Friday, July 29, 2011

Scouting Report: David Broll

*In this season's draft the Leafs selected 6-foot-1, 225-pound David Broll (aka Brolldozer) 152nd overall. An impressive prospect camp earlier this month only reinforced their belief that the Mississauga native could eventually help at the NHL level, and they just signed him to a three-year entry-level contract.

Broll was highly regarded coming out of midget hockey and it was anticipated that with his size and good hands he could be a big-time scoring power forward. A hard-working, two-way player, he has been a physical presence in his two years in the OHL but has not yet put up big scoring numbers and is a bit lacking mobility-wise. He uses his size to advantage and can handle the puck in small spaces but his limited skating ability and lack of consistency have limited his production to this point. In 2010-11 Broll scored 8 goals with 14 assists in 41 games before a mid-season trade to Sault Ste. Marie. Broll scored 5 goals with 7 assists with the Greyhounds. Broll slipped from 78th in the midterm rankings to 139th in Central Scouting’s final rankings of North American skaters.

Broll will return to the Soo Greyhounds for his third season in the OHL after Leafs’ camp this fall. Broll is a leadership-type player and seemed to benefit from an increased role with the Greyhounds. He has slipped some in the eyes of scouts since his midget days but the Leafs are hoping that he will become the prototypical power forward his skills and size suggest he can be. At this point it looks like his pro role, at least initially, will be that of an energy line, forechecking forward and potential enforcer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Team culture does matter

It's well none that Brian Burke has been attempting to change the culture of losing in the Maple Leaf dressing. Following the Tomas Kaberle trade no Leaf player preceded the current Fletcher'Burke era.

No word is out that the purge in Philadelphia during the offseason was also an attempt to change the team culture - and this was a winning team. This may be pure gossip but the Philadelphia Daily News reports that the hard-partying ways of Flyers captain Mike Richards and center Jeff Carter played a major role in the organization's decision to trade both players in June. The columnist indicates the information comes from two unnamed Flyers players.

Shortly after his arrival in December 2009, coach Peter Laviolette instituted what players came to call the "Dry Island." Laviolette asked team members to commit to not drinking for a month, and each player was asked to write his number on a locker room board as a pledge. No. 17 (Carter) and No. 18 (Richards) were absent from the board on the first Dry Island, as well as the estimated five more times the policy was instituted.

There was also some suggestions that the traded players did not get along with Chris Pronger who appears destined to be the next Flyers captain.

Scouting Report: Greg McKegg

The Maple Leafs drafted Greg McKegg in the 3rd round (62nd overall) in 2010. He is a 6'0", 190 lbs left winger with the Erie Otters. McKegg had a breakout season for the Otters in 2009-10. Appearing in 67 games for that club, he scored 37 goals and assisted on 48 others for 85 points. Suffered knee strain in preseason and spent the rest of the year working to get his speed back. Played on top line with Zack Torquato and Mike Cazzola.

He excelled on the special teams for Erie this past season scoring 16 of his 37 goals on the power-play. Not overly physical, but also doesn’t shy away from contact. He has deceptive hands and the ability to slip through tight areas. McKegg has the capacity to score goals in a variety of ways and isn’t afraid of driving the net. He is projected to be a top 6 forward one day. Physically not a classic Burke winger but has offensive potential.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Joe Sakic's $1 million hole-in-one

Joe Sakic sunk a hole-in-one at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, where a perfect shot on the 17th earned him a $1 million bonus from the tournament sponsor. Half of it going to Sakic and half goes to Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation. The best part is his reaction, which starts off as nothing, followed by arms-raised, and then becomes high-fives and a victory lap.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who would expected the most incredible goal of the year would come from Israel?

During the D-III championships in April in South Africa, Eliezer Sherbatov had a six-point game against Greece and delivered what should be a highlight-reel goal. Sherbatov plays for Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The 10 worst NHL contracts

10. Christian Ehrhoff (Buffalo)

Ehrhoff’s contract isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. Sure it’s 10 years but the last 3 years are for just $1 million per season which makes a buyout feasible. What makes this contract ugly is the $18 million in the first two seasons and the fact that Ehrhoff who his turning 30 has to remain healthy and productive for 7 seasons. He will be paid $37 million in those 7 seasons so he isn’t really a $4 million defenseman. He has had 3 productive seasons in a row and has not missed many games in his career. There are some risks here.

9. Marian Hossa (Chicago)

Hossa is entering season 4 of a 12-year contract and he is 32 years old. He will continue to be paid $7.9 million per season until he is 37 years old. The NHL hasn’t had very many players that have been big point producers at that age. He has been a 30-goal scorer 7 times and a 40-goal scorer 3 times. The past two season he has had injury problems and been limited to just 25 goals and under 60 points. Hossa’s contract is a classic example of paying a player based on past performance and not on what he is capable of producing prospectively. This contract will get uglier as time goes on.

8. Ilya Bryzgalov (Philadelphia)

Bryzgalov has been a starter since being picked up on waivers by Phoenix 4 seasons ago. His career GAA is 2.53 and SAV% is .916 which are pretty good. The Flyers have had no luck with goalies and have opened the bank in this case. It’s pretty clear they are overpaying. Forget about the cap hit, Bryzgalov will make $47.5 million over the next 7 seasons when he is 38 years old. There will be just $3.5 million remaining in the final two years of the contract. The butterfly style causes goalies breakdown earlier in their careers. I can’t see Bryzgalov playing over 400 more games as an elite goalie but if he wins the Flyers a Cup in the next 2 season then he’s worth the money.

7. Brad Richards (NY Rangers)

Well Richards is your typical long term contract but front-loaded enough to make him the highest paid NHLer for the coming season. It is a 9-year contract for $60 million but the last 3 seasons he makes $1 million per season so it really is a 6-year contract for $57 million. Overpaid? But Glen Sather makes it a habit of getting stuck with bad contracts (Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden). Richards has had some very good years and a few mediocre ones as well. If he breaks down too soon before his 37th birthday you can add another bad contract to Sather’s legacy. Of course Sather is counting on Richards being the next Mark Recchi.

6. Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay)

Lecavalier is on season 3 of an 11-year contract and will be collecting $10 million per season until his 36th birthday. He was an elite player but hasn’t scored at a point per game pace in 4 seasons. He had a career high 52 goals in 2006-07 but is only good for 25 now. There has been a steady stream of trade rumours involving Vinnie but that contract will be hard to move.

5. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver)

Luongo is 32 and in just season 2 of a 12-year contract. Who hasn’t noticed that Luongo’s performance has been up and down throughout his career. He is clearly not the best goalie in the league . The problem here is not the annual salary as much as the term of the contract. This is another contract that would be tough to move.

4. Ilya Kovalchuk (New Jersey)

The Devil’s owner totally lost his mind last summer when he signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year contract. An extremely gifted scorer but not too many players are scoring 40 goals when they reach the age of 35 – a year Kovalchuk will still be collecting $10 million in pay.

3. Marc Savard (Boston)

In 2009 the Bruins signed Savard to a 7-year extension and just 4 months later Matt Cooke’s cheap shot to the head has pretty much put Savard’s career in jeopardy. This contract and Rick Di’Pietro’s illustrate the risk of signing players to lengthy contracts. One day they are healthy and the next day they can be washed up. There are only 3 big salary-years remaining on the contract but even if his career continues I don’t see him returning to play at his previous level.

2. Wade Redden (NY Rangers)

This could be the worst contract handed out by Glen Sather. Redden is entering season 3 of a 6-year, $39 million contract but played all last season in the AHL. Fortunately the Rangers can afford to bury $23 million in the minors. A true waste both in terms of money and talent. Redden can still play in the NHL but it won’t happen with that contract.

1. Rick DiPietro (NY Islanders)

Islander owner Charles Wang is the King of Bad Contracts. He is still paying Alexi Yashin who hasn’t been in the NHL in 4 years. But his deal with DiPietro takes the cake. DiPietro is entering season 6 of a 15-year deal. The problem is DiPietro has only played 39 games over the past 3 seasons. His hips are a mess and I can’t see him playing for 10 more seasons. For every Tim Thomas playing into his late 30’s there are 100 goalies who are washed up before their 30th birthday. A cautionary note here, one not picked up in Vancouver and Philadelphia.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Life of Brian

“You’re talking about the Vatican, if you’re Catholic.”

This is how Burke described the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2008 when asked by the media if he would be interested in running the Leafs during the search for a new Leaf GM at the time. So now that Burke is in charge of the Vatican I guess he considers himself to be a Pope.

I think Brian Burke is a great hockey executive but he also has a pretty big ego. His success as Leaf GM will not only depend on his management skills but also his ability to manage his own ego. He needs to behave more like a GM and less like a Pope.

The Toronto Sun recently levelled unfair criticism of Burke over his decision to be in Afghanistan on July 1st visiting Canadian troops instead of pitching Brad Richards and other free agents. Look Burke has a very large and competent team around him including Dave Nonis, Claude Loiselle, Dave Poulin, and Rick Dudley – two are former GMs. Clearly his delegates are capable of pitching free agents and in fact most of the free agent signings over the past two year were probably completed by Nonis. And everyone in hockey knew that Brad Richards was going to re-join his former coach, John Tortorella, in New York. The other teams’ offers only served to keep the Rangers’ offer at a suitable term and amount. Yet the optics of Brian Burke in Kandahar were very bad. The Pope was off doing on a mission while his staff was at home doing the regular work.

More disturbing to me is his “holier than thou” attitude regarding long-term contracts and the collective agreement. The Leafs’ pitch to Brad Richards was inadequate and they knew it because the term was too short. Burke doesn’t believe in front-loaded contract because he feels it undermines the collective agreement. However, the NHL has accepted Brad Richard’s contact and all the other front-loaded contracts because, in fact, they are within the collective agreement. Burke’s view is about as relevant as the Pope’s view on how to decorate your Christmas tree.

The problem for the Maple Leafs is that they will not be a major player during free agency as long as their GM takes this approach. In fact, I can foresee Burke losing one of his own star players to free agency over his refusal to structure a contract similar to other star players. I can understand not making an offer because the economics of that contract would weaken rather strengthen the Leafs. But to refuse to improve the team because of his views are more important than winning a championship is just plain arrogance we can’t afford here after 44 years without a Cup.

Pope Brian, it’s time to get off your throne.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Highest paid NHL players for 2011-12

All the big money has been spent and there are now new leaders in the top salaries NHL players. Timing is everything so not surprising the top players signed during this summer. But who would have ever imagined that the second highest paid player would be Christian Ehrhoff. It's not all that bad because his contract is heavily front-loaded.

Brad Richards $12,000,000 $6,667,000
Christian Ehrhoff $10,000,000 $4,000,000
Vincent Lecavalier $10,000,000 $7,727,000
Ilya Bryzgalov $10,000,000 $5,667,000
Sidney Crosby $9,000,000 $8,700,000
Eveni Malkov $9,000,000 $8,700,000
Alex Ovechkin $9,000,000 $9,538,000
Zdeno Chara $8,500,000 $6,917,000
Jason Spezza $8,000,000 $7,000,000
Dany Heatley $8,000,000 $7,500,000
Joe Thornton $8,000,000 $7,000,000
Duncan Keith $8,000,000 $5,551,000
Marian Hossa $7,900,000 $5,223,000
Henrik Zetterberg $7,750,000 $6,083,000
Eric Staal $7,750,000 $8,250,000

When you compare these salaries with the top salaries from the 2003-04 season you will notice that salary levels for the top players have returned to the pre-lockout levels. So owners were able to only turn back the clock so to speak by 8 years.

Peter Forsberg $11,000,000
Jaromir Jagr $11,000,000
Sergei Federov $10,000,000
Pavel Bure $10,000,000
Niklas Lindstrom $10,000,000
Keith Tkachuk $10,000,000
Joe Sakic $9,881,000
Chirs Pronger $9,500,000
Rob Blake $9,327,000
John LeClair $9,000,000
Mike Modano $9,000,000
Mats Sundin $9,000,000
Bill Guerin $8,866,000
Robert Holik $8,850,000
Doug Weight $8,500,000

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Leafs buy Cody Franson for $7 million

This deal would have been a salary dump if Matthew Lombardi could still play hockey but his future is very much in doubt. Lombardi played only 2 games last season and has spent the past 9 months recovering from a concussion. He intends on attending Leafs training camp in the fall but that may be largely wishful thinking.

No this is a straight out purchase of Cody Franson who will be a top 4 defenseman for the Leafs for $7,000,000 which is what is remaining on Lombardi's contract. Sure they are players going the other way (Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney) but they are just throw-ins to keep the NHL head office types from sniffing around. I doubt Nashville was looking to trade Franson and would never have agreed to Lebda and Slaney for just Franson.

This is just another example of how big market teams have an advantage over smaller market franchises. Although Brian Burke does not like the long-term, front-loaded contracts handed out by the other big market teams, he has no problem scooping up problem contracts if the other team throws in some good young talent.

When Burke dealt Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim he was after young defense prospect Jake Gardiner but to make the deal happen he had to agree to take on the contract of Joffrey Lupul. Lupul is not a bad player but has had health problems and has a hefty contract. As it turns out Lupul was able to stay healthy right to the end of the season and regained his scoring touch. Perhaps Lombardi can recover too in which case the Leafs have themselves another decent centre and finally some depth at that position but no one is counting on that.

For Nahsville the deal is one that they had to swallow. Although Lombardi while on their long term injury list would not count against their salary cap, it was a cash flow issue. For teams will little or no profitability it is hard to justify paying a player who cannot play. The Rangers will continue to Wade Redden's salary while he plays in the AHL but that's fine as along as he doesn't take up valuable cap space. So the Predators had to move a good young defenseman to help their bottom line.

That's today's NHL.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Leafs mercifully only sign Tim Connolly

When Brian Burke announced the Maple Leafs would be very active on July 1, I cringed knowing that talent pool was weak and the prices would be high. Thankfully the Leafs missed out on Brad Richards and settled for Tim Connolly.

The Leafs have been wisely stockpiling young players. Right now those players are cheap but over time they will become much more expensive. Providing free agents with big long term contracts may force you to begin shedding some of the young talent over time. That is what happened to Chicago. So a short term contract for Connolly makes sense.

How much is Connolly being over paid at $9.5 million over 2 years? Well he will be their second highest paid forward just behind Phil Kessel. He has never scored 2o goals in a season and only twice exceeded 50 points. Those are not numbers of a first line centre. If he had a Clarke MacArthur type of year that would be great but he still wouldn't be worth the money. But this is what you get in the free agent market. Mike Komisarek cost the Leafs $22.5 million over 5 years and he often doesn't even get 10 minutes of ice in a game.

Connolly is a playmaker so let's hope he can click with Phil Kessel. He will help the powerplay and penalty killing and we know how bad the Leafs' special teams have been. But let's not kid ourselves this guy can't stay healthy which is the only reason this contract sucks.

The stupidity of Free Agent Madness

There was a time when July 1 brought about some tremendous hockey talent onto the marketplace. This was particularly the case when the NHL dropped the minimum age for free agents from 31 to 27. It meant stars in their prime could shop themselves around. Who can forget Marian Hossa shop himself around several summers trying to land on a Stanley Cup team before he settled in Chicago.

But those days are long gone. General Managers lock in their stars at young ages with 10 year or more contracts. Instead the free agent markets has the occasional top talent - usually because their team can't afford to resign them and didn't trade them away first. Over the past five years the quality of the free agents has diminished considerably. But the size of the contracts have not. In the first day of free agency $270 million in contracts were handed out. Another $85 million was spent on day 2. Most of the money is going to journeymen, players drafted high but never reaching their potential, players with a history of injuries and some players at the end of their careers trying to hang on for another season. Though picking up Robyn Regehr from Calgary was a smart move and only possible because the owner's willingness to spend.

So why do teams throw around this kind of money?

There are a few different scenarios. One is the new deep-pocketed owner that wants to let everyone know he is a "player." That was Tampa Bay in 2008 when Oren Koules and Len Barry bought the team and decided to go after every free agent with no plan or vision. I remember before the dust had settled the Lightning had about 6 lines worth of forwards but nothing on defense or net. This season it's Terry Pegula the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres. So far they have signed Ville Leino, That was only 6 years but the Christian Ehrhoff deal the Sabres signed was 10 years. Will this push Buffalo back into a playoff spot? Well maybe. Leino isn't really much of an upgrade over Tim Connolly but their defense is much improved and with Ryan Miller in net they will compete.

Then there are the teams frantically signing players to get to the salary minimum floor of $48.3 million. That happens to exceed the maximum salary cap in 2005 by almost $10 million. The consensus would be that the Panthers overspent on their contracts, but they did make their team stronger with the signings of Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Ed Jovanovski, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc and Jose Theodore. They also traded for Kris Versteeg. GM Dale Tallon is attempting to recreate the Blackhawk rebuild which was created by loading up on draft picks. The Panthers have done that but they need to be careful that the free agent signings don't create a salary squeeze when their good young talent is eligible for some hefty raises. Will they make the playoffs? Hard to say because large turnover in players are a real crapshoot.

There is the GM of a contending team that also attempts a total remake of his lineup. That would be this season's Philadelphia Flyers. Let's start with trading away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and signing Ilya Bryzgalov for a long term deal. The Jaromir Jagr signing seems like an acceptable risk, although that it's noteworthy that the Penguins wouldn't go beyond $2 million and the Red Wings wouldn't go beyond $2.5 million. The Flyers paid $3.3 million. Max Talbot will be the kind of energy player that Philadelphia fans like. Will the Flyers be better. Well if they get better goaltending then for sure.

Another group of teams are those who believe they are a player or two away from a Stanley Cup and looking for that one or two players that can fit under their salary cap and will put them over the edge. That would be the Washington Capitals who signed role players like Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Bourque and Roman Hamrlik to provide depth and strengthen themselves in a few areas.

The smart teams weren't very active. These signings can throw your salary scale out of whack. If you sign a 15-goal scorer for $4 million then what are you going to pay your young developing players that reach the 20-goal mark? The dumbest signing has to be Brad Richards. You would think that Glen Sather would learn from his experience of signing Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Wade Redden but I guess not. At 31 and with some serious concussions behind him, Richards may have only 2 to 3 good years left in him. Ranger fans relish seeing Marian Gaborik and Richards on a line together but that line might be in a doctors' waiting room.