Monday, June 30, 2008
Lightning Struck a Day Early
One of the few free agent forwards under 30 was just locked up to a ridiculous 7 year, $31.5 million deal today. Ryan Malone will be making an average of $4.5 million per year for Tampa Bay.
It's front-loaded too, as TSN reports, with an amazing $7-8 million in his first two years of the contract. I'd like to emphasize that Malone's career highs came in this past season, a whopping 27 goals and 51 points. Brian Gionta's big contract yields a smaller cap hit than that, and he was way
more productive in getting that contract. I fear this contract will inflate many of the other on-going deals that will be finalized tomorrow. That's not good for anyone, except for the guys (player, agent, his "bros," etc.) getting the money.
Now, if I'm a Tampa Bay fan, I'd feel mixed about these moves. Sure, Malone is a big forward who can score somewhat well; but that cap hit isn't going to look pretty unless Malone raises his game. Even if he's constantly lined up with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier (which he likely won't now that Prospal's back), I don't see Malone putting up 70 points short of displaying some amazing chemistry and/or developing some amazing talent. This guy's been on Evgeni Malkin's wing for most of last season, if I'm not mistaken, and he only put up that much? What's he going to do on the second line behind Prospal? Production-wise, he could end up like, well, Brian Gionta.
Bringing Prospal back is a much better move, considering his past production with the team last season (29 goals and 28 assists in 62 games). He's not getting younger and his defense leaves a lot to be desired; but he shoots, he can make plays (as recently seen from the Flyers' playoff run), and he's got proven chemistry to Tampa Bay's top forwards. Melrose would be foolish not to have Prospal make a return to that top unit. While it's good for the team, it could make the Malone deal more of an albatross should Prospal continue putting up points with Vincent and Martin. Don't get me wrong, Ralston is a good center.
The decision to get Brian Rolston is more intriguing. Should they sign him - and I think that's likely, otherwise I don't understand the trade at all, he will provide experience (and a lot of lessons to Steve Stamkos) and still perform as a capable center. He did put up 34, 31, and 31 goals in each of his last three seasons in Minnesota while playing 20 minutes a night for the Wild. He could easily find himself on the second line. Perhaps Malone can feed off that; though it begs the question as to where Stamkos will end up. Maybe at wing? Maybe Rolston will move to wing? Who knows, but Rolston can help at both ends of the rink and if he pots in 25-30 goals doing it, it'll be all for the better. I'm not sure why Gary Roberts is still playing, and I'm not sure what he could add other than veteran presence.
Despite my distate for the Malone signing, the Lightning may have gotten better just by bringing back a former Lightning left-winger (Prospal) and obtaining a solid center who doesn't have to be the #1 center (Rolston). For a Devils perspective, there's something to be learned here. Both of these two signings that I like are over 33. Most of the better forwards in free agency this summer are veterans and despite the usual emphasis on youth; many are definitely able to significantly help out teams in someway or form. Should the Devils also sign a forward this summer, he'll likely be a veteran. While it won't be any of these guys, I urge you to look past their age and look more towards what they can do. Mats Sundin, for example, has plenty
to offer. And I think much more than Sergei Brylin, who may or may not be back at this point.
It'll be exciting tomorrow, that's for sure.
Labels: 2008 Offseason, Hockey - General, Hockey Issues
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Free Agency Thoughts
Well, it's been a week of talking, speculation, and so forth. It's also been a week where I haven't had much to say. Basically, if you've been reading Tom Gulitti
- and you should - then you know the score. With the July 1st Free Agency Extravaganza™ beginning in less 3 days, let's consider what we actually do know. The funny thing about trades and free agency is that even if Lou didn't get anyone, it doesn't mean he wasn't trying. I'm confident that he's most definitely trying to make some moves based on his recent appearance on XM's NHL Live. The Devils official website has direct links to this must-hear interview.
Here's what we know:
- The Devils are interested in Bryce Salvador. This makes sense despite his past injury problems, his lack of speed, and his age (34). Salvador is a stay-at-home defenseman who can hit hard, and his experience shows in his positioning. The only other defenseman of that type that the Devils have is Colin White. So he would fill in a need of sorts. I wouldn't give him a no-movement clause; but he's still talking with Lou and it seems it should be going well.
- Sergei Brylin still has his $1.52 million option - which he will decide to use on Monday. I think if the Devils would like to have him back. Honestly, if Brylin doesn't and goes elsewhere, I don't think it'll be the end of the world. Of the UFAs, he's the most replaceable, I think. Especially with Petr Vrana in the wings.
- While he's primarily a defensive forward, Jay Pandolfo will command likely somewhere around $1.5 million. Of all three Devils UFAs, his loss would hurt the Devils the most as he's been a shutdown forward along with John Madden for much of this decade with New Jersey. While his replacement would almost likely be more of a two-way player, his defensive coverages could be missed against the opposition's top line. I do not know where the Devils are with Pandolfo. They've talked to him, but from this Gulitti post, it looks like he'll test the market.
- From the NHL Live broadcast - the Devils are interested in Matthew Corrente and Tyler Eckford. Lou said they'll be pushing people for spots, so the organization is clearly high on them. For forwards, Lou states that now is the time for Barry Tallackson, Petr Vrana, and Nicklas Bergfors to see whether they can play at this level. Expect all 5 to get long looks in camp. Personally, I think this will be Vrana's time to shine depending on what Brylin wants to do.
- Also from the broadcast, Lou admits that a number of their players underachieved last season and they'll be looking to get some back to form. Specifically, he mentions Gionta and Elias - he hasn't lost confidence in them, but it's good that he wants to improve the offense from within.
- From Gulitti's post and comments: The cap ceiling is $56.7 million and the Devils have $37.7 tied up right now. Should the Devils keep Pandolfo, Salvador, and Brylin along with their qualifying offers for RFA's David Clarkson and Rod Pelley remaining as is, the Devils should have about $9-11 million in space. They can afford to be big players in free agency this summer.
- The Devils' top need, I think, is another top 6 forward. Jamie Langenbrunner didn't cut this season, Travis Zajac's sophmore slump didn't help at all last season, the constant movement of Dainus Zubrus in the lineup didn't establish anything, and Brian Gionta's slump hurt as well. While I know the Devils want to see what Nicklas Bergfors can do and I know there will try to end various slumps; if the Devils can obtain a scoring forward, that would help out the offense quite a bit.
- The Devils will sign players that would fit the team and won't cause any problems in the locker room or on and off the ice. So, I wouldn't expect Todd Bertuzzi in Devils red.
While the market is loaded of veterans (e.g. Pavol Demitra) and guys who will get larger contracts then they'll deserve (e.g. Marian Hossa - even though he'd be a good fit and the Devils have the cap space about 29 other teams will be looking at him too), I think the best option is to "rent" a player for a year. There aren't too many in-their-prime-sign-them-now scoring forwards - and no, Vincent Lecavalier won't be one of them next year
, sorry IPB
and, uh, Montreal.
So, someone like Mats Sundin would be excellent. Despite his age, Sundin has been a consistent scorer throughout his career
, mostly in spite of the players around him in Toronto. If Sundin wants to go to a contender, New Jersey can fit that role. Believe it or not, the Devils did finish last season with the league's 6th best record - at the least, Sundin will taste the playoffs again in Newark. Plus, if Sundin is signed, Elias can return to the wing and the Devils wouldn't need to mix up their forwards as much with a proven #1 center in Sundin. At worst, Sundin would be like Joe Nieuwendyk in 2002-2003 - which wasn't a bad acquisition (edit: I thought he was signed, but he was in the Arnott trade - thanks Anonymous).
As far as defense goes, while offensive defensemen are available, the Devils will probably not sign a big name defensemen if they get Salvador. The emergence of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya helped, the return of Colin White helped, and the fact that the defense only allowed 2,257 shots on net - the 8th lowest in the league - is proof that they played much better than they looked on paper. While a point-man with a great shot would be great for a power play that sorely needs one, if you can't play defense, you're not going to be a Devil. Given that Lou wants to see what Corrente and Eckford to do and the Devils have 7 defensemen on the roster already, someone is getting traded or demoted if anyone is signed. As much as I'd like to see Wade Redden here, I doubt it at this point.
One thing I know for sure will happen on July 1. Lou will do something. On that broadcast, he (and later the host) reiterated the Devils committment to winning and he will look to do something about that. I don't think anything drastic is necessary - while the losses to the Rangers hurt, at least half the league would love to have a season like the Devils did. That said, if anyone truly knows what is best for the team, it's the guy who built them to win in the first place.
Labels: 2008 Offseason, Devils Issues, Devils Prospects, Hockey Issues
Sunday, June 22, 2008
The 2008 NHL Entry Draft is now over. The Devils have made their nine selections, most of them from the Canadian major junior leagues:
#24 - Mattias Tedenby, LW, 5'10", 176 lbs., HV 71 (NHL Entry Draft profile
#52 - Brandon Burlon, D, 6'0", 190 lbs., St. Michael's Buzzards (NHL Entry Draft profile
#54 - Patrice Cormier, C, 6'2", 201 lbs., Rimouski Oceanic (NHL Entry Draft profile
#82 - Adam Henrique, C, 5'11", 183 lbs., Windsor Spitfires (NHL Entry Draft profile
#112 - Matt Delahey, D, 6'1", 215 lbs., Regina Pats (NHL Entry Draft profile
#142 - Kory Nagy, C, 5'11", 196 lbs., Oshawa Generals (Unranked player!)
#172 - David Wohlberg, C, 6'1", 192 lbs., USA U-18 (NHL Entry Draft profile
#202 - Harry Young, D, 6'4", 202 lbs., Windsor Spitfires (NHL Entry Draft profile
#205 - Jean-Sebastian Berube, LW, 6'3", 183 lbs., Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (NHL Entry Draft profile
Tom Gulitti has had a few words with Lou, who is very, very happy with the selection of Mattias Tedenby.
If you're still skeptical about the selection, I invite you to read Sam Woo's analysis of it at Hockey Primetime.
Considering what I know about Tedenby and his style of play, the fact that he would eventually fit well into Sutter's system probably was a big factor along with Tedenby's speed and skill.
With the draft now over, the many, many draft day deals are being analyzed - here by the indomitable James Mirtle. Where Chicago fans are wondering about Kyle Beach's maturity and discipline
and Islanders blogs
quelling an overreaction to the decision the move down instead of taking Nikita Filatov at #5 (Note: The Fanhouse does suggest that it maybe wasn't a terrible idea
.), the next big date is July 1. That's the date where free agency begins. I'd expect Sergei Brylin and Jay Pandolfo's future to be confirmed by then - likely with deals keeping them in Devils red. Even with the signing of both players, the Devils will have more than a fair bit of cap space available
, assuming the salary cap celing does increase to $56.3 million as estimated.
Will they swing big and go for Marian Hossa? Will they focus on the defense, looking at Wade Redden or a solid #4 guy in case Bryce Salvador doesn't return? How will any signing affect the possible spots available for prospects Petr Vrana, Nicklas Bergfors, and Matthew Corrente? What will Lou do to completely surprise us? All this answered and more, in a little less than 2 weeks.
Labels: 2008 Draft, 2008 Offseason, Devils Issues, Hockey - General
Saturday, June 21, 2008
THN Draft Previews are Entertaining
If you were fortunate enough to get to the Devils draft party early enough, you were able to get a free copy of the 2008 The Hockey News Draft Preview. It's a smart move by the organizers as it gives people like me something to read before the Devils' pick, something to follow as 17 and 18 year old hockey prospects are being picked, and something that provides some unintentional entertainment.
First, there are the photos. Seeing young players A) trying too hard to smile in their team photos ( e.g. Michael Del Zotto), B) looking surprised (e.g. Colby Robak), C) trying to look serious and tough (e.g. Zach Boychuk), or D) the rare not-even-a-hockey-related-photo (e.g. Anton Gustafsson). The best photo was THN's #37 ranked prospect, and now Calgary Flame, Mitch Wahl. They took his Spokane Chiefs photo which leads me to believe he is actually a throwback to the 1950s NHL.
Second, the write-ups themselves. Alan Adams had an article before the prospect profiles detailing why NHL teams are wary to pick Russian prospects due to a lack of the transfer agreement between the Russian Hockey Federation and the NHL. Alexei Cherepanov slipped to the Rangers at 17th overall, a travesty according to Pierre McGuire, because of this. Flip two pages ahead to Nikita Filatov's profile and the first quote read "Russian teenager Alexei Cherepanov tumbled on draft day last year more because of his effort and character than the NHL's problems with the Russian federation." THN is totally on the same page here, good times!
Here are some more fun quotes from scouts and the profiles and some wonderful comparisons My comments are in italics:
- THN #6 Luke Schenn - "'He's not as good as those other guys [Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo], but he plays with more of an edge, ' a scout said. 'To me, he's Brendan Witt-plus.'" Yep, if you're a team picking in the top-10, you're looking for...a Brendan Witt like player.
- THN #11 Kyle Beach - "'This guy could be the best player in the draft,' one scout said. 'He's Own Nolan. Yeah, discipline is an issue for him. But was discipline an issue for Claude Lemieux?'" A more logical statement would have been whether discipline was an issue for Owen Nolan?
- THN #16 Mattias Tedenby - "Size is undoubtedly an issue [Note: this is a common theme in this draft preview] when it comes to Tedenby, but scouts who have watched him wonder if they're not watching the next Saku Koivu...or the next Martin St-Louis...or the next Mats Naslund." And later we get a scout saying he's got some Paul Kariya in him. Four comparisons! That's the most in any of these profiles. Good times! Thank heavens they didn't bring up Rico Fata...
- THN #28 Tyler Cuma - "'He's good offensively, but not dynamic,' a scout said. "And he's good defensively, but he's not 6-foot-4.'" Wow. I'm still wrapping my head about the knock on his height. He's 6'1", he isn't small. Still, the profile highlights that he's just good all-around and doesn't have an elite attribute. Get excited Minnesota! This is who you traded up for!
- THN #47 - Kristofer Berglund - "Berglund has been passed over in not one, but two, NHL drafts, but that won't be the case after an impressive WJC for the silver medal-winning Swedish team and some progress with his club team." Well, THN was right. Berglund just got drafted by St. Louis. In the 5th round, 125th overall. That's not even the biggest reach by the magazine.
- THN #50 - Joel Champange - No quote, but THN has him at #50, the International Scouting Service has him at #151, and Champange just got picked at 129th overall by Toronto. Oh, THN...
- THN #60 - Kelsey Tessier - "The main thing separating Tessier from the other small, talented forwards in this year's draft is skating. The ones rated higher are terrific skaters, Tessier not so much." That's the first two sentences of his profile - ouch. That's not good for anyone. Tessier did fall out of the first two rounds, going in the fourth to Columbus.
- And now the best quote - THN# 29 - Zac Dalpe - "'Travis Zajac went 20th in his draft year and he should have gone 10th," one scout said. What?! Travis Zajac as a top ten talent! I know 2004 wasn't as deep as 2003, but saying he should have been selected ten picks earlier is bizarre. This is the same Travis Zajac we're talking about here, right? Maybe this scout is from an alternative universe where Travis Zajac is the new Anze Kopitar?
The last area of entertainment and head-scratching reading comes from the team-by-team sections. They have a little 10-year draft review where they list the team's top 5 shrewd picks and the top 5 that weren't so shrewd. Naturally, the former are later picks that turned out well and the latter are earlier picks that didn't meet expectations. - and are the focus of joy and sadness. Re-live the fact that Stanislav Chistov went 5th overall, Rico Fata went 6th overall, and Adrian Foster being drafted at all! Though some of those listings just seem impatient - you can't say that Logan Couture was a not-so-shrewd pick since he was drafted last year
. That said, the Rangers list is an exciting list of Pavel Brendl, Jamie Lundmark, Hugh Jessiman, Manny Malhotra, and Alvaro Montoya. Bizarrely, Detroit only has two players listed in that spot. I know they draft well, but if they're going note Benoit Pouliot as not a great pick, you can't ignore Jakub Kindl.
Criticisms aside, it's a good guide to have at the draft if only to have some knowledge of who's being picked. OK, it doesn't have the panache of the TSN TV coverage, but we don't need a magazine having the equivalent of Pierre McGuire yelling "That was a gigantically positive decision
!" or stating how he loves every pick. Then again I imagine him yelling at lunch, "A ham sandwich? Oscar Meyer, YOU are a McGuire Monday MONSTER."
Labels: 2008 Draft, Hockey - General, Media
Friday, June 20, 2008
John Carlson was available at 21, but the Devils traded down to 23. John Carlson was available at 23, but the Devils traded down again to 24. With an extra second round pick in this year's draft and an extra third in next year's draft, John Carlson was there. The New Jersey native who is a Devils fan, lists Scott Stevens as his favorite player, and is projected as an offensive defenseman was right there. Ready to be picked. And Lou gives David Conte the podium and announces...
At first, I wasn't particularly happy because I convinced myself that should Carlson be there, that's who I want for New Jersey. Then again, the Devils have professional scouts and all I have is second hand information. Upon considering the pick while waiting for the train, I'm starting to grow into the pick. Fortunately, I was able to snag a free copy of The Hockey News' Draft Preview magazine at the draft party (more on this tomorrow), providing me ample time to read up on who they think the top 60 prospects are. THN rates Tedenby at 16; and the only groups that had Carlson ranked higher than Tedenby is at TSN - which conveniently lists the rankings for comparison
- and McKeens.
Tedenby is highly praised in scouting reports, such as this profile at Eliteprospects
, for his speed, fearlessness, and his overall offensive skill (stickhandling, scoring, etc.). Clearly, he's a skilled forward and you can't have too many of those in the system. Likewise, the common knocks on him are the fact he's 5'9" and 165 lbs. and his defensive awareness is lacking. Well, the Devils generally select the best player available regardless of size - like Brian Gionta and Zach Parise - so I don't think the size was a deterrent. Plus, there's any team in the world that will drill defensive awareness into a player, it's New Jersey. Given that Lou traded down twice, this is clearly the organization wanted and got two extra picks for their effort. OK, so it made me take a train about an hour later than I'd like, but in a few years, that minor inconvience will be well worth it.
But enough words, check out these two 5 minute-ish videos of Tedenby doing the thing that got him drafted tonight. This one features him with the Swedish national team
(I assume U-18s) and this one features him on HV71.
Welcome to the New Jersey Devils organization, Mr. Tedenby. May you still gaze that gaze in Newark in the coming years.
Labels: 2008 Draft, Devils Prospects, Hockey - General, Prudential Center
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The NHL Draft - Tomorrow; Jordan Eberle
Hockey's Future, a site that focuses on prospects and a site that is currently enjoying this time of year, has all kinds of team previews. Most relevantly, Jared Ramsden has an extensive and proper article about the Devils' prospect system.
I don't think the team desperately needs an elite prospect. There are only so many of those every year and the cost to get them is large. As good as Bogosian or Doughty are, would a big trade to move current regular players to pick up a 18 year old kid be worth it? Maybe if they are a sure-thing, but are they? I don't know - it seems to me that Stamkos may be the only one who fits that bill and he's already taken. And even if the Devils don't get an elite prospect in this draft, I don't think it makes the Devils weaker next season. If it's a continuing trend for the next few years, then maybe. But not now.
Who will the Devils draft? Neither you or I know. See you at the draft party
at The Rock tomorrow!
Labels: 2008 Draft, Devils Issues, Devils Prospects, Hockey - General
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Brodeur Wins (Yet Another) Vezina
Well, well, well. I hear that Martin Brodeur guy is pretty good. One would almost want to use the term...legendary
At tonight's NHL Awards show, Brodeur won his fourth Vezina trophy - his second consecutive trophy. A list of all the winners can be found at NHL.com
. The big winners were Alexander Ovechkin taking home the Hart and Pearson, Nicklas Lidstrom winning his sixth Norris Trophy, Pavel Datsyuk winning both the Lady Byng and Selke (John Madden finished second) trophies, Bruce Boudreau winning the Jack Adams, and Patrick Kane winning the Calder. All deserving winners and equally deserving was Gordie Howe earning the league's first lifetime achievement award. No prize goes to the producers for getting a really un-entertaining host to run this.
According to TSN.ca, the Vezina trophy voting was very close between Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov,
who did the ridiculous and picked up Brodeur-ian numbers in as many games as Brodeur. Here is the key section:
Brodeur, who some argue is the best goaltender to ever play in the NHL, garnered 113 points, while San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov totaled 106 points and Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist had 13 points.
Lauding Brodeur as one of the best and
highlighting a Ranger's failure in one sentence? Niiiiice.
That does not get old.
Brodeur did mention one interesting tidbit during his acceptance speech. Namely, he is hoping the Devils get a better team next season. Yes, he actually said that. Not for nothing, that in of itself isn't news - who doesn't want to better? No one is going to wish their team to be worse next season. However, saying so outloud after receiving an award is a bit surprising. I don't think it's the call out some may think it to be; but it is a message that at least one Devil wants to see some improvements.
There is one thing I didn't understand. Brodeur, oddly enough, was not named to the NHL's first team but rather to the second team.
Not that it's a bad honor, it's just proof that the PHWA (who vote for the NHL first and second team) doesn't agree with the general managers (who vote for the Vezina) as to who the top goalie in the NHL was last season. It's still odd, as even noted by journalist James Mirtle. The voting for this and more is revealed at Gulitti's Fire & Ice.
Labels: 2008 Offseason, 2008 Season, Devils Legends, Hockey - General, Media
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
NHL Awards Show Tomorrow
No, really. It'll be on Versus and CBC Sports. It completely sneaked up on me, too. Best of luck to Martin Brodeur
and John Madden
, who are up for the Vezina and Selke Trophies, respectively. Links from NHL.com
In the world of hockey, the Los Angeles Kings have fired Marc Crawford according to TSN.
It's easy to say that he was fired because he didn't turn around the Kings from their status of Western Conference doormats. It's also true to a point, though he did only have two seasons to work with the team. Anyway, hopefully the general manager and his scouting team has a plan for their sixteen
picks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. For a Kings fan's take, check out Rudy Kelly's at Battle of California.
Stating that your teams' first poor game in a while at the end of a 10 game losing streak? I'm starting to think that was a clue, of some sort.
Coaching news is everywhere in the league. San Jose is announcing tomorrow Detroit assistant Todd McLellan as their head coach. Mike Babcock gets a well-earned 3 year extension from Detroit.
Ex-Sharks head coach Ron Wilson gets to try his hand at salvaging the Toronto Maple Leafs as now he is the new head coach.
Funnily enough, the Maple Leafs are looking to stick with their interim general manager, Cliff Fletcher
, which I'm sure has all the Leafs fans happy about that. Lastly, Ottawa is still looking for a head coach.
All of this news is from TSN
In player news, Vancouver Canucks legend Trevor Linden has retired from hockey (link goes to announcement on the official Canucks site). James Mirtle has a bit on his legacy.
Surprisingly, I found out that the NHL and NHLPA met on goaltender equipment issues today when reading through TSN.
The theme of this report is that we should expect changes soon. The only specific changes are the elimination of extra padding that isn't necessary for protection and a common measurement system will be applied to all goaltenders to regulate padding sizes. These seem like sensible changes and the meeting wasn't devoid of goaltenders - Martin Brodeur, Rick DiPietro and Ryan Miller were all present. This won't affect some goaltenders like Brodeur, who never had to rely on that extra padding. It should affect others notorious for this sort of behavior, such as Jean-Sebastian Giguere. I'm a bit skeptical to be honest, having heard all throughout the late 1990s that obstruction would be eliminated - and it took until after the second lockout to come close to enforcing that. And even this season some of those little hooks and slashes are returning to the game. My point is that I've heard pronouncements to change the rules before, I want to see it actually happen this time.Tom Gulitti has announced that the Record has a new forum for Devils fans to talk hockey. The link to the forum is right here
and it's brand new. Join up soon to be one of the first of many.
Labels: 2008 Offseason, 2008 Season, Hockey - General, Hockey Issues, Media
Monday, June 09, 2008
Draft Party; Colby Robak
Robak is a defenseman for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League.
In any case, that NHL Entry Draft link appears to be an official NHL site and it is loaded with more information. It's much more complete and easier to get to than reading opinions from HFBoards
- not that there's anything wrong with HF. In fact, if you're looking for mock drafts, HF is a great place to go. You may want to ignore the amateurs and go right to this one done by the Daniel Nielson of Hockey's Future Radio.
The radio site even ranks the players - not necessarily a mock draft - but still good as it considers all the players.
Unfortunately, he thinks John Carlson will be gone before #21, but he's still thinking defense with Colby Robak. If only because there isn't much else going on with the Devils, let's see what else is out there (read: what can I find through Google
) about this guy.
He's not small, standing at 6'3" and 202 pounds. I think it's fair to say that offensive production may not be his forte with only 6 goals and 24 assists. At the same time, it may be fair to say he knows a few things about keeping his cool with only 25 penalty minutes in 71 games. Of course, this is junior hockey - numbers there translate to the NHL about as well as an abacus doing the sum of square error in an ANOVA analysis.
, an Edmonton Oilers blog that seems to prefer Shawn Horcoff, notes that Robak does indeed have offensive upside and that his best asset is his skating.
That's certainly good news. From Rich Hammond's Inside the Kings, you can read this interview with Robak
where you can learn that he agrees he needs to be more physical and that he would love to model his game after Nicklas Lidstrom. I like reading positive things about his skating. If I learned anything from reading countless prospect profiles from THN and elsewhere, it's that skating seems to keep coming up as an issue for prospects. Given that it's a strength, that's good for Robak. Reading he needs to be more physical makes sense given his size and position, but it's good that he recognized that issue. Lastly, I found an entire blog devoted to the NHL Draft and prospects - the aptly named NHL Draft Notes. Michael Rennard has a report on Robak
and he's pretty down on his lack of toughness (and strong shot) and even notes that while he'll go in the first round - he may not be worthy of that. On the upside, he echoes his skating ability and - I guess to further entice those who want an offensive defenseman in the system - states he's good with carrying and passing the puck.
What I gathered from all this is that Robak is great skater, but he needs to play more aggressively and work on turning that puck movement into production. I'm certain he'll improve on the grit as he gets into the NHL and if he is such a good skater, it'll help his (possible) eventual transition into the league. If New Jersey does draft him, it would be a good fit. With the organization's patience for prospects, they can guide Robak along the way to get bigger, play bigger, and utilize his skating skills on the blue line. I wouldn't be unhappy if #21 turns out to be Robak based on what I've read of him. If any of you readers have seen Robak - or any other potential Devils first round draft pick - play, let me know. I'm always interested in first hand accounts.
Labels: 2008 Draft, 2008 Offseason, Devils Prospects
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Free Agency Alone Won't Fix the Offense
Clumsy title aside, I want to quickly go over what I feel the New Jersey Devils' needs are that cannot be met through free agency. Now, don't get me wrong. As I responded (rather late) to two questions from Jeff Klein of Slap Shot
, I'm hoping the Devils do sign a top 6 forward or a defenseman who is good at moving the puck and can play on the top pairing. Basically, a signing that could help spark the offense and help the goal scoring of the team. While Paul Martin has definitely show he can handle the minutes, the Devils really could use someone who can move that puck with authority - especially on the power play.
However, as I implied in the second half of my response, I am hoping for the current players on the team to improve their ability to score goals. In retrospect, I wish I was more general in that statement. I fully believe that for the Devils to get out of finishing in the bottom third in total goals scored and average goals per game (27th in both categories, 198 and 2.42, respectively), it's going to take more than signing someone like Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin, or Wade Redden. While it would help, here's what the Devils need to address on offense regardless of who they sign. (Note: All salary information comes from NHLSCAP
; all stats are from NHL.com
1. Demanding Better Personally, I hate the standby line of "Player X is making Y million dollars, why in the hell can't he do Z!?" It's too simplistic and it ignores all of what X does in favor of goals or points. In hockey, a player's value is much more than just how many goals or points they put up. Examples of this include effort they give, whether they are willing to pay the physical price to get an opportunity, and how well they pass/skate/lead. That said, the offensive production from some of the Devils has to be better because they are important players being paid to provide this offense. I understand that Elias has tried hard and he switched positions and had a ton of linemates. However, 20 goals and 35 assists is disappointing for a $6 million/year scoring forward. Brian Gionta earned a $4 million/year contract for his goal scoring abilities, and while it would be crazy to expect 45+ goals, is 22 really enough? Dainius Zubrus is that he's a hard working player who does what he's asked and gives a good effort. However, given that he's getting $3.4 million/year until 2013, he needs to better than 13 goals and 28 assists next season. Paul Martin's defensive responsibilities are earning most of that $3.833 million/year contract, moreso than his 5 goals and 27 assists. If Zach Parise is to be the future offensive leader for the Devils - and if he wants a substantial raise in 2011 - he'll need to put up more than 65 points.
Let me be clear, I'm not asking for the Devils to cast off all these players. I'm just suggesting that the organization raise expectations for the highest paid players on the team. I don't doubt their talent, but it's clear that something is preventing that talent from turning into more productive hockey from these players. Given that they are being paid to do that, that's a problem. If the Devils raise their internal expectations and act accordingly to individually motivate their scoring players to do better, we could see all of these players perform with much more consistency and hopefully more point production. That in of itself would go a long way to getting New Jersey to become a decent squad in terms of lighting the lamp. A free agent would help, but these guys are likely going to be here (unless Gionta's traded) next season. The organization needs to do what they can to get the most out of them. However, it's not just all on the player needing to pick it up.
2. Chemistry If a player isn't doing so well or a certain line is getting picked apart on a match up, changing up the lines is a pretty good idea. However, the Devils had changed their lines so much so that I question whether any decent chemistry was built up. Pretty much the only constant to this season on the forward lines was that John Madden played center. We've seen wingers play off-wing, Patrik Elias switch from left wing to center, Mike Rupp on the second line, and so on and so forth. It's understandable to try out new things. However, offense is boosted from when players who do work well with each other develop that all-important chemistry. that knowledge of knowing how their teammates operate, how much they can lead them on passes, whether they should take the shot in odd-man rushes or dump it off, and so on and so forth.
Essentially, Brent Sutter needs to establish who works well with whom, set up their lines, and let them develop. Given it was Sutter's first season with the Devils, mixing it up to see what happens made sense. Now that he's had a season, he really should know how the lines should be set up. And once they are set, they need to go through thick and thin to really gel - show some patience and confidence in a unit should it show scoring promise/production. The A Line wasn't always A-mazing; the EGG line laid a few in some games; and even PZL was puzzling (and I'm sorry for this sentence) on some nights. Yet, the Devils didn't throw away that line. Ultimately, they were good scoring lines and the chemistry within them played a role in their production.
3. Tactical Changes Some of the decisions I saw from the Devils in terms where they position players and how they begin their attacks have been head-scratching. Brian Gionta was not setting up in front of the net to get the garbage goals. The power play unit seemed to just settle for shots from the point or out at the circles. David Clarkson was not told to crash the net very often. The Devils had games where whenever they had the puck in the neutral zone, the attack began with a dump into the corner leading to the Devils fighting on the boards for possession. I don't have anything against a dump-and-chase; only when it continues all game regardless of the opposition figuring it out and adjusting their defense to it after one or two periods. I think this is due to inexperience in the NHL level by Sutter and I expect it to improve for next season, which should help the Devils' overall performance
4. Power Play Coaching Let me admit some ignorance here, I do not know who is in charge in terms of running the special teams in practice and during the game. I do not know whether it is Sutter and one of the assistants like John MacLean, or whether it's John MacLean taking the lead, or whether it's by committee, or whether it's by some random guy sitting in section 4 with a cell phone giving instructions to SHOOOOOOT every time a defenseman has the puck for more than a second at the point. It's quite simple that it's not good. The power play effectiveness rate was 15.6% last season (25th in the NHL) and the Devils only scored 50 goals on the power play (27th in the NHL). It is evident that whoever is responsible in terms of deciding how the Devils will attack on a power play (e.g. umbrella, overload, etc.), who to use on the power play, and providing individual instruction in practice and during games, they need to put up or do something else. Adjustments made in the prior three areas of need would help here; but it wouldn't be such a terrible idea to consider an assistant coaching change or a new assistant coach who can provide a fresh look for power play situations. The power play needs to get better if only so when the Devils do draw a call, fans like me won't immediately cringe to the thought of wasting an opportunity to score.
5. Shooting Accuracy I don't think I need to explain, but the Devils as a team need to work on their shooting. Specifically, hitting the net more often with their shots. If you want further analysis on that, I made an attempt at one here.
That's a whole lot to digest, but those are areas that I think need improvement and I think will improve. As Sutter remains as coach, I think he'll get better in terms of player utilization, setting up lines, and allowing those lines to gel. The real key is figuring out what needs to be done to get Elias, Gionta, et al. to get more chances and get more scoring going and figuring out what needs to be done to revamp the power play. Signing a free agent or two would help in this regard, but these are areas that a free agent can't solve on their own. And if the Devils can't sign the big name player - which is possible, given that most of the league will be looking at them, too - addressing these areas, I think, will lead to a more offensively threatening Devils squad.
Labels: 2008 Offseason, Devils Analysis, Devils Issues
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
The Detroit Red Wings ARE Champions
The Penguins gave an effort, but they were largely outplayed by the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit outshot the Penguins by a large margin (obviously they outscored them), the Red Wings were simply more stingy on defense.
Henrik Zetterberg has won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of this year's playoff. Chris Osgood raised his game with two shutouts and some big stops all series long. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom remained as the most commanding defenseman in the game today. And the Red Wings were just "on" all series. Correction: They did lose two games, but they were both close games (Thanks to many who've caught my egregious omission.)
While the Penguins have had a great run to get to the Finals; the Red Wings just played better. They are deserved champions and I thank both teams for providing a great series for everyone to watch.
Congratulations the 2007-2008 Stanley Cup Champions, the Detroit Red Wings!
Labels: 2008 Playoffs, Hockey - General
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Signings Here and Across the League
What a game last night. Here I was, in front of the TV, ready to congratulate the Detroit Red Wings for overpowering the Pittsburgh Penguins with relentless offense and a tight defense and the Penguins get a late equalizer in the third. Ex-Devil Petr Sykora, who apparently was playing hurt according to Pierre McGuire (that's...new), called out
that he would get the game winner. Amazingly enough, Sykora did just that in triple overtime
(Note: the call out is referenced in the second half of the video) to keep the series alive for the Penguins.
Playoff hockey is so great, especially the Finals. Even if New Jersey isn't in it, you really should be watching it if only to enjoy some fantastic, passionate hockey.
In the meantime, the Devils have been doing some things. First, from Tom Gulitti, the Devils signed Anssi Salmela from Tappara Tampere of the SM Liiga.
Don't confuse this with another Jari Viuhkola
signing. While Salmela was featured on the 2008 Finnish WC team, averaged 15:14 minutes - 4th among defensemen on the team, and while he got no points he established himself with 37 penalty minutes. Most of which gained when he fought Dave Backes. With Tappara, he led the SM Liiga with in goals for defensemen with 16. He's only 23 so he can continue to develop. My point? The guy has done well in Finland in such a short amount of time and he's clearly got some talent.
While I'd expect him to take some time to get used to the smaller rink and the North American style of hockey, I'm expecting him to make some noise in training camp. That third pairing is wide open at this point, from where I see it. Colin White, Paul Martin, and Johnny Oduya are all set; and if Bryce Salvador is signed, I expect him in that #4 spot. That third pairing will be a fight between Mike Mottau, Sheldon Brookbank, Mark Fraser, Matthew Corrente, and now Salmela. Of course, whoever else the Devils decide to sign on defense could change this in a blink of an eye.
Who won't be fighting for a spot? Most likely Kirill Tulupov. According to Gulitti, the Devils did not offer Tulupov a contract out of junior and so he will re-enter the NHL draft.
I have some mixed feelings about this, but ultimately this may not be substantial. While I really liked what I've read about Tulupov from Hockey's Future
and I said I'd be surprised if he didn't get an offer
, there's something to be said about the fact that he wasn't even offered a contract. I haven't seen Tulupov play, I base my knowledge of him on heresay. The Devils organization has scouted him before drafting him, bringing him into training camp, and continued scouting and evaluating him while in juniors. If any organization who has done all this evaluation and comes to the conclusion that a prospect can't help them out in a few years, were they really a good prospect to begin with? I don't know. In any case, I'm sure someone will draft Tulupov and, for his sake, I hope he does well with another team. But unless he becomes a solid NHL defenseman, I don't think this will come back to bite the Devils. Championships aren't won by just signing any prospect that looked good in juniors or college.
In the meantime, the Devils are waiting on Brylin to exercise his option
and they are waiting to qualify David Clarkson (both links: Gulitti).
I'm sure the Devils will qualify Clarkson, he had a solid rookie year as a checker/agitator/energy forward. As far as Brylin goes, who knows at this point. If he wants to come back, fine; but he's been a diminishing talent over the past season.
I wouldn't expect him to make a huge comeback next season.
If you want an outside opinion on what the Devils need to do this offseason, Scott Cullen of TSN.ca has an article on what they need
. There's not much to disagree with him on it. Anyone who has seen this past season could tell you the same: they need a more consistent, potent, and talented offense and a leader on the blueline. While signing a big name defenseman should answer the latter concern, the offense needs more than just free agents. I think a sea change is needed as to how the Devils approach the offense. This means more offensively focused practices, improved shooting (see the shooting analysis as to why), and maybe even some fresh ideas behind the bench.
So what's going on in the world of hockey outside of New Jersey? Coaching changes! John Tortorella has been fired from the Tampa Bay Lightning according to TSN.
The vocal and fiery head coach will always be remembered in Tampa for being the man behind the bench for their 2004 Stanley Cup win. However, he clearly wasn't getting through this past season and the team is looking to change anyway - as evidenced from the Brad Richards trade. The Fanhouse has an opinion on this matter.
In the meantime, also from TSN, Ron Wilson has been formally offered the Toronto Maple Leafs coaching job.
The Leafs are an organization that seemingly needs to be cleaned out completely and start building all over again. Bringing (ending?) chaos to eventually bring some order, if you will. Would Wilson be the guy able to do all that? Who knows, but one thing for sure, it'll be entertaining if he can't. Well, unless you're a Toronto fan - but we don't really care about them, now do we. (I had my tounge in my cheek when I typed this. Just assume I still have it there for that last sentence.)
Labels: 2008 Offseason, 2008 Playoffs, Devils Issues, Devils Prospects, Hockey - General