Mid-Term Grades, Comrie Trade Domino, Few Trades?

Mid-term grades on teams that have completed Game 41.

The Comrie trade to the Ottawa Senators could have a domino effect on the league.

To counter that statement, why could the general managers be nervous to not make as many trades as the media and fans expect? Find out another reason other than the usual “cap” talk.

And before you continue, congrats to Team Canada defeating Team USA in the WJC semi-finals in shootouts. USA had many opportunities to put the game away in OT, but failed to score as they hit a crossbar. Goalie Frazee was outperformed by Carey Price (something tells me Frazee won’t be so good in NHL shootouts). Good luck to Team Canada in the Finals, and Team USA for the Bronze medal. By the way, I hope that a Swiss ref won’t be used in the medal games and in next year’s WJC. Go Canada! Go USA!
So I finally got back from Disney World and Universal to see the fireworks for New Year’s, and by the way, Happy New Year to you all. I believe this has been my 17th, possibly 18th, visit to Disney ever since 1989. To me, that place never gets old. Unfortunately, I got stomach sick and I missed out on my favorite thing to do. What’s my favorite thing to do? Going to EPCOT. I went there, but I didn’t go to Germany for the Oktoberfest restaurant with the great tasting beers. I’m planning to go again in late Februray and I’ll be stopping by Germany, the UK, and Canada in EPCOT. To drink beer, of course. I love EPCOT, great place to hang out for a day and drink and eat and have fun. That’s a good vacation, ain’t it?

Anyway, we’re halfway through the season and not all teams have passed Game 41, but for those who have, here are their grades.

New York Rangers: B-

— In 41 games, the Rangers record stands 20-17-4 and 44 points holding on to the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Only because they have snapped a long losing streak beating a hard working Washington Capitals team, and a Grade A defensive New Jersey Devils team do the Rangers get a B-. This has been a weird team ever since Game 1. They started out going on a roller coaster, then cruised their way posting a solid 8-2 stretch of some sort, and then just fell hard on the ice losing seven in a row. Why? The new acquisitions in Matt Cullen, Aaron Ward, and Brendan Shanahan appear to do too much of everything and have not yet adapted to the Rangers game plan. Shanny started off extremely well, but he is an aging star and there is no reason to expect the guy to stay on cruise control. Aaron Ward is basically playing with a broken foot and he insists on playing, trying to do too much at both ends of the ice (yes, he sometimes thinks he can be a young Brian Leetch). Matt Cullen had a good season in Carolina, and he thinks he is a very good player. He is a GOOD player. I like his game, but he also tries to do way too much and tries to do everything the right way. That has to come natural, not forced. Henrik Lundqvist has also been quite inconsistent, although as of late he has been a great goalie, especially in last night’s win against Martin Brodeur’s Devils. Jaromir Jagr is definitely not 100% as he appears to have trouble shooting. His shoulder must be acting up again and that causes issues when Jagr is on the ice and is physically limited. Still, the Rangers are a growing team and despite last season’s success, this team is not done making the right changes. They still need a second line center (Doug Weight under the radar) and they still need to just settle down. Still, no excuses for a horrible 7 game losing streak with plays that would make any fan vomit.

Ottawa Senators: C+

–The Sens played 41 games and stand with a 21-18-2 record and 44 points. Why do these guys get a C+ and the Rangers a B-? This is Ottawa. A great roster, powerful offense, and they should be a top 5 NHL team. Well, they are nowhere near that. What’s good about this team? Skill. The skill level of the Sens is driving them through the obstacles. Other than that, this is a team that lacks a reliable defense, goaltending has been fairly good, and coaching doesn’t seem to have an effect other than negative. I don’t think the Senators would be in such a struggle had Jacques Martin stayed. So far, the decision to have fired Martin has not been proven as “the right thing to do”. This looks like the demise of the Ottawa Senators. By the way Muckler, four thumbs up on Martin Gerber; excellent signing.

Toronto Maple Leafs: C+

— Toronto is keeping up in the playoff race after completing 41 games and sitting with a 18-17-6 record and 42 points. They don’t have such a great record, but the East has been very competitive this season and the Leafs have faced changes, injuries, and overall hardships that they still manage to get through and remain just above the .500 level. They started the season really well, but a slow down was to be expected. JFJ emphasized on defense in the summer, yet the Leafs D has not been as good as expected, especially when coach Paul Maurice is an expert on defensive plays. Toronto was expected to be out of the playoff picture, and while they can still slip, they managed to keep up and they may make it. Being around 8th is impressive enough. But, they need to fix a lot of areas and need to retain a core of players. JFJ must, however, improve his team as he needs to make a big pitch sooner or later if he thinks his team can make it to the playoffs. Can he pull it off? Hard to say, but he has not convinced me that he is capable of getting the Leafs anywhere. The team looks thin and just not good enough; but, they have exceeded expectations and kudos to Toronto.

Atlanta Thrashers: B+

— It is about time that we see Atlanta play 42 games and show a 24-12-6 record with 54 points. Man, was I wrong about these guys not making the playoffs this season as I doubted their strength at center and on defense, which is okay-not great. Marian Hossa is just dominating as an elite all-round winger, possible the best winger in the NHL. He scores, he passes, he is smart in nearly all areas on the ice. What an awesome player. Now if only Marcel could do the same for the Rangers! I’ll finally give credit to GM Waddell for building a good team and making very good acquisitions that had positive effects on the roster. They slowed down recently, but offense is strong, defense is adequate, and Lehtonen is on the right track as a franchise goalie. Hopefully they won’t fall off the map, but I don’t expect them too. And finally, we will see Kovalchuk in the playoffs. Very good team deserving of a B+ so far.

Carolina Hurricanes: C+

— Forty-two games in and the defending Stanley Cup champs are 21-17-4 and 46 points. The record is okay, so why do they get a C+? These are the Stanley Cup champs and they are nowhere near playing the same as champs. I called on this team’s main weakness; DEFENSE. Last season they were only ranked 19th in defense and did they get any better? No, they got worse on D. Cam Ward has not been the same. It seems as if the magic is lost in Raleigh. Still, there is room for improvements and expect them to happen sometime soon. They appear to be a lock for the playoffs, but there is no reason to feel safe that they are only 5 points ahead of 9th, and Boston and Pittsburgh are a danger to any team just hanging on to the lower seeds by a few points. I expected the Canes to be much better and definitely better than the Thrashers, but they are nowhere close to that.

Florida Panthers: C-

— They have played 42 games and the record is nothing to be proud of, 15-20-7 and 37 points. In reality, they deserve a D, but I am cutting these guys some slack. A lot has happened in South Florida with Keenan, Luongo, the new changes and the injuries. So, in a way I’ll be nice to the Panthers. Martin deserves credit for keeping this team together. Despite the recent loss in Edmonton, they have been playing better as of late and they even though they are 14th in the EC, they are just five points away from 8th seed, and the way the teams in front of them are playing it shouldn’t be such a tough road ahead. They can pull it off, especially if crossing fingers and Todd Bertuzzi comes back playing the rest of the games. Lately the Panthers have been scouting around and as reported, they were showing interest in Edmonton during the game. I am still holding on to the Raffi Torres for Mike Van Ryn idea, but something can happen. Actually, something has to happen. If Martin wants to make the playoffs, he knows he needs a player that either adds spark, or a player that actually makes a difference. If healthy, the Panthers are a pain to play against, especially if Auld and Belfour are playing well. By the way, I must admit that goaltending is not so strong either and I would not rule out the possibility of the Anaheim Ducks, or San Jose Sharks, trading Ilya Bryzgalov, or Toskala/Nabokov, for a package that involves Eddie Belfour. At times, the Panthers seem to get it right and be fit for the playoffs, yet other times they show their weaknesses and have no chance to win.

Anaheim Ducks: A

— The record speaks for itself, 28-8-6 and 62 points, the best in the NHL. Brian Burke is a genius. Who could have ever thought that a GM would manage to acquire two of the NHL best top 5 defensemen? Scotty Neidermeyer and Chris Pronger. That spells Stanley Cup Finals folks. All this team needs to do is make the playoffs with these two defensemen healthy. Teemu Selanee is having a fantastic season and the young talent, the depth, just makes this team amazing. Hey Murray, are you enjoying the Ducks’ success thus far after wussing out? An excellent team, so strong, powerful in all areas. I would have never expected it and that is why these guys get an A, for all the obvious reasons.

Los Angeles Kings: D

— True, not much was//is expected from this team, although I had some thoughts that it could have competed more. Yet, 41 games an a 14-22-5 record with 33, 14th in the West and 9 points out pretty much wraps up the season for LA; out of the playoffs. Any hopes? You’d have to be really dreaming if you think these guys could pass the Avalanche, Oilers, and the rising Blackhawks (GO HAWKS!). The Kings have the worst defense in the league, not enough depth anywhere on the roster and they will just have to depend on their youth to get them into playoff action in a couple of years, the earliest. This team is just not going anywhere and they don’t have much trade value as a team entering the sellers market.

The Ottawa Senators acquired Mike Comrie from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchanged for Alexei Kaigorodov, a prospect that appears not to have such a great personality. Talk about a team giving up on the season already (Yotes). Comrie was having a fine season and he has been traded for a player that will not have an effect on the team this season. Why trade so early though? Sure, GM Michael Barnett is not the brightest GM in town, but logic says that keeping a player of Comrie’s talent closer to the deadline would raise more interest and when there is more interest there is more value. Unless Alexei Kaigorodov can become just as good (possible), then it will be a good trade, but I would have played it differently. GM John Muckler missed the chance to claim Petr Nedved. His team is not performing as expected, quite an underachieving team, it’s facing some injuries now, and it is obvious that it will struggle. Why not wait for Muckler to sweat more and let him up the bid? Comrie should have been traded for Kaigorodov and a 3rd rounder, or even a 2nd rounder. But, Barnett may not have good negotiating skills (after all, he made that great trade to get Chris Gratton. Pffft, who is this Daniel Briere anyway?). Yet, there could be something else in the works. Maybe the Coyotes made this deal to clear up some space and acquire another kind of player? Maybe, and who knows? I guess time will tell as if that is the case, then something should happen sooner.

Now, will this trade, with a significant name in Comrie, have a domino effect around the league? How about the East!? The Senators get Mike Comrie, who could do very well in Ottawa, and that should have certain general manager have a big red exclamation point right above their heads. This trade can make a difference to Carolina, the Rangers, the Maple Leafs (especially the Leafs), Boston, Islanders, and possibly Pittsburgh. So, with the Sens making such a trade that should make a pretty significant improvement if all goes well (could turn out to be a Tyler Arnason deal), then shouldn’t the above listed teams start making moves? I’d say most likely, but let’s stay conservative and say possibly.

The Hurricanes don’t have much to trade away after dealing Grade A, top level talent Johnson to LA, trading their 1st rounder for Doug Weight, and more for Mark Recchi. It’s tough to say what kind of trade the Hurricanes need, but I would not be surprised if they seek a defenseman or a goalie.

The New York Rangers could have inquired of Mike Comrie, especially since he was a Sather pick. Yet oddly enough, the Rangers could not match an offer of a questionable prospect for a 2nd line scorer? Well, two reasons that may have prevented the Rangers from acquiring Comrie. 1) Renney and Slats feel that Comrie would bring the wrong attitude to the team. 2) As history proved to show, Michael Barnett has always demanded too much from the Rangers. It was also reported by MSGNetwork that the Rangers submitted a claim for Petr Nedved. This definitely shows that the Rangers are in the hunt for an offensive center. I thought a two-way defensive center, with a good attitude, could have been in Sather’s plan, someone like Dave Scatchard, but apparently he wants a scorer and I couldn’t agree more. I think he should go for Jason Allison and it could happen. But, as far as trading goes, as I mentioned a few times in previous columns, the Rangers would be keeping an eye on Doug Weight, quite possibly even Craig Conroy. But, I think Doug Weight is a great and better scenario for the Rangers. He is an excellent playmaker and he would take a lot of “weight” off of Jagr and Nylander as the current playmakers of the team. What else? He would hit the headlines perfectly as he was an original Ranger. He should be able to fit in very well with Shanahan. And what did Doug Weight, Aaron Ward, and Matt Cullen do last year? They all shared the Stanley Cup and he could put their mind at ease as well. Expect the Rangers to make a trade soon, unless they start forming a convincing and solid winning pattern. (Personal Opinion: Dump Kaspar’s salary and add both Tkachuk/Guerin and Weight).

The Toronto Maple Leafs may also be going after Doug Weight, maybe even Keith Tkachuk, or Ladislav Nagy, or Billy Guerin. Toronto must act quickly if JFJ really believes this team can make the playoffs. If he knows he won’t get fired if they miss the playoffs, then there is no reason for him to act now. But if his job is on the line, then I expect Toronto to act quickly as well, like the Rangers.

Yet, why would the general managers, especially the ones in the EC, not make any trades until the last week for trades? I called them wimps before and I’ll stick to that. Pish posh the cap talk. It’s the STANDINGS! Look at these standing, folks! Look at ’em! The Panthers are 14th yet just 5 points out? Theoretically speaking, the team that is definitely not making the playoffs is Philadelphia. Just one team!? We are 41 games into the season and just one team is most likely certain to not make the playoffs. Just one. In the West you can expect the LA Kings, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, and Columbus Blue Jackets to not make it. That is a bunch of teams. In the East it is only one. It would be extremely difficult for a GM to trade with a team that stands within the same conference. It’s just not going to happen and I’ll be shocked if it does. Expect East to West, and vice versa, trades to occur. The GMs could be very reluctant to pull a deal right now. So at this point, if other GMs are acting pathetic and requesting too much in return for inquired players, then the heck with them and sign a guy like Jason Allison. What’s it going to hurt? The Hawks signed Bondra and he’s been pretty good thus far. The Coyotes signed Perreault and he has done well for them. What is stopping any team in need of Allison from signing him? His contract request? BS! Try to find a 2nd line center that won’t cost $2M against the cap.

Expect Allison to sign this month and if not, then the team to lose out on trades at the deadline will most likely sign him. But geee, it might just be a bit too late for Allison to really have an effect on a team for 20 games.

So, that could be a reason as to why there are not enough trades happening; the standings are too close to call for some GMs and they will wait it out as much as they can without panicking. But hey, I wouldn’t bet on it as I am sure these GMs will panic once they see that being a lock for the playoffs won’t be a sure thing until game 78 to game 82.

Thank you all for reading and Happy New Year,

Micki Peroni