July 10, 2012

Fischler Report: Winners and losers in the free-agent frenzy

By Stan Fischler

Our roving reporter Gus Vic reveals his winners and losers in the first portion of the free agency frenzy:

Now that the big names in a weak crop of UFAs have moved, I’m convinced the impact created by loss outweighs those by gains.

This is true in the East with New Jersey, Philadelphia, Florida, and Pittsburgh (to a lesser degree).

Funny thing about the Pens are those who really believe Tomas Vokoun is actually an upgrade over Brent Johnson.

Winners appear in the Southeast in Carolina (by virtue of trade) and Tampa Bay, with additions of Sami Salo and Matt Carle to bolster a weak defense.

Montreal has improved a bit, but this is more in the grit area and won’t mean much if they can’t score.

The biggest surprise was Philadelphia not raising the ante to keep Carle. 

Some believe Paul Holmgren put offers out to Zach Parise (pictured right) and Ryan Suter simply to force the eventual winner in the sweepstakes to meet the ridiculous price tag Minnesota finally okayed. 

Still, with Chris Pronger’s uncertain future, the Flyers should have wanted to overpay a bit to maintain some stability in an area that remains questionable.

Minnesota is not much more than a “bubble team” in the coming season.  When Cal Clutterbuck dominates your highlight reel, you know a team still has a ways to go. 

I give Dallas marks for signing Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, but, when a team is putting large investments into a pair of 40-year-olds, that can’t be sending a good message regarding the offensive depth this team generates from its youth. 

Colorado made a quiet splash, re-signing RFA Erik Johnson and signing P.A. Parenteau

While I believe the Avs overpaid on Parenteau, this team made a surprise push last season before falling short and has a developing young team.

By letting big names slide in favor of role players in free agency, the Rangers find themselves in a good position to make moves during the next phase of off-season activity. 

I like the thought of an Alexander Semin gamble.  I’m with most on this one in that I am not a big fan of his personality. 

However, in a strong locker room with a demanding coach, perhaps this enigma is capable of being scared straight.  I do envision money being a problem here; expect him to demand $4.5 to 5 million.

I’d pay him $4 million with incentives to $5 million, and nothing more than a two-year deal.

That brings us to Rick Nash.  This suddenly looks a lot more enticing now than at the trade deadline.  However, he’s still not worth the king’s ransom which walks lock-step with Scott Howson’s delirium. 

I’d offer Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, a minor league prospect and the first round pick for next season, given it would likely be a selection in the second half of the round.

If the answer is no, walk away. Nash may become available at a later date for less.

Finally, has anyone taken notice that the Oilers might be assembling a core of players similar to a team that was being built there about 33 years ago.

OBSERVATIONS

ZACH PARISE and RYAN SUTER have reiterated by their twin signings in the Twin Cities what just about everyone knows. Loyalty is a heartwarming word, but—in the NHL—it takes a backseat to moolah and convenience. “I’m a loyal person,” Parise proclaimed after abandoning the Devils along with his captaincy. Both Zach and Ryan were “loyal” to the teams that drafted and nurtured them to stardom. But that fidelity abruptly ended. And there, the plot thickens.

Was the double-dip move a plan worked out by Parise-Suter months ago as some cynics would suggest? Does it matter? The duet left their respective bosses, Lou Lamoriello and David Poile, suitably disappointed. And they should be, since each g.m. made an appetizing offer. In the end, money and geography trumped money and loyalty!

GOSSIP

Give Montreal GM Marc Bergevin credit. The Habs’ rookie boss wasn’t suckered into giving Jaromir Jagr a bundle of bucks. Before signing with Dallas, Double J wanted to play for the Habs; clearly his primary choice for 2012-13. “I always wanted to play in Canada,” Jagr explains, “And I wanted to go to Montreal if I had a chance, but Montreal wasn’t interested. All of a sudden, I got a phone call from Joe Nieuwendyk that Dallas was interested.” …

Ever-resourceful Toronto-based blogger Howard Berger [Berger Bytes] dug up some nifty info from Martin Brodeur’s agent, Pat Brisson. According to the rep—via Berger—the Maple Leafs made a dogged pursuit of Mr. Goalie. Brian Burke had a two-year deal in mind, according to Berger. “The Leafs were aggressive and sincere in coming after Marty and I can guarantee you this wasn’t a leverage situation,” Brisson told Berger. “I think most people know that Marty didn’t want to leave New Jersey; after all these years, he’s part of the furniture in the Devils’ office.”…

If you’re interested in what one sharp analyst thinks about the current labor negotiations, listen up to Jason Brough of NBCSports.com. Brough believes a settlement will be accomplished for this reason: “The league and union know they’ll get absolutely killed by fans and media if there’s another lengthy work stoppage. In fact, they’ll get killed if there’s any work stoppage. Seriously, in this economy? Not worth it for either side.” Based on the current pact, which concludes on Sept. 15, the NHL Players’ Association is guaranteed 57% of “hockey-related revenues.” Anyone who believes in a sense of equity will conclude that there’s something intrinsically unfair about a 57-43 split. That’s why other issues such as NHL participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics, realignment and supplementary discipline are small potatoes compared to who gets how big a slice of the revenue pie. Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise if Bettman, Inc. shoots for a 50-50 split—and settles for something like 52-48; Donald Fehr & Co. permitting. 

HOW GOOD ARE THE KINGS—CAN THEY REPEAT?

Now that the ice has been cleared at Staples Center, it’s time to calmly reflect on pertinent questions:

Can the Kings repeat as Cup champs?

Or, are they like the Bruins, Blackhawks, and Penguins, one-hit wonders?

Our columnists Bill Martin and Brian McCormack take differing views. Take your pick:

* MARTIN SAYS NO:

It seemed that before the party was even finished in Los Angeles, there were already debates and discussions on whether or not the Kings have what it takes to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.

As a team that steamrolled through the top three seeds in the West and broke playoff records as an eighth seed, it is certainly something to consider.

However, hockey is, arguably, the most difficult sport in which to repeat championships. It is a feat that has not been done since the 1997-98 Red Wings did it a decade and a half ago, and it is a feat the Kings will not be able to do next year.

Chemistry across all lines boded extremely well for LA as well. Their scorers were able to put the puck in the net at the right time with the help of spectacular line mates providing seamless tape-to-tape passing throughout the playoffs.

However, this chemistry is difficult to find again. The dynamic offensive parts of the Los Angeles Kings will be retained for next year, but it is the offense, as a whole and working together, that will be the most difficult part to replicate, and likely another factor working against a Kings' repeat as Cup Champs.

Aside from Simon Gagne, the Kings were almost 100% healthy throughout the postseason. While other teams struggled with injuries (Sedin in Vancouver, Kovalchuk in NJ, Gaborik in NY), the Kings key parts seemed to be virtually indestructible.

While it is not set in stone that the Kings will run into injury troubles next year, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to sustain such a healthy team throughout the playoffs in consecutive years.

Finally, there are 29 teams just as hungry for the Cup, particularly the powerhouses of the West.

It is just too difficult to repeat championships in the NHL.

* McCORMACK SAYS YES:

The Kings squeaked into the playoffs this year as the door slid shut, snatching the eighth seed in the West while holding off late charges by Dallas and Calgary.

Even the Kings weren’t brilliant, winning five of their last ten but gathering points in eight of those games to hang on as the third playoff team from the Pacific Division.

The Kings’ regular season struggles were primarily due to a roster that underachieved offensively throughout the first half of the season. The culprits included big names.

Dustin Brown almost played his way out of California, his name dangled on the trading block at the deadline. But his response to those rumors accurately reflects the Kings’ response to the season as a whole. 

The Kings will be able to return their entire blue line, with bigger roles to be played by Slava Voynov after a terrific rookie season, and even Alec Martinez.

With the best goaltending in the West, the best defense, the best center depth, a head coach pushing all the right buttons, and a little money to spend, there’s no reason to think the Kings wouldn’t be in the push for the Cup again in 2013.

After all, Hollywood loves sequels.

MORE GOSSIP

      Roberto Luongo is in the process of kissing Vancouver goodbye. Exhibit A was his Friday comment on local radio CFOX: “It’s been a great six years, but it’s time to move on.” A large contingent of Canucks followers would not agree with the “great” observation. With Luongo between the pipes, the Canucks have won a grand total of no Stanley Cups. …

Recently acquired Nick Foligno of the Blue Jackets, who was a restricted free agent, has been signed to a three year, $9.25 million contract. … 

David Perron of the Blues also re-upped with the club for the next four years. The exact terms of the contract were not disclosed. …

Our Jordan Schoem came away from the Rangers prospect camp impressed with invitee Kyle Jean, who was signed by the Rangers on Friday. “The physical forward scored a beauty of a goal during the scrimmage and was noticeably strong in the battles in the corners,” Schoem assesses. The Sault Ste. Marie native stands at 6-4, 215 pounds, and skated for Lake Superior State University. …

The Bobby Ryan soap opera is difficult to figure. But if there’s no conciliation between the sniper and the club’s high command, a major deal should follow. …

If you’re wondering why Zach Parise snubbed the Penguins, try this theory: Zach never wanted any part of Pitt because he would have been third-man on the Penguins’ totem pole—behind Sid and Evgeni Malkin—and who would want that? …

One more thought about Zach Parise’s decision to forsake Newark for St. Paul: The man who taught Zach virtually everything he knows about hockey, his father, J. P. Parise, is a senior citizen who would rather not travel to see his son play, if possible. With J. P. living in Minnesota, Zach skating for the Wild makes it much easier on his Pop. …

Recently retired Red Wing defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom has re-joined the organization, this time, as a pro scout.  There’s no doubting that Lidstrom was one of the greatest talents to grace the sport of hockey; the question now is if he can find that same talent and lure them to Hockey Town. …

Nobody was more surprised than Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to discover matching “A’s” on their Wild sweaters at the duo’s press conference in Minnesota. Being revealed to the fans and media for the first time, the players donned their new jerseys and discovered that they would be alternate captains for the upcoming season.