If the Nashville Predators truly had any interest in winning, they had to match Philadelphia’s offer sheet for Shea Weber. No question.
The match was a pivotal move for the club, and one the team itself described as “the most important hockey transaction in franchise history“.
Even after matching the Philadelphia Flyers’ offer sheet of $110 million (hold on, they were gonna pay him how much to play hockey? Wait, Nashville IS paying him that much??) over 14 years (third longest in NHL history; second highest total value), the Nashville Predators still retain plenty of bankroll breathing room – they’re only 24th in league payroll, with nearly $16.5 million in cap space still available. So yeah, they did have to match Philly’s offer for their captain/best player. They NEED him, plus financially, it’s not like they had to move money around to make it work – they straight up could afford it.
If Nashville didn’t match, the Predators likely would have sunk this season, save for Pekka Rinne again playing out of his mind all year, this though without an all-star bolstered blue-line anymore. And you can’t expect a hot goalie to play in front of that kind of mediocrity for long before he also joins the mass exodus in an effort to actually win somewhere.
Additionally take into account the roster exits the Predators do have to address — Radulov back to the KHL, and Jordin Tootoo to Detroit – also subtract Weber, and Smashville’s roster wouldn’t exactly have looked primed to improve on its Conference semi-final appearance last season.
And the message sent to fans and fellow players would have been one to the tune that the Predators really weren’t all that committed to success – that they weren’t willing to do what’s necessary to keep top talent that has proven their ability to help the team win, on the team; that they’re ok with just seeing how far they can go with what they have on hand. That’s not a message anyone can get behind.
If Philadelphia did indeed acquire Weber as hoped, then as Nashville would likely fall, the Flyers would likely rise in return – perhaps even enough to finally get them over the Cup hump. They’ve got scoring, they’ve got goaltending (in Bryzgalov, somewhere, I’m sure of it. The guy just needs to come back to earth), and they have defence too – but Weber could have been the perfect replacement for Chris Pronger, whose future remains in jeopardy after injuries sustained last season. Though he gives up two inches in height and eleven years of NHL experience, Weber’s eleven years younger, faster, heavier, shoots harder (multi-time runner up to Zdeno Chara for league’s hardest shot) has nearly as much experience as Nashville’s captain as Pronger has as Philadelphia’s, and even a little bit of crazy (see: Zetterberg head smash) in him, just like Pronger, and he can score from the concession stand if he has to (much to the chagrin of all Nashville’s healthy scratches). I can’t see that being anything but a smooth swap – and even more potent if Pronger manages to return.
But Nashville did match. And they still have Weber. For a really long time. But 14 years ought to be long enough to find someone he can move the puck to (Alexander Semin, anyone?), and to build a better team around him, and Rinne. And if for some reason it doesn’t work out, they can trade him after a year, as Weber has no NTC built into his deal. Tough salary slack for another team to absorb, but their “out” is there. The match meant the Predators kept a pivotal player, their team leader, around 50 points a year, and it sent the right message to their team and fans. Good move, Nashville.
There are plenty of legit reasons that could make a person believe the Philadelphia Flyers should have won the Stanley Cup this year.
At the time of their elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils this year, the Flyers had the leading goals (tied with teammate Briere – 8), assists, and points scorer of the playoffs on their roster (Giroux 8g, 9a, 17pts); as well as second place in playoff assists, Jakub Voracek (8), second place in playoff points (Briere — 13), two players tied for the lead in playoff powerplay goals (Giroux, Hartnell – 3), one player tied for the lead in playoff short-handed goals (Giroux – 2), and two players tied for the lead in overtime goals (Briere, Voracek – 1). And in the second round, all this firepower was being directed at a goaltender that turned 40 years old during the series. Mind you, that old goalie is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, holder of more than 20 goaltending records, and wears the best looking blocker in the league, but I digress.
As a team, the Flyers had the number one rated power play (35.7%), scoring on 15 of 42 opportunities – that’s 6 more man-advantage goals than the second place team – and were second in goals for; only behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who they disposed of in the first round.
With two of five games in the series being decided by one goal, another two of five being won by two goals, and even in the lopsided game 2 that New Jersey won by three, you’d think offensive numbers like these would have been more influential, and in Philadelphia’s favor.
So what in the world went wrong?
Goaltending, right? It always comes down to goaltending with the Flyers, it had to be that again, right? Well, as it turns out, yeah it kinda was.
Remember when Philadelphia allegedly cured their goaltending ailment by signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51 million contract that maxed out their salary cap allowance? How’d he do? Dead last in goals against amongst goaltenders in the playoffs, with 37 on 326 shots he faced. The second worse, Braden Holtby of Washington, faced more than 100 more shots (albeit playing in two more games) and let in 9 less goals. More importantly, Martin Brodeur let in 12 less. Out of 23 goalies recording statistics in the playoffs, Bryzgalov placed 19th in GAA (3.46) and save percentage (.887%), and Philly’s backup Sergei Bobrovsky finished 23rd in GAA (8.11) and 21st in save percentage (.722%) [to be fair, Bobrovsky only appeared in one game]; meanwhile, Brodeur is currently pitching a 2.05/.920%. Bryz was so bad, he’s not even being invited to play for Russia at the IIHF World Championships — a tournament where participating national teams clamber for all the available NHL talent they can acquire in an attempt to legitimize their team and an overall watered down talent pool that is somehow allowed to influence world rankings – holding fast with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov as their starter, and backing him up with two KHL goaltenders, despite Bryzgalov’s availability [also to be fair, much of the NHL’s top talent turns down the opportunity to play in this tournament for various reasons, and is unsubstantiated that he would have gone, even if invited].
Additionally, it didn’t help having Claude Giroux, leader of basically every offensive statistical category in the playoffs, suspended for the series-deciding game five, after a head hit he dished out in game four. Some may argue though, that while facing a 3-1 series deficit to the Devils, the series may have already been over for the Flyers. The on-ice absence of Philadelphia’s captain Chris Pronger was unquestionably missed as well.
Some may argue still the Flyers felt the relocation of former captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who have both become substantial contributors to the success of the Los Angeles Kings, more so than the acquisition of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and even Jaromir Jagr.
Whatever you want to pin it on, it’s back to the drawing board once again for the Flyers. They again bow out of the running for the Stanley Cup early, and now make it 37 years since their last Cup victory. At this point, after acquiring a highly touted goaltender and a bona fide offence, it’s got to feel like they gave all the right answers, and then someone changed the questions for that franchise. I can’t imagine it’s anything short of frustrating for all those involved. I wouldn’t blame Peter Laviolette is he felt like doing this with a real hammer. I regret having to say we’ve heard the last rendition of Mac Miller’s “Knock Knock” in the Flyers’ dressing room for another season.
by Peter Nygaard (follow him on Twitter)
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)
- The Issues:
No Kid Left Behind — After taking an elbow to the head from David Krejci, Sidney Crosby looked like he might never return to the Sid “the in-his-mid-20s Kid” we had seen earn the title of best hockey player in the world. However, since returning on the ides of March, Crosby has returned to form, tallying 25 points in 14 games. With Crosby sidelined, the Penguins were still one of the better teams in the NHL. With a healthy Crosby and the NHL’s leading scorer Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh is downright terrifying.
- Socialized Healthcare — The Penguins were among the NHL leaders in man games lost to injury. Crosby’s 60-game absence was the most notable, but the Penguins missed Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Tyler Kennedy and Zbynek Michalek for a combined 93 games as well. All five will be healthy for the series opener.
- Political Dirt:
Arguably the NHL’s most reviled player for the past few years, Matt Cooke spent the offseason working with coach Dan Bylsma trying to ‘reform’ his game. Surprisingly, Cooke has drastically cut down on his penalty minutes and was even Pittsburgh’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Sounds a little too good to be true, right?
- Campaign Promises:
If elected, the Penguins promise to drum up more fan interest and vitriol than any other team in the NHL. Pittsburgh isn’t a big market, but ask any casual fan who Sidney Crosby is, and you’re unlikely to get a blank stare. You may hate to see them succeed, but it’s good for the game.
- The Issues:
Russian Diplomacy — When the Flyers inked Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract, they hoped he would be the $51 million answer to their long-standing goaltending question. Instead, Bryz has only made the situation murkier. The enigmatic Russian’s performance level has dipped up and down, while backup Sergei Bobrovsky has had his moments but struggled with consistency as well. With so much money invested in Bryzgalov, it will be tough to give him the hook, but coach Peter Laviolette won a Stanley Cup in Carolina after dropping the veteran starter for a younger, less-experienced netminder.
- Space Exploration — Take it away, Ilya.
- Political Dirt:
When a team trades away its entire leadership core to bring in a guy who played his way onto the bench during the regular season, it’s usually time to cash out.
- Campaign Promises:
If elected, the Flyers plan to do what they do best in the playoffs and serve as foil for somebody else’s run to the Stanley Cup. “Ever the bridesmaids, never the brides” seems to be the mantra for this organization.
Vote For: Pittsburgh Penguins in 7
Last week (Monday, Jan 30/2012) at the CHL Prospects Game, I had the chance to chat with NHL legend Mark Recchi. He was nice enough to chat with me for a bit, and we talked about everything from him venturing into coaching and his involvement in junior hockey to the Max Pacioretty/Zdeno Chara incident and Tim Thomas’ presidental snub.
Alright all you NHL teams that tried to weasel your way around the NHL salary cap by signing players to long-term front loaded contracts, how have your deals been working out for you so far? You thought you were pretty smart by signing those sneaky but legal deals, so let’s see what you’ve come up with so far.
New Jersey Devils, you made the most publicized deal of the bunch, signing Ilya Kovalchuk at age 28 to a 15 year, $100 million dollar contract; keeping him as your property until 2025 when he’ll be 42 years old. That very same year, Kovy appeared in 81 games and put up his worst year’s point total (60) since his rookie year when he only had 51 – a far cry from the 98 he put up as a Thrasher in 05-06. Oh, and you missed the playoffs last year too. You better hope he picks his socks up, because no team in their right mind is ever going to be involved in a trade for that much money for a player with such relatively poor point production. The only offsetting factor is that Kovalchuk’s an outstanding player. He could neutralize most of this heat by playing like a superstar again. If he doesn’t, the Devils get a FAIL on this one.
Philadelphia Flyers, you signed Chris Pronger at age 37 to a 7 year, $34 million deal that locked him up in orange until 2017, when he’ll be 43. You also made him your captain. You’ve had decent playoff success, but still failed to win the Cup. Pronger’s been injured on numerous occasions, with a knee and eye injury being the most recent. Last year he only appeared in 50 games, his lowest since 94-95, and consequently had his lowest point total since then as well. This season he’s missed games due to a virus, the afore mentioned eye injury, and surgery on his knee. Is he going to make it to 43? Although Pronger brings a lot of veteran leadership and experience, I’d say Philly is behind the count on this one. [update: on December 15/2011, it was announced that Pronger will miss the remainder of the NHL season and playoffs due to post-concussion syndrome]
New York Rangers, looks like you didn’t think your signing of Scott Gomez in 2007 for seven years and $51.5 million was that great a move after all, considering you paid him $18 million of that contract before flipping him to the Montreal Canadiens for them to pay the remainder. Might have been a good play though, Gomez’s point production is constantly under criticism, and he’s coming off a career worst point total of 38 (his best was 84 in 05-06 with the New Jersey Devils) — pretty poor for a centerman. He’s the Habs’ problem until 2014, when he’ll be 34 years old. In the end, a win for NYR for moving him, and a tie at best or loss for Montreal when it’s all over.
Vancouver Canucks, you inked Roberto Luongo at age 32 to a 12 year, $64 million contract, keeping him a Canuck until 2022, when he’ll be 43. As much as I hate the Canucks, there’s no question that Roberto is an elite goaltender, so I understand your wanting to keep him around. Thing is though, as great of a run you had last season, Roberto let in more than 20 goals during last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Between that and your stars not scoring, you failed to win your franchise’s first Stanley Cup, and your fans destroyed your city. And that was only year one. You’ve got 11 to go, and Lu has already been shaky; giving way to “backup” Cory Schneider multiple times this season. Many think that Schneider should be the team’s #1 goaltender. Do that, and you’ll have $5.3 million dollars sitting on the bench every year you allow it. It’s great to have a President’s Trophy winning season and all, but if you fail to win the big trophy, it’s all for not. If Luongo can’t be consistent when it counts over the next decade, Vancouver loses this one. And maps may have to be re-drawn over the area that used to be the city of Vancouver, if rioters are given any more reason to cause carnage.
And New York Islanders, the pièce de résistance unquestionably still belongs to you. In 06-07, you signed Rick DiPietro to a 15 year, $67.5 million contract – keeping him on Long Island until 2021, when he’ll be 40 years of age. Apparently you were not informed that Rick needed to be kept in an antique store with a “FRAGILE” sign around his neck. You got two decent seasons out of him right off the hop, but it has been downhill from there. Due to injury, Rick played in only five games in 08-09, eight games in 09-10, and just 26 last season. Goaltending has been nothing short of a metaphorical revolving door, as DiPietro has shared the net with multiple goalies – none of which seem to be able to keep pucks out of it. The team has been, or close to, dead last in league standings the last number of years. You haven’t made the playoffs since Rick’s first season with the team. Between hip surgery, knee surgery, groin problems, neck injury, concussions, facial fracture, and sickness, DiPietro has only been able to play in a fraction of the games you surely hoped he would. And when he did play, the team still ended up being bad. Sorry NYI, there’s just no way you come out on top from this one. [update: on December 15/2011, DiPietro was placed on injured reserve yet again, after suffering a groin injury]
So, NHL owners, what have you learned?
[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on November 15/2011]
With even Marty Turco’s name entering the discussion of future Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltenders now, at this point, the writing’s gotta be on the wall for Leafs’ goalie, Jonas Gustavsson, wouldn’t you say?
As much as Brian Burke refuses to admit any loss of confidence in “The Monster”, it’s his actions that tell the true story.
Look, I’m sure Jonas was as good as he was scouted to be in the Swedish Elite League. His last year there, he had a 1.96 GAA. And he had an intimidating nickname to boot. So what could go wrong? What went wrong was the Leafs gambling a goaltender would put up Swedish Elite League numbers in the NHL. They needed him to be better than Vesa Toskola, Andrew Raycroft, and the rest of the revolving door of past Leaf goaltenders that failed to guide the Buds to the Stanley Cup. Let’s be honest, he’s been average at best, and has in no way lived up to a moniker as lofty as “The Monster”. Unless your lack of confidence in him scares you, or you compare him to the creatures from the animated Pixar movie, Monsters, Inc.
For all intents and purposes, Gustavsson should be the Leafs starting goaltender right now. He’s 27 years old, and into his third NHL season. I’ll give him credit, he did outlive 34 year old, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, J.S. Giguere. But with the emergence of 23 year old James Reimer on the scene, Gustavsson was again shuffled to a secondary role. And with Reimer hurt, the Leafs elected not to give the reigns to Gustavsson, but to bring up 25 year old Ben Scrivens, who has basically been rendering Jonas obsolete altogether. How many times does Jonas have to give way to other, younger goaltenders before even he realizes his lifespan in Toronto is limited? Either the Leafs enjoy having 1.4 million dollars inactively sit on the bench, they’re too proud to admit a mistake and trade him, or are going to try and “show him off” in limited activity this year, in order to reclaim some value from him at the end of the year when his contract expires.
Whatever the scenario, I wouldn’t bet on Gustavsson being a Toronto Maple Leaf past this season.
Some thoughts on the Philadelphia Flyers/Tampa Bay Lightning “stalemate”.
Tampa Bay was playing a system – “The Trap”, if you will. Philadelphia realized this, and countered the system that relies on an active breakout to breakdown, by being completely passive. Which is intelligent; some might even say smart. But most are saying it’s boring, and bad for business. And to Tampa’s credit, that’s one heck of an effective system, if you can make it work. Both teams were simply trying to win the game (Tampa did), or at least not lose it. Philadelphia later showed they could break the trap, and the game went on, but for 2 minutes of play there, it was pandemonium at NHL headquarters.
Here’s the thing: the new NHL is all about speed, scoring, and doing everything at a million miles an hour. So while what both teams were doing were fantastic moves from a strategic we’re-trying-to-win-the-game standpoint, they are horrendous channel-changing deal-breakers to casual southern American hockey fans tuning in to hopefully see a hybrid-blend of boxing and NASCAR on ice.
If there was ever a more poignant example of the fact that the NHL is trying to run an entertainment business rather than a sports league, I can’t think of it. It’s like Gary Bettman got scared NBC was going to back out of their freshly signed 10-year broadcasting deal if they saw that game. We are now at the point where NHL higher-ups are going to have conversations about making rule changes in order to negate coaches ability to implement solid game strategies. It’s no longer about winning folks, it’s about presenting an entertaining product. I can’t think of one reason why a true hockey fan should be happy about this development.
And finally, the Buffalo Sabres are officially the largest collective of gutless cowards on the planet. Their all-star goaltender, Ryan Miller, got run by Milan Lucic, and not one Sabre players did anything of consequence to him. I’d be generous to say that Thomas Vanek and Andrej Sekera both gave him mild bodychecks. Announcers said during the broadcast that the Sabres didn’t have anyone tough on the ice at the time to respond, but the hit took place with 6 minutes left in the FIRST period. That means there were 46 other minutes worth of hockey for at least one of the Sabres to grow a set and attempt subtract a few incisors from Lucic’s mouth. This is the EXACT instance where fighting in hockey is required. Of anyone who supports fighting and hockey, they would all agree, this is the prime example of where it is justified. The Sabres absolutely embarrassingly failed to do the right thing, and they got walked all over the rest of the night. Their goaltender is out with a concussion, and if Buffalo’s mentality doesn’t change, I’d bet they’re going to get walked on the rest of the season too.
Even minor leaguers knows that if someone punks your team out, it’s not necessarily how you do or how tough you are, but that at least you do something; as evidenced by this vid of Justin Bourne dropping the mitts with a player that had just knee’d his teammate in an ECHL game a few years back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yfvWdS6MAU
Every player in hockey knows this is the norm, and it’s astonishing that Buffalo didn’t do a SINGLE thing immediately, or for the duration of the game. Boston will likely continue punking teams out because they have guys who can, will, and that get away with it; and teams like Buffalo that continue to not at least take the punk test will continue to fail it and get walked all over.
I heard this topic brought up on NHL Home Ice on XM Radio….The New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, LA Kings, and Buffalo Sabres play a total of 7 exhibition games against teams in Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. So my question is this: if an NHL player hits a Euro to the head, or commits another suspendable play, will the NHL’s Senior VP Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan, hold them accountable? Can/Would they get “#Shanabanned” (probably the best hashtag on Twitter, btw)? Could he Shanaban the European players? Some grey areas in this European exhibition experiment. The radio folks didn’t know, maybe one of you readers has some insight?
Judging by the fact that he has been starting in goal through pre-season, assumably everything is hunky-dorry with Evgeni Nabokov and the New York Islanders? You remember the Nabokov clustercuss from last year; came back from the KHL mid-season, picked up by Detroit, nabbed by the Islanders through the waiver system, and then refused to report to Long Island? Didn’t that make a bunch of people mad? Water under the bridge?
Granted, it’s only pre-season, but while pointing to his current point-total, clearly Jaromir Jagr can still hang in the NHL. But I have to wonder, black Tuuks still? Really, Jaromir? I mean, even Mike Grier finally upgraded from that style.
Jagr’s Flyers’ teammate, Wayne Simmonds, sure neutralized that defence shield he had from the banana incident (apparently the banana thrower feels really, really bad; says he was just trying to prevent the game winning goal in the shootout. But dude, if you’re going to attempt to do that by throwing a foreign object on the ice, throw ANYTHING ELSE besides a banana at the black player who’s shooting) with that alleged Sean Avery-directed slip of the tongue, hey? [note: Simmonds denied saying what people speculate he said, and was not disciplined by the NHL] Though Simmonds was caught on tape appearing to say what lip-readers insist was a homophobic slur, isn’t it odd that cameras were even on Simmonds? I mean, lots of NHL players say lots of bad things to other players during games; did Simmonds just have extra spotlight on him from the London incident? Or was someone looking for Simmonds to trip up after everyone was on his side? Lots of speculation. I think he’s a great player, and I hope we can focus on that, rather than this BS. On one hand, this is a good opportunity for guys like Brian Burke to reinforce the progress made against homophobia in hockey last year. On the other hand, there’s lots of people who want to take this far beyond learning a lesson. Here’s a press release I was sent this morning:
34,000 DEMAND NHL FINE PLAYER FOR ANTI-GAY SLUR
Explosive campaign on Change.org calls on National Hockey League to hold Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers accountable for homophobic slur against New York Rangers player Sean Avery
NEW YORK, NY – More than 34,000 people have joined an avid hockey fan’s campaign on Change.org calling on the National Hockey League to fine Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers for using an anti-gay slur against New York Rangers player Sean Avery.
Gloria Nieto, a gay rights activist and sports fan, launched the campaign on Change.org after watching an NHL exhibition game on Monday in which Simmonds reportedly called Avery a “f*cking f*ggot.” Avery complained to NHL officials, who refused to fine Simmonds, citing conflicting accounts of what was said on the ice. Activists claim that video footage clearly shows Simmonds mouthing the homophobic slur.
“All of us in the hockey community deserve a chance to enjoy games and the hard competition the league offers,” said Gloria, who created the petition on Change.org. “The National Hockey League has a unique opportunity to make a statement about fair play. As they hand out penalties for hits to the head, how about a penalty for hits to the heart, especially for all the fans who believe in equality for all?”
News of the online petition’s success is likely to increase pressure on the NHL. Within a day of the campaign’s launch, Gloria Nieto had recruited tens of thousands of supporters on Change.org, the world’s fastest-growing platform for social change. Prominent gay rights organizations across the U.S. are also demanding action, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Courage Campaign, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which created its own petition on Change.org and gathered more than 1,000 signatures.
“There is clearly a lot of outrage that the NHL has refused to hold Wayne Simmonds accountable for his homophobic slur,” said Change.org Organizing Manager Joe Mirabella. “With no budget and armed with only a laptop, Gloria has managed to recruit more than 34,000 of supporters to take a stand against homophobic language in sports. Change.org is about empowering anyone, anywhere to demand action on the issues that matter to them, and it has been incredible to watch her campaign take off.”
The petition follows a recent trend of professional sports leagues fining their members for unacceptable language, including basketball players Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah. Bryant, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, was fined $100,000 by the National Basketball Association for calling a referee a homophobic slur and Noah, from the Chicago Bulls, was fined $50,000 for using an anti-gay slur against a fan.
Live signature totals from Gloria Nieto’s Change.org campaign:
For more information on Change.org, please visit:
Change.org is the world’s fastest-growing platform for social change — growing by more than 400,000 new members a month, and empowering millions of people to start, join, and win campaigns for social change in their community, city and country.
Gloria Nieto, Petition Author, (408)280-6301 email@example.com
Joe Mirabella, Organizing Manager, Change.org, (206) 354-4931, firstname.lastname@example.org
I have yet to be sent a press release for the ceasing of racism in the NHL though. Maybe that one’s coming next.