Dawn of the Value Era (or, alternatively, Las Vegas’ Biggest Asset Is Cash; Who’d Have Thunk It?)

I’ve talked about Las Vegas before, mostly because we are in an era of franchise stagnation among the big 4 sport leagues in North America. No big league on this continent has expanded in size since the NFL in 2002, all of 14 years ago. When you look at the storied (and sometimes just crazy) histories of the MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA, this might be the most impressive span of collective league stability ever. So Las Vegas kicking off the new age of expansion (oh, it’s coming for sure, looking at you NFL, NBA and Quebec) is kind of a big deal.

Like many intelligent hockey fans with low levels of socialization skills, I like to spend my spare time playing fantasy GM using CapFriendly’s Expansion Draft Tool. There’s just something about the perceived reality of the possibilities happening that make it addicting to fiddle around with if I have 5 minutes to spare. I can only imagine this is the same rush a compulsive gambler gets when they head to the casinoes.

If you don’t know the rules of the expansion draft, and you really should by this point, here’s the crib-notes version: Each existing team has 2 choices. Choice A allows a team to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and Choice B allows a team to protect 8 players of any skater position. Both choices allow for the protection of just 1 goalie from being selected by the expansion team and added to said team’s reserve list. The expansion team must pick one player from every team, but they have a few rules as well: at minimum, the team must select 3 goalies, 9 defensemen, and 14 forwards, at least 20 of those players must have contracts already in place for the following season (i.e. RFAs, or Restricted Free Agents, don’t count) and there is a minimum and maximum on the total cap hits the team acquires.

That last sentence right there is key, because it illustrates one key rule that the NHL plays by. Money is power. Those who have the most spending money, wield the most power.

And going by that logic, Las Vegas? Well, they’re the most powerful team in the NHL.

Continue reading Dawn of the Value Era (or, alternatively, Las Vegas’ Biggest Asset Is Cash; Who’d Have Thunk It?)

In for a Penny, In for a Pound: The Nail Yakupov Conundrum

PREFACE: I realize that Yakupov has already been traded to the St. Louis Blues, but in the interest of my sanity, I’ve decided not to rewrite what’s already been written and saved, since most of this article still applies.

The word “bust” is an interesting term. No, not in that way you hormonal teenagers, you. I mean the sporting version, defined as a person or athlete who did not make a difference at the highest level of play in any meaningful way.

Now, to be fair, there’s only so many NHL positions available and yet there’s 200+ kids drafted every year as well as countless others who have gone undrafted with legitimate NHL prospects. Being a bust does not reflect poorly on a player’s personality or work ethic at all (unless you legitimately have problems with such attributes). It’s just the reality; with such a numbers-crunching game, unless you are the very best of the very best, generally you will not get the opportunity to make your mark in the best hockey league in the world.

Nail Yakupov, once adjudged to be THE very best of the best (not quite a Pokémon reference, but I was tempted for sure), is about 2 steps away from joining so many others under that unfortunate label judging by this very cryptic Ryan Rishaug radio interview.

Continue reading In for a Penny, In for a Pound: The Nail Yakupov Conundrum

Subban-Weber: Why the trade is both the best and worst move the Canadiens could have possibly made

As any NHL executive can attest, you’re always looking for ways to improve your team. Even if that means making the ballsy move. Hence the deal between Nashville and Montreal that materialized Wednesday, drastically changing the makeup of two teams.

The Canadiens and GM Marc Bergevin did what they felt was the right move for the franchise. Same with the Predators and GM David Poile. They’ll talk about how the player they acquired was a superstar who fit the makeup of what they wanted their team to be.

Technically speaking, they’re not wrong. Subban, for all his warts, is one of the best puckmoving defenders in the game. For a Nashville team that has been moving towards team speed in transition and creating sustained offensive pressure, he’s a great fit on the backend. A guaranteed 50+ point, right-shot defenseman in his prime who can create zone entries in multiple ways is basically a unicorn on the trade market.

Weber is the kind of punishing defenseman that Montreal has been looking for, basically since forever ago. He’s big, he’s mean, and he matches the way Michel Therrien wants the team to play, with intensity and defensive fortitude. Add the shot to that and the ability to be a powerplay quarterback and he’s the prototypical old-school defender.

I’m not super fond of Subban, I will readily admit. No one will ever accuse me of being overly flamboyant or the life of a party. But while he and Weber are probably equivalent in terms of present value, there is a clear winner and a clear loser in this trade, and Nashville is not the loser (potential bigtime cap recapture penalty notwithstanding).

Continue reading Subban-Weber: Why the trade is both the best and worst move the Canadiens could have possibly made

Jonas Brodin is Expendable for the Minnesota Wild, and Here’s Why

First off, I just want to thank the people who have remained connected to this blog despite my lack of activity. It’s been a busy time and when you’re trying to balance multiple jobs and tasks in order to find more jobs, you tend to take away from other aspects of life.

The fact that there are a handful of people out there who for whatever reason check this blog every so often made it real easy for me to come back and continue onward with my writing.

I have remained connected to hockey happenings and I could talk about a ton of different things since I last posted, but I wanna touch on a particularly noteworthy development that really hasn’t gotten the attention of say, a player hitting a referee, or Trade Deadline Day (although it kind of ties into that showcase, now that I think about it).

Jonas Brodin, for the first time maybe ever, was a consistent name being bandied about as a piece that was available, for the right trade.

This is shocking stuff for some people, because Brodin for the longest time was an untouchable, a core player, for a franchise that had almost nothing in the youth department when he joined the team. You look at his age (he turns 23 in July), his draft pedigree (10th overall, 2011), and his career (he’s been a top-4 fixture for all 4 years of his career, for the most part), and it’s understandable why that should be the case. Young defenders of his supposed caliber are literally only available for 1st line centers (see: Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen), and all rumours point to Brodin’s supposed availability being contingent on a player of that level.

Problem is, Brodin ISN’T that caliber of player.

Continue reading Jonas Brodin is Expendable for the Minnesota Wild, and Here’s Why

The Demise of Slovakian Hockey

There was a lot of hubbub over the summer about the World Cup returning to hockey, the new reality of NHL free agency, Connor McDavid, and NHL expansion. Which makes sense. These topics are intriguing, exciting and definitely noteworthy. They’re also North-American-centric, and even though technological advances have made access to global information available at the click of a button, the reality is that at the end of the day, people will pay more attention to topics that will affect themselves, first and foremost. We might love the English Premier League, but the local media isn’t about to have a beat reporter covering them from across the Atlantic.

With all due respect, however, there’s one topic in particular that flew under the radar within most North American hockey publications, which really did not get the press it deserved. There were some fair reasons for it. Trying to convince the average hockey fan to care about a small European nation is like trying to tell a fish to breathe out of water. But the death knell of Slovakian hockey, for at least the next 4 years, should be given the just attention it deserves.

Continue reading The Demise of Slovakian Hockey

Ho-Sang the Brat, and Why That Narrative Doesn’t Completely Gel

Josh Ho-Sang is an enigma. A divider. Oozing pure skills, he’s a breath of fresh air in a game that grows ever more stale, as unqualified coaches continue to push creative, round pegs into generic, square holes, and at younger and younger ages. He was a child prodigy, once touted as a candidate for exceptional status (which, we’ve already talked about as being a badge with no safety pin for the less-worthy). In the 1st ever Allstate All-Canadian Mentorship camp (and as it turns out, it’s a concise list of 2), he dazzled. At 15, he was without question the most exciting young talent in the world, if a little one-dimensional.

The shine has come off somewhat since then. Rather than being one of the best prospects in the world, he’s become a player who like many before him has oodles of offensive talent but cannot seem to put it together mentally. Criticised for everything from his defense (which has developed at a snail’s pace) to his hockey sense (blueline dangles being the scourge of many a coach’s nightmare), he dropped to 28th overall in the 2014 draft, and was unceremoniously traded from his junior team, the Windsor Spitfires. In a rare moment of candor in hockey, ex-coach Bob Boughner ripped into Ho-Sang, hinting at anything and everything behind the scenes being the reason for his departure.

And in many ways, it’s very easy to understand why. Ho-Sang, in a world of “Gotta play our game”s and “Just need to get pucks on the net”s, is a loose cannon. This isn’t your P.K. Subban, intelligent and articulate loose cannon. This is your “call out Team Canada brass” loose cannon. In hockey culture, you never call out the team, regardless of whether you agree with the decisions being made or not.

Continue reading Ho-Sang the Brat, and Why That Narrative Doesn’t Completely Gel

Hockey’s Version of Spring Training and other tidbits from the Summer (Part I)

First of all, hope it’s been a great summer for everyone. I’ve had enough of a break from this blog, so let’s jump right in.

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Prospect camps have started everywhere from Florida (Panthers, Preds, Lightning and Capitals) to London, Ontario (Leafs, Habs, Sens, and…the Pens? Guess they needed a placeholder for the Nordiques 2.0), but the two main tournaments, and really the biggest constants in a shifting landscape of preseason get-togethers, are the sessions in Penticton, BC (where the Canucks, Oilers, Flames and Jets are doing battle) and Traverse City, Michigan, the site of the newly named Matthew Wuest Memorial Tournament (R.I.P.), easily the biggest of the prospect tourneys with a bloated 8 teams in 2 pools set to face off. Group A includes Carolina, Chicago, Dallas and Detroit, while Group B consists of Columbus, Minnesota (that Mike Reilly guy might want to keep his head up), New York (Rangers), and St. Louis.

These tournaments officially kick off the hockey season, and for many people that’s reason enough to celebrate. And with a number of high quality prospects showing up to participate, it’s a competitive environment for families and the general public to witness their teams’ finest young talents. Considering the price points (from what I’ve seen, face value is generally around $15-20 a ticket, unless you count the $200 that scalpers are throwing around in BC due to Connor McDavid making his debut) it’s a great opportunity for fans to check out some great players and the occasional hidden gem.

For teams, these events have become a must-attend. And why not, considering the exposure they get to their young talents playing against other young talents. It’s a chance to see their guys strut their stuff. With NHL training camps running just 3 weeks, any opportunity to get a look at a young guy has to be taken. It lightens the pressure on the main camp to see some players of interest, it gets the kids acclimated to the team’s coaches and style of play, and it gives some unheralded young guns one last chance to make a first impression. And hey, the hosts appreciate the extra inflow of cash.

For players, it’s their best chance to show what they’re made of against their peer groups. Many teams have brought on a number of undrafted, unsigned players, meaning the desperation factor is on high for a number of players on the bubble. For signed players, any opportunity to catch the eye of the coaching staff is a chance worth taking. I think the best quote regarding the significance of doing well at these competitions that I’ve seen is “Looking at the scoring leaders at these tournaments is like reading a who’s who list of NHL players.”

For a long time, only the Traverse City tournament (heading into its 17th year) was on the docket in the long gap between prospect camps and the NHL sessions. Nowadays though, with the premium placed on player development and talent acquisition, these tournaments are serious business. How much so? Out of the 30 teams in the NHL, 27 are involved is some sort of pre-camp prospect competition against other NHL teams. Only 3 teams, the Avalanche, Islanders, and Flyers, haven’t signed up for a prospect tournament of some sort.

Could smaller hockey nations, say, China, Korea or Japan, hop on the wagon of sorts? Could there be an annual junior friendly between the nations designed to improve the overall quality of play in the East? A competition where the players are still battling and competing, but whose main goal is skill development rather than talent evaluation might very well be the first step needed in order to facilitate player growth.

As well, some teams run coaching camps designed to facilitate player development and schedule/roster management (the Leafs chief among them). If these nations are to make inroads in their hockey programs, then perhaps having their coaches learn from NHL-caliber groups would (should) be the first step.

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On the junior front, there’s been a number of noteworthy topics, from the continued development (or lack of) from the CHLPA, to the shift in the OHL with the moves of the Belleville Bulls and Plymouth Whalers (to Hamilton and Flint, Michigan, respectively). But the topic I will focus on is the arrival of Joe Veleno in the QMJHL.

This is noteworthy on multiple fronts. Not only is he the 1st overall pick and a frontrunner for 1st overall in the NHL draft, but he’s the first player to receive exceptional status from Hockey Canada to enter the QMJHL. Considering the history behind the development of this policy (with Sidney Crosby being the first player to really generate that sort of discussion, leading to the development of the status in time for Tavares in 2005), it’s a watershed moment for the QMJHL.

And Veleno has already been productive, notching a goal in his debut game with the Saint John Sea Dogs (an aside, the Saint John this team is based out of is the one in New Brunswick, NOT the St. John’s, Newfoundland that so many mistake it for). All eyes are now on him as we barrel down the path of life towards the 2018 draft.

That being said, is exceptional status really a blessing or a curse? Up to this point, we’ve seen a number of phenomenal players receive consideration for early entry into the junior ranks. Crosby is the obvious choice despite never actually entering the QMJHL early, Tavares has proven to be a stellar NHL player and franchise cornerstone, and both Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid show tremendous promise.

However, the other side of the equation is that of the exceptional player, who isn’t really that exceptional. Hockey Canada has received its fair share of criticism over the years for letting politics get in the way of decision-making processes, and the awarding of the exceptional status is the shiny new toy receiving public attention for all the wrong reasons. Take Sean Day. A player who was very good against players a year older, elite skater with a big body and all the physical tools.

However, despite having all the advantages in the world (including an age gap between him and his fellow prospects that should have, in theory, made him a more valuable asset simply for the fact that he’d potentially play 1 more year in the OHL compared to his peers at the top of the draft) Day went 4th in the OHL Priority Selection. In his career to date, he’s been criticized for everything from a lack of hockey sense to being out of shape (the supposed reason for his exclusion from the Ivan Hlinka Memorial roster for Team Canada this past summer). In many ways, receiving early entry into the OHL has been more of an anchor than a stepping stone for Sean Day.

And this opens up a new debate. Veleno’s parents have been on record as saying that they don’t believe exceptional status is meant only for the elite of the elite, but is simply there so that good players can play against better competition, if they are capable of the feat. Some agree with the statement, others are vehement in their claim that exceptional status should not be diluted for the “average” exceptional talent.

Reality or not, the term “exceptional” immediately drives up expectations for the player in question, whether it’s warranted or not. Sports fans are a fickle bunch, and given enough reason or doubt will mercilessly taunt (more like attack) those whose performance they deem as not up to the expectations they had of the player, whether the player in question belongs to “their team” or not. With Day, we’ve now seen what the pressure of the term can do to those who are merely very good, rather than truly great. But there’s plenty of evidence from both him and comparisons to his same-aged peers that while he might be a mature person off the ice, his performance on the ice has not matched the persona given to him by the exceptional status.

For many elite talents, playing a level above their age group is seen as normal, rather than out of the ordinary. The mythos among hockey parents, with their penchant for pushing their young children a level above simply because they can, has created a gap between the original intentions of the separated age groups (to make sure that kids are not playing against competition that might be unsuitable for their development) and what they’re really looked at as now. But the junior leagues are not simply another level above. There are grown men, up to 21 years old, playing in the league. The majority of the players found are between 17 and 19 years old. This isn’t an 10-year old playing against 11-year olds, where their bodies may vary in size but only to a certain extent, there is a legitimate physical gap the size of a crevice between a 15-year old, possibly still in the middle of developing a deeper voice, and a legal adult.

We’ve seen great players develop without the need to enter the draft early. And we’ve seen enough talented young players pushed away from the sport to know that sometimes, hockey parents can take the sport a little too seriously.

There will always be elite players coming through the ranks, whether because they are legitimately skilled or are just more developed than their peers. For the best of the best, exceptional status simply helps them get to where they were headed slightly faster. But for the other dozens of talented young players, exceptional status might just push them to grow up faster than what their best interests would suggest.

If you’re going to give away exceptional status like cake, then maybe it’s time to rethink the term.

-Evan

Not-So-Free Agency and Other Small Tidbits from Draft Weekend

Another exciting weekend comes and goes for the NHL. Draft day is always one of the most surprising and intriguing days on the calendar, and once again we are blessed with a bevy of good decisions, a couple of poor ones, shrieks of joy from some families, and utter disappointment for more than one young player.

Players ranked in the first round dropped to the second, and some even further than that. One fanbase is already looking towards next summer, while the other 29 are all gearing up for a hopefully improved season from their team.

We saw a Chinese-born hockey player get drafted. I know I didn’t see that coming. If you had told me that out of the 3 or 4 major Eastern Asian regions that mainland China would be the first to have a player drafted in the post-cap era, I would have laughed. Yet here we are.

Continue reading Not-So-Free Agency and Other Small Tidbits from Draft Weekend

The Blackhawks’ Demise is Still Very, Very Premature

The Blackhawks are the Stanley Cup Champions yet again. Did it come easy? Absolutely not.

Credit the Lightning a ton, because for all the talk about how the Blackhawks held the possession/advanced stats advantage (however slim) heading into the series, it was the Lightning who pushed the pace for long stretches. But they didn’t, or couldn’t capitalize on their chances. And when the Blackhawks got one, they buried it like a dagger in the hearts of men.

The Blackhawks were not necessarily the better team on paper. But it was the better team on the ice. And when the pressure mounted, it was the Hawks who held firm and plugged away, while the Lightning panicked and forced plays. Stretch passes that were cut off, shots that were flung towards the goal with reckless abandon, only to be deflected away.

You want to know what organizational culture looks like? That’s what it looks like. That’s what it’s like to have a captain that commands respect and camaraderie. That’s what it’s like to have a coaching staff that pushes the right buttons time and again. That’s what it’s like to have senior advisers as former coaches who’ve won more games than anyone else, ever.

And guess what? The claims that the Hawks are facing their inevitable demise….well, let’s just say that isn’t happening just yet.

Continue reading The Blackhawks’ Demise is Still Very, Very Premature

Hockey in China? You betcha.

Recently, NBC showed a clip of Chinese broadcasters covering an NHL game:

First off, that’s actually more common than you’d think. The NHL has a deal with CCTV to broadcast its games. CCTV airs games 3-5 times a week on national television and will have every Stanley Cup final game covered.

I know this because I am, how to put it, “not very good at Mandarin Chinese” and the last time I was in mainland China, I was stuck watching the series “Pleasant Goat and Big Bad Wolf” with my younger brother. Yes, it’s a real show, look it up. Sadly to say, I was actually fond of it, meaning that if anyone who personally knows me ever reads this blog, my social life is beyond doomed. Listen, the show had its moments.

Continue reading Hockey in China? You betcha.