Feb 022012
 

With the NHL Trade deadline a little less than a month from now, speculation is heating up.

Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. Speculation isn’t just heating up, it’s already reached a good rolling boil. We’ve entered the silly season of trade rumours people, where Ryan Getzlaf could be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, you know, just ‘cuz.

It’s not just fans or the media that can get swept up in the euphoria that is the trade talk. General Managers can too. With that in mind, here are the four worst trade decisions that could be made by a General Manager in the NHL today.

 4. Trade Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets

Granted, Carter has had a difficult first season in Columbus. He’s looked lethargic when he’s been healthy (which hasn’t been nearly as much as the team had hoped).  

Carter remains a one-shot scorer though and a first-line centre talent. He’s the type of player you rarely find on the trade market (the last first line centre to be traded was Joe Thornton back in 2005-06).  

In Carter, Rick Nash and Ryan Johansen, there is a good offensive core in place in Columbus. God knows there are other teams trying to build around less up front (cough Phoenix, Florida, Winnipeg to name three cough cough).

Now it could be that the Blue Jackets just want to save themselves some money and get Carter’s $5.27 million off the books. This is incredibly short-sighted thinking. The Blue Jackets need wins to generate revenues. They need talent on the roster to produce wins. Eventually, that talent gets paid, and scoring talent of Carter’s ilk can get a lot more expensive than $5.27 million a season.

Moving Carter doesn’t get the Blue Jackets anywhere closer to wins in the short-term, and is not guaranteed to save them much money in the long-term.

In short – it would be a trade that doesn’t make much sense.  

3. Trade Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres

At one point, it could be argued he was the best goalie in the game, but these days Ryan Miller is pretty, pretty, pretty average . His performance and outspokenness has made him a lightning rod in Buffalo where pre-season optimism has turned into a season-long nightmare.

A great goaltender gives an NHL team a chance to win every night, and turns poor or mediocre teams in all other areas into playoff participants. Miller was once great – there’s no question he could be great again. The smart move in Buffalo would be to consider goaltending “secure” (Jhonas Enroth is a talented youngster who’s earned more time in the crease) and address other needs.

You know, like the Swiss Cheese defense of Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr that would have trouble defending against a minor bantam team some nights.  

2. Trade PK Subban from the Montreal Canadiens

PK Subban isn’t your typical NHL player – he’s colourful, opinionated and openly confident – and this has frequently contradicted with the conservative, conformist culture established by the Canadiens in the era of Bob Gainey, Jacques Martin and Pierre Gauthier.

There are few NHL defencemen that offer the same combination of physical gifts, offensive instincts and passion for the big moment as Subban does. He will be an NHL star, and will one day find himself in Norris consideration.

You can count the number of Stanley Cups won by teams without a strong offensive defenseman on one hand. Trading Subban would be akin to the Canadiens admitting they don’t have any plans to truly compete for a Stanley Cup in the near future.  

1. Trade Brendan Morrow from the Dallas Stars

For all the hulabaloo about trading Jarome Iginla from Calgary, the potential trade of Brendan Morrow from Dallas would be the bigger mistake.

Uncertain Stars ownership has wrecked havoc on the franchise’s off-ice fortunes. Now, with new owner Tom Gaglardi in the mix, the team needs to re-establish its relationship with the Dallas community.

Morrow is an obvious, important player around which to build this new relationship. He’s one of the few remaining links to the championship-calibre teams Dallas iced in the late 90s and early 2000s. Moreover, he is the type of character leader that can shape and inspire not only a locker room, but a fan base.

With one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Stars don’t need to jettison salary. They should move other pieces before moving their captain.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • According to John Shannon on Prime Time Sports last week, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are best of friends. Does anyone else smell another Teemu Selanne-Paul Kariya-esque situation developing for these two future UFAs?
  • The Sidney Crosby “fracture-no fracture-concussions-no concussion” story sounds more and more like the Eric Lindros situation in Philadelphia every day. There’s no reason to think relationships are poisoned between Crosby and the Penguins, but this certainly makes one wonder how the next contract negotiations between the team and its star player will go in 2013.
  • Let’s all give Alex Radulov the benefit of the doubt here – we all see the bug on his coach’s neck, right? (Editor’s note: Note that the coach behind Radulov was not his head coach, but the goalie coach.)
  • Given that the Winter Classic is also a huge event for league sponsors, the NHL All-Star Game should move to the start of the season. This would give the Winter Classic even more prominence mid-season, and would create a special “kick-off” event for the NHL to start its year. I’d even be in favour of returning to a Stanley Cup champions versus NHL All-Stars format in a neutral site (say Europe).
  • Does Mikhail Grabovski look like a $5 million player? Because that’s what the UFA market is likely to pay him. This is also why it would be of no surprise to see the Leafs either trade their second-line centre at the deadline, or walk away from him on July 1st. He is too inconsistent to be paid like a top-four player.
  • Speaking of the Maple Leafs, the more you watch Nazem Kadri play, the more it seems his best work at the NHL level will come playing for a team other than Toronto. Kadri needs consistent top-six ice time to grow his game, and he won’t get that playing for a team competing for a playoff spot right now.
  • The New York Rangers pass around a fedora to the team’s best player post-game. The St. Louis Blues? A weiner hat. Classic.
  • Sorry Blackhawks fans, but Brendan Morrison isn’t the answer to your second-line centre dilemma. He adds some nice depth as a complimentary, offensive player, but a regular contribution in a top-six role is asking far too much.
  • Finally, I cannot recommend Behind the Moves enough for anyone who loves the business of hockey. Here’s a nice review from over at dobberhockey.
Sep 082011
 

As sports fans in general (and hockey fans in particular) continue to mourn the tragic plane crash in Russia that claimed 43 lives (including players and coaches from the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team), many people have named the summer of 2011 as the worst-ever in the history of hockey.  And when you consider the sudden deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak (all within the last four months), it’s hard to disagree.

This latest tragedy affects different people across the world for various reasons.  Canucks fans are fondly remembering Pavol Demitra, who played here for two seasons and had an excellent 2010 Winter Olympics tournament here in Vancouver.  Combined with Rypien’s death last month, Luc Bourdon’s death in 2008, and the death of Taylor Pyatt’s fiancee, Carly, in 2009, it’s been an extremely difficult three-year period for fans on the West Coast. 

The Czech Republic lost 3 ex-NHL players in Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek, and Josef Vasicek.  And both Lokomotiv head coach Brad McCrimmon and the recently-retired Wade Belak were born in the prairie province of Saskatchewan.

But as tragic as these hockey deaths have been, sadly these types of deaths happen every day… just to less famous people.  We see stories and read accounts of people being killed by earthquakes, washed away by tsunamis, and starving to death in Africa.  But for some reason we don’t always give these people the same amount of attention that we do to professional athletes.

Not to mention our own family members and friends who may be suffering from disease, illness, and disability.  They often fight a silent yet noble battle with little to no fanfare.

The truth is, catastrophe and disaster bring people together.  Despair can lead to hope…and we can only hope that tragedy will lead to triumph.

As much as it pained us to see the Vancouver Canucks lose game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, recent events both inside and outside of the sporting world help put things into proper perspective.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’ll still be screaming, cheering, and jumping around like a madman whether I’m at Rogers Arena or in the friendly confines of my living room.

But I hope to do so with the proper perspective.   Because perspective helps us gain an appreciation of the bigger picture and reminds us as to what’s important.

KHL Lokomotiv

Sep 072011
 

In January I wrote that Russian hockey, by forcing domestic players into the KHL, was ensuring the the league could one day approach, if not equal and surpass, the talent level found in the NHL.

Today’s tragic plane crash underscores how that will probably never happen.

In his book “King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Superleague,” Dave King talks at length in about the travels of KHL teams – the tough mining towns, the surrounding poverty and the perilous flights teams took between games. It’s a subject matter he’s commented on again in the wake of the accident.

There’s lots of oil money backing the KHL. None of it is going towards improving the safety, health or post-career experience of its players. (Not that the NHL is totally infalliable on these issues either. As we’ve seen with the deaths of three players this summer, greater off-ice support is something the league and NHLPA need to adopt.) Until that happens, the Russian Superleague will remain more like the Wild Wild West than a professional alternative to the NHL.

*****

The fact that Sidney Crosby’s return to the NHL is indefinite is the second tragedy of the day (albeit the only one with a possible happy ending). The NHL is a much better league with its best player in the lineup. For anyone paying attention though, today’s announcement was expected – there have been too many rumours of setbacks over the last few months.

Today’s announcement should also be lauded. Whereas previous marquee players like Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine rushed back time and again from serious concussion, Crosby’s camp understands he is one big hit away from the end of his career. Given the risk, there is no sense rushing him back before he is 100%.

January 1st, 2012 will mark a year since Crosby received his concussion against the Washington Capitals. Don’t be surprised if we don’t see Sid the Kid in the NHL until after New Year’s Day has passed.

Sep 072011
 

I was going to start a series of posts previewing the 2011/2012 Vancouver Canucks today. But in light of this morning’s tragedy in Russia, in which a plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing members of the KHL team, Lokomotiv, I thought I’d start the series with a look at one of the victims, former Canuck, Pavol Demitra.

What we remember:

Perhaps one of our most lasting memories of Demitra in Vancouver wasn’t his play as a Canuck, but rather his performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He represented 9th-ranked Slovakia, which upset Team Sweden in the quarterfinals and came within 20 minutes of a bronze medal finish.

Demo led all scorers in the tournament with 10 points, including a short-handed goal and 2 assists in the second period of the bronze medal game. The night before, with Slovakia down 3-2 and only 10 seconds left in the semifinal game against Team Canada, he had this grand opportunity:

He was named a tournament All-Star, and, invigorated after the Olympics, he returned to play some of his best hockey with the Canucks. In what would prove to be his final games in the NHL, he recorded 12 points (2 goals – 10 assists) in the Canucks’ final 17 regular season games and 6 points (2 goals – 4 assists) in 11 playoff games.

What we expect:

When Mike Gillis took over as Canucks GM, one of his first moves was to sign his former client to a 2-year/$8 million contract. At the time, the Canucks badly needed some secondary scoring. The Sedins were simply point-per-game players, not Art Ross winners, Ryan Kesler was a 20-goal scorer on the 3rd line, and there was no guarantee that UFA Markus Naslund would return. Demitra, at least in his first year as a Canuck, would provide just what the team needed. In 2008/2009, he scored 20 goals and 53 points in 69 games, good for 4th in team scoring that year.

Reality check:

Age and injuries ultimately caught up to Demo. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious shoulder injury during the 2009 playoffs, which then caused him to miss a large part of the 2009/2010 season. Demo was obviously far removed from his seasons of scoring 35+ goals and 75+ points, but if Gillis’ intent in signing him (and Mats Sundin for that matter) was to afford the likes of Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond with another year of development, then it’s hard to critique the move.

He said it:

“When I played with Minnesota and L.A., we played many games in Vancouver and I always loved the atmosphere and everything else about the fans and the city. That was the biggest reason. Another big reason was Mike. We are very close friends and I always like to play hockey for a guy like that.”

- Pavol Demitra after signing with the Canucks in July 2008

RIP Demo. You will be missed. And RIP to everyone who were killed on that flight. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, your families and your loved ones.

Jan 092011
 

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

Team Russia wins gold at 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships

The National Hockey League (NHL) is the world’s best hockey league.

The question is, how much longer will it be the only destination for the world’s best players?

The European invasion of the late 1970s, followed by the fall of Russian Communism in the late 1980s, opened the door for the world’s best to earn a substantial income playing NHL hockey.

The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) certainly didn’t look like it would threaten this fact when it launched in 2008. Sure, the oil money that backed the league was significant, but a generation of Russian players were raised to look West for money and hockey fame.

Malkin. Ovechkin. Kovalchuk. These players were exposed to the NHL through scouts, agents and their national heroes, who all played overseas. There was no way they would abandon their NHL dreams to play in the new KHL.

Thus, the KHL launched as a league featuring well-paid players that were too old, too slow, or too borderline for the NHL.

However, two-plus years since the KHL launched, Commissioner Alexander Medvedev and the Russian Hockey Federation have put a plan in place to ensure the KHL can evolve into a true NHL competitor.

That plan? Shutdown the Russian hockey pipeline to North America, and play politics with the national team.

First, by refusing to sign a transfer agreement with the NHL, North American interest in the best young Russian hockey players has cooled. Young talent is an investment, and without a transfer agreement in place there’s no guarentee an NHL team will see their investment ever pay off.

Secondly, Russians are leveraging international competition – the type of hockey most of their youngsters dream of playing – to promote and reward KHL players.

Our first glimpse of this as North Americans was during the 2010 Winter Games. The 2010 Russian Olympic Hockey team had nine KHL’ers on it. Anyone who watched the tournament saw that those players received some favourable ice-time from coach Viacheslav Bykov, with rather mixed results.

The 2011 Russian Junior team invited seven Canadian Junior Hockey League players to camp, but only kept one for the tournament – goalie Igor Bobkov. Every other player on the roster was from the KHL. The result? A shocking gold medal victory.

It’s pretty easy to see that this type of protectionism could eventually lead a new generation of Russian hockey players to choose the KHL over the NHL.

Which means the day will soon come that all of the world’s best players aren’t playing in the NHL.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Interesting spreadsheet by the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle about the average age, height and weight of NHL teams. Biggest surprise? Perhaps that Florida is the 7th oldest team.
  • One reason why the Blue Jackets have fallen on hard times of late – their defence, which played so well through the first quarter of the season, has really fallen back to earth.
  • A lot of talk in Toronto about how Mikhail Grabovski has come into his own this year. The biggest difference? He’s hitting the net more than he ever has before with his laser shot.
  • A 9-3 loss to Toronto is a reminder that Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was once considered too inconsistent to be a number one goalie.
  • The acquisitions of both Dwayne Roloson and Jamie Langenbrunner confirm that, despite financial issues for each franchise, both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars are gunning for the playoffs Of the two players, expect Roloson to have the biggest immediate impact. The Lightning don’t give up nearly as many shots as the Islanders did, and Roloson, despite his age, has fewer miles on him than most 41-year old goalies.
  • All discussion that Lagenbrunner could replace Brad Richards if he bolts the Stars as a UFA is ridiculous. Langenbrunner at this stage is a complimentary, veteran presence. He’s not a top-six guy.
  • Word out of Edmonton is Shawn Horcoff is ahead of schedule to return from his knee injury.
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