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June 23, 2017

NHL Entry Draft History

My fascination with the National Hockey League Entry Draft more or less began in 1990 with Petr Nedved.

As a young fan of the lowly Vancouver Canucks, the draft represented hope. With Trevor Linden in place as the heart and soul, the team desperately needed a scoring superstar. With the draft in Vancouver and with the Canucks holding three of the first twenty-three picks, including #2 overall pick, these were exciting times.

The draft was said to be, and would prove to be, one of the deepest in history. Mike Ricci entered the previous season as the consensus top pick, but Owen Nolan and Keith Primeau caught up quickly. Jaromir Jagr would have undoubtedly been the top choice but there was still risk because his availability was still in doubt as political reform was still in progress.

But the man I wanted was another Czech player - Petr Nedved.

All eyes were on the spindly Czech kid who did nothing to hide his fascination with Wayne Gretzky. He emulated him in every way. He tucked in his shirt the same, wore the same Jofa helmet, and copied his hunched over skating style. He'd fly down the win, curl at the blue line looking for an amazing pass, although he really should have been more greedy and use his laser of a shot more often.

Nedved tore up the Western Hockey League with 65 goals and 145 points in 71 games. His offense was undeniable. He had the creativity and vision of #99. He was a game breaker through and through. He had already showed more courage than any other player possibly could.

I, like a lot of west coast fans, desperately wanted Vancouver to take Nedved. Keith Primeau, with his hulking size, was my other choice, although Philadelphia was supposedly offering Ron Sutter and Scott Mellanby if Vancouver flipped picks and slipped down to #4. They wanted Nedved too.

The Canucks did take Nedved, but did not really not what to do with him. He made the NHL team immediately, but he was too slight to make an impact. But sending him back to junior was not an option either, as he was too good for that league, and he had no other place to play. So the Canucks coddled him on the 4th line. To this day I believe Nedved's development was stagnated by this decision. He probably should have been returned to junior, even if the WHL offered no competition.

Nedved, despite glimpses of brilliance, never really found his way in the NHL until his third season. I don't think he ever came close to matching my expectations as a NHL player, no matter how much I wanted him too.
You can read more about Petr Nedved here. But Nedved is not the point of this long post. The point is the NHL Entry Draft is one of the fan's most favorite days of the year. It is a day full of hope and promise.

It is also a fun day to look back on drafts of the past. Last year I began year-by-year NHL Draft capsules, looking back at the best of the best. I never did get around to expanding upon my work. Maybe this year I will, but until this time next year you can review draft history here:

1963 - 1964 - 1965 - 1966 1967 - 1968 - 1969 - 1970 - 1971 - 1972 - 1973 - 1974 - 1975 - 1976 - 1977 - 1978 - 1979 - 1980 - 1981 - 1982 - 1983 - 1984

Also, take a look at these pieces:

All Time 1st Overall Draft Selections
Best Players Never Drafted
Infamous Draft Trades

June 16, 2017

NHL Expansion Draft History

It is an exciting time for hockey news right now, as uncertainty over the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft creates a lot of player movement.

Fans love player movement because it creates hope. Media love player movement because it creates stories. Teams often don't mind player movement because it creates opportunity. Players, well, players don't always like being shuffled along, but they accept it as part of the business.

I was asked if I was writing any about past NHL Expansion Drafts. Fantastic idea, I thought, but not enough time.

Besides, all the data is nicely available on Wikipedia. The people who did this work did a fantastic job, often complete with protected lists, rules, results and follow-up trades.

Here are the links in one handy location:

    June 12, 2017

    Sidney Crosby's Place In History

    With three Stanley Cup victories compared to Mario Lemieux's two, TSN's Frank Seravalli suggests Sidney Crosby has surpassed Mario as the new Emperor Penguin in Pittsburgh.

    While I concede Crosby's amazing 2016-17 season (World Cup championship and MVP, Rocket Richard trophy, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe plus possibly another Hart and Lindsay trophies still to come) genuinely catapults him from a top 20 player all time to top ten consideration, he's not quite at Lemieux's level just yet.

    Lemieux was the most gifted and talented hockey player ever, bar none. Maybe Bobby Orr could rival him, but no one else.

    Sid's talent level is underappreciated by many in this defensive era. But it is his will that make him so good. He simply will not be denied his destiny.

    Lemieux's will was nowhere near the same. I am not sure anyone in the top 10 compares with the exception of Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky's greatest asset was not his amazing skill level or his incomparable intellectual understanding of the game, but his passion for greatness. While Crosby's will seems more in-the-moment, if you will, The Great One's passion saw the much bigger picture.

    At the beginning of the season I revamped by Top 100 Players of All Time list and could not see Crosby in the top ten.

    Now I think it is time to reconsider the list.

    The list is a highly subjective personal ranking which considered legacy very high along with ability and accomplishments.

    At this time I still cannot see Crosby surpassing Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe or Lemieux at the top of that list. I could see Crosby as high as number eight, but I'd really have to think about going any higher.

    Is Crosby a better player than fifth ranked Rocket Richard? It is impossible to compare players from different eras, I do think. Yet Rocket's legacy is so high. And how comparable is Crosby's on ice greatness to that of Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull and Guy Lafleur?

    It's amazing to think at the beginning of the season I had him ranked in the teens, and now I'm willing to consider him as one of the top five greatest players in hockey history.

    Of course, Crosby is a work in progress. Is it possible Crosby could continue to climb and catch Gretzky, Orr, Howe or Lemieux?

    I would suggest the stark difference in eras will make it impossible for anyone to catch the statistical greatness of the top four. No matter how long Crosby plays, he, nor anyone else, will catch Gretzky's career totals. And the single season marks of Gretzky, Orr and Mario are also likely out of reach.

    Crosby turns 30 this summer and, despite his serious concussion injuries of the past, presumably has many good years ahead. But his days of winning scoring titles may be over. The heir apparent - Connor McDavid - has already taken the Art Ross trophy away from Sid.

    So that means Crosby just needs to keep on winning. With the NHL's days at the Olympics over that means Crosby and the Penguins would need to continue winning Stanley Cups.

    Of course in this salary cap era it is supposed to be impossible for a traditional dynasty to rise, meaning three or more consecutive Stanley Cups. But if healthy, Pittsburgh's in good shape to contend again. Their keys players are locked up under contract, and they will move goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and his hefty salary this summer.

    Maybe Crosby's place in history will see him rise even higher yet.

    Howe, Richard, Mikita, Hull To Have Names Removed From Stanley Cup

    No, that headline is not a farce. 
    Soon the Stanley Cup will no longer feature the names of many of the game's all time greats, including Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull.
    When the 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, they will be the last team to be placed on the bottom ring of the Stanley Cup. In order to make more room for the next champion, the highest removable ring with come off, and a new ring will be added on the bottom.
    That means the ring featuring the champions from 1954 to 1965 will be retired forever to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
    While fans can see the stretched out ring on the walls of the Hall of Fame's famous bank vault, they will never again see the 342 players and builders featured during this time period. 
    And that includes Howe, Richard, Mikita and Hull - arguably four of the top ten players of all time. 
    Other names to disappear will be Ted Lindsay, Pierre Pilote, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, Butch Bouchard, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Bert Olmstead and Frank Selke. 
    While they may no longer have their names on the actual Stanley Cup, they will forever be Stanley Cup legends, along with all of their teammates.
    And just think: one day the Stanley Cup will no longer include Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby.
    And if the Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup drought continues another 13 years, they will not have their team name on the Stanley Cup at all anymore! 

    No Practice Tomorrow

    My annual photo favorite to end the season with . . .

    Pittsburgh Wins The 2017 Stanley Cup Championship

    The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators 2-0 in a thrilling game six to win the 2017 Stanley Cup!

    The game featured amazing goaltending at both ends of the ice, as Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Pittsburgh's Matt Murray were nothing short of spectacular.

    The game certainly had some great scoring chances. Yet with each remarkable save, the game grew more and more tense. Desperate even. It was Stanley Cup hockey at it's best.

    Late in the third period Pittsburgh managed to kill off a 5-on-3 power play before Patric Hornqvist banged a puck off Rinne's arm with just 1:35 to play in regular to break the tension and the scoreless tie. Carl Hagelin added an an empty netter to ensure the victory.

    Greatness Achieved

    With Pittsburgh's victory we have a true modern-day dynasty led by one of the top players of all time.  I love greatness. Sidney Crosby is the greatest player of the current generation, and his team winning back-to-back Stanley Cups (and 3 in 9 years in the salary cap era) only confirms his spot in history.  

    When the NHL celebrates their 200th anniversary, they will still talk about Sidney Crosby. We are so lucky to see him in this moment. He is truly a player of destiny.

    What an amazing season he had. It started with him leading Canada to a World Cup victory, complete with MVP honours. He led all NHL players in goal scoring, winning his second Rocket Richard trophy. Now of course he won his third Stanley Cup and second Conn Smythe Trophy. And next week he might just add the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay award to his list of accomplishments this season.

    All this while overcoming a couple more concussion scares. Crosby's place in hockey history was assured with or without this Stanley Cup victory. And since the stark the difference in eras has made Wayne Gretzky's scoring totals unattainable, Crosby has nothing left to approve.

    Sorry Nashville fans. 

    I feel for you. I really do. You proved yourself to be the best in the league. You earned the respect of everyone in hockey. You deserved better.

    But, as a jaded, old and desperate Vancouver fan, I'm glad you did not get to experience the thrill of victory. Yet, anyway.

    It's stupid, I know. But I want others in the league to understand the hurt. The pain. The despair. Now you understand. I hope you come to quickly appreciate this amazing team and amazing playoff run, much like I did in 1982 and 1994 and never have in 2011.

    Agony is a part of being a sports fan.  I sincerely hope you win a Stanley Cup championship in your life time. I have to come to realize I will never see one in Vancouver in mine.

    Morning Skate

    Here's all the news and notes from the NHL's Morning Skate media release.

    * The Penguins won their fifth Stanley Cup (also 1991, 1992, 2009 and 2016) – tied for the most by any non-Original Six team (w/ EDM). All of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup victories have come on the road – all since 1991, the most in the NHL in that span.
    Stanley Cup Standings, NHL History
    24 – Montreal Canadiens^
    13 – Toronto Maple Leafs
    11 – Detroit Red Wings
    6 – Boston Bruins
    6 – Chicago Blackhawks
    5 – Edmonton Oilers
    5 – Pittsburgh Penguins
    The Canadiens won one Stanley Cup prior to the formation of the NHL in 1917-18
    * The Penguins, who defeated the Sharks in six games in last year’s Final, became the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Prior to Detroit, the last NHL club to repeat was Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992.
    * The Penguins improved to 5-1 with the chance to clinch the Stanley Cup, including a perfect 5-0 record on the road. Elias says that no other NHL, NBA or MLB team is undefeated with at least five championship-clinching opportunities as visitors.
    * In the Second Round at WSH, the Penguins improved to 6-0 in Game 7s on the road – also the best such record among all major pro sports franchises.
    * At 18:25, Hornqvist became the third player to score a Stanley Cup-clinching goal in the final two minutes of regulation (all on the road). The others: Boston’s Bill Carson in 1929 (18:02 of Game 2 at NYR) and Chicago’s Dave Bolland in 2013 (19:01 of Game 6 at BOS).
    * Hornqvist, who was acquired from the Predators in a draft-day trade on June 27, 2014, totaled 106-110—216 in 363 regular-season games with Nashville from 2008-14. He ranks sixth in franchise history in goals and 15th in points.
    Captain Sidney Crosby, who led the Stanley Cup Final with 1-6—7 and ranked second during the entirety of the postseason with 8-19—27 (24 GP), won his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to “the most valuable player to his team in the playoffs.” The winner was selected in a vote by a panel of the Professional Hockey Writers Association
    * Crosby became the sixth multiple winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy since it was first handed out in 1965 and the third to win it in consecutive seasons, joining Philadelphia’s Bernie Parent (1974 and 1975) and Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux (1991 and 1992).
    * Crosby’s past 365 days include a pair of Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe Trophies as well as a World Cup of Hockey championship and MVP. He also captured the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy during the 2016-17 regular season with a League-best 44 goals, and is a finalist for both the Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award – which will be handed out during the 2017 NHL Awards presented by T-Mobile on Wednesday, June 21.
    * Crosby joins Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (2010, 2013 and 2015) as the only active players to captain their teams to three Stanley Cups.
    Matt Murray made 27 saves to record his second straight shutout and win his second Stanley Cup in as many NHL seasons.
    * No other goaltender in League history has won the Stanley Cup-clinching game in each of his first two seasons. In fact, only one other netminder – the Islanders’ Roland Melanson – captured the trophy in each of his first two NHL campaigns. Melanson did so in his first three seasons (1981, 1982 and 1983), but primarily served as the backup to teammate Billy Smith.
    * Via Elias, Murray became the fourth goaltender in NHL history to post consecutive shutouts to win the Stanley Cup – and the first to do so for a team other than the Red Wings. Detroit achieved the feat in 1937 (Earl Robertson vs. NYR), 1943 (Johnny Mowers vs. BOS) and 1952 (Terry Sawchuk vs. MTL).
    * Murray stopped 64 straight shots to close the Stanley Cup Final, yielding his last goal at 13:08 of the second period in Game 4 – a span of 146:26 of time on ice.
    Matt Murray, Career Playoff Statistics
    2016 (21 GP): 15-6, 2.08 GAA, .923 SV%, 1 SO
    2017 (11 GP): 7-3, 1.70 GAA, .937 SV%, 3 SO
    Total (32 GP): 22-9, 1.95 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO 
    Forward Chris Kunitz – who shared first place with six assists during the Final – won his fourth Stanley Cup, the most among active players (following his victories with Anaheim in 2007 and Pittsburgh in 2009 and 2016). Kunitz became the first player to achieve the feat since 2008, when Detroit’s Kris DraperTomas HolmstromNicklas LidstromKirk Maltby and Darren McCarty all earned their fourth.
    * Kunitz is one of five Penguins players who have won each of the last three Stanley Cups with the team (2009, 2016 and 2017). The others: Sidney CrosbyMarc-Andre FleuryKris Letang and Evgeni Malkin.
    * Forward Matt Cullen also captured his third Stanley Cup, adding to his victories with Carolina in 2006 and Pittsburgh in 2016.
    Active Players w/ 3+ Stanley Cups
    Sidney Crosby (2009, 2016 and 2017 w/ PIT)
    Matt Cullen (2006 w/ CAR, 2016 and 2017 w/ PIT)
    Marc-Andre Fleury (2009, 2016 and 2017 w/ PIT)
    Niklas Hjalmarsson (2010, 2013 and 2015 w/ CHI)
    Marian Hossa (2010, 2013 and 2015 w/ CHI)
    Patrick Kane (2010, 2013 and 2015 w/ CHI)
    Duncan Keith (2010, 2013 and 2015 w/ CHI)
    Chris Kunitz (2007 w/ ANA, 2009, 2016 and 2017 w/ PIT)^
    Kris Letang (2009, 2016 and 2017 w/ PIT)
    Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2016 and 2017 w/ PIT)
    Brent Seabrook (2010, 2013 and 2015 w/ CHI)
    Patrick Sharp (2010, 2013 and 2015 w/ CHI)
    Jonathan Toews (2010, 2013 and 2015 w/ CHI)
    Justin Williams (2006 w/ CAR, 2012 and 2014 w/ LAK)
    Only active player with four Stanley Cups
    Marshfield, Mass., native Mike Sullivan – who also guided Pittsburgh to the championship in 2016 – became the first U.S.-born head coach in the NHL’s 100-year history to win multiple Stanley Cups.
    Only six other U.S.-born head coaches have won the Stanley Cup, including Nashville’s Peter Laviolette (2006 w/ CAR). This marked the first Stanley Cup Final with opposing U.S.-born head coaches.
    Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (27 SV) finished the playoffs with a 9-2 record, 1.40 goals-against average and .951 save percentage on home ice . . . Penguins forward Jake Guentzel totaled 13-8—21 (25 GP), tied for the most points by a rookie in one playoff y

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