Wednesday, 16 January 2013

2012-2013 NHL season preview amongst Canadian Teams

 As the start of the 2012-2013 season was delayed thanks to a 113 day lockout, there will be a shortened 48 game season. Here is a look at how each Canadian team will do.

1)Vancouver Canucks
2)Edmonton Oilers
3)Ottawa Senators
4)Winnipeg Jets
5)Calgary Flames
6)Montreal Canadiens
7)Toronto Maple Leafs

1) Vancouver Canucks: The President Trophy winners are coming off another disappointing postseason as the surprising Los Angeles Kings beat them in five games. The core of the team largely remains in tact although Ryan Kesler will miss time due to him recovering and the signing of free agent d-man Jason Garrison. He provides them with a booming slapshot and can fit in beautifully for the departed Sami Salo. However the Canucks face one major question and it happens to be between the pipes. Will they go with the 2-man system again with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider or will Luongo be traded and Schneider become the starter?

2) Edmonton Oilers: These young Oilers got even better from this past offseason. With another first overall pick from the draft, they selected former Sarnia Sting sensation Nail Yakupov. To add to their already good defense corps, they signed highly touted prospect Justin Schultz. Add those guys with players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, new head coach Ralph Krueger's defense first approach along with veterans Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney and Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, the Edmonton Oilers finally have the right tools to finally make the playoffs after multiple years spent in hockey purgatory.

3) Ottawa Senators: The Sens were a huge surprise last season. Led by Defenseman Erik Karlsson, the ageless wonder Daniel Alfredsson, and rookie head Coach Paul Maclean, the Sens had a 41-31-10 record  which was good enough for 8th places. Even though they lost a thrilling series to the Rangers in seven games, they made intriguing acquisitions as Guilliaume Latendresse and Marc Methot now join the fold. Although Methot is a great stay-at-home defenseman, Latendresse is often injured but usually produces when healthy. Now the bad, they lost most of its size and grit as Zenon Konopka and Matt Carkner left leaving only one sole enforcer in Chris Neil and losing gritty forward Nick Foligno. All in all, the Sens need to jump to another quick start if they hope to have the same success as last season and surprise many people.

4) Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are coming off a successful season despite missing the playoffs. This is only because hockey returned to Winnipeg after a 15 year absense. The core is still the same with Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Evander Kane and Goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Expect to see bigger things in Mark Schiefele as he is now ready to play in the professional ranks and keep a close eye on Jacob Trouba as he played a hue role for the Americans in the World Junior Hockey Championships. It helps that the Jets added veteran forwards in Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky but what they need to do to make the playoffs is win games outside MTS Center as they had a 14-22-5 record on the road.

5) Calgary Flames: Changes happened once again in Cowtown after seeing the team miss the playoffs for the third straight year. Bob Hartley is now the new Head Coach replacing Brent Sutter. Hartley provides the team with lots of experience as he has a Stanley Cup ring. The Flames did not make that much noise this offseason as Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler signed as free agents. The only major loss the Flames saw was seeing Olli Jokinen depart to Winnipeg. The core still remains in tact with Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Mikka Kiprusoff, Alex Tanguay and Jay Bouwmeester. The major question that faces Hartley the most is if he wants his team to make the playoffs, he needs not only great play from his core, but others to step it up such as Mikael Backlund, Anton Babchuk, Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak.

6) Montreal Canadiens: The Habs have nowhere to go except to go up. After finishing last in the Eastern Conference, major changes happened. First they hired Marc Bergevin to be the new GM replacing Pierre Gauthier. The second change made was the hiring of a familiar face as Michel Therrien does his second tour of duty as Head Coach. On the player front, Bergevin addressed the grit issue by signing players like Colby Armstrong, Brandon Prust and Francis Bouillon. He also made a great draft choice by selecting Sarnia Sting forward Alex Galchenyuk. The Canadiens still have most of last seasons team only this time with a much healthier Andrei Markov and Brian Gionta. If the Canadiens want to rebound and make the playoffs, they are going to once again heavily rely on Carey Price to get the job done.

7) Toronto Maple Leafs: What a second half disaster. After being in playoff contention for most of last season, the Leafs completely fell off the ladder in the beginning of February which led to Ron Wilson losing his job. Before GM Brian Burke was fired last week, he made another surprising deal. He traded Defenseman Luke Schenn to the Flyers for Forward James Van Riemsdyk in order to add size and scoring punch to his forward corps. The major questions that surrounds LeafsNation is if both Goaltenders James Reimer and Ben Scrivens can get the job done and if Coach Randy Carlyle can further implement his physical system which would help the Leafs end the longest current playoff drought in the NHL.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

First blog of 2013: It Comes As a Shock to Some but We Have to Look Back at his tenure as GM

   When Brian Burke resigned his post as GM of the Anaheim Ducks and became GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs in November 2008, there was lots of optimism in Leafsnation. Rightfully so as he had just come off winning the Stanley Cup with the Ducks back in 2007 and had great success with the Vancouver Canucks during a seven year span (1998-1999-2003-2004). Well after four in a half years and with a shortened season about to begin, Maple Leafs brass decided it was time to fire Burke and promoting assistant Dave Nonis as his replacement. Looking back at his time in Toronto, Burke often had mixed results.
   When Burke was introduced as the new GM back in November of 2008, he had made it clear that he wanted to build a talented physical team like how the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins are. Although he got someone who has been producing in Phil Kessel, he gave up two very high draft picks to a divisional rival (Boston Bruins) that ended up being Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. Seguin fits Kessel's profile but Hamilton is a strong 6'5 defensemen who could of fit in beautifully with the Leafs. As the months progressed he made a great trade acquiring Dion Phaneuf from Calgary and acquiring Goaltender J.S Giguere from the Ducks. The year after he made up for a mistake by trading another heavily invested D-man (Francois Beauchemin) back to the Ducks for Joffrey Lupul and defenseman Jake Gardiner. Lupul has been producing greatly will Kessel while Gardiner has developed into a smooth skating puck handling D-men. So had Hamilton been drafted with the Leafs instead of the Bruins, they would of had a good top four defense corps that would of had Phaneuf, Gardiner, John-Michael Liles, and Hamilton.
   Now the bad, as he had his vision to build a physical team, he invested lots of cash toward D-men Mike Komisarek. He signed him to a five year deal with a salary cap hit of 4.5 million per year. He also had the size but Komisarek has not been living up to that standard as injuries and poor play have plagued him during his time in Toronto. Another questionable decision that Burke made during his tenure was coaching issue. Burke and former coach Ron Wilson have a close relationship dating back to their days in college. The reason why I put this decision as being questionable because during the 2011-2012 season, the Leafs were doing well which led to Wilson sign an extension on Christmas Day 2011. After entering a slump in the beginning of February that they could not get out of, Wilson was sacked and replaced by Randy Carlyle in March 2012. Although teams have fired coaches that late in the year, would it make more sense to fire Wilson had the team been eliminated from postseason contention or at the end of the year?
   All in all, although Burke had great success in his days with the Canucks and the Ducks, his time in Toronto did not reflect the success he had in the past. It is simply because the Leafs failed to make the playoffs during his time, he was not able to acquire a big first line center, and the result of the Kessel trade long term based on the talent they would of had. All in all, most people in the sports world can make the final conclusion that Brian Burke had mixed results during his time in Toronto.