Today, In From the Pressbox:
The Ducks go on a spending spree to lock up their top players but those contracts may limit the team under salary cap limits in the very near future. Vancouver Canucks are suddenly finding themselves in a real struggle, on the ice, to match a troubling horizon off the ice. The Winnipeg Jets have made a strong push to give themselves a shot at the playoffs, but still fly under the radar of most hockey observers. The Tampa Lightning is a top-heavy team that has relied on a core of offensive-minded players. Can that be a recipe for success?
Big money given out in Anaheim-will they pay in a different way down the road?
Since the beginning of this season, there has been a lot of speculation about the contract status and future plans for star players Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. Well, in a stark contrast to the club's history of not spending to the salary cap limits, the Ducks have locked up their signature players for the next eight years. First Captain Getzlaf agreed to an annual salary of $8.25 M and earlier this week, the dynamic power forward, Perry, signed for a cap hit of $8.625M.
In light of next year's league-wide cap dropping to $64.3 M, these contracts, along with the rest of the commitments currently on file, will leave the Ducks with a real challenge in filling out this roster next year. They now project to have 16 players signed for a total of $53.5 M, leaving them with only $10.5 M to sign an additional seven players to fill out remaining spots in the lineup.
It also has implications for aging veterans Saku Koivu ($3.8 M) and Teemu Selanne ($4.5 M) who are playing extremely well and anchoring a second scoring line in the final years of their current deals. Both will have to agree to a significant pay reduction if they want to come back next season.
Otherwise, the Ducks will need to look at some unproven third liners to step up and join Bobby Ryan and Andrew Cogliano in important secondary scoring roles.
The emergence of rookie goalie Viktor Fasth (2.00 GAA, .927 save pct.) may give the Ducks some flexibility as his contract calls for $2.9 M next year if they choose to explore a deal to move incumbent goalie Jonas Hiller (2.53 GAA, .911 save pct.) who has one more year on his deal for $4.5 M.
This certainly looks like a move that needs to happen, otherwise the Ducks figure to be a one-line team that will be relatively easy to defend for the foreseeable future.
The Vancouver Canucks are sliding back to the middle of the pack
The Canucks began this shortened season as defending President's Trophy winners, having led the league-wide standings last season.
Their shocking first round exit at the hands of the eventual (albeit surprising) Stanley Cup champs of Los Angeles seems to have been a portent of this season's struggles which suddenly find them mired in seventh place and only holding a two point edge over the ninth place Phoenix for a playoff spot of any kind.
The goalie dilemma surrounding a pre-season commitment to perennial backup Corey Schneider ahead of long-time incumbent Roberto Luongo has hung over the Canucks like a long, dark cloud. It was expected that Vancouver would have dealt Luongo and his onerous $5.33 M cap hit through 2022 to give the controls to Schneider and give the Canucks some much needed cap room going forward.
The cap future in Vancouver is much worse than the one previously described for the Ducks, as the Canucks have already committed over $60 M for 14 players next year, leaving them with less than $4 M to fill out nine roster spots.
On the ice, Luongo (2.47 GAA, .904) has slightly outperformed Schneider (2.63 GAA, .910), particularly in the month of March. The veteran has started the last four games as the Canucks now find themselves in this unexpected struggle to even qualify for the playoffs, brought on by their 3-5-2 mark over the last 10 games.
The goalie puzzle has certainly overshadowed other issues here, as the club has stumbled on offense. Outside of the Sedin Twins, no Canuck skater has tallied more than 16 points and no skater, at all, has even reached the 10-goal mark, through their 28 games played to date.
My guess is that the goalie distraction has had many players looking over their shoulders and possibly distracted by the anticipation of off-ice transactions that were expected to happen some time ago.
Surely, they will now be looking at those transactions to take place, sooner rather than later. At the very least, many pundits will say they waited too long and that delay has really messed the team up during this season.
Winnipeg's Jets flying below the radar
The outlook was pretty dim for the Jets when the season began and their 5-8-1 record through the first 14 games seemed to disqualify them from any talk of real hope for this season.
However, they have cobbled together an impressive 10-4-1 mark since then, to propel themselves into a tie for the last two playoff spots in the East. A quick look at this relatively unassuming roster leaves many observers wondering just how they have turned things around.
A closer look makes me think that they have great team leaders in Captain Andrew Ladd (leading the team in scoring with 14 g and 15 a) and hulking defender Dustin Byfuglien (4g, 13 a), who clearly learned from their Stanley Cup triumph with Chicago a couple of years ago. The Jets have made some clever additions to their roster with the infusion of size and skill from Blake Wheeler and Nik Antropov, to complement home grown talents like Evander Kane and Brian Little. The off-season addition of veteran scorer Olli Jokinen merely added another credible offensive component to this depth that they enjoy up front.
Experienced defensemen Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey and Grant Clitsome have ramped up their game to survive the absence (due to a shoulder injury) of the offensive-minded Tobias Enstrom. They should get him back in the lineup shortly to further bolster their fortunes.
No team is likely to make the playoffs without some strong work in goal and the Jets have to look at their workhorse, Ondrej Pavelec, who has appeared in 26 of their 29 games played. His steady, if unspectacular numbers (2.80 GAA, .904 save pct.) have served him well in keeping the Jets in games on a nightly basis.
This is all more than what was expected of this surprising squad, which has overcome one of the worst travel schedules in the league this season.
Tampa's Lightning mired in a grey area
The Lightning is a team that is currently under .500 with their 13-15-1 mark through 29 games, placing them in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Realistically, their playoff hopes are going to be a long shot unless they go on an extended winning streak. They probably have to win 13 of their remaining 19 games for any kind of chance.
Despite their poor record to date, they do boast some top-tier talent. For instance, Steven Stamkos leads the league (once again) with 21 goals. Ageless teammate Martin St Louis also remains the poster boy for dominance from an undersized player as he has produced 38 points, a total that's got him placed fourth in the NHL scoring race.
The team's current woes are made worse when we note that their third superstar talent and Captain, Vincent Lecavalier (7 g, 15 a) is out of the lineup with a possible broken bone in his foot- an injury that could keep him sidelined for up to one month.
It's because of this trio that the Lightning is perceived as an offense first team. However, apart from them, only Teddy Purcell (24 points) and impressive rookie Cory Conacher (21 points) have even reached the 15-point mark. The Bolts are going to need to find more offense or they are going to have to switch to a defense-first posture to make a push for the post-season.
Even with that switch in philosophy, there are some question marks because in unproven Anders Lindback (2.88 GAA, .904 save pct.) and journeyman Mathieu Garon (2.65 GAA, .915 save pct.) they have a goalie tandem that surely ranks in the bottom third of the league.
To further underscore the drop-off in talent, between the top and bottom tier of this roster we also note the big difference between the quality of young Victor Hedman (+10) and veteran Sami Salo (+13) as opposed the rest of the defense corps, a very ordinary group at best.
It seems that this concentration of high-end skill will not be enough to propel the Bolts into this year's playoffs.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).