Roundtable: Playoff revelations, draft day splashes, dangerous free agents
Each week, a trio of SI.com staffers will sit down for a discussion of the hockey world's hot-button issues. This week, Michael Blinn, Sarah Kwak and Al Muir look back at some playoff highlights, and ahead to the NHL Draft, free agency and the tangled situation in Arizona. First up:
• Those playoffs weren’t just entertaining. They were educational, too. What’s one thing you now know that you didn’t before it all got started?
MIKE BLINN: Devan Dubnyk is the real deal. His success in Minnesota proved how big of a tire fire Edmonton has been defensively. With a competent and responsible group in front of him, he showed he can carry a team and bear a heavy workload. The Wild need to get him re-signed, and fast.
SARAH KWAK: I learned that Sam Page, who unfortunately could not speak with us this week, can almost see into the future with uncanny accuracy. Kudos to SI Kids for predicting that Blackhawks-Lightning final, and for getting so close to seeing it all the way through. But in seriousness, I learned that Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman is the real deal. Before the postseason began, I only saw the 6' 6" defenseman a handful of times and—probably like a lot of people—assumed that his game would be reminiscent of other big-bodied defensemen. But I saw a depth to his game—incredible skating skills, playmaking and smart positioning—that made me believe that this man could win the Norris Trophy one day.
ALLAN MUIR: I learned that Ondrej Palat is a future Selke Trophy winner. He’s like a cross between Patrice Bergeron and Winston Wolf. His game is so detail-oriented. If there’s a mess out there he’s the one who’s going to clean it up. I can’t tell you how many times I called my boys in to watch some seemingly insignificant play he made that ended up with the Lightning in possession. That guy is worth the price of admission.
• We were treated to so many memorable moments during the past three months. Which was your favorite?
BLINN: Triple-overtime between the Blackhawks and Ducks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Call me a masochist, but there’s no denying it was one of the most exciting matches in the entirety of the postseason. Duncan Keith played almost 50 minutes. Corey Crawford and Frederik Andersen stopped 113 shots between them. Andrew Shaw used his head to score a goal, though it was rightly waved off. Marcus Kruger became a hero. And best of all? Hockey Twitter ruled late into the night.
KWAK: I think my favorite memory was seeing 40-year-old Kimmo Timonen on the ice after the Blackhawks won, talking in near disbelief about what had just happened. He was in the middle of talking to reporters when he saw his daughter on the ice, and watching him share that moment with his child was especially touching. He’s been through so much during his career, and especially the last year with his health issues, and as he pointed out, he’s been on the wrong side of the outcome so many times—losing in the Cup final in 2010, losing in the 2006 Olympic gold medal game, losing in three world championship finals. It was heart-warming to see him lift the Cup.
MUIR: I dunno. So many great moments on the ice it’s impossible to narrow it down. How about if I go off ice? I think back to the crowd in Winnipeg for that first home playoff game since 1996. The passion in that building for a first-round game, I mean it gave me chills. I hated that they didn’t get the result they’d been waiting for, but it was thrilling seeing them live that moment. The NHL is a better place with Winnipeg in the mix. And speaking of passion, how about the crowd that gathered to watch Game 6 of the Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa? That’s a testament to what a strong owner and excellent management can accomplish. It may be non-traditional, but Tampa’s a hockey town now.
• Next up on the hockey calendar is the highly anticipated draft. No surprise there’s plenty of trade buzz. Is there one team in particular you see making a big splash?
BLINN: Chicago. Guys like Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp cost a whole lot of money, and both struggled mightily during the Blackhawks’ Cup run. There are younger, cheaper options waiting in the wings, and Stan Bowman knows he needs some cap relief in order to keep Brandon Saad. Either could fetch a couple of draft picks and help restock the shelves.
KWAK: Over the last few years, we've seen draft day overshadowed by big trades—Philadelphia trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in 2011, Ryan Kesler’s trade to the Ducks last year. I think this year, we may see some activity particularly because there are a handful of teams that need to trade pieces. Ottawa’s got one too many goalies, and Vancouver and the Rangers have valuable trade chip netminders they could move; Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston have got salary cap issues/contracts they’d like to unload. I’d look to Calgary and maybe Toronto to be active. The Flames have a strong core they believe can keep them on the rise and Calgary could be targeting good complementary pieces. And well, the Leafs have got to do something about Phil Kessel, right? The draft is the place to do it.
MUIR: I don’t know about Kessel moving at the draft, but if the right deal is there I’m sure Brendan Shanahan will take it. You mentioned Boston, Sarah, and I think you're right. I think they wait to make a decision on Milan Lucic, but they’ll do something to clear the decks. Maybe it’s Loui Eriksson, maybe something bigger. Tough to get a read on rookie GM Don Sweeney, but I think a general sense of unease in the organization will lead them to make some kind of splash. I think Dallas might be involved as well. The Stars need to build some momentum after losing steam this year. They’re loaded with young D and have some clear needs for experience on the back end and some depth up front. And it’s not like Jim Nill’s been shy about picking up the phone.
• Free agency is just around the corner as well, but that crop of talent is less highly regarded than what’s available in the draft or the trade market. Give us a UFA you think is worthy of a long-term investment.
KWAK: A long-term investment? In this free agent class? Hmmm … that one’s a little tough. If we’re talking about UFAs, I guess I’ll go with Ducks winger Matt Beleskey, who broke out last season with 22 goals. During Anaheim’s postseason run, he scored eight—three of them game-winning goals. But it all comes down to the salary number; it has to be reasonable (under $3 million?) to warrant a long-term deal in my mind.
BLINN: Despite his desire to stay in Boston, Carl Soderberg got shown the door. He’s a big-sized playmaker who can take face-offs and play wing, and his two-way game is strong. Having a good No. 2 center is integral to success in the NHL, and offensively inept, cash-laden New Jersey could lay down the right number for the big Swede.
MUIR: I’ve always loved Antoine Vermette’s game. Took him awhile to fit in with the Hawks but once he figured out where he fit in he delivered. You have to watch what you pay him since he’s not suited for a top-six role, but if he can be locked in at a decent number ($4 million or so) to anchor your third line I think he’d be a terrific addition for a contending team.
• And how about one you’d avoid like the plague?
BLINN: Mike Green. His offensive draw isn’t enough to make up for his declining speed, defensive deficiencies and inability to stay healthy. This weak class means someone will pay him big money to be a top-pairing blueliner who doesn’t kill penalties and is a liability in his own end. I’ll pass, thank you.
KWAK: As harsh as it may sound, stay away from Martin St. Louis on July 1. As the postseason wore on, Father Time seemed to catch up with the 40-year-old winger, and though he wants to play next season, I doubt how much he has left in the tank for an 82-game season and playoff run.
MUIR: I’m going run counter to what Mike said a minute ago and put Soderberg on my Do Not Call list. I look at how uninvolved he was when he was put into a more offensive role after David Krejci’s injury. He’s not a guy who generates much on his own. Put him with Loui and he’s fine. Take him away and he’s the guy skating circles in the middle of the ice trying to look busy. Unless he comes really cheap, like under $2.5 million, he’s going to under-deliver. Just watch.
• Finally, as the situation continues to unravel in the desert, what do you see happening next for the Arizona Coyotes?
KWAK: Ah, the Coyotes. I think we’re in for a protracted legal battle here. I’m not a lawyer, but the conflict of interest case the city of Glendale is mounting looks like it may have legs. It’s a shame because the club has some of the best hockey operations people in the business—GM Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett, in particular—and all of these ownership issues have really hamstrung them from seeing the team reach any semblance of potential. The only thing I can say with any confidence is that this case won’t be swift and it will be complicated.
BLINN: There’s NCAA hockey coming to the desert. If the NCAA can make it happen, why can’t local politics and sports teams? I’m confident the Coyotes will stay in Glendale, but I think it’s going to get very messy first.
MUIR: I’m going to unlock the secret to winning the PowerBall before I figure out the rat king they’ve got going on out there. My gut, though? I’d bet the court sides with the Coyotes and enforces the contract at least long enough to allow them to play out the 2015-16 season at Gila River. After that, though? I think the Coyotes look for greener pastures elsewhere. I’d like to say that’ll be in a new rink in Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix but I’m not sure the math will work for pro hockey in Arizona without significant subsidization from local government. I hope they prove me wrong, but I don’t like the chances of that happening.