Ranking the Rebuilds #5…The Florida Panthers

florida_panthers_wallpaper_by_nascarfan160-d6ofwpo

I’ve long been a fan of Florida GM Dale Tallon.

Tallon built the foundation of the Chicago Blackhawks team that has won 3 Stanley Cups in the 5 seasons.

Tallon’s first season as the Blackhawks general manager was a busy one. The 2004–05 NHL season was lost to a labor dispute, and the new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players was signed in July 2005. Between the new financial structure and many rules changes intended to produce a higher scoring game, Tallon was challenged to build a new team. Tallon signed many free agents, including goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin,[5] defenceman Adrian Aucoin,[6] and forward Martin Lapointe,[7] which led to raised expectations. The Blackhawks finished Tallon’s first season with 26 wins, 43 losses and 13 overtime losses for 65 points, ranking the Blackhawks 14th in the 15-team Western Conference, and with the third-least points in the NHL.

Under Tallon, however, the Blackhawks steadily improved, raising their points totals to 71 and 88 in the next two years. Though not enough to make the playoffs either year, their poor overall standing allowed Tallon high draft picks to work with. In 2006, he selected Jonathan Toews third overall, then Patrick Kane first overall the following year. The two forwards went on to quickly become franchise cornerstones and were joined by fellow young talents Patrick SharpKris VersteegMartin Havlát and Brian Campbell, all of whom Tallon either signed or traded for.

With a new core of players in 2008–09, the Blackhawks finished the season with a 46–24–12 record for 104 points. Ranking fourth overall in the Western Conference, the team qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Chicago made it to the Western Conference Finals, where they were eliminated in five games by the Detroit Red Wings.

Tallon further bolstered his team in the off-season by signing star winger Marián Hossa and Selke Trophy-winning John Madden. That same off-season, however, Tallon and the Blackhawks management came under fire in early July 2009, when the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) claimed the team did not submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents before the deadline.[8] In the worst-case scenario, the team’s unsigned restricted free agents at the time, including Kris Versteeg, would have become unrestricted, earning them additional salary and negotiating rights.[8] Tallon was able to sign all his restricted free agents, although at a cost of millions more than he would have to had he qualified them in time.[9]

Soon thereafter, on July 14, 2009, the Blackhawks demoted Tallon to the position of senior advisor, while Stan Bowman, son of Scotty Bowman, was promoted to general manager.[10] The following day, Martin Havlát, who was no longer a Blackhawk, criticized the team’s management and defended Tallon.[11] He stated, “Every single player on that team is with Dale. I still talk to the guys all the time, hockey players know a phony when they see one.”[11] He specifically berated John McDonough, the team’s president, commenting, “McDonough couldn’t stand that Dale was so successful and getting the credit for building the Hawks from a last place team to making the Conference Finals in 3 short years.”[11]

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June 2010. The Blackhawks engraved Tallon’s name on the Cup and issued him a Stanley Cup ring.[12] Source

Tallon remained in limbo until May 17th 2010 when he was hired by the Florida Panthers as GM and immediately setting about rebuilding his new team.

After serving as a senior advisor with the Blackhawks for nearly a year, Tallon was hired on May 17, 2010, by the Florida Panthers as general manager, replacing Randy Sexton.[13] The Panthers had finished last in their division, the Southeast, the previous season and had not made the playoffs since 2000. Seeking a rebuilding process similar to that which he accomplished in Chicago, Tallon immediately began trading away several players, most notably forward Nathan Horton and defenceman Keith Ballard.

In his first season as general manager, the Panthers finished last in their division for the second straight year, prompting Tallon to fire Head Coach Peter DeBoer (later replacing him with former NHL player Kevin Dineen) and to continue trading for younger players and draft picks. At the NHL trade deadline, he dealt away captain Bryan McCabe, as well as veterans Cory StillmanRadek Dvořák and Christopher Higgins. In the off-season, he acquired three former Chicago players — Brian Campbell, Tomáš Kopecký and Kris Versteeg— while also signing Tomáš Fleischmann and former Panthers fan favourite Ed Jovanovski.

Tallon’s personnel changes helped lead the Panthers to their first Southeast Division title in franchise history, improving by 22 points in the 2011–12 season. Qualifying for the 2012 playoffs as the third seed, they were eliminated in the first round by the eventual finalistsNew Jersey Devils, ironically led by former Panthers head coach, Peter DeBoer. As a result of his leading the team to their first playoff appearance in twelve years, Tallon was nominated for the 2012 NHL General Manager of the Year Award.

We can assume the rebuild in Florida began with Tallon’s tenure with the Panthers in 2010 but unlike the rebuild of the Edmonton Oilers which began the same season with the drafting of Taylor Hall, Tallon’s efforts were much more complicated,

After 3 year’s of lacking the resources to build a winner, that all changed in 2013 when Vincent Viola bought out a rag tag group of minority owners and committed to providing the dollars and stability the team needs to move forward.

Viola said Friday that he was committed to giving the Panthers “the resources needed to win the Stanley Cup,” which brought a smile to Tallon’s face.

“I believe in what he believes in,” said Tallon, the architect of Chicago’s 2010 championship team.

“He’s committed to putting a winning team out there on the ice. That’s all I can ask for. We’re going to get terrific commitment from him and that’s exciting. The fact I can go to them and say ’this is what we need, what are your thoughts?’ is important. That’s the support we need to fix whatever we need fixed.’’

The Panthers were previously controlled by Cliff Viner and a multitude of minor partners, including local heavyweights H. Wayne Huizenga, Alan Cohen, Mike Maroone and Jordan Zimmerman. They were all bought out by Viola. Viola owns a majority of the franchise now, with only longtime business partner Douglas Cifu joining him. Cifu is the new vice chairman and alternate governor of the Panthers. Source

So, if we consider the Panthers rebuild got a reboot in 2013, we’re now only a couple of years into the process.
In the past two years, Tallon has been very busy remaking his team while allowing his exceptional draft record to provide his team with young elite players.
After acquiring Roberto Luongo in trade, the Panthers are set in goal.
The D, anchored by possession monster Bryan Campbell propelled the Cats to a middling 2.60 GA/GP last season but Campbell is on the last year of his contract and it’s expected Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad will assume the role of #1 stud defenseman as early as this season.
With Dimitri Kulkov, Erik Gudbranson, Alex Petrovic, Dylan Olsen and Michael Matheson in the under 25 group, the Panthers are loaded with high end D prospects once Campbell, and Willie Mitchell are done.
Likewise, their prospect centre depth, due to astute drafting, is among the best in the league with Alexander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trochek, Rocco Grimaldi and 2014 draft Jayce Hawryluk all surging.
The Panthers weakness is, and has been, scoring wingers and they will need Jonathan Huberdeau, Brandon Pirri and newly acquired Reilly Smith to step up.
The addition of the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr gave the Panthers and immediate boost last season but the teams rebuild, while solid in goal, at D and at centre is remarkable, they need more scoring from the wings to make things hum.
Since wingers are the easiest players to acquire in trade or free agent signings, I expect Tallon will solve the issue sooner than later considering he is sitting with almost $12 million in free cap space.

Ranking the Rebuilds #4…The Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue-Jackets-Cannon-Logo

The Blue Jackets are about to embark on their 15th season in the NHL…a period of time in which they’ve made the playoffs twice and suffered a first round exit both times.

As you might expect from an expansion team, they were pretty awful in their first 3 seasons but with drafting Rick Nash 1st overall in 2002, there was some hope they would become legitimate.

But in the iconic 2003 draft, the Jackets selected enigmatic Nikolai Zherdev 4th overall and Dan Fritsche in the second round and the positive momentum stalled. For several years running, the Jackets floundered with a mix of disappointing draft picks and underperforming veterans.

But that would all change beginning in 2012 (when I think we can establish the start of the rebuild in Ohio) with 3 very significant moves.

In June of that year, former Blues executive John Davidson was appointed the President of Hockey Operations.

Davidson, just a few months later, would fire Scott Howson as General Manager and replace him with draft wizard Jarmo Kekalainen.

2012 was also the year that the Jackets traded Rick Nash to the Rangers, severing ties to their former 1st overall pick, perhaps realizing that investing your biggest cap hit ($7 million) in a winger was not the best winning strategy.

But, to me, the hiring of the new management team was the most significant part of the Jackets’ rebuild and a review of that management team indicates why:

The Columbus Blue Jackets started to turn a corner when John Davidson became president of hockey operations. When Davidson named Jarmo Kekalainen the team’s new general manager, the Blue Jackets were ready for launch.

They are rapidly ascending and not slowing down anytime soon.

The combo of Davidson and Kekalainen is a known commodity within hockey circles. They spent years together in St. Louis. They’re back together again in Columbus, pulling the same tricks that helped resurrect the Blues to a team of prominence.
So what is their secret? How have they been able to enjoy success over the long haul? It all starts with execution at the draft table. It specifically starts with the genius of Kekalainen.

How else can you explain the Blue Jackets landing three first-round draft talents in this past June’s draft, when starting the night with only one? The Blue Jackets drafted University of Michigan star Zach Werenski with the eighth pick. Then just before the night was over, the Blue Jackets used a second and a third to trade back into the first round. They landed the second-best skater on Central Scouting’s European list in Gabriel Carlsson. If that wasn’t enough, they still had an early second-round pick and drafted Paul Bittner, who many consider a first-round talent.

This shouldn’t surprise you. A look back at Kekalainen’s history suggests that this is the norm for him.

Let’s turn the clock back to the year 1995 for a minute. This is where the story of Kekalainen really starts.

Kekalainen served various roles within the hockey operations department of the Ottawa Senators. He spent a total of seven years with the Senators, most notably as their director of player personnel. He also oversaw both the amateur draft and European scouting for a time.

In his time with Ottawa, Kekalainen helped draft Jason Spezza, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Antoine Vermette and Ray Emery. At the same time, he also served as a general manager in the Finnish Elite League.

Kekalainen then joined the Blues and spent eight seasons with them from 2002 to 2010. He served as their director of amateur scouting. He was later named their assistant general manager.

The list of players that Kekalainen helped bring to St. Louis include David Backes, David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo. His eye for talent is superior.

This begs the question: Has Kekalainen cracked the code of sorts when it comes to draft success? He brought star-caliber players to both Ottawa and St. Louis. He’s doing the same now in Columbus. How is he able to consistently do this over the years with different teams?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Kekalainen is one of the best in the business at spotting talent. (source)

***Worth noting that Bob MacKenzie had all 3 of Werenski, Carlsson and Bittner ranked in his top 30 and Columbus got all of them.***

Of course, the new management team doesn’t get credit for the drafts of Ryan Johansen and Dalton Prout in 2010, Boone Jenner in 2011 or, perhaps, even Ryan Murray in 2012.

But the Jackets went into the 2013 draft with 3 first round picks and appear to have hit pay dirt with all 3. (C Alexander Wennberg, LW Kerby Rychel and C Marko Dano (who was traded in this offseason in the Brandon Saad acquisition).

Then the Jackets plucked WHL scoring sensation RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (63G 118P with Portland last season) in the 3rd round which in hindsight was a huge steal.

It’s too early to make a call on 2014 1st round pick Sonny Milano but the speedy LW had 5 points in 10 AHL games late last season and looks like a player.

Hockey’s Future has the Jackets prospect depth ranked 10th in the NHL:

Strengths: The Columbus Blue Jackets have oodles of depth at forward. Centers Alex Wennberg, Marko Dano, and William Karlsson are all close to playing regular minutes at the NHL level, and others such as Sonny Milano and Kerby Rychel are not too far behind. The system also had several other forwards with extremely high upside, namely WHL standout Oliver Bjorkstrand, who has been one of the top goal-scorers in Canadian major junior hockey. There is also strong depth in net, with Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo competing for starts at the minor league level.

Weaknesses: The Blue Jackets lack both talent and depth along the blue line, an issue that was made all the more pressing when standout defensive prospect Mike Reilly opted to test free agency instead of signing with Columbus. The team could probably stand to add more depth along the wing, though given their depth at center, it is not as pressing an issue as it could be.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Alexander Wennberg, C, 2. Sonny Milano, 3. Marko Dano, C, 4. Kerby Rychel, LW, 5. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW.

If there is a weakness on the Jackets roster, it is indeed on D.

While Ryan Murray is still an outstanding prospect, he has been plagued by injury playing only 88 games since being drafted #2 overall in 2012.

To get to the next level, the Jackets need Murray to live up to his draft pedigree and become the legit #1D that he was projected to be. If he doesn’t. the Jackets may have to parlay their impressive forward depth into a top pairing D or wait on their impressive 2015 draft picks.

The addition of blue chip D prospects Zack Werenski and Gabriel Carlsson will likely solve their D issues in the medium future but, until they arrive, the Jackets will have to outwork and outscore the opposition.

With Sergei Bobrovski (.918) in net, and several high end G prospects, the Jackets seem set at that position so, in the upcoming season, it will fall to their forwards to win the war.

They are loaded at C with Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner, Branson Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg and Gregory Campbell so no issues there.

And the addition of Brandon Saad should give their depth at wing a shot in the arm but it will likely take the emergence of Milano, Bjorkstrand, Rychel and Bittner to turn them into perennial contenders.

The Jackets missed the playoffs last season due to a perfect storm of injuries:

End-of-Season-NHL-Man-Games-Lost-Quality-April-12-2015-600x300

Barring another catastrophic season of walking wounded, that won’t happen again and the Jackets will easily be a playoff team next season.

Ranking the Rebuilds #3…The New York Islanders.

New York Islanders' John Tavares reacts after scoring the winning goal during the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Washington Capitals Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
New York Islanders’ John Tavares reacts after scoring the winning goal during the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Washington Capitals Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

For more than a few seasons, Garth Snow was mocked as one of the worst General Managers in hockey.

I have to say that much of that mockery came from fans of the Edmonton Oilers who have become very familiar with incompetent management through the tenures of Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig McTavish but we’ll get to that later in this series.

The Snow era began in an odd way back in 2006 when oddball owner Charles Wang promoted Snow immediately upon his retirement as the Isles goaltender.

From Wikipedia:

On July 18, 2006, Snow officially confirmed his retirement and was named general manager of the New York Islanders following Neil Smith‘s dismissal after 41 days on the job.[2] There was much criticism directed the Islanders way for firing a Stanley Cup-winning GM after such a short tenure in favor of Snow, who at the time of his hiring held no experience in management.

Defenders of the organization pointed to Snow’s Master’s Degree in Administration and Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Maine.[3]

In Snow’s first season as GM, he earned praise for making moves to open up space under the salary cap and using the space to trade for Marc-André BergeronRichard Zedník and Ryan Smyth. Snow was named NHL Executive of the Year for 2006–07 by Sports Illustrated.[4] Snow also received a great deal of praise from commenters on XM Radio[5] and other reports for his organization’s picks in the 2008 and 2009 entry drafts. In 2012, Snow reportedly offered all seven of the Islanders’ draft picks – one in each round, including the fourth overall – to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for the second overall pick. Columbus GM Scott Howson turned down the trade offer, and the Islanders ended up picking defenceman Griffin Reinhart at number four.[6]

Snow took over a team that had missed the playoffs the previous season with a 36-40-6 record and, while the Islanders would squeak into the playoffs the following season (when Snow acquired Ryan Smyth from the Oilers), they would go to miss the post season in the subsequent 5 seasons.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when (or if) the Islanders embarked on a full on rebuild but they hit rock bottom in the 2008-09 season when they finished dead least in the NHL with 62 points so, for our purposes we’ll use that as a starting point as to when Snow started returning his team to respectability.

Following that dismal season, the Islanders were “rewarded” at the NHL draft when they picked cornerstone player John Tavares at #1 overall.

But Tavares was not the only player Snow identified in that draft which has set the Islanders up for much more of their relative recent success:

#1 John Tavares

#12 Calvin de Haan

#62 Anders Nilsson

#92 Casey Cizikas

#152 Anders Lee

That the Islanders were able to pluck 5 actual NHL players from one draft is remarkable and they were able to obtain a couple more in the 2010 draft.

#5 Nino Niederreiter (since traded)

#30 Brock Nelson

In the 2011 draft, the Islanders continued to build up the middle by selecting Ryan Strome #5 overall and then, in the 2012 draft, Snow and his team, went all in selecting a defenseman with all 7 of their picks.

First among those, of course, was Griffin Reinhart who Snow would have preferred not to draft but, as noted above, Columbus refused to trade their #2 overall pick (Ryan Murray) for all 7 of the Isles picks.

But, if nothing else, that draft indicates Snow knows the value of strong D prospect depth and he followed that draft by selecting Ryan Pulock #15 overall in 2013.

While Griffin Reinhart has been discarded after being passed on the depth chart, it’s worth noting that the Isles have a tremendous number of those picks ripening in the AHL with Scott Mayfield, Ville Pokka, Adam Pelech and Pulock all playing significant roles in Bridgeport.

After loading up on D, Snow has spent the past 2 drafts stockpiling forwards with high end potential:

#5 2014 Michael Dal Colle

#28 2014 Josh Ho Sang

#16 2015 Mat Barzal

#28 Anthony Beauvillier

As we’ve seen, Snow has never been timid about swinging draft day deals like the one in which he traded a spare part like Reinhart to acquire extra picks, and from this point of view, he’s been tremendously successful although it’s early to make a call on some of those picks.

Hockey’s Future has the Islanders team prospect ranking at #2 and it’s very difficult to disagree:

Strengths: Now that the New York Islanders have turned the corner, they are in a prime position to contend for the Stanley Cup for the years ahead thanks to their strong farm system. While Ryan Strome and Anders Lee graduated, there is still top-six talent developing on the wings in Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Defense has become the strongest unit in the system as Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield are the next wave of youth that look to shore up the Islanders on the backend. Behind them are a deep, diverse group of players that may slot into depth roles. Toughness is another attribute amongst the skaters. There is quality and promising potential in the goaltending pool with Ilya Sorokin, Linus Soderstrom, and Stephon Williams.

Interesting that HF had Reinhart listing as the Isles’ top prospect but that Snow didn’t agree and dealt from a position of tremendous strength to acquire a couple more blue chip prospects.

With 2008 draft Travis Hamonic, de Haan and the aforementioned picks all jockeying for a spot on the big club you would think Snow would have been somewhat reticent to add veteran D to his stable but a year ago he patiently waited for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk to become available and plucked them from their cap strapped teams after astutely picking up former #4 overall pick in 2007 Thomas Hickey when the LA Kings put him on waivers.

It can’t be stated often enough that centre depth is a key to building a winning team and Snow has not been recalcitrant on that front either.

John Tavares

Ryan Strome

Mikael Grabovski

Anders Lee

Frans Neilsen

Brock Nelson

Casey Cizikas

Josh Ho Sang

That’s 7 actual NHL centres folks with Ho Sang bubbling under. That may be the best centre depth in the entire league and it has allowed Snow to focus on adding highly skilled players in the draft and through trades and free agent signings.

I would imagine that both Ho Sang and Barzal will debut as wingers and will be vying for a roster spot with highly touted power forward Michael Dal Colle.

An eventual 1st line that might include Tavares, Dal Colle and Barzal could be a thing of beauty.

For more than a few years, the Islanders glaring weakness was in goal but Snow has also addressed that issue with the signing of Jaroslav Halak and backup Thomas Griess who should provide at least league average goaltending. Considering the Islanders were the 4th best team in the league in GF/GP last season at 2.99, it’s not hard to imagine the Islanders will improve on the 101 points they garnered last season with the maturation of their young D and the addition of significant firepower from their young draft picks.

I don’t think anyone with credibility is calling out Garth Snow any longer and it’s with noting that he has built a contender all while having more than $8 million in free cap space pending the signing of RFA Brock Nelson.

Rebuild over!

Ranking the Rebuilds #2…The Dallas Stars.

tyler-seguin-jamie-benn-nhl-edmonton-oilers-dallas-stars-850x560

In the first segment of this series, we took a look at the tremendous success of Steve Yzerman…leading his team to a berth in the Stanley Cup finals after 5 seasons on the job.

This time, a look at the work of another Detroit Red Wings alumni, Jim Nill.

Nill took over the Dallas Stars in April 2013.

The Stars were coming off a season that saw them finish dead last in the Pacific Division…11th in the WC.

The Stars had missed the playoffs for 5 straight season many of which were played under the uncertainty of the ownership of Tom Hicks.

The team was purchased out of bankruptcy by Vancouver billionaire Tom Gaglardi during the 2011/12 season.

Gaglardi was not content with losing and, after only one season with the incumbent management group, cleaned house:

The day after their final regular season game of the 2012-13 season (a 3–0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings), the Stars fired General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. The next day, the Stars introduced their 11th all-time general manager, Jim Nill, the former assistant general manager of the Red Wings. On May 14, 2013, the coaching staff was also fired,[32] and on May 31, 2013, Scott White was re-introduced as the director of hockey operations

It appears Nill also had little patience for losing and wasted little time in assessing the teams holes and setting out to fill them.

The Stars leading centre the previous season was Cody Eakin…a 21 year old who scored only 7 goals and 24 points the previous season.

Nill, taking to heart the sage advice from former boss Ken Holland in Detroit, knew he had to build his team up the middle and in a blockbuster series of moves, acquired centres Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff in his first offseason.

Those moves paid off when the Stars made the playoffs the following season but, to some degree, that was nothing more than a “dead cat bounce” because the Stars team defense was still highly suspect and the team needed secondary scoring.

In his second offseason, Nill didn’t rest on his laurels…he sent Alex Chiasson, a couple of prospects and a 2nd round pick to Ottawa for Jason Spezza.

He followed up that move by signing former Senator and Oiler Ales Hemsky to a 3 year contract.

The Stars would flounder in the 2014/15 season…sewered by sub par goaltending and, still, questionable team D but had the best record in the NHL after the all star break. (14W 5L 1OTL in the last 20 games).

To illustrate how poor the team was defensively, one need look no further than the fact that the Stars were the second highest scoring team in the league (3.13 GPG) behind only the Lightning but ranked 27 in the league (3.13 GAG).

It’s important to remember here that the Stars may have been even more potent offensively had a few issues not impacted things.

1) Jamie Benn played the entire season with two damaged hips but won the Art Ross Trophy in any event. Benn had  offseason surgery and says his recovery is ahead of schedule.

2) Tyler Seguin was on pace for 51 goals before receiving a dirty low bridge hit from Dimitri Kulikov. Seguin missed 11 games but finished 2nd in the league (1.08 PPG) to Sidney Crosby (1.09 PPG).

3) Highly touted RW Valeri Nichushkin was limited to only 8 games also due to a hip injury but is also recovered.

4) Newly acquired centre Jason Spezza admits he had a bit of a down season while adapting to a new team but managed to score 17 goals and 62 points nonetheless. Spezza’s play picked up in the second half of the season and, of course there is this:

Just like with the Stars, Spezza excelled in a secondary role on a high-offense teamCanada scored 66 goals in 10 games, 26 more than the second-highest scoring team, Russia. Spezza, Seguin and Eakin scored 19 of Canada’s 66 goals in the tournament. Seguin led the tournament with nine goals in 10 games, and Eakin finished with four goals and two assists. Spezza tallied six goals and eight assists for 14 points, the most in the tournament. He was selected as the tournament’s top forward and was named to the All-Star team. Spezza finally won a goal medal in his third trip to the World Championship.

5) Ales Hemsky also needed hip surgery in the offseason and I expect he’ll be far more productive in the coming season:

“I can already feel I have more motion,” Hemsky told the Dallas Morning News in a report published Tuesday. “It’s just been two months and I know I have a long way to go, but I can feel the difference.”

Hemsky had 11 goals and 21 assists in 76 games last season playing the majority of the season alongside center Jason Spezza. Hemsky didn’t score his first goal of the season until Nov. 28 against the Minnesota Wild.

“It was a lot of pressure I was putting on myself, and I think I worked through that,” he said. “This feels completely different.”

Despite those woes, the Stars had a high octane offence last season but Nill added even more firepower a couple of weeks ago when he swung a trade for Patrick Sharp.

Sharp is only one season removed from a 34 goal 84 point season in Chicago and despite a drop off in 2014/15 where he had a shooting percentage of of only 7 percent (career 11.4) and was playing more than 2 mins/game less than the previous season, I think you can expect a big regression to the mean playing on the Stars 2nd line.

Sharp’s TOI, shot totals and shooting percentage should all jump next season closer to his career norms.

Despite how much I like the Sharp acquisition, the other player coming over in the trade may have a much more lasting impact. Steven Johns was Chicago’s best D prospect and many were shocked when he was included in the deal and, although, after a great season in the AHL, where he was the Ice Hogs best defenseman, he will have some work to do to crack the new and improved Dallas D.

And, of course, Nill pulled off the trifecta of adding former Blackhawks (signed Antti Niemi earlier) when he picked up Johnny Oduya who seems destined for a second pairing shut down role In Dallas.

There are some in the blog world who call into question the Stars D last season (and they did need the improvement Nill provided but, folks, they are starting at a very high level with young Stars Klingberg, Nemeth, Jokkipakka and Johns set to take the next step) and the addition of Oduya is a step up from Trevor Daley. Here’s a look from Defending Big D:

Defensemans_.0

That chart, of course, doesn’t include either Johns or Jamie Oleksiak who are both NHL ready nor does it include Stars 2014 1st round draft pick Julius Honka who acquitted him self exceptionally well in his rookie season in the AHL.

Needless to say the Stars’ young D is loaded with Goligoski, Demers, Oduya and Benn providing veteran support.

In goal, the Stars suffered through a very bad early season from starter Kari Lehtonen (.903) and even worse backup goaltending so Nill added another veteran in Antti Niemi.

He’s been criticized for spending too much on goaltending but the Stars, even after all their acquisitions, remain well under the cap so that’s not valid.

If they get even career average goaltending from either or both vets, they’ll cut their GA by a huge margin.

I’d wager that will happen.

In speaking of the Stars drafting and development under Nill, I think we need to remember a couple of things about his former role in the Red Wings organization.

Not only was he the Wings’ Director of Amateur scouting from 1994 until  his departure in 2013, but he was also the GM of the Wings AHL affiliate.

I don’t think we need to elaborate further on his spectacular record there but it’s very clear the man knows how to recognize talent all over the draft and develop those players at a very high level.

Nill only has 3 drafts under his belt in Dallas so it’s too early to call one way or the other but the aforementioned Nichushkin, Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson and Honka all appear to be blue chip prospects.

Hockey’s Future has Dallas ranked at #7 on their team ranking list and gives Nill his due:

Strengths: Dallas has extracted great value out of late-round draft picks, first with Jamie Benn, now with John Klingberg.

General Manager Jim Nill has a reputation as a scouting man, and has already re-acquired a pair of Red Wings picks with whom he was familiar in Mattias Janmark and Mattias Backman. This system has quite a few intriguing names and several players ready to graduate into NHL players.

Julius Honka leads a very deep pool of defenders. As a junior-eligible player playing as a rookie in the AHL, his scoring was modest and he made mistakes, but got excellent experience. Jamie Oleksiak is ready for a depth NHL role, and the same can be said for Patrik Nemeth, who suffered an injury early in the season. Esa Lindell had a spectacular season in Finland. Even after Lindell, there are several names that project to be good pros, starting with big and rough Jyrki Jokipakka, who got a two-year deal after establishing himself as a dependable presence for Dallas over the course of last season.

With that kind of spectacular depth in young D, I would imagine Nill will be filling out his prospect list with forwards in the next couple of drafts and he started by picking Denis Guryanov (Russia) and Roope Hintz (Finland) in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2015 draft.

Neither of them were highly touted but I certainly wouldn’t bet against Nill finding 2 more NHL forwards in those spots.

But, let’s be honest, the Stars offence is already the best in the league.

They have their Toews (Seguin) they have their Kane (Benn), they have their Sharp (Sharp) potentially their Hossa (Nichushkin) a superb second line centre (Spezza) and a strong supporting cast that includes centres Cody Eakin, Vern Fiddler and Colton Sceviour and wingers that include Hemsky, Antoine Roussel, Patrick Eaves, Brett Ritchie and Travis Moen.

If the D gels as I expect and the Stars get adequate goaltending, they will win the toughest division in hockey…the Central.

Book it!

Ranking the Rebuilds

Rebuild

I’ve been holding off on this series while the free agent dust settles and, while there are still more than a few free agents still looking to find a new team, it appears we are moving into the doldrums of off season activity.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll examine teams that previously struggled to the point that they pretty much bottomed out and then, for a variety of reasons, started climbing the standings and became legitimate contenders or, at least appear to be on the way to becoming successful.

We’ll also look at teams, like the Edmonton Oilers who have been rebuilding for a significant period of time but are still floundering as well as a team that is just starting to blow things up and start over…that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, going forward, over the next several posts, from best to worst:

Tampa Bay

Dallas

New York Islanders

Columbus

Florida

Calgary

Colorado

Edmonton

Buffalo

Toronto

Your mileage may vary but I think we’ve got the group surrounded but, if you think there should be any other team included, please let me know in comments.

PlayoffFanPack644

No debate, really, about how thoroughly and successfully Steve Yzerman has rebuilt the Bolts into an elite team.

The Lightning were Stanley Cup finalists in Yzerman’s 5th year as General Manager while other teams have been out of the playoffs for that entire period.

Yzerman was hired as GM in TB on May 25, 2010. The team would make this EC finals in his first season but took a step back the following season and Yzerman rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

By the time, the Bolts reached the finals, only 2 players remained on the team that Yzerman has inherited 5 years prior.

Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are a nice place to start but it was his subsequent moves that made the difference.

A couple of months ago, one of my favourite hockey writers, James Miracle of the Globe and Mail,  took a look at how Yzerman has adapted what he learned in the Detroit organization and implemented it in Florida:

When he retired in 2006, he stepped immediately into the Wings’ front office, where he apprenticed for four years under Ken Holland, learning the off-ice side of the franchise his sweat and tears had helped build.

Where you see those four years in the Lightning is obvious. Tampa has become – along with the Anaheim Ducks – incredibly adept at finding talent in improbable places, which was a necessity for Detroit given Holland and Co. never had high picks.

An example: When no one was drafting Russian and Czech players, Yzerman loaded up, finding immense value in Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Nesterov and Vladislav Namestnikov, all of whom are playing in this postseason.

That was in the 2011 draft alone, with the Lightning picking 27th.

But it hasn’t been only about exploiting Europe. Tampa has also been downright fearless when it comes to focusing on skill over size, drafting more forwards under six feet tall than any other organization. That’s apparent even on the current roster, with the average forward typified by the likes of 5-foot-9 Tyler Johnson.

Even counting 6-foot-7 behemoth Brian Boyle, the Lightning’s average forward in these playoffs is under six feet tall and 195 pounds. Without him, they drop almost an inch and five pounds.

Overall, the team’s philosophy could be summed as the Search for Datsyuks: late picked, supremely skilled, overlooked players. A whole team of them, if they can find them.

The 2011 draft that Mirtle refers to could be arguably his first since Yzerman was hired only a short while before the 2010 draft so likely had little influence.

But it’s also instructive to look at his drafting after that.

In the 2012 draft, Yzerman used the 10th overall pick to take Slater Koekkoek despite Bob McKenzie having him ranked 16th.

It was one of the best drafts for defensemen in many a year and it appears that Yzerman picked a good one. Koekkoek has appeared in only 3 NHL games thus far but reports from his time in Syracuse of the AHL are glowing:

“We’re pretty happy with [his development] as an organization,” said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler, who played 569 NHL games as a defenseman. “He really needed to improve on his down-low defending game and he’s made a lot of strides in that area. He’s got a great plus/minus; he’s a guy that we count on the penalty kill and in late-game situations. His speed allows him to do a lot of things defensively, not just offensively.”

The Winchester, Ontario native is plus-12 on the season, tied for third among AHL rookie defensemen. In addition, Koekkoek paces Crunch defensemen in goals (five, tied), assists (19), points (24) and shots on goal (104).

Looks like an NHL player there but Yzerman didn’t leave the 2012 draft with just 1 solid prospect…he also picked up the top ranked goaltender in the draft, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has already established himself as a quality NHL backup.

But, wait, there’s more!

In the 4th round of that draft, Yzerman took a flyer on another smallish skilled player (see above) who was overlooked by nearly everyone else despite scoring 103 points in only 63 QMJHL games.

Cedric Paquette scored 12 goals 19 points (in 64 games) with the big club last season while playing 3rd line minutes.

That’s likely 3 NHL players in that draft (there could be others) after finding 4 the previous draft!

We’re now getting into the territory (the 2013 draft), where it’s a little early to be making calls on players drafted but I would wager the Lightning will walk away with at least 2 more NHL players.

Selecting 3rd in the draft, the Lightning took Jonathan Drouin, who despite being brought along slowly, has 70 NHL games to his credit while racking up 32 points. I don’t doubt he’ll take off sometime soon.

Then, in the second round, Yzerman took another flyer on Adam Erne, who exploded for 41 goals in his post draft season in the QMJHL.

But, perhaps an even bigger steal came in the 2014 draft…Yzerman again stuck with his “skill over size” mantra, selecting 5’11’ 177 defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.

All DeAngelo did last season in OHL was finish 13th in league scoring with 25 goals 89 points and did I mention…he’s a defenseman!

(for you Oiler fans stopping…by Darnel Nurse scored 13 goals and 50 points at the same age).

I’m sure DeAngelo will need some time to bulk up a bit but it appears there is something there.


Even more impressive than Yzerman’s draft record (if that’s possible) has been his ability to find undrafted  players who have impressed at the NHL level.

Much has been said about Tyler Johnson who is among the elite, but Andrej Sustr has also been a solid contributor on the Lightning D.


Speaking of D, the Lightning had also been adept at procuring high end defensive players from other teams or in free agency, often at a bargain.

The most sought after UFA last season was Anton Stralman, who Yzerman signed to a VERY cap friendly deal of $4.5M over 4 years.

By way of contrast, the Edmonton Oilers singed an arguably inferior defenseman, Andrej Sekera, to a 6 year $5.5M contract just a year later.

At the time the contracts were signed, Stralman  was 27. Sekera is 29.

Nuff said.

The Stralman signing wasn’t in isolation, as Yzerman also acquired Matt Carle as a free agent, traded a couple of draft picks to Philly for Braydon Coburn and then sent Vancouver a late second round pick for Jason Garrison.

Let’s take a look at theTOI among Lightning D last season:

Hedman (1st round pick) 22:41

Stralman (UFA) 21:56

Carle (UFA) 20:29

Garrison (trade) 20:00

Sustr (undrafted UFA) 17:42

Coburn (trade) 17:01

That’s a very solid top 6 led by an elite #1C…anyone who tells you you can’t build a D outside of the draft just isn’t paying attention.

I believe you have to do everything you can to acquire than #1 guy, but filling out the rest of the roster doesn’t mean you have to spend years drafting and developing players who have no more than 2nd or 3rd pairing potential. They’re available every offseason to an astute GM.


We’ve mentioned the Lightning backup goaltender earlier but another big piece of the elite team Yzerman has built includes the trade where he shipped Cory Conacher to Ottawa for Ben Bishop.

The day the trade was made there was a hue and cry that Yzerman has made a major mistake…here’s a sampling and a link to some others:

steve yzerman is about three personnel decisions away from being a less fat jay feaster

11:15 AM – 3 Apr 2013

Bishop won 40 of his 63 starts with the Lightning last season…Cory Conacher is the Swiss League.


Obviously Yzerman took the lessons he learned at the knee of Ken Holland to heart.

He built a team from the back end out and up the middle and then filled in the missing pieces with an inspired choice of draft pick and free agents.

Centre Depth:

Stamkos (1st overall 2008)

Johnson (undrafted UFA)

Brian Boyle (UFA signing)

Filpulla (UFA signing)

Killorn (3rd 2007 )

Paqeutte (4th round 2012)

Namestnikov (1st round 2011)

(note: not all of the these natural centres played the position last season)

RW Depth:

Kucherov (2nd round 2011)

Callahan (trade)

Erik Condra (UFA)

JT Brown (undrafted UFA)

LW Depth:

Palat (7th round 2011)

Drouin (1st round 2013)

Tye McGinn (UFA signing)

On the surface, with the departure of Brendan Morrow, the Bolts would seem to be weak on LW but they have enough centres on the roster to move one over.

They also appear to be right up against the cap but have Mattias Ohlund’s contract on the books and can once again place him on LTIR when the season starts.

If Yzerman feels he is ready, I can see Adam Erne making the team in the fall or they may move a D (Coburn?) for cap relief and the chance to being in another winger.

In any event, the Lightning are one of the youngest teams in the league at 26.54 (only 6 teams are younger) so it’s highly likely that Yzerman’s brilliant rebuild will have long term sustainability and the Lightning will remain among the elite teams for an extended period.

Next up will look at the work of another Ken Holland disciple, Jim Nill, in Dallas.

Chiarelli Snowed Under

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Click to enlarge

The 2012 NHL draft was absolutely loaded with blue chip defensive prospects.

For much of that year leading up to the draft, there was a lot of chatter that Ryan Murray might be taken 1st overall but as often happens, Murray fell while the Oilers blew a foot off and selected yet another scoring winger who can’t play a 2 way game.

See the photo above and you’ll instantly recognize that 4 of those teenage defensemen were from the 2012 draft and, if not injured I imagine they would have been joined by Murray.

Not pictured is 4th overall pick Griffin Reinhart who has managed only 8 NHL appearances and those came a season later.

The next 6 picks in that draft were all D and all of them have played significant games in the NHL others selected later in the 1st round and even the 2nd and 3rd rounds have become NHL regulars.

Here they are sorted by GP.

Hampus Lindholm 156

Morgan Rielly 154

Jacob Trouba 130

Cody Ceci 130

Olli Maata 98

Mat Dumba 71

Damon Severson 51

Derrick Pouliot 34

Connor Carrick 34

Petteri Lindbolm 23

Jake McCabe 9

Griffin Reinhart 8

Slater Koekkek 3

Shayne Gostisbehere 2

Brett Kulak 1

Obviously, Reinhart has fallen way behind the pack and I’m sure the NYI would have loved a mulligan on their pick and, of course, shipped Reinhart to the Oilers at the draft when the Oilers dangled the 16th and 33rd picks which the Islanders used to take Mat Barzal and, after a small trade. Anthony Beauvillier.

The latter may have been a bit of reach but Bob McKenzie had Barzal ranked 9th and I believe he would have been rated even higher if not for a freak off ice accident that broke his kneecap.

Despite the injury, Barzal scored more than 1PPG in the WHL and projects to be a dynamic potential winger for John Tavares.

While doing my Sunday morning whip around the web I ran into this somewhat contradictory comment from Lowetide:

LOWETIDE says:

One thing I wonder about Reinhart is his current trade value. If Edmonton decided to deal him today (which they won’t, this is just blue sky) what could they get in return? I suspect it’s fairly close to what they gave up but in a year the value will differ. By that I mean he’ll either have established himself a great deal more than he has so far, or he’ll be trying to break in to the NHL and his value will have gone down. It’s an important year for him.

While I can certainly agree with LT’s final point, I can’t get on board with the rest of it.

Given Reinhart’s slow progress post draft, I doubt you would find many GM’s who would trade a high 1st round pick in a very deep draft never mind throw in the 33rd pick.

Garth Snow absolutely picked Peter Chiarelli’s pocket on this one unless Reinhart arrives next season in a very big way.

And, even if he does, Mat Barzal may make the Oilers look very, very stupid on this one.

That will be an interesting race to watch but even more interesting is the development of Thomas Chabot  who the Oilers could have taken at 16 if they wanted a defenseman.

Craig Button:

His year-to-year development has been terrific. Plays a very assured game with and without the puck. He possesses excellent mobility and it allows him to be very effective defensively and to transition to offence quickly. A very good passer who gets the puck into the right spots at the right times. He showed glimpses of being in the group of top three defencemen of this draft, along with Hanifin, Provorov and Werenski.

In looking at drafts, I’ve always believed you can find tremendous value by keeping any eye on players who rise rapidly through the rankings in their draft year….and that fits Chabot to a tee.

From Defending Big D:

Thomas Chabot has had a pretty impressive rise up the draft rankings since the beginning of the year. On the NHL Central Scouting watching list before the season began he was listed as a ‘B’ prospect. One that could go between the second and fourth rounds. He now ranks 16th overall in North American Skaters in their final listing.

His rise up the rankings is reminiscent of Philadelphia Flyers first round pick last year, Travis Sanheim.

So who is Thomas Chabot? He’s a two way defenseman from the QMJHL who has stepped up into an important role for the Sea Dogs. Last season he was a rookie and relied upon a veteran to show him the ropes, this year he has become the veteran.

He’s doubled his points totals from his rookie season and it’s clear that he considers the special part of his game to be the offensive side. His skating is very good and helps him when he joins the rush up the ice. He’s also developed a reputation for his quick and clever plays over the past year, something that won’t have hurt his draft ranking at all.

Like many defenseman who like playing in the offensive zone they also have some defensive issues. His rookie season was seen as being quite one dimensional, with much of the focus on the offensive zone. It was this season that he’s started to use his body more and to focus more on the defensive aspect of his game.

It’s paid off, he’s scoring more but he’s also much better in his own zone than he was before.

That sounds to me like a player who is a great fit for the quick transition game that is becoming de rigeur in the NHL and, if he continues to improve defensively, he may make Reinhart look like an average #4 D that now seems like his upside.

Of, course lots of things can happen on the way to Grandma’s House but I think we have the basis of a very good story to unfold over the next few seasons and I would wager it’s not going to be a happy ending for the Edmonton Oilers.

Dallas Stars – Time to Win

CJhyiLmK_400x400

I’ve been very impressed by the work of Jim Nill since he took over as GM in Dallas…his latest move being the acquisition of Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns in return for his worst veteran defenseman and a couple of spare parts.

Patrick Sharp has the potential to quickly return to his former 30 goal scoring days since he will be playing with either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza as his centre and back in a top 6 role after spending most of the past season on Chicago’s 3rd line.

TSN’s number guy, Scott Cullen, breaks down the trade and offers a couple of money quotes:

There ought to be a good opportunity awaiting Sharp in Dallas too. Last season, his ice time was cut – 16:49 per game was his lowest since 2005-2006 – and he spent a fair amount of time on Chicago’s third line (his second most-common linemates were Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw). In Dallas, Sharp is surely going to play on one of the top two lines, which means having either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza as his centre; all the more reason to suspect that Sharp should be productive in 2015-2016.

That Sharp has been a better-than-56% possession player over the past four seasons is in part a credit to the talent with which he played in Chicago, but also an indication that he should be a positive possession player with the Stars.

 

Johns is an NHL-ready defence prospect. The 23-year-old was a second-round pick in 2010 and played four years at Notre Dame. The 6-foot-4, 233-pounder plays a physical game and has 33 points (8 G, 25 A) in 67 (regular season plus playoff) AHL games.

In Dallas, Johns will compete for playing time with the likes of Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak and Jordie Benn. Given that there are so many relatively inexperienced defencemen contending for playing time in Dallas, it would come as no surprise if they managed to get involved in the free agent market to add a veteran like Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff, Jan Hejda or, to stick with the current Chicago theme, Johnny Oduya.

Not much more to be said in this case…the Stars win this trade going away and the fact they add to their already bursting pipeline of blue chip D prospects just seals the deal.

However, there are still some observers who are questioning Nill’s strategy in building a contender in Texas. Chief among those was Lowetide poster Ryan who generally is a pretty reasonable individual.

RYAN says:

Dashingsilverfox,

What I know about Johns is less than zero.

Jim Nill likes taking on bloated contracts on declining players and the early returns haven’t been great so far.

He also has some new theories on cap management relative to spending on goalies.

Is any of this true?

No, it isn’t.

The object of any offseason is to assemble a roster that has the best chance of winning in the following season.

Nill’s offseason moves (and I don’t think he’s finished) is to ice the best product possible under the cap without compromising the team’s long term prospects under the cap. 

None of Nill’s acquisition will have any long term consequences.

Patrick Sharp has only 2 years remaining on his contract, which coincides EXACTLY with the expiration of Jamie Benn’s deal.

Next season, Dallas has 11 roster players reaching free agency and all but Alex Goligoski, are NOT key pieces so Nill will have a ton of flexibility in roster building.

Ryan and others have also been pointed in their criticism of Nil”s move to sign Antti Niemi to a 3 year $4.5M contract to be Dallas’ 1B goaltender, somehow seemingly suggesting that having two established NHL goaltenders is a bad thing.

You know what they say about goaltending…”when you have it…it’s 50% of the game. When you don’t have it…it’s 100% of the game.”

You would think any Oiler fan would know this as they once again approach another season with unproven goaltending.

And, of course, if you look at why Dallas missed the playoffs last season, their goaltending was a major red flag.

Now, it’s more than likely that Kari Lehtonen returns to his career SV% of .914…but, if he doesn’t, Nill can call on Niemi with his career .916 to fill in.

The thing is, Dallas had the cap space to acquire Niemi and unused cap space is worthless since it doesn’t carry over to subsequent seasons.

With goaltending pretty much solidified, the most pertinent questions revolve around the Dallas D.

Alex Goligoski is an anchor on the 1st pairing and I think there is little doubt that John Klingberg is going to be a star 1st pairing, point producing stud.

Things get a little murkier after that since Jason Demers and Jordie Benn are the only other veterans but the Stars have a boatload of big, mobile, puck moving young D ready to step up and make a difference.

Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokkipaka, Jamie Oleksiak and, now, Stephen Johns, are all NHL ready and most have already seen significant NHL GP and will improve with experience.

I believe that Nill, with $6M remaining free cap space should sign another veteran D to shelter the young guys and, remember, if he does, he’ll likely also move another player or 2 to regain some cap space.

No way around it folks, Nill has built a close to elite team in Dallas and it’s time to win NOW.

What Gives?

Cody+Franson+Nashville+Predators+v+Colorado+pRoKEbhdJAnl

I’ve always been a Cody Franson fan.

The 6’5″ 215lb RH defenseman has always struck me as being under appreciated, almost to the point of being abused, especially by the Toronto Maple Leafs who signed him to a series of 1 year contracts.

During my Sunday morning trip around the hockey news sites and blogs, I ran into more than a few “experts” who think signing Franson as a free agent would be a big mistake and are creating a narrative that has no basis in reality.

Most of these self proclaimed gurus, obviously haven’t take the time to look closely at the player or the situations he’s been placed in over the years with Nashville and Toronto.

So, upon digging a little deeper, I discovered an exceptional piece of work from Sportnets’ Steven Burch.

Since 2012-13 the On-Ice SV% at 5v5 for Franson is .917 (90th out of 123 defenders with 1,000-plus minutes of ice time). The median On-Ice SV% for that same group is .922. However, he also started 38.1 percent of his shifts in the Defensive Zone—the highest rate of any of the 123 players in the group. And when comparing possession metrics, Franson’s teammates had a weighted average Corsi For % of 43.9 percent, 121st out of the 123 over the same two-year span—Jake Gardiner ranked 123rd by the same metric.

So Franson arguably was starting in the toughest situations in the entire NHL the past two seasons—he had the highest proportion of Defensive Zone starts, with the worst teammates in terms of possession, in front of below average goaltending. It seems curious that anyone would argue that Franson has been “sheltered” defensively based on those statistics. But they do, because they’re not looking beyond the eye test.

I encourage you to read the full article as it may change your mind about this players’ value but here are a couple of other money quotes.

To put it plainly, Franson produces offensively amongst the elite D-men in the NHL. His possession impacts are amazingly consistent, and have never been negative. He has shown an ability to both reduce shot-attempts against and increase shot-attempts for. And goals-for and against improve significantly when he is on the ice compared to what one would expect based on his usage.

Just to hammer in that point about Franson’s offensive ability….

franson3

So, here we are 5 days after free agency and there is a superb young defenseman sitting without a contract.

There are some lingering questions about Franson’s footspeed and his lack of physicality despite his size but, really folks, who cares?

Franson is a very good possession player who scores at an elite level both at even strength and on the power play.

We don’t know what Franson’s contract ask is but when you consider the Edmonton Oilers just signed Andrej Sekera to a 6 year X $5.5M contract anything at or near that number should be a bargain for a team that signs Franson…especially when you consider Franson is only 27 while Sekera is 29.

I expect some very smart GM is sitting waiting for Franson’s price to drop a little or is trying create some cap space to sign him and I wouldn’t be surprised if that team is the Calgary Flames. 

Kent Wilson at Flames Nation makes a pretty compelling argument for the Flames adding Franson:

Because Franson would give the Flames one of the best bluelines in the NHL.

He’d add scoring to an already fairly potent group and would further firm up the team’s greatest weakness – puck possession. Brad Treliving has clearly made it a point of order to go after guys who drive play this summer. Adding Franson would mean potential dressing a possession defender on every d-pairing to start the season.

Wilson alludes to the “complicated” cap issues Calgary would face in signing Franson but the Flames have way too many forwards on their roster and will have to move a few and it’s very likely that Ladislav Smid will be permanently on LTIR until his $3.5M cap hit expires.

The Flames could certainly pull the trigger on adding Franson…the question is, will they?

Snap Shots

Snapshots-logo

It’s been a while since my last post as I wanted to see how things shook out through the draft and free agency…things can change a lot in a couple of weeks.

Now some observations although the free agency period, which began with a bang, has since sputtered with some “big name” UFA’s like Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Franson still looking for a new home.

1) Winners and Losers

To my eye the biggest winners in the past couple of weeks have been the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.

The Oilers, as expected, walked away from the draft with a transformational player in Connor McDavid, a solid add to their defense in Andrej Sekera and a decent bet in goal in Cam Talbot. I’m still from Missouri when it comes to Talbot since he has never been a full time starter in the NHL and many goalies wilt under that pressure but at least as some pundits, notably Darcy McLeod at his Because Oilers blog have shown, is that Talbot is a pretty good bet.

Sekera, to me is a solid 2nd pairing D and even new GM Peter Chiarelli has been referencing him that way so, like every season since Chris Pronger bolted, the Oilers remain without a bonafide top paring D and that likely limits their ability to succeed in the playoffs until rectified either through trade or the faint hope that one of Oscar Klefbom and/or Darnell Nurse develop into that player and, of course, there’s a chance that newly acquired (the Oilers paid way too much) Griffin Reinhart could reach that level but his development would seem to indicate only second pairing upside.

Down the QE II in Calgary, there are no such issues. With the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton the Flames have, arguably 3 top pairing D on the roster in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. And with another couple of very mobile puck moving defensemen in Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell, the Flames D has quickly become the best in the NHL.

It’s also worth noting that after stealing Hamilton, the Flames also stole another pair of highly rated defensemen in the draft…Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington…who, if they live up to their scouting reports will keep the Flames pipeline full for a decade.

And that doesn’t even take into account FA defenseman Kenney Morrisson another RH puck moving defenseman who the Flames signed out of Western Michigan and saw him put up 6 points in 10 AHL games at the end of the season.

Another player acquisition that hasn’t got nearly enough ink is Michael Frolik. The Flames, despite having ELEVEN centres on their roster, were thought to be weak at RW and Frolic was the perfect addition there.

Frolik (a former 10th overall pick) is a big capable 2 way forward who should be able to score 25 goals and 50 points at @2RW with one of the Flames sparkling you centres and Calgary D men feeding him the puck.

The Flames now have 16 legit NHL forwards on their roster PLUS Sam Bennett so it’ll be interesting to see what assets they can turn that excess into before the season kicks off.

That the Flames have essentially finished a rebuild in two seasons is remarkable…that they’ve been able to do it while still possessing $7M in free cap space is nothing short of astounding.

While the Flames are now set on D forever and a day, the Oilers are stuck with the largest collection of bottom pairing D I’ve ever seen. Justin Schultz, Eric Gryba, Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin and Reinhart (for now) will need some sorting out soon although Nikitin and Ference will at lest drop off due to attrition.

Over the Rockies, I think we can find the team that is likely the biggest loser in the offseason.

The Vancouver Canucks, who seemed so obsessively focused on moving a goaltender, traded Eddie Lack for peanuts after spending years developing him.

The Canucks acquired 3rd pairing D Matt Bartkowski in free agency but sent away Kevin Bieksa for a 2nd round pick next season so I’d think that’s a wash at best.

They followed up that move by sending enigmatic power forward Zack Kassian to Montreal for a 31 year old Brandon Prust which probably gives lie to the notion that the Canucks want to get younger…a real head scratcher.

When all that was said and done, the Canucks launched a nuclear strike on their management staff sending away the highly respected Laurence Gillman, AGM Lorne Henning and Director of Player Personnel Eric Crawford and then, days later, sent their long time athletic therapist packing too.

The team is now firmly in the grasp of POHO Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning so now it’ll be abundantly clear whose ass is on the line if things keep going sideways.

One other note that raised my eyebrow is news that Daniel Sedin has put his $5.8 million dollar Vancouver mansion up for sale.

Hmmmmm….

Finally, we come to the Toronto Maple Leafs who pulled the trigger on the long awaited Phil Kessel trade to help clear cap space and miasma.

I don’t share the belief that the Leafs got hosed in the deal because they got centre Nick Spaling, forward Kasperi Kapanen, defenceman Scott Harrington, plus first- and third-round picks from 2016.

It’ll all depend on how Kapanen and Harrington develop and, of course, what that 1st round pick turns into next year but I expect it will be awhile before we can draw any firm conclusions.

In the meantime, Kessel may come close to 50 goals playing alongside Crosby of Malkin in Pittsburgh.

The Leafs will likely throw another couple of high priced vets (Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul) overboard before the season starts so I imagine they will be firmly in the race for Austin Matthews next season.

I suppose that’s not a bad place to start a rebuild as some observers think Matthews who missed draft eligibility this season by only 2 days may be even better than Connor McDavid and the 2015 draft may be even deeper than 2015. More here.

We’ll take a close look at another rebuilding team in the next few days…the Buffalo Sabres could get very good very quickly.

Snap Shots

Snapshots-logo

I’ve been out of town for a while so have been somewhat remiss in posting but thought I would chime in on a few things while the Stanley Cup finals wind their way to conclusion.

1) It’s heartening to see two fast, highly skilled teams are left standing in pursuit of the cup. And it’s especially rewarding to see one of those teams went from near the bottom to the top in a 5 year span rather than have to spend a decade wallowing in the gutter to get there.

2) There are only 2 players on the Lightning roster that were already in place when Steve Yzerman took over 5 years ago….#1C (more on that later) Steven Stamkos and #1D Victor Hedman. If anyone needs a reminder that any rebuild should start from the backend out and then up the middle…there it is.

3) Stamkos has been playing #2 RW for most of the series which not only shows you the value of having too many C’s but also shows you the type of individual he is to accept that role without complaint (as far as we know). It is much easier for an elite centre to shift to wing that the other way around so, when drafting, teams should always select the centre if all else is anywhere near equal. The poster child for how not to rebuild is, of course, the Edmonton Oilers who, 9 years after last making the playoffs, are juts about to draft their #1C and still don’t have any prospects who project as a true #1D.

4) The success of Yzerman in Tampa raises the question of which of the newly minted GM’s will be able to turn around their teams’ fortunes most efficiently. Brad Treleving has already tasted some success in Calgary and goes into the offseason with a huge amount of cap space. He has the opportunity to improve his team very quickly if he acquires the right pieces including another youngish veteran defenseman and a scoring winger. I wouldn’t be shocked if Phil Kessel was on the menu for the latter.

5) After the Oilers hired Peter Chiarelli to be their new GM, I took a closer look at his time in Boston. While he was able to lead his team to a cup, his record in Boston has more than a few blemishes including overpaying more than a few players and putting his team in cap hell. In Edmonton, with Connor McDavid only 3 complete seasons away from likely signing a huge contract, he can’t afford to make any costly mistakes in the interim…I’d advise to keep a close eye on him since, in my mind, the jury is out on how ell he can manage the cap.

6) I would also keep a close eye on Toronto. Another former Red Wing disciple, Brendan Shanahan is assembling a very strong management team and, of course, now also employs the best coach in hockey so, with some astute moves could turn around the Leafs fortunes relatively quickly. If the Leafs can get a good return on Kessel, Phaneuf and others, they could improve rapidly. They already have decent goaltending, a potential #1D in Morgan Rielly and, if they draft Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner or Matt Barzal will have a potential #1C in place to go along with a very good #2C in Nazem Kadri.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking a closer look at the prospects of all the “rebuilding” teams and will have some thoughts on the moves they make at the draft and in free agency.