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. 

Touch the Cup

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Up The Pucks asked a good question on twitter today:

Our question of the day: Should fans touch the Stanley Cup or does the “don’t touch it until you win it” rule/superstition apply to fans?

Here was my answer:

Touch it. Hug it. Spend some time with it. Don’t hoist it over your head and skate a lap with it.

Let me expand on that a bit.  I will never win a Stanley Cup.  The closest I will come is that the money I spend on tickets, merch, and being a fan in general allows the team to spend money on players who will hopefully win the Stanley Cup.  My skill, talent and dedication for all my years on this earth have not gone into hockey, they have gone into other endeavors.  I am a balding ex-smoker who works in theater, is out of shape, plays rec hockey, and will never win a Stanley Cup.  The team I pull for has, and that’s good enough for me.

The Cup is not kept in a glass case when it’s on tour (the original is, but that’s a little different).  It isn’t in a Pope-mobile.  It’s there for you to touch it.  If you don’t want to, don’t.  If you do, go for it. If anyone gives you crap for it, tell them to get lost.  This is your time with the Cup.

And if you have never been around it, or if your team won it for the first time, you don’t have to act all cool like you have been there before.  You haven’t.  Feel free to freak the F’ing H out.  Chances are, the people around you acting all cool are doing so inside as well.  Being cool is highly overrated.

(yes, I took that photo)

Tip of The Hand: Avs Draft Talk

My buddy Bill called me last week to ask why the Avs wouldn’t take Seth Jones with their first overall draft pick. Since I had just written about it, I pointed him to my blog post (thanks for being a loyal reader, Bill).  Which led to his next call, asking why the Avalanche would tip their hand and say who they were going to pick.

A lot of hockey writing in the media and online is speculation and opinions.  We don’t know what happens behind closed doors, or what exactly someone is thinking.  Even when we are told explicitly, “this is what we are thinking,” we hardly believe them.  So there is what we know, and what we don’t know.  And that’s how we have to look at this.

What we know:

The Avs said something, which is weird – Since the franchise moved to Colorado (and possibly before), they have been quiet.  It’s been the Pierre Lacroix way, and it carried over into the General Managing reigns of Greg Sherman and Francois Giguere.  And even though Sherman is still the GM, he has most certainly been gelded with the addition of Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy to the management team and coaching staff.  So far, we have heard from Sakic and Roy more than we heard from Sherman all last season (by my counts, once, when the Ryan O’Reilly situation finally ended).

That the Avs are talking to the fans is stunning.  We haven’t had much communication from the team for years. Now that there seems to be real effort to turn the team around from the top down, it appears that we, the fans, are finally being catered to a bit.  It’s welcome, and though it comes in the form of tipping the hand at the draft, I don’t think fans will turn their backs on this.

In control – The Avs have the first pick.  No one can take that away, they can only give it away.  So why not say what they think they will do?  What is the damage?  In fact, it might just help their negotiating position in trade talks.  More on that in a moment.

Brief Interlude – What a Smart Person Says:

Elliotte Friedman has a great weekly column called 30 thoughts.  If you don’t read it already, you really should.  This is what he said today:

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.

10. There is incredible skepticism about what Sakic, who is Colorado’s executive vice-president of hockey operations, and head coach Patrick Roy are saying. However, there are at least two reasons to think they are telling the truth. First, Roy had the best seat in the house in 2012 QMJHL playoffs as Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin led Halifax back from a 3-0 deficit against Quebec. MacKinnon had eight points in the last three games. Second, the Avalanche are trying to rebuild their name in the Denver community. If they are not going to take Seth Jones, who has major local ties, it’s not the worst idea to prepare fans in advance.

That’s a great point about Roy seeing MacKinnon play against his team, and very successfully.

OK, back to my stuff.

What we don’t know, reasons edition - The conventional wisdom goes like this.  The Avs need defense, so draft a defenseman.  But the Avs need everything (except maybe goaltending, but that remains to be seen), and drafting a defenseman isn’t going to fix their current defense issues.  Buying a defenseman (or trading for one) will.  So that frees the team up to draft a forward.

Everyone was so convinced that the Avs were going to take Jones that they believed the three top forwards would be available.  If you wanted a forward, you didn’t have to deal with the Avs to move up to their pick.  Staying quiet would have only led to surprise for two teams who are not in the same conference as the Avalanche, and wouldn’t be previously motivated to talk to them.  The second pick is held by Florida and the third by Tampa Bay.  Since the Avs don’t want to move below third (pretty sure I heard that somewhere, but I could be wrong), they are free to deal with these two teams and maybe play them against each other to greater effect.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

If they moved down one pick, Jones would still be available, and that isn’t a bad pick, even if it doesn’t fill the need they have right now.

What we don’t know, motivation edition – So what was it exactly that made them buck the draft order laid out by central scouting?  Does it really matter?  Probably not.  Whomever the Avalanche pick, they will have a potential NHL player.  The draft is a scientific crap-shoot.  You never know who you are going to really draft until you put them in camp, in the minors, or on your roster.  Will they persevere?  Will they adapt?  Will they fall apart?  No one really knows.  All you know is what you see when you scout them, and Patrick Roy has essentially scouted MacKinnon himself.  Maybe that’s enough for them.

 

No matter what, no one will know who the first pick will be until they are chosen, and even then, we don’t know if they will work out.  But that’s all just part of the fun.

PS: I will not be at the draft this year.  I made it in Columbus and Los Angeles, and had a great time.  I look forward to going to one again soon, but not this year.  I hope all of you who go have a great time.

Go Ahead, Poke the Bear

Conventional wisdom usually says that you should let sleeping dogs lie.  Don’t poke the bear, you might make him angry.  Have you noticed that making a bear angry, when it comes to hockey, seems to work out sometimes? 

It can be one thing to be respectful of your opponent.  All the compliments paid, the standard declarations of how good the other team is.  But the Blackhawks are taking a page out of their opponent’s playbook from 2011, and aren’t pumping tires any more.  

Watch Zdeno Chara protect his reputation against the accusations that he is soft.  See Lucic protect his teammate Zdeno Chara.  Look at the Bruins run around playing to the Blackhawks tune in game 5, until they finally realize there is a hockey game at stake in the third period.  

Last night, I said that Chara was playing the Blackhawks game, and it didn’t really hurt him in the end.  But then I look at a number on the scoresheet and I am rethinking this: -2.  I’m not a big proponent of plus / minus.  It’s a flawed system.  You should be able to throw out about half the games accounted for in this stat, the question is which games.  

But three things stand out when I look at this number: 

- He scored the Bruins only goal, so that means he was on ice for all three goals against.

- He wasn’t playing his game, as previously mentioned. 

- Claude Julien changed up the defensive pairings. 

The third point is the one that makes me wonder.  Why do this if you are only down two goals?  What is the issue that would make you do this.  So let’s look at the goals and Chara.

Goal one:

 

 Watch Chara glide around his net.  He’s playing pretty soft for a guy who has been pounding the hell out of the Blackhawks every chance he gets.  Long shift?  Not sure where to go?  At the very least, he watches Patrick Kane glide around the net with almost no pressure.  Perhaps he was focused too much on sparing partner Brian Bickell to play the guy with the puck. 

Goal two:

 

This one I don’t blame Chara so much on as Nathan Horton.  As soon as Horton skates towards the puck carrier, who is half the ice away with defenders on them, it leaves Kane uncovered.  Chara has to focus on the guy with the puck going around the back of the cage, leaving two guys to the far side of the net covering one Blackhawk.  Kane was in a good position to get the puck on his stick and backhand it in, but it was Horton’s choice to go puck chasing that led to Kane standing alone in front of the net. 

Goal Three:

 

You can just see Chara in the first second of the video.  He’s in front of the net, but that was by design.  He lined up as a winger to put a big body in front of the net, so that’s a coaching decision.  He might have been helpful when the puck came outside the blue line, but that wasn’t his side of the ice, so he might not have been as close as the winger, instead waiting for an outlet pass to enter the zone with.  I don’t blame him at all for this one (and I do think it should have been a tripping call to negate the empty net goal).

But watch Chara sparring with Brian Bickell next to the net at the beginning of this video.  This is where Chara lost the war while trying to win the battle.

What isn’t Chara doing?  Engaging in the play.  He isn’t even paying attention to the play.  He’s proving that he won’t be manhandled by Bickell, while taking himself out of the game to do so.  Does this seem like a sound strategy to you?  Is this what you want your top defenseman to do?  It’s one thing to send a message, but this is no way to do so.  Send it quickly and get back to work.  Instead the message delivered was the wrong one. 

Poking the bear works, if you do it right. 

SCF Game 5 Notes

I don’t know if I have enough for a real blog post, so here are some casual observations and thoughts on game five:

- Jonathan Toews or Patrice Bergeron: who would you miss more? While I think it’s mostly a wash, I think the Bruins will miss Bergeron a little more.  They need his speed and skill while everyone else is beating the crap out of the Blackhawks.  There is other talent on the Bruins, but not enough that they won’t miss him.  Toews has been lost on the ice before and Chicago charged on.  Mostly a wash, but I go with the Bruins on this one.

- That said, the Bruins came back hard without him.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Boston tie it up.  That there was a missed tripping call that led to the empty net goal by Bolland, which was a little fitting.  The Bruins didn’t’ get any power plays, and aside from a lot of coincidental minors, I didn’t’ see a lot to send the ‘Hawks to the box for.  But that trip should have been called.  If the puck had been played first, then it would have been fine.  See below.

- Chara was basically called softer than LeBron James before this game, and he was out to prove that he wasn’t.  He hit and jabbed and poked and shoved anything wearing a red jersey tonight, and it wasn’t the smartest thing he could have done.  He sent his message in the first period, and he could have gone back to playing his game.  Playing hard isn’t a bad thing.  Good hits aren’t a bad thing.  But someone needed to calm him down at some point, to tell him he made his case and go back to playing defense.  It didn’t hurt him as much as I thought it would.  I thought he was going to take himself out of the play more often than he did.  But he was mad, played like it, and I wasn’t as impressed as I think I was supposed to be.

- Jen, aka @NHLHistoryGirl sent these tweets tonight:

“I don’t get the prejudice towards “bandwagon” fans. Ever think that it’s maybe the gateway fandom?”

“They’re watching hockey and enjoying it. Let’s embrace that.”

“Someftimes, people act like they know more than they do because they’re insecure and want to be accepted. Applies to bandwagon fans too.”

“All I’m asking is treat other fans (no matter how new, or where they come from) with a little respect. To quote @wilw: don’t be a dick.”

I wrote about ‘bandwagon fans five years ago, and I still agree.  Along the way, I have become a bigger hockey fan, lost a little interest in a few parts of the game, and at times been more than a little burned out.  But I’m a hockey fan, and at some point, I was a bandwagon fan as well.  I cheered for the 1996 Stanley Cup without being immersed in the game yet.  I didn’t go to my first NHL game until 2002.

So if you are a ‘bandwagon’ fan, welcome.  I’m happy you are here.  Enjoy the sport and ask questions if you want.  And if someone treats you like crap because they don’t think you are fan enough, tell them to shove it.  Hockey is too awesome to ignore.

Who to Take? Avs Might Bypass Jones

Let’s be honest.  The Avalanche have less depth right now than Russell Crowe playing Javert in the Les Miserable movie.

Yes, I went there.

There have been a few defensive call-ups from the farm system.  I’m not as impressed with Elliott as some were when he was called up, but he got better as the season went on.  The problem is that there are few forwards that could develop into top six players in the Monsters right now.  Obviously, if you have a top six forward, put him in the NHL, damn it.  But replacements from Lake Erie  produced mixed results.  And every forward that was highly drafted or highly regarded (Duchene, Landeskog, O’Reilly) went right to the NHL because the need existed.  All three might have benefited from a transition year in the AHL, arguably.  But needs are needs, and needs in hockey are rarely convienient.

So what do you fix?  Do you draft a highly rated defenseman and plug him in right away, do you draft forwards that you might plug in or develop, or do you move down for more picks to stock up?

Let’s break it down.

Why draft a defenseman:

It’s pretty obvious that the Avalanche are in sore need of defense.  They were 27th last season in goals against and 29th in goal differential.  The Avs D was fairly awful in general, chasing pucks, losing steps, taking bad penalties and tuned out when the season was all but over.  When it was pointed out to me on the Avs Hockey Podcast that Matt Hunwick was the most consistent Avs defenseman last season, I almost ate my hat.  I don’t often wear hats, so I almost went to get a hat, put it on, take it off and eat it.

This is largely the defense that will be around next season.  The Avs have six defensemen signed and two call-ups that on entry level deals.  Unless the Avs move someone, you are stuck.  But six defensemen means the seventh slot is available, and that could be Seth Jones.  Aside from Erik Johnson and (grudgingly) Matt Hunwick, you could stick any of the other defensemen in the press box and that would be just fine.  Jones would get his ice time, Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott can go work on their game in Lake Erie, and life is good.

That is, if Jones is ready to play in the NHL now.  It’s a given that the first overall pick is going to play in the NHL as soon as the ink is dry on their contract, but that doesn’t mean they are NHL ready.  I’ve already mentioned a few Avs that should have been in Lake Erie for a year.  Let’s look to the east for another highly touted prospect that wasn’t quite NHL ready: Steven Stamkos. Yeah, he’s great right now.  He developed his game in the NHL, but for a time he was in the press box with a note pad.  He had some learning to do, which he did.  And then he came back and eventually tore up the league.

So if Jones isn’t ready for his NHL debut, fine, stick him in the AHL and maybe he has a bright future ahead of him.  A defenseman worth his salt is still an asset no matter when you call them up, no matter when they play for you.  Solid defensemen are not easy to find.  Grab them while you can.

Why draft a forward:

The Avalanche were 27th overall in goals scored (tied with Ottawa with 116, who made the playoffs with a stingy 104 goals against).  I have bad news for Avs fans, that ain’t good.  The fan base is in love with Landeskog, Duchene and O’Reilly, but the production isn’t there yet.  In the shortened season, only four Avs scored over ten goals. O’Reilly may have gotten there had he played the entire season.  Only six players collected twenty points or more.  Only two had over 30 (PA Parenteau and Matt Duchene with 43 each).  That isn’t good.

And how is Lake Erie looking for support?  Like no one is going to develop past a third or fourth liner.  There are no secret weapons looking to be called up.  The team had a ton of patience with players like Ryan Stoa, Joey Hishon may never play in the NHL, considering how his concussion history is going, and Brad Malone is still Brad Malone.  Maybe Sgarbossa will be ready (67th in scoring in the AHL)?  But the Monsters are not looking like the place to go for scoring right now.

If you need a defenseman now, go buy one.  And no, that hasn’t exactly been the Avalanche’s strong suit recently.  Greg Zanon and Jan Hejda aren’t exactly earning their money.  But this is a new regime (I say cautiously, as both Greg Sherman and Pierre Lacroix are still involved with the organization).  From the forwards back, it takes longer for a player to develop the closer you get to the crease, so drafting a defenseman to plug a need now is a crap shoot.  It might work out, or you might wind up stuck with a piece that isn’t providing what you need.

So do the Avs need scoring?  You bet they do.  And a forward fresh out of the draft might be the right fit for a young group like the top six Avalanche forwards.   It depends on how much of a complete game they have.  If they are like Matt Duchene, they might not be what they really need.

But consider that there is one defenseman that everyone is going nuts over while three forwards wait in the wings.  There is more variety and that may help the Avs find exactly what they need.

So what should they do?

Honestly, you got me.  I don’t think there is a losing scenario here, aside from trading down into territory that may not be as plunderable as the top four picks.  And considering the second, third and fifth picks go to the eastern conference (if that is what it will be called in the new realignment), missing out on a certain player isn’t going to come back to haunt you as much if they went to a division rival.

Time will tell.  Even if the Avs take Seth Jones, there is no guarantee that he will work out.  More than anything, I’m stunned that we are hearing anything at all from the Avalanche in June.  New regime indeed.