Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Singing the injury - and waiver - Blues in St. Louis

First, let me say that I am a little bit sad and shocked right now... my favorite injury-prone player, the one I joke about most often when I think about players who need to be enclosed in bubble wrap, Beau Bennett, was put on waivers by St. Louis today. This is devastating to me for a couple of reasons.  First, I really enjoyed watching him when he played in Pittsburgh a few seasons ago (during the stretches when he wasn't injured), but I am also disappointed because I am an even BIGGER fan of his BFF and Bromance buddy, former Penguin and current Blues D-man Robert Bortuzzo. I was all warm and fuzzy inside that they were going to be reunited in Blue Note jerseys this season. But it was apparently not meant to last, even though Beau is, ironically, not currently injured. We will see if any other teams pick up Beau (and his bubble wrap supply), but in the meantime I will sing some Sarah McLachlan and dry my tears with my Bortuuuuzzzzzzzo jersey... *sigh*

Ok, so back to the reason I started this post... Blues and injuries!

The news that Blues winger Robby Fabbri is out for the 2017-2018 with a reinjured left knee (the knee with the ACL that was surgically repaired in February) is the latest in a string of injury losses for the Blues... and it's still the preseason!

Fabbri joins wingers Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Alexander Steen (hand) along with center Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and D-man Jay Bouwmeester (ankle fracture) in the injury ranks.

Sanford is out indefinitely (at least 5-6 months) and Berglund is expected to return in December. The outlook for Steen sounds like he could be back within the next couple weeks, and Bouwmeester's status will be updated in 3 weeks after his ankle is reevaluated.

I'm curious to see how this affects the Blues as they start the season. They are currently 3-3 in preseason play with 2 games remaining. They will open their regular season on October 4th in Pittsburgh (after the Penguins raise their newest Stanley Cup Championship Banner).

But no matter what else happens, I hope the St. Louis training staff got the name of Beau's bubble wrap distributor... it sounds like they might need it! ;)

See you at center ice!

To take a knee, or not to take a knee? That is the question.

Joel Ward 2016
Joel Ward, 2016. By mark6mauno
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The NFL vs. Trump story has been blowing up my social feeds all week, and everyone seems to have an opinion on it. I am loathe to wade into such shark-infested waters, but it got me thinking. Speaking of sharks, Joel Ward, winger for the San Jose Sharks, recently said:

"[He wasn't] ruling out the possibility that he could become the first NHL player to join the protests sweeping through the NFL by taking a knee during the national anthem at an upcoming Sharks game." (via The Mercury News)

It looks like the players of several NFL franchises, and even some owners, were quick to take the knee, or some other form of protest, but this is not happening in the NHL. I think there are many reasons for this, and it really is a complicated issue, but I want to break it down.

Typically, just prior to puck drop at an NHL game, the anthem, or anthems are sung after each team comes out, and while the starting lines stand on the ice. Depending on who is playing, you might hear The "Star-Spangled Banner," or "Oh, Canada," or both. This is one of my favorite parts of the game. I love hearing the anthems! I get chills just thinking about it, but for me, it's not about tradition. It is a  conditioned response. Hearing an anthem means that I get to watch hockey for the next hour and a half.

If I saw an NHL player take a knee, I would not be offended so much as curious, and impressed. Taking a knee on the ice, in skates, might be something that a professional hockey player is perfectly capable of doing, but it's probably not very easy or comfortable. If NHL players ever wanted to protest something, then there might be more practical ways of doing so. To me, it just seems an awkward thing, to kneel on the ice. Fun fact: a big percentage of NHL players are not US citizens. Most of them are Canadians. Many are Swedish, Russian, Czech - you can name at least a dozen other countries. There are vast differences in language, culture, national identity, and politics there. Taking a knee probably does not mean the same thing to everyone, and this idea might even be baffling to some. By contrast, I will venture to say that the NFL is made up of mostly Americans, and perhaps has more unity. Not to mention the fact that the NFL is about 70 percent African-American, whereas there are only around 30 black players in the NHL. So, no the NHL did not run to jump on the bandwagon.

I understand why the NFL players chose this method of protest, and I sympathize with the players for what they are protesting. If you are going to stage a protest, you want as many people as possible to see you. So, they are using a highly visible platform to make a gesture, and they could do a lot worse than just taking a knee. I think that burning jerseys, and etc. is a bit of an overreaction, and it's unfortunate for the sport that some fans  are reacting in this way. Whether or not you approve of their methods, I think the NFL players have a right to free speech, and they deserve to be heard.

I know that some people feel that taking a knee during the anthem is disrespectful. I personally can't judge whether it's disrespectful or not. I was raised Catholic, so I spent years doing the kneel, sit, and stand routine in church. To me, taking a knee is reverential. It's a gesture of submission. It doesn't immediately occur to me as being disrespectful. I will stand during the anthem, but it doesn't bother me if other people don't.

Georges Laraque 2016
Georges Laraque, 2016
By Connor Mah (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Some opinions on my social feeds have called out the NHL for not joining in with the protests. In particular, the Pittsburgh Penguins are taking some heat because they have accepted an invitation to the White House. Former Penguin defenseman, Georges Laraque said:
“I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” he said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand. To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.” (via USA Today)
Once again, I sympathize, but I don't like seeing the Penguins (or any team) being placed in this position. There are no winners here. I don't doubt that the Penguins organization considered this decision very carefully, and they have their reasons for doing so, but there are no winners here. If they decided not to go, they probably would have gotten bashed for that, too.

I don't like seeing politics defile my hockey, but unfortunately, you can't really avoid it. Professional sports leagues tend to be political, whether they want to or not.

Racism is a very real issue in this country, and as long as it exists, we will all be affected by it in one way or another. I think that the NHL has made strides in recent years to be more inclusive, but it still has a way to go.

Mike Milbury to fill in for Eddie Olczyk for NHL on NBC Broadcasting - A Disaster in the Making

     As many of you probably already know, Eddie Olczyk was diagnosed with colon cancer in early August of this year. Most recently, Olczyk has been working, alongside Mike Emerick, as the television color commentator for NHL on NBC. Prior to that, he was, of course, a well-known forward in the NHL. Olczyk played in 1,031 games with six different teams in his career scoring 342 goals and making 452 assists. He played for the Blackhawks from 1984-88, then for the Maple Leafs from 1988-91, the Jets from 1991-93 and again from 1995-96, the Rangers from 1993-94, the Kings in 1996, the Penguins in 1997-98, then finally back to Chicago for his last two seasons 1999-2000. In 2012 Eddie Olczyk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ed Olczyk 2010-04-08
Ed Olczyk, former player, head coach
and color commentator for the
Pittsburgh Penguins, returned to
Pittsburgh to participate in the pregame
ceremony honoring the final regular
season game to be played at
Civic Arena (Mellon Arena).
April 8, 2010. By Michael Miller (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
     After retiring from the NHL, Olczyk returned to Pittsburgh as the color analyst for the Penguins on FSN Pittsburgh with Mike Lange. He next moved on to be the head coach for the Penguins from June 2003- December 2005. In 2006 he joined the NBC Sports team where, for 11 years, he has entertained and informed us about all things hockey.  Unfortunately in August of this year his fight with cancer has forced him to take a sabbatical, which we all hope is only temporary.

   Earlier today it was announced that while Olczyk is out recovering from surgery and treatment for his cancer, Mike Milbury will be filling his role with the NHL on NBC broadcasting team. Milbury spent 12 season in the NHL playing for the Boston Bruins. He is described as having an over aggressive style of play, which made him a good fit for the 1970's and 80's Bruins. In his 12 years on the ice for the NHL he accumulated over 200 minutes of penalty time in 2 different seasons and over 100 penalty minutes in 6 other seasons. He had a career total of 1552 penalty minutes! Milbury also made 49 goals and 189 assists in his time with the NHL. He had the talent and the ability to play in the NHL especially with the more aggressive style of play common during his time there, but there is no question that Milbury was an enforcer. Finesse, subtlety, and people skills were never talents he possessed on the ice, and from the evidence of his post play career he still has not developed any of those skills.

     After retirement  Milbury was hired as head coach by the Boston Bruins in the 1989-90 season, but despite leading the team to the Stanley Cup Finals and winning the President's Trophy that season he did not return to the Bruins Bench the following year. His next coaching job  was for Boston College in March of 1994, he was hired as their new head coach. Milbury never actually coached a single game there however, he quit suddenly in June of the same year stating that there were philosophical differences between himself and Boston College. Then in 1995 he was hired as the head coach of the New York Islanders and withing just a few months also became their General Manager. In 1997 Milbury handed the Islanders head coaching job off to Rick Bowness, but continued to serve as the Islanders GM until 2006. During his 11 seasons as Gm Milbury made 10 coaching changes, including taking the job twice himself, but that never lasted for long. During his tenure with the Islanders Milbury became known as Mad Mike, his lack of charisma and people skills became even more apparent during these years. He never had a head coach last more than 1 season, and he became known for being on the wrong end of blockbuster trades. He traded away such notable players as Zdeno Charra, Darius Kasparaitis, Robert Luongo, Ollie Jokinen, and Todd Bertuzzi. He struck out repeatedly in draft decisions as well, such as choosing Rick DiPietro rather than Dany Heatley or Mariaon Gaborik in 2000. After being fired by the Islanders Milbury stated that he would be open to a hockey operations job with another organization. Such an opportunity was never offered, which is hardly a surprise as he clearly did not have the necessary skill set to succeed in that job.

     Milbury then turned to broadcasting in 2007-08 where he became known once again for controversial decisions and statements. Insulting or possibly slandering such notable players as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and P.K. Subban in recent years. In addition to his penchant for inappropriate comments Milbury does not have nearly the experience broadcasting as does Olczyk. In fact, he has been quoted as saying, "I'm a little nervous about it, it's not something I've done a lot of", and "I guess my approach will be to shut up until I have something to say. Being patient and waiting for the right moment will be an interesting challenge." These are not exactly reassuring comments from a man who is supposed to be an analyst and spokesperson for the NHL on NBC broadcasts. This is supposed to be the voice of an expert who is there to inform and educate fans on the current news and events going on in the hockey world. He is also expected to be able to deliver this information in an entertaining and interesting fashion.

     These are not talents that Milbury has thus far demonstrated. Hearing the news that Milbury was the indefinite fill-in for Eddie Olczyk has caused many NHL fans to shudder and ask, "what were they thinking?" While Milbury is also a retired NHL player and has experience working on the broadcasting side of the business, he only has eight or 10 games experience being in the booth full time. Also, his reputation and style are nearly a polar opposite of Olczyk. In fact, for quite some time, many avid NHL fans have been asking for Milbury to be fired. He is well-known for taking a very vocal stand on controversial issues in the Hockey world. As such, we have to ask, "isn’t there someone better that NBC could have come up with to fill in?" Almost anyone would be better.

     As of right now, this position is only temporary for Milbury. He admits that he does not know how long he will be filling in. Right now, NBC has provided Milbury a schedule that goes through January 1st of 2018. Our thoughts are with Eddie Olczyk and his family and friends as he undergoes treatment for his colon cancer. Since we heard the news in August, most of us in the hockey community have been hoping for a swift and smooth treatment process. The choice of Milbury as replacement have simply made us pray that this process is even faster and that Olczyk will be back in the NBC broadcast booth again very soon!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Jagr Watch continues!

Jagr Czech2
Jaromir Jagr, Olympics 2010
By s.yume . [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As of today, Jaromir Jagr still has not signed with an NHL team for the 2017-2018 season, but I feel like things could get VERY interesting over the next couple weeks for #JagrWatch and here are reasons why...

Today I saw an update that he is expected to play on Saturday for HC Kladno, the Czech team that he owns with his father. But over the last few days there have also been reports hinting he would make a decision next week about joining a KHL team.

So... he could potentially play in the Czech league, leave there to play for the KHL, compete for the gold medal in the Olympics in February for Czechoslovakia, finish the KHL season in April (with potential for a Gagarin Cup), and still be available to be picked back up by the NHL in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs... all in one season...

Sounds crazy, but we are talking about a guy who still is in great shape, has fire for the game, and is still a solid player, so I figure anything is possible and I can't wait to see what happens!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

One hockey fan's opinion: why preseason is the most wonderful time of the year!

If you have seen anything I have posted on Facebook or Twitter, you can probably figure out what jersey colors this hockey fan wears when things get serious.

But for now, October is still right around the corner and I am loving the news about preseason activities from every team in the NHL. As a fan of hockey, I think this is the best time of the year! The reason why is really as simple as the idea of possibilities.

We all know what happened last year... who won, who lost, who took home the Stanley Cup and all of the other trophies. We know who got traded and drafted and who is still waiting for a call (seriously, someone needs to pick up Jagr!). But that was last season and no one knows how the new season is really going to unfold.

We can all make predictions about how teams will perform based on who is or isn't on the team, the kind of stats those players put up in the past, or who those players will be on a line with, but none of us have an icy crystal ball to tell us what comes next!

Wherever your team ended in last season's standings, it is thankfully a new year! It's time to get excited and hopeful that this will be THE year for your favorite team! It's time to dust off the jerseys and get ready to cheer for the teams and players we love! It's time to get fired up for the matches against the rivals we love to hate! It's time to watch a few preseason games and marvel at the talented young players who are trying to earn their spots in the NHL! It's time to draft those fantasy league teams and gear up for the next best time of year!

But for the next couple weeks, ENJOY the anticipation of the first puck drop, the first goal, the first fight... and know that you are a fan of the greatest sport!
By Dinur via Flickr [CC 2.0]

See you at center ice!

Could the Oilers Finally Play for the Cup Again?

     The Oilers were a powerhouse in the league between 1980 and 1992. In this time frame they nearly always made a deep run into the playoffs and won five Stanley Cups.  However, since then they have struggled.  Between the 1992-93 season and the 2005-06 seasons, they failed to even make it into the playoffs six times. Of the seven years that they did make it in, they only managed to make it to the final round once. The last time they played for the Stanley Cup was that 2005-06 season where they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in game 7. In the last decade from the 2006-07 season through last season (2016-17) they only made it into the playoffs one time. That was, of course, last season where they lost to the Anaheim Ducks in game 7 of the second round. In the last three years, the Oilers have made a number of changes, the two most notable being on the administrative side of things: the hiring of Head Coach Todd McLellan and General manager Peter Chiarelli.
     Todd McLellan took over a team in the 2015-16 that had not won more than 30 games in a season since 2012. They had been winning between 24 and 29 games a season most years, and once as few as 19.  His first year coaching, McLellan brought the Oilers up to 31 wins. Last season, he coached his team to an amazing comeback of 47 wins, more than any season since 1986-87. McLellan also got the Oilers back to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years last season! The Oilers have seen improvement each year so far while he has led them, and they show no signs of stopping that trend this year. So this might really be the year that we see the Oilers advance to the finals again.

     One of the most important changes that the Oilers have made in recent years to try to become a more competitive force in the league again, was to hire Peter Chiarelli as General Manager in April of 2015. Chiarelli had been the GM for the Boston Bruins previously from the 2006-07 season through the 2014-15 season. In his nine seasons with the Bruins, they only failed to make the playoffs twice, in his first and last seasons with their organization. The Bruins also played for the cup twice in that time, winning one and losing one. The 2011 Stanley Cup win is the only time the Bruins have won the cup since 1972. Since Chiarelli took over the GM position for the Oilers, there have been several instances where it has been said that he is trying to rebuild the Oilers into what the Bruins were during the best part of his tenure there, coining the phrase the Bruin-ization of the Oilers. Chiarelli's philosophy and the style of play that he likes to cultivate are key factors in bringing the Stanley Cup back to Edmonton.

    Chiarelli's philosophy is that a championship team needs to have both size and skill, so these were the factors he was looking for with his players for the 2015-16 season. This Bruin-ization began by getting some players on the roster who could play a harder, more physical game, and not just on defense. This meant getting some bigger guys on the ice. In 2015, Chiarelli added Mark Letestu (C), Andrej Sekera (D), Adam Cracknell(RW), Griffin Reinhart (D), Adam Clendening (D), Lauri Korpikoski (LW), Zack Kassian (RW), Adam Pardy (D), Eric Gryba (D), and Partick Maroon (LW).  All of these guys are between 190 and 230 pounds, giving the Oilers a core of players whose size allows them to more easily play a harder more physical game. Not all of these guys ended up fitting in with the Oilers team or Chiarelli's and McLellan's vision for the team. Four were traded or put on waivers. One was drafted in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights. Most of those who remain of Chiarelli's 2015 acquisitions are still well-known to Oilers fans, and many other NHL fans, today as some of the more important players for the team. It is hard to watch an Oilers game without hearing the names of Mark Letestu, Zack Kassian, Andrej Sekera, and of course Patrick Maroon. Eric Gryba is a solid defenseman who performs well, and at less than $1 million a year is a steal for the Oilers, even if he is not a superstar name. Another key thing that all of these remaining players recruited by Chiarelli have in common is that they are no longer rookies. They have a few years of NHL experience under their belt, but are still young enough that they are not seeing any decline in their level of play due to age or persistent injury. They help to provide not only strength and size but also serve as a solid base of talent, able to support and help develop younger players.

Cam Talbot - New York Rangers
Talbot as a Ranger, 2014
By Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA (IMG_4330)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
         Another change that is a throwback to his time with the Bruins is Chiarelli's hiring of goaltenders.  He likes to have one super start goalie who plays the vast majority of the season and comes with a high price tag. Then he spends peanuts, comparatively speaking, on 1 or 2 back up goaltenders who might only see 8 or 10 games between them all season. In 2015, Chiarelli acquired Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers. Last season Talbot played 73 regular season games, more than any other NHL goalie. Without looking it up, I doubt many NHL fans, perhaps not even many Oilers fans, could even tell you who Talbot's backup goalie is.  It is Laurent Brossoit by the way, he played only eight games last season, and just five the season before. Talbot is another huge key in getting the Oilers back to the Cup.  Last season, he was never once pulled from a game he started and he had 42 wins and 22 losses with a save percentage of .919 and goals against average of 2.39.  His staying healthy is obviously a key to the success of the Oilers organization, as all of his available backups are fairly young and inexperienced. The good news for the Oilers is that Talbot is a workhorse who is not prone to injury and performs consistently well even with the grueling schedule of games that every NHL team sees each year.

Milan Lucic - Boston Bruins
Lucic as a Bruin, 2014
By Lisa Gansky (Flickr: IMG_6630)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
     The Bruin-ization continued last season when Milan Lucic was added to the roster ostensibly to add more weight and grit on the ice.  Lucic is best known for his very physical style of play for many years with the Boston Bruins. It was also understood that Lucic would provide added protection for young star Connor McDavid, who took a hard hit in the 2015-16 season causing a broken collar bone and forcing him to miss a significant part of that season. Lucic is known for his hair trigger temper and propensity for fighting. That said however he is not just a goon out there on the ice, he is a very talented winger. He is known for his protectiveness of the star centers he plays with, or really any of his team mates, but he also consistently scores more than 20 goals a season and has 25-30 assists a season as well. In short he epitomizes the type of player Chiarelli loves to sign. He is big, tough and plays a very physical game but he also has the speed and talent to contribute offensively. The final footnote in the story of the Bruin-ization of the Oilers came just about a week ago when Chiarelli signed former Bruin center Kris Kelly to a Professional Try Out contract. Kelly like a lot of Chairelli's player picks is a big guy at 6 foot tall and 190lbs. When he played under Chiarelli he was a 20 goal scorer for the Bruins, when he was healthy enough to play the whole season. His numbers have declined in the intervening years, but he was also seeing less ice time. Kelly's size and style of play should allow him to fit in well with the Oilers. It will be interesting to see how he does on a team that is now structured very much like the Bruins were when he played for them.
Connor McDavid 07042015
McDavid, 2015
By Connor Mah (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
     Another major component of a Stanley Cup championship team is to have young talent with speed and the ability to put the puck in the net. Under GM Chiarelli and head coach McLellan, the Oilers have covered that also. The most obvious names that come to mind are of course Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. Both of these players were signed to long-term contracts under the current coaching and management team. McDavid was signed to an eight-year $100 million contract with a no-movement clause locking him in with the Oilers until at least 2025-26. Leon Draisaitl also signed an eight-year $68 million contract this summer with a modified no-trade, no-movement clause, making it likely that he will also be an Oiler through 2025-26. McDavid and Driasatl will center the top two lines for the Oilers this coming season.

     Draisiatl  scored 29 goals and made 48 assists last season. He is 21 years old, and while I would not say that he still needs developing as a player, he has certainly not yet reached the peak of his performance. So, we should expect to see his numbers continue to rise in the coming years. 

     McDavid, as most NHL fans know, was the youngest ever captain of an NHL team.  He is now 20 years old, and even at such a young age was the top scorer in the league last year with an astounding 100 points! I don't know how much more McDavid's numbers can improve, but I would expect to see his high performance sustained at the least, if not improved upon going forward into the 2017-18 season. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is also a notable mention of younger Oilers talent. Nugent-Hopkins is one of the few players who survived the change in management when Chairelli and McLellan took over in 2015, and for good reason. At 20 Nugent-Hopkins managed to stand out as a potentially excellent player on a team which everyone expected to lose most games, in his rookie year the Oilers only won 25 of 82 games. In that season he scored 18 goals and made 34 assists. He has continued to mature and improve as a player over the last 6 years and except in 2 seasons where he missed a significant number of games his numbers have gotten steadily better as well. While he is not the super star McDavid or Draisaitl are, Nugent-Hopkins, now 24, is also likely to continue to increase his scoring opportunities and makes his team a stronger and more successful one.

    Having a deep bench is another key factor that sets a championship team apart. Prior to the Chiarelli/McClellan years, the Oilers lacked this depth. They had some very talented players, but they were a small team who could not stand up to the bigger rougher players they came up against. They also lacked strong player leadership and suffered from a serious lack of confidence in their abilities. Their defensive lines were not strong enough to be competitive in the league.  Five of the Oilers top 6 defensemen have been brought in since Chiarelli/McLellan took over, only Oscar Klefbom was not replaced when the new management came in.

This season we can expect to see the lines look something like this:

1st line LW Patrick Maroon, C Connor McDavid,  RW Ryan Strome
last season McDavid scored 30 goals, Maroon scored scored 27 and Strome scored 13
        Left D Oscar Klefbom, Right D Adam Larsson
last season Klefbom scored 12 goals, and Larsson scored 4 goals

2nd line LW Milan Lucic, C Leon Draisaitl, RW Drake Caggiula
last season Lucic scored 23 goals, Draisaitl scored 29 goals, and Caggiula scored 7 goals
        Left D Kris Russell, Right D Matt Benning
last season Russell scored 1 goal, and Matt Benning scored 3 goals

3rd Line LW Jussi Jokinen, C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins RW Jesse Puljujarvi
last season Jokinen scored 11 goals, Nugent-Hopkins scored 18 goals, and Puljujarvi scored 1 goal
        Left D Darnell Nurse, Right D Eric Gryba
last season Nurse scored 5 goals, and Gryba scored 2 goals

4th line LW Jujhar Kharia C Mark Letestu, RW Zack Kassian
last season Kharia scored 1 goal, Letestu scored 16 goals, and Kassian scored 7 goals

As you can see now under Chiarelli and McLellan all 4 lines are able to produce good scoring opportunities. As you would expect the top two lines made up more than half of the goals scored, but the fact that the Oilers are now able to put together 4 lines with strong centers and who all work well together is a game changer for the organization. This means that they can consistently put the puck in the net no matter which line is on the ice. Having a larger and more effective defensive line up helps keep them in the tough games by limiting their opponents scoring opportunities. Having a strong goalie in net gives the whole team the confidence to take more risks and try to make the big plays, since they know Talbot has his end of the ice covered if things go wrong. McDavid as captain, along with his alternate captains Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins, set the tone for the team and provide the kind of player support that the Oilers were previously lacking. All of these things combined give the Oilers as a team the confidence that they can be competitive and that they are good enough to make it to the finals again. This belief in themselves and their organization is just as necessary as good coaching and raw talent in getting the team back to raising the Stanley Cup at the end of the post-season.

   Talented prospects and a view to the future of the organization is another component of a successful hockey team. The Oilers have a long history of high draft picks due to their consistent low placement in the league over the last decade. They have not always made the most of those opportunities however. This seems to have changed under the Chiarelli/McLellan administration too. This year the Oilers got Kailor Yamamoto as 1st round draft pick. He played most recently with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs where he scored 42 goals and 99 points last season. The 6th highest in the entire WHL league!  In the 3rd round they acquired goaltender prospect Stuart Skinner who had a save percentage of .906 last season ans shows promise of developing into an excellent goalie. So those are definitely 2 names to watch for in the coming years. The Oilers trend of finishing in the bottom of the league has finally come to an end, and as such they have to make the best of any high draft picks they might get now.

     All in all it looks like the Oilers have the best chance they have had in decades of making it into the the finals this coming season. No there are no guarantees, they still have some very strong teams to make it past in their conference. They will have to make it past the Ducks who eliminated them last season in the Pacific division. They will also likely have to knock the Blackhawks out to win the Western Conference. If they do manage to make it past all their Western Conference competition they will have an undoubtedly tough series against who ever wins the Eastern Conference, before they would realize the goal of raising the Stanley Cup. What I will say is, that with the team they have now and the way they have been performing, not only does the idea of the Oilers winning the cup no longer make me laugh, I now see it as being distinctly possible.

Friday, September 15, 2017

LA KIngs need a goalie. Are you "that guy"?

IF you didn't hear, the Kings need a goalie.  Again...  This time there is no Peter Budaj to come to the rescue.

Remember "this guy"?

Yeah, he needs a backup, for the second season in a row.  So, here we are a few days into training camp, and Luc Robitaille announces that they need a backup for Quick. I guess they ruled out some candidates....
So let's play a game, called "that guy."  Who are some of the candidates and familiar names??

Peter Budaj is currently enjoying sunny Florida.  Good for him.  He's NOT "that guy."

Ben Bishop was rental.  He is now on the Stars.  So, also NOT "that guy."

Jeff Zatkoff: DEFINITELY NOT "that guy."

Jack Campbell, six years with the Stars.  Still in development with the Kings.  Still NOT "that guy."

Cal Petersen? Who is that?  I think he just graduated college.  NOT "that guy" yet...

Darcy Kuemper:  NOT "that guy."

Do you see a pattern there?  I do.  No one in this game is "that guy."  Now the game is: are you "that guy"?  IF so, the KINGS want to see what you got.

The Top 10 NHL Goalie Fights

Dan Cloutier (New York Rangers) vs Tommy Salo (New York Islanders).
April 4, 1998.
Both goalies received leaving the crease penalties and game misconducts.

Felix Potvin (Toronto Maple Leafs) vs Ron Hextall (Philadelphia Flyers).
November 10, 1996.
Potvin received a leaving the crease penalty.
Hextall received leaving the crease and instigator penalties, misconduct and game misconduct.

Patrick Roy (Colorado Avalanche) vs Mike Vernon (Detroit Red Wings).
March 26, 1997.
Both goalies received roughing penalties.

Patrick Lalime (Ottawa Senators) vs Byron Dafoe (Boston Bruins).
January 17, 2002.
Both goalies received leaving the crease penalties and game misconducts.

Patrick Roy (Colorado Avalanche) vs Chris Osgood (Detroit Red Wings).
April 1, 1998.
Roy received a leaving the crease penalty, misconduct and game misconduct.
Osgood received a leaving the crease penalty and game misconduct.

Sean Burke (New Jersey Devils) vs Mark Laforest (Toronto Maple Leafs).
October 23, 1989.
Both goalies received roughing and a leaving the crease penalties and game misconducts.

Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) vs Jonathan Bernier (Toronto Maple Leafs).
September 22, 2013.
Both goalies received a leaving the crease penalty and a game misconduct.

Ray Emery (Ottawa Senators) vs Martin Biron (Buffalo Sabres).
February 22, 2007.
Both goalies received a leaving the crease penalty and game misconduct.

Garth Snow (Philadelphia Flyers) vs Steve Shields (Buffalo Sabres).
May 3, 1997.
Snow received leaving the crease and roughing penalties.
Shields received a leaving the crease penalty.

Dan Cloutier (Tampa Bay Lightning) vs Steve Passmore (Chicago Blackhawks).
March 3, 2000.
Cloutier received a leaving the crease penalty, misconduct and game misconduct.
Passmore received a leaving the crease penalty.

Bonus round:
Take a look at a rare Penguins goalie fight. Johnson caught DiPietro off guard with a left hook. This single punch broke DiPietro's jaw. This was the beginning of the end of his hockey career.

Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders) vs Brent Johnson (Pittsburgh Penguins).
February 2, 2011.
DiPietro received interference and leaving the crease penalties and a game misconduct.
Johnson received a leaving the crease penalty and game misconduct.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A question of Leadership for the Golden Knights

Question: Who should be the captain of the Golden Knights?

Answer:  Marc-Andre Fleury.

This is kinda a no brainier. He is all ready the public face of the organization. As a three time Stanley cup champion he has more experience then anyone else on the team.  I am also going to put this out there,  as of right now he is the 15th overall in wins for a goalie. He has been a steady force in goal for the Penguins for over a decade.

Wait...A goalie as captain? Yes! Roberto Luongo was captain for the Canucks. Yeah, so Luongo doesn't have any cups, but he is 5th in overall wins!

Question: Who should the assistant captains be?

Answer:  James Neal, and Deryk Engelland.

Yup, you read that right.  All three former Penguins. They all played on the Penguins in overlapping seasons. The James Neal who I remember helped Malkin get the Hart trophy in 2011-2012 season.  Meanwhile, he helped himself to a career high of 40 goals that season.  He also wore an "A" while playing for the Predators.

Why Deryk Engelland? He is one tough customer. At 35, he adds a lot of experience.

IF they don't pick Marc-Andre Fleury for what ever reason, this will be a giant misstep.  They have all ready announced that there will NOT be a captain for the start of the season.  I think this wait and see approach may actually hurt them in this case.  They need to get solid leadership from the first game. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Is the Kings Captaincy a Cursed Position?

After seeing Anze Kopitar’s level of play drop so drastically in the 2016-17 season, and thinking about how much Dustin Brown’s stats also dropped from 2012 through 2016 during his term as captain, I began to wonder if this was a pattern. In the 50 year history of the organization there have been 14 different captains. I went back about 30 years to when Dave Taylor took over as Captain in the 1985-86 season to see if there was a trend in declining performance after being made the Kings Captain. In this time frame the Kings have had 7 different captains.

Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar, 2007 By Nichole
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
     Taylor held the captaincy from the 1985-86 season through the 1988-89 season. For Taylor we do not see a drastic drop in the number of goals and assists he contributed to the team.  In his career best season, 1980-81, Dave Taylor posted 47 goals and 65 assists for a total of 112 points in 72 games played.  In the 8 years before his captaincy however, he averaged 34 goals a season and 49 assists. During the 4 years where he served as the Kings Captain he averaged 26 goals a season and 40 assists. So there was a slight decline in production but nothing to terribly damning. Where you really see the captaincy take its impact on Taylor's performance is in his overall effectiveness on the ice. Before he was captain his +/- stats were very good usually in the range of high 20's to high 30's and in the 1980-81 season he was a +47.  During the 4 years that he held the captaincy his last year, 1988-89, was his best at a +10 the other 3 years he was at 0 or in the - numbers. His first year as captain was the worst in overall effectiveness where he ended the season at a -16, this was his worst performing year career wide.  After he gave up the position of captain while his production was much lower averaging only 12 goals a season and 17 assists his overall effectiveness went back up drastically he was back at a + 17 his first year and a +27 the following season. The last 3 years his stats began to decline rapidly, he was also playing far fewer games, less than half the season in some cases. Even so his +/- never fell below a -1,  still better than what his was doing as a captain.

The Great One
Wayne Gretzky statue, By Kerri Polizza [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

     Next of course was Wayne Gretzky, he held the position from the 1989-90 season through the 1991-92 season. He then took a season off from the captaincy in the 1992-93 season. This was due to a surgery that he had to undergo in late September of 1992 for a herniated disk in his upper back. Amazingly even after back surgery at the beginning of the season Gretzky was still able to play 45 games that season. Granted his performance was not quite up to par but still to even be back in competition shape so soon after that kind of surgery is a testament to the type of player Gretzky was.  He returned to be the Kings captain again from the 1993-94 season through most of the 1995-96 season. Gretzky, being The Great One, I did not expect to see much drop in his performance even with the added stresses of the captaincy.  During the 7 years of his captaincy with the Kings Gretzky averaged 33 goals a season and 89 assists. Before he joined the Kings Gretzky was also captain for the Oilers for the 1983-84 season through the 1987-88 season. In his 5 years as the Oilers Captain he averaged  63 goals a season and 129 assists. Before he became a captain, during the time of the 1978-79 season through the 1982-83 season, he averaged 52 goals a season and 81 assists. Again however, even with The Great One, Gretzky's effectiveness on the ice dropped when he became the Kings captain. In the 5 years he was the Oilers captain his +/- score ranged from a +39 to a +98, notably the lowest of these values was his last season with the Oilers just 2 seasons before he became the Kings Captain.  However, as the captain of the Kings Gretzky's +/- score his first season in 1989-90 was only a +8.  During his tenure as the Kings captain his got the +/- score as high as 30 in the 1990-91 season his 2nd as the Kings Captain. However, sadly most years it was a - number ranging from a -7 to a -25. These stats indicate that it is not just the stresses of being a captain for any NHL team that lead to a decline in performance, but being the captain of the Kings specifically. While he played for the Oilers he scored, and assisted on more goals and was overall a much more effective player.  Granted he was never quite the same player after he came back from the back surgery in 1992, but even in those first few years on the Kings his stats were not as good as they had been with the Oilers.

Luc Robitaille, 2005
By JamesTeterenko
[CC BY 2.5], 
via Wikimedia Commons
     For one season, 1992-93, in the middle of Gretzky’s reign Luc Robitaille was captain for the Kings. For the one season that he was the Kings Captain Robitaille had 63 goals and 62 assists in 84 games and his +/- was 18. in the 6 seasons prior to his captaincy he had an average of 48 goals a season and 51 assists. During that time his +/- was evenly split with 3 years in  +  numbers and 3 years in - numbers. His best season was 1990-91 where he was a +28, and his worst year was his rookie year 1986-87 where he was a -18. Luc Robitaille played for another 12 years in the NHL after his term as the Kings Captian for several different teams. In 1994-95 he spent a season with the Penguins, between 1995 and 1997 he spent 2 season with the Rangers, then 5 more years with the Kings between 1997 and 2001, 2 seasons with the Red wings between 2001 and 2003, then finally back to the Kings from 2003 until her retired in 2006.  In this time frame Luc Robitaille averaged 27 goals a season and 30 assists. His +/- score dropped to a -20 in his first season after the captaincy but recovered back into the + side for most of the remainder of is career ranging from a +4 to a +16. So far Luc Robitaille is the exception for the Kings Captains, he actually has a better year both in points scored and effectiveness on the ice in his term as captain than he did the year before or several years after. Maybe he felt less stress or pressure since he knew it was a temporary job. He was just filling in for Wayne Gretzky during a time when Gretzky was injured and under going major back surgery. Maybe it was just luck, or the chemistry of the team that year. Though I tend to doubt this since Gretzky had lower than average (for him) stats with basically the same team in the few years before and after Robitaille was captain. Most likely it shows higher than average stats for Robitaille's captaincy because it was just a single year so there was not as much data to work with.

     Following the Gretzky era, Rob Blake took the job. He held the captaincy for the last few games of the 1995-96 season until the end of the 2000-01 season. Like Gretzky he to returned to the position of captain, though after a much longer break, for one more season. Blake was again captain for the 2007-08 season before handing off the job to Dustin Brown. During the 7 seasons that Rob Blake held the Kings Captaincy he averaged 13 goals  a season and 24 assists. Blake only had 1 season when he held the captaincy and had a +/- stat in the positive, that was the 1999-00 season where he ended at a +10.  In 6 seasons before he took the captaincy of the Kings Rob Blake averaged 12 goals a season, and 29 assists. Blake had an even split of years where his +/- score was positive and negative, at 3 years each, before he took the captaincy. His best year before his tenure as captain was in 1992-93 where he was a +18, his worst year was 1994-95 where he was a -16. Most telling for Rob Blake was what happened between 2001 and 2006 and then again in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.  Near the end of the 2000-01 season Rob Blake was traded to the Avalanche where he played through the end of the 2005-06 season. During these 4 full seasons with Colorado Blake averaged 16 goals a season and 35 assists. While he played for the Avalanche his +/- score was always positive ranging from 5 to 7. He went back to the Kings  for 2 season between 2006 and 2008 where his average goals went down to 11 a season and assists went down to an average of 21 a season. Again most telling was that his +/- score was negative both years, it was -26 one year and -19 the other.  For the last 2 season of his NHL Career, between 2008 and 2010 Rob Blake played for the Sharks. With the Sharks Blake only averaged 9 goals a season, but was back up to 29 assists on average. Blake's effectiveness on the ice also went way back up in his tenure with the Sharks. His +/- score was +15 the first season he played with them and +14 the second season in roughly the same number of games he played the previous 2 season with the Kings. So it seems for Blake that he played more effectively for the Kings before and after he was their captain, but played far more effectively when he was not a member of the Kings team at all.

Mattias Norstrom
Mattias Norstrom, 2006
By Matthew McPherson
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
     Next up was Mattais Norstrom, who held the Captaincy from the 2001-02 season until the end of the 2006-07 season. Norstrom held the Kings Captaincy for 6 seasons. This was the period of time where Rob Blake had been traded to Colorado. In his time as captain Mattais Norstrom averaged 2 goals a season and 12 assists a season. Before you ask what the Kings were thinking putting someone who's production was so low in the position, I should mention that Norstrom was a Defenseman. So the stats we should be looking at are goals created (GC) and penalty minutes (PIM). In his time as the Kings Captain Norstrom averaged 0.06 GC  per game and 48 PIM average. As the Kings Captain Mattais Norstrom had 1 season where he had a +/- score of 0 the other 5 seasons he was in the negative numbers ranging from -2 his first year as captain to -20 his last year as captain. In the 8 seasons before he made captain his average stats were identical for both GC and PIM to what they were during his captaincy. Before his captaincy however, Norstrom's effectiveness on the ice was much better than it was during the time he served as the Kings captain. For 5 of the 8 seasons prior to his captaincy Mattais Norstrom had positive +/- scores.  In the 2 season before he was at a +10 and a +22, then dropped dramatically to a - 2 in his first year as Captain. When he was traded to the Stars he managed to bring his +/- up from a dismal -20 in his last season with the Kings to a +3 in his first full season with the Stars. Not quite to where he had been before he was the Kings Captain with a season where he was at a +22, but much better than where he had been in his last year as captain with the Kings. So again we see a player whose effectiveness on the ice dropped significantly while captain for the Kings, who was able to bounce back after leaving the position of captain and/or being traded to a different team.

Dustin Brown (25993630263)
Dustin Brown, 2016
By mark6mauno [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
     This brings us back to Dustin Brown who reigned as captain from then 2008-09 season through the 2015-16 season. Brown had the longest reign as the Kings captain in the organizations 50 year history at 8 seasons! In those 8 years he averaged 19 goals a season and 22 assists. During the 4 seasons before his Captaincy Brown averaged 17 goals and 19 assists a season. The first to season that Dustin Brown held the captaincy even though he was sill scoring 24 goals a season he was struggling in remaining effective on the ice, his +/- score dropped to a -15 the first season and was still negative at -6 the second. Then we see a miraculous recovery in the 2010-11 season where he jumps to a +17 while scoring 28 goals and making 29 assists. The following season is great too with a +/- of 18 and still 22 goals with 32 assists, leading the Kings to their first Stanley Cup! After that however his production and effectiveness on the ice began to fall, by the 2013-14 season where the Kings won their 2nd Stanley Cup Brown made only 15 goals with 12 assists and his +/- was down to 7. Then in his final  2 years as captain he made only 11 goals each year and was at a -17 and a -5 before handing the Captaincy over to Anze Kopitar last season. Since it has only been one season since Dustin Brown retired the captaincy it is hard to determine if  leaving the stress or curse of the Kings captaincy behind will have a sustainable improvement in his play, but last season he was up to 14 goals from 11 the last year of his captaincy, and 22 assists up from 16. He was still in the negative numbers for his +/- score but at a -4 as opposed to the horrific -22 previously. Hopefully this coming season he will continue to up his level of play returning to, or at least getting closer to, the player who led his team to 2 Stanley cups.

     Finally this brings us up to Anze Kopitar, who of course took over as captain last year for the 2015-16 season and will be returning g as captain this season.As anyone who watched any Kings hockey last year will no doubt know, Anze Kopitar did not have a good year in his first season as the Kings captain. This seems to be going right in line with what we have seen for the performance of 6 of the last 7 Kings captains over the last 30 years. Having just signed a monumentally large 8 season contract with the Kings last season we have to hope that Kopitar's performance or lack there of can be attributed to the season opening injury of goalie Jonathan Quick. Having Quick out for nearly half of the season forced the Kings to change their style of play to offer more support for back up goaltenders Jeff Zatkoff, and then after Zatkoff's injury  Peter Budaj. Budaj did a great job in net for the Kings, far better than most of us expected, but he is not in the same league with, nor does he have the same style of play as Quick. Regardless of the reasons Anze Kopitar scored only
 goals last season and had only 40 assists, and he ended the season with a negative +/- score at a - 10. This was his worst +/- score in 7 seasons! Kopitar played 10 seasons in the NHL before becoming captain all of them with the Kings. In those 10 seasons he averaged 24 goals and 44 assists per season. His first 3 seasons in the NHL Kopitar struggled with effectiveness on the ice posting +/- numbers ranging from -12 to -17. This is not an uncommon struggle for any player starting out in the NHL so I am not terribly alarmed by it. By the 2009-10 season he was at a +6  with 34 goals and 47 assists, an his performance continued to improve with stats trending up from there.  His best season was the 2013-14 season where Kopitar had 29 goals and 41 assists with a +/- score of 34. Kopitar was definitely a big part of the reason that the Kings were able to win the Stanley Cup that year! He posted similar numbers again in the 2016-16 season where he had 25 goals, 49 assists, and again a +/- score of  34.

     Is there a curse associated with the Kings captaincy? Possibly, certainly some great players have taken on the role and then seen dramatic drops in their performance over the last  years.  Even Wayne Gretzky's stats were considerably worse, (worse for him, still pretty damn good for anyone else) as the Kings captain than hey had been when he was the Oilers captain just he season before. Luc Robitaille seems to be the only one who escaped this rather disturbing phenomenon and he had the shortesr tenure as captain in the history of the organization. There were 4 captains who only served in the position or 2 seasons each during the first 8 years that the Kings were part of the NHL, but Robitaille is the only one to have the position for just 1 season. Strangely to me, Dustin Brown provided me with hope that the position is not an inescapable curse! Brown had a rough couple of years at the beginning of his captaincy, but had some of his best seasons in the middle of his tenure as the Kings Captain. So I am left still wondering if there is a curse associated with becoming the captain of the Kings, and hoping that Kopitar's rough season was more to do with the change in styles of play that most of the team went through as a result of key player injuries than with being made captain. Hopefully like Dustin Brown he will bounce back and again be the Kopitar we have come to expect on the ice. Unlike Brown when Kopitar recovers, as we all hope he does, he needs to maintain his good production and high level of effectiveness for more than the 2 season that Brown manged while captain.
     The Kings still have their share of problems not attributed to a Kopitar or a change in captaincy, and in my opinion have not done enough in the off season to correct them. I am hoping that the change in coaching staff and management will have a positive effect, and that having Quick back and healthy will be enough to let them have a much better season this year. That being said however, I am still doubtful that it will be enough to get the Kings back in the playoffs.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017 predictions and beyond

So what's going to happen this season in hockey? Glad you asked. Here are some predictions. Some are safe bets, others are just guesses. So here goes!

Lets get straight to the number one question: Who will win the cup?
Marc-André Fleury, the Stanley Cup, and Sidney Crosby (3637923651)
By Michael Righi from Pittsburgh, USA
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
 I would like to say the Penguins for a "three-peat". What grabs me the most here isn't so much that. It's more what the two biggest names in the NHL will do:
  • Sidney Crosby will lead in goals 
  • Connor McDavid will lead in overall points
With that being said, there is a caveat. They must both remain healthy for the majority of the season. Given their history, that's easier said than done.

Shane Doan retired, August 30th 2017. So whats next for him? My guess is he will end up being a commentator back up in Canada, eh?

Golden Knights - 28th or 29th overall. Ouch! Edging out the Avalanche.

Speaking of the Avalanche, I predict last place again. They were so bad last year that they lost at losing. That's what happens when you have only one 20-goal scorer on the whole team. Can you guess who? Nathan MacKinnon - 16, and Matt Duchene - 18 (more later on him). You say Gabriel Landeskog? Nope he had 18! The correct answer is Mikko Rantanen with 20.

Who will win the Matt Duchene lottery? No one! He will continue on the Avalanche. Why you say? His asking price is too high. I have heard several different versions, and all seem a bit steep.

Jagr Czech1
By s.yume.
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
#JagrWatch Where will the legendary Jaromir Jagr end up? He will not get signed, and instead play again in international play. So, I guess he will be setting himself up to retire for the third time from international play in his career.

Detroit.. oh Detroit... good news! You have a brand new stadium. All the rest is bad news. One of main issues is the bad contracts they currently have. They have 10 contracts with some form of "no movement" clause. Most of these players are 30 years or older. They are, as of right now, over the cap by approximately 3 million. The solution is Andres Athanasiou. Without him in their lineup, they might clear the cap. Also looming with their future is Henrik Zetterberg, already saying he will retire in the near future. Thus leaving the team on the hook for even more financial issues. So, expect a second year of missing the playoffs.

What will happen with the LA Kings? They will miss the playoffs. Lets start off with Anze Kopitar coming off the worst season of his career. Then, there is Drew Doughty. His contract goes until 2018. Then, he is an unrestricted free agent in 2019. Yes, it's far off. He is so important to the Kings, it's hard not to see how any uncertainty with him would not negatively effect the team. He will be near impossible to replace. Jeff Carter will have another good season. My guess is he will get near 30 goals. Here is another safe bet: Marian Gaborik will NOT play more then 60 games this season. He will then retire mid season, due to health.

Gagarin Cup - Kazan
By Липунов Г.А. The original uploader was GennadyL
at Russian Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
BONUS Round. Now this is not NHL related per se, but here are two more predictions. The KHL will lose one more team in the league. SKA wins it's third Gagarin Cup. Why do I care? Well, remember former NHL superstars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk? This is the team they play for in the KHL. They are currently 6 wins and 0 losses this season.