Tag Archives: Hockey

McDavid? Or, McSavior?

All eyes are on a once-in-a-generation player, about to join a once-proud franchise looking to turn a corner.

 Kevin Donnan


When Connor McDavid strides across the stage this week in Sunrise, Florida, he will join the likes of Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.

It’s almost unimaginable how the fortunes and optimism of a city and an organization can turn the minute a “generational player” is all but locked down for a hockey team.

Larry Wong/Edmonton Journal/CanWest News Service
Larry Wong/Edmonton Journal/CanWest News Service
If you haven’t heard, by now, Connor McDavid is lined up to become hockey’s “next one” for the team that was the home of “The Great One.” For at least the past three years, the hockey world has been abuzz about the kid from just outside Toronto.

 

For every Crosby and Lemieux, there is an Alexander Daigle and Greg Joly waiting, but every hockey expert from Moscow to Moose Jaw has the 18-year-old poised to be hockey’s next all-world, all-consuming, all-watching, talent.

Fans, players and executives of the NHL are on pins and needles to see just what kind of impact the kid will have on hockey, and especially on one of the most success-starved franchises in the league.


Oilers Looking for a Lifeline

Seven days before the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery on April 18th, the Edmonton Oilers completed another embarrassing and painful season, finishing 24-44-14. For the third time in their past six seasons, the team had finished at least 20 games below the .500 mark, and 2014-15 marked their ninth season in a row without a post-season appearance, which only the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Timberwolves could truly envy.

But it wasn’t always this way.

NHL.com
NHL.com
The Oilers were once one of the most enviable franchises in sports. Borne out of the ashes of the old World Hockey Association, the 1980s in Edmonton were the epicenter of a hockey renaissance thanks to Gretzky and Messier and the team’s legendary Stanley Cup run that featured five wins in seven seasons.

Like all great teams, the success faded in the mid-90s, but with some savvy trades of their fading and expensive stars, they climbed out of the basement and returned to some measure of competitiveness. Always battling for a playoff spot at the bottom rung of the conference standings, the team remained relatively competitive, but never enough to truly satisfy the fan base, which hadn’t seen a conference final in 14 years since their last appearance in 1992.

The fan-base that was craving a return to prominence finally got a serious taste during a magical Stanley Cup run in 2006. But, like all things ‘magic,’ the fan-base and the organization were completely deceived into believing this was the start of a positive upswing or a return to the halcyon days of the 1980s, which was so long ago that back then Bill Cosby was a loveable ‘Dad’ and not a ‘suspect.’

The run eventually became the organization’s biggest Achilles heel. While it bought the overlord of the franchise, former Oilers defenseman Kevin Lowe, more time, all it really did was expose that the team, the media and the fan-base were living in the past with no plan for the future.

Over and over again, and with seemingly every hire of a former player, the organization became the most incestuous and ineffective old boys club in sports.

 

scoop 2The nine years of hell that this organization put their fan-base through featured a parade of ineffective and puppet coaches, one of the worst draft records by any team in any 10-year time frame outside of the first round, a pro and amateur scouting department that some estimate was 20 years behind the times, and an incompetent management team more interested in protecting their own personal legacies than making the moves necessary to get the franchise moving forward.

Since the glory days, the ‘small town’ attitude that has pervaded the organization is ultimately what sent this once proud franchise into irrelevance and laughing-stock status. The culture of the team became so toxic that any dissension in the media (including threats to pull media accreditations), among the fans or within the organization was defined as treasonous disloyalty. The Oilers have been so pathetic in the past decade that in spite of three first overall picks since 2010, the team became the biggest laughing-stock in hockey, with seemingly no way to get out from under it.

USATSI
USATSI
It’s the type of environment where an absentee billionaire owner who lives 12 hours away was given a free pass, and the local media, the organization and large groups of the fan-base continued to believe that the organization was always just ‘one or two players away’ thanks to a media strategy that featured an endless string of news conferences and tributes to the past with an unending parade of jersey retirements, all designed to placate the fans, but offer nothing in terms of anything resembling a ‘plan’ for the future beyond being in the draft lottery every year.

In spite of a wealth of draft talent in the first round, including three first overall draft picks in a row from 2010 to 2012, management literally had no answer. In fact, the amazing culture that was the lifeblood of the team during its heyday had become its ultimate undoing, all culminated within the last two years, and it all started with yet another news conference.


A Tale of Two Aprils

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
It was April 2013, and the Oilers were announcing the re-hiring of former golden era stalwart Craig MacTavish as GM. A former assistant and head coach who only generated three playoff appearances in eight seasons was now given the reins of the franchise as the General Manager, with zero experience at a management level and with his best pal Kevin Lowe as President of Hockey Operations, there was no clear line of demarcation. Perhaps the only demarcation was to take the heat off of Lowe, who was already starting to have his credibility questioned leading into what the organization tried to call a ‘fresh’ hire. Lowe started as a player, but has held virtually every title you can think of: Assistant Coach, Head Coach, General Manager, President, President of Hockey Operations, etc.

But it was what happened during that news conference that ultimately led to where we are today. Lowe, when questioned about his abysmal record as a hockey executive by a local reporter, literally went off with the arrogance, incompetence and horrific culture that had driven this team for years.

Lowe’s suggestion of “two tiers of fans” — one they listened to, which didn’t endear him to the faithful — but that was only the beginning of what has become the most legendary news conference in this area since we bid farewell to #99 on a sad Friday 27 years ago. Lowe capped things by stating that, “Only one person working in hockey had as many Stanley Cups as he had.”

The only missing element was this fact: Lowe won his last Cup as a player 21 years ago, and outside of the lightning-in-a-bottle 8th place finish, and the miracle in 2006, he’s pretty much been as close to the Stanley Cup as an executive as I have to becoming the career all-time passing leader for the Dallas Cowboys.

It was this news conference where the cracks started to form. The management team’s worst coaching hire followed (Dallas Eakins), and two more lost seasons, but it was after his “I know something about winning” comment that Lowe and MacTavish were doomed to the fan-base.

The fan-base was getting louder with their second year of demanding changes at every level, took to buying advertising, campaigning on social media, producing bumper stickers and holding rallies in bars.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
After more than a decade of incompetence solely based on the myth that only former Oilers could run the franchise, the fan-base finally grew up and demanded better. Nearly 20,000 people signed up on social media, advertising was purchased, and even the media, who protected the regime more fiercely than the regime itself, had started to raise questions.

As the end of the 2015 season approached, one would think that the optimism of a new state-of-the-art arena would help, but even a new building set to open for the start of 2016 was clouded by the performance of the team and many fans openly complaining about how the new arena should be empty based on the performance of the team.

CBC
CBC
But then, April 18th happened, and with a slightly better than one chance out of 10, they pulled off what some are calling a miracle, and some have even wildly suggested that they pulled off the crime of the century.

While there was no sketchy, and some say culpable, Zapruder Film like in 1985 with David Stern and the NBA Lottery, those who love a good conspiracy theory believed they had some mileage when you consider how abysmally the Edmonton Oilers have handled the development of four first-round draft picks in just six years (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov), and they have an arena to fill.

It was a beautiful attempt based on the parallels, but outside of Gary Bettman and the Oilers brain trust checking the envelopes personally during the live broadcast, this lottery will never reach the conspiratorial heights of Stern in 1985.

National Post
National Post
As this was happening, Connor McDavid had completed a 120-point season, the endorsements of every hockey ‘expert’ from coast to coast, and picked up every major junior hockey award you can fathom, including a gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship, and the MVP, Scholastic Player and Prospect of the Year trophies.


The Savior?

Just as the announcement of the Knicks in 1985 sent shock waves, consider the impact in Edmonton; the McDavid effect is no small force.

Prior to April 18, the management team had vowed to stay the course, building slowly and deliberately while offering no insight on the timetable for when the team would be competitive again, in spite of the treasure trove of first-round picks.

This was a team that prior to April 18, wasn’t changing any aspect of their organization, but, when a player who recorded 285 points in 166 games in Junior fell into their laps, the team realized that rather than meander as it had the last nine seasons with no palpable results, its entire future was firmly at hand.

The timetable moved up substantially and dramatically:

  • After the envelope was unsealed, six days later, Craig MacTavish was fired as GM (although he took a lesser role as “Assistant GM”) and replaced with Peter Chiarelli, who built the 2011 Bruins Stanley Cup championship team.
  • The team’s CEO and defacto leader of community-based projects was fired.
  • The new arena, which was shrouded in controversy and bad press over the seemingly ‘bad deal’ between Edmonton’s City Council and the Oilers, was suddenly and inexplicably the first answer when it came to ‘good news’ about the city.
  • Less than a month after that, the team had a new head coach (Todd MacLellan, ex of San Jose) who is clearly his own man, and who brought in his own assistants. Past coaching staffs were formed by management, and the coach was “given” his assistant coaches.

And, finally, even Kevin Lowe, of the owner and the firm leader of the franchise, was given yet another title. The title of “President of Hockey Operations” was removed, and he was moved to the new position as the “Vice Chair” of the newly minted “Oilers Entertainment Group.”

As a close friend of the owner Daryl Katz, who became pals in the glory years, the hiding and protection afforded to Lowe and his changing titles brings to mind how in the movie CasinoRobert DeNiro as ‘Ace’ was given every job title under the sun to ensure he could stay on to run the place. Seemingly, and on paper, he has been removed from all connections to the hockey team, and for many observers and fans of the team, fingers are crossed as the failings of this franchise for the past decade fall squarely at the feet of Lowe. Oilers fans are certainly hoping the latest change in job title actually means something this time, and keeps him away from the rink.

So as the Oilers plot a return to greatness, in just a few days, a pimply-faced kid from just outside Toronto will put on a ballcap and shove his head through a jersey, and once he emerges and the flashbulbs pop, an entire organization and a long-suffering fan-base holds its breath. Then the expectations start.

Here’s hoping this kid is ready and truly knows what he’s in for. But either way, an entire city and an entire sport, waits and wonders.


Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

2015 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

2015 Stanley Cup Final Logo

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

Game 1: @Tampa Bay June 3
Game 2: @Tampa Bay June 6
Game 3: @Chicago June 8
Game 4: @Chicago June 10
Game 5: @Tampa Bay June 13*
Game 6: @Chicago June 15*
Game 7: @Tampa Bay June 17*
*if necessary


Tampa Bay Forwards

CTV News
CTV News
The Lightning has what are perhaps the top two lines in the league. Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, and Alex Killorn are their first line. Midway through the conference finals series against New York, Stamkos finally found his playoff goal-scoring touch, and that line is dangerous every shift. The “Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are a nightmare for the opposing coach to match up his defensive unit. Johnson leads the league in playoff scoring with 12 goals, 9 assists and a +6 rating. The Lightning also have former Dallas Stars captain Brendan Morrow. Although he may be a role player, only getting 6-8 minutes a game, he can play his physical brand of hockey without taking the amount of punishment he took when he was in Dallas. Morrow is their veteran locker room presence and the oldest player on the roster by 5 years.

Chicago Forwards

AP Photo
AP Photo
As good as the top two lines for Tampa Bay are, Chicago can answer by having the ability to roll all 4 of their lines without hesitation. They are led by Jonathan Toews and a healthy Patrick Kane. During their playoff run of 17 games, Toews has 9 goals, and 9 assists for 18 points, and is a +5 in playoff games, while Kane has mixed in 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points, and a +6 rating. Chicago also has the only Conn Smythe winner in Tampa Bay history, Brad Richards, who should make his presence known to his former club. Brandon Saad has had an amazing playoff run, and is sometimes on a line with Kane and Toews. Some may say Patrick Sharp is “buried” on the third line, but it may be done on purpose. Sharp being on the third line presents a difficult defensive assignment for Tampa Bay to match up; it could be a huge mismatch that could prove to be pivotal in the series

Advantage: Chicago

As great as the top two lines are for Tampa Bay, the Blackhawk group has two lines to match them, and then two more to throw at the Lightning. The ability to run 4 lines throughout an entire game can wear on a defense. Maybe not the first or second game, but the end of the series could have the Tampa Bay will to win tested.


Tampa Bay Defense

CBS Sports
CBS Sports
The last series against New York gave me the confidence to say that the pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are one of, if not the best set of blueliners in the league. They can shut down the opposing top line and then dare the other three lines to beat them. If Tampa Bay has a fault, it is waiting to see if the bottom end of the defense can match the play of Stralman and Hedman. If not, they may be a liability.

Chicago Defense

Denver Post
Denver Post
If Hedman and Stralman aren’t the top defensive pair in the league, then Chicago has them with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Keith is second in the playoffs in minutes played per game, with 31:35. Niklas Hjarlmarsson is on the second unit, and has the ability to be a top defenseman in the league for years to come. The third pair of David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey could be where Tampa Bay tries to strike. If they can play well as a pair, goals will be hard to come by for the Lightning.

Advantage: Chicago

This is due to the experience of wins and knowing what it takes to make the final push to be the first team to 16 wins in the playoffs.


Tampa Bay Netminder

IB Times
IB Times
Ben Bishop is coming up large when Tampa Bay needs him. Bishop may have had a bad game 6 against New York, giving up 7 goals that night, but he was perfect in game 7, where he was a 2-0 winner. Bishop has posted a 12-8 record with a 2.15 goals against and a save percentage of .920. He is the first goalie in history to send his team to the Stanley Cup Final with a road shutout in game 7 and the first to have two shutouts in his first two game 7s of his career. But as the game 6 outing against the Rangers showed, he can be prone to giving up goals in bunches.

Chicago Netminder

FOX Sports
FOX Sports
Corey Crawford…the first thing I think of is experience. He had a shaky start to the playoffs, but once he finished off Nashville in round one, he has been solid. Crawford has put up a 9-5 record during the playoffs with a 2.56 GAA and a save percentage of .919. Crawford beat a great young goalie in the Western Conference Finals and should use that to fuel his play in the final round.

Advantage Chicago


Series Prediction

Chicago_Blackhawks_LogoEven though I may see Chicago as having an advantage in the three areas of focus, it is by the slimmest of margins. This series should give us what all hockey fans want at this time of year: a seven game series with a few overtime games sprinkled in. In the end, I feel Chicago wins this in 7 games.


Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.

 

NHL Western Conference Finals Preview

NHL_Western_Conference.svg

Anaheim Ducks vs Chicago Blackhawks

Game 1: @ Anaheim May 17 (Ducks 4-Blackhawks 1)
Game 2: @Anaheim May 19
Game 3: @Chicago May 21
Game 4: @Chicago May 23
Game 5: @Anaheim May 25*
Game 6: @Chicago May 27*
Game 7: @Anaheim May 30*
*if necessary

Season series: Chicago won two of the three games this season, outscoring Anaheim by a total of 8-3.


Chicago Forwards

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune

One word comes to mind when I think of the Chicago Blackhawks forwards: Deep. They can roll four lines and use their forecheck to wear down the opposing defense. It all starts with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are easily a top five offensive duo in the league today. Marian Hossa seems to have the puck find him in the playoffs, and Patrick Sharp is one of those players who can turn it up a notch when May rolls around. Add in rookie Teuvo Teravainen with his high skill set, and these forwards will give the Anaheim defense all they can handle.

Anaheim Forwards

NHL.com
NHL.com

They are large and very talented. Corey Perry, highly skilled and who some may call the best agitator in the game, will be a focal point for the Chicago defense. Ryan Getzlaf is a pure playmaker; his vision and ability to hold the puck and draw defenders to him are amazing. By garnering the attention of defenders, it opens up his line mates. Bringing Ryan Kesler into their forward group was a wonderful addition. Kesler gives Anaheim depth at center and makes the opposing defense have to worry about a second scoring line.

Advantage: Chicago


Chicago Defense

NHL.com
NHL.com

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are perhaps the most dependable blue line pair in the league. The loss of injured Michal Rozsival will be an obstacle to overcome, but they have eager players who are ready to step up to fill the void. David Rundblad and Niklas Hjalmarsson will be relied upon heavily to move the puck out of the defensive zone and start the rush on transition.

Anaheim Defense

NHL.com
NHL.com

To say the Ducks defense is stingy would be underselling them. They aren’t fancy by any means, but they get the job done. They aren’t considered a shot-blocking squad, but they find a way to keep teams from even thinking about taking shots. They exit the defensive zone quickly due to their mobile defenders: Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. The way they carry the puck and can be thought of as extra forwards reminds me of how Paul Coffey and Sergei Zubov would command attention.

Advantage: Anaheim


Chicago Goalie

USATSI
USATSI

Corey Crawford finally regained the starting spot, and he was superb against Minnesota with a .947 save percentage. Crawford won the Stanley Cup in 2013, and it appears that he is back in that form. Good for Chicago, not so much for Anaheim.

Anaheim Goalie

USATSI
USATSI

This is Frederik Andersen’s playoffs. After going back and forth last postseason, he has made a statement this year, going 8-1 with a goals against average of 1.96. He rarely falls victim of the soft goal, and directs rebounds away from the middle of the ice.

Advantage: Chicago


Chicago_Blackhawks_LogoThe experience of Crawford and the core of Chicago‘s roster should give them an edge in what shapes up as a fantastic Western Conference Finals. Andersen will end up with a Cup or two, but not this season. He will use this series to build on what should be a stellar career. The Blackhawks win a thriller in seven games…and Game 7 might just creep into double overtime.


Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.

 

NHL Eastern Conference Finals Preview

NHL Eastern Conf LogoNew York Rangers vs Tampa Bay Lighting

Game 1: @New York      May 16
Game 2: @New York      May 18
Game 3: @Tampa Bay   May 20
Game 4: @Tampa Bay   May 22
Game 5: @New York      May 24*
Game 6: @Tampa Bay   May 26*
Game 7: @New York      May 29*
*if necessary
Season series: Tampa Bay won all three games by a total score of 15-7


Lightning Forwards

sportsnet.ca
sportsnet.ca

Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and koNikita Kucherov are a ridiculously good line, and will be tough for the opposing defense to handle. They are highly skilled and very fast. They have to be great in order to push Steven Stamkos to the back burner. Stamkos has struggled to score goals in these playoffs (3 goals in 13 games), but he can still be a force if he gets hot. As for Ryan Callahan, it will be interesting to see how he plays coming off of appendectomy surgery. I’m sure he will be full of adrenaline facing his former team.

Rangers Forwards
Paul J. Bereswill
Paul J. Bereswill

I’m not a big fan of the New York forwards. There isn’t any one player to dial in on for a big goal, but they somehow seem to get the goal when it’s needed. Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard lead New York with five goals apiece. Rick Nash is once again missing in the playoffs; he has two goals during this playoff run. After a 42 goal regular season, it seemed he was poised for a breakout postseason.

Advantage: Tampa Bay


Tampa Bay Defense

USA Today
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Hedman is the puck-moving defenseman that every coach wants. He is fast and has wonderful skill with the puck, the proverbial quarterback on the blueline. Anton Stralman is a defenseman’s defenseman. He may only be 5’11”, but he plays bigger than that.

New York Defense
NHL.com
NHL.com

I’m sure the Rangers wish this series could be played in three weeks. They are in a physical disarray with Dan Boyle getting demolished by Brooks Orpik in game 7 and the beating Ryan McDonagh was issued. They will have to rely on the 6 defenders to play as a unit, and use the home games to match up against the Lightning forwards. New York was third in the league with giving up only 2.34 goals per game during the regular season while having the best goal differential at +60.

Advantage: Tampa Bay


Tampa Bay Goalie

Dirk Shadd - Tampa Bay Times
Dirk Shadd – Tampa Bay Times

Ben Bishop has done well in his first playoff run. He hasn’t been stellar, but good enough to win. He is 6’7″, so he takes up a large amount of the net. When he is focused, his angles are covered and doesn’t let in the team-deflating soft goal. If he can be solid in the pipes and give Tampa Bay a chance to win, then he will have done his job.

New York Goalie
USA Today
USA Today

Henrik Lundqvist. Enough said. He has been superb in these playoffs. He boasts a 1.60 goals against average and a save percentage of .944. He allowed only five goals on 110 shots in the last three games, all wins in elimination games, against Washington. With the game 7 win against the Capitals, he tied Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur with six career game 7 wins. Given the fact that New York has played in 14 straight one-goal playoff games, there isn’t anyone better that New York could chose to be minding their net.

Advantage: New York


Prediction

Tampa_Bay_Lightning_Logo_2011.svgI feel that Tampa Bay wins the series in six games. The Lightning offense should be able to overpower a beleaguered Rangers defensive group.

Matt Molina is a Sports Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.