Di Stefano’s Beef: League Developments

Photo: The Canadian Press

Photo: The Canadian Press

We’re at the Christmas break of the NHL schedule and by golly has it been an entertaining one to say the least. As this season has unfolded, a plethora of unscheduled stories have came to be; which I will get to, but one thing stands out above the rest in my eyes has been the influx of undrafted/late round picks making their way to the NHL. As Canadiens’ fans, we don’t have to look very far at all to find someone with an unfamiliar road to the NHL. Look at Mike Condon who was never drafted by an NHL club, and played University hockey for Princeton of the ECAC, but on April 7, 2013 signed an amateur tryout contract with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL as a 22-year old. Then after 4 games with the Reign, signed a professional contract with the Houston Aeros of the AHL for the rest of the season. On May 8, 2013, after the season was over, Montreal inked the Needham, MA native to a 3-year entry level contract. Fast forward two years, and now you find Mike as the starting goalie for the Montreal Canadiens thanks to the injury to Carey Price.

Another close to home is my Bud, Holloway, Bud Holloway to be exact. Yes, that is his name. Drafted in the 3rd round (86th overall) in 2006 by the LA Kings, the 27-year old never played for them despite putting up great numbers for their AHL affiliate Manchester. In 2011, after never getting the call-up from the Kings, Bud signed with Skellefteå AIK of the Swedish Elite League where he really showed off his skills. Just this past summer, Marc Bergevin reached out to Holloway and signed him to a two-way NHL contract with the Habs. Then on November 27, 2015 Bud would finally play in his first NHL game for the Habs in New Jersey against the Devils, a mere 9 years after he was drafted. Now I’m not trying to be so closed-minded with bias to Montreal, but these two young kids are terrific stories of what perseverance actually looks like.

Just one other point that I think is a true diamond in the rough is Auston Matthews. It goes without saying that the Scottsdale, AZ native will make the NHL but to me, it’s all about the journey. I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I am to see an 18-year old kid decline full ride scholarships to University and invites to play in the CHL, only to pack his bags and go to Switzerland for a year to play hockey with men. I’ll shake this kid’s hand any day of the week. Auston loves hockey and truly believes in the process of improving as a hockey player, but also stretching yourself as a person. Going away to a foreign country as a teenager to play professional hockey with men is something us Western Worlders don’t think about very often but it’s so valuable. And sometimes I find myself naïve to the fact that Russians and other Europeans pack up and head to North America as teenagers all the time; so I suppose the part that impresses me the most is the fact that Matthews decided to do the exact opposite. By watching the way Matthews conducts himself in interviews, he already sounds and acts like a professional and his time in Switzerland can only help him grow more. By the way, Auston has 14 goals and 25 points in 22 games for Zurich.

Allow these stories to help influence you in a positive way. If you are reading this and you weren’t the top pick in the OHL draft in your major Bantam year, don’t give up on your dream of making the NHL one day. These 3 guys thought outside the box and it’s paid off in spades for them. The only thing separating you from your dreams is you. It’s your work ethic that will either hold you back or move you forward. Push yourself and don’t give up on your dreams.

Now a few other developments:

  • What a scene it is in Anaheim. Clearly Orange County is a “no fly zone” because those Ducks are really bad at hockey. Need I remind you that Anahiem was a mere one game away from the Stanley Cup finals last spring yet now find themselves last place in the Western Conference and 29th in the league. It’s not just goaltending or defense, it’s the 62 goals for (1.88 goals for/game) by the entire Ducks roster – good for last in the NHL. Raise your hand if you had the Ducks at the top of the West in your pre-season rankings… Guilty. And if you’re GM Bob Murray, where do you go from here? I’ll tell you one thing, that Kesler deal looked bad then, but there are no words to describe the state of it at this point. I feel for Getzlaf and Perry who are visibly frustrated and pissed off, it’ll suck to not see them in the playoffs this spring.
  • sidney-crosby

    Photo: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images

    Who is Sidney Crosby? Well he certainly is not the best hockey player in the world right now. Averaging .69 (22pts in 32 games) points per game this season is his second lowest since his rookie season back in 2005-06 when he averaged 1.26 (102pts in 81 games) per game. The lowest year for him was actually last year when he collected 84 points in 77 games (1.1 points/game). Folks, favoritism and bias aside, Sidney Crosby is on a sharp decline and has been for two years now. Even with the “C” on his sweater, the blame simply can’t fall on Crosby alone, as his club has no defense. There was much to be expected of this year’s Pittsburgh Penguins with the additions of Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino to their offensive arsenal, but with only 76 goals accredited to them in 33 games thus far (2.3 G/game), that’s good enough for 28th in the league. That is simply not good enough for a cast that boasts the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Perron, Hornqvist, Kunitz and Letang (injured). The brutal start to the season caused GM Jim Rutherford to fire his coach Mike Johnston and hired Mike Sullivan. Just four games with a new coach, and Pittsburgh still hasn’t shown much in terms of improvement. Is this the year we finally see the Penguins trade one of Crosby/Malkin?

  • Welcome to the show, Leon Draisaitl. The 20-year old from Cologne, Germany is taking the league by storm. Leon and Taylor Hall have formed an incredible dynamic duo out in Edmonton and it’s them two who have seemingly turned things around for the Oilers. It’s not Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle or Schultz, and respectfully no thanks to McDavid or Yakupov who both are out with injuries. And in goal, it’s not Cam Talbot who’s winning games, it’s 6’5″ former Islanders pick Anders Nilsson who has won the starters net for the Oilers. I believe the Oilers have in fact righted the ship with Chiarelli and McLellan at the helm, and with a script that not even Shakespeare could have written. I would also anticipate Edmonton to be sellers at the deadline regardless of seeding. They wont be moving Hall, Draisaitl, McDavid or Yakupov, which would leave Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle on the bubble. If I had to guess, I’d bet on RNH to be dealt. Edmonton has their centres set for years to come and to keep an offensive-minded small 3rd line centre with a $6 million dollar cap hit seems ludicrous.
  • Not sure who all said the Columbus Blue Jackets would win the Eastern conference but I doubt those people still have jobs. Apparently the thought was that Brandon Saad was some God that was Patrick Kane’s twin? Saad is a great young player but to expect him to reach the likes of his former teammate is quite a stretch. I’ll admit, I did not think the Blue Jackets would fire Todd Richards, and surely not start the season 0-7-0. Enter John Tortorella. It goes without saying, Torts deserved to be canned in Vancouver but I don’t believe he should have taken the job in the first place – The Sedins and Tortorella are water and oil, they don’t mix. Columbus and Tortorella is a match made in heaven in my opinion. However, can you find any logic in scratching Ryan Johansen? Neither can I. It’s important to note that this isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Johansen is lazy and/or out of shape. And not to compare the Sedins to Johansen, but Torts has never been a fan of the offensive skilled guys. Even back to his Ranger days, benching Brad Richards in the playoffs, or barely playing Derrick Brassard. Torts has his methods and he’s really turned the Blue Jackets around so it’s hard to argue but this can’t last much longer can it?
  • I guarantee you there are 29 other teams that would be interested in acquiring Ryan Johansen and about 29 teams who could realistically make an offer for the Vancouver BC native. A 23-year old 6’3″, 223lbs right shot centreman currently on year two of a 3-year, $12 million dollar contract is what every team dreams about having in their line up. As for asking price, Columbus could desperately use some help on defense, and even though Johansen isn’t currently in the lineup, I’m sure the Blue Jackets would like to have someone centre one of their top two lines.
  • Some teams who make sense offering on Johansen are: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Nashville and Carolina.
  • Tip of the cap to Patrick Kane and the streak that was. What a way to make your doubters forget about that crazy summer. Good to see him come out of that with such an impressive feat.
  • Not a leafs fan whatsoever, but it’s so good to see James Reimer playing so well for Toronto. As well as Garrett Sparks getting a shutout in his first NHL game. Sticking with Leaf goalies, after starting 12 games without recording a win, Jonathan Bernier shuts out his former team Los Angeles, 5-0, you cant make this stuff up! It’s not often the crease in Toronto is a place where talent lies.
  • One more on Toronto, going back to the journeyman stories, Leo Komarov (UNCLE LEO!) now in his 3rd year with the Leafs, has 15 goals in 33 games. Giving credit where credit is due, Mike Babcock for sure but Leo has always possessed the tools, it’s just great to see him throw it all together. Such a complete player, and at only 28 years old, the Narva Estonia native should be a Leaf for many years to come.
  • Don Maloney deserves endless applause for the tremendous work he did with the Coyotes in the last 12 months. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are one of the best duos of recent memory. Obviously the Sedins being drafted together was really neat, and the Getzlaf/ Perry duo winning a cup, and then the Crosby/Malkin and of course Kane and Toews winning 3 Cups together is superb. Something just seems different about the Domi/Duclair one because when they won Gold for team Canada in the World Juniors, Max was a Coyote prospect with no NHL experience and Duclair had already played some NHL games with the Rangers – the team who drafted him. Kind of neat to see how it all turned out and then to think of Dylan Strome joining them next year, boy oh boy, Arizona is well on their way.
  • The Stars surely aligned in Dallas because wow, that offense is lethal. I remember watching their season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins in October when Niemi pitched a 37-save shutout in a 3-0 win. Dallas only mustered 24 shots on goal, and neither Benn or Seguin registered a point. They lost their next game 6-3 to the Colorado Avalanche before winning their next 5 in a row. The offense wasn’t there right off the bat but it surely is now at the top on the NHL scoring 124 goals, a mere 19 ahead of the next closest Washington with 105. The difference this year compared to last year for the Stars is that they were only able to win games by outscoring their opponents, this year they can out defend and out-goaltend the opposition. And for a team that is scoring 3.5 goals per game, Dallas really could go all the way this year.
  • I’ve seen 3 separate articles posted on NHL.com – NOT JUST A BLOG SITE, this fall about how Erik Karlsson is the clear Norris Trophy favorite. I wasn’t aware you didn’t actually have to watch the player play the game and instead only read the points column. This is a travesty and it cannot continue. You cannot be brutal DEFENSIVELY and yet still win the top DEFENSEMAN award. Just like Alex Semin cannot win the Selke trophy for best defensive forward based on simple plus/minus ratings, Erik Karlsson cannot be awarded the Norris Trophy based on most points recorded by a defenseman. It’s insanity.
  • For me there are 3 clear Norris candidates emerging as this season unfolds. Drew Doughty, PK Subban and John Klingberg, but allow me to prove just how poor Karlsson compares to these 3. For such a “good” defender, Karlsson’s FF% (Fenwick For %) is 49.5% which is good enough for 90th in the league among defensemen with at least 300 minutes played. Well behind actual Norris candidates PK Subban in 22nd at 53.8 FF%, John Klingberg 25th at 53.7 FF%, and 6th place Drew Doughty at 57.6 FF%. John Klingberg leads these 4 Norris Candidates in GF% with 57.1 GF% (Goals for %) coming in at 36th place among defensemen with at least 300 minutes played, next is Subban in 38th with 56.7 GF%, followed by Doughty in 52nd place with 55.0 GF%, then there’s Karlsson in 71st place sporting a 52.9 GF%.
  • It’s plain and simple, Karlsson is the most offensively gifted defenseman in the league. There’s no denying that, that’s why he leads the league in scoring from the blueline. Collecting 38 points in 35 games is impressive, no doubt about it. But please, educate yourselves before announcing Karlsson the best defenseman in the league when he’s not even close to the best. Furthermore, he hardly ever plays the penalty kill. As a prerequisite to qualify for the Norris trophy, you need to be good at defense. Karlsson is not. End of story.
  • On the note of awards, allow me to set something else straight. Leading the league in goals or points does not automatically qualify you for the Hart trophy either. Thank you NHL for understanding and awarding Carey Price as he deserved.
  • Brent Burns is one of the coolest dudes in the league. The beard and missing teeth, and not to mention his personal collection of pet snakes, it’s a shame he’s not in a bigger hockey market. He’s going to be a big part of Team Canada at the World Cup next fall.
  • This season has been one huge for the good ol’ fashioned Hat-Trick. Jeff Skinner notched two hat-tricks earlier this month in the span of four days. This first trick came on Friday December 11th against the Anaheim Ducks in a 5-1 victory, and the second on Tuesday December 15th against Philadelphia in a 4-3 overtime loss. For a team where not much has gone their way, Skinner has been pulling his weight.
  • Lastly, the Habs are bad, really bad. When Michel Therrien’s flawed system goes down injured, his terrible coaching becomes exposed real fast. I am not about to throw Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski under the bus, however, they aren’t the reigning Hart, Vezina, Lester B. Pearson, and Jennings trophy winner. And I know the stats, how the Canadiens continue to outshoot their opponents but the offense has completely dried up. But if you’re starving for offense, there is absolutely no logical sense to be made when David Desharnais and Dale Weise are getting more minutes than Alex Galchenyuk and Sven Andrighetto. Therrien is going to die on the same hill he built upon Desharnais and Weise. Finally Jarred Tinordi got to play his first and second game of the season, and he didn’t look out of place at all. Solid, calm, composed with the puck, just caught with some unfortunate luck. Then to throw a wrench into things, Wayne Simmonds rumors are swirling that he is now a Hab, and that Beaulieu and Andrighetto are now Flyers. Andrighetto makes sense because he has continued to be a healthy scratch the last 4 games for no apparent reason which may suggest the Flyers have asked to keep him healthy. However, why wouldn’t they ask the same for Beaulieu? Perhaps Greg Pateryn is in the mix? Who knows, but with all of these developments, I suppose we will have to wait and see.
  • Enjoy your Hollidays with whatever you celebrate, Merry Christmas and Happy World Juniors! Let’s Go Canada!
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