Tuesday, July 28, 2009

WRT's New Blogventure

Since joining HTP, WRT has been a big asset to me and the blog. Simply he has been able to pick up coverage of games that I couldn't watch and or his ability to write about games that he was physically at added a dimension that I, in my Center Ice-driven world, couldn't.

So, I ask you to check out the new branch in his blogging tree:

Mileposts and Goalposts.

He and I both appreciate you giving it a look-see.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pittsburgh's problem


The Penguins have a little bit of a problem. Max Talbot's shoulder surgery, keeping the rugged winger out for at least one month of the regular season, further clears up a spot alongside Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko on the second line. Talbot probably wasn't a true top-six winger anyway, despite his success in the playoffs, so that winger position might have been open to begin with. Now it definitely is.

The thing is, who's going to play there? GM Ray Shero said he'll look for Talbot's replacement from in-house, so the hope is someone in training camp will force management's hand and earn an NHL spot. Eric Tangradi, a top-notch prospect acquired with Chris Kunitz for Ryan Whitney, won't be the answer, as he's having some problems from a recent hand surgery and probably wasn't going to be ready for the NHL anyway.

Luca Caputi, who earned a cup of coffee in the NHL last season, is the most NHL-ready prospect but is still likely a year away, but he might surprise and get the first crack at the job. Nick Johnson has impressed this week at Pittsburgh's prospects camp, as did Keven Veilleux. Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Minnesota's own Ben Hanowski are also in the mix. Might any of them make it? It's possible. The alternatives if they don't?

Well, that's a good question. Pittsburgh might again attempt to move Jordan Staal to the wing. Tried it last year and it really didn't work out well. That might be a good thing considering how the season ended. But, if Staal ends up on the second line, that would clear up the third line center position for Craig Adams, Mike Rupp, or another prospect such as Dustin Jeffrey. Or Talbot could return to the third line once he returns. Staal's a center though; I can't see him being moved again.

Another option is Tyler Kennedy, who incidentally was the only forward who dressed for the Penguins in the 2008 playoffs who did not score a goal. (Even Georges Laraque scored.) He fixed that this year. In addition to scoring 15 goals during the regular season in 67 games, an improvement over his rookie year of 10 goals in 55 games, Kennedy netted five in the playoffs, including two in the Final, one of which was the winner in Game 6.

There might be some reluctance in bumping Kennedy up a line, as he formed one heck of a trio with Staal and Matt Cooke. But he might be the best option. The Penguins have plenty of guys who can fill Kennedy's spot, if not the chemistry, including the aforementioned Adams or Rupp, or Pascal Dupuis.

A dark horse candidate for Malkin's line could be Dupuis I suppose. Sidney Crosby was saddled with Dupuis for a while, so maybe it's Geno's turn. Dupuis is a competent contributor but is not a top-six player. I would expect Staal, Kennedy or a prospect to fill that job before Dupuis.

But really, those are the only options as things stand now. Maybe Shero pulls off some kind of trade. Just because he said he'd like to find an in-house solution doesn't mean he'll bank on that. Pittsburgh has plenty of third/fourth-line guys, but not nearly as many top-sixes apart from Malkin, Crosby, Kunitz and Bill Guerin. Fedotenko is kind of a tweener. He has been on two Cup-winning teams, performing excellently in one of those years and very good in the other, but only once has he scored more than 20 goals in a season. He might've done that last season if he hadn't broken his hand on Colby Armstrong's nose. But he did, so he didn't get 20.

When Talbot returns to the lineup, things will get a little more chaotic. I still don't understand why Shero signed Rupp to begin with, but I trust he knows what he's doing. Maybe he thinks Talbot belongs on the second line. He only played there in the playoffs because Petr Sykora was mired in a tremendous slump and coach Dan Bylsma put Miroslav Satan on the fourth line instead of in Sykora's spot.

Really, Talbot is a third-liner, but that line is currently set, barring movement of Staal or Kennedy. There are plenty of fourth line players in the mix - Rupp, Adams, Eric Godard, Tim Wallace, Jeffrey or another young player - and several of those can play the third line.

The door is basically shut on returns by Sykora or Satan, so neither of those "snipers" will fill the spot. A guy like Malkin can make his linemates better, so the Penguins don't necessarily need to go out and find a 25-30 goal player. It'd be nice to have one of those but it's not going to happen. The crop of forwards waiting in the wings (pardon the pun) could have that potential, but it will be an interesting competition for the position.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wild 2009-10 Schedule: Don't Miss...and Don't worry about...

WRT opines about each month of the Wild 2009-2010 schedule:

October (14 games): Don't miss...the weekend of Friday-Saturday, October 30-31, as the Wild partcipate in 'Back to the Future' weekend, as they take on the New York Rangers (and old 'reliable' -- yeah, right) Marian Gaborik at the 'X', followed the next night by their final visit ever to Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, to take on the Pens (and so Chuck Fletcher can finally receive his Stanley Cup ring). Also, the home opener (Oct. 6, a Tuesday) as it's 'Koivu vs. Koivu' as Saku comes to his little brother's house for the first time in the hated Ducks black, gold and orange.

Don't worry about... October 21 vs. Colorado. No Sakic, no hope. Avs are in full rebuild mode.

November (11 games): Don't miss... Nov. 10-15, probably the most interesting Eastern conference trip the Wild have taken in a long, long time. Road games at Toronto (Brian Burke and his rebuilding Buds), Tampa Bay (soon to be renamed 'Really South St.Paul', for all the ex-Wild on the 'Bolts roster), Washington (Mikko Koivu vs. Alexander the 'Gr8') and Carolina (a Sunday afternoon game...during football season...in North Carolina. What part of this does NOT compute?) If they survive that road trip, 8 of the following 10 games are against opponents who did NOT make the playoffs last season.

Don't worry about... Nov. 7 vs. Dallas. Another team that got really old, really fast. And, like the other bad team in the Pacific Division (Phoenix), Tom Hicks is also in deep financial doo-doo.

December (16 games): Don't miss... Dec. 17-19, two games in Eastern Canada (at Montreal on Thursday, at Ottawa on Saturday) that just before the Holidays might put the Wild into a real holiday funk, should they go out and lay two eggs on this trip.

Don't worry about... Dec. 7 at Phoenix. The Wild really catch a break on this one, as there will be thousands of Wild fans at Jobing.com Arena, as the Minnesota Vikings play the Arizona Cardinals the day before, across the street, at University of Phoenix Stadium.

January (14 games): Don't miss... Jan. 2 as Jacques Lemaire leads the New Jersey Devils into the 'X' for the first game vs. his old team. Now can we finally 'boo' the trap?

And... Jan. 11 vs. 'Sid the Kid' and the Pittsburgh Penguins on 'ticket scalper's holiday'.

Don't worry about... Jan. 28 at Colorado, the last game between the Wild and the Avs in 2009-10.

February (6 games): Don't miss... Feb. 6 as the Philadelphia Flyers come to St. Paul. How long will it take for Chris Pronger to try and do the 'stomp' on Cal Clutterbuck?

Don't worry about... Feb. 12 vs. Atlanta. The Thrashers may be so wound up in Ilya Kovalchuk trade talk that 'Blueland' may just be black and blue by that point. And then, there's the Olympic break...

...after which, we have...

March (16 games): perfectly separated -- two at home early in each week, two away at the end of the week, for four weeks straight. So, with all that, don't miss... March 25-26 (at Philadelphia, at Detroit) as whatever animosity remains (after the first Wild v. Pronger stomp-a-thon) will re-emerge, in the city that once booed Santa Claus. The next night, if there's anything left, they take on the Red Wings at the Joe in Detroit for the last time this season.

Don't worry about... the playoffs, if the Wild are still struggling at this point. They won't make it if they play this season like they did down last year's stretch.

April (5 games): Don't miss... April 2 vs. San Jose, as the Wild can really throw a monkey wrench in a number of teams' playoff plans if they don't get in themselves. San Jose could just be one of those teams.

Don't worry about... April 10 vs. Dallas. By then, Mike Modano will be really regretting coming back for that one...more...season.

And then...maybe, just maybe...the playoffs?

Random ramblings


**I wonder if Mikael Samuelsson will be as good in Vancouver as he was in Detroit, or if the Red Wings magic will run dry. Look at his stats: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8467463

Not good anywhere before Detroit, then solid production in Motown. Did he simply not get a chance in those other places, or was there something about playing in the Wings' potent lineup that rubbed off on him? The Canucks have $7.5 million riding on the former.

**Karma, thy name is Hossa? First, he didn't get what he expected from his one year in Detroit (he can say all he wants about how he still had a great season; sorry, Marian, you went there solely to win the Cup, you didn't, therefore, not a great season.) Then, he signed in Chicago, promptly stating lines such as, and I'm paraphrasing here as I don't have the exact quotes in front of me, "It's nice to go to a hockey town to play on a young, exciting team."

A double slap to Detroit, similar to the slap he dealt Pittsburgh after rejecting a lucrative contract offer from the Penguins.

Now, news comes that Hossa had a shoulder injury, possibly first suffered in the 2008 final with Pittsburgh, and will have surgery that will keep him out for at least the first two months of next season. Ouch. Good luck with the rest of that contract, Chicago. The injury might not matter in the long run, and probably won't, but what's next on the list?

(As for anyone saying, "Guess that's why Hossa didn't do anything in the final." Well, Max Talbot also had shoulder surgery and will miss the first month of the season or longer, but he still managed to score four goals against Detroit, including two in Game 7. Just saying.)

**Lesson No. 1 if you're going to hand out a contract that is slated to last 10 years or more: Make a pact with whatever devil or demon spirit your religion anti-worships to ensure the health of the player you're signing.

This week, the Islanders signed Martin Biron to a one-year contract. Earlier, New York inked Dwayne Roloson for two seasons. If you're counting at home, that's two starters from last season - with the Flyers and Oilers respectively - that Garth Snow has signed for the club.

Whither, DiPietro? Rick's contract - signed in the fall of 2006 and still has 12 freaking years remaining - is really looking like a bad idea. I can't imagine Biron or Roloson would be willing to play in the AHL at some point, so it's probably logical to assume DiPietro won't be healthy. Twelve more years, Isles fans. Hopefully John Tavares distracts people from that.

**I know this is partially beating a dead horse, and that nothing can be done about it, but I wonder if Minnesota made the right choice in signing Niklas Backstrom to an extension. If Josh Harding is as good as to be believed, Doug Risebrough should have looked into trading Backstrom at the deadline and roll with Harding as the No. 1. Maybe Risebrough tried and didn't get anything he liked. But again, that's in the past. I felt Backstrom was their biggest trade chip as the deadline approached, before and after Backstrom's extension.

**Back to Chicago briefly for this Dale Tallon-Stan Bowman-John McDonough mess. It's become common knowledge that the Blackhawks are in trouble with the salary cap. Then there was the qualifying offer snafu. Based on what I've read, Bowman was the team's capologist and held responsibilities that include dealing with qualifying offers. Yet he's now the one in charge of the ship?

I've seen McDonough praised for things he did in his previous job with the Chicago Cubs. No one seemed to mention the number of championships he won with the Cubs. (Hint: It's zero.) I hope this ends well for Blackhawks fans.

(Well, assuming they don't ever meet the Penguins in the final.)

**Don't look now, but the Lightning management is showing some signs of knowing what the heck they're doing. I know, I'm scared too.

**Is the signing of Nik Antropov enough for Ilya Kovalchuk to sign an extension in Atlanta? Either way, the Thrashers' top two lines aren't bad with players like Bryan Little, Todd White, Slava Kozlov, Kovalchuk and Antropov. Kari Lehtonen is going to have to step up for Atlanta though, or they need to find someone who can man the pipes.

**Is it still summer? Ye gods this season is long. I might as well wrap this up now and go find something to do until it's hockey time again.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yet more thoughts on the Wild 2009-10 Schedule

WRT has more opinions on the 2009-10 Wild schedule (We can't believe it, either...we know)

The more I think about it, the more apparent it becomes that the Minnesota Wild need to come out of the pre-season ready to do some heavy lifting in order to get back in the playoff chase.

"But it hasn't even STARTED yet!"

I know, I know...but when 4 of your first 5 games (and 9 of your first 11) are against teams that actually made the playoffs last season, it will be readily apparent early on whether the Wild are ready to be contenders...or pretenders. Buyers...or sellers.

No Southern California road trips after the New Year. No trips to Vancouver in January, February and March, when the BC Lower Mainland will be screwed down like a vise for the Winter Olympics. No trips to Alberta between Dec. 11 (at Calgary) and March 3 (again, at Calgary). Only 5 games starting after 8 PM Central time after the Olympic break.

Just thinkin' out loud, folks...

Monday, July 20, 2009

A few more thoughts on the 2009-2010 Wild schedule

WRT opines on the recently released 2009-10 Wild schedule

Well, we've all had a few days to digest the new Wild schedule for the upcoming season. What do you think?

My thoughts:

The Olympic break of 16 days (Feb. 15-March 2) may actually help the Wild, as they may well know where they stand by the time that the break occurs (after the home game vs. Vancouver Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.) Or, will they?

Four of the 6 games vs. Calgary will be played after the Olympic break. 3 of the 6 games vs. Edmonton, again, are after the break. But, amazingly, only one game vs. Vancouver (away) and no games vs. Colorado will be played after the break. In fact, the last Wild vs. Avs game will be Jan. 30 at Pepsi Center. On the other hand, March is the only month that the Wild and Canucks do not see each other.

Both games at Detroit, usually a house of horrors for the Wild, are after the break, as are both of the home games vs. another group of Wild-killers, the San Jose Sharks. The rest of the season is tough, but it looks like the stretch drive could equate to the 'Heartbreak Hill' of the Boston Marathon, the milepost 20 killer of runners' dreams for decades. The stretch drive for the Wild, unless they somehow can catch lightning in a bottle, could be absolutely brutal.

The schedule, due to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, is front-loaded with good road trip opportunities. The opening part of the schedule, and its' first six of seven on the road, provide good weekend trip opportunities, especially during Minnesota "Teachers' Weekend" (Oct. 15-17) when the Wild are in Edmonton and Vancouver on Friday-Saturday, Oct. 16-17.

October 26 has the first game in Chicago (Martin Havlat returns to Chicago), a Monday night which has the potential to be a Versus ratings bonanza.

November provides an easy road trip to Washington and Carolina, a late fall bonanza for Wild road fans. The same trip begins at Toronto and Tampa Bay, both winable games.

December allows for that rare two-sport doubleheader, as the Vikings are in Arizona to play the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 6, the day before the Wild take on the Phoenix Coyotes across the street at Jobing.com Arena. Later in the month, the Wild do another Eastern turn as they travel to Montreal (Dec. 17) and Ottawa (Dec. 19).

And, if you get sick of the relatives at Christmas, you can always go to LA and Anaheim for Dec. 27-28 (Monday-Tuesday) but get out of there in time for the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1 (unless you want to pay the sky-high hotel prices!)

January does not provide a lot of easy trips, but does allow for the second game at Chicago (Jan. 5), and both games at Dallas (Jan. 18 and Feb. 1) at the end of three-game road trips West.

And then, there's March, and the three back-to-back Thursday-Friday sets of road games, including the two Detroit games as described before. The last one (at Philadelphia, at Detroit Mar. 25-26) will be especially brutal as the Flyers hit, hit and keep hitting. There may not be enough of the Wild remaining for the Detroit game the next night...unless the Wild hit back, of course!

With air fares for fall at an all-time low, hotels desperate for bookings, and the economy basically in the dumper right now, prudent planning indeed will produce desired results. This is especially true now, with the recent turns of events in the airline industry in Minnesota, fares to road trip destinations have never been more reasonable.

It's time to GO!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Not what the Wild needs? Really?


Just had to get this off my chest after a discussion over on Russo's blog.

A while back, I'd posted a list of the goaltending situation throughout the NHL with the goal of pinpointing the most likely trade partner for the Wild in regards to Josh Harding. I labeled Philadelphia as most in need of a "goalie of the future" and mentioned Danny Briere as one player Philadelphia would love to get rid of because of his supersized contract.

This became a topic recently on Russo's Rants and Briere was given the "he's nowhere near what we need" label.

So someone fill me in. What exactly do the Wild need? When I asked that question, I did not get a response. When I mentioned Briere, I said he scores goals (204 in 591 games, including three seasons of 30+); he picks up assists (four times with 30+); he produces on the power play (195 of 473 points on the power play); and that he's a playoff performer (23 goals, 57 points in 63 games.)

Never once did I refer to him as God or the reason Philadelphia will win a Stanley Cup. I did not compare him to centers like Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk or Evgeni Malkin, or Joe Thornton or Vincent Lecavalier.

What I believe is that Briere is a quality player who would be a significant upgrade for a team like the Wild, who currently lack a No. 2 (some would even argue a legit No. 1) center. Briere is a center forced to the wing because Philadelphia has Mike Richards and Jeff Carter down the middle.

If that doesn't fit the Wild's needs, then what does?

It's quite understandable and even expected to not want the guy because of his bloated contract ($6.5 million through 2015.) I have no problem with citing that as a reason to stay away from him. But the argument seemed to stem mainly from the fact that he's an awful player. To say he's "nowhere near what the Wild needs" is just ignoring the facts. When I look at the Wild players, I don't see too many who have scored multiple 30-goal seasons in the NHL.

I don't see that trade happening, nor am I pushing for it. But for a Minnesota team that features James Sheppard or Pierre-Marc Bouchard at center behind Mikko Koivu, Briere would be an upgrade. Briere certainly isn't "the missing piece" but he represents another building block. Hopefully, for those fans' sakes, Sheppard shakes off the bust label or Bouchard succeeds in making the position switch. Maybe they'll develop into better players than Briere.

Briere's contract makes a trade unlikely. But ignore that for now. Would you rather have Briere, Sheppard or Bouchard as your second-line center?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NHL Schedule Release Night Live Blog!

Join in as we critique (and criticize) the release of the NHL 2009-10 schedule Wednesday night, July 15, from 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Central Time (7:00 PM-8:00 PM for those of you in the Eastern Time Zone, and 8:30-9:30 in Newfoundland!)

Wild Road Tripper invites you to bring your questions regarding the 2009-2010 NHL schedule to our little forum, where we ask the important questions regarding one of the most important things in your life in the next 9-10 months...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Square peg, meet square hole


We haven't yet hit the Ides of July yet, so there is plenty of time between now and training camp before rosters are finalized, but the Penguins took a big step in fleshing out their team, signing defenseman Jay McKee to a one-year contract Friday.

The last "need" on Ray Shero's list was a defensive defenseman, ideally one with a physical presence, and McKee fills both roles. Last season, McKee was seventh in the league with 185 blocked shots in only 69 games. Unknown-player-turned-cult-hero Rob Scuderi blocked 164 shots during the regular season to lead the Penguins.

McKee (6-4, 203 pounds) is also quite willing to throw some fierce body checks. YouTube has the evidence. He'll also drop the gloves when he wants.

On paper, McKee seems to be an upgrade over Scuderi. His price tag is believed to be only $800,000, which leaves the Penguins with a little over $2 million with ideally another depth defenseman and a backup goalie to sign.

The problem with McKee - and thus the need for a seventh defenseman - is his injury history. He played only 69 games last year and has suffered concussions, hip injuries, knee injuries, broken fingers, foot injuries, "lower body" injuries, a fractured right hand, charley horses, and probably swine flu and the plague for good measure. He hasn't played over 70 games since the 2005-06 season and you have to go back even further - 2001-02 - for the last time he played over 80 games.

Still, it's a quality signing through and through for a No. 6 defenseman. Assuming Ben Lovejoy signs with Pittsburgh - he hasn't yet accepted his qualifying offer and no contract has been reached - maybe McKee can teach the kid how to play defense and Lovejoy can step in next season to fill McKee's spot.

The Penguins' lineup now looks like this:

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Bill Guerin
Max Talbot*-Evgeni Malkin-Ruslan Fedotenko
Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy
Eric Godard/Pascal Dupuis-Mike Rupp-Craig Adams

Sergei Gonchar-Brooks Orpik
Mark Eaton-Kris Letang
McKee-Alex Goligoski

Marc-Andre Fleury
John Curry/veteran backup

(*Talbot will miss the first one or two months of the season, and most likely either Luca Caputi or even Kennedy could be bumped up to the second line. Dupuis could then play on the third line.)

Pittsburgh's defensive pairings will have a nice balance between offense and defense. Gonchar is one of the top defensemen in the league while Orpik is one of the biggest hitters around; Eaton is Scuderi without the publicity of saving a goal in the Final and even showed some offense during the playoffs with four goals, Letang sees top power play time and has the makings of a strong all-around player; and Goligoski showed a flair for offense in limited time last season (six goals, 20 points in 45 games.)

About the last thing for Shero to do is find a veteran netminder to challenge John Curry to be Fleury's backup. Shero has stated Talbot's replacement will come from in-house, and he has a knack for making trades at the deadline, so I'd expect him to save some cap room for that purpose. A trade or two might yet come - the Dupuis contract is one of Shero's mistakes - but for the most part, this will be the team Pittsburgh uses to defend its championship.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

WRT's This 'n' That

A column of opinion, some facts and an occasional rant from the Wild Road Tripper (WRT)

Interesting NHL free agency period so far, isn't it?

The NHL free agency period is only four days old, and Minnesota Wild fans could conceivably call this year's 'frenzy' an unqualified success:

- They lost Marian Gaborik (a move which the Wild knew would happen) but were able to replace him with Martin Havlat, perhaps the only FA available who could not only fit the new Wild 'unleashed offense' style, but their salary structure as well.

- The Wild were also able to shed a lot of salary (Martin Skoula, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux, Dan Fritsche) that really was being over-paid for their services, and replaced two of them (Skoula, Bergeron) with players who are talent upgrades on defense (Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy), while still having salary cap room for possibly the best remaining center in free agency (Saku Koivu) to join the Wild.

- The continuing makeover of the Wild front office, well-documented in other Web locations, continues as strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson was not re-signed to a contract, and the coaching staff of new head coach Todd Richards was announced.

Now, what to make of all this?

You have to admit, there really IS a lot to ponder as the Wild begin a Developmental Camp this coming week (culminating with a scrimmage game next Sunday, 12:30 PM, at Xcel Energy Center; scrimmage -only- open to the public; Gate 1 opens at 12 noon) as the coaching staff gets its' first good look at the 'fresh meat' drafted players (in most cases) which will, in part, re-stock the Houston Aeros (after a number of Aeros' players with Wild contracts were either not renewed or not tendered qualifying offers).

-Will the Wild be better than last year? Or will the Wild be worse than last season and get a higher draft pick in the 2010 draft?

It's way too early to get any indication as to what the future will hold, but in my honest opinion, if the Wild play like they did in January and February of 2009, they will wave a 'red flag' in front of increasingly disgruntled Wild fans, who want this team to return to the playoffs (and win a playoff series, for the first time since 2003).

- What will the Wild do to keep its' season-ticket fan base happy?

That's another good question, as the best promotion, of course, is winning. They have a new front office, a new coaching staff (save for Mike Ramsey and Bob Mason) and a new style. But none of this has been proven -- yet. We'll see...in 3 months. Until then, it's all conjecture and heresay, so much hot air, hope and hyperbole.

But, the good side for Wild fans, is that for the first time in years, there actually is HOPE. That there is the hope of better days ahead. Hope of making the playoffs, hope of advancing through, and eventually, making a Stanley Cup run. Hope of upgrading the talent, getting some of the premiere players in the game to actually play here, in Minnesota, for some of the most rabid fans in the sport.

But, like the end of World War II in Europe, you have to re-build after you kick out the old, poisonous regime. That will take time, lots of effort, and lots and lots of money. Time to re-model the scouting staff into something that GM Chuck Fletcher can work with. This new group has already shown that they are not going to be without effort. And, majority owner Craig Leipold has already said he will provide the money to spend up to the NHL's salary cap.

The Wild's 'stakeholders' -- their fans -- expect nothing less than that. And if that's not Managing Expectations™, then I don't know what is.

I'll be at the 'X' next Sunday for a look at Minnesota's hockey future. So far, the future looks very good. See you there!


Friday, July 3, 2009

Free agency so far


It's about 7 p.m. EDT on Friday, the third day of free agency. Most of the major free agents have signed, with winger Alex Kovalev and defenseman Francois Beauchemin still available along with plenty of other quality players, including center Saku Koivu, much to the dismay of Wild fans.

A look at what the Wild and Penguins have done so far:

winger Martin Havlat, defensemen Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy
Losses: winger Marian Gaborik (Rangers)
Remaining wish list: center Saku Koivu, possibly another winger and/or defenseman

Analysis: Overall, I think the Wild has fared fairly nicely. Gaborik was unlikely to return and Chuck Fletcher didn't take long to find a replacement in Havlat. Gaborik is the more explosive of the two, but Havlat is still a quality player who will put up numbers - if he stays healthy. He played 81 games last season, the most in his career and the first time he's appeared in over 68 games since his second year in the league when he made 72 appearances with Ottawa back in 2001-02. And if Gaborik runs into health issues on New York's ice - as Michael Russo Wild Road Tripper believes - this could end up being an upgrade.

Zanon might best be described as a poor man's Rob Scuderi - but I mean that literally. Zanon might be Scuderi's equal or even better in terms of defensive play, shot blocking and penalty killing, but Scuderi's contract will pay him quite a bit more than Zanon's. I'm actually a little jealous; I wanted Zanon as Scuderi's replacement if Missile left (which he did).

Hnidy is one tough SOB who will likely slot into Minnesota's 5/6 spot. Relatively minor signing, but a necessary addition to bolster the defense.

Minnesota might not be done. If Koivu doesn't sign, Fletcher might go after a winger or explore trade options. Steps in the right direction for Fletcher. This doesn't make the Wild a Cup contender but one-year fixes aren't easy to do. The Rangers delve into free agency and hand out rich contracts all the time, and it hasn't gotten them much in the last 15 years. Fletcher can't change the team's fortunes with the 16th overall pick and one free agency period, so it's more than a little premature to call for his head.

wingers Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko, forward Mike Rupp, defenseman Alex Goligoski
Losses: defensemen Hal Gill (Montreal) and Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles), goalie Mathieu Garon (Columbus)
Remaining wish list: No. 4/5/6 defenseman, backup goaltender

Analysis: Ray Shero brought back two key members of this spring/summer's championship team, each at significant discounts, getting Guerin for $2 million and Fedotenko for $1.8 million - down from $4.5M and $2.25M respectively - both on one-year deals. That provides a workable top two lines, though Shero maybe looks for another winger for Evgeni Malkin, rather than use Max Talbot there for the entire season.

But two other important figures in the Cup run departed, with Gill getting a two-year contract worth $4.5 million - a raise from last year - from Montreal and Scuderi cashing in with the Kings for a whopping $3.4 million annually for four years. The two formed an effective duo and were the Penguins' top penalty killers, and the only replacement signed so far is restricted free agent Goligoski, whose game is offensive rather than defensive.

The loss of Garon is not a big deal. Garon barely played since coming over in a trade and is replaceable.

Retaining Guerin and Fedotenko - especially at those discounts - is good. Losing Gill and Scuderi - and not having capable replacements yet, though Ben Lovejoy could step in (emphasis on could) - is very bad and makes Pittsburgh's free agency so far a wash at best. Finding a strong defensive defenseman will fill the last hole.

Both teams still have players to sign, so we'll see how the GMs tweak their lineups between now and opening night.

(Also, on a completely unrelated note, I'm a big fan of the Subway food chain. Not their commercials, just their food.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Free Agency Day 1