Hot Takes – May 28th, 2018

Not a ton to cover this week, but some pretty obvious topics.  Memorial Cup just wrapped up last night in Regina, the Oilers have rolled out their new coaching staff, of course the Stanley Cup final begins in Las Vegas tonight, and for me personally I got to play in a game that meant a lot to me.  So I’ll start with my Saturday night and the Jeff Torry Memorial Cup.

 

People were watching me play hockey, which made me dread going to the rink that night knowing people would know my great shame, which is that after going 14 years as an unsigned UFA, and three more years of trying to get my game back…I haven’t!  Well, I’m not sure how much I ever really had, but I know I’d be a hell of a lot better now had I been playing all these years.  Anyway, while dreading it a bit from that perspective, I was doing this for Torro.  And the rest of the boys were there for Torro.  And everyone who showed up (which I thought it was an AWESOME turn out) was there for Torro.  Something everyone needs to know about Jeff is that this was one of the truly and genuinely best people I’ve ever met.  I bitch about a lot of people (not an endearing trait), and I can count on my hands the amount of buddies of mine I’ve ever bitched about because they cause me any kind of problems.  I can very honestly say that Jeff was one of those few who just simply would go out of his way to make life easy for everyone.  There were a lot of people involved with the game who were tighter or more connected to Torro than I was, but he was a good buddy of mine and everyone there loves Torro and misses him a lot.  But So for everyone who helped organized that event (LRHF), sponsored the jerseys, anyone and everyone who chipped in, I just personally want to say thank you, and I’m sure those thoughts are echoed by a boat load of people.  We raised a lot of money for Project Sunrise and had a damn good time while doing it which is what Torro would have wanted.

Not an easy way to transition to other stuff now, so I guess I’ll just jump right to it.

 

The Memorial Cup final didn’t end up being the thriller we all hoped it would be, but what a tournament overall.  Final game aside, that was one of the best Memorial Cups I remember seeing.  I’m sure there are others that have been better, but I don’t know if I’ve seen them.  Every round robin game was exciting, and the intensity the semi-final was played with was terrific.  Full marks to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan for the win, they were undoubtedly the best team in the tournament, and they did it with a total team effort.  There were no big stand out stars, just a very solid roster top to bottom who played their system perfectly.  But just tremendous hockey throughout.  Any of those four teams really could have won it.  Think about the Swift/Acadie game.  Swift was up 3-2.  They hold on, how different is the whole tournament?

 

Before I get to the Cup final preview, a little Oilers talk this week with the new coaching staff being rolled out.  On paper, it’s impressive!  Glen Gulutzan got the Calgary job from doing such a great job while in Vancouver.  Trent Yawney appeared to do a respectable job with the Ducks blueline while in Anaheim, though I put more of that credit towards their drafting and developing.  But Yawney’s big thing is going to be the PK.  Can he get the Oilers PK up to a top ten type level?  He’s done it a few times before.  And then you have Manny Viveiros.  And I don’t care what Todd McLellan says, I really believe that the pp will be Viveiros’ baby.  It is without a doubt THE flaw with the Oilers is their special teams.  And yes, personal helps.  Washington’s pp is consistently amazing mainly because they have about as perfect of personal for a pp as you can find.  But the Oilers definitely have the ingredients to be a top ten or even top five pp in the league.  So it’s mainly on this coaching staff, and if they don’t get the job done, Todd McLellan’s job is going to be in serious jeopardy.

 

So before I begin, it didn’t seem to matter where I went Saturday night, EVERYONE had an opinion on my opinion of the Golden Knights one way or another!  Partied with a few different groups of people, and I heard it from all angles.  Thanks for reading boys!  I assumed maybe four people did, but maybe it’s nine!  But one thing I’ll say is don’t confuse me not being a fan of the Golden Knights with me not thinking they’re going to win the Cup.  I truly believe they’re going to win the Cup.  That team just looks as though they have a feeling of invincibility right now, and I won’t be surprised at all if they sweep Washington.  And it’s not at all to piss on the Caps.  If Vegas sweeps, I believe it’ll be four real tight hockey games.  But Vegas wins those games.

 

Washington can win this series, no doubt.  I’m sure there are more reasons than this, but I got four big reasons why or how they can win.

  1. This is the first series where the Golden Knights are facing a team who also feel as though they’ve got zero pressure on them and perhaps this is the first series where the Golden Knights have more pressure on them then their opposition.
  2. The Golden Knights haven’t faced a squad this skilled.  The Jets have a better team than the Caps, but the Caps skill level is maybe unmatched.
  3. The Caps just beat two teams in the Lightning and Pens who bring the same kind of speed to the table that the Golden Knights do.  The Golden Knights speed shouldn’t be much different for Washington.
  4. Holtby can match Fleury.  The dirty little secret of the Jets/Golden Knights series is that Connor Hellebuyck wasn’t good.  He was fighting the puck in a lot of those four loses.  Holtby on the other hand hasn’t allowed a goal now for eight periods of play, and has been great since entering the playoffs in the third period of game two against Columbus.

But having said all this, I don’t think they will.  I believe the Golden Knights will sweep the Caps.  I don’t know why you wouldn’t believe the same at this point?  They have absolutely everyone committed to playing counter attack hockey, playing 200 feet, they make almost no mistakes, and when they’re getting outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury is just playing on a level that not even guys like J.S. Giguere in 2003 or Jonathan Quick in 2012 played on.  It’s funny, some people who are trying to sell me on why Vegas is so wonderful are getting testy about me pointing out that it’s mainly because of Fleury.  It’s just a fact though.  .947 Sv%.  It’s the all time best of anyone who played a minimum of ten playoff games.  It’s not taking away from their success, it’s just that he’s been far and away the main reason they’re here and anyone in that organization would say the same.

 

For me, I just hope its a great series.  Seven games, exciting hockey, maybe some OT’s because these playoffs have frankly sucked as a whole.  Two game sevens that were both blowouts, not many OT’s, not many high scoring games, not many hard hitting games, it’s bad by playoff hockey standards.  So I just hope that I’m craving the series to go to a 5th, 6th and 7th game more than seeing it end so others can join me in draft talk for the next month.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

The Media Sure Doesn’t Like it When You Dislike What They Like

Wow, am I EVER getting the itch to unleash a ton of draft stuff over the next month!  As of today we are only a month away from what since 2007 has become my favourite day of the year.  It’s not a humble brag, and I can’t stand people who brag up their stuff, but if you go back and read my stuff on the last three drafts I’m sure you’ll find that it’s legitimately some of the best draft stuff out there.  I work my ass off on it, and I’m proud of it.  And this year I’m doing even more, so watch for that and check it out in the coming weeks if you’re wanting to brush up on the prospects and what the teams might do with their top picks.  But we’re not there just yet.  We got a game seven still to be played in the Eastern Conference, and we got a Stanley Cup final featuring the leagues freshest team which is who I’m going to write about today.

 

Let me kick it off with this blog/tweet:

Oh?  It’s stupid?  Ok.  I’m not pulling for the Vegas Golden Knights, and while I see why it’s very positive for the market and the league, I also see this as a potential disaster for the league, and have very good reasons as to why (which obviously I will lay out as I go on).  But I don’t think anyone who sees it otherwise is “stupid as hell”.  Hey, hacks are going to hack.  I wrote a piece on here in response to I believe one of Lozo’s former colleagues Joshua Cooper a little over three years ago talking about how sad it was that I was better at this than he was when he was trained to do it and had wrote at respectable newspapers previously, and I was just a guy who hopes to get a break but really just does this site as a passion project.  Well, I don’t read Dave Lozo’s stuff.  Never have, never will.  As soon as you’re associated with “Puck Daddy”, that’s all I need to know about your knowledge of the game.  I didn’t read that, and didn’t read this garbage at all.  It could be awesome and make amazing points.  But his reputation is that he’s a total hack.  And he does a podcast with another guy who has the reputation of being a total hack.  And from the few people I do know in the media, they say that the respect level for these guys is none existent.  So…not something I’m hot about, but it caught my eye and figured since I had a Monday off to do it that I would write a counter piece.

 

In fairness to that hack however, it’s not just him.  Ray Ferraro might be at the other end of the spectrum for me as one of the guys whose opinion I value the most in the media.  Now he’s the games top analyst, not a writer, but nevertheless his opinions are right up there for me with Elliotte Friedman, Bob McKenzie, Ron McLean, etc.

Ray probably wasn’t speaking to guys like me when he was tweeting this.  The only thing I’m “angry” about with the Vegas run is that I was pulling for the Jets to take it all.  But by no means am I angry.  However, for me and a lot of my buddies anyway, they aren’t embraceable at all.  The media wants to know why?  Well, let me lay out all the reasons some people have for disliking this run.

 

Too much to play with

I love how I seen a lot of in the last two days where media guys were saying “where was this outcry a year ago?” when speaking to how the Golden Knights got far too much for an expansion team.  Oh, it was there.  Maybe it wasn’t as loud as it is now, but it was there.  They got teams 9th-11th best skater/contract as opposed to the 12th-15th best skater/contract like they should have.  And we now live in a cap world.  Why are we setting this up so they literally don’t have to go get any UFA’s or anyone’s bigger contracts?!?  I definitely wouldn’t have hoped for them to walk away with nothing in the expansion draft.  And I actually thought they should have got the top pick in the draft for sure.  There would be good players with inflated contracts still available in the expansion draft who would have been good for them to grab.  Obviously George McPhee did a tremendous job, not meaning to take away from the job he’s done in the least.  But they were given far too many advantages when the system already was setup to ensure they could be competitive out the gate.

 

No adversity

This team never went on an extended losing streak, hasn’t sustained a long or season ending injury to a key player, has barely had even AN injury since November.  Don’t confuse their man games lost and what not with actual injuries.  David Clarkson, Mikhail Grabovski and Clayton Stoner run those numbers through the roof.  The former two players were never going to play with the team, and the latter was likely never going to stick with the team, as Stoner has always been a fringe player while the regular D corps for the Golden Knights either had far more potential (Theodore, Miller, Schmidt, Merrill) or were just simply better (Engelland, McNabb, Sbisa).  On top of no extended losing streak, and hardly any injury problems, they literally have zero pressure.  Every other team in the league has some pressure and some baggage.  But for the Golden Knights as an organization, there is nothing.  And when you give them so much more than you should have thanks to the expansion draft rules and allow them to immediately put together a more talented team than a few of the other organizations were able to roll out this season, it is such a massive mental advantage for this squad.

 

Resentment

The Leafs last made the final in 1967.  Think their fans have suffered through enough?  The Coyotes, Sabres, Jackets, Panthers, Wild, Preds, Sens, Sharks, Blues, Canucks, Caps, and Jets have never won a Cup.  The Oilers just made the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons last year, and have now missed 11 of the last 12.  Haven’t won a Cup in close to 30 years.  Next year will be the 30th season for the Flames if they don’t win.  Ducks, Canes, Stars have only won it once.  Rangers have only won once since 1940.  Islanders have been mostly absolute garbage since winning four straight in the early 80’s, and it’s now been 35 years for them.  If you’re a fan of ANY of these teams, how do you feel good for Vegas?  And hey, a lot of fans of these teams do feel good for Vegas.  But I don’t get it.  Another aspect to the resentment of this for me anyway is knowing how giddy Gary Bettman is getting over this.  This is his dream, and why he stacked the deck for Vegas compared to other expansion teams.  He believes complete parity is the ultimate for the NHL.  This is why games are officiated the way they are, this is why we’ve never moved to a three point system, this is why we have a cap (not that a cap is bad), this is why he does such an awful job of marketing the games top stars.  He believes parity is the ticket for the league, and he has pissed on Winnipeg as a market more than a few times.  So this last round in particular was annoying from that standpoint knowing how aroused it was making that schmuck that Vegas knocked off Winnipeg.

 

They’re winning “mostly goalie” more so than hockey

Can we just all be honest about this?  If the game is played five on five with empty nets, they’re likely nowhere near here.  OBVIOUSLY that isn’t hockey, but the point is that we’ve seen this story a million times in the playoffs and that’s all this actually is again which is a team riding a hot goalie.  In this case, the highest save percentage in the HISTORY OF THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS!!!  (minimum 10 games played)  Let’s not pretend that this “plucky, hard working bunch of nobodies” are filling the net and playing some of the most exciting hockey we’ve ever seen.  They’re playing counter attack hockey, sitting on leads, taking very few if any chances, and looking to ensure every shift that their goaltender sees the weakest shots on goal possible.  This was the 2012 Arizona Coyotes, and I don’t recall ANYONE raving about how great for hockey that run was.

 

One run doesn’t equal success

The Golden Knights are probably winning the Cup.  And that’s obviously great for the market.  Starting off white hot is vital for them with the Raiders coming to town next, and now talk of an MLB and NBA team likely on the horizon.  But what happens if they miss the playoffs the next three seasons, and both the 2020 and 2021 seasons they’re near the bottom of the league?  What happens?  I’ll tell you what happens.  The spoiled fan base is going to say “fuck this” and not go.  Give kids ice cream for supper for a year, and it’s so weird how they get cranky once that goes away.  Remember the 1996 Florida Panthers?  Of course you don’t.  How’s hockey been doing in Miami since the Panthers went on a very similar run in 96?  I’m going to GUESS that there was a pretty similar sentiment in the media at that time.  “Isn’t this great?!  Hockey in South Florida, amazing city, nobody saw this coming, look at all the rats that get tossed on the ice, the NHL is going to be a force in Miami for years to come!!!”  The Panthers attendance only went up by less than 1500 people the next season.  The biggest attendance numbers the Panthers had were in 1999, the year they move into their new arena.  So if the Golden Knights maintain a high level of success, THEN this is worth it.  It’s all for not though if they come crashing back down to earth next season.  And I don’t think its far fetched to suggest this could be a bad thing for the market in the long run.  Their fans were prepared for bad this season, so anything better than bad was a bonus.  Now, they’re prepared for amazing.  Amazing is pretty damn difficult to replicate.

 

And finally…

 

We’ve heard the media drooling all over them all playoffs

Seriously.  The media as a whole have a tendency to ruin everything.  What person loves hearing reporters get horny over getting to go to Vegas for work? And then it makes you wonder if they’re rooting for Vegas so they can go to Vegas for work?  And they probably are!  Doesn’t exactly help the Golden Knights look that adorable when that’s all you read on social media from the guys covering the sport.  Not to mention, media guys will claim they have no rooting interest, they just root for the best stories.  Well, Vegas is the best “story”.  Sooooooooo you’re rooting for them?  It’s disgusting.  Even though so many of them don’t believe they’re showing their cards on social media, they’ve got their whole hand turned for everyone to see.  And none of them are honest about Vegas, just like none of them are honest about any team that goes on these kind of runs in the NHL.  The 2014 Avs finished first in the best division in the league one year after picking first overall.  And it was Patrick Roy, and it was the team speed, and it was Nathan MacKinnon.  And the whole time I’m sitting there saying “there’s no way Roy is this good of a coach, and this blueline is worse than the Oilers!”  Well, they were a fluke.  2015, Calgary Flames “they just out work EVERYONE and are the hardest working team in the league and they never quit!!”  If they were the hardest working team in the league, why did opponents dominate them territorially all season?  It’s the same here, and people will call it a “miracle run”, and then if those same people hear someone say “it’s been pretty lucky” they’ll look to rip you a new asshole.  What exactly is the difference between the two?!  Isn’t “miracle” just a nice way of saying “fluke”?

 

Like, did anyone watch games three, four and five against the Jets?  You’re SERIOUSLY going to tell me that the Golden Knights were the better team in any of those games?  Reilly Smith scored the GWG in game four, the guy mishandled the puck right before he shot it!  It bounced up on him either as or right before he shot it, which is why it fooled Hellebuyck.  The GWG in game five went off a Jets stick, then Ryan Reaves, neither intentionally.  That’s a planned goal?!  And again, they’ve got the bounces ALL SEASON.  No injuries, no bad bounces against them, a shit load have gone for them, and when all that starts to happen (just like it did with Colorado and Calgary), your team just has a feeling of invincibility.  And you could tell with the Jets in game five, they knew the Golden Knights had that advantage too, and mentally they looked like they gave up.  The effort was there, but the belief was completely gone.  That’s what is going to make them nearly impossible for Tampa or Washington to beat, is they don’t know how to lose at this point.  Sure, they’ll lose a game here and there, but they just know that they’re going to get the large majority of the bounces, and there for never are gripping their sticks, never making bad mistakes, everything is easy.  They work insanely hard….but it’s easy as fuck for them to do because they’ve got to a level now where they believe the harder they work, the more it’s going to go their way, and while that SHOULD be how life works, for 99% of us it isn’t.  I’ve done this blog for seven years now, and any break I looked as though I was getting as a result of it I had the rug pulled right out from under me.  AJHL colour commentary gig, gone.  HF Boards writer for the Canadiens prospects, gone.  Writing for an upstart Oilers page, gone.  None of those were leading me to the promise land by any means, but were chances to branch out and do more and as a whole hopefully it would all lead to something.  Nobody is telling me what a hard worker I am for continuing to fail and still try.  Hell, I’m short, fat, have anxiety and mental health issues, now 35 years old, it’s not exactly easy street for me in general!  There’s a lot of days I want to quit doing this site and think it’s a complete waste of time, but I still do it because it’s ingrained in me to keep trying no matter what.  You know when it is easy as hell for me to do this site?  When I start seeing the numbers go through the roof.  Its a breeze to work my balls off when that starts happening.  You know when it’s easy for me to get on my treadmill and have a good workout?  When I’ve been able to maintain my diet for a few days and get on a bit of a roll.  All of a sudden, 40 minutes on the treadmill is the easiest part of my day.  I guarantee you, its easy as hell for the Golden Knights to work as hard as they have all season.  So just MAYBE, we should ease up a bit on how wonderful their work ethic is and praise that they “never give up”?

 

I’m sure you now think that I am angry, which I said I’m not.  And maintain that I’m really not.  That was actually a shot at the media and society in general for how we look at work ethic.  More of a rant than I meant to get on, but hopefully it was an entertaining read.

 

I’m not looking to piss on anyone who loves what they’re seeing.  There is hardly anyone on that team I dislike in anyway, I am ecstatic for Gerard Gallant after how he was ditched by the Panthers early last season, I’ve always thought George McPhee was a top GM in the league (look at his run in Washington, the system was always loaded while the team was near the top of the standings), and so if that is where people are coming from on there like of Vegas, or they just love what they see on TV from a presentation and crowd standpoint, I completely understand it.  But that’s not where I’m coming from.  I’m coming from the feeling of resentment, coming from the feeling of knowing that Gary Bettman is completely getting off to this after stacking the deck for this team in so many ways compared to any other expansion franchises, and of the fear that long term this really could be horrendous for the league if this style of play becomes the norm around the league.  I had to live through hockey in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, it was awful.  The large majority of the games were completely unwatchable, and the league just sat there and let it happen because they’re too scared to actually improve the product.

 

So members of the media, enjoy this all you want.  I’m cool with that.  But shut the f*** up and quit trying to lecture those of us who don’t believe this is the greatest story imaginable.  It really isn’t, and could end up being a massive disaster in disguise.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Hot Takes – May 18th, 2018

Happy 17th birthday to 106 “The Goat”.  How do I know this?  Because it debuted the day I graduated, which depressingly was 17 years ago that I celebrated turning 18 and graduating in the same week.  Man our grad party was sweet.  You know, it’s amazing who and where you get to touch when you’re a good looking freshly turned 18 year old.  Oh right, this is a hockey blog…If you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve cut back on the “Hot Takes” during the playoffs.  There’s lots to talk about, but I tend to be saving it for every two weeks.  I probably should just do them after the rounds have completed, but I’m not smart.  Trust me, as I’m in the midst of getting my realtors license, and it’s taking probably twice as long for me as it would for anyone of you.  And it’s not from lack of effort, it’s from lack of IQ.  Regardless of that, I wanted to do the “Hot Takes” today rather than Monday or Tuesday so I could do a bit of a Memorial Cup preview.  So lot’s of good stuff to hit on today.

 

But let’s start with the Bolts/Caps series.  I thought last night was a great game.  Washington probably deserved to win that game last night, and have been the better team in the series.  It’s really tough to get a read on things with the road team taking all four thus far, the Caps have been world beaters on the road all playoffs, as have the Lightning.  It’s a toss up and I believe it’s going seven.  The first three games of the series were dud’s, but both teams played with a lot of desperation last night and I expect that to continue.

 

Staying with the Caps, coming off the win against Pittsburgh I figured they’d would go one of two ways.  Either they’d be awful and Tampa would dust them in five games with the Caps feeling like they’d won their Stanley Cup, or they’d be loose….and we’ve never seen this Caps team feel loose in the playoffs.  Despite it now being a 2-2 series, we definitely are getting the latter.  The other big change with the Caps this post season I’m seeing is the emergence of a number one centre, and more impressively is that it’s not Niklas Backstrom, it’s Evgeny Kuznetsov!  I was VERY wrong on Kuznetsov!  Two years ago (I may have even wrote it) I was saying Trotz was using him all wrong, and that he should have been on the wing yet he was playing the middle.  Well the last two post seasons this guy, while I don’t like his stupid little eagle celly at all, he has 31 points in his last 29 playoff games.  He’s a first line centre, and it’s something which I’ve argued they’ve lacked the last few seasons.  Nik Backstrom has always got that label, but his numbers dip in the playoffs in his career.  In fairness he’s been much better in recent years, though over half that production has been on the pp.  The clutch goals Kuznetsov produced during the Pittsburgh series were something that had been lacking the previous three seasons in particular with the Caps.

 

Are the Golden Knights ACTUALLY going to do this?!  They just won’t die!!  I’m worried about the Jets going into tonight.  I’m pulling hard for the Jets, but if they don’t win tonight I just don’t think they can win three straight.  Not after the seven game battle they had with Nashville, and now facing a Golden Knights team who are pretty physical themselves and never seem to let up.  It’s unbelievable.  I HATE this as a fan of a team who has seen nothing but misery the last 11 of the last 12 seasons.  The league gave them way too many advantages that an expansion team just didn’t deserve or need in a cap world.  They had 75 million to work with, free agency, very good players were going to be exposed already simply due to teams being cap strapped, and they had a lot of teams bent over a barrel.  Having said this, that’s the fan POV.  I have a ton of respect for the team, because at the end of the day they don’t have a talented team.  They have four lines of second and third line guys, they have six D who are a number three and then five guys (who doesn’t love five guys?!) who are four or fives, and then a tendy who a lot of people were pissing all over from 2012-2014 or so.  I’m proud to say I never backed off my belief that he was a damn good netminder (and you can go back and read my stuff).  Anyway, I still just don’t understand why teams can’t beat them, and the only thing I can come up with is that teams still just don’t have the respect for them that they should.  And you might scoff at that notion, but I get it.  You look at the matchups heading into the games, especially if you’re Winnipeg, and you win 95% of them on paper.  And while the Golden Knights play really fast, they really aren’t THAT fast of a team, so I believe you can get the two confused.  I don’t get how it can happen this deep into a season, but looking at how the Golden Knights have scored the last two games every goal is from an overly sloppy play by the Jets that wouldn’t have been made against Nashville or Minny.  The Knights very literally do not take a shift off, so you can’t either.

 

Since my last piece it was made official that the Humboldt Broncos are going to play next season and while I fully expected that news, it’s still awesome to hear.  You know, I still get choked up thinking about it, and I just don’t think it’s ever going away.  I immediately bought the acoustic/altered version of Big League that Tom Cochrane performed on TSN off itunes, and everyone should since the money is going to the hockey team, but I can’t listen to it.  I picked up THN’s draft preview magazine last night without knowing until I picked it up that they had dedicated a portion of it to the Broncos and doing a paragraph on everyone involved.  I haven’t been kind to THN over the years, but give credit where credit is due and they did a tremendous job.  I don’t care if you’re into the draft or not, doesn’t matter.  Pick up that magazine for those stories and the section on the Broncos.  While it’ll be a tough read, you won’t put it down.

 

And obviously we’re going to see more of those heavy moments likely starting tonight as the Memorial Cup kicks off (which, I don’t know if I’m supposed to call it the Mastercard Memorial Cup, or if it’s just Rogers employees who need to call it the Mastercard Memorial Cup.  I guess until I see court documents requiring me to say otherwise, it remains the Memorial Cup in my books).

 

We’ll start with the hosts, who thanks to playing in likely the toughest division in the CHL this season, they face the same scenario as the Windsor Spitfires did last season where they’ve been off since being eliminated very early in the playoffs.  And just like the Spitfires, they can win it.  This is a squad who lost to Swift Current in seven, and they won the WHL.  If they played in the West, they would have went to the dub final.  And they might have the best player in the tournament in Sam Steel.  They have two kids in Nick Henry and Jake Leschysyn who didn’t meet expectations this season.  Leschysyn was coming off a torn ACL, and looked a little better once the playoffs began.  As for Henry, I’m not sure what hurt his season so bad, but I know there’s a better player there then what the Pats saw this season.  If those two guys can really step up, they got a great chance.  Probably boast the most talented blueline in the tournament with Ducks 3rd rounder Josh Mahura, Lightning 2nd rounder Libor Hajek, and Habs 2017 3rd rounder Cale Fleury as their top three.  That’s impressive, especially when you remember that Mahura might have been a 1st rounder in 2016 had he not got injured that season.  Their goaltending isn’t great, so they’ll need to really fill the net, but they are capable of doing that with Steel and Cameron Hebig leading the way.

 

I am not going to look to bull shit anyone here, the team I know the least amount about are the Q champs, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.  And when I look at their roster, the first thing I ask is “who the f*** are these guys?!?!”  Only four players on the roster have been drafted, and maybe the most high profile is Flyers 2016 first rounder German Rubtsov, who frankly is not a stand out player on this squad!  Blues 2016 second rounder Evan Fitzpatrick has definitely been the guy leading the way for the Titan with a 2.10 G.A.A. and a .925 Sv% in the playoffs.  Probably the second best goaltender, or at least the second hottest goaltender entering the tournament.  The big watch for the Titan though will be Noah Dobson.  All eyes will be on Dobson from a scouting POV.  The kid is starring down the barrel of cementing himself as a top five pick with a big tournament.  In my opinion he is right there with Adam Boqvist in the 4-5 range, for others they have him in a group with Boqvist, Evan Bouchard and Quinn Hughes in a battle for the second best D-man in the draft.  Despite the lack of star power on this team, these are the types of teams that are just a bitch to deal with historically at the Mem Cup.

 

The favourites rolling into this tournament are definitely the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs, who are led by MY BOY Robert Thomas.  If you read my draft stuff last season, you would have seen me rave about Thomas and this season kick the shit out of myself for not having him in my top 10 like I wanted to do, yet couldn’t bring myself to put him higher than (I believe) 13th.  This has now led to an inflated ego when it comes to draft talk and rankings which will likely look humilating down the line.  Anyway, the Bulldogs are the favourites, as pretty much every OHL team has been in the last nine years or so.  It’s the clear cut best league in the CHL, if you debate it you’re getting proven very wrong.  And the Bulldogs are much more than Thomas.  Matthew Strome, I’m a big Will Bitten fan, undrafted Brandon Saigeon is dangerous sniper, and I’m really interested in seeing 2019 prospect Arthur Kaliyev.  After that, it’s kind of like the Titan where they don’t have many names.  I’d be lying if I said I knew anything about their D-men, or goaltender Kaden Fulcher.  But I watched them a few times during the season and then again during the finals on Sportsnet, and they’re legit.  A really gritty, hard working team.

 

And finally we have my favourites, the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos.  First and foremost I’m pulling for them because of the Humboldt connection.  Second, Oilers prospect Stuart Skinner has put on a FREAKING SHOW during their run to the Ed Chynoweth Cup.  And third, it’s at least the smallest market and perhaps the smallest market team in the CHL.  What worries me with the Broncos is the same as with the T-Birds last year, the Wheat Kings in 2016, and the Oil Kings in 2012.  The WHL is so much more of a grind to win than the Q or the OHL.  The travel, the style of play, it’s just a massive grind.  The Broncos went seven with Regina, then seven with Moose Jaw, then a surprising six with Lethbridge, and finally six with Everett.  I THINK with how Skinner is playing that they’re the most complete team at the tournament.  Tyler Steenbergen, Aleksi Heponiemi, Glenn Gawdin, and of course Skinner are the names.  But they have a big/old school blueline led by undrafted Colby Sissons, which is very ironic considering that head coach Manny Viveiros was an undersized highly skilled D-man on the great P.A. Raiders teams of the mid 80’s.  I’ll be pulling for the Broncos, and they have the team to get the job done.  It’s just going to be a matter of how much gas is left in the tank.

 

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Hot Takes – May 7th, 2018

This wasn’t a good time to be a week late.  Better late than never, but it makes for a LOT of thoughts on shit!  The draft lottery, the playoffs, and at the end I’ll be tossing in a little 1-15 mock draft.  And I’ll just be straight about this, I got a ton of sun today and it’s now 1 AM Monday morning, so this is where the opening stops, enjoy the rest as I’m off to bed!

 

Good on the Sabres for winning the draft lottery.  At first, I found myself pulling against them.  Then at some point during the completely needless, desperate ratings grab of a two hour break I kind of found myself asking why that was?  Tim Murray is gone, and it was Tim Murray who intentionally tanked two years in a row for Ekblad and McDavid, and then assumed he would land Mike Babcock, and on all three of those occasions bitched and moaned like a child not getting an extra juice box when none of them went his way.  But that was Tim Murray, the door hit him in the ass a year ago.  Jason Botterill is competent, and while I was really disappointed in him for not taking D-men in last years draft when he had the chance, it’s now going to work out for him as he’ll own the best D prospect to come along since Victor Hedman, and one of the best of all time.  Dahlin is a franchise changer, and the fact is that now if O’Reilly were to stay (big question mark), you’d have Eichel, O’Reilly, Mittelstadt and Dahlin.  Phil Housley can ensure that at least one of those guys is on the ice at all times.  And this will really help Rasmus Ristolainen too should they hang onto him as he can now see more of the second and third lines  rather than take on all the tough minutes.  Of course this is unlikely to happen next season.  They’ll need to give Dahlin a year or two before they start giving him the tougher assignments.  As constructed, the Sabres are still going to be a year away from the playoffs.  But I know from experience as an Oilers fan, there was no hope left after 2015, and then they won McDavid and even though you knew they weren’t making the 2016 playoffs that things were changing.  I just hope Terry Pegula stays the fuck out of the way and let’s Jason Botterill do his thing.

 

I bring up that last part, because I’m starting to notice that we as fans and the media tend to often be blaming the wrong guy when things go wrong in an organization.  The Cleveland Browns had the first and fourth picks in the NFL draft a week and a half ago, and they took Baker Mayfield (mistake) and Denzel Ward (reach) when the rest of the football world undoubtedly would have taken USC QB Sam Darnold at one, and NC State DE Bradley Chubb at four.  So what the hell happened?  It’s a new front office in Cleveland.  A HIGHLY respected GM, who’s biggest strength is as a talent evaluator.  Well what I believe has happened, and has been happening there is owner Jimmy Haslam can’t keep his nose out of everyone else’s business.  If you look back, it all adds up.  He took Johnny Manziel in 2014, and it wasn’t anyone in their front office who made the pick, it was Haslam…LITERALLY after a homeless man told him he needed to take Johnny Manziel.  That’s a true story.  While I don’t believe Mayfield is Manziel as so many people like to compare, he’s a celebrity QB like Manziel.  He was the biggest celebrity QB in the draft.  And then at four, Denzel Ward played at Ohio State, so he likely wanted the local kid.  And if you’re a GM and your boss is demanding you take these kids…what can you do?!  If John Dorsey had traded back, he likely would have been crucified by Haslam for putting getting Mayfield in jeopardy.  Same with the fourth pick and Ward.  Do I KNOW that this was Haslam’s doing?  No.  But it sure smells the exact same as everything else has with the Browns.  Anyway, this is all brought up because I wonder if this is actually what separates teams in the NHL more than anything else?  Elliotte Friedman on the 31 Thoughts podcast two weeks ago was talking about how Craig Leipold in Minny is a very hands on owner.  He was the reason for the Suter and Parise deals, and was the reason for the Vanek signing too (which now explains it because that NEVER made sense for Minny).  In Edmonton, Friedman has said that Katz is very hands off, which is awesome to hear.  But I wonder how hands off Kevin Lowe is?  I recall a few years ago on Oilers Now, you could tell that when Lowe came up Stauffer would blindly defend Lowe.  One caller asked Stauffer what he had done for the organization and Stauffer responded with something to the effect of “well the Oil Kings have now won two of the last three WHL titles and a Memorial Cup”.  Stauffer clearly had a mandate whether it be his own or from the top that Lowe is never to be questioned.  Remember how defensive Lowe got when Mark Spector took him to task after he fired Steve Tambellini and hired Craig MacTavish as the GM?  Another good point that Friedman brought up when talking about it is that it’s often the owners who are the reason for bad July 1st contracts.  The reason is so simple, yet do we EVER give it a thought?  Business.  Get some buzz.  “Go get someone, we need to sell more season seats”.  Almost guarantee that Loui Eriksson was signed in Vancouver for that reason.

 

So who will be the new GM for the Leafs?  Kyle Dubas?  Mark Hunter?  Probably Dubas.  But let’s get one thing straight, Hunter hasn’t “loaded their system” as so many want to make it out to be.  Who?  Who is he so responsible for that was just such an amazing find?  He wanted them to take Mitch Marner.  Right.  He had Marner in London.  It’s not exactly difficult to pound the table for the guy you know best.  Had the Leafs brought in Kelly McCrimmon as they attempted to do at that time, and that been McCrimmon’s call in that draft, he would have pounded the table for Ivan Provorov, and the Toronto media would be hailing him as this amazing talent evaluator too?  It’s ridiculous.  William Nylander?  Hunter wasn’t in the room.  Auston Matthews?  Don’t think I’d call taking him going off the board there.  Travis Dermott?  I guess that one is his and it’s been solid.  It was also pretty obvious, as Dermott was expected to go around that point in the draft and the Leafs badly needed to stockpile defencemen.  Carl Gundstrom?  That was a pick I really liked, but he got real lucky in my mind that Grundstrom was still available where he picked him.  Andreas Johnsson?  Not Hunter’s pick.  Shanahan wasn’t even there for that one.  I pull for the Leafs to be good, and rarely say anything bad about them, but this is why Canada hates them.  The Toronto media just can’t avoid wildly overrating them when things are good.  They either go too far in overrating them, or too far shitting on them.  I follow the draft and follow what teams have in their system pretty closely.  The Leafs are no longer the shit show they were when it comes to drafting, but they aren’t crushing it either.  They’ve done ok.  That’s all.  And if that would be the label then I wouldn’t say a word.  But man alive, even my favourite guy Elliotte Friedman was making Hunter out to be some draft guru in 31 Thoughts last week.  Come on!!!  Anaheim, Nashville, Tampa, Winnipeg, these are teams who are consistently killing it at the draft.  In Hunter’s three years running the Leafs draft, he’s done fine, but he hasn’t done anything worth raving about either, so let’s cool it already on that talk.

 

I’ve tried to be real about the Golden Knights on here all season.  Felt around December that they weren’t for real in the sense that this would be the norm long term, but that they were going to make the playoffs.  They won the division, relatively comfortably.  I felt they’d get rolled by the Kings, and they swept the Kings.  Now, I had changed my tune going into the series with the Sharks (how could you not by then), but still.  To put away a damn good Sharks team in six games, it’s just ridiculous at this point the roll this team is on.  I STILL don’t think they’ll be able to recapture this magic next season, it reminds me a bit of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, a bit of the 1991 Minnesota North Stars, but who the hell knows?!  And in case you forgot, Carolina won the Cup that year, Minnesota was up 2-1 on a Pens team with nine hall of famers in the 91 final.  I don’t know if the Golden Knights can get past Nashville or Winnipeg, but I’m done being surprised by anything this Golden Knights team does.  For this season, they’re very much so for real.  Outside of Fleury being spectacular, I’m not sure how, but they are.

 

I don’t think the Jets will wrap it up tonight.  Too much pressure, the Preds not only are on the ropes but got humiliated at home on Saturday night, so they’ll come out and play the way they did in game four.  I do believe that they can take a game seven in Nashville though.  I’ve said it for a couple months now, the Preds just keep looking to flip the switch.  Maybe it catches up with them tonight, maybe Wednesday, maybe not to the final, but I personally feel that more than anything this is what’s costing them.

 

Meanwhile what’s costing the Pens is that they’re simply running out of gas.  Awesome on the Caps for possibly finally getting over the hump, and perhaps finally getting past the Pens (should they) will catapult them.  But what I feel is actually happening is that the Pens are just on fumes.  Maybe they still pull out the series, but to do so would now take seven games, and then what’ll be a very fresh Tampa team will be waiting for them.  The three peat looks to be on life support.

 

Ok, so this isn’t one of my official mock drafts, but I will do a mini one right now for all the lottery teams.  In brackets is where I have them ranked currently (not the last rankings, but on the rankings I’m working on)

 

Buffalo – Rasumus Dahlin (1).  Without a doubt this is the top pick

Carolina – Filip Zadina (3).  Most are going to say Svechnikov, I’m not a fan at all, but get the appeal.  Zadina is safer.  Both are going to be elite wingers, so the smart move is to take the safer guy here.

Montreal – Andrei Svechnikov (8).  For those who haven’t read my rankings, I’m not as high on Svechnikov as everyone else because of the Russian factor, because of fears that Russians grow up learning to play the game one on five, because of fears that he can’t think the game and is simply able to currently dominate thanks to his superior physical gifts and talent.  Anyway, I’m on an island with that thinking and believe he’ll go top three for sure.  Montreal probably should trade back, but that literally never happens in the top five.

Ottawa – Adam Boqvist (4).  Karlsson is likely gone, so that’ll play a factor here.  I view Boqvist as being pretty even with Brady Tkachuk, so then you look to need and Boqvist is likely going to be viewed as the much bigger need.  Add to that, RHD is such a highly valuable asset to own in this league.

Arizona – Brady Tkachuk (6).  They’re going to be begging for this to be the scenario to play out.  From a business POV, the Coyotes can use a shot in the arm such as the son of perhaps the best player in Phoenix Coyotes history on the team.

Detroit – Quinn Hughes (15).  I definitely believe they’re going D with this pick, and it’ll be between Hughes and Evan Bouchard for them.  I don’t see Hughes ever being a number one guy as he’s just too small to play tough minutes (5’9, 167 lbs), but he’s going to be the fourth forward every time and extremely dangerous every shift.

Vancouver – Evan Bouchard (9).  I’ve changed my tune a ton on Bouchard.  The more I thought about it, the more I buy into his passing ability and IQ making his average skating a minor issue.  And he’s not that bad of a skater, he’s just not overly quick.  But he’s so smooth, and he’s going to step into the league next season and perhaps be in someone’s top four by the end of the season much like Charlie McAvoy did.

Chicago – Oliver Wahlstrom (7).  Amazing skill and shot.  He’s listed as a centre, but I roll my eyes at that.  Shoot first centres are just so difficult to play with, so I believe he’ll be much better utilized on the wing.  As for the Hawks picking him, he’s their kind of player.  The Hawks crave pure skill maybe more than any other team in the league, so if he’s there at eight I fully expect Stan Bowman to take him.

NY Rangers – Noah Dobson (5).  I have a very difficult time believing Evan Bouchard will ever be better than Noah Dobson, but most don’t, so Dobson could be available for the Rangers.  If he is, they’re going to pounce.  They don’t have much for D in the system as things stand now.  So to get what I believe is a Seth Jones clone at nine is pretty remarkable.

Edmonton – Bode Wilde (10).  This is not where I’d go with this pick.  And I like Wilde, but I believe Chiarelli and company will LOVE Wilde.  Why?  He’s a RHD who is big, mobile, and going to Harvard in the fall.  You know who else went to Harvard?  Peter Chiarelli.  If it’s me, I’m taking Joe Veleno (2).  In my opinion the Oilers only have two potential centres at the next level in their top 20 prospects.  Veleno’s a pure playmaker in what has become a playmakers league.  But I doubt the Oilers do it even though this is right around where Veleno is ranked (McKenzie currently has him 11th).

NY Islanders – Jesperi Kotkaniemi (12).  This is assuming they lose John Tavares.  Should they, then they’ll really need a centre.  Sure, they can sign someone in the off-season, they can put Josh Bailey back in the middle, but long term they need someone.  Kotkaniemi would compliment Barzal perfectly.  I love the kids game.  Playmaker who is a 200 foot player.

NY Islanders (via Calgary) – Joel Farabee (17).  Garth Snow is in love with high end skilled players.  So in getting Kotkaniemi he’ll have his guy to do the dirty work moving forward, and then he goes and gets Farabee to drive play on the second line behind Barzal.  For me, I think about what a combo Farabee and Barzal would be on the PP.  Both capable of running it from the wall, ones a lefty, ones a righty.  Could be lethal.  Wondering if they go forward-D with these two picks?  Maybe, but they don’t like taking D in the first round.  Did it two years in a row, Reinhart was a bust and Pulock has had trouble getting regular minutes.

Dallas – Joe Veleno (2).  They get Veleno to go with Seguin, Faksa and Shore long term down the middle…yikes!!  That’s a bitch to deal with for the rest of the Central division moving forward.

Philadelphia (via St. Louis) – Ty Smith (11).  I like him a lot more than most.  Size sucks, let’s not lie, but he’s got a really high IQ, great work ethic, great skater, plays cerebral which scouts seem to dislike for some reason (gotta be dynamic cause it’s scored as 3 if it’s a dynamic goal ya know…), he has all the traits that you need to be a number one defenceman.  As for Philly, I know they have gone D a lot, but some of those guys have yet to pan out and might not.  Smith would be as much BPA as a need for Philly in my opinion anyway.

Florida – Akil Thomas (16).  I’m a lot higher on Thomas than most are.  I just think he’s a lot like Veleno in that once he plays with higher end players his game will go to another level.  Tremendous playmaker.  And a bit of business here too in that while Thomas is a Canadian kid, he’s Florida born, and he’s exciting to watch.  At 15 he’d be picked for hockey reasons, but the latter part of that sure doesn’t hurt.

 

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