What the hell?! Scoring is up to start the season??? Somebody in the hockey world will undoubtedly put an end to this! Mark Spector, lead the parade, let’s get back to “just lettin’ ’em play” hockey where you can hook, hold, and trip guys all day…especially if you play like a piece of shit. We can’t expect the refs to hold this standard can we? After all, they’re good guys, and in hockey if you’re a good guy then that gives you carte blanche to be as horrendous at your job as possible! Colin Campbell…good guy. Kevin Lowe…good guy. Jim Rutherford must have become an asshole while in Pittsburgh because in Carolina he was a good guy too!
I really didn’t mean to get on a rant there, but I did, so live with it.
The point I was trying to make is that the hockey so far has been TERRIFIC! Sure, there have been some brutal blowouts. And we all know that you end up with some crazy scores at the start of every season as teams settle in. And coaches will adjust. But no matter how bitter some people in the media will be about it, you and I both know how great this is and could continue to be.
Case in point…I’m writing a blog about an October game between the Leafs and the Blackhawks! Why? Because going into tonight, these two teams have combined for 30 goals in just four games. They’re literally averaging 7.5 goals a piece. I always enjoy Chicago and Toronto games these days since we so rarely get to see them play anymore. But now, two of the best teams in the league to start the season, and both are scoring out their asses!!
Now, I am a realist. The Leafs did their damage against the Jets and the Rangers. The Jets gave up six to the Flames on Saturday, who were shutout by the Oilers on Wednesday. The Jets…while I’m a big fan…are the most overrated team in the league and just aren’t a good club. The Rangers, most had them out of the playoffs this season. In their season opener they lost to the Avs. The Avs, at MSG. That’s not a good sign! Then on top of that, it’s becoming a fact that Lundqvist is badly fading. A terrific playoffs last spring, but during the regular season he wasn’t what he was and it appears as though that trend down is continuing. So while it’s been a great start for the Leafs, this is a great test for them.
The Blackhawks are much more so the team that doesn’t need to prove themselves. Three Cups in the last eight seasons, we all know their track record, we all know the names. And hey, beating Columbus and Pittsburgh?! Maybe the two best teams in what’s considered to be the toughest division in hockey (it’s not)?! Unreal…right? Nah. Both teams were on the second half of back to backs, both teams started their backup goaltenders. The wins look amazing on paper, but they very much so are not.
But this game looks as though it’ll be incredible. Both teams are a very legit three lines deep. In fact, they might have the deepest forward groups in the league. The Leafs are looking to prove they were no fluke last season, the Hawks appear pissed about people actually believing they wouldn’t make the playoffs this season. I’m not sure if any regular season game can ever be a classic, especially the third game of the season, but it has all the makings of one hell of a fun watch and a great way to cap Thanksgiving weekend!
Let’s just cut to the chase here and ask the question: Why did Mike Babcock choose Toronto?
Was it because of the money? Yes. Was it because of market? Yes. Was it because the Leafs haven’t won in 48 years? Yes. Was it because he’ll have more player personal control there than anywhere else? Yes. Was it because they haven’t won a Cup in 48 years? Yes. Was it because it’s an enormous challenge? Yes.
What the hell though, I said yes to every single question. Which one is it? It’s all of them and they all lead to one thing….ego.
Mike Babcock took the Leafs job because of all the jobs he could have, this one has the ability to feed his ego more than any other. And that’s not at all a criticism of Babcock. I don’t know the man, but he comes across as a very decent and respectful guy. He also has more self belief than anyone else in the coaching fraternity…which is a nice way of saying he has a massive ego.
You can’t succeed at anything in life without a big ego. I’m not an egotistical guy at all. But when I start talking sports, I become a bit of an ass because I believe I know more than 99% of the sports media, let alone the public. And I believe most other people working in the sports media or trying to like myself think the same way. You have to have that.
So Babcock goes to Toronto with the belief that he can take them from nothing to the promise land. And he believes he should be making double what the 2nd highest paid coach in the league Joel Quennville makes. And he believes he deserves the media attention he’s about to get. And he believes he can build a better team than the other GM’s in the league. And believes that he can take the Leafs from the outhouse to the penthouse. It’s that belief, that ego, that’s made him the man he is.
Now the big question becomes where the Leafs go from here?
They aren’t in as bad of shape as a lot of people make them out to be, but it isn’t pretty. I am interested to find out what they are doing on the GM front. Shanahan isn’t your normal team President, he’ll have a big role. Perhaps Mark Hunter will be given the title, or Babcock himself. I can’t see them hiring Babcock only to then go hire a GM, but I guess it is possible. No doubt though that Babcock will have another title that gives him major power in the organization.
The system isn’t good. I’m not a big Willie Nylander fan, but the talent is definitely there. The one thing to watch for now is a hard push to flip picks with the Coyotes to pick 3rd and guarantee themselves Dylan Strome. The reason being that Babcock was adamant about having that big, young center to build around in his presser after the Wings got bounced by the Lightning.
But perhaps they won’t be that high on Strome. His skating is questionable and he had a horrific playoffs (although he definitely appeared to be injured in the OHL final). I’ve thought about this for a week or so, maybe they trade back? If you’re a Leafs fan would you trade back with say the Avs for the 10th pick, a 2 this year, and their 1st next season? At 10 you might get Matt Barzal who some might rank higher than Strome. Then perhaps you use that 2 or their own to package with 24 to move up and take a D like Thomas Chabot or Jeremy Roy? Just a thought on my part though.
I would be shocked if Phil Kessel is still around in September. I think they can get something for him, and he doesn’t seem like a Babcock guy…nor does Babcock seem like a Kessel guy! But I think Phaneuf will stay now. Babcock knows how vital it is to have veteran D on a team and while Phaneuf isn’t a number 1 guy he is a top pairing guy who you can lean on for big minutes.
But it depends on what direction they go. Babcock did sign an 8 year deal, so he has the job security to take a season or two to tear things down and do a serious rebuild.
It is going to be extremely interesting to watch unfold. I am excited for Leaf fans, and also nervous. Why did Ken Holland basically allow Babcock to walk out the door? Did he perhaps come mainly for the money? I’ve thought the Leafs had the answer a few times before only for it to go horribly wrong. A lot of people are going to be sick of the attention the Leafs are going to get this offseason with Babcock now on board, but that’s good. Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny that the league is better when Toronto is relevant and they just got a whole lot more relevant!
Congrats to the Montreal Canadiens on making the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. You will be the only Canadian team to make the Stanley Cup playoffs this season, there for making you the best Canadian based team in the leauge. Congrats, that is the equivalent of being the slimmest person who needs lap-band surgery. Not that the Habs are in anyway bad, Marc Bergevin has done a great job there. But they’re in the East, likely won’t make it past the 2nd round, and the rest of the Canadian teams have been garbage.
So what lays ahead for these 6 teams? Will they make the playoffs next season? ANY of them?? Many questions, and I don’t have all the answers because I’m just a douchy blogger….but I’ll try to answer a few. So let’s start this off and I want to start with the Flames.
Now some might look at this and say I’m just an Oiler fan looking to trash the Flames. I’m really not. Full credit to them on a season that I didn’t think would happen. I thought they were a sure fire top 2 pick team at the start of the year. Bob Hartley should be a Jack Adams candidate in my mind. But having said all of this, the Flames future doesn’t look too bright.
Now a Flames fan would likely tell me that it’s better to develop that winning culture, rather than be at the bottom and become who the Oilers have become. Well, the Oilers are where they are because of their horrendous management. The first year of their rebuild a lot of the media were raving about how great their room was at the end of that season despite being 30th overall. With no expectations comes no pressure. I guess you could be the Minnesota Wild who were a good non playoff team (whatever that is) from 09-2012. Even after signing Suter and Parise to pair with all their young talent, they look like they’ll be a team stuck in no man’s land (make the playoffs, no shot at a Cup).
But it is THIN for the Flames after Monahan. They like the Oilers were, are stocked with small wingers, which really has been the Oilers major downfall. They might snag a centre (Canadian piece, Canadian spelling) with what looks to be the 4th or 5th pick. So they might get another high end centre with that pick which would be great. But they still don’t have much coming on the blueline and while Mark Giordano isn’t old, he’s not that young either. Maybe T.J. Brodie or Tyler Wotherspoon really overachieve, but you can’t depend on that happening. But the Avs have been successful at least for this season being loaded down the middle with nothing on D so who knows. To me it is vital that they end up 27th overall or worse to ensure they land one of Reinhart, Bennett, Dal Colle or Ekblad.
Entering the season the Sens looked like they were the most well setup Canadian team. They had more depth in their system than the Oilers, they had more high end skill than the Leafs, and they seemed to be way better coached than the Habs. I’m stunned at how their season has gone. But now people will jump off their bandwagon and talk about what a mess it is. At the draft when the Ducks use that top 10 pick, I’m sure the story will be how the Sens wish they had that trade back. Well weren’t people just saying in July how the Sens fleeced the Ducks and then when Ryan was left off the Olympic team that it was such a mistake? So which one is it?
I still think this team is the best Canadian team moving forward, even better setup than the Habs. Moving forward they’re great down the middle with Turris, Zibanejad and Lazar all under 25, Karlsson is a stud on D and they have some depth with Cowen, Ceci and others. Robin Lehner needs to relax in net but that should come with experience and when it does he’ll be a star. Add all this to Paul McLean who has had a rough year but I think he’s a top end coach in this league. Maybe they move Spezza this off season, but if they do they’ll get a nice return and should be fine. He puts up great numbers, but just seems to refuse to be the all around player you need your 1st line centre to be.
Of course 1st line centre has been a hot topic of conversation in Toronto all year. I whiffed on them, I had them to make the playoffs comfortably, and a month ago it looked like they would. Yet here we are, they’re all but eliminated and the city is in full panic mode about where this team is going. They aren’t bad setup though. They have some good pieces in place like Bernier, Bozak, Kessel, JVR and Rielly.
If I were Dave Nonis I would be using my 2nd compliance buyout on David Clarkson this summer. This is the last year teams will get to use their compliance buyouts (if they have any left, remember it is 2 per team), so why risk it? If this is what he is, he’s a 2 million dollar player getting 5.25 per. While the cap is expected to rise to 68-71 million, that is still a terrible contract. They also need to upgrade down the middle. I’m one of the few who was on the Tyler Bozak bandwagon before they re-signed him last summer. But he’s not a legit number 1 guy. He’s a real solid number 2, but not a number 1. He reminds me of Craig Conroy and Shawn Horcoff. Both were 1st line centre’s on teams that made surprise runs to the finals. They had great all around games and could be used in any situation, but weren’t offensively gifted enough to be legit number 1 guys.
I have no clue what might happen in Carolina this off season, and I do think the Staal brothers preference should they be asked to waive their NTC’s would be to go somewhere together if it’s possible. The Leafs actually would have the cap space to bring in both, but they only have the assets to get 1 of them. So I do think they’ll take a run at Eric. Kadri, Gardiner, Stuart Percy and their 2014 1st would be a pretty good deal for both sides. Some would try to tell me how they would have to move Rielly in the deal. No they wouldn’t. IF Carolina has a fire sale, teams won’t give their top end guys. It just NEVER happens. Didn’t happen for Nash, didn’t happen for Thornton, didn’t happen for Heatley, didn’t happen for Pronger any of the 3 times he got moved after the 05 lockout, it just NEVER happens that way and I wish people would finally figure this out.
More realistic this off season is a few UFA signings like maybe Joni Pitkanen? Andrei Markov? Either would be a nice addition at the right price obviously. It isn’t a great year for UFA’s though. So maybe let’s look at the draft situation and they appear as though they’ll pick 10-12. As it stands right now (much will change between now and late June), Jared McCan is a possibility in that range. He’s nothing flashy, but a real solid all around centre who has potential to be a Patrice Bergeron type. If not him, maybe Roland McKewon who is a RH shot D-man playing for Todd Gill and Doug Gilmour in Kingston. Either guy would be a real good addition.
Of course the Leafs slide has been masking the mess of late in Vancouver who are right there with the Leafs in the standings. It could be an entertaining off season in Vancouver. I don’t think they should rebuild per say, but they could stand to be renovated. The Sedins aren’t going anywhere after signing those extensions before this season. Gillis has to go, Torts should also go despite the 5 year deal. That would be a good start, but then the question is who replaces them?
George McPhee might be out of a job in Washington. He’s done a good job stockpiling talent in Washington, although not a good job in pulling the trigger on the deals he needs to. Paul Fenton in Nashville has been talked about for many job openings the last few seasons. Would ownership be interested in brining back Steve Tambellini who spent a lot of years in the Canucks organization including 3 with this ownership group as the assistant GM to Dave Nonis? He was horrendous for the Oilers so they better not. Speaking of Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin is another candidate. Brad Treliving in Phoenix, Rick Dudley in Montreal (who is a Torts guy if they insist he stays coaching), lots of possibilities.
As for replacing Torts, well that would all depend on who the GM is obviously, but I think they have to bite the bullet and get rid of him and allow the incoming GM to select his own guy. The incoming GM will also have the pressure of moving Ryan Kesler as soon as he gets the job. He doesn’t HAVE to, but he will get a great return for a guy who is one of the best 2nd line centre’s in the game but can’t stay healthy. If the Pens offer Sutter, Pouliot and their 2015 1st I would be jumping all over that. Sutter could take some pressure off Bo Horvat who’ll almost certainly step into the lineup as either their 2nd or 3rd line centre.
Other moves need to be done too. I still think they can get something for Alex Burrows. Time to go, the guy doesn’t have a good contract moving forward and even though he’s broke out lately, for the duration of his contract I’m betting you see more of the guy who had the enormous drought this season then Burrows circa 2011. Alex Edler is another guy who should go. He has never been the same guy since the Kings torched him in the 2012 playoffs. Prior to that he was coming off an incredible season and looked like he was developing into a legit number 1 D-man. He’s still a top 4 guy, but he needs a change of scenery. They just have to guard against getting too young.
A team who is along the lines of what I’m thinking for young but not too young would be the Winnipeg Jets. Now the Jets don’t get a lot of attention, and they’re really well run by Kevin Cheveldayoff. But they still face a pretty steep hill to climb in the meat grinder known as the Western conference. The one thing they MUST do is upgrade between the pipes.
I’m one of those people who believed Ondrej Pavelec was going to become a top flight NHL starter. Well it hasn’t happened and it is time to pull the pin on that idea. He’s a solid backup. But this team has no idea what he will give them night to night. Jonas Hiller is a UFA. Would he go to Winnipeg after so many years in the California sun? Maybe not, but then again if the Ducks decide they can thrive with Frederick Anderson and John Gibson in goal what would be his other choices? There aren’t a lot. Maybe Minnesota….which isn’t much different from Winnipeg. Maybe Jaroslav Halak is the answer? Or maybe he re-signs in Washington, which would make Braden Holtby available. They’ll have options and they have to take care of this problem.
They also could stand to upgrade their blueline. There is talent on their back end, but obviously the biggest (literally) enigma is Dustin Byfuglien. Teams will have great interest in the big man if he’s available, weather they’re looking to add size up front or some offence from their blueline. I would be looking for another top 4 D-man in return, but perhaps a LH shot. If Mark Stuart could be their number 5 D-man they would be in pretty good shape. Bogosian on their top pairing, Trouba on their 2nd pairing, it could take great shape but they need to have the right guy coming back to do that deal.
I do love their size up front. A key for this team next season will be if Mark Scheifele can take another step after a real good rookie season. If he could handle the 1st line centre duties that would be a huge positive for this club. Having said that it is likely much too soon to put that kind of pressure on him. But still, their top 6 is Ladd, Wheeler, Kane, Scheifele, and maybe Byfuglien if Maurice chooses to put him up front all of next season….and if he’s not dealt.
And finally, the Oilers. I don’t need to spend much time here on the Oil because I have another piece coming out all dedicated to their shit show season and what they have and what needs to be done and so on and so forth. But I will say, the Colorado Avalanche were in the 4th year of their rebuild last year and finished 29th. If the Oilers don’t literally have AHL goaltending to start this season they might not be anywhere near this mess.
I said it earlier, they had expectations where a team like the Flames didn’t. So it’s pretty natural for these guys to just want this season to be done with already. Come next fall barring 1 or 2 blockbuster moves, expectations will be extremely low and that will help them out a ton I’m certain. They aren’t in anywhere near as bad of shape as they appear to be or as the Eastern media in particular make them out to be. A shit show without a doubt, but it is fixable. Having said that, don’t expect playoffs yet again next season. A) the Pacific is too tough. B) the West is too tough. C) MacTavish won’t be able to pull multiple rabbits out of his hat.
This was an awful year for NHL teams in this country, that’s all. The Oilers, Canucks and Leafs turned into shit shows, the Jets are what they are, the Flames are better than expected but still bad, and the Sens had an off year. But I’m saying it right now, 4 of these teams can join Montreal in the playoffs next season (Canucks, Leafs, Sens and Jets). The Flames will still need some time I believe, but they’re on the right track. And while the Oilers get mocked for their rebuild taking time people forget that the Blues took 7 years rebuilding so it’s still too early to call it a failure. Things will turn Canada….they can’t get worse!
The 1999 draft was in a word…disgusting. It wasn’t expected to turn out this way, but it did. I would say it was a clear cut product of the times. The “dead puck” era was just pathetic. The league refused to do much to improve the situation, talented players were shoved to the side for guys with size and not much else, and goaltenders were the end all be all. But back to the 99 draft, it was embarrassing but one GM got it right and that GM was of course Brian Burke.
Burke decided he was going to do everything he could to land the Sedin twins, and he did just that. In making 3 different trades Burke was able to land the 2nd overall pick to go with the 3rd overall that he already possessed and took the twins. Far and away the best players to come out of that draft.
Well if the rumors are true he is looking to turn the trick once again in this draft. Burke has the 5th overall pick, and rumor has it that he is looking to land the 1st overall pick without giving up the 5th. The rumors as to what Burke is offering vary, but most believe Jake Gardiner and Luke Schenn is the offer.
While Burke isn’t looking to land twins again, he is looking to land teammates. Obviously Yakupov at 1, and Nail’s teammate Alex Galchenyuk (whom I believe is the top centre in this draft). He MIGHT have to move up from 5 to get Galchenyuk as either Columbus at 2 or Montreal at 3 could select him. But moving from 5 to 2 or 3 shouldn’t be all that difficult (perhaps a 2nd this year and a 2nd next year gets him up to 3).
As for the Oil, I don’t know if that is enough to make Steve Tambellini pull the trigger, but if it has been offered I doubt he has said no as of this time. No secret that the Oil need D-men BAD, and Gardiner is coming off a terrific rookie season in which he displayed some high end talent.
Schenn is a tougher sell however. He is still very young, still has the talent to be a great top 4/shutdown D-man, but the combination of a terrible season and a contract that isn’t cheap (3.6 mil per for another 4 seasons). The Oilers might want Schenn (I for one am a BIG believer in the kid still but he needs out of Toronto for a fresh start), but they might want him for cheap and not in a package for the 1st overall.
The other carrot dangling out there for the Oil is that if they got Gardiner, it could only strengthen the team’s ability to land 21 year old UFA Justin Schultz. If the Oilers had some inside knowledge that Gardiner would guarantee them Schultz, then I would think it would be impossible to turn down. To go from being thin on D to having the best young D in hockey to couple with the best young forward group in the game would be an insane haul for the Oilers.
I have no doubt the Oilers would trade down to 5 if the Leafs gave up Gardiner along with 5, but if Burke did that it would be ridiculous and proof that he is only trading up to 1 for show. It wouldn’t be a good hockey move. Making certain he lands Galchenyuk is the more important move for Burke in my opinion. The Leafs don’t have a guy in the system that has the ability to be a legit number 1 centre which is the toughest spot to fill in the NHL. Galchenyuk isn’t a sure thing, but he is close to it.
At the end of the day I believe the Oilers and Leafs make great trade partners and something could get done here. But Burke has to be careful. He can’t afford to go overboard looking to either simply move up from 5 to 1, or going after 1 without giving up the 5th pick. Needless to say things are getting juicy leading into the draft, which is now just a week away!