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.

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.