Monday, September 4, 2017

My Kingdom for a Defenceman

The title speaks for itself doesn't it?  The Maple Leafs lost too many one-goal games last season. The Leafs blew too many big leads simply because of nervous defencemen not sure of their responsibility.

The signing of Ron Hainsey will help, but he should not be a top defender. Ron will help with his experience and with a Stanley Cup ring. He will help the young kids and lead them by example.

His stats: four goals and eight assists with a minus eight. The Leafs need him to become an inspirational leader. A stay-home defender who is relentless at what he is expected to do. What is he supposed to do? Ron has to be the defencemen that say the puck stops here. He has to be the repairman in a house that is full of leaks.

It is common knowledge that the Maple Leafs need to trade some scoring. The Leafs are quietly shopping JVR, which may very well become louder and louder. The Bozak to the Pens trade no longer seems possible.

There have been whisperings of Bozak to the Rangers. The Rangers are in dire needs of a second-line center. Bozak fits the bill; the Rangers do have some young defense who might just fit the Leafs' needs.

I expect Nick Holden will be available, but again, I am not sure he fits the bill either. Nick would help he is not the repairman either. The Leafs have to consider shopping JVR. Like I said earlier, louder and louder. They are going to have to make it known.  Maybe they can discuss a deal with the Ducks. I am just spitting out names right now, but they need the help soon.

My kingdom for a defenceman.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Leafs: what to look forward to

Looking ahead to this season, what is there to look forward to? When it comes to the Maple Leafs, most of us think of the exciting forwards. So what do we have to look forward to this season?

Auston Matthews #34

We can be comforted by having Matthews for a very long time.  We can look forward to another 30-goal season from Matthews. I suspect a 70-point season from him. I think he will develop into a playmaker who makes him an overall better player. Matthews will be the leader of this team and will mature into a better player this season.

Mitchell Marner #16 

Mr. Marner blossomed into a dangerous playmaking player.  Mitchell will continue to produce. He is one of the smartest players in the League and will continue support Matthews as the leaders of this team. We can look forward to a 65-point season.

Connor Brown #12

Connor will be the player that will do the little things right. He will continue to develop into an all-around better player.  He will get his 35-45 point season.  Anywhere to a 17 to 20 goal season. He is capable of becoming a top-6 forward.

Ron Hainsey (Not assigned a number)

Ron brings a major cog into this team. He brings a Stanley Cup ring into the room. Hainsey will lead by example and bring stability into the defensive core. Will finally have some leadership in the defense.

Morgan Rielly #44

Morgan will be a better defenseman because of the emergence of Ron Hainsey. His load might be a little less and maybe less load equals fewer mistakes. This will make Morgan a better-rested dman in the playoffs.

The Leafs will have a bright future with a solid core. They will be a better team with more talent. They will be a smarter because of grizzled vets who will stop mistakes.  They still have a great security blanket in the net with Frederik Andersen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

One-on-One with Ken Schott

Randy's comments in italics

What did you think of what Gaudreau said? Do you think he could be a Flyer some day?

1) I can understand Gaudreau's sentiments. He grew up in the Philadelphia area and rooted for the Flyers, so it's natural to think about what it would be like to play for the team you rooted for growing up. But since he's in year two of a six-year contract with the Flames, I don't see him donning an orange and black jersey anytime soon.

I was upset at the comments. But I also understand the sentiment.  I mean, I have been a Maple leaf fan from day one. I would love to play for the Leafs. Johnny will not play for any other team for some time. But I do believe he won't be a Flame at the end of his contract. 

2) I know you cover Union hockey. Can you name a player who stands out on the team?

It's going to be a transitional year for the Dutchmen, having lost their top two scorers in senior Mike Vecchione, who signed with the Flyers, and junior Spencer Foo, who signed with the Flames. Among the returning players, I'm going to keep my eye on junior forward Sebastian Vidmar. He was on the line with Vecchione and Foo for most of the season and had 14 goals and 27 assists. Will he be able to keep that production going with out Vecchione and Foo?

Foo is going to be solid forward. Simon will be given every opportunity to make the team. He looks like a solid prospect with a chance of being a top-six forward. Vidmar if he is close to Foo,  will be a good one.

One player who was under the radar last season was forward Cole Maier. He had a quiet, yet good season, collecting 15 goals and ten assists, and was second on the team in game-winning goals with four. A junior, Maier was named team captain. He has some big skates to fill in that role from Vecchione.

He sounds like a solid two-way leader with some punch. I look forward to seeing him. 

One incoming player to keep an eye on is Parker Foo, Spencer Foo's younger brother. Parker Foo helped the Brooks Bandits win the Alberta Junior Hockey League title last season and had 34 goals and 33 assists. He was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fifth round of June's NHL draft. Can he follow in his brother's skate strides? We shall see.

He has good bloodlines. He looks like he has all the tools his brother has. I will keep an eye on him.

3) Which Flyer will stand out this season?

It would easy for me to say defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who I covered at Union. But it's not him. It will be right winger Wayne Simmonds, who has been emerging as a leader for the team. He was their top goal scorer last season with 31. He plays a tough, physical game and he's not afraid to drop the gloves. Runner-up would be defenseman Ivan Provorov, who was very impressive in his rookie season last year. His skill level and his calmness showed me he will be a top-notch defenseman in the NHL for many years.

I love Wayne Simmons, always have. He is a leader who always seems to be around the puck. He knows how to win and does what it takes.  A proven sniper who is capable of scoring 30 goals every year.

4) Are you talking scouting as in recruiting players or scouting as an advanced scout?

I believe scouting has changed over the last few years. Instead of looking for that hot-shot forward or a rugged player, scouts are looking for the "200-foot player," one that can be strong in the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone. It's not enough to just be a scorer. I'll use Mike Vecchione as an example. He only had 29 points his junior year and was just a plus-3 because the coaching staff wanted to be a better 200-foot player. That junior year proved to be invaluable, In his senior year, Vecchione had 63 points, had a plus-19 and was a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist.

An all around hockey player, the one who can play both ways.  The League is no longer in need of an offensive specialist. There is more to the game than just scoring goals.  The League is not what it used to be.

5) Do the Flyers make the playoffs?

That is the million dollar question. They are in an extremely tough division in the Metropolitan. The four teams that made the playoffs from the division, the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers, all had over 100 points. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup. For the Flyers to make the playoffs, it will be easy to say it comes down to goaltending. Brian Elliott replaces Steve Mason, and they still have Michal Neuvirth. But it's more than the goalies. They need consistency from players like Jakob Voracek and Claude Giroux. They need bounce-back seasons from Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere, both of whom struggled at times last year. And their defensive corps will be young.

My prediction: They sneak in as a wild card.

I figured they would be a challenger for a playoff spot. Their Captain, Giroux, does not quit and symbolizes their heart.  The Flyers will never quit, their style will keep them in most games.

6) Lastly, tell us about yourself.

I have been a sportswriter for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y., just outside of Albany, for 27 years. I covered Union College hockey for 25 years, starting from their transition to NCAA Division I hockey from Division III in 1991. I chronicled their struggles trying to make it in Division I to their pinnacle of winning the NCAA hockey title in 2014 in my hometown of Philadelphia. For 20 years, I co-hosted a college hockey show on various radio stations in the Capital Region. I produced and hosted the "Slap Schotts Hockey Show" on Facebook Live last season.

Before joining The Daily Gazette, I started my sportswriting career in Nov. 1983 while in college at the York Daily Record in York, Pa. I covered the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears for five seasons (1985-90) when they were affiliated with the Flyers. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and our family had season tickets to the Flyers for over 30 years. My most memorable moment was watching the Flyers win the Stanley Cup in the Spectrum on May 19, 1974.

Ken is one my most favorite people I follow on Twitter. He is always willing to help people when he can. He is one of the best. You can follow Ken on Twitter at @slapschotts.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Blog Questions With Paul Kreischer

(Randy's comments in italics)

1. Is John Tavares committed to the Islanders?

Yes! Some believed that if a contract extension could not be reached by now, that John Tavares may, in fact, be traded to get the most value. That thought process will continue as the season moves along, especially close to the trade deadline. However, Tavares has stated many times that his desire is to remain with the Islanders and that the Islanders want him back as well. Tavares will get the max 8-year deal, and as of this writing, let’s assume it’s worth 80-88 million. That’s a contract the Islanders can easily afford and Tavares has an excellent relationship with both Isles gm Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight.

What’s the hold up then? For all of their existence, the Islanders have been tenants in either the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum or their current home, the Barclays Center. The Isles have a golden opportunity to finally become owners of an arena that they can make and call their own near the Belmont race track. For those who do not know, Belmont is the third stage of horse racing’s triple crown event, and the Islanders want to build an arena in that surrounding area.

What the Islanders (and Tavares) are waiting for is the state approval from New York to permit the construction. It’s one thing to know you’ll be getting the security of being with one team and the money is always good, but it’s another thing entirely on where you want to LIVE. Tavares loves Long Island, but if the Islanders continue to have arena issues during the next eight years, it may be something he could walk away from before it begins. Tavares is very loyal to the Islanders and it would be the perfect story for a player who resurrected a dynasty franchise, won a Stanley Cup (or two, maybe three), helped build an Islanders arena to literally call home for good retired as an Islander and locked himself in as a hockey Hall of Famer. Many of the answers will come during the season, so there is nor rush for Tavares to sign right now.

I just can't see him in any other uniform. John bleeds New York Islanders plain and simple.

2. Which Islander is due for a breakout season?

Josh Ho-Sang. The Islanders off-season actually started last March when they called Josh up to give him a taste of the NHL after winning player of the month in the AHL in February. So let me reiterate that part, he earned his call-up to the Islanders.

In the minors, Ho-Sang learned how to be a pro,  committed himself to the team, and gained an incredible work ethic. When the results showed in the minors, he earned his call-up, and it showed at the NHL level. That made the trading of Ryan Strome easier and getting a player like Eberle only improves the Islanders. So what am I looking for from Ho-Sang? Well, he scored 10 points last year and Strome only produced 30. I firmly believe that Ho-Sang can put up more than 40 points. I think you’re looking at a young man becoming a core player in this franchise and more.

I am looking forward to seeing Ho-Sang progress this season.

3.  A lot of Islanders fans are worried. Give us one reason to be excited this season.

First, off they shouldn’t be. Yes, Tavares not resigning will be a distraction, but only to the fans. I’ll give you three reasons why Islanders fans should be excited: the aforementioned Ho-Sang, Ryan Pulock, and if he makes the team, western Canada’s Mathew Barzal.

As Randy will attest, I follow the draft since the Islanders began the rebuild back in 2008 and I watch as many minor league games (AHL & ECHL) as possible due to my home in northeast Pennsylvania.  I’m just under 2 hours from 5-7 of them. I predicted the Isles would draft Pulock back in 2013 and have watched his progression since then. He’s ready for the NHL, and that’s why Calgary was blessed to get a player like Travis Hamonic from the Islanders.  Pulock has been working on his all-round game, including his playmaking skills last year, his defensive game may not win him the Norris just yet, but after getting some help from players like Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg, he’s going to be a top-four defenceman this year and will not look out of place.

Oh yeah, he’s got a pretty hard slap shot too.

Paul is an elite hockey mind. He has many contacts in around the NHL. He has been close to the Islanders for years. I will attest to his credibility. He is one of the best.

Mathew Barzal is a real catalyst. He’s a playmaking center who has a chance at being this years number two center behind Tavares. Are 40-50 points out of the question for him? After talking to some people in Western Canada and depending on his line mates, he could very well produce such numbers.  For now, I’d like to be cautiously optimistic about him, but I’m liking his potential as an Islander.

I have seen Matthew play; he can skate his way through a phone booth. The kid is probably one of the most gifted players in the WHL last year. A skilled passer with the best of them. I feel that he is going to be in the NHL for years to come.

Speaking of potential, what I really like about Ho-Sang and Pulock is that their potential starts this year. The future is now; it’s time. Barzal would simply be the icing on a very big cake for this franchise moving forward.

Mr.  Pulock is going to help a Islanders' powerplay immensely. He has a terrific shot, with a high hockey IQ.  Ho-Sang is a sneaky power forward, with tons of potential. A terrific playmaker who makes things happen. 

4.  Whacky prediction: Name one thing about the Isles that will shock people.

The Islanders will reach the Conference Finals this year. That, however, is for another article. Speaking of future articles…

I have always said to Paul is a top-six forward from being a contender.  I still feel that way they have some very good talent. 

5. Tell us about yourself sell us your site.

My name is Paul Kreischer, and I’m a ten-year blogger on the New York Islanders. I follow the draft, the minor leagues including the Isles prospects across the pond, and of course the Islanders. The site I work for is called IslesTalk, and you can follow that on Facebook. You can also follow me on twitter at @P_Kreischer.  I will follow back, and I do watch all of the other teams so if you have any questions and would like an “out-of-area” opinion, I’m always around to talk hockey.

I would like to thank my friend Randy for the opportunity to come here and build some great connections with all of you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Leafs' all-time moments

Since this is the off season, I thought I would be sentimental. Today, I would like to blog my favourite moments in Maple Leafs history. Since I am extremely old, I will not be offended that most of you will think I am an old coot.

January 2, 1992 - The Day Dougie Arrived


Or as I call it, the day that Doug Risebrough lost his brain.  The moment that Doug arrived in Toronto, it saved the Leafs' season. Many people call the trade the most lopsided trade in history.  Doug Gilmour, Rick Wamsley, Rick Nattress, Jamie Macoun, Kent Manderville went to the Leafs. Going to the Flames, Greg Berube, Alexander Godynyuk, Gary Leeman, Michel Petit, and goaltender Jeff Reese. To this day, many people feel it cost Risebrough his tenure in Calgary as the GM.

Leafs vs. Isles 1978 Playoffs


Lanny Macdonald's goal in game seven vs. the Isles was awesome.  The series itself was billed as David vs. Goliath. But it turned into a classic, each team taking momentum back and forth. What made it so awesome for me was the fact that I gave the Leafs no chance to win it. What made it sweeter for Lanny was that he struggled most of the season. Coming up with the winning goal was an emotional moment.

1967 - Leafs vs. Habs for the Cup


The series was the perfect Cinderella story. Everyone was making fun of the old farts. The Leafs had the oldest team in the League, led by their goaltending tandem of Bower and Sawchuk. Terry Sawchuck was 38 years old. Johnny Bower was 42.  Red Kelly being changed from a defenceman into a centre was bad enough, but he was also in his forties. Watching these underdogs defeat the untouchables was priceless. Dave Keon was in his prime leading the Leafs in scoring in the regular season, and he was the leader of the Leafs in the playoffs. Dave Keon was the MVP and recipient of the Conn Smyth trophy.

Dougie Gilmour Playoff Goal vs. Blues


A fantastic game played between two equally-matched teams. The highlight was a goaltender battle between Curtis Joesph and Felix Potvin. Curtis Joseph was not human that game, facing 60 shots in the double overtime loss of 2-1. Gilmour made dipsy-doodle from behind the net and Joesph could not recover in time for the winning goal.

I have plenty more, but those are my best moments as a Leaf fan.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Flames Then and Now

Originally blogged at Flames Scratch Pad

I dare say the Flames'  defense has never been so highly vaunted since 1989. Most people are putting the Flames defense in the top four in the League. Some say as high as second in the League just behind the Preds blue line.  How good is this defense? I think excellent, but only time will tell how good they are.

So, I thought I would compare the 1989 team with this year's defensive corps. Which defense is better? This is obviously subjective, but let's have a look:

1989 Flames Defence

Al MacInnis

Maybe the best dman on the Flames ever.  Al had three 20-goal seasons as a defenceman.  Although this was in a different era of hockey, twenty goals is comparable to fifty goals as a forward.  Al was a consistent all-star while with the Flames.

Gary Suter    

A terrific playmaking defencemen who would have been number one on most teams. But because Al, Gary never got any of the limelight. That suited Gary just fine.

Jamie Macoun

A steady stay home defencemen who you could always rely on. Jamie knew his limitations and rarely got caught out of place. Jamie was the player who blocked the shot when needed.  He was a stable influence on the defense to calm things down.

Brad McCrimmon

Brad was a solid defenceman with some offensive punch. Mostly on the ice to cover up mistakes.  An excellent penalty killer with a no nonsense mentality.

Rob Ramage   

His best years were with the Blues. By the time he got traded to the Flames, he was a service defenceman.  He was mostly there to fill a hole on the defense.  And he did. A solid dman who could be relied on in the defensive zone.

Dana Murzyn

A number six defencemen who played limited minutes.  Nothing more nothing less. He did what was expected of him. The only thing was, there not much expected of him.

Flames 2017

Mark Giordano 

The leader, the heart, and soul of the team.  Mark has been so steady for so long. When the Flames needed a hit, goal, or play, Mark is their man. He does everything well on the powerplay and penalty kill.  Most offensive dmen lack the defensive play. Mark does not.

TJ Brodie

TJ is a gifted young defenceman who can distribute the puck with accuracy. He is a solid, playmaking defenseman who can cover up his mistakes with his speed.  He could be as high as a number two on most teams. In Calgary, he is a three or four guy.

Dougie Hamilton

Dougie can do it all for the Flames.  An excellent, all around defencemen.  Dougie is involved in all aspects of the game, his slapshot highly underrated. He is used as the number one powerplay unit with Gio.  He is a slick, playmaking defensemen who can pass with the best of them.

Travis Hamonic

The highly-touted ex- New York Islander will fit right in.  The key point is Travis does not have the pressure of being the man.  He is a second pairing defenseman. He will flourish in his role. No pressure, and all the glory in the lineup this season.

Michael Stone 

In ninety percent of the League, Michael would be the second pairing defencemen. Unfortunately for him, he is on the Flames, which puts him as a number five defencemen.  Michael is not a flashy player, but he is consistently playing with in his strength. Rarely does he play out of his game, which is the main reason the Flames re-signed him.

Matt Bartkowski/Rasmus Andersson 

Whichever one gets the job will have Stone as a teacher. Matt is the most stable.  Meaning more experienced and more predictable.  Andersson is the more talented but maybe makes more mistakes. Either way, you get what you get in sixth defensemen.

Conclusion

There you have it. I feel the "now" defense is very close to any team in the League.  The only reason I would be leaning toward the "then" team is Al Macinnis.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Leafs — Decision Time

Everyone but the kitchen sink knows the Leafs will be shipping Bozak or JVR.  The most obvious choice is Pit for Bozak. The Penns have plenty of young prospects on the defense for the Leafs to chose from.

The name we keep hearing from the Penns in the Bozar rumors is Olli Maatta. Olli is a young dman who has tons of potential. Olli is a solid defenceman who can help with the defensive leak.

What leak? Let me show you my thinking. The Leafs are in dire straights for defencemen. Especially all around one, who chips in with the odd goal. The Leafs lost too many close games down the stretch. The Maple Leafs have to address the defensive breakdowns. There are too many scoring chances in the defensive zone.

They need a veteran dman who can settle things down. The Leafs' lack of leadership in the defense lead to much panicking; i.e. running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

I would go far as picking up two defencemen; one defensive stay-home, and one puck-mover. Their main obstacle is 50 contracts, which are the maximum number of contracts allowed. Then there is the simple issue of cap relief.  

So there is some work to be done. Lots of maneuvering of moving bodies to make the cap work and the number of contracts. Expect the Leafs to be making some moves. That is vital for them to take the next step to becoming a contender.