Take Flight

About to Take Flight

Training camps take flight this week for NHL clubs. But, this weekend we received a prelude to the near and far future with the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournaments.

Storylines are coming together for another event filled 82-game grind. Four tournaments began Friday that included 19 teams. Showcases were held in Toronto, Buffalo, British Columbia and Traverse City Michigan.

The 2017 Rookie Tournament

Young stars aligned in Toronto this weekend at the 2017 Rookie Tournament. Top draft picks of Toronto, Ottawa and New York joined forces in a terrific showcase of young talent. And it is important for these prospects to have as much in-game experience as possible.

Timothy Liljegren of the Maple Leafs was drafted 17th overall in this year’s draft. And the first evaluation for the rookie defenseman did not go well. The 18 year old was beat on the outside in the first ten minutes of the game. Later in the third he clears the puck through the middle of the ice in his own zone right to a Montreal player that led to another goal. Liljegren finished the night -4.

Take Flight

Liljegren (Left) losing battle after battle in this weekend’s tournament.              Photo Courtesy of SBNation

Eyes were on Thomas Chabot and Colin White of the Ottawa Senators organization in this tournament. Both of these prospects had great starts to the showcase. White made numerous plays in an 8-2 victory over Montreal. But, the standout was Chabot as he quarterbacked the Ottawa power play finishing with 3 assists.

Noah Juulsen of the Canadiens (2015 1st Round Pick) also aimed to make an impression this weekend. The 20-year old looks to be a part of the Habs’ 3rd defensive pairing this year. This was not his 1st rookie tournament. And he looked to make it his last as he exhibited “great strength and vision” on the ice.

The Prospects Challenge

Nico Hischier (1st Overall pick in 2017 Draft) suited up in an NHL uniform for the first time this weekend at The Prospects Challenge. The Swiss born rookie did his best to get acclimated to NHL pace of play and to not get injured. And his goals were achieved.

Take Flight

Nico Hischier suiting up for the New Jersey Devils for the first time getting his first NHL experience. Photo Courtesy of NJ.com

Hischier was “pretty quiet” when the 1st game began, but settled in as the game progressed. The 18 year old showed off his speed and ability to work well in tight spaces. According to Todd Cordell, Hischier created a scoring chance “every time he touched the puck” down the stretch. But, the rookie was not able to register a point in his debut. However, the Devils opened the tournament with an overtime winner.

The Devils need a spark this year. They have not made the playoffs since making it to the Final in 2012. Veterans have been added, stars have been kept and the rookies are ready to go.

 

Young Stars Classic & Traverse City Tournament

Three Canadian teams (Oilers, Flames and Jets) played in the Young Stars Classic in British Columbia this weekend. And eight teams competed in Traverse City, MI. This concluded the weekend’s rookie showcases.

The Young Stars Classic continues through the 11th and has already seen great play. And everyone was waiting see Kailer Yamamoto (Oilers 2017 1st Round Pick). But, it was Chad Butcher who stole the show in their game against Winnipeg. The Oiler hopeful netted his 2nd goal in three games as Edmonton took down the Jets 3-0. The present and future seem to be very bright in Edmonton.

Take Flight

Minnesota rookies roar back for a 6-5 victory over the Blues in the Traverse City Tournament. Photo Courtesy of SBNation

The tournament in Traverse City saw a series of events occur in the battle between St. Louis and Minnesota. Blues first round picks (Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin) were showing everyone why they were taken early in this year’s draft. Kostin scored midway through the 3rd, which gave St. Louis a 5-1 lead. Then, the team Bus driver left the Arena due to his presumption that the game was won. But, the Minnesota rookies then scored 5 unanswered goals and took the lead with 1:02 remaining.

These tournaments provide great experience for young upcoming professionals. But, they do not exactly do a good job giving us an idea of where these prospects are in this small sample size.

What have we learned?

In this short period of time, we have learned not much at all. Each of the teams that took part in these weekend tournaments know now what they have always known that there is promise in the future. And the future is much closer to the present. The youth movements that are going on in almost every franchise are taking flight. That is what we have learned.

We know that the waiting game is not as long as it used to be in this league. There is more of a business mindset with these showcases maybe than in recent years. This makes the buildup to opening night of the regular season go by a bit faster.

Take Flight

The NHL’s Elite Prospects were on display this weekend. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

 

More storylines, more excitement and more hockey related news is what we need. We need the lag time between the Cup presentation and the start to the season to seem shorter than in reality.

Hockey moves at a furious pace. And if you let it, so does the offseason.

Training camps open this week.

 

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The New Faces of the League

The New Faces of the League

The new faces of the league have entered the NHL in the last two seasons. These young sensations have “battled” their way into becoming some of the most recognizable faces in the sport. They did not come here to just be in the league either…they are here to take over.

Organizations across the board like Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit and Winnipeg all have youth movements in full swing. Some are still in that rebuild waiting to break through. Teams are bringing more excitement and entertainment value to their cities than ever.

Top-tier talent is becoming more and more prevalent in annual drafts that once structure is in place, teams are taking off. Complete change over has already occurred in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. Who’s next?

The Catalyst

The Hart Memorial and Art Ross trophies are for the league’s most valuable player and leading scorer. Both of these honors went to a player (Connor McDavid) playing in his first full season. He became the youngest captain in league history before the season started. This NHL phenom turned 20 midway through last season.

McDavid did more then receive individual accolades. In one year, the Oilers’ captain has transformed the hockey culture in Edmonton. He affirmed the conclusion of the Oiler rebuild last year, leading them to their first postseason appearance in 10 years. According to ESPN, their attendance has gone from 21st to 13th in the last 2 years. The excitement is back in the Gateway of the North, and it’s not leaving any time soon.

McDavid has gone from the NHL’s most highly touted prospect, to the league’s brightest star after playing in just 127 games. The Oilers have come out of the bottom of the league and straight to the top. Edmonton notched 103 points last season (up from 70) and finished seventh in the league’s standings (up from 29th).

McDavid signed an eight-year, $100 million extension this offseason as he and the Oilers look to stick together and be proven contenders this season.

Rising threat for the opposition

Of the top-10 goal scorers during last year’s regular season, half of them were 25 or younger. The No. 3 goal scorer recorded 40 (Auston Matthews) and turned 19 at the start of training camp. Matthews and the No. 7 goal scorer, Patrick Laine (19), were two of the three rookie of the year candidates on this list.

They are no longer looked at as kids waiting their turn. Their overall production is making each of them the faces of the league.

NHL new faces

Patrick Laine (left) and Auston Matthews (right) burst onto the scene in ’16-17. (Photo from NHL.com)

These bright new faces are outperforming Hall-of-Fame caliber players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. They are younger, faster and fearless.

Confidence is huge in any sport and young players like Matthew Tkachuk (19) have the ability to get under the opposition’s skin. Tkachuk drew reactions out of notable veterans Drew Doughty (and almost every L.A. King) and Brent Burns last season. Every player in the NHL deserves respect, but that doesn’t mean these newcomers will be intimidated.

As a fan, the players you hate are the great ones that do not play for your team. They work hard, they get under your skin and they produce at the same time. These first and second-year players already fit this mold.

Next Chapter in Saga

The New Jersey Devils signed No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft Nico Hischier to a three-year, entry-level deal with an average annual salary of $925,000. He turned 18 this year in early January. So, why wait?

“There’s a spot for him on our team,” Devils general manager Ray Shero told NHL.com. They believe he is a center that is great in all areas of the game, including defense.

The Philadelphia Flyers signed the No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick to a three-year, entry-level contract with the same average annual salary as Hischier with performance bonuses. Barring more setbacks stemming from his recent surgery, the Flyers expect him to compete. Philly general manager Ron Hextall has been decisive about not signing veteran role players and is committed to the youth movement.

NHL new faces

Nico Hischier (left) and Nolan Patrick (right) on draft night. (Photo from NHL.com)

We are one month away from the start of the 2017-2018 regular season. Hockey is coined “the coolest sport on earth” for various reasons. Much of it has to do with the speed and the changes on the fly. With these youth movements in place, we could see an even faster growing game for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image by Sportsnet

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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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Thrilling Ducks-Oilers Series Ends with Decisive Game 7

To Mark Letestu and the Edmonton Oilers fans, the open net looked as tantalizing as it did the four other times.

Rogers Place erupted after Letestu’s goal gave the Oilers a 5-0 lead over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 last Sunday. The offensive outburst solidified an eventual 7-1 win for Edmonton, knotting the series at three games apiece. Fans were excited enough for the win, but even more so for the consequences of it: Game 7 of what has been a thrilling series.

The Edmonton-Anaheim battle has had historic comebacks, unlikely heroes and highlight-reel goals from tremendous talents. As predicted here at The Game Haus, it’s a no-brainer why this series is going to seven games.

As the series opened in California for Game 1, the physicality and grit was apparent. Two of the best-hitting teams in the NHL battered each other on the boards, leading to very few opportunities for either side.

It was a 1-1 tie heading into the third period before both teams turned up the intensity. Edmonton defenseman Adam Larsson, the marquee acquisition for general manager Peter Chiarelli last offseason, notched two of the Oilers’ four goals in the period.

His tally with 4:40 remaining in a 3-3 contest gave Edmonton a much-needed win on the road. Larsson scored just four goals all season. He was the source of firepower Edmonton didn’t expect, but certainly welcomed.

Outdoing themselves, Edmonton secured another road win in Game 2 thanks to Cam Talbot. Anaheim was relentless on the attack for a full 60 minutes, finding ways to shoot from anywhere on the ice. But Cam Talbot was sensational in the affair, posting 39 saves in a 2-1 victory.

Despite playing well in the first two games, the Ducks were in a 2-0 hole. They had only lost 12 games at home in the regular season, the third-fewest in the league. However, they were in this spot in the final weeks of the season.

Slumping atop the division while Edmonton gained ground in the standings, Anaheim went on a tear to close out the year. It would do the same north of the border.

Ryan Getzlaf took over in the first period of Game 3, tallying a goal and an assist to put the Ducks on top 3-0. He’s moved the puck well throughout the offensive zone, but that doesn’t come as a surprise. He’s also managed to fight his way to the net facing a ton of pressure from Edmonton, and he finds a way through. His performance set the tone at the start of the affair.

Even though the Oilers came back from a three-goal deficit, Jakob Silfverberg took over in the third. These two were instrumental in the Ducks’ comeback in the series at a time where Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler got off to slow starts.

Ducks-Oilers Game 7

Photo courtesy of USA Today/photo by Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press via AP

Getzlaf and Silfverberg continued to excel in Game 4. The Oilers scored twice in the first, including a beautiful snipe from wunderkind Connor McDavid.

But Getzlaf willed the Ducks with two goals and three points in the second for a 3-2 Anaheim advantage.

Edmonton answered at the 18:18 mark in the third thanks to Drake Caggiula, of all people.

Getzlaf and Silfverberg picked up goalie John Gibson, though, connecting for the overtime winner 45 seconds into the extra frame and tying the series. These occurrences set the precedents for what became a best-of-three series: the road team is king and no lead is safe.

Speaking of unsafe leads, Game 5 in Anaheim was arguably the wildest game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. McDavid, Caggiula and Leon Draisaitl lit the lamp in the second period. Talbot stood on his head the entire game.

But with 3:16 to go, one of the most improbable comebacks began. Anaheim scored twice and then a questionable goaltender interference no-call led to Rickard Rakell’s equalizer with 15 seconds left. Replays showed Kesler at least made contact with Talbot’s pad before he tried to save the puck.

Despite the missed call, the game went to double overtime before Corey Perry, who was phenomenal all night, sent the loyal Ducks fans home happy. Anaheim led the series 3-2 before Edmonton’s Game Six thrashing.

Hockey fans have seen it all in six games as fans of both teams have seen enough tense moments. There’s just one more tonight in Anaheim, though home ice hasn’t helped either team much here. Here are important keys for each team.

Ducks-Oilers Game 7

Cam Talbot. Photo courtesy of Newsday/photo by Codie McLachlan, Getty Images

EDMONTON: Stopping Ryan Getzlaf is next to impossible. The Oilers need to pay attention to him, but limiting those around him will make the most difference on defense. This also means helping Cam Talbot as much as possible. The blue liners have to clear pucks out from in front. If Talbot from the last two games shows up, then the Oilers have a chance.

ANAHEIM: Special teams needs to get going. After a top five penalty kill in the regular season, the Ducks have allowed seven power play goals. On the flip side, their power play is 0-for-15 since Game Two. They got here with strong special teams and they have the talent, but they need to execute tonight.

Regardless of the keys, this game can go either way. McDavid versus Getzlaf has been enjoyable to watch. The game should be the same.

 

 

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Division Rivalries, Top Goaltenders Highlight NHL Conference Semifinals

Still recovering from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?  That’s understandable, considering 18 of the 42 total games played went to overtime.  But now, the spotlight shines on the eight remaining teams.  The Conference Semifinals feature three series with divisional rivals as well as some of the league’s best goaltending.  Here’s a preview of the four series ahead.

Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers

(Courtesy of espn.com)

2017 Season Series: Ottawa 2-1-0/Getty Images

While it may not be a divisional battle nor have the playoff history of its Eastern Conference counterpart, this matchup features two teams with huge star power.  Henrik Lundqvist was stellar in helping the Rangers dispatch the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.  His 195 saves were two shy of Braden Holtby for most in the first round.  His .9466 save percentage in the series was three ten-thousandths shy of his career postseason mark against Washington in 2013.  The victory over Montreal wasn’t perfect, however.  Chris Kreider and JT Miller didn’t score, while Nick Holden and Marc Staal had costly turnovers and mental lapses at times in their own zone.  Lundqvist carried the team this far, but the Blueshirts play better when they get a more consistent effort on offense and defense.

The Senators enjoyed production from all units in their 6-game series win over the Boston Bruins.  Former Ranger Derick Brassard exploded for eight points, while Bobby Ryan added two game-winning goals.  Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and the blue line held the Bruins to just 13 goals in the six contests, making it easy for goalie Craig Anderson.  Karlsson showed why he’s a Norris Trophy candidate, leading the Sens in ice time while bearing two fractures in his left heel.  Ottawa received needed contributions from their top players, but do they have the depth to make a deeper run in the postseason?

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

(Courtesy of japersrink.com)

2017 Season Series: Washington 2-0-2

This is the series you’ll want to tune in to every game for, and the NHL knows it.  They’ve played up the tensions between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the spots they run during commercial breaks.  The Presidents’ Trophy winner versus the runners-up.  Two division rivals with the two aforementioned superstars and both teams top five in the regular season on the power play.  Need I say more?

The Capitals had to fend off the budding Maple Leafs in six.  Braden Holtby’s 197 saves were tops among goalies in the first round as he neutralized Auston Matthews and company just enough.  Ovechkin was his usual self with two power play goals and three total.  But he has options around him that Washington hasn’t seen in quite some time.  TJ Oshie had seven points, Justin Williams shined in the playoffs again, and 11 other players recorded two or more points.  On paper, Washington is as stacked as they come on all sides.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they run just as deep on offense.  Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are the notable names.  But Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust tormented Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets all series. They benefited from their linemates and pressured up front to outplay their expectations.  Marc-Andre Fleury performed admirably in net filling in for the injured Matt Murray.  With Murray still not skating as of the weekend, Fleury still sits between the pipes.  Can a Pens defense missing Kris Letang cover up the holes they had in Round 1?

 

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Predators Blues Hockey(Courtesy of stltoday.com)

2017 Season Series: Nashville 3-2-0

The Predators being here is one shock.  The way they did it is another.  Pekka Rinne allowed a measly three goals in a four game sweep while making 123 stops in net.  The blue line was a force physically on the boards and in open ice as they neutralized Chicago’s stars.  What didn’t get enough credit, however, was the offense.  Down two goals in Game 3, Filip Forsberg and company outhustled Chicago to win in overtime.  The Blackhawks’ radio team noted in that game Nashville was energetic on both sides of the puck while Chicago was exhausted.  That sustained pressure should help them in this series too.

Netminder Jake Allen and the Blues dispatched a middling Minnesota Wild team in five games.  Allen’s .956 save percentage and eight goals allowed were second-lowest in the league only to Rinne.  He took the pressure off of the offense, which was quiet, if not tempered.  The Blues perform well across the board, but they don’t overpower you in one exact area.  Their penalty kill ranked third in the regular season at 84.8%.  Will it make a difference facing a Nashville team that produces better on even strength?

 

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks

(Courtesy of nhl.com)

2017 Season Series: Edmonton 3-2-0 (Anaheim lost 2 overtime games)

Penguins/Capitals gets the attention because of the history, but this can be just as entertaining of a matchup.  These are two Pacific rivals that vied for the division title until the final week.  The Ducks and Oilers are also second and sixth in hits, respectively.  There are skill players that draw you to this matchup, but the physicality potential spices it up further.

The Oilers showed they’re the real deal after taking care of defending West champion San Jose.  Connor McDavid scored four goals in his postseason debut.  But here were the goal scorers in the last two games: Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, Oscar Klefbom, David Desharnais, Leon Draisaitl, Anton Slepyshev and McDavid.  That’s tremendous diversity on offense.  They won’t always get that production from some of those 3rd and 4th line guys, but this team doesn’t have to rely on McDavid to score.  Their success, however, relies on netminder Cam Talbot.  He had two shutouts in Games 2 and 3, but allowed five goals in Game 4.  They need Talbot to be on top of his game every night.

The Ducks are the NHL’s hottest team right now.  Following their four games sweep over Calgary, they’ve won 13 of their last 15.  The special teams unit is dangerous both on the man up and the man down.  Their penalty kill ranks third in the NHL and they accrued the second-most penalty minutes in the regular season.  They have playmakers at almost every forward position on their top three lines.  Defenseman Cam Fowler may return this series now that he’s resumed practice.  Their challenge is getting good goaltending.  John Gibson took a step forward as Anaheim’s leading tender.  However, this is his first full postseason.  What can we expect from him?

 

Predictions

New York-Ottawa: Derick Brassard and Mika Zibanejad play well against their former respective teams, plus we get another good matchup in net.  But the Blueshirts are just a little deeper on offense. Rangers in 6

Pittsburgh-Washington: We get another postseason classic from these two.  The Caps push Fleury to the brink, but the Pens survive thanks to secondary contributions and speed. Penguins in 7

Nashville-St. Louis: Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are talented, but they have to show up for the Blues.  The Preds employ the same gameplan they had against Chicago to prevent the Blues to get to the net cleanly.  Peter Laviolette knows how to win here. Predators in 5

Edmonton-Anaheim: Fowler can make all the difference on defense for Anaheim.  However, if Edmonton plays physical, but smart on the boards, they have the talent to overcome a veteran Ducks team.  Oilers in 7

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Zack Kassian, Brandon Prust, Marc Bergevin, John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon, Ben Scrivens, NHL, NHL Playoffs, Playoffs, 2017 Playoffs, 2017 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks

The Incredible Career of Zack Kassian

Alright, incredible is quite the exaggeration. But say what you will, Zack Kassian is playing incredibly right now.

After the San Jose Sharks took a 1-0 series lead, Kassian has found himself Edmonton’s series savior. Potting two game winning goals in as many contests. Edmonton now leads the series 2-1.

And Kassian’s career couldn’t have turned around at a better time for the Edmonton Oilers.

FROM BUFFALLO TO EDMONTON

Drafted in the first round, 13th overall, by the Buffalo Sabres, Zack Kassian enjoyed a productive – if also turbulent – junior career. He won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010 but his personal problems sometimes over shadowed his career potential.

Attitude, alcohol and drug problems plagued Kassian.

Zack Kassian, Brandon Prust, Marc Bergevin, John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon, Ben Scrivens, NHL, NHL Playoffs, Playoffs, 2017 Playoffs, 2017 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks

Photo Credit: NHL.com.

These issues followed him to the big leagues, too. His career in Buffalo was cut short when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. But Kassian failed to shine on John Tortorella.

On July 1, 2015, in one of the saddest trades in recent memory, the Canucks traded

Zack Kassian, Brandon Prust, Marc Bergevin, John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon, Ben Scrivens, NHL, NHL Playoffs, Playoffs, 2017 Playoffs, 2017 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks

Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw, Getty Images.

Kassian and a 5th Round Pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Montreal Canadiens who sent an aged Brandon Prust back in return.

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin was willing to give Kassian one last shot at the NHL. But Kassian’s now notorious pre-season car crash, followed by a stint in rehab, effectively ended any hope of the former first-rounder making a comeback.

In December of 2015 he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for goaltender Ben Scrivens.

ZACH KASSIAN – THE EDMONTON OILER

Perhaps it was the publicity of it all. Perhaps the partying had finally gotten old. Perhaps he just needed to be in the right place, at the right time. And perhaps Edmonton is that right place, and that time is now. Maybe it’s just something in the air in Edmonton. Whatever it is, it’s working.

Kassian has been playing like the young, fast, power forward Buffalo drafted 13th overall all those years ago.

Zack Kassian’s size and grit have been a welcomed addition to the Edmonton lineup. Complimentary to the other big bodies in the lineup like Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic, just to name a few.

In tight, Kassian is once again showing his skills. Pretty plays and quick hands have scored Edmonton’s last two game winning goals. For a big man, he is deceivingly fast as well. Those jets are a big reason the Oilers are up in the series.

Whether it’s the twilight of his career or just a renaissance, the Edmonton Oilers owe it all to Kassian’s play as of late.

And though the road has been a rocky one, Kassian owes it all to the Oilers as well.

The Edmonton Oilers and the San Jose Sharks play Game 4 tonight at 10:00pm Eastern; 7:00pm Pacific Time.

Edmonton leads the series 2-1.

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Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Pacific Division Playoff Predictions

With the trade deadline firmly in the rear view mirror NHL teams have officially hit the ‘stretch.’ The race for third place is on. If your team can’t quite manage to place third or higher, then you’ll have to fight it out for a wild card spot.

Take a look at the Pacific Division and you’ll see a set of standings still relatively up for grabs. Outside of the Arizona Coyotes making the playoffs, just about anything could happen.

So with that in mind, please enjoy these Pacific Division Playoff Predictions.

SHARKS WIN THE DIVISION

Last year head coach Peter Deboer took the San Jose Sharks all the way to the Stanley Cup finals only to lose in six to the Pittsburgh Penguins. But, this year, while the Penguins continue to struggle through injury woes and scoring slumps, the Sharks are as strong as ever.

Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Photo credit: NHL.com.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Brent Burns will win the Norris Trophy this year. He has been putting up points at an unbelievable pace. Not only does he lead all defensemen in points (66) but he leads the entire League in shots on goal. Burns inked an eight year, eight-million-dollar contract extension back in November and is proving he’s worth every cent of that contract thus far.

One cannot talk about the success of the Sharks without mentioning big Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau. The two veterans have consistently brought calm and stability to the team. Marleau is looking rather Jagr-esque as his career point total continues to climb into the astronomical. And while Thorton may not be putting up points like Marleau, what he lacks in scoring he makes up for as a play maker. On top of this, his locker room presence is unparalleled on the Sharks roster – maybe in the whole league.

On the back end, Martin Jones has been nothing less than stellar. Jones sports a 2.28 goals against average and a .915 save percentage, which are slightly below his career average. But at 30-15-6, Jones and the Sharks have been cruising through the first 63 games with ease.

Not to be too complacent with their position in the standings, the Sharks went out and acquired Jannik Hansen from the Vancouver Canucks at the trade deadline. The versatile Danish right winger has had an injury mired campaign so far but was good for 22 goals last season. He ought to be a lethal weapon for the Sharks no matter where they slide him into the lineup.

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The Sharks have been absolutely ruthless at home, with a record of 19-7-4 at the SAP Center [CHECK AFTER 1030 GAME TONIGHT]. Look for this trend to continue as the team settles in for a six game home stand starting March 9 against the League leading Washington Capitals.

San Jose will win the Pacific Division.

ANAHEIM FOLLOWS CLOSE BEHIND

As the trade deadline approached many speculated that Anaheim’s general manager Bob Murray might try to make some moves. Particularly with the high quantity of high quality young defensemen holding down the Ducks’ blue line. But Murray stood firm. This was a bit of a surprise because, in the face of June’s impending expansion draft, the Ducks could potentially lose the bulk of their back end to the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Instead of selling, though, Murray went shopping. And bought himself one of the best beards in the League; Patrick Eaves.

Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Photo credit: NHL.com

In 54 games with the Dallas Stars last season Eaves put up 11 goals and 17 points. This season, in 60 games so far, the winger has managed a career best 21 goals and 37; 11 of those coming on the power play. The versatile winger could conceivably find himself playing alongside All-Star duo Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, a role which has proven notoriously hard to fill for the Ducks, though the two have been split up as of late. Regardless of where Eaves finds himself in the lineup, the 32 year old winger certainly improves the Ducks’ outlook heading down the stretch.

The addition of Eaves gives the Ducks some impressive depth on the front end, but their play as of late has been less than dominant as they head into their bye week. The San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers may continue to win while Anaheim take their break but the Ducks will return well rested, ready to go, and with games in hand.

On the back end, John Gibson has been a reliable net minder to say the least. Prior to his being placed on the injured reserve list (February 25), Gibson held a respectable 23-15-8 record with a 2.24 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Backup Jonathan Bernier has been less than perfect in Gibson’s absence. He’s dropped two of the team’s last three, including a 2-3 loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the League’s worst team.

Gibson is expected back after the bye week.

Still, with the sturdy defensive core on the blue line and All-Star depth up front that the Ducks sport they ought to finish strong down the stretch.

Anaheim will place second in the Pacific Division.

EDMONTON TAKES THIRD

Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images.

Connor McDavid is a stud. No doubt about it. But McDavid cannot carry this team into the playoffs and hoist Lord Stanley all by himself. No.

If the Oilers make the playoffs this year, and I predict they will, they still lack the depth and grit to really go very far. Down the final stretch of the regular season, depth and grit can take a team pretty far. But general manager Peter Chiarelli is confident with his squad, stating that the team is already ahead of where he thought they’d be this year; exceeding expectations.

That said, Chiarelli made very few moves at the deadline.

In return for defenseman Brandon Davidson, the Edmonton Oilers received undersized center David Desharnais from the Montreal Canadiens. Desharnais is a small, third or fourth line center. In some ways he helps with the depth issue the Oilers face but on the other hand his addition does nothing to address the team’s size issues.

A trade for minor leaguerers with the New York Rangers has brought former Minnesota Wild player Justin Fontaine to the Oilers as well. In addition to the acquisition of Desharnais and Fontaine, Chiarelli also signed overage junior defenseman Ryan Mantha. Fontaine was traded to the Rangers last year but didn’t see any ice time with the club. Mantha, a former fourth round pick of the Rangers, captains the Niagara Ice Dogs. The 20-year-old will join to the Oilers’ farm club, the Bakersfield Condors.

Needless to say, the Oilers didn’t do much to improve their chances down the stretch. But in all honesty, they aren’t ready to compete for the cup so any big additions at the deadline would have only been in vein.

Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Photo credit: Sergei Belski, USA Today Sports.

The Oilers lack depth at nearly every position. Their blue line is atrocious. And, really, their only redeeming features are their All-Star captain and ridiculously over-performing goaltender.

McDavid is leading the League in points (72) while Cam Talbot is second – only to Devan Dubnyk – in wins among goaltenders. While these two may very well continue to shine in their own right, it’s not likely that the team as a whole will continue to thrive as a whole.

Down the stretch, Edmonton’s weak defense will catch up with them. Their lack of depth in all positions, including in net, will hurt them as they compete for a playoff spot. They will slip out of contention, but fear not they will make the playoffs.

Edmonton will place third in the Pacific Division.

CALGARY CAPTURES A WILDCARD SPOT

Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Photo credit: Will Nault.

Though fans of either team would be loath to admit it, Calgary and Edmonton are a lot alike. They are both Albertan teams well within playoff reach but unlikely to make much of it.

The Flames currently sit in fourth place in the Pacific Division and hold a five-point lead over the Central Division’s St. Louis Blues for the first wild card spot. They are also only two points away from third in the Pacific.

Certainly, the Flames are in much better shape than they were this time last year. Stability has finally reappeared in net for the Flames. The offseason additions of goaltenders Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott appear to be paying off as of late. Elliott’s won his last four starts, including a 2-1 win in overtime against the Las Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.

But general manager Brad Treliving wasn’t content with his team as the deadline loomed. He went out and added former Arizona Coyote defenseman Michael Stone along with former Ottawa Senator Curtis Lazar. These moves add considerable depth to the relatively thin Flames’ lineup.

Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Photo credit: Frederick Breedon, Getty Images.

Stone is already fitting in well with his new squad, with an average time on ice of over 20 minutes a game. He rounds out a defensive core which boasts the likes of Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie; three blue liners who have been impressive thus far this season.

Lazar, the 17th overall pick of 2013, has failed to live up to expectations following a terrific junior career in the WHL. But the former first round pick isn’t pessimistic about the way his career has panned out. In an interview with TSN on Wednesday, Lazar stated that he was excited to be joining the Flames and that he sees himself as more of a Western Conference player anyway.

While the Flames’ struggles early in the season will prohibit them from gaining enough ground to fight for a true playoff spot, they are trending up.

Calgary will finish fourth in the Pacific Division, capturing the first wild card spot.

KINGS COME UP SHORT

Now that Jarome Iginla has been traded to the Los Angeles Kings, who doesn’t want to see the Kings go on an unbelievable run, upset the world, and win the Stanley Cup just for Iggy? Okay, maybe not Ducks or Sharks fans. But believe you me, there are a lot of Iggy admirers out there who’d love to see the veteran make one more run at the big show.

But it won’t happen.

Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Pacific Division, NHL, Playoffs, Michael Stone, Brian Elliott, Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes, Brad Treliving, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Peter Deboer, Dwight King, Jerome Iginla, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Chad Johnson, Dougie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Cam Talbot, Connor McDavid, David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Mantha, Patrick Eaves, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Jonathan Bernier, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy

Photo credit: Canadian Press.

The Kings just don’t have what it takes. They’ve managed an impressive season considering the fact that they’ve been without their All-Star, Con Smythe Trophy winning, two-time Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup winning goaltender Jonathan Quick for the majority of the season. Now that Quick has returned the Kings are poised to make a run at the playoffs but it’s a little too late for a resurgence now.

With roughly 20 games left in the season it will take a lot of luck and hard work for the Kings to make the playoffs, let alone make a run for the cup. Ben Bishop was acquired at the deadline to help in net but you can’t play two at the same time. Bishop will ride the pine while the Kings hold their breath and hope Quick doesn’t re-aggravate his injury.

By shipping winger Dwight King to Montreal, the Kings lose depth and grit they ostensibly plan on replacing with the presence of Iginla. But what quality does Iginla bring to the team besides a veteran presence? In truth, not much. Can he still put up points and will he be able to keep pace? Likely not.

The Kings will come up short of the playoffs this year.

Los Angeles will finish fifth in the Pacific Division.

VANCOUVER AND ARIZONA

These two teams will not make the playoffs. Not by a long shot.

The Vancouver Canucks have officially entered full rebuild mode. What they have tried to accomplish with their squad was admirable but the experiment has ultimately failed. As if to add injury to insult the team has recently been hit by a case of the mumps. Remember parents, vaccinate your kids.

Vancouver will finish sixth in the Pacific Division.

The Arizona Coyotes can file this year away with the rest of their bottom of the barrel finishes. With poor performances like that of the young Anthony Duclair, injuries, and poor asset management as the trade deadline, the Coyotes won’t likely be playoff contenders for a few more years yet.

Arizona will finish seventh in  the Pacific Division.

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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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What Canada Has to Look Forward to Next Season

With only a few days left in the NHL season all seven Canadian teams have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoff race. You know it almost doesn’t feel right? This has only happened one other time in the history of the NHL during the 1969-70 season. I’m not here to talk about why the Maple Leafs are bad, or talk about another dreadful season in Edmonton, but to show the upside to these Canadian teams for next season.

Toronto Maple Leafs (28-40-11) 67 Pts.

Nazem Kadri the leading point scorer for the Leafs, is a good starting point when talking about the future for Toronto. As first line center, Kadri looks to improve on a dismal season, currently ranked last in the Eastern Conference. Helping Kadri bring the winning ways back to Toronto is offensive defenseman Morgan Rielly. Rielly, only 22 years old, is one the top defense prospects in the league. Another upside for the 2017 season is the return of one of the better coaches in the NHL Mike Babcock. Lastly, the Maple Leafs affiliate team in the AHL the Toronto Marlies have the best record in the league and are ready to bring some young talent to the NHL. Look for some of these prospects to make an impact in the years to come.
Ottawa Senators (36-34-9) 81 Pts.

On the back of Defenseman Erik Karlsson, the Senators have the best record of the seven Canadian teams. Karlsson is currently ranked first in assists (64) in the NHL. With youth like Mark Stone, 23, Mika Zibanejad, 22, and Cody Ceci, 22, the future looks bright in Ottawa.
Montreal Canadiens (36-37-6) 78 Pts.

Sean Monahan (23) and Johnny Gaudreau (13) celebrate after a goal. (www.cbc.ca)

Ill keep it short because of my recent article on the Canadiens. Nevertheless, with Carey Price in net and good core such as Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, P.K. Subban, and Max Pacioretty, don’t be surprised when Montreal is in the playoffs next year.
Calgary Flames (33-40-6) 72 Pts.

With Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau leading the way the Flames look like a young Blackhawks team with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. This is their team to take control of, they control the future of this franchise. Both under the age of 22, and the number one and two point leaders for the Flames, I cannot wait to watch these two grow through the next couple years.
Winnipeg Jets (32-39-8) 72 Pts.

The future of the Jets is questionable after losing Captain Andrew Ladd. What is certain, is Blake Wheeler being a big contributor. Four of the past five years Wheeler has scored at least 60 points. Mark Sceifele, who has come on strong at the end of this season, looks to produce in a big way next year. Nikolaj Ehlers, out of Denmark, is only 20 years old and is already playing well and should be a good goal scorer for next year. There is some young talent on the Jets but I’m not sure if they are quite there yet.
Vancouver Canucks (30-36-13) 73 Pts.

With the Sedin brothers late in their careers retirement is right around the corner and they are the Canucks’ best players. One bright side to this season is the emergence of Bo Horvat. Only 21, Bo is fourth in points on the team and looks to be a key player in a much needed rebuild in Vancouver.

Edmonton Oilers (30-43-7) 67 Pts.

Rookie Connor McDavid (weliveforhockey.com)

With all the talent on the ice for the Oilers you would think they would be better right? Possibly poor defense, below-average goaltending, it’s tough to say what is to blame. In the past six years the Oilers have had four number one picks. All of the talent is there, but the wins aren’t there. With the first pick last year the Oilers took 19 year-old phenom Connor McDavid. In only 43 games McDavid has 45 points but it hasn’t been enough. As the Oilers sit dead last in the Western Conference they have the chance at another 1st overall pick. I would like to see the Oilers return to their winning ways, so all the young talent can be brought to the national light.

 

What to watch for: 4/5

Islanders vs. Capitals -Eastern Conference playoff teams square off.

Lightning vs. Rangers -Another match-up of Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Avalanche vs. Predators -It’s a stretch for the Avalanche to get into the playoffs but can happen.

Sharks vs. Wild -Wild looking to lock up a playoff spot.