Thursday, March 5, 2015

Overagers Getting Opportunities

It is right around this time in the season where junior players who are in their 20-year old year will get a look from pro teams or head to college.  For some players, it is a chance to continue their pursuit of a dream of playing in the NHL one day, however long it may be, while for others, it will lead them to other opportunities in life.  This year is no different, as three of the 20-year olds in the WHL have signed on with NHL teams.  Tyler Lewington of Medicine Hat signed with Washington, Tyrell Goulbourne (Kelowna) will start his pro career in the Flyers' system after signing with them earlier in the week, and Justin Hickman (Seattle), whose WHL career ended in January due to injury, will find new life in the Boston system, as he signed with them.

For these guys, and possibly more like them, not being drafted to the NHL is not the end of a dream, but it may very well be the beginning of something new.  For proof, one only has to look to Tampa Bay and another undrafted WHL alumnus in Tyler Johnson, who is one of the team's best players outside of Steven Stamkos.  There are other players who weren't drafted, yet have found success, with Mark Giordano, Josh Gorges, and Tyler Bozak among the current group finding various degrees of success in the NHL while former players such as Joe Mullen, Ed Belfour, and Wayne Gretzky are Hall of Famers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A fresh start

When Sven Baertschi was taken in the first round by the Calgary Flames in 2011, it was with the expectation that he would one day be the dynamic goal scorer that he was while playing with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.  Four years later, he finds himself a member of the Vancouver Canucks after a trade that sent him there in exchange for a draft pick.  So, what happened?

For a time, it looked like Baertschi was the real deal in an emergency call-up during the 2011-12 season, scoring three times in five games.  However, a coaching change and in time, a General Manager change would have something to do with why he is now a former Calgary Flame, as they would preach being a tough team to play against that would be hard to outwork, and while there are questions about the latter with Baertschi, it is clear that expectations were set too high for him by both the brass and some Flames fans.  The trade means a new start for Baertschi, and though it starts in Utica of the AHL, there is at least one familiar face for Baertschi, as current head coach Travis Green was an assistant coach during Baertschi's time in Portland.  Given Vancouver's penchant for stockpiling young talent on the wings that can score (Hunter Shinkaruk and Jake Virtanen head the list), it just may be the motivation for Baertschi to up his game.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Journey Continues...

This is Tim Erixon, and he was a first round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2009.  However, he refused to sign with the team, thinking he would not be able to make the team with the depth in front of him, and was dealt to the New York Rangers in 2011.  A year later, he would be a part of the deal that would bring Rick Nash to New York, meaning he would be on his third NHL team in four years.  Somehow, his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets would be the longest he would stay with a team (to date), as he would last more than two years in Columbus (mostly in the AHL affiliate Springfield) before being traded to Chicago earlier this season.  Yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs became the fifth team he will be on since he was drafted, as they picked him off waivers.

If you're keeping score, that's five teams, 78 games, a goal and 12 assists in the time he's spent in the NHL since his draft year of 2009.  Pending the offseason, he could be on his sixth team, since he is a restricted free agent, and the number of teams he's been on since 2009 could be enough to scare some teams off, yet, there could also be a team that can unlock the potential that Erixon had coming into the 2009 Draft.  The question is whether Erixon will ever figure it out before it's too late.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Patchwork Hawks

The Chicago Blackhawks were already playing their worst hockey of the season before Tuesday, when Patrick Kane went down with an injury that we now know will sideline him for three months.  That means the Blackhawks need to find a way to replace him, and currently, Teuvo Teravainen will get the first shot, and given Kane is on long-term IR, that means the Blackhawks can use the salary that went to Kane for another piece if Teravainen is deemed not ready for prime time.  According to sources, the Blackhawks would likely go after a rental player, as in-house options would need to be paid, plus there are the contracts handed out to Kane and Jonathan Toews that will kick in next season.  Some names getting mentioned include Antoine Vermette (Arizona), Jaromir Jagr (New Jersey), Curtis Glencross (Calgary), and Chris Stewart (Buffalo).  Defensive help is also a need, particularly the bottom pairing, since injuries are also taking their toll there.  Jeff Petry of Edmonton is a name tied to a lot of teams needing help there, and given that the Blackhawks were outbid by Los Angeles for Andrej Sekera, it is not likely the Blackhawks will have enough to get him.

As for what would make the most sense for the Blackhawks at this point, if Teravainen can prove that he is ready, that would help the center position considerably.  However, that still leaves a problem on the wing, where Kane plays.  Jagr wants out of New Jersey, and Arizona is looking to move a few players, plus the Flames would be open to moving Glencross, though reports have him open to a trade to Washington, a team that could use secondary scoring and appear to be the front-runner for him at this stage.  As for the Blackhawks, there are many questions, but little time to answer them, as the deadline is Monday, and not having home ice against St. Louis (their likely first round opponent if things hold true to form) could be another problem the Blackhawks don't want to encounter.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

WHL Playoff Picture: Western Conference

With a couple of big trades in the NHL in the last week, I had not been able to get to the Western Conference playoff picture in the WHL.  With a flurry of deals expected between now and the March 2 deadline, right now is the time to do it, so before it gets out of hand, here is what the Western Conference looks like right now:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

U.S. Division

1. Everett Silvertips: They hold a six point lead over Portland, but Portland has played well since the turn of the new year and there is the matter of division games to be played for both teams.

2. Portland Winterhawks: A slow start at the start of the season is the only reason why Portland is not leading the U.S. Division right now.  However, they are a hot streak away from taking the lead, as they are just six points back and have not yet peaked this season.

3. Seattle Thunderbirds: Eleven points back of Everett in the division, the Thunderbirds have done fairly well considering the injuries at various points in the season to their two best players in Shea Theodore and Matthew Barzal.  A lack of offense likely means they will have to start on the road for the first round of the series.

B.C. Division

1. Kelowna Rockets: 24 points clear of the next best team in the division, the Rockets are the only team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff spot, and given that they're also 16 points ahead of the next best team in the conference, home ice advantage may not be far behind.

2. Victoria Royals: Comfortably in second place in the division, the Royals are looking to gain momentum heading into the playoffs, and not having much at stake could present issues once the Royals get to the playoffs.

3. Vancouver Giants: Their hold on the last guaranteed spot in the division is a tenuous one, as one point is all that separates them from Prince George and Kamloops, who are both on the outside looking in at the moment.

Wild Card

1. Spokane Chiefs: Seven points behind Seattle for the last guaranteed spot, the Chiefs are woefully short on depth, and as such, their hold on a playoff spot is also tenuous.

2. Tri-City Americans: The worst offensive team in the league, the Ams hold a five point lead over the two teams outside the playoff picture right now.  However, not beating Portland this season is doing them no favors right now.

3. Kamloops Blazers: Just a point behind Vancouver and five behind Tri-City, the Blazers can still make the playoffs.  The good news is that they will have games against Vancouver and Prince George, the two teams they're fighting with over the last guaranteed playoff spot.

4. Prince George Cougars: Like Kamloops, the Cougars are fighting for their playoff lives.  However, they give up the most goals in the league, and that has been their undoing the last few years.  At this rate, it may be that way again this year.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Getting Deeper

The Nashville Predators currently hold the top spot in the Central Division.  This is important, as they will take on a wild card team, which means they won't have to deal with either St. Louis or Chicago in the opening round, the two teams that are immediately behind the Predators at the moment.  To give themselves a better chance of staying in first, the Predators picked up a couple of players that were originally draft picks of the team in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday.  Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli were acquired in exchange for Olli Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic, and the Predators' first round pick in this year's draft.

For the Predators, the trade adds depth to the blue line while adding a speedy, versatile forward that can play in most situations.  Franson was with the Predators from 2009-11 before being traded to Toronto while Santorell returns to the team that he played 32 games for before a whirlwind tour that saw him go to Florida, Vancouver and Toronto.  The Predators are still a score by committee group, and Santorelli will give the Predators another player that can step up when needed.

The Maple Leafs, by making this trade, are indicating that they are going into rebuild mode.  Jokinen is likely not going to be in the blue and white, possibly being dangled as trade bait for another team.  The things they wanted were a first round pick, which given that this year's draft is deep with talented players, is a plus, and a top end prospect, which Leipsic has shown this year.  Leipsic is on the small side, but he will provide some offense and be a pain to play against, though given his disciplinary history (he's been suspended a handful of times while playing for Portland in the WHL), there is still some rough edges to smooth out there.  However, he also made the AHL All-Star game this year, indicating that he could be a special player.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A few pounds lighter

For all of the drama that Evander Kane caused while in Winnipeg, he was also a talented player that has the potential for 30 goals a season.  However, the last few weeks proved to be too much for both the Winnipeg Jets and Kane, as Kane was a healthy scratch for a recent game and Kane went on injured reserve a few days later and is out for the season.

That did not stop the Buffalo Sabres from picking him up in a trade, as the Jets and Sabres completed a major trade today.  The Sabres get Kane, Zach Bogosian, and a college goalie prospect while the Jets will get Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux, and one of the Sabres' 1st round picks in this year's draft (no, it will not be their own pick).  The Sabres picked up Kane with an eye towards next season and presuming that the Sabres get either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, the Sabres will be a better team next season just with that prospect happening.  Bogosian and Myers changed places, and while neither guy has truly lived up to the hype of being first round picks in 2008 (Bogosian went 3rd overall and Myers went 12th overall), the change of scenery may benefit both players.  The Jets essentially get a rent-a-player in Stafford that can help in the team's push for a playoff berth, yet maintain an eye towards the future, as Armia and Lemieux are prospects that will challenge for a spot in a few years' time.  The first round pick the Jets will get is either going to be the pick they got from the Islanders (in the Thomas Vanek trade) or the one they got from the Blues (in the Ryan Miller trade).

Kane is an immense talent that has his share of issues, and it may or may not get better if Ted Nolan is still coach next season.  He will have some time to get acclimated to Buffalo and perhaps Nolan will be the guy to get the most out of him.  However, if the losses pile up, and it's likely, Kane's demeanor will bear watching next season.