A Look Back at the Qualifiers

The NHL’s first attempt at a Qualifier Round in the Hub Bubble was a success, regardless of how your team finished. The idea of a 24-team playoffs as the “new normal” began to have a little traction, especially with Barry Trotz speaking up about it. The downside to this would be the length of the season, of course. Unless teams vote to knock off 10 games to the regular season in lieu of those playoff games, the 24-team concept will be a one-and-done situation. Of course, playoff tickets do outweigh regular season ones; so teams who consistently make the playoffs could be swayed by that extra revenue; whilst the constant also-rans will hate to have five home games taken from them.

It’s hard to argue that it’s a novel concept– a qualifier of some sort with the top-four teams battling out to reshuffle the top positions. Though, some of the top teams would cry foul if they did get that top spot to have a better advantage in the playoffs, only to lose that spot when it came to the actual playoffs starting– much like how the Bruins lost their top spot because of their subpar play in the round-robin.

Granted, it’s not to say that getting the top spot will assure victory. We saw with the Oilers and the Penguins that just because you’re facing the weakest-seeded team, it doesn’t really mean the top team will get out in front. In fact, four of the eight qualifiers saw the lower seed winning, with Chicago, Montreal, and Arizona being below the 10-seed and still advancing.

A bugaboo for me was the statistics of it all. I don’t understand how the round-robin games count as playoffs games when the OT structure was that of the regular season. It’s not as if they were in any kind of series structure to it, so why would they count as playoff games??

The bubble concept has been great for people, especially since you can’t have fans in the arena, the time teams play is very flexible and creates all-hockey, all-the-time on the networks. We’d have to assume, however, when people are allowed back into the arenas, this will be a thing of the past. You’d actually have to choose between a number of games rather than just sit down and have them come one right after another.

Unsung to these games is the ice crew, who have been amazing in the bubble with the ability to keep the ice as good as can be with three games playing at a time, while also making sure they had the correct local ads on the boards for the “home” team and their regional broadcast. Not only that, but the game operation folks have been tremendous with their humor to the in-game presentations.

This was a good trial run to see how the length of a qualifier, coupled with how to spread out the games. If the NHL does start to scratch their chins about the idea of a consistent 24-team playoffs, then they can pretty much push to this in order to determine the success and failure. Only issue would be doing it across multiple sites and not just one or two.

Overall, the qualifying round proved to be a nice re-introduction to most people for hockey and the playoffs, which will hopefully carry over into the actually playoffs when they start on Tuesday.

John Chayka Checks Out on Coyotes Before Reboot

Okay, so this Arizona Coyotes thing is just as Arizona Coyotes as it gets, right??

John Chayka quits the team days before the playoffs, this after another team requested to talk with him about a job and after owner Alex Meruelo and his team took over contract discussions with Taylor Hall. Seeing the writing possibly on the wall, Chayka bails and now the team is going to the league to see what they can do with his contract.

It’s hard to believe that Meruelo was said to be a fan of Chayka and his style, which lead to Chayka having his contract extended. Then Chayka goes and does this because the ownership group started to micro-manage talks with a pending free agent; which has to be an odd situation considering the Coyotes are almost at the cap limit as it is with Hall’s contract going to bring in much more that the $6M he’s getting now.

Obviously, Chayka is going to be blamed for the money issues– he is the GM afterall. But wouldn’t he have to get clearance from Meruelo or previous owner Andrew Barroway to even get the money for those moves??

When Chayka came in, he was the wunderkind of this new movement toward analytics some NHL teams were making. At just 26, Chayka came from an analytics company called Stathletes founded by himself and his sister Meghan. However, for Chayka; the only playoff appearance a team under his watch has seen is this one with the expanded playoff format, as they were fifth in the Pacific prior to the pause.

Are the Coyotes jackasses for undercutting the job of their GM in contract talks?? Sure, especially when he’s not present to get a write-off dinner out of it. Is Chayka a quitter and may have screwed his team over with the contract given?? Well, the numbers don’t really lie.

Is it a shocking surprise that it’s Arizona having to deal with this?? Kind of, especially when they looked to be going in the right direction for long-term growth. It’s almost a shame that it’s going down like this and playing out as chaotically as it is prior to the NHL Reboot. But so it goes with the Coyotes.

Hall and ‘Yotes

NEWARK, NJ – DECEMBER 06: New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall (9) during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils nd the Chicago Blackhawks on December 6, 2019 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

We all knew Taylor Hall was going to be traded this year, we didn’t know it’d be to Arizona of all places. Not only that, but the Devils didn’t get too much to help them in the short-term and some people thinking Ray Shero got a little fleeced in this one.

But in all honesty, the match could be a great fit overall. The Coyotes needed someone like Hall in their line-up to be an offense creator. The Coyotes are 24th in the NHL in goals-for and while their power-play is in the top-10, you can’t go wrong getting a former MVP onto the roster. More over, this is a move that could help spark Phil Kessel’s output, which has been lacking a little due to no playmakers being up to the Kessel caliber of play. The Coyotes are surprising enough this season being third in the west and getting solid performances from Darcy Kuemper in net and Conor Garland being their offensive dynamo; but adding Hall just ups the value of this team– especially at this point in the season where there’s still time for Hall to adjust to Rick Tocchet’s style in Arizona.

Yet, looking at the Devils…this was not a great deal. You know they had to move Hall to get something for the future; but you’d also like to get something for today, too. Not many people think the return will be much of anything outside of the draft picks, but you never know how the picks and players will turn out. This move really doesn’t address the bigger issue of the Devils, which is their goaltending. Sure, MacKenzie Blackwood has been better than some of the options the Devils have, but that doesn’t say much overall.

This does, however, open the way for the younger Devils to really show their muster. Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are now the face of the team more than ever, while the older crew up front in Wayne Simmonds, Kyle Palmieri, and Blake Coleman are going to have to be offensive mentors to these talented players. But wouldn’t you have liked to have Hall be with these former top picks and guide them through the peaks and valleys through his first-hand experiences??

There will be instant results in Arizona because they have a known commodity in Taylor Hall; they got a piece that could be the big thing missing not only for their team, but for their other acquired star player, and they are making a push to be a desirable spot outside of the climate to be. For New Jersey– it’ll take some years, if it ever happens for them when it comes to the results of this deal. But they’ll always have that one year, they’ll always have 2017-18.

ITPST: October 24th, 2019

It’s the second edition of the gimmick that keeps on giving. Hey, we’re almost across the board with teams playing double-digits games– which means we’re getting closer to that sweet, sweet playoff push.

Keeping it in the East to start, the Buffalo Sabres’ hot start (8-1-1) have them at the top of the Atlantic Division. Right behind them are the Boston Bruins (6-1-2) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (5-4-2). Who can’t wait for another round of Bruins/Leafs in the first round?!? Yeah– I could wait for a good long while. In the Metro, the Caps (7-2-2) and John Carlson are on a big streak after a rough start, putting them atop the Metro. Carolina have a little bit of a stall after a torrid start (6-3-0), with the Penguins right after them (6-5-0). The Wild Card spots head to both Florida teams in the Lightning (5-3-1) and the Panthers (4-2-3).

Therefore it’ll be the Sabres vs. the Panthers, the Bruins take on the Leafs, the Caps will take on the Lightning, with the Hurricanes and Penguins going at it to round it out.

Out West, the Colorado Avalanche (7-1-1) are ripping it up and are atop the division, with the Predators (5-3-1) and Blues (4-2-3) rounding out the tough Central Division. Getting rid of Milan Lucic has helped the Edmonton Oilers (7-2-1) put themselves ahead in the Pacific, as the Golden Knights (7-4-0) and Canucks (6-3-0) round out the top three. The Wild Card spots will be headed to Anaheim (6-4-0) and the rejuvenated Coyotes (5-2-1).

And as we see it– the Avalanche will duel with the Coyotes in the relocation bowl, with the Blues and Predators being the other match-up, as the Oilers will take on the Ducks and the Golden Knights battle the Canucks.

Quickly Thrown Together 2019-20 NHL Preview

You’ve seen the best– now it’s time for the rest. Let’s go:

THIRD TIME FOR FIRST TIME??: There’s 11 teams who haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet: Arizona, Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville, San Jose, Vancouver, Vegas, Winnipeg. Of those 11, you’d have to say that maybe four have a chance in Nashville, San Jose, Vegas, and Winnipeg; but the window is closing if it’s not already shut. Of course, they said that about the Caps two years back and they lifted the Stanley Cup.

HUNT FOR 50: Will Alex Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark for the ninth time?? Odds are pretty good given he has four of the last five 50-goal season, including last year. And let’s be completely honest– Wayne Gretzky’s goal-record is out of reach for Ovechkin. Even as a Caps fan, it’s not something I think is attainable. However, tying the mark for most 50-goal campaigns in a career with Gretzky and Mike Bossy?? Much more than attainable.

YOUNG GUNS ON THE HUDSON: You could argue that with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko; the Devils and Rangers could be the best rivalry coming back– akin to Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby pumping new life in to a Caps-Pens rivalry that was fading into obscurity. Two young talents, ready to take over the New York Market in a big way, which the media there will undoubtedly eat up, overanalyze, and do their best to be like Toronto sports media figures.

McPLAYOFFS: Depending on what you believe, there’s frustration with Connor McDavid and the Oilers not making it to the playoffs but once in his tenure there. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you have one of the best players in the league not being on the biggest stage for the biggest trophy every year. Will that help with Mike Smith and James Neal coming from Calgary while Milan Lucic went south on the QE2?? The Neal part may help a little, but I’m not a believer in the defense and goaltending for Edmonton one bit.

RETOOLING EARLIER DYNASTIES: Both the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks had less than desirable finishes, with both teams looking to retool heading into this season. With both playing in divisions that may be tougher than they look, it might be an uphill battle. I wouldn’t put too much money down on either of them making it too far if they do make the playoffs.

WORTH THE WAIT??: A lot of restricted free agents waiting until the 11th hour to sign, but is it something that their teams will be happy about or upset about should they not perform to the contract they were dealt?? Let’s be honest, I’m shocked Patrik Laine didn’t burn the bridges in the locker room already with what he said and it’s probably awkward as hell right now. The Mitch Marner deal looks like an overpayment when you look at other RFAs signing for a bit less than retail, but in the market space. That said, regardless of the price– Marner and Laine will be on the hot seat regardless of what their contracts were since they’re on teams that are supposed to be contenders.

SUNBELT RISING??: We all know what the Tampa Bay Lightning are– but do we really know what the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers are outside of their team financials?? I would venture to guess that both teams are on the upswing, with Arizona getting Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz being healthy, and the possibility for solid defense. All the while, the Panthers have their goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, young guns primed to really break out and put teams on notice, all while maybe trying to snatch a wild card spot away from others in the strong Atlantic Division.

Who’s Identity is it Anyway??

Infograph by 16Wins.com

Okay, so the Winnipeg Jets are paying homage to the WHA’s Jets for their blue Heritage Classic. Kind of a cop-out to just change the color of the jerseys from 2016 and not really pay heritage to say the Falcons that won an Olympic gold, but whatever sells merch, right??

But it brings up an interesting point about the lineage of hockey. Twitter pal Mitch brings up a good point in that– doesn’t all the original Jets’ identity– including the WHA– belong to the Coyotes?? I mean, the Jets as we know them now started off as the Atlanta Thrashers and as far as I know ( I found out in research of this– the Thrashers name and logo are still owned by the people in Atlanta for some ungodly reason); it’s not like the Cleveland Browns in that when they left for Baltimore they got a settlement to keep the original Cleveland Browns stats and history, leaving the Ravens with a clean sheet.

Yet, it also goes to show how little teams care about their actual lineage. The Coyotes used to do a lot of things with Winnipeg Jets’ legends and legacy, but they rarely do that anymore with a new Winnipeg Jets in the league. The Avalanche left all of the Nordiques’ records and such in Quebec City, while the Devils sometimes give a nod to the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies through Easter Eggs in their jersey– but it’s nothing outward. The Hurricanes are finally starting to rekindle their heritage with their Whalers’ nights– which is a nice thing to see.

So, who owns the rights to teams identities when they leave for another market?? The Coyotes have Bobby Hull, Dale Hawerchuk, and Thomas Steen’s jerseys retired; so they must own the records, right?? Rick Ley and John McKenzie’s numbers have been used by the Hurricanes (which Jack Edwards will let you know about), though the #2 of Ley is retired under Glen Wesley’s name.

To the victors go the spoils and they can do with it what they want. The sad fact is that most teams don’t utilize this enough. People clamor for nostalgia, people want the merch that comes with those old gaudy logos and jerseys (read: St. Louis Blues’ new throwback/alternative), and if you’re going to know where you’re going as a hockey fans– you’ve got to know where you’ve been. Not enough teams realize that with their old guards moving forward into the next realm of being, their stories and history goes with them if it’s not properly preserved or used. It’ll be a faded memory of another time.

While the Surviving….errr….”Original” Six teams do a decent job at honoring them– it needs to be more widespread through the league. While it’s great to make new memories and great that we’re seeing probably the best caliber of players in the history of the game…it’s best not to forget those that were before it– whether it was great or not. More over, teams need to remember where they came from– not in a get-famous-and-forget-your-roots movie tropes; but literally need to hash out where their heritage lies. If they moved and they’re not going to recognize where they moved from– give those records back to the NHL or the city they came from and move on. If they’re going to use that history of where they moved from– then use it and don’t let it rot.

Though, I will say I haven’t seen an area be this hungry for their former glory that Winnipeg and the Jets. I don’t remember this kind of uproar about the Minnesota Wild coming back and the fans wanting the North Stars records and logos and such. That either makes them really hardcore or just overly fanatical.

Better Know An Affiliate: Arizona Coyotes

The season is right around the corner, so why not let people into the whole line of teams that their parent team will be dealing with throughout the season. I did this a few years back on another website of mine, so why not revive it and go from there??

AHL: Tuscon Roadrunners (34-25-5-3, 5th in Pacific, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: After the California teams moved, the Coyotes bought the Springfield Falcons and moved them to Tucson in 2016. Much like the rest of the AHL Pacific, the reasoning was so that players didn’t have to make cross-country flights in the event of a call-up. Before the Roadrunners, the Coyotes bookended their affiliation with Springfield– who was their first affiliate from 1996 until 2004, with the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder taking some players in 1998-99. After the first time with the Falcons, the Coyotes put their prospects with the Utah Grizzlies, San Antonio Rampage, and Portland Pirates before returning to Springfield and the moving to Tucson.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: Goalie Adin Hill is a likely candidate depending upon the health of the goalies above him, but it could be a look at the blue-line for guys moving up and down. Robbie Russo, who signed a one-year, two-way deal this summer, has a lot of offensive upside that could be useful for the Coyotes moving ahead. Though, Russo’s age could play a factor– which means that another talented blue-liner– who already had some time with the Coyotes– Kyle Capobianco has the same offensive upside, but is four years younger and has a better two-way play element that Russo has; albeit very slightly.

ECHL: Rapid City Rush (30-33-5-4, 6th in Mountain, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Coyotes moved back to the Black Hills of South Dakota, as the Rush return as the ECHL affiliate after the Coyotes left in 2017. The Coyotes have had a bevvy of secondary affiliates across a couple leagues– ECHL, UHL, and CHL– over the 23-year franchise history. In fact, the Coyotes have had multiple secondary affiliates four times in their franchise history: 2001-02 (Mississippi Sea Wolves and BC Icemen), 2006-07 (Phoenix Roadrunners and Laredo Bucks), 2010-11 (Las Vegas Wranglers and Laredo Bucks), and 2012 until 2014 (Gwinnett Gladiators and Arizona Sundogs).
NOTABLE GRADUATES: There have been a couple of Rush players who have moved up from the Rush to the NHL, including Adin Hill, Marek Langhamer, and Michael Bunting– all of which were called through the Coyotes system.

The Reboot of Hunter Miska

Coming out of Minnesota-Duluth, there were high hopes for Hunter Miska. Sure, he only put in one season, but got the Bulldogs to the final of the National Championship, was the most outstanding goaltender in the NCAA, and looked to be on a solid collision course with success in the pros; especially since he signed with the Arizona Coyotes— who probably was looking for a young, hungry talent to be the new franchise goalie.

Then…something just didn’t click. While he did have a stellar rookie season with the Tucson Roadrunners (22-9-0), his sophomore season wasn’t all it was cracked up to be with a 10-8-4 record, coupled with a 3.08 GAA and .889 save percentage. Because of that– he wasn’t tendered and became an unrestricted free agent. He caught on with the Colorado Eagles for the 2019-20 season, but how did he get there from a promising outlook out of his one year in the NCAA??

Maybe it was just that– only one year in college when he should have taken another year or two more in order to get his game a little more honed before jumping– but can’t blame someone for wanting to get paid for their job. That first year looked promising as many players didn’t have tape on him to figure him out, but obviously the fate was changed in year two while Adin Hill and Merrick Madsen passed him by on the depth chart.

An upside for Miska is that he has a winning pedigree. Before his time at Duluth where he help lead them to the National Title game, he was a big part of the Penticton Vees BCHL title in 2015, while also being named top goalie in the league that year. Following that, he went to the USHL and helped Dubuque get to the Clark Cup Finals in 2016, though he and the Fighting Saints came up short.

With a new team and a new reset on his career at a young age, it could be crunch time for Miska, especially since he’s only under an AHL contract and the Avalanche do have a bit of goaltending depth coming up. He’ll be teamed up with Adam Werner, who will be coming over from Sweden for his first North American season– which could be a bit of an opening for Miska to get playing time should Werner struggle getting adjusted to the North American style.

You just hope that for Miska’s sake– the risk he took coming out of the college early didn’t stunt his progression moving onward in his career.

TEPID TAKE: The Seattle 32nds

The worst kept secret was made official Tuesday, as Seattle was named the 32nd team in the NHL by a unanimous decision. The team will start playing in 2021…labor strife permitting. It was a happening of necessity of getting more of a footprint in the Pacific Northwest, while creating a nice little “rivalry” already with Vancouver, as well as making sure that all the divisions are equal. 

Plus, the price tag of $650M doesn’t hurt either, I’m sure.

However, good on the city of Seattle. They’ve been one of the most vocal group of supporters for wanting a hockey team, it was almost Canadian of them. Of course, with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s plenty to be excited about because the talent pool could be even better and it could give them an even better start than Vegas…but let’s not put the cart before the horse. 

Of course, with all of this– it shifts the landscape a bit. As mentioned, Seattle will go into the Pacific Division, which will shift the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division. Obviously, this has sparked the kind of tongue-in-cheek idea of the Coyotes now moving to Houston and not having to switch divisions– but if they’ve survived this long in the desert, they can survive a divisional move and another round of rumors. 

More over, it may make people question the future of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. They play in Kent, which is about 20 miles from Seattle, but will they be able to keep the fan base they have with this new hockey team in town or could this move signal a possible swan song for the team. Sure, other markets in the WHL have NHL teams with them– Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and soon Winnipeg– but Canadian markets when it comes to hockey vastly differ when it comes to US markets. I would love to see it work as a natural pipeline, but I have my doubts. 

That all said, it’s good for the NHL to have a presence like this in the location they do. They go to a city that doesn’t have another winter sport presence on a daily basis (NFL aside, of course), they go to a play that is hungry for it, and they go to a place where there is history– like when the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans were the first US-based team to win the Stanley Cup. With the right management in place, they could get back there sooner than later once this team gets off the ground. 

The Best NHL is the First Two Weeks of Chaos

cut

We’re two weeks into the season, which next to the playoff run– could be the best part of the season. The wacky bullshit that goes on in the first month or so of the season is the best. Crazy stats, firewagon scores, improbable heroes– it’s the best time of the year to get overly emotional– rightly or wrongly– about what your team really is. There’s no lack of craziness this year, either.

First, let’s start with Keith Kinkaid, who is the really champions of goaltending right now. He’s 4-0-0 with two shutouts and has the New Jersey Devils at a still undefeated record….through four games. He’s making the most of his chances with the Devils, as he is building off his 26-win season from last year and really showing that Cory Schneider may have heavy competition and could even be expendable when he gets healthy again. While he may not lead the goalie stats for much longer, the story he’s creating for himself is one that the Devils faithful need to build off of last year’s turnaround with Taylor Hall at the front and center.

Staying in the East, the Ottawa Senators are above .500 after their purge this off-season and it’s confusing the hell out of me. Granted, I’m sure that’ll take a plunge with Brady Tkachuk’s injury; but still…this is a team who wasn’t expected to win three games in this month (maybe, I didn’t read previews) much less be at seven points after six games. Craig Anderson has already seen the most shots in the league (tied with Devan Dubnyk) through six games at 199, which probably won’t let up any time soon as the time goes on and teams wear down the already inexperienced defense. However, the return from Erik Karlsson was great, as Chris Tierney leads the team in points and Dylan DeMelo is leading the all-important plus/minus stat. Young guns like Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Maxime LaJoie have grabbed the brass ring for the greater roles on the team, while Craig Anderson is playing great in October, as Craig Anderson is wont to do, as he has 42 wins in October over his career (currently second-best, but that’ll change once he gets through the months). Maybe the Sens can fool us all…..but maybe not.

Out West, Connor McDavid is good. In fact, if he can keep up the pace he has in factoring in every goal the Oilers have this season; he’ll have anywhere from 198 to 247 points this year based on the Oilers’ goal output over the last five years. This could happen, McDavid is that good and is able to make the best plays out there for his team– but it shows that maybe the Oilers need some support for their superstar. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl are pulling their weight, but it could be a very uphill climb for the Oilers if they keep packing things on McDavid’s shoulders. Granted, they have McDavid for seven more years after this one…but do you want to wear him out in year four of his career like this??

The one constant is the Arizona Coyotes. As the sun will set in the West, the Coyotes will have one of the most promising outlooks, but stumble out of the gates. They’ve scored four goals in five games and have been shutout three times this season. That’s not great, boss. Sure, they’re only giving up 2.2 goals a game, but that doesn’t help when you’re putting up 0.6 a game. It doesn’t help that Alex Galchenyuk is sidelined, but they have their goalie for the first month of the season, as Antti Raanta was solid when he came back from injury last year, but he couldn’t dig the Coyotes out of the doldrums at that point. It is a young team, sure– Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome will need time to work things out…but man, it’s hard to watch for a team that’s already been beaten down for as long as they have. You’d hope for some good for once.

This is just the scratching of the surface– you got the hot takes of Auston Matthews’ torrid pace, I think Sebastian Aho (and the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes) are getting slept on in the league, and even as a Caps fan– I’m tired of watching them play on NBCSN all the time.

This is just two weeks in. Let’s hope for more chaos as the season round out the first month of action.