Know Your Enemy: Northwest Division Off-Season Analysis Part 1: FA/Trades.

Hello Wilderness and friends. It's mid-July, the hockey world is slowly crawling into its hibernation period and October seem like forever away. Wild fans, for perhaps the first time ever, have been treated to an exciting off-season so far by Fletch and the gang, but what about the other teams in the division? After all, the Wild are going to see a lot of them for what seems to be the last year before the realignment, so what can we expect this time around? Did the Wild's 4 rivals get any better? What about the Wild? Sure they made changes, but are they good changes? The consensus is that they struck gold, but let's look at this a bit more closely, shall we? I'll be joined by everyone's favorite angry curmudgeon, Bryan.

Note: If you're working, create a diversion so you can study this without your boss breathing down your neck, because it'll take a while. Lots of content. Enjoy!

(All cap info via www.capgeek.com)

Calgary Flames

New faces:

 
Traded Robyn Regehr,D , Ales Kotalik, W, and 2nd round pick (2012) to BUF for Paul Byron, C and Chris Butler, D (June 25th)
Signed UFA Carter Bancks, LW (July 1st)
Signed FA Ben Walter, C (July 2nd)
Signed FA Joe Piskula, D (July 2nd)
Signed FA Clay Wilson, D (July 2nd)
Signed UFA Guillaume Desbiens, W (July 4th),
Traded Keith Seabrook, D, to FLA for Jordan Hendry, D, who then signed (July 9th),
Signed UFA Derek Smith, D (July 13th)
Acquired Pierre-Luc Leblond-Letourneau, W, from NJ for 5th round pick (2012) (July 14th)


Changing teams:

Keith Seabrook, D (FLA), 
Matt Pelech, D (SJ), 
Adam Pardy, D (DAL), 
Ales Kotalik, W (BUF), 
Robyn Regehr, D (BUF), 
Tim Erixon, D (NYR), 
Fredrik Modin, W (Retired)

Staying (Re-signed):

Jay Feaster, promoted to GM
Jonathan Rheault, RW
Sven Baertschi, LW (ELC)
Max Reinhart, C

Still in limbo:

Tomi Maki, RW/LW

Current cap space and new contracts: (via capgeek.com)

Cap space: $1,319,766

Curtis Glencross, 4 years, 2.550M cap hit.
Brett Carson, 2 years, 575k cap hit
Henrik Karlsson, 2 years, 862.5k cap hit
Alex Tanguay, 5 years, 3.5M cap hit 
Anton Babchuk, 2 years, 2.5M cap hit
Sven Baertschi, (ELC), 3 years, 1.456250M cap hit (2-way)
Leland Irving, 1 year, 600k cap hit (2-way)
Brendan Mikkelson, 1 year, 721.9k cap hit (2-way)
Max Reinhart, (ELC) 3 year, 900k cap hit (2-way)
Brendan Morrison, 1 year, 1.250M cap hit
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, 1 year, 525k cap hit
Derek Smith, 1 year, 700k cap hit (2-way)
Jordan Henry, 1 year, 600k cap hit (2-way)
Guillaume Desbiens, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Clay Wilson, 2 year, 525k cap hit (2-way 1st year, 1-way 2nd year)
Ben Walter, 2 year, 537.5k cap hit
Joe Piskula, 2 year, 525k cap hit
Carter Bancks, (ELC) 2 year, 560k cap hit
Chris Butler, 2 year, 1.250M cap hit
Paul Byron, (ELC) 1 year, 555k cap hit
Roman Horak, (ELC) 3 year, 800k cap hit

Analysis:


JS: The biggest question mark for me was the Robyn Regehr trade. I get that maybe they needed to move them, I won't pretend to know the entire situation here, but to my understanding, GM Feaster took the money he saved on Regehr and Kotalik to re-sign Tanguay to a needlessly long contract AND he somehow had to give a 2nd round pick to do that and get Butler and Byron, who has the better upside of the two. I also get that they needed the cap space, but the only reason this trade makes a lick of sense is that they were clearly desperate and GM Regier pounced.

Other than that, they locked up Babchuk and Glencross, two decent moves. Babchuk's contract may be slightly expensive, but I don't find it as crazy as many have made it to be. 

The main departures are Regehr, Kotalik, Modin and Erixon. Erixon was their best defensive prospect, which made the Regehr trade that much harder to swallow, but Butler is a young d-man that some find underrated. He scored 21 points in 59 games in 2009-2010, but was a -15 and this season, he was a healthy scratch for a huge portion of the season and he's currently penciled in as the 7th d-man with the Flames, so it's sort of a question mark there. 

As for the new contracts they've signed or acquired, the fact that the Flames have a mediocre squad for a team that has the 3rd highest cap hit speaks volumes. I won't throw too many stones since it's a situation Wild fans are all too familiar with. Tanguay's contract is a risky one, but mainly because of the length. 3.5M is respectable IF he builds on his rebound season and even if he does, it's quite doubtful he'll be able to keep it up for 5 years. He still provides good veteran presence though.

For the rest of the offseason, Feaster should probably be looking to move another big contract and get some defensive support, which may prove to be difficult. Staios is still waiting for a contract, but I don't see him re-signing with the Flames. 

All in all, the Flames' chances at the playoffs this season are rather bleak, with no improvements whatsoever and very few exciting young prospects from what I can gather. They're actually looking very similar to what the Wild have been these last few years. The only way they can get out is to go younger and try to be more careful with the cap once they get rid of the troublesome contracts.

 

 

Bryan: I see nothing here that makes them a better team than they were last year. They have the third highest cap hit in the NHL right now (via Capgeek), and return an almost identical team to the ice that earned them 94 points and a tenth place finish in the West. While that was better than the Wild, it isn't good enough. I don't see how fielding the same team helps them in any way. They lose nothing in the players who changed teams, but that isn't saying much. Keith Seabrook, but... meh.


They re-signed a whole crop of players that add to the character of the team, but they also re-sign a crop of players that missed the playoffs. The players they have "in limbo" don’t look to be coming back, with the team already at 24 contracts. Whatever free agents they want to return to their AHL affiliate you would think would have been inked by now. Their foray into free agency looks to have very much been a "let’s not break it if it is already broken" type of thinking.
 
The draft was good for the Flames, though. They landed some players with real upside. They stole two players I thought the Wild would take a run at in Baertchi and Granlund, and the rest are crap shoots, just like with any other team. 

Their cap situation is an embarassment. How anyone charged with running this team still has a job is beyond me.

Colorado Avalanche

New faces:

Signed Joakim Lindstrom, W (June 16th)
Signed Patrick Bordeleau, LW (June 24th)
Signed UFA Jean-Sébastien Giguere, G (July 1st)
Signed UFA Chuck Kobasew, W (July 1st)
Signed UFA Jan Hejda, D (July 1st)
Acquired Semyon Varlamov, G, from WSH for 1st and 2nd round pick (2012) (July 1st),
Signed UFA Evan Brophy, C (July 8th)
Signed UFA Cedrick Desjardins, G (July 8th),
Signed UFA Patrick Rissmiller, LW (July 10th), 
Signed UFA Shane O'Brien, D (July 13th)


Changing teams:

Philippe Dupuis, C/RW (TOR), 
Ben Walter, C (CGY), 
Brian Elliott, G (STL), 
Tomas Fleischmann, LW (FLA), 
Peter Budaj, G (MTL), 

Staying (re-signed):

David Van Der Gulik, W
Ryan O'Byrne, D

Still in limbo:

David Koci, LW/RW
Raymond Macias, D



Current cap space and new contracts:

Cap space: $18,841,666

Milan Hejduk, 1 year, 3M cap hit
Ryan Stoa, 1 year, 803.25k cap hit (2-way)
David Liffiton, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
David Van Der Gulik, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Justin Mercier, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Matt Hunwick, 1 year, 1,550M cap hit
Greg Mauldin, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
David Jones, 1 year, 2.5M cap hit
Ryan O'Byrne, 2 years, 1.8M cap hit
Kevin Porter, 1 year, 850k cap hit
Ryan Wilson, 1 year, 1.275M cap hit
T.J. Galiardi, 1 year, 700k cap hit
Shane O'Brien, 1 year, 1.1M cap hit
Patrick Rissmiller, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Evan Brophey, 1 year, 500k cap hit (2-way)
Cedrick Desjardins, 1 year, 650k cap hit (2-way)
Semyon Varlamov, 3 year, 2.833333M cap hit 
Chuck Kobasew, 2 year, 1.25M cap hit
Jean-Sébastien Giguère, 2 years, 1.25M cap hit
Jan Hejda, 4 years, 3.25M cap hit
Patrick Bordeleau, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Joakim Lindstrom, 1 year, 600k cap hit

Analysis:


JS: Their biggest improvement is in net, but that's not saying much when the previous tandem was Brian Elliot and Peter Budaj. The problem now is that they paid a heavily steep price to get Varlamov, a goalie that couldn't seem to hold the number one spot away from another rookie. I fail to see how giving away a potential lottery pick and a 2nd rounder for a goalie that has yet to show his worth will help, unless he explodes and becomes a great netminder. We can't necessarily said they lost the trade, as they answered a pressing need, but they may have lost a stud or two to get him. Varlamov will be competing with J-S Giguere for what will probably be a 1.5A-1.5B tandem.

Other than that, they got rid of Liles for a 2nd round pick, a move that came a year too late if you ask me, because he was in the doghouse last year and had a pretty good season this year, but they signed Jan Hejda, an underrated d-man in my opinion, and Shane O'Brien, so I'd say the defense is still fine. The Chuck Kobasew addition is an intriguing one. He had respectable numbers as a Bruin, but did quite poorly in Minnesota. Which Kobasew shows up in Denver? At 1.25M per year, it could turn out to be a bargain. Fleischmann's stay was a very short one, but I believe they did well to cut him loose. There's no reason for me to believe he'll ever post the numbers he did while in Washington ever again.  

Most of the re-signings were made for depth purposes, but the three names that jump out the most are Hejduk, O'Byrne and Jones. The most important was Jones as he is a part of the Avs' young core. This season was the first time he played more than 40 games in the NHL and he scored a respectable 27 goals. Consistency will be key for him. O'Byrne is an interesting case. Healthy scratch in Montreal, important defensive anchor in Colorado. Yet another situation in which the Habs didn't utilize their player properly (See: Guillaume Latendresse). Good signing for them at a good price. Then, there's old man Hejduk. The guy's still a fantastic hockey player, but he's not the same player he used to be, for sure. He's the veteran leader of the team and can still pot some goals, so he's still a key player after all these years. At 3M for one year, the contract isn't an issue, especially when you consider the massive amount of space the Avs have on the cap.

Speaking of the cap, in a bevy of questionable trades by GM Sherman, he did a tremendous job with the cap. I'm not aware if the Avs have a self-imposed cap or if they're just smartly saving for when the young guns command hefty raises. I see no real problem with any of the signings made in the off-season.

The only player of note that hasn't signed yet is David Koci and I use ''player of note'' rather loosely as they can do much better than him as an enforcer and as a hockey player. The rest is replaceable depth, and they currently have their 23 roster spots filled according to Capgeek, so it's likely the Avs won't be making any big splashes before the end of the season. They do still have Kyle Cumiskey as an RFA. I don't see him not re-signing, he's a young d-man who missed most of the season due to injuries, but he can still be a serviceable bottom-pairing guy.

Overall, the Avs haven't changed much, except in goal, which still isn't all that impressive, but their wealth of young players will continue to grow and the draft was very good for them, which only boosts this. Growth, combined with cap space will make the Avs a dangerous team in a few years.. between them and the Oilers, the re-alignment comes just in time!


Bryan: The Semyon Varlamov trade left the hockey world scratching its collective head, wondering just what it was they were thinking. Giving up what could very well be a lottery pick for an unproven goaltender is a huge gamble. We like gamblers around here, and I won't knock the Avs for making a bold move. I just really don't get why you trade for a goalie who doesn't seem any better than Craig Anderson, who they traded away last season. The Avs are not in position to make a run at the Cup, so why give up an excellent pick during a partial re-build? I applaud the boldness, question the result.

The other moves look OK at best. Adding Giguere is a smart move, and could very well end up their starter in no time flat. Hejda and O'Brien shore up an already solid blue line, and Kobasew adds a player looking to rebound after a couple of poor seasons here in Minnesota. I can't say I hate the moves, other than the Varlamov trade. What I see is the Avs being exactly where the Wild were, and are... a lot of ''ifs'' and the Avs could be respectable. 

The guys who left were hopefully shown the door and then that door boarded up forever. Nothing that walked away was worth keeping. They kept around some core players, and have some young talent still growing into their roles. How much Hejduk still has left in the tank has to be a question, but his role is more and more limited, so his impact can only be positive. Cumiskey will be signed, but no real loss either way. He doesn't have many other options. Let's hope they let the guys left unsigned keep right on walking, as no one there offers anything to them at all. The Avs are near the bottom of the league in spending, and still have some solid upside from an inexpensive roster.

They did alright in the draft with Landeskog and Siemens, adding a solid d-man and a potential stud forward. Both could find their way to the team faster than most prospects if the Avs continue to hang in the cellar of the Division.

Edmonton Oilers:

New faces:

Signed FA Antti Tyrvainen, W (June 15th)
Signed FA Lennart Petrell, LW/C (June 15th)
Acquired Ryan Smyth, LW, from LA for what later turned out to be Colin Fraser, C. (June 26th)
Signed UFA Cam Barker, D (July 1st)
Signed UFA Darcy Hordichuk, LW (July 1st)
Signed UFA Eric Belanger, C (July 1st) 
Signed UFA Corey Potter, D (July 1st)
Signed UFA Ben Eager, LW (July 1st) 
Acquired Andy Sutton, D, from ANA for Kurtis Foster, D (July 1st)
Signed UFA Josh Green, LW (July 3rd) 
Signed FA Yann Danis, G (July 4th)
Signed UFA Ryan Keller, RW (July 4th)

 

Changing teams:

Steve MacIntyre, LW (PIT), 
Martin Gerber, G (Europe), 
Andrew Cogliano, C/W (ANA), 
Jeff Deslauriers, G (ANA), 
Zack Stortini, RW (NAS), 
Alexandre Giroux, W (CBJ), 
Richard Petiot, D (TB), 
Jim Vandermeer, D (SJ), 
Kurtis Foster, D (ANA), 
Sheldon Souray, D (DAL), 
Colin Fraser, C (LA), 
Liam Reddox, C/W (Europe)

 

Staying (re-signing):

 

Still in limbo:

 

Current cap space and new contracts:

Cap space: $7,165,000

Ryan Jones, 2 years, 1.5M cap hit
Ladislav Smid, 2 years, 2.250M cap hit
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, (ELC) 3 years, 3.775M cap hit (2-way)
Theo Peckham, 1 year, 1.075M cap hit
Yann Danis, 1 year, 650k, cap hit (2-way)
Ryan Keller, 1 year, 625k cap hit (2-way)
Josh Green, 1 year, 575k cap hit (2-way)
Andy Sutton, 1 year, 2.125M cap hit
Corey Potter, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Cam Barker, 1 year, 2.250M cap hit
Darcy Hordichuk, 1 year, 825k cap hit
Ben Eager, 3 years, 1.1M cap hit
Eric Belanger, 3 years, 1.75M cap hit
Ryan Smyth, 1 year, 6.25M cap hit
Lennart Petrell, ELC, 1 year, 900k cap hit (2-way)
Antti Tyrvainen, ELC, 2 years, 570k cap hit (2-way)
Taylor Chorney, 1 year, 735k (2-way)
Ryan O'Marra, 1 year...???

Analysis:
JS: Two names jumped right at me at first: Petrell and Tyrvainen, two Europeen free agents. Petrell is apparently a big hitter than can contribute offensively, and Tyrvainen is about the same kind of player. How they make the transition to the NHL remains to be seen, but they're seemingly the replacements for Stortini and Jacques, along with Eager and Hordichuk, two other such players. Other than that, they stole Cam Barker from us (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA....ahem, sorry about that) and they got Captain Canada (Smyth) back. They also signed Belanger and Andy Sutton. When you consider what they lost, they actually improved slightly, at least at forward. The changes made at D are rather doubtful. You would get the impression that they gained toughness, but they lost almost as much as they've obtained, but it's still a slight improvement. Smyth is still a pain in the ass in front of the net, and from what I gather, it's an aspect of the Oilers game that was lacking.

Another first pick, another ELC. Nugent-Hopkins signed and is probably going to play in the NHL this year, which will make the Oilers even more potentially fun to watch with Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Omark...Now they'll need a true defensive stud and some actual goaltending to become a nightmare for the rest of the NHL. For now though, we can probably expect the Oiler to miss the playoffs again, but they may actually get out of the bottom-5, if all goes well. 

As for the 3 other re-signing, Jones, Smid and Peckham, they're all decent players that will help down the road. Jones had a strong enough season and the 2 years at 1.5M cap hit will give the Oilers a chance to really see what this guy can do. He should be a fixture on the team's 3rd-4th line for a while. Peckham is an annoying, but effective physical defenseman 

Souray's departure helps cap wise and is one less distraction on the team. The Oilers can finally breathe a little bit with the 7M cap space. They will now need to save as much cash as possible and not spend needlessly. They won't be contending this season and they'll need the space to lock up their top players when the time comes. Another notable departure is Cogliano. He never lived up to his tantalizing potential in Edmonton, and he clearly didn't fit any more. I can't imagine that he would do all that well in Anaheim unless he makes it to their 2nd line. 

If the young guns can build on their rookie season, the Oilers may become much more respectable this season. Goaltending is still an issue though and they don't have too much offense on the blueline, and getting rid of Foster's slapper didn't really help. If you ask me, we'll see someone else pick 1st overall next season, but we won't see the Oilers in the playoffs just yet. 


Bryan:  The Oilers added Andy Sutton, an expert on replays, Darcy Hordichuk, an expert on dirty play, Eric Belanger, an expert on thinking more of himself than others do (JS: And dentistry), and Cam Barker, an expert on buyouts and concrete laced skates. They gave up Kurtis Foster, a move that is a true negative to the talent level of the team. The Oilers are a young team, and no one expects much from them, so the moves they made make little real difference. Until the kids grow up a bit, the Oilers aren't aiming for the stars. I don't see a move that makes them better, and the addition of Barker hurts them big. Overall, a net loss.

 
The best moves the Oilers made were offloading Sheldon Souray and Zack Stortini. Neither player fit the franchise, nor did they provide much value at all. No one else leaving, save for Foster, makes much of an impact, and can easily be replaced. They are at the top, middle of the pack for cap hit, which is surprising for a team that is so young, but could also be the result of teams previously ahead of them spending less this year than last. They only re-signed a handful of players, but each provides some sort of value, and are likely neutral for a rating.
 
The draft always goes well for the team with the first pick in each round, and this was no exception. The Oilers added even more young talent. In a few years, and with some management changes, the Oilers could be really good.

Minnesota Wild:

New faces:
Traded Maxim Noreau, D, to NJ for David McIntyre, C (June 16th) 
Named Mike Yeo Head coach (June 17th)
Traded Brent Burns, D, and 2nd round pick (2012) to SJ for Devin Setoguchi, RW, Charlie Coyle, RW/C, and 1st round pick (Zack Phillips) (June 24th)
Traded a 3rd round pick in 2012 to PHI for Darroll Powe, W/C (June 27th) 
Acquired Dany Heatley, W from SJ for Martin Havlat, RW (July 3rd)
Signed UFA Jeff Taffe, C/LW (July 5th)
Signed UFA Mike Lundin, D (July 9th)

 

Changing teams:

Maxim Noreau, D (NJ), 
Todd Richards (Fired, head coach), 
Brent Burns, D (SJ), 
Martin Havlat, RW (SJ), 
Cam Barker, D (EDM), 
Jose Theodore, G (FLA), 
Andrew Brunette, LW (CHI), 
Chuck Kobasew, W (COL)

EDIT: Antti Miettinen, RW (KHL) 

Staying (re-signed):

Johan Larsson, LW/C (Entry level contract)
Darcy Kuemper, G (ELC)
Kris Foucault, LW (ELC)
Kyle Medvec, D (ELC)
Jonas Brodin, D (ELC)

 

Still in limbo:

Robbie Earl, LW/RW
Antti Miettinen, RW (EDIT: Off limbo list, KHL.)
Patrick O'Sullivan, LW/RW

 

Current cap space and new contracts:

Cap space: $10,344,722

Johan Larsson, (ELC) 3 years, 900k cap hit (2-way)
Darcy Kuemper, (ELC) 3 years, 900k cap hit (2-way)
Kris Foucault, (ELC) 3 years, 553,333k cap hit (2-way)
Nate Prosser, 1 year, 715k cap hit (2-way)
Kyle Medvec, (ELC) 2 year, 570k cap hit (2-way)
Jed Ortmeyer, 1 year, 585k cap hit (2-way)
Drew Bagnall, 2 year, 612.5k cap hit (2-way)
Josh Harding, 1 year, 750k, cap hit
Colton Gillies, 2 years, 625k cap hit
Jonas Brodin, (ELC) 3 years, 1.475M cap hit (2-way)
Jarod Palmer, 1 year, 735k cap hit (2-way)
Casey Wellman, 1 year, 850.5k cap hit (2-way)
Jeff Penner, ...
Justin Falk, ...
Mike Lundin, 1 year, 1M cap hit
Jeff Taffe, ...
Dany Heatley, 3 years, 7.5M cap hit
Darroll Powe, 3 years, 1.066667M cap hit
Devin Setoguchi, 3 years, 3M cap hit
David McIntyre, ELC 1 year, 850k cap hit (2-way)
Justin Fontaine, ELC 2 years, 595k cap hit (2-way)
Chay Genoway, ELC 1 year, 1.2 cap hit (2-way)

 

RFA:

James Sheppard

Analysis:

JS: One thing's certain: The Wild are a much different team. Needs have been answered, especially with Setoguchi and Heatley. Let's not lie to ourselves though, as good as our young d-men have been, one season is hardly a valid sample for their true abilities. Our D situation could potentially be scary, especially with Burnsie gone. I love Spurgeon, but what if he doesn't repeat, or surpass his strong play this season? What if Stoner and Scandella meet the injury bug again? I'm not saying catastrophe will inevitably strike, but aren't we used to it by now? The Wild have been near the top in man-games lost for the past two years. At the very least, the playoffs are a real possibilty if Backstrom can have another strong season and our acquisitions score as advertised. A healthy Guillaume Latendresse would also be nice.

Of course, we didn't just get Heatley and Setoguchi. The Wild got another big hitter in Darrol Powe, who is also a nicely balanced checking line player and the likely replacement for Madden. The Wild also got a good, young defensive defenseman at a great price in Lundin, who is underrated according to many Lightning fans. Charlie Coyle, right away, is one of our best upcoming players, often compared to David Backes, which is nothing to scoff at. The future is increasingly bright for the Wild, with Coyle, Granlund, Zucker, Brodin and company.

Out of the teams in the NW, the Wild had perhaps the most notable departures. Not too many teams can say that both their first-line wingers are gone, but NO team can say their first liners would be Brunette and Miettinen if they had them. Bruno will be missed. A great person, one of the top players in Wild history, supplied many great memories for the fans. Miettinen...good riddance. Barker... same. Bye-bye. Kobasew...see you later. The biggest departure, by a long shot, is Brent Burns. It's hard for a team like the Wild to take trading their stud d-man, but acquiring what amounts to 3 1st round picks for him just might make it worth it, especially if Brodin becomes a top defender. Martin Havlat is also gone, but this one hurts less. He was, in a word, unsatisfying. He never quite performed like we knew he could/should and he caused some distraction with his ice-time woes and problems meshing with Kaptain K. (#MartinHavlatProblems). When you consider that Havlat's departure brings Dany Heatley, it makes it much easier to swallow. Another change, which was to be expected, was Jose Theodore's departure. Theo did great as Backstrom's sidekick, but he deserved a chance to prove his worth as a starter, and he got it in Florida. 

The re-signings were mostly Aeros/depth related. The main re-signing for us was back-up Josh Harding, who signed his 45th straight one-year contract with the Wild. Couldn't be happier. He's a great back-up, at a great price. 5 ELCs were handed out, which really shows the youth movement in motion. Again, the future is very bright. When have we ever said that?

Not to be overlooked in the ''major changes'' section is the hiring of Mike Yeo. He did a great job with the Aeros and the first episode of Becoming Wild gave us a closer look into his coaching style. He can certainly shake his players up during games when things aren't going well, which will be a breath of fresh air after Todd Richards and his poor in-game adaptation skills. He likes to get the most out of his players by putting them in the right spot to succeed. Me likey.

Still waiting are John Madden, who will likely retire since his spot in Minny seems to have been taken by Powe/Gillies/Wellman/Almond, Miettinen, who we thought was officially gone to Europe, but it seems we're being teased, O'Sullivan, who is quite likely gone and James Sheppard. Sheppard is the sole RFA left for the Wild, and it's strange that they haven't signed him by now. In my opinion, he wasted his opportunity by needlessly injuring himself in an ATV ride. Sure, it was an accident, but it's damn hard to have an ATV accident when you're careful. He'll probably re-sign anyway, but he should have to earn his spot by playing his way up from the minors. 

The cap situation is improving vastly, considering the Wild have been top spenders, yet still mediocre. Out of all the new signings, none surpass 2M per year and letting the many players walk freed up tons of space, a lot of which is going towards Koivu's extension. With the cap space, the Wild have much more freedom and we may actually see some moves at the deadline. Let's hope they'll be positive moves.

To sum things up, Fletch may have raised questions with the acquisitions of Barker and Kobasew, two acquisitions that seemed to have been made for the sake of being made, but his recent work with the drafts, the FA period and the trades all seem to indicate clear gains. The trades undeniably answer the Wild's most pressing need of the last 3 years, the FA signings round out the bottom lines nicely and the kids we got in the draft are developping quite nicely. The playoffs are reachable, but there are still many ''ifs''. I've said it last week: I've never been this excited to be a Wild fan. 

 

Bryan: We've done plenty of analysis on the Wild here, as that is what we do, but the Wild are a better team than they were last season. They brought in two players who shoot the puck, got rid of a defenseman who has anchors tied to his feet, rid themselves of a personality conflict with Havlat, and traded for another heavy hitter in Powe. They lose Brent Burns, which is a heavy price to pay on the blue line, and exposes the defensive corps up to being one of the youngest in the league. Still too many "ifs" to say with any certainty what the Wild are capable of, but it is      clear they are serious about getting better and planning for the future at the same time.

They didn't keep anyone around at the NHL level that they could get rid of, and none of them will be missed except for Andrew Brunette. The RFAs are nice to have locked up, since they are the future of the team, and since some of them have a good shot at the NHL roster this season. The James Sheppard situation is a little baffling though. I don't see other teams lining up to sign Shep, and the Wild were under zero obligation to keep him around after his buffoon of a move cost him the most important season of his career. Sign the contract, James. Or, have fun in Europe.

The biggest moves though were trades as discussed above. Flipping Burns and Havlat for Heatley and Setoguchi improves the offense, and hurts the defense. In the long run, it is still a net gain. The firing of Todd Richards and hiring of Mike Yeo adds a new dynamic to the team... a lot of ifs, just like two years ago, and just like last year. Better, yes. Contenders, no.

They are in good shape with the cap, dropping down the chart a few spots, while still adding talent. None of the contracts on the roster are overly ridiculous, and the team is in good shape with where the money is spent.

The draft was very good to the Wild, with the Burns trade adding an extra first round pick in Zack Phillips, and adding Charlie Coyle and Setoguchi. They also added Jonas Brodin to their defensive pool, and he impressed at development camp. It was a good weekend for the Wild as they continue to build the future.

Vancouver Canucks:

New Faces:

Acquired a 4th round pick (2012) from NYI for Christian Ehrhoff, D (June 28th) 
Signed UFA Andrew Ebbett, C/W (July 1st)
Signed UFA Marco Sturm, LW (July 1st) 
Signed UFA Mark Mancari, RW (July 1st)
Signed UFA Steve Pinizzoto, RW (July 3rd) 
Signed UFA Matt Climie, G (July 5th) 
Signed UFA Alexander Sulzer, D (July 5th) 
Acquired Mike Duco, LW, from FLA for Sergei Shirokov, W (July 9th)

 

Changing teams:

Lee Sweatt, D (OTT), 
Sergei Shirokov, W (FLA), 
Jeff Tambellini, W (Europe), 
Guillaume Desbiens, W (CGY), 
Alexandre Bolduc, C/LW (PHX), 
Rick Rypien, RW/C (WPG), 
Tanner Glass, W (WPG), 
Raffi Torres, LW (PHX), 
Christian Ehrhoff, D (NYI-BUF), 
Mario Bliznak, C (Europe)

 

Staying (re-signed):

Steven Anthony, LW (ELC)
Christopher Higgins, LW

 

Still in limbo:

Colby Genoway, LW

 

Current cap space and new contracts:

Cap space: $3,891,667

Steven Anthony, (ELC) 3 years, 576.667k cap hit (2-way)
Maxim Lapierre, 2 years, 1M cap hit 
Kevin Bieksa, 5 years, 4.6M cap hit
Andrew Alberts, 2 years, 1.225M cap hit
Christopher Higgins, 2 years, 1.9M cap hit
Sami Salo, 1 year, 2M cap hit
Nolan Baumgartner, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Mike Duco, ...
Alexander Sulzer, 1 year, 700k cap hit (2-way)
Matt Climie, 1 year, 525k cap hit (2-way)
Steve Pinizzotto, 1 year, 600k cap hit (2-way)
Andrew Ebbett, 1 year, 525k cap hit
Marco Sturm, 1 year, 2.250M cap hit
Mark Mancari, 1 year, 525k cap hit

RFA:

Analysis:


JS: The Canucks haven't made any earth-shaking changes this time around after they had made many strikes in the same period last year. It resulted in a SCF appearance, so they pretty much won last year's FA Frenzy. This year though, they made minor moves, the biggest being the acquistion of Marco Sturm and the trading of Christian Ehrhoff. Why mess with a good thing? They have all the pieces for a championship, they just ran out of heart in the end and the Bruins wanted it more. They've learned their lesson, and they'll be back. Marco Sturm could add some scoring pop, or he could flame out, we'll see. With a one year contract, it won't hurt too much, regardless. They're keeping my best friend in the whole wide world, Maxim Lapierre (If your screen and keys have become sticky, it's because of the sheer sarcasm dripping through my words) They also locked up Higgins, Salo, Alberts, and most importantly, Bieksa, whom they chose over Ehrhoff. They knew they couldn't keep both, so they went with the cheaper, more all-around d-man. Ehrhoff led all Nucks d-men in the offensive categories, so his loss will be felt for sure.

The only real regret the Nucks could have by sending Ehrhoff away, however, would be not being able to get more out of the trade, but that's what happens when trading pending UFAs. Sure, he was a big D-man for them, but the Nucks are still stacked on the blueline.  The Nucks also let go of some distracting players in Rypien and Torres, Torres having been a  bit of a key player during the playoffs. It could hurt, but at the same time, he often hurt the team for absolutely no reason with his lack of composure and restraint.

The players still waiting for a contract include ther two RFAs,Oreskovich and Hansen, who should'nt be going anywhere. Oreskovich, a young, big-bodied winger who could crack the 4th line and Hansen, their well-balanced hits leader on the 4th line. Other than that, only 4 UFAs, all of which are replaceable depth.

The Nucks are among the League's big spenders, but it pays off with success. Say all you want about the Nucks' choking in the playoffs, but only two teams make the Finals, and they were one of them, and they could very well repeat that feat tis year. Make no mistake, they may have gotten slightly worse with Ehrhoff's departure, but they'e stil, far and away, the best team in the Division and still challenge for the best in the West. After all, they basically have the same team as last season. 

Bryan: The Canucks didn't need to get better, but added depth anyway. The addition of Marco Sturm is an intriguing move, and adds a nice dimension to the team. In the past, Sturm has shown a bit of the douchiness required to play for the Canucks, so he can likely find that and fit right in. All of the moves thus far are clearly for depth. The core of the team stays the same, and they are still the most dangerous team in the Northwest.

Letting go of Rick Rypien and Raffi Torres makes an incremental improvement to the organization, but do little to make the on ice product any better even in their leaving. It's really too bad Bolduc won't be around for some random Wild player to beat up on anymore, though I am sure John Scott will find him somewhere. It is nice to see Maxime Lapierre stick around though. The Nucks just wouldn't be the Nucks without his royal douchiness in the rink. They have a good team, even for being a top 10 cap team. This team has spent its money well.

I don't feel they had a strong draft, but that happens when you make the Stanley Cup Finals. Their highlight came when their guy running the mic gave a verbal bitch slap to the crowd at the X. Still one of my highlights of the whole weekend.

For the RFAs, it makes no sense that these guys aren't inked. They were qualified, so they aren't going anywhere. Maybe they think they can get more... I have my doubts

6000 words later

So There you have it, our general look at the changes our friends in the Northwest have made. Like always, we can only project into what we believe will happen. We don't know for sure who the winer is in each signing or trade or draft pick. It all depends how you see each move made, and besides, the game of hockey is played on the ice, not on paper. We can only wait and see.

Just for the fun of it though, here's my assessment:

''Most improved'' rankings:

1. Wild: They got rid of dead weight, shedding tons of cap space and answered their need for scoring BIG TIME. The players gone may be missing pieces of someone's puzzle, but certainly not the Wild's. Prospect pool is looking good.

2. Oilers: The return of Smyth works both for sentimental and leadership purposes. The guy can also contribute and the young guns will keep growing.

3. Avalanche: Goaltending is a clear improvement, defense is decent and they have many growing prospects, with oodles of cap space.

4. Canucks: They technically got a little worse, but are still a force to be reckoned with in the West.

5. Flames: Lost a cornerstone defenseman, a top prospect, horrible cap situation, aren't getting any younger. Need I say more?

 

Projected Northwest Division Ranking for 2011-2012:

1. Canucks

2. Wild

3. Avalanche

4. Oilers

5. Flames

 

Part 2 of our look at the Northwest changes will be about the draft and the prospects. You won't want to miss it.

Alright, now back to work, ya slackers!

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