The Opening Faceoff

Thoughts and Experiences About the World's Most Thrilling Sport: Hockey

Kevin Hayes Signs with the New York Rangers

Kevin HaHayes-Arnold-Gaudreau_640yes was picked 24th overall in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft in 2010 by Chicago but never appeared in a game for the organization. After initially failing to sign an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, he became an unrestricted free agent. Hayes starred at the perennial powerhouse hockey school, Boston College for 4 years. His best year in college came last year when he played with Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold. The 6’4″ power forward tallied 27 goals and 38 assists in 40 games played.

The August 15th deadline to sign Kevin Hayes to a pro-level deal passed on the Chicago Blackhawks, thus making the former BC standout the most sought-after college free agent on the market. Hayes was finally able to strike a deal with the New York Rangers today which will reunite him with his former collegiate teammate at Boston College, Chris Kreider. The Rangers signed Hayes to a two-year entry contract that will probably see him earn the rookie’s maximum amount of money.

I find it very interesting that Hayes chose to sign with the Rangers. The team is already stacked with right wings already but it is obvious that the Blueshirts could not pass on a talent like Hayes. Glen Sather has done a great job signing several college free agents to compensate for not having 1st round draft picks the past 2 years (because of the Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis trades). Now, it remains to be seen if restricted free agent John Moore will re-sign with the Rangers. Before the Hayes contract, the Rangers only had about $1.3 million left in cap room. However, Kevin Hayes still has to make the team first. If he does not make the team out of training camp, then his contract will not affect the pro roster and signing John Moore will not be an issue. On the other hand, if Hayes makes the team then Moore may not be re-signed and defensive prospects Conor Allen, Dylan McIlrath, and veteran Mike Kostka will have a chance to compete for the sixth and final defenseman spot.

In my opinion, I believe Hayes will start the season in the AHL because he has never played for a professional team in his career and he simply does not have the necessary experience. I can see him being a call-up early in the season, if someone gets hurt or if the team is having trouble scoring. With that being said, I still think J.T. Miller will be the only rookie on the offensive side of the puck that makes the team after training camp. Although Ryan Haggerty, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, and Danny Kristo will get their chance to compete for a spot too.


Analyzing the New York Rangers 2014 Offseason

For the past two summers, it hasn’t been about signing the glitzy and glatumblr_n6ddie1sbP1r5ekjfo1_1280morous free agents for the New York Rangers. The Rangers general manager Glen Sather and the other members of his team that make up the upper management, have skillfully prioritized their transactions by focusing on re-signing their young players within the organization and signing
role players instead of breaking the bank for pricey free agents. This summer the Rangers front office did not sway from their new methods. While re-signing their restricted free agents was the primary goal for this offseason, it was evident that the organization was looking for the “right” role players in the free agent pool to compliment the youth-infused core of the roster. The players who clearly met management’s and second-year coach Alain Vigneault’s criteria were Dan Boyle, Lee Stempniak, Matt Lombardi, and Tanner Glass. Meanwhile, these 4 new players hopefully will offset the loss of Brad Richards (bought-out), Benoit Pouliot (left as UFA), Brian Boyle (let as UFA), Derek Dorsett (traded), and Anton Stralman (left as UFA).

Dan Boyle is considered to be the biggest prize of the Rangers free agent additions. The former Lightning and Sharks defensemen signed a team friendly $9 million deal over 2 years because New York was the only team he wanted to play for. He has veteran leadership and happen to won a Stanley Cup with Marty St. Louis in Tampa Bay. Boyle, who is at the ripe age of 38, is expected to fill the void left by Anton Stralman on the second defense pairing. He will almost certainly slot in as the defense partner of Marc Staal and will man the point on the first power play unit. As a result the power play should see immediate boost in goals scored as opposed to when Brad Richards was in charge of playing the point. Since Dan Boyle is essentially replacing Anton Stralman, it should be noted that the team’s offensive production coming from defensemen will increase. However, Boyle does not bring the physical play or shot blocking ability that Stralman brought to every game.

A component of the Glen Sather’s business that sometimes goes unnoticed, are the under-the-radar signings that have turned out to pay huge dividends for the Rangers. This is where the additions of Matt Lombardi and Lee Stempniak come into play. Last year the free agent signing of the summer was Benoit Pouliot, who signed a $1.3 million deal for only 1 year. After his early season struggles, Pouliot went on to have a career year with Rangers (registering 36 points) and earned himself a nice 5 year, $20 million contract from the Edmonton Oilers. His chemistry with Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard was fantastic as their line was the most effective and consistent for the Rangers all season. With that being said, it can be hypothesized that Matt Lombardi and Lee Stempniak could potentially be this year’s version of Benoit Pouliot. Both contracts are extremely cheap and they are not long term deals.

Last year while playing for both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Calgary Flames, Lee Stempniak had a total of 12 goals and 22 assists in 73 games. Now what stands out about his play is that this is the type of player who can play in any situation. The Buffalo, NY native has seen time on both the power play and penalty kill, registering 4 power play assists and 4 goals, 3 assists while being shorthanded. That is the type of versatility that the Rangers look for. Moreover, it is expected that Stempniak will see ample minutes on the penalty kill and potentially some shifts on the second power play unit. Furthermore, his regular even strength playing time will probably alongside speedster Carl Hagelin and rookie J.T. Miller.

On the other hand, Matt Lombardi did not play in the NHL during the 2013-14 season. He played overseas in the Swiss A League for Geneva Servette, where he put up 20 goals and 30 assists in 48 games. In addition to those stats, he had 3 goals and 6 assists in 12 playoff games which was good enough for 2nd place on the team for the most points in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Lombardi has a bad history of injury problems but the fact that he only 4 games last year is a good sign. If this speedy center is healthy enough to contribute, I believe he would be best suited to play wing on the 4th line in a role that was similar to Brian Boyle’s from last year. Surely Lombardi will see time as a penalty killer, but he should see time as a right wing next to Dominic Moore on the 4th line and occasionally play center if needed. For example, let me give you a game situation where having Lombardi would benefit. It is late in an important game and the Rangers are winning by 1 goal, Dominic Moore is set to take the faceoff and gets thrown out of the circle. Matt Lombardi would also be on the ice and he could jump right in and take the draw, which is what Brian Boyle did so often last year. Lombardi is another versatile player and if he contributes by putting up 30 points or more this year, then I think it’s another great job by Glen Sather signing a low-risk, high-reward player.

Now the only signing of the offseason that baffles me (financially speaking) is the move to bring in Tanner Glass for 3 years with an average of $1.45 million. I understand the Rangers needed a physical presence that dish out big hits and frequently drop the gloves, but it looks to me like Sather might have spent a little too much money on Glass. AV coached Glass when they were both part of the Vancouver Canucks so it seems like Vigneault asked Sather to make this transaction happen. Tanner Glass has averaged around 12 points a year and 70 PIMs or more except for the lockout shortened season in 2012-13.  Clearly Vigneault knows what he is going to get from Glass and he certainly should have gained the trust from Rangers fans from last year’s magical run so there is really no point in second guessing this move.

In conclusion, the Rangers additions seem to have counteracted the departures (atleast on paper). They lost invaluable leadership in the ex-de facto captain Brad Richards and lost the great defensive presence of Anton Stralman. The emergence of rookie J.T. Miller will be essential for the team’s success this year but once again it will all come down to the all-world goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. There is no reason to doubt if this team can make a run like they did last year. Especially with AV and Lundqvist leading the charge it’s not hard to ask the question, why not them?

We are Back!

The Opening Faceoff is back and we will be posting new entries very soon on the previous NHL season and the crazy offseason that is still currently going on. Thank you for your patience!


2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hockey East Power Rankings

1.) Boston College Golden Eagles

Status: Trending up

After convincing victories over #8 Notre Dame and #12 Boston University, Boston College remains
the top team in the Hockey East and the best team in the country with a record of 8-1. The Eagles’ next game is Friday, November 16 vs. Merrimack College.

2.) UNH Wildcats

Status: Trending up

In their last two games, the University of New Hampshire Wildcats have outscored their opponents 8-0. UNH is clicking on all cylinders right now with a 6-1-1 record ad 4-1-1 record in the conference. The Wildcats are ranked #5 in the country and #2 in the Hockey East. However, the team has a tough weekend ahead of themselves with trips to UMass Lowell and BU.

3.) Boston University Terriers

Status: No change

The Terriers defeated Merrimack 3-1 this weekend, but then fell to BC 4-2. They are undoubtedly one of the best team in the Hockey East with a 4-2 inter-conference record. They are also ranked #11 in the country. They face off against Vermont and UNH this weekend. The UNH-BU will be a great one.

4.) Northeastern University Huskies

Status: Trending up

Northeastern successfully swept Alabama-Huntsville this weekend by posting scores of 3-1 and 3-0. This boosted their overall record to 4-4-1 but did not impact their conference record which remains at 2-4-1 in the Hockey East. The Huskies have games this weekend against Vermont and Providence. They should come out victorious in both of those games.

5.) UMass (Amherst) Minutemen

Status: Trending up

A dominating 4-0 victory over Providence deserves some attention. UMass played their most complete game of the year in this match up. Their overall record is up to 3-4 with their league record at 2-4. The Minutemen are slotted to play Maine and fellow University of Massachusetts rival UMass Lowell this weekend. This is a great chance for them to gain some very important points.

6.) Merrimack College Warriors

Status: Trending down

Back-to-back losses to BU and the UConn Huskies (a first year Division 1 team), signifies a decline in the rankings and overall Hockey East standings for Merrimack. Merrimack College is 4-5-1 overall but is still a respectable 3-2-1 in the conference. The Warriors only have one game this weekend but it happens to be against the defending national champions, Boston College.

7.) Providence Friars

Status: Trending down

For a team that has constantly been receiving votes for becoming ranked in the top 25, the Providence Friars definitely do not seem like they are worthy. Before losing to UMass last Friday, they had also dropped their previous game to Vermont 2-0. Furthermore, this means the Friars have been shutout in consecutive games, seeing their record swell to 4-4-1 overall and 3-3 in the Hockey East. The Friars will face a solid team on Friday, playing home to Northeastern. Maybe they can turn their fortunes around.

8.) UMass Lowell Riverhawks

Status: Trending down

With one win in their last four games, the UML Riverhawks have not started the season as they were expected to. The Riverhawks are currently 2-4-1 overall and 1-3-1 in the Hockey East. UMass Lowell has a very demanding weekend, facing UNH and UMass Amherst.

9.) University of Vermont Catamounts

Status: Trending down

To say the least, the UVM Catamounts are struggling. Vermont is currently 1-3-2 overall and has the same record in the conference. The Catamounts’ upcoming opponents happen to be very good. They are scheduled to play Boston University and Northeastern this weekend.

10.) Maine Black Bears

Status: Trending up

The Maine Black Bears are coming off of their first win of the year (in the Hockey East) against the UMass Lowell Riverhawks. The Black Bears’ record now stands at 2-9 overall and 1-5 in the conference. UMaine will receive a visit from UMass Amherst this weekend and then can take a solid two weeks off and better themselves.

A Much Needed Win

When a team blows a two and three goal lead in consecutive weekends, it is very hard to be optimistic. However, all it takes is one victory to turn a around and the UMass-Amherst Minutemen got that one victory on Friday, November 2nd at the Mullins Center in Amherst, MA. The Minutemen triumphed over the #9 UNH Wildcats 2-1 in overtime. This was UNH’s first defeat of the season but more importantly this was UMass’s first win in the Hockey East (this year) under new coach John Micheletto.

Nevertheless, this game had a great feeling of intensity as the UMass Minutemen finally sensed their urgency in the second period. After UNH tallied the first goal (Greg Burke, 2nd of the year) at 19:26 mark of the first period, the game became very even as each team would not give the other an inch of room. UMass fired more shots on goal in the second and third period. In the second period, Conor Sheary (His first of the year) tied the score at one after sending a beautiful pass from Steven Guzzo past the Wildcats’ goalie Casey DeSmith.

This thrilling game went to overtime. In the sudden death period, UMass was granted a penalty because of Kevin Goumas’s interference. Then the Minutemen’s faceoff dominance finally rewarded them as Sheary won the draw back to defensemen Conor Allen (two assists on the night). Allen fed freshman Shane Walsh on the left circle who sent a back door pass to Darren Rowe (third goal of the year) for the dramatic overtime win. UMass out shot UNH 36-26 and won the faceoff battle 41 out of 64. The Minutemen beat UNH is every category and more importantly they came out with the “W”.

With this victory, UMass climbed to 2-3 overall and 1-3 in the Hockey East conference and UNH fell to 4-1-1. UMass goaltender Kevin Boyle made 25 saves in the victory. UNH’s standout goalie Casey DeSmith made 34 saves in the loss.

Unfortunately, UMass lost to Boston College on Sunday 3-2 at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, MA. They surrendered a 2-1 lead in the third period as the defending national champions were just too good. The UMass goals were scored by Steven Cuzzo (2nd goal of the year) and Troy Power (1st goal of the year plus an assist). The Boston College goals were scored by Bill Arnold, Patrick Brown, and Michael Matheson.

The Minutemen fell to 2-4 and 1-4 in the Hockey East on the 2012-13 season. Goaltender Kevin Boyle now has a record of 2-2 but still sports a sparkling .932 save percentage and a 1.99 save percentage. The Golden Eagles are now 6-1 and 6-1 in the Hockey East.

Utter Disappointment

Hey guys, we would like to apologize for long delay between blog posts. We have all been very busy with school. Nevertheless, the focus of this blog is still solely on  hockey even though the NHL is currently in a lockout.

Unfortunately, we correctly predicted that the NHL would lock out. The first sign was the cancellation of the European Premiere Games in March. Since then, it has been nothing but bad news. There was some progress when the NHL offered the players a 50-50 split, which they wanted at the beginning of the negotiation but the owners wanted to roll back salaries to lower levels. The Players’ Association then drafted a counter proposal in which the NHL did not accept. Moreover, the NHL has cancelled regular season games through November 30th, however the knockout punch will be when the league removes the Winter Classic (hockey’s annual outdoor game held on New Year’s Day) from the schedule.

If and when they cancel the Winter Classic, that will signify that there will be no NHL hockey this year. The Winter Classic is an event that brings in a huge amount of revenue and is extremely important to the league. This year’s Winter Classic was supposed to be at the University of Michigan Stadium (aka the Big House), which was going to attract the most spectators ever to watch a live hockey game. The outdoor game would have done wonders for the league in a financial aspect, especially because it featured two of hockey’s most prominent teams, the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Mapleleafs. If the league manages to eliminate their signature event, we think that there is no possible way that NHL hockey will be played this year.

Furthermore, the NHL is expected to announce the cancellation of the Winter Classic on Thursday due to the fact that there are no meetings scheduled between the NHL and the Players’ Association.

Overall, this is a catastrophe for the sport. Once again, hockey was just starting to get popular and this lockout will impede its progress. Although we believe here at The Opening Faceoff that this time it will be different. This time more fans will not return to watch the great sport of hockey because of the trust factor. How can someone want to follow a sport that will halt play every time the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires? Hockey is the only sport that continuously has work stoppages! The league will probably lose the casual fan who usually purchases two to three regular season tickets a year to another sports such as basketball. Now multiply that loss of revenue times $10,000 because the casual fan makes up a large amount of the hockey community.

The lockout is a total fan and financial disaster and it needs to end. This is simply not fair for the loyal fans but to be frank, we do not think that the owners or the league gives a damn about the fans. That is truly shameful because the fans are the most important part of sports.

Not Done Yet

With the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals shifting back to the Prudential Center in Newark this Saturday, it means that the Los Angeles Kings have not successfully swept the New Jersey Devils. The Kings had a chance to win the Stanley Cup on home ice in Game 4, but Adam Henrique (Mr. Clutch) came through once again for the reeling Devils. The game was tied 1-1 when David Clarkson sent a cross-ice pass to the skates of the Devils’ sensational rookie. Henrique took no time at all to snipe the superb Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick on his blocker side. Henrique’s goal gave the Devils a second life in the Stanley Cup Finals. The rookie’s goal gave the Devils security and iced the game with Ilya Kovalchuk’s empty-net goal. The goal scored by Henrique shows the world that Jonathan Quick is human and can be scored on. Before that goal, the Devils only scored fluke goals that either hit off Kings’ defensemen or were deflected by someone in front of the net. Furthermore the longer the series goes, suspense will build and the entertainment aspect of the Stanley Cup Finals will increase exponentially.

The idea of the Devils completing a comeback is definitely not out of the question but they have to play with same intensity that they had in Game 4. I believe that the Devils will in fact win Game 5 and force a Game 6 in Los Angeles.

What to Watch For:

  • The first goal will make a huge difference and will decide who will win
  • The relentless forecheck of New Jersey
  • How Kovalchuk’s injury will affect his play
  • The Kings strength and speed
  • Dustin Brown: He has been too quiet this series and I suspect that he will respond with a huge effort
  • The brilliance of Martin Brodeur
  • Shooting high and getting rebounds on Quick
  • The Kings’ dominance on the road

Prediction: Devils win 2-1

They Are Devilishly Good

They are back! For the first time since 2003, the New Jersey Devils are playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. After dominating the Philadelphia Flyers in five games, the confident Devils will face either the Washington Capitals or the New York Rangers. The fact that the Devils are playing for the conference title is surprising to many people due to the concept that they were matched up against the third-seeded Florida Panthers and the fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers. They were given the underdog status in the Flyers series and completely sustained the Flyers’ constant offensive pressure. In fact, they made budding superstar Claude Giroux look like an average player with their stout defense.

The Devils’ recent playoff run has been exciting to watch as their potent offense is truly controlling each and every game. This is quite a contrast from previous Devils’ teams because in the past, their defense have always won them championships. The formula for the Devils offensive success is quite simple, but difficult to defend. They Devils play a 2-1-2 forecheck which means that two forwards pressure the puck carrier while the center is usually in the front of the net. The two defenseman are stationed at the point and act as support for dump back in the zone, or a big shot. These offensive stylings make it tough for any defense to clear the puck from their zone. Another key to the Devils success is receiving scoring from all four lines and the six defenseman. Speaking of defenseman, Marek Zidlicky was extremely effective in the recent Flyers series registering 1 goal and 3 assists. The Devils are an all-around good offensive team with big names such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Elias, and Travis Zajac. These top tier players will have to be very productive  in order for the Devils to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

In addition to their successful offense, 40 year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur has been absolutely superb in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His statistics are incredible: 8 wins and 3 losses, he has a goals against average of 2.05, and has a save percentage of .920. Brodeur is freak of nature who is still one of league’s best goalies even at the ripe age of 40. He IS the greatest goalie of all time and is carrying his new offensive-minded Devils’ team on yet another deep playoff run. This is a very good team that is peaking at the right time.

Can Anyone Stop the Kings?

Is there anyone who can actually say that they predicted, by this time of 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, that the Los Angeles Kings would have only lost one game? The Kings, up to this point of the playoffs, have been by far the most successful team in the playoffs and do not even look like they are slowing down. The Kings easily beat the top-seeded and Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks four games to one, and are currently in position to sweep another heavy favorite in the playoffs, the second-seeded St. Louis Blues.

Jonathan Quick has been a big reason for this success. If it was not for the similar numbers by New York Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist, Quick would have run away with the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL for the regular season.  Throughout almost all of the season, with the team’s offense unable to score goals, Quick had kept his team in the playoff race in a very tough Western Conference. Quick was involved in more 1-0 and 2-1 games than any other goaltender in the league, knowing that if he wasn’t stellar, the Kings’ offense would not score enough goals to win. Quick has kept up his play in the playoffs. Including up to the 4-2 game 3 win against the Blues, Quick is currently 7-1 in the playoffs with a 1.62 GAA and a .948 save %, against a strong St. Louis offense and a superstar-filled Vancouver offense.

The offense for the Kings has also picked up its game. Futile for most of the season, the Kings’ offense got a huge jump when they traded for Jeff Carter in late February. Since then, the Kings have averaged 3.10 goals a game, almost a full goal better than the 2.11 goals they were averaging before the trade. Carter has brought more balance to the Kings offense, and especially, more comfort to Mike Richards. Richards and Carter both starred for the Philadelphia Flyers until Richards was traded to the Kings and Carter was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Carter was struggling a lot on the NHL-worst Columbus Blue Jackets, but was able to reinvent himself as a member of Kings. The addition of Carter has given the Kings two of the deadliest lines in the league, including players like grinder Dustin Brown and playmaker Anze Kopitar. The Kings have kept that up that offense in the playoffs, currently averaging 3.00 goals a game. They have even scored over 3 goals a game against Brian Elliott, the St. Louis goaltender who just achieved the highest save percentage in NHL history.

The point is that Kings are not just winning and exceeding expectations for an eighth seed; they are doing it in dominating fashion. They are blowing out teams with the combination of a potent offense, a stifling defense, and phenomenal goaltending. I, as I am sure many people had, predicted that the Kings were going to lose in the first round of the playoffs, but with the way they are playing, I cannot possibly see the St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, or the Nashville Predators stopping the Kings from representing the West in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings are just too good right now.