Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Hot Takes on the 2015 Free Agency Opening Day

Ducking in and out, catching up on the July 1 opening day of the NHL Unrestricted Free Agent signing period, as it accumulates on my PVR.

---TSN starts off with a glitch right off the bat, announcing that Mike Weber had been signed by the Vancouver Canucks for $1.5M, which immediately set my spidey senses tingling.  Did they really mean Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres, or the Canucks Yannick Weber, their very own Restricted Free Agent?

They cleared it up about fifteen minutes later, it was indeed Yannick who got re-signed, which will make Carey Price's sister Angela happy, that her boyfriend keeps playing in Vancouver.

This wasn't a slam dunk, the Canucks hadn't qualified Yannick, apparently afraid that he might take them to arbitration, where his point production might sway the decision in a costly direction.  He still got a healthy raise from the $850 000 he earned last season, when he hadn't been qualified either in the off-season.

Interesting, tumultuous off-seasons for Yannick, after apparently solidifying his status as a regular defenceman and first-wave powerplay quarterback late in the season, he's tumbled back down the hill, and he's still seen as a #6-7 fringe guy by the administration, by the coach, and by the fans.

---Andrej Sekera signed by the Edmonton Oilers.  Amazing what a competent GM and President can do, in this case attracting one of the prime UFA's to what used to be the Siberia of hockey.

It looks like Jeff Petry's contract was the template they used, $33M over 6 years.  Which they weren't able to afford for Jeff last season.  And have now spent on a leftie who's two years older.

---Michael Frolik decides early on to go to the Calgary Flames, for five years at $4.3M per.  He'd professed an affinity for Montréal a couple days ago, how he liked it there and trained with fellow NHL'ers in the off-season, and I thought he'd be a good band-aid for a couple of seasons on right wing, at $4M per max.

Of course, I knew that was unreasonably low, that he'd get much more on the open market, so I'd crossed him off the list.  Apparently so did Marc Bergevin.  Good move, that's a lot of money for a Middle 6 forward, it doesn't fit in our salary structure.

---P.A Parenteau will play in Toronto, he'll make $1.5M for one season.  I'm a little surprised at this.  I thought he might go to a team like San Jose or Washington, a team that has some playmaking centres and can use a creative winger like him, a final piece of the puzzle.  The Maple Leafs certainly don't fit that bill.

Another reason is that the Leafs are now apparently heavy into skill, which P.A. has, but also into analytics, led in this area by assistant GM Kyle Dubas.  From what I read, I thought that P.A.'s underlying numbers were poor, he didn't 'drive possession', etc.  Maybe the Leafs had a different read, or different numbers entirely.

I'm saddened that he didn't flourish in Montréal, that injuries stalled his season, he seemed genuinely happy and positive during his stay in Montréal.

I liked how Gabriel Dumont, who was a little glum when he was sent down to the AHL and exposed to waivers last October, explained that Pierre-Alexandre spoke to him and tried to encourage him, telling him he spent seven seasons in the minors before he finally got a fulltime job in the NHL, so he should keep working hard and believing in himself.

So as hard as it is for me to say this about a Leaf, I wish him good luck with his new team.

---Raphaël Diaz returns to the Rangers, one of his former teams.  Really Rangers, don't you have enough defencemen?  He had a mediocre season with the Flames, only got playing time due to injuries to other defencemen.  I guess they know him over in NYC, and must think his 'particular set of skills' will fit in with the rest of their blueliners, especially if Keith Yandle is on the trade block as the TSN guys floated.

---Cody Hodgson signs with the Preds, and they'll undertake the reclamation job with him that they did with Mike Ribeiro.

---Zack Stortini, remember him from the Bulldogs?  Ottawa signs him to a two-year deal.  I guess having dealt away Eric Gryba's elbows, they needed to load up on toughness, especially with Don Sweeney acquiring 'character players' like Zac Rinaldo, but Zack Stortini is more of a punch-taker than a puncher.  Two years?

Add in one-time Toronto wonderboy Mike Kostka on a two-way contract, and you know that Colton Orr and Korbinian Holzer can't be far behind.

---I was with some coworkers preparing for the Canada Day Parade when one of my buddies who's a Canucks fan approached me and informed me of the Zack Kassian trade.  They usually like getting my goat, know when I'm PVR'ing a game and will pretend to check their phones and blurt out the score.  With this in mind, I thought I was being set up, and said as much, out loud, that this was a faintly plausible ridiculous trade hoax.

So, Zack Kassian, and the proverbial fifth, for Brandon Prust.

  • I hate dealing away Brandon, a leader of the team, and a guy who'd voluntarily come here as a UFA, and embraced the community.
  • Mariepier Morin had promised there would be hell to pay if he got traded away, especially now that they were engaged.  Her media career is not 'portable', she needs to be in Québec.  I'd hate to be Marc Bergevin right now, and incur her fury.
  • Brandon's pugilism isn't replaced by Zack Kassian, who's big but not a great fighter, he's reluctant to assume that role.  Maybe this is another opportunity for Jarred Tinordi, to contribute to a 'team toughness' concept.
  • Trading away a Bottom 6 left winger for a right winger who could/should (by all rights) play in the Top 6 should be a no-brainer.  If Zack can put it together.  Whereas Brandon is a sure thing, you know what you're getting.
  • From Vancouver's end, I don't understand what they did, they already have a 3rd/4th-liner that they're moderately overpaying in Derek Dorsett, who plays that exact same role of 'energy heart-and-soul gritty leadership provider'.  Maybe they'll only hold Brandon for two days and flip him to another team, like Boston did for Martin Jones.  
  • The Canucks better not trade him to the Bruins.
  • Jim Benning says that Brandon Prust was brought in to partly allay the leadership and toughness deficit created by the departure of Kevin Bieksa.
  • The Vancouver media believes that Zack Kassian's departure creates a spot for scoring prospect RW Jake Virtanen to win in camp.
  • The Canadiens save about a million dollars in cap space in the one-for-one trade.
  • Brandon's 3rd/4th-line and PK duty can be assumed easily, fingers crossed, by Michaël Bournival.  Go, kid!
  • If things work out, Zack provides some size and skill in the Top 6, and is a true right-winger, not a leftie asked to play the right side.  He has great hands, some surprising moves, clever passes, if he can be consistent, that guy can play, absolutely.
  • We get Brendan Gallagher, Devante Smith-Pelly, Dale Weise, and now Zack to replace an ineffective P.A. Parenteau.  That's really not bad, if things work out following a somewhat optimistic scenario: Gally and Dale hold steady, Devo takes a step or two forward, and Zack makes a big jump.
  • Positive Mental Attitude: Zack, when interviewed by James Duthie, spoke about how excited he was, how the Canadiens are his dad's favourite team.  He said how, regardless of a trade, he'd resolved that next year he was going to have a big year, make a statement.  
  • He didn't go into details when James Duthie probed into this area, he just said that he was going to prepare to take his game to the next level.  Plainly, based on his last couple of seasons in Vancouver, he means being more diligent in his off-season conditioning.  Zack is a little jowly, never broke any records during testing at training camp.  If he can drop a dozen pounds and get stronger, that'll go a long way to improving his game, his intensity, his consistency so he doesn't wear down during the season, or suffer shoulder injuries, etc.
  • At first blush, I didn't believe this trade was even real, and then I hated it.  But going through the process, analyzing it, I feel better about it.  If Zack can make the same quantum leap that Dale Weise did when he arrived from Vancouver, we're laughing.
  • The fifth-rounder we get in addition is a big bonus.  Let's stockpile more picks, always.  And the fifth round is where Trevor Timmins does his best work, right?

---The Penguins acquire Phil Kessel to play right wing with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin.

Oof!  That could be deadly, they could explode.  Especially if Sid can pound some sense into him, and get him to get in adequate physical condition for an NHL player.  As everyone has thought, if Phil Kessel can score 30 with Tyler Bozak and Cody Franson, imagine what he'll do with Sidney and Kris Letang feeding him the puck.

And good on the Leafs for pulling the trigger on a relatively decent deal.  They weren't going to hit a homerun trying to trade such a prickly player with that contract.  Better to cut the cord and move on, since they don't really care about the next couple of seasons.  This isn't about maximizing value to make a Cup run, this is a strip down of the roster, an inculcation of the organization to a new philosophy.  And quite honestly, the Leafs are looking to be bad, to get a few high picks before they get better.

The Leafs unload their 2011 first-round bust Tyler Biggs in the deal, the guy they'd traded up to get, to add truculence.

Tim Erixon, who's ping-ponged from the Rangers to Columbus to the Blackhawks and the Leafs, goes to Pittsburgh too.  He's maybe going to have a career as a throw-in, on the Rick Nash trade, and now the Phil Kessel trade.

Sidenote: interesting that Scott Harrington gets dealt away by Pittsburgh.  One blogger whose work I enjoy thinks he's the posterboy for over-valued CHL defensive defencemen.
One of the things that drives me off-the-wall crazy about Hockey Canada at the junior level is the fetishization of stuff as nebulous as "heart" and "grit" and "toughness." Consequently, we get guys on our international junior teams who, when they appear to exhibit some of these intangible qualities, are lauded for their on-ice defensive abilities. Take, for example, Scott Harrington. A Penguins 2nd round pick in 2011, he was named the captain of the OHL champion London Knights this past season (leadership!), was a finalist for OHL defenseman of the year (defense!), and was guaranteed a spot on Canada's World Junior Championship team's blueline because he was there before because he blocked shots (heart!). Corey Pronman lists him as one of Pittsburgh's top-10 prospects, saying that his upside is a 3rd or 4th NHL defenseman due to being a "high-end thinker" with stellar defensive ability.
And yet he'll more than likely be out of NHL hockey by the time he's 25, doomed to a career bouncing around the minor leagues and Europe, mostly because he's not a very good hockey player, relatively speaking.

Maybe Mark Hunter, formerly GM of the London Knights and now with the Leafs, knows something we don't.

---Mike Green signs with Detroit, by the same stroke stifling my dreams of flipping them right-handed puck-moving Tom Gilbert for Anthony Mantha.  And a couple of picks.

Mike Green is a few seasons away from the phenomenal 31-goal year he had once, he's suffered a few injuries and concussions since then, so the three-year term is very reasonable for the Wings, compared to some of the prognostications by TSN's panel.  I thought they were still relying on his rep, which used to be of an All-Star.  That's not the case any longer.

---And the Wings adds some talent with Brad Richards at a reasonable $3M cap hit for one year.  Those guys aren't kidding around, we may tremble at their approach next year.

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