15 Prime Cuts

NHL: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild


My weekly/monthly Prime Cuts is back after a lockout-induced hiatus. In this edition, I discuss the ongoing Roberto Luongo saga in Vancouver, the early season returns on a few notable rookies, the importance of developing in a winning environment, Patrick Kane’s next level, and much more.

I originally started putting together my Prime Cuts as an homage to Elliotte Friedman’s brilliant weekly ’30 Thoughts’ piece for CBC Sports. Quick hitting analysis on a wide variety of issues and storylines relating to hockey.

1. Cory Schneider is 100% unequivocally the starting goaltender in Vancouver, regardless of what you hear from Canuck management or the coaching staff. Schneider will be given every opportunity to play, but unlike most other starters in the league, he has an elite goaltender backing him up. Here is my quick take on the Luongo trade negotiations:

The Canucks have several standing offers from a few NHL teams. However, none of them make the team markedly better (my best guess – Edmonton has offered Sam Gagner as the main piece, and Toronto has done the same with Tyler Bozak). Until the Canucks get an offer that improves their club both for the short and long term, expect Bobby Lu to remain in Vancouver… as a backup.

2. Am I surprised by Vladimir Tarasenko’s quick start? Yes and no. I say no because Tarasenko isn’t your typical rookie – he has been playing against men in the KHL for a few years now, and he has been a dominant offensive talent over there to boot. I say yes because the St. Louis Blues are a very deep and very balanced team up front. I wasn’t sure Tarasenko was going to be given enough offensive minutes to be a consistent point producer right out of the gate. So far, he is leading the charge. Tarasenko

3. On that note – I have seen an interesting trend emerge early on this season. Teams across the league are relying a lot on players who spent the lockout playing hockey. In most cases, this is young players and rookies. Examples include Tarasenko, Dougie Hamilton in Boston, Zack Kassian in Vancouver, Cody Hodgson in Buffalo, and so on. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic changes once the veteran players in the league get their game legs under them.

4. Blake Wheeler is off to a slow start, and I have already seen some people dumping him in fantasy leagues. I’ll go out on a bit of a limb here – I still am holding out hope that Wheeler develops into a star forward. He showed a ton of confidence and consistency in 2011-12 – the two traits that were previously missing from his game. The shortened season is going to lead to a lot of crazy and weird things, and patience is going to be of the utmost importance when evaluating top talent.

5. At the risk of getting criticized by Oilers fans, I still think the team needs to be doing a better job of insulating the young talent on the roster. Developing in an environment where losing is acceptable does not do any good to young players. Edmonton will probably be lucky enough to emerge from these dark years unscathed because their young players are almost bust-proof… but look at how the past few years have stunted the growth of the likes of Sam GagnerAndrew Cogliano (now with the Ducks), and Magnus Paajarvi. I’d advocate moving one of the young studs at some point in the next year or two for a veteran defenseman or forward.

Look at what Dallas is doing with Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney – these guys come in and teach the young stars how to play at a consistently high level on the ice, and how to act like professionals off of it.

6. Cory Conacher is the real deal. I am so glad I stumbled onto a Norfolk game last season. His size won’t ever be an issue – he is so gritty and tenacious.

7. The validity of fighting can be debated for eternity, but you can bet that Daniel and Henrik Sedin are going to enjoy playing with Zack Kassian. Kassian dropped the mitts with Ben Eager last Sunday, and a vicious left caught Eager flush on the nose. Eager is now out with a concussion. All game long he was taking runs at the Sedins, and he has done the same in the past, too.

You saw it with the Bruins – how much bigger do the likes of Brad Marchand and David Krejci play knowing that Milan Lucic, Adam McQuaid, Shawn Thornton, and Zdeno Chara aren’t far behind?

8. I am not convinced that Jeremy Morin or Eric Tangradi will ever be effective NHL players. Morin has a wicked shot and Tangradi is a very talented big man, but neither can skate all that well. Skating isn’t essential to success in the NHL, but a lack of it is a significant hindrance.

9. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Patrick Kane in the mix for the Art Ross this year. He looks absolutely sensational. Through the first four games of the season.

10. Washington’s struggles shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Not only has the team undergone two coaching changes in less than two years, but each change has brought about a radical shift in playing style and overall team philosophy. Adam Oates is trying to marry the aggressive, tight-checking Dale Hunter hockey with the up-tempo offensively-oriented Bruce Boudreau style of play. It remains to be seen how effective he will be, but give the Caps a few weeks before really evaluating them (although a few weeks in a 48 game season will be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs).

11. Don’t make panic moves or trades in your fantasy pool. This is even more important in a shortened season. With a smaller sample size, randomness and luck will both play larger roles in production and overall player/team success. Trust in your ability to evaluate talent, and don’t base anything on a one or two week sample size.

12. If you feel like betting on a Cup winner, I take a look at some interesting value picks in my latest post for the PlayNow Sports blog. In the span of a few games Detroit has dropped from 10-to-1 to 35-to-1 to bring the Cup home. The Lidstrom effect, if you will. At 8-to-1, the Blackhawks are a tremendous value.

13. Is PK Subban worth big money over a lot of years? In my estimation, yes he is. He gets a lot of hype and attention for his personality, skating ability, and overall dynamic impact on the ice, but he is a very good defensive defenseman, too. Similar to Drew Doughty in LA, Subban uses his physical gifts to excel both positionally and physically with and without the puck in his own zone. If Montreal doesn’t recognize that, someone else will.

Would the Flyers be willing to move Sean Couturier for him? Is that enough of a return for Montreal?

Among regular defensemen in Montreal last season, Subban faced the second toughest matchups after Josh Gorges. And he saw a steady dose of defensive zone starts, too. He is a lot better than given credit for.

14. Mike Gillis made an interesting comment to the local paper in Vancouver last week. He mentioned that during his time as an agent, he really studied the management practice that Ken Holland used/uses in Detroit. One of them is to exercise extreme patience with prospects. Look at Detroit – Brendan SmithJakub Kindl, Jimmy Howard, and Gustav Nyquist all spent a lot of time in the AHL. Unless a player is really ready, there is almost no harm in giving him additional developmental time.

The Canucks did this with Chris Tanev last year, and it paid off in spades. They have done and will continue to do the same with the likes of Eddie LackJordan Schroeder (who looked very solid in his NHL debut on Wednesday night), and Kevin Connauton.

15. Mikael Backlund is ready to have a monster season in Calgary. He is playing with a lot of confidence right now. He is a very solid defensive forward, but his hands and vision are going to carry him a long way in this league.