The stretch is now upon us and teams are jockeying for position. For some teams, it's a clear call and they know their spot. For a few others though, the story is not decided, and the scramble is on. This article will focus on the six clubs we've identified still have at least a mathematical shot at getting in but aren’t there yet. Here's a look, starting in the East:
NEW YORK ISLANDERS -- Long Island is an apt place to start, with Pat Blais's charges nine points behind New Jersey, and the Devils have a game in hand for that extra bit of security. The Isles made a big noise at the deadline, moving high priced vet Holik along with Tikkanen in a five player deal that netted them Peter Forsberg. Clearly, he'll be the centerpiece of any future playoff drive. At the same time, they still have enough veteran talent to at least be flirting with a longshot run, and we didn’t have the heart to count out The Dominator, even though the team is fading further with this latest three game skid.
MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS -- The Admirals are finding the waters rough indeed, matey. Milwaukee finally clipped the Blues this week for the lead in the Central, but it's only a point and they paid a dear price with injuries to Zhamnov and Helbling. Thankfully for them, neither injury is long term. And they should be in the hunt until the end, especially if the AHL has the grace to get the call-up paperwork straight. Jeff Deres knows it's hard to get good help these days, and Sharks were circling this week. It's definitely a fight to the finish here, and they just might need a bigger boat.
ST. LOUIS BLUES -- It should be unthinkable for the Blues to be on this list, given their epic early season run but it is what it is and here they are. Something definitively went wrong and despite a flurry of trades to fix the problem, it hasnt yet. Notable additions Tomas Sandstrom and Brendan Shanahan were acquired to push them over the line, and on paper they still look impressive but the Blues have fallen back. With Roy, they have the ability to catch fire at any time, regardless of who he faces on a given night. We think the Blues will still be there at the end, but their postseason course is a lot muddier than before. MINNESOTA WILD -- It's hard to figure this team out, even for GM Kurta. Equal parts inconsistency and resilience, this team has been a study in adventure all year. Their penalty kill had gotten better since the trade for Madden, but then their chief rival Milwaukeee tagged them for four power play markers recently. And yet, after the loss of Kasparaitis to injury should spell disaster to their playoff hopes, they are 3-1 without him so far. They have one soft spot in their schedule down the latter part of the stretch.Depending on how they do in those three games could mean the difference between the crown and a sixth seed, facing Edmonton in the first round, or being out altogether.
LOS ANGELES KINGS -- The primary danger for Minnesota, LA still wants a party hat despite being in a rediculously stacked division that has them fifth. They've done their part despite dealing Tkachuk, grabbing Friesen and Patrick Sharp in trade. They seem to be another team on the edge of balancing the future with a run for now, and they still can make some noise. Regardless of what happens this season they'll be heard from. It's a given that if they were in any other division they'd be solidly in the hunt.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS -- For awhile now, they've been the team that should, but they're turning into the team that should have. For the moment though, they sit just seven points behind the Central leading Admirals and have gotten lost in the shuffle somewhat. The schedule is daunting, but if they make it through to the final five games with a shot, guess what? They're all against Central opposition and they could have the last word yet.
Deadline Dealin' Matt Schroor
Holy Shit what a crazy couple day. Leading up to the deadline there were many deals made, the deadline was almost a dud. Then at the last minute bam, the biggest deals of the trading period. I won’t do too much lead up,I am going to look at the Top 5 deals from the Eastern conference this trading season.
5. Kings acquire Jeff Friesen from Flyers for S15 and S16 1st Round Draft Picks
Had to add this one. If anyone thought that Jeff Friesen would move for 2 1stRounders you would have been crazy. He is a good younger player that has excellent offensive touch but the two 1sts is a little steep. Great patience from Zach to wait till the last minute to complete this deal and take the sting out of losing Peter Forsberg because he would not sign a contract extension.
4. Sens acquire Darcy Tucker and S13 1st from Whalers for Nylander, Pivonka, and S15 1st
Darcy Tucker was a impending free agent and he was going to be moved out of Hartford the question was the cost. Sens got the better player out of the deal and he did sign quickly in Ottawa. The Whalers got a couple good role players that will attempt to fill the void that Tucker left. The exchange of the 1sts balances out the deal to be almost even for both sides. Just a good hockey trade for both parties.
3. Bruins acquire Alexei Zhitnek, Peter Forsberg, and Tomas Kaberle from the Flyers for Al MacInnis, Jeff Friesen and S15 1st.
Holy shit, how is this number three. I actually guessed earlier that these two teams would be involved in a trade close to the deadline. This was a monster deal and both teams end up moving players that were already on their way out of town. Boston got two young defenders and have a ton of upside. Philly got one of the best defenders in the game for a short period of time and a S15 1st. Of course I missed someone, he will be mentioned later. Once again good hockey trade from both teams, Boston gets younger on the blueline(more to come on that next) and Philly gets a lot of picks and MacInnis.
2. Bruins Acquire Joe Nieuwendyk from Rangers for Glen Wesley, and S14 1st.
Joe is the biggest name to move in the trading period(O wait, shit, late minute trade fucked me). Joe was coming to the end of his career but still has value. GM Schroor 1.0 decided that this was time to him to move. Boston finished the job moving the greybeards of the blueline by moving Wesley. He has the makings of two very strong forwards lines with Nieuwendyk and rolled the dice one more time. The Rangers end up adding Welsey and Lumme(Sorry Lumes, not top 5 this time) put them in the running for the top bluelines in the game. He also added an every elusive S14 1st.
1. Bruins acquire EsaTikkanen and Bobby Holik from Isles for Peter Forsberg and Luc Robitaille
If Steve was playing craps before he is playing fucking Yatzee now. He just picked up three of the top players in the East is a couple days. Esa and Bobby(and his massive 11m contract) have been playing well together and will probably be better with better linemates in Boston. They now have the best forward corp in the league, hands down. The moved all there defenders and hope that their lower OV(not say bad) can keep the other teams offence at bay. Pat finally got to move Esa in the twilight of his career. He got Forsberg back which is the linchpin of this deal, his younger centre that he was looking for. Luc Robitaille was also added to the deal to send scoring back. Once again both teams got what they were looking for. Boston are in win now mode and have made the moves to get there. The Isles got their younger centre and a top line winger. There were no real winners in the deals or losers. I will say this, I am fucking scared of the Bruins, so brother please to care of the before the Finals.
Blockbuster Du Jour Steve Tindall
Sit down children, I’m going to tell you of a magical place where you could go and rent VHS tapes, DVDs, and video games. Grandpa what are those things you ask? Well let me tell you….What? Speak up sonny! Not the video stores? You wanted me to talk about trades? Well why didn’t you say so in the first place whippersnapper?! Get off my lawn! Okay children we’re going to take a different walk down memory lane. We are going to make our way out to the weaker, less important part of the VHL. Go West young man! There we will look at these inferior teams and identify a singular deal that shaped that team’s current identity. So without further ado and in no particular order….
Vancouver The Canucks have made more than a few “big” trades. Some of them weren’t even forced by greedy FA bound players. Deals where Kirk Muller or Joe Nieuwendyk were moved and not even a first rounder came back in return. PavelBure was moved after stating that the Western teams weren’t good enough for him and telling GM Matt Schroor “trade me right fucking now!” However, the deal that shaped the current Canucks landscape has to be acquiring Theo Fleury. The cost? Brett Hull and a 1st rounder. Hull is retired now and Fleury is the heart and soul of the team. Pretty much the only indispensable player on the roster.
Winnipeg The Jets should feel the need to play keeping up with the Joneses in the competitive Pacific. The only issue seems to be that their roster has been better than most for many seasons. It’s just converting that talent to playoff success that seems to elude Winnipeg. Or they need to find someone capable of removing the large horseshoe from Vancouver’s ass. The Jets have moved several name players but the “big” deal in my opinion is getting Tony Amonte for Todd Marchant, Sami Pahlsson, and a 2nd. Wow, what a deal. Well done Mike.
Saskatoon Ah toon town, my 2nd favourite whipping boy. The Wolves recent resurgence was largely tied to the acquisition of one Curtis “Cujo” Joseph. Well he was recently moved to Chicago for Roberto Luongo. So either of those deals could be the One right? Franchise goalies are the most important asset a team can have (or so it says in my Pittsburgh Penguins league domination manifesto). I would have to disagree. The deal I’m going to highlight is one done not by current management and definitely is one that Mr. Hurley would like a take back on. In what to my mind is the worst robbery in VHL history, GM Dustin Funk of the Whalers snatched Joe Sakic. What did he give in return for one of the best Centers in the game? Adam Burt, Dean McAmmond, Jan Bulis and a Hartford 1st (or as I call it an early 2nd). So either Funk is a Jedi working his powers on the feeble minded or there was a secret fishing trip somehow involved. Good Lord how do you break up Sakic, Sundin, and Lindros?!
San Jose The Sharks have made numerous deals. For the most part they involved smaller “tune up” deals. There is one in particular that sticks out and affected me personally. New Jersey was in cap trouble and needed to make some space. The outcome was the Sharks getting Thomas Steen and Claude Lemieux for Jeff O’Neill, Alex Ponikarovsky and a 2nd. Those two vets are what put the Sharks over the top and won them a Cup. Frigging game changing vets for a 2nd , a light blue chipper and a man known as “Pony”. Steen is retired now but Lemieux remains a game changer. O’Neill was traded somewhere else and is okay I’m sure. I lost a Cup because of this horse shit deal.
St. Louis The Blues have been involved in many deals and quite a few involved big name players. At first glance the Roy trade seems fairly obvious because of the impact he is having this season. If he continues his stellar play in St. Louis for the remainder of his career I will revise my opinion. To me the big deal was for Vaclav “I’m not your cousin Vinny” Prospal. Now I will have to clarify a little as the Blues have had not 1, not 2, but 3 deals involving Mr. Prospal. The one I’m referring to is the last one involving the Milwaukee Admirals. Prospal was sent back (maybe for good) to St. Louis for DaymondLangkow, Alexander Daigle, and two 1strounders. Quite a steep price at first glance.Langkow and Daigle are young promising commodities which is why they’ve been traded so often. The draft picks were from a team that had stockpiled them, thus diminishing the loss of them. In return they got a player that had found his form and could be a franchise player.
Milwaukee Did I mention Langkow and Daigle have been moved several times? Now, I could argue the above Prospal trade as the most impactful deal for the Admirals as well. I could but I won’t. I think the deal where GM Deres took those two suitcase warriors, added Rhett Warrener, Chris O’Sullivan and two 1st round picks and sent them to LA is the bigger deal. They took advantage of LA being unable to extend Rod Brindámour and Jason Smith and got one hell of a deal. Brindy is an elite forward and Smith is a tough nosed defender who can score too. The Admirals got both to sign extensions and become key pieces for their playoff push.
Well this went longer than originally planned. Tune in next time for part two.
Money, Money, Money ... pt. III Nathan Schroor
I’m not going to lie about how much harder this is getting with some frisky teams moving many (or all) of their players in a reshuffling of the deck (looking at you Boston). But the formula does seem to allow comparison at any time during the season now, so it is a concept to build on and yes, I take requests. I have also taken note of a few non-financial related observations that seem noteworthy during this exercise. Without further adieu, the Matt G prescribed introduction is concluded.
Position Even Strength Power Play Salary
LW – Simon Gagne 13G / 17A, 7G / 13A, $550,000 C – Dale Hawerchuk 10G / 21A, 12G / 13A, $6,737,000 RW – Pavel Bure 23G / 21A, 10G / 17A, $4,940,000 Combined - 46G / 59A, 29G / 43A, $12,227,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 28.6% / 35% Price Per Point: $55,600
Notes: Pretty much a perfect season for Simon Gagne and one of the best rookies in the league this season. Would like to pay a high compliment to GM Tindall for his development of the youngster, even if he lost patience with Simon in junior; this is how young players can be put into positions for success so other teams take note. Despite almost an entire roster shuffle these three players remain on the roster a form the second-best value line in the division while being the second priciest. Gagne is also the best value player evaluated so far in any division (until Zetterberg), I like the work so hard Boston (and thanks for Wesley back)
Position Even Strength Power Play Salary
LW – Mark Recchi 13G / 8A, 5G / 6A, $5,871,000 C – Dale Hawerchuk 18G / 19A, 3G / 16A, $3,099,000 RW – Pavel Bure 15G / 21A, 5G / 9A, $550,000 Combined - 46G / 48A, 13G / 31A, $9,520,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 26.7% / 40% Price Per Point: $55,524
Notes: Narrowly defeating Boston in value this line has generated much less actual production and might be cause for the disappointment in Buffalo even with all the talent there. Not quite certain of what Mark Recchi has accomplished to earn his raise but perhaps he will perform better if he feels compensated, in fact this line is doing so well in spite of him. Marian Hossa also gets a big nod for his development and the work that GM Whobacher is doing, but its kind of a savant skill in Buffalo and the GM’s willingness to work with other GM’s these days is going to lean even heavier on that ability in the future. Recchi was the most expensive top line player in the division after a who recently took a pay cut, probably should have had Mark’s agent…
Position Even Strength Power Play Salary
LW – Geoff Sanderson 22G / 22A, 4G / 17A, $3,745,000 C – Joe Sakic 28G / 25A, 12G / 17A, $5,229,000 RW – Scott Mellanby 6G / 16A, 7G / 3A, $6,897,000 Combined - 56G / 63A, 23G / 37A, $15,871,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 25.5% / 33% Price Per Point: $72,446
Notes: The most striking thing here is that even with above average salaries Joe and Geoff earn their pay and simply produce, with both registering in the middle of the pack for value individually (52K and 47K respectively) and being the 4th best value line in the division thanks to dragging Scott Mellanby along. That’s what $176,105 per point buys you for the division’s most expensive player despite playing alongside elite talent. Taking Toronto out of the mix this line plays the least of any in the division at only 33% and only accounts for just over 25% of the team’s points. Some of this is great offensive defenseman but also a testament to team depth. With the only enemy of the Whalers being the contract button, it still hasn’t overly slowed down the team as they yet again roll over the division.
Position Even Strength Power Play Salary
LW – Chris Drury 17G / 21A, 5G / 9A, $1,613,000 C – Kirk Muller 32G / 31A, 10G / 26A, $9,573,000 RW – Martin Erat 9G / 9A, 4G / 12A, $550,000 Combined - 48G / 61A, 19G / 47A, $11,736,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 33.7% / 35% Price Per Point: $51,060
Notes: Imagine a time that instead of Martin Erat, the Canadiens had Tomas Sandstrom. With Kirk Muller the two were putting together a magical season on the scoresheet that still wasn’t translating into a playoff spot. Cough, Patrick Roy, cough. Chris Drury is the best value for players not on an ELC at $24,967 per point and even Kirk Muller at almost 10 million dollars is still a respectable $77,829. Continued development of the youngsters will be more difficult without the presence of the aforementioned veterans but GM Torre needed a valuable return for them and not a swan song into retirement. These three accounted for more than a 3rd of their teams offense, best in the division in even strength value and combined value, only second to Boston’s PP forwards. In Drury and Erat the Habs have a strong base to rebuild their franchise.
Notes: Line combinations often changed up the right-wing position but at the time of research Neely was leading in average ice time so he gets the nod here. Too bad really since he’s so expensive but I had to pick someone as Joe is also not relevant anymore either, being shipped out to Tampa (more on that later). This very pricey combination is also the lowest in percentage of their offense at only 22.5 percent, but that could easily be because Manny Legace and those defenders are the ones that normally do the beating; after all, I’d know. Joe’s arbitration ruling puts him at a division 5thworst value at $110,101 per point and likely why he signed a modest 6.5 million dollar extension with the Lightning. Kovalev’s career appears back on track and even finished top five in even strength value. Overall the team’s success has always been built from the net out and these figures only serve to validate that assumption. Two VHL Cups don’t hurt either.
Notes: Sometimes Leaf fans get the feeling that this rebuild is going to take just as long as the real-life version and sometimes I tend to agree. With all the young talent assembled on this roster it’s a wonder how many top five picks the team really needs before they take off. The top line is deployed at a league low 26 percent of even strength opportunities, uses the Detroit 1-2-2 strategy and doesn’t even let top sniper Jarome play on the PP. At some point the training wheels must come off and these guys just need to be allowed to try and win some games. Yashin is ranked 3rd worst in the division at $145,755 per point but that could easily be turned back into a positive with some veteran mentors and what’s more Jarome was 4th worst at $136,976 per point. A couple reasonable trades or a success kick at free agency could easily turn these guys into contending for a playoff spot next season, but how many lottery picks is enough GM Constable?
With all those calculations being made and observations made the one thing that is truly hard to measure is successful combinations and what makes them tick. Some teams it appears to be plug and play and success and other great players struggle no matter who they are with, but when it comes to value in the Atlantic Division it appears to be more about team depth and the guys playing behind you that leads to success. So perhaps we can all lay off the $11,000,000 Holik’s in the offseason and start looking at defenders and goalies instead. Value
Best Value Line (4,199,000 Cap Hit), ($62,249 Per Point)
LW Simon Gagne C Daniel Briere RW Marian Hossa
Worst Value Line (17,181,000 Cap Hit), ($469,529 Per Point)
The season is coming down the stretch, the trade deadline is closing in, and races are heating up (particularly in the West). Today we're going to look at each of the division leaders, their chances of holding on, and the likely threats for each crown.
LEADER: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS ( 92 points, +11 margin) GAMES LEFT: 23 ESTIMATED % FOR THE CROWN: 90 %
The Pens have spent most of the season lapping the Atlantic field, highlighted by an incredible 16 game winning streak that had many fans wondering if GM Dave McGowan had somehow gotten hold of Jimmy Page's ouija boards to summon help from the dark side. The reality is, the Pens are playing remarkable hockey in front of a revitalized Sean Burke, something that should make Wild fans want to reach for the lead pipes and pitchforks.
NEW YORK RANGERS - The only club within even a shout (and even then only on a clear day) the Rangers just added veteran Jyrki Lumme, which should help but time's a' wastin', as they say. They need an epic run like the Penguins just had, but the hockey gods are rarely so egalitarian. Conventional wisdom says this one is over, and we agree.
NORTHEAST DIVISION LEADER : HARTFORD WHALERS (84 points, +5 margin) GAMES LEFT : 21 ESTIMATED % FOR THE CROWN : 55%
As we'd covered previously, Hartford has had it going their way all season, but their lead isn't as big as you might have thought even a few short weeks ago. One might have thought it was a runaway, but Ottawa has closed the gap. The edge for now stays with the leaders but Hartford should be glad that a whale can't turn its head. The pursuer(s):
OTTAWA SENATORS - They currently have a 14 point lead on Boston so, this is a singular pursuit unless something amazing happens. They've stumbled in the last 3, but should make up a few of those lost points with the Flames and Caps on the upcoming schedule. But they also have the Jets and Pens to contend with so, it's not going to be a cakewalk to gain ground.
LEADER : ST. LOUIS BLUES (63 points, +2 margin) GAMES LEFT :20 ESTIMATED % FOR THE CROWN: 30%
A season after this division was the league's virtual pee trough, the race within has become the most compelling. The Blues blazed through the first 35 games or so, but have looked entirely mortal of late. Adding Shanny from New Jersey was supposed to shore up the front, but it hasn't worked out that way early. Meanwhile, Milwaukee, Minnesota and even Chicago have largely gotten right and have formed a pack. Here's a look:
MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS - Leading the charge with a valuable game in hand, Milwaukee looks likely to keep the pressure on down the stretch. Also, they have a knack for adding the right player at the right time. There have been rumors but nothing concrete yet. We bet it goes down to the wire.
MINNESOTA WILD - Next up is Minny, whose momentum has somewhat of a stop/start feel. They're largely most concerned with getting back into the post-season, but a division crown would mean a return to relevance. the addition of Madden has jump started the special teams, arguably their biggest weakness. With two games in hand and a little more consistency, just maybe....
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS - The Blackhawks have some ground to make up, but have beaten Minnesota twice this week, and face the Blues head-to-head coming up, and 3 games in hand to boot. a tough schedule could slow them though.
LEADER : EDMONTON OILERS (84 points, +8 margin) GAMES LEFT: 21 ESTIMATED % FOR CROWN: 70 % Careful and calculated as a (beloved) despot should be, VHL's leader and Oilers GM Chris Baker is as steady as ever, guiding the Oilers to the top spot at the moment by steadily adding a mix of top end talent and support players to resurrect the Oilers brand from oblivion. A stiff challenge from their countrymen in Vancouver aside, they look a solid bet to grab the ring....but:
VANCOUVER CANUCKS - Probably the most realistic competition, GM Matt Schroor didn't get to where he is by being an idiot. A slow start threatened to scuttle their season before it took shape, and they've shaved some age from their lineup while keeping the centerpieces and adding complimentary players. It may not get them the division but don't bet against them repeating their run from a year ago. WINNIPEG JETS - A longshot play, no doubt, but a skid by either front-runner could open the door. Craig Anderson is about as solid as a rookie tender can be, but do vets like Amonte, Selanne, and Oates have enough to carry the load for a steep climb ahead?
Beasts of the East or Best Western? Steve Tindall
Lately there has been a debate of which is the dominant conference. There have been numerous debates, several arguments and more than a little trash talk. So I decided to do a little research (as little as possible) and see if there was any evidence to support either side of the argument. It made sense to me to look back at the last 5 seasons as it would give an odd number of years for tie breaks and enough years to see trends.
Let’s start with the most obvious metric, championships. The Stanley Cup Champions of the last 5 seasons are:
S11- Ottawa Senators EAST (still can’t believe these bums won) S10- San Jose Sharks WEST (total hose job, damn game 7s) S9- Pittsburgh Penguins EAST (the Empire isn’t supposed to win is it?) S8- Ottawa Senators EAST (no idea how this flippin’ happened) S7- St. Louis Blues WEST (complete fluke but it screwed PIT so it’s cool)
Okay so it ends up with the East getting a 3-2 edge in Cups. Granted both Sens Cups were complete horse shit but they still count. What was really interesting to me was the fact that every single of those series went to a game 7. That tells me that there is a lot of parity between the top teams.
So now let’s deal with the other end of the spectrum. Let’s go from first to worst. What team has finished dead last and stunk up the joint?
S11- Kansas City Scouts WEST (the competition scalped them) S10- Calgary Flames WEST (the Kane rule anyone?) S9- Tampa Bay Lightning EAST (Deres really screwed the pooch this year) S8- Chicago Blackhawks WEST (tanking with class) S7- Chicago Blackhawks WEST (just making sure he got a good pick)
So here we see that 4 out of the five years we have the bottom of the barrel in the West. Now we have to give the conference a little bit of leeway on this one. Both expansion franchises were placed in the West and it was a given up until recently that the Blackhawks would finish last. It’s not like the East doesn’t have bad teams. Toronto stills stinks like month old limburger and Buffalo was a cellar dweller for many years. Hell, even the mighty, mighty Bruins were shite for a season. However, this is fairly obvious evidence that if you suck that you most likely play in the West.
Next, let’s move away from the teams and look at the individuals. It’s no big secret that if you want to have a great team you need a great player (or two). So now we’ll look at the Hart Trophy Winners:
S11- Theo Fleury WEST (the little bastard is an elite scorer) S10- Steve Yzerman EAST (does he have to be on PIT?) S9- Mark Messier EAST (not sad to see the Moose gone) S8- Steve Yzerman EAST (Dave I’ll give you 3 firsts and a Timmies card) S7- Mario Lemieux WEST (Mario when he was still Super)
Again it is close with the East coming out with the 3-2 advantage. This season it looks like Fleury and Yzerman are both in the running and Montreal’s Kirk Muller is challenging as well. Both conferences have great players but it’s still
Now the final litmus test is where it makes all the difference for me. It is hard to quantify and there are no real measurable metrics. It’s who am I worried about playing? What opponents concern me?
In the West: San Jose, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
I’m sorry Central Division, you guys don’t concern me. Yes even the Blues with the great season they are having. As for Saskatoon, Calgary and LA? Give me more games against them please.
In the East: Hartford, Pittsburgh, NYR, Buffalo, Philadelphia and I guess Ottawa (well not so much without Thornton).
First up are the two regular season juggernauts in Hartford and Pittsburgh. No game against them is easy. The Rangers have shown they can play with anyone. Buffalo and Philly are both struggling but still have talented rosters that are a threat. Somehow Ottawa has strung together some impressive win streaks. Then there’s a team in Boston that not many teams want to play (especially if Holmqvist keeps playing like he has).
Now I know what a lot of you guys are gonna say. You’re just a homer with an eastern bias. The West is Best, we have the toughest division, yada yada yada…. Well sorry my western friends but the puck don’t lie.
Money, Money, Money ... pt. II Nathan Schroor
I only received positive feedback from my first money article, so I’ll continue to look at value of top line players in the Central Division this week. Please keep in mind that the articles cannot be compared against each other because players were not looked at on a per game value. In the first attempt players were looked at using an annual salary rate but for fairness and comparative purposes salaries will be broken down to their per game rate and then measured. This won’t create the ‘wow’ factor of $150,000 per point costs (for some it still will) but it assesses value when compared at different times in the season. I am going to try and work a per game into this article so the following three (and future articles) will have the means for comparison. However, line combinations rarely stay the same all season for various reasons and surprisingly players don’t all stay in the same places all season. With all that being said let’s get into it anyways…
Note: While certainly one of the most expensive lines in the league, it is surprising to note that aside from Doug Gilmour (understandable at 11 million per season) these guys produce at their pay grades. Turgeon and Richer rank simply as average for the return on their salaries and all together they account for over a third of the team’s offense. I’d say that in spite of the large numbers these guys are costing against the salary cap, the investment is one of the best in the league. Sadly Turgeon is rumored to be on the move, and since beginning this article the Sedin’s and Glen Murray have taken over the helm.
Detroit Position Even Strength Power Play Salary LW – Jere Lehtinen 7G / 5A; 1G / 8A; 3,540,000 C – Doug Weight 13G / 14A; 9G / 14A; 7,917,000 RW – Jimmy Carson 6G / 5A; 2G / 3A; 2,997,000 Combined - 26G / 24A; 12G / 25A; 22,113,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 23.5% / 35% Price Per Point: $117,512
Note: It pains me to write that Doug Weight has not gone to a better place. Both Lehtinen and Carson while relatively low-cost rank bottom five in the division in even strength value, power play value and combined value. In fact, of the 9 ratings for these 3 players they rank in the bottom third in 8 of them. In fact, this is one of the poorest teams regarding value and production and is in serious need of some investment in both. In this division, with Doug Weight and Nicklas Lidstrom on the roster, there is no reason not to compete for a playoff spot. Perhaps some of those 4th round picks can play wing?
Position Even Strength Power Play Salary
LW – Niklas Hagman 4G / 5A; 4G / 6A; 550,000 C – Andrei Nikolishin 9G / 12A; 3G / 9A; 2,341,000 RW – Tomas Sandstrom 12G / 29A; 8G / 13A; 5,983,000 Combined - 25G / 48A; 15G / 28A; 8,874,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 36.9% / 40% Price Per Point: $52,211
Notes: It comes as no surprise that this is the cheapest line in the Division, but it is also the best value line. Bearing in mind that Tomas’ numbers are also from playing with Kirk Muller and he is no small salary on his new line mates are also top in value in both phases and combined. Niklas Hagman is the best value (it seems entry level contracts are almost automatic despite actual production) at $19,416 per point, with a projected rookie season of 28 points. It is good to see Niko has finished 4th in the division at $47,581 per point with a 49-point projection. Also, interesting to see is that this is the third central division team to be using physical on their top line after zero team used it from the Pacific division. This line accounts for the highest percentage of team offense at just under 37%, 3.5% higher than any other team. Milwaukee
Notes: This line is the only line that has more defence than offense as a strategy and is also one of the most cost-effective lines in the Division at even strength. With Danton Cole costing a whopping $442,000 per PP point its no wonder GM Deres is trying to find him a new home and despite his lack of production the line is still the 2nd highest producing in the division (Chicago 169 to Milwaukee 152). Zhamnov is one of only 4 forwards to finish top 5 in all 3 categories for value (even strength, PP and combined) and is the only one of them that is an established veteran and genuine top line player.
Position Even Strength Power Play Salary
LW – Peter Schaefer 15G / 11A; 2G / 5A; 1,500,000 C – Mike Modano 18G / 30A; 7G / 11A; 6,362,000 RW – Martin Straka 13G / 8A; 2G / 13A; 3,003,000 Combined - 46G / 49A; 11G / 29A; 10,865,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 29.4% / 35% Price Per Point: $55,944
Notes: The second-best value line is also the third cheapest. While very good players at even strength (95 points 2nd in the division) they are less impressive on the power play (40 points 5th in the division). Peter Schaefer is another of the top five in all three categories and the third best value in the division at $31,600 per point; even Mike Modano looks great with that big salary producing at $67,000 per point. Minnesota, like Milwaukee are the only two clubs not using physical with their top players and along with Detroit are the only team not using their top at 40% even strength ice time. St. Louis
Notes: Jason Blake has been traded, which is too bad considering he was the 2nd best value producer in the division at $30,000 per point (write faster next time Nate). This is the only team playing the automatic 1-2-2 strategy and is terrible 5 on 5 value wise; without all the big contracts of Doug Gilmour and Doug Weight the line still produces at a horrible $112,000 per even strength point. Considerable help must be coming from the defense or other lines as these guys only account for 21% of the even strength offense. Might be a point of reconsideration when Vinny’s name comes up for MVP when he isn’t carrying the team 5 on 5 as many might have expected; Doug Gilmour is almost the same value at twice the salary, so I’d throw a vote his way next time.
Wasn’t expecting to throw out so many good things to Kansas City and Minnesota considering the play of the teams in the division, but the numbers don’t lie. St. Louis has a perceived MVP but it might be a lot more of a supporting cast than we all originally suspect. Very surprised at all the physical play in this division given that the Pacific had none of that. Value
Best Value Line (5,894,000 Cap Hit), ($124,982 Per Point)
LW Niklas Hagman C Andrei Nikolishin RW Martin Straka
Worst Value Line (14,454,000 Cap Hit), ($363,719 Per Point)…sigh LW Jere Lehtinen C Doug Weight RW Jimmy Carson
Deep Dive: Defenders pt II Matt Schroor
Let’s continue the look into offense from the blueline that was in last week’s VHL weekly. The stats are from GD 99, so they are a little outdated but paint the picture. Teams are relying more and more on the backend to provide offence. I will call it the Palmer method. We will look into the Atlantic this time around and remind everyone that the conference averages are 29.6% of goals, 48.7% of assists and 41.9% of points are scored by defenders.
New Jersey 31% of Goals, 49% of Assists, and 43% of Points
It is odd to see that last year’s Norris trophy winner’s team in just above average. He isn’t producing at the same pace as last year, but there is also a big drop off after him (41 points) and Brisebois (32 points). After that the team is filled with more defensive players who don’t play much offence. So the fact they are still above average is quite the feat.
New York Islanders 22% of Goals, 44% of Assists, and 36% of Points
They have the third lowest point production in the conference from the backend. They don’t score many goals and half of them are on the tradeblock. Other than Zubov there is no true offensive defenseman in the group. Salo is developing still and could see increased returns over the next number of years. The assist numbers aren’t bad, but increasing goal scoring from the blueline should be a priority.
New York Rangers 18% of Goals, 36% of Assists, and 29% of Points
O brother where art the offence from the defenders? There are actually three players with over 30 points and then a bunch of defensive defenders. Hatcher provided a solid boost. I think it is more because there is so much offence from the forwards that is bringing this totals down but the team could push for a president trophy if they got more help from the defense.
Philadelphia Flyers 17% of Goals, 50% of Assists and 38% of Points
As a team the Flyers have struggled for offence, but things should turn around after the distraction of Jagr’s contract dispute. The blue hasn’t been doing their part in filling the back of the net, but getting it to the forwards to score doesn’t seem like a problem. The team has more defensive dmen than offensive so low totals are not shocking.
Pittsburgh Penguins 29% of Goals, 39% of Assists and 35% of Points
Dejardins is playing unbelievable, Blake as well until his next injury, Housley is steady as always. Then three stay at home defenders who show up because they passed it too one of the very talented forwards.
Tampa Bay Lightning 27% of Goals, 51% of Assists and 42% of Points
Tampa Bay is another team that isn’t scoring a lot of goals in general, but just received a big lift with Jumbo Joe. Having his presence on the powerplay alone should help. They don’t have many scoring defenders, but Lydman is developing quickly and will probably lead the defenders in points.
Washington Capitals 36% of Goals, 56% of Assists, 49% of Points
The high number is a product of very low scoring in general by the Caps. Not all that surprising as they are fighting to land Rick Nash. They have moved two of their top defenders for future picks and players. Jeff Brown is offensively minded but does not factor into the long term plans. Good to see that Hamrlik and McCabe are producing despite a lack of forwards. This numbers should climb as more forwards are added. There is a look at the Eastern conference defense scoring. If anyone has any statistical topics that you would like looked into let me know.
I had so much fun doing the “what if?” scenarios for the Central teams, that I decided to do them for the teams in the Pacific as well.
Edmonton What if Mario goes down? The Oilers are one of the best offensive teams in the VHL this season. Right now if you look at the stats, it would appear that JR is driving the bus. Appearances can be deceiving though. Make no mistake, Lemieux is the engine driving this offensive machine. If he goes down with an injury it could put a big roadblock in Edmonton’s plans for the season. Making this a big possibility is the big man’s durability, or rather his lack thereof. Lemieux has become fragile of late. No Lemieux would put the Oilers at a big disadvantage against Winnipeg, San Jose, or the surging Canucks. This is totally not an attempt to jinx the Oilers and Lemieux.
Vancouver What if the Canucks hadn’t played like dog shit at the start of the season? Vancouver started the season with aspirations of making the Finals again. The roster remained much the same and the stellar young goalie that got them there could only get better, right? Then the games started and something was wrong. The offense was still there, not dominant but still good enough. Yet Vancouver looked up in the standings and saw Saskatoon and Calgary above them. WTF? The reason for this absurdity was goals against. The Canucks were letting guys score like they were sailors on shore leave in Thailand. Now was it the defense doing its best impression of Swiss cheese or Toskala trying to be Ken Wregget? Probably a little bit of both. Well it seems the coaching staff has done its homework and made the needed adjustments. The Canucks are tearing up the standings and could easily have been at the top if they hadn’t shit the bed at season’s start.
Calgary Where would the Flames be without Andrew Cassels? In last place in the Western Conference of course. Cassels came out swinging and had the Flames ahead of the Kings and Canucks. Then reality decided to pull the rug out from under Calgary. They have struggled recently but the rebuilding team should expect that. Datsyuk has looked good and Miller has been having his ups and downs but remains a promising prospect. The real cloud on the horizon is the inability to get Datsyuk to extend. Now they will have to pay the arbitration piper and hope they aren’t going to copy what the Sens went through with Joe “first chance I get I’m outta Ottawa” Thornton.
Winnipeg What if Craig Anderson was playing like a rookie? The Jets believed enough in Anderson that they let long time Jet Bob Essensa walk. Anderson didn’t receive the attention of Luongo, Aebischer, or Miller but he is just as good. Now the Jets were banking on him not struggling like many of the goalies do when they are rookies (I’m looking your way Holmqvist you bastard). So far that gamble has paid off. Anderson is enjoying a solid, bordering on excellent season. The insurance plan, Vincent Riendeau, has been disappointing so it’s fortunate that Andersonhas played well enough to keep Winnipeg in the divisional hunt.
Los Angeles What if the Kings sneak into the Playoffs? I’m far from ready to write off the struggling Kings. They always seem to start off slow and then catch up and make the playoffs. If the season ended now, they would be the 8 seed. Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago are all in a position to overtake them though. If I were the #1 seed and got my choice of whom I didn’t want to face, guess who’s #1 on that list? Yep, the Kings. They are still a very dangerous team fully capable of beating anyone. The biggest wrinkle looks to be Keith Tkachuk. He is an elite forward who isn’t producing at his usual level and has still to sign an extension. If LA keeps him and he comes around, the Kings are even scarier. If they move him, they will probably get enough help to become a thorn in someone’s side.
Saskatoon What if the League allowed the Wolves to break their lease? When the Nordiques closed up shop and declared bankruptcy, the league offices put down strict measures to discourage other teams from deciding to copy them. Then Kelly for some reason decided he wanted Lindros and company to call Saskatoon home. Fine, his decision, he has to live with it. Then he didn’t. Instead he decided fishing with his dog and bitching about the Leafs on the Slack for his sim league (has anything further been done on that BTW?) should take up what little spare time from McDonalds he had. Well now we have a GM that has to deal with all the toon town derision. So if in the offseason he was given a choice where would the team end up? Would we have a reborn Mighty Ducks? (No Nate, you aren’t allowed to ghost GM them). Would the Thrashers or Panthers be born? Maybe a move to Denver to become the Avs or Rockies? If he wanted to keep the colours, the Golden Seals would be an option. Myself? I’d go to Toronto and give that city a real team.
San Jose What if the Sharks had completed their “What am I thinking?” trade? Shortly after Mark Wharton took over as GM of the Sharks, he wrote an article about possibly trading two of his best players and why on Earth would he even consider it. Well, I’m here to peel back the curtain a little bit for you fine folks. The Sharks were negotiating a deal sending Pronger and Lemieux to the Bruins for MacInnis and Capuano. The primary parts were agreed upon. It was just the secondary stuff that needed to be decided. This blockbuster would have had far reaching consequences. The Sharks would have had an old but unbelievable defense and a cheaper scoring option. Boston would have Pronger and Lemieux bolstering them and may have pulled out of the tail spin of a season they were having. Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened.
VHL Rewind Chris Baker
Twelve seasons ago, the VHL was formed out of the ashes of the crumbled and fallen National Hockey League. Rising like the phoenix from those ashes, the VHL would take on many of the same rules as it’s NHL counterpart. From players’ salaries to a rating system used to grade players, the VHL would look to create a successful environment to grow the league into a successful sustainable organization.
Flash forward 12 seasons and it’s amazing to see how the league has grown. From expansion, to bulging salaries, the VHL has never felt stronger. In our first installment, here’s a look back at the cost of players from the league’s infancy a dozen seasons ago:
Cheap, Cheap, Cheap … It’s unbelievable to think how inexpensive players’ salaries were when the league started. Listed below are each of the 21 teams’ highest and lowest salaried players in season #1. In (parenthesis) is what they currently make or what they made in their final season in the league.
::Boston Bruins:: Steve Larmer - $700,000 ($7,179,000) Don Sweeney - $150,000 ($3,986,000)
::Toronto Maple Leafs:: Miloslav Horava - $500,000 ($422,000) Mike Donnelly - $100,000 ($1,174,000)
::Minnesota North Stars:: Brian Bellows - $700,000 ($3,056,000) Mike Modano - $150,000 ($6,362,000) ::Detroit Red Wings:: John Ogrodnick - $461,000 ($765,000) Dave Hannan - $151,500 ($550,000)
Deep Dive: Defenders Matt Schroor
Defenders have the primary job of keeping opponents from scoring goals. Well, sorta. The league has a ton of very skilled offensive defensemen though. Teams are getting more and more prone to rely on offensive help from the backend to get the job done. It was fully evident in the Senator run to the VHL Cup last season, where ZZ Top led all Senators in scoring throughout the playoffs. Not by a small margin, but by 6 points. He won the Conn Smyth trophy based on what he can do in the opponents end, not his own. We are going to do a brief look at the offensive prowess of blue-lines in the North-East division. The Eastern Conference at this point (GD 99) is having 29.6% of goals, 48.7% of assists and 41.9% of points scored by defense.
Boston Bruins 27% of Goals, 43% of Assists and 38% of Points The Bruins are the only team in the East that has only had to play 6 defensemen this year. Their defense is right about even with the rest of the East with 27% of goals are scored by defense. They are getting more assists than the average. They are lead by Sergei Gonchar and Al MacInnis. Gonchar with 36 assists and Mac is filling the back of the net with 12 goals.
Buffalo Sabres24% of Goals, 55% of Assists and 44% of Points The Sabres defenders are not filling the net with the same pace as the rest of the Conference but are showing up on the scoresheet often by adding helpers. Stevens is the only blueliner with over 5 goals and is leading the team by over 10 points. The rest of the crew is adding assists at a very high pace.
Hartford Whalers 27% of Goals, 48% of Assists and 40% of Points They boast the league’s highest scoring defender in Lumme, and 3 of their top 5 scorers are defense. So, it is funny to see them below Conference average for defensive scoring. It is a real testament to the about of points as a team that they put up, which is not only in the standing but also on the scoresheet.
Montreal Canadiens33% of Goals, 39% of Assists and 37% of Points Les Canadiens have a couple defenders that have already eclipsed the 10 goal mark in Carney and Ohlund. This is the main reason that the team is above average in goal scoring by d-men. They lag behind in assists due to the fact that they do fact that they don’t have any true offensive defense outside of Steve Smith.
Ottawa Senators 33% of Goals, 52% of Assists and 46% of Points The Senator’s offence runs through the back-end. Their top 3 were the Sens top scorers at the time. Strbak, Zalapski, and Duchesne have put up huge numbers, and is one of the reasons that the Sens are pushing the Whalers for the division.
Toronto Maple Leafs 57% of Goals, 68% of Assists and 64% of Points Those numbers are huge but slightly misleading. In last week’s VHL Weekly I talked about the strength of the Maple Leafs D and how they are lagging a bit on forward. It doesn’t help that Alexei Yashin broke his foot blocking a shot against the Canucks, sorry Ian. They have just 73 goals on the season and an over half are by defenders. So the defenders are there just waiting on the scoring punch that the Leafs youngsters will provide. Stay tuned next week when we look at the Atlantic Division’s defenders...
CALGARY – Flames forwards Radim Vrbata and Pavel Datsyuk each had two point nights while goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 39 of 41 shots as Calgary defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 on home ice Monday night.
Shawn Bates and Sheldon Souray joined Vrbata in the goal scoring for Calgary while Paul Cavallini and Derian Hatcher scored for the Broadway Blueshirts in the loss. With the win, Calgary extends their unbeaten streak to six games.
ST. LOUIS – Scott Young scored twice and added an assist, Michal Pivonka and Michael Nylander added the others, and the Ottawa Senators beat the Central-leading St.Louis Blues 4-2 on Tuesday night.
Manny Legace stopped 21 shots, and Rick Lessard had an aggressive night finishing with a game-high eight hits. Mikael Renberg and Shane Hnidy scored for St. Louis, and Patrick Roy made 24 saves. Renberg also had an assist on the night and Bob Joyce chipped in with a pair of assists in the loss.
WINNIPEG – The Calgary Flames continue to roll extending their unbeaten streak to seven games (5-0-2) with their tie on the road versus the always tough Winnipeg Jets.
Pavel Datsyuk and Kip Miller each scored for the Flames, while Ryan Miller pushed aside 32 of the 34 shots he faced. Winnipeg’s Shawn Burr and Mike Sillinger answered for the Jets and Craig Anderson made 24 saves. Burr led all skaters with nine shots on goal, while Calgary’s Andrew Cassels led the Flames with six.
PITTSBURGH – Patrick Lalime stopped 35 shots, Vyacheslav Kozlov had a pair of goals and New York held on to beat Pittsburgh on GD72.
Mathieu Schneider opened the scoring with his 6th of the season for the Rangers, who improved to 2-0-1 against their divisional rival. For Lalime, the unbeaten streak is of importance as the 27-year-old netminder had spent his first six seasons in the league with Pittsburgh before being dealt to the Rangers via the Calgary Flames in an offseason transaction. Sean Burke finished with 24 saves, and Jeff Finley and Tim Sweeney scored in the third period for Pittsburgh, which had been on a four game unbeaten streak since their 4-2 loss to the Rangers on GD 60.
BOSTON – Al MacInnis and Pavel Bure each scored twice, Simon Gagne had three assists, and the Boston Bruins beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-4 on Wednesday night.
Defenders Vladimir Malakhov and Wade Redden each had a goal for the Bruins, who led 4-1 midway through the second period and 5-2 to start the third. Grant Fuhr, starting in place of young starter Johan Holmqvist, stopped 43 shots. The Bruins won for the 7th time (7-1-1) in 9 games with big wins over Vancouver, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal and beat the Penguins for the second time in three meetings this season. Eric Desjardins had a pair of goals while Pat LaFontaine and Miro Satan had the others for the Penguins, who have lost two of their last three games. Sean Burke stopped 34 of 40 shots in the loss.
NEW YORK – Joe Nieuwendyk scored a pair of goals, Patrick Lalime made 29 saves and the New York Rangers continue to stay hot with another win over their hated rivals from Pittsburgh.
Bryan Smolinski also scored in the Blueshirts’ second win in three games – the other, a tie versus New Jersey. For the Rangers the win continues a trend of strong play, with 1 loss (@ CGY) in their last 14 games – a stretch in which they have gone 11-1-2. Pat LaFontaine scored his 10th goal and Martin Prusek stopped 32 shots for the Penguins, who have lost in back-to-back games and three of their last four. With the win, New York has moved to within three points of the Atlantic Division leading Penguins.
MINNESOTA – Calgary forward Andrew Cassels led the charge with a pair of assists while John Druce, Jan Caloun and Pavel Datsyuk each scored in Calgary’s 3-3 tie versus the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night. After a 2-1 win in Chicago on GD 76, Calgary has now extended their unbeaten streak to nine games (6-0-3). Since their 4-game losing streak that started on GD 45 with a 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers and ended with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on GD 52, the Flames have gone an impressive 8-1-3.
SPOTLIGHT: Northeast Division Charlie Kurta
Today we're going to throw the lights on and examine the trends in the Northeast division. We'll see who's hot, who's not, and try to locate some hope for the Toronto faithful, if there is any. Sit back with us and take a minute as we make this dive past the Brass Bonanza juggernaut and take a look at the whole picture as it stands right now :
HARTFORD WHALERS (current run: 8-1-0) - GM Dustin Funk has his crew in top form, a surprise to absolutely no one. Keeping other teams at arm’s length is their specialty, and (perhaps appropriately) the only team able to harpoon them this week was the Milwaukee Admirals with a solid 4-2 victory. Alexei Zhamnov made himself a Russian nightmare in the first period as the Admirals staked themselves to a 3-1 lead and didn't look back. It was a rare sign to the rest of the league that the Whalers do have their mortal moments, but they demonstrate a remarkable ability to win even the close ones. Are they bound for the silver this year?
BOSTON BRUINS (current run: 6-2-1) - Steve Tindall's bunch is doing their best to pretend they have enough earplugs to silence all the tuba coming from about two hours westward, with emphatic victories over the Canadiens and Flyers this week. The oddball game in this stretch was actually a scoreless tie with the Red Wings, featuring backup Johan Holmqvist dueling with Mike Richter and serving notice that he belongs in the VHL. Incidentally, it was the league's second scoreless game of the season (PHI at MIN was the other). Making a mark is great, but making points will be most important to the Bruins going forward if they have any hope of staying in the division hunt. And, they can’t afford to look behind them, either...
OTTAWA SENATORS (current run: 8-2-0) - Champs are champs for a reason, and the Senators are charging through. Tied with the Rangers for league best winning streak, the Sens have taken full advantage of the soft spot in their schedule to catapult themselves back into the conversation. Notably, they had to survive a close one with the Habs despite blitzing them 40-17 in shots en route to a 2-1 victory. Looking ahead, they've got potential stumbling blocks against Boston and Buffalo, but they will be playing nine of the next ten at home. Don't sleep on these guys......
BUFFALO SABRES (current run: 5-4-0) - The definition of a middle of the pack team, the Sabres are in a tough spot right now. Though they're competitive more often than not, scoring tends to leave them completely at inopportune times. Every time they grab some momentum such as a 4-1 win over the Rangers, the script gets flipped in reverse the next game. They've been blown out recently by those same Rangers and the Wild, but they have solid victories to balance the equation and the ability to get points when they need them. Enough talent to make a surge and be a presence come playoff time, too.
MONTREAL CANADIENS (current run: 0-8-2) -- Yikes, it's getting ugly in Quebec.....GM Ryan Torrie has to be frustrated, and you have to wonder if coach Pat Quinn will survive this season. The Habs aren't deep, granted....but they have too much talent defensively to be THIS awful. It's a shame all around for a great market but the Habs fans are enduring one of the most painful seasons possible, and there’s a lot to do. To make matters worse, rookie Martin Erat has been hurt. It is a testament to his ability that Kirk Muller has had an amazing season, given these circumstances.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (current run 0-7-1) - If it's ugly in Montreal, it's still hideous in Toronto. GM Ian Constable's renovation project is in a word, painstaking. With half the lineup worthy of Newmarket, wins are next to impossible even when Kipper isn't exhausted. Hopefully the fanbase can give the front office the patience they deserve to clean up this mess and are able to cheer the future when it gets here. God save Iginla and company in the present though.
TML Rebuild Matt Schroor
O Toronto. It was recently written by a fellow GM in the VHL that the Maple Leafs has been in a perpetual state of rebuild. I have been around for just over three years and the team was rebuilding then and it still is. It is no secret that GM Ian Constable had a tough road ahead of him when he was hired by the Leafs. In my opinion he is doing a simply splendid job doing it. He came to a team that had no playoff appearances in the previous five years and only been to the post season twice in the organization’s history. The team was putting together 60 to 70 point seasons for those five seasons thus leaving the team picking later in the first and missing the opportunity to draft true difference makers.
I believe that the Toronto organization is just about to turn the corner, and by “just” I mean in the next couple seasons. I believe that you will start to see them climb in the standings over the next couple seasons and be battling for a playoff spot. That is with their current stable of talent. They have two aspects of the game locked up. Mikka in net solidifies the crease, and there are more than enough young defenders on the roster. Brendan Witt is already a stud on the blueline followed closely by Phillips, Rozsvial, Morris, Skoula, Vaananen. They already have a solid defensive core right now, and should only get better in the next couple years. The forwards are what are lagging behind, but are on the right track. They have established Whitney and Yashin that should be able to help the young guys come along. Iggy is improving every season and he is only going to get better as more talent is added to the team. Ribeiro, Connolly, Nagy, and Daze are all in Newmarket developing skills at an increase rate. Good job Ian in not calling guys up too quickly.
As impressive as the current youngsters on the team are the players that have been drafted by the Leafs. In selling off some pieces Toronto fell a little in the standing and has been able to draft higher. I believe he got an absolute steal in Gaborik at 4 in the S10 draft. He might not have been the complete player that Hartnall was but can score, and that is what Toronto will need in the future. In the most recent draft they got to pick twice in the top 5. They got a future top pairing defender in Hamhuis, and very talented all-round MikkoKoivu. All three should come in and make an immediate impact.
But wait there is more. The draft capital that the Leafs have is very impressive. As of right now the team is in the driver’s seat to land Rick Nash. He is easily the best player that is in the upcoming draft, and only true difference maker. He also has the Saskatoon 1st in this draft. As of right now it looks like it could be outside of the top 10 but the West is kinda a crap shoot at the moment. What is more impressive is the accumulation of 1sts in the S14 draft. The Toronto, Montreal and Chicago picks should all be in the top 10. S14 is an extremely deep draft and having three high 1sts should land him high end forward talent. The moves made to get the picks are equally impressive to the amount of picks. The Montreal one was acquired by trading a 2nd and Felix Potvin. The Chicago one was a big deal that cannot be judged quite yet but it was the 1st overall in S10 for the 6th overall that year and future 1sts in S12 and S14. So basically HendrikSedin for Damian Surma(traded for Chris Phillips), MikkoKoivu, and the 1st in S14. It was a move for the long term success and will in my opinion work out in Toronto’s favour. The Toronto organization has so much young talent and draft capital that it would be very shocking that this team is not an elite power in a couple years. I have to give Ian credit for his masterful way that he is bringing the rebuild to a close and being VHL Cup bound in 5 years.
Money, Money, Money ... Nathan Schroor
I’m a numbers guy, right? That’s what I tell myself as I read literature regarding government policy and best practices before taking my own stab in the dark at running these great cities in our great countries. Because I’m a numbers guy I won’t have any trouble drawing conclusions on the best bang for your buck top line combinations in the Pacific Division so far this season. Now I can’t say how long this combo has played together but they have been on the roster together long enough to be judged so here are some numbers and facts.
Calgary Position - Even Strength - Power Play - Salary LW - John Druce 3G / 7A, 1G / 5A 3,009,000 C – Andrew Cassels 9G / 14A, 3G / 11A 2,581,000 RW – David Bruce 4G / 3A 2,669,000 Combined - 16G / 24A, 4G / 16A 8,259,000 Percentage of offense / Playing Time: 21.8% / 30% Price Per Point: $137,650
Notes – With the exception of Scott Gomez, Andrew Cassels is the best value centerman at just under $70,000 per point. Not surprisingly, his line mates didn’t fare so well with John Druce being the most expensive forward on the power play at over $500,000 per point and David Bruce is the worst top line player in the Pacific at $381,000 per point. Not counting the rudderless Sharks, the Flames top line plays a division low 30 percent of the even strength minutes.
Edmonton Position - Even Strength - Power Play - Salary LW - Dmitri Kvartalnov 9G / 9A, 7G / 7A 1,665,000 C – Ron Francis 4G / 14A, 4G / 4A 9,519,000 RW – Jeremy Roenick 10G / 14A, 5G / 15A 2,669,000 Combined - 23G / 37 A, 16G / 26A 17,790,000 Percentage of offense/ Playing Time: 26.8% / 31% Price Per Point: $174,412
Notes –Surprise surprise, Ron Francis is over paid. New Jersey learned that lesson the hard way and got pennies on the dollar to send him to Edmonton, even in commissioner land the veteran is currently the most expensive top line forward. At $1,189,000 per point power play return and a combined value of $366,115.18 per point Ron plays more and does less than even the second most expensive forward Vincent Damphousse ($257,125 per point). If it wasn’t for Dmitri Kvartalnov (best value LW at $52,000 per point) the unit would look even worse; guess I should have kept that contract.
Los Angeles Position - Even - Strength Power - Play Salary LW - Shayne Corson 11G / 11A, 6G / 8A 6,415,000 C – Scott Gomez 7G / 9A, 1G / 4A 550,000 RW – Keith Tkachuk 8G / 6A, 3G / 2A 3,872,400 Combined - 26G / 26A, 10G / 14A 10,837,400 Percentage of offense/ Playing Time: 26.3% / 37% Price Per Point: $142,597
Notes - Let’s not pick on the Flames for a minute; guess who doesn’t belong here and I’ll tell you why the Kings appear to need a rebuild (they’re not): Adam Oates, Eric Lindros, Vincent Damphousse, Ron Francis, Trevor Linden and Scott Gomez. While the value of a rookie is outstanding at $26,190 per point the inability to help the other two players perform is glaring. Tkachuk and Corson are among the most expensive PP forwards, 2nd and 5th priciest at $774,000 and $458,000 respectively and one wonders if they, and the team, could be much better with a stronger center.
San Jose Position - Even Strength - Power Play - Salary LW - Michel Picard 8G / 7A, 2G / 6A 2,460,000 C – Vincent Damphousse 8G / 12A, 6G / 6A 8,228,000 RW – Claude Lemieux 8G / 6A, 4G / 11A 5,856,000 Combined - 24G / 23A, 12G / 23A 16,544,000 Percentage of offense/ Playing Time: 25.6% / 25% Price Per Point: $196,952
Notes –One must wonder what an actual strategy or GM might have done with this squad in the first half of the season, but the new GM has the top line now at 41% (up from 25%). The Sharks are the highest cost per point from their top three forwards but the ice time might account for why Damphousse and Lemieux are among the most expensive top line forwards and over $400,000 per even strength point. Damphousse is still more than $100,000 cheaper than the awful price tag on Ron Francis but because this squad now has a leader, I won’t make any further judgements. I will note however that this was the only top line in the Pacific to play the 0-0-5 strategy and it doesn’t appear to have had much success.
Saskatoon Position - Even Strength - Power Play - Salary LW - Dean McAmmond 2G / 2A, 5G / 8A 2,327,000 C – Eric Lindros 11G / 10A, 8G / 8A 6,986,000 RW – Brendan Morrison 4G / 6A, 3G / 12A 1,973,000 Combined - 17G / 18A, 18G / 28A 11,286,000 Percentage of offense/ Playing Time: 24.7% / 35% Price Per Point: $142,861
Notes – Dean McAmmond is terrible at even strength and GM Chris Beersie needs to find a better player and even Mike Craig would be an improvement. Brendan Morrison is one of the great surprises and the 2nd best value RW at almost $79,000 per point, and in spite of Eric Lindros’ big contract the three players are among the best value lines in the VHL thanks to their great play. As good as this line has been however, they only contribute 19.7% of the teams even strength offense (worst in the Pacific) and likely a big reason the team has seen a drop off in success in the standings.
Vancouver Position - Even Strength - Power Play - Salary LW - Theoren Fleury 20G / 13A, 2G / 16A 7,615,000 C – Trevor Linden 9G / 14A, 7G / 12A 8,606,000 RW – David Vyborny 8G / 12A, 2G / 5A 1,710,000 Combined - 37G / 39A, 11G / 33A 17,931,000 Percentage of offense/ Playing Time: 32.3% / 36% Price Per Point: $149,425
Notes – Well the most expensive line in the VHL is also the most productive, if the Canucks could get a goaltender (?!?) then they should be unstoppable. David Vyborny is the best value RW (sorry Brendan) at $63,000 per point and while Trevor Linden is expensive (4th worst, $204,904 per point) the team goes however Fleury and Linden go; at least until Toskala is settled in again. These 3 have a combined 120 points which is double that of Calgary’s top 3, and one of only 3 teams to have a top line over the century mark.
Winnipeg Position - Even Strength - Power Play - Salary LW - Tony Amonte 19G / 17A, 4G / 8A 5,265,000 C – Adam Oates 10G / 17A, 7G / 7A 5,962,000 RW – Teemu Selanne 13G / 11A, 0G / 12A 4,397,000 Combined - 32G / 45A, 11G / 27A 15,624,000 Percentage of offense/ Playing Time: 28.8% / 35% Price Per Point: $135,861
Notes – They may not like it but this looks at lot like the Canucks in terms of numbers and if they had a good goalie they would be unstoppable. Move a top goalie here and they might even beat the Senators (going to have to leave the first round then I guess). Not one of these three is in the top five for best or worst price points, just great performance by great players earning their keep. It is strange to note Teemu has 0 power play goals but this is the best dollar for dollar three forward combination in the Pacific Division.
Just to wrap this up there were a couple things of note: not one team plays physical on their top lines here (not really a surprise) and top defense pairings might have made an impact but I don’t feel enough to change the conclusions.
Best Value Line ($3,925,000 Cap Hit), ($47,555 Per Point) LW Dmitri Kvartalnov C Scott Gomez RW David Vyborny Worse Value Line($15,197,000 Cap Hit), ($311,821 Per Point) LW John Druce C Ron Francis RW David Bruce
Central Intelligence Steve Tindall
A large part of the attractiveness and the fun of sim hockey is getting to rewrite history. The ultimate end result of this power is uncertainty. If anything can happen, what will happen? I love speculating and came up with some “What Ifs?” for the ugly step child of the VHL, the Central Division.
Detroit What if the Wings trade Lidstrom? Now in the reality of the NHL this would be almost unthinkable. Lidstrom, even more so than Zetterberg and Datsyuk, was the bedrock those competitive Detroit teams was built on. Which made him all but unmoveable. Things are a tad bit different in our little world. Lidstrom is in his final year of his contract. The Wings still have all their offers but we all know how finicky extensions are. Lidstrom is a good VHL defenseman but far from the generational defenseman he was in the NHL. These factors lead to a distinct possibility that he could be moved. Detroit could definitely get a good haul for his name alone. Then add the fact that he is having a very solid campaign so far. An offensive puck moving defenseman is a commodity in high demand these days.
Kansas City What if the Scouts tanking had worked and they got the 1st overall pick? So the question immediately becomes would they take Kovalchuk or still draft Spezza at 1? They don’t have a greater need for a wing over center. Hell, they have a need everywhere. Given GM Matt George’s love for Commies and the fact that Kovalchuk was pretty much the consensus #1 prospect, odds are very good that the Scouts take Ilya. Now, does that mean that they are better off? When you look at their ratings, the two players are almost identical except in scoring where Kovalchuk has a distinct advantage. So you would think the obvious answer is yes. However, when you look at their stats from this year, Spezza is averaging over 2pts a game with 33pts. Kovalchuk is comparatively scuffling along with only 20. Now that could change very quickly as the Russian has explosive scoring potential. Honestly I would be happy with either of these prospects and I think KC is too.
Milwaukee What if the Admirals had kept Prospal? Now this one really affects two teams. Prospal is the franchise cornerstone for the Blues now. Without Vinny, the Blues would still be working on their rebuilding instead of adding to their foundation and competing at their current level. Milwaukee would have had Prospal for their improbable playoff run. Would that mean making it to another round? I’m not certain. What I do know is one of the two 1sts they got is KC’s in the ridiculous 2003 draft. That pick could easily become Weber, Staal, or Getzlaf. The rest of the Blues package was shipped to LA for Brindamour and Smith. So it becomes Prospal and the chance that you could have had a better run in the playoffs or Brindy, Smith and the KC pick. To me Prospal is a little more desirable because of his youth but it is basically a wash talent/production wise with Brindamour. Smith is a good rated D man but his DI and PIMs are killers (especially in the playoffs) and he gets hurt too often for his pay level. That makes it come down to a better shot at winning versus a highly talented prospect for the future. I know where I stand, winning is why we play the game. If I can win now, I’ll worry about the future in the future. I’m sure Jeff is looking forward to the future when he gets one of the best prospects in the game while being a Central Division contender now.
St. Louis What if Roy stayed in Boston? Again this one has a cascading effect on another team. I was extremely curious to see what I would get from a full season of St. Patrick in Boston. If I had foreseen this type of performance, I may have tried to just work the roster around him. So the Blues wouldn’t have the Vezina calibre Roy they are currently enjoying. They would have a good secondary scoring option in Friesen though. If they played him with Prospal, he could be having a career year. Vokoun doesn’t have bad numbers by any means. If he was full time again, would he be almost as good as Roy? The stats seem to say that is a distinct possibility. Except for the wins, they tell a different story. With the Sim having Roy playing like Roy (finally!) the Blues have only lost 7 of the 29 games Roy has started. Vokoun on the other hand has only won 2 of his 7 starts. The counter to that is would the additional offense of Friesen be enough to change some of those losses/ties to wins? Which of course is countered by what if he didn’t provide any offense? And down the rabbit hole we go. In my opinion, without Roy, I think the Blues would be where they were before, in the 2-4 spot in the division and competing for the last playoff spot. Instead they are comfortably in first and look to have home ice advantage.
Minnesota What if the Wild say screw it and start the rebuild? Minny went through an awful season last year. Used to competing for top spot in the division, the Wild were unexpected cellar dwellers. Things have been better this year but still not where expectations are. If the playoffs started now, they would be an 8 seed and have a date with the Oilers. Not an enviable situation. So an alternative is to turn around an aging roster and start building again. Modano could net an unbelievable package. A top player with a decent salary with a lot of years left to play? Start the bidding, do I hear 2 firsts and a prospect? The two Ulfs would bring back good assets and even some numpty (just for you Jeff) would give something for Wendy. That still leaves a good young core. The only thing standing in the way is I think Charlie thinks like I do. If I can win now, I’m going to try and win now.
Chicago What if the Hawks had kept Jumbo Joe? Dan, close your eyes and repeat after me “this is all just pretend. Joe is still mine”. The Blackhawks had selected Thornton with the first overall pick the previous draft but we all know how Mr. Kirby loves to draft 1st if given the chance. Ottawa came calling with that chance. They offered the BOS pick (which had somehow won the lottery) that they received for Dale Hawerchuk, an additional 1st and a 2nd for Joe and the 16th overall in the season 8 draft (which became Brad Stuart). The consensus top prospect was Vinny Lecavalier and he did not look to be that much of a downgrade from Thornton. Well unfortunately appearances can be deceiving. Thornton has already turned into a top player. Vinny has yet to live up to his considerable potential. The other pick became Niklas Kronwall who was used in a package to get Stephane Richer. Now there is a very good chance Lecavalier eventually reaches Thornton’s level but I’ll take the proven over the potential any day. Can you imagine Thornton, Richards, Luongo, AND the Sedins? Yikes….
The last few seasons has seen the level of competition rise significantly in the Pacific Division. This season has been no different. Realistically, any of Edmonton, San Jose, and Winnipeg could win the division and the almost automatic #1 seed (the Central still sucks, sorry). If you want to stretch it, Saskatoon could catch fire and take top spot (I for one am cheering for this). I did a little research because I was curious if anything important occurred in May in the real War in the Pacific. Turns out two major events occurred at this time of year in WWII. Japan pulled off a very important invasion to further their ambitions of a Far Eastern Empire. They defeated the Allies in Corregidor, effectively eliminating the American presence in the Philippines. This defeat prompted the infamous quote from General Douglas MacArthur “I shall return!”
The other major event was one of the biggest what ifs of WWII. The Japanese were defeated at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Had they been victorious, Australia would have been left wide open and who knows what would have happened then. So back to the VHL version. San Jose is like the Americans, dominant power of the area. The Oilers are like the Japs, a growing power that wants to take over. The Jets are like the British, historically a power but not quite able to seize the throne. None of the three have been able to pull away and may not be able too.
Edmonton Absolute road warriors. In last three, beat Chicago and Saskatoon. Lost to Sharks. Big game against the Jets on the horizon. San Jose The Sharks like their home cooking. Good balanced scoring so far. In last three, they beat the Oilers and Scouts but lost to the Devils in what had to be a look ahead game. Flames, Canucks, and Caps coming up in what should be a 3-0 run.
Winnipeg The Jets are an anomaly in the VHL, with a significantly better record on the road as opposed to home. Rookie Craig Anderson has looked anything like a rookie and the Jets vets are performing well. In their last three, they beat the Leafs (who doesn’t?) and Lightning but took it on the chin from Pittsburgh. They’ve got the Oilers, Canucks, and Blackhawks coming up.
Saskatoon The Wolves aren’t quite enjoying the breakout season they had last year but after a slow start, they are making up ground. Their last three saw them tie with both Minnesota and New Jersey and lose to the Oilers. Upcoming games against KC, Buffalo, and Hartford.
Calgary The Flames aren’t in last? Holy shit. Who knew that Andrew Cassels was the difference? Last three games saw a loss to the Wolves but wins against Chicago and Toronto. Next three are against SJ, Detroit, and Minnesota.
Vancouver Guess who joined Boston and Ottawa in believing in Stanley Cup Hangovers? The offense is still there but the goals against is not good at all. Toskala looks like the polar opposite of the guy who got them to Game 7 of the Final. Last three were losses to the Rangers and Bruins and a win over the Scouts (thank goodness for KC). Next three are against Detroit, San Jose and the rival Jets (yikes).
LA What is going on in LA LA? The Kings have started slow before but I can’t remember them in the basement before. GM Shirley is looking for a change and is actively shopping some of his key players. Last three were wins against NJ and Minnesota and a loss to St. Louis. Next three are against Montreal, the shitty Senators, and KC.
Central Division Nathan Schroor
Chicago – one win and five losses during their most recent home stand was not the kind of turn around Chicago had in mind to showcase for fans, but it has hurt a strong start by the windy city. What is looking really good are the youngsters that matured IN the juniors. The Sedin’s and Scott Hannan are combining for 21 goals and 39 assists which does bode well for the future beyond this season. Detroit – four wins and four losses has the Wings playing even over the last week but still holding their grip on one of the final playoff spots. With a couple of the premier players in the league on one team carrying the load (Weight (lol) and Lidstrom) new GM Forget should be looking to add some complimentary players from the large number of draft capital the franchise has accumulated.
Kansas City – Looking to occupy the basement of the Western Conference no further the Scouts have begun to unload some futures looking for talent now. A blockbuster trade to bring in proven scorer and league leader Tomas Sandstrom sent notice to the Central Division about the seriousness to contend now and in the future. Rumors are swirling that GM George continues to hammer on the trade phones to bring in even more scoring talent in the days to come.
Milwaukee – Three wins, a tie and a loss in the last 5 have the Admirals jumping right into the heart of the playoff mix; even against tougher opponents. With Jason Smith returning to action shortly, the Admirals can expect to parlay this good week into some strong momentum going forward. Robb Zepp looks very good in Toledo and should be pushing the new comer, Manny Fernandez in the coming season after winning almost 70 percent of his starts in the AHL.
Minnesota – A very big surprise so far this season after a disappointing end to their 2000 campaign ended without a conference finals appearance against the Sharks. Being in the mix again after the one year hiatus with Modano and Carey truly carrying the team. One constant in the Central Division is top players taking teams on their backs rather than working by committee like their Pacific Division counterparts. Also keep an eye on rookie David Legwand and the Calder conversation (6 goals, 12 assists).
St. Louis – If you said you saw Patrick Roy turning this whole team around then I call bullshit. One of the best moves of the offseason was to give the team someone that could hold opponents to under 3 goals a game while Vinny Prospal dominates up front. The Blues have come down from their other-worldly start to the season but are still one of the tops in the league and current favourites to win the Western Conference.
Eastern Conference UFA Report Matt Schroor
We are going to take a look around the Eastern Conference and see where contract negotiations are for some of the big names in the Conference. We will contact all our sources in team offices all across the East to see who is staying, who is going, and who will test the free agency market. Big names demand big money and it will be interesting to see who ends up where when all is said and done.
Jeff Friesen- Jeff will need to be resigned for the future of the Bruins, sources say that negotiations haven’t started. He will probably see a deserved raise, and the Bruins must approach carefully due to the fact Jeff has already went before the Arbitration Board.
Brian Leetch and Mark Reechi- Both are mainstays on a talented Sabres team. They will more than likely see raises when negotiations start. If they fail to come to agreements the Sabres might move them because of a bevy of young talent in the organization.
Jyrki Lumme and Geoff Sanderson- One can hope that the Whalers won’t lose another high-end player to free agency, but both have turned down initial offers. Lumme has been offered around the league already as a precautionary measure.
Patrick Lalime- Marty Turco has struggled since winning the Vezina so the Rangers went out and got Patrick. He is outplaying Turco in equal opportunities. Lalime has turned down the Rangers first offer, but hopefully luck favours the Rangers add they can have continued stability in net.
Jumbo Joe Thornton- Joe got paid by the arbitrator big time. He is looking to lock up big money long term from the Senators or someone else who is willing to pay the price. His agent has had him turn down a couple offers already and could hit the trade or free agency market before all is said and done. If so there would be a big whole at the top of the Sens depth chart.
Jaromir Jagr and Peter Forsberg- The Swede and the Czech are at the centre of the Flyers offense. They have a powerful team with them, but after a couple rejected offers a piece the team might be looking for an identity change. They will both command a pretty penny from any team that would like their services.
Miroslav Satan- Mr. Satan is a hell of a young hockey player. He is playing extremely well in a good forward group. The Penguins have yet to extend a offer to the youngster and will be very happy to have his services. All 25 other teams would be glad if he didn’t.
Manny Legace- Manny has decided that four more years in the nation’s capital is a good idea. That or the raise he got. This will provide the Senators with stability in net for the foreseeable future.
Keith Primeau- Keith was the centerpiece of the Mario Lemieux trade from the Canadiens perspective. He just re-upped for another four years in Montreal, providing them with a big name, and big contract down the middle for years to come.
Hope you enjoyed the look into the future free agents or trade bait of the Eastern Conference, tune in next week for another topic based on the Least Coast.