Thursday, February 26, 2015

Patchwork Hawks

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

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

WHL Playoff Picture: Western Conference

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


U.S. Division

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

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

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

B.C. Division

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

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

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

Wild Card

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

Getting Deeper

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A few pounds lighter

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

WHL Playoff Picture: Eastern Conference

This year, the WHL is following the NHL's lead in the playoff format, going with three automatic qualifiers from each division plus the next two teams in each conference, and yes, the pairings are the same as it is in the NHL.  With the playoffs a month away, it's time to see where each team is in the race.  The Eastern Conference is first, so here goes (the teams will be listed in accordance to where they are in the playoff standings, as listed on the WHL site):


East Division

1. Brandon Wheat Kings: Lead the conference in points and is the first team in the playoffs for the conference.  They currently hold a 19 point lead on the nearest division rival in Regina and are almost certainly going to be the top seed in the conference.

2. Regina Pats: Despite trading away some of their top stars this season, the Pats are comfortably in second place in the division, and appear to be headed for a home ice advantage against the third ranked team in the division, which appears to be...

3. Swift Current Broncos: Nine points clear of Moose Jaw for the last spot in the division playoff race, the Broncos are not out of the woods yet, as they still have some division games to play, and that could be big if they don't fare well there.

Central Division

1. Medicine Hat Tigers: They lead the division by six points ahead of Calgary, but their hold on the division lead is fairly tenuous.  The Tigers also didn't make many moves at the trade deadline, which could come back to haunt them.

2. Calgary Hitmen: Just six points back of Medicine Hat, they are also in a fight to maintain home ice advantage for the first round, as they are just three points ahead of Red Deer.  Picking up Brendan Burke helps their goaltending, but by how much remains to be seen.

3. Red Deer Rebels: Eight points clear of Edmonton for the last automatic division spot, the Rebels are also gearing up for next year, when they will be hosting the Memorial Cup tournament.

The Rest

1. Edmonton Oil Kings: The defending league and Memorial Cup champions find themselves fighting for their playoff lives.  Fortunately, they have a 10 point lead on Moose Jaw, but don't appear to be in position to move into the division qualifiers at this point.

2. Kootenay Ice: Dead in the water before Sam Reinhart came back from his NHL audition, the Ice suddenly find themselves occupying the last wild card spot.  Like Swift Current, they are nine points above the cut-off line.

3. Moose Jaw Warriors: The Warriors need to pick up their game if they want to qualify for the first time since 2012.  This will be easier said than done because they don't score enough to offset the sometimes porous defense.

4. Prince Albert Raiders: Back by 11 points, the Raiders are pretty much thinking of next year, as the trades of both Josh Morrisey and Leon Draisaitl have left the Raiders bereft of any difference makers.

5. Lethbridge Hurricanes: The Brad Robson/Drake Berehowsky experiment was an abject failure, and both were shown the door mid-season.  However, they don't occupy the cellar at the moment, thanks to a strong week. Oh, and they're not making the playoffs, a feat that will mean the Hurricanes will see playoff-free hockey for the sixth straight season.

6. Saskatoon Blades: Already eliminated from playoff contention, the Blades were already in rebuilding mode, thanks to the trade of Nikita Scherbak early in the season.  Currently, the Blades find themselves in the cellar.