• Florida Panthers win lottery. Will they keep top pick or deal it?

    2013 NHL Draft

    Turnabout is fair play for the Florida Panthers. At last year’s draft lottery, the second-to-last Colorado Avalanche leap-frogged the Panthers to win first overall pick. This year, it was the Panthers who did the leap-frogging.

    Florida moved up one spot in the draft and won the right to select first overall in the 2014 NHL draft June 27 in Philadelphia. The Panthers had an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, held Tuesday night in Toronto. The last-place Buffalo Sabres had the best chance of winning – 25 percent – but will slip to the second overall spot.

    The remainder of the top 13 picks follow in reverse order of NHL standings. Edmonton picks third followed by Calgary fourth and the New York Islanders fifth. Vancouver is sixth, Carolina seventh, Toronto eighth, Winnipeg ninth, Anaheim (from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan trade) 10th, Nashville 11th, Phoenix 12th and Washington 13th. The New Jersey Devils slip to the 30th spot as league penalty for trying to circumvent the NHL salary cap.

    Winning the lottery is nice for the Panthers, but it doesn’t mean as much in a draft that is considered very equal among the top three, four, even five prospects according to most scouts. Florida is weakest on the blueline and will surely be tempted to select Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad first overall.

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  • Fan takes XBox One from kid, but classy Red Wings make it right

    Rory Boylen
    Jimmy Howard

    Detroit’s last home game of the regular season, a 2-1 loss to Carolina, was also Fan Appreciation Night at Joe Louis Arena. As is customary at these events, prizes were distributed throughout the evening.

    And out of that comes this story about Mia Weinberg, who took her two kids to the finale. Two of the three seats they purchased at the last minute were together, while the other was off on its own. But when she took the kids to their seats, a third one next to them was open, so she decided to sit with them until that person came to claim the seat.

    But the person didn’t show up. Not until little Elijah won an Xbox One sitting in the unpurchased seat, anyway. When he did, the ticket-holder showed up to claim his “winnings.”

    Rule 1: if you elect to not sit in your seat and a child wins a game console in it, step off bro. Read more

  • Coming soon to an NHL team near you: This man

    Ken Campbell
    Jeff Blashill

    Jeff Blashill and Jon Cooper are really close friends and it will only be a matter of time before they’re both living out their dreams as NHL coaches. You know all about Cooper now that he’s working his magic with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And sooner or later, you’ll learn about Blashill, who was named the American League’s coach of the year for his work with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

    It may not be this summer, but Blashill will be an NHL coach very soon. And who knows? With all the coaching opportunities that figure to be opening up this summer, perhaps someone will take a chance on a 40-something AHL coach of the year and Calder Cup winner, the way the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Cooper. It’s not without its precedent. Since 2009, Cooper, Guy Boucher and Scott Arniel went directly from being AHL coach of the year to the head man behind an NHL bench.

    “Personally, I think he needs another year or two to get more of a base of experience,” said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who hired Blashill as an assistant in Detroit before making him the Griffins head coach in 2012-13. “But I think he’s an NHL coach in the making, there’s no doubt about that.”

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  • NHL Prospect Hot List: Sanheim stands tall for Canada

    Ryan Kennedy
    Travis-Sanheim

    With his NHL debut in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau officially exhausted his eligibility on The Hot List. But it was a great run for the speedy ball of talent, starting as a member of the United States League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. In fact, thanks to his three years at Boston College, Gaudreau is likely the most frequent name ever to appear on the list (John Gibson is a likely second). But back to the present: Here are some of the new players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

    Travis Sanheim, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

    Currently over in Finland with Team Canada’s under-18 team, Sanheim has made a remarkable jump up the draft rankings this season. This was his first season with the Hitmen, as he spent last year in midget, building up his game and his strength.

    “I could get more ice time and play every role,” Sanheim said. “I could go to the gym more, get stronger and prepare for this year to not only make the team, but make a difference on the team. And I think I did that, I jumped into a pretty key role.”

    A ninth-rounder in the bantam draft, Sanheim ended this season with a very respectable 29 points and a plus-25 rating in 67 games. But he started off slow, with just three points through 21 games. Once he adjusted to life in the ‘Dub,’ things picked up. He also got more opportunities when captain Jaynen Rissling went down with an injury in December. Another defenseman who has helped Sanheim is fellow draft prospect Ben Thomas. The two formed a pairing in Calgary and also skated together as Canada took off for the under-18s.

    “We actually play a very similar game,” Sanheim said. “We like to move the puck. Obviously we just have to watch when one guy jumps up, the other has to stay back. A couple times we got caught during the season, but luckily we didn’t get scored on.”

    Sanheim is already 6-foot-3 and 189 pounds and has great mobility. Growing up along the Saskatchewan border on the Trans-Canada Highway, the kid comes from the definition of a small town in Elkhorn, Manitoba.

    “It has a population of about 500,” he said. “Not very big. But you know everybody in the community, so it’s pretty cool.”

    Come draft time this summer, the whole hockey world will learn about Sanheim – if they haven’t already. Draft eligible in 2014.

    Jacob de la Rose, LW – Leksand (SHL)

    The talented and gritty Swedish winger just signed his entry-level contract with Montreal, meaning speculation has run rampant that his next destination will be major junior. Right now de la Rose’s rights are held by Windsor and he would be a huge addition to the Ontario League team, especially since Josh Ho-Sang will start next season with a 15-game suspension. Drafted 34th overall by Montreal in 2013.

    Cole Cassels, C – Oshawa Generals (OHL)

    No doubt the Vancouver Canucks need some help from the next generation and luckily for them, Cassels is rounding into form. The son of former NHLer Andrew Cassels is a 200-foot player who has also been racking up the points for the Gens, with 13 through eight playoff games. Drafted 85th overall by Vancouver in 2013.

    Connor Hurley, C – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)

    A mid-season addition via trade from Muskegon, Hurley has not only put up numbers for the Gamblers, but he has also been the perfect linemate and motivator for draft-eligible whiz kid Nick Schmaltz. Now in a tough first-round playoff series with Indiana, the Notre Dame commit scorched the Ice for four points in a Game 2 win. Drafted 38th overall by Buffalo in 2013.

    Juho Lammikko, RW – Assat Pori (Fin.)

    A big, powerful winger who can really move, Lammikko has a great battle level to him and the nearly 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame is undeniably intriguing. He put up 42 points in 37 games for the Assat junior team, while also seeing 20 games of duty up with the men in the Liiga. Draft eligible in 2014.

    Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

    Fast, talented and smart, Aube-Kubel isn’t the No. 1 threat on the Foreurs – that would be Anthony Mantha – but the youngster already has two game-winners in the playoffs. Overall, Aube-Kubel has six points in 10 games as Val-d’Or girds for a semifinal showdown with Halifax. Draft eligible in 2014.

    Kyle Wood, D – North Bay Battalion (OHL)

    Wood is an interesting player to keep on your radar. He mostly played Jr. A last season, then missed a good chunk of this campaign due to a knee injury. But he’s 6-foot-5, 229 pounds and brings a nice offensive dimension to his game along with good hockey sense. Wood’s seven points in 13 playoff games ties him for tops among North Bay D-men. Draft eligible in 2014.

    Tristan Jarry, G – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

    Jarry did give up four goals in one game to Brandon, but otherwise he’s been solid for the Oil Kings, who meet the winner of Kootenay and Medicine Hat in the conference final. The netminder has excellent natural ability and leads the WHL with a 1.78 goals-against average, plus a stifling .933 save percentage. Drafted 44th overall by Pittsburgh in 2013.

    Simon Kindschi, D – Davos (Swi.)

    Kindschi is the type of no-nonsense, reliable defenseman that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of press, but often plays an integral role in his team’s success. At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, he’ll be a lot to get around on the Swiss blueline at the under-18s. Draft eligible in 2014.

    Anders Bjork, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

    A finesse player with lots of offensive skill, Bjork was the driving force behind Team USA’s 9-1 exhibition hammerfest over Germany. The Notre Dame commit had two goals and two helpers and looks ready to carry over that success once the under-18s begin in earnest. Draft eligible in 2014.

     

  • Andrew MacDonald’s six-year, $30 million extension leaves Flyers little room to improve defense

    Rory Boylen
    Andrew MacDonald

    Unless the Philadelphia Flyers sign another defenseman for more than $5 million this summer, Andrew MacDonald will be the second-highest paid blueliner on their roster next season.

    MacDonald’s freshly signed six-year, $30 million extension with the Flyers isn’t a bad deal on its own. He’s a shutdown, shot-blocking defender who plays 21-plus minutes a game in the NHL and the salary cap will be on the way up this summer. But when you add the investment in MacDonald to the other commitments Philadelphia has made on the blueline, it becomes troubling.

    First of all, analytics aren’t friendly to MacDonald, who has a negative Corsi relative percentage (meaning his team is better when he’s off the ice) despite being strong within his own zone. Kevin Christmann of Broad Street Hockey had an excellent breakdown on how MacDonald’s iffy neutral zone play negatively impacts these stats. But there’s no denying the Flyers defenseman is effective within his own zone, specializing in shot blocking. This would suggest MacDonald is a serviceable player to have on the roster, but one who had been thrust into a bigger role than he’s qualified for, both with the Islanders and Flyers. And now Philadelphia, a team with defense concerns, will lock him into that role by paying him as a top two or three blueliner for the next six seasons. Read more

  • Reflecting on my regular season predictions, Part III

    Ronnie Shuker
    (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHL)

    Parsing prognostications is always a fun yet humbling and (with some picks) humiliating experience.

    I had a glance at my regular season predictions around American Thanksgiving, when teams traditionally take stock of where they think they’re at, and I was fairing pretty well. I had another peek at them during the Sochi Games, and I was looking a little better.

    But the last month of the season hit my picks hard. For the most part, I was nearly bang-on for the majority of my predictions. My problem was that when I missed, I swung and missed like Pedro Cerrano on a curve ball.

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  • NHL 14 simulation predicts Bruins over Sharks for Cup, Rask gets Conn Smythe Trophy

    Jason Kay
    760x428_Bruins_StanleyCup

    If nothing else, the storylines would be riveting.

    The San Jose Sharks, a team that has traditionally underperformed in the playoffs, chasing ultimate glory against the Boston Bruins, the club that let an imminent Stanley Cup final Game 7 slip through its grasp last June in a matter of 16 agonizing seconds. Both are seeking forms of redemption.

    Then there’s Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton, two likeable, greying superstars whom most everyone would like to see earn that elusive first Cup. For Thornton, there’d be the added twist of trying to earn the title over the club that drafted and traded him away in 2005-06, in the middle of his Hart Trophy season.
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  • Playoff preparation with Crosby, Malkin, Duchene and MacKinnon

    MacKinnon-Crosby

    Trainer Andy O’Brien has a murderers’ row of clients and every summer he puts them through their paces. Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon are all on his roster and he makes sure his guys are ready for the season.

    But now it’s playoff time, where the grind of 82 games – plus an Olympics-induced compressed schedule – gives way to the even harder road to the Stanley Cup. I caught up with O’Brien last week at the Gatorade High Performance Hockey Summit in Toronto to get a sense of how some of the NHL’s best are positioned for the playoffs.

    Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

    Crosby locked up the Art Ross Trophy with 104 points in 80 games, so he’s been healthy. But he also played in the Olympics for Canada, winning gold and therefore playing until the final game of the tourney. Here’s O’Brien’s take on The Kid:

    “It’s a real difficult season because it was a condensed schedule. For the players who actually had to go over to Sochi, they put a lot of stress on their nervous system and immune system by just going over there, then playing until the final game and going back to that condensed schedule. He’s really been preparing by making smart decisions on how to recover and working with the staff in Pittsburgh to make sure his body is fresh and ready. That’s the key in the playoffs. He’s learning every year from different playoff scenarios and it’s really just about managing energy. He’s done a phenomenal job of that this year.”

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