Category Archives: NHL

The Rookie Report – Top Ten Freshman in the Calder Trophy Race

I always find the Calder Memorial Trophy to be one of the most intriguing award races throughout the course of an NHL season. Rookie players are volatile and predicting their value at the start of the campaign is incredibly difficult. This is why we see some rookies come straight out of the draft to enjoy immediate success, others develop in the minor leagues until properly seasoned, some are hidden gems from the college ranks or overseas, and some just frankly come out of nowhere. Every hockey player dreams of having their name etched on a trophy that has been won by Barret Jackman (2002-2003) and Andrew Raycroft (2003-2004) so without further ado, let us take a look at the top rookies in the NHL so far this year. Read more

The National Houdini League

The NHL season is a harrowing grind. With a strenuous 82 game schedule spanning
seven months there is a massive amount of hockey yet to be played. With that being said, I am now going to overreact to the first few months of the NHL season and ignore what I just said. Here are some of the biggest surprises in the NHL at the season’s quarter-mark. Read more

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Part 31 of 31 (!) in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins#15. Ottawa Senators#14. San Jose Sharks#13. Toronto Maple Leafs#12. St. Louis Blues#11. Montreal Canadiens#10. Edmonton Oilers#9. Columbus Blue Jackets#8. Anaheim Ducks#7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks, #5. Minnesota Wild, #4. Tampa Bay Lightning, #3. Washington Capitals, #2. Nashville Predators

2016-17 Recap

Record:  50-21-11 (111 points) 2nd in Metropolitan Division (2nd Overall)
GPG:
3.39 (1st)
GAPG: 2.79 (17th)
PP%:
23.1% (3rd)
PK%: 
79.8% (20th)
Corsi For %: 49.8% (15th)

Another year and another Cup for Crosby and co. The team stormed to an impressive 50-21-11 record which was good for second in the Eastern Conference and were able to capture their second Stanley Cup in two seasons. The Penguins were anchored by a veteran core of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Fleury, Kessel, Hornqvist, Bonino and Hagelin. The  team received huge contributions from rookies Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray. Former Edmonton Oilers outcast Justin Schultz had a huge breakout 51 point performance and looks like he could be another lethal weapon for the now and future on Pittsburgh’s backend. Everything worked out pretty alright for these Penguins.

 

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 2. Nashville Predators

Part 30 of 31 in our NHL previews where Waind, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins#15. Ottawa Senators#14. San Jose Sharks#13. Toronto Maple Leafs#12. St. Louis Blues#11. Montreal Canadiens#10. Edmonton Oilers#9. Columbus Blue Jackets#8. Anaheim Ducks#7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks#5. Minnesota Wild, #4. Tampa Bay Lightning, #3. Washington Capitals

2016-17 Recap

Record: 41-29-12 (94 points) 4th in Central Division (17th Overall)
GFPG: 2.93 (11th)
GAPG: 2.73 (15th)
PP%: 18.92 (16th)
PK%: 80.91 (15th)
Corsi for %: 51.1% (8th)

The 2016-17 regular season was quite underwhelming for the Predators. Injuries and slumps from key players saw them barely squeak into the playoffs as the second wild card team in the Western Conference. But they quickly flipped the script in the postseason and looked like an entirely new team in the process. After sweeping through the experienced Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, Nashville steamrolled their way to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance after a couple of 6 game series victories over the Blues and Ducks. Losing to the defending Cup champion Penguins was certainly a disappointment, but it was a playoff run that opened the eyes of the hockey world to the city of Nashville and its hockey-rabid fans. The Predators were a Cinderella team last season, and the excitement and expectation is sure to be high heading into 2017-18.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: #3. Washington Capitals

Part 29 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins, #15. Ottawa Senators, #14. San Jose Sharks, #13. Toronto Maple Leafs, #12. St. Louis Blues, #11. Montreal Canadiens, #10. Edmonton Oilers, #9. Columbus Blue Jackets, #8. Anaheim Ducks, #7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks, #5. Minnesota Wild, #4. Tampa Bay Lightning

2016-17 Recap

Record: 55-19-8 (118 points) 1st in Metropolitan Division (1st in NHL)
GPG: 3.18 (3rd)
GAPG: 2.16 (1st)
PP%: 23.1% (4th)
PK%: 83.8% (7th)
Corsi For %: 51.4 (6th)

Last season brought a familiar outcome for the Washington Capitals: another second round playoff exit. Despite a Vezina calibre performance from Braden Holtby and the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, the Capitals season ended the same way it seems to end every other year. A regular season good enough to earn the Presidents’ Trophy, followed by a second round exit. It seems like the Capitals have been one of the most dominant teams over the last decade, but really have nothing to show for it. With Alex Ovechkin now on the wrong side of 30, the window of opportunity for him to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington may be starting to close.  Read more

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 4. Tampa Bay Lightning

Part 28 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins#15. Ottawa Senators#14. San Jose Sharks#13. Toronto Maple Leafs#12. St. Louis Blues#11. Montreal Canadiens#10. Edmonton Oilers#9. Columbus Blue Jackets#8. Anaheim Ducks#7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks, #5. Minnesota Wild

2016-17 Recap

Record:  42-30-10 (94 points) 5th in Atlantic Division (18th in NHL)
GPG:
2.80 (14th)
GAPG: 2.73 (16th)
PP%:
22.8% (6th)
PK%: 
81.4% (13th)
Corsi For %: 51.0% (9th)

Last season was a huge disappointment for the Lightning. Tampa went into the year as Stanley Cup favourites but had their aspirations derailed by long-term injuries to Stamkos and Callahan, while enduring merely average seasons turned in by both of their goalies. A slow start to the season led to GM Steve Yzerman dumping Valteri Filppula, Brian Boyle and Ben Bishop at the trade deadline only to see the team make a surprise last-ditch playoff push. At season’s end, in spite of missing two key players for the majority of the season and selling off key pieces at the trade deadline, the Lightning only missed the playoffs by 1 point. This is a testament to just how talented and resilient they are, but it makes the result all the more disappointing.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Dan Girardi, Chris Kunitz, Mikhail Sergachev

List of Key Departures: Jonathan Drouin, Jason Garrison

While there weren’t too many flashy moves in the offseason, a healthy season from Stamkos and Callahan would be key additions from last season. This is the first year where Ben Bishop isn’t Tampa’s starting goalie on opening night since 2013, but management seems to be confident that Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready to be “the guy”.

Of the moves they did make the Drouin for Sergachev swap already appears to be worth it. While Drouin is only 22 years old and supremely skilled, the Lightning were deep enough on the wing to make this deal happen. Sergachev has gotten off to a very hot start to this season with 12 points in 15 games and looks to be a future star on Tampa’s blueline. So far he has more than made up for the loss of veteran defenseman Jason Garrison to Vegas in the Expansion Draft.

Chris Kunitz on a one year, $2 mil contract is relatively cheap forward depth who can play top six minutes when needed. As for the Dan Girardi signing… well Dan Girardi just isn’t very good. He is one of the worst possession players in the NHL and is only getting slower at age 33. With most of their key players locked in to long-term contracts, the Lightning can afford to eat his two year deal with an AAV of $3mil. But for a contending team with $1,701,522 of projected cap space (via Cap Friendly) this is just irresponsible spending on Yzerman’s part. It’ll be tough to manage a midseason upgrade to fine-tune this team for a playoff run.

X-Factors

Team MVP: Nikita Kucherov

I don’t know about you, but Kucherov kind of snuck up on me. I always knew he was a good player, but I was actually surprised to see just how good he has been when I checked his hockeyDB page. The 24 year-old has become one of the NHL’s most prolific goal-scorers and truly proved his place among the NHL’s elite with a 40 goal, 85 point 2016-17 season. He’s got speed to burn, a lightning-quick release and great offensive awareness. He is currently leading the NHL in goal scoring with 14 goals in his first 15 games. While that pace is definitely not sustainable, Kucherov is poised for a huge season. It’s pretty wild to think that Kucherov in just his fifth NHL season that Kucherov has surpassed Stamkos in both scoring prowess and even at the top of the Lightning’s team hierarchy.

Team’s Strength: One of the most talented teams on paper

This team has it all. While injuries have  almost left him a forgetten man, Stamkos is still a bona fide star that a team can build around. After a thrilling 72 point 2016-17 campaign Victor Hedman has become the Norris trophy candidate people expected when he was drafted second overall to John Tavares in the 2009 draft. Those Nik Lidstrom comparisons casually thrown around when he was drafted aren’t as crazy now as they were at the time. Kucherov, Palat and Tyler Johnson, AKA “The Triplets”, are dynamic, young and exciting. At this point they are no longer sidekicks to Stamkos and pretty much fuel this juggernaut of an offense.

The rest of their roster is the perfect blend of youth and veterans. Brayden Point, Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov are all still super young and offer Tampa cheap secondary scoring. Killorn, Callahan, Kunitz and JT Brown are a bit older but are perfect role players for this young team. Beyond Hedman, the blueline is pretty solid. Anton Stralman has been an awesome value pickup and continues to play steady and reliable on a AAV of $4.5 million. Sergachev and Dotchin play well above their age and, while underwhemling, Coburn and Girardi do offer veteran presence for these younger guys to lean on. Top to bottom this roster is extremely deep and talented.

Team’s Weakness: Trusting a young, unproven goalie

Vasilevskiy has long been touted as the Tampa Bay’s goalie of the future. The hulking Russian netminder has shown flashes of excellence in his young career, but has been blocked by the steady play of Ben Bishop. Since Bishop was shipped out at least year’s deadline, Vasilevskiy has finally been given the keys to the Lightning bus. His .917 SV% in 50 games last year will more than do the trick and Vasilevsky has already got off to a scorching hot start to this season to the tune of a .927 SV% in 11 games.

The Lightning look like legitimate contenders. Even if Vasilevskiy looks the part of a confident goalie in a small sample size, it is just so tough to fully entrust a 23 year-old to carry you come playoff time. Matt Murray and 2006 Cam Ward are the exception, not the rule. Below is a list of every Cup winning goalie since the lockout with their age when they won it.

2017 Matt Murray 23
2016 Matt Murray 22
2015 Corey Crawford 30
2014 Jonathan Quick 28
2013 Corey Crawford 28
2012 Jonathan Quick 26
2011 Tim Thomas 36
2010 Antti Niemi 26
2009 Marc Andre Fleury 24
2008 Chris Osgood 35
2007 JS Giguere 29
2006 Cam Ward 21
Average Age 27.33

While they were both incredibly young when they won the Cup, Ward and Murray both had proven starting goalies backing them up at the time. With Fleury and Martin Gerber sitting on the bench, both Pittsburgh and Carolina had veteran safety nets if anything went awry. The Lightning will have to see what the have in both Vasilevskiy and backup Peter Budaj this season to see if they can deliver during Tampa’s Cup-contending window.

Rookies/Farm:

This year the big rookie addition to this roster is hulking blueliner Mikhail Sergachev. While he may have come at the steep cost of Jonathan Drouin, Sergachev is already showing that he is a big-time playmaker. He has a hard shot, plays phsyical, is a strong skater, and plays with a maturity that just isn’t found in most 19 year olds. Last year he scored 43 points in 50 games for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfire and was the backbone of a team that ended up winning the 2017 Memorial Cup. This guy has Norris trophy level upside and is further along than most defensemen are at age 19. While it’s far too early to tell, this guy may make Montreal extremely regretful.

Key Player: Steven Stamkos

Once considered one of the NHL’s elite, injuries have robbed Stamkos of some of the superstar lustre that he once had. By the age of 22 Stammer had already won two Maurice Richard goal scoring titles and was the Hart Trophy runner-up in 2011-12. Between his sophomore season in 2009-10 and his second Richard trophy season in 2011-12, Stamkos averaged 0.63 goals per game and 1.15 points per game in 246 games. Since that 2011-12 age 21 season and last season Stamkos had suffered two serious injuries over that span and saw his scoring dip to 0.54 goals per game and 0.97 points per game in 261 games.

After a knee injury limited him to just 17 games last season, Stamkos has looked pretty healthy this year. Paired on a line with the offensive dynamo that is Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos has racked up an incredible 24 points in 13 games so far this season. It’ll be difficult to sustain this high level of production, but if this is a sign that Stamkos is all the way back then the Lightning should be ecstatic.

Our Rankings

T. Waind: 1st

C. Burgess: 10th

B. Ballantyne: 6th


Injuries have robbed this young and talented Lightning team of getting over the hump. But I think it’s only a matter of time before this team gets the right breaks and makes a real push for the Cup. They are probably the NHL’s most talented roster on paper and you don’t need to squint too hard to see at least one Stanley Cup in their future. At the very least this will continue to be a very fun and exciting team to watch.

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: #5. Minnesota Wild

Part 26 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins#15. Ottawa Senators#14. San Jose Sharks#13. Toronto Maple Leafs#12. St. Louis Blues#11. Montreal Canadiens#10. Edmonton Oilers#9. Columbus Blue Jackets#8. Anaheim Ducks#7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks

2016-17 Recap

Record: 49-25-8 (106 points) 2nd in Central Division (5th Overall)

GFPG: 3.24 (2nd)

GAPG: 2.54 (7th)

PP%: 20.98 (9th)

PK%: 82.95 (8th)

The story of the Minnesota Wild’s 2016-17 season is definitely centred upon the team’s incredible 12 game win streak that broke a franchise record. As expected, a 12-0-1 stretch does well to contribute to a team’s standing come playoff time. The Wild finished with 106 points and the second best record in the Western Conference. This positive jump sort of came out of nowhere, as the Wild finished with just 87 points the season prior, but things just finally began to click for this team. Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker each blew their previous career-high point production out of the water, while Eric Staal returned to the 65 point plateau for the first time since 2011-12. The Wild received consistent goaltending from Devan Dubnyk and were an exciting team to watch in the regular season. But come playoff time, the Wild were unable to generate the energy they  had shown prior, and dropped an opening round series to the St. Louis Blues in 5 games, something Head Coach Bruce Boudreau has become all too familiar with.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Additions: Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Kyle Quincey, Daniel Winnik

List of Subtractions: Eric Haula, Martin Hanzal, Alex Tuch, Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Darcy Kuemper

The Wild’s outlook on 2017-18 involves some questions – like if last year was just a flash in the pan or not – but there’s no denying the depth that this team possesses up front. It’s also clear that Devan Dubnyk has put the shaky Edmonton Oiler days far behind him, and he’s going to provide them with consistency in the net, which is huge. While this team lost some pieces in the offseason, the additions they brought in should be able to provide what may have left and will help maintain their balance throughout. What the Wild seem to lack is that elite high end talent. When they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a few years ago to mega-contracts, that was the expectation of them. While they’re still good NHL players, they can’t be considered studs. It’ll be interesting to see the progression of this group so we can get an answer on if last year’s “wild” regular season was the real deal, or maybe just a bit of luck.

X-Factors:

Team MVP: Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk has certainly found a home in Minnesota. Ever since being traded for a 3rd round pick from Arizona during the 2014-15 season, Devan Dubnyk has looked like a brand new goalie. In Dubnyk’s 171 games with the Wild, he has the second most wins (99), third best save percentage (.924), fourth best goals against average (2.17), and second most shutouts (15) among NHL starters. And after completing another 60+ start year last season, Dubnyk has solidified himself as a consistent, reliable starter in this league. The Wild rely on the towering goaltender for elite play more than anyone on their team, and with the loss of solid backup, Darcy Kuemper, to the Kings in free agency, expect Dubnyk to be the man pushing the Wild towards a playoff spot once again.

Team’s Strength: Scoring Depth

The 2017-18 season was an offensive explosion for this Wild team, and with that it was also a coming out party for a number of players. Mikael Granlund is most notable as he pushed up against the 70-point mark last season, after a career high of just 44 previously. But the entire theme of this Wild team is a balanced, “score-by-committee” culture. Mikko Koivu seems like he’s been around forever, and the Captain can always be relied upon to produce respectable offensive numbers. Eric Staal is another vet that’s shown he’s found his offensive stride after a successful debut season with the Wild, leading the team with 28 goals. Other veterans like Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis and Zach Parise have proven they have what it takes to contribute in this league. Plus, there’s the presence of a younger core of players like Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker that have an impressive offensive spark as well. This team will run four solid forward lines at teams and they can beat you with skill and speed, or use their size and grind. The forward group is a clear strength for them.

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Team’s Weakness: Health

The Wild are fortunate that they have the depth that they do, because their team is having challenges with keeping their players on the ice. Zach Parise is the headliner for their health issues, as he’s been forced to miss 48 games over the course of his past four seasons with the team. But it’s not just Parise, in the early goings of this season, the Wild have seen Marcus Foligno, Niederreiter, Coyle and Granlund, in addition to Parise, all placed on the IR. Injuries are an issue for all teams to deal with, but the Wild have been in pretty deep with them as of late.

Rookies/Farm:

The Wild have a couple of notable rookie forwards they have added to their team for this season. The first being Joel Eriksson Ek, who had made an appearance after a call up last year, but this will be his first full season. Eriksson Ek is a 20 year-old Swedish centreman who was selected 20th overall by the Wild in the 2015 draft. He did manage to put up 7 points in his 15-game trial last season, but he’ll be seeing bottom six minutes for now.

The second rookie is 20 year-old American forward, Luke Kunin. Kunin is getting his first taste of NHL hockey this season after splitting last year with the University of Wisconsin and the AHL’s Iowa Wild. Kunin was the 15th overall selection of the Wild in 2016 and was captain of the U.S. World Junior Championship team that won gold this past winter.

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Key Player: Mikael Granlund

Last season, the 25 year-old Granlund finally appeared to grow into the expectations that were placed on him after being made the 9th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Remember when he did this? 

Granlund is known for his playmaking talent, but finally started putting the puck in the net last year as well with 26 goals, second on the team behind Eric Staal. The Wild had a hell of an offensive season last year and a large portion of that was because of Granlund’s emergence as a legit, consistent threat. Granlund needs to come back just as good or better than last year to prove that production was no fluke, and the Wild as a whole need to do the same.

Our Rankings:

  1. Ballantyne: 11th
  2. Burgess: 2nd
  3. Waind: 4th

While I’m not necessarily drinking the Minnesota Wild “Kool-Aid” as much as Burgess and Waind are this season, I am a fan of their depth. I just don’t want to write this team off as a Cup contender after what was a seemingly out of nowhere amazing regular season. The playoffs were a failure for them last year, and I doubt we’ll see another 12-game win streak from them once again. They have the pieces up front, a solid enough defense corps, and a high-end goaltender; so they’re a playoff team in my mind. But anything more than that? I’ll need to see it before I believe it.

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