Author Archives: Raymond Harrison

Top 10 Biggest Blunders in Sports History

Professional athletes are the embodiment of power, grace, and skill. They are the peak of physical fitness and perform at the highest level for the world’s enjoyment. Likewise, they are also human and are prone to the same mistakes and lapses of judgment that us mere mortals face on a daily basis. The thing is: when I fall down the stairs at the Wizmer House, spilling three drinks I had just purchased all over myself, only the select few individuals who happened to be looking will remember my dignified tumble. For professional athletes, their mistakes are broadcasted on live television and will live in infamy for the rest of their lives. This article is going to look at some of the biggest blunders that sport has ever seen. The way these are ranked is based on how egregious the mistake was, and the severity of the situation. If there are any that you think I missed, do not hesitate to let me know. Without further ado, let us dive right in.

10. Patrik Stefan and the empty net whiff.

It is impossible to have a list of the biggest sports blunders without including this dandy from former first-overall pick Patrik Stefan. I mean, you know your career was bad when the biggest highlight is you not scoring. Stefan is one of the worst busts in draft history and this clip is a perfect illustration of his tumultuous career. The fact that he woefully misses the empty net only to see Ales Hemsky tie the game with seconds remaining is just perfect poetic penance for Stefan as he retired 13 games later. Thankfully, the Stars still won the game 6-5 in a shootout but this remains one of the most embarrassing moments in NHL history.

9. Jose Canseco and the header home run.

Jose Canseco will always get the last laugh about this video. After all, he is a two-time World Series champion, former American League MVP, six-time All-Star, and four-time Silver Slugger winner. REGARDLESS, the sheer improbability and hilarity of this clip make it one of the all-time best baseball bloopers. The saving grace is that this was during a meaningless regular season game in May. It was the 25th anniversary of this clip just last week.

8. Patrick Roy and the Statue of Liberty.

The Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings had one of the best rivals in NHL history during the 1990s and early 2000s. With a blood feud and multiple hall-of-famers on both sides, it was always must-see TV when these two squads were playing. Entering the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the two teams were tied at two cups a piece in the past decade before matching up in the Conference Finals. The Avalanche jumped out to a 3-2 series lead and had a chance to finish the series off at home in Game 6. Instead, Patrick Roy tried to showboat after robbing Steve Yzerman in close and Shanahan buried what turned out to be the game-winning goal. The Red Wings went on to win Game 7 by a score of 7-0 and defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games to win their third cup in six years.

7. Leon Lett’s Super Bowl fumble.

See, if the Cowboys went on to lose this game then this could perhaps be the biggest blunder ever; but, they were playing the Buffalo Bills so obviously they were up by 35 points at this time in the game. Lett could realistically make another appearance on this list for his Thanksgiving Day debacle against the Miami Dolphins, but since it was in the regular season I decided to leave it out. Instead, we are blessed with this tasty gem that looks like it is straight out of Madden 18. Lett, being the showman that he is, decided to start celebrating his forthcoming touchdown at the ten-yard-line. Unfortunately, Don Beebe definitely had the Bills covering +40 as he hustled his butt and stripped Lett right before the goal line. The Cowboys still won the Super Bowl, handing the Bills their third consecutive loss in the big game, but Lett delivered another web gem to go into the archives.

6. JR Smith is off the henny again.

This is what inspired me to do this list in the first place. JR Smith has always been a bit of a wildcard on the court. The man will hit a half-court heave with a hand in his face but brick the most open jumper the world has ever seen. Furthermore, he has many fantastic off court hits such as his shirtless appearance during the World Series, and everyone’s favourite DM – “you trying to get the pipe?”. All these things aside, Smith has proven to be a serviceable player over the course of his NBA career and he played a big role during the Cavaliers 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals.

WELL.. last night he had one of the biggest blunders in NBA history and it could not come at a more costly time for his team. The Warriors opened the game as 13 point favourites over the Cavs and many people thought that the Dubs would steamroll their way to another championship. Instead, LeBron James did what LeBron James does and put up 49 points during regulation which gave the Cavs a chance to win Game 1. George Hill went to the foul line with 4.7 seconds left and hit his first free throw to tie the game at 107. He bricked the second, but thankfully JR Smith was there to collect the rebound and kick it to LeBron for a game-winning shot opportunity. Oh, sorry. Wait a second. JR, a man who has played 13 seasons in the NBA and makes an annual salary of $12.8 million USD actually thought that the Cavs were in the lead and tried to dribble the clock out. I have coached Grade 6 kids in minor league basketball who had better late game awareness than JR did in this situation. Alas, the Warriors went on to decimate the Cavs in OT winning the game 124-114 and wasting LeBron’s historic 51 point effort. Thanks, Henny god.

5. Fred Brown forgets who he plays for.

Poor Fred Brown. After some guy named Michael Jordon knocked down a 17-footer to give UNC a late 63-62 lead in the 1982 National Championship, Brown brought the ball up the court for a last gasp attempt at stealing a victory. After faking a pass to teammate Eric ‘Sleepy’ Floyd, Brown thought he had Eric Smith open at the top of the key. Instead, Brown made a worse visual decision than I did the last time I took a girl home from the bar and passed the ball straight to UNC’s James Worthy which effectively ended the game. Brown and Georgetown would avenge their demons in 1984 as they knocked off Houston to win their first National Championship but this blunder still lives large in the minds of the Hoyas faithful.

4. Steve Bartman becomes the most hated man in Illinois.

We all know the Bartman story. The Chicago Cubs, a team seemingly cursed from ever winning the World Series again, were up 3-2 in the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. They were searching for their first title since 1908 and were up 3-0 in the 8th inning of Game 6. Pan in, Luis Castillo hits a fly ball towards foul ground as outfielder Moisés Alou starts to track it. Instead of Alou catching it for the second out of the inning, this odd looking fellow wearing headphones reaches over the wall and interferes with the catch. As (bad) luck would have it, the Cubs went on to surrender eight runs in the inning before losing Game 7 by a score of 9-6. Bartman instantly became the most hated person in the stadium, and eventually in the city, as he was sent a multitude of death threats during the whole situation. Thankfully, the Cubs ended the curse in 2016 after defeating the Cleveland Indians in seven games and they attempted to rectify the Bartman incident by sending him a World Series ring of his own.

3. Chris Webber tries to be the Prince of Persia.

First off, for those uncultured swine who do not know what the Prince of Persia is – it is an older video game series where the protagonist has the ability to rewind time and correct his mistakes. Chris Webber certainly wishes he had that capability after this colossal choke job. It was the 1993 National Championship game. Michigan had made it all the way back to the finals after being manhandled by Duke in the championship the year before. Webber hauls in the rebound with 20 seconds left in a 73-71 game. He clearly walks with the ball but the officials do not call the travel. He proceeds past half-court, gets cornered with the ball, and looks at the official to reset and call timeout so they can draw up a play to tie the game. Except, Michigan had no timeouts remaining which meant UNC automatically got to shoot two technical foul shots effectively ending the game. It was a painful loss for Wolverine fans and haunted Webber for the entirety of his playing career.

2. Bill’s Buck Up.

We’ve talked about the Cubs curse already, but the Red Sox endured a lengthy World Series drought of their own. The Red Sox were up 3-2 in the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. Game 6 was tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 10th inning. Mets left fielder Mookie Wilson hit a slow roller towards Buckner on the first base line which should have been the third out of the frame. Unbelievably, Bucker fails to get his glove under the ball and it rolls past him, bringing in the winning run and sending the series to a deciding Game 7. The Red Sox ended up blowing a 3-0 lead in that game and ultimately lost 8-5 as the Mets won their second World Series in franchise history. The curse continued for 18 more years before the Red Sox finally won in 2004 to end the 86-year drought.

1. Pete Carroll and the worst play call ever.

Yes, the worst blunder on my list is actually a coaches decision. With just 26 seconds remaining, the Seahawks are two yards away from winning back-to-back Super Bowls. For some inexplicable reason, Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball even with bruising running back Marshawn Lynch lined up on Russell Wilson’s left. Lynch was arguably the best goal-line back in the entire league, and the Seahawks were in their 94 Buck formation which was a running formation. Still, Carroll changed the play to a pass and the rest is history. Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped Jermaine Kearse and picked the ball off at the goal line to give the Patriots the unlikeliest of wins. It is one of the most mind-boggling decisions ever made at such a high level and prevented the Seahawks from becoming a possible dynasty.

San Jose Sharks v. Vegas Golden Knights Round Two Preview

For half of the playoff teams, the Cup dream is already over. For the other half, they’ve earned the right to continue battling for Lord Stanley’s Mug. Every squad left in the playoffs accumulated over 100 points during the regular season which suggests we are in for a doozy of a second round. My preview of the Winnipeg/Nashville series will be out tomorrow.

I also have to make note that I am a man capable of eating my words and can admit when I was wrong. I expected to watch two long, bitter, Pacific Division matchups in the first round which ultimately led to a Kings-Ducks semi-final. I was off on all counts as both the Knights and Sharks brought out the brooms and steamrolled their opponents with speed and great goaltending. Let’s dive into the series analysis.

(P1) Las Vegas Golden Knights v. (P3) San Jose Sharks

Season series: VGK 3-0-1; SJS 1-2-1.

Golden Knights Round 1 Recap:  Vegas made the Kings look slower than a Hal Gill breakaway. Their relentless forecheck and ability to stretch the neutral zone was simply too much for L.A to handle. The Golden Knights won every game by only a single goal but it was quite apparent that they were the better team. They received contributions from up and down the lineup as 13 of 19 players recorded at least a point during the sweep. Marc-Andre Fleury (proud owner of the best smile in the world) was also an absolute wall in net. He followed up the best regular season of his career with a heckuva performance posting a scintillating 0.65 GAA and .977 SV% with two shutouts. In reference to the Kings, I have not seen such an inability to score since last weekend when I tried to talk to a girl at the bar – apparently, magic tricks are a bad way to pick up chicks, who knew?  Vegas has been on a storybook ride this season and many pundits (including myself) figured that the playoffs would be a rude awakening for them. The Golden Knights just continued to prove everyone wrong as they executed their gameplan to perfection.

Sharks Round 1 Recap: SoCal prevailed in the battle of California as the Sharks chowed down on the Ducks. Similar to what Vegas did to L.A, San Jose skated circles around Anaheim and exposed their lumbering style of play. Offensive leaders Couture and Pavelski had dominant performances as they both tallied 5 points in the sweep. Even with great showings from those two, it was Martin Jones who was the Sharks MVP of the first round. He was a stalwart between the pipes with a 1.00 GAA and a .970 SV%. The Sharks offense (which outscored the Ducks 16-4 in the series) has really started clicking since the addition of Evander Kane at the trade deadline and they’ve done it without the services of Joe Thornton who has been out of the lineup since January 23rd. The Sharks had arguably the most impressive first-round performance of any team.

Series breakdown: This series should be a great showcase of speed and skill as both teams have a ton of it. The two goalies were the stars of their respective shows in round one but I am expecting an offensive explosion here in the conference semi-finals. Both teams have potent top lines with a wealth of scoring depth at their disposal. While this looks like a fairly even match-up the biggest advantage seems to be San Jose’s power play. They were electric with the extra man against the Ducks as they converted at a 30% clip (6/20). The Golden Knights have the worst PP of any team left in the playoffs as they only scored on 8.3% of their chances (1/12) against the Kings. I do think that T-Mobile Arena is one of the more intimidating buildings to play in as the atmosphere is absolutely insane. I have been a Golden Knights “hater” so to speak throughout the season but I am jumping on the hype train and starting to believe. As good as Martin Jones has been I think Fleury will be able to outduel him in the cage and make those momentum-swinging saves that have become habitual for the ex-Penguin. I believe this will be a back and forth series with standout performances and tons of drama but I am pushing my chips into the middle of the table and yelling “Viva Las Vegas” all the way to the conference finals.

Prediction: Golden Knights in 7.

Picture credit to NHL.com (https://www.nhl.com/news/golden-knights-marc-andre-fleury-vs-sharks-martin-jones-goalie-breakdown/c-298207468).

Western Conference Playoff Preview: First Round Breakdown and Predictions

Strap yourself in, fill up that beer fridge, and welcome to the most wonderful time of the year.

Yes, my fellow hockey nutjobs, the NHL playoffs have finally arrived and this season has been the normal, totally predictable NHL. We have a first-year expansion team as the top seed in their division, a team that finished dead last a season ago in a wildcard spot, and a team that I affectionately refer to as “Taylor Hall and a bunch of other guys” back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. The Penguins are looking for the threepeat, the Predators are looking for sweet revenge, the Maple Leafs are looking to exorcise some demons, and the (new) Jets are looking for their first playoff victory.

I’ll be breaking down every series, matchups to watch, who I think will advance to round two, and other interesting storylines/tidbits for the Western Conference in the first round. Fellow Bench-Lifer Cameron Burgess is covering the East so be sure to watch out for his article as well. Let’s go!

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(C1) Nashville Predators [53-18-11] v. (WC2) Colorado Avalanche [43-30-9]

Season series: NSH 4-0-0; COL 0-3-1.

Breakdown: Last season the Predators found themselves in a position quite similar to where Colorado is right now. They were a heavy underdog against Chicago, yet promptly swept them and made a run all the way to the Cup Final. While I’m not suggesting the same events will transpire here, I will say that seeding is somewhat meaningless once the playoff puck drops. Regardless, the Preds are unquestionably one of the favourites to win it all and for good reason. Their roster is almost identical to a season ago plus Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Ryan Hartman, and perhaps Eeli Tolvanen. They are deep up front (13 players with 10 or more goals), loaded on the blueline, fully healthy aside from Calle Jarnkrok, and Pekka Rinne is in the midst of the best season of his NHL career. Oh, and they have arguably the biggest home-ice advantage in the NHL. Have fun beating that team.

The Avalanche even being in this position is truly remarkable. Just last year they had the worst season by any team since 1999-00 as they posted a miserable 22-56-4 record. Now, they find themselves as heavy underdogs in the first round but in the playoffs nonetheless. A large portion of this success can be attributed to Hart Trophy candidate Nathan Mackinnon. He was sensational this season with 39 goals and 58 assists and finally harnessed the game-breaking ability that made him the first overall pick in 2013. Super sophomore Mikko Rantanen (29G/55A) and team captain Gabriel Landeskog (25G/37A) round out a potent top line that carried the Avs’ offense on most nights. Unfortunately for Colorado’s upset hopes, starting goalie Semyon Varlamov and top defenseman Erik Johnson were both injured just before the playoffs and neither will play in the first round. Jonathan Bernier will have to be huge in the crease for the Avs to keep up with the Preds.

X-factors:

Predators – While Ryan Johansen’s injury in the Western Conference Final was the biggest blow to the Preds cup run last season, they also lost a guy in the first round who looked like he was enjoying a playoff breakout. Kevin Fiala recovered from the fractured femur and carried his momentum into the regular season. Playing primarily in a top-six role, he set career highs with 23 goals and 25 assists. While Forsberg, Johansen, Subban, and Josi could be considered stars, the Preds are still a team that gets it done by committee. Fiala, who’s slated to play alongside Turris and Craig Smith, will be a massive part of the Preds’ secondary scoring. His playoff run was stolen from him last season but now he has another opportunity to impress.

Avalanche – Nathan Mackinnon will be the biggest reason why the Avs win any games but I am going to go a different route. The injury to Erik Johnson leaves a gaping hole on the blueline and Samuel Girard is the guy to fill it. The rookie was acquired from the Predators in the Turris/Duchene three-way deal and he has impressed Avs fans with his poise and smooth skating. He will have extra motivation playing against his former team and is in line to play upwards of 23+ minutes a night. He already stepped up in a big way in Colorado’s must win game against St. Louis to end the season as he was the best player on the ice. Again, the Avs are the biggest underdog in the first round but the playoffs are a different beast. Girard’s play will go a long way for the Avs if they want to make this a close series.

 

Prediction: Predators in 5.

Nashville just simply outmatches Colorado in every single aspect of the game. The forward core is deeper and more experienced, the blueline is an embarrassment of riches, and Pekka Rinne is a wall in net. If Varlamov and Johnson were healthy I could maybe stretch it to 6 games but I cannot envision a scenario where the Preds bow out this early. I do think Nathan Mackinnon is going to single-handedly will the Avs to a victory on home ice but that is about it. Preds roll.

(C2) Winnipeg Jets [52-20-10] v. (C3) Minnesota Wild [45-26-11]

Season series: WPG 3-1-0; MIN 1-3-0.

Breakdown: Both of these teams have been great since the calendar flipped to 2018. The Jets have ridden a balanced roster to one of the better records in the league. They have one of the strongest forward cores in the playoffs with stalwarts Schiefele (23G/37A), Wheeler (23G/68A), Laine (44G/26A), and Ehlers (29G/31A) leading the way. The trade deadline acquisition of Paul Stastny also worked out admirably as he recorded 13 points in his 19 games with the Jets. They have a stout defense which is evidenced by Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tyler Myers all being on separate pairings. If that isn’t enough, perhaps the biggest key to the Jets success was in net. Connor Hellebuyck, who was projected to be Steve Mason’s backup at the start of the season, has turned in a Vezina-caliber campaign with a sparkling 44-11-9 record, a .924 SV%, and a 2.36 GAA.

The Wild were their typical consistent self as they made the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Eric Staal, who has enjoyed a career renaissance in the Twin Cities, was a force centering the top line as his 42 goals and 76 points paced the team. Jason Zucker benefitted greatly from Staal’s presence as he chipped in a surprising 33 goals. Mikael Granlund also enjoyed a solid year with 46 assists and 67 points. Defensively, Ryan Suter was the stamina superstar again averaging 26:46 TOI per game but he fractured his ankle right before the start of the playoffs leaving a massive hole on the blueline. Luckily for the Wild, Matt Dumba broke out in a big way this season averaging 23:46 TOI per game while chipping in 50 points. Between the pipes, Devan Dubnyk’s underlying numbers were not as good as years past but he still managed an impressive 35-16-7 record.

X-factors:

Jets – I purposely left rookie Kyle Connor out of the initial blurb because I think his performance is critical for the Jets in this series. He had 31 goals and 26 assists in his first full season of NHL action. He benefits from the opposition zeroing in on his linemates Schiefele and Wheeler when the unit is out on the ice. He is a battler and finds ways to get to open areas while the all-star duo commands all the attention. In what should be a tight-checking series, his opportunistic style of play will be massive for Winnipeg. Connor also has a knack for scoring big goals as he tallied 7 game winners (3 in OT) this season.

 

Wild – Although he battled injury for a quarter of the season Nino Niederreiter will need to improve on the disappointing year he has had thus far. 18 goals and 14 assists are simply not enough from a top-six winger for a team that can struggle to score at times. Luckily, the playoffs are a clean slate and El Nino will be playing on the top line with Zucker and Staal. That trio is key for the Wild in this series as their solid puck possession numbers will wear down the Winnipeg D and lead to offensive opportunities. The big Swiss winger has a necessary net-front presence and a heavy shot. He was the best 5-on-5 Corsi player (52.94%) for the Wild by a wide margin which suggests he is playing good hockey, just not converting his chances.

Prediction: Jets in 6.

If Ryan Suter was healthy this series would be a complete toss-up in my book but losing a guy that plays almost half the game each night is too big of a hole. I love Matt Dumba but I am not very confident in a Nick Seeler/Nate Prosser pairing against one of the best offensive teams in the league. Winnipeg was second in goals for league-wide while also being fifth stingiest in goals against. The Jets power play is also one of the biggest advantages in the series as they scored on 23.4% of their opportunities (5th in the league) while the Wild scored on just 20.4% (18th in the league). Not only will the new Winnipeg Jets get their first ever playoff win, they’ll also be getting their first ever series win.

(P1) Las Vegas Golden Knights [51-24-7] v. (WC1) Los Angeles Kings [45-29-8]

Season series: VGK 2-1-1; LAK 2-1-1.

Breakdown: Well, I have to say I definitely did not imagine we would see the Golden Knights playoff debut in their inaugural season but here we are. The Knights rode a fairytale roster to the top seed in the Pacific and looked like one of the best squads in the league for most of the year. Vegas was led by Columbus castoff William Karlsson (43G/35A), Panther pariah’s Marchessault (27G/48A) and Smith (22G/38A), and parted Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury (29-13-4/.927SV%/2.24GAA). Even when there were injuries to three of their starting goalies the Knights did not slow down. They seemed to get contributions from a different part of their lineup every single game as they had six players with 20+ goals. Head coach Gerard Gallant deserves a boatload of credit for what he has done with this team. They can skate, they can score, and they can come at you in waves.

The Kings style of play is contrarian to that of the Knights. While Vegas has a speed and offense approach, the Kings are playing that old-fashioned barricading defense. They were the stingiest team in the league only allowing 2.46 goals per game and they also had the best penalty kill at 85% effectiveness. Jonathan Quick has been here before and knows what it takes to win in the postseason. He did not have a great year which is evident by his 33-28-3 record but that can quickly be forgotten during a sublime playoff run. Offensively, Anze Kopitar had a herculean season setting career highs in goals (35), assists (57), and points (92). The Slovenian will be in the running for league MVP as well the Selke for best defensive forward. Furthermore, Dustin Brown (28G/33A/61P) enjoyed a bounce-back year with his highest totals since 2010-11 and Jeff Carter, who only managed 27 games this season, is back and healthy for the playoffs.

X-factors:

Golden Knights – Tomas Tatar was George McPhee’s big splash at the trade deadline and the review is not good so far. The Knights paid a hefty price for the Slovakian winger who has only managed 6 points in 20 games wearing the gold, black and white. Tatar is deft and creative with the puck which should fit in perfectly with the high-octane offense but he cannot seem to find his footing. The Kings do not make it easy on opposing teams and goals will be hard to come by. The Knights need the veteran Tatar to show up and help lead the attack.

Kings – Adrian Kempe (16G/21A/37P) was one of the hottest Kings at the start of the season but has bottomed out as the year dragged on. Perhaps the grueling grind of an NHL season has taken a toll on the young Swede as he has not scored a goal in 28 games. With Carter back in the fold, Kempe has moved down to the third line which should offer more favourable matchups. If the Kings are going to keep up with the scoring prowess of the Knights they need Kempe to find the offensive fire that saw him snag 9 points in his first 10 games of the year.

Prediction: Kings in 7.

It is the classic battle of offense meets defense and although I think T-Mobile Arena will be a formidable place to play I have to take the defense in what looks to be a very close series. I think that over the course of seven games L.A head coach John Stevens will be able to effectively deploy his defense in a way that mitigates the Vegas attack. Kopitar and Drew Doughty are big game players and although the Knights have enjoyed productivity all season long the playoffs are a different beast. The series may just come down to the battle between Fleury and Quick. Strap yourselves in for a mean, hardfought war.

(P2) Anaheim Ducks [44-25-13] v. (P3) San Jose Sharks [45-27-10]

Season series: ANA 1-1-2; SJS 3-0-1.

Breakdown: California cities and Pacific Division rivals collide in this evenly matched tilt. The Ducks are scorching hot right now ending the season on a 10-1-1 run. They lost 317 man games due to injury throughout the year including extended stints on the shelf for key contributors Kesler, Getzlaf, Perry, and Lindholm. They are relatively healthy now aside from Cam Fowler (who is expected to miss the first round) but the top two D pairings of Lindholm-Manson, and Beauchemin-Montour are set. The biggest advantage for Anaheim in this series is John Gibson, who vaulted into the best goalie in the league discussion with his phenomenal play this season. Gibson made 37 of 39 saves in a 3-2 win against the Blues in November with THIS TEAM playing in front of him:

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If that isn’t enough to convince you about Gibson, nothing is. Regardless, since the all-star break Gibson leads the league in SV% (.937) and GAA (1.95). Offensively the Ducks should be fine with Getzlaf (11G/50A/56GP) and Kesler now back and healthy. Adam Henrique was acquired earlier in the season from the Devils and scored 20 of his 24 goals with the Ducks.

Moving onto NorCal, the Sharks are on the hunt for another playoff run after last year’s early exit against Edmonton. The usual suspects were the top producers for San Jose as Burns (12G/55A), Pavelski (22G/44A), and Couture (34G/27A) were 1-2-3 in team scoring. The Sharks are also dealing with an injury issue themselves as Joe Thornton is likely to miss Game 1 of the series due to the knee ailment that has cost him 35 games this season. Evander Kane was a big addition for the Sharks at the deadline and he has been solid so far with 9 goals and 14 points in 17 games. The team depth was exposed last season but they’ve received important contributions from players like Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi, Kevin Labanc, and Tomas Hertl this year. The top two pairings of Burns-Martin, Braun-Vlasic are dependable and log heavy minutes. Martin Jones won 30 games for the third straight season but he struggled for stretches this campaign.

X-factors:

Ducks – While some of the Ducks biggest point producers were mentioned in the opening paragraph it is the unheralded 22-year-old out of the Czech Republic who will be key in this opening series. Ondrej Kase recorded the first 20 goal season of his young career and will be a key source of secondary scoring on the third line for Anaheim. He has disgusting hands and quick feet which makes him more than capable of scoring a highlight reel goal at a crucial juncture of the game.

Sharks – The most criminally underrated defensive defenseman in the league is my x-factor for the Sharks. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a rock in his own zone and will be key to stymying the Anaheim offense. He logs heavy minutes on the penalty kill and against the top performers of the opposition. Both of these teams have talented forwards and are capable of scoring in bunches so defensive capability will be everything.

Prediction: Ducks in 6.

It is all John Gibson for me. I think he is one of the most talented goalies in the world and he looks on track to play in Game 1. Cam Fowler is a third pairing d-man on the Ducks and although they would like to have him on the power play I do not think his absence is as big of a loss as some people are saying. I like the Ducks offensive options a little bit more than San Jose. Realistically though, this is a very even series and one of the biggest differences could be what penalty kill performs best. The Sharks had the second most effective unit in the league (84.8%) while Anaheim had the fifth (83.2%). Special teams play a huge role in a playoff series and that could be a determing factor.

Baseball Breakouts – One Player to Watch for Every MLB Team

One of the best parts of a new baseball season is trying to project which players are going to come out of nowhere and surprise everyone (à la Scooter Gennett last year). In this article, there is going to be a wide array of players ranging from everyday MLBers to deep sleepers looking to get a shot at the big leagues. There are obviously multiple breakout candidates for every team so feel free to comment and tell me which guys I missed. Rejoice for the return of baseball!

AL Central

Chicago White Sox – Michael Kopech (SP)

All due respect to Yoan Moncada, who I think is going to be a stud this year, the Sox desperately need some talent on the mound. The rotation is currently headlined by the 36-year-old James Shields who went 6-19 over the course of last season. Enter Kopech, a flame-throwing righty who consistently hits triple digits on the radar and has been clocked as high as 105 mph. Kopech, who was acquired in the Chris Sale deal, looks primed to make his big league debut at some point in 2018. Over the course of last season (split between AA and AAA) Kopech registered a monstrous 11.5 K/9. Although he endured a rough spring training, Kopech looks like he has the makings of a potential ace as he continues to diversify the pitches he has in his repertoire.

Cleveland Indians – Yandy Díaz (3B)

Díaz is as physically imposing as baseball players come and his biceps are bigger than my love for Busch. No seriously, look.

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Picture credit to Diaz’s Instagram.

That guy could deadlift Bartolo Colon. Interestingly enough, Díaz’s muscular prowess has not resulted in home run power at the plate. There is a fantastic piece done by Travis Sawchik on The Athletic which goes over the issue surrounding Díaz.

Among all major-league batters who put at least 30 balls in play last season, Díaz ranked eighth in average exit velocity (91.5 mph), according to Statcast data. The names who ranked ahead of Díaz? Aaron Judge, Nelson Cruz, Joey Gallo, Miguel Sano, Efren Navarro, Khris Davis and Giancarlo Stanton.

At issue? Among hitters with at least 100 batted ball results last season, Díaz ranked 387th out of 388 batters in average launch angle (0.0 degrees).

You obviously cannot hit bombs if every ball you put in play is a wormburner but Díaz is so tantalizingly close to becoming a full-time big leaguer because all of his other numbers are fantastic. The big man slashed .350 last year in AAA and had a .352 OBP in a 49 game audition with the Tribe last season. The Indians are one of the best teams in baseball and it shows with depth at every position but I am wholly excited to see what Yandy can do if given the opportunity this season.

Detroit Tigers – Miguel Cabrera (1B)

Put down your pitchforks. I understand that this is a bit of an obscure pick and more of a bounce-back than a breakout, but hear me out. Last year was unquestionably the worst year of Miggy’s career (thanks to two herniated disks in his back) and at 34 with an injury-riddled history, it seems some of the media had begun to write his swan song. I, however, am on quite the opposite side of things and if the way he looked in the Grapefruit League is any indication, Cabrera is hitting like his old self again. In 57 at-bats the veteran recorded a batting average of .368 with 3 dingers, and 13 RBIs. The Tigers are poised to have a dismal season, but Cabrera says he’s healthier and fitter than he’s been in almost half a decade. Those words should terrify AL pitchers and I’m fully expecting another 30 HR, 90 RBI season with a possible Comeback Player of the Year award.

Kansas City Royals – Cheslor Cuthbert (DH/3B)

The Royals lost two big bats in Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain this offseason. While those subtractions obviously put a glaring hole in their lineup, it also opens the door for younger players to make a name for themselves. Enter Cuthbert, a guy who hit .274 over 128 games in 2016, but sported a shoddy .231 average over 58 games in 2017. The 25-year-old has shown he can hang at the big league level but his bat was invisible last season. It seems that Cuthbert will handle most of the DH duties throughout the year as Moustakas has taken over his regular 3B spot. With a guaranteed spot in the heart of the Royals order I expect Cuthbert to provide some excitment in what looks like a disappointing season for Kansas City.

Minnesota Twins – Byron Buxton (OF)

The speedy Buxton was a trendy breakout pick coming into last season. The former #1 ranked prospect struggled early on in the year but ultimately put up half-decent numbers. I think he can do even more in 2018. He already looks like one of the league’s best defenders as he added a Gold Glove to his mantle and his bat only got better as the season progressed. If you look at last season’s stats prior to June 30th, Buxton had a dismal .195 BA with only 4 dingers and 14 RBIs. After June 30th? A .309 BA with 12 bombs and 37 RBIs. Couple that with the 29 stolen bags he had in 2017 and Buxton could become a valuable offensive weapon if he finds his consistency. He could be one of the bigger breakouts of the year.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs – Tyler Chatwood (SP)

It is somewhat hard to pick a breakout for a team that has such little turnover. The Cubs have the exact same starting lineup they had last year so I am looking at the pitching staff for this breakout. Although spring results should be taken with a grain of salt, Chatwood looked fantastic on the mound (2.91 ERA over 6 starts). He projects to be the Cubs No.5 starter in the rotation and now that he’s out of the homerun haven called Coors Field he should see a dramatic increase in his numbers. With one of the best lineups in the league supporting him every five days he should easily improve on his 8-15 record from last season.

Cinncinnati Reds – Luis Castillo (SP)

I think this guy is on a lot of people’s breakouts board because his talent is so damn tantalizing. A firey fastball, wicked changeup, and treacherous slider coupled with the .198 BA opponents had against the righty last season is a deadly combination. So why are we not hailing this guy as a frontrunner ace? Due to the fact that he only pitched 89 innings last year. With such a small sample size it is hard to predict what Castillo pundits will see this season. He was never a highly touted prospect but Reds fans are ecstatic to see what Castillo will do with a full season’s work. He could become the biggest breakout pitcher of 2018.

Milwaukee Brewers – Brandon Woodruff (SP)

Damn, this was a hard team to pick someone for. There are no real suprises in their starting lineup so Woodruff was the next logical conclusion. The 6’4 lefty has a grinder mentality on the mound and bodes a fearsome duo of pitches with his fastball and slider. The Brewers #3 prospect is primed to join the starters after a primer in the bullpen.  I think his ceiling by season’s end is third in the rotation.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Jameson Taillon (SP)

The pitcher trend continues. The 26-year-old compiled an 8-7 record last season and figures to be the headliner of the rotation with the departure of Gerrit Cole. Taillon has dealt with a multitude of injuries throughout his young career but his talent is undeniable. The #2 pick from the 2010 draft has never really lived up to expectations but with a clean bill of health anything is possible. He had a solid 8.4 K/9 last season so cutting down on the walks (3.1BB/9) will be the biggest factor for Taillon this year. He has a 95+ MPH fastball, a filthy curve, and is excellent at keeping the ball in the park. 14+ wins is not out of the question as the Pirates playoff hopes lie firmly in his glove.

St. Louis Cardinals – Jose Martinez (1B)

Martinez had a mini breakout last season and he looks poised to improve on his numbers this year. He’s batting in the heart of the Cardinals order attempting to show that the power he displayed in 2017 was no fluke. He batted a scintillating .308 over 272 plate appearances and now he seems to be locked in to a starting role. Screw you Brendan Ballantyne for already picking him up in our fantasy league. Martinez will thrive in the improved Cardinals lineup.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles – Chance Sisco (C)

One of the best prospects in the O’s system has made the opening day roster. After the departure of Welington Castillo, Sisco grabbed the opportunity behind the plate and looks like he’s going to run with it. He had a spectacular spring batting .419 with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBIs. The 23-year-old has hit at every level he’s played at and adds his left-handed stroke to an already powerful Orioles team. His defense is what holds him back and will be the reason why Caleb Joseph gets his fair share of starts, but there is no denying the offensive talent Sisco has in his possesion. I would not be suprised if he won the starting job outright by season’s end.

Boston Red Sox – Rafael Devers (3B)

Devers might be the consensus breakout pick for the year. The rookie shined for the Red Sox last season after being called up at the end of July. He slashed .284 with 10 bombs and 30 RBIs. Now in his sophmore season and starting at 3B, the sky is the limit for Devers. He should be able to rake in one of the more talented lineups in the AL. Plus, the man definitley lands Tilted Towers.

New York Yankees – Gleyber Torres (SS/2B)

Considered a top-five prospect by many around baseball, Torres should get his first taste of the big leagues this season. He torched AAA over 23 games last year carrying a .309 BA. Tyler Wade is currently serving as the Yankees primary 2B but Torres is undeniably the future for the Bronx Bombers at that position. If he starts the year hot down Wilkes-Barre he could see a promotion in the very near future.

Tampa Bay Rays – Blake Snell (SP)

Brent Honeywell is the Rays top prospect and looked to be one of the brighter spots for Tampa’s year, but a spring injury derailed all those hopes as the 22-year-old will now have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2018 season. Due to that, Snell becomes the next logical choice. After the All-Star break in 2017, Snell compiled a 5-2 record with a 3.49 ERA and continuously increased his fastball velocity. His first start of the season saw him go 5.2 innings giving up 3 hits and no earned. If that is a sign of things to come the Tampa faithul should be in for a treat of a season.

Toronto Blue Jays – Randal Grichuk (OF)

The Jays have a multitude of possible breakouts in the organization. Teoscar Hernadez was a sensation after they acquired him at the trade deadline last season and Vladdy Guerrero Jr. is one of the most promising prospects in baseball. While those two could impress, I believe Grichuk is the most likely to post a solid statline. The former Cardinals outfielder has displayed prominent power over the past two seasons totaling a combined 46 homeruns. Those came in the pitcher-friendly confines of Busch Stadium so it is not unreasonable to suggest Grichuk could reach close to 30 in the Rogers Centre. The biggest issue for the 2009 1st round pick are his high strikeout totals and mediocre OBP. If he can combine some discipline with the already evident power Grichuk could be a prominent source of offense in the anemic Jays lineup.

NL East

Atlanta Braves – Ronald Acuña (OF)

He is the consensus best prospect in baseball for a reason. The only reason he isn’t on the Braves current roster is due to service time. If Acuña was part of 172 service days in a season that would burn a year of his contract so the Braves are simply waiting a few weeks before bringing him up. Once he reaches the majors he should immediately impress. He is a defensive wizard in the outfield, a speedster on the base path, and possesses a heavy swing. He was one of the best players in the league during spring training and I’m sure Braves fans are itching to see him in the everyday lineup.

Miami Marlins – Braxton Lee (OF)

The 24-year-old was just recalled by the Marlins and could become a regular in the outfield for the team this season. He was a force in AA during 2017 batting .309 with 20 stolen bags. After Jeter’s teardown of the team this offseason there are a plethora of opportunities for young players to impress and Lee looks like he’s off to a good start. He has a servicable glove with speed to burn so fans should be expecting to see Lee on a consistent basis in 2018.

New York Mets – Amed Rosario (SS)

Rosario was a bit of a disappointment during his 2017 rookie campaign so expectations are high for a rebound. Fellow Bench Lifer, Thomas Waind, also picked him to breakout in our 2018 MLB Predictions article which can be found here. He torched AAA last year with a .328 BA, 58 RBIs, and 19 stolen bases but instantly struggled once he came to the majors. He obviously has a talented bat so it is hard to determine why he has had such difficulty taking the next step. Thankfully, he is an absolute burner on the basepath and capable at the hot corner so he has some current positives. If he finds his confidence at the plate he can reclaim his title as one of the game’s most promising young shortstops.

Philadelphia Phillies – Scott Kingery (2B/SS)

Kingery was expected to get the same treatment that the aforementioned Acuña recieved; however, he made the Phillies opening day roster and for good reason. Kingery was a stalwart in the minors last season registering a combined 26 home runs, 29 stolen bags and a .530 slugging average between AA and AAA. He was also one of the best Phillies players in spring training tallying 5 bombs and a .411 BA. The Philly infield is a little crowded with other young talent but Kingery looks like he’s an everyday player. He could realistically hit 20 homeruns and 30 stolen bags if he sticks around for the full season.

Washington Nationals – Michael Taylor (OF)

Washington is another team that really did not see much turnover coming into 2018 so a breakout was hard to decide on. Taylor had a postseason to remember in 2017 and the Nats are hoping the October productivity that saw him hit .333 with 2 dingers and 8 RBIs carries over into 2018. Taylor is a solid defensive outfielder and has shown he has some pop in his bat. He belted 19 homeruns last year in only 118 games, but he projects to improve on that total this season. He will be the starting centerfielder on most days for the Nationals so he should surpass the total games played he had a year ago.

AL West

Houston Astros – Alex Bregman (3B)

Bregman was good last season, but I think his ceiling is even higher. On such a loaded Astros team he put up 19 HRs, 71 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases which are impressive in their own right, although a majority of those stats were garnered in the second half after a dismal start to the campaign. Bregman is a former 2nd overall pick and his talent is undeniable. If he can find his consistency for an entire season, the 23-year-old is poised to be one of the best players in the MLB.

Los Angeles Angels – Shohei Ohtani (SP/DH)

While fellow Bench Lifer Brendan Ballantyne would like to see C.J. Cron in this spot, I have to give it to the newest Japanese sensation to hit the MLB. If his first week of big league action is any indication, Ohtani is going to be an absolute gem to watch this year. The 23-year-old already has a pitcher win under his belt along with 2 HRs in 14 at-bats. The hype was real coming into this season and Ohtani is currently delivering on every bit of it.

Oakland Athletics – Marcus Semien (SS)

I feel like taking Matt Olson in this spot is an illegal pick because most pundits would agree his scorching run last year was his true breakout. With that in mind, I struggled to find someone for the A’s and the Semien pick is more of a re-breakout selection due to how poor his 2017 was. He had an awesome 2016 with 27 bombs and 75 RBIs but insted of improving on these stats his numbers fell hard across the board as he battled injury. He looks to be the A’s leadoff guy and should put up decent numbers for a lineup with suprising pop. I expect him to get back to where he left off two years ago.

Seattle Mariners – Mitch Haniger (OF)

Before injuries derailed his 2017 campaign it looked like Haniger was breaking out before our very eyes. He had 16 HRs, 47 RBIs, and a .282 BA through 96 games before being shutdown for the rest of the year. He hits the ball ridiculously hard which is potent when coupled with his above-average launch angle. Similar to last season, he’s started the season on a tear with 2 dingers, 6 RBIs, and a .700 SLG%. As a baseball fan I’m hoping Haniger can stay healthy because I’m truly excited to see what he can do over a full campaign. A lineup with Cruz, Cano, Haniger, and Seager would be a scary proposition for other AL West teams.

Texas Rangers – Willie Calhoun (2B/OF)

Calhoun is also getting the Acuña service time treatment this season even though the Rangers could really use his talents in the outfield after the injury to Delino DeShields. With that being said, Calhoun should be up around the end of April and he’ll be bringing his big bat with him. He belted 31 HRs and 93 RBIs last year in AAA which has the Texas faithful ecstatic to see him. He is my AL ROTY pick and I’m expecting 25+ dingers from the pride of Vallejo, California.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks – Ketel Marte (SS)

This is a guy who seems like he’s right on the cusp of putting it all together. Marte is an athletic speedster with great plate discipline. Michael McDermott from Arizona’s SBNation blog has some interesting statistics which bode well for Marte’s breakout candidacy:

At the plate, Marte took a major step forward [in 2017]. Marte’s overall batting line doesn’t look impressive with a .260/.345/.395 slash (89 wRC+), but the numbers beyond the surface suggest he’s easily capable of more. His ground ball rate dropped from 50% to 45%, hard hit rate spiked from 21% to 28%.

The K-BB% improved 12.0% with a 4.5% reduction in strikeouts and a 7.5% improvement with walks.

It seems apparent that Marte is getting better at the plate. He may never be a power hitter persay, but he has flatline speed that make extra bases routine. With that in mind, another thing to look forward to is his ability to swipe bags. Although he’s had two seasons of 20+ stolen bases in AAA it has not yet translated to the MLB level. He is unquestionably the fastest player on the D’Backs, who are already one of the more aggresive base-stealing teams in the majors, so it is only a matter of time before the basepath results come.

Colorado Rockies – Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B)

The Rockies infield is a little cluttered this season so a regular spot for McMahon could be difficult to come by; however, he deserves an opportunity to show what he can do against big league pitching. He raked in AAA Albuquerque last season batting .374 over 314 plate appearances while also tallying 14 HRs and 56 RBIs. He is easily one of the Rockies top-three prospects and probably a top-fifty prospect league wide. The biggest key for him at the next level is to work on reducing his strikeout rate. He has the luxury of playing in Coors Field which is a scary proposition when coupled with his prevalent bat speed and power.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Kenta Maeda (SP)

Maeda had an up-and-down season last year with some stretches of greatness followed by bouts of ineptitude. He had a solid 13-6 record but his ERA reached 8.05 at one point during the campaign before settling at a mediocre 4.22. While the regular season was inconsistent he was an absolute dynamo coming out of the bullpen in the playoffs. He had a 0.88 ERA over nine postseason appearances while oozing confidence and aggresiveness. He has always been talented but it seems there are times where he lacks trust in his pitches. Maeda is primed to rack up fantastic numbers on a solid Dodger squad if he can perform like the October version of himself.

San Diego Padres – Manuel Margot (OF)

Margot had a rookie season to remember for the Padres in 2017. He slashed .263/.313/.409 with 17 steals, even after dealing with a calf injury that cost him some time. It looks like he is the future of the Padres outfield for years to come. He improved on his launch angle which led a suprising 13 HRs – the most he has hit at any level of professional ball. He’s only 23 so we can assume he’ll only continue to get better. On an offensively starved Padres team, Margot will be the one beacon of hope.

San Fransisco Giants – Joe Panik (2B)

The Giants have the 2nd oldest roster in the MLB so finding a player that had not already broke out is a task in itself. With the additions of Longoria and McCutchen, Panik finds himself playing in a much deeper lineup with more protection from high-pressure situations. Tyler Wilson from Lifestyle Sports figures Panik could be the next Scooter Gennett, who had a massive breakout last season. He went on to compare each player’s numbers through the first four years of their careers and the results were eeriely similar:

Gennett (456 G, 1,637 PA): .279/.318/.420, 90 2B, 10 3B, 35 HR, 82 BB, 291 SO, 99 OPS+

Panik (438 G, 1,818 PA): .282/.345/.408, 86 2B, 16 3B, 29 HR, 150 BB, 176 SO, 105 OPS+

Two things stand out to me when comparing Panik and Gennett side-by-side. First, Panik’s walk rate (8.3 percent) is considerably higher than Gennett’s (5.0 percent). Second, Panik’s strikeout rate (9.7 percent) is considerably lower than Gennett’s (17.8 percent).

I know these stats oftentimes go hand-in-hand, but the fact that Joe Panik has put up very Gennett-esque numbers with better non-contact result rates shows that he’s got the potential to not only do what Gennett did in 2017, but possibly take the next step past that level of play and become one of the game’s true stars.

Panik is only 27 and he’s been a servicable player throughout his young career. He already has 3 HRs in just 6 games this season which makes it seem likely he will crush his previous career high of 10. The Giants were absolutely pathetic last season but with the additions they made and an improvement from Panik they should be miles better.

 

The Madness of March 15th: Game-by-Game Recaps from the First Day of Tournament Action

The most wonderful time of the year has finally arrived for sport fans alike. The Madness officially began yesterday and it did not disappoint. In this quick piece I’ll go over the outcome of every game, some of the top performers, and the many reactions on social media. Without further ado, lets jump right in.

10Oklahoma Sooners 78 – 7Rhode Island Rams 83 (OT)

The first game of the day was a nail-biter to the very end. E.C Matthews buried a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left in overtime to put the Rams up 5 and they never looked back. Rhode Island shot a cool 39% from deep (11/28) on the afternoon and had 4 different players with double digit scoring totals. Trae Young, the nation’s leading scorer, led the way for the Sooners with 28 points but Rhode Island’s guards pestered him all game forcing Young into 6 sloppy turnovers. This loss marks the 13th defeat in the past 17 games for the Sooners while the Rams have won a March Madness game for the second straight year.

14Wright State Raiders 473Tennessee Volunteers 73 

More like Wrong State, haha, why is nobody laughing? This was the most lopsided game of the day by far. Regardless, this was the most successful season the Raiders have ever had in D1 but they were no match for the high-powered Tennessee team. Lamonte Turner poured in 19 points and dished 9 assists to pace the way for the Volunteers.

13NC-Greensboro Spartans 644Gonzaga Bulldogs 68

This game had legitimate “busted bracket” potential for a while. The score was tied 64-64 before Zach Norvell Jr. drained a go-ahead 3 with just 20.8 left on the clock. The Zags have been labelled as a trendy sleeper pick by some pundits so a loss here would have been an epic disaster. Jonathan Williams was the offensive catalyst for Gonzaga putting up 19 points and 13 boards in a winning effort. The scrappy Spartans held the 9th best offense in the country to just 68 points but they could not close down the stretch.

16Pennsylvania Quakers 601Kansas Jayhawks 76

History was not made on Thursday as it was business as usual in the 1 v. 16 matchup. The Jayhawks faced a 10 point deficit early in the first half but once they grabbed the lead they never surrendered it. Devonte Graham, the Big 12 player of the year, was a beast in this one dropping 29 points, 6 boards, and 6 assists for Kansas. Shockingly, the Kansas starters were responsible for 72 of the 76 points scored in this one which means bench play has to be a cause for concern for the rest of the tournament.

15Iona Gaels 672Duke Blue Devils 89

Another game that was never particularly close. The Blue Devils come into the tournament as one of the odds-on favourites to cut down the nets and they looked like worthy competitors in this match-up. Freshman Marvin Bagley III was his exceptional self with 22 points (on 71% shooting) and 7 rebounds in this one. Grayson Allen (16 points, 9 assists) also successfully managed to have social media talking about his performance instead of a dirty play. This was a good first step for a team looking at much bigger things.

11Loyola-Chicago Ramblers 646Miami Hurricanes 62

This game was a perfect example for why the tournament is called March Madness. After Lonnie Walker IV missed a free throw with 9 seconds left, the Ramblers’ Donte Ingram buried a deep 3 at the buzzer to push Loyola-Chicago onwards. This was their first tournament appearance in 33 years and they did not disappoint as that finish will be etched in the minds of fans for years to come. The end of this game was a bigger adrenaline rush than seeing those three dots pop up after you sent the “you up?” text at 2 A.M.

12South Dakota State Jackrabbits 735Ohio State Buckeyes 81

The upset that never was. Despite the best efforts of Mike Daum (27 points, 6 rebounds) the Buckeyes were too much for South Dakota to handle. The Buckeyes launched a ridiculous 40 3-balls in this contest and had 3 players that topped the 20 point plateau. Keita Bates-Diop had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the 5th seeded Buckeyes who now get to face Gonzaga in the round of 32.

9North Carolina State Wolfpack 838Seton Hall Pirates 94

There were 66 total free throws taken in this high-scoring affair. Khadeen Carrington put up 26 points for the Pirates while Desi Rodriguez also chipped in 20 off of the bench. The game’s leading scorer was Allerik Freeman from NC State who had 36 points and was 6/8 from deep. Seton Hall led wire-to-wire and were able to withstand any runs the Wolfpack had in them. Their formula for success was ball security (only 7 turnovers) and efficiency at the free throw line (31/39).

16Radford Highlanders 611Villanova Wildcats 87

This was basically a shootaround for the top scoring offense in the nation. Villanova dominated this matchup start to finish and shot a ridiculous 59.6% from the field. Every one of the Wildcats starters hit double digits in points as Jalen Brunson led the charge with 16. A dominant debut for one of the favourites in the tournament.

12Davidson Wildcats 735Kentucky Wildcats 78

Wildcat-ception saw Kentucky fail to score a 3-pointer in a game for the first time since 1988, but they still managed to pull out the W. The boys in blue dominated the foul line (26/32 compared to Davidson’s 14/17) which was the biggest difference in an otherwise tight game. Kevin Knox was the game’s leading scorer registering 25 points on the stat sheet while Jon Axel Gudmundsson was Davidson’s top threat with 21 points. Davidson has not won a tournament game since the 2008 Steph Curry run.

14Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks 603Texas Tech Raiders 70

This is the first tournament win for Texas Tech since 2005 and they did it mainly on the back of senior guard Keenan Evans. He had 23 points for the Raiders and has seemingly been flying under the radar compared to other star players in the field. The Lumberjacks kept the game close for the majority of the contest but were simply outmatched by the guard play of the Raiders.

11San Diego State Aztecs 656Houston Cougars 67

Rob Gray was arguably the best player on any court during Thursday’s matchups as the senior guard put up 39 points to propel the Cougars to their first tournament win since 1984. Gray laid in the go-ahead bucket with just 1.1 seconds left in the game while San Diego’s buzzer beater heave would not go. If Gray keeps this up for the rest of the tournament the Cougars may be that annual lower seed that sneaks their way into the Elite 8.

9Alabama Crimson Tide 868Virginia Tech Hokies 83

Freshman point guard Collin Sexton was the player of the game for the Crimson Tide in this contest. Down 43-41 at half, Sexton scored 21 of his 25 points in the second stanza to will Alabama to a victory. This game saw 10 lead changes but Alabama was able to roll with the punches before pulling away late. It was another unfortunate loss for Virginia Tech who now only have one tournament win since 1997.

13Buffalo Bulls 894Arizona Wildcats 68

This game didn’t just bust my bracket, it eviscerated it. The Bulls were able to hound Arizona’s bigs all game long while handily winning the 3-ball battle (Bulls were 15/30, Arizona 2/18). This was a colossal failure for Arizona who was pegged as a legitimate Elite 8 contender in large part due to the presence of star freshman Deandre Ayton. He still had 14 points and 13 boards in the loss but the Bulls stingy defense really kept him under wraps. The defensive side of the ball was the biggest difference of the game as Arizona looked absolutely lost on D against the speedy Bulls squad. The Buffalo backcourt dominated with Wes Clark and Jeremy Harris chipping in 25, and 23 points respectively.

11St. Bonaventure Bonnies 626Florida Gators 77

Egor Koulechov, who sounds more like a KGB sleeper agent than a college basketball player, was the focal point of the Gators offense on Thursday night. The lanky Russian import led the game with 20 points on 8/17 shooting. The Bonnies just could not hang in the second half but they should be proud of what they accomplished this season nonetheless. It was the defense that really did it for the Gators as they had 11 steals and forced 18 Bonnies turnovers.

14Montana Grizzlies 473Michigan Wolverines 61

It is unfortunate that this was the last game of the day because I have a feeling it put many viewers to sleep. The Big-10 Champions are able to say they moved on although the win failed to inspire much confidence offensively. Charles Matthews was the hero for the Wolverines as he dropped 12 of his 20 points in the first half while the game was very much up for grabs. The Grizzlies simply just fell apart in the second half getting outscored 30-19 and shooting a paltry 25% from the field (7/28). The Wolverines were one of the hottest team’s coming into the tournament and they managed to survive a poor start to this game. They need to be better against Houston in the next round.

Bench Life NHL Trade Tracker

The trade deadline is one of the most entertaining facets of an NHL season. Keeping up with the deadline almost feels like a full-time job when dealing with rampant speculation and a dizzying amount of deals. For this reason, I will do my best to keep you all informed throughout the week ahead and continue to update this article with insight and analysis on every trade made between now and the deadline at 3 P.M. on February 26th.

February 26th – Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay for Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, a 2018 1st round pick, and a conditional 2019 2nd round pick.

Oh boy. The biggest trade of the day was also the last to break and Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls should be shaking in their skates (particularly Boston and Toronto). Steve Yzerman has shown in years past that he is more willing to make a deal than Wayne Brady and he has now made Tampa the heavy favourite to win their second Cup in franchise history. McDonagh has been one of the best defensemen in the league since he broke in during the 2010-11 season. He is a model of consistency on the blueline and gives Tampa a top-four defense core that is perhaps only rivaled by Nashville. Likewise, J.T. Miller is probably salivating at the thought of playing with the elite offensive talent Tampa possesses. Miller is an RFA at the end of the season, has 40 points through 63 games this season, and will be able to replace Namestnikov’s production. Tampa was already considered to be the best team in the league by many analysts and this only further enhances that thought. Considering the fact that McDonagh has another year left on his contract at $4.7 million the Lightning have more pressure than anybody to lift Lord Stanley’s Chalice in the next two seasons.

It is always hard to be deemed a ‘winner’ when you trade away a player of McDonagh’s caliber but I think the Rangers would have been hard pressed to get a better return. Namestnikov is the known commodity and he is currently in the midst of a career season (20 goals and 24 assists in 62 games). While some of the production can be attributed to playing a majority of the year with Stamkos and Kucherov there is no denying the offensive capabilities of the smooth-skating Russian. The only issue with Vladdy is that he will be a RFA at the culmination of the season and is looking forward to a hefty payday. The Rangers are going to be the Lightning’s biggest fan over the next two years because the conditional 2nd rounder becomes a 1st if Tampa lifts hockey’s holy grail before the 2019 draft. The biggest pieces of this deal, and the ones that will go on to prove whether or not this was an astute move when we reflect on it, are Howden and Hajek. Howden is a former 27th overall pick who won gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship this year. He has put up 139 points in 96 games over the past two seasons with Moose Jaw in the WHL. He checks in at an imposing 6’2, 194 lbs and instantly joins Lias Andersson at the top of the Rangers forward prospects. Hajek is also in the WHL posting 35 points in 52 games on the back end. He projects to be a shutdown defenseman at the next level with decent mobility and high IQ. Hajek was arguably the biggest piece for the Rangers and adding Lindgren and Hajek to their stable of defense prospects over the past week is a massive coup for the retooling Rags. Again, to reiterate what I said previously, I think the Rangers got the absolute best deal that they could. Jeff Gorton came into the deadline with a clear goal in mind and he did what was best for the franchise. Two teams with two very different mindsets should both be happy with what they accomplished today.

Winner: Obviously, Tampa Bay will reap the benefits in the present but deals like this are impossible to decipher until the exchanged picks and prospects reach the show; however, Tampa will be a big loser if they do not pull through with a Stanley Cup victory.

February 26th – Tomas Tatar to Las Vegas for a 2018 1st round pick, a 2019 2nd round pick, and a 2021 3rd round pick.

One of the biggest trades of the day involved the Red Wings but it was not Mike Green who was on the move. As a Red Wings fan I will speak to how much I love Tomas Tatar. This was his 7th year with the franchise and he was a pleasure to watch the entire time. He is entertaining and dangerous night in, night out, and I think he will fit in fantastic with that Vegas top-six. Tatar is a perennial 20-25 goal scorer and with 16 tallies so far this season it seems likely he’ll reach that mark again. There were whispers about a Tatar trade the past week but it never seemed like it was a guarantee to happen. Vegas has been the best story in the league the entire season and it is admirable that they are cashing in their chips to chase a Stanley Cup. If he plays on that top unit with Karlsson and Marchessault I would pick-up Tatar in fantasy league’s faster than a Tyler Seguin shotgun.

Ken Holland is in a position he has not been accustomed to for the past decade but I think he hit a home-run with this deal. Not only did the Red Wings continue to stock the cupboard with three more upper round draft picks, but they also made the trade without retaining any of Tatar’s $5.3 million salary (which doesn’t expire until 2021-22). As productive as Tats has been with the Wings, a realist would be able to see that those years would be wasted on a bad Detroit team so getting this kind of value is a definite win. I tip my hat to Ken Holland because normally I’m berating every single transaction he makes; however, the only unfortunate thing is that this deal may be enough for Ol’ Kenny to get a contract extension this summer. Regardless, the Red Wings now have seven (assuming Mrazek wins three more games) of the first ninety-three picks in the upcoming draft.

Winner: My sanity for sure.. but I honestly may lean Detroit even though I think Tatar will be awesome in Nevada.

February 26th – Pat Maroon to New Jersey from Edmonton for a 2019 3rd round pick and J.D. Dudek.

After adding Grabner earlier in the week the Devils are doubling down on their surprising playoff position. With possible Hart candidate Taylor Hall leading the charge the Devils are bolstering their forward core around him. Maroon brings a valued net-front presence and physical element to the team and has enjoyed another productive year with the Oilers tallying 14 goals and 16 assists in 57 games. He projects to slot in somewhere in the top-nine. Dudek is an afterthought in this deal. He is a former 6th round pick that has recorded 17 points in 33 games at Boston College. The Oilers did what they could to recoup some value for the pending free agent and a summertime reunion is not out of the question; however, I think Shero has made two fantastic deals to help the Devils late season push.

Winner: New Jersey.

February 26th – Mike Reilly to Montreal from Minnesota for a 2019 5th round pick.

Strange that the Habs moved Morrow only to bring in Reilly when the two seem fairly interchangeable. Reilly has 18 points in 38 games with the Wild this season and is a year younger than the aforementioned Morrow. Reilly also has an extra year on his deal while Morrow’s expires at the end of this season. Low risk move for the Habs with the ability to flip Reilly next year if so inclined.

Winner: Montreal.

February 26th – Nick Shore to Calgary from Ottawa for a 2019 7th round pick.

Depth is the word of the day. Ottawa flips part of the Phaneuf trade for a late round pick while Calgary gets another body to assist in the playoff push.

Winner: Alex Burrows because this means he’ll probably get called back up.

February 26th – Joe Morrow to Winnipeg from Montreal for a 2018 4th round pick.

Winnipeg continues their successful deadline by adding a depth piece on the blueline. The former 23rd overall pick has played 38 games for the Habs this season with mixed returns. Morrow gives the Jets some versatility come playoff time and Montreal did well to get an asset in return.

Winner: The Winnipeg press box, who will become very familiar with Morrow for the rest of the season.

February 26th – Josh Jooris to Pittsburgh from Carolina for Greg McKegg.

I would rather spend an entire week attached at the hip to Pierre McGuire than report on this trade.

Winner: Absolutely no one.

February 26th – Thomas Vanek to Columbus from Vancouver for Tyler Motte and Jussi Jokinen.

Another trade deadline, another Vanek deal. This season the 34-year-old Austrian winger has done what he always does: sign a one-year contract and produce at a decent level. The equivalent to an NHL escort has 41 points in 61 games this season and the Blue Jackets bit on bringing him in. Last year he was traded from Detroit to Florida at the deadline and was absolutely miserable with the Panthers. Columbus is hoping that trend will be bucked this year. Vancouver really received nothing exciting in return as Motte has never been able to produce at an NHL level. I have to think a 3rd round pick would have been just as good from the Canucks perspective.

Winner: Columbus.

February 26th – Evander Kane to San Jose from Buffalo for a conditional 2019 1st round pick, Dan O’Regan, and a conditional 2020 4th round pick.

The Sharks have struggled to score all season long mainly due to injuries to Thornton and Hertl. They currently sit second in the Pacific Division but with Anaheim and Calgary breathing down their neck they felt obligated to make a splash. Kane has 20 goals this season and plays a physical brand of hockey that should bode well in the Western Conference. I think the Sharks felt that younger players like Meier and Labanc could makeup for the loss of Patrick Marleau but that clearly has not been the case. Kane is an upcoming free agent and could be in for a massive payday if he thrives with the Sharks. For the Sabres, Dan O’Regan actually played with Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues at Boston University. The unfortunate thing is that O’Regan is 24 and has failed to establish himself as a full-time NHLer. Personally, I would be a little disappointed as a Sabres fan for not receiving a younger prospect in return for one of the better rental wingers on the market. He was the rookie of the year in the AHL during the 2016-17 season so one must hope his career does not plateau. It is expected that the 1st round pick is lottery protected and the 4th round pick hinges on whether or not Kane re-signs in San Jose but all in all I am surprised Buffalo did not get more.

Winner: San Jose, and Mike Commodore for predicting this last night.

February 26th – Chris Wagner to New York Islanders from Anaheim Ducks for Jason Chimera. 

A swap of fourth line players on expiring contracts. Isles save around $1.5 million in cap space for the rest of the season perhaps suggesting another move. Wagner is 12 years younger than the veteran Chimera but neither of them have much in the way of offensive ability. A slight financial upgrade for the Islanders.

Winner: New York Islanders.

February 26th – Jordan Maletta to Arizona from Columbus for Ryan Kujawinski.

If you told me you know either of these players before this trade than you are a pathological liar. They are both 22-year-old centers and they have combined for a total of 8 points in 52 AHL games this season. The excitement is palpable.

Winner: EA Sports NHL 18 for creating these players.

February 26th – Brendan Leipsic to Vancouver from Vegas for Philip Holm.

The darling of the AHL is making his way to British Columbia. After scorching the minors with the Marlies the past two seasons (105 points in 111 games) a lot of hockey pundits felt that Leipsic would be an offensive threat in Vegas. While that hasn’t panned out (only 13 points in 44 games) his tantalizing skill has not been used in a scoring role with the Golden Knights. If the Canucks put him on a line with Boeser and Horvat I would be very excited to see what the 23-year-old can accomplish. He has a pest mentality that the Canucks have not seen since the likes of Maxim Lapierre. As for Philip Holm, he is a physical defenseman with a good first pass that is three years older than Leipsic. He had his first taste of the NHL last week against the Golden Knights and is having a solid season in Utica (29 points in 42 games). Both teams felt like they were dealing from a position of strength but I like the Canucks gamble of Leipsic breaking out in Vancouver.

Winner: Vancouver.

 

 

February 26th – Paul Stastny (STL retains 50% of salary) to Winnipeg from St. Louis for a 2018 1st round pick, a conditional 2020 4th round pick, and Erik Foley.

After swinging and missing on Brassard and Letestu the Jets grabbed Stastny, a player who nobody really thought was going to be moved today. Stastny solidifies the Jets down the middle and it is hard to argue against them having the best top-nine in the West. He has 40 points in 63 games and has been a consistent two-way presence over the course of his career. Stastny is used to playing with skilled players and the Jets have an abundance of talent up front. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is normally quite reserved on the trade front but this shows the league that the Jets are all in for a cup run. In return St. Louis, who has completely bottomed out over the past month, grabs Foley, a talented young winger playing for Providence in the NCAA. Foley has recorded 34 points in 32 games this season and has continued to get better with each passing year. At the start of the season the Blues looked like one of the best teams in the West and now they are trading off pending free agents. I like the return for the Blues but I think Stastny is a fantastic fit in Winipeg.

Winner: Winnipeg.

 

February 26th – Ryan Hartman and a 5th round pick to Nashville from Chicago for a 2018 1st round pick, a 4th round pick in 2018, and Victor Ejdsell.

Things are now starting to heat up as Nashville acquires the middle-six winger they were looking for. The pugnacious Hartman has 25 points in 57 games this season and offers a perfect combination of grit and skill that is well suited for playoff hockey. Hartman is only 23 and is a restricted free agent at season’s end. While I expected Chicago to shake things up I must say I am surprised they moved on from Hartman. Ejdsell was an undrafted free agent signing from Sweden and is putting together a good season in the SHL with 30 points in 44 games. The center stands at 6’4 and is a decent add to the organization’s prospect pipeline. Likewise, a first round pick (even though it will probably be 25th+ overall) is a solid get for the ‘Hawks. In what has been a disappointing year for Chicago this looks like great value for a rental.

Winner: Chicago.

February 26th – Ian Cole to Columbus from Ottawa for a 2020 3rd round pick and Nick Moutrey.

The first trade of the day follows the cookie cutter formula for depth defensemen. Ottawa flips Cole after acquiring him three days ago and get a future 3rd rounder and a middling forward prospect in the process. Moutrey, a former 4th round pick, only has 6 points in 22 games for Cleveland in the AHL this season. The Blue Jackets add Cole to an already stingy defense core and one has to wonder whether or not this trade was Jack Johnson insurance. Cole was an integral part of Pittsburgh’s back-to-back cup wins and has 13 points in 47 games this season.

Winner: Columbus.

February 25th – Brandon Bollig and Tony Grosenick to Nashville from San Jose for 2018 6th round pick.

This trade is about as exciting as the waiting room in a dental office. Nashville gets a gritty fringe forward and an AHL goalie. San Jose gets to say they did something.

Winner: Brandon Bollig because he might get his second Stanley Cup ring.

February 25th – Pontus Aberg to Edmonton. A 2018 4th round pick to Nashville. Mark Letestu to Columbus.

Another three team trade occurred on Sunday with the Oilers trading Letestu to the Predators before they promptly flipped him to Columbus. The Oilers must be excited to bring Aberg into the fold. He has had a disappointing year offensively with only 8 points in 37 games this season but he was electric in Nashville’s Stanley Cup run last spring. Aberg is lightning quick and definitely has some upside for a team that is weak on the wing. Columbus gains a familiar face in Letestu who has played 233 games for the franchise and will likely become their 4th line center. Letestu is a strong penalty killer and seems to command a great deal of respect in the locker room.

From Nashville’s perspective, Aberg just couldn’t crack the lineup on a regular basis. They figured they may as well get some sort of value for the speedy forward. I also saw Nick Cotsonika speculate on whether Nashville grabbed and flipped Letestu to keep him away from division rival Winnipeg.

Winner: Peter Chiarelli for making a trade that doesn’t burn Twitter to the ground.

February 25th – Tomas Plekanec (MTL retains 50% of salary) and Kyle Baun to Toronto from Montreal for Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev, and a 2018 2nd round pick.

I’m honestly a bit surprised Montreal received this much for a guy who plays in a turtleneck. Rychel and Valiev are both fringe NHLers at this point but the latter has been having a fantastic season on defense for the Marlies in the AHL. They are both young but it became apparent their futures were not in Toronto. As for the Leafs, this trade is reminiscent of the Brian Boyle deal they made at last year’s deadline. They get deeper down the middle with a veteran 4th line center who has playoff experience and can help out on the penalty kill. A low risk move for the Leafs that shores up what was perhaps the only hole in their forward core. With Matthews/Kadri/Bozak/Plekanec at center ice perhaps only the mighty Penguins have better depth.

Winner: Toronto.

February 25th – Rick Nash (NYR retains 50% of salary) to Boston from New York Rangers for Matt Beleskey (BOS retains 50% of salary), Ryan Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, a 2018 1st round pick, and a 2019 7th round pick.

One of the biggest names on the free agent market is shipping up to Boston for a Stanley Cup run. The Bruins received the top-six winger they desired and are hoping Nash can rediscover the scoring touch that made him one of the game’s most feared snipers. The 33-year-old Nash has definitely lost a step with only 28 points in 61 games this year but perhaps he can find some chemistry with David Krejci on the second line. It is a steep price to pay for an aging rental but the Bruins could afford to do it with their deep prospect pool; however, this trade could look really ugly if Nash underperforms during the playoffs (which he tends to do).

On the other side New York received a solid haul in return for the big winger as they continue to clean house and stockpile assets. Beleskey was involved to clear cap space for the Bruins and he will probably be flipped to another team at tomorrow’s deadline. Lindgren is a left-handed defenseman currently playing at Minnesota in the NCAA. He was the Bruins 2nd round pick in 2016 and plays a smart, physical game. The most interesting player in the deal is Ryan Spooner, who has actually out produced Nash on a point per game basis the past three seasons. Spooner only has a year left on his deal and at 26 he has the potential to elevate his game even further. He was consistently inconsistent in Boston, which is why they included him in the deal, but the talent is evident. GM Jeff Norton has done a fantastic job acquiring useful assets over the past few days.

Winner: Rangers.

 

February 24th – Brandon Davidson to New York Islanders from Edmonton for 2019 3rd round pick.

The price for depth defensemen this year has clearly been set at a 3rd round pick. The Islanders are hoping Davidson can help shore up the worst defensive unit in the league as the Isles have allowed an astronomic 223 goals this season. The 6’2 rearguard has 5 points in 36 games this season. The Oilers recouped decent value for Davidson as they grabbed him off waivers earlier this year from Montreal.

Winner: Edmonton.

February 23rd – Derick Brassard (VGK retains 40% of salary), Vince Dunn, Tobias Lindberg, and a 2018 3rd round pick to Pittsburgh. Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 1st round pick, and a 2019 3rd round pick to Ottawa. Ryan Reaves and a 2018 4th round pick to Vegas.

Twitter was in a state of confusion after the original deal was rejected by the NHL yesterday afternoon. Due to salary cap implications a third team had to get involved in the trade and Vegas fit the bill perfectly. The Knights retained 40% of Brassard’s $5 million salary and received Reaves and a pick in return. The abrasive Reaves gives the Knights a physical presence who can slot in on the fourth line during a nasty playoff series. We will always remember the Brassard era in Las Vegas.

Furthermore, The Penguins are poised to make the three-peat a reality as this trade gives them incredible depth down the middle. Eastern Conference defensemen are more terrified than Dustin Byfuglien in the vegan section as the Pens now have Crosby, Malkin/Hornqvist, and Brassard/Kessel playing on three separate lines. Jim Rutherford has been a deadline magician the past two seasons and he seemed to work his magic again here. The Pens also grabbed some extra forward depth with Lindberg and Dunn acting as injury insurance for the rest of the season. Perhaps the best part of it all is that the HBK line can also be revitalized.

Continuing on, I was surprised that the Sens didn’t get Daniel Sprong as part of the trade. If I was a Senators fan I would be trying my very best to cancel Pierre Dorion’s cell plan. Ian Cole is a bottom-pairing defenseman with an expiring contract and the 1st round pick will most likely be 24th overall or lower. The saving grace for this transaction is Gustavsson, who instantly becomes Ottawa’s best goaltending prospect. The lanky Swede has had a great year in the SHL and was named the goaltender of the tournament at the World Juniors. Still, this trade seems to be lacking a bit of substance from an Ottawa standpoint. At least Ian Cole will be able to fill the Karlsson sized hole on the Sens blueline come February 26th.

Winner: Pittsburgh (and NHL’s salary cap accountants).

February 22nd – Michael Grabner to New Jersey from New York for a 2018 2nd round pick and Yegor Rykov.

The first trade EVER between the Rangers and Devils came late Thursday night and surely caught a lot of people off guard. The Devils were never really considered one of the frontrunners for Grabner but he is a fantastic addition for the team that is firmly entrenched in the first wildcard in the Eastern Conference. The Austrian speedster has a knack for scoring goals, as evidenced by his 25 snipes in 59 games this season, and will fit in smoothly with the Devils top-six. As for the Broadway Blueshirts, they got a fantastic return considering Grabner is a UFA at the end of the season. Rykov, a former 5th round pick, has been playing solid hockey for St. Petersburg in the KHL and is considered one of New Jersey’s best defensive prospects. I honestly cannot decipher a winner or loser for this trade due to the fact that each team received exactly what they wanted.

Winner: Participation ribbons for everyone!

February 22nd – Frank Vatrano to Florida from Boston for a 2018 3rd round pick.

Something tells me that this trade is acting as a precursor for a big move from the Bruins. Vatrano was caught in the middle of a sticky situation – he struggled to crack the regular NHL lineup, but he was also ineligible for waivers. Boston feared if they sent him down to the AHL he would be snagged by an opposing team due to the fantastic numbers he put up in Providence in 2015-16. The deft winger recorded 36 goals and 19 assists for the Baby Bruins that season and looked to be a promising forward prospect for Beantown. With only 2 goals in 25 games this season Florida clearly feels that a change of scenery might be just the thing to spark his offensive instincts. A 3rd round pick is a low-risk gamble on a player that might be able to start scoring again in Sunrise.

Winner: Florida.

February 21st – Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood to Los Angeles from Arizona for Darcy Kuemper.

The Kings were looking for a bottom-six scoring winger and they struck a low-risk deal to bring in Rieder. The German forward only has 19 points in 58 games this season but he had averaged almost 36 points for the past two years. Rieder adds a good deal of speed to the team and could play anywhere in the lineup. As for the goalies on the move, Kuemper has been putting up career numbers in Los Angeles this season. He has a 10-1-3 record with a .932 save percentage and a 2.10 goals against average while Wedgewood has posted a 5-9-4 record with a .893 save percentage and a 3.54 goals against average. Kuemper, who signed a two year contract extension with the Coyotes, has clearly been the better goalie this season and will fight with Antti Raanta for the starting job. The Kings have since put Wedgewood on waivers which suggests Jack Campbell will be Quick’s backup down the stretch. I like the return for both teams.

Winner: Los Angeles

February 21st – Jakub Jerabek traded to Washington by Montreal for a 2019 5th round pick.

Hold onto your hats, the Capitals are going CRAZY at the deadline this year. This move is almost identical to the Kempny trade for the Caps (except Marc Bergevin obviously received a lesser return). With rookies Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey on the blueline it is understandable why GM Brian MacLellan would want to have some insurance. The 26-year-old Jerabek can move the puck fairly efficiently and is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The Caps have bolstered their defensive depth with two shrewd acquisitions and now have some decisions to make about which six guys will be on the ice in the playoffs. For Montreal, this trade really doesn’t make much sense (but we have become used to that with this team). They only put Jerabek in the lineup for 25 games this year even though the argument can be made he has played just as good as David Schlemko, Joe Morrow, and Jordie Benn.

Winner: Any GM that trades with Marc Bergevin.

February 20th – Eric Fehr traded to San Jose by Toronto for a 2020 7th round pick.

Toronto gets to shed another contract and now have 48 of the maximum 50 organizational spots filled. This gives them all the flexibility they need to make whatever acquisitions they desire. Fehr has tallied 28 points in 34 games with the San Diego Gulls in the AHL and it looks like he will replace Daniel O’Regan as San Jose’s 4th line center for the playoff push.

Winner: Pierre LeBrun for breaking the trade first.

February 20th – Nick Holden traded to Boston by New York for Rob O’Gara and a 2018 3rd round pick.

This serves as the first deal in what should be a busy week for Rangers GM Jeff Gorton. The Bruins were in the market for a depth defenseman and after kicking tires on Mike Green and Ryan McDonagh it seems that Holden is their guy. Holden is prone to having some lapses in the defensive end but he has averaged almost 20 minutes of ice time for the past four seasons and is a capable penalty killer. The pending UFA has 12 points in 55 games this season. O’Gara is a 24-year-old Yale product that has played a majority of the season with Providence in the AHL. To me, Nick Holden really doesn’t move the needle that much and the 3rd round pick alone would have been enough. Judging from the reaction of Rangers fans on Twitter they will not miss Holden in the slightest.

Winner: New York.

February 19th – Petr Mrazek traded to Philadelphia by Detroit for a conditional 2018 4th round pick and a conditional 2019 3rd round pick.

Petr Mrazek is on his way to the City of Brotherly Love after looking like the goalie of the future in Detroit just two seasons ago. With Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both sidelined for the next few weeks the Flyers needed to bring in an experienced goalie to keep ahold of their playoff spot. Mrazek has been a model of inconsistency over his NHL career which culminated in Detroit’s decision to leave him unprotected at the expansion draft this past summer. While his talent is unquestionable, you are never sure what Mrazek you are going to get. Will you get the goalie that stops 34/35 shots en route to a spectacular performance or will you get the over-aggressive netminder who lets in a weak wrister from the blueline in the final minutes of a game? Detroit is certainly happy to recoup some assets for the pending RFA who was almost a guarantee to leave this summer but perhaps a change of scenery is all the charismatic Mrazek needs to regain his form. He has been playing better hockey since the start of 2018 and his 8-7-3 record is more indicative of the poor Detroit team in front of him. The Flyers have been one of the league’s better teams since the start of December and they took a chance on a 26-year-old goalie who has shown stretches of dominance in the past. If Mrazek rediscovers the ability he had in 2015-16, the Flyers could be a scary matchup come playoff time.

Winner: Philadelphia.

February 19th – Michal Kempny traded to Washington by Chicago for a 2018 3rd round pick.

After being burned by Kevin Shattenkirk at last year’s deadline the Caps have opted to go for a smaller move this season. The Czech defenseman has appeared in 31 games for the Blackhawks this campaign recording 7 points and a +13 rating. He has decent possession numbers and adds depth to a Caps blueline that lost Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, and the aforementioned Shattenkirk over the summer. The Caps have their own 2018 3rd round as well as Toronto’s 2018 3rd round pick and the Hawks will receive the higher pick of the two.

Winner: Kempny, for not having to play on that sad Blackhawks defense anymore.

February 15th – Ville Pokka traded to Ottawa by Chicago for Chris DiDomenico.

What a blockbuster. Pokka, a former second round pick, has never played in an NHL game but has been a solid defenseman over the course of four seasons with Rockford in the AHL. The general consensus around the league is that he never received a fair shot in Chicago and he will get that opportunity in Ottawa. DiDomenico has played in six different professional leagues throughout his career and has recorded 10 points in 24 games as a Sen this season. Pokka (23) is six years younger than DiDomenico (29) so I’ll give the Sens the edge solely for that reason.

Winner: Ottawa.

February 15th – Nikita Soshnikov traded to St. Louis by Toronto for a 2019 4th round pick.

When your forward core is as deep as the Pacific Ocean you can afford to make trades like this but I really like the low-risk acquisition by the Blues. Soshnikov has had the misfortune of being hexed by the injury bug throughout his young career and the Leafs were simply too deep on the wing for him to be a regular contributor. Obviously, expectations should be tempered for a player who only has 7 goals in 70 career games but there is no doubt in my mind that Soshnikov should be a bottom-six winger in this league. He has a heavy shot and a snarl to his game that should aid St. Louis in their playoff aspirations. The Leafs were at the organizational 50 contract limit so this trade sets them up to make another deal at the deadline. With young guns Kapanen, Grundstrom, and Johnsson the Leafs could afford to let ‘Sosh’ go but I’m excited to see what he can do with the Blues.

Winner: St. Louis (although the Leafs aren’t a loser).

February 13th – Dion Phaneuf (Ottawa retains 25% of salary) and Nate Thompson traded to Los Angeles by Ottawa for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore.

A trade that would have rocked the hockey world in 2009 is merely a cash transaction in 2018. The stingy Senators were looking to save a buck perhaps thinking about an Erik Karlsson contract negotiation in the near future. A majority of the hockey world seem to believe that the Sens will end up buying out Gaborik at the end of this season which would result in around $7 million in savings compared to the Phaneuf contract. In terms of the actual hockey implications of this trade, Los Angeles gets a solid middle pairing defenseman for their playoff push as well as a dependable utility player in Nate Thompson while the Sens get a quickly depreciating Gaborik and a bottom-six checking forward in Nick Shore. Realistically, this trade offers almost zero benefit to Ottawa on the ice but it looks better in their books. To me, the Kings got a defenseman who can play 18+ minutes a night and has already made an impact with 2 goals in the 3 games he’s played in California.

Winner: Los Angeles.

All-Time Trade Teams: The Tumultuous Transactions for Every NHL Franchise

We are now reaching the stretch run in the NHL season. With over 50 games in the books it is fairly evident what teams are in the upper echelon of the league and which teams will be participating in the ‘Fallin for Dahlin’ sweepstakes. This also gives us an idea of who the buyers and sellers will be at the trade deadline on February 26th. To me, trades are one of the most debate provoking aspects of professional sport. The Pittsburgh Penguins back-to-back championships have been greatly influenced by trades that filled the holes in their lineup and bolstered their depth. While success is nice, for the purpose of this piece I want to look at the trades that have agonized fan bases. I want to see the people that moved onto greener pastures and began tearing the league up. I want to see what draft picks have been traded and turned into superstars and what teams have given up on players far too early in their careers.

I am going to be constructing every team’s best all-time lineup out of players and draft picks the organization has traded. For the purpose of this article I will only be using trades that have happened since 1975. I will also only be using players that were traded at the age of 29 or younger. It is unfair to put Ray Bourque on the Bruins all-time team or Mats Sundin on the Leafs all-time team because those players were moved in the twilight of their careers. I will include the age the player was traded at in brackets beside the name. If it was a draft pick that was traded I will put the overall of the pick in brackets beside the name. In certain cases, there have been picks or players that were traded twice. Those players will show up for the various teams at different ages or the draft pick will show up on multiple teams. I understand that this leads to some overlap but if I confined them to one team it would noticeably shrink the player pool. Likewise, I understand the discrepancies some may have involving draft picks. Who is to say Team A would have picked the same player as Team B with the traded pick? For the purpose of this project we are suspending realism and assuming that the picks were constant for each team. I will also be combining rosters for relocated/defunct teams (e.g. the Hurricanes and Whalers will be combined). Finally, I have provided what I deem to be the most lopsided trade for each franchise (along with honourable mentions). This is completely subjective and I would be happy to hear other opinions. Without further ado, let us jump into the All-Time Traded Teams. Read more

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