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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Growth of the NHL

The potential excess growth of the NHL

Hockey is number four out of the four major sports in the United States in terms of popularity. The growth of the NHL becomes increasingly important every year. Gary Bettman, like all commissioners, makes questionable decisions. It’s his success though that has kept him in his position. Bettman said “We’ve never seen more participation than what we are seeing now,” in July. His goal is always to continue this narrative, which he has done for the last 24 years.

Youth hockey in America

Growth of the NHL

Fans enjoy the game between the New York Rangers and EV Zug at the Bossard Arena in Zug, Switzerland. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Youth within USA hockey is on the rise however and has been for the last 18 years. More T.J. Oshies and Patrick Kanes are needed. The growth of the youth in America is reflective of the number of Americans in the NHL. Canadiens have dominated the sport historically as they still do, but America is here. There were 555,175 youth hockey players registered to play last year, which was a record.

State by state, the participants in youth organized hockey is growing tremendously since 1999, most notably in Washington, D.C. The work USA Hockey has done in the Northeast area is astounding. D.C. alone has increased its youth participation by over 693 percent. Eighty-two players were playing youth hockey within the District of Columbia in 1999. Ten years later, 742 were playing in the area.

The USA Hockey registration numbers and correlation with the National Hockey League is linked to this success. NHL sensations always tell the media and fans they grew up being in situations like those in big games. They thank their parents and everything that has helped them through their journey from the start.

It all stems from the NHL’s relationship with USA Hockey and their emphasis on taking the game global.

Hockey around the world

The NHL has players from 21 different countries. Canada and the U.S. produce the vast majority. It is Commissioner Bettman’s duty to grow the game. He does this through expansion, but that only pertains to North America. There is talent across the globe. The NBA, NFL and MLB have leagues everywhere and the NHL must grow further globally as well.

Growth in the NHL

The games in China have said to potentially go a long way in the growth of hockey. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

China has 1.3 billion civilians. Hockey is the only major sport that has not made its way to the country in some way. It is somewhat imperative for the NHL to make its way over.

The league has scheduled games in Sweden in recent history, which lacks growth as hockey has found footing in Europe over the years. This week, the Canucks and Kings will play preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing.

The league hopes to “bring some enthusiasm to the game” (from NHL Deputy Commissioner) in two of the biggest cities on the planet. Each city is bigger than the NHL’s biggest market (New York). There is great potential with these games.

Growth is Equivalent to Revenue

You have to appeal to an audience, a fanbase to increase revenue to a league. Gary Bettman has done that to a very high degree like him or not. Last season’s playoffs marked the first time the NHL had a national TV contract where every playoff game was televised. The National Hockey League is in the entertainment business and judging by the league’s revenue stream over the years, they have done exceptionally well.

Growth in the NHL

Minus the work stoppage in ’12-’13, the NHL has grown by the billions seemingly every single year. Photo Courtesy of the Hockey Writers.

The NHL may never compete with the NFL, NBA or MLB, but success is defined as making good with what you have. Gary Bettman and members of the league front office have unquestionably done so these last two decades. They have endured two work stoppages and five expansions. The National Hockey has grown and continues to grow.

 

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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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Get the Rallies Goin'

NHL fans: How much do they affect the game?

The art of waving rally towels and the overall buzz and hype in big games gets me. The relationship between the in-game experience and the play on the ice intrigues me. Fans unquestionably have an impact on the game. But, how much truth goes into that idea?

Management, coaching staff and the players themselves are always the number one reason for a team’s success. But, “without fans, there would be no game” said Hall of Famer Brett Hull. The crowd, atmosphere and electricity is always the most memorable part of a big game. A player’s duty is always to thank the fans after a win for their support. The fans are the fuel and the team is the race car.

Organizations across the league have gone through countless changes to their in-game experiences. And team success has immediately followed. The last 10 years have seen Washington, Chicago and now Nashville take on makeovers on and around the ice.

Capital one arena (capitals)

Alexander Ovechkin has reshaped the culture in the nation’s capital. But, the most overlooked piece to their return to prominence is how they “rock the red” on a nightly basis.

It’s not a common trend to change team colors. But, the Caps did so prior to the 2007-2008 season. They have made red stanchions around the arena to reflect the team’s colors. And they chant “rock the red” before every home game.

NHL fans

They Rock the Red in the District of Columbia. Photo Courtesy of Flickr

The Washington Capitals have qualified for the postseason each year since the changes. They have also had one of the better average attendances in the NHL.

Most notably in 2015, the Caps on average drew 19,500 fans per night, which is 110.5 percent capacity at the Capital One Arena. Business has been good for the organization. But, there is definitely room for improvement.

Caps fans have yet to see a conference final in the Ovechkin era. According to espn.com, the Capital One Arena has 100 percent of vendors inside the arena that are in violation of health requirements. The venue was recently renamed (formerly Verizon Center) and could also be revamped.

Change is difficult to execute because arenas are often not owned by the teams themselves. But, more change to the in game experience may be what the Caps need to take the next step.

united center (Blackhawks)

The Chicago Blackhawks are the modern day NHL dynasty. Their success began with the consecutive drafts involving Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But it’s the deafening crowd at the United Center that makes it one of the toughest environments for the opposition.

NHL fans

Blackhawks celebrate their 1st Stanley Cup win on home ice. Photo Courtesy of Journal Star

Jim Cornelison (Blackhawks anthem singer) started working full-time at the United Center in 2007. It is one of the most authentic and unifying acts in the sport. Silence is golden typically when the anthem is being sung.

But at the United Center, the fans have stood and cheered during the singing since Cornelison took the reigns. Tickets are very expensive in Chicago, but a seat in section 300 has said to feel the same as any other.

An even more iconic song sung at the United center is that of Chelsea Dagger. It is sung in unison by the Chicago faithful after every Blackhawk goal scored. Rarely is a goal song widely known across the league. But, since 2008, Chelsea Dagger is one of the most recognizable facets of hockey in Chicago.

The significance of these facts is simple. The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2007. Season ticket base has increased over 300 percent, and they have sold out 414 consecutive games as of April 5, 2017. The degree of difficulty there is high with United being the third largest arena (in terms of seating capacity) in the NHL. You cannot ignore the correlation between the crowd at the “Madhouse on Madison” and the team itself.

Bridgestone Arena (predators)

The Nashville Predators entered the NHL in 1998. Nineteen years later we witnessed their run to the Stanley Cup Final. And according to Pierre McGuire, “if you haven’t been here, you got to see a game in Nashville”.

The Music City heroes of this past year are still a young franchise that has not yet seen an enormous deal of success. But, this past spring the Preds went toe-to-toe with the champions of Pittsburgh. And all people could talk about was the roaring crowd of the Nashville faithful.

NHL fans

“You can’t stop Preds fans, you can only hope to contain them” – Bob Hille Photo Courtesy of The Sporting News

Small market teams do not usually get this kind of recognition, but this season was different than all others for this organization. They had their highest average attendance in team history, and almost broke the world record for loudest crowd roar during the postseason. The decibels inside the arena during the conference finals came in at 129.4, which nearly reached the Guinness book’s 130.4.

The team’s invigoration from the Nashville crowd helped them achieve the unthinkable. They swept the No. 1 seeded Chicago Blackhawks as an eight seed and carried that momentum all the way to the finals. The Preds even outplayed Pittsburgh for the majority of the series and fell just short.

Every fan wants to know that their crazed emotional investment is impactful. These teams undeniably prove that fact. The troubling times during rebuilds and being a new team in the league is rough. But, I guarantee the fan bases in these markets will tell you the wait was worth every second.

 

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Battle and Grind

Hockey in two words: Battle and grind

In my first official piece, I want to declare my undying love for the St. Louis Blues; however, that does not mean I’m without objectivity. The Blues are one of the 31 teams in the National Hockey League. And all of them, take part in countless battles and a never-ending grind.

The terms battle and grind are so ingrained into the minds of hockey players and die-hard followers of the sport. It is so overwhelming that they find their way into fan’s & player’s everyday lives. The difficulty for outsiders to comprehend is vast.  But, over time it becomes easier as curiosity becomes intrigue. This is when one comes to realize that hockey is the most captivating, and competitive sport to either play or follow.

Hockey season technically comes to an end after an 82-game season followed by eight weeks of postseason play.  But, when you add it all together along with the draft, free agency and training camp, the sport becomes a 12-month long battle and grind.

NHL Battles

Battle and Grind

Schwartz looks to carry the Blues by getting into the dirty areas this upcoming season. Photo Courtesy of Alchetron

A battle is “a fight between people or groups in which each side tries to win a contest”.   It is not defined or illustrated any better than in the grind of the NHL regular, post and offseason.  It is one of the few places you will constantly hear the importance of winning your “1-on-1 battles,” “getting it deep,” “to the net,” and “going North.”

Your 1-on-1’s stem from the desire to gain possession of the puck, as Jaden Schwartz best illustrates shift after shift. It is the puck possessor that will gain an opportunity to put the puck into the back of the opposing team’s net.  A Vladimir Tarasenko snipe does not occur often times without a battle or multiple battles won. These battles in the sport can be related to almost any desire in life.  Battling for a degree, masters, or occupation all fit in this category.

Every goal in life, like hockey, has its obstacles. Therefore, as long as the goalie is guarding his net, you gotta get it deep as well.  Deep is used as getting the puck into the offensive zone where the opposing team’s net is placed.  You get it deep, win your 1-on-1 battles and you generate an opportunity to score. Getting it to the net and going north is simple.  It highlights the relentless attack of scoring and moving forward.  All you can ask for in the game of hockey and in life is a chance to succeed and achieve your goals. Some have it easier than others, but everyone has to battle.

NHL Grinds

A grind is “a movement that has great difficulty and friction”.  31 organizations compete every year for one big, silver, shiny Cup named Stanley. This causes hatred between teams and fans on their quest for that trophy. It is the hardest trophy to win in sports. The journey towards this trophy is not on foot, nor land, and with more parity than any sport.

Yes, the 2017 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins finished second in the league’s standings.  However, out of the 16 playoff teams, their opponent finished 16th.  The proximity of the teams in this league is so narrow that since 1994, a #1 seed has won the Cup only 7 times.  And on average, the regular season point differential for Cup Final opponents is 13.  It’s a cliche to say that anyone can win it all in this league.  But that’s exactly what makes it the most captivating grind in all of sport.

2017-18 Hype

Hockey is a game of skill and talent.  But, with that comes a sport with brutal physicality along with wear and tear on the body.  Of the 713 players in the National Hockey League, just 99 of them played in all 82 games during the regular season this past year.  The hits that go along with the up and down high-octane movement through skating is unlike any physical grind in any sport.  And the scary thing is that every team is continuing to get younger and faster.

The upcoming grind is just days away, and almost every team made moves this offseason to improve their hockey club…even Arizona.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators have the 1st and 8th best odds to win the Stanley Cup.  But, no one has any idea who will win.  Who can predict an 8th seed sweeping a 1 seed?  Who is prepared for 18 overtime games in one round that does not always go to the “stronger team?”  The immense entertainment value in this sport is that once the playoffs start, it’s unpredictable chaos.

The Penguins will host the St. Louis Blues on October 4th on NBCSN as they raise their Championship banner.  We will not know who will have that honor at the start of next season until next summer….

Let the unpredictable grind begin.

 

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New York Islanders arena uncertainty still apparent

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

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

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

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

The Islanders Arena Predicament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Belmont Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Islanders’ Next Home

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Unsigned Players

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

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

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

5. Jarome Iginla

Jarome Iginla is still available in NHL free agency

Jarome Iginla. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

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

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

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

4. Drew Stafford

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

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

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

3. Thomas Vanek

Thomas Vanek is on the NHL free agency market

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

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

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

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

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

2. Cody Franson

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

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

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

1. Jaromir Jagr

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

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

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

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

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

 

Feature image courtesy of NHL.com

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Justin Williams free agency: Drawing interest as productive veteran

Justin Williams is going to get a ton of money, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

At 35 years old, Williams is on the final years of his NHL career. With the way he played last year, one wouldn’t know he’s on the wrong side of 30.

Last season, the 16-year veteran tallied 24 goals and 48 points in his second season with the Washington Capitals. According to Hockey Reference, he had his highest career shooting percentage at 14.4 percent. His Corsi and Fenwick ratings were both above 50 percent, signaling that the Caps possessed the puck well with Williams on the ice.

Williams’ contract with Washington expired, and with T.J. Oshie and Dmitry Orlov signing deals, it is unlikely the right winger reunites with them in the nation’s capital. And so, he hits the open market, presenting a quandary for front offices: how many years and how much money do we give an aging player who’s still producing?

Justin Williams’ Value

Justin Williams free agency

Williams won two of his three Stanley Cups with Los Angeles. Photo by Victor Decolongon, Getty Images.

He has the most value in his overall experience in the postseason. In 140 playoff games, he’s notched 94 points while winning three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe trophy in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

During that postseason, Williams scored nine goals and 16 assists. Even as the elder statesman with the Capitals this past year, he recorded nine points in 13 games. As perplexing as it is to outsiders, players and fans know that Justin Williams is reliable in the playoffs.

Justin Williams can help any team that needs a championship-caliber player with his playoff expertise. Combine his resumé with need and teams should fork over the dough to sign him.

Justin Williams’ Cap Hit and the RW Market

Looking at the rest of the free agent market, he can sign at about any time that he wants. Williams is the second-best right wing on the block. Alexander Radulov is the top name on the right side, but they’re both different players at different points in their careers.

Radulov enjoyed a breakout campaign with Montreal after a stint in the KHL. At 30 years old, he still has a handful of good years left. Teams are likely to ink him to a longer deal than Williams. Radulov will go to a team that wants him for the long haul. Williams should sign around a two to three-year deal.

The Capitals paid Williams a modest $3.25 million the past two seasons, per CapFriendly. He hasn’t made more than $4 million in his career. Based on his overall recent production, he should achieve that milestone. Justin Williams can use his play at an old age as leverage to raise the monetary value. Teams will balk at 35 years old. Anything more than three years is excessive. Two or three years, until his skating and his scoring declines, are the fairest lengths for both sides.

Justin Williams free agency prospects

Justin Williams has his own list of coveted places. His list is reportedly down to three, though it is unsure what those teams are. Yesterday, TSN’s Darren Dreger listed Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and the New York Islanders as teams interested in him (he said the quoted tweet is incorrect so it has nothing to do with his commentary).

The Islanders are looking to add another productive scorer as they look to return to the playoffs. CapFriendly says they have $9 million to play with in cap, so they won’t pursue another big free agent if Williams signs there. Plus, they’d have to shuffle their lineup to accommodate him. Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Josh Ho-Sang and Cal Clutterbuck are all right wingers. Williams would have to slot elsewhere or the Isles have to swap someone on the roster.

Justin Williams free agency

Justin Williams may join the orange and white next year instead of roughing them up. Photo by Rob Carr, Getty Images.

Would Justin Williams return to the city where he made his NHL debut? The Flyers have slightly more cap room than the Islanders, but still less than $10 million. However, Williams is a great fit for a team that needs to replace Brayden Schenn’s output. Williams can fit on the second or third line and help a team with postseason potential. Philadelphia is an up and coming team. With Williams’ veteran leadership, he can push them over the top in a daunting Metro Division.

Of these three teams, Tampa Bay makes the most sense. Williams would be their best winger not named Nikita Kucherov. With over $20 million in cap space, the Lightning can afford to overpay him while not restricting their budget. If that’s what it takes for Tampa to replenish their forwards, then they should’ve already been on the phone when midnight struck today.

Justin Williams, at 35 years old, is still a capable NHL player and is one of the better free agent options. Word is he wants to stay in the East, though it’s unknown what teams he is interested in playing for. Whichever team he signs with, they will pay big bucks to land him, but receive a valuable piece for it.

 

Feature image by Nick Wass, AP/Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

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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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