STONE, BOBROVSKY, PINTS DRINK FROM CUP FOR THE FIRST TIME, BEERNUTS WIN McEICHEL PICK
PORTLAND, ME—The year 2007 was an impetus for much change in the hockey universe. The NHL appeared in Europe and outdoors in the United States for the first time, Carey Price entered the league as Dominik Hasek played his final game, Reebok changed hockey jerseys forever, and a trio of passionate hockey nerds set out to create a virtual conduit for the world's greatest game. After eight bittersweet seasons of leaving fans wanting more despite consistently ranking among the World Hockey League's finest, the waiting is finally over for one of those ambitious nerds, and the Portland Pints.
And the waiting has surely been worth it for General Manager and Co-Commissioner, Colin Smith, whose resilient Pints dispatched Tayutic Team Rasta, Sparta Praha, and the Altoona Angry Beavers en route to their first ever championship victory. Since the WHL opened its doors, Smith's Pints have never finished lower than 7th place, securing second in 2010 and 2013, and averaging a 5th place finish over the past eight seasons.
This year, the Pints looked poised for a deep run from the onset, and really hit their stride in mid January. For the final two and half months of the season, Portland methodically chipped away at a 200-point deficit before finally usurping the Beantown Ball Busters as total points champion just two days before the season finale. Portland far and away accumulated the most fantasy points derived from skaters--343 more points than the next highest total and 620 ahead of the league average. It naturally follows that the Pints netted the most fantasy points from goals and assists--and did they ever--but Portland's proficiency extended beyond the score sheet, evidenced by posting the fourth most "grit points" from hits and blocks, as well as the second most points from net face-off wins.
Meanwhile, the Pints finished with the 9th most fantasy points from goalies on the season, further illustrating just how dominant Smith's skaters were. While Kari Lehtonen was not his usual self over the final month (.896 save percentage) Sergei Bobrovsky was unequivocally Portland's playoff MVP, and should easily be a finalist for WHL Conn Smythe honors. Bobrovsky channeled his Vezina-winning ways down the stretch, cruising to an 11-1-1 record and a .927 save percentage over his final 13 starts.
Anatomy of a Champion
Portland entered the draft last September with a formidable core to build on. Several picks worked out swimmingly--Jonathan Toews, for instance, delivered like the 1st round stud that he is. Troy Brouwer and Johnny Boychuk, also came through as expected, or better. Others fell short of expectations, namely Martin Hanzal (3rd round) who appeared in just 36 games due to injury, or Slava Voynov, whom Smith drafted in 5th round without knowledge of off ice issues which limited the Russian defender to just six games. Portland's best value pick of the draft was easily Dennis Wideman, taken 178th overall in the 10th round. Wideman finishes the season as Portland's third most valuable skater, and with the 7th most fantasy points among all WHL defensemen.
To get the full view of what separated Portland from the pack this year, however, we need to look beyond both the keepers and draft. Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and David Savard--three of Portland's top eleven fantasy skaters this season--didn't don a Pints sweater until being claimed off of waivers or added via free agency during October and November. Stone, most notably, led all Pints skaters in fantasy points over the final 30 days, and wrapped up 2014-15 tied with Stuttgart's Johnny Gaudreau for most goals and assists among WHL rookies. Mike Hoffman and John Klingberg--yet another free agent find for the Pints--finished 4th and 7th in that same group.
Playoff Wrap Up
The battle for 3rd place between California and Sparta was over before the second week began. Kwijibos goalies went a combined 8-3-2 during the series, compared to 0-8-1 for the Spartans, who are already plotting a championship run for 2016. Paul Zeman's Kwijibos boast an average standing of 2.33 in the WHL's three playoff seasons (3rd, 1st, 3rd), with an overall average standing of 6.17 dating back to 2009.
In the consolation bracket, Joe Mastrangelo's Boston Beernuts won out over Ty Ladd's Canadiens de Montreal to clinch the first overall pick in September. Boston presently owns the 1st and 4th overall picks, which could conceivably land McDavid and Eichel if Mastrangelo opts to follow the Josh Deitell model of 2010, when Stuttgart used two of its top three picks to draft Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Boston's 143 points during the consolation final was second only to Portland's 152.
Congratulations to the Portland Pints on their impressive championship run, to Altoona for fighting valiantly in their first playoff appearance, and thank you to everyone for making this a season to remember.
Official Draft Order for 2015-16
1. Boston Beernuts
2. Canadiens de Montreal
3. CSKA Moscow
4. Wolfsburg Vipers
5. Porter Pirates
6. NJ Wall Flowers
7. West Palm Beach Rangers
8. Saginaw Spirit
9. Mount Vernon Blades
10. Brooklyn Cyclones
11. Northern CHEEFS
12. Tayutic Team Rasta
13. Stuttgart Scorpions
14. Beantown Ball Busters
15. Sparta Praha
16. California Kwijibos
17. Altoona Angry Beavers
18. Portland Pints