Thursday, July 17, 2014

Now or Never for Grigorenko

The Buffalo Sabres are in rebuilding mode, and while it is fair to expect Sam Reinhart to make the team out of his draft year, there is one player who will be expected to make the leap and stick with the team (finally).  Mikhail Grigorenko was the team's first round pick in 2012 as the 12th overall pick.  He made the Sabres to start the season, but was sent down to Quebec of the QMJHL...after his entry level contract kicked in due to him passing the 5-game limit (lockout terms).  He would go on to make the Sabres squad to begin the 2013-14 season, but would be sent down to Quebec again.  Because his entry level contract is now reaching the last year, this would be considered a now or never situation for Grigorenko.  This is definitely a time for him to prove that he can contribute at this level and the problems he had were a product of the previous regime and not something bigger.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Leaders of Champions

In one of the wilder off-seasons for WHL coaches, the Edmonton Oil Kings and Portland Winterhawks both were looking for new head coaches thanks to job openings in both the AHL and the NHL.  Derek Laxdal left the Oil Kings to take a job as the head coach of the AHL champion Texas Stars, which became open when Willie Desjardins was named to replace John Tortorella as the coach of the Vancouver Canucks.  Meanwhile, Mike Johnston left both the head coach and General Manager positions in Portland to accept the head coaching job in Pittsburgh.

How both teams filled those vacancies was different, as the Oil Kings hired from within, as Steve Hamilton was promoted from associate coach to be the new bench boss of the Oil Kings.  He helped oversee an Oil Kings unit that made the WHL Finals three years (currently) in a row and claim two WHL championships and a Memorial Cup.  His familiarity will help an Oil Kings squad that may very well experience a major turnover in its roster.

The Winterhawks looked to Chicago to name their guy, as Jamie Kompon was named to both the head coach and General Manager roles.  His resume includes six years as an Assistant coach for the Los Angeles Kings (with two of those seasons intersecting Johnston's time with the Kings) and two seasons as an Assistant coach of the Chicago Blackhawks.  He has two Stanley Cup championships from 2012 and 2013 in that time.  Kompon has some sizable shoes to fill, but he appears to have the tools to lead Portland in their quest for a fifth straight WHL Finals appearance.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Blues' Duds

There has been some talk about the St. Louis Blues making changes to their uniforms, and it seems that the fine people over at Icethetics are confirming this, at least the team's home jerseys.  The full story can be found here.  All of the things that will change are explained in the piece, so I won't go into detail into what they are until the official unveiling.  As for what the recreation (no photos were provided, and there won't be until the official unveiling) portrays, it's basically the Blues going back to the pre-Edge design.  If the design holds true, it will be a good idea on the Blues' part, as they decided to keep it simple by eliminating the piping and adding waist stripes.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

CHL Import Draft

Every year, the three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League get together for an Import Draft.  Every team is allowed two players born outside of North America and not every team has to use their two picks in a given year.  This year's first overall pick was Pavel Zacha by the Sarnia Sting, and Zacha is one of the top-ranked European players in next year's draft.  Portland did not use a pick this year, as they are sticking with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Anton Cederholm.  Erie decided to use both picks, taking Anton Karlsson and Igor Vladykovskyi, meaning that Andre Burakovsky is likely heading to the pro level with the Washington Capitals system, as he is eligible to be in the AHL despite being under 20 years old, as he was with a Swedish league team when he was taken by the Capitals last year.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Free-Agent Frenzy

The first day of free-agency in the new NHL season kicked off yesterday, and there were some players finding new homes, either through trade or free-agency.  The day kicked off with Jason Spezza accepting a trade to Dallas.  Ottawa gets Alex Chiasson, a couple of prospects, and a draft pick in return.  The two biggest names in goaltending that were available were taken off the board, as Ryan Miller heads to Vancouver for three years while Jonas Hiller goes north to Calgary for two years.  Jarome Iginla will be expected to provide a veteran presence for a youthful Colorado team for three years, as he will be heading there after signing with them while Anton Stralman translated a strong playoff performance into a big deal with Tampa Bay, who also helped themselves by signing Brian Boyle to provide a big body up front and Evgeni Nabokov as insurance for Ben Bishop in net.  This is to add to an earlier trade for Jason Garrison, who hopes for a bounce back year after stagnating in Vancouver.

Washington is apparently hoping to beat the Penguins by being the Penguins, since they decided to take a gamble on Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.  Niskanen had a breakthrough year last year, becoming an offensive threat in Kris Letang's absence.  He was given a 7-year deal that says last year was just the beginning.  Meanwhile, Orpik gets 5 years, and given his age and injury history, it does not look so great.  Those were not necessarily the worst moves made, though, as Calgary and Florida outdid them.  While Calgary did well by signing Hiller, they also threw $8.7 million (!) and three years at Deryk Engelland, a guy whose only purpose is to fight.  Meanwhile, Florida attempted to recreate the 2011 off-season by signing veterans to deals.  The difference is that this time, the veterans are Shawn Thornton, Dave Bolland, Willie Mitchell, and Jussi Jokinen.  Thornton is strictly a fighter, and while he provides a tough presence to a Panthers locker room that desperately needs it, two years seems to be a bit much.  Mitchell will be with the Panthers for a couple of years and the hope there is that Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, and Aaron Ekblad will learn a lot from him.  Jokinen is a fine complimentary player, but who exactly will he be complimenting?  Unless the kids such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov start taking a hold of the offensive reins, this signing doesn't make great sense.  However, the worst signing was Bolland, who was inked for five years at a clip of just over $5 million a year.  While Bolland is at his best when agitating and providing occasional offense when healthy, the health part is the big problem.  He missed considerable time in his only year in Toronto last year and has never played a full season in his career.

Monday, June 30, 2014

NHL Draft Analysis

Free-agency begins tomorrow, and there is much to get through before then, and one of those things is the NHL Draft, which was completed this weekend.  The first round went according to plan...for the first five picks or so.  Because the depth was such that anyone could have gone anywhere, the draft rankings meant little in the grand scheme of things.

The complete first round:

1. Florida-Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
2. Buffalo-Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)
3. Edmonton-Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
4. Calgary-Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)
5. NY Islanders-Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL)
6. Vancouver-Jake Virtanen, RW, Calgary (WHL)
7. Carolina-Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)
8. Toronto-William Nylander, C/RW, Modo (Sweden)
9. Winnipeg-Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
10. Anaheim (from Ottawa)-Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
11. Nashville-Kevin Fiala, LW, HV 71 Jr. (Sweden)
12. Arizona-Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara (OHL)
13. Washington-Jakub Vrana, LW/RW, Linkoping (Sweden)
14. Dallas-Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)
15. Detroit-Dylan Larkin, C, US NTDP (USHL)
16. Columbus-Sonny Milano, LW, US NTDP (USHL)
17. Philadelphia-Travis Sanheim, D, Calgary (WHL)
18. Minnesota-Alex Tuch, RW, US NTDP (USHL)
19. Tampa Bay-Anthony Deangelo, D, Sarnia (OHL)
20. Chicago (from San Jose)-Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay (USHL)
21. St. Louis-Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph (OHL)
22. Pittsburgh-Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (Finland)
23. Colorado-Connor Bleakley, C, Red Deer (WHL)
24. Vancouver (from Anaheim)-Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
25. Boston-David Pastrnak, RW, Sodertalje (Sweden)
26. Montreal-Nikita Scherbak, RW, Saskatoon (WHL)
27. San Jose (from Chicago)-Nikolay Goldobin, RW, Sarnia (OHL)
28. NY Islanders (from Tampa Bay via NY Rangers)-Joshua Ho-Sang, C/RW, Windsor (OHL)
29. Los Angeles-Adrian Kempe, LW, Modo (Sweden)
30. New Jersey-John Quennville, C, Brandon (WHL)

The OHL led the way with ten players picked in the first round, with Sarnia being the only team in the league to have two players go in the first round.  The WHL was not far behind, with nine players, all of them coming from the Eastern Conference, and none of them coming from the WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings.  Red Deer and Calgary accounted for two each.  This is the second straight year that a goaltender was not taken in the first round.  The QMJHL had just one player go in the first round this year (Nikolaj Ehlers).

Aaron Ekblad is the first defenseman to be taken first overall since Erik Johnson in 2006 and is also the first Canadian defenseman taken in that spot since Chris Phillips in 1996.  Leon Draisaitl is the highest German-trained player taken, but not the highest German-born (Dany Heatley went second overall in 2000 and was born in Germany).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Winterhawks in Transition

The WHL will be having new faces in the head coaching position for eight teams, and two of them were in the Conference Finals last season.  As mentioned yesterday, the Kelowna Rockets saw Ryan Huska leave them for a head coaching job with the Adirondack Flames (previously the Abbotsbord Heat) of the AHL.  Dan Lambert was promoted to the head coaching job for the Rockets from assistant.

Today, it was the Portland Winterhawks' turn, as they will be looking to replace Mike Johnston, as he accepted the job coaching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  Both players, as you may remember, play for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL.  This move means that the Winterhawks will be looking to replace a head coach and a general manager, since Johnston was both since the 2008-09 season.  This move is on the heels of last year's Winterhawks coaching staff purge, when Travis Green, who was an assistant coach and interim coach when Johnston was suspended for much of the 2012-13 season, was tabbed to coach the Utica Comets of the AHL.  As for Johnston, he leaves behind a team that he took from the basement to four straight Western Conference titles and a WHL title, as well as six players that would be taken in the first round of the NHL Draft.