Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bruins popularity, ticket sales soaring

New England Hockey Journal has a great article on the rising popularity of the Bruins. Definitely worth a read for anyone who has stuck with this team through the past decade and a half.

Buried in the article are a few noteworthy numbers:

  • Season ticket sales have roughly doubled since two years ago.
  • The Bruins' NESN ratings increased 69 percent, matching a 12-year-old record overall.
  • Game 7 against Carolina was the most-watched Bruins game in NESN history, with a 14.2 share. And it shared the airwaves with a Celtics playoff game.

As we fret over the summertime minutiae of salary cap issues and prospect development, it's a good time to pat ourselves on the back as fans. Times like this are sweet and fleeting -- we've suffered through the dark days and come out the other side. Keep that Axelsson jersey stashed in the back of the closet as proof that you were there.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Let's try this again: How much can Kessel expect to make?

Earlier this week we speculated about what numbers might be involved in the Phil Kessel negotiations. At the time it seemed that Peter Chiarelli's only remaining task was to either sign Kessel, or deal him for a defenseman.

It seems Chiarelli had other things on his mind, thus the flurry of activity on Thursday and Friday. Things have actually become much clearer for Kessel, as the Bruins are now dealing with a definite salary cap number.

Assuming Chiarelli doesn't have any more surprises up his sleeve, here's where it stands for Kessel:

Bruins cap space - $1.3 million
Chuck Kobasew's cap hit - $2.3 million
Possible salary for Kessel - $3.6 million

There it is, Phil... take it or leave it. Contracts larger than Kobasew's are unmoveable, so trading Chuckie is Chiarelli's last and best hope for clearing some cap space to sign Kessel.

Last Wednesday's post pegged Kessel's market value at roughly $3.4 million, based on similar contracts and his lack of leverage in the negotiations. This should really be a very simple decision for him. End this stalemate early, spend the rest of the summer shopping for Porsches and look forward to another year of burying Marc Savard passes.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Tweeters get ahead of themselves; Bruins' wild day continues

What a strange day it's been. I'm setting a new record with 4 posts, because every time I log on there is something new to report.

The latest development is that the Bruins signed -- oops, ALMOST signed -- former Coyote/Ranger Derek Morris as reported (and then recanted) on Twitter by James Murphy. Here's the chuckle-worthy series of Tweets:

Bruins have signed Derek Morris. More details to come.

Regarding last tweet, I was just told by reliable source Bruins have signed Derek Morris. Trying to confirm.

Still trying to confirm. But it appears Derek Morris very likely could be a Bruin.

No confirmation yet but all signs pointing towards Morris to Bruins. There are other teams in on him, but sources tell me, Bruins got him.

Update on Derek Morris to Bruins: All we can say is that the Bruins and Morris are very close to a deal. No call back from agent. So "close"

WBZ reporting Morris' agent says Bruins one of several teams in mix, no Bruins announcement today. My sources still say Bruins the team

Mmm hmm... everyone got that? This is the sort of embarrassing thing that we are going to see more of in the age of New Media.

Even better are the bloggers who jumped on the story too early, vaguely citing "sources" that could "confirm" an event that didn't actually happen.

Jumpy Tweeters notwithstanding, the Morris signing appears to be a legit story. This means the Bruins have effectively swapped Aaron Ward for Morris, a 4th round pick, and a slight cap hit for 3 of the next 4 years.

Now for the latest head-scratcher: Morris carried a healthy $3.95 million cap hit last season. Granted, the contract was bloated and we are sure to see Morris take a pay cut... but it's hard to imagine him going much below Ward's salary level.

In other words, this "salary dump" was not actually a salary dump at all. It was, more or less, an even salary swap in which the Bruins got slightly younger, softer and more skillful on the blue line.

So after all that, still no progress in the Kessel stalemate.

I'm sure that Peter Chiarelli is either mad, or a genius. I hope that he's both.

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Chiarelli positioning to trade Kessel, or just playing mind games?

Still trying to get our minds around Peter Chiarelli's intentions in trading Aaron Ward, we come across some unsettling statements in the media:

- The Boston Globe and Rink Rap both report that the trade was designed specifically to deliver Ward back to his adopted home of North Carolina.

"Frankly, I wouldn't have traded him anywhere else except to Carolina because that's where his home is."

"I knew right off the bat," Ward said. "It's never good when your general manager calls you in the summer. He told me I was traded. I was pretty happy with the news that I'd get to go back to Carolina. He conveyed to me that he wasn't going to trade me anywhere else but Carolina. It worked out well."

Let's hope that Chiarelli is just playing at public relations, and not honestly stating that this was a personal favor to Ward. Taking care of Bruins alumni is a noble cause, but not at the (literal) expense of the franchise.

- The conventional wisdom around the deal is that it's a cap-friendly move which will allow the team to re-sign Phil Kessel. Not so, says Chiarelli:

"I'm looking at another defenseman," said Chiarelli. "I would expect we
would add a defenseman. Whether we're searching for a partner (for Zdeno Chara -- Ward was his partner last season) or someone we already have is going to play with him, that's all (undecided at this point)."

Um. Looking at adding another... defenseman? You mean, someone to replace the defenseman you just traded?

Again, let's hope this is nothing more than posturing for Kessel to read in tomorrow's press. A sly GM wants to make a free-agent feel that the team can walk away from the table if necessary. This statement was sufficiently ambiguous that there's really no telling what plans are being laid behind closed doors.

But if we take this quote as face value, it more or less confirms that Kessel will be moved. Re-signing him would eliminate any possibility of acquiring a top-4 defenseman this year. Unless, of course, Carolina wants to unload one in exchange for a buyout forward and a low draft pick. Just sayin'.

- But then we get hit with this curveball:

"With respect to Phil, he's a good young player and we want him in our mix. I've got the endorsement of ownership that any offer that comes in we will match."

Ok, so now we have an olive branch being extended to the Kessel camp. Or is it an invitation to disaster?

Remember, it wasn't so long ago that a young, talented forward in the Northeast Division faced restricted free agency and the possibility of being traded. His team made a commitment to match any offer sheet that came along, because they couldn't afford to lose his long-term promise. He's blossomed into a regular 40-goal scorer, though much like Kessel he could still use some work on his overall game.

His name is Thomas Vanek, and he carries a $7,000,000 cap hit. It's hard to imagine that Chiarelli would find a way to fulfill his promise to match "any offer" if a team like the Leafs swoops in and offers, say, a $5.5 million deal to Kessel. Is the above just more hot air, or is he throwing down the gaunlet to any would-be suitors?

- Finally, Chiarelli explains that Eaves' buyout was actually advantageous for Boston:

“Because the contract is structured with escalating salaries, we actually get a positive credit to our cap next year in the amount of $41,000,” said
Chiarelli, who noted that because Eaves is younger than 26, the buyout is for one-third the value of the deal.

So if Eaves isn’t claimed on waivers, he will be a slight cap hit (around $258,000) for Boston this year and then give the Bruins more room next season.

Setting aside the arcane rules that allow for such a situation, it's a bit difficult to swallow this reasoning. Granted, it gives the Bruins the slightest bit of relief in summer of '10, when four more key players come up for new contracts. But in three other seasons, this is an utterly unnecessary $250k penalty raises the Bruins' overall buyout penalties to over $2 million this season.

And, bafflingly, Chiarelli has yet to explain why he took Eaves in the first place. Trading Ward for a fourth-round pick would be one-sided. Trading him for a fourth and a cap penalty is salary-cap sabotage.

Since the Bruins have improved so dramatically under his watch, Chiarelli has enjoyed an abnormally generous benefit of the doubt. Any gold-blooded Bruins fan wants this trade to work out, Kessel to be re-signed and have a monster season, and the organization to look back on today as another signpost in a Cup-winning journey.

But until we see the final destination with our own eyes, this has the feeling of a true leap of faith not seen from the Bruins since... well, since the last time we defended a Northeast Division title.

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Are you frickin' kidding me?

I barely had time to type that last post before Boston put Patrick Eaves on waivers with the intention of buying him out.

Let me get this straight.

Lacking depth on the blue line, we traded a veteran defenseman who was a leader in the locker room...

... for a near-worthless draft pick and an underachieving forward we didn't need...

... who we then put on waivers to either be scooped up elsewhere or bought out...

... so we will now carry another buyout hit in addition to those which caused this cap crunch to begin with.

And Chiarelli couldn't find a better deal elsewhere? What would be wrong with simply trading Ward straight-up for a draft pick? Why take on a useless cap hit in the process of a salary dump???

Deep in my brain there's a rational explanation slowly forming around the idea of re-signing Kessel or moving him to a team that could give us a two-fer. But that idea simply doesn't align with the sheer stupidity of taking on a contract which will be nothing but an empty cap hit for the next several years. It's like eating a whole carrot cake as part of your diet, because carrots are healthy.

Of course, Kessel is worth this painful trade. If he scores 40 this year, Chiarelli will be hailed as a genius. But it's hard to understand how this is the best deal available for a team already struggling with a serious cap crunch... and needing every bit of breathing room for Savard, Lucic and Wheeler next summer.

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Ward traded to Canes: First Reactions

Carolina gets: D Aaron Ward, his $2.5m price tag, and a lotta splainin' to do about trashing his personal character only a few months ago.

Boston gets: F Patrick Eaves, his $1.4m price tag, a 2010 4th-rounder, and the ability to re-sign Phil Kessel.

My immediate reaction: Frankly, Eaves is garbage. His "career year" was a 20-goal season on a supercharged Ottawa team, and everything since then has been measured in single digits. Except, of course, for his "games missed with injury" numbers. Fragile + low-scoring + paid more than $1m = waste of space.

The 2010 pick is also a throwaway. Carolina is a top-6 team for sure this year, and might even challenge Washington for the division if they get hot. That means the pick will come in the part of the draft where guys like Cam Janssen and Kevin Bieksa are considered a steal.

This trade is all about Phil Kessel. Boston saves $1.1m on the cap, presumably enough to come to terms with Kessel and ensure they get their top goal scorer back in the fold. Chiarelli is taking two gambles:

1) Ward won't be missed as much as we think, because Johnny Boychuk is ready for the Big Show. I'll believe that when I see it.
2) Eaves is really a solid Sturm-esque player who's had some hard luck, but is ready to break into his own. I'm not sure that I'd believe it even if I saw it.

Kudos to Canes Country for predicting this trade days in advance. I trashed it at the time, and I will continue to trash it because the Canes essentially stole an asset for almost no return. The onus is now on Kessel to provide big returns on the investment, because this trade hurts Boston in the locker room even more than on the ice.

One last thought... it's hard not to notice that the Bruins are spending $1.8m of cap space on buyouts this year. Ward is essentially a victim of the Murray and Schaefer contracts.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How much is Kessel really worth?

While we wait for this impasse to clear, there are only two variables left in play:

1) How much does Kessel think he's worth?
2) Can the Bruins achieve that number by dumping salary to other teams?

I'll leave Eklund to work on that second item, but #1 is something worth thinking about.

Let's take a look at the historical precedent. Kessel is 21 and coming off a 36-goal campaign -- an unusual scenario for any team trying to construct a market-value offer. In fact, I could only find five similar cases in recent history:

Marian Hossa, 2001: He rang up 32 goals for Ottawa, but was unable to come to terms when his rookie contract expired. Hossa sat out until two weeks into the season, signing a 3-year deal worth $2.8 million per. After three more seasons of similar production, he signed with the Thrashers at $5m/yr and has been a mercenary ever since.

Simon Gagne, 2002: Gagne led the Flyers with 33 goals, and signed a two-year contract the following summer for $2.35m per. He continued to climb the scoring list and landed a $5.25m/yr deal several years later. Nagging injuries that began in his early 20s have blossomed to siderail his career, though he can still hold his own.

Dany Heatley, 2003: This is, of course, an unusal story. Heatley was one of the league's brightest stars when he scored 41 goals in his second season, and under the right circumstances would have turned out quite differently. However, his personal life and the lockout got in the way and he ended up being traded to Ottawa. His post-lockout salary was in the $4.5m/yr range, but that was two years removed from his breakout season.

Alex Semin, 2007: Another odd story, which involved the Capitals suing Semin's agent for breach of contract when he split for Russia after his rookie season. When he returned, the 23-year-old scored 38 goals and was rewarded with a 2-year contract at $4.6m per. He'll be looking to hit the jackpot after this season as an RFA.

Thomas Vanek, 2007: This is the nightmare scenario. Vanek was 5th in scoring during the final year of his rookie contract, and everything seemed on track until the Oilers signed him to an absurd 7-year, $50m ($7.14m/per) offer sheet. In the wake of other free agent departures, Sabres management had little choice but to absorb this monstrosity of a contract.

So, the historical record shows a little bit of everything: from the "prove it" contract (Gagne) to a regrettable trade (Heatley) to a cap-crushing offer sheet (Vanek). Oddly, the post-cap contracts seem to be less restrained than those which occurred in a free market.

Of the five, Kessel's situation is most similar to Gagne's. He's playing on a Cup-contending, big-market team alongside one of the best setup men in the league. He's got a media-friendly personal history. If he should stay in Boston, he'll be one of the top names in this year's Winter Classic. The table is set for him to have a huge season, one in which his value could eventually elevate into the $5-6m range or higher. But that is contingent upon his health and his production, and the "if" factor is a bit too much for him to score that kind of deal right away.

Using the examples of Gagne and Hossa, it would be reasonable for the Bruins to offer a 2-year deal with a $3m annual cap hit. However, Kessel's agent will likely start the discussion with David Krejci's recent $3.75m extension. Taking the average, we arrive at $6.8 million over 2 years, with a cap hit of $3.4m per. Given Kessel's lack of leverage, and the likelihood of a big payday down the road, he'd be wise to take that offer.

In order to arrive at this number, the Bruins will be required to move one or more of the following: Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart.

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Great vid of 10 Bruins prospects

Gotta pass along this great top 10 list of Bruins prospects from The Lunatic Fringe (aka Playmaker from HFBoards). Most of the video was shot during prospect camp, so this is the first time we've seen a couple of these guys in a Bruins uniform.

If nothing else, you've GOT to see the sick shootout move Joe Colborne pulls at the end of his vid. By all appearances his size, speed and skill will have him in Boston before too long.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Breaking news: Hunwick signs for 2 years

Boston.com just reported that Matt Hunwick has signed a 2-year deal with Boston to avoid arbitration. Not much detail readily available, but I'm going to throw out a few educated guesses:

1) Hunwick's agent advised him to take a last-chance deal before going to arbitration, meaning he probably settled in the range of $1.6-1.75m/yr. I don't see him settling for less, but I don't see him getting any more on Friday so this was probably the best deal for all concerned. [ed: The Bruins made out better than I expected -- Hunwick's deal will average $1.45m/yr. This is a great deal for the Bruins, who can use every quarter-mil they can squeeze under the cap.]

2) This means that if Hunwick's career continues to arc upward, he will be in for an enormous payday in two years. The Bruins will have to make some very difficult decisions if that happens.

3) Expect movement on Phil Kessel in the near future. Hunwick was the only other question-mark on the 2010 roster, so Peter Chiarelli is now dealing with an absolute cap number.

Until today, I'd imagine that the dialogue between Chiarelli and Kessel was nothing but posturing. Now there's no point in kidding each other -- either Boston can afford to retain him or they can't. Chiarelli simply needs to know how much Kessel is willing to play for, and whether that number can be achieved by moving a player or two to another team.

If I'm right about Hunwick's new cap hit, my back-of-a-napkin tally has the Bruins at $54.6 million committed to this season, with a $56.8 million cap ceiling. Kessel will likely not sign any contract for less than $4m per season, and it's pretty clear that he wants to shoot for $5m if possible.

My expectation: within the next two weeks Chiarelli will find a taker for Chuck Kobasew, moving $2.3m off the roster. He'll offer Kessel $4.3m for 2 years, leaving just the slightest bit of space under the cap ceiling. And then we'll start talking about next season's cap crisis.

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7 games to watch in 2009-10

October 1st vs. Washington - All eyes will be on this opening night matchup of Eastern Conference contenders. Expect a huge amount of media attention and a sloppy, entertaining game. This is also the first matchup in a neat home-and-home -- the Bruins visit the Caps on April 11 to end the season.

November 3rd @ Detroit - It's been years since the Bruins visited the Motor City. Last season their home win against the Red Wings signalled a shift from also-ran into contending status; this game could also be a turning point in the Bruins' season.

December 4th @ Montreal - Montreal's official Centennial Game will close a disastrous commemorative year. Boston has played a huge role in spoiling the Habs' celebrations, from their Patrick Roy Day victory to an ignominious playoff sweep. It would be sweet to win this one, and flip one final bird to the Habs' Year of Self-Congratulation.

January 1st vs. Philadelphia - No extra hype necessary.

February 13th @ Florida - Leading into the Winter Olympics break, Boston plays four road games in six days: divisional matches in Buffalo and Montreal, then a game in Tampa and one in Miami. That's a brutal road trip leading into the 3-week break, especially since all four have the potential to be embarrassing upsets. This game will set the tone for the stretch run.

March 16th @ Carolina - Like the Florida game above, this will be the end of a grueling road trip that features games against 5 of the 8 Eastern playoff teams from 2009. Especially important is the Carolina game, which allows for a true measure of Boston's progress from last season. This one comes 24 hours after a game in Newark, and two days before the Bruins host the defending champs.

April 5th @ Washington - While I could as easily have picked the season-finale in Washington less than a week later, this game is the one I'll be watching most closely. The Caps have an opportunity to punch the Bruins in the mouth, and establish themselves as king of the hill before the playoff rush begins. I would compare this matchup to the Habs game last April 9, which devolved into blatant message-sending on both sides. If it's going to happen between Washington and Boston, it'll probably be in this game rather than their final contest.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

HCTB 1, Mainstream Media 0

Ok, I can't technically take credit for a "scoop" on this, because I'm not one of those fancy-pants professional journalists with their credentials and sources and legitimacy, but it looks like I at least made a really good guess on the possibility of Sergei Zubov coming to Boston. Zubov's agent reports, via SI's Allan Muir, that the Bruins have indeed shown interest in him.

The common critique of this possibility is that the B's could never fit Zubov under the cap, to which I rebut -- let's wait and see what happens with Phil Kessel. If they decide to move Kessel, they might include a cap-heavy forward in the deal. Hmmm, Kobasew ($2.3m) seems about right, and with Mark Recchi at RW this season...

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Is there any hope for the Avalanche?

What a mess.

Ten years ago, anyone's list of the top general managers in the NHL would have included Colorado's Pierre Lacroix. At that time the Avs were one of the league's premier franchises, possessed perhaps the largest stockpile of raw talent ever assembled, and challenged Detroit for dominance of the Western Conference. The architect of their mini-dynasty was Lacroix, who was especially noted for his crafty trades and free-agency gambles.

My, how quickly time passes in the NHL.

Today the Avs are a humbled franchise -- their record streak of division titles is a distant memory, and their home sellout streak has followed suit. While attendance has dropped to Predator-like levels, franchise keystones such as Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have shown no interest in being associated with the basement-dwelling years to come. Last month the Avalanche fired coach Tony Granato, but only after letting him twist in the wind for weeks while offering his job to former teammate Roy -- who politely turned them down.

How could this happen?

To get our heads around the scale of the Avs' regression, we have to look back at the roster moves made during their salad years. Take a peek, if you dare, at their first-round draft picks of the past 15 years:

95 - Marc Denis
96 - Peter Ratchuk
97 - Kevin Grimes
98 - Alex Tanguay, Martin Skoula, Robyn Regehr, Scott Parker
99 - Mikhail Kuleshov
00 - Vaclav Nedorost
01 - none
02 - Jonas Johansson
03 - none
04 - Wojtek Wolski
05 - none
06 - Chris Stewart
07 - Kevin Shattenkirk
08 - none
09 - Matt Duchene

What's worse -- having only two serviceable players to show for 15 first-round picks, or having missed the first round altogether 4 out of 9 times leading into a rebuild?

Digging a little deeper, it's clear to see that Lacroix (and his brief successor, Francois Giguere) handcuffed the organization with a pattern of win-now-pay-later trades during his time as GM. The Avs have two Cups to show for his efforts, and that is not to be marginalized, but look at the long-term effects that these trades had in the long run:

To Colorado:
Theo Fleury, Chris Dingman - Fleury had 33 good games in Colorado, then ditched them for New York. Dingman played a few seasons as a role player.
To Calgary: Robyn Regehr, Rene Corbet, Wade Belak - Regehr wears an "A" in Calgary and has a good shot at making Canada's Olympic roster. Belak is still a marginal player in the league.

To Colorado: Ray Bourque, Dave Andreychuk - Short-term additions to a Cup run, but neither stayed in the organization for more than 18 months.
To Boston: Brian Rolston, Sammy Pahlsson, Martin Grenier, 1st round pick (Martin Samuelsson) - Both Rolston and Pahlsson are among the league's most versatile players, and both will likely be playing in the Olympics this February.

To Colorado: Derek Morris, Dean McAmmond, Jeff Shantz - Morris was a standout for the Avs but was traded after only two seasons (see below); neither McAmmond nor Shantz played for Colorado the following season.
To Calgary: Chris Drury, Stephane Yelle - In Drury's prime he nearly hit 40 goals with Buffalo; Yelle still a fine defensive center at age 35.

To Colorado: Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen, 2nd round pick (Paul Stastny) - Only the Stastny pick makes this trade palatable. Gratton and Vaananen scored a grand total of 4 goals for the Avalanche.
To Phoenix: Derek Morris, Keith Ballard - Morris played 4 solid seasons in Phoenix before being dealt to the Rangers for three roster players; Ballard helped the Coyotes acquire Olli Jokinen.

3/9/2004 (the same day!)
To Colorado: Tommy Salo and a 6th-round pick - Salo won all of 1 game for Colorado.
To Edmonton: Tom Gilbert - Broke Paul Coffey's team record for scoring by a rookie defenseman, and is considered one of the top young defensemen in the game.

To Colorado: Jose Theodore - The former Hart winner flamed out in Roy's shadow, achieving career-worst numbers and eventually skipping town.
To Montreal: David Aebischer - A disappointment for the Habs, but that's only part of the story. Aebischer was only the first of a series of netminders to stagnate in Colorado, a trend which continued with their recent signing of Craig Anderson.

In sum, the Avalanche organization traded away the better part of a perennially competitive roster -- one which could have been built around Drury, Rolston, Regehr and Gilbert -- in order to establish a degree of insurance on their playoff runs of the early 2000s.

Lacroix was praised as a genius at the time, but his roster was based almost entirely on talent gifted to him from Quebec (Sakic, Forsberg, Foote) and Montreal (Roy, Keane). He was able to draft a mere 6 players who would go on to win the Stanley Cup with his organization, including duds such as Aebischer and Scott Parker, and they all came out of the three drafts between 1996 and 1998. Every other roster addition came at a price to the organization's future.

And it would appear those lessons are hard-learned in the Avs front office -- as recently as February 2008 they were trading top draft picks for over-the-hill veterans (Adam Foote) and paying top dollar for complementary players (Ryan Smyth).

Where do they go from here?

Sakic's decision to step away from the organization after 20 years, and Roy's refusal to be seduced into the coaching position, marks a turning point for the Avalanche. The last vestiges of their dynasty years are falling by the wayside, and new leaders are entering the fold.

Denver's best hope is that #3-overall pick Matt Duchene will develop in the same mold as 2006's third-overall, Jonathan Toews. The Avalanche desperately need a dynamic player who can deliver leadership as well as production. They already have a young forward core in Stastny, Wolski and Stewart, but none of those players will be a blue-chip player in the NHL.

But the real damage to Colorado's future is in the defensive end of the ice. The loss of four good defensemen via trade has left the Avs with a patchwork identity on the blue line. Half of them are veterans are far beyond their prime; half are former prospects who failed to pan out as hoped; almost all are lucky to collect an NHL paycheck. And the tandem of Budaj and Anderson in net is merely a placekeeper until the Avs can find a true #1.

This summer we have seen the first steps toward a true rebuild in Colorado. A new GM (Greg Sherman) and a new head coach (Joe Sacco), neither of whom brings NHL experience in their position, will enjoy the lack of pressure to win immediately. More importantly, Sherman's first major trade is a clear break with their history: overpaid veteran Ryan Smyth was shipped to LA for a pair of NHL-ready defensive prospects. For once, long-term investments are coming into Denver instead of being sent away.

But unless their prospects make a shockingly quick adjustment to life in the NHL, Colorado will remain in the wilderness for some time to come. Though Avalanche fans will enjoy the emotional retirement of Joe Sakic's number at their home opener, it might be the last meaningful event at the Pepsi Center until the 2010 entry draft.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blackhawk soap opera: Havlat speaks his mind on Twitter

Martin Havlat was floored by news of Dale Tallon's firing.

Recently-departed Chicago winger Martin Havlat is being surprisingly candid, via Twitter, on the termination of Dale Tallon in the Blackhawks winger. Here's a sample of his recent comments:

I guess everyone saw what happened to Dale....yes, the story is starting to come out but it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Lot's of people are telling me to stay quiet but shouldn't the fans know the truth? It's your loyalty, season ticket money and emotions here

Just so everyone begins to understand, Dale was like a 2nd father to me.

Want to be clear. I loved my time in Chicago but moved on. Very excited about Minny,going to give everything I have to the Wild.

As I said before, I didn't leave Chicago, it left me.

By telling truth, don't want people to think I'm bitter. Everyone in Minn has been awesome, they believe in me and I won't let them down

Naturally this stuff is like a goldmine for bloggers in the offseason, especially since we don't typically have such direct contact with players (add another shovel of dirt to the grave of traditional-format media). But equally amusing are the Tweet-backs that Havlat's comments are generating. Take this one for example, from NHLDigest.com manager Tyler McKinna:

@martinhavlat If you "want to be clear" then it may be prudent to tell your story through a trusted media outlet. Again, just my $0.02

Indeed. But where's the fun in that?

For the record, Havlat appears to be referring to some hypocrisy in Tallon's firing. His replacement, Stan Bowman, was in charge of salary cap management and free agent signings for the Hawks -- two tasks which are reportedly at the center of the decision to axe Tallon. And the decision certainly smacks of nepotism, since Scotty Bowman's influence over the organization seems to be growing.

However, the writing was on the wall for Tallon as soon as the organization began to clean house last year. New owner, new advisors, new coach, and now a new GM. It makes sense and is to be expected in the corporate world. Unfortunately, loyalty is not a factor in most hiring decisions in the NHL, as highlighted by this tweet from agent Allan Walsh:

Dale Tallon is a stand up guy and I have unqualified respect for him. He is honorable and loyal to a fault. Huge loss for Chicago.

Gotta love the 21st Century.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Sergei Zubov. Think about it.

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reports that Sergei Zubov is testing the free agent market after 12 year in Dallas.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Bruins have cap issues and don't know what's going to happen with Phil Kessel.

But... if Kessel signs an offer sheet, the Bruins have the option to take salary-free draft picks as compensation. That would leave about $5 million of cap space to play with. Kessel accounted for 36 goals last season, but the Bruins would be bringing in ~25-goal-scoring Marco Sturm and should see improved production from their younger guys (could Wheeler hit 30 with quality PP opportunities?).

Bruins minus Kessel plus Zubov. Think about it.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Three reasons to love David Krejci

1) He's the most underrated young center in the East.
2) His head is in the right place concerning money and winning.
3) He's panning out to be a long-term Bruin.

Read about it here.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Great reads from around the blogosphere

It's the middle of the week, I've got work to do, so here are some quality links in place of actual thoughts:

And in doesn't-merit-a-link news, LeTurtle is finally calling it quits. Good riddance to old rubbish.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pronger signs for 7 years -- time for tougher rules?

According to various informal sources, Chris Pronger just inked a 7-year contract with Philly. That means he's Flyers property until age 41 -- and with a no-movement clause at that.

The sweetest part of the deal is that it's front-loaded, meaning the Flyers can hold onto Pronger until he shows his age, then buy out the rest of the contract at a reduced price. Pronger hits the salary jackpot right away, the Flyers take a minimal cap hit for a former Hart winner, and nobody has much to lose if the deal sours.

Which brings us to the salient question: is it time for the NHL to stop the trend of front-loaded, long-term deals which skirt the purpose of the salary cap? At the very least, these deals make a mockery of "cost certainty" and severely disadvantage small-market teams. Weren't those the reasons for the cap, and the traumatic lockout?

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Our Crazy Division (aka, WTF happened while I was gone???)

Free-agent frenzies are always a spectacle, but my experience of the past week has been truly surreal.

Six days ago, my wife and I left the Port of New Orleans to celebrate our 10th anniversary with a Carribbean cruise. During our time abroad, I had literally no connection to the outside world -- cell coverage was nonexistent, internet was outrageously expensive, and sitting around watching TV was out of the question.

Yesterday we arrived back in port. With dry land came a cell signal, and the first opportunity to read through five bizarre days of Northeast Division mayhem. I was taken aback by what I saw:

Mike Komisarek is a Maple Leaf. What the.... really??? How do things like this happen? I don't know who has the bigger balls, Komisarek for signing a contract with the Leafs or Brian Burke for offering it. This will of course make the Leafs a little better and give Komisarek some welcome relief from being over his head as a top-pairing defenseman. But more importantly, the Boston/Montreal/Toronto drama just got bumped up another notch.

Better get used to it, Mike.

Alex Kovalev is a Sen. A signing so bad I want to laugh and cringe at the same time. The Sens have chemistry problems, depth problems, locker room problems and a star winger holding out and refusing trades at the same time. So what do they do? Acquire a coach-killing prima donna who's notorious for his inconsistency. Yeah, that really helps. And from Kovalev's point of view... why??? So he can be mocked in the twilight of his career? Yeesh.

Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Jaro Spacek and Hal Gill are Canadiens, but Saku Koivu is not. Bob Gainey must be on the clock to produce a winning team; there is no other explanation for this McRebuild. The Habs add a little bit of character to replace the disgraceful "leadership" of last season, but at what cost? With the exception of Cammalleri, this is a list of guys who were supposed to be stars by now and have become second-liners instead. Gomez is a coach killer and Gill is a pylon. This experiment will not last long.

Colton Orr is a Leaf. Go ahead and open Youtube in your browser the next time the Leafs and Bruins play. That way, you'll be the first on the scene for the Lucic/Orr footage.

Steve Montador is a Sabre. Good riddance, ya bum. Buffalo is going to rue the day they let Spacek go and signed this turnover machine.

Steve Begin is a Bruin. I'm trying to get excited about this, but really... it's a dumb signing. Presumably this means Stephane Yelle will not be returning, which is a shame because he's better than Begin. It also means the Bruins have made their logjam at the center position even more complicated, while ignoring the wings again.

Um, ok... I guess we needed this guy for some reason. Maybe.

Nik Antropov is a Thrasher. Good for him. Antropov is one of those pseudo-stars who will thrive with low expectations and good linemates. He's a legit top-6, and the Thrashers need as many as they can get.

Chris Higgins is a Ranger. They found the cash to sign Mathieu Darche, but couldn't keep a heart-and-soul guy like Higgins?

Martin St. Pierre is a Sen, Jeremy Reich is an Isle, and Shane Hnidy is a Wild. Three signings that will affect your fantasy pool in no way whatsoever.

So where does the dust settle?

Toronto is trending up.
Ottawa is trending down.
Buffalo is trending down.
Montreal is holding even for now, but will be down in the long run.
Boston is holding even.

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