CALM BEFORE THE STORM

For the first time since 2006 the NHL draft will be a one day event. It starts at 1 p.m. MST on Sunday and is scheduled to last eight hours. Edmonton currently has the #7, #37, #56 (from Anaheim), #128, #158 and #188. They traded their 3rd rounder (Fistric) to Dallas and 4th rounder to Florida (Smithson).

This week has already had many story lines, and we can expect to many more before Sunday evening. The Oilers were in the news again this morning when Dallas Eakins announced his coaching staff.

As Robin Brownlee accurately predicted on June 09th, Keith Acton is the new associate head coach. Acton played 72 games with the Oilers in 1988 and 1989, but this hire doesn’t fall under the heading "the old boys club." Acton has been an NHL assistant or associate coach for 16 seasons, four with the Flyers, two with the Rangers, nine with the Maple Leafs and last year in Columbus.

He and Eakins worked together for two years in Toronto, and they’ve been close ever since. Eakins wanted a coach with NHL experience and someone he is familiar with, and Acton is that guy. I believe an assistant coach is only as good as the head coach allows him to be. Some head coaches like to control everything, others like to delegate. I’m not certain which one Eakins is at this point.

Bringing back both Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger doesn’t look good for the organization. Essentially they are saying only the head coach has been the issue the past four seasons. Buchberger will work under his 5th head coach in six seasons. It is rare for any assistant coach to stay employed while the head coach continually gets the axe.

How can you constantly blame the head coach for the failures of the team, while simultaneously stating the assistants are doing a great job? Unless the organization feels the players were the problem, retaining both assistant coaches is odd. I sense that that Daryl Katz has had a say on Buchberger’s involvement with the team, and that Eakins and his predecessors didn’t have free reign in who they hired.

The optics aren’t great, but Eakins did get to hire the guy he really wanted. Eakins admitted he spoke to Paul Maurice, but decided that Maurice was better suited as a head coach. It is difficult for most strong-willed head coaches to become an assistant and not have the final say.

Expect Acton and Smith to be on the bench with Eakins most of the season.

BIG BUCK BUYOUTS

Neuvirth Saves on Lightning Breakaway

 Tampa Bay surprised many when they bought out Vincent Lecavalier yesterday for a measly $32.67 million.

They bolts will pay him $4.76 million for the next two seasons, $3.76 million in 2015/2016 and then $1.76 million for the next 11 seasons.

Lecavalier is 33 and he’s averaged .80 points per game the past three seasons. He’s scored 135 points in his last 168 games. I suspect he’ll be highly motivated on his new team due to new teammates, new surroundings and he’ll want to prove he can still play.

Despite his age he is now the most attractive centre in a weak free agent class, and because of his size, skill and Stanley Cup experience I expect he will get at least a three-year deal worth $14-$16 million.

He’s the type of centre the Oilers need, but don’t expect him him in Edmonton. He’ll want to go to a playoff contender. The Habs make sense for many reasons, but so do many other teams. The Leafs have cap space and are desperate for a centre. The Canucks would like him, but they’d need to shed some salary (Luongo). The Stars have cap space, an owner who will spend money and a GM who loves veterans.

Lecavalier is allowed to talk to teams immediately, but he can’t officially sign with a team until July 5th, and I’m sure he and his agent will get a lot of calls.

Bryzgalov's Bottle

The Flyers said goodbye to Ilya Bryzgalov after only two seasons. He essentially made $39 million in two seasons with the Flyers, after they bought him for $23 million. The Flyers will pay him $1.64 million for the next 14 seasons, but Bryzgalov will likely get a two or three-year deal from someone.

Right now he’s a low-end #1 goalie. In three of his last four seasons he’s had good numbers, but this past year he had a woeful .900 SV% and a 2.79 GAA. He’s a great interview and a fun guy, but teams will be leery of his aloof attitude.

Not many teams are looking for a #1 goalie, but I could see him returning to Phoenix (Seattle/Quebec) if they don’t re-sign Mike Smith. I could see him making $3 million+ on his new deal.

The Oilers need to sign two goalies, and if they don’t land Anton Khudobin or another younger UFA, they might have to look at Bryzgalov, but I don’t see him being a fit in Edmonton.

Komisarek and Ovechkin, 8 + 8

The Leafs announced they will buy out Mike Komisarek, but they haven’t officially done it yet. The Leafs have to pay him $1.16 million for the next two seasons. He’ll get a new deal, but I don’t see it being longer than two years, and most likely a one-year pact for around $1.3-$1.5 million.

Komisarek is only 31 years old, and while his footspeed is an issue teams are always looking for experienced defenders. The Oilers don’t need another 3rd pairing D-man.

IMG_0629

Marc Bergevin had to use his 2nd buyout on a player that he didn’t acquire. The Habs were so upset with Kaberle that they didn’t want us to use a picture of him in a Habs jersey. They bought him out for $3 million and will pay him $1.5 million for the next two seasons.

Kaberle is 35, and while he is a good puck mover, there is little else about his game that scouts like at this point. Unless a GM sees something I don’t, I’d be very surprised to see him get a new contract.

Briere

The Flyers bought out Daniel Briere for ONLY $3.33 million, and considering his cap hit was $6.5 million it made sense. He’ll receive $833,333 from the Flyers for the next four seasons. Briere can still produce, especially on the PP, and he’ll likely land a two-year pact around four or five million dollars.

The Oilers shouldn’t have any interest in Briere, he isn’t the type of player Craig MacTavish needs at this point.

Rostislav Olesz was acquired by the Hawks just so they could get rid of Brian Campbell and his $7.14 million cap hit. Olesz played only six games with the Hawks the past two seasons, despite being paid $7.4 million during that time. The Hawks bought him out of the final year of his deal ($4.25 million), and they will pay him $1.41 mill for the next two seasons.

Essentially, the Hawks paid him $10.2 million to play six NHL games. Yikes.

Olesz is only 27 years old. He had 19 points in 14 AHL games this year and 41 points in 50 games last season. Some GM might take a chance on him and sign him to a one-year, two-way contract, but he seems destined to play in Europe.

No chance the Oilers look at him.

The Hawks also bought Steve Montador from the final two years of his deal. He was owed $4.1 million, but he had a cap hit of $2.75 mill and the Hawks need cap space so they will pay him $683,333 for the next four seasons.

Montador was one of Stan Bowman’s rare mistakes. They signed him to a four-year, $11 million deal in the summer of 2011, but he only played 52 games for the Hawks. Montador’s footspeed is a major concern, and if he does get a contract it will be a one-year deal for $1 million or less. If Cam Barker can get a new contract anything is possible.

QUICK HITS

  • Interesting to note that so far the only western conference team to make a buyout was Chicago. The Hawks (2), Flyers (2), Canadiens (2), Leafs (1 pending), Rangers (1) and Tampa (1) are the only teams who have used their compliance buyouts. I expect some teams to use some between the draft and the July 4th deadline. If the Oilers can’t trade Eric Belanger, there is a very good chance they will buy him out.
     
  • ESPN reported yesterday that Kris Letang turned down an eight year deal worth around $56 million. Does his agent really believe he can get $8 million/year on the open market? If he can then the GMs clearly haven’t learned any fiscal restraint. I think Letang is a very good D-man, he’s a legit top-pairing defender, but I’d be leery of paying him that much. I know most GMs will pay him based on the salary cap going up, but it is still a risky venture.
     
  • Jonathon Willis has a good piece on why he’d stay away from Dave Bolland. He brought up some great points, about potentially over paying for him. Those are valid concerns, as is the fact he is only one-year away from being a UFA. I like Bolland’s game, and I wouldn’t be worried about him rebounding after a unproductive 2013 regular seasons, but there is a risk in acquiring him. The one difference between him and Pominville is that Pominville had two more years left on his contract. Bolland only has one year before he’s a UFA. If the Oilers could get permission to talk extension before making the trade, then I’d consider it.
     
  • Congratulations to Anthony Bennett and his family. Bennett was the first Canadian drafted #1 overall in the NBA draft last night. The Cleveland Cavaliers surprised everyone when they took the UNLV freshman, but they clearly like Canadians. They took Tristan Thompson 4th overall in 2011. Canada could have the #1 pick next year as well. Andrew Wiggins is considered the best prospect since Kevin Durant. It is great to see Canada producing top quality basketball players.
     
  • The NLL relocated the Washington (Everett) Stealth to Vancouver (Langley) yesterday. This is good news for lacrosse fans, especially if you like watching it on TV. You can expect more lacrosse games on TV next year, now that there is a 4th Canadian team in the league. Look for  Sportsnet/Score to broadcast more games.
     
  • It looks like the NHL will finally pull the plug on the Phoenix experiment. Yesterday Gary Bettman said Glendale has until July 2nd to reach an agreement or the Coyotes will be done. I hope the mayor of Glendale and the councillors recognize this is a bad deal and walk away. I feel for the diehard Coyote fans, but the reality is hockey will never be financially viable in Phoenix. Seattle and Quebec seem the most likely relocation destinations, but like I wrote earlier, I’d love to see a dispersal draft. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR