Going into the All-Star Game is as good a time as any to do a quick review of teams. After all, you just know NHL GMs are doing a lot of the same!
Strangely, only six teams from the East are going into the break playing better than .500 in their last ten games.
What Works: Having Lehtonen for a full season. He’s already played more games than he managed last season, when the Thrashers missed the playoffs by two points.
What Doesn’t: Scoring depth. There’s a 25 point gap between the third and fourth scorers.
What Else: Offence is needed from the defense, too. Havelid’s 13 points aren’t enough.
What’s Coming: They’re shopping for a scoring centre, but who can spare one? Perhaps the Senators when they’re finally healthy.
Now What: There’s very little they can trade away without damage. There are a few veteran grinders, and there’s a little depth on the farm, but they won’t risk a drastic change this close to their first playoffs.
What Works: Savard is on pace to beat last year’s point total (97).
What Doesn’t: Running the risk of two inexperienced goaltenders has come back to bite them with the third-worst goals against in the league.
What Else: Only 2 points back of a playoff spot, but there are five teams in the same position.
What’s Coming: Maybe a goaltender. There are going to be a few for sale soon, and the thinking may be to give Toivonen more experience in the lower-pressure AHL.
Now What: This is a team with talented defensemen, but they have little faith in their goalies and play scared. An upgrade there can put them on a charge.
What Works: Briere on last year’s pace without last year’s injuries (yet); balanced scoring; Miller maturing into possibly the best goaltender America has ever produced, including Mike Richter.
What Doesn’t: Um… A 4-5-1 record going into the All Star break?
What Else: Tough to picture much movement here. Anyone coming to them for a trade is going to have to pay.
What’s Coming: Briere, Numminen and Biron are on one-year deals, but they’re still unlikely to move. If any go, it’ll be Biron signing elsewhere to be a #1 in the off season.
Now What: Coach Ruff isn’t prone to panic, and remembers last year when injuries killed his team in the playoffs. The standings mean little to him until, so long as the Sabres make the post-season healthy.
What Works: A solid set of forwards that have been surprisingly healthy (Walker STILL hasn’t missed a game!).
What Doesn’t: A solid set of defensemen that have been hammered by injuries.
What Else: Ward’s been doing fine as a first-time number one. Grahame may not be pleased being a back-up, but his play hasn’t warranted promotion.
What’s Coming: Like most of the teams close to the make/not make playoff line they’re going to trade carefully, perhaps picking up a depth defenseman.
Now What: The most important consideration in Carolina is how strong public support for this team is – will it fade if they don’t make the playoffs or are bumped early?
What Works: Overtime loss points. They have 10 of these “free” points so far this season, the most in the league.
What Doesn’t: Having the anchor of a blockbuster trade only play 7 games, possibly for the season.
What Else: The weirdest composition of any team in the league: there are at least seven natural centres playing for the Panthers on any given night.
What’s Coming: You’d think four points out of a playoff spot with 32 games left is too early to blow it up. You’d be wrong.
Now What: This is an unhappy team, and needs serious wholesale change. Jokinen stays, as do Auld, Bertuzzi, and anyone with three years or less NHL experience. Anyone else is up for sale.
LONG ISLAND (New York)
What Works: DiPietro is reaping the benefits of another year of experience plus a coach that whose strongest point is unifying teams.
What Doesn’t: Disappointing production from the blue line. No player has taken the lead there, despite having three who could (Poti, Hill and Campoli).
What Else: Nolan was a fantastic choice as coach for a tremendously dysfunctional team. His biggest test will be how he handles Yashin’s current slump after he had been playing so well earlier this year.
What’s Coming: Tough to tell. Rookie GM Snow will want to play it safe for his first season, but interfering owner Wang is always looking over his shoulder and offering “advice”.
Now What: There’s another ten games or so before the deadline, so that’s probably how long to wait before there’s a move.
MANHATTAN (New York)
What Works: My favorite singing last year, with Shanahan on pace for another 40 goal season.
What Doesn’t: Ozolinsh getting 3 assists, $2.75 million, and a broken leg after 21 games.
What Else: A victim of high expectations, perhaps. People seem to expect a team that finally made the playoffs again for the first time in eight seasons last year to have another 100 point season this time, too.
What’s Coming: The Rangers get mentioned a lot in trade talks, and they’ve got some goods to trade. They may be looking to upgrade their back up goalie (Weekes) or get a shut-down man for the defense.
Now What: Another of the teams in the dogfight for spot eight right now, it’ll be easier to add a defenseman than goals.
What Works: Being fourth in the East at this point, much to everyone’s surprise.
What Doesn’t: Having Plekanec as your second line centre.
What Else: Aebischer is pushing hard for the number one spot (.910 SP), but Huet has been better (.923 SP, 2 SO).
What’s Coming: Scoring depth at centre is a must, especially with the fragile Koivu being on the first line. A trade’s on the way, and soon while the team’s strong.
Now What: The Canadiens will probably slip a little in the standings, but Gainey is a solid GM. Any sizable trade is going to one of his big two defensemen (if to a challenger) or Aebischer (if to a low-ranked team). He knows better than to trade youth just now.
What Works: Brodeur is on pace for a personal record number of shutouts in a season. He has 8 so far, his record is 11, and he’ll probably play another 30 games.
What Doesn’t: Brodeur’s back up, Clemmensen, has started two games so far.
What Else: While Elias, Gomez and Gionta have slipped slightly off last year’s pace, Parise is looking to double his first year’s 32 points.
What’s Coming: They lead their division by 13 points, anyone who tries to throw Brodeur off his game by hitting him just make him angry, and they’re pleased as punch to win every game 1-0. Why change?
Now What: Shouldn’t these guys be considered “America’s Team”? Most of their top scorers are, after all, American.
What Works: Emery demanding the #1 job by his fantastic play. Plus, these guys score so many points that the team’s stay-at-home defenseman (Phillips) has 16 points so far.
What Doesn’t: Long-term injuries to their top two centres, including Spezza (again).
What Else: Big comeback after a shaky start and rain of doubts. People are wondering why Gerber was signed, but he is a solid goaltender.
What’s Coming: When Spezza and Fisher are back, Comrie could be moved to wing or traded away. He’s likely to stay as playoff insurance.
Now What: If there’s a trade involving Gerber, another goalie will have to come back or be lifted off waivers as Guard isn’t quite ready yet.
What Works: Gagne and Knuble are doing what they can.
What Doesn’t: I’m guessing the medical staff.
What Else: There have been a near-endless supply of injuries to this team for the past several years, and this season’s no different. Add that to ex-GM Clarke’s strange drama at the start of the season, and what was optimism has vanished.
What’s Coming: After using 41 skaters in less than 50 games, who knows?
Now What: There’s only two ways to go, here, with either massive change all through the line up or calling up a lot of youth and letting them audition for roles next year. Forsberg should probably take the rest of the year off.
What Works: Putting Malkin on the same line as Crosby.
What Doesn’t: Having to wait three years for these New Oilers to mature together.
What Else: Fleury has gotten through the fire a stronger player, and well deserves the accolades he’s now getting.
What’s Coming: Staal’s 15 goals have eased pressure to get another finisher, and otherwise there’s not much more to add to this team but time.
Now What: If you eliminated everyone on this team born before 1980, you’d miss three players: Recchi, Gonchar and Ruutu.
What Works: Going 8-2 in the ten games leading up to the break.
What Doesn’t: Dan Boyle not getting an invite to the all star game. The guy’s tied for 2nd in league scoring for defensemen, he’s a +3, and he’s been solid for a few years running now. Give him a break, already.
What Else: Neither Holmquist nor Denis have really picked up their games and taken a wide-open starter’s slot. They need someone who can shut the door for a team that plays a wide-open game.
What’s Coming: There isn’t much room for maneuvering with this team, so a blockbuster is unlikely even with the Kings taking Burke’s contract/
Now What: So, when St. Louis signed a big contract, his next season was fairly weak; when Lecavalier did, ditto. Any surprise that Richards is having an off year, then?
What Works: Sundin (of course)
What Doesn’t: Anyone who’s injured. And do they look at Telqvist’s .905 SP and 2.93 GAA and regret…?
What Else: Tucker may be psychotic and whiny, but he’s also their leading goal scorer, and having him missing isn’t going to help, especially on the power play.
What’s Coming: Scoring hasn’t been a problem, but goals against has been nasty. McCabe and Kaberle have been fantastic on offense, but a shut-down blue liner is needed, and neither Belak nor Gill is doing that job.
Now What: Not much financial room to move, but if they can swing a deal, they will.
What Works: Getting Semin back from Russia was a huge relief; now Ovechkin won’t outscore his next two teammates combined, like he did last year.
What Doesn’t: Johnson must be a really nice guy, because he keeps getting work. Actually, given the support his teammates give him, an .889 SV% isn’t that bad.
What Else: Goalies are not allowed to be team captains any more (since Bill Durnan for the Habs in 1948); but Kolzig is the captain of this team.
What’s Coming: Not much. However, they can absorb salary, so if someone is eager to shift a player to free cap space, the Capitals can accommodate them for a price…
Now What: They aren’t looking to add a player just now, looking to see if the fans will follow the close playoff race, and that will buy them another season to improve.
Had to mention this odd detail I found when punching this out: currently, seven of the Lightning’s top 11 scorers were either drafted 6th round or later (Ranger 183rd; Kuba, 192nd; Craig, 255th), or entered the league undrafted (Perrin, Fedotenko, Boyle, and St. Louis). The other four? Lecavalier (1st), Alexeev (8th), Richards (64th), and Prospal (71st).
File that under the category of “Never Quit”.
Off to the West tomorrow!