2019 SHL Preseason Statistics

Team Totals

====================================================
Team              GP    SH    G    A  Pts   PP%  +/-
----------------------------------------------------
New York          10   281   41   75  116  17.9   16
Washington        10   300   40   72  112  33.3   -5
Saskatchewan      10   354   37   67  104  22.4   16
Seattle           10   357   33   64   97   8.8   20
Quebec            10   292   31   57   88  11.6    7
Anchorage         10   279   30   57   87  18.4    0
Kansas City       10   211   26   49   75  17.0  -11
Dakota            10   225   25   48   73  22.9  -23
Hamilton          10   291   27   45   72  11.8   -6
Hershey           10   274   24   44   68  11.4    3
Boston            10   249   24   42   66  18.4  -15
Michigan          10   228   13   25   38  16.0   -2
====================================================

==================================================================
Team              GP   W   L   T   GAA   SH   SV    SV%   PK%  PIM
------------------------------------------------------------------
Seattle           10   7   3   0  1.69  299  282  0.943  83.0  150
Saskatchewan      10   8   2   0  1.70  228  211  0.925  83.3  120
Michigan          10   3   4   3  1.75  237  219  0.924  83.8   84
Hershey           10   5   5   0  2.10  246  225  0.915  89.4  106
Quebec            10   5   3   2  2.36  214  190  0.888  82.9   93
Anchorage         10   5   4   1  2.68  261  234  0.897  86.4   99
New York          10   8   2   0  3.10  329  298  0.906  70.7   94
Kansas City       10   3   6   1  3.47  283  248  0.876  84.4   85
Hamilton          10   2   6   2  3.52  326  290  0.890  78.6  104
Washington        10   5   4   1  3.57  301  265  0.880  93.8   74
Boston            10   2   7   1  3.85  271  232  0.856  82.1  103
Dakota            10   1   8   1  4.96  346  296  0.855  66.7   80
==================================================================

Continue reading “2019 SHL Preseason Statistics”

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2019 SHL Preseason Standings

East W L T Pts GF GA Home Away
New York Night 8 2 0 16 41 31 4-1-0 4-1-0
Quebec Tigres 5 3 2 12 31 24 3-0-2 2-3-0
Washington Galaxy 5 4 1 11 40 36 3-2-0 2-2-1
Hershey Bliss 5 5 0 10 24 21 3-2-0 2-3-0
Hamilton Pistols 2 6 2 6 27 36 2-2-1 0-4-1
Boston Badgers 2 7 1 5 24 39 2-3-0 0-4-1
West W L T Pts GF GA Home Away
Saskatchewan Shockers 8 2 0 16 37 17 4-1-0 4-1-0
Seattle Sailors 7 3 0 14 33 17 3-2-0 4-1-0
Anchorage Igloos 5 4 1 11 30 27 2-3-0 3-1-1
Michigan Gray Wolves 3 4 3 9 13 18 1-1-3 2-3-0
Kansas City Smoke 3 6 1 7 26 35 3-2-0 0-4-1
Dakota Jackalopes 1 8 1 3 25 50 1-4-0 0-4-1

2019 SHL Season Preview – West

Michigan Gray Wolves

Last season was a typical one for the Wolves: they bulldozed their way through the regular season on the back of their unparalleled defense and goaltending, winning the division by a comfortable 14 points. This was the first year for the SHL’s expanded four-team playoff field, however, and that came back to bite Michigan; they suffered a stunning sweep at the hands of Anchorage in the Western Division finals. Ron Wright’s crew will no doubt enter this season with fierce determination and a thirst for revenge.  Pity the fool that tries to stand in their way.  But there are a few questions surrounding this team. For instance, is this the year that age finally catches up with the Wolves?  They’re largely returning the same roster as last year (with the exception of D Bjorn Tollefson), but that roster includes eight players over 30 – including everyone on their top line, two-thirds of their second line, and two of their top four blueliners.  In a league that’s getting younger and faster, the Wolves are at risk of being left behind.  Their team has remained impressively healthy; only D Max Madison and LW Scot Davenport has significant DL stints last season. Can their good injury luck continue?  And netminder Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist – who has been the biggest component of this team’s success – was merely excellent last year, not otherworldly as usual.  Was it a temporary blip, or is he starting to decline?  The smart money is still on Michigan to make the playoff and contend for the Vandy… but for how much longer?

Anchorage Igloos

After losing the Vandy in 2017 in a major upset, the Igloos seemed to spend much of 2018 stuck in a funk.  They hovered around the .500 mark for most of the season, only to get hot down the stretch, upset the Wolves in the division finals, then withstood a spirited challenge from Quebec to take home the title.  This offseason, salary cap constraints cost Anchorage a key contributor, as RW Remi Montrechere departed in free agency.  In spite of that, the Igloos should remain one of the SHL’s top offenses.  Combined with a solid defense and good goaltending from Ty Worthington, that should be enough to give this team a shot at becoming the league’s first back-to-back champions.  But in a division that’s getting stronger every year, the Igloos can’t afford a repeat of last year’s regular-season sleepwalk.  Coach Sam Castor needs to keep this team hungry and sharp, or rising powers like Saskatchewan and Seattle might wind up eating their lunch.  One key player for the Igloos: LW Les Collins, who has developed into a major scoring threat and has provided crucial depth beyond their star-laden top line.  With Montrechere gone and linemate Nile Bernard on the decline, Collins will need to anchor that second line.  Like their rivals in Michigan, the Igloos might be living on borrowed time… not so much because of age, but for financial reasons.  Several players, including Collins, are in line for major raises this offseason.  GM Will Thorndike will likely have some painful decisions to make next offseason.  For now, though, the fans at Arctic Circle Arena can focus on what should be a great year and save the worrying for later.

Seattle Sailors

It’s difficult to figure out what direction the Sailors are heading for 2019.  After the team fired GM Jay McKay and replaced him with Hamilton’s draft wizard Taylor Teichman, it seemed clear that the team was headed for a rebuild centered around young talent.  But Seattle had no picks in this year’s draft; McKay had traded them away in his disastrous shoot-for-the-moon deals at last year’s deadline, and Teichman didn’t acquire any.  That set the stage for a weirdly quiet offseason in which the Sailors didn’t move the needle with any signings or trades.  As a result, they’ve largely returned the same roster that produced a sub-.500 finish in 2018.  They didn’t re-sign top-line C Lars Karlsson, but they replaced him with a similar player in Napoleon Beasley.  RW Philippe Durien, who won the minor-league scoring title in 2018, earned a promotion to the big club, but he’s the only significant addition.  It all adds up to a weird state of stasis for a team that feels like it needs either a serious go-for-it upgrade or a total teardown.  Maybe Teichman is trying to evaluate what he has before making any major moves.  Or maybe he’s trying to figure out if star Vince Mango is a scorer he can build around, or an albatross who’s more interested in reality TV fame than in hockey.  Or maybe he’s waiting to see where the team lands after the NHL expands to Seattle and boots the Sailors out of town.  Whatever the reason, this feels like a squad that will look very different in 2020 than it does now.

Saskatchewan Shockers

Over the last few seasons, the Shockers have slowly risen from being the league punchline to a strong young squad and possible contender.  Is this the year that Heinz Doofenshmirtz’s club makes the leap and challenges Michigan and Anchorage for a playoff spot?  They certainly haven’t stood still.  Saskatchewan jettisoned nice-guy coach Myron Beasley last season, and hired Ron Wright protégé Morris Thompson to instill toughness and discipline.  They signed Karlsson to anchor their top line.  They promoted a pair of high-scoring blueliners, Rennie Cox and Blake Blacklett, from their title-winning CHL affiliate in Virginia.   They signed veteran winger Piotr Soforenko to add badly-needed depth. They drafted RW Samson Kucharov, a rugged two-way player, to supply some grit.  Will that be enough?  Maybe not; this team might still be missing a piece or two.  (If LW Troy Chamberlain can step up and become a truly elite scorer, or if Vonnie McLearen can start living up to the fat free-agent deal he signed with the Shockers last season, that would help.)  But the gulf separating them the Igloos and Wolves is getting narrower every year.  If Anchorage gets off to another slow start, or if Michigan’s injury luck runs out, the Shockers are positioned to capitalize, especially if they make a smart trade or two along the way.  Saskatchewan’s not a joke any more… it’s time to start taking this team seriously.

Dakota Jackalopes

In 2018, the Jackalopes kicked their salary purge into high gear, dumping top centers Karlsson and Harvey Bellmore for prospects and draft picks.  The team managed to finish below all but the two expansion teams, as expected.  However, Dakota finished only six points behind Saskatchewan, Seattle, and 2017 champ Hershey.  Coach Flim Dahlgren earned rave reviews for making the most out of a young and fairly cheap squad.  The Jackalopes have developed a promising core of young defensemen, and they might be in a position to return to contention sooner than expected.  But the question of finances hovers over every move GM Paul Mindegaard makes.  Dakota is the smallest market in the league by far, and it’s an open secret around the league that owner Roger Scott has been hemorrhaging money over the last several seasons.  Even though the Jackalopes’ payroll is the second-smallest in the SHL, it’s rumored that further cuts might be needed.  The team’s top blueline pairing, Rusty Anderson and Matt Cherner, are on expiring contracts and will command hefty raises.  Will Mindegaard be able to pony up and keep the pair?  Will he even try?  Can Dakota afford star winger and fan favorite “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston’s max contract?  Can they afford the backlash that would ensue if they dealt him?  Can the team continue to survive in a market this size, or will hard economic truths force them to relocate to a larger city like Milwaukee or Portland?  The Jackalopes have a roster of young guys with upside, a smart and patient coach, and a rabid (if small) fan base, not to mention the fabulous Corn Palace.  Is that enough, or not?  Dakota has no real hope of contending, but they’re playing for much larger stakes than that.

Kansas City Smoke

In 2018, the Smoke entered their debut season with low expectations and a roster of marginal veterans who could be flipped for young talent.  They lived up to expectations, finishing with the league’s second-worst record and dealing many of those veterans at the deadline.  They enter this season with a younger roster, including some of the fruit of those deadline trades, but the same low expectations.  It’s not that the Smoke have no talent; RW Zachary Merula and C Darien Picard had impressive rookie campaigns, and C Mike Rivera had a bounce-back season with increased ice time.  But KC is badly lacking in scoring; no one on this team seems likely to have a 30-goal season or a 60-point campaign.  If Merula or Picard (or worse yet, both) hits a sophomore slump, this team is in big trouble.  The situation in the crease is also fairly dire.  The Smoke traded veteran Ollie Richardson, who provided what little consistency the team had, and will now be depending on the tandem of Brooks Copeland (who went 5-18-1 with a 4.26 GAA and an abysmal .872 save percentage last season) and rookie Jim Fleetwood (who almost certainly would not be in the majors for any other team).  The Smoke are arguably moving in the right direction, but given the competitive division they play in, they could easily finish with a worse record than last year.  And for a team whose first-year attendance numbers weren’t overwhelming, that could be a long-term problem.

Projected Finish:

  1. Michigan
  2. Anchorage
  3. Saskatchewan
  4. Seattle
  5. Dakota
  6. Kansas City

Division Finals:

Hamilton def. Hershey

Michigan def. Anchorage

Finals:

Michigan def. Hamilton

2019 SHL Season Preview – East

Quebec Tigres

The Tigres were the SHL’s feel-good story last season. Free agent signee LW Walt Camernitz rewarded the team for the five-year deal they gave him, leading the team with 31 goals and 74 points.  RW Stephane Mirac, freed from the burden of being Quebec’s only scorer, bounced back from his sophomore slump.  Riki Tiktuunen continued his ascent into the league’s netminding elite.  And coach Martin Delorme got to live out his childhood dream, guiding his home-province team to its first-ever Finals appearance and within one win of the title.  The Tigres may not have won the ultimate prizes, but they cleaned up in the postseason awards: Camernitz was named MVP, Delorme captured Coach of the Year honors, and Tiktuunen earned the nod as Goalie of the Year.  Unsurprisingly, Quebec returned much the same roster that did so well last year; rookie blueliners Kirby Hanlon and Hampus Olsson are the only real additions.  Quebec is likely to contend again in 2019. However, there are a couple statistical quirks from last season that may temper the optimism slightly.  The Tigres’ success is built on defense and goaltending, and they were second in the league in both shots allowed and GAA last year.  But another key to their success was their offense, which improved from atrocious to decent.  That improvement was built on a league-best 10.3% shooting percentage, which seems likely to slip back a bit.  Quebec’s 89% penalty-kill percentage topped the league, and that seems sustainable… but their league-low 586 penalty minutes definitely doesn’t.  The proudly physical Tigres are unlikely to stay out of the sin bin as much this season.  In short, Quebec was both lucky and good in 2018.  They’re likely to be good again in 2019, but what happens if they aren’t quite so lucky?

Hamilton Pistols

For most of the 2018 regular season, the Pistols enjoyed a wild ride, rocketing to the top of the division and staying there most of the way.  In the last few weeks, though, Hamilton stalled and Quebec caught up to them.  The Tigres then prevailed in five games in a hard-fought division playoff.  Coach Keith Shields said that the Pistols’ late-season adversity has made them stronger and bonded them tighter together.  He may be right.  Certainly, his squad is a talented one; they finished last year in the top three in both goals scored and GAA, and their power play topped the league (23.3% conversion rate).  But Hamilton seemed like they were a piece or two away from going all the way last year.  They tried mightily to secure that piece in free agency, but they wound up with a series of swings and misses.  They tried to sign Remi Montrechere to fill the hole on their second-line right wing… but wound up re-signing journeyman Kenny Patterson instead.  They tried to sign Harvey Bellmore to center their third line… but had to settle for fading veteran J.C. Marais.  They tried to bolster their blueline corps be re-uniting with Doug Wesson… but missed again and opted for depth option Moose Baker.  It doesn’t help that their first-choice options all ended up signing with the Pistols’ division rivals, either (Montrechere with Hershey, Bellmore with Washington, Wesson with Quebec).  On the bright side, Hamilton didn’t lose any key contributors to free agency; the young and frisky squad of last year should be strong again.  If the Pistols come up short again, GM Marcel LaClaire may look at the free-agent derby as a real missed opportunity.  But either way, it figures to be another fun season at Gunpowder Armory.

New York Night

The team that everyone outside the Big Apple loves to hate, New York surprised most observers by finishing above .500 for the first time ever.  Coach Nick Foster may not have a lot of friends around the league, due to his penchant for slinging insults and ruffling feathers, but his methods have proved effective.  After trying to overhaul the clubhouse and build a more balanced roster in his debut 2017 season, Foster took a different tack in 2018, abandoning his attempts to get his forwards to play defense and leaning into the Night’s fast-paced, shoot-first, bad-boy reputation.  It worked surprisingly well, as New York led the league in goals and stopped just enough shots to succeed.  And given that rookie bottom-pairing defender Bobby Hitchcock is the only new face on the roster, Foster appears set to try the same strategy again in 2019.  Firewagon hockey has its limits, though, given that there’s only one puck on the ice at a time.  The Night can’t count on winning every game 7-5.  (Also, New York’s rise was arguably fueled as much by the stunning collapses of Washington and Hershey as anything.)  Given that there’s little room for improvement on offense and little hope for improvement on defense, the team’s best hope for reaching the next level lies in net.  Jesse Clarkson turned in another quietly solid year in 2018, but backup Sherman Carter regressed a bit after a strong rookie season, going 11-12-1 with a 3.81 GAA and .899 save percentage.  In the long term, New York is counting on Carter to become elite in order to contend; in the short term, a step up might be the difference between real contention and falling back toward the basement in the hotly-contested East.

Washington Galaxy

In our preview of the Galaxy last season, we predicted that they would finish fourth in the East and forecasted that they’d “likely miss the playoffs and might not even reach the .500 mark.”  This was a surprising prediction at the time, but it proved to be right.  The underlying statistics suggest that their 31-32-1 record was no fluke; they improved somewhat on offense from 2017 (largely thanks to their shooting percentage reverting toward the mean), but slipped backward on both defense and goaltending.  Washington’s front office didn’t take this stumble lightly; they fired coach Rodney Reagle and vowed a new direction in 2019.  New coach Peter James will definitely provide a style contrast from Reagle’s goofy antics, but it’s not clear that the Galaxy really understands what its “new direction” might look like.  The Galaxy splurged on C Harvey Bellmore to bolster their third line, which suggests a go-for-it mentality.  But then they allowed netminder Roger Orion to depart in free agency and replaced him with prospect Buzz Carson.  Granted, Orion’s 2018 numbers (17-22-0, 3.10 GAA, .914 save percentage) weren’t quite up to his usual standards.  But he remains a top-five SHL goalie.  Carson (10-15-2, 3.48, .896 with Dakota last season) is a promising young player who might, with diligent effort, become as good as Orion three or four years from now.  Dropping Orion and signing Carson suggests that Washington is ready to rebuild.  But if that’s the plan, why sign Bellmore?  Why not try to flip veterans like LW Charlie Brooks, RW Nori Takoyaki, and D Leonard Wright while they still have value?  And if they plan to contend, why not keep Orion and upgrade their second-line wings (likely more effective than signing Bellmore)?  By not fully committing to either path, GM Ace Adams risks stranding his team on the treadmill of mediocrity.

Hershey Bliss

While our prediction on the Galaxy’s 2018 season was accurate, our prediction for the Bliss was way off the mark.  We picked the Bliss to repeat as division champs, only to see them collapse in shocking fashion: they got off to a horrendous 3-16-1 start and were unable to dig themselves out of that hole, ultimately finishing fifth.  Coach Chip Barber and players believe that the performance was a black swan, a worst-case scenario driven by poor puck luck.  There’s definitely a case to be made there: Hershey’s 8.3% shooting percentage was one of the league’s worst, they allowed a surprising number of goals despite their strong defensive numbers, their special teams had off years, and they inexplicably led the league in penalty minutes (rookie Cedric Meloche was a prime offender).  There’s a good chance that things will revert to the mean in most categories in 2019.  The Bliss also made some key upgrades: they landed prized free-agent winger Montrechere, and called up promising young blueliners Steve Cargill and Bruce Minnik.  (There’s a good chance we’ll see top draft pick Gabriel Swindonburg and prospect C Vance Ketterman later this season as well.)  Everything points to a strong rebound for the Bliss, except one: goaltending.  They tried desperately to pilfer Orion away from their DC rivals, but missed out.  Instead, they wound up re-signing incumbent Brandon Colt, who had a dismal season (23-25-1, 3.07, .893) and might be washed up at age 33.  Ageless backup Milo Stafford finally retired, and Hershey replaced him with… 34-year-old Ollie Richardson, whose numbers were only a bit better than Colt’s.  Prospect Hobie Sanford waits in the wings, but the organization clearly thinks he needs more seasoning.  It would be a shame if such a talented team was undone by a collapse in the crease.

Boston Badgers

It was a long season for the expansion Badgers, as expected.  A decent young defense was undermined by an abysmal offense, weak penalty kill, and unimpressive goaltending.  But in a surprising move, Boston is moving aggressively to improve in its sophomore season.  In fact, believe it or not, GM Jody Melchiorre had the most active free-agent period in the SHL.  They landed Orion to upgrade in the crease and provide a mentor for prospect Carson Wagner.  They gave their offense a boost by signing LW Pascal Royal and taking C Alain Beauchesne with the top draft pick.  In a buyer’s market for veteran blueliners, they signed a pair of hard-nosed bangers in Dmitri Kalashnikov and Bjorn Tollefson.  Will all that turn the Badgers into overnight contenders?  No; their offense is still not weak, and their defense isn’t quite good enough to compensate.  But this team is starting to resemble Quebec from a couple of seasons ago.  They’re not good enough to compete yet, but they’re on a promising path.  At the very least, they aren’t going to be a fun or easy opponent to play in 2019.  They’ll grind and scrap and and make life miserable for the contending clubs in the East.  This division is going to get very interesting in the years to come.

Projected Finish:

  1. Hamilton
  2. Hershey
  3. Quebec
  4. New York
  5. Washington
  6. Boston

Hamilton’s Dramatic New Look Highlights 2019 Uni Changes

As the SHL prepares to take the ice for its 2019 season, several teams are announcing updates to their uniforms.  The list of changes isn’t as extensive as last season, when there were two new teams and four other clubs with new or modified looks.  This time around, however, there is one team – the Hamilton Pistols – that has completely overhauled its look, with a new logo, color scheme, and uniforms.

“Last year, our team showed that it was ready to be a rising power in this league,” said Pistols owner Cory Blackwood, Jr.  “Now we’ve got a fresh, up-to-date look that matches our fresh young roster.”

The Pistols’ logo has evolved over their tenure in the SHL.  The original logo prominently featured the silhouette of a handgun, a controversial choice that drew protests from gun-control groups.  Possibly as a result, the team began de-emphasizing the gun as a design element, increasingly featuring a secondary logo consisting of the letter “H” superimposed over a red maple leaf.  The team claimed that this logo was designed to highlight the team’s Canadian identity.  However, that logo earned the ire of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, who threatened the Pistols with trademark action.

Now, the Pistols have scrapped both their original gun-based logo and the secondary maple-leaf logo in favor of a striking new “Pistols” wordmark that includes a gun sight in place of the “O.”  

“We wanted something simple, clean, and modern-looking,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “Our old logo had kind of a ’70s Starsky-and-Hutch type of appearance, especially with that mustard yellow.  It was a little dated, and not suitable for today.  We found ourselves asking, ‘When our team wins the Vandy, do we want to be in these uniforms?’  We quickly realized that we did not.”

New home uniforms

The Pistols’ new uniforms pay homage to their previous look, while still providing a major departure.  Red is still Hamilton’s dominant color, but the secondary color has gone from mustard yellow to black.  The uniforms still have a contrasting color band along the shoulders and down the sleeves, but it narrows below the numbers.  The stripe at the bottom of the jersey kicks up at the end, as the silver trim has been modified to look like a hockey stick.

“We’re going to look a lot cooler on the ice now,” said Pistols star Steven Alexander.  “Our new threads are cutting-edge, cool, and a little dangerous.  No one’s going to want to mess with us.”

New alternate jersey

In lieu of their previous maple-leaf jersey, the Pistols unveiled a new third jersey that’s primarily black. In place of the “Pistols” wordmark that appears on the home and road jerseys, the jersey includes the team’s secondary logo – a gunsight with a capital “H” in the crosshairs.

“I really like the alts,” said D Raymond Smyth.  “They make us look like assassins, ready to take out the competition.”

Blackwood said that the team’s new look symbolized a new era of championship competition.  “We want our fans to know, and the world to know, that we’re going all in,” the owner said.  “We’re expecting big things from the team in the next few seasons.  We’re breaking out in a big way, and we want everyone to know about it.”

While the Pistols’ image overhaul is the biggest sartorial news of the offseason, a couple of other SHL teams also announced smaller refreshes:

  • The Seattle Sailors are brightening their accent color, going from spring green to a neon green.  “Between the Seahawks and the Eclipse,” said owner Gary Blum, referencing Seattle’s NFL and UBA teams, “neon green is a popular color around here, and we thought it would work for us too.”  In addition, the team is adding more black to their alternate uniforms, and are dropping the numbers on their sleeves.
  • The Michigan Gray Wolves are switching their home and alternate jerseys.  Now, their jersey with the wolf-and-moon logo is their primary home uniform, while the one with the “Gray Wolves” wordmark has been relegated to alternate status.  “Just looking at our merchandise sales, it’s clear that our fans love the moon logo,” said GM Tim Carrier.  “So we figured it was time for us to catch up.”  The “Gray Wolves” wordmark remains on the team’s road jerseys, however.  Also, the numbers on the back of the home and alternate jerseys have changed from white to red.