Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011 Free Agency: No Sinkers, No Swimmers, Everyone’s Treading Water

  This is a post by Dirty Dangle's Ottawa Senators Devil's Advocate, Nick, here is Part I of II on NHL Free Agent Frenzy featuring what the Canadian NHL teams have done so far 
"Hey Jay, how long do we have to do this for?"
Now about a month ago, Dirty Dangle approached me asking for a post on the Binghamton Senators winning the Calder Cup. Initially, I agreed to it simply out of the satisfaction I would get from bragging about my team’s AHL affiliate; however, as I got around to writing it, it quickly become clear how unexciting the story was. In a nutshell, the Senators defeated Manchester (L.A. affiliate) by winning four OT games in the first round while trailing in the series 3-1 at one point, beat Portland (Phoenix affiliate) in the second round then swept Charlotte (Carolina affiliate), and finally downed Houston (Minnesota affiliate) in six games. Robin Lehner took the playoff MVP honours after taking the goaltending reins in the first round while Ottawa’s NHL youngsters (Butler, Z. Smith, Condra, and Cowen) and Bingo’s AHL superstars (Potulny, Locke, and Keller) were forces to be reckoned with. And, that about sums it up. Lackluster story in hindsight? Yeah, I told you.

The implications of the 2011 AHL finals are a decent starting point to analyze July’s free agency insanity. For example, Ryan Potulny was able to cash in on a two-year, two-way deal with the Washington Capitals while Colin Greening landed himself a three-year, one-way deal with Ottawa in mid-May. Onto the bigger fish, we’ve seen Avalanche overpay considerably for an unproven goaltender, Brad Richards sign with the team everyone knew he would, and Buffalo and Columbus break the bank to sign defencemen (Ehrhoff and Wisniewski, respectively).
Colorado GM, Greg Sherman, with newly acquired goaltender, Semyon Varlamov. This photograph exemplifies the downward direction of the Avalanche and likely the beginning of Sherman’s undoing (although one could argue that began with the Erik Johnson for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk trade).
So, which teams swam (and will be able to contend next season, or improved their team dramatically) and which teams sunk? Well, the reality is that few teams made dramatic improvements and few took major steps backward; the majority of clubs made minor deals when considering each team’s most significant needs meaning that teams simply treaded water this offseason.

Let’s begin with Dirty Dangle’s own Toronto Maple Leafs. Okay, so you lost out on the Richards sweepstakes; time to move on. Hopefully, you saw that coming so long as your head wasn’t so far into the clouds that you were having Stanley Cup-related delusions of grandeur. The Leafs’ glaring hole has been, for many years, the presence of a #1 center (shocker, I know) and Connolly is not and will not be the solution. Sure, he’s a stopgap for now that bolsters the Leafs’ strength down the middle, but he does nothing to take this team from a hot-and-cold squad to a playoff contender based around consistent play. Liles is another temporary fix on the backend, an area that is going to be the crux of the team’s 2012-2013 season as it hands the goaltending torch to young James Reimer. Did Burke find himself a steal in Cody Franson at the cost of also taking the injury-plagued Matthew Lombardi (hello LTIR) for seventh defenceman Brett Lebda? Absolutely. But it’s not like Toronto’s blueline was bad before that and when all is said and done, this is a great trade, but not a game changer. Be prepared to hold onto the “back in the playoffs” champagne for at least another year unless Burke is able to make a big splash in his top six.

Onto the
almost 2011 Stanley Cup Champions: the Vancouver Canucks. Gillis did everything in his power to maintain the team he had last season. Obviously, he had to choose between Ehrhoff and Bieksa, which he did, but the majority of last year’s team will return this fall. Losing Christian will hurt but with a defensive core of Bieksa, Edler, Hamhuis, Salo, Alberts, and Ballard/Sauve, Ehrhoff is only one cog in something much bigger. Bringing in Sturm to fill a secondary scoring role is a mediocre move but he’s probably past his 20+ goal scoring days. In sum, yes, the Canucks will be near the top of the West standings next season and their team will look almost identical to last year’s but no, they didn’t manage to put themselves ahead of the pack going into next year.

We can bundle Edmonton and Ottawa together seeing as both are rebuilding and made few moves. Edmonton was the more aggressive of the two picking up Cam Barker and previous Senator Andy Sutton on defence but both teams did the majority of their work at the draft. With three picks each in the top 31 of the draft, both teams addressed enormous holes on their teams going forward (but in a manner that will be by no means an immediate solution). Edmonton added to their depth at centre with RNH before bolstering their blueline with Oscar Klefbom and David Musil (two fairly solid, low-risk picks). Ottawa, whose prospects up front were beyond abysmal, continued to provide jobs to Swedish hockey players by drafting Mika Zibanejad sixth overall. A riskier pick given they passed over Sean Couturier to pick Z-bane but one that could turn out to be impressive in a couple years. Size-wise, he’s NHL ready (although he will get bigger) but you can expect to see him in the AHL this season (if given an entry-level contract) as he’ll be hard pressed to find a spot in Ottawa’s top 12. Ottawa also added Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel (the latter was believed to be a target of Brian Burke’s, perhaps payback for 2009). The former had Senators fans scratching their heads a little bit but time will tell just what Noesen is capable of. For both Edmonton and Ottawa, only one of their draft day additions will see regular time in the NHL next season: RNH and Nikita Filatov, respectively. All in all, Edmonton and Ottawa will be swimming near next year’s draft lottery once again barring several miraculous breakouts.
Who's the better acquisition? Nikita or his mom?
Onto Montreal, the team that came one goal away from bumping Boston off in the first round. So, what if they had Erik Cole? Could he have scored that goal? Probably not. Adding Cole and Budaj don’t turn this team into a safe playoff team bet. No, they’ll have to win a lot of big games against divisional rivals and rely on Carey Price for another stupendous season. Truthfully, if I were a Canadiens fan, my irritation with the passive Pierre Gauthier would certainly have formed by now.

Calgary, Calgary, Calgary. There’s so much ****ing wrong. If you want to know the definition of treading water in the NHL the last few years, look no further than the Flames. Management has no clue how to make this team better (and no funds to work with anymore). There was Todd Bertuzzi. There was Olli Jokinen (round one). There was Chris Higgins. There was Alex Tanguay (round one). There was Jay Bouwmeester. There was Olli Jokinen (round two). There was Alex Tanguay (round two). Now, they’re shipping off veterans (see: Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik) along with draft picks just to get some of these players off their books. Losing Regehr will make them worse and with a small pool of prospects across the board, you can expect this team to drop a spot or two in the standings next season. Seriously, could you GM this team? Next season there are options, but if Iginla leaves after the 2012-2013 season, the Flames may very well find themselves up the creek without a paddle. In the interim, play GM and crunch some numbers here.

I almost forgot the new Canadian team. Jets’ management has said they will build the team from the ground up through drafting and developing players. This offseason they stuck to the plan, as their only major acquisition was Eric Fehr (a Washington Cap casualty). The Jets are solid in goal (Pavelec/Mason), mediocre but coming along on defence (top four: Byfuglien, Enstrom, Oduya, and Hainsey), and weak up front (top six: Ladd, Kane, Little, Fehr, Wheeler, and Antropov). Atlant-… err, the Jets will be a hockey pool wildcard in terms of their players but you can expect them to once again be hanging around the 11th to 13th range in the Eastern Conference next season, perhaps lower if travel has a higher toll. The bright spot in Winnipeg though? Just to have NHL hockey back in the city.

Finally, let’s quickly review the six Canadian teams and their playoffs chances:

  • Calgary Flames – the team will have stretches in which they’re very much on fire and others where scoring is nonexistent. Playoffs? Like last season, they’ll be watching from the sidelines.
  • Edmonton Oilers – quite frankly, they’re not there yet. A step forward would be moving out of the draft lottery.
  • Montreal Canadiens – if Carey Price can perform as well as last year, yes. If he struggles, there’s no support on that team whatsoever.
  • Ottawa Senators – too many young forwards, too many young defencemen. Anderson will keep them in some games but it won’t be nearly enough. Nail Yakupov is on Ottawa’s radar.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs – they’ll compete but in the end lose ground to some of the more playoff-ready teams like Buffalo, New Jersey, and New York (Rangers).
  • Vancouver Canucks – Las Vegas doesn’t provide odds on sure things. They’re still about 15 wins better than anyone else in the Northwest.
  • Winnipeg Jets – in a division with Washington and Tampa Bay while travelling over 2,000 km to reach them, fatigue is going to be a big factor for the team next season. So, too, will talent. The Jets are not talented enough to make the playoffs.
In sum, the 2011-2012 hockey season will have identical results for the Canadian teams as 2010-2011. Part II (American Teams) of 2011 Free Agency: No Sinkers, No Swimmers, Everyone’s Trading Water will be coming your way in the next few weeks.

11 comments:

  1. Zibanejad over Sean Couturier was a bit of a shocker for me with the Sens.

    Loved the Oilers giving Cam Barker a chance to see if he can find his game

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  2. That Nikita Filatov photo with his mom never gets old.

    Great Post

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  3. Greg Sherman won't have his job this time next year when the Caps have a top 5 pick.

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  4. "Montreal Canadiens – if Carey Price can perform as well as last year, yes. If he struggles, there’s no support on that team whatsoever"

    I agree with you if Carey Price is just an average goalie next season the Habs are done.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Edmonton will be a fun team to watch the next few years with all these great young prospects. They just need to find some young D.

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  6. I was pretty surprised to see that Binghamton won the Calder Cup.

    But just glad that Hearshey didn't win it again.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great post
    Nice to see Nick writing again for DD

    Looking forward to part 2

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  8. I love Edmonton signing Cam Barker. I wanted my Sens to get him.

    ReplyDelete
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