Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Head at the Stable

In a "News doesn't travel fast" moment, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Swift Current Broncos had a change in head coaches. Mark Lamb, who had been the longest tenured head coach in the Western Hockey League, resigned last month to take the head coaching job with the newly formed Tuscon Roadrunners of the AHL. That also meant Lamb was vacating the other role he had with as General Manager. Last week, the Broncos found their guy to lead the Broncos starting next season, as Emanuel Viveiros was named head coach and Director of Player Personnel, effectively meaning he will inherit the jobs Lamb had in his time with the Broncos.

A former WHL player in the mid-80's, his coaching resume primarily consists of coaching in Germany and Austria, with championships as a head coach and General Manager of EC Klagenfurt in Austria in 2009 and 2013. He also coached the Austrian national team from 2011 through 2014, leading the team that made the Sochi Olympics in 2014. More recently, he was head coach of Ingolstadt, DEL in Germany last season. He also has a son, Layne, who played in the WHL from 2012 through 2015 with Portland, and was playing in Salzburg EC in Austria.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Building a Bonfire?

With NHL free-agency hitting its annual dead period, plus very little going on for the Vancouver Canucks other than signing Loui Eriksson and losing Dan Hamhuis, someone (namely Canucks Army) decided to explore the possibility that the Canucks may be thinking about trading for an impact player. Canucks fans, brace yourselves because the names being floated around are Evander Kane and Gabriel Landeskog. Let's look at what both bring and what the Canucks may have to think about surrendering to get them.

First, to get this elephant in the room out of the way, Evander Kane. The former first round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers has 30-goal potential, something he accomplished in the Thrashers' first year as the now Winnipeg Jets. However, injuries, inconsistency, and problems in the locker room and off-the ice led to the Jets sending him off to Buffalo in 2015. While he managed 20 goals last season, he again missed time to injuries and attitude problems, and to top it off, he was investigated by the Erie County Police Department for alleged sexual assault, charges that were ultimately never filed. That's before his most recent run-in with the law and an incident in a Buffalo nightclub last month. Granted, much of his run-ins with the law have happened SINCE leaving Winnipeg, but let's look at why he was shipped out of Winnipeg in the first place. Problems with getting along with the people of Winnipeg, plus his disrespect for coaches and players in the Jets locker room, which was capped off by the tracksuit incident. Yes, these are reasons to say no to Kane, no matter the cost, but there's other reasons to say no, as in that 30-goal a season potential? To put it with reality, he only had one 30-goal season, which was the 2011-12 season, and just cracked the 20-goal barrier last season with Buffalo. There's also the relability factor, as he has never played more than 74 games in a given NHL season, which surprise, was also the only time he scored 30 goals in a season AND played over 70 games in a season. As a Canucks fan, this should tell you all you need to know about what problems lie ahead if Kane does indeed come back to Vancouver, as was born and raised there and played for the Giants of the WHL prior to being drafted. They don't need Mark Messier 2.0 all over again.

The other player being considered? Gabriel Landeskog. He's been rumored to be on the move for a few months now, and given the Avs' desire to try and become better at possessing the puck, it is possible that he would come at a hefty price. The second overall pick in 2011, he has produced 20-goal seasons in all but the 2012-13 season, a season shortened by both a lockout and Landeskog's own injuries. The fact that he was named captain in just his second year indicates that he may very well be worth looking into, particularly with the Swedish factor coming into play with both Sedins and the newly acquired Loui Eriksson. If you're looking for warts in the trade, consider that Landeskog was prone to taking penalties at the wrong times in the last two seasons, with some of the blame going towards the lack of overall snarl on the Avs' front lines, as only Cody McLeod has any, and he's nothing more than a fourth line player. There's no rap sheet on Landeskog to speak of, and for the Canucks to get him, a three-team deal may have to be worked out. There is potential there, but seemingly not enough prospects or NHL-ready players for the Avs to think about sending him the Canucks' way.

Those are the two options that are being floated around concerning the Canucks. On one hand, you have a severely high-risk, possibly high-reward player in Kane. On the other, you have a safer option in Landeskog. I don't pretend to know what will be the move Canucks' management will make, but if I were there, I'd drop the Kane idea immediately and go straight towards Landeskog. After all, it will still be a long season, but do they really need an additional headache off the ice?

Monday, July 18, 2016

History Repeats Itself?

In a move that quite possibly could make or break General Manager Pierre Dorion's time with the Ottawa Senators, the Senators have traded Mika Zibanejad and a second round pick in 2018 to the New York Rangers in exchange for Derick Brassard and a seventh round pick in 2018.

On the surface, this may look like a good hockey trade, but history reveals that it is a major gamble for the Ottawa Senators, as they've yet to truly reap the rewards from the Bobby Ryan trade of June 2013. In case you're wondering what the package that they sent Anaheim to get him is doing, here it is: while Stefan Noesen hasn't been able to stay healthy, the first round pick of 2014 that they gave up became Nick Ritchie, and he is likely to compete for regular NHL duty next season. The other player in the deal was Jakob Silfverberg, and while his career high in points isn't impressive, he did set a career high in goals scored with 20, just three less than what Ryan's high with Ottawa has been, set in the 2013-14 season. Clearly, Ottawa was expecting something in the 30-goal range for the season, and that is where Ottawa has failed on many levels.

As for the Brassard-Zibanejad trade, the Senators are getting a player whose career high in points is just nine points higher than the player they traded away, plus six years older and carrying a higher cap hit, though they do get two extra years. While Brassard has been more consistent than Zibanejad, the same could have been said for Ryan at the time of the trade, and that's not surfaced since then. While Brassard could still produce numbers consistent with his usual production, if Zibanejad becomes the superstar that the Sens thought they were getting, it could come back to haunt them. And let's not forget that they won't have their second round pick in 2018.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Restoring the Roar

It's that time of the year when hockey stories generally dry up, and other than Las Vegas naming their first General Manager in George McPhee and a few superstars locking themselves up for the foreseeable future with their current teams, this is where I reach for stories.

I'm in luck, as the team that is trying to get its "Big Bad" image back to life is at the center of the discussion. Yes, the Boston Bruins have fallen on some hard times since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, from a missed opportunity to win their second in three years to the salary cap mess that left them unable to keep many of the players that are flourishing elsewhere to Don Sweeney (pictured) trying his best to clean up the mess his predecesor Peter Chiarelli left behind when he was canned in 2015.

So, that brief history is established, and now, let's look at how Boston got to this point.

  • The Tyler Seguin trade of Summer 2013: there had been rumblings of Seguin and his affinity for the nightlife during the 2013 playoffs. While there wasn't anything truly alarming, the Bruins sought fit to trade Seguin along with Rich Peverley to the Dallas Stars for Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, and Joe Morrow. While Seguin has put up the offensive numbers expected of him when the Bruins drafted him in 2010, Smith never really established himself and was traded to Florida prior to last season while Loui Eriksson signed with Vancouver recently after some bouts with inconsistency, with injuries playing a role in that. If Boston is to salvage anything now, it's up to Morrow, who has still yet to crack the regular six on the Bruins' blue line.
  • The ornerous contracts handed out to the likes of Milan Lucic, Dennis Seidenberg, and Zdeno Chara. While those were looking good when the Bruins were doing well in 2011-2013, it became an albatross by the time Chiarelli was fired in 2015. Lucic was traded in one of Sweeney's first moves as General Manager while Seidenberg was recently bought out. Chara is still around, but at 39 years old, is losing the battle with Father Time.
  • Sweeney's first moves were trading Lucic and Dougie Hamilton for draft picks, as well as Martin Jones, who didn't stick around long enough to even get a number. The Lucic/Jones and draft picks trade would have been great, but the Bruins still have Tuukka Rask in goal, and Jones wasn't about to unseat him, so they flipped Jones to San Jose for a first round pick in 2016. Jones only went on to help lead the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance while Rask was at home once again for the playoffs. As for Hamilton, any goodwill that was left over from the Phil Kessel Trade of 2009, which includes Seguin, died with the Hamilton trade. While Hamilton was slow to adjust to his surroundings in Calgary, he did show signs of life. Boston could have used him, as depth is now suddenly an issue.
  • The contract given to Adam McQuaid happened around the time Hamilton got traded. While McQuaid is the kind of player Boston covets, he's also been rather injury prone and isn't more than a good third pairing player.
  • The draft picks dating back to 2011: Of the picks in 2011, only Alexander Khokhlachev remains in the system, and he's been grumbling about his place in the Bruins' system. 2012 has been slightly kinder, though Malcolm Subban is still in the AHL. Seth Griffin and Matt Grzelcyk also remain, and both figure to compete for a spot on the Bruins this season. 2013 was far less kind, as no one's really stepped up there. 2014 produced David Pastrnak, who is looking for his breakout year while 2015 and 2016 figure to be a litmus test on just how well Sweeney can pick out the talent.
  • The David Backes contract earlier this month. They overpaid here, but he provides leadership and depth down the middle. Losing Eriksson will hurt, but it does open the door for Pastrnak here, as he figures to get the ice time that Eriksson had last season while Backes figures to at least make three lines with strong centers, provided David Krejci can remain healthy.
To say the Bruins have had an interesting slide from the top of the mountain in five years is an understatement. Obviously, getting themselves out of a bind with the salary cap was priority one, which they did, though some moves were more questionable than others. Now, it's about finding out if the Bruins will have a smoother transition to life after Chara and Patrice Bergeron, though Bergeron still has at least five good years left.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The ECHL Alignment

The ECHL announced yesterday how the teams will be aligned for the 2016-17 season, and it's rather interesting. Before I get to what I think, let's look at the alignment, as well as how the playoffs will be played out.

Eastern Conference

The North Division will consist of the Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Thunder, Elmira Jackals, Manchester Monarchs, Reading Royals, and the Wheeling Nailers.

The South Division will have the Atlanta Gladiators, Cincinnati Cyclones, Florida Everblades, Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Norfolk Admirals, Orlando Solar Bears, and South Carolina Stingrays.

Western Conference

The Central Division will have the Fort Wayne Comets, Indy Fuel, Kalamazoo Wings, Quad City Mallards, Toledo Walleye, Tulsa Oilers, and Wichita Thunder.

The Mountain Division will be formed by the Alaska Aces, Allen Americans, Colorado Eagles, Idaho Steelheads, Missouri Mavericks, Rapid City Rush, and Utah Grizzlies.

As for the playoff format, the following is taken from the ECHL website:

The first two rounds of the Kelly Cup Playoffs will be played entirely within the division, with the division winner playing the fourth-place finisher and the second-place team meeting the third-place team in the Division Semifinals. The winners of each series will meet in the Division Finals, leading to the Conference Finals and Kelly Cup Finals. 

The new format will allow most teams to have a better chance of playing traditional rivals in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and to allow for more economical travel. 

The Eastern Conference alignment is mostly fine, with maybe the grey area of the Ohio/Virginias being an exception, but it is something that can be worked around. The Western Conference is where things get hazy, as it separates Missouri from Wichita, particularly when it comes to playoff alignment. It's been no secret that the Missouri/Kansas rivalry is something that is built in, and Missouri and Wichita were competing for bragging rights since the Mavericks joined the ECHL two seasons ago. Allen being considered part of the Mountain Division looks a little odd, but given the dearth of teams west of the Rockies, something had to give. The revised playoff format means that every division will be represented in the Conference Finals. The potential drawback lies in the fact that a powerhouse like Allen could face a weaker division champion in the Central, which may cause competition problems. Also of note, the Evansville IceMen are going dormant for the season while they await approval to relocate to Owensboro, KY.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Picking Up Stakes

The image you see is that of Université Laval, located in the city of Laval, QC. Why would I be talking about anything from the city of Laval, you may be asking? Today, the Montreal Canadiens announced that they would be moving their AHL affliliate from Saint John's, NL to the suburb of Montreal starting in the 2017-18 season.

The team will begin play that season in the still-under construction Place Bell, and will provide the Canadiens a shorter distance for their prospects to travel, a trend that has been commonplace recently with the Western teams relocating their AHL franchises closer to their respective homes. While the move wasn't entirely expected, it does provide the Canadiens a chance to keep an eye on their key players while avoiding potential travel troubles that normally plague the team during the winter months. Logo and color scheme will likely be sorted out closer to the date.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Magic Man to Russia

It has been known since the end of the Detroit Red Wings' season that Pavel Datsyuk was leaving the NHL to play one more season in Russia. Now, we know where in Russia Datsyuk will play, as today, it was made official that he will suit up for SKA Saint Petersburg for the 2016-17 KHL season.

As translated from the HC SKA site (as best as it can from Russian via Google Translate), the deal is for two years and as you can see in the pictures of the immediate aftermath of the signing, he will wear his familiar number 13. No other details have been revealed, but the team as currently constituted will consist of Mikko Koskinen in goal, ex-NHL stars Slava Voynov and Ilya Kovalchuk, and other former players with brief NHL stints such as Sergei Shirokov, Steve Moses, and Sergei Plotnikov that Datsyuk will be joining. After a 2015-16 season of turmoil that followed an improbable run to the club's first major championship the previous season, SKA is eager to put the troubles behind them. From the failed Andrei Nazarov experiment behind the bench to interim head coach Sergei Zubov butting heads with Kovalchuk, it was an interesting season that saw them ultimately make the Conference Finals, only to be swept by the same CSKA team that they upset the previous playoff season by winning all four games after being down 3-0 in the series. Oleg Znarok is going to be the new head coach, and given the team's notorious short leash plus the relatively unknown record of Znarok, it will be interesting to see what the team does.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Kelowna Gets Their Guy...Take Three

In what has become an annual rite of passage in the Summer for the Kelowna Rockets lately, they hired a new head coach. This time, they raided the Ottawa Senators coaching staff and named Jason Smith as the guy to lead the Rockets. Since Ryan Huska was whisked away by the then-Adirondack Flames of the AHL in 2014 (they since moved the AHL affiliate to Stockton, CA to become Heat while Adirondack welcomed the ECHL), the Rockets will have gone through three head coaches once Smith coaches his first game. Dan Lambert was picked to replace Huska for the 2014-15 season, and he led them to an Ed Chynoweth Trophy and within a goal of the Memorial Cup that season. However, the Buffalo Sabres came calling and he took a job as an assistant coach there. Stepping into his place for the 2015-16 season was Brad Ralph, who had the most head coaching experience of the three, having previously coached with Idaho of the ECHL. Despite reaching the century-mark in points for the season and reaching the Conference Finals for the third straight year, the Rockets and Ralph were never exactly on the same page and they decided to mutually part ways.

Smith played his junior hockey in Regina and was the first round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 1991. He would go on to play in the NHL with the Devils, Toronto, Edmonton, Philadelphia, and Ottawa. He is also known as the longest-serving captain of the Oilers, as well as being a captain of the Flyers in his only year there.

As a former defender, Smith is walking into a job where defensemen regularly make an impact in the NHL, which should be to his advantage. However, his experience in a coaching capacity is largely limited to two seasons as an assistant head coach, with time on the scouting and player development staff coming before that. He will have Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard on the staff as assistant coaches, and both having been on the last two Rockets teams to make the Conference Finals should help Smith as he makes the leap to the head coaching ranks.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hockey Night in China

While it isn't necessarily new news, it does bear mention that the country of China will be getting a hockey team in the Kontinental Hockey League starting in September. The team, whose official name is HC Kunlun Red Star, was officially accepted as the newest team in the KHL on June 25, and will be bearing the logo you see above. The head coach will be Vladimir Yurzinov, Jr., and the team will have half of the roster consisting of local national players, the same rule that applies to all KHL teams (e.g. Dinamo Riga has half its roster consisting of Latvians, as they play home games in Latvia). The team will play at the LeSports Center in Beijing, which seats 18,000 people, and was one of the facilities built with the 2008 Olympics in mind originally.

While it's great that hockey is expanding into a non-traditional hockey country like China, it is worth noting that teams in the KHL usually have trouble staying afloat due to money concerns, and except for rich teams like CSKA, Dynamo Moscow, and SKA, those teams usually either take a year off from the KHL or fold. Recent expansion has seen the league go from just a Russian Federation league, expanding into countries such as Croatia, Finland, and Slovakia, with the possibility that China will be joined by South Korea and maybe even Japan. It's too soon to tell if professional hockey in China will succeed, but for now, it is one step towards finding out that answer.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Free Agency Clean-Up from Day 1

With the biggest name in free agency signed days before the actual period began, it was expected that some of the biggest names remaining would be going on the first day. Though there are still some useful players still available at this point, many of them either found new homes or re-signed with their team from last season. To that end, let's look at who signed and what it means for the team that they signed with:

Loui Eriksson: Signed with Vancouver for six years, and an average of $6 million per year. He provides offense, usually to the tune of 25-30 goals per year, and though the years may be a little high, given that the Sedins will likely retire by the time Eriksson finishes year four of the contract, they could always do worse. I'm okay with this signing, but it will be up to Willie Desjardins to keep a level of consistency that maximizes the talent available (that means not putting Derek Dorsett with the Sedins ever again).

Milan Lucic: Edmonton claims him to the tune of seven years, $6 million per year. Obviously, his familiarity with General Manager Peter Chiarelli was an influence, but it will be the idea that he is likely getting slotted with Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle that should have Oilers fans excited. It also adds another big, physical presence to a team that is finally figuring out what they really want to do.

Kyle Okposo: Same contract configuration as Lucic, but with the Buffalo Sabres. On the minus side, he may experience a drop off in numbers now that he won't be alongside John Tavares. However, it's not so bad when you realize that Okposo could be on a line with Jack Eichel at best, and Ryan O'Reilly, at worst. Given the uncertainty of Evander Kane's future after another run-in with the law, Okposo is a welcome addition to a maturing Sabres team (minus Kane).

David Backes: Five years, $6 million per year to play in Boston. This wasn't such a great signing, but not because Backes can't play. However, it's a far different thing to play on a team with a superstar in Vladimir Tarasenko than it is to play with unproven talents such as David Pastrnak. Boston needed an NHL body on the blue line worse, and though they may find that player yet, Backes doesn't fill a need in any way, shape, or form for them.

Eric Staal: Three years, $3.5 million is what Minnesota is giving him to center the second line. The days of putting up boffo offensive numbers is long past, but he is still useful. The contract, as a whole, is friendly to both him and the team, so at worst, it beats the deal they (regrettably) handed Thomas Vanek two years ago.

Thomas Vanek: Speaking of Vanek, the recently bought out player didn't have to wait long to find a new home, as Detroit signed him to a $2.6 million deal for one year. 18 goals last season wasn't cutting it for Minnesota, and it's questionable if it cuts it for Detroit. However, one year is not a bad deal, and the Red Wings could still get something out of him.

James Reimer and Jason Demers: Reimer is heading to Florida for five years, and $3.4 million to presumably be the full-time starter when Roberto Luongo finally hangs it up. In the meantime, he will serve as a backup with the possibility of splitting time to start. Also, in recent news, the  Panthers also signed Jason Demers to a five year, $4.5 million deal. He won't put up the numbers recently departed Brian Campbell has, but he's younger and should make up a fair amount of that offensive production. Plus, he's likely first in line to get paired with Aaron Ekblad, who signed an eight-year extension recently.

There's more, but there is one that I will address that caught my eye, and that is...

Alexander Radulov: One year, $5.75 million to play in Montreal. If you remember his first NHL stints with Nashville, it was pretty headache inducing, right down to Radulov being benched for a game due to missing curfew in the 2012 playoffs. From 2012 until now, he had played in the KHL, falling short with CSKA in the last two seasons. Montreal needs offense, but this may be too much of a gamble, as Radulov was never a proven player in the NHL, and few players who spent the majority of their careers in the KHL ever see that success translate to the NHL level.