lucianoborsato

Former Winnipeg Jet Luciano Borsato believes a new team can work in Winnipeg

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In all the hustle and bustle surrounding the potential relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg one of the debates raging on centers around whether or not the NHL can work there this time around. After all, the financial climate now is quite a bit different in 2011 than it was in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets left Manitoba, Canada for Phoenix, Arizona.

While that aspect can be debated as to whether or not Winnipeg NHL fans will shell out the bucks necessary to keep a team fat and happy these days, one aspect that doesn’t seem to be questioned very much is how the fans will take to a new team. While you can talk to any number of fans in Winnipeg and get euphoric statements confirming they’ll love their potential new franchise, talking to one former Jets player helps you really believe that’ll be the case.

Luciano Borsato played for the Winnipeg Jets for five seasons in the 1990’s before moving on to play in Germany the season when the Jets departed for Phoenix. Now retired from hockey and working as an online marketer, the Canadian-born Clarkson University graduate believes that if the NHL returns to Winnipeg it will be a huge success based on how great it was while he was there.

“I have fond memories of Winnipeg. Like most Canadian kids, playing in a Canadian NHL city was a dream for me. Winnipeggers loved the team and supported us enthusiastically — the playoff white-outs with over 16,000 fans showing their unity all dressed in white would send shivers down your spine,” Borsato said.

“I hope they create that same atmosphere for every game during the regular season as well, as it was a great feeling for the players to see that support. But more than just that, I actually got to know many fans and families in the city and would be invited to their homes, restaurants and businesses regularly. That was my most personal impression of Winnipeg.”

That sort of intimate setting in Winnipeg might give some players reason to pause. After all, Winnipeg is a small city with a population between 600,000 and 700,000 people. When you compare that to Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver it’s minuscule. Compared to a similar NHL city like Edmonton and it’s right on par.

Can it work though? Borsato thinks that with the way the NHL is set up these days it can.

“Yes, I think it can work, under certain conditions. The biggest factor would be finding wealthy owners willing to not only bring the team to Winnipeg, but be prepared to absorb losses over the years. That seems to have been accomplished with the Thomson family. Due to the fluctuations in the floor of the salary cap since it was introduced, this would be the most important factor from a new owner’s perspective,” Borsato says.

In 2005, the first salary cap was $39 million with the salary floor set just over $21 million. This season, the cap is $59.4 million, with the floor now doubled to $43.4 million. Meanwhile, next season it’s believed that the salary cap will go up over $62 million and bring the floor up once again. With the salary cap tied to revenues it’s a good sign for the league to see they can keep juicing the cap. On the downside, all teams have to spend more money. Having a deep pocketed owner helps solve these issues. As for Winnipeg itself, Borsato’s sold on the fans and the market.

“From what I’ve read, Winnipeg is doing quite well economically and we all hope it continues. With the solid new fan base from the Moose and the excitement of the NHL returning, I’d like to think a new NHL team would be a great catalyst for the city.”

With the serious talk out of the way, the one lingering major debate left hinges on what to call the potential new Winnipeg franchise. We asked Borsato if he’d like to see the Jets name be resurrected or should the new franchise carve its own identity separate from the Jets legacy. His thoughts are most intriguing.

“Personally, yes. It’s nice to say you played in a city and for a team that is currently in the NHL. Having said that, the original Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes franchise would be a separate entity from a modern Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg franchise, with a different set of records, players, etc. As a business, it would make sense for a new name to be chosen, but I, and most of the former players, would be more than happy to see the Jets name back.”

We’ll find out in the coming days and weeks whether or not the new Winnipeg team will be the Jets or the Moose or any number of other possible names, but one thing’s for sure the memories of the Jets and the run they had originally in Winnipeg has everyone remembering the way it used to be fondly.

Avalanche’s new head coach Bednar is at least saying the right things

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Look, there are exceptions, but new head coach press conferences feature the same basic terms and buzzwords.

After witnessing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins skate opponents ragged on their way to the 2016 Stanley Cup, any reasonable coach would throw “speed” into their phrasing.

Still, the Colorado Avalanche have been so deeply buried by even the most basic of modern measurements that you had to wonder: would they learn from Patrick Roy’s struggles? Can someone come in and at least attempt to keep up with the pack?

We won’t know for sure anytime soon, but hey, at least Jared Bednar seems to be saying the right things as he transitions from the AHL to the Avalanche’s head coaching gig.

When discussing his hire with NHL Network, Bednar seemed confident that his style in the AHL – “Up-tempo, aggressive style in all three zones of the rink” – will translate well in Colorado.

That interview hits the beats you’d expect from job interviews beyond hockey. There’s even a “detail-oriented” bit.

(If you space out, you might just assume there’s a mention of thinking outside the box, like every corporate interview in human history.)

Still, it’s OK to settle for baby steps, especially considering the tough situation Patrick Roy created in abruptly skipping town. For many, it might just be comforting to note that Bednar doesn’t outright dismissive “analytics” or “fancy stats.”

Mile High Hockey brings up a great point: if nothing else, the spotlight will shift from the Avalanche’s flamboyant head coach to the talented core of young players.

So, not only is Colorado bringing in a coach who is as savvy with spreadsheets as he is with the wipe-off board, but he’s going to allow the players to crawl out from under Roy and finally earn their own accomplishments. This is every bit as important as fixing the breakout play or eliminating the Collapse-O-Rama™ defensive system.

(Collapse-O-Rama, huh? Can we stash that term for future use regarding another coach or two?)

Bednar isn’t a retread, so we only know so much about what to expect.

There are positive early signs. Roll your eyes all you want, we have seen more than a few successful transitions from AHL glory (Bednar just won the Calder Cup) to the NHL.

He’s not necessarily anti-information and seems at least interested in implementing modern, attacking systems. Attacking systems that, theoretically, would best suit the talents of a gifted-but-flawed group.

It all feels a little vague, but then again, it’s not even September yet. So far, so good.

One way or another, Al Montoya will be important to Canadiens

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the Florida Panthers looks on in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on February 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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This is part of Canadiens day at PHT …

Here’s an unsolicited opinion: a good backup goalie is often underrated.

Yes, getting a quality Plan B is easier said than done – goalies are an unpredictable lot – but it’s simple to see when it pays off.

(There are plenty of examples, but Matt Murray winning a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the shiniest one.)

Even if injuries aren’t a big issue, a No. 2 goalie is a pretty safe bet to play 20 games for a given team. In that regard, Al Montoya could be a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, and that could be important.

Waning workhorses

In 2015-16, no goalie played 70 regular season games. Jonathan Quick was the workhorse of the NHL with 68, while only 10 played at least 60. So, more than two-thirds of last season’s teams needed at least 24 games from their lesser-paid goalies.

Even in Carey Price‘s dominant 2014-15 campaign, he played 66 games while Dustin Tokarski was in net for 17.

Let’s ponder the outlook for a variety of scenarios as Price hopes to rebound from injury:

If Price resumes Vezina-caliber form

As PHT notes, Price seems confident that he’s at 100 percent.

That’s great … but what else is he going to say? Knee injuries can beguile just about any athlete.

He does admit that he’s getting up there in age a bit – relative to the sport, mind you – at 29. Earlier this summer, the Hockey News went over Montreal’s plan to scale Price’s workload a bit, injured or not.

So, even in a dream scenario, Montoya and/or Condon will still see plenty of reps.

If Price falters

The Canadiens are expected to live or die by Price. Let’s not kid ourselves.

The leash might not be very long for Michel Therrien if Price really falls on his face, however. A Condon-led Habs team stumbled terribly, but what might we see from Montoya being thrust into the spotlight for performance reasons?

  • With a .909 career save percentage, Montoya’s experienced his stumbles in the NHL. Montreal has to hope he follows more of the path from strong showings in 2013-14 (13-8-3, .920 save percentage with Winnipeg) and 2015-16 (12-7-3, .919 save percentage with Florida).

Long story short, there were flashes of the brilliance you’d expect from a guy who went sixth overall in 2004.

  • The good news is that he’s accustomed to a fairly heavy backup duty. He set a career-high with 31 games played and 26 starts with the Islanders in 2011-12. Including that season, he’s enjoyed 20+ appearances in five of his last six seasons.
  • The bad news is that he hasn’t ever even carried half of a season’s workload so …

Yes, a Price re-injury would be disastrous

Montoya hasn’t been “the guy” before, certainly not in a pressure-cooker like Montreal. Condon’s opportunity didn’t go especially well.

One can understand ownership giving Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin something of a “Price pass” after 2015-16, but would there be the same level of acceptance if they couldn’t thrive without their star goalie again? You’d have to ask about lessons learned.

***

Long story short, Montoya matters to Montreal. The Canadiens just have to hope that he doesn’t matter too much.

 

Ducks lock up 2016 first-rounder Max Jones

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones poses for a portrait after being selected 24th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks handed their 2016 first-round draft pick Max Jones an entry-level contract on Friday.

Anaheim selected Jones 24th overall. It looks like he’s getting a pretty typical rookie deal, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Curtis Zupke.

In PHT’s “Get to Know a Draft Pick” series, THN’s Ryan Kennedy described Jones as “a power forward who can make you look silly with his offensive moves or simply plow you through the boards.”

Jones was one of three London Knights players who went in the first round in 2016, following Olli Juolevi (fifth overall) and Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall). He certainly seemed to enjoy the team’s Memorial Cup victory:

You never really know for certain, but one would imagine that Jones may take a season or two to make it to the NHL level with the Ducks. From the sound of things, he’s in the sort of power forward mold that the team’s had a lot of success with.

With Lehner injured, Enroth will be in Sweden’s goalie mix at World Cup

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 04: Jhonas Enroth #1 of the Buffalo Sabres and Robin Lehner #40 of the Ottawa Senators warm up to play at First Niagara Center on October 4, 2013 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Sweden has selected Jhonas Enroth to replace injured goaltender Robin Lehner on its World Cup of Hockey roster.

Lehner was bothered by an ankle injury last season while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said Lehner had not recovered 100 percent.

Enroth, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joins Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks as the goalies on Sweden’s roster.

The 28-year-old has a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 147 career NHL games. Enroth was on the Swedish team that earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though he never appeared in a game.

Enroth started for Sweden at the 2015 world hockey championship.

The World Cup begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.