Friday, January 12, 2018

Your Olympians...

With the United States and Canada announcing their Olympic rosters for 2018 in PyeongChang, North Korea, it's time to size up each team's chance at Olympic gold. Given that the rosters from all the teams will be players not currently under NHL contract, this will be slightly harder to project.

First, the United States, their roster will consist of four college players not yet signed by their NHL teams (Ryan Donato, Will Borgen, Jordan Greenway, and Troy Terry), players that could never crack an NHL roster, and players that once had significant careers in the NHL. Among the most notable names on the roster include Brian Gionta, who had previously been a part of the US team in 2006, James Wisniewski, and Jim Slater. The United States opted to go with a more diverse team in terms of experience, as the aforementioned college players had also logged time with the US' U-20 squad in recent years. While not the most star-studded in terms of NHL experience, there is decent depth, and many of the players are eager to show what they can do on the international stage. One  player to watch is goaltender Ryan Zapolski, who has been playing well in the KHL for Jokerit.

Canada announced their roster a few days ago, and unlike the US, they opted to go with more experienced players. The most notable players on the team include Derek Roy, Mason Raymond, Chris Kelly, Rene Bourque, and Ben Scrivens. Christian Thomas and Quinton Howden are the youngest players on the roster, with both being 1992 birthdays. The collective goaltending unit might be better for Canada than the United States, but none on the Canadian squad scare anyone individually while up front, it is curious to see Maxim Lapierre on the roster, since his time in the NHL had largely been known as a pest. Similarly, the blue line unit may be better as the sum of the whole than the sum of the parts, as none are too great. Up front, there are former first-round picks that didn't pan out that are obviously looking to prove themselves on the international stage, with Howden, Gilbert Brule, and Wojtek Wolski making up that group.

With the rest of the Olympic rosters yet to be named, there is uncertainty as to how each country will fare. What is known is that the odds of Canada making a three-peat on the medal stand are not great, with the United States having the slight edge in terms of overall talent, particularly on the blue line and in goal. However, Canada does have the experience edge, and that may be enough to medal once again. Whether that is gold, that is where the rest of the roster announcements will have a hand in deciding that fate.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Taking Your Puck and Going Home

This holiday weekend has been rather odd in the hockey world, as two players were unhappy with their current situations and decided to walk away. It's safe to say that neither will be seeing anymore time on the NHL or AHL level, as both are repeat offenders.

First up, Alexander Burmistrov. You may remember him as a former first round pick of the then-Atlanta Thrashers in 2010 that left for Russia after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season due to butting heads with then Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel. He returned in 2015 to the Jets, only for him to eventually butt heads with current Jets coach Paul Maurice. Last season, it came to a head, and he was sent down to Manitoba of the AHL, only for the Arizona Coyotes to claim him off waivers. He did not sign with Arizona after the season, opting to sign with the Vancouver Canucks prior to this season. Now, this bit of news from Pass it to Bulis, as Burmistrov was once again, unhappy with his playing time, and after getting scratched from the team's last game for a seventh defenseman, he has decided to retire from the NHL. Yes, at the age of 26, Burmistrov has decided to pack his bags and head back home.

Next up, Steve Moses. Undrafted after spending four years at the University of New Hampshire, he would begin his professional career in 2012-13 with Jokerit, and would play with them for three seasons, including their first year as a member of the KHL. In the off-season of 2015, he would sign a one-year deal with Nashville with the expectation that he would be on the NHL roster. However, prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, he was sent down to Milwaukee of the AHL, and was unable to get noticed enough to even crack the Predators' roster. That December, his contract with the team was terminated so he could return to the KHL, this time as a member of SKA-St. Petersburg. He would spend the rest of the 2015-16 season, as well as all of 2016-17, with the team until signing with Rochester of the AHL prior to this season. His time with Rochester would be short lived however, as he was suspended by the team recently for breach of contract, and as of right now, he is now signed with Jokerit again.

As odd as the two instances of walking away have been, it was hardly the first, as Vadim Shipyachov had been signed with the Vegas Golden Knights prior to the season, but was sent down to Chicago of the AHL. His complaining about not being in the NHL was fairly well-documented, and his NHL contract would be terminated soon after so he too, could return to the KHL.

I don't know what to make of this, but it is clear that the level of play between North American hockey and European hockey can be too much for certain players to take, and while it is notable that the players gave it a shot, leaving in the middle of a season does them no favors when it comes to future North American opportunities.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I Watched This Game: Here's to the Next 100 Years

In a rare occurrence, there was a mid-afternoon weekday game that wasn't on a holiday. Why? It marks the first game of the next 100 years of the NHL's existence, as on this day, the first two games of the NHL's existence happened on this date in 1917, as the Montreal Canadiens and original Ottawa Senators squared off, as well as the Montreal Wanderers and the then-Toronto Arenas. The Canadiens and Senators had their Centennial game outdoors at Landsdowne on Saturday, and now, it's the Maple Leafs' turn today. Unfortunately, there is no team that can actually imitate the Wanderers, so the Carolina Hurricanes will have to do. Yes, I watched this game.

  • In case you were wondering about the Arenas-Wanderers game, it ended up being a 10-9 affair that went the Wanderers' way. Remember that, as it will be important later.
  • The Leafs, who are wearing sweaters similar to what you see above, are once again without Auston Matthews, who has been sidelined for the past few games.
  • Despite Matt Martin in the box for holding, the Leafs get on the board first, as Leo Komarov nets a short-hander past Scott Darling to give the Leafs the lead.
  • Shortly after Martin gets out of the box, Roman Polak puts a hit on Marcus Kruger. Josh Jooris takes exception, and both he and Polak scrap. Both get five, but Jooris gets the extra two minutes, putting the Leafs on the power play.
  • Mitch Marner finally decided to break out of a scoring slump on the ensuing power play, wristing one past Darling after making a few Hurricanes look like pylons.
  • Komarov and Justin Williams decide to have a scrap of their own, and both sit for five minutes each.
  • Jeff Skinner dangles half the team, and beats Frederik Andersen to cut the lead in half. Andersen should have stopped that one.
  • Brett Pesce decides to be a perp and slash. His reward is two minutes in the box.
  • A mad scramble in front of the Hurricanes net saw Darling make a pretty good save. Unfortunately for him, James van Riemsdyk was on the other side of him and he found the puck, which he puts past him to make it 3-1.
  • Remember when I said Marner picked the perfect time to break out of his slump? Well, he decided to put together the best individual effort of the game, leading the Hurricanes on a merry chase around their own zone before finding Tyler Bozak in the slot. Bozak makes no mistake and makes it 4-1 Leafs.
  • That 10-9 score from 100 years ago? The Leafs may very well be matching that total at this rate.
  • van Riemsdyk misses a chance to put the Leafs up by four, and breaks his stick on Victor Rask's stick. That's no good, and he sits for two minutes. 
  • Shortly after that penalty was killed, Nazem Kadri gets careless with his stick, and has to sit for two minutes for getting his stick too high.
  • 4-1 after one period, and the Hurricanes get carry over power play time, but they better find offense fast.
  • The second period was uneventful, as nothing happened, and it remains 4-1 Leafs.
  • A van Riemsdyk cross check puts the Hurricanes on the power play, but they do jack all and it remains 4-1.
  • Leafs' passing gets rewarded with a goal, as Patrick Marleau manages to bank a shot from behind the net off of Justin Faulk and into the net to make it 5-1 Leafs.
  • Before I could begin typing that last sentence, the Hurricanes bungle the faceoff, and Kasperi Kapanen takes the puck and lets loose a laser past Darling to make it 6-1.
  • William Nylander decides to get in on the scoring, as he too, wrists one past Darling. 7-1 Leafs.
  • Sebastian Aho holds, so he is sitting for two minutes.
  • Connor Carrick scores with 90 seconds left in the game, making it 8-1 Leafs, and the possibility of them matching the Arenas' score from 100 years ago.
  • Game over, and the Maple Leafs have to settle for eight. They needed this game to break out of a recent drought offensively, and Marner's performance was especially needed, as he had his drought broken this game, as well.
The Maple Leafs fans were treated to a great game, and many of the school children took some time off to catch this game. Here's to the next 100 years of the NHL.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Trade of the Season

For months, it was talked about that the Colorado Avalanche and the Nashville Predators were interested in swapping Matt Duchene. However, Nashville refused to give to the Avs what they wanted. On Sunday, the talks finally ended with Duchene getting traded. However, it wasn't to Nashville, as Ottawa entered the picture a few days prior to the trade getting announced. So, who gets what? Let's break it down:

  • Nashville gets Kyle Turris from Ottawa. Not exactly who you thought the Predators were going to get, but this one made the most sense, as not only does Turris slot in perfectly as the second line center that Nashville craved, but also did so without breaking the bank or their defensive core (more on this later). Turris also signed to a six-year extension with an annual cap hit of $6 million, thus ensuring that they don't have to worry about whether Duchene would walk after next season.
  • Ottawa was the team to end up with Duchene, and he will play immediately, as the Senators are taking on the Avalanche in Sweden this week, so he just had to change locker rooms. It's a fresh start for Duchene, who also gets the bonus of playing in his home province.
  • Colorado gets a first round pick in 2018 and a third round pick in 2019 plus Andrew Hammond and Shane Bowers from Ottawa plus a second round pick in 2018 and Vladislav Kamenev and Samuel Girard from Nashville. The Avs get draft picks, which is always important, and one of those is a first round pick in 2018, which they could leverage into something else if they choose to do so. Bowers was the Senators' first round pick in 2017, and figures to be a third-line player, at best while Hammond had one great season in 2015, but has fallen off considerably since. Kamenev became a victim of the Predators' newfound depth down the middle while Girard was dealt from the Predators' perpetual position of strength, as Alexandre Carrier and Dante Fabbro are also top blue line prospects who are in the pipeline.Both could be helpful for the Avs in the near future, as Kamenev has second line center potential while Girard could be the solid two-way player that the Avs need on the blue line.
So, who won the trade? Colorado got what they wanted, and in earnest, can rebuild with prospects and players that can help. Nashville got what they wanted in a second line center plus the security of knowing they will have him for six more seasons maximum and their defensive core remains intact. Ottawa gets the impact player that they needed down the middle, though it is hard to tell how much of an upgrade Duchene is over Turris, since their numbers are closer than one thinks. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fully Completely

In my early days of this blog, I used to fuse music with hockey, and in some cases, posted old interviews from online rags that no longer exist. For today at least, I return to my roots, though for reasons that I wish were better than this. From the moment that the world, and the country of Canada found out that The Tragically Hip's lead vocalist Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it was an inevitability. Rather than wait out the time until his departure from this world, Downie and company would embark on one last tour of Canada. The tour would happen last year, with their last show happening in their hometown of Kingston, ON in a sold out K-Rock Centre. Today, the news broke that Downie finally succumbed to the disease, yet a legacy will live on, as there are many things being done in the name of finding cures. Where the Tragically Hip really leaves a legacy is within their own country, as they have long been known as Canada's band, as they embodied everything about Canada, right down to some major junior hockey clubs, particularly with the Kingston Frontenacs, who wore Tragically Hip themed sweaters for a game last season.

Rest easy, Gord, and know that a country will remember you for all you done in the time you were on this planet.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I Watched This Game: All the Action You Can Handle

Last night, the Nashville Predators had their home opener in which they would raise their first banner as last year's Western Conference Champions. There was no shortage of excitement and suspense on the evening from beginning to end. I watched this game.

  • Before the Predators took on the Philadelphia Flyers, there was the matter of raising a banner to rafters, with former captain Mike Fisher and current captain Roman Josi meeting at the banner to help raise it.
  • Josi was scratched from the game due to injury, meaning Samuel Girard was making his NHL debut.
  • The much maligned power play, at least to start the season, gets off the schneid for the Predators, as Craig Smith was able to put one away. He will need to return to 20-goal status if the Preds hope for something more than just a Conference title this season.
  • Smith's goal was all the scoring in the first period, and he also took a two minute minor for slashing late in the period.
  • The Predators look like they're going to pull away, as Scott Hartnell and Nick Bonino score to make it 3-0 midway through the second period.
  • No, it isn't going to be a blowout, as before Yannick Weber's penalty gets killed off, the Flyers get on the board thanks to Andrew MacDonald.
  • Nolan Patrick follows it up with his first NHL goal to cut the lead to one. I like Nolan Patrick and think he another great player from the Brandon Wheat Kings system.
  • PK Subban goes to the box for two, but the Preds kill it off. Unfortunately, they're caught for having too many men on the ice, and have to kill that off, too. Valtteri Filppula ties it up, and with that, it is game on after two periods, with the teams tied at 3.
  • Travis Konecny speeds down the ice and puts the Flyers ahead.
  • A questionable Hartnell penalty leads to another Filppula goal to make it 5-3 Flyers.
  • Don't look now, but the Predators just woke up, as Filip Forsberg scored to make it 5-4 Flyers. 
  • Dale Weise and MacDonald get two minutes each, making it a 5 on 3 power play for Nashville. Hartnell takes full advantage, and ties it up, or does he?
  • The Flyers challenge that the play was offside, but get victimized by the Mike Sullivan Rule, and not only have the goal count, thus tying the game at 5, but also have to deal with the indignity of taking a 2 minute delay of game penalty. It's still 5 on 3, though one of the original penalties gets taken off because of the goal.
  • Forsberg plays hero, as he nets the final tally of the game, as Nashville caps off a momentous evening with a 6-5 win.
The Predators haven't made things easy in the first three games of the season thus far, but getting that win, particularly in the way they did, should serve as a confidence booster for the rest of the season. No Josi for the game, and no Ryan Ellis until January meant the Predators have to still figure out their blue line situation. The good news is that Girard looks like another potential keeper for a team that just comes out with quality blue liners left and right.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

NHL Predictions

The NHL season kick off tomorrow, and because I did so well at predicting what would happen last season (note: I did not), I am back at it again. Like last year, these set of predictions will have nothing to do with the season preview and all to do with just going off the cuff. This time around, it's being posted here as opposed to just being on facebook, as I intend to go into detail as to why I think this way.

  • I thought it would happen last year, and it didn't, but I am going to go with it once again and say Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will get traded. The Oilers are on the verge of salary cap hell, and Nugent-Hopkins' contract is the most logical one to get moved. Carolina has the prospects to offer and would appear to be the most logical choice. Nashville could be kicking the tires here, too, as their search for another center could lead them here. Plus, Nugent-Hopkins is under team control for four more years.
  • Matt Duchene will remain in Colorado this season. The Avalanche have overplayed their hand on what they could get for Duchene and are more likely to either trade him after this season or watch him walk after next season. Either way, this is something that could make a bad situation in Colorado even worse. Oh, and Colorado still hasn't fixed their Titanic-sized holes on the blue line.
  • Despite having the likes of Vancouver, Colorado, and Vegas breaking their fall in the standings, the Detroit Red Wings will win the draft lottery and like their baseball cousins in the Tigers, be able to expedite their rebuild with the first overall pick.
  • Charlie McAvoy will win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He's in a good spot with the Bruins having a still serviceable Zdeno Chara leading the way and an emerging Brandon Carlo taking the pressure off of McAvoy. His playoff cameo showed promise, and that promise will turn to production by season's end, particularly when Adam McQuaid goes down to his annual injury.
  • Carolina will finally end the league's longest current playoff drought this season. They've been building a solid blue line and their offense is starting to show, with Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho being viable options. Scott Darling will likely struggle a little, but he will find his footing eventually and be the answer in goal that they've needed.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers will be the first team to fire their head coach during the season, as Dave Hakstol was put on notice when the Flyers plucked Kris Knoblauch from Erie of the OHL to be an assistant coach. The Flyers have a lot of talent on paper, but far too few actually doing anything on the ice, namely Jakub Voracek and Cladue Giroux. That must change.
  • The New York Rangers are the most likely team that made the playoffs last year to miss the playoffs, as other than Kevin Shattenkirk, they did very little to change their roster. Now, they're planning on having 2017 first round pick Filip Chytil start the season with the team. That will not go over well. Remember how the Rangers almost screwed up Manny Malhotra's career by playing him before he was ready?
  • Nashville will be a far better team this season, as last year was about figuring out who to pair PK Subban with plus dealing with injuries. This year, they will still have injuries to deal with, but they are better prepared this time around with the depth having had playoff experience. Don't underestimate the importance of the Alexei Emelin trade, as he will be a presence in his own end. 
  • This is going to be the Blackhawks' last stand, as they prepare to enter their own version of cap hell. Anything short of a deep playoff run, and Joel Quennville is most likely walking away instead of being fired. 
  • The Stanley Cup Final will be the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers, and Edmonton takes home the Stanley Cup, with Connor McDavid being named the Conn Smythe winner.