The NHL has plenty of talent among its youngest and oldest players

1 Comment

happystamkosandstlouis.jpgEarlier this summer, a article that nominated Sidney Crosby as the best athlete in all sports under 25 years old sparked further discussion about the league’s incredible amount of talent in that age group. NHL.com produced two articles that shows the great players in the two largest age extremes in the league.

First, NHL.com took a look at the best players under 21. While I didn’t see a goalie on the list, the forward ranks are lead by Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane while the defensemen include Drew Doughty and Tyler Myers. Take a look at some of the other forwards listed by the Web site.

John Tavares, New York Islanders
Age: 19

Tavares, one of the most heralded junior players in years, stepped right into the NHL after being taken No. 1 in the 2009 Entry Draft and gave the Isles — last in the overall standings in ’08-09 — an offensive boost. He didn’t tear up the League, but he did finish with 24 goals, 30 assists and the promise of a lot more to come as he gets stronger and smarter. The Isles are banking on Tavares to be the cornerstone of their rebuilding efforts.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche
Age: 19

Despite a late-season offensive slump, the Avs were more than happy with what they saw from Duchene, whom they selected with the No. 3 pick in 2009. The speedy center finished with 24 goals and a rookie-leading 55 points in 81 games, helping the Avalanche improve from last in the Western Conference in 2008-09 to a playoff team last spring.

Before everyone over the legal drinking age starts to feel like underachievers, note that the NHL.com list of the best players above the age of 35 shows that the league’s elder skatesmen are not to be outdone by those young whippersnappers. Just look at who would play on the blueline and in net (sponsored by Centrum Silver and Oil of Olay, I imagine).

Goalie

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Age: 38
The winningest goaltender in NHL history shows no signs of slowing down. All he did last season was lead the League in games (77) and minutes played (4,499), wins (45) and shutouts (9), while finishing third in goals-against average (2.24) and leading the New Jersey Devils to another Atlantic Division title. Brodeur is at 602 wins and counting, and he added the NHL’s all-time shutout record to his list of achievements last season. Time will catch up to him someday — but by the looks of it, that day isn’t coming anytime soon.

Defense

Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
Age: 35
The calendar says he’s 35 (he turns 36 in the season’s first week), but Pronger, now with Philadelphia, is still one of the NHL’s elite defensemen. With 10 goals and 55 points, he’s one of the top offensive contributors on the blue line, and at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Pronger remains a physical force as well. Had the Flyers won the Stanley Cup, Pronger was likely the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Age: 40
The best news the Detroit Red Wings received after being eliminated from the playoffs is that Lidstrom will return for another season. Though he wasn’t a postseason All-Star in 2009-10, Lidstrom became a member of the 1,000-point club and was captain of a team that rallied from an injury-riddled first four months of the season to make the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At 40, he still moves the puck better than almost any other NHL defenseman and put up 40 assists and 49 points while going plus-22.

It’s interesting that one of the forwards in the over-35 group (Martin St. Louis) enjoyed such great chemistry with one in the under-21 section (Steven Stamkos).

The beauty of the NHL’s post-lockout emphasis on speed and skill is that true talent can show through (sorry, Mike Rathje). As those two polarized posts reveal, the league may wave goodbye to a great old guard of aging players, but the future is bright when you consider the fact that the Kanes and Doughtys of the world haven’t even entered the prime of their careers just yet.

Campbell seems a perfect fit in return to Blackhawks

MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 05:  Brian Campbell #51 of the Florida Panthers skates the puck in his one thousandth NHL career match against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on April 5, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Florida Panthers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) Brian Campbell‘s 3-year-old daughter had soccer on Saturday morning, so his family skipped the Blackhawks’ scrimmage at the United Center. The grinning defenseman said he wasn’t sure if her team was playing games yet, but she had to be there.

No big deal. Campbell will get plenty of opportunities for family time this year.

The 37-year-old Campbell is back in Chicago after spending the last five seasons in Florida, leaving some money on the table for a one-year deal and a second stint with the Blackhawks. His wife, Lauren, is from the region, and the couple and their two young daughters make their offseason home in the area.

“It’s just great to wake up every morning and I know the area and my wife’s extremely happy and the kids with school and everything just being ready to go,” he said.

The move was a no-brainer for Chicago, which lost Johnny Oduya during free agency last July and missed his veteran presence at times last season. With Campbell in the fold, the Blackhawks appear to be in great shape with their blue liners, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook leading a deep group of defensemen.

Campbell, who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010, had six goals and 25 assists in 82 games with the Panthers last season. He led NHL defensemen with a plus-31 plus-minus rating.

“Just such a real smart player,” said Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen, who also coached Campbell for three seasons in Florida. “I think his patience is a real key for us. He makes really quality plays. He’s been around for a while and he loves the game. He can skate all night.”

The Blackhawks love mobile defensemen who can help on the offensive side, and Campbell seems like a perfect fit for what they try to do. He assisted on Richard Panik‘s first goal of Saturday’s scrimmage, the centerpiece of the team’s annual training camp festival, and carried the puck all the way up the ice during another impressive sequence.

Chicago is missing several players at the moment due to the World Cup of Hockey, but Campbell has made a smooth return to the Blackhawks so far.

“There’s a few things system-wise that’s going to be different, I’m sure. It’s kind of tough to get into that right now,” said Campbell, who played in every regular-season game while he was with the Panthers. “But not much has changed. There’s a lot of the same staff, which is great, and the organization just keeps getting better every day.”

Campbell, a native of Strathroy, Ontario, played with a couple of current Blackhawks during his first stint with the team, and he already has made an impression on his new teammates.

“Skating with him and seeing him out in these scrimmages, his poise with the puck and his play recognition and how he moves the puck up the ice and gets it away from us,” goaltender Scott Darling said, “we’re really happy to have him.”

Campbell, a four-time All-Star, broke into the NHL with Buffalo in 1999. He won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2012 after collecting four goals and 49 assists in 82 games with Florida, becoming the first defenseman since Red Kelly in 1954 to win the award.

Coming off perhaps his best season – Campbell’s plus-minus rating was a career best – he doesn’t appear to be worried about duplicating his form from a year ago.

“For me this year, it’s just work hard and produce and help out,” he said. “I expect a lot out of myself. I just want to be a good puck mover for this team, play well defensively. Those are the things I kind of did last year. Points will come, I’m not worried about that aspect of the game. Just trying to win hockey games and help these young kids.”

Related: The Blackhawks are ‘very high’ on Michal Kempny

 

Embroiled in contract dispute, Rieder won’t attend Coyotes camp

New York Islanders v Arizona Coyotes
Getty
Leave a comment

Still-unsigned RFA Tobias Rieder is currently loving life as a member of Team Europe’s surprising World Cup entry.

His life with the Arizona Coyotes is less idyllic, though.

Over the weekend, Rieder’s agent told the Arizona Republic his client won’t attend Coyotes training camp after the World Cup is over, the latest move in what’s been a contentious negotiation that’s lasted the entire offseason.

“We’ve made them a fair offer at two years at $2.5 million a year, and they’re unwilling to do it,” Darren Ferris explained. “Tobi brings a lot of intangibles to that team. I know he’s a fan favorite.

“He loves Arizona, but it’s disappointing that they’re unwilling to compensate this kid fairly.”

Coyotes GM John Chayka called the decision ‘disappointing,’ saying that he wouldn’t comment on negotiation specifics publicly.

(Of course, Chayka did tell the Republic the Coyotes made “some real considerable long-term offers that are right on par with the longest offers we’ve ever made in this organization.” Which would classify as a negotiating specific, no?)

According to an earlier Arizona Sports report, Rieder was seeking a two-year, $5.5 million deal, one that carries a $2.75M average annual cap hit. That would be a sizeable raise from the $925,000 he made on his now expired entry-level deal.

Per that same report, the Coyotes were offering “somewhere between $2 million and $2.3 million per year on a two-year deal.”

Rieder, who turned 23 in January, would seem to have reasonably good value. He’s coming off a career year with personal bests in goals (14) and assists (23), and is a very quick skater that can play up and down the lineup.

There have been rumblings of a potential KHL move, though Ferris said Rieder’s No. 1 goal is to stick in the NHL. The next big date for the Rieder situation is Dec. 1 — if RFAs are still unsigned by then, they’re ineligible to play for the remainder of the NHL campaign.

Four teams that would make sense for Jacob Trouba

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 27:  Jacob Trouba #8 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 27, 2014 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The big NHL news over the weekend came when the agent for Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba announced on Saturday night that his client, still unsigned as a restricted free agent, is requesting a trade from the team so he can put himself into a better position to fully develop as a player.

The Jets responded by saying that they are working to resolve the matter but are going to operate with the team’s best long-term interests in mind, and that they still view Trouba as a long-term piece of their team. As we have seen over the past year, trade requests don’t always turn into a trade, even in situations where the player-team relationship seemed beyond repair as was the case with Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But if the Jets do end up making a trade, Trouba should be an attractive player to several teams around the NHL. He is still only 22 years old, is years away from unrestricted free agency, is already a very good player, and has the right handed shot teams covet on the blue line. Players that fit that description do not come available very often.

Let’s take a look at four potential spots that could make the most sense for Trouba.

The Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks would be an interesting spot because it’s not like they need an upgrade on their blue line, because it’s already a pretty good group. But this is still a destination that would make some sense. Here’s why: The word out of Winnipeg over the weekend is that the Jets’ asking price for Trouba is going to be a comparable defenseman to Trouba that also happens to be a left-handed shot. Part of the reason Trouba is requesting a trade is that he is right-handed and the Jets already have a couple of right-handed shots on their roster. The Ducks have that exact defenseman in Hampus Lindholm. And it just so happens that, he too, is still an unsigned restricted free agent.

Boston Bruins: Now we start getting into the teams that really do need somebody like Trouba. Once one of the top defensive teams in the NHL, the Bruins’ defense has now become their weakest link because of the talent they have lost (Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton) and the players that have gotten older and are simply no longer the players they were in recent years (Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg before he was bought out this summer and became a free agent). Making matters worse is the Bruins really haven’t done anything to address this is a meaningful way over the past two years and coach Claude Julien’s approach to fixing it seems to simply be “play better.” You know what helps teams play better? Having better players, and Trouba would absolutely be a fit here.

New York Rangers:  Another team whose defense taken several steps backwards over the past two years has, especially when you compare it to the unit that was on the ice in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Anton Stralman is gone, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are getting older and slowing down, and this past summer they lost the one puck-moving presence they had on their blue line when Keith Yandle went to the Florida Panthers. The obstacles for the Rangers when it would come to completing a deal like this would be finding the assets to make the deal, because they have already traded a ton of draft picks and prospects in recent years, and salary cap space. The Rangers do have a young left-handed defenseman in Brady Skjei, but he is not at Trouba’s level, even though both are 22.

Colorado Avalanche: After a couple of disappointing seasons the Colorado Avalanche are now entering the post-Patrick Roy era. They still have a promising group of young forwards that should be the foundation of a playoff team, but they still have some major question marks and holes on their defense. Until those get addressed it is going to continue to be a struggle for the team to return to the postseason. The downside here for Trouba would be that, like the Jets, the Avalanche do have a couple of right-shot defensemen on their team (Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson), and they do have a ton of money invested in them. If Trouba’s goal is to go to a team that doesn’t have a surplus of right-shot blue liners so he can get a bigger role this might be a problem. But there is also an argument to be made that Trouba is already better than both of Colorado’s guys, and at the very least, better than Johnson.

Team Europe’s next challenge: Beat the unbeatable

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Team Canada salute the fans following their 5-3 win over Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

Team Europe has already done more than anybody expected them to do at the World Cup by reaching the Final thanks to their stunning overtime win against Sweden in the semifinal on Sunday.

Just getting to this point, after beating the United States and Sweden — two of the world’s biggest hockey powers — along the way is a major accomplishment that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible task just two weeks ago.

Now they have one more seemingly impossible task in front of them: Beat Canada.

And not just beat Canada, but beat them twice.

In only three games.

For any team in this tournament that would have been a tall task in the championship round. Not only does Canada bring an insanely deep roster to the table that has multiple MVP candidates, Norris Trophy candidates, and Vezina Trophy candidates on it, but their recent play on the ice matches the absurdity of the roster on paper.

They don’t just win, they dominate teams.

Since the start of the 2014 Olympics this is what Team Canada has done to its opponents in the two major best-on-best tournaments it has played:

  1. They are 10-0
  2. They have outscored teams by a 36-9 margin
  3. They are coming off of a semifinal game against Russia where they nearly put up 50 shots on goal in a regulation game
  4. They have allowed more than one goal in just two of those games, and more than two goals just once

The games haven’t even been as close as the final scores would indicate because the final scores haven’t always reflected the level of dominance on display. A one or two goal deficit against these guys and their style of play usually feels like a 50 goal deficit.

On paper, this seems like it should already be over before it even begins.

But the beauty of a short series is that even when the two teams don’t match up on paper, random things can happen, mostly because of the X-factor that is goaltending.

Right now Europe’s Jaroslav Halak is putting quite a story together in this tournament. He has helped underdogs knock off superior teams in the past when he gets on a roll like the one he is on now.

It is going to take all of that and more to help Europe beat Canada two times over the next week.

They have already done what seemed to be the impossible to get to this point. Now they just have to do what seems to be the impossible again.

Twice.