Monday, August 29, 2016

Is it October Yet?

It's getting closer to the annual Pucks and Rocks NHL season preview, and it will be the last one before Las Vegas enters the NHL in 2017. Everything you expect from this preview, you're getting, and as always, the teams covered will be in alphabetical order, so when your team comes up, if you have agreements, pitchforks, torches, etc., all are welcome.

Friday, August 26, 2016

In the News...

There were many things going on in the NHL, with a trade, coaching announcements, and a new captain all being on the ledger. For at least half of those announcements, the Arizona Coyotes were at the center of them, so let's get caught up.

First, the trade, and the Arizona Coyotes acquired Dave Bolland and Lawson Crouse from the Flordia Florida Panthers in exchange for a third round pick in next year's draft and a conditional second round pick in 2018. For Florida, they get a little cap space after clearing Bolland's contract off the books, but it comes at the cost of a player with power forward potential in Crouse. Of course, there is the matter of getting Jonathan Huberdeau signed to a long-term deal, and the pipeline is still fairly strong, and given the glut of forwards, somebody had to be moved to get Bolland moved. For Arizona, they've announced that Bolland is unlikely to play for the forseeable future, meaning that his contract is likely nothing more than a way to stay above the cap floor beyond this season, as both Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk's contracts come off the books after the season. Crouse offers a power forward option for a Coyotes team that is likely going to be in need of it once guys like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Dylan Strome all either make the roster or make a bigger impact.

The Coyotes were also in the news for coaching announcements, as they hired Mike Van Ryn, Steve Potvin, and Dawn Braid to be a part of their coaching staff. The last name on that list is significant because Braid becomes the first female to have a full-time coaching spot on an NHL roster, as she will be the skating coach. Her credentials include consulting gigs with Anaheim, Toronto, Calgary, and Buffalo, and was the director of skating development at Athletes Training Center in Mississauga, ON, where one of the clients included John Tavares. Van Ryn will be the development coach while Potvin becomes the skills coach.

The other coaching announcement involves the Colorado Avalanche, who hired Jared Bednar away from the now Cleveland Monsters to be their head coach. A lifelong minor leaguer in his playing days, Bednar achieved success in both the ECHL and AHL levels, coaching the Carolina Stingrays to a championship, as well as coaching in Peoria and in the Columbus Blue Jackets' system with both Springfield and then-Lake Erie, winning a title with Lake Erie last season. It will be up to Bednar to do what neither Joe Sacco nor Patrick Roy could do, and that is build up a credible defense, something that he should have familiarity with, as he was a defenseman in his playing days.

Last bit of news is the captaincy, and one spot is now spoken for, as the St. Louis Blues announced that Alex Pietrangelo will be replacing David Backes as captain starting next season. The decision is the right one, as Pietrangelo has grown into an all-around defender who certainly has the potential to be even better as he enters his prime years.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Signings in Missouri

The Missouri Mavericks added to their roster today, as they brought back Rocco Carzo into the fold and signed Dane Fox, both under one year deals for this coming season.

Carzo amassed 15 goals and 41 assists last season with the Mavericks, and was a major player down the stretch as he helped the Mavericks claim the regular season title. Fox comes to the Mavericks after playing two seasons in Kalamazoo, where he scored 26 goals last season and 30 goals the season before that. He was best known for breaking the Erie Otters' goal scoring record, amassing 64 goals in his final season there in 2013-14, winning the Overager of the Year award that season in the OHL.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Getting the Blues

In news today that should further the hockey market in Missouri and Kansas, the Missouri Mavericks announced today that they have a working agreement with the St. Louis Blues starting this coming season. While it doesn't affect the Mavericks' current agreement with the New York Islanders, as they will still be their ECHL affiliate, it also means that the Blues, who were one of four teams to not have an ECHL affiliate prior to today (Columbus, Florida, and New Jersey are the others), will have the ability to send players to Missouri from their AHL affiliate in the Chicago Wolves.

Given the success of both the Mavericks and Blues last season, with the Mavericks winning the regular season title and the Blues making the Conference Finals for the first time since 2001, the opportunity to grow the game in Missouri and Kansas is one that is there, and as well, the Blues won't have far to send players in the ECHL if they choose. The move also provides another outlet for the Blues to continue to grow, as they prepare for the 2017 Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks and as they prepare for their 50th year in the NHL.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

From Bright Minds to Bright Lights

Since he announced that he would not sign with the Nashville Predators, the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012, Jimmy Vesey was seen as both a hot commodity and public enemy number one, depending on what team you were rooting for at that point. His rights were traded to Buffalo prior to the NHL Draft, but his intention to test the free agency market was not to be denied. A few days after becoming a free agent, he has decided on a team that he will play for, and it's a team that needs younger talent.

The New York Rangers swooped in and were able to sign Vesey to a two-year deal. The move is great for the Rangers, who have been notorious for sacrificing their future for the now, often to little success. This past June, the Rangers didn't make their first pick until the third round, when they took former OHL Exceptional Status player and enigma Sean Day. Looking at the Rangers' prospect pool, their top player there is Pavel Buchnevich, who is expected to come across the pond from the KHL after being signed to an entry-level deal. While things aren't nearly as bleak, there could be more to be done, particularly since the Rangers are all-in to try and get Henrik Lundqvist a Stanley Cup as he turns 35 during the season and the window is closing. The good news? The want to get younger has manifested itself in guys like Kevin Hayes, Vesey, and the newly acquired Mika Zibanejad, all of whom are 25 and under. The bad news? Potential is all it is still, as the Rangers continue to rely on Lundqvist to steal games for them and there just isn't enough proven scorers not named Rick Nash. Certainly, the Eric Staal trade was not what the Rangers were hoping for, and now, they have to figure out Lundqvist's successor, as he can't play forever, and a Cory Schneider clone isn't going to fall from the sky the way it did for New Jersey in 2013.

As for Vesey, he has a lot to live up to, given the drama surrounding his decision to spurn Nashville and sign with a Rangers team that could be a mess in a few years as opposed to Stanley Cup contenders like Chicago or even teams on the rise like  Buffalo and Toronto. Recent Hobey Baker history suggests Vesey will succeed, as he follows both Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau to the NHL. However, there is a 12 year gap as far as successful NHLers, as the last one to have a lengthy career was Jordan Leopold. The pressure will be on Vesey to perform, but given that the lights will still be on Lundqvist and Nash, it is possible that Vesey could one day make Broadway his own.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A New (Wheat) King in Town

Just because Kelly McCrimmon left the Brandon Wheat Kings' coaching and front office staff doesn't mean that he doesn't have a hand in picking the team's new personnel, as he still has ownership stake in the team. Today, he introduced the coaching staff that will try to see the Wheat Kings to the league's first back-to-back WHL title since 1994-95, when the Kamloops Blazers turned the trick.

The new head coach is David Anning, who has been with the Wheat Kings in some capacity since the 2012-13 season. Before that, he plied his trade in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, spending time with the Steinbach Pistons, Dauphin Kings, and Winnipeg Saints in various capacities, including head coach and General Manager with Winnipeg. Don MacGillivray and Aaron Rome will be joining him as Assistant coaches, and while MacGillivray will be providing bench experience, having coached in the MJHL like Anning, Rome is fresh off of an NHL career that saw stops in Anaheim, Columbus, Vancouver, and Dallas. Darren Ritchie moves from behind the bench as an Assistant coach to become the new Director of Scouting while Tyler Plante returns to his junior team, this time as the Goaltending coach.

I have to say that it's a rather interesting dichotomy of who makes up the staff, as Anning is a 30-year old who has limited coaching experience, but a good idea of what is expected of the Wheat Kings, having served under McCrimmon for much of his time in Brandon. MacGillivray and Rome will provide differing viewpoints, as Rome recently played in the NHL while MacGillivray will provide Anning a contemporary, as both coached in the MJHL. Ritchie's promotion comes as no surprise, as he has been around Brandon as a coach for nine years, so learning what McCrimmon wants in players that come through should be second nature, while Plante brings experience from his time domestically and abroad to give the next generations of goalies knowledge.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Leaders Wanted

The NHL season is less than two months away, and there are vacancies as far as who the captains will be, as well as potential changes with a couple of teams and one team already pulling the trigger on the change. Let's look at the teams that are or could be entering the season with a new captain:

Buffalo Sabres: Currently, Brian Gionta is the captain, but with just one year left on his current deal and the fact that his skills have been in decline for some time, it may be wise for the Sabres to think about a new captain. Ryan O'Reilly is the favorite to be the next captain, the only question is when he will inherit that role.

Carolina Hurricanes: The mid-season trade of Eric Staal means the Hurricanes will have a new captain. However, there is no clear cut leader in the clubhouse, as Jordan Staal is the closest they have, and he hasn't put up the numbers the elder Staal did when he was at the top of his game. Going with four alternate captains would be the best way to go, though if Justin Faulk shows something, he could swoop in and take the captaincy.

Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog is currently the captain, but there have been rumors of him being on the move to acquire an NHL-ready defender. However, with Patrick Roy's unexpected resignation, that could mean Landeskog isn't going anywhere in the near future.

Edmonton Oilers: They went without a captain last year, as Andrew Ference was stripped of the C, and it is likely that the Oilers will once again, go with four alternate captains. The favored bet here is that they're going to wait until Connor McDavid is ready to inherit the role.

Florida Panthers: With Willie Mitchell likely to retire, the Panthers will need a new captain. However, picking from Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and Jonathan Huberdeau will not be an easy task. Expect the Panthers to go with four alternate captains, with Jaromir Jagr likely occupying one of those A's in a mentor role.

Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown had the captaincy handed to Anze Kopitar, and it was the right time to make this move, as Brown hasn't produced to his current deal, and perhaps not being burdened with added responsibility means an uptick in on-ice production. As for Kopitar, he's proven as a productive player and as one of the leaders of the Kings.

Nashville Predators: The Shea Weber-PK Subban trade sent shockwaves through the NHL, and in the process, left Nashville looking for a new captain. If they're looking to fill the gap in the interim, Mike Fisher would be the logical choice. Roman Josi doesn't appear to be ready for the role yet, but he was also the better defender last year. Subban has embraced the trade to Nashville, and it is not out of the question that he could be the guy that replaces Weber, both on the ice and with the captain's C.

St. Louis Blues: David Backes changed addresses in the off-season, and while Vladimir Tarasenko may appear to be the logical choice to be captain, it would be a folly to do so if it causes a decrease in goal scoring. Alex Pietrangelo would be the safer, and more likely pick.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly has been a name kicked around as the next Maple Leafs captain. The front office appears to be leaning towards a player with more experience, which means Leo Komarov may be the guy they pick until Rielly is ready.

Winnipeg Jets: Andrew Ladd's trade mid-season left the Jets without a captain for part of last season. There are at least two options the Jets can go towards, as Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler are favorites to inherit the role. If they want to go bold, Mark Scheifele would be the answer.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Digging Out

When Patrick Roy took over as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche in 2013, the results were immediate and he came in like a house of fire. Fast forward to today, and not only is that house burnt to ash, but Roy resigned as head coach after one great season followed by two mediocre seasons.

Where to begin? When Roy was hired, it was with Joe Sakic at the head of the operations when it came to roster decisions, and yes, Sakic is still there. Roy was plucked from Quebec of the QMJHL, where he led the Remparts to a Memorial Cup in 2006, but was better known for his outbursts, something that carried over in one of his first NHL games as head coach in a game against Anaheim. Along the way, he led the Avs to a Central Division title, helped waste the 2014 first round pick on Conner Bleackley, who was re-taken by St. Louis in this year's draft, fall to last place in 2015, and oversaw a collapse that saw the Avs miss the playoffs again this season. Oh, and the defense was mostly non-existent in his tenure, putting a great amount of pressure on the goalies to steal games.

What happens from here? The Avs are now in search mode for a head coach, and a name that is floating around is Bob Hartley, late of Calgary who also coached the Avs to a Stanley Cup in 2001. Of course, if true, Hartley would be replacing the guy that once did a little rearranging of Hartley's office in the middle of a temper tantrum. As for Roy, it is unclear whether he will be looked upon for an NHL coaching gig anytime soon, given the timing of his departure from the Avs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cleveland Branded

It's been ten years in the making, but in a move that coincides with their winning of the Calder Cup plus their Quicken Loans Arena co-tenants the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA title, the Lake Erie Monsters have officially announced that they will become the Cleveland Monsters. It's been a move that's practically overdue, as the Monsters have played in Cleveland since their formation ten years ago. In accordance to the name change, the Monsters will also have an updated set of uniforms:

Yes, the Monsters are brandishing the same color scheme as the Cavaliers, and yes, the awful piping is on the sweaters. However, the unique color scheme is great in that it truly makes the Monsters Cleveland's team and not just merely copying their NHL parent Columbus Blue Jackets. The gold sweater is their alternate while the black is their primary color sweater. The only gripe would be the black sweater, as the diagonal word mark rarely ever works for teams not named the New York Rangers, but it does offer a change of pace for the Monsters, as each has a different logo on the front. However things turn out, from this point forward, it will be much easier to point out who the now Cleveland Monsters are, as they will start their title defense with a look that no one else in the AHL is copying.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Fight Night in the KHL

The ninth season of the KHL hasn't even gotten out of the pre-season stages, and already, the wolves are out. If it's not head coaches fighting, as Yevgeni Popikhin of Neftekhimik and Peter Skudra of Torpedo did last Saturday, it's Damir Ryspayev sending a Kunlun Red Star player to the hospital and attempting to fight the entire team today. There is video of this, and rather than attempt to explain what went down, I'll let the video do the talking:

As you can see, it was clear that Ryspayev went hunting for Kunlun players, and given the history of Ryspayev, who amassed 111 PIM in just 16 games last season, and the history of Andrei Nazarov, head coach of Barys Astana who used to be an NHL enforcer and is well-known for being short-tempered dating back to his days as head coach of Vityaz, it makes you wonder if either should have a place in any hockey arena anywhere. It's also worth nothing that in their previous matchup, both teams combined for 196 PIM, so whether or not emotions truly boiled over for either or both teams, it's not making the KHL look any better right now.

Going Back in Time

With the NHL Heritage Classic just under three months away, it was time for both the Edmonton Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets to reveal what they would be wearing when they clash at Investors Group Field in late October. The alumni rosters for both teams were also announced, and in accordance to that announcement, their uniforms were unveiled.

First, the alumni: and while the Oilers will be wearing their familiar blue sweaters with orange shoulders and traditional striping, the Jets will be bringing back the sweaters from their first incarnation as an NHL team. No problems there. Now, for the current NHL teams: the Oilers are just basically carrying over their special sweaters from last season into this game. Good call, as they have grown in popularity since they were announced prior to last season. The Jets will be employing the same template as the Oilers, only the design will incorporate much of their first season in the WHA. Again, it's a winning look, as it's fairly simple in design. The only hangup will be that the home team will be wearing white, something that generally goes against the (silly) rule of home teams wearing their colored uniforms, but since the Oilers were already locked in with their orange sweaters, putting the Jets in white made sense, particularly since the National Football League has gone with the rather ill-advised idea of trying both teams in their special colored uniforms for Thursday night games.

In all, the entire Heritage Classic promises to be not only a matchup of two teams with loads of promise, but also two teams that will definitely look good while gliding across the ice on a football field in Winnipeg.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

From the Prairies to the Neon Lights

There were some major changes in the past few days in Brandon, MB, as the Wheat Kings will be opening their championship defense with a new radio voice and a new head coach and a new General Manager. First, the radio voice, and longtime voice of Wheat Kings games on CKLQ Bruce Luebke will not be back to announce games with the radio station. No further word on this matter has been given at this time.

Now, the matter of the head coach and the General Manager, as they were the same person at varying times this decade. The as-yet-to-be-named Las Vegas NHL team did what the Toronto Maple Leafs were unable to do last off-season: lure Kelly McCrimmon away from the Wheat Kings. His role with Las Vegas will be as Assistant General Manager, meaning he will be serving under General Manager George McPhee. McCrimmon will still be with the team as one of the owners, along with the rest of his family, so finding a new General Manager and head coach will happen with his stamp on it.

What does Las Vegas get? With McPhee, they get a guy who oversaw the Washington Capitals' climb from the doldrums in 2005 to annual playoff contenders, though his inability to get the missing pieces, plus a few ill-advised trades did him in after the 2013-14 season. Hiring McCrimmon will be beneficial, as he oversaw the Wheat Kings' rise to the top of the WHL this season with timely trades and using picks in the Bantam and Import Drafts to pick up key players such as Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, and Stelio Matheos.