By Stu Hackel
With apologies to my friend and colleague Adrian Dater, saying for certain which NHL teams were winners and losers during all the trading and drafting that began last week is as risky as the draft itself -- which essentially tries to project which teenaged players will make it to the NHL sometime in the next few years. Various researchers have shown that only about 16 percent of the kids who are drafted have decent careers -- in some years, that figure has dropped to nearly 11 percent -- and almost all the success stories come from first- and second-rounders.
While we'll need time to watch how these young players develop, there were a number of interesting moves during the weekend that will have a more immediate impact. It's worth venturing a few thoughts on them.
The Sharks needed blueline help and didn't wait for July 1 and the start of free agency. They swung a big trade with the Wild to get the highly talented Brent Burns, a potential All-Star who has size and skill. He's going to ease the burden Dan Boyle has shouldered anchoring the Sharks' blueline and the conventional wisdom is the team that gets the best player in a trade wins the trade, and that best player, at least right now, is Burns. But the price to get him was steep -- perhaps too steep -- and you have to wonder if it there was just a little panic in the Sharks' hockey department in making this move.
The Sharks surrendered three big assets to Minnesota: power forward Devin Setoguchi, a very good prospect in Charlie Coyle, and their first-round pick (and along with Burns, San Jose got the Wild's second-round pick in 2012). That's a sizable amount for one player, even though Burns is a very good one. Setoguchi played on the Sharks' first line and has averaged 24 goals over three full NHL seasons. Coyle -- another power forward who was the Hockey East rookie of the year, played well for Team USA in the World Junior Championships-- could have injected more youth into San Jose's ranks down the road with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley all now over 30. Plus, there's that first-rounder. Burns can be a UFA after next season, not a small thing. The Sharks have to get him signed or this could be a disaster.
The Wild turned San Jose's first round pick into Zack Phillips, who could pan out to be an Adam Oates-type center (great down low and an excellent passer), but they weren't going to risk losing the hugely popular Burns for nothing, as they did with Marian Gaborik when he hit free agency -- although by all accounts, Burns loved the Wild and the Twin Cities, and he lived there year-round. Setoguchi and Coyle, who Wild GM Chuck Fletcher insisted be part of the trade, give the Wild a dose of offense, something this club badly needs. Setoguchi will probably play with Mikko Koivu and that duo would be exciting to watch. Whenever Coyle arrives (he plans to play a second year at Boston University), he'll add more to the Wild's offensive mix.
Minnesota will now have to fill Burns' spot and that's not going to be easy. Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin, taken with the Wild's own first round pick, 10th overall, is a strong skater and defender, but he's not coming over for a year or two and is a different sort of player, one who lacks Burns' size and offensive dimension. So the Wild are in the hunt for blueline help, too.
We noted the Flyers' big moves last week. Are they now a better team? Tough to say. They are definitely a different team without buddies Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the ice and in the dressing room, for whatever good and bad that meant. This was not just about signing goalie Ilya Bryzgalov; it was also about changing the Flyers so they would be bigger at forward, turning the offense over to Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, and improving the chemistry in the room. It will likely be Chris Pronger's team now, although how healthy he's going to be going forward is unknown.
Will Carter truly provide what the Blue Jackets need as a center for Rick Nash? Aside from his initial unhappiness about the deal (which we assume will fade), there is some thought that Carter is more of a goal scorer than a set-up guy and there probably will be some trepidation in Columbus until he and Nash actually start skating together to see how it works. The Jackets essentially surrendered three first round picks during the weekend: the one they traded for Carter along with former first-rounders Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov -- who has only shown brief flashes of the talent that Columbus hoped he'd display after he was taken sixth overall in 2008. Filatov was dealt to Ottawa for a third round pick (which the Jackets turned into undersized US collegian Thomas "T.J." Tynan). Filatov was reportedly headed back to Russia if the Jackets didn't move him and only Ottawa was interested, so Columbus had little choice in the matter. The Jackets had no other first round pick this year, so they moved three Number 1's and got one back in Carter. The price won't matter if Carter and Nash perform magic together, but a great deal -- including this team's viability as a franchise -- is riding on that.
The Senators are gambling with Filatov, and he has a history of being disgruntled with his status. But he's still got first round talent and so that's a good swap for a third rounder. And if he figures it out in Ottawa -- admittedly a big "if" -- this could be a huge steal for the Sens.
Picking up Richards gives the Kings the chance to build a strong second line behind Anze Kopitar's trio, but things are not all sunny in L.A. The Kings accommodated, probably with reluctance, Ryan Smyth's request of a trade back to Edmonton acquiring Colin Fraser in return. Fraser is hardly a replacement for a top forward like Smyth and, in fact, the Kings originally targeted Gilbert Brule instead of Fraser and then planned to waive or buy Brule out to free up cap space for finding a suitable replacement for Smyth, But the Kings learned that Brule's injury (he's recovering from a concussion) would scuttle their plan. You can't buy out or waive an injured player. So Fraser was substituted and the Kings indicated they'll keep him. He's a good character player with Stanley Cup experience whose contract is more digestible than Brule's.
Of course, the Oilers are happy to have Smyth back to help mentor their young team and add an element of tenacity that they surrendered when they traded Dustin Penner to the Kings last season. But they weren't able to move Sheldon Souray who, while playing in the AHL last season didn't count against the salary cap, but he still cost ownership $5.4 million. There are holes on the Oilers' blueline, and selecting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall, while an excellent pick, deprived Edmonton of the chance to choose NHL-ready Adam Larsson, the best blueliner in the draft. (The Devils getting Larsson at Number 4 is a terrific pick for a team that never replaced Scott Niedermayer or Brian Rafalski.) With the 19th pick, that they got for Penner, Edmonton took another Swedish defenseman: Oscar Klefbom, a good two-way blueliner who is probably a few years away from the NHL. So watch them to hunt for help on defense during the offseason.
Buffalo's' trade with Calgary that brought in defenseman Robyn Regehr along with former Sabre and 20-goal scorer Ales Kotalik was a success on a few fronts. First, it demonstrated the persuasiveness and commitment of new owner Terry Pegula, who phoned Regehr and convinced him to drop his no-movement clause. Then Pegula, his wife, and coach Lindy Ruff flew up to Saskatchewan to meet with the 11-year veteran. Regehr has been a top shutdown defender, an element the Sabres lacked after Henrik Tallinder left for the Devils via free agency last summer. Some believe Regehr has lost a step. If so, that would make this move less than advertised. If he gets that step back he could become a very good partner with Tyler Myers, whose play early in his sophomore campaign dipped without Tallinder next to him. And Regehr is a leader, something the young Sabres can use. Kotalik, who played half of last season in the minors, could slot in as a power play specialist for the Sabres.
For the Flames, moving Regehr cleared some badly needed salary cap space ($4 million) and gets Kotalik's $3 million off their books. (He was likely ticketed back to the AHL, if not Europe.) It also allowed them to get younger with Chris Butler and Paul Byron, both arriving in the deal from Buffalo. Butler came on in the second half last season, partnering effectively with Myers as a mobile puck-moving defense tandem. Byron provides good depth at center, although he may not be much of a scorer in the NHL due to his size. Some of the savings allowed the Flames to re-sign Alex Tanguay to a long-term contract and solidifiy two-thirds of their top line (Tanguay and Jarome Iginla) for a few more years.
But no one freed up more cap space from moving one player than the Blackhawks, who traded defenseman Brian Campbell to Florida, where he'll play for GM Dale Tallon, who signed Campbell to that eight-year, $56.8 million free-agent contract in 2008 for Chicago. They also sent Troy Brouwer and his roughly $1 million contract to the Capitals for a first round pick. It was their second first-rounder this year, and after heady center Mark McNeill, the Hawks took hard- working Phillip Danault with the Panthers' pick. They also got Radislav Olesz from Florida. Olesz us an inconsistent two-way winger who may develop better work habits in Chicago. It all means a net gain of about $5 million in breathing room under the cap and may allow the Hawks to chase a good free agent to rebuild their depth up front.
Getting Campbell gives the Panthers one of the game's better-skating and puck-moving defensemen, a guy who has improved his play without the puck in recent years and who eats up big minutes. He'll improve their power play -- it can't get much worse -- and he gives them credibility, some veteran leadership and Stanley Cup experience. Campbell's contract also gulps up some distance between the team's payroll and the salary cap floor. The Panthers are still more than $20 million short, but Campbell's ticket is a big one, and his presence could help lure other free agents to Sunrise.
The Avalanche dispatched defenseman John-Michael Liles to the Maple Leafs for a second-rounder next year, and Colorado now heads into free agency looking for a puck-moving defenseman to replace Liles as well as a goalie. For the Leafs, getting Liles gives them that was something missing from their lineup after they traded Tomas Kaberle to the Bruins late last season.
The Lightning got puck-moving defenseman Bruno Gervais from the Islanders for future considerations, giving them some depth on the blueline. And the Blues acquired forward Evgeny Grachev from the Rangers for a third-rounder that New York turned into Minnesota high schooler Steven Fogarty. Unhappy with his lack of progress in the Rangers' organization, Grachev had reportedly asked the Rangers to move him.
"Grachev felt like he just wasn't fitting in with our system and (requested a trade)," GM Glen Sather told the media."We liked him, but we just think the person we got (Fogarty) is going to be able to respond a little bit quicker. I had shopped Grachev around for over a year and really the only team that seemed to have a lot of interest in him was St. Louis. It was better to move him for a good prospect than hang on to him, and if he had a poor year this year there probably wasn't going to be a lot of value."