Quick Hits: NHL Edition

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The league and the players association are meeting in New York today to work on a deal and reports say it is still not going well with the latest NHLPA proposal being scoffed at by the NHL. Maybe some real hockey talk (with not one mention of a work stoppage) would be a relief to you fan as this week Sean Meyers and Patrick Williams take on the NHL and discuss some happenings around the league in their Quick Hits segment.

1).          What do you think has been the biggest off season surprise so far this year?

Suter and Parise at their Wild press conference after signing lucrative deals

Sean Meyers:

The biggest surprise to me has been small-market, lesser known teams making the biggest splash in free-agency.  Obviously Minnesota outbidding elite teams like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia for the services for Parise and Suter was a shocker.  Carolina made significant moves as well, starting with the acquisition of Jordan Staal at the NHL draft, and culminating with the signing of Alexander Semin recently.  This season is likely to be one of the most competitive ever from top to bottom.

Patrick Williams:

For me, the biggest surprise has to be Minnesota landing both Suter and Parise.  They wanted to make a name for themselves and they certainly have done that.  I certainly saw Detroit throwing bank at Suter to try and replace team captain Nik Lidstrom on the back end.  The Carolina deal to get Staal was a great pick-up, but I was surprised Pittsburgh didn’t wait until later in the year to move the two-way center.  I thought they could have got more value closer to the deadline and perhaps even worked out a deal.  At the end I was shocked that he took the same deal Ray Shero had offered him to play alongside his brother in Carolina.  I think signing Semin for one year at that price was a good move, too.  It is low risk and high reward with not having the long term deal in case he doesn’t put forth the effort that he is capable of.

2).            Shane Doan reportedly was seeking a 4 year deal worth $30 million.  At 35 is the gritty forward worth that kind of deal or was he just hoping that a team would overpay for his services with so little being left in the free agency pool?

SM:
Of course he is not worth that much, but many of the players who have signed lucrative contracts his offseason have not been worth what they received.  It’s hard to name many contracts over the past month that could be considered a bargain.  In years past, I would have penciled Doan in for around $4-$5 million per season if he were to hit the market.  With numerous Cup contenders failing to make a move thus far, it wouldn’t have shocked me if one of them would have grossly overpaid for Doan.  I would have guessed it might be more along the lines of 3 years $20 million if he hadn’t returned to the desert.

PW:
There is no way he is worth that type of money.  While I am not certain he was trying to play the market and be the last man standing worth signing (pretty sure he wanted to stay in Phoenix the whole time), I will say that it all played out in his favor.  To me he is just a glorified Ryan Smyth, gritty vet with some hands still.  Overpaid for what he actually brings to the table, he is a role player at this point, even though he is still a vital part of the Coyotes plans.  I was certainly glad when the Penguins did not ink him to a long term deal.  He is a short term solution to a long term issue in Pittsburgh and that contract would not have been cap friendly to them.

3).            How do the Red Wings replace Nik Lidstrom?

7 time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom retired this past offseason.

SM:
Nicklas Lidstrom is very likely the second-best blue liner in NHL history, and obviously cannot be replaced.  Detroit had a concrete plan in place to help ease of loss of Lidstrom, however.  Detroit had the cap space to sign Ryan Suter, and for months the Wings seemed to be the likely destination of the Nashville stalwart.  When that plan failed, Detroit apparently turned its attention to restricted free-agent Shea Weber, but also lost out on his services.  That means Detroit is now on its “Plan C”, which would likely mean acquiring a defenseman via trade. Keith Yandle and Jay Bouwmeester could be targets, although Detroit would likely have to move a number of young prospects or draft picks to acquire either player.

As far as in-house replacements, Nicklas Kronwall is going to be the #1 guy for the Wings, as he has proven capable both offensively and defensively of playing at an elite level.  The Wings have a group of solid but not spectacular defenseman, including Ian White, Kyle Quincey, and Jonathan Ericsson.  Youngster Brendan Smith could be the X-factor for Detroit, as he has been the top prospect in the system for the past few years, and will get a chance to play on a regular basis this season.  Smith should immediately play a role on the power play, and could eventually end up on the top pairing if Detroit fails to make a significant move.

PW:
They can’t and won’t.  There is not a player in the league that is like Lidstrom at this point.  Chara is one of those game changers that logs the minutes and produces and can defend comparable to the numbers Lidstrom would put up, but plays a totally different style of game.   For the Wings it will be defense by committee in moving forward without the Swede.  But Hockeytown will never be the same without number 5 working the point.  Detroit will still make the playoffs, they always find a way to do that, but with the aging stars and inconsistent goaltending they will not be favored to win a cup in the near future, in my mind.

4).            With 4 teams making the playoffs this past year, including Stanley Cup finalist New Jersey, is the Atlantic Division the toughest division in hockey right now?  How do you see the standings for 2012-13 ending up in the Atlantic?

Can Henrik Lundqvist backstop the Blue Shirts to their first Cup since 1994?

SM:
I actually thought the Central was the toughest division in hockey last year, although there was just a marginal difference between it and the Atlantic.  That being said, with the relative failures of the Central teams in the playoffs last season, and the lack of impact moves this offseason, the Atlantic could very well be the toughest, most competitive division this season.  I think the Rangers, Pens, and Flyers will all still be favorites to win the east, although I think New Jersey takes a major step backwards.  In predicting the standings for the Atlantic, I would put the Pens on top, followed by the Rangers, Flyers, Devils, and Islanders.

PW:
I disagree with Sean here.  I do believe the Atlantic is the strongest division top to bottom in hockey right now.  The Devils did surprise me and I do not see them being able to replicate that kind of run this season with the loss of Parise, of course.  However, I think the Rangers are the team to beat.  The goaltending in the Atlantic has some premier talent and it all starts with King Henrik in the Big Apple.  The young blue liners and scoring addition in Nash should round out the Rangers to what could be a President’s Trophy.

I see the Flyers taking second this season and Pittsburgh is a tough call.  If they stay healthy and can rotate in Vokoun in the pipes on the regular they have a chance to challenge the Flyers for the second spot.  Those are big ifs, though.  The Islanders are tough to get a gauge on as it is hard to tell what direction that management is heading in at any given time.  But I like the young talent and top end speed they possess on Long Island.  They should not be the laughing stock of the Eastern Conference and will start moving to challenge for a playoff spot in the upcoming years, perhaps by the time they move into their new digs in Brooklyn.  Still, I see them finishing in last for this season, just behind the Devils.

5).            Did the Nashville Predators do the right thing in matching the Flyers offer on restricted free agent and team captain Shea Weber?

SM:
In my view, Nashville had no choice but to match any offer Weber signed.  In comparison to what many other players are being paid, the cap hit for his contract is not unreasonable.  Obviously the length and the amount of money paid up front certainly will prove costly to the Preds.  Weber is truly the face of that franchise, however, and losing him would have ending any Stanley Cup aspirations for the foreseeable future.

PW:
That is a tough call.  I believe Weber is entering his prime, and apparently so did the Flyers and Predators.   I feel it is sketchy, at best, to sign any player to that type of long term deal.  Yes, the Preds were backed into a corner by having the notion of losing their franchise player, and perhaps their franchise as a result, but 4 first round picks could help any team in the long run.  And then there is the mindset of not knowing if Shea actually wants to be in Nashville at this point.  There is nothing like having a disgruntled superstar in your locker room on a nightly basis.  Regardless, the Preds are kind of screwed over after losing Suter and will probably take a step back in competing for the cup in the coming years unless they can make a splash in the free agent market next year or pull off a solid trade.  If their goaltending doesn’t hold up then look out!  It will be a mess and quickly turn into a rebuild down there.  That being said, I can’t say it was a mistake to keep Weber, but the whole thing certainly was and is a mess.

6).            The league is discussing some potential rule changes in the near future, such as going to a no-touch icing format.  What are some of the things that you wish the NHL would alter in their rulebook?

Some goalies, like Broduer, have made a career out of playing the puck.

SM:
I don’t have many significant complaints about the current NHL rulebook, although I would eradicate the trapezoid behind the goals. This rule just seems to confuse fans, especially ones who are new to the sport.  For what it’s worth, I would stick with the current icing rules, even though I understand it potentially results in more injuries.  Many fans and experts have debated fighting in the NHL, and I certainly would like to see a reduction in the number of fights, and the elimination of “goons” in hockey.  That being said, I don’t think any one rule will result in this, and it needs to be more of a systematic change in mentality not only through the entire league, but the sport in general.

PW:
I can agree with Sean on most of his sentiments here.  I have an utter disdain for the trapezoid and have from the day it was brought up and implemented.  You have these stellar athletes in goal and to not allow them to play the puck behind their own goal line in certain areas is insane to me.  Why handcuff talent when that is what you should be trying to show off?  On the opposite end of the spectrum you still have goalies that think they can handle a puck and simply are a train wreck to watch outside of their crease.  These goaltenders are great for the game too because they tend to lead to more offense by giving up costly turnovers in their own zone… think Hasek.  At the very least they should allow the goalies to go out and play the puck when on the power play and the opposing team clears the puck to the corners.  Why reward the short-handed team by disallowing an easy breakout by the team with the advantage?

Other than that I would take a look at a few other things and try some stuff out with icing in the AHL to see if there is a better way that eliminates dangerous contact in racing for a loose puck, but my views are old school and I feel icing is pretty much fine how it is and fighting serves a self-governing purpose in the game still.  Perhaps I would make sure penalties in overtime during the regular season are not a full 2 minutes in length as I feel that a ticky-tac call often results in deciding the game in those situations.

Well, that’s it for now, kids.  Hopefully we wet the taste buds for some actual hockey talk instead of the aggravating news that has dominated the leagues headlines the past few months.  We didn’t wish for you to miss it any more as a result, but perhaps this will be the spark needed to getting something done in the negotiations and we see some action on the actual ice soon.  Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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About willi33

An avid sports enthusiast and long time writer on all things sports, Patrick Williams brings an opinionated, yet informative viewpoint to the table. A life around professional, collegiate, and recreational sports has provided Patrick the background and inspirations for his topics.
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