Once again, I’m privileged enough to receive a ballot for the NHL’s annual individual player awards. It’s a huge honor for any hockey journalist and one I think deserves the respect of full transparency to the public. If we’re supposed to represent the fans, we owe it to them to reveal and stand behind our choices – choices I make after numerous discussions with NHL executives and players.
So here are my picks, along with some brief thoughts on why I chose the players I did for the five awards. You probably won’t agree with all of them, but the last thing these honors are about is pure consensus.
HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
The Rationale: As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve come to see the Hart as a most valuable player award, if only because the concept of “value” is so nebulous. But certainly, Crosby’s value to the Penguins – especially during Pittsburgh’s injury-plagued season – cannot be questioned. Nor can his status as the game’s best all-around individual force. Getzlaf was a very close second, while Giroux got the nod over Bergeron because he was the catalyst in Philadelphia’s remarkable season-saving turnaround. Read more
Here’s an easy way for the NHL to make even more money: hold a post-season tournament for all non-playoff teams to determine the Stanley Cup of Hope.
The inspiration for the idea comes from the Kontinental League, which started the Nadezhda Cup (a.k.a. Cup of Hope) last season for teams that missed the playoffs. The, er, “winner” takes home around $600,000 and gets a top pick in the KHL draft.
It’s an out-there idea, for sure, and I’m not necessarily endorsing it, but let’s indulge it for a moment.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hiring Brendan Shanahan as their new president isn’t the only off-season change expected for the club in the coming weeks. Amid rumors coach Randy Carlyle could be fired, speculation persists over potential off-season roster moves.
James Mirtle of The Globe & Mail believes goaltender James Reimer along with defensemen Cody Franson and Tim Gleason could become trade candidates. Reimer and Franson are restricted free agents while Gleason has two years (at an annual cap hit of $4 million) left on his contract. Mirtle also thinks forwards Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul could be dealt for the right price.
The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons also believes Reimer and Franson could be moved, but feels their trade value is lower than it was a year ago. Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star adds his voice to the growing speculation over Reimer’s trade status, and thinks defenseman Jake Gardiner could be dealt for a top forward. Read more
Florida won the draft lottery last night, meaning the Panthers get the first crack at an interesting field with a lot of variation in it. A lot goes into a draft list and the final results are always thrown into chaos by trades and reaches. As the draft gets closer and teams decide who they like the most, I’ll get a more accurate picture of how things might shake down. But for now, here’s a quick-and-dirty look at what could happen come draft day in Philadelphia, based on the teams’ current situation.
1. Florida – Aaron Ekblad, Barrie Colts, D
Yeah, yeah, defensemen never go first overall anymore (Erik Johnson was the last in 2006), but the Cats are loaded up front with Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau. Their best ‘D’ prospects are still in college, whereas Ekblad can step in right away and play a top-four role.
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.
There have been no shortage of sideshow symptoms afflicting the Maple Leafs over the years, but many hockey people will tell you the main ailment that has plagued this franchise for decades is their ineffectiveness on the drafting and development front. Whether it’s collective assessments done by panels of scouts and GMs or the fans themselves, few have been impressed with Toronto’s record on identifying and cultivating high-impact NHLers. Indeed, the reason management often splurges on unrestricted free agents or gambles on high-risk, high-reward trades is because there hasn’t been a steady stream of cost-effective NHL-calibre talent coming through the farm system.
Even Leafs GM Dave Nonis admits the issue of in-house asset development is a real concern.
“We have to get better in all areas, scouting in particular,” Nonis told reporters Monday after the introduction of new Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. “We’re not going to become a contender through free agency if this doesn’t happen. It’s going to be player acquisition through the draft and development, or via the trade route.”
Nonis’ new hockey boss feels similarly, but cautioned against any notion of him coming into his position and clearing house, using his time as a player with the Red Wings as an example. Read more
Brendan Shanahan was formally introduced to the media as new president and alternate governor of the Toronto Maple Leafs before a packed concourse inside Air Canada Centre Monday, but there were no fireworks, fanfare or grandiose pronouncements from the Hockey Hall of Famer on his first day on the job. This was the start of a new era for the NHL’s most visible franchise, but the only thing that was assured was Shanahan’s famous work ethic and pedigree of success would be added to the management mix.
“This is the time for me to start learning about the organization,” the 45-year-old Shanahan told the massive media contingent. “It is a time for me to listen, to learn and get to work. That’s all that’s really worked for me in my career. That’s what worked for me when I was done playing hockey, and that’s what I intend to do here.”
As the Leafs players packed their bags for the summer in the building’s basement, Shanahan sat at a podium with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and C.E.O. Tim Leiweke and GM Dave Nonis, and the trio talked realistically about the task ahead. And the message was clear: they’re a work-in-progress that hasn’t worked and needs to see way more progress. Leiweke used particularly strong language to indicate his displeasure with the Leafs’ brutal conclusion to the 2013-14 regular season (12 losses in their final 14 games).
“I definitely sense we lack an identity,” Leiweke said. “Right now we’re a team that lacks a direction and we want to change that.” Read more
Talk about the luck of the Irish. On his first day on the job, Brendan Shanahan was handed a gift in the form of Barry Trotz being fired by the Nashville Predators.
And there is no move that Shanahan, the new president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, could make that would create as much excitement and give this team the boost it so desperately needs than to fire current coach Randy Carlyle and replace him with Trotz. It’s been speculated that Shanahan had his eye on Peter DeBoer, but the New Jersey Devils coach still has a year on his contract and will soon sign an extension. John Tortorella if he loses his job in Vancouver? Well, this crew of defensive misfits could do worse, but that might just be a little too toxic.
The Nashville Predators decided not to renew Trotz’s contract because it was time for a new voice. With 1,196 games and just two playoff series victories to his credit, Trotz cannot say he is being hard done by in losing his job. Hockey is a results-oriented business and the tandem of GM David Poile and Trotz did not deliver.