Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Freak Scene

It has been redonkulously hot here the last few days, although a thunderstorm is beginning as I type this so things will be cooling off.

To speed up the process, I'm thinking about hockey. The NHL released its 2005-06 schedule today, which runs from October 5 through April 18 with a break in February to allow NHL players to play in the Winter Olympics. But the action has already begun, as GMs prepare to radically redesign their teams through free agency. The maneuvering has all the makings of a fantasy hockey draft, with every team almost starting from scratch.

This week, teams are deciding whether to buy out players on their rosters so they can free up room under the salary cap. After the draft on Saturday, the real fun starts next Monday when the free agency period begins. Some big names will be available, including stud defensemen like Scott Niedermayer and Derian Hatcher, all of whom would improve any team's defense but who also will command big bucks.

Here's a look at what might happen with the two teams I'm most familiar with, the Leafs (the team I root for) and the Bruins (the team in my area). In Toronto, the self-proclaimed mecca of hockey, speculation is rampant about who's coming and going. Just in the last few days, there have been articles or rumors about the Leafs signing or trading for Peter Forsberg, Niedermayer, Joe Thornton, Chris Pronger, Jason Allison, Eric Lindros, Curtis Joseph, Manny Fernandez ,and Glen Murray, while buying out or not re-signing the likes of Owen Nolan, Ed Belfour, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tie Domi, Brian Leetch, and Alex Mogilny. I'd love to see Forsberg in the blue and white, but I can't see the Leafs being able to afford both him and Mats Sundin while assembling enough of a supporting cast to contend. There are also reports that the Leafs want to trade up in the draft to move from pick 21 to somewhere in the top 10.

Realistically, I expect them to sign Allison, who was quoted in the Toronto Star today as wanting to play in Toronto and who will be affordable because he hasn't played a full season in about three years because of a serious neck injury. They'll probably sign Lindros because he wants to play there, although I don't know how much he has to offer anymore. I'd like to see them get Murray and hopefully Niedermayer, as well as a goalie to replace 40-year-old Belfour. Much as I appreciate what Joseph did for the team a few years back, he's not the goalie he once was, either. In his first season as Leaf GM, John Ferguson Jr. continued with the Leaf tradition of trading prospects for aging stars way past their prime; the new CBA will force him to think younger, which is definitely a good thing.

As for the B's, they took action yesterday and announced that they had made contract offers to five key free agents: Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, Sergei Gonchar, Martin Lapointe, and P.J. Axelsson; Gonchar and Lapointe are unrestricted free agents, while the others are restricted, meaning the team can match any offers made to them. There's not as much of a microscope on the Bruins, as the Red Sox are all anyone wants to talk about and for good reason.

Still, Thornton's agent is already saying the five-year, $25 million offer ain't enough, so it looks like he'll play this season and become an unrestricted FA next year. Unless, of course, the B's turn around and trade him, which has also been rumored (to Toronto, naturally). The Bruins are probably in the best position of any team in the league, having dumped a ton of players before the lockout, which leaves them with plenty of cash with which to acquire impact players. And GM Mike O'Connell claims they're actually going to spend the dough this time around.

All of which means I'm going to have a lot of fun watching how this all plays out over the next few months.

Aiight, hockey geek talk is over. Back tomorrow with some non-hockey blog fodda.

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