Ramblings: How did each team do on July 1st? Also Dobber’s projection track record (July 08)

by Dobber on July 8, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: How did each team do on July 1st? Also Dobber’s projection track record (July 08)

Alright, back from vacay and ready to delve in. Let’s get to it.

I think I got ahead of myself when I speculated that a lot of free agents would be left holding their hands out later in July and August. I figured that with cap issues being more pressing than ever with more teams, that there would be more trades and fewer crazy signings. But teams still managed to make July 1 a frenzy for free agents. My sage prediction will come true eventually – perhaps next year or the the year after – but obviously 2019 wasn’t the year. There were a couple more trades than usual and maybe one or two extra free agents still left after July 1, but nothing like I was expecting. And more players were bought out or not qualified than I expected. Valeri Nichushkin? That one surprised me. Derrick Pouliot, Markus Granlund, prospect Rourke Chartier, Andrej Sekera… there were a few minor names that I didn’t expect to see. But teams still have their RFAs to sign and some of them may have painted themselves into a corner now.

We are seeing the widening of the wage gap, in hockey form. Top talent get top dollars, but the fringe guys get pushed closer and closer to the league minimum. You’re seeing players not get qualified at $1,000,000 so that the same team can re-sign them for $850,000! Teams are really nickel-and-diming the lesser guys so that the star can make $8.7 million instead of $8.4.

Anyway, that was my overall impression of how things are going in July.


For those new to reading me, I will quickly outline my ideals as a businessman in the world of pro sports. I believe that unrestricted free agency is mostly a ridiculous waste of money. I would push hard for the elite players (i.e. if a Top 25 player reaches free agency), otherwise I would walk away. Later in July I would fill out depth roster spots or AHL roster spots on the UFA frince players. That’s it. Let the other teams waste money on the lesser stars or middling players. Think I’m wrong? Simply go to Cap Friendly and look at the contracts signed in 2015 or 2016. How many of those were either bought out, buried, or fans wish were bought out today? Restraint. After Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, I would have sat out the July 1 proceedings. At this point, major weaknesses would be addressed by working hard at making the right trades. That takes courage, smarts and dedication, as well as overcoming the fear of possibly losing the deal. Dobber for GM!

Here are my thoughts on each team’s performance…


Anaheim B+

What? A B+ for doing nothing? No, a B+ for not wasting money and precious cap space. They did exactly what I would do. The Ducks were even bold enough to buy out Corey Perry! They added really nice depth players in Andrew Poturalski, Blake Pietila and Anthony Stolarz on the cheap. This team won’t be winning a Cup this year so why pay a Marcus Johansson or a Tyler Myers $5 million? NHL teams are so poorly run these days that I actually have to give kudos to teams that show restraint. Anaheim can now give their players like Sam Steel and Troy Terry bigger roles. Perry not being around to hog precious PP time from these players (as well as Jakob Silfverberg) will only benefit their fantasy owners.


Arizona A

Another team that showed restraint. Trading is hard and it also takes a lot of guts. I feel like many GM’s view free agency as an easy way out. If they just work the phone lines and keep at it they can actually better solve their problems via trade. Phil Kessel is just what this team needs, and Arizona no longer has to worry about injuries the way they did with Alex Galchenyuk. As far as free agency goes, GM John Chayka showed…wait for it… restraint. Nick Schmaltz really shoots up in value here. I like the idea of him centering Clayton Keller and Kessel. Derek Stepan centering Christian Dvorak and Vinnie Hinostroza would be a real nice second line. Carl Soderberg gives this team a legit third line with Conor Garland and Christian Fischer and/or Barrett Hayton. If Antti Raanta can stay healthy, Arizona pushes for a playoff spot. If Raanta can’t play 40 games, they won’t.


Boston B-

Like Anaheim, Boston showed restraint. But unlike Anaheim, the Bruins didn’t have a choice. The team is pressed against the cap. So all they could do was sign minor guys. GM Don Sweeney was forced to follow my strategy. Either that, or he would have made things very difficult in terms of signing his key RFAs Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. By the way, do you know why nobody offer sheeting McAvoy? It is because he is technically not a free agent. His contract ran out, but he played zero regular season games in that first year, making him a Type 1 player without a contract. This rare situation would usually occur when a player joins the NHL after college and gets in just a few games, thus burning the first year of his ELC.


Buffalo A

Well look at that – another team made trades to fill a weakness, showed restraint on July 1, and then grabbed a middling player at a good contract after the dust settled. Jimmy Vesey is a middle-six forward who could be used on a scoring line and maybe he even clicks with Jack Eichel. There is upside there, with little downside. Colin Miller is another puck-moving defenseman in a puck-moving defenseman era. The Sabres now have a very mobile blue line. Getting Marcus Johansson for two years at $4.5 million per season was solid. I think injuries have taken his overall value down by a lot and if those are behind him he could actually turn into the guy that New Jersey thought they were getting two years ago. And if not – well, it’s only two years. It doesn’t handicap the organization’s future. The Sabres are suddenly deep enough at forward, and they actually have one of the better mobile blue lines from top to bottom in the entire league – not the best, but likely Top 10.


Calgary B-

As with Boston, the Flames showed restraint because they had to. They have some valuable RFAs for whom they need to save cap space. I think Cam Talbot was a risk, but it could pay off. I figure he got about a half-million more than expected, but it’s a one-year show-me deal and I think he’ll be an upgrade to Mike Smith. If David Rittich ends up getting similar or less money, I can see Talbot actually returning to form. With a better team in front of him, he could very well earn a big contract for next summer. He certainly has more riding on his season than Rittich does. And while Rittich tends to tire at the 40-game mark, Talbot has played seasons of 73 and 67 games.


Carolina B+

Kudos to the Hurricanes for not getting involved in the UFA silliness. Thumbs down for not really addressing their goaltending issue. That being said, Coach Rod Brind’Amour’s style is helpful for goalie numbers, so you or I could be between the pipes and still post adequate numbers. A Petr Mrazek/James Reimer duo should do even better than last season, as this team continues to grow and improve. One key note – Alex Nedeljkovic signed a two-year contract and 2020-21 is one-way. Keeper League owners may want to tuck him away for a year. Carolina GM Don Waddell also did well to use organizational strength to plug some holes. Adding Erik Haula was a nice haul(a). And I think Gustav Forsling has more to give as a bottom-pairing defenseman with a bit of upside.


Chicago B

Seriously pressed against the cap, the Hawks continue to surround their big-ticket players with cheap skill. Often from Europe. GM Stan Bowman did a great job of shoring up the defense (Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta) by using his European signings. He traded one signing (Dominik Kahun) because of another (Dominik Kubalik and/or Anton Wedin), and another Euro signing in Erik Gustafsson is already a key part of the blue line. Using precious cap space on a third goaltender was a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s just for one year and if they can extend Robin Lehner later, they may have themselves a franchise goaltender – if he can put on another Vezina Trophy type of performance. Don’t forget that Lehner is still only 27 years old (28 in two weeks) and hitting his prime as a goaltender.

(Edit: It was pointed out to me that I missed the acquisition of Band-aid Boy Andrew Shaw and his bloated contract. I can't, in good conscience, keep Bowman at an A- for that, so the grade has been edited. Shaw is a character guy who fills a need, so from that standpoint it was a good move. But as a GM who is fiscally responsible, I would not have done that deal unless that Habs ate half of that contract. Shaw is coming off the highest 5on5 S% of his career and is virtually a lock to see a slide in his numbers.)


Colorado A

On one hand, the Avs were involved in the July 1st silliness by signing Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Both contracts were a couple hundred thousand dollars too high in terms of cap hit, but in both cases the terms were kept relatively short (four and two years respectively). So they weren’t horrible. And on the other hand, GM Joe Sakic did a lot of great maneuvering via the trade market. He acquired Andre Burakovsky for a second- and third-round pick, moved Carl Soderberg for a third-round pick, used his blueline strength to add Nazem Kadri while getting ridding of an expiring contract in Tyson Barrie was pure genius. And frankly, I like Calle Rosen. While Samual Girard slowly develops into a PP quarterback (could be years yet) and Bowen Byram marinates, the Avs can take a look at Rosen and see if he can translate his AHL success to the NHL. If it works, great – they have another asset to make moves next summer. If it doesn’t work, then that’s okay too because Byram will be ready by next year to take over. Kadri is an upgrade over Soderberg and should exceed last year’s 44 points by at least five or even 10 just with the ice-time bump.


Columbus D

I understand that I am hard on Columbus here. They just lost Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Ryan Dzingel (probably). But the ‘D’ grade isn’t because they lost them. In fact, I respect the fact that they came in huge with a last-minute offer to Artemi Panarin for eight years. As noted above, I would have gone hard at the best – and he was the best. But when that failed, just put your checkbook away. Signing Gustav Nyquist for $5.5 million for four years is ludicrous. Re-signing Ryan Murray for $4.6 million per year for two seasons is ludicrous. Talent-wise, Murray is worth that for sure. But 56, 44, 60, 82, 12 and 66 games played in his career means – walk away. If he doesn’t sign his qualifying offer (around $3 million) then let him go. NHL GMs rarely consider projected games played when they sign a guy, but Murray is a 60-game player. That means $4.6 million is actually $6.1 million. GM Jarmo Kekalainen hasn’t even tried to work the trade lines.

And while I’m at it, there is another Columbus note – Sonny Milano and Colorado prospect AJ Greer were arrested for their role in a bar fight in New York. I had Milano pegged as an interesting depth sleeper for this team in the year ahead. Watch how this story develops in the coming weeks.


Dallas C+

Easy way out. Why make a tough, courageous trade, when you can just get an overpriced player without the risk of possibly losing a future star asset? Did Dallas fill their needs? Of course they did. That’s why I can’t grade them a ‘D’. But it was stupid money management. Joe Pavelski at $21 million for three years will end up being almost as bad as Patrick Marleau’s contract by 2021. Corey Perry’s contract was great at one year and $1.5 million, but I have little hope that he ever sees the happy side of 50 points again. Still, if they get something like 20 goals and 42 points for that cap hit, it’s well worth it. The team also did ballsy moves in buying out former Golden Boy Valeri Nichushkin and not qualifying Brett Ritchie or Ryan Hartman. The latter decisions make up the reason I bumped the Stars up to a C+.


Detroit B

The Red Wings have cap space, but they wasted a bit of it on Valtteri Filppula. He’s a good player for the third line and certainly worthy of $3 million per season, and paying him for only two years is actually a good contract. But the Wings aren’t a playoff team yet and they didn’t need to do this. In an age where cap space can often be more important than having a star player, especially on a rebuilding team – GM Steve Yzerman chose to use cap space. I would rather keep the cap space, trade for someone’s salary dump (and adding a great pick or top prospect for my trouble), and remain flexible for next summer. I will add that bringing on Calvin Pickard at $750,000 was a great signing and he provides real nice insurance for a team with two goalies who have been known to get injured from time to time.


Edmonton B+

The Oilers didn’t have a lot of cap space, but based on how quickly they were signing low-salaried players I have to wonder what they would have done had they $15 million AAV to spend. Alex Chiasson, a castoff by other teams and occasional healthy scratch by this one, is not worth $2.15 million per season. Sure, he scored 22 goals, but just six in the second half. His luck ran out and it ran out quickly. Let him go, if he won’t sign for half that. The Oilers added low-salaried players Tomas Jurco, Joakim Nygard and Gaetan Haas, employing Chicago’s stategy of getting cheap Europeans in hopes of striking gold with a couple of them. I have a hunch that one of these three will surprise – and I suspect that could be Nygard.


Florida A-

The Panthers followed my philosophy and went after – and signed – the best player in Sergei Bobrovsky, thereby addressing their biggest weakness by bringing in a two-time Vezina winner. GM Dale Tallon, one of my favorite GMs by the way, also aligned with my thinking when he traded James Reimer to add a draft pick and a cheaper buyout in Scott Darling. So far the Panthers are an A+. But where things went off the rails is when they got further involved in the July 1st silliness. That being said, they brought in solid players and filled holes at reasonable cap rates. Brett Connolly at $3.5 million for four years is a number I would have offered later in the month (but at three years). I think he’ll be a good third-liner who can sub in on the second line and if he clicks with one of the top centers then he’ll turn out to be a nice sleeper pick. Anton Stralman at $5.5 million for each of the next three seasons really solves their problems, but it is not a contract I would have offered. By 2021 his contract will be an anchor, and one of those that will need to be either bought out or handcuffed to a top prospect and traded away. He’ll be 33 before training camp starts. His ice time has dropped for three straight years and his CF% was at a career-low 48.07% last year, though he played a more defensive role. Florida is this year’s St. Louis Blues, in my opinion, and the season ahead will be a good one for the entire roster. But the Stralman contract wasn’t a smart business move.


Los Angeles A

An A? But they didn’t do anything!

Exactly. The Kings aren’t going to win a Cup. GM Rob Blake made a smart move in buying out Dion Phaneuf and freeing up cap space. And unlike Detroit, Los Angeles didn’t turn around and spend it to needlessly help their team in the short term. Martin Frk and Mario Kempe were minimum two-way deals, and Joakim Ryan was for minimum salary. Letting Brendan Leipsic go when he was a minimum-wage player was a bit of a head-scratcher, but in my world teams get bonus points for being fiscally responsible. All that’s really missing here is the fact that Blake has been unable to close a trade deal with another team to help the future.


Minnesota D-

No Panarin? No Bobrovsky? Alright, then pack up and head to the cottage. Or…you could give a 32-year-old (in September) a five-year deal worth $30 million. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mats Zuccarello, but are you going to win a Cup now? No? Then let another team spend this money. Just think – in 2023-24 the Wild will spend $21 million on 39-year-old Zach Parise, 39-year-old Ryan Suter, and 36-year-old Zuccarello. Just…wow.

But…at least Victor Rask gets $4 million this year and next. And next.

On the bright side, GM Paul Fenton signed Ryan Hartman for two years at $3.8 million. Okay, not so much a “bright side” as a “really shitty side”. Hartman? Didn’t I just note (above) that Dallas was smart for not qualifying him? I said last year that Hartman was bad and one year later my mind hasn’t changed. Did Fenton think that if he waited two weeks another team would have scooped him up? He could have been had for $750,000 and all you needed to do was wait until mid-July to make him an offer. Ug, I already feel like scrolling back up and changing the D- to an F.


Montreal B+

GM Marc Bergevin could have gotten Sebastian Aho had he gone up one more level of compensation in his offer. An extra first-round pick and another $2 million (or thereabouts) in salary, and Carolina would have walked away. But he gets a kudos from me for at least trying. I will just say this: in my fantasy hockey league, I don’t try. I succeed.


Anyway, this would have been an ‘A’ because the Habs stood pat on July 1st other than a couple of minimum-wage depth signings and the offer sheet. But then on July 4th Bergevin had to go and overpay Ben Chiarot. He’s a quality depth defenseman. A bottom-pairing guy good for 16 minutes a game (though he played over 18 minutes per game last year – his contract year, which I never trust). But $10.5 million over three years? I think they could have chopped that number down to $7 million or even less.


Geez, I really got into it this week and I’ve already written almost double the usual amount. So I will cut it off here. Next week I’ll do the rest of the teams. I need to spend part of my Sunday working on the 14th annual Fantasy Hockey Guide. Yes, I have broken ground on it! It’s already laid out and I’ve written two articles, as well as reviewed last year’s performance. I pride myself on the quality of Guide advice and strategies that I share. But some people just evaluate the projections, so for those people I will share my now 20-year track record (where # is number of players projected):




Pts Off

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See you next Monday