Friday, July 5, 2013

Another Wild Day Of Free Agency In Minnesota.

Last 4th of July the Minnesota Wild made a big splash in free agency by signing Zach Parise & Ryan Suter to 13 year contracts. This 4th of July holiday was setting up to be a quiet one for the Wild.

So far it has been anything but quiet.

Things got started on Wednesday with Minnesota buying out defenseman Tom Gilbert who was set to make $4 million this season. As a result the Wild were able to sign former Minnesota Gopher defenseman Keith Ballard to a two year contract worth $1.5 million.

On Friday, free agency began with a couple of former Minnesota Wild players finding new homes. Pierre Marc Bouchard signed a contract with the New York Islanders while Matt Cullen agreed to play with the Nashville Predators. With both departures expected and the Wild still up against the cap it wasn't expected they would make any moves today.

However that changed a little after 6:00 PM when it was announced that Minnesota had traded forward Devon Setoguchi to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2nd round pick in the 2014 draft. (A pick the Wild originally didn't have after trading it to Buffalo in the Jason Pominville deal.)

By trading Setoguchi, Minnesota was able to free up $3 million in cap space. Before Wild fans could process the trade of Setoguchi it was announced that Minnesota had signed Matt Cooke to a three year deal.

Yes, that Matt Cooke who was Public Enemy #1 when he played for the Vancouver Canucks from 2000-2008.

Judging from the reaction of Wild fans on Twitter, they are less than thrilled with addition of Cooke to the roster as now they have to come to grips with cheering for someone they have despised for nearly almost the entire existence of the franchise.

However I look at the moves Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher has made since the NHL Draft and I have to say I like what he has done within the restrictions of the salary cap.

First of all he was able to trade Cal Clutterbuck, who was never going to be anything more than a 3rd line player in the NHL who hits for Nino Niederreiter, who was the 5th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft and has the potential to be a 30 goal scorer in the NHL.

Guys like Clutterbuck are a dime a dozen in the NHL. Wild fans who are angry about losing Clutterbuck should think back to how they felt when Aaron Voros left the team after the 2007-2008 season to play for the New York Rangers.

Voros was a player who could hit and provide a spark but could do little else. The guy that ended up taking Voros' role after he left the Wild, Cal Clutterbuck.

Then Fletcher was able to sign Ballard to take Gilbert's spot on defense. After watching Gilbert for a year, I can say I'd rather have Ballard who I think is better defensively than Gilbert and can provide just as much offense from the blue line.
Ballard should be able to play in the top four on defense along with Jared Spurgeon and bridge the gap from Suter & Brodin as the top pairing of defenseman to the bottom pairing which will consist of a combination of Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, and Nate Prosser.

As for trading Setoguchi and signing Cooke, if you look at it as a trade off, player for player, then yes it is a bad move for Minnesota.

However if you factor in Niederreiter taking Setoguchi's place on the 2nd line and Cooke taking Clutterbuck's place on the 3rd line then it doesn't look that bad. Plus reacquiring a 2nd round pick and creating cap space gives the Wild flexibility to make a trade later this season if necessary.

Now I know a lot of Wild fans are upset that Minnesota couldn't re-sign Matt Cullen and some of them on Twitter have asked why they couldn't trade Setoguchi earlier so the Wild would have the money to keep Cullen. The deal that Minnesota made with Winnipeg wasn't available before Cullen went to market as a free agent. 
Even if the deal was available, Cullen ended up getting $3.5 million for two years to play for Nashville. As much as I like Cullen as a player, I'm not sure the Wild could have made an offer like that and I’m not sure Cullen would have taken a hometown discount to stay.

Are the Wild better after these moves? It's too early to tell. But for a team that looked like they would have to stand pat because of the salary cap, Minnesota was active today.

Say what you want about the hockey team but you can't say Chuck Fletcher isn't trying to improve them.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


One week into regular season games being cancelled the NHL made a big step forward with a proposal on Tuesday.

The latest CBA presented to the players by the NHL consisted of hockey related revenue being split 50/50 and if a deal was reached an 82 game season could still take place starting on November 2nd.

This proposal had hockey fans optimistic as signs were shown that this lockout could be a short one and a whole season might not be lost.

The players did not accept the NHL's proposal as presented offering three counter proposals in which the revenue the players received would go down to 50/50 on a sliding scale instead a direct cut.

The NHL rejected all three proposals right away and instead of a deal being reached we are now into Week 2 of the lockout.

Despite what went down this past I am more optimistic about a deal being reached that I was a week ago. The reason being that the main hurdle in this lockout has finally been identified.

The 50/50 split.

I have felt all along that when a deal was reached it was going to be a 50/50 split of revenue being shared. The only question was which side was going to be the first to go there.

To the surprise of many people it was the NHL. As to myself, I wasn't surprised by this.

Despite NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman saying he has support from all 30 owners to lockout the players I'm not convinced all the owners are unified as they were eight years ago.

There are twelve owners who weren't in the NHL during the last lockout. I believe Bettman is feeling heat from some of these owners as well as NHL sponsors to get a deal done and get the players back on the ice.

If you look at the last lockout Bettman and the owners were more than willing to wait out the players to get the deal they wanted. With social media being more prevalent than it was eight years ago the NHL has taken a big hit in the PR department.

That's why I think the NHL made the proposal they did, to paint the players in a negative light and get some good PR back on their side.

Did it work? I believe it did for a couple days until the players offered their counter proposals and said they were willing to go to a 50/50 split as long as the contracts the owners signed the players to were honored.

And that is the main sticking point right now in obtaining the 50/50 split, current contracts being honored.

The NHL said a deal had to be reached by October 25 for a full season to take place. I don't see that happening and I'm OK with that. The thought of cramming 82 games in a short time span doesn't excited me. 

Teams play an average of 12 games per month. If a deal is reached and hockey returns in November you are looking at a schedule of 70 games at the most. If a deal is reached in December my guess is something in the 58-66 game realm.

I have always felt a deal would be reached by Thanksgiving and games would start in mid-late December at the earliest. After what I saw this week I'm more confident than ever that will be the case.

The NHL, by offering their proposal, tells me they do not want to lose an entire season. The players I know feel the same way. With the difference being four percent of hockey related revenue it isn't worth losing a season over.

The barometer for a deal has been set by both sides at 50/50. The only question is how and when do we arrive there. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Casualty Of The NHL Lockout: The First Two Weeks Of The Season.

Earlier in the summer a co-worker of mine asked if the NHL was going to lock out it's players, causing games to be missed.

I responded by saying No, figuring common sense would prevail and a new CBA would be reached in time to start the season. I didn't think the NHL was stupid enough to miss games due to another work stoppage after cancelling a whole season eight years ago.

I was wrong.

The NHL is stupid enough to cancel games because of a work stoppage.

Earlier today the NHL announced that all games from October 11th through the 24th would be cancelled. 

The reason for this work stoppage is because the owners and the players can't decide on the best way to divide hockey related revenue.

In the first proposal by the owners the NHL wanted players to receive 43 percent of the revenue instead of the 57 percent they are receiving now.

The players in return proposed to drop the percentage of revenue received from 57 to 54 in the first season of a new CBA. The plan would then be for the percentage of hockey related revenue to drop by one percent each season until it reached 50 percent. The owners then countered with a new proposal in which the players would receive 47 percent of hockey related revenue instead of 43.

So if you are keeping score at home,the owners are proposing 47 percent in the first season while the players are proposing 54 percent.

That's right, a seven percent difference between the two is what's causing the first two weeks of the season to be cancelled.

Now there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides but I think the main question hockey fans are asking is if the season is in jeopardy.

My gut feeling tells me no.

One of the reasons I feel this way is both sides are still communicating with each other. Back in September of 2004 when the last lockout started the two sides didn't meet for negotiations until December. By that time it was too late to save the season. As long as both sides are still talking to each other there is an opportunity for a deal to be reached.

I've always felt that if a lockout happened a deal would be reached by Thanksgiving at the earliest. I still feel that way only because I believe common sense will prevail and both sides will agree to a 50/50 split of hockey related revenue.

Of course I also felt that common sense would prevent the NHL from having it's fourth work stoppage in 20 years.

I think the fact the NHL only postponed the first two weeks of the season is a good sign that a deal can still be reached. If a deal wasn't probable I think the first month of the season would have been cancelled.

In reality the NHL can afford to miss the month of October. Hockey is usually under the sports radar during the first month of their season as their fans go,with football having a stranglehold on Sundays and the MLB Playoffs going on.

Once the World Series is over though the pressure will ramp up from hockey fans wanting their game back on the ice. It's up to the owners and the players to figure this deal out.

After all it's only seven percent that is keeping the season from getting started.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The NHL Lockout: What You Need To Know

It's September 15th. NHL Training Camps are underway and another season of hockey is upon us.

At least that's how this blog should be starting out today. Instead we are looking at our third work stoppage in the last 18 years as NHL owners are prepared to lockout the players at midnight tonight if a new CBA is not reached.

For a lot of hockey fans this is frustrating to see the same song and dance taking place again. Especially after losing a whole season during the last lockout.

In this column I'm going to do my best to answer the questions that I have heard asked by hockey fans as another lockout is upon us.

Why are the owners locking out the players?

The CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) between the owners and the NHLPA expires at midnight. The NHL could still operate under the current CBA while a new one is being negotiated but the owners are adamant about having a new deal in place before proceeding with another season.

What's wrong with the current deal?

The main issue is how revenue is distributed between the owners and the players. Right now players receive 57 percent of revenue from games played. The proposal made by owners last month wanted that percentage to drop from 57 to 46.

The owners also want to limit the length of contracts to five or six year deals and get rid of the long term contracts that players have signed under the current CBA.

A rollback of players salaries? Didn't the owners get this in the last CBA?

Yes, yes they did.

In the last CBA the owners were able to rollback player salaries by 24 percent and were able to impose a salary cap that was linked to revenue. When the salary cap came into play the limit was $39 million per team. Seven years later the salary cap number grew to $70 million per team.

So if the owners got what they wanted in the last CBA, why is another lockout happening?

Because despite the owners getting what they wanted they still aren't able to police themselves.

The purpose of a salary cap was to keep owners from spending recklessly. For the first couple years that worked. But as the salary cap kept rising that meant more money for owners to spend on players. It also meant more owners giving out longer contracts to spread out the financial hit against the cap.

This past summer we saw the owner of the Minnesota Wild, Craig Leipold give contracts of $98 million dollars each to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

We also saw the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, Ed Snider sign defenseman Shea Weber to a 14 year offer worth over $100 million dollars.

By the way both of these owners are central figures in the lockout demanding that players rollback their salaries as the owners are paying them too much money.

For some NHL teams this isn't a problem as they draw well and have solid fan support with the money the fans spends being able to go right back into the team.

There are some cities though where teams are struggling to make a profit despite a salary cap. With poor attendance it's hard for the owners of those teams to keep up with teams like Philadelphia, New York and Boston who have no trouble drawing fans.

Isn't it hypocritical that the owners are claiming to lose money despite handing out these long term contracts.

It is. But the owners can also justify it by saying they are going by the rules as the current CBA allows. If Leipold didn't sign Parise and Suter to those deals another team would have as both were high in demand as free agents.

We know what the owners want as far as the CBA goes. What do the players want?

The players were fine continuing under the current agreement as they were still making good money despite taking a rollback in salary under the current CBA.

What the players want is to be treated as an equal partner and keep their share of the revenue. That's why Donald Fehr was hired to lead the NHLPA.

Donald Fehr? The same Donald Fehr that oversaw the Major League Baseball Players Association in the 80's and 90's

Yes, that is the same Donald Fehr.

The NHLPA has been in turmoil since the last CBA with Fehr being the fourth person in charge since Bob Goodenow stepped down as the head of the PA.

The main goal from Fehr is to get the best deal he can for the players and make it a partnership between the NHL and the NHLPA. Something that has been lacking between the two for years.

So whose to blame for this lockout? Is if Fehr or is it Commissioner Gary Bettman?

Both men will receive a share of the blame as they are the figureheads for both groups but right now I put the majority of blame at the hands of the NHL owners.

This lockout is being driven by them. While I'm not a huge fan of Bettman as commissioner keep in mind that he works for 30 NHL owners. If it wasn't him it would be someone else carrying this out.

As for the players I sympathize with them from the aspect that all they want to do is play hockey. You only have a certain shelf life to play the sport. Nobody wants to see a prime year or the final year of a great career end because of a work stoppage.

However the players will have to realize that by locking them out the owners have the leverage. If they want to rollback the players salaries that is what is going to happen. There is little the players can do to stop it.

So are we going to lose a whole season of NHL Hockey then?

I don't think we will.

The last time there was a lockout the salary cap was the big issue as the players were refusing to accept it and the owners were willing to sacrifice a whole year to get it.

I don't see that being the case this time as the biggest issue is how to divide revenue between the players and owners and how the owners share revenue with each other.

If you think there will be a season when will it start?

I wouldn't expect a resolution during training camp. While most players are adamant about playing I don't think it will bother many of them to miss preseason games. My guess is once the season starts on October 11th and the first regular season games are missed negotiations will pick up.

Remember unlike the last lockout the NHL has a great TV deal with NBC Sports and they have the Winter Classic which has become the greatest in season promotion the NHL has ever had.

The NHL can afford to miss the first month of the season as playoff baseball dominates the sports scene with football taking it spot on the weekends.

Once the World Series ends and the NBA and College Basketball starts the NHL runs the risk of getting lost in the shuffle completely. My guess is that a deal will be reached around Thanksgiving at the earliest.

Is there anything as fans we can do?

Right now the only thing you can do is let your displeasure be known through social media.

Seven years ago we didn't have Twitter or Facebook as options to let our voice be heard. We have those now and the NHL is very active on social media. It's now easier to voice your opinion to them and let them know how you feel.

The only other option is one I don't like to recommend but it's one that will get the NHL's attention.

When the game returns, don't rush back.

One of the reasons the owners insist on locking out the players is because of how the fans came back in droves the last time.

If the fans don't come back right away that will get the owners attention and make them think twice about imposing another lockout.

Look what MLB went through after the 1994 strike. Fans were very hesitant to return right away. Don't think that hasn't played a big role in the labor peace MLB has had since the strike.

As a fan you do have a say in what happens.

Unfortunately your voice won't be heard in time to stop the lockout.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Feeling Minnesota: Wild Land Parise & Suter

When free agency began on July 1st the two biggest names on the market were New Jersey forward Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter.

It's not every day that two players going into their prime become free agents. It was expected that with these two hitting the market numerous NHL teams would be vying for their services.

That's exactly what happened as both players were high in demand once free agency began. However instead of rushing into a decision as to where they would spend the next part of their NHL careers both Parise and Suter took their time researching their options.

The wait for Parise and Suter to choose which team they were going to play for took social media by storm as hockey fans would anxiously check Twitter for updates wondering who which team get their services.

Yesterday we got our answer has both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter decided to sign a 13 year contract to play for the Minnesota Wild.

You read that correctly. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter decided they wanted to play for the Minnesota Wild.

Not Detroit, Not Pittsburgh, and Not Philadelphia.

The Minnesota Wild.

How big of a deal is this?

Getting Parise and Suter to play for the Wild is the equivalent of asking the two prettiest girls in high school to the prom and both of them saying yes.

It's a big deal for the Twin Cities because when contracts like this are given to athletes it's usually to keep a player who came up with a team and grew into a superstar. Not to bring in a superstar from another team.

Minnesota teams never spend big money to land the two best free agents. If anything our best players are usually traded away right before they become free agents or when the rebuilding of a franchise begins.

I've lived in this market for 14 years and in my time the biggest free agent acquisition was when the Minnesota Vikings signed Pro Bowl Left Guard Steve Hutchinson from the Seattle Seahawks.

While that turned out to be a great signing for the Vikings the addition of Parise and Suter have to potential to have a much bigger impact on the Minnesota sports scene.

In Parise the Wild is getting a heart and soul player who gives a maximum effort night in and night out. He was the captain of the New Jersey Devils and led them to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Parise has reached the 30 goal mark five times in his career and he kills penalties. Parise is willing to go in the corners and do the dirty work that produces scoring chances. For a team that finished dead last in goals scored last year this is the type of player the Wild desperately needed.

With Suter the Wild get a puck moving defenseman who has reached the 30 point mark the last five seasons. Suter can play 25-30 minutes a night against the opposition's top line and has the ability to shut down their top goal scorers.

If you look at the last few teams that have won the Stanley Cup each of them had a defenseman that ate up a lot of minutes on the ice, produced offensively and shut down the opposition.

In the NHL you don't only win games with players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. You win games because of players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

While it's no secret that the Wild was going to make a huge push to sign both players when they became free agents I didn't expect either one to come to Minnesota to play hockey.

I felt that if Parise left New Jersey he would sign with a team that had a chance to win the Stanley Cup in the near future. While the Wild have a lot of young prospects in their system they are still developing as players and are probably a few years away from making an impact.

My feeling was that Minnesota was three years away from being the type of team that could land Zach Parise as a free agent. I thought if Parise left New Jersey it would be to join the Penguins and play with Sidney Crosby.

I felt the Wild had a decent chance to land Ryan Suter until Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement from the Detroit Red Wings. With over $20 million in cap space I thought the Red Wings would secure the services of Suter as GM Ken Holland usually gets the player he wants.

Instead a process that usually takes at most a day to decide drug out three days long. At that point my feeling was that both Parise and Suter wanted to play together. Parise confirmed that thought on Tuesday night in an interview with Josh Rimer on "Night Cap".

Later that night a tweet by Brian Lawton said that Ryan Suter would be playing next year for the Minnesota Wild.

With these developments Minnesota hockey fans anxiously held their breath hoping this was true. A little after 11 AM word came down that Ryan Suter had agreed to terms with Minnesota. Minutes later Zach Parise joined him as his new teammate.

The most common question asked after these two signings is are the Wild now a legit Stanley Cup contender?

The answer to that question is No. At least not yet.

The two best teams in the Western Conference are Los Angeles and Vancouver. Assuming St. Louis is for real they are probably the best team in the Central Division.

After those three teams the rest of the West is a jumble.

Detroit is in transition after losing Lidstrom to retirement. Nashville still has Shea Weber to anchor the blueline but a lot of his success came because of playing with Suter.

Chicago still has issues with their goaltender and the need for a second line center. San Jose's window looks to be closing and nobody knows what to make of Phoenix with their ownership issues.

Meanwhile of all the teams in the Western Conference that missed the playoffs last year nobody has improved more than Minnesota. I won't call them a Stanley Cup contender yet because we don't know how the young players will respond and adapt to playing in the NHL.

I thought the last couple years the Wild were good enough to be a playoff team mainly because they played in the weakest division in the NHL, the Northwest. What prevented that from happening was injuries and lack of quality depth.

With the additions of Parise and Suter along with the signings of Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, and Jake Dowell the Wild now have quality depth on the 3rd and 4th lines.

Because of this their core of young players will be given time to develop in the AHL instead of being rushed to the NHL before their ready. This is the same way Detroit and New Jersey handle their young players.

Not a bad blueprint to follow. 

While I don't believe the Minnesota Wild are a Stanley Cup contender I do believe they are a playoff team and I do believe they are good enough to put together a playoff run.

As the Los Angeles Kings showed us this past spring all you have to do is get to the post-season to make something special happen again.

More importantly Minnesota's NHL team is finally relevant and good enough to be noticed on a national level. All it took was the signing of a former member of the Fighting Sioux and a former Badger.

I think Minnesota hockey fans are OK with this.

Welcome to the State Of Hockey Zach and Ryan.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 NHL Draft: Thoughts & Observations

The 2012 NHL Draft was held this past weekend in Pittsburgh. Of all the hockey games and events I attend during the season the draft is one of my favorites because it's a who's who of hockey all located in one place.

Kids who have been playing hockey since they were Pee-Wee's get a chance to realize their lifelong dreams while NHL teams not only have a chance to set their core of talent on their roster for years to come but trades are made that can help out a franchise immediately.

I was planning on going to Pittsburgh for the draft but real life intervened and I wasn't unable to make it out there. I was able to watch and here were a few things that caught my attention. 

Edmonton select Nail Yakupov 1st overall: 

This one isn't a big surprise since Yakupov was the top ranked player going into the draft. For any other team this would have been a no-brainer.

However, while Edmonton has a wealth of talent at forward they are pretty thin on defense. There was speculation before the draft that Edmonton would trade down to select defenseman Ryan Murray from the Everett Silvertips or defenseman Griffin Reinhart from the Edmonton Oil Kings.

While I do believe the Oilers did shop the top pick around they decided in the end to take the best player in the draft. Murray or Rinehart would have filled a need but with adding Yakupov to a core of forwards that includes, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner Edmonton has the makings of two top lines that can score at will. 

Rick Nash and Roberto Luongo stay put, for now: 

Going into the draft I felt there was a good chance that Rick Nash would be dealt because Columbus needs an infusion of talent and extra draft picks would be valuable for the Blue Jackets.

Instead the only deal Columbus GM Scott Howson made was trading three draft picks to Philadelphia for Sergei Bobrovsky. The addition of Bobrovsky gives the Blue Jackets a slight upgrade in goal however the bigger issue is that Nash still remains on the roster.

Nash has six years left on his deal so there is no rush for Howson to deal him. However when a player requests a trade it is in the best interest of the team to resolve this as soon as possible. With Howson holding out for a king's ransom it doesn't look like a deal for Nash will happen anytime soon.

My guess is once Zach Parise decides where he is playing next season whatever team misses out on him will begin making a play for Nash.

As for Luongo the team that has shown the most interest in is the Toronto Maple Leafs. A deal has yet to be reached though because Vancouver and Toronto can't agree on compensation.

It should also be mentioned that Vancouver GM Mike Gillis and Toronto GM Brian Burke don't exchange Christmas cards if you know what I mean.

What you have here is a classic case of gamesmanship here where Burke says he's in no rush to get a goalie until October while Gillis says he will make a hockey deal not a CBA deal when he trades Luongo.

If that is Gillis's intention he better sign RFA goaltender Cory Schneider before another team signs him to an offer sheet. If that happens it will be very pricey to keep both and it could force Gillis to make a CBA deal instead of a hockey deal.

Jordan Staal traded to Carolina: 

One day before the draft Staal turned down a 10 year extension to stay with the Penguins. Speculation was he would leave Pittsburgh at the end of the season and sign with Carolina.

Instead of losing Staal for nothing Penguins GM Ray Shero was proactive trading Staal to Carolina for forward Brandon Sutter, defenseman Brian Dumoulin and the 8th pick in the 2012 draft which turned out to be defenseman Derrick Pouliot.

When this deal was announced the analysts at the NHL Draft praised this as a great hockey deal. While it is a good hockey deal this move was made only because Staal turned down the extension.

Shero didn't want to make this trade but with Staal forcing his hand I thought he did a great job in getting Sutter who will fill Staal's role on the team and two young defenseman on a team that really could use an upgrade on defense.

Meanwhile Staal gets a chance to not only break out of the shadow of Crosby and Malkin but he gets an opportunity to play with his brother Eric as well in Carolina.

The last couple of months the Hurricanes were always mentioned as one of those teams to keep an eye on when July 1st comes around. Now that they have Staal I'm not sure how active they will be when free agency starts. I do know that by acquiring Jordan Staal it will be easier to sell potential free agents about playing hockey in Raleigh, North Carolina.

One more thing that needs to be mentioned about this deal. By trading Staal the Penguins have about $14 million in cap space to work with when free agency starts.

That could be enough to make a run at Zach Parise or Ryan Suter. Just something to keep an eye on.

 Flyers trade van Riemsdyk to Maple Leafs for Schenn: 

One day after Jordan Staal was traded to Carolina to play with his brother Eric, Philadelphia and Toronto decided to get into the act when the Flyers acquired defenseman Luke Schenn from the Maple Leafs in exchange for forward James van Riemsdyk.

This was a deal that was rumored back as early as January and at the time it was thought that a combination of draft picks/prospects/players from either side would have to be added for this deal to occur. Instead it turns out to be a straight up player for player trade.

With the future of Chris Pronger in doubt because of a concussion Philadelphia has been looking for ways to fill that void on the blueline. Schenn, who was the 5th pick in the 2008 draft, is a defensive defenseman who is a big hitter and he patterns his game after Pronger. Being reunited with his brother Brayden in Philadelphia this is a good pick up for the Flyers.

In return Toronto gets van Riemsdyk who was the 2nd pick in the 2007 draft. He is a big power forward that brings much needed size up front to the Maple Leafs. He is the type of player Brian Burke loves. The hope is van Riemsdyk can do for Toronto what Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf did in Anaheim when Burke was the GM.

Personally I think the Maple Leafs got the better of the deal only because I think van Riemsdyk is a better hockey player than Schenn. However this is a good trade for both teams as both players should flourish with their new hockey club. 

Bobby Ryan leaving Anaheim?: 

For about the last year there have been rumors about Ducks forward Bobby Ryan being available via trade. Those rumors started to resurface again over the weekend only this time we heard from someone about these rumors that we hadn't heard from yet.

Ducks forward Bobby Ryan.

Frustrated with his name being floated around Ryan had this to say. 

"I take things personally, Anaheim to me has been a team over the past year that really has shown me nothing to prove that they want me here, unfortunately. Obviously, it's not the ideal situation. When you get drafted, you want to win championships with that team and every time they look to add a piece to the puzzle, I'm the piece going the other way." 

Ryan then went on to say. 

"I gotta be honest with you. At this point, I don't care. Move me … because it's just tough going to the rink every day knowing that if something goes wrong, you're going to be the guy moved." 

As for possible destinations the one team Ryan mentioned he would like to go to is the Philadelphia Flyers. That's not a surprise. Ryan grew up a Flyers fan in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and his dad is good friends with Flyers great Bobby Clarke.

Whether Ryan ends up in the City of Brotherly love remains to be seen but with Philadelphia trading James van Riemsdyk they do have a need for a power forward.

The Flyers were mentioned as a possible destination for Rick Nash. With van Riemsdyk being traded Nash to Philadelphia looks unlikely. However I think Ryan to the Flyers is a strong possibility.

One thing here looks certain, Ryan days as a Duck appear to be numbered.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer in the NHL: A Look Ahead At The Off-Season

With the NHL Draft taking place in Pittsburgh on Friday night that can only mean one thing. The NHL off-season is officially underway.

If you like a flurry of transactions, rumors and activity then the next three weeks should be entertaining as all 30 teams try to improve themselves before the start of the 2012-2013 season.

Here is a list of things to keep your eye on in this summer.

The Sale of The Phoenix Coyotes: 

Yes, I know that this has been an ongoing topic for the last couple years and yes I know the storyline is the same with the cast of characters changing each time it's retold.

But as long as it's on the table this story can't be ignored. Especially when whatever happens with Phoenix effects what happens with how the NHL teams are realigned.

Former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison is in line right now to purchase the struggling franchise. He is the third person to attempt to purchase the franchise and keep them in Arizona since former owner Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Numerous issues with the lease at Arena, the Glendale City Council & the Goldwater Institute have made purchasing the Coyotes a nightmare. The NHL has done everything they can to keep the franchise in the desert.

With the schedule being released earlier today the Coyotes will be in Phoenix for another season. If Jamison can get a deal done then this saga will end. If Jamison fails you have to wonder if the NHL will finally throw up their hands in frustration and start looking for a buyer outside of Phoenix. 

Tim Thomas's Sabbatical: 

One story that happened during the Stanley Cup Playoffs that I didn't get a chance to write about is Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas announcing on Facebook that he is taking a year off to spend time with his family.

I can't really blame him. After the playoff run he had in 2011 and the controversy surrounding him after not going to the White House to see the President a little time away isn't a bad thing.

What I found interesting is he has every intention of coming back in 2013-2014 and playing in goal for Boston as well as playing for Team USA in the Winter Olympics.

OK then.

If Thomas does indeed sit out the year he will be 39 when he returns to the NHL. For most players that is considered the twilight of their career. If I was Bruins GM Peter Charelli I would feel better if Thomas was 29 instead.

With Thomas gone the job in net will fall to Tuukka Rask who has the tools and skill set to be a number one goaltender. However he is also best remembered for being the goaltender when Boston blew a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia in 2010.

This coming season Rask will have every opportunity to show he is capable of being the man in net. If he does succeed the question is what becomes of Thomas?

If Rask does stake claim to being the number one goaltender then I don't see any reason why the Bruins would bring Thomas back. And even though he has won a Stanley Cup I'm not sure what the trade market would be for a 39 year old goaltender.

I remember Dominik Hasek trying to make a comeback as a 38 year old goaltender after he retired back in 2003. His comeback didn't go as well as planned. I can't help but seeing the comparisons between Hasek and Thomas.

The other question is would Boston even want Thomas back? The core of the Bruins looks to be a pretty tight knit group. I could see some players looking at Thomas taking a year off as a sense of abandonment. His return could disrupt a good locker room much like Hasek did when he returned to Detroit in 2003-2004.

If Thomas didn't return to Boston I'm sure some team would take a chance on him as a Stanley Cup winning goaltender rarely become available. However there is no guarantee that Thomas in 2013-2014 would be as good as he was in 2011.

As for wanting to play in the 2014 Olympics, the NHL & the IIHF have yet to reach an agreement to send the NHL players over to Sochi. If no agreement is reached and NHL players do not take part in the Olympics it wouldn't surprise me if Thomas just plays in the Winter Games and doesn't return to the NHL. 

The Trade Market: 

The eve before the NHL draft usually kicks off the trading season as teams start better positioning themselves for next year.

At the trade deadline the big prize was Rick Nash. Columbus didn't receive an offer for him they liked so they held on to him. As the draft approaches Rick Nash is available again and this time more teams are interested as they have all summer to adjust their salary cap instead of just a couple days before the trade deadline.

I'm not going to try and narrow down the teams that are interested in Rick Nash. When a player like him becomes available all teams have an interest. What is comes down to is are you willing to pay the price to get a player like Nash.

My understanding is the asking price for Nash involves any combination of a goaltender, two impact players with one being a forward, prospects and draft picks.

That's a lot to ask for a player who has yet to win a post-season game.

GM Scott Howson has no choice but to ask for a kings ransom for Nash if he is going to rebuild the Blue Jackets. Howson may have a certain price in mind that is just below what he is asking for. By setting the bar high he just might get one team to meet the price he has in mind.

It's all part of the negotiations. By the end of the weekend Rick Nash should be elsewhere. Where that is remains to be seen.

The other name on the trade market that has my attention is Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo.

After being benched for Cory Schneider in Game 3 of the Canucks series against Los Angeles Luongo requested a trade. Vancouver looks to be more than willing to oblige as they would love nothing more than to shed that contract from their payroll.

However no NHL team is going to take on Luongo's contract without Vancouver taking back a high salary player in any deal that is reached.

The most common rumor being talked about is Luongo to Toronto for defenseman Mike Komisarek. From a contract standpoint that makes sense but more players or draft picks would have to be added to make it a fair deal.

I get the sense Vancouver would like to get this over with before July 1st as Schneider is a restricted free agent. Trading Luongo would free up salary so the Canucks can resign Schneider.

A couple other players who are being mentioned in trades are Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal and Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan.

Staal, who is a free agent after this upcoming season just turned down a ten year extension from the Penguins. At this time Pittsburgh isn't shopping Staal but GM Ray Shero is receiving a ton of phone calls about him.

As for Ryan, his name is being kicked around once again. What happens with Ryan may either be related to or effect what happens with Nash as both are young power forwards every team covets. 

Free Agency: 

If you want an impact player but don't have the pieces to trade to get that player then be prepared to open up your checkbook as free agency is the way to go.

The two big prizes on the market are Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter and New Jersey forward Zach Parise.

As to where both players are going to go I have no idea. Only the players and their agents know what they are looking for.

What I do know is the Detroit Red Wings have about $20 Million in cap space to spend and they have a huge hole on their blueline with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart going to San Jose. I have to believe they will do everything they can to get Suter.

As for where Parise will end up? If you have a lot of cap space, a need for a top six forward and are a legit Stanley Cup contender then you have an excellent chance to get Parise.

Because of issues with team ownership I'm not convinced he returns to New Jersey. If he does leave the Devils keep an eye on Detroit, Minnesota, Colorado, Carolina and Los Angeles. 

The CBA: 

Unfortunately everything I wrote about above may be irrelevant if a new CBA isn't reached.

The current deal expires on September 15th. Last month both sides had the option to extend it for another year or to renegotiate. The owners decided to renegotiate.

Because of this there is a threat of a work stoppage. However I don't believe it will be as bad as the one that cancelled the 2004-2005 NHL season.

The main issue during the 04-05 lockout was the implementation of a salary cap. The owners were going to get one no matter what. Even if it meant sacrificing a whole season.

This time around there is no overlaying issue like there was in 04-05. The main thing here looks to be how revenue is distributed between owners and players.

While the owners want to figure out a better way to redistribute revenue the players want to be treated as equal partners in negotiations. That's why realignment was shelved for a year. 

What causes me concern is the NHLPA is now being led by Donald Fehr. Yes, the same Donald Fehr that led the MLBPA during the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series.

He is stubborn but known for getting everything he can for his players. If you are an NHLPA member you want him on your side. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman can be just as stubborn though.

Negotiations between Fehr and Bettman could make negotiations between Bettman and previous NHLPA head Bob Goodenow in 04-05 look like a playground disagreement.

While I would like to be optimistic that a deal is reached before training camp it doesn't look likely at this moment as neither side has begun labor negotiations.

But with business being good for the NHL and the shadow of the 04-05 lockout still hovering over the sport the last thing needed is a long work stoppage and both sides know that.

Something tells me a deal will be reached and there will be a season. It may not start until Thanksgiving but there will be a season.

After all too much is at stake to sacrifice another year.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Thanks For Playing: New Jersey Devils

Each spring 16 NHL teams play for Lord Stanley's Cup. At the end one team is left holding the cup while the other 15 teams can only think of what might have been. 

This is about one of the 15 teams who wasn't so lucky. 

How They Finished: 

48-28-6   102 Points  4th in Atlantic Division, 6th in Eastern Conference. Lost in Stanley Cup Finals to Los Angeles.

What Went Wrong: 

You probably think I'm going to say the five minute boarding major committed by forward Steve Bernier is what cost New Jersey the Stanley Cup.

That penalty cost the Devils Game 6. What cost them the series was losing the first two games in overtime on home ice.

If you recall Los Angeles won Game 1 on a breakaway goal by Anze Kopitar. That scoring opportunity was created when two Devils went toward Kings forward Justin Williams, who had possession of the puck.

Williams was able to make a pass by both of them to Kopitar who beat Martin Brodeur for the game winner.

In Game 2 it was a bad line change which led to the game winning goal as Kings forward Jeff Carter was able to skate around, maintaining possession of the puck until he was able to shoot, beating Brodeur for the game winner.

Just think, if New Jersey was able to win both games in overtime they would have won the series in five games. Even a split at home would have forced a seventh game.

Instead because of two miscues Los Angeles was able to take the first two games of the series. When the Kings won Game 3 it became too big of a hole for the Devils to climb out of.

I applaud New Jersey for making it into a series but once again we found out how hard it is to rally from down 3-0 in a series. 

Where Do They Go From Here: 

To answer that question you need to focus on two players, Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise.

Brodeur turned 40 just last month. At a time when some people thought his best days were behind him Marty was able to turn back the clock and lead his team back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Brodeur is a unrestricted free agent this summer. Before anyone who is a fan of an NHL team with a goaltending problem starts dreaming of having Marty between the pipes I'm just going to stop you right now.

There is only one place Marty will play next year and that will be in New Jersey. The question is if he wants to play.

Brodeur has won three Stanley Cups and played in five finals. He has won the Vezina four times and the Jennings Trophy five times  and he has the most wins of any goaltender in NHL history.

What Brodeur has to decide is does he still want to play. After falling two wins short I could see him coming back for another shot at his 4th Stanley Cup. I could also see him calling it a career after everything he's done.

There are a lot of things that will determine whether Brodeur comes back for another year. One of those things will be the status of team captain Zach Parise.

In case you have been living under a rock for the last few months Parise is the prize this year on the free agent market.

GM Lou Lamariello had a chance to trade Parise at the deadline but decided to hold on to him and make a run at the Stanley Cup. While New Jersey didn't win the cup Lamariello hunch was right on as they made it to the finals.

Now Lamariello has to try and re-sign Parise. I'll be surprised if he does it before July 1st as UFA's that are this close usually test the market.

New Jersey does have a projected $28 million dollars of cap space to work with. The problem is the squabbles that have gone on within the ownership group may take the Devils out of the Parise sweepstakes before it starts.

With Ilya Kovalchuk making just over $6.6 million for the next 13 years New Jersey might not be able to get into a bidding war with other teams once Parise hits the market.

The good news if you are a Devils fan is the emergence of rookie Adam Henrique this past season.

Henrique established himself as a Calder candidate finishing with 16 goals and 35 assist during the season. In the playoffs he finished with five goals and eight assist with two of those goals being game winners to clinch playoff series against Florida and New York.

Henrique has the makings of a star and will be a great player for the Devils to build around should Parise leave.

As for the rest of the team the only free agent I see New Jersey making a push to keep is Bryce Salvador. Salvador had nine points in 82 games during the regular season (0G, 9A) but had 14 points in 24 playoff games (4G, 10A)

His performance in the playoffs drove up his asking price but being a 36 year old defenseman New Jersey should be able to bring him back at a reasonable salary. The rest of the free agents on the Devils roster are hit or miss as to which ones will return and which ones will leave.

New Jersey surprised a lot of people by making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Playing in the toughest division in the NHL I'll be shocked if the Devils return to the finals next year.

Especially if Parise and Brodeur aren't back.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

HOCKEYWOOD: Kings Win First Stanley Cup

Going into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals the pressure was on the Los Angeles Kings.

They had a chance in Game 4 to sweep the New Jersey Devils and win the Stanley Cup on home ice. They failed to do so.

They had an opportunity to close out the series in five games on the road like they had in two of their three previous playoff series. They failed to do so.

A lot of thoughts had to be racing through the heads of the players on the Kings roster but one thought I guaranteed everyone had was they did not want to get on a plane and have to fly back to Newark for a Game 7.

Much like Game 5 both teams started out strong trying to established the tempo of the game. Shots were few and far between for the Devils while Martin Brodeur was turning away everything the Kings threw at him.

It was going take a significant event to swing momentum in favor of Los Angeles. Cue up Devils forward Steve Bernier.

There was some debate as to whether or not the call should have been a two minute minor or a five minute major. To me it's a no brainer. A boarding penalty is the most dangerous penalty a player can commit. In my mind all boarding calls should be five minute majors.

Bernier intent was to finish his check not to injure Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi. If Bernier would have just played the puck instead of the body there would have been no penalty. With Scuderi cut and bleeding as a result of the hit the official had no choice but to give Bernier a five minute major and a game misconduct.

With the penalty being called I felt the next five minutes would determine who would win the Stanley Cup. Would Brodeur continue to stop Los Angeles from scoring or would one of the Kings seize this opportunity.

Cue up Dustin Brown.

The Los Angeles captain hadn't scored a goal in the series and had only one point going into Game 6. In a series where the team scoring first had won every game, Brown's goal gave the Kings a 1-0 lead.

More importantly, because it was a major, Los Angeles still had over four minutes left on the power play. Nearly two minutes later Brown would strike again.

Jeff Carter was credited with the goal as he tipped past Brodeur in but Brown's shot on net is what set it up. With that Los Angeles had a 2-0 lead and the fear of every New Jersey fan was coming true.

At this point if I was Devils coach Pete DeBoer I would have used my time out to settle things down and gives the players a breather as they tried to finish killing off the penalty. DeBoer didn't use his timeout and it cost New Jersey.

Trevor Lewis backhanded goal gave Los Angeles a 3-0 lead. In a post-season where the Kings have given up three goals only once it was going to be nearly impossible for the Devils to win this game. New Jersey had to score the next goal to even have a chance to get back in the game.

Instead Carter struck again.

That goal made it 4-0 Los Angeles. All that was left to do in Staples Center was count down the time to the eventual celebration.

Adam Henrique scored late in the 2nd period to get the Devils on the board but an empty net goal by Trevor Lewis and a wrist shot by Matt Greene gave the Kings a 6-1 lead.

With those final two goals for Los Angeles the celebration was on at Staples Center. I'll let Mike Emrick describe the final seconds as only he can.

If I ever win the lottery I would pay him to narrate my life for one day.

With the celebration underway it was time to hand out the hardware. First was The Conn Smythe Trophy to the MVP of the playoffs. That would go to Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.

Everytime I see the Conn Smythe Trophy I can't help but think it looks like the world's biggest paperweight.

Quick was well deserving of the award as he finished with a record of 16-4, a GAA of 1.41 and a save percentage of .946.

After that the moment Los Angeles fans had been waiting for since 1967 finally arrived. The presentation of Lord Stanley's Cup.

As a hockey fan that is a sight I never get tired of seeing.

With the presentation complete the Los Angeles Kings were officially Stanley Cup Champions.

Some people will think of the Kings as an unlikely champion because they were an number eight seed. However this team wasn't your traditional eight seed. The Kings had a chance to win the Pacific Division going into the final week of the season.

For the last couple years I felt Los Angeles was on the verge of joining the elite teams in the NHL. The front office has done a great job of drafting players starting with captain Dustin Brown in 2004.

Quick, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty were all drafted by the Kings while Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were all brought in via trade.

The acquisition of Carter along with the hiring of coach Darryl Sutter is what turned Los Angeles from just your typical eight seed into Stanley Cup Champions.

The scary thing for the rest of the NHL is the Kings, because of their draft picks and acquisitions have a core of players that should be good for years to come. Los Angeles will have just over $16 million in projected cap space going into next season. With Dustin Penner not expected back the Kings will have money to add a forward (Parise?)

With the players on their roster the thought of a repeat isn't too far-fetched. But Los Angeles fans aren't even thinking about that today. They are enjoying a championship that was 45 years in the making.

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings. 2012 Stanley Cup Champions.