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Coach’s Corner Rewind: October 21, 2017

This week’s edition of Coach’s Corner is dedicated in memoriam to Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie, who succumbed to his battle with brain cancer at the age of 53. This week is about more than hockey — it’s about the legacy Gord left behind for all Canadians and the people affected by Gord’s outreach around the world.

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Coach’s Corner Rewind: October 14, 2017

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Coach’s Corner Rewind: October 7, 2017

You’ve been waiting for it, and here it is: From last night’s 65th Season premiere of Hockey Night in Canada, the first Coach’s Corner of the 2017-18 season!

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2017-18 Central Division Preview

Here’s the final part of my 2017-18 season preview, predicting on the Central Division for this season:

Chicago Blackhawks

Key Additions: Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Connor Murphy

Key Losses: Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling, Marian Hossa

Everyone thought that the Chicago Blackhawks would win the Central Division last year. But no one — NO ONE — thought that they would be swept in the first round of the playoffs in four straight games scoring a combined total of three goals against the Nashville Predators. During locker room clean-out day, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman promised changes, and he delivered, sacrificing talent for cost-certain roster stability. During Draft Day, two blockbuster trades were made: one sending Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg, and another sending Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for Connor Murphy. The former was to finally get captain Jonathan Toews going after two sub-par seasons (also to get a much-needed backup goaltender after Scott Darling signed with the Carolina Hurricanes), and the latter cost certainty for an unproven defenseman. But is all this change too much for a team that’s literally facing the end of a decade of sustained success? Not really. New opportunities arise from these departures, and it’s up to guys like Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Michal Kempny to step up to the plate and prove that they actually belong here. Also, after two years in Dallas, Patrick Sharp signed a one-year contract to potentially have his 15-year NHL career come full circle with one more round with the team he won three Stanley Cup rings.

Prediction: Fourth

Colorado Avalanche

Key Additions: Colin Wilson, Jonathan Bernie, Nail Yakupov

Key Losses: Mikhail Grigorenko, Francois Beauchemin

It was as bad as it could get for the Colorado Avalanche. They finished last season with the worst record in the NHL, and what looked to be having a top-3 selection in the NHL Draft, turned out to be the fourth-overall pick in the NHL Draft. With that pick, the Avs selected their cornerstone of their blue line, defenseman Cale Makar. Makar, who will be playing college hockey for UMass-Amherst, won’t probably be NHL-ready until 2020, so this gives time for the Avalanche to get younger and faster. There’s also the uncertain future of Matt Duchene mixed into the Avs’ season storyline this year, too. Are they willing to give up one of their best big-name players to make this team better?

Prediction: Seventh

Dallas Stars

Key Additions: Ben Bishop, Alex Radulov, Martin Hanzal, Marc Methot, Tyler Pitlick

Key Losses: Patrick Sharp, Antti Niemi, Ales Hemsky

The Stars we’re injury-plagued last season, and what could have been a successful season led to a sixth-place finish in the Central. During the offseason, issues concerning the team were hopefully fixed. Need a number-one goaltender? They signed Ben Bishop. Need a depth scorer? They signed Alex Radulov. Need a second-line center? They signed Marty Hanzal. Need help on defense? They acquire Marc Methot in a trade? And need a new voice of reason to guide this team forward? Look n further than rehiring the man that coached this team to a a Stanley Cup Championship back in 1999 in Ken Hitchcock. On paper, this looks to be the most-improved team in the NHL, and I believe this team will indeed bounce back and get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year.

Prediction: Second

Minnesota Wild

Key Additions: Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno

Key Losses: Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Martin Hanzal

There were two notable stretches last season that defined the Minnesota Wild: the first one was the start of December to the All-Star break, when the Wild looked practically unbeatable, going 21-3-2 and was leading the Central Division to that point. The other was the month of March, when it looked like the Wild couldn’t win anything, going 4-10-2, and giving the Central Division away to the Chicago Blackhawks. Still, despite the best season ever in franchise history, the Wild were ousted by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs in six games. It’s going to be tough to have a repeat of last season, not to mention that there are some holes in the roster that need to be filled, one of them being second-line center. Which brings up 2015 first-round draft pick Joel Eriksson Ek. Eriksson Ek is a player to watch and could help the Wild be successful this upcoming season.

Prediction: Fifth

Nashville Predators

Key Additions: Nick Bonino, Alexei Emelin, Scott Hartnell

Key Losses: James Neal, Colin Wilson

The Nashville Predators we’re THE big story of last season, riding momentum off of a four-game series sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 19-year history of their franchise. Now usually, the following year would be difficult for a team to repeat success. Not for the Predators. The Predators just kicked their championship window wide open, and will be a threat to be at the top of the Central Division for years to come. Based on what they have, they are, on paper, the best team in the Central for the fact that they have the three hockey phases — offense, defense, and goaltending — all in top shape.

Prediction: Central Division Champions

St. Louis Blues

Key Additions: Brayden Schenn, Nate Prosser, Chris Thorburn

Key Losses: David Perron, Nail Yakupov

The Blues did fine in a time of transition, but right now, they are facing a big challenge. Patrick Berglund underwent another shoulder surgery and will be out until December. Alex Steen will miss the start of the season with a broken hand. Most importantly, Robby Fabbri, whose season was cut short by a torn left ACL last season, re-tore that surgically-repaired ACL and will miss the entire season. A promising NHL career now looks like it’s in complete jeopardy after all that rehabilitation and you suddenly go back to square one. Can the Blues find a way to fill these holes, along with restructuring their defense?

Prediction: Sixth

Winnipeg Jets

Key Addition: Dmitry Kulikov, Steve Mason, Matt Hendricks

Key Loss: Ondrej Pavelec

The Jets should be a playoff team right now. However, taking unnecessary penalties and below-average goaltending have set the Jets back. They did solve that problem between the pipes by signing veteran goaltender Steve Mason. Mason, the 2009 Calder Trophy winner with Columbus, will mostly be mentoring Connor Hellebuyck on how to be a better goaltender. And if the Jets can cut down on penalties this season, they will be a very dangerous team in the Central.

Prediction: Fifth

Well, that concludes the 2017-18 season preview. The next time I’ll be posting something, the games will officially count!

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2017-18 Pacific Division Preview

This is the third part of the 2017-18 NHL season preview, focusing on the newly-expanded Pacific Division:

Anaheim Ducks

Key Additions: Ryan Miller, Francois Beauchemin

Key Losses: Nate Thompson, Jonathan Bernie, Clayton Stoner, Shea Theodore

The Anaheim Ducks didn’t do much in the offseason after making it to the Western Conference Final for the second time in the last three years, but the addition of 37-year-old, 13-year NHL veteran goaltender Ryan Miller to backup John Gibson will be huge in the development of the 24-year-old netminder.

Prediction: Second

Arizona Coyotes

Key Additions: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan

Key Losses: Connor Murphy, Anthony DeAngelo, Mike Smith, Shane Doan

Welcome to year one of life after Shane Doan in Arizona. There should be more hope for a very young team because the moves General Manager John Chayka did was to get players with experience to teach the young players how to win in the NHL. Derek Stepan brings a 200-foot game with a scorer’s touch to the party. Niklas Hjalmarsson brings three Stanley Cup rings and a lot of experience to the Coyotes’ blue line. And Antti Rants, ho previously won a ring in Chicago as a third-string goaltender, will have his shot at being the #1 goaltender after spending the last two seasons backing up Henrik Lundqvist in New York. There won’t be success for the short-term, but the experience will actually help the Coyotes in the long-term.

Prediction: Seventh

Calgary Flames

Key Additions: Travis Hamonic, Mike Smith, Eddie Lack, Jaromir Jagr

Key Loss: Brian Elliott

Like in Anaheim, Calgary didn’t do a lot in the offseason. But with the few moves they made they bolstered their defense and improved their goaltending. Travis Hamonic wanted out of New York and wanted to play closer to home, and he got his wish by being traded to the Flames during the second day of the NHL Draft in Chicago. And with Brian Elliott walking away into free agency, the Flames needed to find a goaltender, and they found it in the form of 35-year-old Mike Smith. Smith, who played in Arizona for the last five years, will try to resurrect his career backstopping a team with one of the best young, skilled defensive cores in the entire league.

Prediction: Fourth

Edmonton Oilers

Key Additions: Ryan Strome, Jussi Jokinen

Key Losses: Jordan Eberle, Matt Hendricks

For the last few years, the road through the Western Conference went through Chicago. Now, the road through the Western Conference now runs through Edmonton. Yes, EDMONTON. After an amazing season led by captain, Ted Lindsay, Art Ross, and Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, the Oilers qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 11 years. And it looks like the Oilers will take the next step forward this year. Cam Talbot proved he’s no one-trick pony, posting the best season he’s ever had in his first year as a starting goaltender. Their defense is starting to prove its worth. It is no doubt that you are looking at the best team in the Western Conference right now.

Prediction: Pacific Division Champions

Los Angeles Kings

Key Additions: Teddy Purcell, Tom Gilbert

Key Losses: Milan Lucic, Luke Schenn

Not a lot of change happened in L.A. during the offseason, but there was change nonetheless. The Kings demoted Dustin Brown and promoted Anze Kopitar to team captain. But beyond that, the major question for the Kings this season is are they truly deep enough to contend in the Pacific Division? And can they score?

Prediction: Fifth

San Jose Sharks

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: Patrick Marleau

Losing Patrick Marleau in the offseason is big. But then again, this just might be the first move to get the Sharks younger and to transition into being a different team going in a different direction. They still do have a premier goal scorer in captain Joe Pavelski and 2017 Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. That talent will be needed for this team in transition.

Prediction: Third

Vancouver Canucks

Key Additions: Sam Gagner, Anders Nilsson

Key Losses: Ryan Miller

The Vancouver Canucks continued their rebuild by hiring Travis Green as their new head coach. Green, who previously coached the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica, is a player’s coach; one that could help both find and develop an identity on ice. Most of the players do know about Green’s style of play, one that led the Utica Comets to a Calder Cup Finals appearance in 2015. Despite adding veteran forward Sam Gagner and getting Anders Nilsson to backup Jacob Markstrom, the Canucks are pretty much a startup team looking to find its way back to the top.

Prediction: Eighth

Vegas Golden Knights

Key Additions: Everyone

Key Losses: None

What a time to be a fan of the NHL’s 31st team. You’re the new kids on the block; the first major professional sports franchise in Sin City. What are the expectations? Unfortunately, it’s not that high. Since the 1993-94 season, six expansion teams entered the NHL, but only the Florida Panthers had the best record among those expansion teams, finishing with a 33-34-17 record; their 83 points was one point short of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in that season! So what do I expect for the Knights? 35 wins, 77 points would probably be more than enough to call the Knights inaugural season a success. The one primary concern I have for the Knights is can their face of the franchise, three-time Stanley Cup Champion goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, acclimatize himself to play comfortably against Western Conference teams?

Prediction: Sixth

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2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview

Because of my work schedule this upcoming week, I won’t have time to post the Metropolitan Division preview on Saturday. So here’s my predictions on the Metropolitan Division for this upcoming season.

Carolina Hurricanes

Key Additions: Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Scott Darling

Key Losses: None

The Hurricanes just might be the most improved team in the Metropolitan Division, for the fact that they have one of the most up-and-coming defense cores in the NHL. Add that Scott Darling will have his chance of being the #1 goaltender, and the Canes just might be knocking on the doorstep of the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

Prediction: Fifth

Columbus Blue Jackets

Key Addition: Artemi Panarin

Key Losses: Brandon Saad, Sam Gagner

The Blue Jackets had the best season ever for a franchise. They capped the 2016 calendar year by winning 16 in a row. The only thing that stopped them was a first-round matchup against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, the Jackets need to build off of last season, and they did it with a blockbuster trade, sending Brandon Saad back to Chicago in exchange for Artemi Panarin. Panarin will be that first-line playmaker the Jackets need to get through the likes of the Penguins and the Capitals in the first round the playoffs. Either way, expectations will be elevated in the Buckeye State this season.

Prediction: Second

New Jersey Devils

Key Additions: Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle

Key Losses: None

Thanks to a couple of bouncing balls, the New Jersey Devils ended up picking #1 overall at the NHL Draft last June, and selected Nico Hischier. Hischier, who models his game after Pavel Datsyuk, gives the Devils a top center they’ve been looking for for a while. It may not lead to a playoff spot this season, but the Devils will be vastly improved from last season.

Prediction: Seventh

New York Islanders

Key Additions: Jordan Eberle, Kristers Gudlevskis

Key Losses: Mikhail Grabovski, Ryan Strome, Travis Hamonic

Let’s face the facts: the New York Islanders are officially a team in limbo. It all depends whether or not John Tavares wants to stay with the Islanders for the rest of his career. If the Isles say no, they can begin the painful process of rebuilding. If the Isles can get Tavares to re-sign, they can continue to contend, but the Islanders need to build around Tavares, starting with rebuilding the defense. Either way, this season doesn’t look good for the Isles.

Prediction: Eighth

New York Rangers

Key Additions: Kevin Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo, David Desharnais, Ondrej Pavelec

Key Losses: Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta

The Rangers started to retool by signing the biggest name in free agency in the offseason. Kevin Shattenkirk, who began last season in St. Louis, then traded to Washington as a rental player, now calls his hometown team as his own. Along with captain Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers still look to keep the championship window open with a more skilled defense.

Prediction: Fourth

Philadelphia Flyers

Key Additions: Brian Elliott, Jori Lehtera

Key Losses: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brayden Schenn

One of the most obvious problems last year for the Flyers was having a #1 goaltender. That problem should be fixed after the Flyers signed veteran goaltender Brian Elliott from free agency. Even with the addition of #2 pick Nolan Patrick, I don’t see the Flyers improving nor regressing this season. Still, the Flyers are a work in progress.

Prediction: Sixth

Pittsburgh Penguins

Key Addition: Matt Hunwick, Antti Niemi, Ryan Reaves

Key Losses: Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daley, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit

The Penguins did what no team has done in the last 20 years last year: repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Now they are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cup Championships since the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s. And this team is primed to do so, even without Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Matt Murray will officially take helm as the Penguins #1 goalie, and when you have Sidney Crosby, the best player of this generation, as a Penguins fan you’ve got to like your chances of pulling off a threepeat and cementing themselves as the Dynasty of the 2010s.

Prediction: Metropolitan Division Champions

Washington Capitals

Key Addition: Devante Smith-Pelly

Key Losses: Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner

The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy for the second straight season last season. They were ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round for the second straight season. After a Cup-or-bust season, the Caps look to this season once again facing the reality that their championship window might be closed after this season. Alex Ovechkin scored a measly 33 goals last season, which wasn’t up to “Ovi standards”. The Caps are still good, but this is a contract year for head coach Barry Trotz. Is he willing to lead the course for the Capitals moving forward, or do they need a new leader that can get them over the hump that is the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Prediction: Second

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2017-18 Atlantic Division Preview

For the next four Saturdays, I will preview what each division will stand during the 2017-18 NHL season. This week’s preview focuses on the Atlantic Division.

Boston Bruins

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: Dominic Moore, Drew Stafford

Not a lot has changed with the Bruins during the offseason, but as Bruce Cassidy enters his first full season as Bruins head coach, expect the Bruins to stay the course and improve over last season.

Prediction: Fourth

Buffalo Sabres

Key Additions: Nathan Beaulieu, Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville

Key Loss: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Dmitry Kulikov

The Sabres recently cleaned house, firing Head Coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Tim Murray and replacing them with new Head Coach Phil Housley and new General Manager Jason Botterill. As for the on ice product, expect the Sabres to be more structured defensively.

Prediction: Seventh

Detroit Red Wings

Key Addition: Trevor Daley

Key Losses: None

Hockeytown has a new home, and a new breath of life it will be for the Detroit Red Wings. Expect this team to somewhat be vastly improved with the addition of two-time Stanley Cup Champion defense Trevor Daley to stabilize the back end. But the Red Wings might be in trouble if Andreas Athanasiou decides to jump ship and play in the KHL.

Prediction: Fifth

Florida Panthers

Key Addition: Evgeny Dadonov, Micheal Haley, Radim Vrbata

Key Losses: Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen, Thomas Vanek

The Panthers are retooling. Plain and simple. After a tumultuous offseason in which one of their best young players was selected in the Expansion Draft, the Panthers need Jonathan Huberdeau to stay healthy if they want to contend in the Atlantic Division.

Prediction: Sixth

Montréal Canadiens

Key Additions: Karl Alzner, Ales Hemsky, Mark Streit

Key Losses: Andrei Markov, Alex Radulov

The Habs got better defensively in the offseason, when they signed Karl Alzner from free agency. With the departure of Andrei Markov to the KHL, the Habs got younger and faster on the back end. Add to the fact that you’ve got one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and this team is as strong as they come defensively.

Prediction: Third

Ottawa Senators

Key Additions: Nate Thompson, Johnny Oduya

Key Losses: Tommy Wingels, Viktor Stalberg

The Senators surprised everyone in the Eastern Conference by making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final and push the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Game 7. Well, it’s going to be even tougher for the Sens to get back here, even though they have one of the best defenses in the NHL.

Prediction: Fifth

Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Additions: Chris Kunitz, Dan Girardi

Key Loss: Jonathan Drouin

The Lightning didn’t factor that much after losing Steven Stamkos for a majority of the season. But this team should bounce back. Out of all the teams in the Atlantic Division, this, by far, is the most complete from front to back.

Prediction: Atlantic Division Champions

Toronto Maple Leafs

Key Additions: Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey, Dominic Moore

Key Loss: Brian Boyle

The Maple Leafs had the biggest turnaround in the NHL last season. Propelled by Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews, the Leafs made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013. Out of all the teams in the Atlantic, the Leafs might be able to give the Lightning a run for their money in the Atlantic. This team looks similar to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009-10 season when the only moves made in the offseason was to sign veteran players with playoff experience. That’s what Patrick Marleau brings. So to is Ron Hainsey who prior to last season, never played in a playoff game! This is a team everyone should look out for this season.

Prediction: Second

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