Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Thoughts as Playoffs Progress and Draft Lottery Looms

What, an off day?

What are hockey fans expected to do on a night with no hockey? I suppose mowing the grass comes to mind.

Well, when you're done bagging your lawn clippings, I thought I'd help fill that void leading up to Wednesday night's Predators-Ducks game 7 by digging into a variety of Flames-related topics that are top of mind.

We may be into the off-season but there never seems to be a shortage of things to discuss when it comes to the local hockey team.

So here we go, a new instalment of Eight From 80 Feet, which is what I call this recurring round-up of random musings.


1. Early Exit for Hudler

You wonder how long teams will continue to shop at the Calgary Flames outlet store come the trade deadline. So far, so good, I suppose, on the Kris Russell front but safe to say the pick-up of Jiri Hudler by the Florida Panthers was a failure.

Hudler's only entry on the scoresheet in six playoff games was an assist on the first goal of the game less than two minutes into game 1. He never got a sniff after that and never played much. He finished the post-season 15th on the Panthers in average ice time . Amongst forwards, he was ninth, just ahead of Derek MacKenzie. That's the same MacKenzie that two years ago had 11 points in 82 games while Hudler was racking up 76 points for the Flames.

It's the second year in a row the Flames have dealt an expiring contract at the trade deadline with that player not really working for his new team. Last year, it was Curtis Glencross that was dealt to the Washington Capitals.


There is a long list of eerie similarities between the Glencross and Hudler situations:
  • Both veteran wingers
  • Both pending UFAs
  • Both traded at age 32
  • Both traded to the Eastern Conference
  • Both got a 2nd round pick in return (Glencross also netting a 3rd)
  • Both traded in the midst of a sub-par year
  • Both were disappointments in the playoffs
  • Both teams eliminated early (although Washington lost in round 2)

The glaring question remaining is does Hudler's off-season also go the same way it went for Glencross where everyone including the player keep waiting for a contract offer that never did come -- and suddenly he had retired.

After all, this is a league that is trending towards getting younger and younger every year. Teams are sinking money and term into 20-somethings, not 30-somethings.

Given Hudler was eighth in league scoring just a year ago and led the NHL in even-strength points, surely he'll attract an offer from some team but I'd expect the annual average value to be modest and the term short. Maybe he even ends up with a Lee Stempniak-like deal. At a similar point to Hudler in his career, Stempniak has settled for one-year deals for less than $1-million each of the past two summers.


Flames Draft Pick

Meanwhile, the draft pick the Flames pick up from Florida will end up being as high as 53 or as low as 56, depending on what happens in round 2 of the playoffs. Specifically, it's how many division winners advance that is the trigger.

It will be 53rd if these teams advance to the conference finals:
  • Nashville or San Jose
  • St. Louis
  • Pittsburgh

It will be 56th if these teams advance to the conference finals:
  • Anaheim
  • Dallas
  • Washington

Obviously, the pick will fall somewhere in the middle if there's a mixture of results.


2. Czech Playoffs Over


On Sunday, the Czech Extraliga league final came to an end with HC Sparta Praha losing the best-of-seven final in six games. Of course, that is the team that Daniel Pribyl plays for. It had been reported weeks ago by Sportsnet Analyst Elliotte Friedman and was noted in this primer I put together on the 23-year-old centre/right winger that the Flames are expected to sign him.

PostMedia columnist Eric Francis then reported he was going to play for the Czechs at the IIHF World Championships in May but a knee injury that sidelined him the final three weeks of the playoffs would likely impact his availability for that tournament.

Today, via Twitter, there were further updates on the Pribyl situation.




So there you go. Stay tuned.


3. Fawning Over the Finns

This is the part where rabid Flames fans cross their fingers, toes, and whatever else they can cross. In the NHL Draft Lottery that will be held at 5 pm MT this Saturday, the Flames have roughly a 1-in-4 four chance of being one of the three teams selected and moving up somewhere into the top three.

Should that happen, it would be the answer to exactly what the Flames organization needs right now as I know the team is very high on the two big right-shooting Finnish wingers that along with Auston Matthews make up the consensus top three.

While Matthews' season in Switzerland ended a while ago now, the Finns continue to be hot topics as they have kept playing.

At the IIHF U18 World Championships gold medal game in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on the weekend, Jesse Puljujarvi had a hat-trick in Finland's 6-1 victory over Sweden. That game demonstrated why there is so much excitement about this player, who was the MVP of the World Junior Championships.

Barrelling in off the wing and using his size on one goal, a quick one-timer on another. He then capped off his hat-trick scoring a strong move to the net from in-close. Check out the highlights for yourself. Wearing No. 9, he had Finland's 4th, 5th and 6th goals. He also hits a goal post along the way.



Puljujarvi missed the first three games due the Liiga playoffs back in Finland but he made an immediate impact once he arrived with seven points (5 goals, 2 assists) in his four games. The young man, who turns 18 on May 7, is listed as 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. What an alluring talent.

Meanwhile, the guy many are even more high on is his fellow countrymen Patrik Laine. Listed at a very similar 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds, he just turned 18 last Tuesday so the two are less than three weeks apart in age.

Laine was not at the U18 tournament as he had more pressing matters. He was playing in the Finnish league playoffs and enjoying plenty of success too. Wearing jersey No. 29 for Tappara in the video below, he scored once and set up the other two goals last Friday in a 3-0 win over HIFK that at the time evened the league final at 2-2.




Since that game, Tappara went on to win the next two games including a 2-1 victory today in game 6 to win the league championship 4-2. In the deciding game, Laine scored the tying goal and had a game-high seven shots. Did I mention he just turned 18? That's nuts.


With 10 goals in 18 games, Laine was the leading goal scorer in the playoffs and he was tied for third overall with 15 points. Just as impressive, his 112 shots on goal in the post-season were 29 more than the next player. What a bright future this kid has.

While you take a moment to wipe up your drool, here are the draft lottery odds for the Flames:

1st - 8.5%
2nd - 8.8%
3rd - 9.0%
4th - Not possible
5th - 9.1%
6th - 35.5%
7th - 25.5%
8th - 3.7%


It's safe to say that Saturday will be a nerve-wracking night for Flames management as well as fans.



To get you warmed up, try the Future Considerations Draft Lottery Simulator. With a mock draft built into it, it's a good one but as a warning, it's very addictive.

It should be noted that only twice in the last 17 years have the Flames picked in the top six but they hit home runs with both with each player a core part of the future of this team in Sean Monahan (6th in 2013) and Sam Bennett (4th in 2014).

While Calgary may not get the that big strapping Finnish right winger they were hoping for, they should still leave the draft with a player that should be a big part of the future. I'll have more on the draft prospects outside the top three in the weeks to come.


4. Goalies Shining in the Playoffs

It was back in late February when in this second part of a two-part look at the Flames dire goaltending situation, I turned my focus to what was out there across the league for options. In it, I listed five goalies in each of five categories:
  • UFAs
  • Demoted veterans
  • Young NHL back-ups ready to break through
  • Young AHL starters waiting for an opportunity
  • Wild cards

Two months later, it's interesting to see how usage has changed with some and values could be changing. These playoffs in particular have been fascinating given so many goalies have come off the bench to supplant the starter and in many cases lead their teams to victories.


1. Brian Elliott, St. Louis

St. Louis moved on to the second round Monday night with a thrilling 3-2 game 7 victory over Chicago. Elliott is a big reason why the Blues were able to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Ranked No. 2 on my list of demoted veterans two months ago, should the 31-year-old lead St. Louis to a few more series victories, maybe even the Stanley Cup, where does he fit in next year on a team that has Jake Allen as their future?

I'm thinking his performance will make it even harder to get Elliott out of St. Louis. He's on an affordable contract and if they like their mix and see their window to win as right now, they'll want to keep both guys.


2. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim

A very similar situation as I had Andersen listed as No. 1 on the demoted veterans list. He's five years younger than Elliott so that puts him in a bit of a different light but like St. Louis and Allen, the Ducks also have a young star in John Gibson, who you'd think is still their future. Gibson opened the playoffs in net for Anaheim but was replaced after the Ducks went down 2-0 and it's been Andersen's crease ever since.

A pending RFA in line for a big raise, the more Andersen plays and the better he performs, the higher the asking price is going to be for the big Dane. Again, one wonders how keen Anaheim will be to get rid of though, especially if they go on to enjoy a long playoff run with him as their guy.


3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay

He has been outstanding for the Lightning, reinforcing his importance to that team. Should the Lightning move on from Steven Stamkos and my gut feeling is that's exactly what happens  -- Jonathan Drouin's emergence a pivotal factor -- than they should have the money to re-sign Bishop, who as it stands today would be a UFA after the 2016-17 season.

However, in that case, perhaps Andrei Vasilevskiy becomes a target as a young player that the Lightning might be willing to trade given they would almost certainly lose him for nothing in an expansion draft.


4. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh

Another curious situation. Murray topped my list of AHL starters looking to break through and you can see why. But of course, the Penguins still have Marc-Andre Fleury under contract for three more years. If there's no expansion, a Murray-Fleury tandem will look great for Pittsburgh for the immediate future but should there be an expansion draft, the odds of losing one of them would be high so again, does one of them become free.

Depending on how the remainder of these playoffs go, might the goalie that becomes available be Fleury instead? Stay tuned on this front as we keep a close eye on how Murray performs.


5. Scott Darling, Chicago

What a performance by Corey Crawford in game 7. He was phenomenal in keeping the game tied and giving the Blackhawks a chance to pull out a win. It goes to show that Crawford is still very much the man in Chicago so where does that leave Darling, who is a very capable back-up and ranked No. 2 on my list of back-ups looking to break through.

Darling is a pending UFA after next season and you know the Blackhawks won't be able afford to re-sign him so perhaps the 6-foot-6 keeper could be available this off-season.


6. Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia

That was a might fine body of work the Czech turned in against the Capitals after relieving a very mediocre Steve Mason halfway through the series. I don't see Neuvirth as an option for Calgary given he very well could be a guy the Flyers re-sign and move forward with given Mason will be a pending UFA next season.


Meanwhile, Thomas Greiss has impressed with the Isles, playing for the injured Jaroslav Halak. Petr Mrazek is clearly the guy in Detroit now although I'm not all that keen on Jimmy Howard if I'm the Flames.

Two things I've taken away from this post-season.
  1. The importance of quality goaltending has only been reinforced. They can steal you games, they make your penalty-killing much better. Bringing a top-notch goaltender could turn around the Flames fortunes pretty quickly.
  2. There are going to be decent goalies available this summer, especially if the league announces that an expansion draft will go ahead in June 2017 and teams get nervous about potentially losing a good goalie for nothing. But what is Calgary prepared to surrender?



5. Halfway to Adding Another First Round Pick

So far, so good, for the Flames and their hopes of the second round draft pick in 2016 they got from Dallas in the Kris Russell deal becoming a first round pick instead.

In that deal that saw Calgary pick up D Jyrki Jokipakka and 2014 second rounder C Brett Pollock, Calgary also got a conditional second round pick. The conditions were that it would convert to a first round pick if the Stars can progress to the Western Final and if Russell plays a minimum of 50 percent of the games in rounds 1 and 2. While the ex-Flame did miss one game due to being ill, he played in the other five.

Of course, getting past this next round will be awfully tough. Now that the Blues have slayed their demons in ousting Chicago, they are going to be a tough team to stop. Plus it wasn't all that re-assuring to see the Stars nearly fritter away a four-goal lead in the third period on Sunday.

As a reminder, while Calgary was last in the league in save percentage in 2016, Dallas was 29th and it's showing. They switched to Antti Niemi for games 4 and 5 then went back to Kari Lehtonen again in game 6 but after that third period implosion, who knows who will start in the next round.

But, the Stars offence is sure going, Jason Spezza has stepped up and played really well. If they can get Tyler Seguin back that would be a big boost with Jamie Benn doing his regular thing. This next series should be a good one given the contrast styles of the team teams. St. Louis swept the season series.

Should Dallas defeat St. Louis, the Flames draft pick will fall between 27 and 30 depending on how much further the Stars advance. If the Blues win, that draft pick will end up being 55 or 56.  That's a big difference. Safe to say most of Calgary will be rooting on the Stars.


6. Pro or No Pro

Looking ahead to new faces we might see in Stockton in 2016-17, second rounder D Rasmus Andersson and sixth rounder LW/RW Andrew Mangiapane are both age-eligible to play in the AHL next season and given where their games have progressed to in major junior, I would expect both of them to make that jump.

Looking at the rest of the 2015 NHL Draft, we know D Oliver Kylington already played there this season with him not subject to the age rules having come from Europe. As for fifth rounder C Pavel Karnaukhov (Calgary, WHL) and seventh rounder D Riley Bruce (North Bay, OHL), they were born in 1997 so will have to wait at least one more year.

I should add that G Nick Schneider, who played nine games for Stockton after his season with Medicine Hat ended, is also not age-eligible to play in the AHL next season so he'll be back in the WHL for at least one more year.

From the 2014 draft, G Mason McDonald would be old enough to be assigned to the AHL this year and while I'd suggest that or the ECHL is likely, it may depend on what happens in addressing the goaltending this summer. McDonald could also return to junior as an overager. There won't be anyone else from that draft class. First rounder C Sam Bennett is in Calgary, second rounder RW Hunter Smith and seventh rounder RW Austin Carroll played this year in Stockton. Third rounder D Brandon Hickey has confirmed he's heading back to Boston University and sixth rounder D Adam Ollas-Mattsson has another year remaining on a two-year deal he signed with Djurgardens in Sweden.

The only other of note that will be turning pro for sure is 2013 third rounder Keegan Kanzig, who started in the AHL this season before returning to the WHL for his overage season.


7. Barrie in a Big Trouble

The Barrie Colts find themselves in a huge hole after losing once again to Niagara on Monday night. Despite entering the series as the favourite and opening up at home, Barrie is down 3-0 and are looking at a must-win on the road when the series resumes on Wednesday.

In the third round series, Mangiapane has two goals and two assists including a dandy shorthanded goal in game one that you can watch on the OHL website, It's at around 1:05.

Overall, Mangiapane is 10-11-21 in 14 post-season games while Andersson is 2-12-14. Despite the heightened competition of the playoffs, both have continued to put up offence just like they did in the regular season.


8. Potential Penticton Star Power

It's still over four months away but the anticipation is already building for the Young Stars Classic tournament given the kind of talent that could be on display in Penticton this September.

After all, the four teams in that tournament are among the six lowest finishers in the NHL -- Winnipeg (25th), Calgary (26th), Vancouver (28th), Edmonton (29th). Wouldn't it be something if that much ballyhooed top three of Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi all end up heading to the Okanagan.

While Connor McDavid got all the hype last year in Penticton as the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, the other three teams were without first round representation from that previous draft.
  • Calgary - Traded its first round pick (15th) to Boston in the Dougie Hamilton trade
  • Winnipeg - Both of its 2015 first rounders -- LW Kyle Connor (17th) and C Jack Roslovic (25th) went to college so were unavailable.
  • Vancouver - Its 2015 first rounder RW Brock Boeser (23rd) also was unavailable due to being in school.

This year would more closely resemble 2014's tournament that featured C Leon Draisaitl (3rd to Edmonton), C Sam Bennett (4th to Calgary), LW Nik Ehlers (9th to Winnipeg) and C Jared McCann (24th to Vancouver).

The star power that year, fresh from the 2014 NHL Draft, would have been even better had RW Jake Virtanen (6th to Vancouver) not missed the tournament due to injury.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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2 comments:

  1. Keep up the good work. From this Article it seems that Calgary should consider picking the Finn RW even if they luck out in No 1 position

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. It reminds me a little bit of the situation with Sean Monahan in his draft year. His OHL team missed the playoffs so he was done so much earlier than guys like Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, who continued playing and went all the way to the Memorial Cup. As a result, there is always going to be more buzz around the players you're still watching, especially when so many more eyes come spring start to turn towards prospects. I feel the same thing is happening with Matthews, he's losing ground but not through anything he's done, but more so because the two Finns continue to turn in stirling showings.

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