training camp and preseason

Real First Impressions

The beginning of the 2017-2018 NHL regular season is two weeks away. Teams are getting prepared for the grind with three weeks of training camp, which include 5-6 preseason games.

Where will the big guns be placed in the lineup? What role players will be every day players? Which rookies/prospects will show and prove they belong at the NHL level this year? These are the questions surrounding training camp and these first few preseason games.

The rookies have shown they are ready and want to play now at the NHL level. Injuries may help their cause, but the reality is many are good enough anyway.

Nico Hischier

The #1 overall pick showed everyone he is ready to go after scoring in his first game against NHL competition. The Swiss-born rookie is on the verge of history if he becomes a force in this league for years to come.

NHL Preseason

Hischier puts on a show in his first ever NHL game action. Sign for things to come?? Photo Courtesy of Chicago Tribune

Long illustrious careers are not commonly linked to those who come from Switzerland. 11 players have played more than 100 games in the league. However, Hischier has extreme character according to the New Jersey organization and has an entire country behind him.

It hasn’t been confirmed that Hischier will help bring New Jersey back to the top of the league yet. He has brought excitement to a fan base however. That sells tickets and increases TV viewership. There is not much else you can ask for at this point in training camp.

Klim Kostin

The Blues made a surprising trade at the draft trading Ryan Reaves for Oscar Sundqvist and the 31st overall pick. That pick was taken on a player ranked as the #1 European skater in the draft. His name is Klim Kostin.

Training Camp and preseason

Klim Kostin is said to be the biggest steal in this year’s draft and a potential future star in this league. Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Game Time

Kostin fell in the draft due to his recent shoulder injury, but he stands at 100%. St. Louis seized the opportunity in drafting the highly touted prospect out of Russia, which gives them options. The Blues hopeful shined in his debut Tuesday night. Kostin registered a goal, which was a one timer straight to the top shelf in the back of the net.

The St. Louis organization has been high on this kid since drafting him and through training camp. Ryan Reaves was beloved by the Blues fan base, but the hockey fans in the gateway to the west will forgive their General Manager. The club has lost forward Zach Sanford (a young up and coming forward) for 5-6 months with a dislocated shoulder. Opportunities have come up for this young Russian who seeks to prove his organization right.

NHL Training Camp

Training camp runs for roughly three weeks before games are up for points. Games are sloppy, penalties are vast and the end results are not an indication of where a team is/will be. There is however the notion that these athletes are in shape and possibly game ready year round. 4-5 days after the start of training camp they are ready to go and playing games.

training camp and preseason

These teams circle up during practice, but all participants are increasingly hungry to get going and play some meaningful hockey. Photo Courtesy of Reading Eagle

It also gives us fans that NHL hockey is back. The speed, the physicality, the thrill…it’s here. Let’s play some 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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The New Faces of the League

The New Faces of the League

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

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

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

The Catalyst

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

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

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

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

Rising threat for the opposition

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

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

NHL new faces

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter in Saga

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

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

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

NHL new faces

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image by Sportsnet

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Kevin Shattenkirk free agency: Best options

Ever since the end of the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL offseason hasn’t slept. The expansion draft built the Vegas Golden Knights while New Jersey and Philadelphia selected Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, respectively. One of the top free agents expected to hit the market, T.J. Oshie, heads back to the Capitals on an eight-year deal.

With Oshie settled in the Capitol, the best all-around player available is former Caps defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. The seven-year veteran is the most talented offensive blue liner.

This season, he finished with 56 points, trailing Norris finalists Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman. He’s notched 27 goals the past two seasons with both St. Louis and Washington. Defensively, he’s a solid skate who can move the puck from zone to zone.

Where he has the most value is on special teams. His eight power play goals and 27 points were second-most for a defenseman this season. His shot percentage has improved each season since 2013-14. He can lead the attack on the man advantage.

While his plus-minus isn’t pretty to look at the past two seasons, it improved on a stable Capitals blue line. Teams will keep that and the price he will garner in mind when signing him. What teams are in the running for him?

The Favorites

Boston Bruins – Kevin Shattenkirk has been linked to Boston for a few years. He played college hockey at Boston University after growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut. Boston inquired about him at the trade deadline, but the Blues reportedly wanted two first-round picks and David Pastrnak, which was way too high.

The Bruins have a young core of defensemen with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Torey Krug does well on the power play, but he was the main quarterback on special teams. McAvoy had two assists on the power play in the playoffs, but he may need more time.

With Shattenkirk, Boston gets a proven asset that makes their blue line fast and deadly on offense. Its roughly $13.5 million in cap space means they can afford him if he stays around the $6-$7 million AAV range. He provides that leadership for a young core. General Manager Don Sweeney has to think about if Shattenkirk’s offense is enough of an upgrade without breaking the bank.

Kevin Shattenkirk free agency

Shattenkirk (left, playing with Blues) could join the Rangers in free agency. Photo courtesy of Newsday/Photo by Mary Altaffer, AP

New York Rangers – On paper, the Rangers and Shattenkirk is a perfect marriage. New York now has $20 million in cap space after buying out Dan Girardi and trading Antti Raanta and Derek Stepan. Rumor has it Shattenkirk favors the Rangers for its location close to home.

On the ice, he fills a dire need for the Blueshirts. Girardi, while a gritty player, is not the same puck mover as Kevin Shattenkirk. On the power play, their special teams were 3-for-39 in the postseason after a top 10 finish in the regular season. Shattenkirk can replace Brady Skjei on the second unit, giving them a Ryan McDonagh-Shattenkirk combo on the man advantage.

Despite the recent trade for Anthony DeAngelo, New York still needs help on defense. Brendan Smith is still in play for New York, and they can still sign both. He checks every box on both sides. Even if the Rangers may look to get younger and cheaper after shedding Stepan’s contract, Shattenkirk can still make them competitive and fill multiple needs.

Dark Horses

Tampa Bay Lightning – Tampa’s interest in Kevin Shattenkirk is one of the worst-kept secrets in the NHL. In January, the Lightning tried to trade for the blue liner from St. Louis. It did not come to fruition. Now, the Tampa Bay Times reported GM Steve Yzerman is kicking the tires on Shattenkirk.

Even after snagging Montreal’s pristine defensive prospect, Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa is looking for top-four defensive help. Shattenkirk joining Hedman gives the Lightning one of the best combos in the league. His offense and his right-handed stick, according to Times’ writer Joe Smith, is a fit for Tampa Bay.

Ultimately, Shattenkirk’s willingness to come to Tampa Bay is the biggest obstacle. He rejected a seven-year, $42 million extension and a deal to head to the Sunshine State. Does he want to be there? Are the Lightning built to succeed in the next few years? With Shattenkirk, they can, but it’s hard to see unless they gain more pieces.

Kevin Shattenkirk free agency

Shattenkirk (left) could become teammates with Miles Wood next season. Photo courtesy of My NHL Trade Rumors/Photo by USATSI

New Jersey Devils – Any Rangers fan might have a tough time reading this, but it has some traction to it. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in March he wouldn’t be surprised if the Devils threw money at him.

New Jersey has $24 million free in cap space, so their offer could blow almost every other team out of the water. They have five total defensemen and a restricted free agent on their roster at the moment. Andy Greene and Damon Severson were their best defenders, and they were -16 and -31 for a weak team last season.

Basically, Kevin Shattenkirk becomes their best blue liner if he signs. New Jersey should make him their biggest priority. An offense with Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and now Nico Hischier is impressive, while Cory Schneider is strong in net. However, he needs help badly in front of him. Shattenkirk helps them out, and they have room to look at other names such as Cody Franson or Karl Alzner.

Other Possible Destinations

Buffalo SabresTSN’s Darren Dreger reported last week of the Sabres’ interest. Like the Devils, they have a vast amount of cap space. They have a nice defensive core already in Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian. Buffalo is very young, so Shattenkirk would have to be patient with them.

Montreal Canadiens – No surpise here, but Montreal needs to shore up their defense. They have space with $21 million, but there hasn’t been a lot of mutual interest. Plus, if they deal Alex Galchenyuk and lose Alexander Radulov, they may need to prioritize finding some forward help.

 

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New Jersey Devils face choice at 1st: Nolan or Nico?

In just over two weeks, the New Jersey Devils are officially on the clock. On June 23rd, both Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will hear their names in the 2017 NHL Draft.

It is unknown, however, where they will start their NHL careers.

The Devils, who received a gift from the angels in the first overall pick, will certainly choose one of them. The team hasn’t tipped their hand, leading to intense speculation about who goes to the Garden State. It depends on what the Devils value more: the better player or the better fit.

What the Devils Need

Devils GM Ray Shero

Devils GM Ray Shero hasn’t talked about a preference between Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

All in all, the New Jersey Devils were terrible on both sides of the puck. They were 28th in the league in goals per game and in the bottom ten in goals allowed per game. Only the Vancouver Canucks had fewer shots per game. Their offense and defense were disappointing, and Cory Schneider struggled in net as a result.

Individually on the offensive side, their top line produced very well. Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri showed good chemistry in their first year playing together. The only problem was that they were the only consistent line. Head Coach John Hynes had to shuffle the lineups to provide depth to the team, and it did not always lead to better results.

In their overall production, the Devils got the least offensive production from left wingers, accounting for just 38 of the team’s 180 goals. However, neither Patrick nor Hischier are left wingers, and there isn’t a left winger worthy of the top pick. The Devils want to play younger guys like Miles Wood and Blake Pietila, so team needs are probably not the priority, especially with the first pick. The best player available is what the Devils should look for. So who is that?

The Case for Nolan Patrick

Even before the season, many considered Nolan Patrick the top pick. In 72 games for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015-16, Patrick tallied 41 goals and 102 points. He eventually won MVP in the WHL postseason and captured the Ed Chenowyth Cup. TSN’s Bob McKenzie once called this the “Nolan Patrick Draft”, putting him on a similar level to how many viewed Auston Matthews last season.

Nolan Patrick has been a consensus pick for some at #1 for the Devils

Nolan Patrick during his time for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Photo courtesy of Philly.com

His play from two seasons ago was impressive, and when he played this past year, he showed flashes with 46 points in 33 games. However, he missed most of the season with a sports hernia in his right groin and an upper-body injury. At the NHL combine last week, he revealed that he had another hernia in his left side. He had surgery for both. Sports hernia injuries aren’t historically kind to NHL players. Washington’s Karl Alzner struggled this season after repairing his torn groin last offseason. Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers have dealt with recurring issues from sports hernia surgery. Patrick has the talent, but his injury history has to have the Devils concerned.

With all that said, Patrick at his best is a good fit for New Jersey in more ways than one. He’s a big body center at 6-foot-3. His speed complements a Devils team that doesn’t have much of it. Ultimately, what stands out is his two-way ability. He is exceptional in protecting the puck with his hands and has excellent strength to find it too. The Devils need help in multiple units and they don’t have many two-way forwards. He fills multiple areas for New Jersey.

The Case for Nico Hischier

Nolan Patrick was on everyone’s radar for a while. Nico Hischier hasn’t, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of the top pick. The Halifax Moosehead was tenth in the QMJHL with 86 points and seventh with 38 goals. He has U-18 World Juniors experience with Switzerland and played well in the tournament with four points in five games. He’s smaller than Patrick at 6-feet, but he plays both at center and on the right wing. Scouts and hockey personalities rave about his dynamic speed and puck-handling ability and claim he is the more explosive pick.

There are few concerns about Hischier, with most of them about his size. He is younger than Patrick and only recently graduated to North American hockey at Halifax. He’s had small run-ins with injuries, but not as much as Patrick. Jeff Marek of Sprotsnet said back in March that he played a bit differently after returning from an injury and there are worries about his energy. The question is if he can continue jumping to a higher level. With his talent, he should immediately contribute to an NHL team. He needs to make the adjustments necessary to play against bigger competition and more skilled players.

Nico Hischier has recently gained traction for the Devils' top pick.

Nico Hischier on the Halifax Mooseheads. Photo courtesy of The Metro News/Photo by Jeff Harper.

With that said, there is little doubt he can do just that. He’s shifty and a tremendous playmaker who gets his teammates involved just as much as he does. His passing and his instincts will strengthen his linemates. He’s young, but he can help Wood and Nick Lappin or other linemates. If he plays on the wing, then Pavel Zacha and John Quenneville could benefit too. In the same way Patrick aids multiple units, Hischier betters the team.

Who Fits Better?

At this point in time, it’s a smart choice no matter which player the New Jersey Devils pick. General Manager Ray Shero has to decide who will turn out to be the franchise leader. At the combine last week, Hischier tested higher in four of the five batteries, but those numbers shouldn’t be the entire indicator. Patrick is the better goal scorer and excels in more areas than Hischier, but Nico has more quickness and skill on his resumé. Don’t be surprised, however, if injuries are the biggest factor. If Shero wants to take the risk, then he should select Nolan Patrick.

Feature image courtesy of TSN. Nico Hischier on the left and Nolan Patrick on the right.

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The History and Merits of the Neutral Zone Trap

Guy Boucher loves it. Neutral hockey fans loathe it. But 22 years after the New Jersey Devils perfected it, the neutral zone trap is making a comeback.

The Ottawa Senators punched a ticket to the Eastern Conference finals this season with the help of their 1-3-1 trap. It completely stunted the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the second round, and has bogged down the Pittsburgh Penguins at times in the current series. Nonetheless, hockey fans continue to argue that the trap is terrible for the sport of hockey.

How has the trap evolved over the years? Does it really slow down games and hurt the sport’s appeal? As it turns out, the trap was fairly popular back in the day.

Pre-Lockout History

Many remember the 1990s as the age of the trap defense and subsequently, the “Dead Puck Era”. The trap itself has been around much longer. There are unsubstantiated claims that the Toronto Maple Leafs developed a trap scheme as early as the 1920s. It’s not until the 1970s that it gained traction.

Many European Olympic teams such as Sweden and Czechoslovakia sought to inhibit the mighty Soviet national teams. Stateside, teams in the 1990s began to utilize the trap. Roger Neilson’s Rangers employed it in the 1992-93 campaign. However, the players hated using it, and Neilson lost his job.

neutral zone trap

The 1994-95 Devils are credited with perfecting the neutral zone trap. Photo courtesy of Real Clear Sports.

The dawn of the neutral zone trap appeared in 1995 when the Devils implemented it. Head coach Jacques Lemaire, who played in a trap with Montreal back in the 70s, had defensemen Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens create a brick wall.

They swept the Detroit Red Wings that year and shocked – perhaps infuriated – fans everywhere who wanted more exciting hockey.

Even though fan and player backlash ensued, coaches began to utilize the neutral zone trap more. The Rangers, years after ditching Neilson for using it, credited Colin Campbell for using a similar system. Despite this, the NHL wanted to find a way to render the formation ineffective.

During the 2004-05 lockout, the league eliminated the two-line pass, which made it illegal to complete a pass from the defensive zone to the offensive side of the center line. Neutral zone traps countered this strategy, so eliminating the pass hoped to curb the trap’s use.

Post-Lockout Use

As it turns out, the trap was just as effective in stopping quick teams as countering the two-line pass. Lemaire utilized it in Minnesota and New Jersey until he stepped away in 2011. Boucher used it when he started as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s head coach in 2010.

It led to the classic game on Nov. 9, 2011 against the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia decided the best counter to the trap was to hold the puck in their defensive end and wait for the Lightning to break from position. Tampa would not budge, resulting in nothing happening for minutes on end.

neutral zone trap

To counter Tampa Bay’s neutral zone trap, Philadelphia did… nothing. Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports.

The NHL did not address the trap during the 2012-13 lockout. The trap was not a high priority during the strike, but it was an opportunity to at least address that no side took.

There were other strategies such as blocking shots that began to grow in popularity. When the season started, Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle ran a neutral zone trap. Toronto defenseman Mark Fraser even recalled Carlyle’s formations were exact replicas of Lemaire’s systems.

In this postseason, the Senators aren’t the only team deploying traps. The Nashville Predators unleashed an effective albeit unorthodox 1-4 trap against the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago’s offensive chances were rare, and Nashville dominated on both ends. It’s interesting to see two of the four remaining teams use traps well.

Is the Neutral Zone Trap Effective?

There are multiple counterarguments to using a neutral zone trap: the sacrifice of offensive chances for forwards and the pace of play. Regarding the former, the statistics are inconsistent. This season, Ottawa was 22nd in the league with just 206 goals. However, before their first Stanley Cup, the 1993-94 Devils were second in the NHL with 306 goals, seven more than the eventual-champion Rangers.

neutral zone trap

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press

Forwards in a trap do have to prioritize checking and defense over scoring. Yet in 1993-94, New Jersey’s John MacLean, Stephane Richer and Bill Guerin combined for 98 goals and 166 points. Phil Kessel had 52 points in 48 games for the trapping Leafs in 2012-13.

While some of the forwards on the deeper lines may forfeit offensive chances, the skill players can still find ways to get to the net while performing the job.

As for the entertainment of trap-heavy games, it’s tougher to watch than a regular game. Hockey is a game of speed, and fans want to watch offensive rushes towards the net more than neutral zone turnovers. On the other hand, a trap is strategy; it’s not something that needs policing. Unless a tactic gives one team an unfair advantage, the NHL shouldn’t ban formations from the game.

Fans have to enjoy the on-ice product, and neutral zone traps aren’t the most exciting strategy to watch. Ultimately, if the neutral zone trap goes the way of the dinosaur, then it needs a clear counterattack and teams have to overcome it. Otherwise, its popularity could boom with an Ottawa Stanley Cup.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRICE TO PLAY LIKE PRICE

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

Photo credit: . David Zalubowski, Associated Press.

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

SCORING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The COACHing Conundrum

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Bernard Brault, La Presse.

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

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

Photo credit: Associated Press.

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

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

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

Photo credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today

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

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

SOMETHING HAS GOT TO GIVE

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

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

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

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

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All-Star Coaches: A Jack Adams Short-List

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

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

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

And it worked.

John Scott, All-Star, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game 2017, Jack Adams Award, NHL, Hockey, Coach, John Tortorella, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, Peter DeBoer, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton, Cam Atkinson, Sergie Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Vezina Trophy, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, OHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, All-Star Coaches

Photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA Today Sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So no more John Scott’s

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk, instead, about the coaches.

All-Star Coaches

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

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

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

Michel Therrien

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Photo credit: Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Boudreau

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Photo credit: Norm Hall, NHLI via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter DeBoer

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Photo credit: Christian Petersen, Getty Images.

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Jones has turned into a legitimate Vezina contender.

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

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

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

John Tortorella

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Photo credit: Jamie Sabau, NHLI via Getty Images.

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

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

But you don’t fix what isn’t broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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