On the Topic Of Utica, Vancouver, and Affiliation Distance

When the westward move of the AHL began and many of the Western Conference teams started to move their affiliations, people thought it was a matter of time before the Vancouver Canucks moved their affiliation out of Utica, New York for a closer destination.

Saturday’s announcement put a damper on that idea, at least until the 2020-21 season. That’s because the Canucks and Comets agreed to a new six-year affiliation extension; though it has an option for the Canucks after two seasons to depart upstate New York for somewhere else.

Business wise, Utica is great with president Robert Esche having built a great entertainment outlet. They’re in the midst of a 133-game sellout streak that started in April 2015, while they have been producing plenty of talent of the retooling Canucks– including head coach Travis Green. On the ice, it’s been solid as well with a 193-136-35-16, though the team only has two playoff appearances in the five full seasons the two teams have been affiliated. The Comets haven’t had a season under 35 wins, either.

Obviously, the distance between Utica and Vancouver is something that should be a worry when it comes to call-ups. However, does moving a team closer to the Canucks, namely the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia, make sense when the AHL has tried and failed once before?? Of course, you can say the shortcomings of the Abbotsford Heat was the Calgary Flames being in Canucks territory– but would people actually be enthused to have AHL hockey when the NHL team is maybe an hour away??

Hockey fans can be fickle, so maybe seeing the future of the team may not be as good as seeing the team itself. Plus, when you’re the Canucks and own the Comets (leasing it to Esche and Utica), the fact that money and loyalty keeps rolling in up in Utica, you don’t want to kill that golden goose when it’s making profit. Plus, maybe keeping the young players away from the cutthroat media and possible extreme expectations that would come with being closer to the Canucks may be best for development of some players to be able to learn the system first before having it dissected by everyone in the Vancouver area.

It’s always a struggle when it comes to situations like this. You don’t want to move an affiliation when it’s working so well on the business and hockey side of things, but you also don’t want to have your prospects so far away in a place that’s not a major airline hub that it cuts into the roster of the NHL team. The Canucks have a delicate balancing act they’re doing, but as of right now– they seem to be winning out thus far with the marriage they have in Utica.

2018-19 Season Preview….Kind Of: Western Conference Edition

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Half-assed part 2, let’s go.

The Central Division is an interesting one. For the longest time, it was the Chicago Blackhawks’ playground, but now– it’s almost kind of wide open. The Winnipeg Jets have seemingly found their formula with Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and friends. Their march to the Western Conference finals could have been the coming out party they need. So long as Connor Hellebuyck can keep the good time rolling– maybe this is now a division that belongs to North of the Border for a couple of season.

For the Blackhawks– we’re in the downturn of the dynasty. Despite of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being there and being in their prime ages– the fact their goaltending in Corey Crawford isn’t always healthy and the depth is suspect at best; the former Dynasty could be in the start of their stagnation moving ahead.

Hard to forget about the Nashville Predators, who are in all-in mode this year as much as they have been. This is pivotal year for the team, especially when they look at what to do with impending UFA Pekka Rinne and how they’ll juggle his time with Juuse Saros’ time in net. Aside from that, they have a defensive corp that one of, if not the tops in the league; their offense is full of top tier talent, and overall– this is a team that’s ready to go and make another big push for the Conference final again this year.

The rest of the division is suspect at best, starting the with Minnesota Wild– who seem to be more of the same. Bruce Boudreau could be on a short leash with new GM Paul Fenton, and with the team in place– I don’t know if that leash could get shorter. Sure, Devan Dubnyk is back, but he can only do so much. The offense is really hit and miss, the star players being in the line-up is hit and miss, and there’s plenty of question marks in the State of Hockey.

Add the St. Louis Blues to that mix, only because of Jake Allen. There’s no Carter Hutton to bail him out anymore and he’ll have to actually show he’s a top goalie in this league. He’ll have a lot of tools in front of him with Vlad Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz with Alex Pieterangelo and Colton Parayko on his defense…there’s no reason why Allen shouldn’t be successful in spite of himself and his own short-comings.

I don’t know what to think of the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. The Stars could be a little easier to explain and deal with, as Ben Bishop– if he’s healthy all season– could help them steal a few games here and there. The offense is steady with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn up there, the defense however, is the question. Stephen Johns is out to start the season, which means Marc Methot and John Klingberg are going to have to shoulder a lot of the load– which could lead to easy burn out. The Avalanche now have Philipp Grubauer as the potential replacement for Semyon Varlamov when he should get injured or have his stats drop off, the team was able to rally around Matt Duchene getting traded, and might have an underrated defense against the rest of the league. The offense is one line, which means they’ll need to find some kind of secondary scoring to actually be across the board successful and get back to the playoffs once again.


Will anyone discount the Vegas Golden Knights this year?? Most likely, yes. The whole “Bet you can’t do it again” crowd will be out, but with the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny; the depth of offense is much better. While there will be doubters of M-A Fleury’s heroics and William Karlsson’s scoring prowess, the Knights are making sure they aren’t just a one-hit wonder.

Their toughest challenge will probably come from the San Jose Sharks, who have their best shot at getting into the Stanley Cup Finals with the addition of Erik Karlsson. The former Ottawa defenseman bolsters a blue line with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, while Joe Thornton is back on the ice and probably much quicker without his beard anymore. Martin Jones has seen his win number decline over the past three seasons, but with an upgrade in front of him, you can bet he’ll have another 30+ win season.

With a healthy Jonathan Quick, the LA Kings were a solid team despite getting bounced in the first round again. Anze Kopitar was far and away the best player and may need to be so again to get the Kings back to the playoffs and maybe advance past the first match-up. That 70s Line will have to be a little be more prominent, though to be honest– losing Jeff Carter most of the season didn’t help things as much.

The Anaheim Ducks are going to have to get all they can out of their depth if they want to make the playoffs again. While John Gibson hasn’t been the best at keeping pucks out, the offense didn’t give him much to work with, as they had to lowest goals-for total of any playoff team last season. With Corey Perry out to start the season, as well; old man Getzlaf will have to rally the troops and hope they don’t get run over.

Of the Canadian teams in this division, the one with the most hope could be from Alberta. Whether it’s the Flames or the Oilers is yet to be seen. The Oilers need to figure out which team was the mirage– was it the team who made the playoffs in 2017 or the team that really stunk up the joint last season. Aside from Connor McDavid, there wasn’t much to write home about. However, the hard-on people have for Ty Rattie with McDavid is almost insane levels of silly– it’s almost a Sedins or Crosby situation with how people are infatuated with his play.

The Flames are an odd duck. They have the talent up front to get into the playoffs with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and to a lesser extend Sam Bennett. However, with Bill Peters now at the helm, who knows what can happen. If they’re going to sink to a Carolina level, then it’ll happen quick, but the additions of James Neal and Elias Lindholm up front could bring more attention, while Noah Hanifin could help Mark Giordano on the blue line. If only Mike Smith can get back to some kind of non-sieve form, then they could surprise people.

Not a surprise is the Vancouver Canucks, who really….I don’t know. They have some top-end young talent in Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and others, but the real key is waiting for offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes to come from Michigan to Vancouver. If the rebuild is going to happen– it will be around Boeser and Hughes, maybe even Thatcher Demko when he gets the go-ahead to be the Canucks starter. It’s a waiting game for this team.

That leaves us with Arizona. The trade for Alex Galchenyuk is going to help them a whole lot, it’s a matter of managing injuries. Antti Raanta going down early last year hurt and it seems like there’s not much for goalie depth just yet for the Coyotes who could come in and stop the bleeding. Michael Grabner will add speed and a forechecking threat, Clayton Keller continues to grow, and Mario Kempe could surprise people if given the chance. The Coyotes may even push for a wild card…if they can stay healthy.

TEPID TAKE: 2018 NHL Free Agency Edition

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The first day of open market in the NHL pretty much brought us everyone waiting for John Tavares to finally decide where he was going. The other signings meant nothing until he signed– it was all about JT today.

-So, JT did sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs– making their fanbase even more insufferable when it comes to players who were born in the GTA coming to their Cup-drought filled team. Good on JT for making this decision, though– to walk into the lion’s den freely to achieve a goal to play in your hometown. It’s a comfort for him…for now. Ultimately– he makes the Leafs that much better despite the lack of defense for now.¬† Maybe this will take some of the pressure of Auston Matthews of being the first-line center and perhaps help him get out of whatever doghouse Mike Babcock has Matthews in.

-When it comes to Islanders fans, though, it’s natural to feel pissed at this– especially with JT dragging this process on and really making people wait. The problem is that JT doesn’t owe the fans anything and you should really be mad at the dysfunction in the front office for years rather than the player who wanted to play on a contender. The legacy Garth Snow left is being barely mediocre while not really getting Tavares the support he needed. With Lou Lamoriello being at the helm, we’ll see if he’ll build around Mat Barzal or some other wacky stuff to keep the Islanders middling for years to come.

-The move I liked the least had to be Petr Mrazek going to Carolina. We all are aware that the Scott Darling project hasn’t worked out after the first year, but to get a guy who will be a challenger to Darling’s starting spot could go one of two ways– really good by pushing him and making him better or really bad by having two goalies too tense to make a mistake that their nerves get shot. With two goalies who are better off as a back-up coming in to start a string of games rather than be a starter– the Canes are playing with fire in hopes this will really work out this time.

-Bruce Boudreau really loves former Capitals and grit guys that the Wild signed a lot of them. Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, JT Brown, and Greg Pateryn are joining Minnesota for the next season. For what reason….character?? I really don’t know what these moves are about, but if grit is the one thing the Wild thing was missing– then they are sure to get further now.

-Most people hate the Jack Johnson deal. I think the tenure of the deal is what gets me, but overall– it’s not HORRIBLY BAD. Especially in Pittsburgh, Johnson could get back into the groove of things with his boy Sidney Crosby around and Mike Sullivan working him until turns it around in a big way. It could turn out to be a very big value deal if Johnson can actually get his game back.

-Speaking of tenure deals I don’t like– Jay Beagle to Vancouver. I’m glad Beagle got paid somewhere. He was a folk-hero in Washington for years, but he couldn’t have been expecting that money in DC. Four years for Beagle at $12M is something I shook my head at for Vancouver. Good on Beagle to get his money, Jim Benning better hope it pans out for the team and gets them closer to another level.

-One of the busiest teams was the Dallas Stars. They picked up Anton Khudobin, Blake Comeau, Roman Polak, and Val Nichushkin. A decent amount of depth there– Khudobin hoping not to be another in the junkyard that is goalies of Stars past, while Nichushkin comes back after a two-season hiatus in the KHL putting up 27 goals and 51 points in 86 games. Polak will be another veteran presence on the blueline next to Marc Methot and help tutor the younger defensemen in the Stars line-up.

That’s the moves that stand-out to me that need talking about. We’ll cover more of these on Face Off Hockey Show Wednesday night live and on podcast that weekend. After Tavares, things kind of cooled down. Which is fine for a holiday week and reporters wanting to actually enjoy it for a change. That said, there’s probably going to be small moves here and there as teams address their depth needs and wants.

UND HOCKEY: Risk, Reward on the Line for Underclassmen Fighting Hawks Going Pro

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Midco Sports Network’s Alex Heinert pointed out that there has been a helluva lot of underclassmen leaving school early and going pro. Who can blame them, honestly– when the next level is calling and money is being thrown your way– why not take it?? You can’t blame them to get the money and go for their dream job when they can before they have some kind of injury that really shelves their potential.

The University of North Dakota have two players leaving early to go onto their professional career. Last week, both Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich signed their pro deals in two nation’s capitals– Wolanin with Ottawa and Gersich with Washington. It’s another year for UND to lose players early. Last season, they lost three players early– Tucker Poolman, Tyson Jost, and Brock Boeser and after their 2015-16 National Championship run, they lost Troy Stetcher, Keaton Thompson, Nick Schmaltz, Luke Johnson, and Paul LaDue to the pros. There’s a reason why University of North Dakota is on the cusp of having 100 players to play in the NHL.

When it comes to someone like Poolman, he really couldn’t do much more with UND. He was NHL-ready and that junior season was the icing on the cake for Poolman to try and repeat as a National Champion. The same could be said for Wolanin, who came into his own during the off-season and transferred it to his junior season, becoming the first defenseman since 1983 to lead UND in scoring for the season. Of course, on a rebuilding team and probably being a key cog in that, there’s going to be a lot of weight on Wolanin’s shoulders– especially given his pedigree being the son of a former NHLer.

Of course– there’s risks involved from leaving college early and not living up to the hype that has been out there right off the bat. That could leave people to wonder if it was worth leaving school early for. That’s something that I wonder when it come to Shane Gersich. Last season, alongside Jost and Boeser; Gersich made his name known with 21 goals and 37 points in 40 games. This season was solid for Gersich, if not frustrating at times. With only five goals and six assists in his first 20 games, you could see Gersich fighting the puck during his struggles. However, new year– new Shane as Gersich finished with eight goals and 10 assists in the second half to have some mojo going into his last games with the Fighting Hawks.

One recent example against the move for Gersich could be his former linemate in Jost, who left the University of North Dakota after his freshman season last year to sign with the Colorado Avalanche (after some alleged heavy/annoying persuading by the Avalanche brass). With only nine goals and 19 points in 59 games this season, you could argue that Jost wasn’t ready for that jump and could have used the time to stay at UND to grow more. Granted, you can’t take injuries into effect when they sign that deal, but it happens and you adapt from it.

Conversely– there’s players who may not look like they’re ready, but surprise plenty of naysayers– like Gersich’s other linemate in Boeser, who was a heavy Calder Trophy favorite with 29 goals (10 on the power play) and 55 points in 62 games until his season-ending back injury this year. Boeser could have probably went pro after his freshman year and winning a National Championship– but he decided to stick around. I’ll say upfront I didn’t think it was best for Boeser to do that, as he didn’t look that great to close out his sophomore season– but I’m glad he proved me wrong on that.

Both Gersich and Wolanin will face some hardships when they get into the big leagues– it happens with most every player, whether they leave early or stay all four years in college. There’s probably going to be questions of if they should have stayed one more year or if they should even be with the team that drafted them. In the end, they made the choice right for them and you have to respect them for it regardless of personal view now or down the road.

Welcome to Boeser Club

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I’ll be the first to say I’m not the biggest Vancouver Canucks fan. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I could never really get into the team for one reason or another and some of their fan base– like most fan bases– are vocally annoying. Yet, there’s one thing that may bring me back to the team…and I’m sure by the title of the post, you’ve figured it out.

It’s Brock Boeser.

Having seen Boeser play at the University of North Dakota, it’s easy to see why this kid is gaining so many fans. He’s got decent speed, his shot is up there with some the NHL’s best, and he’s got some pretty decent hands. While he’s an American on a Canadian team, the NHL can’t really properly market him to the US audience because their marketing team is seemingly inept at that kind of thing.

However, I will say that once Boeser left the University of North Dakota following the double-OT loss to Boston in the NCAA first round,¬† I thought it was a mistake. Boeser was hampered with a wrist injury that limited him to only 32 games and when he came back, he didn’t seem like the dominant force he was before the injury. Boeser would pass up scoring attempts, double clutch on power play opportunities, and looked like he wasn’t comfortable.

I’m man enough to look back and say I was wrong. With 11 goals in 21 games this season– nine of those since November 1st– Boeser has gotten that swagger back in a big way. After four goals in his first nine games at the end of last season, Boeser and his new head coach Travis Green had a discussion after developmental camp which seems to have triggered this scoring onslaught at the end of November.

The rookie race in the NHL through the first two months is anyone’s race. While Clayton Keller and Boeser do have the headlines for their play, you can’t count out Matthew Barzal in Brooklyn, Will Butcher in New Jersey, and Alex DeBrincat in Chicago still waiting for their big major press clippings– there’s plenty of time for any rookie to make their case. That said, I’m all on-board with Boeser if only due to personal interactions at UND.

Not only that– but as the wrestling geek that I am, it’s easy for anyone to play the advocate role for their new favorite client BRRRRROOOOOCCCKKKK BOESER (though UND SID Jayson Hajdu was real advocate those two years at North Dakota). That said, I’ve gone a different route– a little bit of a hotter route for this gimmick. It’s a gimmick that’s almost too sweet to pass up.¬†Therefore, I pitch that those who are on the Brock Boeser bandwagon join up with the Boeser Club.

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Quick and Dirty Sketch by Me

And who knows, once I clean up the logo enough– it’ll be time for them to announce the Calder Winner, BRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOCCCCKKKKK BOESER.