NHL Will Consider Expanding

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By now, it’s no longer news that the commissioner Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League are open to an expansion team in Las Vegas. Since late last year, there’ve been rumors, talks and hopes for an expansion team in Sin City. Back in February 10th of this year, prospective NHL Las Vegas owner William Foley launched a highly successful ticket campaign. Five weeks ago, Bettman had said that the drive could reach the 11,000 buyer mark.

Whether or not an expansion team will really be granted to places like Vegas remains to be seen. However, the NHL has announced the opening of the formal expansion process and will listen to proposals, according to sportsnet.ca. Among other favorites in the running are Seattle and Quebec City.

This was what Bettman had to say about the then-possible expansion process during the Stanley Cup Final:

If after our discussion in June where I’m going to report where all of the expressions of interest stand, including what Las Vegas has been able to accomplish with the ticket drive, if the board has any interest in pursuing it, my recommendation would then be to open a formal expansion process. The board may say, ‘That’s interesting, but we still don’t want to do anything.’ That’s an option. And even if they green light a formal expansion process, it doesn’t mean we’re going to expand. It means we’ll go through the steps of looking through things, and the conclusion at the end of that process could be very well, no expansion. So it would just be a question of possibly looking at the expressions of interest and looking at them a little more seriously than we have.

Again, all possible expansion teams are just speculation still, at this point. However, given the success of hockey in certain markets, it will be interesting to see whether the expansions will really come through.

Should the League have more expansion teams? Do you agree with the proposals? Where would you like to see an NHL expansion team? We want to hear your opinions so feel free to vote in the poll and comment below!

 

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NHL Home Openers Announced Today, Full Schedules To Be Released Tomorrow

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Today, every NHL team announced their home openers via Twitter. The NHL also updated their site with the list of home openers. Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliote Friedman tweeted this:

Here are the following home openers announced, by tweets:

 

 

 

 

 

 
The full 82-game schedules for each team will be released tomorrow.

 

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Chicago Blackhawks: How Are They So Good?

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It’s not easy to win a championship at NHL level. The amount of grit, pride, skill, smarts, and pure luck involved is absolutely unbelievable, not to mention how competitive the League has become. Not many teams can claim the label of “dynasty team”, but with just one win away from their third Stanley Cup championship in just six years, the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of becoming just that. That’s not easy at all, but the Hawks — being perennial Cup contenders — have consistently found a way to win games and go deep in the playoffs. So, how are they so good?

Acquiring the Players

You have to know what the standard is in the League if you’re the General Manager of the team, and GM Stan Bowman seems to know that extremely well. I think he’s done a tremendous job in working with the front office and scouting staff in knowing who to draft on Draft Day and which players to acquire at what time. I was reading an article on CBS Sports on how this team has been built, and it never ceases to amaze me how they got this far in the salary cap era. For example, you have the two franchise players in captain Jonathan Toews — drafted third overall in ’06 — and Patrick Kane — drafted first overall in ’07. Those two remain not only one of the two most dominant forces on the Chicago Blackhawks, but also in the NHL.

Here’s a look at a few of the other players drafted by the Blackhawks, taken from CBS Sports.

(Note: Only players that have played at least one game in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs are included in these tables.)

Players Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks
Player Year Drafted Round, Pick Playoff Points
Patrick Kane 2007 1st, 1 17 GP, 10-10–20
Jonathan Toews 2006 1st, 3 17 GP, 9-9–18
Duncan Keith 2002 2nd, 54 17 GP, 2-16–18
Brent Seabrook 2003 1st, 14 17 GP, 6-4–10
Andrew Shaw 2011 5th, 139 17 GP, 4-5–9
Brandon Saad 2011 2nd, 43 17 GP, 6-2–8
Niklas Hjalmarsson 2005 4th, 108 17 GP, 1-5–6
Teuvo Teravainen 2012 1st, 18 12 GP, 2-4–6
Bryan Bickell 2004 2nd, 41 17 GP, 0-5–5
Marcus Kruger 2009 5th, 149 17 GP, 2-1–3
Joakim Nordstrom 2010 3rd, 90 3 GP, 0-0–0
Corey Crawford 2003 2nd, 52 14 GP, 9 wins, .919
TOTALS (11 skaters) 42 goals, 61 assists, 103 points

 

They’ve also managed to sign the right players via Free Agency(for the most part), namely Marian Hossa who still has six more years left on his 12-year contract. According to NHL.com/Stats and hockey-reference, he’s been among the top 20 point-getters both this postseason and last, garnering 17 and 14 points respectively, and was among the top 10 in 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 16 points. Hossa’s also been in the top 10 and top 20 for three postseasons in assists (13 in 2015 postseason, 12 in 2014, and 9 in 2013).

Last but not least, they’ve traded well. Here’s another table taken from the article on the CBS Sports website.

Players Traded for by the Chicago Blackhawks
Player (Traded From) Year Traded Key Expense(s) Playoff Points
Patrick Sharp (PHI) 2005 3rd Round Pick 17 GP, 4-8–12
Antoine Vermette (ARI) 2015 Klas Dahlbeck,
1st Round pick
14 GP, 2-3–5
Johnny Oduya (WPG) 2012 2nd Round Pick
3rd Round Pick
17 GP, 0-4–4
Andrew Desjardins (SJS) 2015 Ben Smith 16 GP, 1-2–3
Kris Versteeg (FLA) 2013 Jimmy Hayes
Dylan Olsen
7 GP, 1-0–1
Kimmo Timonen (PHI) 2015 2nd Round Pick
4th Round Pick*
15 GP, 0-0–0
David Rundblad (ARI) 2014 2nd Round Pick 3 GP, 0-0–0
TOTALS (7 skaters) 8 goals, 17 assists, 25 points

* – Timonen was acquired for a 2015 second-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder. Since the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Final, that 2016 fourth-round pick becomes a 2016 second-round pick.

Of course, a few noticeable players on that list are Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. Trades for both Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins may have been met with skepticism, however so far both Desi and Vermette have shown their worth for the team. Desjardins provides that gritty and offensive support on the fourth line while, after last night’s win over the Tampa Lightning, Vermette now has 3 game-winning goals (GWGs) on his career playoff stats sheet with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Leadership

There’s no doubt about the leadership core of captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (the two cornerstones of this franchise), and Patrick Sharp. Aside from the fact that they have a terrific coach in Joel Quenneville, all three of them have played solid hockey and play for each other with Toews leading the way. They have a strong belief system among each other and amongst themselves that really make for a successful team in general.

Skill, Hockey Sense, & Work Ethic

The skill set for the Blackhawks is undeniably incredible. Both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are world-class athletes. We all know Kane’s got the hands to deke and finish, and excellent playmaking ability along with Toews, who loves to go after the puck and crash the net hard for those scoring opportunities. However, they’re not just great offensive players. They’ve also developed into great two-way players, meaning they can read and react defensively as well create and capitalize on scoring chances. Most importantly of all, almost every Hawk in the line-up has the work ethic and ability to beat their opponents on the forecheck, apply pressure, and convert on scoring opportunities, no matter if they get out shot in a game or if they’re leading on the shot clock. It’s the willingness to compete and play a complete team game with the right players on the ice that make this team so successful and so hard to play against.

On the Verge

According to Jason Byun, who writes for FanSided’s Anaheim Ducks blog, Pucks of a Feather, great NHL teams in general have a number of common characteristics:

  • A no. 1 center and anchor.
  • A no. 1 defenseman and blue-line anchor
  • Strong depth– a solid top-four on defense and the ability to roll four lines
  • The ability to possess the puck
  • A goaltender capable of stealing games
  • Key contributers on cheap contracts

The Blackhawks have all of the above. As Jason sums it up:

They have a terrific center and anchor of their team in Jonathan Toews. Their defense is anchored by one of the league’s best in Duncan Keith. Both Toews and Keith are premier two-way players at their position in the league, something which is necessary (two-way is the best-way). The Blackhawks are a deep team, with four defensemen and four lines who can play in any situation (four and four). They have a goalie who can steal a game for them and does not shrink in the big moments. They play a terrific puck-possession style that lets them control the game and get more shots and scoring chances than their opponent. Their play style also limits the number of shots that Crawford has to face, leaving him to make the saves he has to and only occasionally bail out his team from defensive miscues. They also get contributions from players on cheap contracts: after all, stars win games, but role players win series.

One thing to keep in mind that this League is a copycat League. Obviously, everyone and every team wants a shot at the Stanley Cup. But to earn one, those teams would have to possess at least one or more of those elements listed above to really become a legit Cup contender and have a chance to go deep in the playoffs, not to mention the amount of puck luck required; as the popular hockey saying goes, you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. The Chicago Blackhawks are a model of that, and that’s why they’re the model of success in the modern NHL.

Like I’d pointed out at the beginning of this article, the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of winning their third championship in six years, that is barring a miracle from the Tampa Bay Lightning with Nikita Kucherov probable for Game 6 from injuries (slightly up from the uncertain status that I had written earlier), as part of the Triplets Line. The Blackhawks are just too quick, skilled, and too experienced of a team to beat, with starter Corey Crawford making the big saves at critical times. With all the consistencies on this team, they’re going to be successful for a long time.

 

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Liam the Fist Bump Kid

Liam the Fist Bump Kid

You may have seen the viral video of Liam Fitzgerald giving fist pumps to his favourite hockey team, the Boston Bruins. Here is a short article about Liam and another heartfelt video showcasing his strength shown through grave adversity, alongside his passion for his hockey team.

Born with Down Syndrome, Liam already had a tough start to life, but to add to his struggles, he was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was just 4 years old. Thankfully, Liam battled through and in May 2013 was told he was cancer free. Liam was awarded “Man of the Year” on May 21st of this year for raising over $150,000 for LLS blood cancer research, which accompanied his other previous awards such as USA Today’s 2014 Sports Fan of the Year and a hockey card that was made for him by the Boston Bruins.

It all started when Adam McQuaid invited his family to a game after seeing Liam dressed as him for Halloween. Since then Liam helped Patrice Bergeron become the cover for the EA Sports NHL 15 video game and continued attending Bruins games at the TD Garden.

In the video, you can see how his joy permeates to everyone around him and that all other fans love seeing him at home games. It’s an amazing story and one that brings a tear to the eye. Watch the ESPN E:60 video of Liam below.

 

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Drafting options – Maple Leafs

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With the NHL Scouting combine well underway in Buffalo this week, what better time to revisit the various options available to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the 26th of June. Whereas most Leafs draft previews this year have been centred around the 4th overall pick, we will look at the options available to the Leafs at both the top and bottom end of the first round, where the Leafs hold the Nashville Predators’ 1st round pick – 24th overall.

It is an almost nailed-on certainty that Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be drafted 1st and 2nd respectively, barring a bad case of Noah Hanifin tourettes – a lesser known variation of tourettes where officials from within the Buffalo Sabres organisation call out the name of the 3rd ranked skater, thus overlooking a generational talent in Eichel. However with so many talented prospects available to general managers, the order of the rest of the first round is harder to project.

 

4th OVERALL

 

#3 Noah Hanifin – D – Boston College

Until very recently, it was also taken as word that the Arizona Coyotes would pick the Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin 3rd overall, however recent chatter from General Manager Don Maloney gives us other indications. Stating that they have several options available to them, Maloney appears to be leaning towards the Brandon Wheat Kings defensemen Ivan Provorov, who could potentially be a more rounded prospect.

Should Hanifin be available at four, it would take a brave man to turn down a potential franchise defenseman. The only drawback for Toronto in picking Hanifin, is that there are bigger concerns and positions to fill within the organisation.

 

 #4 Dylan Strome – C – Erie Otters

The most likely of destinations for Dylan – younger brother of New York Islanders center Ryan Strome – should he be available would be Toronto, who have been a long term admirer of the Mississauga native.

In the shadow of teammate Connor McDavid for the whole season, Strome has relished the opportunity to just get on with his game without the pressure of expectation on his shoulders, which has led him to be the number 2 scorer in the OHL.

Strome has an excellent offensive upside and a distinct talent with the puck at his stick to find the right pass, or set up the team for an offensive breakout.

A lot has been mentioned about his skating ability, which seems the only question mark on whether Strome will ever cement a top 2 center position long term.

 

#7 Mitchell Marner – C – London Knights

Much like Strome, the OHL-leading point scorer in 2015 could fill a void within the rebuilding Maple Leafs at center. A lot of the press coming out of the combine has Kyle Dubas (Leafs Assistant GM) talking highly of Marner.

Yes he is small, much like the Leafs’ first pick in 2014 William Nylander, but Marner is giving up a good 40 pounds on Nylander.

In 2015, Marner was the first Knights player to reach 100 points since New York Islanders center John Tavares, so the calibre is there, but work needs to be done on bulk and giving him the best coaching on how to use his size in the NHL.

He is a very shifty player on the puck, which has led to comparisons with Patrick Kane, again a high praise. I just fear that the size is what may be the deciding factor in Marner dropping out of the top 5 on June 26th.

 

#5 Lawson Crouse – LW – Kingston Frontenacs

Lawson Crouse is a powerful, physically dominant power forward that would offer much of a forechecking presence. Even with this, Crouse has quick hands and a very dangerous shot that could be a very useful weapon.

He’s more of an outside chance, but Crouse is a player that has a lot to like about him.

 

 

24th OVERALL

            #21 Jeremy Roy – D – Sherbrooke Phoenix

Currently ranked number 21 overall, having fallen from his initial ranking of 16, Jeremy Roy is a gifted two-way defenceman that plays a high-percentage brand of hockey which enables him to contribute positively in both offensive and defensive zones.

With his initial stock dropping from the midterm rankings to the final rankings, it is hard to imagine that Roy will be available at 24, but should he be available this would be a steal.

 

#25 Brandan Carlo – D – Tri-City Americans

Following on the theme, another defenceman in the fold is Tri-City’s Brandon Carlo. A very gifted defensive defenceman who is, more times than not, in the right place to make the defensive play for the team.

Carlo had a 25-point season for Tri-City, whilst racking up 90 penalty minutes, due to his power and aggressive nature.

A lot has been said about his lack of offensive prowess, but this is something that can be worked on and should be worked on should the Maple Leafs pick Carlo.

 

#24 Ryan Pilon – D – Brandon Wheat Kings

The strange thing about Ryan Pilon is that he only appears in the top 100 on the NHL rankings, but is emitted from both the Hockey Futures and ISS top 100 rankings.

Pilon played the last year alongside 2015 draft eligible Ivan Provorov. Pilon is less likely a player to step up into the rush and offer something offensively, leaving that to his partner to great effect.

There is a lot to like about Ryan Pilon, even though others have overlooked. He has been playing in the WHL since he was 16 and year upon year he has strived to improve and add something more to his game. He isn’t a flashy player. He is very stable defensively and very rarely makes a mistake in the defensive zone.

With Pilon’s ability to continually improve, it will be hard to project just where he would sit within a franchise, but he will most definitely be a great addition to any set of defensive prospects.

 

PREDICTIONS

The first round is stacked, so no matter who the Maple Leafs pick, they will have two excellent prospects to add to the rebuild. Defence is less of a priority than drafting an excellent top 2 potential center to fill much-needed holes.

It could be an excellent opportunity to pick up a defenceman with the 2nd pick and with 3 pretty good prospects there or thereabouts, it is a toss up between the 3 for who will end up in Toronto.

 

4th overall: Dylan Strome

24th overall: Ryan Pilon

 

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Prospect Report – Toronto Maple Leafs – Dakota Joshua

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by Jonny Ball

Name: Dakota Joshua

Born: Dearborn, MI (05/15/1996)

Position: Center

Shoots: Left

Current Team: Souix Falls Stampede (USHL)

Drafted: 2014 – Round 5 #128 overall by Toronto Maple Leafs

Hailing from Dearmont, Michigan Dakota Joshua is a clever, but raw offensively dynamic forward prospect. His tall frame suggests that Joshua could be a very powerful offensive unit for the Maple Leafs, once he adds bulk and becomes a stronger player.

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