Monday, July 11, 2016

2016-2017 National Hockey League Pre-season Preview(Teams 22 and 21)

22.Ottawa Senators

Internally I was convinced that any team that hired Marc Crawford as it's head coach would be making the pristine hire of the off-season. I thought, although it turned out to be a moot point that a partnership involving Marc Crawford and Auston Matthews would've been a sensible one given their chemistry and likeness they formed in Switzerland. When the Senators coaching search was materializing, it was a given that Crawford had to be one of the front-runners, if not the front runner, right? Not so fast as General Manager Pierre Dorion elected to hire Guy Boucher which nothing against Guy but the point of contention goes out to Marc Crawford accepting an associate role with the Sens. It's been long reported that Crawford was desiring a return to the National Hockey League but I construed as that meaning that Marc would only return if given head responsibilities, if not I concluded he would remain with Zurich. What this essentially signifies is the level desperation he had to return to North America even if it means finding himself in one of the more awkward coaching structures seen in league history. With the forwards, one of the hot button topics is where does Kyle Turris land amongst the hierarchy in the center depth? One of the main reasons I classify this a "hot button topic" is because there's a lot of differentiation from experts when viewing Turris' worth. When Turris was brought in to the Nations capital which coincided with him holding out from the Phoenix Coyotes, the goal was to eventually mold him as the long term number one center. His draft stock going way back to 2007 would indicate that this would not be out of the realm but to offer up a different perspective fully understanding that his trade value dropped due to him playing hard ball wit the Coyotes, they only gave up David Rundblad who to date has shown NHL staying power and a second round pick. So basically with that given package in return, if he became a  number one than the Senators management team can indulge in jumping jacks, but if not they can sit back and say oh well. The reality is they need Turris to hold down the top fort which only explains that the drafting has been incredibly poor(that's no secret) in recent years and player development has to be a point of prioirty for the rookie General Manager.Wrapping this back around to Turris, although his weakness around the boards is cause for concern, he's an exceptional passer, a more polished version of, and if you're aware about my thoughts regarding the player this echoes little complimentary essences, Ryan Nugent Hopkins. The comparison of Turris and Nugent-Hopkins is a fair one as both hail from British Columbia, both are smaller stature and both are members of organizations that likely over value their abilities. Another player that I have my eye on this coming year is Matt Puempel. I fondly remember Puempel going back to his junior days with the Peterborough Petes and back then(his last of junior commenced in 2012-2013) he was a player that was projected as a sure fire top six forward and no question his development has slowed professionally. Here's what I surmise has happened to Matt. In junior, and this is part of the reason why he never cracked Canada's World Junior team,he was a shooter, never bought into the team concept and didn't play the prototypical sixty foot game and became complacent. Luke Richardson who oversaw his development the last couple years in Binghamton has attempted to indoctrinate a defensive prowess that would allow him to be trusted at the top level and solely basing off of his increased games played in 2015-2016, he started to take what was asked to heart. A new coaching staff puts a wrench in his continued confidence but maybe Boucher who isn't as far removed from the junior game, I'm not saying Dave Cameron was either but the style Boucher asks is more conducive to offensive players.  I not only expect Puempel to crack the every day lineup but further to that don't be surprised if Guy persuades Matt to become the shooter we all know he can be  his numbers might be substantially greater under his guidance.

I know most reading this will suggest the Senators strength is their defence and I unequivocally disagree with that assertion. I'm not beneath bold proclamations, but Erik Karlsson is the most overrated defenceman in the National Hockey League and this isn't the first time I've shared this thought. What Karlsson does aggravates coaches because he beats to his own drum and refuses to adapt to nightly game plans. Let me put it to you this way, when a defenceman consistently leads his team in scoring then that "defenceman" isn't committing to required responsibilities and is a liability in his own zone.  Some of the leagues elite defenceman, to list a few, Drew Doughty, P.K Subban, Oliver Ekman Larsson all are gifted offensively but what separates themselves from Karlsson is that they take pride preventing the puck from reaching the back of their net while Erik is cherry picking near center ice when his team is pinned deep. Bottom line, I don't care whether he accumulates eighty two points or one hundred eighty two points, I want him nowhere my team until he figures out that the game of hockey is about more then making the cut for "Highlight of the Night", it's about displaying leadership, he's the captain for gosh sakes and demonstrating the propensity it takes to propel this unit to the playoffs. It's as if Karlsson is starting to believe his own press and because of all the wide spread lauding pertaining to his game and I put partial blame onto the voters for the Norris who up until this year don't reward the complete defenceman and egg Erik on to keep sliding by and disregard team unity. Another player that throughout the years that's let his own press get the best of him is Dion Phaneuf.  Back in the World Juniors from 2004 in what many still call the greatest Canadian  World Junior team of all time, legendary announcer now property of NBC Pierre McGuire coined the term "Double Dion" when Dion, while facing off against the pesky Czech Republicans, absolutely annihilated two Czech players with one hit including former Florida Panther Rotislav Olesz. Dion had a commendable junior career under the tutelage of Brent Sutter in Red Deer and the widespread consensus was the Calgary Flames had found their first marquee defenceman since Al MacInnis patrolled the Red Mile in the late eighties/early nineties.but that excitement quickly filtered into anguish. To put in perspective, over his first four years he rallied for two hundred and six points, an offensive dynamo to put it mildly but over the last nine years he's weezled his way to a meager two hundred and sixteen. In my opinion, there are a few reasons for his downfall but one I wanted to focus on was the wear and tear his type of approach can put on the body. Dion did everything with excessive force early on, if he was going to hit you, he'd make sure to run you through the boards, if he took an one timer pass he'd make sure his slapshot broke the glass reminiscent of Fulton Reed. To carry that charisma over a long, prosperous career just wasn't sustainable. His young over exuberance translated to, I won't go as far to say as "damaged goods" as he entered Leaf land and eventually Ottawa but for someone who was once perceived as a building block, all that's left of him now is riding the twine now as a third pairing defenceman.  We've dissected Karlsson(more flaws then a Ryan Fitzpatrick spiral) Dion Phaneuf(makes Luke Schenn look like a speedskater) but there are in fact some, a few positive qualities in this defensive core and the player I wanted to fanboy about is Cody Ceci. Similarly to his anticipated teammate this season Matt Puempel, despite engaging in an oustanding junior career but aside from a sprinkle at the under eighteens, never did make the cut for the Under twenty team. Ceci has quickly becoming a fan favourite on the Rideau Canal, being a raised resident of Ottawa certainly doesn't hurt but it's his demeanor on the ice that has me rejoicing on the endless limitations that he possesses.He's built like a brick so if there was one weakness that I could identify and correct, it would be to pull a page out of the Double Dion playbook and be more tenacious when battling like built bodies in front of the net. His passiveness in that area is basically the only grey area I can locate in his game.

Does the Hamburgler have it in him to rob more prey? The better question is will Andrew Hammond even be given the allotted playing time to rob the aforementioned prey? From where I'm sitting, which happens to be far from Ottawa I'd heavily lean on Craig Anderson.To elaborate as to why, the former Guelph Storm displays  a greater form of consistency in an area that is night and day from when they used to trot out guaranteed losses such as Patrick Lalime and Damien Rhodes. Thirty one wins a year ago on a sub par laden Senator team merits earned starter responsibility. It would be telling if the reigns were given to either Hammond or even more less likely Matt O'Connor as that would dignify an utter rebuild for a fan base that historically doesn't handle losing well.

21.Boston Bruins

General Manager Don Sweeney was crucified at the 2015 National Hockey League draft pertaining to his first round selections. To this day, there has been a great volume of criticism that has followed Sweeney around Massachusetts but this blogger doesn't think the take home from the draft looks as bad as it might have on draft night. Since we're analyzing the plight of the Bruin defenceman, lets observe the selection of Zboril and whether he projects to live up to the billing that was either fairly or unfairly stowed upon him. Zboril is a member of the Saint John Sea Dogs, a teammate of in my opinion more heralded prospect Thomas Chabot and due to that very reason it's plausible to suggest that he gets overlooked most nights. The investigative blogger in me is chewing over whether the Bruins will stomach holding onto Jakob and accept the growing pains that will naturally happen over the course of his rookie campaign because let's not call a spade a spade, the Bruins are in no position to compete for a playoff spot, at best lack the defensive depth to withhold from awarding Zboril a look this coming fall. Some scouting reports I read throughout the course of the year were detailing his thought processes were not enhancing and he was a prone to an assemblage of turnovers and some scouts were penning that Zboril for a lack of a better word, looked "lost" out on the ice. Never fearful with disagreeing, even with scouts who I can't help but respect their opinions, In my few viewings of Zboril I'm noticing an individual, who admittedly yes has got to slow the game down in his own mind but to provide a more positive spin, his natural raw talent arguably should've supplanted him within the top ten of the '15 draft. Is it advisable for a team that is in the process of re-tooling to exhaust a year out of a promising first rounders entry level deal? This could be a hotly contested topic and if it wasn't obvious enough I would find a way to give him an extended look but am getting the reaction that a return to beautiful Saint John, New Brunswick may be in the cards. The theme of the backend should be youth and if I'm going out of my way profiling players who may in fact not spend the season with the big club then I sincerely apologize. There's a reason for my madness. The self explanatory response would be that I should be saluting the great career of Zdeno Chara and what he could serve for the group in 2016-2017. While what Chara has done as a member of, ironically the two teams summarized tonight the Bruins and Senators, the value that he could contribute to this current group is minimal at best. Off ice leadership is vastly overrated because it's from my experience that you can be the most respected person on the planet however if all you can do is talk the talk but can't walk the walk, you're irrelevant for a professional sports organization. Hot take, sure but I'm just telling it how I see it. Getting back to defenceman who will undoubtedly contribute in the very near future, let's take a swipe at Colin Miller. Miller was very much a part of the 2015 draft shenanigans that Sweeney partook in. Originally seen as a throw in that sent Milan Lucic to Los Angeles, Miller came in immediately and exuded no rookie nerves.The delusionals out there that will theorize that Colin isn't even the best Miller on the team which is absolutely absurd logic, more crazy than the infamous Sheldon Cooper, and like Sheldon reiterates, his mother had him tested. He's a fifth round pick(151st overall) what! Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was a fifth round pick and I don't see Star supporters agonizing over the pick, quite the opposite actually, so Bruin fans remember where you get picked doesn't amount to anything unless you part the hard work in and Colin has done just that which has propelled him to soon to be NHL regular defenceman.

The Bruins, thankfully for their fan base that is used to winning teams in just about every other professional sport has much more to look forward to this year when it comes to their forwards. Ancient memory are the faces of the aformentioned Milan Lucic, Chris Kelly and former World Junior captain Daniel Paille who were important role players on the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship winning team. Hoping to be a part of the next Bruins dynasty are Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron along with newcomer David Backes. Backes and Marchand are the two Bruins I want to focus on for completely different reasons. Let's begin with the tenacious Marchand. Marchand is a polarizing figure because it's no secret that part of Marchand's stigma is that he thrives getting under the opposition's skin and it's that annoyance that he brings with him on the ice that I can appreciate. Earlier in his career he was unfairly placed in the same threshold of which Sean Avery conducted himself,. It's literally day and night between the two as the undeniable difference is that unlike Avery, Marchand can play as evidenced from his numerous inclusions in International tournaments. In fairness to Avery although his reputation precedes him, the one particular incident that I sided with him on was that stick swinging in front of the net to "distract" Martin Brodeur. To me, although it's unofficially classified as the Sean Avery rule, I stand in the minority by saying that I don't see an issue with it. You're swinging your stick side to side not once making physical contact with the goaltender thus you're not effecting the outcome of the play. How is it any different then in baseball when to reference a play from a while back featuring the Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees when on a weak fly ball to the shortstop, after rounding second base Alex Rodriguez, Alex screamed something along the lines of "got it" to pysche the infielder out. Unethical possibly, although I'm of the opinion that in professional sports you do anything to gain a competitive edge. As long as you don't break the rules, bending the rules is perfectly acceptable. That got me off on a brief tangent but let's get back on course by discussing Marchand. Marchand had a career year in 2015-2016 accumulating thirty seven goals and he's showing something that I've long known, and that's Marchand is a certifiable star and is beginning to gain full trust out of coach Claude Julien. What has surprised me most is his propensity to create gold out of seemingly constant coal behind the net. His linemate Patrice Bergeron is more renowned for his penalty killing and defensive penchant and the fact that you forget whether that's Marchand or Gretzky behind the net is remarkable. The common concurrence is that Bergeron has made Marchand the player he is today but truth to be told we have ti backwards, lately it's been Marchand that has assisted Bergeron securing multiple Olympic berths. Lastly, and this won't seem so joyous, what the heck was Sweeney thinking giving David Backes that kind of term? David Backes is nothing more than a third line center that was forced to play a top six role due to goal deficiency the St.Louis Blues found themselves in. What I can't begin to fathom is the peculiar fit that Backes appears to be in Boston. The 2011 team would've been more applicable for a player of his elk and his speed(or lack thereof) would've compatible to some of the players they enlisted in then but the 2016 team is a unit that encourages speed and quick puck movement, traits that don't necessarily go hand in hand with David.  I'm not claiming to be a Bruin fan, but for a Bruins fan sake I hope with the contractual terms that the Bruins must abide by that it doesn't begin to alienate someone like a Ryan Spooner who was blossoming to be the # 2 center but with Backes stepping in I hope that doesn't send mixed signals to Spooner who was fantastic a year ago.

Bar none,Tuuka Rask is one of the NHL's best puckstoppers. What Rask needs to control is his temperament. When the going gets tough, his mental fortitude deteriorates to a point where he rubs off negatively on some of his younger teammates. When Tim Thomas was firmly planted in Boston which seems like ages ago, although it helped the American city of champions win another ring, one wonders whether Thomas' attitude wasn't the best of role models for at the time the twenty four year old  who falsely now assumes that the worse times get that it's okay to explode emotionally. It's imperative that goaltenders through thick and thin showcase a calm presence as the last line of defence needs to show confidence to the rest of his crew. It is kind of funny that with how successful Thomas was that it generated a cynical environment in goal. If Rask's head is on straight, it becomes the unquestionable strength as there's a lot to like when you unsuccessfully scrutinize his technical abilities.

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