The expansion of the NHL is is as inevitable as some back office hack coming up with a rule change like the jersey tuck penalty to justify their salary. Seattle is the new sexy but it is hardly the only city that might do right by a franchise.

The first question is where would teams go after Seattle or whoever is #31 go?

Las Vegas has the appeal of being without a single other top tier sports franchise. Currently the Wrangers of the ECHL and a AAA baseball team are it for non collegiate sports. The tourism industry there has to be considered a plus, or would be if the NHL was good at marketing. A second Chicago area team would also make a great deal of sense, the Second City hosts two MLB and has its own NFL team and two teams close enough they’re nearly the same market, why not give a huge, sprawling sports mad city another outlet for their enjoyment? Saskatchewan, Kansas City, Houston and Salt Lake City can all put in a claim based on their size, cash on hand, or corporate presence.  But with the leagues current configuration, it is unlikely the Greater Toronto Area or Quebec City see a new franchise.

Can the feeder system handle it?

This isn’t just a question of the AHL which finally reach 30 teams again or the ECHL. It goes down to top tier Junior hockey and below, both in North America, Europe, and potentially elsewhere. NHL owners, the NHLPA and sponsors would need to take a hand in expanding the USHL, CHL, and other development leagues. As hockey mad as the northeast US is, the fact that there are zero CHL, USHL or NAHL teams in the six New England states or New York is unfathomable. Yes the EJHL, and to an extent the MWEHL cover some ground, but not enough. The Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey league may need to expand as well.

Will the league push for sensible arena deals?

The biggest bar to success off the ice to teams in the last twenty years has been being shackled to a poor arena deal. The New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets and other teams have suffered, and the league would be better if they hadn’t. Teams that control their arena control their destiny.

Can we please ensure catchy names for the teams?

This is really a marketing issue. The Minnesota Wild have superb fans and the single dumbest name in professional sports. Seriously, the Wild Hunt would have been cool, the Wild Hogs or Wild Dogs or Howe help us all the Wildcats would have been acceptable too, but just “wild” is so bland the team might as well not have a name. New teams in a market that may or may not have a strong hockey tradition will need marketing to start at point zero and that is the name.

With expansion will the league make better use of the NHL network?

Currently there is not an NHL game on the NHL Network most nights of the season. That’s just baffling. The more exposure various teams get, the more they can charge for in arena marketing the better the league does. The more people who can keep up with teams outside their area, the better. Even if the league goes to 40 teams in the next decade, that’s only 40 teams with 360 or more people, 60+ states, provinces, and territories and that’s means a lot of cities still won’t have a local team.

The Boston Bruins development camp was held last week and if it didn’t have a new top of the first round pick to draw people, some of the campers we’ve seen in the past were more than compelling enough on their own. Two notable prospects will be graduating this year. And one youngster in his second year made huge strides.

Malcolm Subban was a surprise pick to some just over a year ago. The goaltender, and older brother of Jordan Subban who was the Vancouver Canucks selection this June was the most recognizable name at camp. Even without the bright Belleville Bull’s color pads he sported last year, the athletic net minder will draw your eye again and again. The book on Subban coming into camp last year was that his glove side needed some polishing.

#81 Malcolm Subban

#81 Malcolm Subban

This year, I don’t think I saw him beat to the glove side even once. When I asked him about the way his save percentage climbed year over year, he credited his teammates contribution and talked about his maturity as a goaltender. Despite facing nearly a full shot more per game this year over the previous season, and taking time to play in the World Juniors the key numbers were unequivocally better. In 2011-12 he had a very respectable .923sv% and GAA of 2.50, in 2012-13 he turned in .934 and 2.14. Even more indicative is the change in his post season numbers. His 2011-12 Memorial Cup playoff stats line was 6gp, 2.93 GAA and .917sv%, while 2012-13’s number improved to 17gp 2.00 GAA, and a .933Sv%. Not surprisingly he won Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week twice, and the best Sv% and best GAA in the Ontario Hockey League.

Year over year the most improved prospect was easy to spot. More than one observer at the week’s workouts and scrimmages had to be pointed at a roster to realize the young defenseman they saw this year, was the same one they saw last year. Matt Benning’s camp was a bit curtailed by injury last summer. His hockey season however boosted his stock, and tagged him as someone more than willing to work to get to the next level.

#86 Matt Benning at Bruins Dev Camp

#86 Matt Benning at Bruins Dev Camp

A sixth round pick out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League who jumped to the USHL this year, and won the league championship under Jim Montgomery with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. In the fall hockey fans can look for Benning in black and red at Northeastern University, making the transition with him will be Fighting Saints teammates Mike Szmatula and  John Stevens.

#86 Matt Benning Defenseman

#86 Matt Benning Defenseman

Anthony Camara came into camp having had the best junior season of his career. He was successful as a physical menace and as a points producer. Thirty-six goals and sixty points through the regular season by itself would have punched his ticket to Providence, and likely to being a late cut in Boston if that’s all he did. That is not however the case. Camara earned his place on an international squad for the first time representing Canada in the WJC. Then he went to the playoffs with the Barrie Colts and racked up nine goals and a point per game in 16 appearances.

What’s interesting about Camara is that he’s not one of those elite prospect like Subban or the exiled Tyler Seguin, he was a late third round pick. Only ten percent of the players drafted in 2011 have played a single NHL game. None have been from the third round. When Camara first came to the Bruins Development camp just days after being drafted he was clearly a project. His shot was so-so, he managed to drive himself into one of the stanchions, and his skating was on a level with Glen Murray and Milan Lucic’s first season.

#51 Anthony Camara #76 Rob O'Gara #88 Matt Grzelcyk

#51 Anthony Camara
#76 Rob O’Gara
#88 Matt Grzelcyk

At some point in the last two years, the major components of that changed. Camara entered what will be his last OHL season with a career high of 9 goals. He ended it with 36, and in less games than any of his previous seasons. While his skating isn’t going to be shaming speedsters like Carl Hagelin and Emerson Etem, or ice dancer Jeff Skinner he’s improved to the point where you only notice his skating by the fact that you no longer notice his skating. Camara’s work ethic is quite healthy, writers and fans noticed it, as did Bruins staffers. During a press conference Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned Camara by name four times in eight minutes. He didn’t seem at all displeased to be doing so.

 

The offer sheet had been a dead letter in the NHL until the mammoth offer sheet the Philadelphia Flyers dropped on the Nashville Predators  Shea Weber. The Predators ended up matching one of the largest offers in league history and signing their franchise cornerstone and most beloved player.

The left wings in this restricted free agent class have a wide variety of reasons to catch the attention of teams. Some are pure talents, some are being squeezed off the ice on deep teams that are deep up front. One or two more were involved in some trades recently.

Carl Hagelin

The New York Ranger had a notable points per game increase last year on a team that had a notable lack of contributions, particularly in the post season of some of their “best players”, that left the team struggling for offense. Hagelin was fourth n the Rangers in scoring in the regular season and third for the playoffs. While a qualifying offer will be under $750,000 it is unlikely he signs for less than two million a year. If for no other reason, teams like the Kings who need to add speed, the Red Wings who are still in need of quality young players, or the Islanders or Devils who just want to discomfort a division rival, Hagelin might end up with a new home address by the time the puck drops in October.

Benoit Pouliot

The former OHL and CHL rookie of the year has gotten around the NHL since being drafted. Taken in the fourth slot of the 2005 draft. The Minnesota Wild kept their draft selection for a couple years before shipping him to Montreal where he played a season and a half before moving on to Boston, and eventually being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a draft day deal. His ability to draw penalties has been noted for two or three seasons, and while he doesn’t get a lot goals he has scored some very timely ones and has been known to dish a pretty pass here and there.

Magnus Paajarvi

Yet another of the Edmonton Oilers high draft picks. He’s split the last two seasons between the Edmonton club and the teams AHL affiliate Kansas City. With a mile and a half list of other high end youngsters the Oilers might wish to trade him to a cap strapped team for some defensive help, or maybe for some additional draft picks. A player who doesn’t take many penalties, he’s just got upside that will lead teams to at least kick the tires on him.

Mikkel Boedker

Two season ago when the Phoenix Coyotes advanced to the Western Conference finals, they couldn’t have done it without their Danish winger. Two overtime game winning goals made a lot of noise. The Coyotes have to be anxious to retain him, and teams short on left wing talent should certainly be looking in his direction.

Lane MacDermid

While he might be most famous as the answer to the trivia question “What player traded for Jaromir Jagr in 2013 had the most NHL experience?” MacDermid is also a rugged player capable of playing solid two way hockey and throwing punches with the best of them. The Dallas Stars also got a first round pick. With the west staying at just 14 teams for the next three seasons, his toughness might just buy some space for whoever he ends up playing with.

Via Renaud Lavoie Jarome Iginla will or would waive his no movement clause for the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, and Chicago Blackhawks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. A quick look at the offenses of the teams has Pittsburgh at the top of the NHL, the Blackhawks a close second, while the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins are treading water in 12th and 13th place in goals per game.  Chicago is ranked as having the deepest prospect pool by Hockey’s Future, while the Flames system is weak overall on depth, particularly at right wing.

Another coach firing on a teach with an ECHL roster lightly-speckled with NHL talent. When the Tampa Bay Lightning went to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago, two things got them there, one was Dwayne Roloson, the other was Guy Boucher. Both of them are gone, and both were highly under rated for the jobs they did. If a dispersal draft were done on Lightning today, its an open question how many of their players would be picked and retained both other teams. It 31 games into the season and they have just one player to score more than 10 goals, and that player also has the second worst +/- on the team. Career backup Garon has the teams best sv%, depth center Nate Thompson is arguably the best defensive player on the whole roster, and none of the decisions that got them onto the clubs payroll happen at the coaches level. Guy Boucher goes out the door, in another time and place Steve Yzerman would be tossed out a window.

The CHL playoffs are under way and Fang Faction has taken a look a Predators prospects in the playoffs.

David Krejci is drawing heat is the Boston Bruins continue to tread water in fourth place in the east.

The North American Hockey League is producing some Division One NCAA, the Brookings Blizzard announced there’s Aidan Cavallini and you can get the rest of the leagues commitments right here.

And as we roll closer and closer to that most wonderful day of the year Draft day, a look at the US National Development Team is looking toward its own future of smiling eyes and wide smiles.

Good News Bad News For Both the Bruins and Capitals

Item 1: The Bruins solved Holtby.

Item 2: The Capitals won anyways.

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With Raffi Torres gone for the foreseeable future it will be interesting to see if the much discussed penalty free buyout is included in the next CBA if the Coyotes or whoever they are and wherever they are by next fall, decide to use this on him. His contract isn’t outrageous unless of you believe he shouldn’t have one at all, so it is possible a buyer would decide to bury him in the AHL if he didn’t change his game.

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Missing defensemen are becoming more common. The Florida Panthers are playing without Jason Garrison. The Philadelphia Flyers are definitely missing the services of Grossman. The Boston Bruins will very likely not put Corvo on the ice next game after he blocked a shot earlier today.  Hal Gill hasn’t played in a while for the Nashville Predators.

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The Florida Panthers series against the New Jersey Devils has to be the most entertaining series in the opening round. The tempo has been solid, the play tight. There’s been offense, there’s been defense and lots of drama. You might not be used to seeing half of one roster on TV and in arena advertisements a few dozen times on your way to your seat, but hot damn the actions been good.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on the other hand have been painful to watch. The sloppiest hockey the NHL has seen since the preseason following the lockout. Stupid penalties by players who should know better, and goaltending who’s most consistent well executed play is digging the puck out of the back of the net.

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For those who missed it, the NHL network is playing OHL games midday you can get a look at top prospects like Cody Ceci in action.

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How good it is for the NHL as a whole and the teams individually for both the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes to win their first division titles can’t be understated. Florida will probably not ever produce NHL superstars at the rate that Ontario does, but there is a big enough population there so that even if only 1% of teens reach the USHL, division one college or CHL level hockey, that is still a very large number of young men. Arizona isn’t a small state either and it could if the Coyotes stay and are successful match Saskatchewan or Newfoundland. Between the two states you’ve got a population almost equal to all of Canada which is why they ar ethere in the first place: advertising and tv money if nothing else.

Jeff Carter and the LA Kings

Carter finally got his first two goals as a member of Orange County’s best dressed gang. To the surprise of no one Mike Richards figured in on both goals. Equally surprising was that the goals came against a division rival who like the Kings are in the thick of the race for the second season. One of the best reasons for the trade deadline to stay when it is remains integrating players into the lineup in a way that lets them be effective. In the case of cross continent trades time zone adjustment also plays a role. Carter getting his groove back is a great thing for his and Kings fans, and not so good for their opponents.

Steve Kampfer In Motion

For those wondering why it is a promising young defensemen was shuffled out of Boston, the answer is simple. He lost confidence. I can’t blame him. In fact the blame for that lies squarely on Cam Neely, Peter Chiarelli, and Claude Julien. Last year about this time with Kampfer cycling in and out as injuries took more experienced players out of the line up the Bruins Brass decided to sign a player who hadn’t played a single NHL in over a year. Adding depth isn’t a bad thing, no one could legitimately criticize adding a player familiar with the team and coach. But to add a player with that long a layoff, with a well known knee issue on top of limited mobility and then insert them into the lineup for less than four minutes of play over someone who worked their tail off all season, and who matched up much better in mobility with an opponent? That sends entirely the wrong message. Add in the struggles of Corvo and other defensemen and he got into just ten games before being shipped off?

Good luck in Minnesota Steve!

NHL All Star Events

One of the things that I think was missing from this years All Star Weekend was the the Young Stars game. I can understand not wanting a second game of shinny  on the weekend but given the importance of the NHL Entry draft. How about adding a prospect game. If not another top prospect game, how about putting on a game for the players on NHL Scouting Central’s Watch List? The energy level would be high, and fans would get a predraft introduction to some of the players who could be picked outside the top ten.  Better still, coaches, scouts, general managers could get a look at these players and take them from “off the radar” to “important mid round selection”. Another possibility is a USHL vs CHL  All Star game.

It’s hump day and a that means only one thing. I probably can’t recall how to spell today’s name.

“In your opponents head” was redefined last night. The Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens each chirped each other by referencing the same team not in the game. Joe Yeardon

The tension between college hockey and major junior is something that results in a lot of angst and questioning of who a player is, but what’s the impact on the game overall? Justin Walden

Oh look, despite the kvetching of advertisers that some guy from the D.C. team wasn’t at the All Star weekend, a player from a team that doesn’t get much national attention was profiled by a national media outlet. Mike Brehm

Two guys you should hope your team is selecting or trading for in the next NHL entry draft have their blogs up about the top prospect game.  via @NHLAdamK

A recap of the top prospects skills competition featuring some future competition for Zdeno Chara and Carl Hagelin.- Dominic Tiano

The dog days of the season have a slightly different meaning for the captain of the St Louis Blues. via Deadspin

No Show Joe was at it again last night in Columbus. – Fear The Fin

If your team is in need of some size and shutdown ability on the blueline, this guy might just be the answer. – Dan Sallows

With the trade deadline rolling down on us, its time to add a defensemen to the list of guys who want to be elsewhere currently headed by Jeff Carter and Antero Nittymaki, Marek Zidlicky has apparently started the blowback in Minnesota. – Hockey Wilderness

Thanks to everyone who linked here or retweeted me, I hit a new high in traffic last month.