Category Archives: NHL

The Potential Chicago Blackhawks Savior: Pius Suter

With injuries to Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews, Pius Suter has been an unlikely surprise for the Chicago Blackhawks. Suter, unrelated to the hockey royalty Sutter family, grew and played his junior career in Switzerland. While never drafted, Suter certainly hasn’t gone under the radar.

He has played internationally for Switzerland since 2013 and has been invited to NHL camps since 2017. The young center spent most of his Swiss career at ZSC Lions, a top player contributing goals, assists, and championships to the Zürich club. 

Pius Suter The Potential Savior of the Chicago Blackhawks

ZSC Lions

In the 2019-2020 season, Suter won the MVP award and recorded 30 goals and 23 assists. This season wasn’t a fluke for Suter, he previously led the team in assists with 28 in the 2017-2018 season, and was a big reason for the Lions winning the National League championship that year. Savvy hawks fans might remember one of the Lions who previously played with Chicago: Marcus Krüger.

Another big similarity for both the Lions and the Blackhawks is the celebratory goal music. Chelsea Dagger played all over Suter’s extensive highlight reel. In July 2020 Suter implemented his exit clause to join the Blackhawks on a one-year club-friendly contract. 

International and NHL Experience

Suter has been making waves in more than just the Swiss league. The lefthanded forward has played with and against some terrific talent in his nine seasons as a skater. Wherever he goes, Suter seems to find the back of the net. Having played internationally for Switzerland since 2013 he has collected 20 points in 33 appearances.

The most notable performance was in the 2018 Olympics. Against host country South Korea, Suter scored a hat trick in an 8-0 rout of their opponents. His experience has drawn attention from multiple NHL teams including the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders. The NHL invites and workouts motivated Suter to push his game to the next level. He finally earned himself a full-time opportunity for one of the original-six squads this season.

His Role for the Hawks

The Blackhawks had to search for alternative options filling out the roster after the open letter to fans declared the team was going to rebuild for the next couple of seasons. Suter was a low risk potentially high reward acquisition that was set to be featured on the backend rotation. After injuries and illness, two of the top centers were on the shelf his role was greatly expanded.

The constantly shifting first line for the Hawks featured Suter, Alex DeBrincat, and Patrick Kane against the Detroit Redwings last Sunday. It was a good night for the top line, two goals at even strength and one additional power-play goal, all scored by the Swiss native. It was the first hat trick by a Blackhawks rookie in the first six games of the season in over ninety years. 

Strengths

As a player, Suter is known for quick hands, wise decision making, and a nose for the net. When he has the puck, don’t blink. Most of his shots are likely to come off rebounds, redirects, and wristers. Very little of his shift time will be spent at the point, despite being under six foot most of his skating is done in the crease and slot.

When he does have the puck he is constantly looking up at his teammates or the net. Suter also excels at elevating the puck no matter what position his stick is in. While not the hardest hit shot, the puck jumps off the blade and catches most defenders and goalkeepers off guard.

Weaknesses

Where he will have to improve is in his strength and tenacity. In the young season, he won about 43% of faceoffs. A number that will need to boost if he wants to stay on in crucial situations. As the smallest center on the roster, he will have a target on his back as top teams will try to bully him off the puck.

It will be interesting to see if the Blackhawks trainers and dieticians will try adding muscle to Suter’s slim frame or if they fear it will cost him his scoring and skating ability. The Blackhawks can afford to be more patient when it comes to their young players as opposed to years past. Expect to see much more Pius Suter on your television in the coming months.  

Around the Clock: So Chicago

For the first-ever Clocker Sports roundtable, the guys keep it local and talk the state of the four major sports in Chicago. From the Cubs and Sox hot start, the Bulls and Bears at crossroads, and the Blackhawks making one last push. Be sure to join us every Thursday @ 9p CST to be a part of the show!

Sports Can’t Breathe

What a start to the turn of a new decade, 2020 has been relentless. First, the sports world gets shook with a tragic helicopter accident killing nine people including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.  Shortly thereafter the world is hit with a Coronavirus pandemic deemed Covid-19.  An invisible menace that’s had us quarantined for the last three months and has claimed thousands of lives.

Then on Monday, May 25th, 2020 on Memorial Day, a day to celebrate our fallen servicemen and women, a police officer took the life of yet another unarmed black man named George Floyd.  You can say my community’s collective breath was taken away in eight minutes and 46 seconds.  Going into the sixth month of 2020, the second half of this year I’m sure we’re all wondering when will the director say cut!

Sports Can’t Breathe

This Is Supposed to Be About Sports

It took me a week to construct this piece because I was angry, upset, and didn’t want my emotions to completely take over my writing. You see, I’m a black man in my 40s, same as Mr. Floyd, and that could’ve easily been me.   I’ve had my experiences with racial profiling from police and civilians.

To see a video of officers of the law who took an oath to protect and serve the community hold down a human being and kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes watching him die is one of the worse crimes to witness.  The disturbing part is this was the third such incident in a month where a black individual was murdered.  What those cops didn’t know is that George Floyd was good friends with former NBA player Stephen Jackson and he would be the catalyst in leading a global protest for justice.

I understand that this is supposed to be a sports column and I can assure it is.  It will just be a little different approach on this one. Almost four years ago it was in a football stadium, 2016, that former San Francisco 49ers   quarterback Colin Kaepernick exercised his American right to protest.  His peaceful protest was to sit during the national anthem to bring awareness to police brutality of black people.

Even after people saw this as disrespectful to our military, he consulted with a serviceman and changed to more appropriate kneeling.  Players began following Kaepernick in this protest and the message was interrupted by President Trump making this issue about respecting the American flag.  The president even went to the lengths of insulting the players and the mothers of these exceptional athletes by calling them sons of b*****s.

NFL Had a Chance to Take a Stand

The NFL and owners had the opportunity to support its diverse players but instead decided it valued its bottom line more than human life.  In the process exiling Kaepernick from the league who never received another contract offer.  One of the most outspoken owners, Jerry Jones, had plenty to say about that protest in 2016. Fast forward to today, crickets.  Countless mothers and fathers being taken away leaving children without parents with no repercussions just doesn’t seem American.

Now the NFL wants to make statements of support for the black community when it’s convenient and is the right thing to do.  It comes off as disingenuous because it took protesting and rioting on a global scale to finally be heard as a community.  The league and its owners could’ve done like their NBA counterparts and given support when it was uncomfortable to the very people that make this a billion-dollar industry.  We’ve all heard the saying “get out of your comfort zone”.  This is supposed to represent growth within one’s self.  Time to get out of your comfort zones.

How Can Sports Make an Impact

One thing we’ve learned since March 11th, 2020 is how important sports are to our way of life.  We can see that from the most-watched documentary in history, “The Last Dance”.  In this instance, though this issue shouldn’t just be blanketed by the restart of the NBA or any sporting event for that matter.  Instead whenever the NBA starts all the players should refuse to play, same for when the NFL starts.

This stance may not happen but a more feasible impactful statement could.  The NFL taking accountability for the lack of understanding of what Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was bringing attention to.  Second, rectify this by teams offering Colin a contract giving him the opportunity, if he chooses, to exit the game his way.  Lastly, at the start of any sporting event letting the clock run for eight minutes and 46 seconds with no movement and displaying the statement, “I can’t breathe”.

This would serve as a reminder that our country as a whole has a lot of work to do eradicating systemic racism and ensuring equality for all Americans.

Rule Changes to Improve the NHL

A theme across a variety of sports recently has been new rules or ideas to make the games and leagues more appealing to fans. MLB has begun timing various parts of the game, cutting down on mound visits and mandating a minimum number of batters a reliever must face in an effort to speed up the product.

Every offseason it seems like the NFL has a new definition of what a catch. The idea of adopting the “Elam Ending” became popular in various NBA circles following the 2020 All-Star game.

On the most recent edition of the Luke & James Show, we were in agreement that the NHL could benefit from allowing the public to view what happens when on-ice decisions are subject to video review. That’s not the only rule change I would make.

Improving the NHL with Rules Changes

Make Every Game Matter

The NHL draft lottery gives the best odds to win the top pick to the team with the worst overall record. The era of rewarding teams for losing needs to end. I would continue to slot playoff teams in the draft by how they finish.

I propose ordering the non-playoff teams by comparing the percentage of games each earns points in games against the others. The team with the highest percentage gets the number one pick and continue in this fashion until the team with the lowest percentage is drafting one pick before the worst playoff team.

It’s important to note that the games that count toward this final percentage are only ones between non-playoff teams. I do not want to punish a team for being able to compete with the top teams in the NHL. Using the percentage of games a team gains a point is the best way to deal with the unbalanced schedule.

An eight-team division might have five playoff teams. If the rule was based strictly on the number of points, the three non-playoff teams would have fewer chances than other teams to move up in the draft order.

An Example

To give a better idea of how this would work, I compared the four teams in last place in their respective divisions. My math is based on if the season ended today. Under the current system, the Detroit Red Wings are a runaway favorite to have the best odds at the number one pick.

In my system however they are struggling, gaining points in just 12 of 34 games against other non-playoff teams means their percentage is 35.3. The Los Angeles Kings have played fewer games against non-playoff teams because of their division and conference, but have made the most of their chances. Their point percentage is 48.1% after picking up points in 13 of 27 chances.

The New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks give an example of how this type of race could be exciting. Points in 19 of 29 games gives the Devils a robust 65.5 percent. Like the Kings, the Blackhawks have done well despite fewer opportunities. Gaining points in 17 of 25 games against non-playoff teams checks them in at 68 percent.

Other non-playoff teams have to be calculated. But under my proposal, the Blackhawks would have the best pick of these teams, the Red Wings would have the worst.

Why This Should Happen

There are multiple reasons this would benefit the NHL. First, consider the glut of games at the end of the season for non-playoff teams where it is, unfortunately, in their best interest to lose. That’s not fun for fans. Under my proposal, fans of non-playoff teams would be able to root for their teams to win late in the season. It would also make games between non-playoff teams more important and hopefully increase attendance at these games.

Second, hockey is a physical sport with a drawn-out season. This proposal gives players a reward to continue to play hard throughout the year. If they come up just short of making the playoffs a high draft pick could be useful in multiple ways to help them make the playoffs the next year.

Finally, while hockey owners are significantly less likely to cut payroll and tank in the hopes of high draft picks, this proposal removes any motivation to do so. Every team is competing for something and quality players are being paid to play.

Do It NHL

Restructuring the draft order is beneficial to players and fans in the NHL. It can make owners more profitable. Being the first league to do this would make the NHL seem innovative.

Impressions from the NHL trade deadline

Monday, February 24 marked the NHL trade deadline. There were two distinctly different ways the trade deadline could have gone down. The first would have involved very little activity. Given the parity in the league and coaching changes from more than a quarter of the teams, it would’ve been understandable if general managers elected to keep their rosters intact.

Fortunately, many teams aggressively pushed for the playoffs and didn’t hesitate to make deals. The result of this aggression was a new record of 32 trades.  We’ll be taking a closer look at teams that disappointed at the deadline and teams that should feel much better about their chances.

NHL Trade Deadline Reactions

The Disappointments

In this category, the Florida Panthers stand out.  The Panthers are two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for a top-three finish in the Atlantic Division and four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card. The Panthers made a few minor adjustments to the fringe of their team in swaps with Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Dallas.

The main deal for the team from south Florida was to send Vincent Trochek to one of their direct competitors, the Carolina Hurricanes, for a package of players including Eric Haula and Lucas Wallmark. The Panthers have not been to the playoffs since the 2015-2016 season.

Not making an aggressive move to increase their chances puts them in position to squander the goodwill they gained in the offseason by bringing in Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky. Panthers loyalists may argue the moves allow some financial flexibility, but their team isn’t usually a destination spot for prime free agents.

The disappointment in the Chicago Blackhawks is two-fold, and one of the causes is similar to the Panthers situation. The Blackhawks are just eight points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Their core is aging, but certainly still would seem to give them a shot at competing in the Western Conference because the talent gap between division leaders and wild card teams is not as wide as it is in the Eastern Conference.

To keep fans interested, and to be fair to their core players,  I would have liked to have seen the Blackhawks add to their roster at the trade deadline. That being said, I understand the Blackhawks instead electing to take a step back and attempt to retool for future seasons. The sharpest complaint about the Blackhawks is that they traded Robin Lehner as opposed to Corey Crawford.

Crawford is 35 years old and very likely winding down the amount of time he can be counted on as a regular starting goalie. Lehner is 28 and his past season-plus has been the best goaltending of his career. One player the Blackhawks received in return from the Vegas Golden Knights was 26-year-old goalie Malcolm Subban.

Subban should see increased playing time with the Blackhawks. He played 22, 21 and 20 games in each of his three seasons with the Golden Knights. His stats have markedly declined in each of those seasons. It wouldn’t seem to be wise to assume that Subban is the goalie of the future in the Windy City.

The Good  Stuff

Excluding a deep need or appreciation of nostalgia, it’s hard to criticize the job done by San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. The Sharks are in the middle of a monstrously disappointing season considering they made the Western Conference Finals following the 2018-2019 season. Subtracting from this roster should allow them to pile up losses and increase their odds for a premium draft pick.

Trades sending Patrick Marleau and Brenden Dillon to Pittsburgh and Washington respectively garnered the Sharks a second-round pick this year, as well as a pair of third-round, picks next year. It would be surprising to see those picks fall in the top half of those rounds, but adding to their quantity of picks gives the Sharks options for how to approach the draft or future trades. The trades also represented good faith efforts by Wilson to provide both Marleau and Dillon very strong opportunities for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup.

The highlight of the trade deadline for the Sharks was sending Barclay Goodrow and a third-round pick, previously belonging to Philadelphia, to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The return was Anthony Greco, a 26-year-old forward, who likely will be organizational filler, but more importantly a first-round draft pick.

The 27-year-old Goodrow has played in more games as his career progressed than he did in his first four years in the league but has not been a particularly productive player. His 25 points this season are a career-high.

Even a late first-round pick feels like the Lightning massively overpaid. The only downside for the Sharks was their failure to find a place where Joe Thornton would have a chance to get a ring,  but there was likely a very limited market for the veteran.

The Carolina Hurricanes made a pair of trades to replenish their defense as well. They acquired Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils for a fourth-round pick and a pair of players that hadn’t seen much ice time for them. If Vatanen can return to the form he showed earlier in his career with the Anaheim Ducks he can be a useful player.

They also sent a first-round pick to the New York Rangers for Brady Skjei. While Skjei’s stats don’t jump off the page at you he has been durable and should be comfortable with the role the Hurricanes will be asking him to play in their defense corp. The Hurricanes surged to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and are trying to ride that wave back into the playoffs this year, these trades should help make that important goal possible.

Reacting to the NHL Trade Deadline

Tight playoff races and battles for premium draft picks mean that even the best moves may not work exactly as these teams hoped, but these are four teams I’ll be watching closely as the season comes to a close to see how they respond.