The Off Wing

Opinion and Fact…From the Off Wing

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Reflections on the NHL Draft…

It’s Saturday, June 24th around 7:00 o’clock at night. Today may be just another day on the calendar for the huddled masses either enjoying time with family or completing chores around the house, but for the avid hockey fan it is so much more. You see, today is the completion of yet another year that the now 31 NHL teams add to their crop of young talent. Today is the culmination of another season of NHL hockey. That’s right, the NHL Entry Draft is now complete, and 217 young men have been selected to continue their childhood dreams of following in the footsteps of Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier and the newer crop of superstars. Here are some reflections on the NHL draft…

Let’s first look at the newest NHL team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. While they just completed the expansion draft, where they were allowed to select one player from each current NHL team, this was their chance to build on their future as well and add to what should be an interesting farm team.  After choosing what should be their cornerstone goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury as well as 29 other players, they started this weekend with 12 picks in the 7 rounds that encompassed Friday night and Saturday.  The Knights started with a young center, Cody Glass, who in the next two years or so should be their top line center.  He has talent to spare, excellent hands, but more so a top notch hockey IQ.  He doesn’t make many mistakes and when he does, he learns from them in an attempt to not repeat them.  It is reported that he is dangerous on the attack and he should be an electric player that puts people in the seats.  Las Vegas had 3 picks in the first round alone, and all 3 are expected to be impact players at some point in the very near future.

Other teams that had an extensive amount of picks are the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings.  The Red Wings had a total of 11 picks throughout the 7 rounds of excitement, stocking up on big, beefy defensemen such as Gustav Lindstrom, Kasper Kotkansalo and Malte Setkov.  In all they took five d-men, all are 6 feet 2 inches or taller.  They also took a projcect goaltender in Keith Petruzzelli, a 6’5″ body who could someday be a serviceable NHL goalie.  In all, only one of the 11 picks is listed under six feet tall, Brady Gilmour (I don’t believe his nickname is Happy).  He is 5’10” and 170 pounds. He is certainly a project, but if he can put on a little weight and work on his fundamentals there may just be something there.  He is considered a “high character” kid and he was one of the best players on a bad team.

There were 23 Finnish players taken in this year’s draft.  This has led some of the talking heads to question whether the country is just getting better or if the rest of the European countries are getting worse.  To me, this is all cyclical, just as it is here in North America.  I would love to make the blanket statement that American born players are better than Canadian born ones, but I would be ignorant of the fact that it took 20 plus years for an American to win the Conn Smythe trophy (as playoff MVP).  the Fins have been slowly improving their talent pool over the last many years, Players such as Patrik Laine and Sebastian Aho show us just how good they have become.  So it is no surprise that the Fins increased their number of draftees from 7.1% in 2016 to 10.6% in this past draft.  As a trend, I would say this will increase again next year as well.

One of those previously mentioned Finnish players was selected 18th overall by the Boston Bruins.  Urho Vaakanainen, a left shooting defenseman will be calling Boston his home in the NHL at some point in his future.  The biggest buzz however was over their second round pick, Jack Studnicka.  A six foot, 172 pound forward, Jack has played the last two seasons as a center with the Oshawa Generals.  His numbers are not good, not bad, just middle of the road is the best way to put it.  He did double his point production from years one to two, and he had 15 points in 11 playoff games this past season, which could be the start of the excitement.  Overall, it wasn’t a very enthralling draft from a fan’s perspective with three defensemen, two forwards and a goaltender, its almost as though they were following some formula for a team that needs a goal scorer but most likely won’t find one in free agency.  They drafted for the future, or depth, or both.  I’ll have a better feel for the youngsters drafted after this year’s development camp.

Until then, keep listening to the Two Man Forecheck…the sage and I wax poetic from week to week about everything hockey!

L.W.L.

 

Mirror Mirror On The Wall…

Tonight is game one of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final (why do people refer to it as the finals?) between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks.  The story here is that each team may as well be playing themselves.  These two teams are almost mirror images of each other in just about every aspect.  Offense, defense, special teams…its difficult to separate one from the other.  Taking a look at the personnel on each squad only displays, in greater detail, just how similar the B’s and ‘Hawks are to each other.

David Krejci and Patrick Kane:

Yes, Kane has played one more game, but the average time on ice per game separates the two by only one minute, with Krejci averaging 20:57 to Kane’s 19:57.  David obviously gets the nod in points, as the leader in these playoffs, but with 6 goals and 14 points, Kane is slowly closing in on David’s 21 points.  Even size-wise they are close.  As we all know, the official heights and weights the teams release is questionable in some cases, David is listed at 6 feet, 188 pounds.  Kane is a paltry (tongue firmly planted in cheek) 5′ 11″ and 181 pounds.  This matchup is a wash in my opinion, creativity going to Kane.

Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews:

Two of the best two way players, if not the two best (with a nod to Pavel in Detroit) in the NHL at this time.  Both are Selke nominees this season, so they automatically cancel each other out, and possibly the entire opposing team at the same time, they are both just that damn good.   Here Toews gets the time on ice nod by a little over half a minute, with both players over 20 minutes per night.  Toews is at 21.  Bergeron has 11 points during this post season, edging out Toews by two, but its no secret that Jonathan has been struggling to put the puck in the net with only one goal in 17 games.  Again, size is comparable, with both individuals listed at 6′ 2″ and Toews slightly heavier at 208 to Patrice’s 194 pounds.  The edge here would have to go to Bergeron, solely on the fact that Toews is struggling to find the back of the net.  Should this change, then this matchup is a wash as well.

Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith:

Two Norris trophy winners, and unlike this year’s presumptive winner, they both won the award on their defensive prowess as well as their ability to dent the twine.  Zdeno is a beast this post-season with 29 minutes of time on ice while Keith is no slouch at just under 26 minutes per game.  They are exact with their stat lines at 2 goals and 11 points.  Big Z has an 8 inch height advantage, a 6 point +/- advantage, and, in this writer’s opinion, a slight advantage in the series.

Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford:

Tuukka is finally casting the shadow of Tim Thomas off his back.  I would be the first to tell you that there is a book on him, as there is for most European goaltenders.  High glove is the place to shoot when facing him.  But this post-season, Tuukka is playing out of his mind.  Allowing only two goals to the vaunted Penguin offense (yes, I am aware that he doesn’t do it all on his own, but he is the last line of defense) is nothing to scoff at.  His 1.75 GAA and 94.3 save percentage are ridiculous, and to allow for one other comparison, better than the final numbers Thomas put up in the Stanley Cup run from 2010-11.  Corey Crawford on the other hand…wait, his numbers are ridiculous as well.  He has a 1.74 GAA and a 93.5 save percentage.  So again, this is a wash.  

There are too many comparisons to make…Lucic and Bickell, Marchand and Shaw, the ineffectiveness of both teams’ power play units.  The mirror images go on and on.  So when picking a winner in this Stanley Cup series, I would say that it will be the Bruins in seven, or six, or seven.  Yep, I have been called a homer (and I am, especially when it comes to the Red Wings), but I feel that there is a slight intangible that sways it for the Black and Gold.  Or maybe it will be the Blackhawks in seven, due to their superb penalty killing this post-season.  Oh, wait…If you look at just the last two rounds, the Bruins have a higher penalty kill percentage at 93.55% than the Blackhawks 92.5%.  See, the comparisons just keep coming, so do what I went and did…just ask the mirror mirror on the wall.

L.W.L.

Special thanks to Sportsnetics.com for the assist with some of the statistics used in this post.

But They’re Contenders Now

Here in the second round of the stage that is the NHL playoffs, we have seen some decent teams make an early exit that most likely was predictable for just about everyone except maybe the teams’ most devout followers.  Two of those teams, however, showed that they not only belonged, but came ever so close to advancing to the next round.  The Toronto Maple Leafs (why isn’t it Leaves?) and the New York Islanders gave their opponents all they could handle on the ice.  Both teams losing in overtime, both teams showing that, with a little more playoff experience, they might have won their respective tilts.  There are some similarities between the two teams, besides being eliminated in the first round and a lack of playoff experience.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the fifth youngest team in the NHL this season.  And while the Islanders were fourth oldest in the league, they were inexperienced with regard to the playoffs as well.  The lsland’s entry into this year’s playoffs included Brad Boyes, who had 11 playoff games with the Blues and Sabres, Mark Streit and his 12 playoff games with the Canadiens, Lubomir Visnovsky’s 18 games between the Kings and Ducks, Keith Aucoin (who didn’t see his first playoff action until last season with Washington) and his 14 games, Marty Reasoner and his 23 games previous, only played 1 game this post season.  Brian Strait is the only player on the roster under 30 with playoff experience…that being 3 games with Pittsburgh last season.  Radek Martinek was the only player on the team who was around the last time the Islanders reached the post season.  His experience…a whopping 9 games.  The goaltender has the most playoff experience…62 games.  And granted you want your goalie to show that he can perform under pressure, but at 37 years of age, could it be that the years have caught up with him.  Matt Carkner has 10 playoff games under his belt, and Eric Boulton has 4 playoff games…with the Atlanta Thrashers!  The common thread, with the exception of Strait all of these guys are over 30 (and in some cases way over).

The Islanders needed this, even though they lost.  The playoff time on ice for Tavares and Moulson as well as Grabner is priceless.  The team can’t afford to have all of its experience in players with one foot heading toward the exit.  Having a couple around is useful and a great learning tool for the young ones, but when four of those players are defensemen (and a goaltender), it’s time to get younger.  The blue line for the Islanders is starting to look a little geriatric.  Drafting strong, young defensemen should be the priority.  The goal scoring is there.  Tavares and Moulson can find the back of the net, but keeping the opponent from scoring is just as important.  Extend a sheet to some of the top talent such as Shattenkirk or Pietrangelo.  The Isles should also look to at least extending an offer sheet to Sergei in Columbus.  The Blue Jackets will never let him go, but it shows the hungry Islander fans that the team is making a concerted effort after the one the team left on the ice in the Nassau Center.  The front end is in good shape, but the Isles need to get younger on the back end.

The Maple Leafs need goal-tending help as well.  Reimer gave it all he could against the Bruins, and even stole one for his team.  The biggest issue with Reimer is his inability to control rebounds.  Against other bottom tier teams he is strong, but against the perennial playoff teams his weakness is exposed.  And when the Bruins decided to actually crash the net or put bodies in front of Reimer, he struggled with those rebounds finding twine behind him.

Toronto is loaded with youth, most of it under their control thanks to Brian Burke, who has the privilege of watching from afar.  Like the Islanders, the Leafs have plenty of goal scoring, with the likes of Kessel, Van Riemsdyk and my favorite player of the squad, Mikhail Grabovski.  Not sure how much work needs to be done on defense.  The core is young, with J.M. Liles being the elder statesman at 30.  But with Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarson, and Jake Gardiner to compliment Dion, they have some talent.

While the Penguins are busy trying to prove that you don’t need a number one goaltender to win a Stanley Cup, the safe bet would be for these two teams to get themselves one, a tender that can be relied on night in and night out to make the saves that need making.  And to get hot in the playoffs and carry them out of the first round.  Sure they could continue to eek their way into the playoffs but for how long would their respective fans put up with that…They’re Contenders Now.

L.W.L.

 

Wings Seeing Red

When the Red Wings drafted Steve Yzerman back in 1983 (in the 4th round no less), I don’t think anyone really expected what he brought to the Joe and the city of Detroit.  (Author’s Note:  When this piece was first written, I did research the picks for the players named in this post.  It would appear that I have misread the information I saw, and incorrectly identified Stevie Y as a fourth round pick, when in fact he was a first round pick, fourth overall.  My apologies to Steve and to you, the reader, for posting incorrect information.)  The talent the Red Wings have acquired and developed over the years since then has been nothing if not spectacular.  Especially in 1989, where the Wings drafted the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom in the 3rd round, Sergei Fedorov in the 4th round, and Vladimir Konstantinov in the 11th round, the boys in the Motor City made the Red Wings relevant again, igniting the fan faithful and inspiring the tradition of the octopus.

So how is it that we now talk of blowing up the Wings?  It’s not loud, but if you listen in the dark corners of the Joe, you can probably hear the whispers.  Should we blow it up?  What do we have to look forward to after Henrik and Pavel?  Datsyuk is arguably one of the best two way players the game has seen.  It cannot be argued, however, that Pavel is on the back nine at age 34.  His production has gone down every year since 2008-09 when he had 97 points.  That production is not the issue here, however.  Pavel can be a great example to a young team such as Colorado (Oh, no I didn’t suggest that did I?) or Edmonton.  His two way play and classic, above board style should rub off on the youngsters.  Pavel has one year remaining after this season, and his 6.7 million would easily fit under both teams” caps.  The interesting bit is what would The Wings want in return?  First and a second round pick?  High level prospects?  Another issue is his no trade clause.  Would he be willing to waive it?  The issue here is that Detroit needs to get younger and maintain their talent level to keep the butts in the seats.

The next aging yet still extremely viable option to send away in a deal is Henrik Zetterberg.  At 32 years of age, he is still somewhat in his prime, and I don’t foresee the Wings dealing away their newly named captain (only the third captain they’ve named since 1986 – can you guess the other two?).  He is the new heart and soul of this team and needs to stick around for some of the same reasons the Av’s should acquire Pavel.  Another reason they’ll keep him around is his current contract (it runs through 2021).

Mikael Samuelsson is 36 years old and sucking up salary without production.  He has one more year on his current deal but also has a no trade clause so would probably only be willing to move to a team that has the potential to go deep into the playoffs.  Question here…What would a team that was going deep into the playoffs want with an aging winger that doesn’t appear to be producing at the level he once was.  His contract is somewhat attractive at $3 million, but how much push would he require to produce?  Bertuzzi fits into this mold as well.  He is the senior member of the Wings at 38, with one more year on his deal and a no trade clause to boot.  He hasn’t played much at all this season, and his toughness could be attractive along with his slightly over $2 million dollar contract balance, but again, who would bring in a player with one skate in retirement.

The remainder of the team is young…except for Danny Cleary, who at 34 will be an unrestricted free agent.  The Wings will probably not tender him another offer, what with Filpula’s contract expiring, ownership will need the funds to pay him.  Damien Brunner will command a few million a year as well.  Youth will serve the Red Wings well, but they need to shore up their prospects.  Most of the good youth has been called up due to injuries so they are thin in the minors.  Dealing someone like Datsyuk could bring them the young gun and/or draft picks to beef up the minors and bring about the rebound to success that the original six team in Detroit so deserves.

Only covered the forwards here, the goaltending and defensive corps are both young and talented, with Kronwall taking on the mantle of “number one defenseman”.  The go-to guy on the blueline appears to understand his role and with his current deal, will be around for many years.  The only other d-man over 30 is Kent Huskins, and as a UFA will probably be looking at other teams come the end of the year.

The goaltending is young and good.  Not great, mind you, but Mrazek has shown flashes.  Jimmy Howard will most assuredly be offered a deal at the end of the year, and at 28 still has many years ahead of him.

L.W.L.

The Minnesota Wild Are Just That!

The landscape of the entity that is the NHL Playoffs may have changed significantly this off season.  The Minnesota Wild hit the free agent jackpot and acquired two of the most sought after free agents in some time.  Zach Parise (formerly of the New Jersey Devils), and Ryan Suter (formerly of the Nashville Predators), signed matching contracts on July 4th.  Both contracts are 13 year, 98 million dollar contracts, both are front loaded with signing bonuses and small salaries to lessen the cap hit.  The major portion of the money will start to be paid in year 3, when both will earn 9 million bucks.  Both gentlemen have ties to Minnesota.  Parise was born and grew up in the state of hockey, and Ryan Suter’s wife is from Bloomington.  Even though Suter is from Madison, Wisconsin, it’s just a few hours away from the twin cities.

But beyond the signings of the two super free agents, Coach Yeo will have a whole arsenal of weapons at his disposal next season.  Start with Dany Heatley.  Twenty-four goals and fifty-three points last season on a team where he was one of only 3 players to play in all 82 games.  The other two were Kyle Brodziak and Darrell Powe.

I started this post back in July after the signings of Parise and Suter, but never got around to finishing it.  As I write this, the Wild are sitting in third place in their division and (I really dislike this phrase) if the season ended today, they would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs.  A team that is fabulous at home, they are no better than abysmal on the road, having no wins outside of the Xcel Center.  Zach Parise, who started the season slowly, leads his team with only 10 points (6-4-10).  Heatley has 4 goals however no other player has more than 2.

Devin Setoguchi last season scored 19 goals, the first time he failed to score at least 2o in a full season, but the shocking number was his plus/minus rating.  Last season he had an astonishing -17.  This season, with 10 games played, Devin has only managed to notch 2 assists.  Players like Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak should be performing better than they are, having 2 goals between them.  Rookie Mikael Granlund has got to be feeling some pressure in Minnesota with the scoring woes that the Wild appear to be experiencing.

The goaltending should be solid this season.  Josh Harding is a good tender and could possibly start on a few NHL teams.  Niklas Backstrom is strong however the defense doesn’t appear to be putting their best foot forward.  None of the defensemen have a positive plus/minus and only two of them are at zero.

The Wild need to find a way to play more consistent hockey going forward.  The team plays well in spots, but it would appear that when one aspect is succeeding, another struggles.  The cliche, one period at a time, one shift at a time may apply.  Minnesota has the talent, but need to gel it together.  Getting their first road win will go a long way towards instilling confidence in a team that, at the start of the season, appeared primed to make a solid run at the playoffs.  No one is talking Stanley Cup, and with their road efforts as of late, the fans may not see a playoff run this year either.

L.W.L.

 

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