End of an era for Detroit Red Wings

It’s the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings as the club’s 25-year playoff streak will come to an end this season and the team will play its last ever game at the Joe Louis Arena on April 9th. The postseason streak began in the 1990/91 campaign and is the third-longest in NHL and pro-sports history. The Boston Bruins posted the longest streak of 29 seasons from 1967/68 to 1995/96 while the Chicago Blackhawks went 28 seasons from 1969/70 to 1996/97 and the St. Louis Blues enjoyed a 25-season run of their own from 1979/80 to 2003/04.

The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups during their streak, which took place over a quarter of a century while playing at the Joe Louis Arena. However, the rink which opened in 1979 will be demolished later in 2017 after the Wings’ new home, Little Caesars Arena, opens in September. The new rink will also be the home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. The Red Wings and Detroit fans will get the chance to say their final goodbyes to Joe Louis Arena with a game against the New Jersey Devils on the final day of the 2016/17 season.

Since the Red Wings streak began, there have been a total of four work stoppages in the NHL, plenty of rule changes, the introduction of a salary cap, five different U.S. presidential administrations, and the Soviet Union still existed. In addition, former NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning was just starting high school. Unfortunately, franchise owner Mike Ilitch, who was also the founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, passed away earlier this year as the streak was about to end.

The Red Wings have had five head coaches during the streak along with three different team captains and general managers. The Wings have been so good during that stretch that they haven’t had a top-10 draft pick since 1991. The club was cup contenders for so long due to the emergence of draft picks such as Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov and smart deals and free-agent signings including Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Dominik Hasek, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan. Stanley Cups were won in 1996/97, 1997/97, 2001/02 and 2007/08.

The first cup win of the streak ended the team’s 42-year drought without a championship. The 2002 cup-winning squad was one of the strongest in league history as it featured 10 Hall of Famers, with Pavel Datsyuk likely making it 11 in the future. Ilitch was a free spender in the early years of the streak and paid millions of dollars for top-name players, but the Red Wings also made the playoffs for the first 11 seasons after the salary cap was introduced after the 2004/05 lockout. They’re the only franchise to reach the postseason every year since the salary cap came in, until this year that is.

The end of the streak isn’t a complete disaster for the Red Wings. Fans may have seen it coming since the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the past three seasons, but they’ll now start to rebuild with this summer’s draft. Detroit may finish in last place in the Eastern Conference this season for a higher draft pick and also made several deals at the trade deadline for prospects and draft choices. And who knows, a brand new 25-season streak may begin later this year when the Red Wings christen Little Caesars Arena.

The clock is ticking on the Arizona Coyotes

It appears the sands of time are running out on the Arizona Coyotes. The desert sand that is, as the NHL franchise may soon be saying adios to the city of Glendale and the state of Arizona. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has tried to keep the team in Arizona for about a decade now, but even he admits it may be time to relocate. Bettman and the Coyotes want a new arena in Phoenix for the club to play in, but they want taxpayers to fund it. Without a new rink, they’re threatening to leave the city.

The Coyotes currently play in Glendale, which is a city of about a quarter of a million people and approximately 10 miles from Phoenix. The NBA’s Suns currently play in Phoenix and the NFL’s Cardinals play in Glendale and neither team seems to have a problem drawing fans. However, the Coyotes are having a hard time convincing people to drive the half hour from Phoenix to Gila River Arena to see them play.

The rink is relatively new as it opened in 2003 and holds 17,125 fans for hockey. The current lease between the NHL team and the arena allows the club to leave after the 2017/18 season and it appears it may exercise that option. Fans living in Phoenix can’t just walk to the rink like they do in Toronto, Montreal and New York City, etc, and there isn’t a very good transit system in place to take them there. Of course not all Coyotes fans live in Phoenix though, meaning out-of-towners have a longer drive to attend games and moving the club to Phoenix won’t solve this.

Bettman has said the franchise won’t stay in Glendale and is hoping for a satisfactory outcome to the situation via Senate Bill 1149. This bill would provide the Coyotes with $225 million of public money for a new rink in Phoenix or the East Valley area. Of course, the local government doesn’t see the need to build a new arena just 12 miles away from a rink that’s just 14 years old in Glendale. The NHL says the Coyotes are losing tons of money each year playing in Glendale, but politicians blame that on the fact the team has made the playoffs just three times in the past 11 years.

The Coyotes used to play in Phoenix for just over seven years and attracted fewer fans than they did when they first moved to Glendale though, so taxpayers don’t see what will change if the team moves back to Phoenix. The local government used to provide the Coyotes with $15 million a year in an arena-management agreement, but that ended in 2015 and it seems the franchise misses that cash injection. The Suns NBA team doesn’t want to share a rink with the NHL team though, so Bettman may have no choice but to pull the Coyotes out of Arizona.

It’s doubtful taxpayers will be asked by the government to fork over money for another arena in the area, so unless somebody has a change of heart or comes up with another solution it could be lights out for the Coyotes. Of course, the NHL shouldn’t have a problem finding another city to relocate to as Seattle, Portland and Quebec are all reportedly interested in a franchise, whether it’s an existing one or an expansion team.

Veteran goalies grab the latest NHL headlines

Veteran NHL goaltenders took over the spotlight between March 2nd and 11th as several of them set new milestones. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets posted his third consecutive shutout on March 7th by stopping 33 shots in a 2-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The Russian netminder also shut the Devils out 3-0 two days earlier when he stopped all 20 shots he faced. That was his second straight shutout as Bobrovsky began his streak on March 2nd when he made 38 saves in a 1-0 whitewashing of the Minnesota Wild.

Following the March 7th win over the Devils, the 28-year-old Bobrovsky had gone five straight games allowing two or less goals. He then came back to earth on March 10th with a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres, but still managed to post his fourth straight win by stopping 29 of 32 shots. His last loss in regulation time came back on February 19th, a streak of six games. Heading into the week of March 14th, Bobrovsky had a 36-13-4 record with a goals-against-average of 2.07, a 93.0 save percentage and six shutouts.

New York Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist made the headlines as he won his 404th career game to move past Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr and into 10th spot on the all-time wins list. Lundqvist achieved the milestone on March 7th in a 5-2 road win over the Florida Panthers. The 35-year-old Swedish native stopped 43 shots to win his 30th game of the season. It was the 11th time Lundqvist has posted at least 30 wins in a season and no other goalie in NHL history has managed to win 404 games in his first 12 campaigns and win 30 games in 11 of their first dozen seasons.

The only season Lundqvist failed to record 30 wins was in 2012/13 when the NHL played a condensed 48-game schedule due to a lockout. He still managed to win a league-high 24 games that season in 43 games though. Unfortunately for Lundqvist, he is currently sidelined with a hip injury as he hopes to climb the all-time wins list. He needs 44 more victories to move past Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito, Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk to move into sixth place on the list. Only two other goalies have managed to win at least 30 games in 11 different seasons. They were Hall of Famers Patrick Roy with 13 and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur with 14.

Another goalie on a hot streak is Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators. Anderson took some time off earlier in the season to take care of his ill wife. But he’s gone 8-2 since coming back and won his sixth straight game on March 11th with a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. He’s allowed two or less goals in seven of those outings and is leading the Senators on a charge to a first-place duel with the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division. The 35-year-old Anderson was tied with Bobrovsky for third in the league with a 93.0 save percentage and had a record of 21-8-1 with a sixth-best 2.23 goals-against average.

Jonathan Quick has returned to the net for the Los Angeles Kings as they attempt a late-season push at making the playoffs. Quick was injured in the first week of the season and returned to action on February 25th. The 31-year-old has won four of his five starts since returning to the crease, including three consecutive victories. Quick appears to be back in top form already as his goals-against-average stood at 2.38 on March 13th and his save percentage was 91.7. The Kings recently traded backup goalie Peter Budaj to Tampa Bay for Ben Bishop, but it looks like Los Angeles will pin their hopes on Quick down the stretch run.

Meanwhile Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins has already won a Stanley Cup, but he’s still technically a rookie this season. Murray has won four of his past five outings and enters the week of March 14th with a very impressive record of 26-8-3. He also had four shutouts along with a 12th-best goals-against average of 2.33 and was sixth best in the league with a 92.5 save percentage. The 22-year-old Murray shouldn’t be forgotten about at the end of the season when the votes are tabulated for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the rookie of the year.

And last but not least, 31-year-old veteran Brian Elliott may have struggled earlier in the season after joining the Calgary Flames in the summer, but he’s been red hot lately. Elliott earned his second straight shutout on March 11th with a 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets after shutting out the Montreal Canadiens 5-0 in his previous outing two days earlier. Elliott has now won eight consecutive games as the Flames try to sew up a playoff spot and his save percentage during that streak is over 94.0.

NHL rosters set for stretch run after tame trade deadline day

While the NHL trade deadline is probably here to stay, it appears to be getting less dramatic year after year. Most clubs are beginning to figure out it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to wait so long into the season to try and improve their rosters. Why wait until the final 20 games to make your team better when it could be done earlier? It takes a bit of time for most players to adjust to their new surroundings and teammates and by the time newcomers feel comfortable after arriving on deadline day the season is basically over.

Overall, blockbuster trades are becoming rare these days due to the number of no-trade and no-movement clauses being handed out in contracts. Most NHL stars move from team to team in this era via free agency rather than trades. Unless more players agree to moves in the future, trades such as PK Subban for Shea Weber will become a thing of the past. There will always be deals on trade deadline day though as teams have one last chance to enhance their rosters before the stretch run and to add depth to cover for injuries.

There were bigger trades in the days leading up to this year’s deadline on March 1st than there were on deadline day itself. These included the Pittsburgh Penguins acquiring veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey from the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Danny Kristo and a second-round draft pick in 2017 and Patrick Eaves being dealt from the Dallas Stars to the Anaheim Ducks for a second round pick in 2017. Fans also saw the Tampa Bay Lightning send goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings along with a fifth-round draft pick in 2017 for goaltender Peter Budaj and defenceman Eric Cernak along with a second and seventh-round pick in 2017.    

In addition, the Minnesota Wild picked up centres Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from the Arizona Coyotes along with a fourth-round pick in 2017 for centre Grayson Downing, a first-round pick in 2017, a second-rounder in 2018 and a fourth-round pick in 2019. The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired centre Brian Boyle from Tampa for winger Byron Froese and a second-round pick in 2017 and the Montreal Canadiens picked up defenceman Jordie Benn from the Dallas Stars for fellow blueliner Greg Pateryn and a fourth-rounder in 2017.

The Vancouver Canucks traded left-winger Alexandre Burrows to the Ottawa Senators for left-winger Jonathan Dahlen and the St. Louis Blues dealt defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltender Pheonix Copley to the Washington Capitals for forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone along with a first-round pick in 2017, a second-rounder in 2019 and a conditional seventh-round pick. Other pre-deadline deals saw the New York Rangers acquire defenceman Brendan Smith from the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa obtain forward Viktor Stalberg from Carolina, the Chicago Blackhawks pick up defenceman Johnny Oduya from Dallas and Montreal trade forward David Desharnais to the Edmonton Oilers for defenceman Brandon Davidson.  

As for trade deadline day itself, there was a total of 20 official trades which involved 37 players and 12 draft picks. There were several veteran players on the move as Steve Ott ended up in Montreal, Thomas Vanek went to Florida, Jarome Iginla was sent to Los Angeles, Kyle Quincey went to Columbus, Mark Streit went to Pittsburgh, Valtteri Filppula ended up in Philadelphia, P.A. Parenteau went to Nashville, Eric Fehr to Toronto, and Drew Stafford to Boston.

While several of these players may have a positive impact on their new teams for the remainder of the season, none of them are considered to be young NHL stars in their prime. There should be numerous deals made between the end of the season and June though as teams try to juggle their rosters prior to the June 21st expansion draft for the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the NHL Entry Draft two days later.  

Toronto’s Jake Gardiner evolving into top-20 NHL defenceman

While the Toronto Maple Leafs may be concerned about the backwards step taken by defenceman Morgan Rielly this season, they should be happy with the production they’re getting out of fellow blueliner Jake Gardiner. Rielly was pegged as being the Leafs’ best offensive defenceman and perhaps a future all-star and team captain, but he’s been struggling in both ends of the ice this season with 22 points after 55 games and a minus-15 rating. Rielly’s just 22 years old though and still has plenty of time to live up to his potential even though he is a minus-61 for his career.

On the other hand, the 26-yar-old Gardiner of Minnetonka, Minnesota, has evolved into a top-20 NHL defenceman in just about every category. Gardiner’s offensive skills appear to be getting better with each season and he had a career-high 32 points after 61 games this year on nine goals and 23 assists. Gardiner had twice hit the 31-point mark previously and also had 30 points in a season. His best goal output in a season is 10, so should be able to tie or better that mark this campaign. He also has two game-winning goals in overtime in 2016/17.

Most fans and critics always knew Gardiner was a pretty good offensive defenceman so being the 21st highest-scoring blueliner may not be such a shock. What may be surprising though, is his plus-23 mark after 61 games, which was by far the best on the Leafs and ranked him 12th overall in the league in that category and seventh-best for defencemen. Gardiner is well known for his high-risk plays during games which often lead to giveaways. He’s far from being the perfect defenceman because of this and due to his lack of physical play for somebody who stands 6-feet-2-inches tall, but he’s obviously doing something right.

Gardiner’s strengths are his skating, passing and offensive abilities. He can usually be depended on to carry the puck out of his own end or make a tape-to-tape pass to one of his forwards. In addition, he’s usually the quarterback of the Leafs’ power play unit, which was leading the league at 23.1 per cent on February 26th. We should also mention that Gardiner’s quite durable as he’s missed just eight games due to injury in the past three seasons and has suited up for every contest so far this campaign. And for fans of NHL analytics, Gardiner’s possession numbers have been excellent this year with a 53.8 Corsi rating.

Gardiner signed a five-year deal worth $20.25 million before the 2014/15 season faced off and it’s proving to be a good contract for the Leafs. He still makes the odd mistake, but so do all hockey players. Except, Gardiner’s gaffes are often magnified in Toronto and some fans use him as a scapegoat, much like Hall of Famer Larry Murphy was when he played for the Leafs. The majority of fans are starting to appreciate Gardiner’s skills though and what he brings to the team on a consistent basis. He has all of the tools needed to be a top blueliner in the NHL and it’s started to show ever since Mike Babcock took over as head coach and the team’s overall talent and skill level has improved.

Babcock has shown confidence in Gardiner and that has resulted in self confidence for the player. The coach has said Gardiner is always willing to improve as a player through practice and that’s why he’s averaging over 21 minutes of ice time per game. The rebuilding Leafs and Gardiner have certainly improved this season, but they’re still in a dogfight to make the playoffs. But even if they fail to make the postseason, the club’s brass and its fans have been pleasantly surprised by the team’s performance so far this season as it appears it’s well ahead of schedule.

Eventful NHL week includes suspensions, milestones and hiring/firing

The past week in the NHL was quite eventful as it featured a couple of suspensions and milestones and the firing and hiring of a head coach. The Montreal Canadiens made the biggest splash early in the week when they announced the firing of head coach Michel Therrien on February 14th and the hiring of Claude Julien as his replacement. Julien was let go as head coach of the Boston Bruins just a week earlier and this will be his second stint behind the bench in Montreal. Ironically, Therrien was hired by the Habs four years ago to replace Julien.

It appears Montreal didn’t want to risk seeing Julien hired by somebody else such as the Las Vegas Golden Knights and jumped at the chance to sign him. However, it came at a price since Julien was hired to see out the rest of this season and was inked for four more years at $5 million a campaign. Therrien also had two coaching stints in Montreal as he was at the helm from 2000 to partway of 2002-03 season. He was fired in 2002/03 after the Habs record stood at 18-19-5. Julien then took over for two and a half seasons before he was also let go.

It’s not often that the coach of a first-place team gets the sack, but the Canadiens haven’t been playing well lately and Julien was a Stanley Cup winner with Boston. Therrien’s record over the past four and a half years stood at 194-121-37. He led the team to two divisional titles and a trio of playoff appearances, but failed to make the postseason last year. However, they were without all-star goaltender Carey Price for much of the campaign. Julien still had two years remaining on his contract in Boston and Therrien also had two years remaining in Montreal at $2 million per season.

There were also a couple of high-profile suspensions recently as veteran forward Antoine Vermette of the Anaheim Ducks was nailed with a 10-game ban and forward Gus Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings was handed a six-game suspension. Vermette was given an automatic suspension after he slashed the back legs of a referee in a road game in Minnesota. Vermette was officially suspended on February 16th for abusing an official. The 10-game holiday will cost Vermette a grand total of $97,222.22 in salary, but it’s believed the NHL Players’ Association will appeal the verdict. If the appeal fails, he’ll be eligible to return to action on March 12th.

As for Nyquist, he was found guilty of high-sticking defenceman Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild. Nyquist appeared to intentionally spear Spurgeon in the face after being cross-checked by the defenceman. The Red Wing was handed a double minor penalty on the play and fortunately there was no serious damage done to Spurgeon. However, most NHL insiders felt the 27-year-old Nyquist should have received at least 10 games for his actions. The ban will cost Nyquist a total of $158,333.34 from his salary and like Vermette’s suspension, the money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

On the brighter side, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby reached a scoring milestone last week when he notched his 1,000th career point. The year-old centre earned the point with an assist on a Chris Kunitz goal against the Winnipeg Jets at home on February 16th. Crosby reached the 1,000-point plateau in his 757th regular-season game. He’s the 12th-fastest NHL player to hit the milestone and the fastest active player. Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals scored his 1,000th point a few weeks ago, but took more games to accomplish the feat.

In addition, another interesting milestone was reached on February 14th when forwards Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets became the first draft choices to be selected first and second overall to score at least 25 goals in their rookie seasons since 2004/05. Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins were the last pair of top-two draft picks to achieve the feat over a decade ago. Matthews was taken first overall in the 2016 NHL Draft while Laine went second and they both have an outside chance at leading the NHL in goals this season.

Other milestones included ageless winger Jaromir Jagr scoring the 760th regular-season goal of his career in a 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on February 17th. Jagr, who just turned 45 years old, is third on the NHL’s all-time goalscoring list and will tie Gordie Howe for second place if and when he reaches 801. Wayne Gretzky tops the list with 894 goals. On the same night, forward Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins recorded his 500th career assist in a 2-1 overtime loss to Columbus.  

Las Vegas Golden Knights getting ready to start dealing

The Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest expansion franchise, will soon get the green light to start making player deals and general manager George McPhee is looking forward to it. The Golden Knights will officially be able to start assembling their roster once club owner Bill Foley has paid off the remaining money owing on the $500 million expansion fee. Once he does, Las Vegas will be the league’s 31st team. It’s believed Foley will pay off the final installment close to March 1st, which is trade deadline day in the NHL.

The Golden Knights won’t be able to trade for players who are currently on rosters in the 2016/17 season or players who are injured, but can start acquiring draft picks from other clubs. This is a distinct possibility due to the upcoming expansion draft on June 20th. The Golden Knights will be able to select one unprotected player from each of the other 30 teams to build their roster. However, several clubs will be inclined to persuade Las Vegas to leave specific unprotected players alone by sending them draft picks or future considerations. For example, a team could send a fourth-round pick to Vegas to turn a blind eye on a specific player.

This was the case before the last expansion draft in 2000. At that time, the San Jose Sharks made a deal with both the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets if they agreed not to choose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. This summer’s expansion draft picks will be revealed live on television on June 21st, the same day the NHL Awards show takes place in Las Vegas. However, Las Vegas will send the league their picks the day before. The Entry Draft will then take place a few days later. The timing of Las Vegas’ official trade go-ahead could have a big effect on this year’s trade deadline moves. At the moment, teams may decide to trade a player for something in return rather than risk losing him for nothing in the draft.

On the other side of the coin, clubs may also trade draft picks for a certain player for the specific reason of leaving him exposed in the expansion draft. The NHL will allow Las Vegas to make deals for draft picks after the March 1st trade deadline has passed if the franchise hasn’t finalized the expansion fee payment by that date. The Golden Knights will also be able to trade for junior-level players who have already been drafted by an NHL club as well as an NHL-signed player who may be playing overseas for some reason. CHL and NCAA free agents are others who can be acquired. McPhee and his staff have been preparing for their debut season for several months now by scouting draft-eligible players and free agents.

The Golden Knights will enter the 2017 NHL Entry Draft Lottery in April with the same odds as the league’s 28th-placed team this season, which means the latest they will draft will be sixth overall. The team will then pick third in rounds two to seven of the draft. Las Vegas is also a possibility for the 2018 NHL All Star Game if the league doesn’t send players to the Winter Olympics next year. If NHL players are allowed to participate in the Olympics then the All-Star Game won’t take place next year. In that case, Vegas will host an All-Star Game in the near future as a part of the $500 million franchise fee.

Ken Hitchcock’s final season in St. Louis ends earlier than expected

Veteran head coach Ken Hitchcock was supposed to say goodbye to the St. Louis Blues and their fans by remaining behind the bench for the 2016/17 season, but those plans recently came to an abrupt end. Hitchcock signed a new one-year deal last year, but the Blues fired him on January 31st after the team lost for the fifth time in six games. He was then replaced by assistant coach Mike Yeo, the former head coach of the Minnesota Wild. The Blues promptly downed the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 at home in Yeo’s first game in charge on February 3rd.

Hitchcock, the 65-year-old former coach, was midway through his sixth campaign with St. Louis and compiled a record of 248-124-41. His teams also made the postseason in each of his five years in charge and reached the Western Conference Final in 2015/16, but lost to San Jose. In fact, the Blues didn’t win a playoff series for three straight seasons until last year. The club was 24-21-5 and sitting in eighth spot in the conference when Hitchcock was let go with a 5-8 record for the month of January. He shouldered the blame for the team’s poor performance this season, but general manager Doug Armstrong should probably take some of the heat too.

Armstrong traded regular starting goaltender Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames during the offseason and the move has hurt the Blues. The team has used Jake Allen, Pheonix Copley and Carter Hutton between the pipes this season and the three of them had a combined save percentage of a league-worst 88.7 when Hitchcock was sacked. The move trade hasn’t worked out for Elliot either as he’s been struggling in Calgary and often sits glued to the bench while Chad Johnson plays. Armstrong told the media that Hitchcock is his best friend and belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but something had to be done to turn the team around.

Yeo, who was supposed to take over the Blues starting next season, said he felt bad about taking over for Hitchcock halfway through campaign, but is ready to accept the challenge. Armstrong added that Hitchcock wasn’t happy with the move and stated that Jim Corsi, the club’s goaltending coach, was fired along with him. Assistant manager Martin Brodeur will reportedly share Corsi’s duties along with the squad’s goalie development coach Ty Conklin. Looking back at Hitchcock’s career, he should have no problem being voted into the Hall of Fame. He’s coached 20 seasons in the NHL with St. Louis, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and Dallas Stars.

Hitchcock is fourth on the all-time coaching wins list with 781 victories to his name in regular-season action and he led Dallas to a Stanley Cup triumph in 1998/99. If Hitchcock is hired by another team, such as the Las Vegas Golden Knights, he’ll tie Hall of Famer Al Arbour in third place for wins with his next victory. Hitchcock became the third head coach to be let go this season as the Florida Panthers fired Gerard Gallant in November while the New York Islanders dropped Jack Capuano earlier in January. The move could possibly pay off for St. Louis though as three of the last eight teams to win the Stanley Cup replaced their head coach during the season.

NHL celebrates 100th season with All Star Weekend

Part of the NHL’s 100th anniversary season was the league’s annual All-Star Game and Skills Competition which was held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 28-29. The NHL kept the three-on-three game format it introduced last season with each of the four divisions being represented by a team of 11 All Stars. The Pacific Division beat the Central 10-3 in the first matchup with the Metropolitan downing the Atlantic Division 10-6 in the second contest. The Metropolitan Division then beat the Pacific 4-3 in the final and took home the $1 million prize. Each game consisted of two 10-minute halves. Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds was named the tournament’s MVP.

There were six events in the skills competitions the night before with the two most popular being the hardest shot and fastest skater events. There weren’t any surprises though as forward Connor McDavid, the captain of the Edmonton Oilers, won the skating competition and defenceman Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens recorded the hardest slap shot. McDavid skated a lap of the rink in 13.02 seconds while forward Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning placed second at 13.16. The Florida Panthers’ Vincent Trochek was third at 13.32 seconds. Goaltender Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes thrilled fans by shooting the puck from his own goal line and depositing it through a small target in the net at the other end of the rink in the four-lines challenge event. 

As for the hardest shot, Weber was favoured to win since he entered the contest as the two-time defending champion. His hardest shot registered 102.8 mph (miles per hour) on the radar gun to lead the way. However, some fans may have been surprised that 18-year-old Finnish rookie Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets wasn’t too far behind him in second place at 101.7 mph. They were the only two players to reach the 100 mph mark. Columbia Blue Jackets’ defenceman Seth Jones hit 98.1 mph to place third and Washington Capitals' captain Alex Ovechkin reached 97.8 mph for fourth place.

Weber may be losing a little of power though since he won the event last year at 108.1 mph and two years ago he reached 108.5 mph. Defenceman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins is still the record holder with a 108.8 mph shot in 2012. Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby won the accuracy shooting event by nailing all four targets in 10.73 seconds. The skills challenge relay was won by the Metropolitan Division with its team of Jones, Ovechkin, Simmonds and goaltender Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. They managed to complete the course in 1 minute 21.07 seconds. The Atlantic Division topped the Pacific 4-1 in the shootout event and won the overall skills competition.

This allowed them to choose the game time and their opponent for the three-on-three tournament on Sunday and they chose to play the second game against the Metropolitan Division. The NHL also announced its list of the league’s top 100 players of all time which was chosen by a panel of 58 former players, media members and league executives. We might as well list them here so you don’t have to go searching for them. The top 100 NHL players in no particular order are:
Sid Abel, Syl Apps, Andy Bathgate, Jean Beliveau, Max Bentley, Toe Blake, Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, Johnny Bucyk, King Clancy, Charlie Conacher, Alex Delvecchio, Bill Durnan, Bernie Geoffrion, Glenn Hall, Doug Harvey, Tim Horton, Gordie Howe, Red Kelly, Ted Kennedy, Dave Keon, Elmer Lach, Ted Lindsay, Frank Mahovlich, Dickie Moore, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante, Henri Richard, Maurice Richard, Terry Sawchuk, Milt Schmidt, Eddie Shore, Georges Vezina, Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Bernie Parent, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, Jacques Lemaire, Stan Mikita, Gilbert Perreault, Jean Ratelle, Darryl Sittler, Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Jari Kurri, Wayne Gretzky, Pat LaFontaine, Mark Messier, Denis Savard, Peter Stastny, Bryan Trottier, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis, Denis Potvin, Borje Salming, Grant Fuhr, Billy Smith, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Pavel Bure, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Peter Forsberg, Ron Francis, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Steve Yzerman, Martin Brodeur, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Teemu Selanne, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and  Jaromir Jagr.

Since there are almost 300 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame it was obvious that dozens of great players would have to be left off the list with some of the most notable names missing being Jarome Iginla, Dale Hawerchuk, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Joe Thornton, Larry Murphy, Doug Gilmour, and Evgeni Malkin.

Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell making his NHL goals count

Swedish forward Rickard Rakell is sure making his NHL goals count for something as 27 per cent of the young man’s career tallies have been game-winners, including three in overtime. We could also mention that 33 per cent of his career playoff goals have also been game-winners, but that would be pushing it a bit since he’s scored just three times in the postseason so far. The Ducks drafted the 23-year-old, 6-foot-2-inch, 200 lb. player with the 30th overall pick in the first round back in 2011 and he’s proven to be a worthy selection.

Rakell played his junior hockey with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and showed he was a consistent scorer with 151 points in 149 games on 69 goals and 82 assists. He also won a silver and gold medal with his homeland at a pair of World Junior Championships as a youngster and registered 14 points in 17 tournament games. Rakell signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Ducks a year after being drafted and got his feet wet in the NHL that season by playing in four games before heading back to Junior.

He appeared in 18 games with Anaheim the next season as well as four in the postseason with a goal and assist in the playoff games and four assists in his regular-season stint. Rakell spent most of that season with Norfolk of the AHL where he racked up 37 points in 46 games and added a pair of points in four playoff outings. His performance at the AHL level and the next season’s training camp earned the well-rounded forward a spot on the Ducks’ roster in 2014/15. He showed the coaching staff he was a strong player who could was blessed with plenty of offensive creativity and overall hockey sense.

As the season went along Rakell took on a larger role for the team and finished the year with a respectable nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points in 71 contests and was a plus-six. This wasn’t bad for a player who averaged 12 minutes and 34 seconds of ice time a game. Rakell cooled off a little in the playoffs with just one goal in 16 playoff games. He made it count though as it was the overtime winner in a 5-4 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Rakell gained confidence from his first full year in the NHL and managed to score 43 points on 20 goals and 20 assists last season. He also scored goals that count as a team-leading seven of them, or 35 percent, were game-winners. Rakell also showed he was adept at hitting and blocking shots and was becoming a valuable player for the Ducks.

If we fast forward to this season, we find Rakell’s name at the top of Anaheim’s goalscoring list with a team-leading 19 after 38 games along with nine assists. He’s still scoring important goals as five, or 26.3 per cent of them, were game winners. He was also making his chances count as Rakell was scoring on 21.3 per cent of his shots with his ice time now boosted up to an average of 17 minutes and 40 seconds per game. He was top-10 in the league in several categories as his shooting percentage, 19 goals, and game-winning goals were ranked sixth-best in the league, his 14 even-strength goals were 10th and his .50 goals per game was third best.

It’s no wonder Anaheim signed Rakell to a six-year contract extension worth$22.8 million last year as he’s blossoming and improving at an exceptional rate. His numbers would be even better this season if he didn’t miss World Cup of Hockey and the first nine games of the campaign due to injury. He can play all three of the forward positions and his knack for scoring timely goals can’t be ignored. Rakell is an important player in the NHL’s youth movement and it appears anything’s possible with him in the future. The Ducks are obviously happy with his development and fans should expect to see Rakell soon take over from the team’s old guard of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.