When it comes to this year’s NHL rookie class, all the talk has been about Matthews, Laine, Marner and Nylander. There’s a good reason for that; Nylander, Laine and Matthews currently sit 1, 2 and 3 in rookie scoring and Mitch Marner isn’t far behind at number 5. There are, however, a couple of other first-time NHLers that are having impressive campaigns but no one is talking about them.
Jimmy Vesey is a name that Maple Leafs fans will be familiar with. He was originally a Nashville Predators draft pick back in 2012 but the American winger decided to attend Harvard University following the draft. He ended up staying at Harvard for 4 years and exercised his right to not sign an entry-level deal with Nashville. Many thought that Vesey, the 2016 Hobey Baker Award Winner, was destined to up in Toronto since his father, Jim Vesey, is a scout with the Leafs. The free agent forward, however, ended up signing with the New York Rangers, where he’s putting up some pretty impressive numbers. In 13 games this season, Vesey has 6G, 4A while averaging just over 14 minutes of ice-time.
The other rookie no one is talking about is Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman, Zach Werenski. In 10 games this season, the Grosse Pointe, Michigan native has 2G, 8A for a total of 10 points, 5 of which have come on the power play. Oh yeah, he’s also a defenseman, arguably one of the hardest position to acclimate to as a rookie. The 6’2 d-man is averaging over 21 minutes of ice-time per game; the third-highest TOI for a defenseman on the Blue Jackets. He was an 8th overall pick for the Jackets in 2015 and he’s already showing signs of being a dominate blueliner in the NHL.
With both Vesey and Werenski firmly entrenched in the top 5 in rookie scoring, why has there been such little fanfare over them thus far? Some say it’s because they don’t play in Canadian markets, where hockey and its players are followed with the same intensity of CNN’s election coverage. It also doesn’t help that 3 of the top 5 rookies all play for Toronto, a city that turns a casual Marner/Matthews sing-along into a week-long news story. Despite all of that, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that we’ll be hearing Vesey and Werenski in the Calder Trophy conversation as the season progresses.
NEW episode of The Sports Hipster is up now! I talk about Kadri's hit on Daniel Sedin, Lamar Jackson's record-setting weekend and Bill Murray's barbershop quartet debut with the Cubs. Listen below. You can also subscribe to The Sports Hipster on iTunes by clicking HERE: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-sports-hipster/id1170312871?mt=2. There'll be 3 NEW episodes, each week!
Hey folks, sorry for posting this so late but I was having some technical difficulties BUT here is episode #2. This week, I tackle the World Series, Jared Leto's Joker and I give you some unknown history behind hockey's origins.
I'm stoked to announce the launch of my podcast, The Sports Hipster. This is something I've been wanting to do for a while but was never able to find the time. The first episode is out and a new episode will be released every Tuesday. This podcast will be a progression and evolution in the early stages but I know it will grow into something amazing! Check it out and tell all your friends!
The 2016-17 NHL season is finally here, which means it’s time for predictions and looking at the biggest stories of the season. From Auston Matthews making his NHL debut to the Pittsburgh Penguins starting the season without their captain, there’s plenty of buzz this season. Here are some of the biggest stories heading into the 2016-17 NHL season.
GUY BOUCHER IS BACK
Guy Boucher may be best remembered for looking like a Bond super villain with a fiery temper. His last and only stint in the NHL was back in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, leading them to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final that year. After failing to make the playoffs in 2012, Boucher was inevitiblyput on a short leash. In March 2013, Boucher was fired after 31 games, while Tampa sat in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
Boucher did what every fired NHL head coach does; he hopped a plane to Europe and signed on to coach SC Bern of the Swiss League. He led SC Bern to a Swiss League Championship in 2014-15 then was subsequently fired the following season after finishing in last place. Anyone else sensing a pattern here?
This season, Boucher will step behind the bench for the Ottawa Senators. It will be interesting to see how a hard-nosed, no non-sense coach like Boucher will handle free-wheeling captain, Erik Karlsson. It will also be interesting to see how long Boucher will be in Ottawa, a team that has had 3 different coaches in the last 6 seasons. That’s an average of 2 seasons per coach, a number that Guy Boucher is very familiar with.
LUCIC TO BE SEMENKO TO MCDAVID’S GRETZKY?
After Steven Stamkos re-signed in Tampa and Subban switched his beret for a cowboy hat, Milan Lucic became the big story. The 6’4” Vancouver native spent the summer being wooed by several teams before signing with the Edmonton Oilers. While the move addresses the Oilers need for a proven power forward, it also adds a little protection for newly-minted captain, Connor McDavid. McDavid will undoubtedly have a large bullseye on his back all season long and Edmonton wanted to make sure that it had an imposing figure on its side to keep the opposition honest. The season could go two ways for Lucic; he could play a gritty, intimidating game while putting up his usual 50 points or spend too much time playing tough guy and racking up the PIM’s.
PK SUBBAN STARTS LIFE AS A PREDATOR
When P.K. Subban was traded straight up for Shea Weber, hockey fans everywhere exclaimed how Nashville fleeced Montreal in the deal. It’s hard to argue with what’s on paper; Subban is 27, a Norris Trophy winner and a media darling. Shea Weber is 31, has never scored more than 56 points in a season and is signed for another 10 years, carrying an AAV of $7.85 million. Subban will no doubt make an immediate impact on the Nashville Predators but he’ll also discover how tough it is to play in the Western Conference night after night. He also learn that the spin-o-rama dangles and high-risk plays won’t be as well-received outside of the East. If I hazard a guess, I’d say we’ll be seeing a more buttoned-down Subban midway through the season; on the ice at least.
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM FOR RADULOV
The Montreal Canadiens have a penchant for talented but enigmatic Russian wingers, specifically ones named Alex. In 2004, it was Kovalev. Last year, it was Semin. This year it’s Radulov. Alexander Radulov was a first round draft pick by the Nashville Predators back in 2004. After lighting up the QMJHL and having a solid rookie season with the Predators, Radulov informed Nashville that he wanted to play in Russia, stating that they offered him better conditions. Radulov was still under contract with the Predators when he signed a 3-year deal with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL. This did not go over well with the NHL or Nashville and Radulov was subsequently suspended by the Predators in 2008. After 4 successful years in the KHL, arrangements were made for Radulov to make his return to the Nashville. The reunion didn’t last long. Radulov was out partying until the wee hours of the morning during Nashville’s 2012 playoff run and was once again released by the Predators. He went back to the KHL for 4 seasons with CSKA Moscow and decided, again, that he wanted back in the NHL. Enter Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens, who signed Radulov to a one-year, $5.75 million contract this past summer. It’ll be interesting to see if Radulov can adapt to Michel Therrien’s defense-first style of play and if he can stay committed to his NHL return.
OTHER STORIES TO KEEP YOUR EYE ON
Randy Carlisle goes back behind the bench for the Ducks.
The drama surrounding Jacob Trouba and the Jets.
Will Nail Yakupov shine is St. Louis?
The youth movement in Arizona with Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Dylan Strome.
Will Mitch Marner stay with the Leafs all season?
With the start of the 2016-17 NHL season just over 3 weeks away, we've combed through the schedule and found the 11 games you can't miss this upcoming season.
First overall draft picks always come with plenty of fanfare for their NHL debut but that gets magnified when the team that drafted you is the so-called 'Centre of the Hockey Universe.' October 12th marks the NHL debut for Auston Matthews and it comes against a division rival; all eyes in Canada will no doubt be glued to televisions for this one
October 15th will be an unofficial holiday in the city of Toronto as Matthews makes his long-awaited home debut when the big but, not-so-bad-anymore Bruins, pay a visit to the ACC. An upper deck ticket will cost you a cool $200 US and that will probably come with an obstructed view.
I know, you're probably thinking this list is the 11 LEAFS games you should watch but, we assure you, these games are on here for a reason. A very laid back, Finnish fellow by the name of Patrik Laine was picked #2 behind Matthews and October 19th marks the first time the top 2 picks of the 2016 Entry Draft will face each other. With the season being only a week old at this point, it won't really determine too much but these 2 guys will dig deep for big performances.
A rematch of last season's Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks pay a visit to the Pens October 20th and will no doubt be looking for a pound of flesh. The Sharks were ousted in 6 games thanks in large part to the play of Sidney Crosby and the stellar goaltending of unknown rookie, Matt Murray.
Yes, the Maple Leafs...again! We can't help it; they have the first overall pick who will probably be a stud NHLer, so they're going to be talked about ALOT in the coming weeks/months. November 1st, McDavid and company visit Toronto and we get to see the two most talked about first overall picks since Crosby and Ovechkin, go head-to-head. If the World Cup has been any indication so far, it'll be a treat to watch McDavid and Matthews battle on the ice. It will also be fun to see who's better at protecting a superstar, Matt Martin or Milan Lucic.
At first glance, this might look like just another game on a Friday night but when you look a little closer, you'll see it's a lot more than that. Both these teams are loaded with young, dynamic talent that are ready to break out and no longer be seen as the NHL's bottom feeders. Both these teams have superstar forwards (Max Domi/Connor McDavid), defensive stalwarts (Oliver Ekman-Larsson/Darnell Nurse) and grizzled veteran leadership (Shane Doan/Matt Hendricks). Oh, let's not forget Anthony Duclair and Jesse Puljujärvi. Both these teams also share the same weakness; unsettled goaltending, so the goals will come fast and furious.
Toronto's goaltending situation last year was tenuous, to say the least, and no one took the brunt of the fanbase's wrath more than Jonathan Bernier. Once seen as Toronto's answer to their goaltending woes, quickly became the team whipping boy. Bernier was traded to the Anaheim Ducks on July 8th, a move that came after the Leafs had acquired the Ducks much-maligned goaltender, Frederik Andersen. December 19th marks the first time the 2 teams square off against one another and the first opportunity for both netminders to stick it to their former teams.
The city of Montreal nearly burned to the ground on June 29th, 2016. This was the day that Marc Bergevin traded P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for perennial Norris Trophy contender, Shea Weber. This was by far the most divisive trade for the club since Patrick Roy was given away for a bag of pucks in 1995. January 3rd will be the first opportunity Subban has to light up his former team and the first time Shea Weber will be able to remind Predators fans what a defensively-responsible d-man looks like.
It's been a while since a New Jersey Devils game was must-see TV but when you make a trade for a team's hometown son, people are going to take notice. With a glut of young, talented wingers, Taylor Hall was deemed expendable by Oiler brass and traded to the Devils on June 29th in exchange for defenceman, Adam Larsson. No one was more shocked by the trade than Hall himself and he made it known that he felt wronged by the Oilers. It was a messy split with rumours of Hall having too big a personality in the dressing room and Oscar Klefbom doing his 'my-comments-were-misinterpreted' routine stating that Hall 'didn't play well against tough teams.' January 7th is the first meeting between the 2 teams and it's a safe bet that Taylor Hall will be amped up.
Everything that was stated above, plus this: January 12th will be the first and only time Taylor Hall will visit Rogers Place in the regular season. He'll no doubt get a warm welcome from fans and just might throw a few expletives in the direction of Oilers management.
Take Auston Matthews' ACC debut plus Taylor Hall's return to Alberta, multiply it by 750 and you'll have the return of P.K. Subban to the Bell Centre. Fans will have to wait for almost the entire NHL regular season but on March 2nd, the Prodigal Son returns to the place that made him (in)famous. Subban was and still is a beloved figure in Montreal and fans will still, without a doubt, be seething about Subban's departure; even more so if the Habs aren't in playoff contention come March. Look for Subban to put on a show and stick it to Bergevin and Co.
I'm excited to announce that the re-designed and re-branded versions of BHi's Websites have launched! I designed and populated these sites with Web Developer, Duane Hass for 5 months and to see them going LIVE is awesome! Below is a still from one of the sites and if you click on it, it will take you to the sites.
Around this time every year, NHL teams begin signing free agents to Professional Tryout Contracts (PTO) for the preseason. These players will report to training camp in the hopes of landing an NHL contract. Here's a little infographic I did showing the 15 free agents who are currently on PTO's with NHL teams.
It’s August 29th, which means hockey players are beginning to pack up their gear and head to NHL training camps. Summer is over, at least for these athletes, and that means it’s time to put all that off-season training on display. Included in the mix are plenty of NHL draft prospects who will have to compete against grizzled vets and young guns to prove they belong. Edmonton will have Jesse Puljujärvi, Winnipeg will have Patrik Laine, Montreal will have Mikhail Sergachev and the Toronto Maple Leafs will have Auston Matthews. The 4 names I just mentioned are highly-touted and highly-skilled but they’re still kids, unproven and untested at the NHL level. They’ll no doubt show flashes of brilliance but they’ll also experience their share of adversity and their teams and fanbases will cut them a break; well, all of them except Auston Matthews.
If it were any other team in any other market, the pressure on Matthews to not only be good but great, would be less. You might be thinking, “what about the Oilers and McDavid?” Well, the Oilers have had a succession of first overall picks in the last decade so really the only expectations Connor McDavid had to live up to were the ones he set for himself. In Toronto, it’s an entirely different beast. You have arguably one of the most arrogant franchises in hockey, who have been mired in mediocrity and mismanaged for the last 50 years, winning the first overall pick in the draft. When they selected Auston Matthews, they weren’t just selecting the top pick overall, they were selecting their entire future. Every move the Leafs have made over the past 2 years has been centred around Auston Matthews. Whether it was hiring Lou Lamoreillo and Mike Babcock to oversee hockey operations or running the tandem of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer out onto the ice last season, all of it was done with Auston Matthews in mind.
Matthews was a 57th overall pick by the Everett Silvertips of the WHL but opted to play with US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) where he broke Patrick Kane’s scoring record by 14 points. Rather than continue in US amateur hockey or play in the CHL, Matthews bucked the trend and chose to play professional hockey in the Swiss NLA in the year leading up to the draft. There were varying opinions about his choice to turn pro a year before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft; some thought he was merely chasing a paycheque while others thought he was seeking out tougher competition to play against. Either way, Matthews had a successful Swiss League campaign and that further wetted the appetites of Leafs’ brass. All of this leads me to the conclusion that Auston Matthews can’t fail, not in Toronto; a hockey city notorious for eating its own (i.e. Nazem Kadri, Dion Phaneuf). Whether the fans, the media or Leafs management admit it or not, anything short of a 2016 Calder Trophy winning season from Matthews will be looked at as a failure.
Now that the ban on street hockey has been lifted by Toronto city council, permanent rinks, like this one located in Hamilton's East End, will be popping up all over the place. The City of Hamilton decided to build this permanent rink in an unoccupied stretch of Roxoborough Avenue in an effort to enourage a more active lifestyle for the community's residents. It's expected to have the ability to convert from a ball hockey zone in the summer and an ice hockey pad in the winter.
5 FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS THAT HAVEN'T PANNED OUT: PART 2
In last week’s Part 1 of my draft picks story, we took a look at a couple of Vancouver Canucks first round draft picks that didn’t exactly set the hockey world on fire, as initially expected. This week, we’ll take a look at the rest of the 5 first round draft pick busts.
Brett Connolly—Drafted 6th Overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010
The product of Campbell River, BC, Connolly was a WHL star with the Prince George Cougars where he won the WHL and CHL Rookie of the Year in 2008-09. A highly regarded winger with power-forward potential, Connolly was taken 6th overall by the Lightning in 2010 and was looked at the be a potential line mate for Steven Stamkos. After his first NHL training camp, the Lightning sent Connolly back to junior with the intention of letting their young prospect continue to develop. He ended up being named captain of the Cougars and finished the season with 73 points in 59 games. Tampa was encouraged by Connolly’s results and the right winger made the Lightning roster out of training camp in 2011. His first pro season, however, didn’t yield the results the Lightning were hoping for as Connolly finished with 15 points in 68 games. The following season, Connolly was sent down the AHL Syracuse Crunch due to the 2012-2013 NHL Lockout that resulted in the first half of the season being lost. He fared well with Syracuse, scoring 57 points in 67 games on route to a Calder Cup Final appearance. Despite a strong 2013-2014 training camp, Connolly was once again assigned to the AHL, due in large part to the phenomenal play of then-rookies, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik.
After bouncing between the NHL and AHL, Tampa re-signed Connolly to a one-year, two-way contract at the start of the 2014 season, but injuries and inconsistent play led to him being traded to the Boston Bruins for 2 second round draft picks at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. His time with Boston was forgettable and the Bruins subsequently non-tendered the RFA, making him a free agent. Connolly signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals on July 1st, 2016 but with established right wingers such as T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Jay Beagle ahead of Connolly on the depth chart, he’ll be hard-pressed to crack the opening day roster.
Brian Lee—Drafted 9th Overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2005
Brian Lee’s name won’t register with most people but I added him to this list because I remember watching him at the 2006 World Juniors (one of only a few high school players to play for Team USA at the WJC). He was a solid, stay-at-home type of defenseman who was a bear to play against. Lee’s pedigree began to build while playing in the USHL where he was chosen as Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey as the number one player in Minnesota’s high school boys hockey in 2005. He was also named the Associated Press' Player of the Year for Minnesota prep boys hockey that year. This led to the Ottawa Senators selected Lee 9th overall at the 2005 Draft. Lee opted to attend the University of North Dakota after being drafted and spent two seasons playing for the college team where he amassed 51 points in 81 games. Lee made his professional hockey debut in the 2007-2008 NHL season and was subsequently assigned to the Binghampton Senators for further development, scoring 25 points in 55 games and was named to the AHL All-Star game that year. Lee continued to bounce between the NHL and AHL and when he once again failed to make the team out of training camp in the 2009-2010 NHL season, Lee’s agent expressed how his client was “shocked and surprised he wasn’t part of Ottawa’s top-six defensemen.”
With the relationship continuing to sour, the Senators traded Lee to the Tamp Bay Lightning at the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for Matt Gilroy. The following season, while playing for Tampa’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, Lee tore his ACL and was placed on Tampa’s long term injury reserve list. That all but spelled the end of Lee’s NHL career as the Lightning did not re-sign him at the end of his contract, prompting the then-27 year-old to announce his retirementfrom professional hockey. In 209 NHL games with Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, Lee scored 5 goals and 31 assists for a total of 36 points.
David Fischer—Drafted 20th Overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2006
It’s not uncommon for defensmen to take longer to become NHL ready but when you’re drafted 20th overall by an organization like the Montreal Canadiens, it’s expected that you’ll at least catch a sniff of NHL action. That’s not the case with Minneapolis native, David Fischer. This pick was a head-scratcher from the start considering in his draft year, Fischer put up a mere 5 points in 42 games with the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind, he was taken two spots ahead of Claude Giroux. Unlike the two previous picks mentioned in this article, Fischer didn’t have any injury issues that contributed to his lack of success at the pro level; for one reason or another, he just didn’t have the cliched ‘it’ factor necessary to make in impact in the NHL. Fischer stayed at the University of Minnesota until 2010 and never signed an entry-level deal with the Canadiens. This wasn’t a case of a college draft pick exercising his right to free agency a la Jimmy Vesey, rather the Canadiens acknowledging their swing-and-a-miss pick thus letting him walk away.
Fischer attended Canucks training camp at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season but was subsequently released. He signed with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL for a couple of seasons before going to Europe to play in the 2nd Bundesliga in Germany. This past April, Fischer signed a deal with EC KAC of the Austrian Hockey League (EBEL). Just think, Habs fans, you could have had Claude Giroux setting up Max Pacioretty instead of Phillip Danault.
5 FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS THAT HAVEN’T PANNED OUT, PART 1
With the 2016-2017 NHL season just around the corner, talk of this year’s first round draft picks is heating up. Most pundits are predicting big things for Matthews, Laine and Puljujärvi, 3 players taken in the top 10. High expectations for highly-touted draft picks isn’t uncommon; after all, there’s a reason these players were selected in the first round. They’ve had stellar junior or college careers and set themselves up for successful NHL careers. In nearly every draft, however, there are usually players who surprise and disappoint. Let’s take a look at 5 former first round draft picks that haven’t panned out.
Jordan Schroeder—Drafted 22nd Overall by Vancouver in 2013
Burnsville, MN native, Jordan Schroeder was a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) standout with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He spent two seasons with the Gophers and in 2009 he won the WCHA Rookie of the Year. The 25 year-old also suited up for the US in 3 World Junior Championships where he set records for most assists and points ever by an American. This pedigree followed him to the 2013 NHL Entry Draft where the Vancouver Canucks selected him 22nd overall and believed they were getting the big, scoring centre they needed to replace an aging Ryan Kesler. Schroeder’s tenure with the Canucks started off badly as he had shoulder surgery in the offseason then fractured his ankle in the first preseason game of the 2013-2014 campaign. He returned to the line-up in mid-October before fracturing the same ankle. At the time of the injury, he only managed to score 6 points in 25 games and after playing parts of two seasons with Vancouver, the team opted not to re-sign him, thus making him a free agent.
Prior to the 2014-2015 season, Schroeder signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Minnesota Wild. With Schroeder playing for his hometown team and no longer behind Kesler and Sedin on the depth chart, it was expected that he would flourish and find his scoring touch. However, he bounced between the AHL and NHL and didn’t play more than 26 games in a season with the Wild. On July 19th, 2016, the Wild placed Schroeder on waivers prior to his salary arbitration hearing, a common strategy by teams. When he passed through the waiver wire unclaimed, he signed a one-year, two-way contract with Minnesota worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
Cody Hodgson—Drafted 10th Overall by Vancouver in 2008
Another Canucks first round draft pick, Hodgson garnered praise for his play with the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. In 2009, he won the William Hanley Trophy (Most Sportsmanlike Player), the Red Tilson Trophy (OHL Player of the Year) and the CHL Player of the Year. He also won a gold meal with Canada at the World Junior Championships that year while leading the team in scoring. Hodgson appeared to have outgrown junior hockey and looked poised to excel at the NHL level. While training for the 2009-2010 season, he injured his back and a series of misdiagnosis and tension with then-head coach Alain Vigneault contributed to Hodgson being sent back to his junior team. Another injury soon followed, a broken toe, and the Toronto native’s budding career kept stalling. Finally, fully healthy in 2010, he challenged for a spot on the Canucks roster but was ultimately sent down to the AHL Manitoba Moose. It wasn’t until Ryan Kesler injured himself in the 2011-2012 season that Hodgson got a shot to play top 6 minutes in the NHL and he flourished, ranking 5th among rookie scoring by January 2012. When Kesler returned from injury, Hodgson was once again buried on the depth chart and Vigneault only played him 10-12 minutes on average per game.
At the deadline that season, then-GM Mike Gillis traded Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres, along with Alexander Sulzer in exchange for bruising forward Zack Kassian and defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani. The move was a considered a head-scratcher by most as Hodgson had shown signs of offensive prowess and it was speculated that Hodgson’s rocky relationship with Canucks brass led to his asking for a trade. Hodgson finished his first full NHL season with Sabres, registering 41 points in 83 games. Leaving Vancouver gave Hodgson a larger on-ice role, earning nearly five minutes more ice time per game and resulted in him signing a six-year, $25.5 million extension with the Sabres on September 11, 2013. The 2013-2014 season saw Hodgson put up a respectable 44 points in 72 games but the following season, Hodgson had the worst outing of his professional career, registering a mere 6 goals and 13 points in 78 games. On June 29, 2015, the Sabres, in the midst of a rebuild, placed Hodgson on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout. The following season, Hodgson signed a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators and made the opening day roster, being used mainly as a depth-centre. After posting 8 points in 39 games, Hodgson was placed on waivers by the Predators on January 13, 2016. Hodgson passed through waivers unclaimed and was subsequently assigned to AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. The 26 year-old Hodgson was not offered a new contract and is currently an unrestricted free agent.
We’ve all seen the footage of the 2014 Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team playing a little ball hockey as part of their summer orientation camp. The reason the boys were in sneakers instead of skates was because Hockey Canada, and several NHL team owners, deemed it too risky to have the eventual gold medal winners skating around so far in advance of the Olympics. It was mainly a playful event aimed more so to get the group together and to go over some preliminary evaluations; not really to be taken seriously. What some people may not realize is just how seriously the sport of ball hockey is taken throughout the world and how it’s helped shape the careers of a lot of big name NHL players.
You don’t have to dig too far to find a link between ball hockey and the NHL, especially if you look up Alexandre Burrows. The Vancouver Canucks super-pest was an undrafted QMJHL player that toiled around in the ECHL before signing with Vancouver in 2005. Burrows has managed to carve out a pretty decent NHL career, putting up 264 points in 640 games while getting under the skin of his opponents. While most people associate Alexandre Burrows with biting other players’ fingers and stirring controversy with NHL officials, people in ball hockey circles see him a bit differently. Burrows had a prolific ball hockey career, one that saw him win two World Championships, be named the 2005 International Player of the Year by the International Street and Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF) as well as inductions in to the CBHA and ISBHF Halls of Fame. Ball hockey played such a huge role in Burrows’ life that he’s credited it as the reason he was so fit and disciplined when he entered the NHL. Here’s an excerpt from a November 2010 interview Burrows did for canucks.nhl.com: “It’s pretty similar to hockey and it helped me on the ice, that’s for sure. Not only with the skills, but cardio-wise, you can’t glide out there so you have to make sure you run and you can’t really cheat or otherwise you really get beat.”
It’s not just 3rd line agitators that have had ball hockey play a part in shaping their NHL careers. Joe Thornton, pre epic playoff beard, honed his skills in the London Ball Hockey Association prior to being selected 1st overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997. It’s safe to say Jumbo Joe has had a pretty stellar career thus far. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Braden Holtby cut his teeth in the Saskatchewan Ball Hockey League (SBHL) during the summers and a couple of Stanley Cup Winners named Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman also turned to ball hockey while preparing for their pro careers.
There are countless other professional hockey players that have played elite level ball hockey and there’s a new wave of talent in the pipeline. If players like Burrows, Thornton and Yzerman have taught us anything with respect to ball hockey, it’s that the sport deserves legitimacy and recognition for being a valuable tool in the development of high-calibre athletes.
Every NHL season, there seems to be some sort of gripe that pundits and fans have with the game. Not enough parity in the league, so let’s introduce the shootout and award a loser point. The star players aren’t getting enough room out there, so let’s crack down on hooking, holding and obstruction in general. There’s always something and this season is no different. We’re entering another dreaded ‘dead puck’ era, or at least that’s what the media wants you to believe. They lament that since the 2012-2013 lockout, the amount of goals scored per game has gone from 2.72 GPG to 2.66 GPG; that’s far too egregious. Something needs to be done to remedy this and the solution? Increase the size of nets and shrink goalie equipment; do something to save the game!
The truth is, scoring or the perceived lack there of, is not really that big of a problem in the NHL. The most popular game on the planet, football, (or soccer for us North Americans) averages 2.66 goals per game and yet fans can’t get enough of it. Soccer is a finesse game, a chess match, much like hockey, and fans appreciate the artistry of the beautiful game. Just like hockey, goals per game in soccer have decreased over the decades because of one thing: Evolution. Players are faster, stronger and think the game on an entirely different level than players before them. In addition to that, the way every position in the NHL is played has changed. A 5’11” Patrick Kane is currently leading the League in points with 76, the top defenceman, Erik Karlsson, isn’t the top d-man because he throws crushing hits and goalies are standup/butterfly hybrids and athletic specimens. Gone are the days where guys would smoke half a pack of cigarettes between periods, a la Guy LaFleur. Today’s NHL players aren’t only students of the game but students of the gym.
Those reasons may not wash with a vast majority of lamenters but I’m confused as to what the media and ‘fans’ want from the game. Granted, the coach’s challenge for offsides on a goal is asinine; an attacking player being half an inch ahead of the puck has zero impact on whether or not a goal is scored. That rule has no doubt hurt the amount of goals that have been scored per game so far this season. Having said that, I would much rather watch a well-played, three-goal game than a 10-goal barn burner that resembles more of a beer league game. This isn’t the WWE, the main focus of the NHL is not to entertain; entertaining is one small part of the equation. These teams are in the business of winning, because winning puts people in seats and cable networks wanting to broadcast games. Do you really think that fans in Florida will come out in droves to Panthers’ games if they scored five goals a game but lose? Any reasonably informed fan will tell you no.
The complaints regarding lack of scoring is also a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Look no further than the championing of John Scott in the NHL All-Star game. His story was compelling and fun and there’s no doubt that he’s a solid human being but is John Scott playing 13 minutes a night going to increase the amount of goals scored in an NHL game? All signs point to no. A referee recently told me that in any sport, two things win championships—defence and turnovers; something that was clearly evident in last night’s Bronco’s Super Bowl win. If you want to see hundreds of points scored in a game and 57 lead changes, tune into an NBA game but please, leave hockey be because when it comes to the game itself, it’s trending in the right direction.
If you thought the falling Canadian dollar, the threat of another lockout or the lack of Canadian teams in playoff contention were the most pressing matters currently plaguing NHL fans, think again. John Scott and the upcoming All-Star game in Nashville are dominating headlines and the Twitter-verse.
To refresh your memory (not that you need a refresher), a couple of months ago, a few popular members of hockey media launched a campaign for fans to vote John Scott into this year’s NHL All-Star game. Their claim was that this campaign was meant to show what a farce this meaningless exhibition game is and to inject a little fun into the event. Later, when John Scott was traded to Montreal, making him ineligible to captain the Pacific Division team, those same media members cried conspiracy and accused the League of “bullying” Scott. Pardon my French, but all of that is BS.
For starters, the campaign had nothing to do with trying to make the All-Star game interesting or throwing a bone to ‘good guy’ John Scott. It was just a couple of popular (and well-respected) media personalities trying to be s*** disturbers and rile up the reviled head-honchos of the NHL. Yes, the All-Star game is meaningless and often times uneventful but it’s still a chance for the League to market their star players and sell the game to more finicky markets in North America. John Scott does not sell the game of hockey. John Scott barely qualifies as an NHL calibre player and he knows it. That’s why he made a t-shirt commemorating, in jest, one of his five career goals. Which brings me to my next point of contention: John Scott is not a victim of bullying and doesn’t need your sympathy. When asked to graciously bow out of the All-Star event and give up his spot to more deserving teammates such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Max Domi, he declined. Not because he felt he owed it to his thousands of fans who voted him in or because he felt he genuinely belongs there. He did it because of money.
Scott is making $700,000 this season and will likely not get another NHL contract. Participating in the NHL All-Star game nets you almost $10,000, just for showing up. The winning team gets $1 million, divided among each player on said team. That equals around $60,000 which would come in handy for a guy who’s expecting twins, not to mention an all expenses paid trip for him and his family. Also, this whole fiasco puts Scott at the forefront of hockey news which I’m sure he appreciates considering most people had no idea who John Scott was before the hashtag campaign.
I’m sure Scott is a very nice, well-intentioned guy but that doesn’t change that fact that he’s a lousy hockey player who doesn’t deserve to have 2016 All-Star added to his wikipedia page. As for those crusaders who brought on this circus, I’m sure next month there’ll be another pseudo-cause they’ll take up just to ruffle some feathers.
Much like preseason, the first week of NHL games usually isn't indicative of how the rest of the season will play out. Traditionally, American Thanksgiving has been the benchmark of which teams will make it and which won't. Still, that doesn't stop pundits and armchair experts from over-analyzing the first week of October hockey.
After 49 games, six teams are without a point and eight teams are without win. While that in itself isn't all that unusual, a few of those pointless, winless teams are. Sitting atop the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions are the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers respectively; sitting atop the Central Division are the Nashville Predators; from there things get a little strange. The Vancouver Canucks are leading the Pacific Division with seven points in four games and behind them tied for second place, the 3-0 Arizona Coyotes. Languishing at the bottom without a win so far, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. In the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the apparently resurgent Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to get a win in a weak Conference. It's not only that Pittsburgh, Anaheim and LA have yet to win a game that's unusual, it's the fact that they haven't scored much in the games they've played. Kessel was supposed to be the answer to Sidney Crosby's winger prayers but so far has only scored one goal in three games and Crosby has put up goose eggs.
Before we proclaim that the Penguins are cooked and the Coyotes will go 82-0 this season, let's examine a couple of things first. Two of Arizona's top scorers are Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, both of whom have never spent an entire season in the NHL and will most likely not be able to keep up their current pace. Also, have you glanced at the rest of the Arizona roster? Half of them are rookies and the other half are aging veterans. The other Western Conference surprise, the Vancouver Canucks, aren't the Canucks from the Stanley Cup run of 2011. Their defense core isn't exactly a murderer's row of talent and Ryan Miller has had a hard time staying healthy these days.
Over the next couple of weeks, I suspect we'll see a lot of movement in the standings once teams settle in and tinker with their rosters. Do you really think the Anaheim Ducks will stay mired in the Western Conference basement or that Sidney Crosby will score less than Jack Eichel? How about the Montreal Canadiens staying atop the East when their power play is an abysmal 12.5%? The media and fans are always quick to react when certain teams get off to hot/cold starts and before you know it, the sky is falling and coaches need to be fired. We're four games into an 82-game season, let's just sit back and relax and see what the standings look like at Christmas time.
Puck drop is tomorrow and it's always a slugfest in the powerhouse Western Conference. Here's who I think will make the postseason (in no particular order).
PROS: Who could argue that a team with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler at centre and Corey Perry on the wing wouldn't be a playoff threat? The Ducks finished with the best record in the West last season and were favourites to go to the Cup Final. They added speedster Carl Hagelin and dependable centre Mike Santorelli. Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Simon Depres and Sami Vatanen are burgeoning studs on the blue line and they have a veteran presence in the locker room now with Kevin Bieksa. Frederik Andersen looks to improve on a fairly solid 2014-2015 campaign and the team also has John Gibson waiting in the wings.
CONS: Despite regular season success, Bruce Boudreau-coached teams never seem to be able to win the big one. Anaheim had two chances to close out the Western Conference Final last season and failed. The health and effectiveness of Ryan Kesler will be important to the Ducks this year as it will help ease the load off Getzlaf.
PROS: On paper, the St. Louis Blues are a team built for the playoffs. They have the grit and leadership with David Backes and Tory Brouwer and some serious offensive skill with Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz. If Paul Stastny can regain his 2013-2014 form and Robby Fabbri grows into the next T.J. Oshie, the Blues offense will be a scary one. Their backend is solidified with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk and the steady, veteran presence of Jay Bouwmeester further bolsters the blue line.
CONS: Much like Bruce Boudreau, Ken Hitchcock's teams have a reputation for choking when it comes to winning in the postseason. It also doesn't help that the Blues aren't exactly solid in net with a platoon of Brian Elliot and Jake Allen.
PROS: They're the Chicago Blackhawks and despite having to constantly navigate around the cap, they're the closest thing to a modern day dynasty the NHL has. They have the quintessential captain in Jonathan Toews and workhorse Duncan Keith patrolling the blue line. The supporting cast isn't bad either with the likes of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw. The most important thing is that the core of the team is made up of guys who know how to flat out win and that includes Corey Crawford.
CONS: The constant cap juggling means that Chicago often has to sacrifice key parts of their organization (Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, etc.) and filling those holes is a difficult task. The off-ice antics of Patrick Kane work against the Hawks as the distraction no doubt permeates the dressing room.
PROS: The Dallas Stars narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year but it wasn't for lack of talent, at least not from a defense and forwards perspective. Tyler Seguin has become a bonafide NHL superstar and you couldn't ask for a better captain than Jamie Benn. Jason Spezza may be on the downside of his career but he can still put up fairly decent numbers (62 pts in 82 games last season). The Stars were also the beneficiaries of Chicago's cap crisis when they landed Patrick Sharp, who is also on the downside of his career but is a three-time Stanley Cup Winner and a good leader. Dallas may have lost stalwart Trevor Daley but they got Johnny Oduya, Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg to lean on on defense.
CONS: Goaltending. It's a common theme for many teams but goaltending was by far Dallas' biggest issue last season. Kari Lehtonen shows flashes of brilliance but is far too inconsistent to rely on for a full season. Hopefully the acquisition of Anttii Niemi will solve some of the Stars' recent net woes.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
PROS: Despite the Kings missing the playoffs last season, their core remains largely intact. That core is one that has won two Cups in three years. Many suggested the Kings ran out of gas due to how much hockey they've played the last four years but make no mistake, all of the off-ice fiascos that plagued the team had an affect on their performance. The 70's line of Toffoli, Pearson and Lewis has another year of experience under their belt and you can bet they'll be even better this season. The Kings also got a bit tougher by adding LW Milan Lucic this summer; he'd look pretty good flanking Kopitar.
CONS: LA plays a run-and-gun style of game which can be dangerous in a stingy Western Conference. Winning one-goal games will be this team's bread and butter this season.
PROS: Dougie Hamilton. The Flames got an early Christmas present when Boston graciously traded the young defenseman for three drafts picks. With a healthy Mark Giordano, that's a formidable combination on the backend. For the first time in a long time, Flames fans can forget about Jerome Iginla with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett. Reliable veterans Matt Stajan and Jiri Hudler are still in the mix and the addition of Michael Frolik should add to the Flames offensive arsenal.
CONS: Goaltending. Jonas Hiller was supposed to be the successor to Miikka Kiprusoff but was supplanted at times last season by Karri Ramo, who's been named Calgary's opening day starting goaltender. The Flames currently have a cluster of goalies in the mix as Joni Ortio is still on the roster.
PROS: Pekka Rinne, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Shea Weber; as long as those four guys are playing, Nashville will do just fine keeping goals out of their net. Super-Swede Filip Forsberg will only get better and Craig Smith quietly put together a decent 2014-2015 season.
CONS: Offense. Outside of Forsberg, Smith and Wilson, the Preds are loaded with middle of the road players. Mike Ribeiro and a healthy Mike Fisher should help a bit but goals may be hard to come by this year for Nashville.
PROS: Like the Predators, the Wild are flush with talent on the backend, which is lead by Ryan Suter. Look for Matt Dumba to make a leap this year and be a staple on the Wild blue line. Zach Parise had a tough year, personally, but still managed to put up 62 points in 74 games. Captain Mikko Koivu may be getting a little long in the tooth but he still puts up 40+ points a season.
CONS: It's clear that Niklas Backstrom's best days are behind him and though he put up Vezina-worthy numbers after the deadline, Devan Dubnyk has yet to prove he's a bonafide number one goalie. Darcy Kuemper is a decent back-up option but if Dubnyk gets injured or has an off-season, it's unclear whether or not Kuemper could carry the weight of a season.
It's no secret that when it comes to Conferences in the NHL, West is best. Nonetheless, we're two days from puck drop so it's prognostication time. Here's who I think will occupy the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference (in no particular order):
NEW YORK RANGERS
PROS: For starters, the Rangers are stacked on defense with captain Ryan McDonagh and shot-blocking master, Dan Girardi. Let's not forget stalwart Marc Staal and offensive d-man Keith Yandle. Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes and Derrick Brassard are a formidable top six and Dominic Moore is a very serviceable third/fourth liner who tends to score clutch goals. The addition of Jarret Stoll should bolster the bottom six and take some of the pressure off the top line. The team lost Cam Talbot but filled that hole with Antii Raanta.
CONS: New York lost a strong veteran presence with the retirement of Marty St. Louis and some offense with the trading of Carl Hagelin. Henrik Lundqvist is an elite goalie in the NHL but he just can't seem to win those important postseason games despite playing behind a stellar defense. Also, which version of Rick Nash will the Rangers get this season?
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
PROS: The Lightning are a structured team built on speed and skill. At the helm is Steven Stamkos, who is without a doubt one of the most dangerous centres in the league. To compliment Stamkos are Alex Killorn, Ondrei Palat and diminutive standout, Tyler Johnson. If the preseason is any indication, Jonathan Drouin is poised for a breakout year and Nikita Kucherov looks to build on an impressive sophomore campaign. Tampa's defense begins and ends with Victor Hedman who has grown into a cornerstone defender and the re-emergence of Anton Stralman has been a pleasant surprise for the Bolts.
CONS: Jon Cooper. This may be a head scratcher for some but Cooper's tendency to put his ego ahead of the team has hurt the Lightning at times, i.e. not playing Stamkos at centre and keeping Droiun in the doghouse all postseason. Goaltending could also be an issue for Tampa as Ben Bishop tends to have lacklustre regular seasons and is a tad injury-prone.
PROS: Nobody can score goals in the NHL like Alex Ovechkin and he continues to be the straw that stirs the Capitals drink. Thanks to the arrival of Barry Trotz, the Caps now have stability behind the bench and a coach who knows how to get his offensive stars to play 200 feet. Washington is flush with young talent and the addition of 28 year old T.J. Oshie will help take the load off the young guys. "Mr. Playoffs" Justin Williams brings a wealth of experience and three Stanley Cup Rings to a franchise desperate to win it all. John Carlson and Karl Alzner continue to be staples on the Capitals blue line and are complimented quite nicely with Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.
CONS: Washington lost Mike Green to free agency and replaced him with AHL-er Tyler Chorney. Brayden Holtby was lights out last season, especially in OT and shootouts, but should he regress or get injured the Caps back-up options are journeyman Dan Ellis, Justin Peters or Philipp Grubauer.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
PROS: The Blue Jackets were the beneficiaries of Chicago's endless cap issues when they landed Brandon Saad via trade this past summer. Injuries wreaked havoc on CBJ last season so if they manage to stay relatively healthy and Foligno, Johansen and Hartnell put up the numbers they did last year, they should have little problem being in the playoff mix. Having Ryan Murray stay healthy and grow into the defenseman the Jackets projected him to be won't hurt either.
CONS: Defense, defense, defense! Columbus is very thin on the blue line with only Jack Johnson and David Savard as real standouts. Sergei Bobrovsky's health and consistency is paramount to Columbus as back-up Curtis McElhinney is average at best.
PROS: Two words: Carey Price. He swept the NHL Awards in June and many argue he was the sole reason the Habs finished where they did and there's no reason to believe he'll regress much this season. Newly-minted captain Max Pacioretty is the x-factor here as he's the closest thing Montreal has to a power forward. The always reliable Tomas Plekanec is still in the fold and is one of the best two-way forwards in the League. Galchenyuk should see a rise in point totals now that he's been moved to his natural centre position and Brendan Gallagher just needs to continue to be Brendan Gallagher. P.K. Subban is an elite offensive-defenseman and will be quarterbacking the Habs blue line for the next seven years.
CONS: If Carey Price goes down with injury, the Habs season will be in serious jeopardy. The Canadiens are still undersized and lack a true number one centre. The bottom defensive pairings are largely unproven with the likes of Tinordi and Pateryn and Alex Emelin can be a difference-maker on the ice but is injury prone.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
PROS: The Islanders fell short in the first round last year, losing in seven close games to the Washington Capitals. With a majority of their team still intact, there's no reason to believe they won't be back again this year. The Isles have perennial Hart Trophy candidate John Tavares leading the charge and a healthy Kyle Okposo will make a difference. Anders Lee should build on his 25-goal campaign from last season and Ryan Strome is poised to build on his 50 point output from last year. NYI's top four d-men are some of the best in the league with Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey (currently on IR) and Nick Leddy.
CONS: The bottom pairings are average at best, even with the addition of veteran Marek Zidlicky. Jaroslav Halak has proven he can carry a starting goaltenders load but if he falters or gets injured, the Islanders back-up options are Thomas Greiss or rookie Stephon Williams.
DETROIT RED WINGS
PROS: Even with the departure of Mike Babcock, the Red Wings are in good hands with new coach Jeff Blashill and a roster full of well-developed talent. The franchise has a history of winning and there's no reason to think that'll stop this season. Sprinkle in (a healthy) Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and Detroit should continue to be a tough team to play against. Gustav Nyqvist and Tomas Tatar should continue to progress and put up impressive numbers and college standout Dylan Larkin has made the Opening Day roster. Niklas Kronwall is a stalwart on the back end and the addition of Mike Green will take some pressure off of the likes of Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincy. The Wings are set in goal with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.
CONS: Health will be key to Detroit as Pavel Datsyuk was limited to 63 games last season due to injury and Danny DeKeyser is currently on injured reserve. Time will also tell how the team will respond to a new coaching regime after Babcock's no-nonsense approach.
The demise of Sidney Crosby has been greatly exaggerated. The Pens captain still put up 84 points in 77 games last year despite having less-than-stellar wingers. Phil Kessel is a huge upgrade in terms of offense which will help take the load off of Malkin, Kunitz and Hornqvist. Pittsburgh's defense is a bit of a wildcard but at least the team will get a healthy Olli Maata back, who was having an outstanding rookie campaign before being struck down with a tumour in his neck and a shoulder injury.
CONS: A healthy Kris Letang is huge for the Pens if they plan to move beyond the regular season. The Quebec native is among the elite defensemen in the League but has had a hard time staying healthy. As always, Marc-Andre Fleury's play will be heavily scrutinized as he tends to have slow starts and battles inconsistencies in the crease.