out west

Anything can happen out West

The battle in Pyeongchang for American fans is now over. That means our eyes are on the NHL races solely for the majority of NHL fans in North America. In retrospect, I feel that no NHL stars present made for a less entertaining olympics. Nevertheless, it’s all over and we move forward. The race within the Western Conference is immensely tight.

It is wild out west. Teams are scratching and clawing every night for points. Only three teams are locks for the postseason. That would be Las Vegas, Nashville and Winnipeg. Eight other clubs are in a dog fight to secure the final five spots.

These are the eight teams, their projected points and current positions before games on 2/21:

San Jose – 101.1 points (2nd Place in Pacific)

Dallas – 100 points (3rd Place in Central)

Minnesota – 98.7 points (2nd Wildcard)

Los Angeles – 97 points (3rd Place in Pacific)

St. Louis – 96.8 points (1st Wildcard)

Anaheim – 95.4 points (Outside looking in)

Colorado – 94.5 points (Outside looking in)

Calgary – 94.3 points (Outside looking in)

There are two more guaranteed spots in the Pacific Division not yet solidified. In the Central, the Preds and Jets have gained significant separation leaving just one guaranteed spot up for grabs. This gives you a good idea of what will happen in that we have no idea. These are all projections with teams fighting for their playoff lives with 20+ games remaining. Anything can happen.

Battles out west in the Pacific

out west

Photo from NHL.com

San Jose:

22 games remaining – 15 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 12 at home – 10 on road

Los Angeles:

22 games remaining – 15 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 15 at home – 7 on road

Anaheim:

21 games remaining – 13 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 13 at home – 8 on road

Calgary:

22 games remaining – 14 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 10 at home – 12 on road

Each of these teams will meet in the middle and end of March. Five points separate these clubs and the intensity of those games will be at an all-time high. None of these teams are guaranteed playoff berths, which means the playoffs start now. The Golden Knights have an eight point lead over the second place Sharks with games in hand. Four of these five could make it out west or just two.

battles out west in the central

out west

Photo from NHL.com

Dallas:

23 games remaining – 19 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 10 at home – 13 on road

Minnesota:

23 games remaining – 16 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 10 at home – 13 on road

St. Louis:

21 games remaining – 14 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 9 at home – 12 on road

Colorado:

23 games remaining – 16 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 12 at home – 11 on road

Nashville has a nine-point lead on third place Dallas. Winnipeg is just two points behind with a seven-point separation form the Stars. Just like the Pacific, the Central foes will meet multiple times down the stretch. The teams above are in more of a situation than the Pacific clubs with only one guaranteed spot left. Three of them could make it or just one.

this is why we follow hockey

The United States were eliminated Tuesday night to the hands of the Czech Republic. TJ Oshie was unable to make it as the Americans went down in a shootout. The US Women’s quest for gold will be won or not but nevertheless done by the time this gets out. The point being is that from this point forward all of our time, energy and focus should be on the NHL playoffs forthcoming.

I sound like the most broken of broken records. However, this is a sport with a competitive nature that is worth repeating every time we sit down and watch or talk hockey. There is nothing more exciting and no better time in sports than playoff hockey. The races themselves like the one out west to get to the postseason are almost just as exciting. Let us all sit back and enjoy these races and insanely intense battles.

 

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Team Canada

(W)o(e) Team Canada!

For the first time in recent memory, we will not see the NHL star-studded Olympics of Winter’s past.

I am sure you all are very familiar with Gary Bettman’s decision to nix NHL player’s participation in the Olympics this year. Meaning that all of the Olympic hockey rosters have a very different look this year.

IN THE CREASE

Two of the goalies on Team Canada’s roster have played less than 85 games.

31-year-old Justin Peters played 85 games in the NHL and sported a losing record of 25-38-9 with an unimpressive .901 S%. He currently plays for Kölner Haie in Germany.

27-year-old Kevin Poulin is even less impressive (is this supposed to be our Olympic roster? I’m confused). He played only 50 games in the NHL with a 18-25-3 record and a .899 S% (yikes).

Team Canada

Ben Scrivens is Team Canada’s goalie with the most NHL experience. (Courtesy of Montreal Gazette)

He currently plays for EHC Kloten in Switzerland.

Their starter seems to be 31-year-old Ben Scrivens who spent 144 games in the NHL with a 47-64-17 record and a .905 S%. He currently plays for Salavat Yulaev Ufa in Russia.

Their goalie situation is below average, at best. Three goalies with NHL losing records and far below average save percentages. The only plus? They have more experience playing against international players so maybe that will be their saving grace.

THE BLUE LINe

The defensive core sports two defensemen that have no NHL experience. Mat Robinson and Chris Lee both went undrafted in the NHL out of college. 37-year-old Lee does has impressive KHL numbers, and was the top scoring defenseman in the league in the 2016-17 season. He is also one of Team Canada’s alternate captains

Next we have a group of defensemen with less than 25 games played in the NHL. Chay Genoway played one game in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild. He currently plays for Lada Togliatti in Russia. Maxim Noreau played six games in the NHL also for the Wild. He is Team Canada’s other alternate captain. Rounding out this group is Karl Stollery who has 23 games of experience in the NHL. He bounced between three different NHL teams and currently plays for Dinamo Riga in Latvia.

The three most notable blue-liners for Team Canada are Stefan Elliot, Cody Goloubef and Marc-Andre Gragnani. With a combined 291 games in the NHL between the three of them they still don’t have much pro time.

THE FORWARDS

This is where we find some more of the well known NHL names.

Only four of these players have less than 100 games of NHL experience and those players are: Christian Thomas with 27 GP, Eric O’Dell with 41 GP, Brandon Kozun with 20 GP and Quinton Howden with 97 GP.

Also making an appearance on the roster we have: Gilbert Brule who played 299 games in the NHL with 43 goals and 52 assists, Andrew Ebbett who played 224 games in the NHL with 26 goals and 45 assists, Ebbett broke his leg in 2015 and was told he may never walk normally again let alone play hockey, so his appearance in this year’s Olympics is an impressive one. Rob Klinkhammer played 193 game sin the NHL scoring 22 goals with 21 assists and Linden Vey played 138 games in the NHL with 14 goals and 30 assists.

Wojtek Wolski played 451 games in the NHL and scored 99 goals with 168 assists. He was a 21st overall draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche. He bounced between five NHL teams in his seven seasons. In 2016 he broke his neck and thought he was paralyzed after diving head first into the boards. Wojtek plays for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia.

Mason Raymond played 546 games in the NHL and scored 115 goals with 136 assists. He was the 51st overall draft pick for the Vancouver Canucks in 2005. He played for four different teams during his time in the NHL. Raymond currently plays for SC Bern in Switzerland.

Maxim Lapierre played 614 games in the NHL with 65 goals and 74 assists. He was the 61st overall draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 2003. He played for five different teams in the NHL. Lapierre won the Calder Cup in 2007 with AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. He currently plays for HC Lugano in Switzerland.

Team Canada

Chris Kelly is Team Canada’s captain. (Courtesy of stanleycupofchowder.com)

Rene Borque was quite a well known player during his time in the NHL and is one of Team Canada’s alternate captains. He played 725 games with 163 goals and 153 assists. He played for six different NHL teams and had a 50 point season during his time with the Calgary Flames. Borque currently plays for Djurgardens IF in Sweden.

Derek Roy is by far the most notable player on this roster, with 738 NHL games played. He scored 189 goals with 335 assists. He was drafted 32nd overall in 2001 by the Buffalo Sabres. Roy currently plays for Linköpings HC in Sweden and was selected for the 2010 Olympic summer roster but did not make the final cut.

Chris Kelly is Team Canada’s captain and has the most NHL experience on the roster with 833 GP. He had 123 goals and 166 assists. He won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Boston Bruins. Kelly currently plays for the Belleville Senators in the AHL.

THE OUTLOOK

General Manager Sean Burke recognized that while the NHL is the best hockey league in the world that their is plenty of talent outside of it.

“The N.H.L. is the best league in the world, and I don’t think anybody would disagree with that,but Canada still has a large pool of talent. Try to tell them it’s not the N.H.L. players, it’s not the best players in the world.”

While I agree that their are plenty of talented players outside of the NHL, the Olympics this year may be a struggle for Team Canada.

The group of forwards they selected is a veteran squad but a very talented one. Where we are going to see issues is first at the blue line and then in the crease. While NHL talent isn’t everything, the defensive core for this team has not seen nearly enough pro games to prepare themselves for this level of competition.

The goalie situation is really awful and there is no other way to spin it. Their collective save percentage is .902 and they sport losing NHL records. All three goalies were unable to keep up with the speed and accuracy of the NHL shooters.

Due to the fact that NO NHL players are in these Olympics does help the situation but it will be a much more even playing field (or rink) than in years past.

Featured image from CHL.com

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winger rick Nash

Three potential landing spots for Rangers’ winger Rick Nash

The New York Rangers have received a no-trade list from winger Rick Nash meaning he will likely be on the move soon. Nash is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and will most likely be a rental player for a team that needs scoring help.

Nash has a full no-trade clause allowing him to veto a trade to a team that he would not like to go to. The most likely landing spot for Nash would be a middle to upper tier team that has assets to make a splash. The trade deadline on February 26th is fastly approaching, but the Rangers have given themselves enough time to explore their options with the veteran winger.

The 33-year old winger Rick Nash currently has 25 points on the season in 52 games. Lately, he has struggled considerably with only two points in six games, but that doesn’t mean Nash wouldn’t be valuable to a team in need of scoring. The 6’ 4” 211 pound Nash brings a combination of size and skill that is unique to the NHL. Whatever team he goes to will gain an instant boost on the offensive end.

Minnesota Wild – 2nd Wild Card Spot – 61 Points

winger rick Nash

(Photo By: Jim Mone)

The Rangers most likely will not be looking to send Nash to a division rival, so that eliminates a lot of the on the bubble playoff teams in the east. The Wild’s offense is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they could use a boost. Nash could bring a two-way forward mentality that the Wild have been looking for this season.

Minnesota is currently 13th in the NHL scoring 2.9 goals per game. The Wild have a lot of veteran leadership with Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Winger Rick Nash could help add to this veteran leadership in Minnesota.

The Wild currently have the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference by one point, but they are starting to hit their stride. They recently got Parise back at the beginning of January, and he is already making a difference in the pace of play in Minnesota.

The Wild don’t necessarily need Rick Nash, and there is no telling if they even want him, but after last year’s fail of a trade acquiring Martin Hanzal the Wild front office may be looking to redeem themselves.

Los Angeles Kings – 3rd Place in The Pacific – 61 Points

The Kings defense has been outstanding this season. They are giving up just 2.39 goals per game this season, and their penalty kill is the top unit in the NHL, but on the offensive side, they have struggled.

Right now the Kings are 18th in the NHL scoring 2.8 goals per game. A lot of this is due to a lack of chances. Los Angeles ranks 23rd in the NHL in shots on goal which is why I think winger Rick Nash would be perfect for this team.

Nash could come to Los Angeles and help space the ice and create more chances for a team that is lacking on the offensive end. The Kings wouldn’t need to ask too much of him defensively considering they have on of the top defensive units in the league and Jonathan Quick.

The Kings are in a tight division out in the Pacific, and a scorer could make all the difference for this team down the stretch. If the price is right, I could see the Rangers shipping Nash out west. It is an ideal situation for New York because they could acquire assets while at the same time sending Nash out of the conference.

Pittsburgh Penguins – 3rd Place In The Metropolitan – 61 Points

This trade I think is a little bit less likely. The Rangers have full control over where Nash ends up so I am sure they won’t send him to a team inside the division; however, I could see Pittsburgh giving the Rangers an offer they can’t refuse.

The Penguins are a very aggressive team when it comes to making their team better and is in a win-now mode. The Penguins offense is already excellent and they have a power play unit that is levels above anyone in the NHL.

Adding Nash to this roster would only make the rich-richer, but Pittsburgh could be looking to do just that. Taking on a role as 3rd or possibly 4th line player with the Penguins, Nash could help light a spark underneath some of the young guys by giving them looks and chances they haven’t been able to get this year.

This trade is a long shot in my opinion, but if any team is going to get Nash in the Metropolitan division, I would guess that it will be Pittsburgh.

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Minnesota Wild All-Star break

Why the Wild will be benefiting greatly from the All-Star break

The All-Star break is here, and it gives teams and players a chance to rest up and think about how they are going to function in the second half of the season. Sometimes teams come out of the break slumping, but often there are always teams benefiting greatly from the break in the season.

The NHL season has been exhilarating so far. The Lightning can’t stop scoring and are playing some of the best hockey of the decade so far. The Golden Knights have come out of nowhere as an expansion team and currently are first place in the entire Western Conference. Out in the Metropolitan, the third-place division team and last place are only separated by five points.

This NHL season is proving that in hockey, any team can win if they play together. It is making for an entertaining season so far. As we go down the final leg of the season, a team’s final adjustments will either make or break its season. I have a feeling that the Wild will use this as a chance to enhance their level of play.

The Wild are one year removed from one of the best seasons in franchise history. Currently, they sit at sixth place in the Central Division with 57 points. So far this season, the Wild just haven’t been able to find the “It” factor. Forward Zach Parise has been sidelined with an injury the entire year, but that is not the issue for this team.

Defensive struggles

Minnesota is a team that has struggled on defense this season. They have been getting pucks in the net, but they just haven’t been able to stop them from getting into theirs. This break is good for this team because it will give coach Bruce Boudreau a chance to come up with a defensive scheme that fits his team.

As stated earlier, the Wild’s issue is not on the offensive end. So far this year, the Wild have scored 142 goals, which has them right up there with teams like Washington, Nashville, Philadelphia and San Jose. The struggles come on the defensive side as they have given up 139 goals. The Wild’s goal differential of +3 ranks 15th in the league.

This is why the Wild need to go and trade for a scorer, but they may not need to make a trade at all. Perhaps if they were going to, it should be for a defender. Adding a defender to go in front of Devan Dubnyk could be the difference maker for the Wild. The solution should not be to try and score more goals, but instead try and stop the other team from scoring. It’s a winning method in the playoffs, and that is what this team is all about.

Stop with the penalties

Penalties are a difference maker in every game in the NHL. It’s simple. If you let the other team play against you five on four for a majority of the game, chances are you will not win. Minnesota has had to defend the second most power plays this season and are ranked 10th on the penalty kill.

While this ranking is good, the Wild could see that ranking rise if they can merely stop committing so many penalties in the second part of the season. Adding a veteran defender could help stop the bleeding on the penalty crisis a little bit. It could take the pressure off some of the young forwards that have struggled defensively this season.

Dubnyk is human

A significant difference between this season and last season is that Devan Dubynk has come back down to earth with his play. Last season, Dubnyk had a stretch of play that was out of this world, but injuries have decreased his level of play this year.

Minnesota Wild All-Star break

(Photo by Stacy Bengs)

Dubnyk’s goals against average of 2.68 has him ranked 21st in the NHL, and his .916 save percentage has him 22nd. The decline in play from Dubnyk has hurt the Wild mightily, but the struggles of the Wild cannot go strictly on him.

What Dubnyk gave the Wild last season was abnormal, but there is no saying he will never play like that again. There is no reason to make any rash decisions in the net for this team. Alex Stalock has proved that he is a capable backup, and Dubnyk has shown flashes of his old self. His three shutouts have him tied for sixth in the league.

Dubnyk can win the games for the Wild, he just needs the play of his defense to elevate.

Benefiting from the All-Star break

Minnesota is a team that will be benefiting greatly from All-Star weekend. Boudreau can evaluate his team and decide what he wants to do in the second half of the season.

Adding a veteran defenseman could help with what has been an average at best defense this season, but they do not necessarily have to. This team has a solid balance of young and old players. The right scheme in the second half of the year from Boudreau could do wonders for this team.

They are a team on the outside looking in at the moment, but they are nowhere near being out of it. Currently, the Wild are six points behind the Blues for the last division spot and are tied with Colorado for the final Wild Card spot in the West. Colorado may cool down after the break, so the door is wide open for the Wild. They just need to walk through it.

 

Featured image by Trevor Hogan

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chill out

“Chill out” – All fans that have teams in the Central

The Central is the most annoying division in hockey if that is where your team resides. The traffic is so steep that we have six points (as of 1/16/18) separating first to fifth place.

Seemingly every night we have each team finding ways to pick up points. We currently have five of the seven teams in the division in a playoff spot. The two teams behind the two wild card teams are two and three points behind.

When you look at it from that perspective you want your opposing teams to chill out in a sense. However, in a division this good, the fan has to think of the gas pedal motive. You want to be in the mindset that every game is a must win. If you’re not in that mindset in a race as tight as the Central, you will not win the race and may not even make the playoffs.

The Stars and Wild are figuring it out. The Avalanche are the most revived team in the league after last season’s dreadful performance. The Hawks are never to be taken lightly. So, you better have your heads on right Central Division fans because this is going to be very interesting down the stretch.

The Resurgent Stars/WIld

chill out

Photo from MassLive.com

Did you see Tyler Seguin’s OT goal against the Bruins on Monday? You need to. The Stars have won seven of their last 10 coming into Tuesday night’s meeting with Detroit. They currently hold the number one wild card spot, but are just two points back of third place, three of second and six of first. Dallas has found their number one goalie in Ben Bishop (19 Ws/2.52 GAA/4 SOs) and are surging.

People were confounded by Minnesota’s slow start (5 Ws in first 14 Games) after their great season last year. The Wild have gotten points in 8 of their last 10 games and have the same number of points (53) as the Stars coming into Tuesday. Eric Staal is having a throwback year (19 Goals/19 Assists) and is on his way to Tampa for the All-Star Game. Minnesota has three players with 30 or more points and seven with at least 20.

If it weren’t for the consistency of these two teams this division would be significantly less congested. These teams could very easily stay hot and compete for a division title. We thought this would be the case in the beginning of the year, but weren’t sure how hectic it would be at this point in the year.

Who are these guys??

chill out

Photo from NHL.com

The Colorado Avalanche won 22 games last season and had a -112 goal differential. They scored a league-worst 166 goals and gave up a league-worst 278. The rebuild was thought to continue for multiple years, but the Avs find themselves two points out of a playoff spot with 39 games to play. They have the upper hand on Minnesota as they have three games in hand on the second wild card holders coming into Tuesday. No one saw this coming..

The Avs have picked up points in nine of their last 10 games and are currently on a seven-game win streak where they took down first place Winnipeg. They sit a game below .500 on the road, but are a solid 16-7-1 on home ice. After their abysmal plus/minus a year ago, Colorado has a very nice +16 goal differential so far this season. The Avalanche are going with whoever is hot at the moment in net with the 1/1A system. Jonathan Bernier (who’s hot right now) has collected 11 wins for the club in 19 games, while Semyon Varlamov has registered 13 in 26 appearances.

Why is this happening?? Why now?? This division has enough traffic as it is, and as a fan of a Central Division team, this is infuriating. This isn’t the NFL where teams can be revamped from the cellar to the playoffs just like that in one year. I mean whatever if they want to battle, let’s battle.

The cellar isn’t really the cellar..

chill out

Photo from NHL.com

The Hawks are on their bye week this week. I’m not going to talk about their current spot in last place in the division. With our luck it would spark a second half surge and I don’t want to deal with that. So, let’s think positively as we discuss Chicago. The Blackhawks are only three points out of a playoff spot!

You can’t really count this first half underachievement with Corey Crawford not in action for 21 of their games. By this time Friday, when the Hawks return to practice, Chicago’s number one goalie will have been out four weeks. There is no timetable for his return, but Crawford has notched 16 of the team’s 22 wins, and when he is healthy, the Blackhawks are due for a run. 37 games remain, which gives Chicago plenty of time to earn a spot in the postseason.

Nine points separate the first place Jets and the last place Hawks. A division title may not be in their near future, but the playoffs are not far fetched whatsoever. Patrick Kane as 45 points in 45 games, while three Blackhawks have at least 30 points and seven have at least 20. Their spread out offense gives them the ability to compete with playoff teams as they just took down Winnipeg 2-1 last Friday. Do not judge this team’s first half as they are more than in the hunt when they come out of their bye week.

don’t look back

St. Louis, Nashville and Winnipeg are all clinging to their current positions (1st/2nd/3rd). By the time this gets out something could change. The window for error and inconsistency is almost shut. The Central Division is so jam packed that (as we discussed earlier) the gas pedal must be in full effect.

Fans want to tell other teams to “chill out,” but you ultimately want to feel this way. Teams need to feel like every game is a must win until the end, so they are hot and ready to go coming down the stretch and into the postseason.

This is the most interesting division in the NHL this year. No team is out of it, while first place separation is apparent in every other division. The Metropolitan has significant traffic and is hotly contested as well, but the race in the Central will be the one we play closest attention to down the stretch.

 

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NHL Expansion

The next NHL expansion destination

NHL expansion occurred for the 13th time since the original six this offseason. The Vegas Golden Knights take the ice as the league’s 31st franchise on Oct. 6 in Dallas.

Cities are discovering and rediscovering the game through expansion. There is no telling what will work, but in baseball terms, the NHL is hitting for a high average in knowing where hockey needs to be.

The total number of teams has gone from six to 31 since 1967. NHL commissioners have put hockey in 19 cities through expansion that still have teams today. Franchises stretch all across the United States and Canada. However, with the addition of hockey in Vegas, the number of teams is unbalanced.

Where will hockey travel next?

Can it/will it work?

Hockey does not sound right at first in certain areas, which is the first order of skepticism in expansion. It then asks the question of can it and will it work?

The San Jose Sharks became an NHL franchise in 1991 and many had already seen a team (Oakland Seals) fail in the Bay Area. The team notched 28 wins in their first two seasons, but made the playoffs in year three. By year four they were averaging 17,000 fans a night at their home games. The Sharks have been to a Stanley Cup Final, notched six division titles and averaged 17,000+ fans in 18 of 25 seasons. It has worked out just fine.

NHL Expansion

The Inaugural Season for the San Jose Sharks was in 1991-1992 and are set for their 26th this year. Photo Courtesy of Hockey Across The Pond

Central Florida has never been a hotbed for the sport historically. However, the Lightning have changed that narrative to a degree since joining the NHL in 1992.

Their first year saw 10,000 fans on average at games, but as of 2017 we now see an average of 19,000. It took them 12 years to win a Stanley Cup (won in 2004). Three teams (Washington, St. Louis and Buffalo) are still searching for their first after 40+ years.

Las Vegas was awarded with an NHL franchise in 2016 after three failed attempts with pro football and three failed team relocation proposals. Many are curious, but hockey is not new to the city.

Six semi-professional teams have played in Vegas and has played host to an annual preseason game the last 20 years. Forbes recently published a poll where 62 percent of people said they see Vegas as a good home for professional sports. The Golden Knights are the first, but soon the city will be home to two pro franchises when the now Oakland Raiders come to town in 2019.

back where they belong

The North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993 after 26 years in Minnesota. The move was not personal as the team had great success on the ice and in the city. A famous “Norm Sucks” chant pointed at former owner Norm Green ensued after word of the team’s moving. Green faced pressure from his wife who said she would leave him if he did not move the team. The state was without hockey for seven years.

NHL expansion in 2000 saw Columbus awarded with a team (Blue Jackets) and hockey’s return to Minnesota with the Wild. This was the first of two restorations from commissioner Gary Bettman in his current 24-year tenure. Xcel Energy Center has since been sold out for 646 straight games as of April 4, 2017. The NHL is meant to be in the Twin Cities and won’t be leaving anytime soon.

NHL Expansion

Night after night, Wild fans show why NHL hockey belongs in Minnesota. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

Winnipeg was given an NHL franchise in the 1979 expansion that turned into the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 1996. Another business decision was made that year as the Jets were last in home attendance.

Economic pressures initiated this move. The love and passion for the sport within the community remained. The wholesale city was without professional hockey for 15 years.

Mr. Bettman brought the NHL back to the Manitoba capital in 2011. One writer said “an 0-82 season would not simmer the excitement from the fans” upon their return. The MTS Centre (Jets home arena) has averaged capacity each year since 2011 despite zero playoff wins. The arena is filled at the start of warmups. This too is another area where NHL hockey belongs.

The next destination

There are four divisions in hockey. Three have eight teams while one has seven. Another hockey town will soon be born or restored.

NHL Expansion

Quebec City has been without an NHL franchise for 22 long years. Photo Courtesy of SBNation

Twenty one of 31 “high profile” NHL players stated that Quebec City should be the next to be awarded a team in expansion. Seattle and Houston are among the other candidates. Seattle is considered “logical” due to its location in the Pacific Northwest (Western Conference is unbalanced) and it would expand the league’s footprint in the U.S.. Houston would expand hockey communities in the South and be placed in the Central (the division with seven teams). There are arguments for each city, but the case for Quebec is the most intriguing.

The Nordiques started play in Quebec’s capital in 1979 before moving to Colorado and becoming the Avalanche in 1995. An issue with expansion at times is the readiness of an arena. This city already has a brand new arena (Videotron Centre) that seats 18,000-plus. It would call for realignment of divisions/conferences, but that would be the least of problems in this future expansion.

Adding another Canadian team would flirt with the idea of an all Canadian division. Expansion is a slow process, but interest and appeal runs deep in figuring out if it will work in any given market. We have witnessed the rejuvenations in Minnesota and Winnipeg. There is little reason to not see that in Quebec City. That community, is one starving for more hockey.

 

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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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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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Three Contenders in Need of a Deadline Deal

Each season’s NHL trade deadline brings its own je ne sais quoi; its own certain something. And this year has been no different.

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Photo credit: Jillian Wagner, Hockey Fan Land.

Deadline trends this year have been dictated, and complicated, by an extremely tight Eastern Conference and an unpredictable wild card race on both coasts. Coupled with the high volume of quality pending free agents, high asking prices,

and an impending expansion draft, this season’s deadline has been a roller coaster already.

In earnest, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes kicked things off last Thursday but it’s been the last 48 hours that general managers have really begun to make moves. Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings; Martin Hanzal to the Minnesota Wild; Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs; Alex Burrows to the Ottawa Senators; Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals; many of the League’s top pending free agents have already been dealt.

But there are still a lot of big names out there, and more than one contender who needs to bulk up their roster before the big show.

So welcome to the hot stove, pull up a seat, from our Haus to yours this is The Game Haus’ Contenders in Need of a Deadline Deal.

NEW YORK RANGERS

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Photo credit: Jared Silber, Getty Images.

The New York Rangers have been awfully quiet thus far but don’t mistake their patience for disinterest. The Rangers boast over $10-million-dollars in deadline cap space, a number of draft picks, and plenty of young talent to attract potential trade partners.

The Rangers have been rumored to be looking at Brendan Smith. The Detroit Red Wing would add grit and bringing depth on the left side of the lineup.

The Rangers were also rumored to have been in the market for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. But, in what can only be described as a cruel twist of fate, the Washington Capitals appear to have acquired the coveted young defensman first. If all goes well for Alex Ovechkin and the President’s Trophy front runners, Shattenkirk will suit up tonight in New York against the Rangers.

Regardless, expect the Rangers to make a move or two before the deadline in order to improve their playoff chances.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

As if not to be outdone by his offseason wheelin’ and dealin’, Montreal Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin went ahead and brought Claude Julien back to the Bell Centre. Though this move has the potential to overshadow any other made by Bergevin this season it’s not likely to be his last.

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Photo Credit: NHL.com.

The Canadiens were in talks to acquire Martin Hanzal, but Arizona Coyotes’ general manager John Chayka chose to deal with Minnesota instead. In need of a defenseman to help Montreal’s big blue liners with the big minutes they’ve been carrying, Bergevin swapped Greg Pateryn and a fourth for Dallas Stars defenseman Jordie Benn.

Still, the Habs will need more than just a new coach and another mediocre defenseman if they have any hopes of advancing very far in the playoffs. Montreal desperately needs depth down the middle.

Despite the fact that Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has been very hard on his price point for star center Matt Duchene, the rumors around his being dealt have not slowed down. If Duchene’s price remains too high perhaps Bergevin might consider looking elsewhere for a new forward as the March 1 deadline fast approaches.

The Tampa Bay Lighting are flush with forwards pending restricted free agency. While teams like Detroit and Arizona posses similarly attractive assets.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

The defending Stanley Cup Champions have zero projected cap space, so they are looking strictly for a rental player only. That is, of course, unless they can unload a contract or two in the process.

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Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images.

Though he has a no trade clause in place, Marc-Andre Fleury represents roughly $6-million-dollars of cap space. Cap space which the Pittsburgh Penguins could otherwise use to their advantage. Though Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford has expressed his wish to keep Fleury and Matt Murray both, Fleury has recently voiced that he would rather be playing; opening the door for speculation once again.

But that’s the least of Rutherford’s worries at the moment.

What Pittsburgh lacks is a healthy defense. With Pittsburgh’s cap in mind, there are plenty of less expensive options on the open market. And Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia, and of course St. Louis, have a wide range of pending free agent defensemen for sale.

In addition to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes, the Penguins have experienced injury issues all year on the front end as well. That being said, don’t be surprised if Rutherford adds some depth to the bottom six.

 

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*all Salary Cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.com

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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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