Now that the 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is complete, 8 teams moved on to the Conference Semi-Finals while 8 teams cleaned out their locker rooms and began shaving their playoff beards. For the losing teams, the questions over what went wrong, who under-achieved and who will be re-signed, traded or let go will start.
San Jose Sharks – After letting Ron Wilson go last summer and seeing another early playoff exit this year, it’s clear that coaching isn’t the problem in San Jose. Todd McLellen will be back next year and that’s probably the only safe bet with this team. San Jose’s core group of players didn’t show up against the Anaheim Ducks and that’s why they lost. Despite the no-trade clause, I think Patrick Marleau may be moved this summer. With one year and $6.3 Million on his contract, he’s pricey but can be afforded and I could see a team like the Los Angeles Kings being interested. I also wonder about Joe Thornton… it really makes you wonder if Boston were wrong to have traded him several years ago. Maybe they were right all along… weird! Evgeni Nabokov didn’t elevate his game in the playoffs either but I suspect the Sharks will retain him because he’d be too hard to replace. Milan Michalek is another guy that was non-existent against the Ducks and could be on the trading block. I expect he will be back next year but with $20 Million owing over the next 5 years, he’ll be hard to move. Finally, I think San Jose will re-sign Travis Moen and let Rob Blake go.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Columbus have a bright future and GM Scott Howson has done a great job in his two years with the Blue Jackets. The main challenge this summer will insulating Rick Nash and finding a way to re-sign him to a long-term contract, as his current deal expires at the end of next season (Shut up Leafs fans). Columbus could use another top 4 defenseman as I’m not sure if Christian Backman will be re-signed – he could be had but for less than the $3.4 Million he earned this season. With Voracek, Brassard, Filatov, Umberger, Vermette and Nash in their top 6, this team will be fast and dynamic next year. I’m excited to see these guys in October.
Calgary Flames – There’s no question that Calgary’s lineup was decimated with injuries but Flames fans won’t tolerate another early exit and neither will their ownership. Expect a few big changes this summer. I think Calgary would like to re-sign Mike Cammalleri, but their problem is that they’ve already got $47 Million committed to next season. Basically, to keep Cammalleri, they’ll have to pass on re-signing Rhett Warrener and Jordan Leopold, as Cammalleri will likely command $6 Million per season. Or they’ll have to trade Olli Jokinen to free up some cap space but I don’t see that happening. I doubt the Flames will re-sign Todd Bertuzzi or Adrian Aucoin but I do however believe David Moss and Jamie Lundmark will be retained.
St. Louis Blues – St. Louis ripped it up in the 2nd half of the year and surprised many with a 6th place finish in the ultra-tough Western Conference. Remember that Paul Kariya, Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson will all be healthy next season and that’s a big bonus for a young Blues team. Keith Tkachuk is UFA but I think he’ll re-sign with St. Louis for around $2 Million next year. Dan Hinote and Jay McClement should also be straight-forward re-signings. The only notable change for St. Louis is that I don’t see Manny Legace coming back next year. Look for the Blues to promote from within, with guys like Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund, Ben Bishop/Marek Shwartz and Johnson to take on bigger roles next season.
Philadelphia Flyers – Paul Holmgren was lauded as a genius for turning around the Philadelphia Flyers franchise in 2007. Well, turns out he didn’t plan that far ahead after all. The Flyers have $53 Million on their payroll for next year, so they won’t be participating in the UFA sweepstakes this summer. So no, they cannot afford Jay Bouwmeester, nor will they won’t be able to retain impending UFA’s Mike Knuble and Andrew Alberts. James van Riemsdyk will be a top 6 forward, so that makes Joffrey Lupul expendable. Good luck moving that contract though. I think the Flyers will try to move Daniel Briere (hello, Montreal), Lupul and possibly Simon Gagne this summer to clear cap space because, among other things, they have no goaltenders signed for next season. I think Philly will re-sign Biron to a similar contract as this year and will let Antero Niittymaki walk. Any teams trading with the Flyers can expect some really good deals!
New York Rangers – John Tortorella will be back as coach next year, so the circus with him and Sean Avery will continue. Oh boy! With $42 Million committed to next season already, some tough decisions will need to be made this summer in New York. I don’t see Zherdev or Antropov coming back, especially with Matt Gilroy joining the fold on a one-way contract next season. Paul Mara and Derek Morris are also doubtful to return. I think it’s clear the Rangers need to get some of their “character” players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Blair Betts and Ryan Callahan re-signed, as they were the most consistent players all year for the Blue-shirts. They will command significant raises that will bite into New York’s available cap space. The rest of the spare cash will go towards UFA defenseman that are better than Wade Redden.
Montreal Canadians – It’s been well documented that Montreal have a total of 13 UFA’s and 6 RFA’s this summer. Wow. Marc Denis, Robert Lang and Alexei Kovalev are very doubtful to return and depending on salary demands, Francis Bouillon, Alex Tanguay and Saku Koivu may not return either. For Koivu’s sake, I hope he finds a team/city that actually deserves him – I’ve heard rumours of Koivu going to Minnesota to play with his brother, but I’m not sold on that. There are also question marks surrounding the Kostitsyn brothers, though I suspect they will return to the Habs next year. The only players I can see the Canadians bringing back for sure next year are Mike Komisarek, Patrice Brisebois (at a reduced salary), Guillaume Latendresse and Chris Higgins. Montreal do have some promising youth ready to step into a regular role with the team, including Max Pacioretty, Matt D’Agostini, and Ryan O’Byrne, among others, and that’s about the only good news for Habs fans. It’s going to be a long season next year and making the playoffs is all but guaranteed.
New Jersey Devils – New Jersey have 9 UFA’s this summer, including John Madden, Brian Gionta, Bobby Holik, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Clemmenson, Niclas Havelid and Johnny Oduya. Needless to say, it could be a very different looking Devils team that hits the ice in October. I believe the Devils will re-sign Oduya and Madden for sure, while Holik and Shanahan could be kept, assuming they aren’t seeking too much coin. Brian Gionta will be tough to retain, given he’s 29 years old and earned $4 Million this past season. I also think Clemmenson and Havelid are goners. Travis Zajac and Andy Greene are RFA’s too, and they’ll both command big raises, expecially Zajac.
Your reporter in the field,