Back At The barn
October 12, 2016 | 9:00am ET
LOS ANGELES, CA -- It was a great summer; a little baseball, a little
football and a little traveling kept me occupied over the hotter
months of the year.
The World Cup was a welcomed distraction from the normal uneventful
preseason, but now it's time get back to business, hockey business
On the SoCal teams:
'Twas a rough, if not cruel summer for the Los Angeles Kings and
Anaheim Ducks, as neither team bettered themselves since leaving the
ice in April.
Iím interested to see how a gentler and kinder Randy Carlyle does in
his second go-around in Anaheim as the herd of old-school coaches thin
to a precious few.
Ducks GM Bob Murray had little choice but move out Bruce Boudreau
given his lack of post-season success, but his choice of a retread
over graduating an up-and-coming coach out of the AHL ranks goes
against recent industry trends. Maybe familiarity wonít breed
contempt, but Carlyleís Job 1 (and maybe 2) is to extract premium play
out of his star players once they get to mid-April.
The Ducks' cast of characters is a curious mix as the season
approaches. Sami Vatanen, who must thought was the man to move out
with the surplus of defense present, was given close to $ 20 million
to stay, and the other asset thought to be moved out to find that
elusive top line left winger, Cam Fowler, is still getting his mail in
The fact that their best defenseman, Hampus Lindholm, and an emerging
talent, Rickard Rakell, lack contracts as the season starts adds to
With both players being non-arbitration eligible restricted free
agents possessing no leverage in contract negotiations, youíd think
that they would be in the fold. Over the past few seasons these
situations have had a tendency to linger and both players'
representatives are holding fast in the hopes of finding long-term
deal riches over the ultimate inevitability of signing a short-term
bridge deal against a December 1 deadline. Failure to sign a contract
of any length by that date would sideline a player for the entire
season and although both players are part of the long-term future in
Anaheim, neither will take that unprecedented step of losing the
The Lindholm contract situation had a global impact on the Ducks
roster situation over the summer. With the depth chart screaming for a
consistent, if not elite scorer on left wing, I believe the lack of
deal for Lindholm prevented a Fowler trade, a very marketable
defenseman who could have and still can fetch a quality winger that
this team has lacked over recent seasons.
Though the need is pressing, Murray could not open the season missing
both Lindholm and Fowler in a division that appears to be even more
competitive than last seasonís with the apparent approval of the
Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. The inability to
bring Lindholm in early sets back a possible Fowler deal approximately
40 games because other than trading away a failed former first overall
draft pick for peanuts, big names donít move at this time of year and
GMs customarily wait until the quarter pole of the season to start
revving up their trade engines.
It what may be a recurring theme in Southern California this season,
this could be the last go-round for this GM and the leadership group
if there isnít a deep post-season run by the Ducks. Adding a savvy
veteran like Antoine Vermette on the cheap can only help, but as itís
been in the Ducksí recent past this season hinges on the playoff
performance of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Though both possess a
Stanley Cup ring, it was earned back in the days when they were
precocious youngsters with the likes of Chris Pronger, Scott
Neidermayer and Teemu Selanne leading the way.
With word that there was a growing faction inside the room last season
that would prefer to see Ryan Kesler wear the ďCĒ, another short
playoff run will not only put Murray on the hot seat but may
jeopardize Getzlafís standing (and Perry to a lesser extent). If the
Ducks donít advance to at a minimum the Western Conference Final, itís
a legitimate claim to bring in a much larger broom than the one that
swept Boudreau into the arms of the Minnesota Wild.
Murray has placed big bets on Carlyle and John Gibson by moving the
aforementioned Boudreau and Fredrik Andersen, and within six months,
weíll find if they were the root cause in this teamís inability to
maximize their potential. But if they come up short of their goal,
then itís time for ownership that rarely makes dramatic moves to make
one by letting another manager attempt to figure out the championship
A similar, but not identical, scenario is unfolding 35 miles north of
the Honda Center in downtown Los Angeles. Unlike Bob Murray, Dean
Lombardi can throw a couple of championship rings on the table when
the critique of his regime is offered. But make no mistake, this is a
crucial season Lombardiís tenure not from a legacy standpoint but from
one of organizational direction.
Making no bold moves to change the teamís style, Lombardi has chosen
to dig in his heels believing that his Ďbig, heavyí team which lacks
the overall team speed that the game is gravitating to, is still a
winning formula in this League. Though Lombardi stated in an interview
with Fox Sports West this past weekend that he was dissatisfied the
way the Kings 102-point season concluded (a poor end after clinching a
playoff spot, a brutal regular-season finale loss that cost them a
division title and being outclassed by San Jose in five games), he
chose to bring back Darryl Sutter at a premium and didnít shake up the
roster after losing Milan Lucic to unrestricted free agency (doing the
best he could with Teddy Purcell with Pearson and Tyler Toffoli
Now, the good news for Kings fans is that it was a quiet albeit
painful training camp -- Marian Gaborikís foot injury has created top
six forward woes as opening night arises.
The messy transition of the captaincy from Dustin Brown to Anze
Kopitar has simmered to the point where it wonít have any long-lasting
effects inside the locker room. The core of this team is still
championship caliber, they have the center in Kopitar, the defenseman
in Drew Doughty and the goaltender in Jonathan Quick -- a trio that if
they are on their game come playoff time, can carry this team to its
But itís also bad news for Kings fans that they had a quiet training
With Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, Gaborik and Jake Muzzin toiling at the
World Cup, there were no breakout performers that could have move
non-productive incumbents out. The biggest story of September and
early October was the pursuit of a roster spot by Devin Setoguchi, who
should be applauded from battling back from his demons to secure a
minimum dollar, two-way contract just hours before the Tuesday 2PM
Pacific roster deadline. I think the organization is playing a hunch
more than anything by adding him to the roster and the mere fact that
a forward signed to a PTO. who hasnít played in the league in two
seasons and had spotty training camp. is likely to lineup as a top six
forward (yes, the Gaborik injury and Tanner Pearsonís suspension are
forcing their hands) on opening night speaks volumes about
organizational depth that is NHL-ready (key words: NHL-ready).
But unlike Murray, Lombardi has earned the right to stay on the path
that brought the elusive Stanley Cup to the corner of 11th and
Figueroa in 2012 and 2014. If he feels that bringing back Trevor Lewis
and not trading Dwight King, Jordan Nolan and Andy Andreoff gives him
the right mix of complementary players to win it all, you canít beef
it on opening night in San Jose.
Maybe Setoguchi gets 20 goals? Maybe Adrian Kempe, Paul Ladue and
Michael Mersch inject some life into the roster at some point this
season? It would be a great story and prove that old axiom right again
-- patience is a virtue.
Maybe Dean pulls off some stellar deadline deal that reverses the
trend over the last two seasons of his signature big deals not paying
Regardless, one thing the Kings have to do this season is make a deep
playoff run. The core of this team is too good and too championship
proven to win just one playoff game in the last two seasons; Iím not
suggesting that itís Stanley Cup or bust for Los Angeles, because
every team feels that way, but if they are unable to get out of the
Pacific Division (two playoff round wins), itís probably time to hand
the reigns to the very capable GM-in-waiting Mike Futa.
So like Murray, this season will ultimately be a referendum if the
methods Lombardi uses to build a championship contender is still
On Johnny Money:
Big win for the Calgary Flames bringing Johnny Gaudreau at anything
under a $7 million per price tag.
There are very high expectations in Southern Alberta this season and
some experts think the Flames could approach the 100-point level they
did a couple of seasons ago. Adding Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott
gives them size and goaltending they sorely lack, but I think triple
digits is just a tad bit high. They should be in the wild card hunt
and may even push the Ducks or Kings out of the top three if they
falter, but a 20+ point improvement is a huge ask.
Kudos to Gaudreauís reps for getting him paid coming off an
entry-level deal with no leverage and while thereís always danger in
giving players too much, too soon, remember that Gaudreau is a former
fourth-round draft pick thatís defied the odds to become a top 10
scorer in the league.
On another RFA trying to get paid:
If Iím Kevin Cheveldayoff, I just sit and wait for Jacob Trouba to
agree to sign a bridge deal. Unlike Gaudreau, heís not maximized his
potential and his unwillingness to switch sides to accommodate the
Winnipeg Jetsí short-term needs ainít gonna make him rich anytime
Thereís a bigger issue here when he does eventually sign -- and they
all do in his situation, thereís no offer sheet coming and a December
1 deadline insures he plays this season -- how does he return to a
locker room with an attitude that clearly puts himself ahead of your
And if youíre an NHL GM interested in his talent and potential, do you
want pay the player who says, ďIíll play anywhere. I just want to
win.Ē While Winnipeg fans know the Jets need to be all-in to even
sniff a shot at the post-season, Cheveldayoff has every right to play
it close to the vest with a budget among the lowest in the NHL.
If Chevy has any sleepless nights, he should dial up Steve Yzerman in
Tampa, whose got a great bedtime story about the virtues of holding
the fort when things look bleak.
The dreaded Stanley Cup prediction:
If you havenít stopped in to the predictions section to check in on
TFP "Panel of Experts" picks (this ĎexpertĒ has incorrectly
predicted the Stanley Cup winner 13 seasons in a row), my short
version is here.
I love what both Florida teams have done -- the Panthers adding and
the Lightning keeping players -- but no one beats the Tampa Bayís
depth pound for pound.
They came up just short in the Conference Final without Steven Stamkos
and Ben Bishop, and this season they have the talent to outlast teams
in the East.
As for the West, Iím one of the believers that Pernell Karl Subban
will elevate the Nashville Predators to heights theyíve never seen --
the Stanley Cup Final.
If and when they do clash, the Lightning just has too many weapons in
the arsenal to be denied this season and they win their second Stanley
And finally... On Kris Versteeg:
Kudos another veteran grabbing a roster spot, but Versteeg gets bonus
points for securing something Iíve never seen -- a modified no-trade
clause from the Calgary Flames naming only three teams he canít be
dealt to. I guess three GMs arenít getting a holiday card from the
Versteeg family this season.
Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.