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Season Preview: Sawchuk West

In DEL, HAM, IHS, PWH, Special Features, VAN on October 11, 2018 at 8:48 am

In our fourth and final season preview, it’s time to look at the Sawchuk West, where big changes are afoot.

Check out the other previews:
Plante East
Plante West
Sawchuk East


Delta Sturgeon
Last Season’s Finish: 38-34-10 (6th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Jonathan Toews, D Jake Muzzin, D Zdeno Chara
Notable Departures: F Scott Hartnell, F Kris Versteeg, F J.T. Compher, D Cody Ceci

Wow! Sensing that its core — Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Taylor Hall, and veteran Eric Staal — was on the cusp of becoming something truly special, the Sturgeon threw caution to the wind, dealing draft picks for the second straight season and acquiring the pieces it needed most: a faceoff guy (Toews), a puck-mover (Muzzin), and a stay-at-home beast (Chara). Mission accomplished. With a deep, if a bit workmanlike, blueline and the makings of a truly great goalie tandem in John Gibson and Antti Raanta, Delta has found itself in long-forgotten territory: contending not just for a playoff berth but for a championship. This is a roster with very few weaknesses. After missing the playoffs last year, the Sturgeon is about to become the league’s most improved team.

Verdict: Contender


Hamilton Ti-Cats
Last Season’s Finish: 42-35-5 (4th in conference); lost in 1st round
Notable Arrivals: F Mark Jankowski, F Blake Coleman, F Alex Iafallo
Notable Departures: D Mark Streit, D Toby Enstrom

The sign on the front door says ‘Under New Management’ and that may be the biggest difference for a team that’s contended for years without ever quite having enough for a championship. The team has stagnated badly over recent seasons as stars like Daniel Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg have aged. With those two nearing retirement, the Ti-Cats have two big factors keeping them in the playoff mix: a trio of star scorers in Claude Giroux, Patrick Kane, and Jakub Voracek, and one of the finest and most dangerous top-fours in the league in P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Tyson Barrie, and T.J. Brodie. They weren’t able to add much besides bottom-sixers over the offseason, though, and if one of Corey Schneider or Keith Kinkaid can’t come through big, they may struggle. But a playoff spot is a safe bet for now.

Verdict: Playoffs


Ice Harbor Storm
Last Season’s Finish: 30-47-5 (8th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Alex DeBrincat, D Nick Leddy
Notable Departures: none

One of last season’s biggest mysteries was why the Storm were underperforming. On paper, they should have been vying for a playoff spot. In practice, they limped along to a terrible record, scored the second fewest goals in the league, and came up with another high draft pick. So is this the year they turn it all around? Once again, on paper, it’s hard to find glaring weaknesses in Ice Harbor’s lineup. And with just-drafted Alex DeBrincat, they addressed one of them: the need for a scorer who’d be hungry for goals. The Storm have, bar none, some of the best forward depth in the league, especially up the middle, where Kyle Turris and Mikael Backlund will be competing just for 4th line minutes. Blake Wheeler, Aleksander Barkov, Kris Letang, Rasmus Ristolainen… This team should be scoring plenty to support a still-solid Henrik Lundqvist. But that’s just on paper.

Verdict: Playoffs


Portland Winterhawks
Last Season’s Finish: 22-50-10 (9th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Pierre-Luc Dubois, F Jesper Bratt, F Riley Nash, F Mattias Janmark, G Michal Neuvirth
Notable Departures: F Luke Glendening, F Mark Letestu, F Dale Weise, D Radko Gudas, D Brandon Montour

The very definition of a bubble team, the Winterhawks followed up a surprisingly good ’16-’17 campaign with a disappointing one in ’17-’18 but have yet to throw in the towel and call rebuild. Last year’s acquisition of Phil Kessel, combined with the emergence of Brad Marchand and Artemi Panarin as top left-wingers, is a good base to build around. They parlayed the second overall pick into Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has a good shot at some top six time this season, and also drafted Jesper Bratt who will also be seeing GWMHL action. Still, the Hawks aren’t an especially deep team — David Krejci will be asked to do an awful lot as their top centre, and beyond Matt Niskanen the defense is a huge question mark, especially after the team flipped Brandon Montour for more forward help just prior to the season. They could sneak in, but will most likely find themselves out of the playoffs.

Verdict: Bubble


Vancouver Night Train
Last Season’s Finish: 42-30-10 (2nd in conference); lost in 2nd round
Notable Arrivals: F Denis Malgin, D Matt Grzelcyk, G David Rittich
Notable Departures: F Jonathan Toews, F Tomas Plekanec, F Johan Larsson, F Zack Kassian, D Alex Edler, D Kevan Miller, G Pekka Rinne

After making the postseason and taking the Boston Banshees to seven games in the Sawchuk Final, the Night Train made the surprising decision to commit to a rebuild. But did they go far enough? Vancouver brass has seemed reluctant to part ways with Mark Stone, Anders Lee, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and with Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, they’ll probably win a few. But with big gains coming from division rivals Delta and Ice Harbor, the Night Train chose to part ways with Rinne, Toews, Plekanec, and Edler. It’s a huge burden to put on the shoulders of young players Mathew BarzalThomas Chabot, and Shea Theodore, and the majority of the Train’s 2018 draftees are a season or three away. The loss of glue guys Shea Weber (to injury) and Toews will make them a lot easier to play against than in years past.

Verdict: Rebuilding

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[Press Release] Vancouver Season Preview

In Special Features, VAN on September 30, 2018 at 9:50 am

The Vancouver Night Train all but acknowledged to fans today that this season would likely be a rough one.

In a meet-and-greet for season ticket holders and press, Night Train management told fans to expect a rocky go of it, as division rivals like Delta and Ice Harbor emerge as possible powerhouses.

Vancouver shed veterans Jonathan Toews, Pekka Rinne, and Alex Edler in offseason trades, and word has leaked that the team plans to cut longtime top-6 centreman Tomas Plekanec as well. The outlook is not good on the injury status of Shea Weber, who may miss most of the season, alongside perennial walking wounded Chris Tanev.

But the team has hope for the future: Already, it’s one of the youngest groups in the entire league. Team coaching staff expects 2017 draftees Mat Barzal and Thomas Chabot to step in and play important minutes in their rookie seasons. Of the most recent draft class, only defender Matt Grzelcyk may see regular ice time this year: Martin Necas, Luke Kunin, Adam Gaudette, and Logan Brown are all at least a season away.

Veterans Mark Stone, Kyle Palmieri, Anders Lee, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Nick Foligno will be asked to fill the leadership void left by Toews. Still, none of their jobs are safe and the team may look to send some of them to contenders before the trade deadline.

Lynx Add Centre, Defense Depth

In EDH, SSR, Transactions, VAN on September 10, 2018 at 1:34 pm

In a pair of moves, the El Dorado Lynx have signalled that they’re going all-in on the upcoming season. First, the Lynx acquired veteran rearguard Alex Edler from the Vancouver Night Train, along with a 4th round pick (70th overall), for El Dorado’s 2nd round rookie pick in 2018 (29th overall). Edler leaves as the third highest-scoring defenseman in Vancouver franchise history.

Then, the Lynx swung an even bigger move, sending their 1st round pick in 2018 (9th overall) and forward Teuvo Teravainen to the rebuilding South Side Renegades for centre Ryan O’Reilly, defenseman Jonas Brodin, and South Side’s 2nd round pick (21st overall). The move simultaneously solidifies El Dorado’s shaky blueline but also provides a top-line centre to fill in for injury-plagued Ryan Kesler.

Minor Move: Kevan Miller to Boston

In BOS, Transactions, VAN on April 25, 2018 at 10:05 am

In a minor move to shore up its bottom pairing, the Boston Banshees have acquired steady defenseman Kevan Miller from the Vancouver Night Train in exchange for Ice Harbor’s 4th round rookie pick in 2018.

Vancouver had acquired Miller from Parry Sound at the 2017-18 trade deadline in a move that saw Derek Forbort going the other way. He put up one goal and 13 points in 58 regular season games this past season, along with 2 assists in 12 playoff games.

Orrsmen Acquire Rinne

In PAR, Transactions, VAN on April 22, 2018 at 10:41 am

After 9 seasons with the Vancouver Night Train, veteran netminder Pekka Rinne is heading to a contender. The Parry Sound Orrsmen have acquired Rinne, along with its own 3rd round rookie pick in 2018, for goaltender Anders Nilsson, forward prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Denver’s 2nd round rookie pick in 2018.

Rinne played 434 games with the Night Train and backstopped the club through its best years. But with Sergei Bobrovsky taking the reins in 2017-18 and the team getting younger, his days in Vancouver turned out to be numbered. He leaves as the franchise leader in games, wins, and shutouts.

The Orrsmen, whose 3-man platoon in the 2018 Gump Cup Playoffs fell flat, will be able to enter the 2018-19 season with a workhorse between the pipes to complement one of the league’s best young forward cores.

Which Deadline Pickups Made the Biggest Impact After 24 Games?

In DEN, NAS, SCA, Special Features, STL, VAN on June 12, 2013 at 9:42 pm

streit

It was the most active trade deadline in recent memory. 24 games later, most of the players who found new homes have had a chance to show what they’ve got. But which teams’ acquisitions made the biggest difference?

1) Saint Louis Blues (17-6-1 since deadline)

The Blues were a good team before the deadline, but that didn’t deter them from making bold moves – and it paid off. Daniel Alfredsson (9 goals in 24 games) and Alex Steen (13 points in 12 games) were notable producers, but the real impact was on overall team depth. They’ve never been harder to defend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blues Keep Adding, Acquire Mason Raymond

In News, STL, Transactions, VAN on April 29, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Speedy forward Mason Raymond is on his way from Vancouver to Saint Louis, as the Blues continue to aggressively reimagine their roster heading into the season’s second half. In return, the Night Train get veteran centre Michal Handzus – only just acquired by the Blues – and a 3rd round draft pick.

In 40 games this season, Handzus had 8 assists and no goals. Raymond has only played in 18 contests so far this season, managing a goal and a helper in fourth line icetime.

Kulikov Headed to Pittsburgh

In News, PIT, Transactions, VAN on April 26, 2013 at 8:28 am

As the trade deadline approaches, the Pittsburgh Hornets have swung a deal for young defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. In return, the Hornets send veteran forward Johan Franzen and a 4th round pick to the Vancouver Night Train.

Kulikov, a Night Train worst -11 in limited action so far this year following a 41-point 2011-12 campaign, joins Slava Voynov and Victor Hedman on an up-and-coming Pittsburgh blueline, long a team weakness. Franzen, who’s played his entire career with the Pittsburgh/San Diego franchise, has 12 goals and 22 points in 30 contests this season and will be expected to boost the Night Train’s second line alongside Tomas Plekanec.

Ondrej Pavelec is Storm-Bound

In IHS, Transactions, VAN on March 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm

The Vancouver Night Train have finally settled on their starter.

After several seasons duking it out with Pekka Rinne for the go-to role in Vancouver, Ondrej Pavelec is headed to the Ice Harbor Storm.

The Storm acquired the netminder in exchange for two 2013 draft picks – a 2nd and a 4th – and goaltender Mathieu Garon.

The Night Train selected Pavelec five spots behind Rinne in 2008 and Pavelec has found himself playing catch-up ever since. In 27 games with the Night Train last season, he managed a 3.18 GAA and a save percentage of .897.

Note: This move will officially take effect at the conclusion of Q2.

Playoff Preview: Conference Semis

In EDH, NAS, News, PWH, SAL, SCA, Special Features, STE, VAN, WVR on May 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Plante Conference Semifinals

#1 Salem Wannabees (54-16-12) vs. #4 South Carolina Fire Ants (34-40-8)

Another year, another Salem powerhouse. Once again, no team was better in the regular season – or even really very close. The Wannabees have it all: scoring, defense, goaltending. That’ll make for a tough slog for a plucky, often-undermanned South Carolina, whose sub-.500 record was still enough to snag the last playoff spot.

Season Series: Salem won 4-1-1

#2 Sterling Eagles (44-24-14) vs. #3 El Dorado Lynx (43-27-12)

This is the Eagles’ first playoff appearance since 2006-2007 and they have goaltending to thank for it. Tim Thomas will lead the way for a team that allowed just 157 goals during the regular season (no other team had fewer than 200). The Lynx, meanwhile, finished just four points back of Sterling, so it’ll be tight — especially if the ageless Teemu Selanne plays the way he did all year. Of note: both teams averaged under 2 goals per game against each other during the regular season, and they even played to a 0-0 tie.

Season Series: Tied 2-2-2

Sawchuk Conference Semifinals

#1 Vancouver Night Train (49-26-7) vs. #4 Nashville Knights (39-32-11)

After finishing with just 72 points last season, the Night Train bounced back and captured the conference crown, narrowly avoiding a first-round series against Portland. The Night Train weren’t exactly dominant all year but found a way to win, largely thanks to Jonathan Toews and a cast of clutch scorers. The question is, can Pekka Rinne get his act together? And will Nashville be able to overcome their paper-thin D, as they did for much of the season?

Season Series: Vancouver won 6-1-1

#2 West Virginia River Rats (46-27-9) vs. #3 Portland Winterhawks (45-29-8)

The two highest-scoring teams of the regular season [check Salem] go head-to-head in the opening round. Can the Winterhawks get their dynasty back on track against the reigning Gump Cup champs? Crosby, Thornton. Staal, Spezza. Perry, Iginla. Vanek, Kovalchuk. This should be fun for everyone but the goaltenders.

Season Series: West Virginia won 4-1-1