Monday, May 30, 2016

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight, as the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the San Jose Sharks. There's not much time before puck drop, so let's get to it.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. San Jose Sharks

The Penguins needed all of seven games and the efforts of two rookies to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning to get here. For much of the playoff run, it's been all Matt Murray, as he's been the hot hand that Mike Sullivan has ridden. While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin haven't been superstar players this playoff year, it's been a team effort led by the HBK line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel, with some timely scoring from unlikely players such as Bryan Rust thrown in. Defensively, how the Penguins manage the loss of Trevor Daley will determine how the Penguins will hold up in front of Murray.

The Sharks needed six games to beat St. Louis and finally get to a Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in four tries. Martin Jones has been solid in net, putting into practice what he learned from Jonathan Quick in the 2014 playoff run. No player has been more important to his team this playoff year than Joe Pavelski, who has been the best player so far. Joel Ward, Logan Couture, and company up front are providing solid support at forward while Brent Burns continues to lead the way defensively.

Prediction: Sharks in 7

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Making Sense of the (yet another) Vancouver/Florida Trade

The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers have traded with one another and in many instances, they have involved significant players. Yesterday, you can add Erik Gudbrandson to the list that includes Pavel Bure, Ed Jovanovski, Todd Bertuzzi, Roberto Luongo (twice), and Keith Ballard.

The Canucks picked up Gudbrandson and a fifth round pick in this year's draft and sent Jared McCann and the second and fourth round picks in this year's draft. As seen this year, the Canucks struggled to score, so on one hand, trading McCann for a defenseman that does very little on the scoresheet is a head-scratcher. On the other hand, the blue line for the Canucks was pretty terrible save for Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev. In short, the Canucks needed help every which way except in goal, where Jacob Markstrom is going to be a starter one way or another next season. Gudbrandson gives the Canucks badly needed size that is sure to play in the NHL, as Nikita Tryamkin is not as sure of a thing at the moment. He also gives them much needed toughness that was sorely lacking last season. As for what they give up in McCann, like Hunter Shinkaruk a few months prior, potential offense. However, unlike Shinkaruk, McCann's ceiling is much higher, but given that center depth would make him fourth best at the moment, it's hard to see him making a great impact next season. Also, there is the matter of having the fifth overall pick, which can at least, cover some of the offense lost in time.

As for what Florida gets, they create room for Michael Matheson to be on the roster next season, as the Panthers are good on defensive depth in the system while getting a high ceiling player in McCann and a high second round pick that gives them another chance to replenish the pipeline.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Memorial Cup Field

Over the weekend, the Memorial Cup field was set, as the OHL, QMJHL, and the WHL determined their champions to join this year's host the Red Deer Rebels for the chance to hoist the Memorial Cup and declare themselves the Canadian Hockey League champions. Let's look at each team and what they need to do to be this year's Memorial Cup champions.


How they got here: They began their run by sweeping Drummondville in the opening round, were met with slight resistance from Blainville-Boisbriand in five games, needed six games to put away Moncton in the Conference Finals before putting down Shawinigan in five games to win the Presidents' Cup.

Why they can win the Memorial Cup: They are led offensively by Francis Perron, but don't forget about Timo Meier and A.J. Greer, two key players picked up either prior to the season or in mid-season trades. In goal, Chase Marchand has held down the fort quite nicely, as he posted impressive GAA numbers en route to pushing the Huskies to their first championship since landing in Rouyn-Noranda 20 years ago.


How they got here: Their stiffest challenge came in the opening round, as they needed six games to put away Owen Sound in the opening round. However, since winning game six of that series, the Knights reeled off 13 consecutive wins, including that game 6 win, sweeping past Kitchener, Erie, and Niagara to claim their third J. Ross Robertson Trophy in five years and securing a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament for the fourth time in that same span (they hosted in 2014).

Why they can win the Memorial Cup: It begins up front, as Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak lead the charge up front. Having players such as Matthew Tkachuk and Max Jones helps, too. Tyler Parsons is one of the more underrated goalies in the field, as the guys up front get all the press, but he's been proven to be mentally tough even in the face of rough starts, as the game 4 against Kitchener showed.


How they got here: A slow series start against Edmonton saw them begin in a 2-0 series hole. However, they climbed out emphatically, winning the next four games. Their next three series saw them win by identical 4-1 series scores, as Moose Jaw, Red Deer, and Seattle fell to the Wheat Kings on their way to the Ed Chynoweth Trophy.

Why they can win the Memorial Cup: Like the London Knights, the Wheat Kings are loaded up front, as Jayce Hawryluk and John Quennville are the veteran presences there. However, it's the young guy in Nolan Patrick that truly makes things go there, as he took home the Playoff MVP Trophy there. Defensively, they are well-balanced, as both Kale Clague and Ivan Provorov lead the way there. Jordan Papirny doesn't get the press he deserves, but he's shown mental toughness, bouncing back from bad games to give the Wheat Kings the boost they needed. Also, the Wheat Kings have shown a killer instinct, winning the series clinching games by the scores of 10-3, 7-3, 5-2, and 8-4.


How they got here: The Rebels are hosting this year's Memorial Cup tournament. In the WHL playoffs, they handled Calgary in five games, but needed all seven games to finally put away the Regina Pats. They met their end in the Conference Finals when they lost to Brandon in five games.

Why they can win the Memorial Cup: Mid-season acquisitions Adam Helewka and Jake DeBrusk are the best offensive options on the squad, with Helewka nearly willing the Rebels to wins at times while DeBrusk has rediscovered his game after struggling for much of the regular season. Any Brent Sutter-led team has to be strong defensively, and that is where having the likes of Haydn Fleury and Nelson Nogier help. When their goaltending is on, there are few teams that can match the veteran talent of Trevor Martin and Rylan Toth.

Friday, May 13, 2016

NHL Conference Finals Preview

It's down to four teams now, and things are getting interesting, as both St. Louis and San Jose, teams that have traditionally wilted under the pressure, are shedding that label, one step at a time, while Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are the hottest teams remaining. Playoffs resume tonight with the Lightning and the Penguins, so let's not delay.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Lightning are here despite not having Steven Stamkos or Anton Stralman for much of this playoff run. Ben Bishop is quickly becoming their most indispensable player, as he has been great this playoff season. Having a superstar defender like Victor Hedman become elite despite not having his usual defense partner Stralman is helping immensely. Up front, it's been scoring by committee, with Nikita Kucherov emerging as the leading scorer of the bunch. Pittsburgh has been a far better team since Mike Sullivan stepped behind the bench, but it's been an unexpected goalie that is stealing the headlines, as Matt Murray has made a name for himself. The players that were expected to step up in past playoff failures are finally doing so this time around, though getting secondary scoring is also helping here, too.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues

The Sharks fended off a strong charge from Nashville in seven games to get to this point. Martin Jones has been as advertised for the Sharks this season, and it helps that their blue line is putting it together as a unit. If you're looking for a clutch player up front, it's not Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, it's Joe Pavelski and Joel Ward. Pavelski leads the team in scoring, and has been the leader the Sharks needed. The Blues, meanwhile, are finally learning how to win. Putting the games on the backs of Vladimir Tarasenko and Brian Elliott has been key, but it's been the contributions of Troy Brouwer that have put the Blues over the top when it matters the most. It'll be an even series, with the winner having enough to put the series in their favor.

Prediction: Sharks in 7

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mavericks Report: An Obituary...and a New Playmate?

What was supposed to be a lengthy playoff run for the Missouri Mavericks this season instead ends in the Conference semi-finals, as the Allen Americans put an end to that dream in six games. At times during the series, the Mavericks' offense was nowhere to be found while their sterling goaltending suddenly had holes. Before pointing fingers, it should be noted that the Mavericks had a constantly changing roster due to injuries, call-ups, and PTOs with other teams in the AHL, as well as seeing two players make it to the NHL. So, while the season as a whole can be considered a wasted opportunity, there are still silver linings to be taken from a record-breaking season, one that will ultimately be a footnote in history rather than the cherry on top.

And now, for the other news making the rounds. In a move designed for the 2017-18 season, the Kansas City area will be getting a USHL team. Full details are at the Kansas City Star, but the gist is that owner Lamar Hunt Jr. is going to try his hand at the premier junior league in the United States. The site where they plan to play is going to be the BluHawk development area of Overland Park, KS, which places it around the 159th Street and Highway 69 area. No plans are being made to move the Mavericks out to that area, as well, but the arena that will be built will seat around 6,000 people, approximately 2,000 more than what the Mavericks' current home of Silverstein Eye Centers Arena seats for hockey.

What benefits will having a USHL team have for the Kansas City area? The USHL is rising in terms of visibility, buoyed by the fact that they are becoming a viable place for future NHLers to begin plying their trade. Like their Canadian counterparts, players can be up to 20 years old, but space for those players is generally limited to about one or two players. Unlike the major junior leagues in Canada, players can generally commit to colleges in the United States (the Canadian leagues are considered pro under NCAA rules). With the majority of teams in the upper Midwest, it only makes sense that Hunt Jr. would be tapping into the market where Kansas City hockey can continue to grow.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Ice Rink Problems in the Q

The QMJHL was once again faced with an ice rink problem over the weekend, as game 2 of the Finals was postponed between the Shawinigan Cataractes and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The full details:

Game 2 of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League President Cup final between the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Shawinigan Cataractes was postponed on Friday.
The game was postponed due to a problem with the pipes under the ice at the Aréna Iamgold in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.
According to the QMJHL, the rule 1.5.6, rescheduling of a game, in the case where 20 minutes or more have been played, the game will continue and be clocked with the remaining time before the original game was stopped.
With that, if Game 2 gets back underway at 4 p.m. on Saturday, the game will start in the second period with Rouyn-Noranda leading Shawinigan 2-1.

Mind you, this wasn't the first time ice rink problems  have plagued a QMJHL game, as a February match between the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and the Charlottetown Islanders was called in the third period in which the Islanders would take it 5-2 in a rather strange way to end the game. The story to that can be found here.

If there's something for all of the teams in the QMJHL to sort out, getting your home ice situation under control would be a great start. Oh, and Rouyn-Noranda would win the game and now have a 2-0 series lead over Shawinigan.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

WHL Finals Preview

The WHL Finals are set to kick off Friday with a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament on the line. It's a classic battle of the most physical team versus a strong offense. Yes, it is the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Brandon Wheat Kings, two teams that couldn't be any more different, from style of play to team locations. And the bus ride between the cities will be a long one that crosses the border.

Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Brandon Wheat Kings

The Thunderbirds had little trouble blazing their way through the Western Conference, needing just one game above the minimum to get here. They're physical, have an offense led by the likes of Matt Barzal and Ryan Gropp, and a goalie in Landon Bow that has proven to be a game changer. The Wheat Kings are a dynamic offensive unit led by Nolan Patrick and John Quennville, and have bounced back from their fair share of adversity throughout the playoffs. Jordan Paiprny has been up and down, but his ups are a lot higher than you think. It looks rather even, but how the Wheat Kings deal with the Thunderbirds' physical play will determine a winner in what should be an evenly contested series.

Prediction: Wheat Kings in 7

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Moving East

The building you see in the picture above is going to be the future home of a WHL team starting next season. In a move that actually makes sense from an attendance perspective, the Vancouver Giants are moving east to Langley, BC and will begin playing in the Langley Events Centre next season.

In recent years, the Giants have been defined by a dysfunctional front office and rather dismal attendance numbers in the Pacific Coliseum, 3,000 fans attending, according to some sources. Langley Events Centre holds around 5,000 people, which will at least cover the Giants' issues with attracting people. The obvious problem is that the Giants are moving about 27 miles east, which takes them past Surrey and before they hit Abbotsford. Given that Langley is one of the more pristine areas of the Vancouver area, it is possible that pricing could be an issue...more so. However, playing in a smaller, yet newer arena should provide a breath of fresh air compared to the much more cavernous and older Pacific Coliseum located around the notorious neighborhood of East Hastings. Time will tell if the move to Langley will either be a franchise saving move or if it's a precursor to the team becoming extinct.

Memorial Cup Hosting in 2017

The last time the Windsor Spitfires were competing for the Memorial Cup was also the last time a team has won back-to-back Memorial Cups, as they did in 2009 and 2010. Now, the Spitfires will be back in the Memorial Cup tournament next year, as they were tabbed as the host team for the annual tournament that spans the three Canadian leagues. As Memorial Cup hosts, the Spitfires know that they will want to put on the best show they can while trying to not mortgage their future.

As to who the Spitfires will be trotting out for next year, their lineup could potentially include Christian Fischer, Mikhail Sergachev, and Logan Brown, pending what the Arizona Coyotes plan to do with Fischer, as he was not drafted by the team while in major junior. Both Sergachev and Brown are draft eligible this year, and though both are expected to be in the top half of the first round, it is likely both will be in Windsor for the Memorial Cup run. Michael Dipietro is the presumptive starter in goal while Kyle Auger is a name to watch for, as he is draft eligible next season.

Given their moves of recent seasons, it stands to reason that the Spitfires have some assets to move to pick up key players during next season. However, they will have to make wise decisions, as unless you're the London Knights, bad moves could set the Spitfires back years.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pleading the Fifth

Picture by Gerry Kahrmann
With the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery taking place last weekend, the Vancouver Canucks now find themselves picking fifth. Obviously, that means they won't be taking Auston Matthews or either of the highly touted Finns (Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi). However, that doesn't mean the Canucks can't get a player that can help them in the long run. With that in mind, let's see where the Canucks can go with the pick they have.

Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL): The Canucks' need for a defenseman has been obvious since they were eliminated by Calgary in last year's playoffs. The failure to adequately address this need in the off-season plus the team's struggles only amplify that need. Adding Chychrun would give them a top prospect on the blue line that they currently don't have on the roster or in the pipeline. At best, Chychrun would be a dominant two-way force that can step in right away.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL): The top-ranked skater in North America according to the rankings, he is capable of playing all three forward positions and would not only give the Canucks offense, but also be a tough customer to play against. Think Jarome Iginla in his prime.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL): The son of ex-NHLer Keith Tkachuk, Matthew plays almost like his dad. He's comparable to Dubois, but with the bloodlines, there is a chance the Canucks won't want to pass up on Tkachuk if given the choice between him and Dubois.

Olli Juolevi, D, London (OHL): Playing big minutes for the J. Ross Robertson bound London, Juolevi is quite possibly the best defender on the offensive side of the puck. Though less physical than Chychrun, he does possess smarts and could very well be coveted by the Canucks, as they have him as the highest rated defender according to sources such as Pass it to Bulis.

Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL): Of the three defensemen listed, he possess the biggest risk due to the Russian factor. However, he is just as physical as Chychrun and has the offensive game of Juolevi. Named the best defenseman of the OHL this past season, it is conceivable that the Canucks may let him develop in Windsor one more year since the Spitfires are hosting the Memorial Cup next season.

Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga (OHL): If it's pure skill up front that the Canucks are looking for, they need not look further than Nylander. The son of Mikael and the brother of current Maple Leaf William, Nylander has similar skill sets to his father and brother, and while size can be an issue, the skill may very well be too good to ignore.

The Canucks have many directions that they can go to, and while their fate may very well rest upon what the Edmonton Oilers do, as they pick fourth, the Canucks can start filling the holes that became very apparent last season.