First of all, I would like to thank all those who responded to my latest post (especially Roadrunner!) Great to talk hockey with you folks!...Also, cannot pass up the opportunity to have some fun with a Flyers fan, whose organization throws around money like its candy and whines about it later!
And oh, how the once mighty and class of the East has fallen; crashing to the ground in bits of rubble like the great Roman Empire...Boston is in for a long, long time in the dumps after seeing most of its team gutted due to free agency and the trade of a highly sought first round pick that we here in Toronto thought would never hear the end of.
I cannot believe they have totally thrown Tyler Seguin under the bus and make him out to be the villain. From the sound of things, it seems like they are comparing him to Patrick Kane, but at least the Chicago Blackhawks front office and his teammates stuck by him and gave him a chance to grow up...which finally seems as if he has, for the time being at least.
Back to hockey matters...
Not sure if you are all happy with the Tyler Bozak signing, but it does make sense for this team going forward. Seeing some other teams grossly overpay for other players who may not even be as good as Bozak or David Clarkson, I think the Toronto Maple Leafs did a very good job in shaping their club not only for next season, but the few seasons to follow.
The only deal that I question is the one handed to goaltender Jonathan Bernier for $2.9 million each for just the next two years. Only agreeing to a two-year deal gives me the intention of Bernier using Toronto as a stepping stone to something bigger down the road. At age 26, if Toronto is going to shell out nearly $3 million per season, they better be thinking quite highly of him leading them to the Stanley Cup Finals. But what does that do to James Reimer?
If Bernier does not work out over the next two years, then that will end up as a largely wasted chunk of money that could endanger the resigning process of guys like Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and even Dion Phaneuf at the end of the season.
About Phaneuf, congrats on his marriage the other day to the beautiful Elisha Cuthbert. Now that that is out of the way, Phaneuf is entering what should be a career defining season, his last year of his $6.5 million contract. Will he go on a terror as he did when he first came up with Calgary, or be a huge bust in a contract year? The team desperately needs him to step it up, but it is not all up to him. I still think Dave Nonis needs to address his top four group.
Phaneuf's season still depends on who he is paired with, and that now become the major issue for the club. As I stated in my last blog, after signing Bozak to a long term deal, the front office needed to decide whether finding a suitable, veteran defenseman was more important than signing David Clarkson. That question of mine was quickly answered mere minutes after the Bozak deal was finalized. Or perhaps, just before...
Toronto's blue line depth depends most on having Phaneuf and Cody Franson paired separately among the top four. I have no faith in Carl Gunnarsson paired with either of them, but perhaps Mark Fraser, if he is signed (should be signed) or Jake Gardiner could fill in the void?
Here is the dilemma. Are guys like Korbinian Holzer (miserably failed his first test with the big club), Jesse Blacker, Morgan Reilly, or Stuart Percy ready to take the next step? Personally, I think those guys are still a full season, perhaps even two or three seasons away from making a substantial impact with the Maple Leafs. If that is true, although I hope it is not, then Nonis may have to think about dealing at least one of those future defensemen to acquire a solid, battle-tested defenseman to play in Toronto's top four for the next two seasons at least.
I still see the next 2-3 years as the window for this current team to win. The Leafs are close, it just depends on health for a lot of guys and another key piece, mainly on defense. Like Dion Phaneuf's upcoming season, the team faces a similar destiny. If Nonis can find a veteran blue liner, and a good leader to play alongside the captain, then both Phaneuf and the Leafs could very well end up with a season to remember...and not for disaster or what could have been...God I sound like a Chicago Cubs fan!
Looking at the remaining free agent lists, there really is not much available to fill that hole. Toronto has been linked to Ryan Whitney, 30, who has some playoff experience with the Anaheim Ducks. But his asking price may be a little too high. Same goes for Douglas Murray, 33, who has been linked to Los Angeles, but with the signing of former first-round pick Jeff Schultz out of Washington, I think the Kings may be set on their blue line while also retaining Keaton Ellerby. Murray also has some playoff experience with San Jose and Pittsburgh this last season. Ron Hainsey, 32, is also available for his leadership qualities on and off the ice.
Personally, I would like to think that Ryan Whitney would be the better fit, but is coming off a $5.5 million contract in Edmonton. Again, Toronto needs a defenseman with leadership, and perhaps must complete that through a trade.
So, based on current lineups the Leafs top six should be set:
Top Six Centers: Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak
Top Six Forwards: Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson
Bottom Six Centers: Dave Bolland (could also play wing), Jay McClement (could also play wing), Joe Colborne
Bottom Six Forwards: Nikolai Kulemin, Colton Orr, Frazer McClaren, ? (Tyler Biggs, Carter Ashton, Jerry D'Amigo)
Top Four Defesnemen: Dion Phaneuf, ?, Cody Franson, ?
Fighting For Playing Time: Jake Gardiner, JM Liles, Carl Gunnarsson, Mark Fraser, Korbinian Holzer, Morgan Reilly, Jesse Blacker
Since Randy Carlyle gets paid the big bucks, he may set his lineup as he so chooses. There may also bee room for another bottom six forward pickup. A trade for a solid veteran defenseman and a bottom six forward could be attained in one larger deal...?
A couple notes on the LA Kings...
Not much cap space is left after locking up the core of this team. I still think there is a glaring need for another speedy, impact forward. I have heard Mason Raymond, 27, linked to the Calgary Flames, who would be a nice fit for the Flames up front, but I think the Kings could really use him as well.
Raymond has plenty of playoff experience, still wants to win I presume having to take in so many crushing playoff defeats with Vancouver (will not play in a playoff game for Calgary for at least the next two to three years), and also hates the Chicago Blackhawks. Seeing that the 'Hawks are, or should be LA's top nemesis still in the Western Conference, filling a hole with the talent and speed of Raymond makes a lot of sense.
Currently, the Kings have just over $6 million of cap space remaining. With defensemen Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and forwards Trevor Lewis and Jordan Nolan still needing to be signed, there may be no room to add someone like Raymond unfortunately. Trevor Lewis is a key penalty killer and solid bottom six forward, and Muzzin is going to probably get at least $2.5 to $3 million over the next few years as well. Martinez had a disappointing season, but got off to a bad start with a broken orbital bone while playing overseas back in October. I still think he fits in well with the Kings long term as well.
The odd man out could be Jordan Nolan, who I felt did not step up much at all, and is not needed as he plays very similarly to Dwight King who has another full season left and will be just a RFA after next season.
So here is looking at the Kings current lineup heading into training camp:
Top Six Centers: Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards
Top Six Forwards: Jeff Carter (also center), Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, ?
Bottom Six Centers: Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis
Bottom Six Forwards: Dwight King, Matt Frattin, Tyler Toffoli, Colin Fraser (also center), Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson
Top Four Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, Slava Voynov, Robyn Regehr
Fighting For Playing Time: Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Keaton Ellerby, Jeff Schultz, Derek Forbort, Andrew Campbell
Obviously, this group is depending on Matt Greene being healthy for most, if not all of the season. I also think it is time for Linden Vey and/or Tanner Pearson to make an impact in the bottom six, which could give either Matt Frattin or Tyler Toffoli a chance to play amongst the top group. I would love to see the Kings be able to grab Mason Raymond to fit in the top six, but that depends on cap space left after potential deals to the aforementioned RFA's.
I am still wondering why Dean Lombardi has not elected to use one of his compliance buyouts on the inoperable defenseman Willie Mitchell. Seeing that Mitchell is owed $3.5 million for another season, and highly unlikely to play at all for LA or anyone else for that fact, the Kings could really use that money to sign the remaining RFA's and also may be able to sign up Raymond to a reasonable contract.
I also neglected to mention Dustin Penner, but I see him signing a contract with someone other than the Kings. If so, thanks for the hard work (mostly in the playoffs). The guy stepped up his game when it really counts. Hopefully he goes to a team who could use a strong forward and is a playoff bound team. Toronto? Montreal? Washington? St. Louis? Minnesota? or Anaheim? Ugh! I would hate to see him hurt the Kings in a potential playoff series.
Thanks for reading all my stuff and putting up with all of my passionate, directional words. I will perhaps be taking the rest of the summer off from writing unless there is something I feel I should write about. If not, I will be back for the start of the season!
Enjoy the rest of the summer!