Nov 042011
 

Dear Gary (aka Bettman-in-da-house, aka Mr. Commish, aka Saviour-of-Winnipeg),

Not to go all Peaches and Herb (or Jeremy Roenick), but “realignment and it feels so good!”

NHL realignment is the hot talk around the league right now, and I know reviews are mixed concerning your latest plan to re-shape the NHL.

Personally, I like what you’ve reportedly done:

Eastern Conference
Division 1Division 2
PhiladelphiaDet/CBJ
WashingtonMontreal
New York RangersOttawa
New York IslandersBoston
New JerseyBuffalo
CarolinaToronto
Tampa BayPittsburgh
Florida
Western Conference
Division 1Division 2
Det/CBJVancouver
WinnipegEdmonton
ChicagoCalgary
DallasColorado
NashvillePhoenix
St. LouisLos Angeles
MinnesotaAnaheim
San Jose

The first round of the playoffs features divisional play (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3).

After the first round, the remaining teams are seeded 1-4, with 1 playing 4, 2 vs 3, etc.

Now, the Penguins and Flyers hate this proposal, because they’ve got a good rivalry going that fills their rinks, and playing in different divisions will hurt that.  

Teams in the proposed eight-team divisions also have a gripe, because mathematically they have a smaller chance of making the playoffs than teams in a seven-team division.

But you know what Gar (can I call you Gar, as in Danny Gare?), I think you should tell these complainers to stuff it. Your proposed plan reduces travel, solves most (but not all) of the league’s geographic issues, and doesn’t do too much to upset most of the NHL’s current/historic rivalries.

Listen. I’m in a charitable mood. I like what you’ve done for hockey in Edmonton and Winnipeg. I like the salary cap era.

Here are two tweaks that take your plan to the next level.

Tweak #1 – Level the playing field

The biggest gripe I’ve seen outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia involves the notion of 8-team divisions and 7-team divisions competing for the same number of playoff spots (4).

That’s easy to fix: make both divisions in each conference the same size. The Eastern Conference gets 16 teams, the Western Conference 14 teams: 

Eastern Conference
Division 1Division 2
PhiladelphiaDetroit
WashingtonMontreal
New York RangersOttawa
New York IslandersBoston
New JerseyBuffalo
CarolinaToronto
Tampa BayPittsburgh
FloridaColumbus
Western Conference
Division 1Division 2
ColoradoVancouver
WinnipegEdmonton
ChicagoCalgary
DallasPhoenix
NashvilleLos Angeles
St. LouisAnaheim
MinnesotaSan Jose

The first round of the playoffs still features divisional play (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3). After the first round, the remaining teams are seeded 1-4, with 1 playing 4, 2 vs 3, etc.

With this small tweak, every team in each Conference has the same odds of making the playoffs. Columbus joins Detroit moving to the East, where both teams geographically should be and want to be. Colorado moves to the “Central-esque” division, where it probably could be if you ever looked at a map of all NHL teams.

Sure, someone may suggest that there’s a greater chance of making the playoffs in the Western Conference than the Eastern Conference. You know what I say to them, Gar? That’s the price you pay for saving thousands of dollars on travel costs, you cheap bastards.

Actually, there’s only one issue with this tweak.

What the heck happens if you have to move the Coyotes out of Phoenix?

Yes Gar, I know that will never happen. I know you’ve been spending the last few years trying to decide which of the 100s of potential owners you want to give the Coyotes to so that the team can stay in Phoenix.

But if, god forbid, you have to move Phoenix, you’ll probably have to move them East (to say, Quebec City? Quelle surprise!). This means you have to, right now, keep Columbus in the West. (Why Columbus? Because they’re still one of the newbie franchises around the board table.)

So, here’s how you solve the 8-team/7-team disparity, while revolutionizing your sport.

 Tweak #2 – Let Teams Pick Their Playoff Opponent 

Eastern Conference
Division 1Division 2
PhiladelphiaDetroit
WashingtonMontreal
New York RangersOttawa
New York IslandersBoston
New JerseyBuffalo
CarolinaToronto
Tampa BayPittsburgh
Florida
Western Conference
Division 1Division 2
ColumbusVancouver
WinnipegEdmonton
ChicagoCalgary
DallasColorado
NashvillePhoenix
St. LouisLos Angeles
MinnesotaAnaheim
San Jose

The four Conference teams with the next best records get the final four playoff spots and the top four teams select their first round opponent. Division winner with the best record picks first. Then the other Division winner. Then the second-place team with the best record. Then the other second-place team gets whoever’s left.  

In the second round, teams are reseeded 1-4 based on regular season performance, with 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3.

Think about the possibilities that result from having teams choose their playoff opponent.

First of all, winning a division or conference would suddenly matter quite a bit. The NHL would reward the best regular season teams by giving them some control – whether it be reduced travel or a weaker opponent. The 11 remaining conference teams would also have equal odds of becoming one of the final four playoff teams – eliminating the eight-team, seven-team divisional bias.

There would be added buzz in April and March as fans talk about potential matchups and seeding races. Instantly, rivalries would be created or renewed once selections are made. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are mad because they don’t play each other as often? Well, problem solved – one can choose to play the other in the first round if they have a good regular season.

Gar, you could take this idea and create another television event, one that would be unique to the North American team sporting market. It would be a professional sports version of the NCAA’s Selection Sunday event. It would be just like the MMA or WWE, where opponents choose one another all the time because it always delivers a compelling storyline.

Mr. Commish, I offer this idea free of charge…although I wouldn’t mind having a division named after me. Or maybe I’ll just take a lifetime invite to the Winter Classic. It’s something we can negotiate later.

You’re welcome.

 THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Isn’t this about the time that the Oilers start falling back to earth? And yet, they played a terrific road game against the Kings, giving up only 19 shots.
  • Same thing can be said about the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are amazingly in first place in the Eastern Conference right now. Then again, it’s been a long time since the Maple Leafs had two scoring lines going like they do right now (Joffrey Lupul-Tim Connolly-Phil Kessel; Clarke MacArthur-Mikael Grabovski-Nik Kulemin).
  • Watching the Blue Jackets-Leafs game, it looked like Leaf shooters were targeting Steve Mason’s blocker-side with great success (4 goals on 11 shots).
  • Speaking of Columbus, this is the earliest they’ve ever gotten to 10 losses. A coaching change is on the way, but Ken Hitchcock isn’t the solution. The Blue Jackets are not strong enough in goal or on defense to play the conservative style Hitchcock demands. At the same time, he hasn’t shown much success coaching younger players, and future of this team is in its prospects.
  • At the same time, anyone who is suggesting Craig Button is a viable candidate for the Blue Jackets front office should give their head a shake. He was a league-worst level GM in Calgary. Lest we forget the trading of J-S Giguere and Marc Savard for bags of pucks, the release of Martin St. Louis and the signing of Roman Turek to a mega-contract.
  • I wonder how folks are feeling about the Erik Johnson for Chris Stewart/Kevin Shattenkirk trade these days? Johnson looks a lot like Bryan McCabe – a big shooter, decent skater with poor defensive instincts. At least McCabe was physical – Johnson plays a Jay Boumeester-like soft defense. Things aren’t puppy dogs and ice cream in St. Louis though either where Chris Stewart has gotten off to a very slow start (2 goals and 3 points in 11 games). In fact, right now the best player might just be Kevin Shattenkirk, who has taken another step, evolving into an intelligent, two-way defenseman playing alongside Alex Pieterangelo.
  • CBC is counting suspensions and concussions this year so you don’t have to.
  • Colorado’s Paul Stastny has yet to score a point at home this year.
  • Mike Smith has been very good for the Coyotes thus far. Makes you wonder what went wrong in Tampa?
  • Speaking of Phoenix, another factor in their early season success is the play of defensemen David Schlemko and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson is becoming a factor at both ends of the ice, and looks more and more like a player you build a team around. Schlemko is strong skater who doesn’t make mistakes with the puck.
  • Kudos to the Predators for inking Pekka Rinne to a 7-year/$49-million contract. Rinne is an elite goaltender, and having him signed long-term means Nashville has an important cornerstone in place. This probably means that one of Shea Weber or Ryan Suter is gone, especially since the Predators have some young depth at defense. It also wouldn’t surprise if Rinne’s $7 million annual salary becomes the defacto ceiling for Predator player contracts.
  • One last Predators note – while the media (particularly in Canada) portray Nashville as hockey backwater, it’s nice to see the team showing it’s willing to spend to build a contender. Predator fans have more trust in the franchise today than they did yesterday.
  • Chicago may just be the best team in the league right now. They’re scoring goals despite a terrible powerplay (8.7%, second-last in the league).
  • Yes, the Minnesota Wild are getting strong goaltending. No, they are not getting the production they’d like out of Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky wasn’t very good last year either, and certainly doesn’t seem like a top-line defenseman anymore. That no-movement, modified no-trade clause in his last contract is starting to look like a big, heavy anchor around GM Chuck Fletcher’s neck.
Oct 312011
 

A few days ago, we explored the first of many trades between the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers, which was the exchange of Jesse Belanger to the Canucks for a third-round draft choice in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. While Belanger only played for a short time in Vancouver and wasn’t offered a contract the following year, the third-round pick the Canucks gave up started a domino effect throughout the Panthers organization from the way they drafted to the players they traded for, the results of which can still be seen on the current Panthers roster and farm system. Today, we’ll be examining one of the most infamous deals in Canucks history, the one that sent an unhappy Russian Rocket to Florida for, amongst others, fan favorite swashbuckling defenseman, Ed Jovanovski.

Year:: 1999
Canucks receive: Ed Jovanovski, Dave Gagner, Mike Brown, Kevin Weeks and a first-round pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Panthers recieve: Pavel Bure, Bret Hedican, Brad Ference and a third-round pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Background: In case you didn’t follow the Canucks during their last Stanley Cup run…which is probably a lot of you young whippersnappers I see on Twitter these days…Pavel Bure is still to this day the most exciting, electrifying, get-up-out-of-your-seat-when-he-touches-the-puck sort of player the Canucks have ever had. Don’t get me wrong…Trevor Linden is still my favorite all-time Canucks player but he never brought the same sort of offensive danger that Bure did when he stepped on the ice. If you watch Alex Ovechkin today and get that sense of anticipation you feel when he gets that black rubber on his stick that he’s going to do something amazing, that’s the sort of sensation Canucks fans expected during Pavel Bure’s 7 seasons with the Canucks.

Bure still sits 7th on the all-time Canucks scoring list, 4th in goals with 9 hat-tricks and 32 game winners. He’s also got a Calder as Rookie of the Year and remains the only Canuck to score 60 goals in a season, which he did back to back from 1992-’94. Most Canucks fans of that era can tell you exactly where they were when Bure scored some of his most important goals, including that incredibly breakaway goal on Flames goaltender Mike Vernon to advance the Canucks to the Conference Final, completing one of the greatest comebacks in team history being down 3-1 in the series and winning three times…all in overtime…to take the series in the seventh game.

But unlike fellow ’94 alumni like Linden, Kirk McLean, Greg Adams and Gino Odjick, Bure isn’t a universally loved player in Vancouver. Despite his absolutely beast-mode 31 points in 24 playoff games that year (24GP-16G-15A-31P), Bure is thought of by many as a selfish player that turned his back on the team that drafted him. Although he had 51 goals in his last season with the Canucks, the canyon between the Russian Rocket and the Canucks organization had grown. By the 1997-’98 season, Bure had told management that he would not be playing for the Canucks again even though he had a year and $8m left on his contract, which led then-GM Brian Burke to trade him halfway through the season to the Florida Panthers.

What Happened: All you need to know this trade is that it happened during the Mark Messier era in Vancouver Canucks history, which were truly the dark ages. After the ’94 Cup run and the ’95 lockout, a number of changes occured in the Canucks organization, including the hiring of Mike Keenan and the acquisition of former New York Rangers center Mark Messier. I won’t go into detail as even talking about this particular moment in time makes the veins in my head bulge and I don’t know what I did with my Messier voodoo doll but suffice to say, Bure wasn’t happy with the team and wanted out.

The trade didn’t really have any playoff implications that year as both the Canucks and Panthers missed the playoffs, with the Canucks occupying the Western Conference basement and the Panthers were only one point ahead of them.

Long-term Consequences:

Canucks: For the Canucks, this trade meant that they immediately lost one of the foremost offensive threats and easily their most explosive player. Despite injuries that shortened several previous seasons, Bure was still productive and when healthy, he remained a top-level player for years to come.

Ed Jovanovski, Vancouver Canucks

The centerpiece in the package the Canucks would get in return was Ed Jovanovski, a former 1st overall defensemen who had spent 4 years with the Panthers already. At 23, he had barely scratched his prime. With the Canucks, “Jovocop” would spend 7 years on a high-flying Canucks team that also featured the West Coast Express of Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. He would play 434 games in that span with his last three years cut short by various injuries. Although the Canucks wouldn’t make it out of the second round of the playoffs during his time here, Jovo put up some very good numbers for Vancouver (434GP-57G-177A-234P) and for me in particular, he is responsible for some of my best memories of that era. I can still see him jumping up and down in the penalty box after Matt Cooke scored against the Flames to send it to overtime (Martin Gelinas would win it for Calgary a minute later) and that time he knocked Adam Deadmarsh the hell out. He had great years in Vancouver but the team was looking for a change in 2006 and Jovo would sign with the Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent.

Dave Gagner, on the other hand, was not particularly important to the Canucks. He played 33 games (33GP-2G-12A-14P) before retiring later that year. At 35, I don’t know why he was even part of the trade but the last time I heard, Burke insisted that he be included. My dad is still angry about this particular part of the trade to this day. Gagner is currently the Director of Player Development for the Canucks.

Mike Brown spent most of his time in the minors after being selected 20th overall by the Panthers in 1997. While not overly big, he still played the enforcer role decently at the minor league level, once topping a whopping 300 PIMs in 1997-’98, a season where he also scored 56 points in 72 games. At the NHL level, he never quite got there despite being a Brian Burke favorite. He played a total of 16 games for the Canucks, with no points and 78 PIMs. He would sign with the Mighty Ducks after the Canucks left him unrestricted in 2002-’03, the season where he would score his only NHL goal.

Kevin Weekes, Vancouver Canucks

Kevin Weekes…oh man, here we go. I’m tempted to talk about his current stint on Hockey Night in Canada but before he tortured our ears with partner Mark Lee (okay, I’m done…), he was the Canucks goalie-from-the-future! …I mean, goalie-OF-the-future. Drafted 41st overall by the Panthers in 1993, Weekes was a big part of the Bure deal as the Canucks were looking for a goalie to stop the revolving door and Weekes showed tremendous promise. Unfortunately, he never panned out with the Canucks, who were disappointed with his play, posting only 6 wins during his tenure of 31 games (31GP-6W-15L-5T/OTL). He would be packaged with Bill Muckalt and Dave Scatchard and sent to the New York Islanders for Felix Potvin, a 2nd and 3rd round pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Potvin would be an even more forgettable goalie and would be dealt to the Kings for future considerations as Dan Cloutier and Bob Essensa took over goaltending duties for the Canucks. Since I can’t find anything about what happened to those “future considerations”, we’ll just assume the Canucks received a shiny bag of pucks, which I’d like to think are still somewhere in Rogers Arena today so we can get some value out of all this.

The 2nd round pick from the Weekes deal was moved to New Jersey in a 3-way trade where the Canucks got Vadim Sharifijanov (…who?) and a 3rd rounder, which ended up being Tim Branham. Branham would never play an NHL game and Sharifijanov, despite scoring a goal in his first shift as a Canuck, played only 17 games (17GP-2G-1A-3P) before he would be released. The 3rd round pick from the Weekes deal was used to draft Thatcher Bell, who also never played a NHL game. Not sure if the Canucks released him or traded him but he has popped up in the Rangers and Ducks system.

With guys like Brad Boyes, Justin Williams and Niklas Kronwall still on the board, the Canucks used Florida’s 2000 first-round draft pick (23rd overall) to draft Nathan Smith. Injuries derailed much of Smith’s time in the Canucks organization where he played from 2002 to 2007. His claim to fame is that he played the same number of games for the Canucks in the regular season and in the playoffs. He would be called up for 4 games spread between 2003 to 2007 and also played 4 postseason games in 2007. He would never score a point at the NHL level, a great example of how poor the Canucks scouting department was at the time. He’s so forgettable that a Google image search brings up a picture of a Smith jersey some ridiculous Canucks fan bought and a screencap of his back. He’s playing in the German Elite League these days.

Today’s results: The Canucks did not get much in return for Bure apart from Jovanovski, who was allowed to walk just like several other players involved in the trade. While the 2000 draft wasn’t deep, several NHL-caliber players were available along with Nathan Smith such as Niklas Kronwall, Brad Boyes, Ilya Bryzgalov and Jarret Stoll but instead, the Canucks picked a bust in Smith and busts with all their other acquired picks as well. As a result, all we are left with today as a result of the Bure trade is a couple pictures of Ed Jovanovski hanging in the halls of Rogers Arena and a bunch of 11-year old pucks.

Panthers: In Bure, the Panthers acquired a game-breaker, one of the only guys in the league at the time that could take over a game all by himself. Unfortunately, Bure’s knees would never be quite what they were as a result of his style of physical play. He would appear in only 11 games the season after the trade (11GP-13G-3A-16P) before he had to have surgery on his ACL. Bure would play 3 more seasons with the Panthers, which included a 58-goal season, a 59-goal season and a 94-point season – the latter two still team records. Bure is 9th on the Panthers scoring leaders (223GP-152G-99A-251P).

Igor Ulanov, Florida Panthers

On March 18th, 2002, Florida would trade Bure along with their 2nd-round pick in the 2002 draft for Igor Ulanov, Filip Novak and the Rangers’ 1st and 2nd-round picks in the same year. Ulanov played a couple of years with the Panthers with little success (70GP-1G-5A-6P). He’d sign as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers the next season. Novak would spend most of his time with the Panthers injured on their AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage’s roster before being dealt to the Ottawa Senators for a conditional draft pick, which doesn’t appear to have been invoked probably since he didn’t re-sign.

The 1st round pick the Panthers would receive in the Bure deal resulted in Petr Tatíček, who they drafted 9th overall. He would play 3 games for the Panthers (3GP-0G-0A-0P) before being sent to Pittsburgh for Ric Jackman. Jackman would be sent to the Ducks a year later (where he won a Stanley Cup) for a conditional pick, which became 181st-overall pick Corey Syvret, who is playing in the ECHL today. The 2nd rounder would turn to Rob Globke, who would play a total of 46 games with the Panthers (46GP-1G-1A-2P) before leaving for Europe.

In that original trade with the Canucks, the Panthers also received, in exchange for Bure, defensemen Bret Hedican, Brad Ference and a 3rd rounder in 2000 that became Robert Fried. Fried appears to have disappeared after playing 4 years at Harvard. Yes, that Harvard.

Hedican stuck around for two full seasons after he was traded to the Panthers (202GP-17G-48A-65P) and was dealt in 2001-’02 to Carolina along with Kevyn Adams and Tomas Malec, where he would win a Cup in 2006. In return, the Panthers received Byron Ritchie (111GP-10G-15A-25P) and Sandis Ozolinsh (88GP-17G-38A-55P). While Ritchie would leave Florida as a free agent (he signed with the Calgary Flames, then the Canucks, and finally in Europe), Ozolinsh was traded to the Mighty Ducks for Matt Cullen, Pavel Trnka and a 2003 4th rounder that became James Pemberton.

At the age of 34, Cullen is still a productive player in the NHL today, but played a season and a half of his worst hockey (statistically) with the Panthers (86GP-12G-19A-31P). He would leave Florida as a free agent after the lockout and sign in Carolina. Trnka (89GP-3G-16A-19P) would head to Europe after the lockout and Pemberton never broke into a NHL roster.

Ferrence would spend about 4 years with the Panthers (167GP-4G-24A-28P) before heading to the Phoenix Coyotes for Darcy Hordichuk and a 2nd rounder in 2003, which which was traded again along with a bunch of other picks for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 25th overall pick. Hordichuk played enforcer for the Panthers for 60 games (60GP-3G-1A-4P) where he’d amass 173 PIMs before heading to the Nashville Predators after the lockout and then signing with the Canucks. The Canucks traded him back to the Panthers for Andrew Peters last year, but signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers this past off-season. The 25th overall pick would be Anthony Stewart (105GP-4G-8A-12P), who then signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Thrashers, where he would score go on to score 39 points in 80 games. He’s currently with the Carolina Hurricanes on a 2-year deal.

Today’s results: Like the Canucks, the Panthers received a number of decent assets when it was time to repackage an aging Bure with bad knees but squandered the draft picks on players that never even came close to making the big leagues. Anthony Stewart was probably the best they did in this entire mess but he still isn’t the sort of player you’d want to result from a first round pick and he left the club for nothing two years ago. As a result, the Panthers have nothing today to show for their end of the Bure trade, although they did get two productive, Rocket Richard Trophy-winning seasons out of the Russian Rocket.

Verdict:

Tough one to call. If it comes down to the Canucks getting 7 years of Jovocop compared to Florida’s 4 years of Bure’s services, I’d have to call that one in favor of the Canucks. Despite Bure being a bigger star, the Panthers only made the playoffs one of the years Bure was in the lineup and they were swept in 4 games by eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils. On the other hand, the Canucks with Jovo in the lineup would return to the postseason (4 times in Jovo’s 7 years with the team) after missing it for 4 consecutive seasons during the dark Messier/Keenan era. He recorded 18 points (8G-10A) in 31 playoff games.

While both teams made poor choices with the assets they acquired as a result of this trade, the Panthers basically threw away three high draft picks during this time including a 9th overall. However, at least they got draft picks to waste. The Canucks didn’t even get that with a very poor return for all the players they received for Bure, including letting Jovanovski walk at the end of his contract. As a result, I’d call this one a draw.

Oct 252011
 
Jesse Belanger, Vancouver Canucks

When a friend starring at his smartphone told me that the Canucks made a trade with the Florida Panthers, I could swear I saw a glitch in the Matrix. Seriously, this has happened so many times in recent years, it actually does give me some deja vu. The Vancouver-Florida connection continued this past Saturday with news that the Panthers had sent David Booth, Steve Reinprecht and a third-round draft pick in the 2013 draft (which is the same pick the Canucks sent to Florida at the deadline last year for Chris Higgins) in exchange for Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. While Sturm is in the lineup for the Panthers tonight and Booth will line up with Kesler and Chiggins tomorrow against the Edmonton Oilers, Samuelsson remains in Vancouver as he tries to get back to 100%. However, even if Sammy wasn’t on the mend, it will be at least a few months before we can begin to pick a winner in this trade.

…but I’m sure as hell going to try anyways!

But first, let’s go through the history of trades between these two regular dance partners, who between them have swapped some rather popular NHL stars in players like Roberto Luongo, Ed Jovanovski, Todd Bertuzzi and Pavel Bure.

Before we get started, did you know that if the Canucks didn’t make the Cam Neely for Barry Pederson deal way back in ’86, the Bruins may never have drafted Milan Lucic 20 years later? It’s true! This is the sort of analysis you can look forward to in this series as I look at the Canucks/Panthers trade history and see how the deals have affected both teams at the time, today and all the time in between. You’ll see how a trade has long term consequences and shapes rosters for many years after it happens. This is the hockey version of the Butterfly effect, if you will.

Year: 1996
Canucks receive: Jesse Belanger
Panthers receive: 3rd-round draft pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft

Background: This might look like a relatively insignificant trade but read on! It’s probably the most important in Panthers (and perhaps Canucks as a result) history!

This was the earliest trade I could find between the two clubs as the Panthers joined the NHL in 1993 with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Belanger was signed by the Montreal Canadiens in 1990 but never held a regular spot in the lineup. He played a total of 23 games with the Canadiens between 1991-’93 before he was left unprotected by Montreal and selected by Florida in the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft. Belanger had his best statistical season after joining the Panthers in 1993-’94, putting up 50 points in 70 games (70GP-17G-33A-50P) but only another 67 points over the next 110 games with the organization (110GP-32G-35A-67P).

What Happened: After the trade at the deadline, Belanger played 9 games with the Canucks with a rather unimpressive statline, scoring only three goals (9GP-3G-0A-3P) in the remainder of the regular season and only two assists in 3 games during the 1995-’96 playoffs. The Canucks finished 7th in the West (1 point above 8th place the original Winnipeg Jets), losing in the first round in 6 games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. The Panthers, on the other hand, reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the first and only time in their franchise history but were swept by the aforementioned Avs.

Belanger was released by the Canucks the following off-season and signed with the Edmonton Oilers. After appearing in only 6 games that season for the Oilers, Belanger popped up in the NHL two more times: once with the Canadiens in 1999-’00 (16GP-3G-6A-9P) and in 2000-’01 with the New York Islanders (12GP-0G-0A-0P). The ’01 season was the end of Belanger’s NHL career although he continued to play in the minors and overseas. Today, you can find him as a member of the Saint-Georges CRS Express with which he won a Lique Nord-Americaine de Hockey (North American Hockey League) championship in 2009-’10, the same year he was named the league’s Most Sportsman-like Player and a 1st team All-Star.

Long term consequences:

Canucks: The Canucks released Belanger at the end of the season they traded for him so it’s safe to assume this trade hasn’t impacted the team long term. Today’s results: none

Panthers: With the 65th overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, the Panthers selected Oleg Kvasha, a 6-foot left wing from Moscow, Russia. Kvasha cracked the Panthers lineup in 1998-’99 and played 146 games over two seasons in Florida (146GP-17G-33A-50P).

In 2000, he was traded in the off season by the Panthers along with fellow winger Mark Parrish to the New York Islanders for Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen…which simply has to be one of the most lopsided trades ever as both Luongo and Jokinen would become cornerstones of the Panthers franchise for years while Kvasha played 5 seasons for the Islanders (332GP-60G-96A-156P) with Parrish (who has also popped up with the Canucks recently on a try-out). Kvasha would be dealt from the Islanders to the Coyotes in 2005-’06, where he would finish his NHL career.

Roberto Luongo was widely considered one of the best goaltenders at the time he was the Panthers starter. The teams in front of him were questionable defensively, which showed in the number of shots he routinely faced. During his time with the Panthers (318GP-108W-154L-35T), although the wins were scarce, Luongo set single season records for saves and shots faced. Luongo would later be traded to…yes, Vancouver. Jokinen on the other hand spent 7 seasons in Florida where he was captain from 2003 to when he was traded in 2008. In 7 seasons, he played 567 games and put up 419 points (567GP-188G-231A-419P).

Luongo’s blockbuster trade brought Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld to the Panthers while Olli Jokinen was dealt for Nick Boynton, Keith Ballard and a second round pick in the 2008 draft.

Bertuzzi only played 7 games for the Panthers that season due to a number of injuries before he would be traded to the Red Wings for Shawn Matthias and conditional picks. Allen would remain part of the Panthers defensive core for several seasons (284GP-14G-53A-67P) before the Panthers would trade him for Sergei Samsonov. Alex Auld played 27 games for Florida in 2006-’07 before leaving as an unrestricted free agent.

The conditional pick in the Bertuzzi trade would be part of the Tomas Vokoun deal between the Nashville Predators and Panthers. Sergei Samsonov would play 20 games with the Panthers last season but is currently an unrestricted free agent. Vokoun would also leave the Panthers as a UFA but not before playing 4 seasons with the club (248GP-101W-108L-30OTL). In short, today as a result of the Luongo branch of the Kvasha/Parrish for Luongo/Jokinen trade, the Panthers have…Shawn Matthias.

Nick Boynton would play a season with the Panthers (68GP-5G-16A-21P) before signing with Anaheim the year after as a UFA while Ballard would play two full seasons (164GP-14G-48A-62P) before being traded to Vancouver at the 2010 draft for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and Vancouver’s 1st round pick.

Grabner was released by the Panthers last season before the Islanders picked him up on waivers on the way to his 31-goal, Calder trophy candidate season. Bernier would play a season with the Panthers but leave as a UFA (and he still is). The 1st round pick from the Ballard deal would be used to select Quinton Howden, a promising 19-year old prospect with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.

The 2nd round pick included with the Olli Jokinen deal was first acquired from the Ottawa Senators. This was the 49th overall pick in 2008 and was later traded to the Nashville Predators in a package for the 46th overall pick. Pick #46 became Colby Robak while #49 became Jared Staal. Robak is still with the Panthers organization today as part of the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. Today’s results: Shawn Matthias, Quinton Howden and Colby Robak.

Verdict:

The Panthers obviously won this trade. Although…and I actually have to scroll up to remember his name…Jesse Belanger’s stint with the Canucks was brief, the 3rd round pick the Canucks dealt for him had ramifications throughout the history of the Panthers. Although they’ve lost many All-Star quality players that have turned up as a result of this deal, the Panthers still come out on top here with 2008 WJHC gold medalist Shawn Matthias and two early round prospects still on their roster as opposed to the brief-if-it-even-exists entry that Jesse Belanger has in the Canucks history books. The shrewdness here by the Panthers was turning two promising young players in Kvasha and Parrish (at the time they were) into better, more promising young players in Luongo and Jokinen. It really got the ball rolling for the franchise. Given the history in Florida…that’s probably the best trade they’ve ever made even if they don’t have much playoff (…or regular season, for that matter) success to show for it. Without this seemingly innocuous transaction between the two teams, perhaps Roberto Luongo never ends up in Florida…and later, as a result, Vancouver.

Oct 222011
 

If you were one of those Canucks fans that wanted to be unique and get a Marco Sturm jersey, you might want to tell the Canucks Team Store to cancel your order.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis apparently does care about what other people say about his team, and the critics’ longstanding issues about Vancouver’s lack of a second-line winger can now be silenced, at least for now.

The team announced shortly after their win against the Minnesota Wild that they had made a four-player trade with the Florida Panthers, sending the oft-injured Mikael Samuelsson and the ineffective Marco Sturm to the ‘Cats for winger David Booth, Steven Reinprecht, and a 3rd round pick in 2013.

So what does all this mean?

Well for starters, a moment of silence for Mikael Samuelsson, who provided Canucks media with some of the worst best audio clips in team history:

Yeah, I don’t know what happened there either. The guy’s got 11 NHL seasons under his belt and he’s talking like he’s got a Swedish meatball lodged in the back of his throat.

But in all seriousness, Samuelsson’s tenure in Vancouver was far from terrible. He provided some thrilling moments (most of which came in the Canucks’ first round battle with Los Angeles in 2010) and added some leadership in the team dressing room (which, you could argue, he passed on to the Sedin twins). Samuelsson put up 50+ points in his two years with Vancouver, and given the expectations of him when the team signed him in the summer of 2009, that’s pretty much what we hoped for.

Marco Sturm, on the other hand, was about as useless as useless could get. Slow and unable to acclimate himself into Alain Vigneault’s system, he was a circle peg trying to fit into a square hole. He showed zero chemistry with players from lines two to four and his previous injury woes showed. He will not be missed, and neither will the $2.5M price tag that was attached to him.

The centre piece of the deal is David Booth, who has as much upside as he does risk. A second-round draft pick from ’04, the height of Booth’s days in Florida were when he poured in 31 goals in 2008-09 while playing on a woefully bad team. Booth has also had seasons of 22 and 23 goals prior to and after the 31-goal campaign, so you know the potential is there.

On the other side of the coin, Booth was derailed by concussion problems in 2009 when he was blindsided by then-Flyer Mike Richards early in the year,  forcing him to miss 54 games with head problems. That’s a red flag in itself, as you could say rarely ever do players play the same after suffering major concussions, but Booth played a full season last year which should lead me to say his injury problems are a thing of the past.

Booth also played with Ryan Kesler when Team USA beat Canada in the 2004 World Juniors (Thanks again, Brayden Coburn’s ass and Marc-Andre Fleury’s brain). In 2003, Kesler also teamed up with current linemate Chris Higgins at the World Juniors, leading to early speculation all three will play on a line together soon.

Reinprecht, an aging veteran of 11 NHL seasons (that’s been said before already) is currently in Rochester playing for Florida’s AHL affiliate, so his days are likely done in the big league. That said, you can never have enough centre depth and Reinprecht will be a good mentor for some of the Canucks’ young blood in Chicago.

Myself and the rest of the CHB crew will have more analysis and discussion on the Canucks’ latest trade in tomorrow’s episode for CHB TV. Make sure you check back for more!

Oct 142011
 

A collection of hockey thoughts and observations as one settles into a new NHL hockey season:

  • It should be clear to anyone who has watched the Senators play that Paul Maclean hasn’t had any more luck than Cory Clouston at motivating Sergei Gonchar. No one gives up on puck battles quicker than he does.
  • One week doesn’t make an NHL season, but as of today the Senators look an awful lot like the worst team in the NHL.
  • Speaking of NHL defensemen, Sheldon Souray’s big shot has already helped the Dallas Stars. However, Souray also looks a step slower than he did back in his Oiler and Hab days. At some point in the season the Stars will have to manage his minutes at even strength.
  • Staying in Dallas, it’s clear early on that Kari Lehtonen is auditioning for the Ilya Bryzgalov role as “goaltender who single-handedly keeps his team in the playoff hunt.” The Stars are not very good, but Lehtonen has been sensational out of the gate.
  • One more Dallas thought – let’s settle down about their attendance issues. It’s only October (American NHL teams normally struggle at the gate at the start of the season), the Texas Rangers are legitimate World Series contenders (and they’ve played both nights when Stars had woeful home crowds) and they’re finally getting an owner soon.  Texas is blossoming as a hockey state, but the Stars have been on life support as a franchise for the last couple of years. A new owner, with a clear business plan for the community, should rectify the issue.
  • One early season trend: more and more teams on the powerplay are attacking the blueline with speed, only to drop the puck to a trailing player before entering the zone. Since the penalty killers have collapsed on the puck carrier, the trailer usually gains easy entry into the offensive zone.
  • Speaking of early season impressions, despite his -2 rating Nikita Nikitin has had a solid start in St. Louis and may be ready for top-pairing minutes. On the downside, Jaroslav Halak has had a tough time controlling his rebounds and hasn’t looked great in net.
  • Question: Did Aaron Asham take it upon himself to apologize for his post-fight antics or did the Penguins leadership group (Dan Blysma, Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz) encourage him to be regretful post-game? Personally I think it was the latter, in hopes of minimizing any potential suspension.
  • Interesting to see how some teams are dolling out the ice time to start the year. Through Friday, Brian Campbell is getting close to 30-minutes a game in Florida. Surprisingly, Jason Garrison is getting the second-most ice time among Panthers defensemen.
  • Other ice time observations:
  • Most ice-time among Panthers forwards: Kris Versteeg. Probably wishing he’d signed elsewhere: Scottie Upshall, who is only seeing 10-minutes a game in Florida.
  • In Colorado, Daniel Winnick is the surprising ice-time leader among forwards. Actually the Avalanche are taking an offense-by-committee approach to the start of the season. No forward is averaging more than 18-minutes a game, and nine forwards (including Chuck Kobasew !?!!?) are getting at least a minute of powerplay time per game.
  • In St. Louis,  Jason Arnott is seeing only 13-minutes a game in St. Louis, and is seeing less powerplay time than Matt D’Agostini.
  • Speaking of not seeing any powerplay time, Shawn Horcoff looks like the odd-man out in Edmonton. He’s averaged 46 seconds of powerplay time thus far. Adding insult to injury – it took all of two games for the Sportsnet panel (Jeff Marek, John Shannon and Marty McSorley (?!?!)) to speculate that the Oilers may trade Horcoff at some point this year.
  • Don’t look now, but Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky left Thursday’s game against Minnesota early with an an injury to the same shoulder he had surgery on.
  • One last Oiler note: Linus Omark, he of the nifty shootout attempts, is reportedly in Tom Renney’s doghouse.
  • Yes Don Cherry’s days as a relevant commentator are probably over. His recent comments about fighting even have some people calling for his job.  But the CBC owns NHL hockey rights until 2014, and Coach’s Corner remains a ratings goldmine. Whatever the current fallout, expect Cherry to stick it out until the end of the current CBC deal. After that? Says here he retires from regular TV duty.
  • The parade route is already being planned in Toronto where the Maple Leafs are 2-0. Most impressive thing about their start? Phil Kessel, who seems quicker, stronger and more determined than ever before. Heck, he’s even joined Twitter, although it looks like we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for him to post something interesting.
  • A nice recap of the first week by Katie Baker over at Grantland.
  • Sadly, some players still don’t seem to realize the danger of concussions.
  • The top-10 immoveable contracts in the NHL, according to The Hockey News.
  • The New York Islanders 3rd jersey has been leaked.
  • Oct 062011
     

    After more than a month of review, analysis, and rankings, it’s time to predict what will actually happen in the upcoming NHL season.

    If you take all things into consideration, one thing becomes abundantly clear – parity. No team is very strong at each position (coach, goalie, defence, forward), and most teams are only a shade better or worse than another.

    It looks like all the same teams that made the playoffs last year have a good chance of making it again this year. As we’ve discussed though, it’s rare that there’s so little change in the standings from year-to-year. Injuries therefore will be the biggest factor in determining who plays on in April and who doesn’t.

    This time last year I predicted Boston as the Stanley Cup champion. Read on to find out this year’s predicted winner:

     Western Conference

    1. Vancouver 110-115 points
    2. Anaheim 105-110
    3. Nashville 100-105
    4. Chicago 100-105
    5. San Jose 90-95
    6. Detroit 90-95
    7. St. Louis 90-95
    8. Los Angeles 90-95
    9. Calgary 80-85
    10. Edmonton 75-80
    11. Colorado 70-75
    12. Dallas 70-75
    13. Phoenix 70-75
    14. Minnesota 65-70
    15. Columbus 55-60

    Notes on the above:

    • Surprisingly, I have the Predators rated the best team in the Conference (based on very strong goaltending, defence and coaching scores). Nashville plays in a brutally tough division though. Vancouver plays in the weakest division in the league, and that should lead them to another 1st place showing.
    • I have Chicago, LA and Vancouver rated roughly the same. I don’t have a non-playoff team rated anywhere near the top-8 teams in the West.
    • Could be significantly better than they’re ranked: San Jose (if Niemi plays a full season like his half-season last year); Colorado (if the kids are healthy and Varlamov is a legit goalie); St. Louis (if Halak is healthy and the youth take the next step).
    • Could be significantly worse than they’re ranked: Anaheim (if any of their core gets hurt they have very little depth); Detroit (if Jimmy Howard is only adequate and age catches up to the team); Phoenix (if their goaltending is as weak as expected).
    • Could miss the playoffs: Their division is so tough, a slow start or injury troubles could kill St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago or Nashville’s playoff chances.
    • Could make the playoffs with some luck: Calgary (if Mikka Kiprusof has some magic left, Iginla stays healthy and they incredibly find some secondary scoring).

     Eastern Conference

    1. Washington 110-115
    2. Boston 105-110
    3. Pittsburgh 105-110
    4. Philadelphia 100-105
    5. Buffalo 100-105
    6. Montreal 90-95
    7. NY Rangers 90-95
    8. Tampa Bay 85-90
    9. New Jersey 80-85
    10. Toronto 80-85
    11. Carolina 75-80
    12. NY Islanders 70-75
    13. Winnipeg 70-75
    14. Ottawa 60-65
    15. Florida 55-60

    Notes on the above:

    • Pittsburgh is the highest rated team in the Conference, but its close between them, Boston and Washington. Given the weakness of Washington’s division, the Capitals are likely to take first place.
    • I think the travel schedule of teams in the Southeast Division will have a negative impact on how those teams compete in the standings.  
    • Could be significantly better than they’re ranked: New York Rangers (depends how the kids progress and if Brad Richards performs); New Jersey (depends on Martin Brodeur, Adam Larsson and Mattias Tedenby); New York Islanders (if they get any goaltending they could be in the playoff mix).
    • Could be significantly worse than they’re ranked: Toronto (Corporately, Brian Burke has to get his team into the playoffs this year. The team is awfully young and inexperienced though); Montreal (if Carey Price goes down look out); Tampa Bay (similar to Montreal, they cannot afford a Dwayne Roloson injury).
    • Could miss the playoffs if things don’t gel right: Philadelphia (Chris Pronger’s injury prone, no one really knows what Jaromir Jagr will do and the kids are still kids).
    • Could make the playoffs with some luck: Carolina (great goaltending, okay defence and Eric Staal is an elite player).

    Other fearless predictions for the upcoming season:

    • Conference Finals: Washington over Pittsburgh in the East; Chicago over Nashville in the West
    • Stanley Cup Final: Chicago over Washington
    • Chicago plays Vancouver in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
    • Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combine to play 120 games this year. Only one of them is available come playoff time.
    • With the Toronto Maple Leafs not making the playoffs, Brian Burke removes himself from the GM position and takes his place as President of the hockey club.
    • Phil Kessel is rumoured to be traded all year.
    • Jaromir Jagr is the most entertaining thing about the new season of HBO 24/7.
    • Lou Lamoriello retires at the end of the season. So does Martin Brodeur, Niklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne and Jaime Langenbrunner.
    • The Predators do not trade or re-sign Shea Weber, leaving him a UFARFA for 2012-13.
    • The NHL and NHLPA do not come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
    • The Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series over the New York Yankees. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera promptly retire.
    • Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla fail to score 30 goals.
    • James Neal, Taylor Hall, John Tavares and Tyler Seguin each score 30 goals.
    • A year after her divorce, a Christina Aguilera sex tape is leaked online.
    • The War Horse marks the beginning of the end of Steven Speilberg’s career as a director. It’s awful.
    • Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith do divorce after all.
    • Slash does not appear on stage with Guns N’ Roses at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
    • The Toronto Blue Jays bid on Prince Fielder.
    • There is another recession.
    • Game of Thrones sets new viewing records for HBO.
    • Only Two Broke Girls, The New Girl and Prime Suspect earn a second TV season on a major US television network.
    • The Office without Steve Carrell is terrible.
    • Gabriel Landeskog is the highest scoring rookie. Nino Niederrater wins the Calder Trophy.
    • Alex Ovechkin wins the Art Ross and is the only player to crack 100 points.
    • Jonathan Toews wins the Hart.
    • Shea Weber wins the Norris.
    • Roberto Luongo wins the Vezina.
    • Tuukka Rask replaces Tim Thomas as Bruin starter at some point this season.
    • Shane Doan is traded from Phoenix at his request.
    • Jose Theodore is traded by Florida at the trade deadline.
    • It’s all but confirmed the Phoenix Coyotes will play in Quebec City starting in 2014.
    • The Blue Jackets’ Scott Arniel is the first coach fired. Ron Wilson is next, and whoever replaces Ron Wilson spurs the Leafs to a late-season playoff charge.
    • Coldplay’s new album is considered a disappointment.
    • Brendan Shanahan is forced (allegedly) to resign as NHL disciplinarian.
    • Teemu Selanne is hurt and can’t play in Winnipeg in December.
    • To the financial benefit of the NHL there is no NBA season.
    Oct 042011
     

    Any discussion of the New Jersey Devils chances this year is riddled with questions:

    • Is Peter DeBoer a good coach?
    •  Is the team going bankrupt or not?
    • Do Adam Lambert and Adam Larsson look anything alike?
    • Is this Zach Parise’s last year with the team?
    • When will Travis Zajac be back?

    Yet the biggest question of them all is “what can Devils fans expect from Martin Brodeur.”

    Brodeur, arguably the best goalie of his generation, enters the season as a 39-year old. Like the rest of his team, Brodeur’s pre- (2.84 GAA, .895 SVPT) and post- (1.84, .919) all-star game numbers demonstrate Jacques Lemaire’s positive impact behind the bench. However, Brodeur’s .903 save percentage for the entire season was his worst since 1994-95.

    To know what Martin Brodeur may bring to the New Jersey Devils’ crease this year, let’s take a look at how some other 39-year old goalies have faired since the lockout:

    SeasonNameTeamGames PlayedWinsGoals Against AverageSave Percentage
    2005-06Sean BurkeTampa Bay35142.80.895
    2006-07Curtis JosephPhoenix55183.190.893
    2008-09Dwayne RolosonEdmonton63282.770.915

    Burke and Joseph played on non-playoff teams and their numbers are an adequate reflection of their poor supporting cast and genuine decline due to age. The anomaly is Roloson, who was terrific for an otherwise weak Oiler team that also ended outside the playoff mix.  

    Brodeur turns 40 in May, and Devils fans hope the team is still playing then. To broaden the sample size a bit, let’s take a quick look at how goalies at 40 have done since the lockout.

    SeasonNameTeamGames PlayedWinsGoals Against AverageSave Percentage
    2005-06Ed BelfourToronto49223.290.892
    2006-07Sean BurkeLA2363.110.901
    2007-08Curtis JosephCalgary932.550.906
    2009-10Dwayne RolosonNYI502330.907

    Once again, none of these goalies played on a playoff team.

    If we average all these numbers out, what do they look like?

    Well, they look like Steve Mason:

    NameGames PlayedWinsGoals Against AverageSave Percentage
    39-40 year old goalie avg.41163.010.902
    Steve Mason 2011-1254243.030.901

    Martin Brodeur may have a lot of records and some gas left in the tank, but given the evidence it seems more decline is in store for the Devils goalie.   

    Let’s take a look now at the Eastern Conference goalie rankings for 2011-12:

    A+ Grade

    Philadelphia
    Last Year (D+)

    Talk about rectifying a long-standing weakness. Ilya Bryzgalov is an elite goalie playing behind the best team of his career. If he gets hurt, Sergei Bobrovsky is a young, talented backup who showed last year he can play extremely well in stretches. Together, they look like the best goalie tandem in the league, although each of Boston, Buffalo and the Rangers could challenge that standing.

    A Grade

    Boston
    Last Year (B+)

    How about one more Wiserclap for the season Tim Thomas had – arguably the best season by a goalie in the history of the NHL. A bit of a fall-back-to-earth for Thomas should be expected, but the Bruins have a very capable Tuukka Rask to pick up the slack.

    Buffalo
    Last Year (A+)

    Ryan Miller had a bit of a down season but is a top-5 goalie in the NHL, if not the best. Jhonas Enroth looks like the best backup goalie the Sabres have had in some time.

    New York Rangers
    Last Year (A+)

    A slight downgrade given Martin Biron’s age and collarbone injury last season, but otherwise this is another elite goaltending tandem in a Conference neck-deep in strong goalie depth. Is this the year Henrik Lundqvist finally earns a Vezina Trophy?

    A- Grade

    Washington
    Last Year (C)

    Just like the Flyers, the Capitals addressed their goaltending issues for the first time since Olaf Kolzig left town. Tomas Vokun has long been described as a great goalie playing for lousy teams. Now we’ll see how he does when wins are expected. Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby are youngsters with strong potential.

    Carolina
    Last Year (B+)

    If the NHL plays in the next Olympics, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cam Ward between the pipes for Canada – he’s that good. Off-season acquisition Brian Boucher is a huge upgrade as the backup.

    B+ Grade

    Montreal
    Last Year (C-)

    Okay, so Carey Price is a legitimate NHL goalie capable of elite play. However, Montreal’s a Price injury away from absolute disaster (aka Peter Budaj) in the crease.

    Pittsburgh
    Last Year (B-)

    A Vezina-esque season from Marc-Andre Fleury last season should have silenced most of the critics. Brent Johnson is a solid backup who can get red hot.

    B Grade

    Tampa Bay
    Last Year (C+)

    Dwayne Roloson will turn 42 in October. He was very good for the Lightning after being traded from the Islanders, but he seemed to tire by the Conference Final against Boston. A Roloson injury shoots the Lightning toward the bottom of this list, as Mathieu Garon is only adequate as the backup.

    B- Grade

    New Jersey
    Last Year (A-)

    This is probably Martin Brodeur’s final season. Good thing the Devils have planned ahead and stocked the farm system with potential replacements right? Actually, they haven’t. Instead, they’re going to trot out 38-year old Johan Hedberg in the event Brodeur gets hurt, and then hope some free agent chooses New Jersey in the off-season. Good luck with that, Lou Lamoriello.

    Ottawa
    Last Year (C-)

    There’s a lot riding on Craig Anderson this year, as the Senators firmly believe he is the type of goalie you can rebuild around. Injuries remain a concern though. Alex Auld is an okay backup who barely played last year in Montreal.

    C+ Grade

    New York Islanders
    Last Year (C)

    Not satisfied with having Rick DiPietro, Al Montoya, Evgeni Nabokov, Kevin Poulin and MIkko Koskinen on the goalie depth chart, former goalie-turned-GM Garth Snow reportedly invited Darren Puppa, Dan Cloutier, Dominik Hasek, Johnny Bower, Ken Dryden, Steve Penney, Glenn Healy, Ron Tugnutt and Jean-Claude VanDamme to camp in an effort to start the season with an all-goalie starting lineup. Happily for Islander fans they all declined. Unhappily, the lot that remains is a rather average one, with Montoya showing the most promise last year.

    Winnipeg
    Last Year (C+)

    Ondreji Pavelec has a 3.33 GAA and .883 save % after the all-star break. He’s young and talented, but the Jets need him to find consistency. Chris Mason is an experienced backup who was one of the worst goalies in the league statistically last season.

    C Grade

    Toronto
    Last Year (B-)

    Last year I was too optimistic about the tandem of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson. That’s why you find the Maple Leafs down here now, as James Reimer, despite a glacier glove hand, was terrific down the stretch. A half-season does not prove anything and it’s up to Reimer to show he’s a quality NHL starter.

    Florida
    Last Year (B+)

    Lets be honest – Jose Theodore is just keeping the crease warm for super-prospect Jacob Markstrom. Until the rookie takes the reins though, the Panthers are going to lose a lot of games. Theodore is a shadow of his former self, and backup Scott Clemmensen may actually be the better goalie at this stage of their respective careers.

    Sep 272011
     

    Yesterday I talked about the Western Conference (and Two and a Half Men..which I will never talk about again willingly). 

    Let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference rankings today.

    A quick note on all of these rankings. Each likely starting player and coach was given a letter grade (in a player’s case based on their likely contribution, previous performance and ability). Each letter grade had a numerical value, and a team’s ranking is a result of a team’s total score in that particular area (coaching, defence, forwards, and goaltenders).

     A+ Grade

    Pittsburgh
    Last Year (A)

    If Sidney Crosby’s healthy, this is the best group of forwards the Penguins have had in a long time, maybe even better than their Cup winning roster. It can skate, play both ways and compete physically. James Neal has 30-goal potential, while Steve Sullivan, if healthy, will be a powerplay asset. If Malkin lines up in the middle, this is the deepest team at centre in the Conference. There’s some young talent on the farm as well, meaning we likely haven’t seen the last of long playoff runs for the Penguins. Still, if Crosby misses any time they slide down this ranking.

    A Grade

    Washington
    Last Year (A+)

    Skill and grit found on every line. With a year of defensive focus under their belt, a more balanced approach is expected this year. If executed, that means a return to offensive form for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin. Jeff Halpern in particular gives the Capitals a strong defensive centre who can take key faceoffs. That being said, neither Brooks Laich nor Marcus Johansson look like a strong second line centre.

    B+ Grade

    New York Rangers
    Last Year (B)

    Marian Gaborik’s health permitting, this might just be the deepest forward group in the Eastern Conference. It’s young, fast, and has room to grow offensively, especially if Derek Stepan continues to develop. The wild card here is Wojtek Wolski, who might get to line up with Richards. He’s got all the tools to be an NHL scorer – it’s his toolbox that drove the Coyotes and Avalanche to deal him.

    B Grade

    New Jersey
    Last Year (B+)

    Not everything was lost last year in the Garden State. Ilya Kovalchuk’s second-half demonstrated he remains an elite NHL sniper, and the team was able to ease talented youngsters Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby into the lineup. Each will play a more important role this year, with Josefson potentially lining up with Kovy. Travis Zajac’s Achilles injury is off-set by the return of Zach Parise, one of the better players in the league. This might be a sneaky-good offensive group, although the bottom-six depth could use work.

    B- Grade

    Boston
    Last Year (A-)

    Very similar to the Rangers in terms of quality depth, the Stanley Cup winners feature three forward lines of strong two-way play. What’s missing? The elite end of the offensive spectrum, especially with Marc Savard likely to retire due to concussion. Tyler Seguin had a tough first year. Given more opportunity he could blossom a la Steven Stamkos. If he does, the Bruins shoot up this list, fast.  

    Buffalo
    Last Year (B)

    Maybe the smallest group of forwards in the Eastern Conference (like the Smurfs, Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe are also three apples tall), the Sabres are otherwise skilled, young and talented. Behind Derek Roy at centre though there’s very little to choose from, especially if Brad Boyes continues his regression. That’s why they’re trying Ville Leino in the middle, and it will be interesting to see if he can produce at the level his contract demands. Zach Kassian will help in the size department, but he’s still a year or two away from making an impact.

    New York Islanders
    Last Year (C+)

    With less fanfare than the Edmonton Oilers, the Islanders are also amassing a strong cast of young forwards. Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen broke out last year, with the former becoming perhaps the most exciting skater the franchise has had since Ziggy Palffy. Marty Reasoner and Brian Rolston should fill important leadership and defensive roles, although Rolston looked like he belonged on The Walking Dead most of last season. As this team develops so to will John Tavares’ star across the league.

    C+ Grade

    Tampa Bay
    Last Year (B)

    Similar to Chicago, in that the team’s core group (Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier) is good enough to sit atop this list, but depth drags their rating down. Teddy Purcell looks like he’s ready to join that core group, although there are still worries about his physical play. Ryan Malone and Steve Downie provide good toughness, but neither is a consistent impact forward offensively. Not many options on the left wing, and this may be the worst fourth line in the Conference.    

    Montreal
    Last Year (C)

    Erik Cole adds even more speed, but more importantly size, to a group of forwards in desperate need of more physical players. The question with this group will always be about the offense and where it will come from. More scoring consistency from Michael Cammalleri or Andrei Kostitsyn would improve Montreal’s place on this list. I’m not sure who had a worse season last year – Scott Gomez or Mel Gibson.

    Carolina
    Last Year (C)

    There may not be a more important forward to his team than the role Eric Staal plays for Carolina. He is the team’s best offensive and defensive player by a country mile. This year’s Jeff Skinner could be Zac Dalpe, as the Hurricanes need an offensive second-line player, and Brandon Sutter might be a better fit centring a checking line. Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu add some scoring, but would be complimentary players on a better team. The right wing is a desert of scoring ability.

    C Grade

    Philadelphia
    Last Year (A-)

    This is the lowest Flyers forwards will be ranked as a group for years to come. The main reason they find themselves down here is youth, and the lack of consistency that comes with that. James van Riemsdyk looked like John LeClair 2.0 in the playoffs, but he’s yet to show that performance across an 80-game schedule. The same could be said for Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn, who in all fairness hasn’t even played 10 games in the NHL. Each of these players could become B-level forwards or higher, but they haven’t shown this so far in their careers. Beyond the youth there is a nice level of tenacity throughout all four lines, and Claude Giroux could be a top-10 scorer this year. As for Jaromir Jagr? I want him to succeed, but the new NHL is a skating league, and that isn’t Jagr’s strength. He’s four years removed from the NHL grind, and his last year in North America was a 71 point season. At this stage of his career, the best Flyer fans should hope for is Ville Leino production (53 points). But there is a chance Jagr could also be Jiri Dopita 2.0.

    Toronto
    Last Year (D+)

    This is a fast, gritty group that lacks scoring, although they have a legitimate sniper in Phil Kessel and a good second line centre in Mikhail Grabovski. Actually, Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi give the team good centre-ice depth, but each of them is a walking health risk and can’t really be counted on. It would surprise if Clarke MacArthur and Joffrey Lupul play as well as they did last year for the Leafs. It would not surprise to see Nikolai Kulemin continue to assert himself as Toronto’s most complete player.

    C- Grade

    Florida
    Last Year (D+)

    This is a collection of forwards that wouldn’t be out of place on a first year expansion team. There’s some experience and grit here, and Tomas Fleischmann is a top-six scoring talent. But it would be a shock to see more than a couple of these players on the team when it next makes the playoffs.

    Winnipeg
    Last Year (C)

    A physical group that’s light on skill, which is why there’s talk of the team keeping centre Mark Scheifele to start the season. The former Thrashers kept 18-year old Alex Burmistrov on the roster last season, but the results were mixed. Evander Kane may eventually replace Jarome Iginla as Canada’s best power forward.

    D+ Grade

    Ottawa
    Last Year (B)

    It’s hard times in the nation’s capital, as the Senators will enter the season with their weakest group of forwards since the mid-90s. Like those early days of the franchise, this year’s group will be fairly young, with the front office praying to JoBu at least one of Nikita Filatov, Bobby Butler or Mika Zibanejad can become a regular offensive contributor. Daniel Aldredsson has probably already played his last playoff game as a Senator.

    Sep 132011
     

    There is no greater union in the NHL today than Brian Burke and Toronto Maple Leafs.

    For all his bluster, and for all his previous on-ice success, Burke’s greatest strength is jousting with the media. And if there’s one thing media saturated Toronto needs is a Maple Leaf general manager with an aptitude for soundbytes.

    During last week’s “state of the union”-type press scrum with Toronto media, Burke insisted the Leafs defence “stacks up really well against just about any other team in the East.”

    Does it really? Let’s take a look at Eastern Conference defence rankings headed into the 2011-12 season.

    B+ Grade

    Boston
    Last Year (A)

    A slip in the rankings based entirely on two things: 1) As bad as Tomas Kaberle was for the Bruins (and make no mistake, he was this type of bad), Joe Corvo is worse and 2) Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid are all defensive-first guys. Expect the Bruins to search for another elite puckmover (preferably one who doesn’t cause as many goals against as Corvo) at the trade deadline again this year. 

    Philadelphia
    Last Year (A+)

    Rated as the best defence in the Eastern Conference last year, the Flyers drop a full grade thanks to Chris Pronger’s uncertain health and advancing age. On a related note, someone else who is also losing marks for uncertain health and advancing age: Christina Ricci.

    Washington
    Last Year (B)

    Quietly, this has become a real area of strength for the Capitals. In fact this group could become the league’s best as early as this year. John Carlson and Karl Alzner are up-and-comers, and could prove to be a top-defensive pairing in the NHL for years to come. Mike Green had a very difficult 2010-11 season, but even a mild return-to-offensive form would help the Washington powerplay immensely. Dennis Wideman is another puck-mover for the second powerplay unit, while Roman Hamerlik is a veteran warrior.

    B Grade

    Pittsburgh
    Last Year (B+)

    One of the best top-two defence pairings in the league, with Kris Letang leading the blueline attack. The issue is depth, as Matt Niskanen stopped developing last year and Ben Lovejoy is more AHL’er than NHL’er.

    Montreal
    Last Year (B)

    P.K. Subban is the real deal and should excite the Molson Centre crowd for years to come. On paper this is another strong two-way group, although Andrei Markov’s health remains a concern. if Alexei Yemelin is any good this group moves up a grade. It’s funny how Hal Gill has turned from the tallest pylon in the league as a Maple Leaf into arguably the league’s best shutdown defenceman.

    Winnipeg
    Last Year (C+)

    The Jets would have ranked higher on this list if Dustin Byfuglien weighed less than roughly 300 lbs. Modify your expectations appropriately, ladies and gentlemen. Otherwise, a new coach should breathe life into Zach Bogosian’s development, and Tobias Enstrom has firmly established himself as a better-defending version of Tomas Kaberle. Too bad about those new uniforms though – talk about bland. They look like a rejected Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment logo. 

    B- Grade

    Buffalo
    Last Year (B-)

    The sophomore slump hit Tyler Myers like a pie-in-the-face, but he recovered with a strong second-half. The additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehroff are steps in the right direction, although both players have already experienced their best days in the league. Regehr has looked slow for a few seasons in Calgary, while Ehroff will be hard-pressed to post 50-points again. The Sabres just don’t activate their defence like the Canucks do.

    Toronto
    Last Year (B+)

    Sorry, but Brian Burke’s fudging the truth a little when it comes to his defence core. Either that or he’s incredibly optimistic. This is one of the youngest bluelines in the NHL, and inconsistency should be expected. Continued improvements from Luke Schenn and Keith Aulie would move this group up a few spots, especially if Dion Phaneuf plays as well as he did in the second half of last year. However, it’s just as easy to see this group of youngsters struggle, bringing down the team with it.

    C+ Grade

    New York Rangers
    Last Year (D+)

    This is a blueline headed in the right direction. Marc Staal and especially Dan Girardi took big steps toward becoming impact defenceman. Like the Maple Leafs though this is a very young group, and inconsistency will be a nightly threat. There’s a lot of hype about Tim Erixon, who was arguably Calgary’s top prospect before being dealt to New York. But it’s not like the Flames need defencemen, or youth, or you know, the promise of a better tomorrow.

    Tampa Bay
    Last Year (D)

    The Lightning are moving up these standings based on the continued improvement of Victor Hedman and the acquisition of Eric Brewer, one of the most underrated defenceman in the entire league. Pavel Kubina and Marc-Andre Bergeron are liabilities though. 

    Carolina
    Last Year (C-)

    There’s some solid offensive promise here, with veterans Joni Pitkanen and Tomas Kaberle supported by future powerplay specialist Jaime McBain and hard-shooting Derek Joslin. It’s the defensive side of the game where this group is lacking, although Tim Gleason is underrated. Bryan Allen and Jay Harrison are borderline starters on a contending team – here they’ll play key minutes.

    C Grade

    New Jersey
    Last Year (C+)

    Other than Gabriel Landeskog there may not be another 2011 draftee with an easier time making the NHL than Adam Larsson. The Devils are that desperate to inject some offense into their blueline. If Larsson can have a Cam Fowler-esque impact, this group moves up the standings, as Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov are two of the best defensive defenceman in the league. Otherwise it’s an average group with below average skill playing for a franchise that might not be able to pay its bills. Tell me again why putting multiple teams in Southern Ontario isn’t a good idea? They’re certainly struggling to make it work in New York.

    Florida
    Last Year (C-)

    It’s an eclectic mix on the Panther blueline, with a rock-solid rookie (Erik Gudbranson), a “ready-to-retire-to-Miami” veteran (Ed Jovanovski), a reclamation project (Brian Campbell) and swashbuckling Russian (Dmitry Kulikov) anchoring the top-two defensive pairings. And yes it is as much fun to type the term “swashbuckling Russian” as it is to say “swashbuckling Russian.”  It wouldn’t surprise if Brian Campbell has his best year in a long time in Florida. It would surprise if Ed Jovanovski was healthy enough to play 40 games and doesn’t quit to take up shuffleboard.

    New York Islanders
    Last Year (D)

    While few people were noticing, Andrew MacDonald had a heck of the year playing well at both ends of the ice. A healthy return to the NHL by Mark Streit would give the Islanders two defenceman to build around. The rest of the blueline looks like AHL scrap though.

    C- Grade

    Ottawa
    Last Year (C+)

    While Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar and rookie David Rundblad are talented offensive players, I wouldn’t expect them to defend a snow fort well, let alone an NHL goaltender. Chris Phillips can’t solve all the team’s defensive problems, and Brian Lee and Filip Kuba are two of the worst defenceman in the league. Goaltender Craig Anderson better be healthy, because he’s going to face a lot of shots this year.

    Sep 062011
     

    Another September, another new coach for the New Jersey Devils.

    Peter DeBoer becomes the seventh coach the Devils have had since the NHL lockout, following Jacques Lemaire, John Maclean, Brent Sutter, Claude Julien, Lou Lamoriello and Larry Robinson.

    The question is – do these moves have any impact?

    I took a look at NHL coaching changes since 2005 and grouped them into three categories:

    • Off-season change (one coach replaces another in the off-season)
    • Mid-season change (one coach replaces another and finishes the season)
    • Mid-season change-turned-permanent (mid-season coaching replacement sticks around, leading the team into the next season)

    Here’s what was learned:

    1. Hiring a coach in the off-season has little-to-no impact on a team’s performance the following season. The 33 coaches hired in the off-season since the lockout have averaged a +0.5 point improvement over their team’s previous season.
    2. Mid-season replacements almost always have a positive impact on the club. The 24 coaches hired mid-season improved their team’s winning percentage by +0.126, or roughly +10 wins over the course of a full season.
    3. It’s not a bad idea to keep mid-season replacement coaches around. Coaches hired at mid-season, and made permanent in the off-season, improve their team’s performance over the previous season by +4 wins. This is +7.5 points more on average than a new coach hired in the off-season.

    More on these findings in my next post. In the meantime, it’s time for the annual ranking of Eastern Conference coaches.

    A Grade

    Lindy Ruff – Buffalo
    Last Year’s Rating (A)

    Still the longest-tenured NHL coach. Generally the low-budget Sabres have overachieved under Ruff. However, a new, deep-pocketed owner has raised the stakes. Just making the playoffs is no longer good enough in Buffalo.

    Dan Blysma – Pittsburgh
    Last Year (B)

    Performed miracles in Pittsburgh last year without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Jordon Staal to generate any offense. In doing so, he won the Jack Adams Award and lifted his status among the coaching elite.

    B+ Grade

    Claude Julien – Boston
    Last Year (B)

    Julien still doesn’t trust offensively-gifted players (the shackles on Tyler Seguin last year may have permanently harmed his development), and he stubbornly sticks to his game plan longer than most coaches. But if you win a Stanley Cup you get to move up in these standings.

    Peter Laviolette – Philadelphia
    Last Year (B+)

    A top-level coach, although his handling of the team’s goaltending situation in the playoffs was Keenan-esque. The “Dry Island” escapade clearly shows he is well aware of the outside dangers that threaten a team’s on-ice chances.

    John Tortorella – New York Rangers
    Last Year (B+)

    His mouth distracts you from the fact that he has developed a young Rangers squad into a darkhorse contender for the Eastern Conference crown.

    Guy Boucher – Tampa Bay
    Last Year (C+)

    A coaching innovator, his hyped 1-3-1 approach lifted the Lightning into the Eastern Conference Final. Interestingly, he also took a creative approach to team practices, off-days and downtime, which was warmly received by Lightning players. He’s a real asset to the franchise going forward.

    B Grade

    Jacques Martin – Montreal
    Last Year (B-)

    I still consider him the devil for his defensive system, but kudos to Martin for the way he managed P.K. Subban and eased youngsters David Desharnais and Lars Eller into the Montreal lineup.

    C+ Grade

    Bruce Boudreau – Washington
    Last Year (C+)

    The Caps have clearly tied their wagon to Boudreau, who became a minor sports sensation for his creative, colourful language on HBO’s NHL 24/7. He got the Capitals to commit to defensive hockey last year, but in doing so took most of the bullets out of the team’s offense. Consistent playoff failures also makes you wonder if Boudreau, a good motivator, has the technical Xs and Os skills to take a team to the Finals.

    Peter DeBoer – New Jersey (FIRED WATCH)
    Last Year (C+)

    While coaching the Panthers, DeBoer had a reputation for keeping his teams competitive in the standings. However, over the course of three seasons the team’s play actually regressed. DeBoer’s preferred puck possession style never really fit with the Panther’s mix of inexperience and grinders. Given we’re talking about the Devils, DeBoer’s job isn’t very secure.

    Kevin Dineen – Florida
    Last Year (N/A)

    Last year it was Tampa Bay’s Boucher, this year it’s their cross-state rivals the Panthers who go into the season with the new, hot-shot coaching hire. A former NHL’er, Dineen’s brings to the bench a strong reputation as a communicator, a focus on preparation and a desire to give players as much information as possible. He’ll need to rely on all these skills to get the most out of a very weak Panthers team.

    C Grade

    Ron Wilson – Toronto (FIRED WATCH)
    Last Year (C+)

    It’s been a frustrating term behind the bench of the Maple Leafs, who’ve yet to put together a consistent 82 games (let alone reached the playoffs) under Wilson. A slow start in October likely means his termination. Leaf special teams are a nightmare.

    Jack Capuano – New York Islanders
    Last Year (N/A)

    Islander players felt Scott Gordon’s systems were confusing and difficult. Enter Capuano, New York’s version of Bruce Boudream – a motivator first, tactician second. Capuano did inspire improved play from the Islanders in the second-half of the season. It will be interesting to see how the team does with a full season of him behind the bench.

    Paul Maclean – Ottawa Senators
    Last Year (N/A)

    Has there ever been a successful NHL head coach with a moustache like Maclean’s? He’s got the pedigree as a long-time assistant with Mike Babcock in Anaheim and Detroit. The Senators have a few young, skating defenseman who could excel in a Red Wings-esque transition game. Not sure the team has the offensive pieces though to succeed playing the high-tempo style Maclean promises.

    Claude Noel – Winnipeg
    Last Year (N/A)

    You’ve got to love a coach “who’s called his players “stallions” before. He was a beloved, fun assistant in Columbus before he took over for a partial season after Ken Hitchcock’s firing. He’s toned that side of himself down coaching the Moose in Manitoba. The Jets aren’t very good though, and his hiring by True North has a bit of a nepotism smell to it.

    C- Grade

    Paul Maurice – Carolina
    Last Year (C-)

    Still hasn’t coached a team to more than 91 points. You get the feeling he’ll be long gone by the time the Hurricanes are ready to compete for a championship. Probably safe this year though.

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