Tag:Florida Panthers
Posted on: September 12, 2011 10:10 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 11:39 am
 

Daily Skate: Rookie highlights; State of Kings

By Brian Stubits

HOCKEY IS BACK: Yes, some real hockey talk! While teams aren't back in camp yet -- that happens this week -- the rookies have made their way to multiple sites across North America for rookie camps. First, check out highlights from the Panthers' battle with the Lightning (4-2 Florida) or watch the entirety of the beatdown the Oilers put on the Canucks (7-2). After that showing, the Vancouver Sun is having a hard time finding any positives. Perhaps knowing the team just came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup helps?

STATE OF THE KINGDOM: Kings GM Dean Lombardi did his annual "state of the franchise" Q&A at the team's Hockey Fest on Sunday, answering a slew of questions, and of course it began with Drew Doughty. Rich Hammond at L.A. Kings Insider has the recap of Lombardi's review, including a full post simply dedicated to the Doughty talk.

REMEMBERING 9/11: Adrian Dater of the Denver Post took the time to remember September 11 like most everybody else on Sunday. He recounts his memories from being in Sweden with the Avalanche, who were the only American sports franchise to play a game in the first few days after the tragic day.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 2:51 pm
 

Coyotes acquire G Cheverie from Panthers

By Brian Stubits

The Phoenix Coyotes decided to add some organizational depth at goaltender, trading away minor-league center Justin Bernhardt to the Florida Panthers for goalie prospect Marc Cheverie.

Here's the team's press release:

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney announced today that the Coyotes have acquired goaltender Marc Cheverie from the Florida Panthers in exchange for center Justin Bernhardt.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Cheverie split the 2010-11 season between the Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League (AHL). The 24-year-old native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia appeared in 30 games with Cincinnati posting a 13-9-5 record with three shutouts and a 3.11 goals against average (GAA). In 15 games with Rochester, Cheverie posted a record of 2-7-1 with a 3.91 GAA.

Cheverie spent three seasons with the University of Denver (2007-10), playing in 80 regular season games, posting a record of 48-18-8. He led the Pioneers to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 2008-2010. Cheverie was selected by the Panthers in the seventh round (193rd overall) of the 2006 Entry Draft.

Bernhardt appeared in 47 games for the Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL) in 2010-11, recording 6-19-25 and 29 PIM. He signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Coyotes on April 13, 2009.

Cheverie is a well-regarded prospect, but he was stuck in the Panthers organization behind arguably the NHL's top goalie prospect, Jacob Markstrom. Of course, the Coyotes have to replace the departed Ilya Bryzgalov and to do so they brought in Mike Smith to join Jason LaBarbera. While Cheverie isn't likely to factor in the NHL this season, it's worth the flyer for Phoenix that he develops into a player who can take over down the line.

The price for the prospect is Bernhardt, a player who has shown scoring ability but has struggled to stay on the ice. He played a full 72-game schedule back in 2008-09 with Prince Albert of the WHL and he showed what he's capable of, scoring 35 goals with 57 assists.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: September 8, 2011 10:08 am
 

Stillman to retire, move into Panthers office

By Brian Stubits

There are still a slew of veterans sitting on the free-agent market, perhaps waiting for the middle of the year for a team waiting for a lift. Cory Stillman won't be one of them.

The 37-year-old winger will instead elect to retire and move into the front office, specifically returning to the Panthers to serve in a player development role.

Mike Davies at the Peterborough Examiner (h/t to Puck Daddy) had the full story.

Stillman, 37, will officially announce his retirement at a press conference Thursday in Florida where the Panthers will introduce him as a member of their player development staff. He will work under director of player development Brian Skrudland monitoring and working with Panthers prospects from the junior ranks to the minor pros.

Stillman says he had offers to return to the NHL, including from Carolina, but he felt, for a variety of reasons, the timing was right to move onto the next stage of his life.

"I can walk away knowing I wasn't pushed out the door," Stillman said. "I could still play. When I got traded back to Carolina I was reunited with some guys and we had a good run at the end. In the end, I'm not old, but I'm getting a little older, I'll be 38 in December, and I had a career I'm very happy with. Now it's time to move on to be with my family."

Getting to make the decision on his own terms was important to Stillman who has battled injuries in recent years.

Stillman spent two and a half seasons with the Panthers before being traded to Carolina, where he once won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes, last season. He also was with the Lightning for their Cup victory in 2003-04, putting him in rarified air by winning back-to-back Cups with different teams. Let's call it the anti-Hossa.

Watching Stillman in the final few years of his career, specifically thinking of his time in Florida, this always seemed like a natural. Stillman had a professional vibe that he gave off, somebody who would work his way into an off-ice position somewhere. The Panthers saw it, asking Stillman to let them know when he was ready to retire because they were interested in bringing him back to the organization in another position than winger.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: September 7, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 5:03 pm
 

Hockey world mourns KHL team plane crash



(Pavol Demitra/Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

For the fourth time this summer, tragedy has struck the hockey world. This time it comes in the form of a plane crash in Russia carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the KHL, a team that includes many former NHL faces.

Among those who were on the roster are former NHL players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek. The coaching staff was led by former Bruins, Whalers, Flyers and Red Wings defenseman Brad McCrimmon and also contained former NHL players Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev.

Plus, there were numerous others who were prospects for NHL teams. Among those was Devils prospect Alexander Vasyunov, who played in 18 games for the Devils last season.

"Words cannot express what has transpired," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "I knew a lot of players that were on that team. Nothing could prepare the hockey community for the devastating news ... [This] has left all of us beyond words.

More on KHL crash

"[Vasyunov] wanted to go over and play a lot and come back here. He was so proud to be a Devil. I can't say enough about him."

Riley Armstrong, brother of Colby Armstrong, is part of the team but was not on the plane. He tweeted after the ordeal that he was OK.

"I'm safe, but thanks for the kind words but pray and think of the players and their families on that flight."

As you can imagine, in a league that now contains many Russian players and has its ties grow every year with Russia's top league, the responses have been numerous and distraught. Alex Ovechkin simply said "I'm in shock!!!!!R.I.P ...."

Panthers defenseman and former Lokomotiv player Dmitry Kulikov was left stunned. "It's just an empty feeling. Words can't express how I feel."

Then there was Lightning defenseman Nate Thompson. "A tragic loss for the hockey world. Plane crash with an entire KHL team on board. Thoughts and prayers go out to there families and friends."

Perhaps Demitra is perhaps the best known former NHL player among the bunch. He spent most of his NHL career with the Blues, where he had his best seasons as a player. His best year was 2002-03 when he scored 36 goals and had 57 assists. He was named to three All-Star teams; 1999, 2000 and 2002. He most recently played for the Canucks in 2009-10 before moving on to the KHL.

Moreover, he developed some tremendous friendships in the NHL. The bond he created with Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis was tremendous and Tkachuk was predictably hurt.

"I am beyond devastated by the tragic news involving my good friends Brad and Pavol and the rest of their teammates in Russia. Brad was my teammate in Phoenix and later coached me in Atlanta and was truly a wonderful man who will be greatly missed. Pav was like a brother to me and I cannot believe that he is no longer with us. This is a terrible day for the hockey fraternity. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time.”

Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star- Tribune penned this story back in 2007 (at the bottom of the entry) about the strong bond Demitra developed with Marion Gaborik when the two were playing together for the Wild.

Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins also had lengthy stints in the NHL, even being traded for one another at one point. In the 2007-08 season, the Avalanche sent Skrastins to the Panthers in exchange for Salei. In his one full season in Florida, Skrastins had his most productive offensive year, scoring four goals and 14 assists. The tough-nosed defenseman then played his final two NHL seasons with the Stars. Terry Frei of the Denver Post chronicaled Skrastins' trip to the NHL from Latvia.

"The Dallas Stars are saddened by the loss of former defenseman Karlis Skrastins in today's tragic plane crash in Russia," the team released in a statement.

Salei spent nearly a decade playing for the Ducks in Anaheim before he was signed by the Panthers. Like Skrastins, he had his best offensive season playing with Florida, scoring six goals with 26 assists in 2006-07 before being traded the next season to Colorado.

He was playing with the Red Wings just last season, playing 75 games with Detroit.

Vasicek played parts of seven seasons in the NHL, six of those with the Carolina Hurricanes. Team captain Eric Staal had this to say about Vasicek: "Joe was an awesome guy, always in good spirits, always smiling. It's just a tragedy."

Chad LaRose echoed those sentiments. "It's a shocker, a tragedy. Joe was a great guy. A life ended too early."

Vasicek's final season in North America was with the Islanders where he played alongside Radek Martinek.

"He was one of my best buddies. He was in my wedding. I can't believe this," Martinek said.

Among the confirmed dead is former Red Wings and Flyers defenseman McCrimmon, Lokomotiv's coach. The news was just as somber in Detroit with Wings coach Mike Babcock.

McCrimmon had been an assistant with the Red Wings the past three seasons, having spent time wit the Thrashers, Flames and Islanders as an assistant as well. He left Detroit to lead the KHL team in hopes of becoming a head coach in the NHL some day.

As a defenseman, he put up some absolutely unbelievable numbers in his career. In only two of his 18 seasons did he ever record a negative plus-minus mark and he posted a career-high plus-83 in 1985-86 with the Flyers. He ended his career with a plus-444, the 10th best mark in NHL history. Each of the nine players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.

This will go down as one of the biggest, if not the biggest sports tragedies we've ever seen. About the only things I can think that compare are the plane crashes that affected the Marshall football team and Oklahoma State basketball teams. Hopefully, and we hope with every bone in our body, this is the end of what will be known as the Summer of Sorrow in hockey. This has truly been an offseason from hell and hopefully one that we never see again.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 6, 2011 4:52 pm
 

What to expect for Brad Marchand, remaining RFAs

By Brian Stubits

Remember back a few months, when they were actually playing hockey. The breakout star of the playoffs was Brad Marchand for the Bruins. He was second in goals scored for the entire playoffs despite playing in his first postseason, a run that included two goals in the Game 7 win in Vancouver.

But success isn't cheap. That's why Marchand still doesn't have a contract to talk about at this point. Clearly Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and Marchand's camp can't agree on what kind of money he should receive. There is no doubt both sides want to stay together. The B's have a promising player coming out of his rookie season while Marchand found himself on a championship team and fitting in with Boston.

Therein lies the dilemma. Is Marchand worth big bucks after showing all that he's capable of in the playoffs? That's what his agent has to be saying. Or could it be that he played just a little over his head in the playoffs. He wouldn't be the first to have done that. That has to be the concern for Chiarelli.

Now you have to give the Bruins GM this: he's being very prudent. Boston has the room to sign Marchand to a relatively big contract. Per Cap Geek, the B's still have more than $7 million in cap space available. So you could understand if he conceded to get Marchand back in the fold ASAP. But the goal is to set up a longtime winner and that could be damaged by bad contracts. Not to say signing Marchand to a big deal would be a bad contract, but it could be.

In cases like this, you are always on the lookout for precedents. Thankfully, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren gave a pretty good one last week when he signed James van Riemsdyk to an extension. Philly gave him a six-year deal that carries a $4.25 million annual cap hit.

Comparing the two, JVR has two full NHL seasons under his belt as opposed to one-plus for Marchand. But last season, the players had strikingly similar numbers. In 75 games, Van Riemsdyk had 21 goals and 19 assists. In 77 games, Marchand had 21 goals and 20 assists. They both also stepped up their scoring pace in the playoffs as Van Riemsdyk had seven goals in 11 games while Marchand had 11 tallies and eight assists in 25 games.

So at this point, the two could pass for career twins. So if Chiarelli was looking to keep the figure low, this didn't help. When the sides finally get this worked out, I'd expect to see a deal very similar to Van Riemsdyk's, just for a shorter length.

In the meantime, Marchand can continue to work on the promising rapping career.

Now a look at the other high-profile restricted free agents still sans deals.

Drew Doughty, Kings: This one has been discussed at incredible length this offseason, but we can't ignore it here. The assumption was that the deal coming from Shea Weber's arbitration hearing would lead to a resolution in Los Angeles. Now it wasn't expected that Doughty would receive the same money that Weber would, but something close. It's hard to imagine this getting resolved without Doughty getting north of $5.5 million-plus, and that's on the conservative side.

Luke Schenn, Maple Leafs: The Leafs continue to try and bring Schenn into the fold long-term, hoping he can be a significant piece to their future. The good news for fans in Toronto is that GM Brian Burke remains confident Schenn will be signed before training camp begins, indicating that the sides might not be that far apart. Judging by the fact that Burke has been unwilling to trade Schenn and the Leafs seem to believe he will develop into an elite shutdown defenseman, you are left to assume Schenn will get a decent amount of scratch, probably somewhere around $3 million-$3.5 million annually, along the likes of the Rangers' Marc Staal. But with Burke it's almost impossible to accurately guess.

Zach Bogosian, Jets: Bogosian was billed as a very solid two-way defenseman coming out of the 2008 draft, but so far he hasn't matched that billing. Five goals and 12 assists like a season ago don't exactly scream two-way star. Realistically, he shouldn't expect to get a pay day similar to Schenn, perhaps a comparable player. The only problem in their numbers from last season being very similar, Schenn isn't expected to give a lot on the offensive side while Bogosian is. Of course there's still plenty of time from Bogosian to grow and perhaps become the player scouts envisioned once upon a time. But considering he's still a second-pairing defenseman for Winnipeg, the best guess would be a modest money amount over a shorter length to give more time to evaluate Bogosian's NHL value.

The rest of the RFAs:

Kyle Turris, Coyotes: The third overall draft pick in 2007, he doesn't appear to be near a deal with Phoenix at this point, asking for about $4 million annually over three years per ESPN.com. As you would guess, the Coyotes aren't willing to go near that mark. This one will take some serious concessions, likely on Turris' behalf.

Shawn Matthias, Panthers: The former prized prospect is going to have to swallow the fact the Panthers won't give him a guaranteed, one-way contract. That seems to the hold up in the negotiations here, but the Panthers feel there is too much competition for roster spots to guarantee a guy who hasn't proven he deserves a spot yet.

Josh Bailey, Islanders: He has shown some promise for becoming a decent scorer in the NHL, finding the net 16 times as a 20-year-old two seasons ago. Lighthouse Hockey did a good job of comparing Bailey to Phoenix's Mikkel Boedker and his recent $1.1 million annual contract a few weeks back, concluding Bailey has shown he deserves more than that.

Kyle Cumiskey, Avalanche: The Avs did give him a qualifying offer on the heels of an 18-game season, but that's as far as negotiations have gone. But Adrian Dater at the Denver Post expects the hurdles will be overcome in the next week and Cumiskey will be back for camp.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 31, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: August 31, 2011 3:35 pm
 

Former Capital Steckel talks Crosby hit, Semin

By Brian Stubits

David Steckel was a member of the Washington Capitals up until March of last year, so he knows a thing or two about a couple of the bigger stories/dramas of the hockey summer.

Skating at the Caps practice facility as he and his wife are back in the District to try and sell their Virginia house, Steckel took a little time to talk with the Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir about a few lingering items. One regards the health of Sidney Crosby, the other the criticism levied on Alexander Semin by former Caps enforcer Matt Bradley.

First, to the Crosby treatment. Remember, it was Steckel that hit Crosby in the Winter Classic, rendering the Penguins star concussed. Since then, the argument has raged of whether or not it was a dirty play or intentional. Steckel, now with the Devils, says neither is the case.

"I had no intent to injure him. I feel just as bad as anybody. I don't want to see anybody out of the game for that long. It's bad enough with everything that's going around with other guys [and] head [injuries]. It's just so uncertain. I feel bad. I wish him the best. I don't wish that upon anybody."

Here's the hit heard 'round the NHL world in case you need a refresher.

To me it never appeared to be a malicious hit by any stretch. It appears to be an unfortunate accident. But it's certainly a debatable topic and the true verdict is always in the eye of the beholder in such situations.

However the majority of the talk with El-Bashir centered on Bradley's remarks about Semin, ya know the ones that Semin "just doesn't care?" Well here's what Steckel had to say on Wednesday.

“It's not like he went out and told lies,” Steckel said. “[He] didn't really say anything bad about anybody. He just stated what he felt. ... I don't have anything to say on what Brads said except that he was spot on. He mentioned Ovi, too, just not on a negative side. He hit it on the head for both guys."

It's nowhere near as inflammatory as the route Bradley took, but it's still no ringing endorsement of Semin.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 29, 2011 4:50 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2011 4:50 pm
 

Vokoun talks about joining Caps, leaving Cats

By Brian Stubits

Tomas Vokoun has had an interesting couple of months. He went through the free agency freeze, expecting to be coveted to waiting around a few days for an offer. The frustration of that was offset by going from a perennial loser with the Panthers to an annual power in the Capitals.

There he will battle with Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, but that's another story altogehter (which Adam Gretz already covered!).

Vokoun only spent four years in Florida, but he made no secret how much he enjoys living in the area. So it's no surprise that he was working out at the Panthers team facility in Coral Springs, Fla. on Monday when Miami Herald writer George Richards caught up with the goaltender.

In their nearly 15-minute interview, the conversation runs the gamut from Vokoun playing for a contender and the possibility of pressure joining him. Plus they talk about the frustrations of July 1 and the relationship with former Panthers coach and now Devils head man Peter DeBoer.

Above is the first of three parts in the interview. Click here for Part II and click here for Part III.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 29, 2011 2:26 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2011 2:59 pm
 

Eastern Conference spots seem set for some time

By Brian Stubits

Sometimes simple and obvious things just hit you. Things you had realized before but for some reason they jump to your attention again. It tends to happen a lot more often during the lazy hockey days of summer.

That's exactly what happened when I began to think about the makeup of hockey markets/organizations, particularly in the Eastern Conference. What popped into my head was the fact that the contenders this season are likely to be the same as they were last season, and for the most part the same they were the season before that. And it's likely they will remain the contenders for the season after next, too.

At that moment I realized the NHL is starting to resemble the NBA in a way. And that's not good. One of the biggest reasons the NBA is in a lockout that seems to have no end in sight (Ken Berger and the Eye on Basketball guys have that covered) is the very issue that only a handful of teams enter every season with a chance to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Everybody's favorite stat about the (lack of) parity in the NBA is the simple fact that since 1984, only eight different organizations have won the championship. That's eight teams in 28 seasons.

Now look at the Eastern Conference in hockey. The Capitals have been atop their division for four straight seasons. The Penguins and Flyers are perennial contenders. Same goes for the Bruins while the Rangers, Canadiens and Sabres are regulars in the 5-8 range in the standings.

Of course that leaves teams like the Islanders (four-year playoff drought), Maple Leafs (six-year drought), Jets/Thrashers (one appearance in franchise history), Hurricanes (perennial contender for first runnerup these days) and the Panthers (10-year drought) to fend at the bottom.

So where do these teams fit? When you have a team like the Islanders seeming ready to step up and compete for the playoffs, who are they going to surpass? The Eastern Conference is full of traditional hockey markets in the American northeast and Canada, big markets either in hockey-crazy cities and ones with rich histories. The West has a few of those as well -- namely Vancouver, Detroit and Chicago -- but not as many as the East.

But have a look at the chart below detailing the past four seasons. Five teams have made the playoffs in each of those seasons and four teams have failed to advance beyond the regular season even once.

Last four seasons
Team Average finish (Eastern Conference) Playoff appearances 2011-12 payroll (capgeek.com)
Capitals 1.75 4 $65,190,128
Penguins 3.5 4 $62,737,500
Bruins 4.5 4 $56,682,976
Flyers 5 4 $64,124,761
Devils 5 3 $58,429,167
Canadiens 5.75 4 $59,770,510
Rangers 7.25 3 $62,935,334
Sabres 7.5 2 $67,895,357
Hurricanes 8.75 1 $49,775,000
Senators 9 2 $51,845,834
Lightning 11.5 1 $59,326,083
Maple Leafs 12.25 0 $59,115,000
Jets/Thrashers 12.25 0 $48,284,166
Panthers 12.25 0 $49,882,042
Islanders 13.75 0 $45,970,166

You get the feeling that at least five spots are locks in the East this year with two more almost assuredly the same. In the lock category you start with four of the five teams that have been staples: The Capitals, Penguins, Flyers and Bruins. Add in the up-and-coming Lightning for good measure. Hard to imagine any of those five not making it this season. In the next two spots I think you can add the Rangers and Sabres. With new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres seem destined to become another playoff regular. These are teams that all improved (or in the case of Boston, didn't have to improve, but more or less stay in tact after winning the Stanley Cup) and were already playoff caliber.

By my stellar mathematical abilities, that leaves one spot essentially up for grabs. Among the group fighting for it will be the Canadiens (the other team to make it each of the past four seasons), Devils and, well, the rest of the conference. Outside of the Senators who are building for a few years from now and maybe the Jets, every team in the conference looks to be better now then they were at the end of last season.

And here's the thing: I don't see how it will be easy to unseat these teams at the top of the conference. Sure, you will have the occasional team slipping through like the Lightning. To extend the analogy back to the NBA, that's like the Oklahoma City Thunder building after years of struggle to a competitive level. But they still have to fight through the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs, all of which are almost guaranteed to be in the hunt. It's hard to imagine a time when the Lakers won't be contenders, and when they have been (post-Shaquille O'Neal) they rebuilt in a hurry and won the title shortly thereafter.

That's what I'm seeing for the Eastern Conference, that kind of perennial favorite similarity. It makes sense, obviously. The best free agents will want to go to the best teams in the best hockey cities and the biggest pay checks. That's to be expected. And that's a huge reason why these teams are able to stay above the equator. It doesn't hurt to have the infrastructures they all have at their disposal, too. From fan support to smart organizational minds and moves, they win more often than not. Success begets success. It's no coincidence that these are also the teams most heavily featured on national TV.

Let's look at the Capitals. Owner Ted Leonsis has been mentioned his 10-to-15-year plan ... not a plan that calls for 10-to-15 years to win the Cup (although it's starting to look that way) but instead to keep the Caps a Cup contender for that time. And because Washington D.C. has shown itself to be a strong hockey market and is appealing to free agents, it's easy to see how the Caps can sustain that. You have a young Alexander Ovechkin on your roster? Lock him up! Just throw a 13-year contract in front of one of the sport's best players and he's aboard for the long haul. Try and do the same when you're in Tampa Bay and you have a situation where you are only able to secure Steven Stamkos for five seasons.

The reasons are obvious, much the same as the Yankees in baseball (and now the Red Sox). You can pen each of those teams into the playoffs before the season even starts and you are most likely going to be right. But this isn't supposed to happen in hockey, not with a supposedly game-evening hard salary cap. It's just the inherent advantages are too tough for a lot of teams to compete with. Essentially, the margin for error is razor thin for the lesser markets/organizations.

Toronto is the exception (sorry Leafs fans) to the big-market success model. It is probably the best hockey market in the NHL, has an incredibly devoted fan base and has not been afraid to spend. But even the Leafs are struggling these days to break that glass ceiling and butt their way into the playoffs. They couldn't beat out the Rangers for Brad Richards' services in free agency.

Now this is why they play the game. You can't lock in these teams to the playoffs. After all, who saw that Devils season coming last year? You still have to earn your way into the postseason. But if you are a fan of one of the bottom-feeders in the East, I'd suggest you cool your jets. The East's upper echelon is pretty well full of NHL aristocrats. The competition will be better and the spots will likely be more fiercely fought for, but it will be hard to break through.

In the West you can hear the mid-level teams saying "welcome to our world."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com