Stars with big offseason

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Winners of the early summer
By: Michael DiStefano

The Dallas stars have had a tremendous summer so far. After becoming the regular season western conference champions in 2015-2016, the Stars endured a steep 30-point drop off last season.

With NHL superstars like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in the lineup on a nightly basis goals should be a frequent occurrence, but goaltending, however, has been rather dreadful for the past two seasons with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi manning the crease.

Knowing the team needed an upgrade in goal, the Stars kicked off their offseason by acquiring the rights to Ben Bishop and locking him up long term. Bishop has a 2.32 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage over his eight year NHL career. The 30-year-old net minder is just one season removed from an All-Star worthy season two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup Finals as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His presence in net should stabilize the goalie carousel that has hindered Dallas for years and allow them to compete for a playoff run in the west.

Dallas lost Cody Eakin to the expansion draft, bought out Niemi, and let Ales Hemsky and Patrick Sharp walk in free agency; four guys who were not impact players last season. The weapons that the Stars added in front of Bishop to replace the trio of players they lost is why they are the winners of the early part of summer.

The Stars latest singing is 30-year-old winger Alexader Radulov, who signed for five years with an annual cap hit of $6.25 million. Radulov is a dynamic playmaker and was arguably the biggest fish in free agency this year and will certainly bolster Dallas’s offensive depth. Radulov spent last season in Montreal after returning from the KHL and was able to put up 54 points for les habitants, despite an eight-year absence from the NHL game. A top line of Seguin, Benn and Radulov will be a highly dynamic line and should do damage in the west.

Another smart addition was the 6-foot-6 Czech centreman, Martin Hanzal. Hanzal didn’t quite have the best transition after being traded at the deadline from Arizona to Minnesota. Hanzal only scored four goals after the trade, and only had a single point in the playoffs where the Wild was eliminated in the first round. But the large centreman will not be asked to play a big role in Dallas, rather he should be expected to play more of a complimentary piece in the middle six of the lineup and help improve the penalty kill.

A player than Bishop will love playing with next season is newly acquired Marc Methot. Methot was chosen by Vegas in the expansion draft but was traded to Dallas four days later for a 2020 second round draft pick and goaltending prospect Dylan Ferguson. Methot plays a more stay-at-home style of game which allows for his partner to be more fluid with the puck and jump into rushes, a la Erik Karlsson, his old defensive partner. Perhaps he finds himself on a pairing with another Swedish puck moving defenseman John Klingberg.  Regardless of who Methot will play with, he is a solid addition to a weak defensive group.

Dallas may have also made the most underrated signing of the summer. Right winger Tyler Pitlick signed three years at $1 Million per year to play for the Stars. Pitlick was starting to have a breakout campaign last season as an Oilers when he had eight goals through 31 games. He should provide good scoring depth and is capable of playing up and down the lineup for the Stars next season.

Expectations in July do not always equate to winter success, but assuming all goes well this season in Dallas, the Stars should be closer to a Stanley Cup final than a lottery pick next June.

Curios case of Markov and the Habs

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Is Markov still part of the now for Montreal?
By: Michael DiStefano

It’s no secret that Andrei Markov and the Montreal Canadiens would like to strike a deal and reunite for one last go at Lord Stanley’s mug. Markov has been a member of the Canadiens for 17 years, making him the longest tenured player on the team. Markov has been through the organizations ups and downs over that time, including two trips to the Eastern Conference finals. After all the defensive retooling this offseason Montreal lacks a left-handed puck-moving defenseman like Markov, but he may no longer fit the culture anymore.

Markov will turn 39 in December and has noticeably regressed as a top pairing defenseman, but still posses the smarts to keep playing at the NHL level. Last season the Montreal defender played 62 games and scored six goals with 30 assists and was strong on the power-play next to Shea Weber.

Montreal’s power-play operated at a 19.6 per cent last season and the Habs have already lost one vital member of their man-advantage team in Alexander Radulov. The loss of Markov as well could be worrisome for the 13th ranked power-play. Between the two players they combined for 28 points with the man advantage and with the loss of one Russian power-play specialist, the Canadiens can’t afford to lose another. Markov led the Canadiens in power-play assists and was fifth on the team in power-play points and second among defenseman behind Weber. The ex-predator captain has an absolute cannon from the point but needs a partner to pass him the puck and Markov is one of the best options the Canadiens have that fits the mold, and his 11 power-play assists last season proves it.

Markov’s ability to move the puck and make the strong first pass is indisputable. According to ownthepuck hero charts the Russian defenseman owns a 10/10 rating for first assist, which alludes to his vision and offensive playmaking abilities from the backend. The next best Canadiens defender who supports a noteworthy first assist rating is Jeff Petry with a 6/10. Thus, the departure of Markov could prove to be costly for Montreal offensively. However, the offseason additions to the blue line show’s Montreal plans to instil a new identity anyway.

The additions of Montreal’s new left-handed defenders David Schlemko and Karl Alzner infer that the Canadiens’ defensive model will have a whole new look next season. The newly minted Habs defenders are more defensive minded than offensive, and that seems to be the new identity of the Canadiens blue line. According to ownthepuck, Schlemko and Alzner’s shot suppression rating is higher than all three defenseman that departed from Montreal this offseason. Thus, the Canadiens backend will try to suppress as many shot attempts and scoring chances against rather than relying on puck movers. But again, the issue with these additions is Montreal’s 15th ranked offence will take a toll by eliminating the players who moves the puck down the ice like Markov.

It seems like the culture is shifting behind the scenes in Montreal and it is resulting to on-ice changes as well. Since the 2015-2016 collapse, Jeff Petry is the lone defender remaining from that team. A major overhaul on the blue line is occurring in Montreal and whether or not Markov will be part of the future remains to be seen despite the lack of puck moving defensemen on their roster.

Marleau, a huge signing for Leaf culture

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What Patrick Marleau Means for the Maple Leafs
BY: Brandon Cameron

On July 2nd 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a huge splash in the free agent market (surprise, surprise) with their signing of veteran forward of Patrick Marleau. The former Shark spent his whole career playing in San Jose but chose to finally leave at the age of 37. On the surface it seems like the Leafs may be up to their old ways of making outrageous deals, a la David Clarkson and Jeff Finger, but this deal means a lot more for the Maple Leafs. It’s a signing that gives the Leafs many options in the future.

With the signing of Patrick Marleau, the Maple Leafs are adding an extremely talented player to their roster. The Leafs added a player who’s scored over 500 goals, more than 1000 points, and played almost 1500 career games. Usually signing a player at the age of 37 is a diminishing asset, but Marleau is coming off of a 27-goal season with the Sharks which proves he still has some game left to play in the NHL. Bringing in a player who has won a gold medal under Mike Babcock’s system at the Olympics definitely adds much more intangibles than just offensive production to the Maple Leafs.

Being one of the youngest teams in the NHL, with their marquee players being teenagers, Marleau brings in some much needed experience to the Maple Leafs lineup. Something people tend to forget about is that before Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton were captains in San Jose, Patrick Marleau was the captain of the team for five seasons. Moreover, the Leafs are still left captain less and this could lead to the possibility of the Leafs finally allowing someone to wear the “C”. The Leafs could theoretically Make Marleau the captain for a few seasons while nurturing Morgan Rielly or Auston Matthews t take over when he ultimately retires at the end of his three-year deal. The Marleau signing may seem like too much term, and too high of a cap hit, but the Maple Leafs new regime  has a strong track record fo making smart moves and the organization wouldn’t make a move that would hurt the long-term success of this team.

The addition of Patrick Marleau brings another quality winger into the Maple Leafs roster which gives Toronto an excess amount of NHL caliber forwards ready to make an impact at the NHL level. In particular, the maple leafs’ top-nine forward group has exceptional depth. Their left wingers currently consist of Marleau, James VanRiemsdyk, William Nylander, and Leo Komarov. All four of these players are capable of playing in a  high role. Not to mention Josh Leivo and Matt Martin also battling for NHL spots, thus, creating a log jam at the left wing position.

It seems logical that Nylander will continue to play with Matthews and Hyman to start the year, and that Marleau would slide down the depth chart to play with either Kadri’s line or Marner’s line. The problem there is that those spots are currently occupied by other quality NHL players. It is no secret that the Leafs have been in the market for a top-four defenseman and withthe signing of Marleau it allows the Leafs to potentially shop around James VanRiemsdyk or another good wingerto acquire the the defenseman they covet. The acquisition of Marleau definitely  would cushion the loss of whichever winger is dealt, especially if the Leafs could trade or a topend defenseman.

Patrick Marleau means something a lot more than just the flexibility of fine-tuning the roster. He brings with him something that the Maple Leafs had been missing for a long time. Almost immediately after taking over the Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan began a much needed culture change in Toronto. Toronto has always had a negative reputation around the league for their lack of success over the last 60 years. Shanahan has done everything he can to change the culture in Toronto, and the signing of Patrick Marleau just confirms what every Leafs fan could have ever hoped for—Toronto is finally an attractive market for marquee players. While not being the best player in the league, bringing in a player of Marleau’s caliber clearly shows that the Leafs are getting noticed as a team that can legitimately compete for Stanley Cups, yes pluralized cups, in the very near future.

It is a very exciting time in Toronto and with the signing of Marleau it seems like the Leafs are finally turning a page and becoming a competitive team again. Granted, some of the ground work had been laid in the last few years, but now the Maple Leafs seem to be at the fine-tuning portion of the rebuild. Marleau may not be the player he once was, but he brings hope to Toronto because it shows that the league sees that this Leafs roster is filled with the potential and may finally be ready to contend and bring a cup home to Toronto for the first time since 1967.

 

NFL Mock Draft 2.0 (Final)

nfl draft

#1 CLE—Myles Garret, Edge, Texas A&M
#2  SF—Soloman Thomas, DL, Stanford
#3 CHI—Jamal Adams, DB, LSU
#4 JAX—Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
#5 CLE**(Trade with TEN)—Mitchell Trubisky, QB, UNC
#6 NYJ—OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
#7 LAC—Malik Hooker, DB, Ohio State
#8 CAR – Marshon Lattimore, DB, Ohio State
#9 CIN—Haasan Reddick, LB, Temple
#10 BUF—Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama
#11NO—Rueban Foster, LB, Alabama
#12 TEN**(Trade with Cle)—Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
#13 ARZ—Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
#14 PHI—Kevin King, CB, Washington
#15 IND—Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee
#16 BAL—Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky
#17 WAS— Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
#18 TEN—Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
#19 TAM—Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida St.
#20 DEN—Ryan Ramczyk, OL, Wisconsin
#21 DET—Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan,
#22 KC** (Trade with MIA) – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
#23 NYG—Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
#24 OAK— Adoree Jackson, CB, USC
#25 HOU—Garrett Boles, OL, Utah
#26 SEA—Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
#27 MIA** (Trade with KC)—David Njoku, TE, Miami
#28 DAL—Jabrill Peppers, DB/LB, Michigan
#29 GB—Tak McKinley, Edge, UCLA
#30 PIT—Charles Harris, Edge, Missouri
#31 SF**(Trade with ATL)—Deshone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
#32 NO— Chidobie Awuzie, DB, Colorado

Jays lose seventh straight

TORONTO— The Toronto Blue Jays finally got some hits Friday night, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the Baltimore Orioles who exploded for four home runs.

Chris Davis’ fifth inning home run propelled the Baltimore Orioles over the Toronto Blue Jays 6-4.

Davis was 2-for-3 on the night with two runs including the game winning homer, while Jonathan Schoop, J.J Hardy and Seth Smith also hit home runs for the Orioles (7-2), who sit atop of the American League East with a 1.5 game lead on the New York Yankees.

Zach Britton came in to close out the ninth inning to earn his fifth save of the season, while Wade Miley (1-0) got the win after throwing six strong innings, while only giving up three runs on five hits and had eight strikeouts.

Aaron Sanchez (0-1) pitched 5.1 innings in the loss and gave up five runs on seven hits, including three home runs.

“I felt like I was throwing the ball well early on, just toward the latter part of the game there were balls that kind of crept toward the middle, curveballs that didn’t really have that much depth on them that got hit hard,” Sanchez said. “(It was) just one of those nights.”

Justin Smoak went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs, while Kendrys Morales and Troy Tulowitzki had hits and each scored for the Blue Jays (1-9), who are now 0-for-4 to start their nine game home stand.

Home plate umpire and crew chief Dale Scott was stretchered off the field after taking a 94.5 MPH Aaron Loup fastball off his mask in the top of the eighth inning that resulted in a lengthy delay. Scott will be out for the remainder of the weekend after he sustained a concussion on the play.

“He’s one of the good guys, he works hard and umpires are vulnerable, just like a catcher,” John Gibbons said. “But it caught Dale, and I’m sure he’s had a few along the way, too. We’re all hoping that he’s doing OK.”

The Orioles got off to an early lead when Davis scored from third to open the scoring in the second inning off a wild pitch from Sanchez to make it 1-0.

Smoke replied for the Jays in the bottom of the inning with a first pitch single to left field that scored Morales and tied the game 1-1. With Smoak at first and Tulowitzki at third, the usually sure-handed Manny Machado dropped a softly hit double play ball for his first error of the season, which allowed Tulowitzki to score the Jays’ second run of the inning before the team stranded two base runners with back-to-back strikeouts.

“We had that one situation early in the game (in the second), had a couple of guys on, had that rally going, and then back-to-back strikeouts. Gibbons said.

Smoak hit his first homer of the season off Miley in the bottom of fourth inning to extend the lead 3-1.

“We got some runs up on the board today, it just wasn’t enough in the end,” Smoke said.

The Orioles rallied back in the top of the fifth inning with three runs off Sanchez. Schoop hit a leadoff homer which was followed by a two-run bomb to left by Hardy to take the lead 4-3.

Davis’ leadoff home run in the sixth inning off Sanchez to deep centre field extended the lead 5-3, which ended up being the winning run. Davis came into tonight’s matchup batting .375 off the right hander and added another couple hits off of the Jays pitchers.

“This dude’s got really good numbers off me, I don’t know if he sees me different than he sees other people, I don’t know if I get predictable in counts, he just one of those guys,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez was knocked out of the game off a Schoop single in the sixth inning.

“The (Orioles) know him well and he made a few mistakes. The ball came up, that’s what happens,” John Gibbons said.  “It was one of those nights that with the curveball, he really couldn’t get a feel for that to get that going, which is big for him.”

The crowd was on their feet with the Jays threatening to score, Steve Pearce popped out to third with a man on first and second base to end the seventh after Darren O’Day gave up two hits in the inning.

Smith’s solo home run to right field off Jason Grilli in the ninth inning extended the Orioles lead 6-3, which sucked the life out of crowd at Rogers Centre.

Devon Travis, who was moved to the ninth spot in the batting order, finally broke out of his 0-for-29 slump at the plate with a two-out single in the ninth inning off Britton that scored Martin to cut the lead to 6-4 and sparked a hopeful ninth inning rally.

In a déjà vu situation the Blue Jays were knocking at the door in the bottom of the ninth with two men on base and Pearce as the winning run at the plate. On a 3-2 count, Britton struck out Pearce to end the threat and secure the win for the Orioles and extend the Jays’ losing streak to seven games in a row.

Gibbons is optimistic about the team’s struggling offense after it broke out for 10 hits in the ball game.

“One thing that’s encouraging about tonight is we got some hits,” said Gibbons, “That’s definitely a good thing.”

The third game of the series continues on Saturday where the Blue Jays will send Marco Estrada (0-1) to the mound up against Alec Asher (0-0), who is making his season debut for Baltimore.

Brewers Play Spoiler in Blue Jays’ Home Opener

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Troy Tulowitzki, 2, Toronto Blue Jays Shortstop.

Domingo Santana’s go-ahead homer in the fifth inning spoiled the Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener as the Milwaukee Brewers won 4-3 Tuesday night.

Santana went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs, including the game winner, while Manny Pina had three hits and threw out Kevin Pillar trying to steal second base in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Neftali Feliz closed out the ball game with a 1-2-3 inning for his second save of the season while Willy Peralta (2-0) pitched six innings giving up three runs, four walks, and struck out seven in the win for the Brewers (3-5), who had a season high 11 hits in the ball game.

Troy Tulowitzki went 2-for-3 with a sac fly and batted in all three runs and Kendrys Morales had three hits for the Blue Jays (1-6), who’ve started 1-6 for the first time in franchise history.

J.A. Happ (0-2) was tagged with the loss as he pitched 4.2 innings with four earned-runs on nine hits and eight strikeouts.

Russell Martin went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on the night, extending his early season hitting slump to 0-for-18.

Keon Broxton opened the scoring in the top of the first inning with a solo home run to left centre field. Santana’s infield single scored Travis Shaw after he tripled off the wall to grab a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

Tulowitzki replied with a hard hit double to centre field that scored Bautista to cut the lead in half through one frame.

The Brewers extended their lead back to two when Broxton took off on contact from third base and scored on a bang-bang play at home plate off a Shaw infield hit to second base.

Devon Travis walked and scored off a sacrifice fly by Tulowitzki in the third inning to make it 3-2.

Brewers threatened in the fourth with back-to-back singles to start the frame, but Happ retired the next three batters to get out of the inning without surrendering a run.

Santana’s solo home run came in the top of the fifth inning to make it 4-2, which was immediately followed by a Jesus Aguilar double to right field which knocked Happ out of the ballgame.

Morales scored from first base off Tulowitski’s second double of the game off Paralta to cut the deficit to 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Pillar channeled his inner Superman again when he robbed Aguilar of a leadoff base hit in the top of the eighth inning with a gold glove caliber diving catch.

The Toronto crowd erupted for the injured Josh Donaldson when came in to pinch hit for Ryan Goins in the ninth inning, but to no avail he struck out swinging on a full count while only down by one run.

Feliz got Travis to pop out to right field for the final out of the game for the Brewers, which gave the Blue Jays their sixth consecutive home-opening loss dating back to 2011.

Game two of the series continues Wednesday night with Marcus Stroman (1-0) and Chase Anderson (0-0) on the mound.

By: Michael DiStefano

Dorion is Wheelin’ and Dahlen’

In other years where the Ottawa Senators are not legitimate contenders for a playoff run trading a prospect for a veteran doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. But as they approach the 2017 trade deadline the Senators have a chance to win the division and compete in the eastern conference playoffs.

Pierre Dorion, Senators General Manager, had publically announced he was looking to add forward help before the trade deadline passed.

Enter Alex Burrows.

Burrows was acquired by the Senators from the Vancouver Canucks on Monday in exchange for one of the Sens’ top prospects, Jonathan Dahlen.

On the surface level of this trade the early consensus is that Vancouver won by a large margin, but the addition of Alex Burrows makes the Senators a much stronger team than one might think.

What does Burrows bring to the Senators?

The Senators are adding a player who has enjoyed a renaissance season playing alongside Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi for most of the year. His point totals don’t scream production, but his on-ice play has been exceptionally better than the numbers indicate. Burrows has spent a majority of the season being an effective player at both ends of the ice while matching up against opposing teams’ top lines. The value for burrows isn’t his offence anymore, its his defensive play, playoff experience, and his contract.

When it comes to the playoffs, experience is invaluable. Burrows has played in 70 playoff games, where he has 34 points. He was an exceptionally valuable part in Vancouver’s Stanley Cup run in 2011. Burrows is an agitating winger with great character who can provide leadership and experience to Ottawa’s lineup when the major tournament starts in April.

Burrows has been on the Canucks’ top penalty kill for over a decade and has excelled in the role. The Senators have the eighth best penalty kill, but Burrows should help improve it going forward. Burrows’ versatility is an attractive asset to teams. He can play on all four lines and be successful as a top-six forward and a fourth-liner. With a lot of injuries to the Senators top end wingers, Burrows can fill in wherever needed.

Additionally, The Senators are a budget team with an internal cap. His $4.5 million cap hit looks worse than it is because his actual salary is only $3 million. For waiving his no trade clause Burrows was given a two-year extension to stay in Ottawa worth $5 million over the next two seasons. For a small market team who has difficulties attracting players in free agency trades such as these are how the Senators improve their lineup.

There is a lot to like about this deal from both sides, but there is another story angle where the Senators gave up a solid prospect, Jonathan Dahlen, 19, in exchange for a 35-year-old player on the decline. It’s no secret that Burrows’ best days of hockey are behind him despite having a bounce back year with the Canucks. Yes, the Senators need scoring help and Burrows was once a 35 goal scorer, but he has been relegated to a more defensive role with the Canucks and only has nine goals this season. Not quite the goal scoring punch a lot of Senators fans were hoping Dorion would add before the deadline.

However, aside from his style of play and veteran experience another reason I think the Senators made the deal is due to the circumstance of the division. The Atlantic Division is wide open this year and the with the addition of Burrows the Senators add depth to an injury riddled forward group in effort to win the Atlantic crown. Dahlen, though a great prospect, currently plays in the Sweden Junior League and is not ready to help the Senators this season. While the Senators are seemingly in win-now mode, Burrows can help them achieve their goal of 2017–playoff success.

Three years down the road when Dahlen is scoring goals in bunches for the Canucks this deal may tilt considerably in Vancouver’s favour, but for a team who is ready to compete this season Burrows was a no brainer addition to the Senators lineup.

The time to win is now for Ottawa. Dahlen projects to be a good player in this league in the future, but Burrows will improve the penalty kill, add scoring depth, and give the Ottawa Senators a chance to make a playoff push and win the Atlantic Division in a year where the opportunity to do that seems better than ever.

-Mike DiStefano
@Mickey_Mic_Show