October 01 2010 11:34AM
October. It's the time of year when the evenings finally cool, the leaves turn and fall, and we can finally focus on real hockey. Or, if you live where I do, it's the first time in several months where it isn't going to rain every second damned day and I can sneak a few last rounds on the golf course before the Manitoba winter takes hold.
Ah, but that's not important now, and there is plenty to discuss in this week's round-up. The Flames finally shed a few bodies, the neighbours have one that they'd really like to have disappear, and injuries are not just an issue in Cowtown.
Camp is drawing to a close for NHL teams and like every other club, the Flames have begun to cast aside the pretenders. Greg Nemisz and Staffan Kronwall were both earmarkedfor a move down yesterday, as the former Spitfire was sent to the AHL, and his older colleague was waived with the intent of doing the same. I suppose Kronwall could have been picked up by a team looking for cheap help, but he's cleared enough times in the last few years that I suspect that every other team in the league sees him as nothing more than AHL fodder at this point, and that has held true again.
Nemisz, well, that young man has a ways to go. His CHL numbers would suggest he'd be a player that should be at least a first/second liner in the AHL this year, but I'm not sure. He doesn't have much burst, and until he becomes quite a bit stronger, he can't muscle professional players. He's absolutely a long-term project.
Amongst the living, Stefan Meyer has earned another week in main camp after a few spirited showings. The absence of several veteran Flame centers is still the primary reason for him getting an extended look unless he's suddenly going to outrun a fairly pedestrian AHL pedigree, and with Jokinen's injury not deemed serious and the news that Matt Stajan is shooting the odd puck, I suspect this weekend will be his last in town. That noted, he and Jon Rheault have had nice enough camps, and with Ryan Stone still not skating, one of them might stick for a while. At a minimum, they should help ease the way in the AHL for the bevy of new additions to the Heat.
On the back end, two young men appear to be taking divergent paths at the moment. For T.J. Brodie, it's been nothing but songs about chocolate and girls this September. Even if he's sent down next week, Brodie appears to have surpassed John Negrin, Kronwall and Matt Pelech on the depth chart, which wouldn't have been suspected coming in to camp. He'll get another chance or two to give the roster a shake this weekend against the Grease, maybe beginning tonight at the Rex.
Matt Pelech, on the other hand, as Kent has just covered offbelow, is struggling. His slowness afoot is certainly an issue, but slower guys can make it if they read the game, and the Flames have exhibit A on the roster wearing number 28. It's the decision making aspect that Pelech is still a bit deficient at, and it makes me wonder if the injuries and lost developmental time have caught him out. The only thing he has over the remaining defenders in camp is the cheapness of his contract, and that might not be enough to keep him around.
THE AULD ENEMY
The Oilers have had a nice pre-season run, with their famous young men drawing plenty of attention. Magnus Paajarviand Jordan Eberle have produced a fair bit of offence in the exhibition campaign, and I'd suspect that they and Taylor Hall will all play in the first real game next week, irrespective of the current debate in the Oilogisphere. Those luxury boxes and high-end tickets don't just sell themselves when a team hasn't sniffed the playoffs in four seasons, even in a Canadian market, so hope is the Oilers' marketing hook.
One thing the Oil assuredly aren't selling is a roster that will have Sheldon Souray hanging around, or so it appears, at any rate. The blueliner cleared waivers this morning, and Steve Tambellini's utterances suggest that he might be exposed to recall waivers, on the off-chance that a team will take him aboard at half-price. Washington is the one decent team out there with the cap space to add a 2.7M hit without having to clear salary, and CapGeek shows them down a couple of bodies on the current roster. They do have 7 D listed, but I doubt they're married to the idea that Tyler Sloan or even Karl Alzner have to play this year.
The Dys have their own bits of intrigue at the moment. Brendan Morrison is in tough to make the roster as a tryout candidate, although Cam Davie at Canucks Army suspects that the former West Coast express stalwart has done enough to make the roster as the fourth pivot. If Morrison is left behind, I hope people don't get the idea that he'd be much help in Calgary. Whatever the Flames may or may not need, another soft minutes center isn't any solution.
Tonight's tilt against Anaheim may also include the return of Roberto Luongo to the Canuck line-up after a brief sit-down due to a groin injury. I'll be interested to see if the whole captaincy thing has any impact at all on his play. My sense is that it's one of those trivialities that people use as a post-facto explanation for a player's performance. Luongo's post-season issues against the Hawks the last two years had as much to do with playing against a team with superior firepower as anything between his ears, IMO.
As the center of the universe continues its obsession over the fate of a marginal NHLer, the Globe and Mail asks whether a business operating in the manner of most normal businesses can succeed in their secondary quest of operating a winning set of teams. MLSE is certainly interested in making a profit, but in the case of the Leafs, they're a cap team. If they stink, it's almost certainly a function of management, just as in Calgary, Edmonton or anywhere else where ownership will green-light spending to the max. I suppose you could argue that MLSE hasn't permitted their mangers to operate freely, but the painful experience that was the JFJ years might lead one to think they were too tolerant if anything. If Brian Burke fails, it's because he failed on his own terms.
In Anaheim, the Ducks appear ready to add a teenager to the ranks. Cam Fowler's slide down the draft order always had the whiff of teams out-smarting themselves, and he looks like he'll have a chance to prove just that on a depleted Duck blueline. That team's going nowhere in the short term, but if they can find one more decent young defender that, would complete a long term core few teams would be able to match.
The Penguins have roster news of their own, but it isn't the happy sort. Jordan Staal isn't likely to start the year in a healthy state, and the Pens will miss him more than most people realize. He plays the toughs most nights for Pittsburgh, and does so without the benefit of cushy ZS numbers. Sidney Crosby deserves every last accolade he gets, but he doesn't row that boat all by himself, irrespective of what the league's hype artists would have you believe. As an aside, I'll be interested to see how the HBO series following the Pens and Caps to the Winter Classic plays out. There was plenty of tongue wagging from self-appointed moral scolds when Rex Ryan unleashed a few naughty words on Hard Knocks. Absent some fairly heavy censorship, there's every chance that locker room scenes from the NHL series will match that level of verbal, er, creativity. There are more than a few hockey players that sound like these gents when they're away from the microphones.
"There's a huge cap circumvention," one team executive said. "It allows teams that can afford it to make a five or six million-dollar mistake."
That's from Craig Custance's piece at the Sporting News. I know the default explanation from sensible people is that rich teams were always going to benefit from the CBA provisions as they're currently written, and that teams aren't cheating when they warehouse salary in the minors. I agree with all that, and don't think there's anything to be worked up about in that regard. The Flames might have to utilize those means to hide an expensive contract or two if they can't make a deal at some point this season, and I'd hope they wouldn't restrain themselves based on a few teams squawking in the press.
That stated, the comments from GMs and team execs don't give me the sense that these complaints are meant to get the league to act a la the Kovalchuk matter. My suspicion is that we're seeing this issue raised by small-market teams as a marker for the next round of bargaining. We often discuss CBA matters as being strictly between the league and the players, but there are clear schisms amongst the ownership groups as well. The league papered over those cracks long enough to get a deal with the players in 2005, but since then the cap system hasn't really worked as advertised. Small market teams have been forced to up payroll in excess of revenues just to reach the floor, and have done so while watching players like Alex Mogilny receive millions from wealthier clubs to remain in the minors. Like I said, it's all on the up and up, but if you're looking for an issue that divides owners, this might be one.
I doubt Justin Bourne has a cat named Virtue, but his piece about what players dealing with a long term injury endure, and not just physically, is worth a visit to Puck Daddy.
Next week, we'll have a real game to discuss. In the interim, if you see anything of note, link it in the comments. Pat and Ryan will be by later today with game previews for the Flames' visit to Edmonton.