Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Here Lie the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks

The 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks were supposed to be having one last shot at competing for the Stanley Cup. Instead, for the first time since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies, they will be watching the playoffs from the comforts of home. So, how did it come to this? Let's open the coroner's notebook.

  • For every success in the draft (i.e. Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, etc.), there were some failures, and none stick out more than the period of 2008 through 2011. In those drafts, they took Kyle Beach (2008), Dylan Olsen (2009), Kevin Hayes (2010), and Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill (2011). Of that group, only Danault even had a decent sniff of playing time with the Blackhawks, and none of them remain with the team. Kevin Hayes didn't even sign with the team, opting to sign with the New York Rangers once he became a CFA in 2014.
  • Salary cap management. In many ways, tying up money to a core that includes Kane, Toews, Corey Crawford, Keith, and Brent Seabrook can be a good thing when things are going well. When they aren't, well, there are repercussions, and key players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Hjalmarsson, and Artemi Panarin all had to be traded out to get under the cap.
  • Mortgaging the future for a chance at the Cup. Again, when it pays off, it pays off handsomely, as the trade for Antoine Vermette in 2015 showed. However, the trade for Andrew Ladd in 2016 blew up spectacularly. In both cases, a first round pick was sacrificed, and either or both could have been needed around this time. 
  • Looking at more recent Draft history from 2012 onward, the results are pretty grim. Teuvo Teravainen has put up most of his numbers in a Carolina Hurricanes uniform, Ryan Hartman is now a key piece in Nashville's run this year, and the only other players that are producing at a reasonable clip are Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz. If you take out Vinnie Hinostroza, the production from that group is even worse.
  • Corey Crawford was arguably the best player in recent seasons, and when he went down to injury this season, it all but ended their hopes. Anton Forsberg has been terrible, and they've had to resort to a 32-year old rookie named Jeff Glass and J.F. Berube.
The Blackhawks aren't quite in salary cap hell in the same way that the Edmonton Oilers will be soon, but unless they can move Seabrook's contract, their ability to make moves will be limited. Their biggest need is to once again, hit on the draft picks that started their run of excellence from 2009 to 2017, especially in goal. Otherwise, it may look a lot like 2003 all over again.

Monday, March 5, 2018

I Watched This Game: Matinee Idol Edition

The Nashville Predators were looking to complete a perfect four-game road trip, and in the process, extend their winning streak to eight games. The Colorado Avalanche were looking to build upon a 7-1 drubbing of Minnesota Friday while bolstering their playoff hopes. These two teams were facing off against each other yesterday afternoon, and yes, I Watched This Game.

  • Before I get to the game itself, there was also a Philadelphia-Florida match going on, and good seats are still available in Florida.
  • That out of the way, it didn't take Nashville long to make their mark, as Austin Watson fires a puck from the blue line. It banks off an Avs player and past Semyon Varlamov to give Nashville the lead.
  • Nikita Zadorov high-sticks Kevin Fiala, which forces him to sit for two minutes and feel shame.
  • Zadorov gets free and redeems himself immediately after, as he takes a puck moments after leaving the box and beats Pekka Rinne one-on-one. You already know by this point that this is going to be playoff-like hockey.
  • Mattias Ekholm is guilty of a cross check, and Colorado goes on the power play to end the period. Nothing happens, and the game is tied at one heading into intermission.
  • Tyson Jost creates a penalty, as Ryan Hartman is forced to trip him as he is charging to the net. Once again, Colorado fails to convert, and I hope this isn't going to be a trend.
  • A Gabriel Landeskog knockdown of Ryan Johansen in front of the net puts Nashville on the power play. The Preds make good on this, as Kyle Turris is able to slip one past Varlamov despite hitting Varlamov's glove.
  • Viktor Arvidsson trips Mikko Rantanen, and he too, goes for two minutes. Yep, Colorado still can't convert.
  • We get four-on-four hockey, as Landeskog gets a penalty for cross checking. Arvidsson gets an embellishment penalty, as well.
  • Nashville goes on the power play that will carry into the third period, as Zadorov took exception to a Hartman hit on Matt Nieto and decides to WWE-style headlock him as he's coming onto the ice during a line change.
  • After the game goes back to full strength, Nieto takes a shot that takes a funny bounce off Rinne. Fiala can't control the rebound, and accidentally puts the puck into the net for an Avalanche goal.
  • Watson trips up Soderberg, and after a long delayed penalty, the Avs go on the power play. On the ensuing power play, Rantanen is left alone in the left faceoff circle, and he fires a wrister past Rinne to give the Avs their first lead.
  • The Preds pull the goalie, and with a minute left, Ryan Ellis fires a howitzer past Varlamov to tie things up again, and we get some free hockey.
  • Filip Forsberg found a perfect time to break out of his slump, as he nets one past Varlamov from a near-impossible angle. Predators take the win, and the extra point.
You couldn't have asked for a better hockey game on a Sunday afternoon. Both teams played incredibly well, and this was a back and forth affair. The Predators head home after a perfect road trip while Colorado was able to gain a little ground in the playoff hunt, though the OT loss does hurt their chances a little. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Reaching the Deadline

With the NHL Trade Deadline approaching, teams are already making moves, and many of them made this season are already more impactful than last season's deadline, when very little happened in the way of blockbuster deals. Let's look at the deals made over the weekend and other potential players getting moved.

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they were all in for a shot at a third Stanley Cup in a row when they were part of a three way trade. The basis of the trade is that they get Derick Brassard from Ottawa, Ottawa gets Ian Cole (more on him later) and Filip Gustavsson, and Vegas gets Ryan Reaves, with draft picks also being part of the equation. For Ottawa, they have signaled a rebuild, with the future of Erik Karlsson being an uncertainty past next season. Vegas gets fighter in Reaves who can also score on occasion while Pittsburgh gets the third line center that they had lacked since Nick Bonino defected to Nashville in the off-season.
  • Remember Ian Cole? The Senators didn't hang on to him for long, as he was sent to Columbus for Nick Moutrey and a 2020 draft pick. Columbus gets more depth on the blue line, and they would later address the center depth, as in another three way deal, Nashville traded Pontus Aberg to Edmonton for Mark Letestu, and then flipped Letestu for a fourth round pick. Aberg gets a fresh start in Edmonton after he was squeezed out due to forward depth, which gets better with Mike Fisher coming back as of today.
  • The New York Rangers are building for the future, sending Michael Grabner to New Jersey for Egor Rykov and a draft pick. Their biggest trade happened a few days later, as they sent Rick Nash to Boston. Ryan Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, Matt Beleskey, and a first round pick this year plus another draft pick were what they got in return. This was the trade the Rangers desperately needed, as Spooner can slot in as a top six forward while Lindgren is a solid prospect. The only hiccup, a necessary one to keep order in the salary cap, is Beleskey's albatross contract.
  • Tomas Plekanec is leaving the only team he had ever known...and is heading to their biggest rival. That's right, he is going from Montreal to Toronto. All it cost was Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev, and Kyle Baun.
  • Evander Kane, Alex Burrows, and Johnny Oduya are names that were either told to wait for trades or were placed on waivers, indicating that they could be on the move by the time the deadline passes in a few hours.
This year's trade deadline has been far busier than last year, when the only big name to get moved was Martin Hanzal. There will be at least a few moves made, many of them minor, but the ticker watching will happen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Options for the Predators at the deadline

Currently at the top of the Western Conference heap, the Nashville Predators find themselves in this position for the first time since the 2014-15 season, where they would ultimately fall off a little and succumb to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round that season. In that season, the Preds made trades for both Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to add secondary pieces for a playoff run. This year, the Preds are in the same spot and are pondering a move or two to build for a deep run. So, what are the options for the Preds?

  • They are already deep down the middle, and now they will soon get Mike Fisher out of retirement. That addition means either Calle Jarnkrok or Colton Sissons will be moved to the wing.
  • That move brings about the major question that the Predators are trying to solve. Option one is Rick Nash. His contract expires after the season, and he could come at a price. The Rangers may be asking for draft picks and/or a defensive prospect. Michael Grabner is also an option from the Rangers, and he may come cheaper, which may be appetizing for the Preds.
  • Evander Kane comes with as many questions as he does answers. Off-ice issues are his biggest problems, but he also comes with 30-goal potential that he has fulfilled a couple of seasons. A big plus is that the Predators have the leadership in place that could keep Kane on the straight and narrow for the season.
  • The Detroit Red Wings may look to move Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar. The price may be higher, since the Wings may look to poach a prospect like Dante Fabbro as a means to give up either winger.
  • The Montreal Canadiens are considering trading Max Pacioretty. His contract could be an issue, as would the asking price. Given their depth on the blue line, an NHL-ready player could be in play in addition to picks and possibly a prospect.
  • Sign Eeli Tolvanen after his KHL season ends. He's already showing his scoring chops in both the KHL and the Olympic stage. He does have an option for a second year in the KHL, but the Preds may look to sign him once he has the ability to become available.
Nashville has many ways to go, and much of it depends on what they feel. Their faith in signing Tolvanen in time for the playoffs may be the biggest factor in everything they do as far as a trade. The cap doesn't figure to be a major issue, and with only Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin currently as the only UFAs after the season, their window should be open.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Pulling a 180

When the NHL season began in October, the Nashville Predators were entering life without Mike Fisher, who announced his retirement a couple of months earlier. Fast forward to today, and the unexpected news that he has decided to give it one more run with the Predators. In a special press conference held by General Manager David Poile, Fisher is officially a Predator again. What does this mean? Nothing in the way of leadership, as Roman Josi will remain captain and the rest of the leadership group will retain their roles. Fisher is an added bonus in this regard, and he is expected to get caught up to speed by the February 26 trade deadline. On the ice, his penalty killing acumen, as well as his face-off prowess, are going to be big, and he will provide a little more toughness.

Now, who is expected to be moved? The easiest answer would be Pontus Aberg, who hasn't taken the step that the team thought he was going to take this season. Given that he's been a healthy scratch at times, a change in scenery would be beneficial. There is also a possibility of any of recently re-signed defensemen Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin, and Anthony Bitteto. Whatever the move that eventually has to be made, the Predators will have a hard time, as any of whoever has to go can be contributors on any other NHL team. This is what happens when depth is in abundance.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Finland Olympic Roster

The Olympic men's hockey rosters continue to take shape, as South Korea, Switzerland, and Finland all announced their rosters, with Finland formally announcing their rosters while the first two countries are taken from the ever-accurate Wikipedia. There isn't much in the way of big names as far as either South Korea or Switzerland go, with Jim Paek being the head coach of the Korean team while Jonas Hiller is the name that sticks out for Switzerland. To that end, this piece will focus on the Finnish team, so let's go.

In goal, all three goalies are currently on KHL rosters, with Mikko Koskinen and Karri Ramo likely duking it out to be starting in goal when the Olympics start. On defense, Miro Heiskanen is a player to watch, especially if you're a Dallas Stars fan, as he is the team's future on the blue line once he signs his ELC with the team. Beyond him, the blue line is largely unimposing, with some of the players having had a cup of coffee in the NHL, but little impact on that level. Up front, like on the blue line, another 2017 first round pick is a player to watch, as Eeli Tolvanen has been setting records with Jokerit of the KHL as a rookie. He is a Nashville Predators pick, and once again, leads a group of forwards that mostly features players that couldn't make the transition to the smaller North American rinks (e.g. Petri Kontiola).

The good news is that Finland is not in the same group as either the United States or Canada, who despite fielding non-current NHL players, are still strong. However, they are in the same group as Sweden, who are favored to take the group. A showing in the knockout rounds is the best they can hope for, and if they medal, it will be considered a mild upset.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Taking Shape

In recent news, four more countries have announced their men's Olympic ice hockey rosters. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, and Sweden all named their players that will represent them in the Olympic Games in Korea. Let's look at each roster:

The Czech Republic will be headed up by Martin Erat, a former NHL player whose best known for his years in the Nashville Predators organization and later, a key piece that would net them Filip Forsberg in a trade. The majority of the team's roster plays in the KHL, with other notable names including Roman Cervenka, Michal Repik, and Roman Horak.

Slovakia also named the team that they will be fielding for the Olympics. They largely went with players from the Czech and Slovakian leagues, with Tomas Surovy and Ladislav Nagy being the notable players with NHL experience.

Germany named their team, too, with many of their players coming from their own league. Christian Ehrhoff and Marcel Goc are the most notable names on the roster, though they also have a few former major junior stars on their roster in Mathias Niederberger, Konrad Abeltshauser, and Marcel Noebels.

Sweden named their roster, and like Canada and the United States, their roster was compiled from leagues around the world. Their goaltending looks fairly impressive on paper, with Jhonas Enroth Viktor Fasth having had moderate success on the NHL level. The rest of the team isn't too imposing, although they do have players with decent amounts of success, including Alexander Bergstrom in the KHL. One player to potentially watch for is Rasmus Dahlin, who is eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

In looking at the lineups, I have to say Germany could surprise as a dark horse candidate to medal while Sweden looks fairly strong, but whether they can strike gold again is a question. If nothing else, they may be worth a look because scouts will most likely see what Dahlin can do on the grand stage.