April 17, 2006

Hockey: Where's the Golf Course?

A look at who’s watching instead of working in the Second Season in the East.


Place: Bubble Boys (9th)
Pre-Season Prediction: 5th – 8th
What Went Wrong: Two words: Garnett and Berkhoel. With both Lehtonen and Dunham getting injured at the same time, the two AHL goalies were relied on more than thirty times, and they just weren’t ready for it yet. A couple more shots stopped, and Atlanta makes the playoffs.
What Went Right: Goals. Goals, goals, goals, goals, goals. Goals. Savard, Kovalchuk and Hossa all had career years, and Kozlov had another up year, fitting his up and down career perfectly.
Money Problems: A problem with players having career years, this. $25 million is already committed, and Savard, Lehtonen, Kozlov and Havelid all have to get signed, with Kozlov and Havelid both being unrestricted.
If I Were Boss: Who will stay and who will go? Dunham played great - when he wasn’t injured… Savard and Lehtonen must be re-signed, then an offensive defenseman, then Havelid and Kozlov, if they fit in the budget.


Place: 10th
Pre-season Prediction: 5th – 8th
What Went Wrong: Someone told the players how old and brittle they were. Four players managed 80 games, three more over 75. The new CBA didn’t help this team much (spending money was never a problem), and many of their free agents are injury prone. And who the hell thinks bringing in Luke Richardson will help?
What Went Right: McCabe and Kaberle are two of the highest scoring defensemen in the league this year. Stajan didn’t take a step backward in his development. Aubin’s only two losses were in overtime… Okay, it’s not much, but it’s what they got.
Money Problems: The strange, strange decision to sign Belfour just before the lockout will cost them $1.5 million if they buy him out, $4.8 million if they don’t. Toronto’s penchant for big names hit them against the salary cap hard, and they’re waiting for contracts to expire now.
If I Were Boss: Find a coach who works with younger players (think Dave King would be interested?) and tell the fans that the team is actively rebuilding. Tellqvist will do as the #1 until either Pogge or Rask are ready. Trade away McCabe, who will be looking for a big raise.


Place: 11th
Pre-Season Prediction: 9th – 15th
What Went Wrong: Luongo started 72 games and replaced his back-up in two others. This is way too many, especially given the number of shots they give up, but there was no trust in McLennan despite his .906 save percentage. The old guys tended to break, too, but that wasn’t unexpected.
What Went Right: Jokinen has re-signed after a career year, and the youth is doing fine (Luongo, Weiss, Horton, Olesz, Bouwmeester).
Money Problems: Florida has always been a money-loser for the owners, but the new CBA gives reason for hope. The payroll was a low $28 million this season, and Alan Cohen has promised another $10 million for the next, but they’ve got quite a number of RFAs coming up, too, with Luongo at the head of the list.
If I Were Boss: Get Luongo into a long-term deal if possible, see if I could get Roberts and Nieuwendyk to re-sign for a bit less, given their injury trouble. Keep Gelinas, and try to find a scoring winger or two. And get McLennan into another 5 – 10 games.


Place: 12th
Pre-Season Prediction: 9th – 15th
What Went Wrong: Signing Yashin to a 12-year contract was a little over optimistic, but expecting him to be an effective captain is insane. Playing at Nassau Coliseum makes being a fan an adventure in all the wrong ways. They also couldn’t recover from losing an awesome defensive corps, though there is hope with rookies coming up (Campoli and Gervais). They have been hard pressed to score. Firing coach Sterling and replacing him with Brad Shaw was an odd choice.
What Went Right: GM Milbury finally got fired, though he did have the right idea (sort of) when he tried to sign DiPietro to a fifteen year contract. And no one actually got killed by Nassau Coliseum, so that’s a good thing.
Money Problems: Surprisingly few, even given Yashin’s contract. Eleven regulars are signed up, though DiPietro, York, and Hunter are looking for new deals. Biggest decision is whether to buy out Yashin, which would count as $2.5 million against the cap for the next ten years; or keep him on, which would cost about $7.5 million for the same ten years. The question is whether Yashin is worth $5 million.
If I Were Boss: Tough call on Yashin, but I’d keep him for the next season at least. He is incredibly talented; the tough part is challenging him to live up to it. Move the team if there isn’t talk of a new stadium, or at the very least massive improvements to Nassau.


Place: 13th
Pre-Season Prediction: 1st – 4th
What Went Wrong: Let’s see… Their free agent signings had disastrous seasons; there was a running battle with their biggest star (Thornton) which resulted in his bizarre trade; their other scoring star (Samsonov) was also traded away; their #1 goaltender played poorly enough to be replaced by career minor-leaguer Tim Thomas.
What Went Right: Boyes and Toivonen would be Calder trophy candidates in any other year, and Bergeron had a brilliant sophomore season. The folks they got back for Thornton (Brad Stuart, Sturm, and Primeau) have done all that was desired of them, but that trade still cost GM O’Connell his job.
Money Problems: There are 12 players signed through next season, with less than $20 million committed, so signing forwards Boyes and Bergeron and defensemen Jurcina and Alberts shouldn’t be a problem.
If I Were Boss: Stop the hate whenever a player asks for a raise! Force my GM to take a valium before contract negotiations so no one else leaves with bitter recriminations (hello, Kyle McLaren). How do you end up with a team that has the tradition and history of the Bruins, and few free agents want to go there?


Place: 14th
Pre-Season Prediction: 9th – 15th
What Went Wrong: Considering the expectations, not as much as could have. This is, as everyone was told, a rebuilding team. Johnson finished the season on a high, but there is a lot of doubt in their back-up position. Their best defenseman had been asking for a trade out all season long, and first line centre Cassels realized that the game had passed him by.
What Went Right: Ovechkin was even better than expected, both on and off the ice, and FINALLY Semin is confirmed to be playing the next two seasons in Washington. Leonsis got over his big name fetish, and ended up with one of the biggest in the league.
Money Problems: As mentioned, everyone knows this is a rebuilding team, so there are several young RFAs looking to sign up. But with a payroll of $25.5 million, that won’t be a stretch. The chance to play with Ovechkin is going to be a draw for any free agent forwards out there.
If I Were Boss: Johnson finished so well, I’d consider keeping him another year. His attitude is now excellent for the back-up job. The fans have been understanding (honesty counts), so most of the positions are going to be filled from within the system, but I’d target two veteran defensemen and a top line centre.


Place: 15th
Pre-Season Prediction: 5th – 8th
What Went Wrong: Lemieux’s leaving again because of health problems, and big free agent signees LeClair and Thibault having awful seasons, Gonchar not finding his game until February, Tarnstrom not finding his game at all, and the totally unexpected Pallfy retirement in January (all I can guess is he didn’t want to go to the Olympics and get caught using).
What Went Right: The youngest player to ever get 100 NHL points, Crosby is a reason to buy ticket all on his own. Lots and lots of young talent coming up (Malkin, Malone, Armstrong, Ouellett, Orpik, Whitney, whoever is drafted this year…) give hope for the future.
Money Problems: A whole lot is riding on a judgment by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on the 18th on whether gambling could be used to fund a new arena. Without it, the Penguins are probably gone from Pittsburgh. (May I suggest Winnipeg or Quebec City, gentlemen?) Otherwise, the payroll is going okay with $15 million wrapped up in 13 players, including Gonchar’s crazy $5 million per season for another five years. But once these young players are out of their entry-level contracts…
If I Were Boss: I’d move the team to Winnipeg. What can I say? I like Winnipeg! Though Quebec City would work for me, too.

Once the regular season’s finished, awards can be predicted, and then it’s showtime! I’ll be in Scotland by then, but at least the Canucks did me the favour of not making the playoffs. That way, I won’t be missing their series… *sigh*


posted by Thursday at 9:57 pm


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