The NHL Elite

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For many years, I have considered an elite offensive players as one who could post more than a point per game played. But, as score g has declined since the last lockout, there are fewer and fewer players who are able to hit that mark causing me to reassess what we should expect from an elite player in the NHL.

As recently as the 2013/14 season there were 13 players who finished above the 1.00 mark.

In 2014/15, that number has dropped to 8 and this season is much the same although there are another 4 players within the range.

TOP P/PG Players 2015/16

  • Patrick Kane – 1.29
  • Jamie Benn – 1.10
  • Connor McDavid – 1.03 (small sample size)
  • Tyler Seguin – 1.03
  • Evgeni Malkin – 1.02
  • Sidney Crosby – 1.02
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov – 1.01
  • Erik Karlsson – 1.00

  • Johnny Gaudreau  – .99
  • Joe Thornton – .97
  • Joe Pavelski – .97
  • Niklas Backstrom – .97

At, .94, Alex Ovechkin doesn’t make the grade but with 41 goals on the season I think we can give him a pass and declare him an elite player.

Moving the Goalposts

Obviously, 1.00 P/GP in the current NHL is too high a bar since you will note, of the 12 players listed above. 3 play for the Washington Capitals, 2 for the Dallas Stars, 2 for the Pittsburgh Penguins and 2 for the San Jose Sharks leaving only 3 players on other teams in the league.

It appears that, if we move the goalposts to .80 PPG in the modern NHL, we may have the issue surrounded.

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And?

There are really no glaring omissions from this ranking but there are a few noteworthy items.

A very slow start to the season has impacted Jakub Voracek in very dramatic fashion. Last season, Voracek scored .99 P/GP but it should also be noted that he has been climbing higher in the scoring rate for the past couple of months.

Two seasons ago, Taylor Hall posted 1.07 P/PG but since then is .72 and .80. Has the league figured him out and knows he will just rush up the left side and fire a generally harmless low percentage shot on goal?

Seeing Johnny Gaudreau at .99 P/GP  after a .80 in his stellar rookie season is a revelation. Despite playing on a team that is near the bottom of the standings, Gaudreau has emerged as the premiere LW in the WC outside of the dominant force that is Jamie Benn.

Patrice Bergeron is quietly having an exceptional season. After posting .68 P/GP last season and winning the Selke Trophy, he’s kept up his defensive dominance and his scoring has jumped to .90 and he looks like a sure bet to score 30 goals and 70 points this season.

And finally, I can’t say enough about what Jaromir Jagr is accomplishing in Florida and his golden years.

His .82 P/GP on a low scoring Panthers team is remarkable at his age and it appears he has the ability to play a few more seasons at a very high level.

All hockey fans should hope so.

Taylor vs. Johnny

I was more than a little bemused by all the whining in Oilerdom yesterday that the “main stream media” were lavishing praise on Jonny Gaudreau while not giving Taylor Hall his due.

Here’s a sampling from Lowetide’s site:

  1. BÖÖK¡JEsays:

    The love for Gaudreau from these announcers is fucking annoying. Honestly, its like Hall doesn’t exist.

     

  2. G MONEYsays:

    “Guys just love playing with Johnny Gaudreau. He’s got such great hands, give him the puck, and he’ll find you.”

    Are you fucking kidding me?

    Never mind that Hall carried the puck all the way from the fucking D zone, made the zone entry, then passed to Gaudreau who had it for half a second before passing it back to Hall for the finish.

    Jeezus H Keerist.

  3. CENTRE OF ATTENTIONsays:

    böök¡je:
    The love for Gaudreau from these announcers is fucking annoying.Honestly, its like Hall doesn’t exist.

    Hall back checked and stole the puck creating that break away.

    But Gaudreau gets the love for a couple tap passes.

  4. CENTRE OF ATTENTIONsays:

    G Money,

    Hall back checked and created that turn over to get the break away.

    That goal was all his.

    Meanwhile, Dubnyk with a big fumble and Sedin just kind of pushes it in there.

    Hall had a very nice game and so did Johnny but that begs the question, since this was a 3 on 3 tourney, which player is better in the overtime format?

    As luck would have it, Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy has an extensive post on just that subject this morning and, as you can see below, it’s not even close.

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    “This is clearly a guy who is considerably better than everyone at just about everything to do with 3-on-3 play. The three guys in front of him in goals, by the way, are shooting 100 percent (Vlad Namestnikov), 75 percent (Jordan Staal), and 43 percent (Jonathan Toews), and you probably make the argument that only Toews — with a similar number of minutes played and only two fewer shots — has a relatively sustainable number in that regard. Namestnikov is 2 for 2 in OT, and Staal is 3 for 4. They’ve also played far fewer actual minutes than Toews or Gaudreau.”

    Obviously there is no further debate about this but there were also some “in game” comments over at Lowetide that Hall is better defensively but the available evidence does not support that and, in fact, the opposite may be true.

    GAON/60

    Hall – 2.81

    Gaudreau – 2.96

    ONSV% 

    Hall – .902

    Gaudreau – .898

    PDO

     

    Hall – 995

Gaudreau – 993

What we see here is that, while Hall has a marginal difference in GA/60, Hall has been the beneficiary of slightly better goaltending.

At evens, Hall is faring better but, considering how dominant Gaudreau is in OT, his team is benefitting in huge measure from his special skills in a very important segment of the contemporary game.

P/60 5V5

Hall – 2.73

Gaudreau – 2.26

As we head into the final stretch, it will be fascinating to watch which player will surpass the other in the final scoring standings.

As it sits….

PPG

Gaudreau – .979

Hall – .960

It’s worth noting that neither player scores much on the road…

Hall has 15 road games left while Gaudreau has 18 so, perhaps Hall has the advantage but anyone suggesting there is much of a difference between these 2 players is a homer.

 

Snap Shots

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It’s a quiet day in the NHL with only one game on the schedule but, man, I’ve watched a lot of hockey already.

It’s very early days but some observations…

  1. OT 3 on 3 is a hoot and a far better way to decide a hockey game than the shootout. That it also rewards skill players with points that count on the resume is an added bonus which is some compensation for the ways officiating is allowing the best of the best to be stifled again.

2. Way too much attention has been focused on Connor McDavid early in the season…you have to hope that the TV commentators lose some interest in the topic as the season progresses. McDavid has shown some speed but, so far, has been pretty ordinary.

3. Speaking of rookies…Artemi Panarinin (Hawks) and Oscar Lindberg (Rangers) have excelled in their first 3 games, each scoring 4 points. As I told you earlier, Vancouver Canucks rookie defenseman Ben Hutton has been an early season revelation…not only picking up 2 assists in his first 2 games but has also been the Canucks best defenseman through those two contests. The big smooth skating D is exactly the prototype of a puck moving defenseman who clears his own zone easily and makes a tremendous first pass to a streaking winger.

4. The Canucks youth movement is already paying dividends with Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Sven Baertschi all playing exceptionally well. They’re all great skaters and have added speed and youthful enthusiasm to a “stale” Canucks lineup. Jake Virtanen is still on the roster but has yet to play a game although I think the Canucks will insert him in an upcoming road trip against the big teams in California.

5. Johnny Hockey has picked up right where he left off last season with 1G 3A 4PTS in his first 2 games. I expect he, and his line mates Jiri Hudler (3PTS) and Sean Monahan (2PTS) will flirt with 1PPG this season. Yes, they ARE that good.

6. Speaking of scoring…Patrick Kane appears to have been shot out of a cannon this season with 3G and 3A in his first 3 games. He appears to be motivated by his offseason difficulties.

7. Another players to keep an eye on is Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog who appears he may have taken his game to a new level. He’s always been a great 2 way forward but is now riding some ridiculous percentages to 3 goals and 5 points in his first 2 games. No doubt he will drop off somewhat but that kind of boring has a way of boosting a players confidence and leads to a great season.

8. The lack of any scoring at all is the story for the Edmonton Oilers. All they have to show for their efforts thus far is a goal credited to Ryan Nugent Hopkins on a play where he didn’t tough the puck. I watched Taylor Hall very closely in last night’s game against the Predators and, while Hall was credited with 8 SOG, 7 of them were from the outside and had virtually no chance of going in…seems he might still be trying to game his Corsi while avoiding the tough areas of the ice.

9) Speaking of Corsi…or SAT as the NHL likes to call it…here are your easy season Top 10.

Leo Komarov TOR +28

JVR TOR +26

Eric Staal CAR +25

Travis Harmonic NYI +25

Jake Gardiner TOR +23

John-Michael Liles CAR +23

Calvin De Haan NYI +22

Elias Lindholm CAR +22

Brett Kulak CAL +21

Brandon Dubinsky CLB + 21

Hmmmmm.

10. Watch out for the Florida Panthers…seriously.

Ranking the Rebuilds #6…The Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB – APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Calgary Flames rebuild officially started on March 28 2013 when they finally pulled the trigger on a trade sending away Jerome Iginla for two prospects and a 1st round pick (Morgan Klimchuck).

None of the assets acquired in that trade have had any impact in the NHL but that doesn’t mean the Flames have been sitting on their hands.

The return on that trade was limited because then GM Jay Feaster was hobbled by Iginla’s no trade clause and, in fact, Feaster had a better deal in place with Boston before Iginla decided he would rater play in Pittsburgh.

Feaster wouldn’t survive long enough for the trade to play out after Brian Burke was named POHO in September 2013 and would fire Feaster several months later.

He was replaced by Brad Treliving, the former assistant GM in Phoenix, and the two men rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

The Flames had missed the playoffs for 4 consecutive seasons when the new regime took over and would miss again in 2013-14 but would quickly rebound in 2014/15 with a 97 point season good enough for 3rd in the Pacific Division.

The quick turnaround in Calgary came from a variety of sources.

In the first part of this series, I lauded the rebuild of the Tampa Bay Lightning as being the best in many seasons and it’s interesting to look at a comparison of the two rebuilds (Tampa vs. Calgary) from a respected Flames blogger From 80 Feet Above:

What the Lightning’s success does re-inforce is that the NHL is a young man’s game now. With Stamkos, Johnson, Hedman, Killorn and Palat all in that ‘sweet spot’ of being 24 or 25 years old, it shows what could be possible for the Flames in a few years with their young core of Ferland, Gaudreau, Bennett, Monahan and Brodie.

By turning over a portion of the roster every off-season, building up a solid supporting cast, strengthening the back-end, continually injecting youth, Yzerman has built a Lightning team that looks poised to be good for many years to come.

It’s not to say the Flames won’t be able to accomplish next season what Tampa Bay is doing right now, just don’t expect it.

What you should be hoping for instead is that Calgary stays the course on its rebuild and eventually gets to where the Lightning are at. Being a perennial Stanley Cup threat in which deep playoff runs become the norm, not the exception, should be the real goal here.

That article was written on May 31 and, of course there have been some significant changes for the Flames since then.

Chief among them was the absolute theft of young D stud Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins and the signing of possession monster Michael Frolik in free agency.

Even before that, the Flames had shored up their D prospect depth by grabbing two very highly rated draft eligible players in Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington.

They added to that haul when they signed 6’3″ 210 free agent RH D Kenney Morrison out of Western Michigan University who promptly went on to score 6 points in 10 GP in a late season debut with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL

Considering their current NHL D depth chart is likely the best in the NHL, that certainly secures both the present and the future.

The Flames are in the enviable position of have no less than THREE legit top pairing D in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton and their supporting cast of Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Derek Engelland, while being a little shy on the bottom pairing, has blue chip prospects who will, soon make an impact.

Like any team that is rebuilding to win, centre depth is critical and the Flames have addressed that issue through the draft.

In their first draft, the new regime selected Sean Monahan 6th overall. Monahan has already established himself as one of the best 2 way centres in the league…hitting 31 goals in his second season at age 20.

The following year, they selected Sam Bennett, who I rated the best player available in the draft, at 4th overall and, despite needing shoulder surgery, Bennett would score more that 2.0 PPG when he returned to the OHL and then managed 3 goals and 4 points in 11GP in the NHL playoffs.

How is this for C depth?

Monahan

Bennett

Backlund

Stajan

Colborne

Bouma

Jooris

Byron

Shore

Granlund

That’s 10 natural centres folks and, while some have already been shifted to wing, I think you’ll have to agree that position has been well stocked.

With D and C already solved, that brings us to the crease where the Flames have 3 legit NHL goaltenders on the roster and blue chip prospects Jon Gillies and Mason MacDonald working their way up through the system.

All this, and not a mention of Johnny Gaudreau who was the most electrifying rookie in the NHL last season.

The former 4th round pick scored 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie and I expect he’ll build off that success in the upcoming season.

The Flames rebuild isn’t quite done since they’ll have to find another scoring winger and need to move out some deadwood on D (Smid, Engelland) but their future is very bright according to Hockey’s Future:

TEAM BREAKDOWN:
Strengths: The Calgary Flames have a bright future ahead of them as they have transformed into a resilient team that will only get better. It was thought the rebuild would take years before the Flames would contend for the postseason, but the bar has been raised following a special year that saw them reach the second round of the playoffs through determination and skill.

Most of their graduated prospects from this season were impact players, but their prospect pool is still flush with talent across the board. Markus Granlund has settled into a second/third line role while Michael Ferland stepped up in the postseason.

Expect Sam Bennett to push for a spot in the NHL next season.

There is also competition coming from the AHL ranks with a strong cast of players like Emile Poirier, Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenny Agostino and others fighting for an NHL job.

Further down the pipeline in the NCAA and CHL, there are a host of skilled forwards with promise including Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Smith. In spite of their shallowness in goal, Joni Ortio, Jon Gilles and Mason McDonald have shown prospective for the future of the Flame’s net.

Weaknesses: Calgary is fortunate to have a deep defensive pool, but the system needs a high-end, puck-moving defenseman who can transition the puck up ice and run the power play. The Flames also need more depth on the right wing and in the crease.

Please note the bolded.

The Flames acquired Dougie Hamilton to cover the first weakness and added Michael Frolik to address the second.

There is some concern that The Flames were “lucky”last season based on their possession stats but I find it difficult to project that going forward considering the offseason additions of Hamilton, Frolik and Bennett and potentially Morrisson and others.

This rebuild isn’t quite finished but, damn, it’s close and, when you consider it’s only been underway for 2 years, while provincial rival Edmonton has been rebuilding for almost a decade, it’s remarkable.

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.

Snap Shots

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1) So, the fire sale has begun in Toronto with the Nashville Predators swooping in and picking up two of the better players on the Leafs roster. The trade essentially breaks down as a low 1st round pick to Toronto for Franson (a player I like a lot) and  Brendan Leipsic (a very good prospect who is playing well in the AHL) for Mike Santorelli. That both of the players acquired by Nashville are on expiring contracts leaves Nashville with cap flexibility in the offseason and gives them more firepower for a playoff run. But that also means Toronto did very, very well in the trade by getting a 1st for Franson and I would imagine the Leafs may add another 1st pick or two as they burn things to the ground.

2)  The Vancouver Canucks could be in big trouble as they try to hang on to a playoff spot. #1D Alex Edler is out with an “upper body injury” and join Kevin Bieksa (broken hand) on the walking wounded list. Cody Franson would look pretty good in Vancouver right now but Nashville got their first.

3) The Calgary Flames are like that bad smell that just won’t go away. They remain in the last wild card spot after a 3-2 win over the Canucks last night but both Minnesota (8-0-2 in their last 10 GP) and the LA Kings (winners of 4 straight) are charging hard. Calgary can’t afford to lose so it’ll be fun to watch them fight and claw for the remaining games in the season.

4) There were more than a few critics (mainly Oilers fans) of Flames centre Sean Monahan’s performance last season suggesting he was lucky to score 22 goals because he had an “unsustainable” 15.7 shooting percentage. Well, his percentage has dropped a bit this season to 14.1 but, playing on a line with Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gadreau, Monahan is putting up even better numbers this season and is on pace for 28 goals and 52 points. Looks like it WAS sustainable.

5) Speaking of Gaudreau…he continues to pile up points and is on pace for 22 goals and 62 points and remains in the running for the Calder Trophy although Filip Forsberg has an 8 point lead.

6) But for my money, Florida Panthers rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad is the rookie of the year. Ekblad, who turned 19 just last week, is playing more than 22 minutes a game for the Cats (tied for second on the team) and is putting up exceptional scoring numbers for a rookie (on pace for 13 goals and 47 points).

7) Stop the Parade! After absorbing a 7-2 beating at the hands of the Ottawa Senators yesterday, the Oilers are now 9-11-2 under Todd Nelson. As mentioned yesterday, the Oilers next 5 games are against the big, heavy Winnipeg Jets, Boston and then a WC heavy schedule that kicks off with 2 games against the streaking Wild, Anaheim and St. Louis. Worth noting the Oilers are 4-21-8 against the west this season.

8) There’s continuing speculation that the LA Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs are working on a deal that would see Mike Richards and Dion Phaneuf trade teams. That’s a deal with plenty of complications but makes sense on several levels. Phaneuf would be a great pick up for LA’s second pairing (despite the price) and the Leafs could certainly use Richards as a stop gap while their rebuild develops. Richards is an Ontario boy and perhaps a move to the ACC might kick start his career. If, as rumoured, the Leafs trade Tyler Bozak, they will certainly need SOMEONE to play centre.

9) The Florida Panthers remain 4 points out of a wild card spot in the EC with a game in hand on the Bruins. GM Dale Tallon is reportedly shopping veterans on expiring contracts including Sean Bergenheim, Thomas Fleischmann, and Tomas Kopecky. Must be a difficult time for “Trader Dale”, one of the most active GM’s in recent years. I would imagine he will be able to move all of those players for late round picks but runs the risk of losing out on playoff revenue.

10) Back to the Flames for a moment…Calgary is sitting on the most free cap space in the league AND the second best prospect pool in the NHL. The Flames have flexibility to take on any contract and could, of course, extract a King’s ransom from any team that needs to dump salary now, or in the offseason. Keep a close eye on what happens in Calgary since the Burke regime is in a perfect spot to either load up for the playoffs or finish their rebuild in the offseason. I doubt they want Phaneuf back but Phil Kessel might be a very interesting addition if they can get the Leafs to retain some salary in return for a couple of prospects or picks. It’s a good time to be Brian Burke!

 

Johnny Cocky

gaudreau-johnny

In a fit of (envious) pique, a poster over at Lowetide has labelled Johnny Gaudreau.

Seems a little bitter to me considering Gaudreau’s stellar performance this season.

It should be recalled that Gaudreau went pointless in his first 5 games as he adjusted to the pace of the NHL and then was healthy scratched for one game to help him find his bearings.

In the 42 games since then, he has produced 15 goals and 37 points which, if that his expected level of production, would extrapolate to 29 goals and 72 points over 82 games.

Those numbers aren’t quite as good as Taylor Hall’s best NHL season , 27 goals and 80 points but let’s remember that JG is a rookie and was a 4th round pick not 1st overall.

Gaudreau, of course, is almost 18 months younger than Hall and averages only 16:58 of ice time/game while Hall is at 19:41.

That leads us the take a closer look at their even strength production…

Gaudreau is ranked 8th in the NHL among LW’s at 2.37 P/60 5V5.

Hall is ranked 24th at 1.93.

It’s also not close 5V4 where Gaudreau is well ahead at 3.97 P/60 5V4 while Hall is at a mere 2.69.

Now, Hall has been affected by injury (who could have seen that coming?) but wasn’t it the diminutive Gaudreau that was supposed to be fragile?

Not so far.

As for the insinuation that Gaudreau is cocky, I can only say that all it takes is watching one interview with the kid to see that he is a very humble, team oriented player while I don’t think you would use either of those adjectives to describe Hall.

It really is too bad that fans can’t appreciate a special player on another team rather than resort to trashing them.

It’ll be worth watching to see how Oiler fans react if the kid lights up their team.

 

 

 

 

 

The Calgary Flames Rebuild

Saddledome

 

I think it’s fair to say the Flames’ rebuild started, officially, with the trade of Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline in 2013…or less than 2 years ago. The Flames received Pittsburgh’s 1st round draft pick in return (Morgan Klimchuk who currently has 21 PTS in 20GP in the WHL).

While it was Jay Feaster who bungled  made that trade, a few weeks later the Flames brought in Brian Burke and Feaster was long gone not too much later.

But Feaster and Iginla weren’t the only casualties of that 2013 team under the new regime….Tanguay, Cammallerri, Bouwmeester, Comeau, Jackman and Sarich are a just a few more veterans who are no longer in Calgary.

Like Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles (and, yes, that is the blueprint here) the Flames have shed under performing, overpaid veterans and embarked on a journey to acquire young, cheap assets through the draft, trades and signing underrated free agents.

The Flames strategy is already paying off with Hockey’s Future now ranking the Flames the #2 prospect pool in the NHL. 

Strengths: The Calgary Flames have undergone an incredible amount of organizational turnover the past couple of seasons, but a promising vision for the future appears to be finally taking shape. They currently have a young, talented NHL roster, headlined by prospects such as Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jooris, Sven Baertschi, and Markus Granlund – not to mention Sam Bennett, who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery. Their AHL system is well stocked, too, with Emile Poirier, Bill Arnold, Michael Ferland, and others pushing for NHL jobs. There are even more talented forwards at the NCAA and CHL levels, with Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Smith all showing various degrees of promise. The Flames also have a few promising defensemen, such as Tyler Wotherspoon, who are close to NHL-ready. The goaltending pool is not particularly deep, but the prospects that are there – Mason McDonald, Jon Gillies, and Joni Ortio – have good potential.

Weaknesses: The Flames have great depth on defense, but the system lacks a high-end, puck-moving defenseman who can transition the puck up ice and run the power play. As mentioned earlier, the Flames have several quality goaltending prospects, but the position lacks depth.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Johnny Gaudreau, LW; 2. Sam Bennett, C; 3. Sven Baertschi, LW; 4. Max Reinhart, C; 5. Markus Granlund, C.

While the Flames have been a study in grit, hard work and surprising offence thus far this season, I think it’s reasonable to expect them to fall back somewhat as the season progresses and they may even miss the playoffs if LAK and SJS become more consistent but they are in fantastic shape going forward.

1) They have solidified their goaltending with Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo.

2) They have 4 legitimate top 4 defensemen including Giordano, TJ Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman (albeit overpaid) and have Tyler Wotherspoon and Patrick Sieloff in the pipeline.

3) Once Sam Bennett recovers from surgery the Flames will have NINE NHL calibre centres on their depth chart including Bennett, Monahan, Backlund, Stajan, Colborne, Jooris, Granlund, Bouma and Byron.

4) The Flames are a little weaker on the wing but Jiri Hudler is kicking out the jams, Johnny Gaudreau is delivering everything he promised, Michael Ferland is showing he’s all but ready and Mason Raymond is a reliable 20 goal scorer when healthy. If Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier live up to their draft pedigrees, they should be solid.

5) But, most importantly…the Flames have CAP SPACE. While the Flames are carrying a couple of questionable contracts, as of this writing, the Flames have $13 million in free cap space and they are in a fantastic position. If the cap rises to the $72 million estimate provided this week, the Flames will go into the offseason with about $25 million in cap space to spend and it appears Burke and GM Brad Treveling are prepared to spend it for the right assets.

Burke, speaking at the NHL meetings in Florida earlier this week, made it abundantly clear that the Flames are willing to spend to the cap when the right deal comes along:

 The Calgary Flames are the second lowest spending team in the NHL this season.

But maybe not for much longer.

The Flames are stunning the hockey industry with their strong season, and today team president Brian Burke made it clear the team is more than willing to start spending some of the more than $19 million in available cap space to make the team even more of a playoff threat.

“You can quote me on this. We are budgeted as a full cap team,” said Burke today at the conclusion of the NHL’s board of governors meetings.

“The only reason we haven’t been a cap team so far is we haven’t seen the value. But the second we do, (general manager) Brad Treliving is authorized to go right to the cap.”

There are teams that are expected to go into sell mode very shortly. Arizona is thought to be ready to move Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat, for example, but I think the thing to watch most closely is Burke taking advantage of teams that need to makes moves to get under next season’s cap even though it’s rising.

Boston is going to likely have to move one of Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and/or Dennis Seidenberg.

Philadelphia is in even worse shape unless they can find a taker for LeCavalier (they won’t) and will be forced to part with some key pieces.

Pittsburgh has $55 million committed to only 13 players and will have 10 UFA and 4 RFA players in the offseason.

But I think the Blackhawks are a team to watch as a savvy team could get some pretty nice pieces from them as the Kane/Toews extensions kick in. Duncan Keith,  Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival and Patrick Sharp are all rumoured to be in play in the offseason.

But where Burke and Co. may really have an advantage is their ability to take on a bad contract or two and reap the rewards of young players or picks that may come from the cap strapped team.

I can foresee Burke adding a high end D like Keith/Seabrook or Yandle as well as shoring up his scoring from the wings all while acquiring even more assets from desperate GM’s.

If the Flames are prudent and take advantage of their situation properly, their rebuild will be over in less than 3 years.

That’s pretty good work.