Archive for the ‘Team USA’ Category

What Blackhawks Fans Should Learn from the World Cup

September 30, 2016

The World Cup of Hockey is over and Canada won the tournament without losing a game, which surprised no one. Jonathan Toews set up with winning goal with a shorthanded pass to Brad Marchand. We can all move on to the normal NHL preseason and look forward to the start of the regular season of games.

But what should Chicago Blackhawks fans take away from the World Cup?

Toews is still a brilliant, hard-working, heady player.

Feel good Hawks Fans, about your Captain. There was a lot of criticism of Toews based on his 58 points last year coupled next to his $10.5 million salary. Yes some of that was due to a carousel of Left Wings on his line last year that were not top 9 NHL talent, some of which are no longer even in the NHL. Yes some was due to Hossa losing some of his scoring touch as he enters his late 30s. And some was due to the fatigue of playing as many games as anyone over the past five seasons, with extended playoff runs, Olympic Golds, and the World Cup. But you know what? He showed that he is the swiss army tool of the Canadian Team and can excel shutting guys down, playing the power play, penalty killing, and generating offense. He is smart and plays winning hockey all the time. No we don’t know what he will have to work with on the wings. But Captain Serious will be the man in the middle this year for Chicago.

Hossa can still play with the big boys.

Could you see any of the Hawks rookies getting first line minutes on Ralph Kruger’s Team Europe this tournament? No, neither can I. Regardless of where Hossa plays for the Blackhawks this year, it was plain to see he is still the second best Right Wing on the team after Patrick Kane. Defensively he is as elite as elite can get. Does he convert less of his chances now than when he was younger? Yes. But Hossa is still a puck possession machine, able to carry the puck and shield it with his body for extended periods of time in the offensive zone, a skill that few players have at his level. He could still be a very useful player for a top line that has some legit help on the other wing. Most importantly, he still has his wheels. After the first Blackhawks preseason game, I don’t see anyone bumping Hossa down to the third line.

Kane will be better with the Hawks.

Kane was the best offensive player on a miserable performing Team USA. The other players constantly deferred to Kane, whose stickhandling and ability to skate and handle the puck and create offense is at the top of the game. If he is reunited with Artemi Panarin with Anisimov in the middle, he will actually play on a better line with the Blackhawks than he ever did with Team USA. It is probably too much to expect a follow up MVP season, but Kane is still in his prime and will put up his numbers, whether they are more a point a game if he has to carry a line, or closer to the 100 plus points he put up last year playing with another dynamic talent in Panarin.

Michal Kempny will be a very solid bottom pair defenseman.

Kempny was getting number one pair minutes for the Czech Team. Despite their lack of success, Kempny acquitted himself well against the best players in the world as he made the adjustment to the smaller narrower ice surface of the NHL rinks as compared to the European rinks where he has played in the KHL. Playing the protected minutes the Blackhawks will give their 5-6 defensemen, Kempny have time to complete his adjustment to the NHL playing style and should excel. By the end of the year, the Hawks will know if he can ascend to the 4th defenseman position held by Brian Campbell, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Kempny will be a restricted free agent.

Ville Pokka is heading to Rockford to start the season.

Barring a trade, Ville Pokka will start the season in Rockford. He was ok in playing 3rd pair minutes for Team Finland, who did not win a game. Getting burned by a full speed Connor McDavid move doesn’t really count against him though, as there will be a long line of veteran NHL defenseman added to that list this year. Pokka had the look of a guy that could get by at the NHL level on 3rd pair minutes, but when you are 7 deep at defense already, you don’t need someone that you can just ‘get by’ with on your last pair. Not to mention that Gustav Forsling is probably considered ahead of Pokka right now if the Hawks were to deal a TVR for example. But with Campbell and Roszival UFAs and Kempny an RFA after this season, Pokka will have an important role to play on the Blackhawks next season providing inexpensive defensive depth.

Why Team North America is a Horrible Idea!

September 19, 2016

The World Cup of Hockey is underway and already we have seen significant buzz generated by Team North America. Comprised of the young 23 and under players from Canada and the United States, Team North America boasts a lot of high end skill and speed, and a brand of exciting, offensive hockey. So why would that be a bad idea?

Well, the Canada Cup, which is now the World Cup of Hockey, needed 8 teams to fill out their round robin tournament schedule. Traditionally, like the Olympics, the top 8 countries would be represented. However, with the decline of Slovakian hockey, and the mediocrity of the Swiss and German programs, World Cup organizers did not want to have two teams in the tournament that would lose every game 18-0. Or teams that would merely stack all 5 players on their own blueline trying to break up rush after rush. It was due to the weakness of these secondary countries relative to the powers of Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czechs that Team North America and Team Europe (cobbled together from the many European players from countries not deep enough to field a competitive team).

While it can be argued that Team Europe makes sense in a way, Team North America does nothing but penalize the US team. Why? Take a look at the North American Roster:

Forwards

Eichel (US) – McDavid – Gaudreau (US)

Saad (US) – Scheifele – A. Matthews (US)

MacKinnon – Hopkins – Drouin

Trochedk (US) – Couturier – Larkin (US)

Miller (US)

Defense

Ekblad – Jones (US)

Gostisbehere (US) – Parayko

Trouba (US) – Murray

Reilly

Goal

Murray

Gibson (US)

Hellebuck (US)

Glancing at the non-US players, all of whom are Canadian, which of these guys would have had a hope or a prayer to make the stacked Canadian team? I would argue that only Connor McDavid would have made the Canadian team if there were no Team North America. Maybe Ekblad would have an outside chance in a few years.

However, how much less lonely would Patrick Kane be on the skill side of the US team if he had Johnny Gaudreau, Austin Matthews, Jack Eichel, and Brandon Saad as running mates? Additionally, Larkin, Jones, and Gostisbehere could all have easily made the team. If you don’t think the US Team management wouldn’t swap out the plodding David Backes, Dubinsky, Palmieri, and Abdelkader and JVR for Eichel, Saad, Gaudreau, Matthews, Saad, and Larkin you are crazy. Could the US, who got shutout in their first game, use such an infusion of skill and speed? Of course. Could you see them swapping Erick and Jack, a couple of Johnsons, for Gostisbehere and Seth Jones? Of course.

This tournament is stacked in Canada’s favor as a result. They lost virtually no one from their team to form Team North America, while there are easily 6-7 guys, or 1/3rd of the roster, that the US has playing for Team North America. We are not seeing, even close, to the best the US has to offer. And in what is supposed to be a best on best tournament, that is very disappointing.

As much fun as the novelty of Team North America has been, let’s hope this is the last time we see such a team together. Canada has a big enough advantage with the majority of NHLer hailing from their borders. They don’t need to weaken one of the few legit opponents they have, the US Team, in an effort to round out the 8 team field. Let the Swiss, the Germans, whoever the top 8 teams are from the previous year’s world championships, compete, even if they lose by a great margin. Otherwise the victory won by the championship team in the World Cup will be tainted by a diluted field, which is what we are seeing happen this year.