Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cap Crunchers

Rumours are hitting me this morning that a few of the NHLs top teams are looking to make trades, despite their success.

Montreal and Detroit are both in the top half of their respective conferences, but both are also looking ahead to next season. Both Montreal and Detroit are up against the cap, with key UFAs this summer. Both teams understand that they will not be able to keep all their current players beyond next season, and would like to fix this problem before it becomes a real problem.

In Detroit, they are currently as close to the cap as you can possibly be. This summer, Zetterberg, Hossa, Samuellson, Franzen and Conklin all become free agents.

Jimmy Howard will likely take over for Conklin at the same salary, so that will even out. Zetterberg will likely get a similar contract to Hossa's, so that evens out. However, Samuellson will be looking for a raise, as he only makes 1.2 million a season, as will franzen, who will expect a large raise above his current 1.15 million dollars.

Rumours this afternoon suggest the Wings may be shopping Cleary, Draper and Holmstrom. Cleary is struggling, only registering 7 points with a -2 in 15 games with the Wings this year. Holmstrom could also be doing better, with 13 points in 17games, though his plus 8 and his presence in front of the net would be something a lot of teams would be interested in. As for Kris Draper, he is having the worst season of his career, with just 2 points in 23 games, while posting a horrible -8.

The Wings would love to get Ville Leino into the lineup, and this seems to be the path to do it. They feel Leino would be more productivce than any of the three players I mentioned, which is why they can afford to take back stricky picks and prospects for the above players. Darren Helm has been back and forth between Grand Rapids and Detroit as well, and they'd like to have room to keep him up for good.

In Montreal, they face a similar problem. With just two million to spare right now, and apparent interest in Mats Sundin (which will be addressed in the next paragraph), the Habs are heading into Cap Hell for next season. Tanguay, Koivu, Kovalev, Lang, Begin, Kostopolous, Bouillion, Komisarek, Brisebois and Dandenault are all unrestricted free agents come July 1st.

Forget Brisebois, Begin, Kostopolous and Dandenault because they can either be re-signed or replaced for the same amount they are costing the Habs now.

Alex Tanguay has been explosive for the Habs this year, big credit to him for their success this season. He currently makes 5.35 million, he's worth more. Look for him to get at least $7 million somewhere.

Saku Koivu is someone I'm not 100% concerned with. He's their captain, he loves Montreal, and he's currently making just under $5 million. I don't see him demanding much of a raise, and I don't see him in a rush to leave. With that said, some are saying he is interested in playing with his brother, who will be looking for a new teammate with the expected departure of Gaborik. Koivu is having a breakout offensive year with the club, leading all Habs with 19 points.

Robert Lang, who many expected to not do a thing for the Habs, quietly has been a great player for them. With that said, he's still not worth four million dollars, and will likely be replaced.

Alex Kovalev has 16 points in 23 games, and has been a key component to the Habs success over the last 3 seasons. At 4.5 million, I think Kovalev will be looking for somewhere around 6 million. While it's only 1.5 million, it's also that same amount that the Habs don't have to spend.

Then there is Mike Komisarek. They've lost a big defenseman every July for the past two years, and they don't want to make this a three-peat. Komisarek has a cap hit of 1.7 this season, and will be offered more than 4 million by rival teams. This kid is one of the top defensive defensemen in the game, and easily Montreal's #2 defenseman.

To make matters worse, Montreal has two of their best young players as RFAs. Plekanek and Higgins, their 6th and 7th top scorers, are both in for big raises. At just under two million dollars per year each, both can expect to be making at least double that when the 09-10 season opens.

So what does Montreal do? Whispers have them shopping Lang, Kovalev, and Higgins. Lang is unlikely going anywhere, as his four million is too much for rival clubs to pick up. Kovalev has been such a key for Montreal, but with Tanguay and Koivu's amazing play, Kovalev is suddenly available. Look for a Minnesota or a Vancouver to make a play for him between now and the deadline. Finally, Higgins has been shopped by Montreal for a year now. He was offered in a package to Atlanta for Hossa, he was offered in a package to Toronto for Sundin, he was offered in a package recently to Minnesota for Gaborik (before he got hurt). For whatever reason, Montreal has fallen out of love with Higgins, and I've been told that Higgins will be gone from Montreal 100% by the trade deadline.

Detroit and Montreal, two teams that would love to have Mats Sundin, are not alone. Chicago GM Dale Tallonmet with Sundin a few days ago, and are considered serious players in this game. The Calgary Flames, for reasons I will discuss in a second, are also serious players in this Sundin game. Vancouver is back in it, while do not count out Ottawa, who need Sundin more than anyone else.

As for Calgary, they are shopping one of my favourite players, Mike Cammalleri. He'll be a UFA at the end of the season. Calgary was hoping Cammy would play a stronger physical game, but he hasn't and they've had enough of him. Ottawa is big on this guy, as is Washington.

Nylander to Chicago is not dead, but Chicago really needs to find a taker for Khabibulin before this goes anywhere. Nylander is really unhappy in Washington and would gladly waive his NTC.

Finally, with the LA Kings very close to a playoff spot, management is starting to believe that this is the time to make a move. The team is full of young talent, and should only get better from here. I am hearing they have interest in Toronto's Kaberle, Kubina, and Toskala. Burke is on the fence about Toskala, unsure if he's the guy to build his team around. He would also love to move one of his two extremely valuable defenseman. With that said, talks are not ongoing, and are not expected to get aggresive until the new year.

In afternoon action, the Panthers blanked the Rangers (who are falling quite fast...) 4-0. Atlanta currently leads St. Louis 2-1 in the second period. Game of the night tonight? Edmonton and Dallas...why you ask? Nobody in my opinion had a better playoff rivalry in the late 90s than these two teams. Let's see if an old rivalry can spark some good hockey from to struggling teams.