Woe Canada

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As we near the all star break…not one Canadian NHL team is in a playoff position.

The last time that happened was after the merger of the NHL and WHA in 1979.

A quick glance at the standings would seem to indicate that only the Montreal Canadiens have a chance but let’s take a peek at what the chances are…things may be somewhat different than they appear.

…beginning the bottom of the barrel.

Edmonton Oilers 0.8% (.430 win percentage)

The Oilers are done and have been for quite some time if you take an honest look at things. The Oilers have played the most games in their division (50) and have only managed to win 16 of them in regulation.

Their winning percentage is only better than Columbus and is,  unbelievably, worse than 2 teams that have recently been stripped to the studs and are just beginning a rebuild while the Oilers have been trying to turn north for most of a decade.

It’s no longer arguable that the Oilers rebuild is failing because they stubbornly refused to draft high end defensemen when they had a chance (how would Dimitri Kulikov, Adam Larsson or  any of the buffet of defensemen from the 2012 draft.

While the Oilers have finally acquired 3 NHL calibre centres, many teams have 6 or 7 capable at the position and the Oilers “draft wingers” strategy has failed them miserably.

Only slightly improved goaltending has them ahead of last years pace but consider their points accrual over the past 5 seasons:

2010/11 – 62 points

2011/12- 74

2012/13 – 77 (pro-rated)

2013/14 – 67

2014/15 – 62

2015/16 – 70 (pro-rated)

Give or take some luck, the Oilers have gotten absolutely nowhere since drafting Taylor Hall in 2010.

That is, frankly, embarrassing.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2.2% (.438)

The Leafs are where everyone, including their management and coach thought they would be.

Their rebuild is less than a year old so it’s no surprise they are flying a bit but anyone who watches the team can see renewed effort and structure.

While their goaltending remains in flux,they have two young stud D men to build around and with 2 blue chip C prospects in William Nylander (1.26 PPG AHL) and Mitch Marner (2.09 PPG OHL) coming up down the middle, they are following the winning blueprint all the way.

They will lack size in the top 6 but they will likely draft very high this coming draft and should be able to choose from any of the giant Finns or, more likely, will select Matthew Tkachuk from Head Scout Dale Hunter’s London Knights.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the try and swing a deal to draft Nylander’s brother Alexander (1.41 PPG OHL) who is reportedly a better player than his older brother.

No chance at the playoffs but things look bright.

Winnipeg Jets 4.2% (.469)

The Jets should be much better than their record suggests but shaky goaltending has let them down again and you have to think a major shake up will be on the way in the offseason.

The Jets are very likely to trade captain Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien before the trade deadline so the return on those two assets will be a huge factor in determining their future course.

I would imagine they will eventually address their goaltending and, while they have some very good your D, they will need to add some offsets in their top 6 to be a consistent playoff threat.

Ottawa Senators 18.1% (.530)

Like the Jets, the Senators have suffered from mediocre goaltending that has kept them from the playoff bracket.

While they do have some offence from Bobby Ryan, Mark Stoke and Mike Hoffman, they lead the league in SA/G at 33.3 so their flaws are pretty obvious and I think you can expect a coaching change in the offseason.

Imagine where they would be without Eric Karlsson?

Calgary Flames 25.5% (.500)

On the surface, the Flames seem very close to being DOA but they have a significant number of games in hand on almost every team and are, if effect, in charge of their own fate.

If the Flames can take advantage of those extra games over the net couple of weeks, they can stay in the fight but winning NOW is critical.

Vancouver Canucks 33.3% (.534)

The Canucks record (20-18-11) is somewhat deceiving.

They’ve had several brutally long road trips in the first half of the season and, in fact, have played 21 home games compared to 28 on the road so will have a much friendlier schedule down the stretch.

They’ve been playing for a while without their top 2 C’s and, at various times, without their #2 and #3 D but they are all expected back shortly and, if the Canucks can settle into a rhythm at home, they may have a chance to surpass Arizona and Anaheim for the final Pacific Division playoff spot.

Problem is, the Canucks are only 9-8-2 at home so, unless they can improve that record considerably, they won’t make it.

Montreal Canadiens 54.3% (.542)

On the surface, the Habs have the best chance of making the playoffs but that is somewhat deceiving as well.

They have been awful (3-6-1 10GP) since Carey Price went down and he’s not expected back fro several weeks.

If momentum counts for anything, and I think it does, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ottawa finishes ahead of Montreal in the final standings.

A Carey Price return would prove to be a godsend but I expect it will be too little too late.

To be honest I wouldn’t bet on any of these dogs but, if I was forced to pick one team that might take it, it would be Vancouver.

The combination of an easy schedule, the return of key injured veterans and the continuing emergence of Bo Horvat and Ben Hutton might just be enough but I expect it will, take some cooperation by the Anaheim Ducks for the Canucks to see the post season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snapshots

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  1. Anyone who didn’t take my advice almost a year ago and keep a close eye on John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars should certainly be paying attention now. Klingberg scored the game winning goal and added 2 assists last night as the Stars beat the very strong Minnesota Wild.

Klingberg is now 6th in league scoring with 20 points and is on pace for a 91 point season and he’s a DEFENSEMAN. If Klingberg were playing in one of the big media markets like New York, Toronto Montreal the league would be abuzz about what’s going on in Big D but there’s is little chatter outside Dallas.

The 6’3″ 180 lb. defenseman just turned 23 so who knows what his upside is but if you take some time to watch him play you will see a fast, skilled smart defenseman who can transition the puck as well as Drew Doughty but has better offensive skills than the LA rearguard.

As his experience grows and he gets a little better in his own zone, I think we’re looking at a multiple Norris Trophy winner here.

And he was FIFTH round pick in 2010.

2. As I expected, the Oilers return from a 3 game Pacific Division road trip in last place in the NHL…up next are Chicago and the surging New Jersey Devils followed by a 5 game eastern road trip. That should put the final nails in the coffin by American Thanksgiving on November 26th.

3. Leon Draisaitl has a 33.3% shooting percentage. He’s generating fewer than 2 shots per game. It’s amusing that Oiler fans only mention regression when it applies to players on other teams.

4. Speaking of shooting percentage, I’ve had a long running discussion (and a bet) with GMoney from Oilers Nerd Alert regarding the shooting percentage of Sean Monohan:

Recorded for posterity … a couple of bets I’ve made:

1. On the reversion of Sean Monahan’s shooting percentage, with dashingsilverfox:

DSF wins if Monahans sh% is > 12% next year (2015-2016 season), minimum 40 games played (DSF to verify this last point in case he remembers different).

I win if Monahans sh% is 12% or less.

Terms: One bottle of 10 y.o. Talisker vs two bottles of Osoyoos Larose, shipped or ready for pickup to the others locale.

Monahan has now played 174 games for the Flames over 2 and a bit seasons. His shooting percentage in this 3 seasons:

15.7

16.2

16.7

How do you like my chances? 🙂

5. Would you be surprised to learn that the Toronto Maple Leafs are among the top 15 possession teams in the league as measured by Corsi close?

Well, they are and are also only 2 points ahead of the woeful Blue Jackets and Oilers in the standings. It would appear that scoring skill and goaltending are more important than possession.

Ranking the Rebuilds #10…The Toronto Maple Leafs.

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The Leafs are just starting on what might be a 3-5 year journey to return the team to relevance.

But, to my eye, they’re off to a very good start.

The rebuild, of course, began with the hire of Brendan Shanahan

After a storied NHL career, which includes 3 Stanley Cup wins, a stint as league disciplinarian and an election to the HHOF, Shanahan was tasked with returning one of the NHL’s iconic franchises to respectability.

Shanahan knows what it takes to win and virtually every move he has made in Toronto shows it.

Here is a great analysis of how the leafs rebuild looked in late June.

Of course, since that date, on July 1 specifically, Shanahan showed he was serious about the task at hand when he traded Phil Kessel:

The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In return Toronto gets centre Nick Spaling, forward Kasperi Kapanen, defenceman Scott Harrington, plus first- and third-round picks from 2016. Toronto will retain $1.2 million of Kessel’s salary in each of the next seven seasons.

While it’s almost impossible to get quid pro quo for an elite scorer like Kessel, the Leafs did exceptionally well in the transaction receiving two blue chip prospects, Kapanen and Harrington as well as Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick in 2016. Spaling appears to be a serviceable 3rd line player but, in reality is nothing more than a throw in in this trade.

While not only signalling the beginning of the rebuild, the Kessel trade further stocked the Leaf’s prospect pipeline that will undoubtedly swell even further as pieces of the old guard are moved out and, really, it is the prospect pool that will be important in this process.

So, let’s take a look at where the Leaf’s stand heading into the 2015/16 season from the perspective of players who will likely be around when (if) the Leafs return to respectability.

I think we have to start with 2009 1st round pick Nazem Kadri.

The 24 year old will finally get a chance this season to show he can become a true 1st line centre. There is some doubt he is up to that task but, even if he should fall somewhat short, he would still be considered a building block as a skilled #2.

Beyond Kadri though, the Leafs drafting of late has been heavy on centres and has produced very solid depth at C.

Nazem Kadri – 7th overall 2009

Mitch Marner – #4 overall 2015. (projects as #1C)

William Nylander #8 overall 2014 (projects as #1C/RW

Frederick Gauthier – 21st overall 2013 (projects as #3C)

Carter Verhaeghe – 82nd overall 2013 (projects as #3C)

But that is just the draft.

Going under the radar was the free agent signing of 6’3″ 200 centre Casey Bailey who had a stellar junior season with Penn State.

A competitive power center who brings to the table ruggedness and determination. Works hard to get the puck when he doesn’t have it, and is always productive with his ice time. Is able to come up big when his team needs him most, elevating his game to heightened levels at both ends of the ice. Possesses a tremendous shot, with the focal point being its accuracy. Decent hands and skating ability, but could be worked on. All-in-all, that one player who, by the end of the game, you definitely want to have had on your side. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)

See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=45878#sthash.UgQNL3ps.dpuf

It’s also worth noting that Peter Holland, drafted 15th overall by Anaheim in 2009, is still only 24 and could have more upside.

Nevertheless, the Leafs have seemingly already addressed depth down the middle in a significant way although I expect Marner and Nylander will not be full time Leafs this season….Marner likely headed back to junior and Nylander to the Marlies.


On the wings, things are a little more cloudy.

Kasperi Kapanen, who came over in the Kessel trade, seems like a surefire top 6 winger sooner rather than later and James Van Reimsdyk, at 26, is likely young enough to stick around for better days but, after that, the Leafs have to hope that another pair of under the radar picks turn into players.

From Hockey’s Future:

TEAM BREAKDOWN:

Strengths: The Leafs have a trio of exciting prospects around whom a restructuring might occur. Center William Nylander is a dynamic and creative player in the Patrick Kane mold, and new Head Coach Mike Babcock is tasked with making him a complete and responsible presence.

Wingers Brendan Leipsic and Connor Brown are also smaller-framed players, but each topped 100 points in a season during his CHL career and, most importantly, showed the ability to translate that junior offense to the AHL last season.

A new regime in Toronto might mean that there is little allegiance to incoming prospects, but there is some additional depth in players like defenseman Stuart Percy, checking center Frederik Gauthier, and 2013 third-rounder Carter Verhaeghe. A European prospect like Pierre Engvall, or puck-moving defenseman Matt Finn, might also be ready for extended looks.

The real issue though is that the Leafs prospects are blocked to a large degree by long term contracts to players I am sure management would like to move,

Players like Tyler Bozak ($4.2M X3), Joffrey Lupul ($5.25M X3) Stephane Robidas( $3M x 2) and Dion Phaneuf ($7M X7) are pulling down way too much of the cap for their production and moving any of them will prove to be very difficult.

So, if this is a 3-5 year rebuild, Bozak, Lupul, and Robidas will be gone so there is that.

The biggest issue, of course is the legacy of Phaneuf’s horrible contract although, the Leafs do have some very promising young D coming up.

Jake Gardiner (at 25 just entering his prime)

Morgan Rielly (#5 overall 2012 – projects as a #1D)

Travis Dermott (#34 overall 2015 high scoring OHL defenseman)

Matt Finn (#35 overall 2012 – projects as second pairing)

Rinat Valiev (#68 overall 2014 – high scoring WHL grad)

Scott Harrington (54th overall 2011 – acquired in the Kessel trade)

Stuart Percy (25th overall 2011)

That may not be the strongest D prospect pool in the league (see Dallas) but it’s a decent place to start and if you take a close look at what the new braintrust in Toronto has done this offseason, Leafs fans should be pretty satisfied with the progress being made.

Toronto has been very aggressive in signing players to short term deals who should be able to be flipped at the trade deadline to load up on draft picks and they already are stocked.

The Leafs have 12 picks in the 2016 draft, five in the first three rounds. They have each of their own plus Pittsburgh’s first-rounder, New Jersey’s third-rounder, Anaheim’s fifth-rounder, St. Louis’s sixth-rounder and Tampa’s seventh-rounder.

The players who it’s possible the Leafs will move at the deadline for even more picks is a long one.

JVR

P.A Parenteau

Brad Boyes

Daniel Winnik

Curtis Glencorss

Shawn Matthias

Nick Spaling

Mark Arcobello

Richard Panik

Peter Holland

It’s obvious that Shanahan, new GM Lou Lamourello  and Mike Babcock have agreed that hoarding assets that can deliver another raft of draft picks is a smart strategy and I don’t disagree.

If the Leafs enter the 2016 draft with, say, 15 or more picks, they should be able to restock their prospect pool in very short order).

If, as I expect, they finish close to last in the league, they will have a tremendous chance to draft a generational player in LW Austin Matthews but will also have Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick and another high second round pick of their own in what appears to be another deep draft.

Add another 3 or 4 decent picks in return for some of the above rentals and the Leafs could be rebuilt even faster than their management thinks.

What Gives?

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I’ve always been a Cody Franson fan.

The 6’5″ 215lb RH defenseman has always struck me as being under appreciated, almost to the point of being abused, especially by the Toronto Maple Leafs who signed him to a series of 1 year contracts.

During my Sunday morning trip around the hockey news sites and blogs, I ran into more than a few “experts” who think signing Franson as a free agent would be a big mistake and are creating a narrative that has no basis in reality.

Most of these self proclaimed gurus, obviously haven’t take the time to look closely at the player or the situations he’s been placed in over the years with Nashville and Toronto.

So, upon digging a little deeper, I discovered an exceptional piece of work from Sportnets’ Steven Burch.

Since 2012-13 the On-Ice SV% at 5v5 for Franson is .917 (90th out of 123 defenders with 1,000-plus minutes of ice time). The median On-Ice SV% for that same group is .922. However, he also started 38.1 percent of his shifts in the Defensive Zone—the highest rate of any of the 123 players in the group. And when comparing possession metrics, Franson’s teammates had a weighted average Corsi For % of 43.9 percent, 121st out of the 123 over the same two-year span—Jake Gardiner ranked 123rd by the same metric.

So Franson arguably was starting in the toughest situations in the entire NHL the past two seasons—he had the highest proportion of Defensive Zone starts, with the worst teammates in terms of possession, in front of below average goaltending. It seems curious that anyone would argue that Franson has been “sheltered” defensively based on those statistics. But they do, because they’re not looking beyond the eye test.

I encourage you to read the full article as it may change your mind about this players’ value but here are a couple of other money quotes.

To put it plainly, Franson produces offensively amongst the elite D-men in the NHL. His possession impacts are amazingly consistent, and have never been negative. He has shown an ability to both reduce shot-attempts against and increase shot-attempts for. And goals-for and against improve significantly when he is on the ice compared to what one would expect based on his usage.

Just to hammer in that point about Franson’s offensive ability….

franson3

So, here we are 5 days after free agency and there is a superb young defenseman sitting without a contract.

There are some lingering questions about Franson’s footspeed and his lack of physicality despite his size but, really folks, who cares?

Franson is a very good possession player who scores at an elite level both at even strength and on the power play.

We don’t know what Franson’s contract ask is but when you consider the Edmonton Oilers just signed Andrej Sekera to a 6 year X $5.5M contract anything at or near that number should be a bargain for a team that signs Franson…especially when you consider Franson is only 27 while Sekera is 29.

I expect some very smart GM is sitting waiting for Franson’s price to drop a little or is trying create some cap space to sign him and I wouldn’t be surprised if that team is the Calgary Flames. 

Kent Wilson at Flames Nation makes a pretty compelling argument for the Flames adding Franson:

Because Franson would give the Flames one of the best bluelines in the NHL.

He’d add scoring to an already fairly potent group and would further firm up the team’s greatest weakness – puck possession. Brad Treliving has clearly made it a point of order to go after guys who drive play this summer. Adding Franson would mean potential dressing a possession defender on every d-pairing to start the season.

Wilson alludes to the “complicated” cap issues Calgary would face in signing Franson but the Flames have way too many forwards on their roster and will have to move a few and it’s very likely that Ladislav Smid will be permanently on LTIR until his $3.5M cap hit expires.

The Flames could certainly pull the trigger on adding Franson…the question is, will they?

Snap Shots

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I’ve been out of town for a while so have been somewhat remiss in posting but thought I would chime in on a few things while the Stanley Cup finals wind their way to conclusion.

1) It’s heartening to see two fast, highly skilled teams are left standing in pursuit of the cup. And it’s especially rewarding to see one of those teams went from near the bottom to the top in a 5 year span rather than have to spend a decade wallowing in the gutter to get there.

2) There are only 2 players on the Lightning roster that were already in place when Steve Yzerman took over 5 years ago….#1C (more on that later) Steven Stamkos and #1D Victor Hedman. If anyone needs a reminder that any rebuild should start from the backend out and then up the middle…there it is.

3) Stamkos has been playing #2 RW for most of the series which not only shows you the value of having too many C’s but also shows you the type of individual he is to accept that role without complaint (as far as we know). It is much easier for an elite centre to shift to wing that the other way around so, when drafting, teams should always select the centre if all else is anywhere near equal. The poster child for how not to rebuild is, of course, the Edmonton Oilers who, 9 years after last making the playoffs, are juts about to draft their #1C and still don’t have any prospects who project as a true #1D.

4) The success of Yzerman in Tampa raises the question of which of the newly minted GM’s will be able to turn around their teams’ fortunes most efficiently. Brad Treleving has already tasted some success in Calgary and goes into the offseason with a huge amount of cap space. He has the opportunity to improve his team very quickly if he acquires the right pieces including another youngish veteran defenseman and a scoring winger. I wouldn’t be shocked if Phil Kessel was on the menu for the latter.

5) After the Oilers hired Peter Chiarelli to be their new GM, I took a closer look at his time in Boston. While he was able to lead his team to a cup, his record in Boston has more than a few blemishes including overpaying more than a few players and putting his team in cap hell. In Edmonton, with Connor McDavid only 3 complete seasons away from likely signing a huge contract, he can’t afford to make any costly mistakes in the interim…I’d advise to keep a close eye on him since, in my mind, the jury is out on how ell he can manage the cap.

6) I would also keep a close eye on Toronto. Another former Red Wing disciple, Brendan Shanahan is assembling a very strong management team and, of course, now also employs the best coach in hockey so, with some astute moves could turn around the Leafs fortunes relatively quickly. If the Leafs can get a good return on Kessel, Phaneuf and others, they could improve rapidly. They already have decent goaltending, a potential #1D in Morgan Rielly and, if they draft Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner or Matt Barzal will have a potential #1C in place to go along with a very good #2C in Nazem Kadri.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking a closer look at the prospects of all the “rebuilding” teams and will have some thoughts on the moves they make at the draft and in free agency.

Phil Kessel

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It’s almost a certainty that the Toronto Maple leafs are going to trade Phil Kessel this offseason.

Kessel is a controversial figure because many NHL observers question his conditioning and commitment.

But, what they don’t see, is a player who, despite a season of total dysfunction in Toronto, is one of the best pure goal scorers  in the league.

I’ve always thought that Kessel and Taylor Hall were pretty much synonymous so let take a look at at their respective stats since Hall entered the league.

10/11

Hall – 20G 22A 42P

Kessel – 32G 32 64P

11/12

Hall – 27G 26A 43

Kessel – 37G  45A 82P

12/13 (lockout season)

Hall – 16G 34A 50P

Kessel – 20G 32A 52P

13/14 

Hall – 23G 52A 80P

Kessel – 37G 43A 80P

14/15

Hall – 14G 24A  38P

Kessel – 25G 36A 61P

There is not much doubt that Kessel is a better hockey player than Hall.

The last 5 seasons don’t lie.

What should the Leafs expect to get back in a trade for Kessel?

We have to remember than Kessel is under contract for the next 7 seasons at a cap hit of $8M. (details here)

But that’s not the whole story.

Kessel’s contract is structured in an odd way with, for example, $10M in salary due next season PLUS a $4M signing bonus.

That kind of dough likely makes Kessel an unattractive proposition to any team operating on an internal budget. And when you consider how many teams are already cap strapped next season, the number of possible destinations for Kessel is actually quite small unless Toronto is willing to take a big contract in return.

 

SNAPSHOTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Epic Tank Battle II

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

The latest standings in the Epic Tank Battle:

Buffalo – 43

Edmonton – 46

Arizona – 47

Toronto – 55

Carolina – 55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’ll be fascinating to watch.

Spitballin”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


 

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

Snap Shots

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1) 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!