I know I’m a little late on this, but congratulations are in order for the Boston Bruins, the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup Champions.
Hindsight is always easier than making predictions, and at the end of the series, what won and lost a series always seems so obvious. The Canucks couldn’t recover from losing defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome and their offense became stagnant at the worst possible time. The defense played terribly in front of Luongo for large parts of the series and left him out to dry. The Bruins, however, rallied around the loss of Nathan Horton and played solid team defense to push themselves over the top. They got scoring from many places and kept a high energy pace the entire series.
Congrats to Tim Thomas on the Conn Smythe Trophy. There were no surprises there. He was good enough when his team needed him to be good enough and stood on his head when they needed him to stand on his head. He’s got a good chance to win the Vezina as well. Not a bad season for the old guy.
Before I get myself too deep into it, I don’t want to get too much into the analysis of what happened. Rather, I’d like to touch on a few points…
While you never want to lose and this won’t make Canucks fans feel any better, the Canucks took a big step this postseason. They’ve been talked about as the team that can’t muster anything in the playoffs, but they showed they can go on a deep run. They’ve got some things to fix, but they took things about as far as they can go before they finally lost.
One thing I love about the Canucks is how they do the Canadian national anthem. The fans not only sing along with the anthemist, they also carry it by themselves at one point in the song. What an amazing tradition and display of patriotism. Kudos to the Canucks and their fans for that. Kudos to the fans as well for giving the Bruins (and the Canucks) a big cheer at the end.
Unfortunately, as much as I want to praise the good Canucks fans, I have to slam the bad ones. The rioting in the city after they lost Game 7 was a complete and utter disgrace. There is no excuse for what happened. I don’t care how “passionate” or “rabid” your fanbase is, or how much you really want to win, but the destruction of public and private property and the complete collapse into chaos and anarchy should bring no excuses from anyone. Of course, not all Canucks fans are responsible for what happened and not all are bad people, but there is simply no excuse for what happened that night. Cities win and lose championships all the time. Only a few do what those Canucks fans did that night.
But let’s go back to Boston. I personally was rooting for the Canucks in the series, but I got some chills when they gave the Cup to Zdeno Chara. Let me bold what I’m going to say to add as much emphasis as a I can. I cannot imagine what it’s like to win the Stanley Cup or any major sports championship like it. Forgive me while I tell a short personal story to help show the perspective…
I’ve played baseball my entire life. During high school, I started playing a summer league in my area, in which I am currently playing at 23 years old. There are a number Division III players and a sprinkling of Division II players in the league, but it’s mostly made up of guys who played for their high schools (just to put the talent level into a bit of perspective). This year, we’ve lost a game on a walkoff. It was terrible. I was mad for the rest of the night. A few weeks ago, we played a hard fought game and came from behind to beat a team who got a lot of terrible calls in their favor that game. Man, was I on top of the world after that win. It was awesome and I love that feeling, like most everyone does. But that was for a regular season game in summer league baseball that draws only a few people to watch. As great and as awful it was to win and lose games, respectively, how ridiculously amazing must it be to win the Stanley Cup? I honestly cannot imagine the feeling. I play baseball a few times a week but have a life and a job outside of it. These guys eat, breathe, and sleep hockey. They live it. And to come out on top of the world after a long 82-game season and 16 wins in the postseason…well, what can you say?
On the flip side, to see what happens when your life is hockey and you come so close but lose, all you needed to do was look at Ryan Kesler’s face. He was kneeling on the ice crying as the Bruins celebrated. Hockey players are generally considered to be the toughest of people. But really, while it’s easy to point at Kesler crying and call him a wimp or something, how tough do you have to be to stay out on the ice and watch the other celebrate with the thing you desired the most? How many people would march straight into the lockerroom? The amazing thing is, most players tend to stay out and watch despite how bad it hurts.
But the world moves on, including the hockey world, as the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is set to take place this Friday and Saturday in St. Paul, Minnesota. This draft class may not have the names like a Stamkos, Hall, or Seguin, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some talent that could make an immediate impact on an NHL team. There is no clear slam dunk #1 overall pick and that choice will be determined by the choosing team’s needs at the time of the draft. As a side note, as far as goaltenders go, this is not one of the stronger draft classes. And admittedly, I haven’t kept up very well with this draft class, so this will be relatively brief.
Canadian forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is tops on most lists. He’s had an excellent career in the WHL, finishing with 177 points in 141 games and won the WHL Rookie of the Year in the ’09-’10 season. He’s an immensely skilled player with great awareness. But one thing that sticks out to me is his size. He’s listed at 6’0″, which is a decent height, but only weighs 164 pounds (and I’ve seen his listed weight as low as 152 pounds). That’s pretty light, especially for a 6 foot frame. The big question for him is whether or not he’s capable of being slick and quick enough to avoid getting destroyed physically if he jumps right into the NHL. It’s also interesting that he was cut from Canada’s World Juniors team.
The top European prospect is Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson. His favorite NHL teams are the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings (surprise, surprise). At 6’3″, 200+ pounds, he’s a big guy with a little more room to add some weight. And while large size for defensemen historically meant pilon, he’s got good wheels and smoothness that should make him ready to make a splash on an NHL team right away. He’s going to be a coveted piece to build a defense around and is absolutely a player I would love to draft for my team.
Swedish forward Gabriel Landeskog will interest many teams and will likely be gobbled up very early. He spent his Junior career playing for the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL after spending time in the Swedish Elite league, putting up 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games this past season and was named team captain. What turns a lot of heads about Landeskog is despite his European ethnicity, he plays with that traditional North American edge and plays an all-around game. He has good size at 6’0″ and 207 pounds and NHL Central Scouting’s Peter Sullivan compares him to Mike Richards, also a former captain of the Kitchener Rangers. Not bad praise for the kid.
Dougie Hamilton plays for the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL and ranks first among North American defensemen. He possesses a large frame at 6’4″ and has plenty of room to grow into it weighing only 187 pounds. He’ll need to beef up to really be able to use his large body at the NHL level to maximize his effectiveness. He’s good on his skates and can jump in on the rush and put up 58 points in 67 games last season, which are great numbers for a defenseman.
Sending his greetings from the QMJHL, Sean Couturier brings something that none of the other North Americans forwards do: size. He’s 6’4″ and 197 pounds. It’s one thing for a player to have superior skill than others on the ice, but to also outmuscle them brings them to a whole other level. He’s scored 96 points in each of his last two seasons in the Q and brings a solid two-way game to whomever decides to draft him.
Some Draft Strategy
The trade winds are relatively quiet, and a trade could potentially have a big impact on the draft. Although I don’t believe that Jeff Carter will be traded, especially with the cap ceiling supposedly rising by almost $5 million, if the Flyers do move him, I would expect a high pick coming in return to the Flyers.
With the first overall pick, the Oilers go with Nugent-Hopkins. They’re in a spot right now where I feel as though they want to generate excitement, especially with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi up front. Nugent-Hopkins will bring them excitement when paired with those young guns. And it should also be mentioned that he’ll fill the hole for a #1 center, as Sam Gagner hasn’t done too much to impress so far and Shawn Horcoff doesn’t deserve that role. The Oilers also have the 19th overall pick from the Kings, so they should be able to add some nice depth this year.
The Colorado Avalanche have the second pick in the draft. I like Larsson, but I think they pass on him. The Avs have John-Michael Liles, a promising young Kevin Shattenkirk, and traded for Erik Johnson to anchor their defense. They have two excellent centers in Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene, and drafting Gabriel Landeskog would be a great move for them. Aftering losing Chris Stewart in the Johnson trade and with Milan Hejduk aging, Landeskog will provide a shot in the arm for one of the top two lines.
The third overall pick comes with an interesting situation for the Florida Panthers. They need to spend about $30 million just to hit the cap floor. Paying Tomas Vokoun a hefty salary will help but won’t nearly be enough. Would they dangle the 3rd overall pick to a team in order to land a first line forward or big time defenseman? Or do they hold onto it and draft Adam Larsson and lay a foundation along with defenseman Erik Gudbranson lurking in the wings as well as top prospect goalie Jacob Markstrom. That’s not a bad group to build a team around. Then again, they might want a player who can make an impact right away and fill seats.
With the 4th pick, the Devils could use a strong center to play with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Heck, throw me in there and I’m sure I could put up 40 assists. They probably won’t want to give a rookie that much responsibility, but both of those guys should be on the Devils for awhile, so a player drafted now could grow into the role.
The Islanders are set up front with Jonathan Tavares, Matt Moulson, PA Parenteau, Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, and Michael Grabner. What they could use, though, is a defenseman and there is a chance that Larsson could slip all the way down to the 5th spot. If he does, the Islanders would be silly not to take him. Fortunately, Mike Milbury is long gone, so the Dumb Ideas Department is now much smaller and has a lot less power.
To me, the Senators look like they’re going nowhere fast next season. They can afford to sit back and really look at who is the right fit in the longterm for them. They need to look at what’s best for the future, not what the fans might or might not want, especially with Daniel Alfredsson climbing up in the years. The pick later in the first round will help them there as well.
That’s all I’ve got for now. After the draft, I’ll do a bit of analysis and give my thoughts on how teams did.