Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What to do Now: South East Division

Though the quest for the cup continues, for all but two of the teams the season is finished and it is time to look towards the summer. Every team will need to evaluate their roster, budget and see which UFA’s to try and keep, sign and get any important RFA’s under contract. With the entirety of the South East division gone from the playoffs, my first look will be at them. For the sake of ease I will only look at the more significant players (guys on two ways won’t be mentioned).

(F)- forward
(D)- defenseman
(G)- goalie

Washington Capitals
UFA’s- Sergei Federov (F), Matt Cooke (F), Matt Bradley (F), Olaf Kolzig (G), Crisotbal Huet (G)
RFA’s- Mike Green (D), Shaun Morrison (D), Steve Eminger (D)
The Caps surprisingly made the playoffs by taking over the division, but granted winning the South East division is about as hard as beating the French in battle. Deadline acquisitions of Federov and Huet especially helped the team, but alas they couldn’t make it happen in the post season. If Federov can be retained for cheap, around $1mm or less, then he should be signed for a year, but no more since age is catching up to him. Huet is younger and a legitimate starter and should be resigned as long time Capitals goalie Kolzig has announced he won’t return to the team.
The biggest problem facing the caps is that they will already have almost a $10mm increase in just the new deals for Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin alone so they won’t have much to spend. With Huet an UFA and defenseman Greene who will seek a healthy raise there won’t be much room to bring in free agents even with Kolzig’s salary off the books.

What they should do:
Huet and Greene should be the Caps top priorities bar none. Huet’s intentions aren’t known but being able to test free agency for the first time may prove too luring. Greene will be susceptible to an offer sheet should the Caps fail to sign him before then, and some team will probably take a chance on him that way. I don’t think you will see any big spending this year, so try and retain guys like Morrison, Eminger and Cooke who while not top players can contribute. They’re still young and getting better.

Carolina Hurricanes
UFA’s- Brett Hedican (D), Glenn Wesley (D)
RFA’s- Tuomo Ruutu (F), Ben Eaves (F), Tim Gleason (D),
Once again Carolina failed to make the playoffs, offering up injuries as a reason for the second year in a row. Not that injuries aren’t a legit reason, and they have had quite a bit, but it should tell you something: sign people that don’t have injury problems. They already have $38.5mm tied up for next year, but luckily it includes their significant players.

What they should do:
Both Hedican and Wesley are aging and between them make about $4mm. The Canes would be better off spending that on a defender or two who can stay healthy, but they’ll need both an offensive and defensive guy. Unfortunately that money won’t get you anything more than a second pairing guy at best, so going for one impact defenseman may be a better option if you’re willing to spend a few million more. Ruutu, Eaves and Gleason are all young and should be signed as they can be a steady part of the Canes lineup for years. If they can manage to bring in a young forward via trade or free agency (which there aren’t a lot of this year) then they should do so as much of their core is aging, and that Stanley Cup win is becoming a distant memory more every day.

Florida Panthers
UFA’s- Branislav Mezei (D), Jassen Cullimore (D), Steve Montador (D)
RFA’s- Ratislav Olesz (F), Greg Campbell (F), Jay Bouwmeester (D)
Florida has been a mess for years, and Mike Keenan didn’t help much a few years back trading away one of the best goalies in the league for nothing, and before that Rick Dudley wasn't much better. They always have a few good players but nothing surrounding them, though the past few years that has changed with some young players coming into their own. Florida needs to stop what I call “futility signings” which are over the hill or average players known for one good year five years ago as their big signings. They add little to nothing and money is spent better elsewhere.

What they should do:
Absolutely the Panthers cannot afford to lose blue line stud Bouwmeester; his signing should be top priority. Olesz can be valuable and should also be signed. Mezei, Cullimore and Montador while aren’t bad aren’t great either. Mezei and Montador can do half decent but Cullimore is fading. More than anything though the Panthers need some more scoring, so a winger or two would be nice. They have $37mm already used for next year and will probably spend mid 40’s, so an impact winger should be targeted.

Atlanta Thrashers
UFA’s- Bobby Holik (F), Steve Rucchin (F), Marc Recchi (F), Johan Hedberg (G)
RFA’s- Kari Lehtonen (G)
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: the Thrashers cannot succeed with Don Waddell as GM. Constantly overpaying aging free agents, not addressing a pitiful defense and poor drafting have kept this team from being good. Only once have they made the playoffs and the Rangers had to put forth more effort to take a crap than to beat them. Unless Waddell is gone, there is no hope, and the rumor that Marian Hossa refused to sign with the team because he didn’t like their direction should give some credence to that.
All the unrestricted free agents can afford to be let go as save for Hedberg are reaching the end of their careers. In Rucchin’s case it is over due to injury. Hedberg is a good backup so he should be considered, and Holik only if he takes a significant pay cut from his $4.25mm.

What they should do:
Well first, fire Waddell. With a crappy prospect system, one further depleted by deadline deals the previous year (including a defenseman they sorely needed in Braydon Coburn for the aging Alexei Zhitnik) so you cant count on anyone other than Erik Christiansen and Colby Armstrong, the two players acquired from the Pens in the Hossa deal to step it up and help.
Next, let go everyone who is a UFA, all are replaceable and you will have about $6mm to spend right there. Go out and get some defensemen. This team has lacked anything akin to a good defenseman since they came into the league. It’s sad when Andy Sutton is one of your best known franchise blue liners. They need both stay at homes and puck moving ones.
The Thrashers also lack forwards after Kovulchuk and Kozlov. Christensen can help at center but wings are desperately needed. However with the losing culture in Atlanta free agents will be hard to lure.
Lehtonen is the goalie of the future, but has had injury and consistency problems. Regardless he is too young to give up on and needs to be retained.

Tampa Bay Lightning
UFA’s- Chris Gratton (F)
RFA’s- Ryan Craig (F), Alexandre Picard (D)
Sadly the Lightning are just like the Thrashers: plagued by a GM who overpays and can’t draft worth a damn. They were forced to trade Brad Richards and his large deal in order to get better depth, which despite what many think I feel was a pretty good trade as they got a decent scoring winger, two way center and a young goalie. Unfortunately he went and spent most the money he saved by vastly over paying Dan Boyle, who now makes more than Scott Niedermayer. Like the Thrashers, until Jay Feaster is gone the Lightning aren’t going anywhere.

What they should do:
For the love of god, fire Feaster. In three short seasons since the Lightning won the cup he has made them bottom dwellers. If he isn’t fired, pack it in and take the high pick. The Lightning will be better because of some young players having another year under their belts plus the guys they got from the Richards deal. Still they need another good defenseman to help out plus outside of Lecavalier and St. Louis have close to zero scoring depth. It’s hard to say which area needs more help, but I’m going to say go for the forward because they have at least some young defensemen that may be good.


Eli said...

You can't really rate the performance of new clubs in cities without any annual snowfall against the performance of the New York Rangers, an original six club with the second highest profits in the league and hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on scouting and talent development--the only club that has a cable deal for its AHL affiliate and (not coincidentally) the first NHL club to control its own cable channel.

No, the Thrashers are not as consistently good as the Rangers, but that may not be any one person's fault, so much as it's a measure of how well established the Rangers are.

I do like that you found a positive thing to say about the Lightning. Here's a couple more: Steve Stamkos will replace Richards, and Jeff Halpern scored more points per game with the lightning than Vaclav Prospal last year. That means that between the deadline and the draft lottery, the 'ning added depth without moving back at the top.

Even without Stamkos, the supposedly depleted Lightning beat Carolina in the season's final days to take Carolina out of first place. The 'Canes were, if you recall, the NHL's top offensive team for most of the year? For a division that many people write off, that's some surprising parity.

Giving a big contract to Bouwmeester right after he missed most of the year is indeed a risky move, but if he's healthy and Rammo can duplicate his lights-out goaltending from the season's final weeks, the Lightning should win the division.

I say all this as a Caps fan, so take note.

P.S. S-h-a-o-n-e M-o-r-r-i-s-o-n-n. Shaone Morrisonn. Mike Green.

Eli said...

P.P.S. Sergei Fedorov.

And for an old guy with only one year left, he sure looked great on the top line of a team that, if the NHL cared at all about rules, should have won game seven against the Flyers.

Also, your last two sentences on the Capitals beg for rebuttal. You write: "try and retain guys like "Morrison[n], Eminger and Cooke who while not top players can contribute. They're still young and getting better."

Morrisonn is, in fact, a top player. He is the Caps' best defensive defenseman and has played positionally sound hockey on the team's top pair for the better part of each of the last two seasons. He's the defensive presence that allowed Mike Green to shine as an offensive star. That's why all the fans in Washington are glad the team traded Sergei Gonchar for him, after all. If Morrisonn isn't a top player then (a) I don't know who is and (b) I can see why you don't have to spell his names right.

Eminger is a special case. Once a highly regarded offensive defenseman prospect, he's basically been shelved behind Green all season. I'm sure Eminger would prefer to play for a team that wants to give him big minutes and see what he can become. Does such a team exist, though? If not, he'd better train hard this summer to crack the rotation and/or start really hitting and clearing the crease.

Cooke's playoff production was underwhelming and he's a grown man. He was indeed great at the end of the regular season (on Fedorov's line) but he isn't still learning.

The team locked up Bradley a week ago, Chris Clark will be healthy by training camp and Donald Brashear played a solid two-way game in the post-season, so unless Brooks Laich gets offersheeted for more than Cooke has been making, Cooke's role is most likely filled.

And that's fine. You yourself correctly pointed out the budget crunch in Washington and Cooke has gotten used to making over two million per. With Clark and Nylander back, assuming they keep their RFA's, they've already got over twelve forwards (plus maybe Fedorov). That is, unless you want to risk Tomas Fleischmann or Eric Fehr on waivers.

But you probably never heard of them, right? Fleischmann only led the AHL in playoff scoring for two straight years, and in 2004 he was only the key piece in a trade for the NHL's leading scorer. Why would you need to know a name like that? In fact, based on your analysis, I'd be surprised if you could even name the player Fleischmann was traded for.

2ManAdvantage said...

Hi Eli, thanks for your comments. My problem with Waddell is that it seems to me he doesnt really address the needs of the team. Trust me, I'm a proponent of giving new teams time to make something of themselves, but I think all in all Waddell hasnt done a good job with Atlanta.

And though I dont like Feaster, I do think he did good on the Richards deal, and dont agree with many analysts who were quick say Dallas won that deal hands down. I dont mention Rammo because young goalies are such a crapshoot, even more than other positions thats its really hard to judge if they will turn out to be the goalie of the future most teams hope when they draft them. And I fully believe that the Lightning are a better team after the Richards deal. Not that Richards was the source of their problems like some made him out to be, but I think it gave them depth they were sorely needing. With young guys like Ranger and Stamkos who will more than likely be the pick as you suggest, I do think things are looking up for them. But whether Feaster keeps things that way is where I have my doubt.

And I do apologize for screwing up on Morrisonn's name. I was probably writing quick and didnt think I spelled it wrong, so my bad on that. Though no real excuse on Green I will admit...

2ManAdvantage said...

I agree, Federov looked like a new man on that line. However, at that age you just dont know how someone will turn out. Case in point Recchi for the Pens. Last year he was good and a valuable member of the team. This year he was put on waivers and the team performed better without him; he had become more a liability than anything. Federov did well in his short stint with the Caps, there is no arguing that. The problem is it doesnt always carry over to the next season, and I've seen a few cases where the player just didnt play the same for whatever reason.

As for Morrisonn, my comment wasnt meant as an insult. Trust me, I would take him in a second. But I havent heard as much praise from other Caps fans as from you regarding him, though I could just be hearing the wrong things. Also, when the Bruins traded Morrisonn in the Gonchar deal, I was surprised they would give him up.

And yes, I have heard of Fehr and Fleischmann. But a reason I didnt mention Fleischmann them was that he's been locked up for the next few years, plus AHL scoring doesnt always translate into NHL scoring. And off hand, no I dont remember who he was dealt for, we cant remember all the trades that happened.

If you think I am trying to diss the Caps, I am sorry because that is not my intention. They have a bright future ahead of them and I think with Boudreau it got even brighter. I believe he should win coach of the year for what he accomplished.

And I'm not really sure why you're trying to throw an insult at me for the Fleischmann trade. As I said, you cant remember every trade that goes down. I'm sure in a few years people will forget that Fredrik Sjostrom and Marcel Hossa were part of a package deal between Phoenix and New York.