Archive for the ‘John Tavares’ Category

Is the Atlantic now the best division in the NHL?

June 29, 2009

So, with the draft behind us and our free agency coverage ready to begin tomorrow, we don’t have much time for general NHL meandering. But with the mammoth Chris Pronger trade and John Tavares going to the New York Islanders, we couldn’t help but wonder:

Is the Atlantic Division now primed to become the best division in the entire league?

Let’s look at the “Pros” for such an argument.

1. Everything the Penguins bring to the table

It never hurts to have the reigning Stanley Cup champions in your division, especially since they’re obviously not a flash in the pan after going to two SCFs in a row. They might not always be great in the regular season, but it’s hard to deny their heart, hustle and talent.

2. All kinds of elite talent, most of it young

Pronger gives this division the one thing it truly lacked: an elite defenseman (with all due respect to Sergei Gonchar). Pittsburgh features two of the three best forwards in the league. New Jersey saw Zach Parise jump to an elite level and also employs a goalie with more wins than any in NHL history.

Along with Parise and Pittsburgh’s dynamic duo, the Flyers have Mike Richards and Jeff Carter while the Islanders even landed a blue chip in Tavares.

3. Four quality teams

In addition to the Penguins, the Atlantic produced half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff representatives with the Rangers, Flyers and Devils also making it to the postseason.

4. Enigmatic, but potentially outstanding goaltending

Every Atlantic division team has a goalie who could be somewhere between above average to outstanding. Obviously, one must assume that Brodeur is still an outstanding goalie but it goes beyond that.

Henrik Lundqvist consistently puts together borderline Vezina caliber seasons. Marc Andre Fleury was erratic at times in the postseason, but a lot of people will probably remember his save on Nicklas Lidstrom a long time after they forget about some of those awful goals he allowed against the Washington Capitals.

Even the question mark goalies have potential. Sure, Ray Emery is a head case who eats bugs and potentially consumes other harmful toxins in his free time, but let’s not forget that he was often excellent in the Senators’ run to a SCF berth. Say what you want about his lifetime contract, Rick Dipietro was once the future of American goaltending and might still have a chance to be a solid franchise goalie if he can get over his injury concerns.

***

Again, this is looking at the situation before what typically changes the league the most: July 1st. Still, it’s interesting to ask: at this moment in time, did the Atlantic division leapfrog the Pacific and Central as the class of the NHL?

We’d love to hear what you think about that.

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CLS on the draft: Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey on the New York Islanders

June 9, 2009

(During the trade deadline, CLS managed to wrangle/hypnotize/sweet talk/blackmail at least one team blogger from every NHL team [except, oddly, Edmonton] to tell us what they would do if they were their team’s GM. It was one of the best features in this blog’s brief history.

Still, there were some lessons learned. For instance: it’s not a good idea to jam 6-7 posts from 30+ contributors into one 24 hour period. So, this time around, we decided to get started early.

What better way to kick off our draft coverage than to start with the owners of the No. 1 pick, the New York Islanders? To get an expert and fan’s perspective on the Islanders, we enlisted Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey. Lighthouse Hockey is the Islanders representative at Sports Blog Nation. Our guess is that Dominik’s blog will keep getting bigger as the Isles get better [and, for the record, we believe the Islanders have reason for hope for the first time in a very long time]. Make sure you check out Dominik’s blog after you read this piece.)

1. We might as well get the most obvious question out of the way first: if you were Garth Snow, would you draft Tavares or Hedman (or even someone else)? Why? Is it an easy choice or would you lose sleep and hair making the decision?

DOMINIK: If I were Garth Snow — and my therapist keeps telling me I’m not — I would alternately pinch myself for the great choice I have, yet also lie awake at night, crying at the ramifications of my decision 5-10 years down the line.

People (both pro-Tavares and pro-Hedman) keep telling me it’s a “no-brainer” for their candidate. Well, it’s not. It’s only an easy decision in that, logically, you can’t go wrong: Both Tavares and Hedman are great, and the Islanders need both offense and defense. I’m of the whole “build around a franchise D” school, but I’m also of the belief you want to be certain the guy you’re building around is actually a franchise D and not Chris Phillips.

The Isles have a still-improving, near-Norris caliber Mark Streit signed for four more years, who can carry things while Hedman develops. But flip that around, and the Isles have Streit already, so give him an actual frontline stud like Tavares to feed the puck to from the blueline, and we’ve got two key elements.

The agony of this decision is in the unknown: When you go for the highly rated sniper, you could end up with Mike Bossy or you could get Perry Turnbull. When you go for the much-hyped blueline stud, you could end up with Chris Pronger (who, mind you, took a while to become “Chris Pronger, stud bastard”) or you could end up with Ed Jovanovski. Nice players, all of them, but one is quiiite a bit nicer than the other.

If both players are of roughly equal value, franchise-wise, I say go with who provides you both immediate and long-term gain. That’s …

… John Tavares. This franchise can get a lot of near-term mileage out of having him scoring goals next year, selling tickets, building excitement. By the time his first deal is expiring, the Lighthouse Project will be on the way and he’ll have fallen in love with Long Island. With excitement and fear of him being shut down by Hedman in a future East Conference final, I choose Tavares.

2. Going forward with Tavares/Hedman, what steps would you take next? Would you try to bring in a high profile free agent (by dangling the carrot of playing on an up-and-coming team) or hope to have a top-end draft pick next year, too?

[Or do you think they can make a surprise jump next year?]

DOMINIK: People don’t realize that without the Isles’ biblical plague of injuries, they would have been a 20-25 ranked team this past season, putting them in line for another decent pick, but not a superstar. They were lucky to both win the lottery prize AND have theoretical cover for the awful season. I don’t know if they’ll be so “lucky” next year, but they have to stay the course (“thousand points of light …”).

No top-tier free agent is going to sign here until the arena/location situation is settled, and the Isles have no business taking a shortcut on the rebuild now. For Scott Gordon’s sake and the fans’ sake, they absolutely need to improve next season. BUT: They have to do it from within, continuing to develop their kids. If, er … when, they fall short and land out of the playoffs, I won’t be crying.

They’re accumulating a decent haul of prospects now. My biggest priority is locating a goaltender for next year and one for the future. Even if Rick DiPietro comes back healthy, they have to plan around the certainty that his body isn’t making it from now to age 40 without further time on the shelf.

3. Looking back on the Islanders draft history, which draft picks had the most positive impact on the franchise? Are there any amazing steals that stick out to you? I’m going to guess wildly that those might be around the late 70s.

DOMINIK: Obviously, the ’70s drafts are what made this franchise. Nystrom in ’73 (3rd pick, 33rd overall), Denis Potvin #1 in ’74, Clark Gillies (#4) and Bryan Trottier (#22) in ’75. Mike Bossy (#15) and John Tonelli (#33) in ’77. Add some more grit and a crazy clutch goaltender and you have a dynasty.

The Isles don’t really have any steals, but all of their best late finds seem to involve the former Czechoslovakia. David Volek at #208 in 1984; Zdeno Chara at #56 in 1996 was a great gamble on an awkward, lanky kid who everyone thought should be playing basketball. Radek Martinek at #228 in 1999 was inspired — despite learning in retrospect he was made of exploda-bones. I should add that Russian Vladimir Malakhov at #191 in 1989 showed general awareness of the rest of the world. Better late than never, I guess.

4. Conversely, what are some drafts that were absolute disasters for your team? Share some of the most painful “What if?” scenarios in Isles draft history.

DOMINIK: The obvious one is, “What if Mike Milbury didn’t have his hands on the roster for a decade?” But that’s like asking, “What if The biggest current-era tragedies you’ll hear from tortured Isles fans include drafting Robert Nilsson in 2003 over Zach Parise (“Oh, is he good? Is he the son of an ex-Islander? Better pass on him.”). 1998’s Michael Rupp at #9 hurt, but a look at the picks right after him shows no one really knew what to make of that year’s pool other than “Lecavalier is Michael Jordan.”

But for me the reign of error starts pre-Milbury, in 1989: What if in 1989, instead of Dave Chyzowski at #2 overall they’d taken Bill Guerin or Bobby Holik? Or anyone Detroit drafted in that epic year? What if, instead of Scott Scissons at #6 in 1990, they’d taken Keith Tkachuk (#19) or Derian Hatcher (#8)? What if they’d heard of Sweden before and drafted Peter Forsberg in 1991 instead of Scott Lachance at #4? That’s not funny, that’s cruel. [Editor’s note: That’s just a brutal paragraph chock full of pain and regret.]

In fairness, you can play that game with any team, in any draft year. The draft is above all a crap-shoot involving projecting a bunch of hormonally explosive teenagers, which is why I always feel like a tool ripping some scouts’ hours upon hours spent enduring bad coffee and cold rinks to parse future Daigles from future Zetterbergs.

If you’d projected me at 17, you’d have said I’d become one wealthy bastard. If you projected me at 19, you’d be stunned if I ever got a full-time job to support an inevitable 10 children with five mothers. Stuff happens. Still, that 1989-91 run of first-round misses set the stage to make Mike Milbury sound like an improvement.

5. Feel free to take the floor. Any thoughts on the future of the Islanders or how the draft will affect the Lighthouse Project? This is your chance to stand on a soapbox.

DOMINIK: I’ve talked your ear off already, but things are looking guardedly optimistic for the Lighthouse Project. Wang and the politician seen as obstacle #1 (Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray) finally met — twice — recently and are formulating a timetable going forward. I’ve always figured it would eventually get done, there would just be a lot of posturing and pissing matches before then. There are surely more of those to come, but some form of this project seems too logical — for Long Island, not just for the hockey club — to not happen.

A necessary procedural vote happens July 7. If that goes well after the #1 pick — and Wang is even talking about “shovel in ground” in April 2010 — then I can see things looking up, tickets being sold, future sort of bright, gotta wear shades ‘n all that. Even if the Isles disappoint 80% of fans by drafting Hedman, I think the sun will come up.

***Something non-Islanders that intrigues me about the draft: What if the Isles take Hedman — then what does Tampa Bay do? They almost *have* to take Hedman/Duchene and trade Vinny for blueline help, right?

(In the next draft post, we’ll ask the folks from SBN Nation Lightning blog Raw Charge that very question, as well as a few others.)

Tavares Watch 2: Ottawa

February 2, 2009
Editor’s Note: The timing was excellent to start working on this post since Craig Hartsburg was fired, but it’s actually something that was in the “drafts” section since January 13. Oddly enough, work was being done on this during the morning hours … shortly before the Senators coach would be fired. Anyway, just thought it was worth mentioning how sometimes things fall into place every now and then …

In my “Predictions that Will Make Me Look Stupid” post, Ottawa was my pick to win the Northeast division. The only accurate prediction that came true was me looking stupid. (And let’s be honest, that prediction has at least a coin flip’s chance of being accurate every day)

It’s been a really, really, really bad season for the Senators. People will be fired. Players are crying in their oatmeal. Just all around bad times.

Perhaps such a fall from grace was inevitable. The Senators just kept losing vital supporting cast members. Over the last few off-seasons they’ve watched Martin Havlat, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Ray Bug Eating Emery go to other teams in the NHL and Russia. What’s left behind is a wasteland of bad goaltending, thin defense and one line’s worth of stars.

The Senators have a Chara-sized hole they may never fill.
Looking ahead to the off-season, the Senators have one forward, one D and one goaltending spot that’s not accounted for with a cap number slightly above $44 million.

Having the opportunity to draft John Tavares would open the Senators up to some interesting questions.

Would Tavares give the Senators inexpensive yet quality depth on offense, allowing them to throw big money at the closest thing to a legitimate franchise goaltender and/or defenseman?

-OR-

With Tavares falling in their laps, would the Senators begin a purge by trading Jason Spezza like many an Internet rumors column has suggested?

Do the Senators deserve Tavares?

It’s hard to say. Looking at the lower ranking teams in the NHL, the New York Islanders seem to be one of the most deserving. Their fans have suffered heavily since the glory days of Trottier and Bossy. Plus Tavares would help promote the drive to a new arena.

Considering the blundering mess in Tampa Bay, Ottawa certainly isn’t the least worthy team in the Tavares sweepstakes. Overall, it would be great for the league to have as many competitive Canadian teams as possible.

And if the Senators didn’t move one of their expensive star players, just imagine a powerplay of Heatley-Spezza-Tavares with Alf and some incredibly lucky offensive D playing the point. That would just be ridiculous.

Which goalie should they target?

Investing in a goalie should be like getting an HDtv: make sure it’s the one. At least for the next 3-5 years. Let’s see if these goalies would be the right fit in Ottawa:

Nikolai Khabibulin

Absolutely a high-risk, high-reward goaltender. Hopefully, his ridiculous current salary ($6.75 million) will come down a couple million at least. From a highest ceiling standpoint, the one-time Cup winner probably takes the cake. But how much can you trust him when he only seems to reach his potential in contract years?

Niklas Backstrom

With any Wild goalie, it’s a question of nature versus nurture. That being said, previous (and soon to be UFA) Wild goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson could never lock down the top job quite as convincingly as Backstrom. Unfortunately for everyone outside of St. Paul, that might mean that the Wild will pay to keep him.

If not he has to be one of the top three targets for any team looking for a starter.

Manny Fernandez

Speaking of Fernandez, it’s likely that Boston will choose to hang on to Tim Thomas but let him go for cap reasons. Just like almost everyone in Boston, Fernandez is putting up some impressive numbers this season. He is 14-3-1 with a 2.07 GAA and a 92.8 save percentage.

The two hounding issues with Fernandez are consistency and health. He’s never really earned an unquestioned no. 1 role. His career high in games started is only 56 games. As a team that’s been burned frequently by inconsistent goaltending, signing Fernandez would most likely allow history to repeat itself.

Martin Biron

Is Martin Biron the answer in net for the Flyers? It’s hard to tell. If he becomes a free agent, he could be a decent option for the Senators. The idea is so bland and uninspiring that it’s crucial to just move on.

Dwayne Roloson

A lot like Biron, but probably a bigger risk/reward. Would not make much sense.

****

So as you can see, there are a few ways the Ottawa Senators could go about improving its team. Could they end up with that Chara-sized Swedish prospect Victor Hedman instead of Tavares? It certainly would be interesting to see the team who lost the big Z end up with the next “big” thing (from a more literal standpoint).


Honestly, things are bad right now but it wouldn’t be shocking if the Senators bounced back next season (or the one after). Even taking into account his turnover-heavy ways, consider me in the Pro-Spezza camp. Dan Heatley might have a dark past, but he’s moved on to become one of the true snipers of the NHL.

The one big name big contract guy they might want to consider moving is Daniel Alfredsson. Alf is a good player despite that ugly Scott Niedermayer incident from the SCF, but he’s old and expensive. He could probably yield a really nice prospect/draft pick package and allow the Senators some fiscal relief.

It might be time for some changes and the rebuilding process might take longer. For that reason, they must at least consider trading their two-way star of a captain.

In these dark times, there’s at least a faint light at the end of the tunnel for the Senators.

Tavares watch: Islanders could rebuild in a hurry (1 of 2)

January 8, 2009
Not very long ago, I uttered something like this to a buddy of mine: “Man, I hope Tavares doesn’t end up in a hellhole like Long Island.”

However, while researching my Mike Milbury = Matt Millen post, it was hard to ignore Garth Snow’s NHL draft wizardy. Doing the math is a little tricky so here’s a visual aid from Isles info.com’s Islanders’ GM history:

06/20/08: NYI trade 2008 Entry Draft first round pick(fifth overall – D Luke Schenn) to TOR for first round pick in 2008 (seventh overall), TOR’s 3rd round pick in 2008 (68th overall) and TOR’s 2nd round pick in 2009.

06/20/08: NYI trade TOR’s 1st round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft (seventh overall – C Colin Wilson, previously acquired) to NSH for FLA’s 1st round pick in 2008 (ninth overall – C Josh Bailey, previously acquired) and FLA’s 2nd round pick in 2008 (40th overall – D Aaron Ness, previously acquired).

06/21/08: NYI acquire CHI’s third round pick (72nd overall – D Jyri Niemi)and fourth round pick (102nd overall – W David Ullstrom) in 2008 for TOR’s
third round pick in 2008 (68th overall – D Shawn Lalonde, previously acquired).

Impressive. Snow basically moved the Islanders first round pick for Florida’s first and second round picks, Chicago’s third and fourth round picks in 2008 plus Toronto’s 2009 2nd-rounder. As good as Luke Schenn and Colin Wilson could end up, that’s a hell of a leap in the rebuilding process.

Tavares + big name free agent could really accelerate the Islanders rebuilding process (and Tavares + huge cap space could help the Islanders land that big free agent).

So that alone gives the Islanders a light at the end of the tunnel, but now let’s get hypothetical:

Semi-plausible moves that could reignite the Islanders

Step 1: Winning the Tavares lottery

Obviously this is the portion that’s dedicated exclusively to random chance. The Isles are the worst team in the NHL right now and will likely finish with the most lottery balls at the end of the season, but that in no way guarantees that they’ll get the #1 pick.

Getting the second pick wouldn’t be horrible since the only spot locked up long term is #1 goalie thanks to Rick Dipietro‘s life sentence long-term deal. But as tall and talented as that Swede might be, the Islanders need a shot in the arm only Tavares can provide. Badly.

What better way to help the Islanders sell the idea of a new arena than to add the most hyped Canadian since Sidney Crosby?

(Quick aside for those hockey’s futures nuts out there: what is a reasonable estimate for a healthy first season for Tavares? Could his production be Crosby-like, Patrick Kane-like or more like Joe Thornton‘s rough rookie year?)

Step 2: Trade for Kovalchuk or throw the bank at Marian Hossa

Personally, I think Kovalchuk would be a better bet because his talents are “sexier.” Hossa’s a fantastic player, but you get the feeling that Kovalchuk would dazzle New Yorkers deeply. A rare victory for sizzle over steak.

If Atlanta decides to deal Kovalchuk, the Islanders have picks and prospects to spare

With Doug Weight ($4.5 mil), Bill Guerin ($4.3 mil), Mike Comrie ($4 mil) and Mike Sillinger ($2.2 mil) coming off the books this summer, the Islanders could transform their roster from washed-up, overpaid veterans to whatever image the “new” Islanders would seek.

($17 million from four players for non-math majors)

If NHLSCAP figures are correct, their overall cap would be right under $31 million with 8 forwards, 7 defensemen and 1 goaltender under contract (not counting minor leaguers … although you can argue many of their starters belong in the AHL).

In that dream scenario, Tavares would probably have a Stamkos-like cap hit. Let’s say $4 million to be safe. Let’s also assume that the cap goes down to , say, $55 million when factoring in the deadbeat economy.

The Islanders could throw a “horse head in the bed” offer at Marian Hossa or easily absorb the last year of Kovalchuk’s contract. Hell, if you really want to dream big imagine the Islanders somehow landing Kovalchuk – Hossa – Tavares or Kovalchuk – Gaborik – Tavares or something of that nature. Crazier things have happened.

[Note: decided to break this gigantic post up into two parts.]

Hypothetical hope for the Islanders part II

January 8, 2009
The Sedins bringing their cycling circus act to Coney Island? Could be worse …

Even if the Islanders lose the Tavares lottery, their $20 million-plus cap space and their rapidly improving stable of prospects puts them in a great position to rebuild. How about we rank some of the guys who would best fit the Islanders?

1. Kovalchuk – This is only based on heavy trade rumors. Honestly, the Thrashers shouldn’t trade him (the reason, beyond his bodacious skills, will be revealed sooen enough).

2. Hossa – The common thread of wisdom for Hossa is that he’s the hockey version of a smoking hot bridesmaid. Even if he’s not the type of player who can carry a team on his back, Hossa is the most talented free agent and may go into Show Me the Money mode after taking a one-year Cup run contract.

3/4. The Sedin twins – Why break up the Sedin twins when they are so effective together? The Islanders might be a really nice destination for the efficient dopplegangers. Even if they sign matching $6 million contracts the Islanders could still improve the team around them.

5. Jay Bouwmeester – He’s not flashy (except in video games) but he’s the kind of player who can be a cornerstone. With the big minutes he plays and well rounded game he brings the table, he could be a nice fit for the Islanders.

But they’d probably need to add an offensive stud because Bouwmeester isn’t really a ticket seller.

6. Johan Franzen – The Mule is here and Henrik Zetterberg is not for a simple reason. It’s almost unthinkable that Detroit would allow Zetterberg to walk. Not when they very well might lose Hossa. Not when Franzen, despite his undeniable goal scoring skills, cannot stay on the ice.

Franzen could be a good fit in Long Island if he could stay relatively healthy. Hell, a Franzen + Sedins line would be a hell of a consolation prize if bigger things fall through.

Keep dreaming.

7. Marian Gaborik – Honestly, it feels like the team who signs Gaborik is like a newlywed couple who unwittingly adopts that creepy little girl from “The Ring.” But let’s face it, the Islanders are one of those teams that might need to pay up big just for the PR boost.

Even though it’s a thrill to watch Gabby on a breakaway, his signing would be a Shakespearian tragedy for a team that’s had plenty of helpings of bad luck.

8. Alex Kovalev – There’s a buyer beware to Kovalev. Either his drive does not match his blinding talent or his talent is better suited for stunning Youtube videos. Whatever way you slice it, Kovalev’s not the guy you want with that Ayn Rand-ian weight of the world on his shoulders.

Still, if the Islanders try a quantity over quality approach Kovalev could be an asset.

9. Brian Gionta – It’s hard to say if a guy like Gionta would flounder outside of NJ or if he would flourish without the spoused shackles of the NJ system. Judging from the lackluster post-NJ careers of guys like Scott Gomez, expectations should be “less than or equal to.” Then again, adding Gionta certainly would add a little spice to the Devils – Islanders rivalry (whatever you may think of that rivalry).

10. Erik Cole – Call me an Erik Cole apologist, but I’ve been a fan since the Hurricanes Cup year. Then again, he’s clearly never been the same after that dirty Brooks Orpik hit that almost ended his career. Would he take a pay cut or just stay at $4 million? At a lower price Cole could be quite the pickup but at $4 million you better take him to a damn thorough doctor.

***

Tavares-less suggestion: Go hard for Hossa or Kovalchuk or even Zetterberg. If that doesn’t work, settle for the Sedins and a low risk, high reward guy like un-listed, under the radar Michael Cammalleri.