Thursday, July 9, 2009

Recchi returns, Huds flees, and Sakic says goodbye

I haven't checked in during the past week, but I have some thoughts on a few matters that have surfaced recently. Here we go...

* On July 2, the Bruins re-signed 41-year-old scoring winger Mark Recchi to a one year, $1MM contract. Upon signing, he indicated that '09-'10 will be his final year in the league. According to the Globe: "I'm playing for one more ring. That's the most important thing to me," said Recchi. "The reason I like Boston is that 99 percent of the guys on that team, I felt, really want to win the Cup. It's the most important thing to everybody in that dressing room." That's got to be music to the ears of all Bruins fans.

I always respected Recchi, despite his status as a member of the late-'90s, early-'00s Flyers that completely owned the Bruins. Needing some toughness and leadership at the deadline, Peter Chiarelli shipped out a couple young guys to bring in Recchi. The results were terrific, with Recchi scoring 10 goals with 16 points in 18 games with the Black and Gold. He really clicked with Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew, and their persistent play lead to goals like this OT game-winner against the dirty Habs near season's end. Recchi then proceeded to play the entire Carolina series despite constant pain as a result of (gulp) kidney stones that required (shudder) surgery after Game Six (nearly faint).

From a chemistry and desire standpoint, bringing back Recchi was a terrific move. Unfortunately, the move didn't address the B's needs on defense or ease their cap crunch in any way. As it stands right now, the B's have slightly less than $3MM to spend on their two remaining restricted free agents, PhilKessel and Matt Hunwick. That's not even close to enough to sign both. Hunwick was one of 20 RFAs to file for arbitration, and I'm pretty confident he'll wind up signing for around $1MM per season on a two or three year deal. It's easy to forget that Hunwick, who was a healthy scratch most of the time after Steve Montador arrived, had six goals and 21 assists and was +15 in 53 games last year. I expect a big year, and plenty of time on the power play, for Hunwick in '09-'10.

As we've discussed here, it's going to take some interesting maneuvering for the Bruins to keep Kessel. If I had to guess, the B's would really like to trade Marco Sturm, but his $3.5MM cap hit for next year, no-trade clause and injury history make that pretty unlikely. More realistic would be Kobasew at $2.33MM moving. I wouldn't like to see that given how important Kobasew is to the identity of this Bruins team, and if the Penguins taught us anything it's that unheralded grinders often make a bigger difference come spring than the scorers (Kobasew came within one win of skating with the Cup in '04 with Calgary).

It's not going to be an easy summer for teams looking to dump salary because the cap is likely to drop significantly following this season. But something has to give here. There's still plenty of time to figure all this out.

* In my RFA preview, I said that if the Detroit Red Wings lost Marian Hossa to free agency, GM Ken Holland would do whatever it took to keep 25-year-old winger Jiri Hudler from leaving Hockeytown. I didn't count on a KHL team swooping in and signing him for two years and $5MM per, tax free. My first reaction: can I get in on this KHL thing, somehow? My next reaction: I can't really blame the guy.

The Wings never seemed to make bringing Hudler back a huge priority. When he was an RFA last year, Valteri "Val Filly" Filppula was given a five-year deal with an annual cap hit of $3MM. Hudler and Val Filly are the same age, but the Wings are running up against the cap, and the best they could do was between $2.5-$3MM for Hudler this year. So when the Czech was offered a boatload of rubles, how could he say no? He'll be a star on his team and be closer to his homeland. There would have been no guarantee with the Wings that he'd even be a top-six forward.

So any team that loses the likes of Hudler, Hossa, Ty Conklin, Tomas Kopecky and Mikael Samuelsson (gone to Vancouver where he'll join his fellow Swedes, the Sedins, on the Canucks' top line) all in the course of the week should panic, right? Amazingly, no, if you're the Red Wings. Any team with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Chris Osgood between the pipes is going to be no worse that top-three in the Western Conference next year.

I'm seriously worried about the KHL poaching European guys from the NHL over the course of the next few years. Why even bother coming over here if you can make that much close to home? But at least Don Cherry will be happy.

* Joe Sakic, a 20-year NHL susperstar who helped define the hockey of my youth, officially retired on Thursday. I was somewhat surprised by the announcement considering that his final season was the worst in Colorado Avalanche history and he was limited to only 15 games last year because of surgeries on his back and later his fingers because of a freak snow blower accident. But it's easy to understand why Sakic felt this was the time to step away. The Avs are in full-on rebuilding mode, as evidenced by the dumping of Ryan Smyth to the Kings. Sakic probably didn't want to be part of that.

There are few athletes left with Sakic's sense of loyalty, having played for the Quebec/Colorado franchise his entire career (although he did sign an offer sheet with the Rangers in 1997). He was a classy leader with a wrist shot from God. I was always indifferent about those amazing late-'90s Avs teams because they had so many disliked players (namely Claude Lemieux and Patrick Roy) but it was impossible to deny the talent of their two best and most dangerous players, Sakic and Peter Forsberg. You just always knew that Sakic was a great guy, a tremendous leader that never allowed egos to get in the way of winning.

His class was exemplified by the moment when, after winning the Cup in 2001, he immediately handed the holy challis to my one of my boyhood heroes, Raymond Bourque. Sakic didn't want any of the spotlight for himself, even though he certainly deserved it following his Hart Trophy campaign. More than any singular on ice moment, that's how I'll remember Joe Sakic.

It makes me feel older, watching guys who were in their prime when I was a kid retire. But that's part of life. I'm not sure we'll see the likes of Sakic ever again.

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