Rookie Watch, Free Agents Progress, Fedorov Trade, GM's Panic?

It is all about the Sid Kid, the next Russian Star, two solid defensemen and the next wave of young goalies.

How have the 2005 Summer free agents performed thus far in the Eastern Conference?

The Fedorov trade, plus Scatchard…. more trades to come?

Leading to…… general managers panicking?With the lucky lottery system, Sidney Crosby finds himself playing with one of the best hockey players in history, Mario Lemieux.

There is no doubt in my mind that Crosby is a great talented player, but has he really been THAT good?

Yes and No. It is Mel Brooks’s theory of Yes and No; to anyone who watched his movie version of Dracula, starring Leslie Nielsen.

Yes, he has been impressive as far as skills and I am amazed at his grit as well. He’s got an attitude. But, could it be that his stats are actually…. “helped”?

I am trying to imagine Alex Ovechkin wearing the Penguins jersey and put Crosby with a Capitals jersey. Talk about a major difference. Do you actually think that Crosby would have 21 points with the Caps, and Ovechkin would have 9 goals with the Penguins? I just swapped their numbers.

I believe that if Ovechkin was with the Penguins, and if Crosby was a Capital, then Ovechkin would be miles away from Crosby. The Russian has 15 goals in 19 games. Talk about insanity! When was the last time a rookie scored these many goals? And, he is playing with a team made up of Halperns, Wilsies, and a decent Zubrus.

Now picture Crosby playing with those guys. Would he even be close at 24 points? He’s got 9 goals, not like he has been a key goal scorer (more of an all-round player), but I think if Ovechkin was a Penguin, he’d be the leading goal scorer and would have shadowed the Sid Kid.

I am not saying anything against Crosby, just that his numbers are much assisted by his linemates.

Nonetheless, the rookie is a great player and will be a point leader in the future..

Ovechkin will bring great goal scoring to the NHL. Finally we are seeing the next wave of stars that many of us will grow up with. Ovechkin, Crosby, Nash, Staal, Kovalchuk, Heatley, and possibly more to come. Geroge McPhee has been given a gift, now he has to build around that gift. While the Steel City has its young star, D.C will find itself with a new era of Capitals hockey with their Russian star.

And finally the last rookie forward who is an MVP on his team, Marek Svatos. Talk about a typical Czech player with quickness on his skates and on his stick. He leads the Avs in goals and has a nose for open spaces. While not near the class of Ovechkin and Crosby, Svatos is that typical Avs draft pick that comes from out of nowhere and becomes a top NHL player.

I have mentioned his name before and I will say it again, this defenseman is set to become the next best defenseman in the league. Dion Phaneuf is an amazing defenseman that comes with a complete package from A to Z as far as potential. His physical form, perfect. His mental form, excellent. His skills, splendid. Smooth skater, hard hitter, and one of the best shots I have ever seen in a young defenseman. Are we looking at the next Chris Pronger? I’d say quite possibly, and I also say… most likely. The reason why I watch the Flames? In hopes to see the Flames go 5 on 3 powerplay with Phaneuf on the point. Oilers fans should know what I am talking about if they remember that great 5 on 3 Flames PP where Phaneuf was shooting non-stop on Jussi Markkanen.

The other defenseman also plays in the Western Conference. His name….. Brent Seabrook. The first time I watched this guy was in one of the first Hawks games of the season. I liked his style and as soon as I saw he had 4 assists in just a few games, I picked him up right away in my fantasy league. A well poised defenseman and very determined. Plays for a weak team, which has been better of late. Seabrook is playing like a pro. His stats are good, but it’s his defensive play that is noticeable. What an awesome pick for the Blackhawks. If you are in a keeper league, this is the guy to get.

(speaking of fantasy leagues, starting December 17th my column will be posted each week with a fantasy hockey league segment, and my colum will be open to all who would like advice, or want to ask questions for opinions. I am an FHL fanatic and willingly to help out anyone to win)

The young net guards are starting to come around. In the past few years the only young star goalie to ever be recognized as great has been Robert Luongo. But now, things have changed where Martin Brodeur is not even in the top 30 in GAA. Though Hasek is doing great, behind a great team, his days towards real retirement are getting closer. Eddie Belfour is not as sharp as he used to be. And, of course, I miss good ole Patrick Roy….and so do the Avs fans.

So now, the next wave of young goaltenders is starting to build up. First up…

These two goaltenders have been drafted by the Rangers. One loves to eat pasta, and the other….well…. he’s got a rock band. Jason “Gonzo” LaBarbera has been a surprise to many, specifically me. Without brag, I feel knowledgable when looking at young goalies and making some judgements. With honesty, I admit I may be wrong about LaBarbera. I liked him with the Pack and said he’d be a mediocre starter-at-best goaltender, but a solid back-up goalie. Well, he has been a solid starter. He is big, and sometimes reminds me of Roman Cechmanek, but LaBarbera has proved me wrong thus far.

I think the LA Kings have found a goalie they will hope to be their starter for the next few years. He’s got a great winning attitude, he is competitive, down to earth kind of guy. I think he is capable of establishing himself as a top 10 starter in the league. While everyone talks about Crosby, Ovechkin, and the big free agent signings, Jason LaBarbera is by far the steal of the UFA market in 2004, for now. Great deal for the Kings.

Now, people are asking themselves…”Why did the Rangers let him go?” First of all, LaBarbera earns $750K, which the Rangers would not have wanted to spend. Second, with Lundqvist, Montoya, and Holt being surprises, the Rangers felt they had no need to keep him. Thirdly, the best offer the Rangers could have made to LaBarbera meant that a two-way clause was involved, which LaBarbera would have declined.

Now on with the second Ranger goalie is Henrik Lundqvist, who has been stellar thus far. Most likely the starting goalie for Sweden in 2006, Lundqvist has won the support of Rangers fans. He leads rookie goaltenders in GAA, Save-Percentage, and Shutouts. And, he has earned those numbers behind a Rangers team that should not even be in 1st place. A 7th rounder, the Rangers may have found their next goalie star, after sadly losing one of the best ever in Mike Richter. By the way, Lundqvist should consider the fact that the Rangers also have Al Montoya in the minors. Although injured for about 5 weeks, Montoya has been solid with the Pack, even by winning a game making 51 saves. Rangers future goaltending? Appears to be set.

Of course, had Ryan Miller been healthy, he’d also be worth a talk. So in place of the injured goalie, who needs a hair cut, is Peter Budaj from the Colorado Avalanche. David Aebsicher, step aside! Quenneville should go with the winning goalie, and Budaj has been better than the Swiss goalie.

The summer of 2005 was a joy. Remember that great day when the lockout ended? That tense day with the NHL draft lottery, and draft day itself with Crosby? And how about August 1st, the start of the most intriguing off-season ever?

Great days, eh?

Well, let’s see how well that UFA summer went so far for the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta: Peter Bondra, has been a significant factor in Atlanta and shame on McPhee to not keep him in Washington. Bobby Holik, a disappointment. He does his job on face-offs and quite good at checking, but he just does not fit as a top two line center in the New NHL.

Boston: Brian Leetch smiled when the Bruins decided to spend $4M on him this season. Started slow, but just as he was about to pick it up he got injured. Scatchard was a failure in Boston as he got traded. Zhamnov has not yet played a game. And, McEarchen….. another disappointment. The team overall has been disappointing, but this is what O’Connell should have known. I’m a Rangers fan, I know what it is like to have too many free agents on the team. It just WILL NOT work out.

Florida: What a disaster! Joe Nieuwendyk is injured, Roberts cannot do too much anymore. Gratton is still the same Gratton from previous years. And, Josef Stumpel has been a huge bust. Most likely to get traded.

New Jersey: Malakhov was the worst free agent signing of the year. Plays inconsistently, disinterested…. then again he was about to retire, what would you expect? Also, who would turn down a $7M deal in two years over retirement? Mogilny has not been that bad, although 5 goals in 15 games is not looking good for what he is getting paid for. Also, Dan McGillis is having a tough time as a Devil. This has been the worst off-season for the Devils in the past 10 years.

New York Isle’s: I still say Satan was an excellent pick up for the Isle’s, and I’ll expect better from him in the 2nd half and next season. He has picked up his game as of late. Zhitnik and Lukowich have also been very solid additions. Though they are not making the Isle’s as good…these are solid free agent additions. No busts.

New York Rangers: Malik is a solid addition to the team. Yes, a hefty price but damn worth it for the rebuilding Rangers, especially when you see their penalty kill ranked #2. Rucinsky was also performing at the top of the league scoring more than a point a game before injured. Solid addition for the Rangers to get him again, and he is needed soon.

Philadelphia: Forsberg is piling up assists just as people up north have been piling up leaves. I thought he would not fit in, but this guy is a Flyer and is playing great Flyers hockey. The only scare is that he is injury prone, but as long as he plays in the playoffs… the Flyers have a chance to win the Cup. Rathje and Hatcher have been quite good. Rathje with the better +/- rating. This is a playoff team. First or 8th in the standings, it does not matter. They have a chance to win it all.

Pittsburgh: Gonchar has been a major disappointment. LeClair has been ok…., and Palffy is a solid winger for the Pens….but not scoring many goals. Still, I think he will be explosive in the 2nd half depending on the health of the team.

Toronto: It’s nice to see Lindros in a Leafs uniform, it fits him well and he plays Leafs hockey well. Pretty good with the scoring, but I believe he has lost his offensive power. Still, he is a player to have, great pick up. Allison…. for the money he is getting, I still think he is worth it for the Leafs.

I still think that Ducks GM Brian Burke could have traded Sergei Fedorov for more. A great salary dump and he managed to get a useful player in Tyler Wright, but a 1st line center for next to nothing? Questionable. I think B’jackets GM Doug McLean is close to getting fired if the team does not show any improvement by February. It was a no-brainer for him to acquire Fedorov for such a price, and once Nash comes back healthy…. a line of Nash-Fedorov-Zherdev should give them a real 1st scoring line in franchise history.

The next trade also comes from a struggling GM, Mike O’Connell. I’ll say this again. Making up a team with too many free agents is not going to work out. Twenty games into the season, the Bruins are last in their division, under .500, bad defensively…. and O’Connell hits the panic button to trade a player that he signed. That’s a big ouch! Ownership should take note of this. In my opinion, a GM that signs a free agent to then trade him 20 games into the season is a GM who admits he made a mistake. And making a mistake with money is not something that Jacobs will ignore. I think the Yotes got the better end of the deal. They get a much needed center who should be inspired to play under Gretzky. He may even be the one to turn the season around for Shane Doan and Nagy. Keith Ballard has also been worthy of notice, and most likely the one to make Tanabe expandable.

The Bruins need offense, but defense as well. How is a -54 player going to help your defense? I cannot answer that.

Does this open up the trade market?

I believe it does, which is contrary to what Jim McKenzie said. Yes, he is right in a way, but wrong in the other. True, almost half of the 30 NHL clubs have high payrolls, but what about the other teams? They don’t. And, this is a league where anyone has a fair shot.

Much like the 2005 off-season, it took someone to make his first signing. The others followed. GMs sit back to analyze how the New NHL is forming and what kind of market is available, and…. how the market has changed. Draft picks are much more valuable now than they used to be.

I think with two noticeable trades occuring this week, more will follow. You got San Jose in desperate need of offensive help, especially on the blueline. The Panthers need help. The Isle’s need to trade unhappy Niiniima. The Oilers are still looking for a center (knock on Keenan’s door and ask for Stumpel, Lowe). Toronto may be looking for a change. The Caps have yet to trade Witt.

Trades will happen, it just takes time to adjust, and it takes someone to make a first move for others to follow.

That leads to GMs panicking. The owners are no longer stupid. They see this as a competitive league where any team has a chance. After watching the surprise party of the Hurricanes, Rangers, Predators, and the Kings…. owners understand that GMs face a big challenge.

Doug McLean is on the hot seat. O’Connell as well. Milbury has a lot of thinking to do. Bob Gainey loses Kovalev and loses to a struggling Devils team. In need of a scoring forward? The Bolts not nearly as good, Feaster needs to fix their PP…. who gets traded? The Blues and Pleau are having a bad time. Where does he trade Weight? Is his job on the line where the Blues do not even have a good farm system? Oh wait, he’s got no one to really fire him yet. Hawks GM Tallon is seeking a scoring forward….will he panic and make a bad trade overpaying for one?

There is a lot more intensity for general managers who have expectations from ownership.

If the craziness of the first 20 games keeps pace in the NHL, I believe general managers will panic.

And, that’s not a bad thing for us fans!

Thanks for reading,

Micki Peroni

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