Monday, July 10, 2017

Time to Eulogize the Capitals?

It's been a rather interesting time for the Washington Capitals, as they have not only failed to make the Conference Finals in any of Alex Ovechkin's time there, but now there are many questions of whether their window of winning a Stanley Cup is about to slam shut.

To understand where the Capitals are in terms of potential salary cap hell, a spot currently occupied by the Los Angeles Kings and however it shakes out in the future, the Montreal Canadiens, let's look at the Capitals since the off-season began. They signed TJ Oshie to an eight-year extension, which isn't bad until you realize that he's going to be 38 by the time his contract ends and that is far too much term and possibly money, as it's a $5.75 million hit per year according to CapFriendly, for a player that simply isn't a leading guy. Next, the failure to buy out Brooks Orpik's contract meant that the Capitals risked losing a defender in the expansion draft, which they did, when Nate Schmidt was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights. This year's draft can be considered a waste for the Capitals, as they didn't have a pick in the first three rounds, and the picks they did make may very well have little to no impact in the long run. With the start of free agency, they lost Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner on the first day. While losing Williams isn't a fatal blow in the long run, Shattenkirk will be the scar of another playoff failure, as a first round pick in this year's draft was the cost of a Shattenkirk rental while Alzner was a reliable player on the blue line. It should be noted that they also extended Dmirty Orlov for five years, which takes effect after next season. Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov was signed to an eight-year deal, which carries a near-$8 million hit annually. In case you're asking, they also signed Andre Burakovsky to a two-year, $3 million bridge deal and will have another year of Phillipp Grubauer, both of whom carry reasonable cap hits.

Where the Capitals stand, they need to find six other warm bodies and only have a shade over $4 million to play with. They have at least three years of Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Holtby left, so their window is really closing, and seemingly, they can ill-afford another Shattenkirk situation, as they will need to soon replenish their prospect pool in everywhere except in goal, as they appear pretty well-stocked there. The reality is that at some point, the Capitals will fall by the wayside in pretty much the same manner that Vancouver Canucks have from 2010 (their height) up until now.

Friday, June 30, 2017

NHL Draft Grades

The NHL Draft has come and gone, and I've had a little time to assess what every team has done. If you're keeping score on how many predictions I got right, I got Cale Makar, Cody Glass, and Owen Tippett with the correct teams and in the right slots, plus Klim Kostin going to the right team, but 11 slots lower than expected (he went 31st overall). Now, it's time to look at what each team did and hand out arbitrary grades.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks lost their first round pick in the Patrick Eaves deal, and given that they just resigned him to a new deal, it appears to be a first round pick well spent. They did incredibly well to pick up both Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand in the second round while they addressed their potential black hole in the goalie pipeline with Olle Eriksson-Ek in the fifth round. Jack Badini and Kyle Olson were also picked, and clearly, the Ducks have confidence in their blue line, as none of the picks were defensemen. Grade: B+

Arizona Coyotes: Most of their picks were on the blue line, with Pierre-Olivier Joseph having the most potential of the bunch. He needs to add weight, but he has all of the makings of another Oliver Ekman-Larsson. I didn't like that they didn't take a goalie in the draft, as it's rather barren beyond Adin Hill, but I did like Tyler Steenbergen, as he could be a steal in the fifth round. Grade: B-

Boston Bruins: The Bruins went predominantly centers and defensemen, with no wingers taken. Urho Vaakanainen was a safe pick, and given Jakub Zboril's slight regression in his development, it's not a bad pick. Jack Studnicka was a pick I liked here, as he fits the Bruins mold for centers. Grade: B

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres picked the best player available when it came time for their turn in the first round in Casey Mittelstadt. He will need a year, minimum, but he can eventually slot in behind Jack Eichel as a number two center. Other than Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, however, the rest of the draft wasn't necessarily that great, as I thought they took a little long to address their blue line deficiencies. Grade: B-

Calgary Flames: For just having one pick in the first three rounds, the Flames made it count, as Juuso Valimaki will eventually slot in with TJ Brodie once he gets developed. The rest of their draft was throwing darts and hoping they hit the bullseye, but they did pick up Travis Hamonic in a trade, bolstering their blue line right away. Grade: C (not counting the Hamonic trade)

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes need a number one center, and while Martin Necas doesn't necessarily have that ceiling, he does provide speed, another aspect that the Hurricanes currently lack. Most of their picks have rather low ceilings, but are largely safe bets for lower end roles if they make the NHL, especially Stelio Mattheos. Grade: B

Chicago Blackhawks: With losing Trevor van Riemsdyk and Niklas Hjalmarsson in the days leading up to the draft, it was no surprise that the majority of their picks were defensemen. Henri Jokiharju was a reach, but he fits what the Blackhawks want out of their defensemen. With nine picks, the Blackhawks filled every position except in goal, where they could have used someone for much later. Grade: B

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs needed to hit a homerun on their first pick, and with Cale Makar, that's exactly what they did. While he is a year away, minimum, he has all of the makings of a franchise defender. They also did well in drafting Connor Timmins in the second round, further fortifying their shaky blue line. The rest of the draft wasn't as inspiring. Grade: B+

Columbus Blue Jackets: With no first round pick this year, the Blue Jackets could afford to just simply add warm bodies into the prospect pool. Picking Alexandre Texier was a surprise choice, but he fits exactly what the Blue Jackets want in a player, as he provides grit. Grade: C+

Dallas Stars: The Stars addressed their biggest problems in the first round, as Miro Heiskanen will add stability to a blue line that sorely lacked a steady presence while Jake Oettinger adds a top end goalie that should be ready by the time Ben Bishop's contract ends. They also drafted Dylan Ferguson, who got flipped for Marc Methot, further helping their blue line. Grade: B+ (moved up to A- after the trade for Methot)

Detroit Red Wings: For the most part, it was about getting as many players as they could for the Red Wings. They did fill a need for offense in Michael Rasmussen, who also happens to fill a size need as well. It helps that he can skate well. I liked the pick of Keith Petruzzelli, who could figure into the golatending future if he picks up a few extra pounds and develops as expected in college. Grade: C

Edmonton Oilers: They took a major chance on Kailer Yamamoto, but not based on skill. He's got a fair amount of filling out to do, but only a 5'9" frame to work with. However, his skill set should work with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Getting Stuart Skinner in the third round was also a smart move. Grade: B

Florida Panthers: The Panthers only had five picks, but they already have a considerably deep prospect pool. Getting the best scorer available in Owen Tippett was great, though reaching for Aleksi Heponiemi could be the bigger payoff if he gains weight, as he's just a buck-forty. Grade: B-

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are still in salary cap hell, given they're still on the books for both Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik. However, they did incredibly well in the draft, going down the middle with all their picks, as only wingers were not picked. Getting Gabe Vilardi at 11 was smart, as was picking up a rising Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Matt Villalta is another option in the eventuality that Jonathan Quick will retire, but the Kings hope that won't happen for a few years. Grade: B+

Minnesota Wild: Without a first or second round pick, the Wild had to make the most out of what they did have, and it seems like only Ivan Lodnia could be a potential NHLer. Size was largely ignored, as four out of the six picks are under 6' and only one breaks the 200 pound mark. Grade: D+

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens need scorers, and none of the picks look like a gamebreaking scorer. As a matter of fact, none of the picks were wingers. Ryan Poehling's potential ceiling is 60 points while they appeared to overcompensate for losing Mikhail Sergachev by adding four defenders. Grade: C-

Nashville Predators: The Predators paid lip service to each of the positions, with every spot getting one player richer after the draft. The best picks were Eeli Tolvanen, a pure goal scorer who fell to them at 30 and may very well begin his pro career sooner rather than later, and Jacob Paquette, the second to last pick in the draft who could see his numbers go up with a bigger role in Kingston. Grade: A

New Jersey Devils: They get a passing grade just for picking Nico Hischier, a player that may need another year in major junior, as he needs to pack on a few pounds, but he provides a dynamic presence down the middle. While they didn't fill their blue line needs until late, they did pick up a potential steal in the fourth round in Nikita Popugaev, who fell due to a drop in production late in the draft year. Grade: A-

New York Islanders: The Islanders went defensemen with their first three picks and left wingers with their last two picks. It is debatable whether any of them will have an impact, but the trade of Travis Hamonic for a 2018 first round pick indicates they may be hedging their bets in the case that this year doesn't pan out for them. Grade: C

New York Rangers: They reached on their two first round picks, but Lias Andersson was a solid pick while Filip Chytil could surprise if he pans out. The Rangers are still in win-now mode, as none of this year's picks are expected to contribute in two years. Grade: C+

Ottawa Senators: For just having four picks, the Senators did pretty well in shoring up their depth. Shane Bowers isn't a top center, though the draft was pretty thin on top centers after Hischier and Nolan Patrick, but he should be no worse than a quality third line center. Alex Formenton could be another London Knight that breaks out post-draft year while Jordan Hollett was a value pick late in the draft and could be a factor in net. Grade: B-

Philadelphia Flyers: Nolan Patrick was obviously a great pick, as he now figures to make the opening night roster thanks to a trade that sees the Flyers saying good-bye to Brayden Schenn. Morgan Frost was a reach, but they made up for it in value by taking Isaac Ratcliffe in the second round and Matthew Strome in the fourth round. The Flyers continue to replenish their pipeline, and now, all facets appear to be plentiful. Grade: A

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins traded out of the first round to take Ryan Reaves, who figures to be the cop on a team that can use one. As for the actual draft, the Penguins drafted four defenders, with the best potential going to Zach Lauzon. As is the case with recent drafts, the Penguins are in no hurry to rush any of their prospects. Grade: B+

San Jose Sharks: They reached for Josh Norris, but the potential as a Logan Couture clone was great, and the Sharks would gladly take it if that is the case. The Sharks stocked themselves down the middle with two other centers, a need that may be coming if Joe Thornton bolts in free agency. Grade: B-

St. Louis Blues: The Blues added Brayden Schenn and lost Ryan Reaves in draft day trades, and they added a solid two way player in Robert Thomas, as well as power forward Klim Kostin in the draft. They addressed their blue line late in the draft. Grade: B

Tampa Bay Lightning: Going with mostly centers in the draft, their best pick was defenseman Callan Foote, who suddenly gives the Lightning a strong prospect pool of defenders, which includes recently acquired Mikhail Sergachev. If Alexander Volkov and Alexei Lipanov come over to North America within a few years, they stand a decent chance of making an impact on the Lightning. Grade: B+

Toronto Maple Leafs: Timothy Liljegren headlines a pretty good draft pool for the Maple Leafs, and while he had a poor season, his potential is such that he could be the offensive starter from the blue line that the Leaf have lacked since Tomas Kaberle. Eemeli Rasanen is an intriguing defender who is a project, but has the size to be a difference maker while Ian Scott is a good option in goal. Grade: A-

Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson was a slight reach in the first round, but his potential marks out to be a number two center, at worst, once the Sedins move on. Their next three picks were great, as Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich were solid picks, as was goalie Michael DiPietro. Grade: B+

Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights' plan was go down the middle, and they did incredibly well with most of those picks. Cody Glass was a great pick at six while Nick Suzuki figures to slot behind him within a couple of years. Erik Brannstrom was a bit of a reach, but Nic Hague was a solid value pick in the second round. One sleeper to watch is Jake Leschyshyn, who figures to get a bigger role with Regina next season. Grade: A

Washington Capitals: Bereft of a draft pick for the first three rounds, this looks like a throwaway draft for the Capitals. None look like a contributor down the line, but the Caps have proven people wrong before. It's just harder to say so for this year. Grade: F

Winnipeg Jets: Though well stocked on prospects, the Jets did alright this year, with Kristian Vesalainen providing a possible big body that can score up front, thus cutting down on the possibility of moving Dustin Byfuglien to forward. Dylan Samberg is a few years away, but he has potential on the blue line. Grade: B-

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fielding a Team

The Expansion Draft has come and gone, and now, each of the 31 teams will be ready to go on the ice. The Vegas Golden Knights spent close to the cap, with just $0.9 million left over after the draft and various trades. With that, let's look at each of the players taken from the existing 30 teams plus trades.

Clayton Stoner-Taken from Anaheim, the Golden Knights were enticed to take him when the Ducks agreed to also trade Shea Theodore to them. Theodore is more likely to make an impact than Stoner, whose contract comes off the books after next season.

Teemu Pulkkinen-AHL goal scorer who is on the clock to find his game in the NHL or be doomed to career AHL'er. The Golden Knights will be his fourth NHL team, after Detroit, Minnesota, and Arizona couldn't get much out of him.

Colin Miller-The Bruins needed to make room for Charlie McAvoy, and Miller's departure will do just that. As for the Golden Knights, a third line role appears likely, though if he can get his PPG closer to his rookie year, a second pairing role could be in his future.

William Carrier-Buffalo traded a draft pick to the Golden Knights as a likely guard against them taking Linus Ullmark. Carrier will be on his third NHL team, but will likely be given a bigger role.

Deryk Engelland-He was entering free agency, but the Golden Knights convinced him to sign a new deal, enabling them to bring him home. Adds grit and not much else.

Connor Brickley-The Hurricanes traded a fifth-round pick to entice the Golden Knights into picking Brickley, and they may not be done dealing.

Trevor Van Riemsdyk- Solid defensive option taken from Chicago, he too, could be on the move if the Golden Knights decide he isn't an answer on the blue line. He's on the move, as Carolina traded to get him.

Calvin Pickard-Every team needs a backup goalie, and Pickard will fit that description (more on who he's backing up). He wasn't ready for a full-time starting gig, but the Golden Knights will be a better team up front than his former home in Colorado.

William Karlsson-The Blue Jackets threw in their first round pick to ensure that the Golden Knights would take him. Karlsson figures to challenge for a spot on the second line, as...

Cody Eakin-Barring anything out of the blue, Eakin enters the season as the Golden Knights' first line center. A very good second liner, this is his chance to shine with a bigger role now that he isn't behind Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza.

Tomas Nosek-Likely headed for the AHL, Nosek couldn't crack a rather thin Detroit lineup.

Griffin Reinhart-Reinhart has yet to fulfill his potential, and now that the Golden Knights are his third team since being drafted in 2012, he is on the clock to prove that he is not a bust.

Jon Marchessault-A 30-goal scorer, the Panthers threw in Reilly Smith to ensure that the Panthers would not lose either Roberto Luongo or Jason Demers.

Brayden McNabb-The Kings didn't lose when McNabb was taken, but given that they're still saddled with the contracts of Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, they were hoping for a lot more, especially since they're officially in salary cap hell.

Erik Haula-The Wild threw in Alex Tuch and an assurance from the Golden Knights that Haula would be signed to a new deal if they took him. At worst, he's a solid fourth line player.

Alexei Emelin-Physical presence, was likely picked as part of a later trade, which will be discussed then.

James Neal-Nashville didn't want to lose him, but given their lack of center depth plus Neal agreeing to waive his NMC, it had to happen. Vegas gets a player good for 30 goals, but also with just one year left on his contract.

Jon Merrill-Second pairing defender duty is likely awaiting Merrill, who may very well be paired with a defensively responsible player that the Golden Knights picked up, which will be mentioned later.

JF Berube-Most likely headed to the AHL, he was picked because the Islanders threw in Mikhail Grabovski and a first round pick this year.

Oscar Lindberg-Solid center who will likely see third-line duty and possibly more if he outplays William Karlsson.

Marc Methot-Defensively responsible, his likely defense partner could be Jon Merrill.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Likely AHL bound, he can fill in on an NHL roster if injuries impact the team, and he provides grit and leadership in the locker room.

Marc-Andre Fleury-The face of the franchise, he needed a fresh start now that Matt Murray is firmly entrenched as the Penguins' starter. Still, Fleury has a few good years left and can be a sure thing on what is most likely few sure things on the Golden Knights.

David Schlemko-The likely condition of the Golden Knights taking Emelin, Schlemko is headed to Montreal.

David Perron-Offensively gifted, but consistency forever remained an issue in his NHL career thus far.

Jason Garrison-Considerable money freed up for the Lightning, they also threw in negotiating rights to Nikita Gusev, and given that the Golden Knights not only have a solid top pairing guy, but also a lure for Gusev in his former SKA teammate Vadim Shipachyov, they made out pretty well here.

Brendan Leipsic-The forgotten man in the Maple Leafs' youth movement, he gets a fresh start, but is now on his third team. Expect him to challenge for a spot on the NHL roster.

Luca Sbisa-Possible that he could be paired with Jason Garrison, but also possible he plays third pairing minutes, too. Much maligned in Vancouver, he's far better in his own end.

Nate Schmidt-Defender with promise, he will see more time in the NHL, as he isn't behind the likes of John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

Chris Thorburn-Fourth line duty awaits this physical presence. The Golden Knights also acquired the Jets' first round pick this year and gave up the first round pick originally owned by Columbus in return.

The Golden Knights now own the 6th, 13th, and 15th overall picks in this year's draft. The question is whether they decide to move two of the three or all three in an effort to get either the first or second overall pick.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rebranding Madness

Last night, the NHL and Adidas made their pact official, as the rebranded uniforms for each team were unveiled, and to say most were rather disappointing would be an understatement. Since every team unveiled their new home looks, rather than go through each team, I'll go through the highlights and lowlights.

Before getting into that, it should be noted that most of the teams will carry over their looks from last year, with the collar being the lone exception, as it will look decidedly different.

The highlights: There were really only four teams who benefited the most from the Adidas rebrand.

The Colorado Avalanche were the worst affected by the Reebok branding of 2007, but now that the jagged striping that adorned their first looks has returned, it automatically puts the Avs in the highlight category. Granted, I would have loved for more than gray separating the maroon and the blue, but given how badly their Reebok jerseys looked, you'll take what you can get.

I can technically put the Carolina Hurricanes in the highlights category, since they returned the storm warning flags onto the waist stripes, albeit in a more subtle manner. Adding more black to the waist and arm stripes actually adds a little more to what was a rather ordinary look.

The Minnesota Wild almost always put out winners when it comes to sweaters, and this look is no exception. The fact that they're going with forest green as their regular home colors only cements the look as one of the best of the rebranding.

I'm going to level with you: I had extremely low expectations for what the Vegas Golden Knights were going to trot out. To say that they exceeded expectations would be an understatement, as it looks passable, though the red does look out of place.

As for lowlights, let's just say that Calgary, Ottawa, Columbus, Vancouver, and Washington all had their chances to make a fresh start, and none of them took that chance, instead opting for familiar looks. Also, Buffalo only took half a chance, getting rid of the piping, but for some reason, keeping the numbers on the front of the jersey.

Edmonton going with orange as a full-time home jersey may be a nod to their early days in the WHA, but that doesn't mean it should have remained as such today. Going with a darker shade of blue doesn't help.

Nashville got rid of the piping, opting for a cleaner look. Too clean, if you ask me, as there's not nearly enough navy on the jersey. Even a smaller striping of navy on the waist and arm stripes would have brought it out of the lowlights category.

This was the rebranding that the New Jersey Devils went with? I was hoping for a lot more than just broadening the arm stripes and getting rid of the waist stripes, which is the biggest no-no that they could have done.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

NHL Mock Draft: Picks 16-31

With Adidas revealing all 31 teams' new (sort of, for some teams) uniforms, I'm expediting the mock draft.

16-Calgary Flames: Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane (WHL)

The Flames have had success with players like Yamamoto, as they have his contemporary height-wise in Johnny Gaudreau. Super skilled offensively, and Sam Bennett still needs wingers that can score.

17-Toronto Maple Leafs: Cal Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL)

Toronto could always use another defensive prospect, as they remain thin at that unit, a fact exposed by their third pairing of Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak getting repeatedly torched. Foote isn't a game-breaker, but he is reliable in his own end and has a little more offensive than his dad Adam, a former Colorado defender.

18-Boston Bruins: Nic Hague, D, Mississauga (OHL)

The Bruins have tried preparing for the eventuality of Zdeno Chara finally hanging it up, and though Charlie McAvoy, last year's first round pick, looks like a sure thing, the first round pick from 2015 Jakub Zboril is not as certain to be great. Hague has the size and may provide solid two-way play to go along with McAvoy's offensive prowess and Brandon Carlo's stay-at-home abilities.

19-San Jose Sharks: Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

The Sharks need young defenders in the pipeline, especially since they just gave up on Mirco Mueller living up to his potential. Joseph is a puck mover that needs to gain weight, but is checking off the boxes in most other areas.

20-St. Louis Blues: Klim Kostin, RW, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)

St, Louis got pushed around a lot last year, and despite an off-year thanks to injuries and a lack of playing time in the KHL, Kostin showed what he could do when given the time to show. Provides a physical element that was missing last year.

21-New York Rangers: Erik Brannstrom, D, HV71 (Sweden)

The Rangers are getting old on the blue line, and though they just parted ways with Dan Girardi, they still have decent ability there. The future doesn't look too bright beyond that, and Brannstrom would not only be a body on the blue line, but also a puck mover that they haven't had in a while.

22-Edmonton Oilers: Robert Thomas, C, London (OHL)

Though listed as a center Thomas can play anywhere up front, and he's likely the safest pick in the first round. The Oilers would like to have better depth up front, especially when it comes to the third and fourth lines, and Thomas can bring a two-way game to those areas right away if needed.

23-Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota): Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G, HPK Jr. (Finland)

I fully expect the Coyotes to take a goaltender either here or with their second round pick. Presuming they do like what they see in that category, it's down to Luukkonen or Jake Oettinger. Luukkonen has the higher upside, and I think he's a little closer to NHL ready.

24-Columbus Blue Jackets: Kole Lind, RW, Kelowna (WHL)

The Blue Jackets are sound defensively, but they didn't have nearly enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with Pittsburgh in the first round. Sadly, this year's draft doesn't have much in the way of offensive talent, but Lind is one of the better options available. Plus, going down the wing, the Blue Jackets could use another guy there.

25-Montreal Canadiens: Urho Vaakanainen, D, JYP (Finland)

The Canadiens just traded away Mikhail Sergachev, leaving their defensive pipeline a little less stocked. Reliability is what he will provide, but he may require a few years to develop his hockey sense a little more.

26-Chicago Blackhawks: Isaac Ratcliffe, LW, Guelph (OHL)

A project, Ratcliffe has the size that Chicago desperately needs, as they've been lacking in that lately and were pushed around by St. Louis and Nashville in recent playoff tilts, teams with at least one physical presence. He can provide a little offense, but once he gets a little more weight, his size will be his greatest asset.

27-St. Louis Blues (from Washington): Jaret Anderson-Dolan, C, Spokane (WHL)

Anderson-Dolan rose up the draft board thanks to his tournament play in the World Under-18s, and he is just now scratching the surface of his potential. With Dan Lambert now coaching Spokane, it will be interesting to see how much offense he can really provide.

28-Ottawa Senators: Jason Robertson, RW, Kingston (OHL)

Robertson could afford to improve his skating, which seems to be a theme with most draft picks this year, but if any team knows about offensive talent that needs improved skating, it's Ottawa, as Robertson draws comparisons to Mark Stone, who's done pretty well in Ottawa. Work ethic is something to watch, but the offensive skill is there.

29-Dallas Stars (from Anaheim): Kristian Vesalainen, LW, Frolunda (Sweden)

The offensive upside is there with Vesalainen, but he also had an up and down season, as he moved quite a bit. Size suggests power forward, but he may be a few years away.

30-Nashville Predators: Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

Assuming the Predators don't trade this pick in pursuit of a center like Matt Duchene or Tyler Johnson, the Predators go with the draft route, taking Poehling, who could end up a Mike Fisher clone, as in not great offensively, but very good in many areas, and can play a shutdown role if needed.

31-Pittsburgh Penguins: Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (Sweden)

Liljegren's stock took a tumble, and with Pittsburgh needing to figure out a plan in case they don't keep Justin Schultz and/or Derrick Pouliot doesn't pan out, Liljegren would fit the Penguins system perfectly, as his offense is way ahead of his defensive game.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

NHL Mock Draft: Picks 9-15

Continuing on with the NHL Mock Draft, and the rest of the lottery teams:

9. Detroit Red Wings- Eeli Tolvanen, LW, Sioux City (USHL)

Detroit was awful offensively, and short of guys like Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist finding their offensive games again, they need a game-breaker badly. Tolvanen has the potential to be just that.

10. Florida Panthers- Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL)

Florida has plenty of young talent in the pipeline, but it doesn't hurt to have another player ready, especially if Jaromir Jagr eventually hangs it up. Tippett is the biggest boom or bust pick of the potential first round players, but the upside is great here.

11. Los Angeles Kings- Martin Necas, RW, Brno (Czech Republic)

The Kings have been left behind when it comes to the changing game, which is speed. Necas provides their best chance at catching up, but he also brings a reliable two-way game up front, so it isn't just one dimension.

12. Carolina Hurricanes- Nick Suzuki, C, Owen Sound (OHL)

The Hurricanes are lacking down the middle, and while Suzuki isn't a gamebreaker down the middle, he is reliable and has enough offensive talent to one day be a number one center.

13. Winnipeg Jets- Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL)

The Jets don't have that intimidating presence up front, and while it is a folly to suggest that Rasmussen will be a great power forward, there is a lot to like, with his offense being no worse than third-line. At best, he would open up opportunities for the likes of Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning- Maxime Comtois, LW, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

While it is possible that the Lightning could lose some talent up front (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat), they do have pretty good talent in the pipeline. Comtois would add a two-way element that has largely been missing from the forward unit, with potential for above average offensive output.

15. New York Islanders- Juuso Valimaki, D, Tri-City (WHL)

Because it is unknown whether the Islanders will ever put their young talent on display, one can never know how the defensemen will pan out. In the event that most don't, it may be wise to pick one, and Valimaki is more developed offensively than defensively, but the puck mover type is what they sorely need the most.

Friday, June 16, 2017

2017 NHL Mock Draft: Picks 1-8

With the NHL Draft being next week, it's that time again for me to come up with a mock draft. Today, it will be picks 1-8, and given that there's not as much depth as in years past, it will also be predictions sure to go wrong.

1. New Jersey Devils- Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL)

New Jersey needs major help down the middle, and they have their pick of Patrick and Nico Hischier. Despite an injury-riddled season, Patrick is the most ready to step into the NHL right now. If the worst he can be is another Jonathan Toews, the Devils will gladly take it.

2. Philadelphia Flyers- Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL)

The more dynamic of the two, Hischier would be at worst, a year away because of his need to put on a little more weight. He would add to an already good offense that can always use another center to slot behind Claude Giroux.

3. Dallas Stars- Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL)

Skating concerns aside, Vilardi checks off every other box, and with Jason Spezza nearing 35, it would be a good idea to start thinking about getting a center to slot behind Tyler Seguin. At worst, he's a year away, at best, he could step in right away.

4. Colorado Avalanche- Cale Makar, D, Brooks (AJHL)

Colorado needs defensemen...badly. Getting a puck possession player up front in Tyson Jost was a start, but now, they need help on a long neglected blue line. Miro Heiskanen is the safer pick, but Colorado may wish to swing for the fences, and that is what Makar's potential is right now.Smaller player, but plays bigger than his size.

5. Vancouver Canucks- Casey Mittlestadt, C, Eden Prairie (USHS)

Split time between Eden Prairie High and Green Bay of the USHL, Mittlestadt carries great offensive potential. A year away, since he's a Minnesota commit, he could down the line, form a dynamic duo with Brock Boeser once he makes the NHL.

6. Vegas Golden Knights- Cody Glass, C, Portland (WHL)

Because nothing will be known about the Golden Knights' roster until Wednesday, they can go in any direction. Glass could at his best, be the face of a franchise that provides offense in spades.

7. Arizona Coyotes- Elias Pettersson, C, Timra (Sweden 2)

The Coyotes really need more of a veteran presence, especially if Shane Doan decides to retire. However, looking further into the future, Pettersson would be a dynamic center that has top line potential...if he can put on some weight. A couple seasons in Sweden's top league will help.

8. Buffalo Sabres- Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFK (Finland)

The last time the Sabres drafted a defenseman in the first round, they did pretty well, as Rasmus Ristolainen is their top guy now. The problem is that there's virtually little else on the blue line, and the pipeline in that section is not too great. Heiskanen at worst, would be a solid two-way player with better offensive upside than Ristolainen.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Getting Ready for the NHL Draft

With the NHL season coming to its conclusion on Sunday, that means the order for the 2017 NHL Draft is now finalized. Starting Thursday, I will make my predictions (sure to go wrong) on who goes where based on the order. Here is the order, as it stands right now.

1-New Jersey Devils
2-Philadelphia Flyers
3-Dallas Stars
4-Colorado Avalanche
5-Vancouver Canucks
6-Vegas Golden Knights
7-Arizona Coyotes
8-Buffalo Sabres
9-Detroit Red Wings
10-Florida Panthers
11-Los Angeles Kings
12-Carolina Hurricanes
13-Winnipeg Jets
14-Tampa Bay Lightning
15-New York Islanders
16-Calgary Flames
17-Toronto Maple Leafs
18-Boston Bruins
19-San Jose Sharks
20-St. Louis Blues
21-New York Rangers
22-Edmonton Oilers
23-Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)
24-Columbus Blue Jackets
25-Montreal Canadiens
26-Chicago Blackhawks
27-St. Louis Blues (from Washington)
28-Ottawa Senators
29-Dallas Stars (from Anaheim)
30-Nashville Predators
31-Pittsburgh Penguins

Thursday, June 8, 2017

New Duds for Moose Jaw

Lost in the Stanley Cup excitement (Go Preds!) are some notable changes within the major junior ranks. Today, it's about what one team will trot out starting next season.

Pictured above is what the Moose Jaw Warriors will be wearing, and the keen-eyed will notice that they take their cues from the New York Islanders' soon-to-be former third jerseys. That look didn't look too good on the Islanders, and it certainly doesn't look good on the Warriors, and to make matters worse, they decided to double the pain. The numbering is probably the best thing about it, but that's where the good news ends. The contrasting nameplate on both sets does little to actually make it work, as seemingly far too many teams use it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight, and a team that most expected to be here is taking on a team that few saw coming. Pittsburgh and Nashville are the last two standing, but only one gets the Stanley Cup. Let's get to it.

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Nashville Predators

The Penguins have the offense to spare, with Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin, but they've needed some unsung heroes to get through a tough Eastern Conference, with players such as Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and Carter Rowney getting ice time. The wild card here is in goal, where Matt Murray currently is the guy in goal after taking over due to a bad game four by Marc-Andre Fleury last series.

The Predators beat some of the best in the Western Conference in Chicago and Anaheim to get here, but now, their depth will be tested, as Ryan Johansen is out. The good news is that they've had two games to figure it out, and thus far, they are comfortable trotting out the likes of Fredrick Gaudreau and PA Parenteau to fill the void. Colton Sissons has filled in well as the number one center, and the reshuffling of the lines up front hasn't changed the way the Predators have done business. Defensively, the group is solid, and it's all backed by stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne.

Prediction: Predators in 6

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Handicapping the Memorial Cup Field

The Memorial Cup Tournament is set to get underway this weekend in Windsor, ON, and the four teams were set when the WHL playoffs were wrapped up on Sunday when the Seattle Thunderbirds won in six games over Regina, who is slated to host next year's Memorial Cup tournament. Let's look at the teams in this year's tournament, and why each can claim that they have a chance to win.


The host team, the Spitfires had a crash landing during the OHL playoffs, losing in the first round to London, thus having to wait a while before they can play again. Injuries to the likes of Logan Brown and Logan Stanley were seen as culprits, and with the extended rest, the Spitfires boast considerable talent with Mikhail Sergachev, Jeremy Bracco, and assuming they're healthy, the Logans.


They were the most dominant of the three champions in the tournament, as they lost just twice en route to the QMJHL championship. Their best players are Thomas Chabot, Matthieu Joseph, and overager Callum Booth, though they also have NHL prospects in Julien Gauthier and Nathan Noel.


The OHL champions, the Otters had their share of adversity, needing seven games to dispatch last year's champion London Knights in the Conference semi-finals, but a team that boasts prolific scorers such as Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome always have a chance to do something special. Getting key role players in trade deadline deals such as Anthony Cirelli and OHL playoffs MVP Warren Foegele pushed them over the hump.


League champions for the first time in their 40 year history, the Thunderbirds rode Matt Barzal's play into a fairly dominant start to the playoff run, sweeping top ranked Everett in the Conference semi-finals. That momentum manifested itself into a six game win against the top team in the Canadian Hockey League in the Regina Pats to win the championship. Ethan Bear, Ryan Gropp, and rookie Carl Staniowski have played key roles in addition to Barzal.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Finally Their Time

In the 40 years that the WHL has been in Seattle (for the purposes of this particular franchise, we're not counting the Totems team that played prior to the current incarnation), the Breakers/Thunderbirds have never won a league championship. Yes, they have been to the Finals, getting swept by Lethbridge in 1997 and losing to Brandon in five games last year. Last night, all of that changed, as they claimed their first WHL title in franchise history by beating the Regina Pats in six games. Alexander True scored the title-winner and in the process, pushed the Thunderbirds to their second Memorial Cup, as they hosted the tournament in 1992.

This Thunderbirds team was likely the last chance at a championship, as they are going to be losing playoff MVP Matt Barzal, defenseman of the year Ethan Bear, and Ryan Gropp to the pros. Goaltending looks secure with Carl Staniowski still in the fold, as he is not draft-eligible for another year. The big question, as it is with any successful team, is what coach Steve Konowalchuk will do, as he has overseen the transformation from an also-ran when he took over as head coach in 2011 to a championship team now. With many pro teams that could be looking to fill vacancies, as well as a Buffalo Sabres team that still needs a head coach, it may not be long before Konowalchuk moves up in the coaching world.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Conference Finals Predictions

It's down to four teams now, and the playoffs will resume Friday with the Western Conference finals. Without further ado, let's get to it.

(1)Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Nashville Predators

The Ducks had to hold off the Oilers to get here. None have been more important to the team's push than Ryan Getzlaf, who had often been maligned when it came to recent playoff history. Certainly, Randy Carlyle behind the bench has helped, as he was instrumental in settling the team down when they were in numerous holes, but it's been the likes of Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie who have been stepping up when the team has needed them the most. If there is a concern, it is in goal, where things continue to be on rocky ground at times.

The Predators' path may be unprecedented, given their ranking, but having key players at full strength has been a major key to their success. It has helped that Pekka Rinne has played like the world-beater that he's capable of being while the team continues to get contributions up and down the lineup. Playing disciplined has also helped, and it figures to be key again against a physical Ducks team that can capitalize on mistakes at any time.

Prediction: Predators in 6

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2) Ottawa Senators

The Penguins showed their playoff prowess by shaking off a 3-1 series lead loss to eventually close out the Washington Capitals in seven games. As has been the case in every series, it's been the unheralded players that have come up big, with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust playing hero in game seven. That doesn't mean the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby haven't done their part, though, as Malkin leads the team in playoff scoring while Crosby continues to be the engine of the team. Marc-Andre Fleury gives the Penguins a good problem in goal if and when Matt Murray comes back from injury.

The Senators continue to show resiliency, as they played part of the Rangers series without Erik Karlsson. He will be needed, as the Senators didn't fare so well without him. Craig Anderson has been the man in goal while Kyle Turris has become the clutch player that the Sens needed. All hands will be needed if the Sens hope to pull an upset.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ridin' High in April, Shot Down in May

It's been an interesting pro hockey career for David Rundblad, to say the least, as he was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2009. He never played for them, as he would be traded to the Ottawa Senators before the season ended for the first round pick in 2010 that became Vladimir Tarasenko. Before making his debut with the Senators in 2011, he played in Sweden, where it looked like he would fulfill his full potential. His time in Ottawa was short-lived, as in his first NHL season, he was traded to Phoenix for Kyle Turris. Most of his time there was spent with the AHL affiliate before he was traded in 2014 to Chicago, where he would log the most NHL time in the 2014-15 season, as he was a replacement for Michal Roszival while he was injured. That season also marked a high point, as he would go on to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as a member of that Blackhawks team. This season, he played in Switzerland, and beginning next season, he will take his game to Saint Petersburg, Russia, as he signed with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

An Ice Makeover

The Kootenay Ice were a bust on the ice this season as they await their new crop of talent to come through in the coming years. However, their ownership will see new people, as the Chynoweths sold to a group based out of Winnipeg that will keep the team in Cranbrook, BC. The new ownership didn't waste time in leaving their mark, as they made over the logo, converting to the logo you see here. The "Ice" wordmark is cleverly hidden in the logo, which earns points. Moreover, it means business, something that the old logo didn't quite do, as it was practically a carryover from their days in Edmonton. Uniforms will be unveiled at a later date, according to team officials.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

NHL Conference Semi-Finals Preview


(1) Washington Capitals vs. (2) Pittsburgh Penguins

The Capitals had all they could handle in a six-game series with Toronto, but in the end, they did manage to pull through. They did so despite Alex Ovechkin providing just three points (all goals). Having a balanced attack that includes TJ Oshie, Niklas Backstrom, and Justin Williams should help offset Ovechkin's struggles, particularly as he is shaking off an injury scare in the last game of the Leafs series. Braden Holtby continues to hold down the for the Capitals.

Pittsburgh had a relatively easy time with the Blue Jackets en route to a five-game series win. In spite of having to go to Marc-Andre Fleury thanks to Matt Murray being injured, the Penguins have shown some resilience, particularly since Kris Letang is out for the playoffs. It helps that their big guns (Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby) all produced in the series.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (4) New York Rangers

The Senators went to overtime in virtually every game of their series against Boston. Like Pittsburgh, they had their share of adversity, and like Pittsburgh, their big name players came up big when it counted the most. Erik Karlsson is still the engine that gets the offense going, and having Bobby Ryan finally show why the Senators traded for him a few years ago have been big factors. Craig Anderson has played well, but it's been Clarke MacArthur that has truly come up clutch after missing most of the season because of concussions.

The Rangers have ridden their defense to a six-game victory over Montreal. Henrik Lundqvist still has a few great games left in him, and the defense in front of him tightened up when it counted the most. Offensively, they may wish to ramp things up a little, as Mika Zibanejad led the team with four points. That means the likes of Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello need to pick things up a little.

Prediction: Senators in 6


(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (2) Edmonton Oilers

The Ducks had little difficulty in disposing of the Flames in a sweep. Their offense was well-balanced, with Shea Theodore emerging as a new option on the blue line. Getting Corey Perry to produce a little more would help, but with everyone bunched into the 3-5 point range, it could also be beneficial in keeping the pressure off of Perry to perform. In goal, John Gibson was healthy, but also rather shaky, as he was pulled from a start in the series. Goaltending bears watching here.

The Oilers are going to go as far as Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot will take them. Other than a game four clunker, Talbot has been as good as he's been in the regular season. McDavid is undoubtedly the man on the Oilers, but it's been the big boys (Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, and Darnell Nurse) that have come up big offensively and defensively.

Prediction: Oilers in 7

(3) St. Louis Blues vs. (4) Nashville Predators

The Blues took care of the Wild in five games thanks to Jake Allen righting his game in time. Despite Vladimir Tarasenko not being much of a factor in the series, the Blues got some production from other players, most notably Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz. Vladimir Sobotka's presence has really helped defensively.

The Predators had their way with the Blackhawks in a sweep, giving up less than a goal per game. Pekka Rinne was on top of his game, and will most likely need to be again this series. Offensively, everything goes through the JOFA line (Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen), but it's been PK Subban that has been a game-changer with his puck-moving skills from the blue line that have made it harder to key in on Roman Josi.

Prediction: Predators in 6

Friday, April 21, 2017


The Buffalo Sabres pulled off one somewhat expected move and one completely unexpected move yesterday when they fired head coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Tim Murray.

First, the somewhat expected move. Bylsma was hired in the same year that the Sabres drafted Jack Eichel. However, the bloom came off for Bylsma this season, as he showed little idea on matching lines, and in the process, rubbed Eichel the wrong way on some nights. Rumblings that Eichel would not sign an extension if Bylsma were head coach were abound, but the fact here is that Bylsma never had a good grasp of who should be where.

Now, the unexpected move, as in Tim Murray was also fired. Murray was General Manager when the Evander Kane trade went down, and while the Sabres are still waiting for that trade plus the trade for Robin Lehner to reap its rewards, it can be argued that the trade rumors surrounding Kane last season indicated that he made a mistake. In case you're asking, the Kane trade also netted Zach Bogosian and a minor league goalie, and to date, despite his off-ice problems, Kane may be the only one that could produce any kind of return, as he scored 28 goals this season, thus showing his potential. Bogosian, on the other hand, failed to stay healthy once again and did little to show why he was a former first round pick. As for the Robin Lehner trade, while he's shown flashes of being a number one goalie, it's been exactly that: flashes. Letting Chad Johnson walk prior to this season may have been an undoing, as Anders Nilsson proved to be too unreliable to give Lehner time off. Murray also didn't do too well when it came to developing a pipeline, as Brendan Guhle is the only one that can claim to be a top prospect at this time, with Alexander Nylander still a year or two away.

The Sabres, much like their NFL counterpart Bills, are a mess, and it may take a while for it to clean up, particularly if the Pegulas show the same impatience that has plagued the Buffalo franchises since the turn of the century.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Perpetual Bridesmaid?

In the wake of another successful regular season followed up by a rather disappointing playoff run, the Everett Silvertips have decided to part ways with coach Kevin Constantine. Constantine had led the Silvertips to the playoffs in each of his two stints with the team, from 2003-2007 and from 2013-2017. His first stint was arguably the team's best time, as they went to the WHL Final in his first season with the team, which also happened to be the team's first season in the league. They also went to the Conference Finals in 2006, where they were unceremoniously dumped by eventual league champion Vancouver Giants. Since then, the Silvertips have failed to reach the Conference finals.

The run of playoff failures in the last ten years prompts a question of whether the Silvertips are going the way of the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, in that they have great regular seasons, yet fall short of expectations in the playoffs. Like Washington and St. Louis this season, the Silvertips rode their top ranked defense to the top of the conference. However, like the NHL teams mentioned of the past (I say past because both the Blues and Capitals are still in it), the Silvertips often find ways to lose games. Whether it's lack of offense, as has been the characteristic of Constantine-coached teams, or the inability to develop an identity, which would be Mark Ferner, Craig Hartsburg, and John Becanic (coincidentally, those non-Constantine squads all exited in the first round of the playoffs). What could be done for the Silvertips to finally get back to the Conference Finals, at the very least? That will be a question for the next coach to answer, as they have the goaltending in Carter Hart, as he will be back next year. However, they will need to find replacements for Noah Juulsen and Dominic Zwerger, both of whom will be moving on.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Western Conference preview

With the playoffs beginning soon, it's time to look at the Western Conference.

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Calgary Flames

The Ducks rode a hot streak to win the Pacific Division crown. However, recent playoff history hasn't been particularly kind, and certainly, the pressure will be on for a deep run. Goal remains as big of a question as it ever was, as John Gibson is still a question mark thanks to injuries while Jonathan Bernier is still prone to giving up the occasional soft goal, though he did play well this season. Cam Fowler has been the leader on defense, a good thing since Hamphus Lindholm has played catch-up since ending his early season holdout. Up front, the usual suspects need to show up, as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler will need to carry the day again. One player to watch is Nick Ritchie, who needs to provide a physical presence to offset Calgary's group.

Goal is also a question in Calgary, as both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson have been streaky. The good news is that when one fails, the other is ready to pick up. Defensively, Dougie Hamilton will need to take his game to another level while up front, the emergence of Mikael Backlund as an offensive threat is welcome. Backlund's defensive prowess is also unquestioned, though it does help that the Flames can take it to a team physically with Micheal Ferland, Troy Brouwer, and Matthew Tkachuk.

Prediction: Calgary in 7

(2) Edmonton Oilers vs. (3) San Jose Sharks

Edmonton is back after an 11 year absence from the playoffs, and while everything begins with Connor McDavid, a big reason for their success is in goal. Cam Talbot set a team record for most wins in a season, and he doesn't mind being in net often. The Oilers will need him, as Laurent Brossoit is unproven if Talbot goes down. Defensively is still a work in progress, but for the first time since 2006, there is a certifiable number one pairing, as Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson came on late to provide a top pairing. Offensively, it all begins with McDavid, who took home the Art Ross Trophy, and some of the beneficiaries include Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, and Jordan Eberle. The Oilers were built to be physical, too, and that is where Maroon, Milan Lucic, and Zack Kassian will need to show up.

San Jose had a bit of a tailspin to end the season, but they are still the reigning Western Conference champions. Martin Jones has proven to be a top option in goal, and the pieces are still in place defensively. Brent Burns leads the group, and they may need to compensate for an offense that could use a pick-me-up besides Joe Pavelski.

Prediction: Edmonton in 6

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (4) Nashville Predators

For the lack of respect that Corey Crawford has gotten, there is a reason why he has two Stanley Cup rings: he comes through when it counts the most. It helps that other proven playoff veterans such as Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Brent Seabrook are in front of him. Up front, the offense is more balanced now that Artemi Panarin has firmly established himself as an option along with Patrick Kane. If there is pressure on one player, it's Jonathan Toews, who had a slightly disappointing season,, but it is the playoffs now, and you know what he can do when the lights are on brightest.

Nashville has been a streaky team. Goaltending is more of a certainty than in recent playoff runs, thanks to Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros holding down the fort there. Defensively, they've had a few injuries, but now it's time to find out just how much the trade for PK Subban will pay off, as chances need to be taken, and Subban is one of the best at taking chances. Up front, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson were the best options, with Ryan Johansen being a frequent collaborator. They will need James Neal to show up, as he had a below average season. A player to watch is Miika Salomaki, who missed most of the season, but provides a physical element to the Predators squad that needs it.

Prediction: Nashville in 7

(2) Minnesota Wild vs. (3) St. Louis Blues

Minnesota had a hot start to the season, but were tailing off by season's end. Devan Dubnyk held down the fort once again, and defensively, things were together for the most part, though there isn't a big name player in the bunch. Offensively, the Wild were balanced, though Martin Hanzal has been a disappointment since coming over at the trade deadline.

St. Louis looked like they were going to miss the playoffs as the calendar turned to February. Goal is still a question mark, as neither Jake Allen nor Carter Hutton are proven commodities in the playoffs. Defensively, they have actually gotten better despite trading away Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline. Up front, it's always going to be Vladimir Tarasenko that gets things started, but they Blues could be getting a boost from returning Vladimir Sobotka, who provides a solid defensive presence up front.

Prediction: St. Louis in 5

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Black Monday in the NHL

The day after the NHL regular season ended, a few coaches and General Managers found themselves out of a job, making the term "Black Monday" an appropriate one. Let's look at where the axe fell, where some coaches and front office people managed a short reprieve, and which teams may be in trouble down the line.

First, the casualties:

  • The Dallas Stars announced that Lindy Ruff would not return next season as head coach. In four seasons, Ruff led the team to the playoffs, but it was clear that in the just completed season, he could never solve their defensive woes and his message wasn't getting through. Gerard Gallant is rumored to be a name on the Stars' list for the next head coach.
  • Tom Rowe was relieved of both head coaching and General Manager duties, and Dale Tallon was reinstated as General Manager, effectively meaning that owner Vincent Viola admitted the error of his ways after the previous season. Bad trades, an ill-timed firing of coach Gerard Gallant mid-season, and Rowe being in over his head in both roles now have the Panthers back at square one.
  • Vancouver ended the Willie Desjardins experiment after three seasons, and in the process, canned assistants Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn. Desjardins led the team to the playoffs in his first season, but manipulating lines with little success and the second-worst record this season led to his ouster.
  • The big bomb of the day belongs to the Los Angeles Kings, who fired head coach Daryl Sutter and General Manager Dean Lombardi. Luc Robitaiile and Rob Blake were moved up in the front office, with Blake assuming the General Manager role. Three years after the Kings won their last Stanley Cup, poor trades, salary cap mismanagement, and the inability to adapt to play in the NHL the last three seasons mean that the Kings' opportunity to win is now closed.
Now, let's look at who avoided the axe for now:
  • Colorado was dead last in many categories, yet as of this writing, they have not announced whether coach Jared Bednar or VP of Hockey Operations Joe Sakic will be let go. Given that the Avs were in a bind about two months before the season, thanks to Patrick Roy leaving the head coaching job prior to this season, it would not be surprising if both were given one more year.
  • Arizona still employs Dave Tippett as head coach despite a fifth straight season of playoff-free hockey. The Coyotes took a major step back this season, and one would think that it's time to look into a new head coach.
  • The Buffalo Sabres were another team that took a step back. However, one could point to injuries as a reason for their decline, though one does have to wonder if Dan Bylsma should look over his shoulder soon. 
  • The Winnipeg Jets were a streaky team this season, often on the wrong kind, though a strong finish to the season should render Paul Maurice safe for now.
Teams that will possibly look for permanent replacements:
  • The Boston Bruins made the playoffs, and depending on how far they go could determine if Bruce Cassidy gets the interim label taken off.
  • The New York Islanders missed out, but under Doug Weight's watch, they played markedly better than under Jack Capuano. Whether or not Garth Snow remains as General Manager is most likely going to determine the coaching job's fate.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview

Another NHL season is in the books, and now, the real fun begins with the playoffs beginning Wednesday. First up is the Eastern Conference preview, and there have been a few surprises to go along with some expected results thus far.

(1) Montreal Canadiens vs. (4) New York Rangers

The Canadiens survived a coaching change, which mirrored an earlier change in 2003, to claim the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Carey Price was healthy once again, and as it always seems to be, everything will go through Price. It's not just Price that makes the Canadiens go, as Shea Weber has provided a solid presence on the blue line and while they're still looking for answers up front past Max Pacioretty (think Alex Galchenyuk and his health), the Canadiens are looking to make a deep run.

The Rangers are in this spot thanks to a rather tough Metropolitan Division that sees them get the short straw despite finishing with over 100 points on the season. Sure, Henrik Lundqvist is still in goal, but this is about as offensively driven of a team as you will find, as Mats Zuccarello leads the way. Of course, their defense could be better, as could the consistency of some players such as Michael Grabner, who fell off after a hot start to the season.

Prediction: Canadiens in 5

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) Columbus Blue Jackets

It was another wild season for Pittsburgh, as Sidney Crosby continues to lead the way, winning the Rocket Richard for most goals in a season, yet missing out on the Art Ross Trophy (more on the winner in the next piece). For the success though, injuries have played a role in their sometime struggles, as they will be without Kris Letang for the playoffs and both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray have had bouts of either inconsistency, injury, or both.

Columbus rode a hot streak in the middle of the season to the playoffs, and certainly, a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky was a big reason why the Blue Jackets are back in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets have also bought into coach John Tortorella's system, which explains their second best defense ranking. They will need that if they hope to fend off Crosby and company.

Prediction: Blue Jackets in 7

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (4) Toronto Maple Leafs

The Capitals are going all in this year. Stop if you've heard that one before. Goaltending is a major strength, as Braden Holtby and Phillipp Grubauer hold down the fort there, and in spite of Alex Ovechkin having a down year, the rest of the team has picked up the slack.

The surprise entrant of the playoff picture, the Maple Leafs have been as inconsistent as you would envision them to be, particularly since they're led by a bunch of kids who are not quite of drinking age in the U.S. Auston Matthews has been everything as advertised, but he's had help, too, as Mitch Marner led the team in assists. Defensively, the health of Frederik Andersen is one to watch, as he's been what the Leafs have hoped for. Still, this is a young group, so this may be nothing more than an opportunity to experience hockey at its best.

Prediction: Capitals in 5

(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (3) Boston Bruins

The Senators had a fair amount of adversity, from Craig Anderson taking time away to attend to his ailing wife to late-season nagging injuries to captain Erik Karlsson. While the offense struggled, as they ended up a -1 in goal scoring differential, goaltending and defense were strong, as Mike Condon helped keep the Senators afloat until Anderson came back. Now, with two good goaltenders, it will be up to them to help compensate for an offense that still needs work.

The Bruins were left for dead when they changed head coaches mid-season. However, a late-season surge puts them back into the playoffs. They aren't the same Bruins of earlier this decade, but goaltending has been a strong suit once again. When it comes to scoring, it's now David Pastrnak's team now. This Bruins team is more balanced to the point where they don't need to rely on one aspect to carry them.

Prediction: Senators in 7

Friday, April 7, 2017

Onward to the Playoffs

The Nashville Predators' season has been full of ups and downs, and many of those have been on the extreme side. It took a little luck for them to finally claim the last playoff spot on Sunday, as they needed a Kings loss to back in. Currently, they can still control where they play, as any of Chicago, Minnesota, or whoever wins the Pacific Division are potential opponents in the first round.

This piece is about the ups of the Predators season, as there have been a fair number of them. In spite of injuries, PK Subban has been everything that the Predators have hoped for, as he has brought an element to the team that has not been seen before. In goal, Pekka Rinne has played some of his best hockey, and a fair amount has to do with the team finally having a backup that can take some of the load off of him, as Juuse Saros has emerged as a solid backup that has the ability to one day become a starter in the league. While James Neal had a slightly off-year, he did still manage 20-plus goals for the season. The slack was picked up by both Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, both of whom are now 30-goal scorers for the season, with Arvidsson joining in last night. Arvidsson's emergence wasn't much of a surprise, given that he was arguably their best player for much of the season, and along with Forsberg and Ryan Johansen, has given the Predators a formidable top line.

While the Predators face a tough task with whoever they face in the first round, this may be the time where they begin another hot streak.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

ELC Madness

As the college hockey season comes to its conclusion with the Frozen Four, there are more players who will likely be signed to entry level contracts (or ELCs) in the coming days and weeks. Four players who were taken in the first round the last two years have already done so, and either have or will make their NHL debuts soon.

Brock Boeser was the 23rd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, and was widely regarded as a pure goal scorer. He played in North Dakota for two seasons before signing with the Canucks at the conclusion of North Dakota's season last week. He made his debut in his home state of Minnesota, where he scored on a tap-in that proved to be the game winner against the Wild on Sautrday.

Boeser's teammate at North Dakota Tyson Jost was taken 10th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2016 NHL Draft. He won silver with the Canadian Junior National team and was one of the bright spots on a North Dakota team that didn't quite fare as well as the previous season, when they won it all. Jost was signed yesterday to an ELC by Colorado and will likely make his debut soon.

Clayton Keller was a former US-NTDP taken 7th overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2016. He went on to college at Boston University and shined during the WJC tournament, where he helped lead the United States to gold. The Coyotes need more skill up front, which was why they were willing to sign Keller to an ELC earlier this week. Keller made his debut on Monday in St. Louis, an area where he played his youth hockey.

Charlie McAvoy was the 14th overall pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2016 NHL Draft. He had already played a season with Boston University when he was drafted, and was also on the U.S. squad that won gold at the WJC tournament. He actually signed an ATO with Boston and will begin play with their AHL affiliate in Providence. It is likely that he will sign an ELC before next season.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Becoming Kansas City

The logo you see above is what will be used starting next ECHL season. The Missouri Mavericks announced last week that they will be playing as the Kansas City Mavericks effective next season. While the Mavericks in fact play in the city of Independence, MO, it is considered a part of the Kansas City area, and with their affiliation with the St. Louis Blues playing a role in their success this season, it makes sense on a civic level to change the name. While the Mavericks are also tied to the New York Islanders, with the Jacksonville IceMen and Worcester Railers HC coming in next season, it is possible that they could be losing the Islanders to either team. With three other NHL teams still without an ECHL affiliate, it could mean that the Isles could stay in Kansas City for their ECHL affiliate.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Waiting Game

The NHL Trade deadline, much like its free-agency period cousin, is largely a waiting game that sees some teams that need to make moves wait it out, sometimes too long. With the trade deadline two days away, the dominoes are falling rather slowly, but there are a couple of major ones that fell yesterday and many more that have yet to fall, with the possibility of them not falling at all.

Let's look at the two that did fall, as the Tampa Bay Lightning traded impending free agent Ben Bishop to Los Angeles for Peter Budaj, Erik Cernak, and a swap of draft picks. For Los Angeles, they can ease a recently returning Jonathan Quick back into the starting role with Bishop providing more than capable goaltending and possibly providing a two-headed monster in goal as they push for the playoffs. Budaj will be backing up Andrei Vasilevsky, who proved to be ready for the starting role while Bishop had his own injury issues. Budaj can also step in as needed, as he proved this season while Quick was out with injury. The Lightning also get a defensive prospect in Cernak, as well as some cap space that could be used to re-sign Jonathan Drouin or another of their own players that are set for free-agency after the season.

Later in the day, the Minnesota Wild once again rolled the dice on a mid-season acquisition, as they picked up Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, as well as a fourth round pick this year, from Arizona. A lower end prospect (Grayson Downing), a first round pick this year, next year's second round pick, and a conditional pick in 2019 go the other way. Given that Hanzal is a free agent after this season, this is a gamble, but this year's draft isn't particularly deep, and the Wild are suddenly strong down the middle, as Hanzal joins Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu as their centers. White provides an agitating presence for a team that can use it. The Coyotes get more draft picks, and given that they need a lot of things, it works here, especially since their arena issues remain unsolved at this point in time.

As for the moves yet to be made, there are at least two teams that haven't made trades that probably should, and both are sellers. First, the Colorado Avalanche. They are clearly not going anywhere anytime soon, and there hasn't been much in the way of talk for any of their players, with Jarome Iginla and Matt Duchene being the primary targets. Gabriel Landeskog is a dark horse option, at this point, but until they do something, that rebuild isn't going anywhere and they will be stuck in the basement. The other team that needs to make a move? The Vancouver Canucks. While they aren't out of it yet, they do need to figure out a contingency plan soon, as they aren't getting any younger, and it appears that Jake Virtanen is playing his way out of top young player status, if he hasn't already. Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows appear to be likely targets, but it is possible that Ryan Miller would be given a look at, given that Jacob Markstrom has proven that he can handle the starting duties at the very least until Thatcher Demko is ready for full-time NHL duty.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Groundhog Day, Part Deux

In what can only be described as a remake of Groundhog Day, the Montreal Canadiens have relieved Michel Therrien of the head coaching duties heading into their five-day bye. They have replaced him with Claude Julien. No, this isn't the 2003, when this same move happened the first time. Yes, this is happening again. In what has become an annual swoon for the Canadiens under Therrien's watch, this season finally was the straw that broke the camel's back, and now, the Canadiens are going with another former head coach with the organization. This time, though, Julien brings with him a Stanley Cup from the rival Boston Bruins of 2011.

What can Julien bring this time around? Given that the Bruins were annually mismatched in terms of their lineup the last few seasons, it was a minor miracle that Julien could at worst, get the Bruins within a point or two of a playoff spot at the end of the season. For the Canadiens, the task he'll be given is to get the Canadiens to play with the same determination that his former Bruins squads played with under his watch.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I Watched This Game: Live from Nashville

Today's big news centers around the Boston Bruins and their firing of Claude Julien as head coach. However, rather than concentrate on the impending dumpster fire that the Bruins are becoming, I will take a small trip back to the Thursday night tilt between the Edmonton Oilers and the Nashville Predators. Yes, I watched this game...a couple rows behind the visitors' penalty box.

  • The seats, as pricey as they are, provide a superb view of the action and the people at the games are nice with some developing traditions that are similar to a footy match.
  • Other than the second period, there was no scoring, and both goals were provided by the home team. Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen scored for the Preds and Pekka Rinne was on his game tonight in goal en route to the shutout win.
  • A fight broke out between Patrick Maroon and Cody McLeod, with McLeod eventually getting the better of the fight. That trade, however small it may look, has had a sizable impact on the team, and the win ignited the team moving forward in the game.
Overall, the game went well for the home fans, and the experience at Bridgestone Arena was really good. I would go back to another Preds game if given the chance.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Sooner, the Better?

The St. Louis Blues haven't been setting the world on fire lately, and now, they teeter on the brink of the playoff picture. Their contingency plan that was to begin next season will be taking place a few months early, as Ken Hitchcock was relieved of his duties this morning after suffering yet another defeat at home, a 5-3 loss to Winnipeg, to be specific. Mike Yeo was brought on as an assistant coach prior to this season and was tabbed as Hitchcock's eventual successor beginning next season. Next season evidently becomes February 1, as Yeo will be charged with righting a ship that had high expectations, yet has fallen a little short thus far. Ironically, Yeo's former team, the Minnesota Wild, leads the Central Division.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Guy Like Me

It had been a long, strange year for John Howard Scott, who was suddenly thrusted into the spotlight around this time last year, when he was voted into the NHL All-Star game by fans, only to be traded a few days later and the subsequent chain of  events that followed that would ultimately see him be in the All-Star Game that year and win the game's MVP honors. His autobiography, A Guy Like Me, written with the help of Brian Cazeneuve, tells of a big kid at heart who simply wanted to enjoy the game he loved.

From his early days to his struggle with being the tall guy in pee-wee hockey, he tells of a guy who truly is like any other person, right down to their struggles. His time at Michigan Tech, which had obstacles both on the ice (the team was never any good while he was there) and off the ice (he served time for DWI), is documented, as well as how his relationship with his now-wife evolved from the awkward beginnings to where it is now, are covered. Also included is his relationship with former teammate Derek Boogaard and how he had wished he could have done more, coaches who he loved playing for, and of course, the drama leading up to his All-Star turn. Scott may be retired now, as he announced it a couple months ago, but the mark he left on the game, however small it may be ultimately, won't soon be forgotten.

One of things that makes A Guy Like Me a great read is that everything you read is truly from the heart of Scott. Despite never being comfortable in the spotlight, the reader always got the sense that no matter the situation, he manages to get through, and throughout the book, he gives thanks to his wife. Another positive of the book is that he offers a side of some of hockey's more notorious villains (that does depend on which team or teams you root for) that most fans never get to see, and while he doesn't completely throw a few people under the bus, he does address a few of those critics in a respectful manner. The book may not be as detailed as some would like, but it is one of the most honest autobiographies one will read.