Thursday, June 30, 2016

A (Sort of) New Maverick in Town

When Richard Matvichuk left the bench of the Missouri Mavericks to accept the head coaching job of the Prince George Cougars a few weeks ago, one had to wonder what direction the Mavericks were going to go on the heels of a record-breaking regular season. Today, we got our answer, and it turns out that the Mavericks didn't go very far to find him.

John-Scott Dickson was elevated to the head coaching job after serving as an assistant coach last season. He will also gain the title of Director of Hockey Operations. Having served as an assistant coach for the previous two seasons, with his first season in that role also coming as a player, Dickson had ample opportunity to learn from Matvichuk, and given that his playing days weren't that long ago, it sounds like a logical fit, as he will be familiar with a fair number of current Mavs players from either coaching, playing, or both.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

...And We're Off!

For those that were waiting for the NHL Free Agency period to begin Friday, in earnest, the frenzy began today, as three big pieces came falling off the off-season house.

The first order of business: Steven Stamkos. The big fish in the free agency pool was officially taken out today by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the Lightning signed him to an 8-year, $68 million dollar deal. That is an $8.5 million cap hit on average for the Lightning, and ends any speculation that the Lightning were going to lose their captain and leading goal scorer to another team. A two-time 50 goal scorer, he missed most of the playoffs this season, but the signing is an indication that the Lightning and Stamkos are both in it for the long run. Ultimately, the Lightning and Stamkos kept their respective words when it came to what the future would hold for the other, even if it took up to the 11th hour to do so.

Second order of business: the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators decided that it would be a good idea to swap their respective top defensemen. That's right, Shea Weber and PK Subban are changing places in a move reminiscient of Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy doing the same thing in the 1983 movie "Trading Places." What does it mean for both teams? For Nashville, they get younger and though they do take on a little more of a cap hit with Subban, they also have five fewer years than with Weber. Translation: by the time Subban's contract is up, which will be in six years, he will be 33 while Weber will be 41 by the time his contract ends in 10 years. That is important for a Nashville team that generally never likes to operate to the salary cap ceiling. Meanwhile, the Canadiens get a leader who still has a menacing shot. The trade should benefit both players, as they're heading to the systems that will benefit each one more.

Third order of business: the Edmonton Oilers were known to be in the market for an NHL-ready defender. You can cross that off the list, as they acquired Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils. The cost? Taylor Hall. Like the Predators-Canadiens trade, this was a straight up trade that should, in theory, benefit both teams. The Devils need any and all defense that they can get, and getting Hall, who scored 26 times last season, will help in that regard. As for the Oilers, they unclog the logjam of forwards a little while trading for a defender that is just now beginning to figure it out in Larsson, as evidenced by his increasing ice time the last two seasons while also playing on the top pair last season. For both, who are also former first round picks (Hall in 2010, Larsson in 2011), it's a chance improve their new squads.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Meet the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame Class

This year's Hockey Hall of Fame class didn't have an obvious player entering their first year of eligibility, which meant that many of the players who have waited their turn to enter as one of the best to ever play had as good of a shot as anyone. Yesterday, three players and a head coach got the call to join the Hall of Fame in November.

Eric Lindros headlines the foursome, and while it has been wildly debated as to whether or not he deserves the nod, what is certain is that he dominated the game for a time in the mid to late 90's. Winning the Hart Trophy in the lockout shortened 1995 season, he also barely lost out on the Art Ross Trophy by tie-breaker and led the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Final in 1997. Injuries, namely concussions, curtailed what could have been a great career, but he still managed over a point a game.

Sergei Makarov spent the majority of his hockey career with the Red Army team in the old USSR, where he put up dynamic numbers alongside linemates Vladimir Krutov and fellow Hall of Famer Igor Larionov. He joined the NHL in the 1989-90 season, where he won the Calder Trophy at the age of 32, which forced the NHL to change the eligibility rules to cap at 26 years old for rookies. He amassed 384 points in 424 NHL games, and was on the winning teams for eight World Championships, two Olympics, and two World Juniors.

Rogie Vachon spent time with Montreal, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston, winning the Stanley Cup with Montreal twice. However, it was in Los Angeles that he earned his greatest recognition, setting many of the team's goalie records along the way. Only Jonathan Quick and Kelly Hrudey have put up great seasons in a Kings uniform alongside Vachon.

Pat Quinn will be posthumously honored. A player for nine seasons, he gained great recognition as coach of the Flyers, Kings, Canucks, Maple Leafs, and Oilers, making the Finals with the Flyers and Canucks one time each. He also held a managing position with Team Canada, and was Chair of the Hockey Hall of Fame at the time of his death in November 2014.

The induction ceremony will take place in November.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

2016 NHL Draft First Round Recap

With the 2016 NHL Draft in the books, and the ever-constant hand-wringing over with, I will begin recapping all of the happenings of the Draft, beginning with the first round. The actual pick, plus what I thought would be the pick will be put here.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (Switzerland)

As expected, the Leafs picked up their number one center that they've lacked since Mats Sundin last put on their sweater. He held up well against older competition in Europe, and also played well in the World Juniors, and he will bring both offensive and defensive skills to a team in need of both.

My pick: Matthews

2. Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara (Finland)

No surprise that Laine goes to the Jets, as he provides them a goal scorer that will inevitably draw comparisons to former Jet Teemu Selanne. A big body, if he learns how to use it, this pick could be even better.

My pick: Laine

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

The first curve ball of the draft, the Blue Jackets pass on Jesse Puljujarvi, who was widely viewed as the more complete player of the two, and go for versatility in Dubois, who can also play center, a sore spot for the Blue Jackets. A head-scratcher, for sure, but that was hardly the only issue that left the Blue Jackets fans screaming in anger. However, 42 goals last season is a cause for optimism here.

My pick: Jesse Puljujarvi

4. Edmonton Oilers: Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Finland)

The Blue Jackets' loss is Edmonton's gain, as Puljujarvi falls to an Edmonton team that will welcome him as a possible linemate of Connor McDavid. Like Dubois, Puljujarvi is a power forward with few issues. The Oilers needed a defender, but they would hit a potential jackpot later in the draft.

My pick: Olli Juolevi

5. Vancouver Canucks: Olli Juolevi, D, London (OHL)

The Canucks needed offense, and probably should have gone with Matthew Tkachuk. However, they also needed a top-defender that can move the puck out of the zone, as Ben Hutton isn't quite top-defender material. Juolevi provides the Canucks with that answer, and what was a weakness all season now looks a little better.

My pick: Pierre-Luc Dubois

6. Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL)

Knights players go back-to-back, as Tkachuk heads to a Calgary team that sees him as the potential muscle to go along with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. He has work to do on his skating, but everything else points to him replicating the success of his father Keith.

My pick: Tkachuk

7. Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller, C, USNTDP

A surprise pick, the Coyotes went with an offensive dynamo that is a little on the small side. Keller's numbers are comparable to Patrick Kane's when he was drafted, and he will be given time to develop in college or in Windsor.

My pick: Mikhail Sergachev

8. Buffalo Sabres: Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga (OHL)

Speed, quickness, and playmaking ability are what the younger Nylander brings to a Sabres team that already has Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Another solid pick by a Sabres team that looks ready to make a playoff push next season.

My pick: Tyson Jost

9. Montreal Canadiens: Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL)

The best offensive defender in the draft, Sergachev provided points on a Windsor squad that overachieved last season. His defense is coming around, but he also has some bite to his game. An eventual replacement for Andrei Markov.

My pick: Alexander Nylander

10. Colorado Avalanche: Tyson Jost, C, Penticton (BCHL)

This was a pick that I was critical of when I first heard it, largely because most of Colorado's problems had to do with letting too many shots get to the goalie. Of course, it doesn't help if the forwards can't hold on to the puck or have little interest in playing defense, either. Jost models his game after Jonathan Toews, and while he is likely going to be a year or two away at North Dakota, he may also end up just as good in the long run.

My pick: Jakob Chychrun

11. Ottawa Senators: Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL)

The Senators swapped picks with New Jersey, meaning the Senators got the opportunity to pick here. Brown provides size down the middle, and at this point, he is just learning how to utilize his size better. The finished product promises to be a top-line center with Joe Thornton qualities.

My pick: Clayton Keller (New Jersey), Logan Brown (Ottawa)

12. New Jersey: Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)

The Devils moved down a spot while picking up an extra draft pick. The result was them taking possibly the fastest skater in the draft in McLeod, who put up good numbers next to Alexander Nylander in juniors.

My pick: Logan Brown (Ottawa), Clayton Keller (New Jersey)

13. Carolina Hurricanes: Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL)

The Hurricanes went with another defender in their quest to build an actual NHL-caliber blue line. Bean is more of an offensive player at this point in his development, and needs to add weight, but the Hurricanes are envisioning him as another puck mover to go along with Noah Hanifin.

My pick: Michael McLeod

14. Boston Bruins: Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston University

Another offensive defender, McAvoy is a right-handed defender, which appears to be in short supply these days. Solidly built at 6', 200 lbs., if he learns to utilize it to his advantage, he can be a puck mover that would be hard to move off the puck.

My pick: McAvoy

15. Minnesota Wild: Luke Kunin, C, Wisconsin

The Wild picked up Kunin, who put up good numbers despite playing on a terrible Wisconsin team. Kunin produced in all situations and has considerable upside as a top two line player.

My pick: Kiefer Bellows

16. Arizona Coyotes: Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL)

The Coyotes swapped picks with Detroit in a move that also saw the Coyotes take on the recently NHL-retired Pavel Datsyuk's contract. Chychrun was widely though to be the one that took a tumble down the draft board, and Arizona was the one to stop the fall and take the defender that they needed. Solid player all-around, he's comfortable being in the spotlight, which translate into a top four spot.

My pick: Jake Bean

17. Nashville Predators: Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton (BCHL)

It's never too early to think about life after Shea Weber, and the Preds take Fabbro, who has considerable skills that will be put to the test in college. Expected to join Charlie McAvoy at Boston University, he will get a chance to add to an already impressive offensive arsenal.

My pick: Fabbro

18. Winnipeg Jets: Logan Stanley, D, Windsor (OHL)

The Jets swapped picks with the Flyers to pick up a shutdown defender in Stanley. History suggests that picking a tall defender in the first round hasn't always panned out (see: Valabik, Boris in 2004 by the Jets' former incarnation the Atlanta Thrashers and Cowen, Jared in 2009 by Ottawa). However, the Jets do need to think about an eventual replacement for Mark Stuart, and with time, Stanley figures to be the guy.

My pick: Max Jones

19. New York Islanders: Kiefer Bellows, LW, USNTDP

Bellows is the son of former NHL prolific scorer Brian, and it's obvious that the scoring touch passed down to Kiefer. While he has work to do in every other aspect of his game, the Islanders should be thrilled that a 50-goal scorer, as the younger Bellows did with the U.S. Development team did, slid down to them.

My pick: Riley Tufte

20. Detroit Red Wings: Dennis Cholowski, D, Chilliwack (BCHL)

A raw talent on the blue line, his offense is way ahead of his defense at this point. He will have time to develop in college, and the expectation is that Detroit will finally have a number one defender that they've been missing since Nicklas Lidstrom retired.

My pick: Logan Stanley

21. Carolina Hurricanes: Julien Gauthier, RW, Val D'Or (QMJHL)

With the recent run of defensemen in the first round, the Hurricanes decide to address their front line and pick another prolific goal scorer in Gauthier. Like most goal scorers of his body type, he is learning to use it to his advantage, and when he figures it out, the Canes should be getting the power forward they've lacked since Andrew Ladd left town.

My pick: Gauthier

22. Philadelphia Flyers: German Rubstov, C, Russia

A two-way player from Russia is generally regarded as an anomaly, but that is what Rubstov brings to the Flyers. He does need to gain some weight, he figures to be a player that can be considered Selke material.

My pick: Libor Hajek

23. Florida Panthers: Henrik Borgstrom, C, HIFK Jr. (Finland Jr.)

A Finnish player committed to Denver University, Borgstrom will have time to put on some weight, but his playmaking skills were a big draw, as was his upside.

My pick: Alex DeBrincat

24. Anaheim Ducks: Max Jones, LW, London (OHL)

The Ducks needed to get back to the things that won them a Stanley Cup in 2007, and that meant getting a mean customer. This is where Max Jones steps in, and along with Nick Ritchie, he figures to make the Ducks harder to play against in the future, particularly if he finds the right balance of toughness and discipline.

My pick: Markus Niemelainen

25. Dallas Stars: Riley Tufte, LW, Fargo (USHL)

The future power forward actually played high school hockey for much of last season, but finished the season in Fargo, where he draws comparisons to Nick Bjugstad. A little more weight, something that can be accomplished in his time at Minnesota-Duluth, and he can be the power forward the Stars need to go along with Jamie Benn.

My pick: German Rubstov

26. St. Louis Blues: Tage Thompson, C, Connecticut

The first player taken in the first round from Connecticut University, Thompson has all of the makings of a power forward that can someday replace David Backes.

My pick: Dennis Cholowski

27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

A big center that can play a two-way game, he figures to get more prominent ice time next season with current Moose Jaw and future Lightning teammate Brayden Point moving on. That should help him refine his game.

My pick: Howden

28. Washington Capitals: Lucas Johansen, D, Kelowna (WHL)

A better offensive defender at this point in his development, he does need to gain more strength and seemingly thrives with more ice time, something that he will see more of next season.

My pick: Pascal Laberge

29. Boston Bruins: Trent Frederic, C, USNTDP

A reach by the Bruins, they project him to be a third-liner. What he does offer is future power forward material, but the Bruins could have had Nathan Bastian at this point in the draft. If there is a worst pick of the first round, this would be it for me.

My pick: Nathan Bastian

30. Anaheim Ducks: Sam Steel, C, Regina (WHL)

The Ducks got size and power with their first pick, and now, they have speed and skill to go along with it. Steel didn't put up the numbers expected of him this season, but his skill set is too good to ignore here.

My pick: Lucas Johansen

Thursday, June 23, 2016

History of Hockey in Las Vegas

With Las Vegas set to join the NHL in the 2017-18 season, it would be a good idea to see what history there is in the city with bright lights. Thanks to the Las Vegas Review Journal, that history is posted. For those who want the cliff notes version, I'll provide that now:

  • The earliest hockey team in Las Vegas began play in 1968, when the Gamblers played for three years in the California-Nevada Hockey league. They folded in 1971.
  • Immediately after, the Outlaws formed and lasted two seasons as a semi-pro team.
  • The Las Vegas Thunder joined the International Hockey League in 1993, and would last until 1999. Their biggest name players to play in the NHL? Pavol Demitra, Alexei Yashin, Curtis Joseph, and Radek Bonk, though many of them played while the 1994 lockout was in effect.
  • The Las Vegas Wranglers would join the ECHL in 2003 and would play there until 2014, when like the Thunder, they couldn't find a new arena when their lease expired. Notable Wranglers to play in the NHL? Deryk Engelland and Adam Pardy.
With the T-Mobile Arena in place and within walking distance of the Las Vegas Strip, the new hockey team set to join the NHL will not have any issues with finding a place to play for a while. Even so, the relative lack of hockey history in Las Vegas can be viewed as both a benefit and a detriment. It's a benefit because it means it can build a history of success. However, the lack of history also means hockey in Las Vegas is a wild card because no one truly knows what will happen. Sure, there have been NHL exhibition games played there, but it's hardly indicative of future NHL success. Furthermore, seeing their closest competitors in Arizona have perpetual trouble drawing in fans, as well as Los Angeles and Anaheim being nearby means that Las Vegas will have to draw and stay drawing out of the gate while trying to steal fans from the southern California area, not to mention convince fans in southern Nevada that they can be a big draw in an area where there is much to do. Of course, Utah is pretty much up for grabs, so that could be something for Las Vegas to look at as far as attracting new fans. There's many ways that Las Vegas can go for making its brand of hockey marketable both immediately and ten years from now. It will be the ten years from now that will be more telling, as the Atlanta Thrashers found out.

All Eyes on Las Vegas

Yesterday, the city of Las Vegas was the location for the NHL Awards ceremony. However, it was also the location that the NHL announced in a unanimous vote for the 31st team to play in the NHL starting in the 2017-18 season. Because this post will be all about Vegas, the expansion and Awards will be covered in one shot.

First, the expansion, and what it all means. Because of the unanimous vote, Las Vegas will have a team, and Bill Foley will be principal owner once that team gets rolling. As for arena, the T-Mobile Arena was opened two months ago with a team in mind, be it NHL or NBA, so arena is not an issue. The NHL paved the way for this expansion with a fair amount of preparation, right down to how they were going to plan the expansion draft, which will be explained at a later date. For now, the NHL doesn't plan on making immediate expansion to 32 teams, but will have Quebec City in mind. The hang-ups there? A weak Canadian Dollar, which was last seen at 78 cents to the American dollar, and geographic imbalance, as Quebec would have to kick an existing Eastern Conference team to the West, something that Las Vegas doesn't have to worry about, since they will play in the Pacific Division. The NHL did their homework before handing an expansion franchise to Las Vegas, but we'll see how it works long-term, as their nearest future rival Arizona has had a history of trouble bringing in fans.

The other business in Las Vegas? The annual Awards ceremony, which saw Patrick Kane take home the Hart, Ted Lindsay, and Art Ross trophies as the MVP as voted by the media, MVP as voted by the players, and most points, respectively. Blackhawks teammate Artemi Panarin took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year while Washington won big with Braden Holtby winning the Vezina as the goaltender of the year and Barry Trotz winning the Jack Adams as coach of the year. Los Angeles took home some hardware, too, as Anze Kopitar took home the Selke as the defensive forward of the year and the Lady Byng as the most gentlemanly player while Drew Doughty finally got his due recognition as defenseman of the year, winning his first Norris Trophy. The Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance went to Jaromir Jagr, the General Manager of the Year was awarded to Jim Rutherford, the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award went to Shea Weber, the King Clancy Trophy went to Henrik Sedin, and the NHL Foundation Player Award went to Mark Giordano.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Leafs' Goalie Merry-Go-Round

Since the 2005-06 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone through goalies almost as often as one would change their underwear. From the last season of Ed Belfour to Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs seemingly can never find the right goalie, even when the answer is right in their face. Yesterday, you can add Frederik Andersen to the list of goalies the Leafs have or will have tried, as the Leafs acquired his rights from Anaheim for a couple of draft picks and later signed him to a five year deal.

How did it come to this? Since the lockout, the Leafs have gone with Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist, and Jean -Sebastian Aubin in 2005-06, traded for Andrew Raycroft after that season for 2005 first round pick Tuukka Rask, traded for Vesa Toskala the following off-season, signed Jonas Gustafson the off-season after that, traded for Jean -Sebastien Giguere during the 2009-10 season, went with the unheralded James Reimer at some point the following season, played career AHL goalie Ben Scrivens, and traded for Bernier.

In that time between finding a successor to Belfour and Andersen, the Leafs had the answer in front of them twice, one long term in Rask, and Reimer, traded for relatively unproven players in Toskala and Bernier, signed an oft-injured player in Gustavsson, and have had countless other short term goalies dot their roster.

In trading for Andersen, the Leafs traded from their surplus of picks, which marks a difference that they often mortgaged their future for short term immediate success. This time around, they still have plenty of picks and a very good group of prospects that will soon be joined by Auston Matthews come Friday. Plus, with Andersen, he comes with a fairly impressive record despite splitting time with John Gibson and has proven to be a good playoff performer. The Leafs put a bet that it will hold true for five years. As for Bernier, it will either push him to be better or be an admission of another mistake by the previous management.