Q: When will the NHL schedule be released?
A: Nothing certain, but last year’s schedule was released on June 22 – the same day as the NHL awards. Look for similar timing, given the NHL Board of Governor’s meeting on the 21st and the NHL Awards on the 22nd.
Q: What will the team be called?
A: Speculation is Jets, Falcons, and Bears/Polar Bears. Prefix Manitoba before most or all of those. Interesting tidbit here: http://www.ic.gc.ca/app/opic-cipo/trdmrks/srch/vwTrdmrk.do;jsessionid=0001XMOgF9Jh4WKIgnGf0qsLxe7:2IILP9AC4K?lang=eng&status=&fileNumber=0656184&extension=0&startingDocumentIndexOnPage=1 – Let speculation (continue to) run wild…
Q: Who will be the Head Coach?
A: The candidates include Moose Head Coach Claude Noel, Blackhawks Assistant Coach Mike Haviland, former Oilers’ coach Craig MacTavish, Montreal Assistant Coach Kirk Muller, and Thrashers Head Coach Craig Ramsay. New Jersey is the only other team still looking for a coach; speculation is that they’re very interested in Ramsay should he become available.
Recently hired coaches include Glen Gulutzan (Dallas), Mike Yeo (Minnesota), Paul MacLean (Ottawa), and Kevin Dineen (Florida). Gulutzan, Yeo, and Dineen have all risen from head coaching positions in the AHL, (in fact Dallas and Minnesota have promoted coaches from their own AHL affiliate). Former NHL bench bosses looking for work include Ken Hitchcock, Mike Keenan, and Marc Crawford.
Q: What kind of player can we expect to get with the 7th pick at the NHL Entry Draft?
A: Assuming we don’t trade our selection, look for the team to pick up a talented forward who should play in the top-6 in 3-5 years – if not the top-line. (Assuming that player is developed properly and not rushed to the NHL). Likely targets are Ryan Strome and Mika Zibanejad. Whoever it is, don’t expect them to play in the NHL this coming year.
Q: How good is this team? Will the what-have-you’s make the playoffs this season?
A: No. Though there’s plenty of reason for optimism in the longer-term, right now they’re at best 3rd in their division behind Washington and Tampa. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston, and Buffalo also slot ahead of us in the playoff picture, leaving us 7th place in a best-case scenario. The Habs and Rangers both made it to the post-season this past year, and while neither are powerhouses, they both have elite goaltenders which make them tough to leapfrog. One might also expect a bounce-back year from the Devils as they went on an absolute tear in the second half. My best guess is they finish 10th, but I could see them finishing anywhere from 8th to 13th.
Q: Surely we can improve the team through through free agency and be a stronger playoff contender?
A: Mark Chipman has already made it clear that this team will be built properly – which means they will draft and develop players rather than looking for quick fixes. The defence and goaltending already look pretty good, but there is a definite need at forward, especially at centre. However, beyond Brad Richards (who has long been rumoured to be signing with New York due to his connection with Rangers coach, and former Tampa Bay mentor John Tortorella), there aren’t any high-end centres available. While the UFA market does boast several good complementary players, like Brooks Laich, Ville Leino, and Simon Gagne, none of them could be considered impact players who can significantly alter a team’s fortunes. Instead, look for Cheveldayoff and his team of professional scouts to target strong two-way players like Jeff Halpern, Chad Larose, Marcel Goc, and Boyd Gordon, who can contribute some offence from the third line, but would mainly be relied on to kill penalties, win draws, and bring a consistent effort every night.