The dog days of summer are here, but that hasn’t stopped us from continuing to publish fresh content. In the first of a recurring series of posts, Mike Colligan, Anatoliy Metter, James Neveau, and Jeff Angus will answer a few burning questions related to the game of hockey – on and off of the ice.
Here are today’s questions:
- Will the Detroit Red Wings make the playoffs next season?
- Which player pulls a James Neal in 2012-13 and emerges as a bona fide star player?
- What will be the biggest off-ice change to come out of the new CBA, if and when it is ratified?
- You are starting a team tomorrow. You get to pick one goalie, one forward, and one defenseman. Age and salary matter. Who do you take?
Let’s get to it.
Will the Detroit Red Wings make the playoffs in 2012-13?
The Detroit Red Wings are very capable of making the playoffs. Even though the team lost out in the Ryan Suter/Zach Parise sweepstakes, the Wings still have enough talent to fit in somewhere in the Western Conference playoff bubble. Without the services of longtime defender Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit’s defense will rely largely upon the services of Niklas Kronwall. Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson, and Ian White will probably be given more responsibilities in the upcoming season, but the Red Wings should have enough depth to make it into the playoffs. Players such as Gustav Nyquist and Brendan Smith will also add an interesting element to the Wings’ offense and defense and will likely have larger roles with the team during the 2012-2013 NHL season. Detroit’s offensive machine is more than capable of masking some potential defensive problems, but quality goaltending from Jimmy Howard and a balanced scoring attack will likely help Detroit to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, even with their core players being one year older.
It’s never easy making the playoffs out of the super-competitive Central Division, but I think the Red Wings still have enough to stay in playoff contention. I’m a little more concerned about their long-term future. Their roster is aging and Detroit may not be the destination team it once was. But while they struck out on the big name free agents this summer, I was intrigued by the Jordin Tootoo and Damien Brunner signings. Tootoo will be very motivated to get his career back on track and he’s the rare checking liner that can tilt a game in his team’s favor with one shift.
Brunner, 26, is a player that most North American fans probably have never heard of…yet. He led the Swiss league in scoring last year and was very impressive in the World Championships a few months ago. Assuming Brunner can transition to the North American game, he should add a ton of speed and scoring to the Red Wings’ top lines next season — enough to help Detroit make the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive time.
(Remind you of a certain Red Wings dangler?)
When you’re a team that is as well coached as the Red Wings are, and when you have made the playoffs every year for over two decades, it would seem almost asinine to bet against them making yet another appearance in the postseason in 2013. Even still, this is finally going to be the year that the Wings finish outside of the top eight.
The team’s inability to draw a single big-name free agent is a big factor in that potential absence. Factor that in along with the improvements made by the Minnesota Wild in acquiring Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, as well as the potential upside of teams like the Colorado Avalanche, and it isn’t that much of a stretch to imagine an April without playoff hockey being played in Detroit.
As things stand right now, no. I don’t see Detroit possessing the talent or depth on the back end to make up for the losses of both Lidstrom and Brad Stuart. Everyone is aware of Lidstrom’s abilities and importance to the team, but Stuart has been a defensive rock in Detroit for the past few seasons. I am a huge Brendan Smith fan, but he isn’t ready for prime time minutes in a top pairing role. There will be a lot of pressure on Kronwall and White in Detroit, not to mention goaltender Jimmy Howard, who is venturing into the unknown playing behind a Lidstrom-less defense next year.
The Red Wings have a playoff-calibre group of forwards, and they have several young players who are close to NHL action, including Brunner, Nyqvist, and Calle Jarnkrok. It is hard to count out a team led by Zetterberg and Datsyuk, but Detroit needs to shore up their defensive group if they want to remain a playoff contender in the Western Conference.
Which player pulls a James Neal in 2012-13 and emerges as a star?
If he hasn’t emerged yet, then Jordan Eberle is definitely close to it. After enjoying a 33 point increase in points during his sophomore year, Eberle seems to be poised for greatness alongside teammates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. Eberle recorded 76 points in his second season in the NHL and improved virtually every aspect of his game. The forward’s +/- went up by 16 points and his production on the power-play was also evident as the winger notched ten goals and ten assists on the man-advantage. Eberle also illustrated a bit more discipline during his second year as he took less penalties and strengthened his two-way play. Since Eberle is already showing signs of rapid maturation, it seems all but likely that the forward is primed to become one of the NHL’s bona fide stars during the 2012-2013 campaign.
James van Riemsdyk. It’s amazing how far JVR’s stock has fallen. Two years ago he exploded with 7 goals in 11 playoff games with the Flyers and looked well on his way to becoming a superstar player. Injuries derailed his 2011-12 season and led to a trade to Toronto. If he moves to center and hops onto a line with Phil Kessel, he could be in for a huge season offensively. He has such a unique combination of speed, size and skill that might finally come together with more playing time, greater responsibility, and talented linemates.
This year, the guy who could make a similar contribution to his club is youngster Jeff Skinner. Armed with several new teammates in Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, Skinner is going to experience what it is like to play on a team where he isn’t relied upon to be the first or second option, and like Neal in the shadow of Crosby and Malkin, he will thrive. A breakout season of nearly 40 goals and a boost for the Hurricanes into serious playoff contention isn’t out of the question as he enters his third year.
I’ll take an easy one here – Jakub Voracek. The big Czech winger is primed for a monster 2012-13 season. His game has been improving each season since coming into the NHL with the Blue Jackets in 2008. He has yet to score 20 goals at the NHL level, but he has been at or just below the 50-point mark for three straight seasons. Voracek is a powerful skater and he sees the ice really well.
Ready to take the next step:
Like Neal, Voracek has shown flashes of dominance, but he has yet to put it all together. What changed for Neal – opportunity (playing with Malkin) and role (he was given a heavily offensively-focused role, starting the bulk of his shifts in the offensive zone). Voracek is a lock to replace Jaromir Jagr on Philadelphia’s top line with Claude Giroux. Giroux is no Malkin, but he isn’t far behind. The Flyers consider Voracek a huge part of their power play – his 3:21 per game last season was second among all forwards behind Giroux.
What will be the biggest off-ice change to come out of the new CBA (if and when it is ratified?)
If an amnesty clause is included in the new CBA, then teams would be allowed to buyout a player’s contract without having it take on the cap hit. Since the amnesty clause would be a one time buyout deal for a team, management would be able to get rid of an unwanted bloated/long-term contract or a player that is not living up to their deal. Teams such as the New York Islanders would be able to buy out players such as Rick DiPietro and not have his cap hit count against the franchise. The amnesty clause would likely help teams target players that signed long-term front-loaded contracts when a new CBA was instituted for the 2005-2006 NHL season. Getting rid of a player’s contract without having to take on its cap hit will likely be an appealing clause for more than a fair share of NHL teams and could be one of the biggest changes to come out of the new CBA.
Relocation. Maybe this is technically on-ice too, but I think there will need to be some big decisions made with regards to franchise relocation. The Atlanta to Winnipeg move was a resounding success and it will be tempting to move teams into new arenas in Quebec City, Hamilton, or elsewhere in the near future. How will this process take place? Will the players demand a share of relocation/expansion fees? How can Gary Bettman move teams out of the Sunbelt without making it appear like the league is retreating back to Canada? Lots of questions and lots of money at stake.
The new NHL CBA is going to be radically different from the one the players agreed to in 2005, but there is one area in particular that is going to be important, and that’s the salary cap.
All of the talk about limiting player contracts to only five years and lowering the maximum amount a player can receive is well and good, but the real change that is likely to happen will be the institution of an NBA-style salary cap figure. Instead of taking the average amount of compensation for a player over the life of a contract and using that as the cap hit, the league will probably switch to the NBA model, which uses the compensation in each individual year.
Gone would be the massively front-loaded contracts of the Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk variety, and in its place would be more reasonable deals, without the burden of having to constrain deals to five years or less. The players could definitely agree to this, and the owners would be willing to work with it as well.
Contract structure limits. I think the NHL is going to adopt a term limit on new contracts, essentially ending these massively front-loaded career contracts that Luongo, Weber, and Kovalchuk have all signed. Teams will find a new way to manipulate the salary cap I am sure, but it won’t be through massive signing bonuses and extra years tacked on to the end of a contract.
You are starting a team tomorrow. You get to pick one goalie, one forward, and one defenseman. Age and salary matter. Who do you take?
If I were to start an NHL team tomorrow, then I’d go with a combination of Jakob Markstrom, John Tavares, and Alex Pietrangelo. Markstrom is close to being an NHL-ready netminder and is young enough to sign to a manageable contract once he completes his entry level contract. John Tavares, whose contract runs through the 2017-2018 NHL season is scheduled to make $33 Million over the course of his six-year deal. From 2014-2018, Tavares will have an annual salary of $6 Million, which is very attractive given the fact that the center is quickly developing into an elite talent in the NHL. Lastly, Alex Pietrangelo is quickly coming into his own as he has recorded 94 points over the last two seasons in St. Louis. Pietrangelo is entering the last year of his entry level contract and would likely demand a substantial increase in pay if he decides to become a free agent during the 2013 offseason. Pietrangelo would likely command a hefty payday, but a starting nucleus of Tavares, Pietrangelo, and Markstrom would provide any NHL franchise with some impressive building blocks.
Goalie: Carey Price – $6.5 million cap hit might be a bit high for a goalie that hasn’t won anything yet, but Price will become a superstar soon enough.
Forward: Taylor Hall – electric player with unbelievable upside signed to a long-term deal at $6 million.
Defenseman: Oliver Ekman-Larsson – A bit of a gamble with OEL since he’ll become a restricted free agent after next season. I’d still be willing to pay market value for him though. He’s the perfect skating defenseman in today’s NHL and his elite hockey sense and composure is so rare to see in a 21-year-old.
Forward: John Tavares
In this type of situation, it is extremely tempting to blow your entire salary cap on a dynamite forward, but if fiscal constraint is the name of your game, then there are few guys I’d rather have in this spot than Tavares. He is the recipient of a six year deal with the Islanders, and his $5.5 million annual cap hit is very reasonable to boot. Add in his 35-40 goal potential and his durability, and that’s an enticing package too good to pass up.
Defenseman: Keith Yandle
Entering the second year of a five year contract with an average cap hit of $5.25 million, Yandle is not only a bargain in today’s inflated market for blue liners, but also a dynamite offensive talent that provides a ton of punch on the back end. He is coming off a down year, but he is fully capable of bouncing back, and judging by his success in Dave Tippett’s system in the desert, he is a sound defensive player as well. Two-way guy with a decent contract? Yes please.
Goalie: Carey Price
Goalie was undoubtedly the trickiest position to pick, with a slew of long term deals to guys like Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick changing the landscape of the market. The Montreal Canadiens re-signed Price this off-season, and even though his cap hit is a bit high at $6.5 million, the shorter term of a five year deal is appealing. You know, in addition to the fact that he is a top-tier keeper who can single-handedly win games for his team. That’s a big plus too.
I’ll agree with Mr. Colligan and take Carey Price as my goaltender. He has the pedigree of a winner, and he has been through a lot off the ice in Montreal in recent years – he will be much stronger for it. Price recently signed a big money contract, but he will be worth every single penny of it for the Canadiens. I would be shocked if his name isn’t etched on to the Vezina Trophy multiple times before his career is over.
On defense, I’ll go with another player to sign a big contract this summer – Shea Weber. So long as I am not the owner who has to pay Weber his $13 million signing bonuses, I would be ecstatic to have the best defenseman in the NHL (who is still only 26 years old) locked up to a relatively reasonable cap hit (emphasis on cap hit) for the remainder of his career.
Up front – John Tavares. A future Art Ross Trophy winner signed to a $5.5 million contract for a few more years? Yes please. Most intriguing about Tavares has been his consistent improvement while playing for some awful Long Island clubs. Once the team gets on track, look out. He has quietly morphed into one of the best young leaders in the game, too.
Have a great topic or question you want debated in our next roundtable discussion? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.