Say What?!? - Sept. 19
Say What?!? - Sept. 19
"The last couple of days have been good. It's been a pretty good test here. I'm happy with the way it's gone."
- Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby on his second day of practice.
"The last couple of days have been good. It's been a pretty good test here. I'm happy with the way it's gone."
- Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby on his second day of practice.
Teams that don't want to lose a goalie for nothing in the expansion draft will try to make some big moves this season.
The NHL expansion draft slated for June 21 is generating speculation over which goaltenders could hit the trade block. As per the draft rules, teams can only protect one goalie. That could prompt some GMs to move a netminder via trade rather than risk losing him for nothing in the draft.
The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports some teams are already having discussions among each other about moving goalies. He notes Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins are already considered possible trade candidates. He expects there could be more.
The draft rules also state players carrying no-movement clauses must be protected unless they agree to waive them. Bishop, 29, and Fleury, 31, have those clauses in their respective contracts.
Bishop is also eligible for unrestricted free agency following the expansion draft on July 1. Currently earning $5.95 million this season, the cost of re-signing him could prove too expensive for the Lightning. It's also assumed they prefer to protect promising (and more affordable) Andrei Vasilevskiy, who begins a three-year contract in 2017-18.
Despite Bishop's clause, he could be willing to waive it for the right team. On Sept. 2, he told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times he thought a trade to the Calgary Flames last June was close, but the Flames opted instead to acquire Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues.
After losing the starter's job to Matt Murray in the 2016 playoffs, Fleury was also the subject of trade chatter in June linking him to the Flames. His no-movement clause covers him against demotion to the minors and provides him with expansion draft protection. However, he also carries a modified no-trade clause listing 18 preferred destinations. That could provide the Pens an opportunity to trade him and protect Murray in the expansion draft.
The Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets could also consider trading a goalie before the March 1 trade deadline, or prior to the expansion draft in June.
With Petr Mrazek considered the Wings' starter, veteran Jimmy Howard could be available. His $5.91 million annual cap hit, however, could prove difficult to move. The Stars, meanwhile, could try to move Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi.
The Senators could part ways with Craig Anderson or Andrew Hammond. The Flyers must decide between Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. The Canucks could peddle Ryan Miller if Jacob Markstrom proves ready this season for full-time starter duty.
The Islanders are currently carrying Jaroslav Halak, Tomas Greiss and J-F Berube. The Jets have two promising youngsters between the pipes in Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, plus veteran Ondrej Pavelec is now in the minors.
Some of these clubs could also attempt to swing a deal with Las Vegas to ensure their unprotected goaltenders aren't selected. A trade offering up another player, a prospect or a draft pick could prove enticing to Vegas GM George McPhee.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Need a comprehensive cheat sheet for your upcoming fantasy hockey draft? THN has you covered with player rankings for the 2016-17 season.
Oct. 11 update: This is my final draft of the 2016-17 rankings. The changes are minor. Thankfully, we've seen several big-name restricted free agents sign 11th-hour deals. Unfortunately, we've lost the world's best player to a concussion. Give these ranks one final look and enjoy your fantasy hockey season, folks. Make sure you scroll to the bottom for some new sleeper picks.
This list blends goalies and skaters into a master breakdown tailored for anyone drafting in leagues with multiple stat categories. The rankings below are based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.
As I say every year, these are fantasy rankings, not real-life rankings. I do not believe Artemi Panarin is better than Jonathan Toews at hockey, but I do believe Panarin will deliver more points for your pool.
Note the conspicuous absence of goalies in this draft of the top 200. I count only 17 guaranteed what I call a "true starter's workload" of 50 games or more. The timeshare situation creates a nightmare for fantasy GMs. If you don't get one of the elite starters, you can wait until late in your draft to take a stopper.
With that, let's begin. Share any disagreements and point out any glaring omissions in the comment section. Thanks!
1. Patrick Kane, RW: Even if 2015-16 goes down as his career year, I'm not convinced he regresses to the 80-point range. Has always been an elite talent. Count on 90-plus.
2. Jamie Benn, LW: Human battering ram somehow improved on his Art Ross 2014-15 after surgery on both hips, jumping from 87 to 89 points. In his prime at 27. A fantasy pool behemoth. Missed World Cup but expected to be ready for start of regular season.
3. Connor McDavid, C: Believe it. Only Kane and Benn bested McDavid's 1.07 points per game last season. McDavid has a real shot to win the scoring title as a sophomore, just as Crosby did.
4. Alex Ovechkin, LW: As I say every year, bump Ovie to first overall if your league counts shots, hits or both. In that type of scoring system, owning him is like owning two players at once.
5. John Tavares, C: Disappointed last regular season but proved in playoffs he's still elite. Count on a return to the 85-point range.
6. Braden Holtby, G: Holtby is the far safer choice than Price and a damn talented one. Wins may be overrated in real life, but they're a crucial counting stat in fantasy, and Holtby racks them up.
7. Erik Karlsson, D: Hockey's equivalent of Rob Gronkowski in fantasy football. Karlsson is such a difference maker at his position that he warrants a first-round selection, though the gap his closing at 'D' with guys like Brent Burns ascending.
8. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW: Goals have jumped from eight to 21 to 37 to 40 in his first four seasons. Still rising at 24. One of these years, Ovie will pass the Rocket Richard Trophy to Tarasenko.
9. Carey Price, G: World Cup gave Price a chance to show how healthy he is. News that the Habs plan to keep Price in the 60-start range keeps him out of the No. 1 goalie rank, though. Holtby has averaged 69 starts over the past two years.
10. Sidney Crosby, C: I've dropped him eight spots with news he's out indefinitely due to a concussion sustained in practice. Since Sid is already skating, he's still probably worth a risk late in your first round, but it is indeed a major risk. Concussions are unpredictable, especially for someone who has endured many.
11. Joe Pavelski, RW: Only Ovechkin has more goals over the past three seasons. It's time we gave Pavelski superstar treatment in fantasy pools.
12. Johnny Gaudreau, LW: Big leap from 64 to 78 points in his second full season. Is it possible 'Johnny Hockey' has another gear? Left wing eligibility makes him that much more valuable.
13. Tyler Seguin, C: Better than a point per game three straight years, but has missed 21 games over past two. A shame, because he's talented enough to vie for the scoring crown. Already dealing with a fracture in his heel to start season.
14. Steven Stamkos, C: A testament to his skill that he can be labelled "not the same player since he broke his leg" – and still be one of just eight guys to top 35 goals in 2015-16. Now the free agency distraction is behind him, too.
15. Brent Burns, D: Tough to imagine him going bananas for 75 points again, but even at 60, which is his floor, he'd remain an elite fantasy blueliner.
16. Evgeni Malkin, C: One of the few locks to average a point per game or better every year. If he wasn't also a lock to miss bushels of games with injuries, he'd rank 10 spots higher.
17. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C: Had zero goals and 11 points over his final 18 games…and still finished as a top-10 scorer. He's only getting started. The goal rate will normalize.
18. Ben Bishop, G: Consistency means the world in head-to-head fantasy leagues. Bishop led plenty of teams to titles and should again this year. Even if Lightning trade him, it will likely be to another contender.
19. Claude Giroux, C: Doesn't look like he'll ever duplicate the brilliance of his 93-point effort in 2011-12. Regardless, he's still one of the game's most prolific point-getters.
20. Anze Kopitar, C: Better to draft for floor than ceiling with your first couple picks, and Kopitar is a rock-solid bet for 65 to 70 points annually.
21. Nikita Kucherov, RW: The fantasy world doesn't yet realize how good this guy is. If you're lucky he'll slide to you in the second round. He could be a consensus first-rounder for 2017-18.
22. Blake Wheeler, RW: Where's the love for Wheeler? Set career high with 78 points last year. Has a chance to stay at this level as his young Winnipeg linemates improve. His floor is nice and high.
23. Nicklas Backstrom, C: Even if he's Washington's No. 2 center now and doesn't always play with Ovie, Backstrom is great in his own right, will have good linemates regardless and will still get major power play time.
24. Ryan Getzlaf, C: He's 30 now and has declined from 87 to 70 to 63 points over past three seasons, playing 77 games in each. Exiting his prime? Or will he recapture former glory with his old coach Randy Carlyle?
25. Kris Letang, D: He's the Malkin of defensemen. Bank on Letang missing at least a dozen games, pray it doesn't happen to be during your league playoffs, and enjoy the otherworldly production whenever he's in the lineup.
26. Henrik Lundqvist, G: Rangers aren't the powerhouse they were even two seasons ago, so 'The King's' wins could sag a bit, but he'll play a lot – and he'll play well. He showed at World Cup he has lots of good hockey left even as he exits his peak years.
27. Taylor Hall, LW: Good enough to thrive despite a decline in linemate quality in New Jersey. At the same time, for all the hype, Hall's career high is 27 goals. Best to treat him as a 25-40-65 guy in drafts this year.
28. P.K. Subban, D: Career year alert! Should have green light to freelance offensively under Peter Laviolette in Nashville. P.K. is 27 and has a lot to prove.
29. Aleksander Barkov, C: Sorry, Nathan MacKinnon, but 'Sasha' has emerged as the gem of the 2013 draft class. He's a legit No. 1 center, ready to bust out for 70 points if he can stay healthy for a full season. Good enough to produce despite Jonathan Huberdeau injury.
30. Filip Forsberg, LW: Tied the Preds' franchise record with 33 goals last year. Expect him to break it this time around.
31. Cory Schneider, G: So good that, even on a bad team, he carves out top-10 value at his position. As underrated as any player in hockey.
32. Artemi Panarin, LW: Can't deny how effective he was in his 77-point, Calder Trophy season. Also can't deny how much he depends on Kane to be fantasy relevant. That makes me mildly nervous.
33. Joe Thornton, C: Finished fourth in points and fifth in MVP voting. Had his best season in five years at age 36. I'm not paying for that production again. Jumbo remains a great all-round player in real life, though.
34. Corey Crawford, G: Now that bellcow goalies are rarer than ever, maybe we'll start appreciating Crawford like we should. He's a borderline top-five guy at his position in fantasy.
35. Corey Perry, RW: No longer a first-round pool commodity, but he'll chip in 30 goals and 65 penalty minutes. Still very useful.
36. Mark Scheifele, C: My favorite breakout pick. Once he took over for injured Bryan Little last February, Scheifele scored at the rate of a top-three fantasy player.
37. Matt Duchene, C: Has underachieved two straight seasons and drew the ire of coach Patrick Roy late last season, but maybe a new coach will light a fire under Duchene.
38. Logan Couture, C: Scored like a superstar in the playoffs. In the regular season? Has never topped 32 goals or 67 points as part of San Jose's deep attack.
39. Jonathan Toews, C: Could he score 80 points if he wanted to? Sure. But Toews sacrifices some offense to play his 200-foot game. That makes him indispensable in real life – but perennially overrated in fantasy, albeit with a pretty high floor.
40. Nathan MacKinnon, RW: I'm tired of paying for the 80-point breakout. It may still come, as MacKinnon is only 21 (!!!), but he costs a pretty penny in drafts for someone who averages 22 goals and 58 points per 82 games in his career. Hard to blame anyone for reaching, though. His skills are so tantalizing, as he showed with that overtime winner at the World Cup.
41. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D: 21 goals, 55 points and 96 PIM from a D-man? Gorgeous. Now that the Coyotes are adding legit offensive talents to the lineup, OEL's numbers are skyrocketing.
42. Milan Lucic, LW: This is the year to rank and target Lucic aggressively. If the big fella can stick on a line with McDavid, 35-35-70 is within reach.
43. Roman Josi, D: Will arrival of Subban help or hinder Josi's production? Both guys like to carry the puck. Whatever happens, Josi is a stud who will cost less than other top-end blueliners.
44. John Klingberg, D: The Stars score like crazy, and that won't change anytime soon. Klingberg should be a 50-point man for years to come.
45. Jack Eichel, C: McDavid love overshadows the fact Eichel had 24 goals and 56 points at 19. He's a phenom, too. A major jump in production isn't guaranteed, but it also wouldn't surprise.
46. John Carlson, D: High floor as the net-filling Capitals' primary D-man. Missed 26 games last year but didn't miss one in the previous five seasons, so give him a mulligan.
47. Dustin Byfuglien, D: Big offensive totals and big PIM year in, year out. Love Big Buff in fantasy pools.
48. Max Pacioretty, LW: Between 30 and 39 goals, between 60 and 67 points in each of his past four full campaigns. That's a sexy floor.
49. Jakub Voracek, RW: I'm hoping his horrible 2015-16 makes him fall a couple rounds. Had just 11 goals last year, but shot a career-low 5.2 percent. His lifetime average? 9.5. Buy.
50. Victor Hedman, D: Floor is around 10 goals and 40 points, and he's still young enough to ascend one more level offensively. Maybe he gets 60 points one of these years.
51. Brad Marchand, LW: Bruins increased Marchand's ice time, including on the power play, and he rewarded them with career-best 37 goals. No reason to change his deployment going forward. That said, I'm worried his dynamite World Cup effort artificially inflates his ADP. He'll retain Patrice Bergeron as a linemate but not Sidney Crosby.
52. Jordan Eberle, RW: Always lands in a great situation on paper and always gives us good-but-not-great production. A monster year makes sense if he plays with McDavid, but we've said that kind of thing before about Eberle.
53. Jonathan Quick, G: Not as overrated as he used to be in fantasy, simply because goalies with his workload are harder to find nowadays.
54. Sean Monahan, C: The fact his production stayed the same when Gaudreau's climbed suggests Monahan is near his ceiling.
55. Wayne Simmonds, RW: At least 28 goals in each of past four full seasons, and 100-plus PIM in three of those years. Simmonds is Lucic minus the McDavid factor.
56. Patrice Bergeron, C: Career pattern suggests he'll dip slightly below last season's 32 goals and 68 points, but 30-30-60 is more than fine for your No. 2 fantasy center.
57. Martin Jones, G: Nice fat workload of 65 games in first full year as a starter. With no experienced NHL backup in San Jose now, Jones has a chance to lead all goalies in appearances.
58. Alex Galchenyuk, C: There's the breakout. We knew it was coming. Since he's still just 22, the question now is.…how much more can he improve on last year's line of 30-26-56?
59. Mark Stone, RW: Had 64 and 61 points in his past two seasons. Combine his post-all-star-break stats in those two years, though, and you get 66 points in 63 games. If Stone ever puts it together for an entire campaign, look out. But his concussion spooks me a bit.
60. Tyler Johnson, C: A tough player to forecast. Will we look back on 2014-15's 72 points as his career outlier? Or Last year's 38-point flop? Best to expect something in between. The opportunity for a recovery is there given Johnson remains entrenched in Tampa's top six.
61. Kevin Shattenkirk, D: Don't worry if Blues trade him. Shattenkirk's puck-moving skill will play wherever he goes, and he'll always be the power play quarterback.
62. Phil Kessel, RW: Settled into HBK Line and scored like a star in the playoffs. Does that mean he'll improve on 26-goal, 59-point regular season? I'll pay to find out.
63. Ryan O'Reilly, C: I never think of him as a big scorer, but he gets 55 to 65 points in his sleep every year.
64. David Krejci, C: Scores about as much as Bergeron but carries a bigger injury risk nowadays. Still a desirable second center on most fantasy squads.
65. Max Domi, LW: A fun pick. Established a nice floor already with a 52-point rookie season and has enough ability to improve on it significantly.
66. Mark Giordano, D: Very encouraging to see Giordano play 82 games. Belongs in the first tier of fantasy D-men, albeit with more risks than most. Turns 33 in October.
67. Brayden Schenn, LW: A hidden fantasy star? Full-season total of 59 was pedestrian, but Schenn had 37 points in final 38 games on a dynamite line with Giroux and Simmonds.
68. Jason Spezza, C: I keep expecting a decline, but Spezza keeps churning out points, especially on the power play. His 33 goals last season were one off his career best.
69. Ryan Johansen, C: Didn't score as much as he should have after trade to Nashville, but maybe he improves with a full off-season to prepare.
70. Tuukka Rask, G: Encouraging that Rask posts above-average stats in pools even during Boston's down years and with a subpar defense corps in front of him.
71. Jake Allen, G: Similar situation and pedigree to John Gibson. Allen has handled slightly larger workloads to date, but Gibson's results have been slightly better. A coin flip between the two in fantasy. Here's more on why I lean slightly toward Allen right now.
72. Duncan Keith, D: A reliable point producer but rarely wows in the goals or PIM category. Ideal for your No. 2 defenseman. He's expected to be healthy by mid-October, but he's becoming creakier at 33.
73. Shayne Gostisbehere, D: Highest points per game by a rookie D-man in 23 years. Will get enough power play time to prevent a sophomore slump.
74. John Gibson, G: Ducks were right to hand the reins to their prized young stopper. Gibson isn't an absolute slam-dunk to break out, but he's been outstanding in smaller samples. Call him this year's Jones.
75. Zach Parise, LW: On one hand, it's exciting to see what Parise might do with a more offense-minded coach. On the other: Parise's health has become a major concern. He's an old 32.
76. Tyson Barrie, D: The Avs may not appreciate him, but fantasy GMs do. A consistent scorer on defense.
77. Mike Hoffman, LW: Has scored 46 of his 56 goals over past two seasons at even strength. Time for Sens to give him first-unit power play duty more often.
78. Shea Weber, D: What does trade to Montreal do to his value? Better offensive players around him, but his aging may offset that, so I'd expect status quo.
79. Tyler Toffoli, RW: No surprise to see such a talented goal scorer reach 30 last season. Can he do much more than that in a Darryl Sutter system? I'm skeptical.
80. Kyle Okposo, RW: Before we get crazy imagining his chemistry with Jack Eichel, let's remember Okposo played with John Tavares. I don't see Okposo's value changing much. Dealing with a minor knee injury now, too.
81. Dylan Larkin, C: Played 80 games as a rookie. Never played more than 35 games in NCAA Div. I. No wonder Larkin hit the wall. He should be more consistent in 2016-17.
82. Drew Doughty, D: I've harped on him for years as a guy whose fantasy production never matches his draft-day cost. He's beginning to buck that trend and score more, however. He's off my avoid list.
83. Aaron Ekblad, D: Goal totals are nice for the young phenom. Assists should rise as the young Panther forwards keep improving. His World Cup concussion was supposedly just whiplash, so he looks like he's all systems go.
84. Gabriel Landeskog, LW: Great in hits leagues, but goals, assists and points have declined two straight years. Another guy we might look to for improvement now that Roy is gone.
85. Rick Nash, LW: Because of his brand name, he's the type of player who will be gone long before I consider drafting him. Two of past three seasons were subpar and abbreviated by injury.
86. Daniel Sedin, LW: We know better than to completely write off the twins but, considering they turn 36 before the season starts, last year's dip in performance is a red flag.
87. Andrew Ladd, LW: A bit low for John Tavares' probable left winger? I'm wary of putting too much stock into line deployments. Ladd fresh off his worst season in half a decade, and he's on wrong side of 30. Still should be a good pool pick, but don't go bananas to get him.
88. Brandon Saad, LW: Another 30 goals? Sure. But can't expect more from the speedster until he has a legit No. 1 center passing to him. In a couple years that might be Pierre-Luc Dubois.
89. David Backes, C: Still a reliable beast in PIM and hits leagues. Offense dipped in 2015-16, however, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it stay in 45-point range with Bruins. A lot of mileage on his hulking, 32-year-old frame given his physical style.
90. Jeff Carter, C: Past three seasons: averaging 25 goals and 58 points. Solid, but ceiling has lowered considerably.
91. Auston Matthews, C: At the World Cup we saw him compete against world-class NHLers. And Matthews looked like a monster, fast, strong and deadly with the puck on his stick. He wasn't my Calder frontrunner before. He is now.
92. Henrik Sedin, C: Same concerns as Daniel, plus Henrik plays a less scarce position.
93. Loui Eriksson, RW: Fun to imagine what he might do with the Sedins. But it's not like Eriksson gets to play with them in their primes.
94. Patrik Laine, RW: Good enough to make a major fantasy impact at 18. Could give you 30 goals with a ton of hits. Ovie Lite. Quiet World Cup didn't faze me. He had his chances. They just didn't go in.
95. Derek Stepan, C: Not convinced Zibanejad slides into first-line role with Rangers. Brassard trade should elevate Stepan into that spot full time.
96. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C: McDavid has marginalized The Nuge's role. If you draft him, you're hoping for a trade to a team that wants him as a No. 1 center.
97. Justin Faulk, D: Casual fans don't know much about him, and that's great news for you. Faulk averages 15.5 goals from the blueline over past two seasons.
98. Roberto Luongo, G: Back from hip surgery ahead of schedule. Still be sure to handcuff with James Reimer if you draft BobbyLu.
99. Ondrej Palat, LW: Strong two-way winger in real life. In fantasy pools he's the third-best Triplet. More of a playmaker than a scorer.
100. Rasmus Ristolainen, D: Had 31 points in 50 games before fading in second half. I know the analytics crowd hates him, but his role is so big and so guaranteed that he's a near lock for nice volume stats.
101. Keith Yandle, D: Between 41 and 59 points in six straight full seasons. Arrives to a Florida team that will give him tons of minutes and power play time.
102. Torey Krug, D: Hopefully his four-goal 2015-16 was a fluke. Had 14 and 12 in the two seasons prior. Solid No. 2 fantasy blueliner either way.
103. Sami Vatanen, D: I expected a bit more from the pint-sized power play dynamo last year. Ducks had top PP in NHL, too, so maybe Vatanen stays at his current level.
104. Leon Draisaitl, C: Deserves more love. Had 51 points in 72 games, and he's just 20. Overshadowed by McDavid.
105. Derick Brassard, C: Should continue his B-level fantasy output in Ottawa. Linemate quality should be more or less the same as what he had in Manhattan.
106. Mats Zuccarello, RW: Amazingly posted career-best numbers a season after terrifying brain injury. Comes relatively cheap in drafts for a guy you can depend on for 50-plus points.
107. Vincent Trocheck, C: Was a powerhouse after all-star break with 26 points in 27 games. Would like to see him do it for a full year, and Nick Bjugstad looms behind him on depth chart, but Trocheck is a sneaky-good pick.
108. Ryan Suter, D: Career-best 51 points last year. Steady source of assists, with potential to match or exceed last year now that Bruce Boudreau coaches the Wild.
109. James Neal, RW: Doesn't wow like he did in Pittsburgh. That doesn't mean he isn't useful. Who couldn't use 25 to 30 goals?
110. Alexander Steen, LW: Will be interesting to see if he gets more looks at center with Backes gone in St. Louis.
111. Robby Fabbri, LW: A real gamer with great hands, like a young Danny Briere. Should crack 50-point plateau as a sophomore.
112. Devan Dubnyk, G: His 2015-16 was more than good enough to show the 2014-15 bust-out was for real. A good low-end starter or a high-end backup for your fantasy team.
113. Petr Mrazek, G: Has Vezina Trophy talent, but bouts of inconsistency and Jimmy Howard's presence drag Mrazek's value down slightly.
114: Jonathan Drouin, LW: This ranking might end up way too low, and I'm as bullish as anyone on Drouin, but keep in mind the sample size of his excellence remains small.
115. Jaden Schwartz, LW: Broken ankle abbreviated start of last season for him, and now he's out four weeks with an elbow injury. Damn.
116. Jeff Skinner, LW: Enters his seventh NHL year, and he's still just 24. His best season may still be ahead of him, believe it or not.
117. Tomas Tatar, LW: Did not expect a regression last season. His usage hurts. Only 14:21 a game? That's a double-take stat.
118. Sam Reinhart, RW: Becoming a fun post-hype sleeper. Nice chemistry with Eichel. Strong chance to improve on last year's 23 goals.
119. Zdeno Chara, D: Juuust clinging to relevance in non-PIM leagues. In PIM leagues, though? Chara remains darn handy with his blend of offense and grit.
120. Boone Jenner, C: Big, strong, good leader, scores 30 goals. He's a young David Backes and will probably rank ahead of him on this list next year.
121. Pekka Rinne, G: Rank him at least 20 spots higher if your league only uses counting stats, such as wins and shutouts. Rinne's rate stats, however, have been ordinary three of past four seasons. Has become overvalued.
122. Jaromir Jagr, RW: Keep drafting the legend until the bottom falls out. The bottom will fall out eventually, however, so just don't invest too high of a pick to get him.
123. Sam Bennett, C: Last year's four-goal game reminds us how good he can be. I expect improvement, but it won't be astronomical. He's still raw and behind Monahan on depth chart.
124. Mika Zibanejad, C: Has enviable size, speed and natural offensive ability. Numbers were on the incline in Ottawa. A breakout season with Rangers wouldn't surprise me.
125. Bobby Ryan, RW: Elite draft pedigree, and paid like an elite player, but Ryan hasn't topped 23 goals or 56 points as an Ottawa Senator.
126. Brendan Gallagher, RW: Was enjoying his best season ever before the injury bug bit him in 2015-16. Can he carry that production over in 2016-17?
127. T.J. Oshie, RW: He's 29 now. We know exactly what we are getting with him. A fine second or third winger in pools.
128. Kyle Turris, C: Fresh off a disastrous season, but we can blame his injuries and hope he returns to the 50-point level.
129. Brian Elliott, G: Will get a nice increase in volume stats as Calgary's starter. Rate stats should plummet, though, as he'll be peppered with higher-quality chances. That leaves overall value roughly unchanged.
130. Dougie Hamilton, D Solid offensive D-man who scores goals. Calgary has so many good scoring blueliners, though, that they rob a bit of fantasy value from each other.
131. James van Riemsdyk, LW: Potential steal. Maintained his scoring post-Kessel last season before injuries struck. Could JVR make magic with Matthews?
132. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW: Had 16 points in 23 games after all-star break. Massive leap possible, maybe even probable, if he sticks on Scheifele line.
133. Alex Pietrangelo, D: Such an important part of St. Louis' game plan that he'll always play a ton and get his points. Not elite in fantasy, but good enough for any team's lineup.
134. Kyle Palmieri, RW: Scored 30 out of nowhere! Well, not exactly out of nowhere. Palmieri was a first-round pick in 2009. It just took him longer than expected to realize his potential.
135. Henrik Zetterberg, LW: Feels strange ranking Zetterberg this low, but he's coming off a knee injury, his production is declining steadily and he'll be 36 when the season starts.
136. Alexander Radulov, RW: He won't be a bust coming from the KHL like Sergei Plotnikov, as Radulov has played in the NHL before, so we know what he can do. He also won't be a supernova like Panarin, as Radulov is 30.
137. T.J. Brodie, D: Awesome, underrated D-man in real life. He's no slouch in fantasy, either. Good source of assists. A poor man's Suter.
138. Anthony Duclair, RW: Great speed, great skill and should improve on his 20-goal, 44-point rookie year as he plays more minutes – and shoots more often.
139. Patric Hornqvist, RW: If he was going to set the world on fire as Crosby's linemate, it would've happened by now, but Hornqvist is a useful secondary or tertiary scorer nonetheless.
140. Andre Burakovsky, LW: Should spend balance of year on Washington's second line taking feeds from Backstrom or Kuznetsov. And Burakovsky has dazzling skill. Yes, please. Major sleeper.
141. Tomas Hertl, LW: Slowly clawing back to the fantasy value he established as a rookie. Decent scorer on San Jose's top line. Still feels like the famous four-goal game set unrealistic expectations for his career, though.
142. Morgan Rielly, D: Still just 22 and gets better every year. As Toronto's young forwards arrive and start scoring, Rielly's power play points should rise, turning him into a strong fantasy commodity. He looked like a player ready to break out at the World Cup with Team North America.
143. David Pastrnak, RW Hasn't yet met expectations, but he was NHL's youngest player during his rookie campaign two years ago. Lots of time left to blossom. I dropped him 31 spots because I realized I too often treat his breakout as money in the bank, when it's still not a sure thing.
144. Marc-Andre Fleury, G: Gets at least a temporary boost with Matt Murray's broken hand, sustained at the World Cup, knocking him out for the season's first month. Can Fleury wrest the No. 1 gig back?
145. Gustav Nyquist, RW: His amazing finish to 2013-14 is but a distant dream now. Wasn't even rosterable in shallow leagues by the end of last season.
146. Charlie Coyle, RW: Coyle enjoyed his first 20-goal season despite not scoring in his final 18 games. That's a good thing, right?
147. Mikael Granlund, LW: I'll kick the can one more time. If he can't finally become a big-time scorer with Boudreau in town, it'll never happen.
148. Jussi Jokinen, LW: A 60-point season? Very impressive. I can never shake the feeling Jokinen is always just keeping a top-six seat warm for a younger, more promising player, though.
149. Brent Seabrook, D: Tough to see him matching his career high 14 goals and 49 points again, but Seabrook is consistently above average in pools.
150. Paul Stastny, C: Should score a lot more for a forward who regularly tops 19 minutes a game.
151. Victor Rask, C: Wasn't Elias Lindholm supposed to be the next big thing in Carolina? Countryman Rask has leapfrogged him developmentally.
152. Frederik Andersen, G: Leafs aren't paying him $5 million for a timeshare role. Freddie should play 60 games at minimum.
153. Frans Nielsen, C: Strong two-way pivot should play a ton in Detroit considering he's getting $5.25 million annually. Poolies can target him as their No. 3 center.
154. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW: Kris Versteeg ended up a Flame, opening the door for Puljujarvi to start the year in the NHL. I'm still skeptical that he's ready, and keep in mind he's AHL eligible, but he's a fine flier given his talent.
155. Bryan Little, C: Scheifele was so good after Little got hurt that Little will open the year as Jets' No. 2 center. Value takes a hit.
156. Scott Hartnell, LW: Getting old, but still gives you 20 goals with lots of PIM and hits.
157. Ryan Kesler, C: Better in real life than fantasy at this stage of his career. Most rosters have a place for a 50-point center, though.
158. Bo Horvat, C: Confident in his continued ascension, especially if he can hold off a healthy Brandon Sutter for Canucks' second-line center gig.
159. Mikko Koivu, C: Hasn't bested 17 goals since 2009-10. A solid assist man, but will Eric Staal signing nudge Koivu down Minnesota's depth chart?
160. Teuvo Teravainen, LW: Carolina was the perfect landing spot for him. He has as much raw skill as any player on the roster, so he'll earn a major role.
161. Rickard Rakell, C: Outstanding athlete and deflection artist. Whether he bests his 20-23-43 sophomore totals depends a lot on which line he plays on with Ducks. Needs to sign first, though.
162. Reilly Smith, RW: A boring pick, but a safe bet for 45 to 50 points if that's what you need.
163. Nazem Kadri, C: Should open season as Leafs' No. 1 center. If he shoots as much as he did last season, he'll set a career high in goals, as his shooting percentage should regress to the mean.
164. William Nylander, C: An upside pick. If you believe he's ready for prime time, spend a late pick on him. If he flops, no biggie.
165. Brandon Dubinsky, C: Point production is OK, but his PIMs elevate him above waiver-wire status.
166. Marian Hossa, RW: I'm more bullish than I should be on a 37-year-old coming off a 33-point season. Hawks' depth chart is so thin that they have to keep playing Hossa on top line, right?
167. Andrei Markov, D: He's supposed to be old and creaky yet has missed one game in past four seasons. Still plays a ton and still gets 40 or more points.
168. Sean Couturier, C: Offense starting to catch up to his exemplary defensive game a little bit.
169. Mikko Rantanen, RW: My darkhorse to win the Calder Trophy. Big power forward destroyed the AHL last year. He's ready to score in the NHL for Avs. Unfortunately, he's battling an ankle injury which could hinder his chances of starting 2016-7 with the big club.
170. Elias Lindholm, C: Big-time talent, but only 28 goals combined in past two seasons. My enthusiasm has waned slightly.
171. Carl Soderberg, C: You can draft him for his 15 goals and 50 points…or you can pick a boom-bust guy like Rantanen, with far more upside, knowing Soderberg will be waiting on the wire if you need him.
172. Patrick Sharp, RW: Still a good stopgap as a secondary scorer but turns 35 in December. Suddenly has more downside than upside.
173. Seth Jones, D: Jackets will make him their horse on 'D.' The points will start to pile up. Only a matter of time for the prodigy.
174. Cam Talbot, G: Wasn't half bad after rocky start in Oilers crease. If you believe the team will start to rise, why not bet on its goalie, too?
175. Semyon Varlamov, G: Good goalie, bad team. Soft-tissue injuries starting to become a problem, and Avs have a strong second option in Calvin Pickard.
176. Jakob Silfverberg, RW: A perpetual tease. Scored at the pace of a 30-goal man after the break last season, so I'll probably take the plunge yet again. Sigh.
177. J.T. Miller, LW: Entered last season as a sleeper and delivered on his promise with a 22-goal outburst. I don't think his evolution is complete.
178. Jaroslav Halak, G: Goalies can compartmentalize the World Cup and claim it has no bearing on their NHL roles, but come on. Halak was amazing for Team Europe and started over Isles teammate Thomas Greiss. Halak more than likely gets to open 2016-17 as the starter. May miss opener, but he's just sick, not injured.
179. Sergei Bobrovsky, G: We know he's still good, but all the injuries are maddening. Maybe one of these years he stays healthy and becomes a huge draft-day bargain.
180. Justin Williams, RW: A handy fringe player in deeper leagues as long as he remains on Caps' top two lines.
181. Chris Kreider, LW: It appears the stats will never quite match the eye test for the big, speedy workout beast. Kreider is 25 now and hasn't eclipsed 21 goals in his career.
182. David Perron, LW: Can play either wing, so he has a solid shot to toil on a scoring line in his second tour with Blues.
183. Leo Komarov, RW: Only a consideration in leagues counting hits. Quite a nice find in those leagues, though.
184. Artem Anisimov, C: Just 42 points last season despite playing with Kane and Panarin. So this is as good as it gets for Anisimov.
185. Matt Dumba, D: Has flashed good goal-scoring potential for a D-man. Look for that trend to continue.
186. Brock Nelson, LW: One of many young Isles forwards who failed to take a step forward last season, but at least he didn't take a step backward.
187. Eric Staal, C: I'm skeptical about a redemption but, hey, it's not like Staal is ancient. He's certainly not young at 31, either, but a bounce-back with Wild isn't the craziest idea in the world.
188. Adam Henrique, C: Whereas I buy Palmieri's 30 goals, I'm skeptical Henrique can duplicate his.
189. Patrick Marleau, LW: Marleau has gone from first-liner to second-liner and, with Mikkel Boedker in town, we might see Marleau as a third-liner some nights.
190. Jordan Staal, C: Had some decent stretches as Canes' No .1 pivot last season and should open 2016-17 in that role.
191. Jiri Hudler, RW: Just one season removed from 31 goals and 76 points. Valeri Nichushkin's departure all but solidifies Hudler's spot in Dallas' top six.
192. Alex Goligoski, D: I don't expect a major drop-off even though he left the NHL's top-scoring team. Arizona's scoring should climb this season, and Goligoski should get plenty of power play duty.
193. Mike Smith, G: Similar to Cam Talbot in Edmonton in that Smith is a decent pick if you believe his team is ready to climb. Coyotes like the backup Louis Domingue too, though.
194. Mike Cammalleri, LW: Wait for his first hot streak and trade him before the inevitable injury.
195. Mikkel Boedker, LW: Careful. Joins a better team, but that means he's not the top dog, especially on the power play.
196. Matt Murray, G: Hopefully you have room to stash him on your bench. Still has top-10 upside as his position, but has to outduel Fleury and now a hand injury, too.
197. Dylan Strome, C: Nothing left to prove in major junior. He's the Coyotes' long-term franchise center. Rookie sleeper.
198. Mitch Marner, RW: He's getting his shot with the Leafs. Could easily end up returned to junior after nine-game trial, but the offensive potential is sky high. Great late-round lottery ticket.
199. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW: Out three to four months with leg injury, but should be a first-liner again when he returns. Still worth drafting if your league has bench spots.
200. Jason Chimera, RW: After waiving P-A Parenteau, the Isles look like they'll move left winger Chimera into the right wing slot on the top line with Tavares and Ladd. I never like to chase line combinations, as they change so quickly, but if you can get Chimera with your very last pick, fill your boots.
On the bubble: Matt Barzal, Nail Yakupov, Anders Lee, Martin Hanzal, Nino Niederreiter, Thomas Greiss, Ryan Strome, Nick Bonino, Ryan McDonagh, Cam Atkinson, Nick Bjugstad, Tanner Pearson, Marcus Johansson, Nick Leddy, Jarome Iginla, Connor Hellebuyck, Tyler Ennis, Sebastian Aho, Craig Anderson, Jason Pominville, Troy Brouwer, Mike Green, Jake Muzzin, Ryan Miller, Tomas Plekanec, Colton Parayko, Hampus Lindholm, Ryan Spooner, Evander Kane, Steve Mason, Alexander Wennberg, Lee Stempniak, Cam Ward, Carl Hagelin, Robin Lehner, Pavel Zacha, Esa Lindell, Nick Schmaltz, Pavel Buchnevich, Kris Versteeg, Jonathan Marchessault
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. 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
Those around him paint a picture of an obsessive, analytical and tenacious GM. But Steve Yzerman's freakish preparation and dogged determination are what have made him the architect of a potential Tampa Bay dynasty.
The NHL draft floor is to hockey reporters what a zoo exhibit is to excited tourists. A steel guardrail separates the scribes from 30 tables hosting the front office staffs of every franchise. There’s no guarantee a GM or scout will emerge from the mist and approach for an interview. We can only hope and call out names. It’s the hockey media’s equivalent of tapping the glass or throwing breadcrumbs.
The executives have no obligation to talk on the floor in the middle of the draft, so it’s a treat when they do. And it was quite the surprise June 24 in Buffalo when bespectacled Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman chose to hold court with a scrum of reporters. After all, Steven Stamkos was five days away from hitting the open market as the most significant unrestricted free agent in NHL history. The will-he-or-won’t-he speculation crackled and popped. Yet there Yzerman was, oddly relaxed, taking questions, even musing on the fact he’d probably have to trade one of his goalies, Ben Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy, before next year’s expansion draft.
It’s fair to wonder if Yzerman knew something the rest of the hockey world didn’t. Maybe Stamkos had all but committed to rejoining the Lightning, and the two parties merely had to iron out his eight-year, $68-million contract. We’ll never know. What we do know is Yzerman is used to winning. He won as a Hall of Fame player, captaining the Detroit Red Wings to three Stanley Cups. He won as an Olympian, even playing on one leg, helping Canada win gold in 2002. He won during his reign as national team GM, most notably at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. And he’s on the cusp of winning as GM in Tampa Bay.
The more we learn about Yzerman’s path to the front office, the easier it is to see why his Lightning, not some deep-pocketed new suitor, won the Stamkos sweepstakes. It suddenly makes sense why Yzerman found a way to retain Jonathan Drouin rather than trade him. And it’s no surprise Yzerman locked up Victor Hedman to a long-term deal. The Lightning were supposed to be the team in greatest flux this summer. Instead, they return with their entire young core intact. It’s the same group that had the Pittsburgh Penguins on the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference final despite not having Stamkos and Bishop for almost the entire series. That’s why we’ve picked the Lightning to take home the Stanley Cup in 2016-17. And while it appears Yzerman pulled a magic act to keep his team together, his legacy as a GM to date all comes down to preparation and the bulldog mentality he had as a player.
Talk to the minds who mentored him on his way here and we get the picture of a man obsessively studious, analytical, intense and borderline paranoid. Yzerman, 51, didn’t fall ass-backwards into success as a GM. He planned it with the meticulous attention to detail of a world-class detective.
In fact, Yzerman knew he wanted to run an NHL team while he still played for one. After Ken Holland took over as Detroit’s GM in 1997, Yzerman had a clause inserted into his next contract promising him a front-office role when he retired. He even began negotiating his own contracts during the end of his playing days. He still had an agent advising him, but Yzerman specifically requested to sit in with Holland. “He wanted to go through the negotiating process face-to-face with me,” Holland said, “to gather and get information and get experience for when he was done playing.”
Dallas GM Jim Nill, a teammate of Yzerman’s in the late 1980s, worked as Holland’s assistant GM in Detroit from 1997-98 to 2012-13 and picked up on Yzerman’s affinity for team management. On flights or after practices, Yzerman picked his brain and absorbed whatever he could. “He’d say, ‘What’s the reason behind doing this or that?’ or ‘Why would you send this kid down now?’ or ‘Why would you sign him now?’ ” Nill said. “So he was very astute, very observant of what was going on. You just knew he had that feeling.”
"He’s determined. He’s intense. It’s not like you go from a player into the front office and you lose all those traits."
Yzerman had just turned 41 when he retired July 3, 2006, and the Wings officially hired him to their front office less than three months later under the title of team vice-president and alternate governor. He began his obsessive apprenticeship. A favorite of Holland’s were the many car rides involving him, Yzerman, Nill and Ryan Martin, the Wings’ current assistant GM, who was director of player personnel at the time. The quartet debated every detail about the franchise, every scouting assignment, every prospect, every contract, and the arrangement was always democratic. Holland had the final word, but he wanted and respected his brain trust’s opinions. One of Yzerman’s strongest was that Pavel Datsyuk would be worth every penny if the Wings handed him a seven-year extension starting in 2007-08. He had intimate knowledge of Datsyuk’s character, having overlapped with him as a teammate, and Holland trusted Yzerman’s word. He said Yzerman was instrumental in getting that deal done. Datsyuk responded with back-to-back 97-point seasons and a Stanley Cup to commence that contract.
Holland and Nill describe Yzerman in those early days as the ultimate sponge, a relentless and devoted tagalong. “He sat in our amateur meetings, our pro scout meetings, and he sat in with me at the trade deadline,” Holland said. “He was at the office every day. Many times he’d go into Jimmy Nill’s office, (senior vice-president of hockey operations) Jimmy Devellano’s office, my office and pick our brains. ‘How do you pick a chief scout? Why do you pick a chief scout? What do the chief scouts do? What do the pro scouts do?’ In the early couple of years he just wanted to gather knowledge and information.”
Years of absorbing information and attending junior and minor league games everywhere within a 300-mile radius of Detroit helped Yzerman learn how to mine talent. It helped him envision exactly the type of team he wanted to build, and it made him a man of rock-solid conviction. Former longtime Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson witnessed the 8transformation over Yzerman’s seven-year tenure as the national team GM, a.k.a. the planet’s most scrutinized roster builder. Nicholson and Wayne Gretzky, retiring from the gig as Canada czar, handpicked Yzerman as Gretzky’s successor after the 2006 Olympics. The Yzerman they got for the 2007 World Championship was an eager one, but he hadn’t yet found his confidence as a manager. He was so unsure about filling Gretzky’s gargantuan shoes that Nicholson had to broker an in-person meeting with the three of them, in which The Great One gave Yzerman his blessing.
In those early days managing Team Canada, right through to the gold medal Vancouver Olympic squad, Yzerman reportedly deferred a lot to his staff, which was smart considering it included minds like Holland, Kevin Lowe and Doug Armstrong. He had learned the democratic route from those car trips in Detroit and continued to play the role of relentless researcher. “Steve Yzerman is such a recognizable individual, yet he was just sneaking into buildings watching games,” Nicholson said with a laugh. “All of a sudden, ‘There’s Steve.’ ‘Here’s Steve.’ He was everywhere. He hit every rink in North America. That was his own preparation. And he utilized his people. He was always making sure he included everyone in decisions.”
The Yzerman helming the 2014 squad, in what turned out to be his final foray with Canada, was different. He was experienced. He knew exactly the team he wanted. He was the strongest voice in the room while assembling a Canadian squad that would allow just three goals in six games en route to gold at the Sochi Olympics. “The key difference in player selection in 2014 was that Steve and (coach) Mike Babcock really talked about how they would play before selections started,” Nicholson said. “So it was, ‘This is the style. Now let’s go find the players.’ ”
Four years earlier, around the time Sidney Crosby beat Ryan Miller between the legs in OT to clinch Canadian gold in Vancouver, Yzerman embarked on the fast track to becoming the fully matured GM he is now. In the months after the golden goal, Yzerman told Holland it was time to leave the Red Wings.
Yzerman’s resume since taking over the Lightning in 2010 suggests the years of study paid off. He’s built a track record of someone who rarely makes a bad decision – whether at the draft podium, on a trade or at the negotiating table. Look at the moves he’s made. On July 1, 2010, one of his first trades sent Andrej Meszaros to Philadelphia for a second-round pick in 2011. That pick turned out to be Nikita Kucherov, chosen 58th overall. Kucherov also signed a team-friendly extension recently. The Lightning also nabbed Vlad Namestnikov 27th, Nikita Nesterov 148th and, with the fourth-last pick, Ondrej Palat 208th. He’s outscored all but four players in the 2011 class.
Even the Martin St-Louis trade, the culmination of a rift that began when St-Louis was left off Canada’s initial Sochi Olympic roster, came up roses for Yzerman. He netted Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick and a 2014 conditional second-rounder that became another first-rounder when St-Louis’ new team, the New York Rangers, reached the Stanley Cup final. “Any time a player has his kind of success, he knows the team comes first,” Nill said. “I think that’s how he operates his business also. Nobody’s bigger than the team. And those situations he worked himself through, he made sure that was how he was going to implement whatever decisions he was going to make. He’s very confident, he’s been very successful, he knows what he’s going to do, and then he goes out and implements it.”
No GM is perfect, however. Yzerman whiffed on right winger Brett Connolly sixth overall in his first draft in 2010 (the next right winger to go was Vladimir Tarasenko at No. 16), and re-signing the injury-prone Callahan in 2014 for six years and $34.8 million looks like a mistake already. But it sure seems like Yzerman wins 90 percent of his transactions. “He’s strong-willed,” Holland said. “That’s one of the traits I thought made him a great player and a fierce competitor. He’s determined. He’s intense. It’s not like you go from a player into the front office and you lose all those traits.”
"He doesn’t talk in riddles. He doesn’t give you a couple of pieces to a 50-piece puzzle. He says, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s why I want to do it."
St-Louis went up against him and lost. The Drouin camp went up against him, and now it appears Drouin will be a Bolt for years to come. A league source told THN Yzerman not only tried persistently to honor Drouin’s trade request but had actually been shopping him prior to it. Yzerman, however, wouldn’t force the wrong deal. “I had conversations with a GM regarding the Drouin situation who said, ‘If it were me, I would’ve traded Drouin within two weeks,’ ” said a source. “ ‘I don’t like debris. I don’t like messiness hanging around. Player doesn’t want to be here? Situation is a distraction for everybody. I don’t let those situations linger.’ There aren’t many GMs who would’ve hung in there as long as he did.”
In the end, Yzerman kept his most prized prospect, brought him back to the team, and Drouin went on to be one of Tampa’s best players in the playoffs. The two camps agreed after the season they all want to keep the partnership going, and Drouin is now off the market. “He’s one of my favorite people to deal with, because there’s never a hidden agenda,” said Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh. “He doesn’t talk in riddles. He doesn’t give you a couple of pieces to a 50-piece puzzle. He says, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s why I want to do it.’ You really know the entire situation, and that level of frankness and honesty breeds trust.”
“Nobody crosses Steve Yzerman” is a fun idea, but it’s not the full picture. Yzerman makes his moves based on painstaking preparation and research, with the help of his staff, including assistant GMs Julien BriseBois and Pat Verbeek, senior advisor Tom Kurvers and director of player development Stacy Roest. In that group, Yzerman has his democratic panel, his version of the Detroit car-ride crew.
Those who deal directly with Yzerman experience and appreciate his transparency, but his inner circle is hard to penetrate. They describe him as an intensely private man, devoted to his wife Lisa and their three daughters. Nicholson calls him “someone you want to have a beer and a laugh with” but also “protective in all parts of his life.” Yzerman goes out of his way to stay out of the limelight. That’s why he and the Lightning declined to participate in this story.
Maybe that befits the modern Yzerman character sketch. He puts the team first and wants no part of any potential distraction. He prefers to focus on the one major honor that has eluded him as an executive. He won the 2014-15 GM of the year award but hasn’t captured a Stanley Cup. With his key pieces retained and a dominant team comprised almost exclusively of players still in their 20s, he’s in a plum position to get his wish.
Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr played his first NHL game 50 years ago today and even though expectations were sky high, he exceeded them.
In the grand scheme of things, it turned out to be a nothing game between the two worst teams in the NHL, the first of a mind-numbing 14 games the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings would play against each other that season. The Bruins would go on to win the game 6-2 and it would give them a 1-0-0 record, the only time in the 1966-67 campaign the Bruins would be over .500 en route to a last-place finish in the last year of the six-team NHL. The Red Wings never made it over .500 that season and finished second-last.
It was the first game of a long and painful season for both teams. The Bruins would ultimately finish out of the playoffs for the eighth straight year and the Red Wings would also miss to begin an epic string of futility. They would make the playoffs only twice in the next 17 years and it would be another 21 before they would win a single playoff series.
“I don’t even remember that game, isn’t that a shame?” said Peter Mahovlich, who suited up as a 20-year-old rookie for the Red Wings. “I was probably so excited just to be playing myself.”
But the real excitement on Oct. 19, 1966 was for the NHL debut of Bobby Orr, who earned his first NHL assist 50 years ago tonight and started on his quest to change the game forever. And long before the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid came along, Orr knew first-hand what it was like to be hyped to biblical proportions. In fact, going into his first game, Boston Globe writer Tom Fitzgerald did his best to put the expectations into perspective, writing: “Boston hockey fans can help a lot if they contain themselves in their appraisal of the lad. They must not expect that Bobby immediately will be a combination of Eddie Shore, Doug Harvey, Jack Stewart and Dit Clapper.”
The funny thing is, Bruins fans had every right to expect that of him because that’s exactly what Orr became. He wasn’t immediately a combination of all those players, but he got off to a pretty good start with 13 goals and 41 points, which was good enough to win him the Calder Trophy. And with 102 penalty minutes, Orr did show a fair bit of Eddie Shore and Jack Stewart, sending a message that he would not be physically abused. Only five players in the league amassed more penalty minutes than Orr did that season. Only seven other 18-year-olds in NHL history have more PIM in their rookie season than Orr did, but Orr was the first to break 100. (In fact, Orr’s toughness and his defensive play in his own end were so overshadowed by his greatness in other areas that they are often overlooked.)
Meanwhile, Orr redefined the defense position and distinguished himself as the best player in the world by a fairly significant margin. In fact, it could probably be argued that at no time in the league’s history was the chasm between the best player and the rest of the league as wide as it was as when Orr was in his prime.
Covering Orr’s first game as a Bruin, Fitzgerald had this to say about the debut: “The high point of the occasion for the house full of fans, and for the other Bruins for that matter, was the calm and really major league job turned in by Orr, placed on as tough a spot as any boy ever to break into the NHL.
“Although he did not score a goal, the lad with the blond whiffle did everything else expected of the best at his position. Bobby demonstrated that the critics who doubted his defensive savvy were dead wrong. He played the position like a veteran; was very tough in dislodging opponents around the net; blocked shots; and made adept plays in moving the puck from his own end.
“It was an individual triumph of a kind that bosses of the Boston team were hoping for, but this long-hailed rookie unquestionably exceeded all of their anticipation.”
And he would go on to do that again and again in his 12-year career, the last three of which were marred by injury and a nasty divorce from the Bruins. But Orr crammed more greatness into those nine years than almost any other player in the history of the game has done throughout his career. Orr is certainly the greatest defenseman of all-time and, depending upon your perspective, the greatest player ever to play the game. He scored one of the game’s most memorable goals and did almost as much for hockey in New England as Gretzky did for the game in California.
And it all started 50 years ago tonight. The Bruins plan to honor Orr at a ceremony at their home opener tomorrow night, not far from where it all began in a nothing game between the NHL’s two worst teams.