Chicago Blackhawks v Colorado Avalanche

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Rampant trade speculation, hockey is hard to predict, the bubble Canucks, and more

15 Comments

This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I was thinking after Kris Versteeg got traded back to Chicago, imagine how lame it would be if teams couldn’t eat salary. With half the NHL right up against the cap? It would be gridlock out there. I predict we’re going to see a lot more salary-eating before the March 5 deadline. And I guess we should thank Brian Burke for the new rules. The ability to retain salary was something he was trying to push when he was still in Anaheim. As a blogger who traffics in rampant speculation, I heartily concur with his opinion that trades are “healthy for our business.”

Mike Halford: Yeah, I want teams eating paper like a wonky fax machine. It just opens up so many more possibilities. The Florida situation is a great example, because it allowed Tallon to shake things up after he’d exhausted all the other conventional methods, like firing his coach and offering up Ryan Whitney via mass email. (Can you even believe that? Mass email? I bet some GMs got it and thought it was like a Nigerian banking scam. “Good day friend, I am manager general Tallon of Panther. Interested you R. Whitney, defender? Price is free.”) Now I’m trying to think of other guys who could be traded a la Versteeg. If Calgary’s willing to retain a good share of Mike Cammalleri’s $6 million hit, a lot of teams could be in the running for a proven sniper who’s off to a pretty hot start.

source: Getty ImagesJB: Absolutely. I already tried to stoke some Cammalleri speculation here, but it didn’t exactly set the comments section on fire. What, nobody cares about the Flames or something? Fine, let’s try another candidate: Ryan Miller, whose cap hit is $6.25 million. I’ve already mentioned a couple of times I think the Blues should see about adding him. I know they’ve already got Jaroslav Halak; I just don’t trust him to stay healthy. Besides, I think Miller is better, and the time is now for that team. The Blues are ridiculously loaded on defense, their forwards are actually scoring. If they got Miller without losing a significant roster player, I’d probably change my Stanley Cup pick from L.A. to St. Louis.

MH: Ah yes, Jason Brough’s famed Stanley Cup pick, the prediction by which all GMs set their rosters. I can just see Doug Armstrong scrambling to call Pat LaFontaine in a desperate attempt to get your endorsement…before realizing you picked Edmonton to make the playoffs. Anyway, since you’re floating the idea of Miller getting traded to a team that’s already loaded with goalies, let’s keep with the crazy and discuss the idea of Shea Weber getting dealt to Edmonton, which you wrote about last week. Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said a “big stud defenseman” would help his club “immensely,” but here’s my question: after losing Ryan Suter to free agency, could the Preds really ship out Weber — clearly the face of the franchise — and do it after paying him an ungodly amount of money in salary and signing bonuses? Could make for a lot of disappointed fans.

JB: Ah yes, the old “face of the franchise” argument. It’s the same one I read here. I don’t buy it. If the Preds traded Weber to the Oilers, you realize it wouldn’t be for Luke Gadzic and Tyler Pitlick, right? Unless David Poile somehow loses his mind, it would have to include one of Edmonton’s young stars. Now, suppose that’s Taylor Hall, a recent first overall pick who would instantly become the most exciting player in Nashville franchise history, save for possibly Paul Kariya, who was only there for two seasons. The Preds’ marketing department couldn’t drum up some buzz for a future with Hall and Seth Jones? Look, I never said this was going to happen. It probably won’t. I just wouldn’t be totally shocked if it did, because unlike most blockbuster trade scenarios that get floated on the interweb, it makes some semblance of sense. At any rate, the Oilers have won two straight, including last night’s 7-0 blowout of Columbus, so maybe this isn’t the best time to discuss this. Almost as bad as our timing yesterday, when we talked about the Avs getting a “reality check”…about an hour before they went out and smoked the defending Stanley Cup champs. Is there any sport tougher to predict than hockey?

source: Getty ImagesMH: Based on the fact I predicted Joel Quenneville would be fired last season, I’m going to answer no to that question. Makes me feel a bit better about myself. Let’s get back to the Avs for a sec. Yes, they hammered Chicago last night, but they also got outshot, 37-23. This team still has a lot to prove in the next few weeks. Look at their next five games: at Phoenix, at Los Angeles, versus St. Louis, then a home-and-home against Minnesota. I know a lot of people are focused on the injuries to Duchene/Tanguay and expecting Varlamov/Giguere to come back to earth, but how about the smoke-and-mirrors on defense? Call me a skeptic, but a unit comprised of Jan Hejda, Erik Johnson, Andre Benoit, Cory Sarich, Nate Guenin and a rotating No. 6 will eventually get exposed.

JB: Well, I can tell you one team that hopes you’re right: the Canucks. According to Sports Club Stats, after yesterday’s shootout loss to Florida, Vancouver has a 34.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. So basically a one-in-three shot. Now, I’m not totally sold on that site’s methodology, and obviously there’s a ton of time to get back into the top eight, but it’s totally fair to call the Canucks a bubble team now. Frankly, I was absolutely shocked to hear Henrik Sedin say last night that Vancouver hung back in the third period when the game was tied. “You look at the clock,” he said. The Canucks wanted to get the point, he said. At home. Versus the freakin’ Florida Panthers! What’s the opposite of swagger? Because that’s what the Canucks have right now. Now imagine they lose at home to Columbus on Friday. There will be lava flowing through the streets of Vancouver, courtesy one Mount Tortorella.

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
1 Comment

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.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
4 Comments

Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
Getty
10 Comments

When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.