July 1st is coming and the only thing we can expect is the unexpected. Where will some higher profile players go and at what price?
The ‘new NHL’ has an ever-changing landscape as teams must consider free agency and the salary cap when determining who is going to be on their respective teams. Being a General Manager in the NHL has never been more challenging, and I think this is a good thing. The GMs who surround themselves with good people, have top notch scouts and are prepared will succeed in the new environment.
As much as fans want to ‘win today’, GMs have no choice but to look two, three and even four years ahead when negotiating with players. Decisions are not just based on skill anymore, but on how a player fits into the salary structure today and for the years to come.
Doug Wilson and his staff went into the draft with no first round picks. By the end of the day the Sharks drafted two players in the first round and traded Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell.
Here are my thoughts on the draft day dealings the Sharks made:
Trading Toskala was not a surprise because he has posted terrific numbers the past couple of years, has playoff experience, his salary isn’t too high and Nabby has a no-trade clause. It will be interesting to see how the goaltending situation plays out in Toronto with Vesa and Raycroft, but this is a great opportunity for Vesa to step up and be the number one goaltender that he covets.
Trading Mark Bell opens up salary space for San Jose and I think it’s a good move for Mark. Bell was very popular in the locker room, fought when necessary and will be missed, but Toronto gives him a chance to bounce back from last year and provides some much needed grit for the Leafs. Bell is from Ontario, played Junior hockey in Ottawa and knows the pressure of playing in a big market with his experience in Chicago (wait a minute, is Chicago still considered a big market for hockey???).
The Sharks picked up draft picks which were like a Christmas gift for Tim Burke and the rest of the scouting department. Draft day is for the scouts, and people in hockey know that the Sharks are considered one of the top scouting departments in the NHL. Kudos to Doug Wilson for getting some top picks for his hard working staff. Picking up draft picks while not incurring any additional salary has also paid immediate dividends because of the signing of Craig Rivet for an additional four years.
So what about the rest of the NHL?
We’ll find out what David Poile, GM of the Nashville Predators does in the coming weeks, but if Nashville continues cost cutting we can assume the team will not be as competitive next year. If this happens, I don’t think I am going out on a limb by saying the Sharks will not be playing the Preds in the first round of the playoffs next year. I do know this: one way to keep the fans from coming out in an already iffy market is to let popular top players go elsewhere while the team rebuilds. It’s interesting that a team who traded for Peter Forsberg this past season to compete for the Stanley Cup is now rebuilding. Trading Vokoun, Timmonen and Hartnell for draft picks tells me the Predators will play this season out and if they don’t have a winning product on the ice, their average attendance will likely be lower than the needed 14,800, which gets them out of their lease agreement with the city and The Nashville Arena. Who knows what will happen, but things don’t look too rosy in Nashville right now.
News out of Anaheim includes the re-signing of Giguere and also Sean O’Donnell and Kent Huskins. It will now be interesting to see what Selanne does and also what Scott Niedermayer does. Niedermayer has intimated he is considering retiring, and although that would be good for Western Conference opponents, I would really miss watching him play the game. He is one of those players you can’t take your eyes off when he is on the ice. The way he skates, moves the puck and eludes checks is something to behold and as much as people talked about the New Jersey Devils being Scott Stevens’ team, you have to wonder if they could have won those cups without Scott Niedermayer. Personally, I hope he plays again. If both Selanne and Niedermayer return, which pretty much keeps the Ducks intact, one has to believe they will be the early favorites to win the Stanley Cup again. When is the new schedule being announced, there are a few dates that need to be circled!
One of the best things that could happen to the NHL is for Chicago and Boston to become very competitive teams. Chicago has a slew of younger players in the pipeline and should be a good team in a couple of years. I am not alone in saying it hurts my eyes and ears to go to the United Center and see 6,000 to 10,000 people attending a Hawks game in an awesome city. Let’s hope Chicago starts to turn things around for the city and the NHL.
Some recent surprises were the firing of Ottawa GM John Muckler (not sure why he was fired but didn’t Ottawa just go to the Stanley Cup Finals?) and the hiring of Mike Keenan as coach of the Calgary Flames. I always look forward to the Flames/Sharks games, but even more so with Keenan behind the bench.
Well, let the bidding begin for the likes of Smyth, Drury, Schneider, Kariya, Sydor, Hannan, Stuart, Rafalski, Gomez, Briere, Souray and many more. Be assured some teams will overpay and we won’t know for a few years whether today’s investments pay off or not. All I know is the GMs better have a plan!
For Seagate Technology’s “In The Crease,” I’m Jamie Baker.