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.
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:
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.
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.
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.
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.
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.
The San Jose Sharks are going to win the 2016 Stanley Cup. Guaranteed.
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.
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.
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 NHL.com 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.
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.
Last week, the Vancouver Canucks held a couple of town hall meetings with season ticket holders, in which President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning outlined the direction of the team, such as it is, and defended themselves against accusations of general incompetence.
Notably absent from accounts of this meeting was any discussion of head coach Willie Desjardins. The Canucks bench boss seems to me to be coasting along in the wake of terribleness left by the front office. Lost amid the annoyance of the stupid money given to Derek Dorsett is the fact that Dorsett is getting more ice time than youngster Jake Virtanen, with no benefit to the club at all. Sven Baertschi is only barely ahead of Brandon Prust. Jared McCann is dead even with Adam Cracknell. For an organization that’s prioritizing youth development at the moment, these decisions are incredibly odd, but with Benning flushing assets down the toilet on the waiver wire every week and blundering through trade after trade, nobody seems to pay attention to the coach.
Desjardins is not a tactically strong coach. He was roundly out-coached in last year’s playoffs by Bob Hartley. His stubborn refusal to deploy the Sedins for offensive zone faceoffs to maximize their output, as Alain Vigneault did during his tenure, has cost the club countless scoring opportunities this season.
Desjardins was this regime’s guy. He was the anti-Torts. The one to nurture the kids after a year of neglect. It’s no surprise, then, that odds-makers don’t favour him to be shown the door any time soon. If, though, the Canucks are really serious about making the playoffs every year during this rebuild, he’ll need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
For the all the talk of what if and if only, there hasn’t been much hope of post-season hockey in Vancouver for some time now; high profile injuries and fair to middling rosters have plagued both the Giants and Canucks all season. At the Coliseum, the G-Men put up a generous fight during the middle part of the season, but a disastrous start has been mirrored by a terrible stretch run to put them a dozen points out of a playoff spot with only a handful of games remaining.
It’s an all-too familiar story this season: the Vancouver Giants jump out to an early lead, only to see plucky opposition teams chip away and eventually win the game.
On Sunday, however, playing their third game in as many nights, Vancouver seemed determined to get Jake Morrissey his first win in Giants colours. It was Morrissey’s first start at the Pacific Coliseum; he’d made it into seven games in one form or another earlier in the season, but only been credited with three losses and had that big fat zero looming in the W column for some time.
The Vancouver Giants took three of a possible four points during WHL action this weekend, keeping their slender playoff hopes alive. Sitting tenth and last in the Western Conference, the G-Men are nonetheless within an unconverted touchdown of the 8th and final post-season berth at the moment held by the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Portland Winterhawks. That said, the Hawks have two games in hand, and have put daggers in Vancouver hearts just too many times to think they’ll roll over and die for us in the final 20 games.
They’ll need a run of strong play and serious puck luck, but the Giants are more likely to catch the equally slimy, smarmy, lecherous Kamloops Blazers, who currently sit in seventh place. Not only are Loops on a horrid run at the moment — having won just two of their last ten games — but the Giants play them head-to-head five times in the final few weeks of the season. That’s ten points up for grabs. Sweep that series, and the Giants are almost guaranteed a playoff spot.
The thing is, much like their NHL cousins up the road at Rogers Arena, the Giants just haven’t shown any kind of consistency to inspire hope for this season. Sure, injuries have played a part — a projected first-round pick in the NHL draft this summer, Tyler Benson has missed most of the season with lower body injuries — but there are games when entire platoons of Giants seem to take the night off.
After a dismal 5-16-4 start to the season, General Manager Scott Bonner started making some roster moves to change the vibe in the dressing room. It seemed to work, as Vancouver put together a remarkable run. They won 12 of the next 18 games. Buzz started circulating about goaltender Ryan Kubic, who rose as one of the team’s more solid pieces. Recent addition Chase Lang has provided timely offence, and a skilful grit around the end boards that the team hasn’t seen since Milan Lucic wore Vancouver colours.
Defenseman Brennan Menell has been wonderful through most of the year — let’s not count his -4 performance against Victoria two weekends ago, because everyone on the team took a nap that night — and has chipped in a respectable 38 points in 52 games from the blueline.
Forward Ty Ronning has also scored at a wicked pace, earning a place at the CHL Top Prospects game held here a couple of weeks ago. He scored even in that heady arena, with Don Cherry, Bobby Orr and countless hockey pundits in the building, and raised his stock in the June draft immeasurably.
But something clicked off mid-January. Momentum shifted, somehow, and gone are the three- and four-game win streaks. Instead, it’s been .500 hockey for the past dozen or so games. When you’re trying to catch teams in the standings, you need to string together a few Ws. Unfortunately for Vancouver, there’s just been too much reliance upon Ronning and Lang up front, and Kubic at the back end. Without a legitimate second line to help outscore their mistakes, the Giants pretty much have to play perfect hockey to have a hope of extending their season.
Centre Carter Popoff had 64 points two seasons ago, but dropped off to 50 last year and has just 29 this season. Behind him, Alec Baer has a career best 33 points, but he’s a bit of a defensive adventure; Baer is -15 through 52 games, and has a tendency to wander away from his check through the rear two zones of the ice. Slovak winger Radovan Bondra has shown flashes of promise, but only has 18 points in 42 games and an abysmal -18 plus/minus rating.
Overall, let’s be honest, this is a team that probably should be on the bubble. With the man-games they’ve lost to injury, it’s no surprise Vancouver is on the outside looking in again this year. It’s a long shot, but if they put together a few strong outings, especially in those five games against the Blazers, there might just be some post-season play to come.
Ty Ronning was a last-minute addition to the CHL Top Prospects Game — Giants teammate Tyler Benson was unable to go due to injury — but the diminutive winger proved he could run with the big boys on Thursday night at the Pacific Coliseum in front of more than 10,000 fans, media and hockey brass.
The annual junior hockey showcase started 14 years ago as a friendly $100 wager between Don Cherry and Bobby Orr, but has since grown into one of the premier hockey events in the country. Every NHL team sends a team of scouts and management, and a horde of media representing outlets from across the hockey world descend upon the host venue for three days of testing, promotion and draft day speculation.
With all that high-level talent in the room, pro teams use this event as a sketchpad for future planning. This year’s class of athlete was no exception, with several players shining big time in the spotlight. Pascal Laberge of the Victoriaville Tigers had his stock go way, way up after netting two goals and setting up the game-winner for Team Orr. Ronning, for his part, skated well and opened the scoring early in the first period. “It was maybe the loudest cheer I’ve ever had,” said Ronning after the game. “It was a real thrill, for sure.”
Perhaps the most common refrain of the night: “Good lord, Logan Stanley is a large man.” The 17-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario plays defense for the Windsor Spitfires. He’s listed at 6’7.25″, 225lbs. Put him next to Ty Ronning (5’8.75″, 163lbs), and you’re not even sure if they’re the same species.
Of course, for old time hockey fans, the figureheads of Don Cherry and Bobby Orr are irresistible. They’re great spokesmen for the game, and especially for the junior game on display here. “I thought every kid here tonight played wonderful hockey. These players, many of them, will be on Hockey Night in Canada for years to come,” said Orr after the game (and after signing countless autographs for excited fans and collectors). “They’re just so well prepared, so well coached, so well conditioned these days.”
When asked what he thinks about the state of the game today, he said there’s a lot to like: “I don’t mind the 3-on-3 overtime. I think that’s exciting. I don’t want to see 3-on-3 games, mind you, but it’s going to be a lot of fun at the All-Star Game. There’s going to be lots of goals scored, I’m sure lots of 3-on-nothings. For an All-Star Game, a special occasion like this, it’s fun.”
What about the Legends? “For the old guys we’d better put more bodies out there. Maybe like rugby, you know, sevens.”