Monday, June 30, 2008

Offseason Lookout: Teams no one cares about in a League no one cares about

On the eve of Canada Day and the first day of NHL free agency, I figured I’d take a look at the moves some of the smaller market teams have made, and how they look moving forward to next season. Here’s a look at the biggest mover and shakers (it’s all relative) so far since the start of the off-season and leading up to today.

Tampa Bay: After finishing with the lowest wins in the league just 4 years removed from their Stanley Cup championship, the ‘Ning have under gone a total facelift. They were terrible last year due to a shallow line-up, poor goaltending, and Dan Boyle’s inability to dodge flying skate blades. With new ownership led by Oren Koules of the Saw film franchise, the Lightning are at least trying to make things interesting in the hum-drum NHL. For starters, in NFL fashion the team made it clear they were going to draft Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick. Stamkos has been compared to Sakic and Yzerman, but has not garnered as much fan-fare as Crosby or Ovechkin. He should help the team, but I don’t see him being an impact player at the age of 18 next season. It was noteworthy that with their last pick, the Lightning drafted David Carle, brother of Sharks D-man Matt, who was touted as a second round pick, but will probably never play hockey again due to a congenital heart disease which was discovered at the Draft Combine. That was truly a classy move.

Continuing with their trend, the Lightning brought Barry Melrose out of ESPN studios and put him back behind the bench. I still maintain that this was a bad personnel move due to Melrose’s poor record as a head coach, and the fact that he hasn’t coached an NHL game in almost 15 years. His success as a coach came due to some guy named Gretzky, but his hiring is more about the publicity and notoriety his name brings than his coaching acumen.

Most recently, Tampa signed former Penguins wingers Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts. Malone got a 7 year $31.5 million contract for scoring 27 goals as Geno Malkin’s winger. That’s $4.5 mil for 27 goals! 27! Not even a 30 goal season. This signing continues in a long line of overpaid and lengthy contracts that will bite the team and the league in the ass within the next 2-3 years. Let’s not even discuss that Tampa still lacks a proven #1 goalie and their backline is Dan Boyle, Paul Ranger, and Shane O’Brien. These guys are more likely to hit the bar more than their opponents. At least Vinny Lecavalier is still really good and will be there for the next 9 years after signing a contract extension.

LA: The Kings are building the right way and are positioning themselves for lots of success in the future. Yes, they traded Mike Cammalleri to Flames, but the future of this team lies within Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty (giving them the ol’ one two), Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Alex Frolov, and Paddy O’Sullivan, and Jon Bernier. As long as Dan Cloutier and Marc Crawford are kept as far away as possible, this team has a bright future. The addition of Matt Greene, and Jarret Stoll for Lubo Visnovsky makes the Kings younger and gives them more depth up the middle behind Kopitar and some beef in front of their own net.

Phoenix: A team to be reckoned with as early as next season will be the Phoenix Coyotes. With a ful season from Ilya Bryzgalov backed up by Al Montoya, the ‘yotes should have a very promising goaltending tandem for the next few years. Don Maloney has been doing a better job in the desert than he did with the Islanders, but that’s not saying much. The acquisition of Olli Jokinen for Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard might have hurt the team’s defensive depth, but it takes pressure off kids Kyle Turris, Peter Mueller, and Martin Hanzal, while giving veteran responsibility to Jokinen, Captain Shane Doan, and a revived Jovo-cop. I expect the ‘Yotes to be a competitor in the West and push for a playoff spot next season.


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