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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is That Right?

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Snapshots

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Ladies and Gentlemen…the Dallas Stars

Any true fan of hockey who values speed and skill above the dreaded trap style or other defensive schemes that choke the life out of hockey should have been watching the Dallas Stars last two games against Chicago and Washington.

The Stars faced the prospect of of playing back to back against the two teams most pundits are picking as Stanley Cup finalists and….they beat them both.

After a brief unproductive lull, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are both firing on all cylinders again. Seguin has 3 goals and 7 points in his last 5 games while Benn has 1 goal and 5 points.

I expect Jim Nill will make a move for another veteran D before the deadline and the Stars should be primed for a long playoff run.

The 30’s

Speaking of Tyler Seguin, he became one of only 3 players to hit the 30 goal plateau last night.

Alex Ovechkin (35) and Patrick Kane (33) might be tough to catch Especially since Seguin suffered a cut late in the game and his prognosis is uncertain.

The others who should soon join the 30’s club:

Jamie Benn 29

Tarasenko 27

Marchand 27 (seriously?)

Pavelski 25

Duchene 25

Crosby 24

Notably absent from the list are Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Corey Perry and….hey…whatever happen to the 40 goal season that Oiler fans were predicting for Taylor Hall? (18…36th in the league)

Called It…Again

My regular readers may recall that I predicted Hall would fall out of the top 10 in scoring as soon as Leon Draisaitl’s shooting percentage normalized from above 33% in the early part of the season.

Well, Draisaitl is now shooting 15.7% and dropping like a stone.

That has had the expected effect on Hall’s point totals but I didn’t think he would fall off the map completely which he has done in his last 10GP (o-5-5)

Despite a 2 goal performance against Florida on January 18th, Hall has scored only 3 goals in his last 20GP.

Yikes that’s bad.

It’s quite likely that Hall drops out of the top 20 point producers since some very talented players named Kopitar, Malkin, Ovechkin, Tarasenko, Thornton, Burns, Kucherov, Bergeron and O’Reilly are hot on his heels and most have multiple games in hand.

Spitballin’

The continuing malaise of the Vancouver Canucks on home ice has pretty much sealed their fate outside of a playoff spot which means they should be pretty active as sellers at the trade deadline.

Their chief asset, should he be willing to waive his NTC, is Dan Hamhuis.

Washington has been a rumoured destination but I think Dallas is a more logical choice since they covet a solid veteran and have a wealth of young D (too many) that they could offer up for Hamhuis:

Patrik Nemeth

Jyrki Jokkipakka

Jamie Oleksiak

Julius Honka

Steven Johns

Esa Lindell

Any one of those coming back in a Hamhuis trade would provide a much needed to boost to Vancouver’s D prospect depth and would join Chris Tanev and the promising Ben Hutton, Alex Biega and Andrey Pedan as a young future on the Canucks’ blue.

The Canucks will also try and peddle Radim Vrbata, Alex Burrows and Brandon Prust at the deadline but I don’t think the return on any of them will knock your socks off.

 

 

 

 

 

Rating the Stars

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**** I thought I would update this post since I’m being called out by name over at Lowetide’s Fanboy Site ®****

SEISMIC SOURCEsays:

Off topic, but just returned from reading DSF’s site. Its killing him that Hall is playing so well.

Fact of the matter is, Hall is performing EXACTLY as I expected he would when Draisaitl’s 15 minutes of fame faded into oblivion.

Also of note, as I’ve mentioned for weeks, Hall doesn’t produce on the road when other teams can shut him down.

Hall has only 13 points in 21 road games this season….that’s only .619 PPG on the road.

Just for comparisons sake…Tyler Seguin has 25 points in 21 road games this season…that’s 1.19 PPG on the road.

One of these is not like the other.

Many teams have now reached the half way point of the season and we’re starting to see some risers and fallers in the statistical rankings.

Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been out in from of the pack for almost the entire first half and I think it’s unlikely that changes much going forward.

Normalized for games played, here’s how the top 10 forwards look by the PPG measure:

Patrick Kane 1.43

Jamie Benn 1.27

Tyler Seguin 1.22

Vladimir Tarasenko 1.03

Blake Wheeler 1.03

Johnny Gaudreau 1.03

Joe Pavelski 1.03

Taylor Hall 1.00

Evgeni Malkin 0.97

Daniel Sedin 0.95

Most of the above names have been pretty consistent but a couple have been moving up rapidly after slow starts to the season.

Joe Pavelski has scored 8 goals and 13 points in his last 10 games and, with the return of Logan Couture from injury, I expect Pavelski will keep up that pace.

Likewise, Malkin has scored 5 goals and 11 points in his last 10 and should pass a couple of others on the list in short order.

At the other end of the scale, Taylor Hall has scored only 2 goals and 7 points in his last 10 GP with 3 of those points coming in 1 game against the Jets.

You may recall, I predicted a few weeks back that Hall’s production would tail off as Leon Draisaitl’s unsustainable 33% shooting percentage would normalize which it has done in a big way (now 13.2% and dropping like a stone).

Oiler fans should also be concerned that Hall just doesn’t score much on the road…getting only 1 goal and 5 points in his last 10 road games.

Unless that somehow changes, Hall will drop out of the top 10 very quickly

The Snipers

Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in hockey so players who put the puck in the net at a significant rate hold the most value to me eye.

Here’s how that looks in GPG.

Jamie Benn .585

Patrick Kane .575

Vladimir Tarasenko .575

Alex Ovechkin .568

Tyler Seguin .561

Joe Pavelksi .541

Mike Hoffman .528

Tyler Toffoli .487

Evgeni Malkin .473

Johnny Gaudreau .447

Obviously, any player that is on both of the above lists is a tremendous offensive player and deserves to be at the all star game.

The Bobby Orrs

The modern NHL game relies to a very large degree on fast, mobile defensemen who can move the puck and contribute to the offense.

Erik Karlsson is having just a ridiculous season with 1.05 PPG and I’m beginning to believe he should win the league MVP award.

Dallas Stars phenom John Klingberg isn’t far behind at .902 but he’s cooled off a bit lately and Brent Burns, at .919, has passed him.

I’d keep an eye out for Justin Faulk at .750 and Tyson Barrie also at .750 to  keep moving up as the second half unfolds as well as the Flames TJ Brodie who is returning from injury and has been coming on strong at .689.

 

 

 

 

The Pacific Triangle

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What a week in the wacky Pacific Division.

The Los Angeles Kings are pulling away from the pack and have a 9 point lead on everyone with 2 games in hand on most teams. The Kings have won 6 in a row and can put a division championship to bed by the end of December with a schedule that features 5 straight games against their dubious competition between Dec. 22 and 31.

Dec 22 – vs. Sharks

Dec 26 – @ Coyotes

Dec 28 – @ Canucks

Dec 29 – @ Oilers

Dec 31 – @ Flames

Between now and the 22, they play the Sabres, the Canadiens, the Senators and the Leafs so, even if they play 8 of their next 9 on the road, they have a superb chance to put things to bed especially since they sport an 8-3-1 road record. They already have a 99.3% chance of making the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats so I can’t see them faltering.

Behind the Kings, things are getting very interesting as every team has lost more games than they’ve won.

Baseball Standings Dec 11/15

San Jose – .512

Vancouver – .500

Arizona – .500

Edmonton – .466

Anaheim – .465

Calgary – .464

In other words, it’s pretty much a dead heat between 6 teams vying for the two remaining playoff spots in the Western Conference if you concede that 5 Central Division teams will make the playoffs.

Interestingly enough, EVERY Pacific Division team except Arizona is heading out on a road trip this week so how they fare on the road could be a great measuring stick for their longer term chances.

Pacific Division Road Records:

LAK  8-3-1

SJS  10-5-1

VCR  6-5-5

ARZ  7-10-1

EDM  4-10-1

ANA 3-8-1

CAL 3-9-2

Worth noting that  7 of the Coyotes remaining 8 games in December are  at home and the Coyotes have a 7-4-0 record in Glendale.

If they can continue that pace, they should be able to put some space between them and the rest of these dogs by the end of the month.

Another oddity is the Home/Road record of the Sharks. While going 10-5-1 on the road, they just don’t win much at home (4-8-0) so they may keep pace with the Coyotes on their upcoming roadie.

Vancouver is in a very tough spot after losing Dan Hamhuis for a couple of months to a facial injury, leaving them with even fewer bonafide NHL defensemen. This road trip could well spell the end of any playoff glimmers the Canucks may still harbour and they may become sellers as soon as the Christmas trade freeze ends in early January.

The Edmonton Oilers start a 4 game road trip in Boston Monday night before heading to NYR, Chicago and Colorado.

Their current 5 game win streak is almost exclusively because of the play of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl so we’ll see how that goes on the road when opposition coaches can choose their match ups.

Worth noting, Taylor Hall is scoring 1.6 PPG at home but only .667 on the road.

(For those keeping score…Tyler Seguin is 1.36 PPG at home and 1.40 PPG on the road)

Hmmmm….

After a game at home tonight against the Rangers, the Calgary Flames depart for a trip through the Death Valley Division ® with games against Nashville, Dallas and St. Louis with Detroit as a chaser. There’s little reason to believe they’ll improve much on their road record although Mark Giordano has been much better lately and their goaltending is improving.

The Anaheim Ducks need to fire their coach in the worst way as they inexplicably can’t score and likely need a new voice that will at least prepare them to show up at the opening face off.

By way of illustration…the Ducks have scored 56 goals this season…Dallas has scored 102…yikes.

So, other than Arizona likely to separate themselves from the pack this week and San Jose having a couple of games in hand on most teams, I expect will see much of the same mess a week from now.

Gary’s parity is working but it sure ain’t pretty.

 

The Unwatchable Canucks

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I watch a lot of hockey…as many as 10 games a week…. and, because I live on Vancouver Island, watching the Canucks play on local TV is pretty easy but I have to say I’ve haven’t watched any of their past 10 games in its entirety.

If the Sedins aren’t dominating, there is precious little else to see and although the Sedins are having a decent season, the rest of the team is in shambles.

Vancouver Province columnist Ed Willies summed up things pretty well this morning:

The Canucks now have three wins in their last 16 games, which is concerning enough.

But it’s the larger image — the lifelessness, the lack of initiative, the sense that this team has run out of ideas 27 games into the season — which is far more troubling.

This streak has done a number of things to damage the sensitive balance between this franchise and its fan base.

But, mostly it’s reawakened the nightmare images from the Year of Torts; a year in which the Canucks’ brand suffered severe damage.

Can it withstand another season like that?

The sad truth is we might be in the process of finding out.

What ails the Canucks is pretty obvious. They are lacking secondary scoring and they are trying to be successful with only 3 NHL calibre defensemen.

The lack of offensive firepower anywhere but on the 1st line has been dreadful.

Radim Vrbata, while getting all sorts of shots (91) is on pace for 18 goals after potting 31 last season.

Alex Burrows has betrayed his age and Sven Baertschi has been all but invisible.

On D, Dan Hamhuis has fallen off a cliff since playing in the World Championships last spring leavingVancouver with only Chris Tanev, Alex Edler and, surprisingly, rookie Ben Hutton as bona fide top 4.

At this point, Hamhuis, Luca Sbisa, Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber are no better than average bottom pairing and it’s costing the Canucks dearly.

To be fair, the Canucks have suffered some key injuries that have thrown their plans into disarray.

Brandon Sutter, brought in to insulate 2 year pro Bo Horvat has been out of action for 12 games.

Hutton is just back from missing 7.

Chris Higgins has missed 12 and now Jake Virtanen is on the shelf.

While lots of teams suffer injury and survive it appears the Canucks are so lacking in depth that they’re in a free fall and, in the long run that might be the best course for a team that is trying to reload on the fly and failing.

The Dallas Stars were able to do so but the Canucks have been saddled with more than a few long term contracts including not trade clauses and don’t have that kind of flexibility.

The strange thing is that because the Pacific Division has been so weak this season, the Canucks, as of this writing, are only 1 point out of third place in the division even after going 2-5-3 in their last 10GP.

So even a modest winning streak could get their season back on track.

But, based on their lacklustre play of late, I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

 

 

Trader Jim

 

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What an astounding performance last night from the Dallas Stars.

The Minnesota Wild lulled the Stars to sleep and took a 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period before the Stars collectively said “that’s enough of this shit”.

After being outshot 9-7 in the 1st period, the Stars amped it up and out shot Minnesota 35-15 in the final 2 periods and wound up winning the game 4-3 in OT.

Only a stout performance from Wild goalie Darcy Kemper kept this one close.


 

In response to a reader’s comment last night, I thought I would expand on the amazing work of Dallas GM Nill.

We’ll let Wikipedia do the heavy lifting but as impressive as what follows has been…there’s much more to the story that we’ll get to afterward.

 

In April 2013, he was hired as GM of the Dallas Stars. Nill immediately made several major transactions starting with trading a 6th round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft to the Ottawa Senators for DefensemenSergei Gonchar and signed him a 2-year, $10-million dollar contract.[1] On July 4, 2013 in a blockbuster trade, Nill sent 2011 NHL All-StarLoui Eriksson and prospects Joe MorrowReilly Smith, and Matt Fraser to the Boston Bruins in exchange for the former 2nd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry DraftTyler Seguin as well as Rich Peverley and Ryan Button.[2] On the same day he traded prospect Philip Larsen and a 7th round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for their captain Shawn Horcoff.[3]

On July 1, 2014, Nill traded for Ottawa Senators center and captain, Jason Spezza and right winger Ludwig Karlsson for Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill, and a 2nd round pick in the 2015 NHL draft. On the same day, he also signed unrestricted free agent forward, Ales Hemsky to a 3 year, $12 million contract.[4]

On July 10, 2015, Nill traded for forward Patrick Sharp and defensive prospect Stephen Johns from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt.[5] On July 15, 2015, Nill signed unrestricted free agent defenseman, Johnny Oduya to a 2 year $7.5 million contract.[6]

Nill’s unique ability to pull off the blockbuster trade has been attributed to a Jedi-like wiggle of his trademark mustache, nicknamed “Monty.”

Yes, a few blockbusters in there and I think the only mis-step was Hemsky’s 3 year deal but there is also a back story that is often missed.

You may have noticed the name Stephen Johns in the trade for Sharp and that’s only one example of Nill dealing with the present and future at the same time.

John’s was a 2nd round pick of the Blackhawks and is currently playing in the AHL.

He’s joined in Texas by Mattias Backman, a promising defenseman that Nill drafted in the 5th round while with Detroit and whom he got for virtually nothing when he traded UFA Erik Cole for Backman and Mattias Janmark who is currently playing more than 13 minutes a night on the Stars’ 3rd line.

More on that trade and the players involved from Defending Big D.

As you can see, Nill managed to move a player who is now out of hockey for a blue chip defensive prospect and yet another centre.

So, not only has Nill given lie to the notion that you can’t acquire elite centres except through the draft but he’s also built Dallas’ defensive depth from awful to among the best in the league in what amounts to only two seasons of work.

Take a peek.

John Klingberg (5th round 2010)

Alex Goligoski (very good#2 D inherited by Nill)

Jason Demers (Nill acquired in a trade with San Jose)

Johnny Oduya (signed as a free agent by Nill)

Jordie Benn (inherited by Nill)

Jyrki Jokipakka (7th round 2011)

Patrick Nemeth (2nd round 2010)

Jamie Oleksiak (1st round 2011)

Those are  the 8 defensemen Dallas has carried this season not wanting to lose any of them to waivers although, at some point, I expect Nill will deal from a position of extreme strength and make a another trade.

But, as alluded to earlier, it doesn’t stop there.

These D are warming up in the bullpen in the AHL and appear to have a solid NHL future:

Stephen Johns (trade)

Esa Lindell (trade)

Mattias Backman (trade)

Julius Honka (1st round 2014)

Ludwig Bystrom (2nd round 2012)

That depth is just ridiculous and, while Nill certainly can’t claim credit for all of them, he now has so many bullets in his chamber he’s set himself up for many years.

When we examine Nill’s draft history, we have to remember that he was “The Man” in Detroit as well as the GM of the Wings’ AHL team before moving to Dallas….or, in other words, the man mainly responsible for “the Detroit Model”.

Since his first draft in 2013 with Texas Nill has picked the following players in the first 2 rounds.

2013 

Valeri Nichsuhkin 109GP

Jason Dickinson 15P in 20GP AHL rookie

Remi Elle 6P in 11GP AHL rookie

2014

Julius Honka 40P in 87GP in AHL

Brett Pollock 31P in 28GP Edmonton WHL

2015

Denis Guryanov playing in the Russian junior League (an odd pick)

Roope Hintz playing in the Finnish SM Liga.

I admit I have to wonder about those 2015 picks but Nill has a long track record of discovering NHL players in Europe so at this point I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

To summarize, Nill had some pretty nice pieces to work with when he took over the Stars (Jamie and Jordy Benn, Klingberg on the way, Goligoski etc.) but he immediately got to work and acquired the pieces needed to win all while stock piling his prospect depth.

To be able to acquire Seguin, Spezza, Sharp and Oduya, Demers and all that D depth without losing anything of consequence is just remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

Turning South

Pacific-Triangle-1

It was widely expected that the Edmonton Oilers would and should make a turn north this season after 9 years as the worst team in the NHL.

The “expert panel” assembled by the fine folks at Oilers Nation were all optimistic, even delusional in some cases.

  • Lowetide 93
  • Jeanshorts 90
  • Henderson 90
  • Gregor 86
  • Willis 85
  • Baggedmilk 82
  • Brownlee 82

You may recall that I had predicted before the season began that the Oilers would finish 13th in the conference ahead only of the Arizona Coyotes which, as things are shaking out, may prove me to be slightly optimistic as well.

Old friend Darcy McLeod of Woodblog took the time over at Lowetide this morning to assess how the Oilers are actually performing:

Some comparisons of key stats from this year and last Nov 11.

First number will be this year, 2nd number is last year at this time. (running WOI Oct1/14-Nov11/14)

5v5 GF/60
2.00/60 (tied 17th in NHL)
2.10/60 (tied 18th in NHL)

5v5 GA/60
2.90 (28th in NHL)
3.10 (29th in NHL)

5v5 SH%
7.4% (tied 16th)
7.3% (tied 21st)

5v5 SV%
.904 (27th in NHL)
.900 (29th in NHL)

5v5 SH/60
26.8 (27th in NHL)
29.2 (tied 16th in NHL)

5v5 SF/60
29.9 (22nd in NHL)
30.6 (tied 22nd in NHL)

5v5 CF%
48.4 (24th in NHL)
50.6 (15th in NHL)

5v5 SCF/60
24.6 (tied 21st in NHL)
25.1 (tied 22nd in NHL)

5v5 SCA/60
24.8 (11th in NHL)
26.2 (16th in NHL)

5v5 HDSCF/60
9.3 (26th in NHL)
10.9 (16th in NHL)

5v5 HDSCA/60
11.2 (tied 23rd in NHL)
12.0 (22nd in NHL)

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Oilers slightly better defensively than last year via SA, SCA and HDSA

Oilers slight worse offensively (despite McEverything playing 12 games) via SF, SCF and HDSCF.

No surprise to me as you may know…the Oilers still don’t even have ONE passable top pairing D and don’t even get me started on the over payments for Sekera and Reinhart.

I had also warned about once again going into another season without having a bonafide #1 goaltender a move which, if you consider the buyers market in goaltending, is inexcusable.

The Oilers next 3 games are against Pacific Division opponents…Anaheim tonight followed by Arizona (second games in 2 on the road) and then a third game in four nights against the Kings in LA.

The Oilers would need to get at least 3 points out of those games to even remain in the Pacific Division conversation but it’s much more likely they come away with 1or 0.

That they get to follow up that 3 game death march with a match at home against the Blackhawks likely means the Oilers season will be effectively over a week from today.

Perhaps that will spur Peter Chiarelli to start making some moves to shore up the dreadful D and I would suggest the first place he should look is in Dallas where the Stars are carrying 8 defensemen because they don’t want to expose any of their young “NHL ready” youngsters to waivers:

  1. Alex Goligoski
  2. John Klingberg (untouchable)
  3. Johnny Oduya
  4. Jordie Benn
  5. Jason Demers
  6. Jyrki Jokipakka
  7. Jamie Oleksiak
  8. Patrick Nemeth
  9. Julius Honka*
  10. Stephen Johns*
  11. Esa Lindell*
  12. Ludwig Bystrom*        *in the AHL

Jim Nill might well be reluctant to part with any of those players unless the return was very significant but Goligoski is UFA at the end of the season and if he feels one of his other young players is ready to pair with phenom Klingberg, perhaps Chiarelli could get his attention.

Goligoski, while not an elite pairing D, would certainly be the Oilers #1D right out of the box and would allow the other Oilers D to slot lower in the batting order which is exactly what is needed.

Of course, the Stars have very little need to do anything at this point but Nill has proven to be a GM not afraid to make big moves if he can improve his team in the future.

On the other hand, Chiarelli, a week from now, may realize that with the season already over from a competitive point of view he’ll just sit on his hands for the final few months of the 10th annual death march and try to offload some junk at the deadline.

Going to be a fascinating week ahead.