Year: 2018

Heading into game three between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, all eyes were on the newly formed shutdown line of Mitch Marner, Patrick Marleau and trade deadline acquisition Tomas Plekanec. After being acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for a second round pick, Plekanec has done less than impress with only two assists in 17 games in the regular season.

Through the first two games of the playoffs, he was virtually unnoticeable as the Bruins racked up 12 goals in two games in Boston. Game three was back Toronto and little was expected from the marginalized center. However, head coach Mike Babcock’s newly formed line would carry the Maple Leafs to victory in game three and put them back in the series.

Patrick Marleau scored twice, both times via a Mitch Marner pass. Plakanec made a great defensive play to lift David Krejci’s stick and turn the puck up ice. He joined Marleau on a two-on-one and provided enough of a decoy for Marleau to net the insurance goal and put the Leafs up 4-2.

Plekanec may have been the third wheel to Marner and Marleau, but Plekanec allowed for his linemates to have some extra space, something sorely missing in the first two games. The former Hab was praised by Marner following the game. “Plakanec is a hell of a player, he’s very good at shutting down the other team’s best player. He’s always above people and always above the puck and when he gets it in his hands he makes smart plays.”

The 5’11” pivot will have his hands full once again in game four. After taking 21 draws against the Bruins top center Patrice Bergeron, it’s expected he’ll see more of the same. Boston will no doubt adjust for game four, and it’s incumbent on the Leafs and Plakenec to continue shutting down the top line. Continuing to win defensive zone draws like Plakenec did in game three will be crucial.

The Maple Leafs take on the Boston Bruins on Thursday at 7pm EST.

Henrik & Daniel Sedin have been a staple in Vancouver for the last 17 years. After a combined 631 goals, 1475 assists, and 2106 points, the Sedin twins have announced the 2017-18 season will be their last in the NHL. Henrik & Daniel leave the Vancouver Canucks as their first and second highest scorers respectively in franchise history. The second and third overall picks in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft won back-to-back Art Ross Trophy’s and Henrik won the Hart for league MVP in 2009-10 (which it’s fair to say could have had both their names on it that year).

Whether or not one cheers for the Canucks, it’s impossible not to appreciate what these two brothers did for the sport and the city of Vancouver. We may never again see two players more in-sync than the Sedin’s. It’s unfortunate that they were never able to win the Stanley Cup, but that won’t change the fact that these two are Hall of Famer’s. We’ll look forward to Sedin night next season. Until then, it’s time to pontificate on what is next for these Canucks.

Vancouver has been the worst team in the NHL the last three years. No, that’s not an opinion.

2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 Total
Vancouver 31-38-13 75 points 30-43-9 69 points 30-40-9 69 points 91-121-31 213 points
Arizona 35-39-8 78 points 30-42-10 70 points 28-40-11 67 points 93-121-29 215 points
Buffalo 35-36-11 81 points 33-37-12 78 points 25-42-12 62 points 93-115-35 221 points

That’s pretty unbelievable for a team that has been trying to remain competitive while “re-tooling” rather than completely tearing everything down and starting from scratch. The possibility remains that GM Trevor Linden has intended for this all along, and the idea of being competitive during a rebuild was just lip service to a fan base not ready to watch their team tank. Plus, the Sedin’s were never going to willingly let this team fall off a cliff.

Perhaps in his evil genius plan, Linden allowed the Sedin’s to operate and sell the team, while behind the scenes management knew this team couldn’t make the playoffs or come anywhere close to it. We’ll just give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they knew what they were doing in order to tank properly.

Now that the Canucks have properly tanked, that leaves us with the off-season and moving on without the Sedin’s.

All of a sudden Vancouver has 21 million dollars in cap space, 14 of which is freed up with Daniel & Henrik’s contracts coming off the books. Several teams have 20+ million in cap space, but most of those teams have key pieces to re-sign. Good or bad, the Canucks could do just about anything in free agency. The question is what should they do?

First off, John Tavares isn’t coming to Vancouver so let’s just stop with that chatter now. Why would Tavares sign with the Canucks when they’re probably two to three years behind the New York Islanders in terms of development? It won’t happen. It’s silly to entertain the idea. Don’t go down that road.

Instead, it’s time the Canucks truly commit to a youth movement. Alex Edler will be a UFA at the end of the 2018-19 season. The draft is the perfect time to flip him for legitimate assets. Edler is a more valuable commodity than Travis Hamonic when he was dealt from the Islanders to the Flames at last year’s draft. It’s important that Canucks GM Jim Benning make the most of his most valuable veteran asset.

Teams coming off a disappointing playoff run, or missing entirely, would all consider Edler an upgrade to their top four. Jim Benning is supposed to be a scouting genius, so why not give him extra first round picks to show off his expertise?

The second player that should be moved is Sam Gagner. He’s one season removed from a 50 point season. It’s clear he just needs to be in the right role in order to succeed. Gagner has two years left on his contract with a $3.15 million dollar cap hit. Again, acquire more draft picks to let Benning go to work at this year’s draft.

The next step should be convincing Elias Pettersson to come play in North America for 2018-19. He’s already set the record for most points by a U20 player in the Swedish Elite League. His development will only be delayed by remaining in Europe. The hope would be that he can impress head coach Travis Green enough to keep him up with the Canucks. At worst, he’s sent down for some seasoning with the Utica Comets and he makes his way onto the pro roster later in the year.

The same goes for 2016 first round pick defenseman Olli Juolevi. Playing in North America, on the smaller ice surface, should be a priority. Worrying about burning one year of a player’s entry level deal is incredibly short-sighted in terms of development.

2018-19 cannot be another year where the Canucks go out and sign more Del Zotto’s, Vanek’s and Gagner’s. The patchwork is failing, the playoffs will not be in reach next year, so give the kids in the organization a chance to shine. Hope and excitement come from seeing the future develop before one’s very eyes. The Canucks finally have the chance to do that if they’ll just admit and commit to being in a rebuild.

On the verge of losing their team captain, face of the franchise, and first overall pick in 2009, not to mention likely missing the playoffs for the eighth time in 11 seasons, the New York Islanders appear to be a team in disarray. Their General Manager, Garth Snow, has been around for all eight disappointments. Only once have the Isles made it out of the first round since 1993. An organization that consistently takes one step forward, only to fall flat the following season. While the outcome of the 2017-18 season is all but decided, it would be easy for Islanders fans to go into the off-season dreading what may come. Despite a few unknowns, the Islanders organization could go from being a middling failure to a powerhouse.

NHL Entry Draft Lottery

Most would assume that signing John Tavares is the first step to creating a team to be reckoned with. This may be true, but certain chips falling the Islanders way could ultimately lead to Tavares re-signing with ease. During the 2017 Entry Draft, the Islanders sent defenseman Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a first round pick in 2018, a second round pick in 2018 and a conditional second round pick in 2019 (which if Calgary misses the playoffs this season will remain in 2019). This trade seemed a good one for both organizations at the time, but Calgary has free-fallen out of a playoff spot and Travis Hamonic hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the Flames. All this will lead to the New York Islanders having a shot at two lottery picks

Only four times since 1979, has a team had two picks in the top five.

  • 1988 – The Quebec Nordiques take Curtis Leschyshyn third overall and Daniel Dore with fifth overall pick.
  • 1997 – The New York Islanders select Roberto Luongo with the fourth pick and Eric Brewer with the fifth.
  • 1999 – The Vancouver Canucks grab Daniel & Henrik Sedin with the second and third overall picks.
  • 2000 – The New York Islanders opt for first overall pick Rick DiPietro and fifth overall pick Raffi Torres.

Ironically, the Islanders also had three picks in the first ten selections in 1999 where they selected Tim Connolly fifth, Taylor Pyatt eighth and Branislav Mezei tenth. Count it up, that’s seven top ten picks in three drafts. That’s incredible. The only player of real value was Luongo, whom they ultimately traded to the Panthers for the opportunity to take Rick DiPietro. Perhaps Tim Connolly could be included on that list as he had a decent career but almost exclusively for the Buffalo Sabres.

In any case, one may look at the list above and say that if the Islanders were to get two high draft choices in the upcoming draft, there’s no guarantees and knowing the Islanders, they’ll probably miss on both. To look at it this way would be short sighted. The draft was not seen as important back in the late 1990’s as it is now, and teams have gotten much better at hitting on first round picks, especially top five selections. Garth Snow has at least shown competency in drafting after selecting Matthew Barzal with the 16th overall pick in 2015.

Odds the Islanders Win Draft Lottery

Admittedly, the odds are slim. Right now, due to where the Flames sit in the standings, there’s only a 2.7% chance of striking gold, and with enough points between them and the next crop of teams to assume they won’t fall lower. The Islanders pick, however, have a 5.4% chance of grabbing a lottery pick and could easily fall a couple spots to increase their odds. Essentially, the Islanders have about a 10% chance that they’ll have one pick in the top ten in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. At worst, these picks will likely be in the eighth to 12th range. Which still gives them a great opportunity to draft a couple impact players. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that one or both could make camp right away (although it’s likely they’d give them one to two years to ripen).

Even if the most likely scenario occurs, and not the dream situation, the Islanders will add some potential core pieces to their team. Adding to an already strong core of Matthew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and assuming he remains an Islander, John Tavares.

Re-signing John Tavares

Given what is on the table for the Islanders at the Entry Draft, and based on his many comments about wanting to stay with the Isles, John Tavares will re-sign with the Isles. To hold out this long, to be a trooper during all these years, and to watch the perfect storm that has culminated in having Barzal center the second forward line, it would be unwise for Tavares to bail now. Even with a 10+ million dollar cap hit for Tavares, and assuming the cap goes up to around 78 million, the Isles will have over 20 million in cap space to improve their team in the off-season.

Garth Snow may not have been the ideal candidate for GM back in 2006 when he took over. He has made mistakes, but the experience of failure may be paying off. The New York Islanders organization is poised to become one of the next powerhouses in the NHL if they can keep their house in order. It appears that John Tavares will remain with the organization for the long haul, and that his patience paid off.

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History Lesson

There once was a time when a toe could make or break a game in the National Hockey League. One sliver of a skate in the crease could result in a no-goal call. One inconsequential fragment of a skater’s body part in the blue paint could eliminate a goal. The no-goal due to a skate in the crease was first enacted in the NHL for the 1991-92 season along with an increase in the size and shape of the crease. In conjunction with these changes, the NHL introduced video replay for the first time. These three changes would create controversy throughout the 1990’s, and everything culminated in 1999 during game six of the Stanley Cup Finals where the Dallas Stars took a 3-2 series lead into Buffalo against the Sabres.

Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek, winner of the two previous NHL MVP awards in 1997 and 1998, had been unbelievable for the seventh seeded Sabres in the 1999 playoffs thus far, and needed another spectacular start to force a game seven back in Dallas. The game was tied at one through 60 minutes of play. The game pushed on into overtime, double overtime and finally triple OT. Nearing the end of the third overtime period, with just over five minutes of play remaining, Mike Modano finds Jere Lehtinen who takes a shot from the left circle, Hasek makes the save but the puck is loose, Mike Modano comes in to wack at it but the puck magically finds it’s way onto Brett Hull’s stick and he puts it home for the Stanley Cup winning goal! But wait, it appears that Hull’s foot was in the crease. The rule stated that one could be in the create only after the puck had already been there first. Despite that initially happening, the puck left the crease but Hull’s foot did not, and then he scores. Commissioner Gary Bettman said that because he kept possession the goal was allowed to count, but many disagreed, including Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. According to the rule book, and how it had been called since 1991, the goal should not have counted. But who wants to call back a Stanley Cup winning goal in triple overtime? After much controversy, the NHL redacted the “toe-in-the-crease” rule and the system we have today was created.

At the time, an overwhelming majority agreed with the elimination of such a strict rule on goaltender interference. A toe in the crease that has nothing to do with the play shouldn’t be overturned. It was incredibly frustrating to always have to wonder if a scramble in front of the net will result in a no-goal call because of an errant skate blade. Since 1999, the game has changed dramatically. Along with the elimination of the foot-in-the-crease rule, the crease itself shrunk from it’s previous half moon shape that extended  to what we know today. After 2005, the two-line pass became legal, and the game became faster than ever.

Solutions

With so many changes to the game’s speed and players’ skill , along with the ever shrinking size of goaltender’s equipment and the addition of carbon fiber sticks (as opposed to wooden ones), and the frustration that has grown due to very inconsistent calling on goaltender interference, it’s time for the NHL to revisit a more strict crease rule. There are certainly pros and cons, but here are several reasons why reenacting a more strict rule is viable.

  1. The crease is smaller than it was in the 1990’s, making it less likely for a player to find themselves in the crease but so far out of the play it makes no difference.
  2. The type of hacking and shoving that used to be synonymous with standing in front of the net have all but faded. Therefore, it’s much easier to get positioning in front of the net, so players can stand where they need to without having to worry about a cross-check to the back. This fact means its less likely for the back of a player’s skates to end up in the crease.
  3. The current rule allows for too much subjectivity. Even with the league shifting to allow replay officials to make the call on goaltender interference, there will still be subjective calls with different rulings. Even the same person, from game-to-game could potentially make different calls on similar plays. You can find the current ruling here on page 162-166. The foot-in-the-crease rule would eliminate almost all subjectivity on the matter.
  4. The size of the crease could be adjusted to be shortened to only 4 feet from the net, eliminating the circular portion and have it stop at the posts whereas currently it goes one foot beyond. Goalies would still be able to roam outside the crease, and if they’re physically impeded it can still result in a no-goal call, but it would eliminate some of the fringe “toe-in-the-crease” fiascoes.
  5. The NHL could adopt IIHF Rule 184i, which says: “If an attacking skater establishes position in the goal crease, play will be stopped and the ensuing faceoff will take place at the nearest faceoff spot in the neutral zone.” However, the solution given in this article seems like a more balanced approach. Stopping the play during an offensive attack just because of positioning seems extreme. It doesn’t give the skater an opportunity to reset and establish legal positioning.

These five concepts create as objective of a goalie interference rule as one can create. Frustrations would still arise from such a rule, but the rule would be clear. Players and coaches could complain, but would ultimately understand since the rules are very apparent and obvious. The late Pat Burns, coach of the Boston Bruins at the time, was clearly upset after his Bruins had lost in double overtime of game three in the 1998 playoffs to the Washington Capitals because in the first overtime, his team had a goal called back due to a foot-in-the-crease that ultimately didn’t effect the play. “The rule is that, and that’s it. It’s no goal and I could sit here and moan about it for 15 or 20 minutes and it’s not going to change nothing,” said Burns.

Players, coaches and even fans would be more forgiving of a constant, consistent and objective rule with regards to goalie interference. Obviously, this is just a starting point. Language can be used to give referees and goal judges the ability to allow a goal if the the “toe-in-the-crease” had zero effect on the play. This does allow for some subjectivity but not nearly as much as is currently tolerated. The goaltender interference crisis will never be perfected but it will not be consistent until the NHL recognizes objectivity is king.

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