Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cup Finals Preview


Finally!  This nightmare of a pool (except for our two eventual money winners) is almost over.  With very little compete in this springtime session, we've got one more series left for all the beans.

The San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins will open up the last series of the Spring tomorrow night in the Steel City, a 6pm MT start on CBC, for those interested in taking a gander.

By all accounts, this match-up is an interesting one, with the Sharks, who are making their first trip to the Finals, taking on a team that has already won two Cups with their core group of players.  It will certainly be a good match-up of a team that craves that first championship against a team that knows how to win it.

We know both teams have the ability to score, I don't think there are many questions, in terms of offense, but it will be a matter of the blueline match-up and the dueling goalies, that should make all of the difference in this one.  If we were to take the offense out of this, I would lean to the calm, cool collected side of Brent Burns and the Sharks' defense over the Penguins and possibly Martin Jones over Matt Murray, as the favoured sides.

But it's very hard to bet against experience.  Between Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, they are rocking all kinds of experience and have the rings to prove it.  If Marc-Andre Fleury was to dress as the starter for a game or two... or three... you're just adding more fuel to the fire.

Stuart Kristy Scott Brenda
252 points -29 -41 -54
Logan Couture x x x
Brent Burns x x x
Martin Jones x x
Joe Pavelski x
Patrick Marleau x
Joe Thornton x x
Evgeni Malkin x
Sidney Crosby x x
Patric Hornqvist x x
Carl Hagelin x x
Phil Kessel x
Kris Letang x

The top four teams in the hockey pool have a lot of separation between all of them, too much to overcome with only two teams left and some overlap between the players taken over each team.  Stuart and Kristy, should have no problem cruising to money finishes, unless there is some sort of catastrophic injury-plagued finish of Game 1 of the series and it knocks out a number of key players, but that's just too crazy to think of.

Not that the pool has been right very often in these playoffs, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are the favourites, according to the pool selections and it's by a fair margin as well, 108-38.  With the Penguins having home-ice advantage, this series has some potential to be very quick, but these two teams are too much alike to not trade punches and go six or seven games.  It will be a good one to watch.  Enjoy!

Pool Outlook for St. Louis

The Western Conference was going to be a difficult side to win this year and the St. Louis Blues came two wins away from doing just that.  The problem that they ran into was a hungrier, more desperate team in the San Jose Sharks and the Blues' offense couldn't match the output of the Sharks and their defense couldn't contain their opponents well enough to help their offense.

The Blues were a very good team in the 2016 season, placing 2nd in the Central Division, just 2 points shy of the division title and the Western Conference regular season title, just behind the Dallas Stars.  This team had a lot of the right pieces in place at the start of the year and they stuck to their guns through the year, which made them a solid unit, by the time they made the playoffs.

It really is a matter of perspective, deciding on how much of a success the 2016 season was for the St. Louis Blues, because everyone was going to have different expectation levels for this team, when the puck was dropped in October.  The team's brass likely had some very high expectations, meaning a Stanley Cup, and we'll realize just how high those expectations were, when the team announces which parts of the staff will stay and who will go.

From a progress perspective, making the Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years is definitely progress and they certainly have some of the pieces in place to keep that progress moving, but it will always ride a fine line, especially with those "unforeseen circumstances."

The Blues were definitely a hot team, coming into this year's draft, with 14 players taken from the team in September, including one 1st round pick, Vladimir Tarasenko.  The competing goalies were also of note, with both Brian Elliott and Jake Allen taken in the 2nd round, getting the gamble in early.  Since they were picked apart early, they did have a couple of drops and one pick in Week Nine, and they had one more drop to speak of in Week Eighteen.  A deal to bring a number three goalie came about and the Blues stayed the course at 14 players, by the end of the season.

Tarasenko was indeed worthy of his 1st round pick, as he finished the season atop the Blues scoring list, ranking 21st overall in the pool scoring list, finishing with 40 goals and 74 points in 80 games this year.  The kid has top end talent, no doubt, and will be back up around the top next season, I would imagine.

The pool had it right on this season, as the Blues finished with 14 players on the list for being worthy, including Tarasenko.  All three goalies, Allen, Elliott and deadline acquisition Anders Nilsson were all within the top 54 goalies this year, Nilsson doing most of his work in Edmonton.  Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Robby Fabbri and Jori Lehtera were all worthy from a forward perspective, while Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, rookie Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester were all notable from the blueline.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Blues in 2016 will compete, I think that's a given.  The franchise has a roster of players that can do some amazing things, but they all need to be coordinated properly to achieve the proper end goal, which is to win the Stanley Cup.  If you can trust what the management and coaching staff say closer to the start of the season, that should determine how good of a team this should be.  The players will also have to take some accountability and when changes start to be made, that's when those statements come out.  No matter what though, the Blues will be above the wild card spots in the playoffs and if they show some real direction in the off-season, we can start talking about moving further in the playoffs.

A Conference Finals appearance is going further in the playoffs and it was a pretty good kick at the can in 2016, but for how hard it is to win in this league, they have to be somewhat happy with what they had done, despite the bitter disappointment of their loss to San Jose.  The Blues had a good compete level, the management team made some positive moves and the players were held accountable for their results.  The question now is, how much of this team will carry over into next season?

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Vladimir Tarasenko 7.500 Alex Pietrangelo 6.500 Brian Elliott 2.500
Paul Stastny 7.000 Jay Bouwmeester 5.400 Jake Allen 2.350
Alexander Steen 5.800 Kevin Shattenkirk 4.250
Jori Lehtera 4.700 Colton Parayko 0.925
Robby Fabbri 0.894
Patrik Berglund 3.700 Carl Gunnarsson 2.900 Ville Husso 0.848
Ryan Reaves 1.125 Joel Edmundson 1.050 Luke Opilka 0.693
Mackenzie MacEachern 0.925 Robert Bortuzzo 1.050
Ivan Barbashev 0.773 Jordan Schmaltz 0.925
Vince Dunn 0.759 Thomas Vannelli 0.712
Adam Musil 0.736 Petteri Lindbohm 0.637
Justin Selman 0.678 Dimitri Sergeev 0.623
Zach Pochiro 0.663

The back end seems to be solid, from a pool perspective, but there will be questions over the off-season about whether or not the goaltending tandem could possibly co-exist for another year.  The Blues have a few gaps to fill for scoring forwards, but their core is there and can be built around, which suggests they'll be good for us poolies again next season.

The Blues are not boasting a terrific number of potential rookies that could splash into the roster next season, if they could make an impact at all.  Ivan Barbashev is believed to be the best prospect in the system, but the 20-year old Russian has a lot of work to do in his game, before he would crack the roster.  It would make a bit more sense to fill in some of those bottom six spots with bottom six type players, which won't be pool worthy anyways.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

The Blues, thanks to their loss in the Conference Finals and their ranking in the regular season, will pick 28th with their 1st round pick, which they still have.  Somehow, somewhere, the Blues will have to try and find some more help with their prospect pool, which is lacking at the moment.  With a lot of the top end talent from their blueline already up with the team, they would be wise to start looking for a quality add in that department and Kyle Clague from the Brandon Wheat Kings looks like their kind of guy.  The Blues can wait for his frame to improve, but he has the tools to be a good player down the road.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

There are two big name free agents to look at in the Blues organization and one will certainly decide the direction of this franchise moving forward.  With their captain, David Backes, possibly heading towards unrestricted free agency, his return would keep the same ideals in place, while his departure may signal some change in philosophy.  Jaden Schwartz, on the other hand, is a restricted free agent, and the team will have more budgetary questions for his return.  Can they bridge him for another year or two?  Will they have to spend the money on a long-term deal?

The Blues are not struggling with their cap math today, as their roster could be filled out relative ease and under budget, but those free agents will be costly.  The 11 pool worthy players that have deals are coming in at $47.8 million and a few of those unworthy players likely have depth spots to lose, so the math adds up quickly.  If Schwartz is going to be a big ticket player, there might not be enough room for Backes and his salary demands.

I would certainly have troubles believing that this would be the same Blues team, if Backes was to leave via free agency and so, if he was to go, this team would certainly struggle in the tough times, making the losing streaks even longer.  The Blues will have more than enough skill to win a lot of games, but the long grind of the season and the playoffs won't be the same at all.  Let's say they make room for Backes though, it would be interesting to see where they make the room, possibly on the blueline, which could certainly improve.  St. Louis is definitely in a state of flux right now and any talk of another Conference Finals appearance or better, will certainly hinge on their leadership contingency.

2016 World Cup of Hockey Pool

This week, we saw the announcement for the final rosters for the World Cup of Hockey, which will take place in September, which will give a selection of the world's best players a chance to get up to game speed with a short tournament, featuring six individual countries, a continental mish-mash and the future of North American hockey players.

By no means, should this tournament be considered as a measuring stick of international hockey, but it will give us all an extra glimpse at our favourite players, in an exhibition tournament, where just about anything can happen.  Oh yeah, don't forget the money.  The NHL and NHLPA, the organizers of this tournament, are set to make a killing on this one.

So, if they're set to make a killing at this, why can't we, right?  At some point during the Summer, for those aching to get a little bit more hockey into their lives, I will put together a hockey pool, to which I am thinking an absolute free-for-all pool.

I am not expecting many of my poolies to be too interested in this sort of thing, but I do reckon that there are going to be a few.  With only eight teams of 23 players, 184 players in total, I am thinking of putting together a draft, likely taking all the players that are available, in a no holds barred, no position limit, depending on the number of people who decide to jump on.

If there is one great thing about this tournament, as we head into the Summer, we will get to see some good talent, before they hit the ice in the NHL, some of which will likely be picked out in this post, as we see the teams below.  There were some new signings from Europe already and let's not forget about the two draft eligible kids, they'll get good looks too.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
Jamie Benn 89 Brent Burns 75 Braden Holtby 103
Sidney Crosby 85 Shea Weber 51 Corey Crawford 85
Joe Thornton 82 Drew Doughty 51 Carey Price 24
Tyler Seguin 73 Duncan Keith 43
John Tavares 70 Jake Muzzin 40
Patrice Bergeron 68 Marc-Edouard Vlasic 39
Claude Giroux 67 Alex Pietrangelo 37
Steven Stamkos 64
Ryan Getzlaf 63
Jeff Carter 62
Brad Marchand 61
Matt Duchene 59
Jonathan Toews 58

We'll kick off with Canada and of course, there are going to be plenty of names that one could argue, should be there, but isn't.  I'm not terribly interested in those arguments, because this tournament means nothing to my pride as a Canadian, since this team will be playing against other Canadians on the Under-23 North American team.

This is a straight-forward team, built to win this tournament and that doesn't necessarily mean throwing all the big guns onto the sheet and calling it a team.  No, the inclusion of a Muzzin or Vlasic to the back end, means that there are going to be some role players, who won't necessarily have to eat a bunch of minutes and play along as good soldiers.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
Patrick Kane 106 Dustin Byfuglien 53 Jonathan Quick 93
Joe Pavelski 78 Ryan Suter 51 Ben Bishop 83
Blake Wheeler 78 John Carlson 39 Cory Schneider 62
Max Pacioretty 64 Ryan McDonagh 34
Zach Parise 53 Matt Niskanen 32
Derek Stepan 53 Erik Johnson 27
Ryan Kesler 53 Jack Johnson 14
T.J. Oshie 51
Brandon Dubinsky 48
David Backes 45
Justin Abdelkader 42
James Van Riemsdyk 29
Ryan Callahan 28

The Americans are aiming to be an exceptionally tough team to play against, when you stop to consider a lot of the size they have chosen, somewhat over a lot of the skill that they boast at an international level.  This side will boast quite a bit of speed and grit, two things that their brain trust believes will be an asset on the North American ice.

There are certainly some curious names on this list, especially at the bottom end of the forwards and defense, but a tweet I had seen on Saturday morning was suggesting that the Americans wanted to be a 'heavier' team, which they certainly get in Abdelkader, Callahan and the Johnson boys.  If there are holes among the skaters, they certainly have the goalies to back them up.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
Johnny Gaudreau 78 Shayne Gostisbehere 46 John Gibson 51
Sean Monahan 63 Aaron Ekblad 36 Connor Hellebuyck 30
Mark Scheifele 61 Morgan Rielly 36 Matt Murray 20
Jack Eichel 56 Colton Parayko 33
Brandon Saad 53 Seth Jones 31
Nathan MacKinnon 52 Ryan Murray 25
Connor McDavid 48 Jacob Trouba 21
Dylan Larkin 45
J.T. Miller 43
Sean Couturier 39
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 34
Jonathan Drouin 10
Auston Matthews 0

Is there anyone who is not excited to see what this Under-23 team can do?

The future of the NHL is summed up in 23 players, give or take some talent that wasn't included, but this group is going to be exciting to watch.  There are 15 1st round picks on this roster today, including four 1st overall picks, and that doesn't include Matthews, who will certainly be in one or both of those categories by the end of June.

This tournament will undoubtedly tell you where Matthews should be picked in this year's hockey pool draft, especially given that he will be playing against some of the league's best players and there is an expectation that he will shine.  This tournament will certainly help a few players improve their draft position as well, so it will be the one to watch.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
Artemi Panarin 77 Andrei Markov 44 Semyon Varlamov 58
Evgeny Kuznetsov 77 Dmitry Orlov 29 Sergei Bobrovsky 34
Vladimir Tarasenko 74 Dmitry Kulikov 17 Andrei Vasilevskiy 24
Alex Ovechkin 71 Alexei Emelin 12
Nikita Kucherov 66 Alexey Marchenko 11
Evgeni Malkin 58 Vyacheslav Voynov 0
Pavel Datsyuk 49 Nikita Zaitsev 0
Artem Anisimov 42
Vladislav Namestnikov 35
Nikolay Kulemin 22
Evgeny Dadonov 0
Vadim Shipachev 0
Ivan Telegin 0

Definitely, one of the more intriguing teams other than the young stars will be the Russians, who are bringing a few from the KHL.  First and foremost, this is an NHL tournament, which likely means that they will have to replace Vyacheslav Voynov from their side, since he isn't quite welcome, due to his legal issues and it could even draw more into immigration at the Canadian border as well.

Still, between Dadonov, Shipachev, Telegin and Zaitsev, there are a number of wild cards on this Russian team that some of us won't necessarily be too familiar with.  Nikita Zaitsev is already signed on with the Maple Leafs for next season, so he will definitely be one to watch.

From their NHL talent, the Russians are looking fairly stacked up front, reasonable in goal, but their defense leaves something to be desired.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
Jussi Jokinen 60 Rasmus Ristolainen 41 Pekka Rinne 78
Aleksander Barkov 59 Sami Vatanen 38 Tuukka Rask 71
Mikko Koivu 56 Olli Maatta 19 Mikko Koskinen 0
Mikael Granlund 44 Jyrki Jokipakka 12
Joonas Donskoi 36 Sami Lepisto 0
Leo Komarov 36 Esa Lindell 0
Teuvo Teravainen 35 Ville Pokka 0
Erik Haula 34
Jori Lehtera 34
Valtteri Filppula 31
Lauri Korpikoski 22
Sebastian Aho 0
Patrick Laine 0

The Finnish hockey program has been on one hell of a run over the last year or two, taking all kinds of international hockey titles at various levels and they'll be out to impress at this exhibition, no doubt.

On the surface, it's an interesting mix of talent on this roster, which includes some NHL-ready talent and the projected 2nd overall pick in this year's draft, Patrick Laine.  We shouldn't be overlooking a kid like Sebastian Aho or Ville Pokka and if it came down to it, their World Championship number one goalie, Mikko Koskinen.

This roster may not be out to win many track meets, but the Finns have done a great job in assembling teams that compete hard and have that element of an offensive upside that scores those clutch goals in tight games.  Don't be too quick to count them out, if they don't meet the first impression test.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
Nicklas Backstrom 70 Erik Karlsson 82 Henrik Lundqvist 82
Filip Forsberg 64 Oliver Ekman-Larsson 55 Jacob Markstrom 28
Loui Eriksson 63 Victor Hedman 47 Robin Lehner 13
Daniel Sedin 61 Mattias Ekholm 35
Henrik Sedin 55 Anton Stralman 34
Gabriel Landeskog 53 Niklas Kronwall 26
Alexander Steen 52 Niklas Hjalmarsson 24
Patric Hornqvist 51
Carl Soderberg 51
Henrik Zetterberg 50
Jakob Silfverberg 39
Carl Hagelin 39
Marcus Kruger 4

There are plenty of reasons to like the Swedish program in this exhibition tournament and a lot of that has to do with their defensemen.  Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson and Hedman and three of the best defensemen in the game right now and they are going to help form a very balanced attack through this country's lineup.

In the forward position, the Swedes are very strong in their two-way game and plenty of talent to get the job done offensively, so goal production shouldn't be much of an issue for this side, and then their goaltending does stand out, as they have three keepers that belong to underachieving teams, which don't highlight how good they are or can be.

You would certainly be wise to keep a close eye on the Swedes, when you're building your team in the pool.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
David Krejci 63 Andrej Sustr 21 Petr Mrazek 64
Jakub Voracek 55 Roman Polak 16 Michal Neuvirth 43
Tomas Plekanec 54 Radko Gudas 14 Ondrej Pavelec 28
Tomas Hertl 46 Zbynek Michalek 7
Martin Hanzal 41 Jakub Nakladal 5
Ondrej Palat 40 Michal Jordan 1
Ales Hemsky 39 Michal Kempny 0
Michael Frolik 32
David Pastrnak 26
Milan Michalek 16
Dmitrij Jaskin 13
Radek Faksa 12
Vladimir Sobotka 0

The Czechs are certainly a diverse bunch, which won't have the likes of Jaromir Jagr, who is getting a little too old for all of these extra competitions.  There were some curious selections on this team, but when you look at the Czech participation in the NHL these days, it isn't quite what it used to be and this team's management hands were somewhat tied.

Nevertheless, us poolies will get to have another look at forward Vladimir Sobotka, who is possibly going to come back to the NHL with the Blues next season, honouring his salary arbitration deal to play and the Blackhawks had recently signed defenseman Michal Kempny, so we'll get a look at him before the real hockey pool draft happens.

Goaltending is going to be a tipping point for the Czechs, since they have three goalies that can eat a lot of minutes, but they haven't reached that elite status in the league yet.  A good tournament in September would go a long way to helping their own status.

Forwards P-16 Defense P-16 Goalies P-16
Anze Kopitar 74 Roman Josi 61 Frederik Andersen 51
Mats Zuccarello 61 Zdeno Chara 37 Thomas Greiss 49
Frans Nielsen 52 Andrej Sekera 30 Jaroslav Halak 43
Leon Draisaitl 51 Mark Streit 23
Mikkel Boedker 51 Christian Ehrhoff 12
Tomas Tatar 45 Dennis Seidenberg 12
Nino Niederreiter 43 Luca Sbisa 8
Thomas Vanek 41
Jannik Hansen 38
Tobias Rieder 37
Marian Hossa 33
Marian Gaborik 22
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare 14

Finally, we have that mish-mash of every other country in Europe, thrown together to be some kind of All-Star squad from tier B nations.  There is a fair amount of top end talent on this roster, but the most interesting part about this is they won't have played in an international tournament together, unless those players are from the same country, so there could be a real period of adjustment going on here, before this team really gets to show off what its capable of.

There isn't anyone that we haven't seen in the NHL on this roster today, as they were able to fill this out rather easily with bodies that are active in the league.  Slovakia, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland are the countries that lead the way, in terms of participation, which is a great sign for international hockey, in actual international tournaments.  These programs are really coming along and the game is truly growing.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pool Outlook for Tampa Bay

It can certainly be considered a disappointing finish to a marvelous playoff run, as the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to make it past the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing out in seven games.  On the other hand, given the lack of pizzazz in the regular season and some key injuries to Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman heading into the playoffs, expectations were certainly quite low and were blown away by how far they made it in the Spring.

Through the regular season, the Lightning were a very impressive team, finishing 2nd in the Atlantic Division, despite some of their 2015 playoff heroes not making nearly the impact that led them to the Cup Finals last Spring.

Injury played a part in having an inconsistent lineup, which may have led to some of their scoring woes through the year, as they were middle of the pack in goals for, with only 227 to their name, by the end of the year.  Only three players played 80+ games and no one played in all 82 on their final roster.

The Lightning will now go into this off-season as one of the main focuses of every party involved, including the other 29 teams and fans across the league, as they have lots of questions to be answered and the most high-profiled free agent-to-be, possibly making his way out of town this Summer.  The Lightning are still built for immediate success, but can they go over the hump and win the Cup in the near future?

The 2015 playoff success did keep the Lightning popular among poolies at the draft in September, with 14 players taken and two of those players were taken in the opening round, Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos.  The pool tinkered a little, as one was dropped and another picked up in Week Nine, and wasn't touched in Week Eighteen.  This meant that it was a very similar bunch of Bolts at the start of the season, compared to season's end, staying at 14 players.

Bishop was the best Lightning player, in terms of pool scoring, finishing with 35 wins, 6 shutouts and an assist for 83 points, which was good enough for 8th overall and 5th among all goalies in scoring.

Back-up goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, was among the 12 other pool worthy players for the Lightning this year, as they fell just below the expectations of the poolies in this draft.  Vasilevskiy finished 47th among all goalies, but is poised to take steps in the right direction next season.  Up front, in order, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan were all worthy and made considerable contributions through the year.  On defense, Tampa wasn't quite as deep as some teams, finishing with only three of note, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Andrej Sustr.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Thanks to a lack of free agency concerns, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on track to keep the same core group of players into the 2016 season and that can only mean good things for this club.  You could even argue that the need for change isn't even all that needed, but I'm sure a little bit of tinkering will be done.  There is going to be a strong push for a division title in 2016, as Montreal will still be a tough team to play against and Detroit may still feature in the playoff hunt, but this side really has their engines fired up.  If this side remains intact through to the playoffs, I would expect much of the same result, since it was the injuries to Bishop and Johnson, their two shining stars of the playoffs, which maybe cut their Cup dreams short.  Staying healthy is always job number one, but something you can't predict a year away.

Everything there really did work in Tampa's favour in the 2016 season, but those injuries to Stamkos and Stralman before the playoffs and arguably another injury to Bishop in the playoffs, set the collective back a little bit.  They had their strong push for a division title and they were very close to possibly losing out in the Cup Finals again (the same result as last year), so it was a very solid prediction last year.  I don't think it will be nearly as easy this year though, lots of changes coming here, I would imagine.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Ryan Callahan 5.800 Victor Hedman 4.000 Ben Bishop 5.950
Valtteri Filppula 5.000 Anton Stralman 4.500 Andrei Vasilevskiy 0.925
Ondrej Palat 3.333 Andrej Sustr 1.450
Tyler Johnson 3.333
Brian Boyle 2.000 Matthew Carle 5.500 Adam Wilcox 0.925
Erik Condra 1.250 Jason Garrison 4.600
Matthew Peca 0.925 Braydon Coburn 3.700
Anthony Cirelli 0.925 Slater Koekkoek 0.894
Jonathan Drouin 0.894 Anthony DeAngelo 0.894
Adam Erne 0.874 Dominik Masin 0.839
Mitchell Stephens 0.839 Dylan Blujus 0.743
Brian Hart 0.703 Matt Spencer 0.743
Brayden Point 0.693 Ben Thomas 0.690
Jonne Tammela 0.690 Daniel Walcott 0.650
Cameron Darcy 0.642 Jake Dotchin 0.617
Henri Ikonen 0.617
Joel Vermin 0.575
Tanner Richard 0.575

Questions, questions, questions... how is this roster going to shape up for next season?  Do the Lightning have too much cap space devoted to defensive defensemen?  Will Jonathan Drouin be on this roster next season and if so, will he make an impact?  Where is Steven Stamkos going to end up?  Is it Andrei Vasilevskiy's time now?  The Lightning have a plan, so I don't think there should be much panic right now, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.  How popular are they going to be at the draft this Fall?

By my count, defenseman Slater Koekkoek will still have his rookie status for the 2017 season and his play in the playoffs will linger in the minds of management and the coaches of this team and that could easily make a deal to ship out one of those big contracts a lot easier to make.  Koekkoek will be 22 years old at the start of next season, so his development is coming along quite nicely, so if he can crack the lineup as an everyday guy, he could add an element of scoring and possibly be worthy as a rookie next season.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

The Lightning don't have any glaring needs at the draft, so they can take their 1st round pick, 27th overall, and take what they believe is the best player available.  A generally undersized Tampa Bay team could possibly use a big winger on their side, even if he is considered to be a project in some circles.  Tage Thompson is in the 6'5"/6'6" range in height and already has a frame on him, he ranks high with the Central Scouting and ISS, but lacks with the Hockey News.  If he's a project kind of guy, he could be one that develops into the Lightning system as well.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

It's no secret that Steven Stamkos has already qualified for unrestricted free agent status and his relationship with the coaching staff has been strained for sometime.  With that being said, it sounds like he'll be on the move, one way or another, this off-season.  You would have to believe that the Lightning have a date in mind, sometime around the draft, where they pull the pin and trade his rights away, so they don't come away empty-handed.

If Stamkos is to go, that will open up a lot of cap room and guys like Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov will all have a little bit more to draw from, when it comes down to their restricted free agent contract negotiations.  These three are definitely in the long-term plans, but let's see how crafty the management will get with their new deals.

The Bolts going forward have about 14 players, I would say have jobs to lose next season and that doesn't include Jonathan Drouin.  Those guys are coming in at $51.3 million, which does leave a good chunk of change to play with, but these free agent decisions will play a massive role in next season's success.

Personally, I don't see Stamkos returning to the Lightning, but this team won't come away empty-handed.  Any deal that ships him out in this off-season, will certainly have a pool worthy player in return, maybe even two, but a bundle of futures for this team to help retool underneath the active roster.  The Stamkos blood clot did a lot to solidify the roster, when he wasn't in the lineup, so there is a lot of belief that they won't have to go too crazy in this offseason, to end up close to where they finished up this season and I think that's about right.  I would expect a divisional playoff spot and for their top guys to ramp it up in the playoffs again.  Many factors go into how far a team travels in the playoffs, but if they are all healthy, they have more than enough experience to carry them all the way.

Friday, May 27, 2016

My Mock Entry Draft

Pick NHL Team Player POS
1 Toronto Auston Matthews F
2 Winnipeg Patrick Laine F
3 Columbus Jesse Puljujarvi F
4 Edmonton Jacob Chychrun D
5 Vancouver Olli Juolevi D
6 Calgary Alexander Nylander F
7 Arizona Matthew Tkachuk F
8 Buffalo Pierre-Luc Dubois F
9 Montreal Logan Brown F
10 Colorado Mikhail Sergachev D
11 New Jersey Tyson Jost F
12 Ottawa Michael McLeod F
13 Carolina Max Jones F
14 Boston Julien Gauthier F
15 Minnesota Kiefer Bellows F
16 Detroit Logan Stanley D
17 Nashville Jake Bean D
18 Philadelphia Riley Tufte F
19 Long Island Clayton Keller F
20 Arizona (from NYR) Alex DeBrincat F
21 Carolina (from LOS) Charles McAvoy D
22 Winnipeg (from CHI) Dante Fabbro D
23 Florida Luke Kunin F
24 Anaheim Pascal Laberge F
25 Dallas Lucas Johansen D
26 Washington Brett Howden F

If you have been following along with my Pool Outlook posts over the last couple of weeks, I've been trying to work out my mock draft as I go, so I thought with a good number of picks done already, I would keep a running tab on the players taken, as I see it to this point.

After the top three, which may not even be a guarantee, it is a little bit more of a pick and choose and my thought process is more of what I think the team needs and how they should be addressing it at their respective pick.

This list will continue to get updated, as the Pool Outlook posts continue and with the playoff teams that have traded their picks away, the recipient teams will get their updates, even though they might not get any mention in their Pool Outlook posts.  That's just the way it goes, I guess.

It looks like it will be a pretty good draft, especially with a lot of intrigue after the number three pick, so stay tuned.  We'll get all the teams and picks up there before too long.

Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 27)



I wouldn't necessarily say it was the Game 7 of our dreams, as both teams sat back and played safely for the opening 20 minutes and that led to more of a chess game, than if these two teams decided to hold a track meet and go end to end all night long.

No, the chess game was more about capitalizing on mistakes and that was the story of the game.  For the most part, the two young goalies were dynamite, but closing up a small gap was the difference between the deciding game playing a little bit longer and the Tampa Bay Lightning going home, as Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn't able to shut up shop, as Bryan Rust poked his second goal of the game through and the 2-1 goal that it was, stood up to be the winner and the final score in the end.

The Penguins did very well in Game 7 to defend their zone and their netminder, Matt Murray, as the Lightning were pouring on the pressure in the 3rd period and came up with nothing.  Even the return of their captain, Steven Stamkos, couldn't boost the Lightning's offense to a key Game 7 victory.

It wasn't a very good Game 7 for the hockey pool either, as Evgeni Malkin registered a pair of assists on the two Pittsburgh goals and that was it for notable players.  Nevertheless, his side moves on and we now await the start of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The elimination of the Lightning means that 56 more picks are off the board in the pool and now seven teams are without any players in the Cup Finals.  Those teams go as high as 13th place, as Wes managed 163 points, but won't get any more after the Lightning loss.  On the flip side, four teams will have the maximum amount of players, six, in the Finals, but that won't really have much of an effect on the money winnings this year.

Thanks to a scoring change from earlier in the series, Tyler Johnson crept up to be the Lightning's best player in the playoffs, finishing with 7 goals, including 3 winners, 10 assists for 20 points in 17 games, but it wasn't enough for another appearance in the Finals.  Ben Bishop, despite not playing past the opening game, also finished with 20 points, thanks to 8 wins and 2 shutouts.  Neither player was picked in the pool this year.

Check out the blog on Sunday, we'll have the Cup Finals preview posted, if it actually means anything to you.  It hardly means a thing to the final standings of the pool.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Afternoon Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 26)



Tonight is the night that an Eastern Conference team punches their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals, as it is Game 7 between the Lightning and the Penguins, centre stage at the Igloo in Pittsburgh.

There isn't a lot separating these two sides, as momentum swings have happened often in this series and it has been the best players leading the way for both sides.

No matter which way you cut it, these teams are going to dress (and play against) a young inexperienced netminder, so that will be at the forefront of their minds, no question.  Storm the opponent's net and clear in front of your net, limit the turnovers and don't stop shooting.

These two teams are quite similar in styles, so the hockey cliches will be fast and furious tonight, almost to the point of a bingo game.  The team that dobs out all of their cliches by the end of the night, will move on to the Cup Finals.  Keep your legs moving, get pucks in deep, work hard along the boards and get significant net presence... keys for both sides.

Is there anything I'm missing?

Andrei Vasilevskiy versus Matt Murray tonight... one non-pool goalie will be going home, while the other one will continue to mock the pool for at least four more games.

ImplicationsStuart is pushing for a Tampa Bay win tonight, which would leave him with six players in the Finals, while Kristy will have six players either way, but a Pittsburgh win would be more advantageous for her side. Scott doesn't have any Tampa players left, so Pittsburgh would be huge for him.  It seems doubtful that any result is going to change these top three teams, but it's all I have left to point out these days.

Pool Outlook for Washington

2016: The season of what should have been?  The season of what could have been?

There really is only so much preparation you can have for a season, but when your management team has pieced together a pair of the top forwards in the NHL today, throw in another young star in the making, one of the top two or three goalies in the game today and the defense can play a rough and tumble game, you would think that this team would have it all, wouldn't you?

The Washington Capitals had all of this going for them, including a coach that had reined in one of those big personalities in the game today and all was going really, really well.  A President's Trophy for the best record in the regular season, a good first round exercise against the Philadelphia Flyers, but it was their rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that ended the dream too soon.  The dream ended in only six games, the Penguins had an answer for just about everything the Capitals threw at them, as their experience in the playoffs paid off in spades in that round and knocked off the favourites.

Now the Capitals have to look at what they have, assess what went wrong, what they can learn from that loss and see where the tinkering needs to be done.  In some cases, these sort of losses add to the experience, experience needed to overcome rival teams, so maybe that's the positive they take from 2016.

But as we look at the last team in the entry draft to not make the Conference Finals, I am reminded that we are looking more at their feasibility at being picked in the regular season hockey pool and I say to myself, "of course they will be."

The Washington Capitals were an average team at the draft, in terms of overall numbers, but they were one of few teams to have more than one player taken in the 1st round, as both Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin were taken 7-8 to start the year.  The Capitals had some injury concerns, which saw a couple players get dropped in Week Nine, but one was picked up to fill in, and then the Week Eighteen push saw three Capitals players picked up, as the bandwagon was steaming down the road to the end of the season.  The end of season total for the Capitals in the pool was 15 players, which was tied for 3rd among NHL teams when the final horns sounded.

Holtby turned out to be a bargain pick in the 8th spot, as he finished atop the goalies with 48 wins (tying an NHL record), 3 shutouts and 1 assist for a 103-point season, 2nd overall to Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks.  This makes back-to-back seasons of finishing 2nd overall in pool scoring and he's only 26-years old.  He's still got some time to realize his full potential yet.

Being the sort of team they were, it is surprising to note that including Holtby, the Capitals only had 13 players who were finishing as pool worthy players in their position.  Now, they did have three 1st round worthy players and another 2nd round worthy player, so it wasn't all bad.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera and Andre Burakovsky were all worthy forwards, while John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Karl Alzner were worthy from the blueline.

It feels like there should have been more, but looking up and down that roster, it was filled with that depth that was out to eat minutes, while the stars did the bulk of the scoring.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

For 2016, it all begins in the off-season and the potential Holtby deal, which may be tough to get done with a cap-friendly number.  Saying that, the other RFA's will play a big factor as to what kind of depth the team can afford afterwards as well.  If the team's reasonably green management can get everything done with some hometown discounts, goes out and picks the best of what they can from the free agent market, this team is definitely going the right way for a deeper playoff appearance.  It's a lot of ifs and buts, but that's the nature of the beast.  The Capitals will be playoff bound, they should still have plenty of scoring, but their off-season dictates how far they get.

I don't think the Capitals did anything wrong, necessarily, in their off-season last year.  They did well with Holtby, they acquired Justin Williams through free agency, things were really starting to look great on paper.  They were playoff bound, as the best team in the NHL, but they ran into the experience of those pesky Penguins and it went South for them.  It was a real shame that this season went for naught, but "that's why we play the game."

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Alex Ovechkin 9.538 Matt Niskanen 5.750 Braden Holtby 5.100
Nicklas Backstrom 6.700 John Carlson 3.967
T.J. Oshie 4.175 Karl Alzner 2.800
Justin Williams 3.250
Evgeny Kuznetsov 3.000
Andre Burakovsky 0.894
Daniel Winnik 2.250 Brooks Orpik 5.500 Philipp Grubauer 0.750
Jay Beagle 1.750 Nate Schmidt 0.813 Vitek Vanecek 0.745
Riley Barber 0.925 Jonas Siegenthaler 0.751 Adam Carlson 0.705
Travis Boyd 0.925 Christian Djoos 0.712
Jakub Vrana 0.894 Madison Bowey 0.695
Chandler Stephenson 0.726 Tyler Lewington 0.665
Nathan Walker 0.635
Liam O'Brien 0.622
Garrett Mitchell 0.588
Stanislav Galiev 0.575
Chris Bourque 0.575

There isn't a shortage of players that the poolies can look at from Washington, they are rich in options, especially in the elite range.  If you're ending up with a high pick in next season's pool draft, you can comfortably look at some of these Capitals and feel confident that your opening pick(s) are not going to waste.  After that, you should tread somewhat carefully, as some of these guys may look really good on paper, but could burn you, if you take them too high.

Finding a pool-worthy rookie in next season's Capitals class might be somewhat difficult, as they don't boast much in the top-end freshman class next year.  This team will be looking at their Cup window of opportunity and they will be looking for a player that gives them confidence moving forward and not a lot of rookies can provide that.  If there are kids that are going to get long looks at camp this year, I would think that Jakub Vrana up front and Madison Bowey on the blueline, both 20 years old, will get those looks, but they'll have to dazzle to make it.  If they do crack the roster, believe that they're there for a reason and gamble on them late.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

The Washington Capitals are another team that did well not to mortgage their 1st round pick this year, although you could argue that moving that pick could have turned into that asset that put them above and beyond, but that's not the argument here.  The Capitals need to boost their system and the best player available will do nicely for them.  A kid like Brett Howden of the Moose Jaw Warriors seems to have a good well-roundedness to his scouting report and that's something that any team can use down the line.  He's got size, plays down the middle and he tends to play a full 200-foot game, something the coaching staff could really appreciate.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Capitals don't have a lot of problems spending a lot of money and this Summer might be more of the same, as their free agent class will have some guys looking for a raise.  Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov highlight the restricted free agents, while if they want Jason Chimera to stick around, he might need a boost too or else he heads to the open market.  The Capitals don't necessarily have a lot of work to do with their current crop of free agents, rather, they could be a fun team to watch as they shop the open market, looking to attract pieces for their championship puzzle.

Their current crop of 10 pool-worthy players is coming in at $45.2 million, throw in a few of those non-worthy contracts for depth and they're already getting up there in cost.  The final salary cap number, which won't likely be known until around the entry draft will be the pivot point for this team, as they find that right balance of skill and sandpaper to go with their elite goaltender.

I don't think I can bet against the Capitals having another big year in the 2017 season, especially given how they look on paper today.  Any team with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson and Holtby on it, signed and ready to be delivered, has an optimal chance of being tops in any conference and/or league.  Unless the unforeseeable happens, which the Montreal Canadiens proved, this team can be a top team in the league again.  They have to be considered Cup contenders and it will be how the management team tinkers with this lineup, which will determine their fate again.  I believe that they're very close and they need to believe that they can be there in the end.

Fringe Deals (May 26)

On Wednesday evening, the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers made a trade, as the Canucks acquired 24-year old defenseman Erik Gudbranson and the Islanders' 2016 5th round draft pick and in return, the Panthers receive 20-year old forward Jared McCann, plus the Canucks' 2016 2nd and 4th round picks.

Neither Gudbranson or McCann were pool worthy players in the 2016 season, the defender was ranked 163rd in pool scoring with 9 points, while the rookie was 267th among forwards with 18 points.  A new locale and a new system may be able to help either player, but its hard to say right now.

Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 26)



It's a done deal.  There will be no Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals, as the San Jose Sharks have ousted the St. Louis Blues in six games, beating them on Wednesday night, 5-2, to clinch the series.

It was a very stifling performance from the Sharks, from the start of the game, on the shoulders of Martin Jones, who made a number of big stops early on.

The offense had a good grip on this one, taking a 2-0 lead into the 3rd period, it added a couple more goals before the midway point and really put their foot down.  Vladimir Tarasenko added his first contributions in quite some time in these playoffs, but it was too little, too late for the Blues.

It was a big night from Joel Ward, who scored a pair of goals, including the eventual winner in the 3rd period, which was good for a 3-point night.  Logan Couture continued to roll with another 3-point night of his own, while Patrick Marleau had a couple of assists in the win as well.  In the end, Jones made 24 saves for his 2 points.

In the pool, this was an upset of upsetting teams, as the Blues were the favourites in the pool, but that has meant absolutely nothing this year.  61 selections now get removed, but only one more team was taken down to zero picks, which brings that total up to four teams with no stock going forward.

David Backes was the best St. Louis player in the hockey pool, picking up 17 points in 20 games, which includes three game-winners for bonus points.  Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko each had decent playoff years as well, all finishing with 15 points in the pool as well.

ImplicationsStuart's lead is now at 27 points and he lost a couple forwards and a defenseman with the elimination of the Blues, while Kristy didn't suffer any losses with the Blues' loss and will enter the Cup Finals with six players, no matter the result in the East.  Kristy's lead over Scott is still 10 points, as they have run at an even pace in this round, both teams picking up 41 points and without making up any ground in this round, Scott has much less of a chance of catching his rival for that last bit of prize money.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pool Outlook for Dallas

The Dallas Stars in 2016 were out to use their overpowering offense, night in and night out, hoping that it would be enough to act as scare tactics for when they came across an actual challenge.

The Stars scored a lot of goals in the regular season, the most among all 30 teams in the league, but they also ranked 20th in the league in goals against, so there was a lot of give, but there was a lot of take too, which isn't a great sign for a playoff-bound team.

Being the top seed in the conference certainly has its perks, being given home-ice advantage against the least-capable (in theory) team on your side of the bracket to start with and they indeed took advantage of that fact.  But after dispatching the Minnesota Wild in six games, which wasn't necessarily an easy feat, things got real tough and their second round opponents, the St. Louis Blues, were not scared.  The Stars and Blues played a hard-hitting, heavyweight title-like series, but the Blues were better built for the playoffs than the Stars and that's what eventually paid off in the end.

It's been an awfully long time since a purely offensive team has come out and shot the lights out to win a title and that's what the Stars were trying to do.  Their defense had their holes, they had a win and you continue mentality in their crease between two goalies and they didn't look prepared to grind anything out on the ice.

There's no question that it would be awfully exciting to see a team offensively dominate their way to a title, but in this day and age, that only happens in the All-Star Game format and even then, nobody really cares.

Let's not forget, when it comes to the hockey pool, regular season scoring and successes mean everything and that's what we're here to do in the end.  At the draft this year, it was somewhat telling, as the Stars had two 1st round picks, two 2nd round picks and a 3rd, but it was not very deep and it quickly became few and far between after the fact, as only 12 players were taken and that's below average for teams this year.  The pool caught on to their scoring ways, picking up two at the first Waiver Draft, but two were dropped to only one pick in Week Eighteen.  The Stars made some moves and picked up a player at the deadline, which made their final tally of 15 players on active rosters, but their offense was pretty limited to those top guys.

Jamie Benn certainly proved that he wasn't the quickest flash in the pan, posting another solid season in 2016, leading the Stars with 41 goals and 89 points, playing in all 82 games.  That was a season good enough to be 4th overall in points and 2nd among all forwards in scoring and his stock may yet rise again, since he was taken 18th overall at the draft.  Do you believe him now?

When it was all said and done, the Stars finished with 16 pool worthy players on their list, all of which spent some time in the pool, if they weren't dropped midway through.  Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Cody Eakin, Mattias Janmark, Antoine Roussel and Valeri Nichushkin were all worthy from the forward position, offering up lots of options in every race.  Their defense was also quite impressive, with John Klingberg, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Johnny Oduya and Kris Russell all finishing on the list in victory green.

The goalie situation for the Stars did make it hard on poolies this year, as both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi both of have the chops for the number one job and the minutes it comes with, but the team opted to platoon them and those 2nd round picks in the draft, turned into 4th round picks in the final rankings.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Do I dare use the definition of insanity at this point?  No.  Too cliche.  Nevertheless, the thought has some merit though, as the Stars have so many players from this 2015 team signed on for 2016 and it isn't like they are playing with a lot of room going into this off-season.  They have loaded up on youth and their contract totals suggest that.  You move a lot of those contracts to the minors and what do you have?  A pared down version of last year's team.  Unlike a team like the Panthers, where they are growing through their mistakes, the Stars have a cast of characters that I would describe (from the outside looking in) as arrogant.  I think in that arrogance, this team is destined to repeat itself, unless a major deal is swung and then we can sit down and reassess what they can do.  Until then... so close!

I was sure hard on the Stars at this point last year, but that might be because I don't really believe in how this team is built.  That's just a personal opinion.  The Stars did make a couple of big deals in the off-season, both of which did seem to help them through the regular season, adding both Sharp and Niemi, really did put them over the hump in the Central, but that, of course, was only a regular season solution.  They tried to make some more deals for proper defense at the deadline, but the one they made didn't pan out and they were left out in the cold after the second round.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jason Spezza 7.500 John Klingberg 4.250 Kari Lehtonen 5.900
Patrick Sharp 5.900 Johnny Oduya 3.750 Antti Niemi 4.500
Tyler Seguin 5.750
Jamie Benn 5.250
Ales Hemsky 4.000
Cody Eakin 3.850
Antoine Roussel 2.000
MattIas Janmark 0.734
Jason Dickinson 0.925 Julius Honka 0.925 Philippe Desrosiers 0.684
Denis Gurianov 0.925 Patrik Nemeth 0.900 Henri Kiviaho 0.612
Devin Shore 0.870 Ludwig Bystrom 0.775
Radek Faksa 0.863 Esa Lindell 0.746
Remi Elie 0.776 Niklas Hansson 0.746
Cole Ully 0.700 Stephen Johns 0.725
Curtis McKenzie 0.675 Chris Martenet 0.703
Gemel Smith 0.645
Branden Troock 0.637
Brendan Ranford 0.610
Travis Morin 0.575

Be sure you're managing your expectations of this team properly.  The players on top were pool worthy players in 2016, but they put a lot of teams on notice that they can score, but that doesn't always mean they're going to win.  I think in a lot of cases, you can feel really confident picking from most of those players who are signed on for 2017, but there are a couple names that may have rode some coat tails to get there and they'd be better off as Waiver Draft pick-ups.  Just saying.

There are jobs to be had on this Stars blueline and their system has a couple of guys that could vie for these jobs as rookies next season, making them ones to watch.  Both Esa Lindell and Julius Honka were playing with the AHL affiliate in 2016 and Lindell did make his NHL debut as well, playing in four games.  Both are skilled Finns, who should be able to play in the offensive system that Dallas has set up for themselves, but you would probably only see one or both of them, if they were to add some real shutdown guys to play with them.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

How about someone that plays defense?  Generally, teams are going to want talent at both ends of the ice, if you're taking them in the 1st round or at the very least is very talented at the offensive end and you let his defensive game blossom over time.  Why not take from the factory in Kelowna, if you're looking at the defensemen?  Lucas Johansen has a bit of everything in his game, including a bit of size and could be a fine fit in the Dallas system down the road, assuming everything stays the same.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The art of free agency could really be the friend of the Dallas Stars in this off-season or it could be a very cruel enemy.  Three of those pool worthy defenders on their list are going to the open market on July 1st, if nothing is done about it and you have to think that Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and/or Kris Russell are going to be looking to fetch some reasonable numbers and they could price themselves out of the Stars picture.  How the team chooses to address this issue on the blueline will tell the story of their Summer and will translate heavily on their 2017 season.

It's very much less so in the restricted group, as Valeri Nichushkin is the highlight there and he didn't have a highlight season in 2016, which is a huge benefit to the Stars, who could bridge his deal and have a bit more money to play with for bigger priorities.

What are the Stars playing with this Summer?  Well, their high-paid players already signed on are pool worthy, so that's good news.  Those 12 guys are coming in at $53.4 million, which is a good number, considering what's left to do.  They will have to fill their blueline up, but they can use their youthful depth to fill in a few more of those gaps, so they should have some money to play with, when they go shopping this Summer.  Last year's cap ceiling was $71.4 million and that means they have about $18 million in space, if it was to stay the same.  Not bad for 9-to-11 gaps to be filled.

I don't believe that this team has the leadership core that teams need in this NHL to succeed and that will be their Achilles heel until that problem is solved.  One may have thought it would have been solved by the acquisition of Sharp, but he adds scoring to a team that had a lot to begin with, it wasn't like they were adding a Jonathan Toews or a Patrice Bergeron, who are bonafide leaders in this NHL today.  Benn, Seguin and Spezza are all talented players, they'll score many goals in the regular season, but they are in desperate need of real help at the leadership position.  Solve that and the Stars will be a team worth talking about in the playoffs.  For the hockey pool though, do continue to look favourably on their side for your picks.  They have scoring talent and that's what you want.