NORTHERN DRAFT 2015

AFTER THE OILERS SELECT CONNOR MCDAVID FIRST OVERALL, WHICH NAMES DO THE OTHER SIX CANADIAN TEAMS CALL AT THIS YEAR’S NHL ENTRY DRAFT?

As an Edmonton Oilers fan, the only date I’ve had circled on my NHL calendar for the past nine years is the NHL’s annual entry draft. It’s the price you pay for following a team that has innovated new and exciting ways to suck year in and year out. That annual anticipation went through the roof this year though when the Oilers won last April’s draft lottery and the right to drape a copper and blue jersey on phenom Connor McDavid, whose been anointed The Next One by none other then the Great Wayne Gretzky himself. But what about the other six Canadian teams? The 2015 draft is being heralded as possibly the best since the legendary 2003 draft (which is considered the best draft in NHL history), with a pair of generational talents topping the rankings. So here are my armchair predictions for which names Canada’s seven NHL teams should call out at the draft in Tampa Bay this Friday. I went two for seven with my predictions for 2014, and while people may scoff at a success rate of .286, you pull that number off as a batter in baseball and you’ll be pulling down a salary around twenty million a year. Or whatever Donald Trump spends on toupees.   Either way, without further adieu, I present my totally unscientific and unfounded suggestions, recommendations and demands.

Edmonton Oilers: With the 1st overall the pick in this year’s draft, Edmonton will select Connor McDavid. Stop. End of story. TSN analyst (and former Calgary Flames GM) Craig Button perfectly described McDavid’s potential as a player, saying he combines the brilliance of Gretzky, the smooth hands of Mario Lemieux and the speed of Pavel Bure into a player never seen before. McDavid thinks the game at a higher level while skating at Mach speed. He’s been dominating highlight reels since he was 16 and his humility and sportsmanship off the ice has impressed scouts nearly as much as his sublime skills on it. Edmonton hasn’t even drafted McDavid yet and he’s already transformed the franchise, motivating desperately needed change in the most incompetent management and coaching departments in the NHL, and most importantly, getting emotionally exhausted fans excited again. Even Oilers players, who had given up on next season and were secretly hoping to be traded, are happy to be in Edmonton again. A cloud has literally lifted from this organization and its fan base. There is no other choice.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs kick off their picks by choosing 4th overall, and the Buds have plenty of holes in their roster to address. But the one need they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to solve the past few years is their lack of a top pivot. Dylan Strome may be the answer. Big (6’3), defensively capable and good on face offs, the younger brother of New Islanders forward Ryan Strome won the OHL scoring championship last year. And while many people will dismiss his scoring championship, claiming he benefitted from Erie Otters team mate and super prospect Connor McDavid (of course he did, who wouldn’t?), the same critics fail to point out that while McDavid missed twenty games with injury and representing Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championships, Strome was still producing at a one hundred point pace. If the Leafs can grab him (there are rumblings that Arizona may select him 3rd overall), they may be advised to give him a nine game taste of the pros next October before sending him back to junior, where he can dominate the OHL and represent Canada at the 2016 WJC. After next season, the sky may be the limit. Strome and 2014 8th overall pick William Nylander could form a dynamic duo down Toronto’s middle for years to come.

Calgary Flames: The Flames were one of the most surprising teams this year, making the playoffs and even advancing to the second round in a season where most people thought they’d be competing for the first overall pick. And the secret of this seasons’ success lied with a handful of young players they drafted and developed. The Flames attack boasted the likes of 2015 Calder Trophy nominee Johnny Gaudrea, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, as well as a handful of other rising young players. The Flames can also take pride in a cupboard full of promising young forward prospects as well, so with the 15th pick in this year’s draft they could do worse then select a defenseman to begin stockpiling a blue line to compliment their forward corps. And Jakub Zboril just might be the perfect defenceman to begin that process. A fiercely competitive, smooth skating, offensively skilled blue liner, Zboril’s skills in his own end are underrated and while he may not be big, he isn’t small and can be physically aggressive when he needs to be. He could be the first step in building a blue line formidable enough to handle the offensive juggernaut that’s taking shape just a few hours north in Edmonton.

Winnipeg Jets: Winnipeg is another club that’s managed to build a strong core of young players that was instrumental in their first playoff appearance since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011. And adding center Colin White to that mix with the 17th pick would be another step in the right direction. A smart and hard working two-way center with decent offensive instincts and natural leadership abilities, White could well be this teams third line center and top penalty killing forward for years to come. But he also has second line potential and he could be the perfect compliment to Winnipeg’s eventual number one center, Mark Scheifele, for the better part of the next decade. White could be one of the safest, most efficient picks in the first round.

Ottawa Senators: The NHL entry draft has been very good to the Ottawa Senators over their modern history. The Sens have succeeded in finding and developing a wide range of players over the years. They struck gold with current team captain and two time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (2008), blue liner Codi Ceci (2012) and forward Curtis Lazar (2013) in the mid to high teens of the first round, while uncovering 2015 Calder trophy nominee Mark Stone and forward Mike Hoffman in later rounds. The Sens are more then set for young forwards, both now and in the future, and have a crowded crease, so they should use this deep draft as an opportunity to began improving a middling blue line. Taking Swedish prospect Oliver Kylington with the 18th pick would be an excellent start. The super talented young Swede was originally projected to be a top ten pick (some scouts even had him as high as the top five) coming into this season, but a rough couple of months saw his stock drop. But he remains a smooth skating offensive defenceman with no shortage of speed, skill or confidence. Ottawa didn’t do too bad the last time they drafted an offensive minded Swedish defenceman and could you imagine having two Erik Karlssons quarterbacking their power play? Scary.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks roster is getting old fast. The core they’ve relied on for time out of mind is all on the wrong side of thirty (the Sedins will be 35 when the puck drops next October) and Vancouver may have to move out a veteran or two to become cap compliant this summer. While they have a few promising young forwards currently on the roster (Bo Horvat) and a few intriguing ones in the system (Jake Virtanen, Hunter Shinkaruk), their defensive prospects are underwhelming to say the least. That’s why they should take a good long look at Swedish blue liner Gabriel Carlsson when their turn to comes at 23rd. A stay at home behemoth, Carlsson plays with smarts and poise in his own end. Remember that offensive juggernaut we were talking about in Edmonton? Vancouver will be seeing a lot of Connor McDavid and the Oilers over the years and Carlsson could be one of the Canucks best weapons of mass defence. He may be a bit of a project, but Carlsson could one day be a blue line beast that spends thirty minutes a night devouring opposing forwards while anchoring Vancouver’s penalty kill.

Montreal Canadiens: The biggest flaw in the Canadiens roster was exposed during the playoffs when it became painfully apparent that the Habs need a big strong number one center to compete with the likes of Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers in the post season. The problem is that one of those won’t be available when the Canadiens step up to the podium to make the 26th pick. What will be available will be a promising young right winger named Daniel Sprong, who could one day allow the Habs to move promising young forward Alex Galchenyuk back to his natural center position, where he could become the big franchise pivot the Canadiens desperately need to compete in the East. Sprong isn’t big but protects the puck like a villain, is shifty when evading opposing defenders and is downright lethal on the power play. Sprong probably won’t be a first line sniper, but he will provide valuable secondary scoring and could be a fixture on Montreal’s power play for years.

Player To Watch: There is little doubt in the minds of most scouts that Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov is the best goalie available in this draft. While a goaltender hasn’t been taken in the first round of the draft since 2012 (when Tampa Bay selected Andrei Vasilevskiy 19th overall and Boston selected Malcolm Subban 24th), there are plenty who believe that Samsonov is worthy of a first round pick, especially for teams with multiple picks in the first round and those squads looking for help between the pipes (and wouldn’t you know it, Edmonton fits both bills). But the “Russian Factor” is strong with this one, who is signed at least for the next two seasons with his KHL team. And while there are those who think that may be good for his development, spending the next two years playing against men in the world’s second best professional hockey league, the fact that he skipped the draft combine raised as many red flags as it did eyebrows. Samsonov is easily the biggest gamble in this draft.

Shayne Kempton

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GET A LIFE

OTTAWA SENATORS OWNER EUGENE MELNYK MADE A PUBLIC PLEA FOR A LIVER DONOR. THE REQUEST WAS MET WITH COMPASSION AND CHARITY AND SUCCESS. IT WAS ALSO MET WITH SOME MORAL COWARDICE DISGUISED AS ETHICAL JUDGEMENT

 Just over a week ago, Bio-vale founder, billionaire and current Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk announced that he was in desperate need of a living liver donor. If he didn’t find one soon, his life wasn’t merely in jeopardy, it was done. According to Melnyk’s camp, the Sens owner has been quietly trying to find a donor for months without any success. Before his public plea he “exhausted all other options,” while his condition deteriorated to the point of no return. So he took the unconventional and unprecedented step of appealing directly to the public through his loudest, most direct public platform; the Ottawa Senators. And while there was an immediate, successful response (in the days following the announcement, some reports had the number of responses pegged as high as 2000, a dozen candidates were being screened just days later and Melnyk underwent a successful transplant immediately following the Victoria day weekend) there’s also been no shortage of hand wringing and ethical finger waving. The Ottawa Citizen ran a snarky themed article comparing Melnyk’s five day wait to a liver transplant survivor who waited over six hundred days and just days later they published an article questioning whether Melnyk, who calls Barbados home most of the year, should have been eligible for treatment in a Ontario hospital. It was yet another example, critics and naysayers contend, of the rich using their wealth and power and influence to buy benefits the rest of us weren’t allowed or entitled to. And reading some of the criticism in both the media and the feedback they received, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that a lot of people would have wallowed in a sense of smug satisfaction if Melnyk had wound up in a coffin.

And this is why those critics and naysayers are idiots.

Look, the rich and famous have earned every ounce of the considerable animosity and contempt they find themselves the target of. Tax shelters, tax evasion and having obedient politicians writing and rewriting laws and legislation to their constant advantage are just the first few items on an impossibly long list of things the storied 1% enjoy on a daily basis. And a lot of times they get away with high crimes while telling the rest of us to “pull up our boot straps,” work harder for less and appreciate a shrinking slice of the pie. There’s a new fad in the United States where the upper crust are convicted of horrible, heinous crimes and are granted virtual forgiveness because of their wealth and status. In 2014, Texan Ethan Couch plead guilty to killing four people and injuring two more while driving drunk. He then capped off his night of felonious escapades by fleeing the scene. Sixteen years old at the time, his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for adults. He was sentenced to ten years probation and rehab after he was “diagnosed” with “affluenza,” a bogus psychological “condition” that states he wasn’t criminally responsible because he couldn’t grasp the consequences of his actions as a result of his privileged upbringing. Last summer, billionaire Samuel Curtis Johnson III (even his name is pretentious) was sentenced to a mere four months in prison for sexual assaults Johnson plead guilty to sexually fondling and groping his stepdaughter, beginning the abuse when she was only twelve years old. And there are more stomach turning examples just like these, so yeah, the rich pretty much have their own set of rules, rules that, like the sandboxes they play in, are way better then those for the rest of us.

But the anger in this instance is misplaced. Let me ask you this-if you were in a spot where the remainder of your lifespan was measured by weeks and days instead of years, would you not use every ethical resource at your disposal to find a cure? Let me save you the trouble of answering-of course you would. It isn’t like Melnyk is buying some child out of slavery and then ripping a functioning liver out of them the way some of his critics make it sound (trust me, if he was I’d be personally leading the torch and pitchfork mob to get it back). According to him, he spent months looking for a living donor the conventional ways, but it turned out no one in his circle of friends or family were compatible. Nor is he jumping to the front of a donor line, the way some have alleged. He is looking for healthy, living donors, a donor who chooses to donate specifically to Melnyk. He isn’t bumping anyone off a current waiting list. This is his last chance, and again I would ask the question-if you had his resources, would you not use every last one of them to (ethically) extend your life? And let’s not forget Bryan Murray, who revealed last fall that he was being treated for terminal Stage 4 Cancer. Murray has no chance of remission and all he can do is manage the effects until the disease inevitably claims him. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Murray transformed his tragedy into an opportunity to educate others on the importance of regular testing. Don’t think for a second that Melnyk’s plight isn’t also raising awareness of the isue. In fact the various government agencies responsible for organ donation, evaluation and transplants should be all over this as a chance to promote the importance of organ donation.

Is it fair that some people have this platform while others equally (or more) deserving do not? No. But in an age of social media and crowd funding, when a message of hope or a cute cat video can circle the globe in a matter of hours, everyone’s voice has a better chance of being heard the it did even ten years ago. In this case, Melnyk was able to use his hockey team to raise his call for help above the chorus, and he was able to do so without drowning out anyone else’s voice. There are plenty of reasons to resent the well to do, but this isn’t one of them.

Shayne Kempton

FIVE ALIVE

MY EDMONTON OILERS HAD THEIR PLAYOFF HOPES LAID TO REST MONTHS AGO. SO WHO TO FOLLOW THESE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS? HERE ARE FIVE VERY LIKEABLE CANDIDATES

So here we are, at the beginning of another campaign for Lord Stanley’s coveted chalice. Back in October there were thirty teams with visions of the Stanley Cup dancing in their head, but seven and a half months later the weak and the slow have been culled and we’re down to the sixteen most worthy teams; sixteen that will be reduced to a single champion in two months time.

But the biggest question I find myself asking is who to cheer for. I’ve made no secret that my heart belongs to the Edmonton Oilers, arguably the most dysfunctional franchise in all of professional sports (and I’ve also been one of their most vocal critics). The Oil were essentially banished from chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup some time around November, meaning that for a ninth year in a row, myself and other long suffering Oilers fans are left on the outside looking in (and worse yet, our current and failure obsessed management group seems oblivious or indifferent to the fan base’s growing frustration and fatigue). So I face a choice; ignore the playoffs altogether, choosing to deprive myself of the best hockey all year, or choose another franchise to champion my hopes and dreams. Cheer might be a little too strong for the limited emotional investment I’m willing to make, while support is probably a more accurate term of what I’m looking to offer some NHL franchise over the next few months. Now the question becomes how to narrow it down. While I may not have determined my franchise of choice for this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs yet, I have determined the five teams most worthy of my support. And why.

Winnipeg Jets: Perhaps the second biggest underdogs to even make the playoffs this season, the Jets have been playing desperation hockey for 82 games already, clinching their first post-season berth since landing back in the ‘Peg in 2011. Few pundits believed the Jets had a snowball’s chance to make the playoff dance, but Winnipeg has fought and clawed all season long. When the Evander Kane situation reached apparent critical mass last February, Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff overcame his trade reluctant rep and pulled the trigger on a deal that sent the talented but much maligned young power forward to the struggling Buffalo Sabres in a deal that improved his roster both today and down the road. Every time adversity reared it’s gruesome head, the Jets buckled down and pressed their collective shoulder to the grindstone even harder. It would seem the NHL’s smallest market is this year’s little engine that could, and have so far risen to the occasion through blood, sweat and intestinal fortitude. How can you not like that?

Calgary Flames: This was supposed to be just the second year of the Flames official rebuild. When Calgary traded franchise cornerstone Jarome Iginla in the spring of 2013, it signaled a long overdue changing of the guard for the Flames, one that was supposed to see them competing for the first overall pick in this June’s entry draft. But things haven’t quite followed that particular script. While Winnipeg may have been the NHL’s second biggest playoff underdog story, the Flames were by far it’s largest. Everyone kept expecting Calgary to fall out of playoff contention any day, but the Flames kept the naysayers waiting and silenced them for good when they fought and shoved their way into the playoff picture. The Flames were this year’s Come Back Kids, leading the NHL in comebacks when they trailed opponents by a goal or more entering the third period. To a man, Calgary embraced a new “Never Say Die” culture; one adopted by the new leadership Calgary ownership brought in to complete the rebuild. There’s a lesson there that Calgary’s provincial cousins down the road in Edmonton have failed to realize, and if the Flames go deep in this year’s playoffs, it will serve to embarrass the Oiler’s incompetent brass even more. And that’s reason enough to show them some love.

Ottawa Senators: Ottawa was another team that wasn’t supposed to be part of the playoff equation this year, but enough dominoes fell into place to allow the Ottawa Senators to stage the biggest second half turnaround in NHL history. And simply put, the Sens, bar none, were the NHL’s biggest Cinderella Story this year. Sure, the team played better under Dave Cameron, who replaced 2013 Jack Adams winning coach Paul MacLean after Ottawa fired the Walrus mid-season. And sure, new captain Erik Karlsson deserves a healthy dose of credit, leading the team in scoring (again) while leading all NHL blue liners in points (again), not to mention how important Ottawa’s young guns were to their success this season; with Mark Stone (who should win the Calder trophy for best rookie), Mike Hoffman (who lead both Ottawa and all NHL freshmen in goals), Mika Zibanejad (2011’s sixth overall pick who looks to have usurped Kyle Turris as Ottawa’s number one centre) and Curtis Lazar (a big part of Canada’s gold medal winning squad at this year’s World Junior tournament). But the Sens momentous turnaround belongs primarily to one player-Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond. When Ottawa’s regular net minders went down with injuries at the end of January and Hammond, who was posting less then mediocre numbers with the AHL Binghamton Senators, was thrust into the Sens crease, everyone pretty much stuck a fork in Ottawa’s playoff hopes (the Sens were 14 points out of a playoff spot at that point). But a funny thing happened-Hammond became the architect of a bona fide NHL Miracle on Ice. The Sens became supernova hot overnight and Hammond began breaking 80 year old records as he pulled Ottawa into the playoffs. And if that wasn’t enough of a storybook plot line for you, the team is pulling to give GM Bryan Murray, whose been battling terminal cancer all season long, one final season of memorable hockey and they’ll be dedicating every second of success to the memory of assistant coach Mike Lee who died a few days ago. This team will be playing with unimaginable emotional chutzpah.

Montreal Canadiens: The Habs were Canada’s lone post-season representative last year and they battled all the way to the Eastern Conference final before being eliminated by the New York Rangers. It is quite possible those two meet again this spring, possibly battling once again for the privilege of representing the East in the Stanley Cup Finals and a potential rematch between these two powerhouses will be epic as both teams have improved significantly since last June. I’ve always favoured the NHL’s masked men and while not taking anything away from the aforementioned Andrew Hammond or the Minnesota Wild’s Devan Dubnyk (who pulled a similar resurrection act with Minnesota’s flailing playoff hopes), Carey Price has quietly put together an historical campaign that has put his name alongside legends like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy. His season long numbers have guaranteed him the Vezina trophy as the League’s top goalie and there’s also plenty of chatter about him taking home the Hart as the NHL’s most valuable player as well. And while I’ve never denied his flaws, it never fails to amaze me how little respect P.K. Subban gets, especially after his heroics last spring against the Boston Bruins (Subban took home the Norris trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2013 and was the NHL’s second highest scoring blue liner this season). Maybe another deep post season run will get him some much-deserved respect. But my biggest reason for wanting to see the Habs enjoy some Stanley Cup success is Jeff Petry. Petry became the most recent in a long line of whipping boys for Edmonton Oilers management and fans despite numbers showing he was the best defenseman on a team where the blue line was their biggest weakness. The Oilers showed him little respect, signalling they were planning on trading him when they signed him to a single year deal last summer and then followed through on their intentions by shipping him to the Habs for draft picks at last March’s trade deadline. Yes, a team with a notoriously weak blue line gave away their best d-man for nothing (reason number 517 why Edmonton has spent the better part of the past decade well outside the playoff bubble). Seeing Petry, who was immediately slotted into the Habs top defensive four upon arrival, playing for the Stanley Cup will be an added bonus to humiliate Oilers brass.

Minnesota Wild: With the previous four entries on the list hailing from north of the border, this selection may leave you scratching your head a bit. And make no mistake, I’d love to see the Stanley Cup return to the Great White North for the first time in 22 years, but I’m also a pragmatist and with American teams constituting two thirds of playoff bound squads (including heavy hitters like the Rangers, Chicago, Anaheim, Nashville and others), the numbers are stacked against a Canadian captain skating victory laps holding the Cup aloft this June. And I do admire the way the Wild, a perennial playoff absentee a few years ago, have built their team, combining smart drafting, patient and efficient player development, shrewd trading and a few big free agent splashes into a recipe that has turned them into everyone’s favourite dark horse in the West. But my true motive for wanting to see the Wild raise a banner or two following this spring’s playoffs is Minnesota goaltending hero and former Edmonton Oiler Devan Dubnyk. You see, like Jeff Petry was this season, Dubnyk was Edmonton’s scapegoat last year, being dealt to the Nashville Predators for (overpaid) fourth line grinder Matt Hendricks.   During the lockout shortened 2013 season, Dubnyk, whose career had been trending upwards, finally seized hold of Edmonton’s top net minding job, but as soon as Dallas Eakins came on board as the Oilers bench boss, he was among a number of young players whose careers went south in a hurry (sophomores Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz being the other two). Now Oiler apologists will point out that Dubnyk fared poorly with Nashville after the deal in question and never played a single minute for the Canadiens when the Preds dealt him to Montreal later that season. But what those pundits fail to point out is that when Dubs landed in Nashville he was well behind Pekka Rinne on the depth chart and when he arrived in Montreal he was behind Carey Price, Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski. When the Arizona Coyotes signed him to a one-year deal last summer, Dubs began posting numbers superior than starter and former Olympian Mike Smith (on a horrible team, no less) and when the Wild acquired him for the bank breaking price of a third round draft pick last January, Dubnyk (who set new standards for work horses everywhere, starting all but one game between then and the end of the season) turned Minnesota’s fortunes around nearly as much as Hammond did Ottawa’s. In fact, my dream final this year is a Minnesota-Montreal matchup, where no matter who wins, one of Edmonton’s head slapping mistakes will be on full display, and one will eventually have his name etched onto the Stanley Cup.

Shayne Kempton

THE NHL’S 2014 CHRISTMAS WISH LIST

WHAT TEAMS AND FANS SHOULD PROBABLY ASK JOLLY OLD SANTA FOR THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON

 Well hello Santa. So good to see you again. How is Mrs. Claus doing? Well I hope (because let’s be honest Big Man, we both know the whole operation comes tumbling down without the Missus). And the elves? The reindeer? Rudolph still getting up to his regular hijinks? That polar scamp. Totally incorrigible.

Y’know Santa, it’s not just Christmas we celebrate at this time of year, but we’re also at the point on the calendar where just about every team in the NHL has played at least a third or more of their current regular season, and there are a few franchises (and in the case of number two, a long suffering and oft ignored fan base) who are probably counting on a goodie or two in your sack to salvage the rest of the campaign. Or at least make life a little more bearable until the mercy of the balmy summer months.   But just in case any have forgotten amidst the hectic hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I’ve taken the liberty of assembling a list of ten things that teams or fans should ask you for this Yuletide.

10.  Another Hart trophy, scoring championship and First Team All-Star berth for Sidney Crosby. I’m not a Pens fan Santa, or a Crosby one, but Sid the Kid’s critics (and he has many) act like a pack of rabid, ravenous wolves that pounce on any chance to diss or put him down. A Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Sid’s got more personal hardware then any other player currently skating. In the world. But still, there are millions of “fans” who love to hate on him with savage abandon.   He could discover a cure for cancer tomorrow and they’d all flock to Facebook to bash him for not devoting every waking second to hockey and defying nature. A bunch of new awards won’t really silence Sid’s haters, but it will make their absurd, petty rhetoric look even more foolish.

9.  If you could Santa, you might want to consider wrapping super-prospect Connor McDavid in an Ottawa Senators jersey this year, and gifting him, not to Sens fans in general, but the ones who didn’t throw Jason Spezza under the bus last year. Now the Sens don’t have to finish last in in the NHL in order to draft Connor first overall this June (the Oilers had all but wrapped up dead last by Halloween) but the Sens playoff chances this season are looking a little less then 50/50 (far smarter people than yours truly have crunched the numbers using a decade’s worth of data and have determined that Ottawa, who was several spots removed from a playoff spot in early December, has around a twenty-five percent chance to make the post season next spring). Any team that misses the playoffs this season will have at least a 13.5% chance to land The Next Big Thing. Bigger gambles have paid off.

8.  Glasses for the people who apparently didn’t see the Montreal Canadiens 2014 playoff run and refuse to accept that Habs blue liner P.K. Subban is one of the game’s elite defencemen. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner and member of Canada’s Gold Medal winning 2014 Olympic team, Subban was a dominant one man force who, combined with Carey Price’s heroics in net, dragged the Habs to victory over their much bigger, deeper, more skilled and much more favoured Beantown rivals during their second round matchup last spring. Subban got in the Bruins’ face, he never let up and when he wasn’t getting in Boston’s head or under their skin, he was putting pucks in their net. Even after the Big Bad Bruins took a 3-2 series lead and everyone wrote Montreal off, Subban refused to throw in the towel and somehow stepped it up a notch, leading the Bleu et Blanc to victory in seven.  If after all that people weren’t ready to acknowledge P.K.’s place among the game’s current best, there’s something desperately wrong with their eyes. Of course, for a few of these rotten apples (and I’ve tangled with one or two online), their hatred really only runs skin deep. And speaking of skins . . .

7.  A thick one for current Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson. The slick young Swede is superbly skilled, his awesome skill set leans towards the offensive side of the game, he isn’t overly physical and he’s European. In short Big Red, he’s everything Canadian “purists” hate in a hockey player. If the Sens struggle the rest of the way and fail to qualify for the post season, it won’t take long for the Sens Army to turn on Karlsson the way it turned on then captain Jason Spezza last season. Sports fans eat their own like no one else, and Ottawa’s hockey community has proven just as eager to chow down on anyone in a Sens jersey if things don’t go as well as they planned at season’s end.  Karlson will prove no exception.

6.  A huge lump of coal for the pretentious ass hats who run the Hockey Hall of Fame. The late Pat Burns was finally inducted into the Hall this year Santa, four years after he died from cancer. The kicker is he was eligible for admission before his unfortunate death and his wife confided after his passing that he secretly hoped he would be alive to see the day when he’d be inducted. It would have been such a little thing for the brains at the HHoF to bend a rule here or there and induct him while he was alive to see and enjoy it. But no, the walking, talking vials of syphilis that run the Hall couldn’t lower themselves to be actual feeling human beings. And Santa, that coal you put in their stockings? Could you make it the exploding kind? Pretty please?

5.  A lifetime ban from the Canadian Tire Centre for the Sens and Leafs fans that got into a flying brawl last November (during the game where both teams observed a moment of silence for the recently slain Cpl. Cirillo, no less). I don’t know how it started but everyone saw how it ended, with a member of each tribe hugging each other as they hurtled down the concrete stairs. In the days following the video’s Mach speed tour of the Internet, everyone was picking sides. IT WAS THE SENS FAN’S FAULT!  IT WAS THE LEAFS FAN’S FAULT! The truth is Big Red, it was the fault of everyone involved; everyone wearing a jersey during that scuffle was a douchebag, regardless of the logo. And while odds are the idiots who went down the stairs are still feeling it (good), justice will only truly be served if the two of them, Sen and Leafs fan alike, are prevented entry into the CTC (or any other Ottawa arena). For the rest of their lives.

4.  For Martin Brodeur to retire as a New Jersey Devil. The legendary Brodeur is currently doing a fine job holding down the fort in St. Louis crease, but his contract ends in June and once Blues starter Brian Elliot recovers from injury or future franchise goalie Jake Allen is ready to assume the reigns full time, Brodeur will be a 42 year old goalie on the outside looking in. So Santa, I think it only fair (and reasonable), that next September the New Jersey Devils sign Brodeur, who wrote an entire record book during his time manning New Jersey’s net, to a one game contract. Give him a start him against Edmonton or Carolina so he can grab one final win and then retire wearing the Devils jersey on a victorious note.

3.  A case of finger leprosy for the Leafs fans who took to Twitter to criticize, insult and berate Toronto goalie James Reimer’s wife, April. When Reimer struggled last spring (during a meltdown that affected every member of the roster and spelled the end of Toronto’s post season chances) and had a few lack luster games this past fall, some Leafs “fans” thought it would be a good idea to use Twitter to go after the man’s wife. Cause y’know, that’s the bravest and most reasonable thing of all to do. It should be mentioned that Mrs. Reimer handled the situation with grace and there were no shortage of other Leafs fans who rallied to her defense, but the idea they’ll get away with it still ticks in my craw. I made a tweet criticizing the Twidiots who targeted her (and I was completely civilized-I swear!) and found myself in the cross hairs of one or two malicious malcontents. And not only that Santa, even you have to admit that the mental image of a bunch of enraged fans racing to Twitter to voice their angry venom but have to resort to pecking the keyboard with their noses because they shed their diseased fingers is hysterical.

2.  A playoff berth for the Edmonton Oilers. I’m gonna be frank with you on this one Big Red, I, like millions of other Oilers fans, have abandoned hope that we’re ever going to see another meaningful game of hockey played in the month of April without divine intervention. Our coach is a one man blunder factory who ESPN recently named the worst bench boss in the NHL, our current GM doesn’t seem to have a long term plan or know what he’s doing (an affliction also suffered by his two predecessors), we’re saddled with the worst team president in the history of, well, ever, and an owner whose indifference to the strained loyalty of the team’s suffering fans is bordering on being criminally reckless. Even the most hardcore fan and the loudest team apologists have given up. It’s isn’t like we haven’t had opportunities to right the ship that’s been sinking for nine consecutive years Santa, but we seem to have gone out of our way to squander each and every one of them. I fear if you can’t fit a small miracle under Oiler Nation’s collective Christmas tree, the playoffs will become a permanent pipe dream and we’ll be forced to sustain ourselves on the memories of our long distant glory years.

1.  This might be the biggest one of all to ask for Santa, but if you can swing it, how about a few comfortable years of remission for Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray? Things aren’t looking too bright for Mr. Murray as he battles stage four cancer and both he and his doctors have admitted that at this point the best anyone can do is manage the situation. There are few guys out there in professional sports as classy as Mr. Murray, and if anyone in the NHL currently deserves a miracle of this size, it’s him. If you can only pull off one thing on this list Santa, it should be this one and I’ll make you a deal; if you can swing this particular stocking stuffer, I’ll leave out an extra large plate of double stuff Oreos.

Shayne Kempton

SPAZZING ON SPEZZA

SOME SENS FANS HAVE BEEN A LITTLE TOO HAPPY ABOUT THE IMPENDING DEPARTURE OF JASON SPEZZA, BUT THEY COULD SOON BE PINING FOR THEIR FORMER CAPTAIN AND FAVOURITE WHIPPING BOY

        That sound you heard resonating across the National Capital region last week was a collective chorus of rejoicing by many members of the Sens Army, raising their voices in celebration at the news that after thirteen years and eleven seasons, current Ottawa Senators captain and fan whipping boy Jason Spezza’s tenure as a member of the Sens will be coming to an end. When Sens GM Brian Murray claimed that Spezza had demanded a trade and said he’ll try to move Ottawa’s much maligned star this summer, legions of loyal Sens fans tripped over themselves smearing their joy across social media. The news had plenty of Sens fans giddier than a fan boy after his first kiss (these were typically the same trolls that you could see during or following a Sens game, win or lose, jumping on the “We hate Jason Spezza and he never should have been born” cyber bandwagon). But in the midst of all their glee and self-congratulation, notoriously fickle Sens fans should heed that all too often quoted Chinese proverb-be careful what you wish for because you just might get it-because barring divine intervention, trading Jason Spezza is not going to end well for the Ottawa Senators.

First things first; Spezza is not Danny Heatley. Following the conclusion of the 2009 season, superstar left winger Heatley demanded a trade out of Ottawa and later leveraged his no trade clause to reject an offer from the Edmonton Oilers (despite Edmonton’s extensive groveling), and it quickly became obvious that Heatley would only accept a trade where either San Jose or the New York Rangers was his ultimate destination (after a frustrating summer, Murray sent Heatley to the Sharks in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second round draft pick). And despite Bryan Murray’s initial claims, it doesn’t look like Spezza made a black and white trade request/demand. According to people close to Spezza, the All-Star center felt that if management believed the Sens were only a few players short of returning to serious contention, then Jason, who loves living in Ottawa, wanted to remain a member of the team. But if the Sens were planning on going the rebuilding route then perhaps it was better if the two parties respectfully shook hands and parted ways. As an aside, Sens fans should also start wondering what’s going on with their GM, after last season’s double talk regarding the free agent departure of long time captain and face of the franchise Daniel Alfredsson and this year’s unfolding Spezza fiasco (even if Spezza did make a trade request, why would Murray make it public and hurt his bargaining posture?). But make no mistake, if Murray can’t deal him this summer Spezza won’t hesitate to report to training camp.

Now that being said, here’s why the Sens fans who are happier than a four-year old on Christmas morning need to think this through. After being drafted second overall in 2001 with the pick the Sens got from the New York Islanders (along with towering D-man Zdeno Chara) in return for the despised Alexei Yashin, Spezza has been Ottawa’s number one center virtually from the time he donned a Sens jersey, scoring 687 points in 686 regular season games (and an additional 52 points in 56 playoff games).  No one’s claiming he’s perfect (his penchant for blind passes and turnovers made even the most ardent Sens fan cringe) but the question is who will replace his offence? Sens fans have to accept the fact that Ottawa isn’t going to get a number one center back to replace him (though some of the fantasies I’ve seen online have been pretty amusing, my favourite was one guy who said Ottawa should trade Spezza to San Jose straight up for Joe Thornton) and even Murray has admitted that he isn’t going to get value for Spezza. Nor is there anyone currently on the roster or in the system who can fill his skates. Kyle Turris has played the best hockey of his young career since coming to Ottawa a few seasons ago, but he has yet to break the 60-point barrier (something Spezza did six times). Mika Zibanejad? 2011’s sixth overall pick oozes potential but isn’t ready for that kind of pressure or responsibility yet. And while prospect Curtis Lazar had an awesome season in the WHL-winning the Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings-he’s at least another season away from joining the Senators on a regular basis. Sure, it’s all well and good to hope that any of the aforementioned players will be able to step up given increased ice time and responsibility, but that’s a pretty bold assumption and is it one you really want to stake your entire season on? And Spezza isn’t the only player the Sens are cutting ties with, as both Ales Hemsky and Milan Michalek will probably be let go as free agents. That’s half of the Sens top six, with dubious returns coming back (Eugene Melnyk’s closed purse will prevent the Sens from pursuing any big name free agents for the time being). The ugly truth for Sens Army is that the Sens will be a worse team on July 2nd then the one that missed the playoffs in April.

The trading of big names, shedding veterans via free agency, an internal budget, all of these signs point to a possibly lengthy rebuild for the Ottawa Senators, and if that’s the case, Sens fans need to ask themselves if Bryan Murray is the guy to manage it (look no further than the Edmonton Oilers to see how badly a rebuild can be botched, and how a team can remain desperately bad even after nearly a decade of high draft picks).  If that’s the case Sens fans, just remember, during the January-February grind, if the Sens are struggling to score and the playoffs are looking more and more unlikely (again), that many of you got what you wished for when Jason Spezza was unceremoniously exiled. And remember how happy you were when he was shown the exit because sympathy is something you won’t deserve.

Shayne Kempton