Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Free Agency Eve

Well, the Draft is only a few days old, but that won't stop the impending craze that will be Day One of free agency. There's not a lot of superstar talent out there, but there are still very serviceable options that would let any GM fill a couple of needs at some, hopefully, reasonable prices.

The Ducks still have some holes on the depth chart, considering the newly acquired Sbisa might not be a Top 4 defenseman for another 2-3 years, and a second line center, who is less of a defensive liability, would be nice. But the question comes in three parts today. First, what is the need the Ducks HAVE to fill in order to stay in contention next year, and who/what style of player do you see as an option to fill that role? Which player/style of player do you see the team signing that might end up being dead weight? Finally, give me the one player you'd love to sign that would fit perfectly on the Ducks.

The Ducks need a true second line center. To echo something Bob Murray said in a recent interview, we haven't been the same since we traded Andy McDonald. That isn't to say it was a mistake to let him go. We could certainly use someone bigger at that position, someone who can't be targeted by other teams. But McDonald's toolbox (strong on the draw, speed through the neutral zone and great vision) is sorely missed.

That style of player isn't really on the market right now. Not in our price range. Henrik Sedin isn't on the market by himself, and we don't have the chips to offer sheet Phil Kessel. I have to believe that the only realistic move for the Ducks is a one-year-deal with a veteran. I like Saku Koivu for that. And I think trying other veterans like Bonk or Peca would convert them into dead weight, and long-term contracts with younger players would transform into dead weight within two years.

I don't know if the Ducks can solve any problems on the blueline through free agency. There is certainly disappointment in the trio of Festerling, Salcido and Mikkelson. Apparently, when you've got three kids ready to break out of the AHL, you've really got none. Mitera may leap over all of them.

Ultimately, if we shop for blueliners in free agency, I think we acquire a middle-pairing guy, and try to force someone from our system into the Top 4 i.e. Scotty or Whitney will have to play with Mikk, Fest or Mitera. As far as who that middle-pairing guy is, I can't say. Rick Paterson is good at finding second-year guys, like Brookbank and McIver, not to mention a second-contract guy like Montador. I foolishly want us to bring back Shane O'Brien, just to put some size and grit back in the lineup.

I'm also tempted to go after Jay McKee after his buyout, but I think the Bret Hedican Deadweight award would go to Darryl Sydor. I love you Darryl, but it might be time to use that hockey stick for shuffleboard.

I agree that we haven't been the same since we traded Andy McDonald, but I think the one need we can't afford to ignore is in our Top 4 defense. Beauchemin is there, and I can't help but feel that if we let him get away, he will most assuredly make us pay for it in a way that has nothing to do with money. I like Beauchemin's ability to be nasty. He has a big shot, and he can eat up minutes. If not Beauchemin, Lepold could probably be had for a little less money if Florida doesn't sign him. I'm also in complete agreement that as long as we're bringing back our own draft picks, O'Brien would be more than serviceable. As it stands now, I just don't think we have enough on the blueline. Of course, It wouldn't surprise me to see Murray overcompensate and throw Mathieu-Schneider-money at the likes of a Blake, or worse an Aucoin, leaving us cash-strapped next offseason.

The free agent I want the most, though, is probably Martin Havlat. His style of play would really fit in Anaheim. I think he has the speed to keep up with Selanne, and he's a little more defensively responsible than Teemu. I think that would make him a great option on that line, and he could probably overcome some of Ebbett's shortcomings. Also, why not Chris Gratton. He may not be a scoring threat, but what about him and Brown as our top two PK Forwards? It's just to sexy to think about.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Penalty Kill: Vatanen, Illo and Valentine

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

This final profile concludes our coverage of the Ducks' 2009 Entry Draft Class.

The Ducks certainly journeyed out of North America this year, and for the first time in 8 years, refrained from selecting a player from The Q. They took a chance at virtually every stage of the Draft, and could just as likely end up with four to five NHLers as they could zero.

Round 4 - 106th Overall

Sami Vatanen D
According to The OC Register, Martin Madden called Vatanen a "home-run or a strike-out type of pick" due to the rearguard's diminutive stature. And at 5'9" 160 lbs, he isn't kidding.

Like Bobkov, whom the Ducks picked before him, Vatanen made an impression at the IIHF U18 World Championships. As the captain of Team Finland, he registered 5 points (0 G) in a six-game march to a Bronze Medal. The pint-sized blueliner finished with a +6 rating, but that number is slightly skewed by a +5 nothced in a 7-0 rout of Slovakia during the Preliminary Round.

It was the young Finn's performance in the Bronze Medal game, however, that left most scouts gushing his praises. Down 4-3 to Canada in the 3rd, Vatanen showcased his playmaking and power play quarterbacking ability, as Finland went 2 for 3 with the man-advantage in the final frame. Vatanen assisted both goals.

-Size is his ONLY issue. A skillful passer, skater and playmaker, if he were a few inches taller, he might have gone in the 2nd Round.

-Room to Grow. At the Combine Fitness Testing, Vatanen was the Top Performer on the Wingate. He also did the most curl-ups. Clearly gifted physically, Vatanen still has room to get beefier, if not taller.

-The Ducks took a chance on a pint-sized power play quarterback with Marc-Andre Bergeron. Assuming Carlyle is still coach when Vatanen gets a shot at the NHL (which is no small assumption), it may be hard for him to play effectively in his own zone.

Round 5 - 136th Overall

Radoslav Illo C
A center for the USHL's Tri-City Storm, Illo was sidelined by a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season. He came back to score 33 points (21 G), including 8 power play goals and 3 power play assists. He finished the season 2nd in shooting percentage amongst his fellow Storm.

Martin Madden broke down the pick for J.P. Hoornstra, saying of Illo, "He's an outstanding skater with great shot. He's not a physical player, he's a skilled player who goes to the hard areas."

-Potential Steal. He was injured early in the scouting cycle, and if his late performance is indicative of his abilities, the Ducks will have a steal on their hands.

-Raw Talent. Illo played a short season on a bad team in a league that doesn't get much respect for its level of competition. He may bust at the next level.

Round 6 - 166th Overall

Scott Valentine D
Valentine was the defenseman involved in the multi-player deal that sent John Tavares to the Knights. For London, the 6'2" 195 lb blueliner battled for ice time, producing 0 points and 20 PIM in 17 games. He took on a bigger role with Oshawa, and managed a goal and 8 assists in 26 games for the Generals. He plays an aggressive game, and has the skating ability and physical presence to back it up.

-Promotion to General. If this season is any indication, Valentine will flourish even further with the playing time he gets in Oshawa. He'll play in all situations, and get a chance to develop every part of his game.

-None. Valentine is a great value in the 6th Round. He may not develop offense, but how many 6th Round defenseman will? He may not make the NHL, but how many 6th Round defenseman will?


Pronger For Lupul 2: Electric Boogaloo

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

They say, in sports, it's impossible to quantify a player's worth. Nothing could be further from the truth for Chris Pronger. He's worth, exactly, Joffrey Lupul, a 1st Round defenseman, and assorted picks (relative to his Stanley Cup success at the time). The price has been proposed and paid twice. Most recently on Friday, when Anaheim moved their 6'6" defenseman to Philadelphia, the team currently paying Joffrey Lupul. For Pronger and Ryan Dingle, the Ducks acquired Lupul, Luca Sbisa, the Flyers' 2009 and 2010 1st Round Pick and a conditional 3rd Round pick for 2010/11. Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski reports the 3rd Rounder is conditional on whether or not the Flyers win the Stanley Cup.

Chris Pronger D
Salary: 6.25M (UFA 2010)
Instrumental in the Ducks' playoff run this season, Pronger played the most responsible shutdown defense of his career, tying a career low 12 PIM in Anaheim's series against the Sharks and Red Wings.

Ryan Dingle C
Salary: 850K (RFA 2009)
Dingle was signed as a free agent after a standout scoring career with the Denver Pioneers. He split time with the ECHL and AHL last season, but turned in 18 points in 70 games with the CHOPS this year.

Joffrey Lupul RW
Salary: 4.25M (UFA 2013)
Lupul notched 50 points (25 G) for the Flyers this season, his highest output since leaving Anaheim. He also scored a goal and an assist in the Flyers' series against the Penguins.

Luca Sbisa D (RFA 2011)
Salary: 875K
Sbisa was Philadelphia's 1st Round pick (19th overall) in last year's Entry Draft. He played 40 games for the Flyers this year, including one playoff game, accruing 38 PIM and 7 assists.

The Pronger trade was the other shoe in this year's edition of Scott Niedermayer's "To Play or Not To Play" saga, and it was widely believed that Prongs would leave Anaheim in a salary dump. However, with the addition of roughly 5M in cap hits, this deal is far from a dump. And with the Ducks making (arguably) minimal use of Philadelphia's pick, this looks no better than a deal that could have happened at the trade deadline i.e. Pronger for Kessel, who, in all likelihood, would not have re-signed for less than Lupul's salary.

Daniel, what SHOULD a Pronger trade have done for the Ducks, and what does this trade actually do?

First, let me say that I am only writing this now because it is exactly now that I stopped sobbing long enough to write. This trade is horrible, and it's horrible for two reasons: Joffrey Lupul's contract and Joffrey Lupul's style of play. Before I get into that, let me answer the first question. The Pronger trade should have provided us with three things:

1) Draft Picks: Success!!
2) A top 6 forward for Selanne: Kind of, sort of, not really
3) Payroll flexibility: Epic Fail

I know a lot of Anaheim fans will remember the Lupul that scored 28 goals for us and 4 in one playoff game, and will love to have him back. The problem is that Lupul is a finisher, and Selanne is a finisher, and there's only one puck. Selanne can't spend all of his energy chasing the puck just so Lupul can reload. We need someone who can join Selanne on the rush and work the complex passing that makes his skills deadly to opponents. I don't think Lupul will be able to keep up with Selanne, and I think Lupul's inability to share the puck is only going to frustrate Teemu and ruin any potential chemistry. More importantly, if we move Ryan to the second-line instead of Lupul, it won't bring back the Selanne of 2006-2007 that we desperately neeed.

Next, Lupul's contract is 4.25 million/year for the next 4 years. That means that after we pay Niedermayer his money (about 6 million for 2-4 years depending on what he wants) and pay Wisniewski (another 2-3 million over 3-5 years), our cap hit next year is about 46 million, give or take a million, depending on who gets how much money. But that's without signing a Marchant or a Rob Niedermayer, or another Top 4 defenseman, like Beauchemin. Essentially, our cap number for the 2010-2011 season, a season where the cap is expected to drop again, will be in the neighborhood of 43 million, without counting any offer to Marchant or Rob, or the Top 4 defenseman we still need. Bobby Ryan and Jonas Hiller will be Free agents in 2010. If Bob Murray can get those two to stay for 7 million dollars, forget GM of the year, he deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor and a harem of Dutch girls from the red light district. For those of you playing the at-home-game, now is the time to curse Joffrey Lupul, or pray for his future departure, because he's taking up Bobby Ryan's and/or Jonas Hiler's money.

My salary cap forecast is a little different from yours, as I don't see Scott Niedermayer ever signing another multi-year deal, but I wholeheartedly agree that Bobby Ryan is going to want a hefty raise at the end of next year. When you look at the 2005 Draft Class: Sidney Crosby just raised the Stanley Cup, Jack Johnson's moving on to a new contract this season and Ryan just finished 2nd in Calder voting in a year where it took a freak injury to Teemu Selanne to get him out of the AHL. I wouldn't be surprised if he offer-sheeted us and walked.

And I refuse to believe that Bob Murray isn't lying awake at night, pondering that possibility. The nearest I can figure, he's operating under the assumption that Niedermayer and Selanne will retire after this season, which leaves plenty of money to waste on shoring up the holes they will leave. If that's the case, I agree with his shopping list, but completely disagree with his purchase.

Going to Philadelphia for a forward is like going to the Airport for lunch, and Joffrey Lupul is a $10 Big Mac, which we'll be eating for the next 4 years. I'm not saying he's devoid of nutritional value, but in every other hockey market (except maybe Manhattan) he's a $4 burger. Seriously, Murray. Where's the beef?

Again, I agree with the decision to use Chris Pronger to acquire a Top Six forward to either replace Selanne or act as an insurance policy against a Bobby Ryan offer sheet. That is just as valid as dumping salary and acquiring draft picks. But you have to do it affordably. Ideally, Murray should have acquired an expensive long-term contract that would make it unnecessary for him to pursue Beauchemin this offseason or shop the free agent market for a second line center. Instead, he bought a contract that makes both tasks, at once, imperative and impossible.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Penalty Kill: Matt Clark and Igor Bobkov

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

We continue our draft coverage of the Ducks' 2009 Draft Class with a profile of Round 2 selection Matt Clark and Round 3 selection Igor Bobkov.

Round 2 - 37th Overall

Matt Clark D
Utilizing the Columbus pick they obtained by trading down from 21, the Ducks selected Matt Clark of the Brampton Battalion, arguably the best defensive defenseman available in the 2nd Round.

The young rearguard battled his way up the Troops' depth chart this season. Not an easy task for a rookie playing for the best team in the OHL's Eastern Conference. The 6'3" 210 lb. blueliner is committed to refining his game by getting more mobile and more confident with his physical play. Unfortunately, his offensive skills are still largely a question mark.

-Still gaining confidence, Clark may jump into more plays and find an offensive game next season.

-Glove Dropper. While not always successful, Clark has shown an affinity for scrapping. His 1.76 PIM/G in this year's playoffs was quite impressive, especially when you consider the OHL's reduced physicality.

-Battle Tested. Clark has faced some great forwards in the OHL and held his own.

-His much touted +21 is a little deceiving. While he's put up an impressive plus/minus for a rookie, it should be noted that he finished the season with 3 G and 20 A. Fellow Brampton blueliner Brad Albert, who also posted a +21, finished the season with four fewer points.

-If he never finds his offensive game, and doesn't find the confidence to really dominate, he will plateau as a 2nd pairing stay-at-home player that may be overvalued at 37th overall.

Round 3 - 76th Overall

Igor Bobkov G
As the 3rd Round opened, only two goaltenders had been selected: Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson. This left the Ducks with their pick of the litter, specifically Matthew Hackett (ranked 1st by Central Scouting amongst North American goaltenders). Anaheim opted for Igor Babkov (ranked 10th by CS amongst International netminders).

Bobkov turned in a lights-out performance at this year's IIHF World U18 Championship. His stats tell most of the tale, but he really turned heads when the Playoff Round began. In the Quarterfinal and Semifinal Rounds, against Sweden and Finland respectively, Bobkov allowed one goal on 96 shots. The 6'4" 190 lb netminder was a brick wall with eyes, but fell short in the Gold Medal game.

Bobkov plays a stand-up style, maximizing his absurdly large frame. He has a quick glove, but little to no mastery of the key elements of the butterfly technique.

-Bobkov Big. Each of Bobkov's legs is the size of Darren Pang. While he doesn't go down often, he can potentially shut down the lower-third of the net with little, if any, lateral movement.

-Natural Ability. Bobkov is a raw talent with the potential to improve as his technique develops.

-Stand-up Style. Bill Ranford was the league's last stand-up goaltender, and it's unlikely that a pure stand-up goaltender can still be dominant (or even effective) in today's game. Bobkov will have to learn a lot of basics.

-Big Project. Were Allaire still in Anaheim, he might have seen developing Bobkov as an unclimbable mountain, even 2-3 years down the line. The young Russian will have to find a hybrid style that can translate to the NHL, or he may never even get to the AHL.


Penalty Kill: Kyle Palmieri

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

"The Anaheim Ducks are proud to select, from the US National Development Team, forward Kyle Palmieri"

I suppose it would have been awkward for Martin Madden to say, "formerly of the US National Development Team," though I'm sure at least a few people were thinking it. Palmieri's off-ice trouble has become quite the melodrama. Officially, he was dismissed for violating team rules. Unofficially, a variety of tales have emerged, though none overwhelmingly trustworthy. Some paint Palmieri as a participant in the rule-breaking, some as an implicated party who refused to name the actual violators. The only certainty is that Palmieri missed an opportunity with the National Development Team, and must make the most of his time at Notre Dame, where he is committed in the Fall or Guelph of the OHL, who drafted him last year.

The Ducks are clearly unfazed by Palmieri's past. It seems the 5'10" 190 lb. center was their man late in the 1st round. When Anaheim was set to pick at 21, the best players that had slipped to 15 (Moore and Schroeder) were still available, but the Ducks again opted to pass on the pair, trading down to select Palmieri (at 26th) and Matt Clark (at 37th). Palmieri is only two inches taller than Schroeder (whose height sent him into draft board free fall) and Matt Clark, while highly regarded, lacks much (if not all) of John Moore's upside. The Ducks passed on a "bird in the hand" at 21 to go for "two in the bush." The odds are against a late 1st Rounder and a 2nd Rounder equaling the potential of a player projected 11-14th overall, but only time will tell.

Anaheim gets an interesting gamble in Palmieri. The young forward was arguably the most physically developed participant in the Fitness Testing at this year's Combine, and the scouts remain high on his quick skating, his banging play and his great hands in tight. Palmieri's toolbox, playing style and stature have garnered comparisons to Zach Parise, and that is certainly the potential plateau for his development. To get there, he needs to develop his hockey sense, and learn to use his quick moves and size to his advantage, rather than getting knocked down from play to play by the larger competition.

If his offense can't mature with the NCAA and then AHL competition, Palmieri could quickly become a third or fourth line grinder with the ability to make the ordinary plays extraordinarily well. That's still valuable, though perhaps a bit expensive at the end of the 1st Round.

-Depending on which rumor you choose, Palmieri may have sacrificed his spot on the Development Team to protect his teammates. That would make him a strong character player. The alternative rumor, perhaps, just makes him appropriately mature for his age.

-Hard-working competitor. He may not have the skill set that Holland has, but he displays determination on the ice, which may make him the safer bet of the Ducks two 1st Round picks.

-Strength and quickness. Parise has shown how dangerous this particular combination can be. Despite his size, Palmieri has one of the more desirable upsides of any player in the Ducks' prospect pool.

-Again, depending on which rumor you choose to believe, Palmieri may be prone to immature behavior.

-If he ends up a third line grinder, Palmieri and Clark may be a poorly conceived alternative to Moore or Schroeder.

-Size. Despite his strength, Palmieri's size can become an issue, especially joining a prospect pool where he can look very few players in the eye. He may have an uphill climb getting out of the minors.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Penalty Kill: Peter Holland

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Two surprise picks in the Top 15: The Islanders traded UP (?) to be certain they could pick Calvin De Haan (a playmate familiar to Tavares) and the Ducks picked Peter Holland at 15th. Were the Draft held in March, both picks would have been timely, but after months of shifting Draft boards, the picks drew the appropriate gasps.

I should say that calling this pick a "mistake" ignores the scouting and interview work that Murray, Madden and their staffs have done over the past few months. However, with Moore and Schroeder still available, this was NOT the prudent "best player available" pick from the perspective of outside observers.

As a gauge of Holland's stock going into the draft, consider that he was a 2nd Round player on The Hockey News Mock Draft, and was picked 27th in the Hockey's Future Mock Draft.

So, who is Peter Holland?

In his rookie season with the Guelph Storm, Holland turned in a quiet effort of 8 G and 15 A, but he took on a larger role this year, and with it, a larger share of the scouting spotlight. His 28 G and 39 A were second only to Matt Kennedy in terms of point production for the Storm. But a slowed pace after a quick start led to the emergence of an oft misquoted characterization of Holland having a "lackadaisical attitude." The actual quote, from a THN article, compared the perception of his passive play as "lackadaisical" to an equally valid perception that his play was "analytical" and thought-out. Regardless of how you might choose to perceive these lapses in intensity, Holland has now been branded with the criticism of "inconsistent," as evidenced by this evaluation from Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting:

"When he is competing, he is very noticeable and effective. He is used both on the power-play and penalty-kill units, and at times he has been used at the point on the power-play. He skates very well, smooth, and he generates good speed. He has a very good shot." [emphasis added]

Holland seems aware of the perception. When describing his performance of late, the 18-year old was quick to point to the pressures of being a young leader on his team and the nervousness of knowing the scouts were watching him, factors that could certainly contribute to his inconsistency. Ultimately, whether you choose to paint his style of play as "thinking-man's-hockey" or "taking-shifts-off," the young center may lack the competitive drive to battle at the potential of his 6'2" 185 lb. size.

- Good skater. Agile and nimble for his size.
- Incredible hockey sense that makes him a valuable player on the Kill AND Man-advantage.

- Inconsistency. It's a question mark that has hung over everyone from Stanislav Chistov to Ryan Getzlaf.
- He may be a perimeter player faking a Power Forward style.
- "Bust" risk is high when you consider that the best players available were both consistent producers, and smart on both sides of the puck.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Draft Day 1

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Pronger Trade
As we sat down to watch the draft, Daniel told me he'd heard a rumor we were in talks with the Flyers. I responded, "Maybe Lupul and a 1st rounder. Sound familiar?"

Sure enough. For Lupul and two 1st Rounders, Chris Pronger goes to the Flyers.

15th Overall Pick
Peter Holland
With the 15th overall pick, the Anaheim Ducks take Peter Holland.

Holland's stock was falling, though he was ranked very high as recently as April. The general 'knock' is that he had consistency issues. I will write up a penalty kill later tonight, but am looking forward to our pick at 21. The Ducks have certainly scouted and interviewed the kid, but from an outside perspective, he was definitely not the best player available, chosen ahead of Moore and a small but capable Schroeder.

26th Overall Pick - Converted from Philadelphia's 21st Overall For This Pick and a 2nd Rounder
Kyle Palmieri
Highlighted in my post on fitness testing, Palmieri's stock fell slightly after an alleged off-ice incident. He's a good pick at 26th, and I will try to add a dual Penalty Kill post tonight.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Penalty Kill: Final Draft Preview

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

I had hoped that a trade would squeeze through, and give Daniel and I something to talk about tonight. No dice. All we can do is sit and wait for tomorrow.

We will have a number of draft related posts in the coming days, including a breakdown of each Ducks pick. Until then, I thought I should put up a summary of the many mock selections out there: who they are and how the Ducks might end up with them.

Please remember that the Ducks are not above playing a hunch, even if they don't trade down to do it. Some of these are "best player available" picks (Kulikov) based on who falls out of the Top 14 and some are projections based on who the Ducks have drafted of late (Ashton), but none of them can anticipate the thinking of Bob Murray, Martin Madden and their respective staffs.

Nazem Kadri
Picked by: Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated, Mock GM's on HF Boards

Kadri has risen to the Top 10 on most boards, and with good reason. He's creative with excellent offensive hockey sense and vision. I have no idea what would scare teams off of him to the point that he would fall to 15.

Dmitry Kulikov
Picked by: Shane Malloy for TSN, Earl Sleek of Battle of California (SBN Mock Draft), Daniel of Anaheim Calling's "If He's Still There" Pick.

Kulikov is a naturally offensive player, but has shown serious defensive prowess when asked to shut things down. He is projected in the Top 12 on most reputable boards, and yet he's fallen to the Ducks in a number of Mock Drafts. To give you an example of the shenanigans necessary to make such a thing possible: according to the SBN Mock Draft, the Wild would have to pick torn-ligament recovery patient (but through-and-through 'soter boy) Zach Budish at 12th.

Scott Glennie
Picked by: Scott Cullen for TSN, Arthur of Anaheim Calling's "If He's Still There" Pick.

I've said my piece on Glennie, and I really think he'll go 11-14, maybe even 10th. If spreading the propaganda that he is "nothing more than Brayden Schenn's linemate" gets him in a Ducks uniform, then sign me up! And even if the propaganda were true, he'd be a steal at 15th.

John Moore
Picked by: Arthur of Anaheim Calling's "He'll Probably Still Be There" Pick

I never thought I would be the only one left in the John Moore fan club. *Tear*

Louis Leblanc
Picked by: The Hockey News Staff, Hockey's Future Staff

A relatively ho-hum pick, but the combined wisdom of Hockey's Future and The Hockey News declare him the least risky pick of the 15-20 forwards (though that's not saying much).

Jacob Josefson
Picked By: Shawn P. Roarke (Mock Draft Version II) for NHL.com

Josefson is a great two-way center. Some mock drafts have him in the 11-14 range, and some in the 15-20. If the Ducks prefer a scorer, they would prefer Leblanc to Josefson, though the offensive ability of the latter can certainly be developed. But I think the Ducks are currently rolling the dice on enough Josefson-type forwards.

Zack Kassian
Picked by: Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun, Daniel of Anaheim Calling's "He'll Probably Still Be There" Pick, Arthur of Anaheim Calling's "The Ducks Will Take Him Against Their Better Judgment" Pick

In my first Draft post in April, I said the Ducks would ignore a "smart" choice in favor of Kassian. His stock has risen, somewhat, but you can't get around the fact that he's risky. Yes, he's a belligerent bull, and the ice is his china shop. Yes, he showed quite the scoring touch this season. But if he can't balance the two, or if this season was a fluke, the Ducks would be drafting George Parros 15th overall.

Carter Ashton
Picked By: Brad Holland (Mock Draft Version III) for NHL.com

I won't deny that Ashton is a quality power forward, but he would definitely be a hunch at 15. And on Holland's board, he somehow goes ahead of Kadri. There are better options out there, even if they come in the form of a trade down.

David Rundblad
Picked by: Pierre McGuire for TSN, Craig Button for TSN, Adam Kimelman (Mock Draft Version III) for NHL.com

This seems like a hunch. In each of the three mock drafts, he's picked ahead of a defenseman projected to be better than him: Ekman-Larsson (Kimelman's), Moore (Button's) and Kulikov (McGuire's). There is certainly something to be said for a guy who plays in the SEL, and moves the puck well against grown-men. BUT the Ducks are 1 for 10 (Havelid) historically on their SEL picks. The 'competing against grown-men' argument has never really worked out for them.

I've omitted Peter Holland, as his stock has been dropping rather steadily since May. In TSN's final prospect rankings, Jordan Schroeder was ranked 15th. Schroeder would be a great pick, but I don't see him falling past Minnesota.

Alright, that's pretty much everybody. Daniel and I will cover Anaheim trades/Scotty news if it comes down tomorrow morning, and we'll have something on the Draft pick tomorrow evening with continuing coverage over the weekend.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Daniel's Draft

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

The teletype's been rather quiet lately, but Draft Day is fast approaching.

Due to some scheduling crunches on Daniel's part, I've been allowed to opine rather extensively on this year's Entry Draft. Here's a brief summary of some of my general predictions:

The Needs of the Prospect Pool: The pool needs a dynamic scoring forward and an elite defensemen. An NHL level goaltender would be nice, too, but there are none projected in the 1st Round (and with good reason) and the Ducks are without a 2nd Round Pick this year.

The Best Player Available: There's some depth on the blueline at this year's Draft, and that could cause an elite defenseman like John Moore to fall to Anaheim. The Ducks would likely pass on Ellis and might be high on Despres (whose stock has recently fallen), but it could be that the best player available is a defenseman, not a forward. Of course, I'm sure the Ducks have done their homework, and handpicked a forward that they are comfortable selecting after Schroeder, Kadri and Glennie, but the Ducks might actually have to trade up (which would be extremely difficult) to secure the dynamic scorer they want.

The Need to Trade Down: It's possible that the Ducks can obatin a 2nd Round pick or an additional 1st Round pick by trading Pronger on Draft Day. However, short of that deal, the Ducks could be scared off the 15th pick by their aforementioned homework. Or even this nice little article by Scott Cullen on how the historical boom/bust value of the 15th pick bears an eerie resemblance to that of the 29th or 30th. Trading down might get Anaheim the 2nd Round pick they need to draft a goaltender, while still netting them a forward no riskier than who they would have had at 15th.

My Preferred Picks: John Moore, Scott Glennie and Edward Pasquale.

Now it's time to let my counterpart have his say. Alright, Daniel. Gearing up for Draft Day, what are your impressions/predictions?

I'm inclined to agree that this pick needs to be traded. There just isn't a guy that's screaming, "Pick Me!" at 15. I won't bother reiterating names you've dropped, but two players I like that might-- emphasize MIGHT --be around when we pick are Zack Kassian and Dmitry Kulikov. Kassian has size and a scoring touch, but I'm not sure how well he skates. Mix in the fact that he's only had one breakout year, and it's not hard to see how a guy with his numbers and size ends up at 15. Kulikov is a definite scoring defenseman who can skate and might be able to fill out that 6'1" frame a little further down the road. I like Kulikov because I think he can evolve to help the Power Play when Niedermayer retires. Kassian is huge, and he'll find a way onto a team like ours if he can be defensively responsible and forecheck like a monster. Both of these guys are viable picks at 15, but the chatter has me thinking that Kulikov, if he's there, would be the best choice at 15.

I think these are two players that could help us down the road and might fall to us. They're ranked in the Central Scouting top 10 for North American skaters, and might be good at 15. But I'm not sure if they're guarantees, and I definitely don't think getting them is worth declining a quality deal on Draft Day. Bob McKenzie's most recent article points out that there probably isn't much of a difference between picking 20 and 40. So, trading down for a 2nd Round pick will still net us a good player. An acceptable free agent class and cap space after moving Pronger point to one fact: selecting at 15 is only something we should do if we can't trade the pick.

But with whom do we trade? I still think the only team in the top 10 interested in moving their pick, or to be more accurate, that seems like a viable trading partner based on mutual need, would be the Kings. They have a strong core, and they are still young, which means that, more than anything, they need veteran leadership. So, even though both sides have blatantly dismissed the rumors about Pronger taking a trip up the 5 freeway, I'm not sold that it won't happen if Niedermayer returns. A move like this creates cap space for re-signing Beauchemin, and possibly, wiggle room for picking up a Top 6 forward in a different move. I think Pronger moves on Draft Day after Niedermayer announces his return.

Finding a partner to trade down might be easier, since there might be a lot of willing participants. San Jose doesn't have a 1st Round pick, and might be willing to trade Cheechoo and a 2nd Rounder for our 1st Rounder . . . but that might be wishful thinking, plus they might choose to squeeze more value out of their pair of 2nd round picks. I also think Burke would be willing to put together a good package of picks, so that he can pick twice in the top 15. It might go a long way in his rebuilding process. I also wouldn't be surprised if we dealt with the Canucks, who might overreact to the demands of the Sedins. Mostly, I don't see a great trade down deal that doesn't involve a Top Sixer, and those scenarios can get very complicated. And I'm not going to waste any more time. If the Ducks can find a buyer, I think this pick gets moved. Then again, it's hard to pass up a solid prospect.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Penalty Kill: Louis Leblanc

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

I've been patiently awaiting Hockey's Future's Ducks draft preview. I was tempted to comment on Malloy's draft for TSN, but I felt his board went screwy right around the 14th pick. While I am willing to believe that Edmonton would take Ellis instead of Kulikov, I refuse to believe that the Panthers would choose Moore over Kulikov. I know that I said I'd personally choose Moore over Kulikov, but the young Russian from The Q has had a steady and overwhelming hype that makes Moore the lesser of the two in the quest to replace Bouwmeester. The Ducks would be fortunate to take either player, of course, but if Malloy's mock board plays out 1-13 on Draft day, I'd assume the Ducks would end up with Moore, not Kulikov.

Who does Hockey's Future say we get? Louis Leblanc. HF's Chris Shafer has a notably grim, but all too realistic take on the Ducks' situation. The website has yet to roll out its entire mock board, but they are clearly of the opinion that certain players will NOT fall into the Ducks hands. Specifically, they forecast Nazem Kadri going 13th to the Sabres and John Moore going 14th to the Panthers. Shafer hints, as I have before, that in such a situation, the Ducks would be tempted to trade down to add a 2nd Round pick, which they currently lack and may need if they want to draft a quality netminder. Trading down would force Anaheim to cast its lot with a riskier boom-or-bust forward, but that may be preferrable to taking a "safe" player like Leblanc.

So, let's talk Louis. The 5'11" centerman played well in the Quebec midgets, but turned down the QMJHL to go the NCAA route with the United States Hockey League. Leblanc knotted 28 G and 31 A in 60 games for the Omaha Lancers this season, earning him the USHL's Rookie of the Year honor, and stamping his ticket to the ECAC, where he is committed to play for Harvard in the Fall.

I haven't seen him play, as my armchair scouting career has yet to reach the point where I find a way to watch USHL games, but there's a nice Meet The Prospects feature on the Islanders website with three quotes that echo the consensus of the scouting buzz surrounding Leblanc: Strong skater, competitive, knack for team play and a nose for goals in front of the net. At the combine, he was a Top Performer in Body Fat, Skinfolds, Standing Long Jump, Push Strength and Pull Strength. For the specific numbers, feel free to search his name in our chart of the Central Scouting Top Performers list.

-Draft Upside: Shafer points to Leblanc as a relatively low-risk player, meaning you pretty much know what you're getting.

-While he isn't touted as a game breaking forward, Leblanc is noted for courage and grit around the net that can provide timely, though not abundant, secondary scoring.

-Draft Downside: There are some teams that are high on Leblanc, and the Ducks may get more value in a swap and 2nd Round pick trade with a team as close in the drafting order as, say, The Canadiens.

-Harvard may not be the best program to develop Leblanc, and while some feel he'll fast track to the NHL in a couple of years, I think his devotion to his education will keep him in the Ivy League a bit longer.


Friday, June 12, 2009

The Pronger To LA Rumor

Well, the Finals aren't even over yet, and already the rumor mill is running. While the rumors about Lecavalier are still going, and new ones about Heatley are warming up, we here at Anaheim Calling like to focus on rumors about the Ducks. To that end, earlier this afternoon, Andy Strickland reported the rumor that the Ducks were moving Pronger to L.A. for the Kings' first round pick (5th overall) and one Jack Johnson. The report was later corroborated by Steve Ludzik of The Score.

I found this rumor to be a little surprising, not only because moving Pronger to the Kings would mean facing him 6 times a year, but because Johsnon isn't really a cheaper/better alternative to anything we can put on our blue line i.e. Beauchemin or Niedermayer. But, it's important to evaluate these prospects from all angles. So, Arthur, where is the truth behind this rumor and are there any potential benefits for the Ducks to explore this deal?

There are several reasons to doubt this rumor, whether it be the reliability of the sources or the number of flat-out denials that are emerging. However, I personally don't see this as an unbelievable rumor for the sake of its substance.

Daniel, you said in the prompt that you think this is a bad move for the Ducks, and I realize that better deals to make our team better now may be out there, but we should really address the majority that think this is a bad move for the Kings. Because IF Niedermayer is staying (which this rumored trade would suggest), the Ducks would be looking at deals to move Pronger's salary. And I think this does that.

First, let me say that if the Kings are moving Jack Johnson, then I think they are having serious trouble signing him. After last month's TSN report that Johnson's father spoke to a KHL coach, you had to figure the blueliner's camp was playing hardball, and moving him would confirm that. But if the Kings can't sign him, I'd think he's sold to the Ducks as a severe offer sheet risk. Currently at 2.15M, I think a Johnson offer sheet comes in at around 3.75M-4M. That would be a compensation of at least a 1st and 3rd Round pick.

So, the way I see this deal, we're moving Pronger for this year's 5th overall pick and next year's 1st, 3rd and maybe 2nd round picks of a team to be named later. If you're looking to dump salary, that's a GREAT deal. Especially when you consider that we'll still have access to some top flight talent picking at 5th: Brayden Schenn, Evander Kane and Jared Cowen for example. Kings fans are right to be upset, here. Setting aside the value comparison in talent, the addition of 4M in salary makes it harder for L.A. to acquire the marquee players they're rumored to be after. Though, on the bright side, Pronger may end up as nothing more than a bargaining chip in a trade acquisition for one of the aforementioned marquee players.

If the Ducks CAN sign Johnson to an affordable contract, then they would guarantee themselves a solid top pairing in two years of Whitney and Johnson, just as the team's defensive prospects are emerging to the NHL level. And if they can't, the extra money offers endless possibilities, even if the most attractive one is just to stay under budget.

I agree that getting that many picks for Pronger would be a good move in a salary dump. That would be a great way to free up some cash to sign Beauchemin, or to solidify our second line.

What I don't necessarily like is moving Pronger. He was so great down the stretch and this is a contract year for him, which means he'll be trying to prove he's still worth a good chunk of cap space. I know it's necessary to protect assets, but Pronger is a different type of player. It might be worth the risk to ride him to another deep playoff run and then let him walk. This would require shoring up the D through other means, but it might be worth it to not have to face an angry/motivated Pronger.

If we have to move Pronger, this isn't a bad deal. But, it is still my preference that we keep him, or get guaranteed second line scoring in the deal. I just think there are better deals out there, I hope.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Penalty Shot: Allaire Joins Toronto

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

This afternoon, CKAC reported that Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs had obtained the rights to negotiate with François Allaire. Shortly thereafter, the Maple Leafs released a statement (available on their website) confirming that Allaire had signed with Toronto, and featuring a quote by Burke, who personally thanked Anaheim for making the goaltending consultant available to them.

Update: 8 p.m. Pacific Time

I had really hoped there was more to this story, but nothing more seems to have emerged. The OC Register quotes a team official as saying that Allaire wanted to be closer to Montreal, and the Ducks gave him permission to speak with Toronto. However, none of this is new information when you consider that 10 days ago, Allaire told Marc de Foy of Rue Fontenac that he had asked the Ducks if he could speak with other teams, but his request was denied.

The elephant in the room seems to be: Why not Montreal? When the Habs fired Melanson on June 1st, the pursuit of Allaire seemed to be the next logical step. And if Allaire had expressed a desire to pursue other offers in May, maybe even offers closer to Canada, why didn't the Ducks grant his wish then? Was there really so much deadlock at the bargaining table that they needed an extra two weeks to determine they couldn't sign him?

Also, why does Burke beat Montreal to the punch here? Were the Canadiens not interested, or was Burke VERY interested? When the story first leaked, it sounded as though the Ducks had received some compensation for allowing Toronto to speak with Allaire, but no such compensation has been reported. It could be that this was just a favor between Burke and Murray, but then again, it could be that this is setting the stage for something much bigger. A Maple-Leaf-shaped pillow on which Giguere can fall, perhaps? The idea isn't so far-fetched.

Ultimately, we appear to have lost Allaire because he wanted to go back to Canada, and I'm OK with that. However, I should note that the organization did not negotiate with Allaire during the regular season, leading the coach to express some uncertainty in regards to Anaheim's interest. A similar drama played out with Beauchemin after his injury. And now, it seems we'll be getting back neither of the two French Canadians. Sometime, in the near future, I would like to see a Ducks GM that pursues the people that really count in this organization, whether they're going to get a superstar contract or not.

You doubt that Allaire counts? When Brian Hayward asked Jonas Hiller how François Allaire was preparing him for the Sharks series, the young netminder replied that he was taught what to expect from every aspect of the game: pre-game preparation, in-game, overtime and post-game-- right down to the questions to expect from the media. Normally, I assert that a goaltending coach can only do so much and can't make a fragile player mentally strong, but I guess Allaire had that covered, too. François Allaire, tu nous manqueras vraiment.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Penalty Shot: What About Bob?

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Daniel has returned to California. We'll let him unpack. In the meantime, I thought we could take a look at Bob Murray's Draft history.

Using the information on hockeydb.com, I've constructed a simple chart of Murray's draft choices in Chicago. I've included his three years as GM (97-99), as well as the preceding years, where he served as Director of Player Personnel for the Blackhawks (91-96). This is, by no means, an indication of the players that Murray is likely to draft-- just a bit of information to round out your expectations of Bob Murray when he's the Triggerman on Draft Day.

However, for any fans expecting a continuation of the Burke administration's Drafts, I would like to point out that Murray set himself apart from his predecessor at the Trade Deadline (a holiday from which Burke regularly abstains), and that there are some new faces and some old faces with louder voices whispering in Murray's ear this year.

First, note that the Ducks have a new Director of Amateur Scouting this season: Martin Madden. Former Director, Alain Chainey, has stayed on as Asst. Director, but there IS a new sheriff in town. Madden's quite partial to The Q(mjhl), and I'm sure he'll make a mark on this year's selections-- the Ducks wouldn't have hired him otherwise. Also note that David McNab may have more pull than he's had in recent seasons. I see more NCAA Penalty Kill posts in my future.

On to the chart. For some draft board perspective, it should be noted that: Daniel Cleary was selected ahead of Brenden Morrow in 1997. Mark Bell was selected ahead of Nik Antropov, Alex Tanguay, Simon Gagne and Scott Gomez in 1998. And in 1999, Steve McCarthy was the second to last defenseman drafted in the 1st Round, BUT he was drafted ahead of 2nd Rounders Jordan Leopold and Mike Commodore.

Information compiled from Hockeydb.

Information compiled from Hockeydb.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Heady Plays

Anaheim calling to the hockey world . . .

The NHL's general managers gathered in Pittsburgh this week, greeting their newest members, and taking a second look at the NHLPA's proposed rule on headshots. Since the front office bosses last considered the issue, several shoulder checks to the head have made the front page, but the GMs were unfazed by the media coverage, voting the proposition down for the second time.

The rejected rule change was reportedly similar to the Ontario Hockey League's Rule 48:

Rule 48 - Checking to the Head

A minor or a major and game misconduct penalty, at the discretion
of the referee based on the degree of impact, shall be assessed to any
player who checks an opponent to the head area in any manner.

A match penalty shall be assessed to any player who deliberately
attempts to injure an opponent by Checking to the Head.

Note: A hit to the head with a shoulder shall be considered an illegal
check and shall be penalized as checking to the head.

Implemented in the 2006-07 season, Rule 48 has been mostly successful. Its proponents cite the rule as invaluable to the health of the OHL's young players, while its detractors argue the rule's "any manner" wording leads to penalties where the player being hit may have ducked or otherwise moved his head into the contact point. Both sides seem to agree, however, that the rule effectively reduces physical contact in the game, at least around 20%.

Daniel, you and I may not have the most sympathetic perspective, having grown up with shoulder checks to the head, but at least for this question, let's keep in mind that our fathers grew up with helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL. Should the NHL create a blanket penalty to penalize shoulder checks to the head, or will the current system of instituting fines after the fact always be enough?

I doubt that even Brett Lindros could convince me that shoulder checks to the head should be eliminated. And it's not that I think checks to the head are good. It's just that I don't think there's a fair way to regulate it. To an extent, this is a rule that would prevent Zdeno Chara, and Chris Pronger from ever taking the body. I've always been a fan of physical, intense hockey. I like hard checks in the corners and guys fighting for the puck. Also, the best defensive play is always to take the body. If you can detach the man from the puck, then you've done your job as a defender and it's time for transition offense. I realize that not every hit goes to the head, and mid-ice hits wouldn't stop, but there are too many variables. There is a chance that all a forward has to do is dip his head, so he can draw a penalty. That is going to lead to a lot of frozen defenders who won't take the body, and as a result we'll actually see more defenders letting the first shot through and boxing out on the second shot to clear the rebound. That way, they won't take useless penalties.

Look, the NHL has a history of adapting to the rules and adhering to the spirit of the law, rather than limiting themselves to the letter of the law. That's how they get the Evgeni Malkin call right, instead of screwing up like the NBA did when it suspended Stoudemire in the Suns-Spurs series a few years ago. The league could sell me on an intent to injure rule, maybe. But saying any hit to the head is a penalty is just unfair. It's like penalizing a guy for being taller. We like hard, physical hockey because it makes the space that the all-stars create that much more impressive.

I agree on the 'spirit of the law' point. I applaud the NHL for going back and reviewing the tapes, instead of asking the officials on the ice to determine when the line is crossed. However, since the NHL never explains HOW the line was crossed, they will continue to face accusations of favoritism and selective justice.

On shoulder checks to the head, I definitely sympathize with the NHLPA. The nature of concussions is that you're more susceptible to them once you've had one, and at this point, Havlat's skating with an eggshell around his brain. Also, from a lawmaking standpoint, it makes sense to shift the responsibility to the guys executing the hits, though I think we can all agree that the puck carriers have some duty to protect themselves.

But on a practical level, I just don't think it makes any sense. The intention on some of these hits is to get the guy in the chest with a shoulder, but collision is not a precise science. Does that mean players should be forced to turn and check a guy with their backs EVERY TIME they suspect they might catch his head?

I think the fines can have the desired effect, if used properly. Just as the NHL is going after goons and message-senders, I think they can go after guys that don't execute a proper hit, or regularly aim for the head. Niklas Kronwall had some pretty questionable aerial hits against the Ducks. If he'd been fined for those, he might have been more hesitant to lean forward into that hit on Havlat. It's not really unfair when you consider how closely the NHL watches the Ducks and the Flyers. It's a justice by reputation league.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Penalty Kill: NHL Draft Combine - Fitness Testing

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

The NHL Combine. If you haven't checked out the new NHL Central Scouting website, please do. In addition to its Final Rankings, the site now hosts an entire section on the Combine. There, you'll find a list of the invitees and an explanation of the various physical fitness exams, as well as a list of Top Performers in each test. I have reproduced the Top Performers lists here, but check out Central Scouting when you have the time. It's sure to be a valuable resource for years to come.

This year's Combine seems to have lacked a clear standout, leaving the spotlight on the Hedman/Tavares drama, where Victor Hedman held an edge over John Tavares and Matt Duchene. The Combine's subplots are all confirmed by the testing stats: Jordan Schroeder and Kyle Palmieri proved that height and might aren't always proportional, the high school kids made a splash and the meteoric continued to rise, while the injured may have done enough to halt their fall.

So, did anyone jump into 15th and thus into the crosshairs of the Ducks? If they did, it happened in the interview room. The Fitness Stats tell the story of only a few consistently impressive invitees: alleged off-ice troublemaker, Kyle Palmieri (23rd ISS), and high schoolers Mac Bennett and Chris Kreider (24th ISS), who all needed strong interviews to back up their physical performances. If they managed to make an impression on both sides of the Combine, Kreider and Palmieri will probably push themselves up a few spots, though Bennett may remain the steal of the 2nd Round. I've highlighted those players below, along with Nick Leddy (21st ISS) and John Moore (T-15th on TSN's recent draft board and 15th on my insignificant draft board).

The information listed below was compiled from the Top Performers lists available at NHL Central Scouting.

The information listed above was compiled from the Top Performers lists available at NHL Central Scouting.