Say What?!? - January 24
Say What?!? - January 24
"The two ponds in my hometown used to freeze up in the winter so we could skate on them. Fortunately, I never fell in, but a couple kids did."
- Devils goaltender Corey Schneider
"The two ponds in my hometown used to freeze up in the winter so we could skate on them. Fortunately, I never fell in, but a couple kids did."
- Devils goaltender Corey Schneider
The Avalanche have a new coach and some skilled young forwards, but they don't have the depth to compete in the extra tough Central Division.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Avalanche.
THN's Prediction: 7th in Central
Stanley Cup odds: 75-1
Key additions: Joe Colborne, F; Fedor Tyutin, D; Rocco Grimaldi, C; Patrick Wiercioch, D
Key departures: Mikkel Boedker, LW; Shawn Matthias, LW; Nick Holden, D; Reto Berra, G; Brad Stuart, D
-Is Mikko Rantanen ready to rock? The Avs drafted Rantanen 10th overall in 2015, and he was a consensus pick to go directly to the NHL. Even at 18, he was 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and had several years of pro experience in the Finnish League. But Rantanen’s nine-game trial flopped, and Colorado assigned him to AHL San Antonio to avoid burning a year of his entry-level deal.
Rantanen racked up 24 goals and 60 points in 52 games and was the circuit’s co-rookie of the year. He has more than earned a full-season look in the NHL and will challenge for the Calder Trophy playing on a scoring line in Colorado.
-Has Colorado improved its 'D' enough? Per corsica.hockey, the Avs finished last in the NHL in score- and venue-adjusted Corsi against per 60 at a pitiful 63.42 percent. They’ve ranked between 24th and 30th four straight years. They allow far too many scoring chances.
The Avs acquired Patrick Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin for veteran blueline help. They added Nolan Pratt from AHL champion Lake Erie to coach the D-corps. Will these changes be enough? Don’t bet on it. Wiercioch and Tyutin are bottom-pair types. Youngsters Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov haven’t shown they’re ready to contribute as impact NHLers yet. The blueline still looks thin after Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Francois Beauchemin.
-When does Joe Sakic blow it up? With Patrick Roy stepping down in August, this team has a new look on the coaching side. But what about player personnel? Should Colorado fall flat again, Nathan MacKinnon and his seven-year contract extension would be the only safe body in Denver. Matt Duchene has been the subject of trade rumors, as has captain Gabriel Landeskog.
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.
The Colorado Avalanche are going to be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season, mostly because of the change behind the bench. After a surprising first season under Patrick Roy, the team hasn’t been able to find the same magic under a mostly similar roster. Many observers have felt Roy was holding the team, and its young stars, back and new blood could unleash their shackles.
At forward the Avalanche have the big three – Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene – who still have some room to grow. MacKinnon is still just 21 and this season has breakout campaign written all over it. The other two are solid first liners, but need to find another gear in order for this team to take the next step. That means spending more time in the other team’s zone which is hopefully something that improves under new coaching.
The issue with the Avalanche isn’t those three, it’s the guys below them. Carl Soderberg is solid, but after him the team is incredibly weak. Mikko Rantanen and Mikhail Grigorenko should be better than projected here though as they're still in the developing stages of their career.
Defence should be another place of interest as the team bolstered their bottom pairs with a slew of additions. At the top, the time-on-ice dynamic should change this season with a bigger focus on moving the puck up ice. That means more minutes going to Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson as opposed to the older and less capable Francois Beauchemin.
Goaltending is the team’s strongest position as both Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard rate extremely well. Varlamov had an off year last season and if he can’t bounce back, Pickard is ready to take over.
As has been the case over the last few seasons, the Avs are just not a very good team leaving them at the bottom of the pecking order in a very tough Central. Maybe they surprise with a new coach, but don’t bet on it as the roster still looks thin.
Up next: New Jersey Devils
Europe could pack it in after its best effort couldn't trump Canada's weakest in Game 1 of the World Cup final. But Ralph Krueger's troops aren't quitting.
TORONTO – Is Team Europe the master of its own fate in the World Cup final? It's debatable.
On one hand, it's tough to dictate how you fare when you're up against the monolith that is Canada, a hockey power that, even by its lofty standards, may be in its most dominant stretch of all-time. Tuesday night's 3-1 victory marked Canada's 15th straight victory in best-on-best tournament play. In a way, Canada's uncharacteristically uneven effort is especially demoralizing for Europe given Canada seemed to flick a switch whenever it needed to. The Euros opened the game with an aggressive shift and a power play, and Canada countered with two goals off turnovers. The Euros peppered Carey Price with 23 shots in less than 30 minutes, then Canada didn't allow a shot for more than six minutes. It seemed Canada dictated how the game would go by deciding when it felt like playing.
On the other hand, Europe can look at Tuesday's result and say, sheesh, we were pretty close. We outplayed the Canucks for extended stretches. All three of their goals came off takeaways. Those are correctable mistakes. We had distinct territorial advantages for much of the game. Carey Price helped maintain Canada's lead. We weren't that far from forcing overtime.
Can you guess which stance Team Europe takes? Well, yeah, obviously.
“We definitely felt we had a chance out here tonight," center Frans Nielsen told reporters after the game. "It was a tough loss, but we can take a lot of good from it, too. Everyone in there really believes now that we can go out and win this next one and make it a one-game series.”
Anze Kopitar called Game 1 Europe's best game of the tournament. Nielsen said Canada's weakness, if it had one, was defensive play, and that Europe did a good job forcing Canada to defend. Coach Ralph Krueger suggested the opportunities were even "if you cut the goals out of the videos."
Wow. It sure feels like the Europeans are lying to themselves. But good on them. Faced with a seemingly unbeatable opponent, the choices are (a) accept that they have no hope and mail in their next effort or (b) choose to believe even if they have no business believing. Not only has Europe chosen the latter route, but the team is downright angry about Game 1, as if it deserved a victory as much as Canada did.
"We're proud of that effort, and the creation of it, but we're very frustrated, of course, with what and how we gave up the goals we did," Krueger said. "Just a little bit too much risk at the wrong times, and the power of Canada is that: to take opportunities and jam them into the net.
"What we can take out of this is a lot of courage that we played a strong game, that we had a lot of opportunity that we didn't make enough out of. We could have tested Price a lot more with the chances we had, and some of them just died on our own sticks."
Kopitar pointed out that Europe dictated the pace for much of Game 1, and even though that might've been just because Canada sat back, the statement is true. He, like Krueger, said Canada's goals were the result of Europe's mistakes.
See a theme here? Krueger's troops aren't bowing down to Canada in admiration. It's not "we couldn't stop them" or "they're such a great team." It's "we made mistakes" and "we dictated play." The Euros are taking ownership, implying they have the ability to dictate what happens in Game 2 and beyond. Even though that probably isn't true – uh, it's Canada, you guys – it's a sign of good coaching that the Euros speak with such conviction.
That's all well and good, but they still weren't nearly good enough to beat Canada. What must they specifically do besides believe in themselves if they want to force Game 3? When I asked Krueger about that second period lull after they opened with 23 shots, he said Europe got hemmed in with some tired defensemen on long shifts, so they have to try and manage their minutes better going forward. He was pleased with the fact his team had so many takeaways and thinks his forwards' dogged forechecking will continue to create transition opportunities. The offense comes from conscientious defense.
“Ralph said from day 1 that the team with the best defense usually comes out on top of these kinds of tournaments," Nielsen said. "We’ve been focusing on a lot of that, being a frustrating team to play against and feeding off turnovers. We’ve got so many good players on the team and we’ve got speed, so when we get those turnovers we’re good enough to make teams pay.”
Now it's time to back up the talk. Team Europe still believes it has the talent and work ethic to beat Canada, but it'll have to find a way to solve Price if it does continue creating chances in transition. Otherwise, it'll be a short series.
And let's be honest. That's what we expect. Canada still looks like a team that can do what it wants out there. But bless the Europeans for refusing to accept that and keeping things interesting. They've proven us wrong time and again, so maybe they have one last miracle to unleash.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Winning seems to follow Corey Perry around and if Canada can take home the World Cup championship, he'll join a very exclusive group.
In case you’re wondering, Corey Perry keeps all his championship rings and gold medals locked in a safety deposit box. It must be a really, really big one. “I don’t travel with them,” Perry deadpanned as Team Canada prepared for its semifinal game against Russia in the World Cup of Hockey. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. We’ll figure something out when I’m done playing.”
Perry has not only a chance to add another bauble to his collection, but he also has an opportunity to join a miniscule group of players when it comes to winning championships. Miniscule, as in one. In all of the history of the game, only Scott Niedermayer has won a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, World Championship, World Junior Championship, Memorial Cup and Canada/World Cup title. Perry can join him if Team Canada can win three more games in the tournament. Perhaps he and Niedermayer, a former teammate with the Anaheim Ducks and a special assignment coach with the Ducks, can compare their hardware when he returns to Anaheim.
Like Niedermayer, winning follows Perry around. And like Niedermayer, Perry has been a huge part of the championship teams on which he’s played. When asked if there are any similarities between the two, Perry’s Anaheim teammate Ryan Getzlaf cracked, “Yeah, they skate the same.”
He was joking. Niedermayer is one of the smoothest, most effortless and efficient skaters the game has ever seen. Perry, on the other hand, skates as though he’s on a personal mission to do as much damage to the ice as possible. But the results are undeniable. It all started for Perry in 2005 when he barely made Canada’s WJC team during the NHL lockout and scored seven points to help Canada win the title. Later that season, after scoring 130 points for the London Knights, he added another 38 in 18 playoff games to lead the Knights to the Memorial Cup. Two years later he contributed to the only Stanley Cup he has won in his career. He then won gold medals with Canada both in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014 before becoming the 27th member of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship) when Canada won the world title last spring.
Perry is well aware that he’s on the cusp of history. Not surprisingly, he hasn’t given it a lot of thought. “Obviously, I’ve heard about it and I kind of know what’s at stake,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s just a matter of going out and playing hockey. I don’t worry about it. You don’t know if it could ever happen again, but I just go out and let the chips fall. It would be a tremendous honor for sure and it speaks volumes of the teams that I played for and guys I played with.”
It also speaks volumes of his contribution to those teams. Playing on what is essentially the third line on the left side of Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture, Perry has a goal in the tournament, mostly because he hasn’t been getting many looks. He has just six shots in the tournament, while Toews has 10 and leads Canada in scoring with three goals and an assist. The best thing about this for Perry is that he was not initially part of the group that was named to play in the World Cup and was added to the team when Jeff Carter had to pull out with an injury. But Hockey Canada knows what Perry is all about and appreciates how he has always answered the call for his country, so it was a pretty easy decision for both sides.
“The times I went (to the World Championship in 2010, 2012 and 2016), the season kind of ended abruptly and I wasn’t planning on sitting back and relaxing for another month or so,” Perry said. “It’s a great time and anytime you get a call, if you can go, I go and I want to be a part of that team.”
What Perry is on the cusp of accomplishing is something rather special. Sidney Crosby, who has won everything but a Memorial Cup, lost to Perry’s Knights in the final in 2005. Wayne Gretzky hasn’t done it. Nor has Mario Lemieux, nor Team Canada teammates Toews or Patrice Bergeron. They've all come close, but none of them has a safety deposit box with quite as much variety as Perry.
“It’s important to have winners, period,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock. “If you look at our group, we have a lot of determined people that have been in a lot of good situations and have learned how to win and expect to win. And in the big moments in your life, the best of the best deliver and they think they’re going to deliver. They don’t know why, but in their heart and in their mind they know they’re going to do it.”
Mississauga's towering defenseman leads off our weekly round-up of prospect talent – and he's not content with just being a shutdown specialist.
We’re back, folks. Another year, fishing for gems in the world of prospects. This is a tricky time of the season, since some of the best youngsters are still at NHL camps. So take your CHL results with a grain of salt until further notice. But it is nice to see Ryan Moore and Nicholas Caamano (Dallas) give the fans in Flint something to cheer about early on. Let’s get to the list, shall we?
Nic Hague, D – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Hague was already one of Mississauga’s best defensemen last season, but thanks to his late birthday, he gets another full year to state his case in front of NHL scouts. So it’s kinda funny to think that he’s only starting his second year of major junior. Hague played his 16-year-old year in his hometown of Kitchener with the Jr. B Dutchmen – and it wasn’t because of an NCAA decision.
“I felt really young,” he said. “I wanted to take back a year just for me; stay home, get Grade 11 out of the way. I felt I wasn’t ready yet and I would have stepped into a No. 6 or 7 role in Mississauga. With the Dutchmen, I was a 1-2 guy, getting power play time, killing penalties…I always had the puck on my stick. That year helped me improve a lot.”
Last year, his rookie OHL campaign, was pretty good too. The 6-foot-5 shutdown defenseman helped the Steelheads push heavily-favored Barrie in the first round of the playoffs, only succumbing after seven games.
“Going into that series, we were supposed to get swept,” Hague said. “When we came back in Game 2, that was an eye-opener for us. It made a lot of guys realize we could compete with the best in the league. In this year’s playoffs, we want to go all the way.”
And there are some pieces to do so. Hague will be key on defense, using his reach and body to discourage incursions to the net. He’s about 210 pounds now but sees himself at 215 and perhaps even 225 eventually – as long as it’s muscle he’s putting on. Hague also wants to make sure he doesn’t get pigeon-holed as defense only. He had 24 points as a rookie and two in his first two games this year.
“I really like being put in those situations,” he said. “I don’t consider myself just to be a shutdown guy; I like to jump up in the play and I feel comfortable on the power play.”
As he continues to grow both physically and game-wise, Hague will be a lot to handle – and he’s clearly not going to stand still when it comes to his development.
In the Pipeline
Matt Luff, RW (Los Angeles): The Kings are getting a pretty good return on their most recent investment. Luff was just signed as a free agent last week and is already piling up points for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. The league’s player of the week notched six points in two games, largely thanks to his shot and instincts.
Ales Stezka, G (Minnesota): The USHL goalie of the week. Stezka became the first Chicago Steel netminder ever to record a shutout in his opening night debut. The Czech native has a big frame and will be one to watch for the world juniors this year.
Ilya Sorokin, G (New York Islanders): Once again, Sorokin is thrashing the KHL for CSKA Moscow. The quick netminder has posted two shutouts in his first eight starts and is rocking a .949 save percentage, good for third overall. He’s also undefeated in regulation, going 6-0-1 so far.
Fredrik Karlstrom, C (Dallas): Karlstrom is one of the top scorers in Sweden’s second-best circuit (the Allsvenskan) so far, jumping out with five points in his first five games against men. The AIK center is fast, big and aggressive – a nice combination.
2017 Draft Stars
Nolan Patrick, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): The consensus No. 1 prospect for the draft, Patrick missed Canada’s world junior camp in the summer due to sports hernia surgery, but made it back in time for Brandon’s season opener. The result? Two points for the all-around center in 3-2 overtime loss.
Michael Rasmussen, C – Tri-City Americans (WHL): Hard to top Rasmussen’s season debut. The imposing 6-foot-5 center rang up four goals against Spokane, then added another the next night in Portland. Needless to say, he’s your early leader in tallies.
Clayton Phillips, D – Fargo Force (USHL): The University of Minnesota commit is going to be a very dangerous offensive defenseman this season for the Force. Phillips got rolling early, with two goals in his first game, earning him USHL defenseman of the week honors.
Erik Brannstrom, D – HV 71 (Swe.): With five points in five games, Brannstrom is off to a cracking start to his draft year. Scouts love this kid, who brings skill, skating and details to the blueline – one told me he’s “the closest thing to Kimmo Timonen that I’ve seen.” Size is the only concern, as Brannstrom comes in at 5-foot-9 and 164 pounds right now.
2018 Draft Stars
Benoit-Olivier Groulx, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Teams better get a handle on Groulx quick, because the kid is great at finding those soft areas in the offensive zone that lead to goals. The son of famed coach Benoit Groulx has two tallies in his first two games since going first overall in the Quebec League draft this summer.
Filip Zadina, LW – Dynamo Pardubice (Cze.): The Czechs were a great story this summer, winning the Ivan Hlinka tournament on home ice after years of Canadian dominance. Zadina may turn out to be an even greater story, as some scouts believe he could vie for first overall in 2018 thanks to his high-end motor, shiftiness and shot. He basically does everything well.