2015-16 NHL Predictions

2015-16 NHL Predictions

I guess it’s that time of year, to make ridiculous predictions in relation to how the National Hockey League will play out this season, and to make an attempt at guessing the order of finish for the four divisions in the league.

The new year always promises excitement, with questions to be answered, and results to be seen.

Here we go!

(x- denotes playoffs)

Atlantic Division

  1. x-Tampa Bay Lightning: No reason to see any regression in one of the more exciting, young, teams in the league. Goalie health will always be the main question; the rest of the team is solid.
  2. x- Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price. PK Subban. That is all. Will all lead to another playoff flameout because of lack of grit and secondary scoring.
  3. x- Detroit Red Wings: It has become impossible to not pick them to make the playoffs. They always find a way.
  4. Boston Bruins: Weird off-season, no signs of improvement.
  5. Florida Panthers: A team on the rise, but there are still too many teams to overcome to be a serious threat.
  6. Buffalo Sabres: A lot of excitement around the changes to this bottom-feeder, and rightfully so. Should be entertaining to watch, at least.
  7. Ottawa Senators: Goalie regression. That is all.
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s great to have Babcock at the helm, but he is basically trying to coach a raging tire fire of a roster.

Metropolitan Division

  1. x- New York Islanders: They are one of the more entertaining teams in the league, filled with a ton of offense. There will be a lot of 5-4 games. Which is awesome. Time for them to take the leap.
  2. x- New York Rangers: Becoming a perennial contender. Good looking roster, with plenty of depth.
  3. x- Columbus Blue Jackets: A team destroyed by injuries last year. Their top line will rack up the points this year. An underdog, but should not be overlooked.
  4. x- Pittsburgh Penguins: I still see the same problems with the Pens: very top heavy, with very little depth once you get past the first line and a half of players.
  5. x- Washington Capitals: A trendy Cup pick that I don’t see doing much more than it usually does.
  6. Philadelphia Flyers: Not enough change on a roster that failed next year. They will be playoff contenders, however, and should make it interesting down to the end.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes: The team that most people forget even exists in this league. Nothing to really report on here. Just become the Quebec Nordiques already.
  8. New Jersey Devils: A weird looking roster filled with dinosaurs. The lone bright spot is Cory Schneider.

Central Division

  1. x- St. Louis Blues: So much depth. Need to break the playoff curse against the ‘Hawks.
  2. x- Minnesota Wild: Underachieved for most of last year because of terrible goaltending. The problem seems to be fixed, and it is time they made an upwards move instead of simply being a fringe team.
  3. x- Dallas Stars: The Islanders of the West. All offense, questions on whether or not they can actually prevent goals. Upgrades all around during the off-season. Tyler Seguin for the Art Ross?
  4. x- Chicago Blackhawks: They have to get tired after all the playoff games at some point, right? Right?
  5. x- Winnipeg Jets: A solid looking team (as long as Ondrej Pavelec gets fewer and fewer starts in net) stuck in a very good division.
  6. Nashville Predators: How many off-seasons can they have where they do nothing to improve their middling offense?
  7. Colorado Avalanche: Probably better than they were last year, with bounce-back years from their kids. But not good enough to take over from any of the teams above them, all of whom have playoff potential.

Pacific Division

  1. x- Anaheim Ducks: Just a strong team all around. They will grind their way to the top.
  2. x- Los Angeles Kings: The roster is too good to miss the dance for a second year in a row.
  3. x- Calgary Flames: All heart, wanting to prove that last year was no fluke. Many are calling for them to drop in the standings because of poor fancy stats. I don’t see much of a drop.
  4. San Jose Sharks: Maybe one of the tougher teams to get a read on. Questions in goal will doom them.
  5. Edmonton Oilers: After nearly a decade at the bottom, they will finally begin to rise. Should be entertaining to watch, and oh yeah, I see McDavid as a legitimate threat to win the scoring title in his rookie season.
  6. Vancouver Canucks: There is basically nothing to like about this roster. They have done very little from their heyday a few years ago, and now they look old and boring.
  7. Arizona Coyotes: A ton of potential and young talent with this team, and should be scary. In a couple of years.

Insane Stanley Cup Prediction

In the West, I see the Blues finally breaking through, beating the Kings in the Conference Final. On the other side of the continent, I’ll go with a crazy prediction and take the Islanders to top the Blue Jackets in the semis.

Blues vs. Islanders final. The Blues win the Cup, and the Islanders re-establish themselves as legitimate contenders for years to come.

Islanders go Brooklyn

Islanders go Brooklyn

After everybody knowing they were going to do it, the New York Islanders recently revealed their new, Brooklyn-inspired third jerseys.

For a team with a long history of some pretty awful third jerseys and questionable uniform-related decisions all around (the swirly, wave like bottoms of the notorious Fisherman jerseys comes to mind), fans of the team were pretty nervous to see what concoction they would come up with this time. Moving to Brooklyn from Nassau County, it was clear that the team was going to go black and white, to match their arena mates, the Brooklyn Nets.

isle6The results are…pretty good.

The Islanders have come up with something simple yet pleasing to the eye. Looking at these unis, it is clear that they will look pretty good on the ice, contrasting the white of the team the ice, and of the team that they will be playing against.

isle5Here are some of my thoughts on the new third jerseys:

  • The “NY” logo, started last year for their outdoor game, is a nice, simple design that really stands out on the jersey. It is not too radically different from their classic logo, yet works very well as something different.
  • The four orange stripes on the stick portion of the “Y” is a great element. It offers the slightest amount of pop in colour, and of course is a nod to the teams four Stanley Cup wins.
  • I love the thin striping on the sleeves, matched by the same ones on the socks. It looks classy. Again, related to the four Cups.
  • Thankfully, there is a stripe at the waist. Every team that has gone away from the bottom stripe looks awful, and makes their unis looks like pajamas.
  • The name and numbers font is clean, uncluttered, and easy to see. isle2
  • I like the simple white stripe around the wrist, as well. It offers a nice contrast, and again, avoids the PJ look.
  • The new BKLYN wordmark that will be worn on the helmets looks really good. It is dangerous to change things up, but the designers have done a good job in blending the classic with the new. Again, the four orange stripes make an appearance. isle
  • On the pants, there is a pretty large NY on the left thigh. I have a read a couple of reviews that don’t like this element at all, but I don’t mind it. I feel it breaks up the black nicely, providing a nice visual contrast. Of course, we know what team it is, since the jersey logo isn’t too far away, but I think it adds a certain amount of flash to the uniform.
  • The white ring that goes almost all the way around the collar also provides that nice contrast. It is simple, and not gimmicky. It works for me.

isle3Overall, I would say that this is a big jersey win for the Islanders. After so many debatable ones, this black-and-white comes across as a winner. They will wear the new threads a dozen times in the upcoming season, and for the first time in a while, it will not be an eyesore to see them on the ice. They are clean, and have a level of sophistication, which makes them one of the better thirds in the entire league.

Heartbreak for McDavid

Heartbreak for McDavid

You really could see the crushing disappointment in his face, and hear it in his voice.

This kid, along with every hockey fan, is not happy that the Edmonton Oilers have again won the NHL Draft Lottery, making it the 4th time in the past 6 years that they will get the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.

mc6And this time, they have the chance to draft Connor McDavid, who is widely viewed as being a generational talent, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Sidney Crosby.

Normally, a Canadian kid would probably be pretty happy that a Canadian team won the lottery. But not when that team is the raging dumpster fire that has been an Oilers franchise that has missed the playoffs for the past 9 straight seasons (longest playoff drought in the league).

The hate of the Oilers began before the lottery even began. Nobody wanted to see them win, and this includes many of the fans in Edmonton. Sure, it is incredibly exciting that the future best player in the league will be coming to town, but it is also terrifying for many fans, because we have seen first hand what has happened with the other three #1s that currently litter the Oilers roster. Fans around the league would have preferred to see McDavid go absolutely anywhere outside of Edmonton. An Eastern team (aside from Carolina) where his profile would be massive, and he would help the game continue to grow. Or the Leafs, because even if their season was an absolute train wreck, they have someone in charge now who isn’t afraid to make the needed changes to get better. Or how about Buffalo, the team that tried the hardest to get him by giving up on this season two years ago?

mc3Even Arizona, a team that everybody is simply waiting to move to Quebec City, would have been a better option than Edmonton. They have some great young talent coming up, and having McDavid down there would have helped the team as much as possible. If the Coyotes couldn’t make it with him, then it really is time to pack there things and head for La Belle Province once and for all.

There was a such a league-wide groan of disbelief when the gold Oilers placard was pulled from the envelope, signalling that they had won the lottery. Absolutely, there was a ton of excitement among fans. But it is also embarrassment that this is the 4th time they are doing this. Facebook messages and sports message boards all over the place are lighting up with renewed vitriol towards the incompetent Oilers management, that has brought them to this place of being so unbelievably terrible.

Most of that hatred, naturally, is focused on Kevin Lowe, the team president that has engineered the entire downfall of the organization over the past decade, and keeps getting promoted because of it.

Also, there is focus on Craig MacTavish, the General Manager that doesn’t seem to really get it, and what it takes to win in this league. He was even quoted as saying that “offense wins championships,” after winning the lottery. Does it really? Ask the last few Cup winners about the importance of their defense and goaltending in the playoffs.

mc4Immediate calls are being made by the fans to finally see that there is a player to build around, and make some moves to help the poor kid out, so that he doesn’t need to be a part of the poisonous losing culture that exists in Edmonton until he is a free agent at age 27. Trade Taylor Hall, a dynamic offensive player with a long injury history, painfully obvious defensive flaws, and a divisive attitude in the community for a D-man. Package a couple of these guys, like Nail Yakupov, one of their other high picks, for a goalie that can at least be competent in the net to give the team a chance to win. Moves need to made, or Connor McDavid will be wasted.

Already, he is going to a market where the majority of the fans of the sport will never hear much from him. Edmonton loves hockey, there is little doubt about that, but they are buried deep in the West, and McDavid will not get the coverage that he deserves because he is in a small market. Think of how underrated John Tavares is, simply because he plays for the Islanders. If he was as good as he is on the Flyers, he would be a megastar. It will be the same for McDavid.

mc2So what can this kid do? Does he have any options if he truly doesn’t want to be a part of this team that is eternally rebuilding, and seems pretty clueless about how to do it? Or does he just need to suck it up, come be an Oiler for the first 8 years of his promising career, and hope it doesn’t destroy him, like it has other top talent that are doomed to come to this team?

1. He can pull a Lindros. He can tell Oiler management before the draft that he never intends to play for them, so that they should trade the pick and get a massive haul for him while they can.

Pros: He would force the team’s hand, and he would be dealt somewhere else. The Oilers would probably get so much back for him that they could fill in the massive gaps in their roster with just this one move. There would be no shortage of trading partners that would drool at the idea of getting McDavid. Think that when the Nordiques traded Lindros after drafting him, they got the pieces that won them two Cups.

Cons: McDavid would quickly become public enemy #1 in Edmonton, not that he would really care. He would only need to see them once a year. And even still, if this happened, I feel that many fans would continue to hate the team management, and not really blame the kid for not wanting to come here. The perception of McDavid then would be that he was a whiner, but again, I don’t know that too many people would actually blame him for pulling a Lindros move.

2. He can go to the KHL for 2 years. If a player doesn’t sign with the team that drafts them, after two years they will either re-enter the draft (if they are still under 20), or become Unrestricted Free Agents. There have been cases of this before.

Pros: He would avoid the Oilers completely. He would still get to play pro hockey, even if it isn’t in the best league in the world, where let’s be honest, he is so good that he needs that kind of challenge. When he came to the NHL, if he was a UFA, he would get to choose where he would play, and it would create the biggest and most exciting bidding war in league history.

Cons: Upon entry to the NHL, he would be forced to sign a rookie contract. Not the biggest deal, but he would essentially be losing out on a lot of money (but would he? Some KHL magnate would be sure to pay him ridiculous money to go play in Russia). He wouldn’t be playing in the NHL, which is really the biggest drawback.

3. Count the days until he is 27. Being the good soldier, and then moving on, is probably the most likely choice.

Pros: He would be the most sought after free agent of all-time, assuming he lives up to the hype, of course. He would be starting his prime, at age 27, and could play anywhere he wanted to, including for his beloved Maple Leafs.

Cons: 8 years in Edmonton is a long time. If he hasn’t been broken by the losing, or tired from shaking his head at the incompetent managerial moves, or confused over the number of coaches he has probably had to work with, then he really might be the next Great One. In Edmonton, he will play in relative obscurity, while at the same time having to face the tough media and fan base here. If losing continues, how long until fans turn on him as well?

4. Hope the Oilers do something very Oilers-y at the draft. There is no question that the group running this team is incompetent. Are they incompetent enough to do something ridiculous before the draft, and not end up getting McDavid? They have arguably taken the wrong player with each of their previous #1 picks…could they do it again?

Pros: You never know with this team. You just never know.

Cons: Even the clueless MacT has to know that McDavid is a twice-in-a-lifetime player. Doesn’t he?

There really is no win here for McDavid. Surely, if you could get an honest answer out of a hockey player, he would say that he would rather be in Phoenix, or Buffalo, or Toronto, or anywhere but Edmonton. But he will never say that. He will be drafted by the Oilers, and come play here like a good soldier.

He will be awesome, and he will be a hero in the city.

mc5But sadly, this is just giving this terrible management another life to live. MacT will keep his job, because he was the guy that got them McDavid. So will Kevin Lowe. Well, that, and the fact that he is best friends with an owner more concerned about money and hanging out with his 80s friends than money. The management team will soon forget that it is because they are so absolutely terrible at their jobs that they have been able to put this losing waste of a team together, which in turn landed them a stud like McDavid. No skill was involved in getting this kid. In fact, it is the complete opposite.

My heart genuinely breaks for this kid, having to walk into this complete mess, and be expected to be the savior of the whole thing. Even though what the management has done is put together some good players that barely look like a cohesive team on most nights.

Personally, as a citizen of this city, I am torn. My entire life, I have cheered against the Oilers, even during the dynasty years that nobody here will ever let go. I want them to fail and continue to be a laughingstock for the rest of my days. But I just feel bad for this kid, because I truly feel that elsewhere, he would have been one of the greats. That by no means that his career is over by becoming an Oiler, as some have suggested.

It just won’t be the same.

Welcome to Edmonton, Connor McDavid.

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

John Spano was supposed to save the New York Islanders. A team mired in a ton of poor decisions, from the players on the ice to the management choices at the top, they had quickly turned from legendary dynasty at the start of the 80’s to the laughingstock of the NHL. And rightfully so.

They even messed with tradition, trading out the iconic Islanders logo for the new fisherman jersey in the mid-90’s, leaving fans crying out for changes all the way through the organization.

bigshotSpano, a business man from Dallas, stepped up and was going to buy the team, keep them on Long Island, and return them to the form of their glory days.

But there was a problem.

He had no money.

As always, ESPN manages to tell a really interesting story here in their 30 for 30 series. Big Shot lets us know how a man could possibly buy a professional sports franchise without any capital, and in the meantime, lets us behind the scenes into the minds of the long-suffering Islander fans, and their further dashed hopes of organizational stability.

Directed by Entourage alum and Islander die-hard fan Kevin Connolly, they story in Big Shot is solid. He goes back to tell the tales of the making of the team, and their rapid and sad fall from grace. The buffoonery of the 90’s is brought out with candid interviews with key players, like Mad Mike Millbury, and Spano himself. It weaves an interesting story, of how he actually did manage to gain control of the team, based on lies and promised bank loans, lame excuses, and really, only a $17,000 deposit on the team. It tells us the story about how it really is more important to know rich and important people than it is to be a rich and important person yourself.

This series is so consistent in its level of storytelling. A fan of the New York Islanders myself, the subject area is definitely of interest, even if this is not the best 30 for 30 out there. One of the major flaws is Connolly himself. While he proves adept at putting together a documentary, telling the story, and directing it, his major flaw was using himself as a narrator. Not that he was terrible, and his personal connection to the Isles definitely added to the story, but his voice just doesn’t sound…right for the part. Although this is only a superficial complaint, it really did take a little bit away from the story, hearing him jump in with his stories. It was hard not to picture Eric chiding Vince on screwing up another movie role on Entourage.

30Besides that, you get what you expect here: another great behind-the-scenes look at a strange moment in sports history. The Islanders still have not fully recovered from their disastrous 90’s, and only with their impending move to Brooklyn next year is there a glimmer of hope for the franchise to truly begin turning things around.

For fans of hockey, this one should definitely be high on the list of great stories from the series, if only because there aren’t that many stories about hockey.

2014-15 NHL Predictions

2014-15 NHL Predictions

Hockey is back. So that means it’s time for me to make some wild guesses as to how the regular season will play out over the next 82 games. Maybe even make a way-too-early Stanley Cup prediction that will surely not come true, if only because I guessed it.

*denotes playoff team

Western Conference

east2

Central Division

st-louis-blues-logo1. *St. Louis Blues: Looking at that roster, it is just so deep. Their top-6 are among the best in the league, and that D is impressive. I think Elliott and Allen can get it done in net.

2. *Chicago Blackhawks: They are going to be Cup favorites again. Another incredibly deep team. No reason to think there is any drop off in them this season.

3. *Dallas Stars: Ok, I’ll bite. All offense, very little D. But that can work in the regular season.

4. *Colorado Avalanche: I don’t think the drop off will be as huge as the advanced stats say. This is still a young, fast, exciting team.

5. *Minnesota Wild: Made some good moves. Still a lot of questions in net, where not much has been done to improve themselves. They seem doomed to always be battling for a playoff spot.

6. Nashville Predators: Same old, same old. Solid D. No offense. I don’t know that James Neal makes that big a difference without Malkin on his line. There will be some good stories here, like a possible Ribeiro comeback, but that’s about it.

7. Winnipeg Jets: Still, nothing has been done to improve this team. They need to blow it up, if their GM realized that making trades was allowed. Horrible goaltending will sink the potential of the forwards and young D again.

Pacific Division

1. *Anaheim Ducks: Deep, big, strong. A regular season beast of a team again, even with the changes in net.

kings2. *Los Angeles Kings: The champs will coast through the regular season again, waiting to make their move in the playoffs, as usual.

3. *San Jose Sharks: Despite the weird off-season, they are still a strong and deep team. There is absolutely enough there to be a good regular season team again.

4. Vancouver Canucks: I hated the Ryan Miller signing, but this team will bounce back a little bit after the debacle that was the last year. Still not a ton there, and I feel this team needs some massive changes to get back into the race.

5. Phoenix Coyotes: Always underestimated. Strong D and goalies will carry them, but who knows who will score goals for them?

6. Edmonton Oilers: Blah, blah, blah, youth. They will be better, especially with actual NHL goalies on their roster this year, but there is too much ground to make up to be much of a threat in this scary conference.

7. Calgary Flames: They worked their butts off last year, and probably over-achieved. They will be in the running for Connor McDavid this year.

Eastern Conference

east

Atlantic Division

bruins1. *Boston Bruins: They remain the class of the East. Best goalie, best D, deepest forward crop.

2. *Tampa Bay Lightning: Another exciting team. Biggest question mark for me is in net. Is Bishop a one-year wonder?

3. *Montreal Canadiens: Mostly put them here because I don’t know who else I reasonably could. A decent team, but nothing special here, in my opinion.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Once they fire their terrible coach, they might be a decent team. Still, no playoffs.

5. Florida Panthers: I guess the only surprise pick so far. There is something going on here, and with a real goalie and a ton of youth, they could be pretty decent for once.

6. Detroit Red Wings: 25 years in the playoffs is a long time. The run ends this year. The forwards are either too old and frail, or too young and inexperienced.

7. Ottawa Senators: There just isn’t much to like here, except perhaps a nice bounceback year for both goalies.

8. Buffalo Sabres: I actually think they will be significantly better than last year. They are doing their rebuild right, and there is a lot to work with here, as they move forward.

Metropolitan Division

1. *Pittsburgh Penguins: I’m already going to pick another playoff collapse, but with two of the best players in the world, they will probably run away with this division.

Yup, I'm using the fisherman.
Yup, I’m using the fisherman.

2. *New York Islanders: Yup, you read that right. The Islanders. I feel they made a ton of improvements over the summer, and are ready to get back into the dance. I feel there is some serious potential on this team, and if Halak can be semi-competent in goal, they have a real shot at being a special team.

3. *New York Rangers: They lost a lot since the Cup finalists last year, but they will still be respectable. Especially since Lundqvist is still their goalie. That alone gets them in in this messy division.

4. *Columbus Blue Jackets: Quietly a respectable team again. They work hard, and have some skill and nice building blocks. Hopefully there isn’t too much of a drop off in net, or with their won’t be named training camp holdout forward. He needs to shake off the rust, and fast.

5. *Philadelphia Flyers: I really like a lot of the talent on this team. If someone like Giroux decides to play the whole season, I could see them finishing as high as third in this division.

6. New Jersey Devils: I don’t really get this team. But they will hang around for most of the year.

7. Washington Capitals: Where have you gone, Southeasy Division? Getting Trotz as a coach was the right move, but there are far too many gaps in this roster, and you have to wonder how long they will buy into his system.

8. Carolina Hurricanes: I predict that they will win the lottery, and sadly, will get McDavid. Which is too bad, because let’s be honest. Not many people care that Carolina even has a team. One of hockey’s most forgotten about franchises. They are going to be bad, I feel. Sabres bad.

Randoms, and Playoffs:

  • Hart Trophy (MVP): John Tavares, Islanders. It’s time. And with a better team around him, he will shine.
  • Art Ross (scoring): Sidney Crosby, Penguins. Betting against this is basically betting against him being healthy, or getting injured. He is by far the best in the game.
  • Norris (best D): Alex Pietrangelo, Blues. Changing of the guard. The potential is there. With a little more offense, he will be in the conversation again.
  • Vezina (best goalie): Tuuka Raask, Bruins. Such a good team. He benefits from that. Oh, and being really good as a goalie.
  • Stanley Cup Final: St. Louis vs. New York Islanders. Not only do I think the Isles will make it back to the playoffs this year and win their first series since 1993, I think they will go all the way to the finals, shocking absolutely everyone. This is how wide open, and weak, I feel the East is this year. There will be at least five teams from the West that could beat the Isles in a series, but that’s what happens when geography occurs. I will pick the Blues to do it this year.

Expanding by Four: Should the NHL Get Bigger?

Expanding by Four: Should the NHL Get Bigger?

Over the past week, there have been a bunch of rumours regarding the National Hockey League’s plans to expand their league by another four teams by 2017. This stemmed from a report stating that the idea of an NHL team in Las Vegas was a done deal, and that there were other deals on the table to bring teams to Seattle, Quebec City, and the greater Toronto area (or GTA, for those who live around there). 

Opinions have been going back and forth on why this is a great idea, and why this is a horrendous plan. Expansion is always dicey, but going all in with a plan of four teams is a huge risk, especially in a league that already has more than one floundering franchise (looking at you, Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, and Carolina Hurricanes). 

I’ve had time to digest the ideas of expansion, and have some opinions, just on the general effects it could have on the league, and on each individual city that has been named. 

The NHL Expanding by Four–The Good

  • massive expansion fees means more money for the owners- that they don’t have to share with the players. They have to be drooling over that a little bit. 
  • Balancing the league. With unbalanced conferences right now, this plan would enable the NHL to even things out, assuming Vegas, Seattle, and the GTA team would play in the West, and Quebec City would play in the east. 
  • New/renewed rivalries. Seattle vs. Vancouver would become a natural rivalry, as would the two Toronto teams facing off against one another. And bringing back the legendary Montreal/Quebec rivalry would be great. 
  • Cities getting something they deserve. Quebec deserves an NHL team. They never should have lost the Nordiques to Colorado in the first place, but the doom of the terrible Canadian dollar at the time sealed their fate, as they were unable to compete. Seattle seems like a good fit for hockey, and always has. It is surprising to me that it has only been in the last while that they have started being mentioned as a possible destination. And Toronto is more than able to support another team, which I will expand on more later on. 
  • Expansion drafts. I have to admit, these are really fun. It is amazing to go through the process of who will be protected by their team, and who will be left to hang in the winds. And then it is interesting to see the picks, as the new teams choose from a pretty good selection of players, only to select cheap plumbers who make us scratch our heads. Maybe with rich new owners, they won’t be afraid to pick up a couple of high priced players to put some butts in the seats, and give their new teams a chance to compete right off the hop.

The NHL expanding by Four– The Bad

  • The product will become diluted. There is no doubt that the NHL is the greatest hockey league in the world. But where are we getting another 120 players to play on these expansion teams? The lure for many players to come over from Europe would have to get much stronger. There would be plenty of more AHL players who would have to make the jump up to the big league, and prove their worth on the largest scale. Looking around the league as it is, there are players all over NHL rosters who don’t deserve to be here (looks in the direction of John Scott). With a massive four more teams, this number will increase dramatically. 
  • Going back to the trap. Expansion teams need to compete in order to create a foothold for fans in their new city, and the best way to do this is to win. And the easiest way to win, with a lackluster roster, is to play defense. And this could mean the return of the trap. Think of the haunting memories of the first years of the Minnesota Wild, and how incredibly boring they were to watch. We could see that type of era return. Play for low scoring games, and hope to keep it within one until the very end. Or play for loser points. It could mean the return of some pretty boring hockey, which the league has tried to eradicate over the past few years. 
  • What happens to the failing teams we already have? Having these cities around now is good, for the day when the inevitable announcement comes along that the Coyotes are going to move. If the NHL expands, it is left with nothing, aside from perhaps Kansas City, to serve as an escape plan if a team needs to relocate. 
  • Even more rare chances of dynasty teams. Teams winning the Cup, or even competing for it, for several seasons in a row has become pretty rare. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have alternated Cup wins recently, and this may be the closest we will ever see to dynasty teams again. Having even more teams in the league, and more roster shakeups with an expansion draft will surely affect this.

The Cities #1: Las Vegas

nhl2
Las Vegas- Hockey Town?
  • Another team in the desert? Haven’t the Coyotes proven that this is a bad idea from the start?
  • Vegas is very much a transient city. Can we expect a solid enough fan base from the citizens of Vegas to keep this team afloat, while they hope for tourists to come from all over the country and shell out money for something they can often see at home? Would you go on vacation from Montreal, where you can see the Canadiens play all the time, and shell out the same money to see an expansion team play the Blue Jackets? 
  • Is it really a good idea to have a professional sports team play in the gambling capital of the world? How long would it take before there are controversies with things like game fixing, sports book controversies, players gambling, players partying too hard, etc? Vegas seems like a problem waiting to happen. 
  • If Vegas is such a good place for a sports team, why haven’t any of the Big Three leagues put a team there already? Wouldn’t basketball or football do better there? Why has the NFL and NBA shied away from this city as a destination?
  • The idea of a team in Las Vegas reeks of gimmick. The NHL has long been the ugly cousin of the pro sports leagues in North America, and has always been fighting for credibility. Going to Vegas, in my opinion, does nothing but hinder their credibility. 
  • Surprisingly, minor league teams in the city have done…okay, when it comes to attendance. 

The Verdict on Las Vegas: It seems inevitable that the NHL will end up here. I feel that this city is better suited as a place for relocation, instead of expansion. This way, they will be able to get a team that is more ready to compete, and quickly, instead of going through several painful years of building. I don’t think the town has the patience for that, and I think the tourist draw is overrated. People won’t specifically be going there for hockey, and the team will be fighting with literally thousands of other fun ways to spend your money in that town. Overall, this isn’t a great idea.

The Cities #2: Seattle

Hockey deserves to be in the Pacific Northwest. I would cheer for a Seattle team.
Hockey deserves to be in the Pacific Northwest. I would cheer for a Seattle team.
  • Seattle is a great North American city. It is a beautiful place to visit, and by most accounts, a good place to live. They have a strong sporting tradition. They love their Seahawks, have generally remained interested in their Mariners, despite years of poor teams, and really did support their SuperSonics, until the owner pulled the rug from beneath their feet over an arena deal. They have a history as a good sports town, making it feel right for the NHL to be there. 
  • Geographically, they are a good fit, bridging the gap between Vancouver and the Alberta teams, and the southern teams of California and Texas. 
  • Could develop good rivalries with Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Flames and Oilers need new rivalries.
  • The arena thing is a problem here. The current spot, the Key Arena, is outdated. They were trying to have a new one built for the return of an NBA team, but all of this fell through when the Sacramento Kings decided to stay put. The NHL won’t go here unless there is something in place to build a new rink, something modern and state-of-the-art. This could also help lure basketball back to town, so could work out quite well for the city, if something can get worked out. 
  • Seattle has a hockey history, as there have been junior teams in Seattle and Portland forever. They are well supported.
  • Would an NHL team mean the death of junior hockey in the area? The Thunderbirds would be in big trouble, and a big league team could even filter off some fans from the always successful Portland Winterhawks as well. There are plenty of places that can support major and junior hockey at the same time, but I don’t know if Seattle could do it. 

The Verdict on Seattle: While this may seem like another city better suited to a relocated team than an expansion one, I would like to see hockey in the Pacific Northwest. I feel that it is a geographical fit, and in a city that is desirable for people to live in. Seattle is not a place in the boonies, that people can barely find on a map, like Columbus. It is a major center, and a pretty large media market. I envision Seattle as being a good, strong organization from the get go. Put a team there. 

The Cities #3: Greater Toronto Area/Markham

The blue collar, affordable Toronto team would play here.
The blue collar, affordable Toronto team would play here.
  • Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and there is very little doubt that they could support a second team, and that there is a rabid desire for another team in the area.
  • The Maple Leafs, and probably the Buffalo Sabres, will fight tooth and nail against this, but the league will not be able to resist the millions upon millions that could be made from a team here. 
  • In such a crazy hockey market, the Leafs will always rule. But going to a Leafs game is nearly impossible for the regular fan, as they have been priced out of tickets, and the games are mainly attended by business types. A second team would give Toronto a working class team, one that could become loved by the regular fan. Would that mean they would abandon their Leafs allegiance? Probably not. But the new generations of fans coming up, with little to no allegiance to the team their parents loved, and never having seen a good Leafs team, could flock to the new team. Seeing kids at a Toronto NHL game would be something different, instead of the dull, silent crowds that attend the Leafs now. 
  • Another team in the area would force the Leafs to do everything possible to become a better team. Instead of floundering, as they seemingly have been since the 1993 playoffs, they know that they could lose fans for the first time if they continue to be bad. 
  • Of course, this would be an amazing rivalry, in the same way that the Rangers-Islanders is, even if the teams are in different stratospheres of success. It would be the underdogs against the Leafs every time, and it would be fantastic, especially once the team takes hold and has a loyal fan base of its own. 
  • Another team in Canada just means more revenues for the league. No question about that. The current seven teams basically carry the rest of the league as it is. Why not add more to the pot. 

The verdict on GTA: Nothing to think about here. Just do it. There is nothing but positives here. 

The Cities #4: Quebec City

I'll line up for a jersey if they come back as the Nordiques, with something like this look.
I’ll line up for a jersey if they come back as the Nordiques, with something like this look.
  • When the Nordiques left, it was perhaps the saddest relocation of them all. A dedicated fan base had their team ripped from them, and just as they were getting good. How heartbreaking it must have been as they built up for years, and then won the Cup in their first year in Colorado? 
  • I only want them back if they will still be called the Nordiques, and will still have those incredible blue and white jerseys. Even though they have been gone for a long time, those are still some of the best threads in the league. 
  • They are building a brand-new arena, that will be ready to go as soon as they are awarded a team. 
  • The Habs-Nords was one of the best rivalries in the league, and Montreal has never been able to replicate it. Sure, there is some hate between Montreal and Toronto, but nothing like the in-province rivalry with the capital city. Montreal-Ottawa has never really taken off, considering how close those two teams are to one another. The league wants it to be amazing, but it isn’t. Problem solved with the return of the Nordiques. 
  • This is a fan base that would be patient as they built themselves into winners once again. Giving them an expansion team would be fine, as they fans would follow them with passion until they were good. 

The Verdict on Quebec City: This is my #1 choice for a new team. Bring them back, sign them up now. Being someone who can’t find any reason to cheer for any of the Canadian teams, I would instantly become a Nordiques fan the second of their return. 

Gary Bettman has stated time and again that the league is not thinking of expanding just yet, but we all know that there is probably something in the works. I think if the league is going to do it, then it should do it all at once, to put the new teams on level playing ground, and so that they can grow together. Make it a big shock for the league, all at once, instead of dribbling out new teams over a few years, as they did with their two-at-a-time expansion of the 90’s and 00’s. Make it happen, establish them, and let them grow. 

And then we can worry about contraction.

NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

Okay, now that the first few days of free agency are over and done with for another year, we can sit back and start to look objectively at some of the deals that were signed over the past few days. The free agent cupboard is now bare, and all that is left is some serviceable and semi-serviceable players who will probably be waiting all summer for a call to join a new team.

Some thoughts on the signings…

  • Paul Stasny to St. Louis: I like this one. Yes, $7M is too much for a player that is not even a #1 center, but he was the best free agent out there, so he got paid like it. The four years is nice, as it gives the Blues a chance to re-evaluate where they are fairly quickly, and not getting saddled with 7 years of someone who will probably end up being their second line center.
  • Brooks Orpik to Washington: Everybody has been piling on this signing as the worst one of the day. Five years for a 33-year-old is too much. The money is ridiculous. So, will I disagree, and take the other side? Nope. This is a bad deal, and quickly will be one that the Capitals regret.
  • Ryan Miller to Vancouver: Don’t like this one at all. Miller is showing his age, and demonstrated in St. Louis that he doesn’t really have the ability to help a team out over the hump anymore. Sure, he put up good numbers in Buffalo last year, but that means very little when the team was so bad. How does he help Vancouver? He is nearing the end of his career, and the Canucks are on a downward spiral. They are maybe the 8th or 9th best team in the conference, and I don’t see Miller making them any better to push them into the playoffs. Eddie Lack has similar numbers, and by bringing in Miller, they are pushing Jakob Markstrom out of the organization, which is a mistake, since he has plenty of untapped potential.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Edmonton Oilers

  • Spezza and Hemsky to Dallas: Sure, Spezza arrived to the Stars via trade, but I’ll still count it. This is a good add for Dallas, even if they only get one year of Spezza before I could see him bolting for the West coast. But it definitely makes that team dangerous looking on paper, doesn’t it? This pair could have a really nice year since most teams will have to focus on shutting down Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin first. Although it doesn’t help their defensive liabilities at all, the Stars just got a whole lot scarier.
  • Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton: People are praising this as a win for people who love advanced statistics. And maybe it is a step in the right direction for the sad sack Oilers, who have done little aside from make poor decisions over the past few years. But my question revolves around Pouliot being able to put points on the board. Sure, his possession numbers are nice, but does that translate to success on the ice? He could be a decent addition to the third line, however. And yes, that is a lot of money to give a third liner.
  • Martin Brodeur to Nobody: I like this move. He is done. Wanting to move on from New Jersey is a huge mistake, and he should just put in one more year as a backup to Cory Schneider if he wants to keep playing. Yes, he is a legend, but the longer he plays, and if he switches teams, that legend will continue to be tarnished. Ask Mike Modano how his time in Detroit went to end his career? Or if he wishes that he just hung it up as a member of the Stars.
  • Christian Erhoff to Pittsburgh: Maybe the signing of the day, getting him for only $4M. I would have looked at signing him to a three-year deal, but this is a good chance at having him show the league what he still has left, and that was not completely sucked out of him from being in Buffalo for a couple of years.
  • Matt Niskanen to Washington: The only question that needs to be asked is if Niskanen can continue to put up points without guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Neal on the power play with him? Too many years given for one good season.

There were a lot of signings to get the whole thing started, which makes the negotiating window prior to free agency a nice idea. It makes for more interesting television when there are actually things to report, and the deals came in fast and furious over the first few hours of coverage. TSN must have been thanking their lucky stars, after a run of uneventful trade deadline days, and draft days.

Some teams made themselves a little bit better, and some of the signings were definite head scratchers, as they are every year. Of course, only time will tell if any difference will be made once the league resumes play in the fall.