The snowball of failure continues to grow in Denver

I’m about to do something very unprofessional, so bear with me for a second.  *ahem*  WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, COLORADO?  ARE YOU OFF YOUR COLLECTIVE ROCKERS?  JEEZUM CROCKETT, Y’ALL’RE GONNA END UP IN A TITAN SIZED TOILET.

*breathes heavily*

I think I’m better now.  Seriously though, the Colorado Avalanche are now shining examples of what it means to be short sighted and oblivious of the league around them.  In my article about the losers in the West in regards to free agency, I thought the Avs addressed a goaltending problem (not very well, but still) and didn’t do anything else worthwhile.  I think they’re young and Paul Stastny is impressive and Matt Duchene will be a great player someday, but besides those two young stars, there isn’t a whole lot the team has to be proud of.  I figured “Hey, they didn’t really screw themselves all that badly, they got some new goalies but they needed that, the kids will mature into leaders like Peter Forsberg was and Milan Hejduk is to an extent nowadays after a season or two, this won’t kill them”.  In my fact checking process, I (in another glorious lack of professionalism) managed to overlook exactly what they traded to the Washington Capitals in return for netminder Semyon Varlamov.  What Colorado bartered wasn’t something reasonable like a young prospect and a mid-round pick or something comparable to what the rest of the league does when trading for a player of Varly’s caliber.  Nay, they gave Washington, arguably the most dangerous team in the league since their acquisition of one of the most talented goaltenders around, Tomas Vokoun, a first round draft pick for next year’s draft, and a second round for either the same year or the following.

Varlamov is a pretty good goalie, there’s no doubt about that, but can he really handle the workload of a number one starter?  The Caps tried that with him and he’s proven himself to be injury prone, which is the absolute last thing the Avs need.  They’ve gone and traded away talented young ones like Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis prior to the deadline last year, and the player they got in return (Erik Johnson) has been all but invisible since becoming an Av.  The legendary Forsberg even attempted a return last year, only to break himself in half and retire again after two games, registering an impressive zero points.  So ever since their surprise playoff run and subsequent first round exit two years ago, the team has hit a spate of bad luck, and clearly they’re hoping the 23-year-old Russian will help break the curse.

The problem is that they’ve invested far too much in him.  Yes, this is a young team with a good chunk of potential, but they won’t reach it this year, not with the mediocre team around the young players.  If their hilariously tragic second-half skid last year was any indication, it’s gonna be a good while before this team figures out how to play together and produce consistent threats in either end of the zone, and until that time they’re going to be the whipping boys of the Northwestern division.

As mentioned before, Varlamov is injury prone.  And in addition to that, his stats were merely okay when he had one of the best teams in front of him.  Sure they weren’t all that defensively minded but he still couldn’t step up like, say Jonas Hiller.  Hiller faces roughly ten quadrillion shots per night and keeps Anaheim in the game when they’re having a slow offensive night, Varly simply isn’t up to that.  Not to mention that Washington always had a solid tandem in net, if Varlamov was faltering, they could swap him out for Neuvirth or Holtby, and now that that safety net is gone, there’s just that much more pressure on him.

But as I’m sure most of you have just wondered “How could he be missing a safety net when he has Jean-Sebastian Giguere behind him?”, and that’s a valid query.  Giggy is a both a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe winner (one of only five to ever do so on the losing side), and at 34, he’s certainly aging and past his prime but is still able to play at an adequate level.  The problem is that he doesn’t want to play backup, and never has.  He caused a stir in Anaheim back when he was quoted as saying he’d “rather retire than play backup”, and was shortly shipped off to Toronto, where in a shocking twist of fate, he ended up playing backup for the young James Reimer.  Now he’s being brought into a struggling team who is sure to play poorly against the tough Western Conference for the sole purpose of being a backup.  He’s gonna have something to prove, and will play his heart out and surely get extra time when Varly ends up injured like we all know he will.  With that said, Giggy himself has been prone to groin injuries over the last few years.  Colorado has put all of their eggs into broken breadbaskets, and it’s sure to backfire on them.

I’m being cruel, because I will admit that both Varlamov and Giguere are solid goalies currently, and the former will probably improve before his time in the NHL is up, but they don’t have a good team in front of them.  Not only that, but Washington was given a potential lottery pick in return for Varlamov, so Colorado has given themselves a new, shaky foundation while simultaneously making the best team better.  It’s gonna be a brutal slide for the Avs, and I’ll be at the top of their mountain screaming “I told ya so!”.  They’re a struggling team who gave up too much for a vague hope and a prayer, while not bolstering the rest of their roster in ways they so desperately needed, like defensive capability, scoring touch, skating skill, toughness, and basically every aspect necessary to play hockey.  To close, I’ll just make the bad pun I’ve been debating making throughout the entire time I’ve been writing this… the folks making the decisions in Denver have got to be Rocky Mountain High.

I am profoundly sorry.

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Tearful Reunions and the Quest to Fill Brad’s Hole

The biggest prize in the free agency pool this year was a double whammy of both top center Brad Richards, and his teeth.  No doubt, the man is a top line centerman who can win faceoffs and play extremely well with a man up.  He has had some pretty abysmal +/- numbers lately, but that isn’t necessarily his fault.  People have yapped for hours upon hours about the Richards deal, so I’ll spare you all from my gum flapping and will instead focus on the Mr. Ed shaped hole now residing in Dallas, and what the organization has done to fill it.  And surprisingly enough, they’ve done a spectacularly solid job of mending the exit wound.  The Dallas Stars have so far signed six free agents to accompany their draft picks this year, and they’ve continually made the right moves all offseason.

Draft wise, apart from Jamieson Oleksiak (their 1st round pick and 14th overall), nobody really stands out as being all that spectacular or promising.  And honestly, the main reason Oleksiak stands out at all is because you could spot him in a crowded room from half a mile away.  That’s right, the 18 year old defender stands at a whopping 6’7” and 244lbs.  He allegedly has great puck moving abilities and remarkably impressive stick handling not only for a young defender, but also one who’s certifiably gigantic.  As suspected, he’s already drawing comparisons to Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers, but I’m not so quick to put him in such lofty company so soon, the kid still has a lot to prove.  He’ll grow into a good defender, no doubt, just not this year or the next.  He just barely learned how to drive a car, let’s not go Japanese over him quite so quickly.

Despite my skepticism on the potential of their prominent draft pick, I think that Dallas most definitely scored on their free agency activity.  Richards is irreplaceable at the moment, there is nobody in the organization nor available on the market with the skillset he currently has, but the team doesn’t need another Richards.  He was great, but he wasn’t the lynchpin in their success over the last several years.  People like Mike Ribeiro, Brendan Morrow, Stephane Robidas, and until last year, Mike Modano, have been the true heart and soul of the team if you ask me.  Richards didn’t get along with the owners in Dallas and seemed pretty set on jumping ship once his contract was up.  He wanted to win, first and foremost, and the poor financial handlings of the team made it clear to him that he wouldn’t win the Cup in Texas.  He may have been the point leader the last two years, but when I think of the leaders on the team, I think of Morrow’s steely determination or Ribeiro’s strange fish eyes.  So with his departure, the team didn’t lose a leader as much as it lost a huge scorer, and with this in mind it’s actually a lot easier to fill the void he left in his wake.

To demonstrate, Dallas signed four forwards during the first days of free agency.  The first I’ll discuss is right winger Radek Dvorak.  Dvorak was a 65+ point player one season out of the last 16, and it was ten years ago.  Since then he’s reached the 50 point mark only once and struggled to get past 35 for most of the rest, hopping between Edmonton, St. Louis, and Florida before being traded to Atlanta and tallying a grand total of one assist in 13 games.  So he’s old and declining, not quite the best addition to a team full of solid, consistent point getting veterans.  Not the best signing but he’s a good depth player and he certainly can’t hurt to have around.

Next up are a pair of centers, the former Blackhawk, Jake Dowell, and the former Coyote, Vernon Fiddler.  Fiddler scores even less than Dvorak, but I’d rather have him on my team.  Why?  The man is a solid and underrated defensive forward, capable of winning faceoffs and killing penalties on par with any Selke finalist.  He may lack a scoring touch, and with Richards gone they definitely need one, but he generally stays out of the box and is a great shutdown center that will fit well with Dallas’s style.  Dowell is another acquisition that fans should be in favor of.  Dowell played decently well in Chicago, he was never a standout player on a team full of superstars, but he played his role well enough and was rarely a negative force on the ice.  In Dallas, his style of play translates better with what the team as a whole tries to do.  There was very little toughness in Chicago, while in Dallas it’s the opposite.  Brendan Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, and youngster Jamie Benn handle almost all of the offense nowadays, while the rest of the team focuses on playing a tough, physical, gritty hockey, just the way Dowell can play when he needs to.  I personally think that Chicago focused too much on finesse last season, and while people who can be bruisers certainly can adapt to skate better and score more (Troy Brouwer and Bryan Bickell are prime examples), Dowell just isn’t one of those people, and he’ll play much better if he isn’t being pressured to be pretty.  Not to mention, he’ll probably end up on a line with another former Wisconsin Badger and perennial good luck charm, Adam Burish, which will certainly provide great chemistry and up each other’s games.

The final forward signing is one I really, really like.  In an effort to actually regain some of the lost scoring ability, Dallas signed Michael Ryder for two years (at 3.5 million a year).  Ryder’s last few seasons haven’t been as impressive as his first few in Montreal, but he’s a seasoned veteran who won the Cup last year, can still undoubtedly score, and has played in a defensive system similar to Dallas while he was in Boston.  I believe there is more room for him to play aggressive offense in Dallas than there was in Bean Town, which was an even more defensive system.  This is the perfect blend for him, it’s a defensive focus (which he’s used to now) with a high scorers that are able to put the puck in the net with the best of them.  Bonus factoid: Ryder was a linemate with Ribeiro back in Montreal several years ago, so perhaps the reuniting of old buddies will reignite the spark within the both of them to start putting up their old numbers.  I think this will play out nicely, and will definitely be anticipating the regular season.

Rounding out their signing blitz are two defensemen, Calgary’s Adam Pardy and Edmonton’s Sheldon Souray.  Pardy looked promising for the Flames, but had an injury shortened season last year and the full potential of his talent remains a mystery, and Dallas hopes he can realize it with them.  Dallas doesn’t have any huge name blueliner like Shea Weber or Niklas Lidstrom, so I suppose he could become a force down there, but don’t expect him to be a savior of any sort.  The one I’m really interested in, is the signing of 34-year-old Souray.  This man bleeds the essence of sheer determination, and is one monstrously scary presence on the ice.  Not only will he rough up any opponents who step out of line (making him one of several on the team willing) and hit like a Mack truck, but he can score.  The Dallas Stars franchise record for most goals by a defenseman is 19, Studly Wonderbomb has scored over 20 twice in the last four years, and the two in which he didn’t were because of a crippling hand injury after the first one and being banished to the AHL after the second.  That’s the other thing going for him, he’s a scrapper with a temper and a howitzer shot, and he has got to be extraordinarily furious with his treatment in Edmonton.  Public disputes with the ownership of the franchise and his request for a trade lead to his eventual exile into the minor leagues, despite being far and away the best defender the Oilers had on payroll.  He wants to play in the big leagues, he has the ability (he actually holds the unofficial record for hardest slap shot (106.6 mph)), he has the drive, the only question is whether or not his attitude will improve.  If Dallas falters, is he going to be a baby and refuse to give his all?  He only has a one-year contract, so we’ll see if he gives 110% throughout the year.  Personally, I believe he will.

Once the dust around Richards settles and people remember that he didn’t spawn out of the ooze, more casual fans will take a look at Dallas and see what they’ve done to fill his hole.  If the casual fan has half a brain, they’ll realize that while they didn’t sign any one individual player that will replace their top center, they’ve certainly built a very good team in his wake, and one that I believe will agitate their opponents both through physicality and the scoreboard.  I see a bright season on the horizon down south.

Bettman’s Realignment Proposal: Less Chiropractor, More Sub Zero

A quick show of hands, who here loves Gary Bettman, and thinks he does a great job as commissioner of the NHL?

*crickets*

That’s what I thought.  I have yet to meet one hockey fan, either in person or over the Internet, who doesn’t think Bettman is a slimy, weaseling, unsifted sack of kitty litter.  After the winner of the Stanley Cup Finals is determined, this little suited troll comes out onto the ice to congratulate the winners and present the Conn Smythe MVP and Stanley Cup to the winners.  During this time, no matter where he is, regardless of whether the home team won or lost, the second his little midget self waddles onto the ice, the arena erupts in boos, jeers, and occasionally, hurls debris his way.  A few weeks ago, shortly after Boston earned their first Stanley Cup since 1972, goaltender Tim Thomas could barely hear him while being presented with the Smythe trophy.  As soon as Bettman awkwardly left center ice, the bitterly defeated Vancouver crowd began politely cheering for the victors (they booed again when Shawn Thornton held the Cup, but I’d do the same thing).

There are several reasons for the unrelenting hate of our commissioner, be it his clear favoritism of owners above players or fans, his boneheaded determination to make hockey an “American game” by doing his best to keep a financially troubled team in an uninterested market, his non action regarding Colin Campbell’s utterly confusing disciplinary judgments, or perhaps the fact that he always seems like he has some shady agenda that he plans on unleashing upon us unsuspecting mortals when we least expect it.  All of those are great reasons to believe a howler monkey with a poo-flinging fetish would be at least a slight improvement in the commissioner’s chair, but I’m here to talk about one thing of his in particular: his proposal on how to deal with Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg.

For those of you who aren’t nerds and/or don’t understand the title, I believe the NHL needs a slight realignment, it does not need its entire spine ripped out.  While everybody was distracted with the impending doom of the Phoenix Coyotes, some folks went out and bought the Atlanta Thrashers (another woebegone franchise) and moved them back to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The return of the Winnipeg Jets has been met with much fanfare, with the team selling 13,000 season tickets within a few hours.  While this has been a triumph overall, the move has left a hole in the Southeast Division and a discrepancy within the conferences.  Winnipeg resides north of Minnesota, clearly in the realm of the Western Conference.  This left Gary Bettman with some actual work on his desk, how would he compensate for the move?  The short term decision is to just play the team as if they’re still located in the Southeast for this upcoming season, and I can understand that since rearranging the entire schedule on such short notice is surely a daunting task.  This still begs the question, what to do next year?

Well The Penguin has hatched a scheme, and I hate it with the burning intensity of a million exploding suns.

Instead of a simple realignment (aka shuffling a few teams and swapping one over a conference), Gary Bettman has proposed an entire overhaul of the system.  As it currently stands, there are six divisions, three in each conference, five teams in each division.  One team plays their division opponents six times throughout the year, they play each team outside their division but in their conference four times, and each team outside their conference at least once, some twice, for a total of 82 games on the year.  Come playoff time, the leaders of each division get one of the top three seeds, and the remaining five for the conference are determined by points earned throughout the regular season.  It’s not perfect, but it’s simple and works.  For the 2012-2013 season, if the Commish has his way, the entire division system we currently have will be decimated and completely reworked from the ground up.

In his proposal, the current six divisions are scrapped entirely, being instead replaced with four, two for each conference.  Playoff seeds will then be decided by the top four teams in each division, first round would be divisional play and teams would be reseeded for the second round.  The final would still feature the West champion versus the East champion.   His plan also includes Columbus and/or Detroit migrating to the Eastern Conference.

Admittedly, this does seem a little simpler and will allow for more interconference matchups, but as it stands, those are the only two advantages to this proposed system.  Interconference play is exciting and adds more variety to the schedule, which is great for fans and players alike, and I’m 100% in favor of that, but it’s only one advantage that is outweighed by several negatives.

First off, deciding the playoffs by simply taking the top four teams in each division completely saps the excitement out of the last month or so of the season.  When it’s nearing season’s end and the last two or three playoff spots are up for grabs between five or six teams, every single game counts and everybody gives 110% on the ice.  Great moments happen, players reach potential they previously thought impossible, goaltenders transform into octopi and make saves that even Jesus would look at and go “Oh snap”.   Having a lead in points but several games in hand is nerve wracking and just plain exciting.  By making it purely divisional, you eliminate several teams from your specific race.  In the home stretch, players in Los Angeles have absolutely no reason to care about what happens in Chicago, they can focus all of their energy on one sole threat, which takes a lot of wind out of the sails of excitement.  Yes, that’s what it currently comes down to in the last week when there are only two more teams vying for contention, but now there is the potential for the race to be narrowed to two with a month left to play, and the entire playoffs being decided weeks before the season is over.  Where’s the fun in having the last half dozen games mean absolutely nothing?

In conjunction with that, this also opens up the possibility of a problem that occasionally rears its head in the NFL.  The new format would leave open the possibility of a team with a mediocre record making the playoffs over a team with a better record.  For example, let’s say out of the two Western divisions, Dallas sits at 4th in their division with 92 points, and on the other end, Anaheim (in a more competitive division) brings in 95 points but sits in 5th place.  Despite Anaheim being the better team during the regular season, Dallas proceeds to the playoffs while Anaheim goes golfing.  Especially with the increased play outside of your conference, less losses would give points to teams you’d have to race against in the end.  The best teams should get the chance for the Cup, not decent teams who are conveniently grouped with bad teams.

But I’ve saved my biggest gripe for the end.  Those fancy-pants readers who know their arithmetic may have noticed a problem here.  The way it sits currently, there are six divisions with five teams each because there are 30 teams in the NHL.  Now by cutting the divisions down to four, it isn’t possible for the divisions to match.  That, my friends, is one of my biggest problems with baseball, and the idea of it migrating to hockey is vastly unsettling.  Any sport in where the divisions or conferences are uneven is fundamentally flawed as it gives advantages to certain teams.  Teams in the AL West have a better chance of making the playoffs as they only have three teams to worry about divisionally as opposed to an NL Central team who has to worry about five.  In Bettman’s proposal, there would be 8 teams in one division and 7 in the other for each conference.  Uneven divisions are the bane of my existence.  Even if my favorite team wound up in an easier division, I’d still despise it with all of my heart.  No good can come of this, not in any way, shape, or form can uneven divisions create a fair playing field for all teams involved.

*FINISH HIM!*

I firmly believe that you don’t have to be good at something to point out somebody else sucks at it.  I can’t play guitar, but I can say that Random Youtube Kid A completely butchered the outro solo to Song B and be justified since I’m speaking the truth.  But since I like to go one step beyond, I’m going to propose a counter solution to Bettman’s supposed “solution”.  Keep the divisions how they are (three to a conference, six total).  Make Winnipeg a part of the Northwest, move Minnesota to the Central, and move Nashville to the Southeast.  Geographically, this makes perfect sense.  Yeah, big blubbering Columus and Detroit won’t get to move to the East like they want, but the East coast is stacked and they’re still the westernmost teams out of them all and in the closest proximity to the rest of the Central division.  Also, despite hating this proposal, I do like the idea of increased interconference play, so a tweak of the schedule could do some good.  Instead of playing your opposing conference once or twice, play them two or three times.  Play your division four times instead of six and your conference three instead of four.  This makes 76 games, so there’s a choice.  Either arbitrarily play six opposing conference teams three times instead of two, shorten the season by two games to play your division five times (or extend it by two in order to play six still), or lengthen it by four in order to play your conference four times.  This is an entirely new can of worms I’ve just opened, and I know many fans would hate the idea of a shortened season and players would hate a lengthened season, but if you want more interconference play, there’s really no other logical way.  The only other option would be to stop screwing with something that works just fine.  Yes, we could soften the debate about which conference is more competitive, but we’d be shortchanging teams in bigger divisions and giving teams in a small division an unfair boost.

Bettman the Butcher, hear me like St. Louis apparently did.  Step back and look at this nonsense, you’re buying a new car because your brakes went bad, you’re buying a new table because you spilled your milk, heck, I could even say you’re buying new shoes because the laces came untied.  Do not overhaul and replace and entire system just because one component needs to be tweaked.

*FATALITY!*

Free Agency: Which Teams Have Faltered Thus Far?

In the wake of July 4th, the anniversary of when my motherland declared its independence from the big meanieheads in Britain, I’ve decided there’s no better way to spend my time than to analyze the recent events regarding a largely Canadian pastime: NHL Free Agency.  Huge blockbuster trades and signings have gone down all around the league over the last few days, and this is one of the more exciting years in recent memory.  The raising of the salary cap and floor by roughly four million or so has caused several teams to scramble and sign low line players for far more than they’re worth, and big name players to get huge contracts they couldn’t have managed in the past.  I’m a world-renowned pessimist, and as such would like to christen this publication with less of a celebratory fanfare and more of a cruel, finger pointing mockery of teams in the Western Conference who couldn’t handle themselves during the hectic free agency period.

Minnesota Wild: Right of the bat, I’m sure people are scratching their heads on this one.  How could any team that nabbed the coveted Dany Heatley be considered in the lower classes of Free Agency activity?  Quote Greg Graffin: “It’s never really what you own, but what you threw away.”  Yes, Heater is a beastly goal scorer and Devin Setoguchi is a hot, young dude who can score, but the Wild have given up just far too much otherwise.  Their plan was to essentially give the team a fresh start by focusing on young talent, which I understand, but giving up darn near all of your veterans isn’t the wisest idea.  Granted, Mikko Koivu is one of the most underrated centers in the game today, but he is one of the few returning players I’d like to have on my team.  Andrew Brunette ran away to Chicago, Chuck Kobasew is now residing in the Rockies with the rival Avs, the solid blue liner Cam Barker signed with the now (shockingly) promising Oilers, the continually improving Antti Miettinen has not resigned, and veteran leader and three-time Cup winner John Madden is sitting on the open market.  Worst of all, they traded away a stud D-man, Brent Burns, to San Jose for The Gooch and quick, veteran goal scorer Martin Havlat for the goal-scoring mech-warrior in Heater.  In terms of raw talent, I’d rather have Heatley on my team, but Havlat is now surrounded by all stars while Heatley is left to carry most of the team on his own with only Koivu to help shoulder the load.  He had Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa, he had joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose, and he’s all alone in Minnesota.  Expect a lackluster season on his part.

St. Louis Blues: This one is more due to inactivity than poor decisions.  Hooray, they managed to keep young star T.J. Oshie, but this team needs more than him.  Apart from Oshie, David Backes, David Perron, and midseason acquisition, Chris Stewart, St. Louis doesn’t have much in the way of offense, and this was a great time to bolster themselves in that area.  By signing average, low-pair D-man, Kent Huskins and Brian Elliott to back up Jaroslav Halak in net, they’ve completely failed in that regard so far.  In fact, I believe one of the reasons Halak performed so lukewarmly last year was due to a lack of support in front of him, so a big D signing would help the team plenty as well, and yet here they sit, with people like McCabe and Arnott still available.  Maybe nobody wants to play for such a woeful team?  It seems to be happening in Long Island so I suppose it’s possible, but the fact remains that here sits a mediocre team who isn’t improving during the time in which you should really be doing so.

Editor’s note: Since the posting of this, the blues took Mike’s advice and signed Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott. With these new additions, Mike removes them from the list and adds the Colorado Avalanche due the Semyon Varlamov’s injuries and Jean-Sabastien Gigure’s age.

Nashville Predators: I like the signing of young Niclas Bergfors (even if he hasn’t been living up to the potential I thought he had in Jersey), but otherwise the Preds haven’t done a whole lot these first few days.  Their blueline is overall good like always (with one of the scariest top pairs in the league with Ryan Suter and the android known as Shea Weber) and Pekka Rinne is a lanky Vezina finalist with an impressive Anders Lindback backing him up in net, but like the Blues, this team really lacks a scoring touch.  Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist can get it done best, with Sergei Kostitsyn and J.P. Dumont chipping in occasionally, but really this team is all about the defense.  It’s been working for them all this time, so I suppose I can’t fault them for not attempting to fix something that isn’t broken at the moment, but the recent trading of promising young defender Cody Franson and former Phoenix scorer Matthew Lombardi for defenseman Brett Lebda and forward Robert Slaney from Toronto doesn’t sit well with me at all.  Franson is a decent D-man with a moderate scoring touch but the Music City is stacked on his position, so he’ll have a chance to shine in Toronto, but Lombardi could have been the scoring man they needed.  I’m well aware his only season with Nashville was shortened by 80 games due to a concussion last year, but is it really a good idea to give up on him so quickly?  Not to mention what they got in return was another D-man and some nub who nobody’s ever heard of.  Nashville isn’t a big loser here, but I’m not a fan of what they’ve done so far, adding some offense to their game could make a world of difference (I’d like to use Anaheim as an example but they went out first round to this very team so I suppose that’s kind of moot).

Phoenix Coyotes: Keeping Radim Vrbata is a good thing, and signing Raffi Torres (as much as I don’t like him) is good for the team in terms of toughness, but the loss of Ed Jovanoski is really going to hurt.  As much as they’re going to miss JovoCop, where the ‘Yotes really lost was between the pipes.  Ilya Bryzgalov was far and away the best player down in the desert, and his recent defection to Philadelphia has left the team reeling.  In their scramble to replace Bryz, they’ve picked up Mike Smith from Tampa and Curtis McElhinney from Ottawa.  McElhinney isn’t a great goalie, but I suppose he’s a solid backup, playing the role for Jonas Hiller in Anaheim and a getting a little more time behind Elliott and later Anderson in Ottawa.  The problem is that he’s now playing backup to a guy who went from a 50/50 starter to a clear backup over the last two years with the Bolts.  Smith was promising enough for Tampa to shell out the extremely talented horse-toothed center who has made such a huge splash this offseason, Brad Richards, back a few years ago, but he’s clearly been a bust since losing his job to a quadragenarian with a mullet.  Shane Doan, the last remaining big name in Phoenix, is also past his prime and quickly approaching the end of his career, so it’s disappointing to see the team not doing a whole lot in the way of offense either.  You know your team is struggling when you’re in danger of being sold and moved, you know your team is going to suck when the only thing that Torres says when asking his reaction on signing is that he’s excited that he’ll be able to speak more Spanish down there.

Calgary Flames: I’m kind of stretching here, since in the realm of free agency, the Flames signed a grand total of one relevant player, defensemen Chris Butler.  What makes me think they’re going to be a worse team next year has more to do with what they lost.  Losing Robyn Regher costs the Flames a big presence, and while he isn’t a high profile scorer (he’s coming off back to back 2-15-17 seasons), he’s an important veteran to have on any team.  This leaves Jay Bouwmeester as the sole high profile defender since the aging Steve Staios is now a free agent, and Jay hasn’t been dangerous since he signed with Calgary.  For my money, Calgary is about to be in the same hole that the Oilers and Islanders have been trying to dig themselves out of these last few years.  Their biggest stars are reaching the end of their careers, apart from Granlund, the young guys don’t show quite as much promise as some other choice young’uns from around the league, and they’ve been on a steady decline over the last three or four years.

There’s my take on the first few days of free agency in the realm of teams that aren’t looking too hot, and I’m well aware that I’ve listed two teams that played in the playoffs last year, one of which going to the second round with both goaltender of the year and coach of the year nominees.  We’ll see about all of these things, but mark my words: Minnesota will not make the playoffs and Phoenix will crumble without Bryz backstopping them.