Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Penalty Shot: Peter In

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Today, the Ducks officially named Pete Peeters as the team's goaltending consultant.

This has become an important post for the Ducks. The team must choose between its two starters this coming season and pick a successor amongst a handful of mid-level prospects in the near future, while still scouting top level goaltenders each year. It is possible that Allaire's absence will be felt on every front.

Peeters served as the goalie coach for the Edmonton Oilers during the MacTavish regime, overseeing Tommy Salo, Ty Conklin, Dwayne Roloson, Mathieu Garon, Jussi Markkanen and various others. Before his time with the Oilers, he ran the netminders at the Winnipeg Jets from 1993-97, at one point serving with Randy Carlyle in Terry Simpson's staff. Notable goaltenders Nikolai Khabibulin, Tim Cheveldae and Bob Essensa played for the franchise during those years.

Peeters' ability to choose between goaltenders
While Peeters was confronted with the two-headed crease monster this year, it is difficult to gather anything from his decision, as some attribute it to a publicized conflict with Garon, involving the goalie's use of outside consultant Lyle Mast. However, Garon denied the reports of tension between the parties or extensive consultation with Mast.

If there truly was no argument between the two, Peeters' decision to go with Roloson implies he prefers the more seasoned goaltender. Though, in the case of Anaheim's two-helmeted dragon, it is difficult to say how much Allaire's presence influenced the desire of either to stay with the Ducks, and more difficult to say how receptive Peeters will be to the prospect of working with a goaltender fully developed under Allaire's system.

Peeters' ability to develop goaltenders
During his time in Winnipeg/Phoenix, Peeters was credited with the construction of the Bulin Wall, building the netminder's confidence and encouraging him to challenge more shots.

In his early years in Edmonton, Peeters worked with a post-playoff era Tommy Salo, but was able to develop backups Jussi Markkanen and Ty Conklin. The developments of prospects Devan Dubnyk and Jeff DesLauriers were on the horizon, but Dubnyk completed only his first full season in the AHL this year and DesLauriers played only his first 10 games in the NHL. However, Peeters was very optimistic about the latter.

Peeters' ability to scout goaltenders
Insomuch as Draft selections indicate SOME scouting input by the goaltending consultant, these are the goaltenders drafted during Peeters' career with Edmonton and Winnipeg/Phoenix.

1993 - (31st Overall) Scott Langkow - played 20 NHL games
1994 - (143rd Overall) Steve Vezina - played 0 NHL games
1994 - (212th Overall) Henrik Smangs - played 0 NHL games
1995 - (121st Overall) Brian Elder - played 0 NHL games
1995 - (136th Overall) Sylvain Daigle - played 0 NHL games
1996 - (139th Overall) Robert Esche - played 186 NHL games

2001 - (133rd Overall) Jussi Markkanen - played 128 NHL games
2002 - (31st Overall) Jeff DesLauriers - played 10 NHL games
2002 - (148th Overall) Glenn Fisher - played 0 NHL games
2004 - (14th Overall) Devan Dubnyk
2004 - (274th Overall) Bjorn Bjurling
2006 - (133rd Overall) Bryan Pitton
2009 - (133rd Overall) Olivier Roy

And finally, a brief bio of Peeters' career as a player
Pete Peeters had two immensely successful seasons in the NHL. In his rookie year with the Flyers, the team went 35 straight games without a loss, and Peeters contributed 22-0-5 to that record. Then, in his first season with the Bruins in 1982-83, Peeters notched a 26-0-5 streak, finishing with a 2.36 GAA, 40-11-9. The performance earned him the Vezina honor for the year, as well as runner-up in Hart Trophy voting.

Unfortunately, the '80 and '83 seasons were solid years in a statistically checkered career. Peeters' performance in Philadelphia declined, and an alleged off-ice incident may have contributed to his trade to Boston. Then, in his last full season with the Bruins, Peeters was posterized by Mario Lemieux, who pickpocketed Ray Bourque and deked Peeters onto one knee on the first shift/shot/goal of Super Mario's NHL career. This would be the second poster (following the Stanley Cup overtime game winner in 1980) to feature Peeters, and the image was emblematic of the goaltender's 19-26-4, 3.47 GAA performance that year.

Peeters played with the Capitals for four seasons before signing with the Flyers in 89 and retiring two seasons later. End Bio.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

It was March of 2003. I had returned to Southern California on Spring Break from Berkeley. Daniel and I were watching TV and talking about the Ducks when suddenly, I looked at him and very seriously said, "I think this is their year." He looked back skeptically. "Maybe. We'll see," Daniel-speak for, "You iz crazy." I reiterated forcefully, "No, I'm serious. I get the same feeling I had with Buffalo a few years ago. They're . . . the RIGHT players." The players in question were Rob Niedermayer, Steve Thomas and Sandis Ozolinsh (acquired a couple of months prior). They joined a well-disciplined Anaheim team with a knack for defense and timely scoring.

I was wrong, of course-- or as right as I was about Buffalo. And, of the four players acquired that year, only Rob Niedermayer made it to the second Cup run. His game evolved in the intervening years, probably at Carlyle's request. He stared down some of the best players in the NHL, and owned them on the defensive boards as he had once owned the puck on the offensive boards. But he lifted the Cup that year, taking it from his brother, and later holding it with Pahlsson, the only other forward who could vividly recall 2003's defeat.

A week ago, a tweet from Darren Dreger of TSN read: "Rob Niedermayer isn't returning to Anaheim. Teams don't believe it, hence there isn't as much interest as there should be."

Daniel, with the expected budget for the year depleted, we may have seen the last of Rob NIedermayer. What has he meant to this team? And what has he meant to you, as a fan?

Robbie has been invaluable to the team. If it wasn't for him, Moen and Pahlsson, I don't think we win the Cup in 2007. He plays hard every shift, and he isn't afraid to go into the tough areas, make hits and win pucks. As I have joked on many occasions, "When the puck goes into a corner, a Niedermayer comes out with it." More importantly, I don't see anyone filling his skates anytime soon. Carter and Miller are average checkers, and neither of them have Robbie's hands. People forget that he came into the league as a scorer, but accepted his role as a checker. Carter and Miller will not provide that same timely scoring.

Robbie made our checking line not only defensively responsible but also a legitimate scoring threat. I ask you, was there anything better than seeing a team's top line hemmed up in their zone for a 40-second shift, only to give up a goal to our checking line? It was so demoralizing; you could see the confidence drain from the opposition's bench. More than that, Robbie brought a lunch box attitude to the rink, and he showed, as Marchant will continue to show, that a diligent role player can be vital to a team's success.

As a fan, I'll miss the pride I had in that line. They're all gone now. I loved watching Robbie forecheck; he was really an artist. He finished every check, and the way he worked the puck from skate to stick, from skate to teammate or the way he'd get a D-man so twisted you thought that dude was listening to too much Keith Sweat.

Just as important though, I remember that 2003 Cup run. That run is important to me as a hockey fan because it justified my loyalty to the Ducks and made haters across the country accept that, even if we were created as Disney's marketing gimmick, we still played hard hockey. I'm a sentimental dude, and Robbie sticking it out through both runs was just magical. He will always be associated with some of my best Ducks memories. He may not have always made the most amazing plays, but he perfected the necessary and mundane tasks of the game and made me a better, more knowledgeable fan. Robbie's efforts helped create the playoff expectations we now have in Anaheim. If you don't miss him, I don't think you're a Ducks fan.

I know there are some people who are going to say his effectiveness waned this season and that I'm once again displaying my bias for the '93 Draft class. To that I say, right on both counts.

The shutdown line looked pretty bad this year, but when Carlyle asked them to score more, Robbie did it, potting more goals than his last two empty-net-scoring-filled-seasons combined. He still faced the tough competition (according to Behind The Net, the toughest of any player on the Anaheim roster), but he found a way to do exactly what his coach wanted.

And that's Rob Niedermayer to me. He does everything the coach asks of him, even if it means doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well, even if it means letting his skill set fall into disuse and even if it means tanking his stats in a contract year while playing for a team whose games the other teams don't watch.

He deserved better than this. For staying here. For luring his brother here. For being whatever we needed him to be. I'll miss that attitude.

As a fan, I don't need a player who loves Southern California. I don't need a player who's happy to see me and sign autographs. I don't need a player who's active in the community and a friend to local charities. In fact, a player could probably be a despicable human being, and it wouldn't concern me. Because that's external to our relationship: him playing hockey while I watch it. In that respect, nobody trumped the Shutdown Line. They had the "showing up for work" stat cornered. And it troubles me to see all three of them put out in the cold.

I suppose I should blame the realities of the market, and not Murray, that I should imagine him in his office reciting a speech similar to the one in the movie Miracle: "How do I cut this kid? He's done everything I've asked." And then feel as if both of us are sad that Pahlsson is in Columbus, Moen is in Montreal and Robbie is headed elsewhere. But as I've said before, I don't automatically side with the guy still cashing the checks that say 'Ducks.' This entire line deserved better than this.

...oh, and so did Beauchemin.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All The Right Moves?

Well, we at Anaheim Calling have noticed that there isn't a lot happening that involves the Ducks right now. In fact, there isn't a lot happening at all. The top story on the Ducks website is a Q&A with Ryan Whitney, and the OC Register is apparently reporting on the Sharks. I digress. The point is, what are we going to talk about, Arthur?

I've been thinking, and thinking, and thinking, then I ate, then I thought more. Then the question came to me. On the last post, you said that our off-season is over. With that in mind, I'd like to know how we did. Do you think that these moves will be enough to get us back amongst the top teams in the conference and get us a deep move into the playoffs?

I would argue that the Ducks were one of the top teams in the conference this year, but that won't show in the standings unless we win the division. And we can't win the division if we don't out-point the Sharks.

I give San Jose the edge in the Pacific because they're bringing back the same Top Six, as well as Boyle and Blake. They're primed to repeat this year's performance. The Ducks, on the other hand, have added two major players to their Top Six and will be shifting the minutes around a now Pronger-less D-corps. If they find their groove early, it might be close, but I'm sure that at least the first dozen games will be spent juggling the lineup. I honestly can't predict what we'll have after that.

And I think that's really the wild card here, based on Carlyle's various comments to the OC Register. He wants consistent defense. And I think that means putting a dedicated backchecker with Koivu and Selanne, thus spreading out the offensive players. It also means splitting Niedermayer and Wisniewski, who weren't always successful at cueing and covering each other's offense. If he builds the defensively responsible, but offensively dangerous, team that he's contemplating, Carlyle should have a playoff squad capable of winning multiple series.

And at the end of the day, we have options. There's an overflow of talent. Almost half of the team might be fighting to stay on a line or get moved to a better line (not to mention the two guys trying to elbow each other out of the crease). Murray might even be motivated to call up players like Sharp and Mitera periodically, rather than let them lounge around a random AHL team. It should be an EXTREMELY competitive depth chart in October.

I offer only two predictions:
1) We will no longer field accusations of being a one-line team.
2) Carlyle won't have to use the healthy scratch as a motivational tool.

I'm happy with this off season. Not because it impressed me. We didn't do everything I wanted, [insert complaint about Top 4 D-man here]. But for the first time in about 2 years, there seemed to be front office motivation. Murray had a plan, he got what he could and he protected the future instead of mortgaging it on an underwhelming free-agent class. In previous years, Burke was scrambling, looking for the last piece to win the Cup and then dealing with the indecisiveness of Niedermayer and Selanne. This year, Murray wanted second line scoring, he wanted to make cap space and he got both. If nothing else, I say we are winners because the front office has a plan and is moving forward with that plan. I think that means the league will be dealing with a secure, confident Ducks team that will be very dangerous next year.

I don't think all the moves were great. Boynton isn't going to round out the Top 4 very well. Lupul is overpriced, but happy to be back in Califas. Maybe that'll help. And really, any type of scoring relief for our top line is bad news for the rest of the league. I think we have the top goalie tandem in the NHL, but they both need the D to be responsible on rebound control, which worries me.

The Sharks core is still intact, and the Kings might have acquired the veteran they need to turn their young talent around. But Kings fans shouldn't hold their collective breath. The division will be a dog fight, and I agree that San Jose comes out on top. They are just too loaded with talent. In terms of the conference, I wouldn't be surprised if we wiggle our way back to home ice, but only because Chicago will be playing without Hossa for the first 1/3 of the season. We have the goaltending and the scoring to go deep. Let's see now if fate agrees.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

RFA-Hunting We Will Go

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Barring a Giguere trade or Rob Niedermayer signing, Anaheim's offseason activity has concluded. By shipping Chris Pronger to Philadelphia and signing a handful of key and affordable free agents, Bob Murray has rebuilt his playoff team at (or slightly over) budget. However, the General Manager has most impressed hockey analysts with the enviable position he has secured for his team NEXT season.

Anaheim has less than 30M committed to payroll for 2010-11, a year in which many anticipate the Salary Cap will decrease. Key players are signed and key players named Bobby Ryan will need to be re-signed, but (budget permitting) the Ducks will be buyers, both at the trade deadline and offseason, in a buyer's market.

Daniel, you and I have discussed, at length, the salary cap headache that awaits Chicago next June, but other teams will be struggling to balance the checkbook. Who are you hoping the Ducks will poach, and how do you see them doing it?

First, let me start by saying this was a very difficult question to answer. I started with a short list to organize my thoughts, and it was ten players long. However, Chicago is in the most trouble, and they have the player that would be the best fit for us in Duncan Keith. He is the player the Ducks need to go after.

He's the closest thing I've seen to Scott Niedermayer. Keith skates like everyone else is standing still. He weaves through traffic, finds pockets in the defense, joins the rush and can get back on D. Watching replays of the CAL-CHI series on NHL Network makes me think he's a little turnover prone, but I'm sure Carlyle will teach him better habits and make him a stronger defender. He might even become Norris Trophy material. With Scotty's retirement imminent, it's time to start thinking about getting a Number 1 blueliner, and Keith could be it. He's going to want 5-6 million, and there's no way Chicago squeezes that when Toews and Kane will want the same money. They'd have to add almost $10 million more in salary to make it happen.

Ideally, we'd be able to trade for Keith during the season, so we can hold on to his rights and negotiate an extension. Bowman will have to trade someone on his team that's making $3 million in a stone cold salary dump. With the space we still have under the cap, we can take on one of those contracts. As a result, I see a trade a lot like the one you and I have been discussing, where Anaheim takes Keith and either a Byfuglien or Bolland in exchange for Wisniewski and an expiring RFA that can play depth like Drew Miller or Andrew Ebbett. Byfuglien is the top choice, since there's only one year left on his contract, but also because he'd look great camped out in front of the net, being force-fed by Perry and Getzlaf. He's Dustin Penner 2.0. Wisnieski showed last year that he can handle playoff pressure, so at least the Hawks get a capable defender with offensive upside who knows their system. It isn't a fair trade, but salary dumps rarely are. Chicago gets two expiring contracts without completely derailing their Cup aspirations-- after all Huet can do that on his own.

That trade makes the most sense. Especially because Murray is an old Chicago boy, and he should be there to lend a helping hand. I'm sorry, but Chicago isn't going to re-sign all three of these guys and be able to put a whole team on the ice. No one is going to take Huet or Campbell unless someone puts a gun to their head. If Chicago has to move someone, it should be Keith, because they still have Campbell, who is still really good, and Cam Barker. I'm not saying Keith's superfluous, just that they won't feel the pain as bad as losing Kane or worse, their Captain. If Murray can't convince Bowman that this trade is good, he might have to sweeten it with one of our extra First Round picks, but then there's always the off season. We can burn the extra First Round pick to sign Keith to an offer sheet if he makes it to July 1st. When Bowman realizes he doesn't have a choice, I'm sure he'll return Bob Murray's phone call.

I've been vocal about the possibility of acquiring Keith. Much more vocal than I was about Koivu. But I really think that Murph is the linchpin of this deal, not logic. His first trade deadline on the job for Anaheim, he reaches out to Chicago and his old Hawk teammate, Doug Wilson, in San Jose. Murray has clearly kept the respect of his friends through the years, and I have to believe that he still has friends at the United Center, even with Bowman officially in power.

But the logic really is overwhelming, here. Last time we talked about this, I told you that Bowman's best bet is to try what we did with Perry. If the Blackhawks can somehow hoodwink Toews into an affordable contract, they can present identical terms to Kane and guilt him into taking it, lest he ask for more money than the captain. But they can't play that game with Keith, who has to calculate that he's worth at least 5M when Barker is making 3M, Seabrook is making 3.5M and Campbell is making 7M. They can't ask him to take a one-year deal when Barker just got three. They have to find his 5M/yr. for 3 years or let him go. And the latter makes the most sense for a team that has four defensemen making 2.33M or more (not to mention one who takes home three times that much).

Byfuglien/Bolland and Keith for Wisniewski and Miller. I see it happening at the trade deadline, when the slight increase in salary will affect only a handful of game checks. If it doesn't happen, I don't see how Murray passes on the chance to offer sheet Keith, maybe with a tacit agreement it won't be matched.

Alternatively, I like the idea of getting Setoguchi and/or Pavelski. I like the idea of getting Lucic, too, but as much as Boston loves trading with Southern California, Chiarelli didn't play on the blueline with Bob Murray. Doug Wilson did. I see Murph talking him into this deal because Doug will be looking to re-sign Nabokov and replace Marleau next offseason. That and the 4.33M they're paying Michalek may put a strain on negotiations with Setoguchi and Pavelski. To get both, we'd probably have to trade a forward, and sadly, all we have is Lupul. As such, I see Doug gifting us one of the forwards for some picks, or using one as a ribbon around Cheechoo's salary at the deadline.

We'll likely be losing Selanne and Niedermayer after this season (for good this time). And while Murray can't do anything to stop it, he'll have plenty of options to help him address it.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Broad Street Bullies Come To Fenway

Anaheim Calling

Welcome to the Rap Around, where we take a look at headlines around the league.

The important details of the 2010 Winter Classic were officially revealed by the NHL today: the Boston Bruins will host the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park in the annual New Year's Day game.

According to a report by the Trentonian last month, the league had originally envisioned the Capitals as Boston's opponent, but those plans were overruled by NBC, who insisted on the Flyers in order to draw better ratings.

Arthur, what do you think of this matchup and venue, and was NBC right to overrule the NHL, here?

The Broad Street Bullies and the Big Bad Bruins. And at Fenway, no less.

Let me set the scene. The snow is falling on Yawkey Way. The crowd is roaring. And in shallow center field, Milan Lucic is pummeling Daniel Carcillo.

Now, I've enjoyed the last two Winter Classics. And I understand that pond hockey is supposed to be nothing but offense (like last year's game) and skating (like the year before that). But when I watched those games, I felt something was missing. And I kept asking, if you're going to play in an NHL rink, why not play an NHL game?

I want to see some physical intimidation out there. Philly offers that-- though this Bruins team isn't exactly going to back down. Yes, they're not the Big Bads and the Bullies any more, but the crests are the same. And if last year's Classic harkened back to the Original Six matchups of the 30s, then this year takes you back to the late 60s, when these were the most violent teams in hockey.

I can't say enough about the venue. I've been to Boston and Fenway in the winter; the city and park are breathtaking under a layer of snow. This was the only way the NHL could step up their game after Wrigley. And I have to applaud them for rewarding another Original Six franchise that's gotten its groove back. When hockey flourishes in the major markets, it flourishes everywhere.

I also have to applaud NBC. They did the right thing for both parties, here. The Winter Classic has to establish high ratings (and thus, high advertising rates) for a few years before Bettman can start using the game as a highlight reel for his superstars. It beat out college football this year, but one bad matchup could scare the advertisers away next year.

Let me start by saying that Pronger will rub someone's face into fresh snow. That thought excites me a little. Boston and Philadelphia have the forwards to keep fast skating and impressive offense a staple of the outdoor classic, but now Philly's nasty streak means chippy and, dare I say, playoff caliber hockey.

I'm not from Boston, I don't root for any team from Boston and I think Red Sox fans are a special kind of annoying. Having said that, Fenway is still one of the largest gems in the crown of sporting venues, and I can't wait to see what it looks like with a hockey rink in the middle of it.

Finally, I don't think the NHL should have folded on this one. Despite the fact that Boston and Philadelphia will be an awesome game, I think the league needs a show of force. The NHL is picking up popularity and isn't as bereft of muscle in television negotiations as it was a few years ago. Bettman needs to put on his big kid pants and stop letting NBC have its way. If he doesn't, rumors might start, and he may have to call David Stern for advice on what to do when fans think NBC crowned one of your champions.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

The 1.5 Million Dollar Man

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Three days ago, the Ducks announced the signing of former Panthers defenseman, Nick Boynton. Dan Wood of the OC Register reports the contract as 1 year/1.5M. That salary is a paycut from the 3 year/2.95M per year deal he signed with Phoenix in 2006, a contract that saw him take a trip through the waiver wire, a trip to Florida in the Olli Jokinen trade and a suspension after a run-in with Panthers head coach Peter DeBoer. Before he was traded to Phoenix for Paul Mara, Boynton made 1.75M per year with the Boston Bruins, who drafted him in the First Round in '99.

Daniel, you've been particularly concerned about getting some Top 4 help on the blueline. Are you happy with Boynton? And if not, who in the 1.5M range were you hoping the Ducks could land?

Happy is a relative term. I think Murray established two simple criteria for defensive help: did X-defenseman play 500 games in the league, and will X-defenseman take less than $2 million? Once he got Nick Boynton to take that money, he called off the search. This isn't a great signing, but fortunately it's not a bad one either.

Let's start with the positives. When Boynton was in Boston early in his career, he put up Top 4 numbers for a couple years: 24 and 30 points, and +8 and +17. Sportsnet says he uses his size for a physical game, has a good shot and is defensively responsible. All qualities we need in a d-man right now. He's a former First Rounder who has the potential to get the job done.

But, last year was the first time he was a plus-player in three seasons. I understand that number is less reliable when looking at a guy who was playing for the Coyotes, but I'd like to see a little more out of a Top 4 guy. Also, our top d-men log massive minutes. Carlyle has been playing Niedermayer and Pronger to the tune of almost 25 minutes a game. Last year Boynton only played 16 minutes a game. I need to see if this guy has the legs.

Finally, I don't know who else was really out there. I think Paul Mara might have been a good choice, with his 21 pts, 6'4" frame and $1.675M. I liked Leopold a lot (he only signed for $.25M more in Florida) because he's a little meaner and better at transition offense. I think that would have been a better fit for us. Even re-signing Montador might have been a great option, since we've seen how effective he is in our system. Other than that, I have to admit that Murray did a good job getting what was out there. Unless he could have traded for a Klesla out of Columbus, I don't see what else he could have done.

First, I want to welcome you to the Klesla fan club. He was sidelined with some nagging injuries this season, and his deal is backloaded so that he actually makes 2.2M this year in salary (1.5 cap hit), but I still love the idea of him in a Ducks sweater. And if anyone from the Top 5 of the 2000 Draft class has been had at a steal, it's Klesla.

As far as Boynton, the thing I like most about this deal is its mobility. If one of our blueline prospects has a breakout season, we can move this contract. Boynton's name still has some cachet with GM's around the league, though none of them were willing to claim him from waivers two years ago (not at 2.95M a year). And Murray did the right thing here, talking a guy down from an overpriced contract, instead of trying to lure a 250 game guy into a sweetheart deal.

I don't think Boynton's numbers have been too bad when you consider that he hasn't been shooting the puck since he left Boston. His Corsi number, the +/- metric that measures shots directed on net, was pretty bad in 2007-08 (-4.9/60 minutes and 8th worst amongst PHX defenseman), but that was coming off an offseason where the Coyotes waived him. This season, his -2.9/60 minutes puts him in the middle of the pack on both the Phoenix and Florida rosters. If the Ducks let him shoot a little more, he'll be a tradeable asset come March, if not an asset to the team.

As far as what else was out there, I don't think Murray could have found a 500 games guy at 1 year/1.5M. Leopold really seemed to enjoy Florida (as he turned down multi-year offers), and guys like Montador were looking for multi-year security. This deal was the best way to fill the void, and still give a guy like Mitera room to make the team this season.

BUT if I knew for a fact that none of the Ducks prospects would make the blueline this year, I'd say that Murray should have picked up Andrew Alberts, even at a 2 or 3 year deal. And he should have been in discussions with Greg Zanon on July 1st.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Penalty Shot: Headlines From Under the Radar

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

I just wanted to post some Duck-relevant news that may have flown under the radar.

-There will be no prospect Conditioning Camp for 2009
According to official Ducks blogger Adam Brady, Anaheim will be skipping the prospect Conditioning Camp this year. Last year, the development camp was held the weekend before July 4th at Anaheim Ice, and it showcased the Ducks' enitre 2008 Draft Class, as well as a number of other key prospects. However, this year, the organization has decided not to host the camp.

It's possible that many of the prospects will be invited to Training Camp at the end of the summer, though Igor Bobkov, who was slated to miss camp due to visa issues, may still be unavailable.

-Travis Moen signs with the Canadiens
The terms of this year's trade with San Jose state that if San Jose re-signs Moen or Huskins, and Anaheim does not sign the other player, then the Sharks must turn over their Fourth Round pick in 2012. As the Sharks signed Huskins and the Canadiens signed Moen, Anaheim finds itself with another draft pick in a couple of years.

-Two Ducks Games on the Kings' Preseason Schedule
The Ducks have yet to release their pre-season itinerary, but they appear twice on the 8-game slate that LA announced on Wednesday. One game will be at Staples Center (Sept. 19), the other at Honda Center (Sept. 27), which is rather surprising, considering the Kings will be playing almost half of their pre-season games in non-NHL cities: Kansas City against the Islanders, Las Vegas against the Avalanche and Ontario (CA) against the Sharks.

-Major Change Brewing in The Minor League?
Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton of San Diego News Network reports that talks have resumed between former San Diego Gulls owner Ron Hahn and the Anaheim Ducks regarding the possibility of a San Diego AHL affiliate for the 2010-11 season. The San Diego Tribune had previously reported discussions between the parties in March of 2008.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Koivu Signs With Anaheim -- CALLED IT!

Anaheim Calling to the hockey world...

We don't like to brag, but . . . pretty sure we called it. And we called it in May, weeks before Beauchemin blurbed about the possibility in an interview.

TSN is reporting that Saku Koivu has signed with Anaheim, and as I learned this morning (when he screamed it into my ear), Arthur called the contract (1 yr / 3.25M), damn near exactly.

Despite the doubts I raised about Koivu in our original post, I'm extremely excited to see what Anaheim can do with two legitimate scoring lines, and what Selanne will be like when he's on a line with someone who knows how to play with him. Arthur, you said that Koivu was the marquee center on the free agent market, which means Anaheim has vastly improved their depth up the middle. Obviously, a character guy like Koivu changes a lot of things for the Ducks. So Arthur, what does Koivu change for the Ducks' offense, and where should Anaheim fans expect to be disappointed by Koivu's game?

First, I have to reiterate: Called It! Yes, it was more logic than anything else, but I still called it. And yes, as I screamed, I got the salary right:

"Ideally, Koivu comes in at a discount (3/3.75M) on a one-year deal to play with Selanne."

Shameless gloating aside, this is the first time in years that the Ducks have agreed with me. Every offseason, it seems, I pick out a free agent for them to ignore. Last year, it was Mark Streit. The year before that, it was Sheldon Souray. And this year, it was Saku Koivu. I am shocked to be getting what I want, for once.

And I think the positives of signing Koivu have increased since we traded for Joffrey Lupul. Daniel, I know you were worried about having a "shoot now, look for options later" guy like Lupul on a line with Selanne, but I think Koivu addresses a lot of your concerns there. He's going to be judicious with the puck, and ration the rubber to his two finishers, not to mention Whitney's big shot on the blueline. And Koivu's reliable on the dot, ensuring his line starts with the puck. He essentially transforms the Ducks 2nd line (which had been a human chemistry set since McDonald left) into a truly skilled scoring unit.

Koivu also brings serious heart and leadership to the table. During his captaincy in Montreal, he knew exactly when to throw a hit, when to retaliate, when to force the issue and when to skate away. He'll be a calming force on open ice plays, and a cagey vet in the trenches. That reliability will guarantee Koivu and Selanne more ice-time i.e. more time to play tape-to-tape catch all over the Western Conference defenders.

So, where are the holes in the old man's game? Defense. That's a pretty big hole. As a veteran, he knows angles that may have escaped his fellow 5'10" predecessors (Ebbett and McDonald), but he isn't a ferocious backchecker. In fact, no one on that line is. It should be called the NBC line. Not that the Ducks have asked for defense from their 2nd line in recent years, but they surely won't be getting it next year. You can also cite injuries as a possible downside, especially on a one-year contract, but I wouldn't list that as a likely disappointment.

At the end of the day, Anaheim adds a veteran playmaking center for 3.25M. He'll be great with Selanne and Lupul. He'll be great on the power play. Of course, he might occasionally get caught in his own zone, but Ebbett wasn't exactly shutting down the house defensively.

First, I think Anaheim fans should get used to seeing a happy Selanne. But more importantly, Koivu's a natural centerman who can run a line. He's organized, and he's and a genuine puck distributor, who'll be flanked by two guys that love to put the puck into the net. He's also fast enough to keep up with Selanne on the rush, and a happy Selanne is a 40-goal scorer.

But what makes me even more excited is that our power play is now possibly unstoppable. Alright, maybe not unstoppable, but between Getzlaf and Koivu, you have to expect to win most of those offensive zone faceoffs. And it doesn't matter which line we throw out. It'll be PP line 1 and 1A with Whitney and Niedermayer at the point. I'm still concerned about who will be the second D on the power play with Wisniewski, but that's not Koivu's fault.

I know you said it, but I'll say it too. Koivu is nothing but heart. There might have been a little bit of disappointment in his performance towards the end, but the man never complained. He always played hard, and Anaheim fans can expect that from him.

Unfortunately, Koivu is an injury liability. He's been hurt a lot over his career, and he isn't getting any younger. Recently, he's been more durable, but we play rough and it's something fans should anticipate. Also, let's not kid ourselves. Koivu is 5'10''. Against Joe Thornton, Anze Kopitar or any center with size in the league, it could get ugly. Koivu is a also -10 for his career. It's not that the guy is a defensive liability. It's just that he tends to find himself in bad situations where the puck ends up in the back of the net.

Finally, despite all the good things Koivu can do for us, he is not a big time scorer. Anaheim fans shouldn't expect him to post a 100-point season, after all he's never had one in his career. He's a solid puck distributor, and while the 70-80 points he'll put up this year will be more than we've had from that second line slot since we gave away McDonald, people shouldn't think he's a permanent fix. He'll solidify our scoring, but he might not put up career numbers. And the real advantage won't be his numbers. It'll be the threat that the second line now poses, which frees up space for the top line to do more damage.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Completely Arbitrary

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

TSN reported this weekend that Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski was one of 20 players who requested to take their teams to salary arbitration this offseason. The process can be a messy affair if the team and player ever make it to a hearing, where blunt characterizations are supported by circumstantial evidence.

As a hypothetical exercise (and because we love blunt characterizations and circumstantial evidence), Daniel and I will play the roles of ruthless salary arbitration advocates for Wisniewski and the Ducks, respectively. We will be using the statistics chart below, in addition to any evidence we feel relevant in determining a fair salary.

Stats Obtained from NHL.com and hockeyreference.com (expanded +/-): G=Goals A=Assists P=Points +/-=Plus/Minus PN=Number of Penalties PIM=Penalty Minutes SHF=# of Shifts AVG=Average Time/Shift S=Shots on Goal A/B=Attempts Blocked MS=Missed Shots HT=Hits Given GV=Giveaways TK=Takeaways BS=Blocked Shots PP=Power Play SH=Short Handed EV=Even Strength OT=Overtime TOT=Total Time On Ice TGF=Total Goals For PGF=Power Play Goals For TGA=Total Goals Against PGA=Power Play Goals Against

Alright, Daniel. Make your case.

James Wisniewski is an invaluable asset for the Anaheim Ducks. With the loss of Pronger and Beauchemin, James will be one of the top defenseman in TOI, going past the 19:51 he averaged last season. In the 17 regualr season games he played for the Ducks, in only 5 did he play less than 21 minutes. As that time increases, so will the opportunity to increase all other statistical categories. Moreover, James has seen significant proportional increases in points and decreases in PIM. Wisniewski's totals with the Anaheim Ducks, when projected over an 82 game season, would be 52 points and 76 PIM. Compare that to the 103 PIM he had in only 68 games the year before, as well as the 26 points in the same time frame. Additionally, Wisniewski has always been a plus player. Never in his career has he been a minus player, meaning he is solid in one of the key statistics that measures how good defensemen are at defending. His +9 rating puts him in the top 45 among all defensemen in the league. That would rate him as a Top 2 defenseman, which most teams would claim is a nearly priceless asset.

Therefore, Wisniewski should make $3.25 million next year. It would make him the third highest paid man on the defensive corps, despite being second in points accumulated, and number one in +/-. This would also put him in the same price range of defensemen who do not have equally impressive statistical lines. Brooks Orpik of Pittsburgh earns 3.75 million a year to produce 5 less points and skate only 30 seconds more a game, or one more shift. Orpik only finished with a +10 rating, one better than James. Bryce Salvador of New Jersey, skates 30 seconds less, scored 8 less points and finished with a -1 rating for the bargain price of $2.9 million. Niklas Kronwall of Detroit makes $3 million a year to produce numbers that are close to Winiewski's 2009-2010 projections: 51 points, 22:53 TOI, and +6 rating that would be potentially smaller than Wisniewski. Atlanta's Zach Bogosian plays almost a full 2 minutes less per game, produced 5 less points, and was not on a playoff team. All of these defensemen log significant minutes for their teams in clutch situations, and produce numbers comparable to those of James Wisniewski.

More importantly, Wisniewski has become important as a physical presence on the team. Wisniewski had 36 hits in the playoffs to lead all Anaheim defensemen. In fact, that total is double that of any other skater now on the Anaheim blueline. And his 90 hits led Anaheim defensemen in the regular season. Hockey is a physical game, and Wisniewski provides a shield to his teammates, and makes opposing forwards work for their scoring opportunities. He has demonstrated a willingness to pay the price in order to get the job done defensively by blocking 12 shots in the playoffs and 60 in the regular season, a total closer to 120 projected over a complete season. He has demonstrated a tough attitude and a willingness to put himself out there in order to accomplish the greatest amount of success for the team. He has what is known in the sports world as "heart." Based on the salaries of comparable defensemen who have similar worth to their respective teams, and similar statistical success, James Wisniewski should be compensated in the sum of $3.25 million annually for the quality of services he provides to the Anaheim Ducks and its defensive corps.

Three issues diminish Wisniewski's value: the defenseman is an injury risk, he displays lapses in judgment and his contributions as a niche player are limited.

Injury Risk
James Wisniewski has never played an 82-game season in the NHL, and much of that can be attributed to repeated injuries to his right knee. In March of 2007, he tore his right ACL in a game against the Kings. He then sprained the MCL in the same knee during a fight with Jordin Tootoo in December of that year. Then, last July, he tore his right ACL again while training for the 08-09 season.

The longevity of Wisniewski's knee is questionable after THREE major injuries in the last 18 months. This should diminish the value or term of his contract.

Lapses in Judgment
Wisniewski is prone to lapses in rudimentary hockey judgment. During an Oilers game on March 27th, the forwards were pressuring the puck in the corner on Wisniewski's side of the ice. Scott Niedermayer pinched down toward center ice to support a play to the net. The puck squeezed out, and stopped under the circles on Wisniewski's side. The defenseman took two strides toward the puck before he realized he was the last man back. That action is dangerous, whether it is attributed to lack of awareness, lack of understanding of the forechecking system or over-committing to offensive-defense.

In that same game, Wisniewski decided to support a play in the corner, even though Dustin Penner (a front-of-the-net player) was hovering around him. Sure enough, Penner received a pass in front of the goalmouth and scored. Two nights later, killing a penalty against the Colorado Avalanche, Wisniewski again chose to abandon the net to support the play in the corner. And again, the puck was centered and converted. To me, these plays indicate that Wisniewski does not know when he can and cannot go into the corner and successfully retrieve the puck, or worse, that he is completely incapable of going into the corner and successfully retrieving the puck. Either would make him a defensive liability.

Wisniewski displays inconsistent and sometimes poor judgment. He has not produced enough offensively at the NHL level to compensate for that shortcoming, and his value should be diminished as he is potentially a defensive liability.

Limited Contributions
Wisniewski can be characterized as a locker room guy. However, the Ducks are getting younger this year, and parting ways with many of the "serious" older players that won the Cup in 2007, making his contribution far from unique.

-Statistical Contributions
Based on his performance with the Ducks, I believe Wisniewski can only characterize himself as one of two player types: an offensive-defenseman or a hitter/shot-blocker. He may argue that he is also a fighter, but he has yet to fight for Anaheim, and was rarely successful in his past fights.

Of the offensive-defenseman signed this offseason, Wisniewski most directly compares with Steve Montador. Both players have skated at forward in their careers, both players feel comfortable handling the puck in the offensive zone and both players averaged .06 G per game for the Ducks last season.

You could argue that Wisniewski was on pace for more assists, but despite being known for an accurate shot that gets on net, Wisniewski missed 37 shots last season, averaging .77 missed shots per game. Montador averaged .67, while obtaining an identical shooting percentage. If compared to Montador, Wisniewski should receive a contract no larger than the 2 yrs./1.55M per year that Montador received, and arguably less because Montador has proven himself consistent in recent seasons.

But let's say we compare Wisniewski to an offensive-defenseman that hasn't proven consistent. After a great offensive season in Russia, Anton Babchuk returned to the NHL this year, accepting a one-year 1M deal with Carolina. He went on to produce 16 G and 19 A in 72 games at a .23 goals per game clip. That's almost four times the Ducks blueliner's pace. As an offensive-defenseman, Wisniewski's market value this year can be no more than 1 to 1.5M per year, and is probably less when you consider he did not outperform similar defensemen, and that offensive rearguards like Marc-Andre Bergeron (1.7M last year with 14 G and 18 A) remain unsigned.

If Wisniewski believes he is a hitter/shot-blocker, the most direct comparison this offseason is Greg Zanon, who signed for 3 yrs./1.93M per year with Minnesota. The No. 3 shotblocker in the league logged 237 blocked shots (2.89 per game) and 153 hits (1.76 per game). By comparison, Wisniewski had 60 blocked shots (1.25 per game) and 90 hits (1.875 per game) in his shortened season, which is even less impressive when you consider that Zanon averaged 20:51 through ALL 82 games this season.

As an injury risk, an inconsistent performer and arguably an under-performer, I believe Wisniewski would be overvalued at more than 2 yrs./1.375M per year.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Is Murray Missing Out?

This is Anaheim Calling to the hockey world.

The Free Agent maelstrom is continuing around the league. No one knows why the Rangers gave that much money to Gaborik, how the Blackhawks are going to re-sign the key players that go RFA next year, what the Kings did to scare away every elite scorer in the league or if the Canadiens got better or worse.

Meanwhile, the only splash the Ducks have made in the free agent market is re-signing Scott Niedermayer. Arthur, you and I have both said that the Ducks need another Top 4 blueliner and a second line center. So, what do you think? Is Bob Murray going to "wait and see" his way out of the best options to fill those holes?

Well, Bob Murray's staring at a budget. Duchatschek of Globe and Mail puts it around $46M. I think that's payroll, not cap hit, and maybe conservative by a few million. Without signing Wisniewski, that gives us around 3M to spend. Maybe 1.3M more if they already paid Bertuzzi.

If that's our wiggle room, I think Murray's doing all he can, maybe even more than he should. He's confident about matching offers to Wisniewski, and many believe he's put an offer down for Koivu. I don't think he's in the market for any of the big names because I don't think he can afford them.

That being said, promoting from within isn't very attractive. MacGregor Sharp makes as much as Nokelainen, and Matt Beleskey only a little bit less. Mark Mitera and Stu Bickel both make more than 1.25M. And, while I think a LOT of the minor leaguers will collect NHL game checks this year to save them from spending the entire season scattered around the AHL, I don't think any of them can solve our depth issues.

Murray can probably make a move for one guy: Koivu or maybe Jay McKee, but either would have to take a pay cut. After that, I think he has to rely on a lot of the guys already in the system. He basically can't have a complete team until he moves Giguere's salary.

If our budget is $46 million, Anaheim fans better hope for a repeat of the 2003 playoffs, with Hiller playing the role of Giguere. I can't imagine putting together a Cup worthy team for only $46 million, especially when you consider how weak we are on the blueline. With that number, signing Wisniewski would end our offseason and eliminate any chance of improving the team at the deadline.

Murray can sell me on Ebbett. He was productive, and maybe a full year will make him more patient and prevent those retaliatory penalties that were so problematic. But I have a hard time believing we are solid on the back end. Beauchemin is a Top 4 guy who has played here, and, as you pointed out, can change a Playoff series. I might be pleading, but you can't let a guy like that get away. He put in his work. Reach into your pocket, and sign him, Murray . . . Please!!!

Now that I've mourned Beauchemin, let me just say that waiting on Giguere scares me. The best trade partner, if we really are trying to create cap space, would be Montreal. Trading with Toronto would probably involve Toskala's $4 million, and that still wouldn't solve the problems we have. Burke is crazy, but $10 million in net minders is a little ridiculous. He won't deal unless we take Vesa. But, Carey Price is a serviceable backup for Hiller, and we'd save almost $4 million in the deal. Giguere for Price and 2 First Round picks might work. Then we'd have room for our Top 4 D.

I think Murray is being too passive. We have too many holes to sit back like this. I think you might be right in saying Niedermayer came back for his second gold medal because right now, nothing about this offseason leads me to believe the Ducks are taking a serious shot at the Stanley Cup. I'm glad I haven't heard us drop out of the Koivu race, but if we don't start making something happen, it's going to be an early playoff exit for the Ducks.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mailbag: Kent Huskins

We got a request from Mr. Plank of Fear The Fin in the comments of the last post. I guess our Contact Us email form is a bit deceiving. I'll add the email in plain text, though I hate to waste the form that I set up.

Anyways, Mr. Plank requested an analysis of the Kent Huskins deal. Ye ask and ye shall receive:

Today the Sharks signed Kent Huskins for 2 years, 1.7M/yr. Per the stipulations of the trade agreement with Anaheim, the signing will require the Sharks to transfer their Fourth Round pick in the 2012 Draft to the Ducks (unless Anaheim signs Moen).

Preliminary to any numbers discussion, I should say that, in my opinion, Huskins has a professional career for TWO reasons. One, he was solid in the ECAC. Two, he was drafted by Bob Murray.

Muray drafted Huskins 156th overall in the 6th Round in 1998. The 6'3" blueliner was coming off a successful freshman season for Clarkson of the ECAC. I never saw him play, but I remember when he made the All-Conference team the next two years. He was noted for playing solid defensive-defense, and his ability to gain the offensive zone and manage the puck on the power play. He won defensive-defenseman of the year his senior year, and moved on to the American Hockey League.

He spent six years as an AHL pro. I'm not really sure what happened in Norfolk. I know he had some key goals, but he was let go, signed by Florida and then Vancouver, where Bob Murray was a pro-scout. He and Bob were both with the Ducks midway through the 05-06 season, and Huskins took on a leadership role with the Portland Pirates, similar to the one he had at Clarkson. He was team captain, and played well defensively, while still capable of timely situational scoring.

In his time in Anaheim, Huskins was usually the skater in a pairing. He has the size to put on some serious checks, but the team usually depended on him to help on breakouts. His instincts are probably to go for the puck and not the man, but that could be preferrable if San Jose remains a skating team next year. Huskins WILL jump into the play if he has the puck (though removing the threat of going back to the AHL might cure that), but generally, he can be relied on for safe defensive-defense plays. He took an injury (I believe it was a mild concussion) at the beginning of last season that seemed to affect his confidence with the puck, but I doubt that that will continue to affect him this year.

On his numbers, it's hard to make an argument for or against. The Ducks generally relied on three players to eat their ice time, but Huskins did beat out Shane O'Brien and Sean O'Donnell on the Depth Chart (though he WAS cheaper than each of them). His average Time-On-Ice was 14:04 in 06-07, 16:05 in 07-08 and 18:47 in 08-09.

I don't have the time to make a table right now, but if you take a look at the detailed plus/minus on his hockey-reference profile, you'll see that he played up to the level of his teammates.

On the bottom pairing in 33 games in 06-07, Huskins contributed on 20% (3A/15GF) of his lines' offense while facing 17 Goals-Against (2 PPG) for a minus-3. In 07-08, with some time on the Top 4, Huskins had 19 points (4 G) with 48 Goals-For and 17 Goals-Against (8 PPG) for a plus-23 in 76 games. Then, this season, bouncing around the depth chart for 33 games, he had 6-points (2 G) with 29 Goals-For (4 PPG) and 29 Goals Against (10-PPG) for a plus-6.

I would never say he was shielded by his partner (who was rarely Pronger or Niedermayer). Huskins tends to play his own game, but he can contribute offensively if he's given a little room. I can't vouch for his checking, but the size is there. And on a bottom pairing, the Sharks should find his skating an asset.

As far as the price, I think he compares well with the 1.7M journeymen from this year: Marc Bergeron, Mathieu Dandenault, etc. When you consider he'll be taking the ice as 5th or 6th cheapest on a nightly basis, he's pretty solid at that price. He offers skating ability and experienced defensive-defense with the potential to use his 6'3" 215 lb frame more effectively. San Jose can find a first-contract guy with more upside, of course, but I don't think they want to take any risks going into another playoff run. As far as the loss of the draft pick, I know the Sharks were virtually pick-less this year, but they tend to pick a lot of netminders (something I wish Anaheim did more often). Chalk it up to one less goalie in the system. Nothing to worry about if you saw Stalock play this year. Beast.

Ultimately, though, I think the choice to re-sign him is related to the choice to acquire him in the first place. There's a level of trust between Doug Wilson and Bob Murray that stems from playing on the blueline together all those years. If Bob says he's a solid guy, Doug's going to hear him out on that one.

Hope this helps without being too lengthy, Plank.


O Captain Still Captain

It's official. TSN reports that Scott Niedermayer will return to Anaheim for the 09-10 season at a salary of $6-million plus bonuses. The Ducks captain later appeared on TSN2 to talk about his decision, saying that playing for Canada was only part of his thought process, and that he'd really like to compete in the NHL this year.

That's a statement that rings in my ear as a bit of a sports platitude. So, let's put it up for discussion. Daniel, do you think Niedermayer returned for a one-year contract to play for his 5th Stanley Cup or his 2nd Gold Medal?

I don't care.

Objection, your honor. Non-responsive. Continue.

If Niedermayer is Niedermayer, he's still one of the Top 5 defenseman in the league. We traded Pronger for secondary scoring, although no one knows how Lupul will pan out, which means we need a number 1 guy on the blue line. We still need someone to round out the top 4, but right now we might have the flexibility to bring back a Beauchemin and he can be just as tough or as mean as Pronger.

I know this doesn't solve all our problems, but when Niedermayer was gone to start the 2007 season, we struggled, even though we had Pronger. It's a lot like Josh in Season 2 of The West Wing, when we hear Niedermayer, we respond "si se puede." If any of our readers don't get that, watch The West Wing. The show's brilliant. I digress. The point is that Niedermayer is a winner, and he makes everyone else around him believe they can win. So, whether he's here for the Olympics or the Stanley Cup, all I know is now that he's here, our chances of a deep playoff run just increased exponentially.

I want to mark this as the moment that you gave me the green light to dismiss your questions in the future. I also want to say that this question is born of your rather laughable Cap projection, which had Niedermayer, who's contemplated retirement for three consecutive offseasons now, signing a multi-year deal. But now, I digress.

I'm not saying Niedermayer won't compete for us after the Olympic break. He's a competitive guy. But I can't imagine his drive to return is more about the Cup than the Olympic medal. And none of us can predict how much attaining his primary goal will affect his play, good or bad.

Let me be clear that I'm not diminishing the Stanley Cup, here. Five Cups is good. It puts him ahead of the other six active players last year with four. It puts him ahead of guys from the Oilers and Islanders dynasties. And Nieds would be doing it over a 15-year period with different teams and different-looking teams. In his era, five would set him apart.

But here's the thing. Even if you're only counting players who never played for Montreal, Red Kelly has 8 Stanley Cup wins. But how many players who never played for the Soviet Union have multiple Gold Medals? Since the last time the Soviet Union won (1988), the answer is THREE: Peter Forsberg, Jorgen Jonsson and Kenny Jonsson.

Four Stanley Cups and two gold medals will be tough to beat, in any era. If Niedermayer is looking at the end of his career, and thinking about cementing his legacy, I think the 2nd Gold Medal is calling to him louder than the Cup.

Of course, FIVE Stanley Cups and two gold medals wouldn't be too shabby either...