Hockey Stuff

FP Replacement Strategy

What do the following names all have in common? Heatley, Kovalchuk, Staal, Crosby, Ovechkin, and Nash?

If you answered 'They were the first forwards drafted in each of their respective draft years', you would be correct. But that isn't the point I want to make by listing them.

If you are a team in the FUNHL considering the replacement of a franchise player at this upcoming draft, I suggest that you seriously consider 'Phil Kessel' as your man. Why, you might ask, should you roll the dice and pick an unproven rookie to be a cornerstone player for your team?

Because of the six players I listed - each was the top forward selected in their draft years, and each of them I would argue, is either already a franchise player (Heatley, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin) or legitimately will be when they cease to be FUNHL prospects (Staal, Crosby and Nash). You have to go all the way back to the Patrick Stefan/Sedins/Pavel Brendl draft to find one where the top forward selected did not eventually go supernova and become FP worthy (and recall too that all the scouts bitched about that draft as being 'weak').

So, if Kessel is still the considered best forward available, (and given his unique offensive skillset I believe he is, even if he eventually gets overtaken by other worthy players like Jonathon Toews or Jordan Staal) than anyone looking for a new FP should seriously consider biting the bullet and making the top forward selected as their guy. That all said, this methodology does NOT work when it comes to defensemen who dominate a draft (Chris Phillips as Franchise Player? Uh...no.), nor does it work with goalies (Rick DiPietro anyone?).

Speaking of Kessel....

My thoughts on him are this; he's a selfish gunner who loves to score goals, has warp speed, fantastic hand skills, and a stubborn streak a mile wide. In other words, there is nothing wrong with him that wasn't also wrong with both Kovalchuk and Ovechkin. C'ept of course, that Kessel is an American.

Several players are indeed taking a run at his lofty status as most likely first overall, but more because they are performing well themselves rather than Kessel dropping in status.

- Jordan Staal, a Peterborough Pete centreman, he's Eric's 'little' brother. He doesn't come with the fanfare that his big bro did, and in part his status is a projection on on his bloodlines and where he projects out to be one day. Which from all indications is as a solid #1 pivot.

- Michael Frolik, a Czech winger with impressive set up abilities continues to draw comparisons to Jagr. I suspect that has more to do with Frolik's country of origin than talent level, as one of Frolik's drawbacks is a weak first step acceleration and limited top end speed - in other words, two of the characteristics that best define Jagr are missing from Frolik. He does display wicked skating power when he gets going, is bullish on the puck, and has a powerful wrister, so he'll be good, but Jagr good? "Dream, dream, dream...."

- Jonathon Toews. Maybe it's just me, but I wasn't exactly overwhelmed by Toews at the WJC, in part because he had a very small role on a deeply talented club. The fact is the North Dakota Fighting Sioux forward is probably as good an all-round offensive player as there is in the draft, but unlike Kessel, Toews doesn't have an offensive weapon that is as obviously dominant as Kessel's shot or speed.

- Niklas Backstrom. A quicksilver skating winger with sound two-way play and top-end playmaking skills. He should make someone very happy as a consolation prize somewhere between 3 and 6.

- Erik Johnson. What's not to like? He's huge, mobile, has good offensive instincts, and a vicious streak a mile wide. He reminds of Rob Blake or Mike Komisarek, someone who may take a while to fill out the mental side of the game before he can dominate as a pro, but once he does....Of all the players chasing Kessel, Johnson is the only one who I think seriously has a chance to displace him. Johnson represents the complete defenseman package, size, strength, mobility, passion, and sound two-way abilities. He's a solid #1 defenseman you can build a defense around, and those teams that already have decent offensive talent may be very tempted to pass on Kessel so they can take Johnson.

Of the teams who might have a shot at the top pick; St Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Columbus - I would venture that all of them except one would value the addition of Kessel more than the rest of the pack. He's simply too dynamic a talent to pass over in favour of the rest. The exception is Columbus. The Bluejackets already have a pure goalscoring threat in the form of Rick Nash (and another decent one in Zherdev), and adding Kessel to the forward unit means too many shooters and not enough passers on the same line. To them, the best player to take might well be Toews (who has upscale playmaking abilities), or again, Erik Johnson to fill out the blue-line. St Louis would certainly LOVE to have Kessel as the new face of the team, Pittsburgh would have to be interested in at least considering what a Malkin-Crosby-Kessel first line looks like in three years for them (and 'sick' is what it would be), and I believe Chicago would have no problem taking Kessel to pair with Ruutu (especially since they already have Cam Barker).

My own speculation is that Kessel is still the favourite as top forward, and that the only real threat to his going first overall is if Columbus wins the lottery.

Rumour Mill

The Flames remain in the bottom 10 teams offensively. That won't be good enough to win in the playoffs. Who'd have thought they'd miss Craig Conroy so much?

- The Shadowmen's GM is convinced that Calgary will take a long hard run at signing Brad Richards in the off-season. Sure this makes a tonne of sense if you are Calgary, but I don't see how the TBay brass would ever let it happen. More than St Louis, or Lecavalier, Richards is the engine that makes the Bolts run, and to lose him would be fatal to cup hopes for the team moving forward. I can see St Louis being dealt. I can even see Lecavalier being dealt (neither player is in the top 20 in scoring this year), but Richards being allowed to leave for nothing? Won't happen.

- One option for Calgary to consider is the aforementioned Lecavalier. If the Flames were to part with Robyn Regeher, Mathew Lombardi and a pick for Big Vinny, would the Bolts take it?

- So who will Calgary eventually bring in to do setup duties for Jarome? My bet, Eric Lindros. His contract will be easy to handle, he hasn't got an issue playing in Calgary, and his style of play would be a good fit for Sutter and Jarome. Yeah, he's as injury prone as they come these days (though not yet at the 'Zhamnovian' level of injury prone), but he would be a good fit in the dressing room, and bring much needed passing ability to the centre spot. Sure Doug Weight is probably higher on the Flames wish-list, and Richards is surely at the top of that list, but Lindros might be just what the doctor ordered.

- Last but not least, the Flames may feel they have the guy within the system to do the job already. Dustin Boyd, a 5'10 sparkplug in the WHL has the skill set to compliment Iginla, but I suspect he is too far away from being an elite level player to make an impact in the role. He's a good one for your prospect lists though, and can probably be had with a late 1st rounder onwards.

The Leafs will likely be in a shopping mode come the off-season as they will undoubtably go through some sort of management shake-up (my bet is Quinn is ousted and becomes the next President of the Canucks, and that Ferguson keeps his job - barely), but the real changes will be with the team itself. Clearly they do not have the guns to compete in the new NHL, they lack first line wingers to compliment Sundin, they will not be welcoming Belfour back between the pipes no matter how succesful his latest round of back surgery is, and there is a very real problem of how much money to throw at Bryan McCabe. Lindros and Allison are also probably gone, gone, gone.

- Here's the thing, the team is ripe to be blown up and rebuilt from the ground up. The Leafs have some decent young prospects (Ian White on D, Ponikarovksy, Steen, Pogge, Rask, etc), but nobody who is going to step in a score 30 goals or anchor the D. They need an infusion of talent and youth in the baddest possible way.

- If I were the GM of the Leafs, I'd do the following; dump: Nolan, Allison, Belfour and Lindros onto the market. They clearly represent the past and won't be contributors moving forward. Sign McCabe to a reasonable deal - and then trade him to a contender for picks/prospects. McCabe is a Norris calibre D-man, but he is a better fit for a contending team, and this Leaf team isn't a contender, so spending upwards of $5M on him just isn't worth it. Then with all the cap-roon now available I would take a serious run at Brad Richards with the sales pitch starting with Richards being the eventual heir to Sundin as Leafs captain. I'd also consider whether I could get a substantial return for Kaberle as he is young, at a position in high demand, and relatively cost effective. Any contending team would LOVE to pick him up to QB the PP, so if the return on him in a trade is substantial, I'd pull the trigger.

- That all said, I would probably keep Sundin for two reasons; 1. He's the face of the franchise and having him remain a Leaf through the rebuilding project while painful for Sundin, would make the transition easier on the fans, and 2. At his age he wouldn't command much in return. So all in all, better to keep the cornerstone and start putting the building blocks into place to eventually replace him. However, if an offer comes up for him that makes sense for the future I'd definitely move him on.

Vancouver is going through a full-on panic over the Canucks stumbling in the standings during the stretch drive. This is also a team that is ripe to be blown up. Jovanovski has to be resigned next year, and there is speculation he will be let go (I would do the same as above with McCabe - sign and trade). Bertuzzi appears to be all but done as a Canuck. He's feuding with Crawford and has split the dressing room into two non-speaking parts. His contract is huge, but so is his ability, so there should be a trade that will get a decent return from whoever takes him on. Brendan Morrison is having a simply horrible season, and could also be on his way out. Even Naslund now finds himself being questioned about his leadership, but I suspect he will not be the goat for the Canucks and that instead the other two linemates will find new homes. Cloutier hasn't made his case any easier either, especially with Alex Auld playing very well (early on) in Cloutier's absence.

Tuomo Ruutu is apparently slated to return on Tuesday against Minnesota. Sweet. It will give me a preview on how well he'll fit in with the Heads next season.

Modano tweaked his knee last night - not a good sign for the playoffs, but Modano would have to be faced with amputation before he'd miss a playoff game - he'll be fine if less than 100%.

I'm still probably the only GM who has this name on his prospect list - but I also admit he is not ranked as high as many others, and because of the depth I already have in my system won't be a pick this year. Maybe next year.

In the 'Good news/ Bad news' file, it looks like Alexander Semin may finally make it over to the Capitals. That's the good news (at least for the Great Whites). The bad news (for the Bladerunners) is there is still no agreement with the Russians and the IIHF on transfer payments - all but guranteeing that Evgeni Malkin will play another season for Dave King at Magnetogorsk.

Finally, a note about our FUNHL races;

Predator Cup - my money says the Bladerunners pull this one out over the Personal Vendetta in a squeaker at the finish line. My heart is also pulling for the BR's (and believe me, that's a first) if only because the PV already have two cups and I don't want them to get a third before I do.

Challenge Cup - this is gonna go to the PV - just a hunch, but also a nice consolation prize for getting beat at the wire.

Omnivore - The Edge. Which is nice, Collin deserves some hardware that doesn't cluck.

Herbivore - The Edge. His third. Which sucks, but hey, he just won the Omnivore!
S'all for now.


Brian Wansleeben said...

Interesting article Cam. Thanks for your 'begrudging' cheering on of the Bladerunners ;-) I love you too man.

Have to disagree with you on a couple of points:

1) Taking Kessel in first round as an FP in the FUNHL would be very risky; even more so than Collin taking Ovechkin. The other FPs you mentioned were, or are, being developed to become FPs so can't really compare them to Kessel. But hey, it would add to the FUN in FUNHL if somebody did this.

2) your analysis of the Flames:

I will give you an excuse for not having your finger on the pulse of the Flames ..seeing as you don't live in Calgary anymore ;-) They'll do just fine in the playoffs thanks. They may be in the bottom 10 of scoring, but Kipper and the D will do their job and Iggy will do his. Hell, Amonte is actually waking up so that can't hurt. As to next year, Lindros is NOT a Sutter type player actually - mainly because he is actually NOT be good for the locker room. This guy is not a team player. Also, I really don't see the Flames dealing Regehr + stuff for Lecavalier or Richards. Unless you mean Richie Regehr of course. Never say never I suppose, but doubtful.

As to Malkin staying in Russia another year, yup - could happen BUT I sure hope not. I think Mario and the team will do everything possible to bring him to the NHL. Worst case - I only get him for P3 + P4 years.

take care,


Cameron said...

Hey Brian! Nice to see you here!

Ok, first the Kessel thing.

I pointed this out to Doug, 75% of the first forwards taken overall in the last 15 years have been FP calibre.

Of the failures (Dumont, Bonk, Daigle, Stefan), two (Dumont and Bonk) were the first forwards picked in years where TWO defensemen went before any forwards were taken, making them quantifiably 'weak' draft years.

Take them out of the equation and the only real busts are Daigle and Stefan.

So the risk on your FP selection is actually reduced further if you adjust for weak draft years.

Now compare that to candidates for FP that are more mature and producing at a high level and see how they stack up.

In Kessel you have an 18 year old who should make your roster for as long as 15 years.

If you draft an older player, like Naslund as Mikey G did a couple of years ago, you get yourself maybe 5-8 solid years from him, and those are largely as a depreciating value.

Further you'd have to account for the fact that you are going to have to replace Naslund at some point in the nearer future than you will with Kessel and save yourself as many as two first round picks in the process.

When you look at the track record for 1st forward selections you get a steady record of offensive accomplishment, and you get it for longer.

So to me the least risky thing you could do is throw a pick at Kessel.

Cameron said...

As to the Flames thing;

First have you actually looked at how many goals Amonte has scored the last 20 games? 1? 2?

Second, the Flames ARE built for the playoffs (steep and deep on D, awesome goalie, excellent coach, impact forward/captain), except for one thing; they don't have any offensive compliment for Iginla, and as a result teams are going to key on him in every single game.

As to Lindros not being a good player in the dressing room, I think the bigger problem was that he wasn't a good player for mgt., he always seemed to have contract, injury or media trouble.

He certainly fried my season this year by going 'day to day' for 6 straight weeks before they admitted he might be out for longer. That's not Lindros' fault, but it absolutely gutted me over X-mas having Lindros in my lineup getting zero.

Finally, Pittsburgh isn't going to stay in Pittsburgh, and Mario isn't going to stay a serious owner.

What's more Malkin may be the minnow caught in the tide. So long as the Russian league can offer him substantially more money to play there than he can earn in the NHL as a rookie under the cap, I'm sure the pressure to come over won't be nearly so intense for him to bear.

Factor in as well that a new owner of the Pens/Whalers would be faced with laying a bunch of cash for his new team, and his new arena (cuz that is a priority), before he even examined whether or not he had the dough left over to bribe a Russian oligarchy into releasing a player they would rather keep.

Highlander said...

Well CSS have just released their final rankings for the 2006 Entry Draft and Kessel (presumed FP) is ranked...5th. Among North American Skaters. Sorry Cam, he's not an FP - at least not yet.

I understand the attraction of making Kessel, or others like him, an FP right from the beginning but the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the world are actually exceptions and not the norm. I suspect that Kessel's drop in the rankings will be a boon for his development as he is more likely to be drafted by a more established franchise that will not have to put as much weight on his shoulders (though he could still end up going 1st overall to St.Louis if they feel they need star forward and not a stud d-man).

This brings me back to my suggested change to the rules: GMs can NOT select players in the ED that have not played at least one NHL game. Prospects would become actual prospects as opposed to week one waiver-wire jetsom and the cream of the crop would be, presumably, reserved for those teams who finished poorly. I'm not opposed to the FP exception that Cam has suggested to the rule - if you really want to jump on that grenade, be my guest I suppose, but I think the idea has some merit.