NHL free agent preview and predictions of the 2012 off season

Zach PariseMuch has been made of the 2012 Free Agent class being a very thin group, but that will not stop teams from spending big money on July 1st. The overpayments have already begun, headlined by the insane $5.25 million per year given to Denis Wideman. One cannot talk player movement without mentioning the very cap friendly 12 year deal given to Sidney Crosby, who was still a year away from the open market. This sets the stage for a wild free agent frenzy. Here is a look at where some of the top free agents could land.

Elite Group

1. Zach Parise- Resigns with New Jersey Devils

Parise is the prize of this year’s free agent class. He will be the target of teams such as the Rangers, Kings, and his current team the Devils and he will get money and term. Parise is a gifted goal scorer, hard worker, and great leader. What everyone wants. When push comes to shove, look for him to stay put and finish what they started.

2. Ryan Suter- Signs with the Pittsburgh Penguins

While overshadowed by partner Shea Weber, Suter is one of the top defenseman in the NHL and looking to get paid and win. The Penguins cleared a lot of money over the weekend and will outbid the Red Wings. And the 12 year Crosby deal will only makes this deal more likely.

3. Alex Semin- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

Semin is the enigma of the NHL. All the talent in the world, but he does not the work ethic to maximize the talent. The Wings seem to get the most out of players and Semin meshed well with Datsyuk at the World Championships.

No Surprises Here

1. Temmu Selanne- Resigns with the Anahiem Ducks

No shocker here. The Finnish Flash will either resign or hang em up. He can still score with the best of them and likely loves playing in the uptempo Boudreau offense.

2. Olli Joikien- Resigns with Calgary Flames

Joikien could get paid big this offseason as maybe the top center avaliable. But, the has often struggled outside of Calgary and always seems to come back to the Saddledome. He enjoyed a resurgence last year and will stay where he is comfortable.

3. Shane Doan- Resigns with the Phoenix Coyotes

This one will be interesting, as it was announced that Doan would test the market and possibly could leave the only organization he has ever known. Doan can still score and his experience and leadership is what every team needs and he will get offers. In the end though, the Captain stays put.

Welcome to the Penthouse

1. PA Parenteau- Signs with the New York Rangers

Parenteau is a crafty winger who would look good in  just about anyones top 6. And he put the numbers up on Long Island, which means he might do better on a better team. PA has 25-40 potential and will cash in on the thin market. And the Rangers will foot the bill to add some more offense to their impressive lineup. Watch also for the Blues and Senators who could use some offensive punch.

2. Jason Garrison- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

The Wings will target Suter but settle for Garrison. Garrison exploded onto the scene last season with the Panthers, scoring 16 goals (3rd after Karlsson and Weber), 9 of which were on the power play (2nd to Weber). While he is nowhere near the defender Lidstrom is (and who is really) but he can help replace his point production as he comes into his own.

Goal Scoring Help in the Top six.

1. Ray Whitney- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

Another Wing signing. Detroit has the cap space and will pick up another veteran looking for a home. The difference is Whitney can still play and is a power play wizard hungry for another Cup late in his career. The Blackhawks, Penguins, and Capitals could also be interested, as well as the Coyotes.

2. Dustin Penner- Resigns with the Los Angeles Kings

Penner had a rough start to his career and has never really lived up to his lofty expectations. But he seems to have found a home in LA and really stepped up in the playoffs.

3. Mikael Samuelson- Signs with the Washington Capitals

With Semin gone, the Capitals will need a new winger for newly acquired Riberio. Samuelson has had durability issues, but when healthy he can score and could thrive with a skilled center, whether its Riberio or Nick Backstrom. McPhee is a fan of short deals for FA if possible, and with the injury history Samuelsson provides the best opportunity for that with a good chance of top 6 production.

4. Jiri Hudler- Signs with the St Louis Blues

Hudler had an incredibly successful return to the NHL in Detroit with 25 goals and 25 assist last year. He is an excellent option for a team needing offense and the Blues fit that bill.

5. Andre Kostitsyn- Resigns with the Nashville Predators

The Kostitsyn’s have been more of a headache than a help over their career, but Andre is a 20 goal guy who will play better with his brother now in town (Sergei is restricted). As long as they stay out of the organized crime scene in Nashville, two Kostitsyn’s are always better than one on the ice.

6. Jaromir Jagr- Signs with the Edmonton Oilers

This one is a shot in the dark. Edmonton is poised to finally become relevant this year with an extremely talented core of Hall, Eberle, Nugent Hopkins, and the newly drafted Nail Yakpov. Jagr wants top 6 minutes and cannot be guaranteed that in Philly. Jagr could provide offense and an example for the young stars in Edmonton. Mike Knuble could be another excellent fit in Edmonton.

Blueline Help

1. Matt Carle- Resigns with the Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers always look for help on the backline and Carle has been a steady balanced defenseman since his arrival from San Jose. The two sides have already started talking, so expect a deal to get done.

2. Bryan Allen- Signs with the Nashville Predators

Bryan Allen is one of the more underrated defenders in hockey. He does not provide a lot on offense, but is a solid defender. With the impending departure of Suter, the Predators will be quick to get a replacement. Allen will not provide the offense, but could be a good candidate to play with Weber.

3. Joe Corvo- Signs with the Florida Panthers

Arter losing Jason Garrison to a mega deal, the Panthers will need a shooter to replace him on the Power Play. Corvo is a defensive liability, but has one of the hardest shots in the league from the point. The Panthers success last year was dependent on the man advantage and Corvo will help offset the loss of Garrison a bit.

4. Sheldon Souray- Signs with the Washington Capitals

This one makes a lot of sense at the right price. Souray saw a rebirth last year as a viable defenseman in Dallas and is still a powerplay threat. The Capitals could use a replacement for Wideman, but this deal makes sense because of Dimitri Orlov. Souray was in Hershey when Orlov began his professional career and was vital to his early development. Reuniting them, in Orlov’s first year as a full time player, could really solidify the blueline in DC.

5. Bryce Salvador- Sign with the Anahiem Ducks

The Ducks are thin on the blueline and Salvador should cash in somewhat on his strong postseason. While not an offensive defenseman, he does have good offensive instincts, which is needed in Boudreau’s system. Rosival, Kuba, and Kubina are also options for the Ducks.

Goalies?

This Free Agent class is absurdly thin in goaltending. In fact, one can argue that with the top available being Dwayne Roloson, Dan Ellis, and Antero Nittymaki that there are little to no starter quality goalies on the market. As a result, most teams have addressed their needs through trades, with Tomas Vokoun, Andres Lindback, and Sergei Bobrovsky being moved in recent days. Look for the last big trade to be Roberto Luongo, who will end up in Florida or Toronto.

And news broke Friday morning that Martin Broudeur is going to go to free agency if no deal is in place by Sunday. Most did not even consider him available, yet the chances he leaves New Jersey is slim to none.

Trades

The thin class has made trading a bigger possibility this offseason than normal with the likes of Jordan Staal, Mike Riberio, and the goalies already being dealt. Look for Rick Nash, Luongo, and possibly Bobby Ryan to be dealt over the next week or so.

NHL Atlantic Division: Offseason checklist

With the NHL Entry Draft and NHL free agency not too far away, we here at Daily Shootout have set up an offseason checklist for each team, organized by division. Today we look at the Atlantic Division.

New York Rangers
1) Sign a backup goalie: Martin Biron, who is the current backup on Broadway, is a free agent on July 1st and the hole needs to be filled. Granted, Biron is 34 years old, which in hockey terms is slightly getting up there in age, he was still able to get 12-6-2 in 21 games last season with the Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist backup. There are a number of goalies available in free agency this summer, with the big names being the likes of Dwayne Roloson, Martin Brodeur, Cristobal Huet, and so on. If the Rangers really want to get the best bang for their buck for a reliable backup, they can either re-sign Biron or try looking into somebody like an Alex Auld, Johan Hedberg or Scott Clemenson. Bottom line is they need a backup for King Henrik and they have about $21 million in cap space to work with.
2) Get rid of Sean Avery: Avery has been nothing but a thorn in the sides of everybody in the NHL from team management all the way down to his own teammates. Nobody in the Rangers organization, it seems, really wants anything to do with this guy who, last season, played in only 15 games. With Avery let go they cut over $3 million off the payroll.
3) Re-sign the role players: Rangers already have locked in their major players like Lundqvist, Richards, Gaborik and so on. Three of their top four defensemen are signed through next season. Michael Del Zotto is the lone top D-Man who needs to be re-signed on Broadway as he is hitting restricted free agency. Once they lock him in everybody else should fall in. I would also consider watching the Rangers make a strong run at picking up Zach Parise, when he hits the market July 1. It won’t surprise me none, as the Rangers have done stuff like this in the past.

Devils extend the finals, low ratings, and an uncertain future

Adam HenriqueIf there has been one flaw for the L.A. Kings this post season it has been closing out series at home, which thus far has always been Game 4. Last night proved to be the same as the Kings fell 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils before a crazy Staples Center crowd allowing the series to shift back to Newark. The first two periods were a defensive slugfest culminating in a wild 3rd with the first markers being scored just over a minute apart. Late in the period clutch rookie Adam Henrique scored another huge goal to win the game and Ilya Kovalchuk finally got on the board with an empty net goal. In all likelihood this is just a bump in the road for the suddenly mighty Kings, but the Devils victory added some much-needed drama to the Finals.

And the way things are going, everyone outside of LA will likely be rooting for the Devils Saturday night. A New Jersey win officially makes this a series and will hopefully help the low viewership numbers thus far. Game 1 and 2, both of which were overtime thrillers, drew 25% and 12% lower than last years Finals. And with a 2-0 series lead, Game 3 saw a 37% drop from last year and was beat soundly by the NBA Conference Finals (and narrowly edged out by Cupcake Wars on the Food Network).  This is particularly troubling for NHL Executives since it could be argued that the two biggest sports markets in the nation are in the Finals as the Newark area is included as a part of the New York market. And all signs had been pointing to a historic year for the NHL Playoffs.  For the first time the NBC Networks were set to broadcast every game and opening round games, such as Game 6 between the Capitals and Bruins, were drawing record numbers. Such a precipitous fall is surprising and might speak to the overall popularity of the League, which many thought was on the rise.

There are a lot of possible reasons for the low viewership. One could simply be the lack of a marquee team or player. The Kings are not a traditional hockey market and despite their new goal scoring style, the Devils are still thought to be a boring trapping team by most. There also are not a lot of compelling individual storylines for the casual fans. Alex Ovechkin is not looking for his 1st Cup, Sidney Crosby is not overcoming his injuries to win again, and beloved vets like Daniel Alfredsson, Jarome Iginla, or Shane Doan are not seeking their 1st Cup. Another issue is that many of the games, including Game 4, are not being shown on NBC, but rather their cable station NBC Sports, limiting potential viewers. While it is nice that NBC gives hockey the top shelf treatment, numbers would be higher if the games were on traditional sports powerhouses like ABC or FOX or even the cable king ESPN. Another possible issue is other options for sports fans, as the NBA Playoffs are in full swing now. So, while it was believed the NHL was officially back following the lockout, the numbers for the showcase event seem to tell a different story.

The NHL needed a strong finals this year as the collective bargaining agreement is up. There is a lot to be discussed before any deal is signed, such as contract lengths, hits to the heads, supplemental discipline, and what the new cap will be. There is even discussion of the potential of another lockout, with former player and NHLPA representative Trevor Linden going as far as saying to prepare for a lockout.. One has to wonder what kind of impact the low ratings will have at the negotiating table. The hope would be that the owners would feel a sense of urgency to get a deal done, because they would have to question whether the league survives another lockout.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Bliz and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

10 things to know about the 2012 Stanley Cup

Mike Richards KingsFew predicted the 2012 Stanley Cup Final would feature the oldest team in the league, the 6th seeded New Jersey Devils, or the offensively inept 8th seeded Los Angeles Kings. But that is what we have when the puck drops in Newark, Wednesday Night to kick off the 85th Stanley Cup Finals.

Here are 10 things to know about this years match-up, ending with MVP and Champion Predictions.

1. An Unlikely Final: In the history of the Stanley Cup Finals, only one 8th seed has ever made the Finals, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers, and they lost. In fact, no team seeded lower than 5th had ever won the Cup. That trend will be broken this year. And to highlight how unlikely this match up is even more, Vegas oddsmakers had the Kings and Devils each at 40-1 to win the Cup. But here we are.

2. Road to the Finals: The Devils needed 7 games to dispatch the feisty Panthers and did so in overtime. They then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers in 6 games. They were the lower seed in every matchup, yet will host the 8th seeded Kings. The Kings meanwhile had seed wise the hardest possible route to the Finals, needing to beat the top seeded Canucks, then the 2nd seeded Blues and finally the 3rd seeded Coyotes. And they did not let any series go more than 5 games.

3. Top Guns: To win the Cup your best players need to be at their best. Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils in the Regular Season and is leading the way in the Playoffs with 18 points. Zach Parise and Adam Henrique also have produced like they did in the Regular Season, with Henrique scoring 2 overtime series winning goals. Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Dustin Brown led the ways for the Kings throughout the season and have been the top producers in their Cinderella Run as well.

4. Unlikely Heroes: While the Kings and Devils have both been led by their Top Guns, no run can be accomplished without some Grinders chipping in. The Devils have been led lately by their impressive 4th line of Ryan Carter-Brian Gionta-Steve Bernier. Carter and Gionta both scored in the deciding Game 6 v the Rangers and have played big minutes of late for a 4th line. The Kings have seen players such as Dwight King double their regular season goal total in only 14 game. The Kings PK has also been the best in the playoffs thanks in large part to the play of little known players like Willie Mitchell and Trevor Lewis.

5. Similar Styles and Not Your Dad’s Devils: In many ways, the Kings and the Devils are almost identical teams in terms of style. Both teams feature an aggressive forecheck that leads to a very physical style. Look for this series to feature a lot of turnovers in the defensive zone and not a lot of fancy offense. Both teams also activate their defenseman well, as the statistics of Drew Doughty and Bryce Salvador show. Those who have not watched the Devils this year will be very surprised to see that Peter DeBoer has abandoned the conservative style of past runs to the Cup and that the Devils are now a very high scoring team, led by Kovalchuk and Parise. Look for the best matchup of the series to be the Kovalchuk line v the Mike Richards line and the defense pairing of Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell.

6. Movers and Shakers: Fans, experts, and even GM’s always want to trade the star when things are tough or the money is tight. The Devils and Kings chose to acquire those stars and they are the ones still playing. Three years ago the Devils made a blockbuster trade with the Atlanta Thrashers to acquire Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and then signed him to a lucrative contract extension with a big cap hit. Many questioned the move, but he is now the leading scorer for the team. The Kings this past summer moved multiple players and picks, including young stars like Brayden Schenn and Jack Johnson, to add former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to the line up, adding a needed two-way center and scoring punch on the wing. Many could argue those three moves were the biggest in the salary cap era and you can bet each would do it again.

7. Captain America and Co.:  Derian Hatcher of the Dallas Stars is the only American born Captain to lift the Stanley Cup. That too will change this year as both Zach Parise and Dustin Brown are American born. Not only are they Captains, but they are among the top 3 in-goal scoring for their teams. While the Kings are mostly Canadian and the Devils are a mixed bag, Americans are making big contributions all over the ice. Goaltender Jonathan Quick and defenseman Rod Scuderi have been key to the defensive effort of the Kings and the Ryan Carter and Brian Gionta have both scored big from their 4th line spot for New Jersey.

8.  Quick v Broduer & the “No Names”: Jonathan Quick’s numbers and performance has been well chronicled thus far in the playoffs (see LA Kings-History Might (Will) Be Made) and if the Kings win could well win the Conn Smythe. The bigger story might be the play of his elder on the other end of the ice. Martin Broduer is suddenly 40 years old and is about to appear in his 200th NHL Playoff game, trailing only the great Patrick Roy. Brodeur seemed to be slipping over the past few seasons, but was sensation against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals and his 2.07 GAA and .923 S% is solid, despite being well off the pace of Quick. Brodeur no doubt has been helped by the famed “No Name” Devil defense that features few stars, but plenty of solid defenders looking to make an impact, led by the likes of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchekov.

9. Special Teams: The Special Teams battle will be an interesting story to watch in this series. The Devils have been very good on the power play in the playoffs as five of Kovalchuk’s seven goals have come man up. The Kings meanwhile have been the best penalty kill team in the playoffs and have even scored quite a few shorthanded. With the aggressiveness of the Kings 5 on 5 will mean the Devils will need to solve the Kings PK to have a chance to win the series. The Devils were the best penalty kill team in the regular season but have been less than stellar this postseason. Lucky for them, the King’s power play has been as bad as their penalty kill is good, operating at 8.1% effective, worst in the playoffs.

10. Kings in six: This series will not be as easy as other for the Kings, but ultimately the Kings will add a banner to the Staples Center to offset all the Lakers titles a bit. The difference in the series will be Quick. The Devils were held scoreless by Lundqvist twice in the ECF and really benefitted from Lundqvist being overworked late in the series. Quick and his defenders meanwhile are well rested and have been nearly unbeatable and the Kings aggressiveness and forecheck will help to negate the Devils attack. Look for Mike Richards to pay huge dividends in this series as he will be key in stopping Kovalchuk and Parise. The Devils on the other hand simply do not have a line or defense pairing that will be able to successfully shutdown Kopitar-Williams-Brown. Every game will be close, but the Devils will make more mistakes than the Kings. The Devils will win the series if they can win both in New Jersey to open the series as the Kings have not faced much adversity this postseason and could stumble.

The Kings will win both games in New Jersey, like they have all playoffs, and will drop Game 3 in LA before winning Game 4. The Devils will stave off elimination on home ice with a big goal in OT by David Clarkson in Game 5. But the Kings get it down on home ice with a 2-0 win with Jeff Carter scoring the winner and Dustin Brown icing the Cup with an empty net goal. Brown takes the Cup, Quick takes the Conn Smythe.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

Three things to watch for: Devils v Rangers Game 3

In game one, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers had a tightly contested game through 2 periods. In the end, the Rangers pulled away, scoring three goals in the third period. While the Devils had played the Rangers closely, it became clear why the Rangers are the number one seed in the playoffs.

Game two showed why the Devils are the ugly Cinderella in the playoffs this year. After all, NHL fans have been enamored with the run the L.A. Kings have been on—and deservedly so. The Kings are playing better than any team in the NHL. But the Devils are a 6 seed and have elevated their play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Game two showed the Devils’ resiliency and even though the Rangers held a lead and fought hard, the Devils prevailed.

With game 3 scheduled to drop the puck at 1 p.m. EST and the series tied at one, here are three things to watch for in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers.

Devils’ Forecheck vs. Rangers’ Defense: A big part of the Devils’ success this postseason has come because of their aggressive forecheck.

Read more here…

 

NHL conference previews and MVP watch

Dustin BrownNow that we are down to the Final Four, lets take a look at which players are likely to take the Conn Smythe trophy home if their team lifts the Stanley Cup. Here are the front runners from each of the remaining teams, as well as a prediction for who will be playing for the right to be named the NHL’s best for 2012.

– Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Quick has been spectacular as well, but no one has been as valuable to the King’s Cinderella run than the Captain. Brown went into this playoff as maybe one of the most underrated players in hockey, but he certainly no longer is. He has 7 goals and 6 assists, good for 13 points in only 11 games and is a sparking +11. Brown has always been a tough player willing to do the dirty work to help his team and can score, but not like this. And not only is he scoring, he is scoring when it matters as 3 of his goals are game winners, best in the playoffs. On a team that had issues scoring in the regular season, Brown has been invaluable to the success of the LA Kings.

– David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils

The Devils have no clear favorite for the playoff MVP as their top guns all are pretty much equal in points and Broudeur has had a few dud games. Clarkson though is the type of grinder that thrives in the playoffs and has been important to the successful defensive performance that stopped the Flyers offensive assault. Clarkson has only scored twice, but both are GWG.

– Brad Richards, New York Rangers

It’s not often that a big off season signing earns his paycheck. It’s far less often that he deserves more, and give his performance so far Richards might. Richards was by far the best player in the Rangers second round victory over the Washington Capitals as his line was the only one to really get anything going versus the stout Capitals defense. He he also has lived up to his clutch reputation as he was involved in the 3 most important goals of the series. He set up Gaborik for the Game 3 triple OT winner, scored the miracle goal in Game 5 and scored the early goal in Game 7 that the Caps never recovered from. Lundqvist has been good, but Richards has been clutch.

– Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

Others have been good for the Yotes, but none have been as valuable as the goalie Smith. Smith has faced the most shots in the playoffs thus far despite playing less games than Brodeur and Lundqvist and sports an impressive 1.85 GAA and .948 S%. He was virtually unbearable in the deciding game versus the Hawks and stated slow but finished strong against the Predators. Many could argue the Coyotes do not have the offense that the Hawks or Predators do, yet they are still playing. Chalk that up to Mike Smith.

Predictions for the Conference Finals:

Rangers in 7: The Rangers have not been unbeatable this playoffs and had to fight to get where they are. Nothing wrong with that, but an experienced Devils squad will give them some trouble. The no name defense with the Hall of Famer goalie have been great and the Rangers will have to fight to get back to the Finals for the 1st time since 1994. But the Rangers, led by Richards and Lundqvist, have put in the work to earn the big goals so far and expect that to continue versus a good, but not quite as talented, Devils team.  Expect another close series for the Blueshirts.

Kings in 6: When you’re on, you’re on, and the Kings are on. LA found their scoring touch at the right time and have been unstoppable. Many considered the Kings a Cup contender at the beginning of the year, but they could not score. Now they can. Look for the Kopitar/Brown/Williams line to continue to wreck havoc on the Yotes and for Quick to continue his Vezina like performance he has put on all year. The Coyotes will catch a break here and there and make this interesting as it is unlikely the Kings stay this hot, but look for an LA-NY Final.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com