Metro Teams Preview- Isles, Rangers, Caps, Devils

New York Islanders 

The Islanders finished the 2013-14 season with a total 79 points and a  record of 37-37-11, good for 13th out of 14th in the Eastern Conference and dead last in the Metropolitan Division.  It was a season of little highs but mostly lows for the Islanders who were coming off of a playoff berth in the season prior.  While the season left much to be desired, the Islanders had one of if not the best off seasons this summer.  In the draft they took Michael Dal Colle with the fifth overall pick and later in the first round took Josh Ho Sang with a picked acquired from Tampa Bay.  Later round picks saw the drafting of goalie Illya Sorokin, who was taken with an eye towards the future allowing him to continue his development in the KHL before coming to North America.  Free agency was the cherry on top for the team who looked to address certain areas, in particular the situation in goal.  The first move was accomplished early on with the acquiring of the rights to Jaroslav Halak from St. Louis, later signed to a four year deal and then the signing of former Bruins back up goalie Chad Johnson to a two year deal.  Finally creating a solid tandem in net.  The splash move though was the acquisition of Mikhail Grabovski from the Capitals and Nikolai Kulemin from Toronto, bringing their pairing back together.  In all the Islanders made the moves necessary to be competitive this season, they just now have to put it altogether on the ice.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that they’ll be in the playoffs this season, especially as John Tavares will be back and this year will more prospect development as well.

 

Washington Capitals

This season will mark the beginning of the Barry Trotz era in Washington, as the Caps fired Adam Oates two weeks after the end of the regular season.  General Manager George McPhee was also let go as his contract was not renewed with the club.  With changes at the top, it begins a new era in Washington.  Last season the Capitals can up short as they missed out on the second wild spot by just three points and third place in the Metropolitan Division by four points.  For a good portion of the season, they had a playoff spot, but the collapse looked ever looming in the rear view mirror for the team, especially as the Flyers came surging up the standings following their dismal start to the season.  What killed the Caps were a number things, from a flawed defense to an offensive attack that lacked bite.  They were more or less listless for the second half of the season.  Some of the moves that the team made in the off season was the interesting signing of Brooks Orpik to a five year contract and Matt Niskanen to a seven year contract to solve the defensive woes.  How Trotz handles this season will be interesting as he’ll have to start where Oates left off.

 

New York Rangers

Coming into this season, the Rangers are reigning champs of the Eastern Conference and looking to get back to the Finals, this time for a much different result.  This off season among the things that the Rangers needed to address are the power play, but also to prove that last season’s run was not just a right place in the right time run, but there’s more gusto as well.  In the off season, the team was extremely active on the first day of free agency.  Joining into the frenzy along with the rest of the league.  They lost Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle to Tampa Bay, and were able to move on from Brad Richards as well.  On the other side, they brought on Dan Boyle from the San Jose after the Islanders failed to sign him on even though they owned his rights.  The other signing of note was Tanner Glass from Pittsburgh, who was signed to a three year contract.  It should be interesting in the second year of the Vignault era, especially after last season’s run.

 

New Jersey Devils

Much like Washington, the Devils came up short last season as they fell short of the second wild card spot by a difference five points behind the Detroit Red Wings.  They also finished six points behind the Flyers who took home third in the Metropolitan Division.  The biggest issue for the Devils last season was staying healthy, and with the moves made this off season along with the continued development of the younger players.  If they can have a healthy Elias back, that will be an added boost for a team that came close last season, but were missing a few major pieces.  In the off season, Anton Volchenkov was bought out by the team.  The additions that were made, was Mike Cammaleri from Calgary and Martin Havlat from San Jose.  It should be interesting to see what New Jersey can put together this season.

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Isles Flop at the Deadline

Today with a certain amount of fanfare and the bordering of a national holiday for the NHL, the trade deadline came and went with the various action and inaction among the thirty teams in the National Hockey League.  Whether it was the transfer of goalies to Florida, Dallas, and St. Louis or the swapping the of captains between the Lightning and Rangers, today and the last few days brought intrigue and prepped a number of teams to be in position for the playoffs, whereas others began to restock and refit for either next season or the future.

Then there are the New York Islanders, a franchise considered to be on the ups, based on recent draft history and the hopes that they are finally turning the corner, but at the same time are still mired in a consistent incompetency that has been a common theme for quite some.  Although they are coming off a playoff berth in last year’s shorten season, the Islanders this season are for the most part out of the playoff race this season, due to a poor start earlier in the season which left them behind in the Metropolitan Division, but was finally put on ice with the injury to John Tavares during the Olympics.

At this deadline, the Islanders for the most part were considered to be sellers, dumping off talent of free agents to be, especially those that could help a team in the playoff hunt, but also with an eye to continue building by possibly bringing in a veteran presence or more talent that can be built up or molded for next season of more so in the future.  The first move that the Islanders made at the deadline, was soon-to-be free agent dump, by sending 27 year old Defense man Andrew MacDonald to the Philadelphia Flyers, in return the Islanders received a 3rd round pick for this year’s draft NHL Entry Draft, and a 2nd round pick in next year’s draft.  Along with the picking up of picks, the Islanders also got Long Islander, 24 year old Forward Matt Mangene, who will most likely spend the rest of the season in Bridgeport, unless he shines or there is a lack of depth on the roster.  His entry contract is also up at the end of the season, and it is more considered to be unexpected that he will be re-signing in the off season.

On the other side of this trade, is Andrew MacDonald who was drafted by the Islanders in the sixth round, 160th overall in the 2006 draft, had a solid career with the Isles, especially in his primary role as a shot blocking Defense man, a category that he leads the league in with 198.  He will be rejoining former teammate Mark Streit in the City of Brotherly Love.  The reason for the move by GM Garth Snow, was for one reason, was that MacDonald had become more of a liability for the Islanders on defense, with turnovers, but the the money factor also came into play as well, as MacDonald’s contract was soon to expire, and in turn it was better to bring in picks than to continue contract talks, as the Islanders and MacDonald with at odds in recent talks.  It was an opportunity to stock up again for the future.

While this move made some sense, the day of the trade deadline in the NHL, would see the Islanders once again make a move that was just simply frustrating to comprehend. Earlier in the season, the Isles traded to Matt Moulson, a 1st round pick, and a 2nd round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek, who was to be a free agent at the end of the season, but there was some hope the maybe the Islanders could keep him for  no only this season.  As the teams hopes of rebounding began to sink faster than a lead weight, the prospect of holding onto Vanek began to shrink as well, as the Islanders were know facing Vanek! At the Disco. (You thought there wouldn’t be a bad pun, where here it is)  Putting Vanek on the market, was to be a big bargaining chip for the Islanders, as it had the potential to land a player of quality close but not exactly at the level of Vanek, or possibly address a specific need on the team.

Instead the Islanders failed to take advantage in landing something of a package or even address the needs of the team.  Vanek was shopped by a number of teams, with the early contending be the Ducks, who looked to either have a deal in place or were in the process of making one, but plans fell through.  Instead that the trade that the Islanders would send Thomas Vanek off to the Montreal Canadiens along with a conditional fifth round draft pick, in turn the Islanders received a conditional second round pick and Canadiens prospect Forward Sebastian Collberg, who has been touted as the fourth best prospect in the Canadiens system, but based off his numbers, appears to be no more than a mediocre prospect, someone who will be more likely to fill a position in need as a short term and spend more time at Bridgeport. However, with the right work, and the addressing of strength issues, Collberg does a solid upswing, especially with his speed. The condition for the swapping of picks, is based off if the Habs make the playoffs, which looks to be in good shape at the moment.

While Vanek was without a doubt the most coveted piece on the market, the Islanders missed an opportunity to get possibly more than just a questionable prospect and draft picks.  The club had to very specific needs that could have been addressed in with trading away Vanek, one was aid for a porous defense and the other a leaky goaltender.  While the Isles do have a number of defensive prospects, they still could have taken someone as a short term or even adding another veteran.  With the goal tending issues, there were about 8 or 9 goalies on the market, while it was unlikely that they were to land Ryan Miller, they still could have made a move for Jaroslav Halak or even if it was possible to bring Roberto Luongo back to his original destination, when he was drafted.  Instead Snow when for a prospect and more picks, while with the MacDonald trade it seemed like a good offer, with this one, Vanek was a master bargaining chip that he failed to take advantage of and ultimately ended with the Islanders basically walking away with nearly nothing to show for.  Its also a shame too given that if it was assumed early on that the Islanders would not build off of last year, then Vanek possibly may not have been traded to the Islanders in the first place, but then again hind sight can be 20/20.

In short for fans of this franchise it has been on infuriating step after another, and now the Vanek deal has added, unless Snow knows something that the average fan does not, which could be true.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel though, that is free agency is in four months and really anything is possible for the Islanders to land someone then, which could be in the works as even while this year is a wash, this team still has solid level of talent to build upon. In the short term, though Snow missed a big chance to draw more from Vanek, and ultimately came up very short of this. It will be interesting to see what the club does going forward in the draft and off season, but for now even while they are down and out, the Islanders should still not be given up on, throw thick and thin there will be a silver lining for the future.

Hope you enjoyed reading this! Have anything to add feel free to leave a comment below or let us know on Facebook, or tweet me @andrewpadyk

So We Meet Again….

Once again the fates of the United States and Canada cross at the Olympics, last time it was in the finals at Vancouver in 2010, this time it is in the semifinals on the ice in Sochi, Russia, with the eyes of North America once again glued to their televisions, computers, and radio for three periods and sixty minutes.  This game will spur on more people to watch hockey than anything else and for a mere sixty minute, the national pastime of the United States won’t be baseball or football, but will be hockey.  For Canada, it will either be the reconfirmation of a return trip for gold, or just the final blow for a team that despite winning games, has looked less than dominate, especially in their last two games against Finland and a near upset against Latvia, but they go by.  So here it is once more the United States against Canada. Dunkin Donuts against Tim Hortons. Second City against Kids in the Hall.  Kevin Bacon versus Canadian Bacon. Neil Young against The Allman Brothers. While the puck has yet to be dropped, all we got are these comparisons and a precursor to what’s to come on ice.

This tournament, the United States has been clicking and firing on all cylinders, against Slovakia, Slovenia, Russia, and the Czech Republic, although the only bump in the road so far was against the Russians, which saw shootout heroics from TJ Oshie, who following that game became a hero in the eyes of Americans.  Through it all, they have been powered by the play of Phil Kessel, the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, and roster that has been gelling like nothing else.  Though there have been some cracks, like Quick although playing well, has been at times sloppy in net, but is still getting the job done and has been effective.  On the other side is the Canadians, who this Olympics have been winning, but have not come out as overwhelmingly winning, as some of their best players have been struggling, such as Crosby, well others have been proving to be invaluable such as Drew Doughty, and others are now out, such as John Tavares, who tore his meniscus against Latvia.  The good news however, is that they are still in contention and can come out firing on all cylinders. They are a team to not take lightly and can put up a grinding fight against the best, and will tire out other teams, such as Latvia who in the third period looked dead tired after trying to maintain a 1-1 tie against the Canadians.  To put it simply the roads taken by both teams have been interesting, and different, but still despite this they are both talented and can both walk away with gold.

However, just like Highlander, there can only be one. So who will it be? Well I’m not making a prediction, as I’m biased and would say USA all the way, but I will say is, that it will be the team that plays their style of game and plays it well.  These are NHLers they know the stakes are high, and that this is a playoff game.  So in the meantime, let’s all sit back and watch possibly one of the best games we will witness this year, or until the playoffs come.  So may the best team win, and win or lose, we can all get Timmies after the game.

A Look at the Czech Olympic Roster

With the 2014 Winter Olympics a mere month away in terms of days, the rosters have now been released by the respective nations taking part in the Men’s Olympic Hockey Tournament, with the United States being among the first to release their roster, and with the remaining nations releasing their rosters over the past few days.  Among those nations that release their rosters was the Czech Republic, a nation who has put together some strong teams in the past, whether it be as the Czech Republic or during the Cold War and prior to the Velvet Divorce as Czechoslovakia, but that was in the in past and now it is time to turn our attention to the current roster that has been released. So without further introduction, let’s “Czech out,” the 2014 Czech Men’s Hockey Team roster that has been put together by head coach Alois Hadamczik and General Manager Slavomir Lerner for these upcoming Olympics and break down what was put together.

Goalies:

Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg-NHL)

Jakub Kovar (Ekaterinburg-KHL)

Alexander Salak (St. Petersburg-KHL)

Defense:

Radko Gudas (Tampa Bay-NHL)

Zbynek Michalek (Phoenix-NHL)

Michal Rozsival (Chicago-NHL)

Ladislav Smid (Calgary-NHL)

Marek Zidlicky (New Jersey-NHL)

Michal Barinka (Vitkovice-Extraliga)

Tomas Kaberle (Kladno-Extraliga)

Lucas Krajicek (Minsk-KHL)

Forwards:

Patrick Elias (New Jersey-NHL)- A

Michael Frolik (Winnipeg-NHL)

Martin Hanzal (Phoenix-NHL)

Ales Hemsky (Edmonton-NHL)

Jaromir Jagr (New Jersey-NHL)-A

David Krejci (Boston-NHL)

Milan Michaklek (Ottawa-NHL)

Ondrej Palat (Tampa Bay-NHL)

Tomas Plekanec (Montreal-NHL)- C

Vladimir Sobotka (St. Louis-NHL)

Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia-NHL)

Roman Cervenka (St. Petersburg-KHL)

Petr Nedved (Liberec-Extraliga)

Jiri Novotny (Lev Prague-Extraliga)

Looking over this roster, the two first and fore most things that stick are Petr Nedved at the age of forty-two will be going to his second Olympic games as player.  The last time he played in the Olympics was 1994 in Lillehammer, when he was a member of the Canadian team that took home the silver medal. In 1996, he did play for the Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey.  The last time he played in the NHL was with the Edmonton Oilers during the 2006-2007 season, his main years in the NHL were in the 1990’s to early-mid 2000’s with the Canucks, Penguins, and Rangers.  The initial reaction to his inclusion, was “he’s still playing?”  But Nedved, won’t be the only forty+ year old for the Czechs at these Olympics, let alone the only 40+ year competing at the Olympics in general, especially in hockey.

Jaromir Jagr, will be once again competing in the Olympics, wearing his trademark number sixty-eight jersey just minus a flowing mullet, but even at the age of forty-one, he is still a consistent player that brings experience and talent to these Olympics, considering that he was been playing well for the New Jersey Devils so far this season as well.  He will be one of two Assistant Captains for the Czech team in Sochi.

Overlooking the rest of the roster, there are a number of fine points that the Czech and will be crucial in these games coming up.  Ales Hemsky of the Oilers, which to some was a surprise addition to the team, is a tournament player especially on the big ice.  At the 2012 IIHF World Championship, Hemsky scored five and assisted on three, on a Czech team that took home bronze.  Of course he isn’t the only player that can score for the Czechs, with the likes of Elias, Plekanec, and Krejci to name a few.  In particular David Krejci who given his prowess with the Bruins, will also be a important asset for the Czech as well.  Guys like Sobotka, Palat, Hanzal and Frolik will be carry a heavy workload for the teams as they play in the deep six role, something that isn’t foreign to the likes of Frolik or Sobotka.

In goal, there will be Pavelec, Salak, and Kovar.  At the present time, there hasn’t been an absolute decision as to who will be the starter in goal for the Olympics, that will mostly likely come either later in the month or just before the start of Olympic play.  If I had to make a guess, it will either be Salak or Kovar in goal for the Czechs as they are among the best goaltenders in the KHL for their respective clubs, where as Pavelec is currently serving as backup to Al Montoya in Winnipeg after losing his starting job for the Jets during this season. He was however the main goaltender for the Czech at the 2013 IIHF World Championships.  In the last Olympics in Vancouver, Tomas Vokoun, served as goaltender.  If it wasn’t for blood clots, Vokoun would most likely have been chosen to this, but instead will be out of action.  Still though it is anyone’s job at the present time.

Even with this roster, there are some notable snubs from this team.  The most notable  of which is the absences of Jiri Hudler, Tomas Fleischmann, Radim Vrbata, and Jakub Kindl.  The reason for Kindl’s absence from the roster, is most likely due to the fact that he has had a rather poor season so far and has been more or less underwhelming for the Red Wings.  The same could be said for Jiri Tlustly of the Hurricanes, who has been poor this season as well.  However, the absence of Hudler, Fleischmann, and Vrbata is particularly interesting considering the fact that the players chosen in their place, among which was the forty-year old Petr Nedved, whose place on the team could have been filled by one of three mentioned, but also the place of Milan Michaklek on the team as well .  With Hudler, his absence from the team has been chalked up to that he is in the doghouse after an argument with the previous Czech coach.  Another interesting move, was the addition of Michal Barinka, who is the son in law to the Czech coach, instead of Jan Hedja, but then again maybe Barinka will show some flash of brilliance during the games that will warrant his place, instead of nepotism.  One final note, is of course the injured who will miss out, most notably Tomas Vokoun, Tomas Hertl, and Martin Havlat, all three could have been a boost to the team, especially Hertl, who would have been especially thrilling to watch on the open ice.  His Olympic hopes will have to come another time, but also speaking of injuries, with the Olympics more or less a month away, there is still a lot of NHL, KHL, and Extraliga play, so in that span their will probably some shifts in the roster in case someone cannot make it to Sochi.

Where will this team finish? That’s a good question.  Given the fact that this will be a tough competition, the Czech have a shot at a medal as any other nation in this tournament, it whether or not they will get their medal.  At this point, they are at best a dark horse, much like their neighbors the Slovaks for the gold, but more realistically could see them taking home a silver or bronze, that is if they reach the medal rounds.  They have the pieces to be a talented team, they just have to make sure that all the pieces work together over the span of these games.  In the mean time it will be have to be a wait and see what will happen with the Czechs, but they will be an interesting team to watch in these Olympics.

Not Your Average Year in Review: A Look at 2013

The year of 2013, was an interesting year for hockey, as the year began with the ending of another NHL lockout, an American victory at the World Juniors, and the start of a shortened forty-eight game NHL season, which despite being short would still give way to some of the best hockey, beginning with the drop of the puck on January 19th and ending with the lifting of the cup on June 23rd, only to begin again later in the year with another NHL season, this time for the 2013-14 season.  Now with 2013 coming to a close and 2014 about to start, its time to look back on all of the good, bad, and interesting that happened in hockey through the course of the year, whether it be Andrew Shaw’s love of shin pads to the difference that seventeen seconds make, to the dismay of Leafs fans in game seven, the year was filled with a wide variety of events and people to break, so let’s get started.

Best Team:

The team of the year, is the Chicago Blackhawks, which is not shocking considering the twenty-four game streak, the thirty game point streak, Ray Emery’s streak, the President’s Trophy, and finally the lifting of the Cup in June after defeating the Boston Bruins four games to two and in the span of seventeen seconds.  They were a team that seamed bent on proving something from the start of the season, and in the course proved to be bigger than the game itself at times, but also proved to be one of the reasons.  In non-hockey circles they drew the ire of those who were not impressed by their streak, such as Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, who was not impressed with ties, then again that ire was more of flash in the pan, than an actual argument. The team was also labeled by Sports Illustrated as being the “franchise that brought hockey back.”  They were a sound team, and in the playoffs proved to be so, even in the face of tough opposition, this team was truly one of the best to have taken the ice.

Honorable Mentions:

Even with the play of the Blackhawks, there are two if not several honorable mentions for best team this year.  Among them are the runners up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Boston Bruins, whose play came on to take greater importance in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, as they came on to be a symbol of fight for the city, especially in the playoffs and after game seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had the series in the bag, but left the door open for a Boston comeback.  Following that, the Bruin routed the Rangers and then swept the Penguins.  Despite coming up short, they were a symbol of fighting spirit and resiliency, whether it be in game seven or in the play of Patrice Bergeron and Gregory Campbell.  They were a team of fight, to put it simply

The second honorable mention is not for an NHL team, although you could make an argument for the a number of NHL teams, it is however that this team is the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s ice hockey team, for their sixty-two game win streak, going the majority of 2013 undefeated and being the first NCAA Women’s hockey team to complete a perfect season.  Their first loss came on November 17, but in the time being, they did not disappoint once during the streak, and do make an argument for being one of the best teams of the this year.

Best Player (Tie):

The best player or players of the year in 2013, is a tie between Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin, both of whom shined bright this year, was tough to make a decision between the two.  For Ovechkin, 2013, marked a return if not improvement in his abilities, particularly as a goal scorer.  To put it simply he thrived in 2013, with putting up 94 points in the 84 games played in total in 2013, 62 of those points came off goals scored as well.  He also took home the Rocket Richard and Hart Awards as well.  Kane in the same vein as Ovechkin, hit another level in 2013 as well, becoming one of if not the most consistent contributor to the Blackhawks this year, especially in the playoffs, where along with the Cup, also took home the Conn Symthe as well, after a playoffs which featured Kane with 19 points in 23 games.  In  all, both were massive for their teams in 2013, but also proved to be among the best of this year

Honorable Mentions:

Two honorable mentions have to go to Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets as his net minding skills almost brought the Jackets into the playoffs in what was a mad dash during the final weeks of the regular season.  The second honorable mention, goes to John Tavares, whose 2013 has been a break out year for the now captain of the New York Islanders.  In a shorten season he finished with 47 points in 48 games and a total of 28 goals.  For both players they performances were special for this year and for their teams as well.

Best of the Rest and Odds and Ends of the Year:

While the year gave us the performances of Ovechkin and the play of the Blackhawks, there were a number of odds and ends to the year as well.  Whether it be from the reaction of a number of Leafs fans watching game 7 against the Bruins in their living room to Jerome Iginla and Daniel Alfredsson making their first trips back to where their careers began.  This was a good year to be a hockey fan, the sport seemed more captivating in a number of ways to us than before hand.  Whether it was the awe and specter of a wave from Charlie Coyle to a young fan in Minnesota to the honoring of Fred Shero in Toronto, to put it simply, 2013 was a fantastic year for the sport, and signs that only 2014 will better or at least a sign of more to come.  So in short, Happy New Year and here’s to a wonderful 2013.