Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions

The Atlantic Division is a mess right now. Literally anything could happen. When it comes to the standings, nobody is safe. What counts for first place in the Atlantic doesn’t even warrant a wild card in the Metropolitan.

Needless to say, it’s a tight race.

So with that in mind, please enjoy the Game Haus’ Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions.

OTTAWA Wins the division

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: Andre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images.

Guy Boucher and the Ottawa Senators have surprised a lot of NHL fans this season. They currently sit in second place in the Atlantic Division, trailing Montreal by only two points.

Under Boucher’s leadership the Sens have employed a much more defensively responsible system. Fantasy owners may not be happy about this, Erik Karlsson’s point production this season has suffered as a result. But in combination with the outstanding goaltending of Mike Condon and Craig Anderson Boucher’s system has raised the Senators’ stock significantly.

Look for Ottawa to finish the season strong, they’ve gone 6-4-0 in their last ten and have three games in hand compared to the division leading Habs.

Ottawa will finish first in the Atlantic Division

MONTREAL follows close behind

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo Credit: NHL.com.

Though it has not always been smooth sailing for the Montreal Canadiens this season they remain on top of the Atlantic Division. That lead, however, has become increasingly narrow as the season wears on Montreal’s slump continues.

Under the leadership of their new head coach Claude Julien the Habs will become a more dominant team, with better puck possession, and score more goals. But it will take time to adjust.

Though a change behind the bench was just what the doctor ordered for the Canadiens, the institution of a new system will take time. And in that time the Canadiens will fall behind and lose their Atlantic Division lead to the Sens.

Montreal will finish cecond in the Atlantic Division.

FLORIDA FINDS A PLAYOFF SPOT

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: La Presse Canadienne.

The Florida Panthers have weathered the storm and are finally firing on all cylinders again.

With the return of Bjugstad, Barkov and Huberdeau the Panthers are again a force to be reckoned with. Earlier this month they pulled off a feat no Eastern Conference team has managed this season, a California sweep.

Don’t let their goal differential (-14) fool you, they’re 8-2-0 in their last ten outscoring their opponents 38 – 30 over that span.

Look for a healthy Panthers squad to make a late surge in the standings.

Florida will finish third in the Atlantic Division,

TORONTO FINDS THE WILDCARD

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski, USA Today Sports.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs this year. But it won’t be pretty.

There are a lot of New York Islanders fans that will probably hate this prediction, but the young Leafs have been explosive all season long.

The first wild card spot in the East will undoubtedly go to a Metropolitan Division team. The New York Rangers, who currently hold the position, have 78 points in the standings; more than even the first place Canadiens in the Atlantic. Still, Toronto will manage to secure a wild card spot for themselves.

Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock knows a thing or two about making the playoffs. But his young squad will fatigue as the season grinds on. Their upcoming schedule includes a tour of the California teams and it remains unlikely that the Leafs will be able to find any easy wins on the West coast. As a result, the Leafs will fall from their third place position in the Atlantic.

Toronto will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division and secure a wild card spot in the process.

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Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine Square Off Again

Nobody knew quite what to expect when the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs met for the first time this season. It was the first time that the number one and two over draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine faced each other on NHL ice.

If you recall, it was only seven days into the young 2016-17 NHL season. It was only Toronto’s third game, and Winnipeg’s fourth.

It took place only seven days after Auston Matthews’ stunning four-goal debut game and as a result the NHL had fallen head over heals for Matthews. Laine had yet to impress in the rookie scoring race.

But it was Laine who stole the show that night, back on Oct. 19 in Winnipeg. While Matthews was left off the scoreboard, Laine tallied three goals including the overtime winner.

Though the NHL is rife with rookie talent this year, Matthews and Laine stand out as among the league’s most elite goal scorers. They stood out when they were drafted consecutively first and second overall and they continue to stand out today.

THat WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE JETS & LAINE

The Winnipeg Jets weren’t exactly in hot shape when they faced the Leafs back in October. They had gone 1-2-0 in their first three games with a 3.75 goals against average. Nor was much really expected of the team this season.

One could comfortably say that the Jets are in a transitional stage at the moment. Not quite in full rebuild mode but not ready to compete for the cup either. Sitting fifth in the Central Division with 61 points, it’s unlikely they’ll even grab a playoff spot.

Though they are only four points from a wild card position, they lack the games in hand that many of their Central Division competitors hold.

Then

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
3 1 1 2 1 0 5
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub, NHLI via Getty Images

Still, Patrik Laine shines on.

In four fewer games than Matthews, the Finnish rookie has tallied three more points and a better plus/minus rating than the young American.

Though he shoots far less than Matthews, Laine has managed to find the back of the net just as much and with far fewer shots on goal.

He has played remarkably consistent but let us not forget the explosiveness of Laine’s game. He has amassed an incredible three hat tricks this year, making him the first Jets’ rookie to do so since Teemu Selanne managed five in his rookie season.

Now

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
54 28 24 52 9 18 123

 

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE LEAFS & MATTHEWS

As with the Jets, very little was expected of the Toronto Maple Leafs entering the 2016-17 season. They were 1-0-1 when they met the Jets back in October and destined for mediocrity. But then some strange happened. The Atlantic Division began to cave in on itself.

Though the Leafs are in the middle of a major rebuild, they find themselves competing for a playoff spot in the mess that is the Atlantic Division. Seven teams are within 10 points of first place and the Leafs are within only five.

While it remains unlikely that they will leave the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens (or even the Florida Panthers for that matter) in their dust, the Toronto Maple Leafs may very well make the playoffs.

It is well within reason to believe that that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time four years.

Then

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
2 4 0 4 3 0 8
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

And that’s in large part due to the outstanding play of Auston Matthews.

Matthews wasted no time showing the league what he was made of with his four goal debut. Only seven players in NHL history had managed a hat trick in their first game while Matthews went ahead and did one better.

With over 200 shots on goal this season it should come as no surprise that he has already eclipsed the 20 goal plateau. Matthews has 28 goals and 49 points on the season which makes him first among Leafs players in both categories.

Matthews is a big part of the reason why Toronto is even competing for a playoff spot this year.

Now

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
58 28 21 49 3 12 205

WHAT TO EXPECT

The game takes place tonight, in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Winnipeg is 14-15-2 on the road so far this season and sport a 7-6-1 record against Atlantic Division foes. Meanwhile, Toronto is 13-9-4 at home this season have gone 3-5-3 against Central Division competitors this campaign.

Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime back on Oct. 19 and it would be fair to assume another high scoring affair is in order this time around.

Aside from Matthews and Laine, plenty of young-talent will be on display as well. Toronto’s William Nylander, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaisev will suit up along with Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey. Expect a fast-paced, high-scoring, two-way game with lots of shots on goal.

It remains unclear whether or not Toronto’s Mitch Marner will suit up. He is dealing with an undisclosed injury which has kept him out of two-contests so far.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Gustav Nyquist, Brian McGratten, Edmonton Oilers, Zach Kassian, Vancouver Canucks, Charlie Coyle, Minnesota Wild, Duncan Keith, Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Sam Gagner, NHL, Department of Player Safety, Suspension, Hockey, High-Stick

Is Six Games Enough For Nyquist’s High Stick?

On Wednesday the NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed Gustav Nyquist, of the Detroit Red Wings, a six game suspension for high-sticking Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon. He will be suspended without pay and forfeit $158,333.34 to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

The six game ruling came after the Swedish winger waived the right to an in-person hearing. Given that he was offered an in-person hearing the League’s Department of Player Safety had the ability to hand out a lengthier sentence but chose not to.

Which has many wondering if they should they have?

THE HIGH-STICK

The suspension came in the wake of a blatant high-sticking incident which took place during a game between the Wings and the Wild in Minnesota on Sunday, February 12. Nyquist was penalized for the play, assessed a double-minor for high-sticking at 14:13 of the first period.

In defense of his actions Nyquist stated that his intention was not to spear Spurgeon in the face, but rather deliver a cross-check in retaliation for the one he had just received from the Wild defenseman. He attested that he had attempted to bring his stick across his body but the blade was accidentally caught by Spurgeon instead.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE

Regardless of his intention, Nyquist did in fact spear Spurgeon square in face. He delivered a high-stick the Department of Player Safety called “potentially career-threatening.” Had Nyquist been able to bring his stick across his body without spearing Spurgeon, he still admitted to attempting to deliver a blow to player with his stick.

This intention on this play was to injure and the results could have been much worse.

Handing out only a six game sentence has many dumbfounded of the League’s decision, including the former NHL enforcer Brian McGrattan.

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SIX IS FAIR

Let’s give the guy a little credit here. If he said he didn’t mean to do it then we ought to take his word for it. At least a little bit.

Consider the fact that Nyquist has no prior suspensions and has never been involved in an incident like this. He is not known as an overly physical player and has no history of aggression or behavioral problems. All things considered, Gustav Nyquist has behaved himself while in the NHL and this is really the first time his name has ever come across the desk of the Department of Player Safety.

It is worth noting, as TSN insider Bob McKenzie has, that similar high-sticking incident have in the past been given similar suspensions.

Duncan Keith was suspended for six games for his high-stick against the Minnesotta Wild’s Charlie Coyle back in March of 2016. One of those games being a playoff game.

Similarly, Zach Kassian was handed an eight game suspension for his high-stick on Edmonton’s Sam Gagner back in September of 2013.

The Department of Player Safety defended their ruling by highlighting the fact that, in the end, there was no injury on the play and Nyquist has no history of erratic, aggressive, or dangerous behavior.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

If you think that six games was too much then you’re just plain wrong. So wrong that there’s simply no point in arguing with you.

Nyquist needs to be held accountable for his actions. Regardless of his intentions, he is responsible for his play on the ice. He made an irresponsible play with his stick and will have six games to think about it.

The Department of Player Safety needs to be careful with their rulings on plays like these, though. A play which has clear intent to injure might be something which ought to warrant more than six games.

Food for thought.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

An Ode to Mike Ilitch

News broke over the weekend that Mike Ilitch, longtime owner of the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, had passed away at the age of 87. He leaves behind a wife, seven children, and millions of people in the Detroit region who will miss him dearly.

Ilitch was more than just another ultra-wealthy professional sports mogul. Yes, he was ultra-wealthy. Yes, he was a professional sports mogul. However, when all is said and done, these accomplishments will pale in comparison to everything else Mr. I managed to accomplish in his 87 years.

IN THE BEGINNING

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Little Caesars Pizza.

Michael Ilitch was born in Detroit in 1929 to Sotir and Sultana Ilitch. The son of two Macedonian immigrants graduated Cooley High School in Detroit and served for four years with the United States Marine Corps.

After his military career came to a close, Ilitch took to professional baseball. He played second base for a handful of teams, including his hometown Tigers.

In 1959, after his playing career had come to a close, Ilitch opened a small pizza franchise. Little Caesars Pizza Treat, a tiny pizzeria in Garden City, Michigan, would eventually grow into the multi-billion dollar, international fast food conglomerate you see today.

Marine, professional ball player, restaurateur – Mike Ilitch was truly a self-made man.

It was here at this junction in Ilitch’s life, that his sports legacy began to take shape.

HIS IMPACT ON PRO SPORTS

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: NHL.com.

After purchasing the Red Wings in 1982, Ilitch turned the fledgling Wings into a team to be reckoned with. Under his ownership, they’ve managed to make the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons, win six Presidents Trophies, and four Stanley Cup championships; including back-to-back titles in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

On the passing of Ilitch, ESPN analyst Craig Custance said, “The Detroit Red Wings franchise was a first-class franchise under Ilitch, one that sacrificed nothing in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup.”

To many in the hockey world, Ilitch was known as an owner who

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch, UPI.

truly loved the game. He would do anything for his club.

He purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992. In a similar fashion, he restored the Tigers to their former glory, reaching the World Series twice and winning four consecutive Central Division titles from 2011 to 2014.

Forget the franchises for a moment, Ilitch would do anything for Detroit.

 

 

A GIVING MAN

What Ilitch did for his franchises was but a drop in the bucket compared to what he did for the Detroit community. While most investors were running as fast as they could out of Detroit, Ilitch never flinched. He purchased property after property in his pursuit of revitalizing the downtown core.

Aside from his financial investments in the city of Detroit, a list of Ilitch’s philanthropic efforts reads longer than most resumes. Apart from the wonderful work his franchises have undertook, his personal contributions have been enormous.

  • In 1985, Ilitch started the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a traveling restaurant equipped to feed the hungry and assist in national disasters.
  • In 1986, he formed the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, an organization which has helped literally thousands of children to play the sport.
  • In 2000, Ilitch Charities for Children was founded. As a non-profit, the charity was dedicated to improving health, education, and recreating in the lives of children. The charity was renamed Ilitch Charities in 2008 and broadened its focus. Ilitch Charities invests in communities and supports economic development and job growth to address issues like poverty and unemployment.
  • In 2006, Ilitch started the Little Caesars Veterans Program, which provides veterans with business opportunities after their life in the service.

Ilitch has been recognized for his charitable efforts by the likes of former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He received the Secretary’s Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, had the “Mike Ilitch School of Business” at Wayne State University named after him, and in February of 2008 was given the key to the City of Detroit.

In 2003, Ilitch was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in 2004 he was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame.

HIS LAST CONTRIBUTION

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Olympia Development of Michigan.

Unfortunately, Ilitch passed before he had the opportunity to see his last contribution to the city of Detroit come to fruition. In 2014, it was announced that the Red Wings would soon break ground on the construction of a new arena.

Soon after, construction on the Little Caesars Arena was underway. The Wings are set to move into the new, state-of-the-art complex next season; without their enigmatic owner Mr. I.

For his commitment to the city of Detroit, for his love of sport and his fellow man, Ilitch will undoubtedly be remembered as one of sport’s most endearing franchise owners.

ARRANGEMENTS

The public is invited to share memories and condolences at a public memorial site outside of Comerica Park on Woodward Ave. Also, a public visitation will be held at the Fox Theatre Grand Lobby on Wednesday from noon to 8:00p.m. Ilitch purchased and restored the historic theatre in 1987.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to be made in Ilitch’s memory to:

 

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What Will it Take for Montreal to Win the Cup this Season?

After starting the season 13-1-1 the Montreal Canadiens have cooled off considerably. The Habs got off to a red-hot start this season but have managed only a meager 14-12-6 record since the start of December. Since returning from the All-Star break they have dropped four of their last six contests.

The Canadiens were humiliated in Denver on Tuesday night by the Colorado Avalanche. Given that the Habs trounced the Avs 10-1 back in December, Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the League’s last place team ought to be a bit of a wake-up call for the wavering Canadiens.

Though they won in the desert last night against the Arizona Coyotes, it was a less than commanding performance from the Habs. Carey Price had another less than stellar performance, letting in four goals after the team got off to a two goal lead in the first.

That said, Montreal is still sitting atop the Atlantic Division. Barring a repeat of last season, Montreal is almost certainly a lock to make the playoffs. But then what?

General manager Marc Bergevin has repeatedly stated that this is Montreal’s year, that his team is “all in.” And so it is here that the Habs organization and fans alike must ask themselves, what will it take for Montreal to win the Cup this year?

PRICE TO PLAY LIKE PRICE

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: . David Zalubowski, Associated Press.

Last year Montreal’s best player spent the better part of his season on the Injured Reserve. For the Habs, losing Carey Price to injury was the equivalent of the Washington Capitals losing Alex Ovechkin or the Pittsburgh Penguins losing Sydney Crosby.

Luckily for the Canadiens, that’s not been the case this year. Yes, injuries have plagued the team but their roster has remained more or less intact. Still, especially as of late, Price has not been Price.

Since December Price has struggled to stop the puck from finding the back of the net. He’s allowed three or more goals in 13 of his last 20 starts. Accordingly, his goals against average has suffered. Though Price has a very respectable .918 GAA on the season the statistics are skewed. For the month of December he sported a very un-sexy .898, January .901, and thus far in February its been .874. These are not Carey Price numbers.

Though he is still widely regarded as the best goaltender in the world, Carey Price is having a hard time living up to this title. Though nobody expects him to stop them all, three and four goal games are not something the Habs should get used to. If Montreal was producing on the front-end then this might not be such a big problem.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

SCORING

It’s simply too easy to say that the Canadiens won’t win unless they score goals. That’s obvious, it’s precisely the point of the game. Just how they manage to find those goals is up for debate.

If you’re head coach Michel Therrien, your solution to the slump is probably to continue mixing things up. Though Therrien’s ‘blender’ has been the punchline of distraught fans for years he has never abandoned the practice.

The main criticism of the ‘blender’ has been that it doesn’t give guys enough time to generate chemistry before being force to move to a new line. Without chemistry there is no production, without production Price has no support, and without those things games are lost.

Now if you’re general manager Marc Bergevin your options aren’t quite as narrow as Therrien’s.

The Canadiens’ lack of depth in scoring, particularly at center, has them rumored to be on the hunt for a goal scorer before the Trade Deadline. Among those rumored to be available for trade, the Colorado Avalanche’s Matt Duchene has reportedly been on Bergevin’s radar. But at what cost? Avs general manager Joe Sakic has been clear that Duchene won’t come cheap.

Is Montreal willing to wager its future for the chance at a Stanley Cup in the present? This argument extends to any trade Montreal might make before the deadline. The alternative to a Duchene type trade would be to either secure a rental player for a relatively smaller return or leave things be and hope for the best.

Of course, as some have suggested, there is also a third option: fire Therrien.

The COACHing Conundrum

Fans have been calling for Therrien’s dismissal for years now.

Last season’s blunder was largely the result of injury woes and poor point production. Therrien, according to Bergevin, was not to blame. So instead of instituting a coaching change, Bergevin used the offseason to shuffle up the roster; trading away star defenseman P.K. Subban for the much more defensible responsible veteran blue liner Shea Weber.

The Canadiens find themselves in similar slump as last season, even with their revamped roster. But this season is different than last. They have Carey Price in net, they are capable of scoring (even if they haven’t been as of late), and the market is flush with coaches. Not only is it a buyers-market for teams looking to make move behind the bench, but if Montreal insists on a French speaking coach as they historically have, the time is ripe.

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: Bernard Brault, La Presse.

Claude Julien is only the latest head coach to be let go. His 14-year coaching career included stints with the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, and the Boston Bruins. He sports a very attractive 512-309-10-111 record over that span. During his tenure with the Bruins Julien won the Jack Adams Award in 2009 and the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: Associated Press.

Gerard Gallant was one of the seasons earlier coaching departures. His resume is considerably shorter than Julien’s but let’s not judge a book by its cover. Gerard’s first NHL coaching gig was with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2003. But after coming up short in 2003-04 and 2004-05, missing the playoffs both years, Gallant was let go 15 games into the 2006-07 campaign.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Gallant would take another stab at manning the helm, when he was brought on board by the Florida Panthers. Although the Panthers missed the playoffs in Gallant’s first year behind the bench he is largely credited with turning the team around, finishing first in the Atlantic Division last season, and making it to the Conference Quarterfinals. Injuries plagued the Panthers to begin the season and Gallant was unable to stop the ship from sinking, hewas relieved of his duties only 22 games into the season. Gallants sports a 152-141-4-31 record over the course of his coaching career.

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today

Patrick Roy rather abruptly left his post as the Colorado Avalanches head coach in the offseason. It’s no secret that Roy has strong ties to Montreal. He grew up in Quebec, began his playing career with the Habs franchise, and won two Cups with the team. He’s coached three season in the NHL, all of which were with the Colorado Avalanche. During his first year as an NHL coach Roy won the Jack Adams Award. But the team quickly crumbled, and Roy is no longer an NHL coach. During his time as an NHL bench boss Roy managed to put up a 130-92-24 record, winning a division title in that span.

Of course, if Montreal goes the route of firing Therrien mid-season, assistant coach Kirk Muller (former Hab and Stanley Cup champion himself) would most likely get the nod as interim head coach. Muller was brought back to Montreal after a brief coaching stint in Carolina Hurricanes ended.

SOMETHING HAS GOT TO GIVE

Though it’s unlikely Bergevin is looking to make a coaching change, a recently held meeting between himself and the players (sans Therrien) has many speculating that the Habs’ bench boss is on his last leg with the team.

Quite simply, they are looking for a spark. And that spark needs to come from somewhere. Whether that means upgrading the roster through a trade or saying bon voyage to their head coach the Habs are in desperate need of some wins if they have any chance at making a run at the Cup.

One thing’s for sure, if the Canadiens are to win the Cup this year Price will need to play like the All-Star he his and his team will need to support him with some production.

Just how the Habs plan to accomplish this remains to be seen.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Top Five Rookies Not Named Laine or Matthews

Hockey fans have been spoiled rotten for rookies this year. The NHL hasn’t seen a season so flush with young talent in years. There can be only one Rookie of the Year; only one Calder Trophy winner.

When it comes to Calder consideration, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine have dominated the conversation. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but we should not forget the rest of the 2016-17 rookie class.

Matthews and Laine are two of the League’s most exciting, dynamic, and talented young rookies, but they are not the only ones.

MATT MURRAY

W L OT GAA SV% SO
19 6 1 2.42 .921 2
Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images.

Drafted in the third round (83rd overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Matt Murray helped lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup championship last season and he’s out to do the same this time around.

Murray failed to meet the league’s threshold for games played last year and is therefore still considered a rookie. He now finds himself in a position to win back-to-back Stanley Cups as the Penguins appear poised to make another run at the Cup.

If Murray manages to win back-to-back Stanley Cups and wrestle the Calder away from Matthews and Laine, he would be the first goaltender to accomplish the feat since Montreal’s Ken Dryden did it back in 1973.

Though he began the year on injured reserve, Murray has effectively taken Marc-Andre Fleury’s job as Pittsburgh’s new number one net minder. Look for Murray to backstop the Penguins for years to come.

MITCH MARNER

GP G A P +/- PIM SOG
51 14 31 45 -4 28 129
Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports.

Mitch Marner was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Though the headlines have largely been dominated by his teammate Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ success thus far has been in part due to the outstanding play of Marner.

Last year Marner won the Memorial Cup with the London Knights of the OHL. He racked up an incredible 116 regular season points as well as another 44 playoff points on his way to winning one of hockey’s hardest trophies.

His 45 points puts him above all rookies for first in the league.

He leads the Leafs in assists (31) and though he lacks the size and scoring touch of Matthews, he is a consummate playmaker. In addition, Marner has been praised by head coach Mike Babcock for his unparalleled work ethic.

He will remain a fixture of the Maple Leafs for years to come.

WILLIAM NYLANDER

GP G A P +/- PIM SOG
50 14 21 35 -4 22 129
Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski, USA Today Sports.

Did someone mention the Toronto Maple Leafs? The Leafs are among the league’s youngest teams. Accordingly, they are flush with rookie talent.

Drafted eighth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, William Nylander finally managed to secure himself a spot with the big club. He played 22 games with the Leafs last season, accumulating six goals and seven assists over that span.

Through 50 games Nylander has amassed a respectable 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points on the season. He is fourth in points among rookies and is bound to break the 50-point mark. He may even accumulate over 60 points through the course of the 2016-17 season.

His nifty three-goal game against the Boston Bruins over the weekend makes him the second Leafs rookie to score a hat trick this season.

Between Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, the Leafs have a bright future in front of them.

SEBASTIAN AHO

GP G A P +/- PIM SOG
51 16 15 31 -2 10 126
Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: James Guillory, USA Today Sports.

Yesterday Sebastian Aho was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week, and deservedly so.

Drafted in the second round (35th overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Aho has been quietly making a name for himself. Aho, a native of Rauma, Finland, accumulated 45 regular season points in as many games with Karpat of SM-liiga last season; including 15 points in 14 playoff games.

So far this season, Aho has managed to put together 31 points in 51 games with the Hurricanes; including a hat trick in the Canes’ 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on January 31. The 19-year-old Finn has found considerable success playing alongside Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm.

At just 19 years of age, Aho is one of the youngest players to ever crack the Hurricanes’ lineup. Given the fact that his greatest asset is his speed, Teemu Selanne might want to trademark ‘The Finnish Flash’ before the nickname is usurped.

ZACH WERENSKI

GP G A P +/- PIM SOG
51 8 23 31 13 12 121
Rookies, Rookie, Calder Trophy, NHL, Hockey, Goals, Assists, Points, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Anthony Mantha, Jimmy Vesey, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock, London Knights, Harvard

Photo credit: Kyle Robertson, Dispatch

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the league’s most unpredictable successes. A large part of that success has been due to the excellent play of rookie blue liner Zach Werenski.

Drafted eighth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Werenski was simply electric to start the season. He has been rumored to be among the Calder candidates, having earned the NHL’s Rookie of the Month nod back in November.

Playing on the first defensive pairing alongside Seth Jones, Werenski averages a little over 21 minutes a game; including time on the power play. He has accumulated 31 points in 51 games, 17 of which have come on the man advantage.

What’s more is Werenski’s ability to hit the net. He’s gotten 121 shots on goal thus far and is set to become an offensive threat on Columbus’ back end for years to come.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONs

Matthew Tkachuk

Tkachuk has managed to carve out a space for himself on the struggling Calgary Flames. The sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and son of NHL great Keith Tkachuk, has tallied 33 points so far this season, good for fifth best among rookies. Tkachuk won the Memorial Cup last year alongside Toronto’s Mitch Marner.

Artturi Lehkonen

Drafted in the second round (55th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Montreal, Artturi Lehkonen has been solid for the Canadiens this year. Although the Habs could use a little more scoring depth, Lehkonen has shown himself to be one of the League’s most responsible two-way rookies. He regularly sees time on the penalty kill and has managed a respectable 16 points on the season.

Anthony Mantha

Mantha’s NHL career got off to a rough start after he broke his right tibia shortly before the 2014-15 season kicked off. Drafted 20th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Mantha struggled to find his place on the team. This season has been good to Mantha, as he has managed 26 points in only 37 games. If Mantha can stay healthy, he will have a bright future in the NHL.

Jimmy Vesey

He was making waves before he ever stepped foot on NHL ice. Drafted in the third round (66th overall) by the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Jimmy Vesey opted to finish off his college career playing for Harvard. As a result, he allowed his entry level contract to expire with the Predators, who in return, traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres shortly before Vesey’s contract was nullified.

Though Buffalo made a valiant effort to resign the Harvard graduate, it was to no avail. When Vesey hit the open market it was the New York Rangers who had won him over. Playing with the likes of Rick Nash and company, Vesey has accumulated 12 goals and eight assists on the season. Without a doubt, he will be a big part of the Rangers organization moving forward.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Yeo, Jake Allen, Doug Armstrong, Martin Brodeur, Colton Parayko, Nail Yakupov, Scotty Upshall, Patrik Berglund, Minnesota Wild, NHL, Joeal Quenneville, Al Arbour

A New Era for the St. Louis Blues

February 1, 2017, will go down in history as the day that one of hockey’s greatest coaches of all time got the boot.

On Wednesday morning, in a press conference filled with emotions, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong announced that head coach Ken Hitchcock had been relieved of his duties.

ONE OF THE GREATEST

St. Louis Blues New Era

Photo credit: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press.

It’s almost impossible to talk about the greatest coaches of all time without mentioning Ken Hitchcock.

Hitchcock has coached 20 NHL seasons including stints with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and St. Louis Blues. He is the fourth winningest coach in NHL history, going 781-474-88-111 in regular season play. Over his 20-year career he managed to nab eight division titles, a Jack Adams Award, and a Stanley Cup championship which he won with the 1999 Dallas Stars.

Scotty Bowman 1,244
Joel Quenneville 832
Al Arbour 782
Ken Hitchcock 781

Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s illustrious track record could not save him from the chopping block. He was set to retire from the team at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, but the Blues’ top brass felt that the time was now to institute change.

A NEW BENCH BOSS

Fighting back tears, Armstrong insisted that the changes to his coaching staff represent “a rebirth” for the team before handing over the mic to St. Louis’ new head coach Mike Yeo.

Most people know Mike Yeo as the guy who got fired by the Minnesota Wild at the tail end of another disappointing season last year.

St. Louis Blues New Era

Photo credit: Marilyn Indahl, USA Today Sports.

His first NHL coaching gig came as an assistant coach, under Michel Therrien with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005. Yeo was an integral part of the Penguins’ rebuild. Even though Therrien was relieved of his duties in 2009, Yeo hung around and helped coach the team to their third Stanley Cup championship.

Yeo left Pittsburgh the following year to coach the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate: the Houston Aeros.

A year later he found himself behind the bench of the Wild. In four and a half seasons with the Wild, Yeo was able to get the team to the playoffs three seasons in a row and made it to the second round twice.

Yeo’s Wild were streaky. After losing 14 out of their last 15 games, Yeo was fired by the franchise in February of 2016.

In June of 2016, Yeo was hired by the St. Louis Blues. He was to act as an assistant coach during the 2016-17, set to take over the head coaching role for the 2017-18 season.

Hitchcock’s untimely dismissal, however, has thrusted Yeo back into an NHL head coaching role.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE YEO ERA

Yeo has a lot to offer the fledgling Blues.

During his time with the Penguins, Yeo focussed primarily on improving special teams. While the Blues boast a power play (eighth in the League) and penalty kill (12th in the League) that are both above league average, there is a good chance that Yeo’s primary focus won’t be special teams.

St. Louis Blues New Era

Photo Credit: NHLPA.

The Blues’ biggest problem right now is in the net.

St. Louis is currently tied for fourth in goals against, not something to be proud of.

Yeo will have to decide whether the Blues are plagued with poor goal tending or poor defensive play. Armstrong and Yeo, along with assistant general manager/interim goalie coach Martin Brodeur, have insisted that Jake Allen will remain the club’s starting goaltender for the time being.

It is worth noting that during Yeo’s tenure with Minnesota, the Wild signed Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has since become the franchise’s number one net minder, earning himself Vezina consideration for his outstanding play thus far this season.

Though Yeo has expressed desire to not to shake the team up too much, it is well known that the Blues are open for business as the trade deadline looms.

One of the biggest names on the market right now happens to be St. Louis Blues’ defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Shattenkirk is set to hit unrestricted free agency at the season’s end; along with teammates Scotty Upshall and Patrik Berglund. In addition to the trio’s pending unrestricted free agency status, Colton Parayko and Nail Yakupov will be entering restricted free agency as well.

Needless to say, the Blues could be sellers at the deadline if they want to. Though it is unlikely they will enter total rebuild mode.

Yeo has three more years on his contract after this season. It is fair to assume that upper management has put a reasonable amount faith his ability to bring the Blues back into contention. Accordingly, there is no pressure on him to make any immediate moves.

But if the Blues are looking to improve their chances of making a deep run into the playoffs, they will likely need to tweak the team in one way or another.

For the time being, it would appear that Doug Armstrong and the Blues’ brass believe that they have made the appropriate tweak for now.

Hopefully for the Blues, this change behind the bench will be enough to right the ship.

 

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Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, NHL, Goals, Assists, Overtime, Mike Babcock, Donald Trump

Marner or Matthews?

Looking back at the start of the 2016-17 season, it feels as if the whole world had caught the Auston Matthews bug. Aside from the insane amount of hype surrounding the first overall pick of the 2016 Entry Draft, Matthews’ four-goal debut game simply left the league awestruck.

Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, NHL, Goals, Assists, Overtime, Mike Babcock, Donald Trump

Photo credit: The Canadian Press.

Many forgot about Toronto’s other incredible rookie: 2015 first-round pick Mitch Marner.

The pure talent that Matthews brought to the league practically guaranteed him a spot on the team. On the other hand, Marner’s roster spot was never exactly a sure thing.

Regardless, we are a little over the halfway mark, and the two young rookies have about the same amount of points. Marner has 41 and Matthews has 39.

Fan fair and hoopla aside, who’s been more vital to the Leafs’ first half success?

Who’s contributed more?

Who’s points are more important?

Mitchel Marner

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPP SHG SHP GWG OTG SOG S%
48 12 29 41 -6 26 1 14 0 0 4 0 122 9.8

 

Mitch Marner was drafted fourth overall by the Leafs in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Unlike Matthews, he did not play in the NHL his draft year. Instead, Marner spent last season with the London Knights of the OHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, NHL, Goals, Assists, Overtime, Mike Babcock, Donald Trump

Photo credit: Rob Wallator, CHL Images.

He was a pure beast with the Knights, tallying 116 regular season points last year. He would add another 44 points in the playoffs and went on to win the Memorial Cup (alongside former Knights teammate and Calgary Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk).

At 6’0” 170 pounds, Marner is not exactly the biggest guy on the ice. He isn’t able to dominate the play with his size alone. Instead, Marner plays the game with incredible foresight and speed.

Accordingly, Marner is a consummate playmaker.

A quick glance at his stat line and you’ll see he’s not much of a shooter. With little over a hundred goals on the season he’s scoring at a rate below 10 percent.

Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, NHL, Goals, Assists, Overtime, Mike Babcock, Donald Trump

Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports.

Before you make your mind up about the kid, consider that he is currently playing on the Leafs’ top line. He’s going up against the League’s best. With 39 points, he’s quickly carving out a place among the NHL’s top tier.

Though he may not be as dangerous of a shot as Matthews, he is most certainly dangerous on the power play. Marner has tallied 14 power play points this year so far, third most by a Leaf this season. With four game-winning goals, you can’t say he’s not clutch.

If nothing else, his coach loves him. Head coach Mike Babcock has said, “I’ve never coached a kid that good that young.”

 

Auston Matthews

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPP SHG SHP GWG OTG SOG S%
47 23 16 39 2 10 3 11 0 0 5 1 163 14.1

 

Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, NHL, Goals, Assists, Overtime, Mike Babcock, Donald Trump

Photo credit: Timothy T. Ludwig, USA Today Sports.

Auston Matthews was drafted first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Matthews entered the year with more fan fair than you could shake a stick at. I believe the technical term here is a ton.

After scoring four goals in his first game, it quickly became clear why the hockey world was so hyped on him. The young Scottsdale, Arizona native has been the Calder favorite since he first stepped foot on NHL ice.

He’s proved himself to be one of the most dangerous players in the league when he gets the puck on his stick. With 163 shots on goal so far this season, Matthews is eighth in the League in shots; more than any other Leaf.

With a shooting percentage of 14.1, Matthews had managed 23 goals on the season. He is tied for sixth in the league; only five behind the league lead currently held by Sidney Crosby (28).

Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, NHL, Goals, Assists, Overtime, Mike Babcock, Donald Trump

Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports.

Like Marner, the young Matthews is calm under pressure. He has five game-winning goals so far this season, one of those being in overtime.

The great equalizer here is that Matthews has not been playing on the top line as much as Marner.

It’s an old coaches secret (not really a secret) to stager talent throughout the lineup. That’s what those sportscasters are talking about when they speak of depth. Babcock certainly has the young talent at his disposal to give the Leafs the depth they’ve so sorely lacked in the past. Matthews has flourished under Babcock’s system so far, taking full advantage of the mismatched pairings when he’s out there and making every shift count.

Who’s Better?

If player ‘A’ scores 41 points on the first line and player ‘B’ scores 39 points on the third line, whose contributions to the team have been greater?

Now this is the part where half of you praise me and the other half hate me.

Mitch Marner’s 41 points are more important than Matthews’. Marner’s play has been more vital to the Maple Leafs’ success. Marner has contributed more.

Here’s why:

  • He’s playing against other team’s top-lines, Matthews not so much

To answer the question posed, player ‘A’ has contributed more. It’s simply harder to be the top line guy.

  • Playmakers are more important than goal scorers

Goal scorers will come and go, very few remain pure scorers for life. It remains well within the realm of possibilities that the League will catch up to Matthews. Right now he’s the new guy, but it won’t take long for teams to catch on and shut him down.

  • Babcock is not the only one to praise his work ethic, London Knight’s head coach Dale Hunter has sung Marner’s praises since before you even knew who he was.

Marner’s talent doesn’t just ooze out his pores, he pushes it out. The guy works twice as hard as anyone on the ice and he’s been able to turn his small size into an asset instead of a detriment.

  • With Marner, you get more bang for your buck.

Recall Auston Matthews’ ridiculous entry level contract; maxing out all possible bonuses. Nobody is saying that Marner ain’t getting paid. Just that he’s getting paid a lot less to do it.

So there you have it. Mitch Marner’s contributions are more important than Matthews’.

 

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Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Are you Pro-lympic?

How many superstars does it take to get to the Olympics? Heck if I know. But there’s one more name to throw into the growing mix of opinions that is the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill, Associate Press.

Connor McDavid came out as Pro-lympic over the All-Star weekend.

McDavid made explicit his views on NHL participation saying, “100 percent they should go. I couldn’t really picture an Olympics without it, to be honest,” McDavid said.

To be able to compete in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea would be a dream come true for the young phenom according to Postmedia.

McDavid is just one of many calling for Olympic participation on behalf of the players. Alex Ovechkin has never been shy on the matter, stating repeatedly his intention to play for Russia regardless of the NHL’s stance. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has stood by his franchise forward, fully supporting Ovechkin’s decision.

But not all owners support sending its biggest players and money makers, halfway across the globe to compete in an event from which they do not profit.

We didn’t need McDavid to remind us about the Olympic confusion, though. Commissioner Gary Bettman very clearly, and carefully, explained exactly where they are on the issue.

Nowhere.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press.

Bettman made sure to interrupt the painfully slow All-Star extravaganza to tell the fans that himself and the owners have spent almost no time discussing the issue at all. In fact, there is a good chance that Bettman spent more time talking about the Olympics this weekend than the entirety of the NHL brass has in total.

Just to recap: Last year the International Olympic Comittee announced they would no longer foot the bill for travel and insurance costs; roughly $10-20 million dollars.

So, Bettman and the NHL approached the NHL Players Association with a deal.

In return for the NHL fronting the travel and insurance bills, suffering the revenue losses, and risking their most valuable assets to injury, the NHLPA was asked to extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, thereby waiving their opt-out clause in 2019; extending the current CBA well into the future and ensuring players the opportunity to play international hockey for another two Olympics.

This proposal was categorically shot down by the NHLPA.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, meanwhile, pledged to raise the money for the NHL. However, Bettman politely declined citing that the NHL could not accept money that would otherwise be spent on grass roots funding and growing the game.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr provided brief shimmer of hope saying in a statement,

I’m more optimistic now than I have ever been, at least as far as we’re concerned, that we’ll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports.

And that was that. Until Bettman made sure to tell the masses just how little the NHL has been working to make things happen.

In essence, the issue is really quite simple.

If NHL players go, the Olympics will be better, but the League will lose some money.

If the NHL players don’t go, the Olympics will be much worse and the NHL will carry on as normal.

Repeatedly, Gary Bettman and the owners have stated that because the games are so far away they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Given the League’s mandate to grow the game, these statements seem to directly contravene Gary Bettman and the NHL’s obligation to youth around the world.

And this is the part where we all realize that the NHL isn’t soft and cuddly. It’s not your childhood best friend or the buddy you hang out with every Saturday night. It may be the game you grew up playing, but it isn’t your game.

The NHL is business, it’s a corporation. A corporation who seemingly has little to no interest in whatever market might exist in the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics.

Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, NHL, Olypmics, 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics, NHLPA, IIHF, IOC, Donald Fehr, Russia

Photo credit: Getty Images

The NHL may believe they can only lose by going to Pyeongchang, but they also have something to lose by not participating as well.

The fans have called for their favorite players, in many cases their countrymen, to compete; repeatedly. Players have pledged allegiance to the Olympics, and superstars at that. The IIHF has even offered to empty their coffers for the cause. But Bettman and the owners have not budged an inch.

If the NHL declines to participate it will result in a serious blow to their integrity.

Bettman has made few friends of fans during his tenure as NHL commissioner, though. Through three lockouts and countless berating and belittling boo’s, the thick skinned commissioner takes his orders from a higher power; the board of governors.

As a result, Bettman is unlikely to put much stock in the thoughts and feelings of the NHL’s true money makers; its fans.

As it stands, there’s not much too much to be optimistic about with regards to seeing our favorite players compete for their countries next winter.

For what it’s worth, though, the NHL has not set a timeline for their decision. So anything is possible.

 

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Alexander Radulov, Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien, Nashville Predators, KHL, NHL, P.K. Subban

The Biggest All-Star Snub Nobody is Talking About

Google “NHL All-Star Game” and you’re sure to find lists abound of players who were snubbed by All-Star voting. Panarin, Marchessault, Werenski, Schiefele, Talbot; all these guys’ names have been thrown around as some of the biggest All-Star snubs of the season.

But what about Alexander Radulov?

There’s no doubt that Radulov’s teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber are deserving of the distinction, but so is he. Radulov has been one of Montreal’s most important players since joining the club in the offseason.

THE ACQUISITION

Alexander Radulov, Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien, Nashville Predators, KHL, NHL, P.K. Subban

Photo credit: Andrew Dieb, Icon Sportswire.

Anyone who considered Alexander Radulov a risky offseason acquisition ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Montreal inked the 30-year-old Russian winger to a one-year $5.75 million deal back in July, shortly after trading All-Star Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators. In return for the flashy defenseman, Montreal received veteran blue liner Shea Weber.

If the P.K. Subban trade caused a rucous, the signing of a player known largely for his behavioral problems didn’t help quell the madness that was Montreal in the post-P.K. era.

If it wasn’t for Weber, Radulov may never have been signed by Montreal. In fact, it was Weber who convinced Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin to take a chance on the Russian superstar. The two played together in Nashville during Radulov’s more controversial years in the NHL, but Weber vouched for his old teammate.

LET’s call it a maturity problem

Alexander Radulov, Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien, Nashville Predators, KHL, NHL, P.K. Subban

Photo credit: Charles Leclaire, US Presswire.

Until recently, Radulov was defined by the time he spent in Nashville. For better or worse, most of the League had written off the notoriously immature winger.

Drafted in the first round (15th overall) by the Predators in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Russian phenom had a hard time fitting in in Nashville. Branded a cancer in the dressing room, Radulov left the club after the 2007-08 season. He went on to win the Continental Cup in the KHL. He would return to the Predators once more during the latter half of the 2011-12 season, making a playoff run with the Preds.

And that’s when Curfew-Gate went down.

After missing curfew during the playoffs and being suspended by the club for the second time in his NHL career, Radulov took his talents to Russia for good. Or so you might have thought.

It’s here that I’d like to mention that while playing in Russia, Radulov won the Continental Cup and the Golden Stick Award (MVP) four times. While there, he matured quite a bit.

Now 30 years old, a full five years removed from his last NHL contract, Radulov is enjoying his third time around in the League.

Since signing with Montreal as a free agent in the summer, Radulov has easily been the Habs’ most consistent player. More than anything he has brought new life into the Montreal dressing room. He elevates the play of those around him and quite frankly, everybody (Radu)loves him.

ON THE SCORE SHEET

With 37 points on the season, he trails only Max Pacioretty for the team lead. Let’s break down these points.

First of all, 15 of Radulov’s 37 points have come on the power play. His versatility as a player makes him dangerous anywhere on the ice and head coach Michel Therrien has taken full advantage of this.

Most of the time you can catch him on the first or second power play unit, holding down the right side. The Habs have also found success with Radulov on the point, paired with none other than his former Predators teammate Shea Weber.

Radulov’s 15 power play points, second best on the team, are a big part of Montreal’s special teams success thus far. The Habs are third in the League when on the man advantage with a 23.3 PP percentage.

Secondly, the lion’s share of Radulov’s points have been assists (25).

The man is a consummate play-maker, renowned for his puck handling ability. In an interview earlier this season with Pierre LeBrun, captain Max Pacioretty spoke of the lessons he’s learnt from Radulov, saying:

 

Radulov has really taught me the importance of holding on to the puck, not only to create time and space for yourself, but to make it hard on the opposition . . . He’s helped me out as a leader as well. He brings a lot to this team, both on and off the ice . . . He’s definitely a leader on this team as well.

 

Radulov and Pacioretty now play on the top line together. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that Radulov has assisted seven of Pacioretty’s 21 goals this season.

Lastly, the Canadiens have gone 20-2-2 this season when Radulov records a point.

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Alexander Radulov’s performance this year speaks for itself. A stat line like the one above is hard to explain. What Radulov brings to the Montreal Canadiens is an intangible product, a will to win.

Add to this the fact that he’s just plain fun to watch and what you’re left with is the single biggest All-Star snub that nobody seems to be talking about.

 

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