Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 Candidates for Team Canada in Pyeongchang: KHL Edition

With the World Juniors around the corner and Olympics closely following, Canadian hockey fans are waiting on bated breath to see who will represent us in Pyeongchang…

Without the NHL’s participation in the Olympics, one of the most anticipated international hockey tournaments of the year will likely turn into the Spengler Cup with better media coverage.

With the potential exclusion of Russia at the Olympics the field could be wide open. The Americans will send an NCAA all star squad, while Sweden and Finland will scrounge from their professional leagues to fill out their rosters. But given the sheer volume and reach of their hockey program, there are plenty of options at Canada’s disposal.

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2017-18 Bench Life Sports NHL Previews

After over a month of cranking out hockey analysis and searching for compelling storylines on some really vanilla hockey teams (here’s looking at you Detroit), we have finally wrapped up our NHL team previews. Here is a quick Cliff Notes version of all of our our rankings and analysis, each with links to the full articles. Take a shot anytime Burgess names a specific goalie by name as their team’s “strength” and anytime Ballantyne or I mention the Leafs and you might only make it to the fifth preview. With the hockey season well under way some of our takes haven’t aged well. That being said I honestly believe that we did nail some of them. Enjoy!

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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.

Who’s the Team to Beat?

A little late, but midterms suck so we’re combining Week 6 & 7. Take a look at what’s been going on around the NFL.

We’re almost at the halfway point of the NFL season and it’s still unclear who the top team is. I can’t remember the last time the league has been this competitive, usually there’s a few teams still undefeated but this year has been full of surprises.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 8. Anaheim Ducks

Part 24 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. 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

2016-17 Recap

Record: 46-23-13 (105 points) 1st in Pacific Division (6th Overall)
GFPG: 2.72 (17th)
GAPG: 2.44 (3rd)
PP%: 18.73 (17th)
PK%: 84.70 (4th)
Corsi For %: 49.6 (18th)

The Anaheim Ducks are coming off yet another impressive season, which saw them on top of the Pacific Division standings for the fifth consecutive year. But unlike 2015-16, the Ducks were able to force their way back to the Western Conference Finals after a sweep of the Calgary Flames and a seven game series win over the electrifying Edmonton Oilers. Although the Ducks fell to the Predators in six games, they proved that they still belonged that deep in the playoffs.

Ryan Getzlaf had a resurgent year and an incredible postseason, while Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell continued their upward progression. Rakell led the NHL in game winning goals and was fifth in even strength goals and Silfverberg posted a career high 23 goals and 49 points. 2016-17 was the first season that goalie John Gibson was the clear-cut number one, following the trade of Frederik Andersen the offseason prior. Gibson managed to post a career best .924 save percentage which was good for fifth in the NHL. The Ducks defense did a great job limiting goals against all season, and head coach Randy Carlyle is clearly more comfortable in Anaheim. Although this team didn’t manage to get over the hump and reach the finals, there’s reason to believe they could be back.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 14. San Jose Sharks

Part 18 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

2016-17 Recap

Record: 46-29-7 (99 points) 3rd in Pacific Division (11th Overall)
GFPG: 2.67 (19th)
GAPG: 2.45 (5th)
PP%: 16.67 (25th)
PK%: 80.66 (18th)
Corsi For %: 50.5 (10th)

Following a year that culminated with an unexpected Stanley Cup Finals appearance, the Sharks managed to find their way back to the postseason, claiming the third spot in the Pacific division. This standing left them in a first round meeting with the young Edmonton Oilers that proved to be too much to handle, as they were eliminated in six games. The Sharks were carried by the usual suspects in 2016-17, as Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton provided the offence we’ve come to expect. Starting goalie Martin Jones put up a solid year in his second season as the Sharks starter, finishing 6th in Vezina trophy voting, proving he is a legit, reliable starter moving forward. The Sharks downfall in this season was their secondary scoring production. After a dreadful debut for Mikkel Boedker, and an injury to Tomas Hertl contributing to what was almost a bottom third finish in goals per game for the team.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: errrrr, nobody?

List of Key Departures: Patrick Marleau, Mirco Mueller, David Schlemko, Tommy Wingels

The San Jose Sharks obviously didn’t do anything to help themselves this offseason, all you need to do is take a look at their offseason additions and subtractions. This means making the playoffs this season could be one of the more challenging times in a while. If you can believe it, this Sharks franchise has only missed the playoffs twice dating back to 1997. That’s 17 of the last 19 seasons(!!!). The common denominator for that stat? That was the rookie season of Patrick Marleau, who will be suiting up with another team (Toronto) for the first time in his career. The Sharks still have a solid core despite the loss of Marleau and I believe that they’ll be right there in the race for a playoff spot at the end of the season, but it’s going to be tight. Their offence this season comes with a fair amount of questions, so don’t be shocked if they’re on the outside looking in.

X-Factors:

Team MVP – Brent Burns

After a 2015-16 season that included a 75 point outburst, few would’ve believed that Burns could top that unreal production. But the “bearded one” is coming off of a 76 point season, that included a jump from -5 to +19, and we were quickly shown that Burns had another gear. This showing led to Burns being awarded the Norris trophy as best Defenseman in the NHL. Very well deserved for Burns, as this was a season that included him leading all defensemen in goals, points (9th among all skaters) and leading the entire league in shots on goal. Burns’ ability to produce high end offensive numbers as a defenseman is extremely rare and it’s why he’s the go to guy in the Shark tank.

 

brent-burns

Team’s Strength – Seasoned Veterans

The Sharks are certainly not short of experienced players on their roster, which is an asset they can use to put towards success. This is the third oldest roster in the NHL at an average of 29.1 years old (younger than just Detroit and Ottawa) and the main pieces of this group have been together for a long time. The Sharks have been a perennial playoff team recently, and those appearances have included a number of disappointing playoff exits, but also a Western Conference Championship in 2015-16 too. The likes of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic – who has the best nickname in the league by the way, “Pickles” -and Paul Martin can be relied upon to supply the production they have been for their entire careers and their leadership qualities will be key to this team’s success. While these guys aren’t getting any younger, they each have the ability to uplift the production of their supporting cast on the offensive and defensive ends.

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 8.30.28 PM.pngTeam’s Weakness – Goal Scoring

The San Jose Sharks finished 19th in goals for last season, which is simply not good enough for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. On top of that, they lost Patrick Marleau in free agency to the Maple Leafs. You’re probably thinking “Marleau is old anyways, it doesn’t matter”, but the fact remains, he was one of four guys to score 25+ goals on this team last year (Burns, Pavelski, Couture). The highest scorers after those four guys? Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson with just 11. Losing 25% of the group that carried this team’s goal scoring and not replacing him is going to be an issue for them. The Sharks have to be banking on Mikkel Boedker to bounce back from his horrendous debut season. Another player that needs to take a step is forward is Tomas Hertl. Hertl missed 33 games last season due to injury and needs to return to his 2015-16 form when he scored 21 goals.

This team’s defense is solid and Martin Jones is a legit high end starter in the NHL, but they’ll need to find a way to score with regularity in order to keep this group’s dwindling Cup hopes alive.

Rookies/Farm –

No Sharks rookies have cracked the roster for this season, as the youth movement on the current roster is led by a pair of sophomores, 22 year-old Kevin Labanc and 21 year-old Timo Meier. Each made their appearances fairly quietly last year, but this year will look to fill the offensive void up front for the Sharks.

As for the draft, the Sharks took Josh Norris 19th overall in the draft this past offseason, and he’ll play for the University Michigan this season. Norris impressed at the NHL Combine before the draft this past summer and it’s clear the Sharks have an impressive athlete in him. He finished first out of all prospects in five of the events at the Combine including the Wingate Bike test, Pro Agility test (left and right), Vertical Jump and Standing Long Jump. The 6’1”, 190lbs Norris is an impressive physical prospect and his 61 points in 61 games last season with the U.S. National Development Program is encouraging. It’ll be interesting to watch his development going forward.

Key Player – Logan Couture

We know that Joe Pavelski can be relied upon to produce offense, because of his six consecutive 60+ point seasons (not including the lockout shortened season), and Joe Thornton is Joe Thornton, but after that there are questions for the Sharks up front. Logan Couture has shown flashes in years past of taking a step towards being a star, like during the 2015-16 Sharks cup run when he led the team in points with 30 in 24 games, but the Sharks need him to produce at a high level for a full season in order to succeed. Couture has displayed some inconsistencies in large part due to his health. His games played in the past four seasons have been all over the map at 73, 52, 82 and 65 due to various injury issues. But over those four seasons, Couture has managed to put up a solid 0.77 points per game in the regular season. Couture is now 28, so he’s likely not going to show anything more than what we’ve already seen of him, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It’s just imperative he stays healthy, because now more than ever the Sharks need his production night in, night out.

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Our Rankings

  1. Ballantyne: 15th
  2. Burgess: 16th
  3. Waind: 15th

Although this team has achieved regular season success for many years, they haven’t managed to get over the hump and win a cup with this core, even in the times when they may have been “favoured” to. The Sharks time may be running out. This core has lost a signature piece in Patrick Marleau, and it’ll be interesting to see how this team reacts to that major change. A lot of expectation is still being placed on 38 year-old Joe Thornton after he signed a 1-year $8 million deal in the offseason, but he needs Mikkel Boedker and Tomas Hertl to bounce back and support him as Jumbo Joe can’t do it alone. Burns and Pavelski are incredible talents, and Jones, Vlasic and Couture are solid too, but if this group misses the playoffs…have we seen the end of these Sharks as we know them?

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