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)