Monday, August 31, 2009

Balance of Power

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

The Wild Wild West continues to shake, long after July 1st, as the Canucks added three defensemen last week: Schneider by free agency and Lukowich and Ehrhoff in a courteous Sharks salary dump.

Daniel, half of last year's western playoff seeds have experienced some cosmetic surgery this summer, including our Ducks. Looking at the rosters now, which of the West's elite eight do you think will miss the cut or, alternatively, jump to the top of their division this year?

Any talk about the final standings for next year have to begin and end with the Presidents' Trophy winning San Jose Sharks. On paper, the team isn't very different, and that's why I think they'll still win the division. Since the arrival of Scott Niedermayer, all Ducks teams have been built for the post-season, not the regular season. Anaheim will make a jump out of the 8th seed and take up residence somewhere in the 4-5 range. Dallas may have gotten Morrow back, but he won't be enough to turn the ship around now that Turco is dissolving between the pipes. Still, the Stars are unpredictable, and stumbles by St. Louis and Columbus this year will have them in the playoffs as a 6-8 seed. Finally, I think this is the year the Kings join their California brethren in the playoffs. Scuderi and Smyth might be the veteran leadership the franchise needs to get the young stars going. The Pacific might send four teams to the playoffs this year.

The Northwest will still yield only two teams this year, but Calgary takes home the division crown. Luongo's a great netminder, no doubt about it, but Calgary's defense is going to dominate this year. They don't have the scoring depth to make it all the way to the top, but I could see them as a solid 2 seed. Vancouver will be fighting it out with Anaheim, and the loser of the Chicago/Detroit battle for positioning in the 4-6 slots. The Canucks may have gotten stronger on D, but nothing about this team convinces me they have what it takes to get it done in the trenches.

Now for the wildest division in the West: the Central. No one knows how the loss of so many players will affect Detroit. They might not miss a beat, as their fans hope, or the new talent might have trouble performing over a long 82 game season. Either way, Chicago's kids are a year older and still the most talented core in the west, maybe the league. Kane, Toews, Sharp and Hossa, just doesn't seem fair, really. I know Hossa will be out for the first month or two; if the Red Wings can get off to a ridiculous start and put enough space between themselves and Chicago, maybe they hold on to the division. Otherwise, Chicago will usurp Detroit and battle San Jose for the top seed in the West. Columbus isn't deep enough up front or on the blue line, and as a result, Steve Mason will experience a sophomore slump that takes Columbus out of the top 8. St. Louis still has the potential to be a playoff team. Adding Erik Johnson and Paul Kariya for the long haul will be great. I'm just not sold on Chris Mason or the blue line corps in front of him. If St. Louis struggles, they'll be getting golfing tips from the Kings, who will take their spot in the playoffs.

I agree that this is Chicago's year to make a run, but I think they'll take it all the way to the Presidents' Trophy. They added some role players and kept, literally, everyone not named Khabibulin or Havlat. The Hossa upgrade may not arrive until winter, but when you factor in the number of contract-year players the 'Hawks will put on the ice, they can easily fill that void and will probably end up the most win/loss-centric team in the NHL.

That isn't to say Detroit won't give them a run for their money, but the acquisition of Todd Bertuzzi is emblematic of a team that feels anemic after bleeding forwards all offseason. And I think San Jose will fall just enough with their slightly tweaked lineup for the Blackhawks to make up the 13-point difference that separated the teams last season.

On the other side of the coin, I don't think Columbus has done enough to keep their playoff spot. The upgrade from Peca to Pahlsson is a positive, but too many teams were chomping at the playoff bit last season to be held back, even by the likes of Sammy Pahlsson. I agree that St. Louis will find itself beating back surging teams in the Pacific, the Kings and a dangerously healthy Stars squad, but I think both teams will get the best of the Blues.

Finally, the Northwest seems like a mess. There are major changes in Minnesota and Edmonton that are just as likely to tank the teams as turn them around. And while, on paper, Vancouver's acquisitions of Schneider, Ehrhoff and Lukowich seem a desperate attempt to replace Ohlund, they're really a sign of how precious little the Canucks have to do to stay atop their division. Calgary will make a push, but some key contract-year players will make the difference for Vancouver.

There are definitely more moves to come,-- someone out here has to take Heatley --but I'd expect to see no more than two new playoff faces out West.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Top 20 Prospects: Preseason 2009

[Note: Rubric for this list available here].

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Not too long ago, Sleek e-mailed me about the prospect of ranking our prospects, an undertaking suggested by rob of Anaheim Ducks Universe. I was initially hesitant. Despite being an armchair scout, I'm a lifelong NCAA hockey fan and as biased as the day is long. Then I realized that shameless NCAA homer-ism is underrepresented in the scouting community, and I'd be doing college hockey a disservice not to overhype its players.

In all seriousness, I will occasionally give preference to players I have seen (I Slingbox FSN North and catch every college game on ESPNU) and followed for the entire year, I will watch at least one game for every Major Junior player (via streaming or television but NEVER through YouTube clips) and I will try to rank overseas players unsuccessfully (but to the best of my ability) through scouting reports and the limited available coverage. Oh, and I will not shamelessly repeat something that I read on the HF Boards as if it were cardinal fact (though I may cite it, skeptically).

I hope to make a list three times a year. Here's the first one:

Please compare this list to rob's list and the Hockey's Future list.

The prospects are ranked in order of their likelihood of reaching the NHL level (minus the bias of your average scout, who assumes that success in NCAA competition is not indicative of NHL talent). This means that, unless he's a 'sure thing,' I will occasionally place a skill player behind a role player or grinder who is further along in the development process or has a better chance of making the team when he fully develops.

Going into training camp, the following players have been omitted as NHL-level assets: Luca Sbisa, Brett Festerling and Brendan Mikkelson. Based on their number of games played last season, a full season in the minor leagues would be a step backwards in their development (though such a backward step is not out of the question). Thus, I categorize them as 'teammate or trade bait' for the upcoming year.

1. Jake Gardiner
Gardiner is a breathtaking skater with a great shot, a toolkit shared by two of his Badger teammates in 2008-09, the premier pairing of Jamie McBain and Ryan McDonagh. For now, Gardiner's game is closer to McDonagh's, a controlled style that emphasizes defense and offensive creativity, but only occasionally flashes the coast-to-coast brilliance of which he is capable.

This year, Gardiner will have the option (and the room) to transition into McBain's WCHA MVP award-winning role of the dominant freewheeling team leader. If Gardiner can make that move, he will remain the Ducks' undisputed top prospect. If he continues as a McDonagh-type, he may turn pro without a scoring touch that can translate to the NHL, despite having played at forward as recently as 30 months ago.

2. Mark Mitera
Like Gardiner, Mitera joined a corps of impressive D prospects (Matt Hunwick and Jack Johnson) when he first donned the maize and blue, but with the departure of Hunwick, the Michigan captain, Mitera took the reins of the blueliners. And in the 2007-08 season, the rearguard posted a plus-30 and 21 assists, earning him the INCH Defenseman of the Year honor. The performance also earned him the Wolverines captaincy last season, a post he served for all of 19 minutes before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

He returned in late February, finding the strong skating, positioning and physicality that define his game. It would have been nice to see him play some more, but he and his teammates could not close out Air Force in the opening game of the NCAA tournament. Mitera will make a hard push to get into the Ducks roster at camp after playing a handful of games with the CHOPS last season. Even with no offense to offer (his career high in shots is 61; career high in goals is 2), Mitera's smart and solid shutdown game may be enough to impress the coaches.

3. Nick Bonino
When the game, the season, the tournament or the pride of New England hockey was on the line, Nick Bonino came through for Boston University. Second in team scoring only to top-flight prospect Colin Wilson during the season, Bonino was named MVP of the Beanpot, he (along with a reinvigorated Brandon Yip) produced the offensive chances that carried the team through the NCAA tournament, he drew the penalty that sent the Terriers to the Frozen Four and in the miracle last minute comeback in the championship game, Bonino was good for an assist and the game-tying goal.

A breakout season and an '88 birth year made this a good time for him to go pro (and he would have with San Jose), but a full lineup and a questionable AHL situation will keep Bonino in Boston. The Terriers will ask for a consistent sequel to last year's performance, and Bonino will have the opportunity to prove he can be just as offensively tenacious without a player as hungry as Yip on his flank.

4. Matt Beleskey
Belleville coach George Burnett once described Beleskey as the sort of player that could deliver the fight, the block, the big hit or the goal whenever the team needed it. Beleskey followed up that versatile leadership with an impressive final year with the Bulls in 2007-08, leading the team in scoring during the regular season (41+49=90) and playoffs (12+21=33).

He was the CHOPS fifth highest producer last season, despite an injury-shortened year, but Beleskey projects as a Bottom Six forward who will likely be kept out of the Ducks lineup by the skating ability of Mike Brown and Evgeny Artyukhin and the NHL experience of Ryan Carter. His current contract expires in 2010-11, and barring a rash of re-signings, that will be his best opportunity to make the team.

5. Kyle Palmieri
I'm uneasy placing a 5'10" 1991 kid in my Top 5. And yet, three things force me to rank him ahead of players who are further along in the development process:

First, he will be the best player joining the CCHA this season i.e. he'll be challenged by rival players/coaches and covered by Notre Dame to the point that I'll have an idea of where he is by mid-season, which is much faster than I will figure out what happened to Mattias Modig.

Second, he has yet to do anything to contradict the gushing scouting reports. He was just as strong as they said and his offensive chops continue to impress.

Third, as a small but strong and surprisingly skilled player, it will be easier for him to outperform expectations than it will for a Logan MacMillan or Peter Holland.

6. Peter Holland
My opinion on Holland hasn't changed much since the profile I wrote after the draft. Having only seen a couple of full games, I cannot comment on his mental consistency, but from those two games and the plethora of highlights available on the Guelph Storm website, I have to note that he enjoys having room to operate. In the pros, and especially in the NHL's Western Conference, he won't have that kind of room, even on the power play. Thus, I am not as confident in the translation of Holland's offensive game as I am about the forwards I rank above him. However, I should note that I would rank him much higher if I expected him to be a Bottom Six center, as he is incredibly sound defensively.

7. Nicolas Deschamps
Deschamps has speed, hands and vision, which increase exponentially in the offensive zone. As the only speedster and pure scorer in the prospect pool, he will benefit most from the likely departure/retirement of the Wonder Finns next year. Those would be the ideal conditions for his graduation, as he doesn't project to impress in the Bottom Six.

The Ducks may ask him to work on his defensive game in the AHL, but even if that comes to nothing, Deschamps would be a great scorer and playmaker on the left wing, not to mention a faceoff option. He should get a legitimate shot in 2010-11 unless Anaheim restocks the Top Six through free agency.

8. Logan MacMillan
When Halfiax named MacMillan their best defensive forward in 2007, the same season his linemate Jakub Voracek won the QMJHL's Michel Bergeron award (Top Offensive Rookie), the club may have been sending the not-so-subtle message that MacMillan wasn't the productive dynamo his numbers might suggest. Two years later, he found himself on the checking line of Rimouski Oceanic.

Of all the Ducks prospects, the AHL situation will hurt MacMillan the most. After his pinballed development, peppered with injuries and mixed responsibilities, he should be spending his first season determining his position in the Ducks system i.e. Top or Bottom Six. But such information won't be forthcoming in San Antonio. With any luck, he'll be back on track in 2010-11, at least as a quality shutdown winger.

9. Justin Schultz
Willy Wonka is to candy as Mark Osiecki is to defensemen. The Badgers assistant coach is making a sunrise and sprinkling it with dew all over the Wisconsin blueline. And his latest confection will be lanky BCHL standout Justin Schultz. The Interior Conference's Top Defenceman for 2008-09 was hyped before the Ducks drafted him, and his 15G and 35A last season only confirmed the hopeful praise. As with other offensive defenseman (our own Jake Gardiner included), we can rely on Osiecki to improve what is already there without asking the player to take anything away.

10. MacGregor Sharp
No one finished their NCAA career as well as MacGregor Sharp last season (well, unless they were wearing a Terriers jersey). In two tournaments, he went from undrafted senior to sought-after free agent. And while I cannot be absolutely confident his all-situation play for Minnesota-Duluth will translate to the NHL, I am sure he can be the hungry puckhound sniffing around the net, scoring the occasional Kunitz-ian goal, a contribution the Ducks have sorely missed.

11. Dan Sexton
David McNab is quite keen on Sexton, and really, so am I. But he's small. In all likelihood, he'll play out both years of his current pro contract in the AHL, building muscle commensurate with his courage and proving he has some special teams value at the professional level. A check mark next to both tasks and Sexton will be another fine NCAA free agent addition to the Ducks organization.

12. Timo Pielmeier
Early in the Q playoffs, Pielmeier led all goaltenders in GAA, but he finished with a 2.76 and a .898 save percentage. This was after a solid season for the Cataractes that saw Pielmeier post 30 wins in 43GPI with a 2.67 GAA, a .913 save percentage and 2 shutouts.

The Sharks signed him into 2010-11, and Pielmeier should get a shot at the pros before then. He is noted for quick reflexes, especially down low, and the ability to make the athletic save.

13. Matt Clark
He can play the body, and could dominate if that translates to the NHL. Still, the best part about Clark is the speed with which he may transition to the pros. Already NHL size and 19 years old, he may find himself in the AHL in 2010-11.

14. Justin Pogge
I place Pogge ahead of Modig for two reasons: one, I know more about Pogge, and two, he is, like it or not, Anaheim's third goaltender. With three years of ultimately unsuccessful netminding for the Toronto Marlies, most of his remaining development should be mental, and if he makes the most of a fresh start, he will secure himself a position as Anaheim's next backup.

15. Mattias Modig
I really don't know what happened to Mattias Modig. I've never seen him play for Luleå. I DO know that he followed career lows in Eliterstein (13 GPI, 3.53 GAA, .873 Sv Pct, 281 of 322 shots saved) in 2007-08 with career highs (2.25 GAA, .922 Sv Pct, 1011 of 1096 shots saved) last year. He had a bout of inconsistency much earlier in his development, but this valley and peak will surely affect his transition to North America.

16. Igor Bobkov
I wasn't sure about this pick after the Draft, especially with Roy and Hackett still on the board. Now, I'm more worried about Pete Peeters developing a netminder this raw, though the goaltending consultant was once a standup goalie himself and was developing two rather mammoth backstops in Edmonton when he left the organization. Bobkov remains a large question mark, but the size of that question mark is encouraging.

17. Brian Salcido
Despite spending three full and productive years (9th, 4th and 2nd in scoring respectively) in Anaheim's AHL system, Brian Salcido received a rather abbreviated shot at the Majors last season (2 games), especially when compared with Mikkelson (34 games) and Festerling (40 games).

The Ducks renewed Salcido for one-year at 550K (also renewing Festerling, but for two years), which seems to indicate that this is the year that they decide if there is more to Salcido than the novelty of being the first southern California born and bred NHL player.

18. Stu Bickel
Bickel is a smart and hard-nosed defender, who left after his Freshman season with the Golden Gophers. At the time, many (including your blogger) had him pegged as a future leader on the Minnesota squad, but the Ducks lured him away with a hefty contract. Maybe too hefty, it turns out. Bickel's 1.375M cap hit accounts for .125M less than Nick Boynton will take home this season. The prohibitive cap number and an injury riddled pro campaign make it tough for Bickel to compete for a blueline job this year, though he'll certainly try. His defensive punch (often literally) and expiring contract will get him a serious look in 2010-11.

Bickel didn't see much playing time last season before going down to injury in November. In his first game back in February, he recorded his first and only professional point and showed much of the grit that got him signed in the first place. He needs a strong season to leap over the Ducks developmental logjam at rearguard or to impress the other teams' pro scouts as the Ducks determine their ultimate course of action in a post-Scott-Niedermayer era.

19. Sami Vatanen
At the combine, Vatanen was the champion of the V02 Max Wingate and the Curlups, and but for his size (5'9" 160 lbs), he would have been a second round selection.

20. Justin Vaive
No, seriously, wait. Come back. Hear me out. The dude is 6'6". Does he have Penner's hands? No. Does he have Artyukhin's skating? No. But he's 6'6". Don't tell me you can't work with that.

Honestly, though, the Ducks prospect pool isn't really 20 players deep. The last slot is a bit of a toss up. And Vaive has found a comfy role in a great program in Miami. He plays physical, he can use the boards and he potted six goals on a .152 shooting percentage, the best on the team. They'll give him a once-over for the fourth line in a couple of years, just on principle.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ar Tyu Happy?

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Daniel has been clamoring for a checking forward this offseason, insisting that if the Ducks did not re-sign Rob Niedermayer, they had to acquire a valuable checker in his place. Anaheim has since acquired Evgeny Artyukhin.

Daniel, with this acquisition, you would seem to have your checking line forward. Did you get what you wanted, and more importantly, did the Ducks get what they needed?

I'd like to see an Ebbett-Marchant-Brown line, and maybe an Artyukhin-Carter-Parros line. I think Ryan Carter is a solid two-way guy who can drum up some offense while he's still doing the high intensity forecheck and cycle game we love to play. More importantly, the way Bob Murray described Artyukhin, I think he can generate the offense we want from a fourth line winger, while still being extraordinarily punishing on the boards. I'm just saying-- this guy and Parros together seems a little scary. I'm sure he'd be just as great bringing size to a line with Marchant and Brown, but I love the speed Ebbett would provide on that line. I just think a line with Ebbett, Marchant and Brown would be so fun to watch, not to mention really quick on the counterattack.

I really like this trade. Nothing against Drew Miller, but my opinions of him went sour when he failed to bury a couple of breakaways in the Detroit series. It's not that Miler was a bad player, just that he wasn't getting it done here for some reason. I think Artyukhin can fit on either of the bottom two lines and bring the extra size and grit we'll be losing with Robbie's departure. Yes, I think this closes the door on Rob Niedermayer's tenure in Anaheim, something I'm actually a little upset about, but this eases my concerns about a checking forward greatly. Only time will tell if Artyukhin has Robbie's Witnetka-like skills along the board, but once again, Murray has made a shrewd move that makes the team better without giving up a lot to do it.

So, wait. Based on that lineup, you don't think Nokelainen or Christensen make this team?

Probably not.

I have to disagree there. I think Christensen's a quality passer coming in at 750K, and Nokelainen's new deal confirms that he's part of Anaheim's future plans.

That being said, I can't effectively project where the players will fall, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the best part of this new Ducks squad: Options. In the past two years, Carlyle's juggled what he had, trying to get every last bead of toothpaste out of the tube. Now, players are scratching to get into the lineup, to the point that we could have two effective shutdown lines in the Bottom Six or a third scoring line and an effective energy line. If your name isn't Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne or Koivu, your job isn't safe. Someone will be breathing down your neck.

Artyukhin only adds to that beautiful uncertainty. He's played on the Top and Bottom Six of the Tampa depth chart. If he can't be a passenger, he'll need to be a shutdown player. If he can't be a shutdown player, he'll need to be an energy player. And if he can't be an energy player, he'll need to prove that he deserves to come off the scratch list every now and then. But wherever he ends up, he'll have to earn that spot, just like everyone else.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Penalty Kill: Евгений Артюхин

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

On Thursday, the Ducks traded Drew Miller (525K) and a 3rd Round selection in the 2010 Entry Draft for Tampa Bay's Evgeny Artyukhin (950K). The 6'5" 270 lb winger is 2 Draft classes and one birth year older than Miller and has 81 more NHL games played than his Ducks counterpart.

Murray had sought to acquire Artyukhin as early as the 2009 trade deadline, but could not get a deal done then or at the Draft. The Ducks GM credits Rick Paterson, Anaheim's Head of Pro Scouting, with the decision to acquire the Russian grinder. Paterson worked for the Lightning when the organization drafted Artyukhin, and he has confidence in the player's potential.

On paper, this acquisition brings back much of the grit and grind that Anaheim unloaded in the past six months with the successive trades of Kunitz, Moen and Pronger. Artyukhin notched 249 hits this season (8th in the NHL) along with a two game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit on the Panthers' Ville Peltonen, which came on the heels of two clean but injurious hits on Alex Tanguay and Drew Doughty. Although he'd played only two seasons in the NHL, the suspension was not the Russian's first, as he was tossed for two games in 2006 for a scrum altercation in which he removed the helmet of Senators center Antoine Vermette and hit him with it.

Artyukhin plays like a XXL Mike Brown, with the same noteworthy speed and punishing checks delivered at twice the dosage. And despite knocks on his hockey IQ, Artyukhin finished as one of only 3 plus players who played a majority of the season on the Lightning club (the others are Malone and St. Louis). That statistic is even more impressive when you consider the Russian played in five different line combinations, even one with Lecavalier and Prospal, but logged 525 shifts with Jussi Jokinen and Mark Recchi, who finished minus-8 and minus-15 respectively.

Packing speed valuable on the forecheck, size valuable on the boards and grit valuable all over the ice, Artyukhin has the potential to contribute as an integral role player, though he may never sharpen his toolkit to the hopes of Paterson and Murray.

-Paterson Pick. Rick Paterson probably earned Bob Murray's respect as a teammate, but he's earned my respect as the Head of Pro Scouting. Burke and Murray made a number of moves within their network to varying success (Bertuzzi, Brown), but I credit most of the small but successful moves to Paterson (Brookbank, Montador). If Paterson thinks Artyukhin can fill a role on this team, I'm inclined to believe it.

-Speed and Smash. Speed on the forecheck is always valuable, even if its owner does nothing more than chase the puck. And Anaheim was in sore need of another checker, as no Duck made the Top 30 in hits this season (though former Duck Kunitz finished 16th).

-Turning a Corner. After only two years of NHL ice time in a system that didn't or couldn't use him to his full potential, there is a real chance that Artyukhin blossoms this season, even if only as an extremely effective third line player.

-Repute Offender. The Russian winger is sometimes called for penalties on clean hits, and was arguably suspended for infractions for which other offenders enjoyed impunity. He may bring enough orange armband heat to fill the void left by Pronger.

-One and Done. Sour negotiations kept Artyukhin out of the NHL for two years, and the chances of a long stay with the Ducks are uncertain. While there was a definite ceiling to Drew Miller's development and the 3rd Round pick may not come to much, the loss of both assets will be felt if Artyukhin can't see eye to eye with his new management.

-Dead Weight. Knocks on his hockey sense and stickhandling are not unfounded. On a team built for offense, struggling to backcheck, Artyukhin (or Brown) could become a superfluous energy player.

Breakdown of his Pre-Ducks Career
Artyukhin was scouted as an intriguing mixture of skating and hands uncommon in a big man. Tampa Bay took him 94th in the 3rd Round of the 2001 Entry Draft. It was the team's fourth pick in a class that only produced two NHL players for the Lightning (Svitov and Artyukhin), both of which have spent more time in Russia than Tampa since being drafted (though Svitov was traded before returning to the motherland).

Artyukhin spent a season in the Q after the Draft, an experience that allowed him to make a seamless transition to the minor leagues. Following an impressive 04-05 campaign with the Springfield Falcons, Artyukhin attended Tampa's training camp, where he was one of the last players cut before the season. But after only 4 games back in Springfield, the Lightning called his number.

That season was a successful one; the rookie even scored a playoff goal against the Senators as the Lightning fought, unsuccessfully, to stave off First Round elimination. Unfortunately, the contract negotiations at season's end went sour. Offers and counter offers were not disclosed, but among the possibly relevant factors are these: Artyukhin changed agents during the offseason, his qualifying offer was 662K, rookie standout Ryan Craig signed for his qualifying offer of 495K (only a 45K raise) and Artyukhin was extremely unhappy bouncing around the various minor league clubs before Tampa managed to negotiate an affiliation with a single team. In the end, Artyukhin signed with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Russian Superleague, and the Tampa Tribune famously quoted Lightning GM Jay Feaster as saying, "We have sunk a lot of investments in this player, both financial and personal, and as far as I'm concerned he has spit in our face."

Artyukhin played 44 games with Lokomotiv and had twice as many PIM as any of his teammates, but his point production continued to underwhelm. Having availed himself of the benefits of the Tampa Bay development system, Artyukhin was still Lightning property in the 2007 offseason, and the club extended a one year 475K offer to him. The Russian declined, and according to Erik Erlendsson of the Bolts Report, Jay Feaster immediately insisted that, "we are not going to offer him another deal." This time, Artyukhin took up with the Superleague's Avangard Omsk before moving on to CSKA Moscow. In 23 regular season games with CSKA, his stats were respectable, but he turned a few heads when he managed to tie the team leader in goals in the playoffs.

In July of 2008, the Bolts began an offseason makeover that led to, amongst other things, the resignation of Jay Feaster and the re-signing of Artyukhin to a two-year contract worth 1.9M (paying him 1M in the second year). The Russian played well on a struggling Lightning team: leading the club in PIM, providing the requisite big hits and logging only 15 minus efforts in his 73 games played.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pogge Mo Thóin

On August 10th, the Ducks officially announced the acquisition of Toronto goaltending prospect Justin Pogge in exchange for a conditional 6th Round pick in 2011, the condition being that if Pogge starts 30 or more regular season NHL games for Anaheim or a team he is traded to by Anaheim between 2009 and 2011, then Toronto will receive a 3rd Round pick in 2011. Pogge came up to the Leafs for the proverbial 'cup of coffee' this season and posted a 1-4-1 record with a 4.38 GAA and a .844 save percentage. Not impressive numbers, but then again, the Leafs weren't an impressive team last year.

Arthur, in our previous discussions of cost cutting moves, you've mentioned that moving Giguere is something the Ducks should consider. Is a deal like this going to pave the way for Jiggy's movement, or is Pogge not ready to spend a full year at the NHL level in the role of Hiller's backup?

Well, first, I think it's worth noting that Pogge hasn't performed well at the AHL level either, but when you compare him to the other goalies in the first two rounds of the 2004 Draft class (Al Montoya, for example), he's still running with the pack. None of them have broken through yet, and there is still hope for a handful of them.

The problem with forecasting the impact of this deal is that it seems to be more about Brian Burke than Bob Murray. This looks like what happened with Bryzgalov. Burke probably promised Pogge that the Leafs would move him into an organization where Pogge would see some ice time if and when Toronto signed the Monster. Right now, Anaheim ISN'T that organization. We have two starters and no AHL affiliate (and the AHL team/s that take our goaltenders will rarely-- if ever --play them). Brian Burke knows that, and I don't see how he could think that this move fulfills his promise to Pogge, that is, unless Murray has intimated that he will have room on the roster soon.

But that's an unnecessary leap in logic. As it stands, Pogge is going to have to stay sharp, work with Pete Peeters and wait for his time to come. If the right offer for Giguere comes along early in the season, then Pogge may have to battle to give us 25 games. But if Giguere doesn't get moved until the trade deadline, we'd only be asking Pogge for 6 games. The latter Pogge can do; the former I can't say.

What I can say is that I agree with David McNab on this one; we couldn't spend a season (especially this season) without a clear third goaltender in the prospect pool. This protects us against injury, and it makes it easier to move Giguere. But signing a seasoned backup may have been the better move here. As Ken Dryden once said, you need two goalies to win the Cup; the Ducks have three, which means they may not even have one.

First, nice move quoting Ken Dryden. Second, I was pretty confused when I read about this trade. Every team has pretty much addressed their respective goaltending issues. I can't see a situation where a team would be willing to take on Giguere's salary. And Pogge, while not impressive in his AHL career, may still be only one good minor league season away from being a permanent resident of the NHL. There was a consensus that this kid would be a starting netminder eventually, and that might happen sooner rather than later. If it does, then Murray will have a situation like we had with Ryan last year, where everyone is wondering why Pogge is still in the AHL when he clearly has NHL level talent.

My other concern is Pogge's age. Even if it does take him a little longer to mature, we'll still have Jonas Hiller in his prime protecting the net. That means Pogge will have to wait even longer for his shot at the Number 1 job. At best, he'd be another Hiller and wouldn't be a starter until the age of 27 or 28, meaning he would lose a lot of good years riding the pine. He's already voiced, albeit very mildly, dissatisfaction with his playing situation in Toronto, and his prospects really haven't improved much here in Anaheim.

For me, this leaves only one conclusion, one that I very much approve of: Pogge is a stop-gap to give us an opportunity to raise our own goaltending prospects. This is the only way this trade makes sense to me. Pogge is here to be a backup for another year or two while we raise our own legitimate backup in whatever new AHL team we can find. Then when he's matured and proven he can be a Number 1, he'll be used as trade bait. Either way, I think this signals the end of Jiggy's time here in Anaheim. If it doesn't happen this year, it will definitely happen over the summer when his expiring contract is less intimidating.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Traffic On The Road To Recovery

The OC Register reported last week that Ryan Getzlaf is likely to miss all of training camp and the preseason recovering from surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle which he severely aggravated while training last month.

Daniel, after the major offseason facelift, training camp and the preseason could be crucial to helping this new roster find its rhythm? Is it a big deal that Getzlaf will be missing them?

I'm not very concerned about Getzlaf missing training camp or the preseason. While every line on the team will be changing this year, I expect for opposing teams to be getting a steady diet of Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry next year. This saves Getzlaf from not having to learn new linemates, and it helps Lupul and Koivu, who pretty much know they are skating with Selanne. There might be a problem with the new blueliners and learning the best way to provide defensive help, but Getzlaf has been showing an increase in his defensive awareness that will make that a non-issue for the most part.

This issue raises only one major concern for me: the potential for a lingering injury. Getzlaf has never had a major injury keep him out of the lineup for a long stretch. He could try to come back too quickly and end up aggravating this muscle tear further. More importantly, abdominal injuries can be very unpredictable and can easily flare up. If anything, losing a couple of games early on might be a necessary sacrifice to give us a healthier Getzlaf heading into winter.

To quote a great sports philosopher: "We talkin' about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We talkin' about practice . . ."

Carlyle will try to spread the Top 6 over three lines, and Getzlaf will certainly be integral in that decision. But I seriously doubt that the depth chart on opening night will be written in Sharpie. Slumps and streaks are the nature of hockey, and Carlyle loves him some line juggling. Every combination will be explored; Getzlaf's availability only affects the order in which Carlyle will explore them.

And yet, I think there is some value to having Getzlaf there as the team integrates Koivu into the power play. The man-advantage was Anaheim's life's blood down the stretch of this past year, and it could be Shark-like if they can properly integrate their new weapon. A Shark-like power play can translate to a Shark-like head start in the standings. That's really the only missed opportunity I see here.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Penalty Shot: ...It's In The Game (Unless It Plays In Anaheim)

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Daniel's been rather forgetful with our posting schedule (to the point that I'm thinking of making amends with my old editors, Step 9 style). But rather than be his Deadline Den Mother, I thought I'd ease the pressure on the boy and alternate between a full post and a Penalty Shot post for the rest of the offseason. Here we go:

In May, Anaheim's Corey Perry visited the EA Sports studios to record some motion capture for NHL 10 (ensuring this year's game will feature a toe-drag mode). At the time, Perry seemed a likely candidate for the game's cover, as this year's iteration of EA's hockey series will feature more physical play and after-the-whistle-play, and Perry was the only player to score 72 points, serve a four-game suspension and get speared in the delicates by Rob Blake in his 2008-09 campaign.

However, a month later, Electronic Arts named Patrick Kane the NHL 10 cover athlete. The young Chicago superstar is not a bad choice by any stretch of the imagination, but it makes you wonder if Anaheim fans missed their chance to see a Duck on the US/Canada cover-- Selanne graced the cover of the Finnish editions of NHL 07 and 08 --of a hockey game.

Now, you may think that this as a minor issue, unrelated to actual hockey, but need I remind you that your own beloved Earl Sleek was drawn to the game of hockey by a video game? Oh, yes, it's true. Imagine the next Earl Sleek perusing the aisle of his local Orange County video game vendor. He sees Corey Perry on the cover of NHL 10, and he thinks, "Hmm, a Duck. Maybe I'll buy that game. After all, last year's game won 10 Sports Game of The Year Awards according to EA's yellow journalistic marketing department." The boy takes the game home, and through the first-person fighting, physical intimidation and chippy after-the-whistle play, he finds a brand of hockey eerily similar to the one played down the street on Katella. He becomes a lifelong fan whose razor sharp wit and lucky green shirt benefit the Ducks organization for years to come.

Only . . . Corey Perry won't be on the cover. Patrick Kane will. We just lost the next Earl Sleek. Take a moment to wipe the tears away before you continue reading.

From a marketing standpoint, Patrick Kane is a great choice. The young 'Hawk draws American interest in an Olympic year, something the video game series has recently ignored. In fact, he will be the first American born player to grace the EA NHL cover since John Vanbiesbrouck in 1997. Kane the cover athlete also capitalizes on the success of the 2009 Winter Classic, which drew an 11.8 rating in Chicago, the nation's 3rd largest television market. Then you consider the fact that he's an exciting young player who had a good year and a great playoff run, and you've got this year's "face of the game."

I would have no complaints if EA chose its cover athletes with that sort of sound and measured reasoning. But they don't. They use players from expansion teams, from the sunbelt and from the lower 15 of the First Round Draft Picks (not to mention goalies). But never Ducks. The last two choices, Eric Staal and Dion Phaneuf, seemed to violate conventional cover athlete reasoning, the former a seemingly conscious decision to avoid putting a Duck on the cover after Anaheim won the Cup.

But, maybe, if Kane works out, we can get Bobby Ryan onto the cover of NHL 11. High draft pick? Check. Large television market? Check. American born? Check. Exciting young player? Check. Great second season in the NHL with a deep playoff run? . . .


Monday, August 3, 2009

Cap And Crunch

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

With the slow offseason news cycle, Daniel and I had decided that August would be a contest to see who would resort to asking an inane hockey question first. The loser would write the prompt: What's the greatest hockey movie of all time? Unfortunately, only two days into the contest, Daniel threw in the towel.

But rather than subject you to a discussion of Youngblood, I decided, as the winner, to go with this prompt:

This week, the NHL announced its intentions to examine the contracts of Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger. Both contracts are severely front-loaded to reduce cap hits, and the NHL is specifically interested in the drops in salaries in these deals after the age of 40, a pivotal year for players considering retirement.

So, Daniel, did Philadelphia and Chicago circumvent the salary cap, here? And assuming they did, is there anything wrong with that?

I'd like to point out that saving readers from the inevitable movie prompt should not be seen as a negative thing. Then I'd like to point out that I'm not a lawyer, so I don't really know what the league thinks it's going to find. I am under the impression that the average salary of a contract is the figure used for a cap hit. If there is language in the CBA that alters that fact in given circumstances, I am unaware of it. Thus, my immediate reaction is to say that Chicago and Philly have not circumvented the cap. But that's just the letter of the law as I understand it.

From an ethical perspective, this is the type of deal-making that undermines the attempts to bring parity to the league. This entire situation is a gray area that the league must be immediately regretting. The fact is, every GM is looking for a way to give his team a competitive edge, just like every player on the ice. It's only natural that they find a way to walk in the gray area of the rules. If the league wanted this to be clean cut, it should have anticipated this problem and made sure there was a fair way to negotiate contracts. You can't get mad at a GM who uses his understanding of the collective bargaining agreement to negotiate an awesome deal-- It's like hating on college kids who pick the puck up with their sticks and tuck it into the net. How are you going to be mad at somebody who's just better than you are?

Maybe the league needs to think about a system where there are two types of contracts: ones where the variation of the salary warrants calculating an average for the cap hit, and ones where the dollar values are so far apart that the player's yearly salary is the number used for the cap hit. I think the only real problem here is that the league left a gaping loophole in its creation of the salary cap. I don't agree with what Chicago and Philly have done, but I don't think the league has any way of punishing them for this.

Well, I think the league's issue here is whether or not Pronger or Hossa stated that they planned to retire during these tacked-on years. Signing them to additional years under the league average is one thing, but signing them for seasons that they have no intention of playing is quite another. If the NHL suspects that there was an attempt to defraud the league, then I understand the investigation.

On paper, Hossa and Pronger are committed to play these years, and that's why the league approved it. If we signed Bobby Ryan to a contract like this, I can't imagine the league having a problem. We wouldn't be circumventing the cap (until/unless we bought him out and re-signed him). This is really only an issue with a player's "last" contract. And I'm sure the league plans to address it, in all its various forms, soon.

Yes, it's circumventing the cap, but it's 'cute' when these teams do it, as it's borne of some serious salary mismanagement. I can't call it "wrong"; I'm tempted to call it "sad." It's like someone with bad credit writing a bad check.

I reserve the right to change my tune when Chicago finds a way to keep Duncan Keith.