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Friday, September 7, 2012

Follow me over on the NYR blog!!!

I'm now contributing to the NYR blog and will no longer be posting content here. Join me over at and follow me on twitter @theNYRblogneill

Friday, August 31, 2012

Know thy enemy: Philadelphia Flyers

Part 2 of the Justblueshirts blog offseason review focuses on the Philadelphia Flyers.

Notable players lost: Jaromir Jagr, Matt Carle, James Van Riemsdyk, Sergei Bobrovsky
Notable players obtained: Luke Schenn, Ruslan Fedotenko

Drafted Scott Laughton- 1st round, 20th overall

The Philadelphia Flyers have not had a very kind offseason handed to them as they've seen far more talent depart compared to what GM Paul Holmgren received in return. Before the draft, the Flyers traded highly touted backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus for 3 draft picks and promoted Michael Leighton from Adirondack of the AHL. Leighton, if you remember nearly guided the Flyers to a Stanley Cup 3 seasons ago. Following the draft, the Flyers traded James Van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn. I was very critical of the trade at the time and felt that the Flyers should have gotten far more in return for trading away one of their young scorers. Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle then left for Dallas and Tampa Bay respectively in search of raises. Not to mention, the Flyers also missed on Ryan Suter through free agency and Nashville matched the Flyers 14 year, $110 million dollar offer sheet for Shea Weber as a replacement for Chris Pronger, whose career may be over. Speaking of injuries, the Flyers have lost defensemen Andrej Meszaros to a torn Achilles tendon while training in Slovakia and Andreas Lilja underwent hip surgery. It didn't help their depth that they waited until the third round to draft a defenseman and do not have any NHL-ready defensive prospects waiting in their farm system. Nick Cousins, the Flyers 3rd round pick in 2011 and considered the Flyers top prospect was recently arrested on sexual assault charges. So as you can see, it has been a brutal offseason for the Flyers. After allowing 26 goals in 6 games to the Penguins in the playoffs and 18 goals in 5 games to New Jersey, Flyer fans should have every right to be upset on how this offseason has gone so far.

Elsewhere, Holmgren has given out big contracts to his own players recently to Braydon Coburn, Nik Grossman, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek. Nik Grossman's contract was the most ridiculed, as the 6 year veteran defenseman was signed to a 4 year, $14 million dollar contract with a no trade clause and will be on the Flyers third pairing once the season starts up. The terms Holmgren offered to Grossman are especially odd since the big defenseman only has 3 career NHL goals in 355 games and is only a career +10. The gross overpayment of Grossman and other players who recently had contracts renewed have left the Flyers with no wiggle room against the salary cap ceiling.

While the Flyers time to win a Cup is now particularly since they are such a high scoring team led by future captain Claude Giroux, but their window to win one is closing. With some of their younger forwards coming up to the end of their cap-friendly entry level contracts, the Flyers will be dependent on their younger forwards, now more than ever to lead them to the promised land.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Know thy enemy: Pittsburgh Penguins

My next series of columns will be a four part series reviewing what each Atlantic Division team has done this offseason to date. The first part will focus on the Penguins.

Notable players lost: Jordan Staal, Arron Asham, Zbynek Michalek
Notable players obtained: Brandon Sutter, Tomas Vokoun

Drafted: Derek Pouliot- 1st round, 8th overall // Olli Maatta- 1st round, 22nd overall

The Pens were ousted in a highly entertaining six game series to the Flyers in the Eastern quarterfinals. It was quite obvious the reason the Penguins were quickly outed was the Penguins inability to play any kind of defense in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and routinely left the goaltender hung out to dry. At the end of the six game series with the Flyers, Fleury's goals against was a brutal 4.63, a far cry of what should be expected from the former first overall pick. In an effort to shore up the back end, Pittsburgh was forced to trade Jordan Staal after declining an extension offer from Pittsburgh, to the Carolina Hurricanes for high end prospects that included Boston College alum Brian Dumoulin. Dumoulin could quickly become a fixture in Pittsburgh as early as this season, although a stint in the minors is his likely course of action. In addition, the Pens do have decent defensive depth in their system that also includes former first rounders. 2009 first round pick Simon Despres will likely start on the Penguins roster this upcoming season after being one of the lone bright spots in the Penguins short playoff run. 2011 first rounder Joe Morrow is signed to a professional contract but loses junior eligibility after this upcoming season. The Pens also had the fortune of two first round selections and used both on defense. Pittsburgh selected Derek Pouliot 8th overall, and Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta 22nd overall.

With the majority of their defensive prospects at least 2 years away, it does not address their defensive struggles now and the Penguins next season once again are going to have to depend on outscoring the competition. James Neal and Chris Kunitz are both coming off career seasons with the Penguins and are entering their prime years. Of course we have to mention the Pens still have newly re-signed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way.

The Penguins have won just one playoff series in the last three seasons since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. Their lack of recent playoff success to me begins and ends with Marc-Andre Fleury. As good of a regular season goaltender Fleury has been, he has been downright brutal in the postseason since the Penguins had back to back appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals. Fleury's GAA in the past three postseasons has been north of 3.00 and his save percentage is well below 90%. The Penguins are still major players for the Stanley Cup, but the under-achieving Fleury needs to be much better for the Penguins if they wish to advance deep in the Stanley Cup playoffs in the immediate future.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bettman draws a line in the sand

Deal by September 15th, or else.

That was the message Gary Bettman told the NHLPA through the media on Thursday, make a deal with us or we lockout the players. Bettman pulled no punches while talking to reporters and the commissioner made it perfectly clear to Donald Fehr and the NHL Players Association that the owners are absolutely unwilling to play under the old collective bargaining agreement as was suggested earlier in the week by Fehr. Both men indicated that revenue sharing issues need to be worked out ASAP. Fehr mentioned that the two sides are a "meaningful gulf" apart on that issue. He also said that the NHLPA will submit their formal counter-offer next Tuesday. Sources speculate that the union's proposal will include a baseball-style luxury tax system, instead of the "hard salary cap" that is in place now.

While I've made my opinions known on twitter about the whole situation, I have become more and more pessimistic about the season starting on time, let alone if it gets going at all. As a hockey fan, you have to hope Thursday's developments light a fire under the leadership of both parties to compromise and get a deal in place for hockey this October. As I've been saying since the start of negotiations, as long as the two sides continue to talk there is some optimism. But any hiccups along the way will spell disaster not just for this season, but possibly the NHL as a whole.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Time to start panicking over CBA talks?

I'm not going to go terribly in-depth as to what may or may not be happening at the NHL offices during CBA negotiations, but any knowledgeable hockey fan can't help but notice how tenuous the talks have been recently. The NHL is asking the players once again to make huge concessions, that already resulted in a lost season 8 years ago. I already went over here what the owners' initial demand was a few weeks ago. The NHLPA has yet to make its counter-offer and will not do so until the NHL becomes fully transparent with each team's finances. (The NHLPA received a portion of the requested financial information on July 31st but still awaits more.)

On the opposite side of the ledger, Gary Bettman has grown frustrated with the NHLPA's demands and has hinted at impatience towards the players. One gets the impression if the NHLPA doesn't have a formal counteroffer on the table by the expiration of the old CBA on September 15th, Gary Bettman will have no problems once again locking out the players.

This ultimately will come down to how to split the hockey related revenue and what that revenue ultimately entails. There's little doubt to me that the NHLPA will have to make some concessions and somehow prevent a steep salary rollback in order to have hockey this fall. The NHL at the same time cannot be rigid in their demands as they were back in 2004, when they were trying to sell the concept of a hard salary cap to the players. Issues with contracts, arbitration, unrestricted free agency will all fall into place once the bulk of the issues above are hammered out and agreed upon. As long as the two sides continue to talk during the summer, the better chance for hockey this winter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What happens if Doan falls through?

It was reported on July 27th the Detroit Red Wings appeared to be out on negotiations with the last big name unrestricted free agent on the market, Shane Doan. Apparently the word was that he simply wanted more than Detroit was willing to give. The Red Wings as of this writing have around $13 million in cap space, $1.5 million MORE than the Rangers do. Detroit, after losing out on Zach Parise as well as Ryan Suter, were exploring on settling on Doan and decided against it. The Rangers on the other hand are looking for that final, over the top piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle after acquiring Rick Nash and to prevent former Islander Michael Haley from seeing 4th line minutes on the Rangers.

So while it would take quite a bit of $$$$  (give or take a cap hit of roughly $6 million) to get Doan to agree to come east, its entirely possible that Doan turns the Rangers away over a disagreement about the length of a new contract. So where would the Rangers go from there? The Rangers have had little issues in the past couple seasons calling up the kids to see how they stick. However, the Whale have experienced a heavy turnover, particularly their main goal scorers from a season ago. All the high-end Ranger prospects that have been drafted within the last two seasons should be playing in Connecticut this upcoming season. Christian Thomas and JT Miller who both skated in the OHL last season are virtual locks to make the Whale and will get a very long look by the Rangers coaching staff during training camp to see if there is room in New York.

While it's not the end of the world if Doan signs elsewhere, you would like to see the Rangers add a player of Doan's caliber. Doan has taken a lot of bad press as of late. You would think Doan's priority would be angling for a Stanley Cup right now rather than one last big contract with a team looking to get above the cap floor. On the surface the latter is a fair criticism, as he is giving the Coyotes every opportunity to get their ownership situation straightened out before deciding to re-sign with them. I hope Doan decides to put a Stanley Cup ahead of filling his pockets one last time in Phoenix. While the Rangers do not absolutely need Doan, his addition on the Rangers would make an already potent lineup among the deepest in the NHL.