Chicago on the move….

Blackhawks moving, Pulford sounds off

By Bob Verdi 

Just about Labor Day, 2019, Chicago Blackhawks GM Bob Pulford, had the look of the worried man. Just 3 years earlier, he was the toast of Michigan Avenue, as the Blackhawks won the Swain Cup, as league champions. Crowds were flowing into the United Center, and TV ratings were sky high. Last season, Coach Billy Reay had quit as coach of the team the year before, and the crowds dwindled at the United Center, as the Hawks finished last overall in the league standings in 2018-2019.

Season-ticket renewals were virtually non-existent. The fans wore paper bags over their faces. Blackhawk sweaters were thrown on the ice by some angry fans. The franchise had hit rock bottom.

He knew things were bad, but they were going to get worse.In late August, 2019, Pully got the bomb that rocked his world; the beloved Hawks, an institution in Chicago, were moving to Montréal, of all places! He had heard rumours that the team was for sale, and he knew with no Montréal connections, and not being French, that he had little hope of moving with the team to Montréal.

The timing of the announcement for Pulford couldn’t have been worse. The league took over scouting duties for the Blackhawk franchise. That is never good for any franchise, especially one with the pedigree of the Blackhawks.

Pulford was told by the new management group that it was his job to draft for the team for the upcoming 2019-2020 season. Many of the scouts had left him, the few that were remaining had no idea the direction the soon to be moving franchise was going to go.

Pulford took a deep drag on his cigarette, and he said, “I’ll show those Montréal SOB’s why I am a Hall of Famer!  I’m just as good in the boardroom as I was on the ice.”

I was given access into the Blackhawk war room, and I will give you exclusive information regarding GM Bob Pulford’s drafting strategy in the 2019-2020 GHC draft..

There were too many holes to fix the Pulford couldn’t do everything he wanted to in one draft. One commentator said that the Blackhawks overall defensive play reminded him of Swiss cheese.   The squad’s defence was in tatters. The team was a bunch of cream puffs. Not much grit. Much too old.   The goaltenders had lost self-confidence.  They couldn’t stop a beach ball.  Antti Raantta got injured.

Many commentators had speculated that Pulford would draft a defenceman to bring some youth to an old and worn-down unit. But Pully had other ideas.  He had another plan.

Miro Heiskanen and Rasmus Dahlin were suspected to be players that the Blackhawks coveted.  They worked out for Pulford, and he was impressed.   Either player would have been a fine selection for the Blackhawks, and no one would have criticized Pulford for picking either one of these fine players. But they didn’t measure up to what Pulford wanted.  Dahlin was not great defensively.   His offensive game was spectacular, but his defence was a work in progress.  Heiskanen was better defensively, but he did not have the upside offensively of Dahlin.  In Pulford’s mind, neither player was worthy of being the first pick overall.

Pulford saw another problem with this team that needed immediate attention. The Blackhawks already had John Tavares as their number 1 centre. But there was a huge void underneath him. Moreover, there wasn’t a lot of depth at the forward position in the draft pool this year.

There was one forward that worked out for Pulford that he thought was head and shoulders better than anyone else in the draft pool. That player was Elias Pettersson.  Pulford was a centre in his playing days, and he knew that a team without strength down the middle would not be a contender for a long time. He noted that Pettersson had a wicked shot, and uncanny hockey vision. This was the man that Pulford thought could be the coveted number 2 centre that all contending teams require.  After the workout, Pulford said to himself, “this young man will be a star, a real star, maybe, a superstar.”

Pulford said,” I will take a lot of criticism for this pick, but this is the pick that this team needs to get back to contention more quickly.”

Having filled his greatest need, Pulford went to work to patch his leaky defence. The Hawks urgently needed man games and bodies. Cloning Zdeno Chara was not possible. The big man looked old, and replacements needed to be found immediately.

By the time round 2 came along, Heiskanen and Dahlin were distant memories it looked like the Blackhawks would not find anyone suitable to fill the gap. Instead, Pulford took a realistic approach.   He looked for youngsters that were promising, but very raw, players who would be good one day, but not in 2019.

Fortunately, the hockey gods smiled on Pully, and he found a young defenceman that he was impressed by, in Filip Hronek.   Hronek was born nearby to Chara in the Czech Republic, and although he lacked Chara’s behemoth-like size and nastiness, he had some of the characteristics that Pulford liked in a defenceman.  He had a good offensive head for the game, and he could move the puck. He showed a bit of a nasty side.  Pully couldn’t bear to watch as the end of the first round unfolded, as he really believed that Hronek would be drafted by someone late in the first round.  He was ecstatic when Hronek was still around as the first pick in Round 2.  He smiled after he made the pick, lit up a cigarette, and said to himself. Hronek could be very good.”

Devon Toews showed flashes of good play in his limited exposure to Pulford, and Pulford thought he was an underappreciated talent.  He was pleased to pick Toews with the first pick of round 3.

Depth defencemen Scott Walker and Sammy Niku were also acquired.

The defence was not necessarily made better, but it was made younger, and players were acquired with some promise.

In the free agent draft, Pulford, at least in part addressed, the Blackhawks need for a defence-first forward with the acquisition of center Philip Danault.  This was the sort of grinding player that Pulford wanted for the Blackhawks. He wanted more just like him, but with many holes and only 6 draft picks, he could only do so much.

The Blackhawks also announced today that Serge Savard will be the team’s General Manager 2020-2021 when it relocates to Montreal.  The coach will be none other than Pat Burns.

Burns was introduced to the media today, and he said, “I like a hard-workingman’s team.  I want guys that will play hard all the time.  We will find some people that will rattle the opposition’s teeth. When visiting teams come into the Bell Centre, we want it to be a hard night for them.  We will be much harder to play against.”

Savard said that season-ticket sales had exceeded expectations to date.  He said, “I will do everything in my power to make this a first-class franchise.  I want to invite the league brass up here to see our passionate fans. I want to build a contending team that the league will be proud of.”



Canucks hold camp in Greece

In a bold (and failed) experiment, the Canucks held training camp in Greece. Problems arose however when they found out that there are only 2 hockey rinks in the whole country. In an exhibition they beat the Greek National Team 23-0. After that they just scrimmaged and played intrasquad games. Interest in hockey is so high in Greece that these games drew dozens (up to 4) of fans.

Coach Smyl was heard to comment one evening during camp, as he watched one of the endless soccer games on TV, “Soccer is like hockey being played in molasses, and with a ridiculous floating blue line. And there’s more diving than there was by the Sharks in Game 4 of the finals.” Subtlety was never one of his strong suits.

Meanwhile, regarding the team: Ben Bishop came to camp and looked great. He was deeply troubled by the fact that the Canucks traded for Tuuka Rask when he had assumed that he would be the #1 goalie after Luongo left. But instead of pouting, he put is energy into becoming a better goalie. Coach Smyl was pleased, but said he didn’t want to overwork Bishop. When asked how many games he would start, Smyl said that for some unknown reason the number 46 keeps popping into his head. Rask wins the #2 spot, because in camp he demonstrated much better rebound control than Georgiev.

On defense Nick Leddy (trade) and Connor Murphy (free agent) solidify the third pairing which, to be blunt, sucked last year. Josi-Gostisbehere and Vlasic-Demelo will be pairs 1 and 2, with Tanev on deck in case of injuries on both sides.

As the team gets better, rookies have a harder time cracking the lineup. Hintz (1st round) and Greenway (2nd round) will get time as injury replacements, but that’s it.   With forwards, Coach Smyl was hoping for an improvement on defense, but got none. But they come back with a stronger desire to bang bodies and with a huge improvement in the faceoff circle (3 +3s and 2 +2s). Sissons (minors last year) and Roussel (free agent) will be the 2 new faces, besides the rookies, playing forward. Johnny Gaudreau looked like the best forward in camp by a mile.

Some players will spend the year in the minors, including Malgin and Jarnkrok, both of whom were important players last year. Also Victor Mete. And 3 players who saw ice time were cut, Hickey, Eriksson, and Fast. But they all had terrible training camps. Too much souvlaki and ouzo in Greece, just like management.

And of course, on opening night this year a ceremony will precede the game to honor the Sedin twins who retired and for years were the face of the team. All fans will receive a double headed bobble-head(s) doll.

Trade deadline extended.. guys on the block

Trade deadline extended to Friday , March 2nd.

Vancouver has Craig Anderson, goaltender on the block.

Canucks looking to take another title






Well, on that note…. Flyers on the block

Sharp, Hossa, Backes, Moulson, Parise, Soderberg, Gologoski all available.

Moulson is a PP specialist (14 G, 11 on the PP), 3/2/3, k pass

Backes 4/4/4 K pass
Parise 4/3/3 L pass
Hossa 4/3/4 K pass
Goligoski 3/2/3 L pass

Looking for picks in return


Colorado preview

Colorado continues with the management mandated youth movement, but the fan base needs to see a drastic improvement from their basement finish last year.  So a few big moves occurred to get the fans to fill the arena.
First, the draft was quite exciting as Colorado won the lottery and chose Auston Matthews first overall.  He is expected to contribute immediately and Matthews provides the true “superstar” this team has lacked and desperately needed.  He is joined by a handful of draft picks that won’t see much ice time this year in second round picks Josh Ho Sang and Michael Matheson. Ho Sang is considered a high risk – high reward type pick while Matheson adds some depth at a weak LD position.   Third round pick Nick Schmaltz is another project expected to develop in the farm.  Jordan Weal was taken in the fourth round and is expected to be a breakout player this year in Philadelphia.  He will get his 23 games in on LW covering for Domi.  Ryan Spooner was then moved for another fourth round pick that brought in defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo.  Two fifth round defenseman selections created roster additions of both Scott Mayfield and Markus Nutivaara adding depth to the weakest position on the team.
Secondly, speaking of star power, the Avalanche added a super sniper in Steven Stamkos. Colorado traded two first round draft picks in 2018 for him as the team hopes he can rebound from injury shortened seasons.  Although Stamkos can only play in 17 games this year, the team is deep in prospects and needed some immediate help.  Stamkos adds a bona fide one –two punch up the middle with Matthews once he recovers from his injuries.
Third, the Avs waved goodbye to first overall pick Nail Yakupov as they released him from contract prior to the free agent draft.  Management continued to grow impatient with the young Russian’s development and decided that Yakupov was not involved with the team plan going forward.  The additional roster spot was filled by free agent veteran Ron Hainsey to add depth to our defense corps
Trades of forwards Reilly Smith and Alex Killorn will create roster room for the youngster to strut their stuff.  The projected first line has newly drafted first overall pick Auston Matthews centering a line of Nik Ehlers on left wing and Jonothan Drouin on the right.  The second line will have my cousin Vinnie Trocheck between 30 goal man Rickard Rakell on left and Marcus Johansson on the right side.   The third line has Ryan Johansson who loves to dish the puck between 30 plus goal scoring machine Anders Lee and versatile Brock Nelson.   The fourth line has RNH centering Max Domi and Sam Reinhart.   This youthful group should be able to score goals, although defending could be a bit of an issue as the kids continue to develop.
The defense is also taking shape, although it is more through trade than the farm.   Ryan Pulock and Chris Bigras who were drafted last year as well as Derrick Pouliot who was drafted the year previous are taking a little longer to percolate than originally anticipated. Brady Skjei was obtained in a deal for Victor Rask and will pair up on the top d-paining with defensive specialist Adam Larsson.   Nik Hjallmarsson obtained in a deal for Alex Killorn will skate on the second pairing with Jared Spurgeon.  The third pairing still up for grabs between Barrie, Vatanen, Matheson and possibly Hainsey  who figures to get games on both sides of the ice.  Maatta will need a year to regain his touch and will see a lot of practice sessions and views from the press box, while Anthony DeAngelo, Markus Nutivaara and Scott Mayfield will all spend a season in the minors to hone their skills. Without any first round picks in 2018 this group of young d-men will need to fast track their development in order to make the jump to the show next season. The Avalanche desperately need them to be ready for action in short order.  So overall the Avalanche have an average defensive squad to begin this season, but one that should be better than last year and with lots of promise for the future.
The goalie situation remains the same with Rinne and Rask holding down the fort. Hutton is also still on board as a third stringer should the situation arise.
Management is quite content with the way the team is taking shape but a few pieces are needed to be true contenders.  The short term goal is to make a bid for a playoff spot this year and let the kids experience what it takes to play post season hockey.  Is this a lofty dream?  We will have to wait and see but Coach Roy says “playoffs are in the picture.  Anyone who would like to disagree will not be heard, because I have two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears”
Kevin – Colorado Avalanche

Colorado’s Perron on the block

colorado uniform

Avalanche management are putting David Perron on the trading block. His 4-2 card with 4 penetration, K passing and 5 intimidation can play either wing. Colorado is looking for a draft pick in return for his services. He had 17 goals and 24 assists last year. He could really help a team as a depth scorer. Will consider all serious inquiries.

Kevin Anton -Colorado Avalanche