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.