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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Maple Leafs Were Never In On Brad Richards

Think what you like about Brian Burke and his performance as GM of the Leafs.

As an outspoken opponent of cap-skirting, mega contracts, Burke has voiced his disapproval clearly and often. He even testified against the Devils/Kovalchuk contract last off season.

So what was Burke to do when a truly elite center-man, which held the primary spot on the Leafs' shopping list, hit the UFA market?

"... We made a very substantial offer to Brad Richards.  What we offered I don't think is material, but we lost out on the Brad Richards sweepstakes  for two reasons.

One, we didn't offer as much money as other teams, and more importantly, we didn't structure the contract like other teams did.

These deals that are front end loaded and have small amounts at the back end, in my opinion are designed to circumvent the salary cap.

I won't do them.  I never have.  I'm not going to, and that's why we were unable to sign Brad Richards.

I wish him well.  He's a good guy, but that's not a contract structure we are interested in."

Front loaded contracts are not Burke's only pet peeve when it comes to signing players.

Bad blood still exists between Burke and Kevin Lowe regarding Lowe's RFA offer sheet to Dustin Penner.

Recently, when asked if he would consider making an offer to a RFA "considering what was available," which was a thinly veiled question as to why Burke hasn't made a move to acquire Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty or Shea Weber, Burke answered:

"An offer sheet?  I don't contemplate doing one right now."

When pushed again as to why... citing that the reporting was talking about "excellent" players, presumably just to make sure Burke was aware...

"Because I don't contemplate doing it at this time.  Offer sheets are part of our CBA, and if teams want to make them: fine.  I do not contemplate adding a player in that manner."

If Burke is to be an influence among his peers, he cannot spout off against the actions of other teams, which he hints at operating in an unscrupulous manner, and then participate in the same practices of which he is so critical.

Burke knew what it would take to land Brad Richards.

Yet, he wasn't willing to do it.

So tell me Leafs fans, is it better to have Burke keep his integrity and credibility, or to have the freedom to add any player of need, regardless of the consequences of doing so?

Furthermore, is the team better off not spending wildly in free agency or by chasing after expensive RFA acquisitions?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The New York Islanders: Poised To Make a Move?

In a dimly lit corner of his serenely quiet office, Garth Snow coolly flips to the B-side of an unlabeled vinyl 78.

The needle stirs with a slight pop, as the turntable begins to spin, a dulcet voice-over with Latin music undertones invites Snow to begin tapping his foot to the beat.

"They once won the Stanley Cup... Four times in a row."

"The team plays in a barn... under the banners of Bossy, Trottier and Potvin."

"A rival GM once remarked: 'I wish I had the Islanders' cap space.' "

"They are... the most interesting team in the NHL."

With approximately a bazillion dollars available under the salary cap, and supposedly no financial restrictions imposed by ownership, many have noticed that the Islanders are in a prime position to do something significant to bolster their lineup.

No, this isn't a frivolous speculation that the team will make an offer for Stamkos or Doughty. No team will. [*loud cough*, Philly Inquirer]

The UFA pool is all but dried up.

Yet, there are a number of teams, who for one reason or another, would like to clear a bit of space.  The Isles would be an ideal trading partner for any team wanting to get something back for their impending free agents.

They have the cap room, and prospect assets to get nearly any deal done.

The Islanders could be looking for anyone who can score: forwards, or defensemen to take pressure off of Mark Streit.  They could use some bottom six character forwards, or crease clearing bangers on the blueline.

So lets take a look at some scenarios.

The Capitals

With a slew of roster changes, Washington is currently over the cap max.  They will have to do something.

Trading Alex Semin, Mike Knuble or Mike Green in a contract year might be a risk, considering their personal motivations, but moving an asset now would give the team the most time to make adjustments.

Semin has been talked about for years.  He would clear the most room for the Caps and provide the Isles with a true sniper.

Green would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but due to fluke injuries, the Caps have thrived playing without him.  He would be a long-term hockey investment in Long Island and give the team a deadly powerplay pairing with Streit.

Knuble is a possibility here too, as he be lower risk for Washington, and provide the Isles with net presence, and move into a role similar to what they had in Doug Weight, only more productive on the ice.


The Jets have shown no loyalty to the old regime from Atlanta.  Surely that applies to the roster that was inherited as well.

While now in a healthy ownership situation, it doesn't mean that Winnipeg would shy away from shedding some bigger contracts to allow greater flexibility to shape the new Jets roster in a manner that suits the new coach's system.

Nik Antropov or Ron Hainsey are two players with a combined cap hit of $8.5 million. 

Additionally Zach Bogosian remains unsigned as a RFA.  Opinions vary on Bogosian's development thus far, and therefore there is some question on what is his true market value.

All three skaters represent an upgrade for the Isles, while only Bogosian would command a significant return in order to obtain.

Other Opportunities and Targets

Although a trade within the division is less likely, the Flyers may consider moving Matt Carle or Braydon Coburn while in the last year of their current deals.

Dustin Penner could be moved from Los Angeles to ease the cost of a new investment in Drew Doughty.

The re-signing of Eric Brewer could precipitate the exodus of Pavel Kubina from Tampa.

Even Patrick Sharp could be put in play as the cap will tighten up again for Chicago next season.

Carle, Coburn, Penner, Kubina and Sharp all offer an element of toughness and skill that could push the Isles forward.

Again, the team possesses the cap room and core to make a leap as soon as this season.

If past performance is any indication, Garth Snow will likely make the right decision, regardless of the move or lack of one.

Stay thirsty Isles fans.

*Salary Cap numbers provided by

Friday, July 8, 2011

NHL Free Agency: The 11 Teams Still With Significant Moves To Make

With the big names now off the UFA board, many teams are finished shopping, and are now working on the subtle nuances of rounding out their rosters.

Yet, there are some teams who have more pressing issues to deal with.

Some need to spend to get to the cap floor.  Some need to trim a little payroll.  While others have monster contracts to work out with big name RFAs.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks will operate on a budget this season, but they are already over the cap floor.

Their issues to deal with center around landing some forwards.  Teemu Selanne will play a gigantic role in how the team will proceed regarding filling their needs.

As it stands right now, Anaheim has 8 forwards on the NHL roster.

With roughly $12 million available, money won't be an issue, but what players they use it on will be.  Selanne showed last season that he still has much to offer, but what will Anaheim do if he retires?

Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo's new ownership wanted to make it clear to all their fans that they are invested in winning.

Spending freely to ink Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff, and trading for Robyn Regehr, while bold moves, left the team with about $350k under the cap.

The Sabres have just 6 defensemen on the NHL roster, 3 RFAs without contracts and only 1 goaltender at the moment.

In the end something has to give.  Could they bury Ales Kotalik in the minors, or loan him to Europe?

Possibly, but I'm sure that the NHLPA would frown upon the team trading for a player, then banishing him before he ever takes the ice.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have taken care of their roster needs quite nicely.

Perhaps too nicely, though.  With nearly a full roster, Colorado still is roughly $6 million under the cap floor.

The team does have a few unsigned RFAs to take care of, but I don't see the Avalache dishing out $6 million + to T.J. Galiardi, Kevin Porter and Cumiskey.

Not too long ago, there was talk of the team wanting to rid themselves of Paul Stastny's bloated contract.  Now, it appears they will hold on to it for dear life.

Los Angeles Kings 

The Kings would not even be mentioned here if not for Drew Doughty.

 But, it's Drew Doughty we are talking about.

Los Angeles made some big moves this off-season. They traded for Mike Richards, then signed his former Flyers teammate Simon Gagne, which should pay big dividends for the Kings next spring.

Yet, an even bigger story looms on the blueline.

L.A. has $11 million...ish under the cap.  Signing Doughty will happen, but when, and for how much remain questions.

The regular rounding out will happen too, but keeping the franchise defenseman long term is top priority.

Nashville Predators

What I just said about the Kings... just transpose Nashville and Shea Weber for Los Angeles and Doughty.

The Predators will use Weber's deal to push them past the cap floor.

It will be interesting to see how Nashville approaches signing their franchise and team captain.

Will they seek to keep a limited term, or a lifetime/Ovechkin type contract?

Either way, his deal won't throw the team budget off course.  The Preds will slink off into winter oblivion, then in April the rest of the Western Conference will pray not to be paired with Nashville in the first round of the playoffs.

Just imagine what a Nashville team could do under Barry Trotz if they could spend to the cap max!

New Jersey Devils 

Last year at this time the Devils were about to become the poster child for salary cap goofs.  Yet, after a rough beginning, ol' Lou began to right the ship, and now things don't seem so bad on the cap front.

New Jersey has yet to reach a deal with star winger Zach Parise.  The team has roughly $7.8 million available for Parise and a few spare parts.

Considering that Brian Rolston's bloated cap figure is gone after this season, it's seems likely that the team and Parise will get a long term contract done.

Throw in the fact that Parise missed nearly all of last season to injury, and you have a negotiation full of intrigue.

New York Islanders

With approximately a zillion dollars in cap space before the start of free agency, it was thought that the Islanders could be big players in the market.

Yet GM Garth Snow showed restraint in an inflated marketplace, signing only forward Marty Reasoner from the UFA pool.

The Isles remain a little more than $10 below the cap floor.  Keeping super prospect Nino Niederreiter with the big club would eat away $3 million.  Signing RFAs Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, Michael Haley and Ty Wishart may take up the rest.

However, don't rule the Islanders out of the trade market either.  The best values of this off-season have often come via the swap meet.  A solid vet or two added to the talented young core could launch this team back into the playoffs again.

New York Rangers

The Rangers landed the UFA grand prize when they agreed to a new deal with center Brad Richards.  the team also added grinder Mike Rupp, but they are far from done this off-season.

New York has a premier crop of RFAs including heart and soul Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle, that they must sign, or move after the arbitration process. 

A pair of defensemen need to be added as well.

Though not in dire straights, the $12 million in cap space they current possess may not be enough to get the job done, forcing the Rangers to create additional space by, say... buying out the remainder of Wojtek Wolski's $3.8 million cap hit?

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay can complete it's NHL roster by signing RFAs Teddy Purcell, and some guy named Steven Stamkos.

They have $14 million available this season to do it.

Few players have created the stir that Stamkos' RFA status has this off-season.  Message board users, newspaper reporters, bloggers, fans and dreamers around the hockey world have imagined scenarios involving their team landing Stamkos.

That's all well and good, but a pipe dream.

Stamkos has scored 96 goals over the past two seasons.  Players of that caliber will invite all sorts of takers, but no one, and certainly not the Lightning are interested in giving them away.

One thing is certain, Stamkos will get big money.  The thing to watch will be how long the Lightning extend themselves for the budding superstar.

Washington Capitals

The Caps made a lot of moves to toughen up their lineup.  Bringing back Brooks Laich with a hefty pay raise was only the beginning of a free agency period that say the team haul in the likes of  Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, and the pièce de résistance, goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

All these moves come with a cost.  One of their best young talents, defenseman Karl Alzner, remains unsigned as a RFA.

To make room, as this article was being written, Washington traded forward Eric Fehr to Winnipeg, to clear cap room.

With a slew of top flight free agents looming next year, don't be surprised to see GM George McPhee make moves to secure the team's long term future.

Winnipeg Jets

The aforementioned Jets just traded to add feisty forward Eric Fehr.

But even with the new edition, the Jets remain under the cap floor.  Still the team must make a few decisions regarding some young RFA talent.

Once regarded a future franchise player, opinions now vary regarding defenseman Zach Bogosian.  It would not be a shock if management and Bogo's representatives were not close on a new contract at the moment.

Winnipeg must also decide what to pay Blake Wheeler, Ben Maxwell and Brett Festerling.

As Thrashers, those players would likely be moved over money concerns, but as Jets, they may be given the opportunity to grow in the system.

True North has shown little inclination to loyalty to the old regime, so it's tough to predict what will happen between now and the start of the season.

Yet, as this off-season has shown all of us, anything can happen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bilateral Capitals: Washington's Two-Faced Off-Season

Capitals General Manager George McPhee (GM GM) has received deserved praise for his signing of all-world goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

Vokoun's availability in a competitive, free spending marketplace came as a shock to many, particularly the elite netminder himself.

But with the shock came a surprise call from a contender.

 “Obviously [last Friday] was a disappointing day for me,” Vokoun told reporters on a conference call Sunday. “There weren’t a lot of offers. It was disappointing, no question… I thought I would draw more interest than I did. Honestly, I had the best offer from my old team but I didn’t take it and after that, it wasn’t pretty...”

“For me, as much as it’s been a tough couple of days, I know I’m going to have fun,” Vokoun said. “I’ve been on winning teams before but nothing like Washington… So I’m hoping that it’s something I’m going to enjoy and really take advantage of and play even better than I have in the past.

“Everything happens for a reason and I’m excited. I’ve never had a chance to play for a team like this; it came to me as a little bit of a surprise.” 
As we mentioned earlier, McPhee and the Caps have received plenty of recognition for the Vokoun deal.

It would seem the euphoria created by one great signing has clouded the vision of those looking at the Capitals overall off-season picture.

Let me start off by saying that I believe George McPhee to be one of the finest GMs in the game.

However, I believe that his off-season thus far, has been equal parts both genius and foolishness.

Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images
Without question the Vokoun signing, the trade haul (first AND second round picks) for Varlamov, and the bargain acquisition of Jeff Halpern provide ample evidence of McPhee's brilliance.

Yet, the Varly coup was somewhat offset by an earlier deal for a 25-year-old restricted free agent forward who largely has been a disappointment in Chicago. Troy Brouwer cost the Capitals their 2011 first round selection.

While he does provide Washington some grit, and Cup winning experience, Brouwer has not been the goal scorer that he was expected to be at the NHL level. Nor has he been an effective player in the post season.  Particularly last season, when he was completely blanked in the series against Vancouver.

Brouwer's production simply has not been consistent with that of a player worthy of a first round selection. So why give one up for him?

Compounding the issue is Brouwer's new deal which will come with a two-year cap hit of $2.35 million.

Consider also the signing of Roman Hamrlik. On a team rich in blueline puck movers, was the addition of a $3.5 million, lock-down 35+ contract necessary for an aging defender well past his prime?

Given you can argue the need for Brouwer and Hamrlik, even at their cost; but what is the rationale for locking up Joel Ward to the tune of $12 million over 4 seasons?

Ward had an impressive playoff performance for Nashville last season.  Yet was it so impressive that the third, and sometimes fourth line player, became worth the investment of a $3 million cap hit?

Not hardly.

Like McPhee, I like Joel Ward... at a third of the cost.

Certainly, Ward's intangible contributions are the stuff that Washington is desperate to add to their lineup.  They just didn't need to appear so desperate to do so.

The Caps were one of the NHL's elite again last season. That is to say, regular season elite. 

After another early post-season flame out, players, coaches, team executives and fans alike, were left scratching their heads, searching for answers.

With the moves made by McPhee, are they a better playoff team today?  Probably, yes.

With RFA Karl Alzner still unsigned, and next seasons' group of impending free agents which includes the likes of Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Mike Green, Dennis Wideman and John Carlson, did they need to invest so much into the role players they acquired this season?  Probably not.

Time will answer both of these questions, and also whether McPhee's summer was, in fact, a Jekyll and Hyde act.

For now, like Will Hunting's job interview proxy, I believe McPhee's off-season to be "suspect."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Jagrgate: Jaromir Signs With Philadelphia

Brian Fantana tells us that he has learned that Jaromir Jagr has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.

TSN reports the same.
The Philadelphia Flyers have signed unrestricted free agent Jaromir Jagr to a one year deal worth $3.3 Million.

Earlier in the day, the Penguins withdrew their offer to Jagr.  Detroit soon followed suit.

After Jagr's agent Petr Svoboda, said Thursday that his player's "heart is in Pittsburgh," he signed with their arch rival?

One thing is sure, if his heart is indeed there, he better hope that Penguins' fans never discover it's location, as it would surely be trampled.

Mr. Fantana:  You are released from duty.  You may now head home.