Mike Milbury's Cinderella run (of terror) came to an end this morning. Doug MacLean wiped the floor with him, taking 66% of the vote in the semi-final match, though that was (by far) the closest vote so far.
Over the next few days, we'll vote to determine who MacLean will be up against in Monday's final. Will Scott Howson be able to make this an all-Columbus finale, or will Don Waddell, the tournament's top seed, avoid the upset and march to war against his expansion brother? To help you decide, I'll take a closer look at five of the worst post-lockout moves of each of our contenders.
(4) Scott Howson
- The Firing of Hitchcock. I'm putting this first because this was the turning point in his tenure. To this point, Howson had done a good job. Even going into the 2009-10 season with Steve Mason as your projected starter was at least defensible. But when Mason fell apart, turning around and firing one of the best coaches in the league definitely wasn't the right way to handle it.
- The Steve Mason contract. Trusting in Mason before the 2009-10 season may have been defensible. Signing him to a two-year extension with a $2.9M cap hit before the 2010-11 season definitely wasn't. If there's any one decision emblematic of what went wrong for Scott Howson, it's this contract.
- Trusting Steve Mason... again. I don't know if Mason is a blood relative of Howson's or not, but Howson made this same mistake again and again. After spending a bajillion dollars adding core players to his team through trade (Jeff Carter) and free agency (James Wisniewski plus big extensions for R.J. Umberger and Fedor Tyutin), Howson came into the year with Steve Mason and a very unproven Mark Dekanich. Just a terrible, terrible, terrible decision.
- The Derick Brassard extension. Brassard had played 48 career NHL games in two seasons before this contract was signed. He was being paid for his work in a 31-game 2008-09 campaign that ended in shoulder surgery. Brassard had scored 26 points in those 31 games, but he also had the fourth-best PDO number in the NHL at five-on-five that season (106.3). So yeah... a four-year $3.2M per year extension probably wasn't the best call.
- The tear-down. Close to nothing for either Antoine Vermette (non-rental) or Samuel Pahlsson (rental) plus taking Jack Johnson back in exchange for Jeff Carter. Yeah, Howson got a first-round pick in that deal, but the negative value of Johnson (and the six years left on his contract) probably outweighs the positive value of the pick. Which makes Jeff Carter a salary dump. Eight months after giving up Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier to get him.
(1) Don Waddell
- The Ilya Kovalchuk debacle. The trade itself (Kovalchuk, Anssi Salmela, and a second-round pick for Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, Johnny Oduya, a first-round pick and a second-round pick) wasn't very good, but also wasn't far off what you'd expect for a rental player. The real issue, to me, is that it got to the point where Waddell was forced to trade Kovalchuk from a position of weakness. Maybe he was misled by ownership, but it was clear for a while that Kovalchuk wanted to know that signing in Atlanta meant staying in Atlanta, and the instability of the franchise made that promise impossible. The biggest mistake here was waiting so long before pulling the trigger.
- The Marian Hossa trade. This trade came at the deadline in 2007-08, and it's just really bad. The Thrashers traded Hossa to Pittsburgh along with Pascal Dupuis for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a 1st-round pick in the 2008 draft. With Hossa being a rental, this doesn't seem like it should be so bad. Armstrong was a solid top-nine forward who was under control for a couple of seasons, and you don't normally get that kind of player in these rental trades, so good on Waddell for that, but the rest of the package just didn't work out. Esposito was a famous prospect, but he hasn't turned out well at all, Christensen just wasn't a very good player, and the 1st-round pick ended up being 29th overall and hasn't turned out. Today, it seems clear to me that Pascal Dupuis is the second-best player in the trade. Ouch.
- The Kari Lehtonen trade. For whatever reason, Lehtonen had worn out his welcome in Atlanta, and was coming off a(nother) injury. The Thrashers, perhaps worried that he wouldn't get back on form, moved him to Dallas before he played a game in the 2009-10 season for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round pick. Just terrible.
- The Braydon Coburn trade. During the 2006-07 season, Don Waddell was intensely focused on making the playoffs, which led him to acquire veteran players at the expense of the future. This is problematic at the best of times, but when the veteran you acquire is something of a spent force, it's even worse. The player Waddell acquired was Alexei Zhitnik, and while Zhitnik played well for the Thrashers in 2006-07 (14 points and a +4 rating in 18 games, playing over 25 minutes per night), there were still another two years left on his $3.5M per season contract. He only played one before the Thrashers bought him out. Coburn, on the other hand, was just shy of his 22nd birthday at the time of the trade, and has gone on to play several seasons of effective top-four defense with the Flyers.
- The Keith Tkachuk trade. I'm sensing something of a theme in what went wrong in Atlanta. This was another of the 2006-07 trades designed to push Atlanta over the top. Waddell traded three picks and Glen Metropolit for Tkachuk (a first, second, and third), and would need to add a second first-rounder if the team had signed Tkachuk for the following season. In fairness, Waddell knew that if the Thrashers won their division (they were one point behind Tampa Bay at the time) that the pick would be no better than 22nd (it ended up being 24th), but it still seems like a pretty risky play, especially since the team wasn't very good (they had a -10 goal differential at the time compared to -5 for Carolina and +10 for Tampa Bay). Like Zhitnik, Tkachuk played pretty well, but that's a hefty risk to take on a rental.