Category Archives: Hot Takes

A weekly look around the hockey world, mainly the NHL

Hot Takes – Dec. 11th, 2017

Last week was all Canadian, so this week I’ll sort through some of the U.S. teams who are making some noise one way or another (and of course I’ll get to the Oilers as I always do), and I’ll start in Vegas where I’m waiving the white flag and saying that the Golden Knights are for real and are going to make the playoffs….how’s that for a hot take?

 

It’s not because I feel this team is THAT good, I don’t feel like this team is that good.  I’m guessing next season it all comes crashing down for them.  But it’s becoming clear to me that this season they’re now buying their own BS.  And I said this when I did my picks on Saturday, when that starts to happen with these teams who are having season’s which are unattainable, you can simply throw the analytics on them out the window.  Because they start playing so confidently that they’re difficult to beat!  If a guy fucks up, who cares!?  They feel like they’ll get a bounce to make up for it.  Guys aren’t ever gripping their sticks, they’re buying everything the coaches are preaching, it just all starts coming together.  I don’t believe Marc-Andre Fleury returning this week is going to have much of an impact on the team one way or another, because this team just simply has a belief now that it’s going to bounce their way.  I like analytics, but I’m more of a believer in psychology.  Once teams have this kind of psychological advantage that the Golden Knights have, it just doesn’t seem to let up.

 

Perhaps the exact opposite of the Golden Knights are the Carolina Hurricanes.  Coming into the season, I was sky high on the Canes.  Most people were, they were the darling of the pre-season prognostications.  And it just hasn’t happened for them.  You can do everything right as an organization, but if you don’t have a few guys a team can rally around then it’s tough to win consistently.  Jacob Slavin, real nice young D-man, same with Noah Hanifin, but neither of these guys can carry a team just yet.  Scott Darling was a smart pickup, but mentally it’s just a big difference when the pressure is on to be the number one guy for a team.  In Chicago, even in the 2015 playoffs when he filled in for Corey Crawford, he really didn’t have much pressure on him.  Up front, they lack any kind of big offensive threats.  A lot of real good forwards, but none of them are stars.  Ron Francis is easily the most underrated GM in the league right now, but he’s going to have to get after it on the trade front and turn some of that ridiculous depth into a few big time players.

 

How is it that the Hurricanes are unequivocally staying in Raleigh?!  In markets like Miami and Phoenix, I get it.  They’re among the biggest TV markets in the United States, and you pray that someday both of those organizations get their shit together and they can put not only winners on the ice, but entertaining winners on the ice.  That would be huge for the league.  But Gary Bettman comes out this week and declares that the Hurricanes won’t be leaving Raleigh?!?  I just do not get it in the slightest.  And I’m not intending to shit on the fans who showed up for their playoff runs in 02, 06 and 09 at all.  Those were great crowds, but the reality is that those crowds only show up for the playoffs.  Most nights it’s bleak crowds, and with the team struggling yet again I just don’t know how long the league can justify this to the NHLPA.  The Hurricanes in Quebec would make a lot of money, even at their worst.  Now I do believe that the league is going to put a team in Quebec City, because I don’t believe Quebec City would have green lit their arena without some sort of guarantee that they’ll receive a franchise within a certain time frame.  Remember, Winnipeg rumours first started up in 2004, and they didn’t get a team until 2011.  So it could be a while yet, but I really believe they’ll be getting one eventually.

 

Meanwhile, it’s a guarantee a team is going to Seattle.  I laugh at the fact that the league tries to claim that it’s no guarantee.  They have to say that, I get it, but oh hell yes it’s a guarantee.  The league wants Seattle more than Seattle wants the league!  The 20-21 season is when the Key Arena will be ready?  Then that’s when the Seattle Emeralds (credit goes to Walter McLaughlin for that one with his piece on potential Seattle team nicknames which you can read here: https://thehockeywriters.com/10-names-new-seattle-nhl-franchise ) will enter the NHL.  I’m guessing it’ll be tougher for them to win out of the gate like the Golden Knights have.  Second time around, GM’s will be planning for the 2020 expansion draft beginning this off-season, and you won’t see nearly as many teams unprepared as were for that one.  The only question left for the league is what to do with Houston?  I don’t see how the league can turn Houston down.  I mean, they can, but we all know Bettman.  No chance they’ll look the other way!  Is it as easy as moving the Coyotes there?  Or will they continue to force feed hockey to the people of Phoenix while moving a team like the Islanders to Houston?

 

Getting back to the on ice stuff, and I spoke earlier about the Hurricanes having disappointed this season.  If they have disappointed, then I’m not sure what you’d say the Buffalo Sabres have done.  I mean, they haven’t disappointed me, I thought Jason Botterill did an awful job this past off-season and didn’t see them going anywhere.  Didn’t like their draft despite Casey Mittelstadt looking good, Jack Eichel really seems like a total jack ass (pardon the pun), they’ve got nothing that great on the blueline after Rasmus Ristolainen, and while they’re going to have a lot of cap space this off-season, who wants to go there?  Even if Jack Eichel is playing to his potential nobody is going to want to play with that kid.  It is what Edmonton would have been had they not won McDavid.  Scary.  And it’s a damn shame too because Buffalo is one of the few good American markets.  When they’re good, their fans are out in full force and that building is tough to play in.

 

Does anyone SERIOUSLY buy the St.Louis Blues?  A 6-1 win Saturday afternoon in Detroit, then a win last night at home against the aforementioned Sabres, and they’re the top team in the West with 44 points (tied with Tampa for first overall but the Lightning have a couple games in hand), but it is the exact same feel with them that I had last season with Columbus and Minnesota.  Everything looks good, but you just know that they aren’t going anywhere this season.  Brayden Schenn, great story, but he’s not a number one centre.  He’s having a “Shawn Horcoff” type run where he’s a good two way centre who is thriving because of who his wingers are.  Horcoff had Ales Hemsky, and those of you who aren’t Oilers fans might forget just how great Hemsky was.  Schenn has Vladdy Tarasenko, and all of you know just how great Tarasenko is.  It’s a team without a hole on the roster, but I don’t like any of their high end guys to take them anywhere, they have a lot of good but nothing great.  Jake Allen, he’s fine.  I don’t think he’s an elite goaltender.  Alex Pietrangelo, I’ve always been a big fan.  But he’s not an elite D-man.  Tarasenko, one of the best wingers in hockey.  But teams built around wingers never win.  Mike Yeo?  He’s just a middle of the road coach despite what the media will currently tell you that he all of a sudden has become Scotty Bowman 2.0.  So while it’s cute that they’re battle for top spot in the Central…and the West…and the league, I’d be really surprised if they went passed the 2nd round of the playoffs barring acquiring a John Tavares or someone else elite like that.  I’ll take Nashville, I’d still take Chicago, and I would maybe even take Winnipeg over them in a playoff series.

 

And from the top of the West, to damn near the bottom of the West as the clock ticks down on the Edmonton Oilers season.  They played great this weekend, but the Toronto games are why you can’t walk away from playing teams like Buffalo and Philly without even a point, nor an effort.  Four times this season this hockey club very clearly had the attitude of “this will be a layup”, and those were games against Detroit, Philly, Buffalo and Arizona.  They lost three of them, and only by a massive fluke did they get two points from the Coyotes.  Look, at worse I still think they’re going to be in the midst of the race before this season is done.  The only question for me is how seriously they’ll be in the race.  Four points out at the trade deadline?  As much as that may look ok, that’s not really that serious.  Hell, that would only be making up four points from now until the end of February!  It’s just such a tough league to gain ground in.  But I’ve said this lots lately and I’ll say it again, the one thing to hang your hat on as an Oilers fan is that they haven’t played much against the West, and especially against the Pacific division, and the Pacific division is awful.  I know I just wrote about how the Golden Knights are making the playoffs, but if I’m in the Oilers room, I’m not buying into them.  Now with Bo Horvat out in Vancouver, expect them to start coming back down to earth.  The Ducks still won’t have Getzlaf or Kesler for a few more weeks, and once they’re back I’m still not sure how much of an impact they’ll have.  The Kings are looking terrific, but the Oilers matchup great against them, and the same goes for the Sharks.  So when you start adding up all the four point swing games they have, and when you look at their division record from last year, I still don’t think you can say they’re done.  Don’t get me wrong, if I’m given 50/50 odds, I’m betting against them missing the playoffs.  And this is the week which could finish them off.  At Columbus, home to Nashville and at Minnesota.  They aren’t good against any of these teams.  Glass half full?  The Preds will be on the second half of a back to back, and the Wild could very well start Alex Stalock on Saturday saving Dubnyk for a bigger game against the Blackhawks the next night in Chicago.  Columbus?  Well, I really believe that’s an L.  Even if they play the way they did over the weekend, they just don’t matchup well at all with the Blue Jacekets, and the goaltending matchup in particular won’t be remotely close.

 

I’m going to add this part on because I don’t know if it’s worth a whole blog, but while I’m talking Oilers, one thing nobody wants to hear…but it’s really true, is that this team is so very well setup moving forward.  And I know, if you’ve read my stuff just about every season I talk about how well setup the Oilers are, because they have been!  It’s not my fault that management has pissed so many years of that away, but it still remains the case.  No doubt, this will go down as the most disappointing season in Edmonton Oilers history should they miss the playoffs.  But it’s not like the decade of darkness and in particular 2010-2016 where they were a laughing stock.  The cap going up next season will allow Peter Chiarelli to keep all the key pieces in place.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is of course the main piece we are really speaking of when talking about keeping all the key pieces in place.  He is looking like the high end centre we all knew he was, and I still firmly believe he’s not done growing as a player.  He’s just now getting his offensive confidence back.  Once it’s all the way there I believe he’ll go to yet another level.  Darnell Nurse as I hit on in a blog last week is developing into a legitimate number one defenceman.  It’s too early to call him that just yet, but he’s been playing like one for much of the season to date.  With Jesse Puljujarvi it’s the same thing.  All that potential and since he’s been called up you can just see his game and confidence growing at a rapid rate.  He’s got Rick Nash type upside, so even hitting half of that is going to be huge for this club.  Before the season began, these were three of the kids I wrote about being vital for this organization and all three look to be on the exact path the team needs them to be on.  And it’s not just those three, the prospect pool is rich too.  I don’t know if many of the kids have a ton of trade value just yet, but guys like Tyler Benson, Ostap Safin, and especially Kirill Maksimov are thriving, and I don’t need to tell anyone how badly this club is going to need help on the wings moving forward.  Maksimov in particular, man that kid has a bullet of a shot.  Whether you’re talking about his one timer or his wrist shot which has almost no back swing.  That kid is a pure sniper, and should he make it, he’s going to live off McDavid feeds on the PP.  Point being here, it’s so very far from a bleak situation, it’s just a very shitty and extremely disappointing season to this point.  I don’t think it would stun anyone if they miss the playoffs this year, and then in the spring of 2019 they’re in the Stanley Cup final.  It’s just a damn shame that we all have to go through this season after it looked so damn promising entering the year.  This fan base sure doesn’t deserve it YET AGAIN.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Hot Takes – Dec. 4th, 2017

It’s an all Canadian version of the Hot Takes this week.  But how about I don’t start off with Oilers talk today?!  I could, and will get to them later.  But there is another team on the Canadian prairie’s in the NHL who deserve a lot of love right now.  MUCH more love than the national media has been giving them, although I expect that to change today, and that’s the Winnipeg Jets.

 

All they needed was goaltending, yet they still felt so far away because Kevin Cheveldayoff refused to really go out and address his goaltending.  But luckily, and thankfully for those of us who love to see the Jets thrive, Connor Hellebuyck got his career back on track this season and this team is now on freaking fire thanks to it, sitting first in the West, and tied for first overall in the league with the Lightning (Tampa has a game in hand).  This team is very talented, and very deep, and while I don’t think they’re going to end up as the best team in the West come spring, playoffs look to be a sure thing barring big injury issues.  I don’t believe Oliver Ekman-Larsson is going anywhere, but if John Chayka decides to pull the trigger then you should keep your eye firmly on the Jets.  This team not only is three lines deep, and have a quality top four on the blueline, but their farm system is LOADED!  About the only thing this team lacks is that legitimate number one defenceman.  And if you’re Chevy, how do you not look at the Oilers last season and say “they should have pushed their chips to the middle while they could” and still do nothing?  Again though, I don’t expect that.  But what I’m saying is that if the Jets keep rolling I’d watch for them to be very aggressive at the trade deadline.  Great to see the Jets thriving.  The playoffs are better with the Jets, and the playoffs would be tremendous with a deep run by the Jets.  And they’re built for the playoffs.

 

Meanwhile you had the Jets latest victim hitting their low point last night.  Who could have guessed that pissing away three assets to barely upgrade at centre hasn’t done anything to help the Sens.  WEIRRRRRRRRRRD.  The Ottawa media seemed to love the trade, and the rationale was so ridiculous.  You heard things like “they didn’t give up Chabot, White or Brown, what a win”.  Wait, so you should grossly overpay for players as long as you don’t give up your top prospects?!  That might be as absurd as the logic I always used to bitch about which was when a top player would come available and people would try to make the argument that other teams would have to give up their top players rather than simply make the best offer, whatever that would be.  Again I’ll go to this example, if the Arizona Coyotes end up moving Ekman-Larsson at the trade deadline, they are moving him to get something for him before losing him for nothing.  There for, nobody is giving the Coyotes a top player.  The Edmonton Oilers won’t have to give up Leon Draisaitl or Darnell Nurse if they want to pursue him.  You won’t see the Leafs offering Auston Matthews or Morgan Rielly.  It’s such stupid logic, yet others just can’t figure it out.  Anyway, the logic the Ottawa media had in all this was along those same lines and it’s ridiculous.  I’m all for bringing in an upgrade on a player and a guy who is a lot more likely to sign in Ottawa long term.  But Duchene wasn’t worth Shane Bowers, a 1st and a 3rd more than Turris.  Good thing that 1st was top 10 protected because right now it appears to be a serious threat to end up in the top 10.  Now, having said ALL this, it’s not because of Matt Duchene that the Sens have fallen apart.  What it could be though….players tuning out Guy Boucher?  This is the exact same pattern as his Tampa team had.  Conference finals game 7 in his first season, started falling apart the next season.  Oh, and if this keeps up, the Erik Karlsson watch could begin….

 

While I’m hitting on Canadian teams, I want to hit on the Flames.  And I’m pretty damn fair to the Flames on here.  I don’t deny or hide that I’m an Oilers fan, but I try damn hard, maybe too hard sometimes, to keep things objective with the Flames.  I hope the Flames are the second best team in hockey every year!  However something that bothers me is that the national media slurps them pretty good.  Is that a Brian Burke influence?  Ken King?  I don’t know, but I really do get the feeling it’s coming from somewhere, because nobody says shit about them!  So can we be honest?  Right at the moment, they aren’t in a playoff spot, and they just lost their sixth straight to the Oilers.  They don’t have a pick in this upcoming draft until the fourth round, and while it’s a relatively deep system, they don’t have any elite prospects.  Does nobody else believe this is an issue?!  Does nobody else believe that the Flames had damn well not only get in the playoffs but do some damage when they’ve mortgaged the large majority of their damn draft?!  Seriously, who trades their draft to not improve and be a borderline playoff team?!  I’ve been a huge fan of the job Brad Treliving has done, but that Travis Hamonic deal is looking like a train wreck.  They in no way needed him as they already had a great blueline, and he came with a lot of risk, and he’s been awful to this point.  I’m not sitting here wishing the worst for the Flames and looking over my shoulder at every move they’re doing (fans and media who do that are pretty douchey, wouldn’t you agree Ryan Pinder?….), but can the national media please just discuss the Flames fairly?!  For whatever reason they can do no wrong.  And that’s horse shit, they’ve done a ton wrong of late, and the franchise is in no man’s land.  They aren’t built to win a Cup, they’re built to be what the Minnesota Wild have been over the last five years.  They aren’t garbage, and they won’t be garbage, but they aren’t that good either.  Time to take the blinders off.

 

Obviously the most natural segue here is from the Flames to the Oilers.  Quite the game Saturday night wasn’t it?  I’m not sure the Flames comeback was that great as much as it was Laurent Brossoit imploding, but it sure made for an entertaining game in the end!  And once again this week I’m going to say….the Oilers aren’t done.  And as I’ve said before, it’s mainly because the Pacific division is terrible.  It feels like the season is on the line every night at the moment, and had they blown that game to the Flames I do believe that would have been it.  But they didn’t, and what it feels like is that they’re clearing a lot of hurdles in their last four games.  In the game against Boston, they played a very solid and complete game, full value win.  Against Arizona they won a game they really didn’t deserve to win, which I believe can be huge for a team with no confidence.  Then against the Leafs, despite the Russell own goal that cost them at least a point, they battled back when it looked like they were going to get run right out of the building.  Without Talbot and Larsson, they ended up outplaying one of the best teams in the league.  And I know one of my buddies said it, a few others have said, I really believe with Russell being such a well liked guy in the dressing room that the own goal could end up being a turning point for the Oilers season, something that could bring the team closer together.  Then against Calgary they owned the Flames for two periods, and then survived the comeback.  So you’re seeing these steps, and Ryan Rishaug said the same on Twitter yesterday.  Right now they really don’t look pretty because it’s still a team with shaken confidence, but it’s coming.  They have to put a bigger dent in the deficit this month though as they’ve got a relatively soft schedule.  Even when you look at some of the more difficult games they have, some of those teams are on the second half of back to backs.  They are catching Philly at the right time this week, they matchup well with Montreal, and then the Leafs will likely be starting Curtis McElhinney on Sunday seeing that they play a more important game Saturday night in Pittsburgh.  It’s a big week, but they all are going to be from here on.  Finally, LOVE the Brandon Davidson pickup.  He was great for the Oilers in 2016, really had injury problems derail his 2017, and then never seemed to get much of a chance in Montreal.  He’s capable of being a number five guy in this league, so he’s a great guy to have as your number seven and should mean the end of Eric Gryba’s time with the Oilers who seems like a tremendous dude, but simply can’t play in this league anymore.

 

Speaking of the Habs….WOW!  That’s the turnaround that Oilers fans are praying for!  10-1, on the 22nd anniversary of Roy’s last game with the franchise, against the team who drove him out of town.  That is some kind of irony.  Obviously it helps that the Atlantic division is worse than the Pacific (which again is why I don’t think the Oilers are done), but this team was left for dead.  Now?  Well, technically they’re in a playoff spot, though the Bruins have four games in hand.  Still, they’re now back into it.  And with Price healthy they have a chance to win on any night.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Hot Takes – Nov. 20th, 2017

Didn’t have time to do my picks this week, which is the downside of doing NHL picks that you only have about a 12 hour window to do them.  But with the Hot Takes, I have a little time to do them, so I can yap about pucks some more like I’m about to do.

 

As always….I start with the trainwreck that is the Edmonton Oilers.  And I didn’t mean to go so heavy Oilers this week, but I go HEAVY Oilers so if you hate them…see ya.

 

Two weeks ago, it was panic button time.  After going 3-1-1 in five game stretch, everything seemed a little better.  Call me nuts, the Blues game was obviously awful, but I thought the effort was there against Dallas and they simply had every bounce go against them.  The Antoine Roussel goal was a fluky one, as was the Jamie Benn goal to clinch the game.  The puck is intended to be shot off the back boards and instead could not have been a better bounce for the Stars going right onto Benn’s stick whom had a wide open net.  Those are so frustrating as a fan, because you can’t defend it!  Sure, something probably could have been done so that cycle never of started, but the fact is that Esa Lindell takes a very low percentage point shot which because of an insanely lucky bounce becomes the perfect pass.  When it rains, it pours.  Are the Oilers done?  Probably.  The Blues tomorrow night in St. Louis, then the Wings Wednesday on the second half of a back to back.  I believe three points are possible, but I believe one point is the most they’ll get.  But they aren’t dead.

 

And they aren’t dead, not because they’re good.  They aren’t dead because with all the injuries in Anaheim, and the Flames not looking all that good to this point either, they’re probably the clear cut third best team in the division, a division in which they’ve only played three games within thus far.  That’s 17 games remaining against Calgary who haven’t beat them in five, Vancouver who’ll come back to earth before too long, Vegas who is coming back to earth already, and Arizona.  They also have yet to play a team on the second half of a back to back yet, they have 11 of those left.  So it’s easy and lazy to say “U.S. Thanksgiving” and make it the be all, end all like the media does.  The fact is: weak division and a ton of games within the weak division still to come, so while it looks bleak, and probably is bleak, a big push is going to come.

 

As always, when teams don’t meet expectations, the media and Twitterverse take to piling on.  Man it’s awesome to pile on isn’t it?!  “Check out my unoriginal tweet of comparing two guys mistake by doing the hold my beer line”.  Fucking tools.  Soups advice: Don’t be a tool, especially a fucking tool.  Anyway, Pierre LeBrun came out with a piece today on what a mistake everyone picking 3-6 in the 2016 draft made passing on Clayton Keller.  He apparently (keeping it fair since I haven’t read it) makes it out to be that they passed on a hall of famer.  SERIOUSLY?!?!?  25 games into this kids career we’re making him out to be this hall of famer, and we’re writing off anyone picked in front of him who hasn’t out scored him to this point.  If you’re paying for the Athletic….why?  If this is the case, this is trash.  And from what is supposed to be one of their most respected writers, and this is the piece he comes up with?!  Apparently he lumps Peter Chiarelli in with those other teams who passed on Keller.  Literally….LITERALLY…Clayton Keller’s own family could probably be included in this….EVERY SINGLE PERSON had Jesse Puljujarvi ranked ahead of Clayton Keller in that draft.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  PERSON.  Even the biggest Keller fan, Corey Pronnman, had Keller ranked 4th, one spot behind Puljujarvi.  This is literally like saying “well the Colts shouldn’t have picked Andrew Luck because Russell Wilson has been better”.  It’s just such a stupid, lazy, ridiculous narrative.  Chiarelli has so much that people can pick at right now, there is zero need to lump him into this.  And again in fairness, I don’t know if LeBrun did that here because I see absolutely no need to subscribe to the most arrogant and pretentious sports media outlet on the planet right now, but from what I’ve read on Twitter he interviews Chiarelli for the piece and lumps the Oilers into a group of teams which made such a horrific mistake passing on Keller.  But if I got this right and this is the case….First off, let’s MAYBE wait until the kid has done SOMETHING more than be the top scorer on the worst team in the league?  Second, it’s fair for a guy like Pronnman to go after guys about passing on Keller, but very few others.  I didn’t have Keller very high going into the draft, 14th in my rankings, but I knew he was going to score and I stand by that ranking.  If you’ve read my rankings and mock drafts you’ve read this a million times already but I’ll say it again: I don’t feel like building around undersized wingers is the way to build a hockey team, and teams picking in the top 10 of the draft for the most part have bigger needs which they have to address.  Players like Keller historically have not been difficult to find, while centres and defencemen are.

 

I’m going to have a piece on the potential Team Canada for this years WJC tournament this week (in fact I probably could have put it out this morning), and one thing I’ve noticed in projecting the lineup is the only real weakness is on left wing.  It isn’t REALLY a weakness as they will likely end up putting a lot of RH shooting forwards on the left side.  But I have to wonder if they wouldn’t give Tyler Benson a late and out of left field invite to camp because of this?  He’s missed most of the last two seasons, but has been scorching hot for the Vancouver Giants since returning, with 15 points in 10 games, and 14 of the 15 points have come in his last seven games.  Two points a game in his last seven after missing most of the last two seasons.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  You can’t just blindly look at the point totals here.  A lot of this production has been on the PP, and one of the apples was on an empty netter where he did next to nothing.  But what would it hurt to simply bring him to camp and take a look?  This is a kid who was at one time looking like a top five pick for the 2016 draft, and simply ran into a lot of injury problems beginning in his draft season.  I HIGHLY doubt they will, but they should.  He’s a special and rare case where you actually do need the training camp to see what you do or don’t have in this player.

 

Last week I talked about how impressed I am that the Rangers got the ship righted and are now fighting for a playoff spot.  Well looking at the standings now 20 games in for most teams, I have to give a few other teams some love.  I’ve sang the Leafs praises lately, but doing what they did without Auston Matthews, very impressive.  If I’m a Leafs fan, I know they want Doughty.  But realistically the play before the trade deadline might be John Carlson.  Barring the Caps going on a massive run and looking like they may have a legitimate shot at the Cup, I believe they’re going to sell this year.  They may make the playoffs, but much like the Blues last year I believe they realize that if they want to stay relevant then the move is to sell, and if Carlson doesn’t have a contract then they could get a boat load for him, and the fit with the Leafs is just too perfect.

 

I had the Islanders selling at the deadline, but so far they look like a very solid team who could do some damage in the playoffs.  Matt Barzal emerging has definitely been the key.  But what I’m so impressed with is the culture they’ve developed there.  Since 2013 they’ve had a “next man up” and playing balls out style.  It’s a lot like what the Preds were for so many years, or the Oilers had in the late 90’s/early 2000’s.  They’re just a bitch to play every night.

 

And finally, the Avs!  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but they aren’t going away!  Maybe the most surprising thing about the Avs for me is that Semyon Varlamov hasn’t been good.  Yet here they are, sitting in a wildcard spot, legitimately.  They won’t stay there, other teams will pass them.  But considering where they were last season, and that they made very few changes prior to the season, and then coupled with the Matt Duchene situation, I find it pretty impressive that they’ve come out with a lot of fight this season and don’t appear to be going away.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Hot Takes – Nov. 14, 2017

I’ll start this week’s piece off by bitching about my picks and how garbage my luck is right now.  Did I seriously go 2-3 for the second straight week, third straight losing week, thanks to a fluky empty net goal with two seconds left in a game?!  When it rains it pours.  Last night I got a great tip from one of the World’s best football bettors on twitter about taking the under in the New England/Denver game, so I bet it hard (for me), and of course it went WAY over.  Again…when it rains, it pours.

 

Something I intended to bring up last week, man the NHL is a well run league.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever brought this up, but yeah, it’s an awfully run league.  Exhibit A flew under the radar thanks to game seven of the World Series being played on the same night.  But that night, Wednesday night hockey on NBCSN, their nationally televised game, was Flyers vs Hawks.  Good game.  But you know what other game was played that night?  Pens vs Oilers.  I get that it’s a Canadian market, but if you’re EVER going to market your game, showcase your two best players, you MIGHT want to put Crosby vs McDavid on national TV in the States!!!  How are you going to know if you won’t even make the FUCKING EFFORT to market McDavid and market that matchup?!?!  What a joke.

 

Speaking of the Oilers….of course this piece will normally have something about the Oilers….my exact words last week were “This team needs a 2-1-1 road trip or better this week.”  Mission accomplished.  BUT, something I ripped the Flames in half for the last two seasons was that they seemed to just look to get games to three on three which they’re built to play.  It’s getting clear that this is the strategy of the Oilers right now.  Get it to OT, run McDavid and Draisaitl out every second shift.  I ripped on McLellan’s coaching job to this point last week, and he did nothing this week for me to not continue to wonder what he’s doing.  McDavid and Draisaitl five on five weren’t producing all week, yet he continued to roll them out together.  Oscar Klefbom is struggling bad right now, and yet he continues to use him a ton.  Patrick Maroon has been terrible outside of maybe four games all season, yet he continues to play him on the top line.  Mark Letestu is looking like a shell of what he was last year, yet first unit PK, first unit PP.  Make some damn adjustments already!!  If you had told me that Nugent-Hopkins and Nurse would look this good, and now Puljujarvi has come up and played as well as he has, I’d guess this team is around where Tampa is right now.  I really find myself digging in on this being a coaching problem above all else.  And I’m not saying McLellan needs to go, but he is doing an awful job of utilizing the talent he has.

 

One suggestion I tossed at a buddy this past week to help out the Oilers: Letestu out, Bozak in?  Not a straight up deal, doubt the Leafs would do that.  But I’d start looking at cutting bait with Letestu, who just looks awful thus far, and then bringing in Bozak who has been demoted to the fourth line in Toronto and is really in Mike Babcock’s doghouse.  Bozak is still capable of playing up in a lineup, he has better size and much better wheels than Letestu, both righty shots, both great in the dot, and both UFA’s.  Letestu might fetch you a 4th rounder, so maybe you turn around and offer the Leafs a 3rd and that same 4th for Bozak at 3 mil instead of the full cap hit of 4.2?  Just a thought, could make a massive difference to the Oilers PK specifically.

 

Ok, that’s my Oilers talk for the week.  Basically three paragraphs on them, close to calling this “Oilers Hot Takes”!

 

One team that caught my eye thanks to playing the Oilers were the Rangers.  How has this team won five in a row?!  How are they not the worst team in the East?!  They have a lot of overage, a lot of average, and yet they’ve now won five straight and are going to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  So can we start giving Alain Vigneault the credit he deserves as one of the top coaches in this league?   This guy just constantly gets the absolute most out of his squads.  No Cup ring is likely the reason why, but it really seems baffling that a guy has done this great of a job coaching the Rangers and still isn’t seen in the same light as coaches like Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien.  Not in the same league as Mike Babcock and Joel Quennville, but not far off.

 

I didn’t have the Arizona Coyotes to make the playoffs or anything along those lines, but I figured they were on the right track and would be competitive.  Wow.  Just wow.  They’re now 19 games into their season and still don’t have a regulation win.  Seven points total, a win in OT and a win in a shootout.  It’s just an absolute shit show.  A part of me wants to smile, because they’re all in on analytics, and they lost guys like Shane Doan and Mike Smith who were looked down upon by the analytics community.  I’m far from anti analytics, but I do enjoy those guys getting proven wrong after so many of them act like numbers will tell us everything and things such as psychology don’t mean anything.  But back to the Coyotes for a minute.  We all thought they were doomed in Phoenix when they were good.  Now they’re the laughing stock of the league, and Tilman Fertitta is making noise about wanting to bring an NHL team to Houston.  You’d think/hope that they’re on their last legs in that joke of a market.

 

Then at the opposite end of the spectrum you have the Lightning who are simply abusing the rest of the league.  Man, that beat down in L.A. this week against the Kings couldn’t have been more of a statement.  I had them to be the top regular season team and win the East, so I’m not real shocked, but I don’t know if I believed that they would just simply boat race everyone.  But they’re so loaded top to bottom, and they have a lot of trade chips to make any moves they need or want to down the stretch.  Steve Yzerman was looking like one of the worst GM’s in the league when Steven Stamkos was about to walk for nothing and Jonathan Drouin was demanding a trade, and you’d look at his draft record in the first round…I wrote about it!  I laid out all that stuff.  Not now man.  Top team in the league and at this point nobody looks like they can compete with them, at least this season.  Tampa’s league, and 30 other teams are just playing in it.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Hot Takes – Nov. 6, 2017

Originally, I thought I’d be able to do one of these a week.  And then I sat down to write this piece last week, and I had nothing!  What was there to talk about?  Nothing new had happened since the previous week.  So I won’t lie, I’m going to pick and choose when I can do these, not going to write just for the sake of writing, I do have a BIT of a life.  This week however….this should be a good one.  Well, a lot to talk about…who the hell knows how the writing will be!  I’ll try.

 

As you can imagine, I’m starting in Edmonton (and settle in, because I need a few paragraphs for this one), where it is officially time to hit the panic button.

 

A home shutout to the DEAD WINGS?!  After you’re already that far behind the eight ball?!  Describing it as “pathetic” doesn’t do that performance justice.  I still can’t believe what I saw in that hockey game.  And now I’m wondering if the coaching staff is in trouble.  The team doesn’t look engaged a lot of nights, and the specialty teams look horrific.  That’s probably 80-90% coaching.  And quite buying the ridiculous excuses.  It’s not because they dealt Jordan Eberle, Eberle was awful on the PP last season and wasn’t on the PK.  It’s not because they dealt Taylor Hall (by the way, analytics guys…your solution for getting a defenceman was signing Jason Demers, so don’t act like you knew better than the Hall trade, you wouldn’t have dealt him, but your solution wouldn’t have made the team any better).  It’s not because Benoit Pouliot got bought out and they brought in Jussi Jokinen.  The best excuse might be because they’re slow.  It’s not because they’re “slow”.  Weird…now that the Kings are rolling, you don’t hear anyone talking about their speed.  And last year, all you heard about was the Oilers speed.  First game of the year the Oilers weren’t slow.  But now, neither team much different in team speed, the Oilers issues are because they’re slow, yet the Kings, Blues, Sharks, none of them are slow.  Apparently for those three, team speed just dramatically increased despite not adding any speed.  But the Oilers, they’re slow.  FUCKING SPARE ME all you idiots believing that.  Like, we are intelligent enough to understand that the Oilers have more speed on their roster than those teams do…right?  Not to suggest the Oilers can’t get faster, absolutely they can and need to.  But they aren’t 4-8-1 because they’re “slow”.  If you believe that, I bet you also believe Scott Hatteberg was the reason for the 2002 Oakland A’s being good and it had nothing to do with having three of the best pitchers in baseball and the league MVP at shortstop.  Nope.  All Hatteberg.

 

Anyway, back to the Oil and the coaching.

 

I’ve ripped Peter Chiarelli a lot for his carelessness.  But he has a playoff calibre team out there, and every single one of you believed that going into the season, and especially after opening night.  Yet they’ve looked like absolute dog shit most nights.  You might think Milan Lucic has a bad contract, but that bad contract didn’t force Todd McLellan to play him in a three on three situation in Pittsburgh.  This is a poorly coached hockey team right now.  I’m not saying the coach is poor, but the coaching staff is doing a horrendous job right at the moment.  Not the only problem.  Cam Talbot has been very inconsistent, Oscar Klefbom and Matt Benning are shells of what they were last season just to name a few other issues.  But there is just too much of this that points towards coaching.  They look like the Dallas Eakins Oilers, only with Connor McDavid in the lineup.  I had the Oilers struggling their way into the playoffs this season, but the hole is getting too big to climb out of, and if you can’t show up for a must win home game against the Dead Wings, I’m not sure you’re capable of climbing.  This team needs a 2-1-1 road trip or better this week.  2-2, you’re probably just delaying things.  1-3, and this season will be on life support which would likely paralyze Peter Chiarelli’s ability to make a move.

 

Initially when I thought about doing this piece this week, I was pumped to talk about how great the Jets have been playing.  7-1-2 over their previous 10 heading into Saturday night’s game at home against Montreal, 4-2 lead in the 3rd period annnnnnnnnd they lose in OT.  One of the worst teams in the league with their backup goaltender in and you don’t finish that game?  Awful.  Hopefully for the Jets it’s just a hiccup and not a fall back to where they were.  It looks as though Connor Hellebuyck has taken a step and is ready to be legitimate number one starter.  If that’s the case, they’re definitely a playoff team.

 

As for the team they lost to, they won again in Chicago 2-0 last night thanks to a brilliant performance from Charlie Lindgren in goal.  Is it actually possible that the Habs season is going to be saved by Carey Price getting injured?!  It’s possible, because we’ve seen it before how something like that can make or break a team.  Down 4-2 in Winnipeg, no Price, they could have easily folded the tent.  But all that adversity seemed to galvanize them.  Those are two VERY big wins for the Habs.  And hey, I always talk about needing to see Oilers/Flames in the playoffs.  Well we need to also see Habs/Leafs in the playoffs, so let’s hope this is the start of something.

 

Speaking of the Leafs….they’re now 8-7.  You had to know they were going to roll all season, but this slide is a little unexpected.  And hey, I said they wouldn’t make the playoffs!  But, tough stretch going on the road playing who are currently the two top teams in the West, not to mention San Jose.  By the way…weird….Leafs are faster than all of those teams and lost all three games….Anyway, the Leafs.  Rough stretch, but they’ll be fine.  Vegas, Minny, then back to back with Boston this week.  I’d expect them to go 3-1, easily could go 4-0.  They’ll be fine.

 

Once again Saturday night, a Leafs game went over.  Unfortunately, my picks ended up only going 2-3, but I got that one right.  Problem is, the Leafs and Avs (who are now on a seven game streak of eight or more goals…bet the over on the Avs!) are the only teams where there are goals being scored.  Scoring is going WAY down….as are slashing calls…as are penalties in general.  This mother f***ing league is so mother f***ing predictable….

 

Of course, I’ve left the big news for last and that’s the Matt Duchene deal they went down late yesterday afternoon.

 

I’ll go team by team here and start with the Sens.  What are they doing?!  Matt Duchene is in no way Shane Bowers, a 1st and a 3rd better than Kyle Turris.  And then Turris immediately signs for six times six with the Preds.  So long term, you save zero dollars over Matt Duchene, and Duchene is up after next season and he’ll likely cost them a lot more than six times six.  I like Duchene a lot, but at best he’s a fringe first line centre, and at best Turris is a fringe first line centre.  I just do not see the big upgrade here.  I seen James Duthie say on Twitter that the Sens did well not to give up Colin White, but that in no way justifies pissing away assets to slightly upgrade at centre.

 

As for the Preds…I love this for the Preds.  Losing Kamenev hurts, but you’re gaining Turris for six seasons.  So there wasn’t going to be much room for Kamenev anyway.  They lose Sam Girard, but they got a very similar player in the draft last year in David Farrance.  They arguably didn’t give up their best two prospects which would be Dante Fabbro and Eeli Tolvanen, nor did they give up their first round pick.  How they gave up the same….perhaps even LESS than Ottawa is insane!

 

And finally the Avs.  It shows you how messed up they are when Duchene had to be pulled from the game.  If the deal is close, healthy scratch him.  If the talks didn’t start until the game began, then tell Dorian and Poile that you can’t do it until after the game!  Don’t hurt and distract your teams chances to win!!  What a garbage thing to do to your guys.  Having said this….I can’t believe I’m saying this….they did amazing.  Three picks, in a good draft (not great, but really solid), and three very legitimate prospects.  That is a terrific haul for Duchene.  He’s not an elite player, so you were never going to get an elite prospect for him.  But I follow the draft and prospects closely.  Vladislav Kamenev is very close to playing.  I’d say his ceiling is a high end second line centre.  Shane Bowers got compared by a lot of people including myself to Brandon Dubinsky.  Probably only a third line centre, but one who’ll be in players faces all night.  Tough type of player to find.  And finally, Sam Girard probably would have been a first round pick in last June’s draft or this one coming up.  The ’16 draft was tough for him because of how many good puck moving D-men there were with better size.  A lot of people liked him as a mid-late first rounder going into that draft though.  He’s very legit and exactly what the Avs need moving forward.  Some will say they got “magic beans”.  I also saw someone refer to the “mystery box” for the Avs.  Look…I love that Family Guy joke as much as anyone.  But they got three damn good prospects, and if they draft wisely, they got two or three more coming thanks to this deal.  And you don’t have to keep all these assets.  You can always use them in deals to plug other holes.  That kind of thought is always lost on a lot of fans and media.  You need assets to make moves.  It’ll be another long season in Denver, and probably a long time still before they’re to be taken seriously.  But this deal could be the catalyst for the long climb back for the Avs.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Hot Takes – Oct. 23rd, 2017

If you know me, you know that I’m always itching to talk.  I know I’m annoying, but I can’t stand silence.  And I’m an AWFUL conversationalist.  If I don’t know someone well or don’t know if you have an interest in sports, I’m fucked.  Don’t know how else to put it.  I know sports, I don’t know shit about anything else.  Even the weather, it’s 50/50 at best.  “Nice day out isn’t it?”  I…I…just can’t tell.  And you’re laughing right now, I work with an asshole who if you try to talk weather with the guy you’ll get an argument from him!  It’s small talk, and the guy will look to argue with the small talk!  And to go back to the awful conversationalist, if I’m in the wrong head space I just sound like even more of an idiot than I already am!  A few Saturday’s ago I was at a wedding and was worried about where Steph and I were going to sit, so when I ran into people I knew I probably sounded like I was on something.  No, just basically can’t walk and chew gum at the same time…

 

Anyway, sometimes I just want to talk hockey, and sometimes I’ll think of a lot of small stuff that I can talk about, but nothing big enough to write 500-1,000 words about.  That’s what this will be for.  I did it last year with the NFL and I loved doing it.  The title is “hot takes”, but they really aren’t hot takes at all.  They’re rationale takes, but that’s the joke so you can all go ahead and give me a courtesy laugh now….

 

I’ll start where everyone else will start right now.

 

What do you do if you’re Marc Bergevin?  I was so wrong on this Habs team.  I figured that they had enough on the roster to at least stay in the hunt in the Atlantic until the right trade came along.  Don’t look like that is going to be the case.  They still have a lot of time to see this thing through, but it’s really starting to look like a lost season already, and this should have been the year they really pressed to win a Cup with the Carey Price extension kicking in next season.  Do you give into what Joe Sakic is asking for and go get Matt Duchene?  For the Habs, that price is then likely to be Galchenyuk + to even land the defenceman the Avs want.  Then you’ll need to add a lottery protected 1st rounder, and a prospect along the lines of Joni Ikonen.  I’m a Duchene fan.  He’s a fringe first line centre (keep in mind, my idea of a first line centre is a guy who can put up 60-80 points who doesn’t need any sheltering).  But wow, that would be a steep price, probably too steep for me even with how bleak it is in Montreal.  So maybe you go the other way?  Off load bad contracts, and set yourself up to go hard after John Tavares this summer.  Look to get rid of some guys like Brendan Gallagher, who might be a greasy player and a fan favourite, but doesn’t have either speed or size which in today’s game if you don’t have one then you damn sure better have the other!  Real tough spot for Marc Bergevin.

 

Maybe the biggest thing that has bit Bergevin in the ass in his tenure as Habs GM is that his mandate was clearly to make the team bigger, and the league in the last three seasons has dramatically increased in speed.  That’s how the Lightning are built.  The Leafs are built.  The Sens, not as fast as the previous two but still a very quick team.  Meanwhile, the Bruins are slow.  The Panthers don’t have much speed.  And of course the Montreal Canadiens are slow.  If they had a legitimate number one centre or at least real solid two way depth down the middle it would go a long way, but there is no more denying that speed is dominating this league right now.

 

Which actually leads me to the Kings, who aren’t at all doing it with speed and perhaps look like the best team in the league right now!  I’m not surprised they’ve started hot.  A lot of the analytics guys liked them to rebound this season.  I didn’t, and I’m still a skeptic because I’m not sure they can stay healthy (hell, already bit with the injury bug with the Jeff Carter cut).  But having said that, they look better than I even expected them to.

 

Plenty of good seating is still available in the brand new Little Caesars Arena for that Red Wings/Canucks matchup last night in Detroit.  I guess it’s only “Hockeytown” when they’re at the top of the standings….

 

Bad loss by the Flames last night, real bad.  I wasn’t at all surprised about the Carolina game on Thursday night.  It was the same as the Oilers playing Ottawa.  The NHL gives these teams the equivalent to bye weeks this early in the season, it’s ridiculous scheduling.  And as we’ve seen a lot last year and so far this season, those weeks are killers for teams in their first game back.  So while Glen Gulutzan lit them up for that performance, he might want to take notice that it’s not just his team, it’s every team because they aren’t sharp and they’re playing teams who are.  But Saturday night, the Flames are playing an injury plagued Wild team on the second half of a back to back and blow a 2-1 lead with less than 10 minutes to play in the third.  Add to this, they were facing Alex Stalock in goal and not Devan Dubnyk.  The difference between the Oilers and Flames to this point has been Mike Smith.  If not for Smith’s play out of the gate, this Flames team might only have one win so far on the season.

 

You know, Elliotte Friedman has brought up that Joe Sakic said something about having an intriguing offer on the table for Matt Duchene, but Friedge didn’t know who the team was.  I wonder if it would be the Flames.  They’ve been quietly mentioned as suitors for Duchene this whole time, and I’ve believed they should be in on any top end centre in the league if they want to counter what the Oilers do.  I know their fans likely wouldn’t like this, but they could afford to part with T.J. Brodie to get him.  If you sent Brodie and Sam Bennett to the Avs for Duchene and Nikita Zadorov, who says no?  Zadorov and Bennett are both former first rounders with a ton of potential but yet to reach it, and Brodie is a top pairing D-man for Duchene who as I said earlier I have as a borderline first line centre.  If you’re the Flames, Monahan-Duchene-Backlund down the middle is going to be a handful for anyone.  And does it hurt the Flames blueline THAT much?  You still have a great top three, and in the right situation Zadorov could become that beast of a D-man a lot of scouts knew he could be and next to Travis Hamonic or Dougie Hamilton could be the right situation.

 

Sandwiched between the Kings and the Flames in the Pacific right now is YOUR Vegas Golden Knights who are an unbelievable 6-1-0 so far!  Chill on the record though.  There wins are against the Stars who Ken Hitchcock had yet to of coached up and get the flaws out of their game, the Coyotes twice, the Bruins, and the Sabres.  Saturday was really the first impressive win they’ve had, and while the Blues are hot early, a lot of people including myself don’t have them making the playoffs this season.  In fact, the only team they’ve played that I had making the playoffs is Dallas and as I said, you knew it would take a bit for Ken Hitchcock to fix what ailed the Stars sloppy play last season.  Its a great story, but I’m just saying you might want to go easy on how good you may believe they are.  They get the Blackhawks tomorrow night, and that’ll tell a lot more than their first seven games have.

 

While I’m surfing around the Pacific, I may as well hit on the Oilers even though I did after the loss to Carolina last Tuesday.  They’re coming around as I suspected they may.  That loss in Philly wasn’t a bad one at all.  Those afternoon games are brutal for the large majority of the league who never play in them.  Boston, Philly, the Rangers, they constantly play in them.  You could see the Oilers were really sluggish early on, and I honestly thought it was impressive they had it tied going into the third.  Talbot has now had back to back strong games, the defensive zone play (not a coincidence) is improving a lot despite Oscar Klefbom looking really off, and they’re getting both Draisaitl and Caggiula back this week which should help the scoring issues out (though the PP really needs work, I’d start with sitting down Klefbom and giving someone like Benning or Nurse a chance with that unit).  Speaking of Nurse, he’s definitely the bright spot for the Oilers thus far.  Very early, and he isn’t seeing a lot of tough minutes, but he’s been a stud to this point.  They need someone to step up with Sekera not only out now, but all season as Sekera is likely not to be the same until next fall.  Perhaps Nurse will be that guy.

 

Love or hate them, the Leafs are the most fun team to watch in the league, and they’re damn good too.  I’m not quite willing to say I was wrong to say they’d miss the playoffs, but they seem to avoid injury issues, and the big key is that Mike Babcock is just a different level of coach.  To me, there are four different levels of coaches.  You have the guy who’ll hurt the team, the guy who’ll neither hurt nor improve a team from what they are, you have the tiny window guys who normally win the Jack Adams but never last long term, and then you have the elite.  And it’s so rare that you can find an elite head coach in the NHL.  It’s either the 2nd or 3rd guy I mentioned.  But Babcock is that elite coach and the Leafs have skipped steps other teams have had to do on their way to the top and having him behind the bench is the biggest reason for that.

 

Of course the site is now called “Soups on Hockey”, and neither the site nor this article will focus solely on the NHL, so to close today I’d just like to shoutout once more to my nephews on their big game yesterday for the Whitecourt Wolverines.  Chase Haygarth with his first goal in the AJHL, setup by his brother Easton who added a snipe himself and was the first star of the game in a 4-2 win over the Drumheller Dragons.  The Wolverines have now won four straight and currently sit second in the AJHL North.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups