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.

 

 

2013 NHL Mock Draft

The New York Islanders picked John Tavares  1st Overall in 2009

The New York Islanders picked John Tavares 1st Overall in 2009

The NHL Entry Draft takes place this Sunday at 2:30 pm EST

The NHL Entry Draft is the single most important recruitment convention in professional hockey. While Unrestricted Free Agency may get a bit more attention because of the movement of established players, the impact that the draft has on an NHL team completely dwarfs UFA day. While you can always fill holes in your line-up with free agents – a #4 d-man, a 2nd line right winger, maybe even a starting goalie – the ability to get a franchise player is an exclusive *draft-day privilege.

*Some people will point to trades as another way to acquire top talent, but in most cases, you can only get quality by giving up quality, meaning you need to have drafted/signed well in the first place in order to make a trade. The one exception is in the case of trading away high draft picks, like the Toronto – Boston trade involving Phil Kessel and two 1st round picks, which became Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.

I watched a TSN draft retrospective yesterday, which briefly chronicled the historic 2003 NHL Entry Draft. This is the draft that was instrumental for several Stanley Cups of the past 8 years, including Carolina (’06 winner), who took Eric Staal 2nd overall; Anaheim (’07), who stole both Ryan Getzlaf (19th) and Corey Perry (28th); Pittsburgh (’09), who drafted M.A Fleury – 1st overall; and Boston (’11), who plucked Patrice Bergeron at 45. Other impact players taken in the 1st round – and there are too many to mention – include Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Ryan Kesler.

But the problem with the ’03 draft is that it creates false hope. The 1st round of that draft alone, produced 17 guys that could be considered “impact players” – top-line forwards, top-2 defencemen, and a few dominant 2-way centres. I compared that draft to the 9 other drafts that fell between 1997 – 2006, and in no draft were more than 9 impact players taken in the 1st round. Here are the overall results:

  2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
Impact Player 8 9 8 17 7 7
NHL Regular 10 6 6 4 12 8
<500 GP 4 5 6 7 3 9
<100 GP 8 10 10 2 8 6
             
  2000 1999 1998 1997 TOTAL AVERAGE
Impact Player 8 4 5 9 56 9.3
NHL Regular 7 8 12 7 46 7.7
<500 GP 6 9 8 3 34 5.7
<100 GP 9 9 5 11 44 7.3

If these averages were to apply directly this year, then the draft would consist of:

  • 9 high-end players
  • 8 reliable, long serving NHLers
  • 6 journeymen, and;
  • 7 utterly wasted picks

But that’s the nature of drafting players when they’re just 18 years of age – you may not know James Sheppard from Claude Giroux until a few years after draft day, and by then, it’s far too late…

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When I do research for the mock draft, the main scouts/scouting services I trust when looking into the draft are:

  • Craig Button
  • Red Line Report
  • TSN (Bob McKenzie – who basically aggregates the opinions of a survey of NHL scouts)
  • ISS (least of the 4, but still interesting)

I also look at their regular-season stats, taking into consideration the league they played in (OHL/QMJHL a little higher scoring than WHL, which is far higher scoring than European pro leagues), their age (i.e some players are born in ’94 and, all-else-equal, should have better stats than their peers born in ’95), and whether they had any supporting players/environments which may have benefitted those stats. (For example, Nic Petan in Portland had the most points of any draft-eligible player, but the Winterhawks were an offensive juggernaut…).

Now, without further ado, here’s the mock draft. If you’d like more info on some of any of the prospects, check out yesterday’s write-up on the top-20 prospects.

2013 NHL Mock Draft

2013 Mock Draft

2013 NHL Entry Draft – Top-20 Prospects

 

Potential 1st Overall selection Nathan MacKinnon

Potential 1st Overall selection Nathan MacKinnon

The NHL Entry Draft is the place where championships are born. Look no further than Chicago’s victory last night, where 2007 1st overall pick Patrick Kane took home the Conn Smythe. When Chicago won the cup in 2010, it was Toews – picked 3rd overall in 2006 – who won Conn Smythe honours.

My first look at 2013 NHL Entry Draft is a look at the top-20 prospects. This year’s draft is deep – not only are there three 1st overall-quality players at the top, but there are several quality players available well into the middle of the first round. Keep in mind that – barring any trades – the Jets pick at #13.

Note: The list below isn’t intended to be a mock draft. (That’s coming later this week). It’s just a quick glimpse into the top prospects, and an approximation of their long-term potential based on what I know about them from stats, scouting reports, etc.

————————————————————–

TOP-10

(1) Seth Jones

6’4, 200+, with the skating ability and coordination of a much smaller man. Scouts and coaches are impressed with the way he thinks the game and sees the ice, particularly offensively. He also has great athletic pedigree (his father played in the NBA) and is mature and confident, even bordering on cocky.  He’s easily the best defensive prospect since Chris Pronger, who was drafted 2nd overall in 1993, and the vast majority of independent scouting services have ranked him as the top prospect in this year’s draft.

(2) Nathan MacKinnon – C

This Nova Scotia born scoring sensation is drawing lofty comparisons to current NHL stars. I watched him play at the Memorial Cup and the two players he reminded me of were Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos. He’s a right-handed sniper, with a cannon of a wrist shot, hence the comparison to Stamkos. But he’s built like Crosby – just under 6’, with a very strong lower body, and quick, powerful strides. Ultimately I don’t think he quite has the skill-set of either of those prodigees, but the way he attacks the middle, drives to the net, and competes on every shift was very impressive. Some lucky team is getting a franchise player. 

(3) Jonathan Drouin – F

While I don’t think he’ll be drafted prior to the two studs above, Drouin was the one that impressed me the most of the three. His speed and skating ability is high end, and his hands are absolutely incredible – on par with Patrick Kane’s, but the most impressive thing is his vision. The ease with which he could spot a teammate on the other side of the ice, pick the spot where he’s going to be, fire a saucer pass over two sticks, and have it land softly and perfectly on that player’s stick – it almost sent chills down my spine. He made it look so easy. He also has a ton of energy, and is almost as good a goal scorer as he is a playmaker. This guy is going to put up a boatload of points when he gets to the NHL, and the possibility of him going to Tampa Bay and being paired with Stamkos for the next decade should terrify Eastern Conference opponents.

(4) Aleksander Barkov – C

Barkov flies under the radar a bit because of the players ranked above him, but most of the scouts who have watched him frequently have been very impressed. A handful of scouts think he is the best forward available, based on his abundance of size, composure, scoring, and passing ability. His only flaw is that his skating is considered average, but no one thinks that will be a major concern, since as he’s already well sized at 6’2, and over 200 lbs. For those who remember the 2009 draft, many scouts worried about John Tavares’ skating on draft day; no one is worried now.

(5) Valeri Nichushkin – F

What’s a top-ranked Russian forward without a little volatility. Some scouts look at Nichushkin and drool – he’s 6’4, 200 lbs, with impressive speed and hands. He likes to use his speed and power to take the puck wide, and then drive hard to the net, like he did in the bronze medal game of the World Junior’s where he scored the winning goal against Canada. But whether the concerns are founded or not, many hockey people paint Russian players with the same brush. They remember all too well talented underachievers like Alex Kovalev and Maxim Afinogenov. They see the trouble Washington have had in signing their 2010 1st round pick, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who remains with his Russian team in the KHL. And worst of all, they worry about the lure of the KHL’s tax-free, incentive laden deals, which prompted Alex Radulov to break his contract with the Nashville Predators in 2008, just as he was poised to reach his prime. For all these reasons, Nichushkin and his agent have reassured teams that he will be coming to play in North America next year, regardless of where he is slated to play – NHL, AHL, or even junior hockey.

(6) Sean Monahan – F

Though he doesn’t possess as much upside as the players listed above, scouts see Monahan as a very safe bet. He has good size, offensive ability, and on-ice awareness, and is said to play a reliable, two-way game. Most scouts think he will be at least a 2nd liner, if not more. Every reputable scouting service has Monahan in their top-10, but virtually no one ranks him ahead of the top-5 listed above.

(7) Elias Lindholm – F

Lindholm is a very creative player who has been honing his skills against men in the top Swedish League, the Elitserien. A forward who can play centre or wing, he likes to play a puck possession game similar to other Swedish players like the Sedins and Nicklas Backstrom. He has the hands and stickhandling ability needed to hold onto the puck while the play develops, and while he’s more of a playmaker than a shooter, he uses speed and elusiveness to take the puck to scoring areas. He’s the last forward considered to be a concensus top-10 pick, and could go as high as #5 or as low as #9 depending on who’s picking. 

(8) Darnell Nurse – D

The general concensus is that Nurse is the 2nd best defenceman in this year’s draft. At 6’4, he has a big, lanky frame which should fill out at well over 200 lbs once he matures physically. While he can skate the puck out of his own zone, or make a good outlet pass, the strength of his game is on the defensive side, where he uses his long stride and active stick to break up plays. He also plays a tough game, and blocks a ton of shots. Despite good junior stats, he doesn’t project to be an offensive defenceman at the next level, but scouts insist that he is the kind of player that every team needs in order to go deep in the playoffs.   

(9) Max Domi – F

One of the most polarizing figures in this year’s draft, Domi is ranked as high as #9 by some scouting services, and as low as #25. Domi garners a lot of extra attention due to his lineage – though it must be said that Max plays plays nothing like his hard-fisted, and equally hard-headed father, who racked up 3515 PIMs in his NHL career. Instead, the younger Domi wows crowds, opponents, and even teammates with his ability to make skillful plays at top speed. (Witness this Between-the-Legs Sauce pass he made in the OHL playoffs). Talent and style wise, he reminds me of both Brad Marchand and Marty St. Louis – fast, skilled, gritty, and very capable of breaking a game open with a burst of speed and a nice finish. The only concerns scouts have about him are his size – 5’9, and the fact that he suffers from type I diabetes. However, his defenders say that his size is irrelevant – he’s a burly 195 – and that as a result of his medical condition, he’s been forced to take on a stringent nutritional regime which actually puts him way ahead of any other player his age. Despite the concerns, most people in the know think that he’ll go much closer to #9 than #25.

(10) Nikita Zadorov – F

This hulking Russian is listed at 6’6, 220, and is just 18 years of age. London Knights Head Coach Dale Hunter raves about him, saying that his potential is limitless. While he projects as a shut-down defenceman at the NHL level, you’ll occassionally see oversized players like him lose their coordination in their teens and gradually develop their offensive game in their early, or even mid-20’s. (See Chara, Zdeno; Myers, Tyler). Most scouts see him as a top-10 pick, but some teams remain leery of drafting a Russian this early – even one who played the year in the OHL. 

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH

(11) Hunter Shinkaruk – F

An exciting offensive forward, Shinkaruk draft stock was a little higher last year after he scored 49 goals in in 66 games with Medicine Hat of the WHL. While he didn’t necessarily disappoint this year, his goal total fell to 37, and he failed to make Canada’s World Junior team as an 18 year old. Nonetheless, he shouldn’t have to wait long to hear his name called, as most scouts see him going just after the top-10.

(12) Bo Horvat – C

A two-way forward with decent offensive ability, Horvat’s stock climbed in the last few months after he helped lead the London Knights to the OHL championship, scoring 16 goals in 21 playoff games. While scouts like his all-around game, he doesn’t have the offensive upside of the forwards slated to go ahead of him.

(13) Josh Morrissey – D

A flashy offensive defenceman who can lead the rush and quarterback the powerplay, Morrissey also plays a somewhat physical, two-way game. The question is whether he’ll be able to do that at the next level, as his size – ~6’, 185 – may be a limiting factor.

(14) Adam Erne – F

A hard-nosed power forward who loves crashing the net, Erne is the type of throwback player that most GM’s – many of whom are former NHLers themselves – would love to have on their team. While he didn’t score at a blistering pace this past year – 72 points in the high-scoring QMJHL – it is noteworthy that he led his team in scoring.

(15) Alexander Wennberg – F

Wennberg had a good season playing against men in Sweden, putting up 32 points in 46 games in Sweden’s 2nd league. He has good hands, good hockey sense, and is pretty well-rounded for a young player, but like most of the forwards ranked outside the top-10, there are questions about his ability to produce big numbers at the next level.

(16) Rasmus Ristolainen – D

A smooth defenceman with a good frame (6’3, 203), Ristolainen’s all-around game is impressive when playing against his teenage peers. But it isn’t clear what type of player he’ll be at the next level, as he lacks high-end skill, or an obvious mean streak.

(17) Samuel Morin – D

Standing 6’7, and with a good skating stride for a player his size, it’s no surprise that Morin is drawing plenty of interest. He uses his smarts and anticipation as much as his large frame, but scouts are hoping he’ll become more physical as he starts to fill out. Like most towering players, he hasn’t shown much of an offensive game yet, but he does have a hard shot.

(18) Anthony Mantha – F

The only 50-goal scorer in this year’s draft class, opinions range on Mantha’s long-term potential. Craig Button ranks him as the 16th best prospect, while the Red Line Report doesn’t even have him in their top-30. While no one questions his skill-set, Mantha has been characterized as “lacking intensity” – one of the biggest flaws one could level against a young prospect. And although he has a big frame at 6’4, he’s criticized for being a finesse player, who doesn’t use his size effectively.

(19) Ryan Hartman – F

The polar opposite of Mantha, Hartman is small, quick, and an intense competitor. He plays a bit like Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, with great determination, and a high compete-level. And although he doesn’t wow you with skill, he can still chip in offensively.

(20) Frederik Gauthier – F

At 6’5, 210, and yet to fill out, Gauthier brings an intriguing blend of size and skill. He may not have high-end skill or skating ability, but he has been described as difficult to play against, and may play a similar role to Jordan Staal once he gets to the NHL.  

 

2013 NHL Playoff Picks

future-crystal-ball

 

So it’s that time of year again. The time when beards are grown, money is wagered, and legends are made. It’s the NHL Playoffs. If there’s a more exciting event in sports, I haven’t experienced it. Nothing else compares to the pace, drama, ferocity, and suspense which the Stanley Cup Playoffs provide us year after year. Perhaps fans of other sports would beg to disagree, but if so, I’d beg them to watch a better sport.

Since about 2004, I’ve been making NHL playoff brackets. The goal – nay, the dream – is to have a perfect bracket. It’s never happened for me to date, and the odds of it ever happening are slim. And every year it makes me try harder.

This year, I’ve gone to new lengths – almost laughable lengths – in my efforts to be right. I know from past experience that more information does not mean better decisions, and yet something compelled me to strive onward. So I have some information which, if nothing else, should be neat to look at. (Is 15 hours really worth “neat to look at?”) For now, I’m just going to lay out each series and make some picks, but I’ll be posting my crazy methodology once the playoffs are underway.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Pittsburgh versus (8) New York Islanders

It may not be a tight series, but it should be fun to watch. John Tavares has emerged as one of the top-5 forwards in the NHL, and has pulled the Islanders along with him. The only knock on Tavares on draft day was his skating, which was considered average at best. But in the past four years, Tavares’ Crosby-like work-ethic has turned that weakness into a strength. Shutting him down in a 7-game series is not possible.

But what’s truly different about the Islanders is the supporting cast. It’s no longer just Matt Moulson riding shot-gun to Tavares, but 2nd line guys like Nielsen, Bailey, and Okposo who are bringing it for New York, and providing the kind of balanced attack which saw them score 139 goals, good for 8th in the NHL. Veteran puck moving d-men like Lubomir Visnovsky and Mark Streit are also a big part of that turnaround.

But…it’s Pittsburgh. On paper, the Pens might be the best NHL team in over a decade. If you knew prior to the season that they’d have Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Neal, Morrow, and Kunitz up front, you’d need a very good reason to pick anyone else to win it all. It just looks frightening. I didn’t even list Pascal Dupuis, since he isn’t a name that sticks out to most people, and yet he scored 20 goals. And then there’s Kris Letang, who would have been the odds-on favourite to win the Norris Trophy this year had he not missed a quarter of the season with various lower-body ailments.

In fact, the Pens won more games in overtime and regulation than any other team in the league – including Chicago – 33 in all. They beat the Islanders in 4 of 5 meetings this year, and swept one of the other Eastern Conference favourites – the Boston Bruins – 3-0. In fact, the Penguins only have a losing record against one team in East: the New Jersey Devils. And with the Devils ready to hit the golf course, it’s hard to find a team that has an obvious advantage over Crosby and Co.

If there is a weakness on this team, it’s the injury bug. Crosby probably won’t be ready for game 1 of the series due to the broken jaw he suffered on March 30th, and Malkin, Letang, and Neal have all returned just recently from their own injuries. But unless they lose all those players again, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Islanders can overcome that juggernaut.

(2) Montreal versus (7) Ottawa

Folks, this is a tight one. In a series like this, it’s hard to resist shaking your head and simply picking the favourite. But here’s how I see it shaking down.

The Habs exceeded expectations all year with strong early-season play from Carey Price and a great powerplay, led by the return of prodigal son, Andrei Markov. After several injury-plagued seasons, Markov regained his health, playing in every game this year – the first time he’s done so since ’07-’08. P.K Subban put up career numbers with 38 points in only 42 games, and the Canadians got balanced contributions from Pacioretty, Plekanec, Gionta, Ryder, Desharnais, Eller, Galchenyuk, and Gallagher.

The Sens are more or less the opposite story. With early-season injuries to their elite offensive talents – Jason Spezza, and Erik Karlsson – the Sens had to do it the hard way, grinding out 2-1 games, and picking up OT points by keeping games close. They gave up only 104 goals all season, the lowest total in the high-scoring Eastern Conference. They only allowed 20 while short-handed, and I have a feeling that the Habs, who relied heavily on their #2 ranked powerplay (42 goals on the year), will have trouble piercing their defensive front.

And then there’s Erik Karlsson. The surprising return of last year’s Norris Trophy winner wasn’t expected anytime this season after Matt Cooke’s skate severed 70% of his achilles tendon. But he returned Thursday in Washington, and posted 2 points in 27 minutes of action. He is easily the most talented offensive defenceman of his generation, with an unparalleled combination of skating, passing, shooting, and above all, vision. His return cannot be overstated for a Senators team which finished last among all playoff teams with 116 goals.

And then there’s Craig Anderson. If not for a high ankle sprain which came him out for several weeks, Anderson probably would have won the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender. His numbers are almost unfathomable: a 1.69 goals against average, and a .941 save %. He plays an aggressive game, similar to 2011 Vezina and Conn Smythe Winner Tim Thomas, minus the extreme political leanings. And with a solid and versatile group of defenders in front of him, including shut-down men like Methot, Cowen, and Phillips, who prevent high-quality chances, and puck movers in Karlsson, Gonchar, and Wiercioch, who lead the transition game from their own zone, the Senators are tough to bottle in their own zone.

Of course, if Price can regain his early-season form, then Montreal will be able to win some close games and carry the day, but if I’m betting on a goalie in this series, it’s Craig Anderson.

(3) Washington versus (6) New York Rangers

This is one of the most interesting series in the 1st round because there’s so many ways to look at it. The Rangers have Lundqvist in goal, so they should be favoured. The Caps have Ovechkin in MVP form, so they’re the favourite. The Rangers have size and grit, with Nash, Callahan, Clowe, Boyle, and Kreider, but the Caps have the skill, with Backstrom, Ribeiro, Green, Erat, and the aforementioned Ovie. Both teams were hot down the stretch.

What’s the difference maker? I don’t think it’s Washington being “hot”, because I don’t think they are. I think they’re just good. While it’s easy to point to Ovechkin’s dominance as the reason for the Caps’ turnaround – and it is a huge reason – but I think the health and play of Mike Green is just as important. Green is making people remember how we forget he’s a defenceman, and I mean that in a good way. The man has scored 10 goals in the last 18 games, as a defenceman. That’s ridiculous. With his re-emergence, their powerplay is once again deadly – they have the shooters – Ovie & Green; they have the set-up men – Backstrom and Ribeiro; and they have the net presence – Brouwer. Since they generate a lot of chances with a solid three-line attack, they draw a lot of penalties. And if you take too many penalties, your odds of winning are dismal.

In last year’s 2nd round, the Caps took the Rangers to a 7th game. The Rangers finished 1st in the East last year, while the Caps finished 7th. New York was a grinding team, and the Caps didn’t have the firepower to overcome them. But if I’m a Rangers fan, what scares me isn’t just the Caps’ offensive renaissance, but the fact that their best defensive defenceman – Marc Staal – remains sidelined with a fairly severe eye injury. Staal has resumed skating, but his vision is still blurry after taking a shot to the eye on March 5th. Girardi and McDonagh are a good defensive pairing, but the drop-off to the 2nd pairing of Del Zotto and Stralman is a huge concern.

All that being said, Nash and Stepan have been very impressive this year for the Rangers, and Richards and Callahan have picked up their play of late, so it’s not like New York can’t win this series. But I think Washington’s “hot streak” isn’t a result of a team playing above its long-term capability, but rather a sign of a team that’s found its way.

(4) Boston versus (5) Toronto

This is a strange one. If you looked at this series a month ago, it would have been a nice match-up. The Bruins are just two years removed from their Stanley Cup winning performance, and boast a solid, deep team at all positions, particularly up front. Meanwhile the Leafs were on the rise, with strong offensive performances from Kessel, Kadri, and Lupul (when healthy), and the surprising play of goaltender James Reimer.

But both teams have sputtered of late. The Bruins had a few injuries, first with Bergeron and Marchand, and more recently with Nate Horton and Jaromir Jagr. Zdeno Chara only scored 7 goals this year, and 19 points, and was on pace for his worst offensive season in over a decade. David Krejci’s offence also dryed up down the stretch, and Milan Lucic found himself a healthy scratch at one point last week.

But the Leafs’ play was on another level of bad. They averaged about 19 shots per game in their last three,  and lost 4 of 6 to end the season. They probably would have lost all 6 if not for the heroic play of Reimer, who allowed just one goal in those two wins.

All things considered, it’s hard not to pick take Boston. The Bruins won three of the four match-ups this season, and with neither team playing well, it’s hard to point to a reason why the favourite won’t win. Sorry Leafs fans, but I don’t pick Boston to win, as much as I expect Toronto to lose.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Chicago versus (8) Minnesota

There isn’t too much to say about this one. Minnesota limped into the playoffs, dropping their last home game against Edmonton, when they had the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. It was an unimpressive performance in a long string of underwhelming play which started around the trade deadline on April 3rd. The Wild have a pretty good group of forwards, led by Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, but their defence begins and ends with Ryan Suter – though rookie Jonas Brodin has a very bright future.

Chicago’s speed and skill will overwhelm Minnesota. Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa are as deadly a quartet as you’ll find in the NHL, and the Hawks have developed a nice supporting cast behind them, with Bickell, Kruger, Stalberg, and rookie Brandon Saad supplying a nice dose of secondary scoring. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been solid all year – in fact, Emery is 17-1-0 on the season. (I haven’t checked, but that must be a record). Minnesota will play hard, but I just can’t see them keeping the puck out of their net.

(2) Anaheim versus (7) Detroit

Although this isn’t like me, I just “have a feeling” about this series. Detroit won two of the three meetings this season, and lost the other game without the services of Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. Not only will those two be playing in this series, but they, along with Henrik Zetterberg, seem to have found their old form in the last 10 games. By contrast, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were their old selves in the first half of this season, but after they all but clinched a playoff spot, and pocketed some rather large contract extensions, each of them have come back down to earth. Getzlaf has also missed a few games with unspecified injuries, which is not unusual given his history in the past several years.

Overall, I’ll still give the edge on offence to Anaheim, as Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan have more finishing ability than their counterparts in Detroit, and don’t need as many chances to find the back of the net. But what I can’t get past is the indescribable play of Anaheim’s back-end, where their make-shift group of Souray, Lydman, Allen, Fowler, Lovejoy, and Sbisa, has only one high-quality NHL defenceman – Francois Beauchemin. Sbisa is probably the next-best, and is currently out of the lineup. Souray, Lydman, and Allen all lack foot seed, and Fowler isn’t known for his defensive play at this stage of his young career. I see Detroit holding the puck in the Anaheim end for long periods of play, and Anaheim running around desperately trying to get it back.

You might suggest that Detroit’s defence isn’t much better. And I don’t completely disagree. Losing Brad Stuart and Nick Lidstrom was a huge double-blow, not to mention Brian Rafalski the previous off-season. But the Wings also suffered countless injuries to the players who were supposed to fill those gaps – Smith, Quincey, and Colaiacovo all missed chunks of time. Finally, everyone on the back-end is healthy, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Wings’ play has improved of late. I also give a slight edge in goal to Detroit, as Jimmy Howard has performed well in the playoffs in the each of the past four years.

(3) Vancouver versus (6) San Jose

A rematch of the 2011 Conference Final, which the Canucks won in 5 games. While each team has declined, they still possess most of the pieces that made up those squads just two years ago. Sedin x2, Kesler, Burrows, Edler, Hamhuis, Bieksa on the one end; Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture, Boyle, Vlasic, and Niemi on the other.

What’s interesting is that most people don’t see either of these teams going too far in these playoffs. I disagree. I think San Jose is underrated, and will give Vancouver all they can handle. Niemi is having a career year, and will be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Meanwhile, Schneider had a very good year as well, so assuming he’s healthy, (he missed a game on the weekend), the goaltending should be tight in this series.

San Jose also went on a huge run after trading Clowe and Murray around the deadline- apparently no one told them that being a seller meant they couldn’t go 12-5-1 down the stretch. But Vancouver added Derek Roy at the deadline – just the injection of tenacious, offensive talent they needed – and finally, finally may have a healthy Ryan Kesler. With those two in the fold, and Mason Raymond having a good year, the Canucks have the offensive depth they lacked most of the last year, which was especially apparent in last year’s 1st round, when Daniel Sedin missed the first three games against LA (all losses). Jannik Hansen is also having a career year, and Chris Higgins has rejuvenated his career in Vancouver, establishing himself as an excellent third-liner.

While the Canucks still aren’t what they were in 2011, they still have an excellent group of top-4 defencemen, with Edler, Hamhuis, Bieksa, and Garrison all possessing some measure of of size, skating, and offensive ability. So while overall, they don’t possess the elite offensive skill of teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago, they also don’t have any significant holes to speak of. I think they will sneak by San Jose, and could make a serious run in the West.

(4) St. Louis versus (5) Los Angeles

A re-match of last year’s 2nd round match-up, which the Kings swept in 4. But don’t expect this year’s series to be so short-lived.

The Blues are more or less the same team which finished 2nd in the Western Conference last year – only they might be better. Adding Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary was huge, as it solidified their top pairing, giving Alex Pietrangelo a stable, veteran presence who can help him defend against the other team’s top players. Adding Jordan Leopold also gave them more depth on the back-end. Up front, they still don’t score as much as you’d expect, but between Perron, Oshie, Backes, Steen, McDonald, Stewart, Tarasenko, and Berglund, the talent is there. The one concern for the Blues is in goal, where de facto starter Jaro Halak has missed some time with injuries, and his back-up, Brian Elliot, has been wildly inconsistent (though quite good of late).

For their part, the Kings are also more or less the same team, but different. They’ve had great goaltending, except it’s been more Bernier than Quick. And apart from Jeff Carter, they still aren’t scoring as much as it looks like they should based on the abundance of talent they have in Kopitar, Richards, Williams, Brown, and Doughty. They’ve also missed their key shut-down tandem of Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell terribly, though Greene is almost 100% now, and Robyn Regehr – acquired from Buffalo – is almost a dead wringer for Mitchell.

The deciding factor for me is the Kings’ recent success against St. Louis. Not only did they sweep them in the playoffs last year, but they took all three games this season. It’s a case of two teams who play a very similar style – defence-first – and LA has the edge in star power both in goal, and up front. St. Louis has tons of depth, but when you’re looking at David Backes as your best forward, I’ll raise you Kopitar, Carter, and Richards, before I get to Dustin Brown, who is basically LA’s version of Backes. I think St. Louis will make this a really tough series, but if I’m putting down money, it’s on LA.

 

Pick Summary:

EAST

(1) Pit over (8) Nyi

(7) Ott over (2) Mtl

(3) Wsh over (6) Nyr

(4) Bos over (5) Tor

 

WEST

(1) Chi over (8) Min

(7) Det over (2) Ana

(3) Van over (6) Sjs

(5) Lak over (4) Stl

Winners & Losers of the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline

Anaheim Ducks v Calgary Flames

Calgary Flames General Manager, Jay Feaster

 

Most General Managers agree that the NHL Trade Deadline is the time when their peers are most prone to making mistakes. Over the years, many GM’s have been guilty of “selling the farm”, trading promising young players and draft picks for “rentals” – veterans who will only be around for the remainder of the year. One of the reasons they’re so eager is because playoff appearances are huge money makers,  since players aren’t *paid during the post-season, and ticket prices see a sizeable increase.

*Although some players have bonuses in their contracts related to playoff performance, most do not. When the season ends, so do the paycheques. (With the exception of escrow adjustments, which are paid after the season.) 

The deadline normally takes place on February 28th, but due to the compressed schedule, this year’s deadline was pushed back to April 3rd. Hockey analysts speculated that because of the shortened season, fewer teams would be out of the playoff race, and thus, fewer teams would be looking to sell, i.e trade roster players for picks and prospects. This year’s deadline was supposed to be a seller’s market.

Well, at least they were half right. The playoff race was especially tight as of April 3rd – in the West, 3 points separated 8th from 13th, while in the East, the gap between 6th and 10th was also 3 points. And because so few teams were entirely out of the playoff running, many GM’s decided to keep their rosters intact, rather than selling off veteran UFAs. But despite the shortage of sellers, some of the returns for quality players were laughable. Countless fringe NHL prospects were traded in the week leading up to the deadline, most notably in the Jarome Iginla deal, where the Flames got nothing tangible for their future hall of famer, and nine-year captain. Considering Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick will be in the 25-30 range, the odds that the Flames end up with a top-line forward or top-2 defenceman from that pick are slim.

Here’s a brief summary of the major winners and losers from the trade deadline. Following the summary is an appendix of the major acquisitions made by all the teams. 

 

WINNERS

New York R – If the early returns are anything to go on, the additions Glen Sather made at the deadline were pure genius. While former superstar Gaborik had only 19 points in 35 games on the year, and was clashing with Rangers’ coach John Tortorella, new additions Ryane Clowe and Derick Brassard collectively gathered 7 points in their Rangers’ debut. Furthermore, they added another piece to their defence corps with the smooth skating John Moore, and added toughness with Derek Dorsett (week-to-week with a broken collarbone). The cherry on top is that Gaborik’s $7.5M contract is off the books for next year, giving them ample room to re-sign Clowe and make other additions too.  

St. Louis – Talk about addressing a need. With a gaping hole on defence, the Blues went out and acquired 2002, 3rd overall pick Jay Bouwmeester. Jay Bo is exactly what this team needs – a steady, two-way defenceman who can play big minutes in every situation. St. Louis already has their franchise defenceman in Alex Pietrangelo, so Bouwmeester can ride shotgun as that #2 guy, which he’s more suited to. And for those who claim that his $6.68M contract makes him a bad addition, there’s the case of Brian Campbell – who was much maligned in Chicago because of his $7M contract, and then resurrected himself in Florida with a 53-point season – the most of any non-Karlssonian in 2012. Unlike Campbell, Bouwmeester doesn’t need to be flashy; he is simply a solid veteran who will pair with Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk and help take this team to the next level. Plus, with $25M in cap room for next year, Bouwmeester’s salary won’t break the bank. The Blues also added Jordan Leopold from Buffalo, and although they overpaid with a 2nd round pick, he provides further depth. 

Nashville – Acquired the only “blue-chip” prospect of the week in Filip Forsberg, giving up long-time Preds forward Martin Erat in order to do so. (As well as a decent prospect in Michael Latta). Although Erat was one of the best offensive players in Nashville over the last 7 years, Forsberg is a potential 1st line forward – something Nashville hasn’t had since Paul Kariya left in 2007. What makes the move all the more impressive is that Erat had quietly asked Nashville GM David Poile for a trade; if the league knew that Erat wanted out, it would have decreased his trade value. Instead, Poile acted quickly, and got a fantastic return before the situation became a distraction.

San Jose – Managed to collect as many as four 2nd round picks (two are conditional), as well as 3rd and 4th rounders for players with expiring contracts. Also added a nice depth forward in Torres for a reasonable price (3rd rd pick). GM Doug Wilson is going a good job of rebuilding on the fly, and although he didn’t get any prized prospects or first round picks, don’t underestimate the promise of a 2nd rounder. From 2001-2010, the following players were drafted in the 2nd round: Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Mike Ribeiro, Paul Stastny, Dave Bolland, Milan Lucic, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan O’Reilly, Derek Stepan, P.K Subban, Alex Goligoski, Matt Carle, Justin Faulk, Justin Schultz, Slava Voynov, Wayne Simmonds, Loui Eriksson, and James Neal. Nice group of skaters.

Columbus – New GM Jarmo Kekalainen means business. He said he would add at the deadline, and he made the biggest splash of the day, adding struggling superstar Marian Gaborik. Although Gaborik wasn’t producing in New York, a change of scenery could do wonders for him. And based on his days on the formerly defence-first Minnesota Wild, he can produce anywhere when he is happy & healthy. Although Kekalainen gave New York a nice return, Brassard wasn’t living up to his potential in Columbus, and Moore was somewhat redundant with other young, smooth d-men in the fold, like Tim Erixon, and last year’s 2nd overall pick, Ryan Murray. With Columbus surging of late, I think this was a risk worth taking, as it sends a message to the players and the rest of the league that management in Columbus is serious about winning. They also retained all three 1st round picks in the upcoming draft, so it’s not like Kekalainen sold the farm.

Minnesota – The acquisition of Jason Pominville cements the Wild as a major player in the Western Conference in the years to come. Already boasting the likes of Parise, Suter, and Koivu, the Wild now have another talented, multi-faceted player with great character and leadership qualities. They gave up a lot of young assets to get him, but their system remains chalked full of talented prospects, since they didn’t give up any of their best in the deal. (i.e Granlund, Coyle, Zucker.) While the trade was a good one for Minnesota, the one curious aspect is that the Wild have a much greater need on defence than at forward. My only guess is that the outlandish returns for defenders like Murray, Regehr, and Leopold made them look for a better value proposition. 

Dallas – GM Joe Nieuwendyk is learning from his mistakes. After the misguided decision to hold onto Brad Richards in 2011 – whom he eventually lost for nothing – Nieuwendyk divested of all of his major UFAs, including Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy, and captain Brenden Morrow. In return, he collected two high draft picks and 2 solid prospects – far more than Calgary got for Bouwmeester and Iginla. Dallas’ window of opportunity is years away – in the tightly contested Western Conference, the Stars aren’t likely to make a long playoff run. Furthermore, the holes left by those veterans allowed Nieuwendyk to give his best young players a chance, and thus far they have performed brilliantly, helping the Stars win five in a row.

Ottawa & Tampa Bay – In the short-term, both teams got what they needed. Tampa Bay had an obvious need for goaltending, and 6’7 Ben Bishop certainly fits the bill. Plus Ottawa’s crease was full, with incumbent starter Craig Anderson and heir apparent Robin Lehner. Similarly, Ottawa had a need for a creative, top-6 winger, and Conacher was expendable for Tampa, with Stamkos, St. Louis, and Purcell leading an already impressive attack, and a number of promising young forwards on the way, including Killorn, Panik, Palat, Johnson, and Connolly. It’s always tough to evaluate a goalie-for-player trade, but some recent examples include:

Luongo (Fla) for Bertuzzi (Van) – goalie won handily

Vermette (Ott) for Leclaire (Cbj) – player won handily

Halak (Mtl) for Eller (Stl) – jury’s still out

My best guess is that both players will be good with their new teams, though Bishop will have the tougher time repeating his success, as Tampa is looking more and more like the goalie carousel in Philadelphia.  

 

JURY’S OUT

Buffalo – The Sabres entered rebuild mode this week, trading Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, and team captain Jason Pominville for a collection of picks and prospects. The returns on Leopold and Regehr were excellent, getting three picks in the 2nd round for players with expiring contracts who hadn’t performed to their previously established levels of ability. But the big move was Pominville – a long-time Sabre who still had another year remaining on his contract. In return, they received a decent goaltending prospect (Matt Hackett), a decent forward prospect (Johan Larsson), a 1st round pick in 2013, and a 2nd round pick in 2014. Ultimately, the success of that trade will depend on the draft picks, as neither Hackett nor Larsson is likely to make as big an impact as Pominville. But in trading their captain, the Sabres also made a place for younger players like Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Myers – players upon whom the Sabres’ future success depends heavily.

Washington – Got a good player in Erat, but gave up a great prospect in Forsberg. While some people see this in the same light as Kessel-Seguin, I think it could work out okay for Washington. Washington’s window to compete is now, as core players like Ovechkin, Green, Laich, and Backstrom are in their mid-to-late 20’s, and may be in decline by the time Forsberg reaches his prime in 3-5 years. Erat will add scoring depth, which they’ve lacked in recent years, and may help them to make a run in the next couple of years, well before Forsberg would have been ready for a starring role. They also picked up Michael Latta – a decent offensive prospect with good size, who could take on a 3rd line role in the future. All that being said, this is a big risk, and many saw it as a desperation move.

Boston – Jaromir Jagr will help them, but they’ll give up a 1st round pick should they reach the conference finals. (2nd round pick if not). Not poor value, but they were the 2nd best team in the East before Jagr, and will likely remain the 2nd best team in the East with him. (Though recent injuries to Bergeron and Marchand hurt them significantly). They also had a need on defence for a true powerplay quarterback, and Wade Redden, whom they brought over for a 7th round pick, is not the answer.

Los Angeles – Overpaid for Regehr with two 2nd round picks, but filled the need for a solid defender with the injuries to Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene.

Phoenix – Gave up a few pending UFAs (Torres, Lombardi, Sullivan) for a prospect and picks. Not big moves, but good asset management. 

 

LOSERS

Vancouver – Were in on Clowe but lost out to New York. Didn’t deal Roberto Luongo, and maintain that distraction. If they can’t re-sign Derek Roy, then they overpaid for him. (2nd round pick and prospect defenceman Kevin Connaughton). With the Sedins starting a moderate decline, Kesler often hurt, a weak prospect system, and a dearth of scoring talent on the wings, I think Vancouver’s opportunity to contend has already passed them by. I don’t see them catching up to Chicago or Los Angeles, and Anaheim, St. Louis, and Minnesota are also on the rise. They’re definitely still capable of beating anyone, but good luck winning three rounds against those teams.

Pittsburgh – Although they added three forwards, and one slow-footed, physical defenceman, their big need was for a two-way defender. With Martin on the IR, and Letang in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries, they have no fall-back options on the blueline. The moves are looking better of late due to the unexpected injuries to Sidney Crosby and James Neal, but I still think that Chero should have saved the bullets he used on either Iginla or Morrow to go after a defenceman. 

Calgary – I have no issue with blowing things up, but they got pathetic returns for Iginla and Bouwmeester. Plus the scortched-earth strategy is risky – although it was employed with great success in Chicago and Pittsburgh in the mid-2000’s, it was an utter failure in Florida and Columbus just prior to that. Rebuilding this team will take time, and with the Flames currently a laughing stock in the league, you can bet that Jay Feaster will not be there to see it through.

 

DEADLINE DAY APPENDIX – MAJOR ACQUISITIONS ONLY

SELLERS

Nashville

(-)Erat, Latta

(+)Forsberg

San Jose

(–)Clowe, Murray, Handzus, 3rd rd ’13, 7th rd ‘13

(+)Torres, Hannan, two 2nd round picks in 2013; 3rd+4th round picks in 2013; two conditional 2nd round picks in 2014

Buffalo

(-)Pominville, Leopold, Regehr

(+)Hackett, Larsson, 1st round pick in 2013, 2nd round pick in 2013, conditional 5th round pick in 2013, two 2nd round picks in 2014, 2nd round pick in 2015

Dallas

(-)Morrow, Jagr, Roy, 3rd round pick in 2013

(+)J.Morrow, conditional 1st round pick in 2013, Connaughton, 2nd+5th round picks in 2013, 2 marginal prospects

Calgary

(-)Iginla, Bouwmeester, Comeau

(+)two 1st round picks in 2013, 4 marginal prospects, 5th round pick in 2013

Phoenix

(-)Torres, Lombardi, Sullivan

(+)3rd+7th round picks in 2013; MacMillan

 

BUYERS

New York R

(+)Clowe, Brassard, Moore, Dorsett

(-)Gaborik, 2nd+3rd round picks in 2013; conditional 2nd in 2014

St. Louis

(+)Bouwmeester, Leopold

(-)1st, 2nd, 5th round picks in 2013; conditional 5th rd pick in 2013; 2 marginal prospects

Minnesota

(+)Pominville, 4th rd ‘14

(-)Hackett, Larsson, 1st round pick in 2013, 2nd round pick in 2014

Boston

(+)Jagr, Redden

(-) Conditional 1st round pick in 2013 7th round pick in 2014

Pittsburgh

(+)Iginla, B.Morrow, Murray, Jokinen, 3rd rd ‘13

(-)J.Morrow, 1st, 2nd, 5th, round picks in 2013; conditional 6th rd pick in 2013; conditional 2nd rd pick in 2014; 2 marginal prospects

Washington

(+)Erat, Latta

(-)Forsberg

Los Angeles

(+)Regehr

(-)2nd round pick in 2014, 2nd round pick in 2015

Columbus

(+)Gaborik, Comeau, 3rd round pick in 2013, 2 prospects

(-)Brassard, Moore, Dorsett, Mason, 5th+6th round picks in 2013

Ottawa/Tampa Bay

Bishop to Tampa for Conacher +4th round pick in 2013 

2012 NHL Playoffs: 2nd Round Picks

I don’t have as much time as I’d like to elaborate on these picks, but I’m morally obligated to make them prior to any games beginning, so here they are. I’ll be doing a post-mortem on round 1, as well as a more detailed look at the rest of the playoffs, so stay tuned.

(If you’re up for a laugh, check out my 1st round playoff picks. I went 3/8! Bear in mind that I am not always  this foolish – I was 7/8 last year, and 6/8 the year before.)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(2) St. Louis vs (8) Los Angeles

Winner: Los Angeles

Why: The Blues matched up really well against San Jose – bigger, faster, younger, and better goaltending. But the same can’t be said against LA. The Kings have tons of size up front – Kopitar, Carter, Brown, Penner, King, and Nolan – and  lots of speed between Richards, Williams, Lewis, Richardson, Stoll, as well as the aforementioned Carter and Brown. Furthermore, Jonathan Quick is about as good a goalie as you’ll find. Because both of these teams are so good – and so evenly matched – it may come down to who gets a break in a key game 4/5. And when the game is tight, I like to have Mike Richards on my side.

(3) Phoenix vs (4) Nashville

Winner: Nashville

Why: Speaking of evenly matched, how about Phoenix and Nashville. Great goaltending, tight defensive systems, very strong bluelines, and – at least on paper – a bit challenged offensively. The reason I like Nashville is that they have a bit more talent up front than in the past, adding a game-breaker like Alex Radulov, which helps bring more out of other skilled players like Erat and the Kostitsyn’s. And while Nashville’s two-way centres like Fisher and Legwand are countered by Phoenix’s Hanzel, Vermette, and Langkow, I prefer Nashville’s depth guys better – Gaustad, Halischuk, Bourque, Spaling –  to the players in Phoenix’s bottom-6 like Pyatt, Gordon, Brule, and Chipchura. Phoenix has been resilient all year so don’t count them out, but I think Nashville – for probably the first time in their history – has just a little more star power.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) New York vs (7) Washington

Winner: New York

Why: This one is a struggle to explain, because I actually think that Washington is probably a better team from the goal out, but I like the Rangers to come through. Yes, Braden Holtby was majestic against the Bruins, and out-dueled last year’s Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, but I don’t think lightning will strike twice. I’ve seen this story before, where the underdog goalie outplays the heavily favoured rival goalie, and it usually doesn’t last. In 2004 when Philly’s Robert Esche played unexpectedly well against New Jersey’s legend Martin Brodeur and forced them out in the 1st round. But he got worse in each round that followed, eventually losing to Tampa Bay in the Conference Finals. Same thing in 2010, when Brian Boucher was significantly better than Brodeur in a 5-game series win by Philadelphia. Boucher was terrible in the next round against Boston, before getting hurt and making way for Michael Leighton’s unexpected heroics (which again only lasted for about 1 round). I’m not saying that Holtby isn’t a good goalie, but there were no expectations of him beating the Bruins; now that they’re into the 2nd round, guess what: expectations.

And then there’s Henrik Lundqvist – the consensus best goalie in the world, and one with a history of success against Washington. He nearly stole their 1st round series in 2009 – a time when the Caps were a far more dangerous team offensively. The Rangers took a 3-1 series lead against the heavily favoured Capitals squad, solely due to the play of Lundqvist, before succumbing to the Caps’ then-dynamic attack. To my eye, Washington is no longer the same team, and though I think the series will be close, I like New York to once again squeak it out.

(5) Philadelphia vs (6) New Jersey

Winner: Philadelphia

Why: I think this series will be very interesting. Just like Washington is no longer the offensive juggernaut they once were, New Jersey is no longer the defensively stifling, systems-oriented team of their past. They actually have very good offensive depth up front with the likes of Parise, Kovalchuk, Elias, Zajac, Henrique, Clarkson, Zubrus, and Sykora, as well as a little more on the back-end with the deadline-day addition of Marek Zidlicky. In some ways, this will present a greater challenge to Philadelphia, whose defence is banged up with injuries to Grossman and Meszaros, and of course Chris Pronger. While Coburn and Timonen were matched up against Malkin and Neal, leaving only two truly dangerous Pens in the rest of their lineup (Staal and Crosby, the latter of which didn’t look right for most of the series), Philly’s depleted blueline will now need to stop the Elias and Henrique lines, and hope that Timonen and Coburn can shut-down the ever dangerous Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk line.

All that being said, I don’t think New Jersey will win the series. Philly just has too much skill, and different types of players that complement each other. Small, quick, skilled forwards like Briere and Read mixed in with big, skilled forwards like Voracek and Jagr; gritty guys Hartnell, Schenn, and Simmonds; two-way players like Couturier and Talbot; and then there’s the guy that stirs the drink – a man whom Flyers coach Peter Laviolette boastfully called “the best player in the world” – # 28, Claude Giroux. I’ve  watched Giroux for years, from his days in Gatineau of the QMJHL, when he barely made the team as an undrafted 17-year-old,  to his play in the 2008 WJC for Team Canada, his quick 33-game transition through the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, and now his gradual but steady ascent to the top of the NHL’s elite. He was very noticeable in his first-ever NHL playoff series in 2009, playing against the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

(Go to 2:57 to see Giroux’s short-handed magic)

He was instrumental the following year in the Flyers’ unexpected run to the Stanley Cup final, scoring 10 goals (2nd) and 21 points (3rd) on his team in scoring. He was the 3rd most dominant forward in the NHL during the season, behind only Malkin and Stamkos, and during this year’s playoffs, he’s taken it to a whole new level, displaying a combination of speed, skill, grit, vision, and pure passion that very few players will ever possess.

I don’t think New Jersey will be able to stop him.

2012 Playoff Picks: The Method Behind the Madness

WARNING: The following hockey preview contains levels of detail that may offend casual hockey fans. Viewer discretion is advised.

I posted my picks yesterday, along with brief notes about what to expect in each series, but I didn’t go into much detail on why I was picking a certain team. The reality is that there are a million reasons why you could pick any given team at any particular time – you think a goalie will steal the series; a star player will exert his will upon the series; an inexperienced team will collapse, etc. Well this is my blueprint for how I decided on my picks. Continue reading

2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

It’s been a long time. I know why I haven’t written in so long, and it’s because when I do, it takes, FOREVER. but I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour with the following two-part series. Today, I break down the series’ in brief, along with my picks for the entire playoff season. Tomorrow, I go into further detail and tell you the rationale behind my thinking. Without further ado, here is my 2012 playoff preview. Continue reading

Your Guide to the 2012 World Junior Championships

If you’re a fan of the World Junior Championships, you know that they never disappoint. Year after year, they bring us some of the most exciting hockey you’ll ever see – particularly for Canadian hockey fans, who have been absolutely spoiled with gold medals and great memories.

Cue the goosebumps:

Continue reading