Nathan MacKinnon: Sophomore Slump or Sophomore Superstar?

I’ll bet you that the Colorado Avalanche are happy they went with Nathan MacKinnon with the 1st overall pick in the 2013 Entry Draft.  Many people, including yours truly, thought that the Avs were going to take local kid and projected franchise defenseman Seth Jones with the 1st pick.  Soon after the Avs had won the draft lottery, they made it known to the hockey world that they were going to most likely draft MacKinnon first overall.  At the time I thought it was a ploy by the front office to try and trade down to the second or third pick and take Jones at that point, but add some assets to their franchise.  How wrong I was, and looking back at it, I am glad I was wrong.  Being a subscriber to NHL GameCenter Live, I watched a number of Colorado games this past season and I have to be honest, I fell in love with watching MacKinnon.  His speed is UNREAL!  I remember catching the Avs’ game against the Islanders in Colorado, and watching MacKinnon blow past the Islanders defense to go in on a breakaway and put a filthy move on the goaltender.  In case you missed it, here is the evidence:

WOW is the only word that comes to mind!!!!!!!

Fast forward to the first round of the playoffs and the playoff series against the Minnesota Wild.  Duchene, the 1st line center for the Avs, was injured and he would not return until toward the end of the seven game series.  The injury really gave MacKinnon his shot to showcase what we are in for for the remainder of MacKinnon’s career.  MacKinnon simply DOMINATED the Wild in games 1, 2, and 5.  Once again, if you missed it, here is the evidence; pay close attention to the 3rd goal of this highlight package:

I have no clue how Jared Spurgeon didn’t break his ankle on that goal by MacKinnon.  FILTHY!!!!!

In the end, the Wild won the series in 7 games, winning all 3 games at home and winning Game 7 in Colorado.  One important note about all 4 of Minnesota’s wins, they were able to keep MacKinnon off the scoresheet in all 4 games that they won.  MacKinnon, along with Stastny, was truly the engine that ran the Colorado offense in the series, amassing 10 points in 7 games played.

We now look towards the 2014-2015 NHL season and what MacKinnon will do as an encore.  Will he be struck by the sophomore slump, or will he build upon the fantastic season he had last year?  Let’s look at the factors that could contribute to MacKinnon slumping or soaring this upcoming season.

Sophomore Slump

With the forward depth that the Avs were able to deploy in their top six, MacKinnon was able to play with the likes of Stastny, O’Reilly, Landeskog, and Duchene.  He was mostly utilized as a winger even though he is a natural center.  Playing on the wing really helped his game develop at the NHL level.  It gave him the opportunity to play with centers Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O’Reilly.  To be able to play with the likes of those three centers on a nightly basis would help any winger in the league, but for MacKinnon, it helped him amass 63 points in the regular season as a rookie, the most points by a rookie since Jeff Skinner put up 63 in 2010-2011 and Patrick Kane and Nick Backstrom put up 72 and 69 respectively in 2007-2008.

The loss of Paul Stastny to the St. Louis Blues through free agency will be a concern.  That’s one less center for MacKinnon to play with if Patrick Roy decides to play MacKinnon on the wing.  If Roy decides to play MacKinnon as the 2nd line center, it would force MacKinnon to have to be more defensively reliable and could impact his offensive output.  Being a centerman in the NHL is such a difficult task and it is unclear as to whether MacKinnon is ready for that responsibility.  The limited opportunities that MacKinnon had at center last year, he wasn’t overly successful.  For example, his faceoff % was well under 50% and his offensive output wasn’t as productive as it was when he played on the wing.  Many people expect the Avalanche to not have as successful of a season this coming season as they had last season.  People point to the defense and goaltending of the team as reasons why they will not fare as good as they did last year.  Both the defense and the goaltending played well above their heads last year and may come down to earth this season and if that is the case, the centermen are going to play a much more important role for the team, defensively that is.  I really think that playing MacKinnon on the wing is the smartest move for Patrick Roy this coming season.  Playing him at center will contribute to MacKinnon being struck by the sophomore slump.

Building Upon Last Year’s Success

Even though the Avs lost Paul Stastny to free agency, they still have Duchene and O’Reilly as centermen that could pivot the top two lines.  If Roy does go with Duchene and O’Reilly as the 1st and 2nd line centers then he has MacKinnon, Landeskog, Iginla and Tanguay to play the wings.  Not a bad top six if you ask me!

The tools are all there for MacKinnon to build upon his successful rookie campaign.  He’s got capable goalscorers and setup men to help him surpass his offensive output from last year.  Furthermore, if we take a look at his dominance during the playoffs, he had done that without Duchene in the lineup, which you could make the argument that, it is not that much different than Stastny not being in an Avs uniform this year.

The addition of Brad Stuart will help the defense of the team.  He is 34 years old, so not quite in his prime anymore, but he’s only being used as temporary help, until a player like Duncan Siemens is ready for the NHL as the role of  a shutdown defenseman.  Siemens is probably a year or two away from the NHL.  He’ll spend next year in the AHL, that is unless he completely wows the Avs during training camp.  Thus, with the addition of Stuart to the defense, the centermen for the team will have a little more stability on defense and thus help mitigate the defense “coming down to earth” this season.  The centermen, and forwards for that matter, will be allowed to concentrate on scoring goals more than concentrating on coming back to help the defense, which will help MacKinnon surpass this 63 points from last season and possibly be a 30 goal scorer.

What Do The Experts Predict?

Let’s take a look at what the experts, from 4 different magazines, think and predict what MacKinnon will achieve this year.

1.The Hockey Magazine: 2014-2015 Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide

“He can be a top-10 scorer this year and will soon be battling for the scoring championship.”

Projection – 80 GP, 32 G, 48 A, 80 PTS

 

2.Hockey The Magazine: 2014-2015 Poolers’ Guide

“With Stastny gone, he becomes the Avalanche’s second centre, behind Duchene.  He’ll be assuming more responsibilities.”

Projection – 72 PTS

 

3.The Sports Forecaster

“A team that badly needed a young defenseman like Seth Jones passed on the latter to take MacKinnon first overall in 2013.  Nobody within the Colorado organization regrets the decision after the wunderkid’s first campaign.  The Calder Trophy winner was good in the season but lifted his game to an elite level in the playoffs.”

Projection – 80 GP, 32 G, 41 A, 73 PTS

 

4.Sportsnet NHL Pool Guide 2014-2015

“Duchene’s season was legit, but MacKinnon’s was aided by luck.  That said, at 19, he’s still bound to improve in year two.”

Projection – 82 GP, 31 G, 40 A, 71 PTS

 

Well there you have it, the experts have spoken.  The projections range from a low of 71 points to a high of 80 points and if you average out the projections from all four magazines you get 74 points.  Of the four, I lean towards The Sports Forecaster’s projection.  As much as I would love to see The Hockey Magazine’s projection to come true (I have MacKinnon in one of my Keeper Leagues, and traded Duchene for him before the 2013-2014 season began) I really cannot see MacKinnon finishing with 80 points or more.

What do you think?  Will MacKinnon be struck by the sophomore slump?  Will he build upon his rookie campaign?  What are his numbers going to look like?

Season Preview, Preview!

So the season is rapidly approaching. Every year we do a small little preview like this, http://notyouraveragehockeyblog.com/2013/01/18/season-predictions/, but this year we’re doing something HUGE. We have 12 writers working on this project. We have a mixture of up and coming writers, occasional writers, superfans, and writers from other strong websites. What does that mean? It means that there’s something for everyone! Are you a coach from the couch? Well we got something for you! Are you someone trying to dip their toes into hockey? Well we got something for you! Interested in learning more about every team? Well we got something for you! So you get the idea right?

Now you might ask what’s going on? Well we have thirty consecutive days of posting from the 12 writers. We have previews for each team. Starting from the 7th of September and the Boston Bruins, we will post every single day, until the 6th of October with the final preview focused on the Buffalo Sabres.

So how can you make sure to not miss the fun? You can subscribe to our website if you’re already using WordPress. If not, join our mailing list by filing out the form here: http://notyouraveragehockeyblog.com/talk-to-us/. You can “like” us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/NotYourAverageHockeyBlog or follow me on Twitter here, https://twitter.com/HkyBlogger. If you’re scared that you won’t get any of the notifications, you can always check back every single day from the 7th of September till the 6th of October! We look forward to releasing our season preview soon!

Geoff Molson, P.K. Subban…Plus the latest on the captaincy in Montreal

Funny how earlier this week I was listening to a Montreal French radio show called ”Post mortem of the PK Subban episode” (kind of). It made me realize how big of a story it has been here in Quebec during the last month. It is a lot of money for a player who has not made unanimity last season with his play but he did elevate his game in the playoffs with the Canadiens almost reaching the Stanley Cup FInals for the first time since 1993. The fans are happy of course. The local press has been trying to stir controversy over the amount of $$$ given to him and the fact that the arbitration never really took place. This is the type of story that was unknown in Montreal until this year. No doubt the biggest contract negotiations the franchise ever dealt with and the highest amount of money too. This article is my post mortem as well although there is nothing deadly about this episode.

During the negotiations prior to August 1st, the day he was set to go in arbitration, Subban was seen hanging out at the Canadian Open golf tournament to watch PGA players in action. When he met reporters he was saying things like ”Montreal is a great place to play” and, since he was born and raised in Toronto, ”I always wondered how it would feel to play for the Leafs”. As much as he was staying away from his agent Don Meehan and Habs GM Marc Bergevin during the talks, Subban was behaving like a pro with the media, something he had not done two years ago when he accepted to have less money for a two-year agreement. Never in the last months has he mentioned that he wanted to stay and play in Montreal. Maybe that’s how he felt then and feels now but he never said it. Meehan probably reinforced that. On the morning of August 1st when both parties still could not come to an agreement, Meehan apparently told a reporter that ”they” would meet again next December which indicated that they were far apart from an agreement. With Subban going in arbitration that same day, the scenario was clear for the fans and for the Montreal Canadiens as well: The Norris trophy winner/star defenseman would not stay in Montreal very much longer. I heard that Bergevin wanted goaltender Carey Price to remain the highest-paid player in the team. Also, Bergevin might have compared Subban to Drew Doughty and the numbers did not match. Bergevin was apparently looking for a 6.5M-7M$ on a shorter term. In the end team owner Geoff Molson interfered before the arbitration to make the 72M$/8-year deal happen. He understood there was no way he could lose a franchise player like Subban and best of all he demonstrated that the organization wanted Subban to be part of its future. The local press was wondering if Marc Bergevin was upset. Who cares? As if Molson is the first owner to interfere in order to keep or reject a player. It would have been a public relations disaster with the fans had Subban gone in arbitration with all the feelings that go along with it. It is not sure yet if the failed negotiations will leave scars or not between the management and Subban but one way or the other he is here to stay. He and Carey Price – the Olympians – are the face of this franchise and its future too should the Montreal Canadiens get the chance to play again for a 25th Stanley Cup. It’s a good move by Molson as he gambled on the fact that Subban will most likely develop into a great all-around defenseman and leader of his team in a near future. Gambling is the right term here because let’s not forget that PK barely played at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Let’s not forget also that Michel Therrien kept the star defenseman on the bench on a few occasions due to selfish and dangerous plays or for being too emotional. Once Subban will gain his full maturity this will be history. This leads us to the question of the captaincy in Montreal with Brian Gionta gone.

So far three names have come up as candidates to become captain of the Montreal Canadiens: Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty and PK Subban. The fans liked Josh Gorges. He would have been a good candidate but he is no longer with the team. I would like to think that Tomas Plekanec would be considered too. Defenseman Francis Bouillon surprisingly and clearly said to reporters this week that Subban and Pacioretty were not mature enough yet to be appointed captain and that ”you don’t want to have to have a captain for a short time” referring to Markov no doubt. Bouillon might not be back with the Canadiens so we will excuse him for that declaration although he is probably right in my opinion. Head coach Michel Therrien held his golf tournament this week (P.K. and the team was there) and he told the reporters it is a possibility that the Canadiens have no captain entering the season in October. Maybe four players will wear the ”A” as it was seen before with a few teams. Marc Bergevin did not comment on the subject so far.

I definitely believe that PK Subban will be able to handle the pressure following that contract and that he will make the Montreal Canadiens a better team. If not then he will find out that Montreal is not such a nice place to play after all.

Fantasy Hockey 2014-2015

With the new NHL season drawing closer, many of us are preparing for our fantasy drafts and trying to decide which players we should take in order to claim the championship, and thus bragging rights!!  I have been playing fantasy hockey for a number of years and every year I look forward to sitting down to try and figure out who will bring me my next championship.  Let’s take a look at the players that you could choose in your own fantasy pools that could bring home a championship for yourself.

TOP PICKS

In the 1st round of all fantasy drafts there are so many top notch players available that it can be quite difficult to choose which player to draft, let’s see if I can make it a little easier for you to make a decision.  The following is a list of the top 12 point producing players this upcoming season:

  1. Sidney Crosby – 107 pts
  2. Steven Stamkos – 100 pts
  3. Evgeni Malkin – 99 pts
  4. Claude Giroux – 91 pts
  5. John Tavares – 89 pts
  6. Ryan Getzlaf – 85 pts
  7. Phil Kessel – 84 pts
  8. Taylor Hall – 83 pts
  9. Tyler Seguin – 83 pts
  10. Alexander Ovechkin – 82 pts
  11. Nicklas Backstrom – 81 pts
  12. Jamie Benn – 80 pts

TOP SOPHMORE PICKS

Every year I always hesitate on taking 2nd year players because I am always afraid that the 1st year phenom from last year will inevitably be struck by the sophomore slump.  Here is a list of the top 5 players that are going into their 2nd NHL season that will not be affected by the sophomore slump:

  1. Nathan MacKinnon – 71 pts
  2. Tomas Hertl – 55 pts
  3. Valeri Nichushkin – 52 pts
  4. Ryan Strome – 45 pts
  5. Torey Krug – 42 pts

TOP DEFENSEMEN

Defensemen are sometimes the difference between winning a championship and losing out on it.  Someone like Erik Karlsson will outscore 99% of all NHL forwards, so to use a top 10 pick on him is not out of the question, and he could bring home a championship for you.  The following is a list of the top 12 scoring defensemen for this upcoming season:

  1.  Erik Karlsson – 70 pts
  2. Victor Hedman – 58 pts
  3. Duncan Keith – 57 pts
  4. Shea Weber – 57 pts
  5. PK Subban – 56 pts
  6. Alex Pietrangelo – 55 pts
  7. Keith Yandle – 50 pts
  8. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – 50 pts
  9. James Wisniewski – 48 pts
  10. Niklas Kronwall – 47 pts
  11. Kevin Shattenkirk – 47 pts
  12. Ryan McDonagh – 46 pts

TOP GOALTENDERS

For the top goaltenders I am going to base this list on Wins, GAA, and Save%.  Here are my top 6:

  1. Jonathan Quick
  2. Henrik Lundqvist
  3. Carey Price
  4. Tuukka Rask
  5. Antti Niemi
  6. Brian Elliot/Jake Allen

TOP ROOKIES

These picks are difficult because it’s always an uncertainty that rookies stay with their NHL team, or if they do make the opening day roster, it’s less clear if they remain for the remainder of the year and not sent back to their junior team.  Having said that, here is a list of the top 5 rookies that I believe will make the opening day roster with their NHL team, stay for the whole year and be a contributing member to the team’s offense:

  1. Jonathan Drouin – 59 pts
  2. Sam Reinhart – 43 pts
  3. Sam Bennett – 39 pts
  4. Michael Dal Colle – 37 pts
  5. Aaron Ekblad – 23 pts

TOP SLEEPER PICKS

Every year there are players that fly under the radar and are not considered as a possible pick, or not taken until the later rounds.  Whether it was because they under achieved the year before, were injured, have not lived up to expectations, or did put up big numbers but are not seen as being ready to make another leap in point production, there are always a number of players that surprise us.  The following is a list of the top 12 sleeper picks for this upcoming season:

  1. Ryan Johansen
  2. Patrick Hornqvist
  3. Brandon Saad
  4. Alex Galchenyuk
  5. Evgeny Kuznetsov
  6. Boone Jenner
  7. Tyler Toffoli
  8. Carl Soderberg
  9. Vladimir Tarasenko
  10. Tomas Jurco
  11. Alexander Edler
  12. Dougie Hamilton

Every September brings a breath of fresh air to the fantasy hockey world.  We all look forward to drafting a team that will utterly destroy our opponents week in and week out.  The fact of the matter is that every team we draft will comprise of at least one player that does not fulfill our expectations of them.  Hopefully the above lists will help minimize those picks and bring glory to your fantasy world.  Good luck drafting.

Kapanen symbol of the new Penguins

With a new general manager and a new head coach in town, the Penguins Penguins are ready for change. They want a new identity, a fresh look now that the Stanley Cup-winning team from 2009 is long gone . First-round pick Kasperi Kapanen is a perfect example of that new identity.

Kapanen has impressed everyone at Penguins prospect camp. New assistant coach Rick Tocchet considers Kapanen to be a legitimate candidate for a spot in the top six, something that has been echoed throughout the whole organization including Jim Rutherford.  Kapanen is a classic high-end talent with great speed, athleticism and stickhandling ability, but it is maturity to the game that have made people starting talking about a potential spot right next to superstar Sidney Crosby.  “He’s even better than I thought he would be. So I was very happy with him. He’s just high-end talent, high-end speed. He’s a very, very mature kid for his age. Obviously, having his father [Sami Kapanen] playing so many years in the NHL and playing with him and brining him up that way, he’s already a pro,” said Penguins new associate general manager Bill Guerin during Penguins’ development camp.

One thing that could pave the way for the young Fin is Jim Rutherford and Mike Johntsons’ new puck possession attitude. They desire all players to be good with the puck, therefore not lining up with skilled players in the top six and grinders in the bottom. Even if Kapanen does not claim a the top six spot, there is a bigger chance of him making the roster than in the old system lead by Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma.

From the sound of it, Pittsburgh’s new playing style seems much more attractive for a hockey lover than the old one. And we are talking about a team that has been one of the most goal-scoring teams in the league during the past five seasons. The new identity may take a while to adapt to and all the pieces may not work out, but the feel of the situation in Pittsburgh right now is good. Everyone seems to be on the same page and buying in to the new way of life. General manager Jim Rutherford may have to go out and get some reinforcements in March or even earlier, but hopefully there won’t be too much of a roller coaster ride this season.

Players To Watch For In The Upcoming Season

David Clarkson W Toronto Maple Leafs

After signing the massive contract last July, expectations were high for David Clarkson. Coming off a 20 goal season before signing a massive 7 year $36.75M contract, Clarkson was expected to score goals, be truculent, and be a leader of the team. Granted, Clarkson was one and a half of those things. He was truculent,  getting  159 hits and 93 penalty minutes. He was sort of the leader of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the same time. He was a protector of Phil Kessel and the waterbottle.

Every team needs a character player or two, but not for the price that the Leafs are paying him. Make sure to watch his play this season. If he plays poorly, he becomes one of the biggest busts of the entire NHL. If he plays well, suddenly the contract doesn’t become so bad. Players with similar cap hit and similar age include: David Krejci (28), Joffrey Lupul (30), Nathan Horton (29).

 

 

Bobby Ryan W Ottawa Senators

It was suggested that the return for Jason Spezza  would be rather thrifty to save money. For once, it was not cause the Senators’ budget got cut again. It was suggested that the team was trying to save up money so they could re-sign Bobby Ryan. He currently has a cap hit of $5.1M for the upcoming season and is an unrestricted free agent after that. If the Senators want to blow up the team, next year would be a great year to start. Methot, MacArthur, Anderson, and Ryan are both UFAs after next year, and Phillips, Neil, and Legwand are all UFAs after that.  That would leave Michalek and Karlsson as the only players earning $4M or more. For what it’s worth, Bobby Ryan reportedly does not own a home in Ottawa and lives in Idaho in the off season. So for the paranoid people, he clearly isn’t committed at all. For the rest of us, carry on.

The Importance of Centermen

Jim Rutherford is well on his way of building a new Pittsburgh Penguins team. I like his vision of building a roster that is strong down the middle. Having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Rutherford really doesn’t have another choice, but I like that he considers this a key thing in winning the Stanley Cup.

Centermen are generally the smartest hockey players; they see big portions of the ice and play a part in every aspect of the game. Therefore, there is no accident that most of the greatest hockey players of all time played as centers.  What differ them from all the other hockey-crazed kids growing up is their mind. Their hockey awareness is just so big that it can’t fit into another position on the ice, even as such an early stage in their careers. The center position allows them to be as involved as their skill demands. Defensemen do also have a good look of the ice, but they usually just see it from one side: a defenseman never gets the opportunity to see the game from the opponents’ side, simple because they almost always are skating backwards. Wingers a too locked into the sides of the ice, which gives them a more static view of the game.

In order to win the Stanley Cup, your great centers need to be stars and your good ones need to be character players. And all of them need to be leaders. One big aspect of winning in the playoff is the penalty kill. I always feel much more comfortable having a center as a leader of that four man group, face-offs being one of the reasons. You don’t need a great power play to win a Stanley Cup, sometimes not even a good one. But it certainly doesn’t hurt having two great centermen setting up goal-scoring opportunities in the man advantage.

Just ask any GM whom their first choice would be if they got the chance to build a team from scratch. All of them would pick a center and it would be one of these names: Crosby, Malkin, Toews, Kopitar, Tavares, Stamkos, Datsyuk, Bergeon.