Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sharks acquire Campbell

I'm speechless. Acquiring Brian Campbell without giving up any of Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi or Matt Carle is absolute magic by Doug Wilson. As Mike Chen points out at Battle of California, this might be the first time in franchise history the Sharks have a legitimate #1 defenseman in his prime. I know, I know, Campbell isn't exactly Nicklas Lidstrom in his own zone, but he instanly becomes the only Sharks defenseman who can singlehandedly rush the puck up ice, launch precision outlet passes to hopefully ignite our slumping forwards and provide a dominant power play presence. Speaking of the Sharks' woefully stagnant man advantage, it is likely to now do a complete 180 with the advent of the man they call "Soupy." Oh, and he hits. And boy does he hit.

As for the player going the other way, Steve Bernier will be somewhat missed in the interim between this transaction and the return of Ryane Clowe from injury, as Bernier is one of the only non-Clowe forwards on the roster who can sustain a consistent forecheck. But consistency in and of itself was always the problem with Bernier, who seems to have progressively regressed since his rookie season. I wish him the best in Buffalo, but his frequent scoring slumps and defensive ineptitude really had no place in San Jose. There's been some talk as to Campbell receiving an extension and even though we've yet to see him in a Sharks jersey, I think DW needs to bite the bullet. Even if he receives Dan Boyle money ($6.5 million), San Jose will remain under the cap for next season, it's solely a question of how much ownership is willing to spend.

In other Sharks moves, Rob Davison was shipped to the Islanders for a 5th round draft pick and former Philadelphia and Phoenix netminder Brian Boucher was signed to back up Evgeni Nabokov and allow Thomas Greiss to develop in Worcester.


Trade Deadline Breakdown

--You could argue that the Sharks were forced into the Campbell deal by the Stars' steal of a deal, flipping Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern and Mike Smith to Tampa for Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist. Richards is the playoff warrior the Stars need, but at $7.8 million a year with a horrendous plus-minus and point totals that have been mediocre since 05-06? Still, this trade was all about this season and as far as that goes, Dallas now has a top line of Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro and Antti Miettinen followed by a unit comprised of Mike Modano, Brad Richards and Jere Lehtinen. God, I hate the Stars.

--The Penguins nabbed the proverbial big fish of the deadline, acquiring Marian Hossa. Just think about it. Crosby and Hossa. Together. This move also allows the Penguins to move Malkin to his rightful position of center when Sid returns. In a crappy Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh looks to be on the rise. The return, however, was far steeper than I imagined. Erik Christensen and Colby Armstrong are both young, serviceable forwards and Angelo Esposito is one of the Penguins' top prospects. Add a first rounder and you've got a pretty good return if you're a Thrashers fan. Still, the thought of Hossa playing with Crosby must have had Pens GM Ray Shero salivating.

--You can bet the Toronto media will have a Leafs roast tomorrow. With none of Mats Sundin, Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Jason Blake, Pavel Kubina and Darcy Tucker changing addresses, the Leafs are likely to spend several season to come in mediocreville.

--The Washington Capitals may have won the whole trade deadline with two rather under-the-radar moves. Goaltending has been their main issue this season, but they shored that up by stealing Cristobal Huet from Montreal in a deal I really don't understand from a Canadiens perspective -- yes, he's an impending UFA, but how far will the Habs get with 20-year-old Carey Price in net? -- and also picked up a Michael Nylander replacement in Sergei Fedorov, giving up just a 2nd rounder for Huet and prospect Ted Ruth for Fedorov. Seriously, GM George McPhee deserves an award or something.

Monday, February 18, 2008

These Sharks are Sunk

It's a sad state of affairs when a Monday morning interconference tilt with the New York Islanders is classified as a must-win, but such is the case today as the Sharks face off against the Isles in the second contest of their eight-game road trip that may define the team going forward as they desperately attempt to keep their heads above water in a Western Conference playoff battle they were supposed to ease their way through.

Pessimism reigns supreme in Sharks Territory at the moment, and it's not just because the team has lost three straight, the last one at Madison Square Garden in particularly listless fashion. No, the Detroit Red Wings have dropped six in a row, which matches Anaheim's skid of a few weeks ago. Unlike the Sharks, however, those teams have shown they can dominate on a consistent basis while San Jose battles tooth and nail to earn two points against even the Chicagoes, Columbuses and St. Louises of the league. The far more troubling statistic is that, since the inception of the new year, San Jose has gone an apalling 1-8 against playoff bound opposition. Sure, they've gone 8-2 against non-playoff teams, but they're not likely to hook up with the Blackhawks or Kings in April (if the Sharks even get that far given the way things are going), are they?

The Sharks' weaknesses were thoroughly exposed yesterday against the Rangers. The only line able to generate any semblance of consistent forechecking pressure was Thornton's unit and, even then, few scoring chances of note were created. Defensively, San Jose was a mess, unable to make a trap-penetrating breakout pass to save their lives. They scrambled around aimlessly in their zone, unable to read the play and pick up the late man, as blatantly demonstrated by Tomas Plihal's horrendous decision to leave Ryan Callahan completely uncovered in the slot on the first Rangers goal. Speaking of Plihal, if he hasn't been shipped on a bus to Worcester by 11 AM Pacific Time this morning, I will be severely dissapointed in the Sharks' organization. The bottom line is, the more I watch this team, the more faith I lose in the chances of improving it through some stop-gap measure at the deadline. The trade dealine may be an optimal way for great teams to push themselves over the top, but at this point, the Sharks are decidedly not a great team. They barely look like a passable team.


--Yesterday, the Chicago Blackhawks signed 22-year-old defenseman Brent Seabrook to a 3-year, $10.5 million contract with an average annual cap hit identical to that of young Sharks d-man Matt Carle. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't compute. Seabrook is a physical, two-way blueliner oozing with potential who will undoubtedly improve over the course of this deal. Carle, meanwhile, seems to be regressing, turning up one of his worst games of the season yesterday in New York and routinely increasing the probability that his rookie season was nothing more than a fluke. Sure, a sophomore slump isn't entirely unheard of, but Carle has been downright unnoticeable all year long and his contract may render him immobile, especially when weighed against Seabrook's deal.

--Does anyone else think the Red Wings aren't all that secure in their hunt for the President's Trophy that seemed to already have been engraved with their names just weeks ago? They are currently mired in an aforementioned six-game losing streak, their latest loss coming at the hands of the team with the greatest chance of beating them out for the top team distinction, Dallas. The Wings' extended slump also shows the value of forward Dan Cleary, who has missed all but the first two games of Detroit's skid with a broken jaw and was well on his way to a career year before the injury.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Mock Draft Done Right

Despite his numerous hair band references to go along with his propensity for devoting large portions of his mailbag to naming other people's babies, John Buccigross is about as solid a hockey columnist as ESPN.com has to offer.

So it hurts to me to say that his latest offering, an article prognosticating the results of a draft held as the result of every player in the NHL becoming a free agent concurrently, is somewhat trash. The idea itself is great, but many of his selections are downright atrocious and their justification is even more inane. Dany Heatley picked before Alex Ovechkin? Mike Richards over Roberto Luongo? And why is Mike Ribeiro even a first-round pick? So I decided to re-do his draft in accordance with Bucci's stipulations regarding draft order (current standings in reverse) and the fact that all players sign five-year contracts, therefore inherently favoring younger talent.

1. Los Angeles - Sidney Crosby. Hard to disagree on this one. However, Crosby's stock has somewhat fallen now that the Pens are 6-3-2 without him in the lineup, but that's not nearly enough evidence to warrant passing on not only a generational talent but, as Buccigross mentions, a marketing boon especially in a market in need of hockey revitilization like LA.

2. Tampa Bay - Alex Ovechkin. For a franchise that has learned the value of goaltending the hard way the past two seasons, it's tempting to pick Roberto Luongo. But then again, the Bolts have always been about offense and with arguably the most explosive front line force in the NHL still on the board, AO is the way to go.

3. Chicago - Evgeni Malkin. Given the chance to shine with Crosby injured, Malkin has thoroughly seized the opportunity, accumulating 15 points in five games for the Penguins before tonight's loss to Boston. The Hawks remain a franchise in transition, attempting to win back an alienated fanbase. What better way to do that than with a 21-year-old scoring machine.

4. Toronto - Roberto Luongo. Defense wins championships, so for a team that has been starved of a Cup for forty years, the Leafs are glad to take the best goaltender available in Luongo.

5. Edmonton - Joe Thornton. The Oilers haven't had a playmaker of Thornton's caliber since Wayne Gretzky. While he needs a sniper to truly flourish, Big Joe's combination of size and skill is exactly what's severely lacking in this year's woeful edition of the Oilers.

6. NY Islanders - Nicklas Lidstrom. Norris Nick dropped to 24th in Bucci's draft due to age concerns, but the Isles have always been a gambling team and they're willing to bet Lidstrom will play at an elite level to the age of 43. At 38, Lidstrom is hands down the best defenseman in the NHL and is a serious candidate for this season's Hart Trophy.

7. St. Louis - Vincent Lecavalier. It's surprsing that the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner and a player who was leading the NHL in points for a good part of the season falls to seventh, but the Blues certainly don't mind. Discounting Gretzky's brief tenure in Missouri, Lecavalier might be the best offensive player in Blues history behind Brett Hull.

8. Florida - Jarome Iginla. Captain Calgary is precisely the player Florida was banking on Nathan Horton developing into and has the skill, shot and leadership to put fans in the seats in Sunrise.

9. Atlanta - Henrik Zetterberg. For a team that has never had anything close to a franchise center in its history, Zetterberg is an absolute dream. "Z" has blossomed into one of the finest two-way players in the game with the Red Wings this season and might be a steal at No. 9.

10. Carolina - Ilya Kovalchuk. Like their Southeast brethren in Tampa, the Canes have always been about offense, so going with the best forward on the board in Kovalchuk is a no-brainer.

11. Washington - Dany Heatley. Lose one power winger in Ovechkin, pick up another one in Heatley. He might not have the finesse and jaw-dropping ability of OV8, but the Heater is nearly as prolific a goal-scorer and brings the same physical dimension that Ovechkin does.

12. Phoenix - Dion Phaneuf. Another pick where I'll agree with Buccigross. While he doesn't deserve the $7 million a year stipulated in his recent contract extension, Phaneuf has developed into a big ticket defenseman for the Flames and the Coyotes will bank on similar play from the two-time All-Star donning the Phoenix red.

13. Buffalo - Pavel Datsyuk. Another team that has learned lessons the hard way, the Sabres have discovered rather painfully this season how critical it is to possess a No. 1 center after letting Daniel Briere and Chris Drury walk as free agents. Datsyuk is that No. 1 center and so much more. Perhaps the most complete pivot in the game, Datsyuk excels at both ends of the ice and will be a treat to watch for the Buffalo faithful.

14. Columbus - Mike Richards. Rick Nash, Bucci's selection for the BJs at 14, is still available but the Jackets are another team that knows the value of a No. 1 center. Richards is another two-way force at center ice capable of doing it all and is the kind of heart-and-soul player capable of leading Columbus to the promised land.

15. Boston - Jason Spezza. Although Marc Savard is nothing short of a deft playmaker, the Bruins would love to have a truly game-breaking passer in their lineup for the first time since the Thornton trade. Spezza is that player, and after watching him tear it up against the B's as a member of the division rival Senators, Boston would love to see him don the Bruins' blue and gold.

16. NY Rangers - Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf has franchise center written all over him and the Rangers would love to get him to wear the blue and white. A disgusting stickhandler with a terrific shot and tremendous puckhandling ability, Getzlaf is the kind of offensive powerhouse at center the Rangers have lacked since the time of Mark Messier.

17. Vancouver - Marian Gaborik. While the last two seasons under coach Alain Vigneault have been decidedly defense-oriented, the Canucks teams of the past have always shown offense to be their forte, from Pavel Bure to the West Coast Express. Who better to pick up than the second coming of Bure, Marian Gaborik? Injury questions caused him to fall this low in the draft, but it looks as though the Slovakian Rocket has finally overcome his nagging groin issues. Just ask the New York Rangers.

18. Nashville - Chris Pronger. The Predators love their D-men and Pronger, while 34, is a revalation at No. 18. With his defensive acumen, physical nature, offensive contributions and leadership skills, Pronger is capable of being a franchise cornerstone for the Preds.

19. Calgary - Henrik Lundqvist. The Flames know what young goaltenders can do after Kiprusoff led them to the Finals the season before the lockout, so with Henrik Lundqvist still available it looks like the King is headed to Alberta.

20. Colorado - Jonathan Toews. Toews might be the most similar player to Joe Sakic among young forwards in the League, so you know the Avs would love to pick him up. The Blackhawks were in the playoff discussion this season before Toews' injury.

21. Philadelphia - Marian Hossa. Flyers will take the best forward available. Yes, Hossa hasn't had the greatest season this year, but there's no doubt he'll bounce back and return to being the Hoss of old -- an elite, two-way force.

22. New Jersey - Paul Stastny. The Devils love their two-way centers, and Paul Stastny has firmly planted himself in the upper echelon of that category in just his second NHL season.

23. Montreal - Martin Brodeur. Yes, he's 35, but the Habs have always valued goaltending (well, except for that dark December day), and have always valued players hailing from Quebec. There's also the fact that Brodeur is a lock for the Hall-of-Fame, is the reigning Vezina Trophy champion, recently set the NHL record for wins in a season and is chasing down virtually every netminding distinction in the NHL record books, including the all-time wins record held by ex-Hab Patrick Roy.

24. Minnesota - Anze Kopitar. The Wild have never really had a big-time center, but Kopitar is likely to develop into just that. While I don't think he has 120-point potential like Buccigross seems to, the Slovenian pivot nonetheless is not only an explosive offensive playmaker but can play the defensively responsible game Minnesota expects their forwards to.

25. Anaheim - Evgeni Nabokov. The Ducks have seen where defense and goaltending can take a team and while the better defensemen are taken, Nabokov, currently enjoying a breakout season for the Sharks, is still available.

26. Pittsburgh - Patrick Kane. Crosby and Malkin are sadly gone, but there's still effervescent young talent available in Patrick Kane. He might not be Crosby- or Malkin-caliber, but Kane is likely to develop into a 90-point player for the Pens.

27. San Jose - Pascal Leclaire. The Sharks have always been proud of their insanely deep goaltending pipeline, so picking up the best young goaltender available is the obvious choice. Leclaire has benefited from Hitchcock's defensive system in Columbus, but is undoubtedly an all-world talent and should make Team Canada as a third-stringer in 2010.

28. Ottawa - Rick Nash. Yes, Daniel Alfredsson is still available, but his age doesn't make him an optimal candidate to return to the Senators. Instead, Ottawa will gladly gobble up the Ontario-born Nash.

29. Dallas - Zach Parise. Modano is too old, so the Stars will pick up an up-and-coming American star in Zach Parise. He has the heart, skill and speed of Modano and can also be relied upon to pick up the slack defensively.

30. Detroit - Eric Staal. Well, the big three are all gone, so the Wings will be content to pick up the best young player still available. Staal is the kind of power center that a team can be built around and Detroit would jump at that chance.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Deadline Musings

It's usually wise to avoid all things Hockeybuzz, but the rumormongering website's Sharks correspondent Ryan Garner brings up an interesting point in the wake of yesterday's pseudo-blockbuster deal (at least by this season's low standards) which saw Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore shipped to Ottawa in exchange for Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves. Garner's sentiment, in short: that should have been the Sharks.

Frankly, it's hard to disagree. Commodore is the physically imposing, Cup experience-touting blueliner missing from the Sharks lineup, while Stillman represents the speedy top flight left winger San Jose so desperately needs to play with Marleau. But with the ex-Canes off the market, Doug Wilson must now look elsewhere for a deadline addition. The potential candidates:

Brian Campbell, Buffalo - Let's face it. This isn't 1998 and Sandis Ozolinsh is not a legitimate power play quarterback. While the Sharks' man-advantage unit will always run through Joe Thornton, the lack of a potent offensive threat on the blueline who can also double as a competent defenseman has been glaring this season. Campbell can capably fill that void and, a veteran of the Eastern Conference Finals the last two seasons, has significant playoff experience.

Dan Boyle, Tampa Bay - Most of Campbell's descriptors apply to Boyle, but the Lightning defenseman also has the added attraction of being a right-hand shot, ideal for running a power play alongside Thornton. It's impossible to tell where Tampa Bay would be today had Boyle not been the victim of a freak accident during training camp, but they likely would be out of the Eastern Conference basement. Boyle also has a Stanley Cup ring.

Rob Blake, Los Angeles - It's unlikely he could be had for cheap from a division rival, and this certainly isn't the Blake of old, but the former Cup-winner with the Avalanche has just the mix of postseason experience, grit and puckhandling ability the Sharks crave on the back end.

Martin Straka, NY Rangers - With the Rangers being in the thick of things in the East, it's unlikely they'll deal a key cog of their top line, but Straka is an impending UFA. His veteran savvy and playmaking ability would mesh well with Marleau on San Jose's second line, but once again, he'll be tough to pry from the Rangers.

So there you have it. With two weeks left, the onus will be on DW to shake things up heading into the postseason despite the team's recent surge.