Monday, July 23, 2012

Moving Past the Nash Era

GM Scott Howson was asking for a king's ransom for Rick Nash, tossing around names like Jeff Skinner, Chris Kreider, David Krejci, Sean Couturier and Logan Couture.  He deemed established players with tremendous upside as equal value for an elite NHL power forward that also happens to be the face of their franchise.

Much to the chagrin of Columbus, that was never going to happen.

Because of the very public nature of Nash's trade demand request, the Columbus Blue Jackets were dealing at a disadvantageous position.  Every team knew that Nash was on his way out of town, and it would be just a matter of time before he could be had for (at best) 75 cents on the dollar.

Howson revealed that his asking price required at least two NHL ready players to go along with the regular mixed bag of prospects and picks.  The Rangers offered up a package that fit the bill.

The Blue Jackets ended up receiving Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first round pick for Nash, minor league defenseman Steve Delisle and a third round pick.

Brandon Dubinsky is a solid two-way center that could possibly slide into the first line role, but would make an ideal second line center.  Anisimov can contribute somewhere in the top six.  Both players are still young with potential to grow even more.  Tim Erixon has the least NHL experience of the traded trio, but possibly bears the most upside. 

Analysts, experts and fans alike are all in agreement that Columbus lost the trade.  None of those guys are going to increase season tickets sales.  None of them scream "franchise savior."

None of them are Rick Nash.

Why is that such a bad thing?

In the decade that was the Nash era, he led Columbus to one playoff appearance, and that's about all they did that year.  They appeared, then disappeared almost as quickly.  That's what Columbus fans are "mourning."  

It's nothing like Nashville's situation, where a constant playoff team and rising contender just lost one superstar for nothing, and could be on the verge of losing the better of the two for four draft picks that will most likely be after 20th overall. 

Howson didn't just trade the Rocket Richard winning Nash of 2003.  That guy doesn't exist anymore, at least not for Columbus.  Maybe Nash will become that guy again for New York, where he believes in his new team's chances for success.

The desire to play for the Rangers came alive today.  The desire to play for the Blue Jackets died in the middle of last season.

I don't believe Rick Nash would have held out next season if he wasn't traded.  He seems like a true professional that would have shown up to all of the practices and games like he's supposed to.

Just imagine how thrilled his teammates would have been to see him.

Trading Rick Nash became a necessity the moment he voiced his desire to play elsewhere.  He was a man that had grown tired of losing.  He no longer had the will to turn Columbus into a winner.  It was time to move on.

Do you think Howson settled for too little?  The offers were going to get worse before they got better.  If Nash managed to linger around for the start of the season, even rumors of a splintered locker room would have sent his already-diminished trade value to new depths.

In 2001, the Flyers traded Eric Lindros to those same Rangers for Jan Hlavac, Pavel Brendl, Kim Johnsson and a third round pick.  Johnsson turned out to be a solid defenseman for the Flyers for several years, winning the Barry Ashbee award for the team's best defenseman twice.  But Hlavac turned into Donald Brashear after 31 games, and Pavel Brendl never turned into anything.

Think about that - the Flyers traded Eric Lindros for essentially Kim Johnsson.  Hlavac put up 64 points in the previous year for the Rangers, and Brendl was killing it juniors to the tune of  320 points in 178 games.  Neither of them did anything in Philadelphia.  The third round pick was used on Stefan Ruzicka, who now plays in the KHL.

Howson could have gotten worse.

Maybe the same thing happens in Columbus, and players just don't pan out.  But that's why Howson insisted on at least two NHL players instead of just prospects with upside.  Anisimov hasn't lit the world on fire, but he's had three years of experience and could be poised to top 20 goals and 50 points with a greater role.  Dubinsky's a six-year vet with some toughness in his game to go with some scoring.

You know you're getting something from those two.  Erixon is still a gamble and could hit or miss, but he was the Rangers top defensive prospect so let's say he pans out (for the Blue Jackets' sake).  That's more than what Philadelphia received for a better player.

Rick Nash is capable of scoring 45 goals and 80 points receiving silky smooth passes from Brad Richards in Madison Square Garden.  He'll most likely surpass his career high of four playoff games next season, and he fulfills the Rangers' need for goal scoring. 

He was never going to do any of that in Columbus.  The Rangers may have won the trade based on talent exchanged.  But they still had to give up some NHL talent, a prized prospect and a first round pick.

Blue Jackets fans won't suffer a fall from grace;  they were already at the bottom of the standings.  Rick Nash didn't want to try to help them climb to the top.  They weren't going to get his best anymore.

That's why Howson's going to sleep easy tonight.  He managed to get Dubinsky, Anisimov, Erixon, and a first rounder for a $7.8 million star that's already moved on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wanted: Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, circa 2007

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is well-known for his fearlessness when it comes to pulling the trigger.

As we all know, last offseason he pulled the trigger trading away the captain of the franchise, Mike Richards, and his longtime drinking buddy teammate, Jeff Carter.  Then, he followed that up with a 9-year deal for Russian philosopher/goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and the surprise signing of a mullet-less Jaromir Jagr.

He's not afraid of making bold moves.  After the Flyers' worst season ever following the 2006-07 season, he overhauled the team by trading for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, and also acquiring Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith.

He also made a splash in free agency that summer.  There was a high-scoring right winger available that year, but he wasn't perfect.  He was definitely undersized and a defensive liability, but he was coming off a breakout 95 point season at the age of 29, and had scored 25 goals in 48 games the year before.

Holmgren signed him to a contract worth $52 million over 8 years.  The general feeling of the signing was that it was a risky signing, but it was acceptable.

That right wing, of course, was Danny Briere.  

The cap hit from that deal is $6.5 million, and the salary cap for 2007 was set at $50.3 million.  That means Briere's contract took up 12.9% of the Flyers cap space.  Next year's salary cap is set at $70.2 million.  So, if the Flyers signed a similar high-scoring right wing to an equal percentage cap hit, they'd be paying him - brace yourselves for this - over $9 million a season!

Sidney Crosby, eat your heart out.

In the eight seasons in which Briere has played over 68 games, he has surpassed 30 goals four times.  He's accomplished that twice wearing orange and black, with his highest total being 34 in 2010.  His defensive deficiencies have been noticeable as expected, with an "even" plus/minus over his Flyers career despite his offensive contributions.

Fast forward to July 2012, five years later, when there's another high scoring right wing available.  And despite the much higher salary cap, he could easily be signed to the same exact contract.  Probably less.  I think he could be had for slightly over "Matt Carle" money.

I want the Flyers to sign Russian sniper, Alexander Semin.  And soon.

Alexander Semin is 28 years old, a year younger than Briere was in 2007.  In the four seasons that Semin's played over the same 68 game threshold, he's broken 30 goals in three of them.

His defensive shortcomings have been greatly overstated.  There's statistical proof that Semin does in fact play defense.  I'm not nearly smart enough to get into the details, but luckily, Jeff Angus of Overtime (part of The Hockey Writers) wrote a great piece with the all the data a guy could ask for.

I am smart enough to notice that Semin played for the "high-flying, defense sometimes" Capitals, and still has a career plus/minus of +65.  The last year he finished below even was 2007.

He's equalled or surpassed Briere's season high goal mark of 34 three times in his seven year career, and that's counting his rookie year, when he ditched his team to play in Russia.....

Oh yeah, I forgot.  He may or may not give a crap, sometimes.

I'm willing to overlook his well-documented character flaws for his proven production, and the prospect of him thriving on a line with a playmaker like Claude Giroux and no Ovechkin to take all the shots.  In a market that's paying decent upside scorers (Hudler, Jones, Parenteau) $4 million a year, and fading stars (Jagr, Whitney) $4.5 million, I can certainly stomach the idea of giving an elite scorer (provided the playmaker) $5.5 million.

Fedotenko's not going to make up for Jagr and JVR's scoring.  Bobby Ryan could do it, but the Ducks want a second line center (Brayden Schenn) and then maybe Matt Read or a draft pick.

Why acquire a 30 goal scorer that costs $5.1 million a year and pieces of the future, when you could sign one AND keep all your assets for an extra $500,000 a year?  Especially when you consider a figure like "$110 million" was being tossed around last week.

Don't even bother bringing up Rick Nash and his $7.8 million cap hit through 2018, or the fact that Columbus GM Scott Howson is asking for Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Chuck Norris and Rocky Balboa.

I know that last Russian the Flyers signed to a big contract hasn't worked out as planned so far.  And neither did that other Russian winger.

But the 2007 Holmgren I know wouldn't worry about all of that.  He'd just fax Semin's agent the contract offer he's been waiting for, critics be damned.

Go big or go home, Homer.  Just add a clause in the contract that keeps Semin from going home again, too.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fantasy Files - Comparing Players For Value

 ** All fantasy analysis is based on experience in a head-to-head format, with goals, assists, +/-, PIM, hits, special teams pts, and shots on goal for skaters.  For goalies, the categories are wins, goals against average, and save percentage. **

I'm going to give you two players and their stats from last season for comparison:

Player A:  54 pts, 53 PIM, 293 hits, 19 STP, +18, 214 SOG
Player B:  54 pts, 101 PIM, 226 hits, 20 STP, +15, 234 SOG

(PIM = Penalty in Minutes, STP = Special Teams Points, SOG = Shots on Goal)

The two players are pretty close.  Player A is an upgrade in hits, but player B is an upgrade in PIM.  The rest of the differences are close enough for give and take.

But ESPN'S fantasy rankings have Player A (Dustin Brown) ranked 72nd and Player B (David Backes) sitting pretty at 15th.

I would agree that Backes should be above Brown, due to the fact that it's hard to find complete players that make sizable contributions in the PIM category.  The leaders in PIM are usually enforcers, who specialize in dropping the gloves and little else.  (These types of one-category wonders will be called "stuffers," for picking one up means a team needs help stuffing a particular category.)  With Backes, you get your fill of PIM while still making solid contributions across the board.  Amongst forwards last year, he ranked 29th in PIM.  He didn't slack in the hits category either, finishing 12th.

Brown's whopping 293 hits place him only behind Matt Martin - another stuffer, but for hits - and make him an elite contributor to a single category, while still putting up enough in the other categories to make him a great option in fantasy.  His PIM are just average, but you know you're getting someone that's frequently in the top 5 in the NHL in hits, posting in the neighborhood of 300 year in and year out.  When you factor in that he was the Kings' best skater in the postseason, and that he plays on the top line with 9th ranked Anze Kopitar, there's enough optimism to consider taking Brown significantly higher than his ESPN ranked slot.

It's also worth noting that last year was far from being a statistical anomaly for either player.  Backes has passed 100 PIM before, and should be expected to put up closer to 60 points.  Brown's numbers actually dropped from the year before, but just slightly.

Neither of these players are flashy or put up astronomical point totals, but they score enough and are important assets to a fantasy team.  The first few rounds of skaters drafted are typically the ones that are most likely to score 80 points or more, making them the rarest of commodities.  But point totals are more likely to rise or fall dramatically than less tracked or glorified categories, like SOG, hits and PIM.  Once the consistent top scorers are taken, don't hesitate to take Brown with his 72nd ranking over gambling on someone like Ray Whitney (ranked 39th!!) to match his 77 points from last year.

Brown and Backes are the fantasy equivalent of "grinders" in the NHL - guys that don't always get their (fantasy) due, but are vital to winning seasons and championships.

For people new to fantasy hockey, don't rely too much on Fantasy Rankings, take the time to discover these relative diamonds in the rough, and reap the rewards all of next season.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Re: Calling Out the Flyers

Bobby Holik (it's okay Flyers fans, just breathe...) wrote the following excerpt in his blog on June 14th:

"I read reports about the Flyers organization being happy the Kings won, and even rooting for them after their second round loss to the Devils.  I can’t see how the Flyers are happy.  How could a team who decided Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Simon Gagne couldn’t win in orange and black,  feel great about guys who won the second they left Philadelphia?


I have written in past blogs, the Flyers have been great at finding great skilled and character players.  These kinds of players exist in abundance, but the hard part is maximizing their potential.  If one looks back in the last two decades, you would find many players who were put in a tough spot by the organization.  They put unreasonable expectations on some of these young men (Lindros) or sign them to ridiculous contracts as far term goes (Richards or Carter) and think their work is done.  It’s not."

I did leave out pieces of his post.  In his opening, he's mostly venting his frustration on the term "Flyers West" in reference to the Stanley Cup Champions, Los Angeles Kings, and that they don't deserve to have any credit taken from that.  If you would like to see his full entry, you can find it here.

After briefly skimming through the first few comments after his entry, all I could find were Devils fans trash talking the Flyers franchise, and Flyers fans piling excrement on Holik.  Shocking!

I see his point that he'd have a difficult time imagining that the Flyers ORGANIZATION - not fanbase - is happy to see them win, and I agree in respect to Richards and Carter.  Gagne's health concerns were just too high for too much money, and so they parted ways.  As for the other two, I can't say I agreed with trading them for "off-ice behavior" affecting their play, either.

If Holmgren and Snider felt that the Flyers couldn't win with Richards and Carter as their best players, then that's a different story.  The Kings' best forwards were Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar in the postseason.  Richards and Carter were cast in a second line role, and were able to thrive in it.

It's especially unfortunate that the Flyers traded Richards.  I still believe the Carter trade was a great transaction, if only because Giroux easily took his center position and point-producing workload.  However, retaining Richards (if talking to media was such a big deal, just give someone else the "C") could have given the Flyers Giroux-Richards-Couturier-Talbot up the middle in some order, along with Voracek at wing.

Missing out on Schenn and Simmonds is rough, but Richards is just a winner.  He's won at every level, and that experience is important in a locker room.  Everybody loved Chris Drury for having the same qualities, and Richards is an even better player.

As for the player development aspect of Holik's comments, I think he's a little off.  The bulk of Lindros's problems as a player were:

A) His concussions.
B) Skating with his head down, which led back to "A."
C) His tendency to play "hero hockey," a term I just came up with 3 seconds ago after reading about Kobe's tendency to play "hero ball."  If Lindros was breathing oxygen, he wanted to be on the ice to help his team.  It's a noble mindset, but towards the end of his tenure in Philadelphia, his gobbling of ice time and frequent double shifting tended to disrupt the flow of the team as he popped in and out of the lineup.  (Again, see "A".)

Then there were the well-documented chronicles of then-GM, Bobby Clarke, and Lindros's father/agent.  Because that was a combination of embarassing/depressing, I'm going to move right along and forget that happened.

The contract terms for Richards and Carter were "ridiculous" so they could both be signed to cap-friendly deals, enabling the Flyers to go after more talent.  Personally, I'm not a fan of any of these extra-long contracts, and I think they'll go away in this next Collective Bargaining Agreement anyway, so it's a moot point.  Either way, I don't see the tangible association between contract term and a player's results on the ice... unless that player only brings his best in contract years.

As long as Philadelphia's current superstar, Claude Giroux, doesn't intend to negotiate his next contract with his father or sign a contract through 2027, I have faith that he'll be managed just fine.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nashville's Next Step?

Talk about a fall from Graceland.

Nashville Predators GM, David Poile, had been pulling out all the stops, wielding a "Stanley Cup or bust" attitude, proving to his superstars with every move that Nashville is dedicated to hanging championship banners.

Earlier in the season, he convinced Pekka Rinne to agree to a 7 year, $49 million extension.  Down the stretch, he acquired Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn for mostly prospects and draft picks.  He even managed to get the enigmatic Alexander Radulov to play the role of playoff mercenary-for-hire.  All systems were go.

But with the departure of Ryan Suter, that drops his superstar re-sign rate to .500.  Fifty percent ain't bad.  But the problem with being stuck in the middle is not knowing which way to go.  Re-signing Shea Weber means you keep one of the top 3 defensemen in the league in front of one of the top 3 goalies in the league through their primes.  Now that's a foundation for winning.

If Weber doesn't stay with Nashville, that makes them just another franchise with a standout goalie.  A hot goalie can win you a postseason, but he'll need to become the Finnish Flame to carry the Predators to a Cup.

The mistake that keeps on leaving, Radulov, is back out the door.  Jordin Tootoo just went to Detroit, leaving fans nauseous.  And after seeing how his prized defenseman just walked out the door for nothing in return, Poile has to feel just awful.  He's smart enough to know that can't happen twice.

Apparently, Weber's been stunned by this turn of events, too.  He's definitely re-assessing his situation, and that's not something you want to hear.  I turn my attention to you, Mr. Poile.  You basically have three options, in order of unlikelihood:

1.  Give Weber the farm.

Also known as, the Music City Miracle on Ice.  Sorry, but call me a pessimist.

Unfortunately, I don't know how persuasive this could be, since he's going to cash in anywhere and he knows it.  So you need to make him stupid rich.  Like, "get to road games on his private jet" rich.  Or "don't worry, Sid... I'll pay for you" rich.

2.  Convince a horrible GM of a bad team to sign him to an offer sheet.

*Four first round draft picks!

This idea is horrible for a re-building team, but maybe this imaginary team has a penchant for losing, and/or wants to upgrade their defense more than anything.  Let's call this team "Columbus," or "the Oilers."

Then, you secretly hope that team continues to fall flat on their face.  Pittsburgh drafted some significant pieces with their first round picks when they were transitioning from Mario to Sidney.  Edmonton hasn't made the leap yet, but they looked poised to turn things around this season after acquiring their young talent.  Then again, I thought that last season.  Bottom line - potential superstars could be had at low salaries with constant draft picks at premium positions.

3.  Capitalize on the weak market for defensemen.

Right now, people are paying Matt Carle and Dennis Wideman over $5 million each to patrol their bluelines. That is abusurd.  As sought after as Suter was, Weber would easily command more assets and more money than Suter's half of the Minnesota Twin Contracts.  This isn't the NBA, either - one player won't win or lose you a championship.

Trading Weber to the Rangers for Dubinsky, McDonough, Kreider, and some picks would cause a stir on Broadway.  Philly could offer up Voracek, the Schenn brothers, and some picks.  Don't really know what Detroit could offer, but they're officially desperate for a shutdown defenseman.

None of this might be what people want to hear, but it's probably your safest bet and most profitable option.  Regardless, it would be better than watching history repeat itself again next year.

* Post edit:  In order to qualifiy for four first rounders, Weber would need to sign an offer sheet of $7,835,219 according to this article.  If he signs for a few bucks less, the Predators would receive two first rounders, a second, and a third. Unfortunately for Poile, the latter seems more likely at this point.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Parise and the "Decision"

It finally happened: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have signed identical 13 year, $98 million contracts to play for perennial Cup contender, the Detroit Red Wings! Pittsburgh Penguins!  Minnesota Wild!

Both of the big name free agents took their talents to Minnesota, spurning their small market franchises to join powers with the already settled (and fused) Dankko Heatvu, playing the part of Dwyane Wade.

Parise (Lebron) and Suter (Bosh) were Olympic pals, just like Lebron and Bosh.  They even called the prospects of playing together "intriguing," and had discussions about it.  Where's the public outcry, complete with video clips of Suter jerseys on fire and Devils' fans crying?


  • He's not leaving his title-starved hometown to pick up multiple Cups.  He's committing there, despite their lack of present superstars.   (Koivu's brother Saku has had more headlines during his career, and Heatley only had 53 pts last year. That's why they're fused!)
  • Parise isn't the next coming of Gretzky or Lemieux, and the Devils have won multiple Cups without his contributions.
  • The Wild already have a devoted fan base.  He's not bringing them to life; he's putting them in a frenzy.
  • Zach Parise didn't call attention to where he'd sign.  He wanted to make it in peace.
  • Along with Suter and Dankko Heatvu, he hasn't unveiled himself with pyrotechnics like a rock star (yet).
  • Signing with another star American is actually a big deal in a sport where the United States need to prove their mettle again and again. 
  • He supposedly accepted more money to play there.... s*it, that's a negative comparison.  Forget this point.

In all seriousness, signing along with Suter in Minnesota is great for both of them, and especially Minnesota.  Suter wanted to play somewhere where the media wouldn't eat him alive, and Parise wanted to bring the "State of Hockey" a Stanley Cup of their own.

Minnesota reached the Conference Finals in 2003 as the sixth seed, but that was a flash in the pan.  As the North Stars, Minnesota reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice, only to lose to the Islanders during their dynasty years, and a Pittsburgh team led by Lemieux and Jagr.  Then they were torn from their hockey roots and re-planted in Dallas.

Their fans deserved better, and today they got it.

On the Fourth of July, two of the best American-born players in the NHL signed with their franchise, devoid of any (real) superstars, to give them their best chance at winning their first Stanley Cup.  They're still far from being a favorite, but at least they have hope.

As for Parise, he has the chance to become a hero in his homestate, in front of his family and friends.  And $98 million.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

One And Done - Jagr Signs With Dallas

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Last offseason, the Flyers were able to sign Jaromir Jagr to a 1-year deal worth $3.3 million.  He had spent three seasons in the KHL maintaining close to a point-per-game, but teams were skeptical that he could provide that level of production in the more physical NHL, especially at the age of 39.

Supposedly turning down more money from other mystery teams, Jagr liked the situation in Philadelphia.  Giroux and Briere are right-handed shots, which allowed Jagr to work the half-boards on the powerplay, his position of choice.  The Flyers had just signed Ilya Bryzgalov to his mega-contract and moved Richards and Carter for an impressive crop of prospects.  Jagr was free to slide right in to a scoring role next to an up-and-coming superstar on a team that was gearing for a run at the Cup.

The "perfect fit."

The gamble paid off, as Jagr and Giroux - affectionately described as "Little Mario" - showed great chemistry together.  In 73 games, Jagr posted 19 mile-high salutes and 35 assists playing mostly alongside Giroux and Hartnell.  After the Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs, Jagr called his experience with the Flyers "one of the most enjoyable seasons of his career."

Trying to figure it all out?  I'm a man of reason, so I'll just put myself in Jagr's shoes.  Welcome to my internal dialogue:

"Dallas is showing they're going after the Cup this year!"

Like the Flyers last season, the Dallas Stars have not hesitated to make aggressive moves to change their roster.  They've already signed 77-point scorer (and fellow 40-year old) Ray Whitney, acquired former-Sabre Derek Roy, and signed gritty defenseman Aaron Rome.

However, they've also lost Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott, and Sheldon Souray in the process.  I guess it's not about having the best shot at winning another Stanley Cup.

"I know... it must be their powerplay! I love contributing on special teams, so that must be what's drawing me away. The allure of playing the half boards on that sizzling Dallas powerplay!"

Right... until you realize Dallas had the lowest powerplay percentage in the entire league, and their three best offensive threats (Benn, Eriksson, and Roy) are all left-handed too.  The Flyers' powerplay ranked 6th.  Talk about a head-scratcher.

"Well, I'm not getting any younger, and I did mention not wanting to train as hard, so travel was probably a factor when I chose Dallas."

Not by a longshot.  Philadelphia's division rivals are a college road trip away.  Besides being forced to travel to rundown Nassau Coliseum less and increasing the distance between him and New Jersey, there are no upsides, whatsoever.  The Stars need to travel through multiple time zones just to play within their division.

"Then it must be the money! They offered me $4.55 million."

But that's barely $1.25 million more than we gave you last year!  We have Giroux!  "It's-a-me, Little Mario?!"  We're even down a power forward since we traded JVR... we're the best fit!

"But I don't have to pay income tax in Texas..."

You son of a b**ch.