Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Best Meteorologist In Canada

Poor judgement? Probably.

Poor taste? Possibly.

Hilarious? Not quite, but almost. (or, as proven in the video, yes, if you know the guy):

Unicorns are people, too.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Calgary Flames

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Winnipeg Jets star forward Johnny Gaudreau).
GM: Brad Treliving (since 2014). 6/10
Coach: Bill Peters (since 2018). 7/10

2018-19 record: 50-25-7, 107 points (1st in Pacific Division, 1st in Western Conference).
Playoffs: Lost in the first round to Colorado in five games.

Departures: James Neal (G), Curtis Lazar (C), Mike Smith (G).

Arrivals: Milan Lucic (LW), Brandon Davidson (D), Cam Talbot (G).

Top forwards: Johnny Gaudreau (80-105 points), Sean Monahan (70-85 points), Elias Lindholm (65-80 points), Mathew Tkachuk (50-70 points), Mikael Backlund (40-55 points), Michael Frolik (35-45 points), Sam Bennett (40-50 points), Derek Ryan (30-35 points), Milan Lucic (15-20 goals, 30 points).

Must-improve forwards: Lucic has been a highly-paid ghost for two season; Bennett can remain in the middle-six with a 40-point production.

Top defensemen: Mark Giordano (40-50 points, captain), Noah Hanifin (30-35 points), T.J. Brodie (30-45 points), Travis Hamonic (25-30 points), Rasmus Andersson (20-35 points), Michael Stone (10-15 points).

Goalies: David Rittich (83/100), Cam Talbot (78/100).

Top prospects: Jusso Valimaki (21 years old, D, 2017 first-round pick), Jakob Pelletier (18, LW, 2019 first-round pick), Martin Pospisil (19, RW), Dmitri Zavgorodny (19, C), Dillon Dubé (21, C).

The Flames are a tremendous hockey team, and while I'm not sold on their coach (see last year's playoffs for when strategy and/or psychological help could have helped pure talent overcome a harder-working opponent that wasn't nearly as deep), I'm willing to give him anotehr season before throwing him under the bus.

But the Flames have a very strong defense, top-5 in the league, and a lot of very good forwards, led by the 99-point Gaudreau. You can't afford to squander too many of these star players' prime years on poor coaching and semi-solid goaltending - ask Jarome Iginla, who only got to one Stanley Cup Final despite having the best goalie in the world on his team for five straight years.

Prediction: 2nd in the Pacific Division, 4th in the NHL.

Monday, September 30, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Winnipeg Jets

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Winnipeg Jets star defender Dustin Byfuglien).
GM: Kevin Cheveldayoff (since 2011). 7.5/10
Coach: Paul Maurice (since 2014). 7.5/10

2018-19 record: 47-30-5, 99 points (2nd in the Central Division, T-4th in the Western Conference).
Playoffs: Eliminated in Round 1 by the St. Louis Blues in six games.

Departures: Jacob Trouba (D), Kevin Hayes (C), Tyler Myers (D), Ben Chiarot (D), Matt Hendricks (C), Marko Dano (LW), Nic Kerdiles (LW), Brandon Tanev (RW), Joe Morrow (D), Par Lindholm (LW), Bogdan Kiselevich (D).

Arrivals: Gabriel Bourque (RW), Neal Pionk (D), Mark Letestu (C), Anthony Bitetto (D).

Top forwards: Mark Schiefele (80-85 points), Blake Wheeler (75-90 points), Patrik Laine (65-75 points, 40+ goals, hopefully), Kyle Connor (55-70 points), Nikolaj Ehlers (60-65 points), Bryan Little (40-50 points), Mathieu Perreault (45-50 points), Jack Roslovic (35-45 points), Adam Lowry (25-35 points), Andrew Copp (20-30 points).

Must-improve forward: used to be regarded as a potential second-liner, but now, on his fifth team, he mans the fourth and plays around 13 minutes per game.

Top defensemen: Dustin Byfluglien (50-55 points if he plays), Josh Morrissey (35-45 points), Dmitry Kulikov (20-35 points), Nathan Beaulieu (20-30 points), Neal Pionk (20-30 points), Ville Heinola (20-25 points), Tucker Poolman (10 points), Anthony Bitetto (5-10 points).

Goalies: Connor Hellebuyck (89/100), Laurent Brossoit (80/100).

Top prospects: Ville Heinola (18, D, 2019 first-round draft pick), Kristian Vesalainen (20, LW/RW), Logan Stanley (21, D, 2016 first-round draft pick), Andrei Chibisov (26, LW/RW), Leon Gawanke (20, D), Sami Niku (22, D), Luke Green (21, D).

What team can overcome losing two-thirds of its regulars on the blue line and three left wingers? The answer should be "none", but the Jets have the resources to try, with elite forwards like captain Wheeler, Scheifele and Connor, elite-to-be sniper Laine, and one of the best supporting casts on forward in the game. Unfortunately for them, all but one (Tampa Bay Lightning) of those deep-at-forward teams play in the West: Vegas Golden Knights, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators.

The Jets also have a Vezina-worthy goalie in net to help alleviate losing the likes of Trouba, Myers and Chiarot, but no one in the NHL can replace a Byfuglien should he choose to retire. That is one roster move that will certainly hurt Winnipeg's chances of advancing in the playoffs, and could even be big enough to have them miss the post-season dance altogether.

Needless to say, I came up with these in late August when Big Buff was still slated to be at his usual position on the back end:

Prediction: 5th in the Central Division, second Wild Card in the West, 15th overall.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Chicago Blackhawks

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Chicago Blackhawks turn-of-the-millennium power forward Éric Dazé).
GM: Stan Bowman (since 2009). 9/10
Coach: Jeremy Colliton (since 2018). 7/10

2018-19 record: 36-34-12, 84 points (6th in the Central Division, 10th in the Western Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Departures: Dominik Kahun (RW), Cam Ward (G), Anton Forsberg (G), John Hayden (RW), Marcus Kruger (C), Chris Kunitz (LW), Gustav Forsling (D), Henri Jokiharju (D), Artem Anisimov (C).

Arrivals: John Quenneville (LW), Andrew Shaw (RW), Olli Maata (D), Calvin De Haan (D), Robin Lehner (G), Alex Nylander (RW), Zack Smith (LW/C).

Top forwards: Patrick Kane (80-95 points), Alex DeBrincat (60-80 points), Jonathan Toews (60-75 points), Brandon Saad (45-60 points), Andrew Shaw (30-45 points), Dylan Strome (35-50 points), Zack Smith (30-35 points), Drake Caggiula (30-35 points), Alex Nylander (30-35 points), Brendan Perlini (25-35 points).

Must-improve forward: Nylander was once thought of as a high-lever prospect, like his brother in Toronto. The Buffalo Sabres finally gave up on him and the Hawks paid a hefty price to acquire him, so he needs to realize he won't get much of a better shot anywhere else if ever.

Top defensemen: Duncan Keith (45-55 points), Calvin De Haan (30-35 points), Brent Seabrook (25-30 points), Erik Gustafsson (25-30 points), Slater Koekkoek (15-20 points), Olli Maata (15-20 points).

Goalies: Corey Crawford (92/100 when healthy), Robin Lehner (91/100).

Top prospects: Kirby Dach (18 years old, C, third-overall pick in 2019 draft), Reese Johnson (21, RW), Philipp Kurashev (19, C/LW), Nicolas Beaudin (19, D), Adam Boqvist (19, D), Chad Krys (21, D).

Yes, I have them finishing sixth in the Central, but they'll still likely be ahead of the fourth team in the Pacific; it's just that the Central is so powerful, with the ever-stacked Nashville Predators, the still-great-without-a-defense Winnipeg Jets, the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, the Cup-contending Dallas Stars and the surging Colorado Avalanche that it's borderline unfair (this year).

The extra year's experience to young cats DeBrincat and Strome will benefit them greatly, and the Hawks improved their back end tremendously with the additions of Lehner, Maata (if he can stay healthy) and De Haan. Now if they could only get rid of Seabrook's contract so they don't have to protect him over more-deserving younger options for the expansion draft...

GM Bowman made a very questionable move in acquiring Nylander. You do not want to recycle Buffalo's garbage (they haven't made the playoffs in eight straight seasons for a reason), it's never a clean deal, and it's worse when you overpay. Unless he plans to make a move on the Edmonton Oilers' grumpy prospect Jesse Puljujarvi. After all, the Caggiula deal turned out ok for Chicago, so maybe there's something in the tundra that a bit of wind can help cleanse.

Prediction: 6th in the Central Division, 20th overall.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Colorado Avalanche

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Colorado Avalanche summer-long RFA stress-inducing star forward Mikko Rantanen).
GM: Joe Sakic (since 2014). 8/10
Coach: Jared Bednar (since 2016). 5.5/10

2018-19 record: 38-30-14, 90 pts. (5th in the Central Division, 8th in the Western Conference).
Playoffs: Lost in seven games to the San Jose Sharks in Round 2

Departures: Semyon Varlamov (G), Tyson Barrie (D), Carl Soderbergh (C), Alex Kerfoot (C), Sven Andrighetto (RW), Patrik Nemeth (D), Gabriel Bourque (RW).

Arrivals: Nazem Kadri (C), André Burakovsky (LW), Kevin Connauton (D) Pierre-Édouard Bellemare (C), Joonas Donskoi (RW).

Top forwards: Nathan MacKinnon (80-105 points), Mikko Rantanen (75-85 points), Gabriel Landeskog (65-70 points), Nazem Kadri (45-60 points), Joonas Donskoi (30-40 points), Tyson Jost (30-45 points), J.T. Compher (35-40 points), André Burakovsky (30-45 points), Colin Wilson (25-35 points).

Must-improve forward: There was a time when the Washington Capitals had two prized prospects: Evgeny Kuznetsov and André Burakovsky. One became a top-line forward, the other one is on a one-year "show-me" deal with the Avs that spells out "if this doesn't work out, there is always the KHL".

Top defensemen: Cale Makar (35-45 points), Samuel Girard (35-40 points), Erik Johnson (20-40 points), Nikita Zadorov (20-30 points), Mark Barberio (10-15 points), Ian Cole (10-15 points).

Goalies: Philipp Grubauer (83/100), Pavel Francouz (74/100).

Top prospects: Bowen Byram (18 years old, D, fourth-overall draft pick in 2019), Josh Anderson (21, D), Josh Dickinson (21, C), Nicholas Henry (20, RW), A.J. Greer (22, LW), Connor Timmins (21, D).

Sakic's been doing a great job building the team he wants to see on the ice, imposing it to head coach Bednar, and just watching them play.
There's a wealth of talented youth on defense with Makar, Girard and Byrm - enough so that the GM was comfortable enough to trade his #1 guy in Barrie.

The offense will once again be the motor of this team, and now with added depth, we may not just be talking about a Wild Card team anymore, at least not for the next few years.

Prediction: 2nd in the Central Division, 7th in the NHL.

Friday, September 27, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Montréal Canadiens

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Montréal Canadiens young forward Artturi Lehkonen).
GM: Marc Bergevin (since 2012). 6.5/10
Coach: Claude Julien (second stint, since 2017). 6.5/10

2018-19 record: 44-30-8, 96 points (4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify

Departures: Andrew Shaw (RW), Jordie Benn (D), Antti Niemi (G) Nicolas Deslauriers (LW).

Arrivals: Ben Chiarot (D), Nick Cousins (C), Keith Kincaid (G).

Top forwards: Brendan Gallagher (60-65 points), Jonathan Drouin (55-65 points), Max Domi (55-65 points), Phillip Danault (50-55 points), Tomas Tatar (50-55 points), Artturi Lehkonen (25-35 points), Paul Byron (35-45 points), Jesperi Kotkaniemi (25-40 points), Joel Armia (20-30 points).

Must-improve forwards: Drouin tied a career-high with 53 points, a  mark that is made even more astonishing considering he registered only a handful of points in the final 20 games of the season. I say "astonishing" because that seems like current market value at $5.5M on the cap, but also because a lot more was expected of the third-overall pick in 2013, the player many thought was the one feeding teammate Nathan MacKinnon the quality passes he needed to score. At this point, Drouin should have been a 60-65-point player. He's not that far off, and he was certainly on pace to achieve that last year for two-thirds of the season, but his creativity is not something head coach Julien promotes, so unless he actually does get his name on the score sheet every game, he'd better be "good without the puck" and ready to grind it out on a fourth line, because his career is in stasis unless he gets a fresh start.

Top defensemen: Shea Weber (30 points), Jeff Petry (30-35 points), Mike Reilly (30 points), Brett Kulak (10-15 points), Ben Chiarot (20 points), Victor Mete (15-25 points).

Goalies: Carey Price (84/100), Charlie Lindgren (79), Antti Niemi (75/100).

Top rookies: Noah Juulsen (22 years old, D, 2015 first-round draft pick, concussion issues), Cayden Primeau (20, G), Cale Fleury (20, D), Nick Suzuki (20, C, first-round pick in 2017), Ryan Poehling (20, C, first-round pick in 2017), Joël Teasdale (20, C), Jake Evans (23, C).

We touched upon the Drouin situation earlier. Other players on tight leashes include depth defenseman Xavier Ouellet, would-be middle-six winger Charles Hudon, and grizzled veteran Alex Belzile. All three are francophones, so expect them to play for the AHL's Laval Rocket for most of the season.

Also, we're entering Year 13 of the "The Cup Comes Through Price Or Not At All" era, and - you guessed it - it won't be for this year either. Mr. "14% of the team's cap hit" is clearly on a down slope after his lone excellent post-heavy season from 2014-15, and Primeau will take over his job in the next three years.

Will it be as close as last year, missing the playoffs by just a coupel of points? Probably. But it's a "no" all the same.

Prediction: 5th in the Atlantic Division, 18th in the NHL.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Vegas Golden Knights

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Vegas Golden Knights top-line winger Jonathan Marchessault).
GM: Kelly McCrimmon (since 2019). 8/10
Coach: Gerard Gallant (since 2017). 8.5/10

2018-19 record: 43-32-7, 93 points (3rd in the Pacific Division, 7th in the Western Conference).
Playoffs: Lost in Game 7 of Round 1 against the San Jose Sharks.

Departures: Nikita Gusev (LW), Colin Miller (D), Erik Haula (C), Ryan Carpenter (C), Pierre-Édouard Bellemare (RW), Maxime Lagacé (G).

Arrivals: Jaycob Megna (D), Garret Sparks (G).

Top forwards: Mark Stone (50-70 points), Alex Tuch (50-60 points), Paul Stastny (50-60 points), Jonathan Marchessault (50-60 points), Reilly Smith (45-55 points), Max Pacioretty (35 goals, 50 points), William Karlsson (50-55 points), Tomas Nosek (25-30 points), Brandon Pirri (20-30 points), Valentin Zykov (20-40 points), William Carrier (10-20 points).

Must-improve forward: Pirri, but just because I kind of have to put someone in here. With how stacked the top-six is, other players aren't going to get enough ice time to join in on the point-producing cart.

Top defensemen: Shea Theodore (30-40 points), Nate Schmidt (25-30 points), Nick Holden (10-15 points), Brayden McNabb (10 points), Jon Merrill (5-10 points).

Goalies: Marc-André Fleury (93/100), Malcolm Subban (77/100).

Top prospects: Cody Glass (20 years old, C, 6th-overall pick at the 2017 draft), Marcus Kallionkieli (18, C), Paul Cotter (19, C), Dylan Coghlan (21, D), Brayden Pachal (20, D), Jake Leschyshyn (20, C).

In just two seasons, the Golden Knights went from having a terrific balanced roster with former 40-goal scorers (James Neal) and plenty of youth, with an average age below 25 to one with two full 1B lines (including possibly the best one in hockey, comprised of Stone, Stastny and Pacioretty) and an average age closer to 30.

The defense remains a no-name brand (apart from Theodore and Schmidt), but they have proven that they can get the job done for two straight seasons (as long as Fleury's healthy in net).

For now, the only prospect that could make a serious dent in the line-up is Glass, who turn professional by force this year.

The team traded away a lot of its high-priced depth this year in an attempt to sign Gusev. They may have done better to trade Pacioretty and retained more bodies, because they may have a good, balanced offense, one of the best coaching staffs in the game and one of the five best goalies of the past three years (in each season, not just combined), they're two injuries away from needing to seriously hustle to get their playoff spot ahead of the lowly (but surging) Edmonton Oilers.

As it stands, however, no one in the Pacific can touch them, even if the Calgary Flames may come close at times during the regular season.

Prediction: 1st in the Pacific Division, 2nd in the NHL.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Pittsburgh Penguins

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Pittsburgh Penguins superstar defenseman Kris Letang).
GM: Jim Rutherford (since 2015). 8/10
Coach: Mike Sullivan (since 2015). 8/10

2018-19 record: 44-26-12, 100 points (3rd in the Metropolitan Division, sixth in the Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Swept in four games by the New York Islanders in the first round.

Departures: Phil Kessel (RW), Matt Cullen (C), Nick Bonino (C), Olli Maata (D).

Arrivals: Pierre-Olivier Joseph (D), Alex Galchenyuk (C/LW), Dominik Kahun (RW), Brandon Tanev (LW/RW).

Top forwards: Sidney Crosby (80-95 points), Evgeni Malkin (80-90 points), Jake Guentzel (60-70 points), Alex Galchenyuk (50-60 points), Nick Bjugstad (35-40 points), Patric Hornqvist (35-40 points), Bryan Rust (25-30 points), Brandon Tanev (25-30 points), Jared McCann (25-30 points).

Must-improve forwards: Hornqvist may have slowed down due to injury (mostly a huge concussion), so that's not his fault and likely cannot be repaired. Bjugstad, however, could stand to become the 50-60-point producer he was made out to be when the Florida Panthers drafted him. And it's as good a time as any for Galchenyuk to hit the 30-goal mark again, what with likely lining up with Malkin and reaching free agency in the summer.

Top defensemen: Kristopher Letang (55-70 points), Justin Schultz (30-35 points), Erik Gudbranson (20-25 points), Brian Dumoulin (20-25 points), Jack Johnson (15-20 points).

Goalies: Matt Murray (92/100), Casey DeSmith (76/100), Tristan Jarry (75/100).

Top prospects: Pierre-Olivier Joseph (20 years old, D), Emil Larmi (23, G), Nathan Légaré (18, RW), Calen Addison (19, D), Kasper Bjorkqvist (22, RW), Samuel Poulin (18, W), Jordy Bellerive (20, C).

I'm one of those who sees value in having a rough, no-nonsense guy like Gudbranson on a shut-down defensive pairing, so I won't hold that against GM Rutherford, the fact that more than a third of his team's cap hit ($28M) is allocated to ten (!!) defensemen. Back when they were winning Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, their defense was a joke, now it can at least defend.

Schultz is proving that his 51-point season in 2016-17 was an outlier and that we should expect some 30-35 points on his part if he plays the 60-65 games the injuries will let him suit up for, and no more than 40 if he goes a full season. And that's where having good defenders comes in handy.

Up front, Crosby can turn any player who can keep up with him into a 35-40-goal player, and the winger "du jour" is Guentzel, so good for him. Now Malkin can do the same with Galchenyuk. It really was a regrettable luxury to have to put a star like Kessel on the third line because he didn't get along with 87 or 71 - he still put up upwards of 80 points with plugs and defensively-minded players, but you can't have that in the cap era.

So, yeah, the Pens are aging, they haven't made any significant improvements and most of the other teams in their division have gotten much better. The window is closing, slowly but surely, yet with big-game players like Malkin, Letang, Murray and even Crosby (I don't buy into his narrative as much, if you can't tell, I'm more of the opinion that while he's very good, a lot of the hype was created by the media), said window remains open as long as they can carry the team on their shoulders.

Prediction: 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, 14th in the NHL.Unless the Columbus Blue Jackets get themselves an NHL #1 goalie before the Holidays, then they leapfrog five teams including the Pens.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Edmonton Oilers

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom).
unfortunately, no, that middle one is not a joke
GM: Ken Holland (since 2019). 7.5/10
Coach: Dave Tippett (since 2019). 7/10

2018-19 record: 35-38-9, 79 points (7th in Pacific Division, 14th in Western Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify

Departures: Andrej Sekera (D), Cam Talbot (G), Milan Lucic (LW), Tobias Rieder (LW), Ty Rattie (RW), Anthony Stolarz (G), Al Montoya (G).

Arrivals: Mike Smith (G), James Neal (LW), Markus Granlund (LW) Tomas Jurco (LW), Josh Archibald (RW), Ken Holland (GM), Dave Tippett (head coach).

Top forwards: Connor McDavid (95-110 points), Leon Draisaitl (85-95 points), James Neal (30 goals, 50 points), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (45-65 points), Sam Gagner (40-50 points), Alex Chiasson (35-45 points), Zack Kassian (25-35 points), Markus Granlund (25-40 points) Tomas Jurco (20-30 points).

Must-improve forward: James Neal had an abyssal year with the Calgary Flames, after starting his career with ten-straight 20-goal seasons, most of them close to 30 (and a high of 40 in 2011-12). He will bounce back. Even if he disapponts, he'll get 20.I expect he'll be given a chance to play with at least one of McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH - possibly even two at a time - and will score 30.

Top defensemen: Oscar Klefbom (25-45 points, depending on injury status), Darnell Nurse (35-50 points), Evan Bouchard (25-30 points), Ethan Bear (15-20 points), Adam Larsson (15-20 points), Matt Benning (15-20 points), Kris Russell (15 points).

Goalies: Mike Smith (81/100), Mikko Koskinen (79/100).

Top prospects: Evan Bouchard (19 years old, D, 2018 first-round pick), Caleb Jones (22, D, point-per-game defenseman in the WHL), Ethan Bear (22, D), Tyler Benson (19, LW), Kailer Yamamoto (20, RW, 2017 first-round draft pick), Ryan McLeod (20, C), Kirill Maksimov (20, RW).

The revolving staff door is closed with Holland taking the GM position hostage until he retires. At least he'll have a singular vision that he'll see through, whether it works or not. As far as his first head coach pick, Tippett, I was never really sold on him, he never brought a fringe team to the playoffs (save for that one year in Phoenix where Mike Smith played like a Vezina winner). But I spoke to players who had him in Dallas and Phoenix, and they all had good things to say about his being a "players' coach". Unfortunately, the Oilers need an "Xs and Os" guy, but maybe someone who will have their backs when things start to go sour will help.

I've read a lot about Holland not doing much this summer and how the Oilers were essentially in stasis, but he bought out Sekera, let a few UFAs leave and did the unthinkable: traded the so-called "worst contract in hockey" (Milan Lucic) for a perennial 20-goal scorer who can still hot 30 (Neal). That's a miracle in itself.

Of Holland's time in Detroit, Oilers fans need to be made aware of a few facts: he inherited the team that won the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cups, but the 2008 one followed by a Cup Final in 2009 was all his doing, with his guys. The reason why the Wings extended their consecutive playoff series to 26 seasons was because he made it happen. That's the good.

He also created the prolonged rebuild process by handing out lucrative contracts to aging veterans he wanted to reward, because he is loyal to a fault. To a fault. To. A. Fault. He needs to take a page out of the, well, Oilers playbook, like his successor Steve Yzerman is currently doing in Motown: hand out fair contracts, asure the player he will keep on getting compensated well with a front-office job when retirement comes, even if it's a year early like it did a few weeks ago with Niklas Kronwall.

Prediction: 4th in the Pacific Division, 21st in the NHL. Out of the playoffs by a couple of points.

Monday, September 23, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Carolina Hurricanes

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen).
GM: Don Wadell (since 2018). 7.5/10
Coach: Rod Brind'Amour (since 2018). 7.5/10

2018-19 record: 46-29-7, 99 points (4th in Metropolitan Division, 7th in Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Lost in the Eastern Conference Final in four games against Boston

Departures: Scott Darling (G), Curtis McElhinney (G), Justin Williams (RW), Calvin De Haan (D), Adam Fox (D), Nicolas Roy (C), Micheal Ferland (LW), Aleksi Saarela (C), Justin Faulk (D).

Arrivals: James Reimer (G), Erik Haula (C), Ryan Dzingel (LW), Gustav Forsling (D), Anton Forsberg (G), Joel Edmundson (D).

Top forwards: Sebastian Aho (70-85 points), Teuvo Teravainen (70-75 points), Andrei Svechnikov (20 goals and 40-50 points), Nino Niederreiter (40-50 points), Jordan Staal (40 points), Ryan Dzingel (30-40 points), Erik Haula (30-40 points), Warren Foegele (30-40 points), Martin Necas (30-40 points).

Must-improve forward: Not sure if he'll improve, but it sure seems like Staal has plateaued and started to regress.

Top defensemen: Dougie Hamilton (45-55 points), Jaccob Slavin (40-50 points), Jake Gardiner (35-50 points), Joel Edmundson (20-30 points), Brett Pesce (15-20 points).

Goalies: Scott Darling (75/100), Mrazek (73/100).

Top prospects: Haydn Fleury (23 years old, D, former first-round pick), Julien Gauthier (21, RW, 2016 first-round draft pick), Martin Necas (20, C, 2017 first-round draft pick), Ryan Suzuki (18, C), Jesper Sellgren (21, D), Jake Bean (21, D, 2016 first-round draft pick), Dominik Bokk (19, LW/RW).

Good on them for gaining experience by making a deep run in the playoffs, but without Justin Williams to lead the way - and without a captain wearing the "C" in replacement - they may very well regress.

The fact that they have no true #1 goalie is a huge problem in a division where seemingly every other team improved by a fair margin. If they do not acquire a true "name" goalie, they will be at the bottom of the standings; if they nab one before CHristmas, they're a Wild Card team again.

Prediction: 7th in the Metropolitan Division, 24th in the NHL (without an improvement in net).

Sunday, September 22, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Tampa Bay Lightning

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Victor Hedman).
GM: Julien BriseBois (since 2018). 9/10
Coach: Jon Cooper (since 2013). 7.5/10

2018-19 record: 62-16-4, 128 points (1st in the Atlantic Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Eliminated in four games in Round 1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Departures: Ryan Callahan (LW), Dan Girardi (D), Anton Stralman (D), J.T. Miller (RW), Adam Erne (RW).

Arrivals: Curtis McElhinney (G), Kevin Shattenkirk (D), Scott Wedgewood (G), Luke Schenn (D), Luke Witkowski (D), Mike Condon (G), Gemel Smith (LW), Patrick Maroon (RW).

Top forwards: Nikita Kucherov (85-115 points), Steven Stamkos (65-85 points), Brayden Point (65-85 points), Ondrej Palat (50-60 points), Tyler Johnson (45-55 points), Alex Killorn (35-45 points), Anthony Cirelli (30-35 points), Kunitz (25-30 points), Yanni Gourde (35-40 points), Cédric Paquette (15-25 points), Patrick Maroon (15-25 points).

Must-improve forwards: Killorn and Johnson are getting paid like 50-60-point producers, respectively, and both are producing close to 10 points below expectations. Maybe the top two lines are getting too much ice time and the guys stuck in the middle are the ones oin the middle of the line-up who could likely score a full line higher on any other team are paying the price for it. The problem is, with the Lightning being so cap-strapped in the next few years, if J and K do not rpoduce, the Bolts may not be able to justify and, furthermore, afford to pay them second-line money for third-line production.

Top defensemen: Norris candidate Victor Hedman (50-70 points), Ryan McDonagh (20-25 points), Mikhail Sergachev (35-45 points), Kevin Shattenkirk (20-30 points), Luke Schenn (5-10 points), Braydon Coburn (10-15 points).

Goalies: Andrei Vasilevskiy (91/100), Curtis McElhinney (79/100).

Top prospects: Nolan Foote (18 years old, LW), Gabriel Fortier (19, C), Cal Foote (20, D), Oleg Sosunov (21, D), Alexander Volkov (22, W).

No matter what they did this summer - even if they had forced Point to remain at home as an unsigned RFA - they would have been everyone's pick to finish first overall. They are the only team this deep at every position, with elite award-winners from the past two years (Kucherov, Hedman, Vasilevskiy) at every position, and an award-winner from a few years ago (Stamkos) still producing on the first line.

Still, they went and got the best free agent backup goalie, to save Vasi some late-season fatigue; they re-signed Point to an affordable cap hit; they acquired the big-name free agent from two summers ago (a washed-up Shattenkirk) to shore up their bottom-three on defense at a reasonable cap hit because the New York Rangers are still paying him handsomely for not playing on their team via a buyout.

This is specifically the kind of line-up the salary cap was supposed to never let happen, but that was notwithstanding Florida's taxation system - or lackthereof.

Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference, 1st in the league.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Dallas Stars

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Dallas Stars superstar Alexander Radulov).
GM: Jim Nill (since 2013). 8/10
Coach: Jim Montgomery (since 2018). 8/10

2018-19 record: 43-32-7, 93 points (4th in the Central Division, 6th in the Western Conference).
Playoffs: Lost in seven games to the St. Louis Blues in Round 2.

Departures: Jason Spezza (C), Mats Zuccarello (RW), Valeri Nichushkin (LW), Tyler Pitlick (C), Ben Lovejoy (D), Brett Ritchie (RW).

Arrivals: Joe Pavelski (C), Corey Perry (LW), Andrej Sekera (D).

Top forwards: Tyler Seguin (75-85 points), Alexander Radulov (75-85 points), Jamie Benn (55-70 points), Pavelski (50-65 points), Roope Hintz (50-60 points), Perry (40-45 points), Radek Faksa (25-35 points), Andrew Cogliano (30-40 points), Martin Hanzal (20-30 points), Mattias Janmark (20-35 points), Blake Comeau (20-25 points).

Must-improve forwards: Corey Perry has been on a downward spiral for years now, except now he's also injury-prone. The Stars are hoping a one-year "show-me" deal will be enough motivation for his scoring touch to come back, but this one seems as doomed to fail as when folks still believed in Jonathan Cheechoo a few years ago.

Top defensemen: John Klingberg (50-60 points), Miro Heiskanen (50-60 points), Esa Lindell (20 points), Sekera (20-35 points), Stephen Johns (20-25 points), Julius Honka (15-25 points), Jamie Oleksiak (10-15 points), Roman Polak (10-15 points).

Goalies: Ben Bishop (93/100), Anton Khudobin (81/100).

Top rookies: Ty Dellandria (19, C), Ondrej Vala (21, D), Benjamin Gleason (21, D), Tye Felhaber (21, C), Riley Damiani (19, C).

Expect the Stars to have a slightly better season than last year, as they look to build on what they had, and Benn can't possibly be that ineffective again. However, do not expect any miracles from the grizzled veterans acquired via free agency: Pavelski may have scored 38 goals last year, but he'd scored in the 20s for the two years prior, and he's 35 years old now. The drop-off will be huge when he does start declining - not to mention the fact that he suffered a serious concussion in last year's playoffs.

As stated above, Perry might just be done. Which leaves Sekera as a depth free agent signing who might have an impact in the bottom-three on defense.

Still, the Stars had a comparable roster to the Stanley Cup champion Blues team that eliminated them, with less depth on defense. They hope Sekera solves some of that, and that one of the former prospects like Johns, Honka and Lindell breaks through. They will be Cup contenders this year as well - all they need is to take advantage of one crack, one favourable seed, just a bit of luck to make their way through the West. And as we saw last year, it might not even be the Bolts waiting in the Final.

Prediction: 3rd in the Central Division, 12th overall.

Friday, September 20, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Vancouver Canucks

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's former Vancouver Canucks two-way forward Steve Bozek).
GM: Jim Benning (since 2013). 5.5/10
Coach: Travis Green (since 2017). 6/10

2018-19 record: 35-36-11, 81 points (5th in the Pacific Division, 12th in the Western Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify

Departures: Ryan Spooner (C), Luke Schenn (D), Markus Granlund (LW), Ben Hutton (D).

Arrivals: Jordie Benn (D), J.T. Miller (LW), Oscar Fantenberg (D), Tyler Myers (D), Micheal Ferland (C).

Top forwards: Elias Pettersson (75-85 points), Bo Horvat (65-75 points), Brock Boeser (55-70 points), Ferland (40-50 points), Miller (40-50 points), Sven Baertschi (35-45 points), Brandon Sutter (35-40 points), Tanner Pearson (35-40 points), Loui Eriksson (25-35 points), Antoine Roussel (30-40 points if healthy, could miss as much as half the season due to last year's knee injury).

Must-improve forwards: Eriksson was never close to living up to his $6M cap hit, but he's now considered to have the worst contract in the NHL. Can he play well enough to get himself out of the conversation for third-worst contract? Baby steps...

Top defensemen: Quinn Hughes (20-35 points), Troy Stetcher (20-30 points), Chris Tanev (20-25 points), Alexander Edler (15-25 points), Myers (15-25 points), Benn (10 points).

Goalies: Jacob Markstrom (83/100), Thatcher Demko (80/100).

Top prospects: Hughes (19 years old, D, 2018 first-round draft pick), Olli Juolevi (21, D, 5th-overall pick in 2016), Jett Woo (19, D), Kole Lind (19, RW), Adam Gaudette (22, C).

Take Myers' cap hit out of the equation (he's making nearly the same as he was on his previous deal anyway) and, as a pure "add", does he improve the Canucks' blue line? Yes, no question.

There is good youth on that roster and coming up the ranks, enough to make for a solid core: Pettersson is a lock for 35-40 goals per year, with a ceiling of 50 maybe two or three times; Boeser; Horvat; Ferland has grit and leadership; Hughes has all-world talent on the blue line; Demko is showing promise in net. All of them are currently too skinny for a long postseason run, so they'll all need to bulk up, and Ferland and Roussel will have to re-up long-term to protect them anyhow

They're still lacking in experience, so they can't go head-to-head with the likes of Calgary, Vegas, Nashville, Dallas or even St. Louis just yet, but in two or three years' time, I could see it happening.

Prediction: 5th in the Pacific Division, 22nd overall.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Toronto Maple Leafs

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Antropov).
GM: Kyle Dubas (since 2018). 6/10
Coach: Mike Babcock (since 2015). 8/10

2018-19 record: 46-28-8, 100 points (3rd in the Atlantic Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Eliminated in seven games in Round 1 by the Boston Bruins

Departures: Patrick Marleau (F), Ron Hainsey (D), Nikita Zaitsev (D), Jake Gardiner (D), Nazem Kadri (C), Connor Brown (RW), Garrett Sparks (G), Josh Jooris (RW), Tyler Ennis (RW), Calle Rosen (D).

Arrivals: Tyson Barrie (D), Alexander Kerfoot (C), Jason Spezza (C), Pontus Aberg (LW), Cody Ceci (D), Kenny Agostino (F), Jordan Schmaltz (D).

Top forwards: Auston Matthews (80-90 points), John Tavares (75-90 points), Mitch Marner (75-90 points), William Nylander (60-65 points), Andreas Johnsson (50-65 points), Kasperi Kapanen (50-60 points), Alexander Kerfoot (40-45 points), Pontus Aberg (30-40 points), Connor Brown (35-40 points), Zach Hyman (30-35 points), Spezza (30-35 points).

Must-improve forward: In 2016, Aberg looked like he would be on the Nashville Predators' second line for his entire career, with a point totals forecast between 40 and 60 for the duration of it - until he hit a wall. Now 25 years old and on his fifth NHL team in a year and a half, he's just trying to stick to a roster.

Top defensemen: Morgan Reilly (55-60 points), Tyson Barrie (55-60 points), Cody Ceci (20-25 points), Jake Muzzin (10-15 points), Ben Harpur (10-15 points), Martin Marincin (10 points).

Goalies: Frederik Andersen (84/100), Michael Hutchinson (73/100).

Top prospects: Travis Dermott (22 years old, D, 2015 second-round draft pick who will spend the year on LTIR), Nicholas Robertson (18, LW, 2019 second-round draft pick), Jeremy Bracco (22, RW), Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (19, C), Rasmus Sandin (19, D, 2018 first-rounder), Timothy Liljegren (20, D, 2017 first-rounder).

So, all this time rebuilding and their "win-now" window is... this season. That's right, come summertime, they're likely to lose their new #1 defenseman Barrie to free agency, their current #4 Ceci and will be cap-strapped so the Nylander trade will finally happen.

This after re-hauling half their roster this summer..

And Dubas has to juggle all that - and his poor contract negotiations leading to overpay on his top four forwards - while keeping a smarter, more experienced and better-connected Babcock happy. Keep in mind, Dubas is analytics-minded and Babcock is so old school he prefers to have an equal number of left- and right-handed defensemen on the ice, pretty much regardless of overall roster. He's even kept an All-Star off the ice at the Olympics for being the fourth-best right-hander on the team, despite his also being the fourth-best defender on it.

One thing working in Dubas' favour is the fact that Babcock has already made most of the actual money on his $80M contract and probably wouldn't have any trouble finding employment elsewhere, so the split may even be amicable.

Oh, and in purely hockey-related terms as to why the Leafs won't win the Stanley Cup this year (meaning, other than "1967" and "it's in the water"): despite the addition of Spezza, there are too many egos on the team and not enough leadership; too many defensively-minded defensemen, not enough guys who can move the play forward from their own end; Freddie Andersen's an ok #1 goalie, above-average, but far from the elite-level legend the Toronto media make him out to be. He's not even an afterthought when I make lists of my "true" best goalies list - he was my #10 last year. Seeing him any higher will set you up for major disappointment.

Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division, 5th overall, but another early playoff exit.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: New Jersey Devils

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, representing the New Jersey Devils, journeyman goaltender Mike McKenna, for whom the Devils were one of 15 NHL organizations).
GM: Ray Shero (since 2015). 7.5/10
Coach: John Hynes (since 2015). 5/10

2018-19 record: 31-41-10, 74 pts. (8th in the Metropolitan Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Departures: Brian Boyle (C), Keith Kincaid (G), Kurtis Gabriel (RW), Kenny Agostino (LW), Stefan Noesen (RW), Ben Lovejoy (D), Drew Stafford (RW), Eric Gryba (D), Eddie Lack (G).

Arrivals: P.K. Subban (D), Wayne Simmonds (RW), Nikita Gusev (LW), Connor Carrick (D), John Hayden (RW).

Top forwards: Taylor Hall (70-80 points), Nikita Gusev (50-65 points), Jack Hughes (40-45 points), Travis Zajac (30-45 points), Nico Hischier (40-55 points), Blake Coleman (30-40 points), Jesper Bratt (30-40 points), Pavel Zacha (30-40 points), Simmonds (20-30 points).

Must-improve forward: Do not expect Simmonds to ever go back to being a productive power forward. Powerplay specialist? Perhaps. But betting on him to get more than 30 points seems unrealistic at this juncture. It would be nice if he went back to 20-25 goals, but it's unfair to expect it of him at this point in time, now that his body is bruised and aching from years of sacrifice to enrich his teammates.

Top defensemen: P.K. Subban (45-60 points), Will Butcher (30-40 points), Damon Severson (30-40 points), Sami Vatanen (20-35 points), Andy Greene (10-15 points), Mirco Mueller (10-20 points).

Goalies: Corey Schneider (77/100), Mackenzie Blackwood (81/100).

Top prospects: Hughes (18 years old, C, 2019 first-overall pick), Jesper Boqvist (20, F), Michael McLeod (21, C, 12th overall pick in 2016), Jérémy Groleau (19, D), Ty Smith (19, D), Nathan Bastian (21, RW).

The Devils might be the most-improved team in the league, or at the very least, second to the New York Rangers, with whom they will be nearly tied at year's end. Getting Taylor Hall back for an entire season might even push them into the playoff picture, what with the additions of Subban, Highes, and Gusev (the best forward playing in Europe in 2018-19).

However, if they do make it to the postseason, it won't be for a long time; they don't have the coaching nor the goaltending to advance further than the first round, and overcoming those two obstacles is too much for any excellent defense and strong-if-top-heavy forward group.

.Eventually, Blackwood will grow into the #1 role and supplant Schneider - then we'll talk "contender status".

Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division, 17th in the NHL.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Boston Bruins

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney).
GM: Don Sweeney (since 2015). 8.5/10
Coach: Bruce Cassidy (since 2017). 8/10

2018-19 record: 49-24-9 107 points (2nd in Atlantic Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Lost Stanley Cup Final in seven games to Blues.

Departures: Marcus Johansson (RW), Noel Acciari (F), Lee Stempniak (RW), Jordan Szwarz (C), Gemel Smith (LW), Zane MacIntyre (G).

Arrivals: Brett Ritchie (RW), Par Lindholm (LW), Brendan Gaunce (LW), Maxime Lagacé (G).

Top forwards: David Pastrnak (75-85 points, might crack the 40-goal mark), Brad Marchand (70-85 points, 35 goals), Patrice Bergeron (55-70 points, amazing face-off numbers), David Krejci (60-65 points), Charlie Coyle (30-40 points), Jake DeBrusk (35-40 points), Danton Heinen (20-30 points), David Backes (20-35 points).

Must-improve forward: David Backes. He's 35 years old, with two more years left on his deal paying him $6M per. His points totals since 2013-14: 57, 58, 45, 38, 33, 20. Notice a trend? He's a prime candidate for a buyout next summer.

Top defensemen: Torey Krug (45-60 points), Charlie McAvoy (45-50 points), Brandon Carlo (20-35 points), Matt Grzelcyk (20-35 points), Zdeno Chara (15-20 points), John Moore (15-20 points).

Goalies: Tuuka Rask (92/100), Jaroslav Halak (92/100).

Top prospects: Connor Clifton (24, D), Urho Vaakanainen (20, 18th overall pick in 2017, D), Axel Andersson (19, D), Zachary Senyshyn (22, 15th overall pick in 2015, RW), Jakob Sboril (22, 13th overall pick in 2015, D), Jakub Lauko (19, C/LW).

Head coach Cassidy keeps getting improved results with a roster full of should-be-aging veterans, and instead just reinvigorates it with the right amount of youth at the right moment in the ideal spot.

Rask and Halak are the best goaltending tandem in the league. The former was a Conn Smythe favourite and the latter was the better of the two in 2018-19. Considering the amount of teams that do not even have a true #1 goalie, this is an embarrassment of riches.

I have the Bruins falling from second-place to fourth in their division, only because of the rise of the Florida Panthers and the "win-now" Toronto Maple Leafs, who will not be able to afford a defense next year what with nearly half their cap space eaten up by just three forwards. Those teams might have a better regular season than the Bs, as Boston would do well to rest some of their veterans for up to 10 games up-front (Bergeron, Krejci) and maybe 15-20 games in Chara's case.

With the goaltending they have, they should not expect to lose all of the games they sit their aging stars out of, but they will lose a few.

Prediction: 4th in the Atlantic Division, 11th overall.

NHL Preview 2019-20: Columbus Blue Jackets

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno).
GM: Jarmo Kekalainen (since 2013). 9/10
Coach: John Tortorella (since 2015). 9/10

2018-19 record: 47-31-4, 98 points (5th in the Metropolitan Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Boston Bruins in Round 2.

Departures: Artemi Panarin (LW), Matt Duchene (C), Sergei Bobrovsky (G), Ryan Dzingel (LW), Adam McQuaid (D), Keith Kincaid (G), Mark Letestu (D).

Arrivals: Gustav Nyquist (RW).

Top forwards: Pierre-Luc Dubois (60-70 points), Cam Atkinson (30-40 goals, 60-70 points), Alexander Wennberg (50-60 points), Gustav Nyquist (45-50 points), Nick Foligno (45-55 points), Boone Jenner (35-45 points), Oliver Bjorkstrand (30-40 points), Alexandre Texier (30-40 points), Josh Anderson (35-45 points), Brandon Dubinsky (25-30 points), Riley Nash (20-30 points).

Must-improve forwards: Wennberg and Bjorkstrand have another gear in them. Their ceiling is a 60-65-point season, and while I trust Wennmberg's talent to provide multiples of those, Bjorkstrand might have just one or two in his system; in each case, now's the time to take advantage of accrued experience and augmented ice time to pad their stats lines up.

Top defensemen: Zach Werenski (45-55 points), Seth Jones (40-50 points), Ryan Murray (30-35 points), David Savard (25-35 points), Scott Harrington (15-20 points).

Goalies: Elvis Merzlinkins (80/100), Joonas Korpisalo (73/100).

Top rookies: Alexandre Texier (20 years old, C, good playoffs in 2018-19), Sonny Milano (23, LW, 2014 first-round pick), Liam Foudy (19, C), Emil Bemstrom (20, C/RW), Paul Bittner (22, C), Trey Fix-Wolansky (20, RW), Andrew Peeke (21, D).

Losing Dzingel and Duchene won't hurt them at all, because the Blue Jackets were a very good team (and were already in the playoffs) when those two arrived at the trade deadline, and they didn't cost roster players - just draft picks and prospect Vitali Abramov. It was a boost for the playoffs, and it enabled the Jackets to sweep the record-tying Tampa Bay Lightning, a historically-good team.

Losing Panarin also isn't as dire as it seems, because his production will be offset by Dubois' progress into a #1 centre (the kid's just 21 but is probably already among the top-10 #1 centres in the league - or very close to that, I'm just going off the top of my head not via a list, but I'm taking away one of the Pittsburgh Penguins' and Edmonton Oilers' out of the equation because one has to qualify as a #2, not a #1. Anderson's also on the rise, as is Bjorkstrand, and Jenner should take advantage of the opportunity that's given him to make it to the 50-point club as well.

One departure no one can replace is Bobrovsky's, for two reasons: 1. he's the best in the world at what he does, and 2. his replacement must act alone, whereas forwards come in threes and defensemen work in pairs, so their teammates can help compensate for the loss. A goalie with a .920 save percentage (and Bob's actually even reached the .930 mark twice) cannot e replaced by a lesser number unless the team's entire defensive structure is modified. Five points less (.915) means an extra goal per two games, which could very turn 10 or 15 wins into 10 losses and 5 in the shootout.

And that's the only reason why I can't logically place the Jackets in the playoff picture. They didn't lose long-time, prime-aged key pieces in bulk like the Winnipeg Jets, but you need a premier goalie to elevate a solid team to the postseason, and Joonas Korpisalo has only proven to me that he can be a decent-at-times, disappointment-at-others backup in the NHL, and I don't know ANYTHING about Elvis Merzlikins, apart that he has some international accolades, but sometimes it takes European star goalies a good year or two to get accustomed to the smaller NHL ice, not just for the speed of the game that is faster because it's condensed, but also because all the points of reference, all your angles, the way you've played your entire life no longer apply: the blue line is closer, so a shot from the point comes at a different angle; the in-zone face-off circles are closer together and no longer cover the same view of the net that you're used to. Not only does it require angle adjustments, you may even have to adjust your style (stance, how far apart your feet are, height of glove, angle of stick) - it's like losing 10 years of experience and starting anew.

The bright side is the Jackets aren't the only team heading into this season without a high-calibre, proven NHL starting goalie; in their own division, the Carolina Hurricanes are doing the same, with a tandem that may be weaker than the one they had last year. The first of these teams that falters out of the gate and loses their patience quickly enough to grab an available "big name" goalie (a lot of rumours mention Jonathan Quick as being available) before the Holidays might very well buy its way into the playoff picture and gain 7-10 standing positions.

Preediction: 8th in the Metropolitan Division, 25th in the NHL*.
                  4th in the Metro, 17th in the NHL if they acquire a big-name goalie before the Holidays.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Video Of The Week: The Cars

Let's take a short break from hockey predictions to acknowledge one of the best songwriting talents in 20th Century Rock, Ric Ocasek, who was found dead earlier at the age of 75. He was inducted along with his other The Cars bandmates into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018 (I sure as fuck voted for them, yes).

He also put out some terrific solo albums, my favourite being 1997's Troublizing, which included bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur (Tinker, Hole, The Smashing Pumpkins, a great solo career in stoner rock), drummer Matt Walker (Filter, Garbage, The Smashing Pumpkins, Morrissey) and Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins) on guitar, keyboards and backing vocals.

But I wanted to focus on The Cars for the moment, seeing as that's what Ocasek was most known for. My favourite Cars song is My Best Friend's Girl, with Just What I Needed ranking a close second:

I'm still looking for additional information pertaining to the video, including who directed it. When I find out, I'll update this paragraph.

Okasek also produced a ton of records for other artists, including Suicide, Bad Brains, Bad Religion, Nada Surf, Le Tigre, No Doubt, and, most recently, Weezer. He just may be the king of Power Pop.

NHL Preview 2019-20: Arizona Coyotes

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's 1990s star defenseman Jyrki Lumme).
GM: John Chayka (since 2016). 6/10
Coach: Rick Tocchet (since 2017). 7/10

2018-19 record: 39-35-8, 86 points (4th in Pacific Division, 9th in Western Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Departures: Alex Galchenyuk (C), Kevin Connauton (D), Nick Cousins (C), Richard Panik (LW), Josh Archibald (RW).

Arrivals: Phil Kessel (RW), Carl Soderberg (C), Beau Bennett (RW).

Top forwards: Kessel (30-35 goals, 55-65 points), Derek Stepan (55-65 points), Clayton Keller (55-60 points), Nick Schmaltz (40-50 points), Vinnie Hinostroza (35-50 points), Christian Dvorak (30-40 points), Michael Grabner (30-40 points), Lawson Crouse (25-35 points), Christian Fischer (20-30 points).

Must-improve forward: Keller's new eight-year deal with a cap hit of $7.15M per means he cannot have another 47-point season, regardless of the fact that he led the team with it. His GM's mistake means he has to produce, because he signed on the dotted line and accepted the role, pressure and pitfalls that come with a superstar-type of contract.

Top defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (40-50 points), Alex Goligoski (30-40 points), Jakob Chychrun (35-40 points), Jason Demers (20-30 points), Niklas Hjalmarsson (20-25 points).

Goalies: Antti Raanta (82/100), Darcy Kuemper (77/100).

Top prospects: Barrett Hayton (19, 5th overall pick in 2018), Kyle Capobianco (22, D), Jan Jenik (19, C), Ilya Lubushkin (25, D), Adin Hill (23, G), Nick Merkley (22, C, 2015 first-round draft pick), Tyler Steenbergen (21, C).

Don't get fooled by the fourth-place finish in the Pacific last season with an injury-depleted lineup: other teams weren't taking them seriously, took those games to sit veterans and star goalies and the players took it as a day off.

This year, teams know they at least have to watch out for Kessel.

Generally, I'd be inclined to look at their talented youth and think they're on the rise, but GM Chayka keeps trading them away (Max Domi, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Alex Galchenyuk), then he turns around and signs unproven values to long terms deals, like Keller and Chychrun, as RFAs with no arbitration nor offer sheet rights. It's downright puzzling. Of course, by the sheer number of odd things he attempts, one of them will eventually pan out, and some might call him a genius when it does, but I doubt they all do, so when we weigh in the good and the bad, there might be a lot more of column #2 than column #1 in there.

Prediction: 6th in the Pacific Division, 26th in the NHL.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Minnesota Wild

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's Minnesota Wild much-maligned captain, Mikko Koivu).
GM: Bill Guerin (since 2019). 7/10
Coach: Bruce Boudreau (since 2016). 8/10

2018-19 record: 37-36-9, 83 points (last in Central Division, 11th in Western Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Departures: Eric Fehr (C), Anthony Bitetto (D), Pontus Aberg (RW), Nate Prosser (D), Matt Read (RW).

Arrivals: Ryan Hartman (RW), Mats Zuccarello (LW).

Top forwards: Zach Parise (55-60 points), Eric Staal (45-55 points), Mikko Koivu (40-60 points depending on possible injuries), Jordan Greenway (30-40 points), Jason Zucker (45-50 points), Joel Eriksson Ek (20-35 points), Ryan Donato (20-35 points).

Must-improve forward: He doesn't need to improve per se, but poor Parise has really caught the injury bug, slowing him and his production down from the levels he had accustomed his fans to.

Top defensemen: Ryan Suter (30-40 points), Matt Dumba (45-60 points), Jared Spurgeon (35-40 points), Jonas Brodin (25 points), Greg Pateryn (10 points).

Goalies: Devan Dubnyk (84/100), Alex Stalock (79/100).

Top prospects: Luke Kunin (21, C, 2016 first-round draft pick), Matthew Boldy (18, LW, 2019 first-round draft pick), Vladislav Firstov (18, LW), Kirill Kaprizov (22, LW, point-per-game player in the ultra-defensive KHL), Filip Johansson (19, D, 2018 first-round draft pick).

It's extremely hard to believe Coach Boudreau is already on his third GM, but that's the world we live in now. Guerin's got a lot of work ahead of him to trim down the excess cap and get it back to a manageable level, and handing a 29-year-old defenseman who has just had a career year a deal that carries the team's highest cap hit ever for seven seasons (well into his mid-30s) doesn't necessarily seem like the best step in the right direction.

Dubyk has seemingly regressed from an All-World goalie to a middle-of-the-pack #1 with a GAA of 2.59 and save percentage of .913, but the departures of defensemen like Marco Scandella led to the team giving away more quality shots, so that's something the coaches will have to work on to help him regain his All-Star form.

The Wild needs to rebuild, whether its owner likes it or not. Your top forwards (Parise at 35, Staal at 34, Koivu at 36), top defenseman (Suter, 34) and goalies (Dubnyk is 34, Stalock is 32) can't all be over 30 on a non-playoff team and stay together. Even the Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling with their array of aging stars, the Wild's downhill slide is only going to get worse before it gets better.

Prediction: 7th in the Central Division, 28th in the NHL.

Friday, September 13, 2019

NHL Preview 2019-20: Philadelphia Flyers

(This year again, I will twin-post with my Collectibles Blog and write about a player who is related to my Preview post here. Today, it's the Philadelphia Flyers' future #1 defenseman, Ivan Provorov).
GM: Chuck Fletcher (since 2018). 5/10
Coach: Alain Vigneault (since 2015). 8.5/10

2018-19 record: 37-37-8, 82 points (6th in the Metropolitan Division, 11th in the Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Departures: Jori Lehtera (RW), Cam Talbot (G), Andrew MacDonald (D), Radko Gudas (D), Wayne Simmonds (RW), Michal Neuvirth (G), Anthony Stolarz (G), Phil Varone (LW).

Arrivals: Matt Niskanen (D), Justin Braun (D), Kevin Hayes (C), Tyler Pitlick (LW), Kurtis Gabriel (RW), Nate Prosser (D), Vigneault (head coach), Michel Therrien (assistant-coach), Mike Yeo (assistant-coach).

Top forwards: Claude Giroux (75-95 points), Jakub Voracek (65-85 points), Kevin Hayes (40-45 points), Sean Couturier (75-85 points), Nolan Patrick (40-50 points), Travis Konecky (30-45 points), James Van Riemsdyk (45-55 points, 30-35 goals), Tyler Pitlick (10-20 points).

Must-improve forwards: Simmonds is a very good hockey player who plays hard. There is no reason why he can't reach the 50- or even the 60-point mark.

Top defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere (45-55 points), Ivan Provorov (35-45 points), Travis Sanheim (15-25 points), Matt Niskanen (10-20 points), Robert Hagg (20 points), Justin Braun (10 points).

Goalies: Brian Elliott (77/100), Carter Hart (85/100).

Top rookies: Oskar Lindblom (23 years old, LW), Philippe Myers (22, D), Morgan Frost (20, C, first-round pick in 2017), Cameron York (18, D, first-round pick in 2019), German Rubtsov (21, C, first-round pick in 2016), Joel Farabee (19, LW, first-round pick in 2018), Jay O'Brien (19, C, first-round pick in 2018).

Former GM Ron Hextall built a vetitable arsenal on the blue line stacked with a roster of blue-chip prospects (Gostisbehere, Provorov, Hagg, Patrick, Samuel Morin, Sanheim) and a goalie who ad a breakout year in 2018-19, two or three years ahead of schedule... and a month after Hextall himself was dismissed, seemingly for having stuck with head coach Dave Hackstol for too long. And that's saying nothing of the star-driven elite veteran forward core (Giroux, Voracek, JVR, Couturier).

New GM Fletcher has already begun setting the team's cap aflame with the free agent signing of Hayes - projected to be a second-line centre at best - to a first-line salary, $7.1M per season for seven years.

So the questions bears asking: Who are the Philadelphia Flyers?

They used to be the Broad Street Bullies, winning Stanley Cups in thew 1970s and bullying their way to Finals in the 1980s and 1990s, and even again almost accidentally in 2010.

Nowadays, they are a skill-based team that has alternated playoff-bound and non-postseason seasons for the past eight years; by that metric, they're in this year, barring a sophomore slump to young Carter Hart, perhaps the most important piece of the team at just 21 years old.

Prediction: 4th in the Metropolitan Division, 16th in the NHL.