Press Box Hockey Talk: Pre-Season Thoughts
On My Mind
The Salary Cap
Believe it or not I was a big fan of the salary cap when it was implemented following the lockout. When discussions were ongoing between the NHL and the PA I was hoping that the league would win that battle. And this is coming from a LEAF FAN!! I loved the days during summer when I would wait to see what big name the Leafs could lure away from other teams and keep themselves in playoff contention by doing so. When the Cap was being discussed I wanted it so that other teams, smaller markets in particular, would be able to compete on a regular basis, year in and year out. I continue to hear people say that the cap hinders teams that draft well. Since the Hawks won the Cup, ‘Cap Haters’ have stated that now they have to trade all their good young players away and it’s unfair. True it is unfair that the Hawks had to trade away Dustin Byufglien, Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg, who they drafted and developed in their system, however, Ladd was not a Chicago draftee, nor was. And who told the Hawks to give out terrible contracts to Huet and Campbell at cap hits of 5.5 and 7.5 million per year? Maybe they could have kept their young players if they didn’t hand out such terrible contracts, which resulted in the trading of their own drafted players. In addition, Patrick Sharp was not drafted by Chicago either. I’m aware to get over the hump teams have to trade to add a few missing pieces, but don’t ignore the fact that some of these UFA signings to get over the hump cost the team their young players.
Another thing, I don’t hear Detroit Red Wings fans complaining about the cap. They go about their business by being thorough with players they pick up via trade or free agency. In addition, they use their young drafted players smart and as a way to avoid going over the cap. They understand player value better than any other team and don’t pay players unnecessarily or in long term deals before they have yet to prove anything.
Back to another reason I love the salary cap as a Leaf fan. I know it sounds crazy right! It’s because I love to get excited about a team’s farm system and young players. I know, I know, Burke traded 2010 and 2011 first rounders away but atleast it was for a very good young player in Phil Kessel. In addition, it was really enjoyable and exciting watching the Leafs draft Schenn and Kadri. It’s exciting to hear about (and you knew they were going to every summer) a big name free agent (albeit usually past their prime...ok always past their prime).
Right and Wrong
Alright, I can admit when I’m wrong. I hate when people are quick to ask for praise when they predict something right but are never heard from when they are wrong. First, where I was wrong....The Calgary Flames. I had these guys winning their division. It looked as if Kiprusoff wasn’t going to continue to decline, yet I still thought he had some gas in the tank, which he showed he did last year. The Flames would have found themselves a lot lower in the Standings without Kipper. In addition, how disappointed was in with their defense. I said their defense was the best in the league. On paper, I stand by comments, however, not according to their play. Bouwmeester looked nothing like the Bouwmeester they traded for from Florida. I didn’t think their forwards were the best but thought it would be enough to get the job done.. OK! I was wrong!
Second mistake. I picked the Flyers to win the Cup last year. I know, I know you’re thinking well not bad considering they made it to the Finals. Well....When Emery got hurt I sort of abandoned ship. I just didn’t think their goaltending would be up to par.
Now...where was I right? The Vancouver Cancuks! I always said they would be in the playoffs. I never disputed that but Canuck fans everywhere ripped into me when I stated they were never real threats to win the Cup. They would rip me up and down saying their forwards were one of the deepest in the leagues and they had Luongo. Yes, the Canucks have great forward depth and Luongo is a great goaltender (though the 09’ playoffs left some doubt in his playoffs ability), but my concern all year long was defence! They don’t have a true number one defenceman. No Lidstrom, no Chara or Pronger. And their depth on defence was questionable due to injuries. I stated over and over throughout the year this would be the downfall of the team...Glad Gillis listened to me when he decided to trade for Andrew Alberts at the deadline. Ok, enough sarcasm, but seriously, for all the people who suggested that defence wasn’t a concern, I guess that’s why they traded for Ballard and signed Hamhuis. This definitely makes the Canucks a true contender, and although they still have no true number one defenseman, hopefully these additions can give them the depth, which will compensate. In the West, they’ll be in tough though. That conference is scary deep.
Leaf Fan Rant!
No secret I bleed the blue and white and although I do like alot of the moves Burke made in the offseason I still don’t understand why Kaberle is still a member of the team. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great player, but they really don’t need his skill set any longer with the emergence of Gunnarson on the powerplay. I don’t know what was offered but I figured even if just a 1st rounder was offered it would have been worth it.
Another thing regarding the Maple Leafs defense is the depth. I don’t remember seeing this kind of depth that the Leafs have on the backend in years. Komisarek, Beauchemin, Phaneuf, Gunnarson, Schenn, Kaberle, Lebda with Blacker, Aulie, Mikus all waiting for an opportunity. I know some think it might be crazy but if you could trade Schenn in a package for a top line forward, why not do it? The most I ever see him being is a Top 4 defenseman with limited offensive potential. The depth on defense allows the Leafs to do that especially considering their oldest defenseman is Kaberle at 32.
One last quick thought. Is Mike Komisarek the new Jeff Finger? Neither are terrible NHLers by any mean, and Komisarek is definitely better then Finger, however, for a 5 million dollar cap hit, Komi shouldn’t definitely be playing more than 13 minutes a night on the third defense pairing. Is Komisarek tradable? If so, is it time to explore that possibility after only one injury filled season in Toronto?
Now for my predictions...
**NOTE: All picks were made prior to the start of the season**
1-Washington – Hey, I’m not saying they’re going to win the Cup. I’ve lost some confidence in their playoff performance and it’s up to them to win it back. But they’re regular season powerhouses. The San Jose Sharks of the East as of right now, if you will.
2- New Jersey – Great goaltending, Solidified the defense, and offensive depth they haven’t ever had. This team makes the Atlantic Division one of, if not, the best divisions in the league. Loved the acquisition of Hedberg. Brodeur can get some rest without any hesitation.
3- Boston – Here’s hoping that Rask doesn’t suffer from the sophomore slump. Even though Wideman had an off year, his departure hurt their depth on the back end. Love the addition of Horton.
4-Pittsburgh – Similar to Washington, you know what you’re going to get with these guys. Still not happy they haven’t added good wingers yet, but it is about time they shifted Malkin or Staal to the wing so that they could both get top 6 ice time. Great defensive additions as well.
5-Philadelphia – Will miss Gagne when he wasn’t hurt. Zherdev should be a solid contributor playing with Briere, Richards or Carter. Good move to trade for Meszaros. He isn’t a top pair defender but in Philly he won’t have to be. They made their solid defense even better.
6- Ottawa – With Gonchar quarterbacking the powperlay that should definitely help Kovalev and Spezza get more opportunities. Time to see if they can find some consistency in goal.
7- Tampa Bay – I know. Seems like a bit of a jump from 12th to 7th but I love their depth up front, where Gagne makes them that much more dangerous. I believe that Hedman will emerge this year as a force on both ends, while I loved the additions of Clarke and Kubina. Bringing Ellis in is a win-win. Cheap price could pay huge dividends.
8- Buffalo – Although I think they’ll miss the departures of Lydman and Tallinder, I can’t find myself writing off Miller. And it’s not like they have to win the division. Just have to make it into the playoffs. Ellis should make an impact in the top 6 this year.
9-Toronto – Here’s hoping I’m wrong and they make it into the playoffs, but I just see too many teams in front of them to do so. I really like their defense. It’s too bad they weren’t able to build a package, including Kaberle, to obtain a top line forward. They need offense bad and don’t have much of a need for Kaberle anymore.
10-Carolina – Missed a chunk of the season without their top keeper and top forward. Atleast they saw that they had a keeper in Sutter. Depth will be the downfall of this team. They should do alright this year. He might very well get his shot this year, but even if he doesn’t Jeff Skinner is looking to be a great draft pick.
11-Montreal – I’ve said all along that Halak was their man. Not because I don’t think Price will be a great keeper but because he just won’t be a great keeper for Montreal. I thought that they could have got more/better for Halak but Lars Eller sounds like he could be a solid pickup. Depth may very well be an issue this year with injuries to Markov and Hamrlik (depending) already looking troublesome.
12- New York Rangers – Great goaltending, suspect defense, best player is injury prone. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
13-Florida Panthers – I’m counting them out this year due to lack of scoring and holes on defense. They’re in the rebuilding process though and should be dangerous in another 2 years. Hopefully they can trade Vokoun at some point this year for some draft picks or solid prospect(s) to help in the rebuild. Markstrom is knocking on the door!
14- Atlanta Thrashers – Loved their off season pickups by taking advantage of the Blackhawks Cap misfortunes. Watch for Kane this year. Similar to the Panthers, a few years away but have solid pieces coming up.
15- New York Islanders – Solid pieces coming up but not their time yet. Here’s hoping that Dipietro can stay injury free for their sake. Losing Okposo leaves this team really slim up front. Love Garth Snow’s patience though. Hey, with nobody expecting anything big yet, why not take a Top 3 pick in 2011 where there looks to be some studs to be had.
1- Detroit – With Chicago having to trade away some of their depth and Detroit looking to be healthy for a whole season, they are primed to recapture their division. I’m banking on Howard not suffering from the sophomore slump this year. Additions of Modano and the return of Hudler from Russia should pay big dividends.
2- Vancouver – Loved the defensive additions. Thought they paid a bit much for Ballard. Now with great defensive and forward depth they should take a step forward in the playoffs this year.
3 Los Angeles – Up and comers should continue to progress this season. A battle, between Quick and Bernier, for the number one spot, should keep them playing at their best. The signing of Willie Mitchell should help an already solid defense.
4- Chicago – Although I don’t have them winning their division, they won’t drop off that much. Great, cheap, signing in Turco. Good drafting and trading should allow youth to continue to emergence as the Cap Crunch continues.
5- San Jose – Was worried they were happy with having Nittymaki and Greiss as their keepers for the year. Good idea to sign Niemi. Looking forward to seeing how their young defense does with the loss of Blake and how Logan Couture continues to develop.
6- Phoenix – Two solid years in a row have made me a believer. Great trade to acquire Wolski for Mueller who just couldn’t seem to get it going consistently in the desert. Time for younger players like Turris and Boedker to start paying dividends and showing their worth.
7- St.Louis – After an off year, they should show that they are progressing. With solid goaltending coming in with Halak and bounce back years from Boyes and some of the younger players, they should have the power to make it into the playoffs. Interested to see if Pietrangelo is able to take his talent to the next level. If so, having defense, including Johnson and Pietrangelo, are great building blocks to the future.
8- Colorado – Wondering if they can repeat their Cinderella performance of last year. Foote, Hejduk and Hannan are a year older but so are Duchene, Stewart and O’Reilly. Might all depend on if Anderson can put together another consistent year.
9- Calgary – I put too much faith in them last year. I do believe that Bouwmeester will have a bounce back year, but for a GM I used to think was solid, I’m starting to wonder if he’s all there mentally anymore bringing back Tanguay and Jokinen.
10- Nashville – Hard to push a team, who always proves people wrong, out of the playoffs but maybe this will be the year it catches up to them. Great defenseman in Weber and a solid signing in Lombardi, but I wonder if depth will be an issue.
11- Anaheim – Loss of Neidermayer should hurt A LOT! Health of the big guns, Getzlaf, Ryan, Perry and Selanne will determine how far this team can go. Have some solid young defenseman in Fowler and Sbisa coming along.
12- Edmonton – Similar to Florida, this team will be great in a couple of years. Goaltending and defense is the question mark. Hey, another top 5 pick (to use on a defenseman!!) won’t hurt. Any team with the names Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi seem to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
13- Dallas – Turco looked average but to let him walk and put all your money on an injury plagued keeper is a dangerous game. Like the forwards, it’s the defense and goalie I worry about.
14- Minnesota – Liked the additions of Madden and Cullen for depth but their defense leaves a lot to be desired. Past Mikael Grandlund, this franchise is in desperate need to restock the prospect cupboard.
15- Columbus – For a team that looked like they were about to emerge a couple of years ago they took a step back last year. Mason should bounce back but it won’t be enough unless Nash, Filatov and Brassard have amazing years. Defense, in my opinion, is a concern.
I don’t know if I can pick the actual finalists for the Stanley Cup, but lets say for now Pittsburgh/Washington vs. Detroit/Vancouver
Thanks for reading! And whatever became of Aki Berg?