Sick of Optimism: Why the NHL Offseason Is Both Wonderful and Terrible

Keith HarrisonContributor IIJuly 13, 2009

VANCOUVER, CANADA - OCTOBER 9:  Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks reacts after getting hit in the face by Mike Cammalleri #13 of the Calgary Flames during their game at General Motors Place October 9, 2008 in Vancouver, Canada.   (Photo by Nick Didlick/Getty Images)

The NHL offseason is a place where every team is in contention. Every move is brilliant, every player is that last piece of the puzzle.

When the Calgary Flames signed 25 year old defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to a five year 33 million dollar deal, I was ecstatic. Bouwmeester was one of the most sought after free agents on the market and will be playing in his prime with the Flames, compared to guys like Marian Hossa, who will be 42 when his deal expires.

With this pickup, the Flames, in my opinion, are the team to beat in the Northwest division and will definitely compete for the Stanley Cup.

At the same time, Vancouver Canuck fans have been so unbelievably happy to have the Sedin twins under contract, and for a shorter term than 12 years. They are convinced that this means Luongo will sign an extension, and that Vancouver will win the division again, and are destined to hoist their first Stanley Cup.

In Edmonton, the blow of losing Roloson was mollified by the signing of Khabibulin, and with the continued improvement of their young guys, will have a playoff spot come April.

Here is the thing. Every team, come September, believes they will be better. They can’t be worse. Impossible. Look at the money they spent, the trades they made, the players they drafted, and the prospects that are going to make the team.

I’m sick of it. So with that in mind, I will be demonstrating why the six Canadian teams will do worse this season than they did last year. I know I will be proven wrong with many of them, but for everyone one I’m right, the optimists are wrong.

Let’s start with the team that spent the most money—the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs had the most free-agents of all 30 teams, and had some needs to fill. Specifically, a big bodied center with some skill, and a big, mean shutdown defender. A goal scoring, crash and bang winger would have been nice as well.

Montreal went out and signed some great players, spent some huge money, and failed to fill a single one of those needs. They replaced small, skilled forwards with small, skilled forwards, albeit younger versions making more money.

Cammalleri, Gomez, and Gionta are all very talented players that have proven themselves in the NHL. They will all post decent numbers and be good players, but Montreal didn’t win with those kinds of players last year, and they won’t again.

Now, they aren’t going to suck, by any means, but at the same time they aren’t going to improve either. And nothing prevents a team from moving forward better than mediocrity. With so much salary tied up in those three players, that big center they need will be very difficult to find.

Next, the loss of Mike Komisarik will be a much bigger blow than most Habs’ fans believe. The signings of Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek will not replace him, and Hal Gill will quickly become hated, the way he was in Toronto. He fit in great with Pittsburgh, because they reduced his minutes and used him where he would fit best.

The Canadiens will limp into the playoffs again, and again, and again, never advancing, never sucking enough to get a top five pick that would truly land them a quality star.

Toronto has made some very good moves. Very good. They will establish a great base for the team to improve. In four or five years, Toronto will be competitive. Definitely not next year, or the year after.

They will be better on the back end, but without the goals and with all that youth, it is going to be a tough year. They will lose 3-2 and 2-1 this year, instead of 5-4 and 4-3. Thankfully, it is part of a plan, and Burke isn’t pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes on that one.

Ottawa got sucker punched by Dany Heatley, and knew that without him wanting to be there, and without any GM offering to overpay for him, the return wasn’t going to be stellar. Alex Kovalev comes in, undermotivated and overpaid, as usual, and the team still gets worse. They didn’t do well last season, and with their best player not interested and potentially on his way out of town, they aren’t going to do well this year.

Edmonton had to give a 36 year old goaltender a four year contract when their 39 year old goalie left town. Since the lockout, the Bulin wall has had one good season, in a contract year. His motivation will be questioned the whole time he is an Oiler.

The new coaches and the young players give this team hope, but with Heatley’s rejection and the inability to attract free agents, this team probably won’t see any improvement this season.

Vancouver’s resigning of the Sedins saved their season, according to fans. They seem to have skated over the fact that their best defender has bolted to Tampa (sorry about the pun, couldn’t help it).

Salo is a very good player for a band-aid, but with no player on the roster or the farm ready to step into Ohlund’s role, the Canucks aren’t going anywhere. No one new to step in, and the only major signings were resignings. The hope is very misplaced on the coast.

Calgary signed the best UFA available in many people’s eyes. A blueline of Bouwmeester, Regehr, and Phaneuf is the envy of the league. However, last season was the first season in nearly 10 years that Jarome Iginla didn’t lead the Flames in goals, and the player that did, Mike Cammalleri, is gone. Bertuzzi and Aucoin aren’t around anymore either, meaning the Flames have to come up with 64 goals, 28 of them on the powerplay.

Now, a full season of Jokinen and Bouwmeester will provide some goals, but that offense has to come from somewhere. Counting on young players to step up is Calgary’s only option, as they have no cap room to speak of, and counting on young players to fill a role is never a safe bet.

I fully expect Calgary and Montreal to be the only Canadian teams to make the playoffs, though I wouldn’t be shocked if Vancouver limped in.

Only two of six Canadian teams. Unless you ask the fans of each one of those teams. Then all six, and all 24 American franchises, will be hoisting hockey’s Holy Grail come June.