Kukla's Korner

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Everyone loves playing GM…so it’s my turn

While I like to write about hockey generally, I am clearly a Habs fan. So, if you’ll allow me to dabble for a moment, my thoughts on the Canadiens roster - as of August 4.

Sidenote: While I’d like to add Kovalchuk, Selanne, etc. etc. – the cavalry ain’t coming. I have tried to be as realistic as possible with potential additions/subtractions. Now, onto the fun.

Forwards

Up front, Pierre Gauthier has made some significant changes, but perhaps more significant is what he has not done. Gauthier has brought in Dustin Boyd, a valuable fourth liner at a much lower salary than, say, Glen Metropolit. A good cap move that makes the team younger and faster. The big acquisition of the summer - so far - is Lars Eller. Acquired in the Jaroslav Halak deal, Eller gives the Canadiens a rising young power forward for the 3rd line centre role. He replaces Dominic Moore, bringing much more offensive upside and potentially more physicality.

Perhaps the most surprising move to many Habs fans was the re-signing of Tomas Plekanec to a five year contract. While I am a big Plekanec fan, even I must admit his playoff performance was lacklustre at best. After scoring the overtime winner in game one of the playoffs, he was virtually invisible as the Canadiens defeated Washington, Pittsburgh and then fell to Philadelphia. This suggests two things: one, the Canadiens felt Plekanec was good value at five million a year, and two, the Habs braintrust believes Plekanec will continue to grow into the role. What must be acknowledged is that while Plekanec scored 70 points last year, and 69 three years ago, he is also a great defensive cog for the Habs penalty kill. He is arguably the PK’s hidden secret, a catalyst for the Candiens success short-handed in the past two or three seasons.

What wasn’t done? Well, while Sergei Kostitsyn was shipped to Nashville in the Boyd deal, brother Andrei still finds himself in Montreal. Owners of perhaps the largest biceps in Quebec, Andrei Kostitsyn possesses incredible physical talent, but often seems out of synch with the rest of the team. Will having his meandering little brother out of the way lead to Andrei’s coming out party? Only time will tell.

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  Tags: 2010-2011, canadiens, free+agency

Antti Niemi . . . We Hardly Knew Ye

So just like that, the Antti Niemi Era has ended . . . almost as unspectacularly as it began.

This week, the Blackhawks let their rookie Stanley Cup-winning goaltender walk away from a $2.75 million arbitration ruling and ushered in Dallas castoff Marty Turco as his replacement.

Make no mistake: The Niemi Era was short lived, but spectacular.

It began in fits and starts with no small amount of organizational waffling as Joel Quenneville and the Hawks brain trust bent over backwards giving Cristobal Huet every possible chance to cling to the starter’s job. But throughout the regular season, Huet ran from lukewarm to cold, leaving many to wonder about the kid from Finland who was exceptional in most of his backup stints. This went on and on and sometime in March – long after it became apparent to everybody with a functioning pair of eyes that Niemi was the man – Huet gagged hard in an 8-3 loss to lowly Columbus and the Hawks had no choice but to make it official: Huet was toast and Niemi was the Hawks new #1.

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  Tags: antti+niemi

Once upon a time you dressed so fine…

You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?

Training camps are a mere five weeks away, and yet numerous NHL veterans remain unsigned, actively searching for work in a league that has priced them out. While the current CBA has seen salaries skyrocket at the top of the league, the middle and bottom-end players have been pinched. Though it’s difficult to have any actual sympathy for folks making millions to play a game, the facts are undeniable: record setting long-term contracts for the Kovalchuks, Luongos, and Keiths of the world, while solid NHLers such as Bill Guerin, Paul Kariya, Andy Sutton, Eric Belanger, Marty Turco and Jose Theodore remain on the sidelines. Sure, these guys may be past their prime in many cases – but they still make a difference. Unfortunately, if Mathieu Darche is available and willing to play for $500k, or a rookie at $750k, why sign a 3rd or 4th line plugger like Belanger for $1.5 or $2 million?

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  Tags: cba, free+agency, jose+theodore, lee+stempniak, marc-andre+bergeron

You Had Me at Draft Picks Four and Five

Greetings from Portland, Oregon, temporary home of eight picks from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. That includes the 4th and 5th overall picks, Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter. It wasn’t always this way. Last year at this time, the Portland Winterhawks were very nearly the worst team in the WHL, we hadn’t made it into the second round of the playoffs and we certainly weren’t home to a small minivan full of NHL prospects.

What a difference a year, a new owner and a few well-chosen prospects makes. Today, I paid out the second of several installments on Winterhawks season tickets.  It’s the first time I’ve ever owned season tickets to anything, even hockey. This is in addition to my cable package with the NHL Network and the NHL Center Ice Package.

Since I’m investing in hockey the equivalent of a down payment on a small car, it got me to thinking about why we even watch the game in the first place. It’s violent, loud, bloody, smelly, vulgar and ruthless. No place for a respectable girl, my grandmother would say. Why, then, do I love the NHL Network, bobbleheads, fatheads, beer and shameless use of profanity? No clue about the fatheads and the bobbleheads, but I do know this: 

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High Time Nikolai Got His Antro-Props!! A Thrashers Fan’s Voice

If somebody walked up to me and asked, “So, how do you fancy having Nik Antropov on your team?”, I would probably exclaim “Very nice!” with my hands giving the double thumbs-up sign like Kazakhstan’s most famous commercial “product”, Borat. But for those of us who reside here in Thrasherville, we know full well that Sacha Baron Cohen’s kooky Kazakh character plays a close second to the most accomplished export from the former Soviet state, Nikolai Antropov. The imposing and skillful hockey player from Ust-Kamenogorsk has already made an indelible impression on the fans of the Atlanta Thrashers for his hard work, quiet leadership and adroit use of a hockey stick. Our only complaint? We just wish he would shoot the puck more!

 

 

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Thoughts on a Thornton Extension

Reports have emerged in the past few weeks, first from Pierre LeBrun and then Craig Custance, indicating that the San Jose Sharks are at work on a contract extension for Joe Thornton.  It’s a bit of a no-brainer: Thornton has led the Sharks in scoring in each of his five seasons with the club, he’s established himself as a fan-favorite (for good reason), and it seems he enjoys being a part of the community and organization after his experience with Boston.  For better or worse—taking into account his playoff shortcomings and laid-back attitude—it’s clear that the Sharks have hitched their wagon to Thornton.

The big question, then, is not if the Sharks should sign Thornton to an extension, but for how long.  Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson has already re-signed two key forwards to new deals this summer—Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski—both for four years.  In talking to Custance, Wilson said, “We don’t have any contracts longer than four years.  We are a player payroll team.  We operate the way we operate.”  We could assume, then, that Thornton might be extended for three or four more years as well.  Would it be more prudent for the Sharks to extend Thornton for longer, though?

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Leave it to Steve

Tampa Bay announced the addition of Dominic Moore today, a player who brings much more to the table than most pundits give him credit for. Crafty, fast, gritty and great on faceoffs, Moore was a key cog in the Canadiens playoff race in 2010. He’s a smart supplement for the talented roster Steve Yzerman has put together as a rookie general manager in mere months.

What Yzerman and a new ownership team have accomplished in a short amount of time is quite impressive. He’s installed smart hockey people across the organization, from the scouting department to behind the bench. Guy Boucher, as a new member of the NHL coaching fraternity, was viewed as something of a genius by his former employers, the Montreal Canadiens. Literally. He has two university degrees, studies his players carefully and communicates extremely well. He is said to keep books of notes – on each player he coaches. This sort of cerebral approach to the game, combined with the respect Boucher shows his players, is exactly what Tampa Bay needs post-Tocchet - and certainly post-Melrose. The Canadiens were very, very sad to see him go. Boucher was a great hire, and a fantastic first personnel move for GM Yzerman.

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  Tags: gagne, kubina, moore, stamkos, tampa+bay, yzerman

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The Trading History of Doug Wilson?

It’s no secret around the league that the San Jose Sharks, if they have any hope of contending for the Stanley Cup again, need to improve their defense.  General Manager Doug Wilson was characteristically quiet on July 1, despite reportedly making an offer to Dan Hamhuis, and was shot down by the Chicago Blackhawks after signing Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet.  With Rob Blake’s retirement this summer, there is a gaping hole somewhere in the Sharks’ top two defensive pairings, and the only conceivable way for Wilson to fill this gap is now through a trade.

Wilson has made his name around the league as a manager thanks to his blockbuster deals, hauling in Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, and Dany Heatley in a trio of trades that look to be long-term successes for the Sharks.  These players, along with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, make up the core of a team that should be competitive for several more seasons.  In that regard, Wilson has done a fine job in shaping this Sharks squad.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Wilson has struck out quite notably with several other trades—all of them, not coincidentally, near the trade deadline.  Try to pick a single winner for the Sharks out of any of these deals:

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Making The Case For The Kings To Retire Rob Blake’s #4

Two subjects have been the topics of heated debate this summer among Kings fans:

1)  Ilya Kovalchuk

2)  Now that Rob Blake has retired should the Kings retire his #4?

I’m not going to get near the Kovalchuk mess.  I think enough has been said ad nausem on the topic and it’s time for Kings fans to move on - unless he somehow ends up in LA after all.  I’d like instead to address the question of whether the Kings should retire Rob Blake’s jersey?

For those who aren’t familiar with the nuts and bolts of the story, many Kings fans hold a grudge against Rob Blake because they feel he put money ahead of all else and deserted the Kings for greener pastures in Colorado, and then later in San Jose, when he had the chance.  My personal opinion is that Blake was first and foremost a professional athlete and you gotta make your money when you can.  It’s a limited window of opportunity for a player to get paid and I don’t begrudge anyone who makes that a priority.  Could Blake have handled the situation better?  Probably.  Only he can really answer that.

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  Tags: los+angeles+kings

It’s 30 degrees in Montreal - naturally, it’s time to talk goaltenders

August is almost here and one mystery Canadiens fans would like solved is a contract for starter Carey Price. Now the anointed number one goaltender, little to no information has leaked from either side as Price’s representatives negotiate (we presume) with Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier. Is it possible Gauthier has made a fatal error only months into his new tenure as the decision maker in Montreal?

Let’s consider his course of action in dealing with the goaltending “crisis” that afflicted the Habs coming into the offseason. Firstly, the media largely fabricated this “crisis” - it’s not a crisis when a team possesses a plethora of young talent, it’s simply a decision for the future. After all, both goaltenders were on the record that they would be happy to share the load another year. Secondly, crowd favourite and playoff saviour Jaroslav Halak, like Carey Price, was a restricted free agent, s so while the possibility of an offer from another team loomed, his rights were protected. Yet Gauthier chose to cut bait rather than fish out the month of June.

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  Tags: carey+price, jaroslav+halak, montreal+canadiens, pierre+gauthier

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