Monday, June 29, 2015

Disarray in Boston

When Peter Chiarelli was canned as the Boston Bruins' General Manager a few months ago, one of the reasons for his firing was the mismanagement of the salary cap, which forced the likes of Johnny Boychuk and Jarome Iginla out of town prior to this past season.  Well, meet Don Sweeney, the new General Manager, and to say his methods of trying to get within cap compliance are interesting is an understatement.  Let's look at last weekend for proof:

  • The Bruins trade away Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for their first round pick, as well as both second round picks.  You can say the Bruins were looking to the future, except that Hamilton is 22 years old and entering restricted free agency.  In short, the Bruins seemed to panic when they thought, or likely knew, that they weren't going to be able to sign Hamilton to a new deal, not knowing that they could have waited for another team to make an offer and reap whatever compensation they would have gotten had they not been able to match.  For that time in between, they could have found other methods to cut costs.  Instead, they send off one piece of what should have been their future on the blue line.
  • The Bruins trade Milan Lucic to Los Angeles for their first round pick plus goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Colin Miller.  This haul looks much better, as it is possible that the Bruins could move Jones if they believe Malcolm Subban is ready before the start of the regular season and Miller could also be on the NHL roster to start the season, as well.  They also move a rather inconsistent player in Lucic, who can be dominating at times, but also is prone to mailing it in, as well.
  • There had been talk of the Bruins trying to use the picks they acquired to move up in the draft, likely to the third overall pick held by Arizona.  That didn't happen, so they were stuck with three straight first round picks, which turned out to be (in order) Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn.  To say the Bruins reached on at least two of those players would be correct, but as is always the case, the Draft is an inexact science, and maybe all three players will pan out in time.  Then again, maybe not.
  • With the Carl Soderberg trade prior to the Hamilton and Lucic trades, that also leaves the Bruins with some holes to fill.  Putting it all together, the Bruins weren't getting any younger on the blue line, and though Miller is likely to fill one spot, it only looks like a lateral, since Hamilton was moved, as well, while the likes of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidienberg are clearly not getting any younger.  Patrice Bergeron is still great, but where is the offense going to come from outside of David Krejci and Bergeron?  Is David Pastrnak ready to be a full-time contributor?
While Tuukka Rask will likely keep the Bruins in playoff contention next year, he will have to be the next coming of the 2010-11 Tim Thomas if they hope to be there as currently constituted.  The Bruins lost a fair amount and didn't do enough to compensate for those losses.  The free agency period begins Wednesday, so maybe things can change.  Then again, the Bruins still have cap issues, so maybe not.

The 2015 NHL Draft Post-Mortem

The 2015 NHL Draft has come and gone, and with free-agency in a couple of days, teams were making moves to get into position, some for salary cap compliance, one way or another, and some to get better.  So, what were the things to take away from the weekend that was?

  • Though the Calgary Flames still have to sign him because of the RFA tag, the Flames are a far better team on the blue line than last year, and that's saying something.  Picking up Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins cost them their first and both second round picks from this year, but once the Flames get him signed, it will give the Flames a minimum of five quality defenders, with Hamilton likely being paired with Kris Russell or Dennis Wideman on the second pairing, as it will be Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie being the top pair.
  • Another team that benefited from the Bruins cap purge was the Los Angeles Kings, and with news that they plan on buying out Mike Richards' contract, they will look a little better both on the ice and in the salary cap situation.  Milan Lucic cost the Kings their first round pick this year, backup goalie Martin Jones, and defensive prospect Colin Miller.  Lucic has consistency issues, but if he's on, look for 30 goals and a pain in the ass to play against, something that will play well in Los Angeles.  Jones' departure likely opens the door for Patrik Bartosak to claim the backup job behind Jonathan Quick.
  • As for the Bruins, despite having the 13th, 14th, and 15th overall picks in this year's draft, they were unable to move up, likely for what would have been the third overall pick.  Instead, they picked up Jakub Zboril, who I had going a pick later to the Bruins, Jake DeBrusk, who they could have had later in the first round, and Zach Senyshyn, who was not on anyone's draft board going in the first round.  The Bruins have been lambasted for their draft weekend, and after both failing to move up for possibly Noah Hanifin and reaching on at least two of their three picks, it figures to be a long season in Boston, particularly if Hamilton pulls a Tyler Seguin and has a breakout season immediately after leaving Boston and if Lucic finds the consistency that has eluded him throughout his career.
  • Goalies were being moved left and right, and that left San Jose as the only clear-cut team that will still need a starting goaltender.  Buffalo surrendered their other first round pick (21th overall) to Ottawa to get Robin Lehner and David Legwand, with Lehner likely the starter entering camp.
  • The Edmonton Oilers did what everyone expected them to do and take Connor McDavid first overall.  What was not expected was that the Oilers dropped out of the first round after trading away the pick acquired from Pittsburgh (16th overall) and their own second round pick to the New York Islanders to get Griffin Reinhart, who is likely going to be an Oiler to start next season.  The Oilers weren't done dealing, as they picked up Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers for two picks and the teams swapping seventh round picks.  Eric Gryba was also picked up by the Oilers from Ottawa, as well, meaning the Oilers at least, have warm bodies to play defense and goal.
  • The New York Islanders were also aggressive on Draft weekend, trading into the first round not once, but twice.  Entering the weekend, they didn't have a pick until the third round, but after the first day, they ended up with Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, picked up 16th and 28th overall, respectively.  GM Garth Snow has been aggressive lately, and given the success of the Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy trades, as well as the gamble that Jaroslav Halak would sign with the Islanders after trading for his rights prior to last year's free-agency period, it's no surprise that he went all in to get the best players available in the draft.
  • If there's one player that could succeed despite not being mentioned for much of the season, it's Denis Guryanov.  Ranked 66th overall in The Hockey News Draft issue, Guryanov shot up the boards on some mock drafts and the Dallas Stars were clearly keeping an eye on him, taking him 12th overall.  The level of competition is concerning, as he wasn't seen as much compared to others, but he has the size and put up good numbers last season.  If the Stars know anything about gambling on Russian kids, it's because they took a flier on Valeri Nichushkin two years ago, and he paid off that year.  If Guryanov replicates what Nichushkin did rookie year and Nichushkin can return to form after missing much of last year due to injuries, the Stars will look even better offensively and give Tyler Seguin and Jamie Been even more dangerous.
  • When the Washington Capitals took Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick, it marked the first time since 2012 that a goalie was taken in the first round.
  • Despite being needy for an extra pick, the Pittsburgh Penguins remained pat, and stuck with their four picks, with three of them after round four.  The one pick they had prior to round five? They took a potential steal in Daniel Sprong in the second round, as he can score, something the Pens have lacked on the wings outside of one or two players.
The 2015 Draft looked incredibly deep, with Paul Bittner being the highest ranked player (according to THN's Draft Guide) not to be taken in the first round, as he would go in the second round to Columbus and be reunited with Portland teammate Oliver Bjorkstrand.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NHL Mock Draft: Picks 26-30

We've reached the end of the NHL Mock Draft, the first edition, and I will be revising the picks next week.

26. Montreal Canadiens: Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens

The Canadiens' quest to get bigger up front brings them to a player within their own province in Roy.  Despite the glaring need for offense, something that got exposed once Max Pacioretty was neutered due to injury, Roy provides solid two-way play and could fill out a 6'4" frame in time.

27. Anaheim Ducks: Jansen Harkins, C, Prince George Cougars

With few immediate needs, the Ducks will take this opportunity to stockpile an already strong prospects system, and while they could also take Paul Bittner here, the Ryan Kesler contract situation could bear watching, and the Ducks will at least cover their bases here in case he's gone after next season.  Harkins or Joel Eriksson Ek could go here, but I give the nod to Harkins, as he has more offensive upside.

28. Tampa Bay Lightning (from New York Rangers): Paul Bittner, LW, Portland Winterhawks

The Lightning could afford to get a little bigger up front, and Bittner adds that in spades.  It doesn't hurt that he can also be a strong offensive threat that the Lightning can afford to bring along slowly as he develops his game more.

29. Philadelphia Flyers (from Tampa Bay): Ilya Samsonov, G, Magnitigorosk

If a goaltender were to be taken in the first round this year, this would be the most likely spot.  Seeing as the Flyers have to wait until the end of the second round, which by then, a run of goaltenders could happen early in the round, it is possible the Flyers could gamble on the best goalie available in the draft in Samsonov.

30. Arizona Coyotes (from Chicago): Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Farjestad

The Coyotes lack a true number one center, and if they opt for Dylan Strome with their earlier pick as opposed to Noah Hanifin, that need is spoken for.  In this version, the Coyotes pick Eriksson Ek, who can play both ways, though offensively, he is a work in progress.

What a Difference 10 Years Can Make

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
This morning, the city of Chicago is waking up and trying to shake off the effects of last night's Stanley Cup party courtesy of their Chicago Blackhawks, who are now champions for the third time since 2010.  To appreciate just how far the Blackhawks have come since the lockout, let's go back to this time 10 years ago.

The NHL Lockout had just ended after it had wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, and there was a lottery to determine who would draft where.  The Blackhawks would draft seventh, and they would take Jack Skille that year.  However, like every Draft between that year and 2000, save for one, the pick would not pan out the way the Blackhawks had hoped.  The seeds of what would become would actually begin in December of 2005, when they would trade for Patrick Sharp, who gave the Blackhawks a legitimate threat for 30 goals a year.  However, the Blackhawks would still be gasping for air, as they would end up with the third overall pick in 2006 and the first overall pick in 2007.  These were picks the Blackhawks would actually get right, as those players are now integral to everything they do.  Jonathan Toews (2006) would become captain after his rookie season in 2008 and be their best all-around player while Patrick Kane (2007) is now their most dynamic player.  However, it is important to not overlook the contributions of the supporting cast, as Niklas Hjalmarsson, a fourth-round pick in 2005, has played a key role behind the top duo of Brent Seabrook (2003 first round pick) and this year's Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith (2002 second-round pick).  Then, there's Corey Crawford, who may have shown his shakiness at times, such as the first round series against Nashville this year, but like every great player, showed that he can put the bad outings behind him and play great when his team needs him the most, particularly in the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals.

The challenge of maneuvering the salary cap for next season looms for the Blackhawks, as they are likely having no choice but to move key support players, but it is nothing new for the Blackhawks, as they've survived even as they were forced to say goodbye to players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Antti Niemi after 2010, and Michael Frolik and Dave Bolland after 2013.  These challenges are a far better welcome for a team that would have been happy just to be competitive immediately after the lockout of 2005.

Celebrate this dynasty, Chicago, and appreciate just how far your team has come in 10 years.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

2015 NHL Mock Draft: Picks 21-25

The mock draft is inching closer to the finish line, and the trades made during the season begin to have a major effect on who gets taken where.

21. Buffalo Sabres: Nick Merkley, RW, Kelowna Rockets

Merkley's lack of size is likely going to cause him to slide down some boards.  The Sabres, having already addressed the majority of their needs in previous drafts (except goaltending, but there's no clear cut choice at this point in the draft), take the best available player at this spot, which is Merkley.

22. Washington Capitals: Colin White, C, US NTDP

The Capitals would love to have a reliable center that can at worst handle the third-line duties.  Despite health issues this season, White projects to be in the mold of Patrice Bergeron, which is almost exactly what the Caps would love to have behind Niklas Backstrom.

23. Vancouver Canucks: Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestad

The Canucks' lack of foot speed on the blue line was exposed in their early playoff exit against Calgary, and there's no immediate help coming in the pipeline.  Kylington is the fastest defender in the draft, and the Canucks could use a player like him.

24. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Nashville): Jake DeBrusk, LW, Swift Current Broncos

On my board, the Leafs took Dylan Strome with their earlier pick, so to that end, the Leafs need to have more players that are capable of playing both ends of the ice, and DeBrusk would fit the bill.  DeBrusk would also add a strong work ethic that is seemingly lacking on the Leafs in recent years.  Alternatively, if the Leafs take Mitch Marner with the earlier pick, they could look to Joel Eriksson Ek here.

25. Winnipeg Jets (from Buffalo via St. Louis): Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown Islanders

Having taken a great playmaking center in Matt Barzal, the Jets could look to add more scoring even with Nikolaj Ehlers in the fold.  Sprong is the best scorer left at this stage in the draft.

Monday, June 8, 2015

NHL Mock Draft: Picks 16-20

Entering the second half of the first round, just about anything can happen, and I will most likely be revising after the full first round picks are made in this mock.

16. Edmonton Oilers (from Pittsburgh): Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John Sea Dogs

Conventional wisdom says that the Oilers must take a defenseman.  Oilers fans would probably riot if they didn't at this point in the draft.  Chabot, like his Saint John teammate Jakub Zboril, is a solid two-way player at this point in the development.  The difference is that Chabot has a higher ceiling for offense from the blue line.

17. Winnipeg Jets: Mathew Barzal, C, Winnipeg Jets

There's no denying that Barzal is talented enough to be taken in the top half of the draft.  However, it is possible that he falls in the draft.  The Jets don't have major needs to be taken care of and they have another pick in the first round to play with, so taking the best available player at this point, it's a no-brainer here.

18. Ottawa Senators: Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67's

Center depth is something of a concern in Ottawa, and with a player that plays in the same city like Konecny, the temptation is certainly there.  Injuries are a concern, but he's a willing player that will not give up on a play and is a likely heart and soul player that any team would love to have.

19. Detroit Red Wings: Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City Americans

The Red Wings were sorely lacking in defensive depth before the season, which explains why they traded for Marek Zidlicky at the trade deadline.  Carlo is a player that the Wings can take time with, but the expected finished product is a tall player that opposing offenses would have trouble getting around that is also a right-handed shot.

20. Minnesota Wild: Evgeny Svechnikov, RW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

A big player that can score, Svechnikov can provide the Wild with much needed offense that for whatever reason, is lacking.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A New Age in Prince George

Yesterday, the Prince George Cougars unveiled a new look that will debut next season.  Before getting to what the new look will be, it should be noted that it is a culmination of new ownership, which includes ex-Cougars Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer, showing a commitment to keeping the team in Prince George, as well as getting people to come to CN Centre for games with promotions not done by previous ownership.

As for the new look, the real change is in the logo, as the jerseys will largely remain the same.  As you can see in the picture above, the Cougars will don the logo on the front, and it is clever that they were able to incorporate the cougar into the negative space of the letter C.  The negative space in the C will change according to what color jersey the Cougars are wearing for a game, which means there is more of a split on how effective the design is on the uniforms.  The logo works great on the home black jerseys, but it doesn't quite pan out as well on the white uniforms, as the outlines, which are in white and gold, are harder to see against the background.

I feel like while the Cougars did a great job of moving away from their former logo, which was outright cartoonish, they missed an opportunity to make some changes to the jersey design, though the logo change actually improves the overall look, if only marginally.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

2015 NHL Mock Draft: Picks 11-15

We are entering the middle of the first round, and just about anything can happen here.

11. Florida Panthers: Timo Meier, RW, Halifax Mooseheads

Florida needs scoring badly, and neither Nick Bjugstad nor Aleksander Barkov are proficient finishers.  However, either or both would benefit greatly from having someone to give the puck to for the finish, which is exactly what Meier can do.  It doesn't hurt that he adds size to a team that could use it.

12. Dallas Stars: Pavel Zacha, C, Sarnia Sting

Calgary also needs size up front and could trade to this spot.  If Dallas stays put, they would get a big body that has enormous upside in Zacha.  The Stars would get a player that can step in if Valeri Nichushkin isn't 100% after a near-season long stay on the injured list.

13. Los Angeles Kings: Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping

The Kings' blue line depth both at the NHL level and in the pipeline were exposed, and they need to rebuild that area quickly.  Carlsson is a start, and he would give them a physical presence that would in time, be what the likes of Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr were for the Kings.

14. Boston Bruins: Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John Sea Dogs

The Bruins are long in the tooth on defense, and they missed Johnny Boychuk badly last season.  Zboril can provide two-way play and a physical element to a team that could use more of it.

15. Calgary Flames: Brock Boeser, RW, Waterloo Black Hawks

The Flames would love to trade up for a bigger body (see: Zacha, Pavel), but they get to check off another need, which is a right-handed shot in Boeser.  The Flames can take their time with him, as he's off to North Dakota, and the expected finished product is one that can eventuall take Jiri Hudler's place when it's time for him to move on.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

NHL Stanley Cup Finals

It's down to the last two teams, and puck drop is tomorrow night, so without delay, here is the preview.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

It's been a long, strange journey for the Blackhawks, who were almost certain to be led in goal by Scott Darling after the first round, but along the way, Corey Crawford rediscovered his game and Patrick Kane looks like his old self.  They survived the onslaught of the Ducks' relentless hitting to make it here, and now, they look to make it three championships in six years.  The Lightning found a way to score enough goals against a tough Rangers team to make it here.  Led by Tyler Johnson, the Lightning are getting goals from everyone, which makes Steven Stamkos' relative lack of production easy to overlook.  Oh, and Ben Bishop is growing into a true big game goalie as the playoffs go on.

Prediction: Lightning in 7

Monday, June 1, 2015

2015 NHL Mock Draft: Picks 6-10

Picks 1-5 were made, and those seem to be near certainties, particularly the top three picks.  Now, we begin to play the guessing game with the Draft, beginning with picks 6-10.

6. New Jersey Devils: Mitchell Marner, RW, London Knights

The Devils were the third worst offense in the league, and there is no immediate help in the pipeline.  Though Marner won't answer all the problems of the Devils' offense, he will help out significantly, whether it is now or in a couple of years.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: Kyle Connor, C, Youngstown Phantoms

The Flyers looked old last season, and the center position is the weakest spot right now, though the blue line could always use another body.  Connor is likely a year or two away, since he is University of Michigan bound.  However, he answers the need for a second line center and was the best player in the USHL this season.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon Wheat Kings

Besides better health, the Blue Jackets could use more defensive depth.  Provorov is a more well-rounded player than Hanifin, and though his offensive upside isn't as high, he can provide a highlight reel play, as he proved in a game against the Calgary Hitmen this season.

9. San Jose Sharks: Mikko Rantanen, RW, TPS

The Sharks aren't getting any younger, and it's about time they start getting younger.  They could also go with Zach Werenski here, since they practically need to get younger everywhere, but I have them going with Rantanen, who is the most complete player available at this spot.

10. Colorado Avalanche: Zach Werenski, D, University of Michigan

The Avs were awful of defense last year, and they don't have a top player on the blue line.  Werenski has all the makings of a future stud defenseman, and he would effectively push both Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson down to roles where they should be in time.