Tag Archives: Columbus Blue Jackets

2018 Offseason Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Philadelphia Flyers and their outlook for the summer.

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The 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers pulled themselves into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division with a late season surge ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils by one point.

Philadelphia’s 42-46-14 record lauded them 98 points on the season under the guidance of head coach, Dave Hakstol, and in a First Round matchup with their intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite a breakout performance in the postseason by Sean Couturier and back-and-forth offense all series long (in games that weren’t lopsided), the Flyers succumbed to Pittsburgh in six games on home ice in their first playoff appearance since 2016 and first postseason meeting with the Penguins since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

As usual, goaltending was an issue with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sustaining injuries late in the season, leading General Manager Ron Hextall to acquire Petr Mrazek as an insurance policy down the stretch from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a conditional 2018 third round pick and a conditional 2019 fourth round pick.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Hextall has two first round picks at his disposal with the 14th overall selection via the St. Louis Blues (thanks to last June’s Brayden Schenn deal for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 first round pick) and their own 19th overall selection in the 2018 Draft.

With two mid-round picks in the first round, Hextall can lay claim to two of the best available picks or go off the board in accordance with however his scouting department values talent– I’m not the expert here. Then again, he could flip one or both first round picks for assets.

But if you’re a Flyers fan, you likely could see Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley walking up the draft stage in Dallas in less than a week grabbing a hold of Philadelphia’s classic orange-and-black sweater.

Pending free agents

Philly has about $17.200 million to spend on free agents this summer and only a handful of pending UFAs and RFAs.

Matt Read, 32, and Valtteri Filppula, 34, are the club’s only current NHL roster pending-UFAs.

Read only appeared in 19 games for the Flyers this season, scoring one goal and recording 16 shots on net. After reaching the 40-point plateau twice in his career with Philadelphia in 2011-12 and 2013-14, his offensive production has only declined since 2014, yielding 30 points in 2014-15, 26 points in 2015-16 and 19 in 2016-17.

Filppula was traded to the Flyers by the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year’s trade deadline, served as an alternate captain this season and had 11-22–33 totals in 81 games. His numbers are respectable, though he hasn’t replicated his 58-point season with the Lightning in 2013-14.

A third round pick (95th overall) of the Red Wings in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Filppula should see more time in the City of Brotherly Love if there’s a mutual attraction. Just maybe not at the $5.000 million cap hit he had on his five-year contract he signed with Tampa in July 2013.

24-year-old Taylor Leier makes up the only pending-RFA forward on Philadelphia’s roster and played in 39 games with the Flyers this season (the most he’s been a part of since breaking into the league in 2015-16). Leier had one goal and four assists (five points) and is not an offensive threat by any means.

Hextall could let Leier walk without tendering a qualifying offer and that’d be fine.

It’s not so much about what the Flyers do this summer, but rather what Hextall and his front office is proactively planning to do next summer that makes a world of a difference (glancing at the current NHL roster alone and ignoring any potential additions via trade or free agency).

There’s six players currently on Philadelphia’s NHL club that could test the open market in July 2019, including Lehtera, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.

The obvious standouts of those names are Simmonds (who’ll be in the midst of his prime and entering his 30s) and Konecny (who will be coming off of his entry-level contract). Both are sure to expect a raise and long term deals if they see themselves attached to the city for a while.

And with only two roster players signed past the 2021-22 season in Jakub Voracek (2023-24) and Shayne Gostisbehere (2022-23), Hextall will soon have to start navigating the future of the new core in Konecny, Nolan Patrick and crew.

Perhaps Hextall would float the idea of moving 29-year-old forward, Dale Weise, and his $2.350 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season with the future in mind.

On defense, the Flyers have two pending-UFAs in Brandon Manning and Johnny Oduya and one pending-RFA in Robert Hagg.

Manning, 28, had his best season with 7-12–19 totals in 65 games played, while Oduya, 36, signed with the Ottawa Senators last July as a free agent and was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia on February 26th. The Swedish defender recorded four goals and four assists with Ottawa this season and played in one game for the Flyers.

Hagg, 23, played his first full-season with Philadelphia in 2017-18, amassing 3-6–9 totals in 70 games played in his rookie season.

Both Manning and Hagg are part of the solution on Philly’s blueline, while Oduya will more than likely test the waters of free agency once more in the NHL.

In goal, Elliott, 33, Neuvirth, 30, and Mrazek, 26, are currently listed on the NHL roster.

Elliott had one-year left on his two-year deal with a $2.750 million cap hit, while Neuvirth also has one-year remaining on his current contract at $2.500 million.

For the second year in a row, Elliott’s goals against average increased and his save percentage worsened as a starting goalie. In 43 games this season, he had a 2.66 GAA and .909 SV%.

Neuvirth improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in six fewer games as Philadelphia’s backup, finishing the year with a 2.60 GAA and .915 SV%.

Mrazek is a pending-RFA coming off his worst season. In 22 games with Detroit this season, the Czech goaltender had a 2.89 GAA and .910 SV%. That’s less than ideal, but considering the Red Wings ongoing rebuild… Mrazek didn’t do himself any favors with a playoff bound team in the Flyers, amassing a 3.22 GAA and .891 SV% in 17 games.

On the surface it may appear as though the annual revolving door of goaltenders in Philadelphia may continue, but there’s some promise in their goaltending prospects.

Philly could have a situation very much like their rival in Pittsburgh currently has where Matt Murray is the starter and Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith constantly battle for the backup role while all being close in age.

The Flyers should make Neuvirth their starter– in the meantime, as the search continues for a legitimate starter– with Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz (both pending-RFAs this July) competing for the backup role.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Reece Wilcox (RFA), Colin McDonald (UFA), Samuel Morin (RFA), Tyrell Goulbourne (RFA), Alex Lyon (RFA), John Muse (UFA), Dustin Tokarski (UFA), Danick Martel (RFA), Anthony Stolarz (RFA), Will O’Neill (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

2018 Offseason Preview: Florida Panthers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Florida Panthers and their outlook for the summer.

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Despite coming and going all season long, the Florida Panthers quietly made a run from February down the stretch that came up a little bit short and turned some heads that were otherwise focused all season long on the money-puck driven Carolina Hurricanes.

Florida almost pulled it off– well, almost made the postseason, that is– but with a record of 44-30-8 and 96 points on the season, the 4th place team in the Atlantic Division was no match for the stacked Metropolitan Division and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot (both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils finished with 97 points on the year and both Eastern Conference wild cards).

One thing that was apparent from the 2017 Expansion Draft where the Vegas Golden Knights claimed last season’s leading scorer for Florida, Jonathan Marchessault, and acquired Reilly Smith in a deal to protect some other Panthers roster player not named Marchessault, well…

Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith don’t grow on trees (but having at least one of them would have helped Florida’s 2017-18 cause).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager Dale Tallon has the 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft to select one of the best available players in his selection standing in either Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley.

Or Tallon could trade the pick for an asset that’d help his roster in the here and now as part of what would likely be a larger deal.

Pending free agents

Tallon has about $9.000 million as things stand right now to spread over his pending free agents and/or talent acquisitions outside of the organization’s current depth chart.

The good news is the cap ceiling is expected to rise, so the Panthers should have at least $2.000 million more to utilize.

Pending-UFA Connor Brickley, 26, resurrected his professional career with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) in 2016-17 to go on and produce 4-8–12 totals in 44 games with the Florida Panthers after being claimed by Vegas, not re-signed and subsequently reuniting with the Panthers last summer.

He’s a low-cost, potentially high-reward player, if you value some production on your fourth line.

In his first nearly full season in the NHL, Jared McCann, 22, posted nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) as a playmaker in 68 games with Florida. There’s no easy one offseason fix for the Panthers– being so tight against the cap and all– that they have to hope McCann can keep improving with more minutes.

Frank Vatrano, 24, had two goals with the Boston Bruins in 25 games prior to being traded for a 2018 third round pick this season. Since the deal was made, Vatrano notched five goals and three assists (eight points) with Florida in 16 games played.

For a small sample size in a larger role, that’s promising, given he wasn’t going to get a chance on Boston’s second line (too much depth down the left for the Bruins, a la Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk) and should be a left wing lock on the second line heading into 2018-19 for Florida.

He won’t see a raise immediately, but likely should sign on to a bridge deal before cashing in on a larger piece of the pie.

Both McCann and Vatrano are pending-RFA forwards for Florida.

Alex Petrovic, 26, is in his final year of pending-RFA eligibility and has a role as a bottom-pair defender.

For around $1.000 million, Tallon should keep him around another year, realizing his defense won’t improve on its own without A) more offensive support, B) better goaltending or C) some different coaching strategies.

MacKenzie Weegar, 24, is also a pending-RFA blueliner in the Sunshine State with 2-6–8 totals in his first almost full NHL season (60 games played). Despite first impressions, that’s respectable for a top-six defender coming into his own in the early onset/middle of his prime.

He’ll also be inexpensive to keep around if Tallon can move some bigger pieces around after realizing he gave Michael Matheson such a generous pay raise over eight-years ($4.875 million AAV) for a *checks notes* 27-point season after Matheson put up 17 points in his rookie year.

There’s a reason why prolific scorers like Marchessault and Smith were squeezed out, left exposed and traded to Vegas, respectively.

Finally, in goal for the Panthers, 39-year-old Roberto Luongo is signed through the 2021-22 season with a cap hit of $4.533 million on the books. Likewise, 30-year-old backup goaltender, James Reimer, is on the books through 2020-21 at $3.400 million AAV.

Wait, but Luongo only played 35 games, you say?

Yes, it’s true, Luongo took a backseat to Reimer this season and posted a 2.47 goals against average with a .929 save percentage compared to Reimer’s 2.99 GAA and .913 SV% in 44 games played. Oof.

The saying “what did you do for me yesterday” doesn’t make Reimer look good in the long run.

Surely you can just call someone up– oh.

Florida should at least roadmap a blueprint of what the future in goal looks like, because Luongo’s not getting any younger– despite the future Hall of Famer that he is– and Reimer is well, at it again with the whole “not a legitimate starting goaltender” thing.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Edward Wittchow (RFA), Curtis Valk (RFA), Harri Sateri (UFA), Linus Hultstrom (RFA), Alexandre Grenier (UFA), Chase Balisy (UFA), Gregory Chase (RFA)

Dead cap space: Jussi Jokinen ($1.333 million through 2018-19– buyout), Jason Demers ($562,500 through 2020-21, retained salary)

Another Golden Era of Expansion?

It’s a great time for the National Hockey League (ignoring the ongoing concussion lawsuit, poor officiating and [insert your favorite scandal from this season here]), but for league revenues there’s never been a greater time than now.

The Vegas Golden Knights slashed all preconceptions regarding expansion teams and how they are expected to perform and have shown the strength of professional sports in North America– any city*, including Sin City, can support a professional franchise.

*except for Québec City, apparently

Though it’s not the 1990s, where expansion in the NHL saw seven teams (the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers) enter the league from 1991 to 1999– and two more teams in 2000 (Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild)– the league is prime for another era of expansion.

The Golden Knights (2017) are just the first of who knows how many more teams to join the league in the 2010s and 2020s.

Seattle is on the verge of landing a franchise ready to hit the ice in 2020 (with an expansion vote expected to take place this fall) and Houston looks viable, given Houston Rockets (NBA) owner, Tilman Fertitta’s, expressed desire to ascertain a franchise both publicly and in meeting with NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Fun fact, Houston is the largest North American market without an NHL team and looked like they would be part of a looming WHA-NHL merger in the 1970s, but the merger wasn’t finalized until 1979 and– after learning they would not be included in any form of a merger in 1978– the Houston Aeros folded at the conclusion of the WHA’s 1977-78 season.

For some reason there’s a notion in North American sports that 30 is a nice, even, wholesome number for the total number of clubs in a league. Take a look at how big the big leagues were 20-30 years ago and you’ll soon realize that 30 is just a number.

Only two of the four major professional sports leagues in North America have gone beyond 30 teams. The NHL is one of them.


So you want to buy an expansion team…

Well, for starters, you better have at least $650 million (U.S.) lying around, as Oak View Group is all but assured of bringing the league’s 32nd team to Seattle for that price tag. In sports, as in real estate, prices expansion fees only go up over time (so definitely have more than $650 million lying around after Seattle joins the league– assuming Seattle joins the league).

Want to bring back the Québec Nordiques? Good luck.

Québec City would be the league’s second smallest market and selling out 16,000 tickets doesn’t mean as much as it used to with media deals, corporate sponsorships, new markets and division balance (let alone conference balance) all at stake.

Butts in seats only matter for momentum– not ad dollars on TV.

Granted, people in seats laying eyes upon LED signage around the arena, now that’s still an investment and matters to an extent on the local level and/or organization itself for day-to-day operations.

But this league sees the big picture– national level attention, reaching a broader scope, true globalization of their league as the best league– let alone growth of the game.

Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs, is also the chairman of the league’s board of governors. He’s also head of the league’s executive committee. Old guard owner jokes aside, Jacobs has the final say on most (if not all) league management decisions, despite the existence of league commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Commissioners in all major North American professional sports work for the owners. Not the other way around.

The commissioner is the collective voice of the board of governors– the face of the league– but ultimately is not the singular directive power.

So at the Bruins season ending press conference, Jacobs was asked about the future of the league regarding the Golden Knights and potential expansion.

Québec just isn’t happening right now.

It’s been said time and time before and it’ll be said time and time again. And it was the main takeaway from Jacobs’s comments regarding further expansion on the near horizon.

Houston was name-dropped. Whether it’s relocation or expansion (and it’s likely another expansion at this point), the league will find its way to Seattle and Houston.

It’s hard to remember the journalistic duty of including the words “proposed”, “expected” or “just about soon to be announced at some point in the near or not so distant future” before mentioning Seattle, let alone Houston, given the known interest.

Maybe the Arizona Coyotes will relocate, you ask?

No. That’s not happening.

If the Coyotes were going to move, they would have moved already. Arizona is committed to Arizona. While the City of Glendale might not see the Coyotes as suitable partners, the Coyotes see Arizona as their true love.

Maybe the Florida Panthers are Québec’s last hope (or Houston’s best opportunity, if expansion fees are an issue) for relocation?

Sure, but as an “in case of an emergency” plan. Remember how the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg played out? If not, keep reading, but also, Florida has an owner that’s committed to Florida.

At least Patrick Roy will be back behind the bench for the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) next season.

Does market size matter if 16,000 season tickets are sold in a 700,000 population or 2,000,000-plus population?

No, but the media deal that accompanies the market and how many televisions it reaches, that’s where it matters.

Right about here is where things don’t stack up as well for Québec with other prospective expansion candidates, given the surrounding population outside Québec City and the conglomerate of Montreal Canadiens fans that dominate the province.

At one point in time two teams made sense for the province, let alone two teams in one city (Montreal). Nowadays, the Habs have too much of a stronghold– too big of a monopoly of fans. Yes, even among old Nordiques fans and their families who swore they’d never root for their intra-province rivals.

Bettman runs the league like the National Basketball Association, which, considering his background, sounds about right. The NHL’s profits have never been higher and Bettman deserves credit for the business side of the sport.

And the NBA is eyeing expansion of their own, following renovations to KeyArena/Seattle Center, where Oak View Group looks to land an expansion NHL team for the 2020-21 season. In addition to Seattle, the NBA’s apparently eyeing Kansas City, lending some to believe we might be in another golden era of expansion across all major North American professional sports leagues as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, has indicated a desire for MLB to expand to 32 teams (with Montreal and Mexico as possibilities).

As an aside, the author would like to let it be known of his desire for an MLB team in Charlotte, N.C.

31 is the new 30 and 32, 33 and/or 34 is perhaps the near future for at least three out of four of the Big Four leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL).


So about Seattle… (and other sports economics)

It’s totally happening, it’s just a matter of time. Get ready to cut the check for $650 million, Oak View Group.

And Houston?

Once Seattle goes for $650 million, there’s no reason not to expect the expansion fee to go up once again for a 33rd NHL team. Seattle’s not expected to begin play until the 2020-21 season and even without any of the major renovation work that’s going on in the Emerald City, Houston isn’t fully move-in ready for an NHL franchise.

That’s not to say Toyota Center isn’t a great fit, but rather that both Fertitta and the league aren’t presently talking and expansion to Houston would logically have to follow Seattle working with the current timeline of events (and ignoring what it would all mean for division realignment).

So four or five years from now a $650 million expansion fee could quickly become upwards of $800 million for a brand new team. Perhaps it’d be $1 billion by then.

And if Québec can afford a billion dollar (U.S.) pricetag by that point, then sure, they’ll be a shoo-in for the league’s 34th team. By then we might as well be talking 35th and/or 36th even.

Four divisions of nine teams doesn’t sound terrible if you can find suitable locations (Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Québec City and Atlanta, for example) to level off the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions.

This is the economy of sports in the 21st century and Bettman’s dream– so long as the value of the majority of NHL franchises continue to climb and start to rival those of midpack/bottom NFL teams (the New York Rangers are valued at $1.5 billion according to Forbes– barely above the Toronto Maple Leafs $1.4 billion valuation)– and that’s ignoring how weak/strong the Canadian dollar is.

Granted, the average NHL franchise is worth around $594 million.

But as the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (a mid-pack team in terms of franchise value again according to Forbes) just sold for $2.2 billion to David Tepper, one would expect NHL franchise values to climb as the future of American football as we know it remains uncertain and the success of the Golden Knights impacts NHL revenues in the coming seasons.

Again, sports franchises and real estate prices always climb. It’s only a matter of time.


Okay, so just tell me where does that leave Québec exactly?

Recall for a moment, if you will, May 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment and the downfall of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. began (or more accurately, continued).

Yes, Winnipeg got an NHL team back, but they had to essentially go through relegation to get back to the top.

The Winnipeg model of “being sent down to the minors”  for almost 20 years witnessed near sellout crowds in the smallest NHL arena currently (15,321 seats) for AHL games.

That’s great, but the Jets weren’t going to be the Jets again if there was a prospective local buyer in Atlanta interested in busting up Atlanta Spirit, LLC. seven years ago.

There wasn’t, so True North Sports and Entertainment’s rainy day fund came in handy when the league needed a venue for a team immediately– regardless of the support and regardless of Québec, Hamilton or Kansas City’s moaning and groaning (from prospective owners and/or fans).

Canadian fans and some American hockey traditionalists like to bring up “the success of the Québec Remparts” in their new arena (Vidéotron Centre, opened in 2015).

Oh you mean the QMJHL team that plays in a 18,259 seat arena and has been having declining attendance since maxing out around 14,000 their first year there (2015-16) and now sits around 9,400 or less (like all other Junior teams). Please go on and tell everyone how QMJHL support alone will persuade NHL eyeballs.

It would certainly help Québec’s cause for bringing back the Nordiques by landing an AHL team on top of their QMJHL club and continuously supporting the organization(s) a la Winnipeg circa 1997-2011.

None of this rules out relocation, but it does make expansion look slightly more attractive, provided someone (Quebecor or another prospective owner) can fork up over half-a-billion U.S. dollars.


Professional sports are a business of entertainment.

Again, professional sports are a business.

Hockey traditionalism would not profit as well as the league has been profitting today.

Plain and simple as that.

This is a league that does not have to contract– thanks to the salary cap, revenue sharing and constant work stoppages to renegotiate the number of dollars the league eats before dividing up for the players.

This is a league that has shown the sport can be played in any environment.

The State of Arizona produced Auston Matthews. The Arizona Coyotes have been in Arizona for a generation AND THEY ARE NOT MOVING. They’re committed to their fans and their hockey community, but they’re up against a local government that’s unwilling to work with them on even the most basic levels– private vs. public funding for a new arena aside.

Tampa Bay, Nashville, Vegas, San Jose, Anaheim and yes, even Florida and Carolina have all been competitive and have diehard fans.

Sure the Panthers and the Hurricanes haven’t gathered casual eyes since 1996 and 2006 respectively, but you can’t blame the Panthers for being the Cleveland Browns of the NHL in a way (in addition to their poor location in Sunrise, Florida– outside of Miami) and Tom Dundon for any Hurricanes wrongdoings yet (though this summer is all about Carolina and how they just might reinvent themselves– and of course, everyone likes to jump to conclusions after a new owner’s first offseason, right?).

Plus, at least the Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006. Your move Panthers.

But this league, like any major professional sports league, sees a game, entertainment and money to be made.

Tradition is just a sweater, a pregame ritual or a superstition. It’s not a revenue stream for reinvention over time.

Take it from NASCAR, where, coupled with changes back-and-forth in the rulebook every other week on top of overprotection of its traditional image (along with dried up ratings) have removed the basement from the very foundation of the sport– and possibly the sanctioning body as the France family mulls a sale of the entity itself.

Like it or not, we are in an era of expansion– not just for the NHL, but potentially for all four major North American professional sports (and MLS, if you really want to extend the product here, as expansion is wicked hot in soccer currently).

Should I mention we’re getting four more ads on the ice next season or have I already given everyone enough heart palpitations?

2018 Mock Draft: First Round Revisions

Nearing the end of the month of May there’s only two teams remaining in contention for the Stanley Cup– the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals. As a result, we now have a better picture of how the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft should go based on the lottery and where all the other teams fell out of the postseason.

Without having the advantage of a) being a professional scout for a living or b) having whatever kind of TV package/time-space continuum that would allow me to see every prospect play, this is the next best thing we’ve got– completely rudimentary “expert” opinion on mostly teenagers and what just might become reality from the dream of one day becoming an NHL player.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

While the Golden Knights and Capitals decide who’ll be eating cereal, drinking their favorite beverage or literally doing whatever they want with the Cup all summer, 29 other franchises are preparing for the Entry Draft right now.

“29”, you say, “but there’s not even that many teams that still have picks in the first round!”

That’s correct, but there’s seven rounds of hell to sit through while 30 other GMs make their picks before yours and every now and then Gary Bettman interrupts with a trade to announce, getting everyone excited only to reveal that a team has swapped one draft pick for two or three or a bag of pucks drafting players that all GMs have to sit through, so while not everyone may have a first round pick (because they traded it away or whatever) all 31 clubs have to prepare for the Draft anyway because depth can come from anywhere.

And yes, we went from “29 other teams are preparing” to “all 31”, but come on, you know Vegas and Washington have done their homework too, right?

Everyone– even Hockey Men who only need their own eyes once– has at least glanced over the list of prospects to choose from this June.

Anyway, this is just the second of three editions of my mock draft from earlier this month until draft day (June 22nd), so as not to confuse you, bore you or– by some miracle– humor you some more, here we go.

This year’s NHL Entry Draft is being held at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas from June 22nd-23rd.

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1. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)

Jack Eichel hedged his compliments surrounding Dahlin as the Draft technically hasn’t occurred yet and the Sabres could shock the world and choose anyone they want not named “Rasmus Dahlin.” However, Buffalo, New York is shaping up to be the capital of the world for people with the first name “Rasmus” as of the last week or so.

It only makes sense that they land the best player in this year’s draft and, oh yeah, he’s a two-way defenseman that can get Buffalo back on track. The 6-foot-2, 181-pound blueliner is the perfect fit in blue and gold as someone who can shutdown and get the puck out of the zone in what’ll be another fast paced, rough and tumble Atlantic Division in 2018-19.

2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)

Second-best isn’t an indication of being “first worst” by any means when it comes to Andrei Svechnikov in his draft class. The Hurricanes already have a plethora of youth and skill on the back end, so while they won’t be adding the talent of the 1st overall defender, it’s not really like they need it.

They need a pure goal scorer, a gifted top-six winger who just might land Carolina inside the postseason picture in 2019 for the first time since 2009. What a difference ten years [could] make. Svechnikov had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts this season– just his first season of Junior hockey.

3. Montreal Canadiens–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)

Montreal’s spent a lot of time focusing on bigger and burlier players the last few years, but after finding themselves in an unusual position (a rebuild!) the Habs are ready to reload. A dynamic goal scorer and underrated as a forward, Filip Zadina fits right in with the Canadiens.

His 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season should translate well into a lineup looking to improve their minus-55 goal differential in 2017-18. The 6-foot, 195-pound winger can change the course of a game with his sharp shot.

4. Ottawa Senators–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Noah Dobson can get pucks up the ice with ease while maintaining stellar two-way play. He’d be a great fit alongside Thomas Chabot, especially in what could become a post-Erik Karlsson era in Ottawa either this offseason via a trade or next offseason via free agency.

Dobson is a safe, smart, best available pick at 6-foot-3, 180-pounds. The right-shot defender had 17-52–69 totals with Acadie-Bathurst Titan this season in the QMJHL.

5. Arizona Coyotes–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Since going viral as a 9-year-old in one of the TD Bank Mini-1-on-1s years ago, Oliver Wahlstrom has had high expectations to live up to– and he’s met them. His wrist shot is among the best and he amassed 47 goals in 60 games this season with the U.S. National U-18 Team, as well as seven goals in seven games at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

He’s a complete package of speed and skill– something the Coyotes have been stockpiling as they center their offense around Clayton Keller. At 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, Wahlstrom’s size is already that of an NHLer, but he’ll likely go ahead and play a season with the Boston College Eagles as he intends to before going pro.

6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)

The Red Wings have a need for young, quality, defenders (aside from Xavier Ouellet). Luckily for them, Quintin Hughes is available as a decent skater with excellent puck skills (hands and a heavy shot). Like Torey Krug, Hughes can control the game by moving the puck and firing off an accurate shot.

7. Vancouver Canucks–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)

Losing the Sedins to retirement doesn’t hurt as much when you add the brother of one of your biggest rivals. Brady Tkachuk is equally as intense and gritty as his brother Matthew is with the Calgary Flames, but the younger Tkachuk has more of an offensive upside to his game– pure scoring ability. At 6-foot-3, 196-pounds, he’ll fit in well with the Canucks core players, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

8. Chicago Blackhawks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)

The Blackhawks have quite a few cracks in their roster since they lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the Vegas expansion draft, Marian Hossa to a skin condition and Patrick Sharp to retirement. They traded Ryan Hartman, Michal Kempny and Tommy Wingels at the deadline and desperately need to replenish their defensive depth. They’ve also got an aging problem, with Duncan Keith (34) and Brent Seabrook (33) signed for a long time.

Luckily for Chicago, Evan Bouchard is one of the best new-age defenders that had 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season. Bouchard is a 6-foot-2, 193-pound, right-shot defenseman that can be a leader from the back end. His transition game is phenomenal and should help get the puck up the ice to core guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)

New York state’s “Rasmus” population increases yet again– though this time in New York City, not upstate in Buffalo– as the Rangers welcome new head coach, David Quinn, with Rasmus Kupari’s skill set to add to the fold. Kupari is the best Finnish forward in the draft and with Ryan Spooner as a pending-RFA and more to sort out this offseason, New York’s looking to make smart picks in both the now and down the road.

A 6-foot-1, 183-pound center isn’t the worst place to start as they continue to transition their game with the likes of Lias Andersson, Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov.

10. Edmonton Oilers–>D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)

Edmonton Oilers general manager, Peter Chiarelli, would like to find a stable, young defenseman this offseason without overpaying. If Chiarelli is fine giving Adam Boqvist a little time to come into his own, then Chiarelli shouldn’t have to look any further than the 10th overall pick that he’s got.

The 5-foot-11, 168-pound, Swedish born defender could use another year in the SHL before becoming a two-way power on the Oilers defense.

11. New York Islanders–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)

In the first of back-to-back picks, the Islanders look to round-out a group of young forwards that can develop and work together. A 5-foot-11, 178-pound forward, Isac Lundestrom should play a role in the Islanders top-six forwards after another year or two of SHL play.

12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Lou Lamoriello’s welcome to New York comes in the form of two solid back-to-back draft picks with Joel Farabee being the more NHL-ready of the two at the moment thanks to his knowledge of the North American game compared to Lundestrom. The 5-foot-11, 164-pound left winger has a lot of speed and tremendous hockey IQ that he’ll be bringing to Boston University this fall.

Meanwhile the Islanders are busy trying to re-sign John Tavares right now, probably.

13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)

The Stars need to rework their defense a bit while new head coach, Jim Montgomery figures out how to fire up Jamie BennTyler Seguin and Alexander RadulovTy Smith adds to the transition game that’s already pretty strong (and reliant) on John Klingbergwhile the return of Marc Methot from injury should really anchor the blueline in Dallas.

Smith’s effective on the power play and has some room to grow as a 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Bode Wilde’s a 6-foot-2, 197-pound behemoth on the blue line. An underrated defender, he should develop nicely into a top-four role– and that’s even among an already stacked group of defensive prospects in Philadelphia.

15. Florida Panthers–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Florida turned a lot of heads almost making the playoffs despite trading Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights and leaving Jonathan Marchessault exposed at the Expansion Draft last June. Despite their obvious setbacks, the Panthers picked up Frank Vatrano in a deal with the Bruins back in February, so they’ve kind of rounded out their top-six forwards.

Barrett Hayton’s a smart pickup with 21-39–60 totals in 63 games this season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He might need a year or two more in Juniors to develop, but for a “best available” grab, he’s the real deal.

16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)

The Avalanche had quite a run in 2017-18 and so did Jesperi Kotkaniemi with Assat this season in Liiga. The young center had 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in 57 games in the Finnish league. Despite a postseason collapse in production, Kotkaniemi’s talent development projection looks fine with another year in Europe while Colorado looks to make more noise in the Central Division in 2018-19.

17. New Jersey Devils–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)

6-foot-1, 193-pounds, an incredible work ethic and a decent hockey IQ, Joseph Veleno is hard to overlook, but somehow he lands in the lap of the Devil(s). He had 22 goals and 57 assists (79 points) in 64 games with Drummondville this season.

New Jersey recognizes talent when they see it under Ray Shero’s reign and Veleno should fit well as the roster continues to transition to a younger game alongside Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)

Jack McBain’s a gifted playmaker that should pan out in a couple of years really well alongside the likes of Artemi Panarin and the rest of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had 5-19–24 totals in 39 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season and will be attending Boston College this fall.

19. Philadelphia Flyers–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)

Philadelphia snags a sneaky good forward in Grigori Denisenko as the winger is crafty and should come into his own in two-to-three years as he works his way up in MHL/KHL prominence.

20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)

Los Angeles is getting younger, faster and more skilled than ever before in franchise history– adapting as the game has evolved to its current form– and Serron Noel brings all facets of the current game into the Kings organization. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-winger could likely go well ahead of 20th overall as he’s been compared to the likes of Blake Wheeler.

21. San Jose Sharks–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)

Jared McIsaac is a burly, 6-foot-1, 195-pound, defender that amassed 47 points in 65 games with Halifax this season. His size and skill alone should be enough to compensate for the beating and battering in the battle for California between San Jose and their rivals in SoCal.

22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)

An offensive defenseman, Ryan Merkley had 13 goals in 63 games for Guelph this season. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, he’ll need some time to develop his physical presence to an NHL grade, but he’s shown some feisty two-way play in his time in Junior.

23. Anaheim Ducks–> C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)

Anaheim likes big and brash forwards. Benoit-Olivier Groulx’s 6-foot, 192-pound frame fits the bill (get it, because they’re the Ducks) quite well, but Groulx brings more than just a big body– he had 55 points in 68 games with the Mooseheads this season, proving he’s more than just a power forward down the middle.

24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Sandin’s offensive style fits right in the new-age Minnesota Wild now that new general manager, Paul Fenton, is in charge. Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and some combination of Ryan Suter or Jared Spurgeon and Rasmus Sandin just might be the Wild’s top-4 defensive core in the near future.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)

Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas makes his big-time debut by snagging Akil Thomas with his first pick in the draft. Thomas’s impressive 81-point performance this season with the Niagara IceDogs shows promise as he’s got some time to focus on growing more into the NHL game. His offensive potential is just waiting to be tapped into in its full form.

26. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> LW Albin Eriksson, Skelleftå (SWE J20)

With their second pick of the first round, the Rangers pick up a player with 22-18–40 totals in 38 games for his Junior team in Sweden this season. That player is Albin Eriksson and fans in New York better get used to hearing his name in a couple of years. He’s a work in progress in terms of making the jump to the SHL, but with a plethora of youth and a solid core built at Madison Square Garden, there’s no need to rush perfection.

27. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

McLeod notched 26 goals and 44 assists (70 points) with the Steelheads in 68 games this season, slightly more than doubling his offensive production in 2016-17– his sophomore year in Junior. He might be one of the more NHL ready prospects, otherwise the Blackhawks can expect more of the same if he rounds out his Junior career in 2018-19. Unless he pencils his name on Chicago’s roster this fall.

28. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)

The Rangers have some decent depth along the blueline with Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek looking to emerge as NHLers this upcoming season, but they’re about to see some serious competition for one of the top-6 jobs, if not now, then definitely in another year. Adam Ginning is capable of growing into a more prominent shutdown role.

29. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C/LW Fillip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)

St. Louis could use some tweaks and a plan down the middle this offseason. Thankfully, Fillip Hallander might be able to ease the worries of some Blues fans if they can be patient with Hallander spending another year in the SHL. He had nine goals and 11 assists (20 points) in 40 games with Timra this season, which shows he’s young and has time to develop.

30. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

With ample certainty, Samuelsson will be the 30th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, however, whether he’ll be going to Washington or Detroit (or elsewhere) is dependent upon the outcome of the Stanley Cup Final (and/or any potential trades).

31. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)

Ditto.

How the Vegas Golden Knights got here

The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.

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Let’s clarify a few things here:

1. The team has a lot of leadership.

Whether it’s Jon Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron, Deryk Engelland or Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights have a deep locker room of leaders.

And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.

2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.

Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.

Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.

Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.

3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.

Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.

Let’s reword that a bit.

Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.

The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.

Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.

William Karlsson had underperformed with the Columbus Blue Jackets and was left exposed to Vegas as part of a deal that saw the Golden Knights take on David Clarkson‘s deadweight contract.

A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.

Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.

The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.

Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.

McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.

Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.

When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.

Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.

Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).

David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.

Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.

Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.

Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.

Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.

It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.

But for now, why not enjoy the ride?

They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.

There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.

2018 Mock Draft: First Draft of the First Round

‘Tis the season to freak out over the teens.

It’s time for the annual conspiracy theories surrounding the NHL Entry Draft Lottery and things that require more critical thinking, like this mock draft.

It’s not easy to predict how every player– drafted or undrafted– will perform as they embark on making their mark at the professional level, but it’s worth the fun if you’re merely passing the time between the end of the regular season and the Entry Draft in June and your team missed the postseason.

Otherwise, you’re probably too focused on your team’s current playoff series to really get into a deep-dive on why your team should have taken Player A instead of Player B with the 27th overall pick in the 1st round– and that’s probably for the better. Hindsight is always 20/20 and you really shouldn’t put more stress on your heart than it is already taking from every tumbling muffin of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This is just the first of three editions of my mock draft from now until draft day (June 22nd).

This year’s NHL Entry Draft is being held at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas from June 22nd-23rd.

Draft lottery results (a synopsis): Carolina leaped into a top-three pick, as did Montreal, while Ottawa fell from second to fourth overall and Arizona fell from third to fifth.

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1. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)

The Sabres already have a solid group of young forwards, why not add the best player in the draft into the mix? Oh yeah, and he’s a two-way defenseman, so that’ll finally help Buffalo (think back to Tyler Myers‘s rookie season, only much, much better). At 6-foot-2, 181-pounds, Dahlin is the perfect fit on the blueline as someone who can shutdown and get the puck out of the zone.

2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)

The second-best prospect in the draft, Svechnikov’s nothing to feel bad about, especially for the Hurricanes, who, unlike the Sabres, already have a plethora of youth and skill on the back end and will now finally have that missing piece among their forwards. He had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts– in just his first season of Junior hockey.

3. Montreal Canadiens–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)

Tkachuk is big and strong. That’s what the Canadiens have been trying to add, but not in the right way the last few seasons. They’ve got their guy in Tkachuk, though, he’s intense, gritty and, more importantly, has scoring ability. Something Montreal has lacked for a year or two– and desperately needs in an ever-evolving speed and skill game.

4. Ottawa Senators–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)

One of the most dynamic goal scorers and underrated players, Zadina could go in the top-three, but falls into Ottawa’s lap as the perfect fit. He had 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads– who just keep churning out quality player after player, year-to-year.

5. Arizona Coyotes–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

A lot of experts have Wahlstrom falling somewhere near 10th overall. I’m no expert, but I do believe he’s a bit better than that. After all, Wahlstrom had 47 goals in 60 games this season and only has more room to grow with the youth infused Coyotes. He’ll fit in with his hands and scoring prowess.

6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)

Detroit has a need for a good, young defender and Hughes fits that bill. Torey Krug is the player that comes to mind when watching Hughes control the game. Did I mention he’s got a hard, accurate, shot like Krug too?

7. Vancouver Canucks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)

Losing the Sedins to retirement hurts a bit less when you add one of the best new-age defenders that put up 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season. Bouchard should make Vancouver better at transitioning the puck up ice and getting it to their core players, like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

8. Chicago Blackhawks–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)

Chicago is rather depleted on the blueline since they lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the Vegas expansion draft. They’ve also got an aging problem, with Duncan Keith (34) and Brent Seabrook (33) signed for a long time. With proper development, Boqvist should come into his own and start carrying the Blackhawks defense in due time.

9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)

The first of three first round picks, the Rangers can’t go wrong selecting the best Finnish forward in the draft. With Ryan Spooner as a pending-RFA and more to sort out this offseason, New York’s looking to make smart picks in both the now and down the road. A 6-foot-1, 183-pound center isn’t the worst place to start as they continue to transition their game with the likes of Lias Andersson, Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov.

10. Edmonton Oilers–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Peter Chiarelli wants a young defenseman that can get pucks up the ice to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl instead of having to over rely on Kris Russell to block shots. Thankfully, Dobson can be that defenseman without the Oilers having to work a potential trade with that other team in Alberta for Dougie Hamilton.

11. New York Islanders–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)

In the first of back-to-back picks, the Islanders look to round-out a group of young forwards that can develop and work together.

12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

That’s where Farabee can become the winger to Lundestrom’s line someday or something, I’m sure. New York is too busy trying to re-sign John Tavares right now, probably.

13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)

Whoever ends up as the new head coach in Dallas should have no problem making that offense work. It seems like the Stars could get away with highway robbery, having Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov on the same line, if they could just get things going. Having said that, Smith adds to the transition game that’s already pretty strong (and reliant) on John Klingberg.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

An underrated defender, Wilde, should become a decent top-four blueliner in an already stacked group of young players for the Flyers. Now if only they could finally do something about that goaltending…

15. Florida Panthers–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Hayton had 21 goals and 39 assists (60 points) in 63 games for the Greyhounds this season and should help the Panthers ease the loss of Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault to the Golden Knights last June. The only problem might be that Hayton could need a year or two, but it’s a gain, nonetheless as he’s one of the “best available” picks that slides a bit and lands in Florida’s lap.

16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)

Colorado makes out with a pretty safe pick that can take his time to develop for a year while the Avalanche continue to make some noise in the Central Division that, after Winnipeg and Nashville, looks like it’s anyone’s game.

17. New Jersey Devils–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Veleno shouldn’t be overlooked as he had 22-57–79 totals in 64 games for Drummondville this season. Thankfully the Devils know talent when they see it and can continue transitioning to a youthful roster that’ll compliment Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall pretty well.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)

The Blue Jackets take a risk that’s worth it in a couple of years, focusing on a playmaker that should fit the likes of Artemi Panarin and Co. pretty well in front of The Fifth Line at Nationwide Arena.

19. Philadelphia Flyers–> LW Girgori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)

Whereas the Flyers went with a defender for their first pick in the first round, they should opt for a forward five picks later. Denisenko is crafty and should really come into his own in two-to-three years.

20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)

No doubts about it, Noel is the prototypical power-forward that fits the Kings well. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-winger just might fall far enough for Los Angeles’s taking. His offensive skills add to the emergence of youth in Hollywood that’s bound to regain control of the Pacific.

21. San Jose Sharks–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)

22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)

23. Anaheim Ducks–> C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)

24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)

26. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

27. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C/LW Filip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)

28. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)

29. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

30. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)

31. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)

Down the Frozen River Podcast #103- Good Two See You

Second Round predictions, Minnesota needs a new GM, Calgary’s got a new coach, award finalist reactions, a Game 7 breakdown between Boston and Toronto, and where do the Leafs go from here? All that and more as Nick and Connor discuss on the latest DTFR Podcast.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

The Washington Capitals break Tortorella’s promise

Led by Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal game, the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 by the score of 6-3. The Capitals closed out the first round series 4-2, winning four-straight games after losing the first two at home.

The first period was pretty even. The Blue Jackets saw a lot of the puck and seemed to get into the Caps’ zone, but couldn’t get many clear-cut chances. It was a full-team effort for Columbus, as even the Jackets’ defensemen were getting deep into the zone, looking to get the attack going. However, Braden Holtby was having none of that early.

As a result, the Caps were forced counter Columbus’ lengthy possessions with fast outbreaks until they grew into the match and got their own cycle game up and running. Unfair to the game, Washington got the contest’s opening goal with Dmitry Orlov getting to the slot and beating Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:48 remaining in the frame.

The second period saw Columbus find an answer as they tied the game at one just before the halfway point of the period. Nick Foligno beat Holtby with a nice wrister to the far post, with Ryan Murray and Ian Cole picking up the assists on the fast rush.

The tie didn’t last long though, as four minutes later Ovechkin took over.

His first goal came in the slot off a rebound. He collected the puck and scored backhanded to restore the Capitals’ one-goal lead.

He wasn’t done there though. After a bad holding penalty on Seth Jones (against Ovechkin, no less), Ovi doubled the lead and his goal total in the game with a power play goal from his usual spot in the left face-off circle. This time, it was John Carlson who set him up for his patented one-timer bomb past Bob.

After the second intermission, the 3-1 score lasted only 2:25 into the third period as Columbus came out on a mission to live up to John Tortorella’s promise of a Game 7. Pierre-Luc Dubois takes credit for the goal that cut the Caps’ lead to 3-2.

Washington had an answer though, as Devante Smith-Pelly sniped one past Bob for his second marker in the playoffs. The Capitals continued to bury the Blue Jackets as Chandler Stephenson scored a shorthanded breakaway just a minute and a half later, giving Washington a 5-2 advantage.

The Jackets didn’t give up though, most notably at the 8:22 mark when Foligno was in the right place at the right time to deflect a pass from Boone Jenner into the net for his second on the night.

And Foligno’s goal wasn’t the last offering Columbus tried either. The Jackets kept right on firing, but Holtby stayed strong. The Capitals also had some vital penalty kills during the third period that saw players blocking big shots at the right time.

Finally, with only 14 seconds left in the game, Lars Eller put the final nail in Columbus’ coffin by sealing the game at 6-3 with a long-range empty-netter.

For the third-consecutive year, the Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates, times and broadcast information have yet to be determined for any of those contests, but Washington’s third-straight Metropolitan Division title has earned it home ice for the series.

Is Player Usage Costing Jackets a Playoff Series?

Most of the focus in analyzing the playoff performance seems to focus on Sergei Bobrovsky.  This is understandable given Bobrovsky’s history of giving up three or more goals in playoff games, but it ignores another reason that the Jackets may be struggling against the Capitals as their series has progressed and that is player usage.

The Jackets played 82 games prior to the playoffs and that data tells us a lot about which players were making positive contributions to the team and which players weren’t.  Yet, John Tortorella’s player usage in this series suggests that some old school thoughts about playoff hockey may be leading to the Jackets deploying players in a sub-optimal manner.  In a series defined by close games and, more importantly, overtime games, choices in player deployment can be the difference between being up 3-2 and being down 3-2.

Let’s take the case of Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Bjorkstrand finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% of 51.64 percent and was fifth on the team with 40 points.  Furthermore, Bjorkstrand had become a very solid player at both ends at the ice, something that Tortorella had him focused on at the start of the season.  Yet, through five games of this series, the only players with less time-on-ice than Bjorkstrand were Alexander Wennberg (who has only played in two games due to injury), Mark Letestu, and Sonny Milano (a healthy scratch for Game 5).  After scoring a goal in Game 5, Torts finally started playing Bjorkstrand more in the rest of the game and the result was a number of solid shifts where the puck was held in the Caps zone–something the Jackets have struggled with in this series. Bjorkstrand’s line had two of the best opportunities in the overtime period of Game 5.

One of the players getting less ice time than Bjorkstrand is Milano, who was a healthy scratch for Game 5, but played little to no minutes in the prior four games.  Like Bjorkstrand, Milano had a positive 5-on-5 CF% of 50.91 percent.  He put up 14 goals in only 55 games and his return to the lineup was one of the things that helped the Jackets down the stretch.  In fact, Milano was paired with Bjorkstrand on a line centered by Nick Foligno that provided a scoring threat when the top line wasn’t on the ice during a part of March.  That line was scuttled by Foligno’s injury.

So, who has been getting ice time over Milano and Bjorkstrand?  Thomas Vanek, for one.  While Vanek had positive possession numbers in 19 games for the Jackets, his possession numbers in Vancouver were less than stellar with a 45.01 percent 5-on-5 CF%. Seven goals and eight assists in 19 games was also probably not a sustainable pace for the 34 year-old Vanek.

You have to wonder how much of the decision to play Vanek more than Bjorkstrand and Milano comes down to an antiquated view of “playoff hockey.”  Neither Milano nor Bjorkstrand are known for a gritty or grinding style.  They aren’t veterans.  And, while Bjorkstrand is solid in his own end, Milano is still a work-in-progress in this respect.  However, none of this changes the fact that the team is better off with them in the lineup and playing.  The fact is that Milano is a dangerous player in both good ways and bad and the good still outweighs the bad based on what the advanced stats tell us.  Given Vanek’s own unforced-errors in Game 4, it hardly seems like playing him more has solved anything and it has, arguably, taken a more skilled player off the ice and certainly taken a quicker skater off the ice.

With Wennberg back in the lineup, one of Brandon Dubinsky or Letestu should be out of the lineup to make room for Milano.  The sole reason this apparently hasn’t happened would seem to be face-offs.  Wennberg is clearly being sheltered from this part of his duties, while Boone Jenner is actually being put in for spot face-off duty.

I’m not sure this is good enough justification to keep them both in.  Jenner has been strong enough in the face-off dot, as has Foligno.  Letestu been so-so this series and Dubinsky has been strong, though Dubinsky has taken three penalties while Letestu has taken none.  Flip a coin, but one of these two should sit instead of dividing minutes and taking a roster spot that could be held by a better player.  If you want to see how smart coaches can make dumb decisions about players based on overemphasizing face-offs, take a look at Jay Beagle‘s possession stats sometime.  Woof.

That’s another thing, here.  The Caps have dog crap for depth.  They had six forwards who played regularly who finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% above 50 percent.  One of them–Burakovsky–is out for the series.  How many regular forwards did Columbus have above that mark?  Eight, all of whom who are available to play in this series.  That means the Jackets are one line deeper than Washington.  Josh Anderson is playing bottom-six minutes for the Jackets.  I’ve got no problem with that as long as (1) the right people are getting more minutes than him and (2) the Jackets more evenly divide the minutes.

Why should the minutes be divided more evenly?  Because the Caps have dog crap for depth AND these games are going into overtime.  The Jackets should be taking more advantage of their depth by spreading minutes more evenly.  Keep the legs fresh.  This isn’t the old days.  Penalties are called regularly in the playoffs now and the old grind and hold game doesn’t work.  The team with fresh legs is best prepared to capitalize on mistakes in overtime.  You look at the last shift yesterday and the Jackets’ top line was gassed and the Caps took advantage on the cycle.  Divide minutes more evenly and the story might end differently.  The Jackets can afford to do it because the skill difference between their third and second lines isn’t as pronounced as it is for Washington.

If the Jackets want to take it to Washington tomorrow, John Tortorella needs to face his fears and embrace the fact that speed and skill is what wins games in hockey in 2018, even in the playoffs.  Yes, Milano will make mistakes, but so have the guys who have played in place of him.  Show faith in your young players.  They are the future of this team and they didn’t let you down for the 82 games that preceded this series.  Don’t abandon them now because of fear, embrace them as your hope.  Depth is your advantage, press your advantage.  Divide playing time more equally not just because you expect these games to go to overtime, but because it is to your advantage even over 60 minutes of hockey.  Torts needs to think about his own motto in a new way.  When it comes to coaching playoff games in 2018, Safe Is Death.