2011 NHL New Year’s resolutions: Northeast Division

For many people around the world, the beginning of 2011 elicits the creation of a list of new year’s resolutions. Many scoff that odes to stop smoking or lose 20 lbs. are pipe dreams, but what’s wrong with a little optimism as the world cleans the slate of its calendar?

With that in mind, we decided to recommend a few changes (or sometimes with successful teams, what not to change) for each NHL team. We’ll go division by division in alphabetical order, because one of our resolutions is to be fair.

Click here for the Atlantic Division post.

Click here for the Central Division post.

Northeast Division new year’s resolutions

Boston

Improve home cooking

What’s the point to earning home ice advantage for a round or two if you’re better away than at home? The Bruins currently have two more wins on the road so far this season, which is a good sign for their heartiness but a bad one for their play in front of their own crowd.

Get more out of offense

Boston is the best in the league at limiting their opponents’ scoring. If they could get more out of rookie Tyler Seguin (13 points in 35 games) and get Marc Savard up to speed (five points in 14 games with a -8 rating), they could be a true contender.

Buffalo

Tank?

Considering the Sabres’ struggles when it comes to luring big name free agents – although a possible ownership change could alter that – so maybe the best way to get better is by adding blue chip prospects. Their current playoff picture looks cloudy at best, so why not get a better pick?

Get a better backup next summer

Ryan Miller is an all-world goalie and probably likes a lot of starts, but what a goalie enjoys and what is actually good for them could be very different. Getting Miller a better backup than shaky Patrick Lalime would be nice.

Montreal

Generate more offense

The combination of Carey Price’s great goalie and Jacques Martin’s defensive system helped the Habs limit opponents’ scoring and develop a great penalty kill. Unfortunately, that system plus limited offensive talent is forcing them to struggle to score. Maybe the addition of James Wisniewski will help spark more offense.

Ottawa

Tank

The Senators have settled for middle of the pack finishes and mediocre playoff runs for a while now, but what have they really accomplished? Their roster is in serious need for a reboot and the draft is a better way to do that.

Trade veterans for picks/prospects

Following that logic, Ottawa should get rid of pricey veterans. I’d be against moving Jason Spezza because he’s in his prime, but his big contract makes him expendable. The most logical moves would be shipping out Sergei Gonchar, Alexander Kovalev and possibly even Daniel Alfredsson. It’s hard to say if they have much market value, though.

Toronto

Acknowledge reality

The Maple Leafs were once known as an expensive team that couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs. Now they’re an expensive team that cannot even get a sniff of the postseason. It’s clear that they’re “have their cake and eat it too” approach of adding expensive players in their late-20s while simultaneously trying to rebuild isn’t working.

Trade for prospects instead of outright tanking

The problem for the Leafs is that they won’t see the benefits from another putrid season until the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft because of that Phil Kessel trade. Tanking would only make that transaction more embarrassing.

Instead, the Leafs should parlay their limited assets into draft picks. That will be easier said than done, though, naturally.

Blackhawks’ Anisimov suffered high-ankle sprain in mid-March

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Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov was not himself in the playoffs, and by the fourth game against the Predators his ice time was limited to just 14:18.

It turns out he had a pretty good excuse. Anisimov suffered a high-ankle sprain on March 14 against the Montreal Canadiens, and that’s a tough injury to overcome in less than a month.

Anisimov missed the rest of the regular season with the injury. He returned for the playoffs but failed to register a single point in four losses to Nashville.

“Being away for that time period and coming right back into the playoffs, obviously you’re not as sharp as you want to be,” Anisimov’s agent told the Daily Herald’s John Dietz.

Sharks say getting Jones, Vlasic signed before camp ‘a priority’

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Doug Wilson has a busy summer ahead.

Decisions need to be made on veteran leaders Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, both pending UFAs. Those figure to be crucial negotiations but, to hear the Sharks GM explain it, there are equally vital deals to be reached with goalie Martin Jones, and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

“Both of them are extremely important to get under contract,” Wilson said yesterday, per NBC Sports California. “We can start those discussions in the next little while.”

Both Jones and Vlasic have one year remaining on their current deals, and are eligible to sign extensions on July 1. Wilson said it’s a “priority” to get them done before September’s training camp.

Jones, 27, is heading into the last of a three-year, $9 million deal with a $3M average annual cap hit. It’s safe to assume he’s in for a lengthy extension with a significant raise, given how good he’s been since joining the Sharks. He backstopped them to the Cup Final last season and has been one of the league’s busiest workhorses, starting 65 games in each of the last two years.

Vlasic, 30, has spent his entire 10-year career in San Jose. He’s developed a reputation as one of the league’s better defensive defensemen, strengthened by his role on Canada’s gold medal-winning side at the 2014 Olympics, and 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

At this point, it’s fair to speculate when all these deals will get done. Wilson has a full plate with the four aforementioned negotiations, and also has to hammer out contracts for a trio of RFA forwards — Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney.

Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?

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Two years ago, Mike Babcock came to Toronto and predicted there would be “pain.”

He was right for one year. The Maple Leafs finished dead last in 2015-16, then got Auston Matthews as a reward.

But the pain didn’t last long, in large part thanks to Matthews. The Leafs made the playoffs in Babcock’s second season as head coach, and they even gave the Washington Capitals a good scare in the first round.

Now the question has to be asked — should the Leafs start going for it?

Your first instinct may be to laugh. But it is not such a ridiculous question when you consider Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty were all in their early 20s when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time.

Mathews turns 20 in September, and he’s already one of the NHL’s best centers. Wingers William Nylander, 20, and Mitch Marner, 19, aren’t too bad either, and neither is 26-year-old center Nazem Kadri.

All four of those forwards are under club control for years to come. Also locked up long term is starting goalie Frederik Andersen.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the back end. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev can all move the puck well, but defensively they’re still suspect. What the Leafs could really use is a top-four defenseman who can match the Leafs’ pace while also killing penalties and shutting down the opposition’s top players. And if he can play the right side, even better.

Of course, you know who else could use a defenseman like that? The other 30 teams. Top-four defensemen are not cheap to get on the trade market. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers.

Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello met with the media Tuesday to reflect on the season, and also give his thoughts on the future. He said the Leafs have to be careful not to get complacent, that it only gets harder now. He was asked about the market for defensemen. He said it’s hard to gauge because of the expansion draft.

But Lamoriello also said, “There’s a five-year plan that changes every day.”

Which would suggest the Leafs are willing to accelerate their schedule — that they may, in fact, see an opportunity to compete for the Cup a lot sooner than they originally thought possible.

Consider:

The Penguins went from out of the playoffs in ’06, to losing in the first round in ’07, to the Stanley Cup Final in ’08, then won it all in ’09.

The Blackhawks went from out of the playoffs in ’08, to the conference finals in ’09, to a championship in ’10.

The Kings went from out of the playoffs in ’09 to winning the Cup in ’12.

So… if you were the Leafs, wouldn’t you see an opportunity, too?

Wild exit early, Fletcher stays positive — a familiar refrain in Minnesota

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If the NHL is a bottom line business, then the Wild’s season was a disappointment.

They finished second in the West, yet were upended in the opening playoff round to the wild card St. Louis Blues — a team they finished 17 points ahead of in the standings. Minnesota lost all three games at home, managed just one win, scored just eight goals and, perhaps most disturbingly, had a shorter postseason run than last year, when it lost in six to Dallas.

With that in mind, here’s what Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had to say at Tuesday’s end-of-year media availability.

When asked about his group: “It’s still a very good core. It’s a strong team.”

When asked about a major overhaul: “Wholesale changes? Absolutely not.”

When asked about the loss to St. Louis: “A disappointing five-game series that could have very easily gone either way.”

If this sounds familiar, well, it should.

At last year’s exit interview, Fletcher was a beacon of positivity. He insisted Minnesota was a team on the rise, not decline, and remained steadfast in his belief of the group despite media skepticism and a displeased fan base.

To his credit, Fletcher answered the critics.

Hiring Bruce Boudreau as head coach was a terrific move, and buying out Thomas Vanek to free up money for the Eric Staal acquisition worked out beautifully. The organization was also buoyed by how well four of its prospects — Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin — performed at the World Juniors. Given those are all Fletcher draftees, it was another feather in his cap.

Losing to St. Louis shouldn’t negate all that, and it hasn’t.

But should it alter the Wild’s perspective?

Remember, this season wasn’t a one-off. The core leadership group of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter has been together for five years now, and never advanced past the second round. And in the last two years, the Wild have won a grand total of three postseason tilts.

Some have suggested the bar needs to be raised.

Consider, for a moment, Chicago GM Stan Bowman. Like the Wild, the Blackhawks have been bounced in each of the last two opening rounds. And like the Wild, the Blackhawks were bounced really early this year — albeit in four games, rather than five.

Here’s what Bowman had to say in his end-of-year presser:

“Standing here April 22 is not the way we expected our season to end. And it’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves. We did not come even close to reaching the standard we have set over the years here. And that’s unacceptable.

“Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season. It’s not close to good enough for anybody. And I think it’s time right not to take a look in the mirror and face facts.”

The biggest difference between the Wild and Blackhawks is that the Wild, quite justifiably, could argue they outplayed the Blues and the only thing keeping them from Round 2 was Jake Allen. Chicago was dominated by Nashville in nearly every statistical measure. So Bowman didn’t have that to fall back on.

But it’s the second part of Bowman’s statement that’s key. “Completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season.” Things were over quickly for the ‘Hawks, just like they were for the Wild. But to hear Fletcher and Boudreau speak today, you couldn’t help but feel the organization believes it just wrapped the most competitive five-game, first-round series in playoff history.

Well, the Wild brass does anyway. For the players, the message seemed to be quite different. And quite telling.

“Right now, we can’t take any positives,” Koivu said, per the team’s Twitter account. “Just disappointment.”