Los Angeles Kings need a Quick goaltending solution

The Los Angeles Kings’ season got off to a dreadful start and it wasn’t just their early 0-3 record that had the team’s brass and fans concerned. The club lost their top goaltender Jonathan Quick in the opening game of the season due to a groin injury and it appears he’ll be on the shelf for at least three months. even after deciding against surgery. Quick is a workhorse who has played over 60 games a season five times since earning the starting role back in 2009/10. In fact he twice appeared in more than 70 contests and also backstopped the Kings to a pair of Stanley Cup championships during that period.

With Quick on the injured list, Los Angeles turned to 29-year-old backup Jeff Zatkoff to take over in the crease and also called up 34-year-old Peter Budaj from their Ontario Reign farm team of the American Hockey League (AHL). Zatkoff allowed just one goal against when replacing Quick for two periods in the season opener. However, he then allowed four goals against in a defeat to the Flyers and was pulled in favour of Budaj after allowing five goals in two periods in a 6-3 loss to Minnesota. His goals-against-average for the season stands at 4.38 with a save percentage of 83.9. Budaj then managed to beat Dallas 4-3 in overtime to lift the team’s record to 1-3.

Bad luck struck again as Zatkoff joined Quick on the injured list on October 22nd after suffering a groin injury during the morning skate while preparing to meet the Vancouver Canucks. This resulted in 24-year-old Jack Campbell also being called up from the Reign as the new backup. Budaj got the start against Vancouver and played well enough to win his second straight 4-3 overtime game even after watching his teammates blow a 3-0 lead. In past years, Los Angeles had some depth in goal with capable netminders such as Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens, Martin Jones and Jhonas Enroth filling in admirably for Quick when needed.

However, all four of them are now with other teams while Zatkoff won the backup job this season with just 35 games of NHL experience to his name. The injury situation leaves Budaj as the starter by default and the Kings are hoping he can bring his AHL form with him to the NHL level. Budaj posted a 93.2 save percentage down on the farm last season along with a 1.75 goal-against average, but his start against Vancouver was just his fourth NHL appearance in the past two years. The Kings thought they had a good goaltending prospect in Patrik Bartosak, but he was let go last season after being charged with domestic violence. At the moment, it looks like Los Angeles will have to see how they fare with Budaj and Campbell between the pipes.

If they begin to falter, the franchise may have to look for some help via a trade until Quick returns. They may also regret not re-signing last year’s backup Enroth, as he inked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Budaj could be a capable fill-in for Quick since he has 300 games of NHL experience with a record of 127-107 along with a 90.3 save percentage and 2.76 goals-against-average. However, Campbell has just one game of NHL experience under his belt with Dallas and he allowed six goals against in 47 shots during it.

If the Kings decide to trade for a goalie they need to follow the salary cap rules for long-term injured players and it doesn’t look like they have much cap space left. The Winnipeg Jets recently place goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on waivers and sent him to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, so he could be an option. Also, with Las Vegas entering the NHL next season the league will be holding an expansion draft for the newcomers. This will result in several goaltenders being made available to the Vegas franchise and some clubs will be trying to negotiate trades before it takes place. If they’re lucky, the Kings may be able to land a suitable veteran via some creative trade activity. No matter how you look at it, the Kings best solution will likely need to be a Quick one.

Auston Matthews displays his powers in historic NHL debut

There have dozens of superstars in the NHL over the years but none of them, including Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid were able to achieve what Auston Matthews did in debut. The just-turned-19-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs centre, who was drafted first overall this summer, managed to score four goals in his very first NHL contest on October 12th. But in typical Leafs fashion, they managed to spoil the historic occasion somewhat by losing the overtime game 5-4 in Ottawa to the Senators.   

To set the record straight though, Matthews became the first player to score four goals in his NHL debut in the modern era. Both Joe Malone and Harry Hyland managed to achieve the feat close to 100 years ago when they pulled it off back in 1917. When Matthews scored his third goal of the contest he became just the fifth player in history to record a hat trick an NHL debut. The previous players to set this record were Alex smart, Real Cloutier, Derek Stepan and Fabian Brunnstrom. However, Matthews is the first Leaf to do it. Matthews also became the 12th first-overall draft pick to score in his first encounter.

Perhaps Matthews’ red-hot debut shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock to fans who are familiar with his career. The teenager spent last season playing against fully-grown men in the Swiss league and led his Zurich SC squad in scoring with 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in 36 outings. However, he did slow down in the playoffs with just three assists in four games. Leafs’ fans shouldn’t get carried away with the youngster’s scoring exploits though as it was just one game. Matthews knows this as do the rest of his teammates and head coach Mike Babcock. It was definitely an historic night, but it was just that, one night.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 210 lb. power forward won’t be expected to lead the team in scoring this year and the franchise will be happy with what he can produce for it. Scoring goals isn’t something that can be taught so the Leafs’ coaching staff will be focusing on teaching Matthews how to become a better all-around 200-foot player. They’ll be teaching him faceoff skills along with fore-checking and back-checking habits and how to play his position without the puck. In fact, Babcock may have been more pleased with Matthews’ play in his second NHL game as the player made more of a defensive effort in the Leafs 4-1 home-opening win over Boston.

There wasn’t really too much difference in Matthews’ game otherwise than his scoring outburst when comparing his first two outings. His ice time actually fell from 17:37 in the first contest to 16:51 in the second. He recorded six shots on goal against Ottawa and had a pair against the Bruins even though he received an extra minute of ice time on the power play against Boston. He’s also recorded three takeaways in his first two games and been charged with one giveaway. The level-headed Matthews realizes he’s not going to dominate the league and even stood up and took the blame for the Senators overtime winner in his debut.

While his stick should be headed to the Hall of Fame after making history last week, Matthews himself may also one day be inducted along with it as he certainly passed the audition. If he can remain focused and blossom together with the rest of the Leafs’ young prospects such as Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and Nikita Zaitsev, then Toronto should be headed back to the playoffs in the next year or two. 

Will the Edmonton Oilers snap their 10-season playoff drought in 2016/17?

Even though the Edmonton Oilers have had numerous top-10 draft picks over the past decade they’ve still managed to miss the NHL playoffs every season since 2005/06. In fact, the Oilers have had the first-overall draft choice four times between 2010 and 2015 and have selected Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Connor McDavid with those prized selections. Edmonton also chose another top prospect in this summer’s draft when they selected forward Jesse Puljujärvi of Finland.

There has been a light at the end of the tunnel for Oilers’ fans in the past few seasons as the franchise has stockpiled the cupboards with some fine young talent. However, the that light has burned itself out year after year as the club’s streak of utility never came to an end. Once again there will be optimism in Edmonton when the 2016/17 season faces off as McDavid has already shown he’s one of the best players in the league and he’s just 19 years old. In addition, the 18-year-old Puljujärvi was a worthy first-overall pick in this year’s draft by according to many experts.

Peter Chiarelli, the Oilers’ general manager and president of hockey operations, stated the team is headed in the right direction, but some fans have questioned this due to his recent moves. Chiarelli had a habit of trading away young prospects while he was GM of the Boston Bruins as he shipped out Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin. He’s now done the same thing in Edmonton since being hired in April of 2015 as the GM has shipped out former number-one picks Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov.

Critical fans aren’t particularly questioning why Hall and Yakupov were sent packing, but are questioning the minimal return the Oilers got for the two young forwards. Chiarelli took defenceman Adam Larsson back in return from New Jersey for the 24-year-old Hall who scored 328 points in 381 contests. The 23-year-old Larsson was the fourth-overall pick in the 2011 draft and has played just 274 regular-season games since then with nine goals and 69 points to his name. However, compared to the Yakupov trade, the Larsson deal looks like a steal.

For some reason, Chiarelli decided not to give Yakupov another shot at playing with McDavid to start the 2016/17 season after the two created some chemistry together last campaign. The 23-year-old Yakupov was traded to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional third-round draft pick in 2017 and forward Zach Pochiro. The Oilers will receive a second-round pick in 2018 instead of a third-rounder in 2017 if Yakupov scores at least 15 goals in 2016-17. Yakupov managed to score 50 goals and 61 assists for 111 points for Edmonton in 252 games.

The return was very little though for a good young forward who has the skills and potential to break out at any moment. Pochiro is a 22-year-old American-born centre who was drafted 112th overall in 2013. He’s yet to play an NHL game and had just nine goals and 17 assists in 44 games with the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL last season and was held pointless in one game in the AHL. Oilers’ fans are having a hard time believing that Chiarelli offered Yakupov to all other 29 teams in the NHL and this was the best deal he could get in return for Yakupov.

Chiarelli has also come under fire for naming McDavid as the team’s captain after just 45 games of NHL experience. He became the youngest fulltime captain during the preseason at the age of just 19 years and 266 days. Critics feel the move sums up the franchise’s problems as McDavid doesn’t have enough experience at this stage of his career and the club should have waited until naming a new captain. There’s no doubt McDavid is a world-class player though and he’ll have to prove it year in and year out if the Oilers are to make the playoffs on a consistent basis. Edmonton will also be relying on Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson, Puljujärvi, Jordan Eberle, Leon Draisaitl and newcomer Milan Lucic.

McDavid played just 45 games as a rookie last season due to injury, but racked up 48 points. Draisaitl scored 51 points last season as a 20-year-old and the 26-year-old Eberle has scored an average of 28 goals over the past four seasons. Defensively, Larsson will be a key player along with fellow blueliner Kris Russell, who signed year-long deal for a reported $3.1 million as a free agent a week before the season was set to begin. There’s also no doubt that goaltender Cam Talbot will also have to be at his best. Over the past three season, teams needed an average of 92 points to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

This means the Oilers need to improve by 22 points over last year’s total of 70, which was second-worst in the league and just one ahead of last-place Toronto. Minnesota reached the postseason with 87 points last campaign, but that’s still 17 more points than the Oilers had. For Edmonton to reach the playoffs they need to improve on last year’s losing streaks as the team lost at least three games in a row on 11 different occasions. They also surrendered the most goals five-on-five goals last season. If the Oilers improve in those areas and still fail to end their 10-season playoff drought, perhaps Chiarelli should start looking over his shoulder.

Five NHL coaches in the hot seat this season

There will be several coaches on the hot seat once the puck drops on the 2016/17 NHL season as club owners will be expecting a lot from them. There will also be several other head coaches who will be given a little leeway since they’ll be taking over new teams and the expectations may not be as high. For example rookie coaches Glen Gulutzan of the Calgary Flames and Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche will be given some time to get their feet wet while veteran bench bosses such as Randy Carlyle and Bruce Boudreau may also be given a grace period with their respective new clubs the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild.

The coaches with the most pressure on them will be those returning to their teams after disappointing and underachieving regular-season and/or postseason campaigns in 2015/16. We’ll take a look at five coaches who will be depended upon to produce better results for their respective franchises this year.

Michel Therrien
Montreal Canadiens’ coach Michel Therrien placed himself in the hot seat in the offseason and buckled the seatbelt after he influenced the trade that sent Norris Trophy winning defenceman and fan favourite P.K. Subban packing. Subban was shipped to the Nashville Predators for fellow blueliner Shea Weber after Montreal missed the playoffs and most fans were up in arms over the deal. It’s well known that Subban wasn’t one of Therrien’s favourites and was often the team’s scapegoat following big losses. If the Habs fail to improve with Weber in the lineup and all-star goaltender Carey Price back in net after missing most of last year with an injury, then Therrien may be the next one packing his suitcase.

Claude Julien
Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins became an overnight sensation back in 2010/11 when he led the team to its first Stanley Cup in 39 years and then took them back to the final two years later. He’s won the Jack Adams award in Beantown and is now the franchise’s all-time leader in coaching wins. However, the Bruins have watched the playoffs on TV for the last two seasons as they’ve fallen just short of making them. Fans and ownership won’t sit idly by if it looks like Boston is about to miss out on playoff action for a third straight year. It’s probably safe to say Julien’s job will be up for grabs if his squad falls out of the playoff this season.

Darryl Sutter
Los Angeles Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter has been quite successful during his reign on the west coast with just over 60 per cent winning records in both the regular season and the playoffs. The Kings have won a pair of Stanley Cups in the past five years with Sutter at the helm, but the last two seasons have been rather quiet with a grand total of one playoff win in that period. Those Stanley Cup triumphs mean the team’s ownership and its fans expect big things from the team on a regular basis and Sutter has fallen short of that goal in the last two years. His team even managed to miss the playoffs in 2014/15, a year after winning the Cup.

Willie Desjardins
Many Vancouver Canucks’ fans point the finger at general manager Jim Benning for their team’s relative lack of success lately rather than head coach Willie Desjardins. Vancouver missed the playoffs last season, which was Desjardins’ second behind the bench, and the club had the NHL’s overall third-worst record. The only teams below them in the standings were fellow Canadian franchises Edmonton and Toronto. This came as a huge disappoint after making the playoffs the year before. With Vancouver’s star players the Sedin twins entering the twilight of their careers, the Canucks can’t afford to be on the outside looking in again in 2016/17. The window of opportunity for the Sedin’s to win a Stanley Cup is slowly closing and it’s up to Desjardins to get back in the playoffs as soon as possible.

Jeff Blashill
This is Jeff Blashill’s second full season in charge of the Detroit Red Wings after former head coach Mike Babcock bolted for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blashill is in charge of one of the league’s most successful clubs over the past couple of decades and even though the Wings aren’t as good as they were 20 years ago, they’ve still managed to make the playoffs season after season. Much of the credit has to go to the scouting steam and general manager as Detroit always seems to draft well and attract useful free agents. However, Pavel Datsyuk has left Motor City to finish his career in his Russian homeland and Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg are getting older and dealing with injuries. The pressure is on Blashill to make the playoffs once again since he doesn’t want to become the first Red Wings’ coach to miss the postseason in the last in 26 seasons.

Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev has one season to prove himself with Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t really had a legitimate all-star defenceman since Borje Salming back in the 1970s and 80s, even though Tomas Kaberle came close to it just over a decade later. The future looks a bit brighter though with American Jake Gardiner and Canadian Morgan Rielly in the lineup, but the best prospect could be 24-year-old Nikita Zaitsev of Moscow, Russia. Zaitsev ended months of rumours and speculation earlier this year when he signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs after deciding to leave CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

The 6-foot-2-inch, 195-lb. right-handed shooting defenceman has been playing top minutes for Russia in the current World Cup of Hockey and impressing those who matter. Zaitsev’s big-league career began in 2008/09 when he played for the second-division Soviet Wings men’s team when he was just 17 and also earned a spot on his homeland’s squad at the Under-18 World Junior Championship in 2009. He racked up 18 points on six goals and 12 assists for the Wings that season in 31 games and served 24 minutes in penalties while going minus-4. He also chipped in with a goal and four assists at the World Junior Championships and was a plus-7 in seven contests.

The youngster was so impressive he was selected fourth overall by Sibir Novosibirsk in the KHL Draft. He made his debut for the team in 2009/10 and skated with the Russian Under-20 team at the World Junior Championship.  Zaitsev took a while to learn the ropes and scored just seven points in his first three seasons with Sibir. However, he was named to the squad that won a gold medal World Junior Championship in 2011. Zaitsev ended up being ranked 43rd overall among international players by the Central Scouting Bureau in 2011, but was somehow overlooked in the NHL Draft.

His breakthrough season came in 2012/13 when debuting for the Russian national team and scoring seven goals and 11 assists for Sibir while playing an average of 24 minutes per game. He signed with CSKA Moscow the next season as a free agent and averaged 23 minutes of ice time per game. He then contributed 32 points in 57 games the next season and was a plus-27 and added eight points in 16 playoff outings. Zaitsev was named an alternative captain last next season and scored 26 points in 46 games and was a plus-21 while adding 13 points in 20 postseason encounters.

There’s no doubt that Zaitsev has improved each season and at the age of 24 has plenty of potential as well as seven years of top-level experience under his belt. He’s a fine positional player who has the talent to move the puck out of his own zone and contribute in both ends of the ice. He’s rarely caught out of position, but will need to adapt to the smaller ice surface in the NHL. If he lives up to his potential, Zaitsev may be one of the finds of the 2016/17 NHL season and could very well end up on the Leaf’s first defensive pairing with Rielly. Zaitsev is more or less fluent in the English language and should adapt to the North American game quite quickly. However, he needs to prove his worth right away since he’s got just one season to earn a contract extension. 

Phil Kessel’s iron man streak in jeopardy

Many Maple Leafs’ supporters believe Phil Kessel was more or less run out of Toronto by the media and a pocket of fellow fans as he was made the scapegoat for the club’s ineptness. After spending six seasons in Canada’s biggest city, the right-winger had the last laugh though as he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in his very first season with the team. Kessel hit the 30-goal mark four times in Toronto and scored at least 20 goals in his other two campaigns there and missed just 12 contests in his half dozen seasons.

Every hockey fans knows the speedy Kessel is a fine goalscorer, an underrated playmaker, and possesses a lightning-quick shot, but many of them don’t realize just how durable and dependable he is. The native of Madison, Wisconsin, who beat testicular cancer earlier in his career, missed a dozen games due to injury during his first season in Toronto back in 2009/10. In fact, they were the first 12 contests of the campaign and he hasn’t missed an NHL game since. Kessel has now played 528 consecutive regular-season games, which ranks as the 17th-best iron man streak in league history. Former Montreal Canadien Doug Jarvis is the all-time NHL iron man with 964 straight games under his belt.

Kessel’s feat is quite an achievement and his 528 games is currently the fourth-longest active streak. Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks leads in that department at the moment by playing in 704 consecutive outings. Playing in 500 consecutive games isn’t easy to do as just 23 players in NHL history have managed to do it. Former New York Ranger Murray Murdoch was the first to reach the milestone back in the 1936/37 season and he retired without ever missing a game during his NHL career. Glenn Hall played in 502 straight games and could very well be the only goaltender ever to hit the magic 500 number.

Kessel is just one of four active players who currently have iron man streaks of 500 games or more. He joins Cogliano, Keith Yandle of the Florida Panthers (551 games) and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks (542 games) in the fantastic four. Unfortunately for Kessel, he may not be able to extend his streak in the upcoming 2016/17 campaign as there’s a chance he’ll miss the start of it due to recent hand surgery in the offseason. The 28-year-old has played six consecutive seasons without missing a game, but a hand injury bothered him last year.

Kessel still managed to score 26 goals and 33 assists last year and then led the Penguins in the playoffs with 10 goals and 22 assists in 24 encounters. His playoff performance arguably deserved to be rewarded by the Conn Smythe Trophy, but his captain Sidney Crosby took it home as the postseason  MVP. Kessel enjoyed a productive season, but for some reason he was overlooked by the USA when the country named its squad for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey tournament. Perhaps they knew about his hand injury.

Either way, Kessel likely wouldn’t have been able to represent his homeland anyway since his hand hasn’t fully healed yet. Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford is obviously hoping Kessel will be in the lineup on opening night, but said he’s still not sure. However, he added that if Kessel isn’t ready for the start of the new season he shouldn’t be out for too long. Kessel took a bit of time to gel with his Penguin teammates as he had just 21 points in his first 37 appearances, but then racked up 15 goals and 23 assists in the final 45 games. With Kessel’s 528-game iron man streak on the line, the majority of fans are hoping the right-winger will be able to suit up on October 13th when the Penguins host the Washington Capitals in their season opener.

Pavel Datsyuk quickly adapting to life in the KHL

Russian hockey star Pavel Datsyuk thrilled Detroit Red Wings’ fans for 15 years from 2001 to 2016 when he deeply disappointed them by announcing he’d be heading back to his homeland to finish out his pro career. The 38-year-old centre still had a year to run on his multi-million dollar, long-term contract in Motown, but felt the time was right to return to Russia because of family reasons. Most fans were upset that they’d miss Datsyuk’s hair-raising skills, but some felt he betrayed the Red Wings franchise because it still had to carry his $7.5 million 2016/17 paycheque against the league salary cap. Luckily for the Wings, they were able to unload Datsyuk’s salary on the Arizona Coyotes via a draft-day trade.

With the sour taste of the contract situation being rectified, Red Wings and NHL fans in general will now be saddened at Datsyuk’s departure based on his hockey talent alone. He’s now skating for SKA St. Petersburg in the European-based Kontinental Hockey League and adapting to the new on-ice surroundings very quickly. After six games for St. Petersburg, Datsyuk has been in fine form with four goals and three assists. He’s on pace for at least a point per game this season after struggling somewhat in the NHL last campaign with 16 goals and 33 assists for 49 points in 66 outings.

Datsyuk has had injury problems to deal with over the past few years though and played in just 164 regular-season games for Detroit over the past three seasons. He’s no stranger to the KHL though as he racked up 36 points in 31 games in 2012/13 when the NHL campaign was shortened due to labour problems. St. Petersburg will have to do without Datsyuk’s services for the next few weeks though as he will be playing for Russia at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey tournament in Toronto. Russian fans shouldn’t be surprised that Datsyuk has adapted so quickly to the KHL game as he’d be an effective player in any league in the world.

The 5-foot-11-inch centre fell just short of the 1,000 game milestone in the NHL due to his recent injuries as he suited up for 953 regular-season contests and contributed 918 points on 314 goals and 604 assists. He also chipped in with 113 points in 157 playoff encounters and helped the Red Wings win Stanley Cups in 2001/02 and 2007/08. Datsyuk kicked off his pro career by playing five seasons in the Russian Hockey Super League (RSL) from 1996 to 2001. The youngster scored 102 points in 168 games in the RSL and the Red Wings obviously felt he had something to offer. However, they didn’t select him until they took a chance with the 171st overall pick in the 1998 NHL Draft.

Since making his NHL debut in 2001, Datsyuk has proven to be one of the most consistent, sportsmanlike, and exciting hockey players on the planet. He played in four Olympic Games and captained his teammates in 2014 when they were held in Sochi, Russia. He took home the Frank J. Selke Trophy three times as the top defensive forward in the NHL and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy four straight years for sportsmanship and performance and sportsmanship. Datsyuk’s dazzling offensive game never suffered while he took care of duties in his own end of the ice and was seen as a complete 200-foot player.

Datsyuk also played in several International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships and won numerous individual NHL awards and honours during his career in North America. While Datsyuk has just left Detroit and the NHL, fans should take the opportunity to appreciate his skills during the World Cup of Hockey event while they can. This could be the very last time he plays in competitive games on North American soil before retiring.   

NHL 2016 offseason recap

Some interesting NHL activity has taken place since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup back in June and in case you’ve been away on summer holidays here’s a recap of some of the more notable events and developments.

Out in Colorado, head coach and vice president of hockey operations Patrick Roy resigned from the club as he didn’t see eye to eye with his boss and former Hall of Fame teammate Joe Sakic. The Avalanche then hired 44-year-old Jared Bednar to replace Roy as head coach even though he has no prior NHL experience. Bednar played junior hockey with the Prince Albert Raiders and was the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters last season, who just happened to win the Calder Cup. Also out west, the Winnipeg Jets named Blake Wheeler as their new captain and the Los Angeles Kings took the C off of Dustin Brown’s sweater and handed it to Anze Kopitar.

In New York, the Rangers received some good news when coveted free agent Jimmy Vesey chose to sign with the club after being courted by several teams throughout the summer. The 23-year-old Vesey, who played college hockey at Harvard in the U.S., was sought by his hometown Boston Bruins as well as the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks. Vesey won the 2016 Hobey Baker Award as the top American college player last year. 

Many fans believed he would end up in Toronto as the Leafs already have his brother Nolan in the organization and his father Jim also works for the club as a scout. Vesey was originally drafted 66th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2012, but couldn’t agree on a contract with the club. The Buffalo Sabres then traded for his negotiating rights earlier this year, but also failed to sign him.
In other free agent news, the most sought-after player this offseason was definitely Tampa Bay forward and captain Steven Stamkos. He was also linked to several teams, but ended up disappointing them all by re-signing a long-term deal with the Florida franchise. The next big-name player to hit the unrestricted free-agent market will be New York Islanders’ centre and captain John Tavares. 

However, the 25-year-old has already told the press that he wants to stay with the Islanders and hopes to sign a contract extension before his current deal runs out in two year’s time. Tavares said there’s no reason to leave and he believes his team has the talent to win a Stanley Cup in the near future.
There were a couple of high profile trades during the offseason with the Edmonton Oilers dealing 24-year-old forward Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for 23-year-old defenceman Adam Larsson. Hall, a former first-overall draft pick by Edmonton in 2010, said he will be changing his sweater number with the Devils to nine from four since number four has been retired by the franchise. In case you’re wondering, Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Stevens used to wear number four with New Jersey. Hall racked up 328 points in 381 games with the Oilers before being shipped out of town. Larsson was the fourth-overall pick by the Devils in the 2011 draft and had 69 points in 274 contests with the team.

The biggest deal though took place between the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville when the Habs sent possible future Hall of Fame defenceman P.K. Subban to the Predators for another possible Hall of Fame blueliner in Shea Weber. The 27-year-old Subban is a former James Norris Trophy winner and had 278 points in 434 games in Montreal while the 31-year-old Weber had 443 points in 763 outings in Nashville. Weber has also reached the 20-goal barrier three times in his career, including a pair of 23-goal campaigns.

The Ottawa Senators announced they will be honouring former captain Daniel Alfredsson in a pre-game ceremony on December 29th. Over in Calgary, the club signed their top restricted free agents Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and also hired former Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney as a pro scout. Also in case you missed it, American centre Auston Matthews went first overall in the 2016 NHL Draft to Toronto while Finnish winger Patrik Laine went second to the Winnipeg Jets and Canadian winger Pierre-Luc Dubois was taken third by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Most experts had forward Jesse Puljujärvi of Finland ranked ahead of Dubois and he was snapped up by Edmonton with the fourth pick.

The NHL is celebrating its 100th season in 2016/17 and it faces off about a week later than usual this year as the first puck will be dropped on October 12th. However, fans will be able to enjoy the eight-team World Cup of Hockey tournament from September 17th to October 1st.  

Tampa Bay Lightning 2016 Offseason Plans

Coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning had high hopes for a return in the 2015-2016 season. The team came very close to reaching that goal, losing in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. There were many ups and downs over the course of the year, including some bad luck with injuries that may have prevented the Lightning from raising the Cup this year.

Tampa Bay has a deep and talented roster, and that depth was tested this season. Injuries ravaged the lineup so much that the AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch had to play defensemen as forwards just to fill the lineup. One of the main reasons the team was able to sustain its winning ways was goalie Ben Bishop. Bishop led the NHL with a 2.06 Goals Against Average and was second with a .926 save percentage (among goalies with at least 15 appearances). His injury in Game 1 of the Conference Finals may have been the difference between moving on and going home.

Pending Free Agents: Everyone in the hockey world knows of the impending unrestricted free agency of Steven Stamkos. The 26 year old team Captain is one of the best players in the world, and will be highly coveted by every team in the league. He was forced to miss almost 2 months of the regular season and playoffs because of a blood clot, but that won’t hold back any potential suitors. General Manager Steve Yzerman likely will not offer Stamkos as much as some other teams, so it will be up to him to determine if he prefers the familiarity of the Lightning or the money of a new destination.

Another important free agent (restricted) is 22 year old Nikita Kucherov. The Russian winger led the team in scoring in both the regular and postseason, tallying 19 points in 17 playoff games. He is in line for a significant payday, possibly around $6.5 million per year.

Draft Picks: Tampa doesn’t pick until late in the first round, so it is hard to imagine they will find a prospect ready to play in the pros. A potential option to move up in the draft is to trade disgruntled winger Jonathan Drouin. The 3rd overall pick of the 2013 draft, Drouin’s time with the Lightning has been tense to say the least.

After being demoted to Syracuse during the season, he left the team and requested a trade. After no trade was made, he returned on fire. He scored 9 goals in his first 10 games in the AHL, and put up 14 points in 17 playoff games. A team looking to make a splash and win soon like the Montreal Canadiens might be interested to deal their top 10 pick for him.

Free Agent Additions: The top free agent targets for the Lightning are their own Stamkos and Kucherov. Other than that, they will likely not be too active in free agency, looking to add some depth and maybe a backup goaltender.

The Rookie Goalie

Matt Murray is 22 years old. Most 22 year olds are maybe just finding their careers, perhaps thinking about starting a family, probably on their fourth or fifth job in their lifetime. He now has hockey’s greatest prize staring him in the face.

He worked his way into the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup due to a concussion to top goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury and an injury to backup Jeff Zatkoff. Matt Murray would never look back.

With numbers like a 2.09 Goals Against Average, a .925 save percentage, one shutout, and 14 wins, it will be hard not to hand over the Conn Smythe Trophy to this extremely talented young man. He will probably have to beat out Sidney Crosby for the award but there are worse things than coming in second to the world’s best player.

There have been numerous instances when Murray has come up huge for the Penguins, but the most striking quality is his consistency. He has not had to “stand on his head” for any games, which is also a testament to the solid team in front of him, and he has not had to make “spectacular” saves.

Ten of the Penguins last eleven wins have come by one goal. This means that their opponents are throwing everything they have at Murray in the last 3 or four minutes. In every one of those games Matt Murray has stood his ground by simply doing what he does best: playing consistent.

Murray has received tons of praise from some of the best of the best in goaltenders. Martin Gerber, the goaltender who got the Carolina Hurricanes to the playoffs before ceding to rookie goalie Cam Ward, had this to say: “He didn’t worry about what was going on around him, he’d just go play and stay calm, like it was something he had done his whole life.”

More praise from Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild: “The thing that has been most impressive to me has been the way he has handled some very tough situations.” Dubnyk was referring two situations: the tying goal and eventual overtime goal for the loss in Game 3 which Murray followed by winning Game 4, and losing his starting job to Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final only to win Games 6 and 7.

Matt Murray is at the forefront of joining some very elite company. There have only been four rookie goaltenders who have led their teams to the Stanley Cup. Murray is on the verge of joining the names Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Cam Ward, and Antti Niemi as rookie goaltenders to lead their team to a Stanley Cup. That’s four names out of 123 years of the Stanley Cup being awarded.

Even though Matt Murray is headed toward the most important game of his young life, he is doing the same things he is doing every other time he straps on his pads. That is the essence of a great goaltender. No changes. Same repetitions. Same meals. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if it is Game 7 against the Toronto Marlies or Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Consistency matters.