Jun 272011
 

Don’t let anyone ever tell you there aren’t trades to be made in a salary-capped NHL.

Philadelphia got the NHL summer silly-season underway with a stunning move that sent Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to Los Angeles and Columbus, respectively. Then they signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal.

Not quite sure how this makes the Flyers better for the 2011-12 season, but the Kings and Blue Jackets certainly are.

Other deals over the weekend came fast and furious:

  • The Buffalo Sabres signaled they’ve got cash by acquiring Robyn Regehr for a bag of pucks.
  • The San Jose Sharks signaled they know why they lost to the Canucks in the playoffs, trading for Minnesota’s Brent Burns and upgrading their defense big time.
  • The Ottawa Senators signaled desperation by acquiring Nikita Filatov.
  • The Capitals signaled they want to get tougher, acquiring rugged winger Troy Brouwer from the Blackhawks.
  • The Florida Panthers signaled they’re in the market for bad contracts to reach the salary cap floor ($48.3 million), trading with Chicago for the high-priced, much maligned Brian Campbell.
  • The Edmonton Oilers signaled they’re actually interested in drafting something other than first overall, trading with Los Angeles for notorious weeper Ryan Smyth.

In the spirit of all this movement, here now is one man’s opinion on the best* moves each NHL team could make during the rest of the off-season.

(*: At times in this article “best” may also serve as a synonym for “most interesting,” “easiest” or “most controversial.”)

Anaheim Ducks

Their move: Sign UFAs Teemu Selanne and Jussi Jokinen
Why: The team has money and some solid prospects, but at this very moment they need scoring depth. Selanne has one more year left in him, and adding Jokinen would give the Ducks an all-Finnish second line. That just sounds fun.

Boston Bruins
Their move: Sign UFA Christian Ehrhoff
Why: These are the Stanley Cup champions, and yet, they’re still underrated by many around the league. A full season from Rich Peverley and improved play from Tyler Seguin should easily replace the offense lost from Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder. What the team really needs is an offensive defenseman. Ehrhoff is the best one on the market and is young enough to be a core member of a contending team for years to come. While Boston has to get Brad Marchand under contract, they should still have enough room under the salary cap to give Ehroff $5-6 million a season. This is the financial flexibility afforded by Marc Savard’s long-term injury.

Buffalo Sabres

Their move: Sign UFAs Brooks Laich, Raffi Torres and Zenon Konopka
Why: Buffalo, fast and skilled, is also one of the smaller teams in the NHL. With new money to spend, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them very active on the UFA front. Robyn Regehr is a start on the size-issue, and adding additional grit and toughness in Torres and Konopka (who’s also great on faceoffs) would help make dynamic players like Nathan Gerbe and Derek Roy play a little taller. Laich could slide into a top-six scoring role.

Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals
Their move: Trade Jarome Iginla to Washington for Alex Semin and conditional draft picks.
Why: Crazy and controversial, but explainable. First off, the Capitals need to shake-up their core – a core that has led to post-season disappointments in back-to-back playoffs. Semin is an enigma with 50-goal potential, but he’s been brutal come playoff time. In Iginla, the Capitals would get a player who represents all the qualities they seem to lack, and puts them on the fast-track to win now. Meanwhile, the Flames have nowhere to go but down in the standings. Jay Feaster is resisting a rebuild, but the core of this team is aging faster than Renee Zellweger. It would be a very unpopular move, since Iginla has so many intangibles Semin seems to lack. But Semin’s offensive ceiling is much higher than Iginla’s. In fact Semin could be the most offensively-talented Flame since Kent Nilsson or Hakaan Loob in the 1980s. And in today’s NHL, you pay big money for scoring, but can always find character in the bargain bin. The conditional draft picks would be related to the Flames resigning Semin (who’s a UFA after this year), and how far the Capitals get in the post-season.

Carolina Hurricanes
Their move: Sign UFA Andrew Brunette
Why: Brunette might be the slowest skater in the NHL, but he’s terrific in front of the net on the powerplay. He’d add some complimentary scoring, along with some veteran experience, to Carolina’s top-six. This is important, since the Hurricanes currently look like they’re ready to ice a group of forwards whose average age could qualify them for the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Chicago Blackhawks
Their move: Sign UFA Erik Cole
Why: Cole has terrific size and speed to go with a decent scoring touch. He’s won a Cup before, and his style of play would easily replace Troy Brouwer in the Chicago lineup.

Colorado Avalanche
Their move: Sign Tomas Vokun
Why: The team needs a goaltender desperately, particularly since they prefer to play an offense-first, fast-paced style. Vokun would probably prefer to go to a contender, but most of them are set between the pipes. With the salary cap floor issue staring them in the face, let’s not forget the Avalanche have a lot of money to offer.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Their move: Sign UFA Cory Stillman
Why: The Blue Jackets probably need a defenseman more, but I can’t see them winning the sweepstakes for any of the top free agent blueliners available. A playmaking winger to go with shooters Jeff Carter and Rick Nash sounds like a more affordable shopping excursion, and low-and-behold Cory Stillman is available. Columbus has some room to make sure salary dollars aren’t an issue for Stillman either.

Dallas Stars
Their move: Sign UFA Tim Connolly
Why: Let’s keep in mind that the Stars are trying to be sold, so they’re operating under a budget, and can’t spend to the cap. They have to spend to the floor though, and Tim Connolly’s playmaking skills are Richards-esque.

Detroit Red Wings
Their move: Sign Tomas Kaberle
Why: A cerebral, smooth-passing defenseman, it’s easy to see Kaberle fitting into the Red Wings puck-control offense very well. With Brian Rafalski retiring, Kaberle is the next best thing.

Edmonton Oilers
Their move: Trade for Ryan Smyth and sign UFA Scott Hannan
Why: The Oilers can use all the intangibles Smyth brings, while serving as an offensive bridge while the youngsters continue to develop. Hannan has lost a ton of footspeed, but the Oilers could use a veteran, defensive presence on the back-end.

Florida Panthers
Their move: Sign Pascal Leclaire
Why: It’s a stop-gap measure until Jacob Markstrom is ready, but Leclaire at one-point showed the talent to be a top-10 NHL goalie. Injuries and inconsistency have prevented that from happening, but with the Panthers he’d get a second chance. As stated elsewhere, the Panthers have a lot of work to do this off-season to reach the salary-cap floor.

Los Angeles Kings
Their move: Sign UFA Simon Gagne
Why: With all due respect to Anze Kopitar, he can’t do it alone, and Mike Richards gives the team elite depth down the middle (Richards, Kopitar, Jarrett Stoll). Add to that a plethora of young wingers in the pipeline, two elite defensemen on the back-end in Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, and solid goaltending from Jonathan Quick, and suddenly the Kings are Stanley Cup contenders. With Richards signed, Simmonds gone and Smyth on the way out, the Kings could use another veteran shooter. Gagne had a very strong second half, has played with Richards before, wants to win and would fit comfortably under the salary cap.

Minnesota Wild
Their move: Sign UFA Anton Babchuk
Why: The Wild need to replace Brent Burns. Babchuk is less expensive than other two-way options on the market, and is young enough that he still has upside.

Montreal Canadiens
Their move: Trade Scott Gomez to the Florida Panthers for Shawn Matthias
Why: The urgency of reaching the salary cap floor is an opportunity for the Canadiens to unload Gomez, whose $7 million salary really handicaps Montreal’s payroll flexibility. In Gomez, the Panthers get a Stanley Cup winning veteran with strong leadership qualities, whose playmaking skills could fit nicely with youngsters Jack Skille, Evgeny Dadonov and Niclas Bergfors. Matthias is young, with good size which Montreal lacks. The former top prospect has had a tough time putting it together at the NHL level, and a change in scenery may help.

Nashville Predators
Their move: Sign Nikolai Zherdev
Why: Sure he isn’t exactly interested in many things beyond Nikolai Zherdev, but he did score 16 goals in limited time with Philadelphia. In a thin year for unrestricted free agents, Zherdev might have some of the best offensive tools available. It’s high-risk, but the reward could be high too, especially when you consider a) what Zherdev might cost and b) the Predators budget. Besides, if anyone can keep him in line, it’s coach Barry Trotz.

New Jersey Devils
Their move: Trade Darius Zubrus to Colorado Avalanche for Ryan Stoa, sign UFA James Wisniewski
Why: Zubrus is a big veteran who is defensively sound and can play all three forward positions. The size of the contract would help the Avalanche reach the salary cap floor. Meanwhile, the Devils gain some cap flexibility, and in Stoa they get a cheaper player who has similar size and strength. Wisniewski fills an offensive need on back-end.

New York Islanders
Their move: Sign UFA Joni Pitkanen
Why: There’s no guarantee Marek Streit returns after his shoulder injury at the top of his game, and Pitkanen would add another strong puck-moving defenseman to the roster. Granted, we are talking about GM Garth Snow and Owner Charles Wang, so doing the “best” or “right” thing isn’t necessarily a priority for the organization.

New York Rangers
Their move: Trade Wade Redden to any team with salary floor issues for a conditional draft pick.
Why: The salary cap floor is a gift from heaven for GM Glen Sather, who has a few teams (16 teams are currently under the salary cap floor) looking to add dollars.

Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues
Their move: Trade Daniel Alfredsson to St. Louis for Jayden Schwartz and draft picks.
Why: Daniel Alfredsson has been the good soldier, but the clock is about to strike midnight on his career (and has already struck midnight on his deteriorating back). In St. Louis he could take a veteran leadership role, mentoring the young Swede Patrick Berglund and playing on what should be a strong playoff team for the rest of his days. Contrary to what Bryan Murray may have you believe, the Senators as currently constituted are a mess. The team lacks scoring depth up front, and the team’s best prospects (David Rundbald, Jared Cowen) are defensemen. The collegiate Schwartz is a potential second-line, playmaking centre, and is expendable since the Blues already have some good young forwards in the mix.

Philadelphia Flyers
Their move: Not trading away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards
Why: As good as Ilya Bryzgalov is, his contract with the Flyers (roughly $5.3 million per season) didn’t necessitate trading both Richards and Carter. It’s rumoured off-ice or dressing room issues with Chris Pronger was the reason Richards was dealt, but who would you rather have – a 26-year old, perennial Selke Trophy candidate who can score 30-goals, or a 37-year old injury prone, once dominant defenseman who is signed until he’s 42? Meanwhile, Jakub Voracek has not played up to his potential in any season since joining the Blue Jackets, and Wayne Simmonds looks at-best to be a 25-goal guy. Add to that, Brayden Schenn now faces the daunting task of replacing Mike Richards in Flyers fans hearts and minds. Philadelphia, Stanley Cup finalists a year ago, have definitely taken an interim step back.

But since we can’t go back in time, their best move is re-signing Ville Leino.

Phoenix Coyotes
Their move: Sign UFA Ray Emery
Why: Ilya Bryzgalov was the biggest reason the Coyotes made the playoffs in the last two seasons. With Tomas Vokun likely looking elsewhere for more money, the Kings likely unwilling to trade Jonathan Bernier inside their own division, and the Canucks unlikely to trade Cory Schneider with Roberto Luongo’s demons, this is the next best goaltending option.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Their move: Signing UFA Tomas Fleischmann
Why: Fleischmann is certainly an injury risk, but he has high offensive-IQ and would look very good on the wings of either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It’s a cheap, high-risk, high-reward investment that could have a 60-70 point payoff. You know, exactly what they were hoping to get last year from Mr. Hilary Duff, Mike Comrie.

Jaromir Jagr would be a really fun fit in Pittsburgh as well, as long as you consider a) he would be the league’s slowest player and b) if he struggles at all he could become a dressing room distraction.

San Jose Sharks
Their move: Sign UFAs Jan Hejda and Scott Upshall
Why: Defense is clearly the team’s glaring weakness, even with the acquisition of Burns. Hejda is an underrated shutdown defenseman, and adding him to the Sharks blueline would give San Jose some nice depth. Meanwhile, if they can find a way to afford him, Upshall would replace Setoguchi as a nice complimentary scorer on a team that’s going for the Stanley Cup in 2011-12.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Their move: Sign UFAs Marty Reasoner and Ian White
Why: The signing of Eric Brewer really was the best thing the Lightning could do in the off-season. He is an underrated defenseman who shone in the playoffs. Marty Reasoner doesn’t have the quickest wheels, but he’s an effective third-line player. Ian White would be an upgrade on Marc-Andre Bergeron, and would improve the Lightning powerplay cheaply.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Their move: Sign UFA Brad Richards
Why: Unless you’ve been living in a cave, Brian Burke has made it clear the team needs a number one centre. Richards will go to whoever can pay him the most. The Leafs have a lot of money to offer. Unless Richards takes less to sign in a) New York or b) with a contender, it seems like a lock he’ll be wearing blue and white next year. When you add John-Michael Liles to the mix, these moves would seemingly make the Leafs a playoff team.

Vancouver Canucks
Their move: Sign UFAs Kevin Bieksa and Michael Ryder
Why: Bieksa is a swiss army knife defenseman, doing all things reasonably well. His play in 2010-11 demonstrated he can be a strong #2 defenseman. Ryder provides complimentary scoring depth on a team that really lacks it. He’s Alex Burrows 2.0 without the biting.

Winnipeg Jets
Their move: Trade Ron Hainsey and Patrice Cormier to the Phoenix Coyotes for Shane Doan
Why: On first blush this is a sentimental trade, bringing back the only remaining Winnipeg Jet not named Teemu Selanne. Yet Doan would bring consistency and commitment to a team that was lacking both last year, along with 20-goal hands. Meanwhile the Coyotes, in losing Ilya Bryzgalov, are not a playoff team this year. Cormier has power-forward potential and would join an assortment of young Coyote prospects. Hainsey is a solid two-way defenseman that has become somewhat expendable in Winnipeg with the emergence of Dustin Byfuglien and Johhny Oduya.

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