Off The Draw: Making hockey's World Cup a hot ticket; games to watch
The news broke on Monday night that organizers for the next World Cup of Hockey have proposed significant changes to the tournament's format.
The event, rumored to be set for late-summer 2016, would feature six national teams: Canada, United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic, along with two other teams. Typically, those two clubs would come from a pool of second-tier hockey countries like Switzerland, Germany or Slovakia. But according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, that's not the way organizers want to see this one play out.
Instead of filling out the field with a pair of also-rans, it's believed that one of the final entries would feature an all-star lineup culled from European countries that don't have national teams. The other could be a made up of the game's top young stars, primarily from Canada and the United States.
It's pretty clear what the organizers are going for here. With the NHL and NHLPA controlling the event, they want the tournament to feature as many NHL/NHLPA players as possible. Countries like Switzerland and Slovakia don't fit that vision (neither, probably, does Russia but that's a problem to be dealt with another day).
So instead they'll look to ice a Ryder Cup-style multinational entry that, to be honest, will be a logistical nightmare to compile and coach but, more to the point, will be of interest to no one. But that's a small price to pay if organizers blow off the doomed young stars concept and make the one decision that will really excite fans:
The naming of the Canadian roster to every major international hockey event is followed by weeks of teeth gnashing and garment rending over the cruel injustice inflicted upon the players who don't make the cut, followed by scads of phantom rosters and endless online chatter over how well a team of the country's also-rans would fare against the best of the rest of the world.
Consider some of the names who were left at home while Canada lapped the field in Sochi: Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, James Neal, Jason Spezza, Logan Couture, Taylor Hall, Kris Letang, Mark Giordano and Brent Burns. Not a bad core for a competitive team. Add in blossoming stars like Ryan Johansen, Jaden Schwartz, Nathan MacKinnon, Wayne Simmonds, Dougie Hamilton and Tyson Barrie backed by Corey Crawford, Jake Allen and Jonathan Bernier and you've got a team that's not just in the mix, but one that fills the coffers in a way that Team Euro or Team Next never could.
And make no mistake: That's ultimately what this entire exercise is all about. Revenue from the event—which could be as much as $100 million, according to Johnston—would be split evenly between players and owners. And having two Team Canadas—one made up of the cream the crop, the other a squad of lovable reject —gives organizers a real chance to max out that revenue through additional ticket sales, greater TV ad rates, and fresh marketing and merchandising opportunities.
This is a no-brainer, guys. Make it happen.
If you haven't tried our new daily Hockey Throwdown fantasy game, check it out. The link in the tile will take you to the game page where you can set up a head-to-head challenge with a friend, an enemy, the cable guy, the vicar, me ... basically anyone. Pick three players on three different NHL teams who you think will surpass their projected totals in such categories as wins, saves and goals-against average for goalies; and goals, assists, plus-minus, PIM and shots on goal for forwards and defensemen. Your team earns points based on live game stats. Highest score wins. You can play for free or wager anywhere from $1 to $500. Here are my three player picks for tonight:
Forward: Marian Gaborik, Kings (hosting Panthers, 10:30 p.m. EST; FS-F, FS-W)
He's due, right? With just two goals through his first 10 games, Gaborik has been ice cold this season, culminating with a miserable effort against the Stars last week that saw him go -2 while failing to land a single shot on net. He was much better against the Ducks in his next game, peppering Frederik Anderson with five shots, and while he didn't score he was at least more involved in creating chances. It says here that effort will pay off tonight, making his line of 0.2 G, 0.5 A, 0.2 +/-, 0.4 PIM, 2.5 SOG, 0.2 PPP appear beatable.
Defense: Trevor Daley, Stars (hosting Hurricanes, 8:30 p.m. EST; FS-SW)
Daley's another player on the verge of a turnaround game, in his case one that allows him to break out of a miserable five-game pointless drought. The number that really catches my eye is 3:21, his average TOI on the power play. While that unit is struggling right along with Daley, a middle-of-the-road penalty kill like Carolina's (80.4%) might be exactly what it needs to get back on track.
Goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (hosting Red Wings, 7 p.m. EST; FS-D, FS-O)
It all adds up. The Jackets have knocked off the Red Wings four straight times at Nationwide Arena and are on a 6-1-1 tear against Detroit over the course of the past two seasons. Bob has owned them between the pipes, going 1-1-0 with a .951 save percentage in his past three appearance against the Wings. And it looks like Detroit's top weapon, Pavel Datsyuk, could be too banged up to go tonight. The makes Bobrovsky's projected line of 0.6 W, 2.2 GA, 25.8 SV, 0.1 SO look pretty achievable.
What to watch tonight
Penguins at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; ROOT, RDS, SNE)
It's a little early to paint this battle of division leaders as an Eastern Conference Final preview, but the way these two are going that would be a glorious matchup. The Penguins come into this one having won nine of their past 10 games. The Canadiens might be even hotter, having taken six straight—their longest streak since 2010—while outscoring their opponents 23-6. Give credit to a power play that has its groove back, scoring four goals during Montreal's past three games, including three on Saturday against the Flyers, since adding veteran blueliner Sergei Gonchar last week via a trade with the Stars. The Pens could get a boost of their own with the possible return of Olli Maatta. Amazing that the 20-year-old defender will be a game-time decision just two weeks after having a cancerous tumor on his thyroid removed. “Mentally for sure, I want to get out there,” Maatta said. “But I've got to still take it easy, not rush it. We'll see.”
Panthers at Kings (10:30 p.m.;FS-F, FS-W)
Florida opened a four-game road trip on Sunday with a 6-2 whupping of the Ducks in Anaheim. No doubt the Panthers benefited from catching the Western Conference leaders at a physical low-point coming off a couple of tough games against the Kings, but give these Cats credit. A team that struggled to score early on has suddenly figured out how to light the lamp, tallying 17 goals over its past four games. Aaron Ekblad's been a big part of that success. The rookie blueliner stands a surprising second in team scoring on the strength of a seven-game hot streak (2-6-8). Nick Bjugstad's right behind him after a two-goal, two-assist effort in that win over the Ducks.
Both men will have to be at the top of their games, though, if they hope to keep things rolling against the Kings. Jonathan Quick's been sharp of late, posting a save percentage of .931 or better in four of his past five appearances. The key for Florida might be keeping Tyler Toffoli off the board. The dashing winger scored a shorthanded beauty in Saturday's win over the Ducks, moving the Kings' record to 6-1-1 this season when he tickles the twine.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Blues at Bruins (7 p.m. EST; TVA, FS-MW, NESN); Lightning at Islanders (7 p.m. EST; SUN; MSG+); Red Wings at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; FS-D, FS-O); Sharks at Sabres (7:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN, CSN-CA); Predators at Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-TN, TSN4); Devils at Jets (8 p.m. EST; MSG+ 2, TSN3); Hurricanes at Stars (8:30 p.m. EST; SPSO, FS-SW); Ducks at Flames (9 p.m. EST; PRIME, SNW); Capitals at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; CSN-DC; FS-A)
What you missed last night
• Goalie Josh Harding, who has been battling multiple sclerosis and has yet to play, was waived by the Minnesota Wild.
• Commissioner Gary Bettman assured the hockey world that the Florida Panthers, who are drawing crickets and owls, won't be moved.
The numbers game
• The Lightning are now 12-0-0 when winger Ryan Callahan scores a goal.
• Pittsburgh is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games against Montreal, with seven of the games being decided by one goal and five going into OT or the shootout.
• Flames goalie Jonas Hiller, who faces the Ducks for the first time since signing with Calgary as a free agent, is Anaheim's all time leader in save percentage (.916) and ranks second in goals-against average (2.51).
Today's must reads
• This could lead to the postponement of tonight's Sharks-Sabres game in Buffalo.
• On Friday, a men's professional hockey game will be officiated by a pair of female referees, marking another significant step for the advancement of women in the game.
• To commemorate the induction of Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night, Bob McKenzie dug into the vault and pulled out this stirring tribute to his old friend. Just a terrific piece.
• CBC offers a fascinating look into the impact of state and provincial taxes on the NHL's salary cap. Seriously. Fascinating.