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Morning Skate: Rotting Leafs

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.


From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Thursday, March 20
Subject: Rotting Leafs
 
Something is rotten in Leafland. James Reimer is getting run through the ringer but I've seen the goals and they're not all his fault. That first one against Tampa Bay on Wednesday was a killer, but it seems like this guy is persona non grata in Tronna right now. Adding fuel to the mix was the amusing tweet sent out by his agent, but let's not forget that this is a goalie who got the Leafs into the playoffs (to collapse) and then had the team trade for someone viewed better than him. Now with the keys to the kingdom, Reimer isn't exactly silencing any doubters. Considering how the Leafs cough up scoring chances and shots, they don't exactly insulate their goalies. These advanced stat people who point to the Leafs being the luckiest team around might have something, but they need to come up with an advanced stat for compete and grit and then maybe the Leafs will listen.

Slightly important game for my Devils tonight on the heels of three straight losses, the prodigal son returns to New Jersey as the Wild visit Minnesota. This will be Parise's first game in Newark since Game 5 of the 2012 finals. He's not likely to receive a pleasant reception, as the Devils seem to repel players back to their hometowns and home countries (some guy named Koval something). In all seriousness, the Devils are playing themselves out of the playoffs and they have not looked good the last week. That said, a story came out of New Jersey that said Martin Brodeur was revealed that Parise was close to staying in New Jersey and that Brodeur was going to try to call Ryan Suter to convince him to join them in Newark in 2012. I find it odd how this didn't come out before, seems too convenient.

Looks like another moving day in the Eastern Conference on Thursday, but things are looking interesting out West. The Wild have a nice cushion for the seven spot. Think Phoenix holds on? Dallas, Vancouver or Winnipeg are close, but I'm thinking the Canucks fade a bit more and the Jets make a run at this thing. What's jumped out at you about the Jets lately?

-Two national capitals struggling right now. What's going on in Ottawa?

-Who can we look to see a bump up in scoring chances in Chicago with Patrick Kane out for three weeks?

Great to see that Paul Ranger was responsive and alert after that hit from Alex Killorn on Wednesday. Scary moment.

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Thursday, March 20
Subject: Capital Issues
 
Yeah, that Paul Ranger hit was ugly. I was in the bar after our beer league finals and the entire place simultaneously moaned -- thank goodness he's out of hospital now. But we'll see what comes of it. The Leafs are in a free fall. And you're right -- James Reimer is taking a beating. There are several things at play here. The guy needs regular work to stay sharp; he hasn't gotten that work and it's showing. His glove hand is still suspect and his rebound control is sketchy. But the biggest of all? His coach has zero confidence in him and that dates back to a certain Game 7 collapse ... Reimer will have a new home next season. He's not as bad as he is made out to be, but he needs someone in his corner through those inevitable brain farts. That's what happened on goal one against the Bolts.

Winnipeg? You have more faith than I, my friend. That team basked in the glow of Paul Maurice, but it's still the same rotten Atlanta Thrashers core. And it needs more than a firecracker shoved up its ... seriously, there's a blow-up coming. Those fans are only so patient. Evander Kane gets a bad rap in the Peg, but it's the wrong move to move him. Andrew Ladd could get traded as could Tobias Enstrom. And they desperately need a goalie. Hmmm ... James Reimer, anyone, anyone? He is a Manitoba boy. That won't be enough, but it's a start. It should have started earlier. A lot earlier.

Minnesota, Dallas and Phoenix are three fighting for two spots, but I think I agree with you in your assessment of Minny for seven. I have a hard time going against Dave Tippett in anything -- that guy is a powerful motivator. That leaves the Stars on the outside ... I think. Yikes.

Ottawa is a mess. I think 2012-13 was a mirage and this is the norm. They got Vezina-quality goaltending last season and that hid everything that was wrong. We just didn't pay attention to the fact they had horrible defensive coverage and allowed way too many shots. They got lucky. This year, the goalies aren't stealing a thing. So the arrival of Bobby Ryan and the return of Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson were irrelevant. And c'mon -- they knew from the start of the season that they needed someone to play with Jason Spezza, so why wait until the deadline to get Ales Hemsky? Then again -- and I suspect this is rhetorical -- don't great players make offence with any wingers? Wayne Gretzky played with Chris Kontos in L.A. way back in the day and the Great One had no problem putting up points. Kontos scored nine goals that postseason. So when will Ottawa realize that Spezza isn't the guy to build around -- he just can't find a way to make others better. Another blow up needs to happen. First, Spezza. Then Michalek. Spit.

Chicago has already been suffering through Patrick Kane's disappearance, so will he really be missed now? Sorry, that was bitter. I have been relying on him to keep me out of the basement in our THL league and now I'm sunk. Argh. Marian Hossa is more than able to be "the man." Ben Smith and Andrew Shaw will get increased opportunities with Kane out. I like Brandon Saad's versatility -- I think he could surprise.

That tidbit about Zach Parise is interesting. The East would look very different with Parise and Ryan Suter with your beloved Devils. Even then, I wouldn't give them an advantage -- the East is a proverbial crap shoot. Personally, I think Boston is the closest to best there, but no team leaps out to me as one that will go all the way.

Quick questions

-- How many games does Martin Brodeur play next season? And for whom? Ditto Tim Thomas.
-- How many more late-season bursts does Jarome Iginla have in him? He'll be 37 this summer.
-- Who's better -- Milan Lucic or Wayne Simmonds? Now and in three years.
-- How much will Paul Stastny get on July 1? And is he worth it?
-- Travis Zajac or Adam Henrique? And why?

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Friday, March 21
Subject: This or That
 
It's not that I have faith in the Thrashers, I'm just surprised they're still within sniffing of a playoff spot. As for Reimer, yea he's played badly, but it's not ALL his fault? Or is it? I'm curious if there will be narratives about how Reimer must want to come back to Manitoba, but I've found those narratives only exist when a great Canadian player is in a non-hockey market (i.e. Weber in Nashville, Lecavalier in his Tampa Bay days).

-Yes, Dallas will be on the outside when it's over, however I can't see it as a huge disappointment. I didn't think the Stars would be within a shot of reaching the postseason, but here they are. That division is scary good, it's a good thing Detroit isn't in it any more or there would be no doubt about their consecutive playoff streak ending...speaking of the Wings. How are they still winning games with seemingly no healthy centers? Their 5-4 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday says more about the Penguins methinks.

If Boston doesn't run away with the East, I'll be shocked.

-The Brodeur comments about the Suter-Parise signings lead me into your question about where he'll be. Brodeur has enjoyed talking to the media and telling them things all season. After Cory Schneider would play well several games in a row, Brodeur would be talking about how he wouldn't mind being traded or wants to see more time, even if it is on another team. When Marty would win a couple games in a row and Schneider would falter, Brodeur would talk about how he'd consider staying in New Jersey and thinks he has another season in him. Broduer passively aggressively hinted to be traded and then didn't get dealt. I don't know how much viability there is in the Brodeur comment about possibly landing Suter, it seemed a bit vague in the original piece. Parise was down to choosing either New Jersey or Minnesota, that's been discussed; the prospect of Suter coming to Newark I hadn't heard about, but Brodeur has been delivering soundbites all season.

As for where he is next season, it's a quandary. I'd assume he wants to play enough to get to 700 wins, which would mean he'd need probably 25-30 starts and have a good enough of a team in front of him. There are some strong backup goalies in the league buoyed by good teams. Brodeur will be 43 when the season starts and I'd be just as surprised if he remains in New Jersey than if he leaves. My money would be on him going to a team where he could play, a team in need of a solid backup, but he doesn't view himself as a backup and his numbers this season certainly don't ooze confidence, to say the least. My guess is he'll head to Montreal where there will be no doubt about him being the No. 2 with Carey Price in town and Marty playing 20-25 games.

-Until Iginla stops turning it on late in the season, I'm going to believe he's capable of doing it every year. Playing on Boston helps, but Iggy keeps getting it done, seemingly finding his game in the season's later months every year.

-Milan Lucic is the player all teams covet and want to clone. Right now Lucic I'd say, but Simmonds has been a force in Philly's resurgence. They both are physical forwards who can produce, but I'll say Simmonds in three seasons will eclipse Loo slightly, not much.

-Someone will give Paul Stastny close to $5-6 million per season, or more. He's not worth it, but he's a solid two-way center who has been a productive player, however he's redundant on Colorado with the likes of Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon. That said, I can see Stasnty getting Nathan Horton-type money.

-I've been a Zajac fan for a long time and have a white Devils' sweater with his name on it. Both players have the ability to play alongside stars, but I'm leaning more toward Henrique. He has another gear to his game that Zajac doesn't, more of an ability to make more happen on his own, a bit more skill and doggedness. Henrique can make some stuff happen that Zajac can't; it's hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. Zajac's a solid and a reliable two-way player, but Henrique can be a gamebreaker.

What can we expect from Teuvo Teravainen in Chicago? We've been hearing the hype about the uber-prospect this 19-year old is, so I'm curious to see what kind of role they'll use him in, and whether it will be similar to what the Bruins did with Tyler Seguin in the 2011 playoffs.

-Evgeny Kuznetsov has been raking in assists for the Caps, what have you seen from him lately?

-Who do you like the OHL playoffs? Anyone whose stock you can see soaring? Fall?

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Sunday, March 23
Subject: Teuvo Time
 
I'm taking Wayne Simmonds over Milan Lucic now and in the future. Simmonds has 39 points, including 19 goals, in his last 37 games. Lucic has 35, including just 12 goals, in 44. Lucic has way more hits, but Simmonds is way more productive on the power play. And besides -- I have a thing for guys who wear a crap-eating grin while they're running you down.

And I hate to say this, but Paul Stastny is going to command a whole lot more than $5-6 million. I smell $7 mil in his future. He'll be the top center on the market and you know how UFAs make GMs lose their minds.

I like your thinking on Adam Henrique. He was something else when he played with Taylor Hall in Windsor.

I'm big on Teuvo Teravainen; I have been since his draft year. I like him a lot more than Evgeny Kuznetsov. Both are extremely talented guys, but Teravainen knows what his own zone looks like. And Chicago is a much better place to break in than Washington. There's structure. There's discipline. And there's REAL leadership. Kuznetsov may have slightly higher offensive upside, but the intangibles in both the city and the man make Double T my choice.

The OHL? There was a gong show in London on Saturday night. Even one of the Spits' mammas got involved by firing a beer can into the Knights penalty box. The Spitfires will never win that series, but they've probably won the heart of Don Cherry. Seriously, though -- I'm saddened to think that the best three teams in the OHL are all in the West. I always want the best two teams to saw off in the finals, but that won't happen. Guelph, Erie and London are all among the top-six teams in the nation, not just the OHL. It will be interesting to see if London makes it in as the OHL champ, the host city or both. And wouldn't it be ironic if North Bay prevailed as OHL champ? Bu-bye, Brampton.

We started this discussion with James Reimer and it has come full circle with his choke on Sunday against the Devils. He has lost his mojo -- do you think he'll get it back? Honestly, I think Toronto is in a heap of trouble. They've played more hockey than just about any other team and I can still remember the day the Islanders beat them for the eighth and final playoff spot. Two of Detroit, Toronto, Washington and Columbus get in -- which two and why?

Lastly, which team inspires more confidence for the future? Buffalo or Edmonton? We've all be waiting for the Oil, but my patience is wearing thin. The Sabres are making moves that make me think someone knows what they're doing. Am I being fooled or does that feel real? And when do the Oilers start to get traction?

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Tuesday, March 25
Subject: #Lumbus

Yeah, I was off a bit on that Stastny potential deal. He'll fetch a hefty sum, two-way center that can produce - yeah, someone will overpay for him.

The Devils-Leafs game on Sunday night was painful for to watch considering Reimer's effort on New Jersey's first and third goals. That first goal from Damien Brunner was a highly stoppable shot and the third one, a point blast from John Merrill (remember his name in a couple years btw), snuck through his arm and his side. Not pretty. The second goal, the nasty Elias dangle, there wasn't much Reimer could do on that, but he did overcommit a bit, albeit after Elias was sprung on a breakaway past flat-footed defense. The Buds made a good comeback, but it's tough playing from 3-0 down against a stingy team. It'll be interesting to see how they handle St. Louis tonight, but it's wrong for Reimer to get the entire blame on this. True, he's played poorly at times, but it's not all him.

In the east, I've drunk the #Lumbus kool aid and will see them in the seventh spot. Bob in goal covers up a lot and gives that team a chance. They're a scrappy bunch and I like their grit better than the other teams competing for that spot, as in they can actually play defense. Which leads me to Detroit in the 8th spot, even without a healthy center anywhere in the state of Michigan. They're still a better defensive team than both Toronto and Washington. The Leafs should be in the playoffs, considering they had a decent position a few weeks ago, but they won’t be.

Buffalo is closer to being more competitive than Edmonton. Neither areas are the most attractive climates for free agents, but the Sabres have made some better moves in the trade market in terms of stockpiling future picks, not to mention the two defensemen they picked this past year (Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen),  not to mention Zegmus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorienko.

Edmonton shored up its goaltending, but both Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth could be in goal at the same time and it won't matter with the defensemen in front of them and the system in northern Alberta. Jeff Marek, on the Marek vs. Wyshinski podcast/radio show always makes the point that with the salary cap in place now, free agents decide on other factors than money, such as condition of living, family opportunities and team quality. If what Mr. Marek says is true, Calgary and Edmonton will be down for a longer time.

It seems pretty certain Tampa Bay will be playing Montreal in the playoffs? I'm going with the Bolts and Ben Bishop. Bolts or Habs for you?

Your turn for closer to being competitive: Florida or Calgary.

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Thursday, March 27
Subject: Sewing It Up

Geez. I want to say Tampa Bay -- they looked good Thursday night. But there's something in my gut that says the Habs might just pull it off. But it'll take seven. I like Ben Bishop, but I think Carey Price will prevail.

And I agree with you on Buffalo being closer than Edmonton. But how is that? How can a team draft at the top so many times and still be so damn bad? The Oilers are going nowhere except down. And nothing is going to change until Kevin Lowe gets his pink slip.

Florida or Calgary? I like the way the Flames are playing, but Florida is coming hard and fast. Roberto Luongo shores up the blue paint. Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are studs. Vincent Trocheck is on his way. Yes, Eric Gudbranson needs to be injury free. But Brian Campbell will be a stud next year. The East is a crap shoot and Florida will vie for a playoff spot. Mark my words.