Joe Veleno Regaining Draft Stock With Strong Resurgence Following Trade

Joe Veleno entered the 2017-18 season as a top 5 prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft. In November, I had him 5th on my list, and viewed him as a future first line centre. A month later, in December, I had him 13th, and viewed him as more of a two way 2C. At that point, I started to doubt if he would be able to produce enough at the NHL level to be a first liner. I haven’t released a ranking since then, but I’m finalizing my list for a February 1st release. In early January, when his slump continued, my initial doubts worsened, and I began to believe that he might only ever be a 3C. Now, in late January, I see him as a 2C again, thanks to him breaking out of a lengthy slump following a trade deadline move.

On December 8, Joe Veleno was traded from the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Drummondville Voltigeurs for 3 QMJHL 1st round picks and 2 secound round selections. Veleno moved from the QMJHL’s second last team to the fourth best. With the Sea Dogs, Veleno had 31 points in 31 games. Those are good numbers, but not what is expected from a top 5, or even top 8 pick. So far with Drummondville, he has 15 points in 10 games, a 1.5 PPG clip. That’s top 5 production. When a player goes from a bad team to a good team, a rise in production is expected. However, I think Veleno should still get credit for ending his slump.

Veleno was at a PPG with one of the league’s worst teams, and he’s now at 1.5 PPG with one of the best. Using some amateur analytics , we can say that Veleno would be at roughly 1.25 PPG, top 10 numbers, on an average team.

I ultimately see Veleno as a second line centre, and a top 15 pick. He has only played 10 games with his new team, so the emphasis placed on his play with Drummondville should he limited. I think he will end up with about a 1.25 PPG by the end of the season. Good numbers, but I still don’t know if he has the offensive potential for the first line. Instead, he looks best suited to lead a second line that can both produce offense and shutdown the opposition’s top players, thanks to his 200-foot game.

There is still lots of time left for Veleno to regain the massive potential that he used to have. It’s hard to regain lost ground, but the hard-working Veleno could certainly accomplish that. Keep an eye on this kid.

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Horrible One-Sided Trade For The Ottawa Senators

It was not a happy Hockey Day In Canada for the Ottawa Senators. On the very day that the Senators and their prized acquisition, Matt Duchene blew yet another two goal league to arch-rival, Toronto, Duchene’s old team, the Colorado Avalanche won their ninth straight game, putting themselves in a playoff position, while the Senators drop further away out of sight.

Ottawa must still be reeling from the shock. Nobody would have predicted such a one-sided trade. What’s even more horrible is that Ottawa was supposed to be the big winner. To recap: Ottawa got Duchene from Colorado in return for a bunch of players and at the same time let Kyle Turris go to Nashville. To rub it in, Nashville is now leading their division and Turris has made a significant contribution, while the Senators have got virtually nothing from Duchene.

Getting Duchene made sense for Ottawa. Last year in the playoffs they solidly defeated a tough Boston Bruins team and then pulled off one of the two major upsets of the Stanley Cup tournament by ousting the New York Rangers. The Senators weren’t through either. They proved to be Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins toughest opponent, going toe to toe with them for the maximum seven games and only losing in double overtime. To General Manager Pierre Dorion, the difference in that series was that the Penguins had two superstar players at forward, Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, arguably the best player in the world and the best European player in the world. Dorion figured that if he could acquire a superstar forward of his own, it would be the final piece of the puzzle that would put Ottawa past Pittsburgh and give them a Stanley Cup to match their recent Grey Cup. Dorion was not alone in such thinking. Many fans, coaches, media, other general managers, etc. believed it too.

So with the best will in the world, Dorion looked around for a superstar forward. The biggest prize available seemed to be Matt Duchene who was rumored to be available for the right price. In a way, Colorado was trying to imitate the Pittsburgh formula for building a Stanley Cup champion, by molding a team around two superstar forwards, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. But the Pittsburgh formula was not working in Denver and the Avalanche finished near the bottom of the standings last year. It was rumored that Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic had made Duchene – significantly not MacKinnon – available for a trade.

Sakic obviously made a sound assessment of his club. As things would turn out he picked the right source for the “cancer” on the team and then kept the result close to the chest. His accurate assessment qualifies him to being named this year’s top General Manager of the NHL, in conjunction with Las Vegas General Manager George McPhee. One only has to compare the result of Sakic’s diagnosis with that of Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin who targeted P.K. Subban as the scapegoat for Montreal missing the playoffs two years  ago and shipped him to – a potential deja vu for Dorion – Nashville. And today, both Ottawa and Montreal are out of the playoffs by a wide margin while the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche soar.

So without divulging the reason for his assessment, Sakic held out until he got what he believed was the right equivalent for Duchene and then let him go to Ottawa. Nobody flinched at the move. As an added incentive, getting Duchene would seem to be a way for Ottawa Senator owner, Eugene Melnyk to tell local Ottawa politicians, “We’re serious about winning the Stanley Cup. Now provide funds for building a new arena.”

For Duchene, perhaps it meant he was now going to be released from playing under the shadow of MacKinnon and be given his own team to lead. But instead of responding to the challenge, Duchene has failed to produce and Ottawa, once so close it seemed to the Stanley Cup now finds itself in the dregs of the league. Nobody would have predicted this. It was supposed to be a win-win-win trade for every team. Instead Ottawa stands fleeced.

Who do you blame? How can you blame coach Guy Boucher who got his team to respond so well in the playoffs last year and until Duchene appeared, had the Senators in playoff contention this year? Obviously Dorion is going to get a lot of blame, but other NHL general managers, coaches, media, fans too numerous to count, believed in Duchene too. Duchene was coveted by a lot of teams. This trade seems to prove Sakic’s worth as a general manager, rather than any deficiency by Pierre Dorion. And owner Melnyk approved the trade for the arena reasons listed above. There have been no further moves since the trade by Ottawa. Probably the results have left the owner, general manager, coach and the rest of the team in shock, stunned.

As to why Duchene has proven to be not what he was projected to be, there you have me. Obviously I am not close to the Senators. I am not acquainted with Duchene personally so I cannot accurately access why he failed to respond in his new environment. Obviously Sakic and the Avalanche management had come to believe that he was not what he was projected to be and wanted him gone and carefully and wisely kept it to themselves. They were lying in wait, ready to take advantage when any inquiring general manager like Pierre Dorion came calling.

So most of the blame clearly falls on Duchene. A lot of people are going to be refining their judgment and assessments about him. There is no way Ottawa is going to get what they paid for if they try to trade him. If he became a free agent, there is no way he is going to command the salary he once seemed to merit. Unless he turns things around, his value on the NHL market will take a severe drop.

Unless Duchene becomes what he was projected to be, this trade will become one of the worst or best in NHL history, depending on who you are cheering for. Not even the Gretzky trade of 1988 was so one-sided. Edmonton won one more Stanley Cup without Gretzky, while he failed to take the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup. So far, a more accurate trade to compare this one to was the one in which the Chicago Blackhawks traded Phil Esposito to the Boston Bruins. Esposito subsequently became the NHL scoring champion and Boston won two Stanley Cups while Chicago had to wait over 40 years until the days of Jonathan Toews to win the Cup again.

Right now it is a nightmare to play for or be part of the ownership, management, and coaching staff of the Ottawa Senators. A logical trade, one that most people might have predicted that Ottawa would win has blown up to catastrophic proportions. The team that seemed one step away from the Stanley Cup now has plunged into the depths of the NHL. And still worse, from Duchene’s point of view, they can accurately name the date of when it started to occur.

 

McDavid Years Are Not Imitating The Gretzky Years For The Edmonton Oilers

Danish hockey fans awaiting the World Championships in May, in Denmark are going to get an unexpected major, bonus, windfall for their tournament. They are going to get to see Canada’s best young player, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, arguably one of the two best players in the world today, along with Sydney Crosby, captain the Canadian team. That ought to boost ticket sales. The World Championship tournament will be the only significant, pressure games that McDavid will play this year.

Unless a miracle of a long winning streak(s) occur, the 2017-18 season is over for the Edmonton Oilers. Currently they are behind the top eight teams in the NHL Western Conference by more than 10 points – and four other teams are poised to pull away to be just as far if not farther. It is probably too late for Edmonton to catch them. For the remainder of the year, the Oilers will occupy a space with the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks, who are supposed to be where they are, far away from the top twelve teams in the conference and comfortably above the horrible Arizona Coyotes. That was expected of Vancouver, not Edmonton. Their unexpected drop has been the reverse equivalent of the success of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights. If one didn’t know any better, one would assume that the Knights were the established, rising power, while the Oilers were the new expansion team.

The fall of the Oilers is an unpredictable shock, and it has its Eastern Conference match in the Buffalo Sabres. Both teams were supposed to be building around two rising young stars, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel but instead of moving forward from the progress they have made, both teams have dramatically regressed and are now top contenders to land the supposed number one draft choice, Rasmus Dalhin of Sweden. But in McDavid’s case, he also carries two burdens; first being the projected successor to Sydney Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain (the line of Canada’s top players, head and shoulders above everybody else, starting with Maurice Richard) which includes Wayne Gretzky; and second, being Gretzky’s heir in Edmonton. Gretzky himself is back with the Oilers and is acting as McDavid’s mentor.

mcdavid

Much of the blame for the current unexpected result will fall on coach Todd McLellan who has an undistinguished record as a head coach at the NHL level. Unless that miraculous winning streak occurs, he is probably a goner at the end of this season. Dan Bylsma, ironically the fired coach of the Buffalo Sabres, whom impatient owner Terry Pegula abruptly dismissed, who once won the Stanley Cup with Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, ought to be a leading candidate to replace him. But the real problem that General Manager Peter Chiarelli has to determine is if changing coaches is the only problem.

This situation is in direct contrast with the Gretzky years in Edmonton, which proceeded on schedule like an upward Bell Curve. Except for one hiccup, a shocking playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 1982 playoffs (which included the legendary “Miracle on Manchester” game of Los Angeles Kings’ lore), it was onward and upward for Gretzky and the Oilers until he was shockingly traded in 1988. There were no regressions like McDavid is currently suffering.

Gretzky

Gretzky had entered the NHL with the merger of the WHA league in 1980 and under the merger terms, the four new franchises, Edmonton, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford were severely stripped of most of their players. The Oilers were allowed to retain Gretzky and because of him, they never missed the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the very early years, the Oilers status was that of a very bad playoff team that always lost in the first round, but during their third year, the Oilers, heavy underdogs, upended the declining Montreal Canadiens of the legendary Guy Lafleur in the first playoff round and then seldom looked back.

The fall of the current Oilers could only be temporary. If the coach is the problem, an established winning coach like Bylsma could right the ship within one season and have the Oilers back to where they were projected to be as the coming powerhouse of the NHL. Every member of Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain won at least one Stanley Cup and the current disappointing season won’t dim those expectations in Edmonton. The real dilemma is finding out if there is more to the problem than the coach and that again sharply contrasts with the Gretzky years.

Perhaps the main contrast with the current McDavid years and the Gretzky years is that everything the Oilers touched with Gretzky turned to gold. Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, both goaltenders, Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr are only the up-front players. There was also Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen, Charlie Huddy… the list goes on and on.

In contrast, since the departure of Chris Pronger, the Oilers have a horrible record of developing players and nobody can say why. The latest problem child is Anton Slepyshev whom Chiarelli says is available for the right price. Four times, the Oilers had the overall number one pick in the NHL draft; McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov. Only Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid remain. Hall was the best of the bunch after McDavid, and is now recovering his status in New Jersey. Yakupov plays a minor role in Colorado and Nugent-Hopkins has never lived up to his status as the over-all number one pick.

Then it gets worse. The departed Ales Hemsky, San Gagner, and Jordan Eberle were the best of a bunch of forgettables. Also during this period, the Oilers have changed coaches, general managers, uniform colors, and even arenas. There is no magic like there was during the Gretzky years. And that is Chiarelli’s main problem. Is getting rid of McLellan enough? Or is there some kind of developmental or even spiritual problem, hard to identify, that has been poisoning the Oilers for over a decade? If the problem is more than the coach, it is going to be very difficult to identify it and root it out. The Oilers have been trying to find it without success for over a decade. Last year, it seemed they had finally got over the hump and were on their way, but this year…

There is a writer for this blog, Sam Happi that specializes in articles about draft picks and the development of young prospects. He has got some potential surreal articles coming up. Imagine, Danish fans getting to see one of Canada’s all time greatest players, Connor McDavid playing in their World Championship tournament in May. Imagine, Rasmus Dalhin, the projected number one pick in this year’s draft in Dallas lining up next year as McDavid’s teammate. None of this would have been predicted at the start of this season. It would have been treated like a joke or a prophet who had lost his marbles.

It’s no laughing matter for Edmonton fans. Is this just one bad year that can be blamed on a coach or is it the continuation of a nightmare that has been going on for over ten years, that nobody has ever found out why it keeps occurring?

 

The Oilers Playoff Hopes Are All But Gone, But The 2018 Draft Offers A Chance To Fill Holes For The Future

Nothing has gone right for the Edmonton Oilers. They’ve had plenty of injuries, slumps from key players, and absolutely dismal special teams. Through 43 games this season, the Oilers have put up just 39 points, good for 3rd last in the Pacific. Although they aren’t mathematically eliminated yet, the chances of them surging back to make the playoffs are slim, especially with how they have been playing lately.

The Oilers have lost their last two games 1-5 and 1-4, to the Stars and Blackhawks. Before that, they beat the Ducks in a shootout, and prior to that, they lost twin 5-0 games to Kings and Ducks. They’ve rarely looked liked the team they were last year, when they were playing their best hockey of the last decade. Last year was a nice break from the darkness for Oilers fans, but it looks like true light won’t come to Oil Country until next year at the earliest, and that’s optimistic.

As it stands now, the Edmonton Oilers are not a playoff team. They were last year, but due to declining players and significant downgrades in the offseason, that is no longer true. Currently they are a top 6 winger and a solid defenceman short of being playoff-calibre. The Oilers had both last year, but thanks to Peter Chiarelli, they now lack both. When Chiarelli moved Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in the offseason, he lost the top 6 winger that Eberle was, getting a 3rd line forward in return, and by declining to replace declining borderline third pairing defenceman with a better option, he weakened the defence corps of this team. Last year, Russell was a #4 defenceman, but only when Andrej Sekera was there to help hin out. This season, he has struggled on defence, the only aspect of his game he isn’t terrible at. He consistently makes poor reads, and has seemingly forgotten how to defend a two on one, choosing to play the shooter on more occasions than I can count on one hand. Just in case you aren’t aware, you are supposed to play the pass on those. Don’t worry if you got that wrong though, I can’t really blame you. If an NHL player making $4 million a year doesn’t know, why should you?

Peter Chiarelli has created holes in this team, and it is too late for a quick fix. However, it can be patched up after just one year out of the playoffs, and that is what most Oilers fans will want. Few people will want to go back into a short rebuild after a decade of absence from the playoffs, and lucky for them, this is the plan that Chiarelli will likely follow, based on his track record of panic and lack of patience.

If I were Peter Chiarelli, I would be looking to add a young top 6 scoring winger, at the cost of a defenceman like Klefbom or Nurse. Then, I would begin to shop both Milan Lucic and Kris Russell, in an effort to lose those terrible contracts so the cap space to keep Nuge would be there, as well as some additional room to surround McDavid with more speedy talent, or to retain Maroon.

By filling the forward need, we weakened our defense, so now we need to add a defenceman or two. That’s where the draft comes in. Without one of Klefbom or Nurse, the already poor defence is even worse, and the offence, even with the addition of Hoffman, would still be unable to make up for it. This is an issue that won’t be able to be resolved this season, because this is where the draft comes in.

The 2018 NHL Draft lacks the top centre prospects that usually occupy the top positions in the draft. Instead, those spots are filled with wingers and defencemen, the two very needs that the Oilers have. In the grand scheme of things, it may actually be a good thing that the Oilers have played so poorly this season, as the draft is perfectly suited for their needs. Rasmus Dahlin, the prize of the draft, would be a great fit, especially if they move a left handed defenseman like Klefbom or Nurse. He’s a guy that could jump right into a top 4 role as the clear Calder favourite. By 2021, whoever has him could very well have the best defenseman in the league. If the Oilers lottery luck continues, they could have both the leagues best forward in McDavid, and the best defensemen with Dahlin.

If they don’t get the first pick in the draft, they can still get their hands on a solid consolation prize. Svechnikov, Zadina and Tkachuk, ranked #2, 3 and 5, are all game changing wingers (Tkachuk can also play centre, but I, as well as many other scouts, see him as a winger long term), while Adam Boqvist and Quinn Hughes (#4 and 6), are future top pairing defensemen. Ty Smith, Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard have top 4 potential. All of those players will be impact players for the team that drafts them, and for one of those players, that team will likely be the Edmonton Oilers.

Best case scenario, the Oilers get the first pick and take Dahlin. That would be fantastic for the future of the team and their blueline. However, more likely than not, they end up with a pick somewhere in the 2-10 range, and that means that they’ll draft either a winger or a defenceman. The later in the draft that their pick ends up being, the more likely it gets that they tale a defenseman. If they do get an earlier pick, probably somewhere in the 2-5 range, chances are that they’ll end up with one of the 3 wingers I have ranked there. If that happens, their blueline still needs some help. In that scenario, they would need to make a trade to add another defenseman, and in that scenario, I would be looking at trading Kailer Yamamoto for a young top 4 defensive prospect.

If I were Peter Chiarelli, thinking like Peter Chiarelli, that would be the course of action that I would take if I wanted to try to fix this in a short amount of time, and this may be what he tries to do. Chiarelli has a history of making bets and taking chances, and there is a lot of that in this plan.

Now, if I were GM, and I was thinking like myself, not Chiarelli, I would do things differently. Today’s NHL is built around speed, and I would try to build this team around that. Chiarelli built this team for the 2012 NHL, back when heavy hockey was the way to go. Nowaday’s, the game is too fast for that style, and the Oilers need to adjust to fit that fast style of game, and that means a moderate overhaul of this team.

Under my direction, the team would essentially go into a 2-3 year rebuild. I’d try to move Maroon and any other UFAs with any value at the deadline, and I would shop Russell and Lucic. I could see the Canadiens taking Lucic, they have some cap space, and adding another middle six winger would allow them to use Gallagher or Galchenyuk to add a centre. Montreal was also interested in him when he was available as a free agent, and was even reportingly willing to give him 7 million dollars a year. Russell will be harder to move, he makes a very small impact offensively, and his defense appears to have declined since last year, as he now makes at least one terrible defensive play each game, something I didn’t notice last year. The only thing he is good at is shot blocking, which really isn’t as great as a lot of people make it out to be, as for every quality shot he blocks, he makes two poor defensive plays, essentially canceling out his shot blocking. Both Russell and Lucic do have no-move clauses in their contracts, so hopefully they’ll waive those. If they resist, maybe spending the rest of the season in the press box will convince them. Getting Russell and his overall negative impact out of the lineup will be a positive anyways.

Moving those two players will only add to the holes in this lineup, which is why they’ll need to undergo a short rebuild first. Yamamoto will be the top 6 winger replacing Lucic, likely as soon as next year. I’d still like to see them add another, preferably a left winger. We’ve already got Puljujarvi and Yamamoto on the right side long term. That winger will come through the draft, as will the top 4 defenseman that they also need to add. The 2018 draft is deep defensively, so it is likely best for them to add the blueliner there, but if a winger like Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom is the best player available and they take him, you won’t see me complaining. They can try to get a defenseman like Bowen Byram, Tobias Bjornfot, Ilia Mironov or Matthew Robertson in the 2019 class. The one thing that needs to happen though, is them adding a top 4 defence prospect and a future top 6 winger. If they do that, they’ll have pretty solid top 6 and top 4 groups.

In this post, I’ve gone over two possible courses of action that could be taken to try to make this team a true contender. The first was what I believe that Chiarelli will try; a plan including panic and weakening one area of the team to improve another. It could work and get the Oilers to the playoffs next year, but it seems more likely that the defence will just be too weak for them to extend their season. The second plan is the map that I would follow as GM; essentially a short rebuild, where they trade away vets and count on the draft to fill holes.

The two plans differ dramatically. One has panic, the other patience. One is short, but risky, the other is longer and safe. One might temporarily fix the team now, while the other will guarantee a future of success in Edmonton.

Which way will Chiarelli go?

As Predicted: The Carolina Hurricanes Aren’t Coming To Quebec City Or Hartford

The sale of the Carolina Hurricanes by Peter Karmanos to Tom Dundon means that at least for a while, the Hurricanes won’t be coming to either Quebec City or Hartford. Despite rumors that have arisen over the past few years, this writer at least has been steadfast in believing that the Hurricanes will stay in North Carolina despite the noticeable drop in attendance.

The main reason for the drop is not that hockey has become unpopular in North Carolina but because Carolina hasn’t iced a competitive team for almost a decade. During Karmanos’s last years, the Hurricanes declined from the peak of winning the Stanley Cup in 2002. The last sparkle was the Hurricanes getting to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009. Since then the Hurricanes could usually be found among the lower ranks of the Eastern Conference. No wonder attendance dropped off.

But if Dundon shows the same kind of competence that Bill Foley is showing in Las Vegas, there is no reason to believe that the fans won’t come back. Like the New York Islanders, who have struggled with attendance and arena problems since their peak years in the early 1980s, winning the Stanley Cup can go a long way to get a franchise to survive during tough times. The memory of winning seasons, can cause ex-attendee fans to remember back to the glory years and long for a champion again. Winning the Stanley Cup even once starts a championship tradition.

Certainly NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman believes in the power of a Stanley Cup victory. He was in attendance when Dundon was introduced, an open signal that he still believes in the Carolina market. Such optimism is completely missing in his two remaining trouble spots, Florida and especially Phoenix where no Stanley Cup banners hang in the local arena. A huge reason for the unpopularity of the Coyotes in Arizona is that they have only iced a competitive team once in their entire history. That’s not true in Carolina. The real danger sign that would threaten the franchise is if the Hurricanes start icing playoff teams again and the fans still don’t return.

Dundon is in a good situation to take over. The Hurricanes are starting to be competitive again. Currently, they have at least a 50% chance of making the playoffs this year and for sure baring injury, of at least being competitive for the last playoff positions. What they really need in this market are star players who are box office draws. The Hurricanes are mostly no-names. Even if they miss the playoffs again this year, a good draft in Dallas and some astute trades could capture the imagination of hockey fans in Raleigh again.

As for Quebec and Hartford, despite the rumors over the past few years, they should now consider getting the Hurricanes to relocate to be a closed book, at least for now. What Hartford should be doing is trying to find a suitable investor like Foley and Dundon to front a Hartford bid for an NHL expansion franchise and coming to a final settlement about the Hartford arena problem. Both the mayor and the governor of Connecticut want the Whalers back as a key to reviving Hartford as a vibrant city. Hartford with a proper NHL arena and a suitable owner would be a winner, a sure money maker.

For Quebec, losing the Hurricanes relocation option simply narrows down the choices to get its beloved Nordiques back. Before proceeding any further, Quebec City fans should take note of this Dundon/Hurricanes press conference as another signal of the real reason why they don’t have the Nordiques back. Note that Commissioner Bettman was there in person, in whole-hearted support of Tom Dundon. Since when has he ever been seen in the company of the openly racist Pierre Karl Peladeau? The NHL loves the Quebec market and its brand new Videotron arena but wants nothing to do with the pro-separatist, would-be Nordiques owner Peladeau, who made inappropriate racist remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson, and has built up a stack of enemies on the NHL Board of Governors.

I’ve advanced the idea in other articles on this blog that Quebec’s best chance of getting the Nordiques back quickly would be if the NHL accepts the current Seattle bid, then adds two other Western Conference expansion teams, and then shifts the Arizona Coyotes to Quebec. This kills two birds with one stone. With the horrible team, the Coyotes are currently icing, there is no way they are going to get public money for building a new downtown Phoenix arena. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns want nothing to do with the Coyotes about building a new facility. Shifting the Coyotes out of Phoenix where they have no future to Quebec gets the NHL out of a hostile market and at the same time gets the unsuitable Peladeau out of the picture.

In support of this theory, the Seattle bid could not be more welcome for Quebec. So is the news that Houston wants to actively pursue getting an NHL franchise. It only remains to find a third western city that wants an NHL team. Unless some suitable French Canadian bidder who has been hiding in the shadows appears, at least for now, that is probably the best way the Nordiques will return to Quebec. But Carolina is now a dead issue. Hartford and Quebec have to look elsewhere.

 

NHL 2017-18 Season Second Quarter Report

It is now approximately halfway through the current season and the second quarter of this year was much different from the second quarter of last year which was characterized by long double digit winning streaks by a few teams. Nobody has had a double digit winning streak this year though the amazing Las Vegas Golden Knights have come the closest so far. Here is a summary of those who won and lost during the second part of the season.

Biggest Winner

New York Islanders

Actually it should be the Knights but the Islanders ended over 30 years of frustration when New York State agreed that a proper, new arena which will seat over 18,000 will finally be built for them. The Islanders are currently in a slump and out of the playoffs but thanks to this news, they could lose every remaining game and still be the biggest winner of the year except for Las Vegas and whoever wins the Stanley Cup. Getting a new arena means that the Islanders ownership and management can at last concentrate on building a true, contending team, starting with the resigning of John Tavares. It also means that the would-be returned Hartford Whalers will have to find either a new potential expansion franchise owner or get another NHL team to consider relocating.

Runners Up

Las Vegas Golden Knights

That the expansion Knights can actually win a playoff spot is a true miracle. That they can actually win the whole Western Conference and be a true Stanley Cup contender might be described as a miracle of miracles. This team had one of the longest winning streaks in the whole NHL during the second part of the season and have yet to have a slump. Do the new Las Vegas fans think this is normal? Their current season and fast development will be the model for every new future NHL expansion team.

Winnipeg Jets

Nobody expected the Jets to be this good. Unless they go into a horrendous slump, it’s likely they will make the playoffs and be regarded as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. They have been winning, lost one of their best players, Mark Scheifele and are still winning. But if they make the playoffs, all the improvements that most of the other top contenders have made will make it tough to take the next step.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins had not done anything noteworthy during the first part of the season largely because the hadn’t played many games. But during the second part of the season they have blossomed and now have a comfortable playoff position. Like the Jets, unless a horrendous slump occurs, expect to see Boston, now regarded as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender back in the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils

Unlike last year, the Devils have not gone into decline after a good first quarter. They are still holding on to a playoff position and top pick Nico Hischier has been everything they had wanted. Their playoff position is precarious but at least they are showing some staying power which they did not have last season.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues are still responding to Mike Yeo’s coaching and have a real shot at winning not only their division but the entire Western Conference. If they make the playoffs, have they improved enough to not only win a playoff round but get over two humps and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, something they have not done since being coached by Scotty Bowman in the 1960s?

Tampa Bay Lightning

They have been the best team in the NHL for the entire year. One big question mark, their goaltending looks solid. But the other big question is can this team stay healthy for once? As was shown last year, this true playoff contender can be undone if certain players get injured.

Nashville Predators

The Stanley Cup runners up of last year actually got better when they got Kyle Turris from Ottawa through Colorado and he has been making a significant contribution since he arrived. Is Turris enough to finally take them all the way? They will have tougher competition in the playoffs this year so their new asset is certainly needed.

Los Angeles Kings

Are they finally back? Have they finally found the chemistry again that won two Stanley Cups during the past decade? They are in position to win not only their division but their conference. If they are indeed back to what they once were, they could be the team to beat in the Western Conference this year.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Boy did he ever get a good second quarter. In fact it is possible to say that he got a better second quarter than the Islanders and the Knights. He was in trouble when he set a $500 million expansion fee and only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec agreed to pay it. To make matters worse, Quebec’s bidder was unacceptable and only Las Vegas was considered good enough to join the NHL, leaving the league with 31 teams, one short of being able to realign into a more comfortable NFL structure (still unannounced). It seemed that if the NHL were to expand again in the immediate future, Bettman would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley and set a lower, more realist expansion fee that the investment world would accept.

Then Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman of Seattle appeared and actually set a new $650 million expansion fee record. The Seattle “approval process” is now a mere formality. And then there was Tilman Fertitta of Houston who said he would like see an NHL team in his arena which will mean another NHL expansion fee of at least $650 million if not higher. That’s probably an unannounced “done deal”. And finally the New York Islander 30 year arena problem got solved. That’s not like getting icing on the cake, that’s like getting three large iced cakes for your birthday. The two main problems left are Quebec and Phoenix.

Biggest Loser

Matt Duchene

Question: When did the Ottawa Senators go into the tank?

Answer: When they got Matt Duchene from Colorado.

How would you like to be the answer to that question? Not even P. K. Subban of Nashville, who at this time of year, last year was playing with a bag over his head because his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, were leading the Eastern Conference while the Predators were struggling to get the last playoff position, was in this kind of trouble. Ottawa traded for him because he was supposed to have the talent of number ones like Crosby, McDavid, Toews, Laine, Matthews, etc. He was supposed to be a step up from Kyle Turris who was let go to Nashville. Now after being in the shadow of Nathan McKinnon of Colorado, he was being given his own NHL team to lead. Instead of moving upward, the Senators are now out of playoff contention with almost no chance of turning things around and Duchene has contributed almost nothing. The vital team chemistry is gone and somehow Duchene is a big part of it. No one can explain why. This subject probably merits a full article.

Dishonorable Runners Up

Buffalo Sabres

At the start of the second quarter, they still had a chance of making the playoffs, but instead of going upwards in the second quarter, they plunged down toward the depths of the Arizona Coyotes. Last year, owner Terry Pegula got impatient with the Sabres when he saw the progress that teams like Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton were making and fired his coach and general manager. But “cleaning house” only made things worse and the Sabres are left vying with the Coyotes for the number one draft pick.

Arizona Coyotes

They played better than they did in the first quarter but remain the most horrible team in the NHL. Actually the only interesting thing about the Arizona Coyotes is if there is going to be an Arizona Coyotes at the end of next season. The horrendous play of this season will ensure that there will be no public money coming to build a new downtown Phoenix arena for a franchise that has iced only one contending team in its entire history. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns publicly insulted the Coyotes by refusing to be partners to build a new arena. I’ve advanced the idea that the best solution will be to add two more Western Conference expansion teams besides Seattle and then shift the Coyotes with its current ownership to Quebec to get rid of the unsuitable Pierre Karl Peladeau. A new Houston expansion team would be part of the process. Whether the Coyotes get the number one pick is irrelevant. The existence of the team is now the main factor.

Ottawa Senators

This is just a continuation of the Duchene problem that seems to be at the heart of the issue as to why the Senators are so bad. Is it coach Guy Boucher’s fault? But he had the Senators in playoff contention before Duchene came and Ottawa was Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh’s toughest playoff opponent last year. Is it General Manager Pierre Dorion’s fault? But he was not the only general manager to believe that Duchene was a number one talent. It also hurts him to know that the Nashville Predators are getting significant contributions from the traded Kyle Turris while he gets almost nothing from Duchene. He is probably in shock just like everybody else. Everything points to Duchene. It is not a happy place to be in.

Florida Panthers

They actually played respectable hockey during the second quarter but nothing, short of making the playoffs can cover up the bonehead decision of getting rid of coach Gerard Gallant even though he had a winning record with the Panthers last season when he became the first NHL coach to be fired. Every time the Las Vegas Knights win, it is a blow to the Deathwish Panthers who like the Coyotes have a horrible history, seldom making the playoffs. And if Las Vegas is the model of how a desert team should be run for the Arizona Coyotes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the model of how a Florida team should be run for the Florida Panthers. The success of both Tampa Bay and Las Vegas only emphasizes how badly these two losing franchises have operated.

Montreal Canadiens

Both the Canadiens and the New York Rangers started out with horrible records, but while the Rangers recovered and have a chance to make the playoffs, the Canadiens are virtually out of the picture. They needed to start moving upward during the second quarter but have at best been just wheel spinning. They lost two veteran defencemen during the off season, goaltender Carey Price is a good international goaltender when he plays for team Canada, but is a suspect NHL playoff goaltender, and General Manager Marc Bergevin guessed wrong about P. K. Subban.

The Bubble Burst

Detroit Red Wings And Vancouver Canucks

At the start of the second quarter, both these teams which had been playing well had a chance to make the playoffs. But during the second quarter, reality caught up with them. Neither of these teams which had been Stanley Champions or contenders for so long have the talent any more to contend and now need top draft choices to rebuild. Most of Detroit’s old stars have retired and the Sedins of Vancouver are in their declining years. At least they have a legitimate excuse for why they out of contention, not like the teams listed above.

When Are You Going To Wake Up?

Pittsburgh Penguins

Mysteriously, the two time defending champion Penguins have been playing stumblebum hockey. The playoffs are certainly attainable but Pittsburgh needs to start putting together some of the long winning streaks that have characterized the past two seasons. It is too early to panic but some of the teams above them are starting to pull away and some teams from below are starting to challenge them. Maybe it is time to get a little uneasy.

Edmonton Oilers

If it is not time to panic for Pittsburgh, it almost is for Edmonton. They played well during the second quarter but not well enough to make up for their bad first quarter. And what I warned about in my first quarter report is starting to happen. At least seven Western Conference teams pulled away and cannot be caught up to and two others are poised to become that way. Only the last playoff spot is now available to them and that is now fast flickering away. They need long winning streaks during the next quarter to have any chance to make playoffs.

We’ve Seen It Before

Washington Capitals

Yes, the Capitals had their usual long regular season winning streak and now have a chance to win their usual President’s Trophy. And yes, Alexander Ovechkin has his usual pretty individual statistics. But nobody should pay attention to what the Capitals do during the regular season. In the Marcel Dionne (whoops!) Ovechkin era, the Capitals have never even made the Eastern Conference Final. So now (yawn) that they have had another great second quarter, it means almost nothing. In fact the best thing that they may have going for them is that Pittsburgh is currently out of a playoff spot leaving the door open for the Capitals to finally get to at least the Eastern Conference Final.

Minnesota Wild

The western playoff wheel spinner Minnesota Wild played well too during this quarter and now precariously have the last playoff spot. But as long as ex-coach Mike Yeo is coaching the Blues who humiliated the Wild and General Manager Chuck Fletcher with an easy playoff victory last year, it is not enough to just make the playoffs, but to go deep into the playoff picture, especially surpassing Yeo’s Blues. Every year the Washington Wild and the Minnesota Capitals play for the wheel spinning Stanley Cup. Will that ever change?

 

2018 World Junior Championships All Too Predictable

No need for the late Nostradamus and Paul the Octopus to appear at the recent World Junior Championships. Anyone with reasonable knowledge of World Junior hockey could have shown up and done a good job with predictions:

1. Belarus lost every game was demoted. Predictable

2. Their regulation opponent would be either Denmark or Switzerland. In this case Denmark. Predictable

3. The third worst team in the tournament would either be Denmark or Switzerland. This time is was Switzerland. Predictable

4. The only excitement of the first round was how the “Big 7″ teams would be seeded for the second round. Predictable

5. There would be zero or one token upset game. There was only one when Slovakia beat the United States. Predictable

6. There would be the usual slaughters like 8-0. 9-0. 7-2, 8-2, 6-1. And if you guessed that the losing teams were Denmark, Belarus, Switzerland, and Slovakia you would be right again. Predictable

It would have been nice to report about the return of Czech Republic hockey to respectability but alas that is not possible, not after playoff round scores of 7-2 by Canada and then 9-3 by the United States. The only element of unpredictability was who would win among Canada, Sweden, and the United States. If you are cheering for those countries, it’s great, but if you want international hockey to grow in prestige, it’s a disaster. It’s been over four decades since Canada-USSR in 1972 and international hockey at the men’s, women’s and junior levels has not grown one inch. So much for the boasts back then that hockey would become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. The main reason for the lack of growth is that nobody has done anything to raise the quality of play outside of the traditional “Big 7″ countries.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman indirectly recognized the problem when he revived the World Cup and then created hybrid teams, Team North America and Team Europe. He did not want any embarrassing scores in his tournament like those listed above. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. During the tournament and at the revived NHL regular season games in Europe between Ottawa and Colorado, Bettman gave a lot of tantalizing proposals for developing hockey internationally but about the main problem that is holding its growth back, he said not one thing.

He did mention the usual thing that has happened during the past four decades. Boston and Los Angeles would hold a few random clinics in China. Every little bit helps but what is laughable is that when last I looked, China was ranked 37th of the approximately 50 countries that play international hockey. But China is the biggest market in the world with over one billion people which the NHL would like to exploit. It is money, not the good of the game that is doing the talking. Hosting a few clinics in China and then letting Los Angeles and Vancouver play exhibition games there does nothing for the game now.

Meanwhile there is a huge glut of countries, now joined by South Korea that has been stuck at the “B Level” level of hockey quality below the “Big 7″ since before 1972. This group includes Switzerland, Denmark, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, Norway, and Hungary. Raising up the quality of play from as many members of this group can help international hockey right now. Bettman should have another good reason for doing something at last. He probably intends the NHL to grow to 40 teams before he retires and each time he adds a new franchise, the critics say that the league is getting watered down. That wouldn’t happen if the quality of play in the 14 “B” countries were raised to the level of the “Big 7″. He would have a huge glut of top talent to draw from, enough to stock 48 teams, not just 40.

While all this is going on in the World Cup of hockey, what is happening to its counterpart, in the World Cup of soccer? Well first of all, the World Cup is expanding from 32 teams to 48. That’s probably too much to expect from hockey but surely it is not unreasonable to turn the World Cup, the World Championship, the Olympics, the World Women’s Championship and the World Junior Championship into 16 team tournaments played by “Big 16″ or even “Big 20″ teams instead of a measly “Big 7″. In 2010, during the World Cup, two teams, Spain and the Netherlands that had never won the Cup, predicted accurately by Paul, made it to the Final. Fat chance of that happening in any tournament of international hockey. Paul would only have to scratch his head with a tentacle, yawn, go to sleep, and leave the predicting to amateurs.

There are two writers on this blog, SamHappi and Alson Lee who specialize in writing about developing players in the junior level who could become high draft picks for the NHL. SamHappi’s overwhelming choice, based on the World Junior Championship is Rasmus Dahlin of Sweden. Since I don’t know any better, I’ll go along with him. But it is highly probable that SamHappi never saw the best junior player because the best possible player was stuck playing in the Division 1A, or 1B levels of junior competition, undeveloped, his potential unrealized. As I wrote in an article on this blog, there is a huge glut of lost hockey talent not being developed because nobody can be bothered to raise the standard of play. The European Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky could have come and gone.

There is an article on this blog written by Alson long before I joined, that is still popular, about why goaltender Benjamin Conz was never drafted into the NHL. In that same article I wrote, I was able to provide at least a partial if not total answer. Conz is a Swiss goaltender so it is likely that nobody knew about him. “European scouting” probably means that an NHL European scout spends 90% of his time scouting in Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, 7% of his time in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany, and the remainder elsewhere. There is no need to scout outside those countries when everybody knows that the standard of play is much lower.

And as long as nobody can be bothered to do anything, this will continue. No hockey tournament will start to gain the stature of the World Cup of soccer until the core base of international hockey is widened. If it was widened to where it could be, SamHappi and Alson probably couldn’t handle all the articles that could be written and be forced to specialize. Until that happens, expect to see more of the same in Victoria and Vancouver next year in 2019. Next year, Kazakhstan gets promoted in place of Belarus with a chance to go 0-4 in the preliminary round. See, I’ve made my first prediction already.