Yesterday, I posted my Northwest Division predictions and today I will proceed with the Pacific Division. The Pacific Division has the most serious contenders of any West Conference division. They could very easily have more playoff teams than any other division in the conference.
With the season almost upon us, it is time to start posting my predictions for the 2008/09 season. Today, I am starting in the Northwest Division. Conventional wisdom is that this division will be weaker this season than it was in the past as it lost more talent then it gained in the off-season, but I am not sure that conventional wisdom is right. There are some solid teams in the division and none that I think should be among the bottom feeders in the conference. I think this division will not be the weakest in the West Conference
During the salary capped era, many of the bigger named players placed on waivers are waived because they have a bad contract. That contract is what prevents them from being claimed by any other team (at least until they hit re-entry waivers).
This was seen when the Anaheim Ducks waived Mathieu Schneider. Schneider is clearly a talented defenceman. In fact, he was ranked in the 2007 Hockey News top 50 players list. He is coming off of a season where he scored 39 points in 65 games; despite the fact the Ducks did not give him frontline playing time. Schneider cleared waivers. Eventually he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ken Klee, Brad Larson and Chad Painchaud. Atlanta would only take Schneider and his $5.625 million salary cap hit, if Anaheim took some salary in return.
James Mirtle wrote a couple blogposts about the pre-season schedule. It is a rather heavy schedule with 111 pre-season games (7.4 per team). Teams frequently play games on multiple nights on multiple cities with schedules they would never allow in the regular season. While not all players play in all pre-season games, a few do. On most teams, all but a couple roster spots are completely determined due to contract status and past results of the players on their team. Seven or more pre—season games are not needed to determine who makes the team and they certainly are not needed to get the players in shape for the season (as they largely come to training camp in playing shape). The only purpose they seem to hold is an increase in revenue for the owners, especially as season ticket holders are forced to buy tickets for these games that do not count for anything.
The NHLPA has a checkered history. Most recently, they were broken by the NHL owners in the 2004/05 lockout where a salary cap and cost certainty were instituted. Paul Kelly has taken over the union and wants to build its power back. Ideally, the NHLPA has to be a strong unified group that is willing to fight for the players when needed and the players have to believe that joining in the fight is beneficial to them. In order to do this he has created an NHLPA Advisory Board. It has eight members who include some high profile people. Its initial membership will be Buzz Hargrove, George Cohen, Ken Baumgartner, Steve Larmer, Ron Lloyd, Dan O’Neill, Ron Pink and Ian Troop.
Its still pre—season, but a couple teams are already dealing with non-ideal situations that should make it hard for them to do as well as they had initially hoped this season. The first is the Pittsburgh Penguins who has lost their top two defencemen, Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar to injury and the second is the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have learned that their young defenceman, Erik Johnson will likely miss the entire season due to a freak knee injury he suffered on a team golf trip Johnson has a torn ACL and will undergo surgery in a couple weeks.
The pre-season is barely underway, but one team already has a significant issue they will have to overcome at the start of the season. The Pittsburgh Penguins will open the 2008/09 season without the services of their two top defencemen. Ryan Whitney had surgery on his left foot in August and should be out three to five month and Sergei Gonchar suffered a separated should in Saturday’s pre-season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning and should miss a few weeks. This is a significant blow to the Penguins. Likely, it will slow them out of the gate when the season opens. You cannot overcome two big defensive injuries like that with any ease.
When I earlier wrote about the Philadelphia Flyers decision to create salary cap room by placing Derian Hatcher on the long term injury exemption list, it touched on the problem that many injuries are hard to properly quantify. Most longterm NHL players suffer from a chronic or degenerative condition of some sort that could be considered an injury if it is convenient to do so and could be played through if that is considered convenient. In the case of Hatcher, he has a bad right knee, which he originally hurt in 2003. He has been able to play (although not as well as he did before the injury) with the pain. He has had to have his knee repeatedly drained between games, but he has been able to play. Now that his salary cap hit is seen as a liability by the Flyers, his knee condition is a long term injury that has most likely ended his career.
There is another case, where the player is attempting to benefit from the unclear grey area that falls between definitely injured and definitely healthy. That is the case of David Tanabe of the Carolina Hurricanes.
In the NHL today, it is clear that good teams are built by obtaining the rights (via draft or otherwise) to young talent that will mature into stardom and retaining that talent through free agency. It is not possible to build successfully through free agency. As a result of this, it is extremely important to sign up your talented restricted free agents as painlessly as possible to deals that keep them happy with the organization, so they will want to remain there in their unrestricted free agency years. The team that has done the worst job of this over this summer is the Los Angeles Kings. They waited most of the summer to resign restricted free agents Jarret Stoll and Brad Richardson and have not yet signed Patrick O’Sullivan. In fact, O’Sullivan has been asked not to attend Los Angeles Kings training camp until a deal is done.
The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the teams that will have to deal with salary cap issues this season. The Irish Blues salary cap pages list them as being over a million dollars above the cap right now. In order to fix this, there have been rumors that the Flyers may trade a player, most likely Mike Knuble and his $2.8 million salary cap hit. Doing so would get them under the salary cap, but they wouldn’t have much room to maneuver throughout the season. Room to maneuver will likely be obtained by clearing Derian Hatcher’s salary. Hatcher has a cap hit of $3.5 million that can be cleared if he is becomes a long term injured reserve exemption.
About The Puck Stops Here
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