Friday, February 13, 2015

It's That Time! The NHL Trade Deadline is Almost Here!

One of my favorite days of the year is right around the corner.  Hockey Christmas! That’s right, the NHL trading deadline is just over two weeks away. If history is any indication, the market will be heating up soon. In fact the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres officially kicked off the festivities a few days ago by swapping injured forward Evander Kane for inconsistent defenseman Tyler Myers in old-fashioned blockbuster trade.

This year, despite the early deadline, I expect a couple of more big deals to be consummated before the actual deadline day. After all, if you’re jockeying for playoff position, why wait a couple of extra games to fill that needed hole in your roster. And if you’re in full “Dishonor for Connor” mode, getting rid of any actual talent you have on your roster might be the difference between drafting first or second (Powerball Winner!) and drafting third or fourth (Scratch Off Winner!).

So will my beloved Lightning be a part of the chaos, the false rumors, the fake B0b Mackensie tweets, and the eventual empty feeling that comes at 5:00pm on March 2nd (Wait, it’s over…there are no more last minute deals? But we didn’t get what we needed! You mean we didn’t get Taylor Hall for the rights to Riku Helenius and Bobby Taylor’s Hattricks Frequent Diner Card? C’mon!)?  Sadly I feel that the answer is going to be no.  I’m sure General Manager Steve Yzerman will kick the tires on a few players, answer a few calls about some of their forwards and then go on about his day of scowling from the press box during game.

This is Steve Yzerman smiling.

Why can he schedule a little more time on the golf course and less time meeting with his scouts? Well, simply put, he’s done a great job of building the roster he has in front of him right now.  So, at best, he might tinker a little or perhaps acquire an extra draft pick or two with a minor deal.  If there are any weak spots on the team right now it would be on the blue line, and those could be considered temporary.  As long as there are no setbacks, and they don’t decide to rehab in the Buccaneers MIRSA-riddled clubhouse, Radko Gudas and Matt Carle should be back in time for the postseason grind.

Among the ever growing Lightning presence on the internets it does seem that Mr. Yzerman will be doing his due diligence to see if he can improve the defense to carry the team during the remaining weeks that Carle and Gudas are out.   The current fill in rotation of Luke Witkowski, Nikita Nesterov, and Mark Barberio has played out as expected.  They’ve had some good games and some not so good moments on the ice.

With the Lightning fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference,  it might behoove Mr. Yzerman to find someone who can fit in right away and eat up some of the minutes that the younger players are currently absorbing and then transition to a support role once the regulars are healthy. Oh, and they can’t really cost that much either.

If his past has taught us anything, Mr. Yzerman morphs his needs for what’s best for the organization at the trade deadline. When they’re not in competition for a playoff spot he looks for draft picks and young talent (2012 - young defensemen like Keith Aulie and Brian Lee along with a cornucopia of draft picks, 2013 - Ben Bishop and draft picks).  When they are looking like the playoffs are a possibility he brings in veteran players to fill a need (2011 - Eric Brewer, 2014 - Ryan Callahan. Is anyone trying to trade their captain this year?).

I’ve read in a couple places that Mr. Yzerman doesn’t like trading for “rental players”. That is, players who will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season thereby only helping the team for a couple of months. Whereas I would say that he doesn’t make a habit of targeting them, he isn’t allergic to the idea either.  After all, both Brewer and Callahan were set to be free agents when Mr. Yzerman made the trade for them. I think the fact that they both ended up re-signing with team makes people forget that he was willing to trade assets for rental players in the past (of course, had Callahan walked the Lightning still netted two first round picks and unloaded a disgruntled Martin St. Louis in that deal so it was totally worth it).

More so than ever I think Mr. Yzerman would be inclined to bring in a player who won’t have to worry about buying property in the area (although if they are I have a nice condo in Largo for sale!). The aforementioned notion that whoever he might bring in will slide down the depth chart once the injured blue-liners return is one reason.

A second reason is, and its importance can never be discounted, finances. The Lightning aren’t exactly abounding with room under the salary cap. While they’re pretty set for next season (Brenden Morrow is their only unrestricted free agent) signing anyone with a long-term commitment could make things a bit dicey for the capologists in the area.  So don’t expect Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Dion Phaneuf to come walking through that door.

Also, players with controlled costs tend to fetch a bit more on the trade market. Arizona is committed to Ekman-Larsson for four more years at $5.5 million. That’s not a horrible contract for a top pair defenseman. And it’s only going to look better as salaries go up, so to pry him away it’s going to take a pretty nice package.  There is no pressure for Arizona to deal him right at this moment. They can quietly listen to offers and if nothing makes them happy, they can just keep him.

In comparison, Zbynek Michalek is a pending free agent.  There is a little more urgency to deal him because if they don’t he has the ability to walk away leaving Arizona with nothing but $4 million in extra cap space. So teams calling General Manager Don Maloney have a little bit more negotiating power.  So a second round pick and a fringe prospect might do it as opposed to a first rounder and top prospect for Ekman-Larsson.

The Lightning don’t really need to bring a defenseman that they’re going to keep past this season. Carle, Anton Stralman, Victor Hedman and Jason Garrison (the nominal top 4) are all signed long-term. The young guys like Gudas, Barberio and Andrej Sustr are still under team control. It doesn’t really make sense for them to take on a player with 5 or 6 years left on their contract when the organization has more pressing financial decisions to worry about (yes this is an oblique reference to Stammergeddon II).

So let us get to the real reason you’re reading this column.  Who do I think the Lightning should go after (also known as what names am I going to add to the rumor mill with absolutely no factual evidence to support my claims)?

6. Andrej Meszaros - He’d be cheap! The former Bolt hasn’t played much recently (only one game in February) but he plays for a team that is in sell-off mode and could do alright getting 15 minutes a game. At worst it would cost the Lightning a mid-to-late round draft pick.

You know you want him back! Dust those jerseys off.

5. Cody Franson - I actually think the Toronto blue-liner would do well in Tampa, but he’d also do well in other uniforms. With Myers off the market the 27-year-old might be one of the top players on the market. A bidding war could drive his cost past what Mr. Yzerman is willing to pay.

4. Jeff Petry - Switch “Toronto” with “Edmonton” and you have the same story with Petry.

3. Nick Schultz - The Flyers signed Schultz as insurance in the off-season and he’s been the poster boy for why players take a chance on one-year deals. He’s played top-pair minutes and held his own on a Philadelphia team that is on the outside looking in.  There is a good chance that he parlays this season into a multi-year deal this summer.  Would the Lightning be willing to part with a young forward to bring in the 32-year-old?  Perhaps.

2. Zybnek Michalek - The previously mentioned Coyote has been mentioned in rumors since January. Mr. Yzerman might have held off on trading for him while he monitored the play of his young replacements.  Without a second round pick to deal, it would probably cost the Lightning a player like Brett Connolly or Vlad Namestikov to top what other teams can offer.

1. Marc Methot - His name is starting to crop up more with Myers now in Winnipeg. Supposedly the Senators are working to re-sign him, but have not ruled out trading him at the deadline (after all they could theoretically trade him and then re-sign him in the summer). Injuries have limited his time on ice this season, but he has played well when he’s been on the ice.

The Lightning have a couple of arrows in their quiver to offer teams. Despite not having a second round pick (the asset de jour) they do have an extra picks in the first (thank you Marty), third (thank you Eric Brewer) and fourth (thank you Nate Thompson) . Couple one of those picks with one their extra forwards that are battling for playing time (Connolly, Namestikov, JT Brown) and that’s not an unattractive offer for a team that is rebuilding.

Thankfully, due to all of the work he’s put in over previous years,  it shouldn’t be a particularly stressful or interesting deadline for the team and its fans. Of course, all that means is that Mr. Yzerman is sitting in his lair plotting ways to make his future teams better.

Never forget those that have netted the Lightning picks on Deadline Day. #DownieForever (photo by Scott Audette)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Baseball is Right Around The Corner - So I bought a Pack of Cards

I am looking forward to the upcoming baseball season more so than recent years past. Which, on the surface, is kind of odd seeing how:

  1. The Orioles are more than likely to regress to a .500 team.
  2. The Cubs are going to be better thus making tickets more expensive
  3. The Lightning are poised to make a decent run in the playoffs cutting into the start of the baseball season.

Yet, here we are. In the depths of winter I am getting excited for pitchers and catchers to Florida and Arizona. Not only that I am actively putting together Topps Series One Baseball. Normally, I don't buy cards before Opening Day. And when I do buy cards I just buy a box and then collate them. This year I feel like doing it the old way. Packs om packs. And the first pack came from the unlikely source of Wal-Greens. Yup, on a quick trip to buy cat food and bandages I noticed that Wal-Greens was selling Topps fat packs. So I picked one up. How did the first pack turn out?

First Card of the Season -

Phil Hughes. The former Yankee has found a new career in Minnesota (where he just signed a four-year extension). This was also going to be my 2015 wallet card (behind the curve as always). Unfortunately, due to the stream-lined wallet The Duchess bought me last year, the card doesn't fit. So I'll have to wait for a mini-card I guess.

First Card of a Player I Didn't Recognize -

Shawn Kelley -

Six seasons in the majors? Hmm.Twelve-year old Justin G. would be disappointed that 38-year old Justin G. doesn't know everyone in the majors.  He would also be disappointed that I was writing about baseball cards and not featured on them.

First Player Pictured in a Uniform He Won't Be Wearing This Year -

Sergio Santos. Santos signed with the Dodgers as a free agent in January. Through the years I've been back and forth on the “air brush a uniform on a player”. In some cases (Orioles new acquisitions) I like it. In other cases (everyone else) I don't care for it. I'd rather the photo on the card capture an authentic, if unrecognizable, piece of history. Plus some of the airbrush jobs are horrendous.

First Card of a Hopeful Chase Hall of Famer -

Michael Taylor. The former Clearwater Thresher finally gets his long-awaited rookie card. Sometimes I forget how long it can take a player to make his way to the majors. Oh wait, it's a different Michael Taylor? Damn it.

First Baltimore Orioles Card -

Team card. It's kind of a fitting that it would a team card. The 2014 were really a sum of the parts being greater than the individuals. As the back of the card pointed out they did manage to mash 211 home runs which, along with a pretty good defense and bullpen, propelled them to 96 wins and an AL East Title.

Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be that easy this year. Everyone around them in the AL East made significant moves to better themselves (except for the Rays, but you never know with the Rays). The Orioles big acquisitions? Wesley Wright and Travis Snider. While I like Snider as a potential sleeper pick I don't see him offsetting the losses of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz. Throw in the weird Dan Duquette to Toronto saga and it was just an awkward off-season. So far I've kept pretty calm and trusted in DanBuck, but this season just feels like a step back. But we might have a second half of the season that features Dylan Bundy AND Kevin Gausman in the rotation and that will be fun!

First Chicago Cubs Card -

Also a team card. Happy fun card (also the last time Starlin Castro smiled in a Cubs uniform). I'm not sure where the Cubs will finish this year, but I do think they are going to be fun to watch. Who knows how their prospects are going to turn out, but there is a solid chance that within a year their infield is going to be Rizzo at first, Javier Baez at second, Starlin Castro (or Addison Russell) at short and Roy Hobbs reincarnated Kris Bryant at third. That's not bad. Oh yeah and Jorge Soler running around in the outfield.

First Insert -

Hank Aaron ar-che-types. The fact that it is Aaron helps mitigate the fact that I don't care for most of the inserts that have come to bloat the flagship series. On the surface this particular set doesn't bother me, but breaking up the word archetypes really bothers the shit out of me for some reason.

First Insert I'll offer on Ebay for a starting price of $0.99 -

Javier Baez 1st Home Run. We'll see how it goes. C'mon idealistic Cubs fans, bid away.

So for $4.99 I got 36 cards (well 35 cards and one coupon) closer to completing the series. Overall I like that that Topps is bringing some color back to their base set. After all they've done just about all they can do with the white border design over the last few years. There are too many inserts, but there are always too many inserts. Once again there are variations in the base set. I'm not as against that as most people, but it does annoy me simply because I have to go to two or three places to see if I have a base card or a variation that I'm going to trade away for nothing.

I'll still make a go at completing the set. Hopefully I'll be done sometime before the next millennium.