Thursday January 1st, 2015

Off The Draw

Even as they capped off 2014 with a disheartening 6-0 loss in Dallas, the Arizona Coyotes were buoyed on Wednesday by the potential for a fantastic 2015. 

Hours before that shellacking, the team learned that an agreement for IceArizona to sell 51% of the franchise to hedge fund magnate Andrew Barroway had been finalized by the NHL's Board of Governors. 

It's hard to say yet exactly what the deal will mean for the organization. Barroway has been quiet throughout the process, offering little beyond “this is a dream come true” platitudes. But there's hope that his arrival will finally bring the stability that the team's small but die-hard fan base has craved for years.

It might also allow GM Don Maloney the financial flexibility to finally execute his vision of team building. After years of clipping coupons, he could soon have the means to attract and retain the top-end talent he needs to grow a contender.

With top center Antoine Vermette steaming toward unrestricted free agency, Maloney could use that budget boost soon. Many expected that the veteran would be in play ahead of the trade deadline, but as a consistent two-way forward and one of the game's most effective face-off artists Vermette is exactly the sort of player this team needs moving forward. It won't be easy to retain him—no one would blame the 32-year-old if he wanted to explore the market and chase the Stanley Cup—but a bold offer is exactly what this new ownership needs to get off to the right start. One could come soon.

There's also reason for hope in Montreal, where the Coyotes' top prospect is putting on a masterful performance at the World Junior Championship.

Max Domi has been Team Canada's most consistent offensive threat throughout the round-robin, using his speed, skill and surprising physical strength to create space and generate scoring chances. He put it all on display in Canada's 5-3 win over Team USA on Wednesday, highlighted by a brilliant sequence that saw him shrug off the check of massive 6'-4” defenseman Brandon Carlo to get to the net and bury a brilliant pass from Sam Reinhart for the game's opening goal.

“He's answering a lot of questions,” a scout said of Domi, Arizona's 2013 first rounder. “There's so much desire in his game right now. He's winning battles, he's earning his ice, he's making things happen. There aren't many quiet shifts when his line is on the ice. He's been dominant.” 

Despite being a late cut at camp last fall, Domi's still a few years away from making that kind of impact in the desert. But his showing at the WJC, along with the addition of Barroway's financial might, hints at the better days that lie ahead for the Coyotes.

What to watch

Winter Classic: Blackhawks at Capitals (1 p.m. EST tentative; NBC, CBC, TVA)

NHL
For Capitals coach, it's a matter of trust in Brooks Orpik

Yeah, it lacks the thrilling frisson of a natural rivalry and the location is as impressive as a McMansion, but what else are you gonna watch today? College football?

If you've got part of your day carved out to catch the action from Nationals Park, you might want to keep your plans flexible. The scheduled 1 p.m. start is up in the air with cloudless skies and bright sunshine in the forecast. There are concerns about a potentially dangerous glare that could make the puck, not to mention ill-intentioned opponents, hard to see, so a decision to push the start back 90 minutes is expected. Or we could get the greatest ad ever for Oakley sunglasses. We'll see.

The other game-time decision is the status of Washington's Brooks Orpik. The defender, who hurt his knee in the team's last game, will make the call after the pregame skate. Nate Schmidt is at the ready to step in, but odds are Orpik will give it a go.

The Caps come into this one off an 8-2-4 December that featured some of their best hockey of the season. It also featured some promising play from Braden Holtby, who posted a ridiculous .941 save percentage for the month. It'll be interesting moving forward to learn if that was just a hot stretch or an indication of improvements made under new goalie coach Mitch Korn. If the Caps are going to take this one today against a Chicago team that's on a 15-3-1 tear, he'll have to be special.

GALLERY: Ranking the Winter Classic jerseys

Kings at Canucks (10 p.m. EST; SN, FS-W)

How bad are the Kings on the road? Only the Oilers—a team that added to L.A.'s misery on Tuesday night—have fewer wins than their four.

It would be nice to say that the opposition is ratcheting up its play when the defending Stanley Cup champs are in the building, but that's letting the Kings off too easily. It's understandable that there's little urgency in their game right now. The bigger issues are their inattention to detail and slow starts that have seen them allow the first goal in 12 of their  away 18 games. Keep an eye on Jonathan Quick in this one. His play has reflected the struggles of hid team—he's been dominant at home, going 13-3-2 with a 1.79 GAA and three shutouts at Staples Center but id just 2-6-5 with a 2.94 GAA on the road.

The numbers game

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

NHL
Brad Richards finds chemistry and comfort in Chicago

• Blackhawks forwards Brad Richards and Daniel Carcillo and Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik have each played in three NHL outdoor games, the most of any players.

• Road teams are 10-2-1 in outdoor games. The Blackhawks were the only home team to win in the league's six outdoor contests last season.

​• Of the six highest-rated regular season NHL games since 1975, five have been Winter Classics.

​• The Capitals and Blackhawks are each making their second appearance in the Winter Classic; Chicago lost 6-4 to Detroit at Wrigley Field in 2009. Washington topped the Penguins 3-1 at Pittsburgh's rainy Heinz Field in 2011.

​• The highest total of goals that two teams have combined to score in a single Winter Classic fame is 10—four were scored by the Blackhawks in their 6-4 loss to Detroit.

​• There are 14 players on the Capitals' roster who have skated in an NHL regular-season outdoor game. Of those 14, only two have played in more than one: Jason Chimera (2003 Heritage Classic, 2011 Winter Classic) and Orpik (2008 and 2011 Winter Classics, 2014 Stadium Series game in Chicago).

​•  A total of 21 players on the Blackhawks roster who have played in a regular-season outdoor game, including 18 who appeared in last season's Stadium Series contest at Soldier Field in Chicago.

​• The average temperature in Fahrenheit at puck drop for the six Winter Classics has been 34.7 degrees (2008 – 31.1°; 2009 – 31.9°; 2010 – 39.6°; 2011 – 51.7°; 2012 – 41°; 2014 - 13°).

​• A total of 370,716 fans have attended the first six NHL Winter Classic games.   

GALLERY: THE NHL OUTDOORS

What you missed last night

• Ryan Strome posted a career-high four points and Frans Nielsen scored twice as the Islanders rolled over the Jets 5 (highlights). 

• Lightning winger Ondej Palat had a big night while leading his team to a rout of the Sabres (highlights). 

• A trio of Rangers chipped in two points apiece in a victory over the Panthers (highlights). 

• Phil Kessel bagged his 200th career assist as a Maple Leaf but Toronto needed the shootout to edge Boston (highlights).

• Brandon Sutter's late goal pushed the Penguins past the Hurricanes 1 (highlights).

• The battered Blue Jackets completed their long, painful climb to the .500 mark by beating the Wild (highlights). 

• Detroit needed late goals by Darren Helm and Henrik Zetterberg to beat the Devils (highlights). 

• Not a good night for the Coyotes in Dallas. (highlights).

• Joe Pavelski's pair and some nifty 'tending by Antti Niemi helped the Sharks blank the Ducks (highlights). 

• Flyers defenseman Michael Del Zotto needed stitches after taking a skate to the neck in Philly's OT loss to Colorado (highlights). 

• Josh Jooris of the Flames made short work of the Oilers in OT (highlights).

Hot links

• All bubble hockey is great, but only one can be the greatest bubble hockey table ever.

• Patrick Roy says it's time for his Avalanche to play boring hockey. This apparently will be different from what we've seen from them so far this season.

• Both Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel showed flashes of their future brilliance in Canada's 5-3 thumping of Team USA at the World Juniors on Wednesday.

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