Sunday, 19 September 2021

Back To La Belle Province

John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, and Brayden Schenn - those were the first five players taken in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the five teams shown in the image, and only Hedman remains with the team who drafted him. The Entry Draft that season took place in Montreal, and there was a lot of anticipation over which team would win the lottery to earn the right to draft Tavares who was seen as a player who could change the fortunes of whichever team chose him. Of those five players, it's Hedman and Schenn who have hoisted the Stanley Cup, so it will be interesting to see who is selected by which team when the NHL Entry Draft returns to Montreal this year!

July 7 and 8 will see 32 teams choose players who they believe will improve the franchise's fortunes, and Montreal is going to get this year's draft in person after COVID-19 forced the last two drafts to be done virtually. While there were fun and there were a few cool surprises - Alex Trebek, may he rest in peace eternally - getting back inside a venue and seeing the names appear on the big board behind Bettman will feel a lot more normal.

Looking back on that 2009 draft year, there's one player from the first-round selections that never played in the NHL. Carolina selected left-winger Philippe Paradis from the Shawinigan Cataractes with the 27th-overall pick that season, but Paradis never got past the AHL level. Part of that may be that he was traded during his final QMJHL year from Carolina to Toronto for Jiri Tlusty, and then was traded from the Maple Leafs in the summer with Chris DiDomenico and Viktor Stalberg to the Chicago Blackhawks for Kriss Versteeg and Billy Sweatt.

As we know, the Blackhawks had just won their first Stanley Cup of that decade in 2010, and they were loaded with good offensive wingers. Cracking that lineup would be difficult for a number of IceHogs who were down the depth chart, so Paradis went about his business in Rockford where he played a physical style of hockey that he hoped would get him noticed.

On April 3, 2013 as the Blackhawks were retooling for a second Stanley Cup, Paradis was traded from the Blackhawks to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Kirill Gotovets which meant he was onto another team whose depth at the wing position left him considerably down the depth chart. However, Paradis reported to Syracuse where he continued to chip in offensively while playing his physical brand of hockey.

Paradis' 2014-15 season would be cut short after starting the season with eight goals and seven assists in 34 games as it appeared he found his groove in Syracuse. However, a torn ACL ended his promising season far too early as Paradis was forced to watch from the sidelines as the ligament healed. What looked like an innocent play as he attempted to get up after a player fell on him, his leg went in the opposite direction he needed it to go and the ligament snapped. For Paradis, the sound he heard and the pain he felt after the ligament gave out was the clear sign that something wasn't right, and it would turn out to be a serious injury.

"I just heard a pop, like something stretching. I didn't know really what it was," Paradis told Lindsay Kramer of Syracuse.com. "My leg was kind of bending at that time. I remember trying to put it straight. It just hurt like crazy."

Paradis would come back for one more season with Syracuse, but his production dipped despite him still being a physical player on the ice. With his contract expiring, the Lightning appeared to not have offered a new contract to Paradis, making him a free agent. The 2016-17 season is a gap in his career, but Paradis returned to LNAH for a handful of games in 2017-18 before jumping to Europe in 2018-19 where he played 20 games in the AlpsHL with Jesenice where he scored 19 goals and added seven helpers. He returned to the LNAH in 2019-20, and it appears his career ended there.

Foe what it's worth, Paradis played one less game than another player from that draft as the Dallas Stars used 8th-overall pick in the draft to select Scott Glennie who played exactly one NHL game in his career. Glennie did spend time with the Texas Stars for several seasons before playing the 2016-17 season with the Manitoba Moose where he closed out his career.

While there are always a handful of players whose NHL dreams stop short once they're drafted, we'll see who gets picked at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft live from the Centre Bell on July 7 and 8 as 32 teams restock and retool for the future!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Numbers That Don't Mean Much

With Canada West hockey starting in less than a month, most of the teams have already played in some sort of exhibition game or series against other teams. Whether they be prep teams, Canada West teams, or teams from other university leagues such as the ACAC, every team in Canada West women's hockey has squeezed at least one game in on their preseason schedule at this point. In what has become an annual tradition since 2017, the Manitoba Bisons and Regina Cougars met in a neutral site game to work through a couple of preseason tilts, so I thought it might be a good time to look at how these preseason games have played out with respect to the numbers.

With Manitoba winning both games this weekend in Russell, Manitoba by 3-1 scores, the Bisons improved their preseason record over the Cougars to an impressive 11-2 mark. The Bisons have scored 46 goals in those 13 contests to Regina's 17 goals, so it appears that the easternmost Canada West team is dominant when compared to the southern Saskatchewan team. This, though, is where we need to pump the brakes a little because we all know that preseason results may not be entirely accurate when it comes to regular season final standings.

While the results from this season will play out over the next few months, let's look at the seasons where these two teams met in the preseason and see how things turned out.

In 2019-20, the Bisons and Cougars met twice in the preseason with the Bisons winning 6-0 while the Cougars won 1-0. During the season, Regina went 2-1-1-0 (W-L-OTW-OTL) compared to Manitoba's 1-2-0-1. Manitoba was shutout three times by the Cougars, scoring just two goals in four games while Regina scored six in those four games. At the end of the season, Regina finished nine points ahead of Bisons in the standings, so that 6-0 win by the Bisons really was an aberration from how the regular season played out.

In 2018-19, the Bisons and Cougars met once in the preseason with the Bisons prevailing by a 4-2 score. The Bisons went 3-0-1-0 in the four regular season gamnes against the Cougars, outscoring Regina by an 18-9 count over those games. The biggest number in this season's comparison is that the Bisons finished 25 points ahead of the Cougars in the standings. That 4-2 score might have suggested the Bisons were better, but I'm not sure it showed that they were 25 points better.

In 2017-18, the Bisons picked up two preseason wins over the Cougars by 2-1 and 4-2 scores. The regular season saw the Bisons go 4-0 over the Cougars as they outscored Regina 11-2 in those games, so this season saw the preseason results carry into the regular season. It should be noted, though, that Manitoba, who would go on to win the U SPORTS National Championship that season, finished the season 32 points ahead of Regina. Again, the low-scoring affairs didn't seem to suggest a gap that wide between the two teams.

We need to skip to the 2014-15 season where the Bisons and Cougars met in the preseason once more. The Bisons would win 4-0 in that lone preseason game, and they would take the season series by a 1-0-2-1 record compared to the Cougars' record of 0-1-1-2. If it weren't for the 6-1 win late in the season by the Bisons, the total goals would see a one-goal difference between the two teams. However, Manitoba did end up outscoring Regina 11-5 in the season series, but the three close games that needed extra time to decide them was not indicative of the 16-point difference that Manitoba had on Regina that season.

2012-13 is the next preseason game between these two programs, and Manitoba would win that game by a 5-3 score. However, Regina would go 2-0-2-0 in the regular season while Manitoba recored an 0-2-0-2 record against Regina. Regina outscored Manitoba 14-9 in those four games, and they'd finish 13 points ahead of the Bisons in the standings as the 5-3 win by the Bisons in the preseason clearly meant nothing once the real games started.

2011-12 saw Manitoba and Regina split the two preseason games with Regina winning 2-1 before Manitoba took the second contest by a 3-2 score. During the regular season, Manitoba went 3-0-0-1 to Regina's 0-3-1-0 record as Mantioba outscored Regina 9-5 in those contests. What makes this season a little weird is that Manitoba finished in fifth-place while Regina finished in sixth-place, but there was a 12-point gap between the two teams. While the regular season scoring was similar to the close results in the preseason, the 3-0-0-1 record and the 12-point advantage in the standings posted by Manitoba were not.

The final season we'll look at is the 2010-11 season where Manitoba took both preseason games over Regina by 7-0 and 4-2 scores. Things didn't get much better for Regina in the regular season as Manitoba went 3-1-0-0 while outscoring Regina 19-3 in those games, but Regina's 2-1 win at the end of January certainly wasn't expected. Based on these scores, it looked like Manitoba might be some sort of juggernaut, but Manitoba finished 15 points ahead of Regina in the standings.

So what does this all mean?

Th answer is that the scoring over the course of the season seems to be fairly similar to what we see in the preseason aside from a few weird scores that don't line up with the rest of the season. Because the preseason has so many strange variables that can be magnified in one or two games, we really should look at it as less of a predictor of results for the season and more as a way to predict scoring trends in a season. That's what I usually take away from the scoring - it's less about wins and losses and more about how teams are playing systemically in terms of goals-for and goals-against.

We also know that Regina, as a team, is typically a slow starter when it comes to earning wins early in the season. Sarah Hodges is an exceptional coach who really moulds her team into what she wants by the time the calendar flips to November and December, so September and October scores, in my view, mean very little as Sarah implements her systems and has her young players adapt to how she needs them to play within that system. Because of these seemingly annual slow starts by the Cougars, I don't lend much belief in wins and losses because the Cougars always seem to find a playoff spot by the end of the season.

In saying all that, just because the Bisons went 2-0 on the strength of back-to-back 3-1 wins this weekend doesn't mean fans shouldn't be excited about either team. Manitoba and Regina are both young, fast teams who have a ton of talent, and I'm guessing from those scores that we're going to see four really good games between these two squads. If it's any indication, I see these two teams playing down to the wire for playoff spots and possibly jockeying for position when it comes to who plays whom in the playoffs.

The one big takeaway from all of this, though, is that we need to temper expectations when it comes to preseason results. Winning is fun and it always feels good, but the games start for real on October 15. Both teams are using these games to build for that night.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 17 September 2021

There's Something Missing Here

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly seems like a smart guy. He's well-spoken and seems very well versed in the happenings in hockey. He's risen to a place of prominence within the NHL where people listen when he speaks, and he usually has something important to say when he does speak. I've never seen him get caught in a discussion where he's had to backtrack or back-pedal in any way, so let's give credit where credit is due and say that Bill Daly comes prepared when he holds a press conference or conference call. The chat he did today with NHL.com's Nick Cotsonika, though, seems like he missed a pretty big opportunity when it comes to "growing the game".

The man who is second in command behind NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sat down with Cotsonika to discuss the growth of the game, and he was fairly candid on a lot of topics. For example, Daly doesn't see the league expanding in the forseeable future (sorry, Quebec and Houston). He discussed having NHL teams play international games in more locations such as Russia and Mexico. And he chats about the Olympics once more as the NHL players are preparing themselves for more Olympic hockey action.

My only question: where is the chatter about a professional women's hockey league?

Now, to be fair to Mr. Daly, perhaps Mr. Cotsonika never had that as one of his questions. Mr. Daly may have simply responded to the questions asked by Mr. Cotsonika, but there's one line that stood out for me when Mr. Daly answered the questions that really could have set the stage for the entire discussion about growth: "The equation is, 'Is the addition of the franchise good for the League? Does it help grow the League?'"

While Mr. Daly was referring to the 32 NHL teams in that line regarding possible future expansion, there could be the possibility of adding as many as six more teams to the NHL's umbrella of business by mentioning a professional women's league once more. Further to that, this would hit the target dead-center when it comes to growing the game as we've seen the international opportunities for women in hockey grow by leaps and bounds over the last decade as more and more countries begin to develop national women's team programs.

Both the PWHPA and NWHL have been promoting their numbers in terms of viewership through streaming during the pandemic, and the figures seem encouraging despite not seeing the raw data on those numbers. But in an Olympic year where we've seen the women's final at the US Open outdraw the men's final, where we've seen huge numbers come back for Olympic soccer in Canada, and where it truly seems like women are setting the bar at international competitions for viewership, this "growing the game" conversation between Daly and Cotsonika seemed like it missed a very large section of the human population demographic.

I know that Bill Daly is responsible for talking about the NHL because that's the business for whom he works. I'm not saying he shouldn't be talking about growing the game internationally when it comes to NHL interests, but let's be honest when we say that a lot of hockey fans can name a men's player from Slovenia but none can name a player from Russia.

If the NHL truly wants a stake in the international revenue game by attracting more fans and more eyeballs, it needs to grasp the concept that 50% of the population is women and a large chunk of current hockey fans do, in fact, like watching women's hockey. If the NHL is going to grow the game internationally, it needs to start talking about a professional women's hockey league that has the NHL's backing more often and with more sincerity than "we'll look at this when all other options are exhausted".

Men's hockey and, specifically, doesn't really need a ton of help in promoting itself because everyone knows it exists. The NHL can play games in all sorts of countries, but there are all sorts of economic and systemic reasons why the NHL isn't more popular globally. Sending the LA Kings an the Vancouver Canucks to Uzbekistan to play a handful of meaningless games does very little to help the NHL's brand in that country.

However, if you had two NHL-supported women's teams accompany NHL teams to places like Sweden or France, the turnout for those games could be the fuse that lights the fire under the women's programs in those countries. This is why I can't understand why the NHL isn't talking about the women's game when they talk about growing the game - it would be such an easy way for them to appeal to so many more people internationally than just showing up with the NHL shield and proclaiming "we're here!"

I don't claim to be smarter than Bill Daly in any respect, but it just seems like the NHL is missing the open-net goals that are there for the taking when it comes to growing NHL business in all facets overseas.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 16 September 2021

The Hockey Show - Episode 469

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back tonight with Teebz and Jason going through a number of stories that likely didn't catch your attention, but certainly deserve closer looks. Having worked from home for so long, I didn't even notice that this is show #1 of Season 10 at this point, but we'll celebrate that achievement once we're back in the studio on campus at the University of Manitoba. Until that time, let's dig into the hockey stuff because there are a few things to go over!

Teebz and Jason kick off the show with a quick remembrance of Norm MacDonald and his love of hockey and a birthday shout-out for Bisons women's hockey head coach Jon Rempel! With regards to the news, the co-hosts pick apart the craziness of Sylvain Lefebvre's decision to end his coaching stint with the Blue Jackets over his refusal to get vaccination. They try to justify the Arizona Coyotes hiring John Ferguson Jr. as their assistant general manager. They celebrate the IIHF creating a new tournament for four new women's national teams and discuss how this makes the women's game better. They point out why Jake Linhart's headline wasn't the actual story behind his decision to sign with Iowa that was celebrated by the media. They have an update on Robert Morris University's attempt to re-establish NCAA hockey. They write-off Jake Virtanen in the KHL. They welcome a new voice to Canada West women's hockey. And Teebz reminds everyone of the requirements for attending Bisons games this season as the doors are open for fans to come and watch preseason games! It's another busy show with as Teebz and Jason work through these stories, so make sure you tune in at 5:30pm CT on 101.5 FM, Channel 718 on MTS TV, or via UMFM.com!

Where's the best place can you hear tonight's show if you're outside Winnipeg or not near a radio, you ask? The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome if you want to listen online. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, so if you want to stream the show I'd recommend Radio Garden to do that as it works nicely with Safari. If you're more of an app person, we recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or Google Play Store. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

If you have questions, you can email all show queries and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! I'm here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz and Jason pay their respects to Norm MacDonald and Jon Rempel, question a questionable decision, try to justify a weird hiring, discuss the growth of the game, explain why Jake Linhart's story is so much bigger than "first", dive into more RMU news, are excited to meet a new broadcast colleague, and much more exclusively on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: September 16, 2021: Episode 469

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Cancelled

As we know from the past year and a half, there have been many tournaments and events cancelled in the hockey world. This shouldn't come as a surprise as we battled a worldwide pandemic during that time, but it seemed like we were creeping back towards some normalcy with hockey seasons getting close to starting, teams requiring staff, players, and fans to be vaccinated, and facilities putting policies in place for all people who work in and around the arenas. With the Delta variant still very present in everyone's life, however, two countries have decided to cancel events for its national teams.

Announced last Friday, New Zealand is keeping its U18 women's and U20 men's national teams from their respective 2022 IIHF World Championship events as New Zealand looks to control its COVID-19 situation. As we know from New Zealand's previous efforts, one case was too many for them, so it appears they will prevent its U18 women's team from travelling to Turkey in January while the U20 men's team will be prevented from playing in Mexico in January.

New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation President Andy Mills stated that while this was a no doubt a disappointment for the players and staff, it was the right decision for the NZIHF to make in order to ensure that the health and safety of its teams. New Zealand, as stated above, would have required these players to quarantine after returning, and this was also cited as a factor in preventing these teams from going to their tournaments.

The other country who decided to pull its team was Iran whose national women's team would have competed at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Division III Group B tournament. What makes this one a little more eyebrow-raising is that the Iranian men's national team will still play, at the time of writing, in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division IV tournament scheduled for March 3-9, 2022 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Iranian women's rights aside when it comes to that country's decision as that's another blog entry altogether, New Zealand's decision to withdraw their teams seems a little overcautious, but that's how the country has handled the entire pandemic. They've been reluctant to allow foreign travellers, banning neighbouring Australians from travelling to the island nation, as well as locking down the country when even one case was detected. Again, I don't find a problem in this strategy outside of it being quite strict, but New Zealand has escaped this past 18 months with just 27 deaths and only 4000 sick.

What I do fear is that these young men and women who were scheduled to play in these tournaments will now have aged out of the U18 and U20 categories without having played any international hockey for the past two years. That seems awfully unfair to those kids when it comes to them following their hockey dreams, but public safety is truly a matter for all in New Zealand.

The last time the U18 New Zealand women's national team played was February 2, 2020 when they lost the bronze-medal game to Mexico 6-3 to finish in fourth-place at the four team 2020 IIHF World Women's U18 Division II Group B Championship. For the record, they went 0-3 in round-robin play against Spain, Mexico, and Turkey before losing a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime game to Spain in the semifinal. But when you consider that the Mexico game was their last international game in February 2020, there are definitely women who have aged out of the U18 program.

The same goes for the U20 men's program who played their last game in a 6-1 loss to Bulgaria on January 19, 2020 to finish in sixth-place at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Division III Championship. Players such as Lochlan Butler and Nathan van Slooten played in the 2020 tournament, but they never got a chance to suit up for the U20 team after that as tournaments were cancelled and New Zealand denied their teams from participating. It's these players I feel for simply because they're missing years of hockey where they could be improving their games.

With another year gone due to the NZIHF's decisions, there will be another year of players who miss out on their last chances in representing New Zealand on the international stage. These experiences would be immense in the development of the young New Zealand men and women playing in these tournaments, so these decisions, while good for public safety, are literally setting back the development of hockey players in New Zealand.

Assuming everyone was vaccinated and following the safety protocols set out by the tournaments, I don't understand why New Zealand is denying these men and women the opportunity to play hockey and represent the country. While there is a risk they could contract the virus while travelling, it would be expected that they would take all the necessary steps to prevent that from happening.

Instead, New Zealand falls further behind the other countries it was competing against for promotion within the respective championship structures, and these players miss out on amazing opportunities to gain experience and possibly shock the world with their skills.

While I respect New Zealand's effort to eradicate the virus within their borders, at some point they have to let the kids off the island to play. Otherwise, why have international hockey teams at all?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!