This season is one of the more difficult for NHL general managers and those involved in planning for the future. With the looming CBA cold front, who knows what rules will be in place beyond this year? Will there be a cap? Am I better off taking as much future money off the books now? Or will any change in the system be grandfathered in, thus giving me time to pounce when others might lay up? It's a fascinating year.
This week begins a two-part New Year's resolution/"If I were GM" series. I took the teams alphabetically because, as you know, I love all 30 NHL teams equally. Here are the first 15:
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Heart and defensemen
It is no coincidence that teams with road records relative to their talent are the teams with heart. If every Duck competed as Keith Carney does, the Ducks' road record would be better and they would be in first place. It's a major blessing the Mike Comrie trade fell through. This team does not need a center. It needs a defenseman. Badly.
If I were GM: I would trade for a top-four defenseman and get a loud, North American character veteran. From the looks of their roster, I bet they have a boring, depressing locker room
Dany and defensemen
This team is for real so get used to it. They have good forwards and they should get their best forward -- Dany Heatley -- back sometime in February. I think the Thrashers should trade for Eric Lindros and play him with Heatley. He is exactly what Atlanta needs, and the Thrashers only would owe him a couple of month's salary. New ownership issues may prevent GM Don Waddell from adding payroll to make a run at the playoffs.
Defensemen and vision
It has been a defensive era in the NHL for almost 10 years now, and the Bruins have existed without a top-flight goaltender. And since they traded Raymond Bourque, they haven't had a top-flight defenseman who can move the puck. They have a poor defense and average goaltending and will continue to give up goals. And they blame Joe Thornton and even consider trading him. That is moronic. Heart is not a problem here, although I don't think they are a very smart team. If the roster stays as is, they will probably just make or miss the playoffs and lose in the first round.
If I were GM: Trade for Edmonton's Eric Brewer. He can be had. The Bruins' first and only offseason priority should be to give free-agent-to-be Scott Niedermayer all the years and money he needs to sign in Boston.
Patience and a new coach
Lindy Ruff has been there too long. It's time for him to go to Columbus and coach the Blue Jackets. Bring back the old blue and gold uniforms, and have a fresh start after this year. This team needs defensemen. Unfortunately, they probably won't be bad enough to have a chance at the No. 1 pick and Alexander Ovechkin. Owner Tom Golisano has money and passion, but he needs a plan and patience. There are holes on this team that will take a couple of years to fill.
If I were GM: Trade Miroslav Satan before the trade deadline for a defenseman, make a run at Scott Niedermayer next summer, and draft a defenseman. My first and only focus is to put six strong defensemen in front of goaltender Ryan Miller.
I SWEAR I was so close to picking this team to make the playoffs. It was between them and Columbus, and I let my Ohio heart get the most of my head. The Flames have that feel of a playoff team like the Ducks had last year about late January. Their defense is good, and they have good skating forwards. They could use another center.
If I were GM: Would you trade Jarome Iginla and Chuck Kobasew to the Flyers for Mike Comrie and Justin Williams? I would not trade Iginla. They will need him down the stretch. I'd make a run at Curtis Brown of the Sabres.
I still believe the Hurricanes will make the playoffs. The coaching change will be a good thing and give them a little extra jump. They've actually played pretty well all year. They just need to score a few more goals, and that will come. Jeff O'Neill had three goals in his first 31 games. He'll have more than that in his next 31, but he needs help.
If I were GM: I would trade for Miroslav Satan. The Hurricanes have defensive depth to make a deal.
A new owner
Imagine if the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs were badly-run, non-contending teams. Forget about winning; contending is the issue. Now imagine if the Rangers, Bruins, and Blackhawks were well-run, championship-contending organizations. More interest and higher TV ratings. Baseball's postseason was a ratings hit because of the Yankees,
Red Sox and Cubs. The NHL's TV ratings would go up if the Rangers, Bruins and Blackhawks went deep into the playoffs.
If I were GM: Hope we finish last, win the draft lottery, draft Alexander Ovechkin first overall, pay Russia a million bucks and get him over here to play. Offer Scott Niedermayer lots of years and money next summer. Sign three other defensemen as well.
Health and grit
Through the first 34 games of the season, Calgary had more wins and more points. It won't end up that way, but Calgary does have something in more abundance than Colorado -- and that is grit. The Avs need to develop an edge and a grittiness factor, as they also get healthier. Peter Forsberg seems to be carrying a bigger portion of that load. Keep in mind, if they don't win the Northwest Division, they will likely play St. Louis or
Detroit in the first round. Chris Pronger and Barret Jackman or Derian Hatcher and Jiri Fischer are a challenge for Colorado's finesse forwards.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Heart and health
They need to get completely healthy and make a run at the eighth spot in the Western Conference, or tank it and have a shot at the No. 1 pick. Imagine Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev and Alexander Ovechkin for the next 10 years.
If I were GM: I would not coach anymore. Doug MacLean needs to stay the course, keep his vision long term and not get caught up in wins and losses yet. His team stinks on the road, which means they don't have enough heart. Keep drafting good young players and be patient.
A new captain and new defensemen
Mike Modano's body language has not been positive this year. Admitted stress from personal finance issues and the added captaincy seems to have added stress to his game. This team has the enthusiasm of a Wilson Phillips concert. First Hull, then Hitchcock, and then Hatcher. This organization is underrated in how many inept decisions they have made. They are becoming the New York Rangers West.
If I were GM: This team will have a difficult time making the playoffs with its current roster of defensemen. There is enough here talent-wise, but the passion has to go up.
Detroit Red Wings
Health and size
The Wings are in the driver's seat for the Stanley Cup. They have hearts and smarts in abundance. And they have assets like Mathieu Dandenault and Jiri Hudler to trade if they want. This is the year Dandenault gets dealt. They are still not as good defensively as they need to be as far as their forwards go, and they need to get bigger up front for the playoffs. Age and size might be their hurdle to win four playoff series.
If I were GM: A lot of people can use Dandenault, so this is the year to move him. And I would trade for Eric Lindros.
I thought Tommy Salo would begin a slide downward and he has. This team takes another talent hit with the trade of Mike Comrie. They have good players, but not enough high-end guys.
If I were GM: I would trade Eric Brewer for Sergei Samsonov and maybe even make it a bigger deal between the two teams. Brewer doesn't want to be in Edmonton anymore.
Patience and personality
They have lots of good young assets and maybe the second-best goalie in the world after Martin Brodeur, but no personality or identity. How long can that franchise survive drawing 287 people a game? I bet the local Olive Garden draws more a night. Which reminds me, how much money do THEY make? Have you ever had a wait less than half an hour at any Olive Garden? Why don't they open two side by side?
If I were GM: Resign and open an Olive Garden. Otherwise, keep drafting tough players like Nathan Horton and sign tough free agents like Nashville has finally done.
If I were GM: There isn't much to do here excect hope Jason Allison comes back in January. This team has a nice mix of everything, and if they get solid goaltending from Mr. Bean, they will be in the playoffs.
The gift of Gabby
As we said last year the Minnesota Wild are like those Star Trek creatures THE BORG. Like a single-cell organism, they are a unified culture of thought, looking to improve their status by adding others to their union. They embody imperialism. They are single-minded with many bodies. But with no playoff point cushion to play with this year, they
will have to attack and Marian Gaborik will likely be the guy to carry them in. He needs to get going now.
If I were GM: Go get a veteran stay-at-home defenseman for a draft pick. Other than that, stay the course. Brent Burns looks great at the World Juniors in Finland and could provide a little depth down the stretch.
Would you trade Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis for Milan Hejduk and Joe Thornton in a fantasy league? I think I will. With all of Detroit's injured players coming back, it could mean less production from Datsyuk (see Sergei Fedorov in '93-94 compared to '95-03). I don't know, though. That's why I'm asking the experts. Have a good holiday season.
If you are optimistic in Peter Forsberg's long-term health, make that deal. Milan Hejduk scores much less without Forsberg, as anyone would.
I just read the article about Keith Magnuson's family not blaming Rob Ramage for the accident that took Keith's life, and it reminded me of the Snyder family, and their identical reaction to Dany Heatley. This public affirmation of "accident" and coming out publicly to forgive and not blame is the kind of compassion and understanding that I don't think you would see in any other sport. The NHL and its players (and their families) are like a big club, and when tragedies like these happen, everyone is pulling for one another. That attitude is not present in the "selfish NBA" or the "Look at my new semaphore TD dance" NFL.
I was just reading your mailbag column and I noticed that you were naming some hockey-related band names so I thought that you might like this. I play in band called Rule 56. We got the name from the NHL rule for fighting, the Rob Ray rule that Barry Melrose mentioned in his recent column on ESPN.com.
Today, after a very long day at work, I came home, watched the Rangers-Islanders game (which turned out to be better than I expected), ate a steak and drank Amstel Light. What would be your choice for the perfect combination of hockey, food and beer during the regular season?
Canucks-Avalanche with everyone healthy, a vat of mozzarella sticks, and anything cold.
I have a new cat. His name is Claude Lemieux. It's the perfect cat name. He is tall and skinny and only a year old. My 8-year-old cat, desperate for companionship since Mr. Darcy's demise, is terrified of him for no good reason. So I'm thinking he may well grow into the name.
The Sports Diva
I saw the mail from the English teachers in China. I thought you might like to know that your stuff is read down here in Peru as well. I also teach English while studying Spanish.
Do you think the Blues need another skilled defenseman? Do you think they need another scoring winger to pair up with Doug Weight? They are on a roll with the current roster, so I´m not sure. "Don´t Dream It's Over" by Crowded House, is the best dream-themed song ever.
Someone like Bret Hedican would be a perfect fit in St. Louis. I like the Blues up front, maybe one more gritty forward. The Crowded House song has one of my all-time favorite song lyrics: "There is freedom within, there is freedom without/Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup."
Happy New Year, yo.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.