Thursday, December 18, 2014

Erie Examiner: Stumbling to the Finish

In the weeks before holiday break, the Erie Otters are not playing their best hockey right now.  The week began with a 7-4 loss Tuesday at Kitchener in which the Otters couldn't do much on defense.  That would be the theme of the week, even in a 6-4 win at home against Saginaw on Friday.  Saturday, they had no answer for Oshawa in a 5-1 defeat.

In the last games before break, the Otters will at home Friday against Niagara before heading to Guelph on Saturday in the first meeting since the Western Conference Finals last year.  After that, the Otters won't play until December 28, and they are likely to be missing Connor McDavid due to World Junior Championship duty, which should provide the Otters an idea of where he is in his recovery.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Another Oil Change

At this point, it seems that the best way to describe the Edmonton Oilers in the last nine seasons or so is best captured by a cat sticking out its tongue.

The big news coming out of Edmonton is that Dallas Eakins has taken the fall for the Edmonton Oilers' dreadful season and is out as head coach.  The plan, according to Oilers' brass is that Craig MacTavish will fill in as head coach with Todd Nelson expected to eventually take over during the season.  If any of that doesn't make sense to you, you're not alone, as while Eakins didn't do his job of getting the Oilers moving forward in terms of progress, now, there's going to be no less than three coaches within a season.  In case you're wondering what will become of the upper management (read: MacTavish and Kevin Lowe), they're still sticking around for now, as nothing else was announced.

Just another day in Edmonton, as nothing really changes here except for the coach.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Well, That Didn't Work...

The experiment that was the Brad Robson/Drake Berehowsky era drew to a close yesterday.  Both men were given their walking papers by the Lethbridge Hurricanes after another season of dreadful hockey.  The Hurricanes have not seen postseason hockey since the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, and have not finished higher than fourth since that time.  Robson was hired to be the General Manager prior to last season while Berehowsky was tabbed head coach in that time, and both replaced Rich Preston, who had both roles the previous four years.

Both men are out of a job after a 6-19-3-2 record this season that followed a 2013-14 season that saw the Hurricanes become the only team in the league to finish under the 30 point mark.  Peter Anholt was named both General Manager and head coach, effective immediately, and while he has only been with the team since June (as assistant General Manager), he does bring head coaching experience from his time with Prince Albert, Red Deer, Kelowna, and Seattle.  Prior to coming to Lethbridge, he was a scout for the Thunderbirds.

Winterhawks Weekly: Almost Break Time

The Portland Winterhawks are still playing well, and with a recent trade involving the Kelowna Rockets, they will have to step up their game.  Tuesday, the Winterhawks headed to Vancouver Island to take on the Victoria Royals, and in a wild one, the Winterhawks managed to win 6-4 for their sixth straight victory.  However, that winning streak would come to an end on Friday, as Vancouver would score three goals to open the game, and despite a comeback by the Winterhawks, they could not complete it as they fell 3-2.  The Winterhawks came home on Saturday hoping to start a new winning streak, and on Teddy Bear Toss night, the Winterhawks not only made it rain teddy bears, but they also held off the Everett Silvertips in another wild one 5-3.  Sunday, the Winterhawks proved to be rude hosts to the Medicine Hat Tigers, as the Winterhawks handled them 4-1, leaving the Winterhawks with eight wins in their last nine games and just three points back of Everett in the U.S. Division standings.

Yesterday, the Kelowna Rockets made a big trade that could impact what Portland does in their quest for five straight Conference titles, as the Rockets picked up Josh Morrissey and Gage Quinney from Prince Albert in exchange for Austin Glover and Jesse Lees, plus some draft picks.

As for the Winterhawks, they play at home Friday against Spokane before finishing the week on the road against Seattle on Saturday and Sunday against Tri-City before the holiday break.

Monday, December 8, 2014

MacLean-ing Out the Closet

In an attempt to shore up some defensive holes in their game, the Ottawa Senators relieved Paul MacLean of the coaching duties and promoted assistant coach Dave Cameron to head coach.  In three and a half seasons as the Senators coach, MacLean led the team to two playoff appearances, both in his first two seasons, and won the Jack Adams Trophy in the lockout shortened 2013 season.  However, it is the last season and a half that proved to be his undoing, as the defense couldn't stop anyone and communication was an issue.

The job of turning the Senators' season around now falls on Cameron, who will be looking to do better with a team that is four points out of the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.  Cameron has been on the coaching staff since the day MacLean was hired, and had previously coached Binghamton of the AHL and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors (now the Mississauga Steelheads) of the OHL.

Erie Examiner: Rough Times on the Road

The Erie Otters started out the week well, but then they had to go out on the road, and the results weren't all that great.  Wednesday, the Otters needed a strong second half, highlighted by newcomer Nicholas Baptiste's two goals to hold off Owen Sound 4-3 at home.  Saturday, the Otters began a three game stretch where they hit the road, and it started in Belleville, where they managed to get a point in a 3-2 shootout loss.  Sunday, the Otters traveled to Oshawa, where they were throroughly outclassed in a 4-1 loss.

The Otters finish the road trip Tuesday against Kitchener before coming home for games Friday against Saginaw and Saturday against Oshawa.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Happy Trails to the 'Stache

One of the more famous mustaches in recent NHL history has decided to call it quits.  George Parros, who was known as one of the better enforcers and for having one of the most recognizable mustaches in the league, retired today after nine years in the NHL.  Before you ask, yes, I deliberately chose the photo you see above.

Silliness aside, Parros was actually a graduate of Princeton, and had toiled in the AHL with Manchester for three years after that.  He made his NHL debut with Los Angeles in 2005, and would go on to play in Colorado, Anaheim, Florida, and Montreal in his career.  However, it was in Anaheim that he became a recognizable figure, as he would become the team's top enforcer.  Like most well known enforcers, his offensive contributions were a drop in the bucket, but it was his toughness, as well as his off-ice work that endeared him to fans, and his personality made him popular among teammates.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Latvian Power

The player you see scoring is Zemgus Girgensons, and he is currently in the news because he is leading the fan vote for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game.  You read that correctly, and much of that is due to his home country of Latvia turning out and voting.  This brings out several things about Girgensons: he is the Buffalo Sabres' second leading scorer with 14 points (which isn't saying much, since the leader, Tyler Ennis, has 16) and he leads the team in the +/- category at +6.  The second part is big, considering that he is only one of three Sabres on the right side of that statistic (the other two are Nikita Zadorov and Brian Flynn).  He earns the most ice time of all forwards and is routinely put up against the opposing team's forwards, which is no small task for a guy that is only two and a half years removed from playing junior in Dubuque of the USHL and made the direct jump to the pros (he started in the AHL after being drafted in 2012).  He also played for Latvia in the 2014 Olympics and had a good showing there.

Buffalo is still undergoing a rebuild, and while it is still fairly early, Girgensons is one of the bright spots for a team that is much closer to winning the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes than they are the Stanley Cup at this point.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Newest Blue Note

The image above is likely going to make people do a double take.  Yes, that is Martin Brodeur, and yes, he is wearing a St. Louis Blues hat, and as of today, he is a member of the Blues for this season.  Brodeur did say during the off-season that he wanted to keep playing, and an injury to Brian Elliott opened the door for Brodeur to join.  The contract is strictly for this year and has a prorated base pay of $700,000 with bonuses if he reaches certain goals.

What does Brodeur really bring?  Given the injury to Elliott, who is listed as week-to-week (hence the Blues looking into Brodeur in the first place), he can step in and at least be a backup to Jake Allen.  For Allen, it also means that he can learn from Brodeur what it takes to have sustained success, since this is only his second full season in the NHL.  As for Brodeur, he says he can still be a contributor, and with a talented team in front of him, he has that chance to prove the Blues right when he does play.  The signing also allows the Blues to not rush Jordan Binnington to the NHL, something that they would have done had the Elliott injury not been a possible long-term deal.  This is a gamble, but not a costly one, as the Blues didn't overpay for a short-term solution that may very well provide long-term results.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Erie Examiner: Two Wins and a Bear

In a tough three game stretch in as many days, the Erie Otters came out with four points, which isn't bad.  A Thanksgiving tilt with Mississauga saw the Otters dominate the game in a 5-1 win.  Friday, the Otters traveled to London, ON to take on the Knights in an attempt to avenge an earlier loss in the Forest City.  The Otters were successful, as they edged out London 3-2.  Saturday was the Teddy Bear Toss game, and Travis Dermott scored the goal that sent the bears flying onto the ice.  However, the Belleville Bulls would turn a strong third period into a 3-1 win, handing the Otters their second home loss of the season.

The Otters are at home Wednesday against Owen Sound before hitting the road for games Saturday at Belleville and Sunday at Oshawa.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Don't Look Now, But...

The Portland Winterhawks are officially on a winning streak.  Coming off of two straight victories the previous weekend against Kelowna, the Winterhawks were looking to achieve their first winning streak of more than two games this season.  By the end of this weekend, the Winterhawks ended up with a five game winning streak and counting.

Tuesday, the Winterhawks overcame a 2-1 deficit after one period to overtake the Victoria Royals at home in a 4-2 win.  Friday, the Daylight Classic happened, and the Kootenay Ice were the opponents in a game where the curtains to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum were pulled back.  The Winterhawks turned a three goal second period into a 5-2 win, with Adin Hill getting his second victory of the week.  Saturday, the Winterhawks traveled to Kennewick, WA to take on the Tri-City Americans for the first time this season, and while the Winterhawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead at one point, they had to hold off an Ams comeback in the end to preserve a 3-2 win for Brendan Burke.

The Winterhawks will be a busy team this week, as they look to extend their winning streak at Victoria on Tuesday and at Vancouver on Friday before coming home to take on Everett Saturday and Medicine Hat Sunday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Erie Examiner: Where They Belong

Last week, the Erie Otters found themselves in a spot they have been accustomed to for many weeks: perfect.  Wednesday, the Otters were able to hold off Plymouth in an early home game by a 4-3 score.  Friday and Saturday, they dominated Sarnia and Saginaw by identical 7-1 scores.  And earlier this week, the Otters acquired Buffalo Sabres prospect Nicholas Baptiste from Sudbury for draft picks, which means the Otters are all in this season, and it should make the Otters a tougher team to stop.  The only shoe left to drop is Connor McDavid, who is expected back after holiday break.

This week, the Otters have three games in three days, with a home game on Thanksgiving against Mississauga, a road trip to London on Friday, and will wrap up by welcoming Belleville on Saturday.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Owning Kelowna

In their three game road trip through central British Columbia, the Portland Winterhawks saw dominance over one team come to an end while dominance over another team continued.  Wednesday, the Winterhawks were thoroughly outclassed in a 4-1 loss in Kamloops, ending the team's dominance that dates back to the 2012 Conference semifinals.  Meanwhile, their back-to-back in Kelowna over the weekend extended the Winterhawks' (mostly) dominace over the league leading Kelowna Rockets, but it almost didn't happen.  Down 3-0 after one period on Friday, the Winterhawks would force overtime thanks to three unanswered goals before Alex Schoenborn would put in the winner in overtime to make it a 4-3 win for the Winterhawks.  Saturday, the Winterhawks would jump out to the big lead, but needed a Miles Koules goal to hold off a Rockets rally in a 4-3 win.

The Winterhawks welcome the Victoria Royals on Tuesday and will play against Kootenay on Friday before heading out to Kennewick for their first meeting of the season against Tri-City.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Three out of Four (Points) Ain't Bad

In their home and home against the Everett Silvertips last weekend, the Portland Winterhawks managed to come away with three out of four points.  In the Everett portion of the home and home last Friday, the Winterhawks managed to force a shootout, but could not close out the deal, as the Silvertips win 4-3, leaving the Winterhawks with a point.  Sunday was the Winterhawks part of the home and home, and it was much kinder, as the Winterhawks would run over the Silvertips 7-1.

The Winterhawks head to British Columbia this week, as they will travel to Kamloops on Wednesday to take on the Blazers before a back-to-back in Kelowna on Friday and Saturday against the WHL-leading Rockets.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Time to Find a New Home

In a somewhat surprising development, the Minnesota Wild have placed Josh Harding on waivers today.  The move comes just after the Wild activated him from Injured Reserve, which in itself was done because he broke his foot in an off-ice incident.  Harding has not played since December of last year, and when he's healthy, he can be a viable option in goal.  However, between the foot injury and his Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, those moments are questionable as to when they will happen.

If Harding does clear waivers, he will be assigned to the Wild's AHL affiliate in Iowa.  However, there are likely to be a few teams inquiring about his availability.  Teams that could use a guy like Harding include Buffalo, Edmonton, New Jersey, and Winnipeg.

Erie Examiner: A Costly Fight

The Erie Otters are facing adversity for the first time this season, and it happened in their first game of the week.  Tuesday, the Otters shut out the Mississauga Steelheads 4-0, but that wasn't the story, as Connor McDavid will miss 5-6 weeks after fracturing his hand in a fight.  Life after McDavid hasn't gone so smoothly, as the Otters were unable to get anything going Friday in a 2-1 loss to Niagara and the floodgates opened in the third period of the Saturday game against Kitchener, as the Rangers scored four times to win 5-2.

The Otters will try to find their way on Wednesday, as they host Plymouth before hitting the road for a game Friday at Sarnia and Saturday at Saginaw.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Still Trying to Find Their Way

Last week, the Portland Winterhawks won one game and dropped the other, with their 5-4 loss at home to Red Deer and a 4-3 overtime win against Kamloops.  That means the Winterhawks are still looking for their first three game winning streak, and while the Winterhawks have done fairly well lately, the inability to put together a winning streak of more than two games has them last (although a point is all that separates last from third place).

The task does not get any easier, as they will have a home and home with Everett, with Friday's game in Everett and Sunday's game will be at home.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Erie Examiner: A Bump in the Road

The Erie Otters remain at the top of the OHL, but it wasn't without a shocking loss.  Three games in three days meant that the Otters would be hard pressed to keep their amazing start going.  It just so happened that Niagara was the team to do it on Thursday.  In the Otters' 5-2 loss, the point streak of Connor McDavid came to an end, and the Otters were unable to answer the IceDogs' second period barrage.  Friday was a new day, and the Otters made the most of it, as they were able to turn back Sarnia 5-2 on the strength of an Alex DeBrincat hat trick.  Saturday was the team's statement win of the weekend, as they handled Saginaw easily 8-1.  McDavid and Dylan Strome had four points apiece.

The Otters are at home tomorrow against Mississauga in a Veterans' Day game that will have a start time of 5:30 PM.  They will also hit the road on Friday against Niagara before coming home for a Saturday game against Kitchener.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Now, That's More Like It

The Portland Winterhawks are finding themselves a little more with each passing game, and it helped that they managed to get four out of six points this past week. Thursday didn't start out so well, as they were blanked 5-0 to the visiting Kelowna Rockets. However, the Winterhawks didn't have to wait long for retribution, as the Rockets would be back for a Saturday game. Paul Bittner would score the game winner in overtime to avenge their earlier loss by a 3-2 score. Sunday, the Edmonton Oil Kings came calling, and despite some of the name changing, the Winterhawks were up to the task for this game, as they would give goaltender Michael Bullion enough support in a 3-1 win.

The Winterhawks finish their home stand this week, as they welcome Red Deer on Friday and Kamloops on Saturday.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Erie Examiner: Still Winning

If you're keeping score, the Erie Otters have still only lost once this season (in a shootout at London).  That is fourteen games played so far and thirteen of them have been wins, including this past week.  Thursday, the Otters had a fairly easy time with the Plymouth Whalers in a 5-2 win that saw Dylan Strome's point streak end and Connor McDavid notching his 200th point in the OHL (and counting).  The Otters continued to score in bunches on Saturday, as they would defeat Ottawa 7-4 in a game where Travis Wood and TJ Fergus scored their first OHL goals.  To date, Alex DeBrincat leads the league in goals (15) while McDavid leads the league in points (42) and +/- (+30).  Amazingly, He also leads his team in PIM with 19 minutes.  That is a tie for 60th in the league.

The Otters look to continue their winning ways, as they travel to St. Catharines, ON for a match against Niagara before coming home to take on Sarnia on Friday and Saginaw on Saturday.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hitting the Reset Button in Prince Albert

This week, the Cory Clouston Experiment ended, as the Prince Albert Raiders fired Clouston after the team's slow start.  The search for a new head coach did not last long, as they tabbed Marc Habscheid to be the new bench boss.  Before getting into what Habscheid brings, let's look at the Clouston era.

Clouston was brought in prior to last season amid high expectations, as they were pre-season favorites to win the East Division.  Those expectations should have been met, as they were returning Leon Draisaitl from his solid rookie campaign in the the WHL, as well as Josh Morrisey and even brought in Cole Cheveldae to be the starting goalie after a solid tenure in Kamloops.  Once the season started, things didn't go as planned.  While Draisaitl did his part, everything else did not go as planned, as Cheveldae was splitting time with Nick McBride as the season wound down and the Raiders needed a tie-breaker game against Red Deer to make the playoffs, where they were promptly disposed of by eventual league and Memorial Cup champion Edmonton.  A 6-9-0-0 record to start the season combined with some locker room disharmony (e.g. Dakota Conroy being sent home) contributed to Clouston's dismissal.

As for the new guy in Habscheid, he knows a thing or two about winning teams, as he has coached in Kamloops, Kelowna, and Chilliwack/Victoria, winning a league title in 2003 and the Memorial Cup in 2004.  He was last seen in an executive position with the parent company that owns the Victoria Royals.  Time away shouldn't be too much of a concern, as he had a five year hiatus between his last year in Kelowna (the Memorial Cup year) and his first year in Chilliwack.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Revisiting the Thrashers' Last Year

Currently, the Winnipeg Jets are in their fourth year after relocating from Atlanta, and much like many of those Thrashers teams, the Jets aren't getting anywhere. It so happens that I found a copy of The Hockey News yearbook for the 2010-11 season, the last to feature the Thrashers before the move to Winnipeg. Let's leaf through their analysis, shall we?

The Thrashers were picked to finish eleventh in the Eastern Conference despite picking up four players from the Chicago Blackhawks team that won the Stanley Cup the previous season. Their leading point getter in the 2009-10 season was Nik Antropov, almost by default, as Ilya Kovalchuk was traded mid-season. In addition to the four Blackhawks (Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Brent Sopel), they also picked up Chris Mason in goal. They also got a new coach in Craig Ramsay, who replaced John Anderson after a few lackluster years.

Predictably, the Thrashers missed the playoffs, and in late May, the Thrashers would be no more, as the True North ownership group would buy the team and move them to Winnipeg.

What of the top prospects that year? Of the ten listed, only Paul Postma remains with the team while others such as Daultan Leveille and Angelo Esposito never made it to big club. The only other player to make the NHL with any significant playing time was Alexander Burmistrov, who was rushed to the NHL too early and never fulfilled his potential. He is currently playing with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL.

Military Appreciation: the Green Bay Gamblers Way

This Saturday, the Green Bay Gamblers will be holding their third annual "Military Night" as they take on the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.  As you would expect, there will be a special Military themed jersey that the Gamblers will be wearing, as shown above.  However, take a closer look at the helmet, and you will see that there is something special about it.  And in case you can't see it well, here is a standalone picture of the helmets the Gamblers will be wearing:

That's right, the helmets will be prominently featuring the American flag wrapped around the helmet.  While it is a nice thing for teams to honor their country's military forces, the Gamblers took a bold step and included the helmets, which adds a little more fun to what is considered a serious occasion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Not Even A Tropical Depression

With the 4-1 loss at Vancouver and the fact that they don't play again until Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes will finish the month of October without a win. That's not a typo, kids.

Right now, the Hurricanes are 0-6-2, and are in the lead for the first overall pick in next year's draft. Truthfully, if I am either Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid, I would be dreading the prospect of ending up in Carolina right now. The Hurricanes are a rudderless ship that is shortchanging its coaching staff, with their big addition from the off-season being Jay McClement. McClement is fine... if you're trying to find that last piece to a playoff run, but the Hurricanes are nowhere near that. General Manager Ron Francis has had his hands tied, with the bloated contracts handed out to underachievers such as Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, and Cam Ward. However, the unwillingness to use a buyout clause in the off-season makes it that much harder, in effect, causing the Hurricanes to resign Tim Gleason, who himself was bought out by Toronto after a half season with them following a trade from Carolina (big surprise).

I mentioned leadership being an issue, and have called for the Hurricanes to take the C away from Eric Staal. A team should be a reflection of their captain, and Staal has not been very good in a leadership role. If you remember how he got the C, it was after the Hurricanes stripped the C from Rod Brind'Amour in 2010, in his last year in the league. Since then, the Hurricanes haven't shown anything resembling improvement, from either the team or Staal himself.

This will be a long year for the Hurricanes, and short of any earth-shattering moves, it's going to remain a painful time no matter who they draft next year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Getting Back on the Right Track

Perhaps the road trip through Saskatchewan and Manitoba was what the Portland Winterhawks needed, and they wrapped up a six-game trek with the East Division opponents.  Tuesday, the Winterhawks defeated the Regina Pats 3-1.  However, they still could not get a winning streak going, as the Swift Current Broncos scored in the closing seconds of the game on Wednesday, making the Winterhawks' comeback from two down in the third period for naught in a 5-4 loss.  Friday, the Winterhawks were led by a three point effort from Layne Viveiros in their 5-2 win over Prince Albert.  Saturday, the Winterhawks finally achieved a winning streak, as an Oliver Bjorkstrand hat trick propelled the Winterhawks to a 6-1 win in Saskatoon.  The Winterhawks finished the trip with four wins and eight points in six games.

This coming week will be a major test, as the Winterhawks return home to take on Kelowna on Thursday and Saturday before meeting up with their WHL Finals rival from the last three seasons Edmonton on Sunday.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Erie Examiner: All They Do is Win

The Erie Otters are continuing their winning ways, and now, it's extending to an NHL city.  Wednesday, the Otters had a home game in Buffalo, NY against the Niagara Icedogs, and if you know your Sabres team this year, it's the team's fans' opportunity to see what they could be getting if they tank hard enough.  In the Otters' convincing 8-4 win, Connor McDavid did not disappoint, scoring a goal and three assists, and even when he missed, his skill was on display in the effort to get there.  Friday, the Otters had an opportunity to extend their mastery of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, something that dates back to their sweep in last year's Conference semi-finals.  Two Dylan Strome goals helped propel the Otters to a 6-4 win and extended their league best record to 10-0-0-1.  Sunday was a trip to Sudbury, and an opportunity to make a statement and a chance to add to the record.  The Otters did not disappoint, as they put an eight-spot on the Wolves, as they dominated in a 8-1 win.  McDavid and Strome have points in all 12 games so far this season.

The Otters come home for a Thursday tilt against Plymouth before welcoming Ottawa for a Saturday night game.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fade to Black

from the Victoria Royals' Twitter
Last night was another game for the Victoria Royals, as they beat the Vancouver Giants 2-1 on the strength of their power play.  However, that's not the reason why this post is being made, nor is the fact that it's the OTHER Royals-Giants matchup going on this weekend.

The picture above is what the Royals wore on the ice.  Yes, it is a black jersey, and it marks the first time that the team has gone the third jersey route in their short existence.  The look is solid, with a front view of the lion's face as the logo on the front and the Royals wordmark on the shoulders.  While the striping on the sleeves and waist could be better, the consistency with all of them is a good thing here, as it's white on top, with black and blue going down and the blue being thicker than the other two stripes.  The numbering and lettering is fairly standard, which works here in that the Royals make the jersey all about what's on front.  Overall, the Victoria Royals kept their third jersey design simple, yet effective.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Putting the Winds Back in Carolina

The Carolina Hurricanes were widely thought to be in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes prior to this season.  Five games in, and they're proving just about everyone correct in that assessment.  Given the team's penchant for underachieving, this year is actually not bad in comparison when looking at this year's expectations (read: none).  This is where I get to put on my General Manager's hat and take a look at possible ways that the Carolina Hurricanes can be fixed.

In goal, the Hurricanes have quite the predicament, as Anton Khudobin is currently sitting above Cam Ward on the depth chart.  The problem?  Ward is making starter's money, and right now, Ward has a GAA of 3.87 and a save percentage of .846.  Throw in his history of being injured, and you can see why he's been difficult to move.  His current contract is up after next season, and even without the injuries, he has been nowhere near the player that he was in the mid to late 2000's.  How to fix the goal problem?  Find a team that constantly fights to get to the salary cap floor and is willing to gamble on a goalie who used to be good, and those teams are scarce at the moment.

Defensively, they're not in the worst shape.  In fact, this is probably the most stable unit on the team.  Players slated to be free agents after the season are Tim Gleason, Brett Bellemore, and Andrej Sekera, and it is entirely possible that only one of them could be resigned, and it is likely Sekera, who put up good numbers last season and is currently paired with Justin Faulk.  With Ryan Murphy waiting in the wings and Haydn Fleury developing, the Hurricanes don't look too bad here, as Jay Harrison is decent, and Ron Hainsey is fine as a third pairing player.

Forwards is where things get dicey.  Both Staals are out due to injuries, though Eric is slated to return soon, and Jeff Skinner just returned from a concussion.  Of the forwards, only Skinner has produced lately, and that's when he's actually been healthy.  Jiri Tlusty and Chris Terry lead the team in scoring, and that's not a good sign.  Tlusty can score goals, which explains his standing, but no one outside of Carolina has heard of Terry.  Alex Semin has yet to score, and given that his best numbers were when he was on a one-year deal in the lockout-shortened season, it's fair to wonder if Alexei Yashin changed identities.  Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm are some of the young players getting ice time, which is good.  However, neither have found their stride.

To fix the issues here, the first thing I would do is strip Eric Staal of the captaincy.  Since he became captain midway through the 2009-10 season, when he replaced Rod Brind'Amour, the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs every year, and though he has broken the 30-goal mark in 2010-11, he also has not broken the 80-point mark since the season he became captain.  A captain should be a reflection of the team, and since Staal became captain, it does not look good.  The Hurricanes should reassess who their real leaders are, which is why going with four alternate captains for a while is a good idea here, as you're making the players earn the right to wear the C.  As for trading options, Eric Staal could still fetch a decent offer, particularly since his current deal is up after next season.  Semin is another player I would want to move, but he has four more years (including this season), and his inconsistency would scare some teams.  Skinner would give the Hurricanes the best options in a trade, but he is also their best player at the moment, and injury issues aside, he still managed 30-plus goals last season.  However, the Hurricanes would be wise to listen to deals for him, as they need to replenish their farm system.

As you can see, the Hurricanes are a mess, and it's not going to be an easy fix.  Where they can start, however, is figuring out who their real locker room leaders are and go with four alternate captains until they know who's willing to step up.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Erie Examiner: Big Week Ahead

The Erie Otters head into the week with only one loss, and even that took an effort from the opposing team.  Wednesday, the Otters headed to London, where the Otters forced overtime, but could not close the deal, as they lost 4-3 in a shootout.  Friday, the Otters hosted Sudbury, and were able to hold off a struggling Wolves team for a 3-2 win.  Saturday was a day of vengeance, as the Otters rode a strong third period for a 6-2 win over London.

The Otters will head to Buffalo for a tilt against the Niagara Icedogs on Wednesday in what is likely the city's first look at a potential draft pick in Connor McDavid, as well as Dylan Strome, both of whom are eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.  The city of Buffalo is likely going to be playoff-free this season, as the Sabres are stumbling out of the gate (predictably).  The Otters will also hit the road for games at Sault Ste. Marie on Friday and Sudbury on Saturday.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Flames' Cornerstone D

Though the Calgary Flames are in the midst of trying to rebuild after years of holding off, today was a significant step in the right direction, as they gave defenseman T.J. Brodie a five year extension.  Dollar amount is not confirmed at this time, but the Flames did well to lock up the former fourth round pick in 2008, as he has found a home as one half of the team's top defensive pairing alongside Mark Giordano.  On a team that is short on talent, Brodie is emerging as one of the go-to players on the team, and given his chemistry with Giordano, it is clear that the top defensive pairing is the least of the Flames' problems.

Winterhawks Weekly: Search for Consistency

The Portland Winterhawks began a six game stretch where they enter the East Division road trip portion of their schedule.  Things got off on the right foot on Friday, as they rode a 3-goal second period en route to a 6-2 win over Moose Jaw in Nic Petan's first game as captain.  However, the following night was not so nice, as Brandon played the role of rude hosts, pelting Brendan Burke and recently acquired Bolton Pouliot for 10 goals in a 10-3 rout.

The Winterhawks continue the East Division road trip Tuesday in Regina, followed by a game Wednesday against Swift Current before concluding the trip Friday at Prince Albert and Saturday against Saskatoon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Still Not All There

The struggles continue for the Portland Winterhawks, as the Victoria Royals ran over them 6-2 in Victoria on Friday while the Seattle Thunderbirds took home a 3-2 shootout victory against the Winterhawks in Portland on Saturday.  However, the real loss of the weekend happened on Saturday, when Seattle's Evan Wardley put a big hit on Nic Petan that will sideline him for an indefinite amount of time.  Wardley was suspended seven games for the hit.

Portland begins their road trip through Saskatchewan and Manitoba this week, as they will take on Moose Jaw this Friday and Brandon on Saturday.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Erie Report: Double the Fun on Kitchener

The Erie Otters started last weekend's home and home against Kitchener with a perfect record, and they ended the weekend the same way, though it was a little harder than expected to get there.  Friday, the Otters traveled to Kitchener and put up an 8-spot en route to an 8-3 win.  The game also marked the first time the Otters scored first in a game this season.  Saturday, the Otters took on the Rangers at home, but needed a shootout to settle things.  Mason Marchment got the shootout winner and made a winner of Daniel Dekoning, who was making his first start in an OHL game.

The Otters travel to London to take on the Knights on Wednesday before coming home for games Friday against Sudbury and Saturday against London.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Red Deer Bound

This season's Memorial Cup is being held in Quebec City, QC, but that doesn't mean the Canadian Hockey League doesn't thing ahead to the following year's Memorial Cup.  Being that the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL rotate every three years, and given that last year's event happened in London, ON, 2016 is the WHL's year to host the Memorial Cup Tournament.  Red Deer, AB won the right to host the tournament in 2016, beating out Vancouver, BC.  Red Deer will be hosting the tournament for the first time since 1974 and it also means the Red Deer Rebels will be automatically qualified for the tournament for the 2015-16 season as the host team.  The tournament will be held from May 19 through May 29 in 2016, and will mark the Rebels' first time competing in the tournament since 2001, when they won the WHL and Memorial Cup championships that year.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: The Good, the Bad, and the Brutally Ugly

The Portland Winterhawks picked up the first points of the 2014-15 campaign, though their degrees of success last week were varied.  Friday, the Winterhawks lost to Seattle in the shootout, earning a point in the process thanks to the overtime/shootout.  Saturday, Alex Schoenborn scored in overtime to give Jamie Kompon his first win as Winterhawks coach as the they turned back Everett in the extra frame by a 3-2 score.  Monday, the Winterhawks fell into a 5-0 hole after two periods and were unable to make up the goals, as they fell 6-2 in Victoria.  Nic Petan made his first appearance of the season in that game after returning from Winnipeg a day earlier.

The Winterhawks are on the road Friday against Everett before coming home to take on Seattle.

Erie Report: Home Cooking

The Erie Otters made their home debut last Saturday against the Sarnia Sting. Like every other game they've played so far this season, the opposing team had scored first, and like every other game this season so far, the Otters have won all of them. This time, the Otters would take a 7-3 win thanks to a strong third period.

The Otters are back in action on Friday and Saturday, as they play Kitchener in a home and home, with the Friday game being in Kitchener while Saturday's game is in Erie.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Captain News

At the start of the free agency period, there were seven teams looking to name new captains. As of today, three teams have made their decisions. Montreal will go with four alternate captains this season, as Toma's Plekanec, Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, and PK Subban will serve in that role. The move is presumably to see whether Subban or Pacioretty can handle the added responsibilities while giving Plekanec and Markov the opportunity to help them grow into those roles.

Ottawa named Erik Karlsson the captain on the same day they signed Bobby Ryan to a seven year extension. The move is significant because it means the Senators are locked in with a captain for more than the one year they got from Jason Spezza. Chris Phillips and Chris Neil will help Karlsson out, since they remain alternate captains.

Florida named newcomer Willie Mitchell captain in a move that gives Florida veteran leadership on a team that is one of the youngest in the league.

Columbus, Buffalo, and San Jose remain without a captain as of this time.

Update: the New York Rangers named Ryan McDonagh captain with Dan Girardi, Martin St. Louis, Marc Staal, and Derek Stepan etching as alternate captains.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Improving the Net Worth

The days leading up to the NHL Opening Night on Wednesday are buzzing with moves, and the Winnipeg Jets are the latest to make a significant trade.  Today, they acquired Peter Budaj and Patrick Holland from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Eric Tangradi.

Budaj gives the Jets a strong backup goalie who can fill in as a starter should Ondrej Pavelec either get hurt or remain ineffective while Holland is an AHL body.  Tangradi moves on to his third team in three years.  The Canadiens moved Budaj as a means to clear some salary cap space while giving Dustin Tokarski the backup role, something that was a foregone conclusion in last year's playoffs, when Tokarski was given the nod as starter when Carey Price went down.  Meanwhile, the Jets found out the hard way what the Pittsburgh Penguins knew about Tangradi, in that he is a big player that doesn't use his size very well.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Stocking Up on the Island

The New York Islanders were a very busy team today, as they added pieces to their blue line in two separate trades today.  First, they traded two draft picks plus a conditional pick to the Boston Bruins to get Johnny Boychuk.  They weren't finished, as they acquired Nick Leddy and Kent Simpson from Chicago in exchange for T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka, and the rights to Anders Nilsson.

Boychuk adds an experienced defenseman who brings size and is a solid player in his own end while Leddy is still young enough to unlock his potential as an offensive defenseman and will be given the opportunity now that he isn't in the shadow of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.  Both are in the final year of their respective deals (with Leddy being a restricted free agent), so the Islanders are going to probably want to secure either or both players before the season is done because they are moving to Brooklyn next season and having an actual defensive unit isn't good just for one year.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Yes, I Have to...

Making these Winterhawks reports, I'm used to the slow starts that they've had in the two years plus that I've been doing this, but this year is ridiculous even by their standards.  There was going to be a transition period with a new head coach and seven players in NHL training camps to start the season.  All except Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nic Petan were back in time for the games last weekend.  The results, a 5-3 loss at Vancouver, and 5-1 and 6-4 losses to Everett at home, reflect the fact that the defense still needs to find chemistry, particularly since there is no real replacement for Derrick Pouliot.  Perhaps the return of both Bjorkstrand and Petan will help, as will the acquisition of Miles Koules from Medicine Hat.  However, Koules puts the Winterhawks at four 20-year olds, and they will need to get down to three by October 15, meaning Koules, Josh Hanson (who hasn't played due to a concussion), Travis McEvoy, or Joshua Smith will have to be let go.

The Winterhawks are home to Seattle on Friday and will travel to Everett on Saturday before heading to Victoria for a Monday tilt.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014



2013-14 record: 37-35-10 (84 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Andrew Ladd

The Winnipeg Jets have been continuing the tradition that the Atlanta Thrashers started when they first joined the league in 1999.  That's not a compliment, and entering year four, Jets fans are getting restless.  A largely unchanged (of any significance) roster returns, as does the front office.  However, a coaching change was made in the middle of last season, and now, it is up to Paul Maurice, who took over mid-season, to get the Jets pointed in the right direction.  Given the division they're in, it will not be easy.

Up front, the only real change is that Dustin Byfuglien is moving back to right wing, a position he played while in Chicago.  While he was a major goal contributor from the blue line last season (20 goals), it was cancelled out by the fact that he was a major liability in his own end (-20).  Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Evander Kane all return, which isn't bad.  However, this is largely the same group that has overseen a playoff-less run since the Thrashers days, and Kane remains an enigma off the ice.  The less said about the blue line, the better, as they've been in the bottom third of the league since their only playoff run of 2007.  There are some good players here, with Jacob Trouba being a rising star.  However, if the Jets are to get anywhere, they will need good health (Zach Bogosian, Paul Postma, and Grant Clitsome all missed time) and a return to form by Tobias Enstrom.  If you're looking for a fatal flaw on the Jets, look no further than in goal, as Ondrej Pavelec posted horrific numbers (3.01 GAA) as a starter.  An eventual replacement is in the pipeline (Eric Comrie and/or Connor Hellebuyck), but nothing right away if Pavelec continues to struggle.

Prediction: 7th in the Central Division

The Jets' path to the playoffs was already going to be tough, with five of the seven teams making the playoffs last season.  However, a less than sterling defense and mediocre goaltending make it nearly impossible to say the Jets will be in anything more than the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Erie Report: A Hot Start

The Erie Otters kicked off the 2014-15 season on Wednesday, and they didn't show too much rust in their opening game at Saginaw.  Despite the Spirit opening the scoring, the Otters would put up a 7-spot en route to a 7-1 win.  Dylan Strome and Nick Betz had four points apiece and Mason Marchment had three points.  Friday, the Otters traveled to Windsor and while they found themselves down two goals to start, the Otters came through once again, this time, with five unanswered goals in a 5-2 win.  Connor McDavid scored four points and Taylor Raddysh scored his first OHL goal in the game.  Saturday was a little shakier, as the Plymouth Whalers led 2-0 after one period and were up 3-2 after the second period.  However, McDavid forced overtime with a goal in the third period and Darren Raddysh would score the game winner in a 5-4 overtime win for the Otters.  The Otters have their home opener in a Saturday tilt with the Sarnia Sting.

Capital Gains?


2013-14 record: 38-30-14 (90 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Alexander Oveckin

It's one thing to be disappointing in the playoffs.  It's another to actually miss the playoffs, and that is something the Washington Capitals did after many seasons of never finishing at or above expectations in the Alexander Ovechkin-era.  That led to the ax job on the General Manager and head coaching jobs, meaning George McPhee and Adam Oates were let go, and in their places would be Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz.

Offensive depth remains an issue, but a large part of the their offense still goes through Ovechkin, who scored 51 goals en route to a Rocket Richard Trophy.  Still, it didn't cover up his -35 rating, and worse yet, it also exposed the lack of depth on the blue line, as well as some issues with the old coaching regime's tactics.  To that end, Trotz was brought in, and he brings a solid defensive pedigree with him.  For depth, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were brought in, which should at worst, provide the Capitals with six solid defensemen.  Up front, Evgeny Kuznetsov finally gets the opportunity to show what he can do, and if he plays well, he will provide the Capitals with that elusive second line center they've been needing for years behind Niklas Backstrom.  Braden Holtby would like a refund on last season, but he is now the unquestioned starter, which should improve his confidence.

Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division

The Capitals got better defensively, but everything is still on Ovechkin's stick, for better or for worse.  Everyone that was ahead of the Capitals in the division last season improved save for the Flyers, which means it will be tough sledding for the Capitals to make the playoffs once again.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A New Day in Vancouver


2013-14 record: 36-35-11 (83 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Henrik Sedin

The 2013-14 season for the Vancouver Canucks is one that is neither likely to be forgotten anytime soon nor one that anyone associated with the team would like to remember.  The John Tortorella Experiment ended after one year, but not before the Roberto Luongo Ferris Wheel finally stopped with a whimper, Tortorella trying his antics during an intermission against the Calgary Flames in a game, Mike Gillis getting canned after several trades gone awry (Derek Roy, anyone?), and Ryan Kesler asking for and getting a trade out of town.

This year, the Canucks will be dipping into their past, as Trevor Linden was brought in as President of Hockey Operations, and he brought in Jim Benning as General Manager and Willie Desjardins as head coach.  Linden and Benning wasted no time giving the team a makeover, trading Kesler to Anaheim for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and a first round pick in 2014 (which turned out to be Jared McCann).  In free agency, Ryan Miller was brought in to give Eddie Lack more time to develop and Radim Vrbata will replace some of Kesler's production.  Vrbata's addition means that the top three lines are more likely to be set in the places they were meant to be.  Desjardins brings with him AHL championship experience, as well as WHL coaching experience, and he brings a more patient approach to the game, something that will go over well in the dressing room.  Defensively, a change from the zone scheme will be welcome, and though depth is still an issue, it will help if Alexander Edler rebounds from a horrible 2013-14 campaign, but he will have to wait for redemption while he recovers from injury.  Miller will provide a veteran presence in net, but he hasn't been the Ryan Miller of old, and given the win now market of Vancouver, any struggles he has could be magnified.

Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific Division

The Canucks are in a make the playoffs mode this season, and certainly, they have the pieces in place to do so.  Goal could be a deciding factor, but a more harmonious front office this season will positively affect the players.  After all, it can't be any more chaotic than last season.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Turning Over a New Leaf


2013-14 record: 38-36-8 (84 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Dion Phaneuf

The Toronto Maple Leafs fell back to their usual bumbling ways after making the playoffs in 2013.  From the disastrous maiden year of David Clarkson to the Dave Bolland Experiment gone awry to a defense that was easy to get around, the Maple Leafs took several steps back.  Though Jonathan Bernier made his case to be the starting goaltender, he also got hurt, and that exposed both James Reimer and the defensive unit in front of the goaltender.  The only moves the Leafs made to fix this unit were buying out Tim Gleason, trading for Roman Polak, and signing Stephane Robidas.  None of those moves are exactly extreme makeover quality.  The hope here is that Dion Phaneuf will rebound from a horrid year and youngsters Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly will continue to develop into solid players.  Up front is where the team's strength lies, particularly the top two lines.  The James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel line posted their usual great numbers.  It's the bottom two lines that could be an issue, particularly if Clarkson doesn't improve upon his 14 points in 60 games from last season.

Prediction: 7th in the Atlantic Division

The Leafs have more questions than answers at this point, which means they will be missing out on playoff hockey barring a miracle.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Striking Again


2013-14 record: 46-27-9 (101 points)
Lost to Montreal in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Steven Stamkos

The Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to be a rebuilding team that was going to struggle last season.  Losing Steven Stamkos for half the season due to a broken leg and later Martin St. Louis in a trade that saw Ryan Callahan come from the New York Rangers would have suggested this to be true.  However, a funny thing happened, and the rookies stepped up, and Ben Bishop emerged as a top goalie for the Lightning as they claimed a playoff spot.  However, Bishop was hurt, and down went the Lightning's chances of advancing.  Stamkos is healthy once again, and the Lightning suddenly find themselves with higher expectations.  Even though they're going to miss Calder Trophy candidate Jonathan Drouin for a month, Stamkos will have Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat helping up front, meaning the Lightning will have depth up front.  Defense let them down in the playoffs, and other than Victor Hedman, the blue line was mostly in need of better talent.  To that end, they traded for Jason Garrison and signed Anton Stralman in free agency.  Brian Boyle was also signed to provide the team with badly needed size and a strong presence on the bottom two lines.  Bishop seized the starting job last season, but his absence due to injuries was felt, which was why Evgeni Nabokov was signed.

Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division

The Lightning snuck up on last year, and now with higher expectations, they're going to have to prove that it wasn't a fluke.  A healthy Stamkos and an improved blue line should ensure that the Lightning won't be a one-year wonder.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Blood in the Water


2013-14 record: 51-22-9 (111 points)
Lost to Los Angeles in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: TBA

The San Jose Sharks became just the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose the series when they turned the trick against the Los Angeles Kings last season.  The Sharks' actions during the off-season can be best described as a chicken running around with its head cut off, as they've let Dan Boyle walk, move Brent Burns back to the blue line, taken away all letter designations from their players until after training camp, and are toying with the idea of letting the backup goalie become the starter.  While Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still solid point producers, only Marleau actually showed up for the playoffs, and Joe Pavelski emerged as a viable option while Logan Couture was never the same after getting injured prior to Olympic break.  There's no shortage of offensive options, but fixing the power play is a must.  The blue line sees Burns going back to the position he played on a regular basis as of three seasons ago.  This move was necessitated by the Boyle departure, and there will be at least one more newcomer (likely Mirco Mueller) since Brad Stuart was traded.  Antti Niemi had a good, but not great season.  However, that season got much worse come playoff time, as he was yanked in favor of Alex Stalock, who had a great regular season as a backup, but he could not save the Sharks' sinking ship in the playoffs.

Prediction: 4th in the Pacific Division

The Sharks are doing just about everything to wash away the stench of the 3-0 to 4-3 series loss they endured.  Whether or not any of it works will be figured out in the early parts of the season, and with jobs potentially on the line, the pressure to succeed is on more than ever.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All the Low Notes


2013-14 record: 52-23-7 (111 points)
Lost to Chicago in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: David Backes

The St. Louis Blues started last season on a tear, and were in fact, a favorite to win the President's Trophy.  However, the last six games of the season, and eventually the playoffs, did not look upon them too kindly, as they not only lost the Central Division title on the last day of the regular season, but also lost the playoff series against Chicago after being up 2-0.  While the regular season offense and defense were great (for the most part), both ends unraveled in the playoffs.  That was why Ryan Miller and his 2.70 GAA in the playoffs wasn't resigned and Peter Stastny was brought in to provide clutch scoring.  Stastny joins 33-goal scorer Alexander Steen and four other 20-goal scorers (David Backes, TJ Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, and Vladimir Tarasenko) in the hopes that his playoff luck will rub off on them, as only Tarasenko lived up to any billing as a goal scorer in the playoffs.  They will have to compensate somewhat for the loss of Vladimir Sobotka, who brought a toughness to the front lines.

Defensively, this unit can jump start an offense, but won't intimidate anyone, as only Barrett Jackman provides any grit of the regulars.  That means the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Kevin Shattenkirk will all have to step up the transition game more so.  Miller's departure opens the door for Jake Allen to become a full time NHLer after spending most of last season in the minors.  He will be 1B to Brian Elliott's 1A, as the Blues will once again go with the hot hand throughout the season.

Prediction: 2nd in the Central Division

The Blues have offense for days and a system that keeps pucks out of the net.  However, those systems seem to break down come playoff time, and now the Blues are playing catch-up with the Blackhawks and Kings of the world.  The pressure is on to perform when it counts the most, so how the players respond this season may determine the fate of the coaching staff.

Erie Review: Starting a New Season

Beginning this season (let's see how long this lasts), there will be a new segment that covers the weekly exploits of the Erie Otters.  Tonight, the Otters will head on the road to take on the Saginaw Spirit in a rematch of last year's Western Conference quarterfinal match-up in which the Otters won the series 4-1.  They will be going into the season with Connor McDavid as the captain and Dylan Strome, Cory Genovese, and Joel Wigle serving as Assistant Captains.  The Otters will also play on Friday and Saturday at Windsor and Plymouth before coming back to Erie for their home opener on October 4 against Sarnia.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Emperor's New Clothes


2013-14 record: 51-24-7 (109 points)
Lost to NY Rangers in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Sidney Crosby

Stop me if you've heard this story before: the Pittsburgh Penguins crack the 100 point barrier in the regular season and have another early playoff exit.  That refrain, which happened for the fifth year in a row since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, was enough for upper management to relieve Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma of the General Manager and head coaching duties, respectively.  Taking over as General Manager is Jim Rutherford, who was talked out of retirement from being General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes.  The new head coach is Mike Johnston, who was last seen taking the Portland Winterhawks to four straight WHL Finals and one Memorial Cup appearance.

Offensively, both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will have at least one new linemate, as Crosby will be without Pascal Dupuis will still be recovering from major knee surgery while Malkin lost James Neal in a trade with Nashville.  In fact, the forward lines will have a makeover, mainly on the wings, something that remains familiar with the Penguins, as they've always sought help there since winning it all in 2009.  The defense will have some new faces, as well, as Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik are out and Christian Ehrhoff and one from a group that includes Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumolin, and Scott Harrington are in.  While Pouliot has an inside track, thanks to playing under Johnston while in Portland, don't expect Dumolin or Harrington to give up without a fight.  Marc-Andre Fleury had a solid regular season, and he also found his game in the playoffs after a rough start to that season.

Prediction: 1st in the Metropolitan Division

The Penguins will make the playoffs again, but as it's always been, it will be what they do once they get there where they will ultimately be judged upon.  Johnston is expected to implement a system that will get the most out of Crosby and Malkin, which likely means business as usual.