Monday, April 10, 2017

2017 Stanley Cup playoffs schedule

Will the Pittsburgh Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champions? Will the Blackhawks win their 4th cup in the 2010's? Will the President's Trophy winner overcome the jinx of finishing first in the regular season? Who will this year's Matt Murray? 

The long road to the Stanley Cup begins this Wednesday with 5 Canadian teams actually participating in this year's playoffs. Cue up the Q, ice the brews and dust off the large flat screen TV for NHL playoff hockey! There are some really good match ups in the first round, so sit back and enjoy!!.

 Here is the complete first-round schedule (All times ET, subject to change):


Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)
Wednesday, April 12, 7pm: Rangers @ Canadiens | CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
Friday, April 14, 7pm: Rangers @ Canadiens | CBC, TVA Sports, USA
Sunday, April 16, 7pm: Canadiens @ Rangers | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 18, 7pm: Canadiens @ Rangers | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 20, TBD: Rangers @ Canadiens | TBD
*Saturday, April 22, TBD: Canadiens @ Rangers | TBD
*Monday, April 24, TBD: Rangers @ Canadiens | TBD

Ottawa Senators (A2) vs. Boston Bruins (A3)
Wednesday, April 12, 7pm: Bruins @ Senators | Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NHL Network
Saturday, April 15, 3pm: Bruins @ Senators | Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NBC
Monday, April 17, 7pm: Senators @ Bruins | CNBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wednesday, April 19, 7:30pm: Senators @ Bruins | USA, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, April 21, TBD: Bruins @ Senators | TBD
*Sunday, April 23, TBD: Senators @ Bruins | TBD
*Wednesday, April 26, TBD: Bruins @ Senators | TBD

Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (WC2)
Thursday, April 13, 7pm: Maple Leafs @ Capitals | USA, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 15, 7pm: Maple Leafs @ Capitals | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, April 17, 7pm: Capitals @ Maple Leafs | CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
Wednesday, April 19, 7pm: Capitals @ Maple Leafs | CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
*Friday, April 21, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Capitals | TBD
*Sunday, April 23, TBD: Capitals @ Maple Leafs | TBD
*Tuesday, April 25, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Capitals | TBD

Pittsburgh Penguins (M2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (M3)
Wednesday, April 12, 7:30pm: Blue Jackets @ Penguins | USA, SN 360, TVA Sports
Friday, April 14, 7pm: Blue Jackets @ Penguins | NHL Network, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 16, 6pm: Penguins @ Blue Jackets | CNBC, SN 360, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 18, 7:30pm: Penguins @ Blue Jackets | CNBC, SN 360, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 20, TBD: Blue Jackets @ Penguins | TBD
*Sunday, April 23, TBD: Penguins @ Blue Jackets | TBD
*Tuesday, April 25, TBD: Blue Jackets @ Penguins | TBD


Chicago Blackhawks (C1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)
Thursday, April 13, 8pm: Predators @ Blackhawks | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 15, 8pm: Predators @ Blackhawks | NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Monday, April 17, 9:30pm: Blackhawks @ Predators | CNBC, SN ONE, TVA Sports
Thursday, April 20, TBD: Blackhawks @ Predators | SN 360, TVA Sports
*Saturday, April 22, TBD: Predators @ Blackhawks | TBD
*Monday, April 24, TBD: Blackhawks @ Predators | TBD
*Wednesday, April 26, TBD: Predators @ Blackhawks | TBD

Minnesota Wild (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)
Wednesday, April 12, 9:30pm: Blues @ Wild | NBCSN, SN 360, TVA Sports
Friday, April 14, 8pm: Blues @ Wild | NBCSN, SN 360, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 16, 3pm: Wild @ Blues | NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wednesday, April 19, 9:30pm: Wild @ Blues | NBCSN, SN 360, TVA Sports
*Saturday, April 22, TBD: Blues @ Wild | TBD
*Monday, April 24, TBD: Wild @ Blues | TBD
*Wednesday, April 26, TBD: Blues @ Wild | TBD

Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs. Calgary Flames (WC1)
Thursday, April 13, 10:30pm: Flames @ Ducks | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 15, 10:30pm: Flames @ Ducks | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, April 17, 10pm: Ducks @ Flames | CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
Wednesday, April 19, 10pm: Ducks @ Flames | CBC, TVA Sports, USA
*Friday, April 21, TBD: Flames @ Ducks | TBD
*Sunday, April 23, TBD: Ducks @ Flames | TBD
*Tuesday, April 25, TBD: Flames @ Ducks | TBD

Edmonton Oilers (P2) vs. San Jose Sharks (P3)
Wednesday, April 12, 10pm: Sharks @ Oilers | Sportsnet, TVA Sports, USA
Friday, April 14, 10:30pm: Sharks @ Oilers | Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NBCSN
Sunday, April 16, 10pm: Oilers @ Sharks | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 18, 10pm: Oilers @ Sharks | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 20, TBD: Sharks @ Oilers | TBD
*Saturday, April 22, TBD: Oilers @ Sharks | TBD
*Monday, April 24, TBD: Sharks @ Oilers | TBD

* if necessary
TBD - To Be Determined

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Dale Hawerchuk Monster Cookies

This afternoon is the Heritage Classic game between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers. What better way than to enjoy the game with the nachos and beer is a big plate of cookies. Monster Cookies with a recipe from Jets Hockey Hall Of Famer, Dale Hawerchuk! The recipes comes from the Jets Are Cookin' cookbook of family recipes from the 81-82 season the Jets wives dedicated to all children, especially in Children's hospitals. All proceeds went to Children's Hospital at the Health Science Centre in Winnipeg. The book is filled with recipes from all the players from that year as well as the staff, management and coaches of the team. All these players bring back incredible memories, players such as, Hawerchuk, Babych, Mantha, Steen, Lindstrom, Long, MacLean, Mann, Christian, Smail, Fergy and many more. I've never tried any of the recipes, maybe my mom did and somehow this ended up in my possession.

The Monster cookie recipe is very straight forward and I had all the ingredients in my kitchen already. The cookies turned out outstanding! They are thin and crispy with a little bit of chewiness that melts in your mouth...yum yum! One mistake I made was dropping the batter to close together. The recipe states 3" apart and If I had spaced them further apart the cookies would have expanded to full size and would truly be monster size. The other note is the raw batter was really tasty when I little the spoons after placing the cookie sheet into the oven. I highly recommend this cookie recipe, it's perfect for the most novice (like myself) of bakers, a good recipes to make with the kids. Thank you Dale (or Dale's mom)!!

Throughout the season, I'll try to bake or cook more recipes from the book. If you want a clearer picture of any of the recipes from the book, let me know.

Happy cooking and enjoy the Heritage Classic...gotta go start making the nachos!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Has Anyone Ever Played This Game?

With it being unofficially Hockey Heritage week here in Winnipeg, I've been digging through some of my old Jets stuff. I have the usual ticket stubs, game programs, media guides, photos, pucks and magazines related to the Winnipeg Jets from the WHA and NHL eras.

A somewhat rare interesting item I dug out is a board/card game called, Laurie Boschman's Power Play Hockey Game. If you're not familiar with Laurie Boschman, he spent a lot of career playing hockey in Manitoba. Bosch was born in Saskatchewan, but spent his junior career with the Brandon Wheat Kings where he had some amazing years. In 1978-79, Bosch had a 66 goal, 149 point season (as well as 215 PIM!!) and led the Wheaties to the Memorial Cup final losing to Peterborough Petes in OT. Boschman was drafted by the Leafs, traded to the Oilers and came to the Jets for the 1982 season. He had his best years with the Jets and played in Winnipeg from 1982-1990. He also went on to play with the Devils and the Senators.

Not sure, if that's Boschman's real autograph on the box?
Yup, that's it. This is all the pieces of the moving parts.

So I'm assuming the game was created during Boschman's time with the Jets since he wears a logo-less Jets jersey in the picture on the box and there is a Winnipeg address on the side. The address is actually within walking distance of where I live, so that's pretty cool. The game is very simple. As you can tell from the photos, the board is a hockey rink with the red and blue line and the nets. The goal is to move the puck into the opponents net through dice rolls and card flipping. There are command cards, Penalty Card and Big Play Cards and depending on the number from your roll, you'll pick up one of the cards from the two piles, then you follow what the card says, pretty simple, eh? I did play the game many times with my family and though it's no EA Sports NHL hockey or even Strat-O Matic, it was mildly entertaining and cleverly uncomplicated. Okay, this is pre-internet and in the early days of video games, so there weren't many hockey based games at the time so you're expectations shouldn't be too spectacular. I don't know if Laurie created the game from his home or if he lent his name to a friend that made this, but I would be very curious if anyone knows the story behind it. I can't remember where I bought the game (maybe garage sale or used Sally Anne type store?), but I'm sure I bought it in the 80's. I thought there might be some interest in this game with the Heritage Classic and Alumni game taking place this weekend and with Laurie Boschman skating on the Winnipeg Jets Alumni team.

Has anyone ever played this game?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Hey, It's Heritage Classic Weekend!

If you're a hockey fan in Winnipeg young or old, this weekend will be very special for two very good reasons. The NHL Heritage Classic game between the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers feature two of the rising stars of the league, Connor McDavid and Patrick Laine. The game will take place outdoors at the Investors Group Stadium on Sunday, October 23rd at 2:00 pm in the afternoon. This weekend also highlights the Heritage Classic Alumni Game between the Jets and Oilers alumni featuring Hall of Famers and superstars from the 70's, 80's and early 90's on Saturday at 3:00 pm. If you are of the older generation, like myself that grew up with Jets of the WHA and the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL (first edition) before taking off to Phoenix, the memories of our beloved heroes from the past will make for a nostalgic couple of days. I will be posting on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook old Jet memorabilia that I had collected back in the day. Unfortunately, I won't be attending either game (yes, it's because I'm cheap!), but I will be reminiscing in front of my TV with a pot of hot chili, cold beer and a plate of Dale Hawerchuk Monster cookies (more on that tomorrow) enjoying the spectacle of the Heritage Classic. The allure and novelty of the outdoor has almost worn it's welcome with me, but the fact it's in Winnipeg will be special. Sit tight and stay warm, but if you want to be part of the excitement and participate in the events this weekend, note the times and dates below.

 For many, the big attraction to the weekend will be the Alumni Game that features such greats as Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Paul Coffey, Teemu Selanne, Mark Messier, Dave Babych, Jari Kurri, Grant Fehr and many more. I'm sure the quality of the game itself won't be the end to end scoring sprees of the past, but it will definitely satisfy any hockey fan that grew up with these guys.  And the retro Jets Heritage Classic jerseys look awesome!!

This game will attract national attention and in many ways might be a better draw than the game on Sunday. I'm not sure how ticket sales are going so far, but you can now purchase each game individually instead of the previous package deal that included both games. I'm guessing the big price tag for a wholesale (cheapskate) city like Winnipeg might have scared some fans from attending, so splitting up the games will be a way to sell to the fans that have been whining that they only wanted to attend the Alumni Game or the regular Heritage Classic game. Should be interesting!

Monday, May 30, 2016

We Will Have A New Stanley Cup Champion...Soon!

Getty Images
The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins are the last two teams standing as we finally begin the Stanley Cup finals. For what must be the first time ever, I predicted the two finalists in the last post. This match-up (at least we hope!!) has the makings of an even, fast paced series with both teams boasting explosive offenses.

The Sharks are a slight favourites to take the Cup. I don't usually get too sentimental, but I would like to see the Sharks win their first ever Cup and join the other California teams (L.A. and Anaheim) drinking from Lord Stanley's Cup.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Potential Conn Smythe candidates?
  • For the Pens, Phil Kessel hasn't looked this good since his earlier (happier days in TO) and his linemate, Nick Bonino has scored some big game winning goals in the playoffs. I'm not sure who votes for the Conn Smythe, but if it's media types from Toronto (who blamed Phil for the Leafs misfortunes) you can bet Kessel will be overlooked, accidentally on purpose.
  • Though he started out slow, at least stat-wise for the first couple of rounds, Sidney Crosby has stepped up and led this Pens with his experience, composure and leadership. Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Fleury are the go-to guys on this team and only Crosby (and maybe Letang) have lived up to their hype this playoff. Malkin has been better the last couple of games, but if the Pens want to close this out he needs to be better.
  • One of the guy's that's impressed me the most on Pittsburgh is Matt Murray in goal. He hasn't been spectacular, but he's been steady and provided the Pens with big saves at key times. To play at this high level so young, is amazing! For such a young rookie, especially in goal, he's been unfazed and unrattled by the pressure of the moment.
  •  The Sharks have a couple of players that deserve consideration for the Conn. Logan Couture leads playoff scoring with 29 points, while Joe Pavelski leads goal scoring with 14. Joe Thornton is playing some of his best hockey of his long career and Brent Burns seems to be everywhere. 
  • The toughest position in hockey is playing goal in the playoffs. The Sharks netminding has always been disappointing in previous playoff runs in the past and they definitely found their guy with Martin Jones, who I believe might be the only Shark with a Stanley Cup ring (L.A.). Jones kept the Sharks hopes still alive with an outstanding performance in game 5, he needs to be equally good to force a game 7.
We are now in our last week of the season. Game 6 takes place back in San Jose on Sunday night and if the Sharks win, there will be a game 7 on Wednesday. Unlike the NBA finals, all the games have been close. No blowouts and almost all the games so far have gone down to the final seconds. With action this good, it will be hard to be without hockey until September with the World Cup Of Hockey or when the meaningful games begin again in October.
Oh well, the draft is approaching and free agency begins July 1.

*editor's note: I started writing this post May 30 and updated and published it June 10, the day after game 5.

Monday, May 16, 2016

And Then There Were Four

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

We are one game into the 2016 NHL Conference finals with the final four teams left to compete for the Stanley Cup. Based on regular season rankings and playoff predictions, the four teams left weren't exactly expected to be here. The top two teams from the regular season, the conference leaders, Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars were eliminated last round. The third and fourth ranked teams, St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh are still around which shouldn't be a huge surprise, but the 11th and 12th place, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning caught me a little off guard. Actually all these teams are well deserved as they all seemed to gain momentum late in the regular season and peaked going into the playoffs.

(photo by Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning

The Penguins in recent years have been known to underachieve in the playoffs and the expectations of a team that has it's share of superstars. Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Fleury made it difficult to overlook the disappointment year after year. A slow start of the season resulted in a coaching change firing Mike Johnson and replacing him with Mike Sullivan who took over the head coaching reins on December 12, 2015. Soon after, the Penguins turned their season around and boasted one of the best records in the second half. With the addition of free agent, Phil Kessel and some tweaking here and there, they have advanced further than any playoff since their last Cup win. A solid performance against the Cap was impressive because the Pens biggest weakness was actually one of their strengths to hold off the firepower and offensive stars from the Caps. Especially impressive was the defense for the game when Letang was suspended. Blackhawk throwaway, Trevor Daley stepped up and played career minutes to help lead the Pens past the Caps.

The Lightning hasn't missed a beat without key players throughout the playoffs and in game one of the Conference finals, Ben Bishop left the game on a stretcher. They still won the game and his injury isn't as serious as first thought, so he'll be back. Even if he's lost for any games, the Lightning will still play to their system and be a handful for the Pens. Their series against the Islanders ended sooner than I thought it would, but really it shouldn't be a surprise. Their defense even without Stralman is as good as any in the league and Victor Hedman has proven this year and last playoffs, he is defensively one of the best in the league.

Since the Lightning has a 1-0 series lead at the time of this writing it would be easy to say they won't get swept. This definitely can't happen, but predicting this series is very tough. The Pens have a lot of offensive strengths, yet Crosby and Malkin were not factors in the Capitals series. Players like Hornqvist, Fehr, Cullen, Hagelin and Nick Bonino who scored the series winning OT goal against Washington, stepped up and made key contributions. The same can be said about the Lightning who have been getting a balanced attack, but they are winning games with their defense and goaltending. Game 2 could be a battle between two 21 year olds as Andrei Vasilevskiy will more than likely get the start while Matt Murray continues to surprise in net for Pittsburgh, but don't be surprised if Fleury sees some action if the Pens go down 2-0. I think this might go the limit and though I like how the Lightning are playing, I expect the Penguins to come out flying the next game and for the rest of the series. Can't believe Crosby won't be silent this series.
Penguins in 7

(Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

St. Louis Blues vs San Jose Sharks

To begin, I should confess as a Blackhawks and Jets fan, I hate the St. Louis Blues. It's nothing personal, I just can't stand the players, their coach and their fans. The rivalry between the Jets/Blues and Hawks/Blues is heated and the satisfaction of beating the Blues is better than any other team. Just because I have a personal hate on the Blues doesn't mean I don't think there any good, in fact they were the third top team in the league and are the top ranked team left in the playoffs. The achievement of making it out of their own division (the best in the league) was a huge hump to climb and their success is well deserved. They are deep on defense and Brian Elliott is playing out of his head. He had one bad game in each of the first two series, but otherwise played lights out. Right now, I would put him as the Blue's MVP of the playoffs and they would not have beat the Hawks or Preds without him.

When the Blackhawks were eliminated, after I got over the initial shock, I thought about what team I would like to see win the Cup. I always felt bad for the way the San Jose Sharks have fared in the playoffs. Two years ago they blew a 3-0 series lead to the Kings and last year the team seemed to play sad hockey and needed a coaching change badly. I guess I also feel bad for Todd McLellan who left to an even sadder team, the Edmonton Oilers. I fear that McLellan will be fired before the Oilers realize all their talent when they suck again next year. Pete DeBoer has injected some life into the Sharks and got excellent season from vets, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelsky and Brent Burns. The Sharks are playing exciting hockey and finally have a reliable starting goalie, Martin Jones. So personally I wouldn't mind if the Sharks made it to the Cup finals and especially would like to see them beat the Blues.

Game one of the Western Conference finals saw the Blues hang on to a 2-1 win. If it wasn't for the brilliant play of Brian Elliott and two goal posts in the last couple of minutes, this would have gone the other way. The Blue's go-ahead goal was a cheap one Jones should have had, but that's how the playoffs are, breaks. Despite this, the Sharks dominated and I expect they will capitalize on more of their chances. Could also be a long series so I'm picking the Joe's or the team that has the best two beards. Go Sharks!
Sharks in 6

Friday, April 29, 2016

My Picks For Round Two- Don't Bet On It!

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If you're a gambling person, I advice you to bet on the opposite of my picks for round two. As proven in round one, there isn't a sure thing and home ice is barely a factor. Five of the eight series were won by the team with home ice advantage and two of four division winners were eliminated in the first round. As far as my picks for the first round, I was 3 for 8, which is pretty embarrassing considering I like to think I know a thing or two about hockey. It never fails, the first round always has at least a couple of upsets, which definitely makes it the most exciting round of the playoffs. You can't help but experience a feeling of bliss with the amount of games of high quality hockey games per night. There seemed to be at least 2-4 games a night and every series offered some kind of excitement and drama that exceeds any two weeks of the regular season.

The big surprises or maybe not so big of a surprise, was that Los Angeles and Anaheim both were eliminated. Both teams topped the Pacific division and both teams had home ice. Anaheim continued their woeful record in game 7's with an upset at the Pond to wildcard, Nashville. The Kings got their asses kicked by a superior San Jose squad that might actually go far in the playoffs. Atlantic Division leaders, Florida Panthers lost in a game 6 overtime to the Islanders with some controversy, but Florida really didn't show as much as expected as they were outworked and outplayed by an underrated Islanders squad. This year will feature a new Stanley Cup champ as the Blackhawks will not repeat after their loss in 7 games to the Blues. The series was decided by one goal from former Hawk, Troy Brouwer in the third period. With the Blues finally overcoming their first round ineptness, can they do damage in the rest of the playoffs?

Photo: Geoff Burke, (USA TODAY Sports)

This will be the most watched series of the second round, it's Alex vs Sid part 2. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in 2009, with Pittsburgh winning in 7 with the Penguins going on to win the Cup. In goal, both the Penguins, Matt Murray and the Caps, Braden Holtby will be keys. In the first round, they both played great, but with the high powered offenses and superstars galore, this could be a dandy! I think without the Ducks, Hawks and Kings in the running, the Capitals have to be the odds on favourite of the remaining teams to win the Cup, but any team that has the firepower of Crosby and Malkin can't be overlooked. The think the Caps will win, but I'd rather see the Pens win.
Penguins in 7

I have to admit, my interest for this series coming in was pretty low, but after watching game 1 on Wednesday it's peaked my interest slightly. What I saw was that the Islanders can strike quickly and almost without flash, a grinder team that has one superstar player in John Tavares. The Lightning have a deep forward core even without Stamkos and with the playoff addition of Jonathan Druin have the potential to score lots if they break free. Again, goaltending will be a factor and in game 1, Thomas Greiss out-duelled Ben Bishop who was brutal and was pulled after the 4th Islanders goal. Will be a close series, but do you care?
Islanders in 7

Can't say I like either team since my two favourite teams share a division with the Blues and Stars and they is much bad blood. The Blues series win over the Blackhawks was a huge step for the franchise and Hitchcock was probably within a goal of losing his job. The Stars beat the Wild, but in game six the Stars took a 4-0 lead into the third period and proceeded to play one of the worst periods of the playoffs. The Wild were one goal from forcing a game 7. The Blues have the edge in goal as the Stars goalies struggled to gain the confidence from coach Ruff. The Blues have a good argument to win the series, they physically could dominate and hey, they finally beat the Hawks, that's a huge psychological hurdle. I hate the Blues though, so I hope the Stars win.
Stars in 6

Two teams that pulled somewhat surprising upsets. The Sharks 4-1 series win wasn't so much a huge surprise, but in the amount of games to eliminate the Kings was unexpected. When the Sharks lost game 3 after taking the first two in LA, you couldn't help think about the Kings 4-3 comeback series win (after being down 3-0) from two years ago. But this is a more mature, deep Sharks team that has a new coach, a new attitude and a rejuvenated, Joe Thornton. The Preds on the other hand pulled the biggest upset of the first round eliminating the Mighty Anaheim Ducks in 7 games. The fact that 3 of their 4 wins were on the road in Anaheim (including game 7) is an amazing feat. Nashville won with a very good defensive system and though they are not known as a big scoring team, they got timely goals. Pekka Rinne was the best player on Nashville and if they hope to advance to the Conference finals, he has to be the best player of the series...and more.
Sharks in 6

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Is There A Reason To Keep Living Or At Least Watch The Rest Of The NHL Playoffs?

So, the Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated in game 7 of the first round to their arch rival, St. Louis Blues last night and it couldn't be more painful. Much like the bitter pill of the 2014 Western Conference Finals loss to the Kings in game 7 in overtime, it's hard to face the reality the Blackhawks are done for the season. The loss to the King kept the Hawks from repeating from their 2013 Cup win and the Blues prevented the Hawks from repeating last year's championship. When you think of this whole modern dynasty talk, it is incredible the Hawks could have won three cups in a row if not for the loss to the Kings. The Kings went on to win the cup easily in 5 games in the finals and it could have easily been Chicago. The loss to the Blues very much could have been the reversal with a bounce or two going their way. Seabrook's late third period "double goal post" was inches from tying the game last night and the feeling they would still tie the game was still confidently in my mind even in the dying seconds.

 As a lifelong Blackhawks fan (since 1970), I've suffered through the Stanley Cup losses to the Habs in the early 70's, the wondrous Denis Savard era in the 80's when they had some competitive teams (damn you Oilers!), in the 90's, Eddie Belfour and JR drove the Hawks to a Cup final in 1992 and the rebuild began in the early 2000's. When the Hawks captured their first cup in decades in 2010, it felt like my dedication and passion for the Hawks was finally getting rewarded. When the Blackhawks made their Stanley Cup run in 2013, my daughter obsessively followed the playoffs and along the way caught the Blackhawks fever and together we gasped, screamed and celebrated their Cup victory. That summer we lined up in +30 c heat to get a glimpse of Jonathan Toews and the Cup at the Jonathan Toews Community Centre in Winnipeg only to be disappointed when they turned away hundreds of people still in line for an autograph...but it was worth it! Since then, we've streamed and watched every Blackhawks game, pre-season, regular season and playoffs and went to as many Jets games as possible against the Hawks.

Last season truly was a dream year. Another Stanley Cup victory and besides watching every game, my daughter and I flew to Chicago and attended the Blackhawks Convention last July. She had bought the passes and booked the room as my Christmas gift, without thinking they could possibly win the Cup in the same year. Best gift ever! We found our place with our type of people, like-minded Blackhawks fans, young and old all celebrating and embracing the players and coaches from the organization with the bonus of the Stanley Cup in the room. Wow, it was an amazing experience that I highly recommend to any die-hard Hawks fan! How many teams in the league do anything as interactive and personal for their fans. The Blackhawks are a first class organization who knows how to treat their fan base and truly appreciates their support. I tell you, Winnipeg Jets fans are left high and dry with no kind of fan appreciation events, player appearances (apart from car dealership promos) or an opportunity for fans to get together and mingle with other fans or with the players from the organization. Makes me feel like the Jets organization wants to cheap out, take your cash, but doesn't reward dedicated fans with quat. They are missing out the opportunity for fans to make a connection with the team and they should be trying to make lifelong fans who will dedicate a large proportion of their lives to worship the team. Perhaps that was the problem with the Jets 1.0, they had a fan base, but a lot of that fan base turned on the team when the team didn't perform that well. Winnipegger's don't feel sure about anything unless they get a deal and if the present team doesn't improve soon, their fans will definitely turn on them. Two hundred dollar gala dinners and fashion shows don't count because it's not the real fan that can attend, it's an event for the elite and to appease sponsors. At the Blackhawks Convention, I told Troy Murray (former Hawks and Jet) they should have something like this in Winnipeg and he said he would be interested in coming if we had one.

So what went wrong this year? In this age of the tight salary cap, the ability to maintain a winning team is difficult. The Blackhawks have built their team around a core of players that are top players in league and justifiably well paid. They are a cap team, which means balancing salaries and term for the rest of team requires a tricky balancing act. Last summer, the team parted ways with many top players, not because they didn't want them, but because they couldn't afford them. The loss of Sharp, Oduya, Richards, Vermette, Saad and Versteeg hurt, and the quality players lost in the turnover in the roster was higher than any other team in the league. To keep within the cap these players were replaced with younger less experienced players, especially on defence. This hurt and to add insult to injury they resigned Michal Rozsival. The Hawks unearthed a rookie phenom named Artemi Panarin, signed as a free agent from the KHL. Panarin's outstanding season most definitely will earn him the Calder Trophy and will contribute to Patrick Kane's   nomination for the Hart. It's too bad this season was wasted with the achievements of Kane who had a career season and earned him the Art Ross (leading scorer) and became the first ever American born winner. Not to be overshadowed, Corey Crawford had a great season both the regular season and the playoffs. With the Hawks weak D, Crow kept the team in games and without his outstanding season who knows if the Hawks would have made the playoffs. He has to be considered as a top candidate for the Vezina, but he'll be in tight with Braden Holtby who helped lead the Caps to a Presidents Trophy. There is lots to be proud of this season from Patrick Kane's amazing point streak of 26 games, the team's 12 game winning streak (franchise record) and a top 5 regular season finish. I knew the odds were stacked against the team with so many changes in the off-season, so my expectations weren't as high as previous years. This team has some work to do in the off-season this summer, finding a top 4 defenceman, extending Panarin's contract, dumping the rest of Bickell's contract and freeing up some salary to hopefully sign Shaw and maybe one or two of Ladd, Weiss and Panik. I'm very optimistic for next season as I know getting back to the playoffs and making another run for the Cup will be high priorities for the team.

It's too bad the Hawks ran into a hot Blues team in the first round. This truly was the best series of the first round and many believe this could have been the Cup final if the old playoff format was still used. The level of play from the Blues and the Hawks leads me to believe there won't be another series as exciting. The Hawks came back from a 3-1 game deficit to even the series with a game 6 rally and comeback (from a 3-1 first period lead) that I thought the momentum would carry over to game 7. One goal, it was just one goal that determined the series. It's ironic, because the Blackhawks motto the past few years has been, "One Goal" as in the one and only goal is the Stanley Cup. It was one goal that eliminated them this year and one goal in a game 7 against the Kings in 2014 and you know what happened the following year...the CUP.

One goal.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff First Round Picks- Western Conference

Here's the West!

An interesting match up, this is first time these two teams have met in the playoffs. The Dallas Stars were relocated from Minneapolis to Dallas back in the 1993 and though I doubt any fans in Minnesota have mixed feelings who to cheer for, it does make it intriguing series.
  • The Stars were at top or near the top of the division for much of the season with their high scoring offense led by the dynamic dual of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin and a decent supporting cast of forwards such as, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp. Their defence is more staple than last year and John Klingberg provides plenty of offense from the backend. In net it remains their weakest link, though Niemi and Lehtonen have plenty of playoff experience between them.
  • The Wild have never been a huge offensive threat. They rely on speed and a hard forecheck to make opportunities. They have always played a solid defensive game and defending especially with Devan Dubnyk in goal. The Wild's speed was what helped beat St.Louis last year, but their lack of goal scoring caught up with them against Chicago. 
Injuries could be a factor in this series, but even without Seguin, the Stars still can create enough offense to beat the Wild. If Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek miss the beginning/all of the series, this could be over very quickly in 4 or 5 games, I can't see the Stars losing this series. Here's hoping the Wild make it worth watching.
Stars in 6 

These two teams and their fans hate each other. The thought that the Blues might beat the Hawks boils my blood. The last time they met two years ago, the Blues led 2-0 at home before the Hawks recovered and took the next 4. There was only four points separating the two teams in the regular season and between the Blues, Hawks and Stars, they sat in the top five teams in the league. The Central Division is truly the most competitive with the top three definite contenders for the cup and it's shame one of these teams will be eliminated first round.
  • When healthy, the Blues are as solid a team as there is in the league. In the regular season, they have been consistently near the top of the league, but in the playoffs they have a hard time getting out of the first round. This might be Hitchcock's last chance to prove he can lead this team deeper into the playoffs. 
  • The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champs. They had a pretty good season, considering how much roster changes took place over the summer. They accomplished a record team winning streak, a team point streak record from Art Ross winner, Patrick Kane and an amazing rookie season from Artemi Panarin. The team limped towards the playoff with no wins against playoff bound teams during March and April and Vezina Trophy candidate, Cory Crawford was out with a head injury. Defensively, the Blackhawks are giving up way too many chances, but at least in recent games their offensive has waken up with goals coming more often. Can Kane and Panarin carry the offense in the playoffs like the regular season? Will the new players added at the trade deadline contribute more (Ladd, Weiss, Erhoff, Fleischmann)? Other than the top 3 D (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson), will someone step up and prevent Rozival from logging too much ice time?
The Blues have been itching to advance past the first round. Each year there is promise that "this is the year", but the season has ended in disappointment. The Hawks know they can beat the Blues, psychologically and on the ice, but they need Cory Crawford to work his magic he performed earlier in the season and they have to score early and protect the leads better. Keith is out one more game because of suspension and he'll definitely help stabilize their D. The playoffs are a totally different season for the Hawks as they have proven in three of the last six years. Can they flip the switch and turn it on again this year? I believe!
Blackhawks in 6

An interesting cross-divisional matchup between two teams I don't think I've seen play each other. The Ducks handicapped themselves by starting the season playing like crap. I thought for sure Coach Bruce Boudreau would be fired before November, but they turned around their season and possessed one of the best records since Christmas. So good in fact they snuck ahead of LA to take the Pacific division title.
  • The Ducks were top of the league in some key categories. They allowed the fewest goals against per game and they have the #1 powerplay and penalty kill % in the league. The goaltending is solid with both Gibson and Anderson very capable of backstopping the Ducks deep into the playoffs. And once thought of as a one line team, with Perry and Getzlof, they have plenty of depth up front. 
  • A big difference between Nashville this year and last year is they finally found a #1 centre. Ryan Johansson acquired from Columbus for Seth Jones is a very important piece. This team's offense has so long relied on their defenseman to score, they were hard to take seriously as contenders. The Preds were streaky all season and they're a hard read coming into the playoffs.
The success of the Preds live and die by how well Pekka Rinne performs in the playoffs. Rinne is the key to the Preds if they hope to compete with Anaheim. The lack of scoring up front is a continued concern for the Preds and whether they're D can hold off the Ducks big, speedy forwards. This could be a very physical series, but I'm banking on the Ducks to have their way with Nashville. Could be short series if Nashville gets behind early. I think they can win a game or two at home, but in Anaheim they'll be lucky to win one game.
Ducks in 6

The battle of California is a live and well. Since the top three teams in the Pacific are all from Cali, it was guarantee two of teams would meet, probably in round two too. Short travel and hot sunny weather seems kind of cushy for the playoffs, but all three Cali teams could go far. There were only 4 points separating the Kings and Sharks, so no team is an overwhelming favourite.
  • Besides Chicago and probably Washington, the LA Kings are a feared playoff team you don't want to play. They have two cups in this decade so far and the bitterness of not making the playoffs last year will be still in their minds. They have a goalie any team would love to have on their team in the playoffs with Jonathan Quick and this year he's closer to the form he displayed two years ago. They are big, strong, quick and scary good, with not many weaknesses.
  • The Sharks are enjoying a revival with the play of Joe Thornton who has proven this year he's not over the hill yet. This has bolstered their powerplay to the league top 5, with big Brent Burns anchoring the point with a career season. Their netminding has been a pleasant surprise, but the real telling story will be in the playoffs. The team's performance in last seasons playoffs (and last season in general) cost their coach his job. 
While the Sharks seem to have a bit of their mojo back, so have the Kings. Milan Lucic needs to be nasty and Kopitar has to lead this team in the right direction if they hope to beat the Sharks. The Sharks are probably considered the underdogs and they would be fine with that. The pressure is more on the Kings to prove they can still be considered a serious Stanley Cup contender or be at least the team that comes out of California. This could be a coin-flipper and I'm banking it will go the distance to seven games.
Kings in 7

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff First Round Picks- Eastern Conference

The first games of the first round begin Wednesday. That means there isn't much time to submit your picks for the Bracket challenge or for your office pool, or bragging rights.

Let's get right to the Eastern Conference:

Considering the Panthers were top in the Atlantic and the Islanders were a wild card team, it sounds like this would be a mis-match. But consider there was only 3 points separating the two teams (FLA- 103, NYI- 100) and this has a good possibility of a long series.
  • The Panthers have had a spectacular season making the playoffs with a solid team effort with ageless wonders, Jaromir Jagr (44 years old) and Roberto Luongo (37 years old) and young stars, Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov. Their special teams are anything but special, ranked in the bottom third of the league for both the pk and pp.  
  • The Islanders begin and end with most of it's offensive production from John Tavares. He carries this team like no other player in the league. Their defence is slim if they are without Travis Hamonic for any part of the first round with only John Boychuk and Nick Liddy providing experience on the back end. If Halak is out for the start the playoffs, the Isles will rely on Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube in the nets. With or without Halak, the Panthers have a huge edge in goal with Luongo who has much more playoff experience.
For me, in the playoffs goaltending is such a key. With that in mind I don't believe the Isles can hold off the fire-power of the revitalized offensive of the Panthers lead by old man, Jagr. Tough to call, could be 6 or 7.
Panthers in 6

Twenty five years, that's how many years in a row the Detroit Red Wings have participated in the post-season. With that in mind, they only clinched a berth in this year's playoffs on the second last day of the season after their last game they actually lost 3-2 to the Rangers. Fortunately, the Boston Bruins also lost in a 6-1 blowout to the non-playoff bound Sens. Last season, the Lightning eliminated the Wings in the first round after the Wings blew a 3-2 series lead winning in 7.
  • The Lightning will be without key players for at least the first round with Steven Stamkos out with a blood clot and Anton Stralman out with a fractured left fibula. They have a weak pp (28th), but decent pk (7th) and without the aforementioned Stamkos and Stralman, their pp doesn't look promising.
  • The Wings seem to be mediocre in all aspects. Their offence can't score, their defence provides little help offensively, their goaltending has been uneven and their special teams have been low-middle of the pack. They are at least consistent, so they don't have any blaring weaknesses. Zetterberg and Datsyuk will be counted on for their experience and the Wings hope they can stay healthy to aide the Wings popgun offense.
If the Lightning can tighten up defensively and Bishop plays well, the Lightning have a very good chance. This is a tough call, but with the Lightnings injuries I think the Red Wings will somehow pull off the upset, if you can even call it that. This will go the distance.
Red Wings in 7

By Alex Brandon/AP

Stat-wise, this series has the biggest gap in points differential with the Capitals 24 points ahead of the Flyers in the standings. There wouldn't be a bigger upset if the President's trophy winners bowed out in the first round. That's the great thing about the playoffs, anything can happen and anyone can beat anyone if the stars align properly and momentum is on the side of the Flyers.
  • The Flyers did indeed ride on momentum to push themselves into the playoffs. The Flyers went 20-9-6 after the all-star break to capture the second wild card spot in the East. With the unexpected rise of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere on D and career seasons from Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, the Flyers won't be a cakewalk. Of course, Claude Giroux and Jakob Voracek can provide plenty of offensive. Their goaltending is solid enough with both Steve Mason And Michal Neuvirth capable of winning a game or two.
  • The Washington Capitals are probably the deepest and most feared team in the league. They breezed through the regular season with a high powered offense (five players over 50 points), lots of depth on D and possibly the best goalie in the league this year, Braden Holtby.
While an upset of the top-seeded team in the league is a lovely scenario, I think the Caps have too much going for them. The Flyers might win one of the first two games in Washington and maybe win one more at home, but these are high expectations. Apart from the on ice performance of the Caps stars, Barry Trotz is a very shrewd, levelheaded coach. If things go off the rails, I'm confident he'll steer the ship the right way. Oh, and did I mention that Holtby is a very very good goalie.
Capitals in 5

The New York Rangers have eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins from the playoffs the last two seasons. The Rangers seemed comfortably safe near the top of the Met, but a surging Penguins team that had a great March and April squeaked by the Rangers to finish 3 points ahead. Much of this series might come down to the health of key players on both teams.
  • The Penguins have been without Malkin for an extended period of time already and believe it or not their offensive output hasn't been hurt too much. On paper, the Penguins don't have as much depth in key positions, but they have a hot Sidney Crosby and a healthy Kris Letang. Question mark is in goalie with M-A Fleury still feeling the effects of a concussion last month. He might not start the series, and if backup Matthew Murray can't go as well, they could be in trouble.
  • The Rangers might be without their best defenceman, Ryan McDonagh for some of the first round and their forwards are inconsistent., but they have Lundqvist in goal. Will Eric Staal be a factor?
If the series comes down to goaltending, the Pens could be reeling if Fleury can't go. This means the Pens offense has to be in high gear and useful contributions from Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin could help Crosby push this to another gear. The Rangers are solid throughout, but I have a hunch the Penguins will shake the monkey off their back and eliminate the Rangers in a fast paced, interesting series.
Penguins in 6

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Schedule

This Wednesday begins the long exciting journey to see who will be this year's Stanley Cup champions. If you're a hockey fan, this truly is the best time of the year! The defending Stanley Cup champion, Chicago Blackhawks will defend their title against the St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Blues and the Blackhawks are the 2 and 3 seeds in the tough Central division and considering they are also the 3rd and 5th top teams in the entire league, it's an injustice one of these teams will be eliminated in the first round. Both teams have to be considered a top contender for the cup, so this should be one of the most closely contested series in the first round.  There is a bias on this page, so clearly the Hawks will move on, but this should be fun, scary fun!

There are many interesting match ups and considering how close some of these teams are point wise, with the exception of Washington, it will be very hard to predict winners in my playoff bracket. Make sure to choose your picks for the 2016 NHL Bracket Challenge as soon as possible because the deadline to enter expires a minute before the first playoff game drops the puck. I will give a more detailed look at who I think will be the winners and losers of this years playoffs in the days leading up to opening night. Stay tuned!

Here are the dates, starting times and national TV coverage for the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs first round. (note: all times are Central Time)

Florida Panthers (A1) vs. New York Islanders (WC1)
Thu 4/14, 7pm: NYI @ FLA | CNBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Fri 4/15, 6:30pm: NYI @ FLA | NHL Network, SN360, TVA Sports
Sun 4/17, 7pm: FLA @ NYI | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wed 4/20, 7pm: FLA @ NYI | USA, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Fri 4/22, TBD:  NYI @ FLA | TBD
*Sun 4/24, TBD:  FLA @ NYI | TBD
*Tue 4/26, TBD:  NYI @ FLA | TBD
Tampa Bay Lightning (A2) vs. Detroit Red Wings (A3)
Wed 4/13, 6pm: DET @ TBL | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Fri 4/15, 6pm:DET @ TBL | CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Sun 4/17, 6pm: TBL @ DET | CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tue 4/19, 6pm: TBL @ DET | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Thu 4/21, TBD:  DET @ TBL | TBD
*Sun 4/24, TBD:  TBL @ DET | TBD
*Tue 4/26, TBD:  DET @ TBL | TBD

Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (WC2)
Thu 4/14, 6pm: PHI @ WSH | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sat 4/16, 6pm: PHI @ WSH | CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Mon 4/18, 6pm: WSH @ PHI | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wed 4/20, 6pm: WSH @ PHI | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Fri 4/22, TBD:  PHI @ WSH | TBD
*Sun 4/24, TBD:  WSH @ PHI | TBD
*Wed 4/27, TBD:  PHI @ WSH | TBD

Pittsburgh Penguins (M2) vs. New York Rangers (M3)
Wed 4/13, 7pm: NYR @ PIT | USA, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sat 4/16, 2pm: NYR @ PIT | NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tue 4/19, 6pm: PIT @ NYR | USA, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Thu 4/21, TBD: PIT @ NYR | Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Sat 4/23, TBD:  NYR @ PIT | TBD
*Mon 4/25, TBD:  PIT @ NYR | TBD
*Wed 4/27, TBD:  NYR @ PIT | TBD


Dallas Stars (C1) vs. Minnesota Wild (WC2)
Thu 4/14, 8:30pm: MIN @ DAL | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sat 4/16, 7pm: MIN @ DAL | NBCSN, Sporstnet, TVA Sports
Mon 4/18, 7:30pm: DAL @ MIN | NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wed 4/20, 8:30pm: DAL @ MIN | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
*Fri 4/22, TBD:  MIN @ DAL | TBD
*Sun 4/24, TBD:  DAL @ MIN | TBD
*Tue 4/26, TBD:  MIN @ DAL | TBD

St. Louis Blues (C2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (C3)
Wed 4/13, 8:30pm: CHI @ STL | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
Fri 4/15, 7pm: CHI @ STL | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sun 4/17, 2pm: STL @ CHI | NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tue 4/19, 8:30pm: STL @ CHI | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Thu 4/21, TBD:  CHI @ STL | TBD
*Sat 4/23, TBD:  STL @ CHI | TBD
*Mon 4/25, TBD:  CHI @ STL | TBD

Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC1)
Fri 4/15, 9:30pm: NSH @ ANA | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sun 4/17, 9:30pm: NSH @ ANA | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tue 4/19, 8:30pm: ANA @ NSH | USA, SN360, TVA Sports
Thu 4/21, 7pm: ANA @ NSH | CNBC, FX Canada, TVA Sports
*Sat 4/23, TBD:  NSH @ ANA | TBD
*Mon 4/25, TBD:  ANA @ NSH | TBD
*Wed 4/27, TBD:  NSH @ ANA | TBD

Los Angeles Kings (P2) vs. San Jose Sharks (P3)
Thu 4/14, 9:30pm: SJS @ LAK | CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Sat 4/16, 9:30pm: SJS @ LAK | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Mon 4/18, 9:30pm: LAK @ SJS | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wed 4/20, 9:30pm: LAK @ SJS | USA, CBC, TVA Sports
*Fri 4/22, TBD:  SJS @ LAK | TBD
*Sun 4/24, TBD:  LAK @ SJS | TBD
*Tue 4/26, TBD:  SJS @ LAK | TBD

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Fine Art Of "Soft" Tanking

AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
 On Saturday night at the MTS Centre, the Winnipeg Jets did something for the first time all season, they won a game after trailing after two periods. They are now 0-24-3 when losing after two and are 1-44-7 over the last two seasons. No wonder fans begin going for the exits in third period when they fall 2 or 3 goals behind, it's almost money in the bank they will not stage a comeback. The Jets are now an unimpressive 28-35-5 for 61 points and sit tied for last in the Western Conference and now 4 points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs for last in the league. I'm keeping an eye on the Oilers because they have played 3 more games than the other bottom dwellers and they're goal of a second straight first overall draft pick is obviously on their radar.

The race to the bottom is almost as intriguing as the race to the top of the league. It seems if you play bad enough, not just bad, but really bad, you are rewarded with the best odds of choosing first during the annual draft. For years, the Jets have finished their seasons (except for last years only playoff appearance) just barely out of the playoffs preventing them (obviously) post season action, but also top 5 picks at the draft. The first picks of Jets 2.0:
  • 2011- Mark Scheifele 7th of round one.
  • 2012- Jacob Trouba 9th
  • 2013- Josh Morrisey 13th
  • 2014- Nikolaj Ehlers 9th
  • 2015- Kyle Connor 14th
My point is that though some of these players have or might make an impact on the team, none are potential superstars or game changing players. The keys to building a championship team isn't through trades, but through the draft and managing these picks in your system and building a core around these players. The Blackhawks have done that for the last three cups. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Cory Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, Marcus Kruger all are homegrown draft picks including a first overall (Kane) and third overall (Toews). The top picks in the past 10 years or so, with the exception of Edmonton, have helped tranform their teams into top contending teams and cup winners. The term from the basement to the penthouse is a classic way to descibe this, so drafting #1 can save a franchise.

  • Your owner and GM have to be on the same team. They have to realize when they feel the playoffs are out of reach and have to act fast. The annual trade deadline at the end of February is the final day they can help along the tank. The most obviously solution is to trade away established players on expiring contracts to playoff bound teams for draft picks or prospects. This will take an useful player out of your lineup and will be replaced by a less useful player. It's especially a bonus if this player is a top liner and on the powerplay or a defencemen in the top 4 that has some defensive upside. This year a good example is the Jets trading their captain, Andrew Ladd who is all of the above traded for a draft pick, conditional pick and a prospect (yet a top 6 player on the Jets) in Marko Dano. The Leafs traded a bunch of second and third liners for picks for players that will not help them win games. Times are desperate for the Leafs, but all might not be as gloomy if they score a Auston Matthews or sign Stamkos. Last year, the Coyotes, Leafs and the Sabres all made lopsided trades to worsen their teams, in fact the Sabres traded two top players (Myers, Stafford) for two consistantly injured players (Kane, Bogo), yet the Oilers still got the first pick.
  • Convenient injuries to key players. Timely injuries can cost a team a run to the playoffs and it'll be interesting whether the Penguins can overcome Malkin's injury he sustained this past weekend. He's scheduled to be out 6-8 weeks and the Pens only hold a slim 4 point lead over the Flyers for the final wildcard spot in the East. Cary Price's long term injury surely cost the Habs season, a team that almost always completes in the post season. The Jets were already on there way to being out of the playoffs, but key injuries to top line centre Bryan Little, Ondrij Pavelec, and rookie sensation, Nikolaj Ehlers have contributed to their demise. While Pavelec was injured, rookie Connor Hellebuyck played well and I would bet that he wouldn't have been sent back the minors when Pavelec returned if the Jets were still in contention.
  • Let the kids play. After the trade deadline, the Maple Leafs promoted five players from their AHL team. The Leafs also traded several regulars just before the draft, Dion Phaneuf, Shawn Matthais, Roman Polak, Nick Spalding, James Reimer and Daniel Winnik. The Jets current roster includes several players from the Moose taking up much of the 3rd and 4th lines. This lack of inexperience will surely expose the team to some holes and weaknesses and will lead to more "learning experiences (losing games). The only downside to dressing prospects is they will be trying to impress in hopes of landing a regular spot next season and their enthusiasm might become infectious.
  • The coach and players still want to win, but... A soft tank means you can't make it completely obvious the team is trying to lose on purpose. It gets tricky because the players and coaches don't want to lose. The coach is dealt the players the GM has provided to him and it's up to the coach to get results. A smart coach knows his job is always on the line and though the GM might secretly want losses, the coach is not guaranteed his job next year even if they get the top pick. Some GM's might want to go in a new direction and it's still the best interest for the coach to at least look like he's trying to get his team to win. The players are in a similar situation. There is a small core of players that are "untouchable" (Byfuglien, Scheifele, Wheeler, Ehlers), but the rest have to prove they have a place on the team next year. The coach has to balance the best situations to get the most or the least out of his players. If the skill level is not there, the coach could be off the hook when the losses pile up.
  • Keep the fans happy! Losing is tough and it doesn't help to sell tickets. The fans are paying the money for tickets, parking, merchandise, beer, 50/50 tickets and to help pay salaries of the players, coaches, arena staff...everyone involved in the organization. In Winnipeg, the ticket demand hasn't slowed much since the beginning, but the tickets for resale have increased when the hopes of playoffs is dead. You can actually buy tickets for face value right now (or less) for the remaining games and the patience of the fans will be tested. For a team to soft tank they have to win once in a while. The Jets have been dreadful this season especially at home, that's why Saturday's win over Colorado was so bittersweet. It restored some fans faith they have a team that still wants to compete and they feel not as bad when they lose in a close one. In cities like Toronto, Phoenix (or wherever they play) and Edmonton, losing has been the normalized. Hope of the next year or the next one is always promised, but in markets where the team has high hopes, you better appear to care by making little deals with the appearance of trying to improve the team. The "bandwagon" fans in cities such as Tampa Bay, Nashville, Carolina (Raleigh) and Florida (where?), their buildings are only full when they are winning or when they play a top team. Of course they have to resort to giveaway tickets to fans to prevent half filled buildings when the team sucks. For a team to soft tank they have to win once in a while, play hard, be entertaining and stay in close games. No one wants to cheer against the team, you want them to do well, but not win. The Jets for the most part have been finding ways to lose and it could go a long way to choosing higher in the draft.
There you have it, in my mind there are at least four teams that have a chance to choose #1. The Jets, Flames, Oilers and Leafs (so sad they're all Canadian teams) are within 4 points of each other, but you must remember the NHL draft will use a lottery system. The odds of getting the top pick is increased closer to the bottom of the standings. As it stands right now (March 14):
  1.  Toronto Maple Leafs- 20% odds, 57 pts, 68 GP
  2. Edmonton Oilers- 13.50%, 61 pts, 71 GP
  3. Calgary Flames- 11.50%, 61 pts, 68 GP
  4. Winnipeg Jets- 9.50%, 61 pts, 69 GP
Good luck, happy tanking!

Monday, March 07, 2016

Finally, Winnipeg Gets An Outdoor Game

It's official, the Winnipeg Jets are hosting the NHL Heritage Classic scheduled for Sunday, October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field. It will be the first outdoor game for the Jets, while their opponents, the Edmonton Oilers will appear in their second. As a bonus, alumni for both teams will play on Saturday, October 22 on the same rink. There seems to be just as much anticipation for the alumni game because of some of the possible participants which will include such greats as, Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Mark Messier, Teemu Selanne with many more big names announced later. I hear even "Slats" (Glen Sather) wants to be behind the bench and hopefully it fuels at least a fraction of the intensity of their long bitter rivalry from the 80's.

More information regarding ticket price and ticket selection will be announced at a later time, but I hear the tickets won't be cheap and as Jets fans are used to, they will be gouged big time. I'm hearing an average of $600 for the weekend games, which is crazy since tickets for the Stadium Series game in St. Paul with the Wild and Blackhawks in February went for between $150-450. I'm sure the league will remind us our tickets will be more expensive because the stadium seats less people, hmmm...Winnipeggers are getting tired of hearing that one again! Three words, small market team! Check the Jets website, for information regarding the announcement of the event (including FAQ) and any updates that will be announced soon.


 The Good:
  • It's an outdoor game! It's more of an event than just a game with much NHL related hoopla with a fan fair, concerts and maybe an opportunity (for more $$$$) to rub shoulders with the stars we grew up with (if you're in my age demographic) Jets and Oilers past and present.
  • The city of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Jets will be centre stage with national coverage and a battle between two young up and coming teams showcasing superstar-in waiting, Connor McDavid. This game counts in the standings and there's a good chance both teams won't be thinking about tanking yet.
  • The "Legends" alumni game featuring Jets and Oilers players from the 70's, 80's, 90's and whatever. Gretz, Ducky, Mess, Teemu, Anders, Ulfie, the Golden Jet, the Walrus, Khabi, Edzo, Jari, Coffey, the Rat, Cementhead, Tie...are confirmed or are possibilities. This game might actually generate just as much if not more attention and will definitely be a walk down memory lane for many fans of both teams including myself.
  • The game isn't scheduled for January or February, the coldest time of the year. I'm no wimp, but it will be much more comfortable in October. 
  • This will sell-out no matter what the tickets cost. Winnipeggers are starved for hockey and this is a good distraction from this year's crappy season.
The Unpredictable:
  •  The games are scheduled for October 22-23. Even though Winnipeg is known for it's brutal cold and excessive snowfall, this game is before Halloween and traditionally there isn't much snow on the ground yet. There's actually a better chance it could rain on this date which would be the worst case scenario. Imagine the cotton fake snow on the ground around the rink in a city where filmmakers actually come to Manitoba to film snow scenes. 
  • What if Connor is injured and can't play? McDavid suffered a long term injury this season that further proved the Oilers are the least exciting, worst team in the league without McDavid. Sure they have another quality player (Taylor Hall) and the future is bright, but they suck right now! At least there's a good chance Auston Matthews will be on one of these rosters.
No matter what possible setbacks there could possibly be for the event, it is sure to generate lots of hype and excitement for Winnipeg and the NHL. Since we know already both teams won't be playing too far into Spring, they should be rested up and ready to go for the start of the 2016-2017 season and this is a cool way to ease into the first month of the season. But WAIT, the World Cup Of Hockey is taking place in September...well, that's another story.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Playoff 1st Round Schedule

Yeah, it's that time again, pretty much the best time of the year, the NHL playoffs! Beginning this coming Wednesday the playoffs kick off in 4 series. Stay tuned, in the upcoming days (hopefully before Wednesday) I will give my bias opinion of who I think will advance to the next round. If the results of the first round are anything like previous years, my predictions will not be even close to how it really plays out.

Below are dates, times, national broadcast information and results for the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Information on the U.S. broadcast for games later in the round will be released as it is determined.
All times listed are ET and subject to change.

SERIES A - A1 vs. W2
Friday, April 18 7:30 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBCSN, TSN
Sunday, April 20 3 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22 7:30 p.m. Boston at Detroit NBCSN, TSN
Thursday, April 24 8 p.m. Boston at Detroit NBCSN, TSN
*Saturday, April 26 3 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC, TSN
*Monday, April 28 TBD Boston at Detroit TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Detroit at Boston TSN
SERIES B - A2 vs. A3
TIME (ET)    vs. 
Wednesday, April 16 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS, CNBC
Friday, April 18 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS, CNBC
Sunday, April 20 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBCSN
Tuesday, April 22 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NHLN U.S.
*Thursday, April 24 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS, CNBC
*Sunday, April 27 TBD Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBCSN
Tuesday, April 29 TBD Montreal at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS
SERIES C - M1 vs. W1
TIME (ET)  vs. 
Wednesday, April 16 7:30 p.m. Columbus at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC
Saturday, April 19 7 p.m. Columbus at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC
Monday, April 21 7 p.m. Pittsburgh at Columbus NBCSN, CBC
Wednesday, April 23 7 p.m. Pittsburgh at Columbus NBCSN, CBC
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Columbus at Pittsburgh CBC
*Monday, April 28 TBD Pittsburgh at Columbus CBC
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Columbus at Pittsburgh CBC
SERIES D - M2 Vs. M3
TIME (ET)    vs. 
Thursday, April 17 7 p.m. Philadelphia at NY Rangers CNBC, TSN
Sunday, April 20 Noon Philadelphia at NY Rangers NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22 8 p.m. NY Rangers at Philadelphia CNBC, TSN
Friday, April 25 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Philadelphia CNBC, TSN
*Sunday, April 27 Noon Philadelphia at NY Rangers NBC, TSN
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD NY Rangers at Philadelphia TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Philadelphia at NY Rangers TSN
SERIES E - C1 vs. W1
Thursday, April 17 9:30 p.m. Minnesota at Colorado CNBC, TSN
Saturday, April 19 9:30 p.m. Minnesota at Colorado NBCSN, TSN
Monday, April 21 7 p.m. Colorado at Minnesota NHLN U.S., TSN
Thursday, April 24 9:30 p.m. Colorado at Minnesota CNBC, TSN2
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Minnesota at Colorado TSN
*Monday, April 28 TBD Colorado at Minnesota TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Minnesota at Colorado TSN
SERIES F - C2 vs. C3
TIME (ET)    vs.    NETWORKS
Thursday, April 17 8 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC
Saturday, April 19 3 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC, CBC
Monday, April 21 8:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago CNBC, CBC
Wednesday, April 23 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBCSN, CBC
*Friday, April 25 8 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC
*Sunday, April 27 3 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBC, CBC
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Chicago at St. Louis CBC
SERIES G - P1 vs. W2
TIME (ET)    vs. 
Wednesday, April 16 10 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBCSN, TSN
Friday, April 18 10 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBCSN, TSN
Monday, April 21 9:30 p.m. Anaheim at Dallas NBCSN, TSN
Wednesday, April 23 8 p.m. Anaheim at Dallas CNBC, TSN
*Friday, April 25  10:30 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBCSN, TSN
*Sunday, April 27 TBD Anaheim at Dallas TSN
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Dallas at Anaheim TSN
SERIES H - P2 vs. P3
Thursday, April 17 10:30 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBCSN, CBC
Sunday, April 20 10 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBCSN, CBC
Tuesday, April 22 10 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBCSN, CBC
Thursday, April 24 10:30 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBCSN, CBC
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose NBCSN, CBC
*Monday, April 28 TBD San Jose at Los Angeles CBC
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose CBC
* - if necessary
(JIP) - joined in progress