Thursday, June 24, 2010

Draft Day Eve Notes

Lot's of news going on around the league and we touch on topics such as these;

Byfuglien traded to Atlanta:

Does it bother anyone that only two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup three key players from that championship team have been traded already? Shouldn't fans have at least a month to enjoy their team winning the Stanley Cup? Another reason why I would love it if the playoffs ended by June 1, and trades began on draft day. Just my two cents.

As for the deal, I feel that both teams will benefit from this trade. Obviously, Chicago had to move some players off their roster for cap reasons. Brent Sopel and Ben Eager are good players, but can be replaced. Dustin Byfuglien is another story as he was the main reason why the Hawks beat Vancouver and he was tremendous against San Jose as well. Chicago may not miss him in the regular season, but by the first puck drop of the postseason the Hawks will miss him immensely.

The question for Atlanta becomes, how motivated will Dustin Byfuglien be playing in a non hockey city in front of 10,000 fans as opposed to the 20,000 plus in hockey-crazed Chicago? To acquire Byfuglien, Eager, Sopel, and prospect Akim Aliu, the Thrashers gave up Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, a first and second round pick in tomorrows draft, and an interesting prospect in Jeremy Morin. I give Atlanta credit for trying to improve the club and with youngsters, Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian, the Thrashers are closer to a playoff spot. They did however give up on Morin, who was ranked in the top 50 best prospects by the Hockey News, in addition to valuable draft picks.

Revolving Goaltenders:

Perhaps this position will have the most intrigue heading into July 1st. They're plenty of serviceable goaltenders available, but perhaps not enough job openings. What we know is that Evgeni Nabokov will not be back in San Jose which makes the former Vezina winner the best available, but at a hefty price tag. It also appears that the Sharks will look for a veteran to compete with Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock. Former veteran starting goalies, Marty Turco, Steve Mason, Jose Theodore, Dan Ellis, Michael Leighton, and Antero Niittymaki are all available this summer.

Looking at the other clubs that are in the market for goaltending, the Washington Capitals head the list. Washington has $15 million or so in cap room according to However, Washington has a big need on defense to address, and must sign their own restricted free agents. Only eight Capital forwards are under contract.

Philadelphia always seems to be looking for a goaltender, but has salary cap restrictions to deal with. Rumors out of Philadelphia had a potential deal with Michael Leighton in the works. Atlanta is also in the market for a netminder to rotate with the promising Ondrej Pavelec. Throw in Tampa Bay, which may look to upgrade from Mike Smith into that mix as well. That's still only five teams looking for starting goaltenders. In addition to the free agent class, there are options available via trade, such as another former Vezina winner, Tim Thomas.

Finally, the NHL salary cap was increased to $59.4 million for the 2010-2011 season. I'm thrilled the league is doing well, but can't help but ask the question if ticket prices are going down? Didn't think so.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Most Important Three Weeks in Islanders History?

It may be an overstatement, but HockeySureShot believes that this offseason is the most important this franchise has ever seen. As we know, one of us is a season ticket holder for Islanders home games. That same person is writing this blog with the hopes that Garth Snow and Charles Wang realize the same thing.

The Islanders were the last Professional sports team of the four major sports to win four championships in a row, including 19 straight playoff series. Since then, almost nothing has gone right for this once proud organization. The Islanders are basically irrelevant on the sports map as drafting John Tavares last season was probably the most positive news they made in years, and that decision was a slam dunk. As the draft is less than 24 hours away and with free agent signing period beginning on July 1st, let's take a look at where the Isles have been and where they must go to keep the promise to their fans and help solidify their existence which currently is in question to some degree.

Hockey fans everywhere know about the history the Islanders have. Islanders fans know the history since. Frankly, we're tired of it. For those of you that don't know, the Islanders have not won a playoff series since 1993 and since have made the playoffs just 5 times going 6-20 in those 5 series. In the mid 90's Mike Milbury was hired to take over as GM. During his time as GM, the Islanders saw ownership changes, including one that faked his way into the owner's box and eventually went to jail. See John Spano. The Islanders payroll was consistently around 15 million dollars and from the shortened 95 season through 2001 season, the Islanders missed the playoffs 7 straight times. The Islanders didn't come close to making the playoffs in those 7 seasons, reaching 70 points only twice.

A renewed hope was given to the franchise before the 2000-2001 season when Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar purchased the Islanders. During that offseason, Charles Wang gave Mike Milbury the financial backing that every GM needs to be successful. Mike Milbury made a slew of trades and made many free agent signings. The Islanders had a 44 point improvement and made the playoffs in 2002 and forced a 7th game before losing to Toronto. Looking back, the Islanders probably made some poor decisions that affected the team negatively in the long term that offseason, like trading away Zdeno Chara and not drafting Jason Spezza, and that 10 year Yashin contract but it did bring hope to the fanbase and an exciting season.

Since then the Islanders have made the playoffs 3 times. All 3 times losing in 5 games. The Islanders have now missed the playoffs 4 out of the last 5 seasons and on top of that, the fans are in danger of losing their team. When push comes to shove, I believe the Islanders will stay however the franchise and owner Charles Wang have been blocked by the Town of Hempstead to develop land around the existing Nassau Coliseum and have the hockey arena upgraded. Wang's Lighthouse Project seems to have hit a dead end and fans worry that after the 2015 lease is up, the Islanders will pack their bags. If no other site locally is found, the buses could head anywhere.

Why is this offseason so important? After a surprising and heroic playoff birth led by then coach Ted Nolan in the 2006-2007 season, the Islanders stayed committed to building through free agency mainly, and built a team led by veterans. The 2008 Islanders stayed competitive through the trade deadline but quickly fell out of the race. At the end of that season, Islanders management questioned and polled fans asking if they would sit through a rebuild which would be a slow process designed to give the organization staying power. The answer was yes, and the Islanders acquired draft picks by moving down twice in the 2008 draft and selecting Josh Bailey. At the time it wasn't a popular move, but the Islanders came away with 13 picks in the seven rounds which replenished a farm system that was dry. The Islanders then finished last overall in the 2008-2009 season, a result that many expected. The good news was, the Islanders selected first overall in the 2009 entry draft and were given the privilege of selecting John Tavares #1 overall. Garth Snow got creative and moved up 14 spots after acquiring a second first round pick from Ottawa via trade to the #12 spot and drafted defensemen Calvin De Haan. Also acquired in the 2nd round was goaltending prospect Mikko Koskinen. A towering man at 6 foot 7 inches tall, many consider him the steal of the draft. A few weeks later the Islanders signed Matt Moulson via free agency who finished the season with 30 goals, a huge surprise as Moulson was hoping to just crack the lineup with the big club. Rob Schremp was then claimed on waivers. The former first round pick with Edmonton fell out of favor and the Islanders gave him a chance. Schremp showed his playmaking skills and quickly became a fan favorite. The Islanders improved during the past season, finishing with 79 points and at times played some of the best hockey their fans have seen in years. A step in the right direction yes, but still much work to be done.

So here we are. The wee hours of the morning on draft day 2010. The Islanders hold the 5th spot in the draft and hold 10 picks over the 7 rounds. Another important day for GM Garth Snow and Assistant GM Ryan Jankowski. I will not speculate on the draft. Besides last season, the Islanders just about never do what you expect them to do historically so lets wait until the chips fold. However there is much work to be done after draft day. Currently the Islanders have just 8 forwards signed for next season. They also have decisions to make on their current Restricted Free Agents. Matt Moulson and Rob Schremp will almost definitely be signed. However the Islanders have decisions to make regarding Sean Bergenheim and Jeff Tambellini. Bergenheim had a career high in goals in 2008-2009 with 15 but has never seemed to fully realize his potential with the Islanders. The man plays with heart and another year is not out of the question. As for Tambellini, he seemed to fall out of favor with coach Scott Gordon. Tambellini has shown the ability to score at every level except the NHL. He did show some flashes this season but lack of physical play and some poor decisions on the ice kept him a healthy scratch most of the season. The Islanders biggest problem lies with their defense. They have several defensive prospects and may draft another one tonight. Calvin De Haan, Travis Hamonic, Mark Katic seem on their way to making the big club in the next few seasons, if not this one. Andy MacDonald and Jack Hillen proved they can play at the NHL level and will only get better. The Islanders will need to sign at least one defensemen and probably two with NHL experience to help Mark Streit lead the blueline. The Islanders will also need to acquire a veteran goal scorer. Alex Frolov could be that man, he has proven to be a 2nd tier goal scorer the Islanders could use and add to their depth of solid young forwards. The Isles are currently about 12 million under the cap floor according to NHL numbers which gives them plenty of room to make these small moves. Rick DiPietro and goaltending is another issue that will be written about shortly.

Why is this so important? On the last day of the season, the Isles play a spirited game at home against Pittsburgh. A game that saw John Tavares lead a 3 goal comeback in the 3rd period in front of a sell out crowd. After the game, both owner Charles Wang and GM Garth Snow told fans in a Newsday Article that next year the goal is to make the playoffs. Whether the Islanders make the playoffs or not, their management must prove to the fans they are trying. Islander fans won't sit through another losing season in the stands at Nassau Coliseum and rumors are that they have already lost season ticket holders. If the Islanders fail to be competitive this season and lose more fans at the gate, the chances of the team moving become more and more realistic. The Islanders don't have to abandon their plan of building through the draft to accomplish this. A few shrewd signings during free agency and the Islanders can be in it come playoff time.

My fellow Islanders fans want to be waving towels next April for a few home playoff games, and if we don't, it has to be because the Isles just weren't ready, not because Charles Wang refused to open his checkbook and Garth Snow fed us lines that their current group is playoff ready. It's now time for the Islanders to keep their promise to the fans they made after the end of the season, and try.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NHL Draft Preview

Let's start off by saying that we at HockeySureShot mainly focus on watching the NHL and do not pay as much attention to junior hockey as perhaps we should. That being said, the NHL draft is one of our favorite nights on the NHL calender. We did a bit of research by watching video clips on the top prospects and read the scouting reports from TSN and the Hockey News. Some experts have said this is a deep draft, others have said that it thins out after the top eight or so. Regardless,we can expect a lot of wheeling and dealing on the draft floor at Staples Center on Friday night. Here are the top ten draft picks as we see it:

#1 Edmonton Oilers: Taylor Hall LW 6-1 185 lbs.
Ranked #1 by the Hockey News and by draft guru Bob McKenzie. Saw him play at the World Junior Championship for Canada and this player caught my attention early. Brilliant skater, drives hard to the net, and scores goals. Should be a premier forward for the Oilers for years to come.

#2 Boston Bruins: Tyler Seguin C 6-1 186 lbs.
By all accounts Hall and Seguin stand out from all the rest. As of Tuesday night, Edmonton still did not confirm who they would take, which leaves Boston to grab who's left. Seguin is more of a playmaker than Hall and makes his teammates around him better. Although Hall has achieved more success on the junior level, some scouts fell that Seguin may be the better pro. We love what Boston did today by acquiring forward Nathan Horton, and now it appears they will add another dynamic forward to their roster.

#3 Florida Panthers: Eric Gudbranson D 6-4 200 lbs.
It's very hard to pass up on a 6-4 shutdown defensemen with a mean streak, and a blistering slapshot such as the case with Gudbranson. However, the Panthers with new GM Dale Tallon, expect to be active on the trade front, and have already traded Nathan Horton for Dennis Wideman and the 15th overall pick in this years draft. If they hold on to the pick, Gudbranson seems to be a wise choice.

#4 Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Gromley D 6-2 187 lbs.
Gromley is probably more offensively gifted than Gudbranson, but not nearly as physical. Very solid prospect who can do anything that is asked of him. Columbus has needed an offensive defensemen forever it seems and this would be a wise pick for the rebuilding Jackets.

#5 New York Islanders: Cam Fowler D 6-2 190 lbs.
The American born defensemen was tremendous in the US gold medal win over Canada at the World Juniors. When watching that game you clearly noticed Fowler's presence on the blueline. Very smart player with an outstanding upside especially on the offensive end. New York drafted John Tavares last year that added to a solid nucleus on offense with Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Blake Comeau. Now it is time to add a legit prospect on defense.

#6 Tampa Bay Lightning: Brett Connolly RW 6-2 182 lbs.
Two years ago Tampa drafted stud forward Steve Stamkos, last year it was stud defenseman Viktor Hedman. Does new GM Steve Yzerman go for a goalie such as Jack Campbell? I say he goes for the very skilled, but oft injured Connolly. The only concern for this elite scorer is the hip injury suffered last season that caused him to only play in 16 regular season games. As most scouts will tell you, they're trying to project how these players will be in 3 or 4 years from now. This is a talent that is too good to pass up in my opinion.

#7 Carolina Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter LW 6-2 205 lbs.
Big Swiss forward who had a eye catching performance at the World Junior Championships. Scored 60 points in 65 games in the WHL. Scouts view him as an imposing power forward with a great attitude.

#8 Atlanta Thrashers: Jack Campbell G 6-2 185
Gold medal winning goaltender for the US Team at the WJC. He has drawn comparisons to Carey Price. For a team like Atlanta which has building blocks such as Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian, it would make sense to draft a goaltender.

#9 Minnesota Wild: Ryan Johansen C 6-3 195 lbs.
Johansen had a huge year in the WHL and his value is skyrocketing. One scout actually compared him to Joe Thornton or Eric Staal. This big physical center plays a solid game on both ends of the ice and will only get better when he matures. Will probably be a few years away from the NHL, but is an intriguing prospect with tremendous upside.

#10 New York Rangers: Vladimir Tarasenko RW 5-11 202 lbs.
What team is willing to take a gamble on a Russian forward who is considered to be the most skilled player in the draft as well as the biggest wildcard in the draft? Glen Sather could either be a genius with this pick, or be vilified even more. Supposedly, Tarasenko is built like a tank and is the most physically imposing prospect in this years draft. If he were born in North America he may be considered first overall. However nobody is sure if he wants to play in the NHL or play for more money in Russia's KHL. It's a risk that the offensively inept Rangers may be willing to take.