Author: Jason Brough

Martin Brodeur Retirement Press Conference

Under Pressure: Doug Armstrong

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In five seasons as general manager of the St. Louis Blues, Doug Armstrong has seen his team win a grand total of one playoff series. That lone victory came in 2012, over San Jose, before getting swept by the Kings. Since then, the Blues have been eliminated three straight times in the first round.

Not that Armstrong’s been a total failure at the job — far from it. The Blues have been an excellent regular-season team. In 2011-12, Armstrong was named the NHL’s GM of the year. And such is his stellar reputation that he’ll be Team Canada’s architect for the 2016 World Cup.

But after yet another postseason disappointment in St. Louis, Armstrong recognized that changes needed to be made.

“We entered a window four years ago, and the window doesn’t stay open forever,” he said in April.

Hence, the decisions to trade T.J. Oshie and let Barret Jackman go to free agency. Next season, the Blues will rely more on their younger players like 23-year-olds Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.

“We’re trying to meld two generations into one,” Armstrong told Sportsnet radio in July, “but we’re also asking that younger generation to no longer to sit in the back seat and to jump up and grab the wheel.”

So, expect to see those younger players in more key situations next season, whereas before it would’ve been up to the David Backes era to close out one-goal games with a minute left.

You can guarantee that Armstrong discussed as much with Ken Hitchcock before bringing the head coach back for another season. Hitchcock, of course, is also under immense pressure to get the job done, just as he was going into last season.

But listening to the Sportsnet interview, it wasn’t hard to feel Armstrong’s mounting frustration at having so much regular-season success, with so little playoff glory.

“That’s one of the things I like about the European football or soccer. They put a lot of pride in their regular-season championship as they do in their playoff championship,” he said.

“But that’s not the world we live in here in North America. You can be the L.A. Kings and finish seventh and finish eighth and win Cups and thought of as a great team, or you can be the Blues with the best record in hockey over the last four years and lose in the first round and people quite honestly think you’re bums.”

“In our society, championships are what we’re judged on and that’s what we have to try and win.”

Related: ‘Let’s live to fight another day’

Flames unveil plan for new arena

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Expected for some time now (see: here, here, and here), the Calgary Flames have finally released their plans to replace 32-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome with a new arena.

The Flames say the $890 million project, called CalgaryNEXT, has “the potential to be one of Calgary’s most transformative projects at a vital time in our city’s history.”

In addition to a new arena for the Flames, the plan also calls for a covered football stadium for the CFL’s Stampeders (both teams are owned by the same company), with sports facilities for public use. (More info on that here.)

And how do the Flames envision this project getting funded?

Of course, that financing plan does not include what could be a costly environment cleanup of the proposed site, and it’s not clear who would pay for that. Flames president and CEO Ken King argued in a presentation Tuesday that the project could be a “catalyst” to get the remediation done.

With approval a ways off, plus an approximate time line of three years for construction, King expects the project to take, at minimum, five years from today to complete.

Meanwhile, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has released a statement about the project.

While Nenshi called it an “intriguing proposal,” he warned that “there are very significant requirements for public funding beyond the fieldhouse funding, and there is currently no money.”

Nenshi continued, “I have said for a long time—and continue to strongly believe—that public money must be for public benefit and not private profit. The question for Council, the ownership group, and all Calgarians is whether this proposal meets that test.

“That said, I truly appreciate the efforts of the ownership group in bringing forward an innovative project in a thoughtful, professional, and ethical way. I firmly believe that these Calgarians want to do something exceptional for our community.

“City Council will ensure that that there is significant public engagement and will work cooperatively with the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and the other orders of government to determine whether this project is viable.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement:

Related: Burke calls the Saddledome ’embarrassing’

Poll: Do you believe in Patrick Roy as a head coach?

Colorado Avalanche v Calgary Flames
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There’s no doubt about it — Patrick Roy’s stock fell considerably in 2014-15.

The season after the goaltending legend was named the NHL’s coach of the year, his Colorado Avalanche regressed badly, going from 112 points and a Central Division title to 90 points and out of the playoffs.

If the Avs’ regression hadn’t been so predictable, it would’ve been shocking. The analytics folks said Colorado couldn’t keep winning with such poor puck-possession numbers, and despite the Avs’ downplaying of those numbers — “At the end of the day, it’s who wins the game,” said GM Joe Sakic — that’s exactly what happened. They didn’t keep winning.

In 2014-15, only Buffalo’s puck-possession numbers were worse than Colorado’s, based on score-adjusted Fenwick. The season before, the Avs tied for 26th in that same measure. So, really, not much changed there.

If there was one major difference, it was the Avs’ record in one-goal games. It was an NHL-best 28-4-8 in 2013-14 and just 21-11-12 in 2014-15, ranking 16th. That’s worth mentioning, because there’s a belief in analytical circles that a team’s record in one-goal games is largely dependent on luck. Not grittiness. Not heart. Not a coach who knows how to inspire his troops when the game is on the line. But luck.

Regardless of what you think of that theory, Roy believes that the Avs are “going to benefit” from last year’s experience.

“I think we’re going to learn a lot from it and in my opinion we’ll be very different in training camp,” he told Yahoo Sports in April.

OK, time to vote:

Avalanche’s biggest question: How much will they miss Ryan O’Reilly?

Nashville Predators v Colorado Avalanche
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If the contract Ryan O’Reilly signed with the Buffalo Sabres is any indication, the Colorado Avalanche traded away a pretty good player this offseason.

O’Reilly’s stats are a pretty good indication, too. Still just 24 years old, he was the Avalanche’s third-leading scorer last season with 55 points in 82 games. On top of that, he killed penalties and won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs.

No wonder the Avs didn’t want to make this trade. They repeatedly stated their intention was to re-sign O’Reilly. Ultimately, however, his contract request included “numbers that we just didn’t go to,” according to GM Joe Sakic.

In return for O’Reilly, the Sabres sent the Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov, forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher, plus a draft pick. All three of those players are young, and it would be unreasonable to expect any of them to make a significant impact next season.

That’s why the Avs acquired Carl Soderberg from Boston and promptly signed him to a five-year pact worth almost $24 million. The plan is for the 29-year-old Soderberg to center Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, just like O’Reilly did.

But whether Soderberg can play to O’Reilly’s level remains to be seen. Last year with the B’s, he had 44 points in 82 games, skating mostly with Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly. With all due respect to those two veterans, MacKinnon and Landeskog represent an upgrade in linemates. Hence, Soderberg’s excitement at signing up for the opportunity.

It’s all the other stuff O’Reilly did, beyond putting up points, that Soderberg may not be able to replace.

Said Sabres GM Tim Murray upon giving O’Reilly that big contract extension: “It’s not easy to find a player who, at his age, is already established in the league as someone who plays a complete game and makes his teammates better. When we acquired him, we viewed him as someone who could immediately improve our roster, but was still young enough to make an impact for several years to come.”

Related: Mikhail Grigorenko is looking to make the leap

Blackhawks sign Bowling Green d-man Nolan Valleau

2013 NHL Draft
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The Chicago Blackhawks have agreed to terms with defenseman Nolan Valleau on a two-year contract, the club announced today.

From the press release:

Valleau, 22, recorded 19 points (2G, 17A) in 39 regular-season games with Bowling Green of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association during his freshman campaign; he shared the team lead in assists and seventh among league defensemen in scoring. The Novi, Mich., native shared second on the team with seven power-play points (7A) and registered 37 blocked shots and a +3 plus/minus rating. He was named to the 2014-15 WCHA All-Rookie team.

As noted by CSN Chicago, Valleau will add “organizational depth” to the Blackhawks’ “blue line after trading away prospects Klas Dahlbeck and Stephen Johns.”

According to ESPN, Valleau was “among the unsigned invitees who caught people’s eyes” at Blackhawks prospect camp.