September 27, 2020

Pucks On The 'Net

The Stanley Cup final is an interesting time, and more so this year. Unless you are loyal to the two teams involved, most of the league and it's fans, about 94% of the league, are focused on what is to come as soon as it is all over. 

I say more so this year because the off-season seems to be such a foreign process, with flat salary caps, reduced budgets, and complete uncertainty over the economics of the entire industry for the next number of years. It is scary as it is fascinating.

Here's some Pucks On The 'Net:

Vancouver Canucks

Let's start with my favorite team, the Canucks. What the team does with MVP Jacob Markstrom is perhaps the most captivating story line of all. There are no easy decisions especially when whatever choice is made will have repercussions for the franchise for years to come. At this time it sounds like negotiations are not going well. The Canucks apparently are not putting a no-movement clause on the table, and want a shorter term deal. Markstrom must know he could get more money elsewhere.

I think the Canucks have to approach all off-season decisions with two or three years down the road as the focal point. If you look down that road, you see three clear points that must happen for the Canucks to contend:

  1. The Canucks need to greatly improve the back end, likely needing to add two or preferably three strong defensemen.
  2. Upcoming rookies Nils Hoglander and Vasili Podkolzin absolutely have to make an impact to fill out the roster. That's not likely for two more seasons, but if the can contribute while on their cost-effective Entry Level Contracts, that will be a real key.
  3. They have to continue to get great goaltending.
Markstrom should continue to give Vancouver great goaltending for another 2 or 3 years, but then history tells us older goalies fade away. Thatcher Demko is a fantastic goalie of the future, but still no sure thing. But he could be traded off for one of those missing dmen the team needs so badly. Letting Markstrom go does not accomplish that. 

I don't know what the answers are. But I'm really starting to think trading off promising pieces like Demko, Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette to strengthen the team immediately while Elias Petterson, Quinn Hughes and maybe Jacob Markstrom are all in place is the best way to pry open the Stanley Cup window. 

Taylor Hall

Taylor Hall is an unrestricted free agent and looking to cash in. I don't doubt that he is genuine when he says finding the right fit on a winning team is first and foremost on his goals list, but you know he's going to cash in. 

And that team will be making a big mistake.

I have long said Taylor Hall is the most overrated player of his era, like Todd Bertuzzi before him. He has a lot of great attributes, but the bottom line is he needs other players to make him better. The biggest contracts should go to the true superstars of the game, the guys who make others better just by being on the ice. 

Hall is too much of a solo player. He is great at gaining the offensive zone and then driving to the net for the scoring chance. And while he scores at a higher rate than many, most of the time his play results in a goalie save and faceoff. I'd much rather have a player who can gain the zone and then set up a sustained bout of pressure involving his teammates. A momentum changing shift rather than a one-and-done event.

Hall is a player I would never have on my hockey team.

Stuetzle vs Byfield

The NHL Entry Draft will feature no surprises at the top. The lottery winning New York Rangers will select Alexis Lafreniere, the clear top prospect.

Los Angeles picks second, and common thought says they are choosing between OHL's Quinton Byfield and Germany's Tim Stuetzle.  Byfield, a giant center, might have the higher upside, while Stuetzle is NHL ready right now. Byfield still needs some developing. 

If I am the Kings, I'm taking Stuetzle. Who knows what the development pipeline will look like at the junior and minor pro levels over the next couple of years. Will Byfield's progress be stunted? 

Stuetzle will be an excellent fit in Los Angeles.

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