Winnipeg Jets Rookie Camp

Jets rookie camp begins this Saturday at 2 pm at the MTS Iceplex. It represents the first opportunity for management to evaluate their prospects  first-hand, and will help them determine which of these young players may have NHL talent. There’s no doubt that the new franchise’s first ever selection, 7th overall pick Mark Scheifele, will garner the most attention over the weekend, but there are several other players to watch.

(For more on Scheifele, click here)

Prior to this summer’s draft, Carl Klingberg was Winnipeg’s best forward prospect. He’s a 20-year-old Swedish player with good size who possesses a lot of raw ability. Don’t be soured by his seemingly low stats, as he was a 19-year-old playing in Sweden’s best professional league (the Swedish Elite League). When among his peers, he stands out as one of the better ’91 born Swedish forwards – last year he scored 3 goals in 6 games at the World Junior Championships. Continue reading

Jets Player Profile: Bryan Little

Player: Bryan Little

Position: C/RW

Size: 5’10, 185

DOB: November 12, 1987

Draft: 1st round, 12th overall (2006)

Scouting Report

At 5’10, 185, Winnipeg Jets centre Bryan Little is small by NHL standards – but that’s about all he lacks. He has very good speed and acceleration, and a strong lower body to help him fight through checks. He’ll never dominate in the corner or along the boards, but he plays with more grit than most skilled players of his size. He’s a very well-rounded offensive player, with excellent stickhandling ability, and a great shot. He’s primarily a goal scorer, as his preference is to shoot the puck, but he’s equally good at setting up teammates. He definitely has the talent to be a first liner, but like most developing players, he’ll need linemates with equal or greater talent to help him maximize his potential.

Whereas most players of his age and ilk don’t concentrate as hard on the defensive side of the game, Little is the full package. Last year he was second among forwards in ice-time, playing significant minutes in all situations, including the penalty kill. He also took almost twice as many faceoffs (1331) last year as the next-most used centre, winning 46.3%, which is not a bad percentage considering he spent most of the two previous years as a winger. Being relied on so much at such a young age says a lot about Little’s maturity and dedication to the game. Continue reading

Mike Ilitch and the Rise of the Detroit Red Wings


How a study of the Red Wings’ gradual ascent may hold the key for success in Winnipeg

After 20 consecutive playoff appearances, it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when the Detroit Red Wings weren’t a winner. So it may come as a shock to hear that in the 16 years from 1966-1982, the Red Wings made the playoffs only twice, earning the nickname the “Dead Wings”. And then suddenly, everything changed. Continue reading

2012 NHL Season Preview

Drew “Norris T” Doughty

Other previews:

Eastern Conference Contenders

Western Conference Contenders

The NHL regular season is still over a month away, but rosters are all but solidified. Sure there’ll be the usual competition between 20-somethings and NHL vets for a few spots at the end of the lineup, but each team’s key players are in place (ironically, excepting Drew Doughty). That means the business of predictions can begin. But first, here are some important notes on injuries.

Injuries

The single biggest reason that hockey isn’t played on paper is the potential for injuries. Last year I thought the St. Louis Blues would be the new Chicago Blackhawks. They had a young core of talented forwards like T.J Oshie, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, and David Backes, supplemented by veterans like Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes. They had just added Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak – fresh off a dominant playoff performance where he took the underdog Habs to the Conference Finals. Throw in a solid defence anchored by vets like Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman, and the Blues looked poised to finish near the top-third of the Western Conference. They came busting out of the gates, cruising to a 9-1-2 record, but then it all came crashing down. Continue reading

Oh, You Don’t Like it Here?

Bob McCown has some discouraging news for Jets fans. The host of Prime Time Sports claims that there are “no fewer than three players” who want nothing to do with Winnipeg. Related article is here. While some may be taken aback by these comments – maybe even a little hurt – no one should be all that surprised. Continue reading

Analyzing the Bogosian Trade Rumours

UPDATE: Bogosian signs on September 14 – cap number is $2.5M per year for 2 years. The actual salary payout is $2M in 2011-2012 and $3M in 2012-2013.

Zach Bogosian is a key piece of the future of the Winnipeg Jets. He is also the only Jet that remains unsigned, and as such has been the subject of persistent trade rumours.

The rumour mill is generally more entertaining than it is informative, and few exemplify this better than Eklund – a popular hockey blogger with ‘many sources’. Oftentimes his rumours seem outlandish, and rarely do they actually go down as speculated. Nevertheless, he provides interesting fodder for debate. Some of his most recent work discusses the possibility of Zach Bogosian being dealt. He lists 4 teams with significant interest in Bogo: New Jersey, Montreal, Buffalo, and the New York Islanders.

Before examining what these teams could offer in return, it’s important to define what type of trade package the Jets would (or should) accept for Bogosian. The Jets currently look pretty good in goal and on defence, but are thin at forward, particularly at centre ice. I strongly believe that a Bogosian deal would bring a young NHL-ready forward (rather than a draft pick or teenage prospect who could end up being a bust) – a somewhat established player of ~21-24 years old, and preferably a centre. With that in mind, let’s consider what potential proposals might look like. Continue reading

Jets Player Profile: Evander Kane

Kane in his days with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants

At 20 years of age, Kane is already entering his third season in the NHL. While he may not have broken into the league at such a young age on a stronger club, it still speaks to the supreme talent and physical maturity that Kane displayed as an 18 year old. His calling cards are simple yet classic: big and fast, with sweet hands and a hard shot. He can dangle, he can take the puck hard to the net, and he plays with an edge. Evander Kane has game breaking talent; he is the forward around whom our offence should be built. Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets Depth Chart

Apart from teen forwards Scheifele and Telegin, every player on this list could potentially spend some time with the Jets this season

NOTES: Some players split time between the AHL and NHL (Cormier, Maxwell, McArdle, etc), stats are given for the league in which they played the majority of their games

Key players are bolded

FORWARDS 2010-2011 Stats
Player # Ht Wt DOB Age Birth Place Team Leag GP G A P PIM +/-
Andrew Ladd 16 6′ 3 205 12-Dec-85 25 Maple Ridge, BC Atl NHL 81 29 30 59 39 -10
Bryan Little 10 5′ 11 185 12-Nov-87 23 Edmonton, AB Atl NHL 76 18 30 48 33 11
Blake Wheeler 26 6′ 5 205 31-Aug-86 25 Robbinsdale, MN Bos-Atl NHL 81 18 26 44 46 10
Evander Kane 9 6′ 2 195 02-Aug-91 20 Vancouver, BC Atl NHL 73 19 24 43 68 -12
Nik Antropov 80 6′ 6 245 18-Feb-80 31 Ust-Kamenogorsk, KAZ Atl NHL 76 16 25 41 42 -17
Alex Burmistrov 8 6′ 1 180 21-Oct-91 19 Kazan, RUS Atl NHL 74 6 14 20 27 -12
Eric Fehr 6′ 4 212 07-Sep-85 26 Winkler, MB Was NHL 52 10 10 20 16 0
Chris Thorburn 27 6′ 3 230 03-Jun-83 28 Sault Ste. Marie, ON Atl NHL 82 9 10 19 77 -4
Jim Slater 23 6′ 0 200 09-Dec-82 28 Lapeer, MI, USA Atl NHL 36 5 7 12 19 4
Tanner Glass 6′ 1 210 29-Nov-83 27 Regina, SK Van NHL 73 3 7 10 72 -5
Tim Stapleton 14 5′ 9 180 19-Jul-82 29 Forest Park, IL Atl NHL 45 5 2 7 12 -10
Patrice Cormier 45 6′ 2 215 14-Jun-90 21 Moncton, NB Atl NHL 21 1 1 2 4 -5
Rick Rypien 5′ 11 190 16-May-84 27 Coleman, AB Van NHL 11 0 2 2 9 -4
Spencer Machacek 46 6′ 195 14-Oct-88 23 Lethbridge, AB Chi AHL 67 21 32 53 45 18
Ben Maxwell 49 6′ 1 195 30-Mar-88 23 North Vancouver, BC Ham AHL 47 11 29 40 32 -2
Aaron Gagnon 5′ 11 186 24-Apr-86 25 Quesnel, BC Tex AHL 58 14 23 37 24 -9
Kenndal McArdle 5’11 190 4-Jan-87 24 Toronto, ON Roc AHL 54 14 12 26 106 -5
Jason Gregoire 5’11 195 24-Feb-89 22 Winnipeg, MB UND WCHA 35 25 18 43 8
Carl Klingberg 6′ 3 205 28-Jan-91 20 Gothenburg, SWE Fro SEL 49 5 3 8 14 -6
Mark Scheifele 6’3 175 15-Mar-93 18 Kitchenener, ON Bar OHL 66 22 53 75 35 -22
Ivan Telegin 6′ 2 195 28-Feb-92 19 Novokuznetsk, RUS Sag OHL 59 20 41 61 35 14

Continue reading

Who’s Left in Free Agency?

?

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

NOTE: This list is purposely not comprehensive since it does not include players that I believe will either retire (Mark Recchi), or play in Europe (Alex Kovalev, Alex Frolov, Nikolai Zherdev, etc). Players recently departed across the Atlantic include Antti Miettinen (KHL – Russia) and Jeff Tambellini and Rob Niedermayer (Switzerland).

Rank Name Pos Age
1 Scott Hannan D 32
2 Brendan Morrison C 35
3 Bryan McCabe D 36
4 J.P Dumont RW 33
* Chris Drury C 35
* Cory Stillman LW 37
John Madden C 38
Brad Winchester LW 30
Frederick Sjostrom RW 28
Kyle Wellwood RW 28
Chris Clark RW 35
Mike Grier RW 36
Andrew Murray LW 29
Brent Sopel D 34
Jeff Woywitka D 27
Steve Eminger D 28
Shane O’Brien D 28
Ruslan Salei D 37
Karlis Skratins D 37
Marty Turco G 36
Ty Conklin G 35
Ray Emery G 28

Not much talent left. Hannan used to be a very good shut-down defenceman, but he’s probably more suited to a depth role now. Morrison is still a serviceable 2nd line centre, but he wouldn’t be an upgrade for many teams. McCabe still has a big shot and can help a team on the powerplay. Dumont was a very good winger a few years ago (65 points just 2 years ago), but Nashville bought out his contract a few weeks ago after a miserable 2010-2011 season. He might still get a cheap 1 year deal somewhere, or he might have to go play in Europe to continue his career. Drury may be headed for retirement due to a degenerative knee condition, at nearly 38 years of age, Cory Stillman may also be ready to pack it in. All the others listed are depth forwards and defencemen, and backup goaltenders. I don’t think he’ll land a *one-way deal, but I also listed the pride of Selkirk Mb, Andrew Murray.

*NHL contracts are either one-way or two-way deals. Two-way deals pay different amounts depending on whether a player plays in the AHL or the NHL. For instance, a fairly common deal for an established pro who’s not quite good enough for the NHL, but very good in the AHL is a $525,000 NHL salary, with a $105,000 AHL salary. (Tom Pyatt signed this deal a few days ago)

The only free agents remaining that interest me for the Jets are Brendan Morrison and Freddy Sjostrom. Morrison would be a nice fit at centre and could play on the 2nd or 3rd line, taking some pressure off Alexander Burmistrov. Sjostrom is a reliable checking winger who would play on the 3rd line and the penalty kill.

To Fight Another Day

4th overall pick in 2009, Evander Kane

Why losing today will help the Jets win tomorrow

Many people are asking why the Jets have been so inactive in the free agent market. Is it that no one wants to play in Winnipeg? Are they simply too cheap? Perhaps there’s another explanation. Take a peak at the organizational chart below:

JETS ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
NHL
LW C RW LD RD G
Ladd Little Wheeler Enstrom Byfuglien Pavelec
Kane Burmistrov Antropov Hainsey Bogosian Mason
Thorburn Slater UFA/Trade Oduya Stuart
Glass Cormier Rypien Jones
Stapleton
AHL
LW C RW LD RD G
Gregoire Maxwell Mahacek Meech Flood Manino
Klingberg Gagnon Pettersson Festerling Postma
Holzapfel O’Dell Kulda Zubarev
Chiarot Redmond
Junior/College
LW C RW LD RD G
Lowry Scheifele Brassard Yuen Serville Kasdorf
Leveille Telegin Melchiori

NHL

Promising youngsters with Kane, Burmistrov, Little, Bogosian, Pavelec, and a few just entering their prime – Byfuglien, Enstrom, Ladd, Wheeler. Definitely not a playoff roster.

UPDATE: The Jets acquired RW Eric Fehr shortly after this article was written, filling the “3rd line RW” spot I had held open for an established NHLer. Fehr – a product of Winkler, Mb – is a very talented winger who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career thus far. (Back and shoulder problems.)

AHL

Solid defensive depth, but the only d-men that are likely to have significant NHL careers are Postma and Kulda. Klingberg is a big, fast, skilled winger, but the jury is out on whether he has top-6 potential. Maxwell and Mahacek are nearly NHL ready, but neither looks like they’ll ever play in the top-6. The rest will probably never play a full season in the NHL.

UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, the Jets have acquired Kenndal McArdle – a quick, hard-working forward who has some potential to play in the NHL as a 3rd or 4th liner – and signed Jason Gregoire, a player with top-6 potential. Gregoire is a goal scorer, and about as good a prospect as Klingberg. He is also two years older than Klingberg, and closer to being NHL-ready.

Junior Prospects

The most problematic segment of all. The only prospect that has any chance of being an impact player is 1st rounder Mark Scheifele. The next best prospect is Russian centre Ivan Telegin, but it’s very difficult to project what (if anything) he might become at the NHL level. The rest are bottom-6 forwards and 3rd pairing D at best.

THE REALITY

With a non-playoff roster in the NHL, very few quality prospects in the AHL, and only one high-end junior prospect, Jets management knows exactly what this team needs: high draft picks. That doesn’t mean that the team can’t be competitive in the here and now, but ‘competitive’ would be best defined as playing in tight games rather than piling up wins.

I think I see the strategy. A solid goaltending tandem combined with a good crop of defencemen should keep the games close, providing fans a team that’s good enough to stomach. If the goal was to make the playoffs now, they would have added 3 forwards capable of playing in the top-9; that is the obvious and pressing need. The fact that they haven’t added any quality forwards (Glass is a 4th liner; Rypien is a fringe NHLer) leads me to believe that they’ll try out the Cormier’s, Maxwell’s and Mahacek’s up front and accept a lottery pick this time next summer.

I’m 100% in support of this strategy. Why add some complementary pieces on one or two year contracts just so you can barely sneak into the playoffs? I think it’s crucial that a team finish either in the top 5 or bottom 5 overall. At the beginning of each year, you can usually name about 5 teams that are truly ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, only the bottom 5 teams (often fewer) have a shot at a truly magnificent prospect at the draft. Certainly there’s more room at the top – a team can move from 7th to 1st within a few years with responsible drafting and development. But to go from the middle of the pack to serious contention is extremely difficult.

How come? Well, to win a Stanley Cup, obviously you need to have several excellent players. There are only three ways to acquire players: through draft, trade, or signing. Generally to get a great player in a trade, you need to give up a great (or potentially great) player. There are examples that disprove this, but they are the exception rather than the rule. There are very few top-line forwards, top-pairing defencemen, or elite goalies available in free agency, as teams make resigning these types of players a top priority. For instance, of the douzens of free agents signed this off-season, only one – Brad Richards – is unquestionably an impact player. Furthermore, free agency isn’t a level playing field. For years, even average free agents have been avoiding places like Edmonton, Columbus, Atlanta, Minnesota, Florida, and (until recently) Buffalo in favour of more desirable teams/cities like New York, Toronto, Boston, Vancouver, Chicago, etc. For a team like the Jets, free agency is not a viable means of acquiring top talent.

That leaves the draft. The draft is the best – some say the only way – to build a team. When you look at great teams, generally their core (best) players were drafted and developed by the organization:

Pittsburgh – Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Letang, Orpik

Detroit – Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Holmstrom, Lidstrom, Kronwall

Chicago – Toews, Kane, Bolland, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson (though not Sharp)

Washington – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Laich, Green, Carlson, Alzner

Vancouver – Sedin, Sedin, Kesler, *Burrows, Raymond, Edler, Bieksa

Buffalo – Miller, Myers, Vanek, Roy, Ennis, Stafford, Pominville

*Burrows was signed and developed by Vancouver alone – basically akin to drafting

There are small exceptions. The two best players Boston Bruins from this past year are Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, both of whom were signed through free agency. However, Thomas was not an elite goalie when he was signed. In fact, no one (probably including the Bruins) expected him to be anything more than a good backup, otherwise there would have been intense competition for his services. Also, four of their five most important forwards were drafted – Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Lucic. (Horton came over in a trade). San Jose is another. Their best player – Joe Thornton – was acquired from the Bruins in one of the most lopsided deals of the decade. They also acquired their top defenceman (Boyle), a top sniper (Heatley, who has since become Havlat), and a top D (Burns) through trade, and their goalie (Niemi) through free agency. However, it is worth mentioning that in order to make those trades, they needed to give up once high draft picks, including Marco Sturm (21st overall, 1996), Brad Stuart (3rd overall in 1998), Milan Michalek (6th overall, 2003), Devin Setoguchi (8th overall, 2005), Ty Wishart (16th overall, 2006), and Charlie Coyle (28th overall, 2010). So although these deals break the mould, good drafting still played a large role. (LA is a similar story – a team who drafted a few core pieces in Doughty, Kopitar, Brown, etc, but used other important draft prospects to acquire talent, i.e Schenn and Simmonds for Mike Richards).

First round talents are essential. Everyone knows that Detroit pulled Datsyuk and Zetterberg from the depths of obscurity, but this is rare. Of the top-30 point producers in the NHL last year, 5 of them were 1st overall picks, 4 went 2nd overall, 3 went 3rd overall, and another 11 were first round picks. Far more dumbfounding is the following stat: of the top-20 goal scorers in the NHL last year, ONLY ONE (Patrick Sharp) was not drafted in the first round. (The previous year, only 2 of the top 19 were drafted past the first round.). Goal scoring doesn’t tell the whole story, but with second assists filling scoresheets on an all-too-regular basis, goal totals are probably the single best statistical expression of talent. And acquiring talent on draft day operates like money in a pyramid scheme – most of it goes to the top.

As the summer goes on, I’ll be looking at other draft related topics. One thing I’m particularly interested in is a nature-nurture style debate – are good hockey players drafted, or developed? It’s a chicken-and-egg thing, but you can learn a bit if you look at opposite sides of the spectrum: failed 1st round picks, and glorious late round gems. Is there anything common to the groups? Absolutely. For now I’ll say this: the top four scorers drafted furthest from the first round were developed by just two teams.