Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Nuggets for Next Season

Sunday, April 22, 2012


While a number of NHL players have already hit the links, the playoffs are just getting started and there’s a lot of scouting to be done for next season.  Here are a few observations I’ve made:  

  I think we’ll eventually look back on these playoffs as Braden Holtby’s coming-out party.  Tomas Vokoun is set to become a free agent this summer and Michal Neuvirth wasn’t overly impressive when he was healthy this season so the door appears to be wide open for Holtby to step in next season.  The Capitals have had their issues, but even with Alexander Semin almost certainly gone, any team with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on it should be in the playoffs and that’s enough for me to consider Holtby a potentially valuable asset.  

  I saw enough from Predators’ netminder Pekka Rinne in the first round for me to place him atop my list of desireable goaltenders.  Sure, there’s a good argument to be made for Henrik Lundqvist as the top goalkeeper, but for my money there’s no safer bet than Rinne, as he appeared in a league-leading 73 games this year. Lundqvist only played in 62 contests, thanks to John Tortorella’s desire to keep him fresh and well rested.  I’m well aware of the possibility the team could endure a dismantling in the off-season, but I have confidence in the ability of Barry Trotz and his staff to cobble together a competitive, defensively sound club under any cirucmstance.   

  After watching Alexander Radulov lead the Predators with five points in as many games during a 4-1 series win over the Red Wings, it’s evident he’s a world-class talent.  He’s enigmatic and is likely to drive his coach nuts, but there’s no debating his skills.  It’s anybody’s guess whether he’ll resign with Nashville when he becomes a free agent over the summer, but I’m tentatively penciling him in for 70 points next year with the possibility of producing more.  

  Sticking with the Predators, I worry I might make a few enemies with this point of view, but I’m not overly enthralled with the prospects of Gabriel Bourque for next season, despite his playoff performance thus far.  Looking at his history, Bourque has never been much of a scorer, whether we’re talking about his junior days or his time spent in the AHL.  In fact, he had potted only two goals in 25 contests with the Milwaukee Admirals before his call-up to the NHL earlier this year.  I’m not denying the results he has produced of late, but I don’t see them as being sustainable going forward.  

  It’s a shame Andy McDonald has missed so many games due to injury the past few seasons, but his time on the sidelines may be what makes him a bargain at the draft table next season.  Would you be surprised to hear he has produced at a 70-point pace since the end of the lockout?  Unfortunately, he has averaged only 57 games per season during that eight-year span.  When healthy, he’s the top scoring option on a deep St. Louis team and with eight points in five games during a first-round series victory over the Sharks, he has proven that he still has something left in the tank.  

  After the team dropped four of five games and was escorted from the playoffs by Nashville, it’s fair to wonder about Jimmy Howard’s long-term future in Detroit, but I have no concerns about him as an asset for 2012-13.  If not for a broken finger and a groin injury that caused him to miss a chunk of games, he likely would have challenged for the NHL lead in wins, all while sporting a 2.13 GAA and .920 save percentage.  His playoff performance left something to be desired, but with a cap hit of just $2.25 million for one more season, there’s no reason for the Wings to bring in competition for him.  The potential departure of defensive stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom is a concern, but Detroit has shown the ability time and time again to rebuild on the fly so I’m not losing sleep over it.  

  The Chicago Blackhawks seem to have better players than the Phoenix Coyotes at every position on the ice with the exception of in goal, where the Desert Dogs hold a massive advantage.  Mike Smith deserves consideration for the Vezina Trophy after turning in a career season and earning one of the largest amounts of profit for fantasy owners.  Remember that prior to the season there was talk that Smith could actually split time with backup Jason LaBarbera.  After 67 regular season starts, that thought is a distant memory.  The Coyotes’ defensive style also shouldn’t be underrated as a factor in his success, as Ilya Bryzgalov was a superstar in that system before looking significantly less solid in Philadelphia.  I’m certainly a believer in Smith for 2012-13.

  Alternatively, I think the Blackhawks should be busy shoppers on the goaltending market this off-season, as neither Corey Crawford nor Ray Emery has shown any semblance of being able to maintain the number one gig this year.  Both are under contract for next season, but I would be surprised if Chicago didn’t attempt to make a change over the summer given their nucleus of talented players in their prime.  Failing to address their major weakness leaves them open to the risk of their championship window closing without another run at the Cup.  

  If he decides to sign on and play one more season after this one, I’m avoiding Martin Brodeur at all costs next year.  The “sure fire” Hall of Famer hasn’t posted a save percentage above .908 since 2009-10 and he was clearly the second best option on his own team behind Johan Hedberg this season.  With the likelihood that Zach Parise signs with another club this summer, the Devils are definitely trending in the wrong direction and Brodeur’s name recognition will artificially inflate his draft day price.



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