The first order of business for the organization coming out of the bye-week and All Star break is to sign Jeff Skinner to a max extension. This guy has been the clear MVP of this team and with the youngsters still learning the pro game and climbing up the NHL learning curve, a proven veteran scorer is something that the team can build on. GMJB needs to lock this guy up and I am fine with paying him $8.5 Million+/year, which is what has been reported as what he is asking for. Pay the man.
Second order of business is to figure out what is going on in Rochester and if any of those guys has a legitimate shot at making it in the NHL. Guys like Alex Nylander, Brendan Guhle and Victor Ol0fsson should get a call up and a chance to play in the Big Boy league to see what they can do. They’ve had enough seasoning in the American league and guys like Vladimir Sobotka, Johan Larsson and Marco Scandella should not be using roster space if these young guys are ready. If not, then we should ride the season out with these under-performing veterans and save our draft picks to add to the talent pool. A few weeks ago I was of the opinion that if there were a move to be made for a second line center that could be kept under team control beyond this season, that it might be prudent to do, like say trading a first round pick. However, at this point and with how the team has looked recently, I think this would be a mistake. We don’t look at all like a playoff team right now and I do not see them turning it around in time. If we are going to miss the playoffs, I would not trade future considerations.
The third question is what do we do about this team’s lack of grit? I understand that the game has changed and it’s about skill and speed and yada yada yada. But guess what? When there are playoff positions and then hopefully playoff games in the future and we don’t have anybody to protect Dahlin, Eichel and Skinner, where will we be then? We already saw it recently against Florida in a game we should have won. Jeff Skinner got dumped by Kieth Yandle in the corner and nobody did a friggin’ thing. The kids just stood there and watched Skinner get manhandled. This is unacceptable. Ideally, somebody would have gone over there and popped Yandle in the mouth. We can’t just let our stars get pushed around and not respond. I understand that fighting for fighting’s sake has basically been eliminated from the game, but there are times when fighting and policing the game ARE necessary and we do not have a single guy who can step up to the plate when it’s required. And don’t even start with trying to tell me Zach Bogosian could do it because he can’t. He’s frankly lucky to even be on an NHL roster in my opinion. The only guy I could possibly see being the muscle on this team is Rasmus Ristolainen but he’s still young and doesn’t even have a fighting major under his belt in the NHL. Jason Botteril needs to go out and find some decently skilled fourth line players that can provide grit, tenacity and an occasional goal or two. Connor Sheary is a good player for this role. Even Zemgus Girgensons might fit. But Johan Larsson? No. I’m sure there are a number of younger players around the league and the minors who could come in and provide fourth line support and grit better than what we are seeing now. We are basically a pushover team when it comes to physicality, and guess what folks, when playoff time rolls around, pushover teams don’t last too long, I can guarantee you that.
The second half of this season should be about our young talent developing at the NHL level and the playoff expectations should be tempered. I said it at the beginning of the season; we have enough raw talent to be in the hunt for the playoffs but I wouldn’t expect this team to make it. I stand by that prediction.