NHL: General Managers Trying To Tweak Lineups

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IOctober 19, 2009

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 01:  Colby Armstrong #20 of the Pittsburgh Penguins challenges Maxim Afinegenov #61 of the Buffalo Sabres during the NHL Winter Classic at the Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 1, 2008 in Orchard Park, New York.  The Penguins won the game 2-1 in a shoot out.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

I'm a big fan of general managers in hockey who are trying to get it done.

I lived through the 80s in Calgary where there was a constant push to make the team better. They needed to compete with the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, arguably one of the best teams in hockey, and they always tried to do that. I also lived through the Craig Button, Doug Risebourough, and Al Coates 90s where the Flames were dumping salary and talent as fast as they could. They did give us a new uniform and slogan every year. I believe my favourite tandem was the flaming horse and "All Out Every Shift." 

Given the choice I'll take an organization and management that's always trying to improve the team. It's tougher in today's salary cap environment. Teams are limited by salary. If their team gets too good, or if their players all get good at once they can be seriously limited by the salary cap. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks.

The following are three little moves that GM's have made recently. They're the type of move teams need to make addressing weaknesses in a cost-effective manner. I like to see these moves because it shows the organization is paying attention and is trying to improve the team.

Bob Gainey spent the off-season doing nothing but making moves. The complete reworking of the line-up has the team looking marginally worse then when he started. Then Andre Markov, Montreals best defenseman, went down with an achilles tendon injury. He's out for four to five months. Last year when Markov and Komisarek were injured, the Habs couldn't buy a win. There's been a need in Montreal for a first-rate power play quarterback since Souray left.

Finally Gainey went out and signed Marc Andre Bergeron. Bergeron is a smallish, one dimensional offensive defenseman who has always seemed like a perfect fit in Montreal. The speedy point man scored fifteen goals as a rookie with Edmonton and helped them in their run to the cup that year. Since then, he's had trouble hooking on with teams. He seems to be the defensive equivalent of Ted Nolan. He's good at what he does, but nobody wants him. Edmonton, the Islanders, Anaheim, and Minnesota have all let him go. Montreal has picked him up for $750,000 for one year. He scored fourteen goals with Minnesota last year and has to help Montreal's power play.

If the swift skating playmaker manages to move the puck out of his own zone he should provide a nice counter-point to the glaciar-like Gill. I'm not thrilled with Gainey's ability to evaluate talent but I like this move. It addresses several Montreal weaknesses and is a low cost, low risk addition.

Randy Sexton was finally pegged in as the Florida Panthers general manager. Despite having no one in that position during the off-season Florida didn't have a terrible off-season. The Craig Anderson loss and Scott Clemmenson gain will hopefully be a wash for them. I'm no Leopold fan but I like the signing of playoff hero Dennis Seidenberg away from division rival Carolina.

Once Randy Sexton came on board, he ran out and signed Dominic Moore for $1.1 million a year. Dominic is a credible checking forward with some offensive skills. Stick him with Steve Reinprecht and you've got two thirds of a very good shut-down line with counter attack ability. Florida was the worst defensive team in hockey last year giving up the most shots per game. They were bailed out by great goaltending by Vokoun and Anderson. A defensive improvement can be expected when a good quick shut-down line is put together to neutralize other teams scorers.

Especially in the Southeast Division where your divisional opponents tend to rely heavily on one big line, Staal in Carolina, Lecavilier in Tampa Bay, Kovalchuk in Atlanta, Ovechkin in Washington, a checking line should pay dividends. This was a nice job by Sexton evaluating weakness and trying to plug the hole cheap.

Finally Don Wadell in Atlanta understands it's crucial for his organization to hang on to star Ilya Kovalchuk. During the off-season they picked up expensive power play quarterback Pavel Kubina. They also signed and over paid for Ilya's buddy Nik Antropov. Wadell could have stopped there but he's gone out and picked up ex-Sabre Maxim Afinegenov. At one point in his career Maxim looked like a young Alex Mogilny. He wasn't scoring a lot of goals but ninety percent of them were on the highlight reels. Afinegnov is fast and he scores more end to end rush goals then almost any player in the league. Unfortunately it turns out that his ability to finish is limited. His career trajectory has been more like Sergei Samsonov's then Alex Mogilny's. After a couple of point a game seasons in Buffalo he's become a half point a game offensive player and played himself off the team. The good news is he's still a streak on skates with a ton of moves. Playing with someone like Kovalchuk who could finish rushes for him can only help. His speed will give Kovalchuk another offensive threat to play with. He can back defenseman down and create openings with that speed and talent. He only costs $800,000 so if it doesn't work out it's no huge loss.

None of these are big crucial deals but I like them. They address team needs for an offensive defenseman, a checker who can score, and another offensive threat to play with your star. These deals are cost effective and short term so there's no huge financial risk being taken on. All three of these teams have spent fifty three million dollars or more against the cap and so are hard-pressed to make player moves to improve their team. These teams and their GM's have managed to, I believe, improve their teams despite that. Good for them.                   


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.