Enough is Enough

I haven’t posted in a while. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy, or maybe it’s sheer apathy. Either way, the end result is the same…..or rather, there is no result. Just empty space. Kind of like Winnipeg’s list of achievements in the six years between this team’s relocation and where we are now. Oh sure, the Jets made the playoffs once, but to what avail? A first-round sweep where everyone got a pat on the back for participation? Come on, man. That team was great and the players deserved the chance to experience the post-season, especially considering how long some of Winnipeg’s best have gone without tasting the playoffs. A sweep was bad, but it was the start of something greater, a real chance for this team to do what it hadn’t done since the Atlanta days; be competitive.

And then it all went away. A year and a half later and the Jets are poised for yet another top-10 pick, despite drafting Patrik Laine second overall just a scant few months ago. He was hailed as the franchise savior, and he absolutely should be. The injury a couple of weeks ago knocked him out of commission, but let’s be honest; this team was spinning tires for a lot longer than that. We’re in year six of the Era of Chevy and Winnipeg is no closer to a Stanley Cup. It has the talent at forward and in net, so why are the Jets still Jertsing?


The Coaching Staff

Despite my better judgement, I will always have a soft spot for Paul Maurice. What he did for this franchise after Claude Noel was fired was nothing short of transcendent. Winnipeg began to play good, borderline elite hockey and amassed one of the franchise’s deepest rosters ever. The team that made the playoffs benefited from a slight lack of competition in the West, but make no mistake; the 2014-15 Jets were an awesome team.

That love affair is over, and it’s time for management to wake up and realize the Jets are grounded without serious changes. The blue-chip goalie prospect phenom known as Connor Hellebuyck is looking rather mortal these days, and it ain’t because he lacks talent. Jets goalie coach Wade Flaherty, who has very little actual NHL goaltending experience, is allowing some very bad habits to settle in the young netminder’s mechanics. Winnipeg’s special teams aren’t any better, and when factoring in one of the worst high-danger save percentages in the league, leaves the Jets penalty kill well below 80%. The power-play is faring slightly better, but relative gains only count in moral victories.

This current Jets team does a good job of suppressing scoring chances, but when the offensive side of the game is nonexistent, it’s only delaying the inevitable. Maurice and the coaching staff have failed to adapt time and again. As the blowout losses continue to mount, it feels more and more like the staff is losing the room. A 15-minute players-only meeting here, a catatonic meltdown on the bench from Maurice there….who’s really listening anymore? Maybe Burmistrov lucked out and dodged a bullet by getting sent to Arizona (the second-worst team in the NHL). I am grateful for how Maurice showed what this team could be, but it’s time for Chevy and Chipman to clean house.


The Management Team

Isn’t it ironic that Chevy and Chipman are equally responsible for letting all of this happen? Winnipeg, which was heralded as among the best of the Canadian franchises just a few seasons ago, will be one of the only Canadian teams to miss the playoffs this year. Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Montreal, and Vancouver all have much better shots at a playoff spot. We used to make fun of Leafs and Oilers fans for being delusional about the directions of their respective teams. Now look at us, clinging to the vain hopes of another lottery pick.

I don’t hate the job Chevy has done, but it’s just average. There were countless opportunities to sack and burn this roster early on for a stable of high-end prospects, but the Jets have piddled around .500 for most of the past six years. If the goal was to make the playoffs consistently, why leave it in the hands of Pavelec? Why not get aggressive in the trade market? Why allow this team to languish and waste the years of its top stars? Andrew Ladd gave his career, and possibly his health, to Winnipeg. All he got in exchange was 4th line minutes with the Islanders and the bitter taste of a sweep in the playoffs. He and the other players deserve better than this.


The Fans

Fans are supposed to support the team, but there’s plenty of room to level criticism when it’s needed. Jets fans have got to stop worrying about Chipman selling this team. If Winnipeg doesn’t start turning out results in the post-season soon, the Jets will be just as irrelevant and forgotten. We’ve got to hold management accountable and quit making excuses for why Chevy needs more time. Six years is enough to make a solid Atlanta roster shine, or to scrap and start the rebuild from day one. Six years to make the playoffs once and get swept, only to need more lottery picks, is unacceptable. It’s incredible that the Jets believe calling up Ondrej friggin’ Pavelec will get them to the playoffs, yet here we are. Even if it were to happen, the Jets would get badly outclassed by teams like the Sharks or the Wild.

Enough is enough. The Jets aren’t getting younger, and neither are we. Demand better with your words and wallets, because the people at the top have settled for just existing.

10/13/16: The Canes and the Jets

People.

There is hockey today, on this blessed date of October 12, 2016. Seriously. And it actually counts for the season standings! Unfortunately, Winnipeg is not one of those teams vying for meaningful points this evening. That said, we get to enjoy the spoils of the youngest, deepest LW unit tomorrow night against the Carolina Hurricanes. I guess the best things come to those who wait.


The Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes are the slumbering beast of the Metro division. While their record does not show a winning roster, Carolina has the puck-possessing war-machine that is primed to thrive in the new era of the NHL. The off-season saw a number of significant additions to the goal-deprived line-up, including Teuvo Teravainen, Lee Stempniak (winces internally), and Martin Frk. Sebastian Aho should also be primed for an NHL debut soon, which is welcome news for those who adore the Finnish phenom.

This Carolina squad has quietly had one of the better off-seasons of any team in the NHL. The Cam Ward extension was a swing and a miss, but all of the other roster acquisitions should help the upstart Canes to potentially compete for a wild card spot. While it’s too early for Carolina to make a serious playoff push, this is a team that has the ingredients for a successful showcase season.

Tomorrow night’s line-up will include such mainstays as Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. These guys have been among Carolina’s most productive players and are consistently under-appreciated by NHL fans. Victor Rask has also made the opening night roster. He’s a personal favorite of mine, and I love the positive impact he brings to puck possession.

On defense, the only new name is Roland McKeown. Can’t say I’m familiar with him at all. Jakub Nakladal is not currently with the team due to some visa issues, but should be rejoining the squad soon enough. For a bargain-bin contract at $600K, Nakladal is the perfect RHD for the Canes to add defensive depth.

The Winnipeg Jets

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions for Jets fans. The peaks and valleys of being a Winnipeg fan are numerous, but we’ve reached yet another peak. Hellebuyck and Hutchinson will likely compose a 1A/1B starting tandem, which gives the Jets a much better chance at long-term success. The stacked LW corps also gives Winnipeg some serious offensive punch.

The youthful additions of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor should provide needed goal-scoring depth, but I wouldn’t expect rapid early returns. The Jets are still growing despite the bevy of talented veterans. Thursday’s game should be a good indicator of how the offense is developing. The pre-season showing was not encouraging, but struggles were anticipated. Let’s hope the forwards have sorted some of the defensive zone issues out.

On the blueline, the noted absence of Jacob Trouba still lingers. The longer he goes without a contract, the lower Winnipeg’s chances of a wild card spot become. I don’t mean to over-emphasize the importance of one player, but Trouba’s impact on the Jets defense is tremendous. We need him, and frankly, he needs us.

I’m not expecting too much from Laine or Connor. The Canes are a very good team, and both players are still adapting to playing in the pro leagues. That said, I feel fairly confident in a Jets win.


Score Prediction: 4-2 Jets

Scheifele, Ehlers, Little, and Burmistrov connect for the Jets. Staal and Rask score for Carolina. Hellebuyck makes 26 stops on the night.

Long Live the Thrashers

At long last, the final remnants of the crappiest Atlanta Thrashers holdovers has been sent down to the minors. The era of Ondrej Pavelec, for now, is over. Enter Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson to assume the goal-tending duties. I cannot stress how monumental this roster move is. It reflects a possible shift in team philosophy; that assembling a winning roster does not mean loyalty to veterans is guaranteed. It’s time for the kids to run the show.


Other Re-Assignments

Peluso, Strait, Dano, Petan, Copp, and Melchiori were also sent down to the Moose. I’m pleased with most of that lot being returned to the minors, save for Dano and Petan. Both are top-6 forwards at the NHL level and warrant additional ice-time, but they’ll easily get top-9 deployments with the Moose. Copp still has a lot of potential as a skilled bottom-6 center. More ice-time in the Moose’s top-6 and power-play units should continue to hone his skill-set.

I must admit that I didn’t expect Strait to be waived. Cheveldayoff reportedly sought Brian’s services for 3 years. That’s pretty depressing when you consider just how bad Brian Strait is, but getting waived to the Moose instantly improves the Jets’ roster. This, combined with all of the other waiver moves, makes me optimistic for Winnipeg’s upcoming season.

My Idealized Line-Up Scenario

Jake, if you’re reading this, please re-sign. We need you in our lives, and in this line-up.

Anywho, I have an idealized Jets roster in my head based on the current selection of available players. Here it is:

Forwards

Ehlers-Scheifele-Wheeler

Connor-Little-Armia

Laine-Perreault-Stafford

Tanev-Burmistrov-Matthias

Defense

Morrissey-Byfuglien

Enstrom-Myers

Chiarot-Postma

Goalies

Hellebuyck-Hutchinson


Today’s developments are, for once, exciting. I have a lot more optimism about the Jets’ season now that some key roster moves have been made. A Trouba deal would solidify the potential for a wild card appearance. At the very least, Winnipeg looks like it’ll be a genuine contender without being weighed down by some of the worst Thrashers players.

Senators-Jets Pre-Season Recap

You probably came here thinking I was going to recap tonight’s pre-season game between the Senators and the Jets. I regret to say that won’t be the case. There was a game, and it wasn’t pretty, but the Jets won 4-2. Woot woot, power-play goals galore! What this post will be, however, is a Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor appreciation thread, because hot diggity are those kids good!


Nikolaj Ehlers: The Great Dane

I can’t praise Ehlers enough. Tonight, he was once again the dominant winger the Jets drafted him to be. On a beautiful backdoor pass to Mark Scheifele, Ehlers notched his first point of the night. Getting an assist, however, just wasn’t enough. The guy was flying all around the ice, drawing penalties left and right as the half-cocked Sens line-up attempted to contain him. Notice I said “attempted to contain.”

The assist was eventually followed up by an empty-net goal that was awarded after Ehlers was hauled down on a breakaway. Nikolaj’s speed wreaked havoc in Ottawa’s defensive zone, leading to numerous scoring chances and crisp offensive zone pressure throughout most of the game. Sure, he “only” scored an empty-netter, but his strong puck-play and possession-driving zone transitions only served to reinforce why he’s playing alongside Scheifele and Wheeler.

How is he going to be the third-best winger on the team in a few years? Winnipeg has such an embarrassment of riches on the left side, it’s legitimately unfair. For a team that’s finished in the middle of the pack for most of its tenure, the Jets sure are loaded at forward. Now would be the ideal time to trade Myers and lock-up Trouba…

Kyle Connor: All-American Hero

Boston passed up on this up-and-coming rookie phenom for reasons unbeknownst to sane and rational people. Kyle Connor is increasingly looking like a bonafide offensive stud. For what it’s worth, pre-season hockey is usually complete drivel. The Sens only served to reinforce this notion by icing a roster of bottom-6 forwards and defenseman, but Connor has continually carved up the opposition since his college and junior days.

Tonight, he had himself a glorious short-side snipe that pinged off the back of Andrew Hammond’s mask and into the net. It was Connor’s third goal of the pre-season and yet another reminder that he needs to be in the regular season line-up. Paired with someone like Perreault or Little, Connor has the potential to torch opposing netminders with his solid edge-work, gifted release, and smart shot selection.

Connor’s looked most at home on Winnipeg’s improved power-play, which should be enough to open a roster spot for him. I know Laine was the hyped prospect (and still is), but Kyle’s excellence and talent shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s earned a permanent spot on this team, and barring anything significant, should make the cut.


The Goats: Definitely Not The Greatest of All Time

Brian Strait: ……yeah. I really don’t need to say more. He’s bad.

Kevin Czuczman: I’m not seeing much in the way of impressive performances from Kevin. He looks like an AHL defender, which is fine because the Moose could definitely use him. The sample size is small, but it’d probably be best if he gets a minor league demotion for the time being.

Ben Chiarot: Yikes, yikes, and even more yikes. Chiapet did not have a good performance tonight and was bailed out a number of times by his teammates. The one time he wasn’t led to a goal against. The Jets really need some left-handed help, sooner rather than later. Hopefully, Morrissey makes the cut.

Wild-Jets Pre-Season Recap

I’m not Canadian, so watching the final match between Team Canada and Team Europe of the World Cup of Hockey came second to watching the Wild-Jets pre-season game. In truth, both games were about as exciting as watching quicksand for most of the earlier periods. The Jets, in particular, struggled to generate early scoring chances against the Wild, netting 2 or so shots against a no-name Minnesota Wild line-up.


The First Period

Uh, it was…..not good. Winnipeg looked like last year’s Moose squad against a Wild team lacking any starters of note. When the Jets get out-shot 11-2, you know things are dire. The only good thing about this period was that it ended 0-0. Sadly, it didn’t end before Chris Thorburn managed to take a late crosschecking penalty. Why, again, is he in the line-up? Who knows!

The Second Period

Period 2 started off with the Wild power-play catching the Jets napping.  Matt Dumba beat the usually-brilliant Connor Hellebuyck, putting the Wild up 1-0. The Jets responded with a power play goal of their own, with noted great player Mathieu Perreault notching the special teams marker. Think Winnipeg was done with goal-scoring? Guess again!

A Mark Stuart no-look pass to Kyle Connor put the Jets up 2-1. I wish it didn’t happen because the coaching staff now has an excuse to ice Stuart, but it is what it is. If Trouba wasn’t committed to leaving before, he sure is now! The lead would prove to be all Winnipeg needed as Minnesota mustered little additional offense against the Jets. Hellebuyck snuffed out the Wild’s best chances, keeping the score in the Jets’ favor.

Unfortunately, not everything on-ice was kind to the MTS faithful. Perreault was decked by some dude named Kurtis Gabriel. Matty went down in a heap and struggled to put weight on his right leg. Perreault has been cursed by lower body injuries for what seems like an eternity. Let’s hope the damage isn’t too severe. The guy is arguably my favorite Jet, and Winnipeg needs him at 5v5 and on the power play.

The Third Period

Nikolaj Ehlers continued the Jets offensive rush with a gorgeous wrap-around goal five minutes in to period 3. The Great Dane showcased his unbelievable speed, blowing past the Minnesota defense for a highlight reel goal. Ehlers was all over the Wild tonight, putting a bevy of shots on net and drawing the Wild’s defensive unit all over the DZ.

In Josh Morrissey’s debut alongside Tyler Myers, the young blueliner was one of the only Jets defenders who could effectively carry the puck. Sadly for him, he took a delay-of-game penalty midway through the period. Drew Stafford caught the Wild early in the power play and notched a beauty of a short-handed goal. Naturally, none of the refs saw it and the lack of video review in pre-season meant the Jets got stuck with the 3-1 lead.

The Jets power play got more ice-time after Kurtis Gabriel boarded Ehlers. Like Perreault, Nik was slow to get up. Luckily, Ehlers’ trip to the medical room was short-lived and he continued to harass the Wild for the rest of the game. Perreault, however, did not return for the third.

The earlier missed goal must have pissed the Jets off, because they notched the fourth tally on a Czuczman-to-Copp deflection. Darcy Kuemper never had a chance as the puck bounded into the twine, putting Winnipeg up 4-1. That was the last goal to be had as Jets rallied to a 4-1 victory over their hated division rivals.


Player Stock Watch: Rising

Brandon Tanev: This guy was a genuine firecracker for the Jets. He impressed the coaching staff and fans alike in Winnipeg’s game against the Flames. Tanev’s speedy, tenacious play was back for round 2. I’d be curious to know how many scoring chances around the net he garnered, but he could be a very intriguing fourth line option over the current selection of wingers.

Kyle Connor: Patrik Laine may have stolen Connor’s thunder, but Kyle was everywhere against the Wild. He scored a great goal in his debut with the Jets and looked at-home with Dano and the other young guns. You wouldn’t know Connor wasn’t an NHL regular from tonight’s performance. It might have been against inferior competition, but it’s a positive trend all the same. We’ll see how he fares against the Oilers in Friday’s match-up.

Nikolaj Ehlers: It’s no secret that I love Ehlers, and tonight continued to demonstrate why he was a first round pick. Nik ran roughshod over Minnesota’s blueline, throwing all manner of shots and shot attempts towards the net. He should continue to develop his offensive game in his sophomore season.


Player Stock Watch: Falling

Brian Strait: Absolute disaster. Flaming train-wreck. Mid-air collision. However you want to describe Strait’s performance, it was terrifyingly bad. He and Czuczman continually struggled to clear the puck out of the DZ and….yeah. My eyes were bleeding anytime Strait was on the ice. I’m not going to harp on him anymore because this is exactly what we all expected. Even still, it was impressively awful.

Kevin Czuczman: Aside from Czuczman’s assist on the late goal, there wasn’t much to love about his game. Playing alongside Strait did Kevin no favors, but it was still troubling to see how badly he struggled. That said, I’d like to see what Czuczman does away from the Skating Disaster. He needs a more thorough look than he’s been given, but it likely won’t happen during the pre-season.

 

 

Trouba Troopas

Being a Winnipeg Jets fan is the closest thing to an instant drama button there is in hockey. Whether its tracksuits being thrown in showers or a burgeoning star of a young defenseman holding out from training camp, the fun never ends. I’m going to be blunt; the situation with Jacob Trouba is pretty bad, and this one falls on Chevy. Somewhere along the way, the contract negotiations nose-dived into oblivion and never recovered. With the aftermath of the blast, what’s left to salvage of the situation?

The “Trade Trouba” Scenario

Most Jets fans are in Camp A, which is trading Trouba away. A lot of them don’t seem to realize that Trouba is the best blueliner on the team, and that losing him will have catastrophic consequences for the team going down the road. All that said, it’s clear Jets fans have made Jake (from State Farm) their new villain. Public pressure is mounting for a trade, and it seems as though both sides of the negotiations have been trying to work on such a scenario since May.

There are very few teams that can afford to acquire Trouba’s rights. Boston and Edmonton are both in need of a top-pairing young defenseman, but only the Oilers possess the prospects and players to make a deal. New Jersey is in the same boat with Boston; needy, but deprived of anything of value to trade. The Hall-for-Larsson deal (I still laugh about it) set the market for Pete Chiarelli’s prices for top-4 blueliners, so Trouba is going to come at a premium. The package I personally like is some combination of Nugent-Hopkins and Davidson or Nurse.

Before you lose your composure and tell me Nurse is terrible, I know. A number of NHL GMs, however, don’t agree with that assessment. While they don’t seem to like him as much as Oilers fans, there’s opportunity here. If Chevy can work out a 3-way trade, he could stand to come away with immediate help for the LHD corps, good prospects, or useful picks. Any combination of those would be a win in this situation. The important thing is for management to make value where others see none. That’s how you exploit market inefficiencies, and the NHL is full of these opportunities.

A Nugent-Hopkins/Davidson package is a lot more straight-forward. Davidson is likely a solid bottom-4 defenseman for the left side. He’d easily slot in over someone like Chiarot, but probably wouldn’t jump over Enstrom. That would leave the last space for Morrissey, which should be granted without hesitation over Mark Stuart or Brian Strait. Whether the coaching staff agrees with me is a question for another day.

As you might have guessed, my primary target here is Nugent-Hopkins. Oilers fans are adamant that he’s not getting traded, but here’s the rub; Edmonton is relatively rich at centre, but not at defense. Something’s gotta give, and a $6 million 3rd-line centre is quite pricey to be getting fewer minutes. Draisaitl is ready for 2nd line duty now, not in the future. That makes Nugent-Hopkins a slightly more expendable asset. To be clear, he’s a great player that deserves top-6 minutes. Edmonton, however, would make better use of his cap space with a skilled young defenseman (hello Jacob Trouba).

Outside of Edmonton, the only other team with the assets to make this deal happen is Toronto. The Leafs have a bevy of talented forward prospects to surrender. The crappy thing for them is that Winnipeg wants a quality LHD, and that’s not happening in a trade with Toronto. Arizona has Ekman-Larsson, but they’d be nuts to move him for Trouba. Oliver is a proven franchise talent under contract, and trading him for the rights to negotiate with Trouba is completely unrealistic.

The “Keep Trouba” Scenario

Camp B is a lot harder to figure out. Many have compared this to the Drouin situation in Tampa, but Drouin was under contract. Trouba is not, and that makes the situation a lot more complicated. Any team that wants to acquire him is only trading for his rights and the chance to negotiate a contract. Letting Trouba sit for some time really doesn’t help either side. The Jets need Jacob in the line-up, now and in the future. Jacob needs the Jets to get continued ice-time.

My happiest scenario is that Winnipeg hammers out a deal with Trouba and moves Myers. This will open up a top-4 spot on the right side and drop Trouba’s anchor of a partner. It also gets Myers on to better things. While Tyler was an important part of the 2015 playoff push, he’s since regressed to Buffalo-era defensive metrics. The Jets can’t afford  to have him struggle again, especially if he’s paired with someone like Chiarot.

The dream scenario is just that; a beautiful dream that’s increasingly unlikely. The longer Trouba sits, the higher his chances of getting moved. I would hate to see Jake go as the Jets have no immediate replacements for him. Winnipeg would also be losing a defenseman formerly considered a cornerstone piece of the franchise. That reflects poorly on management’s handling of the prospect pipeline, and the Jets have very little operating capital to attract talent.

The Bottom Line

This whole situation sucks. Secretly, we all knew it would probably come to this. The radio silence from Cheveldayoff and the rest of management was hardly reassuring. Trouba is a top-pairing talent, and he knows it. While I think he’s made a mess of his situation by going public, he’s certainly not the only one at fault. Winnipeg’s management needs to find a way to keep Trouba, and they haven’t made any indication of doing so. You have to wonder what the newest prospects think of this. Do they see a team ready for future playoff contention, or do they see a talented crop of players being mishandled by a cagey management team?

The next few weeks are going to be critical. The Jets love to make things interesting, regardless of the risks involved. The good news is that Cheveldayoff has done a good job of getting value out of his trades. The package acquired for Kane has proven to be quite valuable, and the trade deadline haul for Ladd was great. If the Jets want to keep Trouba on the team, the situation becomes a lot murkier. I have little hope of a settlement to be reached this late in the game. Even if the Jets manage to re-sign Trouba, Mathieu Perreault’s comments indicate there’s no love lost in the locker-room.

That sound you hear is me clenching. Trouba’s agent is going on-air today, and it won’t be pretty. Overhardt ruffles the feathers of every GM he’s come into contact with. That bodes ill for my hopes of a Trouba contract extension. I have no idea what the Jets are going to do, so I’m just going to try and relax before the season starts. Strap in folks, because this could be a very bumpy ride.

The Kids Are Still Alright

The World Cup of Hockey is good for a couple of things, but the biggest reason to watch has now been eliminated from the tournament. With a Russian victory over the Finnish squad, the electrifying Team North America is grounded. The bad news is that the World Cup of Hockey is a lot less exciting without the North American unit. The good news is that we still get to watch players like Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau with their respective NHL clubs. That has to be thrilling for Canadian hockey fans who’ve suffered endless misery for a very long time.

The Tournament Blues

Team North America has left me with one question in particular; why doesn’t the NHL do this more often? The World Cup of Hockey is entertaining, but I’d rather watch a tournament of teams comprised of varying types and age-groups of players. Maybe you have rosters comprised of veteran points producers, savvy play-makers, or teams of under-23 phenoms like Team North America. International play is great, but there are barely enough national teams to host a tournament in the first place. Team North America, which was a cobbled-together roster to fill a spot, ended up being the most exciting thing in the World Cup. Why not replace the boring All-Star Game with something like this instead?

Team Swept-SA

As an American, it feels weird to root for any team not named Team USA. And yet, that’s exactly what I did for this World Cup. I hated the coach, the roster selections, the coaching decisions, and the choice to make Kane a captain. I won’t get into all of these issues, but suffice it to say that Team USA was doomed to fail from the start. How else can you justify making John Tortorella the head coach if the expectation is to win the tournament?

Tortorella hasn’t accomplished anything of importance in a long time. Many will point to his 2004 Stanley Cup win as proof of pedigree, but the NHL is completely different now. His preference for shot-blocking and offense-deprived systems just doesn’t cut it. There’s a good reason the Canucks and Rangers have both fired him recently.

The most obvious flaw with the American hockey program is at the top level. Whoever put Dean Lombardi in charge of building the USA squad likely regrets the decision. Lombardi built a “Canadian-killer” out of guys who had no business being on Team USA. All due respect to Abdelkader, but he does not deserve top-6 minutes over guys like Phil Kessel (who wasn’t even on the team). Fans and coaches will harp on Kessel’s tweet, but his joke was spot on; Team USA is incapable of picking the right players to field a competent tournament roster.

One important thing to note is that a number of players chosen for the Team USA roster absolutely deserved to be there. Palmieri, Wheeler, and Byfuglien all needed to be on the ice for Team USA to have a chance at victory. Surprisingly, Byfuglien and Palmieri were benched early in the tournament. By the time Tortorella put the two in the line-up, it was too late to make a difference. Instead, Abdelkader and the Johnson brothers (not actually brothers) were slotted in to spots that belonged to better players.

Going forward, a lot is going to have to change about how Team USA is run. Favoring grit over skill in an international competition is inexcusable. Picking a head coach who agrees with that statement is even worse. I don’t need to go into why making Patrick Kane the alternate captain is a mistake either. All of this is fairly self-evident, so why couldn’t USA Hockey see it? Team USA was humiliated, and losing to the Czechs to secure a sweep out of the tournament only adds insult to injury.

World Cup Semi-Finals Previews

As you can tell, I’m not pleased with USA Hockey at all. The good news is that there are still four very good teams left in the World Cup of Hockey to root on! On Saturday, the Russians face the Canadians in what is sure to be a goal-scoring avalanche. Team Canada has limited scoring against to just a few goals this tournament, but Russia presents the biggest hurdle yet. A team featuring the likes of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Kucherov, and Tarasenko should frighten the competition. Russia’s defense, though lacking in star-power, has performed admirably well against very talented teams. There could be a surprise upset brewing in Toronto this weekend.

Sunday’s game will feature a battle between the veterans of Team Europe and the remarkably-talented Team Sweden. I’d be surprised if the Swedes fail to edge out Team Europe, but anything is possible. The coaching staff of Team Europe has gotten far more mileage out of its roster than was expected. After a poor pre-tournament showing, it’s nice to see the oldest squad advance into the final four. It’s a shame Team North America didn’t make the cut, but that’s a tale for a different day.

The Hostility of Hockey Analytics

I want to qualify this post with the notion that I am not, in any way, a hockey analytics expert. I don’t create content, and my statistical background is limited. That’s not to say I don’t understand or appreciate the significance/meaning of analytics within ice hockey. I merely want to suggest that, as an observer, I’m not a genesis of content.

The Stats vs. Non-Stats Crowd: A War of Some Against All

I’ve followed the hockey analytics community for about a year and a half, and Garret Hohl recently posted an article on Hockey Graphs about some things I’ve noticed; hostility and arrogance among several content creators within the community. The article suggests that some of this is justifiable, if misguided. As an outsider to analytics, I have to disagree. I’ve often struggled with the same feelings of arrogance and superiority. When critiquing the work of those who actively resist analytics, my mind often jumps to, “How is this not apparent to that person? The evidence is right there in front of you!”

The fault, however, lies with us who pretend that analytics is the be-all, end-all of interpreting and enjoying hockey. When I first studied hockey analytics, I felt empowered. Here was a relatively revolutionary way of understanding a sport I loved, one that spurned some conventional wisdom in favor of evidence-based methodologies. Most of my educational background was vastly in favor of the analytical approach, and I appreciated the great work the hockey analytics community put out.

As Garret has pointed out several times in the past, analytics shouldn’t be taken at face-value. It’s meant to be one tool in a decision-maker’s arsenal. The eye test has its uses, whether it’s determining a proper application of technique in-net or positioning on the ice. Analytics and observation are inherently tied together; one does not exist without the other. That distinction is important, especially when considering Garret’s bar-room discussion example.

Synthesizing an assessment of a hockey game and debating the merits of said assessment requires a holistic view. Arguing in favor of “just stats” or “just the eye test” does a disservice to the value of both methods. Using the bar-room debate scenario (albeit via Twitter), it feels like we’ve taken analytics for granted. I’m guilty of this too, especially when I bear down on a player with some of the great charts available. Sure, analytics provides some very useful insights into on-ice performance. The danger, however, is in assuming that analytics provides the only truth necessary to understand the game. It’s not fair of me or others to assume the superiority of stats to other forms of hockey analysis.

Unfortunately, a feeling of superiority continues to creep in to some of my conversations. I’ll be honest; a foundational understanding of hockey analytics can make one feel like an expert. In a number of cases, this is absolutely true. Hockey analytics is, after all, based on evidence collected in a relatively-scientific manner. The crux of the conflict is when those who support stats adopt a combative nature with those who do not.

The basic assumption, at least from my own experiences and observations, is that non-stats supporters are ignorant. At times, it feels like the stats community can view them as willfully stupid. That assessment might be unfair, but to outsiders examining the analytics community, that sort of pretentiousness has to be a turn-off. I don’t think it’s a consistently conscious feeling either. It’s a by-product of the age-old “educated vs. uneducated” conflict.

As ambassadors, content creators, or supporters of hockey analytics, we need to do be better than that. This is more than just seeking support and acceptance within the hockey community. It’s about treating each other with respect. It’s hypocritical to suggest everyone listen to us if we aren’t willing to listen ourselves. Listening to someone we don’t agree with can be the most challenging aspect, but failing to do so only breeds more conflict. Again, we have to do better and prove that stats is for the masses, not the few.

The Stats Crowd vs. Itself: A War of Some Against Some

The other troubling thing I’ve seen is how combative the stats crowd can be with its own members. Pioneering work in a new field is always a prickly endeavor, but it still surprises me to see the degree to which people dress up insults as “constructive feedback”. Plenty of criticism and debate is valid (and a good thing, I might add). There have been a number of times, however, where those who feel their work is the best continue to assert themselves upon others.

I understand that the young and exciting nature of hockey analytics is a prime breeding grounds for conflict. A number of content creators are competing to earn positions with hockey teams or gain notoriety for their research in the public space. That’s totally fine, and we should embrace that. Doing so by actively trying to tear down the valuable work of others, however, is unacceptable. Analytics relies on a diversity of interpretation and feedback, not baseless hostility.

I don’t want to make it sound like the analytics community is tearing itself apart. It isn’t. There are countless members who work collaboratively on some fantastic projects. It is, however, important to acknowledge that hockey analytics is an inherently-political endeavor. We should strive to support each other and actively improve the quality of research, not spend our time providing meaningless critiques that end in impasses.

Unjustifiable Arrogance: A War of All Against All

My final point is to bring all of this back to something Garret said in his post. He suggested that the arrogance and hostility of the analytics community is justifiable. From the article, it sounded like he meant justifiable when actively confronted with those who attack content creators. I’ll agree that it’s unfair to expect analytics community leaders to be perfect. We’re all human, and we all understand that every now and then, one of us will say something harsh. I’m in the same boat as everyone else.

That does not excuse or justify the attitudes that are often prevalent in this community. Analytics should be accessible and enjoyable by everyone. Instead, it often comes across as the domain of the elite. Maybe I’m baseless in my own critiques, but this is what outsiders see. I think we can do a heck of a lot better than that.

Team NA-Team EUR World Cup of Hockey Exhibition Recap

Let’s be honest: Team Europe never stood a chance against Team North America. It’s not that the multinational European roster isn’t good. If this were any other opponent, Team Europe might have had an opportunity for success. The team, however, drew Team North America, an absolute juggernaut of a roster. While the level of talent was a major mismatch for the team partially coached by Paul Maurice, both sides actually went a whole period without scoring. When the floodgates opened, however, Team North America buried Team Europe under an avalanche of goals.

The First Period: 0-0

From puck drop, it was clear that Team North America was the better unit. They quickly generated scoring chances and tested Jaroslav Halak early. The top-line unit for North America, consisting of Drouin, McDavid, and Scheifele, looked as good as you might expect. The Kopitar line admirably held its own, but Team Europe’s depth challenges in the bottom-half of the roster began to show as the period wore on.

All that said, the game remained scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Team Europe had Halak to thank for that, as the defense strained to contain the venerable opposing forward corps and offensively-gifted blueline unit. Neither team took any penalties, though both teams threw out several hard checks and drove hard towards the net.

The Second Period: 3-0 Team North America

You had to know it was only a matter of time before Team Europe cracked. On a tripping call by Luca Sbisa, Nate MacKinnon found twine with a beautiful power play goal. Less than 6 minutes later, goals by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Johnny Gaudreau gave North America a commanding 3-0 lead. Team Europe was in scramble mode after that, constantly chasing play and generally looking impotent against a deep, young defensive group. With Matt Murray in net, the challenge only grew for the European squad.

Two European power plays proved fruitless against the North American PK, which isn’t all that surprising. The composite continental team can field skilled PKers like Sean Couturier without sacrificing its top-line players. That mismatch in roster depth continued to plague Team Europe, keeping their offensive opportunities in check as North America surged up and down the ice. Could the European squad find a way to match North America in the third period?

The Third Period: 4-0 Team North America

Spoiler alert: Team Europe didn’t match North America at all. Kopitar and co. put forth a noble effort, but North America’s speedy transition game and loaded offensive line-up continued to carve the European squad. Mark Streit only made his team’s comeback harder when he hauled down MacKinnon, setting up a penalty shot. Against Halak, you can probably guess how that ended (a second goal for the Avs wunderkind). 4-0 North America and it was just about over.

The rest of the period was relatively uneventful. Trochek took a Streit stick to the face but survived. Team Europe also made a few offensive zone pushes but continued to come up empty. Murray answered every shot and cleanly controlled rebounds. His movements in the crease were a little rusty, but nothing got past him.

Jets Everywhere You Go

Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba made their debuts with Team North America. Both looked at home alongside the deepest roster in the tournament. Scheifele fit like a glove with McDavid and even hit a few posts. His release and accuracy should translate to goal-scoring at some point. At the very least, he has remarkable scoring machines on his line in Drouin and McDavid. Towards the end of the game, he was replaced by Saad and bumped down. That’s a downgrade, but MacLellan will do as he wills.

Trouba was a bit more understated, but proved that he belonged on the team with good zone exits and good keeps along the blueline. Jacob showed a few offensive flashes, but wasn’t as active as I expected. He was definitely physical, though, and took the body against numerous opponents. Look for Trouba to break out offensively as the tournament progresses. He has great defensive partners in Gostisbehere and Jones. Hopefully, Trouba shows that offensive touch we’re usually accustomed to.

SWE-FIN World Cup of Hockey Exhibition Recap

Wow. The first game of the World Cup of Hockey just ended, and boy was it a doozy. It took Sweden and Finland several minutes into overtime to decide the victor. The game is only a preliminary exhibition match, but you wouldn’t have known it from the level of intensity displayed on the ice. Neither team generated much offense at even strength, but the end-to-end action was still thrilling. None of the players held back, unleashing various checks and displaying quite a bit of mid-scrum chippiness. If this is a sign of things to come, hockey fans should be glued to the TV for the remainder of the World Cup of Hockey.

The First Period: 0-0

The game initially began without a whole lot of action. Both teams are still adjusting to the recent line combinations and new coaching staff, and that unfamiliarity was evident throughout the game. Finland pressured early, but the silky Swedes responded during the second half with intense pressure in the offensive zone. Pekka Rinne was tested a number of times but didn’t break, keeping the score at 0-0.

I have a feeling discipline will be addressed in the post-game meeting with both teams. Sweden and Finland amassed 5 penalties in the first period, with Sweden incurring 3 of the lot. Markstrom and the Swedish PK snuffed out all of Finland’s attempts to score, but the coaching staff can’t be pleased with the prevalence of PIMs.

The Second Period: 1-1

The second period was much more eventful for the Swedes, and not in the good way. Oliver Ekman-Larsson appeared to score the early goal, but a ref waved it off. Marcus Kruger was ruled to have been in the paint, disallowing the goal by IIHF standards. As per NHL rules, there was no interference, but the call on the ice stood. Unlike the goals, the PIMs continued to mount as Sweden accrued 3 more infractions. Finland should have been called on a couple of penalties, but the refs largely let the team off easy.

The Finnish power play continued to be ineffective until Alex Barkov finally broke the tie and gave Finland the 1-0 lead. The lead, however, was short-lived as Sweden answered when Loui Eriksson banked the puck off of Rinne’s skate. That guy is going to have a field day alongside the Sedins twins. The game remained tied for the rest of the period, with Sweden continuing to apply pressure in the Finnish zone.

The Third Period: 2-2

Finland and Sweden exchanged several chances in the third period, but neither generated much in the way of 5v5 offense. Several missed opportunities and deflected passes helped keep the game tied. The 1-1 draw was not to last, as Carl Soderberg zipped a puck right through Rinne’s five-hole. Not pretty, but the go-ahead score got the job done.

Unfortunately for the Swedes, Mikael Granlund was hungry for some pre-tournament overtime action. A bad read by Stralman left Granlund with no option but to shoot the puck at a tight angle. The shot glanced off of Jhonas Enroth’s arm and into the net. Once again, tie game. The 2-2 score held until the end of the third period, necessitating 3-on-3 overtime.

Free Hockey: 3-2 Finland

Finland had no business winning this game. Sweden completely dominated the overtime period, with the Sedins twins and Erik Karlsson leading the charge. The Swedes cut around the net and nearly cashed in on several dangerous chances. Miraculously, the Finns managed to hold on for nearly three minutes. Eventually, the Swedish team made one mistake, leading to a 2-on-1 led by Olli Maatta and Alex Barkov. A Maatta OT goal isn’t how I pictured this game ending, but it got the job done. Finland took the opener 3-2.

The Patrik Laine Effect

You’re probably wondering how Patrik Laine did alongside Barkov and Jokinen. To be honest, there’s not much to write home about. Laine was given roughly 5 minutes of power play time, but the Finnish special teams unit didn’t open up enough shooting lanes for him to be effective. At 5v5, Patrik had 9 minutes of playtime. Sweden’s defenders largely kept him in check, forcing passes to linemates or offensive zone turnovers. You can’t fault Laine for that when he’s an inexperienced 18-year old going against the likes of Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson.

Laine did have a few nifty passes across the slot, all of which the receivers either janked or missed completely. As the young winger continues to get ice-time, he’ll likely find his spacing and start potting some goals. Laine’s first game, however, was relatively quiet. Against a superior Swedish squad, that’s no surprise. Look for him to earn some points this coming Saturday against the Swedes.