Sunday, June 30, 2013

2013 Pittsburgh Penguins Season Review

When you have arguably the two best players on the planet on the same team, anything less than a championship has to be considered a bust. Yes there is more dignity losing in the 3rd round than the 1st round, but with this much firepower, you have to set your expectations at the 4th round. Getting swept by the Boston Bruins and scoring 2 goals in the series is a serious kick in the groin. Chara shut down Malkin, and Ference shut down Crosby. Letang was a serious liability defensively, especially playing against teams who play very physical playoff hockey.

Lost in their playoff exit were spectacular seasons by Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, who were lucky enough to play on a line with Crosby. Sidney has a talent for making the players around him better, well except maybe against the Boston Bruins when his sidekicks all but vanished. Kunitz and Dupuis will be back in Pittsburgh for significantly less money than players with that many points should get on the open market. Why? Take them off the Crosby line, and they both virtually disappear (see Anson Carter, circa 2007).

The greatest concern for GM Ray Shero has to be the future of Marc-Andre Fleury, as his former Stanley Cup goaltender has had consecutive Chernobyl like melt-downs in the last two playoffs. That's an expensive contract for a team with so much high priced talent. They say he'll be their goaltender next season, but Shero would be smart to quietly shop Fleury and see what kind of deal might be out there. When he starts letting in bad goals, he over-compensates and tries too hard, which makes him play worse. He has the skill to be an elite goaltender, and might be a good goalie coach away from recapturing his past playoff form.
Preseason Rank: 1
Midseason Rank: 4
Final Rank: 2
GM Grade: A

1st Star: Sidney Crosby
2nd Star: Kris Letang
3rd Star: Chris Kunitz

UFAs: Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Doug Murray, Mark Eaton
RFAs: Tyler Kennedy, Dustin Jeffrey, Rob Bortuzzo

Best Contract: Kris Letang a more year at $3.5M
Worst Contract: Marc Andre Fleury 2 more years at $5M

What I said about them in preseason: Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Stanley Cup champion. Simply the best. Better than all the rest.


In 2014, life gets a whole lot more complicated when the long term extensions of Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin come into effect. They will become virtually excluded from competing for top free agents, unless incoming players are willing to accept a large discount to contend for a championship. They have several elite prospects on defense, which they will need to become NHL caliber players sooner rather than later. It would be a huge benefit to this team if Beau Bennett turns out to be really good.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013 Detroit Red Wings Season Review

By defeating the #2 seed Anaheim Mighty Ducks and pushing the best team in hockey Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the playoffs, this was a season of exceeding expectations for the Red Wings when many predicted they would take a major fall backwards without Niklas Lidstrom. They had to win their last 4 in a row to barely slide into the playoffs. Their regular season saw plenty of slumps and mediocrity, saved only by the clutch super-human play of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg when it mattered the most. The critics who were ready to declare Detroit the "dead Wings" likely underestimated how good those two superstars still are, as they put together an impressive highlight reel.

Detroit had among the most man games lost due to injuries this season and struggled through most of it until they got healthy in the playoffs. My 5 year old nephew said it best around week 5 "Detroit is not having a very good season, but Datsyuk has scored some nice goals". Amen. As a Red Wings fan, this season was not about winning a Stanley Cup, but rather about enjoying the magic of Pavel Datsyuk while he's still putting on a show. If you ever get bored, go to YouTube, search "Datsyuk highlights", and guaranteed you will be entertained. This team would probably have ranked 30th out of 30 without Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

Jimmy Howard had the best season of his career and earned himself a lucrative 6 year contract. Anyone who thought that Howard was only good because Lidstrom played in front of him, that was not the case since Howard actually got better after Nick left. If he can sustain the level of play he showed in 2013, the post-Lidstrom rebuild might not be as painful as previously anticipated. As a Red Wings fan, they exceeded my expectations, but failed to fill the biggest hole on their roster with a horse the team could ride deep into the playoffs. Dan Dekeyser is a quality NHL defenseman. Acquiring him at the end of the NCAA season was a significant victory for Holland, but he's still just a role player. The Red Wings need a legitimate #1 defenseman, a rare breed that doesn't exactly grow on trees. If you can't grow them on your farm, they are incredibly difficult to acquire. If Keith Yandle had been on this team, they might have won the Stanley Cup.

Preseason Rank: 13
Midseason Rank: 13
Final Rank: 11
GM Grade: C

1st Star: Pavel Datsyuk
2nd Star: Jimmy Howard
3rd Star: Henrik Zetterberg

UFAs: Valterri Filppula, Dan Cleary, Damien Brunner, Drew Miller, Ian White
RFAs: Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith

Best Contract: Niklas Kronwall 6 more years at $4.75M
Worst Contract:

What I said about them in preseason:  As with the Preds, the Red Wings only got worse in the off-season. As we enter the post-Lidstrom era, there are maybe 2-3 years of competitiveness before the bottom falls out completely. As a Wings fan, I'll just enjoy the Datsyuk years while they are left. Would Lidstrom donate his DNA for cloning?


Ultimately the fact that Ken Holland was unable to fill the big hole on defense was overshadowed by the team's playoff success. The forward group is very strong, but the defense is not adequate to be a legitimate championship contender. Holland will have some difficult negotiations this summer, with a large number of free agents looking for new contracts. There are plenty of role players on the roster and in the minor leagues (with Grand Rapids winning the AHL championship), but this teams needs another superstar or two if they want a chance to win a championship while Zetterberg and Datsyuk are still producing at an elite level. Datsyuk has agreed to a 3 year extension, so he will be around to dazzle people with his hands for a few more years.

2013 New York Rangers Season Review

Last year the Rangers advanced to the Conference finals and were trending up, but in this shortened season they took a step backwards, led primarily by the decline of Brad Richards (who was decent for stretches in the regular season and invisible in the playoffs). They managed to defeat the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, only to be quickly dispatched by the Boston Bruins in round 2, a series where the coach benched Richards for the final 2 games. The greatest failure of this team was an inability to score goals, which should not have been such a problem with Nash and Gaborik on the roster. Gaborik was shipped out of town at the trade deadline, though the cheaper players they got in returned paid dividends.

Head coach John Torterella was fired after that fast and disappointing loss to the Bruins. It really looked like he "lost the room" after throwing his players under the bus in a late season press conference, and now he has been replaced with a far more player friendly coach in Alain Vignault. The Rangers will continue to be a contending team next season, they will make the playoffs, and probably win a round or two. Hardline coaches like Torts tend to have a shorter shelf life, even if they are very effective early in their tenure. His abrasive style cost him the job, but it is that abrasive style that made him a successful coach in the first place. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Chris Kreider came in below expectations, scoring just 3 PTS in 23 regular season games after an impressive playoff run last year. He is arguably the top Rangers prospect, so they have a lot riding on his future. Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash each had a very good season, and give the team a solid core that will be competitive for the foreseeable future. If you are a Rangers fan, there is no reason to be concerned. Until Henrik Lundquvist stops being Henrik Lundqvist, everything will be fine.

Preseason Rank: 2
Midseason Rank: 18
Final Rank: 10
GM Grade: D

1st Star: Henrik Lundqvist
2nd Star: Derek Stepan
3rd Star: Rick Nash

UFAs: Ryane Clowe, Roman Hamrlik, Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy
RFAs: Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer

Best Contract: Marc Staal 2 more years at $3.97M
Worst Contract: Brad Richards 7 more years at $6.7M

What I said about them in preseason:  They'll have some problems with the salary cap next season, but for this shortened campaign, look-out. This will be a tough team to play. They are loaded at every position and have a fantastic mix of youth and experience. A top competitor to be sure.


This will be another difficult offseason for the Rangers GM. If they want to keep Stepan, Hagelin, and McDonagh, it will need to be for less than $11M. I think it's unlikely that they will buyout the contract of Richards after firing Torts so soon after the playoffs and replacing him with a more player friendly coach. They added some flexibility letting go of Gaborik, and may not need to buy out any contracts. They only have 4 players under contract in 2014, Nash, Richards, Staal, and Dorsett. Glenn Sather might want to consider passing his duties on to a new General Manager, because there is going to be a lot of work to do over the next two summers.

2013 Minnesota Wild Season Review

After barely squeezing into the 8th and final playoff spot, the Minnesota Wild were easily rolled over by the top seeded Chicago Blackhawks. Nice that they made the playoffs, but their late season malaise ensured that they meet a virtually unbeatable opponent in the 1st round. There was much speculation in the media throughout the season that head coach Mike Yeo's job could be in jeopardy, but he proved to be a survivor that got the wins the team needed to make the playoffs. He is one of the top young coaches in the game, so he would not be unemployed very long if he were to be let go.

There is no question that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were instrumental pieces to getting this team into the playoffs for the first time in a long time, unfortunately the rest of the roster wasn't good enough to make them a legit contender. Ryan Suter spent more time on the ice than any other player in the NHL in 2013 (playoffs not included). He was nominated for the Norris Trophy, and a strong case could be made that he deserved the award over PK Subban (former teammate and nominee Shea Weber was not nominated this season). We'll see how well he can sustain this kind of workload over the duration of his 13 year contract. That kind of workload can run an athlete into an early grave.

Of their young rookies, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin played quite well (certainly above expectations), while the rookie with the highest expectations Mikael Granlund was considered a major disappointment. Clearly there are brighter days ahead for the Wild, and if their youth develops as expected, they could soon be a very tough team to beat.

Preseason Rank: 18
Midseason Rank: 23
Final Rank: 17
GM Grade: C+

1st Star: Zach Parise
2nd Star: Ryan Suter
3rd Star: Mikko Koivu

UFAs: PM Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Brett Clark, Niklas Backstrom
RFAs: Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk, Cal Clutterbuck, Carson McMillan

Best Contract: PK Subban 1 more year at $2.9M
Worst Contract: Mikko Koivu 5 more years at $6.75M

What I said about them in preseason: I'm not convinced that they make the playoffs, but they are a better team than last season. They have some very obstructive long term contracts, but a talented line-up with a solid coaching staff. Their blueline is just too green. Suter is only one man. They'd need to clone an army or Suters.


It is difficult to judge what moves the General Manager will make this summer, and whether or not he is ordered to slash the operating budget. They were all excited to get Parise and Suter in the offseason, but now those contracts are haunting them like a giant albatross. Danny Heatley was not as good as advertised and should be a viable buyout candidate, whether or not he is remains to be seen. They are already close to the cap for next season and need a starting goalie. If Niklas Backstrom walks, the Wild could have some serious problems between the pipes next season.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013 Calgary Flames Season Review

The Flames finally took the advice of virtually every pundit and finally began a rebuilding process, trading Iginla and Bouwmeester leading up to the trade deadline. They accepted a fate they have been denying for far too long. Although they probably should have and could have received more in return for these two star players, they still did the right thing. How soon this team returns to a playoff level depends entirely on their ability to find their next #1 goaltender. If I had to guess, they are at least 2 years away from a playoff spot, possibly 3. Clearly their ownership will want their GM to try to win as soon as possible, but it may be better to suck for a few years and build up a core of young prospects.

The Flames were severely hampered by the sudden rapid decline in the play of Mikka Kiprusoff and his major injury. He was brutal before the injury, and not much better after returning from the injury. It looks as though the career of their franchise goaltender is now over. He was unwilling to waive his no trade clause at the deadline when the team could have acquired assets for him and now is walking away from the last year of his front loaded contract. He may have helped this team get to a Cup final once upon a time, but he certainly didn't do anybody any favours this season.

The two best players on the Flames were Lee Stempniak and Mike Cammalleri, though the squid did get off to a painfully slow start. There are some quality NHL hockey players on their roster, but they lack high end talent. $6M is too much to pay Cammalleri for what he does these days. Jiri Hudler had a quick start after returning from an early injury, but he did not make this team any better. He's a soft player that can provide depth offense in specialty situations.

Preseason Rank: 21
Midseason Rank: 22
Final Rank: 26
GM Grade: F

1st Star: Lee Stempniak
2nd Star: Mike Cammalleri
3rd Star: Dennis Wideman

UFAs: Roman Cervenka, Brian McGrattan, Steve Begin, Anton Babchuck, Brett Carson, Leland Irving
RFAs: Mikael Backlund, Akim Aliu, Chris Butler, TJ Brodie, Mark Cundari

Best Contract: Curtis Glencross 2 more years at $2.5M
Worst Contract: Dennis Wideman 4 more years at $5.25M

What I said about them in preseason:  Jay Feester has to be one of the 5 worst General Managers employed in the NHL. This is a team in dire need of a rebuild that keeps trying to win a championship. They'll be in the fight for a playoff spot until the last week of the season, falling just inches short, then once again drafting accordingly.


I find it astounding that Jay Feester still has a job. He completely botched the Ryan O'Reilly offer sheet, only to be saved by the Colorado Avalanche matching the contract offer. Otherwise the Flames would have lost the draft picks and the player. Then he traded Iginla and Bouwmeester for 50 cents on the dollar. Yes the team has 3 first round draft picks in a very strong draft, and they will need their GM (with a poor draft record) to load the team with top prospects. Good luck with that.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2013 Phoenix Coyotes Season Review

Last year the Phoenix Coyotes defied the expectations of many and advanced to the Conference finals before being eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings. Following the lockout, they took a step backwards and completely missed the playoffs. The production that they received from their forwards was lackluster at best, probably more aptly described as disappointing. Radim Vrbata was their best offensive forward, which helps shed some light on why this team missed the playoffs.

The greatest strength of the Phoenix Coyotes is two of the best young defensemen in the game today, Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (both signed long term). That's the kind of blue line you can build a team around. Pundits continue to speculate that Yandle is available, but it makes no sense why the Coyotes would want to trade one of their best assets (and team leading scorer) under contract at a very fair price. Needless to say, this team has had serious cash flow problems for several seasons now, so once again the cheapness required of management means there are no truly bad contracts on the roster.

Much of their future will depend on what happens with goaltender Mike Smith, who took a step backwards this season. He missed some time due to injury, but wasn't quite as sharp when he was between the pipes (0.37 rise in GAA and a 0.2 drop in SvPct). If he can manage to find a big pay day on the free agent market, his days in the desert may soon be at an end. Can he replicate his success in Phoenix if he parts company with Dave Tippett and goalie coach Sean Burke? The decline in Smith's play was probably the difference between making the playoffs and missing altogether. This team needs 2012 Mike Smith to have a chance at replicating 2012, but even worse if he leaves, nobody is looking forward to the Jason LaBarbera era.

Preseason Rank: 19
Midseason Rank: 15
Final Rank: 19
GM Grade: D

1st Star: Keith Yandle
2nd Star: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
3rd Star: Mike Smith

UFAs: Mike Smith, Boyd Gordon, Kyle Chipchura, Alex Bolduc, Chris Connor, Jason Labarbara
RFAs: Lauri Korpikoski, Mikkel Boedker, Michael Stone

Best Contract: Keith Yandle 3 more years at $5.25M
Worst Contract: Shane Doan 3 more years at $5.3M

What I said about them in preseason:  They advanced to the conference finals last season before losing to Los Angeles. Some would say that they over-achieved making it that far, and I am one of those people. May this team move to Hamilton already!


Given their success last year in the playoffs, the 2013 season has to be considered a profound disappointment. Gary Bettman continues to dump loads of money into this black hole unable to sustain a franchise. Give up, move on. Go to Quebec, Kansas, Portland, Seattle, Vegas, I don't care. Just end it already. This story has jumped the shark, so to speak. At least if they move the team to Vegas, they could potentially lure some Colorado Avalanche players via free agency, or other gambling enthusiasts like Jaromir Jagr. Shane Doan looks like a fool for buying into the stability of team ownership before turning down more money to play elsewhere. He should have just taken the money. He could find himself moving to Quebec sooner rather than later, and I don't think he'll find that to be a pleasant experience based on his past tribulations.

2013 Washington Capitals Season Review

They came storming back from a terrible start to win their division and make the playoffs, then were promptly eliminated in game 7 of the 1st round by the New York Rangers. They did have a 3-2 series lead, and lost 2 in a row to get knocked out. Their best players were not their best players in the playoffs, after an impressive late charge in the regular season. They feasted on a weak division that will not exist next season, but they will be a tough team to beat. It took a while for rookie head coach Adam Oates to get the team to play his system properly, but once they did, they won hockey games.

The rumours of Alex Ovechkin's demise may have been premature. Even when he started the season slowly, he was still a top 50 player by week 3, the top 10 by week 10. Being nominated for the Hart may have been a stretch, but 56 PTS in 48 GP is a solid season, 32 goals being very respectable. The downside is that Alex the Great only managed 2 points in the playoffs. The most pleasant surprise for the Caps had to be Troy Brouwer, a power forward who chipped in 33 PTS in 47 GP. Troy equalled his point total of 2012, except that he played 82 games last year, producing points at the highest rate of his career. At 27 years old, he's a prime asset with a Stanley Cup ring.

Signing Braden Holtby to a 2 year extension at $1.9M was a great contract. Holty started the season slowly out of the gate, but as he turned his game around, the Caps started winning hockey games. Michal Neuvirth will be back as a competent back-up, but the Caps need Holtby to be an elite goaltender for a whole season to succeed next year. His 2.58 GAA and .920 SvPct puts him among the 10 best goalies in the league, we'll just have to see if he can maintain that level of play. The interesting thing is that Neuvirth gets paid $2.5M per year, about 600K more than Holtby, when Braden is clearly the starter and the goalie of the future.

Preseason Rank: 11
Midseason Rank: 27
Final Rank: 8
GM Grade: C

1st Star: Alex Ovechkin
2nd Star: Mike Ribeiro
3rd Star: Nick Backstrom

UFAs: Mike Ribeiro, Matt Hendricks, Wojtek Wolski, Tom Poti, Joey Crabb
RFAs: Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner

Best Contract: John Carlson 5 more years at $3.9M
Worst Contract: Mike Green 2 more years at $6.1M

What I said about them in preseason:  I can't logically explain why, but it feels like Adam Oates is made of magic. Like Dale Hunter was Julius Caesar, and Adam Oates is Merlin. Call it a hunch. I think this is a very good team that will score a lot of goals.


This roster is not built to rebuild. The Caps have to double down on what they have, which you can bet they will do. There aren't many big names to re-sign, except Mike Ribeiro, who seems likely to test the free agent market. GM George McPhee might have made the worst trade of the season at the deadline, when he shipped blue chip prospect Fillip Forsberg for Martin Erat (who had no points in the playoffs). Erat was not a rental, with 2 years at $4.5M left on his contract, but it's still a lot to give up for a mediocre forward.

Friday, June 7, 2013

2013 Ottawa Senators Season Review

In the unlikely event that mankind should find itself in a "Zombie Apocalypse", my bet would be that the Ottawa Senators would survive it. No NHL team was more devastated with injuries to its best players without seeing any significant decline in their production on the ice. In a world of the walking dead, guaranteed Paul MacLean would be the Governor of a community of Apocalypse survivors. First they lost Jered Cowan before the season even began, then they quickly lost Jason Spezza for the entire regular season. Then by week 5 they had lost both Karlsson (who was playing at a Norris Trophy level), and goalie Craig Anderson (who was playing at a Vezina level) indefinitely.

Yet despite these devastating injuries to their most important players, they somehow managed to stay in the top 10 for the next 2 months. In week 8, I wrote: "Any day now they should start losing hockey games. They continue to defy expectations and keep slugging out points. Paul MacLean is looking like the runaway winner for Coach of the Year."  They showed incredible depth on their roster and incredible resilience on the ice, when at any point it would have been completely understandable if they checked out and took a run at a high draft pick. It should have been a lost season, instead it has been an inspiring season that fans should be thankful for.

They overcame adversity to make the playoffs, then defeated the higher seeded Montreal Canadiens in convincing fashion. The Walrus completely outmatched Michel Therien, who became unravelled and proved that he had no business being named coach of the year. If anyone other than Paul MacLean wins the Jack Adams, it will be an outrage. They exceeded my expectations, won a playoff series, only to be dispatched by the top seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in a series where they were completely out-matched and really had no chance of winning. Next year they will continue to be a tough team to beat, they will easily make the playoffs, and have a really good chance to make some noise.

Preseason Rank: 16
Midseason Rank: 8
Final Rank: 12
GM Grade: B+

1st Star: Kyle Turris
2nd Star: Craig Anderson
3rd Star: Daniel Alfredsson

UFAs: Daniel Alfredsson, G. Latendresse, Peter Regin, Sergei Gonchar, Mike Lundin, Andre Benoit
RFAs: Peter Wiercioch, Erik Condra

Best Contract: Kyle Turris 5 more years at $3.5M
Worst Contract: None

What I said about them in preseason:  They aren't any worse than last season, in fact they're just about the same. Alfredsson is back for the last year of his back-diving contract, as it was clear at the end of last season that his heart is still in the NHL. I'm not sure quantity is better than quality in the Ottawa net.


This should be a relatively easy summer for GM Brian Murray. He has to try re-signing Alfredsson and Gonchar, but aside from that has most of the roster under contract comfortably below the salary cap. The Sens probably have more cap space than they will use. Expect this team to contend for a playoff spot next season, where next summer gets considerably more difficult for the General Manager.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

2013 St. Louis Blues Season Review

The Los Angeles Kings were probably the worst first round opponent that the Blues could have drawn, as it seems the Kings are perfectly constructed to defeat St.Louis as currently constructed. They jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the series, but then the series went to LA and the Kings took off and never looked back. The Kings and the Blackhawks may have been the only teams in the Western Conference capable of beating the Blues in a 7 game series, it just sucked that it had to be in the first round.

The goaltending lacked consistency, to put it mildly. Jaroslav Halak proved unable to stay healthy, which seems to happen every season. Halak is the best goalie on the roster, but when he went down, Brian Elliot seemed to collapse under pressure, providing an opportunity for rookie Jake Allen to step up and play some games. Allen played so well that when Halak finally did get back into the line-up, Hitchcock started the rookie over both Halak and Elliot. Then suddenly late in the season, Elliot found his mojo again and put together an impressive shutout streak. It's impossible to predict what will happen between the pipes for this team next season, but they have 3 good guys to choose from, all of them on very team friendly contracts.

Looking at this roster, the first word that comes to mind is balance. They have a very strong defense and a very talented and physical group of forwards. Chris Stewart led the team in scoring with 36 PTS in 48 GP, and the team had 12 players who recorded at least 19 PTS in the shortened season. Vladimir Tarasenko was the most exciting player early in the season until a concussion derailed his impressive rookie campaign. They have substantial scoring depth, even if they lack an elite offensive producer. The Jay Bouwmeester contract is no longer the albatross it once was, given that it is expiring after next season. However, it does complicate the re-signing of Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk, two guys who are going to want big pay raises in the summer.

Preseason Rank: 4
Midseason Rank: 12
Final Rank: 9
GM Grade: A

1st Star: David Backes
2nd Star: Chris Stewart
3rd Star: Alex Pietrangelo

UFAs: Andy McDonald, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, Andrew Murray, Jordan Leopold, Jeff Woywitka, Taylor Chorney
RFAs: Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Kevin Shattenkirk, Patrick Berglund, Evgeny Grachev,

Best Contract: David Backes 3 more years at $4.5M
Worst Contract: Jay Bouwmeester 1 more year at $6.6M

What I said about them in preseason:  Will the Blues get better or worse in their second season under Hitchcock? Most teams experience diminishing marginal returns under Hitchcock, but this team is very young and might buy the Hitchcock agenda for a few more years. Smart money says they are going to be really good again.


This General Manager will have a challenging offseason with several important names becoming free agents. Andy MacDonald has chosen to retire due to concussion concerns, but it is not the UFAs this team needs to be concerned about. Alex Pietrangelo is going to get paid. If St.Louis decides to play it tough in negotiations, Pietrangelo would be advised to seek an offer sheet because there are several teams who would undoubtedly kill to get him. The Blues will continue to be a top team in the NHL next season, which they should be for several years to come. If they had not had the misfortune of drawing LA in the first round, they should have won at least one playoff series. Next year could be the year.

2013 Florida Panthers Season Review

The Florida Panthers were essentially the worst team in the NHL from the first week of the 2013 season until the last. They sucked, early, often, and sustained that level of ineptitude for the duration of the season. That is after icing nearly the same roster that made the playoffs the year before. Defensemen Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, and Filip Kuba were a combined -62. Scottie Upshall was a train wreck, Alex Kovalev was a bust, and Ed Jovanovski looks like his career is almost ever (despite 2 more years on a contract that will count against the cap even if he retires). Next year might be even worse than this year!

For a franchise that had a season to forget, this was the year of Jon Huberdeau, the one light that shined bright for the Panthers in 2013. Goaltender of the future Jakob Markstrom played 23 games and put up a less than impressive 3.22 GAA and .901 SvPct. Some of that may be attributable to the poor defensive play of the team in front of him, and we should expect better numbers going forward now that he has established himself as a NHL goaltender (assuming that defensive play in front of him improves). The team would be advised to let Jose Theodore walk via free agency this summer, given that Scott Clemenson is under contract for one more season. It's time to let Markstrom stay on the big league roster.

They did have some major injuries, with Stephen Weiss playing just 17 GP, and Versteeg playing just 10. However it is tough to blame this terrible season on injuries, considering the team sucked while those players were healthy. What they lost was the ability to sell some key rental players at the trade deadline, like Jose Theodore (assuming any team would have wanted Theodore had he managed to stay healthy).

Preseason Rank: 24
Midseason Rank: 30
Final Rank: 30
GM Grade: F

1st Star: Tomas Fleischmann
2nd Star: Jon Huberdeau
3rd Star: Brian Campbell

UFAs: Stephen Weiss, Eric Selleck, Tyson Strachan, Jose Theodore, Alex Kovalev
RFAs: Jacob Markstrom, TJ Brennan, Peter Mueller, Shawn Matthias, Jack Skille

Best Contract: Tomas Kopecky 2 more years at $3M
Worst Contract: Ed Jovanovski 2 more years at $4.125M

What I said about them in preseason:  They made the playoffs last season and I declared them the worst team to make the playoffs. Are they any better? It depends how quickly their young stars start contributing to playoff worthy success.


Needless to say, Dale Tallon was not nominated for executive of the year, and has made his nomination last year look like a huge mistake. If you were among the people who bought the hype over Tallon last season, it has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt that you were mistaken, and I question your ability to judge General Managers. When Tallon spent all that money in the summer of 2011, he signed some players to some terrible contracts, like Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, and Sean Bergenheim. We'll see what he does for an encore in 2013, but this roster is not anywhere close to being the next Chicago Blackhawks.

2013 San Jose Sharks Season Review

For the first week of the season, the San Jose Sharks were the best team in the NHL, with Patrick Marleau scoring an obscene number of goals early in the season. I may or may not have accused Marleau of using performance enhancing drugs, when that seemed like the only logical explanation for his early production. Eventually the team fell back to the middle of the pack, before finishing the season strong, sweeping the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, then pushing the LA Kings to 7 games in round 2.

Anti Niemi had a truly fantastic season in goal, and never really put together a string of bad games, which helped San Jose stay competitive as Marleau came crashing back down to earth. While you can make a strong case that Niemi was the team's MVP, I have to give that award to Logan Couture, who clearly jumped into the elite tier of players this season (especially in the playoffs) and has earned a place in the conversation for Canada's 2014 Olympic team. This guy can score, and he scores big goals. He gets open and has a quick release. With the right setup man, he could be a 50 goal scorer very soon.

It was interesting that the Sharks went into selling mode at the trade deadline, moving out Ryan Clowe and Douglas Murray. Yet those two subtractions seemed to make the team better, if not faster. Matt Irwin benefited by Murray's departure on the blueline, and looks to be a very solid asset for the future. Brent Burns was excellent when moved into a power forward position. There are enough young players on this roster to stay competitive while they re-build, assuming that they do indeed decide to re-build.

Preseason Rank: 10
Midseason Rank: 16
Final Rank: 14
GM Grade: B-

1st Star: Logan Couture
2nd Star: Anti Niemi
3rd Star: Joe Thornton

UFAs: Raffi Torres, Scott Gomez, Tim Kennedy, Scott Hannan, Thomas Greiss
RFAs: TJ Galiardi, James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins, Jason Demers

Best Contract: Logan Couture 1 more year at $2.875M
Worst Contract: Martin Havlat 2 more years at $5M

What I said about them in preseason:  Why does it feel like every year I think this team has a chance to win the Cup, but yet they're never able to sustain post-season success? Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 7 times, well you can't fool me 7 times. Smart money says their window has passed, but in a shortened season, I'm telling you there's a chance...


There will be some difficult decision to make next season with both Joe Thornton and Marleau becoming free agents in 2014. Should they try to re-sign them, move them at the trade deadline, or push all their chips to the middle and risk letting them walk? Buying out the last two years of the Havlat contract seems like an easy enough decision, but the emergence of Couture, Pavelski and Burns is keeping that window propped open ever so slightly; and I would be shocked if the Sharks folded their hand and let two prized assets leave.

2013 New York Islanders Season Review

The 2013 season for the New York Islanders was officially a coming out party for John Tavares, who has now established himself as a leader and an elite superstar in the NHL. Tavares and Matt Moulson combine to make one of the best tandems in the league. Throw in a scrappy supporting cast, and you've got yourself a playoff team. They started the season near the bottom of the rankings, but managed to find their game at the right time to make a run at the playoffs. They were dispatched by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, but managed to put up a greater fight than anyone expected.

While much of the credit for this team making the playoffs will understandably go to Hart Trophy nominee John Tavares, it cannot be understated the role that goaltender Evgeni Nabokov played in the process. He was not in the Vezina Trophy conversation, but he was solid enough to make up for weakness on the blueline. This team was much better after banishing Rick DiPietro to the minors. Mark Streit was their best defenseman, and he will be testing the free agent market this summer. Let's face it, Hamonic, Visnovsky, MacDonald, Hickey won't be taking this team very far. They aren't the only team with a severe need for quality defensemen, as elite D-men are difficult and expensive commodities to find.

When you think about it, forcing people who don't want to come to the Island to report to the team is a sound strategy for such a shitty destination. Lubomir Visnovsky fit right in with his new team, probably because most of those guys weren't happy when the Islanders first acquired their rights. They probably sent Nabokov to the airport to greet Vishnovsky when he finally reported, as Lubomir eventually signed a contract extension despite his protest, just like Nabokov did.

Preseason Rank: 29
Midseason Rank: 25
Final Rank: 15
GM Grade: B

1st Star: John Tavares
2nd Star: Matt Moulson
3rd Star: Evgeni Nabokov

UFAs: Marty Reasoner, Brad Boyes, Keith Aucoin, Jesse Joensuu, Mark Streit, Radek Martinek, Evgeni Nabokov
RFAs: Kevin Poulin, Travis Harmonic, Thomas Hickey, Josh Bailey, David Ullstrom

Best Contract: John Tavares 5 more years at $5.5M
Worst Contract: Rick Dipietro until the end of time at $4.5M

What I said about them in preseason:  There's a good chance this team proves me wrong and are actually decent. Loaded with skilled young talent. Better chance they suck for another year.


There are brighter days ahead for the New York Islanders, but one thing is for certain, they need a legitimate top goaltender before they can be considered a true contender. Nabokov has been a pleasant surprise, but he's getting old and won't be around forever (unlike DiPietro). This year the Islanders had to acquire the rights to hold-out Tim Thomas just to make the salary floor, so it will be interesting to see if ownership green lights greater spending going forward as this young core matures into something special. They will soon be moving into a nice new building, as the future looks bright for this young team....well, bright if they can acquire a goalie of the future and an anchor on defense. That may be easier said than done.