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Posted on: February 26, 2011 10:13 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2011 11:08 pm
 

Panthers continue to de-claw

Breaking up ain’t hard to do for Dale Tallon.

The Florida Panthers GM is in full dismember mode now with the team he inherited, making another deal on a day that previously seemed like the calm before Monday’s trade deadline storm. Tallon broke the tranquility, sending defenseman and team captain Bryan McCabe to the New York Rangers for minor-leaguer Tim Kennedy and a third-round draft pick.

It was a little more than I thought Florida would get for the 35-year-old rental who has a $5.75 cap hit, with the young forward being a potentially worthwhile a throw-in to the pick that the Panthers really prized.  But the Rangers really needed someone who can quarterback a power play, and that’s the best part of McCabe’s game. He has a big shot.

So New York fills an immediate need while Tallon continues looking to the future. He took over last spring with a mandate to rebuild a franchise that is about to miss its 10th consecutive playoffs, and he started the process with what was widely considered a great draft that included three first-round choices.

In other words, the picks he got for McCabe and a couple of days earlier for another veteran rental Cory Stillman are the real value to him. Getting Kennedy, who had a 12-goal season with the Buffalo Sabres a couple of years, and forward Ryan Carter from Carolina in the Stillman deal, are bonuses and with no risk because both have expiring contracts this season.

In the meantime, Florida saves a couple of million dollars in payroll for the rest of this season and chances are the Panthers aren’t finished making moves. This first season has been one of evaluation one for Tallon, who has apparently reached the conclusion that just about every one is available for the right deal. 

He started by moving out young roster forward Michael Frolik to Chicago in a deal a couple of weeks ago that brought Jack Skille, a forward Tallon drafted for the Blackhawks. Since then scouts from four or five teams have regularly attended Panthers game. There is a widely held assumption that goalie Tomas Vokoun will be dealt, but there has been as much focus lately on David Booth and Stephen Weiss.

Expect Tallon to be be busy between now and the deadline, and again around the draft because one way or another he has to give the Panthers a much different look next season.

.

 

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 24, 2011 6:58 pm
 

Stillman back with the 'Canes

Maybe it’s back to the future day in the NHL. First Pittsburgh brings back Alexei Kovalev and now the Carolina Hurricanes have traded for Cory Stillman, who spent the initial post-lockout seasons with them.

At age 37, Stillman has been been a middling performer this season, playing out the string on what may be the final contract of his career, a three-year $10.5 million pact he signed with Florida in 2008. But he won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 after winning one two years earlier with Tampa Bay, and when healthy this season, he has shown he’s the kind of veteran who can still help in a limited role for a team on a playoff path.

The Hurricanes are on such a path at the moment, clinging to the eighth spot they have taken over in the East with a much-improved second half. Florida meanwhile, is headed for its 10th consecutive playoff miss and is cost-cutting mode right now as it tries to accumulate assets for the future. The Panthers had to get Stillman to waive his no-trade, but the chance to go to back to Carolina, where he has ties and his young son still plays with an elite travel team, made it easy for the veteran.

It’s a relatively inexpensive way for the budget-conscious Hurricanes to add depth and experience for the playoff run and possibly beyond, while for the Panthers, they get something in return for a player who is not in their plans after last season.

Ryan Carter, the forward acquired a long with a fifth-round draft pick, probably won’t excite much of the dwindling fan base in Florida, because he’s a forward who doesn’t score much and the Panthers already have plenty of those. And this is the second time he’s been traded this season, with the Anaheim Ducks deciding he wasn’t worth more than a few spare parts in November.

But Carter will get another shot, at least until the end of the season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and maybe at age 27 he’ll find a way to make the most of it. If not, the Panthers will have at least a draft pick for Stillman, which is better than nothing.
Category: NHL
Posted on: February 24, 2011 1:26 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2011 1:44 pm
 

Kovalev gets birthday present with trade to Pens

If there’s any team that will get Alexei Kovalev to show up more than he has during the last two seasons, it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The nice thing is it cost Pittsburgh no more than a sixth-round draft pick to get him back from the Ottawa Senators, so there’s not much down side for the Penguins.

Kovalev turns 38 today and for those of you who weren’t paying attention, his age was been less of a concern for the Senators than the fact he tended to disappear with his $5 million pay checks for extended periods with Ottawa after it signed him as a free agent in 2009. But he had some of his best career seasons with Pittsburgh earlier in the decade, the team is still in contention, and Kovalev still has enough left of his rare skill set to make an impact for the injury-ravaged Penguins. 

He’s been playing his best hockey of the season in the last three weeks too, although that could be because he was desperate to get out of Ottawa. The Senators season has been nothing short of a disaster and the organization has been blowing things up over the last few weeks with a big time fire sale.

Kovalev had his name floating in the rumor mill, but his salary and reputation for being an enigma limited his suitors, probably to no more than the Penguins which is why he didn’t fetch very much for the Senators. 

The Penguins though were an obvious fit because they were painfully weak along the wings even before Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were injured. They acquired young power forward James Neal from Dallas earlier this week, but that deal was done with the future as much as the present in mind.

Getting Kovalev is all about now for a team that is still playoff bound but hurting offensively.   The Penguins are not sure when or if Crosby will be back. Malkin is gone until next season and several other players are out.

Kovalev comes back to place where he’s comfortable and easily motivated and where he should help, especially on the power play.

If nothing else, in Pittsburgh Kovalev should show up.
Category: NHL
Posted on: February 22, 2011 5:25 pm
 

Parity in the Pacific

In the utopian world NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes is parity, it doesn’t get much better than this season’s race in the Pacific Division where all five teams have a chance to finish first.

Or to miss the playoffs altogether. 

The Pacific Division has become the most interesting in the league this season, with a couple of teams in the process of being sold, another presumably entering a rebuilding stage, and two that had high expectations giving no quarter and fighting it out what could be its only playoff spot.

The post season cutoff line in the Western Conference heading into Tuesday’s action was 68 points, a total the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks all share at the moment. Factoring in wins and games played though only the Kings would be playoff bound, yet all three teams are within five points of the Pacific lead.

That spot belongs to the Phoenix Coyotes at the moment, although the San Jose Sharks are one point behind at 72. It does makes for a compelling home stretch to everyone’s schedules and maybe even their general managers too, at least after next Monday’s trade deadline.

Until then, it will be hair-pulling time for the GMs in what has been an exceptionally active market in the last few weeks.

“I think that’s because there will be only 19 games left after the deadline,” said San Jose general manager Doug Wilson. “You have to factor in integration time.”

Wilson is one of those who already has. San Jose made a move on Friday by acquiring defenseman Ian White from the Carolina Hurricanes, a few weeks after they traded for Ben Eager from Atlanta and signed Kyle Wellwood as a free agent back from Russia. All are depth moves that are expected to help the talented Sharks make a Stanley Cup run this spring.

Doing something similar would be a welcome scenario for the Stars. They pulled off a pretty notable deal of their own by getting a good young offensive defenseman in Alex Goligoski from the Pittsburgh Penguins, although Dallas may be thinking more about the future with this deal. The trade cost them James Neal, one of the league’s emerging young power forwards and a decent defenseman in Matt Niskanen, and while it addresses a need Dallas has, it makes you wonder if the money saved in the transaction wasn’t as much a motivating factor as anything for a team up for sale.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes are supposed to be off the market with Matthew Hulsizer having been approved for purchase by the board of governors, but he has not been able to close the deal on a lease restructuring with the city of Glendale. Perhaps not coincidentally, Phoenix hasn’t made any changes as yet and may not, although riding a seven-game win streak into Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia might be lessening any sense of urgency.

That’s not necessarily the way Anaheim Ducks are feeling these days. Their success in their first post-Scott Niedermayer era season has been largely overlooked, and they made what seemed like a good move by bringing veteran Francois Beauchemin back from the Toronto Maple Leafs for their blue line. Problem is with goaltender Jonas Hiller still suffering from concussion-like symptoms, the Ducks defense just isn’t enough hasn’t done much to stymie offensive assaults that have seen Anaheim give up 21 goals in its last four games.

Defense hasn’t been a problem up the road in Los Angeles this season with the Kings getting fine goaltending and very good work from its group along the blue line. But the Kings aren’t scoring enough and that’s a major concern as the team gets set for a final push.
Los Angeles opened a lot of eyes with its playoff run last season and has assembled one of the league’s most impressive collections of young talent and raised expectations with a great 12-3 start.

The Kings have been uneven since then, but are in pretty good shape heading into the deadline with cap space and many assets in the system heading into the deadline.  GM Dean Lombardi has always preached patience when it comes to building, but Los Angeles has been expected to take the next step this season and he is under pressure to make that happen.

Which means the Kings will be a team worth watching as the deadline approaches. Just not the only one in the in the Pacific Division.

 

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 16, 2011 12:09 pm
 

The battle of Southern Ontario

Moments after they lost to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, the Ottawa Senators announced they had traded veteran forward Chris Kelly to the Boston Bruins for a second-round draft pick this June.

And if your wondering why the rush, you probably haven't been paying attention to the long-standing rivalry between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs.  If you had, you might even remember when it used to be about the games between them. These days though the most intense fight between Ottawa and Toronto seems to be which team will have more bragging rights by the time the trade deadline passes.

And they're taking it seriously. In fact both bottom feeders have jumped the gun on the annual frenzy in the last week, moving out notable names who didn’t figure in either’s rebuilding plans in a race to see who stockpile more hope for their futures.

The Senators picked up extra first- and second-round picks in the upcoming draft by moving Mike Fisher to the Nashville Predators and then Kelly, while Toronto got a 2011 first-round  choice from Philadelphia for Kris Versteeg, along with forward Joffrey Lupul, a highly touted college prospect and a conditional draft pick by shipping veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin back to Anaheim.

Leafs GM Brian Burke also did his former assistant in Anaheim Bob Murray a favor a few days later by taking Aaron Voros off his hands for a seventh-round pick in a move that is more about providing some payroll relief to the Ducks than anything else.

So who’s done better?  That remains to be seen and probably won't be for a while. But on the surface, Ottawa seems poised for a quicker turnaround with its moves. The Senators already had a first-round pick that could end up being the first overall and added another in the middle of the pack to go along with second-rounders in similar slots.

The good news for Toronto is that it at least gets a choice in the first round, a right it relinquished  last year by moving the pick to Boston last year in a deal for Phil Kessel. Problem is that Toronto’s own would have been near the top of the draft, while the Flyers are serious Stanley Cup contenders, meaning their choice will be near the bottom. 

But maybe the Leafs will spark something in the often-injured Lupul will help – he was the seventh overall pick in 2002 after all and has scored at least 20 goals three times in is career – and by Jake Gardiner, the prospect in the deal is having a monster season at the University of Wisconsin and could be signed once his college schedule ends in April.

 And there are still nearly two weeks until the deadline. Burke says he isn’t done dealing yet. Neither is Ottawa GM Bryan Murray for that matter, which is why over the next couple of weeks, both teams will be more interesting to watch for their battle off the ice rather than on.
Category: NHL
Posted on: February 14, 2011 1:15 pm
 

Foppa flops

I guess Peter Forsberg deserves credit for cutting it short. He didn’t look very good in his much-noticed return to the Colorado Avalanche, decided to end his un-retirement before it got worse.

Or before it got embarrassing.

It’s always an ego-driven risk when a player is desperate to go out on his own terms or to prove he can still play. Forsberg was headed down that road and he realized it.

The 37-year-old Swede was arguably the game’s best overall during a couple of his peak years, but that was essentially a decade ago. Back then, Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and Adam Foote were the leaders of a team that was a league powerhouse for a long stretch.

Foote is still hanging on at age 39 and finishing off what is likely to be his retirement contract, but the others have long hung up their skates, which is what Forsberg had effectively done three years ago.

Forsberg tried to come back with the Avs late in 2007-08 after spending post-lockout time in Philadelphia and Nashville, but he played only nine regular season games and seven more in the playoffs because he could not overcome the chronic struggles with foot problems. Forsberg had actually created an even longer medical history, but the foot issues really plagued him and seemed to be the end his 13-year career.

Still the guy they call Foppa wanted to give it one more shot even and the Avs gave it to him. There was little downside really for the organization because Colorado has been wracked with injuries to its very young lineup this season and Forsberg was getting only the pro-rated minimum.

Besides there’s been much disappointment in Denver, where the Avs were expected to take steps forward after a Cinderella-type season but instead are contending for a lottery pick. No one out there was deluding themselves into thinking Forsberg might have been an answer, because even as he went through a few trial practice sessions in Denver over the last few weeks, he was open about not feeling all that comfortable. Still the thought process was that  Forsberg could help a little on the ice and maybe more in the dressing room then. Maybe even sell a few of those many empty seats at the Pepsi Center.

Problem was that Forsberg really had nothing to offer in his two games coming back. He was on the ice for a pair of goals in each while playing only about 17 minutes. Those aren't very good stats, but they are the last ones he’ll take into retirement.
Category: NHL
Posted on: February 13, 2011 5:26 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2011 3:45 pm
 

Lemieux lashes out

Get the feeling that Sidney Crosby’s concussion issues are a lot more serious than anyone thought at first?

The Penguins captain wasn’t his usual optimistic self about returning any time soon when he spoke to reporters this week, and that should have been the first clue. But Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux made it even clearer by releasing a pointed statement that smacked of frustration about the condition of his franchise player.

Crosby has been out since Jan. 5, the result of a blindside hit by Washington’s David Steckel in the Winter Classic and being run into the glass by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman in the following game. But Lemieux waited until the league handed out discipline decisions following the fight-filled game between the Penguins and New York Islanders on Friday that produced 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts. The Hall of Famer called the game a ‘travesty’ and embarrassing to the sport, and went even further to highlight his displeasure.



“If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league,” Lemieux said, “I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”

He has that right of course. But it is worth noting that Lemieux didn’t feel the need to do any introspection when Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke jeopardized the career of Boston’s Marc Savard with a blind side hit last March, or when Cooke went un-penalized for a knee-on-knee hit to Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Didn’t utter a word of criticism either when Max Talbot got away with a hit that left Islanders forward concussed the last time the teams met or when Cooke was suspended for four games last week for a blind side hit on Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin.

But Lemieux felt compelled to speak up when the latest incident left his injury-riddled team even more shorthanded than it was before/

“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport,” Lemieux said. “It failed.”

Really? Well, Pittsburgh’s Eric Godard's 10-game suspension for leaving the bench was automatic, but Trevor Gillies of the Islanders took a nine-game suspension for hitting Eric Tangradi in the head and the punching him several times. And New York’s Matt Martin will sit for four games as a result for punching Talbot from behind. The Islanders organization was also hit with a $100,000 fine.

Sounds like a pretty strong message. It just doesn’t help ease the sting of losing your best player and not knowing for how long.



Category: NHL
Posted on: February 10, 2011 2:24 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 5:38 pm
 

Mr. Underwood comes home

OK, so it took seven months to get done Mike Fisher traded to the Nashville Predators. Deals aren't easy to make in the NHL these days, even when they seem as inevitable this one from the moment Fisher married country music star Carrie Underwood last July. Still it might have taken longer had the Ottawa Senators not imploded this season.

The Senators had Fisher and his $4.2 million annual salary under contract for two more years, but with the team in the very early stages of a much-needed major rebuild, there was no really no point in keeping the two love birds from being together in Music City. More important, Ottawa came back with a much-coveted first-round draft choice in the process, a return that becomes increasingly harder as the trade deadline approaches.

The Senators landed a conditional pick as well, and can use it in the third round this year if Nashville wins a first-round series, or in the second round next year if they advance to the Western Conference Finals.  Either result would be a step forward for the Predators, who have never won a playoff series.

In Fisher, they get a solid two-way forward who could help make it happen.  The 30-year-old center has never been a dynamic offensive threat, but he has scored more than 20 goals four times in his career, and has 14 this season for a Senators team in disarray.  Fisher was also among Ottawa’s best players, at times the very best, when the Senators made their run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals.

Ottawa is nowhere near that level these days, while Nashville, as always it seems, is in the thick of the Western Conference race. But the Predators are hurting up front and have a defenseman, captain Shea Weber, as their leading scorer so they can use some fresh blood. In that situation, Fisher could well be an impact player.

Certainly one that’s worth what is likely to be a mid first-round pick.

This is a nice deal for both sides.
Category: NHL
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com