Saturday, July 9, 2016

2016-2017 National Hockey League Pre-season preview(Teams 24 and 23)

24.Columbus Blue Jackets

To provide you with a little insight into my feelings for the Columbus Blue Jackets, deep down I was torn on the ranking because on one hand the Blue Jackets under the guidance of GM Jarmo Kekalainen have solidified what was once a dwindling prospect pool and some of the Jackets on the 2016-2017 edition will provide re-assurance to the work that Jarmo is putting in, conversely on the other hand notwithstanding the admiration I have for some of the up and comers, I view the decision to retain coach John Tortorella as asinine. Have no qualms about being bold on this blog, and in saying that indisputably Tortorella is the worst coach in the league. The amount of times he alienates players yet is the one left standing at the end of the day is distressing. Brad Richards, John Grahame, Kevin Bieksa, none of which exactly classified as stars in this current era but when as a  coach you have a repeated history of player alienation and media hostility, are you the coach I want overseeing my program? To be frank, I'd feel more comfortable with the Blue Jackets employing Jarmo's fellow Scandinavian Wolf "The Dentist" Stansson coaching this squad and he's someone that idiotically teaches players who attempt triple dekes on shootouts to then stop at the blue line after the deke's complete to "freeze" the goaltender. Mighty Duck memories never get old. I know I used a comedic example but is just illustrates the disdain I hold towards Tortorella. We won't be able to appoint the winner of the Ryan Johansen-Seth Jones trade for years to come as both are expected to be long term building blocks for their respective teams but in a premature declaration, I'm here to suggest that the Blue Jackets are getting paid the early dividends as it's of higher importance to have that number one defenceman ie Jones compared to a number one center that is probably in the lower tier of that classification. Jones's prototype is what  General Managers strive for in the mold that he's a 6'4 defenceman who isn't debilitated by his lanky frame as he's a rhythmic skater and looking at the depth chart, without doubt the smoothest skater out of the bunch. The one knock on Jones that I have to vocalize is his questionable hockey I.Q. Too many times, especially while riding shot gun in Nashville,Tennessee he'd be prone to the irresponsible turnovers that would drive coaches insane. Jones has to learn that sheer talent alone won't get you by, it's the inappreciable work required off the ice that will ultimately pay off in his own defensive zone. Close down on the discerning turnover ratio and the Ohio sporting community will have the most reliable defender in their state since the days of great Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Eddie Edwards. The hope is that Jones based on the extension he recently signed can catapult his game to number one territory, but will need collective help to do this. David Savard I know is a player most Jacket fans were ready to dump to the curb last season but the reality is they need Savard to find his 2014-2015 form. Savard will always appear a step behind today due to his rugged skating but don't mistake that for an individual who's beneath providing a 100% effort each night. I can't help but think Tortorella has reigned in Savard's creativity with the drop off in goal production a year ago(reason # 999,999 to dismiss Tortorella from the Columbus' program )but sometimes players have to worry about their own skin and Savard needs to reinvent himself into the player he once was. If he subscribes to this advice, a goof chance Savard will resume his top pairing billing we all know he's capable of.

I referenced Savard's decreased numbers and it could be in large part due to the power play setup the Blue Jackets endorse. Since we're now discussing the forwards it's now appropriate to critique the awful setup and how something as small as where players position themselves can have such a ginormous impact. In hockey particularly, to capitalize on man advantages in today's day and age where goaltenders are built like brick houses, the only way you're going to find repeatable results is by crashing the net and causing havoc near the crease. It was mind boggling that when running the PP the Jackets had an animated perimeter presence and refused to engage in a noble concept, screening the goaltender. I'd thoroughly hope that during this off-season that you'll see the coaching staff refine the power play strategy as this is something that perplexed me that I had to get off my chest. The fact of the matter is that in order for the Blue Jackets to rebound into relevance, they'll need a few forwards to start playing up to their potential. There are three names I am choosing to focus on. Normally when you lead the squad in scoring it can't  be equated to an off year but the fact that I'm calling out Brandon Saad on a fifty three point season speaks to the level I maintain he can reach. Saad was brought over from Chicago because then coach Todd Richards saw what most thought, Saad was caught in a numbers game in Chicago and was chomping at the bit to add on more significant responsibility. The uninitiated watch Saad go to work and don't realize behind the big frame of his is an extremely skilled player. that does more then skate up and down the ice. The one facet where I felt Brandon struggled with at times throughout the last campaign was his feet were working much quicker than his mind. Slow down  and smell the roses and better utilize your linemates.  A player that I'm going to feature shortly in Boone Jenner I opine would be a terrific compliment on the number one unit playing with Saad. Boone who possesses one of the great names in hockey also falls victim to the unfair reputation that he's not a gifted player and for those who surmise this then I can say with great certainty you've never watched more then a handful of games in his career. Is he an energy player? Yes, but he's so much more than that, I first became acquainted with Boone when on a Rogers Sportsnet telecast which at the time featured the illustrious voice of Peter Loubardias(get well soon Lou!) that  pitted Boone's Oshawa Generals against the Peterborough Petes. At this time I had little information to go on pertaining to Jenner who incidentally and apologies for the useless tidbits, you'll get these a lot over the course of the blog has a sister who's widely considered one of Canada's best women hockey players but after the first action I had the fortune of viewing I knew we were on the verge of a NHL star. Jenner later starred at the World Juniors but his infant NHL career has been underwhelming at least from my vantage point. Am I being too harsh on two players that finished within the top three in team scoring, arguably but when expectations are high it's not a bad thing to shoot for the stars that some day are on the precipus of reaching the galaxy. Jenner needs to be more assertive from the neutral zone forward, it's recommended that he use that blazing speed to find the slot more often and then shoot. Shoot the puck more Boone, just like Brandon selfishness is sometimes a necessary evil. The third of underachieving Jackets that I need to deliberate on is Matt Calvert. It would be an injustice to group Calvert's role to that of Saad or Jenner but the argument could and will be made that he's underselling his required contributions to this club. Calvert who's averaged around the twenty four point plateau the last three seasons reminds me of Trent Klatt and similar ceilings are achievable. Klatt aside from one magical twenty four goal season with the Flyers back in 1996-1997 consistently left you hanging for more. Just like Klatt, has built up the trademark of playing with an unheralded aggressiveness, borderline recklessness that gets him in trouble but if he can get the proper tutelage, and for the third time this blogger ain't sure that's possible under this coaching staff I feel like Calvert's career can be salvaged, and maybe salvaged isn't the right word, perhaps allow Calvert to re find that discipline and leadership that he;s been lauded for going back to his days with the Brandon Wheat Kings. WHat Calvert essentially is a third line left winger that here's hoping he can add a more frequent penalty killing efficiency to his repertoire. Before I exit the discussion on the forwards, I just want to re-affirm something. In the grand scheme of this forward analysis what I ask you take out if it is that I'm not purposefully ragging on three forwards for no reason, I chose these three particularly because I know wholeheartedly they can contribute more which in turn can immediately make Columbus a more competitive hockey team.

Between the pipes this season, Jay Onrait's favourite player will once again rule the roost, that being Sergei Bobrovsky. Unlike in previous years however, some stiff competition will be present in Calder Cup winning goaltender Anton Forsberg. From what I've viewed which admittedly is very little of Forsberg I find it intriguing that he hails from the same city of former Olympic Gold medalist curler Annette Norberg. Norberg had a penchant of playing stunningly well in the most pressurized environments, ie the 2010 Gold medal final v Cheryl Bernard but otherwise Norberg's reputation was that of a curler who couldn't get up for the majority of meaningless round robin games but chanelled her inner Sandra Schmirler when a game reached it's highest importance and I brought this up because when I pondered the resume of Forsberg, statistical evidence would show that when the American Hockey League reached the post-season, Forsberg went all beast mode because during regular season outings most noticeably in his brief call up stints with the Blue Jackets was mundane at best. After reading my drawn out preview with Columbus, I keep reverting back to one main point, this team needs to dig deep and find the ability to self motivate or this will be a very long season in Ohio

23.New York Islanders

Most will perceive the ranking of #23 as obscene. There's a lot to like, however there's a lot to cringe over as well, and based on the ranking you'll ascertain I fall on the ledger of skepticism as opposed to optimism.  Defensively, and before I go any further I wish to send out an apology for writing a novel when previewing the Blue Jackets, the franchise is in shambles and I did my due diligence in airing out the grievances. To the Islanders back-end, the truth is they lack a verifiable number one defender, I have a lot of respect for Travis Hamonic, not just the player but the person as I harken back to watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary which chronicled the tribulations Hamonic was faced with growing up. There were rumours aplenty this summer that Garth Snow and Peter Chiarelli were plotting the framework that would've sent Hamonic to Edmonton for Windsor Spitfire alum Taylor Hall but negotiations stalled as after the fact Snow went public stoically stating that Hamonic would remain in Brooklyn and continue to play in front of Jay-Z. I'm genuinely happy that Travis now has a secure home base as prior to the Snow announcement the relationship has seemingly been tumultuous between the two parties. Now by saying that, by no means in these current state of affairs is Hamonic a number one defenceman on a team with playoff aspirations. Hamonic is a classic example of a player who is efficient in all areas but not exemplary in any which one. What stands Hamonic apart is his team first mentality. It was no secret, as multiple "insiders" reported it that he had privately had discussions with Garth about facilitating a move but never made it public and never put himself ahead of the team.  The consummate professional who is a nuisance to  play against his own zone but will point out that he gets too much recognition for his offensive escapades which are vastly overrated. In my column summarizing the Montreal Canadiens, I made mention that some pendants consider the Subban-Weber as the "worst trade of all time"...well I'd like those very same pendants to say that with a straight face when we start analyzing the merits of Nick Leddy. I had forgotten the atrocity of the trade that sent Nick Leddy away from his original rights holder the Minnesota Wild to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for the great Cam Barker. I kid of course as the only great quality in Barker was financially aiding fans of the visiting teams who'd safely wager on the opposition knowing full well that Barker would get beat off the rush at every opportunity leading to multiple breakaways per game. Leddy through all the scenery change has finally found a comfortable fit on the Island. One trait where Nick flourishes is making a quality break-out pass. His passes are always on the tape and they're crisp allowing the forwards to continue the transition game without losing a step. For a key cog on the blue line, I understand his lack of size will always create matchup problems and this can sometimes deflate the plus/minus numbers, but an embarrassing minus nine is unacceptable and needs to be rectified. Leddy is no longer the prospect the Blackhawks coveted when he was nineteen, he's twenty five now and for coach Jack Capuano, it's imperative that Leddy become more defensively aware because when assessing the rest of the Isles backend, they're missing the maturity that is required to withstand the grueling eighty two game schedule. Another player I wanted to touch on and no I'm not about to enlist this player as the next defensive saviour if you will but for whatever reason receives little praise in Ryan Pulock. Having played for the Brandon Wheat Kings, I had the luxury of watching Pulock several times being as how the Wheaties reside in the Regina Pats East division and at least in junior, although we must differentiate between the junior and  professional style of play he was a beast, could singlehandedly alter a game.  The Dauphin,Manitoba native is about to enter his third professional season and internally it's obvious that Pulock intends to crack the Islanders full time this fall. The tricky part here, and full disclosure I'm advocating his inclusion on the squad is that his what the Islanders lack with their six man unit isn't exactly where he thrives and more realistically Matt Donovan may be a better fit to fulfill a specific role.

I'm getting the impression, not quite sure why that most of the Islander fan base is shrugging off the departure of Kyle Okposo..The absence of Okposo is a large reason behind why I elected to rank the Islanders this low. Kyle from my reading on social media since he agreed to head to Western New York has been underappreciated when accounting for his contributions the last eight years. Okposo has spent most of those eight as John Tavares' wingman and the question work asking is now Kyle's gone, who's the trusted commodity that plays on his wing? The most likely option goes by the name of Ryan Strome. Strome had a miserable campaign as for a goal scorer he put up a meager eight goals. In the 2014-2015 playoffs where the Islanders put up a good hard fight in a ESPN classic laden series but came out on the losing end to the Washington Capitals, Strome hosted his coming out party and he  was a force the entire series and I'm  unsure if complacency kicked in or whether Strome somewhere along the grind lost the passion to compete because the entire year he wasn't the same Ryan Strome we're accustomed to. He needs to bulk up, anybody could watch a period of action and  come to that determination. One of those cases where his entire hockey career he's had the ability to lead his teams and the minute that begun not to happen with the Islanders he started to sulk and frustration seeped into his repertoire. An attitude shift is needed as like I mentioned, there's now something to work hard for, a promotion in the lineup has opened up and it;s up to the former Niagara Icedog to seize the moment or continue plummeting down the depth charts paving the way for an Alan Quine or Michael Dal Colle to win the most wide open set of auditions since season one of American Idol,. I've been known to sprinkle in outrageous predictions now and again and if, and it's a big IF, Josh Ho-Sang can successfully woo the coaching staff and earn regular playing time this season he's one of my darkhorses to watch for the Calder trophy.. Calling Ho-Sang an enigma would be doing a disservice to the word as Ho-Sang has National Hockey League skills that will very soon make him an elite player but working against him is prima donna attitude that  makes Johnny Manziel look like a saint. First things first Josh, set your alarm and don't sleep in!

Jaroslav Halak is getting paid the big bucks in Brooklyn but it's lesser known former San Jose Shark Thomas Greiss that is stealing the headlines. What a playoffs it was for Greiss in 2016 as he practically took the team on his back and stormed past the Florida Panthers. As good as he was in the Panther series, it was game one in round two v Tampa Bay that is most memorable.  Greiss' composure was spectacular the entire evening in Tampa as he turned aside thirty three of thirty six shots, and most of those thirty three were of a top tier calibre. What this proved to me and I'm assuming Islander management is that Greiss is somebody that doesn't back down in big games, a growing complaint among Halak detractors and with how well he performed as the very least afford him the honour of starting opening night.

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