Stocktons Russian trio helping fuel their success

The Stockton Heat lost 4-3 in overtime on Friday night, finishing off their schedule prior to the American Hockey League’s All-Star Break. The Heat head into the break third overall in the AHL by points percentage.

One of the things that has worked for the Heat this season has been their influx of Russian players.

The Heat have three Russians this season:

  • Defenseman Rinat Valiev, 24, from Nizhnekamsk, in his eighth season in North America
  • Defenseman Alexander Yelesin, 23, from Yaroslavl, in his first season in North America
  • Goaltender Artyom Zagidulin, 24, from Magnitigorsk, in his first season in North America

Valiev and Yelesin have been virtually inseparable on the blueline, playing together for the better part of 34 games. Zagidulin has made 23 appearances and has 14 wins, both more than incumbent starter Jon Gillies.

Heck, Yelesin even received a pair of call-ups to the Flames when injuries made them want another defender around. His offensive stats aren’t exactly going to blow anybody’s mind – on a per-game basis literally every other regular defender out-scores him. But in terms of defending, he’s one of Stockton’s best.

“Yelesin is a very hard-working defensive defenseman,” said Heat head coach Cail MacLean. “So his numbers, although he has some offensive skill, his numbers won’t jump off the chart too much, but his presence – in terms of the competitive nature he has, his engine, ability to move his feet and close time and space are really high. So when it comes to a right-handed defensive defenseman who shoots right and has a very high level of compete, he’s a real good player in that role.”

Yelesin served as a healthy scratch for eight NHL dates, but traveled and practiced with the team. If the tactic of bringing up a young pro to the NHL level for the exposure sounds familiar, it’s because the Flames did that with Rasmus Andersson at the end of the 2017-18 season; he spent the better part of a month with the big club to learn from the NHL players and coaches.

“Being from Russia and this being his first year in North America, [Yelesin] doesn’t have a lot of experience with that NHL camps or in NHL call-up situations,” said MacLean. “So every moment he can get at that level will help him understand how practice habits effect things, how games go, what the atmosphere is like there, getting to know people up there. So it’s all really good exposure for him.”

Zagidulin’s season has also been quite impressive. While his save percentage won’t blow anybody away – his .900 mark ranked him 34th out of the AHL’s 48 qualified goalies – his 14 wins have him tied for ninth, just four back of the league leader. He’s a guy that finds ways to win, with his coach praising his ability to make “the big save.”

“His numbers weren’t great in the first half of the year but when you look at his record, he was sporting a 10-1 at one point record, and was able to just get wins,” said MacLean. “He’s calm in the net, and he gives his teammates confidence. That’s one of those intangibles as a goaltender that is very valuable. It’s a big adjustment for him to come over with the language barrier and the new culture over here, but I think he’s done a good job with that.”

A lot of credit for how well Yelesin and Zagidulin have done transitioning to the AHL game has to go to Valiev. A Toronto Maple Leafs pick in 2014, Valiev has a resume boasting a dozen NHL dates and four full seasons in the AHL. He’s been a big part of the connective tissue that’s especially allowed Zagidulin, who speaks much less English than Yelesin, to find his rhythm.

Here’s MacLean on Valiev’s impact:

Rinat is roommates with Zagidulin a lot of times on the road, and I know that they get along well and it helps Zagidulin. I think there’s an element of wanting to push him and help him learn the language, but there’s also a necessary element of guys having some level of comfort and being able to feel at ease for them to play their best. And I think Rinat has done a great job of helping with that. Rinat is a very good person, so you couldn’t ask for a better support if you’re a teammate, if you’re someone like Zagidulin, in terms of what kind of teammate could help you through. Yelesin deserves a lot of credit there, too, he’s in and out of a lot of meetings with Zagidulin, helping to translate things and helping Zagidulin help his English language base by being a sort of go-between there.

With Dmitry Zavgorodniy likely going pro next season, it’ll be interesting to see how the Russian contingent grows in Stockton. Yelesin and Zavgorodniy are under contract for 2020-21, while Zagidulin and Valiev will be restricted free agents when this season concludes.

The Heat return to action after the AHL All-Star break next Saturday when they host the Bakersfield Condors.

CanucksArmy Utica Comets Post-Game Comets Drop Fourth Straight in 4-2 Loss to Belleville

Utica Comets Post-Game Report

Game #46

Utica Comets at Belleville Senators

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific


Pre-Game Predictions From Twitter


Scratched Today For Utica

  1. Wacey Hamilton: C – Lower-body injury, (broken foot) 6-8 weeks. AHL deal.
  2. Dyson Stevenson: W/C – Lower-body injury, (ankle) week-to-week. AHL deal.
  3. Vincent Arseneau: LW/RW – Upper-body injury, (concussion protocol) no timeframe. AHL deal.
  4. Dylan Blujus: RD – Upper-body injury, (chest) day-to-day. AHL deal.
  5. Guillaume Brisebois: LD – Upper-body injury, (broken fingertip) day-to-day, NHL deal.
  6. Richard Bachman: G – Healthy scratch. NHL deal.
  7. David Pope: LW/RW – Healthy scratch. NHL deal.
  8. Seamus Malone: W/C – Healthy scratch. AHL deal.
  9. Mitch Eliot: RD – Healthy scratch. NHL deal.
  10. Stefan LeBlanc: LD – Healthy scratch. AHL deal.
  11. Joe Roberts: PxP – Healthy scratch. (New dad).

Comets Starting Lines

(1st forward line/defensive pair listed started the game. The remainder are in no particular order)

47 Sven Baertschi – 16 John Stevens – 24 Reid Boucher (A)

95 Justin Bailey – 19 Carter Camper – 15 Zack MacEwen (A)

77 Nikolay Goldobin – 9 Lukas Jasek – 34 Carter Bancks (C)

21 Jonah Gadjovich – 27 Francis Perron – 13 Kole Lind

48 Olli Juolevi – 5 Jalen Chatfield

6 Ashton Sautner – 25 Brogan Rafferty

 4 Josh Teves – 22 Matt Petgrave

64 Mikey DiPietro

31 Zane McIntyre (backing up)

First Period

This period went by fairly quickly as the Sens play an uptempo style of hockey that is entertaining to watch.

Mikey DiPietro was back between the pipes today and he came up with an early stop on Filip Chlapik that he had some trouble with before it was cleared out of harm’s way.  He had to come up with another stop soon after as the Jasek line was hemmed in.

Kole Lind was lined up with Jonah Gadjovich and Frankie Perron today and he did a good job to pressure the Sens’ defence as that line went to work. They were unable to generate a scoring chance and the Sens went the other way.

Brogan Rafferty showed a nice physical edge as he rode his man off the puck in the defensive zone before Jordan Murray let fly from distance. Mikey DiPietro stopped and held for a whistle.

We had some good back and forth before Rudolfs Balcers took the puck hard to the net where Mikey DiPietro barred the door for another save. Logan Brown followed up by forcing a Gadjovich turnover at the Comets blue line but the Sens were unable to take advantage.

The play went back and forth as MacEwen filled his man in on the forecheck at one end, while his former junior linemate Vitaly Abramov was shut down by DiPietro at the other.

Olli Juolevi has been dishing the sweetest stretch passes all season, but every once in a while, he gets picked off and that happened in the first period. The Sens were unable to make him pay, but DiPietro would have to stop and freeze an Erik Brannstron offering that resulted from the takeaway.

Ashton Sautner is as steady as they get on this Comets blue line and he showed a smart stick to foil a Sens’ zone entry before Jasek was denied by Joey Daccord at the other end. Jasek’s shot came at the 9:19 mark and was the first one credited to the Comets in the game.

Kole Lind was dinged for a high-stick at the 10:53 mark and the Comets were off to the penalty kill. Olli Juolevi was the first over the boards for the kill and ended up clearing the puck out of play to send the Comets to a two-man down situation for 1:14.

It took just nine seconds for Drake Batherson to hammer a sweet one-timer past DiPietro for his 14th goal of the season. Logan Brown grabbed his 20th helper of the year on the play, while Erik Brannstrom earned his 13th.

The Comets still had Juolevi’s penalty to kill off and Jalen Chatfield came up with a timely shot block and Boucher followed up by heading into the Sens’ zone and flipping the puck into Daccord to get an offensive zone faceoff.

We saw Josh Teves getting some penalty killing time with Juolevi in the box. That happened earlier in the season, but it isn’t something that we have seen a lot of. DiPietro got a piece of a one-timer and the Comets came up with a good kill on the Juolevi minor.

The Sens were playing a fast game that was giving the Comets some trouble before Rafferty had a blast soaked up by Daccord.

At the other end of the ice, Juolevi made a smart pay to cut off a pass meant for Joe LaBate. Batherson soon got in behind Olli for what would have been a scoring chance but he ended up offside. Ashton Sautner followed up with a knuckler that was juggled by Daccord, but the save was made.

Time was winding down as Lukas Jasek hit a streaking Josh Teves for a chance that was denied in close. The Sens finished the period up 7-5 on the shot clock.

Second Period

Zack MacEwen was playing a physical game in this one and he started the period off with a heavy hit on the forecheck before Justin Bailey was whistled for roughing at the 2:42 mark. The Comets were off to the kill.

The Comets did some nice work while shorthanded and DiPietro shut down a chance from the side of the net for another good kill.

MacEwen was working the corner in the offensive zone and found Rafferty with a nice pass but the point-producing defender was stymied by Daccord with a big stop. The Comets had some pressure but it was short-lived as DiPietro had to come up with a save on Chlapik. The Carcone line followed up with a dangerous shift that saw DiPietro rob Frank Corrado with a flash of the leather.

Carter Bancks came up with a nice play to force a Belleville turnover that led to a Lukas Jasek offering being denied by Daccord. Bailey and MacEwen followed up with a play off the rush that saw Bailey call his own number for a shot that Daccord was ready for.

Filip Chlapik was dinged for holding at the 10:26 mark and the Comets had a power play to work with.

We saw a new look with Matt Petgrave, Kole Lind, Carter Camper, Jonah Gadjovich, and Nikolay Goldobin. Petgrave got a couple of shots through that didn’t lead to a change on the score and the next unit took over.

Daccord made a pair of big stops on Bailey and Boucher as the Comets were trying to get some fresh legs out before they allowed a shorthanded goal to Morgan Klimchuck. Kole Lind wasn’t able to hold the line and Alex Formenton sent Klimchuk in all alone for his 10th goal of the season. Formenton earned his 13th helper of the year on the shorthanded tally.

Balcers nearly put his team up 3-0 when he broke in and ripped a shot off the iron. Soon after, Balcers was whistled for hooking and the Comets had a power play to work with… until they didn’t.

Zack MacEwen took his team off the man advantage when he interfered with Daccord and was sent off to the box. Once again, the Comets nearly went down 3-0 when Petgrave got caught pinching with just Juolevi back but Mikey DiPietro came up with another save.

The Comets had a brief penalty to kill after the four aside wrapped up and Stevens made sure that Daccord had to come up with a shorthanded save. The Comets came up with a good kill.

MacEwen was out of the box and looking to make some noise with another big hit in the offensive zone. At the other end, it was Ashton Sautner with a shot block but the Sens kept possession and DiPietro had to come up with a save on Jonathan Aspirot.

It was at this point when I noticed that Trent Cull had juggled his defensive pairs as Josh Teves was now with Jalen Chatfield, while Olli Juolevi was paired with Matt Petgrave. Teves came up with a solid hit to take Patrick Kelly off the puck in the defensive zone before Rafferty’s long shot was gloved down by Daccord at the other end.

The Comets managed to pull to within a goal as time was winding down when Brogan Rafferty put a shot off the iron and Justin Bailey cleaned up the trash for his 24th goal of the season. That represents a new career-high for TheGentleman. Rafferty picked up his 32nd assist of the season on the play, while Carter Camper was credited with his 20th.

Utica showed an edge of 15-10 on the shot clock for the middle frame.

Third Period

Mikey DiPietro had a lot of shots to handle as the final frame got underway. The Sens were pressing and the Comets didn’t have much of an answer for their speed. He had to glove down an early shot from Frank Corrado before shutting down a pair of Alex Formenton chances.

Jordan Murray tried his luck with a muffin that DiPietro gloved down for a whistle. The Sens kept pressing and DiPietro had to come up with another stop before Reid Boucher was sent off for interference.

DiPietro denied an Erik Brannstrom shot before gloving down the Drake Batherson chance that followed. He would kick out another shot from the point and the Boucher penalty came to an end.

Francis Perron was playing against one of his former teams today and he was looking to light Daccord up with a shot off the right side that was turned aside. Christian Jaros followed up with a high shot that DiPietro squeezed for another save.

At the other end, MacEwen made a power move out of the corner to get a shot away with a crowd forming but couldn’t get it to go.

Justin Bailey was whistled for cross-checking at the 5:57 mark and the Comets were back to the kill. It took Rudolfs Balcers mere seconds to put the Sens up 3-1 with his 10th goal of the season. Filip Chlapik picked up the primary assist for his ninth of the year, while Drake Batherson earned his 32nd.

MacEwen was doing his best to help his team get that one back when he drew a penalty while dishing the puck to Camper for a shot that was denied by Daccord. Hubert Labrie was the Bellevillian who was off to the box for his tripping infraction.

Kole Lind had a chance from in close denied before Petgrave put a shot off the blocker of Daccord and the Comets came up empty once more. They did put on a little bit of pressure for a shift or two following their failed power play but were unable to make anything happen.

The Sens eventually went the other way where DiPietro swallowed up another shot from Balcers and held for the whistle.

Filip Chlapik put Belleville up 4-1 when he skated past Petgrave and beat DiPietro from an odd angle. Not unlike the ugly goal that beat McIntyre yesterday, this goal shouldn’t have gone in. The goal was the fifth of the season for Chlapik, while Jaros picked up his 11th assist of the year on the play.

I feel like I have mentioned Josh Teves’ name a fair bit for a guy who hasn’t been able to find many minutes this year, but he was noticeable again today. He picked off a pass and sent the Comets into the offensive zone, but they were unable to get any traction. Alex Formenton went the other way and got in behind Juolevi, but DiPietro beat him to the puck to foil any thought of a scoring chance.

It wasn’t long after when Formenton was sent off for slashing.

The Comets had a little bit of pressure as Baertschi had a one-timer turned aside before Daccord managed to deny a Rafferty shot through traffic. The Comets came up empty, but Ashton Sautner scored his first of the year immediately after their power play ended. Sautner put his shot from the left circle through Daccord. John Stevens earned his fourth helper of the year on the play and third point since yesterday.

DiPietro was summoned to the bench for the extra attacker but the Comets came up empty and dropped their fourth consecutive game. Belleville held a 14-12 advantage on the shot clock for the final frame, while the Comets were up 32-31 for the game.

I was a bit frustrated to see Matt Petgrave getting power-play time ahead of Olli Juolevi today. I get that OIli has struggled this year at holding the line and that he’s been turnstiled for more goals-against than we would like, but he is a prospect of the team and shouldn’t be yielding those minutes to an ECHL player, in my opinion.

If the team felt the need to pull Olli from the power play for a game, why not try Ashton Sautner there? When I spoke with Kole Lind a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned Sautner as the man with the hardest shot on the team. My guess is that he might be able to sneak a few shots through and at the very least, is far less likely to lose the line the way others have this season.

Today’s loss by the Comets, combined with a win by Rochester has the two clubs tied for second overall in the North Division with Rochester having three games in hand. The Comets need to sort things out over the All-Star Break.

Today’s Official Boxscore

Comets Goals

  1. Justin Bailey (24) from Brogan Rafferty (32) and Carter Camper (20).
  2. Ashton Sautner (1) from John Stevens (4).

Mikey DiPietro: 27 saves in the loss

Special Teams

Power Play: 0/4. One shorthanded goal allowed.

Penalty Kill: 4/6.

PP1: Boucher, Bailey, MacEwen, Baertschi, Rafferty.

PP2: Camper, Lind, Gadjovich, Goldobin, Petgrave.

PP3: Baertschi, Goldobin, Bailey, MacEwen, Rafferty.

PP4: Gadjovich, Jasek, Camper, Lind, Petgrave.

*Reid Boucher did not make an appearance on either power-play unit for the club’s final man-up situation as he seemed to be benched or possibly knicked up. He was clearly a frustrated player in the final frame before he was parked.

Penalty Killers: Bancks, Stevens, MacEwen, Goldobin, Baertschi, Boucher, Jasek, Bailey, Sautner, Chatfield, Teves, Juolevi.

The Three Stars in the building today were:

3rd Star: Rudolfs Balcers. One goal.

2nd Star: Joey Daccord. 30 saves for the win.

1st Star: Filip Chlapik. One goal, one assist.

CanucksArmy’s Three Stars:

3rd Star: Ashton Sautner. Sautner picked up his first goal of the season today and while he doesn’t pile up many points, he is now up to eight points in his 39 games played. Sautner is a steady defender for the Comets who eats minutes on the penalty kill and can bring a physical game.

2nd Star: Brogan Rafferty. Rafferty picked up another assist today and now has 38 points in his 42 games. He now needs just two points to tie the Comets single-season record for points by a defender. He finished today with three shots on goal.

1st Star: Josh Teves. Teves has looked like he is trying his hardest to get noticed by the coaching staff since he’s been back in the lineup. He is jumping up for offensive opportunities when he sees them, he is playing with a physical edge, and is a plus-10 on the season. He only has two points in his 24 games this year, but I feel like he has shown well enough to stay in the lineup for a longer look.

*Honourable mention: Zack MacEwen. TheBigFella took an ill-advised penalty to take his team off the power play today, but I thought he was bringing a much needed physical edge to the game when few others on his squad were doing the same.

Next Game

Game 47

Utica Comets at Cleveland Monsters

Friday, January 31st, 2020

7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific





Tyler Bertuzzi, Atlantic Division win opening semifinal game

The Atlantic Division all-star team is off to the championship game!

Tyler Bertuzzi, the Red Wings all-star representative, & Co. took the night’s opening 3-on-3 contest, 9-5. They’ll face the winner of the Western Conference semifinal in the championship game. The Atlantic Division has never won the tournament under this current format.

Ironically, despite leading the Red Wings in goals this season with 17, Bertuzzi transformed into a playmaker, assisting on four goals with 7:16 minutes of ice time. Bertuzzi is tied with David Pastrnak and Anthony Duclair for the team lead in points.

Bertuzzi is coming off a fifth place finish in the NHL accuracy shooting competition from last night.

WWYDWSE Mid-season Awards and Predictions

Earlier this week, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association released their mid-season awards, which gives us a pretty good idea of how these things are going to shake out at the end of the season. Last year, the mid-season choices for the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Lady Bing Trophy, and Jack Adams Award all accurately predicted who took home the hardware in June.

For this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday SATURDAY EDITION question, we’ll take a look at the PHWA’s mid-season winners and make our own lists for who we think will win the award at the end of the season. Here’s what the PHWA has for us this year and, in bold, I’ll give my thoughts underneath. Give me all of your choices in the comments section.

Hart Trophy – to the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team.

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

This is an easy one for me. It’s Connor McDavid. He’s reached a new gear this season and he’s likely going to shatter his career-high in points. The only thing stopping him from winning in the past has been the Oilers missing the playoffs. That likely won’t be an issue this year. 

Honourable mentions to Nathan McKinnon, John Carlson, and Connor Hellebuyck. 

Norris Trophy – to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-round ability in the position.

1. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes

I think the PWHA has this one right, too. John Carlson is currently on pace to hit 100 points, which is something we haven’t seen a defenceman do since the early 90s. Carlson would join Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Denis Potvin, Al MacInnis, and Brian Leetch as defencemen to hit the 100-point plateau. That’s a legendary group. 

Dougie Hamilton would be the other defenceman I would consider over Carlson as he’s been incredible both offensively and defensively for the Hurricanes. That said, an injury to Hamilton that could result in him missing major time would derail that possibility. 

Selke Trophy – to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.

1. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
3. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues

After Patrice Bergeron dominated the Selke discussion for most of the decade, we’ve finally seen some new winners over the past few years in Anze Kopitar and Ryan O’Reilly. Sean Couturier has been an underrated, elite defensive centre for years and it would be nice to see him finally win the award. 

Calder Trophy – to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition.

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
3. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres

This really is a two-horse race at this stage between two rookie defencemen. Makar has 37 points in 41 games and is the better offensive player while Hughes has 34 points in 48 games and likely plays the stronger defensive game. I might go with Hughes becaue he’s jumped into a questionable Canucks blueline and is already their best defenceman, logging over 21 minutes per night. But this is a coin flip. 

Lady Byng Trophy – to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues

I get why Matthews is here, given the fact he only has six penalty minutes thus far, but this is a bad look. Matthews found himself in legal trouble prior to the season and giving him love for an award based around gentlemanly conduct feels wrong. I mean, Johnny Gaudreau won it in the same season he got fined for diving, so, expectations shouldn’t be too high. I think MacKinnon will take this one, but young defencemen Miro Heiskanen or Cale Makar who only have six penalty minutes would be good choices too. 

Vezina Trophy – to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position.

1. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
2. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes

What Connor Hellebuyck has done this year has been nothing short of amazing. the Jets lost Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba this off-season and he’s kept one of the worst defensive teams in hockey afloat. Both Darcy Kuemper and Ben Bishop have been better statistically, but play on much stronger teams. If Hellebuyck can drag the Jets into the playoffs, he’s a shoe-in for the Vezina Trophy and should get some love for the Hart, too. 

A couple of other names worth mentioning… Rookie glatender Elvis Merlinkis in Columbus has a .926 save percentage in 21 games. A hot stretch the rest of the way should garner him some consideration here. Also, Tristan Jarry has taken over the net in Pittsburgh and owns a .929 save percentage in 25 games. 

Jack Adams Award – to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.

1. Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues

It would be nice to see Dave Tippett get some love here but it’s hard to argue with any of the PWHA’s three choices here. Mike Sullivan has incredibly navigated a wealth of injuries to the Penguins’ roster, John Tortorella has kept his team in the playoff mix despite losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency, and Craig Berube has the Blues battling for the Presidents’ Trophy and looking for a Stanley Cup repeat. I think Sullivan takes the award home, but Tippett certainly deserves to be in the conversation, though. 

Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award – to the General Manager adjusted to have contributed most to his team’s success.

1. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
2. John Chayka, Arizona Coyotes
3. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues

It’s hard to argue against Joe Sakic as he’s built a Stanley Cup contender in Colorado. Over the off-season, he added Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Valeri Nichushkin, turning the Avs from a top-heavy team that relied on one line to one of the deepest teams in the Western Conference. I think Ken Holland should get votes for managing to get rid of Milan Lucic’s contract, but this looks like Sakic’s award to lose. 

Rod Langway Award – to the defenseman who best excels in the defensive aspect of the game.

1. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

This is really cool that they’re including this and it’s an award I think should garner more attention. An issue with the Norris Trophy right now, as we’ll see with Carlson, is that it often values offence over defence. There are plenty of amazing defensive defencemen who never get any love when it comes to the Norris Trophy. If there’s a trophy for best defensive forward, there should be for defencemen, too. 

The choice of Slavin is a strong one, but other names like Seth Jones, Miro Heiskanen, Zdeno Chara, and Alex Pietrangelo should be in the mix too. 

Comeback Player of the Year Award – to the player who returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.

1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators
3. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

This is a really bad one. Nylander is having himself a strong season, there’s no doubt about that. But what’s he coming back from? A contract holdout? McDavid should absolutely win this award given his insane comeback from the injury he suffered at the end of the 2018-19 season. Duclair deserves love here given the fact he went from being nearly out of the league to breaking out as an All-Star in Ottawa this year, but nobody’s comeback is more impressive than McDavid’s. 

What say you, Nation? Who do you think will win each of these awards? 

Discover Jasper this Winter

With the landscape sparkling and the fireplaces at their coziest, there’s no better time to experience Jasper than in winter. Dust off your skis and snowboards and gather some friends as Marmot Basin is opening this Friday, November 8th. Check out the Escape Card for half price lift passes all season long! Whether you prefer a calm and cozy night next to a fireplace or yearn to see the mountainous backcountry without breaking a hip, you’ll find a winter activity that’s right up your alley.

Toronto Maple Leafs loan D Jake Muzzin to AHL for conditioning stint

The Toronto Maple Leafs have loaned D Jake Muzzin to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies for a conditioning stint, the team announced Thursday.

Muzzin, 30, joins a Marlies club who is on the road this weekend with back-to-back away games against Cleveland on Friday and Saturday.

The Maple Leafs acquired the rearguard last January in exchange for F Carl Grundstrom, the rights to D Sean Durzi and Toronto’s first-round pick in last year’s draft.

Muzzin has played in 68 games between last season and this posting 29 points. This year he has three goals and 10 assists 38 games.

On Twitter: @zjlaing

Where Do The Winnipeg Jets Go From Here

Going into the All-Star Game and then Players Association break, the Winnipeg Jets are on a four game losing streak and have lost six of their last seven games. They are currently three points out of a playoff spot in the West and there are three other teams (Chicago, Minnesota and Nashville) who are within three points of passing them in the standings. It’s not quite a dire situation that the Jets face at the moment, but it’s far from ideal and if the Jets can’t find the win column again and stay there more often then things might get real ugly in a hurry.

The problem is there is not a whole lot to indicate that the Jets situation will improve. By almost every measurable advance stat and metric, the Jets rank as bad as the likes of the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators in terms of offensive production and allowing high danger scoring chances. The Jets were kept afloat for as long as they were thanks to above average shooting and finishing talent along with Vezina Trophy (if not Hart Trophy) worthy goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck

But lately the Jets haven’t found the back of the net as often as they’d like, and Hellebuyck has regressed a tiny bit, posting sub .900 save percentages in seven of his last 12 games started. Nine of the Jets next ten games are at home, but home hasn’t exactly been so sweet for them as they’ve gone 11-11-2 at BMTSP, but on the slightly bright side, of those ten games, only four of them are against teams currently in a playoff position.

As Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff would say: There’s a lot of moving parts and balls in the air.

After their loss to Columbus, a frustrated Blake Wheeler summed up the situation the Jets were in quite well:

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves Blake, but the question is, what exactly should the Jets do?

Here are five options…

1 – Relieve Paul Maurice of his duties

This is the one getting maybe the most play on social media and given how this season has gone for so many coaches around the NHL, seems like kind of the easy move to make. That the Jets struggle to defend and exit out of their own zone, and that they don’t get nearly enough pressure on opposing goalies would all suggest that maybe a change behind the bench is needed to bring in new ideas or a new system.

The problem with this thought is that you can’t pin all of the Jets struggles on Maurice.

Two of his star forwards missed all of training camp with contract issues. Four guys he had on defense as regulars last season were either traded or signed with new teams as free agents. His star defenseman nearly retired, then had surgery and we haven’t seen him at all this season. Injuries have taken their toll all over the lineup and the Jets have had to resort to bringing in three different players via waiver pickups to to patch holes this season.

Some would argue that Maurice has done a fine enough job in spite of everything the team has had to deal with and that instead of firing PoMo, maybe the GM should be looked at for the job he’s done, which brings us to…

2 – Relieve Kevin Cheveldayoff of his duties

Even before the start of the 2018-19 season, fans and media alike were starting to wonder just how long the proverbial “window” for a Jets Stanley Cup run would stay open. The summer of 2019 loomed large with multiple key unrestricted free agents needed to be signed and very little cap room to work with. Much like Paul Maurice, some have come to Cheveldayoff’s defense suggesting that there wasn’t a whole lot he could do given what he had to work with, but that reasoning comes off a bit like feeling bad for a floor painter who has painted himself into a corner.

Bryan Little’s contract aged very poorly very quickly and there is still four more seasons at over six million dollars per season left to go. Blake Wheeler’s contract may be going the same way with $8.25 million owed over the next four seasons as well.

Contracts to Dmitry Kulikov and Steve Mason backfired big time, and one can argue that the latter cost the Jets the chance to hold on to Joel Armia who has flourished in Montreal.

He also kicked the can that is Patrik Laine’s long term status with the Jets down the road to be dealt with after next season, which could lead to a much bigger pay-day than the Jets can afford to keep under a Salary Cap.

He’s traded the team’s first round pick two years in a row, and while he did get 2019’s pick back, he did so in a trade that in hindsight hasn’t worked out too bad, but at the time it was made, was widely panned by hockey observers everywhere.

It’s the current mess with the defense though that seems to be the biggest issue and the getting the most heat for. Is it a fire-able offense? Probably not, but that the Jets have gone from “Stanley Cup contender” to possibly missing the playoffs completely within the span of two years is a poor reflection on management.

3 – Make trades that can help with this season

If the option to move coaching or management isn’t the one to make, then perhaps it’s time to get active on the trade market.

There are two ways this option can go and the first would be to make trades with the thought of helping the team win and make the playoffs this season. As outlined at the start, it’s not as it the Jets are looking at a massive gap between them and a playoff spot. If Little and maybe even Dustin Byfuglien can come back for the final 30 games as healthy players, maybe the Jets consider trading a pick or a prospect away to provide additional help with depth on defense or at forward.

The one thing that may make this difficult is that at the moment you’re looking at four or maybe five teams league wide who you could call sellers at the deadline, with everyone else looking to add for a playoff run or a push to make the playoffs. This will drive up “prices” for players who might ultimately be rentals for a couple of months and makes for a seller’s market at the deadline. The Jets are already missing two of their seven picks in the upcoming draft, do they dare part with more? Would it be worth it to ship off a Kristian Vesalainen or a Logan Stanley now to find a way into the playoffs?

Maybe the idea of trading picks and prospects isn’t for you. You want to make trades but you’re pretty much ready to throw the towel in this season? If so, then it’s likely you want option number four…

4 – Blow it up for this season and start working on next season

2020 by multiple accounts is looking like a really good draft year and a lottery pick of any kind could net a team a highly regarded prospect, so maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Jets to chalk this gong-show of a season up as lost and get a jump on coming back better than ever in 2020-21.

There isn’t much for the Jets to work with when it comes to moving current roster players out without having to deal with multiple No Movement Clauses such as the kind seen on contracts to Mathieu Perreault, Kulikov and Little. Players such as Gabriel Bourque and Luca Sbisa could get some interest, but wouldn’t fetch much beyond a draft pick in the later rounds at the very best.

It might not be worth it to make a trade at all regardless if you want to make a move to help out the current season or prepare for the next one, which leads us to the final option that the Jets have staring them in the face…

5 – Do nothing, and wait for the summer

Maybe hope for improved health, a return to shooting form by the offense and get more stellar goaltending from Hellebuyck. Maybe in the un-official second half of the season, the Jets defense starts to figure things out and gets stingier. (Hey, it could happen.)

Or maybe none of those things happen, the Jets continue this downward spiral of the standings and we just all ride it out to the end with the understanding that Cheveldayoff will have some big time work to do this summer.

(It feels like we’ve said that the last couple of summers in a row now…)

Let the expiring contracts expire. Sami Niku, Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins are all RFA’s this summer, but none of them feel as big of a hurdle to clear as Kyle Connor and Laine were last summer. Kulikov’s contract is off the books and it’s doubtful they’d re-sign him, so that frees up over four million in cap space.

And maybe by this summer we’ll all know what is going on with Dustin Byfuglien.


What option would you pick? Put on your GM hat (or if you’re about to fire the GM, your team chairman hat) and make the call. Let us know your thoughts below in the comments section or on either our Twitter feed or Facebook page!

FGD The All-Star Game 6pm MT, CBC

Are you ready for a few hours of goofy fun? The 2020 NHL All-Star Game goes tonight in St. Louis, with teams representing the NHL’s four divisions going head to head (to head to head) in three on three competition to determine who wants to split a million dollars.

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. MT on CBC!

If you’re only really excited to see if the Pacific Division team can thrive, that game will be the second one on the docket. Here’s how the rosters stack up:

Pacific vs. Central

Pacific Division Central Division
Goalies Jacob Markstrom (Canucks)
David Rittich (Flames)
Jordan Binnington (Blues)
Connor Hellebuyck (Jets)
Defensemen Mark Giordano (Flames)
Quinn Hughes (Canucks)
Roman Josi (Predators)
Alex Pietrangelo (Blues)
Forwards Leon Draisaitl (Oilers)
Tomas Hertl (Sharks)
Anze Kopitar (Kings)
Connor McDavid (Oilers)
Max Pacioretty (Golden Knights)
Elias Pettersson (Canucks)
Matthew Tkachuk (Flames)
Patrick Kane (Blackhawks)
Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche)
Ryan O’Reilly (Blues)
David Perron (Blues)
Mark Scheifele (Jets)
Tyler Seguin (Stars)
Eric Staal (Wild)

The Eastern Conference game is scheduled to go at 6:15 p.m. MT. The Western Conference game is slated to begin at 7:15 p.m. MT. The finals are penciled in for 8:15 p.m. MT.

The storylines in the Western Conference game will probably revolve around the Battle of Alberta. Can the Flames, primarily Matthew Tkachuk, get along with the Oilers? Leon Draisaitl said he’d get off the ice if he and Connor McDavid had to play with Tkachuk. Will Pacific coach Rick Tocchet put them together as a unit anyway just for the zany fun of it? How will the rest of the team line up? Can Mark Giordano and David Rittich play peace-makers? Can the Flames find a way to overcome Nathan MacKinnon?

This is the fifth year of the three on three event. The Pacific Division has won two of the previous four tournaments, with the Metropolitan Division taking the other team. Can another team get on the board, or will that domination continue?

How the Vancouver Canucks fared at NHL Skills competition

Three Vancouver Canucks found themselves competing in the NHL skills competition Friday night. D Quinn Hughes found himself in the fastest skater competition, Jacob Markstrom was in the save streak contest, and Elias Pettersson got to show off his slapshot.

Hughes fell in the fastest skater competition amid what was one of the best groups the league has brought forth. Hughes ended up finishing with the worst time of the group, finishing the lap in 14.263 seconds.

Jacob Markstrom took part in the save streak competition in which nine skaters with more attempts came down the ice shooting on respective goalies to see who could stop the most in a row. Markstrom went first, setting the bar at 5 but St. Louis Blues netminder Jordan Binnington won with 10 saves.

And last, Pettersson was able to rip one of the hardest shots of the night, but was no match for Shea Weber’s 106.5 mph bomb. Pettersson’s best shot, his first, was able to fly off the stick at an impressive 102.4 mph. He let off his second shot at 100.3 mph.

On Twitter: @zjlaing

LAING Connor McDavids recovery nothing short of unbelievable

Last night we all got to bear witness to just how incredible Connor McDavid is. His injury was detailed in incredible fashion in the documentary Whatever It Takes that aired Friday night.

For years it’s been about McDavid’s raw talent. It’s been about his skills on the ice, the way he is able to create space for himself and generate offense in ways that have hardly been seen before. It’s been about his incredible hockey IQ or his highlight-reel goals. And it’s been about his calm, cool demeanor.

But now, it’s about Connor McDavid’s work ethic. His ability to face incredible, incredible pressure and come out of it on the other side. It’s about his ability to will himself to good health, and his ability to pioneer a recovery process that’s never been seen before.

The rigors of what McDavid had to go through were incredible. From spending 10-hour days, seven days a week grinding away to seeing him be able to hit the ice for the Oilers Oct. 2 home opener against the Vancouver Canucks was quite a trip.

There’s a quote from McDavid where he talks about it that really stood out to me.

“(It was) like my first game all over again. I was nervous. I prepared rehab wise a ton, on ice wise was the least prepared I had ever been for an opening night.”

But yet, he was able to open the season with a huge win — and a huge goal — against the Vancouver Canucks that set the pace for what was an incredible start to the season. Looking back, I wonder how much his recovery and return was a motivating factor for the club. I mean, they really came hot out of the gate winning seven of their first eight games of the season.

Nonetheless, it’s incredible that he’s even playing in the NHL right now.

The injury and the recovery

At the end of the film, some hard facts were released about what McDavid’s injury was.

He suffered a fully torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), torn medial and lateral menisci, fully torn popliteus muscle, a complete tear of the posterior capsule and a tibial plateau fracture. The injuries combined would’ve led to a 12-month recovery down the surgical route, and there was a chance that he would never, ever be the same player again.

So what did he opt for? Well, he decided on the non-surgical route. A pioneering rehabilitation process that saw him work with numerous specialists for 179 days that saw him spent over 1,000 hours working on being ready for the start of the season.

As the documentary aired, I jotted down a few notes parts of his recovery that really stood out to me.

  • Near the beginning of his injury, there was talk that he had a 50% chance to skate by the end of the summer. His recovery initially had him in a hypobaric chamber doing oxygen therapy for two hours a day. All he would do is flex his quadricep muscle for ten seconds on, ten seconds off.
  • Every few weeks in the early stages, he would go back in for ultrasounds and MRI’s where they were able to track the regrowth of his PCL. Each time they would go for an appointment, his agent Jeff Jackson would (realistically) bring up the fact surgery needed to be considered even as they went into July.
  • It was his third MRI, done on July 3rd, where they began to see his PCL fibres begin to reattach. This was a major turning point where McDavid seemed to get major relief about his recovery and it seemed to be one of the most motivating times for him.
  • From there, he started work in the pool doing light exercise like jumping in the pool all with a massive brace going from his upper-quad to his lower shin. From there work began on core movements and learning how to train around his knee.
  • Mark Lindsay, the doctor who essentially lived with McDavid for the summer, had talked about how in McDavid’s recovery process his training essentially worked around his knee. He noted McDavid has great spatial awareness as an athlete and how he had a “great body GPS.”
  • It was quite noted when, but McDavid began skating with his father, Brian, sometime in the summer and it was quietly done. McDavid said it was a major turning point where he began to feel human again. This started happening a few times every week.
  • As training and recovery continued through the summer, he and his rehab team got more and more confident and comfortable with what he was able to do. With his skating, he was doing his hockey skating in the morning and then doing edge work with a skating coach in the afternoon.

If you didn’t catch it airing last night, I would highly, highly recommend catching the re-run set for 4:30 p.m. before the all-star game.

On Twitter: @zjlaing

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