Thin Air: 1-800-SCRUM-STOPPERS

Look who’s back, back again.

– In the triple OT Blackhawks – Predators game 4, I don’t recall a single scrum in front of the net.  Maybe a shove or two, but nothing even remotely violent.  Hmmm…..

That points to the real value of these scrums: almost none.  No one wants to go to the penalty box when the next goal might cost them the game.  Not that these post-regulation scrums would cause a power play.  At best, we would see coincidental minors (unless something truly violent happened), as the refs don’t want to cause the game to be won on the power play.  The refs have put their whistles away, so why not have at it?

Maybe everyone is just tired.  They could have a lot more hockey to play and don’t want to use up the energy.  Perhaps the message – whatever message that is – has been sent.

Or maybe, there isn’t much of a point to it in the first place.

Would anyone miss them?  After a few gatherings of little consequence, no one in the stands is excited for them.

Going back to calling cross checks and stick infractions for a moment, maybe the players being afraid of a penalty call and putting their team down a man in the playoffs is enough to change behavior, unlike being punched in the face.

If you call the cross checks, you won’t see them, as the stakes for being in the box during the playoffs are so large.  In the regular season, forget about it.  The fate of teams won’t be sealed by one game in the middle of the season.  At least, not in their minds.  One game in the playoffs?  You bet they pay attention.

– The value of staying out of the penalty box is obviously higher in overtime, since the stakes are so high.  But what about the value in regulation?  There may be time to get a goal back, but what is at stake when you go to the box in the first sixty minutes?

Of the 27 games of playoff hockey so far, 14 have ended as a one goal game.  Seven of those ended in OT.  Also, in the other 13 games played that ended with more than a one goal deficit, six of those featured an empty net goal from the winning team.  That means that the losing team felt they still had a chance to win enough to pull the goalie.

Twenty of the twenty-seven games played could have been swung by a goal or two.  That same goal that is prized so much in overtime could have settled things in regulation.

The argument could be made that if a team didn’t score a power play goal, the penalty didn’t matter in the end.  Not true, since two minutes of killing a penalty is two minutes you aren’t in control of your own destiny.  You have to defend, when you could be controlling the play.

The value of regulation hockey doesn’t seem as big since it is spread out over so much time, and the stakes seem lower.  The regular season proves that.  4,920 minutes of regulation hockey is a lot of hockey.  There are Meat Loaf albums that are shorter than that.  Not many, but they exist.  Spread out a lost point here or there, and you don’t even see it.  But it can bite you in the end.  Ask the Bruins or Kings.

Teams that take silly penalties might want to think this one over.

– If the same Islanders team that started last night’s OT loss to Washington has stayed on the ice the entire game, they could have destroyed the Capitals.  They were fast, passed the puck well, and constantly attacking.  Instead, they changed their tune after Washington got on the board.  Playoff hockey is a hard pace to keep up.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, or can’t.

–  I just wrote a whole draft about Dustin Byfuglien and his press scrum after game 3 of their playoff series against the Ducks.

Instead of all that, what I really want to say is, nice one, Dustin.

Thin Air – What’s This?

It’s been a while since I’ve used this blog to talk, you know, hockey.  Hockey that’s actually happening right now.  Or the NHL.  But hey, let’s give this a shot, eh?

– The NHL is getting two things very wrong in the playoffs.  Letting the post-whistle scrums happen as often as they are, and not calling cross-checking in front of the net.  We don’t either of these happen as often in the regular season, and there is no reason to have it here.

First, the scrums.  Once or twice, the fans of the game don’t mind.  It’s a little exciting.  It’s violent and passionate, without being too violent.  After a few times, the message is sent.  No, you ain’t gonna take it.  We get it.  I think this should be treated by the officials like they treat bean balls in baseball.  You get one.  You might get two.  Then the refs send the warning to the benches, and start handing out penalties.  Matching minors isn’t going to get the job done, so start shortening the benches.  Start sending guys for two and a ten-minute misconduct.  That will put the cramp on things.  You start a scrum, two and ten.  Pop a guy in the face with a glove, two and ten.  Try to shove off a ref to keep a scrum going, two and ten.

This means players may try to get a star player to engage in a scrum to get him off the ice for ten minutes.  That just means stars have to stay out of it and the refs have to protect the players who don’t want to engage by getting the instigators sent off the ice.  A few of those and you can kiss many of the scrums goodbye.

Second, the cross-checking.  This has to stop.  Battles are fine, but using the stick to clear a guy out is cheating.  It’s cheap.  Most of the time, it’s at the least interference.  Start sending guys to the box for it.  It’s already a penalty.

In these playoffs, we’ve seen a few cross-checks called, and almost universally, the player sent off complains in some fashion about the penalty.  NHL players complain about almost every penalty (stop it, we know you’re embarrassed and don’t want your penalty to be a liability), but here I think they have a point.  If the refs are only going to call the most obvious cross-checks and not the ones that still knock a guy down but seem incidental, it isn’t consistent enough.  Call them all.  Set the tone, and keep the tone.

– The Winnipeg Jets are now down 3 games to none.  It’s not surprising, considering they were the last wild card team and Anaheim is tops in the West.  Still, they aren’t doing themselves any favors.  They can’t seem to stop doing dumb things like punching Corey Perry in the back of the head.  Sure, lot’s of people want to do that, but if you are Dustin Byfuglien, you could have picked a better time than immediately after he scored a goal.  It was the definition of the undisciplined play that held Winnipeg back in the regular season.

Somehow, the Ducks did not score a power play goal last night.  That honor went to the Jets, but if you want to put yourself in a bad position, keep taking useless penalties.  Shake your head like it’s not your fault.  Guess what.  It is your fault.

– There was a time when the most overused phrase was “active stick.”  Someone must have pulled Eddie Olzcyk aside and told him to give it a break.  This year, it’s “big boy hockey.”  OK, we get it.  It’s funny for a moment.  Then it isn’t.  Let’s retire this one after this round of playoffs.  Or even sooner.  It’s already overused.

– Josh Cooper of Puck Daddy called Patrick Roy’s coaching style “nutso.”  No, really.  Of course, that’s not what the players say.  They say he is positive.  They say he is calm.  When they are expecting him to blow his top or scream at them, he doesn’t.  He explains, he teaches.  This is from the players.  Other than shoving the glass in game one of his first season behind the bench, where does the “nutso” thing come from?

– I’ve seen it before, but the claim that Connor McDavid should have gone to Toronto, and that it would be the best thing for the league, is completely ridiculous.  Why would you want the best player in the draft, the best draftee available since Sidney Crosby, to go to hockey hell?  Why would you subject him to that kind of media attention, which TOTALLY isn’t the problem in Toronto?  Why would you want to ruin him by putting him in that environment?  Instead, he will be in a city that doesn’t question his every move, that doesn’t demand an explanation for every step or misstep, that doesn’t slag him at every turn.  Hockey entitlement isn’t exclusive to Eastern Canada, but there’s less of it.

It sucks that the Oilers get the number one pick again simply because they have done so little with their string of number one picks in the past.  They haven’t gotten the goaltending they need, even if they have thrown every goalie they can against the wall to see what sticks, then thrown them under the bus when they don’t.  They haven’t made moves that have dug them out of the basement, and they get another shot to draft a very good player and do nothing after.

I believe they are going to finally start moving some pieces around, now that McDavid is in the mix.  First, Nail Yakupov is probably trade bait.  Why would you keep him around?  He hasn’t worked out, he could use the change of scenery, and you aren’t going to be able to pay him once you give McDavid a big fat contract in a few years.  Flip him for a solid defenseman and a potential defenseman or prospect and you have started to right the ship.  Then go shopping for a goalie.  The Oilers are about to have some serious goal support.  They are about to become a destination, not purgatory.  They might even get a good head coach this season, considering all the firings that have happened this summer.  McDavid is going to be a draw, for fans and players.  Everyone will want to play with him.

– All of that is contingent on McDavid transitioning smoothly to the NHL, and some fourth liner not taking his head off in a “welcome to the NHL” moment.  Ben Lovejoy on Nathan MacKinnon in the first game last season, anyone?  That kind of garbage has to stop.  I wouldn’t mind the NHL doing some unfair and uneven protecting of it’s stars and top draftees.  Throw the book at players trying to injure the new kids.  The bias needs to be in favor of the talent.

As for making the transition, we’ve seen this take time.  The leap from the minors to the NHL is large enough.  From juniors, where you might be the only player worth a damn on the ice on any given night, to the NHL is a gigantic leap.  It can take time to get used to adapt to having teammates that can catch passes, or how fast the league is.  You are used to bouncing off of boys in their teens.  Now you are slamming into men at high-speed, who have done this for years.  Be prepared for it to take some time for the adjustment (another reason putting him in Toronto would be bad for him).

– If and when the Penguins are eliminated from the playoffs, there will be a search for a scapegoat.  This season, it will not be Marc-Andre Fleury.  He’s been solid all season, and he has been good in these first few playoff games.  His problem is that he hasn’t been this good every year.  He is a question mark because he used to be a question mark, and some day, he will be be one again.  For now, he is playing solid hockey.  Were his star forwards playing the same way, they would be in command of this series.

– My buddy Bill Rob asked me who was going to win the Cup this year.  I told him the same thing I will tell everyone: who knows?  Too many toss-ups in the first round.  We will have to see how this shakes out.  There are a few certain series, but most of them are too close to call.  That’s part of the fun.

Thin Air: Tort Reform

– Elliotte Friedman called Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec a below average goalie. He’s right, but let us get something clear here. This is real life, not Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average. Everyone can not be above average. That said, he still is under-performing for a starting goaltender, and needs to up his game. If he can.  Any holdover from the days of the Thrashers should be subject to change, just like a terms of service.

– If Semyon Varlamov is proving anything, it’s that working with a goaltending coach (or at least, the right goaltending coach) can pay off. Development and improvement doesn’t end when the training wheels come off.  But how is that trade with the Capitals working out?  Would the Avs fans take that first round pick back now?  And keep in mind who was available at the time.

– In Justin Bourne’s column commenting on Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column (did you catch all that?), Bourne talks a bit about Paul Stastny:

I swear if you have 25 smart players you’ll be damn near impossible to beat. Some guys believe in just drafting the most skill and/or size available – “Look at that monster, he can fly!” – then leaning back in their chair and hoping those players figure it out. I’ll take your turnover-prone brain-dead team against my group of Paul Stastny-level thinkers any day (think about the things Stastny does well. He’s kinda small. Doesn’t skate great. Doesn’t have a great shot. 432 points in 510 NHL games. Dats brains, my friend.)

When I was taking a hockey skills class for beginning adults (aka I suck at beer league hockey and I want to suck less at beer league hockey), one of the instructors was talking about handling pucks that come at your feet or behind you. If you can imagine, passes in rec hockey, if they happen at all, are rarely tape-to-tape. He pointed out how Stastny can just dig a puck out of anywhere if you put it near him. Sure enough, the next game I watched, players were dropping bombs at his feet and he was scooping them up without letting them slow him down. Part of what makes him so good is how he can make something happen with the puck quickly and when it’s not the perfect situation. Do not discount that ability.

– I think we need a plus/minus scale for fighting incidents in hockey. Not just plus one or minus two, but something that looks like those betting odds I don’t understand. For instance, out of ten, the opening play of the Canucks / Flames game might have been +2 / -4. So that’s two points for fighting (if one team puts out goons, you should too), and four points against (staged fights don’t get much bigger, the game went on, lots of ejections, Torts in the hallway). This way, there can be some grey area in the discussion, which is where debate should be. It’s rare to have a nuanced conversation about fighting in hockey, and yet, I don’t know anyone who is 100% for or against it. We’ve heard the extremes of the conversation, let’s get to the real discussion of it.

– Still waiting to hear how long John Tortorella is suspended for trying to get to the Flames locker room at the first intermission. I would like to think the league really calls him on the carpet for his overall behavior. As much as the hockey fan base may like the Tortorella presser (and I am not among those), I doubt the league liked them very much. The NHL can only suspend him for this incident, but Torts doesn’t do himself any favors with his previous behavior.

– I don’t think Tortorella will change his stripes, but I bet he doesn’t do this again. I can see him blaming the NHL for being overzealous with it’s fine and suspension (whatever it may be), but at some point, he has to look at his own bottom line. Before whatever the league does this time, he has already lost $60,000. How much more until he gets it? (source on those figures)

– ESPN also posted the longest suspensions of coaches over the last 40 years. I had no idea about this one:

January 2000 Herb Brooks, Penguins: suspended 2 games for going after Avalanche TV play-by-play announcer John Kelly after a game.

Who knew? Not me.

– Side note: My laptop does not recognize Tortorella as a word. It’s suggestion for correcting it? Turtler. No, really. My laptop is smart.

Thin Air: Opening Night Thoughts

Time to fire up the old bloggy blog machine and talk a little hockey. 

– I am ready for this season.  Last season was short and compact.  It seemed like every night was a game to care about.  I was not pleased with the lockout, was a little burned out from the compact schedule, and my favorite team was horrible.  Also, I was finally playing rec hockey, so I didn’t have much time in watching hockey.  Right now, I’m excited.  Let’s go, hockey.

– A commercial on the CBC just said 1 in 3 kids can’t afford organized sports.  Yeah, no kidding.  I just bought new shin guards (my old ones, which I loved, cracked), and the lower end ones I got were $75.  A few years ago, the same pair would have been $40.  Skates are amazingly expensive, and sticks are ridiculous.  My hockey season is costing me $500 for 20 games and two playoff games.  Just about every sport if cheaper than hockey to play.  Just horsing around with a puck is expensive – ice time, gear, etc.  You can play catch for cheap, basketball takes a ball and a park.  It’s out of control.  

– George Parros hit his face on the ice during a scrap with Colton Orr.  Orr had a grip on his jersey a he went down, pulling Parros with him.  It was a scary sight, as you can see in the replay below.  Good luck to him.  The CBC crew noted the NHL implemented the new rule about fighters removing their helmets.  It goes to show that you never know what is going to happen.  Bigger guys, faster game. (update – Parros has a concussion and is being evaluated at the hospital)

 

– The entire reason Parros and Orr fought in the first place was because PK Subban grabbed Orr by the head and wouldn’t let go.  It was a move that could have been avoided.  Parros did what he was hired to do and stepped in.  It makes me wonder if Subban would chose the same action again.  Sometimes messages are sent, and that’s what Subban was trying to do.  Sometimes, the message comes back: cut the $#!+.

– Toronto’s power play looked pretty bad.  Lots of desperation, lots of confusion.  It’s too early to tell what they will look like down the stretch, but they have to clean this up.

– The Blackhawks raised their Stanley Cup banner tonight.  The video leading up to the ceremony was awesome.  I loved the hockey cards at the end with the players as kids.  The rest of the ceremony was drawn out and dull.  I’m sure it was special for the fans, but it could have been about five minutes shorter.  Thank goodness Coaches Corner was on.  And I don’t say that very often. 

– The Canadiens had their player introductions and opening night ceremony, and while passing the torch from a former player to a current one was nice.  Passing it from player to player through the lineup took way too long.  Again, special if you are a fan of the Habs, but not so special if you are waiting for the game to start. 

– The excitement of the Blackhawks / Capitals game and the Leafs / Habs game was a stark contrast to the Jets / Oilers game.  It’s like a wine and cheese party in Edmonton.  Perhaps it’s the audio mix and where the microphones are in the arena, but the tone sure was muted. 

– The Wednesday Night Rivalry commercial on NBCSN sure is violent. Know what’s missing?  Goals.  Skill.  You know, hockey. 

 

– The new Canadian olympic jerseys are out in public, and everyone is screaming about the black one. 

I think it’s fine.  Aside from the trend to make every jersey look like a practice jersey, this isn’t the worst thing that could have happened.  I’ve had mixed results with Team Canada jerseys, and if there is major printing on the logos, you can be sure I won’t be buying one.  But if you think this is bad, don’t forget what they wore for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.  It’s not as cool as the old black Team Canada jersey.  Not by a long shot.

– Most people seem to think the Colorado Avalanche didn’t address their defensive issues from last season.  I would say it was simply addition by subtraction.  I don’t take much stock in plus/minus ratings, but Greg Zanon, last season’s +/- “leader” with -16 was bought out, Ryan O’Byrne (-8) was shipped off to Toronto at the trade deadline, and Shane O’Brien (shockingly even, but I think we can call it -0) was traded to Calgary.  Even though O’Brien was in the doghouse for part of the season, that’s still three regular blue liners gone (check out the photo TSN used for his player page).  It paves the path for some younger guys, giving Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott (who was sent down to Lake Erie) a better shot at steady ice time.  They brought in a few guys, like Cory Sarich and Andre Benoit, so it isn’t that they didn’t do anything, it’s that they didn’t do anything big.  And big may not be the answer right now.  

But if you want to know what my podcasting partner and myself think about the upcoming Avalanche season, listen to the newest edition of the Avs Hockey Podcast.  Find the latest episode here, and subscribe in iTunes by clicking here

Thin Air: Round And Round

Just some hockey and other thoughts on this overcast day in Denver:

– Jagr to the Devils.  Who does that sit right with? I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks it’s a good fit.  But if there is a team on the verge of an identity change, it’s New Jersey.  Martin Brodeur is on his last legs, Kovalchuk is gone, money is suddenly a real thing, and the future is uncertain.  Perhaps Jagr is a great fit.  I thought he would be a great fit in Ottawa, though. Maybe next year.

– I’m attempting to read Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon for what feels like the hundredth time, and right now I’m reminded of the hardest hockey town I’ve ever been in, Danbury, Connecticut.  I’ve never seen a crowd so loud and angry, enough to make the players want to jump in the stands.  The invisible line between spectator and participant was the only think keeping things from becoming violent the time I saw the Danbury Trashers play in the ‘old’ UHL. It wasn’t the glass that kept them apart. I had never seen anything like it, and I haven’t since.

I was wearing my Kazen Ak Bars jersey, and a woman who worked at the rinks, obviously in some sort of custodial capacity, asked me if I was from there.  I said no, I just liked the Russian jerseys.  She said that was her home, and for a brief and awkward moment, I tried to talk to her, but there was a bit of a language barrier, and she had to get back to work.  I wonder if she is still in Danbury.  I would love to find out what her life is like there.

– Michigan just approved a new arena for Detroit, which will be partially funded with tax dollars.  Joe Louis Arena is well past it’s prime, but if there is a city that doesn’t need to spend it’s money on a new arena, it’s Detroit.  I’m sure there will be more details coming soon.  But can you imagine worse timing?

– The minor leagues are in for a bit of change.  There are always teams folding and moving around, new teams sprout up in the ashes of the previous ones.  But rarely do you see what the Central Hockey League did.  The league was sold to the owners of some of the teams.  It’s been hard to find out exactly which teams are involved in the new ownership group, but it’s an interesting development.  Perhaps the dying gasp of a league that has seen vast turmoil over the last several years?  From losing the majority of their core Texas teams to the junior leagues, to absorbing the UHL/IHL  and losing most if it shortly after, this latest development could go either way, but I’m leaning towards disaster.  Time will tell.

– It’s late July, so things are slow in the hockey world.  So I guess that’s it for the moment.  Keep your ears out for a new Avs Hockey Podcast coming soon.  Yes, it’s been a while.  Life happens, just as it goes on.

After the First Day: Free Agency Thoughts

Market, via  Merriam-Webster:

d : the area of economic activity in which buyers and sellers come together and the forces of supply and demand affect prices <producing goods for market rather than for consumption>

I think a lot of hockey fans forget what a market really is when it comes time for free agency.  The market is defined by the supply and demand of the moment.  It may reflect the past and the future of the market a bit, but it’s really defined as what the needs of the moment are and what is available to fill those holes.

My shining example is Mike Smith, Tim Thomas and the goalie market.  Smith signed a five year extension, for $5.666… million.  At the time, it seemed like a lot of money for Smith (it is a lot of money in general, but the scope of that kind of money isn’t the real question here).  My immediate thought was, this isn’t a bad deal for either side.

A few days later, and look at what the market is for goalies.  Ray Emery is in Philadelphia, a bunch of backups shuffled around, but every other team is set with goaltending.  And who is left out there?  Ilya Bryzgolov and Tim Thomas.  There isn’t room for them right now in the league.  Bryz might look to the KHL if things don’t open up in the NHL, while Thomas will be sitting in NORAD waiting for someone to get hurt.

That’s the market Smith was signed in.  If this was next year, where the goalie market is much more open, he might not have gotten this much money.  And I fully expect that market to shrink considerably.  No way are that many good goalies going to free agency.  Most will be resigned.

Smith was able to work a deal in this market that was favorable to him, because the Coyotes were low on options.  Unless they brought back Bryz for another stint, they were going to be looking for another Labarbera / Garon dual backup “solution.”

And if you weren’t convinced of the state of goalie market, Nikolai Khabibulin went back to Chicago.  Yeah. Locked. Up. Tight.

That was what the free agent market was this year.  Lots of needs and not a lot of players to fill those slots.  It was a market that was going to be overpaid, but not by gigantic Kovalbucks.  There was talent out there, but not enough to go around.  Most teams had locked up and resigned the more attractive options before UFA day came (Letang, Ellis, Bickell, etc).  When Briere and Lecavalier are the biggest players involved, and everyone knows where they are going before signing day, it’s going to be a strange day.

There was plenty of action.  The Tyler Seguin move was a bit surprising. I look forward to seeing him in the West.  And the Ducks finally trade Bobby Ryan, which I think they will regret.  I like the way the Senators are building.  It isn’t a great team yet, but they are getting better and better all the time.

Some thoughts on the first day of free agency:

– Nathan Horton goes to Columbus and David Clarkson goes to the Leafs, both for similar money. Yet for Columbus it’s a good signing with risk (will Horton stay healthy) versus Toronto overpaying and making a huge error, according to the experts.  Despite similar numbers last season and Clarkson being a more physical and healthier player.  I wonder if the feeling that the Leafs are screwing this up simply comes from their long history of screwing things up.  I get the impression the media just likes that storyline.  Neither is a bad signing.  Too long of terms?  Maybe, but not bad deals.

– I was surprised we didn’t see more seven-year deals, the longest term allowed under the new CBA.  Only two seven-year deals, followed by 5 five-year deals.  Perhaps it’s the lowering of the salary cap, but I would think that would work towards the advantage of the team.  The cap comes down, they have to fit a player under that cap, then keep the deal / average cap hit rolling to maximize value.  Or the market didn’t hold enough players worth seven years.  I’m guessing it’s the latter.

– Jarome Iginla goes to Boston.  Shades of Marian Hossa?  Should we expect Chicago and Boston in the finals again?  I doubt it, but it makes for an interesting parallel.  Six million seems like a lot for a player on the decline and a team that is close enough to the cap ceiling that they can touch it without stretching too hard.  But considering the skill level (and toughness) Iginla started from, that decline could take a long time to effectively manifest itself.  Iginla has to perform for his new team quickly.  The fans wanted him before, were left at the alter at the trade deadline, and were not thrilled about it.  Since we live in the salary cap, Team NHL era, they may forgive quickly if he shows that he was worth the bother.  Otherwise, I hope he brought some ear plugs.  He’s going to hear about it.

– The three sites I have been going to over and over for UFA info have been TSN’s excellent trade tracker, Capgeek.com, and Spector’s Hockey from Lyle Richardson. The trade tracker is great because it’s a simple spreadsheet that’s sortable.  I’ve sung the praises of Capgeek before, and I hope whomever runs that site makes some serious bank.  They deserve it. As for Lyle Richardson, I love his work.  Enough said there.

– The Red Wings have done nothing to reduce their reputation as being the Detroit Old Folks Home.  Daniel Alfredsson leaving Ottawa to sign there only reinforces that perception.  It isn’t a bad move for either one, and while Alfredsson was the franchise player in Ottawa, he didn’t seem too happy with the team in their last round of the playoffs this year, effectively sounding the alarm that he was quitting the series.  When it’s time for you to go, it’s time to go, and for Alfie, it was time to go.  Whether it works out for Detroit is anyone’s guess.  It could be the veteran they need, or it could be another Mats Sundin situation.  Please recall, that didn’t work out.

– Everyone wanted Andrew Ference.  I don’t blame them, he was pivotal in the Bruins run at the Cup. But considering where he went, for that term and that money (4 years / $13mil), less teams were in the running than the fans thought.  He took less money to go to Edmonton than he could have gotten elsewhere, making it a personal decision for him, and that’s great.  Edmonton is finally getting out of the draft-for-everything mode and starting to build a team.  Whether this set of components works out remains to be seen, but at least they are finally trying.

– As for the Colorado Avalanche, I’m fine with what they did in free agency.  Sure, it would have been great to see them land that perfect piece of the puzzle, but I have bad news for everyone looking to solve every problem with free agent signings.  It doesn’t work that way.  If your team solved all it’s issues in free agency this season, they didn’t have that may issues to begin with.  The sins of the past have not been forgotten in Colorado.  Scott Hannan, Greg Zanon, Jan Hejda, shall I go on?  That’s just the free agent defensemen signed that didn’t work out well.  Shane O’Brien? Oh, you want me to stop now?  OK, so those signings didn’t work out, there weren’t many defensemen on the market that would fit in a 1-2 role, and still, fans wanted to see the Avs make a splash?  Instead, the Avs signed a few depth players to stock up the horrid Lake Erie Monsters, which has been an issue for years.  I hope this means they are going to take the minors seriously.  There is still plenty of time for the Avalanche to make trades to shore up the defense, but this is not a problem that will be fixed overnight.  They are doing something, which is more than could have been said before the new regime was put in place.  That’s a good step forward.  There was no splash to be made this year. Perhaps only a slight ripple to be had.  Good enough.

Free Agency: Buyer Beware

Free agency is a sexy thing.  Lots of interesting players available to anyone if they have the money and the right pitch.  Fans love it, teams love it, and players and agents most certainly love it.  If teams didn’t have success last year, they are looking for parts to make themselves better.  If they did have success, chances are they lost a few good players to free agency or cap-related issues, and need to plug new holes.  Everyone is looking for someone.

There are a few problems:

– Everyone overpays on the first day of free agency.  Why do you think players love it?

– Memories are fairly short on previous free agency blunders, and if you forget history yadda yadda yadda.

– Fans want the world and they want it now, but the teams who need the most help either can’t afford it or aren’t attractive to the players (rebuilding a team is like announcing in the media they have an STD).

The Colorado Avalanche could use some help on defensive (and if you say “why didn’t they draft Seth Jones then?” I would ask you to read this).  The best options are to trade away an asset, or go buy some defensemen. At this point, there aren’t many players they would want to trade, with the ghost of Paul Stastny the one exception.

That means buying defense on the free agent market.  And I’m here to tell you, tread cautiously.  Here are a few names to give you pause:

Jan Hejda

Scott Hannon

Greg Zanon

All of them brought to the Avalanche in free agency.  All of them the new solution to the defensive issues of the team (yes, even Zanon), all of them disappointments.  Jan Hejda is still around, and with the compliance buyout option available, the Avs hanging on to him says they still think he is an asset, either on the ice or as trade bait.

But if it’s D you want, the free agency market may not actually have it for you.  From Capgeek.com, here are some of the ‘top’ defensemen available:

Marek Zidlicky
Joe Corvo
Ryan Whitney
Andrew Ference
Tom Gilbert
Ron Hainsey
Rob Scuderi
Michal Rozsival
Andre Benoit
Filip Kuba
M. Bergeron
Mike Kostka
Wade Redden
Jonathon Blum
B. Sanguinetti
Ryan O’Byrne
Douglas Murray
Mark Fistric
Toni Lydman
Greg Zanon
Kurtis Foster
Alexander Sulzer
Ian White
Adam Pardy
Adrian Aucoin
Tyson Strachan
Radek Martinek

Hey, look, a few former Avalanche on the list. How fun.

Aside from Andrew Ference, who do you want to see in an Avalanche uniform?  Wait, let’s do this a little more realistically.  Who do you want to OVERPAY to be in an Avalanche uniform?  Because other teams have needs on defense as well, they will be bidding for the same talent, sending the price higher and higher.  And the salary cap may have come down for this season, but that doesn’t mean the player’s asking price has.  You are seeing a wider gap between the haves and have-nots, a squeezing out of the NHL middle class.

Is Kurtis Foster still worth it?  A few years for Rozsival?  I wouldn’t mind Ron Hainsey for a year or two.  Corvo?

The interesting thing to me was which teams were buying out players, which ones were speculated to be buying out, and who didn’t.  The big money clubs were the ones doing the buying out, with the Flyers leading the way.  The Rangers were rumored to, as well as the Canucks.  But they held tight, with their coaching changes perhaps being enough to clean up the problems.  The only team that bought out a big contract that isn’t a wildly spending team was the Islanders, removing the mistake of the Rick DiPietro contract.  And why they chose to use the compliance buyout instead of a regular buyout and keep the cap hit (for a bargain basement spending team, they covet that cap hit) is beyond me.

The teams that didn’t buy players out, and haven’t been shuffling their mistakes around are the teams that have a budget and stick to it.  And by budget, I mean they pick a number below the cap.  For teams like the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens, they seem to pick a budget within a few dollars of the cap ceiling.  How’s that working out?  Not so well, unless you consider the Penguins a success (which they arguably are).

If you need a reminder, look at the list of signings for last season.  Scroll down and look at the July 1st signings.  With just that list in mind, does your value of the free agent market change?

This is all to say one thing: free agency is sexy, it’s alluring, but it is a marriage, and it needs to work after the first date.  Fans want to see a splash in the free agent market, but those don’t work out as often as the storyline says they will.  Tread carefully, GMs, and fans, keep your pants on.

UFA Day Notes – Was The Early Talk Worth It?

Today is the start of free agency, but you wouldn’t know it.  Teams have been able to do what everyone knew they were doing, talk to players and agents before the official start of the signing period.  There is no way in hell a player would agree to a multi-year deal with a salary that went up and down year to year within fifteen minutes of the clock starting.  Yet that’s what we saw, over and over.  When dollars were just dollars, before the salary cap, things were simpler.  Here’s your money, yes or no?  Now it’s a lot of math to do a deal.  A LOT of math.

We already know what’s going to happen.  Like a Kanye West album leaking, we know the beats and moves, we know who is going where.  Lecavalier to the Flyers, Briere to the Canadiens.  When the biggest intrigue is what Daniel Alfredsson will do (more on him later), you have the makings of a very dull day.

Is the pre-signing day negotiations a good thing?  As I said, we all knew they did it behind closed doors.  The only difference is the ability other teams that may not have engaged a free agent early to get in on the conversation.  I would argue that it isn’t great.  If the player already know where they are going, it’s fairly pointless.  Most players have teams in mind they want to sign, even if they talk to twenty-nine other GMs.  They see how the other half lives throughout the season, they have friends or contacts (or enemies) on other teams that tell them the skinny.  If the ink might as well be drying on the contract before it’s even signed, then I think it’s useless.

A few thoughts on the UFA market and trades that have happened.

– The Dallas Stars have traded themselves back into relevance.  They lost a good player in Loui Eriksson, but gained a lot of potential in Tyler Seguin.  Did I mention I met him once? Regardless, between that and the Shawn Horcoff  deal, the Stars made a big statement, and at exactly the right time.  Aside from an easier travel schedule with the upcoming realignment, they have made themselves a destination a UFA might consider.  They decided they didn’t like the mediocrity their team was mired in and did something about it.  Whether or not it pans out isn’t yet relevant.  They did something, and that sends a big signal.

I like the move for Seguin.  It seems weird to need a change of location after winning a Cup and being in the finals again two years later, but the guy was blessed with a weird trade that sent his pick to Boston, and was lucky not to be picked by Edmonton.  Everything was coming up roses for him, but hockey is a business.  Maybe the move will show him he has a bit more to learn.

– It’s going to be weird to see Vinny Lecavalier in a Flyers uniform.  More so than Danny Briere in a Canadiens jersey.  That they both got paid, and both are not signing seven-year deals says a lot about their potential.  The Canadiens made a smart move only signing Briere to a two-year contract.  I wonder if they had visions of Scott Gomez when they were negotiating the contract.  If Briere doesn’t work out, at least it won’t last long.

– If you aren’t sure how buyouts work, Capgeek has a great buyout FAQ.  Find it here.  Capgeek is an amazing resource.  How did we ever live without it?  It’s like the double-stuff Oreo.  I just can’t imagine what it was like before.

– I’m amazed at the amount of eight-year contracts we are seeing handed out to pending free agents.  It’s now the most teams are allowed to resign players for, with seven years the upper limit for free agent signings.  Which makes me wonder, how many seven-year contracts will we see signed this off-season.  Looking at the list of free agents, I’m guessing not many.  But who knows, player’s agents can be crafty.

– Daniel Alfredsson should go the route of Teemu Selanne and Milan Hejduk and start signing one year contracts until he retires (if he comes back to the Senators at all).  What does he have to loose?

– It sounded like the Detroit Red Wings were kicking the tires of just about every free agent out there.  Detroit is always a team players want to go to, thanks to their winning tradition.  But keep in mind that they are moving to the East next season, and won’t be in the same division as the pushover Columbus Blue Jackets, the almost always pushover St. Louis Blues, and the sometimes pushover Nashville Predators.  All of those teams are getting better, but it isn’t the same as stepping into a very tough division with the Bruins and… Oh, that’s it?  Well, never mind.  Still, moving East, does that change the perception of the Wings?   Their success was guaranteed, but I would argue that it is less so lately.

– Don’t forget: rumors are useless.  They are a great way to build up a lot of anxiety over nothing.  Most of them never pan out.  Make sure you are paying attention to real sites with real sources and real news, not made up garbage.

Thin Air: Post-Draft, Pre-Free Agency Notes

A few notes on a Tuesday – 

– I feel bad for Rick DiPietro.  He was defined by a bad contract decision by the NY Islander, and his history of injuries that were beyond his control.  He never lived up to the billing, but much of that had nothing to do with his ability.  He’s gone down as a footnote and a joke, and that isn’t his fault.  Sure, he could have turned down the overwhelming contract and done something more reasonable, but come on.  Would you turn it down?  Probably not.  Thus ends a strange saga in the NHL.  

– Speaking of the Islanders and goalies, I can’t understand why the Islanders didn’t toll Tim Thomas’ contract after not playing for them for a year.  They did it with Nabokov’s contract and got the free cap hit they desperately needed to get to the salary cap floor.  By tolling his contract, they get the same hit if Thomas stays away from the league, and if he comes back, they either get a decent goalie or a trade asset.  Unless the new CBA doesn’t allow for this, I’m baffled.

– Speaking of the new CBA, I haven’t dug into this one nearly as much as the last one.  Perhaps it’s a lack of interest, or maybe I don’t want to burn more brain cells trying to wrap my head around the intricacies of the deal.  The ink is barely dry and we are already seeing fallout from the damned thing.  I’m going to remain somewhat ignorant to it for now.  

– Vincent Lecavalier, if my feed reader is to be believed, is an old, washed out player who is a bad fit for every team.  Except for Montreal.  For some reason, the consensus is he would work out there.  I think it’s mostly how people want to see him.  They have been talking about Lecalvier being a Canadien for years, they have completely bought the narrative.  If he were to stay with the Lightning until he was fifty, fans would still ask that he become a Hab just to see what that would look like.

– The Avalanche have a problem with their recent history.  Since the lockout, they have been on the decline as a franchise, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see players shy away from the team in free agency.  Even with the recent changes in coaching and management, the Avs have a lot to prove.  They have to show that they are a franchise worth coming to.  Money isn’t everything, especially to elite players who have already been paid a lot previously.  A chance to win the Cup is a big motivation, and if you aren’t in the hunt, then you aren’t as attractive to players.  The market may reflect this.  It could take a few years until the Avs dig themselves out.  

– Speaking of the market (OK, I’ll stop now), there was plenty of head scratching over the amount of money Mike Smith got in his extension with Phoenix.  It looks like a lot for a guy of his caliber, but take a look at the market only a few days later.  The Islanders are looking for a solution, the Flyers are looking for someone to help Steve Mason, and Tampa Bay may only have two backup goalies.  And UI’m stunned, STUNNED, that we haven’t heard Florida mentioned in goalie talks.  You have to play the market, and Mike Smith certainly did.  He was able to negotiate from a place of power and got a good deal.  Considering the options on the market, Phoenix may have gotten off cheap. 

– The Avalanche put Greg Zanon and Matt Hunwick on waivers today, clearing the way for them to be bought out.  That leaves Jan Hejda, Eric Johnson and Ryan Wilson from the starting roster of last season.  Please recall that Ryan O’Byrne was traded to Toronto at the trading deadline last season and Shane O’Brien was traded to Calgary recently.  With the addition of Cory Sarich, that leaves them with the call ups of Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott to round out the defense, with no one left to sit in the press box.  Either the Avalanche have a lot of faith in Barrie and Elliott, or they have someone in mind in free agency, and are confident they will get them.  When it was pointed out to me at the end of last season on The Avs Hockey Podcast that Matt Hunwick was the most consistent defenseman the Avalanche had, my head nearly exploded.  But will I actually miss him?  No, not really. In my opinion, he’s a good defenseman from the knees down.  My concern is that the Avs will wind up short on defense starting the season, but perhaps they actually have a plan, unlike the past administration where they had a used dartboard.

– Why exactly is Greg Sherman still around?  If Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic are driving this boat, what is he still doing with the team?  I understand it’s good to have someone around who knows how to work the fax machine (just ask Chicago), but come on.  I don’t understand what the point is.  So far, they have cleared out his coach, one of his free agent signings from the previous season, and lost many of his mistakes to trades and waivers.  It’s like a boyfriend eviction, throwing out all the stuff they had in your apartment, but somehow still keeping the boyfriend. 

– There were two times when I said “Holy S#!+” during the draft.  Once when Cory Schneider was traded to New Jersey, and the other when Dave Bolland was traded to Toronto.  The Devils made a very smart move, finally securing the future of their goaltending, and Vancouver fixed part of it’s goaltending issues.  I’m not sure I buy the statement that they were looking to groom and trade Schneider three years ago, but good for them for dealing with it.  In regards to the Devils, if the hockey world was looking for them to find their next franchise goaltender, they may have found it.  He is just as secure as a starter as many of the teams out there have.  Mostly, the hockey world first asked itself if this was the next Marty Brodeur.  No, but who is?  Marty is the (second) best goaltender ever.  Schneider might be a damn good goaltender.  But to expect him to be Brodeur is to ask way too much.

– I wonder about the Luongo situation.  You have to expect that Luongo has been sat down by management at some point and asked what his problem with staying is, and how they can fix it.  If a new coach isn’t the solution, if getting rid of the challenge to his throne isn’t the answer, then the issue must be with either management, the players, or the media.  Overall, they have fixed enough for him at this point.  It’s time for him to play.  

Your Draft Rumors And Speculation Have One Day Left

There’s plenty of people of all types – insiders, basement dwellers, the average Joe – who will tell you exactly what will and will not happen at the draft.  They will tell you what teams are thinking, and who is going to go where.  And as soon as they are wrong, you won’t hear from them until the next prediction is ready.  I’ve been asked who certain teams will take, and to tell you the truth, I have no idea. 

With the Avalanche, they have stated they with take Nathan MacKinnon first overall, and the best I can do is analyze that.  The next question is will they or won’t they, and I can only look towards the trust in their statement. I can’t predict the future.  

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Tomorrow, we will find out what has happened, and all the wasted time and ink guessing what will happen will become even more useless than it already was.  We will find know what direction the teams have gone, and we can analyze, praise, grouse, or whatever we feel like. 

Predictions of this sort are fools gold.  If someone tells you they know what a team is going to do, they are full of it.  I quoted Elliotte Friedman earlier this week.  It’s worth doing again. From his excellent 30 Thoughts column:

9. Back when I first started as a radio reporter covering the Toronto Raptors, then-GM Isiah Thomas warned me, “Never believe anything anyone tells you about the draft. At draft time, everyone lies.” One year later, Thomas gave me the scoop he was going to take Marcus Camby. I didn’t believe him. He did take Camby and laughed, “This time, I was telling the truth.” I couldn’t help but remember that conversation upon hearing the Colorado Avalanche’s newfound openness. Joe Sakic picking up the phone to tell a reporter his team’s plans “certainly goes against ‘The [Pierre] Lacroix Principle,'” an opposing executive said.

If a smart and experienced guy like Friedman doesn’t know, chances are very few people know. 

And it really doesn’t matter in the end.  Right, wrong, win or lose, we are waiting for the future.  Let the waiting be fun.