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2016-17 NHL Fantasy Draft, part one

It’s been four years since I last joined a hockey pool. I’ve enjoyed the game far more in years that I don’t have a horse in the race, you know? This season, though, I thought I’d throw caution to the manure-flavoured wind and join a workmate’s keeper fantasy league. Here’s how my draft went (part one):

Round One – Vladimir Tarasenko (RW), 8th overall pick
Even if he plays for the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ St Louis Blues, Vladimir Tarasenko is bloody exciting to watch. He’s an explosive player whose speed and agility recall a young Pavel Bure, and I loved watching Pavel play. This guy can score from just about anywhere, and last year he did — 40 goals was good for fourth overall in the NHL in 2015-16. Tarasenko is on the cover of EA Sports NHL 17, and ranked at #6 overall by Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy.
Picked 8th overall, just after Steven Stamkos — how the hell does Stammer go 7th?!?!? — and one before Joe Pavelski.

Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues is the EA Sports NHL 17 cover dude, and my first round pick. Photo cribbed from the St Louis Blues website.
Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues is the EA Sports NHL 17 cover dude, and my first round pick. Photo cribbed from the St Louis Blues website.

Round Two – Erik Karlsson (D), 17th overall pick
Karlsson’s 82 points was good for fifth in the league last year (well, tied for fourth but Joe Thornton had three more goals than Karlsson). Buddy had 66 assists despite playing on the woeful Ottawa Senators. Again, a joy to watch this guy play the game. It’s easy to cheer for someone who makes plays like this.
Picked 17th overall, just after Carey Price and one before Ben Bishop.

Round Three- Artemi Panarin (LW), 32nd overall pick
Artemi Panarin was lightning with Patrick Kane last season. Sure, there are rumours the Blackhawks might split them up to start the year, but he’ll still be on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. How , oh how will he ever score 77 points again with those losers on his line; huge loss for the plucky sophomore. Yes, I just wrote ‘plucky sophomore’ — mainly because of this:

Picked 32nd overall, just after Dustin Byfuglien and one before Cory Schneider.

Rounds 4-15 to come.

Thanks a lot, Ovi

I was all kinds of cynical coming into the World Cup of Hockey. “Who cares about Gary Bettman fellating Toronto for two weeks?” I asked. “It’s just a glorified pre-season cash grab.”

It’s easy to stand by those remarks. Many of the world’s best hockey players — Phil Kessel among them — aren’t spending these couple of weeks in Hogtown wearing their national flags. In the case of Team Europe and Team North America, even the players who are there are wearing shirts with meaningless, made-up logos.

It’s easy to laugh at the States — Tortorella, Kesler & Co. just take themselves so seriously — so Kessel’s jibe on Twitter is too joyfully snarky to shake off. But let’s admit it: the Yanks weren’t that bad. They outshot the Czechs by a wide margin, and put a pretty good scare into Canada for ten to fifteen minutes of the first period. Even when that elimination game was a foregone conclusion, the good guys up by three goals in the third period, America the beautiful hit three posts and even scored one to make it interesting. Face facts, and it was a lucky bounce off of Corey Perry’s gut that proved the turning point in Canada’a game two romp.

I’m not upset at the U.S. getting knocked out, especially after the clusterbleep of Americentric propaganda coming out of the Rio Olympics. What kills me is the elimination of Team North America. That entire team played with jump and grit nearly every shift. Their breakneck speed and puppy-like enthusiasm brought fans out of their seats, coaching systems bedamned. Mistakeswwre made multiple times per shift! It’s what makes the World Juniors such a blast every year — even goals against are spectacular.

Coach Todd McLellan saw the speed and skill of the kids and decided to play — gasp — a fun style of hockey. After all, if you peer through the bluster of hockey media and clear away the vast sums of money that lather up those precious athletic egos, fun is what the game is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

But back to Mother Russia. Tarasenko and his comrades issued a 4-3 comeback against  the younguns featured a colossal second-period meltdown that must have felt pretty familiar to the Maple Leaf fans in the building; the only difference here was that Team North America very nearly scored their way out of the problem. Russia was merely lucky not to let these kids into overtime.

Mans so we have a Saturday night loser-go-home tilt between Canada and Russia. And somehow it feels like meh.

It’s hard to believe that Sid the Not-A-Kid-Anymore versus the Great Eight is a letdown, but damn it all, that Team North America was just so bloody entertaining, it’s a shame to see them sit after just three games. We may never see Connor McDavid set up Auston Matthews for another goal again. Ever. And that’s hard to swallow.

Damn it, even Team North America’s goal song was fun.

The good news is that the Toronto Star says the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry still exists. You know, except that one of them has won multiple Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals and a long-running Tim Hortons contract. The other? Sure, he’s got a Rocket Richard trophy or two — Ovechkin can snipe all the live long day — and some World Championship titles, but you only win those when your team is out of the playoffs early. Fact: Alex Ovechkin will forever be judged by the hardware he hasn’t won. Right now he’s in the mix for the Best Player Who’s Never Won a Cup award with the Sedins, Marcel Dionne and Darryl Sittler.

Alex Ovechkin is the dirty, rotten, stinkin' bastard who robbed us of a Canada-Team North America semi at the World Cup of Hockey.
Alex Ovechkin is the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ bastard who robbed us of a Canada-Team North America semi at the World Cup of Hockey.

Even if he does manage a miracle, and gets Russia past Canada this Saturday, even if he then helps win the best-of-three final against either Sweden or Team Europe, a pre-season, cash grabbing World Cup of Hockey trophy won’t bring him up to Crosby’s level.

The Need For Consistent “C”

Building a team within the confines of MLS isn’t a particularly easy task. By and large, the player pool is generally limited to in-betweeners (those who can’t quite make the cut in other leagues) and to players either in the dawn or twilight of their careers.  It’s also limited to players who are willing to work and play on our vast continent and put up with the turf and the travel – there is minimal contrast between most when it comes to talent in a league driven by parity such as MLS.

Erik Hurtado fell down. It was Scott Dann's fault. The Vancouver Whitecaps drew at two with Crystal Palace FC of the British Premier League at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Erik Hurtado busts his balls every game. But he isn’t often a difference maker, like the vast majority of MLS’ers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Designated Player rule is a means by which teams can bolster their roster – it is the most immediate mechanism clubs have to separate themselves from the pack. And when you’re hamstrung by the budget limitations enforced by the Whitecaps front office, it makes the necessity to utilize that mechanism all the more difficult – and crucial.

It is also a process that the Whitecaps have seemingly overlooked and/or underestimated repeatedly.

Continue reading The Need For Consistent “C”

Slideshow: Salmonbellies vs Adanacs lacrosse

As a photographer, I’ve had the pleasure of capturing images of ATP Challenger tennis, football at MLS and FIFA international events, as well as puck from Timbits hockey and the beer leagues al the way up to the bigs. Somehow, though, I’d never shot Canada’s other national sport, lacrosse. Until last week, that is. Thanks to Jen and Erin at Tenth to the Fraser for encouraging me to try it out.

Here are my best pics from a nailbiter, a dramatic 10-9 win for the first-place New Westminster Salmonbellies on their home floor at Queen’s Park Arena.

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Dudes. You're missing an A. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Dudes. You’re missing an A. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

For nearly half an hour on Wednesday night it looked as though the Whitecaps would become back-to-back Canadian champions.  Vancouver took advantage of a Bradley-less, Irwin-less Toronto FC squad to stake out to a 2-0 lead (2-1 on aggregate) and carried that lead well into stoppage time.  A disinterested and detached Giovinco, seen moping around the pitch at BC Place for 90 minutes, didn’t help TFC’s cause much either.

Pedro Morales and Will Johnson battle for a ball near the Toronto touch line in first half action of the Canadian Championship final. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Pedro Morales and Will Johnson battle for a ball near the Toronto touch line in first half action of the Canadian Championship final. It was the latter who would eventually play hero. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Everything was seemingly coming up Whitecaps.  After a rather pedestrian first 45, Carl Robinson subbed in firecracker Nicolás Mezquida at half-time in place of Russell Teibert. The move paid immediate dividends when the Uruguayan scored just two minutes later.  Tim Parker pushed the Caps into the pole position after a nifty chest-to-foot volley in the 68th minute found the netting in behind replacement keeper Alex Bono.

Continue reading Vancouver’d

Morneau gives back

Our man John Stewart has given Pucked in the Head some much-appreciated content of late, so I thought I’d keep that ball rollin’. BASEBALL, Y’ALL.

The pride of New Westminster, four-time All-Star infielder Justin Morneau, has recently signed a one-year contract with the Chicago White Soxs. He’s hoping for a return to the bigs sometime next month — probably after the All-Star Game — but will probably see some action with the AAA Charlotte Knights quite soon to shake off the rust. With concussion problems and a wonky elbow, Morneau was limited to just 49 games last season for the Colorado Rockies, who declined the contract option for another year. Enter the ChiSox, who currently sit in the bottom third of the league in just about every hitting category you can imagine. This is a team that desperately needs Morneau to bring even half of his batting title form to the plate if they hope to make a run at a Wild Card spot.

Justin Morneau in a Team Canada jersey.
Justin Morneau suited up for Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, hitting .308 over three games, including two doubles and three RBIs.

During the off-season, Morneau kept busy on a number of fronts. He had surgery to repair a tendon in that troublesome elbow, and focussed on continued recuperation from multiple concussions. Off the field, Morneau donated nearly $35,000 to KidSport in his hometown of New Westminster. KidSport is an organization that assists children of all backgrounds take part in registered sport. Morneau’s donation puts nearly 150 kids who might not otherwise be able to afford sign-up fees and equipment onto New Westminster fields, rinks and courts .

“Justin’s donation came at a time when we really needed it,” says Jen Arbo, KidSport New West Registrar. “KidSport New West has seen a significant rise in number of families applying for funding. In 2015, for example, we saw a 33% increase in total value of grants given out compared to 2014. So far this year, we are on track to see a similar increase. In January 2016 alone we gave out just under $6,000,” says Arbo.

KidSport New West Chair Sandon Fraser says the money is used for a variety of team and individual sports. “The only real limitations [for recipients] are that the sport be a full season, and that registration be with a provincial sport organization.”

For his part, Morneau downplays his donation, “I didn’t do this to receive attention,” he says, “but if it can inspire others to donate or help out with charitable causes then I guess it’s worth the media attention.”

Pucked in the Head was fortunate enough to trade email with the 2014 National League batting champion. Here is our chat with the man Vin Scully calls Big Butter Egg Man, Justin Morneau.

Pucked in the Head: We all know about your success on the baseball field, and hereabouts it’s quite well known that you were a pretty good goalie back in the day. What other sports had a role in your development, personally and professionally?
Justin Morneau: We played almost any sport we could growing up. We played a lot of wiffle ball in my back yard, a lot of street hockey, pick up basketball and whatever else we could make up in our minds. The games we played were not usually organized by parents. We usually just got together and figured out our own teams and what rules we would play by. I think this is something that really helped my development as an athlete because it wasn’t forced by parents. I was getting better athletically without even knowing I was doing it. I feel like this isn’t something that is done as much by kids today.
PITH: At the highest competitive levels, how similar are the roles of catcher and goaltender?
JM: I’ve been asked this question many times in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to come up with a solid answer. I don’t think there are too many similarities.
PITH: According to Wikipedia, your favourite players growing up included Ray Bourque — who is also my favourite hockey player of all time, by the way — and Cam Neely, as well as John Olerud and Larry Walker. Travelling in pro athlete circles, have you met them at all? Does a pro athlete get the same thrill meeting those childhood idols that we mere mortals do?
I haven’t had the chance to meet Ray Bourque or Cam Neeley yet. I played against Olerud quite a few times and had some short conversations with him at first base. I was also able to get him to sign a bat for me, which was very cool. I have gotten to know Larry Walker quite well. I played my first game in the big leagues against him and before the game he sent over a signed bat that said “to Justin, make Canada proud”. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.
Two accolades Jason forgot while introducing his email question: Justin Morneau’s 2014 NL Batting Title and being immortalized as a bobblehead. I mean, how cool is THAT?
They tell me winning isn’t everything, but you’ve won quite a few things in your career. MVP awards, Silver Sluggers, a Home Run Derby, a division title and even a Memorial Cup. What is your fondest sports memory outside of the formal accolades?
I think my favourite memories of sports are the relationships that I’ve built along the way. All the way back to when I was playing tyke hockey in New West, to my minor league roommates and then people like Larry Walker. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Harmon Killebrew and Jim Thome. Not only are they two of the greatest baseball players of all time, but more importantly two of the most humble and genuinely nice people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. 
We all know that team sports, and athletics in general, are amazing tools for developing responsible, healthy, able youth. However, the recent discussion around concussions has some parents thinking twice about just how active their kids should be. Obviously, you have a very personal experience with the issue. What’s your take?
While the risk of concussion is real, I still feel the odds of getting one are low. I think the most important thing is that kids aren’t afraid to let someone know when they’ve experienced concussion symptoms, but even more importantly the parents are able to make the right decisions for the health of the child including taking them to a doctor and not pushing them back on the field or the ice for whatever reason. I think we have come a long way in educating parents that true toughness isn’t playing through a concussion like the olden days of “getting your bell rung, and getting back out there”, but of doing what is right in terms of long term health of the child and their brain. 

How Do They Keep Hitting the Baseball?

At Fenway Park last week, the Mariners took the first game of three from the Red Sox. In doing so, they got a win against the best hitting team in the American League — and in fact in all of baseball. The Mariners are currently ranked second in the AL behind Boston, and fifth in the Major Leagues.

A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be able to write that paragraph this season, I would have laughed out loud. Now, in the Mariners’ 40th season in the Major Leagues, I have the pleasure of doing so.

My editor, who continuously nags at me on Facebook about my lack of baseball writing, wondered… why. Why is this Mariners team hitting so well? How did Franklin Gutierrez hit two home runs and drive in six runs in that game? Why is Robinson Cano, recovered from offseason surgery, having such a great season? How has this team hit 101 home runs — and how is it that they’re the only team in the Majors to have five players with double digits in the Home Run column? The answer, my friends: Edgar Martinez.

Continue reading How Do They Keep Hitting the Baseball?

Max Lajoie will always be my first

Max Lajoie trading card
My first trading card credit, Leaf Metal card #BA-ML1, defenseman Max Lajoie of the Swift Current Broncos.

Not so long ago, I was tapped by Leaf Trading Cards to shoot photos for their junior hockey series.

I have dozens of dynamic action shots I’m super proud of, but the first one that got picked up for a set is this rather pedestrian still shot of draft prospect defenseman Max Lajoie. There are three more pics that are coming in a subsequent set, including two of Vancouver Giants Ty Ronning and Ryan Kubic; this one, however, will always be my first trading card credit.

Thanks, Leaf, and thanks, Max Lajoie!

San Jose will win the Stanley Cup

The San Jose Sharks are going to win the 2016 Stanley Cup. Guaranteed.

Here’s why:

Sasquatch has gradually eaten Brent Burns since his entry to the NHL.
The evolution of Brent Burns, as documented by the makers of Making a Murderer.

1. Their beards are badass.

It all started with defenseman Brent Burns. When he entered the NHL a decade ago, he looked like any other surfer dude who learned that lettering in hockey meant a lifetime of babes, beer and ridiculous bling, dude. By 2013, well ahead of the hipster beard virus, he was a bloody X-File. Since coming to the Sharks, he’s found a new level for his game to go where he used to keep his shaving kit. Where his career high was previously 46 points (in 2010 with Minnesota), he’s racked up 48, 60 and 75 points in the last three seasons respectively. This guy has turned from a fair to middling blueliner with silly facial hair into a Norris Trophy candidate whose knowledge of beard oils and combs is sought out by superstars — like Joe freaking Thornton. Between the two of them and Joe Pavelski’s penchant for wearing his heart over the C on that uniform, the Sharks look like the American Civil War has risen again.

2. They know how to rebound from weird shit.

The Sharks may just have the oddest history in hockey. Remember, this is a league that features the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Down Goes Brown outlines it well here. Each individual playoff loss is all right; only one team wins it all each year, after all. But by the time the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead against the Kings in 2014, they had dealt with own goals, traitorous stanchions and backroom deals that robbed them of first overall picks. (Canucks fans know about this feeling: imagine the 70s with Gilbert Perreault in the ol’ stink-in-rink jersey! Now give Eric Lindros to the Sharks in their inaugural season, and you get the idea.) After this collapse, Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy — which had been originally stripped from Patrick Marleau — and demoted to the rank and file.

This team has come back hungrier and hotter, bigger and badder from every single one of their misfortunes. Look for them to bounce off that Game One loss with a BONINOBONINOBONINO moment of their very own.

3. They’ve got a couple of milk hot dogs on their team.

Geno with a Thornton
Thornton’s beard is now a meme. That’s a good thing.

Kevin Bieksa famously referred to the Sharks with this colourful metaphor back in 2011. Frankly, he was right. From captain Pavelski, through beardsville, on down to Tommy Wingels and Brenden Dillon, this squad has proven to be a serious bag of dicks to opposition teams. It’s no surprise they’re the team to survive the shithot battles of California — they’re big, they’re bad and they have all the feels. Even Evgeni Malkin has grown a Thornton in honour of the Sharks first Cup final appearance.

It ain’t just chinrats and attitude. The Sharks play the wall as well as any team in the league. They have three lines that will eat up the boards and spit out scoring chances like SCA fanatics chewing organic, fair trade fake tobacky. Where Pittsburgh likes to skate and make things pretty, San Jose grinds you into paste, smears you into their beards and shoves your puck into the blue paint. They’ve got some genuine superstars in the mix as well. Thornton is an Art Ross winner. Marleau has over 1,000 points. Burns had 75 points this year. Pavelski is one of the most dangerous playoff performers of this generation.

Roll the Jaws soundtrack, boys and girls. Those Penguins are done for.

Prediction: Sharks in seven.


Last time: Pittsburgh will win the Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh will win the Stanley Cup

Nick Bonino
Nick Bonino and his poor man’s beard will take the Cup. Guaranteed. Photo cribbed from the nest in Brent Burns’ face.

Don’t let the weather forecast fool you. There’s a cold wind blowing in Pennsylvania these days, and it’s guaranteed to land the Stanley Cup right into Pittsburgh for the fourth time in franchise history. Here’s why:

1. Well, duh. They won Game One.

If can be believed, the team winning Game One of the final has gone on to win the Cup over 78% of the time.  To be exact, since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1939, 54 of 69 teams have followed a Game One win with a championship parade.


The Pittsburgh Penguins create their own traditions, dang it.
May 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly (L) presents the Prince of Wales trophy to Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14), center Sidney Crosby (C), and center Evgeni Malkin (71) after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 to win the Eastern Conference Championship in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2. The Pens are bloody fearless.

When Pittsburgh waved buh-bye to the Tampa Bay Lightning after Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, captain Sidney Crosby didn’t hesitate to touch the Prince of Wales trophy. Where others quail at the prospect of physical contact with a silver bowl not named Stanley, Sid skated right up to Bill Daly and grabbed hold of that bad boy and passed it around like a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged at a young Republicans convention.. Don’t get me wrong: Crosby is hella superstitious; nobody on the team touched the Wales trophy when they advanced to the final in 2008. After losing to Detroit, however, they decided to switch it up the following year. In 2009, Crosby & Co. hoisted the bejesus out of ol’ man Wales, and that’s when they won their third Cup. A new tradition was born.

3. Nick Bonino

The Anaheim Ducks wrote him off, and the Canucks tossed him overboard. Hell, even  in Pittsburgh, Nick Bonino only had 29 points this season. But in the playoffs so far, he’s racked up nearly a point a game and ignited Phil Kessel on perhaps the best third line in this man’s NHL. His game-winner on Monday night wasn’t the prettiest goal you’ll ever see, but young Saint Nick picked a damned good time to put a dagger into the San Jose Sharks.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t include this outstanding call of that GOLAZO by Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi play-by-play crew:

He’s not known as a shooter, but he rifled a wicked wrister through Martin Jones with three minutes left in a tight contest. Bonino’s gone from also-ran to core player in a remarkably short period of time in Pittsburgh. Look for the man Raffi calls Boninophone to win whatever Unsung Hero award they give away in Pens land after the lift Lord Stanley’s greatest beer mug.

4. The Pens play a deadly north-south, firewagon brand of hockey.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are able to play on the wall — Glenn Healy is fond of running film that shows off Sid’s low centre of gravity and upper body strength — but they much prefer to skate the puck up the middle of the ice.  When they’re on, boys and girls, these two can create magic out there. Crosby is hungry right now. He knows a Cup this year will cement his legacy as one of the truly great leaders of this generation. It’s a banner that’s drooped since Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty have put the Blackhawks and Kings on their backs over the past few years, so Sid is doing everything in his considerable power to shuck the “not a playoff performer” label he’s managed to acquire since consecutive final appearances in ’08 and ’09.

As long as the puck is moving back and forth, the Pens will scrub the Sharks into scoreboard submission.

Prediction: Pens in 6.

Coming up tomorrow: San Jose will win the Stanley Cup.