15 Prime Cuts – June 2012

Ryan Suter

Tricky RFA negotiations, Ryan Suter, the Gary Roberts training crew, and more. The Prime Cuts are back!

1. I don’t envy any NHL GMs with big name restricted free agents this summer. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the next CBA. Some GMs want a cap on the length of a second contract. Others want to increase the UFA age up from 27 (it was 31 before the lockout of 2004-05). If I were a betting man, I’d expect to see a lot of one and two-year deals for the likes of Evander Kane,Jamie Benn, and Matt Duchene (especially in Duchene’s case, as he is coming off a horrific offensive season).

2. Even with the uncertainty regarding the next CBA, expect the Red Wings to be very aggressive this summer. Ken Holland has close to $30 million in cap space to work with (although he is short one Lidstrom), and need to plug the following holes – number one defenseman, top line winger. I’d expect rookies Gustav Nyqvist and Brenden Smith to both make the jump.

The Wings can give Parise and Suter close to $7.5 million each and still have ample cap space in case the expected upper limit of $73 million is short lived.

3. James Neal and Steven Stamkos are two of the best goal scorers in the league. Both are lethal with the puck on their stick, and both use a combination of speed, size, and strength to consistently generate scoring chances. Another similarity – both have trained together with Gary Roberts during the past few off seasons. Talented players like Stamkos and Neal would likely have become very good NHL players regardless of where they trained, but there is something to be said for what Roberts is doing with his clients.

Often times what separates great players from the truly elite is work ethic. We have seen it with Sidney Crosby and Zach Parise, too. They are usually the most skilled players on their team, and always the hardest working. Work ethic and skill are an unbeatable combination.

As someone with a background and passion for health and wellness, I can’t preach enough how important nutrition is (especially for professional athletes). As the saying goes – you can eat better than a bad training program, but you can’t out train a bad diet.

4. Another player who trains with Roberts is Ducks prospect Peter Holland, who I wrote about as a potential trade target for the Canucks. The 6-3 forward is likely the second line center of the future behind Getzlaf.

5. I wrote a column on my blog taking a look at the career of Jamie Benn. Thanks to advanced statistics, we can see how impressive his 2011-12 season really was. Benn was the third best forward in the entire league in terms of even strength scoring, and he was playing a new position for a team lacking in depth. Read it in its entirety here.

6. The acquisition of Tomas Vokoun by the Penguins came out of left field to many. It is a move that gives GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma a lot of options for the next two seasons. It also provides a wakeup call to Marc-Andre Fleury, who set a new low for a playoff meltdown in the first round against the Flyers.

7. If you don’t know who Marek Hrivik is, don’t feel bad. The 20-year-old undrafted Slovak winger was recently signed by the Rangers after impressing for their AHL affiliate in Connecticut. Hrivik played three years in the QMJHL with Moncton, peaking offensively in 2010-11 with 38 goals in 59 games. He has NHL size and skill, but needs to work on his consistency and skating.

Hrivik played eight regular season games with the Whale, recording one goal and no assists. However, in nine postseason games, he lit the lamp five times. Don’t be surprised if Hrivik emerges at training camp as a contender for a roster spot with the Rangers (especially with Marian Gaborik out until November or December).

8. The next few seasons will be interesting in Florida. They overachieved in 2011-12, and may speed up the rebuild in order to keep the playoff momentum rolling in the right direction. They have the best prospect pool in the NHL (by far), and Dale Tallon will have to balance the future without losing site of the present. The team is led by Brian Campbell, Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg andTomas Fleischmann right now, and it wouldn’t be crazy to see all four of them remain in Florida for the next few years.

Everyone knows about blue chip goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom. On the back end, the Panthers have a handful of high end prospects, including Eric Gudbranson, Alex Petrovic, and Colby Robak. Up front things get even better. Nick Bjugstad is the best forward in the NCAA, and Jonathan Huberdeau may be the best forward in the CHL, too. Rocco Grimaldi has elite offensive upside, and Drew Shore and Kyle Rau should be very good secondary scorers in the NHL.

The future is bright in Sunrise, to say the least. The Panthers rewarded Tallon with a contract extension on Wednesday morning.

9. Willie Mitchell’s contributions to the LA Kings cannot be overstated. He plays tough minutes, rarely loses puck battles, and consistently pushes the play forward. His defensive stability has been a huge positive in the development of Drew Doughty (the last few seasons) and Slava Voynov (this season).

10. The Nashville Predators are looking to trade Alex Radulov’s rights. Not a surprise – they took their homerun swing this season and came up short. If Ryan Suter leaves this summer, don’t be surprised to see Shea Weber on the way out soon after (ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun agrees).

11. Human psychology interests me greatly, as do the vast number of cognitive biases that affect all of us on a daily basis. One of the most prevalent is the ‘recency effect.’ Essentially, we as humans remember recent events more vividly than past events. This can be applied to all sorts of things – teams, players, coaches, trades, signings, and so on.

Ryan Getzlaf is a great example – a few years ago he was regarded as one of the most dominant forwards in the league. After a miserable 2011-12 season, we don’t really hear anything about him. The Ducks will likely trade one of their big three this summer, but I don’t think they can afford to move Getzlaf, especially with his value so low right now.

12. Three players the Blue Jackets should build around for the future include Jack Johnson, Derrick Brassard, and Derek Dorsett. Johnson had 14 points in 21 games for the Jackets after the trade, embracing the role as the number one defenseman on the team.

He wasn’t missed at by the Kings, thanks entirely to the sudden emergence of Slava Voynov, who is miles better defensively than Johnson. However, Columbus fans should be excited with Johnson – he has thrived in the past with being “the guy.” His defensive game still has a ways to go, and he’ll never be someone who will match up against top opposition.

However, with the right role and right defensive partner, his offensive game should explode.

13. I’m currently rereading Future Greats and Heartbreaks, Gare Joyce’s fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the NHL Draft. Joyce got to follow the Columbus scouting staff around during the 2006 draft in Vancouver. The team debated at great length their 6th overall selection (they ended up taking Brassard).

To say Brassard’s NHL career has been a disappointment would be fair. The supremely skilled center-turned-winger-turned center again has battled some serious injuries and has had a revolving door of coaches and teammates. The Jackets are thin at center, as any team would be after trading away their top three centers at the trade deadline (Jeff Carter, Antoine Vermette, and Samuel Pahlsson). Brassard and Ryan Johansen are currently the two best centers on the roster. I’d expect a veteran to be brought in to provide some support this summer, though.

14. Derek Dorsett is one of the best in the league at what he does. He is a great fighter (when he stays in his weight class) and a consistent physical presence, and he can also play a regular shift without looking out of place (14:41 of ice time per game). Dorsett scored an impressive 12 goals in 77 games last season, in between the 235 minutes he spent in the penalty box. He emerged as one of the leaders for Columbus by the end of the season. Dorsett isn’t a game breaker, but contending teams have the right players in the right roles. Locking him up for three seasons was a smart move by Scott Howson and company.

15. For the sake of hockey, let’s hope the crackdown on obstruction returns. The amount of hooking, holding, and interference that has returned to the league is reminiscent of the 2003-04 season. Hopefully that is the only similarity….