August is almost here and before you know it, NHL rookies will report September 7th and participate in rookie games before the lucky ones will join NHL veterans at main camp on September 14th. Hockey enthusiasts in Edmonton and Red Deer who are craving hockey can watch the Hlinka Gretzky Cup starting Monday, August 6th as many of the best U18 players in the world will display their talents.
Even with NHL training camps seven weeks away, there is no shortage of discussion points, so let’s hit on a few.
1. Tom Wilson is loved in Washington and hated in most of the other 30 NHL cities. His willingness to continually deliver borderline body checks is why most loathe him. It is fair, but his tenacity and aggressive nature, combined with his skill, is why the Capitals signed him to a six-year contract with a $5.17 million AAV. It was a bit of a surprise considering Wilson’s career-best point totals are 14-21-35, which he produced this year. He has a total of 104 points in 391 career NHL games. Those numbers do not scream big money, yet the Capitals are big believers in him. Wilson did produce 15 points in 21 playoff games this past spring and he played regularly in their top-six. The Capitals are paying him $5 million because they will use him there and he’ll have Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeni Kuznetsov as one of his centres. It is a risky move, but the Capitals are paying him for more than his offensive numbers.
2. An NHL scout texted me this about Wilson: “When he focuses on playing within the rules he is actually very effective. He skates very well for a big man, and this year he showed he can think the game well enough to play with high skill players. The opposition hates him, but his teammates love him and while some people think that stuff doesn’t matter, I’m telling you it still does within the room. Some opposing players are scared of him and it gives him more room. He started to show he could make plays with the extra time and space. I hate when our team plays against him, but that means he’s making an impact.”
3. The Capitals are hoping Wilson produces more points similar to the big jump we’ve seen in fellow agitator Brad Marchand. Not at the level of Marchand, of course, but more of a poor-man’s Marchand. Marchand produced 41, 55, 36, 53 and 42 points his first five seasons, before scoring 61, 85 and 85 the past three years. If Wilson can become a 45-50 point-player in the next six seasons, and continue to agitate and straddle the “cheap shot” line, they will be ecstatic. Wilson’s contributions won’t just be on the scoreboard. Whether you like how he plays or not, he is a unique player and as the game becomes less physical he will stand out more — good or bad.
4. Defenceman Brady Skjei signed a six-year, $5.25m AAV extension with the Rangers on the weekend. Skjei is 24. He played 21:02/game last season and produced 25 points for the Rangers. His contract is an example of why Darnell Nurse was never going to sign an extension worth less than $5 million. Nurse is 23, he averaged 22 min/game last year and scored 26 points. All of his were EV points, while Skjei had 18 at EV. Not every contract is a perfect comparison, but Nurse’s camp will be using this one as a comparable for now and in the future.
5. Vegas is my pick to take a major step back. Last season five teams dipped by 25+ points. Chicago was -34 (109-75), Montreal -32 (103-71), Ottawa -31 (98-67), NYR -25 (102-77) and Edmonton -25 (103-78). Four of those teams had 100+ points. Vegas had a record-setting inaugural season filled with emotion, but it will be impossible to match that feeling this year. I don’t think they will drop 25 points, but I see them dropping out of the playoffs and dipping below 93 points.
6. Milan Lucic scored 49 points in 79 games in the 2017 calendar year. He had a brutal start to 2018, with eight points in 43 games. He struggled mightily. He missed multiple wide open nets and looked disinterested far too often. No question he was bad, but I don’t agree with suggestions he is no longer a top-six forward.
7. Over the past three seasons, he has the 23rd most points among left wingers. Even if you loathe him, there are not 60 better left wingers. I understand being frustrated with the season, but remember the Oilers as a team were terrible. They grossly underachieved. Lucic was one, but he wasn’t the only one, and he is one of the few Oilers with a proven track record of being productive.
8. Lucic was 27th in EV points in that time with 99. Evander Kane was 19th with 104. The gap to being in the top-20 was five points. No question Lucic should have to answer for his final 46 games, and he was very honest when the season ended. He admitted he wasn’t good enough. He lost confidence and wasn’t professional enough to get it back. That is on him, but I view the second half of last season as a slump, more than the norm for the future.
9. Robyn Regehr joined me on TSN 1260 today to discuss Jarome Iginla’s retirement. The entire interview is here, and Regehr shared a surprising story about Iginla. “One fun fact about Jarome. He really can’t skate backwards. He would do C cuts, but instead of using his legs to push out, he would just wiggle his butt and wouldn’t go anywhere. (laughing),” said Regehr.
1. Lebron James is the best player in the NBA. He is an exceptional talent, but we should talk more about what he does off the court. The Lebron James Family Foundation has done a lot for kids in Akron for years, but today they opened a school. It is amazing, and it is hard to quantify the impact this will have on kids and their families. We often focus on the mistakes athletes make off the ice/court/field, but don’t focus enough on the great things. James is an ideal role model for young kids. He is a great athlete, works incredibly hard to stay at the top, and is an ideal role model off the court. Controversy has never followed him and he has always given back.
⚡️ “LeBron James Opens His I PROMISE School”https://t.co/XOrh227CUz
— LJ's Fam Foundation (@LJFamFoundation) July 29, 2018
2. Eskimos QB Mike Reilly is on pace for 6,100 passing yards and 39 touchdowns, but also 18 interceptions. The reigning Most Outstanding Player is off to a great start and looks poised to surpass his career high in yards and touchdowns. His great start isn’t just a hot stretch. Here is how he compares to the past few seasons.
Year ATT COMP YARDS TD INT
2016 633 448 5554 28 12
2017 654 447 5830 30 13
2018 214 147 2063 13 6
prorated** 642 441 6189 39 18
Reilly is off to a great start and after 1/3 of the season he is the early leader to repeat as the MOP. He’d be the first back-to-back winner since Anthony Calvillo (2008-2009) and only the third player in the last 37 years. Doug Flutie won it 1991-1994 and again in 1996-1997.
3. Went to my first Nascar Canada race at the Edmonton International Raceway (by Wetaskiwin) on Saturday, and I really enjoyed it. They had an autograph signing on the track prior to the race and fans could were able to talk to drivers, take pictures and get a first-hand look up close of the cars. My son is four and he loved seeing the cars up close. He also got a shirt from Alex Tagliani’s team and that really fired him up. Fans of any sport like seeing things up close and while I’m far from a diehard racing fan, my son loved it and has already asked to go back. Smart decision by Nascar Canada to have such accessible access to the cars and drivers.