It’s almost July 1!
Now, Canada Day is cool and all, but I have to confess that I get more excited about NHL free agency. Player movement is always interesting, especially for someone like me: I’m a fan of just about every team in the NHL, and I love to see teams get better and try out new roster situations. In general, I think the offseason is a really optimistic time, and I love being optimistic about sports.
I’m primarily a Canucks fan, and my team has a lot to look forward to, with an offensive core in their prime and a handful of young forwards ready to prove themselves. The Sedins get better every single year; Kesler and Burrows are really coming into their own as Top 6 guys; Mason Raymond had a breakout year and, I think, has the ability to be even better; Mikael Samuelsson showed what he can do in an offensive system last year. Cody Hodgson should make the team this year, and Jordan Schroeder has an opportunity as well, though if we go for a more checking-oriented third line there may be less room for young playmakers.
We also have, essentially, five Top 4 defensemen going into next season. The addition of Keith Ballard, along with Sami Salo, Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, and Kevin Bieksa, makes a really strong, deep blue line crew, backed up by Aaron Rome and Shane O’Brien. I still think we need a high-level shutdown guy to play with Edler or Ballard against the opposing top line, but we have lots of cap space for that if we can attract Volchenkov or maybe Hamhuis. It may be necessary to move out Bieksa to really get a Number 1 d-man, but even with the players we have now, I think we’re in solid shape.
In general free agency, Kovalchuk is the biggest question, I think. I hope he doesn’t go to the KHL: the Russian league is overpaying its players and suffering for it, and I don’t think adding a Kovalchuk-level salary to one of their teams would help that situation. I’ve heard that LA is a possibility for Kovalchuk, which I’d be really interested in. The Kings have a pretty good young core that should continue to get better; Kopitar and Kovalchuk would make a lethal combo, and Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson should continue to improve. (The question, of course, is whether they’ll improve enough to make up for the Kings’ weak goaltending… But maybe the Kings will sign Nabokov or Turco!)
Tampa Bay is another team that I think has a lot to look forward to. They keep loading up on good young players, and with Yzerman in charge, maybe they’ll start supporting those players properly and build a positive atmosphere and culture around their team again. Whether they decide to ship out Lecavalier’s massive salary or not, Stamkos, Downie, and Hedman give them an attractive future.
I can’t wait to see what Brian Burke does to get himself more media attention this summer. He’s going to end up with a first-line center, one way or another, I think, but the Maple Leafs will miss the playoffs next season and make them in 2012.
Edmonton is going to suck for two more years, but Steve Tambellini is a good GM. They’ll be a better franchise three years from now.
All in all, I’m really looking forward to July 1 and the week or so afterwards, and beyond that, October can’t come soon enough!