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Checking in on the Northwest

The last time we looked in on the Northwest division, it was mid-August, so I thought it might be nice to check in again now that the season has started to see what last minute changes each of Edmonton's division rivals have made.

Calgary Flames

Probable Goals: Acquire younger players who are ready to play right now in order to help the team make the playoffs this season and make the team's success more sustainable for the future; increase roster flexibility by moving a contract or two that involves big money, a no-movement clause or both. 

What have they done?

Traded F Daymond Langkow to the Phoenix Coyotes for F Lee Stempniak I talked about this trade at length already and thought it was a good one for the Flames: "It's a deal that reduces risk, provides flexibility, and shores up a position of relative weakness from a position of relative strength. It may end up looking bad if Langkow has an excellent season, but I think this is a good deal for Jay Feaster and the Flames."

Signed D James Martin to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $575,000 - Martin is an undrafted player who turned twenty in May. The Flames signed him as a free agent, but he hasn't yet played a game at the pro level. He earned a contract by virtue of his performance in the preseason, but there's not much to distinguish him statistically from other junior defenders (he's not particularly big, doesn't bring much offense, doesn't have a lot of PIMs, doesn't have an outstanding +/-), so I'm pretty surprised that the Flames used a contract spot here, though it's possible that he's been taking on the toughs in junior. 

Signed F Turner Elson to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $560,000 - Elson is another free agent signing, but unlike Martin, he has already been sent back to the WHL. His boxcar stats are, once again, pretty unimpressive, but because he played for the Rebels, we have a lot more to go on. In my quality of competition study, Elson came out looking pretty good, as he spent quite a bit of time playing on a line with Brett Ferguson and Byron Froese, which often saw some tougher competition. His individual point percentage was also very low for a forward, which suggests that his twenty-four five-on-five points might be underrating his ability to impact the game offensively. My pick for undrafted free agent from that team would have been Brett Ferguson, but Elson seems like a reasonable signing, especially for a team like Calgary that lacks prospect depth.

So did the moves help?

I liked each deal at the time, but injuries to Brendan Morrison and Michael Backlund make the loss of Langkow hurt a lot more than it would have otherwise. Still, those players are coming back, and that deal was the kind that could pay dividends whether the Flames are in the hunt or not (Stempniak is a much more liquid asset than Langkow if the Flames are well out of the playoff picture at the deadline). The two young players help to shore up the prospect pool.


Colorado Avalanche

Probable Goals: Make this team as good as possible in the present without giving up any of the major pieces that will make the club good in the future. Trading away their 2012 first round pick added a lot of pressure to be good right now.

What have they done?

Traded D Kyle Cumiskey to the Anaheim Ducks for D Jake Newton and a 7th round pick in 2013 - I really like watching Kyle Cumiskey (he's one of the fastest skaters in the league), but he's a tweener. The Avalanche have had him for a while now, and have decided that he's not going to help them win games consistently, which is fair enough I suppose. With their signings over the off-season, it seems clear that the club is looking to go with big, mean, experienced defenders to help support their young forwards, and Cumiskey didn't fit in. Jake Newton spent a year at Northeastern University before signing as a free agent with the Ducks, but really struggled in his first pro season. He played with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch last season and had a team-worst -18 rating in just 48 games. Considering Cumiskey cleared waivers before this deal was made, it's fair to say that the Ducks weren't too keen on keeping Newton around. His contract expires at the end of this season, as does Cumiskey's. The deal saves the Avs $37,500 in salary costs and gets them an extra seventh round pick, but that's a real pittance. Cumiskey was probably Colordao's eighth or ninth best defender, so he was likely to play at some point this year. Considering the extremely small gain from the trade, I'm surprised that the Avs didn't just hold onto Cumiskey for depth.

So did the moves help?

No, not really. Colorado now has a bit less depth on defense and got very little to show for it.


Minnesota Wild

Probable Goals: Move older players out and younger players in to help the team rebuild around a core of players younger than Mikko Koivu but old enough to help in the near future.

What have they done?

Claimed F Nick Johnson off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins - Johnson was Pittsburgh's third-round pick in 2004. The twenty-five year-old winger fits nicely into Minnesota's cluster age-wise, but is a bit short on talent, though with a career 0.66 points per game average in the AHL, it's not like he's got hands of stone. Head coach Mike Yeo is familiar with Johnson from his time in the Pittsburgh organization and obviously liked him based on the Wild picking him up. This is exactly the sort of transaction you expect from teams who are rebuilding, and sometimes it even works out.

Traded F Eric Nystrom to the Dallas Stars for Future Considerations - Great trade. This was a bad signing when it happened, but kudos to Chuck Fletcher for realizing and correcting his mistake in one of the luckiest transactions ever. The crazy part of this deal is that it doesn't happen without Sean Avery. The Stars were paying for half of Avery's salary after he was claimed off of re-entry waivers by the Rangers a couple of seasons ago, but when Avery was sent to the minors that money came off of the Stars' cap, which meant that they needed to add salary in order to hit the salary floor. Now, the Wild were desperate enough to get rid of Nystrom that they had put him on re-entry waivers, which would have meant paying him $700,000 both this year and next if he'd have been claimed. But he wasn't. Instead, the Stars traded for Nystrom so that his entire salary would count against their cap, which enabled them to make the salary floor. Now, why Joe Nieuwendyk decided to do this by acquiring Nystrom, I just don't know. He'd have been much better off overpaying a free agent for one year rather than paying Nystrom $1.4M both this season and next. But he did what he did, and I'm sure that the Wild couldn't be happier.

So did the moves help?

Nothing earth-shattering here, but both moves fit well with what I see as the team's long-term strategy. It was ridiculously lucky that the Nystrom transaction became available, but Fletcher deserves plenty of credit for making sure it was his problem that got sent to Dallas (the Oilers, for example, probably would have loved to send the Stars Gilbert Brule).


Vancouver Canucks

Probable Goals: Giving this team the best chance of winning the Stanely Cup right now without completely marginalizing the future.

What have they done?

Signed F Victor Oreskovich to a one-year two-way contract with an NHL cap hit of $605,000 - After getting into a couple of playoff games, I'm sure Oreskovich was hoping for a one-way deal, but he just didn't have the leverage to get it. This deal does, however, make a lot of sense for the Canucks who bring back a competent player who knows the system and doesn't need to clear re-entry waivers (thanks to his $105,000 AHL salary).

Signed F Niklas Jensen to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $925,000 - With a new CBA coming into effect next season, I don't really like the idea of signing prospects from the 2011 draft now. There's just too much potential value in waiting. After all, entry-level contracts might be expanded to five years, or maybe the compensation gets bumped down. As a result, I think Jensen was smart to get the deal done immediately and that the Canucks probably should have waited on this one.

Signed D Frank Corrado to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $610,000 - Corrado is another 2011 pick, so I feel pretty much the same on this one as I did on Jensen's. Normally I like these early deals because they let you pay out the first year or two of signing bonuses without having them count against the cap, but with the new CBA coming, it seems to me that this off-season is an exception. 

Claimed F Dale Weise off waivers from the New York Rangers - Weise has improved his boxcar stats every year in the AHL going from 0.34 points per game in 2008-09 to 0.68 in 2009-10, and 0.79 in 2010-11. He also earned 10 NHL games with the Rangers in 2010-11, and is exactly the kind of player that Alain Vigneault likes to play on his fourth line: big, physical, willing to fight, and responsible in his own end. He may not be much of an upgrade on Oreskovich (who was demoted when Weise was claimed), but it's never a bad thing to have an extra player that you feel comfortable having in the NHL lineup, and at just 23, Weise may yet have room to grow into a larger role down the line.

So did the moves help?

Weise and Oreskovich give the club two more fourth line options in the here and now, and provide the club with even more competition for spots at the end of the roster (along with guys like Byron Bitz, Andrew Ebbett, and Aaron Volpatti). Nothing huge, but doing the small things well certainly isn't a bad thing.