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Checking in on the New York Islanders

Jaroslav Halak is a major upgrade in goal for the Isles

Last year: 34-37-11, eighth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by 14 points.

Key additions: Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Cory Conacher, Chad Johnson, T.J. Brennan

Key subtractions: Evgeni Nabokov, Radek Martinek (likely)

Franchise direction: The Islanders’ rebuild has been very slow, but it really does look like things are starting to change. The additions of Halak, Grabovski and Kulemin were major pieces and the Islanders clearly are hoping to make a splash when they begin play at the Barclays Center in 2015-2016. New York needs several of its prospects to fulfill their promise in order to become a perennial playoff team, but they certainly have the talent to make that a reality over the next couple seasons.

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Reviewing Rob Vollman’s “Hockey Abstract 2014″

HockeyAbstract

Hockey Abstract 2014 is available now.

If you’ve been paying attention this offseason, you’ve noticed that several NHL teams have hired advanced stats experts. Though #fancystats still have opposition, you don’t need to look further than the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for proof that they offer valuable insight.  No longer are these metrics exclusive to a small community of mathematicians, they are now mainstream in hockey.

Last summer I reviewed Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract and began to fall deeper into the rabbit hole of advanced stats. Rob was kind enough to give me a copy of Hockey Abstract 2014 - co-written by Tom Awad and Ian Fyffe – again this year, and it was even better than the first edition.

Vollman’s greatest strength is in putting what appear to be complicated formulas, graphs and figures into words that anyone can understand, whether they’re good at math or not. In fact, I’ll readily admit that I glossed over many of the charts in the book, because the real value is in Vollman’s translation. I’m much more concerned with what the numbers mean than how they’re reached, so I enjoyed Vollman’s thought process and conclusions most of all. Read more »

Checking in on the Carolina Hurricanes

Hurricanes great Ron Francis replaces Jim Rutherford as general manager

Last year: 36-35-11, seventh in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by 10 points.

Key additions: Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Brad Malone

Key subtractions: Andrei Loktionov, Justin Peters, Manny Malhotra, Drayson Bowman (likely), Radek Dvorak (likely), Mike Komisarek (likely), Joni Pitkanen (likely)

Franchise direction: Like the Penguins and Capitals, Carolina elected to oust its coach and general manager rather than overturn its roster. Bill Peters replaces Kirk Muller behind the bench and Hall of Famer Ron Francis will step in for Jim Rutherford as general manager. Those could be just the first of many sweeping changes in Carolina. The players on the current roster will obviously be given another shot this season before the Hurricanes make any dramatic moves, but don’t be surprised to see Francis unload key cogs if Carolina starts slow and decides to blow up its roster to begin a full rebuild.

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Checking in on the Washington Capitals

The five-year, $27.5 million deal that Washington completed with Brooks Orpik is a real head-scratcher

Last year: 38-30-14, fifth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by three points.

Key additions: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters

Key subtractions: Mikhail Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak, Michal Neuvirth, Dustin Penner (likely)

Franchise direction: Like the rival Penguins, Washington chose to make major changes in the front office over overhauling its roster. In for George McPhee is Brian MacLellan as General Manager while long-time Predators coach Barry Trotz replaces Adam Oates behind the bench. Trotz is one of the most respected men in the business, but he’s made his living as a defensive-minded coach and faces an entirely new challenge in the nation’s capital. Trotz was surely part of the inspiration for the team’s two big signings, Niskanen and Orpik. The Capitals needed a major upgrade on defense after finishing 21st in goals against, but lobbing $67.75 million at Niskanen and Orpik was a bit excessive, especially in Orpik’s case. The acquisitions certainly don’t say much for the team’s faith in its long-time top-three of John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green. Focusing on bringing in defensemen from outside the organization does make some sense given that Washington has several talented forward coming up through the organization.

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Checking in on the Pittsburgh Penguins

Former Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston will replace Dan Bylsma behind the Penguins’ bench

Last year: 51-24-7, first in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Rangers in the second round.

Key additions: Patric Hornqvist, Christian Ehrhoff, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss

Key subtractions: James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik, Lee Stempniak, Brian Gibbons, Deryk Engelland, Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass (just kidding) Taylor Pyatt (just kidding)

Franchise direction: The Penguins roster has been retooled, but the major news of their offseason was the firing of coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero. In their place are Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford, respectively, but while Pittsburgh has had higher expectations than Bylsma and Shero have been able to meet in recent years, it’s hard to view the changes behind the bench and in the front office as an upgrade. Pittsburgh did improve its depth up front and cleared dead weight that should allow some youngsters to make an impact. But why was playoff goat Marc-Andre Fleury retained while sweeping changes were made in every other facet of the organization?

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Checking in on the Columbus Blue Jackets

Scott Hartnell should set the tone for the Blue Jackets

Last year: 43-32-7, fourth in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Penguins in the first round.

Key additions: Scott Hartnell, Brian Gibbons

Key subtractions: R.J. Umberger, Jack Skille, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, Nikita Nikitin

Franchise direction: The Jackets are happy as clams with the way things are going after they made a surprise postseason appearance and gave Pittsburgh all it could handle in the first round of the playoffs. Columbus had to let go of a few spare parts to provide flexibility and allow the team to lock up key long-term pillars like Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky, but the team has quality reinforcements. Read more »

Checking in on the New Jersey Devils

The Devils’ major offseason acquisition: 32-year-old Mike Cammalleri

Last year: 35-29-18, sixth in the Metro Division

Key additions: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, Scott Clemmensen

Key subtractions: Martin Brodeur, Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, Ryan Carter (likely)

Franchise direction: The Devils have finally turned the page on the Brodeur era, but that doesn’t mean the team is any younger. New Jersey added the 32-year-old Cammalleri and 33-year-old Havlat to a group that already includes 34-year-old Michael Ryder, 36-year-old Dainius Zubrus, 37-year-old Marek Zidlicky, 38-year-old Bryce Salvador, 38-year-old Patrik Elias and 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr.  The Devils are certainly not rebuilding, but their plan is a little puzzling. Read more »

Checking in on the Philadelphia Flyers

R.J. Umberger was the lone major addition for the unusually inactive Flyers this offseason

Last year: 42-30-10, third in the division. Lost to the Rangers in the first round

Key additions:  R.J. Umberger, Nick Schultz

Key subtractions: Scott Hartnell, Adam Hall (likely)

Franchise direction: I didn’t quite know what to think when Ron Hextall replaced Paul Holmgren, but so far the new general manager has demonstrated restraint uncharacteristic of this organization. Yes, the Hartnell/Umberger trade was a little bit of a head-scratcher and the rampant rumors that Philadelphia tried to move up to grab the No. 1 draft pick were interesting, but all in all this has been an unusually quiet offseason for the Flyers. Read more »

Sifting through the wreckage of July 1

Don’t look at Tanner Glass’s metrics. Seriously, don’t.

In just a few short hours, the 2013-2014 New York Rangers were blown apart.

Usually it’s GM Glen Sather that flashes the power of the dollar as he plucks key contributors away from other top teams on July 1, but yesterday it was the Blueshirts that were victimized by the league’s annual spending spree. The unfortunate part of the carnage was that much of it could have been avoided.

That Sather wasn’t prepared to come near the five years, $20 million that Benoit Pouliot received from Edmonton is completely understandable. But that he wasn’t willing to match the five years, $22.5 million that Anton Stralman got from Tampa Bay is a little less so.

The real kicker came towards the end of the day, when the same Lightning that had already re-signed Ryan Callahan and poached Stralman then inked Brian Boyle to the perfectly reasonable contract of three years, $6 million. Read more »

Potential UFA target: Mikhail Grabovski

Mikhail Grabovski is not a #1 center, but he could still help the Rangers

New York’s top two offseason needs are a No. 1 center and an offensive defenseman. There’s not much denying that, but sometimes there just aren’t players available to fulfill those needs, and sometimes the cost of doing so makes for unwise decisions.

With Andrei Markov now off the market, the lone offensive-minded blueliner of note that’s set to hit free agency next week is Matt Niskanen, who’s sure to be overpaid based on one standout season. There doesn’t seem to be a solution on the trade market either, so the Rangers seem be out of luck.

On the other hand, there is a bevy of top-line centers available, including Paul Stastny, Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton. Unfortunately, only Stastny can be had for money alone, and the contract he’s about to receive will be massive for yet another center that’s best served as a No. 2 (sound familiar Rangers fans?). Stastny is poised to cash in on a monster playoff year, but he’s had injury problems and is coming off his first 60-point season since 2009-2010. He is best served as a secondary option, so the funds and term required to land him would create a Brad Richards problem all over again.

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