Maple Leafs Are Hot

Wednesday picks: The Maple Leafs are hot at the right time

Wednesday Picks: The Maple Leafs Are Hot At The Right Time

The NHL is a league like many others. Winning streaks and losing streaks make or break your season, and the Maple Leafs are hot at the perfect time. The Leafs playoff spot is almost locked in at this point, but seeding for home-ice advantage could be the difference maker in the postseason.

The Maple Leafs will be testing themselves against the Blue Jackets; meanwhile, out in Colorado, the Avalanche will be taking on the Canadiens. Out in Vancouver, the Canucks and Panthers will be playing in the last game of the night.

Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Pick: Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are hot right now, but they will be going against a Blue Jackets team that is hovering just outside the playoff picture. Both sides have a lot to play for, but the Blue Jackets are mostly already in the playoffs.

This game should be the best one of the night. I expect them to both come out energized and excited to try and propel themselves into playoff position.

Nylander’s Recent Surge

Maple Leafs Are Hot

Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

William Nylander has led the way for the Maple Leafs in scoring recently. Toronto has nine wins in their last 11 games, and Nylander has scored in eight of them, including three multi-point performances. Nylander is second on the team in points and has been the igniter for many of the Maple Leafs recent wins.

His most notable performance came against the Lightning. Nylander had two goals and an assist, making him responsible for three of the four points the Leafs scored in their 4-3 win against the best team in the NHL.

Nylander’s recent play has paved the way for the Maple Leafs offense. He has been scoring at will and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Columbus’ Struggling Offense

Columbus’ offense has taken a considerable step backward from where they were last year. The Blue Jackets have the third-lowest goals per game average scoring just 2.6 goals per game. Columbus needs to start trending towards quality, not quantity mindset when it comes to shots on goal. They have recorded the fifth most shots on goal in the entire NHL, but they just can’t seem to find the back of the net.

Another thing the Blue Jackets will have to get going is their powerplay. They have the worst power play in the league right now, and in their last five, they have only connected on two of their 15 power play attempts.

To fix these issues, Columbus has been in many of the trade discussions for forward Rick Nash. It is clear that the Blue Jackets need a scorer if they are going to have success the rest of the year.

The Blue Jackets have a good defense, but it is not good enough to carry them throughout the playoffs. A trade for a player like Rick Nash could be the difference maker down the stretch.

The Result

I like the Maple Leafs to take this one. Their offense and defense have been phenomenal the last few games, and I don’t expect that to stop now. The Blue Jackets are coming off back to back games and are already struggling massively.

This game should be close for the first couple periods, but I expect the Leafs to pull away in the third and take this one.

Avalanche vs. Canadiens

Pick: Canadiens

The Avs went on an incredible streak that ended just a few weeks ago. Since then they have started to come back down to earth. Colorado has lost six of their last nine including a loss to Montreal. In their previous game, they struggled against a terrible Buffalo team.

The Avalanche do have one thing going for them in this game, however. The Canadiens are having a dreadful season and are at the bottom of the league. The Canadiens are both bottom ten in the league in scoring and goals against, but Buffalo is also.

I think the Canadiens will take this one. The inexperience of the Avalanche is going to cause them to drop some games down the stretch that they shouldn’t, and this is one of them. This game will be a tight contest all the way through, but I think that Montreal will come out victorious.

Canucks vs. Panthers

Pick: Panthers

Maple Leafs Are Hot

(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHL via Getty Images)

The Panthers are on the far outside of the playoff picture looking in; meanwhile, the Canucks are officially in the race for Rasmus Dahlin. Teams in the NHL don’t throw games, but they do start to get lethargic in their play.

The Panthers are seven games out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. This is the second game of a four-game road trip out west. They won their first game against Edmonton 7-5, and they will be looking to do the same against Vancouver.

The Canucks lack scoring, and it has shown all year long with their horrendous 2.6 goals per game. The defense of the Canucks has also been horrible all year, and it is why they are bottom ten in goals against.

Florida is a team that has struggled all year defensively, but going up against a Canucks team that can’t score I think they should win pretty convincingly. They still have a lot to play for and young scorers Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck will be looking to continue their solid seasons.

 

Featured Image By: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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Olympics

No Olympics for you

Competing for your country is something that every athlete dreams of doing. Playing in the Olympics is one of those opportunities that elite athletes have to do so. Not this year.

Bettman opposes Olympics

Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, once again sided with the owners rather than the players. His decision to do so is supposedly based on the growth of the game. Bettman and the NHL argue that the cost of traveling and accommodations will take money away from growing the game.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly doesn’t see the purpose of the players participating in the Olympics. He suggests that the Olympics do nothing to further hockey or the NHL. In contrast, my own experience speaks volumes against that belief.

Sports’ center stage

The Olympics bring elite athletes, competitive sports and hostile nations together. In a world full of chaos and havoc, the Olympics bring a

sense of hope. Millions and millions of people tune in to the games in anticipation that their country might bring home a medal.

Olympics

(Curtesy of olympics.org)

It becomes the center of the sporting world for two weeks.

The growth of hockey is something that all players, owners, and hockey representatives (NHL, KHL, NCAA, etc.) look for. What better opportunity to introduce the game to those unfamiliar than the Olympics. Suggesting that the games do not grow hockey seems unreasonable, especially at a place like PyeongChang, South Korea.

Personal experience

Being a former college hockey player in Virginia, hockey was not something relished among the other sports. However when the 2014 Winter Olympics came about, hockey became the center of my college dorm. Though most people knew I was on the hockey team beforehand, after the Olympics people were asking for tickets to my games almost every night.

Olympics

(From usa hockey.com)

Being from the USA, I began watching and cheering Team USA on in my room. The most significant game was USA versus Canada in the semifinals. Between 15-20 people showed up for that game to watch with me, most of whom had no interest in hockey until then. (And I will say, though disappointing, it may have been the most exciting 1-0 game I have ever watched.)

Just being able to watch the games online produced 15-20 fans alone. Hockey was always apart of our dorm because I played on the team, but the Olympic hockey games caused life-long fans to be born. Just in that small sample it can be seen how the game is growing. If it can grow like that in a country where hockey is prevalent, hockey can certainly grow in countries not so familiar.

A player’s perspective

Having the opportunity to represent your country is a dream. Many athletes never reach the level of play needed for a chance. Now because of the NHL’s decision, many players will not get the chance to represent their country on the biggest sporting stage in the world.

Many NHLers have expressed their disappointment in not being given the break to participate. Players such as Connor McDavid  and Austin Matthews will not have the opportunity to play in these Olympics. These players are the ones who will grow the game and they are being limited to NHL play only. Their opportunity to win a gold medal at the Olympics has been taken away.

From a player’s perspective, the NHL has let them down. Yes, the games may impact the season in a few different ways, but it is worth it: for the fans and for the players.

Hopeful anyway

As hockey begins at the Olympics, I am hopeful that the players given the opportunity to replace the NHLers will entertain those watching in South Korea and around the world. The hope of game growth is still possible with many good player participating. All the best to them. I will certainly be watching. The US Women’s team began preliminary play Sunday with a 3-1 win and the US Men will begin Wednesday.

 

Featured image by (Gregory Shamus:Getty Images).

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warning signs canes weekly

Warning signs: Canes Weekly [02/10/2018]

The Carolina Hurricanes experienced a difficult week from the top down. It seemed as if the Canes had lost their shot at the playoffs within the week’s time.

However, nothing could be further from the truth as the Canes are one point from a playoff position.

Can’t score, can’t win

warning signs canes weekly

(Photo by James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

In three straight games this past week against Detroit, San Jose and Philadelphia, the Canes struggles to score. The team scored just three goals in those three games before scoring four against Vancouver. (one in each since Friday). You cannot win games if you do not score goals (see The “goal” of making the playoffs).

Now the Caniacs are calling for the players’ heads, but honestly, when do they not? Of course the fans want to see goals, but more than goals, they want to see consistency in wins. The Hurricanes have to find ways to put the puck in the net with the players they have.

The team has scored 141 goals in 54 games for a 2.61 goals-per-game average this season. Those stats are good for 25th in the league. Thus, the Canes need someone to step up on the front end.

#Redvolution

warning signs canes weekly

(Photo from nhl.com/hurricanes)

The Hurricanes are known for asking their fans to join the #Redvolution. Yet, there are many fans that are more contaminating than anything else.

Yes, hold the players accountable and give your opinions, but more fans need to be “Caniac Fanatics” than critics. Express some passion and enthusiasm for the team. No one enjoys playing in front of the “haters.” Hence, why home-ice advantage is so important in many cases.

In 2006, the Canes rode the passion of North Carolina to the Cup. When the fan base is present in full, the PNC Arena can be one of the hardest places to play. This team has struggled through a tough week and would love nothing more than a welcoming cheer from their fans.

Has the panic button been pressed?

Coming off three straight wins, the Canes entered the second half of a back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings. Losing 4 – 1 was tough, but panic set in after a tough loss to the talented San Jose Sharks. Things have unfolded since then, something that may possibly become the turning point in the season.

In reaction to the loss, coach Bill Peters commented, “There are at least three that can go in, and if it’s not those three, there’s a group down in Charlotte, too. You can’t put that group out again after that.”

Not much of a confidence-booster. Of course, Peters might have a right to be upset, but respect the team that has placed you in position for the playoffs.

warning signs canes weekly

(Photo from Getty Images)

Considering the rough start to the season for goalie Scott Darling, this team has played well. That being said, general manager Ron Francis sent fourth line staples, Josh Jooris and Marcus Kruger to their AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers. Thankfully, the two cleared waivers and the Canes will retain their contracts. Both of these players are not goal-scorers, but are solid fourth line guys who can kill penalties and play tough minutes.

Kruger was a part of two Stanley Cup Championships with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. This is experience that the Hurricanes need down the stretch of the season. Sending down Jooris is more reasonable, but he is still a player that has played hard and well in the few minutes and games he has been given.

Response time

Whether or not Peters and Francis have caused a panic attack, the players must continue to push for the playoffs. How will they react? Will they be a resilient bunch, or will everything come crashing down? The next few games are critical for this team.

 

Featured image from NHL.com/hurricanes.

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New York Rangers Wild Card

Wednesday picks: Rangers look to inch closer to last Wild Card spot

It is a slower day for the NHL with only three games being played, but any hockey is good hockey from a fan’s perspective. The Predators and Maple Leafs will be a game with two of the top teams in each conference going at it. The Oilers and Kings will be rocking on the West Coast in a Pacific Division clash.

But the Rangers trying to inch closer into playoff position against the Bruins should be the most exciting game to watch.

Rangers vs. Bruins

Pick: Bruins

Lots of speculation has been made lately about the Rangers potentially moving Rick Nash, but that will not stop the team from trying to inch closer towards a Wild Card position. They will be looking to do just that against a Boston Bruins team that is red hot.

Recently, the Bruins got back young defensemen Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy is one of the top young players on the Bruins, and he continues to impress players and fans all across the NHL.

Lending a helping (March) hand

New York Rangers Wild Card

(Photo by Jimmy Murphy)

In addition to McAvoy’s recent return, star forward Brad Marchand is set to return from his five-game suspension. Even after his suspension, Marchand still leads the Bruins in points with 50 and assists with 29.

Marchand’s excellent play this season has been the fuel for the Bruins’ success. Having him back on the ice will be a big help to a top line that is already incredible. As the Bruins continue to get players back, they will continue to get better.

The return of Marchand should spark an already thriving Bruins team. The Bruins offense ranks fifth in points, and with the recent play of Tuukka Rask, Boston have the defense to match. Rask has the sixth-best save percentage in the NHL right now, and his 2.09 goals against average ranks third among goalies.

New York struggles

The Rangers have struggled recently, and it has them starting to get into the seller’s mindset before the trade deadline. The Rangers are losers in six of their last seven. They have not been able to get anything going.

The Rangers’ problems are pretty sporadic. On some nights, the offense is playing well, but the defense doesn’t get it done and vice versa. If the Rangers hope to inch closer towards playoff position against the Bruins, they are going to have to put a full game together on both sides.

They can start by patching up the defensive struggles. The Rangers are 22nd in goals against at 2.98 per game. Their power play defense has been average at best. They have the 14th ranked penalty kill unit, and that is not good for a team that is in the top half of the league in penalties per game.

Rick Nash

Rick Nash will be the topic of discussion until he gets traded. It’ll be interesting to see how hard he plays now that he knows he is potentially on his way out. Nash doesn’t seem like the type of player to do that, but you never know when someone openly knows he will be traded.

In 53 games this season, Nash has 25 points on 15 goals and 10 assists. Nash has been a member of the Rangers since the 2012-13 season and will likely be on the move within the next few weeks.

Result

I like the Bruins in this one. Their recent play has been some of the best in the NHL, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. I like them to take this one in a division rivalry game against the Rangers.

Maple Leafs vs. Predators

Pick: Maple Leafs

The Predators head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs in what will be a matchup of defense against offense.

Nashville has the fourth best goals against average in the NHL at 2.49 goals a game. A lot of this is due to the play of goalies Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. As a team, Nashville is tied for the best save percentage in the NHL at .922.

The game changer in this matchup will be the power plays. Toronto’s power play, lead by Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau is top ten in the NHL in success rate. They are going up against the most penalized team in the league.

I think the relentless offense of the Maple Leafs will be too much for the Preds, especially if Nashville finds themselves in the box, which I think they will. That is why I am going with Toronto to take this one.

Kings vs. Oilers

Pick: Kings

The Oilers are coming off one of their best games of the season. Superstar Connor McDavid recorded five points in a 6-2 win over the top team in the NHL in Tampa.

Outside of this, the Oilers have not had much to cheer for this year. They’re in the bottom half of the league in scoring offense and defense, and their power play and penalty kill have been awful at 30th and 31st in the league.

The Kings have been trending upwards recently. Their defense has been terrific all year long, and their offense is slowly starting to get it going. I don’t think this game will be much of a contest. I believe the Oilers will be worn out by the Kings in a win for LA.

 

Featured image from ABC6

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NHL in a week: Devils’ perfect week helps make strides in the Atlantic

The first week after the all-star break was an eventful one. The New Jersey Devils’ perfect week helped them gain on the Capitals in the Atlantic Division; meanwhile, the Flyers, Rangers and Blue Jackets all missed out on points that could come back to help them.

In the Western Conference, Vegas continued their fantastic season and still sit on top of the Pacific Division. The Central Division all had a terrific week with each team trending positively in points.

Easter Conference Team Of The Week:

New Jersey Devils: 3-0-0

The Devils perfect week came at just the right time for them. They now sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division with just over 30 games left to play. New Jersey had two clutch wins versus Pittsburgh and Philadelphia who are each right on their tail.

Devils Perfect Week

(Photo By: Bruce Bennett)

Taylor Hall led the charge for New Jersey this week with a point in all three games. Hall now has his point streak up to ten games and is starting to hit his stride officially.

Blake Coleman was the surprise for the Devils this week. Against Philadelphia, Coleman notched an assist, and then a two nights later against Pittsburgh he had two points with a goal and an assist.

The Devils’ perfect week sets them up well for a run down the stretch here, but they won’t be able to take any nights off. The Metropolitan is the tightest division in hockey, and any team could make a run at any time.

Western Conference Team Of The Week

Vegas Golden Knights: 3-1-0

The Golden Knights continued their golden season with another solid week of hockey. They collected six points and expanded their division lead to ten points. The Knights had wins on the road versus good teams in Calgary, Winnipeg and Washington.

The Knights have two games left on their road trip, but they should be able to handle it like they have all season long.

Reilly Smith had an excellent week, with points in three of the four games; including multi-point games versus Washington and Calgary. Smith is fourth on the Knights in points with 41 this season, and they will take the production he gave this week anytime.
Vegas has already exceeded expectations this season, and they show no signs of slowing down. This is a team that doesn’t just want to be good, but they want to win the Stanley Cup. If they keep up this level of play, they have a chance.

Loser Of The Week

Philadelphia Flyers: 0-2-1

The Flyers had a rough go at it this week only getting one point in three games against two division rivals and an awful Ottawa team. The Flyers have played very well lately, but a slow start to the season made it so weeks like this can’t happen.

Claude Giroux was non-existent for the Flyers this week; something uncharacteristic of him. In three games Giroux had just one point. His linemates were playing well, but Giroux was just not part of the play.

If the Flyers are going to rebound from this week, they are going to need more production from Giroux. Philly still holds the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but the conference is very tight. Another week like this and they will be on the outside looking in.

West vs. East

Devils Perfect Week

(Photo By: J.J. Regan)

This week the Western Conference had the Eastern Conferences number. The Western Conference finished 9-5-2 against their foes in the East who finished 7-8-1 against the West.

The Golden Knights had the biggest win of the week in a cross-conference battle. The first place Knights took down the Washington Capitals who are in first place in the Metropolitan Division.

The West was the superior Conference this week, but not by a lot. There will be some good matchups to watch this week, and it should be another entertaining week of hockey across the NHL.

Top Play Of The Week:

Although the Flyers didn’t have a good week, young star Nolan Patrick was able to save them a point with his last-second goal against the Senators.

 

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Vegas setting a new standard for expansion franchises

The Vegas Golden Knights have put together a historic first season so far and continue to impress game after game. The Golden Knights have taken the bar set by previous expansion franchises and raised it to an unimaginable level. Following the team’s 34th win of the season on Thursday night, let’s reflect on their historic season thus far.

 

A Hot Start

Vegas came out of the gate ready to play. They started out winning their first three games and eight of their first nine. This was easily the best start for an expansion franchise in the history of the NHL. The team went to overtime in three of their first seven games, and came out the winner in all three. They showed early that they weren’t a team to be taken lightly just because they were new to the league.

 

Goaltending Depth

The Golden Knights have been forced to start four different goaltenders this season. During the first quarter of the season there was a stretch of games where the team was plagued by multiple goalie injuries. Marc-Andre Fleury went down after just four games and Malcom Subban got the starting nod in his place. Even without their starting goalie, Vegas didn’t miss a beat and kept the wins coming. Fleury and Subban have accumulated incredible stats this season when healthy. Fleury owns a 14-4-2 record with an incredible 1.79 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .942 save percentage. Subban has earned a sparkling 11-3-1 record this season when between the pipes.

 

Expansion

Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
(Photo from AP Photo/LM Otero)

Eventually Subban would go down with an injury and third-stringer Oscar Dansk was asked to carry the load. Again the Golden Knights carried on seemingly unfazed as they rolled to three wins in four of his games played. Dansk owns great numbers in his limited action, a 3-0 record with a 1.78 GAA and .946 save percentage.

 

As if it couldn’t get worse, Dansk would also fall victim to an injury. Fourth-stringer Maxime Lagace was the next man up between the pipes. While his numbers aren’t as stellar as the three other netminders, he helped the team to a 6-6-1 record during his play. That’s 13 out of a possible 26 points that the team earned with him in net. His play helped keep the team afloat as their goaltending depth wore thin, there’s not much more you can ask from a fourth-string goalie.

Reliable Goalscoring

The Golden Knights are a team made up mainly of players that weren’t retained by the other 30 NHL teams. While you’d expect these players to produce subpar numbers, that hasn’t been the case. Vegas has three 20+ goal scorers and another two close to that milestone. Plus, they have three skaters with over 40 points and another three above the 30 point mark.

Expansion

Golden Knights leading scorer Jonathan Marchessault
(Photo from sportingnews.com)

Jonathan Marchessault has produced 18 goals and another 30 assists to lead the team with 48 points. He’s averaging exactly a point per game as he’s played in 48 of the team’s 51 games. Marchessault was a breakout player for the Florida Panthers a season ago, but was shockingly not protected after the season. Vegas wasted no time and nabbed him during the expansion draft.

Marchessault has made sure to make the Panthers pay for not protecting him. Vegas doesn’t plan on making the same mistake, they’ve since locked him up long-term with a 6-year $30 million deal.

David Perron and William Karlsson round out the top three in points for Vegas. Perron with 46 points and Karlsson with 44. Karlsson, selected from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the expansion draft, leads the team in goals with 27. That number puts him tied for third in the league in that stat and only five goals behind the league-leader, Alex Ovechkin. Perron holds the team lead in assists with 33, only two short of his season-best from back in 2008-2009, but he still has 31 games to play.

The Record

It only took 50 games for the Golden Knights to set a new record for most wins in an inaugural season by an expansion franchise. By downing the Winnipeg Jets in overtime on Thursday night, Vegas set the new record at 34 wins, breaking tie with the 1993 Florida Panthers. The craziest part, is that the Golden Knights still have another 32 games left on the schedule following Thursday night’s win over the Jets. Given how well they’ve played this season, it’s not crazy to imagine that they push the record to somewhere between 50-55 games.

Current Standings

With 31 games left the Golden Knights sit atop the Western Conference standings with 72 points. They only trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by one point for the league lead and own a 2-0 head-to-head record against them this season.

Not only do they lead the West in points, but they also lead the West in goals for (173). They’re tied for second in the league with the New York Islanders (173) and only trail the Tampa Bay Lightning (183).

It’s beginning to look like the Vegas Golden Knights will be the first expansion team in the last 26 years to secure a postseason berth.

 

A New Expansion Standard?

However long it takes for the next NHL expansion franchise to come to fruition, they better start preparing now. They’ll be heavily scrutinized and compared to the incredible season the Golden Knights have put together. Most wouldn’t expect the first season of an expansion franchise to do this well, but Vegas has raised the bar very high. There’s no longer a free-pass for a subpar first season, competing for a playoff spot could be the new expectation set by the greatest NHL expansion franchise of all time.

 

Featured picture courtesy of nhl.com/goldenknights

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no drama

No drama in hockey?

I was talking to a friend of mine about sports the other day. We ended up discussing sports talk shows, podcasts etc. The thing that always bothers me about those shows is that unless you’re watching the NHL Network, you’re most likely not ever hearing about hockey. I disclosed this irritable feeling with my friend, but he responded in a way that made me more frustrated. He said to me, “yeah that’s just cause there’s no drama in hockey”…

That is just absurd. The entertainment and soap opera drama within the game of hockey is so vast, yet the appreciation is slim. We have previously discussed the NHL popularity compared to the other major sports. This is a reason we see a lack of hockey coverage as it pertains to sports talk shows and podcasts. To say that it is due to a lack of drama is about as ignorant as it gets..

Hockey is as entertaining and dramatic as any sport. I don’t have to convince this to the hockey purist or anyone for that matter. Anyone reading these articles are most likely followers of the league. That was simply a phrase that struck a nerve, but also sparked an idea. Today we will discuss all the “no drama” we have in the NHL at this point in the regular season.

“Who are you going to take?”

no drama

Photo from NHL.com

The New Jersey Devils were a long shot to attain the number one overall pick at last year’s draft. Before the lottery took place, the team sat at number five. So, New Jersey GM Ray Shero did not even give the idea of acquiring top prospects Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick much thought. After winning the lottery, Shero went out to dinner with Avalanche GM Joe Sakic at a restaurant in Toronto where media then gathered..

Members of the media started harassing Shero asking him again and again, “who are you going to take?” Channelling his inner Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner in the movie Draft Day) he responded to the media, “Ok! I’ll write it down on a piece of paper” (NHL.com). He proceeded to take out a pen and paper and wrote, “Vontae Mack no matter what”, folded the piece of paper and handed it to the media. Mr. Shero may not have known right then he’d take Nico Hischier at number one, but New Jersey is very happy with their decision.

Hischier (8G, 18A in 41 games) went number one to the Devils, followed by Nolan Patrick (2G, 6A in 33 games) to Philly. Both rookies are 19 years of age and will meet for the first time Saturday night in New Jersey at the Prudential Center. Ray Shero has told the media that you can’t judge these two right now because they are simply great young talents who will both be very good players in the future..

The NHL draft is filled with scrutinized decisions that are mulled over for years. It’s the same drama that is heightened in all four of our major sports that shape all organizations involved.

Realignment/Expansion

no drama

Photo from The Athletic

The NHL currently has 31 teams, which makes it an uneven league. There are three divisions with eight teams and one division with seven. Another expansion is soon upon us (targeted by 2020-21) as  Gary Bettman has invited Seattle to apply. It is a city the league has been looking at for years where owners have been reported to be greatly in favor of the $650 million expansion fee. This would also make for a needed realignment.

A presented restructure of the divisions has Seattle in the now Pacific division, moving Arizona to the now Central as well as the Detroit Red Wings. This would renew an historic rivalry between Detroit and Chicago. Current rivalries would be in a sense broken also as Nashville would then move to the East. Expansion and realignment changes the landscape of who has to go through which teams to capture the Stanley Cup.

The NBA has a conference (the East) that is completely inferior to the other. The MLB has races to the postseason altered when teams like the Houston Astros relocate from one league to the other. The NFL has conversations about the playoff alignment every year as divisions are stronger and weaker at times. Each of the major sports have these conversations about how can we make the game better. Hockey is no different than football, baseball or basketball in this regard.

Tragedy and heart-felt stories

no drama

Photo form Yahoo Sports

National hockey analysts for NBC Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire are currently battling cancer. Olczyk is fighting colon cancer while McGuire is going through prostate cancer as both are undergoing chemotherapy. The two of them are going about their business still as it relates to NBC Sports. Eddie has been filled in for by Mike Milbury, but has found a way to do games here and there while Pierre said he will be back for NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics.

Brian Boyle plays at a forward position for the New Jersey Devils. The 32 year old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia during training camp. Boyle has since returned to the ice in wake of his diagnosis and was moved to tears after scoring his first goal of the season. He said he has found more of an appreciation for the game as his teammates say he is still ‘the loudest guy in the room’ (Sportsnet). The battle that hockey is can greatly relate to the battle of life as we have discussed.

The tragic overcoming of disease is newsworthy in any sport. These stories have been reported and commented on how they would be in any of the major sports. They are a reminder of how sports can serve as a great coping mechanism for fans and athletes alike struggling with the battles life throws our way. Hockey has always been a sport where adversity is met and has inspired those playing and watching.

Money Aside

Hockey may not approach the revenue stream of the other three major sports, but will never be a sport with a lack of drama. If you were to search NHL in the news section of google or any search engine, you would find stories in abundance just like football, baseball and basketball..

Having a two-minute segment on an hour-long Sportscenter hurts, but it’s reality. Viewership and ratings speak for themselves. Just don’t ever say hockey isn’t “interesting” or there’s “no drama” in the sport.

You look at the NHL playoffs, and you see 16 teams in two brackets trying to win four four out of seven series to win a championship. You have communities competing against one another to try and be the last one standing. It’s a tournament filled with twists and turns that make for an art show overflowing with drama..

Hockey is fast. Hockey is a game that can be won suddenly. A sport such as this can never be said to have no drama.

 

Featured image from Odyssey

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hockey movies

Best Hockey Movies of All-Time

Sports are the basis to some of the most amazing stories (real or fictional). You can find these every day within the media and on the big screen.

The movie business generates over $38 billion in total revenue. It is an industry that is a reflection of the world we live in. Movies that involve sports are some of the biggest box office successes of all-time. They are stories that are very relatable because they typically involve winners and losers. They are movies that involve an individual or a team coming together working towards one common goal.

There are far fewer hockey movies in comparison to all others unfortunately. It is another representation of why hockey is the hardest, most competitive and best sport. All other sports are on land which makes it easier to find actors to play those athletes. Hockey is played on ice, therefore you either have hockey players play each character or have stunt doubles.

With all of that said, hockey has made for some of the best sports movies.

The Mighty Ducks

A trilogy inspired the name of the expansion Ducks in 1993. They’re kind of the movies “we all grew up on,” Connor McDavid said (NHL.com). I feel that what we love most about them is the humor in the amount of oversights in each movie and how sort of not hockey it is. Nevertheless, if you love hockey, you love the Mighty Ducks.

hockey movies

Photo: Gunaxin Sports

The first movie was the most successful and most remembered. It tells the story of a lawyer (Gordon Bombay/Emilio Estevez) sentenced to community service in coaching PeeWee hockey for drunk driving. Most of the kids couldn’t skate the first practice he arrived. However, they end up winning the PeeWee League Championship against the rival Hawks who beat them by 17 in their first meeting.

The miracle PeeWee league champs from a year before are all of a sudden now set to represent Team USA in the Junior Goodwill Games in D2. We are introduced to the knuckle puck, which would definitely not “drive goalies crazy” as Russ Tyler/Keenan Thompson indicates. The players in the final shootout have different handedness than the ones in the game for blatant stunt double recognition. Team USA defeats Iceland (who is shockingly the best team in the tournament) in the end after losing to them 12-1.

The final chapter has the Ducks minus Adam Banks/Vincent Larusso now apart of a JV team as they enter high school. They then prepare for a showdown against the school’s varsity team, which is odd after competing against “the world’s best”. Charlie Conway/Joshua Jackson (team captain) also becomes a superstar thinking about playing juniors after being a healthy scratch in D2’s championship game.

The movies collected 119 million at the box office and continues to inspire young hockey players all across North America.

Slap Shot

hockey movies

Photo: Cardboard Connection

Slap Shot will also go down as one of the most memorable hockey movies of all-time. The film was released in 1977 in the wake of the Broadstreet Bullies (Philadelphia Flyers) collecting back-to-back Stanley Cups. The story highlighted everything that made most inactive fans of the sport casual fans at the very least. It is the tale of a suffering hockey franchise (Charlestown Chiefs) and their attempt to attract more fans essentially.

Many non-avid followers of the NHL are attracted to hockey due to the physicality and the fighting. The Charlestown Chiefs found success through relentless fighting and violence. It’s a simple plot, but it highlights many modern day issues all teams deal with today. An organization’s success is fueled by its fans and must always be looking to attract new supporters. Not everyone who enjoys hockey is a purist and Slap Shot is a movie everyone enjoys whether you’re a fan or not at all.

The Hanson Brothers are also immovable fixtures in the minds of hockey fans. These characters were the force driving the Chiefs back to prominence in their town. You will never be surprised at someone dressed up as one of them at any arena. The Hansons embody every relentless attribute to any hockey player at any level. They were not the main characters in the movie, but their ora is what is most remembered about the story.

The film collected over 28 million at the box office, which is equivalent to 116 million today with the 3.62 inflation percentage over the time period. Slap Shot will live on and be remembered forever within the hockey world and in pop culture as a whole.

Miracle

Miracle is number one on the all-time hockey movie list. It is the story that is not just the greatest hockey moment in history, but the greatest sports moment of all-time.

hockey movies

Photo: Youtube

The United States won the gold medal in hockey at the Winter Olympics in 1980. Russia had won the previous four and was considered the best team in the world by far at the time. Herb Brooks/Kurt Russell (Team USA Head Coach) brought a divided group of college players together to defeat them. The story has everything you would want in a movie. The fact that it’s true separates itself.

Many deemed Herb Brooks’s goal of winning gold to be a lofty one. The Soviets had a 77% chance of winning the gold medal coming into that olympics. The odds for the Americans however reached an unbelievable 1,000-1 at one point. It was beyond comprehension mathematically and logically. The Russians had even beaten the Americans 10-3 three days before the tournament began in Lake Placid.

You only see stories like this unfold in the movies. We remarkably see this one on the big screen and in our history. I remember screaming in the movie theater as Jim Craig was interfered with on the Russians go-ahead goal in the second as an eight year old. I wasn’t as familiar with the story as I am now and I always remember that moment because of how this movie makes one feel. Watching the Russian game before a big game for my home team has become routine and it never gets old.

Miracle collected 64 million at the box office in 2004, which is good for 84 million in 2017. It is a story that will live in the minds of both sports fans and proud Americans forever.

The entertainment business

Movies and sports are two massive industries in the entertainment business. They are massive because of the revenue they produce. However, the two are as big as they are because of the emotions they invoke in humans. As humans we are obsessed with feeling good and we spend money on what makes us feel good.

I go to sporting events and movies to feel. The feelings are within the real word for sports and an escape for movies. I consider both of them very big parts of my life, but also consider them to be very similar.

Hockey is very relative to one’s life as I have discussed before. It is a sport that has made for great cinema, which as we just noted a very big part of our lives.

 

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New York Islanders arena uncertainty still apparent

Suppose you lived in an apartment. It had its bumps and bruises, but it was yours, and you lived there your entire life. However, your landlord kicks you out because the landlord can’t agree on how to renovate the building. So, you move to another apartment.

This apartment, as new as it is, doesn’t exactly fit your family, plus your relatives live farther away. You can opt out of the building after a certain time, but where would you go?

Here’s the kicker: the landlord wants you to come back, but wants you to live in a complex that isn’t built yet. You could move back to your old apartment, but despite a renovation, it doesn’t accommodate you as well anymore.

This is a complicated situation, for sure. Welcome the New York Islanders arena conundrum. For a team that seeks a perfect fit, none of its options are without drawbacks, and the uncertainty is hurting the team’s look.

The Islanders Arena Predicament

The Islanders relationship with its home arena, Barclays Center, is not working out. According to ESPN, the Isles had the third-lowest average home attendance last season at 13,101 fans. Players and patrons have spoken out about the rough commute to Brooklyn. The ice is terrible; Cal Clutterbuck and former employees Kyle Okposo and Jack Capuano have all publicly criticized the playing surface.

With a perfect storm of issues, the two sides can opt out of the 25-year deal next January. Newsday’s Jim Baumbach and Robert Brodsky say the Islanders have a choice to leave after next season or in 2019. Barclays Center can evict the Isles if they initiate the opt-out.

The Islanders have other options for a new arena should they choose to leave Brooklyn. They could return to the Nassau Coliseum or build new arenas in Flushing or Belmont Park. The problem is, there are too many gray areas surrounding their options.

The new Nassau Coliseum is not in major contention yet to be the Islanders arena

NYCB Live, better known as the Nassau Coliseum. Photo courtesy of Goldstar Events.

Interestingly enough, Nassau and Suffolk County are urging the Islanders to return to the Nassau Coliseum. The county legislatures will hold a press conference on Friday to urge the team to return to its original home once they, according to Newsday, make “unspecified ‘modifications’”.

However, it’s unlikely the Islanders return back to a shrunken arena. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is adamant that the coliseum’s current 13,000-seat capacity isn’t sufficient for hockey games. The Islanders could’ve stayed years ago before the Nassau County government let them walk. This is already a long shot from the get-go.

They could build a new arena in the same area as Citi Field in Queens, but there is too much litigation surrounding the property to consider it a viable option.

At this stage, Belmont Park is the best option for a different Islanders arena. Even then, there are still many obstacles.

The Belmont Dilemma

On Monday, the town of Elmont held a Belmont Park redevelopment listening session for residents. Over 300 residents attended with a few dozen citizens expressing their interest.

While many were hoping for clarity after the meeting, it was a range of emotions. Some in the crowd, per Baumbach’s Twitter page, were in favor of the arena because it would bring the Islanders back, create jobs and possibly establish a year-round Long Island Rail Road station.

Others, however, believed that it would hamper the local economy long-term, contributing only minimum wage employment. One speaker said that it would also use too many law enforcement officials from the community.

When the dust settled on the meeting, there was only one consensus: there is a divide in support for a new Islanders arena at Belmont Park and is in no way a surefire deal.

The land around Belmont Park could be used for an Islanders arena

An aerial of Belmont Park. Photo by Newsday’s Kevin P. Coughlin.

The Islanders’ Next Home

The blue and orange are in a bind, with these three tangible options for a home arena presenting debilitating flaws. Barclays Center’s ice and location isn’t privy to the players and the fans. The Nassau Coliseum is too small and the NHL doesn’t support it. Belmont Park has critics, and a new stadium will take years to build anyway.

Surrounding all of this arena drama is the fate of the Isles’ franchise player, John Tavares. He has one year remaining on his deal before he hits free agency. The Islanders wish to extend him, but Tavares is reportedly willing to wait. One of the reasons, says Arthur Staple, is he wants to see where the Isles will play long-term.

While it’s impossible to say if that is a legitimate reason Tavares is waiting, it holds merit. Conventional wisdom is that a captain wants to know where he plays out the rest of his career. The uncertainty makes the franchise a tough sell. The Islanders are in a tight spot because of that, and if Tavares doesn’t sign, then expect a monumental revolt from the fandom.

The Islanders arena confusion is harming the team’s reputation. It is a shame that none of the realistic options for a home fit perfectly at the moment. If they stay in Brooklyn, Barclays Center improves the ice and the LIRR eases the commute. If Belmont Park gets approved, hopefully the public warms up to it and the arena gets built quickly with a better train station than it has now.

For a family, a home or apartment needs to benefit the tenants. The Islanders family needs the same from the arena it will play in three years from now.

 

Feature image courtesy of the NY Daily News/Photo by Bruce Bennett, Getty Images.

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NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Unsigned Players

Just as it came in with the uneasiness and excitement it always brings, the NHL free agency frenzy has come and gone.

During the past few weeks, Kevin Shattenkirk went to the Big Apple to sign with his hometown team. Alexander Radulov crossed the border to head to Big D. The aging Patrick Marleau joined the youth movement in Toronto.

Even with the key players out of the market, there are still steady free agents available that can help teams out. Here are the top 5 skaters to watch out for as free agency continues.

5. Jarome Iginla

Jarome Iginla is still available in NHL free agency

Jarome Iginla. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Jarome Iginla has excelled in 19 NHL seasons. His 625 goals are 15th all-time in the NHL, per QuantHockey. He collected 1,300 points in that span as well. Undoubtedly, he is skating towards a Hall of Fame career. However, it depends when he gets in, considering he hasn’t officially retired yet.

After ending last year with the Kings, they have said they won’t resign him. At 40 years old, the age is enough to scare teams away. He isn’t the same prolific scorer he once was, as his totals have decreased in the past four years. Take that out of consideration and Iginla doesn’t do much of anything else.

Although he’s well past his prime, he can assist a young team thanks to that longevity. He’s a tremendous locker room presence and brings a winning attitude to a team, similar to what Marleau will do for the Maple Leafs. And though his scoring has declined, he still chipped in 14 goals and 27 points between Colorado and Los Angeles. If Iginla can scratch out one more contract before his retirement, he can aid a team with secondary scoring.

4. Drew Stafford

Drew Stafford picked a bad time to have a down year. After scoring more than 20 goals for the fourth time in his career in 2015-16, Stafford regressed to four goals in 40 games for Winnipeg last season. The Jets traded him to Boston for a sixth-round pick, and he scored four more goals. Eight tallies for over $4 million last season is not great value at all.

Still, the reason he is on this list is he is a buy-low candidate. It’s doubtful he gets more than a couple million on his next deal. For someone that has a nice shot as well as improved Corsi and Fenwick ratings (according to Hockey Reference, 51.6 percent and 52.7 percent, respectively), that is a bargain.

There is not a lot of traction for Stafford yet. The Bruins are talking to his camp, but there aren’t any substantial rumors at this point. When he does sign, his team is gambling that he’s more consistent than last year.

3. Thomas Vanek

Thomas Vanek is on the NHL free agency market

Thomas Vanek. Photo courtesy of The Hockey News/Photo by Mike Carlson, Getty Images

Vanek has enjoyed a nice career in the NHL, but he is no longer the explosive player he once was. He could’ve ascended to top-10 status in the league after notching 84 points when he was 23. However, he is still a top-six forward capable of 40 points in a season.

The Panthers are not interested after he ended last season in Sunrise. It’s likely he plays for his seventh team since 2013. Last week, Vanek was talking to several teams, but none were specified and he hasn’t signed yet. The Rangers, Bruins and Sabres supposedly have interest.

Vanek brings speed to the table. Even at 33, he is the fastest player in NHL free agency at the moment. He is a streaky player, but when he gets hot, he is a solid asset. So long as he keeps up his speed, he has value in today’s NHL.

In addition, Vanek’s time on the market should drive down his value. He got $2.6 million last year from Detroit, according to Spotrac. He can sign for a couple million that doesn’t break the bank.

2. Cody Franson

With Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner signed, Cody Franson is the best defenseman available. After missing 23 games two seasons ago, he rebounded in his second year with Buffalo. He increased his minutes, blocks, and hits according to Hockey Reference. He improved his possession metrics to positive ratios as well.

Franson is not the same player that he once was in Toronto. If anything, he is more of a second or third-pair blue liner at this stage. However, teams will love what he can bring to the table. On top of the possession skills, he has a right-handed stick and is 6-foot-5, which is great size for a defenseman.

Franson’s last contract with Buffalo had an annual value of $3.325 million. At this rate, it may be slightly lower if he doesn’t lower his expectations. Andrew Gross, the Devils’ beat reporter for The Record, brought up Franson’s name as a possibility. New Jersey whiffed on Shattenkirk and they have the cap room. The question, like he poses, is if the Devils would give for years on his deal. With the way he’s played recently, a few years seems fair.

1. Jaromir Jagr

Was there any doubt he wasn’t going to be the top one left in NHL free agency? He’s second all-time with 1,914 points and he still has no job. If there’s a positive, he can use social media to market himself.

If you ask any fan in the NHL, chances are they want Jagr on their team. With that history and success, combined with a great presence in the locker room, it’s a no-brainer. Plus, at 16 goals and 30 assists last year, he can still play the game.

Although he is a big hit within the NHL fandom, teams are acknowledging they aren’t getting Jagr’s prime. He’s 45 years old and has lost some speed, which is almost a necessity in this era. If a team brings him in, it’s under the impression that he is a second or third-line skater.

Contract-wise, Jagr isn’t looking for much. He has said himself he wants one-year deals moving forward. He made over $5 million last year, but he likely won’t make as much. At this point, he’d take anything he could get.

A team should sign him with his intangibles. He’s a legendary player that inspires others around him. It’ll shock the hockey world if he doesn’t get that next contract.

 

Feature image courtesy of NHL.com

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