Musings on NHL FA (Kovlachuk saga continues), NBA FA (ugly “Decision”)

by Colin Donohue

So the NBA and NHL free agency periods have begun and (mostly) ended, and I’ve been sitting idly by, watching, enjoying (for the most part), following and most definitely not offering any of my astute, necessary and groundbreaking commentary. Well, I’m back from trips to New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., with some quick hitter commentary about some of the BIGGER stories of the respective offseasons. Justin and I will keep tracking both leagues, but we’ll soon be turning our respective attentions to the NFL, which is seeing many teams open their training camps this week. More on American football later.

NHL FREE AGENCY

5. Penguins lose Gonchar, gain Martin, Michalek: For weeks leading up to the July 1 free-agent frenzy, much attention was focused on the Pittsburgh Penguins attempts to resign defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a short-term deal. The Penguins are woefully short on offensive talent on their blueline without Gonchar, so keeping him around was important. But the 36-year-old wanted more than the two years the Pens were willing to offer, so he ended up walking and signing with the Ottawa Senators. Pittsburgh didn’t say quiet for long, scooping up coveted D-man Paul Martin and the underrated Zybnek Michalek. The Pens will miss Gonchar’s presence on the power play (sorry, Kris Letang is not the answer) despite having Martin. Neither he nor Michalek are going to provide the same scoring punch. But those two do give the Pens solid depth at the backline, as they’ll be among a group that also includes Letang, Brooks Orpik and Alex Goligoski.

4. Hamhuis to Canucks, Volchenkov to Devils: This post-Stanley Cup season was all about defensemen. Gonchar, Martin and Michalek were all targets of several teams. But so were Dan Hamhuis and Anton Volchenkov. The former was being shopped aggressively at the trade deadline in season. He stayed put, but hit it big in free agency, inking a deal with the Vancouver Canucks that could make defenseman Kevin Bieksa expendable. Hamhuis was arguably the most coveted of D-men on the market and arguably the most solid available. Volchenkov became a more noticeable player following Russia’s failed pursuit of gold at the Olympics, and he signed with the Devils. He’s a non-scoring defensemen who’s adept at blocking pucks and staying in shooting lanes. He has decent size and a good intelligence, but he won’t wow anyone with his ability to skate or move the puck.

Hello, teammates. I want to play with you for 17 years.

Hello, teammates. I want to play with you for 17 years.

3. Chicago’s post-Stanley Cup purge: Chicago’s Blackhawks won this year’s Stanley Cup with a fantastic mix of solid veterans, skilled youngsters, tight defense, grittiness, finesse and timely goaltending. But we all knew that this HAD to be their year because they were pressed up tightly against the cap. They got the job done, then they had to implode the roster. They became, in essence, the NHL’s version of the Florida Marlins. So out the door went Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brett Sopel. And they’re probably not quite done yet. Byfuglien and Versteeg are probably the two biggest loses, especially considering their play in the postseason. They’re losing some grittiness, but they still have loads of talent in the forward ranks and an improving goalie in net.

2. Shallow forward market: As mentioned, the year was big on defensemen, but it was short on adequate forwards. There simply weren’t a lot of guys on the market who could make significant impacts for teams. Matthew Lombardi and Ray Whitney were among the best. There were and are some solid players out there, like Eric Belanger, Saku Koivu, Vinny Prospal, Mike Modano and Paul Kariya. But no one was going to give a team 30 goals or 80 points. Except for …

1. Ilya Kovalchuk: Kovalchuk has been bringing the drama this offseason. The Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and KHL were all in the hunt for his services. This is a guy who can give a team 50 goals and 20 PP markers. But the number of teams trying to secure his services, as you can see, was thin. The Islanders made a play, but they never really had a shot. The Kings absolutely should’ve locked him up but have had trouble reaching common ground. Then the Devils finally signed him to a 17-year, $102 million contract. The NHL voided the deal because of its front-loaded structure that allowed the annual cap hit to reach just $7 million. So now, Kovalchuk is a free agent again. The Devils are still the favorites to retain the services of the player they traded for midseason last year, but the saga simply continues.

NBA FREE AGENCY

2. There are several stories to tell here, but why bother? Because …

The three of us have designs of destroying the once-competitive NBA.

The three of us have designs of destroying the once-competitive NBA.

1. LeBron James and the SuperFriends of Miami Thrice are bucking tradition (and competitiveness) in Miami: I despise LeBron James, and I guess his decision to flee Cleveland (Can you blame him, really, though? It’s Cleveland.) makes me dislike him even more. Look, he’s a free agent. He can go where he wants and play for whomever he wants. That’s his right and his prerogative. But c’mon? You’re going to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Really? What’s happened to the NBA? It used to be about the competitive spirit and energy of its stars. The fun is in watching big-time athletes play AGAINST each other in the pursuit of something special. This Miami Heat team is bad for the league, quite frankly. And it also shows me, at least, that these three apparently don’t value fierce competition. LeBron could’ve made something happen in Cleveland. I’ve heard people say that owner Dan Gilbert never surrounded him with a team. Sure he did. The Cavs have won more than 60 games twice, finished atop the Eastern Conference and even made a trip to the NBA Finals. It’s not like LeBron was peddling his wares for some squad that was struggling to get to 50 wins. The team couldn’t win in the postseason consistently, mostly because of bad matchups and because of LeBron himself, who did have a tendency to disappear for a stretch or at the end of games. I’ve always said the dude is all about himself. He seems to lack focus when he’s not in the game or when things aren’t going his way. Mentally, he still has a ways to go. That’s why his sprint from Cleveland to Miami isn’t all that surprising. He doesn’t want to be the guy who others rely on to win games, so he figured he’d go to a team where he’s flanked by Wade and Bosh. Yes, it’s his choice. But he lost a real opportunity to be a great player.

1b. Dan Gilbert’s open letter to Cavs fans: Hi-larious. Over the top? Yes. Delusional? Yes. Accurate? In some spots, yes. Bitter? Yes. Honest? Yes. And supremely fantastic? Yes. I loved the letter. Gilbert made some bold statements, including one that asserts the Cavs will win a championship before the Heat. That’s doubtful. He also said LeBron quit in the playoffs. I agree to a point. He also took some fair shots at LeBron’s personality. But I enjoyed the letter because it was refreshingly honest (if also a tad hyperbolic and melodramatic). It’s good for a laugh, particularly if you’re in the anti-LeBron camp, as I am.

1a. The Decision: The hour-long program dedicated to LeBron announcing his decision was the most overwrought, awful, ridiculous, self-indulgent piece of garbage I have ever seen on television. This was LeBron at his absolute worst. It was all about—shocker—HIM. He loves himself, and he used this as an opportunity to grow his personal brand. The interview by Jim Gray was pointless, cheesy and stupid. LeBron James has achieved absolutely NOTHING in his professional basketball career. He’s not even the best player in the league. That title still goes to the five-time champion Kobe Bryant. Yet ESPN got in bed with LeBron and his cronies and coughed up 60 minutes of programming time so that the so-called “King” could tell everyone where he would be playing next year. Putrid is one word that comes to mind. And LeBron didn’t even have the decency to call up Gilbert and the Cavs and let them know beforehand that he wasn’t coming back. Classless. But what else have we come to expect from the egomaniac.

NFL

Justin and I will be back with some NFL predictions and commentary. And be sure to join us every week on the blog so you can pick games against us during the entire season.

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8 thoughts on “Musings on NHL FA (Kovlachuk saga continues), NBA FA (ugly “Decision”)

  1. I’m not saying Letang will be Gonchar 2.0, but he has shown flashes the past two seasons of being a very dangerous man on the powerplay. If only he could hit the net more!

    Martin and Michalek make the Pens better on the defensive side of the puck, which is where they were burned the most last season and postseason.

    LeBron is such a tool. ESPN Ombudsman (forget his name) had a nice analysis on ESPN about this and while half of it is an attempt to defend the company’s decision, he also says it was a bad move by Worldwide Leader. A good read if you have the time.

    Colin, I love you.

    Jeff

  2. Hello, Jeff, good sir. Martin and Michalek (particularly Michalek, I think) will prove to be solid additions. I’m not quite sold on Letang being a dynamic offensive presence. I think he has some punch, but as you mentioned, he misses the net too often. Perhaps that will change. It’s not something I’ve noticed yet, though.

    Yeah, the ombud’s story was great. I linked to it in the post above. But he can’t defend ESPN giving up 60 minutes of airtime to LeBron. Frankly, ESPN’s decision is indefensible.

    Colin

  3. I’m not sold on Letang yet. He is only 23 and I think he can grow into that role as he matures. There are going to be some rough patches this year where the power play struggles and the city of Pittsburgh will cry for Letang to be traded or killed. But I think he will be a long-term solution if he continues to grow.

    By the way, I really want McNabb to beat the Eagles twice this year. I hate the way that city treated him.

  4. I’m not sold on him yet, either. Usually, you can tell pretty early if a guy is going to be an offensively dynamic defenseman. I haven’t seen that yet from Letang. There have been brief flashes, but nothing coming close to consistent. And you’re right, if the PP struggles–and it may without Gonchar and without some other forwards to round out the top unit–Letang will be squarely in the sights of fans and the media. And that probably won’t be fair. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Goligoski manning the point for the Pens sometime during the season. To me, he has more offensive upside. And so I wonder, if Letang doesn’t provide much point production, how valuable is he really as a D-man?

    Also, what do you think about the Pens depth at the forward ranks. If I were a Pens fan, I would be concerned that after Crosby and Malkin (and maybe Staal), there isn’t too much. Did you hear what Talbot had to say about Ovechkin today? The war of words begins early this year, I guess.

  5. Letang has nine goals and 20 points from the past two postseasons combined, so I disagree on that point. He definitely needs more consistent all around, though. There are times where he looks like a solid defenseman in his own zone, and then there are times when he craps the bed.

    As for GoGo, it’s the same. He was great for the first month and a half, got injured and was never the same. I could see him on the point, but I also like his backdoor runs ( I guess it would be skates in hockey) on the left side. He and Letang have both been too inconsistent for me to make a good guess on who would be better on point. I’ll have a better idea in December.

    I am one of the few people not too worried about our forwards. We won a Cup when our top six forwards were Crosby, Malkin, Guerin, Kunitz, Fedotenko and Talbot. It’s time for young guys like Nick Johnson and Eric Tangradi to step up. I think they will fill in fine for the departed Guerin and Fedotenko.

    Love Talbot’s comments about Ovechkin. Not only is that my inner homer speaking (just call me Bill Simmons for now), but I think it’s good that he didn’t try to play nice. Sports in general need more players openly sharing their dislike or hatred for other players. I’m so sick of athletes being like “Well, we’re both competitive guys and we got caught up in the heat of the game. I have no problem with him trying to slice my throat with his skate.” OK, so I have never heard it go that far, but you get my point.

    It’s like Semin a few years ago saying he didn’t see what was so special about Crosby. I obviously disagreed with him and thought him silly, but I have no problem with him saying that stuff.

  6. True about the Pens forwards during their Stanley Cup campaign, but keep in mind that Talbot and Fedotenko actually played well that season in the playoffs. I’m not sure you saw the same production last year, and I’d be worried you won’t this coming season. But, as the cliche goes, that’s why you play the games. No sense pontificating on that point. Talbot could play better. Fedotenko sure won’t since he ain’t coming back. And I won’t give Kunitz much credit for anything. Don’t care for the guy.

    I’m sure you did love Talbot’s comments about Ovie. Of course, I didn’t because that’s not the kind of guy we see in Washington. But like you, I don’t mind athletes saying what they’re thinking. The PC stuff is annoying.

  7. Hey Colin! Big fan…

    But seriously. You need to stop banging on me. Not just you, I guess, but I mean the “media” you… like plural. Whatevs, you get where I’m coming from.

    I get it. I shouldn’t have hosted that one-hour program. Mistake. I can blame Leon or Maverick, but realistically, my beezy on that. Didn’t think about the potential backlash (did you see me almost cry on TV when they showed someone burning my jersey?).

    But, you’re over-looking the reason I want to go to Miami in the first place: I want to win. I’m willing to sacrifice 30 a game and immortality in Cleveland to win. Yeah, I could have taken more money in Cleveland (even if Miami is tax-free), but I chose to go with my friends and try to win a ‘chip. I think it shows I’m willing to do anything humanly possible to win. If Ovechkin knows any better, he’s on the horn with his agent exploring possibilities to get to Pittsburgh. Why?

    Because he can’t win a title by himself either!

    It’s about winning, not about individual accolades. Besides, even during that dumb show I donated money to the Boys and Girls Club. To borrow a line from Seth Rogan in Observe and Report…

    BOOM!!!

    Peace and love,

    ‘Bron

    P.S. Follow me on Twitter @KingJames

  8. Wow, we have “royalty” reading the blog. Good to hear from LeBron. Let me hit on your enumerated points.

    1. You can’t blame anyone but yourself for the one-hour awful, stupid, self-absorbed decision show. The jersey burning was a little much, but emotions were raw for Cleveland fans who felt betrayed. And maybe they were.

    2. Yeah, I’ve heard that “I went to Miami so I could win” thing. But I think elevating a franchise and city and winning with what’s around you is more admirable. Plus, I also think you went to Miami so that you wouldn’t have to be the center of attention. I’ve seen you pass up big shots in the past. Now you just need to get the ball in Wade’s hands.

    3. The Boys and Girls club thing was a nice PR stunt. I’m happy they got the money, but c’mon. That doesn’t absolve you for the ridiculous special.

    4. You’re right, winning isn’t about accolades. That’s exactly why Ovechkin is behind Crosby. But Ovie wants to win in Washington. He relishes the challenge of competing against Crosby and bringing DC its first Stanley Cup championship. That’s why he signed a 13-year extension with Washington a couple of years ago. I respect that kind of attitude.

    And feel free to follow me on Twitter @cmdonohue or @QueenJames, which I scooped up as a handle before you could. Name your price, and I’ll sell it to you.

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