As this regular season draws to a close, here’s a brief take on each of the Canadian non-playoff teams.
Just wanted to clarify something for Flames fans regarding my THN.com column advocating their team trade Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff this summer. I bear your team or those particularly players no malice. Indeed, “Iggy” and “Kipper” are two of my favorite players, and in a fair and perfect world, it would be appropriate for them to retire as Flames.
But the Flames world is far from fair, or perfect. They’ve missed the playoffs the past two seasons and are poised to make it three in a row. Even if they do squeak in, the odds are long they’ll advance beyond the first round.
The sad truth is the Flames have been slowly but surely deteriorating, and are badly in need of an overhaul. Given the lack of depth in quality forwards and goalies in this summer’s UFA market, Iginla (if he’ll accept a trade) and Kiprusoff could fetch solid returns for the Flames to begin that rebuild in earnest.
As a Canadiens fan, I’m disappointed in their poor performance this season, and acknowledge this is a team which needs serious changes if they’re to ever get back into Stanley Cup contention.
Those changes must come in the front office and behind the bench, and with the recent announcement of the firing of GM Pierre Gauthier, it’s apparent those changes have begun. The Canadiens need to bring in a savvy general manager who can build this team up, and a smart head coach who can mould them into champions.
Narrowing the field for bilingual candidates doesn’t provide many options. If it were up to me, I’d recommend Tampa Bay Lightning assistant GM (and former Canadiens “capologist”) Julien Brisebois for general manager, and former Avalanche and Thrashers coach Bob Hartley as their new head coach.
But of course, it’s not up to me, but owner Geoff Molson to find the right GM, who in turn will have to hire the right coach. I’ve heard candidates as diverse as NBC analyst Pierre McGuire to Quebec Remparts owner/GM/coach – and former Habs legend – Patrick Roy suggested for the general manager’s seat.
Molson not only has to hire the right guy, but will have little less than months to do so, in time for the 2012 NHL entry draft, where the Canadiens could have a draft pick in the top three for the first time since 1980, one which will be relied upon to become part of the current foundation (Carey Price, PK Subban, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais,Lars Eller, Tomas Plekanec, Erik Cole, Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin) upon which to rebuild.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Brian Burke as their general manager, most Toronto pundits sung his praises, considering him the best man for the job of finally turning the Maple Leafs around and ending their lengthy Stanley Cup drought.
Three-and-a-half years later, the Leafs roster has been overhauled, but the results haven’t changed, as they’ve continued to miss the playoffs, poised to become the only team over the course of the current CBA not to gain a post-season berth.
Now, many of those pundits who sang Burkes praises are putting the blame -justifiably -upon him, and a few are suggesting his tenure as Leafs GM could come to an end if the club fails to turn around next season.
With over $57 million tied up in 18 players for next season, and assuming the salary cap for next season remains around the current $64.3 million, Burke won’t have much cap space to bring in a quality starting goaltender, a first line center, and some experienced grit on his checking lines.
He’ll have to wheel and deal, which could mean shopping defenseman Luke Schenn or, if he were to listen to the pundits, top scorer Phil Kessel.
Whatever Burke does, there’s no denying he’s entering the most crucial summer of his tenure as Leafs GM, one which could determine not only the Leafs long-term future, but his own with the franchise.
The Edmonton Oilers will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight year, and could once again be in position for a top-five draft pick.
Having picked Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the last two entry drafts, speculation is starting to bubble over what they’ll do with this year’s pick.
Do they keep it and select the highest touted prospects, in this case being forwards Nail Yakupov or Mikhail Grigorenko? Do they pursue defensemen like Ryan Murray, Mathew Dumba or Griffin Reinhart? Or do they shop the pick for perhaps an established defenseman or scorer?
It’s likely to keep fans and pundits guessing right up to the first round of this year’s entry draft, but in the meantime, management has other serious issues to consider with this roster, like determining if Devan Dubnyk is finally ready for prime-time as a starter, landing an established second-line scorer, and shoring up their blueline depth.
Yes, the Oilers are showing some improvement over the past month, but as an Edmonton Sun columnist recently observed, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this show, where an Oilers team out of playoff contention finished strong, giving rise to false hopes of improvement just around the corner.
It would’ve been icing on the cake for Winnipeg Jets fans if their club made the playoffs in their first season in the Manitoba capital, but alas, it was not to be.
Still, the Jets will get a pass from their faithful fans, who are still enjoying their honeymoon with the club.
The Jets have several quality players on their roster upon which to build for next season, and build they must, as the Jets remain as they were when they were the Atlanta Thrashers a year ago: a team with promise still lacking depth and maturity to make the post-season, who really struggle on the road.
Re-signing Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec shouldn’t prove difficult, especially with $36 million committed to 13 players for next season, but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will also need to find a suitable backup for Pavelec, perhaps an experienced stay-at-home defenseman, another good top-six scorer, and some experienced checking line forward with leadership ability.
The Jets kept their payroll a little over $3 million above the mandatory cap minimum for this season of $48.3 million. The cap floor could drop in the next CBA if there’s a widening between it and the cap ceiling, which would of course make it easier for the Jets to get over that mandatory minimum.
That being said, they cannot skimp by just hovering above the cap minimum if they hope to improve for next season. They’ll have to spend around the mid-point (whatever it may be) to accomplish this.