Saturday, August 13, 2005

Off-season move musings

With so much action in Sens land this past week, I haven't had the time to comment on all the other action going on around the leauge. I figured I'd use this relatively slow Saturday to do so.

1. Eric Lindros signs with the Maple Leafs

This has been the hot topic not only in the hockey blogosphere but also every sports talk radio show in the country. There seem to be two polar opposite opinions. Either it's the steal of the offseason at $1.5 mil a year, or it's the biggest disaster waiting to happen. I guess I'm one of the few who sits somewhere in the middle. Like Jason Allison, the risks are both obvious and plenty. However, the upside also can't be ignored.

Eric Lindros is someone with a wealth of talent. That has never been disputed. Will he finally fulfill his destiny as a consistently dominant force while wearing the sweater of the team he grew up rooting for? It's too soon to say. But at that salary, and that contract length, by no means is it a risk that should be dismissed as not worth taking for any team. For Toronto, who's undergone more media scrutiny than any other NHL club, it was a no-brainer.

The positive P.R. in bringing in a local legend alone is enough to quiet the angry villagers ready to torch the office of GM John Ferguson. Losing Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts will hurt, make no mistake, but plugging Allison and Lindros into their spots, for more than a million $ less combined, isn't a bad alternative. Yes, they have health issues, but Roberts and Nieuwendyk aren't without baggage either. Nieuwendyk's health has been a probem for years, and though Roberts keeps himself in insane physical shape, he and Joe are both 38 years old. Having not played hockey in 18 months, you have to wonder if they rust won't overwhelm them.

I can't believe I'm actually praising the Leafs, but don't worry Buds fans, it's not THAT bad. Still gotta fix that defence though.

2. Pens second choice Thibault the better one

It looked like Sean Burke was on his way to Pittsburgh to be their goalie (a job that won't be easy with that defence). However, it turned out, the washed up Burke ended up signing with the Lightning, and, as their back-up plan, the Penguins acquired Jocelyn Thibault from the Blackhawks, who had just blew their brains out by overspending on Nikolai Khabibulin.

However, for my money, not only is Thibault a better fit than Burke, but dollar for dollar, he's even superior to Khabibulin. Even playing for an often absolutely awful defensive Hawks team, Thibault has put up strong numbers, averaing a 2.55 GAA and a .904 save % over the past three years. At just $1.5 million a year, he's quite the bargain financially.

Thibault will also make for the perfect mentor to young phenom Marc-Andre Fleury. He too came into the league as an 18-year-old, for the Quebec Nordiques, and at 22, stepped into the fire, becoming the starting goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. Playing goal for the Habs is stressful enough on a veteran, but the young Thibault handled it superbly and had some great seasons in Montreal. His experience in coming into the league perhaps too soon as well as being put into the pressure cooker will be valuable to Fleury's development. Throw in the fact both he and Fleury are French Canadian, a bond that will help them grow close, and you have the perfect scenario.

3. Mikka Kiprusoff gets $10 million from the Flames

Now, before I incur the wrath of Flames fans around the world, let me preface this by saying Miikka Kiprusoff was stellar throughout the last half of the '03-'04 season and the subsequent playoff run. With the exception of Jarome Iginla, there wasn't a more vital member of the team than "Kipper".

But $10 million over three years seems like a bit of a reach for a goalie who hasn't proven himself to be a top goaltender over the course of a full season, let alone a few years. What if he comes back to Earth and returns to the middle of the road status he had previously occupied his entire NHL career? Being saddled with a contract of both that length and price for a goalie who's just all right seems like a painful situation for Calgary to be in.

That said, Calgary's line-up looks like it will be among the best in the league when the puck is dropped in October. Locking up their other key players, as well as adding Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty at bargain rates ensuring they will be contenders come spring time once again.

4. Rick Nash signs for $27 million, everyone around the league cries

If there's a more unpopular GM in the world than Blue Jackets' boss Doug McLean, then something must be wrong. I like Rick Nash. I think he will probably turn out to be a phenomenal player in the NHL, and for their sake, I hope he does so in Columbus. But giving him a five year deal worth $27 million based on one standout season reeks of desperation on the part of the Jackets. McLean already had people wondering what he was smoking by giving Adam Foote such a rich contract, but this takes the cake. The bar for Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, as well as Senators' Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, and Jason Spezza, has been set so high that it's almost guaranteed neither Ottawa nor Tampa Bay will be able to keep their core group of young stars in the fold. Thanks Doug.

5. Chris Osgood goes back to Detroit

This may end up being one of the smarter offseason moves. For less than a million dollars, the Wings bring back a veteran goalie who, though not spectacular, is quite reliable and knows how to win. He won't single handedly win games the way a Brodeur can, but he's consistent and has proven he's capable of elevating his game when it matters most. Their options for people between the pipes were limited due to their lack of cap space, but Chris Osgood gives them stability during a time when the franchise looks like it might be entering unstable waters.


At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Ben said...

Singing Nash for an average of $5.5 million per year might be bad for Tampa and Ottawa but it's not MacLean's job to look out for them. He locked up the only superstar Columbus has ever had. Good for him. Three years from now, when Nash has had three straight 50 goal seasons in the new NHL, $5.5 million is going to look like a bargain. The alternative was to sign him for a shorter term contract knowing that's as close to a sure thing as there is in this league and then not be able to afford him when his two year deal was up. That's the positino Boston is going to be in three years with Thornton.

At 9:05 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Is he really that sure a thing? He had a great year (and a great World Championships) but his game is still very raw and not well rounded.

Seems like a lot of money for potential greatness. Paying $7 mil a year to Thornton or Iginla makes sense because they've proven over numerous seasons they can deliver (as well as the playoffs in the case of Jarome).

Nash had no options if they gave him what he considered a low offer, besides holding out, something that has a success rate close to zero.

He can't go to arbitration and say "well, I got 41 goals, so and so got this and got paid that, gimme this."

The only other choice he had was to hope some team tendered him an offer, at which point Columbus could at the very least match it, as they apparently have the cash. If their backs were against the wall, the contract might make sense.

But they held all the cards, and still managed to come out on the losing end.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I like the Pens signing Thibault for the reason you mentioned about the similar language bond.

The Sens stock just rose a little more for me. I can't root for the Leafs now since signing Lindros. Ugh!

At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Ben said...

Financially Columbus held all the cards but this is about building a team and marketing too. Having Nash signed to a long term deal makes what the Blue Jackets are doing crystal clear and gives the team an identity. That's going to make it easier to bring in other players. I don't know how you can say they came out on the losing end when the contract hasn't even kicked in yet. It's a gamble but I'd say the odds are probably in MacLean's favour over the long term.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger just'cuz said...

Can anybody tell me how the Flames can afford to have both Roman Turek ($1.2 million) and Kiprusoff (>$3 million)? Even Detroit's goalies each make less than $1.2 million! I know, you're all going to say that Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, the Rangers and the Devils all spend more than $3 million for their goalies. The point is; all those cities have bigger markets to draw from and most of them can afford to pay the luxury tax. Wasn't Calgary one of the small market teams asking for hand-outs?

At 5:42 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

I belief Turek retired, and thus, his salary is off the books. The Flames added Philip Suave (sp?) last week to be their backup.

Calgary does look like they're going to be in the mid-to-high 30's for their overall payroll though.


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