Friday, May 30, 2008

Wheeler to Hit Open Market

Former first round draft pick in 2004, Blake Wheeler, has stunned the Phoenix Coyotes by not signing an entry-level deal with the team and thus making him a potential unrestricted free agent on Monday.

Wheeler, 21, will not be joining the likes of Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris as potential superstars in the Coyotes organization, rather choosing to go somewhere else to play. There will be a lot of teams looking to add a player of Wheeler's size (6'4") and talent, but he will still have to come under the guidelines of an entry-level contract.

With the loss of Wheeler, the Coyotes will get a compensatory pick in the second round. They will gain the 35th overall pick in the draft.

This does have an eerie 'Lindros-look' to the whole thing, doesn't it? I don't know about you, but reading that Wheeler is from Michigan and the Red Wings are in the Cup Finals now... it does seem like he might try and punch his own ticket home. I suppose on that sort of reasoning, Wheeler did play for Minnesota in his college years. Could there be a trip to the Wild in store for him? Wheeler could end up being a pretty big prize, no matter which team he chooses, before the draft happens.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Luc Bourdon: 1987-2008

Tragic news in the hockey world today, as Vancouver Canucks defenseman, Luc Bourdon, was killed in a motorcycle accident in New Brunswick on Thursday afternoon. Bourdon was 21.

Bourdon, a 1st round selection in 2005, played in 27 games with the Canucks last season, registering a pair of goals. He was a promising young defenseman, who was likely to see more time with the big club in the coming year.

A tragic end to a promising kid.

Panthers Add More Youth

Amazingly, the Florida Panthers are going to be a team to watch in the next couple seasons. Having a few good young players already signed on, they decided to add another first rounder to their signed group with the addition of Michael Frolik to the mix. Frolik, taken 10th overall in 2006, signed his first entry-level deal with the Panthers on Wednesday night and will join his fellow Panther youngsters at development camp this week in Ontario.

Frolik comes with a lot of offensive upside, something that the team is in dire need of to compete with the other big boys in the Eastern Conference. With the likes of Shawn Matthias, Michal Repik and Keaton Ellerby also signed on and getting ready for the coming year, the Panthers should have some reasonable expectations or at least will be a fun team to watch. The youth of the team may not be as highly regarded as the like of Chicago or Pittsburgh may be, but they should have plenty to prove when it comes to the Southeast Division.

Going Back to the Outdoors is reporting that the NHL will head to Chicago for the next Winter Classic in January. The Chicago Blackhawks will host the Detroit Red Wings, at a Chicago stadium yet to be announced, for what is quickly becoming a new annual tradition.

The success of the game in Buffalo was certainly good motivation to keep pushing an outdoor game, as it brings a large crowd out to a hockey game and it did provide an alright television product, which could very well be improved.

The two locations speculated to being used would either Soldier Field, where the NFL Bears play or Wrigley Field, where the MLB Cubs play. I suppose the logical choice would be Wrigley Field, in case the Bears are still playing football in January. At Wrigley Field, the ice crew could have more preparation time to make sure the ice is good & smooth for the participants, fans in the stands and the television outlets.

Of course, there would be attendance discrepancies between the two parks, as Soldier Field can hold 63,000 people, where Wrigley Field can hold over 41,000.

Fortunately for the league, the two teams matched up would be good for everyone watching. The Red Wings, possible Stanley Cup Champions, would be playing the new breed of superstars, the Blackhawks. The match-ups pretty much write their own billboards. Zetterberg versus Toews. Datsyuk versus Kane. Lidstrom versus the rest of the Blackhawks (ha ha). A very exciting prospect.

Home Ice Makes Difference in Game 3

Of course... the game I can't watch, the Penguins make a game of it and eventually won, 3-2, to bring the Penguins back into the Stanley Cup Finals. The highlights were something else. The Penguins really came out with a lot of energy and made sure there was nothing left on the ice, as they hit more, skated faster and eventually scored their first goals of these Finals.

Even with five goals in Game 3, the pool really didn't benefit and nothing really changed in the standings.

An unlikely hero took away the bonus point from the pool to win the game for Pittsburgh. Adam Hall (non-pool) banked a shot from behind the net midway through the third period and it stood up to be the winner. It was only Hall's second goal of the playoffs, but it couldn't have come at a better time. The fourth line for the Penguins have been key in a lot of the team's wins in this post-season and they don't get enough credit, if you were to add up their contribution to the scoring in critical times.

All eyes were on Sidney Crosby (Box 13) on Wednesday night and he didn't disappoint the hometown crowd. Crosby finally got his team on the board, late in the first period and then added a power play marker in the second period to take control of the game. Crosby was joined on top of the pool scoring race by Marian Hossa (Box 15), who had two assists in the game and Marc-Andre Fleury (Box 24), who earned his first win in the Finals.

For the Red Wings, Nicklas Lidstrom (Box 8) and Niklas Kronwall (Box 10) had assists in game and were the only Detroit players to make a difference to the top six of the standings.

Changes were needed to be made in the Penguins line-up, so the coaching staff scratched Kristopher Letang (Box 23) for playoff veteran, Darryl Sydor (non-pool) for Game 3. With the win, Letang likely won't figure into Game 4 to keep Sydor's experience in the line-up.

Game 4 will go on Saturday night, broadcast on CBC with a puck drop at 6:10pm MT.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dallas Gets Daley for Three

One NHL signing on Wednesday afternoon saw Trevor Daley sign a new 3-year deal worth $6.9 million, which equals a $2.3 million per season cap hit. Daley had himself a behind-the-scenes coming out party in the playoffs, as he was one of the key ingredients on the Dallas blueline as they were suffering through injuries and winning games.

Daley, 24, had played all 82 games for the Stars this past season, scoring 5 goals and 19 assists in the process. His coming out suggests that he could be a bigger part of the offense, depending on how the blueline shapes up for ice-time for him.

His signing does make for six regular defensemen already signed on for next season, which will lessen the load for the off-season agenda.

Mike RibeiroSergei ZubovMarty Turco
Brendan MorrowStephane Robidas
Brad RichardsMatt Niskanen
Mike ModanoTrevor Daley
Jere LehtinenPhillipe Boucher
Steve OttNiklas Grossman
Joel Lundqvist

Quiet Day... Look Ahead

Well, it's a pretty quiet morning on the hockey front. Game 3 of the Cup Finals (or lack thereof) goes tonight with little to no anticipation from a lot of sides. I think a lot of my Red Wing fan friends are waiting for the clinching game to really get excited now. Whoever thought winning could be so boring when you had the two best teams from either conference showing up? Maybe the pool favourite from the Eastern Conference, Montreal, would have had a better shot at winning... at least they have some veteran talent to rally around.

Personally, looking forward has been much more fun than analyzing these playoffs. Sure, the emergence of Johan Franzen was a pleasant surprise and well, Chris Osgood taking the crease away from Dominik Hasek wasn't quite a surprise, but whatever. Both Franzen and Osgood will be front and centre come the pools next season, I can guarantee that. Nobody likes to see points being left behind. Both of them will likely figure in well come draft day as well. Something tells me that Franzen won't be scoring at his torrid pace for 82 games next season, but someone could be gambling on something close.

For the Penguins, looking ahead, they will have a much more experienced group of kids, who will likely take this experience and manufacture an even more spectacular season for 2009. It could almost be an all-Pittsburgh first round of a pool draft, if one (or more) were to not be so careful. Between Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury... you could have a 1, 2, 3 scenario in your pool draft. It could happen! Just think... what if they pick up Marian Hossa for next season as well?!?

Once the Finals are over, both teams will get their Prospective Looks and you'll get to see how the team will shape up going into the Draft. As a bit of a spoiler, both teams are not looking so bad.

Also coming after the Finals, the Opiated Sherpa's mock entry draft will also be published. The first round of the draft is quite hyped this year and it should be another interesting draft class. Last summer, the Sherpa outpicked TSN, Sportsnet and ESPN in their mock drafts, so it'll all be compared again this time around as well.

Once the NHL calendar has been released, the Opiated Sherpa draft should have a date within a couple weeks of the announcement of the start of the season. There is still a chance that a keeper draft will be implemented this season for those who may be interested. Details are being drawn up on how that will work, so stay tuned for that. The annual draft will likely be a couple weeks before the season starts and an e-mail will be sent out for that. As for the Sheet, it will get another appearance through the regular season, likely with another online selection sheet. It sure worked out well for the playoffs, except for those who don't know how to read the rules, but the rules aren't quite as strict, so there shouldn't be anything wrong with it this time around.

Bruins & Jackets Make a Swap

On Tuesday, we saw one of our first trades of the summer. The Boston Bruins sent prospect defenseman Jonathan Sigalet to the Columbus Blue Jackets for unsigned prospect forward Matt Marquardt. Sure, on the surface, this is a minor-league deal, but if we dig a little deeper, we might find it to be something of note.

Sigalet, a 4th round pick in 2005, has played a couple of seasons now with the Bruins' minor-league system, not being able to crack the big team in Boston. He does bring some decent size and is known to be an alright defender. Moving him into a good defensive system with Ken Hitchcock could prove beneficial to his career. The Blue Jackets defense does have a couple holes to fill in camp and Sigalet should get a look. Of course, for pool value, he'll have to bring some pool talent from out of nowhere to be considered, but that would more likely make him a mid-season pick-up.

For Boston, they get negotiation rights to Marquardt, a QMJHL prospect out of Baie-Comeau and Moncton, where he had a very productive year scoring 69 points in 68 games. Marquardt obviously didn't enjoy the idea of going to Columbus, a team that has yet to make the playoffs in their franchise history. So, Boston gets a crack at signing the breakout prospect, who was drafted in the 7th round in 2005.

To ColumbusAgeGames/MINPointsContract (July 1st)
Jonathan Sigalet, D22001 year, $822,000
To Boston
Matt Marquardt, F2000Unsigned

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Few More Potential Free Agents

Stocks in Miroslav Satan have dropped in recent seasons, thanks to some sub-par production levels, compared to some relatively high expectations. Once, a 40-goal scorer, Satan has seemed to keep the tag of sniper along with him, but I think now it's starting to fade a little bit. Satan only managed 16 goals in 80 games last season and hasn't been a force at all for the Islanders, which may have teams very sheepish when considering to sign the forward. His $4.2 million cap hit from last season will likely take a hit, if anyone decides to hire his services.

Injuries were a limiting factor in Martin Straka's season in 2008. Straka still finished with 41 points (14G, 27A) in 60 games for the Rangers last season, but even his production levels have dropped a little over the past few seasons. There is a reasonable chance that the Rangers will look to retain Straka for the coming year, but there could be a brief viewing period on the open market to judge his actual market value.

A move to Washington was seemingly what Sergei Fedorov needed to revive his career. His inclusion with all the Russians that were already on the club did wonders for his confidence and made good use of his leadership skills. This being said, there's a really good chance that the team will likely move to re-sign him before July 1st. His 13 points in 18 games with Washington was the kind of production that the Capitals needed down the middle, thanks to the losses of key players to injuries during the year. The only thing keeping him from being that full-time player in Washington could be his desired payroll hit. At over $6 million last season, he was considerably overpaid to his overall numbers, so a paycut could be in order for him to return.

Keeping the Penguins afloat while the team was hurting with injuries in net was Ty Conklin's job this season and he completed his task with flying colours. Will that be enough for the Penguins to bring him back next season? The Penguins already have two goaltenders signed on for next season and Conklin may find himself looking for some new work, as the books might be a little tight to bring back Conklin with a raise or a long-term deal.

This is another situation where if the potential free agent makes it to the open market, he won't necessarily be available to the open market, rather just to his former team. Joe Sakic should be returning for next season, as it seems he has plenty left in the gas tank to play another season or possibly two. The Colorado Avalanche will likely have him back at his usual asking price.

In the defenseman sweepstakes, there could be a great deal of interest in Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival. Rozsival had himself a pretty good season with the Blueshirts with 38 points (13G, 25A) in all 80 games and should potentially give a little bit more offense. He is certainly a top four defenseman, one that a lot of teams may covet if the Rangers let him go out to market. He is definitely a good pick in a pool as a top defenseman, since their numbers are generally much lower than forwards.

Almost traded twice in the past 12 months, Wade Redden doesn't seem to have much of a future with the Senators organization. Redden had a cap hit of $6.5 million this past season and the Sens obviously felt that they were not getting their money's worth out of him. Production-wise, Redden finished with similar numbers to Rozsival above him, 38 points (6G, 32A) in 80 games, but was getting paid closer to a Lidstrom or a Chara, who had greater numbers. The likes of San Jose may want to make a move for Redden if Campbell isn't available at a reasonable price, since they were the suitors for at least one of the trades out of Ottawa.

Finally, stricken by injuries again this season, Jason Williams will be hitting the market this summer, if the Blackhawks are not confident that he can make an impact with their club on a regular basis. Williams is able to put up good numbers when he's healthy and could be a good sleeper pick in your draft, if you get him late and he remarkably stays healthy. Williams finished with 36 points in 43 games this year, which is a great pace. Williams earned a healthy $1.6 million last season and should be in line for something close to that again, likely in a 2-year deal.

Capitals Save One from Free Agent Market

On Tuesday, the Capitals signed depth forward Matt Bradley to a 3-year deal to keep him from Unrestricted Free Agency on July 1st. Bradley gave the club 77 games this season and racked up 18 points (7G, 11A) as a third/fourth-line player, who provides good minutes.

Other than the number of years, the salary cap hit or salary was not disclosed, but the Capitals have a good system of budgeting, while the team has plenty of space to work with when you are working in depth players.

Alexander OvechkinTom PotiBrent Johnson
Nicklas BackstromJeff Schultz
Viktor KozlovBrian Pothier
Alexander SeminJohn Erskine
Michael NylanderMilan Jurcina
Tomas Fleischmann
Matt Bradley
David Steckel
Chris Clark
Donald Brashear

Desert Dogs Sign Young Keeper

The Coyotes added some competition to the crease for training camp on Monday, signing Joel Gistedt, the team's second-round pick in 2007, to an entry-level deal. Gistedt was one of the higher-touted goaltenders in last summer's draft, but couldn't honestly be asked to save the club right away. He will likely be more of a factor for the club in a few years from now, as it usually takes a goaltender a lot longer than a forward to be an impact player. The signing does prove that the club has the right idea when you think about the youth movement.

Game 2 a Cinch

It looks as though that the Red Wings are just that good. The Penguins were shut down and shutout yet again in Game 2, 3-0. This should be one of the better playoff series we're ever going to see, but like many of the fans in the crowd, this one could be a snoozer by the end of it. I don't want to be too quick to say that the Penguins are playing poorly, because there is a certain level of coaching going on that makes the Detroit Red Wings that much better of a team.

You could argue, however, that the youth of the Penguins is getting a harsh lesson in fatigue and four rounds of playoff hockey. That also seems to be a legitimate question. It also doesn't help that their veteran leader, Gary Roberts, inserted into the line-up for Game 2 for energy, was banging and crashing all game, but found the penalty box on a few occasions as well.

In this go around, I won't say that it's going to be a different story in Pittsburgh and that we'll see a different Penguins team at home. What we may see is Detroit taking their foot off the pedal, if anything, as the Penguins sure did skate a bit better in Game 2, rather than Game 1. Maybe at home, the Penguins will have a few more bounces land on friendly sticks in front of the net as well.

It was another poor night in the pool, thanks to another night dominated by deep pool players and non-pool players. The top six teams were barely touched, yet again, thanks to no goals by the Penguins and the three by Red Wings were not helpful. Brad Stuart (non-pool) scored early in the first period, which ended up being the winner, and added an assist in the game to take three points away. Also taking a point away was the returning, Johan Franzen (non-pool), added an assist in the Red Wings effort.

The top Red Wings player for the pool was Valtteri Filppula (Box 6), who had a goal and an assist and had no effect on the top six teams in the pool. Having points that had an effect were only Tomas Holmstrom (Box 3), who had a goal, and Henrik Zetterberg (Box 1), who had an assist on Holmstrom's goal. Only one of the top six teams collected two points from that game... Mike E.. He's the only team in the top six to have both forwards, gaining one more point on the lead.

Goaltending didn't really have to become an issue for the Red Wings, as Chris Osgood (non-pool) didn't have to face a lot of shots in this game, 10, to be exact. Probably one of the easier shutouts ever to happen in playoff history. So, Osgood steals another four points from the pool and would likely sit in the driver's seat for pool MVP, if it weren't for the Sherpa, who didn't include him in it. In Game 2, Osgood will be known more for his diving efforts than his saves, as there were nearly more dives than saves for the Red Wings keeper. You could say, if the Penguins were getting more shots on net, Osgood wouldn't have a lot of spare time to work on his form.

Also, as mentioned previously, the Red Wings had Johan Franzen (non-pool) return to the line-up and he added an assist. He had missed the previous six games with his concussion-like symptoms. Franzen played pretty well for the Red Wings and will likely be one of the more focus players to look at when the series goes to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Even More Potential Free Agents

When the free agent market opens up, there's a pretty good chance that Markus Naslund will be out and available to the highest bidder. What that bid may be, may still be in the Canucks' ballpark, but until we find out for sure, it is likely he'll have a new home come July. Let's also take into consideration, the amount of speculation hovering around that he may return to Sweden for his final seasons of professional hockey.

The Minnesota Wild are likely to let Slovakian winger, Pavol Demitra, go to unrestricted free agency in July. There are plenty of rumours swriling around this playmaker heading to all sorts of places, so he could be one of the more valuable free agents this summer. Demitra only managed to play in 68 games this season, which only gave him 54 points, so his health should be a concern at age 33.

The Washington Capitals have already announced that franchise goalie, Olaf Kolzig, will not be returning to the US Capital next season, so he will officially be an unrestricted free agent come July 1st. Kolzig still has the mindset that he is a number one goalie in this league, but his age, 38, may be his only argument otherwise. There are a couple of teams who may look towards his services as a stop gap while prospects grow and mature. Teams that come to mind would be Los Angeles or Florida.

The hard work and grit from Ryan Malone should earn him a raise for next season from his $1.375 million he earned last season and it all could fit well in Pittsburgh, if the raise is good enough for their books. Malone had 51 points (27G, 24A) in 77 games for the Penguins this year and has had a pretty good playoff season, as the Penguins continue in the Cup Finals. Of course, negotiations with Malone probably won't get under way until after these Finals and it really does seem unlikely he'll get a chance to see the open market.

Veteran forward, Mark Recchi, will have a summer of questions in front of him. The 40-year old is going to have to check to see what is left in the tank before he goes out to market and agree to play another 82-game season in the NHL. Recchi may still have a lot of experience and leadership to offer a young team, which could be a pretty good bargain at around the $1 million mark. If there was any educated guesses to be made, I would assume that he would find one of his old teams that enjoyed having him around, in case he wants to make the move to being behind the bench or anywhere else within the franchise. As you may have seen on TSN, he might have a future in TV as well.

There is a good chance that Johan Holmqvist has seen this part of his career before. Holmqvist played in the NHL for a short period before heading back to Sweden. The Tampa Bay Lightning had one good season out of him before the wheels fell off and then he was shipped to Dallas to be Marty Turco's back-up. There hasn't been a lot of buzz around Holmqvist heading into the free agent frenzy this summer. A possible trip back to Sweden looks possible here.

More retirement speculation surrounds our next potential free agent. Brendan Shanahan finished a pretty good season in the Big Apple, helping the team back into the playoffs. His 46 points (23G, 23A) in 73 games, however, were probably not worth the $5.3 million he was worth against the cap. Shanahan, now 39, should have some more fight in him, but there could be a few clubs offering him something significantly less than what he made last season and eyebrows will be raised if he holds out for more.

Dallas will have another choice to make with a key forward in their line-up. Niklas Hagman, 28, had an improvement in his numbers, finishing the season with 41 points (27G, 14A) in all 82 games. Hagman finally finished in the Top 200 in pool scoring and was a waiver draft pick up in the regular season pool, because of his good goal scoring. If teams believe that Hagman is now peaking in his career, he could earn as much as $3 million per season in a new deal. The grinding winger could get some consideration from a few clubs next season, if Dallas decides to let him test the waters.

Detroit Adds Pair of Prospects

Signing their own prospects should make other teams and fans of teams shudder a little bit more. On Saturday, the Red Wings signed Dick Axelsson and Logan Pyett to 3-year entry-level deals and will have their talents at training camp this Fall.

Axelsson, 21, a Swedish forward, taken in the 2nd round, had a productive season in the Swedish Elite League. Some added seasoning in the Swedish Elite League may boost his chances to giving the Wings a good young winger to balance the books a little bit more.

Pyett, 20, a Canadian defenseman, was a late round pick and we all know how well the Red Wings do with those. Pyett played for Team Canada at the World Juniors and has now finished his junior hockey career in Regina. He may need some AHL seasoning, but this kid has plenty of upside and the Red Wings could just as easily work him into the big line-up nice & slowly.

Experience Wins Game 1

Well, we were all waiting for last night's match-up and we were treated to a doozy of a start, before the Red Wings flexed their experience and skill to really hold the Penguins down to a 4-0 win. The Red Wings held the Penguins to only 7 shots in the last two periods of the game... in total. Keeping that sort of offense down takes a lot of coaching and a lot of hard work. Don't expect that sort of game on Monday, however. Although, you really can't count it out either, I guess.

Mikeal Samuelsson (Box 6), taken 4 times in the pool, was the biggest player in game, scoring two unassisted goals, including the eventual winner for a game-high (for the pool) 3 points. He certainly was the game's Johnny-on-the-spot, picking up a couple of turnovers and potting them behind Marc-Andre Fleury (Box 24). The unlikely hero was not a factor to the top six of the pool, but a few others might have been.

As mentioned before, Chris Osgood (non-pool) only finished the game with 19 saves on the nibht to earn the win and the shutout, but not a single one of those points ended up in a pool team's totals. Osgood did the job that he was hired to do and made some pretty good stops doing it. If the Red Wings are going to be successful through the remainder of the series, Osgood will have to continue playing at that level or better.

Also picking up points for the pool were Henrik Zetterberg (Box 1) and Dan Cleary (Box 5) picking up goals, while Tomas Holmstrom (Box 3) and Nicklas Lidstrom (Box 8) managed a pair of assists. Benson, Mike E., and Derek B. all scored a pair of points out of the game and gained one on Angela, who only managed a point from the Zetterberg goal.