"To go to a place like Toronto is unbelievably exciting for me. Just the tradition they have there, the city, the fans, it's all unbelievable. Growing up a big-time Yankees fans, a good analogy for me is that it's like playing for the New York Yankees of the NHL."
- James van Riemsdyk on being dealt to the Maple Leafs
The Flames appear to be a team on the rise. Will an increased possession game and improved goaltending be enough to get them into the playoffs?
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 Calgary Flames.
THN's Prediction: 4th in Pacific
Stanley Cup odds: 30-1
Key additions: Troy Brouwer, RW; Brian Elliott, G; Alex Chiasson, RW; Matthew Tkachuk, LW; Linden Vey, RW; Chad Johnson, G
Key departures: Joe Colborne, RW; Jonas Hiller, G; Mason Raymond, LW; Josh Jooris, C; Niklas Backstrom, G
-Can new coach Glen Gulutzan get the Flames to play with possession? Deposed Calgary coach Bob Hartley was a big fan of the stretch pass to create offensive chances and stressed shot blocking to suppress the opposition. Both meant the puck was wayward rather than controlled. That type of old school thinking ran thin with GM Brad Treliving, and the coach of the year in 2014-15 was replaced.
Gulutzan is regarded as more progressive in his coaching style and is sure to find creative ways of keeping the puck on the sticks of his skilled young forwards and mobile defense corps.
-Who's the next young gun to step in and shine? In each of the past three seasons, Calgary has seen an unproven rookie blossom in an offensive role. From Sean Monahan to Johnny Gaudreau to Sam Bennett, the future is in good hands.
Expect to see two of the following win jobs. Winger Hunter Shinkaruk showed well in an eight-game trial last season, sixth-overall pick Matthew Tkachuk is a mature 18, Daniel Pribyl is big and skilled, and 2013 first-rounder Emile Poirier is quick with nice finish.
-Is Brian Elliott's stellar save percentage transferrable to Alberta? Was it the team system in St. Louis or just Elliott’s ability to stop shots at an elite level that led to an otherworldly .925 save percentage the past five seasons combined?
Chances are it was a combination of both. Elliott is unheralded, but then again, the defensive schemes of Ken Hitchcock leads to his goalies posting nice SPs. At 31, Elliott is in the final year of his contract at a modest $2.5 million. A good showing and he’ll double that number.
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.
Once you see the same thing happen a couple times it becomes less surprising. After Toronto in 2013-14 and Colorado in 2014-15, Calgary became the latest team to crash back down to Earth after a miracle season. This season should be different for the Flames and you may see them take some real steps toward being a playoff team.
The biggest change comes in net with the additions of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson who should be much better at keeping pucks out of the net. Last year’s team finished last in save percentage which was a big reason for their undoing. That shouldn’t be an issue this year.
What will likely be an issue is team depth. Top heavy is a word that gets undeservedly thrown around for good teams like the Penguins and Sharks that have great players and depth. The Flames have great players, but the bottom of the roster looks sketchy. They have an okay top six led by Johnny Gaudreau, but the bottom has four replacement level players. Their fourth line is the worst in the league and it’s a big reason why the team’s forward group is in the bottom five.
On defense, the divide is even crazier. The team has arguably three No. 1 D-men followed by three replacement level guys. No other team has a gap that severe, although it’s not as big of an issue here as the strength of the top three pushes the entire unit into the top 10.
Putting the two together, Calgary has one of the league’s biggest discrepancies between their top-end talent (top six forwards and top four defensemen) which ranks 15th and their depth (bottom six forwards and bottom pair d-men) which ranks 28th.
What you’ll notice here is that the best teams have good top end talent with the depth to match, while weaker teams are lacking in one area, although there are exceptions to both rules. Calgary is a team that’s likely on the playoff bubble this year and in order to take the next step they’ll need some bigger steps from top end guys like Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett and they need to solidify their depth because what they’re trotting out on the bottom lines isn’t good enough.
Team Canada can be better, much better, and that's a scary thought
By: Ken Campbell
Sep 27, 2016
Team Canada played arguably its worst best-on-best game since the 2006 Olympics and still came out on top by a comfortable margin. It won't happen again.
The stark contrast between Team Canada and Team Europe was not reflected in the flow of the play or in the score of Game 1 of the World Cup of Hockey final. It was, however, on full display after the game ended.
At one gathering in the media room, Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar had this to say after his team’s 3-1 loss to Canada: “I thought this was our best game so far in this tournament.”
Contrast that with Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty right at the next pod. If you hadn’t seen the scoreboard, you would have sworn that they were on the losing end of the equation. “It wasn’t our best,” Stamkos said. “I think we all realize that. At this time of the tournament, a win is a win, so that’s a good thing.”
So there you have it. Team Canada played a terrible game, probably its worst best-on-best effort since the seldom-spoken-of disaster at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. And it won. Team Europe, played the absolute best game of its very short, but illustrious history. And it lost. Which is pretty much what everyone expected before the drop of the puck.
These two teams clearly were not playing to sell tickets, as evidenced by the shocking number of empty seats in the Air Canada Centre, the bargain basement prices for ducats on the secondary ticket market and the almost as shocking dearth of people gathered in Maple Leaf Square outside the arena. And they weren’t playing to entertain, as evidenced by the fact that this gave the Sweden vs. North America semifinal a very spirited run for its money as the most turgid game of the tournament. (It also, by the way, affirmed this columnist’s long-held notion that the better the players, the worse the game from an entertainment standpoint.)
So here Canada sits, one win away from capturing the World Cup, which is essentially where things figured to be at this point in the proceedings. Canada displayed, more than any other time in this tournament, that it is simply too good for all the other countries - and in some cases combination of countries – in the world. There is no expecting Canada to let up here. So now it’s up to the other countries to start getting better. Dynasties usually inspire those chasing them to be better. We’ll see in coming years whether that is indeed the case on the world stage. It certainly hasn’t been the case in women’s hockey, so it’s hardly a given that Canada is going to relinquish its stranglehold on the hockey world anytime soon.
(As an aside, it would be really nice to see a country like Sweden realize that it is producing some outstanding and creative players and start playing like it, instead of relying on the passive style they played in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when they had almost no hope of defeating the Soviets.)
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock had to be pleased with the victory, but not the way it was chalked up. His team looked uninterested in competing through large swaths of the second period. There were uncharacteristic turnovers all over the ice surface and on the first shift, Team Canada was caught watching the game while Team Europe blew by, drawing a penalty on the first shift. By the same token, when Team Canada made the decision to dial in – usually when Sidney Crosby’s line was on the ice – the game was not even close from a possession standpoint. As bad as Team Canada at times, Team Europe was even worse on turnovers that led to goals. The problem is that Team Europe needs about five 10-bell chances to get a goal, while Team Canada only needs one or two.
“We got two points, we had a good third and we scored timely goals on their turnovers,” Babcock said. “I thought they were better than (we were) for large stretches of the game at times. I thought they executed and played fast. I didn’t think we moved the puck at all at times. They looked quicker than they probably were and we looked slower than we probably were. We need more guys on deck than we had tonight. We just weren’t as good as we have been and we’ll be a lot better next game.”
And that’s what’s so scary about this. Babcock is exactly right. Team Canada will almost certainly be better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1. And that is terrible, terrible news for a Team Europe that might have just inadvertently poked the bear a little too much.
If you're looking for the DNA from some of the best hockey players in the world, you might want to consider dropping a few bucks on a crystal puck.
Nothing really says growing the game like charging 65 bucks ($74.45 with applicable taxes) for a few drops of Zamboni water, does it? Just when you thought the folks who are bringing us the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ had run out of ways to make revenues, they go and turn thawed ice shavings into gold.
Now to be fair, nobody’s holding a gun to anybody’s head here. And for your $65, you’re getting a lot more than just the residue from the Team USA-Czech Republic game here. You’re actually getting a crystal replica World Cup of Hockey puck and lovely box (both made in China) from the people at Fanatics Mounted Memories, Inc. The crystal puck has the water sealed inside of it, water picked up from the ice in an actual World Cup game, a process that is evidenced by an authentic numbered seal along with a picture of a bucket of ice and another of the process of the pucks being filled. A Certificate of Authenticity is signed by Don Moffatt, facilities operations supervisor for the NHL.
“This unique collectible contains authentic playing surface from the World Cup of Hockey 2016,” the certificate beams. “The playing surface was acquired by Fanatics directly from the NHL. This crystal puck is officially licensed by the NHL.”
When your trusty correspondent ventured into the main gift shop at the Air Canada Centre for the World Cash Grab of Hockey™, he was informed that the water-filled crystal pucks were actually moving at a pretty good rate. And why wouldn’t they? As one Twitter follower pointed out, the water in those pucks might have the DNA of some of the greatest hockey players on the planet in it. So you spend your $65, break the crystal puck open and pour it onto your son’s Wheaties in the morning and Presto!, instant millionaire NHL hockey player. Sounds like a pretty wise investment.
And if you need a receptacle to pour your water into, well the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ has you covered there, too. For just $15, you can purchase a 3.5-ounce Mason shot jar, a 16-ounce sublimated pint glass for $25 or a coffee mug for $35. (If you need a big rubber finger to stir it, you can get one of those for $35 as well.) You’re going to want to get a stick in that little guy’s hand as soon as possible, so you might as well pick up a World Cash Grab of Hockey™ mini stick for just $12.
There’s really something for everyone, from a spinning key ring for 10 bucks to a replica puck in a glass case for $30. You’ll be able to brave the elements with a $30 scarf and $35 toque. And if you need somewhere to carry those tickets you paid $513 for before they went on the secondary ticket market for a tiny fraction of the cost, you can pick up a ticket lanyard for just $15 more. (By the way, a count late Wednesday afternoon revealed there are still about 20 tickets available for Game 2 and about 125 for Game 3. So all the tickets have basically been sold. The luxury boxes, which have sat empty even for Canada's game, that's another story. Meanwhile, on the secondary ticket market, those $513 tickets for Game 2 are selling for just over $100 now. Which means the ticket speculators are taking a bath here, not the NHL or NHL Players' Association.)
Now that we’re down to the short strokes of the World Cash Grab of Hockey™, it’s probably time to take stock of where all that money is going. The tournament is projected to earn about $100 million in revenues and $60 million in profits, which is split equally between the league and the NHLPA.
If that’s the case, then each team will earn about $1 million each, if the profits don't end up going into the league's general operating budget. So if you spread that out over the four years until the next World Cash Grab of Hockey™, that means each team will average about $250,000 per year, or enough to pay the coach of their minor league team. Doesn’t sound like it’s worth the effort when you put it that way, does it?
The players, well, that’s a different story. This is not your father’s World Cup and the proceeds are going directly to the players, not the pension fund like the up-and-up days when Alan Eagleson was running things. As reported by Bob McKenzie and Rick Westhead of TSN, the players are still unsure how they’re going to divide the pot. You’d have thought they would have figured it out by now. Some players are of the opinion that the players’ share should be distributed equally among the 184 players who participated in the tournament, 170 of whom are NHLers. If that were the case, each player would receive a check for about $163,000. If it were divided equally among the 720 or so players in the NHL, each player would get about $42,000.
So just to recap here: The World Cash Grab of Hockey™ is selling vials of water for $65. The money made from that and all the other revenues will either go back into the league’s operating budget or help a team pay its minor league coach for the next four years. The rest will be going to pad the bank accounts of players, many of whom are already millionaires (or will be) several times over.
Hope it was worth the effort. And remember, we might be missing NHLers in the Olympics for all of this.
Down Goes Brown: Five times a team avenged a round robin loss at the World Cup
By: Sean McIndoe
Sep 21, 2016
The history of the World and Canada Cup tournament is filled with surprising round robin results that ended up getting flipped, so don't worry just yet. Unless you're Team USA.
We're two games into the round robin portion of the World Cup, and we've already seen a handful of upsets, with favorites like Russia and the United States already tasting defeat, and in the case of the Americans, already being eliminated. With one game to go and some of the four playoff spots still up for grabs, fans around the world are no doubt panicking over the games their teams let get away.
But while the round robin is obviously important – you have to make the playoffs to win the whole thing – it's worth remembering that the results of individual games don't necessarily tell us much as much as we might think about what will happen in the playoff rounds.
In fact, the history of the World and Canada Cup tournament is filled with surprising round robin results that ended up getting flipped down the line. So in an effort to calm some nerves, here are five times that overreacting to a round robin result would have steered you wrong once the eliminations games began.
1976: Czechoslovakia 1 – Canada 0
In the first ever round robin game in Canada Cup history, Canada made a statement by crushing Finland 11-2. They went on the beat Sweden and the U.S., and they closed out the round with a win over their arch-rivals from the Soviet Union, winning those three games by a combined score of 11-3.
But in between, they dropped a surprising decision to Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Dzurilla outduelled Rogie Vachon at the Montreal Forum, turning aside all 29 shots he faced in a 1-0 win. The game was an instant classic, described at the time as one of the best ever played.
The two teams finished at the top of round robin standings, setting up a best-of-three final. But there was no repeat of Dzurilla's heroics – Team Canada blitzed him for four goals in the first period of the opening game, sending him to the bench and paving the way for a lopsided 6-0 win. Game 2 was more entertaining, with Canada jumping out to a 2-0 lead just three minutes in before a Czechoslovakian comeback set the stage for Darryl Sittler's tournament winner in overtime.
1981: Canada 7 – Soviet Union 3
By 1981, the Soviet Union was coming off a relatively rough stretch of international play. They'd won their usual Olympic gold in 1972 and 1976, but been upset by Team USA's Miracle on Ice squad in 1980, lost the 1972 Summit Series, and failed to even make the final of the 1976 Canada Cup.
When they met Canada in 1981 in the final game of the round robin, both teams were undefeated and battling for first place. The game was tied at 2-2 heading into the third, but Canada erupted for five straight goals in what ended up being a 7-3 laugher. Even with star goaltender Vladislav Tretiak sitting out due to illness, the result was an embarrassing one for the Soviets.
Both teams won their semifinal game to advance to a one-game winner-take-all final in Montreal. With Tretiak back in goal, most fans expected a closer game. Instead, they got an even bigger blowout. But this time, it was the Soviets who ran up the score, earning an 8-1 win and handing Canada what still stands to this day as its most embarrassing international loss.
1984: Soviet Union 6 – Canada 3
Three years after their impressive win, the Soviets looked even more dominant through the round robin portion of the 1984 tournament. Heading into a final game showdown against a struggling Team Canada, they were sporting a 4-0-0 record and looking to wrap up the tournament's top seed. They went on to smother their rivals in an impressive 6-3 win, finishing the round robin with a perfect record and dropping Canada down to fourth place.
That set up another meeting between the two nations in the tournament semi-final, held just three days later in Calgary. After being held to just 17 shots in the round robin, Canada exploded for 41 in the rematch. But Soviet goaltender Vladimir Myshkin stood on his head, and had his team in position to win with a 2-1 lead late in regulation. It took a late goal by Doug Wilson to set up overtime, where Paul Coffey's lunging breakup of a Soviet 2-on-1 set the stage of Mike Bossy's sudden death winner.
Canada went on to sweep Sweden in the final to claim the tournament. It marked the third straight time that the eventual Canada Cup champion had avenged a round robin loss on the way to their title.
1987: Czechoslovakia 4 – Canada 4; Sweden 5 – Soviet Union 3
The 1987 Canada Cup marked the first time that the eventual champion went undefeated through the round robin. That would be Canada, who beat the Soviets in a three-game classic punctuated by Mario Lemieux's historic winner.
But while Canada didn't have any losses to avenge on their way to the title, they weren't perfect in the round robin. And the first blemish came in their opening game, when a rusty Canadian squad blew a third period lead on their way to a 4-4 tie with Czechoslovakia. That was a disappointing result against a team that had gone 0-4-1 in the previous tournament, and raised questions as to whether Canada could defend their crown. Meanwhile, the tournament's other favorite had a disappointing opening of their own, as the Soviets gave up three goals in the first eight minutes while dropping a 5-3 decisions to Sweden.
Both powerhouses recovered well, with each winning three straight before facing each other in the round robin finale and skating to a 3-3 draw. That set up a pair of semifinal rematches, with Canada facing Czechoslovakia and the Soviets drawing Sweden.
This time, the favorites took care of business. Canada started slowly but pumped home four straight goals to take a 5-3 final, while the Soviets jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before eliminating Sweden by a 4-2 score. That set the stage for a final that still stands as perhaps the best international hockey series ever played.
As a side note, the Czechoslovakian goaltender for both of those games against Canada was a 22-year-old kid that most North Americans had never heard of. He eventually made it to the NHL three years later, and turned out to be pretty good. He even got some revenge against Canada at an international tournament over a decade later.
2004: Russia 3 – USA 1; Sweden 4 – Czech Republic 3
Canada didn't have to avenge any round robin losses on their way to the 1991 title, and the United States likewise was a perfect 3-0-0 under the new World Cup format before winning it all in 1996. Canada repeated that feat in 2004, making it four straight Canada/World Cups that have been won by a team that didn't suffer a loss during the round robin. Yes, that's right – it's now been 32 years and counting since a team lost a round robin game and still managed to win this tournament. Wait, this is supposed to be about giving teams that lost in the round robin hope. Forget everything I just mentioned.
But we can still find a couple of revenge games in the 2004 round robin, thanks to that year's, um, interesting format. The tournament featured eight teams, and the playoff round featured… eight teams. Yes, everyone made the playoffs in 2004, with the round robin settling the seeding and nothing else.
That format actually gave us a few interesting moments, like top-seeded Finland needing a goal in the dying minutes to edge winless Germany 2-1. And it also set up a pair of interesting rematches. In the round robin, the defending champion Team USA had dropped its first two games, to Canada and Russia. In the latter game, they fell 3-1 while being outshot 45-21. The 0-2 start didn't hurt their playoff hopes, because of the whole "everyone makes it" thing, but it certainly put a dent in their confidence.
Meanwhile, the Czechs dropped their opener 4-0 to Finland, then fell behind by the same score to Sweden. They came back to at least make that game a respectable 4-3 final, but other than running up the score on Germany in the finale, they didn't come out of the round robin with much room for optimism.
But in the opening round, both teams got a chance at payback, and both took it. The Czechs looked like a different team, shelling Mikael Tellqvist and Team Sweden in a 6-1 win. The Russia/Team USA rematch was a closer affair, with both teams going back and forth, but the Americans held on for a 5-3 win.
Both teams went on to lose in the semifinal, although the U.S. blew a late lead against Finland and the Czechs took Canada to overtime. Canada beat Finland in the one-game final, the year-long NHL lockout began the next day, and the World Cup hasn't been seen since. Twelve years later, we're finally getting another look at the tournament, and another chance to see a tough round robin loss avenged in the playoffs.
At least, that's what teams like Russia, Finland and North America are hoping.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.