Wild Wild West 15/16

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It’s that time of year where hockey pundits and fans try and figure out which NHL teams will have success in the upcoming season.

We’ve been told this is “The Year of “Analytics” in the game so let’s start there and see what we find.

Sporstnet has compiled the predictions, based on analytics, where every team will finished in the 105/16 season.

I strongly recommend you read the entire article linked to above for methodology and context but here’s a quick peek at the results.

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I’ll let you make your own assessment of those stats based “predictions” (holy cow…look at Anaheim!) but I thought i would distill them a bit to see which teams will or will not make the playoffs in the WC based those methods.

Central

Chicago

Dallas

St. Louis

Pacific

San Jose

Los Angeles

Anaheim

Wild Card

Minnesota

Nashville

Close But No Cigar

Calgary

Winnipeg

In the Toilet

Colorado

Vancouver

Edmonton

Arizona

Oh, where to begin!!!

The Stazis have the Sharks making a huge return to relevance, improving from 89 points last season to a Conference Championship with 110 points. This despite another few thousand miles on the odometer for Thornton and Marleau and bringing in a new coach and precious little else. Don’t think so.

They also have the Ducks dropping 10 points in the season(likely based on possession which the team always defies) and are likely ignoring the further maturation of the deep but youthful D the Ducks have deployed)

They correctly in my opinion have identified the Dallas Stars as one of the most improved team in the WC but they totally ignore the turmoil in Chicago which saw the Hawks lose Sharp, Oduya, Saad, among, others and the effect that may have on team chemistry never mind the Stanley Cup hangover that seems to be a real thing.

They also have the Oilers improving by only 8 points which I find very hard to believe considering the radical changes they’ve mad throughout the organization and on the ice.

Those are just a few quibbles so let’s take a look at what I think we’ll see this season.


Central

Dallas

Wins this division if their defensive game and goaltending improve to what they seemed to be in the last 20 games last season (best record in the NHL). The Stars top 6 forward group is the best in the NHL and even though Jamie Benn, Valerie Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky (as well as D John Klingberg and Patrick Nemeth) were injured last season, the Stars were the second highest scoring team in the league.

St. Louis

The Blues were tied for tops in the division last season and I have seen nothing to indicate they will drop back by any significant amount. With Vladimir Tarasenko likely to challenge for the scoring lead and perhaps some less difficult games against Chicago, the Blues are dropping back

Minnesota

The Wild had the second best goal differential in the west last season (+30) and despite a very slow start with sub par goaltending, finished with 100 points, a mere 2 points behind Chicago. They’ll get over that hump this season


Pacific

Anaheim

Virtually every prognosticator I’ve seen is calling for the Ducks to top the WC and most pick them to win the Stanley Cup.

I agree.

The Ducks have added tremendous speed up front in Carl Hagelin, size and grit with Chris Stewart and a veteran presence on D in Kevin Bieksa. Their young D, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Simon Depres and Josh Manson are all going to be better and they have 3 quality NHL goaltenders in the system.

Calgary

I’m going off the board here but I think the Flames have another gravity defying season in them.

The Stazis all insist, based on last year’s possession metrics, that the Flames will do a face plant this season.

I don’t they will since Brad Treleving knows full well his team has to improve in the area and addressed the issue directly by adding Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton.

Both are positive possession guys and a closer look at the Flames possession number show the Flames did juts fine when Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie were on the ice. Now that their second pairing has added Hamilton and their second line has added Frolik, they will be significanlyt better in that area.

And lest we forget, the Flames have also added Sam Bennett to their second like which promises to bring a lot more scoring than last season.

If they can get league average goaltending, and they have 3 strong choices in net, I see them finishing 3rd in the Pacific.

Wild Card

Here’s where things get very uncertain where injury, bad luck or a tickle in someone’s throat could decide the last 2 spots in the WC playoffs.

I’ll just rank them in order of what I think the probability is that they could make it.

Los Angeles

Is Milan Lucic a strong enough replacement for Justin Williams?

San Jose

They’ll be playing against tougher Ducks, Kings, Flames and Oilers in their division this season

Chicago 

Lots of changes and a Stanley Cup hangover.

Nashville

Still not convinced they have enough offence and an injury to one centre kills them

Vancouver

The Canucks have added size, speed and youth to their lineup. Keep a close eye on Bo Horvat who looks ready to explode.

Rookie defenseman Ben Hutton was spectacular in the pre-season and brings size, speed and scoring ability to the Canucks D,

Whether or not youngsters Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen can make an impact is still in question but their infusion of youth should help a stale Canucks lineup.

Winnipeg

The toughest team to rank. Big team that may have over achieved last season but, if their rookies take off they could surprise.

Colorado

Their D remains weak and losing Ryan O’Reilly is going to hurt.

Edmonton

I’ve got them down for 10 more wins this season but that will get them nowhere near the playoffs and with a very tough first 20 games, they may be out of the race by Halloween again. Cam Talbot has never played in front of the worst D in the league before. He’s about to.

Arizona

Never mind

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Ranking the Rebuilds #8…the Edmonton Oilers.

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Where to begin?

I guess we can say the Edmonton Oilers rebuild started in 2010 when the Edmonton Oilers drafted Taylor Hall…although any astute observer would point out it should have (and probably did) start in 2006 when Chris Pronger led the exodus out of Kevin Lowe’s Egypt.

Lowe never was able to part the the Red Sea and employed a long list of toadies to insulate him from his failures as a general manager and, later, as a President of Hockey Operations.

No need to belabour his shortcomings as they are well documented so perhaps it will be more instructive to take the temperature of where the longest rebuild in NHL history stands now.

I’ve been saying for years that the Oilers rebuild was ass backwards from the start and that rings as true today as it did when it started.

In  2010, the Oilers drafted a winger, Taylor Hall, as the first piece of their future when a centre with at least as much potential was sitting right there.

Tyler Seguin has already gone supernova and may have won the Art Ross trophy last season had he not been a victim of a dirty hit while Taylor Hall remains an injury riddled gunslinger who gives up more than he creates.

While very far from a perfect stat, Hall’s career plus/minus is -23 while Seguin checks in at +68.

Nuff said.

A year later, the Oilers would start to address their needs down the middle when they selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins overall but they still remained inured to the notion that, since defensemen take longer to develop, it would be prudent to try and find a top pairing D or two to kick start the process and that decision would (and will) haunt them for several more years.

Adam Larsson, Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin were all top 10 picks in 2011 and all of them are highly regarded top pairing D while Hopkins is likely a second line C.

Oops.

While still void at centre and, more importantly on D, the Oilers would totally lose the script and draft Nail Yakupov 1st overall in 2012.

There is substantial evidence that the Oilers scouting staff wanted to draft a defenseman in the 2012 draft but were overruled by owner Daryl Katz who opted instead to draft the shiniest prospect in a draft that was incredibly deep in D in the top 10.

I dare say you couldn’t trade near bust Yakupov straight up for any of the D taken in the top 10 of that draft.

Ryan Murray

Griffin Reinhart (more later)

Morgan Rielly

Hampus Lindholm

Mat Dumba

Derek Pouliot

Jacob Trouba

Old Oiler nemesis Brian Burke left the 2012 draft crowing he got the best player, Morgan Rielly, 5th overall and he was probably right.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are stuck with yet another disappointing winger and have had to overpay wildly to try and correct that mistake by trading for the most disappointing of that first round draft class, Griffin Reinhart.

Apparently two wrongs make a right 🙂

A year later, the Oilers would spend the 7th overall pick to draft Darnell Nurse who has progressed reasonably well but has already been passed by Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mirco Mueller and will soon feel some heat from Samuel Morin, Ryan Pulock and Josh Morrisey.

Nurse may well have a chance to become a top pairing D but, most often, those guys appear early and Nurse is almost 21 years of age with only 2 games of NHL experience to his credit.

I would wager he’ll be a very good #3 leaving the Oilers without a true #1D they should have in the stable after almost a decade drafting near the top of draft.

In 2014, it’s somewhat understandable the Oilers would address their dire need at C by taking one at #3 overall…the problem is, they took the wrong one.

Dynamic centre Sam Bennett was ranked ahead of Leon Draisaitl by virtually every scouting service including the “Oracle” Bob McKenzie.

Had Bennett not been injured in his draft year, he may have gone 1st overall but the Oilers opted to draft the next Joe Colborne when they had a shot at the next Doug Gilmour.

I expect Flames fans will be mocking that decision for the next decade.


Despite a decade  of gaffes, the Oilers defied the odds and won the 2015 draft lottery and that triggered a series of events that may give even the most jaded Oiler fan some realistic hope for the future.

I’m convinced the potential of drafting Connor McDavid resulted in a phone call from league offices and/or McDavid’s agent Bobby Orr that served as a wake up call to Oilers’ owner Katz that his old boys club gong show needed to come to a quick end.

And it did.

After conducting a “forensic audit” that, honestly, could have been conducted by a drunk chimpanzee, Bob Nicholson decided that Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish were not up to the task of building a winning hockey team.

That neither was fired outright remains a concern but at least someone else is now has the last word on team building.

Enter new GM Peter Chiarelli and new head coach Todd McLellan.

While these hirings represent a huge upgrade on the their predecessors, I believe a little critical thinking is needed here.

Chiarlelli did win a cup with the Bruins but his propensity to overpay bottom 6 role players and his decision to trade Tyler Seguin, combined with his mismanagement of the Bruins’ cap had him run out of Beantown on a rail.

The overpayments for Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart and Lauri Korpikoski suggest Chiarelli may not have learned his lesson.

That he did not exercise buyouts on Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin or Teddy Purcell also shows that he doesn’t have a firm grasp on value for dollars.

Certainly worth watching but, in the interim, he is carrying more than $10 million in cap space for players who are below replacement value and when you consider the $3.9 million accruing to AHL level defenseman Justin Schultz, it looks even worse.

Many Oiler fans are giddy that Todd McLellan is their new coaching messiah but they haven’t exercised critical thinking in assessing his body of work in San Jose.

He took over a team that Ron Wilson had taken to the next level and, despite a star studded lineup, was never able to get the team to reach expectations.

McClellan took over a team that finished with 108 points in Wilson’s final season in 2007/08.

Over his tenure in San Jose, his record was as following:

117

113

105

96

57 (lockout season)

111

89

In other words, the Sharks slowly declined in performance during his tenure and were never able to advance to the Stanley Cup finals despite an almost all star lineup.

Whether or not he can take a young team and move them up the standings against incredibly fierce competition is a question that has yet to be answered.


So, what can we foresee for the Oilers in a season that could see them miss the playoffs for a record 10th straight season?

Well, the playoffs aren’t anywhere near a possibility….the team still has too many question marks to challenge the Big Boys in the western conference.

Once again, the Oilers go into a season with questions marks in goal, and on D and while McDavid will certainly make a difference, unless he can influence the Oilers atrocious team D even with the addition of yet another second pairing D in Sekera, it would take a Vezina Trohpy season from unproven starter Cam Talbot to move up much at all in the standings.

Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and, especially, Dallas will all be better this season and let’s remember the Colorado Avalanche, despite having a very disappointing season, finished 28 points ahead of the Oilers.

I have no doubt the Oilers will be better but I expect only the Arizona Coyotes will care very much.

13th in the west…again.

Top Pairing Defensemen

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Where do top pairing defensemen come from?

I was “in conversation” with some Oiler fans last night…pretty much all of whom are counting on Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse to soon be a cheap source of high level defensive acumen while the team spends all its resources on the top 6 forwards it has received via the draft.

That may happen but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Let’s take a look at the best defensemen in the WC and how they got to the NHL.

Anaheim: Hampus Lindholm – Drafted  6th overall in 2012. Spent part of 1 season in the AHL and made an immediate impact in the NHL at the age of 20. (6G 30P +29)

Arizona: Oliver Ekman – Larsson – Drafted 6th overall in 2009. Made an immediate impact in the NHL immediately after being drafted.

Calgary: Here is your outlier. Mark Giordano was never drafted but instead spent 4 seasons bouncing between the Flames, the AHL and Russia before finding his game.

Chicago: Duncan Keith – Another crooked development path as Keith was drafted in the 2nd round in 1983 and spent 2 full seasons in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular. (this was before the salary cap era which pushes teams to have more cheap youngsters on their rosters.)

Colorado: – Erik Johnson – Drafted 1st overall in 2006 and played in the NHL as an 18 year old.

Dallas: Alex Goligoski -Picked in the 2nd round in 2004 but made his NHL debut as an 18 year old.

Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty – Picked 2nd overall in 2008 and made an immediate impact in the NHL as an 18 year old.

Minnesota: Ryan Suter – Picked 6th overall in 2003 (again pre-cap) and spent 1 season in the AHL but made an impact in the NHL as a 20 year old

Nashville: Shea Weber  – Picked in the 2nd round (OMG) in the generational 2003 draft. That was the draft that also produced Suter, Burns, Coburn, Phaneuf, Seabrook, Stuart, Klein and Carle who were all taken before Weber. Weber spent part of 1 season in the AHL but was already a beast at 21 year of age.

San Jose: Brent Burns – Drafted 20th overall in 2003 and spent 1 season in the AHL.

St. Louis: Alex Pietrangelo – Drafted 4th overall in 2008. Spent another year in junior but was an impact player as a 20 year old.

Vancouver: Alex Edler – Drafted in the 3rd round in 2008. Spent part of 1 season in the AHL but was an NHL regular at the age of 21.

Winnipeg: Tyler Myers – Drafted 12th overall in 2008. Won rookie of the year in the NHL and then struggled. With noting the Jets also have Jacob Trouba who was selected 9th overall in 2012 and spent one year in NCAA  hockey before making an impact in the NHL at the age of 21.

So, that brings us to Klefbom and Nurse.

Klefbom was 19th overall in 2011 and despite showing some promise in 60 games this season at the age of 21. One would think, if he’s going to emerge as a top pairing D, we should see evidence of that next season. If that doesn’t happen, I would think he career trajectory would most likely to be compared to that of Alex Edler who I believe might be the weakest #1D on this list.

Nurse was elected 7th overall in the 2013 draft and is spending another season in junior hockey and may need a season in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular. As you can see from the above, that would be very unusual for a player with his draft pedigree considering most of the players on this list were impact players at the age of 20-21.

Obviously, every player has a different development path that is affected by all sorts of factors but it is also pretty clear that elite defenders emerge very early,

And, almost without exception, you cannot win a Stanley Cup without one.

Nostradamus Redux

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Before the 2014/15 seasons began, I went out on a limb and predicted where the WC teams would finish in the standings and, of course, I had some hits and misses.

I had these as the teams that would make the post season…in this order:

STL

CHI

ANA

DAL

LAK

COL

MIN

VCR

Well, I got only 5 out of 8 right but I certainly over-rated Colorado thinking their your stars would be enough to overcome their defensive deficiencies but, as a group, they underperformed and their season was done.

I believe, if Dallas had received even average goaltending, they would have made the playoffs but one very hopeful sign for the Stars is their 7-3-0 record in the last 10 games. Jim Nill, with a ton of cap space available should be able to shore up his D and G positions and the Stars should be very dangerous next season.

The Kings were sunk, very simply, by an abysmal record in 1 goal games and shootouts (2-8). Reports have surfaced that there is tension between the King’s players and coach Sutter so I think we may see some changes there in the offseason. It would be very amusing if the Kings fired Sutter and replaced him with Todd McClellan if he gets fired in San Jose.

I obviously under-rated the Winnipeg Jets (who didn’t?) but, after having watched them this season, I doubt I or anyone else is going to do that again. Their a big, talented, hardworking team with a bevy of youngsters either breaking in or just a few months away.

No one I saw predicted Calgary would make the playoffs so I’m going to give myself a partial pass for missing that pick because I did manage to frame their issues:

The Calgary Flames

The Flames, as everyone knows, are rebuilding and they are doing it the right way. They’ve shored up their goaltending with Jonas Hiller, they have a legitimate top pairing on D and they now have tremendous centre depth if their two recent #1 picks develop according to their pedigree.

They lost some goal scoring with the departure of Mike Cammalleri but I expect Johnny Gaudreau, Mason Raymond and Sam Bennett will more than compensate.

Sean Monahan produced a 30+ goal season and Gaudreau was even better than advertised but the big surprise was the play of Jiri Hudler with the two youngsters, As you know, Bennet was derailed by shoulder surgery so expect the Flames to look pretty good going into next season if they can wisely use their bounty of cap space to add a couple more big pieces.

I said this about the Nashville Predators:

The Nashville Predators

It’s really hard to know what to expect from the Predators. They have added a lot of potential goal scoring in James Neal and Mike Ribiero as well as a new offensively minded coach.

Their defense and goaltending are stellar and their centre depth is something else so there is potential for them to return to the playoffs.

This likely comes down to whether or not they can adapt to a totally new style of playing so they are a team that could surprise.

Well, they did surprise to an extent but I’m not sure they are as good as their regular season record would seem to indicate.

At the bottom of the heap, here is how I called things:

 The Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers seem to have improved somewhat but there are still tremendous holes in the lineup (what else is new?)

Their centre depth remains the worst in the league, they don’t have ONE top pairing defenseman and their goaltending is questionable.

At centre, they are a RNH injury away from disaster, it appears they will play Nikita Nikitin as a top pairing D (yikes) and have decided Ben Scrivens is as least an average NHL goaltender. Scrivens was very good early in his Oiler career but was very pedestrian as the season wore on.

The Oilers don’t score much and they are dreadful defensively (although they should improve somewhat) and the addition of some mid level defensemen, some cast off wingers and a couple of more rookies are NOT the answer.

Man…I called that one perfectly…except for the part where I said “improved somewhat”. They were actually worse.

 The Arizona Coyotes

There is word tonight that the NHL is trying to find a new buyer for the Coyotes. Source

The current owners reportedly lost $24 million last season (who could have seen that coming?) and need to bail.

At some point, the off ice activity has to have an effect on the on ice performance and I’d guess that it going to happen this season.

The Coyotes lost their two top scoring forwards in Mike Ribiero and Radim Vrbata and replaced them with Martin Erat and Kyle Wellwood Sam Gagner.

The previously defensive stalwart Coyotes sprung some leaks last season and unless Mike Smith has a Vezina level performance this season, this team is doomed.

Nailed it again.

The Home Stretch

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Only 5 weeks remaining in the NHL regular season and we’re in for a helluva finish in the WC and there are still 3-4 teams that could grab the final wild card spot in the EC.

The Boston Bruins just defeated the Flyers in OT.

Boston moves to 73 points, up 3 on Florida and 4 on Ottawa and Philly. Given that Florida is without their top 2 goaltenders they may be all but out of it and I’d keep an eye on the streaking Senators who are 8-1-1 in their last 10GP, somehow.

Much more interesting in the WC where Minnesota, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and even Dallas, are still all vying for a playoff spot.

I had all but counted the Stars out of the race but there’s word today that Tyler Seguin is expected to return from injury tonight much sooner than expected and, if they can get even average goaltending, they may well be right back in it.

As for the others, I would bet a sizeable amount that the Minnesota Wild will make the playoffs with a very good chance to overtake the Blackhawks and/or St’ Louis for 2nd or #rd in the Central Division.

Then it gets really interesting.

Winnipeg has been exceeding expectations all season but now they are without their best player, Dustin Byfuglien, and their top centre, Bryan, Little for an extended period. I’m not sure they can withstand that double body blow.

Vancouver is almost impossible to get a read on. In their last 10 games, they’ve beaten Minnesota, the Rangers, the Islanders, Boston and St. Louis but lost to Buffalo, Arizona and New Jersey. You have to wonder why they can’t beat the teams they should beat.

The Calgary Flames continue to amaze. Everyone was counting them out when Mark Giordano went down with a season ending injury but all they’ve done is beaten Detroit, Boston and Philly…all on the road….since he went down. What the Flames are accomplishing with the lowest payroll in the league (other than those who sold the farm at the deadline) is a testament to great coaching and hard work. Yes, I know they are getting hammered in the possession stats but what many of the staszis don’t often recognize is that shot blocking is a demonstrable, repeatable skill and the Flames are exceptional at it. Flames defenseman Kris Russell leads the league in BS by a wide margin with 221 compared to 175 for the second place shot blocker Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are also among the top 20 in the league. Shot blocking may not be good for your Corsi rating but it sure does stop goals from being scored.

It also helps that the Flames are among the top scoring teams in the league (11th) at 2.82 while the supposedly young, fast talented Oilers will all those #1 picks are 28th at a paltry 2.17…only Arizona and Buffalo are worse.

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are both providing great numbers fro such young players and those who expected Monahan to fall back this season have been very disappointed…he could hit 30 goals and 60 points.

Both Los Angeles and San Jose remain just outside the wild card spots and, while I expect LA will make it, San Jose appears to be in serious trouble despite their star-studded lineup.

Buckle up…it’s going to be a great ride.

 

 

 

 

SNAPSHOTS

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Well, the dust is settled and we’re now in the home stretch heading into the playoffs. The bottom line at the trade deadline is that the rich got got richer and the poor are tanking.

1) The Buffalo Sabres, as currently constituted, may be the worst team ever in the NHL. After moving out both of their starting goaltenders, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Torrey Mitchell and the enigmatic Chris Stewart and with Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons injured, the Sabres leading scorer is  Matt Moulson who has 9 goals and 29 points. Yikes!

2) The Arizona Coyotes are also in full tank mode after trading their best centre Antoine Vermette, their leading scorer, Keith Yandle and another top 4 defenseman in
Zbynek Michalek.

3) Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish set off a firestorm among fans when he pulled an “Iraqi Information Minister” performance out of his bag of tricks by expressing his utmost confidence in what is likely the worst defensive corp in the entire league. That the Oilers lost their best defenseman for a paltry return tells you pretty much everything you need to know about MacT’s ability to assess defensemen.

4) As the trade deadline loomed, the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks pulled off a very interesting trade. The Flames sent Sven Baertshi to the Whale for a 2015 2nd round pick. The young Swiss (Vancouver now has 3) players had reportedly asked for a trade and said he would not be re-signing with them at the end of the season so Clgary did very well getting a 2nd for the former 1st round pick. The Canucks are just playing the odds here, in my opinion, since the chance a 2nd round pick turns into an actula NHL player is around 25% and I’d wager there is a 50% chance Baertschi makes the grade.

5) The worst news of the day also involved the Flames who have lost their best player and captain to season ending surgery. If the Flames somehow manage to hold on to a playoff spot without Mark Giordano they will be due all sorts or accolades for playing an incredible team game under very difficult circumstances. I’m pulling for them.

6) The Anaheim Ducks showed their very serious about a cup run when they acquired James Wisniewski from the Columbus Blue Jackets. As for the Jackets, they cleared out a $4.5M contract in preparation for off season acquisitions as well as picking up a promising young prospect and an extra 2nd round pick in the draft.

7) The Arizona Coyotes are, in my opinion one of the biggest winners in the wake of the trade deadline. They not only picked up another 1st round pick, but also added blue chip prospects in Anthony Duclair and Klaus Dahlbeck. Considering they are likely going to get one of the top 3 picks in a very deep draft and already have premium prospects in Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson on the way, their rebuild centred on Norris quality defenseman Oliver Ekmann-Larsson, hockey should be fun again in Arizona…at least until they move somewhere else.

8) Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis tired to sell the farm yesterday without much success. Apparently a deal was close to send Dion Phaneuf to Detroit but it fell apart over the Leafs taking back a toxic contract and Toronto insisting Anthony Mantha being part of the return. I wouldn’t be surprised, after Craig McTavish strikes out on signing Johnny Boychuk, that he takes a run at Dion in the offseason. Phaneuf takes way too much heat fro what’s wrong in Toronto but I don’t think he would do very well playing for another loser franchise.

9) Poor old Shawn Horcoff…the Dallas Stars tried to give him away yesterday…no one wanted him.

10) The Dallas Stars are loading up on Swedish defensemen. They now have half the starting D from the 2012 Swedish WJC gold medal winning team in John Klingberg, Patrick Nemeth and the newly acquired Mattias Backman. If the other two play as well as Klingberg, the Stars are going to have lethal d>

 

 

Epic Tank Battle II

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The Toronto Maple have finally achieved a weeks long descent into the depths of the National Hockey League standings.

The latest standings in the Epic Tank Battle:

Buffalo – 43

Edmonton – 46

Arizona – 47

Toronto – 55

Carolina – 55

I’d wager Carolina will slowly pull away from this group since they are playing pretty well in their last 10GP (6-4-0)

I would also wager Arizona (1-9-0) will drop below the Oilers (4-5-1) by the end of the regular season.

I guess it’s possible the Oilers will also pass the Leafs but 9 points is a huge gap with only 19 games left in the season.

The question then becomes, who wins the lottery and why?

If ever there was a draft that the league will keep a close eye on where 2 generational players end up, I think it’s this one.

The Coyotes desperately need a marketable player and I would think nothing would make Gary Bettman happier than to reward Andrew Barroway for riding in and rescuing the Coyotes in the latest bailout in the desert.

On the other hand, Bettman might be cognizant of the fact that Rogers Communications (part owner of the Leafs) stepped up big time when it spent billions of the new Canadian TV contract.

I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Toronto “won” the lottery and drafted Connor McDavid while Arizona, if they continue to lose every game, selects American wundkind Jack Eichel while Buffalo has to make do with the #3 overall pick.

As noted before, McDavid is a GTA boy and has stated he would be thrilled to play for the Leafs.

American Jack Eichel would be a great fit in Arizona and Buffalo would still be rewarded by a very skilled pick in any of Hanifan, Strome or Marner.

It’ll be fascinating to watch.

Spitballin”

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With the trade deadline less than 48 hours away, it’s always fun to speculate who is going where and what the return might be.

Of course, none of us has the inside poop on what General Mangers are actually thinking but we can make some guesses on what we think teams need and which ones are likely to be buyers.

One team that has been flying quietly under the radar is the Calgary Flames. 

TSN/ESPN pundit Pierre Lebrun has a post up today that looks author the Flames are approaching the deadline:

The reality is that the Calgary Flames are playing with house money being in playoff contention this late in the season, and even if their passionate fans might have forgotten their pedestrian preseason expectations, team management hasn’t. Which is why GM Brad Treveling isn’t about to trade a first-round pick in exchange for rental help. Heck, he’s going to guard his second-round pick pretty closely too, unless it’s a trade that really, really makes sense. And he will protect his Grade A prospects, too. But he does want to make a deal before Monday’s deadline that’s reasonable for now and beyond because he wants to reward the NHL’s hardest-working, blue-collar outfit for their surprising season.

Lebrun also identifies Calgary as being in the market for a defenseman in the wake of the injury to Mark Giordano and with his team currently 1 point out of a playoff sport, I think he’ll pull the trigger and may have the Oilers’ Jeff Petry in his sights.

The question then becomes what might the Flames dangle to get themselves another defenseman. Well, they are absolutely loaded at centre with Sean Monahan, Matt Stajan, Micahel Backlund, Joe Colbourne, Lance Bouma, Josh Jooris, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart and Sam Bennett on the way next season.

Not only might one or more of those players prove to be attractive to a team wanting to move a defenseman but I would imagine the Arizona Coyotes could make an offer that would send Antoine Vermette to the Flames for a potential playoff run.

Brian Burke teams have a history of swinging big trades so don’t be surprised if the Flames pull off a blockbuster in the next few hours.


Another team to keep an eye on is the Florida Panthers. Dale Tallon has already acquired Jaromir Jagr and has just moved out Tomas Fleischmann’s $4.5M cap hit to the Ducks for Dany Heatley (buried in the minors) and a 3rd round pick. I expect another galosh to drop in south Florida very soon as the Panthers try to overtake the Bruins for the final wild card spot in the EC. Patrick Sharp?


Apparently the Toronto Maple Leafs are shopping centre Tyler Bozak very hard but there’s likely a limited market for what is essentially a 2nd line centre with a cap hit of $4.2M for another 3 seasons. It’s very difficult to predict which, if any teams might be interested in Bozak at that price point but some GM might step on his dink in order to get his team in the playoffs.


Lots of chatter that the Chicago Blackhawks are going to move Patrick Sharp (in the wake of persistent rumours he was involved in fisticuffs in the Hawks dressing room). Don’t be surprised if he ends up in Florida although there are other teams in the chase:

Noises getting louder over Blackhawks discussing calls for Sharp, who has limited NMC. Told WAS, MTL, DET have serious interest.


I expect the Arizona Coyotes may be the most active team in the next few hours. Along with aforementioned Vermette, the Coyotes may also deal Keith Yandle, Sam Gagner, Martin Erat, and Zbynek Michalek. Don Maloney could be holding a raft of draft picks if most or all of those players are moved.


 

I’ll update this post later in the afternoon as the dominoes begin to fall.

Snap Shots

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1) The Minnesota Wild have been charging up the WC standings and, for the first time this season are now in a playoff position.You may recall I have been saying for months that the Wild should not be overlooked given they outshoot their opposition by an average of almost 5 shots per game. They were sewered early in the season by dreadful goaltending but, now that Devan Dubnyk has been providing them with .925 goaltending, they are 8-1-1 in their last 10 with a guaranteed win against the Edmonton Oilers up next. The Wild are only 6 points back of Chicago in the Central Division and hold a game in hand so this is going to get very interesting.

2) It appears Winnipeg and Calgary are going to duke it out for the final wildcard spot in the WC. It’s unfortunate since I think it would do the game a whole lot of good if both teams made it.

3) Was just glancing at how teams fared against the dominant WC. The Edmonton Oilers have played 36 games against the west. They’ve won 4 and lost 32. That gives us a pretty good idea of how far they are from becoming a playoff team in the west.

4) It appears those writing off the Sedins as a spent force in Vancouver may have to eat some crow. Henrik Sedin is currently in 11th place in scoring among centres while brother Daniel is currently in 7th spot among LW’s.

5) A personal favourite on mine in the rookie of the year race just keeps impressing. Dallas Stars rookie D John Klingberg who has 10G and 32P in only 46 games played. Projected over a full 82 game season that would be 57 points. Also worth noting is that Klingberg has passed Aaron Ekblad  (who is having a phenomenal seasons as an 18 year old) in points.

6) Vancouver rookie Bo Horvat is impressing more and more every day. Despite playing 4th line minutes, Horvat has 9G and 18P. His P/60 5V5 of 1.99 is much better than players like Nathan MacKinnon (1.92) Nazem Kadri (1.82) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1.77). It’ll be interesting to see how he does with more minutes against tougher competition but it appears he is NHL ready.

7) Horvat is starting to make the Corey Schneider trade to the Devils look like a win-win. Schneider has been very good in NJ with a .926 save percentage behind a bad team and posted another shutout tonight against Arizona. Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller is out with a knee problem so Eddie Lack (.917) will be getting more starts and the Canucks have called up Jacob Markstrom from the AHL where he has been phenomenal (.932). Hard to imagine that, in a very short time after moving two of the best goalies in the NHL, the Canucks now have 3 who appear to be NHL calibre.

8) Not much new to report in the Great Tank Battle. Carolina will likely pass the Leafs and the Oilers may pass the Coyotes. This seems reasonable:

1) Buffalo

2) Arizona

3) Edmonton

4) Toronto

9) The season ticket drive in Las Vegas has reached 70 percent of its goal so it appears very, very likely that Sin City will be joining the league in 2016/17.

10) Just a hunch…but keep an eye on the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. If they can find a couple of players who can help now and in the future, I think you may see them add a forward and a defenseman. A deal for Keith Yandle wouldn’t surprise me. Calgary has the assets and the cap space to get this done.

The Full Johnny

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Just back from a visit catching up with some old friends on bucolic Denman Island off the coast of Vancouver Island. Pictured is the largest commercial structure on Denman and, when I visited it last night, it was exactly as portrayed. I had the opportunity  misfortune of getting into line behind one of many Denman Island icons named “Johnny”.

Johnny is just one of many “characters” on Denman including other residents, either full time or part time, like X Files star Jillian Anderson, world renowned glass blower Robert Held, a bevy of environmental scientists and activists as well as the detritus of the American draft dodgers who escaped into the back country and remain there until today.

But Johnny has his own special charm and I had a first hand experience of why he is one of the most well known residents of the island.

Johnny’s main claim to fame is his legendary lack of personal hygiene and, when having the opportunity misfortune to line up behind him at the stores’ till/liquor counter I received a gift that just keeps on giving…just like when your dog gets sprayed by an annoyed skunk.

Johnny (who appeared in the General Store shirtless, with the filthiest pair of jeans I had ever seen allowing the display of at least 6 inches of plumbers’ butt and with a 8 inch Bowie knife hanging from his rope belt) treated me to his special gift and my friends explained that, folks on Denman, when sniffing their own armpits for any offensive odours will say things like “yeah, I’m a Little Johnny today” or “good grief, I’m Full Johnny today, , I’d better have a shower”.

Which brings us naturally to the subject of Johnny Boychuk.

There is palpable trembling in some quarters of the Oiler blog world that Johnny Boychuk should be a target for a massive, long free agent contract in the offseason.

Oops…wait a minute?

Ask yourself…what would Dean Lombardi do?

Well, I think it’s reasonable that Dean would first identify his teams’ “window to win” and only when he was absolutely sure that was going to be in the next 1 or 2 seasons would he commit huge long term dollars to a 31 year old defenseman who isn’t even the Islanders best defenseman (Nick Leddy is…go look it up yourself.)

While signing Boychuk to, say a $6 million 5 or 6 year contract might not be the “Full Johnny”, I would wager who ever the Oilers GM is after Craig MacTavish finishes blowing off both of his feet, would be asking himself if he was a “Little Johnny” with an aging defenseman on a bloated contract and a team still not good enough to be  contender.

There a lot of miles to go before the Oilers can consider themselves any kind of threat in the WC and acquiring an expensive rearguard is not only foolish in and of itself, a contract like that would severely limit the cap flexibility that the overspending Oilers will need in the next 2-3 years.

No, Dean would use some of his excess forwards (remember than the Oilers will likely soon have another high end forward from the draft and also have Draisaitl on the way) to trade for a young defenseman (the 23 year old Nick Leddy would have been perfect but that train has sailed)  with sure 1st pairing potential.

Oliver Ekmann-Larsson fits that profile perfectly and while Arizona would surely be loathe to move him, the Oilers do have the “marketable” assets that the Coyotes desperately need.

It would take a game changing, BOLD move by McTavish to make that deal happen but, if the Oilers draft one of the high end forwards this year, they could more comfortably move one of their “core youngsters” to make it work.

That’s what Dean would do.