July 22, 2019

Flames and Oilers Make A Rare Trade

The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers swapped problem contracts on Friday. The Oilers send Milan Lucic down south for James Neal.

Talk about neat twist in the Battle of Alberta. In fact it has potential to really add fuel to fire in this intense rivalry.

First off, almost everyone thinks Edmonton has won this trade. For starters, Neal would appear to be the better bet to have a bounce back season. He is only one season removed from his last notable season. The Oilers lack of depth on the wings should see Neal get lots of opportunities to succeed and play with the likes of Connor McDavid, at least on the power play.

Edmonton is also considered to have instantly won the trade just by subtracting Lucic's contract. His $6 million a year contract is buyout proof and his no movement clause means he is automatically protected for the Seattle expansion draft.

That being said, I suspect there is some sort of side arrangement where Lucic has already agreed to waive his right to be protected for the expansion draft. Lucic wanted out of Edmonton, and probably had to make that concession to make this happen.

I actually think Lucic could turn out okay in Calgary. He will be cast in a role where he will succeed. His job will be clearly defined. The problem is that role where he can return to be a productive player will be as a bottom six forward, possibly a 4th line player. That is a problem for a guy who makes as much money as he does, and that's where the trade makes little sense from a Calgary point of view.

That being said, Calgary coach Bill Peters doesn't really care how much each player is getting paid. He just needs to put his players in positions to succeed and Lucic has to buy in first and foremost. But it will be a tough sell to the media and fans. And it might be a tough sell for the Calgary owners when they inevitably question GM Brad Teliving a couple of years from now why this deal went bad.

Trades between the two Alberta rivals are very rare. The first trade between the two was in 2010 when Steve Staios went to the Flames for a prospect. Ladislav Smid headed south in 2013. I believe those are the only two prior trades between these two teams before the Lucic/Neal swap.

July 17, 2019

Seattle Whalers?

News broke out late Tuesday evening that Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis will be named as the first General Manager of the new expansion team in Seattle later this week.

Francis played in the NHL for 22 seasons,  most notably with the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise where he is considered to be the greatest player in franchise history. He also enjoyed great years with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he won two Stanley Cups.

Francis rose to become general manager in Carolina from 2014 through 2018. Hampered by a small budget, the Hurricanes never made the playoffs under Francis' watch. He was let go after an ownership change.

Francis is the second notable former Hartford Whalers player associated with the Seattle franchise.

Dave Tippett was serving as the senior hockey adviser to the Seattle ownership group before he left this summer to return to coaching with the Edmonton Oilers. Undoubtedly Tippett's influence with ownership helped pair Francis with the franchise.

With the team not slated to take to the ice until 2020-21, Francis will spend much of the next season building the front office and scouting staffs. A coach likely will not be named until much later.  However many will speculate if there will be more Whalers connections in Seattle.

Kevin Dineen could make for a good choice as coach. In a neat side story, Dineen's father Bill played for the WHL Seattle Totems in the 1960s. Dineen had worked for Francis at the 2019 World Hockey Championships for Canada. Dineen coached while Francis and Sean Burke, another former Whaler, acted as co-GMs.

Ulf Samuelsson could be good part of a bench staff. Doug Jarvis also has been confirmed to have been in contact with the Seattle ownership group.

July 03, 2019

Pucks On The 'Net: NHL Free Agency

In the blink of an eye the majority of the UFA signing news came and went. With very few notable UFAs remaining, the remaining news for the summer will be the RFA market.

There is potential for the RFA market to take a while to solve, as teams could face no pressure to sign until training camp.

Montreal set the market by attempting to poach Carolina's Sebastian Aho, but that, not surprisingly, failed. Still, it basically sets some goal posts for the remaining young free agents. The total dollars given Aho over the five year term were about as we should have expected. The front loading of the bonuses and unrestricted status for Aho in just five years are bigger concerns to the Hurricanes than the cap hit.

In most cases the threat of offer sheets is negated because teams have salary cap space to match. It's certainly still possible we will see another offer sheet, but it will be likely to be matched.

Among all the UFA signings in the past couple of days, very few contracts seem to be raising eye brows for the money spent. Dare we say some reasoning has been brought into this process? The week long ability to talk to free agents before signing them has really helped keep the crazy, inflationary offers away. But players and agents are also valuing contract structure - such as up front bonuses and buyout proof terms - and no trade/movement clauses and exchanging that for monetary compensation.

 Timo Meier is another such example. His contract is actually backloaded, so his qualifying RFA offer will have to be quite large heading into arbitration one day. Very shrewd.

Outside of the remaining RFAs we can probably expect to have a pretty quiet summer going forward.

June 26, 2019

Roberto Luongo Retires

Roberto Luongo is undoubtedly the greatest goaltender in Vancouver Canucks history. He should be given more consideration as the greatest player in franchise history, too.

Of course, the previous statement is also every bit as accurate if we change the change to the Florida Panthers.

Through his eight seasons with the Canucks, Luongo left a lasting legacy for the city of Vancouver — mostly good but some bad.

The veteran netminder is the Canucks’ all-time leader in wins and shutouts. He also poked fun at his own contract when the team couldn’t trade him at the 2013 trade deadline, and is known for a zany sense of humour on his popular Twitter account.

Luongo began his tenure with the Canucks after being acquired from the Panthers on June 23, 2006. With this blockbuster move - the Canucks sent beleaguered Todd Bertuzzi the other way - a new era of hope arrived in Vancouver.

Luongo came in as a savior. He was this spectacular goalie, constantly on highlight reels but always on poor teams. In New York. In Florida. Probably ever since he was a kid. Even in Vancouver when he first arrived, he gave poor teams chances to win games, and in doing so he provided hope.

The early part of the 2008-09 season saw Luongo at his regular-season best. During a three-game stretch against the Predators, Coyotes and Wild, Luongo registered three straight shutouts. His overall shutout streak lasted 242:36 minutes, eclipsing the team record he set the previous year.

More than two years later the Canucks made the unconventional move of naming their goalie the team’s 12th captain in history. It was short lived but there was no denying the always popular Lou was the team’s best player.

The 2010 season provided Luongo financial security and the chance of a lifetime. On Sept. 2, he signed a 12-year, $64-million US contract. The year would get significantly better. After being named to Canada’s Olympic team for the Vancouver Winter Games, Luongo replaced Martin Brodeur during the tournament. His steady play helped Canada in its run to a memorable Olympic gold medal, winning four straight elimination games under the most intense circumstances perhaps ever faced.

After several disappointing playoff seasons, the Canucks finally broke through in 2011. They got a scare in the first round against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Vancouver took the first three games, only to lose the next three.

It took a Game 7 overtime win to get by Chicago, but the Canucks advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup final. Vancouver appeared on the verge of capturing the city’s first title as it took a 3-2 series lead over the Boston Bruins. However, a brutal Game 6 loss in Boston brought the series back to Vancouver for a seventh and deciding game. The battered and bruised Canucks were then overwhelmed in a devastating 3-0 loss, leaving a bitter taste in fans mouths to this day.

By the time the 2013 trade deadline rolled around, Luongo saw the writing on the wall. The team seemed poised to move on with upstart Cory Schneider, but there was one small problem. The Canucks couldn’t unload Luongo and his fat contract at the deadline. In an interview that went viral, Luongo gave his blunt reasoning as to why he wasn’t dealt. “My contract sucks,” he memorably proclaimed.

Luongo was eventually traded back to the Florida Panthers — where he is also the greatest goalie in that franchise’s history — one day before the 2014 trade deadline. Canucks GM Mike Gillis, who completely botched the goaltending situation by also trading Schneider at the 2013 NHL draft, was fired after the team failed to make the playoffs a month later.

Luongo retired in 2019 after 1,044 games, 489 wins (third all time), 77 shutouts and 19 campaigns in the big leagues. He is also a two-time QMJHL champion, has two World Championship golds, one World Cup gold and the famous Olympic gold in Vancouver. He is undoubtedly bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as 2022.

June 25, 2019

Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced their induction class of 2019 today.

Canadian women's hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser headlines the class of six. Joining her in the player category are NHL stars Guy Carbonneau and Sergei Zubov, and Czech hockey legend Vaclav Nedomansky. Long time GM Jim Rutherford and Boston College coach Jerry York were selected in the builder category.

The induction ceremony will take place on November 18th.

Wickenheiser was the only first-year eligible player to be selected. Other notable first timers Vincent Lecavalier and Patrik Elias were overlooked.

Wickenheiser retired as the all-time leading scorer after 23 years on the national team. The native of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan was the best women's player on the planet during that time, winning four Olympic gold medals.

Carbonneau, of Sept-Iles, Quebec, is a breath of fresh air for the Hall. Instead of looking at the many forwards who piled up large point totals during the high scoring 80s, Carbonneau was known as the premiere defensive forward of his time. He won three Selke Awards along with three Stanley Cups.

Zubov was a brilliant offensive defenseman who helped the New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 1994 and the Dallas Stars in 1999.

Nedomansky played 12 seasons in Bratislava before becoming the first athlete from an Eastern European communist country to defect to North America to pursue a pro hockey career. He played in the WHA with Toronto and Birmingham before joining the Detroit Red Wings as a 33-year-old rookie in 1977. His NHL days were very late in his illustrious career, but he was a dominant player on the international scene and a true pioneer of hockey.

Rutherford has been a general manager in the NHL since the 1980s, winning Stanley Cups with Carolina and Pittsburgh (2).

York has been a head coach in the NCAA since 1972 and has won five national championships.

June 23, 2019

Pucks On The 'Net: World Yawn of Hockey

The big headline out of the NHL this day is that the NHL and NHLPA are going to reboot the World Cup of Hockey.



Let's review. There was this fantastic tournament called the Canada Cup from 1976 to 1991. Essentially it was a true world championship between the Soviets and the Canadians, who, unlike at the Olympics and Worlds, had their absolute best roster available. It was fantastic hockey, featuring some of the greatest moments in international hockey history.

Gary Bettman took over the tournament and rebranded it as the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. That's okay. By this time much of the rest of the world had caught up, with the Americans, Swedes, Czechs, Slovaks and Finns all challenging for top bidding. Bettman's dream scenario played out, with the Americans topping the Canadians for the inaugural championship. The importance of that win on the now-fully-blossoming American hockey scene can not be overlooked.

And then the NHL screwed it all up, time and time again. Lets' see. They didn't host another tournament until 2004. Canada won that one, but really no one much cared about that tournament. It finished on the eve of the NHL lockout announcement that would cost everyone the 2004-05 NHL season.

And then they didn't get around to having another tournament until 2016. It was kind of a gimmicky tourney with teams featuring under 23 North American stars and a team called Europe, comprising all the various nations that weren't big enough to compete on their own. Nonetheless, the tournament had a couple memorable highlights, but it paled in comparison to the Olympics. It was not even close!

And then NHL has never announced any plans to hold it again.

This is in the news again as the NHL and NHLPA are discussing the international calendar as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement dialogue. It's a pawn in a much bigger game of labour negotiations. The PA wants to go the Olympics, the League does not. They'd rather host their own tournament to recoup costs.

Today's headline really did not suggest what the plan is for the future of the World Cup of Hockey, because there is no plan. And they've destroyed whatever shine this tournament once held. No one cares any more. It's a cash grab held out of convenience.

It's time to let it die.

June 22, 2019

Pucks On The 'Net: Jim Benning Retraction

Oh Jimbo.

Yesterday I praised Jim Benning for nice moves involving Alexander Edler and Vasili Podkolzin.

Today, well, much of Canucks fandom is mad at Benning again.

Every hockey fan in the world knows you don't give up your first round pick when picking up another team's salary dump. 

Someone forgot to tell Jim.

Benning traded a conditional first rounder, meaning it is in the deep 2020 draft if the Canucks make the playoffs next year and in 2021 if they don't, along with a third rounder in 2019 and minor league goalie Marek Mazanek to Tampa Bay for J.T. Miller.

Now Miller is an excellent add, checking many boxes for the Canucks. They could use 2 or 3 more J.T. Millers. But they paid a steep price to get him, and kind of look silly in doing so.

While Canucks fans are up in arms today, they will come to like Miller once he takes to the ice. He is really solid in pretty much every aspect of the game. He's only 26 and has a reasonable salary cap number.

And if he can help the Canucks back to the playoffs, he will help Benning keep his job. He needs to acquire at least a couple of defensemen if that's going to happen, but Benning thinking the playoffs are within is reach is not delusional. The Canucks had strong goaltending from Jacob Markstrom, a budding superstar in Elias Pettersson and hopefully another rookie difference maker in Quinn Hughes. And the Pacific Division looked horrendous last season, so there is a shot.