Grades for the latest NHL trades

Browsing social media this week, hockey fans were champing at the bit for newsworthy NHL trades. There were minor deals as the expansion draft passed, and the suspense only grew as the NHL Draft approached.

It’s safe to say that the fans got their wishes.

The past two days have featured former first round picks, backup goaltenders and Stanley Cup champions. If that wasn’t enough, there are likely more coming even before free agency hits on July 1. Until that happens, let’s analyze the top NHL trades that went down before the draft.

Golden Knights ship Trevor van Riemsdyk to Hurricanes

Trevor’s time in Vegas was short-lived, as the expansion team acquired a 2017 second round pick for trading him and a 2018 seventh round selection.

van Riemsdyk is a young asset heading to a younger team. One needs perspective when analyzing his season. He missed time with an upper-body injury which underscored his stats. Still, he was +17 with 100 blocks and 16 points in 58 games.

The former Blackhawk joins three former teammates in Teuvo Teravainen, Joakim Nordstrom and Scott Darling. Perhaps that can help his transition. He’s a capable right-handed shot that helps Carolina get younger and faster. Vegas adds another high draft pick to build their team.

Grade: B+ for Carolina, B for Vegas

Oilers and Islanders swap Jordan Eberle and Ryan Strome

Jordan Eberle was the first of what Isles fans hope to be more NHL trades.

Jordan Eberle heads to the Big Apple. Photo by Andy Devlin, NHLI via Getty Images.

New York getting Eberle long seemed inevitable, but it was intriguing how it occurred. It was a one-for-one swap after many reports had Edmonton seeking a prospect or draft picks.

This was an excellent move from Isles general manager Garth Snow. He paid a heavy price in a first-rounder to prevent Vegas from taking a number of players, and it essentially means they traded it for Eberle.

The former first-round pick disappointed with the Oilers after scoring just 51 points. Pairing with his world championship teammate, John Tavares should boost his input and give Tavares confidence to sign in New York long-term.

As for Edmonton, this was a move that helps more for cap than on-ice skill. They ship $6 million on Eberle’s contract, which helped them extend defenseman Kris Russell. It also increases cap space for when Hart winner Connor McDavid needs a new deal.

As for Strome, he didn’t live up to his fifth overall selection with just one 50-point campaign in four years. He could benefit from a new environment, but on the ice, the Oilers don’t benefit as much. Edmonton could’ve received more for Eberle, it seemed.

Grade: A for New York, B- for Edmonton

Canadiens bring in David Schlemko from Golden Knights

Vegas sends out another expansion draft pick for a 2019 pick. This was a minor move from both sides, which didn’t have to give up much.

Montreal needed defensive help after shipping prospect Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu. In Schlemko, they get a blue liner with back-to-back double-digit point seasons. The 30-year-old vet had 112 blocks and a 53.6 percent Corsi rating. It’s not a major step forward; he hasn’t played a full season. If he’s healthy, he helps.

Grade: B for Montreal, INC for Vegas with draft pick too far away to judge

Niklas Hjalmarsson moves from Blackhawks to the Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson's move to Arizona ignited the flurry of NHL trades.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is headed to the Coyotes. Photo by Matt Marton, AP.

This is when the NHL trades started to boil. Chicago sent their 10-year defenseman to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.

Even though Arizona’s front office is in a tenuous phase, they still took a big swing for a three-time Stanley Cup winner. He logged over 20 minutes per game in the past six seasons and had a career-high 181 blocks last season. He has excellent size, moves the puck well and can anchor the Coyotes’ blue line for a few more years.

As for Chicago, let’s just say fans were not happy about the news. They lose a strong core of their championship teams to relieve their cap.

Murphy is the better piece in the return deal, but he’s not as skilled as Hjalmarsson defensively. He’s 6-foot-4 and more lauded for his skating ability. The 2011 first-round pick can develop well under new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. How well he does dictates if this gamble pays off for Chicago.

Grade: A- for Arizona, C+ for Chicago with chance to work out better

Brandon Saad returns to Midway while Artemi Panarin heads to Columbus

Chicago wasn’t finished. In fact, they dropped a bomb on the NHL with this move. Saad returns to the Blackhawks along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-rounder. The Blue Jackets receive Panarin as well as forward Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick in today’s draft.

This is a slam dunk for Columbus. They receive a Calder Award winner with consecutive 30-goal seasons. He’s dominant on the power play and adds a versatile offensive game to a team that can use it. His contract runs for two more years at $6 million, about the same as Saad.

The decision-making behind this for Chicago stems from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Panarin’s next contract would cost too much for Chicago based on their contracts. Plus, Saad was impressive playing on Toews’s line for two Stanley Cups.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus made a good point yesterday: Toews could regain his success with Saad while Kane will still produce without Panarin.

The Blackhawks have turned their team around to keep themselves atop the Western Conference. They have the chance to do that after these trades, but it’s a gamble. Columbus should get a productive Panarin, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute just as much without Kane. Each trade has its risks, but this is a balanced trade on both sides.

Grade: A- for Columbus and Chicago

Rangers dispatch Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan to Coyotes

Arizona continued to wheel and deal yesterday when they snagged their new starting goalie and a top-six forward. In exchange, young blue liner Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used to pick center Lias Andersson.

As written last week, Raanta was a name to watch in the expansion draft. When Vegas didn’t select him, Arizona was salivating. The Blueshirts’ netminder enjoyed a career season. He deserves the chance to nab the starting job.

As for Stepan, his contract was steep for New York and he’s automatically the Coyotes’ most expensive player. He’s also the best center now, recording four straight 50-point campaigns. Stepan also helps on the power play that ranked 26th last season in the desert. This was a high-upside trade that fills multiple roles. Now, about finding a head coach…

Meanwhile, New York gets younger on defense with DeAngelo. He’s just 21 years old with an offensive acumen, notching 14 points in 39 games for the Coyotes. DeAngelo is undersized and will have to improve defensively to crack the Rangers’ lineup. Andersson’s play will determine how this trade shakes out for New York. He comes from the elite HV71 in Sweden. While his skating, versatility and defense are superb, he didn’t stuff the scoresheet with 19 points in 42 league games.

Grade: A for Arizona (not just for the alphabet), B- for New York

Blue Jackets and Wild exchange forwards

Rounding out yesterday’s pre-draft NHL trades came with a small move for both teams. Dante Salituro heads to Minnesota while Jordan Schroeder goes the other way.

The 20-year-old Salituro provides goal scoring ability from a 5-foot-8 frame. He impressed in training camp and signed a three-year, two-way contract with Columbus last July. In 295 games across five OHL seasons, he tallied 122 goals and 160 assists. He won’t arrive in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but he has potential.

Schroeder is another small forward but is six years older. With the Wild this year, Schroeder scored six times for 13 points in 37 games. At 5-foot-9, he has to overcome his size. But on the ice, he has the instincts to maintain a roster spot.

Grade: B for Minnesota, C for Columbus

Blues snag Brayden Schenn from Flyer to shed Jori Lehtera

While yesterday trade hype built in the afternoon, it was quiet for most of the draft. There was a minor Blackhawks-Stars trade, but St. Louis and Philadelphia broke the silence. Schenn heads to the Blues by himself while Philly acquired Lehtera, the 27th overall pick (used on Morgan Frost) and a future conditional first-round pick. Elliotte Friedman breaks down the conditional pick.

The Blues upgrade with a more bona fide scorer in Schenn, who has 82 goals in the past three seasons. Lehtera is a great facilitator, but Schenn is an upgrade and Lehtera is making a lot of cash. The negatives for St. Louis is the possible price. They went back into the first round by trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, so the 27th doesn’t hurt. Two possible first-round picks can be a steep price.

Philadelphia can use Lehtera for depth as they ease new draft pick Nolan Patrick into the team. Frost provides speed and special teams abilities down the middle too. It seems the Flyers are prioritizing playmakers that can move the puck. Depending on where the conditional pick winds up, they can add even more pieces.

They have to replace Schenn’s production. Will they give Patrick the chance? Those two questions are the risks for Philadelphia at the moment, but ones that have quick solutions for a team on the rise.

Grade: B for St. Louis, B+ for Philadelphia

The Final Trade

As for Reaves heading to Pittsburgh, it’s icing on the cake for the Metro division. Reaves is an aggressive player that was 10th last season in hits. The Penguins love those types of players. He should perform well there as the division improves exponentially.

 

Feature image of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman by Anthony Souffle of the Chicago Tribune

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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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All-Star Coaches: A Jack Adams Short-List

It will be all the big names, and only the big names, at this year’s NHL All-Star game.

Last year’s game was a public relations nightmare for the NHL.

Journeyman John Scott found himself at the center of a massive push by fans to see an enforcer in the All-Star game. A non-elite player playing with the best of the best. A regular Joe.

And it worked.

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Photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA Today Sports.

Scott was voted captain of the Pacific Division but the NHL tough guy was subsequently traded out of conference and demoted to the AHL. And that’s when conspiracy theories started coming out of the wood works.

It was alleged that the trade was an elaborate plot by NHL execs to strip Scott of his All-Star captaincy and thereby “restore” the good name of the NHL All-Star game.

The game having been openly mocked, re-tooled and tweaked for the better part of a decade due to little to no interest by both fans and players alike.

Many argued that the internet was trolling the NHL by voting Scott the Pacific Division captain. Others argued that the All-Star game is meant to represent what the fans want to see, a for the fans by the fans game.

In the end, Scott was allowed to participate. He captained the Pacific Division, scored two goals, and won the All-Star tournament. Despite not being on the ballot, Scott won the All-Star game MVP by an overwhelming amount of write in votes.

But it’s a new year and a new All-Star format has emerged. Along with new voting rules.

According to the new ‘John Scott Rule’ players sent down to the minors, or injured, are now barred from participating in the All-Star game.

So no more John Scott’s

This might lead one to believe that the NHL doesn’t really care about what the fans want.

Rather predictably, this year’s All-Star game will be filled with all the regulars.

The NHL announced the game’s four captains on January 3rd and the full rosters on the 10th.

But forget about the players for a moment. We all know Crosby is an All-Star. We all know Ovechkin is a stud. Of course Carey Price will be there, he is the best goalie in the world.

Let’s talk, instead, about the coaches.

All-Star Coaches

The NHL All-Star game’s coaches reads like a short list for this season’s Jack Adams Award.

Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens (Atlantic Division), Bruce Boudreau of the Minessota Wild (Central Division), John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets (Metropolitan), and Peter DeBoer of the San Jose Sharks (Pacific) will be behind the benches at the 2017 All-Star 3-on-3 tournament in Los Angeles this coming January 29th.

Each of these men merit consideration when it comes to the coach of the year award, the Jack Adams, and here’s why.

Michel Therrien

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Photo credit: Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images.

Therrien’s coaching career has been a bit rocky. Full of peaks and valleys. Right now, though, he is definitely riding high.

Therrien got his first big league coaching gig in the 2000/01 season with none other than the Montreal Canadiens. After two and half mediocre years he was let go. Only to be picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2005/06 campaign.

He achieved moderate success in Pittsburgh. Coaching them to the Conference Quarter Finals in 2006/07 and the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007/08. Though he would be let go during the 2008/09 season the Pittsburgh Penguins went on to win the Stanley cup under their new head coach Dan Bylsma.

To Montreal’s surprise, Therrien was re-hired as the Habs bench boss in 2012. General Manager Marc Bergevin citing his ability to work with and mold young talent. A skill highlighted by his work in building the Pittsburgh franchise into what we all know today as one of the league’s top teams; year in, year out.

Even with an injury riddled roster, Therrien has been able to maintain a consistent level of play out of his squad. The Canadien’s are first in the Atlantic Division and will also be sending goaltender Carey Price and defenseman Shea Webber to All-Star festivities.

Since being brought back in 2012 Therrien’s Canadiens have missed the playoffs only once.

Bruce Boudreau

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Photo credit: Norm Hall, NHLI via Getty Images

Bruce Boudreau’s record behind the bench this year has been nothing short of impressive, which seems to be par for the course for the talkative French Canadien coach. Nicknamed “Gabby” by his players, Boudreau boasts the second highest winning percentage in NHL history.

Throughout his career Boudreau has won eight division titles, four with the Washington Capitals and four with Anaheim Ducks, in only nine seasons. Though he has never won a Stanley Cup championship, he has only failed to make the playoffs once. Boudreau has won the Jack Adams Award once before, with the Washington Capitals back in 2008.

He now finds himself steering the ship in St. Paul as the Minnesota Wild’s new head coach.

The Wild boast the second best record in the Central Division, behind the Chicago Blackhawks, and have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance this year after firing longtime bench boss Mike Yeo and interim coach John Torchetti last season.

Boudreau has not only awoken the Minnesota franchise from its slumber. He appears to have revived the career of NHL veteran, Stanley Cup champion, and Olympic gold medalist Eric Staal.

Staal leads the team with 13 goals, 22 assists, and 35 points. Halfway through the season, Staal is only four points away from passing last year’s total.

Not only have the Wild been winning but they have been winning in spectacular fashion.

In a season full of incredible winning streaks the Wild managed to cobble together an impressive 12 game win streak. A streak which only came to an end when they faced the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were in the midst of maintaining a historic streak of their own.

Peter DeBoer

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Photo credit: Christian Petersen, Getty Images.

It should come as no surprise that Peter DeBoer ought to be considered for the Jack Adams Award. DeBoer coached 13 seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, winning the Matt Leyden Trophy (OHL coach of the year award) twice in that span.

In the NHL he has manned the helm for the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, and – since the 2015/16 season – the San Jose Sharks.

In his first season with the Sharks DeBoer took the team all the way to the Stanley Cup championship. This year the San Jose Sharks sit atop the Pacific Division and look poised to take another run at the cup.

Under his tutelage, DeBoer has managed to raise the play of his team into a truly elite squad.

Brent Burns leads the league in shots on goal and points by defenseman.

Martin Jones has turned into a legitimate Vezina contender.

Veteran NHLers like big Joe Thorton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau continue to post quality numbers while also acting as character guys in the dressing.

And after an injury riddled season Logan Couture looks as though he has not missed a beat.

DeBoer is well on his way to a successful tenure as the head coach of the San Jose Sharks. Perhaps it’s the California sun?

John Tortorella

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Photo credit: Jamie Sabau, NHLI via Getty Images.

What can you say about John Tortorella? The fiery head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets is a man who needs no introduction. His antics have been broadcast far and wide. The success he and his team have enjoyed so far this season is turning haters into believers en masse.

Prior to the season starting, Tortorella had the honour of being NHL analysts’ head coach who was “most likely to be fired first.”

But you don’t fix what isn’t broken.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on fire this season. The 16 game win streak Columbus managed to put together in the first half of the season is the second longest in NHL history.

Having previously coached the Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, Tortorella seems to be fitting in just fine with the Blue Jackets.

Since Torts took over as bench boss, Sergie Bobrovski appears to back in Vezina form. His stats so far this season are comparable his 2012/13 Vezina Trophy winning year.

Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno, two of Columbus’s most important character players, are leading the team in points; a lead by example style of play Tortorella likes to emphasize.

Zach Werenski has found great success under Tortorella as well. The rookie defenseman is seeing top line minutes, both in 5-on-5 play and on the power play. Werenski’s name has been brought up often when talking about Calder considerations.

The 2004 Jack Adams Award winner needs no argument made on his behalf. John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ record thus far speaks for itself.

 

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The Unstoppable Columbus Blue Jackets

Nobody on this planet could have predicted that by the Christmas break the Columbus Blue Jackets would be battling for first in NHL standings. Nobody could have predicted their incredible 13-game winning streak. Nobody could have predicted the success that John Tortorella has had in Columbus thus far.

In fact, this time last year the Blue Jackets sat among the bottom in league standings and just prior to the 2016-17 season, odds makers had Tortorella among the most likely to lose his coaching job in the NHL.

All that changed after delivering a crushing 10-0 loss to the Atlantic Division leading Montreal Canadiens. One could look back at that game as perhaps the moment when Torts and the Jackets let the league know just who came to play this year.

So let’s break down the Blue Jackets’ success.

Sergie Bobrovsky

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Photo credit: Jamie Sabau, NHLI via Getty Images.

GP W GAA SV% SO
29 22 1.91 .934 3

 

From post to post, the blue paint of net minder Sergie Bobrovsky has been off limits to opposing teams for the better part of the 2016-17 NHL season. And it’s been showing in a big way for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner, Sergie Bobrovsky, has been having a stellar year thus far, posting 22 wins, a 1.94 GAA, 0.932 save percentage, and three shutouts.

Over the Jackets’ 13-game wining streak, Bobrovsky has been rock solid, posting an 11-0-0 record and a .944 save percentage.

Will it be another Vezina worthy year for Bobrovsky? The numbers are certainly there. For comparison’s sake, his GAA and save percentage are both better than his 2013 Vezina Trophy winning numbers.

Offense

 

Columbus Blue Jackets, John Tortorella, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell, Sergie Bobrovsky, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Stanley Cup, Brandon Saad, Sam Gagner, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Goals, Assists, Power Play, Jack Adams, Ryan Johansen, NHL, Hockey, SV%, GAA, Save Percentage, Goals Against Average

Photo credit: Jamie Sabau, NHLI via Getty Image

Okay, sure. Goaltending has been great. But let’s forget about that for now. Offensively, the Jackets have been an absolute powerhouse.

Where to start? The Columbus Blue Jackets boast the league’s best power play. With guys like rookie Zach Werenski, who has earned 12 of his 22 points this year on the power play, Columbus is among the league’s most lethal teams with a man advantage. With a 27.1% success rate when their opponent is in the box, the Jackets are simply frightening when it comes to special teams.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are also third in the league in goals. Forget, for a moment, that the Columbus Blue Jackets have amassed an impressive 114 goals for; behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins (129) and New York Rangers (123). Let’s look at these numbers in terms of goal differential.

While Pittsburgh and New York might be able to lay claim to more overall goals this year, the Columbus Blue Jackets have managed a goals for/goals against differential of +46, making them number one in the league for goal differential.

This can be attributed to many of the team’s core players enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. Cam Atkinson, Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno, Sam Gagner, and Scott Hartnell have over 20 points each. And rookie Zach Werenski has been making an excellent case for the Calder this year, with 22 points of his own.

Defense

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Photo credit: Jamie Sabau, NHLI via Getty Images.

Last year Columbus’ defense struggled greatly, and there were some personnel changes made in an effort to get Sergie Bobrovsky the kind of back end support he deserves.

Enter Seth Jones.

Seth Jones seems to have settled in nicely alongside his Calder Trophy candidate line mate, Zach Werenski. Acquired last year from the Nashville Predators, in return for center Ryan Johansen, Seth Jones seems to be doing quite well. He holds down the first line unit with Werenski and has collected six goals and eight assists in 27 games so far this season.

With a +46 goal differential, a new and improved defense, and a Calder Trophy candidate on the blue line, Columbus has shown that they are more than just the League’s most dangerous offensive juggernaut.

Coaching

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Photo credit: Norm Hall, NHLI via Getty Images

What, then, do we make of John Tortorella?

It’s hard to comment on what happens in the dressing room. It’s hard to say how players perceive their coach. These things tend to happen outside the view of fans and sports analysts. These are the intangible aspects of the game.

Whatever it is that we make of John Tortorella, the wins are racking up and things are looking good for him and his team right now. John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets have a lot going for them. They are cruising through the competition and are poised to make the playoffs and take a run at the cup this year.

The season is still young, but Tortorella might find himself with another Jack Adams Trophy. His name has been tossed around for coach of the year. Obviously this is predicated on the continued success of his team, but the conversation is being had.

Who knows- maybe there is even a second Stanley Cup in John Tortorella’s future.

 

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Three Reasons Auston Matthews Won’t Win the Calder

The highly anticipated rookie campaign of American phenom Auston Matthews is now in full swing. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ star center racked up an incredible 46 points in 36 games with the Zurich SC last year and his entry into the NHL has been nothing less than stellar.

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

When he finally made it to the big show, Matthews converted all non-believers by setting a record and netting not one, not two, not three, but four goals in his NHL debut.

Yes, it was only one game. Yes, it was the very first game. But the clinic he put on that night rocketed him into first place in Calder contention. He was by far the front runner for Rookie of the Year even before his debut. That performance really solidified his chances, until we got to see what the rest of 2016-17’s rookie class had to offer. There are three other players that stand in the way of Matthews winning the Calder.

Three BIG Reasons why Auston Matthews won’t win the Calder Trophy 

  1. Zach Werenski

GP G A Pts PIM +/-
32 6 15 21 8 7

 

Photo credit: Kyle Robertson, Dispatch

Photo credit: Kyle Robertson, Dispatch

Columbus’ first round (eighth overall) pick of the 2015 NHL Draft is quickly becoming a Calder consideration. The NHL’s November Rookie of the Month has amassed an impressive 21 points in 30 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets this year. 11 of those points came on the power play, as Werenski has seemingly found his place on Columbus’ first power play unit.

Frankly, the guy is a beast.

It’s his first year in the league and not only is he producing points, he is also carrying a huge load for a team surging in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. Werenski is averaging 22 minutes a game, on the first line, playing alongside Seth Jones – acquired last year from the Nashville Predators in a blockbuster trade for Ryan Johansen.

Zach Werenski is one big reason why the Blue Jackets have turned it around this year. Given his performance both offensively and defensively, Werenski deserves Calder consideration.

 

  1. Matt Murray

GP W GAA SV% SHO
18 13 2.14 0.928 2

To be eligible for the [Calder Trophy] award, a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league. Beginning in 1990-91, to be eligible for this award a player must not have attained his twenty-sixth birthday by September 15th of the season in which he is eligible.

-NHL Rulebook

 

justin-k-aller-getty-images

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images

In 1971, Ken Dryden appeared in six regular season games for the Montreal Canadiens. Then amazingly he made 20 playoff appearances, backstopping Jean Beliveau and the Habs to their 17th Stanley Cup championship.

 

In 1973, Dryden would again take Montreal to the finals, winning them their 18th in franchise history. It was with two Stanley Cup championships under his belt that he won the Calder Trophy that year.

Matt Murray has a very similar opportunity in front of him. Having played less than 25 regular season games last year (he only played 21), Murray is still eligible to be nominated for the Calder Trophy.

Why shouldn’t Murray be considered? He has affectively taken the top spot in Pittsburgh. Outside of Thursday’s game against Columbus, his performance so far this year has been rock solid. It only adds fuel to the fire that the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to trade their former number one Marc-Andre Fleury.

 

  1. Patrik Laine

GP G A Pts PIM +/-
36 19 11 30 12 6
jonathan-kozub-nhli-via-getty-images

Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub, NHLI via Getty Images

Drafted second overall in this year’s NHL Draft, Patrik Laine doesn’t get what all the fuss is about when it comes to Auston Matthews. Auston Matthews who?

With more goals, assists, and overall points than Matthews, Laine has been showing the league what he’s made of without wasting a second. Alongside the talented Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele – both of whom are having breakout seasons of their own – Patrik Laine has become one of the league’s elite wingers.

Tied for second in the league in goals, Laine is not afraid to shoot the puck. Though the Winnipeg Jets are failing to put up the wins, Laine has not failed to put up points. Laine has managed two hat-tricks already in this young season. It’s no four goal debut, but it’s pretty close for sure.

If Laine keeps pace, he may very well finish the year as the highest scoring rookie of the 2016 class. For that, he ought to be considered for the Calder Trophy this year.

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