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Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Look At The Metropolitan: The Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets 2014-15: 5th in the Metropolitan Division with 89 points

Team Additions: Brandon Saad (Blackhawks), Gregory Campbell (Bruins), Alexander Broadhurst (Blackhawks), Defensemen John Ramage (Flames) and Michael Paliotta (Blackhawks).


Departures: Artem Anisimov (Blackhawks), Jeremy Morin (Blackhawks),  Marko Dano (Blackhawks), Corey Tropp (Blackhawks), Mark Letestu (Oilers), Luke Adams (Rangers), Sean Collins (Capitals), Brian Gibbons (Rangers).


Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Ryan Craig, Jack Skille, Frederic St. Denis, Dana Tyrell


2015 Draft Picks: Defenseman Zach Werenski (8th overall), Defenseman Gabriel Carlsson (29th overall), Forward Paul Bittner (38th overall), Forward Kevin Stenlund (58th overall), Forward Keegan Kolesar (69th overall), Defenseman Sam Ruopp (129th overall), Defenseman Veeti Vainio (141st overall), Defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov (159th overall), Defenseman Markus Nutivaara (189th overall).


No significant management changes in Columbus


Cap Situation: $3,728,693 in cap space with 23 NHL contracts, per General Fanager. Very comfortable.


Caps Play The Columbus Blue Jackets Four Times


Last year's Columbus Blue Jackets team was far better than their point totals indicated. Why were they on the outside looking in on a playoff spot? Injuries. They had lots and lots of injuries. How many? According to mangameslost.com, the Blue Jackets led the league in total man games lost, with 508. Second highest? The Colorado Avalanche with 495. And third highest? Buffalo with 368.


No team was injured as often as the Blue Jackets, and it quite simply cost them a playoff spot. With career years from both Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen, the Blue Jackets deserved a far better outcome on their season.


Now, the team looked to make a statement in the offseason, and show that they really were one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. They showed they weren't messing around with one big acquisition that no one saw coming. But did the Blue Jackets improve their overall team?


Forwards


No forward may have had a more surprising year in all of the NHL than Foligno. Last season, Foligno was 159th in the league in scoring. This year, he bumped up to 10th in the entire league, smashing his previous career highs. He finished his year with 31 goals and 73 points. His previous high? 47 points. The standout season earned Foligno an All Star appearance, a six-year $33 million contract and the Blue Jackets captaincy.


What caused Foligno's massive jump in offensive production? Initially, anyone would understandably think he was pretty lucky, relying on a high shooting percentage. He did, in fact, have a pretty high shooting percentage, scoring on 17 percent of his total shots (well above his 11.3 career shooting percentage). His PDO this season, a measurement used to determine a players "puck luck," was 102.3 at even strength five on five, the highest rating he's had in his career, and well above the "average" amount of puck luck of 100. In fact, this season marked the third straight year Foligno posted a PDO score over 101.5 at even strength five on five. However, Foligno was a strong possession player this season, finishing with a 4.5 relative Fenwick percentage at even strength five on five. So while Foligno may be considered a "lucky" player, he controls the puck enough where he can still reasonably produce solid numbers.

Nick Foligno

So why did he have such a large jump in his overall play? It might have been because of a confidence booster from his Blue Jackets coach, Todd Richards. According to Aaron Portzline's article featured in The Hockey News, Richards told Foligno he was more than capable of becoming a 30-goal scorer, something Foligno had never been told at the NHL level. So Foligno started shooting the puck a bit more, setting a career high this season with 182 shots. But now that he has earned that first line money after producing as a top line player, will he begin to regress, or will he continue battling for more?


Foligno won't be the only guy producing goals. In fact, with new arrival Brandon Saad, Foligno may not even be the top point producer on his team next year. Saad, of course, arrived to Columbus from Chicago, after the Blackhawks feared they wouldn't be able to afford their prized young forward if he was to sign an offer sheet. Saad didn't have to be the point-scoring man in Chicago, he had plenty of playmakers all around him to do just that. At just 22, Saad put up 23 goals and 52 points. He will have great playmakers in Columbus, but not quite at the same level as Chicago. Was Saad a product of a strong system? Possibly, but he certainly has the opportunity to become the star of this team, and all signs point to him being able to do so.


As a part of that Saad trade, the Blue Jackets lost a bit of scoring depth in both Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano, but if there is anything Columbus doesn't lack, it's scoring depth among their forward unit. The Blue Jackets had four different players who scored 20 or more goals: Foligno, Scott Hartnell, who finished with 28, Johansen, who had 26 and Cam Atkinson, who finished with his second straight 20 or more goal season with 22. Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert were all well on pace to finish with 20 goals, had they played a full season. Throw in Saad, and that's eight players capable of scoring 20 or more goals. Will all guys be able to score 20 next season? No, certainly not, but offense should be flowing through, at the very least, the top three lines.


Alexander Wennberg had a respectable rookie season, finishing with four goals and 20 points in 68 games. He certainly has the potential to crack the top-six, but Columbus' forwards are just so deep, and Wennberg might serve the team better with a bottom-six role. 


Also, don't forget, David Clarkson now plays for the Blue Jackets. He only appeared in three games in a Blue Jackets sweater this season before an oblique tear sidelined him for the rest of the year. Clarkson is not a bad hockey player. He's just a very, very overpaid player. Can he find success on the third line? Of course. He could quite easily succeed on the third line for a team like the Blue Jackets. His only issue is, you know, he's vastly overpaid.

Defensemen


What the Blue Jackets have in their forward unit certainly doesn't translate to their defensemen corps.  Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen had stated he was looking to add some defensemen to provide depth.


He didn't.


Kekalainen should have not only looked at adding some depth to the blue line, he should have looked to improve it altogether. (But, hey, it's not too late to do just that...we'll get to that in a little bit).

David Savard

The Blue Jackets currently lack a true number one defenseman. This season, the Blue Jackets relied on David Savard and Jack Johnson to eat the most minutes, each averaging over 22 minutes a game. Both players excel at moving the puck. Johnson finished the season with 32 assists (good for third on the team) and Savard finished with 25 (good for fifth on the team).


That's excellent, and good teams have good players on the blue line that can generate some offense. But in order for those players to succeed, they absolutely need to be paired with a more defensive-minded defenseman.


Pairing these two together would certainly result in a quick paced, puck moving nightmare for the opposition, but should they puck be in their own defensive zone, Blue Jackets fans should be sweating bullets. Savard is a bit more responsible in his defensive zone than Johnson, but neither guy can be considered a true, bonafide two-way defenseman. Savard certainly has a bit of time to develop into a more defensively-responsible defenseman, and it would serve Columbus well if he matured into a true defenseman.


Fedor Tyutin, the team's highest paid defenseman with a $4.5 million AAV, is the closest thing the Blue Jackets have to a defensive-minded top four defenseman. Pairing Tyutin with Johnson would allow Johnson to jump into the offense with a bit more comfort than if he was to play with Savard.


The other sure-fire defenseman for this team is Ryan Murray, the former second-overall pick in the 2012 draft. Well......maybe "sure-fire" is the wrong word...... 


Murray was one of those injured guys for the Blue Jackets last year, appearing in only 12 games this year after missing a great deal of time recovering from knee surgery and then had to battle through a high ankle sprain. A couple of seasons ago, he was held out of several Everett Silvertips games in the WHL with a shoulder issue. In his young, promising career, Murray has played in just 78 games. That ranks him behind Hampus Lindholm (156), Morgan Rielly (154), Jacob Trouba (130), Cody Ceci (130) and Olli Maata (98) in games played in defensemen that were selected in the 2012 draft.  Murray absolutely needs to stay healthy for the Blue Jackets to succeed this year.


The third pairing would involve some combination of Dalton Prout, Kevin Connauton and Cody Goloubef. All serviceable, none will be game changes.


This blue line unit is average at best, but it is really one legitimate blue liner away from being a pretty good grouping. Who could that one defenseman be?


That was in tweeted on July 15, and Christian Ehrhoff still hasn't signed with a team just yet. Last year, Ehrhoff signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Why so cheap? The Buffalo Sabres bought him out, and are paying him $857,143 every year until 2028 to not play for the Buffalo Sabres. Could the Blue Jackets squeeze Ehrhoff into their plans with the roughly $3.7 million they have in cap space? It's certainly a possibility.

What's the most recent development on this situation? We'll again refer to Mr. Portzline.

Hey, the Blue Jackets aren't out of that race just yet.

Doesn't matter what Johansen or Dubinsky tweet....this team could have really used Mike Reilly.

Goaltending

Statistically, Sergei Bobrovsky had his worst season as a Blue Jacket.

Fortunately, Bobrovsky's worst is still not all that bad.

Bobrovsky posted the second-lowest even-strength five on five save percentage of his career with a .924 save percentage. That put him just behind Marc-Andre Fleury among starting NHL goaltenders, who recorded a .926 save percentage.

Bobrovsky is still, quite easily, a franchise goaltender. He may never win a Vezina Trophy ever again, but the Blue Jackets should feel more than confident each time he is between the pipes. 

Was his season that was below-Bobrovsky standards a sign of things to come? Probably not. Just because it was a down year doesn't mean it was a bad year. At his worst, he was still comparable to Fleury.

On the flip side of Columbus goaltending, Curtis McElhinney had one of the best years of his career. He finished his season with a career-high 32 games, and a .913 save percentage at even-strength five on five. McElhinney proved that he can be relied on as a backup, and was even capable of occasionally stealing a win or two.

Goaltending is not an issue for the Blue Jackets at all. And if that defensemen unit improves, just imagine how much better the goaltending would be.

Prospects

Within the past several drafts, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been absolutely loading their prospect pool. And they aren't just snagging talent from the first round in each draft, they are striking gold on some later-round gems as well.

The most promising and most impressive prospect may in fact be forward Oliver Bjorkstrand. A third-round pick in 2013, Bjorkstrand has absolutely exploded as one of the WHL's top players, if not the top player, over the past couple of seasons. Bjorkstrand led the entire WHL with 63 goals and 118 points in just 59 games this season. And Bjorkstrand was equally impressive in the World Junior Championship for Denmark. Denmark didn't win a single game in the tournament (Correction: Denmark did actually win a game in the shootout), but both Bjorkstrand and Winnipeg Jets prospect Nikolaj Ehlers stood out as two of the best players in the tournament. Bjorkstrand finished the tournament with four goals and five points in five games. The right-handed winger will more than likely start out with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters (the new AHL affiliation for the Blue Jackets, who were formally the Springfield Falcons) this season, but if the Blue Jackets run into the injury bug again, Bjorkstrand could get a call up.


Sonny Milano
Sonny Milano is another exciting forward in the Blue Jackets prospect pool. Milano was originally a Boston College commit, but instead opted to go with the OHL route. He finished his first OHL season with 22 goals and 68 points in 50 games with the Plymouth Whalers. He is an extremely talented puck handler, and was one of the more entertaining players to watch for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. He has the ability to beat players one on one, and has tremendous vision. Milano will play another season within the OHL for the Flint Firebirds (nope, he didn't get traded. Plymouth relocated to Flint).

Kerby Rychel saw five games of NHL time this season, but there may not be any room for him on the NHL roster this year as a consistent player. Rychel is a tough, power forward type that isn't afraid to throw his weight around. He's the son of Warren Rychel, the former NHL tough guy and current Windsor Spitfires franchise owner and GM. Thankfully for the Blue Jackets, Kerby Rychel has a bit more offensive flair than his father. Rychel finished with 12 goals and 33 points in 51 games in his first AHL season. It's hard to tell if that point production will translate to the NHL level, but, at the very least, the Blue Jackets can expect Rychel to be a feisty power-forward type that's not afraid to get under his opponents skin. He could more than likely serve as, at the very least, a tough fourth liner that can chip in a goal here or there, and he could even probably succeed at doing just that next season, should he get the opportunity.

If Rychel's power-forward game doesn't make a lasting impression on the Blue Jackets, there's always a chance 2015 second-round pick Paul Bittner will. Bittner is a big body, standing at 6'4", 203 lbs. He had a big season in the WHL with 71 points in 66 games. Another late-round bloomer Columbus may have gotten lucky with its Nick Moutrey selection, who quietly put up 62 points in 62 games for the Saginaw Spirit and the North Bay Battalion in the OHL. Much like Bittner, Moutrey is big, at 6'3", 220 lbs. William Karlsson, brought over from the Anaheim Ducks in the James Wisniewski trade, has a legitimate shot at cracking the full-time NHL roster this year.

*Deep breath* We haven't even gotten to the defensemen yet!

The biggest prize of the bunch is obviously Zach Werenski, Columbus' first-round pick in this year's draft. Werenski was a stud for the National Team Development Program, and went on to not only become the University of Michigan's top defenseman as a freshman, but also became one of the top defensemen in all of NCAA hockey. He'll likely bake for another year at Michigan, though the two defensemen selected before him in the draft, Noah Hanifin of the Carolina Hurricanes and Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia have already signed entry-level deals. Werenski is a smoothe-skating defenseman that is capable of generating offense by moving the puck quickly and intelligently.

What do some of the other top Blue Jacket defensemen prospects have in common? Size. Lots of size. The other first-round pick this year, Gabriel Carlsson is 6'4" and plays a strictly defensive game. Dillon Heatherington appeared in three AHL games this season for the Springfield Falcons, but he did most of his damage in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos. The 6'4" Heatherington also played a significant role for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, winning the gold medal. Ryan Collins performed well in his first year with the Minnesota Gophers, recording 8 assists and 9 points in 32 games. When the 6'5" defenseman was drafted in the second round of last year's draft, the Blue Jackets knew he was going to be a project defenseman. He's not the greatest skater in the world, but he is slowly learning how to use his size to his advantage. He is still several years away from even having a crack at NHL time, but the Blue Jackets would certainly love to put a sweater on him.

The two primary goaltenders of the future are Anton Forsberg and Oscar Dansk. Forsberg appeared in five games for the Blue Jackets, surrendering 20 total goals. Yeah...he's not quite ready yet. But, what's encouraging for Forsberg is that he will be the primary goaltender for the Lake Erie Monsters. In his 30 games this season with the Falcons, Forsberg recorded a .927 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average. Where does Dansk fit in? After an underwhelming AHL/ECHL debut this season, Dansk was loaned to Rogel-BK, a first division team in the Swedish hockey league. Dansk will have the opportunity to clear his head a bit and gain a little bit of confidence after it was clearly rocked in America (.880 save percentage in 21 games with the Falcons, .889 in 11 games for the ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings).

Player to Watch

Ryan Murray. A lot of the Blue Jackets' worries on the blue line can simply go away if Murray can stay healthy for a full season. He's a former second-overall pick that dominated at the junior level with an elite-level two-way game. 

How important is Murray's health to this teams' success? Kekalainen had this to say:


Ryan Murray
"To me, getting him healthy would be the best addition any team has made this summer. It would make a huge difference for us."

Of course it would. If Murray can reach his full potential this season, the Blue Jackets will essentially add a consistent top-four, and possibly a top-two defenseman, right to their lineup.

If I was Richards, and I knew at the beginning of the season I would have a healthy Murray to work with, I would pencil him right in as a part of the top defensive pair. I'd put him against the oppositions top forwards each and every night. I not only think Murray needs to see top competition to jumpstart his growth as an elite defenseman, I think he can handle it.

Murray can do it. Murray needs to prove that he can do it. After this season, Murray becomes a restricted free agent. Wouldn't he love to head into the offseason knowing he just finished up his year as a top-two defenseman instead of sitting out for 80 percent of the year?

If the Blue Jackets are going to succeed this year, Murray needs to succeed this year. This is Murray's year.

Final Analysis

This is a very good team, and it is most certainly a playoff-bound team (if they can, of course, all stay healthy). The Metropolitan is a gauntlet of teams filled with scoring forwards top to bottom, and the Blue Jackets certainly have just that. They are one of the few teams that can have three lines that could potential hold a 20-plus goal scorer. But what is making this team a "good" team and not a "great" team is its blue line. They are really one piece away from being that "great" team within this division. If Murray steps up and becomes a bonafide, stalwart defenseman, they are really close to becoming a "great" team. If that happens and they add a guy like Ehrhoff to the lineup, they become that "great" team within this division. That's far easier said than done. And, hey, there's no rush. The Blue Jackets could potentially find that blue liner they need at the trade deadline. Will this team make the playoffs? Yes. Can they win it with the team they have now? Probably not. Can they win it if they add a piece or two here and there? Sure, why not? 

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Look At The Metropolitan: The Carolina Hurricanes

Now that July 1 is long past, most trades have already happened, hockey rosters are 90-ish percent completed and it's 100 degrees outside where you are, there is not much going on in the hockey world. At all.

Sure, we will have some arbitration hearings happen. Sure, we will see a few more signings. And, sure, we might see another trade and Claude Giroux might touch another butt, but it's really not enough to entertain the average hockey fan.

I peruse Twitter, desperately looking for some sort of newsworthy thing to talk about, desperately searching to insert myself into someone else's disagreement to be some stupid voice of reason. But for the most part, it's nothing. Hockey news has ceased to exist. Instead the hockey-sphere is blowing hot air on the latest hot take on "so and so" heading to "such and such, "snapping a photo of their hot beach views, or arguing over whether a hot dog is a sandwich or not.

It's what happens when you have a lot of time on your hands. So to pass time, why don't we educate ourselves on the teams around us?

I believe it's important to know your competition. It's one thing to know your own team inside and out, but it's another thing to know other team's inside and out.

Believe me, I will dive into the Capitals at some point when I'm 100 percent certain what the team will look like. I'll create post after post of the most optimal possible lineup for Washington. But for now, for the sake of passing some time, why don't we take a look at some other teams?

Let's dive right into the Metropolitan Division, starting with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina Hurricanes 2014-15: 8th in the Metropolitan Division with 71 points

Team Additions: Defenseman James Wisniewski (Ducks), Goaltender Eddie Lack (Canucks).

Departures: Forwards Alexander Semin (Currently UFA), Ben Holmstrom (Islanders), Goaltender Anton Khodobin (Ducks).

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Brody Sutter, Brett Bellmore, Patrick Dwyer, Jack Hillen.

2015 NHL Draft Picks: Defenseman Noah Hanifin (5th overall), Forward Sebastian Aho (35th overall), Goaltender Callum Booth (93rd overall), Forward Nicolas Roy (96th overall), Forward Luke Stevens (126th overall), Forward Spencer Smallman (138th overall), Defenseman Jake Massie (156th overall), Forward David Cotton (169th overall), Forward Steven Lorentz (186th overall).

No significant management changes in Carolina.

Cap Situation: Seventh-most cap space in the league, with 21 NHL contracts on the roster. Very comfortable.

Caps Play The Carolina Hurricanes Four Times (Six, If You Include Preseason)

During the NHL draft, the NHL crew mic'd up Noah Hanifin, the standout freshman defenseman from Boston College, who was selected fifth overall by the Carolina Hurricanes. As Hanifin made his way to the draft table, he was met by Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters, who shook Hanifin's hand and said "We're going to build something special here. You're going to be a big part of that."

Will they, though? This is a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2009, and the fifth-overall selection was their highest pick since 2005. Is Hanifin the mark of a brand new beginning for Carolina? Are they just now entering a "rebuild" phase? If so....what have they been doing for the last six years?

Well, for starters, Jim Rutherford had been at the helm as the Hurricanes GM for the majority of those dark years. His time with Carolina began to grow stale, and he thankfully went to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Now, Ron Francis has taken control of this team. And if we are to believe that Carolina is about to "build something special," he's going to have to make things a bit ugly. And, thankfully for Carolina, he's already part of the way there.

Forwards

$26.975 million was divvied up last season to four forwards. Those same four forwards scored 53 total goals last season.

One of those forwards was Alex Semin, who earned $7 million last season and scored a total of six goals in 57 games. The Hurricanes opted to buy Semin out of his remaining three years, forcing themselves to pay $2,333,333 (which counts against the cap) each year until the 2020-21 season.

The other three forwards in that grouping, Eric and Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner, are all still on the team, but a couple of them may not be on the team for much longer.

Eric Staal is entering the final year of his seven-year, $57.75 million contract. He's just 30-years-old, and is more than capable of chipping in 50-60 points a season. Should the Hurricanes look to trade him during the 2016 trade deadline, Staal would surely be the most sought after acquisition of the bunch. And given the going rate of playoff rentals at the deadline (Ex. Antoine Vermette,  Keith Yandle), the Hurricanes can quite easily get a large return on their captain.

The other Hurricanes forward that has been cast into the trade rumors this offseason is Jeff Skinner. Skinner recorded 18 goals and 31 points this season, good for second and fifth on his team, respectively. The 23-year-old is an excellent skater and has a lot of skill with the puck, but he has battled through quite a few concussions in recent years. Could this be the concern the Hurricanes have with their 2010 first-round pick? Is it really worth it to trade away a guy capable of 20-30 goals a year, with a cap-friendly contract at the age of 23?

Elias Lindholm
Eric Staal and Skinner should both be with the team at the start of the year, and they provide the biggest threat offensively. But the Hurricanes do have a couple of rising stars that could see a bit more ice time next season. Elias Lindholm's second NHL season was a success. He played against top competition and saw a lot of ice time with Eric Staal. Lindholm recorded 17 goals and 39 points this season, and the 20-year-old will surely get better as he matures. Victor Rask also had a successful rookie year with 11 goals and 33 points. He should expect a bit more than his 16:20 of ice time he got this season next year.

But what kills this team is their complete lack of depth. Sure, having guys like Lindholm, Eric Staal, Skinner and even Rask helps out your team, but where is the rest of the scoring on this team? Only one other forward scored at least ten goals this season, and that was Nathan Gerbe, who finished with exactly 10. A team can't possibly expect to succeed with such poor depth on their forward units.

The Carolina Hurricanes didn't add a single forward to their weak unit. You can expect another lackluster year from the forwards, especially if the Hurricanes do decide to trade away Eric Staal.

Defensemen

The lone bright spot within this organization is their blue line....well, maybe not just yet (we'll get to that a bit later). 

Justin Faulk has established himself as one of the better offensive-minded defensemen in the NHL. He finished second on Carolina in points, with 49, including 15 goals. Carolina managed to lock him up with a six-year, $29 million ($4,833,333 AAV), which is an absolutely outstanding deal. He will play a critical part in whatever amount of success the Hurricanes have next season, and he is a major part of Carolina's future.

The Carolina Hurricanes gave up 226 goals this season, good for 20th in the league. But did that have to do more with the blue line itself, or more with goaltending?

I don't think it was the blue line. I think the defensemen on this team are relatively underrated. I'm primarily talking about both Ron Hainsey and John-Michael Liles. Whether both of them are utilized as a second pair together with one another or if one drops down to the third pairing, they will fit in to the lineup well. Both are 34, both are left-handed shots, and both saw a lot of ice time this past year. Liles, who finished with 20 assists this year, is a better puck mover than Hainsey, and he may be a better pairing with the goal-scoring Faulk on the top line.

The Canes added James Wisniewski to the mix, which was an excellent signing. With eight goals and 34 points last season, Wisniewski provides another offensive punch to the line. He's right-handed, so if the Hurricanes would like to go lefty-righty on their defensive pairs, he fits in perfectly on the second pairing.

Ryan Murphy
Where things get interesting is with the bottom pairing, with several guys fighting for a position. Ryan Murphy, Danny Biega, Michal Jordan and Rasmus Rissanen all saw a bit of NHL time this year,  though none played more than 40 games. All 25 or younger, there is no clear-cut top two among the group. Of the four, Murphy is the most promising and the most likely to earn a full-time spot of the group. The Hurricanes 2012 first-round pick has been eased into the NHL. He finished with four goals and nine assists in 37 games this year. He's a bit undersized, but he is great with the puck and projects as an offensive-minded defenseman. Between the final spot, it's a battle between those three.

Or is it? You notice I didn't even mention Noah Hanifin? Or even Haydn Fleury for that matter?

Goaltending

Remember how I kind of hinted that the goals against Carolina may have been more because of goaltending and not so much because of the blue line? Yeah....look no further than Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward.

Khudobin's .900 unadjusted save percentage was the second-worst among goaltenders with at least 30 games played, according to WAR on Ice.  Ward's wasn't much better, finishing just ahead of Ray Emery in the category.

Khudobin was shipped off to the Anaheim Ducks. And Ward is entering the final year of absurd six-year, $37.8 million ($6.3 AAV) contract. Yup, absurd. Ward has recorded a season with a save percentage higher than .916 just once in his career.

Insert Eddie Lack, the new hope for the Hurricanes in the goaltending department. The Swedish goaltender recorded a .921 save percentage in 41 games this year with the Vancouver Canucks, and now the quirky goaltender finally gets to be the premier net minder on his team. No Roberto Luongo in the way. No Ryan Miller in the way. It's his.

Can he handle it? Sure. When Miller went down with a groin in late February, it was Lack who stepped in and essentially carried the Canucks to a playoff spot. Lack was then given the reigns for the playoffs. His four games were pretty sub-par, but his run over the course of the end of the year proved that he can in fact lead a team.

And look at who the Canucks have shipped off recently. Cory Schneider, a pretty good goalie for the New Jersey Devils. Roberto Luongo, a pretty good goalie for the Florida Panthers. Can Lack join them as a pretty good goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes? Of course he can.

Prospects

This is why I'm a fan of that Hurricanes blue line. They are very, very deep when it comes to their blue line prospects.

Noah Hanifin
No team has a better defenseman in waiting in their prospect pool than the Hurricanes do with Hanifin. Have you seen him play? He wasn't just Boston College's best blue liner, he was quite possibly Boston College's best player as a freshman. Despite being a year under the age group, he excelled at the World Junior Championships. He's a stud defenseman that has been compared to Drew Doughty. He is equally talented on both sides of the puck. He's intelligent both on and off the ice. The guy has "future NHL captain" written all over him.

But there's another high-end prospect to get excited about if your a Carolina Hurricanes fan in Fleury.  Fleury is big at 6'3" and has a bit of physicality to his game. He doesn't quite have the offensive mind that Hanifin has, but he certainly projects as a solid top-four defenseman. This is a guy who was selected as the second-overall defenseman in his class, behind some buy named Aaron Ekblad.

Those aren't even the only two good defensemen the Hurricanes have in waiting. At the deadline, they were able to add Roland McKeown in the Andrej Sekera trade with the Los Angeles Kings. Selected in the same draft as Fleury, McKeown has served as the stalwart captain for his Kingston Frontenacs. He may be a ways away from seeing full NHL time, at least more so than both Hanifin and Fleury, but he could have an NHL career in front of him.

While they have serious prospects in waiting among their defensemen unit, the Hurricanes lack a bonafide forward. Lucas Wallmark looked pretty good for Sweden at the World Junior Championship this year, finishing with four goals and six points in seven games. Phil Di Giuseppe could see a bit of NHL time this year. He scored 11 goals and 30 points in 76 games in the AHL this year with the Charlotte Checkers. This year's second-round selection, Sebastian Aho, has a lot of promise, but Aho is certainly a long ways away from NHL time. But the most intriguing forward prospect by far for the Hurricanes is Sergei Tolchinsky. Tolchinsky was an un-drafted free agent at the Hurricanes Camp in 2013. He's just 5'9", but he put up 30 goals and 95 points this year in the OHL for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, finishing 11th in the league in points. Oh, he was also a human highlight reel at this year's development camp.

In goal, Alex Nedeljkovic is the prospect in waiting with the most NHL promise. The 2014 second-round pick is a bit small for NHL goaltenders at today's standards, standing at just 6'0", but he is very athletic and quick on his feet. Nedeljkovic regressed a bit from his draft year numbers, and while he made the final roster for Team USA for the World Junior Championship, Nedeljkovic didn't suit up.

Player to Watch

Picking Hanifin as the player to watch this year is just a bit too easy. In my opinion, there are two Hurricanes who are primed to breakout this year. Murphy has a chance to step into a bit of a bigger role. If the Hurricanes don't fully feel comfortable with giving Hanifin NHL time just yet, Murphy could see a lot of ice time. He projects as a bottom-pairing defenseman at the moment, but if the Hurricanes want to add a bit more offense, they should pair him on the second pairing with Wisniewski, and bump Hainsey down to the third pairing. Hainsey at 34 makes a good to below-average second pairing defenseman, but he makes a great third pairing defenseman. And with Murphy's ability to move the puck, united with Wisniewski's ability to move the puck could make a deadly second-pairing. If Murphy's smaller frame is up to the task this year to play a bit more difficult minutes, he could be an exciting player to watch.

The other player to watch is Lack. As previously mentioned, he is finally diving into a situation where the net belongs to him. At 27, and entering the final year of his contract, he has an awful lot to prove. Can he handle it, or will the new added pressure break the high-spirited goalie?

Final Analysis

While it is clear that both the blue line and the goaltending improved this year for the Hurricanes, the forward unit certainly did not. They simply do not have the scoring depth needed to be a successful NHL team. And should Carolina decide to trade away Eric Staal, and even possibly Skinner, for future assets, they will only get worse offensively. Lindholm and Rask simply don't have want it takes yet to be relied on as top line players for a contending team. Could a guy like Tolchinsky be inserted into the lineup at some point and add a bit of a spark to a team that would certainly need it? Sure, but he ultimately won't be enough. And what if Lack doesn't live up to his expectations? Then what does Carolina do?

Remember, Peters told Hanifin that Carolina is "going to build something special here." The building has just begun. This is a team that will once again find it's way towards the bottom, and they could certainly hit rock bottom if they choose to let go of Eric Staal. But, it should be made clear: It won't be because of the defensemen.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How the Rest of the Metro is Stacking Up

Within the last couple of weeks, an awful lot has happened within the Capitals organization. We signed a three time Stanley Cup champion and a Conn Smythe trophy-winner named Justin Williams, traded for an electric forward with quick hands in T.J. Oshie, and saw all of our prospects participate in the Development Camp.

I attended the Thursday and Friday session of the Capitals Development Camp, but, unlike last year, I didn't feel comfortable writing a full post on the session for a couple of different reasons.

1) I arrived to the Thursday session a full hour late, as I thought it started at 10 in the morning instead of 9. I stupidly missed the entire first group's session.

2) On Friday's session, my primary focus was to attend Justin Williams' press conference for both Capitals Outsider and FOX Sports (both articles I wrote, if you are interested, can be found here and here). As a result, I missed about 90 percent of the first session once again.

So if you were to have any questions about Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber, Chandler Stephenson, Thomas DiPauli, Jonas Siegenthaler, Vitek Vanecek or any of the other Capitals prospects from the first group, I am definitely not the guy to ask.

I did see a lot of the second group on both days, and here's what stood out to me the most.

- Connor Hobbs has a bit more size to him than I anticipated. He's listed at 6'2", 191 pounds, but he's a surprisingly big guy on the ice.

Zach Sanford
- Speaking of gigantic guys, Zach Sanford is a 6'4" forward that everyone seems to be sleeping on. Sanford played top line minutes at Boston College last year as a freshman, finishing with 24 points in 38 games. He can play at both the center and left wing positions. The 2013 second-round pick should be a fun player to watch at Boston College next season.

- Wasn't particularly impressed with any of the free agent defensemen, except for maybe Kevin Lohan, but he's only intriguing because he's 6'6" and is semi-decent at moving the puck.

- Shane Gersich's linemates during the two days were free agent Marcus Basara and Caps 2014 draft pick Kevin Elgestal. Not a particularly strong line in comparison to the others within the second grouping. Gersich is a quick skater, but he doesn't have the greatest hands in the world.  Gersich had a strong year in the USHL this season with 27 goals and 49 points in 52 games. Gersich will enter his first season at the University of North Dakota alongside the Vancouver Canucks' 2015 first-round draft pick and USHL standout Brock Boeser. My hope is that these two get to share a line with one another, though Boeser could understandably jump into North Dakota's top six a bit quicker than Gersich.

-The biggest standout to me was Miles Koules (Sanford was a close second). Koules got cut from the camp last year, and, according to Alex Prewitt's latest piece on Koules, he has turned down several AHL contracts in search for an entry-level contract. I think he gets that contract with Washington. He's coming off another big year, scoring 26 goals and 58 points in 67 games with the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. At camp, Koules was sniping seemingly every shot he took. And, during Friday's session, all of the forwards were dismissed from the ice. Two stayed behind, and continued shooting pucks while being coached by members of the coaching staff. Who were the two getting extra time and coaching? Liam O'Brien and Miles Koules.

That's about all of the observations I made in the two sessions I saw of the second grouping at Development Camp.

But this isn't what I really wanted to dive into, because chances are, you already have a ton of information on a lot of the Caps prospects and a lot about both Williams and Oshie. But have you been keeping track of what else is going on in the Metropolitan Division?

Much like the Caps, they are making moves to improve their team. Well....some are, some aren't. But let's take a look at those other teams in our division, and we'll see some of the decisions they made for their team.

Carolina Hurricanes (8th in the Division)

Arrivals: Defenseman James Wisniewski (Ducks), Goaltender Eddie Lack (Canucks)

Departures: Forwards Alexander Semin (Currently UFA), Ben Holmstrom (Islanders), Goaltender Anton Khodobin (Ducks)

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Brody Sutter, Brett Bellmore, Patrick Dwyer, Jack Hillen, 

The Carolina Hurricanes were a very bad team last season, finishing dead last in the Metropolitan Division and 26th overall in the NHL.

While the Hurricanes didn't make any huge moves, they were able to add a legitimate goaltender in Eddie Lack. Lack was never given a chance to take ahold of the Canucks' franchise as their premiere goaltender, constantly being overshadowed by both Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller. But Lack put up a respectable .921 save percentage this season, and when Miller got injured in the last month of the season, it was Lack who stepped up and carried the Canucks to a playoff berth. Lack is just 27, and has one year remaining on his contract. If they believe in him early, he will certainly get a contract extension. But this move allows them to avoid using Cam Ward often. Ward is entering his final year of his absurd contract will make him $6.3 million next season.

The James Wisniewski addition will certainly help out a young Hurricanes blue line unit. Wisniewski provides a bit of an offensive punch, and at 31, he is the third oldest defenseman on the roster. Wisniewski had a rough end of his year. He was sent from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline. It was supposed to be a wonderful reunion for Wisniewski, except he couldn't crack the starting lineup. He'll be the go-to man in Carolina, though the role may not fit him well.

Carolina's inability to add an effective forward may prove to be costly. Carolina was the fourth-lowest scoring team this season, and with a young defensemen unit, they may leave Lack and Ward out to dry a little more often than usual. Until that unit matures, Carolina won't be any sort of threat.

What can they do right away? Well, they started off with parting away with Alex Semin and his $7 million cap hit. Semin wasn't producing at the rate a $7 million man should, and he left them with no other choice. But the Hurricanes will now have a $2,333,333 cap hit as a result of the buyout for the next six seasons. But if they want to start fresh with a young team, they should look to trade some of their forwards. If they don't believe they will be able to extend him, the Hurricanes absolutely must move Eric Staal at the trade deadline. He could potentially be the biggest prize at the deadline, and teams will pay a pretty penny for his services. Another option is Jeff Skinner, who has warranted some trade rumblings this offseason. But the scoring forward is just 23. Is that someone you really want to send away?

Carolina didn't do enough in the offseason to improve their overall team. But this is a team in rebuild mode, and it may not take as long as previously thought. The Hurricanes have a more than solid blue line, with Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy, Roland McKeown, Haydn Fleury and 2015 fifth-overall draft pick Noah Hanifin all under the age of 24. But they just don't have a serious enough forward unit to compete. This team could quite easily compete for a lottery pick next season.

Columbus Blue Jackets (5th in the Division)

Arrivals: Forwards Brandon Saad (Blackhawks), Gregory Campbell (Bruins), Alexander Broadhurst (Blackhawks), Defensemen John Ramage (Flames) and Michael Paliotta (Blackhawks)

Departures: Forwards Artem Anisimov (Blackhawks), Jeremy Morin (Blackhawks),  Marko Dano (Blackhawks), Corey Tropp (Blackhawks), Mark Letesto (Oilers), Luke Adams (Rangers), Sean Collins (Capitals), Brian Gibbons (Rangers)

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Michael Chaput, Ryan Craig, Jack Skille, Frederic St. Denis, Dana Tyrell


Brandon Saad
The Columbus Blue Jackets took part in one of the more surprising trades of the year in the Brandon Saad deal. If anything seemed like a sure-thing in Chicago, it was that Saad would stay with the Blackhawks. Instead, he was shipped to the Blue Jackets, and he signed a six-year, $36 million deal with Columbus. Saad is now the highest-paid Blue Jacket, and he has the chance to be the superstar of the team. Saad was understandably behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and even Patrick Sharp. But now that he will get consistent first-line minutes alongside a center like Ryan Johansen, can Saad become one of the league's top players? Or was he carried along by a strong Blackhawks team all of these years?

Besides Saad, the teams main addition was Gregory Campbell, who's better years are behind him and will see fourth line minutes for the Blue Jackets. Campbell had the lowest Relative Fenwick rating on the Bruins last year among players with five or more games for the Bruins. He's just not a good player anymore.

The amount of forwards the Blue Jackets lost this year is rather shocking. Artem Anisimov was really the only consistent forward that they lost, but losing Marko Dano could prove to be a bit costly. Dano has a lot of promise as a scoring wing. At just 20-years-old this season, Dano had eight goals and 13 assists in 35 games. Dano could prove to be deadly in the Blackhawks lineup, and he could have been deadly in Columbus.

This is a team that battled through a ton of injuries this season, and if they can stay even remotely healthy, they should be a playoff team. Their defense could have used a little bit of work, and Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was looking to add a defenseman all offseason. He didn't, but should Ryan Murray stay healthy, he would essentially be a big time addition to the team on the blue line. Murray played in just 12 games this season.

New Jersey Devils (7th in the Divison)

Arrivals: Forwards Kyle Palmieri (Ducks), Defenseman John Moore (Coyotes)

Departures: Forward Joe Whitney (Islanders)

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year:  Adam Larsson, Martin Havlat, Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, Scott Gomez, Bryce Salvador, Mark Fraser, Seth Helgeson, Tim Sestito

Much like the Carolina Hurricanes, the New Jersey Devils haven't done a whole lot during the offseason to improve their team.

That's odd, because the Devils currently have $51,029,165 in total cap hits. That's $1,770,835 under the cap floor, meaning they literally need to spend $1,770,835 more this offseason.

They obviously will. Both Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson are currently unsigned restricted free agents (Editors Note: Gelinas was signed about four minutes after this article was published). And, more than likely, at least one of the above unsigned free agents will return to the team, especially one of the forwards.

The Devils are an incredibly boring team. They finished this season with the third-lowest goals scored, with just 181 goals on the year. No player on the team finished with more than 45 points.

More than likely, they will once again have a dull offense, and they will once again be a bottom-dwelling team.

That being said, I do like both of the Devils' acquisitions this offseason. They acquired Kyle Palmieri, a homegrown New Jersey boy who played for the New Jersey Devils Youth Hockey Club, for a 2015 second-round pick and a 2016 third round pick. Palmieri is just 24, and will become a restricted free agent next offseason. He played a bottom-six role with the Ducks, but he has still been able to record 14 goals in two consecutive seasons. It will be interesting to see if Palmieri can continue his offensive production on a team that isn't nearly as deep as the Ducks, and it will be interesting to see if he can actually increase his offensive production if he's given a bit more ice time.

Also love the John Moore signing. Moore was sent to the Arizona Coyotes along with Anthony Duclair, a second-round pick in 2015 and a first-round pick in 2016 for Keith Yandle, Chris Summers and a 2015 fourth-round pick. For some reason, the Coyotes opted to not give Moore a qualifying offer. That's one of the oddest decisions any team has made this offseason.

Moore is an excellent defenseman that has always been the odd man out. He won't be in New Jersey, and he should be a critical piece in their blue line group. He's signed for three seasons at $1,666,667 per year. It could end up being a steal for a quality defenseman that is responsible in his defensive zone and can chip in offensively.

It's going to take some time before New Jersey becomes a playoff team in this division. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, and are relying on contributors that are far past their prime. This offseason didn't change that.

New York Islanders (3rd in the Division)

Arrivals: Forwards Joe Whitney (Devils), Ben Holmstrom (Hurricanes), Justin Florek (Bruins),  Goaltender Thomas Greiss (Penguins)

Departures: Forwards Colin McDonald (Flyers), Harry Zolneirczyk (Ducks), Defensemen Griffin Reinhart (Oilers), Aaron Ness (Capitals), Goaltender Michal Neuvirth (Flyers)

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Brock Nelson, Kevin Poulin, Eric Boulton, Tyler Kennedy, Lubomir Visnovsky

Are you starting to notice a trend with some teams in the Metro Division? Not too many big moves within the division.

There's likely only one player that the Islanders signed this offseason that will see any NHL time this year, and that's Thomas Greiss, who will serve as a backup on the Islanders team.

Via War On Ice
Greiss appeared in 20 games last season for the Penguins, recording a .908 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average. It's interesting that the Islanders chose to sign Greiss and let Michal Neuvirth walk, who posted a .914 save percentage this season despite playing 27 of his 32 games for the Buffalo Sabres. Was it a money thing? Nope. Neuvirth signed with the Philadelphia Flyers for $1.625 million per year for two years. Greiss went to the Islanders for $1.5 million per year for two years. If the Islanders really decided they didn't want Neuvirth to return based off of his performances in five games, that's a pretty questionable decision.

The Islanders really didn't have to sign anyone else. Instead of looking towards free agency to improve their team, they are instead relying on the development of the young players on the team. Players like Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome can only get better, and there are two high-end prospects in Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle itching to get into the lineup.

New York Rangers (1st in the Division)

Arrivals: Forwards Emerson Etem (Ducks), Viktor Stalberg (Predators), Brian Gibbons (Blue Jackets), Matt Lindblad (Bruins), Jayson Megna (Penguins), Luke Adam (Blue Jackets), Defensemen Raphael Diaz (Flames), Goaltender Antti Raanta (Blackhawks), Magnus Hellberg (Predators)

Departures: Forwards Carl Hagelin (Ducks), Chris Mueller (Ducks), Ryan Haggerty (Blackhawks), Defenseman Matt Hunwick (Maple Leafs), Goaltender Cam Talbot

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Jesper Fast, Carl Klingberg, J.T. Miller, Derek Stepan, James Sheppard

The Rangers sacrificed a bit of speed in Carl Hagelin for a little less speed, but a lot more size in Emerson Etem. They haven't been able to sign Etem yet -- he is a restricted free agent -- and this is where things get a bit juicy for the Rangers offseason (Editors note: The Rangers signed Etem shortly after this article was published).

The hard part for the Rangers offseason hasn't even begun yet. The Rangers have four NHL-caliber restricted free agents to sign in Etem, Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller and Derek Stepan. The Rangers currently have about $10.2 million in cap space. Can they safely sign all four, or will they have to make room by shipping someone else out?

Emerson Etem
They should be able to just barely fit all four guys, but it all comes down to one specific player's contract: Stepan's. Etem, Fast and Miller should all get lower-end bridge deals, but Stepan could potentially cash in big time. Stepan was well on pace to crush his career high totals this year, but wasn't able to play a full season. In just 68 games, Stepan finished with 16 goals and 55 points. He made $3.85 million this season, and was the only Ranger to file for salary arbitration. How much is a first-line center, capable of chipping in well over 55 points a season? A hefty amount. Stepan can quite easily gobble half of that remaining salary space.

So, if Stepan eats a lot more of the remaining cap space than the Rangers anticipated, who could the Rangers potentially part ways with if they need some cap space? It likely won't be a forward, as the only forwards making more than $4 million per year next season are Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. There's not clear forward on the roster that has an unreasonable contract that is worth shedding. Could they potentially part with a defenseman instead? The clear-cut choice in a perfect Rangers world is Dan Boyle, who is making $4.5 million next year. But he also has a no movement clause in his contract, and what other team would want a $4.5 million Boyle? The more reasonable and likely choices are either Keith Yandle, acquired at the trade deadline this year, or Kevin Klein, signed at $2.9 million for three seasons.

The Rangers are crossing their fingers that they can fit all of their restricted free agents without parting with another piece. But even if they will be able to, they will have virtually no wiggle room throughout the season regarding cap space.

At the draft, the Rangers were desperately looking to ship out Cam Talbot, who performed superbly well for the Rangers in Henrik Lundqvist's absence, for a first-round pick. The Rangers weren't able to get that first-round pick, instead settling for the Oiler's 57th, 79th and 184th pick. This year marks the third straight year the Rangers failed to draft in the first round of the NHL draft. And guess what? They've already traded next year's first-round pick.

The addition of Etem was certainly a good move. He's a power-forward type that can keep the puck on his stick. His ceiling is probably just a third-line player, but that's exactly the type of player the Rangers needed to replace someone like Hagelin. Viktor Stalberg has completely fallen from grace the last couple of seasons, and no one expects him to ever reach the 20-goal plateau ever again. The Rangers just couldn't trust Mackenzie Skapski to backup Lundqvist just yet, so they traded for Antti Raanta. Raanta actually performed quite well for the Blackhawks this season, but didn't get to play too terribly much. He's just 25, but with both Skapski and Brandon Halverson, who just signed his entry-level contract, in waiting, Raanta seems to be in the Rangers' short-term plans.

The Rangers will essentially keep the same team as last season. We should once again expect them to be a playoff team, barring anything too drastic.

Philadelphia Flyers (6th in the Division)

Arrivals: Forwards Sam Gagner (Coyotes), Colin McDonald (Islanders), Chris Connor (Capitals), Defensemen David Drewiskie (Canadiens), Goaltenders Michal Neuvirth (Islanders), Jason LeBarbera (Ducks)

Departures: Forwards Zac Rinaldo (Bruins), Carlo Colaiacovo (Sabres), Jason Akeson (Sabres), Defensemen Chris Pronger (Coyotes), Nicklas Grossman (Coyotes)

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Michael Del Zotto, Ray Emery, Blair Jones, Rob Zepp, Oliver Lauridsen

Once again, Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall wasn't able to do too terribly much during the offseason due to former GM Paul Holmgren's wrongdoing.

The Flyers improved from last year's team by simply trading away Zac Rinaldo. Rinaldo is quite literally one of the worst players in the NHL (seriously, type his name into this website to see just how bad he is).

But in all seriousness, trading for Sam Gagner wasn't a bad move. He won't make a gigantic impact on the team, but he should provide a scoring threat on the third line.

Michal Neuvirth should provide a bit more stability in goal than Ray Emery was able to provide this season. Steve Mason was actually quite underrated this year, but should he regress, Neuvirth is no where near the worst option the Flyers could possibly have.

The Flyers didn't improve a whole lot, but they also certainly didn't get significantly worse. The trade that sent Chris Pronger to Arizona gave the Flyers a bit more cap space to work with this year, but they just didn't utilize it.

The Flyers aren't a playoff team this year, but they just need to be patient. They have a ton of promising blue line prospects, and a strong blue line is something this team has lacked the past couple of seasons. No other team in the NHL may have as many promising defensemen prospects as the Flyers do in Shane Gostisbehere, Robert Haag, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and the most promising of them all, Ivan Provorov. Should even half of those guys reach their full potential, the Flyers will greatly improve defensively within the next couple of seasons.

Secondary scoring has been an issue for the team as well. They have all-star-caliber players in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, and respectable scoring forwards in Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Both Schenn and Couturier become restricted free agents next offseason, and Voracek is set for a gigantic contract next offseason as well.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4th in the Division)

Arrivals: Forwards Phil Kessel (Maple Leafs), Tyler Biggs (Maple Leafs), Defenseman Tim Erixon (Maple Leafs)

Departures: Forwards Steve Downie (Coyotes), Daniel Winnik (Maple Leafs), Blake Comeau (Avalanche), Nick Spaling (Maple Leafs), Kasperi Kapanen (Maple Leafs), Jayson Megna (Rangers) Defensemen Paul Martin (Sharks), Scott Harrington (Maple Leafs), Taylor Chorney (Capitals), Goaltender Thomas Greiss (Islanders)

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Beau Bennett, Dominik Uher, Craig Adams, Andrew Ebbett, Christian Ehrhoff, Maxim Lapierre

The biggest trade of the offseason was quite easily the Pittsburgh Penguins' acquisition of Phil Kessel.

Phil Kessel
It was a pretty excellent deal for the Penguins. They were in desperate need of a scoring winger to accompany either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, and while they gave up some of their better prospects, it really didn't cost that much to acquire someone of Kessel's skill level. Kessel was able to score 25 goals last season playing for one of the worst teams in the league, with Tyler Bozak as his primary center. What could he possibly do with either Crosby or Malkin as his center? He could quite easily score 40 goals.

Sure, it's an awesome addition for the Penguins, but it brings on a whole bunch of other issues for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh is only paying Kessel $6.8 million of Kessel's $8 million AAV per year, as the Maple Leafs were willing to retain $1.2 million in salary. But adding that large of a contract can still harm the Penguins' depth.

Kessel is now one of five Penguins set to make more than $5 million. He's also one of four Penguins set to make more than $6 million next season.

The Penguins currently have just under $5 million in cap space, yet they only currently have eight forwards on the roster.

Who could possibly play within the Penguins' bottom six forwards? It will literally have to be a bunch of players that are either on entry-level contracts, or very cheap forwards.

The defensemen will also be noticeably cheap. The Penguins said goodbye to both Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, and now guys like Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin and even Derrick Pouliot will have to play significant roles on the team. Can they do it? Sure, they certainly have the potential to, but is that a risk a team that is looking to win now willing to take?

With the addition of Phil Kessel, the Penguins now have one of the more terrifying top-lines in the NHL. They also have a pretty alright second line. But their third and fourth will most certainly be suspect, and their defensemen unit are very young and inexperienced.

It'll be interesting to see how well the Penguins do this season. Are they a playoff team? Sure, probably, but are they really a serious threat to win it all this season?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Caps Trade For T.J. Oshie, Fans Declare Brian MacLellan a God Amongst GM's

Holy crap.

When the Caps snagged Justin Williams at such a low price, one could have easily assumed that was the "top-six" forward Caps GM Brian MacLellan was referring to. Williams was a proven offensive force, with great playoff experience and a knack for finding the net in crucial situations.

Little did we know, MacLellan was not done. He wasn't done at all.

To prove he wasn't done, he sent Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley and a third
round draft pick in exchange for T.J. Oshie.

Oshie, of course, is most famous for his crazy heroics during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he drained five gazillion shootout attempts to give America the win over Russia.

Scoring goals for his country is what he does in his off time for fun, but by day, he earns his living as a scoring first to second line forward.

Oshie finished this season with 19 goals and 55 points in 72 games, exactly two less goals and 12 points more than Troy Brouwer. So should we panic that we just traded away a guy who had more goals for a guy who had less goals?

No, don't be silly.

What the above tweet shows you is that Oshie is simply a better player than Brouwer. Let's take a look at the individual production of both players. As we can see, Oshie scores as many goals per 60 minutes of play as an average second line player, but his assists and point production at 60 minutes of play is equal to an average first line player. Brouwer's production, on the other hand, clearly does not equate to a first/second line player.

Just as importantly, we can see that Oshie has an impact on his line mates offensive production (which is pretty important for a scoring forward), as well as his line mates overall possession. Once again, Oshie trumps Brouwer in these categories.

Despite making just about $500,000 more than Brouwer, Oshie clearly out produces Brouwer significantly.

Why Will You Love Him?







What Does This Mean?

1) It means that we will never see Brouwer, Copley, or future Caps 2016 3rd round draft pick in a Caps uniform ever again. Please don't get me wrong when you read the above paragraphs; I am going to miss Brouwer. He's been a part of the team for four seasons now, he has scored significant goals, and he brought a great personality to the organization. I am going to miss him a lot, but I simply can't deny that Oshie is a better player. However, I'm not going to pretend that parting ways with Copley is a large deal...I mean, he was a college free agent we signed just last season. Sure, he showed promise, but with the goaltenders that we have in our system, let's not pretend Copley had a legitimate shot at being a significant player for the Washington Capitals. And future Capitals third-round draft pick, please don't be a superstar.

2) For the love of God, MacLellan, I can't take anymore significant moves. Please be done for the sake of my heart.

3) Joel Ward is not going to return to Washington. I am still holding on to a glimmer of hope that Eric Fehr might.

4) I will write more on this later as the offseason rolls along, but the Caps may have one of the best teams they have had in quite some time.

Whether Oshie is slotted in with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, or whatever crazy combo Barry Trotz can come up with, he will prove to be an exciting addition to the Capitals offense. Could we see 25 plus goals if Oshie is given a playmaker like Backstrom? Will he be apart of a young line and light it up on the second line? Of course. Why not?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Caps Add Justin Williams, Who is Now Deemed Fan-Favorite Due to His Generosity

During TSN's dubbed "Free Agent Frenzy," we did see moments of pure frenzy. We saw Francois Beauchemin, who has one of the best yellable names in hockey, go to the Colorado Avalanche. Edmonton bolstered up it's blue line with Andrej Sekera. Michal Neuvirth became the latest victim of Goaltender Hell when he decided to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers. Mike Green broke our hearts by choosing the Red Wings and Matt Beleskey signed for a shockingly reasonable contract with the Boston Bruins. But the most frenziest moment of the day didn't come from a free agent at all, but from the Maple Leafs in their shipping out of their delicately pudgy scorer Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yes, it was a frenzy, but the frenzy lacked a certain team.

Sure, the Caps re-signed Stanislav Galiev, but that was expected. And sure, the Caps signed three new AHLers in forwards Carter Camper and Sean Collins, and defenseman Aaron Ness, but the additions were dull in the grand scheme of things. And sure, the Caps did sign defenseman Taylor Chorney, who appears to be a cheap 7th defenseman that gives us a bit of depth if necessary. But as the TSN telecast of "Free Agent Frenzy" came to a close, Caps fans sighed deeply and continued on with their regular Wednesday.

But in the waning hours of July 1st, Brian MacLellan had one quick announcement to make.

The Capitals signed former Los Angeles Kings forward Justin Williams.

But at what cost? Surely the 33-year-old, three-time Stanley Cup winner, one-time Conn Smythe winner, consistent 20-ish goalscorer deemed "Mr. Game 7" by many would cost a fortune.  He's one of the top scoring threats in a weak free agency class. He can command...gasp...$5 million and four years. This is his last chance to cash in for one last go.

But then....

That's it? That's it!

This is fantastic. Here's why.

Why This is Good?

Justin Williams gives the Caps a versatile, legitimate scoring threat that can play as a right wing effectively on the first, second or third line. Last season, Williams finished with 18 goals and 23 assists in 81 games. Williams has been a consistent goal scorer for the last five seasons, averaging 18.4 goals per season (and that's even including the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13!). What really stands out with Williams is that he's recording these numbers with a sustainable shooting percentage. In fact, his 10.3 shooting percentage he recorded this season was his highest in the last five years, and a 10.3 shooting percentage is very much sustainable.

But what really makes Williams a great player is his ability to possess the puck. Justin Williams consistently finishes among the league leaders in Corsi and Fenwick. This season, Williams finished 24th in the league in Fenwick-for percentage among players with at least 50 games played. Even more impressive, in comparison to his teammates, Williams is generally among the leaders on his team in puck possession.
But let's break this down a little bit further. Sure, it shows that Justin Williams tends to possess the puck a lot, but he also played on one of the best puck-possession teams in the league in the Kings. Was Williams just carried along by his teammates, and benefited from their work?

Nope. Williams did the carrying.

Image via: Own The Puck

Look at the impact Williams has on his line mates Corsi numbers. He not only helps out his line mates possess the puck offensively, but he also improves their defense! And look at how well he impacts his line mates ability to score goals. He helps improve their goal output equal to an NHL first liner!

This all means that Williams will help out his entire line, and the team overall, by generating a ton of responsible offense. Williams will always have the ability to chip in a goal, and he will always make his line mates better.

Why Will You Love Him?

As previously mentioned, Williams could have quite easily gotten a longer deal for more money. In the weak free agency class, Williams was a lone, consistent scorer who dominated the puck possession game. Many teams would have surely wanted to add him, and may have offered him a bit more money. But Williams chose the Caps, because they give him a good chance at adding his name to the Cup for the fourth time.
But how much of a pay cut did Williams actually take?

According to General Fanager, this is the lowest amount of money Williams has made per year since 2006, when he earned his first real contract at the age of 24.

Guys don't do that to often, especially for the Caps. But it is refreshing to know that a player wants to play for the Washington Capitals. It's nice to know that Washington is an ideal destination for at least someone. It's great to know we don't have to throw out the biggest contract to land someone. The Capitals can actually entice someone.
Sure, his contract is outstanding, but what about, you know, his play?

Williams will be loved because he can score in many ways. He can rush the puck up and fire a wrister. He can hold the puck, carry it across the blue line and passed the screen. He can score on a one timer or get a gritty goal down low. It doesn't matter; Williams will find a way.

But if you believe that certain players truly are "clutch," you can't choose anyone more clutch than Williams. There is a reason they guy is nicknamed "Mr. Game 7." In seven career Game 7s, Williams has seven goals, seven assists, and his team has one all seven times. No player has more Game 7 points than Williams. And, umm....the Caps could kind of use that magic.

What Does All of This Wonderfulness Mean?

This wonderful signing means a couple of different things:

1) It is unlikely Joel Ward returns. The 34-year-old would have likely received a similar contract to Williams, as well as a similar role. We will all miss Wardo, but Williams is more than likely his replacement.

2) We probably won't trade for a top-six forward. Is there a need? Not so much anymore. Williams is that top-six forward MacLellan has been talking about.....

3).....However, because Williams' contract is shockingly less than anticipated, the Caps may be able to add another piece or two. Think about it. When MacLellan was considering adding Patrick Sharp, as he was just this offseason, he would have added a $5.9 million contract, almost twice what the Caps are paying Williams. Could the Caps keep a guy like Eric Fehr, or grab someone else to give the Caps a little bit more depth offensively? Or could MacLellan move around a couple of expendable pieces to add another top six forward? Unlikely, but cap space wise, it's not necessarily out of the question.

4) With the big three RFAs still unsigned (Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson), MacLellan will likely hold on signing anyone else until those three are locked down. The Caps have just over $14.4 million in cap space, plenty of room to sign all three.

5) Should the Caps not decide to add anyone else, they will have a bit of wiggle room cap space-wise, something not many contending teams have. With a long list of approaching UFAs next season, the Caps could have room to add the final piece to their championship puzzle at the trade deadline.

This signing is nothing short of excellent, and the Caps are lucky to have a guy like Williams on the roster for two seasons. Williams will provide experience and a steady game to a team that could really use it. The Caps came out winners today.