Craig Custance: Summer Trending

Summer trending: Pacific Division 

July, 25, 2014
Ryan KeslerAP Photo/Chris SzagolaCould the Vancouver Canucks trend upward, despite the loss of Ryan Kesler?
The past two seasons the Anaheim Ducks have won consecutive Pacific Division titles, including a 116-point regular season last season that was topped only by the Boston Bruins.

The postseason success hasn’t been there but the team has won enough that some general managers might have been tempted not to mess with the roster too much. Not Bob Murray.

There might not be a more honest evaluator of his own players than Murray. He didn’t look at the near-miss against the Los Angeles Kings in Round 2 and say it was close enough.

He was concerned.

“We didn’t stack up against the big guys well enough to go any farther,” Murray said during a Wednesday phone conversation. “We had to change a few things.”

The addition of Ryan Kesler has been well documented. It was as good a move as anybody made this offseason, with the Ducks capitalizing on Kesler’s short list of destinations -- a credit to where they are as a franchise that Kesler limited the Canucks to Anaheim and Chicago.

Summer trending: Metro Division 

July, 24, 2014
Mikhail GrabovskiG Fiume/Getty ImagesThe deal to land Mikhail Grabovski was a risky financial move for the Islanders.
Mikhail Grabovski has long had fans in the advanced stats community. He’s a guy who drives possession on bad possession teams, which earns him points in the world of analytics.

New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano was won over by Grabovski and close friend Nikolai Kulemin the more traditional route. On video. Lots of it.

“We watched a lot of tape,” Capuano said during a phone conversation this week. “I probably know those guys better than they know themselves.”

His conclusion?

“Grabovski is a guy we targeted a couple years ago. We really liked him. He’s got very good speed, intelligence, he’s a game-breaker,” Capuano said. “The one thing I like about him, he’s not afraid to go to those tough areas to score goals. That’s a big thing. There’s a lot of skill guys but you’ve got to pay the price. It’s the second and third pop that score.”

After the first wave of free agency washed over the NHL world, it was the Islanders who created the next biggest one in signing the duo of Grabovski and Kulemin to deals worth a total of $36.75 million.

It gave the Islanders another line of attack for Capuano to work with, and strengthens the team down the middle now with Grabovski teaming up with franchise center John Tavares and the under-appreciated Frans Nielsen.

While the move may end up being GM Garth Snow’s riskiest

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Summer trending: Atlantic Division 

July, 23, 2014
Alexey MarchenkoGlenn James/Getty ImagesAlexey Marchenko could take advantage of holes in the Red Wings' defense to get time in Detroit.
The Detroit Red Wings had just finished up their prospect camp in Traverse City, Michigan, and the frustration of striking out in free agency was nowhere to be found.

Instead, the optimism of youth was everywhere. There was Anthony Mantha, the big, talented winger making another strong impression on coaches and management following a season in juniors in which he scored 81 goals in 81 regular-season and playoff games.

The message to him from the Red Wings is that he has an opportunity in training camp to make the team, unusual for a club that rarely skips a step in the developmental cycle.

“Every player wants to rush the process,” Mantha said when we chatted after the camp. “It would be a lie telling you I want to play in [AHL] Grand Rapids next year. For sure, I want to start in Detroit.”

And then there was 22-year-old Russian defenseman Alexey Marchenko, absent from the ice but continuing to progress from the ankle injury that ended his AHL season. Detroit was unable to add a right-handed-shot defenseman in free agency, with Dan Boyle and Matt Niskanen picking the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, respectively, over Detroit.

Unless general manager Ken Holland pulls off a trade, which doesn't happen often during his summers, Marchenko has a chance to take advantage of the lack of right-handed shots in the Detroit defensive corps.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Summer Trending: Central Division 

July, 22, 2014
Paul StastnyKarl Gehring/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPaul Stastny's move from Colorado to St. Louis greatly altered two Central Division contenders.
The Nashville Predators' trade for James Neal had only been official for a few minutes when the questions started as to who would be the center feeding him the puck in Nashville. In Pittsburgh, he had his biggest success with Evgeni Malkin. In Dallas, he played well with Brad Richards.

GM David Poile stood behind a podium at the draft in Philadelphia and explained that the Predators' focus would be shifted to the middle of the ice now that they had acquired the scoring winger they needed.

The problem was, that was also the focus for half of the Western Conference. Ryan Kesler went to Anaheim. Brad Richards went to Chicago. Paul Stastny went to St. Louis. Jason Spezza went to Dallas.

Making things worse for the Predators, Mike Fisher was lost for four to six months with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

So when Poile got a call from Mike Ribeiro's agent suggesting he’d be a good fit with the Predators, he listened with an open mind.

“Mike has been a top center, he’s a veteran in his experience. Equally and more important, he was looking for a place to re-establish with his family,” Poile said when we chatted last week.

The last thing Poile wanted for his young group trying to establish itself with a new coach was distractions. He was well aware of the off-ice issues that led to Ribeiro’s departure in Arizona. So this wasn’t a normal hockey transaction.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider