Kevin Hayes is one of the biggest names playing at the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan. Heck, he’s been one of the biggest names in hockey this summer. That’s because his senior season at Boston College was so scintillating that teams were fiending to sign him up once it became apparent he would not sign with the team that drafted him, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are, in the opinion of the deep thinkers at The Hockey News, the class of the NHL. Chicago is our pick to win the Cup, while the defending champs have, by far, the best chance of preventing that from happening.
It’s a virtual two-horse race with the co-favorites, having remarkably similar pedigrees.
But what if…we’re wrong? Unlikely, we realize, but not impossible. If both clubs get eliminated from contention, which dark horse is best positioned to come from the outside and bask in the winner’s circle?
More than ever, the professional sports world focuses on personality to help sell their products. In the hockey business, that’s been tougher to do thanks to a culture that discourages individualism in the name of team success. But the NHL still has a number of vibrant personas who’ll be worth keeping an eye (and an ear) on in 2014-15. Here are the top 10 hockey personalities this season:
10. Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils. The veteran winger has filled notepads and digital recorders all across North America because he’s an intelligent guy with a healthy sense of humor and good head on his shoulders, and he understands that having opinions and showing the public he’s more than a hockey automaton won’t affect his on-ice performance. Here he is on the Canadian TV comedy series “Mr. D.”:
Cammalleri deserves kudos for putting himself out there. That said, let’s have a moment of silence for that charm now that he’s signed on with the Devils, who are the Bermuda Triangle of personality.
9. Jaromir Jagr, Devils. Yes, I also can’t believe two Devils are on this list. But Jagr is still one of the game’s great characters. He’s capable of going off on a hilarious tangent at any point, but he can also speak with tremendous insight about the game and his experience playing it:
Soon enough, the 43-year-old will be retired and back in his native Czech Republic. Enjoy him while you can. Read more
If the NHL playoffs were similar in spirit to Major League Baseball’s, there’s a good chance the Los Angeles Kings wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup in 2012. They would’ve had to play the Calgary Flames in a one-game showdown just to get into the playoffs and probably would’ve lost.
More on that later, but first to the matter at hand.
2013-14 record: 35-40-7
Acquisitions: Devin Setoguchi, Jonas Hiller, Mason Raymond, Deryk Engelland, Brandon Bollig
Departures: Shane O’Brien, T.J. Galiardi, Chris Butler, Joey MacDonald, Blair Jones, Mike Cammalleri
Top five fantasy options: Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Mason Raymond, Mikael Backlund
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Even though the Flames were fourth worst in the league last season, Calgary fans were patient and rallied behind the rebuild because for the first time in a decade, there’s skillful youth coming through the system.
Sean Monahan made the grade as a 19-year-old, T.J. Brodie emerged as a top-two defender and Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne and Karri Ramo made positive strides.
Expectations are high for Johnny Gaudreau, who lit up college hockey with 80 points in 40 games to win the Hobey Baker Award, Sam Bennett, who was selected fourth overall (though he’s not guaranteed to make the team as an 18-year-old) and Tyler Wotherspoon, who has a top-seven spot on the blueline. And soon there will be Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund and Emile Poirier.
The Flames are still outmatched by most teams in all areas, but expectations are realistic. The fans know there will be another top-five pick in the pipeline a year from now.
Bust: Most prognosticators have the Flames finishing among the bottom three teams, so there’s not a lot of busting that could happen that would surprise or disappoint fans. Still, question marks remain.
What if Monahan struggles in an increased role in his sophomore season and can’t match the 22 goals he scored in 2013-14? What if the loss of proven scorers Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak dries up the offense and the young forwards spin their wheels? What if small-man Gaudreau just can’t handle the size of the NHL? What if Baertschi is another Swiss miss? What if the career seasons for Mark Giordano and Backlund in 2013-14 were aberrations?
Calgary will need a lot of standout performances if it’s going to avoid finishing in the bottom five again. But if the Flames remain among the cellar dwellers, we can’t really call that a bust. For a team with low expectations, the worst-case scenario is finishing just outside the playoffs and missing out on a prime draft position.
Bottom Line: If things go better than expected in Calgary, the Flames will miss out on one of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin as top prospects in the 2015 draft, but still miss the playoffs. If the Flames predictably struggle, they’ll add another high pick blue-chipper to the prospect stable. Expect Calgary to grind out a lot of close games under well-liked coach Bob Hartley, keeping in mind that most of those matches will be losses.
Prospect to watch: Flames GM Brad Treliving said he’d be “shocked” if No. 4 overall pick Sam Bennett made the team out of camp, so we’ll turn our attention to Gaudreau. A super scorer with Boston College for three years, Gaudreau comes with high expectations. Flames fans would like to see him at least contend for the Calder Trophy this season and provide a glimmer of hope that Sean Monahan did last season. Gaudreau played one game for the Flames at the end of last season and scored a goal.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Seventh in Pacific Division
Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen
Not a lot of wins have come out of Alberta in recent years, but at least there is hope in both markets. Edmonton has toiled for years and had the more high-profile rebuild, but Calgary is quickly putting together a nice coterie of players as well.
Sean Monahan has already made a dent in the NHL and two other names are poised to join him up front on the Flames sooner than later: Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett.
We still have a month left of summer, but you wouldn’t know it standing face to face with Mark Giordano. He’s in great shape, and he has great posture. He’s alert, almost bouncing on his heels. He very much looks ready to play NHL games today.
He’s enjoyed the usual hockey player off-season, full of golf – more than he’d like, considering he was free to hit the links in April – and visiting family. But Giordano, 30, says all the activities designed to get his mind off the game are winding down now.
“At this point of the summer, now you’re getting those butterflies, because you know camp is coming back,” he said.
Back to that exemplary posture of his. He’s by no means cocky, but he has a quiet confidence about him. He doesn’t look like someone just one year into life as an NHL captain. That or it’s simply clear the Calgary Flames made the right choice.
He says his life hasn’t changed too much since the ‘C’ was stitched onto his jersey for the start of 2013-14, that he simply leads by example, and that he believes young players look up to that more than anything. After all, Giordano says, that’s what he always did in his early years in the NHL.
“Lead by example” has become a classic hockey cliché in this era of captain by committee, but Giordano sure seems to back up what he says. His first season as captain was the best of his career. His 14 goals and 47 points were career highs, and he hit those marks despite missing 18 games. He still ranked sixth and 11th among NHL blueliners in those two categories, higher when you exclude Brent Burns, who played forward last year but was listed among D-men. Pro-rate Giordano’s totals over 82 games and he’d have 18 goals and 60 points. Only Erik Karlsson and Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith averaged more points per game. Giordano finished 10th in Norris voting (with one first-place vote), and would’ve been higher if advanced statistics carried more weight on the ballot. Giordano’s Corsi was the best in the NHL relative to who he played with and who he played against.
The state of the Philadelphia Flyers defense core remains a troubling issue. They’ve lacked a true top-two defenseman since Chris Pronger’s career was ended by injury nearly three years ago. They attempted to address that issue in July of 2012 by signing Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber to an expensive offer sheet, but the Predators swiftly matched it.
Former GM Paul Holmgren attempted to bolster the overall blueline depth, acquiring Luke Schenn, Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald via trade and free agency. None of them, however, can fill Pronger’s skates.
The Flyers underwent a front-office shakeup this spring when Ron Hextall took over as GM. Despite Hextall’s stated preference for building from within, rumor-mongers believe the Flyers still seek a stud defenseman, linking them to Winnipeg Jets blueliner Zach Bogosian. Read more