Monthly Archives: August 2015

NHL-Adidas Deal Could Mean Ads on Jerseys

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It was announced yesterday that the National Hockey League had reached a new long-term NHL jersey deal with Adidas. Beginning 2017-18, Adidas will take over its corporate cousin Reebok — which it owns — in making team uniforms for all 30 teams.

However, with this deal, there is now speculation that Adidas could be putting advertisements on the team jerseys, just like the uniforms in the European hockey leagues.

No, just no. There really is no reason for there to be ads on the uniforms, other than business reasons of course. If the League really wants to rake in more money, they can find other ways of doing so, like supporting the struggling franchises.

Let the team jerseys stay the way they are. Let them retain their team history and authenticity as actual sporting organizations. The last thing we, as fans, want to see are players skating up and down the ice as billboards.

Sure, there may be people who will be buying their team’s jerseys anyway regardless of the ads. In my opinion, though, I don’t think it’ll bode well for the League from the fan perspective.

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2015-16 Season Preview: Metropolitan Division

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Since it’s August, which is a dry month in the NHL hockey world other than NHL.com’s 30-in-30 coverage, I’m going to be doing an early preview of the 2015-16 season, which will be divided up into divisions, which means there will be four parts. For this fourth and final part, I will be covering the Metropolitan Division. Disclaimer: Here and there, I’ll be using advanced stats to try and justify my opinions, and since I’m new to this stuff I’m having various friends of mine help me. Therefore if I sound like a total idiot still, I’m sorry but bear with me on that. 

Previously, I’d covered the PacificCentral, and Atlantic Division in the first three parts in my 2015-16 NHL season preview. For the fourth and final part, here are my thoughts on the Metropolitan Division.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes haven’t been back to the playoffs since they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals back in ’09. With their six-season postseason drought threatening to extend to seven, this team had to find a way to improve themselves.

Well, they did a little bit of that during the 2015 NHL Draft replacing Anton Khudobin with former Vancouver back-up Eddie Lack.

After Lack was traded to the Canes, it was obvious that it would either be Khudobin or Ward who would be on the move, and since Ward is still their undisputed starter in net, Khudobin was traded to the Ducks for James Wisniewski, who was underutilized by Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.

Wisniewski had 8 goals and 29 points in 56 games back when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2014-15 prior to being traded to Anaheim.

With the buyout of forward Alexander Semin, it’s clear that the coaches and front office are giving their players one last chance to turn things around, especially from guys like Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner.

Eric Staal, brother of Jordan Staal who’s also on the team and had a slight improvement compared to most of the team, scored 23 goals and amassed 54 points to lead the Canes. However, they were also his career lowest numbers since his rookie season in ’02-’03.

Skinner, a player known to be a goal scorer and reached the 30-goal mark twice, sank down to just 18 goals and 31 points last season, down from the 33 goals and 54 points he had in 2013-14.

On the positive side, aside from Jordan Staal’s improvements, young forward Elias Lindholm was one of very few who impressed and showed his worth, with 17 goals and 22 assists last season.

As for the defensive aspect of the game, adding to 2014 U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk and potential future NHL regular Haydn Fleury — the 2014 first round pick, the Canes drafted Noah Hanifin at no. 5 overall.

Head coach Bill Peters said this of the two prospects:

They’re not just big, stay-at-home defenders. How much offense they’re going to have at the NHL level, that’s going to have to play out over time. But they are guys who are going to get up in the rush, and their skating ability allows them to do that.

Overall, the 2014-15 season will be another huge test for this Carolina team, even more so offensively than defensively. So the question has always been and is still “does this team have enough offensively to carry this team back into the postseason?”, and another question– is this a playoff caliber team yet? My answer to both: I don’t think so.

 

New Jersey Devils

It wasn’t long ago that the Devils made the playoffs and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 against the Los Angeles Kings. They hadn’t made the playoffs the season prior to that, and have missed the postseason three times since.

Before we get to the offseason trades and signings, the Devils did have a bit of a front office makeover, as former GM Lou Lamoriello stepped down as GM of the franchise and hired former Penguins GM Ray Shero to take over, as noted talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Soon afterwards, Lamoriello decided to resign as President of the Devils as well.

Shero, the fourth GM in Devils’ history, served as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2006-14. The Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Finals for two consecutive seasons (2007-08 and 2008-09), winning the Cup in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Devils also hired John Hynes as their head coach. While Hynes has no coaching experience, he worked for Ray Shero when Shero was Pittsburgh Penguins GM. In 2010, Shero made Hynes coach of the Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Hynes coached the AHL Penguins to a 231-126-10-17 record and qualified for the AHL playoffs in all five seasons.

Prior to his time as an AHL head coach, Hynes spent six seasons coaching the National Team Development Program with USA Hockey. Under him, they posted a 216-113-19-9 overall record. Hynes also led the U.S. U-18 national team to three medals at the World U-18 Championships, a gold in 2006, silver in 2004, and bronze in 2008. He was head coach of the U.S. national team at the 2008 World Junior championships, and was an assistant coach on the 2004 U.S. team that won gold at the World Juniors.

Hynes has also been an NCAA assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2000-01 and with the University of Wisconsin in 2002-03.

In their only offseason trade, they acquired Kyle Palmieri from Anaheim.

Drafted by the Ducks in the 1st round of the 2009 Entry Draft, Palmieri scored 43 goals and tallied 46 assists in 198 games in Anaheim. He put up 12 points in 33 playoff games with the Ducks.

The Devils also bought out left-winger Dainius Zubrus’ contract, and signed defenseman John Moore from Arizona.

Zubrus, like many of the other Devils’, struggled last season offensively, with just 4 goals and 6 assists in 74 games.

I asked former Pucks and Pitchforks** writer David Berger about what he thought about the Devils’ outlook in terms of offense in the 2014-15 season. Here are some of his thoughts:

 

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A few of those young players he mentioned, of course, have spent time down with New Jersey’s AHL affiliate, the Albany Devils.

Stefan Matteau, for example — drafted in the 1st round in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, spent two years down in Albany with 2 goals and 2 assists in 24 goals.

Paul Thompson originally signed a two-year, entry-level deal in 2010-11 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and played with their AHL affiliate, and was traded to Columbus in the middle of the 2013-14 season, finishing the year with 4 goals and 3 assists with the Springfield Falcons. He then signed a two-way contract with the Albany Devils. Last season, he scored 33 goals and 55 points in 73 AHL games.

According to EliteProspects.com, he is an offensive winger with a nice shot, and likes to crash the net.

David also pointed out that the New Jersey Devils do need a top-6 winger, one who can really score and give the Devils the offensive punch that they desperately need. Could GM Ray Shero acquire one before the season begins in about two months? Maybe. We’ll just have to see.

For now, though, the Devils will have to look to their young corps to help improve the team offensively. That means giving guys like Damon Severson, Adam Larsson, and Eric Gelinas quality minutes on the man-advantage as well as at even strength, 5-on-5.

While they have a terrific young defensive corps, even with the addition of John Moore from Arizona, let’s not discount their goaltending either. Cory Schneider really held them in last year. Originally a back-up for former Vancouver starter Roberto Luongo, he’s found a nice comfy home in New Jersey with a .925 save percentage and a 2.26 GAA with 5 shutouts in 69 games last season.

Although I don’t see them as a playoff contender for right now, we’ll see what happens. This is going to be an interesting team this year.

**Pucks and Pitchforks is a New Jersey Devils-based blog from FanSided.

 

Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers had an interesting offseason. After missing the playoffs for only the second time in recent years, the Flyers decided to fire their former head coach Craig Berube, who coached them to a record of 33-31-18. In his place, they hired Dave Hakstol who comes over from coaching the University of North Dakota.

Hakstol spent the last 11 years coaching UND to an overall record of 289-143-43. In 2014-15, he led North Dakota to a 29-10-3 record and a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four. Hakstol had coached North Dakota to the NCAAs every season he’s coached for them and reached the Frozen Four seven times, the most of any country during that period. UND had a record of 17-11 in the NCAA Tournament during his tenure.

He first joined the University of North Dakota’s coaching staff in 200 as an assistant before moving up to head coaching position four years later. From there, North Dakota won three regular season conference championships, two in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (2008-09, 2010-11) and one in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (2014-15). North Dakota also won WCHA playoff championships in 2005-06, 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12. Hakstol received conference coach of the year honors twice and was an eight-time finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award for national coach of the year.

Though Hakstol’s program has produced 20 NHL players and a total of 46 that have played professionally at some level, he does not have any NHL coaching experience whatsoever.

In terms of offseason tradings and signings, the Flyers got rid of Zac Rinaldo to the Bruins. They acquired Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick from the Coyotes.

Gagner, a 1st round pick of Edmonton in the 2007 Entry Draft, spent seven years in Edmonton with 101 goals and 194 assists in 481 regular season games. He then moved to Arizona where he put up 41 points with the Desert Dogs.

They also added Chris Porter (from St. Louis), Colin McDonald (from the Islanders), Jason LaBarbera (from the Coyotes), Davis Drewiskie (from Montreal), Chris Connor (from Washington), and Michal Neuvirth (from the Islanders) via free agency. They lost Jake Akeson and Carlo Colaiacovo.

Porter, drafted by Chicago, spent six seasons with the Blues, with 11 goals and 16 points in 173 games.

McDonald, a 2nd round pick of the Oilers in 2003, spent a year in Edmonton (1 point in 2 games) before moving to Pittsburgh in 2011-12, where he didn’t register a point in 5 games. He moved on and spent the next three years with the New York islanders where he put up 17 goals and 43 points in 133 games.

LaBarbera, the 35-year-old back-up from the Rangers, has spent his whole career so far with six different teams (Rangers, Kings, Canucks, Coyotes, Oilers, Ducks). His career totals include a 62-73-20 record overall in 187 regular season games, and a .907 save percentage, 2.85 GAA, and 6 shutouts.

Davis Drewiskie, undrafted, spent the first five years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings, where he had 22 points and was a -1 in 126 games played. He then moved to Montreal where he had a goal and 2 assists in 9 games.

Connor, also undrafted, had 7 goals and 14 assists with the Washington Capitals last season.

Neuvrith, a 2006 2nd round draft pick of Washington, spent six years with the Caps before going onto play for the Buffalo Sabres, where he had a save percentage of .921 and GAA of 2.96. He then played the 2014-15 season with the New York Islanders, where he had a record of 5-1-3, a save percentage of .881 and 2.94 GAA. He has recorded 7 shutouts during the course of his career, all with the Capitals.

It should be an interesting situation with the Philadelphia Flyers, especially with three goaltenders now in their system. With Steve Mason as their undisputed starting netminder and Neuvirth perhaps as their back-up, it’s only logical to say that LaBarbera is the other back-up if and when Neuvirth goes down with an injury.

While they now rely on Hakstol to perhaps coach them successfully through the regular season and playoffs (perhaps), I don’t think they’re going to make it. However, one pleasant surprise for them — I think — was the rise of Jakub Voracek leading the offense for the team. He finished last season tied fifth in the League in points (59 assists, 81 points).

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s not that the Blue Jackets were bad last season when they missed the playoffs. They were just unlucky. While they have had a tendency to miss the playoffs often (12 times since their team debut in 2000-01), they were injury-riddled during the 2014-15 season.

According to mangameslost.com, a site that keeps track of all the team games lost to injuries in the professional sports world, the Blue Jackets led the team with 508 man games lost due to injuries and suspensions.

Ouch.

While that’s a huge blow to the team, especially with guys like Nathan Horton out of the line-up (he last played two seasons ago), they do have reasons to be optimistic again.

Earlier in my four-part season preview, one of the things I talked about was moves that the defending Champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, had to make with salary cap issues. That included trading forward Brandon Saad to Columbus.

Saad, who’s always had a huge impact with the Hawks, was drafted by Chicago in 2011 at 43rd overall. During his four seasons spent with the Blackhawks, he recorded a total of 52 goals and 74 assists in 208 regular season games played (all points were scored in his last three seasons with Chicago, as he did record a point in his first 2 games with the team in 2011-12). He had also split time between the NHL and the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL during the 2012-13 season, with 8 goals and 20 points in 31 AHL games.

He’s not a bad playoff performer either, having won two out of the team’s three Stanley Cups. He had 15 goals and 19 assists in 67 postseason games. Three of those goals were game-winners.

In that trade, their only one of the postseason thus far, the Blue Jackets also acquired defenseman Michael Paliotta and forward Alex Broadhurst.

Paliotta, a 3rd round pick of the Hawks, spent the majority of the 2014-15 season with the University of Vermont, from which he was drafted, scoring 9 goals and 36 points. He appeared in a single NHL game where he recorded an assist.

Broadhurst, a 2011 7th rounder draft pick also from Chicago, played a total of 104 AHL games with the Rockford IceHogs, with 6 goals and 8 assists.

While Columbus has managed to keep their roster almost very much in tact, they added a few players too in Gregory Campbell and John Ramage via free agency.

Campbell, their second most valuable acquisition of the offseason, spent his first six seasons with the Florida Panthers (the team that drafted him) and recorded 29 goals and 56 assists (from ’05-06 onwards as he did not record a point in his first season in the NHL). He then went on to play for the Boston Bruins for five season and scored 91 points. During his time with the Bruins he’s also appeared in the postseason for four straight years, winning a Cup with them in 2011. he had also spent time in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage and Rochester Americans, with a total of 28 goals, 35 assists, and 63 points.

Ramage, a 4th round Calgary pick in 2010, spent three more years with the University of Wisconsin, scoring 12 goals, 29 assists, and 41 points in 116 games total in the WCHA. He then spent a year with the Abbotsford Heat in the AHL, with just an assist in 50 games before going to the Alaska Aces of the ECHL in 2013-14. He had a goal in six games. In the 2014-15 season, he played with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL, with 3 goals and 15 points in 57 AHL games played. He appeared in one NHL game with the Flames, and did not record a point.

The Blue Jackets have reason for a lot of optimism, and if they can stay healthy, they could just very well be in the playoff mix.

New York Islanders

While the Islanders didn’t make much of a postseason splash in the trade market, only giving up Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers, much of their deals happened in free agency.

Forward Louis Leblanc joins them from Anaheim, and a few other unknowns in Joe Whitney, Ben Holmstrom, and Justin Florek. One key addition, presumably due to the departure of Michal Neuvirth to the Philadelphia Flyers, is back-up Thomas Greiss who wasn’t too solid with the Pittsburgh Penguins (career lows of .908 SV%, 2.47 GAA)

Leblanc, drafted 18th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in ’09, spent a year at Harvard University with 11 goals and 12 assists. From 2011-2014, he split time between the Montreal Canadiens and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL (Habs: 5 goals, 5 assists; AHL: 34 goals, 68 points) before getting traded to the Ducks, where he spent the 2014-15 season down in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals, scoring 14 goals and 29 points in 71 AHL games.

Holmstrom split time between the Flyers and their AHL team, the Adirondack Phantoms from ’09-14. He had 49 goals and 73 assists with the Phantoms and 7 points with the Flyers before signing with the Hurricanes last season, where he had 5 goals and 15 assists.

Florek, drafted by the Bruins in the 2010 Entry Draft, spent a total of four seasons with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, with 54 goals and 104 points. He had a goal and an assist with Boston in 4 NHL regular season games.

After falling to the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2015 playoffs in their final games at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders will have a new building to welcome them in the 2014-15 as they make the move to Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

As a result, look for them repeat last season’s success, since they’re going to want to put on a good impression as the new tenants of the arena.

As I mentioned before, Thomas Greiss didn’t particularly have a good outing as the Penguins’ back-up netminder, so look for him to have a bounce-back year as well.

New York Rangers

After falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs this past season, the Rangers had a pretty eventful offseason, as longtime GM Glen Sather stepped down to make room for new GM Jeff Gorton.

At the 2015 NHL Draft, the Rangers traded away Talbot to Edmonton, and in another trade they acquired back-up Antti Raanta from Chicago in place of Talbot.

Raanta, who’d gone back and forth between the Blackhawks and the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, had a combined total of .912 SV% as well as a 2.41 GAA at NHL level. In 2013-14, he posted a .914 SV% and 2.83 GAA in the AHL, and made 267 saves last season with the IceHogs.

The Rangers also added a bit more speed with Emerson Etem from Anaheim and rights to back-up goalie Magnus Hellberg from Nashville.

Hellberg, a 2nd round draft pick of the Predators from the 2011 Draft, split time between the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL, and the Nashville Predators up at NHL level. Last season, he posted a 15-10-6 record and 3 shutouts with the Admirals.

The Rangers also added a few pieces via free agency, the most recent being former LA Kings forward Jarret Stoll (81 goals, 133 assists).

Forward Luke Adam, Brian Gibbons, Viktor Stalberg, Matt Lindblad, Jayson Megna, and Raphael Diaz joined the Blue Shirts as well.

Adam, a 2008 Draft pick of Buffalo, spent four years with the Sabres with 26 points and had 8 goals for the Rochester Americans of the AHL before going to Columbus midseason last year, where he was held pointless for three games. He spent the majority of the season playing for the Springfield Falcons, with 14 assists and 22 points in 46 AHL games.

Gibbons played much of his pro career in the AHL. He spent three seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scanton Penguins where he had 30 goals and 60 assists before being sent up to the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where had 5 goals and 12 assists in 41 regular season games.

He then signed for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency of 2014, where he split time between Columbus and the Falcons. He had 5 points with the Blue Jackets and 8 assists and 11 points with Springfield.

Stalberg, a 6th round pick of Toronto, played his past two seasons with Nashville, scoring 10 goals and 18 assists in 95 regular season games.

Lindblad split time in his past two seasons with the Providence Bruins and Boston. He was held scoreless for all four games in the NHL, and had 46 points in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with Providence.

Megna also split time in his past two seasons between the NHL and AHL. He totaled 5 goals and 5 assists in 48 regular season games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had 19 assists and 44 points in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Diaz, who played in 56 games last season, had 2 goals and 2 assists with the Calgary Flames.

I definitely think the Rangers are still a playoff team. However, I’m not sure they have enough to take that next step to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals like they did against the LA Kings in 2014, especially considering the retirement of Martin St. Louis.

Pittsburgh Penguins

After yet another early playoff exit for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Penguins found themselves on the receiving end on two huge trades in the offseason. They acquired Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, plus a conditional draft pick in the blockbuster trade of the year, as well as Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 2nd-rounder in a separate trade with Vancouver.

Phil Kessel, definitely known to be a goal scorer and not a two-way player, was highly chastised as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had 25 goals and 61 points, but was a -34 last season. Time will tell if that plus-minus stat turns around.

Erixon, who was moved around quite a bit last season from Columbus to Chicago and claimed off waivers by the Leafs, had just a goal in 15 games in Toronto.

Biggs spent last season in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears, scoring 6 points in eight games.

Bonino, whom I’d talked a bit about in my Pacific Division preview, was a lethal weapon for the Canucks, and could very well fit in with the Penguins as well.

Defenseman Adam Clendening, drafted in the 2nd round by Chicago, spent last season splitting time with the Hawks and IceHogs before getting traded to Vancouver, where he had 2 assists in 17 games. He was then sent down to the AHL with the Utica Comets, where he had a goal and four assists in 11 AHL games.

In terms of signings, the Penguins got Matt Cullen (from Nashville) and Eric Fehr (from Washington) while also losing a whole bunch of players like Paul Martin.

Overall, I think the Penguins got better. Again, the only thing is whether or not Kessel will improve his game defensively because it’s obvious that offense is not the issue for him. With the addition of Bonino as well, I like this team’s chances to potentially go deep in the playoffs.

 

Washington Capitals

The Capitals also had a pretty eventful offseason with some pretty big trades and signings. Actually, the only player they acquired through trade was the Blues’ T.J. Oshie, but still pretty decent.

Oshie, while well known for his shootout heroics  for Team USA back in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, isn’t known to perform well in the playoffs. However, they could very well change with the Washington Capitals. Who knows?

Last season, Oshie had 19 goals and 36 assists.

While the Capitals lost a few players to free agency, they also gained some, most notably Justin Williams who will definitely help their cause in the playoffs.

They also added players like Ryan Stanton from Vancouver and Zack Sill from Toronto.

Overall, I think this should be a much improved Caps team, like I said especially with the addition of Justin Williams. Oshie should be an interesting player they could figure out where to slot him into the line-up.

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2015-16 Season Preview: Atlantic Division

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Since it’s August, which is a dry month in the NHL hockey world other than NHL.com’s 30-in-30 coverage, I’m going to be doing an early preview of the 2015-16 season, which will be divided up into divisions, which means there will be four parts. For this third part, I will be covering the Atlantic Division. Disclaimer: Here and there, I’ll be using advanced stats to try and justify my opinions, and since I’m new to this stuff I’m having various friends of mine help me. Therefore if I sound like a total idiot still, I’m sorry but bear with me on that. 

Previously, I’d covered the Pacific and Central Division in the first two of four parts in my 2015-16 NHL season preview. Here are my thoughts on the Atlantic Division.

Ottawa Senators

The Senators had an interesting 2014-15 season. After a pretty up-and-down start in 2014, the Sens fired former head coach Paul MacLean and replaced him with Dave Cameron, who was an assistant coach to MacLean. By that time in early December when the news broke, Ottawa had a record of 11-11-5, and were four points out of the second wild-card spot in the East.

Of course, as much credit new head coach Dave Cameron gets for the significant turnaround that Ottawa had due to a drastic improvement in puck possession, we can’t forget then-new up-and-comer Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond (.942 SV%, 1.74 GAA, 3 shutouts), who was arguably huge in helping the team in front of him to not only turn their season around, but also secure a playoff spot. They would subsequently fall in 6 games to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. All-in-all, though, props to them for the amount of effort they put in to get as far as they did.

As for offseason changes, not much was done to really remake the Senators roster, other than send goalie Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand to Buffalo for a 2015 first round pick, as well as the Eric Gryba trade.

The 2015-16 season will be an interesting one for this team. How will they respond to the amount of success they had to their new coach? Will they be able to keep pace with the Eastern Conference and meet expectations again? Most importantly, can Andrew Hammond repeat the same performance he had last season? These are all valid questions to keep an eye on during the 2015-16 season.

Buffalo Sabres

After another disappointing regular season, and purposely tanking to try and get Connor McDavid at number one, the Sabres are going to have to settle with the first round, second overall pick in Jack Eichel, yet another generational talent. As I’d implied in my Pacific Division preview with Connor McDavid and the Oilers, Eichel can’t single-handedly carry this team on his back and score a bushful in one season. It just doesn’t work like that, at least not anymore.

Everyone’s got to buy into the system, and with a few key acquisitions and the right moves, they could be headed out of the basement in a few years. That’s, indeed, the case with this team. After firing former head coach Ted Nolan earlier this year in April, the Sabres went and hired former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, whom they believe to be able to get this team back on track. In his first season as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins back in ’08-’09, Bylsma coached the team to a Stanley Cup Championship. By the time he was fired after his sixth season with the club, he had coached the Penguins to a 252-117-32 record.

As I mentioned talking about the Senators, the Sabres acquired both Robin Lehner and David Legwand, which should be a huge boost for the team. Lehner, who never really got the jump-start he needed as a back-up for Ottawa, gets a fresh start in Buffalo.

The former 2009 2nd round pick spent five season with the Senators and posted a 30-36-13 record overall. He had a .914 save percentage, 2.88 GAA, and 2 shutouts in his 86 games played with the franchise. Unfortunately, according to NHL.com, he did not play after sustaining a concussion on February 16th of this year, although Senators GM Bob Murray said after the season that Lehner had recovered from the injury. Lehner will be sharing the crease with former Islander and Bruin Chad Johnson.

David Legwand, who turns 35 this month in August, had 9 goals and 27 points in 80 games with the Senators last season. The longtime Nashville Predator spent 15 years with the Preds before moving to Detroit to play with the Red Wings in the 2013-14 season, where he scored 4 goals and totaled 11 points in 21 games before going to Ottawa. The Sabres didn’t just stop there.

They also acquired, from the Colorado Avalanche, Ryan O’ Reilly and Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, JT Compher, and a 2015 2nd round pick, as mentioned in my Central Division preview.

O’Reilly, a 2nd round pick of the Avs in ’09, has spent his entire professional playing career with Colorado. In his six seasons with the team he lit the lamp 90 times, recorded 156 assists for 246 points. Unfortunately, whether or not he’ll be able to join the Sabres at the start of the season in early October or not — or even join them at all — due to an off-ice incident remains to be seen.

McGinn, who spent his last four seasons with Colorado, had 4 goals and 2 assists in his 2014-15 campaign.

Those who’ve left the organization include Cody Hodgson (Nashville Predators), Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, whose contracts were both bought out.

Despite the fact that the Sabres won’t be making the playoffs yet again during the torturous rebuilding process, with all the acquisitions they have (and depending on how the O’Reilly situation goes) the only direction they should be trending is up.

Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are another team currently relying on their youth to succeed, with the exception of Jaromir Jagr, captain Willie Mitchell (who won the Cup with the Kings back in 2012), and goalie Roberto Luongo. After coming up short of making the postseason again, they decided to pull the trigger on some trades.

Their first move, while minor, was before the 2015 NHL Draft, acquiring Greg McKegg from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for rights to forward Zach Hyman and a conditional 7th rounder for the 2017 draft. Though he recorded no points during his very limited time with the Maple Leafs during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, McKegg — a 2010 3rd rounder for Toronto — scored a total of 50 goals and collected 58 assists in 190 games with the Toronto Marlies.

Then, on July 1st — Free Agency Day, the Panthers acquired Reilly Smith and the contract of forward Marc Savard from the Boston Bruins.

Smith, a 3rd round draft pick of Dallas before coming over to Boston in the Seguin trade, spent two seasons with the Stars, recording 3 goals and 9 points. In Boston, he had 33 goals and 58 assists in 163 games played.

Savard, who hadn’t played a game since the 2010-11 season due to injuries, played with the Rangers, Thrashers, Flames, and Bruins, all in a span of 14 years. His career totals consisted of 207 goals, 499 assists, and 706 points in 807 games.

With a mainly young roster led by Jonathan Huberdeau (38-75–113), it’ll be interesting how the young players will improve. One big question that was brought up by NHL.com’s Dan Rosen in their 30-in-30 segment is can Huberdeau take that next step? I truly think that is an important question, and if he does, that should give his team mates and line mates a huge confidence boost.

Overall, I think they have improved with the Reilly Smith trade. However, I don’t think they’ll be a playoff contender just yet.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs, like the Oilers and Sabres, are a team that’s obviously rebuilding. Right at the start of their offseason, Team President Brendan Shanahan didn’t hesitate to start issuing pink slips to team personnel, and that included former GM Dave Nonis (now a special assignment scout and consultant to GM Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks).

Although the blockbuster trade of the 2015 offseason didn’t happen at the NHL Entry Draft, it was still quite a sight as the team packaged defenseman Tim Erixon, RW forward Tyler Biggs, and a conditional drag pick into the deal that sent Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Nick Spaling, Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrignton, a 2016 3rd rounder, and a conditional pick.

Now, before we start piling on the criticisms towards Phil Kessel, keep in mind that the Toronto media most likely had a lot to do with driving him out of town as well. That being said, we know the problems that the Toronto Maple Leafs have. First off, I haven’t watched a lot of Leafs games, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they don’t have much in terms of leadership. Guys like Kessel and Phaneuf were supposed to step up for their team, especially since Phaneuf is the captain. However, that hasn’t happened yet.

In terms of their offense, according to NHL.com/Stats, their SAT (Shot Attempts) numbers as a whole don’t look very good. As for their Corsi For numbers, I took a look at their 5-on-5 close numbers which are defined on the hockeyanalysis.com site as “5v5 play when the game is tied or within 1 goal in the first and second periods or tied in the third period”. Well, let’s just say they’re not very good either, as the Leafs placed 29th in that ranking.

Other aspects in their game that need improving are defense and goaltending.

During the offseason, aside from the Kessel deal, they also acquired defenseman Martin Marincin from the Oilers in the deal that sent Brad Ross and 2015 4th rounder to Edmonton, rights to Taylor Beck from the Nashville Predators for forward Jamie Devane, and — as mentioned in talking about the Florida Panthers — rights to Zach Hyman from the Panthers and a conditional 2017 7th rounder for Greg McKegg.

Beck, who was an RFA, had 11 goals and 12 assists in 85 games with the Predators. Devane had appeared in two NHL games for the Leafs in the 2013-14 season but spent the rest of his career playing in the AHL and ECHL. He had six goals and seven assists with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 96 games.

Drafted by the Panthers in the 5th round of the 2010 Draft, Hyman spent last season back at the University of Michigan in the Big-10 League with 22 goals and 54 points in 37 games played.

They also signed a few players, including forward Shawn Matthias, Daniel Winnik, P.A. Parenteau, Mark Arcobello, and Matt Hunwick.

Originally chosen in the 2nd round by Detroit, Matthias spent seven seasons with the Florida Panthers (48-49–97) before playing for Vancouver for two years, with 21 goals and 34 points.

Daniel Winnik, drafted by the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes in 2004, had 18 goals and 34 assists in 202 games with the Coyotes. He moved onto Colorado where he spent two years and put up 44 points, and was traded to San Jose, where he played for a season (3 goals, 2 assists). He then signed with Anaheim for two seasons and scored 12 goals and 49 assists in 124 games before moving onto Pittsburgh and Toronto in the 2014-15 season for a combined total of 9 goals and 34 assists in 79 games.

P.A. Parenteau, a 9th rounder from Anaheim, recently played for Colorado for two seasons, scoring a total of 32 goals and 76 points in 103 games before moving onto the Habs, with 8 goals and 14 assists in 56 games.

Mark Arcobello, signed as a free agent by Edmonton, spent three seasons with the Oilers (11-19–30) before moving to three different teams (Nashville, Pittsburgh, Arizona). In his last pit stop with the ‘Yotes, he had 9 goals and 7 assists.

Matt Hunwick, a 7th round pick of the Bruins, recently played 55 games with the New York Rangers in the 2014-15 regular season. He had 2 goals and 9 assists.

As of editing this article, numerous reports indicate that former Shark Devin Setoguchi may be close to signing with the Leafs as well. A 1st round pick of San Jose in the 2005 Entry Draft, Setoguchi spent four seasons with the Sharks, with a total of 84 goals and 75 assists in 267 regular season games. He was then traded to Minnesota, where he put up 63 points in 117 games with the Wild. He signed with Winnipeg and, subsequently, the Calgary Flames putting up a combined total of 11 goals and 27 points (all with Winnipeg as he did not record a point in his 12 games with Calgary).

Setoguchi has also spent time in the ECHL in the 2012-13 season, where he put up 4 goals and 9 assists. In 2014-15 season, he was sent down to the AHL, where he played 19 games with the Adirondack Flames and had 10 points.

With all of these offseason trades and signings, I haven’t even touched on the fact that former Detroit coach Babcock signed the richest offseason deal in NHL history to head coach the Maple Leafs. They also added former Devils GM and President Lou Lamoriello as GM for the Leafs.

Babcock’s first NHL head coaching job was for the Might Ducks of Anaheim (now the Anaheim Ducks), as he coached them to a 40-27-9-6 record (back when there were still ties), and won the Western Conference in the playoffs. He would coach another season with them before moving on to Detroit, where he spent 10 years with the Red Wings as a head coach, coaching them to a Stanley Cup win in 2008 and winning the Western Conference again the following year. In 786 games, he coached the Red Wings to a 458-223-105 record.

Lamoriello, who’s spent almost his entire organizational career up until now with the New Jersey Devils, joined the front office in 1987. He was previous the head coach for the men’s ice hockey team at Providence College and became the school’s athletic director. During his time as GM, the Devils won three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) and reached the Stanley Cup Final twice in 2001 and 2012. Lamoriello was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in ’09. Following last year’s postseason miss, he stepped down as GM, letting former Pittsburgh Penguin GM Ray Shero take over. He had intended to remain President of the Devils.

In spite of all these changes, the Leafs are likely to miss the playoffs again. Like the Oilers, it’s up to the players to decide if they want to work as a team to help the Leafs get back into the postseason picture.

Boston Bruins

For the first time since the ’06-’07 season, the Bruins failed to qualify for the postseason. Generally, when you miss the postseason in general, you’re going to want to improve. That’s why, to this day, I still question GM Don Sweeney’s initial moves.

I covered the Dougie Hamilton trade for the Calgary Flames in my Pacific Division preview; great for them, a “what the hell were you thinking” for Boston.

Talking about the Florida Panthers earlier, I mentioned the Reilly Smith trade in which Boston acquired Jimmy Hayes. Hayes, a second rounder from Toronto, spent two seasons in Florida with 19 goals and 35 points.

Before trading back-up goalie Martin Jones to San Jose, whom they originally acquired from Los Angeles, and getting prospect Sean Kuraly, in the Jones trade they also acquired defense prospect Colin Miller while giving up Milan Lucic.

Drafted in the 5th round by the L.A. Kings in 2012, the 22-year-old defenseman spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, scoring a total of 24 goals and 69 points in 135 games.

Lastly in terms of trades, the Bruins acquired Zac Rinaldo from the Philadelphia Flyers. A 6th round pick for the Flyers back in 2008, the 25-year-old spent all four seasons with Philadelphia, with 8 goals and 16 assists.

While they lost some important players to free agency as well, such as Matt Bartkowski and Gregory Campbell, they gained a few as well with former Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin and former Duck Beleskey joining the roster.

Irwin, who had 16 goals and 35 assists in 153 games played in San Jose, should help bolster the blue line a little more, especially with the shot he has.

Beleskey brings his playoff experience from Anaheim. A 2006 4th round pick, he had 57 goals and 55 assists in 329 regular season games. He had 13 goals and 4 assists in 34 playoff games with the Ducks.

All-in-all, even with Irwin and Beleskey, I don’t think the Bruins are going to make it this year. It seems to me like they’re trying to get younger. They haven’t improved much, and the Eastern Conference has gotten a little tougher.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. While their roster, for the most part, was pretty good, they added a few more pieces to their line-up. Before we get to that though, let’s talk about the most important offseason move for Detroit, which was letting go Mike Babcock as head coach. Babcock, of course, left for Toronto. That meant former assistant coach under Babcock, Jeff Blashill, takes over.

Blashill started his coaching career as an assistant coach for Ferris State University and Miami University. His first ever head coaching job was with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, which he coached to a championship. After losing in the second round the following season, he moved onto coach Western Michigan University, with a 19-13-10 record. During the 2011-12 season, he got his first professional coaching job in the NHL as an assistant for the Red Wings, before moving down to the AHL to coach the Grand Rapid Griffins for three seasons, with an overall record of 134-71-23 and coaching them to a championship in his first season as head coach.

While Detroit made no trades and managed to keep their roster mostly in tact, they signed former Canadien Eric Tangradi, former Hawk and Ranger Brad Richards, and former Capital Mike Green.

Tangradi, a 2nd round pick from Anaheim, spent four years as a Pittsburgh Penguin and two as a Winnipeg Jet (5-10–15) before joining the Montreal canadiens, where he was pointless in seven games and was a -3.

Richards, a 3rd round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, played seven years with the Lightning before moving on to Dallas and then the Rangers (276-591–867) before joining Chicago for their Stanley Cup run. where he had 12 goals and 37 points in 76 regular season games. He had 3 goals and 11 assists during their Cup run.

Green, a 1st round pick for Washington in the 2004 Entry Draft, played all ten years of his career so far with the Capitals, posting a total of 113 goals, 247 assists, and 360 points in 575 games. He has 9 goals and 26 assists in 71 postseason games with the Caps.

It’ll be interesting to see how the new signings fit in for the Detroit Red Wings, whom for the most part will be relying on their young stars for much of their offensive outputs and defensive play. One player to certainly watch out for is goalie Jimmy Howard, who certainly did not fair well last season. The subject of trade rumors during the postseason, look for the 31-year-old starting netminder to fight to maintain his starting position for the Red Wings. Otherwise, back-up Petr Mrazek might take over number one job.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Following a Game 6 Stanley Cup Final loss, the Lightning have nothing to be disappointed for, except not winning the ultimate prize. Last season, they had a great run in the regular season, most notably with Tyler Johnson and the Triplets Line. During the 2015 postseason, the line combined for a total of 61 points (31 goals, 30 assists). However, that line was held pointless through the final three games of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Even with the rise of Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos is still the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, so look for the 25-year-old centerman and sniper to continue racking up points (72) in the regular season. Also, look for him to rebound from last postseason, as he was held without a point for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially the SCF (1 point in 6 games).

While they kept their roster largely in tact in the offseason (only defenseman Mark Barberio left via free agency), they added two more to their line-up with Tye McGinn from Arizona and Eric Condra from Ottawa.

Drafted 4th round in the 2010 Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, Tye McGinn — brother of Jamie McGinn of the Buffalo Sabres — spent two seasons with the Flyers before getting traded to San Jose in the 2014 NHL Draft. As a Shark he record a goal and 4 assists before the Arizona Coyotes claimed him off waivers. He had a goal and an assist with the Desert Dogs**.

Erik Condra, a 7th-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2006 Draft, spent all five seasons of his young career with Ottawa, posting a total of 33 goals and 54 assists for 87 points in 299 games. He’ll have played his 300th with the Tampa Bay Lightning when the season starts.

The Lightning have a lot to look forward to with their roster and youth with the way they played last season and how far they went into the playoffs, and I believe they have a very good chance of repeating that success in the 2015-16 season. While I do believe that they have a chance at winning the Cup this year, in order to go deep into the playoffs again, they need their starting goalie Ben Bishop to be healthy again.

Bishop, while he let in some goals he’d like to have back, wasn’t too bad despite what his record indicates (13-11-0) in 25 games. He helped carry the Lightning with a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA along with 3 shutouts.

**The “Desert Dogs” nickname comes from Sharks play-by-play announcer, Randy Hahn, as that is his nickname for the Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes.

Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens fell to the Lightning in the second round of the 2015 playoffs after eliminating the Senators in the first round.

One of the biggest reasons for this is their lack of offense. They can’t just rely on Max Pacioretty to be the go-to guy for offensive production.

According to the Montreal Canadiens website, in the 2015 playoffs, PK Subban led the team with 7 assists and 8 points. During the 2014-15 regular season, Pacioretty led the Habs with 37 goals and 67 points.

According to NHL.com/Stats, the Canadiens ranked 13th in the League in Team Scoring, with 0.41 goals in a 60-minute span. Only three other teams (Senators, Capitals, and Penguins) averaged lower.

Their defense is okay, and while they led the League with the fewest goals allowed on average in the 2014-15 regular season, a large part of that is due to the work in net by starting netminder Carey Price.

Price, who was drafted by the Habs in the 1st round of the 2005 Entry Draft, posted a 44-16-6 record with a .933 save percentage and 1.96 GAA. He won the Jennings (most shutouts), Vezina (best goaltender), Hart (Most Valuable Player), and Ted Lindsay (outstanding player) Awards.

While the Canadiens’ only trade acquisition was Zack Kassian, they did sign a few players in Alex Semin (who’s contract was bought out by the Hurricanes in the offseason) and Mark Barberio via free agency.

Alexander Semin, a 1st round pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2002 Entry Draft, joins the Habs roster looking for a new start after spending his last three seasons with the Hurricanes. His production numbers dipped much lower from his career-highs back in Washington (40 goals, 44 assists) during the ’09-’10 season. In the 2014-15 season, he had just 6 goals and 13 assists.

Barberio, 6th round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, spent all three seasons of his young career with the Lightning with 6 goals and 11 assists in 103 games. In the 2012-13 season, he split between Tampa Bay and the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, racking up 42 points (8 goals, 34 assists) in 73 AHL games.

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2015-16 Season Preview: Central Division

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Since it’s August, which is a dry month in the NHL hockey world other than NHL.com’s 30-in-30 coverage, I’m going to be doing an early preview of the 2015-16 season, which will be divided up into divisions, which means there will be four parts. For this second part, I will be covering the Central Division. Disclaimer: Here and there, I’ll be using advanced stats to try and justify my opinions, and since I’m new to this stuff I’m having various friends of mine help me. Therefore if I sound like a total idiot still, I’m sorry but bear with me on that.

Previously, I’d covered the Pacific Division in the first of four parts in my 2015-16 NHL season preview. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the Central Division.

 

St. Louis Blues

After another early playoff exit that saw the Blues fall to the Wild in 6 games, one might figure that St. Louis should want to do something in order to turn their Cup chances around. Surprisingly, however, that was not the case as the Blues front office largely stood pat during the offseason.

The only move was getting rid of their face of the franchise, T.J. Oshie, and sending him to the Washington Capitals for Troy Brouwer and goalie prospect Phoenix Copley, along with a third round selection in next year’s draft.

Brouwer had 21 goals and 22 assists last season with the Caps. In the 2015 playoffs, he had no goals and 3 assists, and was a -3. Though he does have the advantage of having gotten further in the playoffs than Oshie did with the Blues, having helped the Chicago Blackhawks win their first of three Stanley Cups in recent years in 2010, it won’t help St. Louis much.

Copley spent the 2014-15 season with the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, the Hersey Bears. He had a save percentage of 0.925 and 2.17 GAA.

With Oshie gone, the Blues signed forward Vladimir Tarasenko to an eight-year, $60 million contract, presumably giving him the reigns as the new face of the franchise.

Last season, according to hockey-reference.com, the 23-year-old right-winger had 37 goals and 36 assists, totaling 73 points in 77 games, tied for 10th in the League. Of those 37 goals, two of them were hat tricks. He was also the only player to score six game-winning goals, six shootout goals and two overtime goals.

In the 2015 postseason, Tarasenko had 6 goals and 7 points, and — in a game against the Minnesota Wild — was the first Blues players to score a hat trick since 2004.

St. Louis also signed former Wild Kyle Brodziak.

The Blues are definitely still a playoff contender, but with these moves, they’ll be looking at another possible early playoff exit. I’d say they stayed largely the same.

Nashville Predators

After a two-year playoff absence, the Nashville Predators found themselves back in again and put up a hell of a fight against the eventual Cup winners in Chicago. While they did fall in six games to the Blackhawks in the first round, there seems to be much to look forward to this coming 2014-15 season and in the future. Now, the question is can they keep it up?

One of the biggest reasons why the Predators succeeded in the regular season was their goaltender Pekka Rinne. Fresh off an injury-riddled 2013-14 season, the Preds starting netminder seemed to be bailing out his team almost every time, staying sharp and making highlight reel save after save. As a result, Rinne was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender and had a career second-best save percentage of .923, and a 2.18 GAA, posting 4 shutouts.

However, you can’t expect the goalie to do everything, and in the playoffs he did falter enough to lose his touch. His save percentage went down to a .909.

Can the Finnish netminder do it again? Given he stays healthy like he did last season, it’s highly possible that he can and will.

As hints of possible trades continue to surround declining franchise defenseman and Captain Shea Weber (15 goals, 30 assists) here and there, there’s no denying that the Predators’ youth has grown and continued to improve. Seth Jones, the Predators 2013 1st round pick, came off a not-so-stellar rookie year where he had 25 points and was a -23 to a picking up 8 goals and 27 points and was a +3. While being a minus player in the postseason, he helped out Nashville’s defense by making key defensive plays at the right times. Thus, I think that Jones has the potential to become Nashville’s top D-man on their roster for their future.

Roman Josi’s another guy to look at. Drafted by the Predators in the second round of the 2008 Entry Draft, the 25-year-old Swiss turned his first three seasons around, adding 15 goals and 40 assists to his career totals, and was a +15. In the playoffs, he was a -5 but had a goal (and a point) to his credit. That being said, he’s still young, but he definitely has potential as well to be a top defenseman for the Predators.

There wasn’t much for the Predators in terms of offseason moves, other than acquiring Max Reinhart from Calgary, Jamie Devane from Toronto (who’s had a less-than-stellar career in both the NHL and AHL), and giving up goalie Magnus Hellberg’s rights to the New York Rangers.

They did, however, signed former Canucks 1st round pick Cody Hodgson, who’s looking for a fresh start after not panning out in Buffalo. Career wise in both Buffalo and Vancouver, he has a total of 61 goals and 73 assists.

All in all, I think they’re a possible playoff team. It’s become more and more evident that the Predators are looking more to their youth to contribute, like forward Filip Forsberg, while veteran guys like Weber and Colin Wilson still remain with the team.

Minnesota Wild

For a team that got swept in the second round of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Wild were relatively quiet during the offseason, only re-signing their starter Devan Dubnyk to a six-year contract.

A 1st round selection of the Edmonton Oilers in the ’04 Draft, Dubnyk was moved around quite a bit in the League after spending five years with the Oilers. He has an overall record of 97-91-26, and is most noted for carrying the Wild into a playoff position during the regular season with a 27-9-2 record, and a career-high 5 shutouts (a total of 6 with Minnesota and Arizona).

Due to cap issues, a few players like Jordan Leopold, Kyle Brodziak, and Sean Bergenheim had to be let go. With only one new signing in the free agent market, their roster has largely stayed in tact.

It’s hard to tell the direction they’re going, but one thing’s for sure. They’re still not going very far in the playoffs.

Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche slid back to disappointment last season after turning their 2013-14 season around and making the playoffs in Patrick Roy’s first year as head coach. Thus, naturally, they felt they had to retool their roster a little.

In their first of two offseason moves, the Avs acquired Carl Soderberg from the Boston Bruins just before the 2015 NHL Draft. They also traded Ryan O’ Reilly and Jamie McGinn to Buffalo in exchange for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, JT Compher, and a 2015 2nd round pick.

Soderberg, originally a 2nd round pick of the St. Louis Blues, spent all three seasons of his career with the Bruins, accumulating 29 goals and 94 points. In his 14 games played during the 2013 and 2014 playoffs, he amassed a goal and 5 assists (which really came from his totals from the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as he did not record a point in his first two career postseason games).

Colorado also signed veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who left Anaheim via free agency. Beauchemin, who won the Cup with the Ducks in ’07, will be a veteran presence on an otherwise young Avalanche roster. Originally a 3rd round pick from Montreal, the 35-year-old spent nine years with the Anaheim Ducks/Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (’05-’06) and accumulated 53 goals and 126 assists with the team during the regular season.

While there’s definitely a lot to look forward to with this team in terms of offensive responsibilities, it’ll be interesting to see how they fair defensively.

According to NHL.com/Stats, they had the second worst shot differentials 5-on-5, the Buffalo Sabres being the worst, and were ranked the second highest in the USAT Against stat (Unblocked Shot Attempts Against). Again, only the Buffalo Sabres allowed more. Not surprisingly, they finished 7th — which is dead last — in the Central Division, with a goal differential in -8, the only team in the Central to have a negative goal differential.

If the Avs are planning on contending for a playoff spot this year, they’re really going to have to tighten it up defensively, as they shouldn’t have to rely on goalie Semyon Varlamov to have to make huge saves every time. Obviously, Varlamov won’t be able to bail his team out every time, so Avs fans should hope a veteran presence like Beauchemin helps mentor the young defensemen and helps the team step up on D. The young forwards need to chip in more as well, as forward and 2013 first round pick Nathan MacKinnon should be healthy by now after having to miss the rest of last season with a broken foot.

Despite the team’s defensive troubles last season, one of the better defensemen for Colorado so far, I think, has been Tyson Barrie. The 24 year old 3rd rounder from ’09 had a great 2013-14 and 2014-15 season, scoring a combined 25 goals and 66 assists for 91 points with a plus-22 rating.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have just come off a year where they made their first postseason appearance since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta. Their last postseason appearance as the Jets before the Atlanta Thrashers made it in ’06-’07? That was back in the ’95-’96 season, their last one before the original Winnipeg Jets team relocated to Phoenix the very next year to become the Phoenix Coyotes.

Anyway, enough about the history, but you can bet your ass that that’s why Jets fans were so excited to finally cheer on their team at home at the MTS Center as they proudly prepped for the old White Out tradition.

Although the Jets were swept in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks, according to CapFriendly, they’ve so far kept their roster completely in tact. No buyouts, no new signings, no trades since the Evander Kane deal last season. Nothing.

That means Jets fans can expect the same stuff next season. With Pavelec still in net as the starting netminder, look for him to really try to solidify himself as a number one goalie to back-up Michael Hutchinson. After a not-so-good 2013-14 season, he rebounded with a .920 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA.

Still, he could very well be on watch by the front office and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. If he starts to slip up again, look for Hutchinson to take over. Although he’s played fewer games and has a relatively small sample size, Hutchinson isn’t too bad with a record of 23-11-5 and two shutouts.

Whether or not the Jets make the playoffs next season, they’ll definitely be a force to come.

 

Dallas Stars

The Stars, I think, were one of the winners in offseason deals this year. Not only did they manage to acquire rights to former Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, but they were also able to trade for three-time Cup Champ Patrick Sharp and sign defenseman Johnny Oduya, who joins his teammate from Chicago. Sharp came to Dallas in a trade that saw defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt packaged to Chicago.

With all that Stanley Cup Playoff experience, the Stars have only improved as a team. With a veterans like Sharp and Oduya who can help lead the team by example, look out. This team, which has struggled mightily in the past with puck possession and maintaining leads, those three acquisitions will be a huge boost for the Stars. Look for this team to potentially be in the mix for the playoffs.

For Niemi, this’ll be a new start for him after coming off a relatively shaky season in San Jose. Although the 31-year-old Finnish netminder didn’t have nearly the defensive support with the Sharks as he did during his Cup run with the Blackhawks back in 2010, he can still prove to be an effective starter and goalie for the Stars.

Defenseman prospect Stephen Johns also came along to Dallas in the Sharp trade. The 23-year-old had four goals and 21 points in 51 games in the regular season last year with Chicago’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

 

Chicago Blackhawks

After winning their third Stanley Cup in six years, the Hawks should have plenty of reasons to celebrate, and why not? They had the core players to do it. Their role players stepped up when they had to.

Well, not so fast. While the Hawks are definitely celebrating over the summer, once again they have cap issues like they did in 2010 after their first Cup win in a while.

The Kane incident is something to definitely consider as well, but in terms of on-ice moves, they had to deal Sharp as mentioned in my section about the Dallas Stars. They lost Oduya as well to Dallas via free agency. Brad Richards went to Detroit, Vermette back to Arizona, Brandon Saad dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and back-up Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers.

That said, they’re hurting like hell. While Toews and, possibly Kane, still lead the team, this Blackhawks team just ain’t what it was anymore. They’re definitely a playoff team, but a Cup contender? I don’t think they’ve got it this

Based on many reactions on social media, the Brandon Saad trade seemed unexpected, especially when just weeks before GM Stan Bowman had said Saad would be with the Hawks for life. Unfortunately, again, the Hawks couldn’t afford to re-sign him. So, as Saad, defenseman Michael Paliotta, and forward Alex Broadhurst prep for their time in Columbus, let’s look at whom Chicago got in return.

Artem Anisimov, originally a 2nd round draft pick of the New York Rangers in the 2006 Entry Draft, spent his first four years in New York before being traded to Columbus. In his three seasons with Columbus, he scored 40 goals and racked up 44 assists for 84 points. He does have playoff experience. During his four years with both teams, he had 5 goals and 9 assists in 32 games, and is a plus-1 rating.

Jeremy Morin, a 2nd rounder of the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers, spent his first five years in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, with 8 goals and 8 assists, before getting traded in December 2014 to Columbus, where he had 2 goals and 4 assists in 28 games. He has only played two games in the playoffs with Chicago, where he recorded no points and was a minus-1. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in with the organization again.

Corey Tropp, a 3rd round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, split time between the Sabres and their affiliate, the Rochester Americans (w/ Sabres: 3 goals, 6 assists; w/ Rochester Americans: 33 goals, 11 assists). In Columbus, he had 3 goals and 18 points in 105 games.

Marko Dano, drafted by the Blue Jackets in the 2013 Entry Draft, scored 8 goals and collected 13 assists in 35 games last season. According to Eliteprospects.com, Marko Dano is a “skilled two-way forward who skates with good mobility and effort”.

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2015-16 Season Preview: Pacific Division

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Since it’s August, which is a dry month in the NHL hockey world other than NHL.com’s 30-in-30 coverage, I’m going to be doing an early preview of the 2015-16 season, which will be divided up into divisions, which means there will be four parts. For this first part, I will be covering the Pacific Division. Disclaimer: Here and there, I’ll be using advanced stats to try and justify my opinions, and since I’m new to this stuff I’m having various friends of mine help me. Therefore if I sound like a total idiot still, I’m sorry but bear with me on that.

It was an interesting offseason to say the least. With players set to return to training camp by about mid-to-late next month in September, let’s preview which NHL teams improved, took a step backward, or stayed put.

 

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers’ offseason went as expected, I suppose. After the San Jose Sharks had parted ways with their previous head coach, Todd McLellan, the Oilers took advantage of the opportunity to hire him along with coaches Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft, both of whom were also fired from San Jose. Personally, I think this is a great coaching staff. It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t help much in terms of getting the Sharks over the hump. However, I truly believe this is a coaching staff that knows what they’re doing. McLellan, of course, was an assistant to former Detroit head coach Mike Babcock when they won the Stanley Cup back in ’08.

Add the current coaching experience of this new staff along with one of two generational players in Connor McDavid from this past year’s NHL Entry Draft and you’ve got a team that could potentially be trending upwards given they really focus on working on a few key aspects, like defense and goaltending. They have no problem scoring goals.

Now, of course, I understand any criticisms that that opinion might get. The Oilers have a reputation and tendency to screw up the development of their first-round picks, and I’ll admit I was on board with that notion initially too. However, with some big changes coming out of the front office especially the hiring of Peter Chiarelli as GM from the Boston Bruins, I have a strong feeling that those changes will translate quite well onto the ice. It’s up to the players, now, on how they choose to handle it.

The Oilers also brought in goalie Cam Talbot in a trade with the New York Rangers along with Anders Nilsson from the Chicago Blackhawks to hopefully finally bring stability in net. The 28-year-old, who originally signed with the Rangers via free agency in 2010, spent two seasons (2013-2014, 2014-2015) with the Rangers putting up a .931 save percentage, 2.00 GAA, and 8 shutouts in 57 games of the regular season. In his only two postseason appearances during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he accumulated a .846 save percentage and a 2.61 GAA. He was 33-15-5 in the regular season and 0-2 in the postseason.

Anders Nilsson, a former 3rd rounder for the New York Islanders, spent two seasons with the Isles (2011-12, 2013-14) while being bounced back and forth between the NHL and their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In 23 games played at the NHL level, he totaled his season with the Isles with a .898 save percentage and 3.05 GAA, along with one shut out in the NHL. At the AHL level, he accumulated a .911 save percentage, 2.67 GAA, and 2 shut outs in 46 games, before signing with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan last season. His rights were dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Nick Leddy trade in October of 2014. Earlier this offseason, the Blackhawks traded his rights to the Oilers for unsigned prospect Niam Coughlin.

With the acquisitions of both Talbot and Nilsson, look for Ben Scrivens to be the odd-man out later in the season.

In the last of their noteworthy offseason moves, the Oilers acquired defenseman Eric Gryba from the Ottawa Senators to bolster up their defense. In his three seasons with the Senators (2012-2015), he totaled just 4 goals and 25 assists, with 29 points in 165 games in the regular season. In his postseason record, he only played 10 games in two postseasons with the Sens (2012-13, 2014-15) with no points, and was a -2.

Other minor acquisitions include Brad Ross from the Toronto Maple leafs and Lauri Korpikoski from the Arizona Coyotes.

While they still maybe a long shot from the playoffs, they’re certainly taking strides towards it. I think so long as the players themselves commit too, like I said earlier, they’re on the right track.

 

Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, and the first time since changing their moniker to “Arizona Coyotes”.

The ‘Yotes haven’t had much of an eventful offseason either in terms of trades, their only trade acquisitions being Boyd Gordon from Edmonton and Nicklas Grossman from Philadelphia.

They signed Antoine Vermette, who returns to Arizona after helping Chicago win their third Cup in six years, and got back-up goalie Anders Lindback — who split last season between the Sabres and Stars — to fill the void left by departing goalie Mark Visentin. They also brought back defenseman Zbynek Michalek and signed former Canuck Brad Richardson, along with former Penguin and agitator Steve Downie. Both Michalek and Grossman (of Philadelphia) join Oliver-Ekman Larsson on the blue line.

A first round pick of the Coyotes in the ’09 Entry Draft, OEL has proven to be a cornerstone piece for the ‘Yotes defensive core. In his five seasons with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes, he’s amassed a total of 55 goals and 99 assists, totaling 154 points. In his 16 playoff appearances in the postseason of 2012, he had a goal and three assists. Despite his mostly negative plus-minus ratings over the years, he’s a highly skilled defenseman with great hockey sense and is very skilled and mobile with the puck. Give him a few more years and he’ll be one of the Coyotes’ top defensemen.

Speaking of young talent, the ‘Yotes drafted center/left-winger Dylan Strome from the Erie Otters at 3rd overall.

Eliteprospects.com describes the 18-year-old, 185 lbs forward as this:

A competitive offensive dynamo in nature, Dylan Strome possesses the technical skills and the intangible traits that differentiate leaders from followers. He makes his own luck; no number that shows up beside his name on the score sheet is handed to him on a silver platter. He consistently showcases the size and speed to attack and break through the opposition defense, and always knows where his linemates are in relativity to his position. Possesses a hard, accurate release on his shot, which he is never afraid to use. All-in-all, Dylan Strome is a player who wants to win more than anybody else, a person who takes it upon himself to do everything he can to help his team win, and a leader who provides his team with the motivation and will that it takes to win.

I think the kid’s got potential, and along with the rest of the mostly young roster like Max Domi and former Rangers prospect Anthony Duclair, the Arizona Coyotes will be a threat in the years to come.

One player to definitely keep an eye on over the course of the season is starter Mike Smith. Smith, whom the ‘Yotes seem to feed off whenever he has a good game, had his worst season last year. He had a record of 14-42-5. His GAA rose to 3.16, and recorded no shutouts for the first time in his nine-year career. It didn’t help that the defense in front of him allowed 267 goals either, which ranked third in the League. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, Arizona ranked 28th among all teams in terms of shots against over a 60-minute span, with a rate of 32.9 shots fired on their goalie.

As of now, I think the ‘Yotes miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Their defense has to be better, and the team as a whole needs more work. However, somewhere down the line depending on how things go, they could be in the mix for a playoff position.

 

Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames had a hell of a playoff run before losing in 5 games to Anaheim in the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They also made a hell of an impressive move in the offseason, acquiring Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins for a 2015 first rounder and a pair of 2nd round picks from the same draft, a steal for the Flames.

Hamilton adds to what already looks like a pretty solid defensive core for Calgary, with Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman, and Deryk Engelland, along with Ladislav Smid. According to NHL.com, the Flames’ defense had the most productive season accumulating a total of 195 points. With Hamilton’s point productions, he could easily mesh into Calgary’s defense.

One minor transaction for Calgary was giving up Max Reinhart to the Nashville Predators. Reinhart, a third round selection for Calgary in the 2010 Entry Draft, posted 235 points (94 goals, 141 assists in 266 games for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL (Western Hockey League) from 2008-2012.

Can the Calgary Flames do it again this season? I’m going to say yes. Although the Flames largely remain the same, with Vancouver having downgraded this year — in my opinion — and the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes having been where they are, the Flames have a shot at making the playoffs again.

 

Vancouver Canucks

Having mentioned the Canucks talking about the Calgary Flames, it’s only appropriate I talk about Vancouver now.

The Canucks did not have much of a successful offseason. Yes, they still have Radim Vrbata and the Sedin twins. However, they did lose a few key players, like Eddie Lack (whom I’ll talk about later on in this four part series when I cover the Metro division), Kevin Bieksa, Adam Clendening, Nick Bonino, and Zack Kassian.

Bieksa, who spent 10 seasons with the Canucks, reunites with team mate Ryan Kesler in Anaheim. The Canucks received a 2016 pick in return. The 34-year-old had to waive his no-trade clause.

In 597 games with Vancouver, Bieksa had 56 goals, 185 assists, and 241 points.

Adam Clendening and Nick Bonino went to Pittsburgh along with a 2016 2nd-round pick in return for Brandon Sutter and a conditional 3rd rounder.

Originally a 6th round pick of SJ in the ’07 draft, Bonino was traded to Anaheim after the 2013-14 season. In Vancouver, he was one of their more lethal weapons, scoring 15 goals and tallying 24 assists totaling 39 points in 75 games.

Per NHL.com, Brandon Sutter is expected to be “a big piece of their foundation”. A former Carolina Hurricanes draft pick in ’07, the 26-year-old center/RW scored 45 goals and tallied 33 assists in 209 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

According to Canucks General Manager Jim Benning, acquiring Sutter will allow for young Bo Horvat to naturally develop into the system. The first round, ninth overall selection in 2013 had 13 goals and 25 points in 68 games in his rookie campaign.

The Canucks also acquired Brandon Prust from the Montreal Canadiens and gave up Zack Kassian.

Given all these moves, I don’t see the Vancouver Canucks going back to the playoffs this year, and even if they do it’ll be a first round ouster again. Could they be trying to rebuild? Maybe. Who knows? One thing’s for sure. They’re a team full of question marks this year and years to come.

 

San Jose Sharks

After the debacle season that was 2014-15 in which the Sharks ended up missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, the front office in San Jose hopes to turn things around again especially in time for the 25th anniversary of Sharks hockey (I mean, you’ve got to think they’re going to really want to gain their fan’s support for this). The first major move in the offseason was to part ways with Todd McLellan and let go the rest of the coaching staff. Former associate coach Larry Robinson was bumped up to Director of Player Development.

With all the words being tossed around by General Manager Doug Wilson and us hockey and Sharks fans like “rebuild”, “retool”, whatever you want to call it, it all finally became clear to us that this wasn’t going to be a rebuild. It was a retool.

Although he hinted at potentially making a blockbuster deal at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the only real moves that were made were trading former starter Antti Niemi’s rights to Dallas, which they got a 2015 7th rounder in return and trading for former LA back-up Martin Jones, in turn giving up their first rounder for next year and unsigned prospect Sean Kuraly.

Afterwards, DW — though usually not the type to dive into free agency — did just that as he signed former Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin (17 goals, 92 assists) and former Washington Capital Joel Ward (57 goals, 64 assists).

First, let’s talk Jones. Yes, Martin Jones is an unproven goalie, with a save percentage of .923 and 1.99 GAA. While he does have his flashes of brilliance, he’s got a shaky track record at best. After coming off a great rookie season with the Kings, going 12-6-0 with 4 shutouts in 29 games, he had a less than stellar 2014-15 campaign, with only 4 wins and 5 losses. Of those 4 wins, 3 of them were shutouts.

The question is, can Jones prove himself to the Sharks to replace Nemo as the number one starter? Well, that’s a question that will be answered probably soon enough during the season as he battles for number one position with Alex Stalock, who also didn’t have a very good second full year coming off his rookie campaign. Now remember, before you people start crying inexperienced goalie tandem, the coaching staff and front office were going for potential, not experience. Niemi did have experience, but he was inconsistent as was the rest of the team.

Paul Martin gives San Jose a little more depth on the blue line, and could possibly pair up with Brent Burns. As for the rest of the defensive pairings, Vlasic and Braun will most likely stay the same. While both didn’t exactly have a great season last year (then again, neither did any of the other guys on that roster, other than Pavelski really), they’re still the Sharks’ best defensive shutdown pair. The departure of both veteran D-man Scott Hannan and young defenseman Matt Irwin also leave holes on the blue line, which will be filled by Mirco Mueller and, possibly, Matt Tennyson interchangeably throughout the season, both being young defensemen.

One last looming issue, one that’s been in question since Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy last offseason and since DeBoer said himself that the Sharks will indeed have a Captain prior to the home opener, is who’s going to be the next captain of the San Jose Sharks? Judging from last season and his overall attitude and work ethic, it could be a no-brainer that Joe Pavelski is named Captain of the Sharks. Other viable candidates are Logan Couture and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. Last season, the Sharks stuck with four alternate captains: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Vlasic, and Pavelski.

All in all, did team Teal make enough changes in the offseason to get themselves back in the playoff picture? I think yes. Paul Martin is a veteran D-man, and according to Wilson, is versatile and can move the puck well. Joel Ward spent the last four seasons of his NHL career playing with the League’s best offensive goal scorers in Alex Ovechkin. Based on the way he plays, Ward could either slot in on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski — Pavelski being the other right winger on that line, or be a third liner with Tommy Wingels and Chris Tierney.

However, the question will inevitably be, will the players and coaches do enough to get them back into the postseason? If the Sharks can adapt to DeBoer’s “pressure hockey” system, and their defense along with their goaltending holds up — Jones and Stalock being key to bailing their team out, they might have a shot at third in the Pacific at the most or a Wild Card spot at the least. Otherwise, it’ll be another early offseason.

 

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are coming off reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup back in ’07, only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.

In way of offseason moves, they improved themselves a little, trading forward Kyle Palmieri away to the New Jersey Devils. They got Carl Hagelin from the New York Rangers in a deal that sent Emerson Etem to the Broadway state. In other words, they trade a bit of their speed for size, which should be an interesting and nice fit for the Ducks.

Etem, the Ducks’ 2010 1st round draft pick, spent three seasons with Anaheim, scoring a total of 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points in 112 regular season games.

In 23 appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he had 6 goals and 2 assists.

Hagelin, a slightly more experienced player and the Rangers’ 6th round draft pick from the 2007 Entry Draft, spent all four seasons with the New York Rangers racking up 58 goals and 130 points in 266 games played. I think Hagelin will very well fit with the Ducks’ system. According to Eliteprospects.com, he possesses a great two-way ability, and a willingness to forecheck and work for the puck.

The Ducks also acquired back-up goalie Anton Khudobin from the Carolina Hurricanes and gave up James Wisniewski. Anton Khudobin could be challenging for back-up position with Ducks’ 2011 2nd round pick, John Gibson, as Frederik Andersen seems to be the undisputed number one starter.

As mentioned earlier in the Vancouver Canucks section, the Ducks acquired Kevin Bieksa. Though on the decline now as a defenseman and player, he could help mentor the Ducks’ youth.

Now, the remaining task at hand is for the leadership group of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to get the Ducks over the hump and back into the Stanley Cup Final. After eight years of postseason failure, however, can they accomplish that? While Getzlaf and Perry have had great regular seasons, during the 2015 postseason they only amassed a total of 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists). Against the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, both Getzaf and Perry were a -1. Unless they get it together in the playoffs, they’ll be looking at another postseason disappointment.

 

Los Angeles Kings

After coming off a 2014 postseason campaign which saw them win their second Stanley Cup and three years, they failed to make the playoffs for the first time since the ’08-’09 season.

Including some off-ice drama with two former Kings, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll (who had planned to opt for free agency prior to his arrest), L.A. lost Justin Williams (otherwise known as Mr. Game 7) to FA. Martin Jones was traded to the Boston Bruins, who then subsequently traded him to the San Jose Sharks.

In the Martin Jones trade, their only one of the offseason, they acquired forward Milan Lucic. Lucic, drafted 50th overall by the Bruins in the ’06 Entry Draft, amassed a total of 139 goals and 342 points in 566 games. Standing at 6 foot 3, 235 lbs, he would easily fit into L.A.’s style of play, as they are physical and relentless on the forecheck.

In place of Martin Jones, the Kings signed Jhonas Enroth to a one-year contract via free agency. Originally a 2nd round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2006, Enroth spent six seasons with the Sabres and was traded midseason to the Stars in 2014-15. During his time with the Stars, he was 5-5-0 in 13 games played, with a .906 save percentage, 2.38 GAA, and one shutout.

Last season, according to NHL.com/Stats, the L.A. Kings were among the top 5 in goals against, and 18th in the League in goals for, tied with Chicago with 155 goals. They are also 19th in the League in wins (3) when trailing after the 2nd period — all while 5-on-5.

Overall, the Los Angeles Kings might have another rocky season and miss the playoffs again, unless their leaders and role players step up. However, on a positive note, 2010 second round draft pick Tyler Tiffoli had a nice season with 26 goals, 49 points, and a +25 rating. Look for him to try to build on his career highs in his fourth season in the NHL.

One player they’ll definitely miss is Williams, who had a huge impact in the line-up. The 33-year-old right-winger, known for thriving in big game situations, had 18 goals and 23 assists last season, and 9 goals and 16 assists during the Kings’ second Cup run in 2014, scoring two games winning goals.

 

Follow Felix Chow on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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Report: Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane Under Investigation

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The Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is reportedly under police investigation in Hamburg, Buffalo, where he owns a home. Although not much is known as of now, according to sources, the Blackhawks star is the subject of an alleged rape case. So far, no charges have been filed against him.

The Buffalo News’ Tim Graham broke the news with these tweets:

The 26-year-old three-time Stanley Cup Champion, unfortunately, is no stranger to breaking the law. According to the report, he and his cousin, James M. Kane were arrested for assaulting a cab driver following a fare dispute in August of ’09. They pleaded guilty to a noncriminal charge of a disorderly conduct and were forced to write an apology letter to the driver.

The NHL has confirmed to Time Warner Cable News in Buffalo that it is aware of the investigation. It’ll be interesting to see how the League handles this. This latest reported incident is one of a few for NHL players recently. Early last month, LA Kings’ defenseman Slava Voynov was charged in a domestic violence incident with his wife and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count. The League and Kings organization, of course, suspended him before the trial began.

Kings’ forward Jarret Stoll had a run-in with the law as well with a felony drug possession charge (you can read the updated story here), and the most recent one prior to this latest alleged incident with Kane involved former Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’ Reilly, who was traded during the 2015 NHL Draft. Not long after that, he drunkenly crashed his vintage van into a Tim Horton’s near London, Ontario and fled the scene. O’ Reilly is scheduled to appear in court on August 20th for DUI charges.

If these rape allegations against Patrick Kane are true, that won’t bode well for him and his reputation. Keep checking back here at Ice Nation UK for updates on this case.

UPDATE: As I’m just about to post this, Buffalo News is reporting that a local woman has accused Kane of sexual assault. Law enforcement sources have said that the woman went to a hospital and tests using a rape kit were performed. At least one other local police agency has asked to assist with the investigation.

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Inside the CHL: The Past, Present and Future of European Hockey’s Top League

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On August 21st, 2014, a new era of European hockey was born when the Champions Hockey League dropped the puck on its inaugural season. What followed was five months of intense competition, thrilling playoff games, and a fantastic final between Lulea Hockey and Frolunda HC that was only fitting for the first iteration of the premier pan-European hockey league.

Now, the second CHL season is about to begin, and the league is set to improve even more, and evolve to meet the needs of their clubs, and fans.

Szymon Szemberg, COO and Communication Director of the CHL, spoke exclusively with INUK, and gave some insights into the way the league thinks, how they are approaching this season, and what the future could hold for the CHL.

For this season, the league added four new teams, and changed the group format from 11 groups of four teams to 16 groups of three teams. Szemberg said that this change was made to make the group stage games more meaningful, and get to the playoffs faster, further adding:

We got pretty quick feedback from our clubs than in the four-team groups we had last season, the last two game days, five and six, were a difficult sell, because most of the playoff spots were already decided. With this change to groups of three, we think that the excitement will remain to the end, because two teams out of three will qualify for the playoffs, so the last games will probably be of consequence no matter what. We think this will be better for the clubs and fans.

Aside from the group stage changes, a behind-the-scenes change that could make every game more exciting is a “prize money per point” incentive for teams. Each team will receive 1000 euro for every standings point they earn. So, if a team wins in regulation, they will receive 3000 euro for the three points they earned. This incentive could push teams to battle hard, even if they are mathematically eliminated. Even just stretching a game to overtime earns teams more money. Szemberg said this change will especially benefit the “Wild Card teams,” the ones from smaller leagues like in the U.K, France, and Denmark, who will likely be hungry just to get a victory.

When it comes to television coverage, not much will likely change from last year. Szemberg praised Premier Sports’ coverage of the CHL in the United Kingdom, as well as noting that the CHL is televised in every single country with participating teams. They are also adding the Polish state television network, Telewizja Polska (TVP), even though Poland doesn’t yet have a CHL team.

Poland is an incredibly important market in Europe nowadays. Even though their hockey is not at top quality yet, the interest in hockey in Poland is enormous. For example, with the IIHF World Championship, Poland is always among the countries with the best viewership, even though they don’t have a team in the top flight.

– Szemberg on the hockey market in Poland

The biggest European market that is not currently involved in the CHL is Russia. Szemberg spoke candidly about the CHL’s frustration with not having Kontinental Hockey League participation in the pan-European league.

Unfortunately, as long as Russian clubs do not participate in the CHL, hockey is the only European club sport where you don’t have all of the top leagues competing together, unlike sports like football. It’s a pity. In the UEFA Champions League, if you didn’t have Spain, Germany, or England, people would ask, ‘Why’s that?’ Obviously, we are hurting because we do not have Russian teams, and everybody who knows hockey knows that Russia is one of the prime nations in the game. The prestige and the quality of CHL would increase with Russian teams.

– Szemberg on the KHL not particpating in the pan-European League

Szemberg said that in the initial planning of the CHL, Russian representatives were an integral part of the process. However, when it came down to final planning and club participation, the KHL bowed out. Since then, the CHL has met with KHL representatives about participation, but nothing has happened. Szemberg believes that the KHL will eventually join the CHL, but he just doesn’t know when that will happen. He also explained their reluctance to join the CHL by explaining their self-image.

When they founded the KHL, they copied the NHL template in everything they do. They modeled this league after the NHL, including their vision of themselves as the top professional hockey league in Europe, like the NHL is the top flight in North America. If their teams participated in the Champions Hockey League, they would have to give up that position as the best league in Europe. They are not quite ready to do so.

– Szemberg on the KHL’s reluctance to join the CHL

He also noted that Russian participation in the CHL would help young European players, and maybe convince them to spend their time developing in Europe, rather than North America.

If we were to have a CHL that includes all the top countries, including Russia, it would mean a lot for young players. The added prestige of the Champions Hockey League that includes Russia might convince them not to leave for the NHL so early as many players do. We never want to stop any player from leaving for the NHL. It is a dream that many European players have, but they are leaving at 18 or 19 years old when they are not NHL-ready. If they saw a great CHL, they would maybe postpone their NHL signing for a few more years to continue developing until they are ready.

– Szemberg on Russian participation in CHL helping player development in Europe

On British participation in the CHL, Szemberg said he is incredibly happy with the way Britons have embraced pan-European hockey.

The model of the CHL is ‘Where Europe Comes To Play’. We always say that we are an elite league, but we are not elitist, meaning, we fully understand that the quality of British club hockey is not yet on the level of the Swedes and Finns, but we see enormous potential in hockey in the UK. People rally around the British teams and appreciate the fact that their teams will be playing in Europe. Obviously, we are very happy to include Britain.

However, Szemberg said that further expanding British participation in the CHL is unlikely, as the league, as well as the British Elite League, are satisfied with the two teams in the league now. For this season, the league added one more British spot, as well as another French spot.

The next league that the CHL is looking to see more from is Poland. Szemberg said that league officials are prepared to add a Polish club in the coming years, and have extended a provisional wild-card offer to the Polska Liga Hokejowa, the top hockey league in the country. If the CHL sees significant progress in the development of the league and Polish hockey as a whole, they will add the top Polish club to the league.

Another European hockey league that is not in the CHL is the Italian Serie A. Szemberg made it clear that the league is open to adding Italian clubs, and praised the enthusiasm and dedication of those involved in Italian hockey, but was concerned with the fact that the Serie A is concentrated in the Northern alpine areas of Italy, mostly in the Trentino-South Tyrol autonomous region. He was also concerned with the infrastructure and arena quality of the Serie A cities.

As the league continues to grow from its infant stage into the premier European hockey league, they will continue to evolve and improve the quality of the competition. One change that clubs requested at their latest general meetings, according to Szemberg, is an upgraded qualification system, similar to that of the UEFA Champions League in football.

In this proposal, just like in UEFA, every team in the league needs to accomplish something at home in their domestic leagues in order to qualify for European play. We have 26 owning, founding clubs, and they are ‘permanent members.’ We see a future change where you could remain as an owner, but you still need somehow to qualify in order to play in the CHL. So, participation would not come as a ‘gimme’ for anyone.

– Szemberg on the proposal to improve the CHL.

The CHL has nowhere to go but up, and the people involved are not afraid to take a few losses in the early going to be more successful later on.

Our goal isn’t necessarily to make a profit at first. It is to create a demand for the Champions Hockey League.

Follow Cutler Klein on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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