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Showing posts from August, 2006

Double-Edged Sabres

The price of success is rarely cheap, and the Buffalo Sabres are learning that lesson the hard way. While yesterday they announced the re-signing of defenseman Dmitri Kalinin to a two-year deal, leaving only goaltender Ryan Miller left to consider, the Sabres are going to pay roughly 50 percent more in player salaries this upcoming season, despite not landing any significant acquisitions, and letting J.P. Dumont and Jay McKee leave via free agency. From the article at TSN: Buffalo had a payroll of approximately $29 million last season but still advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. But the cost of re-signing restricted free agents moved the payroll closer to the $44 million salary cap for 2006-07. Making it to the Eastern Conference finals is a fine achievement, but a 50% increase in pay? It looks like this is a classic case of the Boiling Frog . Each individual signing may have seemed like the right thing to do

J is for Jethro

The Nashville Predators are already being lauded as an early pick for Western Conference leadership this year (along with Anaheim), but today they took a bold step in validating those predictions by signing free agent J.P. Dumont to a two-year contract. This gives the Preds unrivaled depth up front, with Jason Arnott, Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya supported by a bevy of 20-goal scorers like Scott Hartnell, Martin Erat, and Dumont. Toss in Josef Vasicek, David Legwand, and the highly anticipated Alexander Radulov, and it looks like Nashville is ready to shake off the image of gritty, overachieving scrubs that they've had in years past. Instead of fighting for 2-1 victories and relying on Tomas Vokoun to outplay the other goalie every night, the Preds should have enough firepower to make other teams adjust their gameplans. Worse news yet for rivals like Detroit is that this deal still leaves Nashville waaaaaaaay under the salary cap, meaning that they'll have the flexibil

How Swede it is...

So much for the old days when European players were derided as soft and unsuited for the gritty world of the NHL. Heading into this season, it's likely that six teams will have Swedish captains - joining the incumbents ( Mats Sundin , Daniel Alfredsson , Markus Naslund , and Mattias Norstrom , it looks like Niklas Lidstrom will follow Steve Yzerman as captain of the Red Wings , and that the Flyers want Peter Forsberg to wear the C in light of Keith Primeau's continued absence. We've come a long ways from thirty years ago when pioneers like Borje Salming made a name for themselves in the NHL despite jeers of "Chicken Swede." Of course, we'll see how well these teams do, now that the pre-game meal is likely to be a Smorgasbord loaded down with meatballs and pickled herring...  

Let's find these guys a home...

Most of the wheeling and dealing has been done for this NHL off-season, but there are still a handful of difference-makers out there on the free agent market that haven't found gainful employment yet. Can't your favorite team find these players a happy home? Anson Carter : What's not to like about a 32 year-old forward who can play center or wing, has scored 20 or more goals 5 times and potted a career-high 33 last year for Vancouver? This guy could be a solid 2nd-line forward for just about any team in the league, and his $3 million asking price is pretty reasonable compared to what guys like Michael York and J.P. Dumont were awarded in arbitration. J.P. Dumont : Dumont's arbitration award wasn't accepted by the Buffalo Sabres, so Dumont is free to take his 20-goal, 40-50 point act anywhere he likes. Certainly his solid playoff run this year will make some GM think he can help them out next spring. What remains to be seen is if he can take the next step a

Malkin shows up in LA as Russians cry foul

At long last, Evgeni Malkin has surfaced - in LA of all places. No, he's not been traded to the Kings, but he is "working out with a number of pro hockey players at the Kings' practice facility." According to his story, his disappearance in recent days was so that he could obtain an American visa without being tracked down by his Russian team, which, until they landed in Finland for training camp, controlled his passport. As soon as he received it in Helsinki, he slipped away, met up with one of his agents, and hid out until he had the visa processed so he could travel to the US on Wednesday. It would appear that the Russian Hockey Federation has been left in a lousy bargaining position regarding the transfer fees they were hoping to negotiate with the NHL. Malkin has submitted his written notice to Metallurg Magnitogorsk to leave the team, although the team is now claiming that the notice is in fact a "crude falsification" . Rejection hurts, don'

Where there's smoke...

While the hockey world waits for Evgeni Malkin to make his next move, two other Russian players , Alexei Mikhnov and Andrei Taratukhin, are apparently heading to the NHL as well, but through more regular channels. Russian labor law allows them to give their teams 14 days notice, whereupon they can leave freely, "even if they have a signed agreement." So why is Malkin going through this game of international Hide & Seek? He could have given Metallurg Magnitogorsk two weeks notice and still come over in plenty of time for Penguins training camp. Clearly, something else is going on here. Could there be some outside pressure by elements of the Russian mafia , as so many prominent players have faced in the past ? Sure, young adults make plenty of stupid decisions, so it's possible that Malkin has received some bad advice and panicked in the wake of signing a one-year deal to return to his Russian squad. But I would guess that there's much more to the story than

Where's James Bond when you need him...

It's amusing that the biggest story in hockey today doesn't appear on the NHL's website . Penguins draft pick Evgeni Malkin's sudden disappearance from his team's training camp in Finland has the Russians upset, Metallurg Magnitogorsk threatening to sue Pittsburgh, and his agents in a fix. In one sense, this looks like a flashback to the 1980's, when players had to be smuggled out from behind the Iron Curtain. These days, the barrier to escape isn't a totalitarian Communist state, but rather a team and league which wants their cut of the action before their greatest player heads to the Big Time. Malkin's North American agents (today that's J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson , but who knows for how long) want to get their client on NHL ice as soon as possible, and the Penguins would love to have him in camp to develop alongside Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal . The Pens have an opportunity to build a potent young combination here, and while they don

August is the Cruelest Month

Now that arbitration season is over, and most of the free agents have found their new homes, we have a few weeks of dead time before training camps open around the NHL in early September. So what to do until then? My suggestion, first off, would be to make sure you're signed up over at the NHLFA , the NHL Fans' Association. Around since 1998, it represents a noble attempt at providing the fans a direct venue for communicating with the NHL and its Players' Assocation, through periodic surveys and questionairres. For instance, take a look at the 2005-6 Fan Report , which includes group opinions related to the "New NHL", to feedback on media outlets and executive performance. Some of the more notable points? 79% of members polled are opposed to adding more teams to the playoffs, 88% don't believe fighting should be banned from the game, and 73% think the referees are doing a good job (must be no coaches in there). It doesn't cost anything to join, alth

Arbitration for all!

The popular wisdom is that the NHL's salary arbitration process yields some surprising awards for various players. Pedestrian forwards like Mike York got $2.85 million, and young players still on the rise like Scott Gomez and Daniel Briere got $5 million apiece, figures that were roundly presumed to throw their team's salary structure into chaos. Yet these awards were accepted by their clubs, and the players are back in the fold (at least for now). When you look at the results, it appears that league GM's can largely live with the decisions. Only Boston's David Tanabe and Buffalo's JP Dumont were allowed to walk away as unrestricted free agents. The vast majority of these cases were settled between player and team before they ever went before the arbitrator, and for those who did end up getting a ruling, almost all of those players were retained by their team. There was really only one significant sign-and-trade ( Kyle Calder being sent to Philadelphia for

Here Come the Blues...

Given how far they fell last season, is any team more poised for improvement this fall than the St. Louis Blues ? Yesterday, they added veteran winger Martin Rucinsky , who totalled 55 points in 52 games for the Rangers last season. Add in defenseman Jay McKee , forward Bill Guerin and the returning Doug Weight , and they're making progress in putting a competitive team on the ice each night, which wasn't the case last year when they finished at the bottom of the NHL standings. So what else will new President John Davidson need to add to this mix? A veteran offensive defenseman would help lift that woeful power play out of the doldrums, and an experienced goaltender (Manny Legace?) could assist with the development of Curtis Sanford, who in 34 games last year put up some decent numbers , including a 7-1-1 stretch in his final 9 starts. The best news for Davidson is that he has plenty of room left under the cap, and the fans in St. Louis will support a decent payroll once

Getting Aggressive with Free Agency

Last week I wrote that NHL general managers need to get more aggressive in the restricted free agent market, because therein lies an opportunity to force another team to match your offer and potentially hamper their position relative to the salary cap. By identifying those RFA's that are critical to a team, and making them a slightly over-market offer, you force the original team to make a very difficult decision. Letting a good young player go because you don't want to overpay by 10% isn't something many GM's will do. 50% is a different story entirely - bid too much, and you've just crippled your own salary cap strategy for years to come. But rather than talk in generalities, let's get down to a specific offer that makes sense: Tuomo Ruutu (C), Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago's first-round selection in 2001, Ruutu showed promise in 2003-4 by scoring 23 goals to lead the team, but injuries limited him to 15 games last season. His salary for last season