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.

Mike Babcock, the Jack Adams and Young Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings appear likely to extend their professional sports best 23-season consecutive postseason appearance streak. During that period, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cup championships, and have established themselves as one of the most well run organizations in professional North American sports.

Head coach Mike Babock has only been in Detroit for nine of those playoff appearances and for just one Stanley Cup. However, his achievements in the NHL’s salary cap era are arguably as great, if not greater, than some of the storied names that played a critical role in building the franchise’s formidable reputation in the 90s.

A major outcome from the lockout in 2004-05 was the introduction of a salary cap, the goal being to address the league’s competitive balance (as well as help small market teams to make some money). The evidence suggests that that effort has been successful. Of the 16 teams that made the postseason in 2013-14, only six have made the playoffs in five or more consecutive seasons. Three of those (Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh) endured extended runs of being mediocrity stocking up on high draft picks to build a new strong core. Only one other team, the San Jose Sharks, has reached the NHL playoffs in every season since the introduction of the cap.

Credit isn’t often given to it, but the salary cap has severely affected Detroit. This team has been built around a core of elite players most notably Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall for some time. However, the rosters constructed around those players have been carefully molded and their potential maximized by Babcock’s coaching. The likes of Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm have been developed the “Red Wing way”, which has become synonymous with the “Babcock way”.

Babcock has yet to win a Jack Adams award and has even come under fire at times during a five-year span in which Detroit has failed to advance past the second round in the playoffs. Of the coaches who have won the Jack Adams since 2006, only Claude Julien (2009 - Boston), Dave Tippett (2010 – Arizona), Ken Hitchcock (2012 – St Louis) and Patrick Roy (2014 – Colorado) are still in their current positions. Some credit should be attributed to the Red Wings’ organization and General Manager Ken Holland, but it’s also a vindication of Babcock’s abilities and longevity.

The lack of personal accolades won’t bother a man like Babcock and the team’s lack of postseason success since appearing in the 2008 and 2009 Finals (winning in 2008) will have frustrated him. The perception that just about anyone could coach the Red Wings into the playoffs is false. Babcock has excelled while navigating a challenging landscape.

Perhaps the 2014-15 season came along at just the right time. Injuries ravaged Detroit’s lineup in 2013-14 and they limped into the postseason missing key personnel. The Boston Bruins promptly dispatched them in five games to end their season. The difficulties of 13/14 combined with the age of leading forwards Zetterberg (34) and Datsyuk (36) led many writers and analysts to take the bold move of predicting an end to the Red Wings’ remarkable postseason run. Very few experts anticipated Detroit to be anything more than a borderline playoff team. In a league that loves the underdog, Babcock finally had the opportunity to play the “loveable” role.

For all of this roster’s perceived weaknesses, this is a team that Babcock has developed and it’s clear that he feels very comfortable coaching this group. The Red Wings have been on fire since the calendar turned to 2015 and are in legitimate contention to win the Atlantic division. Few teams have been more balanced this season. Detroit ranks seventh in the NHL in goals scored per game and fifth in fewest goals conceded per game. They have the top ranked power play clicking at an almost remarkable 25.5% and the ninth best penalty kill.

It has certainly helped that the team’s top players in Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Kronwall have mostly stayed healthy, but it’s not as if this team hasn’t faced adversity. Most recently the Red Wings have had to roll with third string goaltender Petr Mrazek with both Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson sidelined. They keep finding ways to win.

The secret to that success has been the development of the organization’s young players. In a league that has got used to prospects making an impact within two or three years of being drafted, Gustav Nyqvist and Tomas Tatar are rarities. They are now rarities that most teams in the NHL would dearly like to have.

After several seasons playing for the AHL’s Grand Rapids, Nyqvist, 25, and Tatar, 24, established themselves as full time NHL players last season. They were forced into top six roles by injuries last season. Both players excelled, but neither registered a point in the playoff series against Boston.

This season, playing on lines with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, there’s a clear maturity and well roundedness to their games that suggests that they won’t disappear in a playoff series again. The organization’s (and Babcock’s) belief in the duo has been rewarded.

Youth development has been the key to the fortification of the line-up in other places as well. Riley Sheahan may not get the same level of attention as Tatar and Nyqvist, but the former first round pick has played a valuable role centering a number of different lines. Even Babcock has had serious difficulties coaching the blue-line since Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement in 2012. The maturation of Dan DeKeyser has helped to balance the group out.

The cultivation of a young talent is crucial for any franchise hoping to compete consistently in the salary cap era. It isn’t an attribute often associated with Babcock, but that might just be one more thing that has gone unnoticed in Motown.

Babcock has been fortunate in one respect. He has had the opportunity to work for one of the game’s finest GMs in Ken Holland. The 59-year old’s patience and vision has been equally crucial to Detroit’s seemingly endless success. Negotiations over a new contract have apparently been set-aside until the end of the season. Reports suggesting that Babcock could be set to become the highest paid coach with a contract worth more than $3 million suggest that Holland is under no illusions about his coach’s importance to this team’s success.

Detroit’s head coach won’t be thinking about a new contract, and he won’t be thinking about the Jack Adams. He’ll be thinking about how to develop and construct this team to be a serious contender in the upcoming postseason. Even if Holland is able to add reinforcements at the deadline, this is a very young team that will be tested in April. You can be sure that Mike Babcock will be ready for that challenge, even if he doesn’t get too much credit for it.

NHL Trade Deadline Preview

As we head into the final weeks before the NHL’s March 2nd trade deadline, the rumour mill has run amok with a plethora of scenarios, many of which have very little chance of coming true. There are two types of teams in this conversation. The Buyers are looking to improve their teams in hopes that they actually make the playoffs and go deep. Then there are the Sellers who are teams not heading for the playoffs, and will try to offload hefty contracts of under achievers, or obtain prospects or building components for players becoming UFAs at the end of the season and will not be resigned.

The Buyers will be wary of mortgaging away the team’s future by trading draft picks or young prospects to obtain a rental player to help them in their quest to hoist Lord Stanley in June. The Buyers must also keep in mind the Cap situation as they may not be able to re-sign UFA’s they obtain. The Cap plot thickens as the Loonie plummets. In the June 2014 League meetings, Gary Bettman estimated that the current 69M Cap would increase to 73M next season. In December Bettman stated that if the Loonie holds at .80 cents compared to the US buck, the Cap will be closer to 71M and possibly lower. This has a huge impact on the trade deadline, since many teams were counting on a 4M increase, and may now have no Cap space to work with.

Despite all the challenges, there will still be player movement in the next few weeks. Even though we have about 30 games left in the season, the playoff picture is starting to look pretty clear, particularly in the east.

The Arizona Coyotes have made it clear that they will be rebuilding next year, so we can expect them to be shopping some highly touted UFA’s such as Martin Erat, Zbynek Michalek, and Antoine Vermette. GM Don Maloney is looking for top prospects and high draft picks of course, so none of these players will come cheap. There is also a lot of interest in Keith Yandle, but the 28 year old two way defensemen with two years on his contract will likely cost a top prospect and a high draft pick.

The Edmonton Oilers who are competing for the first round draft pick once again, and have fans wearing bags over their heads and burning their jerseys will obviously be sellers. The Oilers need to move out some of their offensive talent and improve the second worst defense in the league. RFA Nail Yakupov and UFA Derek Roy are available for teams looking for a low cost scoring boost. UFA Jeff Petry is a solid defenseman who has no plans of resigning with Edmonton in July, so he is available for a high pick or prospect. Many think Jordan Eberle is also available for a first round pick. UFA Goaltender Viktor Fasth is also available however the only team with any interest may be the Minnesota Wild.

The Buffalo Sabres are having a dismal season and will be trying to improve their team by trading UFA forwards such as Chris Stewart, Drew Stafford, and Torrey Mitchell. Both goalies Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth are UFAs and will be available. There is a lot of interest in Tyler Myers but the Sabres see Myers as a cornerstone to rebuild the team around so it is highly unlikely he will move.

The Carolina Hurricanes will also be trading off some talent. Andrej Sekera the 28 year UFA defensemen, is a solid stay at home type, and would make a fine addition to any team looking for rearguard help in the playoffs. The Canes will also consider trading Cam Ward and his 6.7M salary with just one year left. The Wild may be interested in Ward, and they have the Cap space. If the Wild are looking like a playoff team as March approaches they could make an offer. Jiri Tlusty is another UFA that will not resign with the Canes in July, so look for him to move to a team that needs help at Center. There are rumours around Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but with 4 years left at 6.5M most teams don’t have the Cap space, and won’t be willing to pay the high price GM Don Maloney will want for Ekman-Larsson.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are having a disappointing season after last year’s impressive playoff performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Jordan Leopold is a 34 year old UFA in July, and will likely move to a team needing defensive help in the short term and will not have to pay a high price.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will definitely be selling after another inconsistent season they will miss the playoffs again. They may want to trade Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul but expensive long term contracts will make it very difficult to move these players. Dallas is interested in Phaneuf, but they would have to offload some Cap space. The Leafs will likely be able to move some of their UFAs like Santorelli, Winnik, and Franson. RFA Nazem Kadri may get moved as well, possibly to Nashville.

There are many teams looking for help on defense, starting with the Wings looking for a solid D man to support work horse Niklas Kronwall. The Montreal Canadiens could use some youth on defense to help out P.K. Subban and the cast of aging warriors like Gonchar, Markov, and Weaver. The current Montreal defensive corps cannot take them deep into the playoffs. Both teams will be looking at Franson, Michalek, Sekera, and possibly Jeff Petry. Other teams interested in Cody Franson are the Preds and Bolts.

The Ducks would like to strengthen their defense and improve their chances to make a run for the Stanley Cup. They have some Cap space available so they could make a move at someone like Dion Phaneuf. Colorado is another team in the market for a defenseman to fill in for injured Erik Johnson, but have no Cap space so it would have to be a rental player that they would lose in the summer like a Sekera or Michalek. Pittsburgh may try to improve their defense by going after Jeff Petry. With no Cap space the Pens would probably not be able to resign in the summer. The Pens are hungry to advance deep into the playoffs since that Stanley Cup they won is a distant memory now, and with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not getting any younger the time is now.

The list of teams looking for some more offensive juice going into the playoffs is led by the old foes Boston and Montreal. Both teams are fairly solid and have great goaltenders, but are hovering at about 130+ goals and are not exactly filling the net. Boston is interested in Chris Stewart, and Montreal is one of many teams looking at Antoine Vermette. Vermette is probably the most intriguing player at this trade deadline and with so many teams interested, the price will be high.
Vancouver is in a similar situation and is trying to work out a deal with the Leafs for Santorelli. Like any GM, Jim Benning wants to see his team in the playoffs, but realizes that this team will not go far, and they will not sacrifice young prospects or draft picks for a long shot.

Winnipeg appears to be playoff bound but with the sudden departure of Evander Kane, they are in need of a forward to fill his spot. Rumour has it they are looking at Leafs UFA Daniel Winnik, but will have to compete with the New York Islanders for him. Winnipeg would like to get rid of Kane, but will not be able to do so until the off season after Kane’s surgery is completed, and a proper evaluation can be done

There are rumours that the Calgary Flames could be interested in Mike Richards as they are on pace to make the playoffs with their best showing in a decade. The Flames have the Cap space and need a veteran with experience like Richards for their run. They would not have to give up future prospects; just pay the ~20M on his contract for the next 5 years. In order for this to work, the Kings would have to pay 30% of his salary. This is the only likely destination for Richards, and it could be a good fit for everyone.

The trade speculation is endless as we approach the deadline. We could see a flurry of activity in the upcoming weeks, and there may be very little action. The difference with past seasons is that in the Eastern Conference, the picture is much clearer, so rather than having just a handful of teams looking to sell, there could be as many as 7 in East and 2 or 3 in the West.

Why Carey Price Is A Hart Trophy Candidate

The Hart Memorial Trophy goes to the player considered to be the most valuable to his team. Even though it’s been around for 90 years, it’s only been awarded to 54 players, so if you’re one of the guys fortunate enough to receive it, it goes without saying that you had a special season.

While goaltenders are often the most valuable players on their teams, history shows that it’s really difficult to win the Hart Memorial Trophy playing in between the pipes. Only six goaltenders have ever won the award including: Roy Worters, Chuck Rayner, Al Rollins, Jacques Plante, Dominik Hasek (two years in a row) and Jose Theodore.

Although it’s been more than a decade since a tender claimed the award, Montreal Canadiens net minder Carey Price has a shot at it, and if he wins it, he would be the second net minder in a row from the Habs organization to accomplish the feat. To really break it down a little bit, let’s compare some of the numbers that the two goaltenders managed to put up during their spectacular respective campaigns.

First we look at Carey Price. Through 49 games so far this season he has a goals against average of 2.03 and a sparkling save percentage of 932. If both numbers stand up for the rest of the year, they would be career highs for Price. Granted there are still a lot of games to go, but it’s clear that he’s the biggest reason for the team’s success this season, helping Montreal currently maintain the number two spot in the Eastern Conference.

There’s a good chance that he surpasses his career high of 38 wins, given that he already has 29 at the moment, and if not for an injury suffered against the New York Rangers in the playoffs last spring, Price could have easily led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Now let’s look at Jose Theodore. He never managed to win more than six playoff games in a given postseason run, but during the 2001-2002 regular season, he was unbeatable in the crease. Theodore’s save percentage that year was .931 and his goals against average stood at 2.11. Those stats are quite impressive, but in comparison to Price, Theodore managed only 30 wins that season, a mark the Habs’ present day goalie will no doubt crush given that we’re only a short time removed from the All-Star game in Columbus.

Whether or not Carey Price becomes the seventh goalie in NHL history to win the award remains to be seen, but if Jose Theodore’s 2001-02 season is the measuring stick for what a Hart Memorial Trophy winning goaltender needs to do in order to claim it, it looks like Mr. Price is on the right track. 

The one man who could get in his way is Pekka Rinne whose GAA is 0.01 better and he also has one more win but Price currently has the edge by 0.003 when it comes to save percentage. If the Hart Memorial Trophy was given out today, it's safe to say that one of these two men would be the seventh goaltender to win the trophy, but there's still about 30 games to go and things could change.

Snow, Capuano and a Slow Rebuild Paying Off For the New York Islanders

Only six current NHL head coaches have been in their current position for more than four years. More than half of the other 24 have been hired in the past two seasons. Meanwhile, 17 NHL general managers have been in their positions for less than five years. Only eight were hired more than nine years ago. The NHL is a win-now league. Excuses are rarely made for coaches or GMs when evaluating performance and the “axe” is rarely far away. That is why the approach that the New York Islanders have adopted is impressive. 

Among the six longest tenured NHL head coaches, and among the nine longest serving are Islanders’ duo Jack Capuano and Garth Snow; in spite of the fact that the Long Island franchise has made the playoffs just twice in the past eight seasons, and each time they were an eighth seed and got bounced out of the first round. There are now signs that the franchise’s patient approach is paying off. The Islanders sit atop the Metropolitan division 50 games into the 2014-15 season.

The team’s roster is highlighted by the emergence of an exceptionally talented young core including; John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Travis Hamonic, Calvin De Haan and Thomas Hickey. A dynamic and deep offense has been at the core of New York’s success; they rank fourth in the NHL averaging 3.08 goals per game.

For all the credit that the players get (and deserve) and for all the importance that building a strong core has been given. Perhaps of equal importance has been the willingness and trust that the Islanders have shown in their GM and head coach. It goes against current trends in the NHL and professional sports in general, and it is starting to reap clear rewards.

Head coach Capuano deserves a lot of credit for the growth of this team’s young players. Capuano first joined the Islanders’ organization for the 2005-06 season as an assistant coach. He would find his way to the team’s AHL affiliate’s (Bridgeport Sound Tigers) head coaching role before replacing Scott Gordon in New York early in the 2010-11 season. His record since (shown below) is one that few coaches could survive.

5th Atlantic
5th Atlantic
3rd Atlantic
Lost 1st round
8th Metropolitan

Despite starting 2014-15 with a career NHL coaching record below .500, Capuano is in elite company in terms of the league’s longest tenured coaches. Only Dave Tippett (Phoenix/Arizona), Todd McLellan (San Jose), Joel Quenneville (Chicago), Claude Julien (Boston) and Mike Babcock (Detroit) had been with their respective teams for longer. Quenneville, Babcock and Julien have all won Stanley Cups, Tippett has helped to keep the Phoenix/Arizona franchise alive, while McLellan has a fantastic regular season record in San Jose. In fact, Capuano is one of only three current NHL head coaches with a career record below .500 (before start of 2014-15).

The reality is that Capuano’s coaching record is a reflection of Islanders’ rosters that have lacked balance and depth. He has played a critical role in balancing team competitiveness with the development of emerging young stars like Strome, Lee and Nelson. He also deserves credit for the long-term development of players like Okposo and Josh Bailey, who many coaches would have given up on after indifferent starts to their careers.

Capuano has found the balance between holding players accountable for mistakes and not throwing players under the bus. He has protected his developing roster from criticism during the longer losing streaks and has successfully played the delicate development-balancing act. The fruits of that labor are clearly seen in this season’s line-up.

The 48-year old’s success has come while implementing an offensive-minded system that relies upon fore-checking, physical play and a fast-moving skating game. Capuano’s style has grown as a head coach and Islanders’ fans can be pleased that he is clearly not satisfied with his team’s position. Puck management and the team’s play away from the puck are still of particular concern.

Capuano has been afforded a patience that is rare in the NHL. Credit goes to GM Garth Snow on that count. He has treated his bench boss with fairness and shown faith in a coach who he trusts and believes in.

The former NHL goaltender, Snow, is also in some pretty impressive company when it comes to length of time on the job. Only Lou Lamoreillo, Ken Holland, David Poile, Glen Sather, Doug Wilson, Dean Lombardi and Peter Chiarelli have held their roles for longer. Chiarelli and Lombardi each have recent Stanley Cup victories, Holland and Lamoriello have marshaled dynasty eras for their respective franchises, Poile is the only GM Nashville has known, while Sather and Wilson have built teams that have enjoyed impressive levels of regular season success.

Snow hung up the skates after 11 NHL seasons spent with the Flyers, Canucks, Penguins and eventually the Islanders. He retired after the 2005-06 season and moved straight into the front office as Islanders’ GM. It wasn’t long before Snow realized that New York’s “other franchise” needed a full rebuild. Snow has stuck to his guns and stayed loyal to the organization’s top prospects. It has worked well. A long-term vision and plenty of high draft picks are a big part of today’s success.

Not only is the NHL roster loaded with young, promising talent already proving its worth at the top level, but the Islanders also possess one of the more impressive prospect pools in the league. In particular, there is a healthy stock of defensemen including Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech.

Of course there have been mistakes made during Snow’s stint as well, the Thomas Vanek debacle being a good example. At times the vision in terms of building veteran talent into the team has been confusing. This season’s success can also be attributed to Snow’s ability to finally get that talent balance right adding Jaroslav Halak in net, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy to the blue-line, and Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin to the forward group.

It’s worth remembering that Snow inherited a team that had suffered from years of mismanagement. His predecessor’s (Mike Milbury) spell in charge had been characterized by a lack of patience and over commitment to winning as soon as possible. It didn’t work as New York managed to reach the playoffs just three times between 1995 and 2006, losing in the first round each time. It is famously a period where the Islanders traded away talents such as Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Sami Salo, Bryan McCabe and Todd Bertuzzi. The prospect cupboard was also left bare.

After 43 years playing at the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders will make their way to a new home, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, starting in September. It’s an exciting time for a franchise that has an opportunity to exploit a new market and, the combination of Snow and Capuano should ensure that the new era begins on a high. Perhaps a fan base damaged by years of mismanagement and a lack of competitiveness can allow themselves to hope for their Islanders again. Maybe a few other franchises could learn from the Isles example.

What Makes Martin St. Louis So Effective?

Aggressive and effective fore-checking serves as the backbone for any NHL team’s offensive success.

When one thinks of the ideal NHL player that fills the role of a great fore-checker, big bodies like the Coyotes 6-foot-one 223 pound Shane Doan or the Ducks’ six-foot-two-inch, 208 pound Ryan Kesler come to mind.  Physical forwards like Kesler and Doan mostly utilize their sheer strength and ability to use their large bodies to control the boards when the puck is in the attacking third of the ice.

However, when it comes to those players who fly under the radar as providing a solid fore-check presence, few may fly so low as the Rangers’ Martin St. Louis, a forgetfulness that St. Louis makes a living off.

At 5-foot-eight-inches, St. Louis has never intimidated defenseman with his physical presence.  However, the Quebec native uses every inch of his frame to size up larger defenders when they are playing with their heads in the boards.  Although St. Louis will not regularly stand up defenders, a strategy regularly employed by larger forwards, he will instead use his lower center of gravity and quick hands to attack the defender inside their arms, making it very difficult for the defender to stay on top of the puck.

Large fore-checkers will often focus on causing their opponent to lose possession of the puck, which results in a 50/50 battle ensuing between the forward and the defender.  For St. Louis, his focus falls more on gaining possession of the puck as a direct result of his fore-check.  This approach has led to numerous scoring opportunities for St. Louis and his teammates, as their defense transitions to offense almost instantaneously from when the puck first touches St. Louis’ stick.

Through 49 games played this year, it is apparent that St. Louis’ style of play has stood the test of time.  At the ripe age of 39, St. Louis has scored 14 goals and dished out 23 assists, putting him on a pace that could result in his ninth 40-plus assist regular season in his 17 year NHL career.

As the Rangers march toward the playoffs for a fifth straight season, there is no question as to St. Louis value.  This value was no more apparent than in the Rangers 2014 run to the Stanley Cup Finals after rallying from two games down to the Pittsburgh Penguins to win in seven games.  The turning point for the inspiring play of the Rangers was fueled by the team rallying around St. Louis after his mother passed away, a tribute to what St. Louis means to the team after joining the Rangers just prior to the trade deadline in 2014.

As all teams and fans know, all it may take for a team to turn a mediocre season into one filled with Stanley’s glory is a spark at just the right time.  For the Rangers, this spark can be found every time they dump the puck into the offensive zone and St. Louis begins his chase.

Why Fans Love The NHL Trade Deadline

This year’s NHL trade deadline day is March 2nd, and unlike the trade deadline day in the NBA, NFL and MLB, hockey’s version provides fans a reason to call in sick. While it doesn’t receive nearly as much coverage in the United States as it probably should, trade deadline day is like Christmas in March for hockey fans in Canada. Although the introduction of a hard salary cap following the 2012-2013 lockout makes it harder for big and complex contracts to be moved on the last day trades can be made, there seems to be no sign of the television ratings or the transactions slowing down any time soon.

Perhaps the biggest reason for that is that die hard sports fans dream of being their favourite team’s general manager someday, and trade deadline coverage gives us some insight into what it’s actually like without ever being in our team’s boardroom as the deadline approaches. Especially in this day and age with the latest breaking news being posted on Twitter almost immediately, allowing fans to keep track of rumours and break into debates in an instant. Debate fuels adrenaline in the average sports fan more than anything else.

The curiosity and intrigue also stems from what one’s favourite team will do next. Are they buyers or are they sellers? Will they be the big winner in this year’s blockbuster deal for the latest disgruntled or impending free-agent superstar? With questions like that left to be answered as the deadline approaches, it’s easy to see why the media coverage associated with it is basically a man’s version of an afternoon soap opera with the added kick being that it’s actually based on reality and not a dramatic, fictional script.

It seems that no matter what prognosticators and analysts predict as far as how much activity is expected on trade deadline day, things pick up at the last minute and when all the math is done, hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts have changed hands and the future of a fan’s favourite franchise has been changed forever, though seldom in the ways that most experts and fans expected once a few months or even a few years have passed.

For every skilled superstar winger like Marian Gaborik that gets traded on deadline day and helps his new team win the Stanley Cup, the way he did last year with the Los Angeles Kings, there are a handful of stars that get moved and never produce a championship. That reality might not be appealing to fans of contenders, but at the end of the day it’s what makes the trade deadline such a big day for the NHL and so compelling to follow.

The good news is, whether your favourite players and teams are contenders or pretenders this year, you’ll be able to sport their new jersey after all the trades are complete thanks to the gear available here at Sports Jerseys Canada.