NORTHERN DRAFT 2016

MY FEARLESS (AND LIKELY WRONG) PREDICTIONS FOR CANADA’S NHL TEAMS AT THIS YEAR’S NHL ENTRY DRAFT

Finally, the 2016 NHL Entry Draft is here. Months of speculation and waiting are over and the new date on the NHL’s calendar for change and upheaval is upon us. I’ve made predictions who the Canadian teams would (or should draft) the past two years, to varying degrees of success (last year I went one for seven-only correctly predicting that the Edmonton Oilers would draft phenom Connor McDavid first overall-a prediction a blind man could have made). So the question is will my take on this year’s crop of new NHLers turn out any better, especially in a year when all the Canadian teams are drafting in the top twelve?

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs rebuild took a giant step forward last April when they won the Draft Lottery and kicking off Draft weekend by calling out Auston Matthews name first overall tonight will herald a new era for Leafs Nation. Don’t let their last place finish fool you; since the Leafs began their rebuild in earnest a little over a year ago, they’ve done an outstanding job collecting quality prospects and picks and Mathews will be the crown jewel in their budding collection. Matthews is a total package of size, skill and smarts and there’s a reason he’s been the consensus No. 1 pick all season. And while many feel that Finnish left winger Patrick Laine may have just as strong a case to go first overall, when all things are equal, you choose the franchise center over the winger.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have a growing wealth of young talent as well, and adding Patrick Laine to their already embarrassing riches could provide some much needed comfort to Jets fans after a disappointing 2015-16 season. Finland had a huge season in international play and Laine was a big reason why. He was an important part of their gold winning World Junior Team, their silver medal World Championship team (where he was named the best forward in the entire tournament) and he’ll be one of their top forwards at next September’s World Cup. Coming into this season, most scouts had him ranked the third highest prospect available; he’s now in a lot of conversations for the first overall pick. A super talented power forward who can play either wing, Laine has drawn a lot of comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin, arguably the greatest goal scorer of our generation. Winnipeg would do well to drape a Jets jersey on the future franchise forward’s shoulders for as long as they can.

Edmonton Oilers: Speaking of disappointing seasons . . . Despite winning the lottery of a lifetime last season by nabbing Next One Connor McDavid first overall, the 2015-16 season was one nightmare after another for the Oilers and their new team brass. Whether it was the broken collarbone that forced McDavid to miss three months (suffered just as he was heating up), any of the team’s other endless barrage of injuries or their second last place finish, nothing went the way Oilers management or fans had hoped. Drafting London Knights defenseman Olli Juolevi could prove to be a suitable painkiller for their suffering. There’s a lot of intrigue surrounding Edmonton’s pick and of all the selections owned by Canadian teams this year, the fourth overall has the highest odds of being moved. And if the Oilers elect to keep it there will be plenty of attractive options at forward left on the board. But the Oilers need D big time, and the best way to get an elite defenseman in today’s NHL is to draft and develop one. Like Laine, Juolevi was an integral part of Finland’s WJC gold medal last January and he overtook Jacob Chychrun to become the top rated blue liner on most scouting reports this year. Juolevi isn’t elite at any one particular thing, but he’s excellent at everything and he conducts himself with poise and confidence. Exactly what the Oilers blue line called for.

Vancouver Canucks: Whether they want to admit it or not, the Canucks’ window of Stanley Cup opportunity has closed shut and they are a far cry from the team that went all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2011. The fact that 2016 was the second time in the past three seasons they failed to qualify for the post season is evidence of that and that the Sedins (who have carried this team offensively for the better part of two decades) are past their prime doesn’t help. When the eventual rebuild does come, already having a few useful building blocks on defence gets you out of the gate faster (just ask Edmonton). That’s why when Canucks GM Jim Benning steps to the podium to announce who Vancouver’s selecting with the fifth overall pick, he should call Windsor Spitfires defenceman Mikhail Sergachev’s name. Big and already plenty strong, Sergachev has lots of offence in his game and can handle business in his own end. He could one day be an ideal power play quarterback to an attack featuring the likes of Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser.

Calgary Flames: Odds are slim that Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward Pierre Luc Dubois will still be available when Calgary drafts sixth, but if he’s still on the board they should waste zero time making him Flames property. Dubois is big, he can score (42 goals and 99 points in 62 games) and he plays a physical, complete game. He can play all three forward positions, he loves the game and has a compete level that ends somewhere in the stratosphere (he was suspended twice last season). He would be a perfect compliment to Calgary’s other stable of young forwards (Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett) and is the kind of player that makes Brian Burke drool like he needs a bib.

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price’s lengthy injury exposed plenty of weaknesses in Montreal’s game last season, and since you can’t draft a new coach, they can come away from this weekend with a solution to their next biggest problem; a skilled power forward. And Windsor Spitfires centre Logan Brown is just what the doctor ordered for a diminutive Habs attack. Brown isn’t just big-at 6’6 he’s practically goliath-but he’s an accomplished playmaker as well. With an NHL pedigree (his father is defenseman Jeff Brown), Brown probably needs some seasoning before becoming a full time NHLer, but within a few years he could emerge as one of the most physically dominant pivots. Just imagine a one two punch down the middle consisting of Brown and Alexander Galchenyuk . . .

Ottawa Senators: Beyond having one of the best hockey players in the world in Erik Karlsson and a very solid Dion Phaneuf on their blue line, the Ottawa Senators are desperate for quality defensive depth. Beyond the aforementioned duo and young blue liner Cody Ceci, the Sens have little to offer on their backend and a significant injury to Karlsson would spell certain disaster for this team. Penticton blue liner Dante Fabro could be a long-term solution to that problem and should be available when the Sens draft twelfth. Considered one of the safest picks in this season’s draft and with his immediate future committed to Boston University (a school notorious for producing quality professional defensemen), Fabro has been compared to Brent Seabrook; a smart player who can help you at both ends of the ice. Now imagine Fabro tutoring beneath Karlsson in a few years (when the slick Swede is still in his prime). Worse things could happen to your blue line.

Shayne Kempton

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NO QUITE LOST, NOT QUITE FOUND

FINDING DORY IS A FUN THROWBACK TO AN EARLY CLASSIC, BUT LIKE OTHER SEQUELS, PIXAR’S LATEST EFFORT DOESN’T EQUAL THE ORIGINAL

Director: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olson, Ed O’Neil, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Ty Burrell and Sigourney Weaver

Studio: Disney/Pixar

Rated: G

Running Time: 1 Hr, 37 Mins

Pixar’s recent habit of mining some of their older material for new releases has met with varying degrees of success. While the two Toy Story sequels were well received by both audiences and critics alike, sequels to Cars and Monsters Inc. met with lukewarm receptions. They were well liked by audiences (success that was reflected by their strong box office) but it was also widely accepted that they fell short of the original movies that inspired them. While there is a lot to like about Pixar’s newest release, Finding Dory (a sequel to the 2003 blockbuster Finding Nemo), it falls into the same trap. It’s good but it also fails to grow beyond the shadow of its predecessor.

Finding Dory opens with a quick look at a painfully adorable baby Dory and her family. Dory’s parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) are dealing with her memory problems with patience and care and it’s obvious how much love and happiness the fish family shared before they were separated, most likely as a result of Dory’s inability to remember anything. Fast-forward a year after the events of Finding Nemo and Dory (Ellen Degeneres), Marvin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) have formed an informal little family on their corner of the reef. But Dory is soon haunted by memories of her parents and as the fragments of her childhood memories persist, Dory grows increasingly obsessed with finding her family. She soon sets off on a quest across the ocean to find her missing parents, a supportive Nemo and reluctant Marvin in tow.

Armed only with her companions and vague memories, Dory faces not only new dangers and an uncertain future, but self-doubt and insecurity as well. Dory soon realizes that if she wants to be reunited with her family, she has to rise above the challenges that face her and the limitations she’s always accepted. She stumbles across no shortage of forgotten friends along the way as well as plenty of new ones, and all of them turn out to be instrumental in helping Dory reach her goal.

It’s been thirteen years since we last saw Dory, Nemo and Pixar’s vibrant underwater world and you can tell that the animated juggernaut hasn’t rested on its laurels. In 2003, the quality of animation was definitely top shelf but looks a touch antiquated now. With a new coat of paint and some new tricks, Pixar continues to remind movie goers why they’re at the top of animation’s quality food chain. Dory and company continue to look fantastic today and marine landscapes really allow Pixar to stretch its creative legs. And as usual, the voice casting is a perfect compliment to the beautiful animation. Idris Elba and Dominic Cooper as a pair of lazy yet territorial sea lions are Finding Dory’s comedic stars and are this movie’s version of Nemo’s greedy sea gulls. Ed O’Neil voicing Hank, a cranky octopus who is afraid of the ocean is equally inspired and Katilin Olson as the near sighted whale shark Destiny and Ty Burrell as the hypochondriac beluga Bailey round out a great new supporting cast.

There are a lot of laughs in Finding Dory, it looks great and your kids will instantly fall in love with baby Dory during the flashbacks (expect lots of Finding Dory themed merchandise on Christmas lists in a few months). And it is well worth the price of admission (especially if you catch it in 3D), but like many of the sequels Pixar has done, it falls noticeably short of the original. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except it seems to happen with all of Pixar’s sequels with the possible exception of the Toy Story movies (and let’s be honest, the nostalgia hurt from Toy Story 3 is what makes it stand out in our emotional memory). This should probably inspire some concern considering that sequels make up nearly everything Pixar has on their scheduled slate over the next few years (Cars 3 next year, Toy Story 4 in 2018 and The Incredibles 2 in 2019, with one lone original property, Coco, scheduled for release in November of 2017). Even the pre film short Piper, while cute in its own way, feels a little less then many of the other shorts Pixar is renown for.

Now might be the best time for parent company Disney to ask what’s preventing their coveted animation brand from returning to the drawing board to pursue original ideas, especially while Pixar is raking in mad cash. As it stands now, many (myself included) would argue that Disney’s own in house animation studio, which gave us the billion dollar mega hit Zootopia a few months ago, may have passed the house that Toy Story built in terms of fresh, bold ideas (Zootopia tackled ideas of discrimination while Disney’s November scheduled Moana will be the first animated feature to concentrate on Hawaiian culture).

Regardless, Finding Dory is an entertaining spectacle for movie fans of all ages. If you can, catch in 3D to really appreciate the quality of the animation, which really lends itself to underwater environments. And you definitely want to stick around for the post credit scene. Even though it doesn’t live up to the original, its full of laughs and the story was reasonably well done. It’s the perfect summer movie for families.

Shayne Kempton

JUST DESERTS

NO, EDMONTON OILERS MANAGEMENT DIDN’T DESERVE CONNOR MCDAVID LAST YEAR. BUT THE LONG SUFFERING, OFTEN INSULTED OILERS FAN BASE DID

(This is a revised edition of a story that appeared on Hautnews.com last September)

In the days leading up to 2015’s NHL Draft Lottery, I’d abandoned any notion that my Edmonton Oilers had any chance (or business) winning it’s fourth first overall pick in the span of six years, let alone landing teenage phenom Connor McDavid. I assumed that Buffalo or Arizona or Toronto would win that honour and my Oilers would be drafting third or fourth. Around the time I was wondering if highly touted defenseman Noah Hanifin would be ready to step directly onto the Oilers woeful blue line the following season (and what the odds were that our inept management would rush him if he wasn’t anyway) I checked my phone to see who had won the McDavid sweepstakes.

Forget a double take, I had to do a triple one because I couldn’t believe my eyes the first two times. Somehow the Edmonton Oilers, the team I’d adored since childhood and who had spent the past nine years unapologetically wiping their feet on my exhausted loyalty, had won the biggest hockey lottery in recent memory.

Before I knew it, my social media was filled with complaints and howls of outrage (because I was somehow responsible for the way the lottery balls fell). The Oilers didn’t deserve another first overall pick! they screamed. Edmonton would ruin him, they whined. McDavid needed to pull a Lindros and refuse to play for the Oilers. And while the Oilers improbable victory should have laid the multiple conspiracy theories that the NHL’s draft lottery was fixed to rest, it sparked absurd new ones that the draft was fixed in Edmonton’s favour.

It was a sweet river of salty tears.

video via Jordan Love

It prompted a buffet of jokes, indignation and genuine fear that Edmonton would win the first overall pick in 2016 as well, earning the right to draft Auston Matthews this year (check out the comments to the video above). And I get it. I may be a die-hard fan but I’m also a pragmatist and few were more critical of this team’s horrible management then I was. I could go on for pages listing the Oilers numerous faults and failures, but Craig MacTavish summed it up during his end of season post mortem press conference last April. He predicted that the 2015-2016 season would be another “transitional” season. Translation: another season where the team spun its wheels at the bottom of the standings and were eliminated from the playoff conversation by Halloween (Christmas at the latest). This was virtually two years to the day that he promised bold moves to get the team back to respectability as the team’s new General Manager. In two brief years he had gone from selling long suffering Oilers fans hope to stealing it away.

And all of that after a nine-year playoff drought. It was a rotten time to be an Oilers fan. Until the evening of April 18th 2015, when the lottery balls blessed us with McDavid.

I was initially ecstatic, but that excitement soon gave way to dread. If there was any organization on Earth that could ruin a guaranteed shot at a generational talent, it was Edmonton. But even if they got it right (a rarity for Oilers brass), I was afraid that getting McDavid could hurt the franchise in the long run.

When Craig MacTavish replaced Steve Tambellini in April of 2013, Tambellini was widely considered the worst GM in the NHL. MacTavish (who had zero management experience on his resume) somehow made the team worse. And when team president Kevin Lowe wasn’t insulting Oilers fans, he was presiding over the entire train wreck. Lowe was the one constant during the Oilers nine year playoff drought; different players, coaches, GMs and even different owners came and went, but Kevin Lowe was there for all of it and was allowed to keep making decisions. The problem with the Oilers wasn’t their players, it was their management.

But it seemed like the franchise had finally reached a turning point where fan frustration and relentless on ice humiliation had reached critical mass. Fans who had defended management with their dying breath were now the minority as most of the fan base had turned on the front office. Fans bought billboards and full-page newspaper ads urging the team to fire Lowe and eventually MacTavish. Jerseys were being thrown on the ice, seats were left empty and scalpers couldn’t sell five-dollar tickets to see a team that once sold out night after night. Management had all but lost everyone in the local and national media and some Edmonton sports writers admitted that players were quietly urging them to keep the heat on the faltering management team. But McDavid could have been a get out of jail free card for the Gruesome Twosome, his arrival in Oil town possibly buying Lowe and MacTavish an extra few years where they could continue to harm the team through incompetence and neglect.

When people talk about McDavid saving this franchise in the years to come, they won’t just be talking about the miraculous things he’ll be doing on the ice. Less then 48 hours after winning McDavid, a hurricane of change was sweeping through Oil country with a vengeance.

Bob Nicholson, who built Hockey Canada into the powerhouse it is today, was appointed CEO of hockey operations. One of his first orders of business was to push aside Lowe and demote MacTavish, installing Peter Chiarelli, the architect behind the Boston Bruins (who won the Stanley Cup in 2011, returned to the finals in 2013 and won the Presidents Trophy in 2014) as GM and President. Chiarelli then brought in Todd McLellan, one of the best coaching free agents on the market, to tend the bench and the team continued to revamp its coaching and scouting staff through the summer. Would any of those dominoes have fallen without McDavid? Probably not.

As excited as I was last summer, I still tempered my expectations. There was just too much ground for this team to make up in a single year to return to the playoffs and the non stop parade of severe injuries to big names (which started as early as training camp) not only sabotaged Edmonton’s chances to compete for a playoff berth, but at times felt like karma’s way of punishing the Oilers for winning McDavid (who wasn’t immune to the injury jinx, missing three months to a shattered collar bone). But last September was the first time in years I was looking forward to the beginning of the season, the first time in years I had genuine hope. I even dug out the Oilers jersey that had been exiled in shame to the back of my closet.

So yes, the old regime didn’t deserve McDavid, and I absolutely understood the frustration of other fans. But Oilers fans deserved McDavid, not just for our loyalty or for enduring the years of jokes and insults, but for our faith that one day our beloved copper and blue would be free of the clutches of the incompetent and the reckless. It turns out McDavid was the key to that freedom.

Now let’s see what’s in store for McDavid: Year Two.

Shayne Kempton

Photo Connor Mah Standard Flikr License

 

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

I PLAY ARMCHAIR GM AND OFFER CANADA A FEW SUGGESTIONS FOR ITS WORLD CUP TEAM

When Hockey Canada released the initial roster for its World Cup entry in February, just about every hockey fan north of the 49th looked at it, judged it and probably complained about it ad nauseam. That’s the fun of tournaments that pit our best against the rest of the world’s elite, and given how deeply hockey is entrenched in Canada’s collective national identity, we Canucks can get pretty passionate about our international rosters. Peruse your favourite online hockey board and you’ll see what I mean.

With everyone involved in this fall’s highly anticipated tourney scheduled to announce their complete rosters in the coming days, I thought it would be fun to name my own Team Canada and see how closely it resembles the actual roster that will carry the Great White North’s banner into icy battle this September. And the best part about being an armchair GM? Zero blame if things go south.

Some of these players have already been named to Canada’s squad and some are likely to be left off. You’ll notice I omitted defenceman Marc Edouard-Vlasic from my fantasy squad even though he’s already been named to Team Canada. I also didn’t take into account considerations like right and left-handed shooters, etc. This is just an exercise in pure fun.

The Forwards

Sidney Crosby: The conversation about forwards begins and ends with team captain, Sidney Crosby. Sid The Kid is a lightning rod for criticism and he took a lot of heat for a very slow start this season, but his critics became a lot quieter once Mike Sullivan took over behind Pittsburgh’s bench and Crosby quickly turned things around, dragging the Pittsburgh Penguins into a playoff spot along the way. While Sid had a very slow start (like seriously slow), he managed to climb into the NHL’s top scorers, finishing third in the League despite his horrible start. The Stanley Cup winning, multiple Hart Trophy recipient’s experience on previous Olympic Rosters (winning Gold in 2010 and again in 2014) would prove invaluable as well.

Jonathan Toews: The Chicago Blackhawks captain is one of the fiercest competitors in the game today, and while his scoring was a little below his normal standards last season, his leadership, physicality and strong defensive play more then compensated. There’s a good reason he’s weeks away from becoming one of the highest paid players in NHL history. With three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and two Olympic gold medals (he was named the top forward of the entire tournament at Sochi in 2014) already on his resume, Toews isn’t just destined to be a top member of Canada’s 2016 World Cup team, he’s destined to be one of its leaders.

Steve Stamkos: In a little over a month’s time, Stamkos is likely going to be the most pursued free agent in NHL history. And a day or two after he hits the market he’s likely to become the highest paid player in NHL history (at least for a season or two). There’s a reason for that. The first overall pick from 2008 already has a pair of fifty goal seasons under his belt, two Maurice Richard Trophies and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. When a 36 goal, 64 point season is considered a disappointment, that isn’t a put down, it’s a testament to how good a player you are. And after missing the Sochi Olympics with a broken tibia, Stamkos deserves a place on this squad and would be the perfect second line centre behind Crosby.

John Tavares: While John Tavares has no collection of NHL hardware or Stanley Cup rings in his trophy case yet, he is by far one of the best players in the game. He practically IS the New York Islanders (think of him as New York’s Carey Price, with him they’re a playoff bound team, without him they’re scouting the first overall pick). When you consider what Tavares has been able to accomplish on Long Island, your respect for him grows by leaps and bounds. There is no question who dresses as the third centre behind Crosby and Stamkos.

Jamie Benn: What to say about Benn? He won the NHL scoring championship in 2014-15 and was the League’s second top scorer last season. He’s perhaps the biggest reason behind Dallas’ recent resurgence and why the Stars were the highest scoring team in the League in 2015-16. While he can play centre, he’s more comfortable (and dangerous) playing left wing and if you slot him on a line with Crosby, Stamkos or Tavares, well you can just sit back and watch the opponent’s goal lamp light up.

Joe Thornton: Often overlooked because of his age and the sunny market he plays in, the 1997 first overall pick and current San Jose Sharks captain is still one of the most durable players in the NHL today (he’s missed just six games over the last seven seasons), he remains one of the NHL’s top point producers (he finished fourth in League scoring last season), he’s widely considered one of the best playmakers and pure passers in the world and is one of the game’s best two-way players. Add all that to his near two decades of experience and how do you not have this guy on your team?

Patrice Bergeron: Bergeron is a warrior and it isn’t a coincidence that every time he dons the red Maple Leaf, Canada usually comes home with gold. A versatile positional player whose considered the best two-way player on the planet (the three time Selke Trophy winner is nominated again this year), Bergeron doesn’t know how to quit. Imagine a high-energy line of Bergeron, Toews and Thornton. You know who doesn’t want to? The rest of the world.

Cory Perry: Like many of the NHL’s top scorers, Perry had a sub par season by his standards in 2015-16. Despite that, the Anaheim sniper finished ninth in the NHL in goals and he remains one of the top right-wingers in the game (as well as a someone who can find his way under the opposition’s skin). A veteran of Canada’s gold medal squads in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, you could suit the former Hart Trophy winner and 50 goal scorer up on Sidney Crosby or Steve Stamkos’ wing and watch him terrorize opposing goalies all tournament long.

Tyler Seguin: Seguin has really turned his career around since he land in the Lone Star state a few years ago, and he’s now considered on of the NHL’s premier snipers. When healthy he’s a top ten scorer, he can play both centre and right wing and has great chemistry with Dallas teammate and NHL All Star Jamie Benn. Why wouldn’t you have him on this team?

Taylor Hall: Hall had a great start to the 2015-16 season but faded in the second half (meaning he probably isn’t going to be named to the final roster). But the Kingston Cannonball is still one of Canada’s best pure left wingers (he already has a pair of top ten scoring finishes in his six season career on horrible Edmonton teams), he won back-to-back memorial Cups before turning pro and was a big part of Canada’s gold medal winning teams in both the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Championships, proving he can come up big in big international tournaments.

Jeff Carter: Carter almost always gets overlooked by fans during these debates and his inclusion in these kinds of tourneys is always questioned by armchair GMs. But Carter can play all three forward positions with equal efficiency and can fill roles on any of your top three lines. Add that versatility to the fact that he’s a puck possession beast, and you can see why he deserves to wear Team Canada’s jersey. He was a huge part of L.A.’s Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014.

Claude Giroux: Like many names on this list, Giroux’s numbers were a bit disappointing last season. Having said that, he was still good enough to lead the Philadelphia Flyers in scoring and finished 20th overall in the NHL. Not too shabby for a “disappointing season.” Giroux is a slick, almost sneaky skater with good size and skill to burn. The fact that he can play centre and right wing is an added bonus and he’d be a valuable asset in a brief but super competitive tournament like this one.

Ryan Getzlaf: Corey Perry’s line mate in Anaheim has also lost an offensive step or two the past few seasons, but he remains one of the NHL’s most efficient two way forwards who can play with a physical edge (and still give you 60 points a season). The Ducks captain would make an ideal thirteenth forward for this squad.

The Blue Line

Drew Doughty: Those who don’t think Doughty is the best defenceman in the game today will, at the very least, concede that he’s the second best. Doughty is arguably the best player in his own zone right now and while he’s no Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns, his offensive skills are often underrated. Make no mistake, Doughty can put the puck in the net (he finished ninth in scoring among NHL defenceman), but he’s all about taking care of business in own zone first. A Burns-Doughty pairing would easily be the best one in the tournament and a thing of pure beauty. He was arguably the most important skater in L.A.’s Stanley Cup victories.

Duncan Keith: Keith is one of a handful of players who have been part of all three of the Chicago Blackhawks recent Stanley Cup wins (the previously listed Jonathan Toews is another). How important has Keith been to the Blackhawks over the years? Other then his three Stanley Cup rings, his considerable resume boasts two Norris Trophies (2010, 2014) and a Conn Smythe Trophy (2015). Easily one of the most versatile and all round rear guards in the game today, Keith is a must have.

Brent Burns: How the Minnesota Wild must be kicking themselves after trading Burns away. The 6’5 San Jose Shark was the highest scoring Canadian born blue liner in the NHL last season, and his 27 goals were one of the biggest reasons why he’s a Norris Trophy nominee. When Burns begins a rush there are few who can challenge him and there are fewer still who can dictate play the way he can at any given point in a game.

Shea Weber: The best defenceman not to win a Norris Trophy (yet), Weber’s howitzer of a shot makes any power play twice as dangerous, the Nashville veteran can defend his net with the best of them and can throw his weight around with the heavyweights. There’s no conversation about Canada’s blue line that doesn’t include Weber.

P.K. Subban: Subban’s actually a long shot to make this team, and the question is why? You need offense? Subban was second among NHL blue liners in assists last season before an injury cut his season short (he still finished 12th among defencemen in scoring despite missing 14 games to said injury). You need physicality? Subban brings that by the metric tonne. You need someone who can play in his own zone? Subban checks that box too. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner brings everything you want in an elite defenceman to the table and then some. While he has matured a little over the years, his passion and agitating style sometimes gets him into penalty trouble. The reverse side of that coin is he’s one of the most frustrating opponents in the game and he draws just as many penalties as he takes, which would allow a fearsome Canadian power play to go to work. And few are as quick as Subban to jump to a teammate’s defence.

Kris Letang: Letang has plenty of experience playing in high-pressure games on star laden rosters. He’s easily one of the best puck carriers in the NHL today (he could probably carry the puck out of the deepest pit of Hades without breaking a sweat) and he’s the personification of perseverance. Letang has overcome a lot of health problems the last few years-including a stroke-but he’s bounced back every time. How can you not have a competitor with his combination of skills and an Everest sized heart on your roster?

Alex Petriangelo: Quickly developing into one of the most well rounded blue liners in the game, Petriangelo is one of the biggest reasons behind St. Louis’ playoff success this year. A perfect choice as Team Canada’s seventh defenceman, if for no other reason than to gain valuable experience for future tournaments.

The Crease

Carey Price: Carey Price is the best goalie in the world. How can you tell beyond the eye popping numbers he posts? With him in net, the Montreal Canadiens were one of the NHL’s top teams in 2014-15 and they won the first nine games of last season decisively. Then Price went down with a mysterious injury that sidelined him for the rest of the campaign and the Habs went into complete free fall, plummeting from early Stanley Cup favourites to playoff outsiders. His mere presence turns the Habs from a draft lottery team into a 100-point one-that’s how good he is. If fully healthy come September, there’s no question he’s Canada’s go to man between the pipes.

Braden Holtby: Your likely 2016 Vezina Trophy winner, Holtby tied Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur’s record for regular season wins at 48. With Price sidelined for most of the season, Holtby climbed to the top f the NHL’s goaltending food chain and while thoroughbreds like Alex Ovechkn and Evengi Kuznetsov got a lot of the attention in Washington, there’s no way the Capitals win the President’s Trophy without Holtby’s brilliance between the pipes. When Price needs a game or two off, Holtby is the obvious choice to man Canada’s net.

Corey Crawford: Crawford is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Despite backstopping the Chicago Blackhawks to a pair of Stanley Cups as their starter (2013 and 2015), he gets precious little respect. But he put up excellent numbers this year despite the struggles of the dynastic team in front of him and many felt the NHL’s failure to recognize him with his first career Vezina nomination was a snub of insulting proportions.

Shayne Kempton

Photo Anji Barton Standard Flikr License

 

CANADA ON ICE

TAKE A BREATH CANADA. NO, NONE OF YOUR TEAMS MADE THE NHL PLAYOFFS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1970, BUT YOU’RE STILL THE BEST AT WHAT YOU DO

Take a deep breath Canada. It isn’t that bad.

When the 2015-16 NHL regular season wrapped up, Canadians faced a spring with no playoff hockey played north of the 49th parallel for the first time in 46 years. The last (and only other) time was in 1970, when Toronto and Montreal were the only Canadian squads in a twelve team league. The sting was a little sharper considering that last year, five of Canada’s seven franchises fought their way into the playoffs, with Montreal and Calgary advancing to the second round. How much have Canadian hockey fans been turned off by the absence of their teams in the playoffs? Rogers reported a viewership drop of over 60 percent for the first round of the playoffs versus last year and the St. Louis Blues have been running an add campaign to convince disenfranchised Canucks to support their post season drive. And Canada’s absence from the NHL playoffs has provided plenty of fodder for the prophets of doom who, without fail, herald the end of Canada’s hockey superiority this time every year. In fact, 2016 has been a banner year for the doom and gloomers so far.

When Canada’s 2016 World Junior team finished sixth last January in Helsinki, the caterwauling from coast to coast to coast was as predictable as it was deafening. The entire hockey blogosphere was running around like the world’s biggest headless chicken jumped up on bath salts screaming that the sky was collapsing, the typical Canadian reaction whenever one of it’s national entries doesn’t win gold in an international tournament.

Canada’s poor finish was a “debacle” according to the legions of fans who flocked to the Internet to voice their disgust. Its elimination was a national embarrassment and the players should have been ashamed that they disappointed an entire country. There was the inevitable finger pointing; according to the armchair GMs, Hockey Canada didn’t know what it was doing and selected all the wrong players (an opinion held about any international team Canada assembles even when the Great White North wins gold). The coaches were incompetent and the selections were all about politics and on and on (and mercilessly on). But the same message resonated beneath each accusing finger and every outraged breath; the players weren’t good enough.

If that wasn’t enough, American born sniper Patrick Kane lead the NHL scoring race all season long and is this year’s favourite to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. And the Nostradamus collective of the hockey world will drag out their tired prognastations this June when the name of a Canadian born and trained player probably won’t be called until the sixth selection in this year’s annual entry draft. All are signs, they say, that Canada’s global hockey dominance has come to an end.

But relax Canada. It’s human nature to view the entire world through apocalyptic glasses, especially about something so deeply embedded in your sense of national self-esteem. Despite all the ominous portends you’ve suffered this year, Canada is still the apex predator of the hockey world. So calm down and consider the following.

First, let’s add a little perspective to this year’s World Junior’s performance. This year’s team had its issues; goaltending was suspect from the first puck drop, the team wrestled with on ice discipline-often taking bad penalties at the worst times-which wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world except it’s penalty kill struggled. But despite all that, this team was better than its sixth place finish indicated. Canada was eliminated by Finland in a sudden death tournament. By one goal. In overtime. And Finland, you may have noticed, went on to win gold, defeating Canada’s arch nemesis Russia to win the title. Canada was narrowly eliminated by the eventual world champs (that were powered by a top line that challenged just about every offensive record in the tournament’s history), meaning if the teenage Canucks had one or two lucky breaks they could have had a date with Russia in a rematch of 2015’s gold medal game.

Canada’s place atop the global hockey food chain is as healthy as it’s ever been. Not only is Canada the defending Olympic champions, having won gold in Sochi in 2014 and Vancouver in 2010, but it’s also the defending World Champion, winning the tournament in 2015 and again this year in dominating fashion. Canada is the odds on favourite to win next September’s World Cup and while the country was having a meltdown about the 2016 World Juniors, Canada was quietly winning the Spengler Cup, a tournament it wasn’t expected to do very well in this year.

A healthy chunk the NHL’s top twenty scorers are Canadians (during a season when Cole Harbour’s favourite native son, Sidney Crosby, considered the best hockey player in the world for the past decade, had a down year and his heir apparent, Connor McDavid, missed three months because of a broken collar bone) and as far as the draft is concerned, seven of the last ten first overall picks have been citizens of the Great White North and Nolan Patrick, currently projected to be taken at the head of 2017’s draft class, has a Canadian passport.

Besides, it wasn’t as though any of the Canadian teams were cup contenders this year. If one or two teams had managed to sneak in, they were destined to be first round casualties. Being represented in the post-season 46 of the last 47 years is nothing to sneeze at, so consider Canada’s one-year absence a well deserved nap.

The point is, Canada is still producing the best players on the planet, providing over half of the players (and over forty percent of the revenue) to the best hockey league in the world despite hosting less then a third of is teams. We should take pride in the fact that our greatest export is the best players in the game we love.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the playoffs and the story lines that are still unfolding (Will St. Louis win enough games to save Ken Hitchcock’s job? Will Tampa Bay be able to go all the way this year and capture the Stanley Cup without Steve Stamkos? And if so, does that seal his fate as a member of the Lightning? Can San Jose shake their rep as playoff chokers? How much crow will Phil Kessel force Leafs Nation to eat after they ran him out of down on a rail last July?). And all the naysayers can stick their stupidity in their pipes and choke on it.

Shayne Kempton

Photo: S. Yume Standard Flikr License

DRAFT PROOF

There Are Plenty of Ideas on How To Fix The NhL’s Entry Draft To Prevent Awarding Losers-Why Not Try Rewarding Winners?

When the NHL held it’s lottery last weekend to determine which team would own the coveted first overall pick, millions of hockey fans and pundits had their fingers crossed that any team other than the Edmonton Oilers, who had won the first overall selection four times in the past six seasons, would have their name announced as the winner. Once upon a time the NHL awarded a year’s first selection in the entry draft to the team that finished last that season. It eventually changed the process to a lottery system to discourage teams from tanking the season with visions of drafting the next future super star dancing in their heads. The system was still weighted to favour the league’s bottom feeders as the teams that finished at the bottom of the standings had a greater chance of landing the cherished first overall pick, which still attracts criticism that the NHL rewards teams that lose.

The lottery system still hasn’t exorcised the possibility of teams deliberately losing to land the top pick. Last season the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes traded away just about every marketable player they could in an effort to lose as many games as possible and increase their odds of landing generational phenom Connor McDavid. Neither team got their wish though, and they had to settle for the second and third overall picks respectively (still not too shabby).

And while you could say that last year’s lottery proved the system worked, Mr. McDavid fell into the arguably undeserving lap of the perpetually failing and criminally mismanaged Edmonton Oilers (see above). And while the NHL tweaked the rules so that the team that finished dead last had less of a chance at the top pick in 2016, the Oilers were once again in the running for the top prize last weekend and they had a better shot at it this year then they did last spring. The Oilers wound up drawing the fourth pick, but if they had won number one the calls for the NHL to burn the current system to the ground would have been deafening.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to improve the NHL’s lottery system and to prevent teams like Edmonton from constantly feeding at the loser’s trough. And everyone agrees that the current lottery system rewards losing teams (under the current system, the team that finishes last not only has the highest odds of landing the top pick but can also draft no lower than fourth). So what if the NHL changed the system to reward its winning franchises?

Currently, the team that wins the Stanley Cup is rewarded for their victory by drafting last in every round. The team that they defeated in the Stanley Cup final drafts 29th while the two teams that made it to the Conference semi-finals wind up drafting in the bottom four as well. So in essence, the NHL’s most successful teams and its eventual champion are actually punished at the draft. Why not reverse that?

What if, when the NHL’s two top teams battle for the Stanley Cup at the end of an exhaustive, brutal playoff campaign, they were playing for more then the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice, but the right to drape their jersey over the League’s next superstar as well?

What if instead of having to host a fire sale of players while the confetti was still falling from their Stanley Cup parades, the Chicago Blackhawks were rewarded with Taylor Hall, Nate Mackinnon and McDavid? What if the Boston Bruins were the ones to agonize over making Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog the top pick in 2011? What if L.A. was rewarded with the number one selection in 2012 and again in 2014 for their brilliant Cup runs? If the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins or St. Louis Blues are the top dog this year, why not reward them for their herculean effort by allowing them to call out Auston Matthews name? The entire landscape of the League would be vastly different.

And why stop there? Award the Stanley Cup runner up the second overall pick. Call it a consolation prize if you like, but coming up a victory or two short of winning it all should also have it’s own reward. Could you imagine Jack Eichel in a Lightning jersey or Alexander Barkov wearing Bruins black and gold? And give the Stanley Cup semi-finalists the third and fourth picks based on their regular season point totals. Then assign the remaining picks to teams based on their regular season performance. That would mean that this year the Toronto Maple Leafs would draft fifth overall, followed by the Oilers at sixth, the Vancouver Canucks at seventh and so on.

Would it hurt teams rebuilding? Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Morgan Reilly, Mark Scheifele, Doug Hamilton, Jacob Trouba and 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner are just a handful of impressive names that have been drafted between slots five and ten in recent years. Ottawa Senators super star Erik Karlsson was drafted 15th in 2008, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evengi Kuznetsov, a pair of young talents that had huge breakout seasons this year, were drafted 16th and 26th respectively in 2010, Jamie Benn, who lead the league in scoring in 2015 and finished second in 2016, was a third round pick in 2007 while goalie Braden Holtby, who will likely win the Vezina trophy this June, was picked up by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round in 2008. Franchise defensemen Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban and Shea Weber were all second round picks and the Detroit Red Wings have made the NHL post season 25 consecutive seasons because they became experts at drafting (and patiently developing) excellent players in later rounds (Pavel Datsyuk was drafted a jaw dropping 171st in 1998). There are plenty of elite, even franchise players available after the top four picks.

This would force teams to be smarter in their drafting, investing more time and resources into scouting and development. Would the Edmonton Oilers be in the sad state they are today if they weren’t allowed to depend on so many first overall picks, but instead had to approach the draft more carefully (that may be a moot point given how horribly mismanaged they were until last May when they finally fired just about everyone)?

It would also make the trade deadline more exciting. The NHL’s deadline has turned into a final opportunity for the teams who think they have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup to scavenge useful parts from the basement dwellers to address any outstanding needs headed into the two month war that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Contending teams don’t blink twice at parting with their first round pick (the Rangers haven’t had a first round pick since 2012 and won’t until 2017 at the earliest), but what if Chicago or New York or Washington think they have an actual shot at the Cup, would they be willing to part with a pick that could end up in the top four or even first overall? And if so, how much more valuable is that pick and how much more could they get for it? How much of a gamble would the selling team be taking? What if you send a decent player to a contending team in return for their first round pick and nothing else, only to see that team upset in the first round and watch said pick’s value plummet? It would add a dozen more layers of intrigue to last minute deals.

Until the NHL called out the Toronto Maple Leafs name last week, there was a genuine fear that the Oilers would land their fifth first overall pick in seven seasons (Calgary President Brian Burke even promised to beat someone up if that happened). This would end the trend of rewarding mismanaged franchises and force them to improve themselves more efficiently while rewarding the League’s top teams.

And it would change everything.

Shayne Kempton

Photo www.hockeysfuture.com

 

 

 

 

THE NHL’S 2015 CHRISTMAS WISH LIST

TEN THINGS GMS, PLAYERS AND FANS FROM THE NHL SHOULD BE WISHING FOR THIS CHRISTMAS

(Originally posted on Hautnews.com on December 24th, 2015)

So here we are on Christmas Eve, and while everyone’s asked jolly old St. Nick for something this year, here are ten suggestions that should appear under some NHL Christmas trees tomorrow morning. If you’re reading this Santa, you might want to take a few of these to heart and hopefully some enterprising GMs and hockey execs will leave out some extra cookies and milk for you.

  1. A hobby for the idiots from Las Vegas who came after me on Twitter. Earlier this year I wrote a story on why the NHL shouldn’t put a franchise in Sin City (you’ll notice the absence of any other major sports league teams as well) and before I knew it I found myself in the crosshairs of some angry Las Vegas fans on Twitter, including the guy who ran the bid’s Twitter account. They apparently had nothing better to do with their time on a summer Saturday evening, so if you could Santa, maybe leave a hobby or two in their stocking. Possibly crochet or Sudoku. Or maybe Crazy 8s because I hear playing cards is a big thing in Vegas. And speaking of Twitter . . .
  1. Some exploding coal for some toxic Chicago Blackhawks fans. When Chicago Blackhawks superstar (and renowned party animal) Patrick Kane was being investigated for allegations of rape during the summer, some Blackhawk fans not only decided that he was innocent, but that anyone in the media who didn’t immediately begin singing songs of his innocence deserved threats. CBSChicago.com reporter (and Sports 670 update anchor) Julie DiCaro actually had to stay home from work after getting threatening Tweets from some Blackhawk fans. Common sense and reason doesn’t enter into the equation with animals like this Big Red, so maybe some hand grenades disguised like coal could get the job done.
  1. Some luck for my fantasy hockey team. I don’t know what it is Santa, but this year my players have been dropping like flies. Not minor injuries mind you, but the kind that sidelines players for weeks and even months at a time. Even the players I’ve drafted to replace my injured superstars have been getting themselves injured. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if some of their legs started falling off. I don’t know how you’d wrap it Big Man, but how about some fantasy health?
  1. A break for Buffalo Sabre fans. Being a Sabre fan these past few years has been a pretty tall order. The team finished dead last in both 2014 and 2015 but they were denied the first overall pick both years (losing out on Connor McDavid last June was especially painful given how Sabre management did everything in its power to finish last). But despite all that, this year was supposed to offer hope for beleaguered Sabres fans. Not a playoff spot mind you, but enough tangible improvement to warrant patient loyalty. Instead, Sabres fans have been treated to a buffet of injury and misfortune. Robin Lehtner, who was supposed to be their goaltender moving forward, has yet to start a game because of injury and Evander Kane, who was supposed to light it up riding shotgun for generational talent Jack Eichel, missed a month with a leg injury (I know, he was on my fantasy team). And speaking of Eichel, while 2015’s second overall pick has been posting pretty good numbers, he isn’t yet in the Calder Trophy conversation, another potential sore point for long suffering Sabres fans.
  1. A do-over for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus lost over 500 man games to injury last season (no other team came close) and even though their non-stop parade of injuries cost them a playoff berth, when the team was healthy it looked mighty fine, ending the season by winning thirteen of its final sixteen games. Adding rising young power forward Brandon Saad over the summer was the icing on the cake and a playoff berth seemed a foregone conclusion for a lot of pundits. No one knows exactly what happened in Ohio but wow did this team fall of the rails at light speed. Mired at the bottom of the standings again with a playoff spot looking like an impossible long shot, Columbus is now stuck with the walking talking temper tantrum known as John Tortorella as it’s coach and the team seems on the verge of dealing away superstar and franchise player Ryan Johansen (one of only two Blue Jackets not to miss any time to injury last season). It’s pretty safe to say Big Red that this was hardly how the Blue Jackets or their fans expected this season to go.
  1. Last year Santa I asked you for some Divine Intervention to save my Edmonton Oilers from themselves. Primarily from horrible management and deliberately blind ownership. Boy did you come through. When we won the right to draft Connor McDavid last April, it set off a chain of events that all fell into place like dominoes from Heaven. Within forty-eight hours our President and General Manager (both the worst in the League) had been demoted and our head coaching position vacated. Over the next few months the proven and competent leadership that replaced them systematically filled the open positions with established names and then went about transforming the roster. But now Santa, I need to ask another monumental favour for my team.

Do you think you could lift the curse that seems to be hanging over this franchise? We     have yet to see what this squad can do since the roster has never been healthy. Jordan Eberle blew his shoulder in training camp, missing the first month of the season. Justin Schultz injured his back just before Halloween, sidelining him a month. The worst has got to be Connor McDavid, the saviour and teenage phenom who was just beginning to bust out after a slow start and dominate games the way few eighteen year olds before him had, when a pair of no talent Philadelphia pylons on skates dragged him into the boards, breaking his left collarbone and putting him on the shelf for several months. And now Oscar Klefbom, arguably our top blue liner, is out an undetermined amount of time after a broken finger somehow became a staff infection in his leg. Perhaps nothing sums up how snake bitten this season has been as much as Nail Yakupov. Finally having a good year (playing alongside McDavid), the embattled Yak has been out for the past few weeks (and will be out a few more) since being dragged down by a falling linesman. Yak sprained his ankle in the fall and will miss approximately a month with the biggest freak injury anyone has ever heard of. But don’t worry Santa, the ref was OK.

  1. A milk carton for the Pittsburgh Penguins offence and the entire Anaheim Ducks organization, since both seem to be missing. When the Penguins stunned the hockey world by acquiring sniper Phil Kessel from the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs last July, adding him to the likes of Sydney Crosby, Evengi Malkin and Kris Letang, everyone thought Pittsburgh was going to be a regular feature on the nightly highlight reels. No one was prepared to hand the Pens the Cup mind you (much was made of the team’s remaining holes on the blue line and questions in net), but the question everyone was asking was how many goals would Pittsburgh score? Now the question going into every game is are the Pittsburgh Penguins going to score at all? Sydney Crosby has spent months mired in a scoring slump and Kessel has yet to light anything resembling a fire under the Pens offence. They’ve been downright mediocre and are miles from being the offensive juggernaut just about every one in the world predicted them to be last September.

Anaheim meanwhile is easily the biggest disappointment in the NHL this season. After falling just short of making the Stanley Cup finals last June, no other team was as aggressive as the Ducks in addressing roster needs while deftly managing the salary cap. The Ducks beefed up at every position and were everyone’s favourite to win the Cup at the beginning of the season. The team’s strength combined with their home in the NHL’s weakest division seemed a perfect recipe for regular season dominance and eventual Stanley Cup glory. But now the Ducks are in very real danger of missing the playoffs altogether, their top players have been called out repeatedly in the media and it’s considered only a matter of time before head coach Bruce Boudreau is fired. How bad has it been Santa? The Ducks won just one game in the entire month of October and fared little better in November. Even if Anaheim begins tearing it up in the New Year, they may not be able to make up the ground they lost in the first few months of the season, and could very well find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time.

  1. A little more patience from my fellow Oilers fans. If you could Big Man, could you slip a little more resolve into Oilers fans stockings? We’ve been a battered bunch this past decade, saddled with the worst President, the worst GMs and the worst coaches for years, all overseen by an owner whose negligence bordered on criminal. But with Connor McDavid now on the scene and all the necessary front office changes his arrival inspired, we finally had hope-sweet, precious hope. But that hope was tested when we lost our first four games and has been bruised further by a few prolonged losing streaks that have kept us from reaching a .500 record. But if you squint your eyes and turn your head just enough, things are looking up.

The Oilers may have lost a lot of games this season, but they’ve been competitive in just about all of them, something they haven’t been able to say in years. A few more bounces go their way and a few less calls against them and this team could easily be a game or two over the .500 mark right now. They’ve actually come back to win some games, another trait they haven’t displayed since time out of mind, and they’ve managed to steal a few points here and there with some outstanding goaltending (if you would have told an Oilers fan that as recently as last year they would have slapped you in the face with a brick and told you to stop your lies). McDavid’s injury was a big blow, but it allowed the team to recall Leon Draisaitl, who has blown the doors off the NHL and Taylor Hall, who’s spent most of the season among the NHL’s top scorers, is looking every bit like the team’s future captain, both on and off the ice. And when McDavid returns sometime in January, GM Peter Chiarelli will have a surplus of assets he can trade to address other needs.

There’s still a long way to go Santa, but could you just make sure my fellow members of the Copper and Blue Nation stick around just a little longer for the good times? No one should have anticipated a playoff spot this season anyway (though a recent winning streak has put us back in that conversation, a place we haven’t been in December for years), but there would be a certain poetic symbolism if we returned to the post season dance next season, the first in our shiny new home.

  1. A healing factor for Connor McDavid. You know Santa, like the one Wolverine has. And maybe some of those unbreakable Adamantium bones as well. Because if McDavid’s injury in November at the hands of much less talented, slow of foot blue liners, it’s that the young heir apparent has a target on his back. McDavid’s blinding speed coupled with his cat like agility and his sublime puck handling skills proved impossible for most NHL D-men to defend against, so the thug like antics displayed by Flyers blue liners Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Manning, where they basically gang-tackled him into the boards, are likely going to become more common. And more accepted (the NHL has never been eager to protect its stars).

But there’s one other reason Connor’s going to need an ability to heal fast Big Red, and that’s because of Hockey Trolls. McDavid’s good. Really good. He’s been lauded by everyone from Steven Stamkos to Wayne Gretzky (who described him as the best player to come along in the last thirty years) and his skill set is pure offense (though he’s proven he can use his offensive instincts to protect a lead as well), meaning that there’s a sizeable portion of “traditional” hockey fans who will never respect him. There was no shortage of them on social media before the season began begging for him to fail and they tripped over themselves with glee when he went down with his injury. The Great One had his fair share of detractors back in the day, fans who didn’t consider him a real player because he didn’t fight, but Gretz didn’t have to contend with Twitter and Reddit. So if it isn’t too much trouble Santa, could you wrap up a nice healing X-gene and put it under Connor’s tree?

  1. A big pat on the back to P.K. Subban. Already heavily involved in charity work (P.K. and his family are the faces of Hyundai Hockey Helpers, a non profit organization that assists parents struggling with cost of enrolling their kids in North America’s most expensive sport), the popular (and often controversial) Montreal Canadiens defenseman pledged ten million dollars over the next seven years to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. It is by far the biggest single donation a member of the venerated Habs franchise has ever donated to charity. Subban’s contributions on the ice never go unnoticed by his teammates or Habs fans (or their opponents, for that matter), and now, with a wing of the hospital bearing his name, his presence and generosity to the community won’t either.

          An honourable shout out to Washington Capitals winger T.J. Oshie and Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price in this category as well. When the St. Louis Blues traded the popular Oshie to Washington last off-season, five-year-old Libby Lu was so distraught at his departure that she locked herself in a closet crying, refusing to come out. Well, T.J. reached out to little Libby twice, first calling her on a Sportscenter talk show and then by mailing her a crate full of Washington Capitals swag, all of it autographed, ensuring that Libby would not only be a T.J. Oshie fan her entire life, but also a hockey one as well. Meanwhile Carey Price has been heavily involved in a number of youth programs, everything from donating equipment to Aboriginal communities to raffling off his game masks. Price’s community work won him the Jean Beliveau award last October, awarded by the legendary Beliveau’s wife. Good job, gentlemen, good job.

Shayne Kempton

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