Welcome to Week 3 of our weekly feature on LAKings.com, 4 on 4. Four prominent hockey writers; John Hoven of The Mayor's Manor, Bryan Reynolds and Nathan Eide of Hockey Wilderness, Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, and Thomas Drance of Canucks Army will answer 4 questions pertaining to the sport we all love.
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Feel free to give your own answers, and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1. How would you change the regular season to make it as “exciting” as the playoffs?
John Hoven @mayorNHL - I'd start with making minor penalties a full two minutes, don't let them expire if a goal is scored. If team A breaks a rule, allow team B the full two minutes to make they pay for it. The NHL always seems to be looking for new ways to increase scoring, that should add at least a goal per game on average. Second, the system for allocating game points has to be revamped. If a team wins in regulation, they should earn more points than in any other scenario (i.e. overtime, shootouts, etc). I'd even be OK with teams not earning a point for getting it to overtime - you want points, win the game! Finally, the realignment plan proposed by the league needs to be implemented. It's not just about a balanced schedule. It's about guaranteeing divisional match-ups in the playoffs. That's what builds rivalries - which more than any other element suggested here will make regular season games much more intense. While we're at it, let's get rid of the instigator rule too.
Nathan Eide @hockeywildernes - Contraction, realignment and reschedule. Rivalries are born in the playoffs because of the # of times you play a team, so let's pack in the games among your divisional rivals. Eliminate Phoenix and Columbus, have two conferences of four divisions, 7-7-7-7. Set up a schedule in which you play each team in your division eight times (48 games), then each team in the other division in the conference twice (14 games) then each team in the other conference once (14 games) for a total of 76 games. Let's get the band back together and recreate the Norris. A division of Minnesota, Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Dallas and Toronto would be incredibly entertaining and build regional rivalries.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - I think it's nearly impossible, save for a few heated rivalry games each year, to capture the raw, emotionally-charged excitement of a playoff series in regular season play. That said, one potential idea that would probably have the backing of quite a few owners looking to save on travel costs, is to shift to a baseball-style schedule with series play. The Kings would play three consecutive games in Anaheim at some point during the season, the Bruins would play three straight in Montreal, the Canucks would have back-to-back contests in Chicago and so on. There are definite downsides to this type of scheduling, namely that untimely injuries could have a pronounced effect on a team's division or conference title chances if, say, the Red Wings happen to lose Pavel Datsyuk prior to a three-game series in St. Louis. At the same time, it would probably serve the stated purpose of creating more of a playoff atmosphere. Other options, like adopting unlimited 5-on-5 overtime in the regular season, seem a bit drastic and taxing on the players and I'm not really convinced my proposal is a good one either. The playoffs are exciting because they're the playoffs and I think any attempt to structure the regular season after them will be ill-fated.
Thomas Drance @CanucksArmy - It's impossible to replicate the pace and emotional pitch of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There's simply nothing else like it. That said, I have some weird ideas to improve the regular season, and since you asked, I'll get into them.
First of all, I'd love to see the regular season shortened to 60 games (a home and home against every other team in the league and two extra "rivalry games"). Since the NHL remains a gate driven business, and losing 11 home dates per season is a total non-starter, I'd offset that loss by adding a midseason tournament that culminates in late-December/early-January. As much fun as the Stanley Cup Finals is, June just isn't really the time for hockey (but maybe I just think that because I'm a Canucks fan, so in my experience, June hockey always ends in pain).
Anyway let's call this tournament the Bobby Orr Cup Tournament (more as a placeholder than as a serious suggestion). It would function as a single game elimination tournament, and I'd set it up somewhat along the lines of the FA Cup in British Soccer, with every NHL and AHL club entered. The regular season wouldn't stop for the Bobby Orr Cup Tournament, rather it would be scheduled around it, with Orr Cup games being played every weekend, say, between October and mid-January.
I like the idea of AHL clubs joining the fray for several reasons: first of all, it would be a great marketing opportunity for those clubs, and one hell of an opportunity for fringe NHLers to make a name for themselves. Secondly, you'd get some amusing roster move politics with parent clubs sending a good young player on an ELC down to their AHL affiliate for a single game - just so that their AHL affiliate can take a more realistic run at upsetting a rival NHL club. Thirdly, while I'm sure upsets would be rare, there would be the occasional giant killing, which, would be hilarious, exciting and awesome.
To make the tournament matter, and to make sure there is a serious level of intensity to the games - the winner of the Orr Cup would receive a significant monetary prize and either an automatic berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or a chance at winning the NHL draft lottery (the winner could select their preferred option).
Yes my proposal is totally off the reservation, but adding a mid-season tournament would be wicked fun to watch.
2. With very little change to the Leafs squad, what does it take for them to make the playoffs?
John Hoven - Not so sure 'very little change' is going to do it. Outside of Lupul and Kessel, what player on that roster puts fear into an opposing team? None. But, the defense probably needs the most work though. Who is their shutdown D-man? For that matter, who's their legit top-pairing on defense? It's a thin roster when you're looking for high end talent. So to improve things, GM Brian Burke is probably only going to have draft picks to use as significant trade bait. Going down that road though leads to a vicious cycle that can be hard to dig out of in future years though. Hence, there isn't really a slight tweak that's going to really put them over the top. They might be one of those teams that needs to bad before they can be good. Start by using a high draft pick on a top prospect and develop that player to build around. Then again, maybe some of the solutions offered down below in questions three and four should be explored by the Leafs.
Bryan Reynolds - Maybe Brian Burke could stop doing good things in the community and get back to his office? I mean, sure he has technology to keep him available, and a massively talented front office staff, but does that mean he can just go galavanting around the globe supporting those who fight for our freedom and fighting for equal rights? Doesn't he know hockey is life?
Seriously, though, the Leafs are going to need some massive luck to get into the playoffs. That is disappointing, to be sure, because who doesn't want one of the proudest franchises in the league involved in the post season? The need to hope a goaltender in their system decides to be good for more than a dozen or so games, and that teams forget that if they shut down Phil Kessel, the Leafs really don't have anyone else. Then, maybe, just maybe, they have a chance. After all, it's not like the Habs are going to stop them
Derek Tanabe -Toronto had a solid first half of the 2011-12 season but, unfortunately, it proved to be a bit of a house of cards as the team benefited from an inflated shooting percentage that came crashing down over the season's final months. It's hard to really assess the Leafs' needs because, at first glance, there appear to be so many of them. I think Brian Burke committed grand larceny with his Luke Schenn-for-James van Riemsdyk swap but I'm not sure that did a whole lot to address Toronto's primary issues. Namely, they need centers, defense and goaltending which I suppose isn't far off from saying they need an entirely new team (and I'm not talking about one in Markham). I think Burke would do well for himself to sell high on the defensively porous Joffrey Lupul and flip him in a package for either Florida's Stephen Weiss or Colorado's Paul Stastny as Tyler Bozak should not be the first-line center of a team with playoff aspirations. As much as I like defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, I think he was overextended a bit last year playing the toughest minutes on Toronto's blueline alongside Dion Phaneuf. Finding someone better for that role would be ideal but, at this point in the summer, I have no idea how they would go about doing that. Finally, unless they can acquire Roberto Luongo for cheap, I think the Leafs should go into the season with James Reimer as their starter. Although Reimer's overall numbers don't look particularly impressive thanks to Toronto's terrible penalty kill, he has posted a .926 even-strength save percentage over his two-year career which is above league average. Frankly, though, without some substantial changes before the start of the season, I see an eighth straight year without playoff hockey at the ACC.
Thomas Drance - I always root for Brian Burke, but sadly, the Leafs look like a probable bottom feeder in the Eastern Conference this upcoming season. I like the addition of Van Riemsdyk, and I think Jay McClemment was one of the better under the radar free agent signings this summer. That said, the Leafs still really need a top-line centre, a top-pairing defenseman and a top goaltender. That's a lot of things to require.
I don't see Toronto adding a top-pairing defenseman or a top-centre before the 2012-13 season begins, but they may be able to improve between the pipes (Luongo?). Goaltenders play the one position in hockey where an individual's performance can lead an otherwise non-playoff team to the postseason. If the season started today, the Leafs would be rolling with a tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, and I don't think either is a good bet to post an elite save percentage over the course of 60 games next season.
It looks to me like the Leafs roster is going to be over-matched on most nights. If they don't get super-elite goaltending from one of Scrivens or Reimer next season, I think they'll be in tough to end their long postseason drought.
3. What are the Ducks to do with Bobby Ryan?
John Hoven - Keep him, there is no other logical choice. While traditional wisdom says you want to build a team around five players - two centers, two defensemen and a starting goalie - Ryan is the exception to the rule. High scoring left wingers are extremely rare in the in the NHL. He's scored 30+ goals for four straight seasons and is just 25 years old, so his best years are most likely in front of him. To improve the Ducks, they should be looking at dealing Ryan Getzlaf. At 27 years old and with over 500 games of NHL experience, his trade value will only decrease going forward. He won't net you as much in return, but he's also the odd man out on a team that needs a shake up. It would be great to get a center back in return, but they'll likely need to settle for a defenseman - which is fine, because they need help there too.
Nathan Eide - You have to hope that he's going to improve his trade value and a team looking to make a deep run around the trade deadline has enough prospects to part with him. I don't see him sticking around in Anaheim for too much longer. He would be a good fit in the East. Maybe even somewhere like Philadelphia or Washington.
Derek Tanabe -Keep him. I understand that feelings were hurt and egos were bruised as The Great Bobby Ryan Trade Watch of 2012, with its many peaks and valleys, spanned several months. But Ducks GM Bob Murray needs to realize that the issue with Anaheim the past few seasons hasn't been Ryan or Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf. It's the team he's assembled around them, especially up front where the Ducks have had pitiful depth ever since Dustin Penner, Chris Kunitz and Andy McDonald left town and the storied Nothing Line was dismantled (and, obviously, the whole "losing two Hall of Fame defensemen" thing didn't help either). Murray needs to build a competent team around the RPG line for Anaheim to return to contender status and with their stable of young talented forwards like Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri, Rickard Rakell and Devante Smith-Pelly, they're moving in the right direction long-term. Unless Ryan can actually fetch a return similar to the Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn package Murray reportedly demanded out of Philadelphia, it makes little sense for the Ducks to deal him and the fact that he still remains in Southern California suggests to me that no team is prepared to make that kind of offer.
Thomas Drance -Not trade him? I know Anaheim is desperate for depth up the middle, but it's hard to see the Ducks trading Bobby Ryan and getting a player better than him back in return. Ryan should have more trade value than Rick Nash did, and while the Ducks could use two solid young roster players and a good prospect - I'd much rather have an elite 25 year old who can fill the net...
Moreover, with Getzlaf and Perry headed for Unrestricted Free Agency next summer, if the Ducks move Ryan they risk losing all three players in the span of twelve months! I'm not sure why you'd take that risk, it really makes no sense to me.
4. As a GM for your respective teams, what RFA would you use an offer sheet to acquire?
John Hoven - If I was the GM of Nashville (or even Philly), I'd make a run at Washington's John Carlson. He's a 22-year old blueliner who has put up 30-plus points each of the last two seasons, while playing a full 82 games each year. With the Predators having a solid system built on strong goaltending and defense - and with the much publicized loss of Ryan Suter this summer - he'd be an ideal guy to have in Music City for the next ten years. Sure, they have some kids in the wings. But, you can never have enough good young defensemen and Carlson is a star in waiting. He could also be the perfect complement to Weber. If ownership was pressuring me to add a forward instead, I'd take a long look at Jamie Benn in Dallas. The fly in the ointment here is that (a) the Caps and Stars would likely match either offer and (b) overall, history shows it's very difficult to acquire a good player via an offer sheet. The RFA tree just doesn't bare much fruit for GMs. Thus, if you're managing a club, you should probably be working the phones for a trade instead.
Bryan Reynolds - The easy answer here is Evander Kane, but if you visit CapGeek, Jeremy Welsh in the Hurricanes organization has to raise some eyebrows. After all, how many guys with one game of NHL experience have a cap hit of $17,945,000? The Canes are clearly trying to keep this kid hidden in the minors and away from offer sheets.
OK, OK, so Welsh's cap hit is likely not correct, so we'll go back to Evander Kane. His point totals continue to rise, he is tough as nails, and he punched the tar out of Matt Cooke? Who wouldn't want this guy on their team? He's a born leader, he's a force on the ice, and the fact that the Jets haven't locked him down should be worrying Jets fans right now.
Derek Tanabe - If the salary cap didn't exist, no question the answer is Jamie Benn. It's not every summer you get the chance to add a budding two-way force and absolute bull of a hockey player to your roster while screwing over a division rival at the same time. Unfortunately, it's pretty unlikely Benn would sign an offer sheet with the Sharks or any other team unless it carried a cap hit in the $6.5 million range or higher over substantial term. I'd have zero issue giving up the compensatory picks but the Sharks don't have that kind of cap space without moving multiple contracts and while Dallas might grumble about having to pay Benn more than they intended, there's no chance they wouldn't match. Ryan O'Reilly is another very talented center who excels in all three zones and would singlehandedly turn the Sharks' third-line center spot from a liability to an advantage but Colorado is swimming in cap space and would likely match any offer. Cap-strapped clubs just don't seem to have many RFA forwards of note this offseason, or they've already re-signed them like in the case of the Flyers' Jakub Voracek who would have been an enticing option for San Jose as well.
Thomas Drance -PK Subban is probably the biggest name RFA remaining on the market, but I think I'd rather see the Canucks target Avalanche centreman Ryan O'Reily. Adding either player to the Canucks would significantly alter the long-term trajectory of an aging roster.
Ryan O'Reily led the Avalanche in scoring last season while playing the toughest minutes among centres on the club. He's a 21 year old play driving force, and a future Selke nominee. Could you imagine him playing behind Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin? It would be insanity.
Kesler is still recovering from labrum surgery at the moment, and according to his agent is unlikely to re-join Vancouver's active roster before December. O'Reily would provide some serious top-six insurance for when Kesler gets hurt (as he does every season), and would be a totally dominant third-line centre when the roster is at full power. Obviously the chances of O'Reily joining the Canucks in the near future are somewhere between slim and none, but he's the pick of the litter in my book.
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - a full multimedia site, including exclusive on-ice video interviews from the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. As a credentialed writer based in LA, his hockey insights and information have been featured on several well known websites, magazines and in print for the LA Newspaper Group. He can also be heard over the airwaves, as he's a regularly featured guest on sports radio stations across North America. Be sure to follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL for his daily notes and inside scoop.
Bryan Reynolds is the editor of Hockey Wilderness, the SB Nation site covering the Minnesota Wild. He also covers the Minnesota Swarm of the NLL for SB Nation Minnesota and dreams of one day being the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings - @hockeywildernes.
Nathan Eide is the managing editor of Hockey Wilderness, a Minnesota Wild fan community. Nathan likes long walks on the beach, spending time with his family and enjoys the schadenfreude surrounding the Edmonton Oilers.
Derek Tanabe is currently the managing editor for Fear The Fin, a Sharks blog with up-to-date news and analysis concerning California's only team still chasing the Stanley Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @fearthefin.
Thomas Drance is a Vancouver native currently based in Toronto. He works at MThrty communications , is the managing editor of canucksarmy.com, and a contributing writer at Pass it to Bulis (the Vancouver Sun). He's an avid singer who swims everyday in the summer, and eats food that is too spicy for normal human persons. You can follow him on twitter at @CanucksArmy.