Thursday, June 22, 2017

Winners and losers from the NHL expansion draft

The Golden Knights finally exist in a form beyond a name, a logo and a handful of free agents.

After last night’s expansion draft unveiling, the Knights finally have a full roster. And while it may not look all that much like the one they open the season with, it’s a start.

Let’s take a look at what the Knights gained and what everyone else around the league gave up, voluntarily or otherwise, as the first expansion draft of the cap era played out.

Here are the winners and losers from the last few days – and weeks, and months – of expansion maneuverings.

Winner: George McPhee’s creativity

The league made sure that the Knights would have some decent players to choose from, shifting the rules from previous drafts to make sure Vegas wouldn’t be left with a roster made up entirely of castoffs and has-beens. (Hey, $500 million has to buy you something.) So we knew that McPhee and his team would be able to find some talent.

But McPhee didn’t just grab the best available names and call it a day. Instead, he spent the weeks leading up to yesterday’s selections setting the table to cut deals with any team that wanted one. And when the time came, he was aggressive in getting those deals done. Heck, by the time this week rolled around, he was sounding like a mafia kingpin collecting protection money.

Not all of those deals will end up looking like winners, but they should add up to a solid foundation. That’s what yesterday was about, and McPhee and his front office worked hard to squeeze every drop of value they could out of the situation. They even showed a willingness to get creative, which is a trait sorely lacking in many of today’s GMs. That’s a good sign for the Knights’ chances of mattering once the new-car small has worn off in a few years.

Loser: George McPhee’s roster

The team is certainly better than some of the disasters that have emerged from expansion drafts in the past. But it’s not good.

With the obvious caveat that there are going to be some pending trades we don’t know about yet, some of the picks were head-scratchers. Passing on Detroit’s Petr Mrazek to take an AHLer who’ll be 25 on opening night, Tomas Nosek, seemed odd. Grabbing Deryk Engelland from Calgary was unexpected, although maybe the local connection plays a role there. Alexei Emelin, among others, felt like a reach.

Add it all up, and those “the Knights could make the playoffs in Year 1” takes already aren’t aging well.

And maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. McPhee probably could have built himself a decent team, or at least one that would have been good enough to hang around the edge of the playoff race. But that would have been short-term thinking. Instead, McPhee focused on the future, landing a pile of draft picks including two extra firsts for this weekend. Those are assets that will be far more important to the Knights’ long-term success than a few extra wins in 2017-18. If they stick to the plan, the Knights won’t be one of those expansion nightmares that misses the playoffs for the better part of a decade. They’ll get there sooner than later. But in the meantime… well, at least the uniforms are nice.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My 2017 awards ballot

I had the opportunity to cast a ballot for this year's awards. Now that they've been handed out, I can reveal who got my votes.

HART TROPHY

1. Connor McDavid, Oilers
2. Sidney Crosby, Penguins
3. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning
4. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
5. Brad Marchand, Bruins

NORRIS TROPHY

1. Brent Burns, Sharks
2. Erik Karlsson, Senators
3. Victor Hedman, Lightning
4. Mark Giordano, Flames
5. Shea Weber, Canadiens

CALDER TROPHY

1. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs
2. Patrik Laine, Jets
3. Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets
4. Matt Murray, Penguins
5. William Nylander, Maple Leafs

LADY BYNG TROPHY

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Flames
2. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
3. Mikael Granlund, Wild
4. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings
5. Oscar Klefbom, Oilers

SELKE TROPHY

1. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins
2. Mikael Backlund, Flames
3. Ryan Kesler, Ducks
4. Mikko Koivu, Wild
5. John Tavares, Islanders

NHL All-Star Team

CENTER -- 1. Connor McDavid, Oilers 2. Sidney Crosby, Penguins 3. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
RIGHT WING -- 1. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning 2. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks 3. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
LEFT WING -- 1. Brad Marchand, Bruins 2. Alexander Ovechkin, Capitals 3. Artemi Panarin, Blackhawks
DEFENSE -- 1. Brent Burns, Sharks 2. Erik Karlsson, Senators 3. Victor Hedman, Lightning 4. Mark Giordano, Flames 5. Shea Weber, Canadiens 6. Ryan Suter, Wild
GOALTENDER -- 1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets 2. Braden Holtby, Capitals 3. Cam Talbot, Oilers

NHL All-Rookie Team

FORWARD -- Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs; Patrik Laine, Jets; William Nylander, Maple Leafs
DEFENSE -- Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets; Ivan Provorov, Flyers
GOAL -- Matt Murray, Penguins




Before they were stars: Five top goalies who could have been had in an expansion draft

The picks are in, and we're just a few hours away from the big unveiling. The Vegas Golden Knights have officially filled out their first roster, and we'll find out what it looks like as part of Wednesday night's NHL awards show.

When the protected lists were announced on Sunday, much of the attention was on the goaltenders. From expected names like Marc-Andre Fleury to surprises like Roberto Luongo and Petr Mrazek to more speculative possibilities like Philipp Grubauer and Antti Raanta, there are plenty of intriguing options available for Vegas in goal.

Here's hoping they don't blow it.

Goalies are always the trickiest picks when it comes to expansion. The position is notoriously hard to project, and teams can usually only protect one or (occasionally) two. That's allowed new teams to hit on strong picks like Billy Smith, John Vanbiesbrouck and Bernie Parent over the years.

But they've also whiffed on a few future stars. And those missed opportunities can change the course of a franchise, or even NHL history. So today, let's look back on five of the best goaltenders to ever be exposed in an expansion draft, and why the incoming teams failed to take advantage.

(As always, Historical Hockey Blog is an invaluable resource for information about expansion draft protected lists.)

Rogie Vachon (1967)

When the NHL doubled in size, spelling the end of the Original Six era, the existing teams were initially allowed to protect just one goaltender. Once they lost a player at the position, they were allowed to protect another.

For some teams, there was an obvious choice for which goalie to protect. But the Canadiens found themselves in a dilemma, because for once they didn't have a dominant star in his prime. They spent the 1966-67 season splitting starts between 37-year-old legend Gump Worsley, dependable veteran Charlie Hodge, and rookie Rogie Vachon. Worsley was headed to the Hall of Fame, but Hodge had earned more playing time and Vachon had taken over for most of their playoff run.

In the end, the Habs protected Worsley, leaving Hodge and Vachon available. When it came time for the Golden Seals to make their first selection, they turned to Montreal's crowded crease. But they went with Hodge, who lasted just three years in California – just one of those as the starter – before being lost in the 1970 expansion draft. The Canadiens immediately added Vachon to their protected list, and the rest is history.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Babcock vs. Burns vs. Quinn: Comparing the three most important Leaf coaches of the modern era

The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to feature prominently at tomorrow’s NHL awards, with Auston Matthews heading in as the favourite to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. It would be the team’s first Calder in 51 years, and first major award of any kind since Jason Blake took home the Masterton in 2008.

But Matthews isn’t the only Maple Leaf with a shot at some hardware. Coach Mike Babcock is a finalist for the Jack Adams based on his work in his second season in Toronto. Leafs fans are a little more familiar with that trophy than they are with the Calder since Babcock is the third Toronto coach in the last 25 years to earn finalist honours early in his tenure. Pat Quinn was the runner-up for the award in 1999, while Pat Burns won it in 1993.

The similarities between the three coaches don’t end on awards night. So today, let’s compare and contrast the three most important Leafs coaches of the modern era, and their impact both on and off the ice.

Hiring drama

Babcock’s announcement that he’d chosen to join the Maple Leafs still ranks as one of the more dramatic moments in recent NHL history. And while his ending up in Toronto has come to feel somewhat inevitable in hindsight, that certainly wasn’t the case at the time. By the eve of the announcement, the Sabres had emerged as the favourites based on what was reported to be a monster offer from Terry Pegula.

The Leafs were still in play, but they weren’t alone, with San Jose lurking and the Blues rumoured as a possibility. At one point, it even seemed like a return to Detroit could be possible. Speculation reached a fever pitch — remember when we were all analyzing private-jet flight plans? — and as the clock ticked down, the Sabres seemed to have their man. According to some reports, the Leafs had already moved on to Guy Boucher as their plan B.

Then, the bomb dropped. The Leafs had won the auction, Babcock was headed to Toronto, Sabres fans were furious, and all hell broke loose. Like I said before: highly dramatic.

And that’s why it may surprise younger fans to know that the Burns hiring was even crazier.

Take all the madness of the Babcock situation, and then imagine that nobody knew he was even available to take a new job in the first place. That’s how it went down with Burns, who was hired as the Leafs new coach on May 29, 1992, despite still being the coach of the Montreal Canadiens that morning.

While he’d taken heat for the Habs’ disappointing playoff run, Burns’s job wasn’t thought to be in any danger. But he dropped the stunning news that he was quitting as Montreal coach at a noon news conference, only to then slide the microphone over to his agent, who announced that his client had already been hired by Toronto. Hours later, Burns was wearing a Leafs jacket at a press conference in Toronto. The entire story unfolded in fewer than five hours.

By contrast, Quinn’s 1998 hiring was fairly straightforward. The team had fired Mike Murphy three days earlier, and didn’t take long to settle on Quinn, who’d been dismissed earlier in the year by Vancouver. No flight plans, no surprise news conference, and no jaws dropping around the hockey world.

Edge: Babcock, but only because of the timing. If we’d had social media back in 1992, the Burns hiring might have broken hockey Twitter forever.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, June 19, 2017

Coming up with a protected list for every NHL team's all-time roster

After months of speculation, the big day finally arrived yesterday. The NHL released the protected lists for all 30 teams, setting the stage for the Vegas Golden Knights to make their picks and fill out their first roster on Wednesday.

It was the culmination of a long process for the league’s teams, with several having to make tough choices to get their list just right. And it capped off weeks of debate and discussion between fans over which players would make the cut and which would end up being exposed.

Those sorts of debates are always fun. So today, let’s stay in the expansion spirit by coming up with 30 more protected lists. But this time, we’re thinking a little bigger. We’re looking for each team’s all-time protected list, based on every player who’s ever suited up for the team.

Why yes, I did have some time on my hands over the weekend, thanks for asking. As always, we need some arbitrary rules before we get started, so let’s go with these:

• Every team can protect players from its all-time roster based on the rules from this year’s expansion draft, i.e. one goaltender and either seven forwards and three defencemen or eight skaters from any position. As with this year, players with less than two years of pro experience are exempt.

• In the case of players who played for multiple franchises, the team they played the most regular-season games for will get first crack.

• We’re counting a franchise’s entire history, meaning the Avalanche also get the Nordiques, the Hurricanes get the Whalers, etc. The original Jets are paired with the Coyotes while the modern version gets the Thrashers.

• We’re basing this on what a player did with that team, not what they may have accomplished elsewhere. For players who are still active, we’re also looking ahead to what they may do in the future.

• Given the crossover in eras, we don’t care about contracts.

Once we have all 30 protected lists, we’ll… well, we won’t really do anything with them. It’s not like the Golden Knights are looking to draft many guys from the 1940s, and George McPhee probably has his hands full over the next few days. This is mainly an excuse to argue, debate and call me an idiot in the comment section. That seems like as noble a purpose as any, so let’s get started.

Anaheim Ducks

The blue line isn’t as easy as you might think, since the two best defencemen in team history – Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger – will both show up on other rosters.

Forwards: Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Steve Ruchin, Andy McDonald, Sammy Pahlson

Defencemen: Oleg Tverdovsky, Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler

Goalie: J.S. Giguere

Toughest omissions: Ruslan Salei is the franchise leader in games played by a defenceman, but doesn’t make the cut here.

Arizona Coyotes (and original Winnipeg Jets)

There was some thought to going with eight skaters here to squeeze in Keith Yandle, but that would have cost us some old-school Jets.

Forwards: Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, Shane Doan, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Smail, Laurie Boschman, Paul MacLean

Defencemen: Randy Carlyle, Teppo Numminen, Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Goalie: Mike Smith

Toughest omissions: Goalie is a tough call, as it will be for most teams. We went with Smith over Bob Essensa and Nikolai Khabibulin, since he’s a Coyote for life. (Checks weekend headlines.) Oh.

Boston Bruins

As you’d probably expect, the Original Six teams will feature some of the toughest calls on our list. That’s especially true for the Bruins, who have to go with the eight-skater option thanks to a defensive corps that may be the best position group in league history.

Forwards: Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Rick Middleton, Cam Neely

Defencemen: Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Eddie Shore, Brad Park

Goalie: Frank Brimsek

Toughest omissions: Using four spots on defencemen costs us forwards like Wayne Cashman, Terry O’Reilly, Ken Hodge and Patrice Bergeron. But the toughest omission might be yet another blueliner, as they miss out on keeping Zdeno Chara.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet