winger with a good one-timer, an itchy trigger finger, and good skating ability. His passing leaves something to be desired, but put him on the left side on a Power Play and he's a dangerous weapon. I expect Sykora II and Miroslav Zalesak will be tried together as a one-two punch.
Sykora II (That's what he'll be called on here and other places) actually played with the Nashville Predators for 2 games back in 98-99. He spent a rather frustrating year in the IHL with the Admirals where he had just 29 points in 73 games. He grew frustrated with the AHL game and the long travel, so he went back to Pardubice the following season and had been there since.
Sykora II lead the Czech Extraleague with 26 goals in 47 games in 2000-01, and has put up 106 goals and 77 assists in 215 Extraleague games since his return. His rights were dealt from Nashville to Washington, and the Caps somehow managed to convince him to come over and give the NHL another shot. I would predict about 20 goals and 15 assists for Sykora II.
2. Mattias Ohlund and the Vancouver Canucks avoided arbitration (only Roberto Luongo's case seems to be going all the way) as Matty signed a 4-year deal. No details yet, but I would expect he'll get paid less than Ed Jovanovski. Ask any knowledgable Canucks fan who the #1 dman on this club is, and they will tell you it's Ohlund. We're glad he's back and signed long-term.
3. The Dany Heatley/Marian Hossa swap wasn't the only bit of surprising news out of Atlanta yesterday. Eurohockey.net reported, yesterday, that Goaltender Pasi Nurminen has announced his retirement from hockey due to a knee injury suffered while training with the Lahti Pelicans. It must have been a really serious knee injury if it forced him to retire at the tender age of 29.
Nurminen was expected to help mentor young phenom Kari Lehtonen and provide a good chunk of quality minutes as the Thrasher's 1B goalie. Pasi is also a goalie on one of my fantasy teams and now has thrown me for a loop. Thanks, dude! :(
4. Ivan Huml, the slow-developing Boston Bruins prospect, will report to training camp with Boston this year. Hokej.cz reports that Huml will return to Kladno of the Czech Extraleague if he does not make the pro squad.
5. Ladislav Smid, the Mighty Ducks 1st round pick of 2004 (9th overall) has inked a contract and is expected to come over and start his North American career. Smid's offensive numbers against Extraleague competition may look poor (6 points in 88 games), but given his age, it's not at all surprising. Smid is still a fine 2-way defender and has more talent than many pundits realize. I'm just worried that he's too damn skinny for the North American game, so we'll see if he eat his share of Rice Krispies and protein bars during the off-season.
6. Patrik Elias, aka "Hepatitis Boy", has agreed to sign his Qualifying Offer with the New Jersey Devils. Now that the Devils are $5mil over the $39mil cap, I wonder what they will do to remedy the situation...
That's it for now.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Hossa is one Rich Slovak
Marian Hossa and the Ottawa Senators avoided the nastiness of arbitration by agreeing to a 3-year contract in which Marian will earn more than 99.9% of his fellow countrymen make, combined.
The Ottawa Senators have avoided salary arbitration with Marian Hossa by signing the star forward to an $18-million US, three-year deal.It looks like the Senators will be keeping their loaded roster together for at least one more big kick at Stanley's can. I thought that the Sens would have to break up their roster, thanks to the CBA, but that won't happen until next season, at least. I would expect the Sens to deal Hossa following this season, since his salary will be so damn high. At least they won't lose him as an Unrestricted Free Agent, which was the big fear heading into arbitration.
A source said Hossa will earn $5 million this season, $6 million in 2006-07 and $7 million the following season.
The Senators stand at over $33.6 mil in salary with some undisclosed contracts to add to that figure. Really, the Sens are A-OK compared to the Canucks. I may have to re-think that 4th place finish I predicted for Los Senatores.
(Edit: Craig McMurtry of Hockey Country has an analysis of the Senators payroll and future contract problems. It's looking kind of bleak for the Senators after this season.)
(Edit #2: WHOA WHOA WHOOOOA!! TSN is reporting that the Senators will be trading Hossa to the Thrashers for Dany Heatley!
The Ottawa Senators have called a 5pm et press conference where they are expected to announce that the team has signed Marian Hossa to a three-year deal and traded the star forward and a defenceman to the Atlanta Thrashers for forward Dany Heatley.Wow! That came out of right field!)
The McCarthy Trial Begins in Vancouver
The Vancouver Canucks have acquired defenceman Steve McCarthy from the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-round draft pick in 2007It's always nice to have some local talent, and hopefully this will help McCarthy get inspired to do great things.
"My mom starting crying and my dad is ecstatic," McCarthy said on a conference call. "I'm going to be playing in their background with a lot of friends and family. Obviously growing up a good B.C. boy and a Canucks fan, it's a dream coming true, that's for sure."
I am amazed that the Canucks were able to get McCarthy, a former first round pick (23rd overall in 1999) for such a cheap price... a 3rd round pick...in 2007!? I guess Hawks GM Dave Tallon has never heard of the concepts of 'Present Value' or 'Cost/Benefit'.
Looking further into it, McCarthy has certainly not lived up to expectations people had of him when he was taken back in 1999. McCarthy played for Canada in the 2000 and 2001 World Junior Championships and had a very successful career with the Edmonton/Kootenay Ice of the WHL. He also played for the Blackhawks in 2000-01 with the Hawks before being demoted to the AHL following his WJC stint. As a 19 year-old in the NHL, McCarthy didn't look too far out of place. I loved McCarthy's skating and passing ability, and thought he would have an Eric Weinrich type of career in the NHL.
Since the 00/01 season, McCarthy really has not developed very well and missed most of the 2003-04 season with a nasty groin injury (not a good thing if you rely on speed and skating). McCarthy has only put up 16 points in 134 NHL games, which is still not very good for a youngster. Steve didn't play last year at all, missing a key year of development.
Still, I'm very happy that the Canucks made this move. McCarthy is only 24, and we know NHL defensemen can take a few years to develop (see ex-Canucks Adrian Aucoin, Bryan McCabe, Marek Malik, and Brent Sopel as good examples). The Blackhawks were a mess during his tenure there, and the Canucks can offer him stability and guidance that he never received in ChiTown. McCarthy won't have to put up with being shuttled up and down from the AHL by a team with no clear plan in place. McCarthy's passing skills could be a boon for the Canucks in the new NHL where puck-moving will be a bit more valuable.
As for salary, McCarthy will be very well paid for someone who is still quite unproven to the tune of US$ 760,000. This salary was probably too much for the Hawks, seeing as they grossly overpaid for free agents Martin Lapointe and Nikolai Khabibulin. The Canucks were already in the danger zone, but McCarthy's salary is reasonable under their system.
Now, I'd like to see the Canucks get one more reliable defenseman. I'd really like to see Scott Lachance back as a Canuck. Although he's been derided over his career (mainly for his lack of offensive ability), Lachance is a good skater and has good size...and he was good with the Canucks. It's not Scott's fault that the Dinner Jackets overpaid and overplayed him as per their organizational policy. As a 3rd liner, Scott would be the perfect complement to McCarthy's rushing style and I'm sure Nonis could get him at a reasonable salary. We need to ensure that Sven Butenschon and Nolan Baumgartner play as little as possible.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Splitting Hairs over Satan
Tom L, author of the new (and very well done) Sabre Ratting took me up on my comments regarding Miro and his importance to the Sabres.
Taking off my homer glasses for a moment tells me that when motivated to play Satan was a huge difference maker. When he was willing to lead, the team responded off his effort. When he didn't they weren't able to overcome the loss of his lack of desire.Now, let me play the Devil's Advocate (bad pun intended) and look at the other side of the coin.
The big problem was how to deal with a guy making $5 million a year and not consistently earning it? How can you expect a group of second-liners to overcome 20 minutes of a forward floating around and refusing to play? The answer is, of course, that you don't. Satan averaged the same amount of Ice Time in both wins and losses and for me that -33 sticks out like a sore thumb. On the nights when he wasn't helping the team win we wasn't working to prevent a loss either.
As good as Miro is, he cannot simply step onto the ice and score at will. There are opposition goaltenders, defensemen, and forwards all working to stop Satan from his evil reign of goal scoring. Just because Miro wasn't scoring in his team's losses doesn't mean that he wasn't trying. I know Miro was petulant last year and wanted out of Buffalo, but it's not as if he wasn't giving a good effort in some of those losses. Maybe we can say that the Sabres were losing to good teams who knew how to defend better than poor teams.
To refresh thy memories, here are Miro's splits from 03/04.
In Wins: 37GP 23-22-45 +17 103shots 22.3%
Losses: 38GP 5-6-11 -33 85shots 5.9%
& Ties: 7GP 1-0-1 +1 18shots 5.6%
You can see I added shots and shooting percentage into the mix. From this, you can tell that Miro is still getting his fair share of shots (although we can't tell the quality of his shots), but far fewer of them are going in.
Just to make things more interesting, here are Miro's splits from 2002/03:
In Wins: 27GP 17-26-43 +26 89shots 19.1%
Losses: 42GP 5-21-26 -26 115shots 4.3%
& Ties: 10GP 4-3-7 -3 36shots 11.1%
Not quite the extreme splits that we saw 03/04, but Miro was obviously a big factor for Buffalo in their victories. If I was the opposition coach and our team was playing the Sabres, I would tell my team to focus their efforts on stopping Satan. Not only did the Sabres fair poorly when Satan wasn't scoring, but you can see that he had less shots-per-game in the games when his team was losing. When you face a team with such little firepower, it really does pay to focus extra attention on their lone potent weapon.
If you stop the Lord of Darkness, the rest of his army just doesn't have the strength to compensate...so says the Bible of Golbez (Mikita 10:37).
...and just to finish off with a bit more silliness, it looks like Miro REALLY loves to play the Maple Leafs. Here are his stats versus the Centre of the Universe.
2002/03: 5GP 3-7-10 +5
2003/04: 6GP 4-7-11 +5
Jagr just can't control himself around beautiful women.
1.Jaromír Jágr (Rabat Kladno/Omsk) 579 points
2.Tomáš Kaberle (Rabat Kladno) 416
3.Tomáš Vokoun (Znojemští orli/IFK Helsinky) 274
4.Marek Židlický (IFK Helsinky) 260
5.Martin Ručinský (Chemopetrol Litvínov) 257
6.Pavel Kubina (Vítkovice) 229
7.Václav Prospal (České Budějovice) 207
8.Milan Hejduk (Moeller Pardubice) 165
9.David Výborný (Sparta Praha) 123
10.Petr Čajánek (Hamé Zlín) 121
1990 - Dominik Hašek
1991 - Bedrich Scerban (even I don't know who this guy is...)
1992 - Róbert Švehla
1993 – Miloš Holan
1994 – Roman Turek
1995 – Jaromír Jágr
1996 – Jaromír Jágr
1997 – Dominik Hašek
1998 – Dominik Hašek
1999 – Jaromír Jágr
2000 – Jaromír Jágr
2001 – Jiri Dopita
2002 – Jaromír Jágr
2003 – Milan Hejduk
2004 – Robert Lang
2005 – Jaromír Jágr
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Random musings and notes from the weekend.
1. Kevin Weekes - 'd-lee' and 'phil' take me to task for chiding goalie Kevin Weekes of the Ranger$.
(Phil) I'm a Ranger fan and I agree the Rangers are going to suck, but can someone please explain to me why Kevin Weekes is considered bad? With the friggin Carolina Hurricanes in front of him, he's put up a 2.55 and 2.33 GAA the last two seasons (the 2.33 being last season) with a SV% of .912. For comparison, Dan Cloutier only had a GAA 0.06 better than Weekes last year, and a SV% only .002 better, and thats behind the Canucks. Over a 60 game period, that's only 3 more goals let up. So if someone could explain why Weekes is so bad, that would be helpful.
A Rangers fan? My condolences ;) (Not really, I'm still sore about 1994)
Looking at the stats, Kevin Weekes finished 24th in Save Percentage in 03/04 and 16th in 02/03 and doesn't appear in the Top 10 or Bottom 10 of Daryl Shilling's 2004 Goalie Ratings.
Given the defense in front of Kevin, the last two seasons have seen him give middle-of-the-road goaltending. That's about as good as you'll get with the guy. I've defended him on other forums in the past because he is better than people tend to give him credit for.
Now, he's always been extremely athletic and talented, but, as Canucks know, he's a few bubbles short of a carbonated beverage. His tall tale of being involved in a carjacking incident gave Canucks ex-GM Brian Burke a good laugh, and got Weekes a quick ticket out of Vancouver.
Playing in Carolina was probably the best thing for Weekes. Playing in an intense market like Vancouver proved too much pressure for him and he might falter under the bright lights of the Big Apple.
At the very least, he'll be an improvement over the overrated and always injured Mike Dunham, but he's not going to carry the Rangers...the games he steals are offset by some very shaky outings. For all of the money the Rangers have thrown around over the years, they've never addressed their goalie position very well.
As for Dan Cloutier, Canucks fans are aware that Cloutier is no great shakes...and we're stuck with him for 2 more years at $2.5mil a yar. The only positive I thing I can saw about Cloutier is that he'll take any other goalie in a fight ;)
2. Slovak Stat Split of the Day:
NHL Players, logically, have better stats in their team's victories compared to their team's losses.
Now, just how important was Miroslav Satan to the 2003/04 Buffalo Sabres?
In Wins: 37GP 23-22-45 +17 10PP
In Losses: 38GP 5-6-11 -33 1PP
In Ties: 7GP 1-0-1 +1 2
Wow, the results of the Sabres seem very heavily weighted upon the shoulders of the Lord of Darkness. When Sabres fans are laughing at how little Satan meant to them, just point out this stat split and let them know that Satan was a real difference maker. Where were Miro's teammates? Picking their noses?
Slovak Stat Split #2
Jozef Stumpel, who will now being playing his game in a very strange place (Sunrise, Florida) seems to be comfortable playing anywhere.
Home: 32GP 4-15-19 +3
Road: 32GP 4-14-18 +2
3. Why did I pick the Boston Bruins to finish #1 in the Eastern Conference?
The Bruins finished with 104 points and in 2nd place in the East in 03/04. While their performance was partially a Pythagorean fluke, I really like the fact that they have a deep and offensively talented roster heading into this season. The Senators are trying hard to keep everyone in the fold and will likely have to lose some strength as they can't keep all of their talent (buh-buy Maid Marian).
While the Sens were underpeforming their Expected Win% in past seasons (no surprise given who was coaching them), I believe the new CBA is putting them in the hurt locker...same goes for Tampa and Martin St-Louis.
Looking at Boston's current depth chart.
Brian Leetch - Nick Boynton
Hal Gill - Jonathan Girard
Jiri Slegr - Marc Stuart
Milan Jurcina - Ian Moran
Sergei Samsonov - Joe Thornton - Glen Murray
Brad Isbister - Alexei Zhamnov - Patrice Bergeron
PJ Axelsson - Dave Scatchard - Shawn McEachern
Tom Fitzgerald - Travis Green - Brad Boyes
Andy Hilbert - Colton Orr
The Bruins have an incredible amount of offense talent up front and on the backend with puck-moving defensemen such as Brian Leetch, Jiri Slegr, and Jon Girard. Andrew Raycroft is a strong goaltender and I think the Bruins will be piling up bushels of goals almost every night.
4. While slow-footed defensemen like Derian "Hacker" Hatcher may be hurt when the NHL opens up, they won't be hurt as badly as you would expect.
i. These stay-at-home defensemen will simply stay at home more to bake cookies for the GI's off at war in the offensive zone. Coaches know that they'll have to have their slower d-men hang back farther to protect against the long breakout/breakaway pass. Don't expect Hatcher to pitch in quite as often...
ii. The NHL did not increase the ice surface. In IIHF tournaments played in Europe, Zdeno Chara, Marek Malik and other giant beasts of burden are obviously less effective than in the NHL because their reach isn't as useful and their lack of quickness is exposed. In the NHL, the smaller rink width protects them from being beaten to the outside and that aspect of the game won't change. Hatcher can still use his massive frame to protect the smaller portion in the middle of the ice and then slam some unsuspecting fool into the boards when they are close enough. Much of the play will be down low in the offensive zone, and big lugs like Hatcher will still be force in the trenches. If anything, the new NHL might hurt the offensive production (mainly goals) of the stay-at-home types, but don't expect them to just suddenly become obsolete.
5. I see the Tampa Bay Lightning signed goaltender Brian Eklund to a contract. I didn't know they needed a crappy blogger on the roster. I'm still available as an Unrestricted Free Agent if the Canucks are so inclined to offer me a contract ;)
Friday, August 19, 2005
Blue Jackets sign Jaroslav Balastik
With the Czechs agreeing to partake in the new IIHF agreement with the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets finally had the A-OK to go and sign Balastik to a contract. According to Sportsnet, it's a one year deal. The time is right for Jaro to try his hand at the North American game, otherwise he'll be too old for the Jedi training.
From the official news release:
Balastik (pronounced ba-LASH-tihk) has been the top goal scorer in the Czech Extraliga the past two seasons. In 2004-05, he tallied 30-16-46 and 74 penalty minutes in 52 games with Zlin and was named the Czech League's Best Forward. In addition to leading the league in goals, he was tied with Blue Jackets teammate David Vyborny for fifth in points. In 2003-04, he collected 29-18-47 and 54 penalty minutes in 51 outings and was the top goal scorer and ninth-best point producer in the league.
"Jaroslav Balastik has been the most dynamic goal scorer in the Czech Elite League the past two seasons," said MacLean. "He's a big, strong player who has a real knack for finding the net. We think he has a chance to be an impact player."
Balastik, 25, was Columbus' ninth pick, 184th overall, in the 2002 Entry Draft. He has spent most of the past seven seasons playing in the Czech Extraliga, registering 117-98-215 and 242 penalty minutes in 331 games with Zlin. Since 2001-02, he has picked up 98-61-159 in 184 games. He spent part of the 2002-03 season with Hameenlinna in the Finnish Elite League, totaling 5-7-12 and two penalty minutes in 13 contests. Balastik also played for the Czech Republic at the 1999 World Junior Championships and the 2003 World Championships
Note to idiot media: Balastik is pronounced BA-la-shteek (or BA-lash-teek, whatever is easier for ya), not ba-LASH-tihk.
Anyway, when you pick this guy up in the late rounds of your fantasy/simulation leagues, just remember where you heard about him first ;)
Predictions with Conviction (sort of...)
He also asked us bloggers to submit some of our predictions for the upcoming season.
While it seems too early to be making predictions, I’m always game to make myself look stupid with some somewhat-well-thought-out predictions. This year will be especially hard to predict, given the incredible roster turn over and the aging of players (young and old). My Pythagorean Standings won’t be as powerful and useful with so much roster turnover.
The most interesting aspect of this year’s schedule is the greater amount of games against division opponents. The Vancouver Canucks play in a rather strong division and teams within that division could have their playoff chances hurt while weaker teams in other divisions could always sneak in thanks to playing the Washington Capitals or Chicago Blackhawks every other week.
Here are my current predictions for the Top 8 in each conference. I selected the rankings based on an overall finish, rather than the current setup of ‘Division Winners go 1-3’.
1. Calgary Flames
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Nashville Predators
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. Dallas Stars
8. Phoenix Coyotes
1. Boston Bruins
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. Ottawa Senators
5. New Jersey Devils
6. Montreal Canadiens
7. New York Islanders
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
Now, some comments on teams I didn’t pick to make the playoffs
i. Edmonton Oilers – I know getting rid of Tommy Salo and putting in the ghost of Kari Takko is an improvement, but Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen are simply decent backups until they prove otherwise. The competitive division will likely hurt the Oilers and the team has crap down the middle. For all of the ‘improvements’ that the Oilers made, I still think their roster isn’t very impressive overall. If Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky can have breakout NHL seasons, they might sneak in.
ii. Toronto Maple Leafs – Way too many question marks with the health of their team: Owen Nolan, Ed Belfour, Jason Allison, and Eric Lindros. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Leafs finish 5th in the conference and displace the Islanders (they could easily suck eggs this year) out of a playoff spot.
iii. Atlanta Thrashers – This up-and-coming team, even with the addition of Jaroslav Modry, still has a very weak looking defence corps. Their goaltending hopes rely on the unproven, but highly touted, Kari Lehtonen. Taking advantage of a weak division is their best hope.
iv. Carolina Hurricanes – I like the additions they’ve made to their roster, but the defence is still pretty weak (and lacks an offensive driver) and too many “What if” players like Radim Vrbata and Pavel Brendl. Goalie Martin Gerber has a good track record, and he'll have be to be damn good for this team to compete for a playoff spot.
v. Los Angeles Kings – I’d love for them to prove me wrong, but they finished in 11th in 03/04 and I don’t think they’ll improve for that. The additions of Pavol Demitra and Jeremy Roenick are offset largely by the loss of Zigmund Palffy and Jaroslav Modry
vi. Minnesota Wild – Pundits hope that the NEW NHL will help hurt teams like the Wild, who rely solely on defence to win games. Really, the lack of talent on the roster is going to hurt them. Why didn’t this team go out and get ANYONE this year?
vii. Anaheim Mighty Ducks – Even with the addition of Scott Niedermayer, the Ducks have a defence that could collapse beneath them (Ozolinsh is Ozolinsh, Carney is pretty old, Marshall can’t skate, Vishnevski is stuck in neutral..), J-S Giguere could really be hurt with the new equipment restrictions, and they are already at $34mil in salary with a few more holes to plug. GM Brian Burke inherited a team with some high salaries and will be hamstrung for awhile. Of course, giving huge dollars to both Niedermayer brothers doesn’t seem all that smart.
viii. New York Rangers – Kevin Weekes? HAHAHAHA. Seriously, the Rangers roster looks weak... the common theme I notice among teams I didn’t pick for the playoffs if their weak defence corps. Up front, the Rangers have more questions (Straka, Rucinsky, Prucha(!), Ward) and not enough answers. If they bring back Mark Messier and his gigantic ego, they might as well kiss any playoff hopes good-bye. (at least they'd get free Lays potato chips)
I’m not putting any money on these predictions, but I’m fairly comfortable with them so far. There is still lots of time left in the off-season for teams to drastically improve or deprove (yes, I can make up my own words) themselves.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
A Cursory Look at the Vancouver Canucks
Nonis also dipped his hand once more into the bargain bin and pulled out one Anson Carter at a price tag of $1mil for 1 season.
Up until his complete collapse in 2003/04, Tarantula Head (as my friend, Duc, calls him) was pretty consistent as a decent 2nd line offensive forward that could be counted on to produce at a pace of 50-60 points a season.
99-00 59GP 22-25-47 +8 14PIM
00-01 61GP 16-26-42 +1 23PIM
01-02 82GP 28-32-60 +3 25PIM
02-03 68GP 25-30-55 -11 20PIM
03-04 77GP 15-13-28 -15 20PIM
Carter completely collapsed in 2003-04 as he was traded twice (from the Rangers to the Capitals to the Kings) within the same season and was a total bust for all 3 teams. He's a big, frustrating winger that doesn't often give a great work ethic and uses his size more for creating offence rather than punishing opponents.
Positives: A good skater who doesn't take bad penalties and is a good 2nd PP unit option. Can play well with other skilled players and has International experience with Team Canada
Weaknesses: Carter gets injured often and can be a big marshmallow when he does play. He's not a guy you can count on at any one point of any one game, but rather a guy you just expect to get his share of points as a member of the 2nd line.
For $1mil and just 1 season, Carter is an acceptable gamble that could pay off well for the Canucks if he returns to his old form. It is expected that he will fight with another frustrating big offensive winger, Jason King (aka Brian Savage II), for the open spot on the Sedin's line.
With the Carter signing, it's time to take a look at the Canucks roster and current salary situation
This does not look good. The Canucks have a minimum salary commitment of $36.3mil, at the very least, if they want to keep this roster together.
1. As you can surely see, the Canucks have only 4 legitimate NHL defensemen. The only way that Nolan Baumgartner should ever touch the ice at GM Place is during the Canucks Family Skate and the Skills Competition. There are no real options in the minors, as prospects like Tomas Mojzis, Kirill Kolstov, and Kevin Bieksa are not even close to being ready. The Canucks have very little room to add 2 legit NHL d-men and the market is drying up.
2. Even the $36.3mil is going to shoot up as Mattias Ohlund (the true lynchpin of the Canucks D) is going to get a raise in arbitration and Ruutu, Cooke (due for a nice raise) and Cloutier still have to sign on the dotted line (although the Canucks would be better off just letting Ruutu rot in hell).
3. As awesome as our first line is, it's never easy to construct a good team when one line makes $14.5 mil and you are capped at around $39mil. We may see more of a gap between the haves and the have-nots as the New NHL and the new CBA rolls on.
With the Canucks on the Highway to the Danger Zone, it's no small wonder why the trade rumours and other BS is starting to heat up the airwaves, newspapers, and computer screens.
Here's the latest crazy rumour from Spector's:
TEAM 1040/MOJO 730 (VANCOUVER) : reported the following wild rumour has been making the rounds involving a major deal between the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks. Apparently first reported on a South Florida sportsradio station, the trade (in its various incarnations) would the Canucks ship a combination of Ed Jovanovski, Dan Cloutier, Jarkko Ruutu, Matt Cooke, and either prospect Ryan Kesler or a high draft pick to the Panthers in exchange for Roberto Luongo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kristian Huselius and a conditional pick.Roberto Luongo? This must have come from a Vancouver radio station.
You can see why you will see more rumours of the like in the next few days. Ed Jovanovski has a high salary and will be an Unrestricted Free Agent next year. The Canucks desperately need to clear some salary room, and Jovocop is one hell of an asset to dangle out there.
Oh, I do know of one pretty solid 2-way defenseman who put up 42 points in 80 games last year and the Canucks could have had for free. His name? Brent Sopel. I'm still scratching my head at how the Canucks could simply give him away for almost nothing. The money they spent on Carter would have been better spent on Brent Sopel.
(I see Sportsnet.ca lists his new salary as $2.4mil a year, which was double the $1.2mil that was reported yesterday. Can these guys get anything right?)
What else is out there? Scott Lachance, Pavel Trnka, Steve Poapst, Jamie Pushor... one of these could be decent if the price is right. There are enough d-men out there to fill out the #5-6 positions, although it won't be pretty.
It's going to be an interesting period in the next few days/weeks as Nonis may be planning something big.
(Edit: Sportsnet.ca 'reports' that Dan Cloutier has signed a $5mil/2 year deal. This would mean his salary figure would be the same as his qualifying amount. Of course, we know Sportsnet gets thing wrong on occassion.)
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Bolts give Big Bucks to Prince Vince
(4 more years! 4 more years! 4 more years!)
The Bolts had to pay big, as Vince had the fortunate position to be an Unrestricted Free Agent at the tender age of 26 and had to find some way to pay the $7,211.33 in property taxes he owes on his pad. (TSN Story)
The Tampa Bay Lightning have locked up star player Vincent Lecavalier for the next four years by signing the talented sniper to a long term contract.
NHL sources have told TSN it's a four-year deal at $6.8 million US a year.
Locking up Lecavalier to a long-term deal was vital for the Lightning, especially since he could have become an unrestricted free agent next year at age 26 under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement.
"You know the 31-year-old (Khabibulin) will become an unrestricted free agent and we were aware of the risk," said Feaster. "But not in our worst nightmares did we ever expect that at the age of 26 ... Vincent would be an unrestricted free agent," said Feaster.
"We were not prepared to lose Vincent, the cornerstone of the franchise, at the age of 26."
$6.8mil a year? Why didn’t I become an NHL player?
(Because you suck, Jes)
Right. Well in any event, I’m shocked at the sheer amount of money Lecavalier will be ‘earning’ over the next 4 seasons. He’s making just $200,000 less than a superior player in Jerome Iginla and making more than a superior player in Markus Naslund. I realize Prince Vince is the ‘franchise’ and all that (and a bag of chips), but I feel the Bolts got taken to the cleaners on this one.
Just consider ...
1. Lecavalier was FOURTH on his team in scoring last year (behind Stillman, St. Louis, and Richards) and just 27th overall in the NHL.
2. Florida has NO personal state income tax. You’d think the Lightning could use that to their advantage when negotiating contracts. A $6.8mil deal in Florida is superior to a $6.8mil deal in Montreal or Los Angeles due to the tax factor.
3. The Bolts sit at $31,139.379 in salary with just 18 players signed. The Bolts still need to sign Martin St-Louis, who will want some significant change after seeing Vince rake it in like maple leaves in October. Perhaps Martin will be the odd man out and will sign with the Florida Panthers and really give Bolts fans something to cry about.
Poor Brad Richards! Really, the guy has outperformed Lecavalier throughout his NHL career and gets half the money and half the hype because he’s not 6’4” and doesn’t have a bigger chin than Jay Leno.
Let’s compare ...
2003-04 82GP 26-53-79 +14 12PIM
2002-03 80GP 17-57-74 +3 24PIM
2001-02 82GP 20-42-62 –18 13PIM
2000-01 82GP 21-41-62 –10 14PIM
Playoffs – 34GP 12-19-31 +2 16PIM
2003-04 81GP 32-34-66 +23 52PIM
2002-03 80GP 33-45-78 even 39PIM
2001-02 76GP 20-17-37 –18 61PIM
2000-01 68GP 23-28-51 –26 66PIM
Playoffs – 34GP 12-10-22 –4 47PIM
Brad Richards has won both the Lady Byng and Conn Smythe trophies. Vinnie has never won a single NHL award.
Although Vincent has the size, mad stickhandling skillz and plays center, he has been less valuable to his team than Brad Richards has over their tenure. Richards outscores Lecavalier and takes far fewer stupid penalties (which Lecavalier has been known for over his career).
Looks like Jay Feaster got reamed on this one, folks.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Calgary Flames: The New BIG Market
(and if Todd Bertuzzi wasn't suspended, maybe the Canucks would have won the First Round...or maybe Bert would have taken 15 bad penalties. Who knows? Who cares?)
Now that the new CBA has given rise to a new order, the Calgary Flames have been spending some of that playoffs windfall and are suddenly becoming the league's big spenders. Who would have figured that the Flames would be signing Iginla to a 7mil/year deal and going aggressively after free agents like Daymond Langkow and now Roman Hamrlik?
(As an aside, I think the Flames should have spent the money on getting another GOOD forward, since Hamrlik was awful for Zlin last year and has declined rapidly. Hamrlik doesn't seem like a Sutter-type player, so this could backfire somewhat)
A combination of big, small, and medium free agent signings has left Calgary in a very enviable position as they try to defend their Western Conference champion status. The young players on the roster, such as Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, and Matthew Lombardi, will only continue to improve and help the Flames hold a legitimate spot as one of the new powers in the West.
GM Darryl Sutter has been doing an exceptional job this offseason and the Flames now have 0 Restricted Free Agents to deal with. The only question/rumour/whatever seems to be that defenseman Toni Lydman (not a Sutter favourite, it seems) and the fact that he will likely be traded to make room for Dion Phaneuf and save on some salary.
Let's look at the Flames as of today...
The Flames are now sitting at $36mil+ on the payroll and will be one of the bigger spenders under the new CBA system. Even if the Flames dump Lydman, Phaneuf's contract will take up a big chunk of that savings. I am not sure of Lombardi's contract numbers or Sauve's, so that $36mil number, when the season starts, probably won't go much lower than that.
The one potential weakness on the Flames roster continues to be lack of quality 2nd tier depth. While Chuck Kobasew was a monster last year in the AHL (75 pts in 79 games), he has to prove that he can translate that into scoring at the NHL, lest he become the next Stephen Guolla. Marcus Nilson had a breakout season last year in Sweden with 39 points in 48 games and could, perhaps, turn from a pure checking-line player into a position 2nd liner this season. The 5'11" 191 Matthew Lombardi also has a lot of offensive talent and the Flames will hope the new NHL rules will help a guy like him excel.
If the Flames can get some real production from two or three of these fellows, Amonte, Iginla, and Langkow should be able to provide enough explosive offence to give the Flames a total offence that will scare most teams. The Flames already have a great defence, excellent grit and tenacity, and, if all goes right again, great goaltending. Adding some real offensive pop to that backbone makes this Flames an awfully scary team.
I haven't thought of my predictions yet, but the Flames definitely look like they belong near or at the top of the Western Conference.
(Edit: TSN.ca no longer lists Roman Turek's salary figure as counting against the Flames cap. This would be great news to the Flames if the money they owe Turek isn't counted against their cap. I don't know the CBA enough to know what the dealio is with this whole scenario, so I'm relying on TSN to get that part right.)
Monday, August 15, 2005
Nashville: From Prey to Predators
The Predators' fans can be happy that their current roster is supplemented by a good stock in the prospect ranks. Hockeysfuture.com ranks Nashville #5 in the NHL and lists Ryan Suter (#9) and Shea Weber (#48) among the Top 50 prospects.
Together with 'ladypredator', I have come up with a snapshot of what the Predators current roster/depth chart looks like as of today.
Tomas Vokoun gives the Predators a world-class goalie who can thrive behind a young team with his acrobatic style. His teammates have loads of confidence in his abilities and he's very capable of playing a heavy workload. Behind him sits Chris Mason, who is the typical 'New NHL Backup': A guy who makes $450,000 and plays about 10-15 games. Mason is an average backup goaltender, but not the type of goalie you want to have around if your #1 starter ever gets injured.
Brian Finley - Here is a perfect example of two things. First, goaltenders have a long development curve and take longer than any other position to develop into an NHL +impact regular. Second, never give up on your goaltenders too soon. Tomas Vokoun was a perfect example of a goaltender who took a long and winding road to the NHL and Finley seems no different.
After being selected 6th overall in the 1999 draft, Finley was beset by injury after injury and his career looked in doubt. Finley missed the entire 2001-02 season with a severe groin injury and played only (rather ineffective) 57 games in the 3 seasons after he was drafted. It looked like Nashville had a real bust on their hands.
Finley recovered nicely in 2003-04 with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals with a 2.34GAA and .918 SV% in 43 games and then exploded with a sparking 2.29GAA and .921 SV% in 64 games for Milwaukee last season. At the age of 24, Finley's career is back on track and he looks like the future #1 starter that Nashville always envisioned.
A heavily offensively talented group that could take great advantage of the new NHL rules. Youngsters Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Dan Hamhuis will look to get and cement roles with alongside the veterans. The Predators took great advantage of the Flyers' need to cut salary by obtaining the physical Daniil Markov for just a mid-round draft pick. Markov gives the Predators that big physical defenseman they needed since the big Latvian Karlis Skrastins is no longer around. Still, the Predators will have their troubles against big and physical forecheck-oriented squads. I like the skill that this group has, and it would be nice if Shea Weber could develop into a Scott Stevens clone as soon as possible.
With the addition of a proven offensive performer like Paul Kariya, the Predators have great positive-impact depth on both wings. The big black hole is right down the middle, where Predators fans have been clamouring for GM David Poile to sign one more good centerman. The Preds lost out on one decent talent as Florida picked up Chris Gratton for $900,000 over the weekend.
David Legwand has disappointed with his lack of offensive output, but he's a good 2nd line center type. He should fit in OK with Paul Kariya as he can play a similar style to that of Steve Rucchin. Johnson is a 'decent' 3rd line center, while Scott Nichol can fill in the 4th line position with some adequacy.
The BIG question is whether Denis Arkhipov will give the Predators that big 2-way impact centerman who can provide 55-60+ points. After 2 decent seasons in the NHL, Arkhipov entered into the 03-04 NHL season centering the infamous "Vowel Line" with Vladimir Orszagh and Martin Erat. Arkhipov was expected to be the best out of that bunch, and he turned out to be the worst of the lot. Arkhipov finished with just 21 points in 72 games that season and somehow found a way to 'de-progress' himself to the point where the team wanted to demote him.
Arkhipov spent last season in Russia with Kazan (17 points in 45 games) and many Preds fans wish he would stay there. While he is under contract for one more season, there is the question of whether the Predators even want him over here. There was talk that Poile would demote Arkhipov if his play didn't improve drastically, and there would talk that Denis didn't really want to come back.
Given the Predators lack of depth at center, all signs seem to point to giving Arkhipov one more chance. I'd be shocked if Denis could get over 45 points, but that is what the Predators need.
What else can they do?
1. Pray that Simon Gamache (86 points in 80 AHL games last year) turns into Vincent Damphousse-lite and forces the Preds to use him as a top 2 center.
2. Shift Steve Sullivan from RW back to C, where he played before. Sullivan's lack of size and defensive ability would make this option less than appealing.
3. Find an unrestricted option - Travis Green, Vincent Damphousse, Kamil Piros, Esa Pirnes, Yanic Perreault, Cliff Ronning? Ok, maybe not...
Payroll Outlook - It looks like the Predators will have to commit between $30-31 mil for their opening night roster. This gives the Predators some room to add another impact player either now or later in the season through a trade. There is talk that Vladimir Orszagh could re-sign with the club later in the year when he is fully recovered from his severe knee injury.
The salary is spread rather nicely between the roster with Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya taking home the biggest strips of bacon. David Poile still has some work to do as a few key cogs such as Martin Erat, David Legwand, and Adam Hall remained unsigned. The payroll could be pushed up to $32 or $33mil before opening night.
Overall, the Predators have a pretty good team on their hands and room to fill in a couple of weak spots with a good centerman and a positive-impact physical defenseman. Poile has set his club up well and the team is chalk full of young players, many entering or already in their prime...a good mix of not-too-ancient veterans and young whippersnappers. This is not a team that should be taken lightly any longer.
Roman Cechmanek: Done with the NHL
After a terrible 03-04 season with the LA Kings, and the Kings moving forward with Mathieu Garon and Jason LaBarbera, Cechmanek just didn't see any good opportunities left for him in the NHL.
(Edit: Christobal Huet is in Montreal. Thanks to Mirtle for the correction)
Cechmanek was the rare bird that started his NHL career at a very late age of 29 and had no trouble adapting to the NHL. Eventually, his lack of fundamentals and some nagging injuries (groin/hip) slowed him down drastically in his one year with the LA Kings. In his short tenure in the NHL, he did provide some comic relief with his zany style and provided pretty good value for a 6th round pick.
Over 212 career NHL games, Cechmanek compiled a 110-64-28 record with a 2.08GAA and .919SV% - He also won the William Jennings Trophy and finished as a Vezina finalist once.
It is surprising to me, however, that he would end up in Karlovy Vary. Cechmanek spent last year with HC Vsetin, a team in which he had a controlling interest (and had his successful dynasty run). After a disasterous season, Cechmanek and the club mutually agreed for him to give up his management position with the club.
This signing also means that Canucks prospect Lukas Mensator will not have the #1 job for Karlovy Vary like he thought he would. With Rob McVicar likely to be the Canucks AHL #1 goalie, Mensator will have to decide between being an AHL backup or a Czech Extraleague backup. That would be 2 straight summers in which Mensator expected to be a #1 goalie in the Czech league, only to have his team go out and sign some other goaltender.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Kukumberg Leaves Russia for Toronto
Kukumberg spent the 04-05 season with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the Russian Super League and fit in nicely with 10 goals and 11 assists in 51 games to go along with his great defensive play.
My scouting report on Roman from prior to the 03-04 draft:
Following a similar career path to the Penguins’ Tomas Surovy, albeit a year or two slower, Kukumberg ripped apart the Slovak First Division before a promotion to the Extraleague, where his great two-way play earned him a spot on the World Championship squad.
Kukumberg has good size and he’s an excellent skater with great speed. He is solid playmaker who is able to score or pass, although he won’t likely be an elite point producer.
Due to his speed and style of play he is often used in shorthanded situations. Though his numbers on Extraliga were too extravagant, he always proved to be a very valuable forward for his team. Furthermore, he played on the national team in several tournaments, where he performed very well.
Kukumberg didn‘t record any goals or assists at the World Championships, but his play on fourth line was first-class defensively and he earned a good reputation amongst the press. During the tournament, he skated on the checking line and impressed in shorthanded situations as well. Kukumberg is very comparable to Radovan Somik, and could make a workable defensive expert for an NHL club.
I know many Leafs fans don't know who the guy is (and probably think he's another one of them "Soft Europeens"), but I'm sure they'll grow to like him quickly. Roman's a blue collar kind of player and Pat Quinn will be able to plunk him into any game situation.
A bit of amusement from the Slovakian press release:
Slovenský hokejový reprezentant a naposledy hráč ruského Neftechimiku Niznekamsk Roman Kukumberg sa dohodol na podmienkach ročného kontraktu s tímom NHL Toronto Maple Leaves.
Editor: "But, Maple Leafs is wrong! It should be Leaves. I don't get it"
Jes: "Sorry, logic and proper grammar doesn't apply to the people of Toronto!"
Thursday, August 11, 2005
From the NHLPA, the following players filed for salary arbitation:
New York Islanders
Club-Elected Salary Arbitration Notification deadline is August 11, 2005 at 5 p.m. EST.Hearings will be held in Toronto during the period of August 23 – 27, 2005.
It looks like Mad Mike Milbury will be quite busy, with Mike York and Brent Sopel (he just traded for them) added to their list.
Remember kids, this isn't your mama's arbitation. The two sides will each pick a number, and the arbitator will pick EITHER/OR, and not some random number from the sky.
As a general matter, players will be eligible for salary arbitration after four years in the League instead of three. For the first time, Clubs also will have the right to elect salary arbitration with respect to two categories of players. For players who are earning more than $1.5 million in their prior year, Clubs will have the right to elect salary arbitration in lieu of making a Qualifying Offer. Clubs also will have the right to elect salary arbitration with respect to other Group 2 players who chose not to take the Club to arbitration.
I just wonder if 1. the arbitrators will be just as player-friendly as before and 2. if any of the NHL clubs will seek to take players to arbitration, rather than the other way around.
The Senate Problem
The CBA isn't just hurting the big market teams like Toronto, the small market Senators will feel the pinch after years of building their team the 'right' way.
With a bunch of great young talents entering their primes, you know it will get too expensive to keep them all. Even if owner Eugene Melnyk was willing to spend the money to keep each of his guys, he wouldn't be able to. Every player wants their piece of the pie, and one or more of them will have to be dealt...
Yesterday, the Sens took the first step in locking up two of their key components:
The Senators have re-signed right-winger Martin Havlat to a $2.6-million US, one-year contract and centre Mike Fisher to a three-year deal that will pay him $1.5 million next season.
...and then this bombshell
Hossa told the Sun yesterday he turned down a three-year deal -- sources say it was worth $11.5 million (all figures US) -- from the Senators last week.
If he's going to sign a long-term contract with Ottawa, he wants close to the $21 million over three years that Jarome Iginla got from Calgary.
We're at a dead point right now," said Hossa, who was scheduled to make $3.45 million last season. "We are nowhere. They offered me a three-year contract, but it wasn't good enough.
"It wasn't anywhere close to my comparables. If you look at my points the last two seasons, they've been close to Iginla and (Boston's Joe) Thornton.
Someone should let Maid Marian Hossa that, under the new CBA, every dollar that he 'earns' is a dollar that CANNOT be spent on another player salary for his team.
Now, I hear a lot of people say that Hossa couldn't possibly earn himelf Iginla money. They (you know who 'they' are) say Hossa doesn't have the physicality and intangible assets that Iginla brings to the table.
Arbitrators, however, do not measure physical and intangible assets. They look at the hard numbers.
03-04 81GP 36-46-82 +4
02-03 80GP 45-35-80 +8
01-02 80GP 31-35-66 +11
03-04 81GP 41-32-73 +21
02-03 75GP 35-32-67 -10
01-02 82GP 52-44-96 +27
So, Hossa has stayed a bit healthier the last two seasons and has outproduced Iginla in that same stretch. Yes, I know Hossa plays with MUCH better linemates, but arbitrators have never really cared who the player has played with.
Looking at those numbers, which arbitrators and agents do, Hossa has a very good case to get Iginla type money, even if he's not as truly valuable as Iginla on the ice.
Anyway, we can pretty much guess with Senator will find himself out the door sooner than later.
For more great Senators coverage, check out the new Hockey Country Blog written by Chris McMurtry. There certainly is a lot of doom and gloom for a team that had such a bright future going for it.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Blues Analysis/Update: McAmmond, Salvador Sign.
McAmmond spend last year with Albany of the AHL, and gives the Blues a decent two-winger with great speed and hands of cement.
His production and skill level is more suited for the 3rd line, but he'll play a bigger role with the Blues out of necessity.
04-05 Albany (AHL) 79GP 19-42-61 -1 72PIM
03-04 Calgary (NHL) 64GP 17-13-30 +9 18PIM
02-03 Colorado (NHL) 41GP 10-8-18 +1 10PIM
01-02 Calgary (NHL) 73GP 21-30-51 +2 60PIM
Strengths: Has blinding speed coming down the wing. Is versatile enough to play any forward position. Displays sound two-way ability.
Flaws: Has a lot of difficulty finding the net on a regular basis and goes through lengthy scoring droughts. Has a propensity to get hurt because of his all-out style.
With McAmmond in the fold, Salvador agreeing to a new 3-year contract, and Boguniecki accepting his qualifying offer, here is an updated look at the Blues roster as it stands today. After reading the CBA some more in greater detail, I believe the qualifying numbers in the spreadsheet are now more accurate.
The Blues have a minimum salary commitment of $33.3mil if they resign their RFA's at the bare minimum. Given this figure and the remaining UFA's in the market (not much left), it doesn't look like the Blues will be able to add one more solid forward to the ranks. The Blues could actually half a decent outside shot if they added one more average 2nd line winger. The goaltending should be at least average, and the defence looks at least average with some good upside to rise above that watermark.
Larry Pleau's biggest task will be to get Eric Brewer signed to a long-term deal at a reasonable cost. Jamal Mayers and Marc Rycroft will have to decide whether to take their QO's or take their changes with offer sheets from other teams. Since I can't see any other team making an RFA offer for either of them, I would expect them to sign their QO or a contract for very similar numbers.
Slovak Golden Puck Award Winners
The evening's big winner was none other than (Surprise!) Lubomir Visnovsky. (And not just because he had the hot girlfriend)
Best Hockey Player: Lubomir Visnovsky (Last year's winner - Miro Satan)
Runners Up: Marian Hossa, Zigmund Palffy
Best Goalie: Jan Lasak (He won last year, too)
Runners Up: Krazy Karol Krizan, Rastislav Stana
Best Defenseman: Lubomir Visnovsky (Last year's winner - Zdenko Chara)
Runners Up: Martin Strbak, Zdeno Chara
Best Forward: Marian Hossa (Last year's winner - Michal Handzus)
Runners Up: Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Pavol Demitra
Best Coach: Milos Riha of evil $lovan Bratislava
Best Extraleague Player, as voted on by the Player's association: Pavol Demitra
Best Extraleague Player, as voted on by the fans: Michal Handzus
Top Rookie: Peter Ölvecký (Minnesota Wild prospect)
Slovak Extraleague All-Star Team
G: Karol Krizan
D: Lubomir Visnovsky, Rene Vydareny
F: Pavol Demitra, Michal Handzus, Miroslav Satan