Arizona Hockey Boom Coming to Light with Plans for Coyotes East Valley Move

If the never-ending relocation rumors surrounding the Arizona Coyotes – which have gone on so long that when it started, the franchise was known as the ‘Phoenix’ Coyotes – have caused you to lose your faith in the future of the game of hockey in Arizona, nobody blames you.

But you might need to reconsider given recent information.

All signs point to a hockey boom in the desert, if it hasn’t started already. The Coyotes, while they haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, have as bright a future as any team across the NHL with a loaded stable of young talent. Arizona State went online as a varsity program last year. The AHL sent a team to the desert last spring, when the Coyotes AHL affiliate moved to Tucson from Springfield, Mass. You may have heard by now of Auston Matthews, the pride of Scottsdale selected first overall in this past NHL Draft, and wasted no time making waves with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So you get the point. The sport has slowly grown in the state since the NHL went there in 1996 and is now proving to be an antithesis of the ‘NHL won’t work in warm weather cities’ argument.

The latest development in the process of growing the sport in Arizona came on Monday when plans were unveiled on a joint venture between the Coyotes and ASU to build a hockey complex in Tempe that would house the NHL franchise and NCAA program. The complex would feature a 16,000-seat arena abutted by a 4,000-seat rink.

The Coyotes, marred for years by poor attendance playing in hard-to-get-to Glendale, have been reported to be looking to move to the East Valley, where much of its fanbase resides. There had been many reports in recent months of the franchise exploring options in and around Scottsdale.

Should the latest reported plan come to fruition – and there’s plenty of hurdles to clear for that to happen, the biggest of which being city and state support, as outlined by the Arizona Republic, the complex would be the de facto hockey capital of Arizona.

By the time it opens – early estimates are fall of 2019 – the Coyotes should be closer to contention if not there already. Led by an exciting, young core that includes Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dylan Strome, Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, and Jakob Chychrun, the ‘Yotes should be one of funner teams to watch in the NHL. Arizona State will be farther into its quest to become a top-line Division 1 program.

To put the two programs – the Coyotes and Sun Devils – into one complex amidst of the pulse of Arizona can only help the growth of the game in the state, which has only been enhanced with the Coyotes run to the Western Conference finals in 2012, the addition of a NCAA Division 1 program, and the emergence of one its finest sons in Matthews.

And let us not forget the AHL franchise in Tucson, as well as the possibility of the University of Arizona following in the footsteps of ASU and going online as a varsity hockey team, as has been tossed around from time to time while nothing concrete has ever come of it.

What does appear to be concrete is the Coyotes move to the East Valley, which seems all but imminent at this point, a matter of when as opposed to if.

Meanwhile, you can go ahead and put the odds of a hockey boom in Arizona right up there with the probability of Matthews making his home state proud by reaching stardom in the NHL.

Thoughts Are My Own: Hey, guys, there’s good Canadian teams this year

My thoughts as we get into the mind-numbing chatter of the possibility of a Montreal-Edmonton Stanley Cup final.

*So how about those Edmonton Oilers? Just keep chugging along, tossing aside the Capitals en route to a 6-1 start.

*A group is reportedly exploring options of building a 20,000-seat arena in Scottsdale, Arizona, a potential new home for the Arizona Coyotes. This would be huge for the future of the Coyotes franchise, which now appears to be there to stay after years upon years of relocation rumors. They’d be in the thick of things, closer to Phoenix, than they are currently in Glendale.

*Another stinker for the Bruins. Two nights, two losses by a score of 10-2. Chalk it up as a combination of bad defense and shaky goaltending. That combination is no way to go through life.

*Last time a team started four goalies in four consecutive games? That would be the 2010-11 New York Islanders, according to Elias.

*The more you watch Montreal, the more you realize just how good they are.

*Montreal in the first seven games over the last three seasons: 19-1-1 (6-1, 7-0, 6-0-1).

*Corey Perry passed Paul Kariya on Anaheim’s all-time points list.

*Brendan Leipsic had three more points on Wednesday for AHL Toronto, a 4-3 overtime win over Providence. The 22-year-old has 12 points in six games.

*The Albany Devils finally lost a game, denied the 6-0 start no AHL franchise in Albany has ever accomplished. The Devils fell to 5-1 with a 3-1 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

*A pair of four-point nights for Stockton Heat forwards Daniel Pribyl (1-3–4) and Morgan Klimchuk (2-2–4), as the Heat beat San Diego, 7-5. Klimchuk is a former first round pick by the Flames.

*Nice little night for 2017 draft hopeful Nico Hischier, who had three goals and six points in Halifax’s 6-4 win over Acadie-Bathurst.

*Carolina prospect Spencer Smallman had his first career hat trick in the QMJHL on Wednesday, a 5-2 win by Saint John over Charlottetown.

*Kole Lind had a goal and three assists in Kelowna’s 6-4 win over Victoria. Both of Calvin Thurkauf’s goals were assisted by the 17-year-old.

*Still no Nolan Patrick in the Brandon lineup. He hasn’t played since Oct. 11.

Links

A profile on Maxime Comtois of QMJHL Victoriaville, who a scouting director of an NHL team said ‘reminds (him) of Rick Nash at that age.’

A look at how the OHL’s top prospects are faring after about a month of action.

The evolution of Brad Marchand into an elite hockey talent.

Kings sign Anders Lindback to a tryout contract.

Oilers sending shockwaves through the NHL as they race out to a 6-1 start.

A ‘golden era’ of Canadian NHL franchises on the horizon.

 

Thoughts Are My Own: Trouba Has No Leverage

Thoughts as you realize it’s the first day of November. Woah, it’s the first day of November.

*Jacob Trouba is being Jonathan Drouin-ed. And will continue to be. The Jets want what no team will give for his services. He’s a solid, top four defenseman at 21 years old. He has the size, he has the projection of being a top defenseman. Winnipeg will let the situation ride itself out until the December 1 deadline, where which Trouba will forgo a full season should he not be signed then, which only hurts his value. Ball is in the court of Kevin Cheveldayoff and company.

*Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid facing off for the first time ever is the headliner of Tuesday’s games, and rightfully so; they’re special talents, the two most recent first overall picks, and two of the best in recent memory. But here’s some other matchups that might catch your eye: Tampa Bay at Islanders, Steven Stamkos vs. John Tavares in another showdown of first overall picks; Washington at Winnipeg, Alex Ovechkin vs. Patrik Laine, the greatest goal scorer of the post-lockout years against what looks like the next great goal scorer the game bears witness to; and Anaheim at Los Angeles needs no explanation.

*The matchup (not Tuesday, obviously, but down the road) I find most compelling is Toronto vs. Buffalo. Matthews vs. Jack Eichel in a showdown of the two top American youngsters, two guys who are among the faces in U.S. hockey as teenagers. This is only made better by the natural geographic rivalry that exists with the two franchises fighting for the love of southern Ontario.

*Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that there will be no changes to the All-Star Game voting format, which if true is the right decision. Last year’s game was as successful as it had been in quite some time, no need to overthink it. The league has bigger fish to fry.

*Nothing wrong with Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth overall pick in this past June’s draft, being sent back to Windsor. He’d played just three games in Montreal, might as well get another year of OHL experience under his belt. He’ll be on a Spitfires team that features fellow first rounder Logan Stanley on the back line and 11th overall pick Logan Brown up front. Sean Day was a third round pick.

*Ohio State hockey is out to a 5-0-2 start to the season, moving up to No. 11 in the USCHO.com poll. The Buckeyes should only expound on the strong record, with doubleheaders against Robert Morris, UConn, and RPI awaiting in the next three weekends. The big challenge doesn’t come until after Thanksgiving, when Ohio State travels to Minnesota to open its Big 10 schedule.

Links

Dave Tippett has a motorcycle shop in his house.

Bruce Boudreau was ‘grumpy’ at the Wild practice on Monday as Minnesota rode a short bench for multitude of reasons.

The latest in the class-action lawsuit that faces the CHL and threatens to change the landscape of major junior hockey in Canada.

Teams led by Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin benefitting from questionable offseason transactions the two general managers made for the respective organizations, the Edmonton Oilers (Chiarelli) and the Montreal Canadiens (Bergevin).

Jay Bouwmeester reflects upon his career to date as he approaches his 1,000th career NHL game.

Coyotes rookie forward Christian Dvorak gets sent down to the AHL. The 20-year-old had three assists in seven games while averaging 13:45 of ice time per night.

A question nobody has asked, or even thought of – could Matthews/McDavid be the next great NHL rivalry?

In case you missed it: Episode two of the Bobcast with Bob McKenzie. He does a really good job with these, really offers a bit of everything; from inside information to the sharing of knowledge of the game to even veering outside the game. Worth the listen.

Stat of the Day: Vancouver Winless since 4-0 Start

When the Vancouver Canucks got out to a 4-0 start to the 2016-17 season, the consensus within the hockey world was the Canucks weren’t just regression-worthy, a drop-off was imminent.

Well, what do you know? Since a shootout loss to Los Angeles on Oct. 22 to keep its season-opening point streak going but falling to 4-0-1, the Canucks have dropped four straight games – all in regulation – to fall to 4-4-1. Vancouver has been outscored 14-4 in the three losses, three of which came at home.

The Canucks have been outshot by nearly nine shots per game in that span, losing the shots on goal battle by an average of 31.8-23. Vancouver’s score and venue adjusted corsi-for percentage has slumped to the lowest in the league at 42.65; No. 29 is the Islanders, at 45.5. Its shots-for per 60 minutes of 22.54 is nearly three shots lower than 29th-place Winnipeg (25.32).

The bright spot for the Canucks has been its goaltending, ranked ninth in the league with a .925 save percentage. Vancouver can only be helped in the crease with the return of starting goaltender Ryan Miller.

Beyond that, however, the Canucks don’t have much to offer. The Sedin twins, at their height two of the best players on the planet and Hall of Fame locks, are declining as the two climb into their thirties. Big offseason pickup Loui Eriksson has yet to score a goal in nine games.

If there’s a team that would be best served bottoming out and getting a chance to have a choice of either Nolan Patrick or Timothy Liljegren in next June’s draft, it’s this one. And it looks like it’s trending more and more of that being the case with Vancouver, a franchise in need of a reboot.

David Pastrnak Suspension Latest Instance of Zero-Tolerance Approach Taken Toward Hits to Head

When it comes to predatory and dangerous plays in the NHL, Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is so close to the bottom of the watch list he might not even crack it.

But you wouldn’t be able to tell that based upon how the league ruled on the player for his high hit on Dan Girardi in the Bruins 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night.

Pastrnak was suspended by the league two games for the hit, in which came streaking across the neutral zone on a 50-50 loose puck situation in the open ice, laying the hit on the Rangers defenseman in which he came up high, making contact with the head of Girardi. One of Pastrnak’s skates left the ice as he made contact.

That Girardi returned to the game after he was slow getting up and had to leave the game didn’t matter. That Pastrnak was a skill guy with no prior history – not even a parking ticket – on his record, didn’t matter.

What mattered was the hit was avoidable in the eyes of the league, and there was contact made to the head. The NHL will not stand for such incidents. The line has been drawn, multiple times. Pastrnak is the latest to learn the hard way.

The approach to head injuries are one of the major issues on the sports landscape (did you hear?). The best approach, of course, to head injuries is to prevent them. Real easy stuff until to realize the nature of sports like hockey, football, and soccer – just to name three sports – much of the play is conducive to head injuries and concussions.

So you have to change the culture. The league is doing that. USA Hockey is doing that. The NCAA and CHL are doing that. It’s a sport-wide effort, from the grassroots to the top of the sport.

The staggering spike in concussions reached a head about five years ago, a problem highlighted by Sidney Crosby having nearly three years of what will be a Hall of Fame career derailed by a concussion. In the summer of 2011, former NHLers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien died – Boogaard a drug overdose, the latter two suicide – concussions believed to be the root cause of the premature deaths of the three.

It was clear something needed to be done. The game’s fast pace, the size of the players, and oversized pads can make the game a magnet for head injuries. And of course it’s impossible to completely wipe the sport clean of concussions. They will happen. But they can be reduced. And that’s what the league has worked to do, and unlike some other leagues, has been open, honest, and transparent that it’s a problem, that it needs to be addressed, and it will be their crusade.

According to the supplementary discipline tracker Sportsnet puts out, there were 39 suspensions and 26 fines handed down from the NHL last season, costing players an aggregate 176 games and $2.74 million. That was up from the 27 suspensions, 81 games lost, and $1.388 taken out of the pockets of players a year earlier.

Already this season there have been five suspensions that have cost players 14 games, according to Spotrac.

Two years ago, Mark Spector wrote an interesting piece examining the changes made in player safety in past years. The piece put the new emphasis put on changing the game – not so much taking out the physical play, just the unnecessary ones. The game has flourished as a result.

Is David Pastrnak a dirty player? No. Was it a dirty, dangerous, predatory hit? No. Was David Pastrnak targeting the head of Dan Girardi? Not likely. Was Girardi seriously hurt? No.

What matters is the result. Contact was made to the head, the hit could’ve been avoided. That’s what matters to the league.

And when it comes to hits targeting the head, the NHL has no tolerance for it.

Jakob Chychrun Drops Gloves With Brayden Schenn

It was a pretty bizarre sequence. The Coyotes driving to the net on and odd-man rush – which resulted in a Martin Hanzal goal – when the whistles blew.

The reason for the stoppage was rookie Jakob Chychrun taking on Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn, who had laid a big hit on Michael Stone. The 18-year-old made what he felt was a needed response, and took on the 25-year-old veteran of seven NHL seasons.

The one argument you make against Chychrun was the fact he nearly took a goal off the board by dropping the gloves as Arizona was rushing to the house on a two-on-one. But you can’t fault the fact he was willing to step in that situation.

It was another instance of the young Chychrun – whose father, Jeff, played eight seasons in the NHL – playing beyond his years. One of many young guys in the league currently doing so.

Originally projected to be a top-10 pick in this past June’s NHL Draft, Chychrun ended up falling to Arizona at No. 17. As a result, he’s now part of a young, highly-talented, promising core that will carry the torch in the desert for years to come.

Thoughts Are Mine Only: Never Too Early to Start Comparing Laine to Selanne

Here’s what I’m thinking as we watch these kids have all the fun.

*First career goal for Kyle Connor in Winnipeg’s 4-1 win over Dallas. He put up 71 points in 38 games last season in his lone campaign at Michigan. The same point total Jack Eichel put up in 40 games a year prior.

*The two previous NCAA scoring champions prior to Connor last year: Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau.

*Patrik Laine now has six points in seven games, for those of you keeping score at home. His shot is absolutely lethal.

*Teemu Selanne had six goals through seven games for Winnipeg during his historic rookie season of 1992-93, when he scored 76 goals, which remains a freshman record to this day. It’s never too early to start dropping the Selanne comparisons.

*The Canadiens win over Tampa Bay on Thursday was Carey Price’s first win over the Lightning since December 2013. He’d been 0-5-2 in seven previous regular season starts. However, he was 6-4 in the playoffs in that span; backstopping the Habs to a sweep in the first round in 2014 before the Bolts returned the favor in 2015, dispatching Montreal in six games en route to the Stanley Cup final.

*Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have combined for a .960 save percentage while allowing just eight goals during the Red Wings winning streak, which moved to six with a shootout win over St. Louis on Thursday.

*Jakob Chychrun going after Brayden Schenn after Schenn laid a big hit on Michael Stone in the neutral ice. That’s a big boy play by an 18-year-old rookie, who continues to impress.

*Devan Dubnyk with 34 saves in the 4-0 Minnesota win over the Buffalo on Thursday to make it back-to-back shutouts for the 30-year-old netminder. His save percentage is up to .943, allowing just 10 goals in six games. Looks like he’s back to his 2014-15 form.

*Funny to think the consensus was Erie would take a step back this year in the OHL. Only 8-0-1 in their last nine, with the best offensive duo in the league in Taylor Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat.

*Raddysh (10-17–27) and DeBrincat (12-11–23), are one-two atop the OHL in scoring, and account of 50 of the 154 points Erie has recorded this season.

*A big win for UConn over No. 7 Notre Dame in Thursday night Hockey East action. Don’t undersell the Huskies. The main attractions, of course, are Maxim Letunov and Tage Thompson, but there’s plenty more around those guys. Robbie Nichols, who didn’t play Thursday night but is UConn’s ace, might be one of the most overlooked players in the country. Mike Cavanaugh has been a bulldog on the recruiting trail.

Links

The Ducks and Hampus Lindholm finally come to terms, agree to a six-year, $31.5 million pact.

Of course, a mention of Lindholm must prompt a Jacob Trouba story. It’s a rule

Ray Ferraro believes the Predators are missing the bite that Shea Weber brought to the ice in Nashville – and now does in Montreal.

A great piece by Alex Prewitt of SI on Kerry Bubolz, the president-to-be of the Las Vegas franchise.

Pierre LeBrun reports in his rumblings column that the Las Vegas franchise will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to negotiate with pending free agents – restricted or not – left unprotected by teams.

Greg Wyshynski: The Chicago penalty killing unit ‘worst thing in the NHL right now‘. Hard to disagree.

ESPN’s Hockey Today podcast, the unexpected goaltending issues across the league are discussed.