Around the league – Feb 4, 2010

The Leafs, Flames, Ducks and Rangers got a head start on trade deadline day with some big names and bigger contracts being moved. It’s interesting to note that only the Flames are in a playoff spot, albeit it barely, at the moment.

The Ducks and Rangers are trying to get in, Brian Burke is trying to save face while Darryl Sutter’s job could be lost if his team doesn’t make the playoffs. And their moves will force others to follow suite with so many teams in the hunt.

Eight Eastern teams are battling for the final three spots and only five points separate them. In the west, seven teams are within six points and battling for the 7th and 8th spots. So it would seem there are many more buyers than sellers.

According to Darren Dreger, Don Waddell has supposedly told Ilya Kovalchuk he’ll be moved soon, but to where remains a mystery. The initial list had Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, NYR, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Calgary interested. Calgary has now been ruled out, and you wonder who the leading candidate is at this point.

Claude Julien is on the hot seat in Boston. The fans want him gone because the Bruins are the biggest disappointment in the league right now. The problem with Boston is they are battling Atlanta for the playoffs. I think they’d have to pay more than the Hawks or Kings just to get him. They have a combined nine picks in the first two rounds of the 2010 and 2011 draft so they won’t be scared to move a pick or two. But will Don Waddell trade his franchise player to a team that might beat him for a playoff spot? That’d be a double whammy for Waddell, who has to be on the hot seat in Atlanta.

Waddell was named GM of the Thrashers in June of 1998 and they started play in October of 1999. His team has made the playoffs once in nine years and with Kovalchuk on the way out it looks like it will be once in ten years.

He’s had nine picks in the first round that were 12th or better, and outside of his first pick Patrik Stefan none of have been major busts, although Boris Valabik is a question mark. Some have been studs, Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley while others might become top end players; Byran Little, Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane. But his depth scouting has been awful, and Waddell hasn’t been able to build a team since becoming their first and only GM.

The ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, LCC, is a divided group that is in a battle with estranged part owner, Steve Belkin, and you wonder if they have the capability to realize that Waddell can’t build a winner, or even a consistent competitive team.

I’ll bet on the Kings. If they can get Kovalchuk without having to part with Jack Johnson they’d do it. The Kings have two 2nd round picks and three 3rd rounders this summer, so Lombardi might be willing to part with a few extra prospects or picks because he currently has six in the first three rounds.

You have to think Waddell will want more than what he got for Marian Hossa at the 2008 deadline, and with so many teams still in the playoff hunt he might generate a bidding war.

Ice woman of the week

I’ve never really liked the Canucks jersey’s before, but the blue with green trim compliments Crystal’s eyes nicely.

Random Thoughts

  • It has been reported before I’m sure, but many Oiler fans are wondering if the Oilers will buy out any contracts this summer. Robert Nilsson, because he is under 26, can be bought out at a 1/3 of his contract, instead of 2/3. It would cost the Oilers $833,333 to buy him out and they could spread that over two seasons, so it will only cost them $416,666 against the cap next year. Seems like a no-brainer at that price if they don’t find any takers before the two-week buy-out period this summer.
  • In case you missed it, Dion Phaneuf is excited to be in Toronto. Maybe they can get him a thesaurus in Toronto to think of another word to describe his emotions. On Off The Record he said he was “Excited to be going to Toronto” at least 13 times.
  • Ken Hitchcock got fired again, and once again it seems the players got tired of his message. Hitchcock is a great technical coach, but he is also very demanding of his player’s defensive play. Will he get another job? Will he have to tone down his defensive requirements? I’d say yes on both accounts.
  • The Canucks will play game three of their split 14-game road trip tonight v. the red-hot Ottawa Senators. The Canucks are 1-1 so far, and after Ottawa four of their next five games are against non-playoff teams. After the Olympic break they’ll play the remaining six games with five of them against western teams currently in the playoffs. If the Canucks want to keep pace with the Avs they’ll have to play strong heading into the Olympic break.
  • Could anyone other than Dave Tippett be coach of the year? He was hired mid-way through the pre-season and now his Coyotes have the 4th most points in the NHL. They are a league-best when scoring first with a .867 winning percentage, they are 26-2-2. They don’t play an exciting style, but Tippett’s team doesn’t panic and they now hold to hold a lead.
  • Cory Clouston will get some votes in Ottawa. The Sens have won 10 in a row and they’ve been without Alfredsson and Spezza for stretches this year. Joe Sacco has the Avs in the playoffs when everyone had them pegged for 15th and Terry Murray has the Kings right in the hunt, but for me no one has done a better job than Tippett.
  • I wonder if Peter Chiarelli stays patient and ends up with two picks in the top ten. There is a lot of pressure on the Bruins to make the playoffs, and injuries are a big reason why they are two points out today, but if he has faith in his team, will he roll the dice and stick with what he has? If he makes the playoffs he still gets the Leafs’ pick, and if he doesn’t he’d have two in the top 14 and possibly in the top ten? What would you do?
  • I wonder if Doug Wilson is looking at Raffi Torres? He saw first hand how Torres can affect a playoff game when he is playing well. The Jackets have made it clear Torres is on the block and he’ll be a hot commodity. He is a UFA this summer and his cap hit on March 1st will be $489,637 for the remainder of the season. If someone acquires him before the Olympic freeze then he’ll be between $575,000 and $620,000 depending on which day he gets dealt. Lots of teams could use a 20-goal man who hits like Torres and wouldn’t cost a ridiculous amount to re-sign in the summer.
  • Doug Weight doesn’t have a goal in 26 games this year, while Mattias Ohlund has no goals and only ten assists in 48 games in Tampa while playing 23:29 a game. I wonder if the Bolts regret that seven-year contract?
  • I’ll take the Saints this weekend. The NFC was the better division all season, but it is also a sentimental pick because of what those fans have been through. If Drew Brees can keep his team in it early, I think they’ll start a party for the city of New Orleans that would be legendary.

Leaders through the season

Here are the top ten in pts, goals, assists and other stats.

Goals:
37: Patrick Marleau and Sidney Crosby
36: Alex Ovechkin
34: Marian Gaborik (five goals this week)
31: Ilya Kovalchuk
30: Dany Heatley
29: Steven Stamkos
26: Mike Cammalleri
25: Alexander Semin, Henrik Sedin, Bobby Ryan and Andrew Burrows.
***Strange week goal wise. Heatley, Semin and Rick Nash didn’t score once.***

Assists:
55: Joe Thornton
53: Henrik Sedin
44: Brad Richards
43: Martin St. Louis
41: Ovechkin, Tomas Plekanec and Nicklas Backstrom
40: Mike Green and Ryan Getzlaf
39: Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Vincent Lecavalier

Points:
78: H. Sedin
77: Ovechkin
71: Crosby  
70: Thornton
66: Gaborik
64: Backstrom
61: Marleau, Heatley and Kane
60: St. Louis and B. Richards

Plus/Minus:
+36: Ovechkin
+31: Jeff Schultz
+29: Alex Burrows
+28: Backstrom
+26: H. Sedin and Zach Parise
+25: Christian Ehrhoff and Daniel Sedin
+24: Marleau
+22: Green and Semin
*** Rod Brind’Amour and Shawn Horcoff are tied for the Green Jacket at -25, one ahead of Patrick O’Sullivan***

PP Goals:
Twelve: Gaborik Stamkos and Heatley
Eleven: Mike Richards and Marleau
Ten: Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Backstrom and Kovalchuk
Nine: Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Crosby

Hits:
227: Cal Clutterbuck
211: Ryan Callahan
203: Dustin Brown
190: Steve Ott
186: Stephane Robidas
182: Brooks Orpik
172: Matt Greene and Scott Nichol
170: Mike Fisher
163: Chris Neil

Shots:
250: Ovechkin
246: Parise
241: Jeff Carter (nineteen shots this week)
211: Crosby
209: Gaborik
203: Malkin
202: Rick Nash
197: Phil Kessel and Marleau
194: Vincent Lecavalier

Quote of the week

Edmonton Oiler Sam Gagner on why he is one of the last guys off the ice after almost every practice:

“Every time you step on the ice it is an opportunity to get better. If you look at some of the drills they are just straight down and shooting. If you can take that time to really work on creating some deception on goalies by moving the puck different ways it will be a great benefit for you going forward.

“You look at a guy like MC (Mike Comrie) he’s great around the net because he works on it at practice. He’s always around the net and wanting to score in practice and he creates good habits and those are guys you can look up to. Obviously the best players in the league have great habits around the net. Look at a guy like Parise (Zach), a lot of his goals are scored from ten feet around the net and you hear about how hard he works and how good his habits are. You can learn something from all the skilled guys in the league and that’s why I stay after practice; to try to get to better and hopefully that pays dividends down the road.”