The Four Teams Most Likely to Acquire Andrew Ladd

With a week until the NHL trade deadline, and captain Andrew Ladd still unsigned and seemingly headed for free agency this summer, here’s a look at the NHL teams which make the best trade partners for Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets.

Ladd Trade Criteria:

  1. Only considering teams who are likely to make the playoffs (16 current playoff seeds, plus Minnesota)
  2. Targeting teams whose biggest need is for a top-6 winger, (mainly on the left side)
  3. Stanley Cup contenders favoured over mere playoff teams
  4. Teams with attractive prospects or young roster players given further consideration

LaddBut first, here are 9 teams where Ladd probably isn’t headed…

Unlikely Ladd Destinations

Boston

The Bruins are currently trying to re-sign winger Loui Eriksson, and are considering trading him if they can’t reach a deal. And given the Bruins’ cap situation, it wouldn’t make much sense for them to give up assets in order to bring in another pending UFA who is even less likely to stay than Eriksson. And for those who might suggest the teams swap Eriksson for Ladd, that makes even less sense for the Jets, who would look for young players, picks, or prospects in exchange for Ladd.

Colorado

The Avalanche may be looking to add at the deadline, but it’s been rumoured that their priority would be to add pieces on the blueline. Given the extreme weakness on the left-side of their D, that makes a lot more sense than dealing for a left winger, where they already have players like Matt Duchene (LW/C), Gabriel Landeskog, and the recently acquired Shawn Matthias.

Tampa Bay

Like Boston, the Lightning are trying to retain a key player on their current roster – in this case, a much bigger fish in Steven Stamkos. And like Colorado, they are reportedly more interested in adding to the blueline, given the injury to Jason Garrison, and a very poor year thus far from Matt Carle – who makes a staggering $5.5M per season.

New York Islanders

Along the same lines as Boston and Tampa, the Islanders are struggling to retain some key pieces, including soon to be free agents, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. They also have a lot of forward depth as it is, so adding a third forward who is probably headed to free agency doesn’t seem like a wise choice.

Minnesota

While it’s hard to believe that the Jets would deal Ladd to their most significant divisional and geographical rival, the Wild also have pretty good depth on left wing, with Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Zucker. The rumour around Minny was that they were very interested in acquiring Ryan Johansen from Columbus, and offered up young defenceman Jonas Brodin, so if the Wild were in the market for something up front, it’s more likely to be a centre.

Detroit

The Red Wings are a team in transition – you might call it a “competitive rebuild” – as they pass the torch from veterans like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall, and Howard, to young players like Larkin, Tatar, DeKeyser, and Mrazek. So while the Wings certainly have lots of prospects of interest to the Jets, like Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and more, the Red Wings have rarely been a team who makes a splash at the deadline, and now would seem like a particularly unlikely time.

Pittsburgh

While Pittsburgh would probably love to have a winger like Ladd – you could argue that he’s a younger version of Crosby’s running mate, Chris Kunitz – the Penguins have depleted their prospect base and draft selections so much in recent years that it’s hard to believe they have anything to give back in a deadline day deal where the Jets will be looking for young players and picks. Furthermore, the Pens’ bigger need is on the blueline, where they’re rumoured to be intersted in Canucks d-man, Dan Hamhuis.

St. Louis

Aside from being a divisional rival, the Blues have a lot of depth and flexibility up front already, with several players taking a turn at both centre and wing including Steen, Backes, Berglund, and Schwartz, and several other good forwards like Stastny, Brouwer, and Lehtera, the emerging Robby Fabbri, and the incomparable Vladimir Tarasenko. With the recent knee injury to top-pairing d-man, Alex Pietrangelo, one would think the Blues’ priority would be to add depth on the blueline.

San Jose

While the Sharks have been a good team this year, they probably aren’t a true contender like the Western powers of Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and St. Louis, and thus may not be looking to make a splash at the deadline. Furthermore, Pierre Leburn recently indicated that the Sharks are more interested in adding to their blueline.

 

Here are 4 spots where Ladd might end up, but which may not end up being the best fits…

Possible Destinations for Ladd:

Nashville

The Predators feel set on the blueline with the likes of Josi, Weber, Ellis, and Ekholm, and they added a long-coveted first line centre this year when they acquired Ryan Johansen. The main thing the Preds need is help on the wing, especially in the top-6. While they do have a few productive wingers, with James Neal, Filip Forsberg, and Craig Smith, Colin Wilson has had trouble establishing himself as a top-6 winger, and has been a disappointment this season, with just 4 goals in 42 games. Considering that Nashville has the 3rd fewest goals this season from their forward group, Ladd could be quite a nice fit with the Preds. That said, if they don’t feel they are a serious contender this year – and their play thus far suggests that they probably aren’t – they may look to a cheaper option to bolster the top-6, like Jiri Hudler out of Calgary.

Florida

With the Panthers’ run to the top of the Atlantic division, and the previous relationship between Ladd and Florida GM, Dale Tallon – who were together in Chicago and won a Stanley Cup in 2010 – many have speculated that Florida is an obvious fit for Ladd. Florida hockey writer, George Richards noted Saturday (on the Illegal Curve hockey show) that he had heard the Panthers had “zero interest” in Ladd as of a month ago, but to add another wrinkle, he mentioned that Tallon was seen watching the Jets play against Tampa on February 18 (a game in which Ladd scored 2 goals, plus another in the shootout), and speculated that things may have changed. Of course, at this point it’s all just that – speculation. Considering the Panthers’ sudden rise, it may be that GM Tallon doesn’t see his club as a serious Stanley Cup contender just yet – at least not to the point where it makes sense to remove a piece of the future for a rental player. Now, if in trade talks, they were able to speak to Ladd’s agent and gauge his interest in signing long-term, that could certainly change their interest level.

Los Angeles

With the recent injury to top-6 left winger Marian Gaborik, some have speculated that LA would be a good fit for Ladd. While Ladd would certainly give them another finisher to play with either Anze Kopitar, or former World Junior linemate, Jeff Carter, their depth on left wing remains strong, with Milan Lucic, Tanner Pearson, and Dwight King. Furthermore, after waiving defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, who is a shadow his former self, the Kings’ may be looking more for help on defence. All that said, for a legitimate Stanley Cup contender like LA, they can probably justify adding quality players regardless of the position, and they certainly have a history of making big deals at the deadline, including Jeff Carter in time for their first Cup in 2012, and Marian Gaborik for their second Cup in 2014.

New York Rangers

The Rangers lost two important wingers from last year’s top-9 – Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin – and while they’ve seen a break-out season from 22-year-old J.T Miller, they’re getting less production than they expected from some other young players in Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. It’s been rumoured that the Rangers are looking for some size and skill up front, with some speculating on Carolina Hurricanes captain, and pending free agent, Eric Staal. But with Staal’s cap hit of $8.25M, and the Rangers with virtually no cap space, it might make more sense for them to look at a cheaper option like Ladd, who would also bring size, experience, and finishing ability. From the Jets’ perspective, the Rangers don’t have a lot of young talent outside of their NHL roster, and it’s hard to see the New York giving up any of their big young forwards like Miller, Kreider, or Hayes for a rental player, so while there may be interest from the Rangers, there also may not be a great fit here.

 

Here are the 4 teams which may be the most suited to acquiring Ladd, (need on LW, contender status, good young assets)…

Most Likely Ladd Destinations:

Dallas

The Stars certainly have the top-end skill, with a top-6 that includes the likes of Benn, Seguin, Spezza, and Sharp, and other nice top-9 options like Eakin, Nichushkin, Hemsky, and the surprising rookie, Mattias Janmark. If you were to throw in an excellent complementary scorer like Andrew Ladd, which NHL team would be more dangerous up front? Playing with high-end playmakers like Seguin or Spezza would maximize what Ladd offers, namely, skill, smarts, and finishing ability around the net. The Stars also have several young blueliners in their system who might be of interest to the Jets, most notably, Julius Honka and Esa Lindell. Stars’ GM Jim Nill has also shown a desire to make big moves, acquiring Seguin, Spezza, and Sharp in back-to-back-to-back summers from 2013-2015. The biggest question is whether the Stars are willing to meet the Jets’ asking price, when they might instead prefer to save their young assets to address the more pressing need they have on the blueline.

Washington

Could Ladd put Washington over the top, and help them win their Stanley Cup in franchise history? The Caps are certainly the Eastern Conference favourite to make the finals, but assuming they do get there, it’ll be no easy task beating the beasts of the Western Conference. In Ladd, you get a two-time Stanley Cup winner who has scored 138 goals in the past 5.5 seasons, and has averaged 26 goals (per 82 games) over the past 427 games. While the Caps have some high-end talent in Ovechkin, Backstrom, and emerging star Evegeny Kuznetsov, as well as other skilled forwards like Jason Williams and T.J Oshie. The last member of their regular top-6 is C/LW Marcus Johansson – a good, young player, who’s having a strong season, with 34 points in 50 games; the issue is that Johansson has managed just 3 goals in his last 35 playoff games. Who better to round out their top-6 than Ladd, a left winger who could slide onto a line with Kuzetnsov and Williams? Furthermore, the Caps have a few prospects who might be of interest to the Jets, particularly defender Madison Bowey – a Winnipegger who played with Josh Morrissey at last year’s World Juniors, and also in Kelowna of the WHL. All that said, the Caps might feel that they already have the right mix now, in which case they’d simply look to add a bit of depth in case of injuries, rather than make a big change by bringing in Ladd.

Chicago

Looking to add a winger – check. It’s been widely reported the Hawks’ are looking to add a left-winger to play with Jonathan Toews.

Cup contender – check. The Hawks have won two of the last three Stanley Cups, and have been at or near the top of the Western Conference standings for most of the season.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Ladd played in Chicago during their 2010 cup win – the organization is very familiar with him. The only question here is, given the Hawks’ extreme cap crunch next year, are they willing to part with enough young assets for what is almost surely a rental player? The Hawks do have a number of decent prospects – AHL players like Marko Dano, Ryan Hartman, and Ville Pokka all have some potential, though none of them have exceeded expectations in their second pro seasons. Their best prospect is likely Nick Schmaltz – a centre who has 29 points in 25 games at the University of North Dakota. Another interesting option is centre Tyler Motte, who plays with Jets’ prospect Kyle Connor at  the University of Michigan, and has scored 28 goals in 28 games. If the Hawks were willing to part with one of these players, along with at least a second round pick, I’m sure the Jets would listen, however, the Hawks don’t have a 2nd round pick in 2016, and who knows if the Hawks are willing to give up another first round pick, given the overpay they made at last year’s deadline for Antoine Vermette.

Anaheim

All of this brings us to Anaheim. A bonafide cup contender prior to the season, we all know about the Ducks’ struggles early in the year, and yet, the Ducks now sit right behind the LA Kings for 1st place in the Pacific. Could they use a top-6 winger? You bet. While the acquisition of David Perron has been a huge boost, the off-season losses of Matt Beleskey and Kyle Palmieri hurt their secondary scoring a lot more than anticipated, especially given that Jakob Silfverberg has been a gigantic disappointment, and Andrew Cogliano and Chris Stewart have struggled to provide regular offence. Ladd’s history playing with Ryan Getzlaf, both in the WHL, and at the World Junior Championships would seem to make this a nice fit for Anaheim. Furthermore, the Ducks are absolutely loaded with young defenceman on the NHL roster – Fowler, Lindholm, Vatanen, Despres – so they might feel that they can afford to shed a young d-man who has yet to crack the NHL lineup. Given that defence happens to be the only weakness on the Jets’ current list of prospects, there may be a fit here for both teams. While Shea Theodore is probably untouchable in this scenario, another skilled defenceman named Brandon Montour has come up in trade rumours. Furthermore, if a deal were to happen, Anaheim might be able to rearrange some cap space in order to re-sign Ladd, should be be interested in staying. Given Anaheim’s struggles to score for much of this season – they’re the lowest scoring team currently sitting in a playoff spot – and all of the other reasons already stated, Anaheim makes the most sense, at least on paper…

Nic Petan: Can a Prospect be too “NHL-Ready”?

 

When Claude Giroux came out of the Quebec Major Junior League in 2008, it was clear to all that he was a high-end talent. Not only was he coming off three straight 100-point seasons, and a strong showing with Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior Championship squad, but he utterly dominated the QMJHL playoffs, leading the league in scoring with 51 points in just 19 games. Based on that resume, it would have been incredibly easy for the Flyers to put the 20-year-oldin the NHL in the fall of 2008, and yet, they resisted the urge – partly because Giroux was just 5’11, and around 170 lbs. Instead, they sent him to the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, where Giroux spent just 33 games scoring 34 points.

Claude Giroux has since become one of the top forwards in the NHL, and he is one of the league’s leading scorers year after year. In fact, did you know that he’s the NHL’s top scorer since the fall of 2010? While it’s impossible to say what kind of player he would have become had he skipped the AHL, it’s certainly fair to say that spending half a season in the minors didn’t hurt his development.

Following a striking change in organizational philosophy, today’s Toronto Maple Leafs are doing things in a very similar waySpeaking about the organization’s “timeline” for player development, Assistant GM Kyle Dubas said the following:

“…we want the players to master the AHL level and the minor-league level and not bring them up after one good weekend,” he said. “They have to show us they can do all of the things. …Once our guys show they can master [the AHL] consistently, then we’ll have that conversation. That’s up to the players. Never been a hard and fast rule that no one is coming up this year.”

The key phrase there is “master the AHL”; while you could debate what “master” means, I interpret that to mean that a young player should stay in the minors until they prove that they’re too good for that level.

* * *

In an incredibly curious move from this off-season, the Winnipeg Jets opted not to re-sign veteran Lee Stempniak, despite the fact that Stempniak was keenly interested in staying. While it’s doubtful  that anyone considered Stempniak to be part of the Jets’ core moving forward, he was a consistent 15-goal scorer with modest contract demands. In a worst-case scenario, he was good, affordable depth for the organization – a player who could play up and down the lineup, from (at least) the 2nd line, to the 4th line. And while passive observers have the benefit of hindsight, it’s worth noting that he has fit in incredibly well in New Jersey, scoring 12 points in 16 games, while making just $850,000 on a one-year contract. (That would put him third in scoring on the Jets, while putting him 12th in salary among forwards). Most importantly, the decision to let Stempniak go allowed Nic Petan – a 20-year-old rookie who is at most 5’9, 170 lbs. – to make the NHL without playing a single game with the Moose.

Let’s look at the possible reasons why the Jets held a spot open for a youngster, rather than re-signing Stempniak, or a similar player:

(1) Petan might be better

While you can’t analyze players in a vacuum, with 12 points in 16 games this season, and 10 points in 18 games last season with the Jets in a third line role, it’s hard to argue that Petan has has made the Jets better than Stempniak would have, given that he has just 2 points through 14 games. Plus, if he was a key part of the team, he wouldn’t have been scratched 4 times this year.

(2) Petan would be cheaper

Petan will likely will be a bit cheaper than Stempniak this season, but not significantly. While Petan does have a lower base salary than Stempniak, if he were to hit all his bonuses (the clauses of which are unknown), his cap number will actually be slightly higher than Stempniak’s $850,000. Regardless, if Petan ends up making ~$100,000 less, that’s just .14% of the NHL’s $71.4M salary cap.

(3) The Jets already have plenty of organizational depth

Given the Moose’s struggles so far, this is a pretty easy one to address. The Moose currently sit second-last in the AHL, and they don’t have a single forward on the roster who is in the top-100 in league scoring. While that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good players down there, it’s pretty clear that there’s no one currently banging down the door to get to the NHL.

(4) Petan will develop faster in the NHL than in the AHL

While there’s no iron-clad argument against this, a whole lot of anecdotal evidence would suggest that this isn’t the case. The “plug-and-play” approach – taking undeniably skilled, but very young players, and placing them directly in the NHL – failed miserably for years in places like Long Island in the late 90’s, Florida in the early 2000’s, Columbus in the mid-2000’s, and most recently, Edmonton.  Meanwhile, the “draft and develop” model followed by teams like Tampa Bay, Nashville, and most famously, Detroit, has worked pretty nicely for several years now. Some of that is detailed here, and here. 

If Petan were in the AHL, he’d be playing around 20 minutes per night, quarterbacking the powerplay, likely generating tons of scoring chances, and helping make his young teammates better. And if the Jets ran into injury troubles, or if he simply lit up the league – or “mastered the AHL” – they could call him up at any time. Instead, Petan is averaging 9:22 of ice-time per game, and playing primarily with Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn – two gritty, hard-working players who don’t have a future as top-6 forwards. Not only is he not being put in a position to succeed – he’d be better complemented by a finisher with some size, like Drew Stafford – outside of the 1:23 per game he averages on the powerplay, he’s not really being given a chance at all.

Scale of the Problem

Taking a step back, is this situation the end of the world? Absolutely not. Nic Petan is a very skilled, intelligent player, and while his development might be better served in the AHL, he can still become a very productive player by following his current path, and a potential replacement for the style and offence of Mathieu Perreault (should he wish to depart when his contract expires at the end of 2017). But the logic behind this series of decisions is a concern, and for Jets fans, it’s something to keep an eye on.

The Future is Bright – Top-20 Jets Prospects

Danish sensation, Nik Ehlers

Nik Ehlers – The Jets’ 1st round pick in 2014

 

Craig Button – one of the more of the more reputable evaluators of young hockey talent – has said on numerous occasions that the Jets’ prospect pool is the best in the NHL. And bBetween the high-end skill, future #1 goaltenders, and depth at various position, I’m inclined to agree with him. So who are the most promising among them? And where might they fit in down the road? Here’s an update on the Jets crop of young talent.

High-end Talent

Ehlers, Morrissey, Petan

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Evander’s Exodus: Kane leaves Winnipeg in Blockbuster Deal

New York Islanders v Winnipeg JetsAfter years of inactivity on the trade market, Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled off the biggest deal the NHL has seen in years. After a week of rampant speculation following “track suit-gate”, Winnipeg dealt Evander Kane – the most controversial figure in Jets 2.0 history. But perhaps a bigger surprise was that long-time Jets-Thrashers d-man, Zach Bogosian, was also included in the deal.

Too often, players get evaluated based on expectations. particularly when it comes to salary and draft position. Kane and Bogosian were each top-5 draft picks who came to Atlanta at the tender age of 18. Each showed enough glimpses of promise in the foregoing years to ‘earn’ large, long-term contracts from the club. And while each player made significant contributions in their time with the franchise, it’s probably fair to say that they failed to live up to the draft-day hype.

However, expectations are a two-way street, because when it comes to trades, NHL players are sort of like stocks; regardless of how the company’s actually performing, if the expectations in the market for that company are good, then the stock price will continue to rise. Similarly, if expectations around the league for a particular player are still high, then that player will still be a significant asset for that club. Given their size, speed, youth, and draft pedigree, Kane and Bogosian were, and are valuable commodities. With that in mind, let’s see how this trade shakes down, and whether the Jets deserve praise or criticism for this move. Continue reading

2014 Jets Training Camp

L-R: Kevin Cheveldayoff, Craig Heisinger, Mark Hillier, Nikolaj Ehlers, Marcel Comeau, Larry Simmons, Paul Maurice, Mark Chipman
L-R: Kevin Cheveldayoff, Craig Heisinger, Mark Hillier, Nikolaj Ehlers, Marcel Comeau, Larry Simmons, Paul Maurice, Mark Chipman

The Winnipeg Jets kick off training camp tomorrow – Thursday, September 18. While it will be exciting to see how the potential young stars stack up against the vets – namely, Nik Ehlers and Josh Morrissey – the battle for roster spots may be less compelling. Continue reading

I Disagree, Mr. Lawless

1st overall pick in 1993, Alexandre Daigle
1st overall pick in 1993, Alexandre Daigle

 

Gary Lawless recently wrote an article in the Free Press named “Youth Must be Served”. As you might infer from the title, the idea is that the Jets should put some young players in their lineup this fall, because the young guns offer more than some of the veterans who currently fill the bottom of the roster. (Ok, let’s see, young guys, lots of talent, fun to watch – sounds plausible so far). He further justifies the point by saying that the team isn’t very good anyway, so “why not bring in some youth and let them learn on the job”. (Yeah, I guess so…you gotta learn somewhere, right?) Let me tell you why I think it’s a bad idea. Actually, let me show you why I think it’s the worst idea.

*                *               *

Wings' rookie sensation, Gustav Nyquist
Wings’ rookie sensation, Gustav Nyquist

 

There are two types of organizations – those who rush their players, and those who don’t. Ken Holland and his group in Detroit are ‘the good guys’. Gustav Nyquist just finished his rookie season with Detroit, where he scored 28 goals in only 57 games. In fact, he was on pace for 40 goals in – let me say it again – his rookie season, had he played in all 82. Interestingly, he was already 24 years old when the season started, and was playing with the poise and maturity that one might expect from a player who had been clawing to get to the NHL for a number of years.

I’m a fervent believer in the Detroit Red Wings model of development – the one in which you actually give players time to develop, until they clearly demonstrate that they’re too good for their previous level, whether it be junior, college, Europe, or the AHL. For the Wings, that usual entails leaving them in junior till age 20 (21 if coming from College or Europe), and then a one or two year stint in the AHL. Most Red Wings don’t make the squad full-time before they’re at least 21, and the last time a teenager played a full season in Detroit was in 1991, when Keith Primeau made the team as a 19-year-old. Nick Lidstrom – almost universally recognized as one of the top-5 defencemen of all-time – didn’t play for Detroit until he was 21. Henrik Zetterberg came over from Sweden at 22, while Pavel Datsyuk didn’t leave Russia till 23. The Red Wings’ current stud defenceman – Nik Kronwall – didn’t make the roster as a full-time NHL’er till he was 24. In the past 20 years, Detroit has absolutely set the standard for player development in the NHL. No other team lets their prospects “ferment” in the minor leagues for as long as Detroit, and perhaps there’s a method to the madness. Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets’ 2014 NHL Draft

Nikolaj Ehlers - Jets'  1st round pick in 2014

Nikolaj Ehlers – The Jets’
1st round pick in 2014

Nikolaj Ehlers (F) – 1st round, 9th overall

After Jacob Trouba, this could be the best draft pick the Jets have ever made. He’s instantly the most skilled player in the entire organization, and draws comparisons to Patrick Kane based on his build, skating, and offensive arsenal. Like Kane, he’s normal in height – nearly 6′ – but very slim at just over 160 lbs; his skating is quick and elusive, and like Kane, he’s just as good a finisher as he is a play-maker. Given more height and weight, he might have been in the running for the first overall pick. But instead the Jets were able to nab him at 9, and add a potential 1st line winger who will beautifully complement Mark Scheifele down the road. No one should expect Ehlers to play in the NHL this year or next – he needs a few years to fill out – but here’s hoping that he gets a taste of the AHL playoffs at the end of his junior season, just like Josh Morrissey did this past year.

Check out his sweet stats here

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Six Thoughts: On the Jets, the Olympics, and Paul Maurice

Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice

Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice

(1) Jets Fire Claude Noel

I don’t think anyone would have been surprised had Kevin Cheveldayoff fired Claude Noel at season’s end, but to do it in early January – just over the Christmas break, but weeks before the Olympic break – tells you that his hand was forced. After losses to Tampa Bay and Columbus, Chevy felt that his team needed a new direction, and can you blame him? It wasn’t just that they lost, it was how they lost, not even mustering 15 shots on goal in the 4-2 loss to Tampa, and the embarrassing defeat on Saturday night against Columbus, where they gave up 4 unanswered goals in a 6-3 loss.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think Claude Noel was the problem. In other words, I don’t think that a better coach would be guiding this group to the playoffs. There are only so many things under a coach’s control, and the line-up that goes onto the ice – save a few minor tweaks – isn’t one of them. However, his line combos, player usage, and defensive systems left something to be desired. I remember cringing every time Noel would send Tim Stapleton out on the powerplay instead of Johnny Oduya in Year 1 – yes, the same Johnny Oduya that won the Stanley Cup in Chicago last year, and was named to the Swedish Olympic team last week. I cringed every time he put Chris Thorburn on the left side of Jokinen and Setoguchi, as if his fourth line, grinding presence would help create much-needed offence. I cringed when he left Michael Frolik off the powerplay, and frequently (and inexplicably), the penalty kill, despite being one of our most consistent and well-rounded players. And we all bashed our heads against the wall, or some other hard object, anytime he played James Wright more than 8 minutes a game, especially when those shifts took place in a game we were losing. (James Wright’s 0 goals offer no rebuttal). His usage of Dustin Byfuglien – whose ability to create momentum sapping giveaways more than negates his ability to create offence – as a #1 defenceman was always puzzling, especially when Zach Bogosian would seem like a more natural fit as a shut-down, match-up defender, while Buff could be more effective given the “easier minutes” (i.e offensize zone starts, and weaker competition). And his penalty killing systems – or those he allowed his assistant coaches to implement – were too laissez faire, especially given the surplus of good-skating forwards, who would be more effective in a more aggressive system. (Many good penalty killing teams have the forwards attack the puck holder, rather than allowing a skilled player to set up calmly and read the ice.)

But beyond all that, the one thing that always troubled me about Claude Noel was that I couldn’t figure out where he drew his source of authority. Was he a brilliant strategist like Ken Hitchcock? A “player’s coach” like Alain Vigneault? A fiery disciplinarian like John Tortorella? A Hall-of-Fame, former NHLer like Patrick Roy? My sense of Claude Noel was that he was a nice guy who is relatively bright and has good attention to detail. These qualities probably make him a decent Assistant Coach, but in order to be a Head Coach in the NHL, you need to have some dominant trait that will garner the players’ respect. Unfortunately, I don’t think that he had one. That’s bad enough when you’re managing 22, mostly grown men on a daily basis, but when you’re dealing with players like Alex Burimstrov, Evander Kane, and Dustin Byfuglien, all of whom can be problematic for various reasons, you need someone with a tremendous skill set and a strong personality. You need someone who can communicate – not necessarily with the media, but with the players. The coach doesn’t need to be liked by all of his players, but he needs to be respected. Whether the poor results we’ve seen this year were in part a product of a failed relationship between Claude Noel and his team, we aren’t likely to know, but when you’re the General Manager of an NHL franchise, and you feel that you have the wrong man leading the herd, it behoves you  to do something about it.

(2) Jets Hire Paul Maurice

For those who want a drastic change behind the bench – a Hitchcock, a Tortorella, or a Keenan to really shake things up, you may be disappointed by Paul Maurice. As some have already said, his style is somewhat reminiscent of Claude Noel’s. He isn’t charismatic, he won’t scream at his players openly, and in general, he won’t rock the boat a lot, but his strengths are what Noel’s were at least leaning towards. He’s a fairly serious character, who has a bright hockey mind, and a no-nonsense approach. He lead the 2002 Carolina Hurricanes  to a surprising Stanley Cup Finals appearance, boasting no top-end talent, but only an average group of grizzled veterans, who combined timely goals with a commitment to smart play in all three zones. He become the youngest coach in the NHL when he became bench boss of the Hartford Whalers in 1996, after his playing career was cut short by an eye injury. He was just 28 years of age at the time. He also became the youngest coach in NHL history to reach 1000 games, at the age of 43. Whether he’s the right man to lead this group long-term is hard to know at this point, but based on his experience in the league, one can only assume that he’s an upgrade on the previous coaching staff. His contract is for the remainder of this season, so he has just over 35 games to shepherd this flock and start leading them in the right direction. If things go well, he’ll be extended; if they continue more or less as they are, then Chevy may look elsewhere this off-season, when there will be more coaching options available.

(3)  Canadian Olympic Team Selections

Did you tune in to watch Team Canada’s Olympic selections last Tuesday? If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you did. No big surprises in goal, where Price and Luongo will jockey for starting position, while Mike Smith – who has been impressive since he got to Phoenix in 2011 – will likely see the press box as 3rd string. With P.K Subban making the club, there weren’t any big surprises on the back-end either. Sure, some thought Brent Seabrook or Dan Boyle might make the team, and a few Pens fans thought Letang was deserving, but with Doughty, Weber, Pietrangelo, and Subban all on the right side, there are a lot of excellent right-handed defenders to choose from. Sure, one of those guys could probably move over and play the left side, but we’re talking about a short tournament, where a lot of small adjustments will already be taking place – bigger ice, new playing partners, new coaches, and oh yeah, a bit of pressure to bring home the gold. Beyond all that, I think a lot of people undervalue Hamhuis and Vlasic. They’re both smart players, with good size, skating, and general puck moving ability. They aren’t flashy, but they play key roles on two of the most successful franchises of the past half-decade, taking on the other team’s top players on a nightly basis. Interestingly, Hamhuis leads all Canadian defencemen in plus-minus over the past three years, and Vlasic has really come into his own over the past year.

All of the controversy was saved for the forward selections. To be fair to Yzerman and co., it’s pretty hard to whittle down the list of Canadian forwards to just 14 guys, considering about half the top-30 scorers in the NHL are Canadian, and a significant portion of those outside the top point getters are team captains, Stanley Cup winners, and equally worthy in countless other ways. Joe Thornton is in the top-5 in scoring, and he never even got a sniff of the action. Same goes for Stanley Cup winner and past Olympian, Eric Staal. Mike “All I do is Win” Richards also wasn’t close to getting a spot. Guys like Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf, and Bergeron were locks – there’s your top-4 centres already taken care of. Tavares and Perry too, and With Stamkos progressing nicely after fracturing his leg, he’s another sure thing – though he can still be replaced up until the day before the tournament begins if the bone isn’t fully healed. Patrick Sharp is putting together a great season, and his chemistry with Toews, and overall versatility, make him a smart choice. Benn and Duchene are rising stars who played their way onto this team, and Jeff Carter is a big, good skating winger with a wicked shot who was the last guy cut from the 2010 team that won gold in Vancouver. Most people begrudgingly accepted the selection of Kunitz, since his chemistry with Sidney Crosby is undeniable. The pick that caught everyone by surprise was Patrick Marleau, who theoretically took the spot of Marty St. Louis, who most people had penciled into this lineup. While I thought that pick was odd, the one that angered me was the one that took Rick Nash over Claude Giroux.

While many people wouldn’t have picked Marleau, I can see what they’re thinking. He’s a big guy, a great skater, and has a nice pair of mitts. He was a member of the 2010 squad, although his line, which included then-San Jose teammates, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley – was probably the least successful group. While I saw him as a top-line type of winger, what I was surprised to learn is that Patrick Marleau actually plays a lot on the penalty kill – more than any other team Canada forward except Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron. He plays either wing, and on a team full of vocal leaders, maybe it’s nice to have a quiet, low-maintenance guy like Marleau who can readily accept a lesser role and not be a distraction in the least.  What I didn’t get, and still fail to see, is why Rick Nash is on this team. Nash has all kinds of talent – he’s a big guy who skates well, has long reach, and often makes defender look silly when they try to challenge him in open ice instead of backing off. He loves driving to the net, and he can basically stick handle in a phone booth – although I still have yet to see any hockey player actually do that. (Youtube video badly needed – Patrick Kane or Pavel Datsyuk, preferrably). But Nash has been hurt a lot this year. At the time of his selection, he only had around 15 points in 24 games – unimpressive totals for a player of his calibre. Nash lacks versatility – he won’t kill penalties, and he won’t be counted on much with the man advantage, as they are enough guys on this team with better vision, playmaking, and finishing ability.  Perhaps the biggest knock on him is that he isn’t a “big-game” player. In all the years in Columbus, he never took that team anywhere, and while perhaps that’s unfair, he also wasn’t very good for New York in last year’s playoffs; some even suggested that the Rangers might have been better off with the players they gave up in the Nash deal – the main ones being Artem Anisimov  and Brandon Dubinsky. Claude Giroux and Martin St. Louis are big-game players. Giroux was one of the most dominant players all the way through the 2011-2012 season, leading the Flyers to a first-round upset of the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. St. Louis is a two-time Art Ross Trophy winner as leading scorer, including last season, as well as a Stanley Cup winner in 2004. What’s more shocking is that his own GM, Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, passed him up.

The reality is that, while I don’t like the Nash pick, just as others may not like the Marleau pick, the Kunitz pick, the Hamhuis or Vlasic pick, or any number of other picks, the difference between gold and not-gold (the only appropriate measure of Team Canada’s success is of course, gold), will not come from the play of their 7th defenceman, or their 13th forward. In the NHL, it usually comes down to about 10 players – 5-7 forwards, 2-4 defencemen, and 1 goalie – who make up the majority of Stanley Cup teams. It will be no different at this tournament. In 2010, only two forward lines were good in the big games – the Richards-Toews-Nash line, and the Morrow-Getzlaf-Perry line. The defensive pairings that worked well were Keith-Doughty, and Niedermayer-Weber. Crosby scored the OT winning goal, but his line, along with Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla, was silent through much of the tournament. The San Jose line of Heatley-Thornton-Marleau was dreadful, and Patrice Bergeron barely played as the 13th forward. On D, Chris Pronger struggled mightily, and Brent Seabrook barely played. Dan Boyle was fine, but all I remember him doing was taking a stupid, retaliatory penalty in one of the later games. Despite all the talent on this roster – and I believe that it is far more impressive than the team which won gold in 2010 – only half the players on this team, at most, will really decide Canada’s fate.

Canadian Olympic Roster

(4) International Olympic Team Snubs

First, here’s a quick list of all the notable snubs:

Russia: Alex Semin, Nail Yakupov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Burmistrov, Sergei Gonchar, Evgeni Nabokov

Czech Republic: Radim Vrbata, Jiri Hudler, Thomas Fleischmann, Jan Hejda, Rostislav Klesla, Jakub Kindl

US: Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo, Keith Yandle, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Ben Bishop.

Sweden: Marcus Johansson, Patric Hornqvist, Robin Lehner, Victor Hedman.

Finland: Saku Koivu, Sean Bergenheim

Switzerland: Sven Baertschi (one of only 3 Swiss forwards who play in the NHL…)

————————————-

Canada’s picks look a lot better when you consider the list above. Every major hockey nation except Slovakia made at least one really strange move, leaving off a player who should have been a no-brainer. For instance, I thought the Russians prided themselves on having incredibly skilled, and equally passionless players in their line-up? All kidding aside, to leave out a player of Alex Semin’s calibre doesn’t make sense to begin with, but to snub him in favour of a number of KHL players who aren’t even stars in that league? Hmmm. I’m sure those players are good, but if Russia gets into a tight game, they’ll probably wish they had Alex Semin’s stick at the end of the bench, instead of former Phoenix Coyote, Viktor Tikhonov. (Not the most obscure of the Russian picks, not even close). The Czech Republic left off a number of good NHL players, including Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler, both of whom would seem to be better choices than little Roman Cervenka – who failed to make a go of it last year in Calgary – and Petr Nedved, the former star NHLer who is now all of 42 years old. They also passed up a number of competent NHL defencemen. Everyone talks about the US leaving Bobby Ryan out in the cold but what about Kyle Okposo, who is the second leading US-born scorer in the NHL? It was also odd that they passed on Yandle, Jack Johnson, and Erik Johnson – all of whom are 25-27, in the prime of their careers, and play big minutes for their teams in all situations, in favour of the eventual group of 8, which includes five players under the age of 25. But who needs experience on the back-end. One might have also thought Ben Bishop would make a good option in net, considering he’s the best US goalie this season by a country mile, if the stats mean anything. Another big shock was the Swedes taking all-but washed up NHLer, Henrik Tallinder over Victor Hedman, a towering, smooth skating, fast developing #1 blueliner who’s helping to lead the resurgent Tampa Bay to the top of the Eastern Conference. And last, but certainly not least – what were the Fins thinking by leaving out Saku Koivu. He’s been one of the best Finnish players of his generation, and he’s having a great year on a Ducks team that is surprisingly at the top of the league. He’s been way better for Anaheim than Teemu Selanne – not to say that Teemu shouldn’t be there, as he’s probably the best Finnish player of all time – but surely they could have found room for Saku.

While it’s really hard to predict what might happen in such a short tournament, I would seed the contenders like so:

(1) Canada    (2) Sweden    (3) Russia    (4) US

(5) Oh to be in Chevy’s Shoes

Oh to be Kevin Cheveldayoff. To be working the phones constantly, working on deals to improve your team, monitoring the development of your prospects, scouting the new crop of future stars, and making lists of potential free agents for the coming summer sweepstakes. Ok, maybe that isn’t exciting to everyone, but I do about half of those things in a normal week, so let me tell you my findings.

While Kevin doesn’t let me work the phones very often, I do keep up with the prospects. Most of us saw Nic Petan and Josh Morrissey suit up for Canada at the World Juniors in Sweden. Although Canada finished a disappointing 4th in the tournament, there were a lot of positive signs for Jets fans. Nic Petan had a few big games for Canada, including a two-goal performance in a come-from-behind victory over Slovakia in the preliminary round. The crafty centre from the Portland Winterhawks led the WHL in scoring last year, and was 2nd in the league before departing for the World Junior tournament. He has the hands of a 100-point scorer, but the size of an AHL lifer, so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops over the next few years. Meanwhile, Josh Morrissey played a steady role as Canada’s #5 defenceman – good in transition, and quick to join the rush. He too is small in stature, and there is some concern that he’ll be overmatched physically at the NHL level, but he plays a style reminiscent of current Jet defenceman, Toby Enstrom – good hands, fast feet, a fluid skating stride, and a keen ability to read the play. 2012 draft pick Andrew Copp was somewhat of a surprise at the World Juniors, as he not only made the US roster, but was selected as an assistant captain. He had 5 assists in the tournament, and looks to be a bit of a steal considering he was drafted in the 4th round. He was also leading his college team in goals and points before he left for the World Juniors. One other junior player worth mentioning is Scott Kosmachuk of the OHL’s Guelph Storm. The Jets third round pick in 2012 is having a career year, with 31 goals in 43 games, after scoring 35 in all 68 games last year. It’ll be very interesting to see how his offence translates to the next level, as the gap between the CHL (WHL/OHL/QMJHL) and the AHL is far bigger than the average fan knows. Many a junior player has scored at a torrid pace in the Canadian leagues, only to lose their scoring touch in the AHL, and never scratch the surface of their NHL dreams, unless they were blessed with the size and skating needed to play a grinding, 4th line role.

Speaking of the AHL, there are three St. John’s Ice Caps rookies worth talking about. Adam Lowry, Brenden Kichton, and J.C Lipon. Lowry was the most touted coming into the year, after he finished his junior career being named the WHL player of the year. While he had a slow start to the year offensively, he’s come on of late, scoring 2 goals, 1 assist on Saturday night, while being named 1st star. Overall, he has 13 points in 29 games, but you might give him a pass for the meantime as he was missed 8 games at the start of the season due to injury, which put him behind the 8-ball. The big centre – who stands 6’5 – needs to improve his skating, but if he’s able to do that, he could become a very interesting player in the NHL. He probably will never be a big scorer, but he could be a valuable third line centre who punishes opposing forwards and plays a gritty, shut-down role while contributing a bit of offence on the side. While Lowry was the most touted of the three, it’s Kichton that has impressed the most thus far. After racking up 240 points in his last three years of junior hockey, this defenceman – and yes he is a defenceman – has posted another 30 points in only 37 games in the AHL. To put that in perspective, he’s third in scoring among all rookies, only behind two forwards, and third in scoring among all defencemen, including veterans. Among rookie D, he’s leading by 7 points, with only one player even close to him (Ryan Sproul, a Detroit 2nd round pick in 2011). The book on Kichton from the scouting perspective is that he’s a small defenceman who isn’t a good enough skater to challenge for a full-time NHL spot. While those things may be true, it may also be that he’s too creative offensively not to try him on your powerplay at some point. If he keeps up this pace in the AHL, expect him to get a brief, late-season call-up in order to get his feet wet in the NHL. Lastly, there’s J.C Lipon. A member of last year’s Canadian World Junior team, Lipon plays a bit like Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand. A tireless worker, and constant annoyance to his opponents, Lipon is continuing to play his abrasive style in the AHL, collecting 66 PIM’s in 34 games, while also collecting 19 points. Like Lowry, his offence stats have taken off recently, with most of those 19 points coming in the last 20 games. While he doesn’t have the offensize upside of Marchand, he too could be a valuable member of a third or fourth line one day, killing penalties, agitating opponents, and being loved by his teammates.

And now, to actually put on the GM hat. Alright, your team has a decent group of top-6 forwards but almost no depth on the 3rd or 4th lines. You have a group of talented defencemen, very few of whom actually like to, or are able to play well defensively. And you have a starting goalie who earns $3.9M per year over 5 years, who stops the puck like he’s a back-up making $950,000. GO.

Hmm…

That’s sort of what Cheveldayoff did in the off-season. He re-signed Montoya to back-up Pavelec. I like Montoya – he’s quite a decent back-up. But we probably needed someone who would provide a stiffer challenge for the starting role. To boost the forward group, he traded draft picks to Chicago in exchange for Frolik (awesome move), signed Matt Halischuk on the cheap (good move), and traded a 2nd rounder to Minnesota for Devin Setoguchi. The last move, in which he gave up the biggest asset, was by far the worst. You can see Setoguchi’s strengths – he’s pretty quick, he has good hands, and a good shot. However, unless you give him a playmaking centre, he isn’t very effective. Save 2 or three games, he hasn’t done much good for the Jets, and why Cheveldayoff thought he was a fit was beyond me, as acquiring him in order to play with Kane and/or Jokinen makes absolutely no sense. Chevy also failed to replace Ron Hainsey, who despite his deficiencies, is a decent shut-down defenceman. He and Bogo were the “tough-minutes” pairing last year, lining up against the other team’s top players in many situations. With Hainsey gone to Carolina, and Bogo injured much of the season, Byfuglien has been forced to eat a lot of those minutes, along with Enstrom/Stuart/Clitsome on the left side, none of whom are good enough for that specific role. That match-up problem has been a disaster for the Jets all year, and it needs to be fixed this off-season.

So here’s what I’d do if I were in Chevy’s Shoes, starting with the trade deadline. I’d deal Mark Stuart – a pending UFA this off-season – for a draft pick, likely a 3rd round pick, but maybe we get a 4th rounder too. (A 2nd round pick would be a dream come true). Let Ellerby eat those minutes down the stretch and see if he can become a solid NHL defenceman. (He certainly skates well enough, and has great size too). Trade Jokinen for a 2nd round pick, or whatever you can get for him. He’s another free agent, and I doubt we’ll re-sign him, so you might as well get something for him. You can use these picks later on in a package for an NHL-ready player, or to stock the cupboard with more prospects. Let O’Dell play on the 3rd line, and give Lowry a shot for a game or two as well. Trade Setoguchi as well for a 3rd or 4th round pick. Halischuk will be back before then, and if there are other injuries, Lipon/Klingberg/Gordon/Samson can fill in from St. John’s. Buff stays for the meantime, as larger deals for non-rental players (players who don’t have expiring contracts), tend to happen at the NHL Draft in late June.

Fast forward to the NHL draft, where we trade Dustin Byfuglien. I’m not sure where – there’s been talk that Philly is interested, but that’s mostly from Eklund, who is entertaining, but rarely on the money. (Though he did call the crazy Flyers day in June 2011 when they traded Richards and Carter). Anyway, we trade Buff, probably for a less talented, but steadier NHL defenceman, or perhaps a young forward with some upside. Unfortunately Buff will be the best player in the deal, so we might get a pick or prospect along with whatever player we get back. Chances are the optics of the deal won’t look great, since Byfuglien’s upside is so high, and his deficiencies so well known, but the real key is the move we make afterwards to patch up the defence, (assuming we don’t get a forward instead of a defender).

Along with Enstrom, Trouba, and Bogosian, we need another defenceman to play in the top-4. A defensively responsible guy who skates well and plays a simple game. After that, we need another bottom-pairing defenceman to push the top-4, to go along with Clitsome, Ellerby, Redmond, etc. A really nice free-agent option would be Andrew MacDonald, currently of the New York Islanders. I’m sure we’re not the only time who’d be interested in him, assuming he even makes it to free agency. He plays about 25 minutes per game along with Travis Hamonic, and although he wouldn’t be a top-pairing guy in many other cities, any defenceman who can log those kind of minutes without floundering is a fine and rare bird. He’s from Nova Scotia, so maybe we’ll keep Adam Pardy around so they can bro down, Atlantic style. If we miss out on MacDonald, we can try to address the top-4 D in the Byfuglien trade. As for the bottom-6, a nice option is Colorado’s Andre Benoit – an underrated, veteran puck mover who quietly plays 20 minutes per game in Colorado.

At forward, we need to remodel our entire bottom-6. Of the current group, I’d hope that most of them would be gone, except Matt Halischuk, and maybe Jim Slater, who should be recovered from sports hernia surgery by the start of next season. James Wright is fine as a 13th forward, but not an every-day player; the same goes for Eric Tangradi, and Chris Thorburn, who is a free agent and may not be back. Setoguchi and Jokinen are gone by this point, (if not traded, their contracts have expired). The key building block is the third-line centre, and an interesting free agent option is Ryan Garbutt, a Winnipeg native whose game has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, to the point where he’s become an effective penalty-killer, agitator, as well as a decent offensive contributor. Another option would be for Chevy to inquire about Red Wings’ centre, and St. Andrews native, Darren Helm – a lightning-fast skater whose had a tough time with injuries over the past two years, and may be wearing out his welcome as a result. (Plus he’s not Swedish, and they’re only allowed a few of those in Detroit.) Other good free agent options are Marcel Goc (Florida) and John Mitchell (Colorado). If we’re looking for more offensive depth on the wings, Lee Stempniak or Mason Raymond are slated to be free agents, and would be a giant upgrade on our current bottom 6’ers. A few other depth players for the 4th line include Daniel Winnik, Ryan Jones, and Ryan Carter.

Bottom-line, until we address our forward depth, we can’t expect to have a consistent team.

(6) The Maurice Era

It was a pretty nice debut for Jets coach Paul Maurice last night. Not only did the Jets beat the Coyotes 5-1 in front of their home crowd, but they dominated almost the entire game, outshooting the Coyotes 39-19, and hemming them in their zone for large portions of the game. The Coyotes actually opened the scoring on the powerplay, but from that point on, it was all Jets.

While it was hard to notice any structural changes which led to their win – and Maurice was pretty clear that there was no time to make any significant changes – the effort and enthusiasm shown by the entire group was obvious. It was particularly evident in certain players, like Devin Setoguchi, who broke his 19 game goalless streak, and skated with great vigor and enthusiasm throughout the night. Setoguchi had been a frequent Noel target, and was more or less the only skilled player who saw large stretches of pine.

Beyond the win, which was satisfying for all those in attendance, and for those watching at home, the post-game interview with the new head coach was almost equally satisfying, at least to my ears. I listened to a coach who was incredibly excited to be an NHL head coach again. He spoke about his time in the KHL, where the language barrier forced him to learn new ways to teach.  He talked about the time spent at TSN, which gave him time to watch and analyze more games, coaches, and strategies than ever before. When combined with his experience as a Head Coach – and remember, this man is only 46 years old, yet he has almost 15 years of experience – I was struck by the wealth of knowledge and wisdom this man has collected. He delivered all of this in a light but serious tone, and with a heightened sense of importance – not self-importance, as he mentioned several times that he didn’t want to make the interview all about him, despite the fact that it had to be. Everything he said sounded sincere, and he mentioned several times how appreciative he was for the opportunity to coach again in the NHL. The evening couldn’t have been better.

Colour me Impressed: Jets Camp 2013

Jets' forward Anthony Peluso bloodies the 36-million-dollar man, David Clarkson.

Jets’ forward Anthony Peluso bloodies the 36-million-dollar man, David Clarkson.

(1)    
In spite of increased competition at this year’s training camp, Anthony Peluso may have won himself a job with the Winnipeg Jets. Just 24 years of age, he’s a legitimate NHL heavyweight at 6’3, 235 lbs. He also acquitted himself quite well against the Oilers on Tuesday, scoring the game winning goal, and looking surprisingly comfortable handling the puck – especially for a guy who typically makes more use of his fists than his stick. And if he does make the team, part of the credit will lie in his instinctive response to a near-tragic incident last season.

It was February 21, 2013, and Zach Redmond lay in a pool of his own blood. In a freak accident, then- teammate Antti Miettinen skated over Redmond’s leg, severing his femoral artery, and triggering a potentially fatal bleed-out. Who was first on the scene? Peluso. Without wasting a second, he grabbed a towel from the bench and applied pressure to the wound, helping to slow the cascade of blood from Redmond’s upper leg: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/miracle-on-ice-192667711.html

Credited as one of the key people who saved Redmond’s life, Peluso downplayed his role in subsequent interviews, which only further endeared him to fans. Furthermore, it cemented his reputation as a good teammate – a fact that was not lost on management.
Almost every team has someone like Peluso – an easy going guy who stands up for his teammates, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and seems to get along with everyone. And often, it’s the tough guy in the room. In Boston, it’s Shawn Thornton. In Phoenix, Paul Bisonette. Georges Laraque played the role in many cities over the years. And for a time in Toronto, it was Wade Belak. Peluso may never make a big impact on the ice, but as an extra forward, who can step in and out of the lineup as needed, and keep his teammates lose, there may not be a better choice.

(2)    
In his heyday, Olli Jokinen was a big guy who skated well, and had a nose for the net. But last season, he looked a bit lost on the ice; he was a guy entering his mid-30’s, who was missing a step, and all too aware of it. But after being written off by pretty much everyone – myself included – I’m pleased to say that Olli looks to have turned back the clock, at least a little bit. At one point, Devin Setoguchi made a pass to his left, and a player burst through the middle of the ice in chase of it. I turned to my friend and said “who was that?” We looked at each other with blank faces, until I spotted the player going off the ice, and realized it was Jokinen. We each muttered “wow…he looks good,” but quietly, almost to ourselves, as if to temper expectations.

Despite Olli’s pitiful performance last season, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his play this year. Beyond the fact that he’s ashamed of how he played, he’s also in a contract year, and he won’t have anywhere to play in 2014 if he repeats last year’s folly. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also that once-in-four-years, maybe-never-again event called the Olympics. Olli is a lock to make the Finnish squad if he plays well, but if he has another disappointing year, it would be easy to pass over a 35-year-old, run-down centre for a young stud like 18-year old Sasha Barkov. And if you don’t think that Olli knows that, then you don’t know Olli. Olli knows.

(3)
Based on everything I had read about Eric O’Dell – stats, scouting reports, etc – he sounded like a lesser version of Bryan Little. And after watching him play on Tuesday against Edmonton, that’s basically the impression I came away with. O’Dell is a centre iceman who shoots right handed, has good dangles, a good shot, and likes having the puck on his stick. He’s a little bigger than Little, but also not as quick. He made a nice play in the 2nd period, taking a short pass on his forehand in the Oilers zone, quickly pulling the puck to his backhand to shield it from a defender, and lifting a high shot, which found the goalie’s glove. Even though he didn’t score, the best thing about the play wasn’t the skill it took, but the quick decision he made not to shoot the puck. Most players would have fired it without a second thought, and 9/10 shots from that spot would have gone off the defender’s leg/stick. Instead, he had the composure to make a quick move in tight, and get a good chance on goal.

Barring injury, it looks like O’Dell versus Scheifele for that 2nd/3rd line centre role – a battle in which Scheifele has the inside track. But O’Dell is emerging as a nice call-up option if there’s an injury to one of the top-3 centres.

Note: If you missed the more extended write-up I did on O’Dell, including his heart surgery, click here

(4)
Anybody heard of this hot-shot new defenceman? He goes by the name of Jacob Trouba. If you’re reading this, chances are very good that you have. Because he played in college last year, it was tough to get direct reports about him for most of the season, but by the end of the year, Jets management were raving about his size, mobility, composure, and abrasiveness on the ice. The common fan caught a glimpse of Jake at last year’s World Juniors, where he was named the top defenceman – a rare feat for an 18-year-old, given that 19-year-olds generally dominate the tournament. And since the day he signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets – foregoing his last three years of college eligibility – he was anointed by many as the next great Winnipeg Jets defenceman.

But many forget that Trouba is still 19 years old. He’s only been driving cars (legally) for about three years, and voting for one. He’s a teenager. And he’s being asked to play against men, who are bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, more skilled, more mature, and more experienced than anyone he’s ever played against.

There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations – both from an organizational standpoint, and from the common fan’s. The problem arises when the expectations also place a best-before date. Sure, in some cases – like Drew Doughty, and Erik Karlsson – sublime talent manifests itself early, and everything clicks. (Doughty was a Norris Trophy nominee and Olympic gold medalist at 20, and a Stanley Cup Champion at age 22. Karlsson won the Norris Trophy at age 22. ) But for most defencemen, it takes a while to put it all together. The great Nicklas Lidstrom – thought by many to be one of the top-5 best defencemen ever to play the game, didn’t even start his NHL career until he was 22. And although he was very good from the start, he didn’t win the Norris Trophy until he was 30! (He ended up winning 7 in all. Seven!) The same can be said for many, if not most others, including Duncan Keith (winner at age 27), Scott Niedermayer (age 30), and Zdeno Chara (age 32). So while we might reasonably expect Trouba to play well in his early 20’s, don’t expect him to fully blossom for 5-10 years.

(5)
Here are some other things I noticed in Tuesdays game:

  • I was impressed with Grant Clitsome. Granted, Edmonton didn’t bring their top guys, but Clitty looked very mobile out there, and he played very aggressively. He pinched a lot, but mostly at good times, and he really pressed the forward trying to leave the zone. He also likes coming into the slot with the puck to attack the net, something he started doing late last season, and led him to him finishing second among Jets defencemen in scoring. http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/leagues/seasons/teams/0063782013.html While many Jets fans don’t think he’s capable of playing a top-4 role, I think his game is showing signs of growth. Although he’s 28, he’s only played parts of 4 years in the NHL, and only 2 as an everyday player. He seems pretty sharp off the ice, and with his skill and mobility, all he really needs to do is become more reliable in his decision making and sure-handedness to become a fixture in the Jets top-4.
  • Carl Klingberg was a second round pick of the Thrashers in 2009. He’s always been a bigger guy who skates well, but it just doesn’t look like he has NHL-quality hands. He hasn’t put up good impressive numbers at any level of hockey, and it’s unlikely he ever becomes more than a spare part for an NHL team. He scored yesterday, off a nice pass from Eric Tangradi, but even the finish looked awkward, as he slid it – seemingly accidentally – through the five hole, when most guys would have shot for the (wide open) top half of the net. Unless he has a big year in the AHL this year, don’t expect him to earn much playing time with the Jets unless there are a lot of injuries.
  • Devin Setoguchi continues to impress – he’s quick and skilled, and has a very good shot. Beyond just his quickness, he always seems to have a lot of jump, very similar to Bryan Little. The only on-ice concern for me is the fact that Noel wants to pair him with Evander Kane, and, worse yet – Olli Jokinen. Each of those three like carrying and shooting the puck, but none of them is a puck distributor/play-maker. Hopefully Scheifele can break up the monotony find chemistry with at least one of Kane/Setoguchi.
  • Speaking of whom, what would a Jets update be without Mark Scheifele. Noel and Chevy must be getting sick of every reporter (and his dog) trying to find out which line Scheifele will play on this year. They jump through the hoops since they’re polite, but the question is somewhat inane, and the answer is line 2, or line 3 – not sure yet since half the guys in the middle of the lineup are new. (Literally half – Setoguchi, Frolik, and Halischuk – who is definitely in the conversation). As for his play Tuesday, he made a really nice play in the 2nd to cut around the D, and fire it just over the crossbar in almost one fluid motion. If that shot goes in, everybody’s talking about it for days.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Jets-mas

 

#16 on the ice, #1 in your heart - Andrew Ladd

Jets captain Andrew Ladd – #16 on the ice, #1 in your heart

 

It’s that time of year again. While some Winnipeggers mourn the loss of summer, a bird of a different colour awaits October 1st – and the following phrase – with bated breath:

“Here come YOUR, WINNIPEG, JETS!”

(If you’re wondering what song fills the MTS Centre as the Jets pour onto the ice, it’s No Money by Kings of Leon)

With that in mind, here are some thoughts that have been stewing in my brain since the end of last season.

(1)            Where should Scheifele and Trouba start the year?

This is a critically important question. There is a right-way to develop players, and there is a wrong way. Teams like Detroit, Nashville, and New Jersey have been doing it right for years, and have consistently developed young players, without the benefit of draft lottery picks. In stark contrast, teams like Florida, Columbus, and New York (Islanders) are textbook examples of how to screw up good young talent.

Initially, I phrased this question as “Where should they play the year,” but I think the distinction is important. I have no problem with Scheifele or Trouba playing the majority of the season in Winnipeg, so long as they are worthy of doing so; but, I would love to see them start the year in St. John’s. When it comes to developing young players, I firmly believe in the following:

Keep prospects at a lower level of competition until they prove that they’re too good for that level; or, said another way – put them in a position to succeed, not in a position to fail

Maybe Mark Scheifele (age 20), and Jacob Trouba (19), are ready to play in the NHL today. They’re certainly both great prospects with promising futures. But what happens if they’re not ready yet – can Jets management resist the temptation to “give them a look”?

There is a long, sordid tale to be told of the young players whose fruit was reaped before it ripened; players whose NHL careers began before they were battle-tested in the American Hockey League. Here are just a few recent examples – none of their names will be familiar to casual hockey fans, but they were all good enough to make the NHL as teenagers: James Sheppard, Gilbert Brule, Colton Gillies, Oscar Moller, Rostislav Olesz, Nikita Filatov, Nino Niederreiter. Most of them suffered through pitiful rookie years, during which time they could have been playing at lower levels, and adding speed, strength, maturity, and most importantly, confidence. Every one of them has been traded from their original organization – a clear acknowledgement that things never worked out as planned. While those are just the most abject failures, Luke Schenn, Mikklel Boedker, Brett Connolly, and Ryan Johansen are further examples of teenagers who were pushed too soon, and are mere shadows of their draft-day billing.

On the other side of the coin, there’s a surprising list of current stars who played abbreviated seasons in the AHL before coming to the show. I don’t think the careers of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux, Jason Spezza, Thomas Vanek, James Neal, Logan Couture, or Zach Parise were harmed by playing in the AHL. And the same can be said for P.K Subban, Kris Letang, Nik Kronwall, Duncan Keith, Mike Green, Shea Weber, and Zdeno Chara. Perhaps playing in a developmental league where they got more ice time, and played under less pressure, even helped them. Who knows.

Now that’s not to say that a young player can’t jump straight from junior/college hockey and be successful, but the vast majority of players who have made that leap are top draft picks – 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall – players like Crosby, Stamkos, Toews, Malkin, Tavares, Kane, etc. Once you get past pick-5, it’s rare for a rookie to step right into the NHL without some AHL seasoning.

(2)            Who are the best lesser-known Jets prospects?

Every Jets fan has heard about Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba ad nauseum, and probably knows a bit about Josh Morrissey. They’re all 1st round picks, and they get most of the attention. But there are three other players who could figure prominently into the Jets future.

Nic Petan is a pint-sized centre from Delta, B.,C drafted in the 2nd round this past year. If he was even 6’, 180 lbs, he would have been taken in the top-5 picks, but since he’s ~5’8, 160, he fell to the Jets at #43. He has great hands and quickness, but what really sets him apart is his ability to see the ice and read the play. He’s one of those rare guys who has the composure to cradle a rebound in front of the net, and instead of flailing wildly at the puck, he’ll spot a teammate back-door for a tap-in. If David Desharnais (Mtl) can play in the NHL at 5’6, I see no reason why Petan can’t play at 5’8. Granted he won’t play anytime soon, but after 2 more years in junior hockey, and a year and a half in the AHL, he could be ready to give the Jets’ powerplay a shot in the arm. Look for him to make the Canadian World Junior team this winter.

Initially, Adam Lowry was known as the son of former NHLer Dave Lowry, who played over 1000 games in the NHL, most memorably with Florida in their 1996 Stanley Cup run. But that was before his stellar 2012-2013 season, which saw him win the Four Broncos Award for WHL Player of the Year. Although he was 32 points behind fellow Jets prospect Nic Petan for the league lead in scoring, he did basically everything for the Swift Current Broncos, scoring 45 goals and 88 points, while no other teammate had more than 24 goals, or 59 points. Not only does he have some skill, but he’s also 6’5, and by all accounts, he’s been using thus far in Jets training camp. Like most 20-year-olds who stand 6’5, he’s still growing into his body, but if he can strengthen his legs and improve his skating, he could be a huge part of this team in a few years. I’ll be very curious to see how he does in St. John’s, and whether the offensive numbers he posted in junior will carry over to pro hockey.

For a guy who isn’t terribly big or fast, Scott Kosmachuk is making a lot of noise at training camp. He has good hands and a very good shot, and reminds me a bit of Michael Ryder – another guy who doesn’t really stand out, until he gets the puck in the slot, and it suddenly finds the back of the net. He scored a quick rap-around goal against Washington in the exhibition opener on the 14th, and seems to be one of those players that comes alive once the puck is on his stick. He’s scored over 30 goals in each of the last two OHL seasons, and looks to build on that production heading into his last year of junior hockey. It’s hard to say at this point whether Kosmachuk will ever make an impact in the NHL, but the Jets will be eagerly monitoring his development.

(3)            Are there any darkhorses who could make the team?

Yes – meet Eric O’Dell. Often overlooked because of average size and speed, it’s hard to ignore his skill. Though he’s not as quick, he plays a bit like current Jets centre Bryan Little – smart, with decent playmaking ability and a very good shot. He had an operation in 2010 to repair a strange birth defect – a hole in his heart, which had grown to be as big as a quarter by the time he turned 20. Although he didn’t play hockey for 6 months following surgery, the operation allowed him to increase his fitness level, since the hole was decreasing the flow of blood between the chambers of his heart, leaving him to operate around 80% capacity beforehand. Since turning pro, he’s taken his conditioning to a new level, and it really showed this past year, as he was easily the Ice Caps best player, scoring 29 goals in 59 games, in a year where no one else managed more than 15.

With Little, Jokinen, and Slater penciled in at centre, O’Dell is competing with Mark Scheifele for that last spot. And while that spot will likely go to the youngster, there’s a good chance we’ll see O’Dell join the big club if and when there’s an injury.

(4)            Who were the best off-season additions?

I think it’s pretty clear that the best player added this off-season was Devin Setoguchi. He’s a steady 20-25 goal scorer, who pencils in nicely on the second line. Enough said. But the best move, in my opinion, was signing Matt Halishchuk. And it’s all about value.

Devin Setoguchi makes $3M, has only 1 year left on his contract, and was traded for a 2nd round pick in next year’s draft. If the Jets had made a similar move last year, we wouldn’t have drafted Nic Petan, and amateur GM’s everywhere would be talking about how smart some other team was to get such a talent in the middle of the 2nd round. The problem is, if Setoguchi plays well this year, he demands a raise – probably north of $4M per season, and the Jets may not be inclined to give that much money to a second liner. If he plays poorly, then it was foolish to give up a second rounder in the first place. If he has a decent year, and likes the city, maybe we keep him at a reasonable salary, but I think it’s more likely that he walks at year-end, meaning we gave up a decent asset for essentially a rental player.

By contrast, Matt Halischuk flew under the radar this off-season after being let go by Nashville. He signed a ‘two-way’ contract with the Jets, which pays him $650,000 if he makes the team, and only $250,000 if he plays in the AHL. Though he’s not as skilled as Setoguchi, he did score 15 goals two years ago in Nashville, despite playing in a role which gave him little or no powerplay time. He may not be big or fast, but he’s a coach’s dream because he works hard and plays a very smart game. I fully expect him to make the team, and be a go-to guy on the penalty kill, though he may also provide some offence based on smart positioning and a willingness to go to the dirty areas. That’s exactly how he scored the game-winning goal for Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championships – slyly shoveling home a Shawn Matthias rebound to beat Sweden in overtime.

Michael Frolik was also an interesting addition. He was acquired from Chicago in exchange for 3rd and 5th round picks in this year’s draft – a small sacrifice, considering the Jets still made 10 picks. Though he’s played in the NHL since 2008, at 25 years of age, he’s still a young player. He was highly touted as a teenager, playing pro hockey in the Czech Republic at age 16, which had some people referring to him as him as ‘baby Jagr’. He scored 20 goals in each of his first two seasons in Florida, but was then traded to Chicago, where he took on a lesser role because of their offensive depth. He should play a bigger role in Winnipeg, especially on the powerplay, and hopefully the results will follow.

The only other addition was Adam Pardy – a big depth defenceman who probably won’t play very much unless/until injuries occur.

(5)     What are the best forward line combos?

Ladd-Little-Wheeler

Kane-Scheifele-Setoguchi

Frolik-Jokinen-Halischuk

Wright-Slater-extra

Extras: Tangradi, Thorburn, Peluso

Ladd, Little, and Wheeler should and will stay together. Enough said. As for the second line, Scheifele gets the nod between Kane and Setoguchi mainly because Jokinen proved last year that he can’t play with Kane. Olli has never been accused of being a good playmaker, hence why he rarely played with Jarome Iginla in Calgary. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie, but there really is no one else, unless O’Dell has a very impressive camp.

Although Frolik prefers to play right wing, I expect Matt Halischuk will force his way up the lineup and slide in on the 3rd line. Wright and Slater are a nice tandem on the 4th line, and you can fill in whoever you want in that last slot. Halischuk will probably see time on either of the bottom two lines, and the same could be said for Wright and Tangradi.

(6)            Defensive Combos

Enstrom-Bogosian

Clitsome-Byfuglien

Stuart-Trouba

Pardy, Postma, Redmond

Although Noel has been loathe to split up Buff and Toby, I think an Enstrom-Bogosian pairing works much better. It allows Enstrom to play more offensively, and not worry about having to clean up after Buff. (Enstrom and Buff would be re-united on the powerplay). It also gives Bogosian more of a chance to develop offensively by playing with a gifted player like Enstrom. Moving Buff down with Clitsome allows them both to play easier minutes, and still gives Buff a good skating d-man to pair with and help cover his tracks. Assuming Trouba makes the team, he will likely pair with Stuart on the bottom pairing, as it gives him a veteran to play with in relatively low-pressure situations. If Trouba doesn’t make the team, then Redmond probably leapfrogs Pardy and Postma and takes the last spot. (The only reason he isn’t on the team to begin with is because he can play in the AHL without having to clear waivers. Postma would have to clear waivers).

(7) Which Jets will be at the Olympics?

The candidates are:

Czech Republic – Pavelec

Finland – Jokinen

Canada – Ladd

US – Byfuglien, Wheeler, Bogosian

Pavelec is a lock to be one of the Czech goalies, and Jokinen will almost certainly be on the Finnish team, which speaks to their depth up front. Blake Wheeler has a good chance to make the US team, but he may run into trouble because there are more talented wingers available – Kane, Kessel, Ryan, Parise, etc – and though he may be more gifted than some of the other contenders, US team management may decide that they don’t want an offensive guy in a 4th line role. Byfuglien could very well make the US team as a 7th d-man, as his shot would come in very handy on the powerplay. Bogosian could also make a push if he starts the season well, but there are currently better options available. As for Andrew Ladd, it’s amazing that he even got the camp invite, considering the bevy of options Steve Yzerman has for Team Canada. At this point he’s a longshot, but an injury to the right guy – one who was slotted to play LW on the 4th line – could make all the difference.

As for other key Jets, it was odd that Tobias Enstrom didn’t even merit an invite to Sweden’s summer camp. Less so with Evander Kane, as Taylor Hall is already in tough to make Team Canada, and he plays a similar game. Jacob Trouba was actually invited to the US summer camp, but they invited several young players in preparation for future international events. Michael Frolik has an outside chance to make the Czech team, but he would need to have a very strong start.

(8) Will the Jets make the playoffs?

When the Jets first moved to the new 7-team division, which includes Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Colorado, Dallas, and Nashville, I would have said no without a second thought. But after free agency concluded, and the dust settled, I took another look. Keep in mind that, apart from Chicago and St. Louis, the only other team that made the playoffs last year was Minnesota, and they just squeaked into 8th spot, edging Columbus based only on wins. Minnesota hardly improved this off-season; in fact, they lost 4 of their top-9 forwards due to salary cap constraints. Meanwhile, Dallas went through an overhaul, adding a few aging veterans like Gonchar, Horcoff, and Peverley, and more importantly, the wild-child himself, Tyler Seguin, in a blockbuster trade with Boston. Nashville behaved oddly, handing out inflated contracts to marginal forwards, while leaving defensive spots open for untested rookies. Out of the bubble teams, Colorado was the only team, (Jets aside), who clearly improved, adding Tanguay from Calgary, Steve Downie (missed all of last year with a shoulder injury), and Nate MacKinnon with the first overall pick in the draft.

While the top-two spots should be claimed easily by St. Louis and Chicago, the other two spots could literally go to any of those other five teams. Some people like Dallas because of all the noise they made in the off-season, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll come out of the gates quickly after all that turnover. They’re also one Kari Lehtonen injury away from a low finish, and he’s had a number of injuries in his career. Minnesota is counting on a trio of very young players to fill out key forward positions, and typically that isn’t a winning strategy. Their defense is also shaky, to put it kindly. Nashville is always a tough team to beat because of their goaltending and tight defensive system, but seriously, could they have less offensive talent? I think even Calgary has more skill in their putrid lineup. If anything happened to Rinne or Weber, they’d be in huge trouble. And while I mentioned that Colorado has improved, we’re still talking about a team which finished last year in 2nd last – the forwards may be improved, but they have the same brutal defence, and a very average goaltending tandem.

And then there’s the Jets. Although they’ve never been great defensively, they do have a wealth of talent back there between the established guys – Enstrom, Byfuglien, Bogosian, and the kids – Trouba, Redmond, and Postma. Sure, they don’t have a great shut-down defenceman, but Bogosian is getting there, and Buff looks poised for a good year based on his improved fitness. Up front, they aren’t going to carve you up, but their scoring depth is significantly better than either of the past two years, as Setoguchi, Frolik, and Halischuk all have something to contribute. Olli Jokinen will be better this year too – though mainly because he set the bar so low last year that he can’t possibly be worse. Ultimately it will come down to Ondrej Pavelec – and perhaps Al Montoya, if Noel lets him play more than 6 games this year. There aren’t a ton of responsible defensive players in this lineup, so Pavelec will have a lot of tough nights, but if he can be steady and reliable, they have a good chance. The problem is that Pavelec play is of the boom-or-bust variety to this point, which makes it harder for the team to sustain a long winning streak.

My honest answer to the question is, I don’t know. I’ve seen worse teams make the playoffs, and better teams miss out. If their key players stay healthy – Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Kane; Enstrom, Buff, Bogo – and Pavelec is even marginally better than the past two years, then I think the Jets will get in. But if Pavelec is bad, or hurt, or if we lose more than 1 of those key guys, I think it’ll be very tough.

Now, with all that being said, don’t forget that there is no guarantee that the 4th place team actually makes the playoffs. Although there may be four spots up for grabs in each newly created division, there is a cross-over in effect, meaning that a Western Conference team in the other division can take the spot of a team in our division. So let’s say that St. Louis, Chicago, and Minnesota finish 1-2-3 in our division, while LA, San Jose, Vancouver, Anaheim, and Edmonton finish top-5 in the other division. The Jets could finish 4th in the division, but if 5th place Edmonton finishes with more points, they make the playoffs, and we hit the links.

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That’s it for now. Coming up, I’ll be doing a fantasy hockey preview.