Tag Archives: Las Vegas

The Golden Knights; What Are the Odds?

The gamble of putting a hockey team in Las Vegas is really paying off.

If you’re a hockey fan, you have probably heard all about the incredible start to the season for the Golden Knights, coming out of the gate with a 7-1-0 record. Fans from around the league are still asking the same questions, “Is this team the real deal?” At this point, it is honestly still too early to tell. If you are a fan of the team, you obviously want to flaunt this big run, but it’s a long season and anything can happen. Could they continue their great play, shock the NHL, and advance to post-season play? Absolutely, it’s a long season and anything can happen.

As a Bowling Green graduate, I had the opportunity to meet many famous Falcon Hockey alumni, as they came home to cheer on their alma mater. George McPhee was one of those individuals. It was the 50th Anniversary of the rink and there were many former players in attendance. I essentially had a checklist of people I wanted to “conveniently run into” for a quick picture and an autograph. When I saw McPhee, as I handed him a puck to sign, I found it within me to ask him a question about his new job. Very simply, I asked what we could expect from this new franchise. His one word answer was straight to the point, “Effort.” He went on to explain that his team would give their best effort and the results would take care of themselves.

Fast forward to a Las Vegas team that is now in the record books for the best start of any Expansion team and this conversation takes a whole new meaning. No one would have predicted this start, even the General Manager himself. He was right though. The Golden Knights are giving 110% and their hard work is paying off.

After their first few wins, particularly two against the Colorado Avalanche and another two over the winless Arizona Coyotes, the Golden Knights were simply taking advantage of their strength of schedule. A few games later and they have defeated the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks; three teams that are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders (at least have been in recent memory). So is this the real deal? The way I see it, there are three potential finishes the Vegas Golden Knights could have. Let’s take a look and you can be the judge.

Option A: The Golden Knights Continue to Dominate

The expectations have changed for this team. Fans and players alike are starting to see that something special is brewing in Nevada and they want more of it. At this point, why doubt them? They could come back down to earth, but it’s more fun just to enjoy the ride. James Neal is having a career year, followed by the success of Reilly Smith and David Perron. William Karlsson is finally seeing some daylight after being towards the bottom of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ depth chart in previous seasons. Keep in mind they are winning games without Marc-Andre Fleury, who could be coming back shortly from injury. Their early resume is impressive to say the least, and if the players continue to push their limits, they really could tear apart the Western Conference. If you picked up the Golden Knights and put them in the Eastern Conference, this would likely be a different story. But, the schedule they have plays in their favor and you might be watching this team win a lot more than they lose.

Option B: Mediocracy is Ok Too

If you are an established franchise, you never want to shoot for average, but Expansion teams have completely different expectations. The coaching staff in Las Vegas probably established a goal to break even this season. Win several home games, play good hockey, grow the fan base, and get a decent draft pick. In their first season of play, that would be an ideal outcome. This is the most plausible result for the Golden Knights. In an 82-game season, things happen. Injuries, slumps, and trades are all problems that can derail a team’s season. The Golden Knights haven’t had to deal with much adversity so far this season. With the exception of their goaltending department, the Golden Knights haven’t had to deal with much adversity so far this season. It will come and we will see how they handle it. Regardless, don’t sleep on this team because they have shown they know how to win.

Option C: Tank… Tank… Tank…

The idea of a complete breakdown seems unlikely, but it is still possible. Their start to the season is great, but could the wheels still fall off? As we mentioned above, one major injury could completely change the course of the season. So far, Malcolm Subban and now Oscar Dansk have prevented this from already happening. The difference between success and failure is a very fine line in the NHL. One moment things are great, but then all of a sudden… something bad happens. The Golden Knights are on an incredible streak, but as we learned with last year’s Columbus Blue Jackets, winning doesn’t always last. The concept of tanking is really awful. Players should always go out and give their best, no matter what their current record looks like. The Golden Knights will fight throughout the season, but what will their result look like at the finish line?

Expansions teams are a unique topic. You are starting with brand new players, who typically have not played together before. There are really no star-caliber players on the roster, which means you can’t depend on one or two guys to take over the offense. Team chemistry, specifically among line mates, is a critical part of the game. All teams have to deal with questioning where they slot in the new players on their roster, but the Las Vegas coaching staff had to make those decisions for the entire team. So far, things have worked perfectly, but that could all change with the flip of the switch. Keep an eye on the Golden Knights because they could sneak up on the rest of the league. They are here and they appear poised to continue their success. Will the management go all in on this year’s team? We’ll have to wait and see.

October 10 – Day Seven – Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

Today marks the end of the first week of action, so hopefully we can close things out with a bang.

There’s seven games on the schedule tonight, starting with two (St. Louis at the New York Rangers and Columbus at Carolina) at 7 p.m. and Chicago at Montréal (NBCSN/RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. In a similar situation, Philadelphia visits Nashville at 8 p.m. with Detroit at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Finally, our co-nightcaps (Ottawa at Vancouver [RDS] and Arizona at Vegas [NBCSN/SN360/TVAS]) find their start at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times Eastern.

There’s a few games that stick out to me…

  • Chicago at Montréal: Another day, another Original Six game.
  • Ottawa at Vancouver: After a dozen seasons with the Canucks, W Alexandre Burrows plays his first game at Rogers Arena in a white sweater.
  • Arizona at Vegas: Speaking of home arenas, it’s about time T-Mobile Arena saw its first regular season game.

It’s unfortunate we can’t spend the evening with Burrows, who played such a vital role in the Canucks’ run to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. But, you only get to make your city debut once, so it’s off to Nevada!

 

 

 

 

 

Just as I waited to welcome the Golden Knights to the NHL until they played their first game, I now officially welcome the city of Las Vegas and all her 632,912 citizens to one of my favorite sports in the world.

Oh, the arena, like almost everything we think about when envisioning the Las Vegas Strip, is technically south of Las Vegas proper in Paradise? Well, those 225,000 people can come too.

On a more serious note, it is unfortunate that no discussion about the Golden Knights’ inaugural  home game is complete without mentioning the terrible events from the night of October 1. I’m certain I speak for all of us here at Down the Frozen River in extending my condolences to the families and friends of the 58 people who lost their lives that night, as well as the hundreds injured.

While a hockey game absolutely pales in comparison to the severity of this tragedy, it is my hope that what will be an exciting, joyous event will be a pleasant reprieve from the sadness surrounding Las Vegas and maybe – just maybe – a small step towards the city’s healing.

Taking our attention back to tonight’s game, though the Golden Knights have been away from home, they’ve been doing all they can on the ice for their community by jumping to an unexpected 2-0-0 record.

Unlike the teams involved in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day (see below for the recap to that game) offense has not been the name of the game for the Knights, as they’ve scored a total of only four goals to start the season.

“But wait,” you say. “I thought Vegas’ defense wasn’t supposed to be good.”

You’ve heard correctly. No matter how many shot blocks D Jason Garrison can manage (he’s averaged six-per-game to lead the league so far this young season, for those interested), that defensive corps has allowed a (t)fifth-worst 37 shots against per-game to reach G Marc-Andre Fleury.

Instead, Fleury has had to perform at his very best to earn his unblemished record. Among goaltenders with at least two games played, his .973 save percentage and .98 GAA are both second-best in the league.

Considering the enormity of tonight’s festivities and the fact that he hasn’t played since Saturday, Flower should be a lock to be in net this evening.

As for the Coyotes, they have come up just short in both of their games played. Arizona opened up its season with a 5-4 loss in Anaheim Thursday before Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss at home to these very Golden Knights.

Similar to Vegas, defense does not seem to be the Yotes’ forte. They’ve allowed an atrocious 41.5 shots to reach their crease, and don’t seem to play any better or worse if G Louis Domingue or G Antti Raanta is in net.

Speaking of, it sounds like Raanta drew the start this evening. Considering he earned Arizona’s lone point of the season against these Knights, that seems like the logical decision.

If the Coyotes want to return the favor of beating the Golden Knights in their first home game of the season, they’re going to need their offense to do the heavy lifting.

Though he plays along the blue line, D Alex Goligoski has been Arizona’s most consistent scoring threat as his three assists against the Ducks are the highest point total on the squad. As for actual forwards to keep an eye on, F Tobias Rieder is the only Coyote to score on Fleury Saturday and F Clayton Keller really likes to shoot. Either, or both, could provide the difference for the Yotes.

Only two things can happen following the pageantry associated with a night like tonight. Either the home team lets the emotion get to them, or they come out and dominate their opponent.

Considering the Golden Knights have been playing for more than themselves, I think most of us are hoping for the latter.

#PlayForVegas


With an unassisted overtime wrist shot from First Star of the Game C Auston Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to hold off the Chicago Blackhawks at the Air Canada Centre for a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The play started in Chicago’s offensive end where C Jonathan Toews tried to pass from the near boards to F Patrick Kane in the center of the zone, but Kane misplayed the puck as it bounced off his right skate… right to Matthews. The reigning Calder Trophy winner screamed up the ice to the far face-off circle in his offensive zone before ripping a fireball of a shot over G Anton Forsberg‘s glove shoulder. Matthews finished the play the only way one should when playing the Blackhawks: imitating Kane’s patented goal celebration in victory.

Matthews’ goal completed a Leafs comeback from a 3-1 deficit with 12:08 remaining in regulation. Second Star RW Connor Brown (D Nikita Zaitsev and D Ron Hainsey) pulled Toronto back within a goal with exactly seven minutes remaining on the clock, followed 2:42 later by a game-tying power play tip-in from LW James van Riemsdyk (C Tyler Bozak and D Morgan Reilly) to force overtime.

That comeback was necessitated in large part by a hot start for Chicago, as it had a 2-0 lead before eight minutes had expired from the first period. First it was D Jan Rutta (F John Hayden and F Tommy Wingels) finding the back of G Frederik Andersen’s net at the 3:46 mark, followed 4:11 later by Toews’ (Third Star RW Richard Panik and W Brandon Saad) second goal of the season.

Zaitsev (Brown and D Calle Rosen) did score with 9:40 remaining in the second period, but that tally was eventually negated by Panik’s (D Gustav Forsling and Rutta) power play wrister 7:52 into the third period.

Andersen earned the victory after saving 18-of-21 shots faced (.857 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Forsberg, who saved 39-of-43 (.907).

A third straight victory by the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series has earned them a 4-2-1 record and a two-point advantage over the visitors.

Realistic Predictions for the 2016-2017 Season

By: Nick Lanciani

Anaheim Ducks

Unknown-1The Anaheim Ducks added Jared Boll in the offseason to help bolster Team USA’s heart and grit rating at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Oh wait. Anaheim also brought back Randy Carlyle as head coach.

So basically it’ll be Throwback Thursday everyday this season for the Ducks, since it’ll be ten years since their 2007 Stanley Cup championship with Carlyle and crew. Why not bring back the maroon and jade uniforms while we’re at it?


Arizona Coyotes

Unknown-3Youth is not just prevalent on the Arizona Coyotes roster this season, but in their front office as well, as 27-year-old, John Chayka, was hired as the youngest GM in NHL history.

Max Domi and Anthony Duclair do all they can to convince Shane Doan to become the next Jaromir Jagr and maybe then we can start talking about a potential Cup run for the Coyotes. A plethora of defensemen fight for six roster spots and are narrowed down throughout the season, Hunger Games style.

Boston Bruins

Unknown-7Big and Bad are Backes. Wait, that’s not it. The Boston Bruins added David Backes, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore to their group of forwards this offseason all while seeming to forget that they still need another top-4 defenseman (let alone an entire defense).

Like most years of Boston sports (okay, with the exception of the last fifteen years), the Bruins will probably narrowly miss the playoffs again, much to the dismay of their hardcore fan base that still goes to every game like it’s their job. Or am I confusing them with the guys on the roster? At least 63 + 37 = 100.

Buffalo Sabres

Unknown-2So the Buffalo Sabres look to do things this year. That’s a thing, I’m pretty sure. Major loss? Chad Johnson left the team via free agency and went to Calgary. Major gains?

They brought in Kyle Okposo and everything else remained pretty much the same, so they should probably be on the outside looking in again, unless they become the new Ottawa Senators (forged by youth and a backup goalie that takes over from February through their early first round playoff exit in April).

All kidding aside, the Sabres remain hopeful. Meanwhile, Rasmus Ristolainen finally got paid (at a discount, none the less— Flo from Progressive would be happy).

Calgary Flames

Unknown-4What did the Calgary Flames do this offseason? They got some goaltending. Brian Elliott was acquired via a trade with St. Louis and Chad Johnson came over from Buffalo in free agency, so that’s two new goalies for a total of about half as many goalies that the Philadelphia Flyers have played in the last twenty years (though Calgary is starting to catch up).

Johnny Gaudreau is still unsigned, so that could be problematic, since he’s like, Calgary’s entire offense. At least, that’s what the fake Kanye West account told me— just kidding, he finally signed the other day. Given the state of the Western Conference, it’s safe to say they won’t be flaming their competition in the standings.

Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes LogoBiggest additions: Lee Stempniak, Viktor Stalberg and Teuvo Teravainen (so basically just Teravainen, if you’re playing along with the rebuild at home). Matt Tennyson was also brought in on the blue line via free agency from San Jose, so there’s that.

Hurricanes fans, take solace in the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets exist in your division, because at least Carolina won’t finish last with an improved New Jersey Devils team (minus their defense) looking to jump ahead of the Hurricanes in the standings.

Chicago Blackhawks

Unknown-22013, 2015— shoot, this year’s Stanley Cup Final is in an odd numbered year, isn’t it? Well, forget all of the season predictions, congrats to the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ll probably just insert some prospect alongside Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook or someone and be fine.

I mean, that’s been the formula since 2010 anyway. Win the Cup, trade a bunch of people because of the salary cap over the next offseason or two, win the Cup again and do it all over again. The only problem is, the Blackhawks have got the toughest division, so they’ll probably still make the playoffs, at least.

Colorado Avalanche

Unknown-1The Colorado Avalanche added two Bourques to their team (Gabriel Bourque and Rene Bourque) so they’re obviously hoping to double their efforts of their 2001 Stanley Cup championship with legendary defenseman Ray Bourque. What’s that? They’re not related? Nice try Joe Sakic.

While the Av’s were perfect in the preseason, sadly none of it counted and they’ll start 0-0-0 just like everybody else. New head coach, Jared Bednar, won’t be dismantling any stanchions this year, so that’s good news, glass between the benches at Pepsi Center.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets LogoZach Werenski made the team, so now they’ll have a defense. Oh, sorry, didn’t you there Ryan Murray, Seth Jones and Jack Johnson. But all kidding aside, these guys just need to stay healthy— I’m looking at you Sergei Bobrovsky.

Their group of forwards kind of have it going on. But sadly, this isn’t the year for the Columbus Blue Jackets, unlike the rest of the teams in Ohio it seems. Also, how it is possible for Werenski, a player from Michigan University, to not get run out of Ohio? I’ll wait.

Dallas Stars

Unknown-2The Dallas Stars have the same goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, the same core group of forwards primarily in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and an improved defense with the loss of Kris Russell.

Somehow every year, this band of veterans impresses the hockey world by combatting speed and skill with heart and grit (minus some of the grit). But just like last year, they probably still won’t figure it out in the playoffs between their two goaltenders and fail miserably (in the eyes of Stars fans).

Detroit Red Wings

UnknownThe Detroit Red Wings added Steve Ott (grit), Thomas Vanek (heart) and Frans Nielsen (actually, kind of good), this offseason to their group of forwards that doesn’t include Pavel Datsyuk for the first time in like, forever.

Datsyuk was traded to Arizona at the draft after he announced his retirement from the NHL to go play in the KHL back home before ultimately wrapping up his professional hockey career. And with that, so ends the Red Wings playoff appearance streak this season. But at least Petr Mrazek will be their number one goalie, right?

Edmonton Oilers

Unknown-5Rogers Place looks pretty cool. Milan Lucic Bruinsinizes the team. Peter Chiarelli traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson. And that is all. Just kidding, Chiarelli also traded Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues for practically nothing (so just like the Hall trade).

Connor McDavid was named captain and the team got worse. Kris Russell was added to the defense and Eric Gryba was not re-signed, then PTO’ed, then signed to a new deal with Edmonton, then probably placed on waivers. Sounds like things are business as usual for the Oilers.

Florida Panthers

Florida_Panthers_logo_2016James Reimer signed as the backup goaltender to Roberto Luongo for the Florida Panthers this offseason, so if you’re a fan of the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs or 2011 Vancouver Canucks, maybe Florida is your team (until games actually matter in the playoffs).

Jason Demers and Keith Yandle were two major additions to the Panthers blue line, while they managed to finagle Jared McCann out of Vancouver in exchange for Erik Gudbranson. So basically, the Panthers are poised to dominate the Atlantic Division once again in the regular season. Can I get a Jaromir Jagr for the Hart Trophy to with it?

Los Angeles Kings

Unknown-3The Los Angeles Kings most recently added Devin Setoguchi to their batch of forwards, so that summarizes everything about their offseason. Props to Setoguchi for making a comeback in the NHL. Shouts to the Kings for having a cool arena by the way. I stopped by there in August.

Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar all won awards last season, so that should have some indication of how they’ll do this season. They’ll probably make the Western Conference Final and have to play the Chicago Blackhawks again, won’t they?

Minnesota Wild

Unknown-2The Minnesota Wild added Eric Staal to their roster this offseason and most recently (and more important than Staal), Teemu Pulkkinen.

Chris Stewart returned to the Wild organization after a trip around the league (or so it seemed) and everything else pretty much remained the same.

So if you’re a Minnesota fan, first, good luck surviving the winter (as usual). Second, nobody knows how the Vikings are doing it, but they’re doing it. And third, the Wild aren’t going to be that great this season, so pick one of the first two options to bandwagon, if you would please.

Montreal Canadiens

Unknown-1The Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban. That is all.

But seriously, how could you, Montreal? Other than that, Alexander Radulov, Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber are all part of the team now, while Carey Price will miss the first game with the flu and Mike Condon got claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh. Looks like the team’s all yours, Al Montoya.

Nashville Predators

UnknownThe Nashville Predators acquired P.K. Subban this offseason. What were the Montreal Canadiens thinking?

The Preds are letting their forwards develop and made their defense significantly better by getting rid of Shea Weber for Subban. Now if only Pekka Rinne would return to vintage Pekka Rinne form, then this could the year for Nashville. Then again, they’re in the same division as Chicago in an odd numbered playoff year, so…

New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils LogoThe New Jersey Devils restructured their forwards with the additions of Taylor Hall, Beau Bennett, Vernon Fiddler and P.A. Parenteau, but they still lack a defense (mostly). Brandon Gormley, Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey are notable (somewhat) additions to the blue line in the Garden State.

Andy Greene remains one of the strangest trivia questions when someone asks you “who is the current captain of the Devils?” And Cory Schneider is still a highly underrated goaltender that somehow manages to survive without a team in front of him. But at least New Jersey is gearing up for the underdog of the year status.

New York Islanders

New York Islanders LogoThe New York Islanders added a lot of veteran presence to their noticeably Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum-less organization (yes, I took a shot at Barclays Center, there). Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd and Dennis Seidenberg are now members of the Islanders and well, at least Seidenberg’s contract is only for a year.

As long as Jaroslav Halak plays like he did at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (minus the final loss to Canada) and stays healthy, John Tavares and crew could lead this team further in the playoffs than in recent memory. Time may be winding down on their Cup contention clock, since Tavares is looking for an extension and well, everyone else on their roster is getting older.

New York Rangers

New York Rangers LogoIf winning the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes counts for anything than the New York Rangers are winners. But they probably won’t be winners of much this season. Granted, they could make a playoff run (or miss it altogether), the same tune rings true, Henrik Lundqvist cannot be a team on his own.

Josh Jooris and Mika Zibanejad are big name additions to the offense. Okay, so they’re just names added to the roster. Nick Holden is new to the Blueshirts blue line and well, they’re still an aging defense. Best of luck to the youth in the New York, like Vesey, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and others for getting to play more than one position this year on the same shift.

Ottawa Senators

Unknown-6Chris Kelly is back with the Ottawa Senators this season after playing 11 games last year with the Boston Bruins and recovering from a broken femur. Derick Brassard was acquired from the Rangers in exchange for Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan switched his number from 6 to 9 (get your mind out of the gutter, Internet).

Otherwise, the Senators remain virtually the same. On the outside looking in, but probably raising a few eyebrows for their late season surge. They’re still waiting on their youth, which is at least working better than it is for their counterparts in Ontario, the Toronto Maple Leafs (who, although contrary to popular belief, might actually be better this year).

Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers LogoThe Philadelphia Flyers already appear to be in midseason form, what with Radko Gudas‘s six-game suspension and their apparent preference for Steve Mason as their number one goalie, as usual.

Boyd Gordon and Dale Weise are additions (though, can you really call them that?) and Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov made the team from training camp (and the last couple of years of drafting), so the Flyers appear to be a middle of the pack team again this year.

Additionally, they’ll face off with the Pittsburgh Penguins in this season’s Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Heinz Field on February 25, 2017 as part of the league’s 50th season celebration of the 1967 expansion. So yeah, that’s all I got for Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Penguins

pittsburgh_penguins_logoThe Pittsburgh Penguins have virtually the same team from Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and look to defend their championship title without Sidney Crosby for at least game one of an 82 game regular season schedule.

New goaltender, Mike Condon, could make things interesting when comes time to decide between Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray before the 2017 expansion draft, since he could likely become Murray’s backup.

San Jose Sharks

UnknownJust like the Penguins, the San Jose Sharks roster remains virtually untouched since their loss in Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which kind of makes you wonder, did anyone remember that there was an offseason?

Matt Tennyson jettisoned to Carolina (I was dying to juxtaposition those words), where he was now sent down to the Charlotte Checkers. Roman Polak went back to Toronto and honestly, that was probably for the better for San Jose. Aaron Dell is the new backup to Martin Jones and would someone just let Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau win a Cup this year? I mean, if Phil Kessel can, then surely those guys can too.

St. Louis Blues

UnknownThe St. Louis Blues will be consciously uncoupling with Ken Hitchcock at the end of the season in his farewell to coaching tour. Mike Yeo has already been named as his replacement and has begun barking out orders at practice, similar to his meltdown in Minnesota (though I have not confirmed that).

They lost David Backes to free agency, because the salary cap exists and good luck to the front office in St. Louis to try figure that one out in the next few years. Meanwhile they added Nail Yakupov for virtually nothing, though in their defense, they already had their own Yakupov in Magnus Paajarvi on their roster, so maybe this time they can make it work.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Unknown-3Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning finally agreed to a three year bridge deal extension, so Lightning fans rejoice, your fountain of youth is still intact for now. Steven Stamkos stuck around for eight more years and GM Steve Yzerman can now take the next six months off until the playoffs when he has to start worrying about how far his team will go and what to do with Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Bolts look like geniuses here, for having developed their players well over the last few seasons and will more than likely dominant the Atlantic Division with their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers. Sadly, Tampa probably won’t win the Cup because the Blackhawks exist and that whole 2013, 2015, 20??? pattern exists.

Toronto Maple Leafs

UnknownAuston Matthews.

(Colby told me to just write that. I think it works).

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

UnknownLoui Eriksson joined fellow Swedes, Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver this offseason. So in other news, Team Sweden, feel free to send the Canucks some of your jerseys, because after looking at the rest of the roster, I’m sure they don’t want to be associated with whatever Vancouver’s front office is doing.

Vancouver added Erik Gudbranson. At the cost of Jared McCann to the Florida Panthers. Actually, from the sound of it, it wasn’t a cost at all. The Canucks hate youths. Millennials ruin everything. Best of luck to you Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom.

Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals LogoThe Washington Capitals acquired Lars Eller this offseason, so that’s good, but they also signed Brett Connolly via free agency (so that’s bad). But let’s be honest, the Capitals will probably make the former 6th overall pick better than he’s ever been. Or at least playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom will probably help with that.

So basically, the outlook for Washington is this: they’re a good team, they’ll do well, Braden Holtby is elite and they’ll win a lot. Maybe a Cup run is in their future.

Winnipeg Jets

Unknown-4Patrik Laine was selected 2nd overall at this year’s draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Blake Wheeler was named captain and Winnipeg finally moved on from Ondrej Pavelec (by sending him to Manitoba).

What’s that? Jacob Trouba is still a RFA? He wants to be TRADED? Forget all of the good storylines going for the Jets, the Trouba dilemma overshadows everything especially after Rasmus Ristolainen re-signed with the Sabres and began the end of the stare down between Ristolainen, Hampus Lindholm and Trouba as to which RFA defenseman would make a move first. So Kevin Cheveldayoff, who are you going to trade Trouba to? Asking for a friend. No, but seriously, he doesn’t want to miss playing time.

*Honorable mention* Las Vegas _____ Knights

Honestly, somebody just name the team already. I want to start working on coming up with a uniform in NHL 17’s Franchise Mode for you, Bill Foley.

President’s Trophy Winner

If you’re Canadian, this doesn’t matter. If you’re American, good luck. Oh, you meant the President’s Trophy, as in “the team with the best record at the end of the regular season in the NHL”? Well, probably can’t go wrong with the Washington Capitals for that one, unlike their other Washington counterparts that have marred records.

1st Place in the Atlantic Division at season’s end– Florida Panthers or Tampa Bay Lightning, basically the entire state of Florida

One of the teams in Florida will win the Atlantic Division, that’s really all I know.

1st Place in the Metropolitan Division at season’s end– Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s no cakewalk, but Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury live up to that “two is better than one” mantra (sorry Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss).

1st Place in the Central Division at season’s end– Nashville Predators

It doesn’t really matter who clinches the Central Division this season because they’re still going to lose in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs.

1st Place in the Pacific Division at season’s end– Los Angeles Kings

Winning the division isn’t everything. Just ask the 2015-2016 Anaheim Ducks and the late 2000s/early 2010s San Jose Sharks. Unfortunately what this means for Los Angeles is that they’ll be out in seven games in the first round.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #33- We’re Baaack!

The Down the Frozen River crew returns as Colby, Frank and Nick discuss several of the offseason’s biggest stories, including Las Vegas, the day hockey Twitter erupted and some of the best and worst free agent signings. As well, the DTFR crew talks about some World Cup of Hockey replacements. As always, stayed tuned for weekly coverage of the latest news and notes around the NHL every week on the Down the Frozen River Podcast.

*Editor’s note: Due to a technological crisis that was averted, this episode was recorded on Friday of last week and finally salvaged to being released this week. We’ll have another episode that should go smoothly this Friday. Oh and don’t mind the flushing toilet sound in this one… Connor’s not our next door neighbor anymore so stuff like that might happen because we can’t control strangers (please come back Connor).*

Join the conversation, make a suggestion, or ask a question for our next podcast using #AskDownTheFrozenRiver or #DTFRPodcast on Twitter and/or drop us a line on Facebook– your thoughts might make it on our show!

Vesey’s Pieces

By: Nick Lanciani

Bad forced play-on-word attempts are my middle name, so in “Vesey’s Pieces” I take a look at what teams have the right pieces in place to lock up Jimmy Vesey on August 15th (if he doesn’t re-sign with the Buffalo Sabres before then).

Here’s a list of teams that could sign Vesey:

Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets

Yes, that list includes Las Vegas, because wouldn’t it be funny if Jimmy Vesey decided to wait another year just to mess with everyone and give him 31 options instead of 30?

Also, I know the salary cap exists, but teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10% without facing penalty in the offseason. By training camp each organization must be cap compliant, meaning that any team could sign Vesey to the maximum amount of $925,000 on August 15th and spend the rest of the offseason figuring out who they’ll trade or send down to the AHL to fit under the salary cap.

Realistically, let’s take a look at who’s in play, shall we?

The fact of the matter is that Jimmy Vesey’s agent seems to confirm just about anything that’s been asked. Are the Bruins interested? Are the Blackhawks interested? Are the Sabres interested? Is Toronto interested? Does Jimmy think a hot dog is a sandwich?

All of these questions seem to be met with a “yes” or “there’s a mutual interest something something they’re expected to be on the short list something something get out of here with your hot dog takes.”

Enough foolishness aside, Colby Kephart and I agreed on Tuesday in a private conversation that we’re both tired of the media circus that’s become the Vesey Decision 2016. It’s nothing against Vesey as a player, or his right to explore all of his options per the collective bargaining agreement in the manner that he is, but rather it’s the hype that we’re annoyed about.

Nobody is questioning his ability, having amassed 24-22-46 totals in 33 games this season with the Harvard Crimson and 32-26-58 totals the year before that in 37 games played. That’s 104 points in 70 games over his final two seasons with the Crimson, if you can’t do the math. Vesey’s numbers have grown and his playing style has developed as he’s gone through four years at Harvard, in the midst of one of the greatest college hockey cities in the United States- all while not being put against Hockey East universities on the regular, mind you.

That’s not to discredit the ECAC either. Vesey is a college standout. He’s the real deal, but like any prospect, there’s a chance he won’t make as much of an impact as one would expect.

And that is what hinges me from being able to say without a doubt he’s apt to be going to one team or another, because it all depends on how much of a risk teams are willing to take.

Could he sign with his hometown team in Boston? Absolutely, but it’s not like the Bruins won’t be fine offensively if they don’t sign Vesey. Their top-six forwards are Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Matt Beleskey, David Backes and/or Frank Vatrano (which technically breaks the rules of limiting the discussion to just six players if one includes Vatrano).

Would a solidified top-nine make the Bruins a better team? I guess you could say so, but that does nothing to improve their defense.

Buffalo has been trying their hardest to keep Vesey around longer than just for this summer with their Jack Eichel diplomacy, but even there, it’s not like they’ll be that much better of a team or that much worse if they lose out on Vesey for only the cost of a third round pick. Keep in mind Boston traded a third round pick for Zac Rinaldo after all.

The Sabres have a quality roster with the addition of Kyle Okposo this offseason and rising sophomore Eichel and friends. Tim Murray’s been making the right moves as their general manager and this could be the season that they get back into the playoffs if they play their cards right, their guys stay healthy and the right additions without subtracting reveal themselves throughout the season.

They won’t lead the Atlantic Division, because hello, the entire state of Florida is good at hockey right now. Yet Buffalo will definitely be more competitive against a weakened, P.K. Subban-less Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators (who’ll end up overpaying Cody Ceci, just watch), Detroit Red Wings (who’ll probably miss the playoffs for the first time in forever) and Bruins (what’s a defense).

As for Chicago, what are the odds that Vesey will win the Cup in his first season if he signs with them? Pretty great probably, but what are the odds that he’d get traded that offseason or in his first few years in the league from the Blackhawks? Also pretty good, since his last name isn’t Kane, Toews, Panarin, or Hossa (or any of their other core guys).

It’s hard to crack the core in Chicago, even if they are to move Marian Hossa in the coming season(s). But it also looks like poor salary cap management may finally be catching up to them, ignoring the fact that this is what is said every other year about the Blackhawks.

The Maple Leafs seem to be largely at play, what with Auston Matthews being a main attraction and Vesey’s family ties to the organization. While we’re on the subject of Toronto, why not take a look at the Arizona Coyotes who have done everything the Maple Leafs have dreamed of in one offseason at this point?

There’s a great chance he’ll end up with an Original Six team, because that’s where it seems his interest resides. In the end it’s all about the best fit, which could sway Vesey to a team like the Coyotes where he has the chance to standout on the roster and against other teams, if that’s what he’s after. Or he could stay with the Sabres.

Then again, he’ll probably sign with a team none of us expected him to sign with and disappoint every fanbase that was on edge, awaiting a signature on a piece of paper with their team’s logo on it.

But hey, for the record, I’ve never had Reese’s Pieces which might shock you even more than Jimmy Vesey getting your hopes up and signing with a different team. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Numbers Game: Top-5 Pending RFA Goalies

By: Nick Lanciani

12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).

Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwardsUFA defensemenUFA goaliesRFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts. RFAs are fun, RFAs are cool, but here’s the thing, other general managers will hate you forever apparently if you offer sheet one of their guys. Also, shouts to you if you’re still reading these. That shows commitment. And heart. And grit. I’ll be done with these— for now.

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1. G Petr Mrazek (27-16-0-6, 2.33 GAA, .921 SV% with the Detroit Red Wings)- $737,500 cap hit, 23 years old

Petr Mrazek is the only starting goaltender of this bunch and he’s due for a payday with the Detroit Red Wings. The only problem is, they still have Jimmy Howard and are paying him a bunch. So while Mrazek’s in the waitroom, you might as well give him a call if you’re a GM that needs a starting goalie that hasn’t even reached his full potential or tapped into his best play.

2. G Darcy Kuemper (6-7-0-5, 2.43 GAA, .915 SV% with the Minnesota Wild)- $1.250 million cap hit, 25 years old

The Minnesota Wild would be smart to keep Darcy Kuemper around long enough to turn him into a valuable asset that they could cash in, which sounds exactly like what they’re planning on doing. Let’s just say that Kuemper’s not a starter if Devan Dubnyk goes down with an injury, but until you find a rental replacement, he’ll be able to hold you over.

3. G Calvin Pickard (7-6-0-1, 2.56 GAA, .922 SV% with the Colorado Avalanche)- $850,500 cap hit, 23 years old

Calvin Pickard has the chance to be a decent backup, but is nowhere near the projections of taking over the number one spot in Colorado just yet. In a related story, the Avalanche should really keep him and get him a defense, just in case Semyon Varlamov gets hurt again and/or Pickard plays better than Varlamov for whatever reason.

4. G Anders Nilsson (10-13-0-2, 3.12 GAA, .901 SV% with the Edmonton Oilers/St. Louis Blues)- $1.000 million, 25 years old

Anders Nilsson has played in 52 career NHL games over three seasons and has never ended a season with a GAA less than 2.75, so yeah, offer sheet him all you want. Whoever owns him would be glad to get a 7th rounder (at best).

5. G Kristers Gudlevskis (0-0-0-1, 1.00 GAA, .969 SV% with the Tampa Bay Lightning)- $608,333 cap hit, 23 years old

Kristers Gudlevskis has had two solid starts to his NHL career as the presumptive backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy once the Tampa Bay Lightning eventually (probably) move Ben Bishop or lose him at the 2017 expansion draft to Las Vegas.

Honorable Mention

Me if I were still playing DekHockey (I forget my stats, good GAA, decent SV%)- $0 cap hit

I mean, seriously, there’s only 14 RFA goalies available (if that by 12:01) and there’s hardly enough to make a top-5 from them.

 

2016 Mock Draft: The Complete First Round

By: Nick Lanciani

 

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Here’s a look at how I think the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will pan out. Of course, I expect just about every single one of these predictions to be wrong. Likewise, experts and draft rankings may say a player is going to go 11th overall, but there’s always a good chance that player could slip up or down on Draft day, so I’ve tried to take account for that as I see fit.

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of good players, but how often do we see them get drafted in the right order— especially when hindsight is 20/20 (I’m looking at you, 2010 NHL Entry Draft).

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1) Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Auston Matthews, Zurich (SUI)

If you read my mock draft from last month, you might realize that it seems not much has changed with my top-14 picks. This one should be self-explanatory. Hope is back in Toronto in the form of Auston Matthews. A 6’1”, 210-pound center, Matthews is a two-way player similar in nature to Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles or Patrice Bergeron in Boston. In 36 games with Zurich this season, he had 24-22-46 totals.

Matthews was named the Rising Star Award winner and finished 2nd in voting for the MVP of the National League A in Switzerland. Matthews is the franchise center that the Maple Leafs have been waiting for since the days of Mats Sundin. He led the United States to the bronze with 7-4-11 totals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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2) Winnipeg Jets–> RW Patrik Laine, Tappara (FIN)

Patrik Laine is the number one choice for number two. You read that right, folks. Laine is one of the next best things for the city of Winnipeg and Jets fans alike. The 6’4”, 206-poung right-winger is a treat to watch and could easily fill the hole left behind by Andrew Ladd’s departure around the trade deadline. We’re talking about the kind of player that could have a bigger year than Blake Wheeler’s already big year. Laine’s size and skill combined with his maturity provides some strength on an increasingly younger and talented Jets roster.

Laine had 10 goals in 18 playoff games with Tappara en route to being named postseason MVP and winning the championship in Liiga (Finland’s top professional league). He had 17-16-33 totals in 46 games during the regular season and led all Liiga rookies in scoring. As well, Laine tied Auston Matthews in goals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship while helping Finland win gold.

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3) Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat (FIN)

It’d take a pretty sizeable trade to get Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen to give up the 3rd overall pick— and for good reason. Puljujarvi is the next best skater in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. His talent and hockey sense drive his offensive game as one of the better prospects on the wing.

Puljujarvi would easily contribute to the youth movement in Columbus as the organization looks to get back to competitive form with a dominant AHL squad in Lake Erie leading the influx of prospects.

The 6’3”, 203-pound forward had 13-15-28 totals in 50 games played for Karpat in Liiga as a 17-year-old. In addition, Puljujarvi was one point shy of Jaromir Jagr’s record for U-18 players at the World Junior Championship level, having scored 17 points in seven games en route to winning gold with Finland this year at the 2016 IIHF World Juniors.

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4) Edmonton Oilers–> LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

Originally, I had Jakob Chychrun pegged at 4th overall as the Draft’s best defenseman, but after seeing a second half of the season fade out from Chychrun, even I am skeptical of what he can become. With that, I still have faith in him (see mu 8th overall pick), but while the Oilers could use a young defenseman (that they won’t let slip away— *cough, cough* Jeff Petry), they’ll be forced to take Matthew Tkachuk instead. Not that that’s a bad thing. He’s a talented forward with lots of grit at 6’1”, 195-pounds.

Tkachuk tied Auston Matthews in scoring for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with 11 points and hand 30-77-107 totals in 57 games with the London Knights this season. And, oh yeah, he scored the game winning goal in this year’s Memorial Cup Final for the Knights against Rouyn-Noranda. Tkachuk can also revamp a power play unit, given that 42 of his points this season with London came on the power play.

Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli can’t complain about this pick jumpstarting a quick revitalization in Edmonton with Connor McDavid receiving a skilled, young, winger on his line.

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5) Vancouver Canucks–> LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed it yet, but there’s a dumpster fire in the Canucks management office. All kidding aside, Vancouver has had bad asset management over the last few years. Trading Jared McCann was, well, not a smooth move on Canucks GM Jim Benning’s move. Granted, Erik Gudbranson is a better defenseman than half of Vancouver’s blue line, but that’s not saying much.

Okay, now that trade analysis is out of the way, here’s the hot take on Pierre-Luc Dubois: he’s good. Dubois is a smart and versatile forward that brings a level of flexibility to the Canucks lineup. He’s more than capable of playing alongside Bo Horvat. Dubois stands tall at 6’2”, 201-pounds, but don’t let his size fool you, he’s got great hands and can play on edge. He led the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 57 assists and 99 points in 62 games this season and was a plus-40 rating. Dubois also finished the season in the top-six in the QMJHL in goals and points.

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6) Calgary Flames–> C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)

Calgary has a youth movement that at times, seems to work very well, and at other times shows exactly the kind of thing you would expect from young players— inexperience. They’ve done a good job of building through the draft, though at times surprising with who they’ve selected. Their primary focus this offseason should be on a solid defenseman, but they’re not going to find the one they’re looking for at 6th overall in the draft (yes, I know Olli Juolevi exists, let me finish).

The Flames are going to have to be one of those teams that just goes with the best available player on the board, given their position, and since Logan Brown is just that. He’s also bigger than most of their defensemen, so there should be no problem with adding size to their offense without addressing their long-term defensemen needs just yet. At 6’6”, 222-pounds, Brown is a skilled center with speed and the ability to handle the puck better than any other. Think of Joe Thornton as a comparable, since Brown is apt to be a playmaker first, goal scorer second.

He had 21 goals and 74 points in 59 games with the Windsor Spitfires this season. He also had 29 points on the power play and won 53% of his faceoffs, so there’s that.

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7) Arizona Coyotes–> D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)        

Olli Juolevi is one of the best defensemen in this year’s draft. Of course, hindsight is always better than foresight, but for all you Team Chychrun vs. Team Juolevi people, final rankings and second half of their season performance really separates the two from one another. Both are NHL ready, but one is clearly more ready than the other and has a bit more hockey sense to him.

The fact of the matter is that Juolevi fits the Coyotes style and brings an edge to their blue line that Arizona desperately needs, given the uncertainty of who they’ll bring back and for how long with plenty of pending free agents in the desert. While the Keith Yandle deal from the spring of 2015 paid in dividends for the Coyotes with the addition of Anthony Duclair, they still lost a defenseman that they put a lot of time and effort into forging. And Brandon Gormley wasn’t much of a success either, so much so that they sent him to Colorado. There’s plenty of cause to add another defenseman to forge and create some competition for a roster spot next season.

Juolevi comes ready-made at 6’2”, 182-pounds and provides some solidarity should the Coyotes part with Oliver Ekman-Larsson in any fashion in the coming years. Juolevi had nine goals and 42 points for the London Knights this season with a plus-38 rating. He also won gold with Finland at the 2016 World Juniors and transitioned from Finland to the OHL with ease.

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8) Buffalo Sabres–> D Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)

Sometimes players fizzle out a little before the draft to only prove everyone wrong when the experts say they’re unsure of how that player will turn out. At least, that’s what I hope is the case for Chychrun. Look, he’s one of the best defensemen in the draft, given the fact that he is definitely a first rounder and years later we could be looking back on this draft saying that Chychrun was the best defenseman from this draft.

The point is this, he’s a 6’2”, 214-pound, two-way defenseman and is sure to fight for a roster spot on the Sabres come this October. While Chychrun ultimately fell in some draft rankings, he is still a cut above many other defensemen in the draft, given his size and familiarity with the North American style of the game. His physicality and awareness brings a solid foundation to Buffalo’s blue line. Chychrun had 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games along with a plus-23 plus/minus rating this season with the Sarnia Sting.

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9) Montreal Canadiens–> RW Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)

Nylander had four goals, five assists and nine points for the Swedes at the 2016 World Junior Championship and blossomed as a skilled forward this year with the Mississauga Steelheads. He’s built for NHL stardom and could do so on one of the biggest stages in the sport in Montreal. Nylander is the 6’0”, 180-pound younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward, William Nylander, and is bound to jumpstart a Canadiens offense that was streaky at best (aside from being injured) this season. He had 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games in his first OHL season with Mississauga.

He’s a dynamic skater that is more than effective on the power play, notching nine power play goals for the Steelheads. Nylander can separate himself from any other skater on the ice with ease. If the Sabres overlook Jakob Chychrun, there’s a good chance he could go 8th overall, but since they probably won’t look past Chychrun, Nylander is best fit to go to another rival of the Maple Leafs— the Habs. I’ll say it again, he’s going to be picked by a rival of Toronto, but the question is which one?

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10) Colorado Avalanche–> D Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL) 

In light of all the rumors/actual evidence that the Avalanche are/are not shopping Tyson Barrie, this one seems self-explanatory. Colorado moves a defenseman to then take a defenseman (that they’ll have to start the process all over again with) at the draft. This seems to be a very Colorado move, but stay with me for a moment on this one. Mikhail Sergachev packs a punch— we’re talking Rob Blake style impact, but with an offensively minded side of the game.

Sergachev is a big 6’2”, 208-pound defenseman and was named the best defenseman in the OHL in his first season in North America this season. His two-way presence along the blue line brings enough of an offensive element to his game to satisfy anyone that likes watching someone hit someone along the boards with their size, then start a quick transition the other way (and execute it well). With Sergachev, we’re talking almost like an Erik Karlsson, but with more strength when it comes to playing defense.

He plays with confidence and speed and had 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games with the Windsor Spitfires in his rookie season. Add to that his 31 points on the power play and maybe the Avalanche are ready to take on a young, NHL-ready defenseman that might be able to help them figure out what the heck they are doing. Sergachev is the total package that the Av’s have failed to produce on their own, but desperately want, and brings balance to their youth movement all around.

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11) New Jersey Devils–> C Tyson Jost, Penticton (BCHL)

If you’re the Devils and you’re committed to Cory Schneider as one of the league’s best-underrated goaltenders, then you should be working harder than ever to prevent the current turnaround from lasting forever. You owe it to Schneider and his goalie equipment. Okay, rant aside, New Jersey could use younger talent and it might not be a bad idea if it does take them a few years to groom it properly. After all, letting another Zach Parise get away wouldn’t be good.

The fact of the matter is this— New Jersey isn’t going anywhere unless they figure out that they need to build around Adam Larsson, Adam Henrique, Schneider and the like. Yet the Devils seem pretty insistent on going where they want with what they have, which means it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add to their lack of strength down the middle. Ray Shero is a smart general manager knows how to add talent.

Tyson Jost is perhaps one of the best-underrated players available in the draft as a 6’0”, 194-pound center heading to the University of North Dakota next season. Jost could become a cornerstone forward for New Jersey as long as they’re willing to add to their foundation. He had 42 goals and 104 points in 48 games for Penticton this season, with 14 goals on the power play and seven game-winners.

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12) Ottawa Senators–> D Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)

The likes of another Erik Karlsson in Ottawa wouldn’t be a bad thing considering their addition of the annual butt-end of a pylon joke, Dion Phaneuf this season. Jake Bean is a solid defenseman with a considerable offensive element of his game that with some work, could flourish in the NHL. Plus his name fits the Senators obsession with defenseman with short, four-letter last names, like Cody Ceci.

Bean is a 6’0”, 173-pound offensive defenseman with excellent wheels and smart puck possession. He can make excellent passes and carry his own weight. With proper training, Bean could strengthen up enough to become a force to be reckoning with on the blue line. His stick, body and talent is sure to be a great compliment alongside any of Ottawa’s defenders in the years to come. One more thing to note, Bean led the Western Hockey League defensemen with 24 goals in 68 games in his second full season in the league with the Calgary Hitmen.

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13) Carolina Hurricanes–> C Clayton Keller, USA U-18 (USHL)

First the Hurricanes made waves by landing Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason, next they’re going to make waves by selecting Clayton Keller with the 13th overall pick. Here’s why: despite what everyone tells you about size in hockey, you don’t always need size— you just need skill (and a lot of hard work). Keller is a skillful 5’9”, 168-pound center reminiscent of the likes of Martin St. Louis or Jonathan Drouin. Overlooked, doubted, under recognized, Keller is a smart, tactical, forward.

He led the USA’s U-18 program with 70 assists and 107 points in 62 games this season. As well, Keller recorded four goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2016 IIHF World U-18 Championship en route to a bronze medal. The Hurricanes need to retool down the middle in the post-Eric Staal era and Keller is likely to be their man. He’s committed to Boston University in 2016-2017 and was also selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2014 OHL Draft by the Windsor Spitfires, proving that he’s got plenty of options for some development before making the NHL jump.

Carolina shouldn’t rush things with him, if they’re committed to the long term approach of success (though the same can’t necessarily be stated for the relocation rumors surrounding the team).

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14) Boston Bruins–> D Charlie McAvoy, Boston University (Hockey-East)

Boston needs a defenseman, so Boston drafts a defenseman they can keep their eyes on throughout his development, as McAvoy is across town at Boston University. Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, has a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason just as he did last offseason and must look to add depth on the blue line both in the immediate future and down the pipeline.

McAvoy brings an excellent 6’0”, 208-pound frame with excellent defensive awareness. While he’s not NHL ready, a year or two of development looks to pay off in dividends with his 39 blocked shots in 37 games played this season as a freshman at BU. Likewise, McAvoy had three goals and 25 points and was a plus-10 rating in his first year as a Terrier. He had a plus-5 rating with the bronze medal-winning United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Under the guidance of some veterans and Boston’s coaching staff, McAvoy could turn into a household name at TD Garden.

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15) Minnesota Wild–> LW Max Jones, London (OHL)

Minnesota has some tough decisions to make this offseason with regards to their plethora of pending free agents, potentially buying out or trading Thomas Vanek and the inquiries they face in the ongoing phone calls about Darcy Kuemper. With four picks in the 2016 Draft, the Wild could be looking to stockpile a few more (and they’ve got assets to move). With Bruce Boudreau at the reigns the Wild should become a contender with the right pieces. The only trouble is finding those pieces between now and then.

An addition that’s needed for Minnesota to surpass their previous playoff failures is found in 6’2”, 203-pound forward, Max Jones. He would bring size and physicality to their lineup along with a skilled stick that scored 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games as a London Knight this season. Barring his brutality (he had amassed 106 penalty minutes and a 12-game suspension in the OHL playoffs), Jones could be a wild enough power forward for the Wild.

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16) Detroit Red Wings–> D Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL)

The phrase “defense wins championships” has long been synonymous with the Detroit Red Wings. While their offense has improved in age and dynamics, as Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan surely cannot do everything; the Red Wings have been a little lackluster on the point in prospects. Actually, it hasn’t been a little— it’s been virtually non-existent with every young defenseman in their system having either faded out or been traded.

The point is, Detroit needs a younger defense sooner rather than later to avoid a situation similar to the *ahem* Boston Bruins or New York Rangers.

Fabbro brings in a solid 6’0”, 189-pound stature that had 14-53-67 totals in 45 games for Penticton this season. The Boston University bound defenseman will need some time to develop, but the Red Wings can take a year or two to work their way with him and align everyone on the same “defense wins championships” page. Of note, Fabbro was named the top defenseman in the British Columbia Hockey League for his efforts this season.

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17) Nashville Predators–> D Logan Stanley, Windsor (OHL)

Replacing Seth Jones isn’t easy— was something I expected to say in twenty years if you asked me three years ago at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but now everything’s changed since Jones didn’t pan out the way Nashville envisioned how they’d utilize him. Still feeling the effects of Ryan Suter jumping ship (and Shea Weber almost jettisoning the Predators), Nashville goes with Logan Stanley to regain some control of developing their defensemen the way they want to.

At 6’7”, 225-pounds, Stanley packs a punch standing tall and bone crunching-ly strong. Additionally, he skates well and can pair up with just about any defenseman willing to carry the more offensive sides of the game as Stanley fits more of a stay-at-home, shutdown blue liner role. He had 5-12-17 totals and 103 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Spitfires this season and handles speedy forwards with ease, often breaking down oncoming rushes.

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18) Philadelphia Flyers–> C Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

The Flyers are in prime position for aligning themselves as playoff contenders for the next few seasons (at least) if they continue to manage their assets and commit themselves to a solid goaltender (looking at you Michal Neuvirth). Philadelphia has a lot of centers, so what’s one more? Likewise, GM Ron Hextall has mentioned that he wants to add size. He should do so, with versatility.

Michael McLeod led Mississauga in shorthanded goals (four) and 21-40-61 totals this season. Combined with his work ethic, McLeod’s 6’2”, 188-pound frame and speed shows durability as a playmaking forward that could develop well on the wing in Philly. While Shayne Gostisbehere holds down the blue line for the Flyers, drafting a smart, gifted offense will help balance the franchise’s talent pool in the coming years.

Overall the Flyers are a few steps away from taking the New York Islanders model into a deeper playoff routine…

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19) New York Islanders–> C Luke Kunin, Wisconsin (BIG 10)

…and speaking of the Islanders…

First, what were the they thinking with that Casey Cizikas extension? Second, they’re going to need someone to step up big time to replace Kyle Okposo, especially with the threat of John Tavares opting to hit the free agent market in 2017— though do you think New York won’t learn anything from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s current situation with Steven Stamkos to put more than enough emphasis on valuing their best franchise player? Enough ranting about the organization overall, more about Luke Kunin.

Kunin is a 5’11”, 193-pound solid center that was named to the Big Ten Conference All-Freshmen team after leading the Wisconsin Badgers with 19 goals (five of them on the power play) and 127 shots on goal in 34 games this season. Again, “solid” is the keyword here. Dependable on special teams and durable in the lineup are other expected qualities from Kunin, especially with some time to develop, he could become one of the better two-way players in the league, emulating the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar. But again, the other keyword here is development (which he’ll certainly get in his coming years at Wisconsin).

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20) Arizona Coyotes (from New York Rangers)–> LW Riley Tufte, Blaine (HS-MN)

Having already addressed Arizona’s needs, this one is simply one of those “take one of the highly ranked guys, oh and talk about his size being important to the lineup” selections.

Look, with a roster that already has Max Domi and other skilled, young players, looking to create a dynamic mix of skill and toughness in the desert, Riley Tufte is a clear choice for the Coyotes at 20th overall if he’s still available by then. He’s a 6’5”, 211-pound left wing that wins battles along the boards. Tufte also has a heavy shot and had 47 goals and 78 points (with six power play goals) in 25 games en route to winning the 2016 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. He also had 10 goals in 27 games with Fargo in the USHL and is committed to the University of Minnesota Duluth next season to add some more strength and development to his game.

In time, he’ll leave opponents howling for mercy in Arizona (I just wanted to make a pun, please appreciate it).

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21) Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles Kings)–> D Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)

Some things were said about the Hurricanes and some things remain. Meanwhile, they’ve got some good defensemen coming up the ranks and lots of potential trade bait on the blue line, both in the now and in the future. Sometimes a change of scenery is best for both teams in regards to the lack of development for players like Ryan Murphy. Likewise, the uncertainty of Justin Faulk’s future in Carolina looms overhead.

It only makes sense to make a selection that you intend to groom properly and insert into the lineup down the road. Dennis Cholowski is a 6’0”, 170-pound sturdy defenseman with excellent hockey sense and decent skating ability. He had 12 goals and 40 points in 50 games with Chilliwack this season and knows how to open up enough space for a breakout. With some strength and development at St. Cloud State University, Cholowski could become a solid, underrated, blue liner for Carolina.

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22) Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago Blackhawks)–> LW Kieffer Bellows, USA U-18 (USHL)

Barring a Patrik Laine breakdown, the Winnipeg Jets make out with two solid first round picks in my mock draft.

Kieffer Bellows is just what the Jets need for a pure goal scorer that’ll help the likes of Mark Scheifele and whoever else Winnipeg has down the middle. Bellows scored 50 goals this season with the USA U-18 national development team and is sure to make a sound next season at Boston University. His 12 power play goals and nine game-winning goals and 81 points came in 62 games this season. At 6’0”, 196-pounds he’ll be more than ready to be a durable winger coming down the pipeline in the next few seasons. Oh and he likes to shoot from anywhere, as evidenced by his 50 goals with the NTDP U-18 team.

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23) Florida Panthers–> RW Alexander DeBrincat, Erie (OHL)

The Florida Panthers are trending upwards and they appear to be only getting better, what with the Keith Yandle trade and signing as the latest piece to the puzzle and the ageless wonder— excuse me, legend— Jaromir Jagr in great shape.

Alexander DeBrincat brings a lot of skill to the Panthers roster, despite his 5’7”, 163-pound frame (but again, size doesn’t matter when hard work and talent is enough to prove people wrong). DeBrincat may have had his run-ins with trouble on the international Junior stage, but he’s not one to pass up on and cast off as uncoachable or whatever. He anticipates what comes to him with ease and has an impressive release on an accurate shot that played alongside Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome the last two seasons.

Along the way, DeBrincat amassed 102 goals in 128 games with the Erie Otters as perhaps one of the most underrated forwards alongside the likes of McDavid and Strome.

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24) Anaheim Ducks–> C Rasmus Asplund, Farjestad (SWE)

After surprising everyone with the way they flapped around the bottom of the standings at the start of this season, the Anaheim Ducks worked their way as far as a disappointing Game 7 loss in Round 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Nashville Predators. Then they fired Bruce Boudreau and hired Randy Carlyle as head coach. Apparently they think that every ten years they can win a Cup or something with the same head coach and just the same amount of confusion in the offseason. Where they’re headed nobody knows.

But drafting Rasmus Asplund certainly won’t be a mistake for the Ducks. Asplund’s a 5’10”, 176-pound center that will need some time to develop in order to strengthen up and fully transition to the North American style of the game, but he’s got superb leadership and great competitiveness in his game. The potential for this 4-8-12 total point scorer in 46 games with Farjestad this season to improve as he comes more into his development as a two-way forward is yet to be calculated as to just how far off the charts he could reach. Asplund is one of those well-liked guys you can work with and tailor to your needs.

Think of a lesser known, better kept secret, David Pastrnak type of player on the ice with the potential of being the next Teemu Selanne style leader off the ice. Anaheim fans will surely like that.

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25) Dallas Stars–> RW Vitaly Abramov, Gatineau (QMJHL)

The Dallas Stars aren’t looking to do much this offseason besides find better goaltending, if possible, and work on ensuring that Tyler Seguin is fully healed and ready to carry the team on his back alongside Jamie Benn again (slightly warm hot take).

Dare I say it, but drafting Vitaly Abramov could pay off in— stars— for the Stars. The 5’9”, 175-pound winger led the Gatineau Olympiques with 38 goals (with 11 of them on the power play) and 93 points this season en route to being named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year. Abramov is highly competitive and has a quick shot. There’s no need to worry about his transition to the North American game, because he’s already further developed than most for his skill level.

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26) Washington Capitals–> C German Rubtsov, Team Russia U18 (RUS)

Capping off a President’s Trophy winning season (and their best season in franchise history) with an early second round of the playoffs exit to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins was not something on the Washington Capitals’ list this season. But their plethora of talent isn’t sure to diminish anytime soon.

German Rubtsov is the kind of two-way player that could really excel under Barry Trotz’s guidance and/or alongside Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov— actually pretty much anyone on the Capitals roster. As a 6’2”, 178-pound forward with 26 points in 28 games for Team Russia’s U18 team, Rubtsov displayed flashes of brilliance in his hockey sense and defensive awareness, bringing forth a tremendous two-way element to his game. He’s sure to win some battles in high traffic situations for Washington in the years to come with a little fine seasoning in their system, wherever that may be.

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27) Tampa Bay Lightning–> D Lucas Johansen, Kelowna (WHL)

Tampa Bay has a lot on its plate this offseason, between the swirling rumors around trading Ben Bishop, their defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals, oh and the fact that Steven Stamkos could very well be heading to unrestricted free agency and the Lightning will be left without a #1 franchise player if he decides to leave. But hey, sure, let’s look ahead for the organization, why not? What else could possibly go wrong— insert plea for Victor Hedman to tough it out and anyone else worried about what skilled Lightning player will be taken by Las Vegas at next year’s expansion draft.

Enough kidding around, Tampa could use a defenseman that is young and may need a year or two before coming into the league because, well, what else might they need. They’ve got plenty of young forwards, young defensemen (I’m looking at you Slater Koekkoek, okay actually I just wanted to type that name) and a young goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy; so really, the choice is yours Steve Yzerman and crew. Take Lucas Johansen and you’ve got your hands on a 6’1”, 176-pound younger brother of the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Johansen.

This Johansen can skate well and play at both ends of the rink and is in an organization that has produced Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Tyson Barrie. That’s some pretty good company to be in and enough reason for Tampa to look to the future of a shut down pair in Lucas Johansen and Hedman.

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28) St. Louis Blues–> C Pascal Laberge, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

David Backes is heading to free agency, Paul Stastny isn’t getting any younger, but at least Vladimir Sobotka may be making his return to the St. Louis Blues lineup next season. As an aside, I’m a huge fan of Sobotka, just throwing it out there. Tight against the salary cap, the Blues may be singing the blues in Ken Hitchcock’s final season as head coach if they can’t find a way to restock their prospect pool and finagle a way to keep high-end talent on their roster. It’s the tragedy of the salary cap era to see a team that’s so good, make it only so far, then have to dismantle nearly everything when they get behind the eight ball a bit against the cap.

With that, Pascal Laberge is a promising center that led the Victoriaville Tigres with 68 points in 56 games this season. He was named MVP of the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January, by the way, and is a 6’1”, 172-pound, right-shot that goes to the dirty areas to pick up points and notch goals. His compete level and ability to play the puck along the wall, while winning battles all over the ice, prove he can develop into an all-in-one impact player for St. Louis, like Backes, but perhaps a tad better. It’s time to start thinking long term and begin building down the middle for the Blues.

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29) Boston Bruins (from San Jose Sharks)–> C Tage Thompson, Connecticut (Hockey-East)

Remember everything I said before about the Bruins? Yeah, well, they need a lot of help. Regardless of whatever they’re able to attract this offseason, they’re still quite a ways off from righting the ship unless they can pull off a miracle it seems. But hey, the good news is that they have two first round picks at their dispersal and some talent forming in their pipelines/already with the NHL club in the likes of Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller (who’s a pending RFA) and others.

Tage Thompson works perfectly for them to keep an eye on through his development at UConn. He led the NCAA with 13 power play goals this season and had 14 goals and 32 points in 36 games with the Huskies. The 6’5”, 195-pound forward finished his freshman year with lots of promise and has enough time to continue to develop into a solid, accurate shooting, quick with the hands center that would bring an immense boost to Boston’s power play if all goes according to plan. Thompson will also have to add some strength to match his height and the level of his game, but he’s got some time while Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci hold down the fort on the Bruins top lines.

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30) Anaheim Ducks (from PIT via TOR)–> RW Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

I talked about the Ducks before, so I’ll cut to the chase, especially since you’ve been such a good reader making it all the way to the end of this mock draft. Thanks for that.

Julien Gauthier is a monstrous 6’3”, 225-pound power forward. Obviously I meant that in a good way. While some see him as a second or third rounder, Anaheim sees his potential and grabs him before anyone else can even begin to dream about having him in their lineup in the years to come. His 41-11-57 totals in 54 games for Val-d’Or are impressive enough to be a tactical selection by the Ducks, in light of being the only 2016 NHL Draft-eligible player to play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Gauthier had two assists in five games played at the 2016 IIHF WJC.

And that does it. That’s all folks. Well, at least for the first round, but I don’t think you want to see me project all seven rounds do you? Thanks for reading. May your favorite team have the best of luck at Friday and Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft. We’ll have a live blog of the first round going and keep you updated on all the trades made, as usual.

2016 NHL Awards Live Blog

By: Nick Lanciani

Tonight is the 2016 NHL Awards ceremony from Las Vegas, so I figured I’d recap every award tonight as they are presented.

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Calder Memorial Trophy winner- Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists- Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) and Connor McDavid (EDM)

Ted Lindsay Award winner- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists- Jamie Benn (DAL)  and Braden Holtby (WSH)

General Manager of the Year- Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins

Other finalists- Brian MacLellan (WSH) and Jim Nill (DAL)

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner- Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers

Other finalists- Mats Zuccarello (NYR) and Pascal Dupuis (PIT)

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award winner- Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Other finalists- Alex Ovechkin (WSH) and John Tavares (NYI)

King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner- Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Other finalists- none announced

NHL Foundation Player Award- Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Other finalists- Matt Martin (NYI) and P.K. Subban (MTL)

EA Sports NHL 17 Cover Athlete- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Other finalist- Joe Pavelski (SJ)

James Norris Memorial Trophy- Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Brent Burns (SJ) and Erik Karlsson (OTT)

Frank J. Selke Trophy- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Ryan Kesler (ANA)

Maurice “The Rocket” Richard Trophy- Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

(presented to the goal scorer who scored the most goals in the season, so this one was already technically awarded before Wednesday night)

William M. Jennings Trophy- Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

(presented to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest total goals against in the season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)

Jack Adams Award- Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals

Other finalists- Lindy Ruff (DAL) and Gerard Gallant (FLA)

Then NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took some time out in the night to remember Ed Snider and Gordie Howe. We had this to say…

Art Ross Trophy- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

(presented to the player that led the league in scoring at the end of the regular season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Aleksander Barkov (FLA) and Loui Eriksson (BOS)

Vezina Trophy- Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Other finalists- Ben Bishop (TB) and Jonathan Quick (LA)

Hart Memorial Trophy- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists-  Jamie Benn (DAL) and Sidney Crosby (PIT)

 

 

 

A few Monday afternoon thoughts

By: Nick Lanciani

In light of the Florida Panthers new look, Peter Karmanos Jr.’s latest debacle and all the expansion talk, I’m here to try to put a few thoughts on the same page.

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Some thoughts on Florida’s rebrand…

First, there’s the Florida Panthers rebrand. Am I allowed to say the new logo is growing on me? The answer to that rhetorical question is obviously yes, because this is my site, but also because it’s the truth. Look, I’m not obsessed with the new look for the Panthers, but I can respect this shield design as a new, modern, hockey crest. It’s clean and respectful of the organization’s history, now over 20 years old, and really ties itself into the Southern Florida sports scene. While it might look better as a third jersey logo— at least when you put it on their new home sweater, which, by the way has a bit too much going on for my liking— it was time for a change in Sunrise.

Give it a few years and I’m sure the Panthers will figure out how to tweak things to satisfy their entire fanbase, while honoring the 101st Airborne in their humble homage with their fresh look.

Bottom line, not everyone can be like the Dallas Stars latest rebrand a few seasons ago. I mean, just look at the Carolina Hurricanes. They redesigned their image the same offseason as the Stars and, well, it just hasn’t caught on as much as anyone had hoped in the hockey world. While another rebrand would certainly help, the Hurricanes have much bigger issues on their plate, whether anyone’s willing to admit them or not. Which brings me to my second point…

…on Carolina chaos…

(How’s that for a transition?)

Carolina owner, Peter Karmanos Jr., the man responsible for moving the Hartford Whalers back in 1997, has been looking for a dancing partner for a couple of years now to help cover the costs of owning  and operating the Hurricanes, albeit while retaining all the power and control that he brought with the Whalers to Raleigh as an odd precondition.

But now it appears as though the focus of that dancing partner might now be in the form of a lawyer, as Karmanos deals with a little over $105 million lawsuit from three of his sons.

Without getting into too much detail, this should be raising red flags (not the hurricane warning kind) despite whatever anyone from the league or Hurricanes organization says. We’ve known for a few seasons now that Carolina is in shambles when it comes to attendance and likewise, that the franchise is not as financially stable at its foundation as the NHL would hope.

Karmanos continues to insist that there is no need to relocate the franchise to a more desirable location (at least from a fanbase perspective), such as Québec City or Las Vegas.

There’s no better chance than now for Karmanos to make a move, whatever that may be, but as the legal battles within his family play out, he might be forced to sell the franchise to an owner in a potential expansion location and get the organization out of Carolina, if there continues to be no immense local interest among potential owners.

What the NHL won’t tell you, and I’m sure, is that they really don’t want to have another Phoenix Coyotes disaster circa 2009. You know, the one with bankruptcy, lawsuits, the league eventually owning the team, Wayne Gretzky as a coach (wait that had nothing to do with it), and that Canadian millionaire that wanted to move them to Hamilton, Ontario?

But alas, my third thought, we’re more than likely on the verge of expansion in the NHL. Like it or not.

…and finally, on expansion.

Las Vegas may surely be coming in the next couple of seasons, but what might be more intriguing is the thought that no news might be good news for Québec City.

Of course, there’s a few holdups with a team potentially venturing to Vidéotron Centre that’s not just a preseason matchup between the Boston Bruins and the Montréal Canadiens next season.

The struggle of the Canadian dollar could scamper the hopes of Nordiques fans once again and the ongoing Carolina catastrophe could scatter current expansion plans. But then again, who knows what relocation talks might be circulating and/or among whom (if any).

What’s next for the league is to decide once and for all whether to delay expansion, accept one or both expansion bids, or nullify any chance of expansion at this time. That announcement is expected June 22nd, conveniently at the NHL’s annual Awards Ceremony in where else? Las Vegas.

Basically, it’s a yes, no, maybe scenario.

While some, like Brian Mulroney, are adamant that the league will look over Québec this time around for expansion, others in the rumor mill are more hopeful that as long as everyone’s distracted with the squabble about a team in the Sin City, then there’s a good chance we’ll see a return of the Québec Nordiques as a delightful surprise.

The league is more than ready to make a go at both locations, regardless of conference alignment atrocities in the eyes of some fans. But your conference woes might see some ease if the Hurricanes situation yields a relocation resolution. And maybe that is the reason, after all, that there’s not much chatter out of Québec on the state of their expansion plans.

A relocation fee is certainly less expensive than a $500 million expansion fee. And since Quebecor is more than willing to dish out $500 million U.S. for an NHL team that would generate all of its revenue in Canadian dollars, then there’s a good chance they could easily find the funds to come up with purchasing and relocating Carolina.

The only issue would be getting Peter Karmanos out of the picture.

That’s no easy feat, as exhibited by the Whalers forceful removal from Hartford and Karmanos’s dedication to Raleigh, which, although hasn’t been tremendous in growing the sport in the community (i.e. building rinks in North Carolina), nor providing the franchise with an adequate practice facility, has certainly been enough to keep the team around this long and with a 2006 Stanley Cup championship at hand.

That was ten years ago. This is now.

Whatever announcement is forthcoming on June 22nd, whether it’s no expansion at this time, yes to expansion or further delaying the thought of expansion, it appears as though the league is more than ready to make a go at both locations. Las Vegas for the first time, Québec City for a homecoming of the sorts.

So while you’re worried about which of your favorite players might get poached by an expansion draft in a year or two, this offseason is sure to have more to it than first expected, as always. And there’s plenty of hurdles to still get over before you can start dreaming about what a team in Las Vegas might look like or seeing what kind of a response the Colorado Avalanche might get in their first regular season game back in Québec.

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.

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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.