Colby’s Corner

Welcome to Colby’s Corner, where the next best thing we could afford (we actually don’t pay him at all), Colby Kephart, pretends to be Don Cherry and presents his thoughts on various tidbits in hockey. While he currently doesn’t have any flashy suits- we’re working on that- he does have a flashy style, short and to the point.

Check out every Colby’s Corner in existence below and, while you’re at it, let us know if you want him to address something in the future. Tweet to @DtFrozenRiver and use the hashtag #ColbysCornerDTFR to join the conversation or you can always send an email to downthefrozenriver@gmail.com and hope for the best.

COLBY’S CORNER MEETS CONNOR- PART 1: ATLANTIC

Colby’s Corner Meets Connor will be a four part series, where Connor Keith and I (Colby) will pick, by division, the MVP of the forwards, defensemen and a goalies. This week, the two of us will discuss the Atlantic Division.

Forwards

Connor: Steven Stamkos

Stamkos is my choice for top forward in the division, based almost Unknown-1solely on his goals scored.  As of the time of my writing this, he has 36 goals, tying him for fourth in the league and first in the division.   Although that is only one more tally than Brad Marchand, Stamkos’ 64 points is eight clear of Marchand’s efforts.

What also separates the two is the expectations placed upon each.  Boston is not 100% dependent on the success of Marchand.  They have Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson, who combine to score 56 goals before Marchand adds his 35 tallies.  In Tampa Bay, the only other skater with more than 15 goals is Nikita Kucherov, meaning that Stamkos’ efforts are even more vital on the offensive end for his club.

Colby: Jaromir Jagr

This may surprise some people, but I think the ageless wonder needs a lot of credit for where these young Florida Panthers are. The 44-year-old legend has another 60 plus points this season. Jagr is top 25 in the league in points this season and he is a huge part of one of the strongest lines in the league this year – that line being Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov.  I wouldn’t say his numbers are what makes him an MVP; his experience and age are why I am handing him the MVP of the division. It’s also hard to argue with Stamkos’s numbers as Connor pointed out. But if we went by players’ actions, Stamkos’ contract issues and the fact he may leave, I will take my leader in Jagr.

Defender

Colby: Erik KarlssonUnknown-2

I don’t think there is much question here. Erik Karlsson is by far the best defenseman in this division and the reason there is no argument is because of 63: the number of assists this beast has this year. However, the only issue I have with him is the horrible plus minus he has, a measly plus 2. This reminds me of Alex Ovechkin from a few seasons ago, who led the league for worst plus minus.

Ottawa has an issue to solve, as they still haven’t found a good partner for Karlsson in their organization. If Ottawa can find that player, the Senators would probably have the 3rd division spot this year. Instead, they and the rest of the Canadian teams are golfing. Or maybe curling; isn’t there still snow and ice up there?

Connor: Victor Hedman

It’s another Bolt for my defensive pick.  Colby and I both agree that Erik Karlsson is the best in the division, but I want to bring a different look to the situation than simply both of us agreeing here.  I think Victor Hedman is a valid choice to complete the pair with Karlsson.  His 36 assists lead his squad, and he has the third most points (44) for a +23 on the year.  On the other end, his 130 blocks lead the Lightning by a solid margin.

Goaltenders

Connor: Ben Bishop

I hate to pick all Lightning, but Bishop is probably the easiest of these three choices.  He ranks second best in the league in both GAA (2.02) and save percentage (.928), giving him 33 wins (tied for sixth most), six of which were shutouts (tied for second most).  After falling in the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago, he is one of, if not the reason Tampa has no tee times scheduled anytime soon.

Colby: Roberto LuongoUnknown-2

I am selecting another Florida goalie, however this one is from the Panthers. I think Bishop is a strong candidate for this position, but Luongo is another goalie whose numbers are very similar. Luongo has 32 wins in the season and a .921 save percentage. Both of these goalies are tops in the league; I think handing out an MVP to either one would be fair. I think the numbers from earlier in the year would give the advantage to Luongo. However, late in the season, he is slowing down as he grows another year older, which is affecting his play.

COLBY’S CORNER: I BELIEVE I CAN FLYER

By: Colby Kephart

Whether you like the title or not, in this article I will be discussing the last wildcard spot in both the Eastern and Western conferences. Most teams are down to the final 10 or so games in the season and it’s make-or-break time.

The Eastern Conference is up first, and there are four teams who are playing this thing down to the end. These teams are: Pittsburgh Penguins, 82 pts; Detroit Red Wings 81pts; Philadelphia Flyers, 80 pts, and Carolina Hurricanes 75 pts. The two Pennsylvania teams are my pick to hold these wildcard spots until the end. I don’t think the Penguins will play that badly down the stretch to have to really worry. Even though Detroit has a one point ahead of the Flyers, I see the Flyers taking and not giving up that last spot.

The Flyers have been playing really good hockey at the moment: theyPhiladelphia Flyers Logo are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They are doing all this without a key member of their team, Jakub Voracek, who has missed the team’s last 9 games. They have been able to do this because of a great play from Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl and stellar rookie Shayne Gostisbehere. Schenn is having a career year with 24 goals and 24 assists, for a 48-pt total, including a huge goal Wednesday, March 16th versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Carolina Hurricanes are a far stretch, but it is still possible for them. Overall, I think both Carolina and Detroit will be on the outside looking in as the season concludes, ending Detroit’s playoff streak.

The Western Conference is much clearer to me as two teams, the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche, are battling out for the final wildcard. The Avalanche have 76 pts and the Wild have 75 pts. These two teams will battle to the wire, I feel.

I am going to pick Colorado on this side, I feel they added better at the Colorado Avalanche Logodeadline and I think it will pay off in the long run. I think Colorado would also be in a much better position if all their goalies weren’t hurt every other game this season.

Even though I picked Colorado, I think Minnesota is playing better hockey at the moment. Ever since they fired Mike Yeo, the team stormed out the gate and put them in position to battle for this spot. I picked Colorado at the beginning of the season and I am sticking with them. I think Minnesota will regret not firing Yeo sooner, and I think they will join him in spending the offseason golfing while Colorado is still playing hockey.

COLBY’S CORNER: WORLD TAKEOVER

world cup of hockey

By: Hannah Mixer

Colby’s Corner has been taken over this week! Since boys have no fashion sense, they invited a girl to write their fashion article on the World Cup of Hockey. My first opinion is that I find it interesting that we have a North American team in addition to the US and Canada. Seems silly to me, but not my place. On to the more interesting opinion: the fashion!

Canada’s jerseys are classically Canadian. The red and white are simple and classy, and the sleeves have the shape of the maple leaf (if you didn’t notice). For someone with little knowledge of hockey, Canada’s jersey was easy to identify. Grade: A.

Next is the Czech Republic. They incorporated their history by using the lion from their coat of arms, which originally symbolized Bohemia when they became the Republic. The red and white colors symbolize Moravia, and the final color, navy, also appears on their coat of arms, though I am not sure that it symbolizes anything. I like this jersey because of its historical content, plus the simple colors and design make it appealing to the eyes. Grade: A

The European jersey is not one of my favorites. My favorite color is a turquoise blue. The colors in this jersey should be appealing to me, but the design makes them less so. I do not like the color blocking that goes vertically down the middle of the jersey. I like the use of the hockey stick to create an E in the logo. Overall, I give it the grade of ‘ehh’. (But really, Grade: C)

Finland’s jerseys are slightly more appealing. Though I know I said I liked the horizontal blocking in the Czech Republic, this one, not so much. The colors are perfectly appealing, I just do not like the structure, personally. Suomi means “Our Land” in Finnish, and I think the use of this on the jersey is lovely. They also incorporate their crest, which I like. Grade: B+.

North America’s jersey is…interesting. It is very dark and very plain. The large NA makes it simple to identify. I like black and gray, and wear a lot of it myself, but I do not expect a hockey jersey to be so dark with hardly any accents. The Penguins and the Bruins have black jerseys, but they accent it with bright colors. Even the C on North America’s jersey is a dark, dull red. North America is such a bright and lovely place, their jersey should reflect that! Grade: B.

Russia’s jersey is a nice change from the previous three. Not my favorite, but I at least like it. A simple white with blue and red stripes on the arms. Again, use of a historical crest, and the shoulder stripe. Their C is sharply demarcated, whereas I prefer the softer, curved C. The only downside to this jersey is that blood stains white a whole lot easier than the darker colors. Let’s hope there are no fights! Grade: A-.

Sweden’s jersey is Colby’s favorite. Personally, I don’t think it’s bad, though Canada is still my favorite. I like the blue and gold, and the three crowns are the national emblem of Sweden. You know by now how I feel about incorporating history. This is the only jersey whose accented color on the sleeve ends at the wrist. I like this because the accent isn’t too large, like the Czech Republic, but more subtle. It feels more like an accent. The thin gold piping around the neck is lovely also. The perfect touch on the second best jersey. Grade: A.

Finally, we have the US jersey. I know that as an American, this jersey should automatically top my list, but sadly it does not. I expected more from us. Red, white, and blue are our colors, though the blue is not the same blue as is on our flag. In addition, the USA symbol is not at all historical or symbolic of us, besides the lettering. The red blocks in the elbow are nice enough, but again, just ehh. I’ll be nice and give it a B.

If you like the feminine perspective, give me a shout and I’d be happy to pop in from time to time and take over Colby’s Corner. Hannah out.

COLBY’S CORNER: DEADLINE DAY CONFESSIONS

The NHL trade deadline is one of my favorite times of the year. At the start of the season it’s the most important date to locate during the season. It’s where all the rumors and speculation either comes true or proves to be fake. To me, as a Sabres fan, it was also saying goodbye to players and hello to draft picks. But this year was supposed to be different…or so I thought.

There were so many rumors and sagas going on, I felt any team could make a hockey deal and  add players. With names out there like Jonathan Drouin, Cam Fowler and Brandon Pirri, people thought that they could move. I was excited knowing that these young players could join Buffalo and make them a better team.

But it wasn’t just me who was excited, as Boston fans sat around waiting to see what was going to happen with Loui Eriksson. Loui was one of the biggest unrestricted free agents who could’ve gotten moved at the deadline. Bruins fans were following ‘will Loui sign an extension,’ ‘will they flip him for a big move and bring in defensive help’ or ‘will they treat him like a rental’.

Finally, we had Vancouver and Dan Hamhuis, arguably the biggest defenseman who could’ve been on the move. Everyone kept wondering if Vancouver would sell or do they still think they have a chance for playoffs.

Well, with all of these stories leading into the deadline, I expected a lot big moves. I don’t know if I got my hopes up too much or I read too much into the rumors, but this trade deadline was a complete bust. This trade deadline coverage was ridiculous; I felt bad for TSN and Sportsnet, they had to tell stories just to fill air time. The Deadline Day saw 19 deals and 34 players moved, highlighted by the move of Kris Russell to the Dallas Stars.

After all the rumors about Eriksson and Drouin, nothing changed for either of them. Loui is still looking for a contract extension and Drouin is still not playing hockey, sitting out because he refuses to play in the AHL.

The general manager of Buffalo, Tim Murray, described the deadline as ridiculous. He went on to complain how everyone waited until the final hour before they started trying to make moves. He compared it to a bunch of high schoolers waiting till right before the deadline to try and get their work done.

This deadline had huge potential for a lot of hockey trades that could benefit both teams, and the trigger was never pulled. This was a deadline highlighted by rental players and small ones at that. Andrew Ladd was traded to Chicago before deadline day, so excluding him for not being on deadline day. The big names moved on deadline day were Kris Russell to Dallas, Mikhail Boedker to Colorado, and Jamie McGinn to Anaheim.

If you think of past years names like Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Marian Hossa were all added to teams and improved them dramatically, and in most cases lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Russell, McGinn and Boedker aren’t going to help their new teams. I just think when playoffs come around these players aren’t impact players; they aren’t going to put huge points up and score the important goals for the teams.

With all this being said, I think when draft comes around, we could see more moves. But if you ask me, I am not buying these rumors and I will sit back until the deals are actually made.

COLBY’S CORNER: NO, MCDAVID CAN’T WIN THE CALDER

Hockey Hall of Fame
Hockey Hall of Fame

I hope everyone is ready for a rant, as I have been reading speculation around the Calder Memorial Trophy this year. The Calder is given to the rookie of the year, and with the high level of talent from the rookies this year, the race will go to the end of the season. If I were to rank the top five rookies today, they would go as followed.

  1. CHI Artemi Panarin G 22 A 35 GP 60
  2. DET Dylan Larkin G 19 A 20 GP 57
  3. PHL Shayne Gotisbehere G 12 A 22 GP 40
  4. AIZ Max Domi  G 17 A 24 GP 58
  5. BUF Jack Eichel G 17 A 24  GP 60

DNQ: Connor McDavid G 10 A 17 GP 23

Artemi Panarin deserves to win the Calder this year; this man has 57 points thus far this season. At his current points-per-game pace, it has him around the high 70’s this season for a rookie. Yes, I understand that he is on the best team out of all of the rookies and he plays with Patrick Kane, but you can’t argue with the point total. The second closest players in points are Max Domi and Jack Eichel with 41.

Dylan Larkin is second because of the impact he has for Detroit. This team has rallied around him in hopes of keeping the playoff streak alive. Another reason is because of his phenomenal plus-minus stat: plus 21 on the season. This is incredible and shows how dynamic his game is, both offensively and defensively.

Another name that might surprise a few (and shouldn’t) would be Shayne Gotisbehere of the Flyers. He makes my list at number three because of his 16-game point streak and his 34 points by a defenseman in just 40 games played. He has been a great change for Philly and I think the longer his game streak continues, I could see him jumping past Larkin at the number two spot.

Max Domi and Jack Eichel round out my final five as they are both tied on points. I placed Domi above Eichel because he has the same amount of points in two fewer games. Sorry Sabres fans, don’t hurt me.

Now for the rant section. Connor McDavid did not qualify in my book and it is not his fault at all. When he broke his collarbone and missed all those games, I wrote him off as all of you should have, but most didn’t. I understand the kid was the first overall pick and he is very talented, but you can’t give a rookie of the year to a player who can only play 45 games on the season. He has great numbers with 27 points in 23 games played, but the Oilers only have 22 games left.

Unless McDavid can put up 60 points in 45 games, I don’t see how you can reward a player who didn’t play most of the schedule. Players like Eichel and Panarin who haven’t missed a game deserve to be rewarded for that. Injuries are part of the game and the challenge is staying healthy all year long. If McDavid had only missed 10-15 games I would allow him in the race, but he missed 30 plus games and that doesn’t deserve the Calder. Sorry, kid.

I think my ranking from 2-5 will change, but I don’t see Panarin losing the top spot, as he has a 16 point lead over everyone. If you disagree and want to tell me why, shoot me a message or comment.

COLBY’S CORNER: A SURPRISE HURRICANE HIT CAROLINA

Carolina Hurricanes LogoNow I am not talking about an actual storm, I am talking about the hockey team. One of the biggest surprises this year for me is the Carolina Hurricanes. After finishing in the bottom five last year and not adding much in the off-season, I don’t think many people had playoff hopes for this team, and with the declining attendance, that was pretty apparent. With the threat of relocation of the franchise, the team has come together and are still in the playoff hunt.

The Hurricanes are 6th in the metropolitan division, however they are only two points out of a Wildcard spot. The Hurricanes have been a special team this year, as they are finding ways to win games with such a young roster. The average age of the players on their current roster is 24 years old, including 10 players under the age of 24.

This includes the 5th overall pick from the 2015 entry-level draft, Noah Hanifin. The 19-year-old was the first defenseman selected in the 2015 draft. It surprised many people to see him jump into the Hurricanes’ roster so quickly this season. So far, the Hurricanes’ management team has to be happy with his performance, as he has two goals and ten assists in 54 games played. That’s not the stat everyone should be surprised by, however.

Young defensemen in this league make mistakes, and it usually results in giving up goals and a learning moment for the kid. Well, Hanifin isn’t making these mistakes, as his plus minus is a plus two on the season. This shocked me, as this shows that he is being calm and composed. It also shows that he has strong leadership on the back end from players like Ron Hanisey and John-Michael Liles.

Gregg Forwerck
Gregg Forwerck

Hanifin could also be following the path paved by the new leader of the team, Justin Faulk. Faulk is only 23 years old and this is his 4th full season in the NHL. Faulk leads the team in points with 34 points on the season. Faulk is shown to be a powerplay expert at his young age, as he is 3rd in the league for powerplay goals with 12 in the season.

The ‘Canes also have six players over 30 points on 56 games played. One of those players is Eric Staal. Staal is a major unrestricted free agent in this offseason, and if the Hurricanes hope to keep him, they are going to need to open their wallets wide as a lot of teams are eyeing him to help their teams next year. Eric Staal is one of the only players that was on the team when they won the Stanley Cup in the 2005-2006 season.

For the sake of the franchise, I hope the Hurricanes can make the playoffs this season. This would instantly boost attendance for them, and they would be allowed to stay in Carolina, although Las Vegas and Quebec City may be hoping otherwise. The Hurricanes have a tough couple of games coming up against the Lighting, Blues and Bruins, so we will see how they do.

COLBY’S CORNER- SLUMPING IN THE WILD

At the end of a hard fought overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, the UnknownMinnesota Wild currently find themselves losers of six straight games. With that being said, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see them near the bottom of the Central Division, ahead of only bottom-feeders Winnipeg by five points.

You don’t have to dig too deep to figure out their issues as of late. Let’s just turn to their stars: Zack Parise may have 30 points on the season, but he has only one goal in his last 11 games and a plus-minus of -9. This shows how his offense is slowing down after a good start. But he’s not the only one, as we look at his old line mate Jason Pominville. Pominville is struggling this year, with only a 21 point season. Most people would think that’s not bad for this point, but this is Pominville, who has had 50 plus points over the past two seasons. Pominville is also struggling to find the net of late, as he has only one goal in his last 20 games.

Continuing to look at the stats, another name that sticks out is Mikael Granlund. After having strong seasons the past few years, his goal drought has hit an all-time high with only one goal in his last 34 games. Granlund is still working however, as he has 22 assists on the season. The goal scoring is an area that he may need to improve, as he has a measly four goals in 53 games.

Getty Images- Hannah Foslien
Getty Images- Hannah Foslien

Another note, I feel the need to point out Devan Dubnyk. Although you cannot blame his record of 18-18-5 completely on him, Dubnyk’s numbers are mirroring his numbers with Arizona early last season. Dubnyk has a save percentage of .918, ranking him 32nd in the league with at least one game played. Dubnyk’s goal-against average of 2.37 is good enough for 30th in the league. I said at the end of last year in a Colby’s Corner post that Dubnyk would not put up the same numbers as his season last year. This is still reigning true on my part, as his numbers aren’t that of a number one goalie. (Cue the Ego)

As for the Wild this year, it’s a stretch to see them in the playoffs with the division they play in. They could be big sellers at the deadline, getting rid of some of these big contract that aren’t working out for them, like Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville. Yes, I am aware they have long-term contracts, but as Ottawa showed us, sometimes it may be worth it, as Ottawa took on Dion Phaneuf’s long, expensive contract.

COLBY’S CORNER: FLORIDA HEAT

The Atlantic division got burned and the teams are feeling the Unknown-2Florida heat with the Florida Panthers on top. The Panthers went on a 12-game winning streak that earned them the top spot in the Atlantic. They made it seem like the other teams were standing still as they blew by them.

My first thought was that it wouldn’t last, and they would fall back to where they belong, but now I am second-guessing myself. They continue to win games, and big games like January 22nd when they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0. The Panthers have 63 points, and only 3 points separate them from the second division spot.

So why are they so successful?

A big part of their success can be tied with their young players. First would be the team’s point leader Jonathan Huberdeau. He has 34 points, and of those points 26 come from assists. This is a great feat for a 4th-year player who is only 22 years old.

A bigger piece of this Florida team would be 2nd-year player Aaron Exblad. Exblad is key to this team; he missed four games thus far and Florida stumbled in those games. Ever since his return to the lineup, the Panthers have found winning ways again. Exblad has 21 points this season, split pretty evenly between goals and assists (10G, 11A).

Finally, it wouldn’t be right to talk about this team without mentioning the great one: Jaromir Jagr. Jagr is second on the team in goals with 15 and in points with 33, only one point behind his line mate Huberdeau. Jagr is still finding ways to succeed in this league and his experience is helping these young kids as they push for the playoffs. I feel it will be interesting to watch this team in the playoffs, and this could be the final push for Jagr and another cup.

AP Photo/Joel Auerbach
AP Photo/Joel Auerbach

If I were to steal Rob Ray’s explanation for why Jagr is this old and still playing: he believes it’s because he has stayed single for all these years. Say what you will, but it makes you really think about his career and what he has achieved.

COLBY’S CORNER: INCOMPLETES

report-card incompleteAt the midway point of the season, a lot of people want to give out grades. Well, due to our busy schedules and the fact that we skipped a podcast, I am going to discuss the teams I think deserve an incomplete and why.  So, while all of you are handing out grades, consider these teams for incompletes.

First up

The Ottawa Senators Unknown-2

The Ottawa Senators are 11th in the Eastern conference with 50 points. This is a team who had a strong run at the end of last season, and with help from goalie Andrew Hammond, snuck into the playoffs. The team is currently only three points out of a wildcard playoff spot again.

The Senators are a streaky team and I personally don’t think you can insult the team with a C rating. Obviously, Ottawa’s biggest player is defenseman Erik Karlsson and he is living up to it as he leads the team in points with 51 in 48 games played. This man is a beast, and they play him like it too. There have been a few games this season where Karlsson has played over 30 minutes in a game; that’s more than half the game! From a coach’s perspective, it has to be great to have a player who can play at all times.

However, if you look closer, this could be part of the issue. A stat that scares me for this team is Erik Karlsson’s plus-minus rating: it’s only even. This man is responsible for about 40% of Ottawa’s goals, and he’s been on the ice for 51 goals against average. To me this means his partner on D isn’t correct. Now, people will argue that if he would stay home and not play so offensively, or if he would play less, maybe his plus minus would be better. This may be true, but he is also without a doubt their best player. You play the best player as much as possible as long as he can handle it, which Karlsson can.

Now, with the trade deadline around the corner, you have to wonder what trades the Senators might be considering. If I were them, I would be looking for some defensive help, and, more specifically, a partner for Karlsson. Some big names out there for D help would be Kevin Shattenkirk and Travis Hamonic.

To finish with Ottawa, I would tell people not to write them off yet, by any means. They have a lot of winnable games coming up, including my Buffalo Sabres at the end of the month. If their coach can figure out his D-pairs, I would say Ottawa has the ability to go on a run similar to Florida and jump into the division spots.

Next up

The Vancouver CanucksUnknown-1

Not going to lie to you, I have never been a fan of the Canucks, but this team has surprised me a little bit this year. I felt the Canucks would have a rough year, but they are currently 8th in the Western conference with 51 points. They are in the 3rd division spot in the Pacific. Now, we all know the Pacific division is the weakest in the league, but I think it would be wrong to give Vancouver a grade when they have 2 players who have played in all 49 games this season. This stat tells you that nothing is set in Vancouver, and they have had many injury problems this season.

The Sedin twins are leading the way in points, like usual, as Daniel has 43 and Henrik has 37. It seems the twins have started using their twin powers again, and thus have this team in a playoff position. Ryan Miller, the current #1 goalie in Vancouver, just missed 10 games with an injury, and that may not be a lot, but when Jacob Markstrom is your backup, it doesn’t help in the winnable games.

Another advantage Vancouver might have going down the line is their young kids. Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen are kids who will get better with the more games they play. If both of these kids can continue to improve, I feel the Canucks will be in the playoffs, and if Miller can stay healthy, they might be looking at the second division spot.

If I were the GM of Vancouver, I would not be big sellers, but I would be looking for a veteran center to help them in the final push for the playoffs. A name that could come up could be Patrick Marleau, who at the start of the season requested a trade.

Other teams who don’t deserve grades would be the Edmonton oilers, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.

These teams all knew they would have a rough year before the midway point. Edmonton lost Connor McDavid early and had the same team as last year. The Sabres weren’t going to go from last to playoffs this soon, as many as some hoped. Toronto fans should know by now the rebuild is in full effect. Toronto should be hoping for Auston Mathews and hope for a Stamkos miracle, but that’s for another post.

1st Annual Colby’s Corner Awards

2015 is coming to an end and it’s time for all the awards for this early 2015-2016 season. This Colby’s Corner will be different, however, as Nick and I will tag team these awards, sharing who we think should win and why.

The Wayne Gretzky Award– Given to the best offensive player

Colby Kephart– Jamie Benn. I choose Jamie Benn because the answer is in the numbers. Mr. Benn is 1st in goals scored with 19 goals, and 2nd in points with 39. Benn is also 5th in assists, but this doesn’t explain what he truly means to this Dallas team. Jamie Benn is the best offensive player of the year.

Nick Lanciani– You’ve got to go with Jamie Benn here, quite simply because he was last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner and is still maintaining a consistent scoring pace. While his counterpart, Tyler Seguin, might have showed signs of slowing down over the last week or so, Benn’s game elevates the level of everyone around him and Seguin will quickly get back into the same rhythm.

Goaltender of the year (sorry Bryz, it’s not you) 

CK– Henrik Lundqvist. King Henrik is the best goalie in this early season. He is 1st in save percentage and 3rd in both goals-against-average and wins. Lundqvist’s numbers are similar to Carey Price’s MVP season from last year.

NL– Washington’s Braden Holtby has continued to stake his claim in the short list of elite goaltenders in the world. This season he’s got a 1.95 GAA, .928 SV%, and a 17-4-1 record to boot in 22 games played. We said in our season previews that Washington would be a dominant team and Holtby is a dominant force in front of the net. Speaking of the Force, I’m excited for Star Wars…

If Carey Price wasn’t injured, I’m sure he’d be making a strong case for himself this season as he did last season when he took home the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy.

The Bobby Orr Award– Given to the best defensemen of the year

CK– John Klingberg. This young defenseman has proven himself in this season with 30 points thus far, which is crazy. I understand he is on one of the best teams in the league, and plays alongside stars like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. But he has 5 goals and 25 assists in just 28 games played, which is more than a point a game.

NL– There’s a reason why I picked up Klingberg on my fantasy team, if we’re talking specific aspects of the game. Otherwise, Erik Karlsson is leading defensemen in points with 6-26-32 totals through 29 games played, so really if you want to split this one into “best two-way/offensive defenseman” and “best defenseman” I’d be able to give both of them an award.

Coach of the Year (so far) Award

CK– Lindy Ruff. At this point, you are seeing a trend that I believe Dallas is a top team this year, and this man is a big reason why. He has made many lucrative moves, like deciding who to play with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. It was once Patrick Sharp on the wing, but in recent games it has been Valeri Nichushkin. This kid only had one assist last season but this season has 12 points, proving himself to Mr. Ruff.

NL– Umm, can we talk about what they’re doing in Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Ottawa, or should I just go with a cop out and pick Lindy Ruff as well? I’ll tell you who’s not my coach of the year, but I wouldn’t want a stanchion sent my way between the benches… John Tortorella gets a pass for now with regards to “worst” coach of the year.

But if you want me to say who I’d pick as coach of the year right now (again) it’s got to be Ruff. Actually, just make Dallas earn all the front office of the year awards. Well, maybe almost all of them. Washington would definitely be their main competition. Hmm, actually, would Ruff mind sharing our award with Barry Trotz? Asking for a friend.

Best Team of 2015

CJhyiLmKCK– Dallas Stars. No surprise here as I am saying that the Dallas Stars are the best team in the league thus far. They lead the NHL with 44 points and their offense is the best with 98 goals for this season. They also have the most wins the league, with 21 wins in 28 games (that’s only 7 losses!).

 

NL– Well, if the Ottawa Senators get any hotter, I might be picking them soon, but yeah, Dallas or Washington again. No surprise here. Maybe even Montreal, if they can avoid losing nine straight to match their winning streak to start the season. I don’t just want to go with this season’s eventual President’s Trophy winner, so really I’m just trying to add a few more teams to the conversation.

 

Rookie of the year (until Nick jinx’s him)

CK– Artemi Panarin. 9 goals, 19 assists—this kid has to be considered one of the biggest surprises of the season. I may not know how to pronounce his name, but I know he has been great for the Blackhawks this season and will be competing for the NHL rookie of the year award.

NL– I hate picking a “rookie of the year” halfway through, because usually I end up jinxing them, so I guess I’ll have to be careful with this one. Artemi Panarin, bud, I don’t want to ruin your chances, but if I had to pick who I think will take home the Calder Trophy in June, well, I’ve got to go with Max Domi. I just think that in the long run Domi will be able to overcome the 5 points in scoring separation between himself and Panarin as it stands right now.

With that said, if I’m picking one for right now it’s definitely Panarin. No questions asked. Actually, did anybody think of a defenseman? Oh well.

Patrik Stefan’s Team of the Year– Worst team of the year

CK– Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto fans were excited to win the Mike Babcock sweepstakes and had high hopes for this season. They knew the offense would be affected with the Phil Kessel trade, but no one knew it would be this bad. Toronto is struggling, and I feel they will finish near the bottom of the league this season.giphy

 

NL– Any team that’s near the bottom of the standings that starts with a “C” is splitting this award. So Columbus, Carolina and Colorado, congrats! You’re losers! But winners in our hearts.

*Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that things are still dismal in Toronto and possibly Calgary, so we’ll see which one of those Canadian teams is in contention for this award at the end of the regular season. They’ll probably have to do worse than one of the “C” teams mentioned above though.

Biggest surprise of year 

CK– Arizona Coyotes. The Arizona Coyotes are the biggest surprise of this season as they are making an interesting push to playoffs. They have been bouncing between being the 3rd division spot or out of the playoffs. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are having strong rookie seasons, and have surprised both the league and me personally.

NL– Remember how I mentioned Max Domi before, yeah, well that was intentional. I was leading you to the obvious. The Vancouver Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning are big surprises this year, with the Canucks currently 2nd in the Pacific Division and well, not in last like I thought they would be after their inactivity in the offseason. I mean, Matt Bartkowski? Really? Then again, it looks like he’s found a home on the blue line defending Johnny Canuck from the opposition.

And Tampa’s currently 6th in the Atlantic Division, albeit a close spread in points, only ten points out of first and two points from a wild card spot, but one would think they would be flexing their muscle this season as they did in their Stanley Cup Final run last spring. If they fall further, they’re definitely the biggest surprise, in my eyes, for all the wrong reasons. Likewise, Jon Cooper would probably deserve some heavy scrutiny, with the whole hysteria surrounding Steven Stamkos’s pending unrestricted free agency possibility.

But if I have to be nice and pick a pleasant surprise, I’m going with either Vancouver- as I already discussed- or Arizona- as Colby already pointed out (and I’m totally hopping on that Domi-Duclair bandwagon by the way).

Colby’s Corner: Flyers’ Goaltender Issues

So I am going to continue with another rant about another Pennsylvania team. This time I’m going to talkPhiladelphia Flyers Logo about the Philadelphia Flyers and the issues they face in the crease. Since the 2012-13 season, the Flyers have had eight different goalies. These goalies are: Steve Mason, Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton, Calvin Heeter, Rob Zepp, and Michal Neuvirth. All of these goalies have played at least one game since the 2012-13 season.

The team currently has two goalies on their roster, Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason. Steve Mason has a goals-against-average of 3.21 and a save percentage of .905 in 10 games started. Mason has a record of 3-5-3 with zero shutouts. Michal Neuvirth has a goals-against-average of 2.08 and a save percentage of .939 in 8 games started. Neuvirth also had two shutouts in his first two starts as a Flyer, with a total of three this season. Neuvirth’s record this season is 3-3-1, losing one of the decisions to Mason when he left the first period against the Bruins with an upper body injury.

Dave Hakstol is backing Steve Mason as the number one goalie even as his numbers continue to drop. On November 9th, Dave Hakstol said “Mase is our No.1” following a practice while Neuvirth was leading the league in shutouts. Since then, Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues has tied Neuvirth for the league leader in shutouts. Many people believe there should be a goalie competition to see who is the better goalie, however Philly is standing behind their man Steve Mason.

My Opinion 

Michal Neuvirth (Left) with Steve Mason (right) (USA Today Images)

Philly, oh Philly, always dealing with goalie issues. Philly hasn’t had a true number one goalie since the days of Roman Cechmanek, who last played for the team in 2002-03 season. Yes, they had Robert Esche who was number one for a few seasons, but then they had Antero Niittymaki show up and they split time too.

I appreciate what Dave Hakstol is trying to do with backing one goalie and trying to make a clear-cut, number one goalie, however, I think they are backing the wrong goalie in this case. Mason has struggled this year and isn’t an NHL number one goalie. The goal he let in against Tyler Ennis this season from behind the net was one of the worst goals I’ve seen a goalie give up this season, just behind Derek Stepan on Johnathan Bernier from center ice. Neuvirth is the better goalie right now and in general, and given a chance, I feel Neuvirth could win the number one goalie in Philly.

With Neuvirth’s time in Buffalo, I learned that he is a goalie who needs to be played consistently to get the best out of him. Neuvirth is a streaky goalie; when he is hot, he is a dominant goalie. This was evident this season when his first two starts were shutouts and wins for the Flyers. Obviously, when Neuvirth got hurt and was replaced by Mason, his hot streak stopped. Now he is struggling, only splitting games, and he hasn’t found his rhythm. Wednesday, November 18th, the Flyers announced that Neuvirth is day-to-day with another upper body injury. This complicates the Flyers’ situation even more and now we hope Neuvirth returns quickly to help his team.

Dave Hakstol needs to call it quits on Steve Mason and start backing the better goalie in Philly. The Flyers are hoping for the playoffs this season and in order to do this, they need a goalie to stand up and play like a number one, and the team/coach needs to back him up.

Colby’s Corner: Pittsburgh’s True Best

Connor Keith and I have had this discussion for a while, and it has been something I have had a strong opinion on.

Photo by Jeanine Leech/icon SMI

Who’s better: Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin? I decided to share my opinion with our viewers and explain why.

So ever since the 2005 NHL Draft, it has been Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin as they both changed their organizations dramatically and became franchise players. They both lived up to these standards by winning awards and medals. However, there has always been the forgotten man that was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins 2ndoverall in 2004 NHL Draft. This man was Evgeni Malkin.

Photo by REBECCA COOK / REUTERS

Malkin was always in the shadow of Crosby, even as he lead their team to back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances. Crosby took most of the credit for this success, and yes, Crosby was a big part of the success in the 2009 Stanley Cup. Crosby may have scored some goals and was important during the playoffs that season, but Malkin still had more points with 36 during the season. Malkin even went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Yet, Malkin is still the second part of the dynamic duo know as Sid and Geno.

Over the past few years, while Crosby was hurt or struggling, it has been Malkin stepping up. This has happened again this year, as Crosby only has 2 goals and 5 assists through 14 games, whereas Malkin is leading the team with 4 goals and 7 assists for 11 points.

My Opinion  

Malkin is the better player and has been for a while now. A lot of people questioned Malkin last year and the money he was making (around $9 million per year). In my eyes, he deserves this much. Whenever the Penguins struggle offensively, it is usually him who steps up. When Crosby isn’t playing like himself, it is Malkin who steps up and fills that void. When Crosby was facing his concussion issues or other injuries, it was Malkin who stepped up.

Now, I am not saying that Crosby isn’t good. Obviously, his awards speak for themselves, but he isn’t the same player who entered the league, nor the same player who scored the Gold Medal-winning goal. Crosby used to make the players around him better. Well, what happened this year with Phil Kessel? That’s right, Crosby and Kessel couldn’t link up. And again, it’s Malkin who has to step up to take Kessel on his wing and get Kessel scoring again.

Yes, Malkin makes more than Crosby, but that’s by Crosby’s choice. Crosby wants everything to have his number on it, so he gets paid $8.7 million. Malkin has also won the award that Crosby hasn’t, which is the Calder Trophy in 2007. Malkin has been the player carrying this team this season, like he has done in the past few seasons. Malkin is more dynamic and still producing. He deserves to be considered the best forward in Pittsburgh this season and going forward, at least until Sid bounces back or proves otherwise.

Colby’s Corner: Rangers success continues after offseason

The New York Rangers were disappointed with their lack of success in the playoffs last year, and knew they were going to face a tougNew York Rangers Logoh off-season with the salary cap issues and players needing new contracts. The Rangers needed to make moves, and they ended up trading Carl Hagelin to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem and draft picks. Their moves continued as the Rangers then traded Cam Talbot to the Edmonton Oilers for picks in the draft.

The Rangers lost a few more players to free agency, like Matt Hunwick going to Toronto. They experienced another loss when Martin St. Louis, retired after 18 years of professional hockey, one Stanley Cup, three Olympic medals and one Hart Trophy. He finished out his career with the Rangers scoring 22 goals and 38 assists during his 2 seasons combined.

The Rangers went on to resign players like Derek Stepan, Jesper Fast, and J.T. Miller.  They also tried to fill the holes they created with the moves by acquiring Antti Raanta to replace Cam Talbot, and they signed free agents Viktor Stalberg and Jarett Stoll.

Going into the season, many believe the Rangers wouldn’t have the same level of success as they had last year. Obviously, Antti Raanta is not Cam Talbot. When Henrik Lundqvist went down last year, Talbot stepped up and play phenomenally to help lead the Rangers to the franchise’s third Presidents’ Trophy.

However, Raanta has started this season with an excellent performance, winning both of his starts and posting a goals-against-average of 0.50 and a save percentage of .987. Obviously, with the season being so young and the Rangers only having played 12 games, they seem to be continuing their success from last season.

But how is this possible? Viktor Stalberg and Jarrett Stoll aren’t Carl Hagelin, and Emerson Etem has only seen three games this season.

My Opinion 

There are two main answers to this question: the defense core and the stepping up of the young role players.

The Rangers arguably have the best D-core in the league, with a solid 6: Marc Staal, Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle, Kevin Klein, Dan Girardi and the captain Ryan McDonagh. All these players have been in the league for so many years and have great experience. If any of these players were on a different team, they would all be considered to be on the top two defense lines. The Rangers’ defenseman and goalies have allowed the fewest goals this season and the six defensemen have 6 goals on the season. They are truly doing it on both ends.

The stepping up of players like Mats Zuccarello, Oscar Lindberg, and others are the reason the offense is continuing to flow in New York. Zuccarello is making up for the lost time in the playoffs last season by storming out of the gates with 7 goals and 2 assists. He might truly be the heart of the Rangers; when he went out last year, the offensive production of the team dropped dramatically.

(Photo: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)

Oscar Lindberg, a rookie, has been one of the biggest surprises of the Rangers this year. He has had a few multi-point games thus far, including a two-goal game in his first few games this season. Lindberg has 6 goals and 3 assists on the season. In the first few games he made an argument for the Calder Trophy, however the success would have to continue all year for him to beat out Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel for this award.

Overall, the success will be there for the Rangers throughout the season if their players stay healthy and they find a way to get the puck in the back of net. (Yes, I know, that’s what every team needs) The defense and goaltending for the Rangers will be there all year long. So it won’t be surprising seeing them in the playoffs again this year.

Colby’s Corner: Columbus Winless through 7 and Torts

Columbus Blue Jackets 

The Columbus Blue Jackets were picked by many, including myself, to make the playoffs this year. The key addition ofColumbus Blue Jackets Logo Brandon Saad was supposed to improve the team drastically. However, after a 0-7-0 start to their season, many people might be recanting their statements.

On Wednesday, October 21st, the Columbus Blue Jackets fired their coach Todd Richards and hired John Tortorella (Torts) as the new coach. Torts brings experience and a Stanley Cup ring from when he led the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. Along with signing him, Columbus has to give a second round pick to Vancouver because Torts was last employed by them and he was fired. The pick would’ve been a third rounder if Torts was hired during the off-season, but during the season requires it to be a second rounder. Columbus also agreed to keep some of their assistant coaches, maintaining familiarity with the players.

The team only has two players that are even in plus-minus this year, and the rest of the team is a minus. Goaltending has been another serious issue with save percentage under NHL average, and Sergei Bobrovsky has the league’s worst with .835. The star players in Columbus might be another major issue. Ryan Johansen, the number one center, only has one goal in the year thus far. There are only three players with multiple goals: Brandon Saad (3), Boone Jenner (3) and Scott Hartnell (2). Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen led the team in points last season, but this season each only has one goal through 7 games. The record resembles their performances on ice and their stats.

My Opinion

I feel like the firing of Todd Richards was unfair, and how they did it was very unprofessional. It’s not the coach’s fault if the franchise goalie forgot how to play hockey overnight. I understand it’s not all Bobrovsky’s fault, but he has a goals-against average of 5.07 in addition to his league’s worst save percentage. The defense is another struggle. David Savard and Dalton Prout have plus-minuses of minus 9 on the season. Defense is where Richards could be blamed, but you can only use what you have, and GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t strengthen the back end this off-season, he only went after forwards. giphy

The Blue Jackets screwed up in their hiring process after the 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders Tuesday night. The management began looking into new coaches and had actually agreed to a deal with Torts before letting Todd Richards know he was fired. This is crap and actually makes me sick. The headline Wednesday morning was Richards out Torts in, and I understand the need for action, but come on. Torts, however, doesn’t have full control of his staff because Richards’ assistants stayed with team. Normally the head coach is allowed to pick his assistant coaches, but not in this situation. Now Columbus has to hope one of the most hard-headed coaches in the league gets along with these assistants.

To wrap up, the Blue Jackets won’t go winless all season, so Torts will get a win, but unless Bobrovsky remembers how to play hockey, the Blue Jackets will not make the playoffs. Columbus will realize the issues weren’t behind the bench but in goal and in weak defensemen. The Blue Jackets’ next game is Thursday vs. Minnesota Wild.

Colby’s Corner: Bold Predictions Part 2

Bold Predictions will be a two-part series where I, Colby, will discuss who I think will and won’t make the playoffs this season and why. The second part will be the teams who will not make the playoffs and why not. Now remember, these are my opinions. If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment; we always appreciate feedback.

Eastern Conference 

Atlantic                                    Metropolitan                                     Wild Cards

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning           1. Washington Capitals                 1. Columbus Blue Jackets (M)
  2. Montreal Canadiens             2. Pittsburgh Penguins                 2. New York Islanders (M)
  3. Ottawa Senators                    3. New York Rangers

The two teams people will be surprised to see missing from the playoffs are the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins: Aging core with weak blue line equals no playoffs for the city of Boston for the 2nd year in a row. Zdeno Chara is by far the best defenseman on the Bruins’ team this year. The 38-year-old is just coming off an injury, and because he is getting up there in age he has people in Boston questioning when he will hang up his skates. It’s not surprising that the older he gets, the number of injuries he has and the time he misses increase also. As he gets older, though, the Bruins seem to be leaning on him more as they get rid of their other defenseman like Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton. Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron grow another year older as they remain part of this Bruins core. Injuries have already plagued the Bruins on the defensive end and will likely result in them playing three young men in the back: Zach Trotman, Colin Miller and Joe Morrow. The three of them together only have 44 games played in the NHL. I don’t even see the Bruins being close to the wildcard spot, as some Bruins fans have been joking about. #AustintoBoston

Detroit Red Wings: New coach, different results. The Detroit Red Wings hired Jeff Blashill when Mike Babcock left during this offseason. I was a big fan of hiring from within the organization, as Blashill was the coach for the Red Wings affiliate last season. The Jump from AHL to NHL is big, you can ask all the players who never transition. Some coaches have been successful in this jump, like John Tortorella. However, I feel like Wings fans will truly see how much Babcock did for their organization and the core they have there. The Wings are also dealing with a goaltender battle between Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will have to have wide shoulders if the Wings want a chance at making the playoffs, along with help from Tomas Tatar and Mike Green. The Wings will compete for the wildcard at the end of the season, but will fall short.

Western Conference 

Pacific                                     Central                                    Wild Cards

  1. Anaheim Ducks                1. Dallas Stars                   1. Chicago Blackhawks (C)
  2. Calgary Flames                 2. St Louis Blues               2. Colorado Avalanche (C)
  3. Los Angeles Kings            3. Minnesota Wild

The two teams people will be surprised to see missing from my playoffs are two teams that made it last season, the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets.

Nashville Predators: Same tricks don’t work twice Nashville was a top team in the west last season due to big performance from James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. I am calling that Forsberg will have the crucial sophomore slump. I also don’t see Rinne having the same numbers as last season. He and Weber got help this off-season from Barrett Jackman, however I don’t think this will be enough. The Preds will have a bad year because that division is just so good now and teams like Dallas added a lot of talent.

Winnipeg Jets: Off ice causes issues on it Winnipeg is dealing with a lot, what with all the trade rumors surrounding star defenseman/winger Dustin Byfuglien. It seems like reports are linking him to just about any team out there. Byfuglien had some issues with Evander Kane, back when Kane was in Winnipeg. There seems to always be tension inside that locker room. Another reason I feel Winnipeg doesn’t make the playoffs is in between the pipes. Michael Hutchinson and Onderj Pavelec are not number one goalies in the NHL. The reason they made the playoffs last season was because of Hutchinson’s amazing play down the final stretch of the season. I don’t see him doing this again this year. I actually have Winnipeg last in this division. I would say they finish about 10th in the conference, however, because the Pacific is so weak.

Colby’s Corner: Bold Predictions Part 1

Bold Predictions will be a two-part series where I, Colby, will discuss who I think will and won’t make the playoffs this season and why. The first part will be the teams who will make the playoffs and the order I think we will see them in. Now remember, these are my opinions. If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment; we always appreciate feedback.

Eastern Conference 

Atlantic                                   Metropolitan                                        Wild Cards

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning           1. Washington Capitals                 1. Columbus Blue Jackets (M)
  2. Montreal Canadiens             2. Pittsburgh Penguins                 2. New York Islanders (M)
  3. Ottawa Senators                    3. New York Rangers
The real surprises in my predictions for the Eastern Conference playoff teams are first, choosing five teams from the Metropolitan, and secondly, Ottawa having the number three division spot.
Five teams from Metropolitan- I chose these five teams because I believe these teams have improved dramatically. With the Capitals and Penguins’ additions this off-season, they will be top two in this division without a doubt. The Islanders’ sliding down to the last wildcard spot was a tough choice of mine; I looked at the teams left from both divisions and felt like the Islanders were the best team left of both divisions.
Ottawa at number three- The Senators deserved to make the playoffspic ottawa bold predictions 1 last season and no one can debate the fact that they were good enough even with their 3rdstring (at the time) goalie. This season, with Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond healthy, they should be able to add more points than last season and take that division spot away from the other teams in the NHL.
Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Western Conference

Pacific                                   Central                                    Wild Cards

  1. Anaheim Ducks                1. Dallas Stars                   1. Chicago Blackhawks (C)
  2. Calgary Flames                 2. St Louis Blues               2. Colorado Avalanche (C)
  3. Los Angeles Kings            3. Minnesota Wild

The major surprises I feel in my Western predictions are Dallas at the top of the Central and Colorado getting a wild card spot.

Dallas to the top- Dallas is at the top because of one word: OFFSEASON. The additions of two multiple Stanley Cup pic dallas bold predcitions 1champions—Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya—not to mention another Stanley Cup champion in Antti Niemi between the posts, leaves Dallas with an advantage. So with two number one goalies with experience paired with the young talent of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, there is no way Dallas doesn’t make the playoffs. If Dallas tops their division, I know that GM will be getting a raise, and he’s got an A in my book.

Glenn James/NHLI/Getty Images

Colorado as a wild card- I like Colorado and I like how they have built up their organization. This offseason pic colorado Bold perdictions 1they knew an upgrade was needed at the blue line and they got this with young kids Nikita Zadorov and Brandon Gormely along with veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin. I think with these additions they will be able to protect Semyon Varlamov better and get the puck to bounce in the right direction, giving them a chance at the playoffs again.

                                                                                          Joe Mahoney / AP

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Colby’s Corner: Buffalo Sabres from #EmbraceTheTank to Playoff Contenders?

In the final edition of Colby’s Corner for the 2014-2015 season- and unofficial first edition of Colby’s Corner for the 2015-2016 season- Colby Kephart takes a look into the future of the Buffalo Sabres based on their offseason moves. Don’t fret, Colby’s Corner will return next season on an even more regular basis!

#EmbraceTheTank –> #2016StanleyCupPlayoffs?

By: Colby Kephart

I have been holding back on writing about the rumor that the Sabres might be playoff-bound next year. I may not have that answer, but I do know that this might be one of the most controlled rebuilds I have ever seen.

Sabres fans were excited going into this year’s draft, knowing that they would almost definitely be drafting Jack Eichel. However, the day turned out even better as Sabres general manager, Tim Murray, the mastermind that he is, pulled off his first trade on draft day- acquiring goaltender, Robin Lehner, and center, David Legwand, from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the 21st overall pick in the draft.

Robin Lehner has a chance to become a number 1 goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015-2016 season. Photo via QMI Agency
Robin Lehner has a chance to become a number 1 goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015-2016 season. Photo via QMI Agency

Robin Lehner is 6’4”, 23 years old and has experience in the NHL, having started in 86 games as the backup for the Senators for nearly 3 seasons. Lehner has a career save percentage of .914. With Lehner only being 23 years old and having a chance as the Sabres’ number 1 goalie, the big Swede has an opportunity to continue to improve, and for Sabres fans’ sake, he will become their new franchise goalie.

Also part of the deal was David Legwand, a veteran center at 34 years old, who according to Tim Murray, was “part of the deal, a take it or leave it situation”. Most people write him off and do not think he will have an impact on the team. As for me, I believe that his impact will be big off the ice.

He has more than a thousand games in the NHL under his belt. With young centers like Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, Eichel, and Johan Larsson, Legwand will be able to give little tips and tricks, as well as show guys like Reinhart and Eichel that they don’t have to be center stage to be successful. Legwand was in Nashville for years racking up points, but still the average fan wouldn’t even know his name.

So at this point, the Sabres have their goalie, and I finally was able to breathe knowing Buffalo’s future. Then the mastermind, Tim Murray, struck again with the man everyone in the league wanted: Mr. Ryan O’Reilly. Murray traded defenseman Nikita Zadorov and forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher, as well as the No. 31 pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn.

O’Reilly, a 24 year old center, is a high-caliber player who might turn out to be the Sabres’ first truly number one center in years, dating back to the days of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. O’Reilly comes with a year remaining on his $6 million AAV contract.

However, Tim Murray didn’t waste much time on locking him up longterm, giving O’Reilly a 7 year, $7.5 million AAV contract extension. Critics believe he was overpaid, as he received a front loaded contract, noting that when the contract kicks in beginning in the 2016-2017 season, O’Reilly will receive 11 million dollars (without a bonus).

Also included in the deal was 3rd/4th liner Jamie McGinn, a power forward with a scoring touch and is only 26 years old. In the 2013-2014 season, McGinn had a great total of 38 points (19 goals and 19 assists). He can provide some offense to 3rd or 4thlines, and could also be played with Marcus Folgino, as they have a similar style of play.

Or he could be put on the 4th line and hold his own with the big guys of the league and become a spark plug for the Sabres’ offense in games where they start off slow.

Finally, free agency opened up with the hopes of Sabres fans centered on finding a defenseman and, more importantly, a defenseman with a left-handed shot. Looking at big names like Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin (both of whom shoot left), the bar was set high and fans might have felt let down when the only moves made on July 1st were the signings of forward Jason Akeson and defenseman Matt Donovan, to one-year deals, while Martin signed a 4-year contract with the San Jose Sharks.

Both players are depth players, but Donovan has a chance to bust into the D pairs. He has some NHL games under his belt, but I, like the rest of all the Buffalo fans, was still waiting for a bigger name to help solidify the defense. The 3rd of July saw the Sabres sign 27-year-old Bobby Sanguinetti to a one year deal, who will more than likely be playing with the Rochester Americans in the AHL.

On our nation’s birthday, the 4th of July, the Sabres announced the signings of forward Cal O’Reilly (older brother of Ryan O’Reilly) to a two year deal. This adds another depth player to the Sabres and similar to Akeson, he will spend time in the AHL.

Buffalo signed another defenseman with a lot of NHL experience, and mileage around the league, Carlo Colaiacovo. Colaiacovo spent last year with the Flyers and played 33 games, amassing 8 points during that period.

The 32-year-old signed a 1-year deal worth $900,000. Colaiacovo is a left-handed shot, and with the experience that he has, will make the team on the Sabres 3rd defensive pair.

I envision Buffalo’s first D-pair will be Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges, followed by Rasmus Ristolainen and Mike Weber, with the 3rd D-pair of Mark Pysyk, if he re-signs, (he’s a current RFA with a qualifying offer having already been tendered by the Sabres) and Colaiacovo. I would imagine other depth defensemen would be Donovan and Jake McCabe, which would be perfect with the injury issues the Sabres usually face during the season.

Obviously, all of this could change since as of July 7th Cody Franson and Johnny Oduya are both still unsigned, left-handed shot, defensemen. If either are signed by the Sabres, they would walk into their defensive plans and into the fans’ open arms. Yet, both want long-term deals, and in this off-season, Murray has only been handing out one-year deals to players.

Other defenseman that could be targets would be Matt Irwin, Tim Gleason, David Schlemko and Ryan Wilson, all left-handed shots ages 27-31 and with cap hits around $1m- $2.2m. All of them also have experience within the NHL and could be a replacement if Pysyk doesn’t sign with the Sabres.

Now to the person that’s been all over Buffalo’s media, 2015 2nd overall pick: Jack Eichel. On July 1st, the Buffalo Sabres signed Eichel, or ‘the future’, as Sabres fans will eventually start calling him, solidifying himself onto the team. My expectation would be that Eichel slides into the second line center with a chance to play on the first line if he shines and has chemistry with Evander Kane or Tyler Ennis.

Jack Eichel is ready for a big debut season as the 2nd overall pick in this year's draft behind Junior superstar, Connor McDavid. (Getty Images)
Jack Eichel is ready for a big debut season as the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft behind Junior superstar, Connor McDavid. (Getty Images)

Speaking of 2nd overall picks, Sam Reinhart (taken 2nd overall in 2014), after having an amazing World Junior Championship tournament- leading the tournament in points- has a legitimate chance at making this year’s roster, according to some. But I am not one of those people.

I believe he will get all of the preseason to prove something, and depending on how he performs in the AHL with the Amerks, he will have a chance about midway through the season to make a run at truly breaking into the lineup.

Obviously, he will be one of the first choices to be called up should the team run into injury problems, like last season.

As for all the talk about the playoffs, here are my thoughts: I feel like the Sabres are one Top-4 defenseman away- and if everyone plays as expected, the Sabres will be looking at a wildcard spot or will be just out of the playoffs. The major issue is that nobody knows exactly how well Eichel will perform alongside Evander Kane; let alone how Kane will play in a new location. Everyone should be happy if Eichel puts up 15 goals and 20 or more assists in his first season. Another player to watch will be Girgensons. If he puts up a 20-goal season, then the Sabres will be set and fans should be eyeing a playoff run and a bright future.

As for the thinking surrounding a deep playoff run, I don’t think so. They will be matched up against a high seed, and fans should hope for a deep series to stand a chance. I understand this is a lot to think about, seeing how development camps just began. But this is for the Sabres fans who are unsure about next season and the other fans who will be caught off-guard by the Sabres next season.

I will end my prediction for next season with this; I believe the Sabres will be in an end-of-the-season battle for points, and we will either miss the playoffs by 2 or 3 points, or will steal a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

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Colby’s Corner- Bylsma’s Here, Now What?

Colby Kephart is pleased with the hiring of Dan Bylsma as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, but he wants to know what’s next for the Sabres (and tries to answer that question) in this edition of…

Colby’s Corner

By: Colby Kephart

Well it’s official, on Thursday May 28th, The Buffalo Sabres announced Dan Bylsma as their 17th head coach in franchise history. Bylsma had a Stanley Cup, in 2009, under his belt and won the Jack Adams Award in 2011, during his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was fired from the Penguins after 2013-2014 season after they lost in the playoffs to the New York Rangers in the 2nd Round.

Photo Credit: Bill Wippert
Photo Credit: Bill Wippert

However, despite being fired from his last head coaching position, Bylsma brings an impressive coaching record to Buffalo.

In 401 regular season games in Pittsburgh, he had a 252-117-32 record. Bylsma recently served as an assistant coach to the US 2015 IIHF team.

He worked with this year’s expected 2nd overall pick, and soon to be prospect of the Sabres, Jack Eichel, who had a terrific tournament. Bylsma signed a long term five-year deal, as Tim Murray continues to add the pieces to get Buffalo on the right track.

Why is this good for the Sabres?

This is great for the Sabres because this gives them a coach who has dealt with franchise centers, like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bylsma has worked with Jack Eichel and he will be able to make Eichel a franchise center, a position Buffalo has lacked for years. Bylsma doesn’t just improve the players the Sabres already have, but also attracts the attention of bigger name free agents to strengthen the team.

It’s no secret that the Sabres do not have a Stanley Cup in their history, but they now have a coach who does. Bylsma brings experience to the table that words can’t describe, he knows what it will take to make the Sabres a top level team in the league.

Bylsma coached the Penguins to four 100-point+ seasons and finished no worse than second in their division during that span. After watching the press conference, it looks like Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma will have a good relationship and should agree on moves that the team will make down the road.

So what’s next for the Sabres?

The Sabres need a goalie- a true number one goalie that can handle the playing time and get the team the wins to make the playoffs. There were a few reports of the team trading with Ottawa for Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson that have since quieted down.

Antti Niemi could be on his way out of San Jose, but would Dan Bylsma be enough to attract him to Buffalo? (Getty Images)
Antti Niemi could be on his way out of San Jose, but would Dan Bylsma be enough to attract him to Buffalo? (Getty Images)

If Tim Murray decides to rebuild through free agency, he has to look at goalies like San Jose’s pending UFA, Antti Niemi (who has a Stanley Cup too). There are other big names out there, however, none of them have a ring on their finger.

Buffalo also needs help defensively. They will have a solid top 2 pair in Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian next season and they also have young prospects, Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen, who both played this season.

The team could have a lot of defensemen leaving with Andre Benoit, Tyson Strachan, and Andrej Meszaros’s contracts ending on July 1st. The Sabres have two top prospects (Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe) who could possibly be called up and play next season; otherwise they need to sign a top 4 player who can be a shutdown defender.

Offensively, the addition of Evander Kane and Jack Eichel (assuming all goes as planned) the Sabres would be one or two top wingers from having a complete offensive presence. Tyler Ennis played for Team Canada in the IIHF 2015 World Hockey Championship and shined like the star he was this past season. Ennis will likely be one of the wings of the 1st line with Evander Kane on the opposite side- with either Eichel or Zegmus Girgensons as the center.

What will the future bring for Justin Williams this offseason? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
What will the future bring for Justin Williams this offseason? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Sabres need a second line right-winger that can go out and score 10-15 goals and get 15-20 assists. Some potential free agents who could fit this role would be UFA Justin Williams or RFA Tyler Toffoli of the LA Kings.

Another leading candidate would be pending RFA Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sabres have plenty of salary cap space to land these big targets.

I’m not saying the Sabres will be competing for the Stanley Cup next season, yet I feel like if you give Eichel and even Sam Reinhart 2-3 years of experience in the NHL, they will become good playmakers and could make a deep playoff run.

If Buffalo can add a few more pivotal pieces to the team the Sabres could be looking good for the future. They could even be looking at an Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference title within the next 3-4 seasons under Dan Bylsma’s leadership.

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Colby’s Corner- Flames Future Burns Bright

Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and the Calgary Flames led hockey fans on a short-lived, but exciting, journey this season. Although they succumbed to the much more dominant and playoff experienced Anaheim Ducks in the 2nd Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Colby Kephart thinks they’ll be contenders for the Cup within a few years if they keep things up. See what else he has to say about Calgary’s future in this edition of Colby’s Corner.

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Courtesy: Candice Ward, USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Flames finally made the playoffs again, closing out the regular season hot and shutting the door on the Los Angelese Kings chances of defending their title. The fans in Calgary found that a win in their books was making the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season-to begin with- where they lost in the first round to the Blackhawks. But then Calgary did something not many people saw coming and they beat the Vancouver Canucks in six games. The young kids like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett had amazing playoff appearances for the first time in their careers. Even though Anaheim beat Calgary in five games, you still have to respect Calgary for their first time in Playoffs in six years.

Another feature people need to remember Calgary played all of these playoffs without their number one defenseman, and captain, Mark Giordano. This forced Calgary to resort to Tyler Wotherspoon, a 22-year-old defenseman without much experience. Wotherspoon never saw much ice time as Calgary played with 5 defenseman in most games, with Wotherspoon getting about 3-5 shifts a game. However, I am not saying if Giordano were in the playoffs, Calgary would be in the Western Conference Finals. I am saying they would have stood a better chance and forced a Game 6 at least.

My Reaction  

Yes, it is very sad to see this Cinderella story out, however I am very excited to see what Calgary can do in the next few seasons. When your first line is as crafty as Calgary’s and has a 20 and 21 year old on it, you know your future will be great. This is a young team with great talent and they brought in the right experience players in Matt Stajan and Jiri Hudler to make this team shine.

People have compared this year’s Calgary team to Colorado’s team of last season, however I disagree. This Calgary team is winning with younger players and I don’t see Calgary bringing in old players on their way out like Colorado did this year- hello Daniel Briere. I see Calgary in the playoffs again next season, it might be by a wildcard spot but they will make it. If their matchup is right, they might be able to take out a top seed again.

The only place Calgary needs help is on the defensive end. I think they need another top 4 mid-twenties defenseman. Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano are both aging and will start to experience more injuries. If Calgary can keep most of their core together and stay healthy from this season on, they could be a team in the Western Conference Finals next year.

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Colby’s Corner- What’s next for the Wild? Will they ever beat Chicago?

Minnesota just couldn’t pull it off (again). So why haven’t things worked out for a team built through free agency? Colby Kephart explores the possibilities for the Wild to make sense of their season and make changes accordingly this offseason in this edition of Colby’s Corner.

The Story  Unknown

Chicago eliminated Minnesota from the Stanley Cup Playoffs again, again. This was the third year in a row that Minnesota was eliminated by Chicago. Even though the faces on both rosters have changed, what hasn’t changed is the team moving onto the next round. This year was even worse than the past 2 years, they got swept and lost on home ice. Last year they battled six games and the year before they battled for five games, having at least earned one win.

Minnesota landed big name forward, Thomas Vanek, in free agency on a multi-year deal to help boost their attack. They hoped with the development of their young talent and bringing in better role players would help them in the playoffs.

Then at trade deadline they added an upgraded defenseman in Jordan Leopold and another now former Buffalo Sabres forward in Chris Stewart. Devan Dubnyk also emerged with a spectacular performance and led the Wild to the playoffs, earning him a Vezina nomination (and now a finalist for this year’s Vezina Trophy).

So Minnesota fans had high hopes coming into the playoffs, with big name forwards Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and others in company.

It was going as planned as they beat the St. Louis Blues in the first round, forcing a second round rematch with Chicago again. Then Patrick Kane and company showed the Wild why they have the rings and took them in 4 games with Kane getting a goal in all of them.

What’s next for Minnesota? 

My Reaction

Minnesota has old players under huge contracts; most of them are from free agent signings similar to Vanek. The Wild can place the blame on Vanek for a lack of offense in the playoffs, but what about Mikko Koivu? Koivu had just as many point as Vanek (4).

It gets worse though. Charlie Coyle may be young, but last year he put up 7 points, this year Coyle had a whopping 2 points. Minnesota needs to make decisions on some of these forwards. They need players who feel like their playing for their job.

They don’t have the grittiness in their 3rd line that can spark the team. The only player who showed up offensively was Zach Parise. They need more from current players and they need players who want to be back next season.

Defensively, Minnesota needs to bring help for Ryan Suter, who is useful in 5 on 5, penalty kill, and power play situations- if they could, he probably would play goalie for them too. Suter finished -8 in plus/minus, a career worst in the playoffs. Suter only had 3 assists, but it wasn’t only him who struggled.

Only one defenseman was positive in plus/minus, the Wild had another defenseman finish even, and the rest were all minuses. What bothers me the most is your best defenseman finishes -8, what does this say? Your best D unit didn’t cut it, you need to spend the money and land a true number two defenseman like Keith Yandle, who is a pending UFA at the end of this season.

Goaltending, I’m going to upset all you Wild fans with this one, but Devan Dubnyk is a ONE SEASON WONDER. I’m sorry, but this kid came from nowhere and I believe he will disappear again. Dubnyk bounced from team to team, and in most cases wasn’t even a backup. Minnesota was so desperate for a goalie, they gave him a chance. Just like Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov received in the years past. Dubnyk will repeat history again and Minnesota will be looking for another goalie.

Overall making Minnesota a team that can beat the Chicago Blackhawks will not be an easy process. They need to find a true number one goalie. They need to add a true partner for Ryan Suter, so they can lower his playing time. They also need to trade a big contract player, and bring in a clutch, sparking, scorer like Justin Williams, who is also a pending UFA.

Images courtesy of sportslogos.net, USA TODAY Sports, and nhl.com.

Colby’s Corner- Prust bust the Canadiens? Or was it the ref?

You know how the saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” Well apparently, someone could use a reminder. But who’s at fault? Colby Kephart investigates in this edition of Colby’s Corner.

The Story 

Stupid penalties by Montreal were a major problem in Game 2 of the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens series. Tampa finally got their powerplay firing on all levels with 4 powerplay goals, while the Canadiens penalty kill was nonexistent. However, a story emerged in the post-game comments from Brandon Prust, who had received a game misconduct and totaled 31 penalty minutes for just himself in the game. Prust expressed his displeasure with the conduct of referee, Brad Watson, and told Sportsnet reporters:

“I thought the original call was kind of soft, and I let [Watson] know on the way to the penalty box. He kept provoking me. He came to the box and called me every name in the book. He called me a piece of you know what, a mother f***ing coward, said he’d drive me right out of this building. I just kept going, ‘Yeah, OK, yeah, OK, yeah, OK.’ He just kept on me, kept on me. I kept saying ‘Yeah, OK.’ I wasn’t looking at him. He teed me up. That’s the ref he is. He tries to play God. He tries to control the game and he did that tonight.”

Brandon Prust was fined $5,000 by the league. The NHL said Prust’s comments were demeaning to Brad Watson and baseless. Brad Watson is a 20-year veteran in the NHL and has high respect from other players and refs around the league.

My Reaction

Now can we say that Prust is completely a liar? I don’t think so. Prust might have some truth to his statement. However, where I believed he lied is when he states he only said “yeah OK”. If you’re going to claim that a ref is calling you every name in the book, obviously you are saying stuff back to him, or you said something beforehand to set him off.

Now, anyone who can read lips can see the abuse that refs put up with whenever they call a penalty. They get an f-off or derogatory names thrown at them. They get this treatment from the players, coaches and fans. How does anyone expect a ref to take this and never give it back? Personally, I love when a ref will give it back. Of the chirp videos listening in on the players during the game, my favorite video is when the ref decides to give both players a penalty and he says “F*** both of you, both going in the box”. (That video can be seen here. Fair warning, it’s full of expletives).

Even if the NHL finds out that Watson did call Prust a few names, I don’t think you can punish him for it. If we aren’t calling the players for cussing out the refs, we can’t punish the refs for giving a little back. Brad Watson only called the penalties he saw, he wasn’t calling fake calls. Prust took all the penalties that were called against him. If Montreal wants to stay in this series, they need to clean up their acts and let Game 2 go, otherwise they’ll be swept by the Lightning.

Colby’s Corner- The NHL Entry Draft Lottery Edition

Colby Kephart sounds off on the current NHL Entry Draft Lottery process. We want to know what your thoughts are. How would you format the NHL Draft Lottery system?

2015 NHL Draft Lottery By: Colby Kephart

Structure: This year they changed the lottery system, giving every team a chance to win the 1st overall pick. The team that finishes last this year in regular season standings is guaranteed the 1st or 2nd overall pick. That means there’s some hope for Buffalo. Buffalo has a 20% chance of winning the lottery and getting the 1st overall pick.

Last year Buffalo, the last place team, had a 25% chance to get the 1st pick even though Buffalo lost (the lottery) and ended up with the second pick. This year’s odds were increased for the teams who almost made the playoffs. The team that just missed the playoffs now has a full 1% chance to get the 1st overall pick. The Arizona Coyotes finished 2nd to last this season and have a 13.5% chance of getting the 1st overall pick. The odds are as follows:

  1. Buffalo 20%
  2. Arizona 13.5%
  3. Edmonton 11.5%
  4. Toronto 9.5%
  5. Carolina 8.5%
  6. New Jersey 7.5%
  7. Philadelphia 6.5%
  8. Columbus 6%
  9. San Jose 5%
  10. Colorado 3.5%
  11. Florida 3%
  12. Dallas 2.5%
  13. Los Angeles 2%
  14. Boston 1%

My opinion: As a Buffalo fan, I am already sick of the Draft Lottery. I was upset last year when Buffalo didn’t get the 1st overall pick and now the NHL lowers the last place teams’s odds- this is crap. They would decide to do this when the next franchise changer comes along in Connor McDavid. I’m glad they made it so we can’t fall out of the second overall pick, because then we have a chance for Jack Eichel.

It is horrible when I run a draft simulator 10 times and I see teams like LA and Florida win the 1st overall pick. Both of those teams were eliminated with a few weeks left in the season. Buffalo was eliminated before it even started and you’re telling me LA can add Connor McDavid. COME ON!!!!! Pull yourself together NHL.

They need to go back to when only the bottom 5 teams got a chance for 1st overall pick. How about a team who actually needs help? Yes, when I ran the simulator 10 times Buffalo got the first pick 3 times, but if tomorrow turns out differently and Buffalo doesn’t end up with the 1st overall pick. I will be one pissed off fan.

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