Who will the Blues Lose in the Expansion Draft?


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By Mike Meyer

St. Louis Blues Writer

Dallas Stars Writer

Edmonton Oilers Writer

 

Over sixteen years have passed since the last time the NHL grew in its numbers. Sixteen years ago brought on the birth of the forest green, Minnesota Wild, and cannon-booming, Columbus Blue Jackets, to the NHL. The 2016-17 NHL season will be the last season played under that 30 team format and will lay the groundwork for the 31st team in Las Vegas. With this, an NHL Expansion Draft. Which oddly enough now feels like a version of The Hunger Games, NHL style. You’re welcome for that bit of marketing help, Bettman. Each team will have one player leave their roster in order to help stock up the new Las Vegas team, and will have the maximum of up to 11 players they can protect. The protection list that I have gone through was made with the scenario that management must choose their protected players as of today and the Las Vegas team would be set to start this upcoming season. Keep in mind that with the contracts expiring from Alex Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk in the upcoming offseason, it is likely that the two players can be adjusted on this list accordingly throughout the season. Should anything happen (or not) two others such as Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin can gain security. General Manager, Doug Armstrong has a nice situation with the fact that not one single player on his roster must be protected via a no-movement clause. Every single one of his choices will be just that, his choice. With that in mind, here are the choices, again as of today, that I would protect.

 

· Notable exempt:
o Jordan Schmaltz
o Robby Fabbri
o Colton Parayko
o Ville Husso
o Jordan Kyrou
o Ivan Barbashev
o Vince Dunn

 

7 Forwards – 3 Defense – 1 Goalie Option
· Tarasenko
· Stastny
· Steen
· Schwartz
· Lehtera
· Perron
· Berglund
· Pietrangelo
· Shattenkirk
· Edmundson
· Allen

 

The protection of the core forwards is a must. With Fabbri already being protected up front, and Parayko with the defensive group, options have opened up to protect players such as Edmundson, Lehtera, and Berglund. The likes of Tarasenko, Stastny, and Schwartz from this list will be together for at least the next few seasons, pending a surprising trade. With Backes gone, the ice-time will likely open up for Stastny to prove he can (and will need to) be an NHL number 1 Center again. Patrick Berglund has been rumored to be on the trade block for the last few seasons and after Lehtera’s regression last season, he will need to be at his best, should he not want to have his name on the trading block as well. With opting for the 8-3-1, Armstrong can ensure that his valuable players are not  lost for nothing.

 

8 Skaters – 1 Goalie Option
· Tarasenko
· Stastny
· Steen
· Schwartz
· Perron
· Berglund
· Pietrangelo
· Shattenkirk
· Allen

 

If Blues management would go this route, this would only put them to 9/11 possible protected. Doug Armstrong has options to go with and right now, but going with the 8 Skaters and 1 Goalie option (as of today) would be foolish to not protect some of his younger / depth assets.

 

Why not Bouw?

 

The Blues have been handcuffed due to Jay Bouwmeester’s contract and could use a relief. The 32 year old is currently owed $5.6 million in the 2016-17 season, and $5.4 million throughout the remaining 2 years of his contract. Bouwmeester has certainly seen his production fall of as he has only managed 27 points over the last 144 games he has played in St. Louis. Jay’s production has seen a slow decline over the last few years, until his first season in St. Louis where he saw a spike from 22 points that were split between the Blues and Calgary Flames, to 37. This could be a win-win scenario for the Blues to gain the cap space, and Las Vegas to gain a reliable, veteran defenseman that will also help them get to the salary cap floor. Though, Armstrong may not want to lose Jay for nothing, if there were a buyer at a fair price for the veteran defenseman, the trade would likely have been made already. If the Blues manage to rid of Bouwmeester, the options and cap space to keep Shattenkirk get a lot more interesting.

 

The upcoming 2016-17 season is a bit more important with not only the battles for spots in the nightly lineup, but the Expansion Draft looming over as well. Players who hope to continue or even start their careers in St. Louis but have a bit more to prove. The likes of Jori Lehtera, Dmitrij Jaskin, Patrick Berglund, Ty Rattie, and even Connor Bleackley could all be subject to availability in the upcoming expansion draft and very well could be headed to Las Vegas.

Blues Offseason Recap


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By Mike Meyer

St. Louis Blues Writer

Dallas Stars Writer

Edmonton Oilers Writer

Off-season Recaps. For some fan bases, this involves a look back on what great moves were made at the trade deadline and during the off-season, and a chance to say, “we’re gonna repeat and win again!”. For others, a chance to fully realize a loss and just how close they had gotten and to come away with nothing. No shiny objects, no parade down Market, no Captain. A loss of players, fan favorites, personnel, and a time to hold on to what bit of hope they might have left. Hope that a step back will not have to be taken when you had finally come so close.

Subtractions: (Captain) David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott, (AHC) Brad Shaw, (AHC) Kirk Muller

Additions: David Perron, Carter Hutton, Vladimir Sobotka , Ville Husso, Jordan Kyrou, (AHC / HC) Mike Yeo
Resigns / Extensions: Jaden Schwartz, Dmitrij Jaskin, Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall, Magnus Paajarvi, Jake Allen, Pheonix Copley, Ty Rattie, Chris Butler, Luke Opilka, Brad Hunt, Jordan Binnington, Danny Kristo, Jordan Caron

Blues fans, this can certainly be a proving season. A “coming of age” tale for some, or a straw that broke the camel’s back that can ultimately cause the Blues to take misstep in their quest for the Cup. The losses of David Backes and Troy Brouwer could prove to be monumental down the stretch in the regular season and in the playoffs. Let’s face it, their tenacity and “grind it out” style of play is something that Blues fans have grown accustomed to watching over the last few years. But it’s also a style that some fan bases are craving for on a regular basis. Though the style of play is still loved and admired by many, Blues fans also had to endure the amount of penalty minutes and controversy that this particular style of play would inevitably cause. Combined this past season, the two big-bodied power forwards, Backes and Brouwer, managed to rack up 145 penalty minutes, which in turn, would rank them first and fourth on the team, respectively. 145 total minutes that the Captain of the Blues and newcomer Troy Brouwer would be unable to help kill off. 145 minutes of fans sitting on edge while a one goal deficit could have grown to two, a tie could have been broken, or a one goal lead could have been tied and forced Overtime. And this only due to two of St. Louis’ key players.

St. Louis had a lot to be proud of this year. They reached the Western Conference Championship for the first time in 15 years. Second Place in the Central Division and Western Conference, despite the injuries at times to key players such as Steen, Schwartz, Allen and Elliott. The club finally earned and announced that a Winter Classic will be held at Busch Stadium on New Year’s Day against the Chicago Blackhawks. They made NHL history as the 11th team to post a four game shutout streak and only the fourth to do so since 1967. The team’s defense shined on as it ranked 4th in the NHL with only 201 Goals Against this past season and the team ranked 15th overall with 224 Total Goals Scored. Special Teams were able to do their job and stayed above the NHL average. St. Louis scored 51 total Power Play goals out of a possible 237 opportunities. The NHL average was 48 PP Goals and 255 Opportunities. The Blues this past season allowed only 41 total Power Play Goals Against out of a possible 276 Opportunities Against, while the rest of the League averaged 48 PP Goals Allowed and 255 Opportunities Against. Doing the math, the Blues managed a 21.52% Power Play conversion rate beating out an 18.56% League Average and achieved an 85.14% Penalty Kill throughout the season, while the rest of the League looked on at an average of 81.34%. St. Louis, you have a lot to be proud of from this team. Though they did not manage that parade down Market, a lot was accomplished from this squad. Hold your heads high.

With already having gone into depth of what Jake Allen taking over as the full-time starting goaltender in a previous article, let’s look at what the loss of impact players such as Brouwer and Backes could mean for this Blues team going forward and what will need replaced.

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Troy Brouwer

This one was a little bit tougher for me to understand after seeing what he signed for in Calgary. Troy Brouwer will be joining Brian Elliott as two of the newest members of the Calgary Flames for the 2016-17 season, after signing a  four-year, $18 million contract. This breaks down to $4.5 million per season, and includes a full No Trade Clause for the first two seasons, and a Modified No Trade Clause for the final two seasons of his contract, of which he can choose up to 15 teams that he cannot be traded to.

Troy was hoped by many in St. Louis to be a threat to the opposition for at least the next several years to come after being traded from the Washington Capitals in a deal that sent T.J. Oshie the other way. After seeing his determination, frustration, and desire to have the puck in the back of the net throughout the playoffs, Brouwer was hoped by many to stay. This was something that fans in St. Louis were not used to seeing from Oshie, as he typically faded during the postseason. He helped inspire others on his team to keep the level of play up and to keep battling. A true playoff leader to this squad.

Throughout the regular season, Troy was not the most offensive of players in the lineup. He managed to register 39 points in 82 games played. Though he has never been the most offensively minded player, Brouwer came within one point of tying his highest single season points total from the 2009-10 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. It would not be until the playoffs that Brouwer really stole St. Louis’ heart where he put up 13 points in 20 games and showed the tenacity of a player who wanted to do whatever it took to win. Though this was all to St. Louis’ favor, the statistic that alarmed and cautioned me about Troy’s future with the Blues, was the fact that Brouwer has now only managed 32 points in 98 career playoff games with Chicago, Washington, and St. Louis combined. Players have certainly had a history of cashing in on their playoff performances in previous seasons to boost their contract values for sure, so how much is he worth at this point. The statistic shows that 40.6% of his playoff points have come from his single postseason as a St. Louis Blue. Again, all of this now was to St. Louis’ favor, but was this just an anomaly or could this be counted on again next season? Was he truly in a better situation in St. Louis to put up more points in the postseason, or was it just a lucky year? The Calgary Flames have to hope for their sake that the performances from the two former Blues can be repeated with their young squad and to help carry them deep in to the playoffs. Without Brouwer to help lead the team this upcoming season, the Blues have learned and experienced what it takes to reach the Conference Championship. Who will be the player to step in to that role that Brouwer paved and put the team on their shoulders when the call comes?

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David Backes
The Captain. Drafted by the St. Louis Blues 62nd overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Started his professional career with the Blues AHL affiliate club, the Peoria Rivermen in 2005. He played his first game NHL game on December 19th, 2006 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Scored his first NHL goal against the LA Kings two days later. Backes has been given the opportunity to lead the Blues as Captain since September 2011, represent the Blues in the NHL All-Star Game in 2011, represent the United States on three separate occasions in the World Championships and on two occasions in the Olympics. The 32-year-old has gone on to play 727 NHL career games for the St. Louis Blues, while racking up 969 total penalty minutes. Ten seasons with the Blues, five as their Captain, Backes it all. As his career goes on now in Boston, you can only add more to the legend that is: David Backes.

Boston, however, must be cautious when deploying Mr. Backes. David played a majority of his ice time this season between the second and third lines for the Blues, and registered his lowest shooting percentage (12.5%) in the last three seasons. The contract that the Bruins have for David going forward is front loaded and can in turn be able to help them out, if in the event that they would need to trade him. With the final two-year of his contract only showing a price tag of $4 million, a player like David Backes could be worth the price should they decide to ship him out of Boston. Playing on a hypothetical line that has been drawn up with the likes of Bergeron and Marchand could very well help Backes to reach over 50 points again this upcoming season, and very well challenge him for 60. Falling even down to a 2nd line role with Spooner and Krejci, Backes could very well make fans excited in Bean Town as Backes could very well be the new Lucic.

It’s time to look forward to the future St. Louis. Time to see what the new leaders of St. Louis can bring to this team, and who potentially is running out of room and time to make an impact. There are several players this upcoming season that will have a lot determined from their play. Let’s dive in and take a look at a few notable players that will be watched closely in the 2016-17 season in St. Louis.

Jori Lehtera

The Finnish, 6’2” Center was drafted in 2008 by the Blues, 65th overall. After being drafted, he played only 7 games for the Peoria Rivermen, recorded one assist before he decided to return to the SM-Liiga (Finnish Elite League) playing for Tappara. From the 2008-2009 to the end of the following season, Lehtera would play 115 games for Tappara registering 28 goals and 88 assists. The 69 points in 57 games during the 2009-10 season would ultimately net him the title of MVP. After playing from 2010-2014 in the KHL, Lehtera signed a two year contract with St. Louis and decided to come Stateside. After his first season with the Blues posting 44 points in 75 games, he experienced a regression during his second season, posting only 34 points in 79 games. While chemistry with Tarasenko is essential and certainly helps his case, his ice time will perhaps be limited based off his production alone this upcoming season. Look for Hitchcock and new Head Coach In Waiting, Mike Yeo to try out combinations for that first line to play with Tarasenko and either Steen or Jaden Schwartz. If Lehtera can prove himself to be deserving of the minutes, a few more highlight real passes from Lehtera to Tarasenko just might be in store.

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David Perron

The former Blue, Oiler, Penguin, Duck, and Blue once more, has officially returned. Drafted in 2007 by the St. Louis Blues, the 28 year old Perron hopes to take what he has learned from his experiences with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Getzlaf and help out his former club once more. The 26th overall draft pick, Perron, has found patches of greatness in the last several years. Before his injury on, , David managed 42 points in 57 games. He was well on pace to top his career best 50 points in 81 games that came from his second season with the Blues. He would not return until , when he would play 48 games to finish out the season, managing only 25 points. Looking timid, and a somewhat ghost of his old self, Perron was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Perron spent two seasons with the Oilers. His first season, flashing again signs of what made him a first round draft pick by recording 57 points in 78 games, but recording an uncharacteristic 90 penalty minutes. Before this season, Perron’s highest penalty minute in a single season was marked at 60. He was caught too often taking bad penalty’s in the offensive zone and not playing defense when his team needed him. With a few changes in the offseason, and a mental plan to change and develop his game, David could keep projecting in Edmonton and help the Oilers turn their team around. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Registering only 19 points in 38 games, Perron would be traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He would only suit up for 86 games over the course of the 2014-15 to 2015-16 season, while scoring only 16 goals and 38 points. He was traded once more, to the Anaheim Ducks. It was here in Anaheim that David was given every chance to succeed; and he did.  David Perron went on to score 8 goals and 12 assists throughout his 28 games with the Ducks. He was a player to be reckoned with once more. Now, he has a chance to bring what he has learned from the best around the NHL, back to St. Louis. He has a second chance with the Blues organization to prove he is deserving of the opportunity. A chance to play now with a slew of players from veteran and former teammate, Alexander Steen, to up and coming star Robby Fabbri. Perron has a capability to be a 50+ point player this upcoming season. His fate with the Blues, however, that is up to him.

Robby Fabbri

20 years old, 5’10” and 180lbs. Certainly doesn’t seem like that impressive of a stature for a hockey player. Tell that to Robby Fabbri though. Drafted 21st overall in 2014, Fabbri got his first crack at the NHL this season. Averaginng 13:19 Time On Ice per game, posting 18 goals and 37 points, Fabbri certainly flashed signs of brilliance that has Blues fans giddy. It wasn’t until the post season that Fabbri would really take off. Fabbri was given more trust in the playoffs while he was able to prove through his performance. Averaging 14:22 through 20 games, Fabbri was able to take off 15 points in 20 games. This upcomming season will certainly have a lot more focus on Fabbri from the opposition. Certainly with the subtraction of Backes and the addition of Perron, it will certainly be interesting on how Hitchcock and Yeo deploy Fabbri. As the playoffs reflected the increase of his point production, Fabbri will certainly have a lot of supporters and be a cornerstone to build off of for the Blues to come for some time.

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Colton Paryako

Another impressive rookie campaign from a Blues player. The towering 6’6″ Parayko, tied for 10th overall on the team with 33 points and lead the team with an impressive +28 overall rating. As his career continues to flourish, his shot will look to continue to develop. A shot that has many comparing him to Shea Weber and even Fulton Reed (Mighty Ducks reference there for you) is a shot that many in St. Louis are excited to have on their side. In the playoffs, Parayko was a player that would be counted on as the one of the defensemen to help lead the Blues through the postseason and at times partnered up with Alex Pietrangelo. A second year NHL player, Colton Parayko is the player that could push General Manager, Doug Armstrong, to trade away Kevin Shattenkirk as Parayko can emerge in to a Top 4 role for the Blues.

Ty Rattie

Looked at to challenge for a spot on the NHL roster this upcoming season, Rattie was signed to a 1 year contract in a way that speaks as a “show me what’cha got” season ahead. Rattie spent a majority of his time this past season at the AHL level playing with the Chicago Wolves. In 62 games, Rattie managed 17 goals and 46 points. During his time with the Blues, Rattie was able to more than double his NHL points total. In the two prior season, Rattie played 13 games and totalled 2 assists. In the 13 games that Rattie played this season, averaging only 9:17 TOI, he managed 16 shots, 4 goals and 2 assists. He will certainly have his work cut out for him as he will likley battle a mixture of Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin for playing time.

Dmitrij Jaskin

Drafted 41st overall in 2011, Jaskin was hoped to take a higher role last year and push for a higher role on the Blues. He unfortunately saw a 5 point reduction while playing 11 more games. Playing in 65 games for the Blues and averaging 11:52 TOI, Jaskin was not able to match his 108 shots total from his 2014-15, coming in at 92. For the 2016-17 season, Jaskin will also look to improve on his 4.3% shooting percentage next season. As much as this upcoming season is his to prove what he can really do, Rattie will likely push for playing time. Jaskin once scored 99 points in 51 games during the  2012-13 season in the QMJHL. The Blues will hope that Jaskin is able to find his scoring touch at the NHL level. He too could be another player with a short leash and potentially on thin ice this season.

The St. Louis Blues have a lot to be excited for this upcoming season. The new contract for Jaden Schwartz helps solidify their faith in his role with the team and his leadership. Jake Allen taking over as the starting goaltender can help push him mentally as he trains this offseason knowing he is the guy. The likes of sophomores Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko will likely push for more and more ice time as the season goes on and their careers flourish. The battle that will happen all season long potentially between Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jori Lehtera and Paul Stastny battling for the 1C spot to center the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen and/or Jaden Schwartz. The return of Vladimir Sobotka from the KHL to prove that he is more than just a 4C and can push for potentially even a spot as high as the second line. A lot of questions and combinations can and will come from this forward group of Blues. The question becomes, will the new “Young Guns” be able to produce and take that next step to lead their Blues to victory.

Cap Constricted Hawks Reliant on Youth


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By Sean Ambrosia
Chicago Blackhawks Writer
            For the better part of the past decade, the Chicago Blackhawks have established themselves as a salary-cap era dynasty by building around a consistent core of all-star talent. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Brent Seabrook have all been major pieces of a team that has won 3 of the past 7 Stanley Cups. But cap considerations, caused largely by the contracts that Hawks have given to these stars, have forced the team to fill out the back end of their ’16-17 roster with unproven young talent. This summer, Chicago has lost Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teräväinen, Bryan Bickell, and Andrew Ladd, all of whom played important roles on cup winning squads with the franchise, to trades and free agency. The reacquisition of 2010 Cap winner Brian Campbell will help with defensive depth, but beyond the 37 year-old blueliner the Hawks haven’t really made a major move to replace their departing role players. GM Stan Bowman has shown confidence in the NHL readiness of his prospects, and if the Hawks are going to make a serious run at their 4th Cup in 8 years, they’ll need several of those prospects to step into impact roles and prove him right. Here are 4 of those NHL ready prospects who have the best chance of being significant pieces on the ’16-17 Blackhawks:
 

Nick Schmaltz– FWD

The Hawks’ 2014 first round pick signed a 3-year entry level deal in June, forgoing his junior year at the University of North Dakota, whom he lead to a national championship last season, to go pro. Schmaltz is widely considered the best prospect in the Hawks system, and in February was ranked the 36th best NHL prospect by TSN. Schmaltz impressed scouts with his performance for Team USA during the World Juniors last season. Like fellow UND alum turned Chicago Blackhawk, Jonathan Toews, Schmaltz is a Centerman who plays both side of the puck with grit, and shows the potential to develop into one of the team’s leaders. Known for his versatility as a forward, Schmaltz can also play on either wing as needed.
If Joel Quenneville decides to pair Marian Hossa with Marcus Kruger on the third line, as he experimented with at the end of last season, Schmaltz might be asked to fill a major hole next to Jonathan Toews on the first line. If not, Schmaltz is likely to make the team as a 3rd or 4th liner to start the year.

Tyler Motte– FWD

Like Schmaltz, Tyler Motte signed an entry-level contract with the Hawks this summer, rather than returning to the NCAA for his Senior year. The University of Michigan Wolverine was the 121st pick in the 2013 NHL draft, and his first two seasons in Ann Arbor were lackluster. Last year however, Motte exploded on to the scene putting up 56 points in 38 games, good for 3rd in the nation (behind his two Michigan linemates). His efforts last season won him a spot as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation’s best college hockey player. Motte also played briefly for the AHL Rockford IceHogs on an amateur try-out deal last season, posting up 5 points in 5 games. In addition to his point production, Motte’s defensive game is one of the best among Hawks forward prospects. In 2015, he lead all NCAA forwards in shot-blocks with 70.
If Motte starts the season in the NHL, the 5’9″, 190 lb winger would likely slot into the bottom 6. Despite his size howver, Motte eventually projects to crack the top 6, possibly replacing Richard Panik on the Toews line.

Ville Pokka– D

The Finnish D-man was a piece in the 2014 trade that sent Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders. The 24 year-old Pokka is a former 2nd round pick and an alum of the top Finnish Professional League. Pokka will represent his country in the World Cup of Hockey this fall, making him one of 12 Hawks players selected to World Cup rosters. Pokka has been described by scouts as an offensive-minded Defenseman with an excellent hockey sense who excels at moving the puck in transition. His talent for positioning and puck handling will fit very well with what Joel Quenneville wants out of  D-core.
Pokka has spent the past two season in the AHL with Rockford, but the Hawks’ depth issues may afford him the chance to play at the NHL level next season. However, with 4 of the defensive spots set going into the season, Ville will be competing for the remaining two starting slots with 3 or 4 of his teammates including Trevor van Riemsdyk, Victor Svedburg, and the newly acquired Michal Kempany.

Ryan Hartman– FWD

The Hawks have been hoping for their 2013 first round pick to break out for the past couple of seasons. The Chicago-area native has spent most of the past 2 years in the AHL, playing a grand total of 8 NHL games since he debuted in February of 2015. In Rockford, Hartman has scored 79 points in 139 games. Hartman is also known as one of the most penalized players in the AHL, racking up 257 minutes over the course of his time in Rockford. Hartman also has international experience; he won a gold medal as a member of Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors. Last August, ESPN ranked Hartman as the 66th best NHL prospect.
The Hawks are hoping that Hartman, who plays a gritty, versatile game, will develop into a top-6 version of Andrew Shaw. If Hartman makes the squad out of camp, Coach Q would probably to fit into the 3rd of 4th line to start the year.

On the Fence – Revamped Coyotes Defense


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By Tim Waugh

Arizona Coyotes Writer

 

Newly appointed Coyotes General Manager John Chayka (pronounced Shy-ka) has been a busy man since the beginning of the off-season, signing and re-signing forwards like captain Shane Doan to a 1-year deal, and former Anaheim Ducks winger Jamie McGinn to a 3-year $10 million contract. But the impact made in his few short months as GM has been felt most on the blue line. Reaching into what seemed like the shallowest of pockets in seasons past, Chayka has spent some serious cash (well, for the Coyotes) on some quality help for OEL and co. Paired with an exceptional first year at the draft-floor table in Buffalo this past June, the players brought in are exciting and a breath of fresh air for fans everywhere.

 

Headlining the list of new names patrolling the Arizona blue line this year is far-and-away my favorite Free Agent acquisition in years, Alex Goligoski.

 

After notching 37 points and finishing +21 with Dallas last year, “Goose” is exactly what we need. He is a defenseman who is always getting in on the play and making crisp passes while staying reliable in his end, one may argue him to be a “budget Duncan Keith.” His offense is definitely his upside, and will excel in a system like the Coyotes’ where scoring is generated from the net out. Now, Goligoski has taken flak in the past for being a “poor defender” due to his size (5’11” 185 lbs). But the way he plays isn’t that of a traditional defender, but very indicative of the current speed of the game, which Chayka is keen to stay ahead of the curve on. His mobility and puck-handling skills attribute to his ability to make a play in his own end and have the puck end up 200 ft. away from his crease, or more favorably, in the opposition’s net. Now that’s my kind of defending. I am personally ecstatic to see him in the fall and how he impacts the squad.

 

A much less impactful signing, Luke Schenn was also brought into the fold on a $2.5 million contract spanning 2 years. As a big-hitting, right-handed defenseman, he is polar-opposite to his new colleague Goligoski. His value will lie in his ability to shut down opponents and make big clean hits, nobody is looking to this guy for the game winning goal or a stretch pass on the PK to send Boedker (now San Jose) Rieder (?) Duclair up the wing for a shorty. But what he offers the most is a luxury AZ hasn’t seen in years, and that’s flexibility. The choices we now have in our bottom 6 are getting more attractive by the week. Behind us are the days of having to call up the likes of Alex Grant whenever Michalek had one of his famous “lower body injuries.”

 

The re-signing of both Connor Murphy and Michael Stone were excellent in my opinion. Locking up Murphy to a six-year deal with an AAV of $3.85 million is a low-risk high-reward situation. He’s already shown exponential growth in his game, going from a -27 in the 14-15 season, to a +5 and more than doubling his best for points this past season. At 23 years young he is entering the prime of his career and learning how to play from an All-Star like Ekman-Larsson is doing him wonders already. Stone is also solid, but the team needs him to become something greater. Hopefully he comes off his injury right where he left off and earns a lengthy contract with the club.

 

Right now, you can expect our D-pairings to look something like this:

Ekman-Larsson  – Murphy

Goligoski  – Stone

Michalek/Connauton/Chychrun  – Schenn/D’Angelo
Some of you will notice I left Klas Dahlbeck out, and that’s because I feel he is the lesser of our possible choices, and will only see ice this year if one of the aforementioned left-shot defenders are injured or 16th overall 2016 selection Jakob Chychrun is sent down after camp. A former top-5 draft pick, Schenn will undoubtedly start the season due to Stone recovering from his recent surgery, it will be a good time for him, a once 5th overall pick, to fight for his roster spot and his place as an NHL regular.

 

I’ll be diving into some prospects in more detail as the summer rolls on, but I want to focus a bit on one right now. Anthony D’Angelo is high on my list of players to see this year. His skill is only eclipsed by his attitude issues that have enshrouded him since his early-OHL days. His season with Tampa Bay AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch last year was a productive one however, notching 37 assists and 43 points in 69 games. His booming shot and eye for offense would be a welcome edition to any team, and some scouts have been bold enough as to say he is a future All-Star. If Tippett can keep the young stud’s slurs and outbursts to a minimum, D’Angelo could be one of the biggest steals in desert hockey history.

 

Jamie McBain, Jarred Tinordi, and Kyle Wood are all on the outer-reaches of roster-hood as well, which will make for an exciting training camp for Yotes fans. There is no doubt the skill level at the position of defense has grown, maybe not upwards as much as it has outwards. That being said, flexibility staves off complacency, and a group of players competitive for roster spots is a group of players competitive on the ice.

Passing the Torch – Life After Taylor Hall


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By Mike Meyer

Edmonton Oilers Writer

Dallas Stars Writer

St. Louis Blues Writer

 

What will life be like in Oil Country after the departure of Taylor Hall? That is a question that many figured would not have been asked for several years to come. Alas, here we are in 2016 asking the very question. Taylor Hall, the number one overall draft pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Since signing his first entry level contract with the Oilers, Hall has gone on to play in 381 games, netting 132 goals, and tallying a whopping 328 points. With Hall in the lineup, the Oilers have been able to grow accustomed to 0.86 points per game from just one skater each time he laced up those skates. The question now grows, who will take up the ice time and how will those points to accounted for with Hall gone?

 

The obvious answer right now that comes to mind would of course be Connor McJesus …err McDavid. With his rookie season looking at 48 points in 45 games (limited due to a broken clavicle) the Oilers hope that McDavid can produce even remotely to his 1.067 points per game consistently (so does his agent and future contract extension). Even if he dips below the point per game pace, as a sophomore, I think he will be more than making up for several players point production for seasons to come. Is it too much to expect for 80+ points from McDavid? 90? 100? Right now, the sky is the limit, and the NHL is his for the taking. *queue ‘Jump Around’ in 3…2…1…*

 

But that’s the easy way out. Let’s dig a little deeper. Who else is going to be looked at under the microscope just a little bit tougher now that Hall is out of the picture? Who else is going to feel the weight on their shoulders? I would first assume that, at the very least, 3 players who have a combined salary of $18 million per season will be on the first line. The likes of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and newcomer Milan Lucic are going to be added to this short list and held accountable each night by head coach, Todd McLellan, GM Peter Chiarelli and the rest of Oilers management. Now, by removing Hall and bringing in Lucic, the team has finally added an extra bit of grit to their squad. Something this team has desperately needed in their Top 6 for the last several years. But even this is still not deep enough. If your top guys can’t score, who else is going to win you the games? We’ve all seen it before. Kane can’t always be counted on to score each night. Tarasenko won’t always score that game winning goal. And certainly you can’t always hope that point production trends will stay the same season after season. Right Duchene? Winning is going to take a full team effort from this squad. Scoring from every line and from each of these guys will help project this team to the next level and in to the playoffs. So who else do you look to call on throughout this season?

 

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Patrick Maroon

The magic man for the Anaheim Ducks during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs certainly made his name known after registering 11 points in 16 games. However, Patrick only managed 13 points in 56 games to follow up his playoff performance, and certainly signaled for his inevitable trade. After his ice time was decreased and he was demoted to fourth line minutes at times, Maroon would be traded to the Oilers. He seemed once again to find his scoring touch as he managed 14 points in 16 games to finish out the season. It’s unlikely that he will be able to manage 0.875 points per game consistently throughout the 2016-17 season, but hey, that would certainly be welcomed. Oilers fans would rejoice if he kept up a 70+ point pace throughout this upcoming season.

 

Leon Draisaitl

Draisaitl was in all sense and purposes connected to the hip with Hall this past season. Leon first joined the team in 2014 seeing 37 NHL games. However, he only managed only 2 goals and 9 points during that timeframe. The team elected to send him back to the WHL to play for the Kelowna Rockets and to get more training and seasoning under his belt. There he would make a much larger impact scoring 19 goals and 53 points in 32 games. After certainly cementing his spot on the lineup after his AHL call up this past season, Draisaitl scored 19 goals and 51 points throughout 72 games. All of Edmonton must wonder now, will he continue to grow and shine with Taylor Hall out of the picture? Or will he struggle and repeat his 0.28 point per game pace from 2014-15? With the roster makeup currently, he is looking like the 3rd best center on the squad, behind McDavid and Nuge. He may not get the chance to shine automatically and will likely have to earn his ice time via the power play or force Nugent-Hopkins down or even out of the lineup entirely.

 

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Nail Yakupov

What more is there left to say about Nail Yakupov? Why am I even wasting time writing on this guy? Oilers fans are already showing that they’re ready to sell him for a few pucks and call it a win for removing his $2.5 million cap hit off the books. Figured at least then they might have better luck at scoring goals if they shot the puck themselves. For those who need a little bit of background on Nail and why we’re so harsh on this guy, let’s take a moment and we can try and figure out what went wrong.

 

Nail hails from Nizhnekamsk, Russia. To help fast track his journey to the NHL, Nail joined the OHL in the 2010 Import Draft and was selected by the Sarnia Sting, second overall. Yakupov would go on to play 107 games between 2010-2012 for Sarnia, registering 80 goals and 170 total points. Quick math breakdown, that’s a 1.59 points per game pace. Quick comparison time… from 2012-2015, McDavid registered 188 points in 167 games, for a 1.13 point per game pace in the very same OHL while playing with the Erie Otters. Okay, back to Yakupov. In 2012 he was drafted first overall by the Oilers. He returned to Russia to play in the KHL during the lockout recording 18 points in 22 games. Once the lockout ended, Yakupov returned and scored 31 points in 48 games. All was good in the world. Great rookie season for this kid and now it’s time to see what he can do with more training and a full NHL season under his belt. This guy is going places. *Buzzer* WRONG! But thanks for playing. Nail has gone on to play 204 more games since that rookie season with the Edmonton Oilers. 204 games in three seasons, and an underwhelming 80 points have been registered with his name attached to them. Even if Yakupov had not grown as a player, leveled off and maintained his point pace, he should still have at this time 131.75 registered points. So what happened? Certainly switching coaches can have an impact on a player, let alone having four different coaches since 2012. That can mess with a guy. But wait, that didn’t seem to slow down Hall or any other player to the degree that it has for Nail. So it must be something else. His shooting percentages have certainly decreased, despite his shot attempts projecting up each season before decreasing this past season.

 

 

Despite his shooting percentage decreasing each season, the percentage of shots making it to the net is actually steadily increasing from 50% his rookie season to just over 57% last year. Can it be that Nail is just a creature of habit and goalies are getting used to where he shoots and he is being nullified on his attempts? Is his accuracy decreasing so he’s not hitting his mark? He might not be converting right now in Edmonton but it certainly draws the question that with perhaps new coaching and a new environment, could he get back to his point pace that he set up from his rookie season or even better? Nail has a lot to prove this upcoming season. With Hall out of this lineup, it just might mean an extra chance to prove he still has got what it takes to earn a spot in the lineup. Even if it means shooting less and starting to pass more, Yakupov has got to figure it out for 2016.

 

Zack Kassian

The power forward style playing, substance abusing, right winger. Kassian has struggled to declare himself a consistent NHL player since making his first appearance in the NHL back in 2011. In 6 seasons since then, he has only managed to play in 234 games. Now, Kassian will not be able to take over Hall’s points. That much is obvious. However, Kassian can at the very least declare himself a consistent NHL player. Being able to go out each shift and helping defend against the opposition, limit down on the dumb penalties and making a name for himself along the boards will certainly help his cause. Who’s to say the Oilers can’t use the 6’3″ 213 pound forward to lay a few more shots on net to have someone ready for the rebound, or even be the rebound guy? He can take a note from Ryan Reaves who has certainly taken away his style of a grinder / fighter, has become a bit more tame in his attempts to help offensively for the Blues and earn a spot in the lineup each night. This goes along with the whole mindset of all rolling four lines and forcing the head coach to give him ice time. Kassian can be an anchor on the fourth line and lead by the example says everyone in this lineup should be held accountable every shift.

 

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Jesse Puljujarvi*

Ah the Wild Card choice. There’s always one. So why is Jesse even in this conversation to take over for Taylor when he hasn’t even made his NHL debut yet? I’m glad you asked. When Puljujarvi was taken fourth overall at this year’s draft over defenseman and fellow Finland countryman Olli Joulevi, Chiarelli made a unspoken statement to this group. He believes Jesse can be an upgrade to this group of forwards more than what is already there. The choice would not add to his defensive core that many expected him to go toward, but would ultimately force Hall out of the picture to New Jersey in order to get the upgrade to his defense via Adam Larsson. The big question is, will Puljujarvi be able to live up to the hype of a fourth overall draft choice? Will he mirror the 39 points in 71 regular season games he has played in Liiga or will he mirror the 36 in 27 international games played?

And All the Wings’ Horses and All the Wings’ Men…


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By Jeffrey Otto
Detroit Red Wings Writer
Washington Capitals Writer
 . . . wondered how they’d get to the Playoffs again.
Pavel Datsyuk, the Magic Man of Hockeytown, left Detroit for the KHL last month, leaving a tremendous vacuum in his wake.  Hockey, like nature, hates a vacuum and seeks to fill it.  The problem is, how many players, and at what price, would it take to fill such a void as the one left by Datsyuk’s departure?  The hockey world quickly agreed that acquiring soon-to-be-UFA Steve Stamkos from the Lighting would be the perfect filler.  Oddly enough, nobody informed Stamkos of this; not only did he not sign with Detroit, he didn’t even give them a seat at the table of the teams with whom he spoke before re-upping with the Bolts.  “Oh bother,” as Winnie the Pooh likes to say.
All was not lost, however.  On July 1 the Wings signed free agent Islander center Frans Nielsen to a six year deal.  Nielsen is no Datsyuk, but he will go a long way in filling that void that Datsyuk left behind.  The 32 year-old Dane was the first from his country to be drafted into the NHL and leads all NHL Danes in scoring.  According to the Wings’ official website, Nielsen is the NHL’s all-time leader in shootout goals with 42, including 17 shootout-deciding goals, and his 51.2 shootout percentage is fifth-best all-time among players with 20-or-more shots.  On top of that, in his 606 NHL games he has only totaled 112 penalty minutes!  How many times during the Playoffs did you hear “stay out of the penalty box” as one of the keys to winning the game at hand?  Nielsen has only missed seven games since the 2011-12 season. The ability of players to stay healthy is arguably as much a factor of success as is skill; you can’t play if you’re broken (just ask Stamkos).  Sports Nation SB writer Pat Iversen called Nielsen “the best center on the free agent market” and noted that Nielsen “can help Detroit’s power play, bolster their penalty kill and keep their second line chugging along at a productive pace.”  Not to mention the leadership and Playoff experience he’ll bring to the locker room.
That same day, Detroit re-signed two of its own:   center Darren Helm to a five-year contract and defenseman Alexey Marchenko to a two-year contract.  Following that, they signed free agent left wing Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract.  Vanek, 32, has amassed 649 points (316-333-649) in 817 games over his 11-year NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild.  The 2009 NHL All-Star has also totaled 34 points (20-14-34) in 63 Stanley Cup Playoff games.  Vanek’s accolades are impressive and he should prove to be a very smart pick-up for the Red Wings, albeit only for one year. “He definitely has all the talent, he can score goals, he’s good on the power play,” said former Islander and now once again teammate Frans Nielsen.  “He’s definitely gonna bring some offense, he played with (John) Tavares and (Kyle) Okposo here on a line and when he’s on his game he’s up there with Tavares skill wise. He could be the steal of this free agency.“  Unless Nielsen himself is.
Later that same day, Detroit acquired Blues forward Steve Ott on a one year deal.  A hamstring injury limited Ott to just 21 games last season, but he returned to the lineup during the playoffs for nine games, tallying one assist and eight penalty minutes.  All told, Ott has logged 795 games, 281 points and 1,475 penalty minutes in his 13 year NHL career, playing for the Stars, Sabres and Blues.  “I play a hard style of game, obviously I try to compete extremely hard and make other compete,” Ott was quoted as saying on the Wings’ official website. “I’m a depth guy later on in my career but I’m somebody who can play center, take face offs, I’ve always been one of the top guys on our penalty-killing team every single year.”  He also brings leadership experience, having captained the Sabres and served as an alternate captain for the Blues.  Ott is versatile and should be able to play all three forward spots as a bottom-six contributor.  His gritty, agitating style of play will be a welcome addition to the Detroit line-up.
None of these players, individually or collectively, will replace Pavel Datsyuk, and no one with any hockey sense would expect such.  It might be best thought of as the Red Wings “transitioning to a new season” just as they had to when Gordy Howe said good-bye to Detroit.  The next few years will prove to be transitional indeed:  Datsyuk is gone, Nielsen begins a six year stint, Athanasiou and Larkin are up-and-coming, Zetterberg is approaching retirement, and Vanek and Ott are only on board for one year.  It should be an exciting one year in Hockeytown, as the old guard and new guard team up to give the Joe Lewis Arena an appropriate send off in its final season.  And it goes without saying that there could be no better send off than to raise the Stanley Cup one final time under Joe’s hallowed roof.
*Petr Mrazek was re-signed by Detroit after this article was written.

Trust the Yzerplan


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By Joseph Justice

Tampa Bay Lightning Writer

 

Trust the Yzerplan. That is the mantra down here in Tampa when it comes to personnel decisions. Since taking the position of General Manager in 2010, Steve Yzerman has shaped and reshaped the roster with a clear determination to build a winning organization. The results have been solid as the team has made at least the conference finals in three of his six seasons. Even with those results, faith in Stevie Y hit an all-time high when he won this year’s free agent frenzy by not losing. Yet.

 

Signing All-Star forward, and face of the franchise, Steven Stamkos to a manageable deal was almost too good to be true. Yzerman followed up by extending defenseman Victor Hedman long term. Both deals look like masterstrokes within the Yzerplan. However, the team will face major salary cap implications next offseason when key contributors Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Brian Boyle, Jonathan Drouin, and Ben Bishop all become free agents. And here is where Yzerman took a gamble. About an hour after the announcement of the Hedman extension, the Lightning announced another extension. Andrei Vasilevskiy, with a year left to go on his entry level contract, was given a three year extension at 3.5 million a season.

 

Hindsight is going to make an interesting bedfellow for this deal. The contract most likely signals that Ben Bishop is headed out the door in Tampa. A combination of cap space and the pending Las Vegas expansion draft apparently leave him as one of the odd men out. The 21-year-old Russian net minder is coming off a well-reviewed effort in the conference finals, and clearly possesses a ton of natural talent. But will that talent translate into a consistent starting goaltender? The point is that three or four years from now this extension will either look spectacular or terrible.

 

The body of work for Vasilevskiy is quite limited. He has only started in 34 NHL games, and about the same amount for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. As someone who had never played on North American ice until two years ago, it means he is probably still adapting to the game. His raw numbers have been good, and due to Ben Bishop’s playoff injuries, He has even appeared in 12 playoff games (7 as the starter). However, his limited body of work makes predicting his future difficult at best. Here are a few past examples for comparison:
Player Starts Record Save % GAA
Goalie A 34 18-15-1 .913 2.60
Goalie B 28 16-13-2 .914 2.53
Goalie C 19 24-14-2 .909 2.34
Goalie D 34 10-13-4 .912 2.62
Goalie E 28 10-10-4 .916 2.55

 

Vasilevskiy is Goalie A, all the other goalies had fairly comparable bodies of work as all as backups. They all ended up as starters for the Lightning as well. They are, in order, Anders Lindback, Mike Smith, Dan Cloutier, and Marc Denis. It would be fair to say none of them worked out. That isn’t to say the same fate awaits Vasilevskiy, who is likely more talented than anyone in that group, it is simply to say that it is very difficult to predict what will happen when he becomes the full time starter.

 

Trust the Yzerplan, that is the mantra down here. Yzerman has earned that trust, but thanks to Vegas, he had to roll the dice on one of the most important decisions in franchise history. Now we wait to see how they land.