Looking Back: The Story of Fabian Brunnstrom

Every season there seems to be an unsigned prospect that captures the attention of the hockey world and captivates fans of all teams.  These players are of course highly valued due to essentially being a free asset and thus teams tend to fight over them rather aggressively.  In years past, players such as Justin Schultz (signed with Edmonton) and Jiri Sekac (signed with Montreal) have occupied this position of honor.   Some of these players have went on to have fantastic careers, while others quickly faded back into obscurity their fifteen minutes of fame over with long ago.

One name though captivated more than the rest.  His name was Swedish prospect Fabian Brunnstrom.  After failing to be drafted, Brunnstrom impressed greatly in the following two seasons including a strong 37 point season in the Swedish Elite League as a 22 year old rookie in 2007-2008.  Scouts viewed him quite favorably even going so far as to compare his game to Marian Hossa.  His skill with the puck and size (6.01 Ft) in addition to his youth made him an extremely attractive asset.  Videos such as this one captivated fans and soon Brunnstrom was the talk of the town in most online hockey communities.  Indeed, many NHL teams started lining up to sign the Swede giving him fantastic leverage.  In addition to commanding the max salary for an entry-level contract, he also was able to demand a roster spot on the NHL squad.  Normally, players have to play a few years in the minors before even thinking about making the NHL, but such was the demand for this player that most teams were willing to accept the arrangement.

Eventually, Brunnstrom signed on with the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2008 and everyone in the hockey world thought that Dallas had scored a massive coup.  These thoughts didn’t go away when Brunnstrom had the debut of a lifetime.  In his very first NHL game, he scored three goals displaying all the skill and talent that scouts had fawned over the past few months.  The buzz seemingly was real.

Sadly, unlike the fairly tales this story did not have a happy ending.  That first game was the high watermark of his NHL career.  He did go on to have a very successful rookie season securing 29 points, but failed to come close to this total ever again.  This was compounded by injury problems that limited him to 55 games in 2008-2009 and 52 games in 2009-2010 split between the NHL and AHL.  In that season, Brunnstrom secured just 11 points in 44 games causing the Stars to demote the talented youngster.  By the 2010-2011 season, he was gone traded to the Toronto Marlies in order to save money on his expensive contract.  The whole season he played in the AHL putting up decent numbers of 35 points in 72 games.

His contract was not renewed.  In a last ditch effort to stay in the NHL, he accepted an invitation to tryout with the Detroit Red Wings.  This was ironic considering that the Wings had tried very hard to acquire Brunnstrom when he first crossed the pond.  It was figured that the Wing’s skating style would suit Brunnstrom.  Indeed, the Wings thought enough of him to sign him to a professional contract.  Unfortunately, after only five games with the Wings collecting one assist, he was sent down to the AHL.  Again, he only played about half the season due to injuries collecting 35 points in 45 games.  The following season Brunnstrom went back to Sweden never coming back again.

Now why didn’t it work out?  There are many reasons.  His toughness or lack thereof was cited by many as a big reason why.  This damning quote from General Manager Ken Holland of the Red Wings speaks volumes

“We want to explore what’s out there. We’re looking for certain types of guys (for Grand Rapids),’’ Holland said on July 5. “I think Brunnstrom is a good player, but we need leadership, toughness down there.’‘

He just did not hold up well to the NHL game.  His durability bears this out.  He never played a full professional season during his sojourn in North America.  The grit and physicality needed to play in this league was just not present in Fabian or so the critics said.  He never could get comfortable and his myriad of injury problems made fitting in even more difficult.  Perhaps spending some time in the AHL instead of directly going to the NHL (a path few players take) would have helped him adjust to the tough and tumble style of North American hockey.  It is impossible to say now.

To draw any conclusions from this would be ridiculous.  Plenty of undrafted free agents such as Andy McDonald and Martin St. Louis has thrived in the NHL.  In this case, it just did not work out.  The Fabian Brunnstrom experiment is at an end, but one summer in 2008, the whole hockey world was talking about him.  That’s a story he can tell his children one day.

 

 

Looking Back: The Story of Fabian Brunnstrom

Analysing The Lecavalier Trade

At first glance, the trade looks ridiculous.  The Flyers unload two bad contracts for a high scoring, if diminutive forward and a third round pick.  From a Flyers perspective, they make out like bandits.  Lecavalier possessed a 4.5 million cap-hit to essentially ride the bench.  Schenn was in and out of the lineup and his 1.6 million dollar cap-hit will be easily replaced by 33 year old rookie Evgeny Medvedev.  For essentially two liabilities, they get a decent prospect and a high draft pick

This doesn’t mean that the Kings didn’t do well here. First off, the Flyers had to retain fifty percent salary on both players making them considerably more valuable and less risky.  Vincent Lecavalier has also announced he will retire after the year is over guaranteeing that the Kings will not have to deal with his contract should the experiment be a failure.  With both contracts coming off the books after this season, the Kings essentially take on zero risk with this transaction.  Without a first round pick to throw around due to last year’s Sekera trade, this is the type of move that Dean Lombardi can do to improve his squad on the cheap.

This trade can be easily compared to the Gaborik to LA trade.  When Gaborik was acquired from the Jackets for Matt Frattin and two second round picks, Gaborik was essentially seen as a player on the decline.  And we all know how that worked out…Gaborik was a  key contributor in the Kings 2014 Cup Run.  Perhaps General Manager Dean Lombardi is looking to find that magic again.

Arguably the primary asset here for LA is Luke Schenn.  Clearly, the Kings want an upgrade on Christian Erhoff and Brayden McNabb.  The Kings have a history of turning stay-at-home defenseman (such as Luke Schenn) into serviceable members of the Kings.  Players such as Jeff Schultz, Sean O’Donnell, and Jamie McBain have come in and provided solid play in the bottom pairings.  Luke Schenn at less than a million dollars is certainly worth it.  At worst, he becomes an inexpensive depth defenseman.

Lecavalier is certainly on his last legs, but perhaps a legitimate chance at a Stanley Cup will motivate him to play at the higher level he is accustomed.  As with Schenn, the contract will end at the end of the season (due to retirement).   Perhaps Lecavalier will be the final offensive piece the Kings need to win it all again.

Even if neither of them work out in LA, the Kings can wash their hands of this trade.  When something literally has this little risk, why not take the chance and roll the dice?

Analysing The Lecavalier Trade

GBU: Jets @ Ducks 1-3-2016

Final Score: 4-1 Anaheim

Good: Rakell is truly emerging as a star in his own right.  The Ducks have put up rather stifling defense limiting the western Canadian teams to just 3 goals foraged in 4 games.

Bad: The Jets are still committed to hitting rather than playing the game of hockey.  Being physical is all well and good, but when it results in goals against and penalties the negatives far outweigh any potential benefits.

Ugly: This was a boring game.  The Ducks dominated the entire game and the end result was never really in doubt.  The third goal by Anaheim was the result of some of the worst Penalty Killing I have ever seen as a fan in ths entire league.  Why the Jets decided to send up three men in the second period on a shorthanded chance is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand.

The Jets came to Honda Center fresh off a 4-1 shellacking of the San Jose Sharks.  Unfortunately, they came face-to-face with a red hot John Gibson and a Ducks defense that has proved to be rather formidable in the last few games.   The Ducks got off to a quick two goal lead and never really looked back.  It did not help that the league’s worst PK allowed another two goals.  This statistic, combined with the penchant of the Jets to take a lot of penalties (they lead the league in this category as well) might doom the Jets this season.  Being in the brutally difficult Central Division certainly does not help.

Meanwhile, Anaheim has regained some of its swagger with a stifling trap game and fantastic goaltending.  The Jets only scored one goal and that was of a weird deflection.  Greatly aiding this defensive play is the improved play of Kevin Bieksa who has really simplified his game and has been very solid the last half dozen games.  Offense is obviously still a major issue, but if the Ducks keep playing at this level, the playoffs should be a realistic possibility.

Cliff Notes: Ducks dominate and easily dispatch a Jets team that is increasingly looking like it will be on the outside looking in.

 

GBU: Jets @ Ducks 1-3-2016

Hockey GBU 12-30-15: Flyers @ Sharks

Good: Joe Thornton was engaged the whole game and really dominated the affair.  Claude Giroux’s faceoff goal was a thing of beauty.

Bad: The amount of penalties in the game broke the flow considerably.

Ugly: Again, NBCSN (a national broadcast) utilized announcers that were clearly not impartial.  In this case, they syndicated the Flyer’s broadcast.  Now I understand that this saves money, but it is unbecoming nevertheless.

This was a decent tilt, although the sheer amount of penalties broke up the flow considerably.  Early in the game, the Flyers made the poor decision to try and antagonize Sharks center Joe Thornton.  The grizzled veteran subsequently proceeded to dominate and looked like the Joe Thornton of old scoring a goal and adding an assist to boot.

The former Broadstreet Bullies were assessed nine minor penalties in the game and were more or less dominated after the first period because of it.   Rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere in particular looked every bit his age tonight, as his two late minor penalties virtually ended any hope of a Flyers comeback.  Three Power Play markers by a dominant-looking Sharks PP were clearly the difference in this one.  Joe Pavelski netting two of those might be the league’s best  PP forward.  His ability to tip the puck and get open are almost unmatched.

You aren’t going to win many games taking that many penalties.  Clearly discipline was a problem tonight for the Flyers, but I’d argue that most of the penalties tonight were caused by the tremendous pressure of the Sharks forecheck and cycle game.  San Jose controlled the play and deserved the the victory tonight

Cliff Notes: San Jose was fully deserving of the victory and frankly the Flyers were lucky that the game was this close.

 

Hockey GBU 12-30-15: Flyers @ Sharks

Vatanen Needs to Go Through No Fault of His Own

The Anaheim Ducks on the whole are having a season to forget.  Virtually none of their players are performing up to the lofty expectations set before the start of the 2015-2016 campaign.

Offensive-minded defenseman Sami Vatanen is one of the few players on the roster performing above and perhaps even beyond expectations.  So far in just nineteen games, Vatanen has five goals and fourteen assists good for third overall on the team in terms of points.  This is partially due to his strong possession numbers where he is well over fifty percent on both CORSI and FENWICK.  He is also a minus 1, which does not sound impressive until you realize that Vatanen is also near the team lead on this stat on a team with a negative twenty-one goal differential.  As he has been his entire career, Vatanen is a top possessing player  So, far from being a liability on the defensive side of the puck, he is very solid and surprisingly physical for someone his size.

What the stats do not say though is the dynamism he brings to the table every single game.  He is an absolute gamer and you can always count on Vatanen to make things happen offensively.  This goal was basically orchestrated entirely by Vatanen’s speed and skill.  Not many defenseman at all in this league are capable of such a play.  On a team bereft of creativity and scoring prowess, he is a very valuable piece indeed.

However, of course there is a catch.  The Ducks have a well known “internal cap” that is below the cap ceiling set by the NHL.  The current budget is about eight million below the cap ceiling likely near the self-imposed team cap.   With big long-term contract commitments to Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler and large contracts to under-performing players such as Clayton Stoner and Kevin Bieksa, the Ducks suddenly find themselves a bit strapped for dollars.  The cash they do have will likely go towards extensions.  The even younger Hampus Lindholm is due for a new contract as is enigmatic goaltender Frederik Andersen and up-and-coming skill forward Rickard Rakell among others.

Vatanen is playing incredibly well, but he might be pricing himself out because of it.  With the need for scoring dire in Anaheim, Vatanen might be the team’s best trade asset to utilize to acquire offensively gifted forwards.  The Ducks have the depth on defense (including top prospects Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore) to execute such a trade, although the long-term injury to recently extended Simon Depres is a concern.   With the team in such dire straits and the cap looking as it is, I’d be surprised if Sami Vatanen was still in a Ducks uniform in a years time.

 

Vatanen Needs to Go Through No Fault of His Own

If Arizona is Going to Work, It Won’t Happen in Glendale

There is a lot to like with the Arizona Coyotes.  It is a young team on the rise with budding stars such as Anthony Duclair and Max Domi.  Here’s another fact: Hockey unequivocally cannot and will not work in Glendale.

First a little history is in order.  In 2003, the Coyotes decided to relocate from the substandard designed-for-basketball America West Arena in downtown Phoenix in search of greener pastures.  The original plan was to move to an arena in Scottsdale (a location close to Downtown), but this fell through. Then came along this brand new arena in Glendale and ownership made the choice to commit to this suburb.  Now Glendale is a fair distance from Phoenix and it takes about twenty-thirty minutes to get there from Downtown Phoenix.  The lure of a new modern arena designed to accommodate hockey was too strong though.

It turned out to be a colossal mistake.  The team did enjoy a slight bump in attendance the first years in Glendale, but then took a nosedive both in terms of fan attendance and on-ice success.   It became difficult to justify the long commute from Phoenix to watch a team that was under-performing.  Even diehard Coyote fans will not make that trek to Glendale very often, especially on a weekday.   The whole thing is more akin to a complicated soap opera, but to sum it up eventually the team declared bankruptcy and the NHL was forced to step in and acquire the team in 2009.  Only in 2013 was a new owner found.

Attendance has been on the decline with an average of 13,345 tickets sold per game last season good for twenty seventh in the NHL.  The team is burning through money.  Last season in March, the team reported it lost just under twenty million dollars and it expects to lose more money this season.  The City of Glendale clearly was having some second thoughts about the lease agreement it signed that brought the Coyotes to Glendale. The city was subsidizing team losses in the millions of dollars on an annual basis.  Using a flimsy excuse that the Coyotes had “breached conflict of interest language in the agreement by hiring two former city employees to work for the team.”,  the City Council went so far as to cancel this legally binding lease agreement.   Ultimately facing lawsuits, the City Council agree to renegotiate the lease with a much shorter term expiring in only two years.  This virtually guarantees that the future of Coyotes hockey will not include remaining in Glendale.

By all intents and purposes, it is a beautiful arena, but it is just too far away from Downtown Phoenix.  A poll cited by Business Pulse declared that a plurality of hockey fans in Phoenix (44 percent) would gladly attend more games if the team was based in Downtown.  This is even an issue in hockey crazed Canada where attendance in Ottawa ranks in the bottom fifteen in the NHL in no small part thanks to its arena which is a significant distance from Ottawa proper.  There is no guarantee that hockey can work in Arizona.  But it sure won’t work in a city that is too far away from the fans and unwanted by the local government.  It’s time to end the experiment.

 

 

If Arizona is Going to Work, It Won’t Happen in Glendale

Rumored Kopitar Extension A Good Deal for LA

According to reliable reports, the Los Angeles Kings are close to re-signing center Anze Kopitar to a new eight year contract in the ballpark of 9.75 million a year.

Now this contract will likely have its fair share of detractors.   After all, Kopitar will be in his late thirties when the contract expires surely past his prime.  The Kings already have a dearth of cap space and this contract will surely force LA into making some difficult roster decisions in the coming years.  Milan Lucic, for example, is having a stellar campaign and will require a new contract after this season.  Re-signing him would be a difficult prospect, to say the least, with this new Kopitar contract on the books.  It’s also true that his 2014-2015 campaign was not a good one, although I believe fatigue from endless playoff campaigns played a role in the King’s demise last season.

I would counter that Kopitar is absolutely worth it despite these valid concerns.  He has brought two Stanley Cups to LA and has a realistic shot of bringing a third one this season to the City of Angels.  He is one of the best number one centers in the game in my view.  A consistent 60-70 point player, he is extremely strong on the puck and yet possesses silky smooth hands.  His years of tutelage under Head Coach Sutter have made him elite defensively and well deserving of Selke consideration.  He earned a +/- 34 in the 2013-2014 season when LA won the Cup.     In other words, he is the total package.

I distinctly remember Anze Kopitar in his very first NHL game.  I watched in awe as I saw Kopitar blow by All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger and then roof it over a sprawling J.S. Giguere for his first national hockey league goal.   I knew then, just as I know now, that this is not a player you let go.

Teams such as the Anaheim Ducks (Getzlaf) and the Chicago Blackhawks (Toews) were harshly criticized for signing their respective number one centers to large multi-year deals at rates people assumed were too large.  In hindsight, both deals look excellent.  Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi understands just as those teams did that these types of players are quite simply irreplaceable.

It’s true that there will likely be a drop off in play at the end of the contract.  General Manager Dean Lombardi and the Kings likely won’t care though if Anze brings more Stanley Cups to Los Angeles.  The window is now open and this contract will keep it open a while longer yet.

Rumored Kopitar Extension A Good Deal for LA