What If…Pavel Bure had an injury-free career?

The Hockey News
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Sport)

By Nathan Kanter

Pavel Bure was one of the purest snipers ever, but his career was cut short because of knee problems. He retired in 2005 with 437 goals in just 702 games, an average of .623 goals per game, which ranks fifth all-time. But what if Bure didn’t have to deal with a chronically injured knee? What if… he had an injury-free career?

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Oilers need to learn you must deal talent to get talent

Ryan Kennedy
Jordan Eberle (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

One of these days, sometime in the future, certainly before the NHL’s new TV deal with Rogers runs out, maybe we’ll come to a trade deadline where the Edmonton Oilers are serious about being contenders and approach the date as buyers.

When that day comes, Oilers fans better hope the members of Edmonton’s brass were studious history observers. Because the franchise that has slumped its way to three No. 1 overall picks in the past four drafts – possibly four out of five this summer – should take a look at how the Pittsburgh Penguins became Stanley Cup champions in 2009 and how the Pens have maintained exalted status in the Eastern Conference ever since.

Oh sure, you can be pithy and say “Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, that’s how,” but it took more than that. What Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero executed so well was the accumulation of assets he was willing to move to fill a need. Simply put, Oiler fans: don’t fall in love with your own players if you want to win.

From 2002 to 2006, the Penguins drafted two players first overall (Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury), two players second overall (Malkin and Jordan Staal) and one player fifth overall (Ryan Whitney).

Whitney would turn out to be a crucial piece to the puzzle, even though he did so from Anaheim. Coming out of Boston University as a smooth-skating puck rusher who could quarterback a power play, Whitney ranked as high as 17th overall in THN’s Future Watch edition and put up 14 goals and 59 points in his sophomore NHL campaign.

But with the Penguins knocking on Stanley’s door, a Pittsburgh team with so much talent down the middle still needed some wingers to complement the pivot trifecta of Crosby, Malkin and Staal. That’s when Shero pulled the trigger, sending Whitney to the Ducks for previous Cup winner Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi. Kunitz became an integral part of the attack and the rest is history.

Two years later, Shero needed another top-end winger and went over to Dallas, where he landed James Neal, alongside defenseman Matt Niskanen, for blueliner Alex Goligoski. Like Whitney, Goligoski was entering his best years when Pittsburgh traded him, adding offense from the back end and playing more than 20 minutes a night. But you have to give in order to receive, so that’s what Shero did. And though the Penguins didn’t win the Cup, the emergence of Neal and Niskanen have still made the trade look great from a Pittsburgh perspective.

Which takes us to Edmonton.

The list of young offensive talent up front is great right now, with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov all coming to town as No. 1 overall picks. Jordan Eberle was a steal with the 22nd choice in 2008 and plays like a top-five selection. If you stretch Edmonton’s rebuild back a bit farther, you can add in skilled center Sam Gagner, who was the sixth overall pick in 2007. Trade rumors surrounding Gagner have been omnipresent for more than a year, but the real return would come from one of the other scorers.

The Oilers, as currently constructed, are terrible defensively and that’s not limited to the blueliners. The top-end forwards are all on the smaller side, with Hall the biggest at 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds. In the West, this is not a group that can hang with the Ryan Getzlaf/Anze Kopitar/Joe Thornton crowd. But any team would love to add one of those players to its lineup if Edmonton were willing to part with an asset. Yakupov is the least experienced of the crew and has taken a lot of lumps from the local press and fans, though it’s only fair to point out he’s just 20. He would benefit most from a change of scenery, but would also bring the least return.

Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth may be the answer in net for Edmonton and goaltenders seem to be easier to find these days, but the Oilers definitely need more NHL defensemen and top-six size up front.

It might sound like sacrilege to Oilers fans, but if Edmonton were to part with one of Hall or Eberle, the return would be substantial: a top-pairing defenseman, for sure.

The Oilers have holes to fill and some great assets, but need to look at what the Penguins did to connect the dots.

It may not be pleasant, but it works.

This column originally appeared in the March 3 issue of The Hockey News magazine . Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

Wacky, diving Canadian dollar could have impact on 2014-15 NHL salary cap

Ken Campbell
Loonie (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There was a time when NHL teams north of the border would have been thrilled with a 90-cent dollar. That, of course, was back in 2001 when the dollar bottomed out at just over 63 cents compared to its American counterpart. But now that Canada has been on par or, in some cases, trading higher for the better part of seven years now, it’s not such pleasant news.

Since the Canadian dollar drew even in the fall of 2007, it has been great news for the NHL and its (now) seven Canadian teams. But the dollar has been in a free fall according to analysts and isn’t about to rebound back to par any time soon. When the puck dropped to open the season in October, the Canadian loonie was worth 97 cents American. By early February, it had dropped to 90 cents, with it dipping ever so slightly below the 90-cent threshold on occasion.

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Hockey 4 Hope fights cancer

The Hockey News
Hockey 4 Hope

Garrett Perry

If there’s one topic of fighting in hockey that doesn’t need debate, it’s the fight against cancer.

For Brian Laing, the founder of Hockey 4 Hope, the fight is personal. His Aunt Connie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and died in 2006 after a lengthy battle with the disease. Throughout her treatment, she endured physical pain and financial hardships that left a lasting impression on Laing. He realized cancer is not only a deadly disease, but an expensive one as well.

“I knew there had to be more people in the world like my Aunt Connie,” Laing says. “And the more people I spoke to, the more struggles I heard of.”

On March 29, at the SUNY Broome Ice Center in Binghamton, N.Y., Hockey 4 Hope will hold its fifth annual charity game to raise money for cancer research.

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Brent Seabrook hoping to heal Olympic disappointment with another Stanley Cup

Adam Proteau
BrentSeabrook

All things considered, Brent Seabrook leads a charmed life. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner and star blueliner on the defending-champion Chicago Blackhawks. He has three gold medals on the international scene: one at the Under-18 World Championship, one World Junior Championship and one at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

But all that success didn’t dull the sting of not being named to Team Canada’s 2014 squad. “I was disappointed,” Seabrook said. “I wanted to make the team, but there are a lot of good Canadian players out there. I rooted for (the 2014 team) to do well.”

The positive side of not being named to Team Canada: Seabrook was able to take his family on a Hawaiian vacation during the Olympic break and focus his energies on keeping the Blackhawks in solid condition and ready for another deep playoff run. The 28-year-old amassed as many points (34) in his first 60 games this season as he did in 78 games of 2011-12.

Team success is crucial for Seabrook, because the first time he and his teammates came off a Cup win in 2010, the results weren’t ideal. They stumbled out of the gate to an 11-11-2 record and barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed.

This time around, Seabrook and Chicago’s other leaders understood they would need to improve their early-season efforts and that’s precisely what they did. “Winning the Cup two of the last four seasons, every team is gunning for you,” Seabrook said.

“We were more prepared for that this year. Guys came back more focused. We wanted a good start and to keep rolling.”

If there was one area of concern for Seabrook and the Blackhawks, it was their January slide in which they won only five times in 14 games. But that’s a little deceiving. In six of the nine January losses, the Hawks secured a point by taking the game into overtime or a shootout (5-3-6).

This isn’t lost on Seabrook, who is confident in his team’s chances to repeat despite a serious challenge within their own division by the powerhouse St. Louis Blues.

“I don’t think we’ve been struggling that much,” he said. “We’re in every game, we just couldn’t get it done in overtime or shootouts. You have ups and downs. If that’s a down for us, I think all the boys will take it.”

This feature originally appeared in the March 24 issue of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

Lightning’s Victor Hedman becomes unbelievable after getting unshackled

Ryan Kennedy
VictorHedman

Players don’t get to choose which of their peers are drafted around them, but in his early NHL years, you had to feel for Victor Hedman. The Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman was sandwiched between John Tavares and Matt Duchene in the 2009 draft and when the Swedish blueliner didn’t become a star right away, the pressure was on.

Now in his fifth season with the Bolts, Hedman is taking over. He led the team in ice time and shorthanded points, and is fifth in team scoring with 45 points in 63 games.

“His confidence is through the roof, you can totally tell,” said goalie Ben Bishop. “It’s just one of those things where defensemen take a bit longer. He’s playing tremendous and has been a big reason why we’ve done so well lately.”

Hedman, 23, has also blossomed thanks to the coaching of Jon Cooper. The defenseman had 20 points during the truncated lockout season, which was about his yearly average prior to Cooper’s arrival. Even Hedman believes he’s hit another level.

“It feels like it,” he said. “For me, it was just about getting confident and the system we’re playing under coach Cooper has really benefitted my game. Getting confidence from the coaching staff that believes in you… it’s a lot of fun.”

In the new system, Tampa’s defensemen are more involved in offensive situations. Whether it was due to the personnel on the ice or his game strategy, previous bench boss Guy Boucher never got much scoring from his blueline. But Cooper is allowing Hedman to create chances.

“That’s my type of game, a two-way game,” Hedman said. “That’s the type of player I want to be.”

Even better for Tampa is the fact the Lightning have more talent coming up behind Hedman, including gifted rookie Mark Barberio, who is watching his blueline peer and learning on the job.

“What I’ve liked is the way he’s skating with the puck,” Barberio said. “He’s not afraid to take charge. There’s times where he just breaks it out himself and he doesn’t need to make a pass because he’s got such great wheels.”

Though Tavares and Duchene were in Sochi for Canada, Hedman was a noticeable snub from Sweden. But with his 6-foot-6, 223-pound frame and ability to score, the Bolts won’t take him for granted – especially if he helps them to a deep playoff run.

This feature originally appeared in the March 24 issue of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

The secret to Tampa Bay’s shocking rookie production

The Hockey News
TJohnson

By Gareth Bush

When Steven Stamkos broke his tibia in November, all but a few wrote off Tampa Bay’s chances in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Apart from the now-departed Martin St-Louis, the Lightning were left with depth forwards and a cluster of middle-tier prospects with little to no NHL experience.

Tampa was consistently dressing six rookies and all were asked to step up. None of Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, J.T. Brown, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas were ever “can’t-miss” prospects. At best, they were B-listers in past editions of Future Watch. None of them ever made the top 50. But every once in a while it’s important to be reminded projections are just that: projections.

Last year’s edition of Future Watch rated Tampa Bay’s draft performance over the past four years as the second-worst in the league. Aside from the consecutive lottery picks of Stamkos (first overall in 2008) and Victor Hedman (second in 2009), the team has only had four players in our annual top-50 prospect list the past four years, with an average rank of 32.25.

Not only is Tampa’s group of six playing beyond expectation, it’s been an integral part of the team remaining an East contender.

“It’s surprising a lot of people in this league,” says Dave Andreychuk, who won a Stanley Cup with the Bolts in 2004 and now works for them in a management role. “You have to look internally at what they’ve done in the past, those young kids, and the success they had in the minors. But has the progression and the maturity been a little quicker than we thought? Absolutely.”

Johnson, Palat, Barberio and Gudas credit their progression to two factors. The first is their American League success in 2011-12 playing for Calder Cup-champion Norfolk, which won a record 28 straight games.

The second is the coach of that team, Jon Cooper, now mans the bench in Tampa Bay. Since reuniting at the NHL level, they’ve performed beyond expectations laid upon them by scouts and fans alike. The only one not surprised is Cooper.

“I’m a true believer that a team that plays together and wins together can have a lot of success,” Cooper says. “It’s not that one or two guys are in the lineup and squeezing the stick tight every night. The fact that we brought so many rookies in at the same time has helped.”

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Hockey jerseys or sandwich boards: Are ads on NHL jerseys inevitable?

Adam Proteau
Hockey Jersey

Picture it: the iconic Montreal Canadiens jersey. Now picture an Apple logo underneath it. Now picture McDonald’s arches on one side of it and a bank logo on the other. I probably should have warned you to have a barf bag nearby before you read that, shouldn’t I? My apologies.

The specter of advertising on NHL jerseys is going to grow in the days to come. It’s already on the minds and tongues of executives in the NBA, including new commissioner Adam Silver. He said in February that sponsor symbols and logos on uniforms is but a fait accompli. “I believe it ultimately will happen in the NBA,” Silver said. “It makes good business sense.”

If you believe the NHL will follow Silver’s lead and alter the optics of hockey jerseys, you’re not alone. Uniform advertising has been discussed unofficially in hockey circles for some time. And my view on it has changed.

As I wrote in THN many years back, I thought it was worth exploring if the monies collected from the additional revenue stream went toward making NHL tickets more affordable. I know, I know, the folly of youth. Read more