Monday, May 31, 2010

Scratches for Game Two

The Flyers made a couple of line-up changes on Monday night in preparation for Game Two, as both James Van Riemsdyk and Ryan Parent came out of the line-up as healthy scratches and were replaced by Daniel Carcillo and Oskars Bartulis. Van Riemsdyk is the only pool player of the four and he missed a key game for Leo, who sits in the chart of top teams in the pool. 

How Do the Flyers Respond Tonight?

It's going to be a big night of answering all of these questions we have after Game One, but that's what we all expected anyways, isn't it? The Blackhawks and Flyers will do battle in Game Two tonight with plenty on the line in this series. The Blackhawks want to take full advantage of home-ice, while the Flyers want to go back to Philadelphia with the series tied at one.

Starting with the road team, the Flyers, despite being down one goal, should be walking in with some swagger on their side.  Coming into Game One, they knew that they would have to keep up with a pretty powerful team in the Blackhawks and they did.  They went goal for goal in the first 40 minutes, but couldn't quite make that last one up in the 3rd period, which doesn't look too bad on them.  Going into a track meet with the Blackhawks is not what they should be looking to do, rather score that first goal and clamp up the defense, capitalize on some mistakes in the neutral zone or at the defensive blueline.   Of course, if the Flyers fall behind a goal, they will have to manage the puck with authority, making sure they limit their turnovers, because the Blackhawks are very good at capitalizing on those chances themselves.

For the home team, the strength of their team isn't so much controlling the tempo of the game, rather feeding off the energy of their opponent and then finding a way to surgically beat them at their own game.  We've seen the Blackhawks come from behind in a number of games, go up early and hang onto a lead, close everything down defensively and even be the flatter of the two teams for a good portion of the game, only to come back and win.  The Blackhawks are a team no one can count out and now we're at the biggest dance of them all, they will be looking to continue that sort of play with their eyes on the prize.  I expect them to weather a bit of a storm from the Flyers to start, but then come in waves, forcing the play and making good on turnovers.

TeamScott G.Myles D.Neil B.Leo M.Derek B.Kalenab G.Russ D.Stuart G.
Patrick Sharpxxxx
Dustin Byfuglienx
Brian Campbellx
Patrick Kanexxxxxx
Jonathan Toewsxxxx
Marian Hossaxxxx
Duncan Keithxxx
Brent Seabrookx
Scott Hartnellxx
Claude Girouxxxxx
Kimmo Timonenxxx
James Van Riemsdykx
Chris Prongerxx
Daniel Brierex
Braydon Coburnx

I'm not expecting another massive 6-5 game tonight, but I'm sure the hockey pool would love to see another one.  I think it's fair to assume anything more than 10 points behind Scott G. is pretty well finished, but I'm keeping everyone around for illustration and sheer interest.  I think by now, we all know how this is going to shake down, so I don't think I really need to go over it again. 

Here's hoping for another rocking game in Game Two and I, personally, since I have no stock in either of these teams, I wouldn't mind another 6-5 game... maybe even 8-7.  That'd be good.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Panthers Ink Markstrom

Another big signing happened over the weekend, as the Panthers locked up their 2008 2nd round pick, Swedish netminder Jacob Markstrom, to his entry-level deal, which might have some solid looking bonuses attached to them. As of Sunday afternoon, there wasn't any cap hit details for Markstrom posted on, but I think it's fair to assume that he'll get a sweet deal, despite being a 2nd round pick.

Markstrom is a big framed goaltender, standing at about 6'3" and is only really starting to fill that out now, listed at 180 lbs. by the Hockey News. 

In 2010, it looks like he has some positive numbers playing in Sweden and now with a contract under his belt, the Panthers will likely get a good look at him in camp and then decide how they will want to develop him further.  He is a top rated prospect and he is the crown jewel of the prospects for the Panthers, likely going to give Tomas Vokoun a reason to look over his shoulder in 2011. 

Vokoun currently has one year remaining on his current deal with the Panthers, so it might be fair to think that Markstrom will get a shot to be his understudy for a year before taking over as the number one guy in 2012, if everything goes well for the young netminder.  He's definitely one to keep an eye on.

11 Goals in Game One? Wow.

What an amazing way to kick off the Stanley Cup Finals... with a barn burner!  The Chicago Blackhawks were able to hold on to a go-ahead goal, midway through the 3rd period by Tomas Kopecky, to eventually win the game 6-5.  With 11 goals in the first game of the series, we might be in for a whale of a series, which also makes everything a little bit more interesting in the hockey pool.

Going into the game, Scott G. had himself a 5-point lead on Neil B., but after the game, it doesn't look like Neil will be Scott's biggest concern for the rest of the series.  Myles D. had himself a good night thanks to Patrick Sharp and Chris Pronger, picking up 7 points in Game One to Scott's 5 points.  Sure, the lead is now 6 points for Scott, but Myles did knock off 2 points from his original deficit, so we might actually have a race on our hands.

Remarkably, five teams picked up 7 points in the first game of the series, even the 46th ranked team, Yvette's, probably picked up a few spots in the standings.  On the flip side, three teams failed to pick up a point in Game One, even Rachael's team, which has six players active in the series.

Despite losing the game, Daniel Briere was the best player in the game, coming out with a goal and 3 assists for a 4-point night, helping a number of teams to some pretty good evenings in the pool.  The best Blackhawks player in the pool was Troy Brouwer, who finished with 3 points (goal and 2 assists), and he was picked seven times, so some teams collected on his good night.

Playoff pool points leader, Jonathan Toews, was shutout from Game One, but still keeps a 3-point lead on Daniel Briere, who did a good job to close the gap on Saturday night. 

So, back to the game... with the Flyers staying with the Blackhawks for pretty well the entire game, you have to think that this series will not be a cake walk for either side, but the results are going to be just as surprising, either way.  As much as the Flyers held it close, the Blackhawks did have enough finishing ability to finally take the lead in the 3rd period and hold onto to it, closing out for the win.  To me, that signals the ability to actually close this series out quickly, in my opinion.  That isn't to say they will, but I'm saying it's possible.

Well, you know how I was talking about Brian Boucher and his major knee injuries... he actually made a return from MCL sprains in both his knees to be Michael Leighton's back-up in Game One, even making an appearance in Game One, playing 24 minutes and allowing the winning goal, taking the loss.  No one seems to expect Boucher to make the start in Game Two, but he is close by, so you just never know what may transpire down the road.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Isles Ink Hamonic

As noted in my Pool Outlook for the Islanders, I thought Travis Hamonic is going to make a good push for a regular spot on the blueline in 2011 and on Thursday, he was able to make one of the bigger first steps happen, by signing his entry-level deal.  The 2008 2nd round pick signed your typical 3-year deal with the club, but unfortunately the salary cap details have not been posted yet on, so it's hard to say how much help he'd give the team to reach the cap floor, if he makes the opening night roster.

Hamonic was able to play in the Memorial Cup Final game with the Brandon Wheat Kings after being dealt midway through the season from the Moose Jaw Warriors.  As a blueliner, he put up some pretty decent numbers in the WHL and with his style of play, both hard hitting and somewhat offensive, he had the pieces in place to be in the big game before too long.

The Islanders are fairly stocked up on the blueline already, but I'm sure there is plenty of wiggle room for a kid like Hamonic could sneak into.

Kings Re-Sign Parse

The Los Angeles Kings announced the signing of forward Scott Parse on Wednesday night to a new 2-year deal. Parse, 25, was a rookie in the 2010 season, playing in his first NHL action of his career, plus a little bit of time down in the AHL as well during the year.  His new deal will be worth $900,000 per season and according to, it looks to be a one-way deal, so he should be expected to have a roster spot come opening night in October.

In 59 games with the Kings, Parse scored 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points, ranking him 343rd among all players and 236th among forwards.  At his scoring pace in a full 82-game schedule, he would be looking at about 33 points or so, but for how old he is and getting a full-time shot, I would imagine his confidence may do him a little bit better.

Salary CapNow, that Parse is a full-timer, we can assume his numbers into the salary cap discussion. This signing now brings the Kings up to a roster of 15 players for $43.4 million, so that should give the Kings plenty of room through the Summer to tweak their line-up for a better playoff run.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rangers Add Norwegian Sniper

Don't really have enough Rangers news on here most times, but I thought this might be something to consider. On Wednesday, the Rangers signed the leading scorer from the Swedish Elite League in 2010, Mats Zuccarello Aasen, a Norwegian winger. Aasen, 22, is a smaller winger, standing only at 5'9" and is listed at 170 lbs., but his numbers in Sweden were very impressive, so he might have some room to grow in the NHL.  The Rangers signed him to a 2-year entry-level deal, so their cap hit won't have to suffer if they need him to go into the minors or get loaned back to Europe, so it's definitely a chance worth taking.

Aasen was also an Olympian for Norway in Vancouver and also represented his country at the World Championships.  Whether or not he'll be effective in the smaller ice and the bigger bodied league like the NHL, remains to be seen.

Pool Outlook for Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens were a very curious team, to say the least, through the 2010 regular season, but became heroes once again with a playoff run that no one could have actually believed would happen at the start of the playoffs in April.  Through the year, they were a team full of skilled players with a whole lot of injury issues, but they managed to sneak into the playoff picture in the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.  With that bottom seed, they were able to knock off both the number one seed, Washington Capitals, and the number four seed, Pittsburgh Penguins, with their speed, tremendous goaltending and very well organized coaching, but unfortunately their run ended against a bigger, stronger and in some cases, just as fast, team in the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Canadiens were led by somewhat of a surprise player in 2010, as Tomas Plekanec took top spot in pool points for the season after a year with 25 goals and 45 assists in 82 games.  The real key stat in that line is the 82 games, as he was the only forward on the team to play in every game for Montreal in 2010, which was enough to lift him up to the top of the heap.  As I had mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Canadiens were hit hard with injuries for the bulk of the year, with their forwards being no exception.  This really does work in Plekanec's favour, as he goes into this Summer as a potential unrestricted free agent and that may earn him a pretty nice paycheque at the end of the day.

With their rash of injuries, the Canadiens only had one other forward in the top 100 in pool scoring and that was the biggest cap hit on the team, Scott Gomez.   Gomez only missed four games during the year, but the inconsistent line-up was not working to his advantage and so his scoring production ended up being down, finishing with 12 goals and 59 points in 78 games.  Mike Cammalleri was next in line, both in cap hit (after Gomez) and production, as he finished with 26 goals and 50 points in 65 games.  Brian Gionta, the next of what was supposed to be the top trio in Montreal, finished with 28 goals and 46 points in 61 games, so you can really see a pattern going on with these top players.  When they were all in the line-up together, they were very effective, but there wasn't a large number of games when they played as a unit, so they suffered as a whole.  After Gionta, it really dips down, as Andrei Kostitsyn only had 33 points in 59 games, Glen Metropolit had 29 points in 69 games and Benoit Pouliot had 28 points in 53 games between Minnesota and Montreal.  It was really no wonder the Canadiens fought for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

If you thought that the Habs' forward situation was bad, the defense was actually worse.  Marc-Andre Bergeron led the Canadiens for the bulk of the season after the injury to Andrei Markov early on, but they actually finished in a tie for points with 34, but Bergeron finished with more games played, which earned him the more valuable defender title and his picture in the blog post.  Markov suffered a severe tendon injury early on in the year, which kept him to only 45 games in the season, while Bergeron only played in 60 games, mostly because of starting too late into the season.  Also suffering from down seasons were both Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek, neither missing too many games, but they didn't have a lot of offense to pick up points from or didn't create much offense themselves.  Hamrlik finished with only 26 points in 75 games, while Spacek only had 21 points in 74 games.   I'm sure the Canadiens (and poolies) were expecting more out of both players.

I guess we can't really go a year anymore without talking about how the goaltending in Montreal was a controversy for the better part of the season, but at least someone really stood out this year and really took control.  Jaroslav Halak was dubbed the number one goalie in Montreal well before teh playoffs and his play really spoke for himself, especially when he bounced back well from losses.   In the regular season, Halak appeared in 45 games, putting up a record of 26-13-5 with 5 shutouts for 62 points in the pool, ranking him 18th among all goalies.  On the flipside of the crease, Carey Price appeared in 41 games for the Habs and his record was only 13-20-5, with no shutouts and 1 assist for 27 points and ranking 40th among goalies.  It was really no wonder that Halak took the job into the playoffs with those sort of numbers in the regular season.

2011 Season Outlook
After seeing what the Canadiens could do with a smallish team, you would assume that there would be some sort of renewed confidence flowing through them going into the 2011 season.  Well, I won't be quite as quick to jump on that bandwagon, especially when I go looking for players for my hockey pool team in September, but probably with some clever valuation, there could be a Hab or two on my team, but I don't think I would go out of my way to get a guy like Cammalleri or Markov.  They should be in the playoff conversation in 2011, but I think we saw enough from an injury-plagued team to be weary of picking them too early.

Scott GomezAndrei Markov
Mike CammalleriRoman Hamrlik
Brian GiontaJaroslav Spacek
Andrei KostitsynHal Gill
Travis MoenJosh Gorges
Ryan O'Byrne
P.K. Subban

The Canadiens have a glutton of defensemen already signed on, which does seem to be an emerging trend across the league, and that's pretty good news going forward, since they are very prized possessions.  Unfortunately, the Canadiens do have a lot of cap space tied up in the 12 players they have signed above, $43.4 million to be a little more precise (in an approximate sort of fashion).  In theory, this leaves about $13 million for 11 players and in those 11 players, they have both goalie positions to take care of.

Yes, free agent goalies... again bring up the goalies as the centre of the Summer discussion for the Canadiens.  Both Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price are up for new deals out of their entry-level deals and now management has a decision or two to make with these restricted free agents.  Also on the RFA list for July includes Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn, Max Lapierre and Tom Pyatt, all of which either figured into their regular season or playoffs.  I don't suspect a lot of cap space will be taken up by these players, likely none by Kostitsyn, as he'll likely be traded away this Summer, due to distaste with the coaching staff.

Obviously, the goaltending will likely be the number one priority for the Canadiens this Summer, but we also have to visit the unrestricted free agent list, which includes their top scorer, Tomas Plekanec, their best fill-in defenseman, Marc-Andre Bergeron and a few veterans that were helpful in their season, Glen Metropolit, Dominic Moore and Paul Mara.  The only real priority for a return would be Plekanec, but at what cost?  There is a good chance Plekanec could price himself right out of the budget, which would make him a tasty free agent come July 1st.   Metropolit and Moore may get offers, but there is no real assumption there at all.  I don't imagine Bergeron will get an offer, since Subban looks ready to go and the defense will likely start healthy.

It will definitely be an interesting Summer in Montreal.

Well, we all got a good look at PK Subban in these 2010 playoffs and there is little to no reason as to why he won't make the club out of training camp, if not become one of the top four defensemen on the team sooner rather than later.   Other than Subban, the list of players to watch does drop off somewhat, although if Danny Kristo, who is currently playing NCAA hockey decides to turn pro, he might get himself a bit of a look, but he also qualifies as one of those small scoring forwards that the Canadiens are known for.

With the team's finish in the Conference Finals, the Canadiens will be picking 27th in the Entry Draft with their 1st round pick.  Size is not an issue with the Canadiens and with only a minor change in management, I would imagine that the philsophy hasn't really changed much either.  I won't be expecting the Canadiens to move a player up because he is bigger, I would imagine that they would stick to the average-to-smallish skilled players, unless there is an outstanding player with size available.

What I said at this time last year: "I don't think there were many people who didn't think that the Canadiens would be better than they were this past year, much like the Ottawa Senators. In Montreal, they have a good opportunity to put a new team together, likely incorporate some of the more familiar faces, but try again from the backend out. We may also be able to sum up Carey Price's problems to the sophomore jinx, so I might be a little less hesitant to pick him due to his numbers than others might be. Watch the forwards carefully and if the lines pan out to be something interesting, I would jump on that bandwagon for points pretty quickly."

In theory, the Canadiens were not terribly better in 2010 than they were in 2009, finishing 8th in the Eastern Conference in back-to-back years, but this time doing it with somewhat of a rebuilt squad.  Carey Price deserved hesitation at the Draft in hindsight, because his jinx carried through to the 2010 season and eventually lost his job.  I was on the bandwagon, personally for some points in Montreal, taking Scott Gomez, but I later regretted that with such a sub-par season.  All in all, I paid for my mistakes of prognostication in last year's bit, but I do intend on making up for that this year.

For 2011, I will be preaching hesitation with the Canadiens.  I am a fan of Mike Cammalleri's, but the Habs will have to make him a happy camper with some healthy help, because I get the feeling that they will remain as injury-plagued players, with no enforcers to help police their line-up from goons in the Eastern Conference.  They will likely assume some wins in straight up skill match-ups, since Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez will still be about, not to mention skill from the blueline, but unless they pick up some more grit (besides some of the pests on the team), they will be run over quite frequently.  Look for the Canadiens to be bargains more than cornerstones of your fantasy team, but telling Habs fans that is a tall order.

2010 Cup Final Preview for the Pool

We've finally made it to the Finals! The Philadelphia Flyers are the bad boys from the East and the young kids of the West, the Chicago Blackhawks, will go head-to-head for the game's biggest prize starting on Saturday night.  This series has the makings of being a brand new classic series.

The Flyers have worked their tail off through these playoffs, especially in the 2nd round of the competition against the Boston Bruins, where they had to make a historic comeback, being down 3-0 in that series.  They have been playing the rough & tumble game with their opponents and playing some exceptional defense to let them get this far and there should be no reason why they'd stop.  I would have to say that the key to their success will have to be much like what they did with the Canadiens in the Conference Finals, using their good defense to will the speed of the opposition to the outside, along the boards, in order to keep the degree of difficulty down for Michael Leighton in net.

Chicago only managed to play one less game than the Flyers on their quest to the Cup Finals, beating the Predators in 6, the Canucks in 6 and sweeping away the Sharks in 4.  The Blackhawks have also been using their good defense to take space away from opposition shooters, allowing Antti Niemi to take away the bottom of the net and making that aspect of the game fairly straight-forward.  The Blackhawks can also boast the leading scorer in the NHL playoffs (and the Playoff Pool) in Jonathan Toews, who has been lights out in these playoffs, really lifting himself up as one of the premier captains in the league.

Both teams enjoy crashing the front of the net, so both goalies are going to be inundated with big forwards and possibly some big defensemen on power plays.  I wonder what the over/under is for the number of goaltender interference calls there will be in this series, I would gather a lot.  Saying that, the special teams for both squads will definitely be important and Chicago will go into the series with the best power play of the two teams, running at a 22.6% clip, while the Flyers have a power play going at 20.7% rate going into Game One.

These two teams did meet in the regular season, with a wild 3rd period filled with five goals, including a late winner from Chris Pronger, scoring with three seconds to go for a 3-2 win for the visiting team.  Michael Leighton was in net for the Flyers in that game, but Cristobel Huet was the goalie of record for the Blackhawks, so that may be a bit of a game-changer.  For the most part, it looked like the goaltenders had to be sharp in the first two periods, blanking the game going into the final frame, but when the game opened up, it was a helluva finish.  Check out the highlights from that game here.

Let's go over our pool contestants vying for the prize money, which is winner take all this year!  I believe the final total is coming in at around $400 for the top prize, as we had a number of teams fall down in the free division, but I didn't get around to actually making a different page, but I have payment for our top eight teams, so they are definitely all in it to win it, but as you'll see later on in the preview, there is a small margin of possibility for a winner from last year's numbers.

In 2009's version of the pool, Trevor B. came back from a 5-point deficit going into the Finals to take the crown as the pool's best team, beating Steve W. on tie-breakers, so that's how close it came.  In 2010, Scott G. has a 5-point lead on 2nd place and a 3-player advantage on 2nd place Neil B., while Myles D. is only 8 points back and also has six players left, but only three players are different between Scott & Myles' teams.  If the series goes seven games, there is a chance that Myles will have enough to make it close, but it really does look like eight points will be a tough deficit to make up.

Let's have a look at the top eight teams in the pool and see how far it goes back.

TeamScott G.Neil B.Myles D.Kalenab G.Derek B.Leo M.Stuart G.Russ D.
Patrick Sharpxxxx
Dustin Byfuglienx
Brian Campbellx
Patrick Kanexxxxxx
Jonathan Toewsxxxx
Marian Hossaxxxx
Duncan Keithxxx
Brent Seabrookx
Scott Hartnellxx
Claude Girouxxxxx
Kimmo Timonenxxx
James Van Riemsdykx
Chris Prongerxx
Daniel Brierex
Braydon Coburnx

Neil is going in with no Flyers, which should be his downfall, unless the Blackhawks can utterly eliminate the Philadelphia offense and the superstars for the Blackhawks can open it up, there is a shot for Neil to stay in this game, but if the Flyers can score goals, I don't like Neil, Kalenab or Derek's chances of staying around for too much longer.  Having six players is the way to go in the Finals and only three teams have that luxury in this top eight.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonThe bonus points for game-winners are down a bit in 2010 from 2009, where the leader in 2009 had a whopping 20 bonus points going into the Finals, where this year, Russ D. has only 17 and I was thinking that less bonus points were stolen from this year's pool than last year's, but that was just a generalized assumption.

We do have a couple of leaders in the player category game-winning goals, as both Dustin Byfuglien of the Blackhawks and Daniel Briere of the Flyers each have 4 bonus points and they'll now go head-to-head for the title this year.  In 2009, Johan Franzen and Evgeni Malkin led the way in the pool with only 3 each, so in that regard, we have some better scorers in 2010.  Henrik Zetterberg took the title in 2008 with 4 game-winners.

The Blackhawks have been going through the playoffs without two players, but only one of them is actually injured.  Kim Johnsson has been out since April 11th with a severe concussion and hasn't made any sort of improvements (assuming since I've heard nothing that's what it means), which is kind of a piss-off for three teams in the pool, who picked him at the start of the run.  Cristobel Huet, the sheet goalie for the Blackhawks, hasn't had to make an appearance for the team this Spring, which has cost some teams upwards of 24 points to this point.

For the Flyers, they will also be without their sheet goalie, so there are no points coming from the crease in this series (assuming both stay healthy).  Brian Boucher was lost to the Flyers in the 2nd round against the Bruins, blowing out both of the major tendons in his knees, so there is no chance that he will return from that in time to play any games in the Finals, not that they would actually let him, barring injury to Michael Leighton.

Well, I think that's all you need to know for the hockey pool... now, we wait for it all to get going!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Foote Stomps Back for One More Year

Reports begun to surface that the Colorado Avalanche have agreed to terms for a 1-year deal with veteran defenseman Adam Foote on Tuesday. The 38-year old defenseman has reportedly signed on for $1 million, plus incentives, which should give him just the single million as the cap hit for the time being.  Foote will be looked towards for some more veteran guidance to a very young Avalanche team that is quickly learning the ropes of the NHL.

In 2010, Foote played in 68 games for the Avalanche, registering 9 assists during the year.  His aging numbers are not very fantasy-worthy these days and he'll likely be around more for his mentoring and defensive play than his actual offensive production.

Salary CapFoote's immediate $1 million cap hit looks good on the Avalanche, a team that is looking to stay somewhat flexible this Summer, likely looking to add on something bigger & better to take a good run at the playoffs in 2011. Right now, I have the Avalanche sitting with 14 players on their signed roster for $31.1 million, nowhere near the cap floor at the moment. You can see who else the Avalanche have signed here on their Pool Outlook from the beginning of the month

Pool Outlook for San Jose

Things were going so well in the 2010 season and the playoffs for the San Jose Sharks, but then they came across a young team from Chicago and dashed their hopes in a big hurry.  There were plenty of positives for the Sharks in the past year, but I think the Conference Finals loss will be considered a massive dark cloud on a season with such high expectations.  The Sharks managed to pick up another clutch scorer in the off-season, shored up their blueline with more veteran help and had enough to sit at the top of the Western Conference after 82 games in the regular season.  Yeah, I would say that not appearing in the Cup Finals, if not winning the whole thing, would be considered a pretty reasonable sized failure, but they were bested by one hell of a team.

So, looking at the hockey pool numbers, which are fairly positive in 2010, Evgeni Nabokov was the team leader in the year, thanks to 44 wins and 3 shutouts for 94 points.  Although, I'm kind of thinking it as well, the team does have a couple players that should be in triple-figures, but I digress.  Nabokov had a season where all he really had to do was be solid, because there was a pretty good team effort in front of him and the scoring was spread out pretty well.  Nabokov finished 2nd in the league in wins, 6th in save percentage and 10th in goals against average, while playing the 6th-most minutes in the league, so he was definitely a great pool goalie, ranking 3rd in points.  Of course, his Summer has a big question mark over it due to his impending free agency, but why wouldn't anyone want him for their pool team, especially if he stays with the Sharks?

Yes, I did make mention that maybe the forwards were a little underwhelming in 2010 and I think that's a fair statement to make.  Joe Thornton is usually an 80-assist player, but failed to crack 70 this year, thus finishing with only 89 points in 79 games.  You can't really complain about the final tally, although I would have been expecting a little bit more.  Patrick Marleau, on the other hand, really stepped up his game, going just a shade over a point-per-game with 83 points (44 goals and 39 assists) in 82 games.  Marleau is usually good for plenty of points, but he really made himself into a fine bargain, jumping up to 21st in pool scoring, 14th among forwards. Trailing right behind Marleau was Dany Heatley, who finished with 82 points (39 goals and 43 assists) in 82 games, but his season was somewhat underwhelming as well, since the prospect of Heatley playing with Thornton was theoretically going to produce 50 goals or more.  Production does drop off a little bit after the big three, but the Sharks did have one more player in the top 100 of pool scoring in Ryane Clowe, who finished with 19 goals and 38 assists in 82 games, which was an improvement for him.  Playoff hero, Joe Pavelski, had a bit of a down year in the regular season, which everyone forgot about come the Spring dance, but injuries did force him to only 67 games and 51 points this year, but he could have been in around 70 to 75 if he stayed healthy.  The only other point of note would be Devin Setoguchi, who had a pretty good 2009, failed to live up to those high standards he set for himself, dropping down to only 36 points in 70 games, ranking well below what he did the season before.  He'll be a depth forward at next year's draft, for sure.

The Sharks defense looked good to mediocre in 2010, but Dan Boyle led the way with 15 goals and 43 assists in 76 games, ranking him 4th among blueliners during the year. Those are some pretty solid numbers from a top end blueliner and he should be considered a fairly high pick in the draft next year.  40-year old Rob Blake finished 2nd in team defense scoring with 30 points in 70 games, while Kent Huskins was 22 points in 82 games and Jason Demers was 21 points in 51 games.  All three were under half a point-per-game, which may have also been slightly underwhelming as a whole, but they played good enough defense as a team to win so many games, but that doesn't really help the pool situation much.  Both Doug Murray and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic had some injury problems in the year, which was likely a key contibutor to some inconsistencies in the offense from the blueline in 2010.

Of course, when you have a goalie that ranks 6th in the NHL in minutes played, your back-up goalie is not going to see a lot of action, let alone a lot of points.  Thomas Greiss did manage to be promoted to the Sharks back-up spot in 2010, so I would say there is a small victory in there for himself, but with 7 wins and 14 points in 2010, Greiss only reached 57th in the goaltending ranks for points, which is a bottom-end back-up in the rankings.   The winds of change may blow in his favour through the Summer, however, with free agency looming large in the crease, so it will be very interesting to see how that will shape up for 2011.

2011 Season Outlook
Well, I don't think you can expect very much from only looking at the shell of players down below.  Sure, the blueline looks pretty well set and if they are healthy for the better part of next season, goaltending numbers may be a little bit better, no matter who is in net for the Sharks.  Up front, they need a lot of work and a lot of names to be signed up.  Sure, there are a number of players who were in the minors ready to be called up for a full season with the team, but until they are guaranteed a spot on the team, they won't make the list down below.

Joe ThorntonDan BoyleThomas Greiss
Dany HeatleyKent Huskins
Ryane CloweJason Demers
Torrey MitchellDouglas Murray
Marc-Eduoard Vlasic

So, for 10 players, including five defensemen, the Sharks do have a little bit of room to play with and some decisions to be made with that room.  The team signed on above comes in with an approximate annual cap hit of $34.6 million, which is arguably high for only 10 players, but Thornton, Heatley and Boyle do explain a fair chunk of that change already. With a fair bit of space underneat the cap ceiling, it will be a matter of making the decision to stay the course or to change up a lot of the core forwards going into 2011, making a few slight tweaks and alterations here and there.  You can very easily argue that they might not be as far off as they may have looked finishing off that Western Conference series.

If the Sharks do decide to stay the course, they will have to contend with a good number of pending unrestricted free agents, including the likes of Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau, Manny Malhotra, Rob Blake (if he decides to return), Jed Ortmeyer, Scott Nichol and Niclas Wallin, some moreso than others.   It's a pretty substantial group of players with a few of them still likely to command some big bucks against the cap.  Signing a bunch of big name players has a very negative effect on the type of depth they may want to improve upon and it may hurt the restricted free agent crop they have coming as well.

Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Jamie McGinn, Brad Staubitz and Derek Joslin all played a fair bit in 2010 and all are becoming restricted free agents in July.  Pavelski is the only one really guaranteed a good-sized raise in July, while Setoguchi may find himself using some of his numbers to his advantage in negotiating a better deal.  I would imagine that out of all the free agents this Summer, Pavelski will be the cornerstone to their budgetary decisions, as he'll be the most important player on their free agent list for the long haul.

Looking at the Sharks youth system in the Hockey News' Future Watch and I can't say I'm terribly impressed by the stock of talent that they are showing in there.  Logan Couture ranks as their top prospect and he saw 25 games in 2010, not to mention a good portion of their playoff run.  Past that, there is Nick Petrecki and Derek Joslin, both are taking their sweet time in development on the blueline, but neither one are being rushed and set to fail in the NHL, so there has to be some credit there.  I'm thinking if the Sharks do decided to blow it up and start over in the 2011 season, it might be a long year in San Jose, because they can't really draw from their own stockpile right away.

So, with their top bill in the West and a loss in the Conference Finals, the San Jose Sharks will be picking 28th in the Entry Draft in June, since they still have their pick heading into the Summer.  With an extreme lack of bluechip prospects in their system, I'm thinking the Sharks are going to try and hit a home run with their pick, maybe taking a gamble on a player outside of the box.  In the late part of the 1st round, I would think that they would be looking for a top end forward, using better odds to hit that home run in the draft.

What I had said at this time last year: "A few of the faces may change with the Sharks this summer, but it shouldn't change the outlook towards the best players on the team. Thornton will be close to 100 points again, Nabokov should win 40 again, Boyle should be in the top 10 in defense scoring... the questions will be about the young players like Setoguchi, Pavelski, Michalek and Cheechoo, who could go any which way in 2010. They all should be reasonable picks through the year, but you may want to be weary of going too high with them."

I thought I did okay with the Sharks as a whole spelling out their numbers for the 2010 season.  Thornton was a disappointment though, Nabokov had 44 wins and Boyle was a great defenseman in the ranks, so that's two out of three.  Being weary of Setoguchi, Michalek and Cheechoo (despite two of them going to Ottawa later on in the off-season) would have paid off for you, because they were all terrible in 2010, while Pavelski would have been a bargain, if you managed to pick him up late.  Very happy with that and the overall thought if you put most of that together would have suggested a fairly decent regular season, which it was for the Sharks.

If I had to guess what the Sharks were going to do in the 2011 season, I would have to start with what they'll probably do in the Summer of 2010.  Pavelski should get a fat deal on his plate, imagine Blake will retire, Nabokov and Marleau will both be offered deals to stay, likely for a little less than market value and the Summer will have a little bit more definition by those players right there.  San Jose will likely be active in July, moreso than the Draft, because free agency may be easier to piece together than trades for youth.  Saying all of that, I think the Sharks are going to take a bit of a hit in the standings because of this change and it might be a bit closer in the Pacific Division when it's all said and done.  Points-wise, it really does depend on who stays and who goes, so keep a close eye on the Sharks for top end players, if everyone stays, I would say look for the status quo... if not, it's gonna be a crap shoot.

Hudler Will Return in 2011

Late on Monday night, it was being reported by TSN that Jiri Hudler has agreed to come back to the NHL and the Detroit Red Wings after signing on the dotted line on his 2009 arbitration decision, which was a 2-year deal worth $2.875 million per season.  Hudler had to accept the arbitration decision in order to return to the NHL, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I don't think that exactly was the issue when he headed back to Russia and the KHL for a season.  The Red Wings were in a pretty tight spot under the salary cap ceiling and his near-$3 million deal would have put the team over the top.

Hudler was a point-per-game player playing with Dynamo Moscow in the KHL, picking up 54 points in 54 games, which is great news for the Red Wings, while his career high in points with the Red Wings is 57 points in 82 games during the 2009 season, which did net him a rank of 99th overall in pool scoring, 73rd among forwards.  I'll be curious to see how he fits back in with the NHL club and how his game may (or may not have) matured in his time away.

Salary CapBeing a top 100 scorer before leaving for Russia does give him an exemption onto the team table for the Red Wings, which I normally save for players that played last season, but we'll call him an exception. So, I'll be including his cap number in all dealings going forward.  With Hudler in the fold, I now have the Red Wings sitting with 13 players signed at a cap number of $42.7 million, leaving roughly $14 million for 10 players to be signed, for the full active roster, of course.

Coyotes Sign 2009 1st Rounder

The Phoenix Coyotes locked up one of their exceptional young talents on Monday afternoon, as they signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to his entry-level deal.  The financial details have not surfaced at the time of the post, but being a 1st round pick, 6th overall, will likely net him some of the maximum bonuses that come with being drafted so high, so he'll be looking at an early cap hit of about $3 million for his first three seasons.

Ekman-Larsson will likely get a long look at camp, but I think it is fair to point out that head coach Dave Tippett was not in a big hurry to have many 18 or 19-year olds on his roster in October, making sure they had plenty of development time in the AHL, likely gaining more and more responsibility with the puck.  The kid is supposed to have all sorts of puck moving abilities, moreso offensively, but it may be the play away from the puck or handling the bigger bodies on smaller North American ice, which will likely keep him from an immediate start in the NHL.

The way he is being touted though, he might just be the kind of player you would like to have in reserve for your keeper pool, especially if he is as offensively gifted as we're led to believe he is.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Habs Are Done, the Finals Are Set

The death-defying act that the Canadiens had going for them has finally caught up to them in a big way.  The Habs were downed in Philadelphia in Game Five, offically eliminating them from post-season contention.  It was a pretty good run... no wait, an excellent run of taking down some of the Eastern Conference powerhouses, but when it was all said and done, coming back a third time was not in the cards for them, because it really looked like they didn't have enough gas in the tank.

Much like Game Four, the Canadiens did come out with some pretty good speed and made use of some key turnovers, played the game I thought they should in the preview, but that only lasted for so long.  A Brian Gionta goal did materialize from the early pressure for a 1-0 lead, but that was not going to last for very long.  Gionta's goal came within the first minute of the game, but then a clearing attempt on a Flyers penalty kill turned into a trainwreck in the Canadiens' zone a few minutes later and Mike Richards tied the game up with a shortie.  Even at a tie game early on, it was really an uphill battle for the Canadiens, who quickly found themselves down two early in the 2nd period after goals from Arron Asham and Jeff Carter scored 1:24 apart before the 5-minute mark.  For the rest of the 2nd period, there wasn't a great deal of fight and even after a goal seven minutes into the 3rd period by Scott Gomez, it really didn't like the Habs were going to push through.  An empty-netter by Jeff Carter sealed the deal late and the Philadelphia Flyers are set for a date with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

A lot of credit really does have to go to the Philadelphia Flyers defense for managing to shut down the speed and creativity of the Montreal Canadiens offense, as the Habs proved they were very dangerous, especially in their transition game against the Capitals and Penguins.  Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn were two pool players that didn't register a point in the five games, while I only have 1 point for Mike Cammalleri, 2 points for Brian Gionta and 3 points for both Scott Gomez and Roman Hamrlik.  Those are some crazy numbers for the Canadiens and I haven't seen the blocked shot totals for the Flyers between the five games, but I bet it challenges the number of saves Michael Leighton had to make in the series. 

So, as for eliminations in the pool, we all know that there are not very many to be made, so I won't go on and on about them.  The Habs were not supposed to make it out of the first round or even be in the playoffs, by the number of selections they had in the pool, so making it this far really shrunk the overall numbers through three rounds of the playoffs, but I think we can all be satisified in knowing that there should be a good number of points in the Finals.

The standings will be updated to reflect the scoring after Game Five, but I will go into more detail about that in my series preview.  All I will say is that Scott managed to extend his lead to 4 points and 12 teams have 6 players left going into the Finals... should be a good finish!

Look Who Has Found the 8-Ball Again

How familiar is this graphic to you in these playoffs? I know we have seen it here and here already, so what's one more time, right?  Yes, the Canadiens find themselves in a very familiar situation on Monday night, being behind the 8-Ball going into a crucial game.

Game Five goes tonight in Philadelphia, where the Flyers have dominated Games One and Two in this series, so you would have to think that the Canadiens are in much tougher shape than they were being behind the 8-Ball against the Capitals and Penguins, because the Canadiens actually managed to play well away from home in those series.

In all fairness, playing behind the 8-Ball has now been turned into an art form in these playoffs, with the Habs coming back from 3-1 and 3-2 deficits already and the Philadelphia Flyers, their counterpart in this series, came back from a 3-0 series deficit to play in this series, so you couldn't really count either of these teams out of it in this situation, right?

For the Habs, in order to make it out of this game and force a Game Six, it will have to be all about their speed.  If Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn and company can use their wheels around the bigger Flyers defense, they can create a lot more opportunities, much like what we saw in Game Three and the early parts of Game Four.  If the Habs can use their speed to open up space from the defensemen, it should be a much easier proposition to get harder and more accurate shots on Michael Leighton.  Also, they really have to get back to their good defense/transition game, which has given them so much success in these playoffs.  Sure, it takes a lot of shots against for it to really work, but it really works!  Their team speed in their own zone is such a huge asset, especially when it comes to taking away space at the points, blocking shots and knocking down passes.  Let Jaroslav Halak do a lot of the work, that's what he's there for.

The Flyers game plan should be fairly straight-forward today as well.  There is no such thing as excess when it comes to the physical game against the Habs.  Force their speedy players to the outside boards and hit them, then when the play is in the offensive zone, get the shovels out in front of the net and get some dirty, greasy goals past Halak.  The Flyers have plenty of skill players, but the Canadiens have done well in these playoffs to contain those skilled guys, where the grinders and plumbers are the players that have the most success.  I'm surprised Scott Hartnell hasn't been more of a clutch player in this series, as he only has 2 points in this series.  Thanks to the goaltending injury situation, Claude Giroux is the best player for the Flyers in the series among pool players, having 6 points in the first four games of the series.

TeamScott G.Neil B.Myles D.Kalenab G.Leo M.Stuart G.Derek B.Russ D.
Scott Hartnellxx
Claude Girouxxxxx
Kimmo Timonenxxx
James Van Riemsdykx
Chris Prongerxx
Daniel Brierex
Braydon Coburnx
Marc-Andre Bergeronx
Roman Hamrlikx

Yes, I was guilty of not updating how it went down in the pool in the Sharks Swept post, but as you can see from the table above, there wasn't a whole lot of change to be had.  Scott still holds a 2-point lead, thanks to an even breakdown of points in Game Four of the Sharks/Blackhawks series, so now Scott can open up a bit more of a lead, in Game Five tonight, without much worry of a comeback from the other series.  Just behind Neil B. in 3rd is Myles D., who managed to pick up a point on the lead and he'll have a battle of defensemen with Scott, which is improbable to be a huge factor, but certainly not impossible.

The elimination of the Canadiens would all but seal Neil B.'s fate of dropping down, as he'll only have three players in the Finals, compared to most others having five or six... four in Kalenab's case.  I'm beginning to think that this might be a 3-horse race by the time the Finals roll around.

The Sharks are Done!

It's all over in the Western Conference and I have a spiffy new graphic to illustrate what happened on Sunday afternoon, just look to your immediate right.  Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks have eliminated the San Jose Sharks in four games and did it in fine fashion as well.  The Blackhawks left a glimmer of hope on the table during Game Four for the Sharks, going down 2-0 in the 2nd period, but they decided to really flex their muscles and make good use of some weak play in the San Jose zone, scoring a couple of garbage goals to turn the tides and then it was Dustin Byfuglien again putting the nail in the coffin... the final nail this time.

All in all, it was a pretty good game on Sunday afternoon, the Sharks had plenty of sustained pressure in the 1st period and brought a bit of that into the 2nd period, but there was that nagging feeling that the Blackhawks were not out of it and that it was only going to take one tiny moment to change the complexion of the whole game.  Unfortunately, Dan Boyle helping one past Evgeni Nabokov again in these playoffs was just the right catalyst for the comeback and the Blackhawks were then set on their way to tie it up at the end of two periods and then salt it away like it was nobody's business.

The Sharks did manage to put together a better run than most years, but it really seemed like they had nothing left in the tank by the time the Blackhawks came around.    You have to admit, the Blackhawks stellar pairings on defense were very good at keeping the Sharks scorers at bay for four games and they made Antti Niemi's job a little easier, but I think a lot of people (not just myself) were expecting a much better fight out of the Sharks, possibly making it a Conference Finals for the ages.

Leading the Sharks in playoff scoring for the pool this year was Joe Pavelski, he finished with 20 points in the pool, thanks to 9 goals, 3 winners and 8 assists.  He was almost nowhere to be seen in the Conference Finals and the Sharks were really leaning on him for his points in these playoffs.  Evgeni Nabokov finished with 18 points, thanks to 8 wins and a shutout this year.  Nabokov was playing well enough to get those Sharks through to this point, but the Sharks didn't play well enough to make up for his play against a stronger Blackhawks team. 

Like I had mentioned in the series preview, the Sharks were not the favourites in the pool, as they had less selections than the Blackhawks at the beginning of the playoffs, so there are a lot of teams with Blackhawks going into the Stanley Cup Finals.  I knocked out 138 selections last night from the pool and now we're getting down to the nittty-gritty.  Since not many people picked Montreal in the pool, we're already starting to count teams with 6 players (the most you can have in the Finals) now and there are 14 teams.  There might be a sprinkle of teams left with a Canadiens player in those 14, so we'll have to wait and see what the final count is after that series finishes.

Remarkably, 25 teams only have 3 players left and I think we all know that those are all Chicago players left, because the Eastern Conference did not work out for many like they thought it would.