How would you like to have a head-spinning contest? It’s really easy to do these days. Simply open the newspaper and turn to the “NHL Transactions” section, and whirl away!
So many things have happened since the free-agency period began on July 1st that we are not going to see a lot of the same old, same old this September, when NHL training camps officially open. Teams have found that their rosters are more organic entities than static test stands, and that makes for a more dynamic League.
The Sharks, of course, are making out very well in all of the summer doings. Primarily, that’s because they have drafted well and taken advantage of the built-in rewards that the CBA provides teams that scout and draft in a successful fashion. They have added Mark Bell and Mike Grier, and have welcomed back Curtis Brown. They have perhaps the deepest forward group in the NHL, and they possess a young, but very talented group of defenseman that has strength in numbers. In goal, they currently have two of the best, and while one of them is likely to find a new home before the season ends, there are more netminders in the pipeline and a quality player will return to San Jose to strengthen it further, once that trade is consummated.
Let’s just review what type of hockey player that Doug Wilson is looking for when he seeks to spot a Shark:
1. A player who has solid character traits 2. A player who possesses strong hockey sense 3. A player who loves the game 4. A player who makes his teammates better 5. A player who is at his best when it matters most
These characteristics will be all the more important this coming year, as the Pacific Division is getting more competitive and the challenges are mounting. In fact, the Pacific Division could very well be the best division in hockey this coming season, so that means that nearly 40% of the Sharks schedule will be against tougher teams.
What does that mean? Well, it means that things will not be easy. However, it also means that the Pacific Division clubs will also be more prepared for the playoffs once they arrive, due to the playoff-like cauldron of the regular season that seems imminent.
Let’s look at what other teams have accomplished in the division so far:
The Ducks are no longer “Mighty,” they are now simply the “Anaheim Ducks.” On the ice, however, they are looking to build on their appearance in the Western Conference Final vs. Edmonton and acquired Chris Pronger from the Oilers in the off-season trade that rocked the hockey world. Now, Anaheim has forced the issue by having both Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on the blue line, and that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E for the opposition.
Anaheim still has Teemu Selanne, Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz, and they also brought back Stanislav Chistov from his self-imposed exile this season. Jeff Friesen has departed for Calgary, but the Ducks have plenty of offense.
Like the Sharks, Anaheim is talking about moving one of their goalies, and with Ilya Bryzgalov on the rise for the club, that would appear to mean that J-S Giguere could be on the move. They signed Michael Leighton from Buffalo for depth, but like the Sharks, are taking their time in pulling the trigger on any goaltending decision. As Emile “the Cat” Francis once said, you never have enough goaltending. Ever.
Never one to rest for any length of time, the Stars bought out Bill Guerin’s contract, but will see that portion of his salary count against their cap. GM Doug Armstrong made a mini splash in the trade waters when he sent Niko Kapanen and a 7th round pick to Atlanta for Patrick Stefan and D Jaroslav Modry. It’s an interesting flyer on Stefan, the former first overall draft pick who is still looking to find himself, and a good pickup in Modry, an intelligent defenseman.
Armstrong stayed on the offensive, re-acquiring D Darryl Sydor from Tampa Bay for a draft pick in a move that will be a comfortable one for all concerned. He also signed Eric Lindros, Matthew Barnaby, Jeff Halpern, and let Jason Arnott, Willie Mitchell, and Johan Hedberg go to other teams via free agency. It’s a change designed to provide more support to the core guys in Big D (Turco, Modano, Zubov) and better prepare the Stars for the post-season.
The Kings have really been doing some furniture arranging this summer. New GM Dean Lombardi hired Marc Crawford to coach, picked up Dan Cloutier to play in goal, brought Rob Blake back in from the Mile High City, and added two character individuals that we all know well in Alyn McCauley and Scott Thornton. Brian Willsie came aboard from Washington, and he adds depth and determination. Joe Corvo left for Ottawa, Mark Parrish departed for Minnesota, Jeremy Roenick wound up in Phoenix, and Pavol Demitra got traded to Minnesota to jettison some '.
In the “I’ll keep them” department, Lombardi re-signed Michael Cammalleri, Eric Belanger, Mathieu Garon and Sean Avery. All were no surprise with the possible exception of Avery, who was thought to be long gone after some acrimonious moments that were recorded in the press.
All in all, L.A. was among the more active teams in pursuing and acquiring players, and they will be a better club this season by the look of it.
So, you think that the Coyotes did nothing over the summer? Think again. Within a very set framework, Wayne Gretzky and company are looking to become a more difficult team to play against. With that in mind, they sent Paul Mara to his hometown team in Boston and picked up Nick Boynton to play defense. Mike Johnson went to the Montreal Canadiens for a draft pick, and Geoff Sanderson signed with Philadelphia. Don MacLean and Bryan Helmer were signed for depth from Detroit, and young guys like Dennis Seidenberg, Frederik Sjostrom, Oleg Saprykin, Matthew Spiller, and Philippe Sauve were re-signed.
But the Coyotes got tougher, too. Big Georges Laraque has come aboard from Edmonton, and he brings along his recent experience of the run to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final with him to the Low Desert. Jeremy Roenick, while noted for being a free-wheeling center, still likes to play the physical game, and his addition provides experience and another kick at the can for J.R. Moreover, defenseman Ed Jovanovski, signed to a free-agent deal, can dominate a game at times, and is the big guy that coach Gretzky was looking for to help his kids along.
Looking at the above, I would agree that the Pacific Division will be fiercely competitive. However, I also like the way that the Sharks are looking as they head toward training camp. More will come, of course, but overall, the team is in an excellent position.