Thursday, October 14, 2010

Changes to the ELC System

One thing has become clear through the vigorous debate surrounding Hall and Paajarvi this season, and that is the need for revision to the ELC system. Setting aside the question of whether there is a need for an ELC system at all in a capped league, what can be done to improve the current system?

Currently, situations can arise where the team would ideally like a player to be in the NHL, but decides to keep them out for contractual reasons. I’m assuming that the player would also rather be in the NHL at 18 or 19, instead of sent back to junior because of the current ELC system. By changing the ELC system for 18 and 19 year old players, both the player and the team can be helped. Eliminating the “slide rule”, and altering the ELC system such that an 18 year old player receives a 5 year ELC, and a 19 year old player receives a 4 year ELC would remove the incentive teams have to send an “NHL ready” player back to junior to massage the contract situation.

In negotiations, it is often important to consider the transaction from the perspective of the opposing party. It’s easy to see why the owners might like to control top rookies for a little bit longer, but the reason this could be a slam dunk is that it is (arguably) in the interests of the majority of players as well. When you want something, and realize the other party is either largely indifferent to, or mildly in favour of, that point of negotiation, often you can find a way to get the issue resolved at a lower cost to yourself than you might have initially thought. It is true that this change would be a further restriction on the earning potential of top end players early in their careers, but I believe the NHLPA would probably accept such a restriction; they’ve had no problem sacrificing the earning power of young players in the past. In fact, they’ve thrown rookies under the bus twice in the past 20 years: by allowing a rookie cap to be implemented, and allowing for further rookie restrictions in the most recent CBA. I would be surprised if many union members were particularly concerned with helping the few 18 and 19 year old players reach RFA status one or two years earlier than they would by sticking with the current system, if it were something the owners requested. After all, every dollar the rookies are denied is a dollar for everyone else, due to linkage.

For that matter, I don’t think the owners would have much of a problem convincing the players to remove the “7 years service” requirement for UFA status, which would change the UFA requirements to be a flat age 27 for all players. For a large majority of union members, the 7 year clause has no relevance so there’s no reason for them to get too concerned about keeping it for the small number of players that benefit from the “7 years service” rule.

So, if I'm the owners heading into the next CBA negotiation, I don't think I would have overly strong opposition if I were to ask for those changes to the ELC system, and that minor change to UFA qualifications.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Western Conference Projections

Having tackled the Eastern conference, it is time to move on to the West. Again, division winners are noted by an asterisk.

  1. Vancouver Canucks* - Art Ross winner, very deep group of defencemen, one of the best goalies in the league. A nice combination, in (at least arguably) the weakest division would seem to be a recipe for a great regular season.
  2. San Jose Sharks* - I suppose it’s possible the Kings could pass them, but I need to see it before I’m confident enough to put them ahead of a regular season juggernaut like the Sharks.
  3. Detroit Red Wings* - Everyone’s rested and healthy, Hudler’s back to add some depth. I wouldn’t count on another couple of 70 point seasons from Datsyuk and Zetterberg. The question is Howard, in my mind.
  4. Chicago Blackhawks – They’ve lost some depth, but the young core should still be improving.
  5. Los Angeles Kings – I look at the Kings as a pretty good bet to make the playoffs, but they’ve got a bunch of young players so they could take a leap forward or a slight step back. So I’ll split the difference and project them as the 5th team in the West
  6. Nashville Predators – this team is consistently underrated by many, myself included. But they’ve got good goaltending, a good D core, and a solid if not spectacular forward core. Looks like a playoff team, or failing that a team that’s close.
  7. Calgary Flames - I’m not nearly as pessimistic about this team as most. I don’t think they’ll challenge Vancouver, but I’d be surprised if they fall down the standings like some, barring injuries to Iginla, Bouwmeester and/or Kiprusoff. Then again, maybe I should be given the current injury problems?
  8. Anaheim Ducks – The defence might be a bit weak, but they’ve got a good goalie and pretty decent forwards. PP of Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Selanne, and Visnovsky should be very good. Can that carry a team through the regular season?
  9. Phoenix Coyotes – I need to see it again before I believe it, as far being a slam dunk for the playoffs. Their goaltending might regress a little, and with LA coming on, we’ll see.
  10. St. Louis Blues – Halak seems like he might be an upgrade, but a look at last year’s stats suggests this team already had pretty good goaltending, so I’m not sure they’ll get quite the boost some might think, even if Halak is a 0.920 sv% goalie, unless the rest of the roster performs better.
  11. Colorado Avalanche – Like many, I expect this team to step back a little bit, but I don’t expect them to slip all the way back to the lottery.
  12. Minnesota Wild – Not too much to say, but they don’t look quite as raw as the three teams remaining, and would appear to have better goaltending provided BAckstrom stays healthy.
  13. Dallas Stars – None of the three remaining teams have very good defences, on paper. Dal probably has the best forwards.
  14. Edmonton Oilers – I had a difficult time deciding between Edmonton and Columbus. Ultimately, my tiebreaker is that I project the NW to be an easier division. They could shoot quite a bit higher if a couple of the rookies are better than I’m expecting.
  15. Columbus Blue Jackets – I don’t really like having them this low, because I think they've certainly got the potential to be better than last. But, someone has to be. I’m not sure what to expect out of Mason.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Eastern Conference Projections

On paper I think the teams group, loosely, from 1-2, 3-7, 8-12, 13-15. Obviously it’s highly unlikely that’s how it will turn out, but I do think there is a bigger divide to start the year between 7 and 8 than between 5 and 6, or 9 and 10, or 14 and 15. Division Winners are noted by an asterisk.

  1. Washington Capitals* - I don’t think they’ll be quite as dominant this season as last, but still good enough to win the Eastern conference.
  2. New Jersey Devils* -Superior depth should help them edge out the Penguins, who I think will be second in this division. I’m not sure that, on paper, the Capitals are better than the Devils, but the Devils have a more difficult looking schedule so I’ll give the regular season edge to Washington.
  3. Boston Bruins* - I see the NE as being a relatively tight division, but I like the Bruins depth at forward, provided Savard returns at some point.
  4. Pittsburgh Penguins – It’ll be interesting to see what kind of numbers Comrie and Kunitz are able to post this season. Maybe it’s not surprising given the importance of goaltending, but to win the division I think they’ll need a great year out of Fleury.
  5. Buffalo Sabres - somehow I ended up with both Pominville and Vanek in my draft, so consider this pick a reach if you will. I don’t think Miller projects to be as good as last season, but I also expect more (perhaps erroneously) out of some of BUF’s forwards
  6. Ottawa Senators –incredible PP potential in Ottawa this season, with the addition of Gonchar and the potential maturation of Erik Karlsson, along with Spezza, Alfredsson, and the mercurial Kovalev. I would rank them ahead of Buffalo were it not for the difference in projected quality of goaltending.
  7. Philadelphia Flyers – The goaltending is a bit of a concern, but I suppose it’s not impossible that they make a trade relatively early if the goaltending is a problem.
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning – I don’t know that I see them as a markedly better team than those in this tier, but I like what Yzerman’s done so I’ll project them as the last playoff team. Kind of surprised Pouliot didn’t crack the team.
  9. Montreal Canadiens – Price will be one to watch this year. I’m also curious to see Eller and Subban, MON might be a fun team to watch this season.
  10. New York Rangers – If Gaborik’s groin acts up, this team could fall pretty sharply.
  11. Carolina Hurricanes – Not much to say with this team, hopefully for Carolina guys like Skinner and Boychuk can step up because the forward depth isn’t looking all that great past Staal and maybe Jussi Jokinen.
  12. Toronto Maple Leafs – How many games will Kadri play this season? I’ll go with 48.
  13. Atlanta Thrashers – Not really sure who’s going to score the goals for this team.
  14. New York Islanders – At least another year until this team pushes for the playoffs, especially with Streit and Okposo out for awhile. I think it’s “flip a coin” territory between NYI and FLA for last in the East, I went with FLA because I’m not sure what team looks like if/once Vokoun is traded, and I think that trade comes as soon as Tallon gets what he think is a decent offer.
  15. Florida Panthers – I think this team could surprise depending on Vokoun, but I also think if Vokoun is keeping them from falling right into the basement, Tallon may try to move him earlier than the deadline to ensure FLA finishes with a top 3 pick again this season.