17 August 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Michigan-za! (Part 1)


Michigan has a VERY rich hockey history.  In addition to the Detroit Red Wings - who have been a part of the NHL for more than 90 years - the state is loaded with teams at every level, including multiple Division I NCAA programs and various minor-league teams.  The U.S. Men's National Team Development Program is based in the city of Plymouth, and there are even two Michigan teams competing in the Ontario Hockey League.

I had seen very little of Detroit during my previous visit to the city (which was done solely to see the Red Wings before they vacated Joe Louis Arena), so this would be my opportunity to traverse the region and cover as much ground - and watch as many teams - as possible, in addition to visiting the new NHL rink during its inaugural season.  I started out by making a list of all of the teams that I could potential see in person, then ranked them by priority and searched for a specific point in the 2017-18 schedule in which they'd all be playing home games in the same time frame.  The perfect opportunity would occur in mid-February, conveniently wrapped around the President's Day holiday, and allowed me to witness EIGHT games in NINE days!

I divided the journey into two overlapping halves, with the Red Wings game being right in the middle - the first half of the trip would see my travel companion Chad accompany me for the first five days before returning to Los Angeles, while my fiancee Charlene would join the fun for the second half.  Though she passed on joining me during my recent trip to Winnipeg, Charlene had developed a taste for some hockey-related traveling (she was still adapting to the "hockey-related" part), and also wanted to come along to see some friends and family in Ohio.  And away we go!

FRIDAY: 16 FEBRUARY 2018

Chad and I departed Los Angeles very early in the morning, so that even with a layover we still made it to Detroit in the late afternoon.  I found a terrific Airbnb in Ann Arbor, and we quickly checked in and got back on the road - our first stop would be 90 minutes away in the city of Saginaw, home of the OHL's Saginaw Spirit.  

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!

09 May 2018

Squire Report, Vol 9: Playoffs


The magical run extends into the postseason, and away we go...

A HEAVY FIRST-ROUND MATCHUP WITH LOS ANGELES

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little skeptical about the Knights’ chances in this series: the Kings were an experienced team that had been through some physical playoff battles in the past, and I wasn’t sure that Vegas could match that intensity. I also keep waiting for the clock to strike midnight on this Cinderella season, but it was just not meant to be.

Right from the first game, the Knights established their own physical presence and showed that they would not be pushed around. They clamped down on defense and limited the Kings to low-percentage shots from the outside, keeping the area around Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease clear from high-danger opportunities. As a result, Los Angeles would only score THREE goals in the midst of the four-game Vegas sweep.

Fleury was outstanding in the series, pitching two shutouts and finishing with an other-worldly save percentage of .977! I’ve long been a critic of Brayden McNabb, but the former King was a warrior in the series, and ultimately scored the only goal in the clinching Game 4. This Vegas season would continue with another matchup against a California team - could they keep up their stellar play?

SHARK HUNTING IN THE SECOND ROUND

For their next series, the Knights would face a team who stood as a polar opposite to Los Angeles: the San Jose Sharks, who preferred a speed-oriented attack, in contrast to the heavy style played by the Kings. Seeing as how this would match the Vegas identity, the winning team would have to simply find another dimension to their game and rise up. Both teams finished off their first-round opponents with a sweep, giving each group an entire week to rest before the “track meet” began. And they’re off…

Vegas wound up shaking off the rust better than San Jose, jumping on them quick and often to cruise to a 7-0 victory in Game 1. The next two games were more evenly matched, with each team winning once in overtime, before Sharks goalie Martin Jones recorded a shutout of his own in Game 4 to even things up. Now a best-of-3 series, Vegas utilized their depth and turned to one of their impressive rookies to help close out their foes from northern California.

26 April 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Tobacco Road Tumble


When we set out to do all these hockey road trips, I always had my eye on North Carolina - I knew very little about the state (besides its tobacco-infused history), but it always seemed like a hotbed of sports success. Expansion teams in the NFL and NBA arrived in Charlotte at the dawn of the 1990’s, which set the stage for the NHL’s Hartford Whalers to relocate to Raleigh in the latter part of the decade.

But college basketball is the dominant obsession, as the region is filled with notable programs from Duke and the University of North Carolina, to NC State and Wake Forest. Hated as they may be in the eyes of many sports fans, I’ve always felt a fondness for Duke. Coach Mike Kryzezewski has built one of the most storied programs in the country, consistently keeping his team near the top of the polls and funneling a pipeline to the professional ranks (even though NBA success has often eluded these players). My high school years were filled with the images of Grant Hill and Christian Laettner winning championships for the Blue Devils, and the sight of Duke fans boisterously cheering on their beloved team during home games at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke’s campus in the city of Durham is just down the highway from the state capital of Raleigh - this path is affectionately referred to as “Tobacco Road”, denoting the popular crop produced by the state. I knew that my trip to see the Hurricanes would HAVE to include a visit to Duke, so I specifically focused on the college basketball schedule each year. Unfortunately, given the popularity of the program and the fact that virtually all of the tickets are reserved for students and season ticket holders, I would have to pay an exorbitant price to see them in person. For conference games against their ACC rivals, Duke tickets would go for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market - as a result, I found a non-conference game at the beginning of the schedule that allowed us to see the Hurricanes the following night.

One added bonus: my cousin Courtney was attending graduate school at North Carolina State, and had offered to give us a tour of Raleigh during our visit. But she would complete her two-year program in the spring of 2017, which pushed this trip a little higher up our list and prompted a visit in November 2016. And away we go!

09 April 2018

Squire Report, Vol 8: Ontario


The Vegas Golden Knights won the Pacific Division in their inaugural season. I cannot believe I just typed that sentence. Rather than dwell on my amazement, I’ll instead use this report to focus on some of the future Knights that I was recently able to see in-person.

As part of my “quest” to see a game in every NHL arena, I found myself in Toronto last month to check the Maple Leafs off the remaining list. I timed out the vacation with the start of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, which provided the opportunity to witness many of the NHL’s future stars, including those drafted by Vegas.

SUZUKI IS GOLDEN AGAINST THE KNIGHTS

I started with the highest-profile Vegas prospect in Ontario, first-round pick Nick Suzuki. He had just completed an amazing regular season with the Owen Sound Attack, finishing fourth in league scoring with 100 points (42 goals, 58 assists). He and his teammates would square off in the opening round against the London Knights, a perennial OHL powerhouse who was in the middle of a slight rebuild after having won the Memorial Cup two years prior. We arrived in Toronto in the early afternoon, then made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Owen Sound to see the league’s smallest arena.

This was Game 2, with the Attack having prevailed two night earlier in the opening game. Right from the opening faceoff, Suzuki stood out - he played with patience, controlling possession for his line and creating several scoring chances with deft touch from his impressive hands. He finished the game with 3 assists, including the primary setup on the game-winning goal in overtime.

Two nights later, we would be in London for Game 3. While he didn’t have as much success on the road that he had in front of his home crowd, Suzuki was still dangerous every time he touched the puck. Owen Sound would go on to win again in overtime, then close out the sweep later that week - he was impressive throughout the series and while he lined up at center in the OHL, I think Nick Suzuki could be a dynamic playmaker on the wing in the NHL.

London's Evan Bouchard (in the penalty box) will be a 1st round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft

09 March 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Empire State Excursion (Part 2)


During Part 1 of this massive trip, my travel companion Chad and I found ourselves driving from Buffalo to Ottawa to Montreal to Vermont, before finally returning to the state of New York.  The Empire State Excursion would continue at one of the most famous venues in hockey history.


WEDNESDAY: 23 MARCH 2016

We awakened in our hotel room to see that a sheet of snow had fallen onto the sleepy village of Lake Placid, which only seemed fitting for its popularity among skiers.  We wasted no time in heading to the Olympic Center for a morning tour of the famed locale.  As an added bonus, our tour guide was a member of the organizing committee for the 1980 Winter Olympics, and told incredibly detailed stories with vivid imagery.  We listened quietly as we were led through the facility for about an hour - the guide even showed us a video of the final moments of the famed "Miracle on Ice" game between the United States and the Soviet Union, as we sat in the fabled arena.



Once the tour was completed, we walked over to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, which was also located inside the Olympic Center.  A perfect compliment to the stories told by our tour guide, the Museum had a great display of artifacts to commemorate the two Olympic games hosted in the city (1932 and 1980), which also included a video of the "Miracle on Ice" game playing on a loop.  


American goalie Jim Craig protected this net in the "Miracle on Ice" game
I definitely enjoyed my brief time in this quaint town, but it was time to hit the road once again - we had a 3-hour drive to Utica for our next game, stopping for dinner in Remsen at a charming little 50's-style diner called The Soda Fountain (check out their special "Garbage Plates").  We arrived at the historic Utica Memorial Auditorium with some time to spare, which would end up coming in handy.

01 March 2018

Squire Report, Vol 7: Trades


The Golden Knights continue to roll, as their lead in the Pacific Division has stretched to 10 points.  But this month was all about re-shaping the roster, as Vegas took part in the NHL's annual trade deadline activity...

TOMAS TATAR COMES OVER FROM THE MOTOR CITY

Making their biggest splash of the day, Vegas traded three draft picks to Detroit to get dynamic winger Tomas Tatar.  It seemed like a bit of an overpayment (2018 1st rounder, 2019 2nd rounder, 2021 3rd rounder), but I can definitely get behind this deal based on what Tatar brings to the team - he's a relentless forechecker with great hands, and should fit very well into the quick-strike transition offense favored by coach Gerard Gallant.  He just turned 27 years old, and is in the first year of a four-year contract that carries a $5.3M cap hit.  After paying his dues with Detroit's AHL club in Grand Rapids, he's been a consistent performer at the NHL level, averaging about 20 goals and 40 points per season.

With the top two lines virtually set in stone, it would appear that Tatar will slot into the Knights' third line playing with Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, which seems like an embarrassment of riches for the team as they begin their first playoff run.  Adding some scoring touch to this line also allows the team to keep Tomas Nosek and Ryan Carpenter on the fourth line, where they can add the occasional goal to their strong defensive play.  Tatar also becomes a great insurance policy next season, as he could slide into the Top 6 if Vegas chooses not to re-sign one or both of David Perron and James Neal.

But was it worth it to part with those picks?  That's the tough pill to swallow for me.  GM George McPhee did a great job to stockpile draft picks coming out of the Expansion Draft, but I find it hard to believe that an expansion team will go to the Entry Draft after its first season without a 1st round pick, especially when all of the hockey pundits have claimed that this will be a very strong draft.  But these are the tough decisions that McPhee gets paid for, although I'm wondering if owner Bill Foley may have told him to throw caution to the wind and do what it takes to add to this magical season.  On the plus side, Vegas still kept all three of the players they selected in the 1st round last year, especially when you consider that they were one of the teams in the running for Erik Karlsson and that would have most likely required moving at least one of those key prospects:

16 February 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Empire State Excursion (Part 1)


My original intent with the quest to see all 30 NHL arenas was to use this as a way to see portions of North America that I might not otherwise visit. It would be a travelogue of sorts, and I would take every opportunity to see as many historical landmarks and tourist attractions as I could along the way. A quick glance at the list of NHL markets reveals a wide assortment of some of the most popular destinations around.

And then there’s Buffalo.

Everything I had heard about Buffalo said that it was a terrific place to live, with loads of young professionals choosing to relocate and start families there - but it wasn’t known for great tourist attractions, other than nearby Niagara Falls. As a result, I always planned to use my Buffalo trip as a chance to see as much of upstate and western New York as possible, with one extra wrinkle: Canada was close as well.

Considering their proximity, I figured I would visit Toronto and Buffalo on the same trip in order to knock two markets off my list. But there were so many other teams in the area that I wanted to see in person (specifically those in the OHL and AHL), and I found that I could go one step further by going the other direction around Lake Erie to see Montreal and Ottawa instead - thereby knocking out THREE teams along the way! What ensued was my most ambitious trip yet: the Empire State Excursion, which would see my travel companion Chad and I take in EIGHT hockey games in NINE days!

In order to maximize our vacation days in the spring of 2016, I used the Good Friday/Easter holiday as the bookend for the trip. We would fly out of Los Angeles on St. Patrick’s Day, and arrive in Buffalo just before midnight. The massive journey would commence the following morning…

FRIDAY: 18 MARCH 2016

Since the itinerary would have us driving hundreds of miles across two different countries - and also due to the previously-mentioned lack of tourist attractions - I knew my time in Buffalo would be limited. However, I made sure to begin the trip at the one local landmark that I had to visit: the Teddy Roosevelt Inauguration Site. A modest house on the outskirts of the downtown area, the museum houses a terrific display of artifacts relating to the 1901 World’s Fair, notoriously remembered as the site of President William McKinley’s assassination.

01 February 2018

Squire Report, Vol 6: Midseason


We've reached the halfway point of the season and the Vegas Golden Knights hold the best record in the Western Conference - just like we all predicted, right?

HANDING OUT SOME CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

A new calendar year also brought forth contract extensions for a trio of players, most notably Jonathan Marchessault.  Perhaps GM George McPhee must be reading my blog - how else to explain the fact that Marchessault received his 6-year, $30 million contract extension on the day AFTER I posted my last Squire Report, in which I mentioned how the Knights' leading scorer needed to be locked up immediately.  As you can imagine, I'm quite happy with the deal: Marchessault just turned 27 a month ago, and has helped to solidify one of the best scoring lines in the NHL.  Theoretically, his production should continue to remain in line with the money he's set to make, and it sets a good example to the fanbase that not every pending free agent will be traded, no matter how valuable.

It was also nice to see Deryk Engelland receive a one-year extension this past month.  A questionable selection in the Expansion Draft since he could have been signed as an unrestricted free agent a week later, "Captain Concierge" has proved his importance both on and off the ice - his heartfelt speech during the emotional home opener will cement his status as a beloved fan favorite for years to come.  But he's still got something left in the tank, and I can easily see him inking one-year deals every year until he's done playing, at which point I definitely picture him taking a job within the organization.

The last extension was a bit of a head-scratcher, mostly because Jon Merrill has spent more than half of the season as a healthy scratch.  I honestly thought that management would want to see him in action a little bit more, but they were impressed enough during his limited time to award him with a two-year extension.  Here's hoping this translates to improved play when he returns from the injured reserve, where he's spent the last three weeks.  From there, maybe we can work on finally getting his picture corrected on the Hockey News website!

26 January 2018

Hockeywood!


There are a handful of events that every hockey fan should make their best effort to see: an outdoor game (did that), a Stanley Cup Final game (I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant ticket price), and the NHL All-Star Game. The midseason exhibition game has become quite the spectacle, as the league has taken great strides to present several special events throughout the entire weekend. I had planned on going for many years, but it seemed like all of the recent All-Star games were being hosted on the other side of the continent. In addition, the NHL did not hold an All-Star Game during the years in which their players would compete in the Olympics. As a result, Dallas had been the only city west of the Mississippi to play host since the 2005 lockout.

Neither Anaheim nor Arizona has hosted the All-Star Game, and the Los Angeles Kings were the hosts for the 2002 game, so I feared that it might not be near me again anytime soon. But 2017 was a special year - the 100th anniversary of the NHL - and the league was going to honor the 100 best players in its history during the All-Star break, so they needed an ideal venue.  During the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville, the league announced Los Angeles would host the following year - we were in luck!

I had every intention of going to an All-Star Game even if I had to travel, so this was perfect. I wouldn’t need to book a hotel or buy a plane ticket, so I could use the money I had saved to pay the seemingly inflated prices for tickets to the various events surrounding All-Star weekend. And were they ever inflated: once the tickets had sold out due to Kings season-ticket holders and assorted brokers/scalpers buying them all up, we were expected to pay around $500 to see it all.

But when the final weekend of January 2017 rolled around, I didn’t think about the money. No, I was only concerned with seeing the fabulous events. I would be a giddy hockey fan for a couple of days and I couldn’t wait!

12 January 2018

Hockey Road Trip: From Missouri to Music City


As a longtime NFL fan living in Southern Illinois, I vividly remember the Rams moving from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1994. After missing out on an expansion team, the Gateway City would now have a football team to call their own - unfortunately, this would be at the expense of the Rams fans in Los Angeles, who undoubtedly felt the same as the football fans in St. Louis did when the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988 (as you can see, it’s a vicious cycle).

I followed the St. Louis Rams closely during those initial seasons, and I continued to keep an eye on them when I went off to college. I was ecstatic when they won the Super Bowl in 2000, and continued to watch them often when I moved to Los Angeles three years later. But I never actually made it to a game in St. Louis, even though I often considered going to see them during my various trips back home over the Christmas holiday.

But now it appeared the Rams time in St. Louis was coming to a close. By 2015, relocation rumors were swirling and it seemed like only a matter of time before they were headed back to their previous home in Southern California. Fearing that I couldn’t wait any longer, my travel companion Chad and I decided to attend the Rams final home game of that season - a Thursday night contest to be played a week before Christmas. But could we also include a hockey game during this trip?

We’d already seen games in St. Louis and Chicago, but Nashville wasn’t too far away. We’d yet to see a game in Tennessee and a trip in December would also allow us to see the Grand Ole Opry show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The trip was perfectly set up, and I couldn’t wait to go!

02 January 2018

Squire Report, Vol 5: Believer


The incredible run continues, leading to a change of heart from your humble narrator...

THIS TEAM IS FOR REAL

When I decided I was going to become a fan of the Vegas Golden Knights, I did so with the idea that I would be witness to a team slowly being built in the salary cap era. The Expansion Draft was supposed to stock the roster with average players, and I imagined the team was going to struggle to compete in the Pacific Division. Meanwhile, the team would trade away all of the players with expiring contracts and build a “war chest” of draft picks for the future.

But then the season started.

Two surprising wins on the road, followed by a very successful 7-game home stand, propelled the Knights into first place by the end of the season’s first month. They were the talk of the NHL, but that couldn’t possibly last. On top of that, the top three goalies on the roster all suffered injuries and a formidable road trip in November would seemingly bring the team back to Earth.

But it didn’t.

Yes, the team did limp through that road trip and fall out of first place, but they quickly rebounded once they returned to Vegas to continue their hot streak at home. Convincing wins over strong teams in the West (Winnipeg, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim) helped to solidify their status as a serious contender.

But I still wasn’t convinced, until the final month of 2017 rolled around.

December would only feature five road games, but they were all in tough environments: I was sure the Knights would lose many of them, perhaps even all five. Instead, they won four of those five contests: a hard-fought shootout victory in Nashville; an impressive win in Dallas against a Stars team that had dominated Vegas during their two previous matchups; and back-to-back wins in Anaheim and Los Angeles after the Christmas holiday.

But what about their home record? Could they continue their terrific play at T-Mobile Arena?

In a word, yes. A five-game home stand against Eastern Conference opponents saw the team go 4-0-1, besting both the defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh and the Tampa Bay Lightning, owners of the NHL’s best record. The team was clicking on all cylinders and distancing themselves from the rest of the teams in the West.

As a result, I’m prepared to say something I never thought I’d say during the summer: this team is a legitimate contender in their inaugural season. But if the organizational philosophy was to seemingly blow off this season and the next to build for a playoff run in Year 3, how do they alter their course to continue winning now while also setting the team up for long-term success? I’ve got some thoughts on that…

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