10 Biggest Surprises of the 2014-15 NHL Season

Well the first month of the 2014-2015 NHL season is coming to a close we thought that it would be fun to look at some of the largest surprises of the early NHL season.  Which players have had the most surprising start (good or bad)?  Which teams have been the biggest surprise thus far?  Who did we expect more from at this stage of the NHL season?

10 Biggest Surprises of the 2014-15 NHL Season

  1. Jonas Hiller – goaltender of the Calgary Flames.  How many of you predicted that after the first month of the season that Hiller would be leading all NHL goaltenders in Goals Against Average 1.63 and Save Percentage at .948.  We sure didn’t.
  2. Strong early play of Les Habitants – the Montreal Canadiens are off to their best start since the 1961-62 season and at one point were 7-1 to start.  We thought they would do well but to lead the NHL after the first month is in fact a surprise.
  3. Rick Nash with nine goals in nine games to start the season – I have to admit I thought that Rick Nash was a little washed up.  His firery starts says otherwise.  Nash is currently tied with the Ducks’ Corey Perry for the League lead in goals after the first month.
  4. The strong play of rookie Devils defenseman Damon Severson – I was fortunate to get a chance to watch Severson play for my hometown Kelowna Rockets for a few seasons and I knew that this kid was going to be a good player in the NHL.  Severson has 7 points in the Devils first 10 games and is a plus six.  Some of said that this guys is going to be a Shea Weber type d-man and be the best defenseman in New Jersey since Scott Nidermayer.
  5. Poor Start of the Colorado Avalanche – with only 3 wins in their first 11 games, the Avs have been slow out of the gate.  With all of that talent in the forward position we expected the team to be a little stronger at this point of the season.
  6. Ryan Miller with seven wins – I wasn’t sure how well the Canucks would do this season, but with new management and some new talent the Canucks are off to a great start.  Ryan Miller has already compiled 7 wins in the early going.  He had 25 wins all of last season.  If he keeps playing the way his is, he could eclipse that by February.
  7. Tyler Toffoli is fourth in league scoring – with 14 points in ten games only Tyler Seguin, Sidney Crosby and Jakub Voracek have more points than Toffoli.
  8. The poor play of the Carolina Hurricanes – at the time of this writing the Hurricanes were the only NHL team without a win.  Nearly a month into the season and this team could be out of the playoffs for good by mid-November.  We thought that the Canes would be a little better than this, but then again we did not expect this team to be a playoff team this season.
  9. The New Jersey Devils finally end shoot out futility streak – on Halloween night, the Devils finally ended their losing streak in shootouts at 18 games with a 2-1 victory on home ice over the Winnipeg Jets.
  10. Anze Kopitar is 265th in League Scoring – lots of hype over this guy in the off season yet Kopitar only has 3 points in the Kings first 10 games.  He’s a minus one and is on pace for a 32 point season.  I know its early but really three points?

Let us know what you feel are the biggest surprises this NHL season and follow us on Twitter @hockeyfanatics.

Posted in NHL by The Hockey Fan. No Comments

Hockey Stories: Meeting Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe

This is the first instalment of a new feature here on the Hockey Fanatic site called “Hockey Stories”.  Really these are just random stories from my younger days growing up a hockey fan in Western Canada.  For those who know me, I am a life long fan of the Edmonton Oilers and I grew up watching the glory years of the Oilers in the 80’s.  We would love to hear from you as well.  If you have a great hockey story to share drop us a line on Twitter @hockeyfanatics and maybe we’ll share your story or favorite hockey memory on our site.

Hockey Stories:  Meeting Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe

Only one man has played professional hockey in six different decades.  One of the greatest, meanest hockey players to ever play the game was a man from Floral, Saskatchewan named Gordon Howe.  Ask anyone who was the greatest player of all-time and they will most likely name one of three players, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe.

Here is a quick story about how I got to meet Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey himself.  Gordie Howe was a beast on the ice.  He could do it all and often when he needed to he took matters into his own hands.  Off of the ice I always thought that Mr. Howe was a soft spoken gentleman.  When I was a kid, the WHA was folding and four of its teams were joining the NHL.  The Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and the New England nee Hartford Whalers.  It was on the Whalers that a 50 year old Gordie Howe would play with two of his sons Mark and Marty and play a full 80 games posting 15 goals and 26 assists in his final NHL season.  Again he was 51 years old at the time.  I cannot think of another athlete to play at this level and still be this effective at 51 years of age.  Most impressive and just one of the reasons why Gordie Howe is one of the greatest athletes of all time.

So the story of how I got to meet Gordie Howe may not be anything special to you but it sure was to me.  It was in the early 90`s I had moved to Kelowna, BC to study Business at Okanagan University College.  I had grown up in small town Alberta so moving to the bigger city of Kelowna was quite an adjustment.  I found it difficult to meet people at first but my love for the game of hockey allowed me to finally meet some great friends in the Okanagan.  This was also right around the time when collecting hockey cards became a viable business and as a child I had a pretty decent collection (and still do) of hockey cards.  So when it was announced that a hockey card show was coming to town and that Mr. Hockey himself was going to be in attendance, along with his son Marty, I knew that I had to attend.

As I recall the hockey card show was in a venue called The Boardwalk and old roller skating rink that sometimes held music concerts.  It was on a Sunday I believe and I headed over to the show myself.  In the days leading up I was going through my card collection to find the best Marty Howe and Gordie Howe hockey cards that I could to get autographed.  The cards that I ended up selecting were a 1983 O-Pee-Chee card of Marty Howe and of all of the cards a 1991 ProSet black and white `Mr. Hockey`Gordie Howe card.  I selected that card to get signed for a couple of reasons: one I had a number of doubles of that particular card and two I liked the classic pose of a young Gordie Howe in his Red Wings uniform.

Gordie Howe Autographed Card

So when it was time to finally get in line to meet the legendary hockey giant I made sure that I was near the front of the line.  I was probably within the first twenty people  to get in line, so as I approached the able I thought to myself that this was hockey royalty, I am actually going to meet arguably the greatest hockey player of all time Gordie Howe.  Marty politely said hello and I said `hi`back and he very neatly signed the bottom left of the Hartford Whalers card that I presented to him.  I thanked him and he gave me a wink.  Then I moved ever so slightly to my left where Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe was sitting down.  I said “Hello Mr. Howe, great to see you.  Would you mind if I shook your hand?”  With that, the then sixty two year old stood up reached out his hand and gently shook my extended hand.  I remember thinking that these were the largest hands on a human being that I had ever seen.  I recall reading stories that as a teenager back in Saskatchewan Gordie used to squeeze rubber balls so hard that he would crush them.  I believe it after seeing the size of his paws.  Then with a firm but gentle handshake Gordie Howe shook my hand.  (It reminded me of how my grandfather used to shake hands with me.)  He then gave me a smile and in his soft spoken voice asked me what my name was and said thanks for coming.  I muttered something to the effect that it was my pleasure and politely thanked him for taking the time to sign my card.  You can see how neatly he signed the card obviously from decades of practice.  Now he must have signed a million autographs in his day but for me this was one of the greatest pieces of hockey memorabilia that I could ever have.  I thought about how I read about the first time Mr. Howe met Wayne Gretzky and the famous picture where Gordie holds a stick up to Wayne’s ear.  I thought about how my parents were from Saskatchewan and that I always had close ties to Saskatchewan and that it was cool that Mr. Howe was from Saskatchewan.

Gordie Howe & Wayne Gretzky

The meeting last all of 30-40 seconds but it was something that I would remember fondly.

So earlier this week when it was announced that Mr. Howe had suffered a pretty severe stroke, I remembered my meeting with him.  I remember being so impressed with him.  I thought about how ironic it was that he made more money from endorsements after hockey than in the five or six decades when he played.  I thought that today’s players owe a lot to Gordie Howe and that I hoped he would be remembered as one of the greatest hockey players and greatest athletes of all time.  I purchased his new book Mr. Hockey last week.  I cannot wait to read it.

You can purchase the book at Chapters Indigo here or at Amazon here.

As Wayne Gretzky wrote the forward in Mr. Howe’s latest book:

“He played the game differently from any other player.Physical yet very elegant, smooth yet with an edge.  Fans came to see him play all over North America, filling arenas every night, and very rarely did he disappoint anyone.  He made the game bigger and better… You can never replace Gordie Howe – the greatest player ever…”  You can’t argue with that.  And for the record there is nothing cooler in my mind than getting a Gordie Howe Hat-Trick in hockey.  How many other players have actions named after them in hockey?  Not very many.

Mr. Howe, not sure if you will get to see this, but I wish you a speedy recovery and want to thank you for being a great ambassador for the great game of hockey.  As always, elbows and head up Sir.

Posted in Fans NHL by The Hockey Fan. No Comments

2014-15 NHL Season Predictions

2015 NHL PredictionsEvery year around this time, hockey poolies convene in annual drafts to select their players who will earn them bragging rights for hockey pool supremacy.  Also during this time, hockey fans and so called hockey experts throw their two cents in and make their pre-season NHL predictions.  Well the new NHL season is days away from starting. The Hockey Fanatic again joins the mass array of hockey fans predicting the best of  the best and who will be the also rans of the next NHL season.   Here’s our educated guess as to who will finish at the top of each division, and ultimately who will win the Stanley Cup.

2014-15 NHL Season Predictions

First off, the Hockey Fanatic feels that we will again see dominance in the West and unlike previous seasons, we expect some unexpected falls from grace with a couple NHL teams who have dominated in recent years.  Here is our predictions for how each of the NHL divisions will finish.

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

  1. New York Rangers
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. New York Islanders
  5. New Jersey Devils
  6. Philadelphia Flyers
  7. Columbus Blue Jackets
  8. Carolina Hurricanes

Pittsburgh needs goaltending, they could be one of the teams that begins their fall from grace although a healthy Sidney Crosby may say otherwise.  We expect the Washington Capitals to perform much better under new head coach Barry Trotz.  Has Ovie checked out?  Columbus and Philly are two teams that cold fluctuate the most.  The Islanders could have a nice season with a healthy John Tavares and a good start to the season.

Atlantic Division

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Montreal Canadiens
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Toronto Maple Leafs
  6. Ottawa Senators
  7. Buffalo Sabres
  8. Florida Panthers

We think that this is the year that Detroit misses the post season in like forever.  Many are liking how Tampa Bay looks, but it remains to be seen how Stamkos will perform without Marty St. Louis by his side for a full season.  This could be the year that Montreal brings a Cup back to Canada.  This will be the year of Carey Price and PK Subban.  Toronto will be better but we think Randy Carlyle will be fired by December.  Ottawa will play tough but just doesn’t have all of the pieces they need to contend with the big boys.  Boston is just a hardworking team that may surprise some by offering up Zdeno Chara as trade bait at some point in the next couple of seasons.  Florida should be better but won’t, even Booby Lu won;t help them win enough games to get into the post season.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. Chicago Blackhawks
  2. St. Louis Blues
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. Colorado Avalanche
  5. Minnesota Wild
  6. Winnipeg Jets
  7. Nashville Predators

The Blackhawks are awesome.  If they stay injury free they will have a tremendous season and we’ll be hearing a lot of Cheslea Dagger.  Could this finally be the year of the St. Louis Blues?  They have a lot of the key components of being a contender.  For our money the team that made the greatest improvements in the off season were the Dallas Stars.  We think that Jamie Benn is still underrated.  Dallas could be a dark horse come playoff time.  On paper the Avs look stacked, however we think that their goaltending will be less than stellar this season.  Jarome Iginla is a nice addition but he played on a good Bruins team last season, hard to say how much he’ll help the Avs this season.  Minnesota will be tough to play against but goaltending could be an issue.  The poor Jets will be  a hardworking bunch but they simply lack the superstar player and top notch goalie top get them to the post season.  The Preds will not score a lot of goals and with Barry Trotz gone may be in a transition year.

Pacific Division

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. San Jose Sharks
  4. Arizona Coyotes
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Edmonton Oilers
  7. Calgary Flames

Man the Canadian teams are in tough in this Division.  The Anaheim Ducks are going to be a tough team to beat this season as are the defending champions the Los Angeles Kings, but when you are the Stanley Cup champs everyone is gunning for you every night.  This is a do or die year for the San Jose Sharks, not only do they have to get into the playoffs but they have to win at least two rounds.  They were our pick to win it all last year but their colossal collapse to the Kings in round one last spring put an end to that.  Do they have something to prove or will they dismantle by mid-season?  Will Joe Thornton be a Ranger by the trade deadline?  Vancouver could finish as worse as sixth if they get off to a slow start.  How will Ryan Miller perform in the fishbowl?  He’s not Roberto Luongo.  What has Miller won in his pro career?  A couple of silver medals?  Will it be enough.  No Kesler means less grit.  You have to think that the Sedins will have a better year but they will again need to be point per game players if the Canucks are to make the playoffs, which we are predicting they won’t.  We are a long-time fans of the Edmonton Oilers but the management team in that town is terrible.  The Oilers have better goaltending and have gotten a little bigger, but they have a porous defense and lack a bonafide #2 centerman.  This could be another long season.  They should be a little better and at least shouldn’t be out of the playoff picture five weeks into the season, but it will take a minor miracle for these boys to make the playoffs this season.  In fact I am so superstitious that this is the first time in 8 seasons that I am not getting the Center Ice package to watch all of the Oiler games.  I can’t stand to watch a team lose so much.  The Flames are on the downswing and although they are a hard working bunch they will have little fizzle this season.  Could be in the running for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes come June.

As for Stanley Cup predictions.  Our final four picks are:  From the East:  Tampa Bay and Montreal, From the West:  Chicago and Los Angeles.  Out pick for the Stanley Cup winner:  Chicago Blackhawks.

Enjoy the season hockey fans.

Posted in NHL by The Hockey Fan. No Comments

20 NHL Players to Watch in the 2014-2015 Season

With training camps set to open later this week and with rookie camps under way, we thought that we would evaluate some of the players to watch this upcoming NHL season.  Being based in the West we get a little tired of hearing about the Eastern based teams all of the time so our list may be a little biased towards players based on Western teams.  Quite honestly the West has provided the greatest entertainment value in recent years with multiple Stanley Cup championships for both the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks.

20 NHL Players to Watch

There is some great young talent in the game.  Here is a look at some of the players to watch in the 2014-2015 NHL season.  For all of you hockey poolies out there, these are the players you might want to take a risk on if they are available in your hockey pool.

  1. Tyler Seguin – Dallas Stars -  Boston gave up on this guy way too early.  Yes he is a bit of a free spirit and yes he may have a slight ego, but he’s also got the skills to back it up.  84 points in 80 games last season with the Stars, Seguin could even score more than the 37 goals he potted last season.  With the addition of forwards Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, Dallas has definitely improved their offensive capabilities.
  2. P.K. Subban – Montreal Canadiens – it is always interesting to see how a player performs after signing a big contract.  We like P.K. Subban.  He’s got some great skills, has even better quotes and while his charismatic personality sometimes gets him in trouble, this guy is pure entertainment.  Either love him or hate him, there’s no denying that you’d love to have him on your team.
  3. Ryan Miller – Vancouver Canucks –  wow that still doesn’t sound right does it?  After a debacle of a year in Vancouver last season especially between the pipes, the Canucks landed a new starting goaltender in Ryan Miller.  Miller has had a couple of sub-par season but we think that Vancouver might just be what the doctor ordered for this netminder.
  4. Jason Spezza – Dallas Stars – Spezza left the only NHL team that he has ever known joining a nice cast of supporting players in Big “D”.  Does anyone remember that Spezza was a minus 26 in Ottawa last year.  This could be a major plus for the Stars or a major bust.
  5. Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals – the great 8 had an up and down year last year.  This season will tell if Ovie is still one of the elite hockey players of today’s game.  Factor in newly acquired and very defensive minded coach Barry Trotz to the Caps and we will see how the Capitals captain responds.
  6. Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning – probably our favorite player in the game today.  It will be interesting to see how Stammer responds coming back from a pretty serious leg injury from last season and a full season without Martin St. Louis.  He’ll look to challenge for the league lead in goals but we feel that his scoring production might drop this season.
  7. Joe Pavelski – San Jose Sharks – we thought for sure that the Sharks were going to go to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, but after being up three games to none to the Kings in the first round the Sharks suffered one of the greatest collapses in the history of the game.  Look to “Little Joe” to emerge as one of the leaders on this team and while he may not improve upon his 79 points (good for ninth overall) in the league from last season, he tends to put up points in bunches.
  8. Jordan Eberle – Edmonton Oilers – this guy is also part of trade rumours which is quite comical because this guys skills are off the charts.  Jordan Eberle is a created player who needs to play in the right situations.  He is a playmaker, a shooter and is very smart with the puck.  The Oilers coaching staff wasted his efforts at times last year by trying to stifle his creativity.  Look for the Oilers big line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle to be more consistent this season.  Eberle could easily be a 75-80 point guy.
  9. Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins – there have been a lot of changes in Pittsburgh this off season.  It will be interesting to see how Crosby adjusts.
  10. Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche – can you say sophmore slump?  We’ll see.
  11. Arron Ekblad – Florida Panthers – will this rookie crack the Panthers lineup and stay with the team?  What kind of ice time will he receive?  Who will he be partnered up with?  How will he contend with nagging off season injuries?
  12. Kyle Turris – Ottawa Senators – is this guy ready for the spotlight and the pressure that will be expected from him to produce offensively for the Sens?
  13. Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings – does Doughty become complacent this year or is this the year that he challenges for the Norris?  Teams are going to play the Kings tighter this year, how will that impact Doughty and the defensive core?
  14. Nail Yakupov – Edmonton Oilers – will switching jersey numbers to the number ten improve the terrible season that Yak had last year or will this guy mature and produce at the level he did in junior and in his inaugural season in the NHL?  We think that a trade might be in order for this guy so that he can play his style of game.
  15. Sam Gagner – Arizona Coyotes – how well will Gagner adapt to life in the desert?  He received some quality ice time in Edmonton over the years and did not always deliver.  Will he receive increased responsibility with the Desert Dogs?  We personally we happy to see him leave Edmonton.  A fresh start may be good for the diminutive forward.
  16. Thomas Vanek – Minnesota Wild – not sure about this guy and not sure about this team.  Definitely one to watch though.
  17. Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs – we like Dion, even with all of the “baggage” that comes along with him.  Leaf fans (and media) are hard on this guy at times and we think that as captain of the Leafs there is some maturity that needs to happen with Dion in order for the Leafs to become regulars in the post season.
  18. Scott Hartnell – Columbus Blue Jackets – this was a good pick up for the Blue Jackets.  It will be interesting to see how Hartnell performs in Ohio.
  19. Ondrej Pavalec – Winnipeg Jets – we feel that this is a do or die season for the Jets goaltender.  Apparently he has been training hard all summer and has dropped weight to become more of an agile goaltender.  He’s still going to be on a short leash with Jets’ management, and even a shorter one with Jets fans who inherited a terrible team in the Atlanta Thrashers.
  20. Daniel Sedin – Vancouver Canucks – 47 points in 73 games was all Daniel Sedin could muster last season.  Remove Ryan Kesler from the Canucks conversation and do we really expect the Sedins performance to improve dramatically?  We do expect that it will improve but not to the point per game level they once performed at.  We like what Trevor Linden has done thus far, but this team could be in for a world of hurt again this season.  Were they really that awful last season?  The answer is a simple yes.  However the team cleaned house from a management perspective (Edmonton Oilers take note) and could again join the post season with some dedicated efforts this year.

There you have it, a look at 20 players to key an eye on this NHL season.  Of course we expect to see some surprises, and we hope we see some positive things happen for the Canadian NHL teams.  At the start of the season all 30 teams are in first place, then again all 30 teams are also tied for last place.  In a couple more weeks the season will begin and the quest will begin anew for Lord Stanley’s Cup

Posted in NHL by The Hockey Fan. No Comments

2014 NHL Free Agent Activity

As always the July 1st date is becoming a date that hockey fans a re circling on their calendars.  It marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period where there tends to be a lot of activity with teams.  Here is a look at the activity the past month.

2014 NHL Free Agency Activity

So far the free agent that has cashed in the most is Steve Ott who signed with the St. Louis Blues for two years for a total of $5.2 million.  There are still a handful of free agents out there who are available but with the tight cap space for some team, GMs and owners are going to have to get creative when dropping salary.

Jul 19 Stempniak, Lee RW Pittsburgh NY Rangers $900K 1 $900K
Jul 17 Curry, John G Minnesota Minnesota n/a 1 n/a
Jul 16 Ferriero, Benn RW Vancouver St. Louis $600K 1 $600K
Jul 16 Butler, Chris D Calgary St. Louis $650K 1 $650K
Jul 15 Roy, Derek C St. Louis Nashville $1M 1 $1M
Jul 15 Ribeiro, Mike C Phoenix Nashville $1.005M 1 $1.005M
Jul 11 Moss, David RW Phoenix Phoenix $800K 1 $800K
Jul 11 Morrow, Brenden LW St. Louis Tampa Bay $1.55M 1 $1.55M
Jul 10 Smith, Trevor C Toronto Toronto $550K 1 $550K
Jul 10 Hannan, Scott D San Jose San Jose $1M 1 $1M
Jul 10 Lerg, Bryan LW Colorado San Jose $575K 1 $575K
Jul 10 Haley, Micheal C NY Rangers San Jose $600K 1 $600K
Jul 10 Cleary, Dan LW Detroit Detroit $1.5M 1 $1.5M
Jul 10 Ott, Steve C St. Louis St. Louis $5.2M 2 $2.6M
Jul 9 Heatley, Dany LW Minnesota Anaheim $1M 1 $1M
Jul 8 Grant, Alex D Ottawa Ottawa $700K 1 $700K
Jul 8 Corrente, Matt D Carolina Tampa Bay $550K 1 $550K
Jul 7 Volchenkov, Anton D New Jersey Nashville $1M 1 $1M
Jul 5 Cannone, Pat C St. Louis St. Louis $550K 1 $550K
Jul 5 Sutter, Brett LW Carolina Minnesota $1.2M 2 $600K
Jul 5 Piskula, Joe D Nashville Nashville $550K 1 $550K
Jul 5 McNeill, Patrick D Columbus Phoenix $550K 1 $550K
Jul 4 Bodie, Troy LW Toronto Toronto $600K 1 $600K
Jul 4 Legwand, David C Detroit Ottawa $6M 2 $3M
Jul 4 VandeVelde, Chris C Philadelphia Philadelphia $575K 1 $575K
Jul 4 McCarthy, John LW San Jose St. Louis $600K 1 $600K
Jul 4 Newbury, Kris C Philadelphia Washington $550K 1 $550K
Jul 4 Kennedy, Tim LW Phoenix Washington $550K 1 $550K
Jul 4 Holmstrom, Ben C Philadelphia Carolina $600K 1 $600K
Jul 3 Tarnasky, Nick C Montreal NY Rangers $1.15M 2 $575K
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