An Opening Night To Commemorate

October fourth was opening night of the 2017-18 regular season. Fans are in for another wild ride as no rule enforcement can diminish the hype of NHL hockey (as expected).

Four games were on the docket to start the year. The Toronto Maple Leafs exhibited their potential of being not just young talented upstarts, but a problem in the East. The Edmonton Oilers started their narrative in being among the elite in the West. St. Louis displayed their ability to send pucks to the back of the net with regularity despite their current roster subtractions. Then we further understood Wayne Simmonds’s case as one of the top tier power forwards in the league at the end of the night.

“I hope the rest of the season is as entertaining as it is tonight” said NBCSN color commentator Mike Milbury during last night’s game between St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The first of 82 games for four of 31 teams took place this past Wednesday. League policy issues and corruption is not at all a topic of discussion. Hockey fans are here to enjoy the start of this year’s grind solely. Let the shear passion and insanity commence.

Maple Leafs @ Jets

The lethal youth of the Toronto Maple Leafs surged them into postseason play this past spring. They took the President’s Trophy winning Capitals to six games. Management noted they must add depth and veteran leadership this offseason to take the next step. The Leafs told the rest of the league we’re done with being in rebuild mode in game #1.

opening night

Patrick Marleau nets two in his debut with his new team. Auston Matthews starts his sophomore season off right adding another in the Leafs’s dominant 7-2 win on opening night. Photo Courtesy of Sporting News

Patrick Marleau (38) was among the biggest acquisitions for Toronto in free agency this summer. There was curiosity about whether or not he deserved his 6 million+ average annual salary after his 46-point season last year. Opening night proved he could serve has a much valued find for the Leafs. Marleau scored his 509th and 510th goals of his career helping his new team capture their first two points of the season.

Toronto netted seven goals against the Jets to begin their year. They have solid goaltending in Frederik Anderson, high-octane offense led by their youth and the ability to roll four lines and compete with the league’s best. There is much to like about this new and improved Toronto Maple Leaf squad.

Oilers vs. Flames

The battle of Alberta began the season for the Oilers and Flames in Edmonton. Connor McDavid recorded a hat trick and Cam Talbot recorded a 26-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Calgary.

opening night

The league MVP and Oiler captain found the net and stat sheet 3 times on opening night in Alberta. Not a bad guy to have leading your team. Photo Courtesy of TSN

The rest of the West is taking serious notice to the players in Oil country. They possess the league MVP, four lines with offensive production, sound defense and a top 10 goaltender. All of these parts have Edmonton as a serious contender in the West. I would not want to see them come mid April as McDavid expressed that “it feels good, but we have a long way to go.”

These first two games between the four Canadian teams did not have a great deal of intensity. However, it was a phenomenal showcase of one team near the top of the league and one on its way.

Blues @ Penguins

The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins opened up their season at home against St. Louis. Entertainment value, intensity and a roller coaster of emotion were all in play in this battle.

opening night

The captain of the St. Louis Blues Alex Pietrangelo led by example scoring the game winner in game 1 for the Blues capturing their first two points of the season. Photo Courtesy of the Telegraph

Penguins broke the ice first. St. Louis would then take control up two in the 3rd. Pittsburgh then tied the game with two goals in under a minute and the game moved to overtime. Alex Pietrangelo (Blues captain) iced the game with his 2nd of the night 1:15 into overtime.

This was a clash of two great teams that play similar styles, but at different paces. Each of these teams want to play that up tempo offense with two-way defensemen. Pittsburgh has the edge at the moment with more superstar talent as they are able to take full advantage of their opposition’s mistakes. The Blues have talent and depth, it just comes in less waves at the moment. They were able to be opportunistic and survive the fury of the Penguins late.

Shots were 34-33 in favor of the Blues and their ability to match Pittsburgh shot for shot with their somewhat diminished roster is something to note. St. Louis went toe-to-toe with the defending champs on the road without the likes of Fabbri, Steen, Berglund and Bouwmeester. This a game in which two top tier teams battled and went right down to the wire. Who knows where these two will end up at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs?

Flyers @ Sharks

The final game of the evening took place in the Bay Area as the Sharks hosted the Flyers. A high scoring affair ensued as Philly defeated San Jose 5-3.

Wayne Simmonds started the year off with a bang recording a hat trick, two goals on the power play including the game winner at 9:27 of the 3rd period. The Flyers do need Simmonds to be that elite power forward to get back into postseason along with solid goaltending. It has been a long time since Philadelphia was with a true #1. They may be on their way with Brian Elliott as he stopped 32 of the 35 shots he faced receiving the game’s 2nd star.

opening night

Simmonds ices the game with an empty netter completing the hat trick and the first win of the ’17-18 season for the Flyers. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

I have said hockey is back numerous times, but I’ll say it again. Hockey is back.

 

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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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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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Three Contenders in Need of a Deadline Deal

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

NHL Contender Deadline Deal, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Martin Hanzal, Brian Boyle, Alex Burrows, Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jim Rutherford, Marc Bergevin, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Duchene, NHL, Trade Deadline, NHL Trade Deadline 2017

Photo credit: Jillian Wagner, Hockey Fan Land.

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

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

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

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

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

NEW YORK RANGERS

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Photo credit: Jared Silber, Getty Images.

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

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

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

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

MONTREAL CANADIENS

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

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Photo Credit: NHL.com.

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

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

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

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

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

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

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Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images.

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

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

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

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

 

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*all Salary Cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.com

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A New Era for the St. Louis Blues

February 1, 2017, will go down in history as the day that one of hockey’s greatest coaches of all time got the boot.

On Wednesday morning, in a press conference filled with emotions, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong announced that head coach Ken Hitchcock had been relieved of his duties.

ONE OF THE GREATEST

St. Louis Blues New Era

Photo credit: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press.

It’s almost impossible to talk about the greatest coaches of all time without mentioning Ken Hitchcock.

Hitchcock has coached 20 NHL seasons including stints with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and St. Louis Blues. He is the fourth winningest coach in NHL history, going 781-474-88-111 in regular season play. Over his 20-year career he managed to nab eight division titles, a Jack Adams Award, and a Stanley Cup championship which he won with the 1999 Dallas Stars.

Scotty Bowman 1,244
Joel Quenneville 832
Al Arbour 782
Ken Hitchcock 781

Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s illustrious track record could not save him from the chopping block. He was set to retire from the team at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, but the Blues’ top brass felt that the time was now to institute change.

A NEW BENCH BOSS

Fighting back tears, Armstrong insisted that the changes to his coaching staff represent “a rebirth” for the team before handing over the mic to St. Louis’ new head coach Mike Yeo.

Most people know Mike Yeo as the guy who got fired by the Minnesota Wild at the tail end of another disappointing season last year.

St. Louis Blues New Era

Photo credit: Marilyn Indahl, USA Today Sports.

His first NHL coaching gig came as an assistant coach, under Michel Therrien with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005. Yeo was an integral part of the Penguins’ rebuild. Even though Therrien was relieved of his duties in 2009, Yeo hung around and helped coach the team to their third Stanley Cup championship.

Yeo left Pittsburgh the following year to coach the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate: the Houston Aeros.

A year later he found himself behind the bench of the Wild. In four and a half seasons with the Wild, Yeo was able to get the team to the playoffs three seasons in a row and made it to the second round twice.

Yeo’s Wild were streaky. After losing 14 out of their last 15 games, Yeo was fired by the franchise in February of 2016.

In June of 2016, Yeo was hired by the St. Louis Blues. He was to act as an assistant coach during the 2016-17, set to take over the head coaching role for the 2017-18 season.

Hitchcock’s untimely dismissal, however, has thrusted Yeo back into an NHL head coaching role.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE YEO ERA

Yeo has a lot to offer the fledgling Blues.

During his time with the Penguins, Yeo focussed primarily on improving special teams. While the Blues boast a power play (eighth in the League) and penalty kill (12th in the League) that are both above league average, there is a good chance that Yeo’s primary focus won’t be special teams.

St. Louis Blues New Era

Photo Credit: NHLPA.

The Blues’ biggest problem right now is in the net.

St. Louis is currently tied for fourth in goals against, not something to be proud of.

Yeo will have to decide whether the Blues are plagued with poor goal tending or poor defensive play. Armstrong and Yeo, along with assistant general manager/interim goalie coach Martin Brodeur, have insisted that Jake Allen will remain the club’s starting goaltender for the time being.

It is worth noting that during Yeo’s tenure with Minnesota, the Wild signed Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has since become the franchise’s number one net minder, earning himself Vezina consideration for his outstanding play thus far this season.

Though Yeo has expressed desire to not to shake the team up too much, it is well known that the Blues are open for business as the trade deadline looms.

One of the biggest names on the market right now happens to be St. Louis Blues’ defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Shattenkirk is set to hit unrestricted free agency at the season’s end; along with teammates Scotty Upshall and Patrik Berglund. In addition to the trio’s pending unrestricted free agency status, Colton Parayko and Nail Yakupov will be entering restricted free agency as well.

Needless to say, the Blues could be sellers at the deadline if they want to. Though it is unlikely they will enter total rebuild mode.

Yeo has three more years on his contract after this season. It is fair to assume that upper management has put a reasonable amount faith his ability to bring the Blues back into contention. Accordingly, there is no pressure on him to make any immediate moves.

But if the Blues are looking to improve their chances of making a deep run into the playoffs, they will likely need to tweak the team in one way or another.

For the time being, it would appear that Doug Armstrong and the Blues’ brass believe that they have made the appropriate tweak for now.

Hopefully for the Blues, this change behind the bench will be enough to right the ship.

 

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Steve Downie, Hockey, NHL, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, Arizona Coyotes, Dave Tippet, Don Cherry, Fight, Concussion

Steve Downie’s Holiday Rant

Former NHLer Steve Downie took to twitter over the holidays to tell it like it is, calling out some of hockey’s biggest names in the process. You don’t have to like what he has to say, but you ought to respect him for saying it.

Photo credit: Kathy Kmonicek, The Associated Press

Photo credit: Kathy Kmonicek, The Associated Press

The 2005 first round draft pick (29th overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers is best known for his aggressive on-ice play. In 2007, Downie was suspended 20 games for a hit to the head of Ottawa Senators forward Dean McAmmond. This stands as the fifth longest suspension in league history.

About the Hit That Defined his Career

Downie doesn’t shy away from his questionable play though. In a twitter rant full of scorn for the fighting culture of the NHL, Downie said:

Clearly remorseful for his actions, many lashed out with hate as Downie attempted to tell his side of the story. However, not everyone threw shade. Downie had his supporters and they encouraged him to speak up, even against what many consider to be the toxic environment bread in the dressing rooms of teams across professional sports.

It’s not as if Downie’s perils were aimless. He knew exactly who to point the finger at.

This is where Downie makes a good point. He highlights a culture that a lot of young kids grow up in. He uses himself as a case in point for the outcome of what years of false bravado and machismo can do to a person.

Hockey is a game where split second decisions are made and consequences can sometimes result. They can come in the form of career-shattering concussions and 20 game suspensions. It is worth it to put ourselves in Steve Downie’s skates for a second.

He wasn’t quite done with Don. He added:

 

But wait, there’s more

He didn’t just call out Don Cherry for promoting the type of culture to which Downie subscribed, and was subsequently shunned for adhering to. Downie had choice words for Dave Tippet and the Arizona Coyotes franchise as well.

Downie took a shot at the league concussion protocol, the subject of which has been a hot topic as of late.

For what it’s worth, the NHL has installed concussion spotters and a more comprehensive concussion protocol this year to combat exactly the type of mishandling highlighted by Downie. He still had more to say about Tippet:

Who knows why the Arizona Coyotes haven’t been making much happen since they entered the league when the Winnipeg Jets moved to the desert in 1996, but Downie does have a point. They do finish close to last almost every single year.

It’s hard not to feel for Downie in a situation like this. It would appear he did what he was told and now everyone hates him for it.

It’s even harder to see an NHLer express remorse over such a dream as a career in the NHL.

In 434 career NHL games, Steve Downie scored 76 goals and 120 assists while racking up 1057 penalty minutes during stints with the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Arizona Coyotes.

 

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NHL Playoffs: 1st Round wrap up

As the first round nears its end, the playoffs have really heated up. With only one series over the others are coming down to the wire. The Red Wings came up short again against the Lightning, and the Ducks are right back in it.

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3-1)

Washington failed to end the series in just four games but, is in a good position to finish off the series at home in game 5. Braden Holtby is only averaging one goal allowed per game, with the power play working so well for the Capitals I think the series ends tonight.

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders (2-2)

Each teams with one win at home and one away a tight series goes back to Florida for game 5. At this point leader for the Panthers Jaromir Jagr has started out slow only has one assists in the first four games. Jonathon Tavares for the Islanders is back to his great offensive plays with seven points in the series.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers (3-1)

Evgeni Malkin (zimbio.com)

The Penguins look to end the series on Saturday at home. With a commanding 5-0 win in New York the Rangers find themselves in a tough spot. Henrik Lundqvist was pulled from the net for the Rangers, will he be ready to go on Saturday? Center, Evgeni Malkin, scored two goals and two assists for the Penguins who just recently came back from an injury. I initially had the Penguins winning in 6 games but I think it will end a game short of that mark.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings (4-1)

This is the only series that is finished with Tampa Bay Lightning winning in five games. When back up goaltender Petr Mrazek came in and won the third game of the series taking Jimmy Howard’s spot. Mrazek was not enough to control this Lightning offense though. Tampa Bay’s right winger Nikita Kucherov  has five goals in as many games and has really found his playoff groove.

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild (3-1)

A series that I predicted to end in four games has extended to at least five games. On Wednesday the Stars got back to their winning ways. The Wild are in a do or die situation going back to Dallas for game 5. I’m trying to not count the Wild out but they’re just not up to the Stars level of play.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3-2)

Patrick Kane (windycitizensports)

One of the most intense sporting event scenarios is 5 on 5 overtime playoff  hockey. We have already seen two overtime games in this series and I feel another one coming. The Hawks star Patrick Kane, won the game in double OT last night after the Blackhawks blew a 3-1 3rd period lead. The next game is back in Chicago, one can only hope to see the Blackhawks force a game 7.

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks (1-3)

The Kings are coming back home for game 5 looking to bring this series a little closer in reach. The Sharks have looked great, forcing the L.A. defense into turnovers and taking plenty of shots. Every game has been decided by one goal so these games can really go either way. Keep in the back of your mind the 13-14 playoffs when the Kings came back down (3-0) to the Sharks, anything can happen in the playoffs.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (2-2)

Heading into Nashville the Anaheim Ducks had lost the opening two home games and were entering an almost most win. Now the Ducks have tied the series and have outscored the Predators 7-1 in the past two games. In the first two games, Nashville looked like a true contender winning on the road. I can not wait to see how this series turns out.

 

 

 

NHL Review After Two Days

After two days of action away teams started out the playoffs 2-5, about what we’d expect from the first round. Ducks and Predators yet to play first game.

Red Wings vs. Lightning (2-3)

Justin Abdelkader (8) and Nikita Kucherov (86) (octupusthrower.com)

Ben Bishop was sharp in net for Tampa Bay. The Wings looked great in the beginning winning the races to the puck but once Tampa got on the board they started to heat up. The Lightning were like a well oiled machine towards the end of the game.

Blackhawks vs. Blues (0-1)

Through three periods both teams found themselves still scoreless. Like usual the Chicago Blackhawks are playing overtime hockey in the playoffs but to some surprise they do not come out on top. Yet, no one is surprised that the loan goal scorer in the game was Blues center David Backes. Backes always finds a way to hurt the Hawks and finds ways to win games. More close games to come.

Rangers vs. Penguins (2-5)

One of the big story lines of the playoffs at this point is the injury to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Henrik was accidentally poked in the eye by a stick and was taking out of the game. The Penguins were just to much to handle for the Rangers. Patric Hornqvist finished with a hat trick and an assist, alongside Sidney Crosby who scored a goal with two assists. Third string goalie Jeff Zatkoff  played great for the Penguins as well only allowing 2 goals on 37 shots.

Flyers vs. Capitals (0-2)

The Capitals, a heavy favorite took care of business in the first game. Braden Holtby only had to make 19 saves in this shutout win. The Capitals never let the Flyers offense get going, even after an abundance bad penalties, the Flyers still could not capitalize. The Flyers goaltender Steve Mason held up his end of the bargain only allowing two goals to a great offensive team like the Capitals. Flyers are going to need to score at least three goals if they want to win against the Caps.

Islanders vs. Panthers (5-4)

The biggest winners of the first two days are the New York Islanders who went down to Florida and took a game from the Panthers. In a back in forth game with numerous lead changes the Islanders outlasted the Panthers. All of the Islanders five goals were scored by different players. If the Panthers want to take command of the series goalie Roberto Luongo needs to play much better.

Wild vs. Stars (0-4)

In a commanding win the Stars took a 1-0 series lead with ease. Radek Faska scored the first goal in his first career playoff game. I predicted this series ending in four games and after this game nothing leads me to believe anything else.

two goals for Joe Pavelski (new.rapgenius.com)

Sharks vs. Kings (4-3)

In what I believed to be the best game of the first two days the underdog sharks won a game on the road in L.A. U.S. born Joe Pavelski scored two goals in the win for the Sharks. Johnathan Quick, known for being an elite goaltender needs to have a good bounce back game to tie up the series 1-1.

2016 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan

(1) Washington Capitals (56-18-6-2, 120 pts) vs. (wild card) Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-6-8, 96 pts)

Pick: Washington Capitals in 5

Key Players: WSH- G Braden Holtby, LW Alexander Ovechkin; PHI- RW Wayne Simmonds, D Shayne Gostisbehere

The Flyers story is awesome. From looking like they were not going to make the playoffs, the Flyers have been hot and now find themselves up against the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals. The story is great but the road ends here. Look for this to be a bruising series with the Philadelphia Flyers being one of the teams that hits the most. Braden Holtby will shut down the Flyers forwards who lack multiple goal scorers. Alexander Ovechkin is known for being one of the best regular season scorers, but usually starts out slow in the playoffs. If the Ovechkin heats up, watch out, this game will be over in four if he is ripping one timers for the slot.

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins (48-26-4-4, 104 pts) vs. (3) New York Rangers (46-27-7-2, 101 pts)

Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins in 6

Key Players: PIT- D Kris Letang, C Sidney Crosby; NYR- G Henrik Lundqvist, LW Kris Kreider

Two similar teams facing off with plenty of veteran players on the ice. Kris Kreider shocked a lot of people last year in the playoffs showing off his speed blowing past defenders with ease. If you are going into a game with King Henrik in net you always know you have a chance to win so don’t be surprised if this game goes to game seven. Kris Letang is a great goal scoring defenseman that will come up big for the Penguins power play. Coming off an injury, Evgeni Malkin looks to get back to his usual ways with fresh legs he can be a big contributor for Pittsburgh.

Atlantic

(1) Florida Panthers (47-26-6-3, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) New York Islanders (45-27-5-5, 100 pts)

Pick: Florida Panthers in 7

Key Players: FLA- G Roberto Luongo, RW Jaromir Jagr; NYI- CnJohn Tavares, LW Brock Nelson

44 year-old Jaromir Jagr (miami.cbslocal.com)

One of the harder series to predict, the Islanders can surprise people with some really talented forwards. With probably the best fourth line in the league the Islanders are a serious threat. Roberto Luongo gets to face off against the team that drafted him and has the daunting task of stopping Jonathon Tavares. JT was near the top of the league in scoring last year and is heating up. What is there to say about Jaromir Jagr? At 44 years-old the Czechoslovakian is leading his team in points and is the leader they need to make a playoff run.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (46-31-2-3 97 pts) vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings (41-30-6-5 93 pts)

Pick: Detroit Red Wings in 7

Key Players: DET- C Pavel Datsyuk, C Dylan Larkin; TB- C Steven Stamkos, G Ben Bishop

It’s Pavel Datsyuk’s final call as he goes for his third Cup, he will return to his home country Russia after the playoffs. Most likely stepping into his 1st line center position next year is rookie Dylan Larkin, who looks to use his speed to launch a successful playoff series. 6′ 7” Ben Bishop is hoping to have another great playoff performance after last year making great saves look easy on a daily basis.

Western Conference

Central

(1) Dallas Stars (50-23-7-2, 109 pts) vs. (wild card) Minnesota Wild (38-33-9-2, 87 pts)

Pick: Dallas Stars in 4

Key Players: DAL- LW- Jaime Benn, D- John Klingberg MIN-LW- Zach Parise, LW- Thomas Vanek

The state of hockey won’t be happy about this one but they are just not quite there yet. The Dallas Stars are an all-around good team, I see the Stars taking care of the Wild quickly. Jaime Benn is an elite offensive player. When Zach Parise gets in the action the Wild can beat good teams and will catch some people’s attention. Thomas Vanek is not the most well-known players but he is a lethal sniper that can score goals with the best of them.

(2) St. Louis Blues (49-24-5-4, 107 pts) vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-7-2, 103 pts)

Pick: Chicago Blackhawks in 7

Key Players: CHI- RW- Patrick Kane, LW- Artemi Panarin, STL- C- David Backes, RW- Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin (zimbio.com)

Growing up in the Chicago area, it is hard for me to root against my Blackhawks. They are going up against a Blues team that was a win away from the lead in points in the Western Conference. The Blues though have struggled in the first round in the past two years. With the best one-two punch of Panarin and Kane the second line of the Blackhawks is deadly and will be the reason why the Hawks advance or lose. A long series is to come for these rivals only separated by 300 miles.

 

Pacific

(1) Anaheim Ducks (46-25-7-4, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) Nashville Predators (41-27-12-2, 96 pts)

Pick: Anaheim Ducks in 5

Key Players: ANA-RW Corey Perry, C  Ryan Getzlaf; NSH- G Pekka Rinne, D Roman Josi

The best power play, penalty kill, and goals against per game in the league resides in Anaheim. The team I have picked to win it all is the most all-around team. Grinder Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler will be spending most of their playoff time in front of the goalie always in the way making Pekka Rinne’s job as hard as possible. The Predators are lacking an edge, if they go down two goals in a game I would not have the confidence they could come back.

Offensive Defenseman Brent Burns (milehighsticking.com)

(2) Los Angeles Kings (48-28-3-3, 102 pts) vs. (3) San Jose Sharks (46-30-3-3, 98 pts)

Pick: Los Angeles Kings in 6

Key Players: LA- G Johnathon Quick, LW Milan Lucic; SJS- C Joe Pavelski, D Brent Burns

San Jose has some great players that turned it around this year from a disappointing year in 2014. The caveman look-a-like Brent Burns is a talented left winger turned defenseman. Quick is known for being one of the better goalies in the league and has proved it in prior playoffs. Milan Lucic was acquired by the Kings in the off-season and the locomotive is ready to be roll deep into the playoffs. The Kings have stars in their lineup up and down their roster, and have too much for talent for the Sharks in this California brawl.