Sunday, October 30, 2016

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 4)

Keep in mind when perusing through these rankings that the objective of this  article isn't to rank the teams based off of current position which would skew the rankings, it's a ranking where enlies my thoughts on where teams currently situate when assessing the likelihood or lack thereof of said team hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

1.Regina Pats(Last time #3)

The "hometown discount" aside, this selection for the top spot needs little reasoning. As we trotted through late September into early October, defensive issues were becoming more and more prevalent. The Goal against ratio, sitting second only behind the Calgary Hitmen who have to date played two fewer games is dissipating and a more complete game is being displayed due to it. John Paddock is as patient as they come in the business and while some advocated for an immediate defensive upgrade, John stayed the course and is now sitting pretty.

2.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time #1)

Finally falling from the top grail, it was purely circumstantial that Seattle has been demoted a spot. Listen, Steve Konowalchuk's crew will be getting Matt Barzal back from the New York Islanders very shortly. He's been in and out of Brooklyn's lineup(mostly out) and Garth Snow is no idiot(the minority owner Charles Wong may be) and realizes that what's best for Barzal's long term development is another year of junior compounded by a leadership role at the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship. Without Barzal, the one red flag has been the unproductive goal output. You read between the lines and there are a lot of professional scouts who are enamored with Scott Eansor's game but those same scouts are becoming more concerned daily with Eansor's refusal to reveal any offensive creativity. His trademark is his face off prowess and defensive aptitude but at some point the administrators at the next level need to see even a smidge of goal scoring acumen.

3.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 9)

One of the biggest jumps in this edition are the Everett Silvertips. The Tips since I can remember have had a hard working reputation who's diligent forecheck gets rewarded but a big thumbs up to General Manager Garry Davidson for injecting quite possibly the most feared Euro scorer into it's lineup. It's up for debate as to whether or not Dominic Zwerger can adequately withstand that praise but the playmaker that he's known by is exactly what this forward group needed. In my viewings of Dominic which are limited, I'd perceive him to be a pass first player which has Riley Sutter doing jumping jacks. I can guarantee Sutter has never had someone like this on a line that can thread passes right on his sweet spot. Sutter was a sixth round selection in the 2014 bantam draft and the pick is nothing but ingenious now.  What's startling about the way Riley plays is his penchant to mix it up in the corners with the league's veteran defenceman. To my knowledge, although could be wrong he has no relation to the famous Alberta Sutter clan, but if you didn't know any better with the way he conducts himself on the ice, you'd assume otherwise.

4.Kamloops Blazers(Last week #2)

Dropping back to the four slot is by no means an indictment on the state of the Kamloops Blazers. Well, let me refrain the above statement. If I was Kamloops fan, I'd be more than a little concerned with the play to date of netminder Conor Ingram. I know what most are surmising, "he just obtained a shut-out the night before", I'm aware of this factoid but that doesn't excuse the early inconsistencies. Further to the point, I doubt many would question that before this campaign began that Ingram had the inside track on the World Junior job. Now....I'm not convinced he's on the team at all.

5.Tri-City Americans(Last time #4)

Throughout my pre-season preview, I was constantly insinuating  that Sturgeon County native Parker AuCoin underwhelmed last season and Mike Williamson would be looking upon him to contribute a lot more. This year's version of the Americans is fast but a lot smaller than the last three to four renditions have been. Where Parker is effective is creating chances off the forecheck, a trait that not a lot of Americans possess. This is a group built around the perimeter and while that may serve the likes of Michael Rasmussen, someone like AuCoin who didn't inherit the same level of mitts has to work harder for his chances and it's the physicality that sets him apart from his counterparts. Also, kudos to Coach Williamson for accumulating his five hundreth win.

6.Calgary Hitmen(Last time # 8)

Simply put, the Everett Silvertips of the East. A lot of players, particularly forwards on this roster aren't blessed with the utmost skill but make up for it with an extreme work ethic. Also, to continue going with this vintage Everett comparison, the structure is impeccable. Without knowing a lot about Head Coach Mark French before his hire with Calgary, the importance he stresses on attention to detail in all areas of the ice I find fascinating. They say in sport, essentially in all sports that the key to success is playing within your means and this is unquestionably applicable in Hitmen County. Michael Zipp's future beyond this year is relatively unknown but even as last year progressed, you're always hearing rave reviews regarding Bean and the now graduated Keegan Kanzig but irrehensibly very little about Zipp.  His skating stride is silky smooth and his versatility to contribute on both the penalty kill and power play is a welcome to the coaching staff. The Hitmen will continue to fly under the radar at the expense of having much fire power, but as I've told many people already this not an organization I'd want to face come playoff time.

7.Prince George Cougars(Last time #5)

Perusing various message boards, I'm sensing a wide variance of skepticism which is surprising when accounting for their 13-2-1 start. My best guess is a lot of hockey pendants are timid to get behind this team as they've been burned so many times by past Cougar incarnations. It's been a long, tumultous road to get to this point but with stable ownership in the form of Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer, theirs reason to put aside the late nineties/early two thousand demons.  In the National Hockey League,  I can't help but feel we put too much stock into 'playoff experience', and that holds especially true in junior hockey league where player turnover is an inevitability. Sure, Jansen Harkins and Jesse Gabrielle don't have much in the way of playoff experience but teenagers generally are too naive to truly grasp the pressure that is bestowed upon them so it's a moot point from this bloggers perspective. A 13-2-1 record should deserve better than a rank of seven but I can't get past the goaltending tandem of  McBride and Edmonds. It's held up thusfar but will be the achilles heel when the stretch run commences.

8.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last week # 10)

Some will perceive this as for the second consecutive edition tooting my own horn when it comes to the prospects of Mason Shaw but I can't help but notice who's leading the league in scoring. In all seriousness, when handing out analysis for the Tigers, the consensus is and always has been the multitude of weapons they  have upfront will lead the charge but I'd like to touch base with this back end that has exceeded expecations time and time again this season.  Not only has team captain Clayton Kirichenko piled up the points(fourteen of this writing) he's putting his truculent frame to better use. I remember watching Clayton on a couple of occassions a year ago and my take away was that he took way too many dumb penalties, jumped into the rush at inopportune times but whether it was the guidance of Shawn Clouston or maturing on his own part, he's picking his spots wisely and has developed an all around game because of it. Playing closer to home as he hails from Sherwood Park may have eased his comfortability level but more importantly he's stayed within his skill set, a problem so many juniors deal with. Additionally, I've been critical of the coaching style Shaun Clouston has enlisted throughout the last couple seasons, but it's become noticeable that he's endorsing a more up tempo, free flowing game that is paying dividends in the standings.

9.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 7)

I don't think I'm out of line to suggest that Manny Viveiros could be the early front runner for Coach of the Year. My next point I'm about to make may exude contradictory tendencies from my Calgary analysis but it's the change of philosophy in Speedy Creek, from Mark Lamb to Viveiros that has bred  a sudden winning culture in an organization that resigned itself to mediocrity the last four to five seasons. Earlier with my Hitmen synopsis I lauded Mark French for his attention to detail and revamping the system. In Calgary that works because the roster is filled with players that don't pride themselves on being the show stopper but for the crop assembled in Swift Current the overbearing structure would act as a detriment. Can you imagine a world in which the second coming of the Finnish Flash Alexi Heponiemi is asked to back check?? No sane person could which is why Viveiros' acceptance for defensive blunders to create added offence is flourishing. I've noted a couple times that the Broncos could very well be the league favourite in 2017-2018 and many have pointed out that the back end is young and improving but I myself view it as a glaring weakness. Dominic Schiemann is someone that I had sky high goals for entering the league(presumably so did Swift selecting him twelfth overall in '14) but I'm seeing a player that either has ZERO puck skills or in his second season hasn't buckled down and internally convinced himself he belongs in the league. Part way through last season I would've confidently vocalized they had a top two rounder on their hands, now as we're entering the third month of the season I doubt he gets drafted.

10.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time #6)

A loser of five straight has no business retaining a top ten spot in these rankings, correct? Not so fast! Over the last few days, reports driven by a interview conducted by CTV Lethbridge with Peter Anholt and speculation running rampant that there is some major turmoil in the Hurricanes locker room. My take on it is this. Winning equates to positivity and right now the losing culture that is spreading across the room is having  a negative effect on team morale.  The way this team has been built the harshest critics have been critical of however the the firepower in the stable is too much to like and whether or not they have to win games 7-6, or 8-7, the prowess is bound to exceed the defensive defiencicies that have reared their ugly head early on. Brayden Burke, shocking that he didn't hear his name called at the most recent NHL draft has the potential to win the scoring title and when paired alongside Giorgio Estephan, it has the making for a memorable dynamic duo. Anholt has been around in the business too long for him to just wait around and allow things to self correct themselves. Whether it's making a deal to improve team cohesion or make the long awaited defensive improvement, he's not naive enough to not capitalize on this small window the Hurricanes have been afforded.

11.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 17)

My wavering thoughts on the Prince Albert Raiders are not dissimilar to that of a yo-yo.  As the pre-season began, I was extremely optimistic about the Raiders chances but the unexpected(expected?) loss of Reid Gardiner put a damper on how P.A could perform this year. I skim the rosters league wide and with the exception of Prince Albert and Calgary, most teams are in the market for d-man as they have a surplus of scoring that can be exchanged for a defenceman but in the case of the Raiders they need scoring.....and badly. Even though they got back Nic Holowko in the trade that sent Zack Andrusiak's way, I didn't like it because Andrusiak was meshing well with his linemates and looked like a gem coming from the list player category. Trades haven't been Curtis Hunt's strong suit as I also didn't care for the Josh Maser acquisition as at  times in the pre-season, Maser looked to be the hardest working forward they had. I maintain that if Prince Albert doesn't sell off any further assets they'll be team that could slide into the second round as Brendan Guhle is back and revving in full form as he's looking to make a push to secure a spot on the World Junior team. Say what you want about Prince Albert but it's hard to argue that they lay claim to the league's best defender.

12.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 16)

Going into this season, a lot of pendants familiar with pertinent Western Hockey League dealings misprognosticated the kind of offensive output Brandon product Tanner Kaspick was capable of. Admittely not the fleetest on foot, what basically happened was playing behind the likes of the Quenneville's, Jayce Hawryluk, and Tim McGauley it was hard to ascertain whether Tanner could admirably play alongside skill players. In the last two seasons, Brandon's pinnacle years he was essentially resorted to third/foirth line duty having to play with Linden McCorrister and if you believe message boards, which I don't as I feel most are selling this player short, "pylons" like Duncan Campbell hindered the statistical totals he envisioned but now supplanted as the Wheaties number one/two center, he looks tremendous accumulating sixteen points  The Nolan Patrick injury/ailment that the upper hierarchy has been  hush on is an excruciating blow for a franchise that with Patrick and the recently returned Reid Duke could wreak havoc if all healthy.

13.Victoria Royals (Last time #14)

On the plus side, a concern that I publicized in my pre-season preview pertaining to the depth issues on defence were perhaps overblown due to only allowing forty eight goals against however goal scoring droughts have become apparent. I was very complimentary of forward Tyler Soy in the last power rankings so at the avoidance of sounding like a broken record I'll focus in on other areas. In the opening sentence of this brief synopsis, I used the word that I was concerned with what was coming back to Victoria on the back end. I knew Marcel Ibragimov would be a shut down type again but would again have difficulty supplying any offence. What I didn't foresee was the play of twenty year old, Quesnel native Ryan Gagnon. I probably saw five to six games of Victoria last season and after every one of them I internally notated that Gagnon was the victim of several odd man rushes the other way in EACH game.  What I likely failed to recgonize with Ryan is that his skating is better than I gave him credit for and he's using his wheels to correct for his penchant on siding with making the aggressive, sometimes reckless play. I wasn't the biggest Joe Hicketts proponent but needless to say he saved Gagnon's bacon on several occasions and maybe without Joe he's embraced the leadership and has become a steadier force.

14.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 13)

This may sound like a specific criticism and for that I apologize but the power play Don Nachbaur instilled is god awful. Suffice to say that special teams tinkering goes on daily at practice but in the couple Chiefs games I've seen the stubbornness to continually place sniper Kailer Yamamoto at the top of the blue line is counter productive because Kailer is not known for a quality short, he's renowned for the slick hands and the passing ability. Too many times they'd set up the box with the idea of handing it back to Kailer to the point which often resulted in a weak, wobbly shot to the net.  The aforementioned Nachbaur is a veteran coach of this league and surely he can find ways to better utilize one half of the Yamamoto brothers. As the avid readers already know, I had the Spokane Chiefs rated inside the top ten and one of the paramount reasons was the decision to bring in Jayden Sittler. Sittler not to mince any words has flopped with a .854 save percentage and has opened the door for fellow Red Deer product Dawson Weatherill to receive more playing time. Fun useless tidbit, the combination of Sittler and Weatherill are the first tandem to reside in the same city not named Calgary in Western Hockey League history.

15.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 11)

The offense was supposed to run a little dry at the Moda center and for those who thought that and I'll clump myself in that category, you've forged a huge disservice towards seventeen year old draft eligible Cody Glass. I myself should've known better as with Mike Johnston back in the fold he will have demanded instant credibility and that's exactly what's played out. Knowing very little about Alex Overhardt going into the year and as I just mentioned providing a disservice towards Glass it was my position that Skyler McKenzie was set to rule the roost but what has transpired is Glass and McKenzie are feeding off one another which is not only boosting Glass' draft stock but also allowing McKenzie to get scouts attention. The Mike Johnston effect is paying early dividends as I know there were some who originally thought we were heading back to the '07-08 Richard Kromm years. Scary thought!tehey we

16.Moose Jaw Warriors(Last week # 12)

How do I best describe the plight of Zach Sawchenko? His record(4-1) is not correlating to his undesirable statistical line. The questions I posed with the Warriors going into this were outside the big three which includes Howden, Popugaev and Noah Gregor would there be enough sustainable offence? I cited the fact that coach Tim Hunter heavily relied on Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point last year whilst stuinting the development of others. However one name has defied the odds and is excelling despite limited playing time a year ago and that's Jayden Halbgewachs. An acquaintance of mine, a Moose Jaw resident premised that in his humble opinion that Halbgewachs was the WHL"s best penalty killer and while everyone else could agree that the statement is asanine it's a great story regardless as part way through last year we weren't sure if Jayden had a permanent home in the Western Hockey League as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League was a distinct possibility. Wrapping this back around to Sawchenko, yes the Warriors received an honourable mention in the CHL's top ten and yes as earlier penned he holds a 4-1 record but I can't help but think that he's frustrated by the lack of respect he's receiving from Hockey Canada/NHL teams and deep down would welcome a change of scenery.  The Warriors I guarantee will be tentative to do this but because I enjoy tossing out a prediction now and then, Sawchenko is a Vancouver Giant/Kootenay Ice by January,

17.Saskatoon Blades(Last week #15)

An interesting dillema will ensue for Coach Dean Brockman, albeit a positive dilemma in how to fit in twenty year old Ryan Graham as he has just returned from a significant injury. Losing Nelson Nogier to the Red Deer Rebels when they were preparing for the Memorial Cup was a bitter pill to swallow for most Blades fans as Nelson was one of the better defensive that has come through the Saskatoon pipeline in some time but lost in the acquisition was the return of Mason McCarty.  The  production of McCarty has created the aforementioned dilemma in which Dean will have to decide if he'll choose to pair up arguably their top scorer with Graham at the expense of potentially disrupting the chemistry Braylon Shmyr and McCarty have formed. From my perspective I would throw Graham on a secondary line for the time being and wait until Cameron Hebig returns with the hope being here that they'll balance out scoring. Scoring depth has clearly been an early quandary but as some pieces filter back in, that'll be less and less of a problem. I won't leave the Blades piece unattended without an obligatory Logan Flodell shout out.  Flodell has been better then advertised and is the early front runner for goaltender of the year in the dub.

18.Red Deer Rebels(Last time #18)

At 8-5-1, I will be the first to admit I have been pleasantly surprised with the Rebels start to this campaign. However, by no means do I construe it as sustainable. The defence is a make shift unit and while that can be successful at times, quite frankly the offence can't score enough to offset the transgressions the back end will commit on a game by game basis. Throughout Red Deer's run as Memorial Cup hosts last year, the group put together by Brent Sutter had major deficiencies. Haydn Fleury a player I had reservations about earlier in his junior career was exceptional in the playoffs as was the aforementioned Nelson Nogier but with those two gone, the supporting cast this go around simply isn't there. Statistics will paint a picture that import Russia Alexander Alexyeev has been complimentary thusfar however in the games that I've witnessed I've thought he's been a step slow. I recall reading reports in the off-season that offered up opinions that Alexeyeev was a very good skater with above average hockey I.Q. While I admit that the hockey I.Q has been satisfactory it's the constant getting beat on one v one rushes that has me surmising that he has worse speed than Coltyn Bobyk and that's saying something.

19.Kelowna Rockets(Last week # 19)

I implied in my last edition that the Kelowna Rockets could be in danger of missing the playoffs and although the ranking of nineteen will suggest that I still have Kelowna on the outside looking in, it's not looking as dire as it was a couple of weeks ago. So what signs of improvement and regression am I seeing in Kelowna? I'll start with the improvements.  I'm going to assume without factually knowing that eleventh round Bantam selection Kyle Topping had not fully committed to the league or had manipulated it to a point where he forced every team but Kelowna to pass as he is nothing like a late round selection. These situations, going on a tangent for a second strike a chord with  me as the league needs to set guidelines, preferably opt-in guidelines to prevent this shady business from  happening but that's for another blog post another day.Topping for a rookie has shown capability to comfortably reside over the number two center position almost unheard of for a "11th round" selection. What stands out in relation to Kyle is the poise he plays with. Granted he's a lot stronger then he was compared to when he spent his sixteen year old season with Cowichan Valley of the British Columbia Hockey League  but it's his unheralded physicality that has entrusted Jason Smith to provide the Salt Spring Island product more playing time. Another reason for their sudden good play has been the noticeable development of Lucas Johansen and Bradyn Chizen. The first two to three games of the year Chizen in particular was rushing all of his decisions but you can tell the coaching staff has been working with Bradyn to slow down the thought processes and make the percentage play. I have a difficult time ascertaining who I could take out of the playoff picture to insert the Rockets so I think it'll be tough sledding.

20.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 21)

I know for a fact that there will be some in the business of hockey that when describing the play of Darian Skeoch will scribe that he plays with a reckless abandon but sometimes that 'fear' that Darian inevitably strikes into his opponents gives Vancouver a sizeable advantage. I'm not attempting to advocate that it should be okay for him to run around looking around to injure someone but identifying his sheer presence on the ice will have some of the smaller forwards think twice before challenging in a corner with him. I'm of the opinion that defenceman will be at a premium at the upcoming deadline so even though he's not a point producer I expect he could be a valued addition at the January trade deadline. Regina, Medicine Hat, and Moose Jaw could all be in the market for him. I'm convinced Skeoch can be a impact defender for a contender but it's the backend as a whole that has  Last year was a mitigated disaster on a variety of levels but new coach Jason McKee has stepped in and brought back respectability to this organization. Under Lorne Molleken there was no accountability to discipline but this year sans Skeoch high penalty count, there appears to be a cohesiveness and accountability spreading through the locker room. This year will prove to be long due to a lack of talent but with Tyler Popowich and Bowen Byram leading the way it won't be long before the Giants mimick their mid two thousand successes.

21.Kootenay Ice(Last time # 20)

Having tuned into approximately two to three Ice contests, it floors me that Chilliwack resident Austin Wellsby only has three points on the year. Other then Zak Zborosky, I always felt he was the second best forward but his output is not validating that opinion. Because he holds his own out on the ice I'm starting to speculate reasons for his offensive falures One thing that I'm pondering is if maybe Wellsby isn't committing to positional play thus not finding himself in prime scoring areas. The one game that I have the greatest recollection was then they were squaring off against the Saskatoon Blades where Wellsby was showcasing creativity beyond his years. He was driving the net hard, nifty with the puck and causing a nuisance to the opposition. A three point first eighth of the season is one of the early mysteries of the Western Hockey League.

22.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time # 22)

To conclude this preview, we finish off with the City of Champions. In hockey, it's no secret that General Managers are stubborn as can be and hate admitting a wrong, In the case of Edmonton General Manager Randy Hansch, the sooner he admits his mistake in the colossal flop of Artyom Baltruk the sooner the Oil Kings can get on with their rebuild. It appears the stubbornness has reached unforeseen levels as just a couple of games ago he was listed as a first line winger so it's almost as if to say there protecting an asset that doesn't need protecting. Best guess is he's gone by Christmas and in fairness to Randy, the reports these GM"S receive are often manipulated by the players agent to make the player out to be much better then he actually is. I would suspect, and I can't say with complete certainy just penning an educated hunch that he never saw the player play and trusted a faulty source. The Import Draft is a flawed enterprise and needs refurbishing and in 2016-2017 has negatively effected the Oil Kings re-tool.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Not so Sunny in Central Florida.

Was intently watching today's matinee featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars taking on the Oakland Raiders, and something painfully obvious struck me, something those pertinent in the Jaguars dealings would've insinuated for quite some time and that's Quarterback Blake Bortles has not met the natural progression expected from a former third overall pick in 2014. To consider the Jacksonville Jaguars a 'model' franchise wouldn't be a fair assertion for a franchise that has accumulated their last winning season in 2007, however in deference to the current Jaguar administration, draft experts were giddish towards the prospects of what the UCF alum could provide.I vividly recall tuning into combine reports on the NFL network and hearing the likes of Mike Mayock admiring the mobility for which Blake plays(played) with and how when combining the mobility with his rocket of an arm, comparable to Ben Roethlisberger were being echoed. Granted all of this chatter was vocalized in April of 2014, and some parts of the experts analysis is now clouded, one glaring concern I had then is very applicable to this day and that's how were the scouts supposed to provide accurate scouting reports when Bortles was controlling a less then reputable Central Florida program that doesn't play the same competitive schedule as some of the FBS big wigs do, so it's difficult to form an accurate representation of what he could become when he's not matching wits every Saturday with his fellow future NFL comrades. The same issue I took with Bortles then was carried forward to the 2016 draft when the Philadelphia Eagles elected to take a waiver on North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. The question I choose to pose is how do we as fans of the National Football League assess a qiarterback when he plays the majority of his competition against most who are destined for the Canadian Football League. The answer is we can't and while full credit goes out to the Eagles staff for identifying Wentz's attributes which are noticeably better than that of first overall pick Jared Goff but let's not kid ourselves, Philadelphia played nothing more then a lucky hunch and it paid off, and for the select few that will point to analytics justifying the selection, shame on you. #gotlucky.

Back to the premise of the article, the concerns and possible avenues the Jaguars can explore pertaining to floundering quarterback Blake Bortles are limited.  We live in a society flooded with egotistical ownership and I don't doubt for a second that it'll be difficult convincing the upper hierarchy to part ways with Blake but for an organization on the precipus of doing great things, I chalk it up as  a necessary evil, The running game is also suspect, I felt it was part of due course that I mention that as not all of Jacksonville's struggles are on his shoulders however with the recieving core compiled, their's no excuse for why he can't channel his inner Andrew Luck and orchestrate the offensive endeavours with minimal help from the back field. Allen squared,  better known as Hurns and Robinson and more then capable of handling the load and it's up to the lanky # 5 to confidently and accurately distribute the ball.  This is his third year in the league for Bortles and unarguably the masses haven't privy to any substantial growth. Gus Bradley who will find himself on the proverbial hot seat particularly if Jacksonville isn't post-season will unfairly pay the price for a harsh reality I touched on earlier and that is the unwillingness to admit mistakes in professional sports. The model or better put succesful organizations can cut ties at the appropriate time, look no further then the Green Bay Packers who endured an unceremonious departure with the legendary Brett Favre in favor of the now future Aaron Rodgers and I'd say without any qualms that any resentment the Packer faithful had towards Mike McCarthy quickly dissipated.  Fans respect loyalty and latch on to "names" within the confines of the particular sport but what fans appreciate even more is the art of winning. As someone, as evidenced from prognosticating the Jaguars at the top of the AFC South heading into the campaign, I had higher expectations and if this season is ultimately a lost cause,, I'd like to advocate for the following entering 2017. Alert the press now but exactly with the way the 2015 season played out for the Atlanta Falcons, I foresee the Dan Quinn led gridiron falling victim to similar fate. A collapse of epic proportions ensued today against the San Diego Chargers and the same Achilles heel reared it's ugly head today. The defence is a mashed together unit that in the first four to five weeks stood on their heads but has recently come back to reality and an offensive line that would make the '01 Cincinatti Bengals O-line look Hall of Fame Worthy. Atlanta has more deficiencies then most want to admit which is why if Dan Quinn can correctly identify the transgressions, he can capitalize on Ryan's inflated value by sending him to a quarterback hungry team in Jacksonville. If that option falls through, the second avenue I'd like to see the Jaguars venture down through is Mike Glennon. Over the course of history, some quarterbacks seemingly can never get out of unswimmable waters and that directly applies to the North Carolina State Wolfpack alum who I'll go on record by stating is a NFL starting quarterback employed by a team who has enlisted zero confidence. Mike can't be any worse then the current general under center, so why not Jacksonville....start up a negotiation with your Florida neighbours and conduct a mutually beneficial deal.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Vegas Baby

The Las Vegas franchise is set to embark on it's National Hockey League beginning in fall 2017 and speculation has begun on who would be the best fit to be the inaugural Head Coach for the Vegas Franchise. In lieu of how Team Europe performed at the most recent World Cup, there are a lot of hockey pendants who are advocating for Ralph Krueger but there a variant amount of red flags that pop up when imagining Krueger patrolling the Vegas bench. Even though from the exterior Ralph is selling himself as a hot shot commodity, we as a hockey community must harken back to his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers which from all accounts was a miserable experiment. Krueger's fundamentals come from an old school way of thinking the game as he doesn't necessarily endorse creativity as much as he harps on a structural alignment that stifles rapid puck movement. Record wise, Team Europe didn't disappoint as they surprisingly secured a spot in the best of three final however the brand of hockey implemented was as boring as it was watching an episode of 'Caribbean Workout', a fitness show that used to air on TSN in the nineties. I question a couple things, A) Would Krueger be willing to leave a comfy gig in Southampton to venture back to the NHL? and b)will the Bill Foley led ownership group have reservations with hiring someone that doesn't present a style that is engaging to a lot of beginner hockey fans that will flood the rink in it's infant years? Krueger is an excellent tactician but just ask former General Manager out of Columbus in Doug McLean who in the Blue Jackets expansion season hired Dave King who carried forward a resume similar to that of Krueger and what ultimately transpired was the players weren't willing to buy into King's X's and O's philosophy. At the end of the day I'm not convinced that they'll look towards his direction and below will provide the top five candidates from my vantage point when it pertains to the coaching search that George McPhee, Kelly McCrimmon and the aforementioned Foley will administer.

Listed in alphabetical order.

Bob Boughner:

As a Head Coach, he had great success in junior coaching the juggernaut Windsor Spitfires. Some will look at that and suggest he was the benefactor of the Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis led Spitfire dynasty that resulted in a Memorial Cup title(ironically against McCrimmon's Wheat Kings) but what sets Boughner apart is how he encourages constant flow and while he had the reputation of being a meat and potatoes player, his encouragement for creativity and penchant for developing skill will provoke excitement to the Vegas market. During his time with Taylor Hall, everybody knew Hall was an exceptional talent and had speed for days but before Boughner's tutelage he was known across Ontario as someone that just showcased his brazen speed but just skated up and down the ice with no real purpose, Boughner changed that and all of  a sudden Hall's puck work vastly improved and as we know, the Edmonton Oilers took notice. Since Hall left Bob's side, he's slowly drifted away from the player that drives the net with a purpose to someone that is better suited for speed skating competitions. It's work like this that makes him the perfect fit for the initial growth of this franchise.

Curt Fraser:

This is a unique option. On paper not the most attractive name however his experience with the expansion Atlanta Thrashers would allow him to come in full well knowing the tribulations an expansion organization faces.In Atlanta, his hands were tied from the get go as the ownership group was not well equipped to oversee a hockey team and dismal drafting led to his eventual termination. There was never a plan in Atlanta, blame who you like for that but in Las Vegas this is a energetic ownership that will supply any resources needed to field a competitive team. The hiring of one of the best junior evaluators in the history of the Canadian Hockey League in Kelly McCrimmon speaks volumes to that.  Immersing himself in the Detroit culture where he spent four seasons overlooking the Grand Rapids program where there it's all about caution and sticking to the program will have taught him that the key to success is patience and coddling prospects is an effective strategy. There's a high probability that with the natural restrictions an expansion team faces that there will be pressure to give it's early second and third round strong looks but can use his wisdom having been with the Thrashers and Red Wings organization that the key to long term prosperity is allowing prospect development to play out organically.

Benoit Groulx:

As a newfound fan of the New Jersey Devils, I was pushing hard the Devils keenly consider bringing Benoit on board eventually settling on John Hynes(nothing against John) but with Benoit I have no qualms proclaiming that he's the next prodigy coach in the community and you better not pass up the opportunity if you're Vegas because it's inevitable he gets plucked up in short order. Kudos to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization for identifying what I've long known and that is the inclusion of Groulx instantly makes you a deeper organization. His World Junior exploits, being the one Team Canada bench boss that has reached the gold medal plateau after so many failures explains to me that he's a motivator and can reel strong egos together. It's never easy convincing youngsters to insert themselves into a role they're not used to at the betterment of the team because players come into that tournament having been first liners their entire lives and to force them to check their egos at the door isn't as easy as it sounds. Same applies to the National Hockey League where particularly for youngsters, adapting to new roles can be a daunting task and because Groulx has done this at the International level as well as with the Gatineau Olympique, he'll comfortably be able to handle all sorts of different personalities. Essentially, the main reason why I feel he's a primo candidate is because he's paid his dues, it's only a matter of time before a National Hockey League club picks up on this and with the realization that Michel Therrien could be in hot water if the Habs again miss the playoffs,you know Bergevin's first or second call will be to the Francophone Groulx. Better jump at the opportunity.

Patrick Roy:

Out of the five names proposed in this article, I view Roy as the least likely but had to include him for the sheer fact that he abruptly resigned from the Colorado Avalanche which from an outsiders perspective starts to stir theories to whether he has something else lined up. The Montreal Canadiens once the Habs and Therrien inevitably part ways? Back to the Quebec Remparts where it's believed are in consideration to host the 2018 Memorial Cup? The Remparts I'm ready to rule out for two reasons, for starters I'm skeptical if Roy is ready to again ride buses at the junior level and secondly everything I'm hearing the nation wide application process will ultimately come down to between Oshawa and Regina. A lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacks out there(I can be one at times) have scolded Patrick for his work, or lack thereof with the Avalanche but let's face it, there's not one coach out there that could stay sane when looking down at this lineup card and visualize a defence that a Minor Midget team would salivate playing against. The Avalanche were a fun team to watch because the team mimicked it's head coach, up tempo and played with no holds barred approach. As evidenced from his tumultuous departure from the Montreal Canadiens as a player where Patrick is only interested in doing what Patrick wants,I'm not sure he's a good fit in an setting where a modern approach will be taken built around analytics and a strict hierarchy. After all of that, I've talked myself out of a Roy to Vegas partnership, although I'm not sure I was ever talked into it in the first place,

John Stevens:

When John Stevens looks back at his coaching career, and if Vegas turns their cheek on Stevens, he'll ponder what he could've done differently. After his  playing career was cut short, he immediately latched onto a Philadelphia Phantoms coaching job which led to, at the expense of Ken Hitchcock, the head coaching position of the Flyers.  All Stevens did was take a team marred in a rebuild when he entered the fold to the conference finals the following year, and his reward for that you ask?  A pink slip the following year!  His next coaching assignment was the top assistant with the Los Angeles Kings, working in unison with Darryl Sutter as Hollywood transitioned into a mini hockey dynasty winning two Stanley Cups. What I hope you'll get out of this is that Stevens knows how to find that winning attitude in it's players and that attitude rubs off on the ice as the Kings in many capacities are the model franchise. The one knock against John, and I'm not sure if it's totally  fair is that the Kings had it's most paramount success as a run and tumble team and with where the game is headed, a lot of hockey pendants including myself wonder aloud if this style is still applicable and whether this Broad Street Bully-esque structure has staying power. Nonetheless, the most enticing entree he'll  bring to the dinner table is his championship track record an whether or not you believe the Kings reputation can correlate to another organization and keep in mind for those don't that it's Darryl running shop in Los Angeles, Stevens is just the right hand man.


Two notable omissions from this list  were the aforementioned Krueger and Marc Crawford. I respect the fact that Crawford is a past Stanley Cup Champion but the game has drastically changed since he bore his most prestige. Among such factors as personality, adaption to change the biggest knock against him is his inability to buy into a 'rebuild'. The first couple years project to be trying and as we saw in Vancouver, when the core needed a shake, he pleaded with management to make moves to further the immediate cause whilst stunting prospect growth, a penalty that in some respects the Canucks are still serving. His time spent in Europe nurturing Auston Matthews has me speculating if he's a changed man but I think Bill Foley will be more than content to leave Marc alone in Ottawa.

All five(well maybe four excluding Roy) are superb candidates but my prediction is when the cookie crumbles, John Stevens will be the first ever Coach in Vegas.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 3)

1.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time #1)

I know most reading this will be utterly confused on how an organization currently situated at 2-3 can take top spot in my latest edition of the power rankings but allow me to give you the run down. The main sticking point is that with reports coming out of Islander camp that Matt Barzal in all actuality will soon be returned to the T-Birds, I have no doubt that Barzal's anticipated return will jump start a run that will separate themselves from the Western Conference pack. From the outset, it may strike you as peculiar that I'm using a probability as reasoning for the number one ranking but keep in mind this ranking is based around ranking teams that have the best chance to hoist the Ed Chynoweth cup. Seattle still provides me the most confidence.

2.Kamloops Blazers(Last time #4)

Don Hay has masterfully built this squad from the back-end up and it's slowly beginning to pay dividends. Hard hitting defenceman Nolan Kneen under the tutelage of Don Hay has developed an offensive repertoire, statistics may yet not portray this however it's the aggressiveness he's starting to orchestrate that illustrates he's gained more confidence with the puck. All the banter about Kneen heading into his junior career was that he was one dimensional, sought the hit and that was it but a well rounded player is being born before our eyes. On the negative side of the ledger, Summerland native Deven Sideroff is off to a sluggish start and I can't pinpoint why. If he committed himself better with the group he has around him, I have no qualms that he could be a top twenty scorer in this league.

3.Regina Pats(Last time # 2)

Having just fell victim to the high flying Portland Winterhawks, the following thought came to mind. As everybody knows, this group assembled is immensely talented but is experiencing difficulty sealing the deal late in the game. When you can send out Adam Brooks and Sam Steel on two separate scoring lines, scoring depth won't be an issue however defensive positioning has been a constant red flag.Connor Hobbs has possibly let the hype of him being selected to this summer's showcase get to his head as he's been a lost puppy on the ice. Connor's strengths are his Shea Weber-esque shot along with his great first pass but the nineteen year old has transitioned to become too individualistic and a veteran coach like John Paddock will identify this and correct it.  Big fan of what goaltender Tyler Brown has to offer but know he has more to offer than what is currently being produced.

4.Tri-City Americans(Last time #10)

I sit here this evening in amazement that as a 1999 born, Tri-City Americans prodigy Michael Rasmussen might already be the league's best sniper.  Nolan Patrick will deservingly  wear most of the headlines this season but fellow draft eligible Rasmussen shares a few similarities. The way they skate echoes similarities as their lanky skaters that visibly don't possess the most aesthetically pleasing stride but with a strong lower core it's very effective. Also, the two have cannons for wrist shots. Patrick will go # 1 but whichever team lands Rasmussen inside the top ten will reap the benefits for many years.  Aside from the superstar they claim to, this defence is exceptional. In the pre-season preview I was complimentary of Parker Wotherspoon but Juuso Valimaki and Dakota Krebs have added depth for coach Mike  Williamson and just like throughout his Calgary tenure, he's  a legendary defensive developer that a young lad in Krebs will love playing for.

5.Prince George Cougars(Last time # 5)

I was going back and forth a bit with this ranking. Yes, they get off to a 8-0-0 start but have since dropped two in a row. Yes, they're the number two team in Canada(those rankings are more skewed then what you see out of the CFB), and yes they have a veteran playmaking group up front but something just doesn't sit right with me pertaining to the nucleus.  I touched on my fear with the Regina Pats not having the fortitude for holding down leads and the same can be said for Prince George which is why they're involved in so many tight contests. Don't construe that as me indicting the play of the defence as I correlate to the lack of  back check commitment from some of the forwards.  I will preface the following by acknowledging that these are just teenagers but the back check aspect has never been  a strong suit of Jansen Harkins, Jared Bethune or Jesse Gabrielle and Richard Matvichuk has to do a better job instilling this. It's all fine and dandy to score ten a night but not when you're allowing nine. A recipe that will NOT work in the playoffs.

6.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time # 12)

An under reported transaction that took place a week and a half ago was General Manager Peter Anholt's vision to go out and acquire Balgonie,Saskatchewan resident Brennan Riddle from the Prince Albert Raiders. From a P.A perspective I hate the move and it speaks to why Prince Albert will continue to drop in these rankings but Riddle was the type of player needed in Lethbridge. Isn't there to provide offence as he's totalled a whopping eleven career points in one hundred and fifteen career games but he's a steadying presence for a group that notoriously been squirmish in their own zone. The offence has picked up where they left off last season(excluding the playoffs) but as a whole I'm sure the Skinner family is breathing a sigh of relief for the added defensive help as goaltender Stuart's NHL draft stock has been falling.

7.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 6)

Residing in Regina, I'm hopeful that the Regina Pats will be provided the luxury of raising an East division banner next season however the Swift Current Broncos look to be the most staunch adversary in the division.  A pleasant surprise early on in the WHL has been the play of Arthur Miller. It's really a feel good story as he was never drafted, travelled across the country last season to find playing time with stops in Acadie-Bathurst and Kirkland Lake but has finally found comfort in Speedy Creek. Six points already has been a bonus for a Viveiros coached team that preaches creativity. I had a brief conversation via twitter with voice of the Broncos Shaun Mullin and shared my belief that their a little thin on defence, a theory that Mullin fairly didn't prescribe to but if they can land a top four defenceman that fits within their rebuild, watch out. Not a team I'd like to draw in the post-season.

8.Calgary Hitmen(Last time # 3)

I had them ranked three in my most recent edition of these rankings but what's alarmed me is the lack of pure scoring prowess. Jordy Stallard and Tyler Mrkjonic will confidently supply some scoring but where is the secondary scoring going to come from? I was optimistic that entering this campaign that 2014 second rounder Mark Kastelic would prove the doubters wrong but whatever off-season training he entered into hasn't materialized into a more complete player as skating issues still exist. Change of scenery is sometimes a necessity and for someone that hasn't been able to succeed under coach Mark French, perhaps it's time to call a spade a spade, use him as an asset in an attempt to locate more scoring because you'd hate to waste a year with the kind of defensive core fans in Calgary are privy to.

9.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 7)

Someone tell Patrick Bajkov that playing under coach Kevin Constantine is a death trap. Bajkov apparantly didn't get the memo as he's leading a robust Silvertips attack.  Even though the possibility exists that in  a few days they could stake claim to the league's most points, let's notate a few reasons for why I don't consider them legitimate contenders. You can only put on a facade for so long and with Constantine's defence first mentality, eventually the imagination that the Tips have exposed the league to will slowly dissipate and we'll be back to winning games 1-0 or 2-1.  Dominic Zwerger coming over from Spokane is as advertised, elite hockey I.Q.

10.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last time # 15)

I vividly recall receiving negative feedback over my assertion that Wainwright product Mason Shaw would win the Eastern Conference's player of the year. As of today's writing, twenty year old Chad Butcher is leading the team in scoring but it'll begin to balance out and just like last year, the offensive laurels will rest on the shoulders of the diminutive Shaw. In mock drafts that I've read, not many if any have Shaw going in the first round which I personally find puzzling. The best comparable to Shaw's game is Brayden Point. Seeing as how Point is fresh out junior hockey, the comparison is predicated on recency bias but if Shaw can maintain the type of career that Point paved out, the Tigers will, and I think they're already aware of this, have a gem for the next couple seasons. Aside from the Shaw commendation, European drafted defenceman Kristians Rubins is seemingly fitting in just fine adjusting to the North American game and has formed a nice one-two punch with David Quenneville.

11.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 13)

47 goals for in ten games!. Just incredible, it's as if they've hearkened back on better Winterhawk times and were sent back Brad Ross, Ryan Johansen and Nino Neiddereiter. The new core revolving around Cody Glass, Ryan Hughes and Skyler McKenzie may never reach the accolades of the aforementioned three but are off to a nice start.  Mike Johnston has always been a coach that searches out team speed and this group's mantra is the up temp nature. They're willing to sacrifice defence in order to promote more odd man rushes and while a philosophy such as that has worked in the past for the Winterhawks, I'm just not sure they have the cogs to withstand a run and game. Look on the bright side, with Johnston back in business, cell phone sales in Oregon are sure to spike!

12.Moose Jaw Warriors(Last time # 19)

There's a few issues that I've taken with the Warriors. Noah Gregor was a player I was very high on coning out of the summer but he's exuding a very despondent attitude on the ice and being a recent San Jose Sharks selection I would've thought he would of cherished  a leadership role in the Jaw but I'm not seeing it. Maybe I'm at fault thinking he had pure goal scoring instincts but he's been too pass happy and not showing enough aggressiveness to my liking. At the professional level I view him as more of a power forward and like I just implied, I'm not discounting the possibility on Noah was simply incorrect. I'm left wanting more. My other issue is this content approach Tim Hunter is taking with the back end. The Warriors are  a fringe playoff team and should be looking to build towards the future and in what universe is allotting significant minutes to Matt Sozanski, Josh Thrower or Colton Paradis aiding this movement? Josh Brook and Jet Woo are here to stay but it's time that GM Millar and Hunter assess the deficiency on the back end and do something about it. On the bright side and the reason for the elevated ranking is my concern over Tim Hunter riding the top line too much last year whilst stunting the growth of the younger forwards has been put to rest. The depth forwards are contributing,

13.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 8)

Eventually Ondrej Najman who is hovering the net will get rewarded. I'm beginning to form the impression, when I analyze the game of his that his shot needs major work. He's one of those guys that lives off the perimeter and on the bigger ice surface in Europe that's more favourable to success but in North America he needs to engage in the corners to create scoring opportunities, a trait that he's failed to show.  In the pre-season I thought their was a whimper of a chance that they could contend as early as this season but with Ty Smith getting a full year under his belt along with Koby Morriseau and Ethan McIndoe, the Chiefs will be a dangerous entity for 2017-2018.

14.Victoria Royals(Last time # 16)

Am I the only one who is left astonished that Tyler Soy was passed over in his original NHL draft year? Ninety four career goals and will certainly surpass one hundred when it's all said and done and when you watch him play, he controls the action and is the one that makes Matt Phillips and Jack Walker better hockey players. I'm left dumbfounded that for someone that played and excelled in an international under eighteen event that he gets such little love from National Hockey League clubs and the Anaheim Ducks got themselves a peach. Two other comments regarding Victoria, as I stipulated in the pre-season their defensive depth continues to scare me and lastly goaltender Griffin Outhouse isn't putting back to back good efforts together. He possesses electric intangibles but inconsistency is creeping through. The more acclimatized he becomes the better prospects the Royal will begin reaping.

15.Saskatoon Blades(Last time # 20)

It's been no secret that the Blades under this current ownership group have failed several times in convincing select players to come to Saskatoon so with that being said what you can ascertain from that is that to field a competitive team they have to go through more hoops then most.  The reason the Blades will find themselves on the playoff bubble is because they don't carry enough puck skill up front. Apologies go out to the surging Jesse Shynkaruk but I'm sorry, if you're reliant on Shynkaruk to provide top six forward minutes you're in a world of hurt. Defensively, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't get the unit the respect it deserves. The acquisition of Janzten Leslie was ridiculous from Everett's point of view(and yet the Tips are off to a scorching start). Lack of reps in the 2015-2016 campaign will surely hinder his draft status but for being seventeen he plays with such poise and physicality that I fully expect Jantzen to have his name called in the first three rounds. Compounding the play of Jantzen with a stellar bunch including Hajek,Reid and Rubinchik the Blades have a top three defence in the Western Hockey League. Only if the scoring woes could be corrected.

16.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 11)

Message Board have been hot under the Wheat Kings collar asto why so many heralded prospects are electing to not report to the Wheaties and have preferences to play elsewhere. From Ian Mitchell to Bradley Goethal, their's an apparent disconnect with promises the Wheat Kings are willing to make and what these families want to hear because even though every team faces recruitment issues in the ever long battle with the NCAA, the Wheat Kings problems have come more to the forefront. I have a theory that goes beyond just brutal luck. The Wheat Kings have come in to the last two seasons as the league favourite and with that comes a veteran roster that stunts development from the sixteen-seventeen year old perspectives unless your name is Nolan Patrick. When families who are weighing the pros and cons look at this they ask themselves if going to Brandon will lead to riding the pine for the first two years vastly effecting their kids draft stock. The poster child for this argument is Stellio Mattheos. He was the first overall pick in 2014 and as of this writing I'll be shocked if he's one of the first ten WHL'ers selected for the upcoming NHL draft. Winning has a price and the Wheaties are paying  a tough dollar right about now.

17.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 9)

My perception of Prince Albert continues to suffer.  I did NOT see Reid Gardiner sticking with Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League so that's a definitive blow to the prospects. The loss of Gardiner is cruel and unusual punishment for a franchise that J had much higher hopes for.  The discussion that I've been privy to is that a lot of Raider fans are up in arms for why some of the younger defenceman aren't getting more prominent roles. Names such as Lane Kirk and Nick Heid are being thrown around in frustration because the consensus is that they have the capability to provide much more. The mandate from General Manager Curtis Hunt and March Habscheid is contradictory because on one hand they're willing to trot out underperforming veterans like Vojtek Budik and Nic Holowko signalling they're desperate to win right away but on the other and choose to throw away a valuable piece in Brennan Riddle. A firm direction needs to be supplanted in Hockey town North.

18.Red Deer Rebels(Last time # 17)

To use a stock analogy pertaining to the Rebels, I'd be selling low.  This is a big team that has developed the reputation of being slow on foot, particularly within their top six forwards and top four defenceman.. I've been a proponent of Evan Polei for some time now however his style of play isn't conducive to making others around him better. He's prone to the dump and chase style and is content working it down low in the cycle game but what he has to understand is he needs to be more cognizant of effectively mastering the breakout because often times their's no rhyme or reason to his thought processes. It cancels out any flow his linemates are attempting to construct. I know Polei and Adam Musil have played together for a couple seasons now but maybe the time has come to  balance out the attack and allow the likes of D-Jay Jerome and Dawson Martin to adopt a bigger role. Even though coach Brent Sutter prides himself on loyalty, with the team far from contending, I could see Musil on the trading block and view a team such as the Calgary Hitmen a nice fit.

19.Kelowna Rockets(Last week # 14)

Do we now live in a universe where the Kelowna Rockets could actually be fighting for their playoff lives. Say it ain't so Joe! The league's model franchise has found itself in a vulnerable position in the sense that we've hardly ever seen the Rockets in this position, something like missing the playoffs one time in the last fifteen or so years, just incredible. I think some pendants aren't sure what kind of identity the Rockets are striving for but really it's not hard to explain. This is a team anchored by one of the toughest guys ever to grace the National Hockey League in Jason Smith that advocates a mean game and being hard on the forecheck.  After a fourteen goal performance last go around, I've been extremely impressed with young Shaunavon forward Kole Lind. Kole has seized a bigger role with the absence of fellow  Saskatchewanian Rourke Chartier who has graduated to the American Hockey League. Kole's strengths are his speed and tenacity along the wall. Not the most pleasant skating stride I've ever witnessed but boy can he dash and if I were left to guess fans in the Okanagan did not expect to see such an offensive dynamo.

20.Kootenay Ice(Last time # 21)

Let's face it, their are certain markets that struggle filling buts in the seats and none are more prevalent then the Kootenay Ice so it was imperative that Head Coach Luke Pierce who by the way is not receiving the recognition he deserves as he entered an untenable situation in Cranbrook and is making the most of it. The cold hard truth is that the Ice are nowhere near a playoff team but unlike last year have been a tougher get. Last year too many times they'd roll over and get blown out of the water but this year the young kids are buying into the game plan and it's been more enjoyable hockey. There's been an added decree to push the play at all costs even at the expense at a higher goals against ratio. Someone who has defied the odds even to make it to the Western Hockey League is Ryan Pouliot. An eleventh round pick by the Saskatoon Blades, now eighteen has stepped in and comfortably fulfilled  a top four role. An adjective that stands out for Ryan is aggressive. He's joining the rush and while he's only responsible for two helpers thusfar, it's the presence of keeping up that has paved more open space for the forwards.

21.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 22)

It behooves me rhat with the amount of quality goaltenders securing back up roles that the Vancouver Giants haven't explored bringing somebody in because to put it mildly their goaltending situation is in dire straits.  Allowing thirty eight goals against in ten game is simply unacceptable and what I take from that is the tandem of Ryan Kubic and David Tendeck can't handle the load. Unless I had an oversight, the Giants only have two twenty year olds so wouldn't of Rylan Parenteau the goaltender just today acquired by the Tri-City Americans been the perfect stop gap to mentor Kubic and Tendeck headed into next year?  I think so, and even if they didn't want to haul in a twenty year old, goalies like Brody Wilms and Mario Petit are clamouring for a starting chance and would've done jumping jacks had they been acquired by the Giants. Goaltending transgressions aside, the back end isn't much better.  The constant hemming in their own zone has brought forth discipline issues and for a penalty kill that sits last in the league having not tallied a short handed marker, that needs to be altered ASAP. With the likes of Bondra, Benson and Ronning I don't feel as if scoring will be a detriment, however unless they're going to score ten a night this has the making of a real long year in Langley.

22.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time # 18)

The league has become enamored with the play of Trey Fix-Wolansky, and rightfully so. The Muggsy Bouges of the WHL has almost immediately become a fan favorite in a city where it's difficult to manufacture headlines  having to play behind Connor McDavid. On a team that doesn't exude any offensive potential he'll be fortunate to reach the fifty point plateau and if their was one critique I could spurn out regarding his game, it's his aptitude to take the lazy penalty. The skill is evident but so is his refusal to buy into the team first concept.  There's an opportunity here, and for a team that has now been given the unfortunate honor of the dead last slot in these rankings, Trey could conceivably put the Oil Kings on his back and if begins to buy into a defence matters mentality then I don't see why he couldn't be a late round selection next June.

Monday, October 3, 2016

For the love of Liriano

What a see saw month September has been for the Toronto Blue Jays. Beginning the month in control of the American League East to finishing this dreadful month clinging on playoff life support by narrowly escaping with a Wildcard berth, John Gibbons and company should be counting their blessings by participating in any Post-season baseball at all.  The wildcard matchup is now set in stone with the Toronto Blue Jays drawing the fortune to host the swing for the fences Baltimore  Orioles. Is it  a good matchup for the Jays? It's a loaded question as Baltimore's potent offence does concern but when comparing it against what could've been the alternate possibility, a date with the red hot Detroit Tigers, this all of a sudden doesn't appear so  bad.  The pitching matchup announced earlier this afternoon will feature Marcus Stroman and Chris Tillman. On paper, this projects to be a coin flip when delving into the statistical lines of both Stroman and Tillman. From my humble opinion, if I was working for either Baltimore and Toronto I'm unsure if either is the option that pops in my head first. For Baltimore, based off the factual data that Ubaldo Jimenez stifled the Blue Jays last week I think he provides Baltimore's best chance and for the Blue Jays, what serves as the premise of the article, I think I'm leaning towards former Pittsburgh Pirate among other teams Francisco Liriano.

Marcus Stroman came back from his freak pre-season injury of 2015 and emphatically marked his triumphant return by coming back at the end of September and supplanting David Price as the team ace.There were skeptics aplenty about this decision. An innovative thinker like myself I was willing to look outside the box and quickly realized that no matter the track record he had that season, Marcus' mechanics were superior to that of Price but those in the public eye, ala the Fan 590's Bob McCown were hesitant to anoint the Duke alum as the savior but boy did he prove the doubters wrong.  In the now infamous Texas series in last year's ALDS, Stroman was especially clutch in the deciding fifth game which propelled the Jays to the ALCS. If we were exclusively dealing with the 2015 version, this is a no brainer from Gibbons regime, but the performances of this campaign have complicated the thought processes. Stroman is a sub .500 pitcher in 2016 sitting at 9-10 and what makes this particular adjuication perplexing is how the twenty five year old fared against the Orioles in his last outing. He got rocked around harder then Danny Willet did at this year's Ryder Cup press conferences.  Sometimes, and this is an area that I perceive as vastly overrated, analytical data will make the judgement for you and whilst I'm contradicting myself against my normal belief against solely relying on analytics, in this instance it backs up my reasoning for why Liriano should be starting this sudden death game.

Liriano was an afterthought as the trade deadline approached. If you believe some of the speculation coming out of Pittsburgh, if a trade hadn't been consummated with the Blue Jays that Pirate administration was considering a straight out release.  Aside from the fact that he's put together a cosmic resurgence since joining Canada's team(even in Seattle), I can't help but feel through assessing his entire career's work that the aforementioned Pirate staff let him go for mere peanuts. A resurrection was inevitable, his "stuff" is too good! You begin to recollect back to the earlier points of his journey, and as  a Blue Jay fan it's impossible to forget how electric he was as a member of the Minnesota Twins.  So why couldn't he re-discover that form? The short answer to that question is he could and has done as much. Pittsburgh fought through a shockingly disappointing campaign and I'm not necessarily advocating that the trade was the sole reason for the demise as they struggled long before the acquisition but you start to ascertain if given time would've Francisco eventually figured it out in Pennsylvania?  To me, it's a resounding yes. Circling this tangent back to why he should start versus Baltimore, to provide justification lets analyze the probable starting lineup. The Orioles possess a predominant lefty heavy lineup, the side of the box where the south paw flourishes. The only Oriole that statistically has had success against him is Manny Machado and quite honestly you can throw any pitcher to the mound and Manny will have a field day. The move would have neutralized Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters specifically and Chris Davis struggles with the inside-out cutter. Stroman's repertoire doesn't mesh against their American League rivals. As a proud Canadian I hope the Blue Jays reign victorious but this coin flip was likely a more equitable one if Gibbons would've played the matchup and forewent blinded loyalty.

Before I wrap up this piece, I have  a couple thoughts regarding the lineup I'd like to parlay. The Blue Jays offence is seemingly more inconsistent than a episode of CBS' smash hit the "Big Bang Theory" but has the home run or bust mentality, which is ironic because that's pretty much the way Baltimore prides their offence on. One thing I observed in the past weekend's pivotal series against the Red Sox was their aptitude to engage in small ball. In football, offence may get you in the dance but defence ultimately wins championships whereas in baseball the Home run ball may carry you through to the post-season but the acumen to play small ball is what separates the great from the good. There were plenty of regular season contests that left me leaving aggravated because their were prime situations in which playing for one run was the paramount option but instead swung for the fences and failed. They posted a statistic on Sunday's telecast, I forget the exact number but the Blue Jays record in one run games is unacceptable.  I even think back to game six of the American League Championship series, a tilt hampered by a rain delay where in the ninth inning Russell Martin reached base as the opening batter, was pinch ran for by Dalton Pompey who successfully stole second. Nobody out down a run and a runner on second and you choose not to bunt???? Infuriating. For this years playoff run that could be short lived if they don't prevail past Baltimore, like any other post season game runs will be at a premium, so my advice to the Jays is take the runs as they come, don't set your focus on the crooked numbers. I'm predicting a 3-2, 4-3 game so I don't care if Jose Bautista or Ezequiel Carrera are at the plate, if the bunt is the necessary evil do it with no questions being asked, I was engaging in some friendly banter with a good bud of mine this afternoon and Edwin Encarnacion's defensive viability was being discused. I was very frank with my thoughts that if the decsion were made to start Justin Smoak for defensive purposes I would blow a gasket. His take on it was, and it's an opinion shared I believe  by a lot of Jays fan is that Edwin is a liability at first and that Smoak is much better off at the position. All this may be true but if we agree that Smoak is THAT much better than Edwin patrolling the bag, something I'm not willing to completely cosign, then how do we quantify the It's my theory that part of the reason why a lot of Canadians in tuned with Baseball, including my good friend that I was debating with this afternoon is that the Jays flagship station, Sportsnet consistently paints the picture that Edwin is a one trick pony which couldn't be further from the truth but as with any journalism outlet, the more something is stuffed inf ront of us, the more we're prone to believe it. Simply put, Edwin is a adequate first baseman and Smoak should NOT be seeing the field tomorrow.

Go Jays, and heres hoping we can book our rematch with the Texas Rangers. What a series that would be!!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 2)

What I plan to complete is a power rankings every couple weeks or so in the Western Hockey League regular season. Now, certainly I won't go in as much detail as I did in my Pre-season preview but I will provide a brief synopsis behind each ranking.

1.Seattle Thunderbirds(Pre-season #1)

Mystery remains regarding New York Islander property Matt Barzal but even without the crafty playmaker, team depth will elevate the team through his absence.  Through a couple games, rookie and Edmonton native Elijah Brown is receiving glowing praise and if he continues strong play then Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk will be left with no choice but to make room in the top six.

2.Regina Pats(Pre-season #2)

Through three games this squad has, and will continue to score in bunches. However, as much as the offensive side will come second nature to John Paddock's regiment(see what I did there), defensive liabilities and goaltending struggles have reared their ugly head early on. Paddock will be patient but there will come a time that if things don't correct themselves that he'll look to the trade market to shore up this deficiency.

3.Calgary Hitmen(Pre-season # 5)

Simply put, something  I eluded to in my Pre-Season preview was that although the Hitmen don't possess a lot of names up front, a plethora of unheralded commodities will continue to thrive through obscurity. A solid 2-0 start without Carolina Hurricanes first round pick Jake Bean is an added bonus and with Jake expected back  later this week it will take off some pressure from Michael Zipp and with what seemingly has been a Hitmen staple the last few years will be no different this season.

4.Kamloops Blazers(Pre-season # 3)

The 1-2 start doesn't faze me at all as the stingy defence that I advertised in the pre-season has lived up to expectations.I went into great detail penning my fascinations towards Latvian forward Rudolfs Balcers and he's verified my beliefs with his blazing start to the campaign. The European combination of Balcers and Ondrej Vala can only be rivaled by Swift Current's Minulin and Heponiemi but unlike Swift Current the boys from the interior are more well rounded and poised for a deep run.

5.Prince George Cougars(Pre-season # 10)

If I were to seed solely off record, then Prince George would be the unquestioned number one in this entry. I had them pegged tenth in the pre-season because I wasn't sold on the McBride/Edmonds goaltending tandem and if we're being completely honest it's not as if they're exuding much more confidence than I had heading in, The difference has been this late 1990 Detroit Red Wing-esque offence that prides itself on puck possession and surprises have arose aplenty up front. None more than Colby McAuley. Some following the Cougars closer could've suggested an upgrade may of been in store for the twenty year old McAuley. Guarantee that's no longer being bantered about.

6.Swift Current Broncos(Pre-season # 12)

Upon completing my preview, I immediately explained to a friend that I undersold the prospects of the Broncos entering this campaign and deserved  a higher ranking. This second edition of the rankings does that. The aforementioned European duo of Heponiemi and Minulin has been enticing combining that with complimentary play from netminder Travis Child and there's enough reason to get excited in Speedy Creek. New coach Manny Viveiros has implemented an up tempo culture that these kids will love playing to.

7.Everett Silvertips(Pre-season # 13)

I'll tell you what, if at any point Everett begins to fade then nineteen year old Matt Fonteyne could present himself as the most intriguing trade chip on the open market. The consensus in the pre-season is that this team couldn't score and while that may hold true in the grand scheme, players like Fonteyne and Patrik Bajkov are holding down the fort admirably. General Manager Gerry Davidson pulled off the biggest trade to date filling out their imports by acquiring Dominic Zwerger. For a team who purportedly will have trouble finding the back of the net, the acquisition of Zwerger may be just what the doctor ordered.

8.Spokane Chiefs(Pre-season # 6)

One lop sided loss for a team that I valued highly coming in won't negatively effect my opinion overly much. The exodus of solid contributors in recent seasons has rendered me concerned(Reid Gow and now Tyson Verhelst) but the young core that ex General Manager Tim Speltz assembled has made the job easier for the incumbent. I think most had an idea as to what the Yamamoto brothers would provide in 16/17 but did everyone think right out of the gate that franchise Ty Smith could immediately supplant himself as the number one defenceman, He did, and I'll call it right now, Smith, one of a long line of Lloydminster defenceman will have his name called first in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Think Aaron Ekblad.

9.Prince Albert Raiders(Pre-season # 3)

A precarious beginning to the young lads who call the Art Hauser center home to say the least. I saw a couple of pre-season contests and something that raised an eyebrow was Habscheid's insistence even in the pre-season to rely heavily on the veterans who were still in camp whilst ignoring some of the younger individuals who inevitably needed more coddling. Josh Maser is someone I profiled in the pre-season and it behooves me why he has yet to be inserted into the lineup. Brendan Guhle who surely will receive  a long look with the Buffalo Sabres will be a calming influence to the back end who to date has looked scrambly, A frustrating debut for Raider nation but once some of these rookies/second years who didn't recieve appropriate ice time in the pre-season become acclimatized it will be smooth sailing.

10.Tri-City Americans(Pre-season # 8)

Just another day at the office for stud Michael Rasmussen who accumulated a leisurely five goals in two games. I was hypothesizing who Rasmussen reminded me of and not meant to be an indictment towards Michael but I get Kyle Beach vibes for the way he played in junior. Let's hope Rasmussen has a more engaging attitude than Kyle did but the sharp shooting acumen draws the similarity. The meat behind this quasi hefty ranking is the defence who draws a lot of skepticism from league pendants I maintain is the strength of this club is on the back-end. Parker Wotherspoon and Dylan Coghlan are two players I had some background on but Dakota Krebs has been the pleasant surprise in the early going. Seventeen years of age and showing rapid growth.

11.Brandon Wheat Kings(Pre-season # 9 )

The Thompson saga in Brandon was a short lived one. Not exactly sure what led to their dismissal but for a team that was already going to have depth issues, it's a costly departure. A lot of fans in Brandon have long panicked over the state of their defensive core and as I touched on in my earlier preview there seems to be a lot of disagreement over the handling of Shael Higson, Shael found himself in McCrimmon's dog house throughout last year's championship run. He's a polarizing figure as the talent is abundant but it's putting forth a consistent effort that has stymied his development.

12.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Pre-season # 16)

To say the Letbridge Hurricanes are who I thought they were is wholeheartedly accurate. The defence is comparable to the current state of the New Orleans Saints while their offence can be construed to the way Tom Brady and the New England Patriots can manufacture points. The decision to land Jesse Zaharichuk looks genius by GM Anholt but the distress that still exists in the Windy City is protecting it's own goal. Stuart Skinner is a goaltender with a great future, or so I'm told as I have yet to see it and the onus will be on the Hurricane administration to fix a glaring weakness on the back-end if they aspire to seriously contend for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

13.Portland Winterhawks(Pre-season # 20)

I should've known that a Mike Johnston coached team wouldn't accept mediocrity. I knew little about Alex Overhardt coming into the year and at this point he's channeling a certain Washington Capitals sniper initialed A.O. I didn't realize he was such a trusted two way player, not only has he been a constant threat in the opposition's end but he's the first one back on the backcheck showcasing underrated speed. I knew the potential Skyler McKenzie had but it's players such as Overhardt and Evan Weinger who will be required to step up and are.

14.Kelowna Rockets(Pre-season # 7)

I'll provide criticism when it's called for and for as much as the absence of Nick Merkley could be used as an excuse, their defensive structure under new Head Coach Jason Smith has been disastrous. Cal Foote unexpectedly is off  to a tremendous start but it's the rest of the group that has left me underwhelmed. In the first week and a bit, Devante Stephens' play has regressed to a point where at one point last year I ascertained the notion that he'd be a darkhorse defenceman of the year candidate to  now where players like Braydyn Chizen and Jonathan Smart could pass him by.  A long way to go but he better re assert himself or else he could find himself in Coach Smith's doghouse real soon,

15.Medicine Hat Tigers(Pre-season # 17)

The forward group is particularly deep. Mason Shaw who I firmly believe is a Most Valuable Player candidate has more of a supporting cast then I ever imagined. Only the one goal thusfar but Ryan Chyzowski has been a dominant force and that confidence has parlayed onto a lot of the other forwards.Kristians Rubins was touted coming out of the Import Draft and hasn't disappointed but as an overall judgement, defensively is where coach Shaun Clouston will have to put in the most work.

16.Victoria Royals(Pre-season # 15)

Experts actually think Victoria is a championship threat? I'm sorry, but I just don't see it.  I read the reasoning on why particular experts were leaning this way. I probably drank the kool-aid too much so that I thought they were going to have a fairly easily time putting the puck in the net but even that has proved to be a herculean task. Matthew Phillips back from NHL camp made his mark in his regular season debut and Ryan Peckford has shown flashes but I'm not ready to declare the seventeen year old Stony Plain product the next Ryan Getzlaf just yet. Griffin Outhouse had a rocky beginning when he ran into the Cougars conglomerate(who hasn't) but settled down to stifle the Blazers for the team's first win. If consistently winning hockey games 2-1 and 1-0 is a recipe for success in this league I better update my cookbook.

17.Red Deer Rebels(Pre-season # 11)

In the pre-season preview I completed by no means did I misconstrue Red Deer as a contender but maybe I thought they'd get out of the gate smoother than this. Michael Spacek is still away at Winnipeg Jets training camp which is a substantial  blow to a team that has lost ALOT offensively. I know for readers that have kept tabs on my work then you won't have forgotten that I actually thought their was a chance Jake DeBrusk could get returned which in all reality inflated my ranking of the Rebels. Don't I look foolish now?  No DeBrusk, still no Spacek and the reliance for offensive production out of Musil and Polei who are better suited for griding, shut down roles.

18.Edmonton Oil Kings(Pre-season # 14)

Remember earlier when I admitted to conversing with a friend of mine that I ranked Swift Current too low? that very same conversation I feared I ranked Edmonton too high and although the record is at a serviceable 2-1, the fact that those two wins happened last weekend where essentially all teams were missing key NHL components, it doesn't speak too highly of the future ahead.  Some twenty year olds in this situation will sulk but the hometown Robertson is embracing the leadership role bestowed upon him and his statistics back up the leadership qualities that he'll be looked upon for. I've always been a huge fan of Roberton's game but in the back of my head always wondered whether he was the benefactor of elite linemates, I no longer share this belief and playing primarily with inexperienced players the entire year may open up some professional possibilities when looking ahead to 2017-2018.

19.Moose Jaw Warriors(Pre-season # 19)

What do you know, the ranking matches where I placed Moose Jaw in the pre-season. Listen, I think Tim Hunter is a fine coach but the way he orchestrated his lineup management last season will have negative connotations this campaign. He rode Brayden Point and Dryden Hunt for all they were worth but now it's impossible to forecast if the likes of Tanner Jeannot and Jayden Halbgewachs can step up and fulfill a top six role. Because they were sheltered throughout all of last year it's difficult to assess but will be given every opportunity to thrive. The experience Tanner received at Minnesota Wild camp will prove invaluable. I don't think I'm going very bold here when I say watch out for Nikita Popaguev, I anticipate a monster season.

20.Saskatoon Blades(Pre-season # 18)

For whatever reason, generic Western Hockey League message Boards are flooded with  Blades paraphernalia and it's for that reason I've kept  a close eye on Russian defenceman Mark Rubinchik and he hasn't disappointed. Being only seventeen may hinder his chances but I do think he has a realistic chance of playing for the Russian World Junior team this coming winter.  A great first pass has been noticeable from what I've observed. The entire defence core as a whole has left room for optimism. Hajek has a figurative flight booked to the NHL and along with Nolan Reid and Jake Kustra there's  a lot to like. Unfortunately for Blades fans, that's where the praise ends as I'm doubtful that the tandem of Brock Hamm and Logan Flodell can handle the load and aside from former Brandon Wheat King Braylon Shmyr, there's,not a lot of natural offence to go around.

21.Kootenay Ice(Pre-season # 21)

The interesting storyline in Cranbrook, interesting at least for me anyway was the inclusion of Fedor Rudakov., At first I was confused how he was on Kootenay's roster due to having the knowledge that Klim Kostin had elected not to come to North America. After digging into his background, he's,a Russian born, Ontario developed player drafted by the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.At some point the family must of re-located to Calgary thus cementing his WHL eligibility. Maybe it's a sorry state that I find this interesting but in all truth there's not too much else to clamor over in what projects to be a long year for the Ice.

22.Vancouver Giants(Pre-season # 22)

And here I thought Lethbridge had an unfixable defence, If the Lethbridge Hurricanes defensive exploits are comparable to the current state of affairs of the New Orleans Saints,then I suppose the Vancouver Giants could be compared to the University of Charlotte defence. The back story here is that Charlotte in week one of the 2016 NCAA football calendar lost 70-14 to the University of Louisville, Offensively, the Giants have some workable pieces as they're still awaiting the return of Tyler Benson but seventeen year old Dawson Holt has led the charge in the first week and although his name isn't showing on the stat sheet, Tyler Popowich has been flying all over the ice. The paramount issue thought is goaltending. It's a trainwreck and I can't but help but posture that a certain Moose Jaw Warrior goaltender in Brody Wilms assuredly is available and could be the perfect match for Vancouver that I would imagine just strives to be be a competitive opponent each and every night. The premise of making the playoffs with this particular entity is an afterthought.