After picking up your annual Yearbook, I found myself again annually re-reading your list of the top 50 NHLers for that one guy whose name I'm sure I'm just somehow missing.
This year’s player was last year’s rookie of the year: Steve Mason, who led all goalies in shutouts and fought through a bout of mono and a patch-work blueline to lead the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
It's hard to argue the other between-the-posts peers on your list, but clearly if you listed eight goaltenders among the top 50 players, you would have to include Mason.
Brandon Prust is no stranger to having to play his way on to a team
By: Dhiren Mahiban
Sep 20, 2016
The Maple Leafs invited Brandon Prust to training camp on a professional tryout and NHL veteran is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
Brandon Prust is no stranger to tryouts. As a teenager, Prust used a camp invite to crack the London Knights roster ahead of the 2002-03 OHL season. He eventually helped the Knights capture the franchise’s first Memorial Cup in 2005.
Now, at 32, the veteran of 486 NHL games is relying on the experience of his successful OHL tryout to help him with his latest camp invitation.
The Toronto Maple Leafs invited Prust to training camp on a professional tryout, and the London native, who had a season to forget last year, is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
“That was kind of before I had any idea,” Prust said of his inexperience going to Knights camp. “I was just kind of going out – I had an invite to camp. Went out, did my thing and made the team. You take your experiences, especially being an older guy. You take all your experiences [from] throughout your career. It’s kind of what makes you a little wiser as you get older.”
Last summer, heading into the final year of his four-year, $10 million contract, Prust was dealt from the Montreal Canadiens to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Zack Kassian. In his first game against the Canadiens, on Oct. 27, Prust suffered a left ankle injury, which derailed his whole season. He initially missed 11 games due to the injury.
Seeing his teammates go 3-5-3 in his absence Prust says he was over aggressive in his rehab attempting to return.
“I had never had an ankle injury before so I definitely pushed myself,” Prust said. “I wanted to get back. The team was struggling a little bit. You want to get back and help. Pushed it a little bit. Obviously looking back, I might’ve waited a little longer.”
Prust appeared in 35 games for the Canucks last season prior to being placed on waivers in February. The 6-foot, 195-pound forward appeared in nine games with the AHL’s Utica Comets before mutually agreeing with the Canucks to part ways. The decision to move on was key for Prust, who knew he was heading into unrestricted free agency. Being healthy enough to have a proper summer of training was crucial in order for Prust to show interested clubs he could still play at the NHL level.
“Obviously that was important for me, just didn’t feel confident and comfortable with injury last year,” he said. “That was the main objective: getting [the ankle] straightened out and figured out so I can focus.”
Prust finished his ninth season with just seven points and 59 penalty minutes – his lowest totals since his rookie season. Asked to assess his year in the Canucks organization, Prust was blunt.
“Well obviously it wasn’t very good, right? It was one of my worst years as an NHLer,” he said. “Got to bounce back from it.”
Prust had a few camp offers to mull over this summer, but his decision became clear when the Maple Leafs came calling. Growing up two hours outside of Toronto, Prust was admittedly a Leafs fan as a child.
“I always watched the Leafs growing up and always dreamed of playing for the Leafs and putting on the blue and white jersey,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I kind of chose Toronto. I knew my heart would be in it and it would definitely bring that passion out in me.”
With Leafs camp set to open this week, and his ankle feeling “back to 100 per cent”, Prust has been busy working with skating coach Barb Underhill to regain, and refine, his stride.
“It’s tough because you’ve had habits for so long and had a certain way,” Prust said. “You definitely have to really focus. You’re not a sponge where you can naturally do it. You really have to practice, and really have to mentally think.
“Since I’ve been with her, I even told her, ‘I’m laying in bed at night thinking of my stride and changing my stride and what I got to do’. She’s like, ‘I didn’t want to do that to you’, but that’s just natural, that’s how you are. I think just being at my age, it’s kind of what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to drill it into your brain.”
Prust admitted his game could’ve benefitted from working with Underhill two or three years ago.
“It’s just little tweaks and little things that, if you can make it natural, if you can practice enough, you can change some things,” he said. “Obviously not going to turn myself into the fastest guy in the league, but little things to get me to the puck quicker, little things that can make me move better laterally – they’re going to help me in the long run.”
Though Prust would like to see his childhood dream come to fruition, the numbers are stacked against him heading into camp. Toronto signed rugged forward Matt Martin to a four-year, $10 million contract on July 1. Rich Clune, who split last season between the Leafs and Marlies, is still with the organization on an AHL contract. On top of that, the Leafs have just two contracts remaining before they reach the max of 50.
“I know if I go out and play my game, and show them that I can still move, I know that I’ll get a fair shot,” Prust said. “I know I can crack the lineup if I prove it. I know what I’ve got to do.”
Sobotka won’t return to Blues to start season, but only because of KHL contract issue
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 28, 2016
Getting out of his KHL deal wasn’t as easy as Vladimir Sobotka would have hoped, and after months of trying, it appears Sobotka is stuck playing for Avangard Omsk for one more season.
Vladimir Sobotka has flirted with a return to the St. Louis Blues in each of the past two off-seasons after leaving the organization for the KHL in 2014-15, and while he sounded confident he would be returning to the NHL in time for the 2016-17, it seems as though difficulties in getting out of his deal with Avangard Omsk will keep Sobotka in Russia for one more season.
In a statement, Avangard president Vladimir Shalaev said that the “memorandum of mutual respect of contracts KHL and the NHL has not been cancelled,” and that rumors Sobotka would be returning to St. Louis were exactly that — rumors.
“The situation with Sobotka developed exactly as we expected,” Shalaev said. “In the summer, we talked about the fact that Vladimir is our team’s player because he has a valid contract with Avangard for another year.”
The situation is a lot more murky than Sobotka, 29, simply having a deal with Omsk, though.
Throughout the off-season, indications have been that Sobotka has planned on returning to the Blues and honoring the one-year, $2.725-million contract that he was awarded in arbitration before leaving the NHL for the KHL. However, as the summer wore on and Sobotka attempted to get his official release from his deal, news came that triggering his opt-out clause wasn’t as easy as he had hoped.
In mid-September, while Sobotka was suiting up for the Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey, he told ESPN’s Joe McDonald that talks with the KHL had been ongoing for five months and Sobotka was still without his release.
"We're still talking and we'll see what's going to happen during the World Cup," Sobotka told McDonald. "After that, I think we're going to be smarter. It's been going on for five months and I've had enough of it. It's my agent's job to to keep talking and we'll see."
One potential issue could be that in order for Sobotka to come back to the NHL, he needs to buy himself out of his contract. Fox Sports Midwest’s Darren Pang, a broadcaster for the Blues, reported that Sobotka getting out of his deal could require him to pay two-thirds of his alleged $4-million salary for the upcoming season. That would mean Sobotka is on the hook for $2.64 million, essentially meaning his NHL return would see him playing for little more than $100,000.
Regardless of the issues, though, it appears Sobotka’s saga is over for another summer, and will be until at least the end of the KHL campaign. He’s heading back to Avangard, and the Blues will have to wait a while to see him suit up in St. Louis.
Andrew Shaw and Nathan Walker fight following Shaw's hit on Connor Hobbs
Author: via NHL/Streamable
Andrew Shaw ejected for hit from behind in Canadiens debut
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 28, 2016
Andrew Shaw’s stay with the Canadiens could be starting off with a pre-season suspension after he was ejected from Tuesday’s game against the Capitals for boarding defenseman Connor Hobbs.
The Montreal Canadiens knew they were getting a scrappy player with a bit of a mean streak when they shipped two second-round picks to the Chicago Blackhawks for Andrew Shaw, and they know that with Shaw’s style of play comes the risk he’ll be missing some action due to suspension.
What the Canadiens maybe weren’t planning for, though, was that Shaw’s first suspension of the season could come in his very first outing with his new club.
During Tuesday’s pre-season game between the hometown Canadiens and visiting Washington Capitals, Shaw was sent to the showers early for his actions late in the second frame. Montreal had chipped the puck deep into the Capitals zone, and Shaw gave pursuit as Washington blueliner Connor Hobbs went back to start a breakout. As Hobbs collected the puck, his back was turned to the play and Shaw drove through the blueliner, crunching him into the boards and leaving him downed on the ice:
Almost immediately Capitals winger Nathan Walker had his gloves off and was mixing it up with Shaw, who used his free hand to pump up the Bell Centre crowd.
After the fight, Shaw was escorted to the Canadiens’ bench and sent to the dressing room. All told, he was handed 30 minutes in penalties, including a boarding major — served by Jeremy Gregoire — as well as a misconduct, fighting major and game misconduct.
The Canadiens killed off Shaw’s entire major penalty, but there’s a chance they’ll have to continue to play without Shaw in the lineup for at least one more outing in the pre-season. The NHL Department of Player Safety will no doubt be taking a look at Shaw’s hit, and there’s a fair chance that they could deem Shaw’s hit, which was unnecessary, dangerous and required Hobbs to leave the game for medical attention, could draw a suspension.
Thankfully, Hobbs was not seriously injured on the play, and he was able to return to action and record an assist late in the third period.
Expect the Red Wings playoff streak to end this season, especially if they don't start giving more ice time to their best players.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 5th in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 32-1
Key additions: Frans Nielsen, C; Thomas Vanek, LW; Steve Ott, C
Key departures: Pavel Datsyuk, C; Brad Richards, C; Kyle Quincey, D; Joakim Andersson, C
-Does the playoff streak end this year? Yes, 25 years will be the capper. The Red Wings have simply lost too much top-end talent the past few years, and Pavel Datsyuk’s Russian retirement surely seals their fate. Without Datsyuk, Detroit returns just one player who tallied more than 45 points last year: captain Henrik Zetterberg (a team-leading 50 points). Thomas Vanek sure isn’t going to move mountains, and Frans Nielsen’s impact will be more in the two-way department. Plus, Tomas Jurco may start the season on the shelf while recovering from a back injury – and he was a guy they needed to make a leap this year.
-Who will be the most effective defenseman? With Niklas Kronwall’s career on the wrong side of a tipping point, it might be Danny DeKeyser. The Red Wings had incredibly stratified usage when it came to their blueline last year, and DeKeyser played the toughest minutes of all. Second place went to Kyle Quincey, but he’s gone. At least one more salvageable season from Kronwall would go a very long way, but he already has a knee problem that kept him from the World Cup.
-What can we expect from Dylan Larkin? Continued ascent, for sure. Larkin labored in the second half of his rookie campaign, and coming off one year in college (where the game schedule is light) may have been a factor. But now the splendid young center knows what to expect, and the speed he used as jet fuel during all-star weekend festivities will be used even more effectively thanks to a full summer of training. Once Larkin really takes hold, he’s the offensive heir apparent to the outgoing Zetterberg/Datsyuk alliance.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
This team was once the model franchise, but they’ve been in a serious tailspin over the past few seasons, and with the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, continuing their playoff streak will be a tall order.
The biggest issue in Detroit is minute distribution. Too much ice-time is given to guys who don’t really help the team and not enough is given to their best players.
Last season, Luke Glendening averaged 14:34 minutes per game while Tomas Tatar averaged 14:21. Some might argue that Tatar wasn’t producing enough to earn more minutes (what’s Glendening’s excuse?), but his 5-on-5 points per 60 stayed constant from the 2014-15 to 2015-16 season and his primary points per 60 actually increased. He’s also one of the team’s best play drivers. Glendening doesn’t produce or drive play, but somehow earned more ice-time. That simply shouldn’t be happening.
That’s not all. Gustav Nyquist, one of the team’s best offensive threats, was getting middle-six ice-time while Justin Abdelkader, a third-liner on any other team, got first line minutes. On defense, Brendan Smith was the team’s 6th or 7th D-man on most nights, despite being the team’s best play-driving D-man. That possession ability translated into the team’s highest 5-on-5 goals percentage, but who cares about goals, right?
Here’s a simple experiment showcasing just how inefficient Detroit’s lineup structuring is. Let’s pretend every team gave their best players (according to this model) the most ice-time and their worst the least. Their best player would get an average No. 1 forward ice-time, their second best an average No. 2 and so on. This would create an “optimal” lineup according to Game Score, with the difference between their actual lineup showing how efficient it is.
Here are the results of that (which don’t factor if a 13th forward or 7th D-man are better than someone else in the lineup). Detroit is last. By a lot.
This model is by no means perfect, but if you’ve been tracking each of these previews you’d see it generally does a decent job of valuing the best players on each team. That’s not to say this is how every lineup should be constructed, there’s other things to consider like chemistry, fatigue and effort level. But when a team is as inefficient as the Red Wings, it’s definitely a problem worth looking into.
Detroit likely doesn’t make the playoffs this year, and if their ice-time deployment is anything like last year’s they’ll only have themselves to blame.