Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How's it Gonna Be? Volume 2

Here are 5 more of the NHL offseason transactions that I thought were particularly interesting. This edition features some particularly uniquely dramatic scenarios including a star player jumping ship from his Eastern Conference Champs, taking a discount to play for the team that beat him to win the Cup. There is another Eastern Conference Champ who leaves his home town in order to make more money, a goalie who went from MVP, to backup, to star, and back to the bench again, an up and coming star who will in all likelihood get his first shot at the postseason, and a former all-star involved in a tampering scandal! The previous summaries were in no particular order that is not parallel with the order in which they are presented below, but if you’re reading this blog, you probably are smart enough to figure out which one is which…

1. Marian Hossa, one of the hottest commodities in this summer’s Free Agency Market, stunned the hockey world by signing with defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings. Hossa at 29 years of age left several years and millions of potential dollars on the table to go to Hockey Town. Detroit general manager Ken Holland reported that Hossa’s camp actually contacted him about putting Hossa behind the winged wheel. Holland told Hossa that we would need to contact captain Nicklas Lidstrom to see if he would mind having Hossa take his place as the highest paid player in Detroit; however Hossa said that it would not be necessary and settled for a one year, 7.4 million dollar deal. Hossa has averaged 84 points over the past 5 seasons. He was traded from the Ottawa Senators along with Greg De Vries to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for then pariah Dan Heatley. The 2008 trade deadline saw Hossa shipped from Atlanta to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Erik Christenson, Colby Armstrong, and former 1st round draft pick Angelo Esposito. Penguins fans were more than a little sour when Hossa, who put up 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) to rank 2nd in playoff scoring, swapped his black and yellow and a town that had given up so much to attain him, for the dynasty and probable repeat favorites in the red and white. Adding Hossa to an already dynamic offense spells trouble for…well everyone except Detroit.

2. Jose Theodore, a few years removed from his breakout season as a Montreal Canadian in 2002-2003 where he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, as well as the Hart Trophy as the player considered most valuable to his team, has had an interesting calendar year. After backstopping Montreal to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and winning those two coveted trophies, Theodore posted 3 straight sub-par seasons, averaging well under a .900 save percentage split amongst the Habs and the Colorado Avalanche who traded David Aebsicher for him in March of 2006. Theodore had an impressive 2007-2008 regular season campaign, wrenching the starting job away from Peter Budaj and playing excellent in the Avs opening playoff series in which they ousted Marion Gaborik and the Minnesota Wild. Theodore’s recumbent season, however, came to a screeching halt at the hands of the soon to be Stanley Cup Champions, the Detroit Red Wings. Theodore has an absolutely terrible series, giving up 15 goals against in only 130:31 of playing time. He posted a meek .809 save percentage and was pulled in 3 out of 4 contests as the Avs were cast aside after 4 straight losses. However, the Washington Capitals, who lost starter Cristbal Huet to the Chicago Blackhawks, and backup Olli Kolzig to the Tampa Bay Lightning, appear to be unnerved by Theodore’s tragic playoff breakdown and signed the free agent to replace Huet as the starter between the pipes for the upcoming season.

3. Pavel Demitra spent his first 3 seasons with the Ottawa Senators from 1993-1996 before being traded to the St. Louis Blues for Christer Olsson. Demitra signed with the Los Angeles Kings in 2005 after several impressive seasons with the Blues, his best being a career high 93 points in 2002-2003 season. Demitra was then traded from LA to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O’Sullivan and a previously acquired 1st round pick from the Edmonton Oilers. Demitra has been unable to reproduce the success he had in 2002-2003, averaging around 60 points per season ever since. He was supposed to be the catalyst that would propel Marian Gaborik into superstar status and lead Minnesota into a Western Conference powerhouse. However, the 3-time all-star never had the output that was expected of him and entered this year’s free agent market in search of a new home. He was signed by Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Mike Gillis somewhat shortly after the free agency period began. What makes this an interesting story is that it is reported that Demitra was seen in the Vancouver area two weeks before he became a free agent. What makes this story controversial is that Mike Gillis is the former agent of Demitra which has prompted tampering charges filed by Minnesota. It will be interesting to see if the 33 year old Slovakian native will be able to return to his former glory and also to see what action the league takes against Mike Gillis.

4. Ryan Malone spent his first 4 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. During that time, the 6’4 224 lbs Malone had averaged around 42 points per season, posting a career high 51 in 2007-2008. He had become somewhat of fan favorite, which could be expected since he is a native of Pittsburgh. Aside from being a hometown boy, Malone won Penguins fans over with his hard-nosed playing style and tremendous energy that he would bring to each game. Malone’s toughness can be best exemplified in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals series, in which he took a 6’7 240+lbs Hal Gill slap shot directly to the head, and missed only a couple shifts before returning to action with a bruised and swollen face. Malone opted to leave his native Pittsburgh for a 7 year $35.1 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The gritty forward has been accused of riding on the coattails of superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. Well, don’t expect his numbers to drop off much if at all, as the overloaded offense in Tampa Bay may see Malone teamed up with all-stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. He is joined by fellow Pittsburgh defector, Gary Roberts along with a long line of free agent signings by the Bolts whose owner has guaranteed a Southeast Division title this season. Is this an attainable goal? Adding the 29 year old Ryan Malone to the roster is a step in the right direction.

5. Mike Cammalleri, former University of Michigan standout has averaged 61 points per season for the Los Angeles Kings for the past 3 seasons after playing partially in two seasons prior. When healthy, he was far-and-away the Kings’ best player, posting a career-high 80 points in the 2006-2007 season while playing in the majority of games. On draft day in 2008, the Calgary Flames sent their first round selection to the Kings in a trade for Cammalleri. The deal brought Cammalleri to Calgary in order to replace despondent Alex Tanguay, who was dealt to the Montreal Canadians. Cammalleri has spent his first 5 NHL seasons as the star player on a young and underachieving team. But now in Calgary, he is in an entirely different situation. It is rumored that the entire city of Calgary pays a special tax that is used primarily to keep their all-star Jerome Iginla in a Calgary Flames jersey. With a strong fan base and supporting cast like winger Iginla, defenseman Deion Phaneuf, and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, Cammalleri’s story in Calgary should be one of success. If the speedy, 5’9 185 lbs center can click with team captain Iggy, expect the two of them to put up impressive statistics and make a bid for the Northwestern Division title. A rough and tumble team by nature, designed by head coach Darryl Sutter, the quick and talented Cammalleri should prove to be a valuable asset, living up to expectations that Alex Tanguay could not.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How's it Gonna Be? Volume 1

Well, it's the quietest that this year's offseason has been all summer. So while we're waiting around to see what Mats Sundin decides to do, I thought I might go ahead and discuss 5 of the more interesting stories that are being forged through offseason moves for this upcoming season. More to follow, but for now...

1. Olli Jokinen, the longest tenured player in the NHL never to make the playoffs goes from the Florida Panthers to the Phoenix Coyotes…and how thrilled he must be. The Finland native, who was dealt from the New York Islanders to Florida with Roberto Luongo in exchange for Mark Parish and Oleg Kvasha…making then GM Mike Milbury my nominee for bonehead of the decade, must have some pretty thin blood by now with as much time as he spends in the deep south (don’t worry, everyone from Arizona reassures me it’s a “dry heat”). Well you can bet coach Wayne Gretzky and the *ahem Phoenix Phaithful will be expecting no less than the 84 points he’s been averaging over the last 3 seasons. The Coyotes shipped off some young defensemen in this attempt to amp up their offense. This is an interesting move since they’re playing Ed Jovonovski $6.5 million to be their cornerstone on the back end. Wait a minute, did I read that right? The “Jovo Cop” is being paid $6.5 million? Good luck to you Olli. I hope you like killing off all of Dan Carcillo’s penalty minutes. How much did the Panthers use this 6’5 230lbs center on their penalty kill? Uh oh…Dan better cool it if they’re going to use the big Fin to his full potential.

2. Brian Campbell, the most sought after defenseman this off-season finds himself a home with the Blackhawks. Averaging around 51 points over the past 4 seasons, he certainly built himself up to get this $7.1 million dollar a year deal. Whether he has earned this incredible amount of money is yet to be seen. Although he had a career high 62 points last season split between the Buffalo Sabres and the San Jose Sharks, he floundered in the post season as Sharks exited the playoffs in the second round, earlier than most expected, losing in 6 games to the Dallas Stars. Question: who remembers that hit that Campbell had on R.J. Umberger that will go down as one of the hardest clean checks of this era? Well they’re in the same (Central) division now…keep that head up R.J.! Campbell should feel right at home with his spin-o-rama having Denis Savard as a head coach, he might even learn a thing or two. Regardless, it is time for Campbell to prove that he is worth the investment as the fifth highest paid defenseman in the league.

3. Cristobal Huet, another recent arrival in the windy city has arguably been one of the most under-rated goalies in a time where bulging equipment has made some net-minders ridiculously over-rated (yes, YOU Sean-Sebastian Giguere). Over the past 3 seasons, playing the majority in Montreal before being traded to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline, Huet posted over .921 save percentage while collecting 13 shutouts. Despite his above average numbers, he was still chased out of Montreal by the up-and-coming Carey Price, who is supposed to be the future of the franchise. I don’t know if anyone saw the move out of Washington coming, as Huet played his heart out for the Caps in his brief tenure there. I was still surprised that Montreal let him go, given that Huet is a native of France, something the citizens of Quebec all should admire. It seems that Cristobal will play well for a team, and yet he still gets moved around. Oh, and the 32 year old will be making $5.6 million a year, which is decent starter money. Did I mention that Chicago already has a starter? Nikolai Khabibulin is already making $6.5 million in his last year. There is no way that there is room for $12.1 million on any roster (Los Angeles Kings excluded) to spend between the pipes.

4. Markus Naslund is New York’s newest Ranger. After putting up 90 points in 2001-2002, 104 points in 2002-2003, and 84 points in 2003-2004, he has averaged near a modest 65 points over the past 3 seasons. It appears that Steve Moore’s neck wasn’t the only thing destroyed in that Todd Bertuzzi incident, but the careers of Bertuzzi and Naslund as well, who has never been the same since Bert left town. He was run out of Vancouver after faltering when the Canucks counted on him to put the team’s scoring load on his back. Can we really blame them for turning on him? I mean, Anson Carter scored 30+ goals in one season playing with Sedin twins; I don’t think it’s unfair to expect the same, if not more from a star like Naslund. Well, with a new team and fresh start in a different conference, we shall see if the Swede can reprise his old role as a leading scorer and a valuable player. If not, the “Blue Shirts” are in trouble without Jaromir Jagr, which means that the scrutinizing fans and press of the Big Apple will be looking for a new scapegoat.

5. Erik Cole, the 29 year old New York native heads west to the Edmonton Oilers by way of trade from Carolina Hurricanes. The gritty American forward standing at 6’2 and 205 lbs should fit right in to the rough and tumble Western Conference style of play. Averaging 57 points over the last 3 seasons (which will be a welcome addition to a team with a team-high total of 71 points by Ales Hesmky), he adds veteran leadership, with two Eastern Conference Championships plus a Stanley Cup Ring, and a surly disposition. Cole led all Hurricanes in the checking department last season with 186 hits which put him 11th overall in the league for forwards. He will be a good fit into Craig MacTavish’s “old time hockey” system. Edmonton fans are hopeful that Cole will be helping alleviate any losses in the scoring department caused by possible sophomore slumps of the sensational Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. With solid puck moving defensemen, Lubomir Visnovsky now in the mix, that always so tight Northwestern Division just got a little tighter. After sending away Raffi Torres to Columbus in exchange for the talented and young Gilbert Brule, getting Erik Cole will make the Oilers a better team.