3 Teams That Had Fantastic Trade Deadline Days

This past NHL trade deadline day was the busiest in the last five years. A busy trade deadline day always means added entertainment for fans, coaches and players alike, as the hyper nature of transactions provides all interested parties with good reason to stay glued to the TV all the way up until the 3 PM Eastern Standard Time deadline.

           Those who watched all the wall-to-wall coverage on TV, listened to it on the radio or followed it on Twitter had the opportunity to witness some teams get ready for a run to the Stanley Cup Finals while others got set to take a run at Erie Otters sensation Connor McDavid, who will no doubt be drafted with the first overall pick this summer.

           While nobody knows just how good McDavid will turn out to be at the NHL level, it’s obvious that most GMs around the league believe he’s going to be pretty darn good… maybe even as good as Sidney Crosby.

           In light of that, judging the winner of any particular trade from this season’s deadline can’t just be decided based on which teams got the best players. Instead, the long-term impact of the deals that were made must be given consideration as well.

           The Buffalo Sabres probably did the most to help themselves in the McDavid sweepstakes and that’s why we’ve crowned them the unofficial winner of trade deadline day. The team traded forward Chris Stewart to the Minnesota Wild for very little,, and they also traded goaltender Michael Neuvirth to the New York Islanders, who was the backbone of a team that gave up a ton of shots this season, in exchange for a career backup. They were already the favorite to land McDavid and the team’s front office did whatever it had to do to improve those chances on Monday. Throw in a February deal that saw the team acquire Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets, who is out for the season with an injury, and its obvious the Sabres are poised to finish the season on a losing note.

             Only Buffalo did better than the Toronto Maple Leafs when it comes to strategically getting worse, but Leafs GM Dave Nonis deserves honourable mention for his efforts. Nonis managed to get rid of David Clarkson via the Columbus Blue Jackets, taking in exchange the contract of Nathan Horton, who will likely never play in the NHL again due to a degenerative back disorder, but whose salary also doesn’t count against the salary cap unless he should miraculously return. The Leafs also dumped forward Olli Jokinen on the St. Louis Blues, dealt Korbinian Holzer to the Anaheim Ducks and also traded Daniel Winnik (Pittsburgh) and Mike Santorelli & Cody Franson (Nashville) in a flurry of deals leading up to deadline day.

          At the end of the day however, dumping salaries and rebuilding for the years to come is not what gets fans truly excited and tuning in to all the trade talk. It’s the deals that help contenders solidify their position as heavyweights going into the playoffs. No team did that better than the Montréal Canadiens, who took Torrey Mitchell off of the Sabres’ hands to add some depth up front and also traded for defenseman Jeff Petry, who will bring a much-needed stay-at-home feel to the team’s blue line.

           Only time will tell which teams truly came out on top on deadline day, but the general managers of these three clubs sure did do a good job… at least that’s what it looks like at the present moment. Feel free to judge for yourself, but if you live in Buffalo or Toronto, you’ve got to feel pretty good about your team’s chances of landing the NHL’s next golden boy.

Canadiens, Rangers, Blues winning #NHLTradeDeadline

The NHL trade deadline passed yesterday and the action was a little disappointing but the Rangers, Canadiens and Blues still managed to improve their teams.

As a Leafs fan, nothing has happened in terms of what I thought or was hoping to have happen. By 9am yesterday morning, the Score sports app said the team was actively shopping both Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. These are the 2 largest contracts on the team, one of them is almost certain to move, since the Leafs seem to be going nowhere but down, so he is going to be out the door soon enough.
By 1pm yesterday, word came out that if they could find some taker for Dion Phaneuf, they would have kept a part of his insane salary but the deal did not happen.

Montreal Canadiens

Got stronger over the weekend with the trade for Devante Smith-Pelly. Hard nose player from the Anaheim Ducks who can play physical, and can also provide a scoring touch. This morning, they acquired Jeff Petry from the Edmonton Oilers, giving up a couple draft picks in return and added some depth with Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn. The way Montreal has been playing lately, they have their eyes set on another trip to the Conference finals, which just might be against the same Rangers team that knocked them off in 6 games last spring.

New York Rangers

Speaking of the NY Rangers, it always seems like the New York pro sports teams really do go all out at the trade deadline, whether it is the Rangers, Knicks, Yankees or even Mets. All of these teams seem to make their moves. They resigned Mats Zuccarello and they acquired Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotesé

The New York Rangers acquired a big piece in their push for another deep playoff run, picking up All-Star defenceman Keith Yandle in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.

The Rangers lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals last season didn't wait until Monday's trade deadline to make a big move for this year's run.

The 28-year-old Yandle has been one of the NHL's best offensive-minded defencemen, a four-time All-Star who has led the Coyotes in scoring the past three seasons. He has 41 points in 63 games this season and has been the anchor of Arizona's power play unit.

New York also received defenceman Chris Summers and a 2016 fourth-round pick for defenceman John Moore, top prospect Anthony Duclair, a conditional first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-rounder this year.

The Rangers made another deal ahead of the trade deadline, acquiring forward Carl Klingberg from the Winnipeg Jets for forward Lee Stempniak. Stempniak, 32, joins his fourth team in two years. Klingberg is a 24-year-old draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers from 2009, he has spent most of this season with the St. John’s IceCapps of the AHL. This move should benefit both the Rangers and the Winnipeg Jets; both are also nearly locked in for a playoff spot.

The Rangers are third in the Eastern Conference, five points behind Montreal, and two behind the neighbouring Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.

The 28-year-old Yandle has been a core member of the Coyotes since they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. An assistant captain in Arizona, he has been the subject of trade rumours for the last several seasons and was finally moved with a year remaining on a five-year, $26 million contract signed in 2011.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues also picked apart the Coyotes, taking defenceman Zybynek Michalek, a move that is a definite upgrade to that seemingly horrid Blues blue line. In each of their last two playoff runs, they were stopped dead in their tracks by the same Chicago Blackhawks team, ironically in Game 3 of each series. I’m not saying Michalek will be the guarantee that it won’t happen again, but judging by reactions to this trade, it probably won’t hurt.

Considering that St. Louis has been a favourite to at least make it to the Stanley Cup the last couple years, one would think there need not be much more tinkering with that lineup.

Will The Real Boston Bruins Please Stay Standing?

It would be entirely forgivable if Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli misjudges the upcoming NHL trade deadline. For the past couple of months, it has been difficult to judge whether the Bruins are a sleeping giant waiting for everything to come together to be the contender most anticipated they would be before the season started, or whether they are simply a team that lacks depth and balance.

A playoff berth has not been secured, and yet many would still mark the 2013/2014 President Trophy winners as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

The past weekend’s contests struck a blow for the later. Despite being denied two centers (David Krejci and Gregory Campbell) through injury and with starting goaltender Tuukka Rask dealing with illness, the Bruins secured back-to-back comfortable victories relying on organizational depth and based first and foremost on the foundation of strong team defense. Boston finished February winning three of their last four games and opening up a four-point cushion for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern conference.

The problem is that the period of success was preceded by six straight losses. During that span, the Bruins were outscored 26-13 and looked to be in disarray. Just about every aspect of a team that has been known for reliable three-zone hockey over the past four or five seasons seemed to be wrong. All of that has come back over the last week; from Tuukka Rask, to three good defensive pairings, to four-line deep forward corps, the Bruins looked every bit a playoff team that any top seed would want to avoid.

Monday’s trade deadline will be a test for Chiarelli. This is clearly a team that could use veteran depth, but he also has a number of expiring contracts to contemplate and some cap magic to work both now and also ahead of the 2015/16 season.

He went “all-in” ahead of the 13/14 campaign trading Tyler Seguin, while adding Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith. At previous points in his career, he has shown patience and a willingness to stand pat if the right deal is not on the table. However, there might be a little added pressure this time around as numerous reports have suggested that a failure to reach the postseason could cost the GM his job.  

The story for much of the season has been injuries to the team’s key players. Blue liner Zdeno Chara missed a stretch of 19 games from mid-October to mid-December. It’s difficult to quantify Chara’s full impact when it comes to the Bruins. He is a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, but more than that, his shutdown presence and the sheer amount of ice time he is capable of playing have allowed Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien to construct a roster and a system with Chara at its core. The 37-year old is also the team’s captain and he leads its gritty, hard-working and physical identity. He hasn’t missed more than five games in a season since arriving in Boston in 2006. Even beyond the 19 games that he was absent from, Chara was slow to return to full game fitness and has never quite fully established himself as a dominant shutdown force this season.

The other major injury concerns have been Krejci. The team’s best offensive player and a key part of the team’s leading duo down the middle (Patrice Bergeron is the other), Krejci has been in and out of the lineup all season and often visibly struggling during his time in the lineup. Last week it was announced that he would miss 4-6 weeks with a partially torn MCL. Optimistically, he’ll be back in time for most of the stretch drive, but realistically, he could well miss all but the last couple weeks of the regular season.

His injury creates an even greater predicament for Chiarelli. Without Krejci, this team is missing a key part of its top six, power-play and also an important leader on the team. The 28-year old had 49 points in 47 games during Boston’s two recent runs to the Stanley Cup finals, leading the postseason in scoring each time. The Bruins aren’t likely to cause any upsets without a fully healthy David Krejci.

Still, the Bruins have managed to win three out of four since the loss of their top center. In fact, the lineup has really come together since Krejci was sidelined. Bergeron-Marchand-Smith and Soderberg-Eriksson-Paille have been effective combinations, while Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak have joined Milan Lucic as the trio that has arguably been Boston’s most dangerous offensively. Pastrnak has one goal and three assists, Spooner has a goal (the overtime winner against the Devils) and two assists, and Lucic has a pair of goals and an assist.

Throw in the fact that Brian Ferlin has done a pretty decent job on the team’s fourth line alongside Chris Kelly, and that Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski have managed to play a couple of games without looking terrible, and Chiarelli might be forgiven for thinking that this year’s Bruins still have a chance to come together – maybe they could even avenge last spring’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Of course, trade deadline acquisitions usually come at a steep price and Chiarelli won’t want to sabotage the team’s potential competitiveness next season.

There’s just something not quite right about this version of Julien’s Bruins. They rank 10th in the league in goals against per game (still pretty good) conceding 2.50 on average, but it’s their worst performance in that category since the coach’s first season in 2007/08, when the team grabbed the eighth seed in the Eastern conference conceding 2.62 GA/G ranking them 11th in the league.

That 07/08 roster needed Glen Metropolit to act as the team’s second line center for much of the campaign. It played with grit, determination and heart to beat most expectations by reaching the postseason at all. They got the most out of what they had, and for the most part, that has been the mantra of Julien-led teams, even if they endured a couple of postseason disappointments before that 2011 Cup win.

Another characteristic of recent Boston teams is the ability to score first and to then hold on to that lead and close out games. They’ve regularly ranked in the top 10 in that category. Last season they won 84% of games after scoring first (they won a lot of games full stop). That has dropped to winning just 67% of the time when scoring first so far in 14/15. During their recent losing run, the Bruins gave up a 3-0 lead against the Calgary Flames, and even the victory against New Jersey on Friday only came in overtime after Boston had allowed a 2-0 advantage to slip.

A lack of speed was highlighted as a potential problem for this roster heading into the season. Perhaps Chara has just lost a step or two, or perhaps Julien’s message isn’t reaching his players anymore. Perhaps it has just been an odd year for this franchise. Chiarelli faces some challenges as he attempts to assess this roster. He’ll be hoping that the real Bruins are the team that has been as consistent as any other in the NHL over the past seven seasons, and he’ll be hoping that those Boston Bruins stand up and stay standing for the rest of what has been a tumultuous season for this organization.

By the time the Bruins next play, at home against Calgary on Thursday, Chiarelli will have made his judgment on this team and the trade market. 

NHL Heading to Seattle???

 If the Mayor of the City Seattle gets his wish, the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Supersonics may have some more competition for the citizens’ sports dollar.

You could throw the Thunderbirds in there, too. And the Everett Silvertips.

Seattle is currently in the process of putting together a bid for an NHL team.

The folks at the hockey league, they're excited about Seattle," Seattle mayor Ed Murray told ESPN.com. "They're excited about getting a team here. They are very curious about how things are going to develop with the arena plans."

Lately, the plans for an arena are getting more crowded. During a recent Vancouver radio interview, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned that groups in nearby Bellevue and Tukwila are interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle. Whether he meant to cause a stir or not, he did.

It has provided a flicker of hope that there is a new way to bring the NHL to the area.

"All we're doing is listening," Bettman told ESPN.com. "As things stand right now, there's no building (arena). I don't know what speed the groups are moving at. We're just listening to expressions of interest. People from three different places in greater Seattle are saying 'we're interested and we think we can get a building,' but nobody has a building."

The arena issue appears to be the number-one issue, says Murray.

The secondary issue could be the fan support the team would receive.

It would be a very interesting location for pro hockey with the NFL club having won a championship recently, and the baseball club challenging for a wild-card spot this past season. Makes you wonder how the NHL may do.

As it sits right now, none of the current arenas in the area could legally open up to be home to an NHL team.

If the NHL ultimately agrees, it may have to wait to make it happen. It's not realistic to expect anything to happen within the next couple of years, and that’s an optimistic opinion.

Factor in lawsuit delays and construction, and an optimistic timetable for the opening of an arena might be 2019 at the earliest.

The city would love to house an NHL expansion team in KeyArena before then, but according to multiple sources, the NHL hasn't shown an appetite to go that route.

There is a potential of a New York businessman who had planned to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes and liked the idea of moving them to Washington State.

In the next few weeks, he hopes to have a timeline laid out, with each step the city is taking articulated, so those following have a better understanding of where things stand.

Should the actual City of Seattle prove to be a bad destination for the NHL (and it could take a possible 3-4 years to realize that), there are 3 more areas within a 10-mile radius of Seattle that supposedly provide benefits that Seattle doesn’t.

They are:
-Tukwila, Washington –located about 10 miles south of the downtown
                                                -population of only 19,7000, however that number goes up to about 170,000 during the day as visitors come to town to work or shop.
                                                -land prices are cheap, which will come in handy if the arena gets built.
-Bellevue, Washington -               there is a proposal to build a light rail that would transport people through Bellevue.
                                                -the downtown core is growing and is apparently full of young technology professionals
                                                -the Seattle Times reports that a potential arena site is targeted near the future Sound Transit Station.

Fun fact: the City of Seattle is reportedly the first American team to capture the Stanley Cup, in 1917. 

Are Ads on NHL Jerseys Realistic?

We've all heard it, the NHL says that ads on their jerseys are "coming" and they estimate that this would generate about 120 million in revenues for the league. However, no one has really asked the question, how would this be done and what would the repercussions be?

First, if we look at the jersey side of thing, the NHL's current contract with Reebok will expire in 2016. Many companies including Adidas, Bauer and possibly Under Armour are expected to bid on the license which, according to SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell, generally costs about 50 million dollars up front and 10% a year in royalties. It's not nearly as much as the potential of sponsors on NHL jerseys but would any of those companies agree to pay this amount (or more) if there were other sponsors on the jerseys? Not only would there be many companies overpowering their branding on the jersey but it would complicate the production and most likely hurt their sales.

Next, I think we can all agree that these sponsors would be negotiated on a team-by-team basis. The NHL teams are owned by 30 billionaires, most of which own a large corporation or who have an arena already sponsored by a large corporation. Are there any companies who have the money to spend on advertising that wouldn't come in conflict with any of those owners? I doubt it.

If sponsors are negotiated on a team-by-team basis, it would likely be each team's decision to put sponsors where they wish. Do you really think Geoff Molson would put a bunch of corporate sponsors right around the Montreal Canadiens logo on the front or Rocky Wirtz on the Chicago Blackhawks jerseys or MLSE on the Toronto Maple Leafs jersey? Not a chance. The only real option would be to put them as shoulder patches which would be more discrete, probably wouldn't upset as many fans but then again it probably wouldn't be worth 120 million a year.

The other aspect that hasn't been considered is the impact of the market for fake NHL jerseys on this. For the purpose of this example, let's say Bell is willing to pay a few million dollars a year to put their logo as a shoulder patch on the Montreal Canadiens jerseys. Yes it would bring them additional exposure but it also means that you would have dozens of unlicensed factories in China replicating the Bell logo. A quick look on the Bell website led me a document with many rules on how the Bell logo can be used, a specific CMYK colour and so on. If you're Bell or any other large corporation that is generally picky about the use of your logo, do you really want your logo replicated like that in the wrong font and colour? Do you want thousands of fans walking around with a Montreal Canadiens jersey with your logo on the shoulder in the wrong colour? I highly doubt it.

So with all that said, yes the idea of generating additional revenues is certainly appealing for the NHL but I don't think all teams would agree to this and I think it would be very difficult to find sponsors willing to put their logos on the jerseys. The idea will likely be tested on the World Cup jerseys in 2016 but I have a feeling that it won't go much further than that.

If you're worried about ads and want to get a nice jersey before then, our Sports Jerseys Canada online store is your place to buy NHL Jerseys.

Why Phil Kessel Will Be Traded By The Toronto Maple Leafs…Eventually

It’s been a difficult season for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, and that’s putting it lightly. To see that for yourself, all you have to do is take one look at the standings. You’ll find the Leafs just 4 points ahead of the lowly Carolina Hurricanes for second last place in the Eastern Conference.

It’s a harsh reality to swallow for fans, management and the players themselves. The 2014-15 season started out with so much promise. All of the above seemed optimistic at the team’s ability to rebound following a 2014 spring that saw the team completely fall apart during the stretch drive, taking a nose dive right out of the playoffs despite a very strong first half of the season.

As is usually the case in Toronto when things aren’t going well, the axe has to fall on someone and changes need to be made. In the offseason, that meant the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as team president and analytics guru Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager. During the season, it has meant the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle, the trading of Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and probably others before the NHL’s March 2nd trade deadline.

The idea that the Leafs should be cleaning house and that the organization is more likely to get its hands on Connor McDavid than a playoff spot, like most people thought the team would prior to the start of the season, still leaves one question we thought wouldn’t come up…is it time for Phil Kessel to go?

He’s emerged as a point-per-game player in the last couple of years and yet it seems the perennial 30-goal scorer has a reputation for being very difficult to coach, as per former Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson. He’s also evidently more excited by the thought of working on his ping-pong game than he is about practicing and on top of that, it’s obvious he’s not a fan of answering questions from the media.

It’s those truths that have fans irritated, the team losing and Phil likely thinking about the possibility of a new beginning and greener pastures somewhere else, if only in the back of his mind. Still, with a $64 million contract signed and sealed locking up all of his prime years, it’s likely Kessel will still be a Maple Leaf when the clock strikes 3pm on March 2nd.

If the Leafs were to move him now, the winger’s services wouldn’t likely give the team a fair return on investment. The better move would be to ship him in the offseason as the calendar inches closer to the NHL draft. The current season is already a write off and the rumour mill in Leaf land will be non-existent on March 3rd while Canadian media focuses on the league’s playoff races, leaving the Leafs to play the role of spoiler.

That said, the questions around Kessel should not be if but rather when he’ll get dealt. If you need proof as to why his departure from the city is imminent, consider what happened to the player that was once upon a time traded for Kessel, the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin. 

Like Kessel, Seguin fell out of favour in Boston and needed a change of scenery. Things soured almost as quickly as they apparently have for Kessel. Seguin signed a long-term deal with the Bruins in the summer before he was moved to the Dallas Stars.

Fast-forward to today and Seguin has flourished into one of the game’s best players alongside teammate Jamie Benn. He’ll likely finish his second straight season in the state of Texas eclipsing both the 30-goal and point-per-game marks respectively, leaving the hockey world to talk about his growth rather than his shortcomings.

One would have to think in light of witnessing Seguin’s turn around, Kessel realizes at this point that he could probably use a fresh start. Yes he may be signed to an 8-year deal, but in the NHL 8 years is an eternity and it seems an eternity is a little too long of a time span for fans, management and players in Toronto.

That said, Kessel is still a Maple Leaf…for now.

Is Alexander Ovechkin worth $124 million?

There should be no doubt that the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin can dominate a game of hockey.  Leading the NHL with 38 goals this season, Ovechkin continues to put up impressive offensive numbers in guiding the Capitals to the brink of yet another playoff appearance.

Although finding a forward with a knack for putting the puck in the back of the net is on the top of most G.M’s to-do list, NHL squads must constantly evaluate just how valuable such a player is to the overall depth of the roster and whether they can shoulder the superstar contract that eats up valuable space under the $71.1 million salary cap.

Since Ovechkin inked his 13 year, $124 million deal to remain a Capital, he has eaten away approximately $9.5 million per year in cap space.  This salary, which is the third highest in the league, behind only the Penguins’ Sydney Crosby and Nashville’s Shea Weber, equates to Ovechkin being compensated approximately $120,000 for each of the 76 points that he produced during his 2013-14 regular season.

With these figures in mind, the question now becomes whether Washington can continue to devote over 13 percent of their total cap space each year to an aging Ovechkin, who will turn 30 in September of this year.

As the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings exhibited last year, defense and goaltending can be a formula for playoff success.  With the Capitals focusing so many of their resources on their front line, it becomes clear as to why the Capitals have not been able to break past the Conference Semi-Finals during Ovechkin’s Capital career. 

This year appears to be no different as the Capitals currently sit at 21st in the league in goals allowed per contest at 2.79, while other Stanley Cup contenders sit at half a goal per game better or, in the LA Kings and Boston Bruin’s cases, even more.

Although Ovechkin may age better than other forwards who rely more on speed then their size, Ovechkin’s athletic peak has arrived.  It will now become the most important decision of the Capitals’ front office to determine whether or not to stay with Ovechkin for seasons to come, or to maintain some value in building for the future by dealing Ovechkin to a team that is looking to win now.

If this season ends for the Caps like all the ones before; several big plays short of a Stanley Cup appearance, this decision may likely come sooner than many Capital fans think.  With the amount of money Ovechkin commands, it may simply not make sense to keep on one star who can only do so much, while several younger stars may produce so much more for the long term value of the Capitals’ franchise.

Strong Defense Has Blackhawks Primed For Third Title In Six Years

The Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the NHL’s most dynamic and offensively dangerous teams over the past seven seasons. It’s not surprising that Joel Quenneville’s side has been difficult to stop considering that they have iced a lineup featuring the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, not to mention defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. However, in 2014-15, strong team defense and stingy all-round play has been the real story in Chicago, while the offense has struggled for consistency. Fans will be keen to see their star players rack up the points, but strong defensive play is a terrific sign that the Blackhawks might be ready to make it three Stanley Cup titles in six years.

In many ways, the 2014-15 NHL regular season has been nothing more than ordinary for the Blackhawks. They currently sit in third place in the Central division and the former offensive powerhouse hasn’t been as much of a powerhouse so far this year.

Defense Wins Championships

The reason for the success of Chicago this year has been a defensive unit that – potentially to the surprise of some – is arguably the best in the league. They currently rank third in the NHL conceding just 2.26 goals per game. Quenneville also has the penalty kill working tenaciously hard and using its speed to disrupt man advantage units. Chicago’s penalty kill is the best in the league killing off 87.9% of opponents’ chances. It helps that this team spends very little time shorthanded too.

The defensive corps is led by one of the NHL’s top pairings in Keith and Seabrook, who make big plays at both ends of the ice. The second pairing of Niklas Hjmarlsson-Johnny Oduya is underrated; they play a high standard of shutdown hockey. It’s been a struggle to find the right players to round out the blue line. Michal Rozsival, David Rundblad, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Tim Erixon and Kyle Cumiskey have all seen time as Quenneville tries to find the right balance often splitting up the top tandem of Keith-Seabrook.

Equally crucial to the Blackhawks defensive success has been hard-working defensive hockey played by a forward group that creates turnovers and disrupts offenses with aggressive and high-octane fore-checking and back checking. Possession hockey also plays a critical role in this team’s style of play and that takes pressure off of the defense.

Goaltending Tandem

The other part of the equation is a goaltending tandem that has quietly enjoyed a lot of success. Corey Crawford has established himself as a reliable starting goaltender, but there has always been a feeling that the 30-year is at his most effective when he shares the load (like most goaltenders actually). There’s no doubt that the emergence of Antti Raanta has helped both Crawford and the team. The 25-year old has posted a .938 save percentage and 1.80 GAA in 13 games and will be a viable option to ensure that Crawford enters playoffs well-rested. That’s more bad news for Chicago’s competition.

Strong defensive play and improved goaltending doesn’t take away from the identity of this team, which is still led by dynamic duo Toews and Kane. There are few teams with a better battle tested and deeper offensive group. Richards has a history of showing up in the postseason, expect Shaw’s line to be better as well. It’s hard to believe that these Blackhawks won’t score goals in the playoffs when they need to. Even now, Chicago ranks eighth in the league in terms of goals per game and its power-play unit ranks 13th. Those are not terrible numbers by any means.

Weak Western conference?

Maybe it’s an exaggeration to suggest that the NHL’s Western conference is “weak”, but aren’t too many elite contenders either. The defending champions LA Kings are looking a little worn out and battle to try and make the playoffs at all. The San Jose Sharks are in a similar battle just to reach the postseason. The Anaheim Ducks and St Louis Blues are once again high up the regular season rankings, but neither team’s goaltending situations feels trustable and there are usually reasons that teams endure prolonged periods of postseason disappointment. Maybe the “time has come” for one of these two, but Chicago should fancy their chances in a seven game series against either.

The Nashville Predators lead the conference of course. There’s a little bit of 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche about that group. The Avs got knocked out in the first round after finishing second in the West and have slumped to last place in the Central division this year.

Chicago has been as good and consistent as any NHL team over the past six years, winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013, and reaching the conference finals in 2009 and 2014. Last year, they came very close to a second straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance only just being edged out in Game 7 overtime as a part of a classic series against the LA Kings. It’s hard to believe that the Blackhawks wouldn’t have eased past the New York Rangers just as the Kings did. Jonathan Toews and his teammates will know that they were very close to adding to their already impressive history.

They’re getting a little closer to making up for last year’s disappointing conclusion. In 2012-13, the last year that the Blackhawks won the cup, they finished with the best goals against average in the NHL. As good as last season’s team was, they finished outside the top 10 in terms of goals conceded. History suggests that Chicago are a team to watch out for when they are clicking defensively.

No team has an unlimited window in which to try and win Stanley Cups, even one with a core featuring Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook. This year’s group isn’t perfect and GM Stan Bowman will already be reviewing options in terms of adding veteran pieces for a deep playoff run.

John LeClair - The Ambassador of Vermont Hockey

There are no athletes who stand taller in the eyes of Vermonters then their own homegrown superstar, John LeClair.  Born in the small northern town of Saint Albans, Vermont, LeClair did not travel the route that many talented Vermont hockey players do, transplanting to out-of-state preparatory schools in order to prepare them for a run at the NHL.

For LeClair, he stayed close to home, playing at his local BFA-Saint Albans high school team and then accepting a scholarship to play at the University of Vermont.  After just one season with the Catamounts, LeClair was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the 1987 entry draft, showing the value NHL teams placed on the 6-foot-three-inch forward’s ability to produce solid offensive numbers.

Despite being labeled as a potential NHL star early in his career, LeClair stayed humble, continuing to produce for the Catamounts despite battling several injuries.  His Catamount career was capped by a brilliant 20 goal, 25 assist, in 33 games played Senior season.

What followed LeClair’s college career was a formidable 17 year run in the NHL, accumulating four first team All-Star selections and two team USA Olympic appearances.

However, despite all of his worldwide accolades, John LeClair has never lost sight of his Vermont roots. After LeClair hung up his skates for the last time at the end of his 2006-07 season with the Pittsburg Penguins, he continued to come back to Vermont to give back to the State that raised him.  The John LeClair Foundation, which works to provide grants to non-profit organizations that service children in Vermont, serves as the prime example of the type of role model LeClair is to the Vermont community at large. 

Although many outside the State will point to LeClair’s five season stretch where he scored 40 plus goals with the Philadelphia Flyers as the bright spot of his career, those who know LeClair best, will point to his annual fundraising golf tournament in Saint Albans or his numerous visits to child facilities across the State to bring some cheer to those less fortunate as LeClair’s crowning achievements. 

There are a lot of superstar athletes out there that can wow a crowd or inspire a city with their play on the ice.  However, when it comes to superstar athletes, who are also superstar people, there are far less.  Vermont is just lucky enough to have one of the best in John LeClair.

Leafs to Rebuild? Good Idea, Bad Idea, You be the Judge

I thought going into last Saturday’s night’s Hockey Night in Canada would tell the tale for the rest of the season. The Maple Leafs hosted the Oilers. The Oilers have been one the league’s worst-3 teams for ages now.

A loss to them is more than unacceptable.

Toronto won the game 5-1. They led the game 5-0 late in the third.

My hope was temporarily restored in this franchise.

Then they drop a 5-4 game at home to the New York Rangers.

That was followed two days later by a 3-2 loss in New York to the Islanders

Sports reporters (and fans) everywhere are calling for immediate change. I don’t know what the fix is. I don’t even know if there even is one.

This morning on theScore Inc., website, they have outlined the ‘bare bones’ of a plan that could see all players who are not named, traded or perhaps bought out of their contracts as soon as the March 2 trade deadline approaches, or in the off season at the latest.

According to this report, David Clarkson, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak would not be expected to return.

No promises were made regarding any player.

The one question on my mind at this point is: how long is this going to take?

Anybody who has followed the Maple Leafs knows that winning isn’t hoped for in these parts, it’s expected. If team President Brendan Shanahan thinks that he can ‘rebuild’ this team, he knows that it won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.

This would mean, as the report indicates about halfway through, another 3-5 years of losing hockey in Toronto.

The thing I don’t understand about rebuilding is, how they intend for it to happen? Not all of these players are going to demand an equal or greater return; some of these players, nobody is going to want.

Even if Shanahan was to ‘eliminate’ or get rid of x number of players, it still won’t erase the fact that their #1 problem is that they need somebody who can coach. I think they need to replace the head coach, then look for ways of rebuilding/replacing players.

And further to that, Shanahan has no experience in what it takes to ‘rebuild’ a team. He was once a well-respected player on the ice, but he has no experience with what it seems he wants to undertake now.

And on top of that, when you decide on the ‘rebuild’, how do you know when you are done?

Teams such as Edmonton, Columbus, Florida, Arizona, and Dallas are still in the ‘rebuild’ mode. Any idea how much longer it may take any of them to complete? The Senators watched Alfredsson depart to Detroit as a free agent, then saw next-best player Jason Spezza jump to Dallas. What is next for them? Ottawa currently sits one point ahead of Toronto in the East.

I think that the other argument against stripping this team down for parts is that it is much the same club, minus a few players, that was able to push Boston to the limit in the post season 2 years ago. They may be showing some signs of not caring right now, but essentially that ‘core group’ of guys has proven to play effectively in the playoffs.

Besides maybe getting rid of SOME players, what this team needs more than anything else in the world right now is someone who can coach, and essentially win, in Toronto.

The #1 candidate that comes to mind is Detroit’s Mike Babcock, who remains unsigned in Detroit beyond this season. He has said that he wants a challenge. Look no further than Toronto. Another candidate is Mark Hunter, a third guy could be Dallas Eakins, and a fourth guy, who might be the next-best to Babcock, and that would be recent Cup winner in Pittsburgh, Dan Bylsma. Making Babcock the Head Coach in Toronto automatically makes him the highest paid NHL coach in the history of the league.

One example to follow might be the Montreal Canadiens, who beat them last night in a shootout. They finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 but still has a pretty good core of players: Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin and of course Carey Price as well as a few up and coming prospects including Brendan Gallagher. He hired Michel Therrien as head coach, drafted Alex Galchenuk with the 3rd overall pick, signed Brandon Prust as well as a few other veteran players and they were suddenly second in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t a total rebuild, it was a change in philosophy and team spirit. It wasn’t all Carey Price because in that season he only had a 0.905 save percentage.

Jonathan Bernier has had a 0.919 save percentage since joining the Leafs, Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak are all pretty good players, Morgan Rielly has tremendous potential. Start by getting rid of the players who aren’t part of that core, bring in a new coach, draft a great player in June, sign a few veterans to stabilize the defense and the Leafs could be back in the playoffs quicker than we expect.