James O'Brien

Mike Babcock, Brendan Shanahan

No GM, no problem for the Maple Leafs?

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People can get pretty obsessed with job titles in sports, especially in a city where blame and attention are in such large supply as they are in Toronto.

Maple Leafs executive Brendan Shanahan is restructuring the team to the beat of his own drum, though, it seems … and apparently naming an official general manager really isn’t a big deal right now. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston passes along this intriguing bit from Shanahan on Tuesday:

A gut reaction is that this is a serious nod of approval for assistant GM Kyle Dubas, especially just days after HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman reported that trade calls are going through the young executive:

The Maple Leafs sent out a communiqué last week indicating any team wanting to talk trade should go through assistant GM Kyle Dubas. This led to speculation maybe Dubas would be elevated to the full-time GM position, but that appears premature. Director of player personnel Mark Hunter is responsible for draft selections, so it doesn’t look like Toronto wanted to add another 72-ounce Lone Star steak to his plate. What it does say, though, is Brendan Shanahan really trusts Dubas. That’s big responsibility at this time in the franchise’s existence.

As you can see from that excerpt, Dubas isn’t controlling every facet of roster-building, as Hunter seemingly runs the draft show.

Maybe it really means that, for the time being, the Leafs boast a GM-by-committee approach?

Along with Dubas and Hunter, Shanahan likely holds significant sway (possibly the most). Even so, deep-pocketed new head coach Mike Babcock probably has some serious input into the makeup of the team, too. One can picture any number of ways the Maple Leafs may make decisions, and compartmentalizing them could very well allow people to play to their strengths.

One thing seems clear: this franchise is advancing well beyond the days when they seemingly didn’t spend a penny on analytics.

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Speaking of spending money and doing things a GM might do, the Maple Leafs made it official that they’ve signed Petter Granberg and Tim Erixon to one-year deals while Zach Hyman received a two-year, two-way contract.

Toews admits Chicago’s cap crunch feels ‘a lot like 2010’

Chicago Blackhawks Victory Parade And Rally
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Much like in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks are celebrating a triumphant Stanley Cup win. The unfortunate similarity seems to be that, with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane getting raises, key supporting cast members are likely out.

With the salary cap ceiling officially set at $71.4 million, that reality is even setting in for Toews, who shared this sobering comment during media availability heading into the 2015 NHL Awards.

“All of a sudden, it does feel a lot like 2010, where it’s imminent,” Toews said, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a way, it’s a metaphorical hangover from a Stanley Cup celebration … although Toews & Co. might still be recovering from (and creating new) literal ones.

As of this moment, General Fanager pegs Chicago’s cap space at about $7.35 million. That figure includes eight forwards, three defensemen and three goalies (Chicago has some breathing room with Scott Darling’s 2015-16 season being two-way). It also doesn’t include free agent concerns, which is certainly relevant with UFAs such as Johnny Oduya and RFAs including standout Brandon Saad.

Indeed, looking at this situation, it’s easy to see parallels from that first Toews-Kane-era Cup win, when the Blackhawks let Antti Niemi go following arbitration while being forced to trade away the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.

Those losses hurt as the Blackhawks limped into the 2011 postseason, yet they obviously bounced back.

In case you’re wondering, GM Stan Bowman is currently gauging the value of trade pieces such as Patrick Sharp, as ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports.

LeBrun notes that Chicago would be willing to take salary back in potential moves, though only to a certain extent. Getting something done fast would grease the wheels, too:

What is preferable for the Blackhawks, however, is to make the deal happen before the draft, in a perfect world. That way they could recoup a draft pick, which is key given what they gave up from this year’s draft for Antoine Vermette (a first-round pick, 30th overall) and Kimmo Timonen (second-round pick, 61st overall). Mind you, the Blackhawks do have the 54th-overall selection, a compensatory pick for not signing 2010 pick Kevin Hayes.

In other words, it’s wise for Toews to realize that times are changing … because some big moves could be coming as soon as this week.

Here’s video from the Chicago-Sun Times:

Get to know a draft pick — Evgeny Svechnikov

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles v Gatineau Olympiques
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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called Friday in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from former Minnesota Wild scout Mark Seidel, who currently serves as the president of North American Central Scouting.

Evgeny Svechnikov (C/LW)

Height: 6’2 Weight: 199 Shoots: Left

Team: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

Country: Russia

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 17 among North American Skaters

What kind of player is he?

Evgeny Svechnikov spent the season in North America for the explicit reason of proving that he can adapt enough to become an NHL player.

There’s a lot to like about the young forward’s game, as he combines above-average size with a dangerous shot, solid skating ability and serious offensive instincts.

All of that showed in a nice season in the QMJHL, as he was second on the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (great name) with 32 goals and 78 points in 55 games. The 18-year-old also managed seven points in as many QMJHL playoff games and is seasoned in international play to boot.

Scouts seem to believe that his time in North America is already paying off, as his defensive work seemed to improve during the second half of the 2014-15 season, as you may notice from this NHL.com profile.

Svechnikov’s final Central Scouting grade rose to 17th among North American skaters after a midterm mark of 21, so it seems like he’s climbing in the eyes of many.

Seidel says:

“Svechnikov may give some teams pause because of his Russian citizenship, but his upside should convince them he’s worth the risk. We’ve always thought he’d be more useful playing center and, halfway through Cape Breton’s 2014-15 season, that change was made — with phenomenal results. Svechnikov creates offense with his soft hands, size and strength and when his team doesn’t have the puck, he’s shown a commitment to making sure it stays out of his net. He had an excellent year with the Screaming Eagles and always maintained he came to North America to get ready for the NHL. That should make the team that selects him quite happy as big, offensive centers with an ability to defend are hard to find.”

NHL comparable: Alex Killorn

For more 2015 NHL Draft profiles, click here.

Attention agents: Coyotes are at least $18M from cap floor

2014 NHL Draft - Round 2-7
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For many NHL teams, the most relevant salary cap news for 2015-16 is that the ceiling will be $71.4 million. In the case of the Arizona Coyotes, it may be a strenuous race to the floor.

The floor is set at $52.8 million, which means the Coyotes will need to spend more than $18 million to get there.

(General Fanager has their cap spending at a slightly lower level, but let’s stick with “more than $18 million” to keep things simple.)

Whatever the exact amount may be, this development generated a slew of jokes from those hoping their teams would shed unwanted salaries. Just looking at the replies to that Five for Howling tweet, here are some “friendly suggestions.”

Anyway, you get the point, but there are a few things to consider.

For one thing, the Coyotes have a ton of players they can re-sign.

Granted, some of them might not be worth retaining, like maybe Martin Erat. Still, the likes of Mikkel Boedker should eat up space, and the Coyotes may want to pay extra for a backup in case embattled starter Mike Smith isn’t a pretty good goalie after all.

On the other hand, Oliver Ekman-Larsson ranks among those who are concerned that the Coyotes’ latest off-the-ice saga may hurt their standing in the eyes of many free agents. That, along with a surplus of available draft picks, could indeed mean that Arizona GM Don Maloney may prefer to call up teams suffering from cap crunches.

Long story short: it may be silly too dream too big here, but go ahead and make your Cam Ward/Mike Richards/etc. jokes as needed. A long summer is coming, after all.

Get to know a draft pick — Mathew Barzal

2015 NHL Combine
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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called Friday in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from former Minnesota Wild scout Mark Seidel, who currently serves as the president of North American Central Scouting.

Mathew Barzal (C)

Height: 5’11 Weight: 175 Shoots: Right

Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

Country: Canada

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 11 among North American Skaters

What kind of player is he?

Skill and speed are two things that come highly valued in today’s NHL, and Barzal boasts both.

The playmaking forward is also a “student of the game,” as this Sportsnet piece attests; he watches hours of NHL video of skaters he hopes to emulate, from Patrick Kane to Pavel Datsyuk.

Of course, NHL teams have to worry a bit about how his skating ability – generally believed to be among the best in the field – may be affected by a knee injury he suffered while “horsing around” in November. As NHL.com reports, he spent much of his many interviews insisting that his knee has healed, but such issues may stand as a red flag for certain scouts and executives.

Barzal’s stock may have taken a hit, yet his dangerous offensive abilities argue that he could be a steal if he does slip down the board a bit. Really, falling ever so slightly in the first round may be the best thing for his development, as it seems like he could add a little weight to his frame.

Seidel says:

“Following a tremendous rookie campaign with WHL Seattle, Barzal came into his draft year looking like a surefire top-10 pick. Injuries, though, hampered his sophomore season, though he did finish the year off with a fantastic performance at the U-18 World Championship with Team Canada. Barzal is a slick offensive player with tremendous vision; along with his offensive skill set, he’s shown an ability to play hard consistently and battle physically. In the scouting world, we love to see kids play well at the end of the year — based on his effort at the U-18s in Switzerland, he will be highly coveted.”NHL comparable: Kyle Turris/Mike Ribeiro

For more 2015 NHL Draft profiles, click here.