July 04, 2011
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
Something happened over the weekend that the NHL should really look into: George McPhee started blackmailing everyone to make his team better.
There's really no other explanation for the borderline-magical things he did on Friday and Saturday.
First, he somehow conned the Avalanche into trading him a first- and a second-round pick for Semyon Varlamov(notes). The kid was a third-string goalie who didn't play in the team's postseason run and was on the verge of sulking all the way back to the KHL (as all Russian-born players who can't hack it stateside do). This despite the fact that, had the Avs simply signed him to an offer sheet for the price they eventually paid him, the compensation would have been just a second-round pick.
And that all ignores the fact, by the way, that without a competent goaltending tandem in Colorado (which the Avs don't boast), that first-rounder will almost certainly be a lottery pick.
It was a stunning trade. Positively jaw-dropping. And it wasn't even the biggest coup of the weekend for McPhee.
(Coming Up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins throws like a girl; Toronto celebrates the Brett Lebda(notes) trade; Dan Carcillo(notes) calms down; the Sabres' payroll explodes; the Flames and their Richards pitch; why Richards didn't go to the Lightning; Jagr wasn't about the money; a non-hockey writer praises Varlamov; Kings go for Gagne; the Bruins are set up for more Cups; the Panthers and Hispanic fans; Erik Cole(notes) and the Habs; TSN told Kurtis Foster(notes) he was traded; Devils fan vs. Bill Daly; and Vincent Lecavalier(notes)-to-the-Leafs trade idea.)
That honor obviously goes to locking up an incredible, world-class goalie in Tomas Vokoun(notes) for just $1.5 million. For that price, Vokoun is like when the bargain basement store puts something on clearance.
Put it this way: Varlamov now makes almost double what Vokoun does, which is just insane. Johan Hedberg(notes), a backup who will play about 15 games this season at most, signed for just a quarter million dollars less than Vokoun.
The fact that the Caps not only pried Vokoun from the open market for that price, but did so at the expense of an already-weak division rival, is almost certainly going to net them the No. 1 seed in the East, if not the President's Trophy. Hell, they were No. 2 in the league this past year with strong but not overwhelming goaltending. Vokoun is extremely capable of providing that.
Of course, some naysayers have pointed out that Vokoun isn't exactly a battle-tested playoff warrior, and that this is somehow going to force Washington to continue its stunning run of postseason non-success. And it's hard to think of a dumber thing to believe. Who has Vokoun played for? Nashville when it wasn't very good and Florida, which is perpetually not very good.
Newsflash: A top-five goalie in the league, which is what Vokoun is, instantly improves any team's chances both in the regular season and playoffs. Even though the Caps will almost certainly be favored in just about any round they play this year, Vokoun is the kind of guy that can steal a game or even a whole series. He's that good.
Did people actually watch Panthers games this year? (OK, OK, obvious answer: No.) They were horrendous, but finished 28th in the league — and not 30th by a mile — almost entirely because Vokoun posted a .922 save percentage behind a defense where Dennis Wideman(notes) and Jason Garrison(notes) were the Nos. 1 and 2 guys in terms of TOI per game. His save percentage when Florida played short-handed was .925, tops among all goalies who played more than 50 games. Pekka Rinne(notes) was second at just .912.
With all due respect to the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins, doesn't this make the Capitals the best team in the East? A second year of Bruce Boudreau's new system being in place will certainly help iron out all of the kinks the team may have experienced last season, and there weren't even that many of those. After they had that eight-game losing streak, they went 30-11-7. Before it, they went 18-6-2. That's with Ovechkin and Backstrom and Semin all having off years (where 204 combined points is considered "off").
And let's not forget about Joel Ward(notes), the highly coveted energy guy who can chip in a little bit of offense and is nearly a point-a-game player in his postseason career. McPhee locked him up for four years (granted, it was for the quite-high price of $3 million per) and is the exact type of guy people think the Caps lacked. The addition of Roman Hamrlik(notes) should also help the second power-play unit, which famously struggled last year.
In short, whatever the Caps' perceived problems were, McPhee addressed them all in two days.
This was already an exceedingly good team, and its brilliant general manager just made it one hell of a lot better.
Between the Caps and Bruins, the Eastern Conference is going to be a bloodbath this year.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Kurtis Foster got traded to the Ducks on Friday afternoon, and that really crummy thing that seems to happen a lot these days happened to him. "We were on our way home from being downtown for the day and I got a bunch of text saying I was traded to Anaheim according to TSN." Is it really that hard to let the guy you're trading know first?
Buffalo Sabres: "Club's $62.9 million payroll ranks near top of NHL's salary list." I know Sabres fans are still in Pegula-worship mode, but this isn't necessarily a good thing. Know who was near the top of the salary cap list last year? The Minnesota Wild. How'd they finish?
Calgary Flames: The Flames were Brad Richards' second choice somehow? Oh that somehow is, "They offered him a billion dollars." Flames fans should be dancing in the streets over the fact that he did not accept the offer.
Carolina Hurricanes: Anthony Stewart(notes) signed with the Hurricanes and they're actually trying to couch the guy who scored just 39 points last year as a legit replacement for Erik Cole, who scored 52. Cool, good luck!
Chicago Blackhawks: Danny Carcillo has learned his lesson about being a total maniac. "You don't want to hurt the team when you're playing like that. I think over the years I've gotten a lot better with it. Playing with that emotion and bringing it every night." That's why he's starting the season serving a two-game suspension.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets had an interesting reason for letting Mathieu Garon(notes) walk (i.e. not "he sucks"): turns out both he and Steve Mason(notes) are right-catching goalies, which Scott Howson thinks may have hurt the team in practice.
Dallas Stars: People are acting like it's weird that Michael Ryder(notes) is taking a pay cut to play in Dallas, but guess what? Paying $3.75 million is still too much for a streaky goal scorer who only had 18 goals the last two years. No matter what the Sabres would have you believe.
Detroit Red Wings: Anyone who isn't still laughing over Kenny Holland deciding it was a good idea to nearly triple Jonathan Ericsson's(notes) salary for no readily apparent reason isn't paying enough attention.
Edmonton Oilers: To the surprise of no one except the kid himself, the Oilers locked up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with an entry-level deal. More importantly, click that link to see photographic evidence that RNH throws like a girl.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers don't do a good enough job of marketing to the Miami area's large Hispanic community? Solution's easy: Trade for Scott Gomez(notes) then act, like the Thrashers did last year when they acquired nearly half the black guys in the league, as though it was all a hockey personnel move and not the basest kind of cynical pandering. It would also help them get above the cap floor!
Minnesota Wild: The teams that did the best job this weekend (apart from the Capitals) are those that more or less stayed out of the absurd bidding wars that took place seemingly for every half-decent player not named Tomas Vokoun. The Wild were one of the teams that won by just staying out of it, instead opting for trades.
New York Islanders: The Marty Reasoner(notes) pickup is going to be a good one for an improving Islanders team, though I am somewhat concerned about his ability to fit in with the rest of the guys in the room. I don't recall him ever trying to kill anyone on the ice at all.
New York Rangers: Here's the best thing of the weekend by far: A Devils fan from HFBoards emailed Bill Daly, basically saying what we're all thinking. So uh, why was the Kovalchuk contract considered cap circumvention, but not the Richards contract? And Bill Daly responded with a pretty detailed answer. The money quote: "So, while I have my own views regarding the legitimacy of the Richards contract, it is not a contract we have any basis to reject." Seems like a cool dude, especially because, even as the Devils fan keeps whining, Daly basically tells him to grow up.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes are gonna address their restricted free agents this week, so all those vultures that have been circling Keith Yandle's(notes) head since Friday might as well fly away.
I smell sitcom!
San Jose Sharks: Signing Michal Handzus(notes) and Jim Vandermeer(notes) may not seem like the biggest transactions, but considering the Sharks' big acquisition was Brent Burns(notes) WAIT WHAT MARTIN HAVLAT?!
St. Louis Blues: Doug Armstrong on signing Kent Huskins(notes): "Obviously he's coming from a winning program. The last two teams he's played on, he's played deep into the playoffs, won a Stanley Cup. He knows what it's going to take to get a team to the next level." Yeah, bigger signings than Kent Huskins.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Brad Richards(notes) on not signing with the Lightning: "All the respect in the world. I had many offers. They just couldn't be in that range. No need for me to handcuff the team." There was, apparently, some need for him to handcuff the Rangers. Based on contexts, it probably has to do with how little he respects that organization.
Winnipeg Jets: Odd headline in the Winnipeg Free Press: "Slow, steady wins the race." Subhead clarifies: "So long as finish line still several years away for Jets franchise." Yes, that makes sense.
Gold Star Award
George McPhee is kickin' ass and takin' names yessiree.
Minus of the Weekend
I wish the league would actually get serious about cap circumvention instead of letting it go like it was no big deal. It's a huge deal, and one that's gonna cause problems when the CBA runs out next summer.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User "Maximrules" has a Pegula-like grasp on how the salary cap works:
Lock it in.
In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women.