Jan 152011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks

Photo credit: Forbes

As the NHL All-Star Game approaches (yawn), so too does the trade deadline and the final stretch towards the Stanley Cup playoffs.

While there is some significant separation between playoff and non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference is a dogfight.

With this in mind, here now are five GMs facing important decisions at this stage of the season.

Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks

The Challenge: Some questionable moves and a weakened backend has turned the perennially contending San Jose Sharks into a team that might miss the playoffs.

His Choice: Does he make a move now to save the season, or does he ride it out and make major changes in the off-season?

One Opinion: Ride it out. Outside of Danny Boyle, it’s obvious the Sharks defence struggles moving the puck. Granted, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been miserable, but together they take up so much salary cap room that it is impossible to make significant roster changes during the year. Expect the Sharks to try and upgrade their defence in a minor way, while hoping their “Big 3” can turn it on in time to make the post-season.

Crazy Thought: If this was the NBA, where sign-and-trades are common, you could almost rationalize a Tomas Kaberle for Patrick Marleau type of move. The Leafs need more top-end forward talent, consider themselves deep on defence, and have some salary cap room. Alas, this isn’t the NBA, and Kaberle is a pending UFA after this year.

Bryan Murray, Ottawa Senators

The Challenge: Starting to rebuild the Ottawa Senators franchise before he is fired.

His Choice: There are a ton of choices, but perhaps the most interesting is to trade Daniel Alfredsson for prospects and draft picks.

One Opinion: Trade Alfie. If he’s open to being dealt, Alfredsson would be a very attractive piece around the NHL. In addition to his on-ice contributions (currently leading the Sens team in points), Alfredsson is a bit of a bargain. During the last two years of his contract, his cap hit is $4.875 per year. However, he’ll be paid just $5.5 million ($4.5 million + $1 million) over the same period. That’s intriguing math to a budget-conscious contending team that could use an experienced, top-six forward. At the same time, dealing Alfredsson to a contender would be a symbolic “turning of the page” for the Senators franchise.

Crazy Thought: It’s not really that crazy. Everyone knows the Los Angeles Kings have cap space and are looking for a top-6 scoring forward. They’re a natural fit. It’d be more fun to see Alfie in Colorado though – a young team that loves to run-and-gun and has some cap space as well.

Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers

The Challenge: Tallon was very adamant his plan was to rebuild the Florida Panthers using the same scorched earth approach he used to rebuild the Chicago Blackhawks. And yet there have been enough on-ice positives this year that the playoffs are still a possibility.

His Choice: Stick to the long-term plan or make a post-season run.

One Opinion: Stick to the plan. Under Peter DeBoer and back-stopped by Tomas Vokun, the Panthers have been one of the elite defensive teams in the NHL this year. If they were able to generate any kind of offense, they’d be even closer to the playoffs than they are now (nine points back). However, trading for offense is usually costly, and young offense is rarely dealt around the NHL. Let’s not forget, this is one of the older teams in the NHL. While they’ve kept things interesting, it’s in the team’s best interest to move some pieces at the trade deadline and keep getting younger.

Crazy Thought: Trades between teams in the same division are rarely made. It’s too bad, since Niclas Bergfors is young, can score and is lodged in the Atlanta Thrashers doghouse. It would be interesting to see what he could add to the Panthers offense down the stretch.

Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Challenge: The Toronto Maple Leafs were supposed to be better than 25th in the NHL by this stage of team’s rebuilding plan.

His Choice: Fire Ron Wilson or keep him for another year.

One Opinion: Keep Wilson. Wilson is a decent, detail-oriented coach that insists on having his team play a puck-pursuit, aggressive style of hockey. Sadly, there just isn’t enough talent on the team to execute this style effectively. It’s not his fault either that the team hasn’t had a good goaltender during his entire Leafs coaching career.

Crazy Thought: One rumour out of Toronto is that Brian Burke is set to replace Rich Peddie as President of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. If that’s the case, Dave Nonis would become the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. General Manager’s usually want their “own guy” behind the bench, meaning that if Burke moves “up,” Wilson’s probably “out.”

Don Maloney, Phoenix Coyotes

The Challenge: The Phoenix Coyotes are proving last year’s playoff appearance wasn’t a fluke, and impending free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov remains the biggest reason for the team’s success.

His Choice: Sign Bryzgalov or lose him to free agency in the off-season.

One Opinion: Sign him. Like all things with the Coyotes, this one’s complicated by their dicey ownership situation. There is no question that the team would like to re-sign Bryzgalov, but first they want an owner in place to sign the cheques. That’s a fine argument, except when you consider that Bryzgalov may be one of, if not the, most valuable player in the NHL. Without him this Coyotes team goes back to looking like a lottery-pick, bottom-dwelling mess. As the current owners of the franchise, the NHL should do what’s necessary to solidify the franchise’s existence, while protecting the team as an investment, and get Bryzgalov signed.

Crazy Thought: Damien Cox already mentioned it, but the Toronto Maple Leafs would have a big interest if Ilya Bryzgalov became a free agent. Remember, Brian Burke is Bryzgalov’s former GM and did him a favour by placing him on waivers three years ago. That being said, there would be a number of teams eager to bid on an elite NHL goalie. Bryzgalov’s return to Phoenix would be doubtful if he became a UFA.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • While they’re struggling of late, the Los Angeles Kings are still a +16 in the goals for/goals against department. That’s fourth in the Conference, behind Chicago, Detroit and Vancouver.
  • Not sure what exactly it means in the big picture of things, but Pierre LeBrun ranks each NHL Division.
  • James Mirtle looks at the NHL’s best defensive forwards and defensive defencemen at the half-way mark. While not the most foolproof analysis, it serves as another reminder that Tomas Plekanec has become quite the player for Montreal.
  • Statistically, the worst team 5-on-5 but in the playoffs? The Tampa Bay Lightning. Those numbers should really improve if Dwayne Roloson can keep up his play in goal.
  • Statistically, the best team 5-on-5 but outside the playoff picture? Florida. They’re knocking on the door of being a top-10 team in this area.
  • With the success of the Winter Classic, both financially, critically and schmooze-festly, there’s no need for an All-Star Game anymore. NHL should just name a mid-season All-Star team and be done with it.
  • Remember when Simon Gagne was considered the defensive presence on an Olympic line with Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla? Well he’s a -20 in 26 games this year.
  • NHL ice-time leaders amongst forwards: 1. Ilya Kovalchuk 2. Eric Staal 3. Sidney Crosby 4. Corey Perry 5. Brad Richards. 6. Alex Ovechkin. The most interesting name appears at #25: former Leafs castaway Alex Steen is playing 20 minutes a night in St. Louis.
Dec 312010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Jay Feaster, Calgary Flames

Photo credit: Calgary Herald

So just how big a project is rebuilding the Calgary Flames?

Countless articles and endless minutes of media coverage in Canada over the holidays talked about how Darryl Sutter left this team without the young or tradeable assets necessary to build hope for a better future.

The bar is being set incredibly low for Jay Feaster. Basically, if he makes a couple of trades for draft picks at the deadline, columnists will award him a Bronze Star for valour.

The thing is, the Flames situation is desperate only if you believe they should be competitive right now. In short, if you drank from the Sutter kool-aid, you’re a very unhappy person right now.

Yet most Flames fans stopped drinking this Kool-Aid long ago. Similar to up the road in Edmonton, Flames fans are just hungry for a period of sustained success. They are tired of mediocrity. And mediocrity is all that Darryl Sutter has been able to muster since the lockout.

Which is why it was most alarming to hear Jay Feaster say in his first press conference how the playoffs were a goal for the team.

Perhaps it was an empty promise. However, the post-lockout NHL has proven itself to be an incredibly difficult place to remain competitive and rebuild at the same time.

These days, the best talent is locked in contract-wise, which means there aren’t the same rebuilding options as there used to be on the UFA market each summer. Similarily, good young talent is also the cheapest, and therefore greatest, asset a team can have in the NHL. So you see less of it on the trade market. Finally, with the league’s salary cap structure, and most teams either maxed out or at their own internal budget, you just don’t see big contracts moved very often.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one team that have tried to have it both ways – rebuild and remain competitive. And while they’ve been successful acquiring a few strong young pieces (Phaneuf, Kessel in particular), their efforts have neither been good enough to turn the franchise into a playoff team, nor bad enough to give the team a collection of top-end draft picks. It’s a tweener franchise, and looks like it could be that way for years to come.

No, if you have a strong front office (and let’s not forget Jay Feaster’s won a Cup already), the best way to build a Cup contender in the post-lockout NHL is to, basically, tank it for a couple of years. It let’s you accumulate assets, cap space and build hope amongst the fan base.

The best thing Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames can do is copy a move from Toronto Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos – communicate that 2013-14 is the year you plan to be ready for a Cup run, and build everything the organization does towards that goal.

Anything else is short-sighted.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • For whatever reason, whether it’s Gord Miller going crazy over goals against Norway, or Pierre Maguire’s usual blind homerism, or the fact that Canada has dominated the tournament for so long, the TSN broadcast of the World Juniors this year seems rather smug and self-congratulatory. Then again, there are a lot of folks who’d say that’s TSN’s approach in a nutshell.
  • One wish for the Flames rebuild: bring back the puck pursuit, offensive hockey the team was known for in its glory years.
  • One team that’s always pointed to as a team that’s “rebuilt” and stayed competitive is the Detroit Red Wings. Well, no team has scouted Europe better, particularly from 1989-2000. Remember, even in the early 1990s there were NHL teams that weren’t interested in drafting Europeans. However, since the hey-day of drafting players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen, it’s been a long time since the Red Wings hit the bulls-eye at the draft. Jonathan Ericsson was supposed to be that player, and he just hasn’t performed up to expectations. The Red Wings are the oldest team in the NHL this season, and have been one of the older teams for years now. It’s hard to believe sure, but the sun has started to set on this dynasty.
  • Remember Jason Smith, the former Oilers captain? If you look closely enough, there’s a lot of Jason Smith in Theo Peckham’s evolving game.
  • Daniel Winnick and Ian Laperriere look like twins.
  • One more Calgary note, it would make sense for Pierre Gauthier to at least kick the tires on bringing Jarome Iginla to Montreal. He’s exactly what that team is missing in a lot of ways, and has played enough defensive-first hockey to fit well into Jacques Martin’s system.
  • Puzzling way to treat Nazem Kadri by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ron Wilson. Bench him for three games. Tell him he added too much muscle in the off-season and has lost a step. Then, send him down to the AHL and, while the door hits him on the way out, hold a media scrum where you mention he needs to get stronger. The best place for Kadri is definitely in the AHL – at least it gets him away from the mixed-messages of Ron Wilson.
  • So Bryan Murray this week complains that there are two-tiers of justice in the NHL. How is this news to an NHL GM?
  • Since Derek Roy’s injury effectively kills the Sabres chances this year of making the playoffs, does this mean we’re watching Lindy Ruff coach out the string? Or does the injury buy him another season?
  • Speaking of injuries, the Oilers’ loss of Ryan Whitney assures that team of a top-5 draft pick at the very least. He was enjoying a breakout, All-Star calibre season before his ankle injury.
  • The development of Logan Couture probably means another disappointing playoff performance could make one of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton or Joe Pavelski available.
  • Michael Farber has five theories on what’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin. Here’s another – that OV has always played on instinct – from the heart, not the head. When other teams figured out how to defend against him, it’s forced him to think and analyze – to go against his instincts – which has slowed his explosiveness right down.
%d bloggers like this: