As always, the NHL summer was an eventful one, with the rich becoming richer, and the poor becoming poorer, at least for the most part. Every team made at least one move on the ice, while several others made moves off the ice. Over the next week, I will examine each team’s movement (players primarily) to see who really improved, who got worse, and who stayed pretty much where they were. Today, part 6 of 6, the Pacific Division:
Team: Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Points (Rk): 95(7)
In: Chris Armstrong, Vaclav Prospal, Sergei Fedorov, Mike Mottau, Casey Hankinson, Chris Kunitz, Craig Johnson, Todd Simpson
Out: Denny Lambert, Fredrik Olausson, Steve Thomas, German Titov, Adam Oates, Paul Kariya, Francis Belanger, Josh Dewolf, Chris O’Sullivan, Mike Brown, Marc Chouinard, Ben Guite, Peter Podhradsky, Kevin Sawyer, Jarrett Smith, Rob Valicevic, Brendan Yarema, Travis Brigley
Comments: Unlike many other teams who have made it to the Stanley Cup Final in the past, the Ducks have made several major changes so far this summer. Two players off the teams’ front line are out, most notably fan-favourite Paul Kariya, who took a drastic pay cut to go to Colorado, along with centre Adam Oates, who did not have his option picked up by the club. However, Ducks GM Bryan Murray was able to replace these two key players, by adding arguably the best free agent on the market in centre Sergei Fedorov, as well as winger/centre Vaclav Prospal, who had a career high 79 points with the Lightning last season. Players like Petr Sykora, Stanislav Chistov and Mike Leclerc give the team solid offensive depth behind Prospal and Fedorov, while Sandis Ozolinsh, Keith Carney and Nic Havelid pose as a solid top-3. Role players Ruslan Salei, Kurt Sauer and Vitali Vishnevski all return as well. In goal, there is J.S. Giguere, who has a big question mark looming. Will he repeat last year’s stellar performance, or will his large contract affect his play, like some claim was the case for Canadiens’ netminder Jose Theodore? Behind him, there are a pair of quickly developing goalies in Martin Gerber and Ilja Bryzgalov, the former beginning the season as the team’s backup.
Next Steps: With all restricted free agents locked up, GM Bryan Murray can pretty much sit back and “relax”. With no noticeable holes on the team at the moment, the Ducks look solid heading into the 2003-04 season.
Team: Dallas Stars
Points (Rk): 111(1)
In: Don Sweeney, Jarrod Skalde, Teppo Numminen, Rob Valicevic, Regan Darby
Out: Ulf Dahlen, Derian Hatcher, Kirk Muller, Lyle Odelein, Greg Hawgood, David Gosselin, Corey Hirsch, Jim Montgomery, Darryl Sydor
Comments: Earlier this offseason, Dallas GM Doug Armstrong said that when July 1st came around, the team would have the “Gone Fishing” sign on their door. He wasn’t kidding. Their most notable free agent move of the summer was to sign an aging veteran in Don Sweeney to add depth to the defence corps. However, the problem with that was that they lost team captain Derian Hatcher in the process. More recently, Armstrong added offensive defenceman Teppo Numminen to the mix, but ended up losing Darryl Sydor in the process. Add to that the fact that Lyle Odelein and Greg Hawgood won’t be back either and suddenly the defence isn’t as strong as it once was, nor does it have the depth it did heading into the 2002-03 season. That being said, Dallas fans still have a good reason to be optimistic as the team heads into this coming year. Their offence is extremely potent, with proven veterans Bill Guerin and Mike Modano leading the way, with up-and-comers Jason Arnott, Brendan Morrow and Niko Kapanen, as well as former 30-goal scorers Scott Young and Pierre Turgeon as the supporting cast. Oh, did I forget to mention there’s also Selke candidate Jere Lehtinen and former Sabres captain Stu Barnes on the team as well? On defence, the losses of Hatcher and Sydor hurt, but the team still has a solid top-4 of Zubov, Matvichuk, Boucher and Numminen, to go along with Sweeney and the steadily improving Stephane Robidas. Between the pipes is Goals Against and Save Percentage leader Marty Turco. He’s backed up by proven veteran goalie Ron Tugnutt who can step in and take over if Turco goes down.
Next Steps: The Stars are relatively deep in all positions, at least at the NHL level. On the farm, depth just isn’t as good, so that’s where the Stars should look to improve next. If some of Dallas’ top-end talent go down, there will be minimal help coming up from Utah, the team’s AHL affiliate.
Team: Los Angeles Kings
Points (Rk): 78(10)
In: Mathieu Chouinard, Trent Klatt, Luc Robitaille, Bryan Muir, John Tripp, Roman Cechmanek, Jozef Stumpel, Lubos Bartecko, Milan Hnilicka
Out: Ken Belanger, Mikko Eloranta, Chris McAlpine, Craig Johnson, Felix Potvin, Erik Rasmussen, Derek Bekar, Greg Koehler, Brad Norton, Michael Pudlick, Travis Scott, Jamie Storr, Alexei Volkov, Steve Heinze, Eric Healey
Comments: The Kings have been fairly active so far this offseason, firstly acquiring Roman Cechmanek from the Flyers to replace the departed Felix Potvin. Then they looked to get some much needed depth into the organization, doing so by re-acquiring Jozef Stumpel from the Bruins, and signing Trent Klatt, Bryan Muir and Luc Robitaille to contracts. With these moves, along with many, many players returning from injury, such as Adam Deadmarsh and Jason Allison, management believes the team can return to the playoffs. That may seem farfetched to some, but given the way that “no-name” teams such as Minnesota and Anaheim got to the conference final in the Western Conference, anything can happen. LA’s offence will get a much needed boost this season, simply with the return of Deadmarsh and Allison. The team also has leading scorer Zigmund Palffy back for this season, and the signings of Robitaille and Klatt will help as well. Stumpel gives the team a much needed second-line centre, who will help sophomore Alexander Frolov develop. Youngsters Mike Cammalleri, Jared Aulin and Yanick Lehoux should all see time with the Kings this season as well, as long as they can remain healthy. On defence, the corps is solid, albeit not spectacular. In Jaroslav Modry and Lubomir Visnovsky, the team has a pair of d-men who can put the puck in the net and run the powerplay units. They’re joined by a pair of solid stay-at-home defencemen in Aaron Miller and Mattias Norstrom. Beyond that, youngsters and fringe d-men such as Muir and Chris McAlpine will round out the defensive unit. Expect Joe Corvo to spend a significant portion of the season with the Kings. In goal, Roman Cechmanek takes over for the departed Potvin, while Milan Hnilicka and Cristobal Huet will fight for the opportunity to back him up, replacing Jamie Storr.
Next Steps: The Kings are a solid team all around, however one possible concern for them this season may be that there’s not enough defensive-minded forwards on the team. Besides Klatt, Eric Belanger and Ian Laperriere, the team lacks forwards who can get the job done in their own end. The team hopes Sean Avery and Brad Chartrand can step in and the job done in a 4th line role, but if they’re not ready, it wouldn’t hurt to acquire another player like this.
Team: Phoenix Coyotes
Points (Rk): 78(11)
In: Cale Hulse, Daniel Cleary, Chris Ferraro, Peter Ferraro, Nikos Tselios, David Tanabe, Igor Knyazev, Tyson Nash, Mike Sillinger, Bryan Helmer, Kiel McLeod
Out: Scott Pellerin, Paul Ranheim, Kelly Buchberger, Jason Bonsignore, Peter Fabus, Brent Gauvreau, Sergei Kuznetsov, Ryan Lauzon, Jay Leach, Deron Quint, Brad Ralph, Colin Zulianello, Dan Smith, Teppo Numminen, Danill Markov, Drake Berehowsky, Martin Grenier, Todd Simpson
Comments: Phoenix GM Mike Barnett stated in late June that he felt the team needed more depth, in case the team was plagued by the injury bug again (they lost 462 games to injury last season). He certainly has done so, bringing in Cale Hulse, Dan Cleary and Tyson Nash without moving anyone off the roster. Barnett also brought in Chris and Peter Ferraro, as well as Nik Tselios to stock the farm team (Springfield-AHL). Furthermore, Barnett saved a bundle of cash, shipping off defencemen Teppo Numminen and Danny Markov in return for Mike Sillinger and David Tanabe. The team certainly will have a different look this season, and I’m not just talking about their new logo. Offensively, the team has plenty of potential 20-30 goal scorers, but not a game breaker in the mix. Some fans would argue that Shane Doan fits that bill, but inconsistency plagues him too often. The lone remaining player from the Keith Tkachuk trade, Ladislav Nagy has improved each season, and many feel he is capable of reaching the 30-goal plateau this year, after scoring 22 last season. The team is extremely deep down the middle, with Daymond Langkow, Chris Gratton, Sillinger and Jan Hrdina as the team’s top-4. “Prospects “ Jeff Taffe and Krys Kolanos are also centremen, but if they want to see regular NHL duty this year, they may have to play somewhere on the wing. Besides Doan and Nagy, the wings aren’t so deep. Perennial underachiever Brian Savage is slotted to be the 2nd line left winger, while Mike Johnson is expected to play on the right side of line 2. Johnson’s numbers should decline after a solid 63 points last season. On defence, there’s plenty of depth. A problem for Phoenix is that there isn’t a number 1 in the bunch. Ossi Vaananen and Paul Mara are both quality defenders, but after that there isn’t much. Hulse and Tanabe should see 16-18 minutes per game, while Brad Ference and Radoslav Suchy will log quality minutes. In goal, there is a logjam, at least with who will be the backup. Injury-prone netminder Sean Burke will be the number 1, while Zac Bierk and Brian Boucher will fight for the backup spot.
Next Steps: Phoenix’s most pressing need is to move one of Bierk/Boucher, preferably for a player who can play one of the wings, however the market for either of these goalies is limited for the time being. The Coyotes also need to figure out what to do with their centre logjam, currently Hrdina is pencilled in as a 4th liner, however that’s not what they acquired him for. He needs to be dealt, or someone else needs to move to the wing.
Team: San Jose Sharks
Points (Rk): 73(14)
In: Scott Parker, Alexander Korolyuk, Nils Ekman
Out: Adam Graves, Teemu Selanne, Mark Messier, Ryan Kraft, Jeff Nelson, Scott Thomas, John Jakopin, Marc Kielkucki, Eric Laplante, Craig Mischler, Chad Wiseman
Comments: Things continue to spiral downward for the Sharks; after a disastrous 2002-03 season, they get worse, not better. Out are two key players from last season in Teemu Selanne and Adam Graves, although the latter is currently trying to negotiate a contract to remain with San Jose. The team added Scott Parker on draft day to address a lack of toughness, and finally coaxed Alexander Korolyuk to end his holdout and return to North America. The team hopes that Korolyuk can produce some offence from the team’s second or third line. With the loss of Selanne and the trading away of Owen Nolan last season, there is a noticeable hole on offence. Returning are Vincent Damphousse, Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm, giving the team some offensive weapons. Checkers Alyn McCauley, Mike Ricci and Scott Thornton will be expected to produce offence with some more consistency than was shown last season. Korolyuk, along with youngsters Mark Smith and Niko Dimitrakos are also expected to produce in order for the Sharks to have any chance at making the playoffs. Rookies Miroslav Zalesak, Marcel Goc and Brad Boyes all are expected to challenge for spots at camp, although there are no guarantees that any of them will start the season with the Sharks. On defence, there is a little more depth with Brad Stuart and Kyle McLaren returning for full seasons. San Jose also has Mike Rathje and Scott Hannan, giving the team a decent top-4. Prospects will be given the chance to fill the other 3 spots; the most likely candidates being Jim Fahey, Christian Ehrhoff and Rob Davison. Jesse Fibiger should also get a long look. In goal, there is a lot of potential, but at the same time, a lot of inconsistency. Evgeni Nabokov must rebound from a rough season in order for this team to have any success. Vesa Toskala and Miikka Kiprusoff will fight for the backup role.
Next Steps: With the quality depth and potential in goal and on defence, the Sharks can focus on going after some offensive talent. With only 3 proven goalscorers in the organization, there is an immediate need for some help. Youngsters will be able to step up in a few years, but they’re not ready yet, possibly with the exception of Dimitrakos. Without another goalscorer, it may be another rough year for San Jose.
This concludes my look at the summer that was for the National Hockey League. Some teams got better, others worse. The one question that remains is “Will these acquisitions be enough to put our team to the top?” The answer is, only time will tell.