Monday, August 20, 2012

Untitled: The thoughts of a hockey fan

I'm not real sure on a title for this. So I called it, "Untitled: The thoughts of a hockey fan." As August nears conclusion with no solution to another potential lockout causing more heartache and headaches, I just don't have it in me to write about a dull topic. One side will never be satisfied. There's not much more to add.

As someone who listened to Program buddy Chris Wassel interview Spectors Hockey's Lyle Richardson on the very depressing issue, it was numbing. They painted a gloomy picture with basically, a remote chance that the two sides will work out a new CBA agreement by Gary Bettman's September 15 deadline. Donald Fehr is a tough negotiatior who may have learned from the '94 baseball strike. The NHLPA will lose again because there's no other choice. I don't foresee a long work stoppage because there's too much at risk. The Winter Classic which pits Original Sixes Detroit and Toronto against each other should bring the sides closer. Right now, figure the first month to be wiped out. If we're lucky, we'll have plenty to be thankful for if you catch my drift.

In the mean time, I will stick to what little hockey discussion we have which is predictions, projections, fantasy hockey rankings and overall. Lately, I've been on a Russian kick over at New York Puck. Since I upgraded into the 21st Century with an iPhone, I've linked up Alexei Cherepanov video tributes along with other Russian hockey players. Somewhat astonishingly, it'll be four years since the young Russian the Rangers selected in the '08 Draft tragically died during a KHL game for Omsk Avangard. Maybe it's all the free time but I can't help but wonder how things couldn't been different for the Ranger organization if disaster was prevented. Of course, who knows if Cherepanov would've ever played hockey again.

When you draft as talented a kid as him, you're not fearing the worst. You're dreaming. The highlight reels of Chery17 showcase his supreme skills. A player who combined fast skating with slick moves and a quick release. He also went to the dirty areas to score. Something highlighted in a strong second effort finish against Sweden. Cherepanov had flair. It's a shame he's gone so soon. Worst of all, I can't imagine how his family is dealing with the loss of their son. Even all this time later, it never goes away. When tragedies strike such as the devastating Lokomotiv flight crash that wiped out an entire team, the pain is always with us. For the families who lost their husbands/fathers, it's indescribable. My heart goes out to them.

Pavol Demitra was the most notable former NHLer who was lost. One of my favorite European players. His best years came with St. Louis after Ottawa gave up on him. The skilled Slovak developed into a dependable scorer who was part of some good Blues teams that never could get over the hump. In over eight years, he tallied 70-or-more points four times while eclipsing 30 goals during three seasons. His best campaign came in '02-03 when he finished with 93 points, including 36 markers and 57 helpers. The most goals he ever scored were 37 in '98-99 when the club made the Western Semis. Following the '04-05 lockout, he spent his final five NHL seasons with the Kings, Wild and Canucks before going to Russia to play for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv ('10-11).

Though he never won any major awards aside from a Lady Byng for most gentlemanly player in '99-00, Demitra was a very good playmaking pivot who made teammates better. He could play in any situation including on the penalty kill where late in his career, he had five shorthanded goals with LA in '05-06. A career mark which beat his previous high of four nine years prior with St. Louis. In 16 NHL seasons, Demitra played in 847 games tallying 304 goals, 464 assists for 768 points. That included half a dozen years of 60+ points. In fact, 10 of 16 seasons saw the underrated Slovak register at least 50. A credit to his consistency.

The three-time All-Star was a fixture representing his native country Slovakia taking part in three Olympics including a final swan song in Vancouver 2010 where he also finished his NHL career. At 35, Demitra played with the enthusiasm of a teenager turning back the clock to score three goals, seven assists and 10 points in the Winter Games. I've seen plenty of clips of Demitra coming down the right wing to finish off a Marian Hossa feed that led to a great celebration. There's also a nice congrats from current Blueshirt Marian Gaborik, who probably wouldn't be here if not for the contributions of Demitra and other greats such as Peter Bondra and Miroslav Satan, who also was part of that Olympic team.

All this time later, there's something cool about seeing stars in the twilight of their careers performing as well as they did under such a big stage. Whether it's Jaromir Jagr getting the best of Martin Brodeur or Brodeur outperforming Henrik Lundqvist, it shows how much pride these athletes have to still compete at the highest level. Representing your country is something special. As we saw again with passion exhibited during the London Games, the Olympic spirit is alive and well. It's why no matter what happens with the upcoming CBA which eventually will get done, I hope there's Olympic hockey over in Sochi 2014. It wouldn't be the same. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Atlantic Division Preview: New York Islanders

John Tavares and Evgeni Nabokov lead the way for the Islanders in 2012-13.


Last season, the Islanders finished 34-37-11 with 79 points finishing last in the Atlantic Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference. It was another retooling year under Jack Capuano, whose club endured some growing pains before recovering. Perhaps expectations were too high for a team that didn't have enough scoring or defense.

One of the issues that's plagued the Islanders has been Rick DiPietro's health. Fortunately, Evgeni Nabokov decided to play on Long Island instead of causing more headaches. The veteran netminder was solid in his first year for the Isles, winning 19 games while posting a 2.55 GAA, .914 save percentage with two shutouts over 42 contests. Even with Garth Snow removing DiPietro from the injured reserve due to the CBA, Nabokov is expected to carry the burden. You can't expect much from youngsters Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson, who are still in the development stage. Our guess is as good as anyone's on what DiPietro has left. If the Isles are to be taken seriously, they need consistency in net. At 37, Nabokov can't be expected to start over 60. Even that's a stretch.

Aside from goaltending, the Islanders need stronger support for top scorer John Tavares. In his third year, the 21-year old former first overall pick improved from 29 goals and 67 points in '10-11 to career highs in goals (31), assists (50) and points (81). Most encouraging was his minus-six. An area he struggled in. JT91's stronger skating and magic touch soon could put him among the game's best. If he can get off to a better start in '12-13, the sky's the limit. Consistency will be the key. He and sniper Matt Moulson (36-33-69) have formed a dynamic duo with both combining for 67 of the Isles' 203 goals. They accounted for a whopping 33 percent. If you include former Islander P.A. Parenteau (signed with Colorado), the cohesive trio connected just under 50 percent of the team's power play goals (Moulson-14 Tavares-7 Parenteau-6). As a team, New York totaled 45 including five from Frans Nielsen and three apiece from Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit.

With Parenteau cashing in with the Avalanche, Snow gambled on former 40-goal man Brad Boyes. He once totaled 76 goals and 137 points over two seasons with St. Louis. The trouble is he hasn't been the same since with the Blues dumping him on Buffalo where he frustrated Western New York. In an injury riddled '11-12, he had only 23 points (8-15-23) over 65 games. At 30, can a player with his skill set really be done? Boyes isn't overly big (6-0, 204) but has something to prove on a one-year contract. He has to do better with Tavares. The Isles need him.

Aside from Boyes, it's up to ex-first rounders Okposo and Josh Bailey to perform. They've been around too long to go through prolonged scoring slumps. Even with better finishes, neither cracked 50 points. Capuano needs a consistent second line. He knows what he'll get from Nielsen, who's developed into a solid player who's a third liner on a contender. The jury's still out on Michael Grabner (54 goals in 2 years). Second seasons are usually tough. I'd put more stock in the gifted Grabner lighting the lamp than either Okposo or Bailey. He's more of a finisher. At least Bailey became a fixture on the penalty kill netting a team best three shorthanded goals. Sooner or later, Okposo has to fulfill his potential. He once scored nine power play goals. Only three of 29 the past two seasons (117 games) have come on the man-advantage.

One area Snow addressed was team toughness, adding defenseman Matt Carkner and enforcer Eric Boulton to a roster that features Matt Martin. Martin is the Isles' toughest player who can not only fight but also contribute as his seven goals and seven helpers suggest. He finishes every check and is a great teammate. Like Devil David Clarkson, he needs to become more disciplined. There's no reason why he can't double that output. With Carkner around and Boulton, he can become a better player under Capuano. The kind who'll be a pain in the ass for foes.

Aside from adding Carkner to beef up the blueline, he also went out and got Lubomir Visnovsky. Even though the offensive-minded vet is having an arbitrator decide if Anaheim violated his no-trade clause with the Slovak entering the final year of a five-year deal originally signed with Edmonton, expect him to be an integral part of a D that has Streit, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic. Visnovsky's experience should prove instrumental in allowing the organization to ease prospects Ty Wishart, Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan and Aaron Ness along. If they're lucky with health, the top five should include Carkner, meaning two spots are up for grabs. Defensemen take patience. How they're handled could prove pivotal to the club's future.

The Islanders will also keep a close eye on 2011 first round pick Ryan Strome, who one day could fill a void as back up for Tavares. Strome is very talented with great wheels and vision. He's only 19 and shouldn't be rushed like Nino Niederreiter, who must be handled differently in his third pro year. El Nino has great two-way potential along with physicality. The forgotten man looms large. David Ullstrom should be back.

Other kids include Casey Cizikas, Johan Sundstrom and Brock Nelson. On paper, depth isn't a problem. But it's still a long-term project with the Islanders in the best division. The Devils, Flyers, Penguins and Rangers are all better. Is this the year they make a dent? Stay tuned.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dubinsky, Anisimov, Erixon part of Columbus rebuild

There are always two sides to a deal. Even if everyone believes the Rangers stole Rick Nash, the Blue Jackets still received two solid NHLers who can contribute right away to their rebuild.

Brandon Dubinsky is an established two-way forward who can play almost anywhere. Whether at center or on the left side, he will bring experience and leadership to the league's worst team. Having gone deep last postseason, he'll be determined to turn a laughingstock around. The trade might serve as motivation to prove his former club wrong. He's due for a bounce back season. Now, he'll get to play more consistent minutes under Todd Richards, which should benefit a player entering his prime.

Artem Anisimov is a couple of years younger with potentially a higher ceiling. The lanky Russian has more skill. Despite his skating, he's capable of evolving into a 20-25 goal, 60-point scorer. What he becomes depends on consistency and strength. . If he can improve in these facets, the 24-year old could combine with Dubinsky to turn what looks like a bad trade into a good one. It's not like they're garbage with both second liners who were at instances misused by John Tortorella. With a new team that doesn't boast as much talent up front, each will be looked upon to elevate their level. A challenge that makes following Columbus intriguing. You want to see each do well. Both were well liked here and deserve a fresh start.

Tim Erixon remains a prospect at this stage, having only played in 18 games last year. Hardly given ideal ice-time, he could have a chance to crack the Jackets out of camp. At 21, the former Calgary first round pick who came to New York for Roman Horak spent most of last season with the Connecticut Whale. Over 52 games, he tallied 33 points (3-30-33) with 42 penalty minutes while registering four assists during the postseason. Once the Whale were eliminated in the second round, Erixon spent the rest of the season with the Rangers during their run to the Conference Finals. Even though he didn't play, it's still a good experience that could prove beneficial. He practiced with the team and probably learned a great deal under John Tortorella. He's still considered to have a bright future but now is on his third NHL club before he's scratched the surface. If he is to stick with Columbus, he'll have to surpass players ahead of him on a revamped blueline that features Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin and Adrian Aucoin. He'll be competing with John Moore and David Savard.

For Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon, it'll be a new challenge. They'll have to adjust to life in a new city while also probably having to deal with adversity. Especially in one of the league's strongest divisions. Right now, the Blue Jackets rank last in the Central behind St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville and Chicago. All of which went to the postseason. Those are established teams who should all be competitive once again. Especially with the Predators keeping cornerstone Shea Weber. Despite Nick Lidstrom's retirement, the Red Wings still boast plenty of arsenal in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard. Don't expect a slip up. The Blues and Hawks both are loaded. Neither lost much this summer. It'll be tough climbing for Columbus. Just the divisional games alone could put them in a hole.

When looking at the roster GM Scott Howson's putting together, much depends on how quickly the team meshes. It's never easy when you bring new players in. There won't be any pressure. Expectations are low. Howson acquired Sergei Bobrovsky from the Flyers to upgrade in net. He'll likely split time with Steve Mason before Richards chooses a starter. Gone is former captain Rick Nash, who leads by a mile in most offensive categories. Ironically, ex-Flyer R.J. Umberger ranks in the top five in goals and points. He's been a good player. If you toss out a contract that sees him earn an average cap hit of $4.6 million per year, he's solid overall. He won't blow you away but is usually good for 20+ goals and 50 points. No doubt he must improve on the 20-20-40 from '11-12. Along with ex-Blueshirt Vinny Prospal, Johnson, Wisniewski, Tyutin and Dubinsky, they'll be looked towards for leadership.

It will take time. The West is a very difficult conference that also boasts defending champ Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose. I still expect Phoenix to surprise even if Shane Doan departs. They have one of the game's best coaches in Dave Tippett who has a strong system. With Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Edmonton all on the rise along with free spending Calgary, it should be a struggle for Columbus. Sometimes, when you're written off you can sneak up on teams. Without the Nash distraction, they should be able to focus more on hockey. That could only be positive moving forward.


CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN

West Summer Rankings

1.Los Angeles
2.Vancouver
3.St. Louis
4.Detroit
5.Chicago
6.San Jose
7.Nashville
8.Phoenix
9.Colorado
10.Dallas
11.Anaheim
12.Calgary
13.Minnesota
14.Edmonton
15.Columbus

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Predators match to retain Weber

A day following the Rangers big trade for Rick Nash, there was more news regarding Shea Weber. With a day left to decide, the Predators opted to match the gigantic frontloaded 14-year $110 million offer sheet Weber signed with the Flyers. Considering all the discussion about the clubs possibly working out a trade so Philadelphia could complete the transaction, it definitely came as a surprise. For Nashville to match and retain its best player and captain, they showed that they're serious about competing.

On behalf of Predators chairman Tom Cigarran, GM David Poile and CEO Jeff Cogen, the team released a statement that called the Weber signing, "the most important hockey transaction in franchise history," per TSN Tuesday.
"It was absolutely essential that they understand and believe that we are doing everything possible to ice a Stanley Cup competing team each and every season," the Predators said in a release.
Such a bold move not only demonstrates that the Predators want to stick around but continue to challenge for Cups in the future. The departure of Weber's partner Ryan Suter to Minnesota was a blow. Had they let the face of the franchise go, it would've been a nightmare for the franchise's future. Many assumed hockey wouldn't work in Music City. However, Poile's built a consistent playoff team who made the second round the last two years. By re-signing elite goalie Pekka Rinne and keeping Weber, the Preds should still be good. Finding a replacement for Suter won't be easy. However, Poile also announced the re-signing of forward Colin Wilson to a three-year $6 million deal. It was a great day for Nashville.

"I think what Nashville showed today is they're willing to step up with some of the more solid ownership groups," praised Weber's agent Jarrett Bousquet . "They said, 'You know what? We are a destination for free agents. We're a place that guys are going to want to come and we're solid ownership. We're going to keep our stars.' When that happened, Shea was pretty excited they were willing to step up like that and give him that commitment."
The 26-year old Weber is one of the league's premier defensemen who's entering his prime. A seven-year career has already featured three All-Star appearances, an Olympic gold medal, him being named team captain and his first selection to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In 78 contests this past season, he totaled 19 goals and 49 points with a plus-21 rating. Ten of those 19 goals were scored on the power play while two more were shorthanded, giving him 12 special teams goals. In 480 career games, Weber's tallied 99 goals with 164 assists for 263 points. His postseason record consists of 10 goals and 10 helpers over 43 games.

Somewhat astonishingly, Nashville stole him in the second round of the '03 Draft selecting Weber 49th overall. By comparison, the Islanders took Robert Nilsson and the Rangers picked Hugh Jessiman in the first round. Oops. He ranks as one of the top blueliners in the game. With Nick Lidstrom retired, stick Weber in there with Zdeno Chara as the game's best. Erik Karlsson won the Norris due to his offensive explosion and more media attention playing in Ottawa. It's amazing that Weber's never won it. Much like Henrik Lundqvist who finally won the Vezina, his day is coming.

Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren was complementary to Weber and Nashville after losing out. "In tendering an offer sheet to Shea Weber, we were trying to add a top defenceman entering the prime of his career," Holmgren said. "With Nashville matching our offer, we wish Shea and the Predators all the best."

Weber will earn $27 million in the next year due to a signing bonus that includes $68 million to be paid during the first six years of the contract. If anyone's wondering if Nashville could still trade him, they aren't allowed to for at least a year. I wouldn't expect to see Weber in a Flyer uniform anytime soon. Though they have been criticized for tendering such a ridiculous offer, give Holmgren credit. The Flyers have guts. They'll do anything within league boundaries to improve their roster. Chasing after a perennial All-Star who could've made a huge impact on the East was a smart calculated move. There was little risk. If the Preds didn't ante up, the Flyers would've been that much better. Probably Cup favorites. Instead, it's back to the drawing board for Holmgren, who replaced Matt Carle with Luke Schenn. There'll be no reunion between Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Weber in Philly.

Visnovsky files grievance

Last month, the Islanders filled a need by adding blueline help- acquiring veteran Lubomir Visnovsky from the Ducks for a 2013 second round pick. A few weeks later, the 35-year old Czech defenseman filed a grievance against Anaheim for trading him due to a no-trade clause in his contract originally signed with Edmonton. The reason it might still be valid is because he didn't use it when he was dealt to Anaheim in 2010.

"This isn't an issue with the (Islanders)," said Visnovsky's agent Neil Sheehy in a Newsday article. "It's a matter for the NHLPA/NHL to decide. He has a no-trade clause."

Visnovsky is set to enter the final year of the contract where he'll earn $3 million. The case will go to an arbitrator who'll decide if the Ducks violated the terms of the deal. In the unlikely event that Visnovsky wins, he could still be a Duck. Though you have to wonder if such a scenario played out if the Islanders and Ducks would work something out with Visnovsky. With a cap hit of $5.6 million, the Isles were planning to assume the entire salary to help reach the floor. Most importantly, they're hoping they added a quality player who can log important minutes on a rebuilding club that might feature two rookie defensemen.

The Islanders currently have anchor Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic and free agent pickup Matt Carkner as the only NHL defensemen on the roster until the Visnovsky situation is cleared up. He would give them a decent top four while Carkner could play a smaller role like he did in Ottawa, leaving room for prospects Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness to compete for the remaining two spots. Garth Snow has gone on record as saying he hopes to see two kids play for the club this season. It'd be a bit easier for the Isles to ease them in if Visnovsky stays.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Potential Lines

With an eye towards 2012-13, it's time to look at our roster. While it should be easy to fill out the top two lines, the hard part remains the third and fourth where a number of players will try to replace popular Blueshirts.

Anytime you subtract character guys like Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko, it's not easy. All four were used everywhere by John Tortorella and instrumental on our penalty killing unit. It'll be up to new acquisitions Jeff Halpern, Arron Asham and Taylor Pyatt to adjust to Tortorella's demanding style that includes sacrificing body parts. Better known to uneducated Daily News columnists as blocked shots. Encouraging is that all three are gritty and shouldn't have a problem fitting in.

Brian Boyle remains our top penalty killer who also takes important faceoffs. An area which Halpern will assist in. Ryan Callahan is a heart and soul leader who'll do anything to win. Other candidates to help the PK are Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Rick Nash. Our stars shouldn't have to do it much thanks to the additions of Halpern and Asham, who both are capable in this capacity. Pyatt hasn't killed penalties much but should become a fixture on a second power play unit due to his willingness to drive the net and screen goaltenders.

If Marian Gaborik were healthy, I'm sure Tortorella would be tempted to put together a star-studded line of Nash, Richards and Gaborik. However, I still believe splitting them up once Gabby returns would be more effective unless they develop chemistry right off the bat. Young guns Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin are keys to the club's success. Does Tortorella keep Kreider with Stepan and Callahan while starting with Nash, Richards and Hagelin? That's probably the most likely scenario.

It then becomes a question of who does Boyle play with and what is the fourth line. Once Gaborik comes back, Tortorella will have the luxury of using Hagelin or Kreider on the checking line which should make us more formidable. Especially given their speed and skill. Until then, the likely candidates to team with Boyle are Pyatt, Mike Rupp and Asham. One will be on the fourth line where Halpern should be an improvement from John Mitchell (signed with Colorado). There just isn't as much versatility with Dubinsky and Anisimov around as both could double as extra centers. It still shouldn't be that bad. I just am not sure how much production to expect out of the supporting cast.


Lines Without Gaborik

Nash-Richards-Hagelin
Kreider-Stepan-Callahan
Pyatt-Boyle-Asham
Rupp-Halpern-???

Note: Maybe Micheal Haley or a kid starts with the team on the fourth line.


Lines With Gabby

Kreider-Richards-Gaborik
Nash-Stepan-Callahan
Pyatt-Boyle-Hagelin
Rupp-Halpern-Asham


These are only suggestions. You might see Callahan on the top unit for added scoring. Would you put our Big Three together?

Looking Ahead: Nash, Rangers aim for Cup

A day later and the hockey world is still buzzing about yesterday's trade for Rick Nash, who after months of speculation finally landed on Broadway. The 28-year old power forward will team with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik to bolster an offense that struggled during the Rangers' run to the Eastern Conference Final.

It's a whole new ballgame for Nash, who's lived in obscurity playing for one of the league's worst franchises in Columbus. Now, he must do better than the 30 goals, 59 points and career worst minus-19 rating in his last as a Blue Jacket. Glen Sather acquired the All-Star to fill a hole. How quickly he adjusts to life under the bright lights will determine whether the blockbuster trade is a home run or just another failed attempt by Slats at a star who's trending downward.

Nash should have plenty left in the tank. Only 28, he figures to be rejuvenated playing with actual players who can get him the puck. First, John Tortorella will try his new star with Richards and probably Carl Hagelin if it's our guess. As noted in Monday's post, it makes sense to keep the All-American trio of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan intact and let them build off last Spring. They play a North American forechecking style that the Blueshirts will need to get through a tough division. By no means is it a cake walk when the Flyers potentially could be getting Shea Weber and the Pens with a full year of Sidney Crosby. The defending East champion Devils shouldn't be underestimated despite the subtraction of Zach Parise. The Islanders are at the basement by default despite emerging star John Tavares. It's possible for all five Atlantic teams to finish with 80-or-more points. The Isles missed 80 by one point last year.

So before you go annointing our team as Cup champs, there's still much work to be done. It's not easy to reach consecutive Conference Finals. It'll also be a challenge to finish as the top seed two straight years. As we've learned, seeding means nothing. The Kings had no problem taking out Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix before being crowned champs over the lower seeded Devils. It becomes a different game in the playoffs. One Nash isn't accustomed to unless you actually count that time his team got swept by Detroit. The Rangers could breeze through the regular season and it won't mean didly squat if they don't win the Cup. That's what this trade is about. Bringing a fifth Cup to one of the most unsuccessful franchises in NHL history. One championship in the last 71 years. 1994 is a distant memory. Only Alex Kovalev still plays back home in Russia. Mark Messier and Adam Graves work for the Rangers and Conn Smythe hero Brian Leetch for MSG.

For Henrik Lundqvist, the mission remains the same. He wants to win a championship. The first-time Vezina winner had a nice run finally ditching the one round playoff label. Without him, the Rangers don't make it out of the first two rounds. He did falter against nemesis Martin Brodeur but the team in front of him also wore down possibly due to two extended series. It was still a valuable experience that should prove beneficial to remaining holdovers Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Del ZottoStu Bickel, Richards, Gaborik, Callahan, Stepan, Hagelin, Kreider, Brian Boyle and Mike Rupp. Assuming Anton Stralman is re-signed and why wouldn't he be, that's 15 Rangers from last season. The bitter taste of being so close should be a motivating factor.

Adding Nash to a roster that often lacked consistent secondary scoring should help. His size (6-4, 216), strength and speed are game breaking. One area he must improve on is the power play. His numbers have slipped. In each of the past two seasons, he's scored six. For full breakdown of Nash's pros, cons and power play numbers, please refer to a previous post I did two weeks ago. Part of it has to do with who he played with which wasn't much unless you think R.J. Umberger is a first line player. Here, he'll be surrounded with better talent including playmakers Richards and Stepan. Del Zotto isn't much of a power play quarterback but is a great passer with superb skating ability. If there's one thing the team still lacks, it's a true No.1 defenseman who can run the man-advantage. Otherwise known as the powerless play. Hopefully, the combo of Gaborik and Nash along with Callahan will drastically improve our output.

At even strength, Nash only had seven more points than Artem Anisimov. He probably won't be as solid overall as Anisimov or Brandon Dubinsky but that's not why he was brought in. He's here to score big goals and help win a Cup. If the Blueshirts are to go all the way, figure it to be a three-year window with Callahan, Gaborik, Girardi and Lundqvist all due raises following '13-14. In other words, the pressure is on the team to win now. Anyone who thinks differently is foolish. This is about maximizing the prime years of our best players before things get tricky. With Nash ($7.8 million) signed through '17-18 and Richards ($6.67 million) here for another eight years, who knows what the cap will look like. That's the unknown until a new CBA gets done. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

The Rangers are banking on Nash to return to the form that saw him score 40 goals twice. If it works out, pencil him in for at least 35 and 70 points. We'll see how he does when lights shine brightest.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Farewell Dubi and Arty


Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky were a big part of the Ranger revival.

Sometimes, sports aren't fair. One day, you root for your favorite players and then the next minute they're gone. At least Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were Rangers long enough to help turn our franchise around. Both were versatile forwards who played in all facets. If you think they won't be missed, think again. They were two-way players who could be used by John Tortorella anywhere.

In particular, Dubinsky who went from our leading scorer in '10-11 to a disappointing '11-12 which saw him score only 10 goals. His 34 points were his lowest total as an NHLer. Part of the reason for the struggle was the addition of center Brad Richards, forcing the popular Blueshirt to play exclusively on the left side. While he did have success there a season before pacing us with 54 points, it still was a tough adjustment for a natural center who Tortorella still plugged there when needed. It says a lot about Dubinsky's character that he put the success of our team ahead of personal stats.

There were times he drove us nuts. However, the former '04 second round pick was a good player in five seasons totaling 81 goals and 132 assists for 213 points over 393 games. He gave us moments like that comeback against Boston when a loss would've probably meant no playoffs over a year ago. There he was using his size to find the rebound and tie a game the Rangers trailed 3-0 before Mike Sauer stunned the Bruins. Dubi's strength and speed made him tough to knock off the puck such as a great individual effort to beat Washington here. He was a guy we truly loved. Even if he teased us from time to time, you saw how much he loved being a Ranger. Pride and passion from a guy who never wanted to be traded. At least Glen Sather waited until after his wedding.

Anisimov is a couple of years younger. The 24-year old Russian was likeable with his cool demeanor one of the highlights of HBO's 24/7 leading up to the Winter Classic. Who didn't love his shotgun goal celebration, which actually paid tribute to a former buddy who tragically died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash? Maybe the timing wasn't right with Vinny Lecavalier and the entire Lightning bench thinking his sniper celebration was a cheap shot. But it was fun spirited and not meant that way. Arty still apologized and genuinely felt bad about it.

Somewhat ironically, the three-year Blueshirt who was part of the Draft Line that was forgotten this past season, was also a former second round pick the club selected in '06. After a slow start, Anisimov picked it up finishing with 36 points (16-20-36) while often being misused by Tortorella. Even in the postseason, Arty was sometimes in the doghouse despite solid production (3-7-10 in 20 GP). Perhaps he and Dubinsky will get consistent minutes in NHL Siberia where they'll find familiar face Fedor Tyutin. They'll now be asked to help arguably the worst team turn it around. Both were a big part of our team who gave us moments to remember them by.

It's never easy when players you love are gone. However, it often happens in sports. Teams are always looking to improve. The Rangers addressed a hole by acquiring Rick Nash for more scoring. They feel he will help put them over the hump and win a Stanley Cup. Trades such as today's don't account for team chemistry and overall depth which might've been hurt. There are always risks. If the reward means a championship, then I'm all for it. But when you look at the carmaraderie this team had, it might not go smoothly.

Whether you wanted to trade them or not, there's no denying what Dubinsky and Anisimov brought to the table. Two solid overall players who could play in different situations. In particular on our penalty kill where kids like Carl Hagelin and perhaps Chris Kreider will be asked to pick up the slack. Hopefully, they won't experience any growing pains. But if Dubi and Arty taught us anything, it's that not every year for young players is consistent.

Farewell to two good Rangers. Best of luck in Columbus.

Na$h On Broadway: Dubinsky, Anisimov traded



Newly acquired Rick Nash will be under pressure to perform as a Ranger.

Rick Na$h finally got his wish. The All-Star forward was traded today to the Rangers in a six-player deal with the Blue Jackets. Going the other way are Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, who were integral parts of the Blueshirts rebuild that saw them rise to tops in the East and the club's first appearance in the Conference Finals since 1997.

TSN's Darren Dreger broke the story before 3 PM, which was then reported by WFAN's Evan Roberts. Once it was evident that Nash was coming to the Big Apple, I actually guessed the trade. Along with Dubinsky and Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first round pick go to Columbus with the Rangers also receiving a minor league defenseman and a conditional third round pick to complete the transaction.

What remains to be seen is how Nash adjusts from life in obscurity to playing in one of the largest media markets. Outside of Montreal or Toronto, New York City is probably the third toughest place to play in the NHL. You're not under a microscope minute to minute like in Canada but the pressure is on the 28-year old former No.1 overall pick to perform. He's being brought in to add scoring help to a roster that will be without leading scorer Marian Gaborik for at least two months.

Unless Glen Sather overpays for Shane Doan, Nash will feel like he's still a Blue Jacket. Sure. He'll finally get to play with a true number one center in Brad Richards or previous deal breaker Derek Stepan. But when you look at our team minus Gaborik, there are no other proven scorers outside of Ryan Callahan, who maybe asked to play on the top line. I'm not sure I'd do it instead keeping Callahan with Stepan and Chris Kreider for a potential second line. The American trio had some success during the postseason, helping offset our top line's ineffeciency. Without Kreider, they don't make it past Ottawa. Now, the BC kid will have increased expectations before he even plays a second of a regular season game. It'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to a full 82-game schedule assuming there's no lockout.

Encouraging is that Slats was able to bargain Scott Howson down from untouchables Ryan McDonagh, Kreider and Stepan to a reasonable return of Dubinsky, Anisimov, Erixon and a number one. By moving both Dubinsky and Anisimov ($6.75 million), he was able to virtually offset Nash's hefty price tag ($7.8 million), leaving enough room to possibly add another player while re-signing key restricted's Mike Del Zotto and Anton Stralman. If it's Doan, it would be a natural fit with the proven vet capable of filling a void left by Dubinsky. I still think it's ridiculous to pay a 35-year old superstar money when he's no more than a 20-25 goal, 50-60 point player. If he wants four years at that price, let someone else have him.

I still like the idea of offersheeting Winnipeg's Evander Kane. The 21-year old is a budding power forward who just had his first 30-goal season. He should only improve. Don't forget that Gaborik and Nash won't be scoring forever. The Jets currently are around $51.2 million. Theoretically, they should have enough to get Kane re-signed. I don't see anything wrong with forcing them to match. I am not a fan of investing in 30-year olds to win a Cup. It worked once before but this is a different league. A younger one where it still is wise to have kids who can contribute throughout the lineup. On paper, we still have Stepan, Kreider and Hagelin with prospects J.T. Miller and Christian Thomas waiting in the wings. So, it's not completely bare.

When you assess Sather's offseason, he's addressed a huge hole by adding Nash. I still think subtracting Dubinsky and Anisimov hurts our overall depth. Brian Boyle likely plays with Taylor Pyatt and a question mark. Unless old Slats is back by bringing in Doan, who else plays on the third line? Arron Asham or Mike Rupp? Geez. An aspect that overjoyous Ranger fans will overlook is that the supporting cast was just as important as the featured actors. This isn't a Broadway play. At some point next season, Dubinsky and Anisimov will be missed along with Brandon Prust. Gone are versatile forwards who were a big part of our penalty kill, which might not be so easy to replace.

Boyle is still here and new addition Jeff Halpern probably will get some PK time. Pyatt's never really played shorthanded. Asham can but eh. The forwards who should get the bulk of the time are Boyle, Callahan, Stepan and Hagelin, who proved to be a threat due to his game breaking speed. My guess is John Tortorella will use Nash, who's done well scoring shorthanded goals due to his speed and reach. Richards will see time as well but shouldn't be asked to do it regularly.

If we're projecting lines when Gaborik returns, I doubt he and Nash will play together. Though a Nash-Richards-Gaborik top line is scary. Can the contrast in styles work? If Kreider can avoid a rookie struggle and Hagelin doesn't go over a month without scoring, the Rangers should be good. How good remains to be seen.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fayne comes to terms with Devils on two-year deal

Even though there's still work to be done up front, the Devils ensured the backline would remain intact by avoiding a potential arb hearing headache with defenseman Mark Fayne after coming to terms on a two year, $2.6 million deal.  A bargain quite frankly, with what the 6'3 215 pound Fayne has done in the last year and a half since coming up late in 2010.  Fayne's current two-year deal takes him to UFA in two years, at least according to the terms of the current CBA which is probably going to be altered again one way or another.

A fifth-round pick in the 2005 NHL draft, Fayne played fifty-seven games in his rookie season, putting up fourteen points and a +10.  Fayne followed that up in his sophomore season by starting every game during the regular season and postseason and was used on a shutdown pairing with fellow American Andy Greene from midway through the season on.  During the postseason, both stepped up their game by shutting down the top lines of the Panthers, Flyers and Rangers at even strength and playing big minutes throughout.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

League and owners look other way

Boom. That was the thud you heard late last night on the East coast when Shea Weber agreed to a 14-year offersheet with the Flyers worth $110 million. As Hasan previously noted, the Predators have the daunting task of deciding whether to match Paul Holmgren's ridiculous frontloaded contract that'll pay the league's best defenseman 27 million in '12-13. He'll earn 14 million along with another 13 million in bonuses in the first year.

What would you do if you were Nashville general manager David Poile? He has seven days to either match or accept compensation that would likely include four number one draft picks. Or there's choice C of perhaps working out a trade that'd allow Philadelphia to complete the transaction. I am of the belief that Poile should stick to his guns, which he laid out from the very beginning. Something he alluded to in direct response to the stunning offer that's floored the hockey world.

"We have stated previously that, should a team enter into an offer sheet with Shea, our intention would be to match and retain Shea. Our ownership has provided us with the necessary resources to build a Stanley Cup-winning team. Due to the complexity of the offer sheet, we will take the appropriate time to review and evaluate it and all of its ramifications in order to make the best decision for the Predators in both the short and long-term. We do not anticipate any further comments on this situation until we make our decision within the next seven days."

Considering that they were shafted by Ryan Suter, who turned down a chance to stay in Music City to play with buddy Zach Parise in Minnesota, you have to think the Predators do have the necessary funds to keep Weber. A game changing player who can dominate games in all facets. Offensively and defensively, he's the premier blueliner surpassing Zdeno Chara due to age. At 26, he's in the prime of his career that should include the Norris that went to Erik Karlsson. How voters overlooked Weber's overall stature is as mystifying as '93-94 when Ray Bourque won the league's top defenseman on merit over new Devils assistant Scott Stevens.

Along with Pekka Rinne, Weber is the Preds' featured star who's played on a low scoring, defensive oriented team that's built around him. Having subtracted Suter for an insane 13-year $98 million, it's hard to see Nashville surviving without the All-Star who is a 20-goal 60-point threat if he plays on a better roster like the Flyers. Maybe that's why he lost the Norris. All they saw was all of Karlsson's production for Ottawa, which is also a Canadian market that's covered more than Barry Trotz' under the radar club in Tennessee. Everyone knows how special a player Weber is. The kind of difference maker who can supplant Chris Pronger and help the Flyers win their first Cup since 1975. Most expect Pronger to retire due to Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). It'd be a shame for one of the great blueliners of our time to bow out that way but we've seen it before.

Apparently, Holmgren had a back up plan allowing Matt Carle to walk for big money in Tampa Bay. Even after swapping James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for Luke Schenn, the Flyers GM is always looking ahead at ways to improve his team. However, they weren't alone in the Weber pursuit with the much coveted No.1 D also visiting New York City. Apparently, he didn't like what it had to offer, angering Ranger fans. At least we know that Glen Sather wasn't smoking a Cuban chasing more fourth liners. The disturbing aspect is it's not like Philadelphia is a small town. There's just as much pressure to perform in the City Of Brotherly Love as there is in Manhattan. The Flyers haven't won since I was born. Rocky Balboa is still the most beloved sports figure along with Secretariat. That includes the Phillies recently winning the World Series.

Maybe Weber is hoping to duck and cover like a cynical league and owners who want to have their cake and eat it. Considering their recent demands of rollbacks that would include cutting player revenue from 57 percent to 46 along with dramatically reducing long-term contracts to five years maximum, it's no wonder I'm not excited about hockey starting on time. We've been here before under indestructible commissioner Gary Bettman, whose salary has increased since the last lockout. It's not really all on Bettman, who's best known for locking out the players twice including following the '94 playoffs when hockey's popularity was pushing the NBA.

To be blunt, you have to look at the same owners who sign the paychecks. They're the ones who approve deals so crazy, you wonder if we can give Krazy Eddie a call. Maybe put him back in business just for old-time's sake. Who didn't love those commercials that ended with the catch phrase, "Insaa-----nnnnneeeeeeee,?" Those were glory days as The Boss sang in New Jersey for all to hear.

Even crazier is talk of them wanting to ditch arbitration and put players at their mercy. Hopefully, that's just a silly rumor from an unreliable source. As Dad's echoed, this isn't the 60's. Even if you believe Larry Brooks, who can sometimes be over the top even if most of his Sunday Post columns usually have some good content. Brooks has always been a PA shill. Even if I'm with the players, you have to look at things rationally. Last time, the league needed a salary cap and won after canceling an entire season. Unfortunately, the way the system was set up had loop holes that have been exposed by GMs, who are just as much to blame for the absurd money getting tossed around.

I agree that these ridiculously long contracts must end. You can't have teams locking up players until the next decade or say 2025. If you want to pin it on someone, look no further than Islander owner Charles Wang who started this revolution pre-lockout with Alexei Yashin and then defied logic post-lockout with future AARP member Rick DiPietro. Ironic that it's the same organization that's hard pressed to reach the salary floor whose fans always blame the Rangers or other big markets like the Flyers. If the Rangers were the worst offenders before armageddon, then it's the Flyers who continue to push the envelope. Their specialty is signing players to huge deals (ie. Richards, Carter, Pronger, Bryzgalov) and then either unloading them or using offersheets like they did with Ryan Kesler and now Weber. The Blues and Canucks traded offers with Vancouver forcing St. Louis to match on David Backes and then the Blues returning the favor on current Devil Steve Bernier. Seriously.

There also was Edmonton who successfully signed away former Duck Dustin Penner, who never duplicated his production and then suddenly rediscovered himself to help the Kings win the Cup playing with Richards and Carter. How fitting. They also offersheeted Buffalo's Thomas Vanek leading to a threat to do the same to them. You gotta love it. It's almost like a game of chicken. In the NBA, nobody blinks an eye when players sign offers. Former Knick Jeremy Lin got the Rockets to overpay, even reworking the contract which New York didn't match. At least executives aren't supersensitive about a more common practice.

I fail to see how owners can't see their hypocrisy. Last time, they cried about financial dire straits and Bettman's favorite term "cost certainty" was passed around like a joint. Unfortunately, the current CBA hasn't come close to solving the problem. With a cap as high as $70 million which likely could drop to $62 million when a new labor agreement is reached, it allows teams to make room for big free agents. Did anyone ever think the Wild would morph into the Flyers for Parise/Suter? The same owner complained a couple of months prior before leaks came out about how much they were set to offer hometown kid Parise. Tampering?

It's extremely hard to figure out where things are headed. Especially with Donald Fehr in charge of the NHLPA. He won't tolerate any crap. I hope he's learned from the '94 baseball strike. Nobody wants to lose another season. I don't really believe we will. There's too much at stake. Hockey is still way behind the other major sports and is rebuilding its image. Maybe they'll even find a way to get it done on time and save everyone money on aspirin. 

Weber signs 14 year, $110 million offer sheet from Flyers



After seeing the news this morning that broke while most of us were sleeping about the Flyers offer-sheeting Nashville captain and star defenseman Shea Weber to a 14 year, $110 million deal, one of my first thoughts was how could none of us see this coming?  And my second thought was that a lockout's virtually assured now after all the craziness of this offseason.  Philly had already offered upwards of $100 million to the Minnesota duo of Parise and Suter, clearly GM Paul Holmgren (who hasn't met a roster he doesn't like to radically alter) had money to burn and wanted to do something big.  With Chris Pronger more or less gone for good and Matt Carle having gone off to Tampa Bay, the Flyers needed to fortify an already leaky defense.  Who out there could replace Pronger better than the 26-year old Weber, a Norris finalist the last two years with a booming shot and physicality to match?

Yet, the news still sent shockwaves throughout the NHL for more than one reason that became apparent as details of the contract leaked out through the course of the day.  First of all, offer sheets do tend to be a rarity.  For whatever the reason, maybe teams have a tacit understanding that I won't poach your RFA if you don't poach mine, or teams generally expect any offer to be matched regardless aside from something big like this.  A lot of people do frown on offer sheets, but I think it's a smart move under the right circumstances.  Either when you structure it in a way that you're sure the other team can't match financially, or you use it to set up another move like the Sharks did by offer-sheeting Nicklas Hjalmarsson, forcing the Blackhawks to walk away from goalie Antti Niemi because they were so far up against the cap - who the Sharks really wanted to begin with.  If it's legal and can benefit your team or injure a competitor, I don't see the big deal in using that rule.  Clearly the Flyers aren't shy about doing this, having tried to get Ryan Kesler from the Canucks a couple years back to no avail.

Whether the offer sheet in itself should exist is another matter.  With the UFA age already as young as 25 years old (if you start in the NHL at 18 and have seven years of service time), having the offer sheet available to RFA's basically starts the UFA clock even earlier since you more or less have to overpay dramatically to get anyone to sign an offer sheet.  Yes, teams do pay a price in the form of draft picks, but do you really think Holmgren cares about giving up what may be four late first-rounders to obtain an asset such as Weber, a franchise defenseman for the next decade?

Not to mention the structure of this deal makes the ultimate mockery of the salary cap and CBA:

$1 million contract and $13 million bonus each of the first four years.
$4 million contract and $8 million bonus in fifth and sixth years.
$6 million contract annually in seventh through 10th years.
$3 million contract annually in 11th year.
$1 million contract annually in 12th-14th years.

Even the grand total of $110 million isn't the staggering figure, or even the $104 million over the first ten years.  What's truly staggering is the $68 million worth of signing bonuses in the first six years of the contract combined ($80 million total value).  Weber got the maximum allowable signing bonus in each of the first four years of the contract, meaning that in the span of three calendar years, Philly or Nashville should they choose to match will have to cough up $55 million total, $52 million in four huge up-front checks - one of them immediately, one next offseason, one during the 2014-15 offseason and 2015-16 offseasons as well.  Having to cough up $26 million in the span of one calendar year is bad enough, but with more huge lump sum payments due over the next few years, there really is little letup financially until Weber's in his mid 30's.

I'm sorry, nobody can convince me using signing bonuses in this way, with literally over 60% of the contract in the form of up-front checks, is any less of a violation of the 'spirit' of the cap than either of the Ilya Kovalchuk contracts.  I wonder what Kovy must be thinking now, seeing as he took $12 million during the first two years with no up front money, while FA's this offseason have been getting twice as much in one calendar year?  Not that Kovy's going to starve with his $11 million seasons set to begin this year, but it honestly is amazing in hindsight that teams didn't use signing bonuses like this before last offseason, when Christian Ehrhoff, Ilya Bryzgalov and Brad Richards opened the floodgates for the massive up-front payments that have stunned the hockey world this offseason. 

Obviously some of it's a byproduct of the fact there may be a lockout and players want their money guaranteed, but still these are not only cap-defeating but a way to bully small markets like Nashville.  You wonder what GM David Poile must be thinking, faced with the unfathomable prospect of losing defensive studs Weber and Ryan Suter in a single offseason.  Or how quickly Pekka Rinne will ask for a trade after he signed his own seven year, $49 million extension with a Predators team that is quickly becoming defanged on the blueline.  I can't even begin to fathom what Predator fans must be feeling.  Granted, the Devils lost Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer in one offseason themselves (retirement and FA defection) but they still had Martin Brodeur, and an NHL-caliber offense.  Nashville's never really had a top-flight offense and Rinne will find it to be a very different proposition next year if he doesn't have either Suter or Weber on the blueline.

Officially, the clock began ticking this morning on the Predators.  They have seven days to either match, work out a trade or just walk away with four first-round picks and a disillusioned fanbase and franchise.  While PR-wise and in terms of on-ice need Nashville really has little choice but to match, do they possibly have the means to match this type of a contract?  If they still have an internal budget, how are they going to shell out $14 million for Weber over each of the next four seasons, including a $13 million check in the next week?  Word from Darren Dreger is that the Preds were already trying to work out a trade for Weber with Philly and other teams (an indicator that Weber was not going to re-up before next July 1), but clearly the Flyers didn't like the Preds' asking price and decided to force Poile to show his hand.

What happens next will be very interesting, and potentially very frightening for Atlantic Division foes (as well as Nashville fans themselves).  One thing's clear.  The upcoming CBA war, which already looked like it was warming up just got even hotter.  Having a hard cap when the celing's $39 million is one thing, but having a cap when the celing's $70 million and you can pay chunks more than that in signing bonuses is something else.  Once again this is going to be a three-pronged war with the big markets vs. the small markets vs. the union, which is now repped by Don Fehr, the former king of baseball labor strife. 

Then again, when isn't it a three-pronged war in any labor negotiation anymore?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Devils add Stevens, Shaw to coaching staff



After the departure of assistants Adam Oates to Washington (head coach) and Larry Robinson to San Jose (associate coach) respectively, the Devils had two big voids on their staff to fill.  GM Lou Lamoriello feels he has the men in place to fill those voids, hiring Matt Shaw to replace Oates and run the power play, while replacing one Hall of Fame defenseman with another by adding Scott Stevens to the staff full-time to fill Robinson's role behind the bench.  More than eight years after playing his final game with the Devils, Stevens now feels ready to take on another role with the team he led to three Stanley Cups, after being a special assignment coach since his retirement in 2005 and spending some well-deserved time with his family as his kids were growing up.

Already in Newark to help out with the team's rookie camp this week, the 48-year old Stevens is enthused about the potential of all the young defensemen in the Devils' system. 

“We have a lot of good, young defensemen and a lot of size, which I like,” Stevens said. “I definitely like size on defense. They take up a lot of space and make things difficult on the other team’s forwards. So, I like that and just the talent level. I think this is the deepest we’ve been on defense for young, upcoming defensemen in a long time. I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of depth before. It’s very exciting. You can never have enough defensemen. It’s a position that takes some time to develop...We’re looking to try to get some of these guys to the NHL as quickly as possible to help our team.”

Everyone knows about Adam Larsson after he stepped in and held down a starting role admirably for most of the season last year as a 19-year old rookie, but the Devils' system also boasts kids in Albany like fellow Swede Alex Urbom, college players such as Michigan's Jon Merrill as well as other recent draft picks Brandon Burlon, Eric Gelinas, Reece Scarlett and this year's second-rounder Damon Severson.  After Robinson helped Larsson along as a rookie, Stevens will fill the role of working with him and the other kids on defense.  I'm sure he can also teach the vets a thing or two.  Maybe a guy like Anton Volchenkov (thought of as a poor man's Stevens in Ottawa) can be revitalized this year with a little help from #4?

While Shaw is the lesser known of the two hires - at least to Devil fans - his role will be just as critical as he will be called upon to get the most out of a Devils' power play that struggled early and often last year.  During his three seasons in San Jose, the Sharks' power play never ranked lower than fourth, and it finished second last season with a 21.1% conversion rate.  Despite that success, he was available after being let go during the offseason and the Devils wasted little time adding him to the staff after Oates' departure.  Although at first glance he doesn't have any ties to the Devils, he did work on Jacques Lemaire's staff in Minnesota for two years before spending the last three in San Jose, and has also worked with fellow assistant Dave Barr before, so clearly he was on Lou's radar.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hot Stove Week 3: Devils waiting on Semin?



After the monumental departure of captain Zach Parise to Minnesota, eight days later the question of 'What's next?' still remains for the Devils.  It's unusual if an entire NHL roster is set by the second week in July, but obviously issues need to be addressed.  On defense, the Devils are clearly stocked with vets Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov and Andy Greene set to return, with the team hoping to re-sign third-year man Mark Fayne before his arbitration hearing on August 2.  Along with teen prodigy Adam Larsson going into his second year (and GM Lou Lamoriello assuring he'll be in the NHL this year), and returning seventh d-man Peter Harrold, something you would figure has to give sooner or later.  Assuming Fayne's ready to start the season with the team after offseason wrist surgery, you'd have to figure on someone getting moved.  Especially since everyone sans Zidlicky and Fayne are signed for multiple years, and all sans Harrold - who did a fine job filling in last year - deserve to be starters in the NHL.

Whether fixing the defensive logjam ties into filling our holes up front remain to be seen.  Clearly the Devils have met their goon quota - re-signing Cam Janssen and inking Krys Barch for two years to replace the bought out Eric Boulton (question to Lou: Why do you keep giving enforcers multi-year deals?  How many of them have to be bought out before we finally stop giving one-dimensional goons more than one-year deals?!).  However, the departures of Parise and Alexei Ponikarovsky leave two holes among the top nine that must be filled.  Currently our lines look this way:

Kovalchuk-Zajac-?
Elias-Henrique-Zubrus
?-Josefson-Clarkson
Carter-Gionta-Bernier
Janssen/Barch

Assuming a healthy Jacob Josefson and a departed Parise lead to the return of Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias to LW, the team still needs a top six RW and another third-line wing.  That is, assuming we don't go status quo and expect a repeat of David Clarkson's thirty-goal season and hope that gritty Danius Zubrus and his forty points a year can fit in for a full season in the top six.  That would be a dangerous game to play, especially with the lack of depth in our system.  After showing some flashes as a rookie, Matthias Tedenby took two steps back last year, and doesn't have the all-around game to count on penciling him in for a top six role.  With Nick Palmeri having been jettisoned to Minnesota and Vladimir Zharkov going to Russia after a dissapointing AHL season, there are fewer options around than even last year.  Our lack of depth up front was illustrated by the fact we kept our first-round pick (using it on forward Stefan Matteau) and picked forwards with six of our seven picks in the draft.

Few realistic options exist in free agency - part of the reason Parise had teams beating down his door to offer him upwards of $90 million plus.  Secondary options P.A.Parenteau and Jiri Hudler went off the board even before Zach did.  Since then, projects like Peter Mueller and Woltek Wolski have found homes.  Of course, Teemu Selanne re-upped with Anaheim this afternoon once he decided to put off retirement yet again.  One big name that is still on the market is former Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who evidently didn't get enough reassurance about the Coyotes ownership situation and has been fielding offers since Monday.  He would be a good short-term stopgap obviously, though we have a lot of 35+ multi-year contracts on the books as it is, and probably one more when Elias goes FA after this year.  However, I don't think Doan's a realistic option mainly because I don't see him uprooting his family to go across the country at this point of his career, and would probably expect him to sign with another West team (Detroit perhaps?).

And that leaves the curious case of the Caps' Alexander Semin.  Rumored to be waiting around for Parise to sign before letting the market develop for him, we're still sitting around waiting more than a week later with no realistic clue over who's interested and what kind of offers are out there.  After being eviscerated publicly by ex-teammate Matt Bradley after last year and very publicly by TSN analysts Marc Crawford, Ray Ferraro and Pierre McGuire on July 1, atitude questions plague the talented, but enigmatic Russian.  With 197 career goals in less than six full seasons' worth of NHL games, Semin clearly has the talent to play on anyone's team.  However, after three thirty+ goal and seventy+ point seasons early in his career, he put up just 54 points and under thirty goals each of the last two seasons (though he only played 65 games in 2010-11).  Clearly it's a buyer beware situation, are you getting the Semin that put up 21-33-54 last year in 77 games and sulked on a defense-first team, or the Semin of three years ago who had a monster 40-44-84 and +36 for the President's Trophy winners in 2009-10?

Maybe there are only a few teams interested, perhaps less.  It wouldn't shock me if the Devils were one of the teams interested, for a number of reasons.  Clearly the need for a top six RW exists, and Semin fits the bill talentwise.  Plus Vlad Malakhov aside, we've had a pretty good record with enigmatic Russians (both Kovalchuk and Alexander Mogilny came to Jersey with spotty reputations, rose to the challenge and were big cogs on winning teams), and I'm sure Kovy would help get the best out of his countryman on and off the ice.  Unlike other possible trade options, Semin would only cost cash and not assets to acquire.  Finally, the secrecy surrounding this protracted Semin negotiation is reminiscent of the Kovy negotiations two years ago, when he took two and a half weeks to decide to return to the Devils and the only info that was leaking for the most part was coming from the Kings' camp during their public courtship of the big Russian winger.  Even less has been coming out of Semin's camp, other than persistent rumors of the Pens wanting to ink him to a one-year deal.

If Semin does go elsewhere or the Devils pass on the winger, then obviously Plan B seems to be the trade front.  Paying Tiffany's type prices for Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan (clearly a rent-a-player until he gets to Philly) isn't an ideal solution.  We would seemingly have to go bargain-basement shopping, and other names like Ales Hemsky of Edmonton have been brought up, but having another foward made of glass doesn't excite me despite his talent.  With Lou's penchant of acquiring ex-Devils, it wouldn't shock me at all to see Brian Gionta be brought back, should it come to it.  Stephen's big brother would be the perfect stopgap, with two years left at $5 million per on his deal.  Since the Devils are barely above the salary cap floor, cap space isn't a big deal this year and next year the Devils have four more forwards going UFA.  It would be nice to have someone else locked up through at least 2013-14.  Skillsize, Gio would be a poor man's Zach, being that he works hard, is a leader and has good hands around the net.  He just isn't as quick or skilled as Zach currently is.

Whatever does wind up happening, it would be nice if this Semin mystery would come to an end soon, since it seems like GM's are waiting for him and Doan to sign before the trade market gets cranked up.

Lamoriello, Modano, Olczyk elected to U.S Hockey Hall Of Fame

Yesterday, the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame announced its newest inductees. All deserving. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello will be joining Mike Modano and Ed Olczyk in Minnesota for the ceremony this Fall.

The architect of three Stanley Cups after a successful two decades spent as a coach and athletic director of Providence College, Lamoriello finally will be honored for his great achievments. He's one of the best executives in sports, who turned the Devils into winners. Without him, there probably isn't a legacy for the former Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies. Who knows if they would've survived.

“It's an honor, especially going in with these two players I had. Eddie Olczyk I had in a sports festival when he was 16. I was a young coach then. And Mike Modano was on the 1996 World Cup team," Lamoriello said. “That was a great series for American hockey."
Even after winning the first Cup in '95, New Jersey nearly lost their team to Nashville. Fortunately, that didn't happen. Instead, they've been the most successful franchise in the metro area since Lamoriello took over. That included their first ever playoff appearance under Jim Schoenfeld. One of the biggest memories before the infamous "doughnut incident" was John MacLean's overtime goal that beat Chicago goalie Darren Pang, sending them to the postseason. After pulling two upsets in the divisional rounds, they nearly made it a third before falling to Boston.

Lamoriello's most memorable move was trading down in the 1990 Entry Draft to select a goalie named Martin Brodeur. Calgary chose Trevor Kidd. He also made another deal that sent defenseman Tom Kurvers to Toronto for a No.1 pick that turned into Scott Niedermayer. Topping it all off, when star forward Brendan Shanahan signed with St. Louis, Lamoriello was intent on receiving defenseman Scott Stevens as compensation. Rather than accept Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind'Amour, he got his wish. The rest is history.

Joining Lamoriello are Modano and Olczyk. After being taken No.1 overall in '88, he went on to become the all-time leading American scorer playing in 21 seasons. He spent the first 20 starring for the Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars where he still holds franchise records across the board. His 561 goals and 1,374 points pace American-born players. That includes leading the Stars to their only Cup in '99 and just falling short of repeating in a gut wrenching six-game series loss to the Devils. It was No.9 who extended it back to Dallas when he scored in triple overtime despite an injury.

Modano also has the most playoff points for U.S. born players with 145. An eight-time All-Star who was an integral part of the 1996 Team USA championship in the first World Cup Of Hockey, he should have a place in the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Hopefully, he'll get the call next year.

Olczyk had a distinguished NHL career finishing with 342 goals, 352 assists and 794 points over 1,031 contests. That included playing for his hometown Chicago Blackhawks who drafted him third overall in 1984. He had been a member of the USA Olympic team where as a 17-year old teenager he was part of the Diaper Line in Sarajevo.

After spending three seasons with Chicago, he played four with another Original Six Toronto. His best years were as Leaf where he had seasons of 42 goals and 75 points, 38 goals and 90 points, and 32 goals and 88 points. During '90-91, he was dealt to Winnipeg where he spent parts of three seasons as a Jet continuing to score.

Olczyk was acquired by the Rangers in '92-93 for Tie Domi and Kris King. Unfortunately, a bad thumb limited him to 37 games and just eight points (3-5-8). Instead, he became part of the Black Aces. A popular group of Blueshirts who made practice fun and kept spirit up when things got challenging. He'd spend one more year on Broadway before returning to Winnipeg for two years.

Eventually, he moved onto Pittsburgh and then returned for one last go round in his hometown with the Hawks. A popular figure who always had great insight, Olczyk made a smooth transition to the broadcast booth where he's called games for Pittsburgh and now Chicago. Most notably, he's the lead analyst on NBC Network alongside Doc Emrick and reporter Pierre McGuire.

He also coached Sidney Crosby and the Penguins during his rookie year. Even though it didn't work out, you have to think his influence helped Crosby's development. Olczyk's doing great as an announcer. One of the most personable guys in our business.

Congrats to all three new U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame members.

Segal signs with Rangers, Barch joins Devils

The Rangers added more depth to the organization yesterday, signing Brandon Segal. Ironically, he turned 29 today and joins his fifth team if you count that he was drafted by Nashville.

Segal never played for the Predators but had brief stints with the Kings, Stars and Lightning. In '11-12, he got into 10 games for Tampa Bay putting up zero points and four penalty minutes. In other words, he's ticketed for Connecticut. For his NHL career, Segal has 11 goals and 11 assists over 102 games.


Devils add Barch: Last week, the Devils added some toughness by signing veteran Krys Barch. The 32-year old has played in six seasons for the Stars and most recently the Panthers. In his first four years with Dallas, he had four consecutive 100-plus penalty minutes. However, his role decreased and he was dealt to Florida where he put up two goals and three assists along with 91 PIM over 41 games.

Unfortunately, his only year in Sunrise is best known for an alleged racial slur during an incident with the Habs' P.K. Subban. He was ejected and suspended one game. He joins his third team with the Devils inking him to a two-year contract. An upgrade over departed Eric Boulton and possible AHLer Cam Janssen

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Robinson leaves Devils




Larry Robinson has been a fixture for two decades with the Devils. Whether it's been as an assistant helping turn Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer into Hall Of Fame defensemen or taking over for Robbie Ftorek to lead the red and black to a second Stanley Cup in 2000, Big Bird's always been well received in the area. Wanting to be closer to home, he'll try to help San Jose figure the winning part out.

The one year I got to see one of the game's great defensemen up close in '00-01, Robinson epitomized class. Even if I was a blip on the radar screen interning for Stan Fischler over at Devils practice, he answered one of my questions at their old facility. That's just who he is. A personable coach who cares a great deal about the game we love. He loves his players and it showed when he had to step down during a second stint post-lockout. One of the saddest days for New Jersey because they let a great man down.

Despite that, Lou Lamoriello brought Robinson back as an assistant where he worked wonders with their no-name defense alongside Pete DeBoer. As Hasan alluded to all year, nobody would ever think a blueline of Greene, Volchenkov, Fayne, Salvador, Zidlicky, Harrold, Larsson and Tallinder would ever be able to get through the East falling just short against the Robinson's former team the Kings.

That's the magic of the laid back coach who knows a thing or two about being a great defenseman. His plus-minus has been well documented. Throughout a Hall Of Fame career that included six Cups with Montreal, he was a plus-730. An NHL record that still stands along with a remarkable plus-120 during 1976-77. One of only two players to ever eclipse plus-100 in a season. Robinson considers his first Cup as a head coach as his favorite moment.

"Considering how long I played hockey and how many Cups I got to win as a defenseman with Montreal, it was my first Stanley Cup win as a head coach that is actually my greatest day in hockey."
The Devils lose a quality man who's led whereever he's been. A calming influence who's been a staple of their success. Their search for a new assistant started yesterday. Whoever replaces him will have big shoes to fill.

Halpern signs with Blueshirts



Glen Sather made another quiet move last night. The Rangers President and GM signed veteran center Jeff Halpern to a one-year deal. He'll earn $700,000 for 2012-13.

The 36-year old Halpern is a solid depth signing who can aid the Blueshirts on faceoffs. A weak area even with Brian Boyle and Brad Richards. He's been around for over a decade starting out in Washington before moving onto Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal. Last year, the Jewish player returned home to the nation's capital for one more go round. In 69 games, he tallied four goals and 12 assists for 16 points. Most notably, he won 58.4 percent of his draws going 365 and 260. Exactly why he's here.

Ironically, he and future teammate Brad Richards were traded for each other a few years ago in a blockbuster that sent Richards to the Stars. Now, Halpern will be asked to play on the same roster in a familiar checking role. During the Caps' run which included a grueling seven-game second round loss to the Rangers, he got into two games registering no points with four penalty minutes. It looks like he'll replace John Mitchell, who signed with Colorado last week.

While it's hardly the kind of move that'll excite the masses, it's still another solid addition that should improve our depth. Halpern is more than capable of anchoring the fourth line and also can kill penalties if needed. He's a classic overachiever having never been drafted. Signed by his hometown club in 1999, Halpern's turned in a nice career playing in 861 games with 358 points (146-212-358) and 607 PIM. He'll bring a good work ethic and fit right in under John Tortorella.

Having added Halpern, Arron Asham, Micheal Haley and Taylor Pyatt, Sather is doing alright. While none will ever stand out, they're all hard working character guys who will help offset the losses of Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko. Assuming Brian Boyle centers the third line and is joined by Brandon Dubinsky if he stays, the team should be fine. It's just a matter of what Slats does regarding adding another scorer to offset the injury that'll keep Marian Gaborik out at least till December.

Maybe someone surprises in camp or is recalled during the season like Carl Hagelin. You can't predict what will happen. Hagelin became an integral part of our team. Hopefully, he's here to stay. Here's a look at the current roster by position:

G Lundqvist
G Biron

D Girardi
D McDonagh
D Staal
D Del Zotto*
D Stralman*
D Bickel
D Sauer

C Richards
C Stepan
C Boyle
C Halpern
C Haley

LW Dubinsky
LW Anisimov
LW Hagelin
LW Kreider
LW Pyatt

RW Gaborik
RW Callahan
RW Rupp
RW Asham
RW Kolarik


*Del Zotto and Stralman are restricted free agents


Note: That doesn't include prospects who will get a look in camp such as Erixon, McIlrath, Miller, Thomas, Yogan, Bourque, Lindberg, Jean, etc.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pro's & Cons: Acquiring Rick Nash

As I sit here in Richmondtown on a wonderful Monday July afternoon, at least the heat wave has taken a break. If only the much debated Rick Nash would take a dive into the ocean once and for all.

It's not so much that I don't like him. He's a star power forward who can help any team. The continued wonder is when Columbus GM Scott Howson will find a deal that'll send Nash to a new team. Since the trade deadline when temps were more icy, the Blue Jackets franchise scoring leader has remained in limbo, stuck in the Siberia of the NHL. Since its inception, the Jackets have only made the playoffs once, getting unceremoniously swept out by Detroit a few years ago. At the time, there was hope they could be on the rise with then Calder winner Steve Mason creating a buzz. Unfortunately, he's been more Andrew Raycroft than Martin Brodeur.

In a strong division that boasts recent Cup champs Chicago and Detroit along with division winner St. Louis and Nashville, Columbus is stuck in the Central basement. A place they'll struggle to climb out of for years unless something miraculous happens. Maybe the Wings come down post-Lidstrom but the odds are against it with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall still around.

With seemingly no one to help the 28-year old Nash, it makes sense to move him. The Blue Jackets can get a good return for the four-time All-Star and former Rocket Richard winner who's dying to play on a contender. How could you blame him? Imagine being selected first overall 10 years ago and a decade later, still having never won in the postseason literally. It's maddening. His career is being wasted. The good news is Nash still has a few prime years left. You know he'll be hungry to prove himself whereever he goes. His list of teams remains at six including the Rangers, who remain the frontrunner due to a plethora of forward depth. Exactly what Howson's looking for.

Does Glen Sather like Nash enough that he'll give up Derek Stepan as a centerpiece in the package? If it's true that Slats won't part with Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider or Stepan, it makes pulling off a trade unrealistic. McDonagh should be untouchable due to a future that could include a Norris. Kreider is off limits following an encouraging debut in a postseason that saw the Blueshirts go the deepest they have in 15 years.

The dilemma is Stepan, who avoided a sophomore jinx by posting 51 points (17-34-51), four power play goals, four game-winners and a plus-14 rating over 82 games. Six more points than he had his rookie season. The disappointing aspect was his postseason where he notched nine points, including his only goal in four playoff series. Perhaps the 22-year old wore down. He's not the strongest (6-0 190) and was easily knocked off the puck at crucial times. Stepan needs to beef up and improve in the faceoff circle. He's the team's second line center. An important part of their future. If they part with him, that creates a hole.

This past weekend, Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline appeared on WFAN with Marc Malusis to discuss the Nash Saga. It was an interesting interview with the Jackets beat writer hinting that a package of Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky and a pick could get it done. He's been closest to the situation. So, take it for what it's worth. The only question is is that really what Howson wants. Two NHLers who can improve the Jackets along with a No.1. What about asking for one of our top prospects such as J.T. Miller or Christian Thomas? The Ranger organization regards Miller ('11 first round) higher than Thomas. Is Columbus interested in Mike Del Zotto? Personally, I wouldn't move him because you can't replace him.

If it could be a deal involving Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon, I'd pull the trigger. But I doubt Howson would. He'd be nuts. That wouldn't get it done. I also would like to retain Dubinsky, who's our most versatile forward that is capable of teaming with Brian Boyle on a checking line. At last check, Dubinsky's a better player than Brandon Prust who's due for a bounce back. Anisimov I'm 50/50 on. I still like his skill set and believe he needs to be used as a top six forward. Otherwise, he's being wasted. John Tortorella didn't handle Anisimov right in the playoffs. Don't forget he's also younger than Dubinsky and cheaper.

If they get Nash, Dubinsky's certainly the likely candidate to go. If the teams can't agree on the other piece, then a prospect and No.1 should be included. There's no way he comes for only one roster player. It has to be fair compensation. That's one area that bugs me. Some of our fans have this impression that because Nash had an off year (59 points), we shouldn't have to pay up. It doesn't work that way. Rick's 30 goals would've placed second behind Marian Gaborik, who we'll be lucky to see by December. His 59 points on a horrible roster aren't bad. If he came here, they would improve along with disappointing power play numbers which suggest that the losing's getting to him.

Nash is an outstanding player. Not a superstar who can carry you. But capable of getting hot and scoring big goals. As Portzline also noted with Malusis, he's dangerous shorthanded due to his reach and breakaway speed. An area that is always a welcome addition. Prust was our best penalty killer. For his career, Nash has 14 shorthanded goals, including five in his best season. Ironically the year Columbus made the playoffs. He put up 40 goals and 79 points along with a plus-11. Oddly enough, he hasn't been much of a plus player. In 674 career games, Nash has 289 goals with 258 assists totaling 547 points along with a minus-71 rating. Part of it is the team. It's hard to gauge.

For his career, Nash has hit double digits in power play goals four times, posting 11 in '05-06 and 10 each in '07-08 and '09-10. His career best came all the way back in his second year when he had 19. He's set up more for teammates. Not surprising given the attention he gets. He's reached 40 goals twice and registered 30-or-more in seven of nine seasons, including the last five. Outside of '05-06 when he missed 28 games, Nash has been durable playing in at least 74 the other eight campaigns. This past year was the first time he played in all 82.

Given everything I've laid out, is Nash the right fit for Manhattan? Outside of potential cost and cap hit ($7.8 million), he can help bolster our offense. Just his size and shot alone should aid the power play. I guess it comes down to how loyal Sather is to a core he's hesitant to break up. Is Nash worth it? Only if he can fit in and win a Cup.

Pro's:

-proven finisher who's scored 30+ 7 of 9 years
-4-time All-Star
-Olympic gold medal
-Rocket Richard
-5 seasons 30 assists-or-more
-adds size, shot, skill and speed
-should be hungry
-is 28 and has prime years left

Con's:

-can he handle big stage
-only four career playoff games
-contract could hinder Rangers maneuverability
-cost likely would create another hole down middle
-is he good enough overall to play for Tortorella
-must finish more PPG


There's a pretty good argument for acquiring Nash, whose other suitors include the Flyers, Red Wings and Maple Leafs. Maybe the Bruins and Penguins too. Eventually, something has to give. Would you make the deal? Who for and why?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Assessing The Islanders

It's been an interesting week already with Zach Parise and butt buddy Ryan Suter choosing to sign identical contracts with perennial contender Minnesota. I have my own thoughts on that but will hold off for now. While there continues to be plenty of discussion on the Fourth Of July fireworks rippling through the NHL, Islander GM Garth Snow has quietly gone about his business trying to improve the Islanders.

In one of the toughest divisions, the Isles know they got their work cut out this offseason. Before July 1 hit, it was a foregone conclusion that key scorer P.A. Parenteau wouldn't be back. Snow was always going to have trouble replacing his scoring. He decided to take a chance on former Sabre Brad Boyes, agreeing on a one-year $1 million deal. The 30-year old Boyes once scored 43 goals with St. Louis in '07-08. Since totaling 66 goals and 137 points back-to-back seasons with the Blues, his numbers have fallen off dramatically.

Boyes was traded to the Sabres for an '11 second round pick last year. He was supposed to help Buffalo in the playoffs. After 5-9-14 in 21 games, he scored only once during a first round loss to Philadelphia. Much was expected from the former Toronto No.1 pick in 2000. Buffalo was hoping he'd return to the success he had in St. Louis. Instead, he went through the worst year of his career scoring just eight goals with 15 assists for a total of 23 points in 65 games. Boyes drew the ire of our resident Sabre blogger Brian Sanborn and many others in Western New York.

What happened? Well, a knee injury cost him 13 games during the first half. Perhaps he never fully recovered. It would be a better explanation than a capable scorer falling flat. Now, he'll be asked to join John Tavares on the Islanders' power play. Whether he wins a first line spot alongside JT91 and Matt Moulson remains to be seen. Parenteau became one of their best playmakers. For his career, Boyes has 158 goals and 214 assists for 372 points in 558 games. If there is one concern it's a drop off in power play production.

Boyes Got The Power?

            GP         PPG          PPA         PPP
'07-08  82          11             8              19
'08-09  82          16             19            35
'09-10  82           2              8              10
'10-11  83           6              7              13
'11-12  65           2              6               8

Note: Boyes played in 83 games during '10-11 due to the Blues trade to Buffalo.

Either he's not the same player or he's due for a bounce back. For one year, Snow's hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

Boyes wasn't Snow's only free agent move. He also signed tough defenseman Matt Carkner for three years, $4.5 million and added pugilist Eric Boulton for the league minimum. Beefing up the blueline is never bad. Especially with ex-Sen Carkner who can also double up front if necessary. He's one of the league's toughest fighters. As we saw in the first round against the Rangers, he can fly off the handle like with Brian Boyle, earning a one-game suspension. No question Rangers/Islanders will be at a wild level with Carkner and Boulton added. Boulton basically fights but can sometimes lose his head. A reason Hasan and other Devil fans were happy he was bought out. With the Rangers adding Arron Asham and former Islander Micheal Haley to Mike Rupp, there's sure to be a lot of fisticuffs.

Carkner is serviceable. He can play bottom pair and help out a blueline that includes vet acquisition Lubomir Visnovsky. With a D that features captain Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic along with rookie hopefuls Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness, Carkner won't necessarily have to play all 82. A lot hinges on the development of the kids while Visnovsky, Streit, MacDonald and Hamonic will comprise of the top four.

The 35-year old Visnovsky will be asked to help anchor the back end with Streit. There's no denying the Slovak's puck skills. He's an offensive blueliner who possesses a healthy shot that can boost the power play. Though it is odd how he went from amassing a career best 68 points (18-50-68) in '10-11 with Anaheim to only 27 (6-21-27) this past season. He missed time with a finger injury but returned to play in 68 games. Much of Lubomir's '10-11 success came on the man-advantage, posting 31 power play points (5-26-31). Snow got him for a 2012 second round pick. Despite being in the league 11 years, he's only made the postseason three times. Twice with LA and once with Anaheim. Visnovsky is 0-4-4 in 18 playoff games.

On paper, it looks solid. Visnovsky can log important minutes along with Streit, MacDonald and Hamonic. The hope is that two rookies will impress enough in camp to make the roster. At the very least, the Isles should start with Carkner in their top six. How long he stays there is anyone's guess. Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and Steve Staios are all unrestricted. Of the three, Eaton would be the most logical. A vet shot blocker who had brings leadership.

Here's the current Islander roster including key restricted Matt Martin:

G Evgeni Nabokov
G Rick DiPietro
G Kevin Poulin

D Mark Streit
D Andrew MacDonald
D Lubomir Visnovsky
D Travis Hamonic
D Matt Carkner

C John Tavares
C Frans Nielsen
C Marty Reasoner
C Jesse Joensuu

LW Matt Moulson
LW Josh Bailey
LW Nino Niederreiter
LW Eric Boulton

RW Kyle Okposo
RW Michael Grabner
RW Brad Boyes
RW Matt Martin

The Puck Stops Here

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