Pent up

It’s a weird feeling when you lose a job you’ve had for so long. After doing something you’ve genuinely enjoyed for multiple years, it’s like losing part of yourself.

All the time spent, the effort put into it, the constant stress of wondering whether or not anything you’ve done is good enough – all of that is gone and while that might seem like a relief, it’s not.

Instead, you’re left on your own to find another gig as soon as you can because, in this day and age, you’re either working freelance or in a deal that means getting unemployment isn’t an option available to you. It also means you have too much time to sit around and do self-analysis.

“Am I any good at this?”

“Have I ever been a good writer?”

“Am I out of touch?”

“Is it time to just pack it up and get out?”

With all the time now afforded to you, those questions never stop and neither does the comparing. You compare yourself to others still dutifully chugging along and wondering what it is you do that makes you not good enough to continue doing what you love. That kind of self-analysis doesn’t do a lot of good when you’re already feeling low about being cut loose.

***

The strange part about going through all this is keeping track of how often your own identity gets lost in being part of something else. You cease being just your own person – you’re the main guy for that group.

When that happens, it makes scouting around for other work when you know your own foundation is crumbling beneath you a lot more difficult.

It’s something I didn’t really think about in that particular way at the time, but while interviewing for another position the first question I was asked was, “Why in the world do you want to work here?”

Whether it was because they viewed their position as me taking a step down or they thought since I was with the Peacock that I’d be crazy to leave there I don’t know – but it’s that connection with the latter that made me wonder if places who saw that on my résumé figured it meant I’d ask the world of them in salary talks and figured it’s easier to just pass and say “No.”

These are the idle thoughts left behind now that my future is undecided and it’s unpleasant. Something has to fill the void eventually, right?

***

That’s essentially where I’m at now. A guy with a lot of free time to write and report and not enough outlets to do that. When you’re a writer all you want to do is write. Same goes for reporting. You hear great things being said and you’re busting at the seams to get that out there – you just don’t have a place to do that.

I could do that here but that’s not helping me pay bills. Perhaps it could eventually if it grabs someone’s attention but then it’s back to square one:

“What if I’m not good enough?”

It takes equal parts shameless self-promotion and ability but there’s also a massive amount of good forture, too. That’s how I wound up with the Peacock in the first place after all. Luck can run out and maybe I’ve used all of mine up in other situations and areas of life. I mean, it’s fortunate I’m even here to write this, never mind everything else life offers up.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t really belong to any particular group. It’s not an unfamiliar way of being for me. In high school there wasn’t a particular clique I belonged to – I was just there. In college, I spent so much time in the media center that that was my social circle. It made sense and it was natural and so many of those people are dear friends to this day.

In the professional world, it’s different. You have a lot of colleagues and plenty of people you’re more friendly with than others. There’s even some people you just can’t stand though and the feeling is likely mutual, but that’s never a hindrance, it just is.

There are cliques though and that’s just not really something I’ve fallen into. Maybe that’s to my own detriment, but it is what it is. Maybe that comes from not being as open as others, but something it does do is limits your support system.

Being a writer means always doing things on your own, but there are days where you have to escape your own headspace and breathe. Not having that go-to group makes it harder when you’re trying to escape your own brain. I guess that’s when some people will turn to the bottle or to drugs to just get away from themselves, but that’s never been my means of relief. Being stubborn to myself sometimes comes in handy I suppose.

***

I’m not asking for compliments and “atta-boys” for what I do. I’m just trying to sort through my very frustrated headspace. To have something you love doing and, for one reason or another, not being able to do it is the kind of thing that gives you ulcers and makes you feel 20 years older than you really are.

I keep saying, “This too shall pass” and “Things will get better” but those mantras get worn out and the reality keeps swarming day-by-day.

I’ve chosen this path and I know I can deviate from it anytime I want to, but sometimes you’re just caught up in knowing that this is what you’re meant to do. It’s the thrill of doing something you love to do and knowing deep down, despite the self-doubt and the anxious mind, that this is what you’re good at.

It’s like I’ve made myself into Sisyphus and damn it all, that boulder is going to get all the way up the mountain even if I die trying.

The season starts next week and then I can feel more normal, but for now it’s tough.

2014 NHL Mocked Draft

2014 draft logoEvery year, picking the NHL Draft is like a semi-educated game of darts after a few pitchers of your favorite beer. You have an idea of what you’re aiming for but whatever you hit you have to own it whether you like it or not.

This year’s draft is almost certainly like that. After feebly throwing together a mock draft in the past (in which I think I missed on all 30 picks) I figured I’d give it another go to see how terrible I could do again.

Here are my semi-educated guesses as to how this year’s draft will shake out, trades be damned. If you want my reasoning behind any of the picks here it is: “Why not? Get a life, nerd.”

1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad – D – Barrie (OHL)
2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart – C – Kootenay (WHL)
3. Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl – F – Prince Albert (WHL)
4. Calgary Flames: Sam Bennett – C – Kingston (OHL)
5. New York Islanders: Kasperi Kapanen – RW – Kalpa (SM-liiga)
6. Vancouver Canucks: Michael Dal Colle – LW – Oshawa (OHL)
7. Carolina Hurricanes: William Nylander – RW – MODO (SHL)
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Nikolaj Ehlers – LW – Halifax (QMJHL)
9. Winnipeg Jets: Brendan Perlini – LW – Niagara (OHL)
10. Anaheim Ducks (via Ottawa): Nick Ritchie – LW – Peterborough (OHL)
11. Nashville Predators: Sonny Milano – LW – USA U-18 (USHL)
12. Arizona Coyotes: Jared McCann – C – Sault Ste-Marie (OHL)
13. Washington Capitals: Haydn Fleury – D – Red Deer (WHL)
14. Dallas Stars: Jake Virtanen – RW – Calgary (WHL)
15. Detroit Red Wings: Kevin Fiala – LW – HV71 (SHL)
16. Columbus Blue Jackets: Dylan Larkin – C – USA U-18 (USHL)
17. Philadelphia Flyers: Alex Tuch – RW – USA U-18 (USHL)
18. Minnesota Wild: David Pastrnak – C – Sodertalje (SHL)
19. Tampa Bay Lightning: Julius Honka – D – Swift Current (WHL)
20. San Jose Sharks: Thatcher Demko – G – Boston College (Hockey East)
21. St. Louis Blues: Josh Ho-Sang – F – Windsor (OHL)
22. Pittsburgh Penguins: Jakub Vrana – RW – Linkoping (SHL)
23. Colorado Avalanche: Robby Fabbri – C – Guelph (OHL)
24. Anaheim Ducks: Adrian Kempe – LW – MODO (SHL)
25. Boston Bruins: Ivan Barbashev – LW – Moncton (QMJHL)
26. Montreal Canadiens: Roland McKeown – D – Kingston (OHL)
27. Chicago Blackhawks: Conner Bleackley – C – Red Deer (WHL)
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (via NY Rangers): Travis Sanheim – D – Calgary (WHL)
29. Los Angeles Kings: Nick Schmaltz – C – Green Bay (USHL)
30. New Jersey Devils: Nikita Scherbak – RW – Saskatoon (WHL)

Lottery outrage rankings

2014 draft logoDon’t ask why, but I love sports draft lotteries. When you grow up with the NBA Draft Lottery and the wild conspiracy theories that abounded with the Patrick Ewing draft, you can’t help but get sucked into the hype and hysteria.

The NHL Draft Lottery isn’t quite as adventurous as the NBAs, but it has its own quirks. Every year we seem to get the Edmonton Oilers lucking out and winning while the Florida Panthers are left to claim the booby prize.

We’ve seen the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche come away with the No. 1 pick in recent seasons when Edmonton wasn’t scoring it and this season it’s the Buffalo Sabres who have the best chance to win it after they finished with the league’s worst record.

The fun of a lottery is, of course, that the best chance of winning means having just a 25-percent chance of doing so.

Anyhow, I’m rambling and that’s stupid. There are 13 different teams that could come away with the No. 1 pick (New Jersey can win the lottery but can’t move up – thanks Ilya!) and I’m going to rank out how the outrage would go on the Internet depending on who won.

14. Buffalo (25% chance to win) — Let’s face it, if the Sabres win the lottery, no one is going to grumble about it. They were the worst team in the league and need all the help they can get. If they win, all will be right in the world.

13. New Jersey (1.5% chance) — This would provide a lot of schadenfreude if the Devils won the lottery. They can’t claim the first pick, so Devils fans would be pissed and have more reason to be mad at Ilya Kovalchuk, but this keeps the draft order in tact as it is meaning Buffalo picks first, Florida second, etc. If the Devils win it’ll be the second time they’ve done that in the past five years. They moved up to fourth overall in 2011 when they won and selected Adam Larsson. That was before they changed lottery rules so anyone in the pool could get the top pick. Skunked again, Jersey!

12. Phoenix/Arizona (0.8% chance) — Bet you’re thinking I’ll go with the cheap joke about the team not having fans or enemies enough to care, right? Wrong. Let’s face fact though, after missing the playoffs two years in a row, the Coyotes just aren’t on anyone’s “Give A Crap” meter. If there’s a team that could use a happy ping pong ball to get a franchise forward though, it’s the Coyotes.

11. Nashville (1.1% chance) — The Preds had lady luck on their side last year when Seth Jones fell to them at fourth overall. Now they need a new coach and lots of skill up front. If the Preds hit the lottery, chances are you’ll read a lot of things that start with, “Good for them!”

10. Winnipeg (2.7% chance) — The Jets hitting the lottery might cause the rest of  Canada to grumble, but on the whole they just don’t punch the collective conscience of NHL fans in the head the way, say, the Maple Leafs do. Things are trending up for the Jets and getting the top pick would speed that up. Maybe then they’ll start drawing more ire.

9. Carolina (4.7% chance) — Much like the other teams that rank out low on this list, Carolina just doesn’t make people angry on the whole. The caveat here if the ‘Canes won the lottery? Fans in Buffalo will have all the more reason to hate them. Yes, memories of the 2006 Eastern Conference Final still run deep in Buffalo and misery in this case would hate company.

8. Calgary (10.7% chance) — Calgary has been bad for a while and haven’t had a No. 1 overall pick in their history. Seeing the Flames jump over Edmonton would be worth it on its own and the Flames have enough former Sabres on the roster to be considered Buffalo’s Western Canada outpost. So why are they this high up? Easy: Everyone seems to hate Brian Burke despite him being the best quote in the business.

7. Florida (18.8% chance) — No one really hates the Panthers, with the exception of some old school Pittsburgh Penguins fans. The Panthers have been bad for a while and have been consistently landing in the Top 5 of the draft, but haven’t picked No. 1 overall since 1994 when they took Ed Jovanovski. Now, Jovo is the team captain and the team has some hopeful youth. Problem with the Panthers is they’re always in the lottery and, as you’ll see as this goes on, being a repeat lottery team means people are probably rooting against you.

6. Anaheim (via Ottawa) (2.1% chance) — Teams that are already the best in the conference tend to not get any sympathy and if the Ducks came away with the No. 1 pick, chances are Western fans would be up in arms that a team that’s already loaded gets to add another big piece. Only question here is whether fans would be more annoyed with Anaheim or Ottawa for forking over their first-round pick for Bobby Ryan.

5. Washington (0.5% chance) — The Capitals have the lowest odds in the lottery and yet… All my mind goes back to is when the Orlando Magic hit the lottery twice and got to snag Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. If the Caps won the top pick, how quickly do Flyers/Penguins/Rangers fans start crying foul? Immediately? Probably, because they’d announce picking defenseman Aaron Ekblad on the spot.

4. Vancouver (6.2% chance) — The Canucks had a bad year, no doubt, but they’ve still got a lot of (aging) talent and after years of thumping on everyone, seeing them get to reload their youthful prospects with a top forward like Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett would cause much consternation. Of course we don’t know who the GM will be or maybe even who the coach will be, but that’s beside the point for outrage. Anger here comes from a great team that many people dislike that finally went bad getting the chance to turn it around immediately.

3. New York Islanders (8.1% chance) — The Isles’ one year away to make the playoffs turned into a mess. Fans on the whole are pretty sick of the Islanders always winding up in the lottery and getting the chance to pick first again (they did previously in 2009 and got John Tavares) will make people wonder when the hell things are going to change. Shame for the Isles there isn’t a must-have goaltending prospect at the top of the draft this year.

2. Toronto (3.6% chance) — The Leafs are back in the lottery and they rank out this high because of a few reasons. First off, they were pretty good for most of the season. It would seem “unfair” by some fans if they got the top pick. Secondly, the Leafs are a hated team and their failure to make the playoffs caused much joy. Seeing them rewarded for just missing out would make heads explode. Finally, the Leafs hiring Brendan Shanahan away from the NHL would have conspiracy theory nuts losing their minds. You’ll hear junk about a fixed lottery, frozen envelopes, weighted ping pong balls, and voodoo witch doctors being involved in helping make it all possible.

I’m almost rooting for this to happen just to bathe in the conspiratorial mayhem, but there’s one team that most everyone will be rooting against in this lottery…

1. Edmonton (14.2% chance) — The Oilers have had the No. 1 overall pick in three of the past four drafts. They’ve been supposedly rebuilding their team “the right way” for years now and have yet to make the playoffs because of it. They haven’t been to the postseason since they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. They’re teeming over with young talent up front and would have a shot to pick Ekblad if they land the top pick.

Problem is, most everyone is worn out with seeing a team that continues to shoot itself in the foot get rewarded with the best player available every year. If the Oilers come away with the lottery win, “AGAIN?!?!” might start trending on Twitter because of it. At this point in the rebuild, fans are in the “Figure it out already” part of it while the rest just wants them to go away.

My 2013 ECAC preseason poll: Trying hard to not be a homer and failing

ECACHockeyKen Schott of the Schenectady Gazette again asked me to fill out a media ballot for the preseason ECAC rankings as well as my picks for the preseason all-conference team.

With a noted RPI bias like I have here, I’ve always tried to play it cool with expectations. I don’t know that I can do that this year.

  1. RPI
  2. Yale
  3. Dartmouth
  4. Quinnipiac
  5. Union
  6. Cornell
  7. St. Lawrence
  8. Brown
  9. Colgate
  10. Harvard
  11. Princeton
  12. Clarkson
Preseason All-Conference Team
Goalie: Jason Kasdorf – RPI
Defensemen:  Shayne Gostisbehere – Union — Tommy Fallen – Yale
Forwards:  Greg Carey – St. Lawrence — Kenny Agostino – Yale — Matt Lorito – Brown
As usual with this conference, you can take the top four, five, or six teams and arrange them however you want at the top and then draw names out of a hat for the bottom.
I’m sure you’re wondering why/how I put Rensselaer ahead of both of last year’s national finalists.
Quinnipiac was easy enough because they graduated essentially half of last year’s team. That’s hard to overcome but coach Rand Pecknold gets a ton of credit for what he’s done with this team already and what guys are returning can score.
Yale will be very good again this year. I know they’ve got questions in goal thanks to Jeff Malcolm graduating, but when haven’t the Bulldogs had questions there? I’m sure there will be some brand of let down and everyone will question if they can do it again. I think they’ll be fine.
As for RPI though, there’s a couple reasons for going with them at No. 1:
1. Goaltending
Jason Kasdorf would’ve been the ECAC’s top goalie had it not been for QU’s Eric Hartzell and his out-of-this-world season. Kasdorf is just heading into his sophomore year and provided there’s no namely letdown this year (and no injuries) he should be at the top of the league again.
2.  Lack of roster turnover
Know how many seniors the Engineers had last season? Five. One of them was their top scorer in defenseman Nick Bailen. Losing his production on the power play could be a big issue for RPI, but they’ve got other guys ready to jump into his shoes.
The other four players weren’t burning the house down in production last year. Captain C.J. Lee was 11th on the team in points while Greg Burgdoerfer was a grinder and Marty O’Grady had injury problems. Goalie Bryce Merriam was, for all intents and purposes, the team’s third goalie by the end of the year.
Who’s back? Everyone that made RPI one of the hottest teams at the end of last season. Juniors Matt Neal, Jacob Laliberte, and Ryan Haggerty lead the forwards while sophomore forwards Mike Zalewski and Milos Bubela provide the second wave with senior Brock Higgs, junior Mark McGowan, and sophomore Mark Miller.
RPI will score plenty and they’ve got perhaps the best goalie in the conference. The only question comes on defense, but even there things are looking good with guys like Curtis Leonard, Guy Leboeuf, and Chris Bradley providing stability. Freshman Parker Reno will jump into the defensive fire and help toughen things up as well.
Speaking of their freshmen, there’s not many coming in (just five) and three are forwards with high offensive upside. Like Yale, RPI could  prove to be one of the most fun teams to watch in the ECAC.
As for explaining the rest of the rankings, let’s do that quickly:
I know I’ll catch hell for putting my faith in Dartmouth again, but at some point they’re going to get over the hump in conference, right? They have to.
Quinnipiac will still be good. Go ahead and think they won’t be and then they’ll wind up surprising you in the face.
Union’s been bitten by the departure bug, but like the New Jersey Devils in the NHL, counting them out is foolhardy. Rick Bennett will find a way to make it work. They’re virtually a system team at this point, just not head-bangingly boring the way…
Cornell still is. At least now with a lack of scoring the Big Red are (somewhat) justified in playing the most awful brand of hockey going. If you can’t score, at least make sure no one else can have fun at your expense, right? Ugh.
Some of you might be surprised not to see Brown at the very bottom. Forward Matt Lorito makes that possible. He’ll be hotly pursued as a free agent when he’s done with the Bears in 2015.
St. Lawrence could be a surprise if Greg Carey keeps doing what he’s been doing and filling the net at will. He’s worth seeing on his own

Summer report cards (Part 2)

Seth JonesIf you missed Part 1, I am ashamed of you. Also you can just find that here. You’ll find Anaheim through Montreal there.

As for the rest of the teams…

Nashville: They made plenty of splashes this summer. American superhero kid Seth Jones fell into their lap at the draft and then they signed four free agents (Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks, and Eric Nystrom). Sound and fury signifying nothing? Maybe not. Those players all strike me as prototypical Predators players. Is that a good thing? Maybe not, but jeez they’re going to be annoying to play against. (B-minus)

New Jersey: David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk leave town and take a good chunk of their offense with them. Sounds bad, right? Adding Ryane Clowe (on a bad contract), Michael Ryder, and Rostislav Olesz won’t make up for that loss. At least they figured out their “life after Marty” dealing for Cory Schneider. All things considered, it’s a terrible summer player and talent-wise but if it leads to the team being sold with hopes of better spending in the near future, it’s not all bad. It’s just business in Jersey. (B-minus)

NY Islanders: I’ll say it here and now: Garth Snow is pretty damn great at his job. The team is free of the hideous DiPietro contract, he dealt Mark Streit to Philly while signing Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin. Not to mention he re-signed Travis Hamonic and Josh Bailey. Only Bailey’s deal is worthy of cringing but he got John Tavares extended on a super sweetheart deal during the season. One thing he didn’t do? Improved team goaltending. That was the one thing that held them back against Pittsburgh in the playoffs and they brought the same old guy (Evgeni Nabokov) back in a summer that was teeming over with goaltending possibilities. You take the good with the bad, yada yada, the facts of life on Long Island. (B-minus)

NY Rangers: Their report card is still a tad incomplete. Getting Ryan McDonagh’s deal done was huge but Derek Stepan still awaits. Re-signing Carl Hagelin was a smooth move and bringing back Mats Zuccarello would be wise as well. Giving Brad Richards a chance to show what he’s got to Alain Vigneault was logical. If he stinks next season it’s buyout time. Aaron Johnson and Benoit Pouliot are depth filler for what should be a better team. (C for blandness)

Ottawa: An awkward and acrimonious good-bye with Daniel Alfredsson didn’t stop GM Bryan Murray. Dealing Jakob Silfverberg and more for Bobby Ryan while signing Clarke MacArthur (cheers) and Joe Corvo (groan) helped make sure the Sens didn’t lose much of anything offensively. Image-wise they lose the face of their team. Here’s to hoping they don’t mind embracing an American in Canada’s capital city. (A-minus)

Philadelphia: It’s never dull in Philly. Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov were bought out, Mark Streit was traded for, and Vinny Lecavalier and Ray Emery were signed as free agents. Meanwhile, the same questions that lingered around their defense are STILL there and the goalie situation may or may not improve. But hey, at least the offense will stay strong! In other words, it’s another year of the same ole’, same ole’ in the City of Liberty. (C-minus)

Phoenix: Mike Ribeiro’s arrival gives the Coyotes a playmaker the organization hasn’t seen since… The washed up husk of Craig Janney? Sure, why not. A team loaded with guys oozing with goal-scoring potential and power forwards needs someone that can get ‘em the puck. Ribeiro is it. Swapping out Jason LaBarbera for Thomas Greiss is a lateral move. Landing Max Domi in the draft gives their prospect pipeline a real offensive threat for the first time since… Radim Vrbata? Mikkel Boedker? Take your pick. All this along with the franchise getting to put ownership questions away (for at least five years) makes it a great summer in the desert. (B-plus)

Pittsburgh: The Pens’ veteran “go for it all” lineup last year didn’t pay off and now most of the team sees a dramatic change. Out go Tyler Kennedy, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Matt Cooke and in returns Rob Scuderi. Their biggest job was re-signing Pascal Dupuis and extending Kris Letang, the latter to a semi-dubious deal. They’re still going to have to ride it out with Marc-Andre Fleury and see if he snaps out of it. Good luck on that. They’ll also need to hope their prospects can jump in seamlessly. (C)

San Jose: They didn’t really have to do much. After their deadline chaff-cutting deals they figured their business out just fine. Acquiring Tyler Kennedy from Pittsburgh gives them better depth at forward and that’s maybe the one thing they really needed. Letting Thomas Greiss go in favor of giving Alex Stalock his shot at backing up Antti Niemi is just them giving the younger guy his opportunity.  (B)

St. Louis: Their summer was mostly about making sure no one poached their RFAs. With guys like Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Chris Stewart needed to be signed, that left a few possible bullseyes out there for poop-stirring GMs. Of course, no one has jumped at the chance (yet) but GM Doug Armstrong says they’ll match anything. Of course he did. And they probably will too so, just whatever. Anyhow, trading David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi is interesting and adding Derek Roy in free agency gives them a nice playmaker while Maxim Lapierre gives them yet another irritating player. Their possible three-headed goalie circus could cause problems if not fixed. (B-minus)

Tampa Bay: Essentially traded Vinny Lecavalier (buyout) for Valtteri Filppula (UFA) and didn’t do much else. Whatever Steve Yzerman is cooking up here had best center around first-round pick Jonathan Drouin and their AHL stars. Their defense still stinks and their goaltending is riddled with questions. Hey, wait, are they just Flyers of the south? Somehow they managed to do even less than they did. (D)

Toronto: Not a fan of buying out Mikhail Grabovski at all but if he’s not fitting in with the coach, you have to draw a line somewhere. Sadly for the Leafs, they picked the coach. Out goes Grabbo, in comes David Clarkson on a bloated deal that won’t end well and Tyler Bozak gets extended. Adding Jonathan Bernier to the goalie mix while buying out Mike Komisarek instead of say John-Michael Liles just piles on the question marks over what exactly Dave Nonis is doing. They needed defensive help and didn’t get any while adding tons of cash to the payroll. (D)

Vancouver: Dumping Cory Schneider to draft Bo Horvat is the move that makes me unable to give them a grade. How will Roberto Luongo handle having to stay in Vancouver after pining for an exit for two seasons? Adding Mike Santorelli as your one big signing while buying out Keith Ballard says John Tortorella will have a group of guys that know each other well to browbeat into a Cup-winning team.

Washington: They didn’t go hard after keeping Mike Ribeiro and let Matt Hendricks go without a fight. They bought out Jeff Schultz and signed Tyson Strachan for what amounts to a lateral move on defense. GM George McPhee has never been a big free agent guy and wisely stayed away from this year’s crop. Of course, deciding to go with Brooks Laich as your No. 2 center doesn’t sound like the move of a team “dying” to win a Stanley Cup. Much like Calgary, I’ll ask again here: Why aren’t they pursuing Grabovski? It makes too much sense. I agree with staying out of this free agent frenzy, I don’t agree with not (yet?) taking a shot on a guy who can make you better right away. (C-minus)

Winnipeg: They’re busy getting some RFAs signed including two top-line players in Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. Throw in top defenseman Zach Bogosian and the Jets are busy taking care of their own… Unless that’s Alex Burmistrov who they let go to the KHL. Adding Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi helps make them deeper on the wings and a possible full season from Jacob Trouba makes them a bit deeper on defense. Things could be better and they shouldn’t play hardball with their RFAs the way they are. Bad free agent year I know, but not even checking in on say Rob Scuderi? C’mon now. Maybe they’re just playing it cheap to thank the boss (Gary Bettman) for getting them a team again. Owner David Thomson is loaded and yet they’ve got the lowest payroll in the league. At least Ondrej Pavelec is getting paid though, right? Yeesh. (D)

Summer report cards (Part 1)

Report-Card-1It still feels like the season just ended. I guess it was just a few weeks ago so that’s fine, but free agency started with a super-sized bang and fizzled almost instantaneously so now we all feel like summer is still taking forever when in fact training camp is really just a few weeks away.

Great news, right? Well not unless your team spent the summer either farting around and doing nothing or spending their money like drunken fools.

With only a handful of good free agents still out there and my inability to predict trades, it’s safe to start assigning grades and blame to everyone. I’m anal so I’m doing it alphabetically. Also, I ramble so Anaheim to Montreal will be in this post. Nashville-Winnipeg in the one that comes later on. My grades are in parenthesis.

Anaheim: Dustin Penner is a nice pickup. No, really he is. Do you think a guy who gets top-six minutes is going to have single-digit shot percentages with a run-and-gun-like team in the Ducks the way he did with the grind ‘em up Kings the last three seasons? Heck no. Now just re-sign Teemu and team him up with Jakob Silfverberg and get down to business with the rest of the kids. (B-minus)

Boston: Hoo boy, what a summer. They’ve dumped so many people this summer you’ll have to get a program opening night. Basically they’ve swapped out Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Jaromir Jagr and Andrew Ference for Loui Eriksson, Jarome Iginla, and going with their kids on the blue line (Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski). That’s more than a facelift. Their AHL kids did well last season and having faith in them to do it at the NHL level next year says a lot. GM Peter Chiarelli has done enough to be trusted but he’s got to hope everyone else picks up the offensive slack. (C)

Buffalo: What should’ve happened is Ville Leino got bought out and they found ways to deal Thomas Vanek and/or Ryan Miller. Instead, Leino is recovering from surgery so he couldn’t be bought out and Nathan Gerbe was sent paid-packing and (as of now) neither superstar on the final year of their deal has a new address. Perfect! Swapping Andrej Sekera for Jamie McBain was a nice change-of-address deal but all the same issues and headaches from last season are still here. Buffalo? More like Barf-alo, am I right?!?!?! (F)

Calgary: Yuck. Why hasn’t this team signed Mikhail Grabovski yet? Karri Ramo is going to be their No. 1 goalie too? What a mess this team and organization is. (F-minus)

Carolina: Swinging a deal with Buffalo is worth… Something. Signing Mike Komisarek is interesting as a reclamation project. Parting ways with Chad LaRose seems odd as Carolina never really seems to let anyone go. Signing Anton Khudobin to backup Cam Ward is more than reasonable. They’re reportedly also sniffing around at Jaromir Jagr. Cool, I guess. They didn’t seem to improve so… (C-minus)

Chicago: Just like 2010 they won the Stanley Cup and then cleared the decks of heavy money. Out goes Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Dan Carcillo and Ray Emery and in comes… Well… The kids? Nikolai Khabibulin returns to take Emery’s backup job but the other positions could be filled by AHL youngsters like blog-favorite Brandon Pirri (can’t spell “Pirri” without “RPI after all), re-committing to Marcus Kruger, and handing the annoyance keys off to Brandon Bollig. Keeping Bryan Bickell as comparatively reasonable money turned out looking smart in the end. Like Chiarelli, Stan Bowman has earned a pass on his decisions. (B)

Colorado: Drafting Nathan MacKinnon first overall will be debated for years to come. Bringing back all sorts of old Avs players for different roles (even Alex Tanguay to play) is nice for the whole nostalgia thing they’ve got going on. They’re going with their kids on defense but didn’t add to it and also locked up Matt Duchene. After playing hardball with him, giving him $6 million a season is a nice thank-you card. With Patrick Roy at the helm they were already going to be worth keeping an eye on. They could sneak in as a playoff team if Roy focuses them. If not… Get the popcorn ready because the fireworks will be awesome. Yes, Greg Sherman will bring the popcorn to your seat. (C)

Columbus: They set out to make one big splash and did inking Nathan Horton. Everything else they’ve done this summer is internal housekeeping. Horton’s deal doesn’t come without questions. Seven years and big money for a guy with injury problems and who won’t suit up until perhaps December thanks to shoulder surgery means Jarmo Kekalainen will hear about it if he doesn’t bounce back well. Life will be A LOT harder in their new division with the old Patrick Division pals. Are they good enough to slog it out with them all year? Hmm.. (B for “wow” factor, C for overall)

Dallas: Give it up to Jim Nill for doing some work as the new GM. Sending Eriksson out for Seguin and Peverley was ballsy and adding Shawn Horcoff helped make them stronger instantly up the middle. Their forwards needed more depth badly and that’s what he’s done. The D is young and Kari Lehtonen’s always tenuous injury situation made them go get Dan Ellis as a backup. Their grade hinges on whether or not Seguin can put the beer bong down long enough to score 30-40 goals. Hmm… (B-minus)

Detroit: Leave it to the Wings to go ahead and just lure away one team’s long-time captain and another’s should’ve-been captain. Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss help make it a great summer for Ken Holland. Letting Valtteri Filppula walk was a smart move as was buying out Carlo Colaiacovo. Like it or not, they’re going with kids on defense. They’ve still got a move (or two or three) left to make to thin out their forwards and re-sign key RFAs but Detroit appears more than ready to attack the East. (A-minus)

Edmonton: The Oilers frustrate me. I see all the talent on the roster and I instantly believe they should be a playoff team. I want to believe the few moves they made this summer will make that happen. Their defense needed help badly and Boyd Gordon will help with that amongst the forwards while Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov can help the blue line figure themselves out. Devan Dubnyk is more than OK in goal. Dealing Magnus Paajarvi for David Perron is curious but for whatever reason the Oilers seemed to lose faith in him. C’est la vie. They’re not flashy moves but, God help me, I like them. (B)

Florida: So, uh, hey… Panthers. What’s happening? Oh right, nothing. Just building through the draft I see. They didn’t get anything going for Roberto Luongo and now they’re going to basically run with an insanely young team next season. Aleksander Barkov will be a star the same way Jonathan Huberdeau will. Erik Gudbranson came along late last year and I’m not selling out Jacob Markstrom as he’s still a freakin’ kid. That said, they didn’t do anything free agent or trade-wise of significance this summer. (D)

Los Angeles: Losing Rob Scuderi stinks for LA, but that’s why they have Robyn Regehr now. And added Jeff Schultz. And re-signed Keaton Ellerby, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and anyone else who plays defense there. Losing Brad Richardson and Dustin Penner may hurt early on, but it seemed clear that Tyler Toffoli was going to get more ice time one way or another. This clears the decks a bit. Dan Carcillo will help give the Kings someone to make really bad decisions and someone for Darryl Sutter to point at. Hey, at least Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have a running buddy again. (C)

Minnesota: Another team with youth waiting in the wings that will get a chance to show what they have… Or else. Out went Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck and Devin Setoguchi. Dany Heatley would’ve been bought out but had that late season injury and surgery preventing that. In comes Matt Cooke to draw the ire of opponents (and locals!) while killing penalties on the ice (NOT PEOPLE). If Wild fans didn’t get enough of a look at Charlie Coyle, Jeff Zucker, and Mikael Granlund last year, they’re going to get A LOT of them next season. Being tight against the cap sure is fun! (C)

Montreal: Adding George Parros to help make Brandon Prust’s life easier? Sounds stupid but it might actually work. Prust was far more important to his rookie linemates Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Gallagher as a physical force rather than a face-puncher. Daniel Briere is *thisclose* to being done as an offensive weapon in the league but he’ll do good PR in Quebec. None of these moves matter a lick if Carey Price can’t return to form and the Habs defense doesn’t reappear magically.  (C)

My NHL Awards ballot

In the past I’m sure I’ve vented about how results went in the NHL Awards. Now I get to stop wagging my finger at others and get it wagged in my face instead.

Yes, yours truly is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association now and that means I get to vote.

Which ones? Only some of the most interesting ones. This year I had to fill out ballots for the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Calder Trophy, Selke Trophy, Masterton Trophy, and Lady Byng Trophy. I also picked out what my NHL All-Star and All-Rookie teams would be.

In an effort to give full disclosure on my ballot and my thoughts, here goes nothing.

Hart Trophy
1. Alexander Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
2. Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins
3. John Tavares – New York Islanders
4. Sergei Bobrovsky – Columbus Blue Jackets
5. Jonathan Toews – Chicago Blackhawks

For everyone who thought the Ovi vs. Sidney war was over, it secretly got re-fired up this year. Only downside was that there weren’t many head-to-head match-ups and each star had bouts where they either didn’t play well or didn’t play at all. I give the nod to Ovechkin because as he went, the team went with him. Coach (and blog favorite) Adam Oates figured out how to make it work for him and the team is thriving because of it.

That’s not to say Crosby was less than that. Far from it. He was easily the most dominant player in the league, but for me it’s about the importance to the team and Pittsburgh rolled on without him.

John Tavares’ candidacy is one I made enough of a stink about on Twitter and I believe the Islanders would’ve again been a lottery team floundering on Long Island without him. I certainly hope Brad Boyes bought him many a dinner for helping him have another bounce-back season.

Bobrovsky’s case is simple to make: He put the Blue Jackets in contention for the playoffs for the first time in five years solely based on his play in goal. The team was one of the lowest scoring in the league and that meant he had to be nails every night. Unfortunately the Jackets didn’t figure out Bob was their guy soon enough to lift them into the postseason.

Toews gets my fifth and final vote based on his leadership and fantastic all-around play. Doing that on the league’s best team says a lot. No, this wasn’t a throwaway vote.

Norris Trophy
1. Ryan Suter – Minnesota Wild
2. P.K. Subban – Montreal Canadiens
3. Zdeno Chara – Boston Bruins
4. Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings
5. Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs

Suter’s play this season was impossible to not watch. Seeing how he would do after leaving Shea Weber’s side in Nashville was worth checking out anyhow. Seeing him thrive and become the go-to guy for the Wild and help groom rookie Jonas Brodin proved he was worth the money. Sure he struggled to start the season but you could see he was trying too hard to carry the team. Once he settled in he became the guy who earned my top vote for best defenseman.

Subban, meanwhile, showed the Habs why he was so important to them and why messing around with his contract was so foolish in the first place. He’s easily their best player and plays equally as strong both offensively and defensively.

Do I really need to explain Chara’s spot on my ballot? If I do, you haven’t been watching him play. Get it together.

Doughty, like Suter, did his part to carry the load for a team that needed the stability. Injuries nearly derailed the start of the year for the Kings but Doughty’s play settled things down. Also like Suter, he helped bring a rookie along into the fold (Jake Muzzin in this case) and helped him become a fixture in the lineup.

Sure Leafs players get lots of press and attention. I get that, but Phaneuf’s play this season was quietly awesome. His physical play and offensive skills have shone through all while being paired up with a host of different partners.

Calder Trophy
1. Nail Yakupov – Edmonton Oilers
2. Jonas Brodin – Minnesota Wild
3. Jonathan Huberdeau – Florida Panthers
4. Brendan Gallagher – Montreal Canadiens
5. Cory Conacher – Tampa Bay Lightning/Ottawa Senators

Rookie of the year makes for a vote that I’m fascinated to see how it turns out. Yakupov ruffled feathers with his exuberant play and celebrations but he just kept getting better as the season went along. Finishing with a hat trick in the final game and 17 goals in a short season earns the nod from me.

Brodin was nothing short of awesome in becoming Minnesota’s other top defenseman. Playing next to Suter helps out a lot, no doubt, but the kid is real good. Maybe we’ll see some of that against Chicago.

Huberdeau, like Yakupov, was also really good all season long and his play helped make this vote really difficult for me. I love his game and I love the future he’s set to have in the league.

Gallagher’s play with the Habs was consistently solid all year. He’s also good as a major pain in the ass type of player. Hard to not like that kind of player (unless you’re a fan of a team he’s playing). He and fellow rookie Alex Galchenyuk were equally good this season, but Galchenyuk’s play was only just starting to ramp up. Look out, Ottawa.

Speaking of Ottawa, Conacher got off to a flying start with Tampa Bay before being dealt for Ben Bishop (a pair of guys I’ve interviewed during their AHL stints during the lockout). He cooled off a bit at the end but it was a toss-up between him and Justin Schultz for my final vote. I went for Conacher.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with more words for the last few awards.

Selke Trophy
1. Jay McClement – Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Frans Nielsen – New York Islanders
3. Patrice Bergeron – Boston Bruins
4. Anze Kopitar – Los Angeles Kings
5. Ryan Callahan – New York Rangers

McClement was the very definition of a defensive forward. Nielsen has been sorely underrated as one in the past and showed how good he is again this season. I’ll likely take heat from you guys for having Bergeron third and that might be fair. Kopitar’s defensive skills fly so far under the radar I don’t know how many folks remember he’s one of the best there.

Lady Byng Trophy
1. Matt Carle – Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Logan Couture – San Jose Sharks
3. Henrik Lundqvist – New York Rangers
4. Martin St. Louis – Tampa Bay Lightning
5. Matt Moulson – New York Islanders

Go ahead, cry “East Coast bias!” if you want. Go ahead and figure out what criteria you think applies to this award.

Masterton Trophy
1. Josh Harding – Minnesota Wild
2. Adam McQuaid – Boston Bruins
3. James Sheppard – San Jose Sharks

Listen, no one is beating Harding’s case for perseverance this year. Playing after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis is almost as slam-dunk as it gets. McQuaid’s story of overcoming a serious blood clotting problem that threatened his career might’ve done it for him any other season.

My All-Star and All-Rookie teams I’ll just list for you with no comment. Just know that the All-Star team required choices made at each position while the All-Rookie team asked for three forwards regardless of position.

NHL All-Star Team
Center: Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews

Right Wing: Alex Ovechkin, Martin St. Louis, Patrick Kane

Left Wing: Taylor Hall, Henrik Zetterberg, Rick Nash

Defense: Ryan Suter, Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf, P.K. Subban. Francois Beauchemin

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, James Reimer

NHL All-Rookie Team
Forward: Nail Yakupov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Brendan Gallagher

Defense: Jonas Brodin, Justin Schultz

Goal: Robin Lehner

AHL life isn’t so bad really

OK so this isn’t going to be me opining about whether I am Team Owners or Team Players in this whole, stupid affair. I sympathize with the players and I think they’re getting boned over by guys that can’t figure out how to do math and want a do-over.

No, this is more about what I’ve seen from the NHL guys who were exiled to the AHL because of the petty fighting.

The guys that are there are kids. At the oldest, they’re 22 or 23 but in the case of guys like Sean Couturier, he’s 19 and spending his time in a league that he’s probably too good for. What I saw from him the other night in Glens Falls in a loss to Rochester was a guy trying too hard to do everything.

He’s got a pair of linemates who are likely better off in the AHL and won’t see much, if any, time in the NHL. Still, through all that, Couturier managed to get two assists. He was on fire for the whole game and showed the tenaciousness we saw from him against Pittsburgh. He was the guy that made Evgeni Malkin lose his cool again, only in the AHL against a handful of other NHL guys.

The crazy part is, the AHL is still a very good league. With all things being normal it might be the second best league in the world, yet guys like Couturier, Adam Henrique, Chris Kreider, and Adam Larsson have to be there because that’s how it works when you’re on your entry-level deal.

And the time they spend there? It’s going to make them monsters. Just think of the guys in Oklahoma City. Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and maybe eventually Taylor Hall as well.

Amazing.

So much talent there that should be getting showcased in the NHL… But it’s not. Instead of playing in New York City, Boston, or Los Angeles these young stars are getting their kicks in Rochester, Worcester, and Abbotsford.

That’s not how it should be, but whenever the players and owners decide to be grownups about this whole CBA thing, those kids are going to come back to the NHL a lot stronger and a lot better off because of it. If you thought you saw great things out of these kids last year, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Even better still, if you’re near an AHL city you can see them play on the cheap and show what they’re all about. We could sit and dwell about how it sucks something awful that we’re not seeing them in the NHL, but you could just look on the bright side of life and see them play in their own brand of barnstorming tour.

Thoughts from RPI’s exhibition

There was plenty to like and plenty to pick apart from RPI’s 6-2 win over Acadia. It can always be misleading to judge what you see out of a team in an exhibition game against inferior talent, but I’ll give it a whirl anyway.

— The sophomores looked a bit more grown up (duh). Notably Matt Neal and Jacob Laliberte had fun games. Creative with the puck, no seemingly dumb plays, and helped push the offense. RPI needs that badly.

— I knew going into the season goaltending was going to be fascinating to watch and the exhibition left me thinking freshman Jason Kasdorf (pictured) and sophomore Scott Diebold are going to make senior Bryce Merriam a resident of the bench more often than not this year.

— Yes, I know that’s potentially a dumb thought to have after each guy got 20 minutes of action but my feeling is that Merriam’s leash is going to be really short this year.

— I dig Milos Bubela. If I was still doing photoshops, there’d be one of Mike Myers as Linda Richman yelling about her favorite bubbelah being Bubela. I like puns.

— I think Mark McGowan is going to have a nice year. He’s shaping up to be a solid all-around player and the goal he scored sure looked pretty. Granted the Acadia goalie was playing too deep in his net and he reacted late, but still.

— The defense is going to be fascinating to watch. Pat Koudys is gone, Nick Bailen is still awesome, and Curtis Leonard is just solid all around. Freshman Phil Hampton makes me curious. He showed a good shot from the point and seemed to just be involved in the play a bunch.

— Bo Dolan still looked like a freshman. He’s a third pair guy but I’d like to buy him some confidence.

— Of the freshmen (and there’s a bunch) I think Mike Zalewski and Mark Miller are going to be insta-helpers. Zalewski’s size and skill should help him evolve into a solid scorer while Miller seems to have the makings of a good checking line type player.

Obviously this is a really small sample size to judge from, but there’s reason to keep your head up if you’re an RPI fan. The team is crazy young though so there’s going to be mistakes and missteps along the way.

Teams are going to play tighter defensively and be a bit faster than Acadia was so they won’t get to skate circles around everyone. Add in the ECAC being a mostly trap-and-bore league and it makes for a hell of a grind. If they don’t get worn down and overly frustrated by the league schedule this could wind up being a very fun team to watch.

Descend into the madness of my ECAC preseason picks

It”s’ a time honored tradition in college sports: the preseason poll. While both USCHO and USA Today (with the coaches) will have their own college hockey Top 20, the poll I actually vote in is the only one I care to talk about — The ECAC preseason media poll and all-conference team.

You see, I can explain to you my thoughts (or total lack thereof) when it comes to how I see things shaking out in the conference and since this is my site, that’s how things roll around here. While I’m good at keeping up on things in college hockey, my life is consumed with professional hockey which means I get a sort of slanted view of what goes on.

That means I’m reading way more of Ken Schott at The Gazette for Union stuff and Ed Weaver at the Troy Record on RPI. I also have many friends and other folks who are either Cornell alums or REALLY big fans, so I hear enough about the Big Red to make me want to vomit out of my ears. Other schools… fall by the way side.

Enough rambling, here’s how I ranked everyone out on my ballot:

  1. Cornell
  2. Union
  3. Harvard
  4. Quinnipiac
  5. Dartmouth
  6. Yale
  7. St. Lawrence
  8. Rensselaer
  9. Clarkson
  10. Princeton
  11. Colgate
  12. Brown

It’s not really a surprise considering the top two teams as they were the top two last year. Union loses a handful of really good players while Cornell just keeps plugging right along. Hang on though, when you get a look at my all-conference ballot you’ll probably wonder what the hell my glitch is.

  • G: Troy Grosenick – Union
  • D: Shayne Gostisbehere – Union
  • D: Danny Biega – Harvard
  • F: Daniel Carr – Union
  • F: Kellen Jones – Quinnipiac
  • F: Kenny Agostino – Yale

Yes, three Union players and none from Cornell yet I have Cornell taking the conference. Why? I think Cornell is a deeper, more dedicated-to-their-system team. Every year no matter how much turnover there is in their roster, Cornell sits in the top four of the ECAC. It might not be the greatest hockey to watch in what is the second-weakest conference in the NCAAs, but that brand of consistency is rare.

These top two teams are also the only ones I’ve got any confidence at all in saying they’ll finish there. They were the conference’s only tournament teams last year and barring upsets in the tournament, it could be that way again.

As for 3-12… Honestly, I might as well draw names from a hat but I figured I’d give it a shot to place them where I think they’ll go. Reasons? Here goes nothing.

Harvard: Why not third? They tied so many games last year it kept them afloat. They lose some forward talent with Alex Killorn graduated but that’s it.

Quinnipiac: Lots of good forward talent here and I think that’ll be good enough to keep them in business all year. I’m a big fan of Kellen and Connor Jones with Matthew Peca assisting them both. Eric Hartzell is a quietly very solid goalie.

Dartmouth: Every year I expect better things from the Big Green and they keep letting me down. Yet here I am again. I’m a sucker. Lots of questions abound here, especially in goal (Cab Morris?). Brandon McNally was huge in conference last year, could be primed for a breakout second season.

Yale: It’s tough to pick against Keith Allain’s team as there’s still a lot of talent there, but things are lacking a bit now. Brian O’Neill was a huge player for them. Thankfully they’ve got an older Kenny Agostino to pick things up. Antoine Laganiere is a pure sniper. Goaltending was OK, but has to be better.

St. Lawrence: Loads of young scorers here but questions persist elsewhere. How they do without master tactician head coach Joe Marsh (retirement) will dictate where they finish.

Rensselaer: Seth Appert’s young team has loads and loads of potential and could be a team that winds up higher than where I’ve got them. It all depends on how well second-year guys Ryan Haggerty, Jacob Laliberte, Zach Schroeder, and Mark McGowan grow up and how well the host of new guys fit in. (Homer hopes: Last year’s kids turn into stud scorers and this year’s frosh blend in seamlessly – fingers crossed)

Clarkson: It’s nice to greatly dislike this team again with Casey Jones as the head coach now that George Roll is kickstarting the D-III program at Nazareth. They’re back to playing boring hockey and they’re very hate-able again. RPI beating them in the playoffs last year won’t sit well but they need better talent.

Princeton: So this is what happens when a good coach goes elsewhere. Things fall off for a bit. Or maybe they won’t and they’ll surprise. Who knows?!

Colgate: I’ll make this one easy – Austin Smith is gone. Coach Don Vaughn will figure out another way to pester the conference though.

Brown: It’s the annual tradition of picking Brown to finish last. Some things just never change.