And…Here We Go!

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In a just a few hours, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators will kick off the NHL’s 100th season.

More than ever before, this season will be exemplified by a bevy of young guns under the employ of the Leafs, the Oilers, Flames and especially the Carolina Hurricanes.

I haven’t been around for all those seasons but have to say I’ve been a fan since before games were televised and, hopefully, will be around for a few more.

The game has changed tremendously over the decades and I have to say its current iteration featuring skill and speed as witnessed at the recent World Cup has me salivating for the upcoming games despite the insistence of coaching systems that are determined to slow the game to a crawl. Hopeful, the success of the Penguins last season will rub off on those who yearn to win by preaching safe, boring defensive hockey. We’ll soon see.

The Battle of Alberta

To me, as an almost life long Albertan, the greatest intrigue this season will be the relative ascendance of the two Alberta teams that are rising from the ashes of the past decade of ineptitude and failure.

Of course, the Edmonton Oilers have been re-building for almost an entire decade while the Calgary Flames have made a much quicker turnaround under Brian Burke and Brad Treleving.

Going into the season, it’s pretty easy to see that the renaissance in Calgary has been more successful despite the Oilers having a string of #1 picks and, while you can debate the relative merits of the forward corps on each team, the Flames are clearly better on the back end and, with even league average goaltending, should make an aggressive move up the standings.

But, I think it prudent to question whether the Oilers’ forward group is better than the Flames…I don’t think it is.

Here is the Flames’ announced forward group for tonight’s game:

I’ve seen a couple of Tweets today (from Oiler fans) suggesting that second line will get killed by the Oilers but, if we can agree the Oilers/Flames top lines are pretty much a saw off and remember that Brouwer, situationally, can move up to the top line, I don’t think the Oilers second line of Pouliot-Hopkins-Kassian is clearly superior.

In fact, I’m expecting Sam Bennett to break out in a big way this season after an 18G 18A season….I’m thinking 25G and 30A should be reasonable with the two gig wingers he’ll be playing with.

Brouwer should be good for at least 20 now that he’s getting second line minutes with skill and Tkachuk, who was superb in pre-season creates a huge net front presence that will also help Bennett.

Farther down the lineup, The Flames third group is built on two veterans who bring a very strong two way game, something that Maroon-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi will have a tough time with.

While fourth lines don’t make a huge difference in any game, The Flames group is clearly superior to Pitlick-Letestu-Slepshyev in experience.

The Back End

Calgary’s new coach is trying some unusual pairings for tonight’s game…splitting up Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton to carry Wideman, Engelland and newly-signed Niklas Grossman but I doubt that approach lasts all that long and he has the option of re-uniting his top D at any time.

What we really need to remember here is that the Flames D will be very much involved in the offensive side of the game, something the Oilers have little or no answer for.

In goal…Cam Talbot has a decent first season with the Oilers but he;s playing without a safety net while the Flames have added last season’s top goaltender by save percentage as well as a capable NHL quality backup.

How Brian Elliot adapts to a new team will be critical for the Flames this season but even if he performs at career average, the Flames should take a big step up the standings.

A Bold Prediction

I have the Calgary Flames going on a huge run this season…finishing second in the Pacific Division with the potential for a long playoff run.

I think both Anaheim and Los Angeles will falter somewhat allowing the Flames to move in behind the Sharks in second spot.

Which of the Ducks or Kings gets bumped will likely depend on luck and/or injury but the signs of a small regression are there.

Another Bold Prediction

The Edmonton Oilers are going into another season with dreadful depth in key positions and almost any injury could sink their season again.

If any of  McDavid, Eberle, Hopkins, Klefbom or Talbot missed any significant time due to injury, they just don’t have the horses to replace them.

Considering that pretty much every one of those players has a significant injury history, a prudent bettor wouldn’t count of them all being around all season.

I think you’ll see the Oilers and Canucks scrambling to stay out of last place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference as all of Colorado, Arizona and Winnipeg finish ahead of them.

For the Canucks to prevail, they, like the Oilers, need everything to go right this season and, if experience teaches us anything, it seldom does.

So, for Shits and Giggles…

images

WC

  1. Chicago
  2. Dallas
  3. Nashville
  4. St. Louis
  5. San Jose
  6. Calgary
  7. Minnesota
  8. Anaheim
  9. Winnipeg
  10. Los Angeles
  11. Colorado
  12. Arizona
  13. Vancouver
  14. Edmonton

You’re welcome

 

 

 

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Back in the Saddle

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It’s been a while.

As a summer filled with weddings, fishing, camping and a great deal of SFA is coming to an end, thoughts are once gain turning to hockey.

While I’ve been closely following the minutia of the summer transaction in the NHL, I’ve reached the general conclusion that not much will have changed when the 2016/17 season officially kicks off.

I think this is especially true when it comes to the Western Conference where it appears the powerhouse teams will remain just that while the pretenders have fiddled around the margins a bit but none, with a couple of exceptions, have taken the kind of steps to significantly enhance their chances of post season success.

That’s not to say that there are no curious situations that bear watching and, of course, there may still be a few moves between now and opening night but I think we are close enough to completion to get a read on how the WC teams stack up.

Anaheim

The Ducks’ biggest offseason acquisition was Randy Carlyle. My goodness. Carlyle was brought back to, reportedly, light a fire under the Ducks vets but whether or not that old school approach will work is certainly questionable.

As of this writing, the Ducks still haven’t sorted out their defense with Hampus Lindholm still unsigned and they don’t have room on the roster for blue-chippers Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour so something has to give there and, like most pundits, I expect Cam Fowler may find a new home before the season starts.

The Ducks also, curiously added Antoine Vermette to a centre group that includes Getzlaf, Kesler, Thompson and Rakell (when signed) when their most pressing need seems to be a scoring winger.

Arizona

This team is all about the future as fuzzy-cheeked GM John Chayka keeps adding to an already deep prospect pool.

That pool features a veritable CHL All Star team:

  • Max Domi
  • Dylan Strome
  • Anthony Duclair
  • Christian Dvorak
  • Jacob Chychrun
  • Lawson Crouse
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Brendan Perlini

Obviously, it’ll take a bit of time but that group is ridiculously strong but I can see the Coyotes taking a big step ahead this season especially since they added Alex Goligoski to help out Ekmann-Larsson on D.

 

Calgary

The Flames were my pick as the most successful team in the offseason.

They had some very well-defined needs and filled all of them.

Replacing Bob Hartley with a coach who emphasizes high-speed attack hockey will result in a much more dangerous Flames team.

But even more important is the acquisitions they made in goal with Brian Elliot who had the best save percentage in the league last season (minimum 40 games) and capable backup Chad Johnson.

The Flames were the 4th highest scoring team in the WC last season and, if they can cut GA from worst to even average, they will be a playoff team.

They added 20 goal scorer Troy Brower at no real cost and if draft pick Matthew Tkachuk makes the team out of camp (I think he will) they should be a higher scoring team.

Critics like to point out that the Flames D is weak after you past Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton and,on the surface, that is true but those critics tend to forget that the Flames have some pretty impressive prospects in Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Kenney Morrison bubbling under.

Obviously the Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid and Derek England contracts all represent obstacles but they will all be gone next offseason clearing up almost $12 million in cap space allowing the Flames to fill out their D with more useful players.

With their talent up front (once they sign Gaudreau) this is a team primed for a major move up the standings.

Chicago

Not much needs to be said about the Hawks and they weren’t busy in the offseason other than trying to stay under the cap but they should be better this season for one reason….Brian Campbell.

Campbell at $1.5 million is a huge steal for the Hawks and addresses their most glaring need for a team that has played with 3 NHL defensemen in the recent past.

Even at 37, Campbell remains an elite puck moving defenseman.

Colorado

If you’re looking for a team that could surprise this season, look no further. The deletion of Patrick Roy may have a huge impact on this team and, while their D is very questionable, they have enough talent up front to be competitive and lets remember they only missed the playoffs by 5 points last season. Replacing Roy should easily make up that gap.

Dallas

Old friend Woodguy bet me last week that the Dallas Stars, who won the WC title last season, would miss the playoffs.

I howled at that notion and even gave him 2-1 odds.

His reasoning I guess revolves around the changes Jim Nill has made to his D by letting Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski head elsewhere.

But let’s take a closer look.

Nill also added veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis who came back from injury last season to play very well for the Canucks.

With John Klingberg anchoring the top pairing and Stephen Johns emerging as a bona-fide second pairing ace, the Stars have the foundation for an exceptional young D on the RH side.

At the moment, Hamhuis joins Johnny Oduya, and Jordie Benn as a veteran presence but it’s the next wave that is remarkable.

  • Julius Honka
  • Esa Lindell
  • Jamie Oleksiak
  • Patrick Nemeth
  • Mattia Backman
  • Ludwig Bystrom

Every one of those players is very likely to have NHL careers which, when they join Klingberg and Johns in the next couple of seasons, will give the Stars the best young D in the league.

Honka is pretty much a Klingberg clone having scored 11G and 44P in the AHL last season and is likely ready for the NHL.

A right hand side of Klingberg, Honka and Johns is just ridiculous especially since Dallas has the LH vets to give them cover.

Esa Lindell is a huge LH defenseman who is also NHL ready after posting 14G and 42P in the AHL last season.

At 22 years of age and after playing against men in the AHL and the Finnish league for the past two seasons, he should have no problems easing his way into the NHL given that he’ll be sheltered by Hamhuis, Oduya and Benn.

No need say much about the best offence in the NHL except to say that the Stars, after getting break-out years from Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark in 15/16, added Jiri Hudler to an already ridiculously deep group of forwards.

Not to mention that Jason Dickinson and Devin Shore are reported ready for NHL duty.

Edmonton

We’ll conclude our look at half the WC teams with an assessment of the offseason work of the Oilers’ Peter Chiarelli.

Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I promoted, predicted and expected a Taylor Hall trade to finally get some help on defense.

Problem is, Adam Larsson is a woefully inadequate return for Hall.

Larson may be a top pairing D some day but he isn’t now and you don’t trade a player like Hall for hope. You just don’t.

I expect Hall contributed to his demise with the Oilers with his entitled attitude but the trade leaves the Oilers going into another season with a putative top pairing of Larsson and the perennially injured Oscar Klefbom who has only 107 NHL games on his resume.

Once again we are reminded that the Oilers organization approached their 10 year infinibuild ass backwards are only now addressing their D in a meaningful way.

They have a very nice group of young forwards but the loss of Hall mitigates that fact and the addition of Milan Lucic, while a good move, won’t replace Hall’s value to the team.

Obviously you can’t talk about the Oilers without mentioning Connor McDavid and, if he can remain healthy all year, the Oilers should be able to recover somewhat from the Hall trade.

But a McDavid, RNH, Klefbom or Cam Talbot injury will expose the Oilers’ lack of depth and have them out of the playoffs race by Halloween.

On his blog, Lowetide has released his “reasonable expectations” stating that the Oilers will end the season with a net neutral goal differential, finish 10th in the WC and 21 overall. (he predicted a positive goal differential 3 seasons ago)

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the other teams who will prevent those things from happening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Jim Benning Doing?

Benning

 

Lots of chatter on the interwebs today that Jim Benning made a major mistake in trading Jared McCann to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson.

On the surface, it might be plausible that is the case but only if you look at it on a “one and done” basis.

But there is a much better way to assess the trade and that is to see it as part of Benning’s need to balance his team.

Benning paid a pretty high price for the towering Gudbranson but, as he told the Vancouver Province last night, it really was market value especially in light of the poor deal the Edmonton Oilers made in acquiring Griffin Reinhart.

“We talked to a lot of teams the last two or three weeks and this wasn’t something we expected to happen — it happened quite fast and we’ve be dealing with them (Panthers) the last two days,” said Benning. “It kind of came together rather quickly. We knew the price to acquire a top-four defenceman was going to be high and giving up McCann was a tough decision. But I just felt like we needed to add a top-four-guy to our group because the market is just so tough.”

“They (Panthers) had a lot of interest in Jared and if you look at the Dougie Hamilton deal in Calgary — a first- and two second-round 2015 picks to Boston at the last draft — and the Griffin Reinhart deal to Edmonton — a first-round pick and 33rd-overall pick to the Islanders — that kind of set the precedent. It was tough to give up the second-round pick in this draft. But we felt it was worth giving up that 33rd-overall pick.

What stands out here is that Benning effectively gave up a late 1st round pick (McCann) and a 2nd round pick for a young, huge RHD with 309 NHL games under his belt while the Oilers paid a higher price for Reinhart who has yet to become a full-time NHL player and has only played 37 NHL games.

Yes, Reinhart is 2 years younger, but at his age, Gudbranson had already played in 189 games in the NHL.

Expectations

Most of the criticism of the deal from Vancouver’s perspective is that Gudbranson hasn’t lived up to his draft pedigree as he was selected 3rd overall in 2010…and that is true.

(Just as Reinhart has belied his 4th overall stats in the 2012 draft.

But Benning was trading for draft pedigree and, of course, Florida would not have moved Gudbranson if he had lived up to the hype.

What Benning acquired was a #4 RH D to balance his back-end and Gudbranson at a $3.5M cap hit next season (and a RFA after that) is certainly at the proper price point.

(worth noting that many of the fiercest critiques of the trade are Oiler fans whose team management is paying a #3 D, Sekera, $5.5M and a #5D, Fayne, $3.625M.)

The Canucks now have a D that is pretty well set and they avoided the temptations to get into the Jason Demers (a #3D) sweepstakes which the Oilers may blow their brains out at over $5M annually since there are very few RH D available as free agents.

Demers is likely better than Gudbranson now but let’s remember that Gudbranson is still only 24 and likely still has some upside and he costs a lot less.

The Canucks D pairings are now coming into focus and, if Alex Edler can stay healthy, they look solid if not spectacular.

Edler – Tanev

Hutton – Gudbranson

Sbisa – Larsen

Tryamkin – Stetcher

It’s easy to forget that Benning added the best defenseman for the NCAA earlier this spring or that Ben Hutton was a god send in his rookie season. Both he and their superb top pairing RH D, Chris Tanev, played for Canada at the recent WHC and that Philip Larsen was acquired earlier for a 5th round pick.

Why McCann?

There is a pretty easy answer to that question…the Canucks have too many centres.

Sedin

Horvat

Sutter

Granlund

Gaunce

While McCann had a passable rookie season, he was likely never going to be a top 6 centre in Vancouver as long as Henrik is around and, with the 5th overall pick in the draft Benning can upgrade on McCann in a few weeks.

At the Draft

With the need for a second pairing D now gone, Benning can comfortably take the best of whichever forward left after the Oilers pick.

Whether they get Matthew Tkachuk, PierreLuc Dubois or Alexander Nylander, all are an upgrade on McCann based on pedigree (McCann was taken 24th overall in 2012).

I expect the Oilers will take Dubois unless they trade down and that will leave Tkachuk sitting there for Benning. He would be the perfect compliment to the Sedins in the short-term but, if another team (like Arizona) trades up to take him with the Oilers pick, Benning will have a shot at Dubois and Nylander either of whom have 1st line potential.

With college phenom Brock Boeser only a year away from pro hockey, the Canucks will have 2/3 of the Sedin succession plan already out-of-the-way and will only need to find a top end C to finish the job.

About the Cap

The acquisition of Gudbranson ends the temptation for the Canucks to re-sign UFA defenseman Dan Hamhuis saving more than a million in cap space.

If, as expected, the Canucks buy out Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins that will free up another $3M to pursue free agents.

With their long-term goaltending locked in place (Markstom, Demko) and their D all set, Benning and company can now turn their attention to adjusting their forward ranks before the season starts knowing they will also get another $6M in cap relief when Ryan Miller’s contract expires a year from now.

With departure of Radim Vrbata ($5M) and Hamhuis ($4.5M) Benning is setting himself up to have some where near $10M this offseason for acquisitions.

Steven Stamkos anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell to Northlands

The final game in Northlands Coliseum didn’t mean much in the big picture but it nonetheless brought a tear to my eye as so many family memories are wrapped up in the old barn.

Minnesota Wild vs Edmonton Oilers
EDMONTON, CANADA – MARCH 5: A general view of retired Edmonton Oilers players banners taken before the game against the Minnesota Wild on March 5, 2010 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

I was lucky (and old enough) to have lived through and witnessed all the glory years of the storied Oilers franchise starting with their entry into pro hockey beginning with their entry into the defunct World Hockey Association and, then, their move into the National Hockey League and into Northlands Coliseum.

The Pioneers

Not nearly enough attention has been given to the people who made NHL hockey in Edmonton possible…people like Bill Hunter and Dr. Charles Allard…and I guess that’s okay but we should all salute their vision and determination. Villains like Peter Pocklington and Glen Sather are not being given their due as an era in professional hockey comes to an end as the superstars they collected grab all the glory but, without them, there would be no legacy.

Memories

As a season ticket holder from the beginning, until the 2006/07 season, I am flooded with literally hundreds of memories written at the old barn but none is more vivid than May 19, 1984. It was my 34th birthday and old friend and prominent Edmonton lawyer Bob McBean and I were lucky enough to be seated 10 rows up from the ice surface to witness history. Many other memories would follow…Greztky’s 50 in 39…the Great One breaking Gordie Howe’s record with Howe seated in the row behind me and the run to five cups.

But most importantly, I have the memories of taking my sons, Robin and Taylor, to Oiler games and instilling a passion for the team that hasn’t faded despite the teams’ more than two decades of wandering in the wilderness.

The Rest

My sons’ fandom is unwavering but I lost the plot when Kevin Lowe, in a venal and small minded fashion, decided to turn the screws on an all-time face of the Oilers, Ryan Smyth. Lowe decided to play hardball with his best player after signing a number of palooka to ridiculous contracts and his track record since then has proven how pathetic his stewardship of the team was for more than a decade.

Too much has been written about Lowe’s failures to recount here but his continuing involvement in hockey operations is not something that anyone who cares about the team should cherish.

If the Oilers are serious about forging a new era in a new arena with all the bright young talent they have, they must send Lowe and his toadys packing. Until then, the odiferous era of incompetence and mismanagement will not be wiped clean

 

 

Hall in Freefall

Taylor Hall2

If you’ve been following along, you will know that I predicted a couple of months ago that Taylor Hall would drop out of the top 20 in scoring in the NHL.

Well…that has come to pass as linemate Leon Draisaitl’s shooting percentage has dropped from 33.3% to 14% with an anchor.

Who could have seen that coming 🙂

The facts of the matter are even worse than they appear.

Adjusting for games played and games missed due to injury, Hall is currently 41st in the league in P/GP and will likely soon drop out of the top 50.

Since Hall (other than gaming Corsi) has no other redeeming value, other than scoring, one has to wonder why Oiler fans, like Lowetide and his disciples cling to the notion that Hall is a difference maker when the evidence is very clear that he is not.

Here is just a sample:

QUINLAN says:
March 15, 2016 at 8:00 pm
How anyone, anyone, can look at this team and decide Taylor freaking Hall is the problem is incomprehensible.
Stealing from Woodguy’s excellent tweets a couple days ago:
“Oilers goal share with Taylor on the ice = 51.76%
Without Taylor on the ice = 38.62%
That’s leading by example”
The Kiltymcbagpipes argument reposted above admits Hall’s offensive numbers are very good and then proceeds to say he’s really not that good offensively. Yes he scores a bunch, and when he’s on the ice more good things happen than bad. Yes, he’s done this with crap all when it comes to a blueline behind him. Yes.
But he’s the problem.

Hall is apparently able to outscore his dreadful Oiler team mates but when it comes time to actually go up against elite players he folds like a cheap Taiwanese lawn chair.

Remember he is 41st in P/GP this season.

Also worth noting is that his own head coach, Todd McLellan, has been cutting back his ice time in recent games likely due his lack of production.

In his last game against Nashville, Hall played only 15:50.

McDavid 23:22

Eberle 21:48

Nugent-Hopkins 19:18

Maroon 17:44

Draisailt 16:25

Hall 15:50

Considering Hall led the team with 2:41 minutes of PP time, it’s obvious his coach is slashing his time at even strength.

I told you several years ago that Taylor Hall was a Phil Kessel clone and that is becoming more apparent daily.

Those thinking he should be included on the World Cup roster should acquaint themselves with Brad Marchand.

 

 

 

 

 

The NHL Elite

  • The_Killers_logo_wallpaper

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 12.32.37 PM

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.

So What?

 

I can hear the whining all the way out here on Vancouver Island.

There is a constant refrain from Oiler fans that the officials are letting the Oilers opponents get away with murder and that the Oilers should have more powerplay opportunities than they get.

That all culminated in last night’s assault by Darnell Nurse on Roman Polak which, viewed objectively,  should not have involved a penalty to Polak when Matt Hendricks lost his balance and crashed into the boards. That was followed, of course, by Nurse seeking retribution for which, by the rule book he should have received 2 minutes for instigating, 5 minutes for fighting, a game misconduct for instigating in the last 5 minutes and an automatic one game suspension.

That things did not play out that way hasn’t dented the blood lust by most Oiler fans who now are seeing this as a watershed moment after which the Oilers will no longer be pushed around and will hard to play against.

Of course that is nonsense and I would imagine San Jose will set the Oilers straight in the next meeting later this month.

The Evidence

But let’s examine the notion that the Oilers would be a more successful team if the on ice officials just called the penalties that they should against their opponents.

While I agree that NHL officiating can be very inconsistent and sometimes spiteful (see Stephane Auger’s vendetta against Alex Burrows), after watching almost every minute of Oiler games this year, I don’t see any more inconsistency than you can see nightly in other games.

While I think it’s true that veteran teams get a little “benefit of the doubt” non calls from the refs, I’m not sure that the volume or result of calling Oiler games strictly by the book would make much difference in any event.

As luck would have it, Sporting Charts tracks penalties throughout the league and provides us with some context.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 2.14.37 PM.png

As you can see, the Oilers DO rank near the bottom of the number of power plays/game but with 196 PP opportunities, they are only 18 behind the median of 214 received by the Dallas Stars.

giphy

Let’s assume for a moment that the Oilers got a league average of power play opportunities and then let’s take a look at what that would actually mean.

The Oilers power play percentage is currently 16.8%, so, if they got an additional 18 calls, they would have scored exactly 3 additional goals this season.

No telling where or when those goals would have been scored, whether in a tight game or a blowout but I can’t see those 3 goals resulting in any more than 1 additional win.

And that folks would mean absolutely nothing in the big picture.

If Oiler fans want their power play to make a difference then they should focus their attention on how bad Todd McLellan’s powerplay is and stop whining about officiating.

 

 

Is That Right?

now_what

Frequent poster “Suck It” raised a couple of issues yesterday when he defended the performance of the last place Edmonton Oilers in relation to the other teams in Western Canada.

And to make matters worse for fans on the Left Coast, the Canucks don’t appear to have the young talent that the Flames and Oilers both have. In fact, the Canucks best young player appears to be Bo Horvat who has a paltry 27 Points despite playing all 63 games. Horvat also has a league worst -31 plus/minus rating. At 27 Points Horvat is behind 5 young Oiler forwards (Hall, Draisitl, Eberle, McDavid, and Nuge), and 4 young Flame forwards (Gaudrea, Monahan, Backlund, and Bennett).

Of course, the Oilers, after drafting high for almost forever, still remain the worst team in the west having the fewest points, the fewest road victories and the worst goal differential.

Those 5 high picks he mentions have led the Oilers exactly nowhere and Mr. Suck obviously hasn’t been paying attention to the youth movement currently underway in Vancouver.

Last night the Canucks went into San Jose and beat the veteran laden Sharks 4-2 with no fewer than NINE players under the age of 25 in the lineup.

Linden Vey -24

Sven Baertschi – 23

Emerson Etem – 23

Markus Granlund – 22

Ben Hutton – 22

Brendan Gaunce – 21

Bo Horvat – 20

Jake Virtanen – 19

Jared McCann – 19.

Also worth noting that top pairing D Chris Tanev is still only 26 while having almost 300 NHL games to his credit while Jacob Markstrom (.917 SV% in 21 GP)  is also just 26 and is only now coming in to his own in the NHL which is not unusual for goaltenders.

That’s a very strong young core although it certainly can’t compete at the high end with McDavid.

But the Canucks prospect pipeline is far from empty.

boeser3

This is Brock Boeser. Boeser was the 23rd overall pick in last season’s draft and is ripping up the NCAA with 25 goals and 43 points in 34 games played with UND.

There is a scouting report from just after the draft:

Boeser has been compared by scouts to Patrick Sharp with his natural scoring ability and his accurate and quick shot release. He is a two-way power forward who is effective at finding open space on the ice and has the ability to create scoring chances off the rush by finding open teammates with his great vision and ability to read the play.
The 6-foot, 195-pound, right winger has an excellent first step and is able to quickly start and stop on the dime creating separation among defenders. At the same time, scouts are looking for Boeser to improve his defensive zone coverage as well as his board play.
He played for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL in the 2014-15 season where he tied for the league lead in goals with 35 and finished third in points with 68 in 57 games. He is a complete player who has the potential to become an elite-level scorer in the NHL. (source)
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This is Nikita Tryamkin.
The Canucks are currently negotiating to get him signed and bring him over to the NHL for the remainder of the season.

Here’s how Hockey’s Future describes Tryamkin’s talent:

Tryamkin is a huge defender with a cannon of a shot. His size and puck skills are his two biggest assets. Drafted in his third year of eligibility after competing for Russia in the 2014 World Junior Championship, he is a late bloomer and must continue to work on his skating and positional play.

Long-term Tryamkin projects as a traditional stay-at-home defenseman with the size and reach to take away passing lanes and prevent scoring opportunities.

Vancouver could conceivably have two imposing Russian defenders on the team next year, if both Tryamkin and 6’5″ Andrey Pedan make the team.

So that’s a high end forward prospect to go with the group already with the team as well as two very big and very good D prospects.

But what about goaltending?

Well, it seems Jim Benning has that position surrounded as well.

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This Is Thatcher Demko.

Demko is lights out the best goaltender in college hockey posting a 23W 5L 4T record with Boston College and racking up a .937 save percentage.

Here’s a synopsis of his freshman season:

At 6’3, Demko uses his bigger frame to really make shooting angles and attempts much more difficult for his opponents. He reads the game incredibly well, and his positioning is ahead of most other goalies his age. Combine his height, instinct, and steady lateral movement, and you get a rare blend of skills that keep Demko from flopping around in the crease. He rarely makes the dramatic save because he’s always square to the shooter, and in position to make a play on the puck.

“My size is a tool, but I don’t like to rely on it. I can use it, but I can still react to pucks and play athletic,” said Demko. “It’s something I’m still working on, but is probably one of the biggest pieces to my game.”

Had he played a fuller schedule, and Demko likely would have been in the conversation for many more awards come the end of his rookie season. In 24 appearances, he posted a 16-5-3 record for Boston College, with a 2.24 GAA and a .919 sv%. More impressive, Demko’s numbers when playing against league opponents were even higher, as he sported a 9-1-1 record with a 1.35 GAA and a .948 sv%. Both of his shutouts also came against Hockey East foes. (Source)

With the emergence of Markstrom and the performance of Demko, the Canucks have the potential for a very strong goaltending duo for many years.

Obviously, the Canucks are now in the middle of a rebuild and still need to find an impact 1st line forward and another top pairing D (although Ben Hutton might do) to replace the aging Alex Edler but they will likely get a top 5 draft pick this year and with the expiration of the contracts of Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis, as well as the possibility of moving on from Alex Burrows, they will have significant cap space to address those issues.

GM Jim Benning has his warts as a contract negotiator but he has a long and strong record as an identifier and developer of great talent in the NHL so he should be able to right the ship pretty quickly with all the young talent that is already in place.

There is no reason to think that the Oilers will be leaving the Canucks behind anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

The Bumbling of Alberta

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There are only 6 weeks left in the NHL regular season, the  2 Alberta teams are fighting for bragging rights as the best and worst teams in the province.

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While Winnipeg, Arizona and Vancouver may have something to say about who finishes where, the odds on favourites to win the Toilet Bowl both reside in Alberta.

So, what’s likely to happen here?

Obviously, Calgary, with 3 games in hand, has the advantage but there are a couple of other factors to look at.

The Oilers final 15 games are all against the Western Conference. They have a 17-14-1 record against the East but are a paltry 8-21-6 against the West.

The Flames have 3 games left against the EC including winnable games against Montreal and Toronto and also have the “advantage” of owning a 13-20-2 record against the WC so, if things stay true to form, the Flames SHOULD be able to pull away from the Oilers down the stretch.

However, if momentum counts for anything, the Flames (1-8-1) appear to be stumbling badly with Kari Ramo out of the lineup while the Oilers (3-6-1) have been able to pick up a few more points in the last 1o games.
One other thing that may come into play here is the additions the Oilers have made to beef up the team for the stretch as they try to become a heavier team to compete in the West.

Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon give the team a different edge but it remains to be seen how much impact they can have when the Oilers play the big boys in the Pacific Division.

The Oilers have 7 games remaining against teams currently in a playoff position while the Flames have 10 which, if they turn into losses, wipes out their advantage in games in hand.

The Oilers final 3 games of the season are against the Flames and 2 against the Canucks.

I would imagine those 3 games will be critical to how all this plays out.

 

The Dogs Days

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WAITING FOR APRIL

Typically, March is a month of furious competitive hockey as almost every team in the league thinks it still has a chance to make the post season. This season…not so much.

In the Western Conference, 3 teams, Nashville, Minnesota and Colorado, are duking it out for the final 2 wildcard spots while in the Eastern Conference, it would appear only Philadelphia has a decent chance of cracking the top 8.

That essentially leaves 12 teams as “Dead Men Skating” which pretty much overturns the parity notion that Gary Bettman has been pushing, at least for this season.

Now that Anaheim has returned from the dead and is streaking (9-0-1) toward a WC championship, there really are no surprise cinderella winners or losers this season, unless, of course, you ignored by exhortations at the beginning of the season and din’t keep a close eye on the Florida Panthers.

As a long time follower and admirer of Dale Tallon and his work in Chicago and now Florida, I’m not the least bit surprised at his teams’ success.

He built the team the right way from the goalie out when he acquired Roberto Luongo and has hewed to the mantra that a stout defense anchored by veteran Bryan Campbell, young phenoms Aaron Ekblad, Dimitri Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic is a key to success.

He also followed the blueprint of depth down the middle when he drafted Alex Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden and the rapidly blooming Vincent Trocek as well as 0more pedestrian players like Derek McKenzie and Dave Bolland who is perhaps one glaring mistake in the Tallon era in Florida.

I recall a rather chippy encounter with the folks over at Lowetide’s blog when I happened to point out how astute Tallon was in stocking his C depth and was met with howls of derision from the Lowetidian acolytes.

Last laughs and all that…..

The Panthers remain in 1st place in the Atlantic division and despite having only a slim lead are a shoe in for the playoffs.

I doubt they can get past the dominant Capitals to a berth in the Stanley Cup finals but, man, Tallon acquiring Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell at the deadline only adds to the Panthers forward depth and, as we know, almost anything can happen in the playoffs.

If you’re a Canadian hockey fan and relish pulling for a team in the playoffs, the Panthers might be a good bet.

And, one final thought, the “Blackhawks South” that Tallon is building in South Florida has almost $30 million in free cap space in the offseason and a loaded prospect pool.

Tallon will be able to feast on cap strapped teams dumping good players like no other GM in the league and I would imagine he will complete the job of building a powerhouse before the snow flies.

Timing and smarts are everything.