KK Members Blog
I’m going to avoid calling this a “season preview” as I think I share the belief of most Kings fans that Dean Lombardi will make at least one more move this offseason that will alter the starting lineup. Instead I’ll take a look at the current team to try to identify what I believe are the strengths and weaknesses.
Top 6: Right now the top 6 forwards of the Kings appears to be Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth, Wayne Simmonds, Jarret Stoll, and Justin Williams. Micheal Handzus and newly signed Alexei Ponikarovsky could also push for playing time on the top 2 lines, depending on their production. Last year the Kings were tied for 9th in 5 on 5 goal scoring ratio at 1.07, tied with Pittsburgh. They were 7th in the league on the power play scoring the 5th most PP goals in the league with 64.
There are a lot of very good reasons to peg the Ottawa Senators at 10th in the East this year. Can the geritocracy of Alfredsson, Gonchar, and Kovalev be dominant over the full course of an 82-game schedule? Is Peter Regin for real? Have Michalek and Kovalev’s injuries fully healed? Will anyone on Ottawa’s defense corps hit anything this year?
Does Ottawa need to buy Pascal Leclaire a Popemobile to ensure his safety off-ice?
Also casting a long shadow over Ottawa’s chances at making the playoffs is the improvement of other teams in the East. While I may have my doubts about the various alchemies being employed in the Southeast Division and New Jersey, I think it is fair to say that the East is now beginning to resemble the West in that the distance between the eighth seed and those on the outside looking in will be much closer than at any time in recent memory.
Two seasons ago I was watching the Minnesota Wild play the Calgary Flames when Brent Burns was dubbed by Jim Hughson as a rising defensive star who was in the same class as Dion Phaneuf and Mike Green. He was a sure thing to play on Team Canada in the upcoming Olympics and had just signed a long-term contract.
Today I ask myself what went wrong. Injuries, to start with. In the last three seasons Brent’s games played have gone like this: 82, 59, 47. Young players, especially those playing on the blueline, need playing time to develop and Burns hasn’t played enough to do that.
Secondly, Coach Lemaire screwed with his head by playing him at wing whenever Jacques felt like it. The Wild, as always, lacked a scoring punch and Lemaire felt inclined to play the gifted defenseman at wing to see if it would ignite the team. All it did was take Burns out of his natural position and forced him to play in a spot where he didn’t succeed.
And finally, most of us are coming to the realization that Burns just isn’t going to be a great player. He’s certainly got the tools, but sometimes I question his makeup. Does he have the grit to make a #1 defenseman? It looked like he did in the playoffs against Corey Perry and the Ducks a few years ago, but I haven’t seen that since.
Burns is a good player, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I don’t believe he’s going to be a great one, and unfortunately that’s not what the Wild want to hear.
In my column from Friday, I suggested the Maple Leafs take a run at free agent Tim Kennedy after Buffalo gave him the pink-slip. Yet a few hours after posting, this – or the addition of any scoring forward – seemed unlikely. As he often does, though, Leafs GM Brian Burke surprised me with his ability to make the best of a bad cap-situation
A trade with Tampa Bay late on Friday added Matt Lashoff to Toronto’s defense corps, bringing their number of NHL-level d-men up to nine and pushing them within $1.5 million of the cap ceiling. Although Lashoff has only played 63 NHL games over the last four seasons, he’ll have to clear waivers this season to be sent down to the AHL, so it looks like the Leafs want him for big-club duty.
By Saturday though, Leafs GM Brian Burke pulled the trigger on a deal that looks even better than what I was proposing with Kennedy. Left wing Clarke MacArthur – another Sabres product – signed with Toronto for a steal at $1.1 million,after Atlanta walked away from his $2.4 million arbitration award. After posting career numbers in both games played (81) and points (31), the 25-year-old is just entering his prime.
While only a year older than Kennedy, MacArthur already has 208 NHL games under his belt, leaving him far more experienced at this level than Kennedy, who has only played in 79. Add in MacArthur’s points-per-game average at 0.42 over Kennedy’s 0.33, and the fact that Toronto will still hold MacArthur’s RFA rights after this season, it’s clear that Burke is getting the most bang for his team’s buck.
With less than $400,000 left in cap space, it’s looking like RFA Christian Hanson will be the odd man out on the Leafs roster. I’ll keep tabs on this story as it develops.
The third part in this installment was supposed to be the last, as in any traditional multi-part story, but perhaps comparisons to even the Lord of the Rings trilogy would not quite do justice to the length of the Kovalchuk saga, and it may be better reflected in a four part series. Or more. At this point, who knows. Hence Falcor.
Here are some basic facts:
Like anyone else, I have gotten angry about the hockey team I follow. But, for me, the feeling—almost always more disappointment than anger—usually fades away pretty quickly.
I understand being passionate about hockey. I think we all do.
What is hockey if not some perfect mix of beauty and pure, raw emotion?
What I’ve never understood, though, are fans who go to games and spew out nothing but bitter hostility. Aren’t they watching the same game I am? Don’t they appreciate that the world’s fastest, most beautiful game (sorry, soccer fans) is being played at it’s highest level right in front of them?
It’s a decision that deserves a lot careful assessment. At worst, it could potentially cost a Championship.
Amongst the fury to be rid of Czech native, Tomas Kaberle for potential booty - with the general perception that it’s the smart/right thing to do - trading him is fraught with a future hole that the Maple Leafs will have to pay for dearly at a later time.
If there’s a chance he could be retained and resigned, it’s an avenue that has to be examined.
The skills generating his value are unique and rare. Patience at the point , quarter back of the power play, silky smooth rushing ability with vision and creativity to lead the attack, while also capable of launching long-range passes up the middle for players streaking behind the defense, these are the same skills that a Championship club needs for success. That’s even with the softness in the Leafs zone.
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.
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!
With August only a few days away, a surprising number of quality free agent forwards are still available. And with the way the market is moving, there’s no reason to believe all of these players will be scooped up in the next month.
What we’re seeing is another byproduct of the salary cap era in the NHL. Many of the expected Stanley Cup contenders for next season are looking at big holes in their lineups and little cap room to fill those voids. The non-contenders, builders, and small-market franchises are more willing than ever to hit the cap floor and then fill in with youth. The result? Dozens of solid veterans, 3rd and 4th liners—some of whom are strong penalty killers or have the talent to move up to the 2nd line in a pinch—are waiting out the general managers who know they can strike late and get a bargain.
It’s not an entirely bad situation for these free agent forwards. The best example from last season is that of Manny Malhotra going to San Jose in September on a pseudo-tryout basis, then signing an under-market, one-year, $700,000 contract with the Sharks. Malhotra is a solid all-around centerman, excellent in the faceoff circle, a decent penalty killer who was coming off his best offensive season, a 35-point campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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