Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A New Day in DC...Sort Of...

When George McPhee and Adam Oates were given their walking papers with the Washington Capitals a few weeks ago, it was expected that whoever the new head coach and General Manager would be was facing a pretty daunting task.

Well, that task will fall to Barry Trotz and Brian MacClellan, who will be the head coach and General Manager, respectively, as of right now.  Trotz was the head coach of Washington's minor league affiliate prior to becoming the head coach of the Nashville Predators beginning with the 1998-99 season.  His time ended after this season, but he has a reputation for building defensively solid teams that have almost always been hurting for offense.  However, his teams have always been competitive, something that that Capitals sorely need.  What will be interesting is how Trotz handles Alexander Ovechkin, a mercurial superstar that can score goals (a lot), but has also been under intense scrutiny lately for being lackadaisical on defense.  More importantly, it remains to be seen if he can get Mike Green, among other blue liners on the team, to finally commit to playing both ways.

MacClellan was an assistant General Manager with the Capitals the previous seven seasons, and this is a move while it does keep a sense of familiarity with the Caps, it also invites heavy criticism.  The man he replaced, George McPhee, had made questionable moves in recent years (Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat), and the criticism stems from the fact that MacClellan was too familiar with the Caps to be seen as a viable replacement.  Whether MacClellan learns from the mistakes of his predecessor remains to be seen.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reviving the Cougars

It hasn't been a fun time for the Prince George Cougars lately, as they've missed the playoffs the last three years and attendance has been less than what they have hoped.  And then, there was the looming threat of relocation.  The last part has been averted...for now, as new owners are stepping in to help the Prince George Cougars get back on their feet, and some of that ownership group is familiar to Cougars fans.

Long before either Dan Hamhuis or Eric Brewer made the jump to the NHL, they were toiling away in Prince George, BC in the hopes of getting to the next level.  Both former first round picks (Hamhuis in 2001 and Brewer in 1997) are still playing in the NHL (Brewer in Tampa Bay and Hamhuis in Vancouver), and both are an important part of the group that hopes to turn around the Cougars' fortunes.  One of the first things that they hope to do in the immediate future is to hire a General Manager.  However, it is a long list of things that they need to, most notably, find a way to get fans back into the CN Centre.  At worst, the stability in ownership should give the Cougars a little more time in Prince George.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Memorial Cup is Coming Home

Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images
The story of the 2013-14 Edmonton Oil Kings will have a far happier ending than either the 2011-12 or the 2012-13 seasons, as the Oil Kings won the Memorial Cup today, beating Guelph 6-3.  If you remember, the 2011-12 season saw the Oil Kings win the WHL championship, but were defeated by host team and eventual winner Shawinigan in the tie-breaker game that year.  2012-13 saw the Oil Kings lose in the WHL Finals to Portland, a team that they would see in all three WHL championship years.  This year, they not only took the Ed Chynoweth Trophy back from Portland, but they overcame a rough start to the Memorial Cup tournament, a 6-2 loss to Guelph and a double-OT loss to Val D'Or sandwiched a win against host team London to beat Val D'Or in triple-OT in what is now the longest game in the tournament before avenging the earlier defeat to Guelph in a 6-3 win.

With the win, the Oil Kings will be bringing back the Memorial Cup to the WHL for the first time since Spokane did it in 2008.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Conference Finals Picks

Since the first game of the Conference Finals kicks off in a few minutes, that won't leave me much time to do an analysis of the series, so my picks are:

Montreal over the New York Rangers in 6
Chicago over Los Angeles in 6

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Where Do We Go from Here?

With the Portland Winterhawks' season concluding last night, that meant there were a few players who will have suited up in a Winterhawks uniform for the last time.  Through graduation or turning pro, those players will leave holes that coach/GM Mike Johnston will have to fill in order to make it five in a row next season.  There's also the overager quota, as they will need to figure out which three players, either on their own roster or through trade, will be on the roster, as well as whether they're comfortable with their two import players (Oliver Bjorkstrand and Anton Cederholm).  Looking at the year-end roster, I will attempt to figure out who's staying and who's going.

Gone for sure: Corbin Boes, Adam Rossignol, Garrett Haar, Matthew Dumba

Boes, Rossignol, and Haar are overagers that will be moving on.  Boes was a mid-season acquisition that provided a veteran presence for Brendan Burke and proved to be a leader in the locker room.  Rossignol was an energy guy and Haar provided a dependable presence on the blue line.  Dumba is heading to the pros, as he has used up his first year of the entry level contract with Minnesota.

Likely gone: Derrick Pouliot, Taylor Leier, Brendan Leipsic

Pouliot has nothing left to prove in the WHL and will either start next season in Pittsburgh or the AHL.  Leier and Leipsic could return as two of the overagers, but there is a possibility that both could be in the AHL next season to start their pro careers.

Overage possibilities: Leier, Leipsic, Josh Hanson, Adam De Champlain

Hanson and De Champlain are the likeliest to return next season, as they would fill the need for a veteran presence on the blue line and third-line player that can drop the gloves when needed, respectively.  The third spot could be filled by Leier, Leipsic, or someone that the Winterhawks have an eye on for a trade with another team.

Import players: Oliver Bjorkstrand, Anton Cederholm

With the Import Draft coming up, the Winterhawks may very well stand pat here, as Bjorkstrand was an offensive force that could use another year of junior to gain a little weight, and Cederholm provided a physical presence from the blue line.

Goalies: Brendan Burke, Adin Hill

Currently, this is the duo that will be in net next season, and while Burke has had bouts of inconsistency, he has also shown flashes of brilliance, as well.  Hill played well in a handful of games, winning them all.  He will step into the back-up role, with a chance to start when Burke needs a rest.

Defense: Hanson, Blake Heinrich, Keoni Texeira, Cederholm, Justin Greer, Layne Viveiros

This is the group that has a chance of coming back, and they will be a fairly veteran bunch, with Greer and Texeira being the kids of the group.  Texeira will be expected to provide more of an offensive presence with his shot from the blue line, but finding a way to replace the production that both Pouliot and Dumba had will be a tall task.

Forwards: Ethan Price, Paul Bittner, Chase De Leo, Keegan Iverson, Tyson Predinchuk, Nic Petan, Alex Schoenborn, Dominic Turgeon, Bjorkstrand, Skyler McKenzie

The names listed here are the most likely to return.  Petan still has a year of junior eligibility left, and it is unlikely that the Jets will rush his development.  Bjorkstrand also has a year of eligibility left, and the Blue Jackets don't have an immediate need for him, which means the top two scorers are likely to return.  Like the defense, this will be a unit that has experience, with most of the forwards listed having been a part of the WHL Finals the last two years.  De Leo and Bittner are likely to be asked to step up their games next season.

Winterhawks Weekly: See You In the Fall

The Portland Winterhawks will not be heading to London for the Memorial Cup Tournament, as they fell one win short in a 4-3 series loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings.  The series played out exactly how the previous two finals went, as the two teams went back and forth.  Portland gained the upper hand in the first two games and appeared to be on their way to a 3-0 series lead after the first period of game 3.  However, the Oil Kings would come back and with it, had the momentum going into game 6 and were 20 minutes away from claiming the title then.  However, three goals and 20+ minutes later, the Winterhawks forced a game 7 thanks to a furious comeback.  In the end, the Oil Kings would win the title thanks to a four goal outburst in the second period to take back the title they won in 2012 and represent the WHL in the Memorial Cup Tournament that begins Friday.  The Oil Kings will join Guelph and London, as well as the winner of the Val D'Or/Baie-Comeau game tonight.  As for the Winterhawks, it was a disappointing end to another magnificent season, but making the Finals four straight years is nothing to dismiss.  Next year, they hope to make it into rarefied air, as they will shoot for five straight appearances.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

NHL Coaching Carousel

In the time since the NHL regular season ended, there have been five teams that decided that a change was in order at the head coaching spot.  The Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks, and Washington Capitals either canned or did not renew the contract of the head coach from this season.  Unsurprisingly, three of those teams looking for a head coach are also experiencing upheaval in the General Manager position, as the Hurricanes, Canucks, and Capitals will have a new General Manager starting next season, with the Hurricanes already having a General Manager in place, as Ron Francis replaced Jim Rutherford, who stepped down from the position.  Of the teams looking for a head coach, only the Predators have a head coach in place, as Peter Laviolette will replace Barry Trotz.

Friday, May 2, 2014

WHL Finals Predictions

This is it.  For the third straight year, the Portland Winterhawks and the Edmonton Oil Kings will play for the right to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Trophy and punch their ticket to the Memorial Cup Tournament, which will be in London, ON this year.  The best offense in the league versus the best defense in the league, and there will be history on the line this year.  The Winterhawks aim to become the first team to repeat as WHL Champions since the Kamloops did in in 1994 and 1995 while the Oil Kings want to take back what they won in 2012.

Prediction: Winterhawks in 6

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Help Wanted: A Coach for a Vancouver Team

The city of Vancouver, BC has two hockey teams, and coincidentally, they are looking for a head coach for their respective teams.  In the NHL, the widely speculated fate of John Tortorella was decided when the President of Hockey Operations Trevor Linden decided that he wanted his own guy.  Unfortunately for Tortorella, that meant he was not it.  He lasted a year in the Canucks organization and will be most remembered for his tirade against Calgary after a line brawl in the first few seconds of the game and subsequent charge into the Flames' locker room after the first period.

Not too far away, the WHL's Vancouver Giants are also looking for a new head coach after Don Hay decided to return to the Kamloops Blazers, the team he led to consecutive championships in 1994 and 1995.  Hay was the Giants' head coach for ten seasons, one that saw them claim five BC Division titles, one WHL title, and a Memorial Cup.  Last season, he broke the 600 career win mark in a game against the Blazers.  Hay's departure was somewhat unexpected, but he will get to return home to a franchise that he has achieved considerable success with and to be closer to his family.

NHL Conference Semi-finals Preview

With three game 7s happening last night and the first game of the once Conference semi-final set to start tonight, there is no rest for the weary.  So, let's jump into the


(1 Atlantic) Boston Bruins vs. (3 Atlantic) Montreal Canadiens

The Bruins put on a display of defensive power against the Detroit Red Wings on the way to winning that series in five games.  Tuukka Rask is playing as well as he did last season, and now, the Bruins are once again finding clutch goals from different players.  The Canadiens powered past the Tampa Bay Lightning in a sweep and are led by Carey Price.  For Montreal to claim this series, they will have to outwork the Bruins and Price will need to continue to be the difference maker.

Prediction: Canadiens in 7

(1 Metropolitan) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2 Metropolitan) New York Rangers

The Penguins had a little harder time than one anticipated against the Blue Jackets, but Evgeni Malkin found the net in time to close the series out in six.  He will need to continue to score, as Sidney Crosby has yet to find the back of the net.  Overall, the Penguins need someone to step up and score, as Marc-Andre Fleury still remains inconsistent.  The Rangers needed all seven games to finally dispatch of the Flyers, and like the Penguins, finding someone that can score consistently is an issue.  That falls on Rick Nash, who has not done the job he has been asked to do in the playoffs.  Even when he is at his best, Henrik Lundqvist needs offensive help.

Prediction: Penguins in 6


(4 Wild Card) Minnesota Wild vs. (3 Central) Chicago Blackhawks

The Wild pulled off a mild upset when they took down the top seeded Colorado Avalanche in seven games.  Finding the right chemistry has been something of an issue, but the Wild seem to have their goaltender for the playoffs and the future in Darcy Kuemper.  Zach Parise has stepped up in a big way, leading the offensive attack.  The Blackhawks were down 2-0 to the Blues at one point, but they did what championship teams always do: they found a way to win, even with Brent Seabrook out three games due to suspension.  They're getting healthy in time for a possible deep run, and they have a history of coming through when it counts the most.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

(1 Pacific) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3 Pacific) Los Angeles Kings

The Ducks made the next round despite some rather shaky goaltending, especially on the road.  Offense is not much of a problem, though, but for the Ducks to take that next step, they do need to keep up the intensity from the last series.  The Kings found something deep within to come back from a 3-0 series deficit to make it to this point.  Offense was long an issue, and until they can consistently score like they did in the last four games, it will remain a question mark.  Until game four, goaltending was also a question mark, but Jonathan Quick has shown that he is truly one of the premier goalies in the NHL.

Prediction: Kings in 6