NHL in Winnipeg

Winnipeg’s team name will emerge once they sell 13,000 season tickets; Front office questions linger

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The Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg was finally made official earlier this week, which generates a different set of questions regarding the team’s immediate future.

As we already discussed before, True North Sports and Entertainment hopes to reach a preliminary goal of selling 13,000 season tickets.* For the many people wondering what the new Winnipeg team’s name will be (you can still vote for your favorite choice here, by the way), True North provides a simple window for when they will provide an answer. CBC News reports that the team’s new name will be revealed once the new team crosses that 13,000 season tickets sold threshold.

The CBC reports that ticket holders and corporate sponsors for the True North’s AHL team the Manitoba Moose have been given the first opportunity to snatch those hot tickets. The general public will receive an opportunity to start gobbling up the rest on Saturday, so that 13,000 goal seems pretty reachable in the near future.

While we wait to see if the Winnipeg Jets will return to the NHL once more, Elliotte Friedman thinks that the franchise itself should focus on some important front office questions in the mean time. Much like the general managers they often hire, new owners often prefer to hire “their own” people. With that in mind, Friedman points out that it would be fair and logical to make those decisions soon so anyone who doesn’t make the cut would have time to find another job.

What Chipman must do now is make a quick decision on Rick Dudley, Craig Ramsay and the rest of the Thrashers’ front office/coaching staff. If he doesn’t want to keep some or all of those people, the right thing to do is release them quickly so they can find new jobs.

One of the reasons the sale took a little longer to close was that True North didn’t want to be on the hook for contracts (like Dudley’s recent extension) it didn’t take. Teams want their staffs in place by the draft. The longer the Jets/Falcons/Moose/Polar Bears take to make those choices, the less chance those individuals will have to land on their feet elsewhere. There is a lot of competition, especially when it comes to coaching.

As for True North’s own structure, Chipman made it very clear that Craig Heisinger will have “a significant role” moving forward. It’s also believed Claude Noel, who impressed both the Moose and the Canucks this year, will get the big-league coaching job. Both men have really good reputations, but Chipman will look for a more experience NHL-level executive to help them get started.

That may not be easy, because you’re going into a situation where [you don’t have] full control over who is working for you. Anyway, Vancouver has two candidates, Vice-President of Player Personnel Lorne Henning and Vice-President Hockey Operations Laurence Gilman (who is from Winnipeg). And don’t discount former Toronto GM John Ferguson, either. He has Winnipeg connections and knows Chipman well.

(That rising cackle you just heard is a chorus of Maple Leafs fans laughing at the mention of the name John Ferguson, a roundly ridiculed GM in Toronto.)

While I like a lot of what I’ve seen from GM Rick Dudley in just one season with the hockey artists formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers, he was in the early part of a rebuild mode. Going with a different general manager (and also canning head coach Craig Ramsay, if they want to) now would be more reasonable than waiting for the first opportunity to fire him later. It might not be fair for them to lose their jobs after just one season of promising improvement, but True North has the right to put their own stamp on their new team.

Whether you hand this new Winnipeg ship the title of Jets, Moose or some other name, a winning team will ultimately drive jersey sales more than nostalgia or a great logo. We’ll keep you informed as True North begins to steer this boat in a new direction.

*At this moment in time, the “Drive to 13” Web site indicates that 4,170 season ticket packages have been sold.

Ducks give Bruins first loss under Cassidy, putting … Islanders in wild card

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Korbinian Holzer #5 of the Anaheim Ducks pushes David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins during the second period of a game at Honda Center on February 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Wednesday was a night of futility in the Eastern Conference wild card races, so it make sense that a team that didn’t even play ended up grabbing the second spot.

To recap:

  • The Florida Panthers began the night in the second wild card spot. However, they were knocked down the totem pole when they lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Boston Bruins inherited the second wild card spot from Florida, but the Anaheim Ducks just gave them their first loss under Bruce Cassidy. With that defeat coming in regulation, it meant that the Bruins’ stay in the East’s top eight lasted mere hours.
  • So, congrats to the New York Islanders, who enjoyed the rare tiebreaker treat of climbing into playoff position even though they didn’t even play on Wednesday.

(The Philadelphia Flyers were out of reach here, but they didn’t do themselves any favors in losing to the Washington Capitals.)

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were kept off the board as Jonathan Bernier won one for the Ducks, who stay right behind the Edmonton Oilers in a battle for second in the Pacific.

Despite Pastrnak’s -3 rating in this one, Marchand probably had the toughest night thanks to Bernier and Josh Manson:

This one hurts, but it’s also a reminder that there will probably be plenty of twists and turns in the races for the lower spots in the East and Atlantic Division. With that in mind, the Bruins have to shake it off and get ready to face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.