10 August 2018

Squire Report, Vol 12: Extensions


Settling into the dog days of summer after the blitz of Free Agency, it's time for the Knights to focus on re-signing some of their own players...

THE FLOWER WILL CONTINUE TO BLOOM IN THE DESERT

Coming off what was arguably his best season, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said he wanted to retire in Las Vegas, and his new three-year extension should help that happen.  After setting personal bests during the regular season in both Goals Against Average (2.24) and Save Percentage (.927), "The Flower" continued his excellent play into the spring and was a key factor (THE key factor?) in the team's Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final.  Locking him up for a few more years seemed like the obvious move, and though the $7 million cap hit could cause some problems down the line, I feel it was worth it to keep the face of the Knights franchise in net for the foreseeable future.

But should we worry about his age and not living up to the contract?  I'd argue no, as goalies often play well into their late thirties - Fleury turns 34 in November (this will be the final year of his current deal), which means he'll be 37-going-on-38 when the new contract expires, still a very serviceable age by goalie standards.  One example would be Martin Brodeur - holder of the NHL's records for most wins, shutouts and games played by a goaltender - who didn't see his statistics take a significant dip until he was already 38 years old.

Furthermore, FIVE of the last 12 Vezina Trophy winners were older than Fleury is now, and he just finished 5th in the voting for the award last year (the highest of his career).  A good comparison would be Florida netminder Roberto Luongo, whose career seems to follow a very similar path.  When Luongo turned 34, he had amassed nearly the same amount of regular season minutes played throughout his career (42,885) as Fleury's current number (42,433) - at the age of 36, Luongo would finish 4th in the Vezina voting.

Fleury's extension will also provide time for the Knights to see what they have in Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk, as they try to determine if either one could potentially replace him.  With a stout defensive system playing in front of him, I have no doubt we'll continue to see Fleury perform at the highest level and carry this team forward in the coming years.

20 July 2018

Hockey Road Trip: True North Strong and Free


I love Canada...but it can get really cold up there.

This might explain why I had been putting off going to Manitoba for some time.  I've had two different co-workers (both natives of Winnipeg) who tried to explain that visiting the province should be done at either the very beginning OR very end of the hockey season to avoid inclement weather - and even then, March was still dismal and that I should focus my attention on October or November.  This usually meant that I would continually push Winnipeg down the Road Trip list in favor of cities whose weather patterns allowed a little more flexibility.  But now I was running out of places to go...

October 2017 was a busy month: it started with me flying to Vegas for the dramatic home opener of the Golden Knights, and was quickly followed by seeing HAMILTON on stage and Arcade Fire in concert, so I looked to November instead.  From the moment I devised "The Quest", I had every intention of using my Winnipeg trip as a chance to drive to nearby Brandon to see the WHL's Wheat Kings in action, knowing that the odds of ever being in that part of the world again were slim to none.  As it so happened, there was a stretch during the first week of November in which the Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Jets were playing on back-to-back nights on the same weekend, so I penciled that into my schedule and set forth with the planning.

My travel companion Chad had no real interest in seeing Brandon, so I decided to fly up ahead of him and acclimate myself to the surroundings until he arrived for the Jets game.  I'd done my research and found that there weren't too many tourist attractions in Manitoba that called out to me, so I knew my time away from home would be brief - this was well-received by my fiancee, as she passed on coming along for fear that she would be bored.  Traveling alone, it wound up being a very calming trip that allowed me to simply enjoy the tranquility of the vast prairie, which is always a welcome change from the hectic life I have in Los Angeles.  And away we - I mean, "I" - go!

THURSDAY: 2 NOVEMBER 2017

Not surprisingly, there are no direct flights from Los Angeles to Winnipeg - I opted for a layover in one of the most common cities on the route (Minneapolis) and arrived to a frigid Canadian evening just after the sun had set.  At least the airport in Winnipeg was very welcoming for this weary traveler, beaming with pride in their local team:


I checked into my hotel and looked for a place to eat, ultimately settling on Tavern United in Polo Park, a pleasant British-themed sports bar connected to another hotel (Canad Inns).  The food was delicious, and I was able to watch a live Jets game on TV, before I headed out to grab some groceries and return to the hotel for the night.

12 July 2018

Squire Report, Vol 11: Transactions


Player movement and roster construction is dominating the hockey news cycle, so let's see how Vegas shapes up...

WHO'S COMING BACK?

COLIN MILLER (4 years, $3.875M cap hit)
Four more years of "Miller Time"!
He was a huge factor on the backend, playing all 82 games and leading the Golden Knights defensemen with 10 goals and 41 points.  He'll turn 26 in October and should be given every opportunity to excel from an offensive standpoint - it's also nice to see GM George McPhee recognize his blossoming talent with the 4-year commitment.  Meanwhile, the cap hit is low enough to keep the team's salary structure in great shape moving forward as well.  I can easily see him outplaying this contract by the time it ends, and I'm excited to watch him continue to develop into a well-rounded defender.

RYAN REAVES (2 years, $2.775M cap hit)
A much-maligned acquisition at the trade deadline (I certainly questioned the move at the time), Reaves shook off some early mistakes and found his role on the team by the end of the regular season.  Once the playoffs started, he quietly went to the press box for the first 9 games and waited for his turn, only to come on strong when re-inserted into the lineup, scoring the game-winning goal to clinch the Western Conference championship against Winnipeg AND the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 1 of the Cup Final.  While the cap hit may seem a little high for a 4th-line player, the two-year term makes it easier to swallow.


TWO-WAY DEALS
Vegas added to their depth by re-signing some key contributors from their AHL affiliate in Chicago: forwards Stefan Matteau, Brandon Pirri and Tomas Hyka; defenseman Zac Leslie; and goaltenders Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace.  
- Leslie will be looking to build upon an impressive stint with the Wolves, as he tallied 17 points in 27 games after coming over in a trade with Los Angeles.  Depth at the Vegas blueline should keep him in the AHL, but here's hoping he continues his solid play.
- Matteau and Pirri seem destined to remain in Chicago for most of the year, outside of the occasional injury-related call-up to Vegas, but I think Hyka has a chance to shine - his waiver-exempt status could doom him to staying in the AHL, but he has a good chance to stick with the Knights if he has an impressive training camp.  
- Though Lagace did serve as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup during the postseason, I still feel the team sees Dansk as having the brighter future in net.  In addition to his 3-0 record in the NHL, his AHL stats (13-3-2, 2.44 GAA, .918 SV%) were better than Lagace's as well - there's a reason he was the first goalie to be called up from Chicago when injuries struck the Vegas crease.  My only fear is that Dansk could be lost to waivers in much the same fashion that Vegas claimed Malcolm Subban at the beginning of last season.

06 July 2018

Hockey Road Trip: The Alberta Engagement


Two years after my first visit to Alberta, I put forth a plan to return to the province: the Edmonton Oilers had built a strong, young team around budding superstar Connor McDavid, and they were celebrating their inaugural season at Rogers Place.  Plus, I would now have the opportunity to visit Calgary and see the Flames in action as well.  As had been the case with my previous road trips in the 2016-17 season, my travel companion Chad would have difficulty joining me after having just started at a new job, so he decided to pass, which meant that I would bring my girlfriend Charlene along for the ride (just as I did for the Philadelphia trip).

Since we'd be traveling alone, this would also be the perfect opportunity to ask Charlene to marry me.  If I was going to propose, I had always wanted two factors to come into play: it had to be a surprise and it had to be done somewhere romantic.  Chad skipping out was the perfect decoy to keep Charlene misdirected, but I found myself overly worried about what kind of engagement ring to purchase.  When asking several friends and co-workers, I discovered that many of the women enjoyed picking out their own ring - since it was going to be on their finger for the rest of their life, they preferred to have some say in the matter.  Thankfully, another friend came up with the best idea to keep the surprise intact: I would propose with a "promise ring", and then allow Charlene to pick out the actual diamond ring for posterity.

I'd given myself several options for where to pop the question, and Alberta seemed to be a wonderful backdrop.  When we went to the outdoor NHL game in Santa Clara, I had a brief conversation with Kelly Hrudey, who was covering the game for CBC.  Hrudey often worked as a color analyst for the Calgary Flames, and when I mentioned that I was trying to see a game in every NHL arena, I asked him to suggest some Alberta tourist attractions that might be of interest.  He immediately responded: "You have to see Lake Louise - it's SO beautiful".  He couldn't have been more accurate in his assessment, as virtually every picture I had seen of that region of the Canadian Rockies was absolutely breathtaking.  The plan was coming to fruition.

Charlene has two great obsessions: Jane Eyre, the 19th century literary masterpiece (she runs both a website and blog devoted to the book); and Doctor Who, the long-running British television series about an alien time-traveler and his companion.  To give this moment the most sentimental value, I knew I would need to incorporate elements from each into my proposal.

I searched on Etsy to find both a ring box AND promise ring inspired by Doctor Who - the ring box resembled the Doctor's time travel machine (the "Tardis"), while the promise ring featured a Gallifreyan inscription (the language of the Doctor's home planet) on one side, with the phrase "Together Forever Through Time and Space" engraved on the other.  I would then propose my love to her with the exact same words that Mr. Rochester expresses to Jane Eyre in Chapter 23:

"My bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness.  Jane, will you marry me?"

I was so proud of myself for devising a plan that seemed too perfect, and one that Charlene would absolutely cherish.  I hid both the ring and the box in my suitcase when she wasn't looking, and we set off to the Great White North!

15 June 2018

Squire Report, Vol 10: Astonishment


Astonishment - it's pretty much the only word that comes to mind...

A MAGICAL SEASON ENDS ONE STEP SHORT

The unpredictable spring continued with an upset victory over the Winnipeg Jets, which gave the Golden Knights a surprising berth in the Stanley Cup Final against Washington.  The Capitals have had their share of playoff heartbreak over the years - they'd only made it to one Cup Final in their 44-year history and were swept by Detroit - so it was a nice matchup featuring two teams looking to make history.  While Vegas was able to win the first game of the series at home, they would suffer defeat in each of the next four games, allowing Washington to hoist the Stanley Cup after Game 5.

The Golden Knights had repeatedly shocked the hockey world, but it looked as though the team had simply run out of gas by the end.  The disappointment that I felt was ever so brief, as that would be replaced by the admiration of seeing the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and company deliver a championship to those long-suffering Capitals fans.  On the day of their victory parade, the Capitals even made the classy gesture of taking out a full-page ad in a prominent Las Vegas newspaper to extend their gratitude:


It was an entertaining series with a bittersweet finish, which finally gave me a chance to reflect on this amazing ride:

- I followed the Expansion Draft closely, even appearing as a guest on the popular Puck Podcast twice to discuss the newly-formed roster of players.  
- I was at the first rookie scrimmage between the Golden Knights and the Los Angeles Kings, where I met some esteemed media members to "talk shop".
- I was at a preseason game in Anaheim, wearing my Vegas hat and marveling at the small handful of visiting fans sporting Golden Knights apparel.
- I was there at the first home game in Vegas on October 10, somberly watching Deryk Engelland give his pre-game speech which sent chills down my spine.

While I wasn't able to attend any of the playoff games, my friend Chad and I did consider driving over for a watch party during the Cup Final.  We ultimately chose not to make the trip, but my sister was in Las Vegas that week and did manage to pick up a puck and program for me:


08 June 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Sweetness, Liberty and the Great White Way


The year was now 2017, and we were coming down the homestretch of The Quest with only a handful of arenas left to see.  Always the opportunist, I've found myself trying to maximize these trips to see as many games as possible during one vacation.  While we were seeing three NHL games in three nights on our initial trip to New York City, I met with the NHL Network's E.J. Hradek and he suggested taking a train to Philadelphia since it was so close - we didn't have the time on that particular trip, but this gave me an idea.

I knew I'd need to come back to New York once the Islanders moved into the Barclays Center in 2015, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to cross Philadelphia off my list as well.  But there was a new wrinkle to my plans: as mentioned in the recap of my previous trip (to Carolina), my travel companion Chad had just started a new job and had not yet accumulated enough vacation days to take significant time off; in addition, he'd already done plenty of sightseeing in the area as part of multiple visits to see the Pennsylvania-based independent wrestling promotion, Chikara.  He would respectfully choose to skip this road trip, while at the same time, my girlfriend Charlene had asked if she could come along instead - she'd long been jealous when hearing of our hockey-related adventures, and she also had an ulterior motive for wanting to tag along (more on that later).

From there, it was just a matter of finding a stretch of days that would include all of the sporting events that I'd like to witness as part of this quick trek to the eastern seaboard: NHL games in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, as well as seeing the historic Palestra basketball arena and an AHL game in the city of Hershey.  The stage was set, and the trip would commence in February, during some brutally unforgiving weather conditions.  Our cross-country flight brought us to Philadelphia on a chilly Wednesday evening, and we grabbed a quick bite at a pizza place located next door to the Airbnb where we were staying.  The rest of the night allowed us to unwind and acclimate ourselves to the frigid surroundings.

THURSDAY: 9 FEBRUARY 2017

We woke up to see a thin blanket of snow and ice had covered the streets, with sub-freezing temperatures awaiting us outside.  Bundled in several layers each, Charlene and I headed into the bitter cold for a 45-minute walk to downtown Philadelphia.  Our first stop was the iconic Liberty Bell, where we learned about the history of the famed symbol before posing for pictures.  

Located next door was Independence Hall, another historic landmark with a rich history.  I've been fascinated with the Founding Fathers and the birth of our country since I was a child, so I was very eager to learn more inside - a wonderful park ranger guided us through the Assembly Room where the Constitution AND Declaration of Independence were both signed!

18 May 2018

Au Revoir, Le Colisee: Coupe Memorial 2015


When I started my quest to see a game in every NHL arena, I also hoped to see as many games in some of the older arenas which previously hosted NHL franchises.  In most cases, this would be due to the team moving to a newer building and keeping their previous arena open - but there were also a few markets in which the NHL team relocated.  Such was the case with Quebec City.

After entertaining hockey fans for over 20 years in both the WHA and NHL, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, leaving the city - and its historic arena, Le Colisee - devoid of the highest level of professional hockey.  A minor league team would quickly move into the vacated building for the following season, before giving way in 1999 to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).  That year also saw the naming rights purchased by a large soda company, with the arena being re-named Colisee Pepsi.

While researching the "defunct" NHL arenas, I learned that Le Colisee would be closing its doors for good in 2015, after more than 65 years of serving Quebec City with various sporting events and concerts.  The new state-of-the-art Videotron Centre was set to open right next door with the hope of luring a new NHL franchise back to the province, but the legendary venue was given a very prominent swan song: hosting the MasterCard Memorial Cup (or Coupe Memorial, as the French-speaking locals called it), the trophy awarded to the ultimate winner of the Canadian Hockey League.

The round-robin tournament would feature the champions of the CHL's three individual leagues - the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the QMJHL - as well as the host Remparts, and was to be held during the last ten days of May.  The opening weekend of the tournament coincided with the Memorial Day holiday, so I planned a four-day vacation in order to see every team in action over the course of three games.  I even found an Airbnb that was walking distance from Le Colisee!

Popular Posts