We are now officially in the NHL's annual Silly Season -- the fortnight squished between Wimbledon and the Tour de France, when NHL General Managers display collective amnesia over the economic problems that led to two major lockouts in the last decade, and spread money like there was no tomorrow. With the 2014 Entry Draft tomorrow, and the "window period" for kicking the tires with free agents officially open, it's time to take a look at the ongoing shenanigans:
Howson Woos Nikitin -- You can always count on Scott Howson and/or the Edmonton Oilers to provide some head shaking moments at this time of year, and when they combine, the results can be really stunning. Truly, I am a believer that Howson does not deserve the ritual stoning that he receives in Columbus, without regard for some of the good deals he put together. But, as anyone who reads my stuff knows, I'm a big believer that Columbus is a better organization without him. His signing of Nikita Nikitin to a two-year $9 million contract is Exhibit A. Nikitin canplay the game, when he wants to, but he has been more frequently seen making some absolutely brutal plays in his own end. In his debut season with the Blue Jackets, his 7 goals and 25 assists opened some eyes, and he developed some chemistry with Fedor Tyutin.
Nikitin valued those accomplishments highly, and was on the brink of arbitration when he blinked and accepted a two-year deal for $4.3 million . . . combined. Obviously, the Blue Jackets felt that even that money was contingent upon him at least maintaining the same level of play . . . which he didn't. Thus, they were willing to let him walk when free agency begins July 1. I have had Nikitin slated for the KHL for awhile, figuring that only there would he get somebody to meet his inflated concept of self-worth. Leave it to Edmonton to prove me wrong. Nikitin now is the highest paid defenseman on the Oilers -- and #2 in Alberta -- and Howson -- per his comments yesterday -- has him slated for "at least" a top four role. To put it in more perspective, Nikitin now makes more than Jack Johnson, and the same as Fedor Tyutin.
It looks like the main cheer in the Edmonton stands will once again be "LOT-TER-Y!!"
Gaborik's Age Defying Deal -- At the same time, the Los Angeles Kings were announcing that they have signed Marian Gaborik to a deal worth approximately $34 million over seven years. Yes, you read that correctly . . . seven. With an AAV of "just" $4.9 million, this would superficially seem to be a steal, given his performance in this year's playoffs, and considering that Nikitin is apparently worth $4.5 million. But, superfical does not cut it in the NHL.
Gaborik is 32 years old. While that's on the far side of the summit for most NHL forwards, there are still some productive years remaining . . . assuming good health. Gaborik has been anything but healthy in his career, and should well have had a great playoff run, considering how well rested he was. Due to injury, Gaborik's skates hit the ice only 22 time for the Blue Jackets last year, and that has been a recurrent theme. These things do not improve with age. Chances are the Kings will find out that Gaborik breaks under the rigors of a regular season schedule, particularly in the physical type of game the Kings like to play.
Gaborik will actually make $6 million plus for the first three years of the deal, winnowing down to $3 million or so at the end. In the cap world, it's seven years and $34 million. In the real world, I'm betting on three years and $19 million.
Public Service Announcement -- Before talking about the draft and such, I have to provide my annual warning to those who may be following the Silly Season via social media for the firt time this year. Rule 1: IT IS NOT TRUE. Rule 2: SEE RULE 1. There are hordes of internet hockey trolls who surface at this time of year, with catchy Twitter handles leading the unsuspecting to believe that they have some special inside knowledge of the NHL and its inner workings. Even more lethal are those who fake the accounts of the legitimate correspondents. Some have become quite accomplished at this, and I was caught by one of these gremlins a couple of years ago. My general rule is that it isn't true unless Bob MacKenzie or Darren Dreger say it is, and even they miss once in a while. Some of the ESPN folks have become credible in this area as well. So, please no RT's of @NHLSuperSecretInsider's tweet that the Blue Jackets have acquired Crosby and Malkin for Jared Boll and a 3rd round pick, OK?
The Draft & Beyond -- For me, the draft is more intriguing for the deals that are done than for the picks themselves. Except for years like last year, when we had three first-rounders, it's tough to get too excited when the chances that any of these guys will ever see NHL ice is well under 50%. That being said, the mid-first round position is an intriguing one, with possibilities abounding. With Hartnell coming on board, the signing of Hjalmarsson and the potential for Rychel, Wennberg and others to crack the roster, it will be interesting to see where the club puts its focus. Will we draft offense, defense or parlay the picks in to other deals? Don't look for any predictions here, as I really don't need more opportunities to make a fool of myself, and the Blue Jackets have been very good about keeping the lid on their intentions.
That being said, here are some folks that could make sense for the Blue Jackets to look at. In the draft, I think that Conner Bleackley is really an intriguing choice. His size and skill are a good fit, and he's at a level that the Blue Jackets could trade down to get in the first round, or perhaps trade up in the second. I think this guy is going to be a good catch for somebody. (Which pretty much guarantees that he will quit hockey and become a professional rodeo rider or something . . . ). For a more informed view, catch my colleague Mike MacLean's mock draft , which has us going for a blue liner in the first round.
On the free agent market, we are hearing the annual Ales Hemsky rumblings, of course, but they have been wrong every time before, and I don't see a difference here. Matt Moulson, on the other hand, would be worth a look. Dan Boyle might be an interesting choice to add some veteran depth on the blue line and re-unite him with some old Miami connections. I'm also intrigued by Brooks Orpik -- I just have this gut feeling that he simply needs a change of scenery to get his game invigorated, and Columbus is not that far from Pittsburgh . . . .
Whatever the scenarios, I think the Blue Jackets might have a surprise or two in store. How's that for going out on a limb?
The Coaching Corner
It was good to see Gerard Gallant get another crack at a head coaching slot, taking over the Quebec City . . . I mean Florida Panthers. He got the bum's rush in Columbus, and after some good work in the interventing years, nice to see him get another shot.
After much angst, the Pittsburgh Penguins reached down to the WHL to grab somewhat embattled Portland Winterhawks' coach/GM Mike Johnston as their coach. Too bad, I was really looking forward to seeing John Tortorella dealing with Crosby and Malkin. In all seriousness, I think this is a bad move by Pittsburgh. They seem to be hoping that another stealth coach in Bylsma school will lead them to the Promised Land. Hope is not a strategy, and I think you need a coach with more gravitas and leverage to whip the sullen superstars into shape.
Speaking of coaches, has anybody else notice the paradigm shift in Todd Richards' conversation of late? We've moved from "bump & grind" to "speed & skill". I think the playoffs may have been an eye-opener for Richards, seeing that the physical game can take you only so far. It's good to hear, and I'll be interested to see how it translates on the ice.
All Things NHL
I'm not sure who in New York figures it's a good idea to hold the Entry Draft, free agency, the NHL Awards, the announcement of the schedules and the Hall of Fame inductions all within a 10-day window, but it's crazy, and minimizes the impact these events deserve, and the visibility it provides to the NHL. I know people want to go on vacation, but some of this stuff could happen in the "dead period" from mid-July on, couldn't it?
No shockers out of the NHL Awards -- Patrick Roy was a solid pick for the Jack Adams (Todd Richards was 8th), and Tuuka Rask was a good choice for the Vezina (Steve (cough) Mason (cough, cough( was 7th, one spot ahead of Sergei Bobrovsky). A bit of a surprise with Dustin Brown beating out Jonathan Toews for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, but I've believed his role on the club has been underestimated by many. Nathan MacKinnon was no surprise for the Calder, but Boone Jenner did get a vote.
On the Hall of Fame front, Dominik Hasek , Peter Forsberg and Mike Modano were automatics, with Rob Blake being perhaps a mild surprise. Bill McCreary enters the Hall after refereeing more than 2,000 games in the NHL. That's a lot of skating --- no shifts for the referees. Finally, and for me, most importantly, Pat Burns finally gets his deserved ticket to the Hall. The guy was an institution in the game,, won three Jack Adams Awards -- with three different teams, and was forced to endure the ignominy of having his death widely trumpeted on the internet during his battle with cancer, only to find that he was at the family's summer cottage. It's a shame this honor did not come during his liftetime.
We'll be at Nationwide Arena tomorrow night for all of the 2014 Draft festifvities, and you should be to. My favorite spurious rumor thus far is that Scott Hartnell has asked to announce the Jackets' opening pick on the stage in Philly. That's simply too delicious to be true. Hold onto your hats folks, the next two weeks promise to be crazy . . . or not. Stay tuned.