Congratulations to the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings! I don’t think anyone really expects to see a team dominate their way through a postseason the way the Kings did…and they did it as an 8th seed. Kudos to the entire organization, from the top all the way down to the bottom. They were patient building this team and knew when to make a splash with some deadline acquisitions to try a serious run at the Cup. This strategy, of course, worked. Now they have the summer to celebrate with the world’s greatest trophy.
Goalie Jonathan Quick without a doubt deserves the praise he’s been getting. He was a brick wall from Game 1 against Vancouver to Game 6 against the Devils. But to give him too much credit cheapens what the rest of the team did in front of him. There is no doubt that he is a stud goalie, but a strong defense in front of him allowed him to produce at his full potential. Quick is not going to be beaten near the goal mouth and on low shots. LA did a fantastic job of understanding their goalie’s strengths and weaknesses and then playing a style that complemented them well.
While their defense and many of their forwards will still be under contract going into next season, a few players head into the offseason as free agents. The most notable free agent is Jarret Stoll. He was a very good third line center who could play solid minutes and chip in a goal here and there. This is no knock on Stoll, because he is what he is, but his value right now is exaggerated. Had his team not won the Cup, he’d be seen as a decent player who wasn’t worth nearly as much as his $3.6 million cap hit given his production over the last few years. But give him a Cup, and he’s suddenly “the guy you need on your team to win.” It happens every year: a third line player goes on a surprising tear late in the playoffs. Now fans from all over the league are willing to pay whatever it takes to get the guy on their team without realizing they’ve already got several players who can do the same job. Bottom six “energy” players win Stanley Cups because pretty much every club in the league has those types of guys on their team. Stoll might be able to get back to a more offensively productive role in the right circumstances, but I wouldn’t want to give him more than $2.5 million a year, especially if he’s not expected to play in the top six.
The other interesting free agent is Dustin Penner. He had a forgettable regular season this year before posting a respectable 11 points in 20 postseason games. In years prior to that, he’s had mixed results in production, including some that caused him to receive criticism from his coach in Edmonton about his play and conditioning. Penner is in need of a new contract, but I’m not sure anyone’s going to match his previous $4.25 million cap hit courtesy of a Kevin Lowe offer sheet several years back. I liked what I saw from him in the playoffs. He was skating well and seemed very motivated. At 6’4” and 245 lb, he has power forward written all over him and could be signed to a relatively cap friendly contract to a team looking to improve in size up front.
I don’t want to forget to bring up the New Jersey Devils in this. They deserve congratulations on a heck of a run in the playoffs. Like the Kings, no one really expected them to play that far into the playoffs, but it only shows once again that the games are played on the ice, not on paper. The Devils have a few more question marks this offseason than the Kings do, including two players that represent the face of the franchise. There’s plenty of cap space to go around, but that’s mostly because they only have 13 players under contract for next season.
Martin Brodeur is, well, old. It looks like he will likely resign for another year with the team, and I would hope at a decent cap hit for the Devils. But at this point, the Devils need to focus on who they’re looking at to take over the reins in net when Brodeur decides it’s time to hang them up. There are some decent goalies in their system, but with Johan Hedberg also a UFA and 39 years old, they might want to look at a 2 to 3 year band aid before a prospect is NHL ready (or they decide to make a move to acquire an NHL goalie). That said, I think that Josh Harding could be a good fit for the Devils, and a cheap one at that if the Wild decide not to resign him.
Zach Parise is the big question mark. As I mentioned earlier, the Devils currently don’t have many players under contract, and after next season, Ilya Kovalchuk is the only contracted forward on the team (pending all signings to come, of course). With the cap likely increasing to just over $70 million next year, there will be money to spend, and the Devils won’t be able to win a bidding war with another team or two, especially if Brian Burke decides that he’ll mortgage the Maple Leafs’ present, future, and even past to get Parise. I really don’t see Parise in a Devils uniform next year. With the Brodeur era to be over soon and so much roster turnover likely to happen, New Jersey might be looking to start with a relatively clean slate in the next few years, especially with young talent like Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson being the future of the club.
It was a great season this year and we should all be looking forward to an intriguing offseason. In the next few days, I’ll give a preview of what I think some players and teams will do this offseason. And remember, don’t blink…it’s only two weeks before the July 1st free agency period begins.