The Flying Marchand and the Comeback Kids

Today’s blog will be a 2-for-1 special. I had to move over the week and wasn’t really able to catch the games in full, so let’s catch the game in 6 for both and… and see that Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak have become Gods, apparently.

Real talk now. WHAT. A. HIT. Good God the Dream laid the smackdown on Marchand. He had his whiny face on for a minute or two after he took that hit, and it was glorious considering what he does to us. Naz wasn’t great on the dot over the past few games before they hit the B’s, which is thankfully starting to become uncharacteristic, but he put up 2 points and was a +3 on the night so you can’ really complain on that front.

Mo’ Riels continues to show up strong game in and game out with an assist off a shot from the point. And, Optimus Reim has thrown together a win streak, which is nice in small bursts this season (Come on Matthews) but whats impressive is his consistently above .920 save %. Reimer has clearly shown that if he hasn’t been hit in the head, he’s a world-beater.

Last but not least on my “list of guys to talk about” is Tyler Bozak. BOOST YOUR VALUE BUDDY! He is an absolute MONSTER on faceoffs. I went through the backlog of game stats and it’s easier to count the number of games where he’s been below 50%. 12. 12 games out of 46. Just above a quarter. so 74% of all games, Bozak will win you at least half of the Draws he takes.

Now lets get to the Team as a whole. Did anyone see this last year? For a team of misfit forwards, they show a hell of a lot of heart game in and game out. Usually it’s been in the form of not laying up 2 stinker games in a row, but these past 2 games it’s been in the form of pushing back and getting the win despite everything saying they wouldn’t. We’ve heard it all year that this team was going to have to score by committee and that’s rung even more true since JVR went down. Parenteau when he has time and space (the shoot out and the powerplay, vs his lame-duckness on 5-v-5) Shawn Matthias, Leo “All Star/Leading Scorer” Komarov. Guys who we’d have never expected to be as effective as they are, are getting it done. This is what happens when you have a proper support network through management. Everyone knew Horacheck wasn’t expected to win, and The Toastmaster should never have been brought back last year at the start, but In the long run it got us Babcock, and that’s what’ll propel the Leafs forward in the long run.

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Despite Ticket Drive, Las Vegas Remains A Doubtful City

As the NHL expansion drama develops, it seems like Las Vegas and Quebec City will be inevitably chosen. Significantly the NHL’s excessive terms have changed the minds of possible bidders from Hamilton, Toronto, Hartford, Seattle, Portland and Milwaukee. I chose these cities because they and Quebec City have one significant different characteristic from the front-running city, Las Vegas, a credible fan-base.

In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a pre-expansion tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford and gave them the three terms for readmission. These were credible ownership, an NHL acceptable arena, and an adequate fan-base. These conditions are mandatory for every bidder in any future NHL expansion.

The arena and ownership issues are in various stages of development for all the above cities, but all these cities have deep roots in hockey and have no problem with the third condition, the fan-base – except the front-running city, Las Vegas.

Las Vegas typifies the kind of American city that has been so characteristic of the relocation/expansion city choices made during Gary Bettman’s time as Commissioner. Except for Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul, none of them have much interest in or have much history with hockey. Columbus, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Nashville, Anaheim, Raleigh, Phoenix… many of them had to be introduced to and “taught” the game of hockey. Some of them have been successful; many have been money-losers.

They were chosen not because the “fans” in these cities loved hockey but because Bettman and the NHL wanted to be a “big four” sport in the United States, with a lucrative American television contract like the NFL, MLB and the NBA. By spreading the game of hockey all over the United States in unfamiliar markets, it was hoped to make hockey an “American game” – and win that lucrative television contract. As noted above, the results have been very spotty. In some seasons, as many as ten American NHL franchises were losing money.

Meanwhile in Canada and the north-western United States, the areas so conspicuously ignored by the NHL when it came to expansion/relocation, there was fury and bitterness at the NHL’s expansion/relocation choices. Hockey-loving cities like Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hartford were stripped of their teams in favor of money-losing cities like Phoenix. The NHL was deemed anti-Canadian.

There was a “see I told you so” response from Canada when Winnipeg got its team back from Atlanta. And if Quebec City gets the Nordiques back, as seems likely during this coming expansion, more wounds will be healed. Nor can Canadians complain if cites like Seattle, Portland, Hartford, and Milwaukee got a franchise. They all have extensive experience with hockey in the NHL, at the American university level, or deep roots in Canadian junior hockey.

But a city like Las Vegas, like so many other choices made during the Bettman years is at best a 50-50 proposition. It is an interesting novelty now, the first time a “big four” sport tried to establish itself in the city, but will it remain so? Will fans stick with the team during the initial bad times that all expansion teams have at first or will interest wane as the defeats pile up? Everybody knows that except in extreme circumstances, cities like Quebec, Hamilton, Seattle, Portland, etc. are going to stick with their teams through thick and thin. That has not been the case with many American franchises during the Gary Bettman years.

But there are positive signs. The prospective ticket drive has been a success, indicating that many Las Vegas sports fans are willing to put their money where their mouths are. And if hockey does take off in Las Vegas, there is no reason for anybody to complain. Las Vegas, unlike Seattle was ready with both an arena and ownership. Right now, they deserve all the support and best wishes they can get. If they are a success, they will have deserved the hearty congratulations of everybody. They will have earned it.

Stop Playing Favorites, NHL.

Watching WWE’s Royal Rumble this year (the actual match itself, and not the program in full) has now made me start to think about their product recently. They had a champion that nobody liked – Roman Reigns – who had been booed by fans because of his “never say die” attitude.

Case in point (and spoilers for those of you who haven’t watched, even at the time of this publishing): Reigns was punished by McMahon and the “League of Nations”. He took a major beating and had to be helped to the back. As Sheamus was entering the match, Reigns came from out of nowhere and attacked him. He ultimately gets eliminated, and Vince gets the last laugh as Triple H wins the title at the close of the show. Triple H hasn’t been seen on free television in at least a month, but with the McMahon/Reigns storyline, do you expect someone different to win the title? Not on your life.

So why am I bringing up wrestling in a hockey blog? The Royal Rumble this year is strangely similar to what NBC’s ideas are. They consistently shove players and teams down your throat and expect you to like what you’re seeing.

Not a huge fan of the Sidney Crosby/Alex Ovechkin feud after all these years? Too bad, because you would’ve gotten the next chapter of their “rivalry” if DC wasn’t still snowed in. I’m personally sick of something that only the media would over-hype. (Crosby comes back from a concussion, and it’s a bigger story than a Boston/Montreal game. If my memory serves me right, didn’t NBCSN actually air a Crosby game in Boston’s spot once? Yeah, surprise!)

Taylor Hall versus Tyler Seguin was also supposed to be hyped – and that didn’t happen. Boston (now Dallas) and Edmonton never had that nice ring to it. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel aren’t getting attention either, also due to their cities seeing each other no more than twice. So let’s just ignore them, shall we? Besides, they’re not players who NBC’s executives want you to see.

They want you to see as much of Crosby and Ovechkin as possible. And when you think about it, it’s not just the players who get too much attention – it’s also the teams. Wednesday Night Rivalry is so chock full of the same teams these days, that it’s no longer entertaining. Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington… Need I say anything else? You barely have a Western Conference team there, unless the network decided to throw them in as part of a doubleheader. That’s been a bit more frequent, but not good enough for me.

I know those are NBC’s cash cows, but give me a break. There are other rivalries out there that should get attention. Montreal got one or two appearances on American television twice last season, I believe, mainly due to Boston getting the time with them. Toronto being the visitors to the ’14 Winter Classic got them some love as well. But if you pay attention to the commercials for – throwing something out there for evidence – Winter Classics in the past, will you get the picture as well?

2009 – Pittsburgh @ Buffalo – not sure what the ads were.
2010 – Philadelphia @ Boston – players walking towards a pond, bringing back childhood memories.
2011 – Detroit @ Chicago – clips of both teams to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.
2012 – Washington @ Pittsburgh – Crosby versus Ovechkin. Need I say more?

I might be in the minority, but I absolutely hated the concept of ’12’s ad for the game. If they had given some other players some love, it wouldn’t have been such a huge problem on my end. Might not be your opinion.

So NBC, do me a favor – stop getting pushed around. There are other teams in the league that never get attention, regardless of how good they’re doing… And that’s only because the league’s laughing their way to the bank with their media-obsessed rivalries.

Montreal’s Best Hockey Team – And Why You Need to Start Watching CWHL Hockey

Olympians. All-stars. Champions. Icons. They were all present at the Etienne-Desmarteau arena in Montreal this weekend, as the Calgary Inferno paid a visit to the Montreal Canadiennes for back-to-back matches Saturday and Sunday, with top spot in the league at play.

When it was all said and done, the Canadiennes won both games and found themselves atop the league, having edged 2 points ahead of the Inferno. Thanks to stellar performances from goaltender Charline Labonté, Montreal picked up a 5-2 win on Saturday, and followed that with a 3-1 win on Sunday afternoon.

During the weekend series, three Montreal players tallied 4 points: Caroline Ouellette, Ann-Sophie Bettez and Marie-Philip Poulin. Noémie Marin also picked up a goal and three assists. Poulin now has 30 points, good for top spot in the league (she also has the most goals with 17), while Bettez has 29 points and leads the league in assists. Both were dominant throughout the weekend, despite an injury scare to Marie-Philip Poulin in Saturday’s game.

She took a shot off the wrist mid way through the game, yelping in pain and quickly skating to the bench. She immediately received attention from trainer Megan Hooker, and, while crumpled beside the player’s bench, was visited and patted on the helmet by a few of her teammates. After a few shifts during which her absence was noticed, Poulin was back on the ice and the entire Canadiennes team benefited from the morale boost, and moving on to secure the win. I spoke with Poulin briefly after the Sunday game, and Marie-Philip says it’s a bit sore but completely playable. Half of her right forearm is a purple mess, but she was in great spirits – a true competitor.

Montreal had 2 solid showings. Both games started with stellar goaltending at both ends and saw back-to-back scoreless first periods. Both Labonté and Delayne Brian (Calgary’s netminder) showed crease skills with big saves coming at each end. Brian, statistically inferior to Labonté, seemed to be daring the Montreal team to bring its offense with each save she made. Unfortunately for her, the Canadiennes were simply too much to handle on both days; not so much that I did not walk away very impressed with Brian’s game.

Brittany Esposito, Elana Lovell and Louise Warren each picked up 2 points on Saturday in what was a tremendous back and forth game. While Sunday’s game saw Calgary only pick up a single goal, it was noteworthy in that Jenna Cunningham scored a goal in her milestone 100th CWHL game. Cunningham also picked up 3rd star honours on Sunday.

Calgary had rolled into Montreal sitting in the #1 spot in the CWHL, with the home team a mere two points back in the standings. Both Calgary and Montreal are high-powered offensive teams than seem to score at will, and despite world-class goaltending, fans were treated to some wild offense in both games, which totaled over 11 goals.

About the CWHL, for those who haven’t become fans yet. Between Montreal’s and Calgary’s rosters there were:

  • 8 players present this weekend who were on the silver medal squad from this past week’s 4 Nations Cup
  • 10 Olympians from the 2014 games (7 for Canada, 1 for the USA and 2 for Japan)
  • 17/34 (50%) of the CWHL All-Star Game roster from two weeks ago

The CWHL offers fast-paced, world-class hockey. It does so by having elite athletes among their teams. The rules are almost identical to what you get in the NHL, though a major difference comes with contact. Women’s hockey in general plays a “contact-no-checking” style of hockey, where bumping a player, some physical play along the boards and bit of clutching are tolerated – but big whopping body checks, open ice hulk smashes are left behind. The result is intense, back and forth hockey, quick transitions in the neutral zone and the development of players’ skill with the puck, rather than for booming hits.

As a hardcore hockey fan, one who in his youth cheered for massive collisions, hip-checks and the odd hockey fight, I have become “softer” into my adulthood. I appreciate a well-timed hit… as long as it’s legal. Contact in hockey is supposed to have the effect of separating a player from the puck. That’s all. The NHL tolerates violence in a way that is endangering its players’ safety and long term mental health (see: concussions). Here is a glaring example of where the CWHL is just simply better.

These women play for keeps. If you don’t belive me, go watch Brittany Esposito play a full game and tell me she isn’t a fierce competitor. I was wildly impressed by her tenacity, her dogged puck-hounding and her winning spirit. She wanted to win those games and she was going to leave everything she had on the ice trying to make it happen. The same can be said for Montreal’s Jordanna Peroff, particulary on Sunday, who was physical in every way that one should be on the ice.

If you have never watched a full CWHL game, but really enjoy hockey, it’s not too late to start. This league features a concentration of world-class athletes playing the game the way it’s meant to be played. My in-laws, whom I took to the game, are not Canadian, they are not hockey maniacs like me. They commented to me after the game that there was no violence, there was no excessive hitting, and that the game was fast, exciting, and very fun to watch. They were kind of surprised, actually.

Think about that. In the NHL they talk about the dead puck era. They talk about goons and fighters, “the code”. With the CWHL you get hockey. Pure, unbridled joy of watching the game. Watching players who themselves feel the buzz and excitement of stepping onto the ice and play for the love of the game. What I watched was elite level hockey, fast transitions in the neutral zone and lots of quality team play at both ends of the ice. These women can skate, pass and shoot with the best hockey players in the world, and have immense fun doing it. Next time someone tells me I play like a girl, I’ll thank them and move on.

Lastly, players from both teams are gracious in interacting with the fans, signing autographs and taking pictures immediately following the game. This is something that you don’t see in other major sports (and by all accounts may not last forever here) and that will help grow the game. I watched young girls aged anywhere from 5 to about 16, all excited, delighted to meet the players and take selfies. The passion the players have passes directly to their fans. I am glad to already be a part of this bandwagon and look forward to its continual growth.

The Canadiennes are playing host again this upcoming Saturday, with the Brampton Beast in town. The best part of all is that it costs only $15 to get in. Last I checked, that’s about the price of a beer at any NHL venue. The rinks are small, the view is great. The action is fast and furious. You won’t regret it, I promise. If you cannot make it to a game that you want to follow, check out the CWHLLive streams from CWHL.ca

 

Not Your Average Hockey Blog Mock Draft!

As one of our first posts in our reboot, we would like to revive a yearly tradition and present to you our 2016 NHL Mock Draft 1.0. How is this mock draft different from last year? Our mock draft has been relatively accurate in the years. Eight out of thirty (27%), of projected draft picks were drafted within two picks of the projected slots in 2013, eleven out of thirty (37%) in 2014 ,and ten out of thirty (30%) in 2015.

As part of our increased coverage and increased writers, we are able to simultaneously give eight, that’s right eight mock drafts all at once!

Each individual mock draft has been submitted by their writers themselves, and we’re excited to see if we have any changes during the year!

Some notes from our writers:

Ok, so. Say you really want a top flight Defenceman. And say your team is underperforming under a new head coach – badly. What do you do? If you said trade your #1 Centerman and pray for 1st overall, you may just be qualified to GM the Columbus Blue Jackets. All kidding aside, Columbus needs a top centre after acquiring Seth Jones, and who better to fill that role than potential Franchise player Auston Matthews? From there things get a bit hectic. The Leafs want Alex Nylander, but it’d be unjustifiable to draft him at #2, and they aren’t stupid enough to trade away the 2nd overall pick (Shut up). So instead they’ll take a player with familiarity with ANOTHER of their top flight prospects, Matthew Tkachuk, who plays with Mitch Marner in London. Buffalo needs Defence to go with their shiny new Eichel, so they’ll go with the best guy in the draft at that position in Jakob Chychrun. In a surprise move, Edmonton finally realize they have enough forwards and go with Olli Juolevi. Calgary and Winnipeg get amazing players in Laine and Puljujarvi almost by default based on the need of teams ahead of them, and Anaheim has enough size that they can justify drafting high skill baby Ny (and we don’t have to play him much, YAY). I don’t think Carolina will keep elder Staal so it’s time they start building around new young centre Mcleod. Nashville gets a new Jones so fans who bought Seth’s Jersey only have to change the number on the back and hey, kid’s a whiz offensively in his first OHL season so that’s a plus. And last but not least the Flyers continue to fill the Void that is their defence with young Mikhail Sergachev, and may actually get somewhere with him. – Jordan Doran

I chose Charles McAvory for the Sharks because, after the first half of this season, the entire club knows that the team is in desperate need of more skilled d-men. They need a solid stay-at-home defenseman. McAvory could end up being that guy. – Aidan Carlsen explaining his rationale on the Sharks pick.

I had Jacob Chychrun dropping to 4 instead of at 3 to the Sabres because the Sabres currently have a top offensive defenseman in development with Rasmus Ristolainen and a strong top 4 defenseman in development with Jake McCabe. The Sabres also have few strong young strong centers in Ryan O’Reilly, Zemgus Girgensons, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart. What they don’t have besides Marcus Foligno is a bit power forward. This is where Patrik Laine comes in. Laine is a hulking forward who uses his size well. His big size and his willingness to use it will be a big factor on the Sabres picking Laine. The Oilers on the other hand need a big mobile defenseman who can man the power play. Chychrun can man the power play and can pair along with Nurse to lead the Oilers into the future. Well this is unless the Oilers get their usual first overall pick… – Alson Lee

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