O Canada: The Big Splash Each Canadian NHL Franchise Needs to Make
After a fairly lengthy and, to be frank, unexpected hiatus, I’m back! With university taking up the majority of my time, and thus putting paid to my idea of educating hockey fans about the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I have decided on a new tack.
With just four teams left in the playoffs soon, and rumours swirling around the Internet about an imminent return of the Winnipeg Jets, I have decided to mention one move that I think each of the six current teams north of the border need to make in order to take the step towards becoming relevant again. All numbers are according to Capgeek.
To be clear, these scenarios are just my opinion on what I think makes the most sense from each team’s point of view—not what I think will definitely happen. To present things from a neutral point of view, the order of teams will be presented geographically from west to east. Enjoy!
Vancouver Canucks: Re-Sign Christian Ehrhoff or Kevin Bieksa
UFAs: Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo, Andrew Alberts, Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, Tanner Glass, Jeff Tambellini
RFAs: Lee Sweatt, Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen
Leading San Jose 2-0 in the Western Conference finals and the No. 1 team in the regular season, the Canucks are easily Canada’s most successful team this season. They are strong in goal, with a franchise goalie and a potential franchise goalie, a solid defensive corps and are stacked at forward. They seem to be this year’s version of the Chicago Blackhawks; seemingly destined for the Cup with cap problems at the end of it.
Although, admittedly, they have nowhere near the issues the Blackhawks had last season. But with Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa both unrestricted free agents and looking for big pay hikes, something has to give.
Christian Ehrhoff: 79 GP, 14 G, 36 A, 52 PIM
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $3.1 million
Kevin Bieksa: 66 GP, 6 G, 16 A, 73 PIM
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $3.75 million
Both men are defensemen who are breaking out these playoffs, although that’s where the similarities end. Ehrhoff is clearly more of an offensive defenseman who can play a solid two-way game, whereas Bieksa has created a niche in Vancouver’s top four alongside Dan Hamhuis in a shutdown pairing role. And that is where, if I were Vancouver GM Mike Gillis (which I’m not for obvious reasons), I’d be taking Ehrhoff over Bieksa.
Ehrhoff provides the offensive presence that no one else, bar the oft-injured Keith Ballard, does in the Vancouver lineup. Not only has Ehrhoff never missed more than five games in a season since playing in 64 games with San Jose in his first full-time season in the NHL, but the shutdown presence of Hamhuis renders Bieksa’s loss tolerable.
Both men’s numbers this season are fairly consistent with their still short NHL careers. Both will probably be looking for multi-year contracts in the $4.5-$5 million per season range. Both are arguably worth the money and, if Vancouver had a little more cap space, it would be a no-brainer to give them both the raise they deserve.
But with other players needing new contracts and $45.6 million committed to just 13 players next season, in my opinion one has to go—unfortunately, that man would appear to be Bieksa.
CONCLUSION: Vancouver re-signs Christian Ehrhoff (four years, $20 million, no-trade clause).
Calgary Flames: Shed Some Salary, Draft Mark McNeill
UFAs: Henrik Karlsson, Steve Staois, Anton Babchuk, Adam Pardy, Brett Carson, Alex Tanguay, Fredrik Modin, Brendan Morrison
RFAs: Brendan Mikkelson
This is pretty ambitious, I know, but bear with me. Only one RFA demonstrates the problem facing the Calgary Flames. They have a decent squad capable of challenging for the final playoff spot but they are a veteran team. Although, once a team is in the playoffs, who knows what can happen?
With Curtis Glencross recently signing a long-term deal in Calgary, and GM Jay Feaster stating that re-signing Alex Tanguay is a priority, the Flames are clearly not in the rebuild-now-for-results-later mindset.
But with $55.8 million committed to 17 players next year, the Flames clearly need some cap relief. And that’s not including Ales Kotalik, who will either spend next season in the AHL with the Abbotford Heat or be loaned out to a KHL team.
Having already waived Niklas Hagman this year, it’s possible that he’s loaned out to the KHL as well. Like Kotalik, he has one year remaining on a deal paying him $3 million per season. Injury-prone veteran centre Daymond Langkow, earning $4.5 million next season, could be a prime candidate for a buyout.
Although no team in their right mind will take Matt Stajan’s contract off Calgary’s hands, teams needing to reach the cap floor might be persuaded to on the final year of Olli Jokinen’s deal that will pay him $3 million. Although Jokinen’s no-trade clause could complicate matters, if Calgary management hint that his services are no longer required, he’ll probably waive it—or he could just be waived himself.
Calgary do not own a second, third or seventh-round pick in June’s draft. However, they do hold the No. 13 overall pick. With no other high picks or expendable young roster players, facilitating a trade could be difficult. But that isn’t a problem for the Flames—right around where they are picking is a talented, two-way centre out of the Prince George Raiders of the WHL, Mark McNeill.
Known for both his strong physical play and his goalscoring exploits, the 6’2", 210-pound McNeill scored 32 goals in the WHL this season. Calgary have been crying out for a centre partner to play with Iginla for years. Young prospects such as Mikael Backlund and Max Reinhart have top-six potential but neither are first-line worthy. McNeill might just be that and, although he would probably require another year in juniors, chances are that with his frame he could bypass the AHL and jump straight into The Show in time for the 2012-2013 season.
CONCLUSION: Calgary loan Ales Kotalik and Niklas Hagman to the KHL, buyout the final year of Daymond Langkow’s contract ($1.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons), either waive or trade Olli Jokinen and select Mark McNeill with the thirteenth overall selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Edmonton Oilers: Draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
UFAs: Jim Vandermeer, Jason Strudwick, Ryan Jones, Steve MacIntyre
RFAs: Ladislav Smid, Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham, Andrew Cogliano, JF Jacques, Liam Reddox
So it's been said already. Some Oilers fans want Nugent-Hopkins. Others want Skelleftea's Adam Larsson. But for me, this decision really is a no-brainer.
Quality defensemen like Joseph Morrow, David Musil and Jonas Brodin will likely be available when the Oilers pick again, with Los Angeles’ pick at No. 19 (Jamie Oleksiak could even drop that far, although it’s unlikely). Taking a centre with top-line star potential to go with perhaps the most talented group of young forwards in the league is a solid decision.
While some scouts have compared Nugent-Hopkins to Joe Sakic or Brad Richards, it’s important to note that, like Brian Burke said, "There are no headliners in this draft, no Ovechkins, no Sedins." But there is good depth and there is good talent. And having a player compared to Sakic or Richards, playing between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, would be no bad thing for Edmonton.
CONCLUSION: With the first overall selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Edmonton Oilers are proud to pick from the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Trade Up in the Draft for Matt Puempel
UFAs: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Fredrik Sjostrom, Tim Brent, Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb, Jay Rosehill
RFAs: James Reimer, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, Matt Lashoff, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur
With all the trade speculation swirling around the Leafs and a bevy of first-line centres, whether it be Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Brad Richards, Steve Stamkos, Zach Parise, Jordan Staal, Paul Stastny or Stephen Weiss, I thought I’d take a different tack. Everyone knows that Brian Burke’s first offseason priority is to acquire a No. 1 centre.
But what will he do after that to shock the hockey world? Well, how about drafting Matthew Puempel? Although the Maple Leafs seem to have their top four wingers set (Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur/Nazem Kadri), Burke is always looking for ways to improve his team.
The addition of Puempel would be exactly that. Maple Leaf fans: A Phil Kessel who goes to dirty spots along the board to get the puck and crashes the net for goals as well as sniping at least 30-plus pretty goals? No one would say no.
He has been described as the best pure goal-scorer in the draft. This means better than Nugent-Hopkins, better than Landeskog, better than Couturier, better than Huberdeau. It goes without saying that a potential star like this would be gladly welcomed in Toronto. But why has he fallen? Two reasons: major injury and inconsistency.
Now normally those two issues alone would be enough for teams to steer clear of a player, but with no high-end pick, Burke needs to hit a home run. Puempel has never been accused of being lazy, just inconsistent. He’s still young; he can learn.
Remember, he scored 30 goals in both of his OHL seasons on a very bad Peterborough team, the second season shortened by injury. He was also CHL rookie of the year in 2010 and was a consensus top 10 draft pick—in some cases, even top five before his injury. What about the injury? Well, he was operated on by world-renowned hip surgeon, Dr. Marc Philippon. Not a bad recommendation.
Some scouting lists have Puempel dropping all the way down to the mid-twenties. Me, I’m not so sure about that. I’d say out of Puempel and Brandon Saad (another very highly-rated prospect who’s seen his draft stock fall) both would be available in the mid-teens, but not after that. So Brian Burke would have to trade up and, if I were Burke, to be sure about drafting Puempel, I’d be targeting the New York Rangers' No. 15 pick overall.
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Maple Leafs: New York Rangers 2011 first-round draft pick (No. 15 overall).
Rangers: Philadelphia's 2011 first-round draft pick (No. 25 overall), Boston's 2011 first-round draft pick (No. 27, No. 29 or No. 30 overall), RFA rights to Clarke MacArthur (I’m confident Kadri can take his spot on Grabovski’s wing and the Rangers need more scoring), Jussi Rynnas (highly-rated goalie prospect and the Leafs have a ton of those... something has to give).
CONCLUSION: With the 15th overall selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs are pleased to select from the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, Matthew Puempel.
Ottawa Senators: Draft Gabriel Landeskog
UFAs: Pascal Leclaire, Curtis McElhinney, Marek Svatos, Ryan Shannon, Francis Lessard
RFAs: None to speak of. A clear demonstration of the Senators veteran age group and roster flexibility. It also means that their young talent are still either on entry level contracts or locked up to long-term deals.
A given really. The Senators need leadership and forward prospects. Landeskog, a boyhood Senators fan, fits the bill. Now I believe that Landeskog will either go to Colorado at No. 2 or he will fall to Ottawa at No. 6. And Colorado won’t trade the second-overall selection, so the best thing for Bryan Murray to do is to stand pat.
I personally think that Colorado will take Adam Larsson for a mean-and-nasty star defensive pairing with Erik Johnson. I have Sean Couturier going to Florida (based on his talent and Panthers GM Dale Tallon’s penchant for drafting big, skilled North American forwards: see the Chicago Blackhawks as an example) and Jonathan Huberdeau and Dougie Hamilton to New Jersey/New York Islanders. I’m not sure in which order. That leaves Landeskog to Bryan Murray and the Ottawa Senators.
CONCLUSION: With the sixth overall selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Ottawa Senators are delighted to select from the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, Gabriel Landeskog.
Montreal Canadiens: Re-Sign James Wisniewski
UFAs: Alex Auld, Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Brent Sopel, Hal Gill, Paul Mara, Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche
RFAs: Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber, Alexandre Picard, Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Max Pacorietty, Ryan White, David Desharnais, Tom Pyatt
James Wisniewski: 75 GP, 10 G, 51 A, 48 PIM
2010-2011 Cap Hit: $3.25 million
Look at the sheer number of players coming off contract in Montreal. The Canadiens are in cap trouble, make no mistake about that. Everyone knows Montreal are stuck paying Scott Gomez $7.3 million for each of the next three NHL seasons. And that salary number has an impact on who GM Pierre Gauthier can re-sign and what he can do on July 1.
With Jaroslav Spacek and P.K Subban the only defensemen under contract for next season, the Canadiens need to make solid two-way defenseman James Wisniewski their No. 1 priority.
After being awarded $3.25 million for the 2010-2011 season by the arbitrator last offseason, Wisniewski was acquired by the Islanders for a third-round pick in this year’s draft. In the middle of a breakout season offensively, while continuing to be tough as nails defensively, he was traded to Montreal for a second-round pick in this year’s draft. Good dealing on the part of Isles GM Garth Snow and kudos to Gauthier, for identifying a player who would give an injury-hit Montreal a definite upgrade.
Although the entire defensive unit needs to be addressed before July 1, locking up Wisniewski long-term should be and will be the No. 1 priority for Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.
RESULT: Montreal re-sign James Wisniewski (four years, $18 million, no-trade clause).
Well, there you have it. Some will agree and, in the nature of good old-fashioned debate, I’d say rather more will disagree! Feel free to express your opinions in the comments below or leave a comment on my profile page because, as always, it’s great to have feedback from fellow sports fanatics!