Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Preparation for any raucous event usually involves some kind of inebriating warm-up whether its downing a 30-pack in the parking lot, or taking bong hits and shots of Jaeger at the house before you head out to get really banged up. Well tonight has the same kind of feel around the league, and even at the Junior level as well. After Canada's 15-0 drubbing of Kazakhstan at the World Juniors, the US had a victory well in hand over the Kazakhs' with an 8-0 lead heading into the third, before the head to head match-up of the two. The Bruins faced the Pens in the first of a home-and-home series, working over the home team with a 5-2 victory in Pittsburgh in what very well could be a playoff series down the road in April. And of course the big buildup is the tune-up game between the Blackhawks and the Wings for the Winter Classic at Wrigley. Lets hope we see more of a game on New Years Day than the 4-0 dismantling of the young Chicago team by the wily veterans of Detroit that we saw tonight.

Pre-game... Pre-season... Pre-... paration. Is that what the first half of the season really is? The '08 portion of the '08-'09 season? The time when sought-after, Hall of Fame free agents decide to return to the game they "love" after a half-year hiatus?

Well if it is, than its time to take a look at how the teams look heading into the latter part of the season. Not yet are the teams at the 40, 41 game mark signifying the half-pole mark of the schedule, most are still about three to four games back, (except of course for the Rangers at 39 games). But now is the time for teams to get serious, either strategize for the post, or plan for the draft.

Looking at Ross McKeon's 'Power Rankings: New Years Resolutions...' on Yahoo! Sports you get an idea of what teams should be looking to do better this year, than they did the season before leading up to April. Some of these I agree with, some, to me, are flat out wrong. And while I won't disagree with the rankings so much as what these teams need heading into '09. I'll just do the top 15 for the whole brevity thing.

First off...

Boston Bruins - McKeon's right in that the B's are rolling, this team is playing like they see the game differently than the rest of the league, they are just hitting on all cylinders. But as far as making noise at the deadline, I think that could be a mistake tampering with the chemistry of this team. Barring injury, and the need to fill some holes, the only trade bait is Manny Fernandez but I think keeping the tandem of Manny and Tim Thomas may pay dividens.

San Jose Sharks - I'll have a live account of what this team is capable of when I visit the 'Tank' on Saturday night against the pushover Isles. For right now, this is the team to beat in West, even though Detroit whooped them two weeks ago. Detroit will be the main competition for this team, and they know it, but do they know that Claude Lemieux is not the answer.

Detroit Red Wings - Do these guys have enough left in the tank for another run? Sure they'll make it interesting, and will be hard for any team to beat, but goaltending is suspect, and this is probably the last year for a few cast members.

Montreal Canadiens - Gambled on Carey Price putting the team on his back just like McKeon says, but was a little wobbly when the pressure's on. No question the pressure is on for the 100th Anniversary of the franchise, but I believe the best shot for the Canadiens was last year.

Washington Capitals - I'm actually surprised they are as high as they are in the standings, 9 points back from Conference leader Boston, and two ahead of the Rangers. Goaltending and defense are the Caps' problems McKeon states, and I agree, more so goaltending. Losing Huet was big, even though he hasn't played the greatest for the Hawks, much better recently, he is still a much better alternative than career underachiever Jose Theodore.

Chicago Blackhawks - Ah, the great white hope of the NHL and little Gary. They are the new Penguins of the league, top draft picks, skilled role players, this team will have to suffer a hard loss in the postseason this year, to have that fire for next year.

New York Rangers - Still reeling from the heartbreak of Sundin's traderous walk to Vancouver. I don't know if this organization will ever learn that high priced free agents alone will not get you to May. Defense is miserable, Lundqvist can only do so much.

Calgary Flames - Their best shot is long behind them, and that series between Tampa could have gone either way. Kiprusoff is on a decline, and Iginla and Phaneuf cannot do it alone.

Philadelphia Flyers - I actually figured the Flyers to make a good run last year, even though it surprised the rest of the hockey world for them to beat the powerful Canadiens. This team has all the right elements but the injury bug keeps biting them in the ass. But there is something else that's keeping this team from getting over the hump. No chalice, but another good run.

New Jersey Devils - Its funny how everyone thought the sky had fallen when Brodeur went down, but the Devils have kept it together. But nothing will help this team get past the first round this year, even with Brodeur back.

Pittsburgh Penguins - The fire should be brighter than ever for this team, after that scalding loss to Detroit in Game 7, not to mention Hossa's departure for the red and white. I believe Marian would have a better shot this year with the Pens than with the Wings. Shero will probably make another big move for another "winger for Crosby," unless he's learned his lesson.

Edmonton Oilers - Not sure about this spot in the rankings but whatever. Right now they're sitting just outside the playoff bubble with a lot of good teams inside, and a few they're competing with outside the Top 8. Big moves would have to be made in Edmonton for Oil Country to even have a shot, and I don't think they have the personnel to offer, aside from goalies.

Vancouver Canucks - Its Sundin madness in BC and his entry into the lineup is going to put a lot of electricity into that team, not to mention the fan base. But still Gillis has a lot of room to work with, and is still attempting to prove himself to the rest of the GM's around the league. As McKeon states the signing of the Sedins' is critical, but that will have a lot to do with Sundin returning for another year.

Anaheim Ducks - 2007 was an exciting time for hockey fans in Southern California, but that ship has sailed. General decline, and the exodus of Brian Burke will have this team yearning for another Championship for years to come.

Carolina Hurricanes - Another team that's been on the decline since their Stanley Cup skate-around. Brind'Amour is not the Selke representative he once was, and the goaltending that was lucky that year has now shown its true colors. They'll miss the playoffs, but it won't be nearly as dramatic as last year's late charge by the Caps.

More to follow...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Litmus Test

As stated by several hockey writers throughout the start of this season, the Detroit Red Wings are the measuring stick that all other teams in the league compare themselves to. Being the reigning Stanley Cup champions helps a team to earn that title, but the true reason behind their success is their consistency created by the people behind the scenes. From GM Ken Holland right on down to head coach Mike Babcock on the bench, this franchise is saavy in all areas of management. Their business model is what all other NHL franchises aspire to one day become.

Now don't get me wrong, I hate the Red Wings, they're like the New York Yankees of the NHL. But you have to admit that this team is consistently in contention for the biggest prize in all of hockey, and that's no easy feat.

When teams play the Red Wings, they gear themselves for one of the biggest games of the year, for that same reason. Detroit fans, bandwagon or otherwise, come out in all parts of the country to support their team, making them one of the biggest, if not the biggest draw of visiting teams in the entire league. But that's not the main reason for the draw, its the fans knowing that they are going to see a hell of a game when the Wings come to their rink. Even if the local team isn't much of a challenge, fans know they are going to see some world class talent on the ice with the likes of Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Lidstrom.

If you beat the Wings, that's something to be proud of. But like my old hockey coach used to say, "they're human, they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you," in an 82 game season they can't win them all, and are bound to have a few bad nights just like everyone else in the league. But how you beat the Wings is what really tells you if your team has the stuff to pull off 16 wins in the post.

The Boston Bruins, the hottest team in the East right now, played the Red Wings a little over two weeks ago, and beat them by a score of 4 to 1. Four to one sounds like a pretty normal hockey score, but the way the Bruins beat the Wings was another matter completely. The B's controlled the tempo, played the Detroit-style, or Babcock-style puck possession game to perfection, and had a 3 goal lead just before the halfway mark. Detroit scored on the Power Play late in the second, to crack the perfect game of Manny Fernandez, preventing the game from being a sound thrashing.

And now the San Jose Sharks, the hottest team in the West, will face the Wings on Thursday night after a tune-up game against the Blue Jackets tonight. If the Sharks are as good as they look, and as good as they are on paper, then Thursday night will have to be undeniable proof that they are the team to beat. The Sharks are notorious for their shortcomings in the playoffs, with big expectations and little playoff success. The expectation could not be any bigger this year with the start that the Sharks are having. Everyone in the San Jose area, and all avid hockey fans have to believe that this is the year the Sharks go all the way.

If not now, when?

...A couple of things to note, in the comparison of the Bruins playing the Wings, and the upcoming Sharks game. The Bruins played at home in Boston against Detroit, and that will be the only time they face the perennial powerhouse this year. The Sharks are playing in Detroit on Thursday night, and have already beaten the Wings in San Jose by a score of 4 to 2. The Sharks will face Detroit twice more, one home, one away before the regular season ends. All tests. The Sharks are playing tonight, which will certainly affect their jump, and their game tomorrow night. But with that said, Columbus is a push-over with no playoff record to speak of, and should be a nice warm up to the real showdown on Thursday. However this scheduling is no different from the Bruins schedule in late November, when they faced another bottom-feeder, the New York Islanders, and steamrolled them by a score of 7 to 2, before the faced the Red Wings the next night.

This game should show the Sharks what they are made of, on unfriendly ice, against a strong team that they may certainly see in the post. It sets up to be a good one, second only to a Sharks team visiting TD Banknorth Garden on February 10th. Let's hope both teams are still this good then...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Backup Starters and Tango-ing with Tandems, the Goaltending Issues of the NHL

Well as people care less and less about the Avery debacle, and even less about where Sundin ends up, it seems the new issue among the hockey media is goaltending controversies, and the rewards from cheap free agent signings. I'll gladly take the league minimum and provide some quality "door-opening and supportive butt-slapping" in the NHL, all homo-erotic tendencies asside. [ESPN]

It doesn't feel all that long ago, but I still remember the days of getting Score and Upper Deck hockey cards, and finding those duds within the pack of the season's awards winners. One I distinctly remember was the William Jennings Trophy, and the lock that Patrick Roy and Brian Hayward had on the hardware in the late 80's. The Jennings was created in order to reward "the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it." Obviously, Patty was pulling the majority of the weight for that Canadien tandem, but at that time in my young, idealistic mind it made sense to me that two is better than one. Nowadays, all we talk about is your #1 goaltender, and his typically overinflated salary, and his counterpart, the poor, pennyless backup, relegated to "door-opening and supportive butt-slapping."

But as we've been discovering, #1's are vulnerable, and their backups are playing like they've got nothing to lose, because in all reality they don't. Its like that brutal Keanu Reeves/Gene Hackman football movie The Replacements, "they've underestimated you, you're playing like there's no tomorrow, because there is no tomorrow, and that makes you all very dangerous people! (sic)" They've been through it all, been told they'd never make it, they don't have the tools, then work their way through the minors, paying their dues, only to finally make it, get waived, or traded for a bag of pucks, they've seen it all. Craig Anderson turned heads last year with two back-to-back shutouts for the Panthers, and now you're seeing him get more playing time than multi-millionaire Tomas Vokoun. You look at Vokoun's old digs in Nashville, as Scott Burnside points out, he was replaced by Chris Mason, who was replaced by Dan Ellis, who is in the process of being replaced by Pekka Rinne. Chris Mason who state-hopped over to St. Louis was supposed to be Manny Legace's backup, or his tandem partner? He's now playing just as much as the Olympic goaltender.

And that brings us to the issue, is it better to have a #1 goaltender to play 60 odd or more games through the season, or to have two capable goaltenders that each have equal amounts of trust from the head coach and brass?

Due to the cap, and these ridiculous contracts lately, the tandem occurence is more of an accident, than the actual modus operandi of a GM. Take the Boston combination at the moment right now. You've got Tim Thomas, the definition of a journeyman backup goaltender who has taken what may have been his final opportunity to make a career out of it, and become a big reason the Bruins are having the success they have had this year. And then you've got Manny Fernandez, who was injured all of last year, which gave Thomas his shot, and had played poorly before that, has now re-invented his game and is splitting time in the net, and coming up with some solid wins. Fernandez too, has an interesting history, he was once part of the accidental goaltending tandem with Dwayne Rolosson back in Minnesota. Rolosson was eventually supplanted, shipped to Edmonton, where Nik Backstrom popped up, played great, and pushed Manny out of Minnie, (after collaborating to take the Jennings). And now, there's a lot of talk of Fernandez being shopped at the deadline for whatever the Bruins might need for the push. Personally, I would rather take two solid goaltenders into the post than one, barring injuries to any key players.

Is it ego, or accounting that has destroyed the notion of using two goaltenders to win it all? Goaltending is always the bottom line when it comes down to the playoffs, so why have two capables. Pittsburgh felt pretty comfortable last year all the way to the SC Finals. After losing Fleury for a good part of the year, Conklin stepped up and played great. If Therrien had to pull Marc-Andy would the Pens had any less faith in Ty? And look at the Champion Red Wings, who was their #1? Dominic Hasek who watched from the Zamboni doors, while Chris Osgood won them a Cup. And now in a bit of irony, Conklin signs with Detroit, and is now pushing Osgood out of Detroit.

We've seen star goaltenders like Brodeur, Luongo, and Kiprusoff just completely fizzle out in the post because there's nothing left in the tank, they're exhausted. And we don't trust their peanut-earning backups to play more than 10 or 12 games throughout the regular season, and probably only expect them to win two or three anyway.

Now I realize that there is a short of quality goaltending on the planet, (in our beer league we haven't had the same goaltender play more than two games, if we even get one for the night), and most teams can't land two equally competent goaltenders. And I understand that all players have cold streaks, bad seasons, and go down to injury. But is paying one #1 boatloads of money, whose frailty, both mentally and physically holds the weight of an entire franchise, and fan base?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Jump Onto the Media Bandwagon...

As much as I hate to do it, I feel I must. As much as I hate to give any time even thinking, let alone writing about omnipresent pest, Sean Avery. I won't put nearly the time into it that some of my favorite fellow bloggers have, but I will get it out of my system. But just in case you can't get your fill, check out Puck Daddy's side of it, and for another side, and a take on all the other opinions, check out my B's compatriot, Here Come the Bruins. Or if somehow you've been living under a rock for the day, you can hear about it on every other mainstream media outlet from Rush Limbaugh to Kevin & Bean on KROC as I was riding home from work.

First off, I'll say I am not a fan of Sean Avery, or his antics, but like it or not he's a profesional hockey player who earns a couple of million per year to play in the National Hockey League. If you offered me that kind of money, I could be a real asshole too, if that's what you were paying me for, and a pretty good one at that. The Dallas Stars knew what they were getting when they offered him $15.5mil for four years, and even if Brett Hull pushed for the deal, Les Jackson can't claim that he's not at fault for allowing it to happen. I think the rest of the hockey world thought that Steve Ott was enough for Big D, and Brenden Morrow can definetely mix it up when the occasion calls for it.

But by Bettman showing his hand by ordering the suspension, he has not only ruined an otherwise sleeper of a game, but now he has his final decision on this whole spectacle in the media spotlight. Had Bettman called the Stars organization and demanded a suspension by the team, as Puck Daddy suggests, this would be a non-issue in terms of the precedence the mainstream media has given it. "You think that happens if the Stars handle this internally?" Wyshynski states. Definetely not, hockey resumes its regular spot in the corner. The Dallas brass issued their displeasure with the remark so quickly, that it wouldn't have taken much convincing from Little Gary. But now, the media is all over it, and Sean Avery wins again. He gets exactly what he wants, more time in the spotlight, not to mention a league mandated break from an awful season for the Stars. The real punishment would have been to let him play, but in the interest of safety, either Dion or Jarome would have done their best to punch Avery's ticket. It would have made an otherwise dull game interesting, but potentially could have led to a lot more fallout for the league. It was a good decision to keep Avery out of the game, bottom line. An indefinite suspension, ummmm, not so much. I guess it gives you enough time to figure out what to do with him, and have him issue his extremely politically friendly "apology." Avery's future in the league will be determined at a later date. Okay that's enough of that.

Saw something interesting, and a little confusing in the St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild game tonight. Coach Andy Murray, "one of hockey’s most respected coaches" as his team profile states, opted to pull his goaltender for an extra attacker in the waning minutes of the third with his team down by three goals. Hey Andy, there's nothing wrong with giving your team a chance, but lets not be delusional about an abysmal Blues team that couldn't score on Nik Backstrom for the first 58 minutes. Then, to pour salt on an open wound, Antti Miettinen catches a headman pass from Belanger and breaks towards the open net, flying past newly acquired Toronto defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, whose last ditch effort to dive and knock the puck away with his stick, ends up in Miettinen's skates. Apparently a penalty shot awarded when the net is empty, is just credited as a goal. The Wild win 4-0.

Just a quick spot on coaching changes... Peter Laviolette has been axed as Carolina's head coach, and been replaced with former Carolina, (and even Hartford), head coach Paul Maurice. This makes shitcanning the Head Coach that led you to a Grail win a few years before the new "in" thing. John Tortorella, who steered the Lighting to the Cup in '03-'04, was given his walking papers before the season started in favor of the Mullet, Barry Melrose, who was sent home sobbing 16 games into the season. Interesting choice for Carolina, bringing back a previous head coach, but as the majority of the hockey world stated, that locker room needed a "shakeup." I personally like Maurice, who didn't have much to work with in his previous job in Toronto, but I'm not sure he's going to provide a real earth-shattering difference in that locker room. But this boss change made me think of another possible change in the near future, Craig MacTavish in Edmonton. MacT has been personally calling out players, most notably Dustin Penner, who, obvious to everyone else but Kevin Lowe, would not live up to the offer sheet he received. I think Mac is a good coach, and he's the perfect coach for Edmonton, where he spent the majority of his 14 helmetless seasons playing. But oh, rumble, rumble, the sluggish Oilers need a "shakeup," rumble, rumble. Does Laviolette fit in Edmonton? Maybe. Torts? Probably a better choice for a hard-nosed Canadian team like that. Think Darryl Sutter in Calgary. In summation, Laviolette, overachieving coach who got raw deal. Tortorella, think sandpaper on your bare ass. Maurice, good coach, but needs help in producing a winner. Melrose, stay in the booth, please. MacTavish, another good coach who's going to find another job quick, if he loses the one he's got.

Bye for now...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two Sense...

Well as predicted, by everyone in the hockey world, Brian Burke has taken the reigns as President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. At least in principle. I feel stupid for even reading Scott Burnside's article, on Burke's other "potential" landing spots, but we all knew that those were reaches, just like most of Scotty's material. Now the rumor mill has been churning as to whether Burkie has been handling some of the decisions made, at least we thought, by Cliff Fletcher for the better part of a year, which include most notably the move to bring in Ron Wilson as coach, not to mention some woodpile dumps, and some maneuvers at the draft. My claim, at least I'm clinging to it, is that Burke's lunch with Sundin back in the beginning of the month was an attempt to inform the Swedish Captain, that he was going to be taking over the helm, and that he wanted that shiny dome back in Toronto, at least after posting pipe dreams of Mats in a Ducks uniform. The last deadline that Sundin or some media hack reported was midway through December, but we won't hold our breath for that. Either way, look for dramatic changes in the weeks ahead.

Oh the Isles, the Isles... Watching the Isles is like watching me play hockey, overmatched, undersized, yet hard working enough to get a few bounces to go my way. It was never more clear than in last nights game against the Canadiens in Montreal. Montreal dominated the game, in every aspect, holding the offensive zone for eras of time, and forcing the Isles to ice the puck more times than I've seen in a long, long time. Yet, interim goaltender Joey MacDonald has been solid, Mark Streit is definetely earning his free agent dollars, and Trent Hunter is attempting to put the team on his back and go hard to the net. And as Hunter bounces a garbage goal off of Price as he gets knocked to the ice while at the edge of the paint, the Montreal collective begins to wonder, and then shrugs it off, "Nah, that won't happen." But karma has a way of biting you in the ass. Ryan O'Byrne last year's purse snatcher, makes a pass back to Carey Price, but what's this? Carey's not there! He's on the bench, so an extra attacker can come out for the delayed call on the Islanders. O'Byrne puts into his own net tying the game for the Isles with less than 5 to play, which eventually leads to a scoreless overtime, and the inevitable skills competition. Joey Mac stops Kostitsyn and Tanguay, while Park rifles one over Carey's shoulder, and Bill G goes five hole. Isles win in a shootout. O'Byrne is serenated out of the Bell Center by the Canadian faithful. Bad karma? Purse snatching, Patrick Roy, we think there's a connection.

Boston has gone 9-0-1 over the last 10, with a hard to swallow shootout loss to the Rangers as the only blemish in that stretch. But Bruins fans refuse to get excited, acknowledging the road to April is long, and hard, and they've been disappointed before. But you can't help but get excited about teams that are exceeding their expectations.

Dallas continues to come apart at the seams with 6 wins since of the start of the season, 20 games in. Lets recap. Last year, surprise trip to Western Conference Finals, loss to eventual Cup winners. Acquire Avery. Begin losing. Turco loses his game, or his mind, we can't figure out which. Modano blasts his "teammates," and hints at a front office job. Brett and Les sign hard-working Mark Parrish. Zubov returns to lineup. Bring Sydor back to town. Morrow blows his ACL, gone for season. Ott somehow breaks hand in dance with the Ducks Montador. Woe is the Dallas Stars. The only silver lining out of this heap is the play of Trevor Daley, who someone in the broadcast last night mentioned, "is channeling Paul Coffey." I think Tippett called Daley into his office, and said I'm giving you the green light, this is your opportunity to come out from the shadows of this strong defensive core, even though we're not playing like it now. Make something happen.

Claude Lemieux, is so serious about his return to the NHL he was willing to go to China. He played two games with the China Sharks, the San Jose affiliate in Shanghai(?), and has now signed a tryout contract with the AHL affiliate in Worcester. The 43 year old, one-time Conn Smythe, and four-time Cup winner, played 18 seasons in the league, his last in '02-'03 is reportedly getting a shot because of his friendship with Sharks GM Doug Wilson. The opinions are mixed on whether or not he'll make the show, or whether they want him to.

But in other news for the Sharks, backstop Nabokov will return to face the Hawks tomorrow night, after missing seven games over a three week stretch. Nabby is apparently very anxious to get back between the pipes after being helped off the ice on the final save of a shootout win over the Blues. The look on the Sharks players having no goaltender to celebrate the win with was priceless. Every face read, "Is this it? Is this what brings this team down to Earth?" after a tremendous start to the season. But Brian Boucher did in an admirable job with a 5-1-1 record, winning the last four.

And I think that's all I got. Light night tonight, three games on the docket...

Blues/Preds - Shea Weber's fun to watch.

Thrashers/Leafs - Ugh.

Flames/Kings - Is Ersberg the #1? That position is day-to-day for the Kings, he gets the start tonight.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Winners and Losers

Streaking, while it can be fun sometimes, can just as equally be embarrassing. It all depends on which way the wind is blowing.

No, we're not talking about threadless jaunts through the crisp, evening air, we're discussing the league's current hot streaks, and frostbitten cold streaks. While its still early in the season, and a lot can happen before the postseaon, there are teams that are raising some eyebrows, and others that are making you slam your head through a wall, or laughing at the guy who just bloodied his noggin. Depending on which side of the fence you're on.

We'll start with the hot teams, and move from right to left and begin with the Eastern Conference. And we might as well start with arguably the hottest team in the league right now, the Boston Bruins. The Bruins have developed an "old school" kind of chemistry, hitting one another with tape to tape passes, playing with a vicious tenacity, and brawling like someone insulted one of their drinking buddies. You get the feeling from that these guys are really having a good time with one another on and off the ice. In the last 9 games they've gone an 8-1-0, but they started that breakout with three straight losses, and have now managed to put together a five game winning streak. The real breakout game for the B's was the late afternoon delight in Beantown against the imploding Dallas Stars, which I'll get to later in the "Ice Cube Tray." Now the Stars are definetely in a tailspin, but it wasn't as obvious until that game against Boston, where the Bruins took all the crap from Avery and Ott in the first two periods, built a comfortable lead, and then just let those two jackasses have it. Marco Sturm chipped in two, one on the PP, and Bergeron added an unassisted wrap-around in the second for 5 to 1 throttling of Big D. Last night reinforced the Bruins dominance of late with a 6 to 1 thrashing of early Stanley Cup favorite, and heated division rival Montreal Canadiens. Going in to the game there was a lot at stake with a divisional lead, and overall bragging rights for a series this season that's now tied at one for each with wins at home. Hell, even Manny Hernandez looked he still had the form that he and Roloson shared in Minny, in what seems like ages ago now that Nik Backstrom has taken the posts for the Wild. I would like to see a little more production from Ryder, who I predicted to have a bounceback season this year, lined up with Bergeron and Axelsson. They'll face the Atlantic Division leader New York Rangers tomorrow in yet another test to prove their mettle.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are proof that no lead going into the third period is safe with three straight come from behind victories, and a five game win streak. The Isles held a one goal lead in the final frame, when Tyler Kennedy nipped the hard luck franchise once again with less than 3 minutes to go. The Penguins took the shootout victory in that one, as well as their game last night against inter-state rival Philadelphia. The Flyers chased Fleury after a four goal second period, giving up a three goal lead to go down by one. But Crosby came up with his second goal of the night, with again, less than 3 minutes to go in the 3rd to send it to overtime, and an eventual shootout. Its worth noting that Dany Sabourin did a fine job of clean up stopping 11 shots, and seven of Philly's best in the shootout to keep the net free of rubber during his tenure. The highlight reel stop on Mike Richards where Sabourin was clearly beat, leaving a yawning net for Richards, but giving an extreme second effort to put the stick down and sweep it away from the goal line was worth the price of admission alone. But the Pens most impressive effort in this stretch came against the defending Champs, and instantaneous cross-Conference rival Detroit Red Wings. Now I'll admit I only saw the third period, but something tells me that was the only one to watch if you had to pick one. The Wings went up 5 -2 just over 5 minutes into the third on a Power Play goal by Zetterberg, and I think everyone watching, Pens fans or not thought, "Okay, that's the end of it," with Detroit's disciplined puck control able to crunch the remaining minutes off the clock. Shortly after, Pittsburgh goes on the PP and Malkin banks one off the steel, and less than a minute and a half later Jordan Staal scores his first of the night to put the Pens within one. "Okay, never say never," was echoed throughout the hockey watching land, which in the end, couldn't have been more true. Then Hudler puts one in to bring back a two goal lead to the Wings and everyone came back to their original thought. Even Babcock stated in the post game that he thought the game was over at that point. But little did he realize how pissed the Pens nation, not to mention Jordan Staal, was at not only losing Marian Hossa, but also that silver trophy they give away in May. With just over four minutes left to go, the pesky Staal added his second goal to the stat sheet, but he wasn't done, oh no. With Fleury pulled and the waining seconds approaching, Therien sent Staal out to get his natural hat trick, and send the game into overtime, with 23 seconds left. In overtime, Staal, again, stole the puck from Datsyuk on a quick backcheck just heading into the neutral zone, turned back into Detroit's defensive zone, saw that he had help with Fedotenko on his right, dished a perfect pass over to him, and Fedotenko scored probably his sweetest goal all year. A couple notes for this game... Obviously, Staal immediately up'd his value, and is going to force Shero to bring out the slide rule and put some numbers together to keep him in Pittsburgh, or evaluate what he can get for him in the open market. Goligoski played an amazing game, showing poise and patience on the blueline, not to mention logging a ton of minutes (28:12), second only to Lidstrom on totals for both teams. And finally, this team still has the chemistry, grit, and tenacity that brought them to the finals last year, even with the departure of Hossa, Laraque, and Malone, respectively.

And the San Jose Sharks. Well they're off to a hot start, but like everyone says it won't matter until the post. Thornton is making incredible no look passes, like usual, Marleau is finding the back of the net, and Boyle is everything that Campbell wasn't.


Well the Stars go without saying, anyone respectable on that team is scratching their heads trying to figure out how to get the team going. The rest of them are happy to collect their check on Friday. Turco has hit a real bad patch, and Avery and Ott are embarrassing class acts like Mike Modano. Fun Fact - Los Angeles is three points ahead of Dallas for basement dweller status in the Pacific.

Ottawa has been brutal, losing to other bottom feeder teams like the Panthers, Bolts, and the Isles. Mark my words, heads will roll. After to the loss to Isles at home this week, Craig Hartsburg was asked if this was a wake up call to the team. A sleepy Hartsburg responded with, "No, I don't think this was a wake up call. I think it should be a wake up call," but I'm pretty tired, and these guys don't seem to give a shit so neither did I. I'm paraphrasing of course. I would say Hartsburg gets bagged before Christmas, if the current trend continues. Especially if they drop two in a row to the Isles, in a home and home. Ottawa, four points behind the Leafs for the cellar spot in the Northeast.

Speaking of heads rolling, Barry Melrose's return to coaching has been brought to a screetching halt when Brian Lawton announced the shitcanning of the Mullet after 16 games. It was pretty obvious from the get go that Barry didn't have a good grasp of coaching in the new NHL, but I think everyone gave him the benefit of the doubt to figure it out somewhere along the way. Somewhere after 40 games. Poker buddy Rick Tocchet will take over the dry erase board, which will mark either a dramatic rags to riches success story, or his encore to a gambling indictment in Jersey.

Lots of "strands crawlin' around in the old Duder's head, lotta in's, lotta out's" in the weeks ahead, stay tuned...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Elusive, the Patient, the Enigmatic... Mats Sundin

Its been about a week, and there's a few things that have popped up on my radar in the hockey world, but I'm going to focus on one in particular.

To beat a dead horse, TSN reported that the ever-choosy Mats Sundin met with Brian Burke of the Anaheim Ducks, (or is it the Toronto Maple Leafs, no, no, that's next year) to talk about Mats pre-conditions before he re-enters the league. Reports are that Sundin has been on the ice attempting to get back into game-shape in the Southern California area.

One of Mats desires regarding a return is seeking anonymity, understandable from a former Leaf Captain in hockey-mad Toronto. That is obviously a possibility in the greater Los Angeles area, making both the Ducks, and the Kings viable options. Although, lets be honest, Mats is in his last years, he's not going to want to try to help build a winner, he wants to be the missing piece. The anonymity issue is also quelled in a city like New York, where the Rangers have also expressed desire to sign Sundin. But, depending on how much of a deal-breaker this is for Sundin, it could potentially rule out all of the Canadian teams like Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa, not to mention Toronto. Whoever thought the lack of a crazed fan base would be a draw for certain players.

If Burke could somehow lure Sundin in, he would have to clear approximately $6.5 mil off the current payroll, (Mats is likely seeking somewhere around $7 mil/yr). Two obvious options to me are to deal free-agent bust Brendan Morrison ($2.75 mil for just this year), and Chris Kunitz ($3.725 for the next four years) who's had trouble finding the back of the net with one goal in 15 games, but is still chipping in with 10 assists. Morrison will be tough to move given his current play, but Burke is likely to find another home for Kunitz. Where Mats fits in in that lineup is another story. The Ducks powerplay is already humming with Pronger and Getzlaf on the point, while they move Niedermayer down low to work in tight with Selanne and Perry.

Having said that, a part of me can't help but think Burke is attempting to lay some groundwork for a foundation he's laying in Toronto. I know, I know, its "illegal" in the National Hockey League, but its not like Burke and Sundin have a chaperone from the NHL when they go out to lunch to discuss business. On the other hand, if Burke is really trying to land the big fish to put in his tank in Anaheim, and Sundin signs there, it could be the jewel that keeps Burke from bolting. If you think about it, he's already put together a winner in Anaheim, most of the pieces are still there, throw Sundin in that mix, and you've got an even stronger contender.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The first two outings have been brutal...

...but I'm trying to get those creative juices following so I can show you my "O" face. Probably won't be posting everyday like this, but in an attempt to get my feet wet, and instead drown, the thoughts are rushing to my head like a good acid trip.

The reason for today's snoozer is the Forbes NHL Team Valuations (http://www.forbes.com/lists/2008/31/nhl08_NHL-Team-Valuations_Rank.html) that was posted on Wednesday. Toronto made the top of the list at $448 million (I would normally make a joke about the Canadian Dollar here, but the American Dollar is much more of a joke), which just goes to show you that profit has nothing to do with the on-ice product, or lack thereof. Behind them by over $30 million are the Blueshirts, which is more than likely the reason for Wall Street's economic collapse. Followed up by the Centenarian franchise of Les Habitants who are behind New York by over $75 million, and then the reigning Cup Champs at another $30 million behind them.

Going back to the Leafs, and following some rumors in the NHL dreaming big, but moronically, there was talk this week of adding an additional team in Toronto. Now with the Forbes report, its obvious the money is there, but it seems a little ridiculous at this point to add, or even move an existing team where one already exists. Most outsiders don't believe that existing Leaf fans will jump ship for a new franchise in town, but there are a lot of rumblings from the "common man" that it has become unbearable to deal with soaring ticket prices, and feuding management in a power struggle to control the team. However, if Brian Burke does end up landing in Toronto things could turn around pretty quickly in Leafland, and opinions might change, if he can run the team his way, which may be difficult in a volatile front office. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Burke puts the right pieces together, and its up to the guys on the ice to make it happen.

But I'd also like to discuss the bottom dwellers of the value chart. Howling in pain in the desert are Wayne and his Coyotes at $142 million. Just above them at $154 million are the New York Isles who win the award for the lowest generated revenue at $64 million, (compared to top earner Toronto with $160 million). Columbus, Ohio tops Long Island at $157 million, and above them by another mil are the Southeast Division powerhouse Atlanta Thrashers. You know I've always thought that Atlanta has been the worst run team in the league, but I think a few other teams may be vying for that coveted position. Atlanta is definetely a big enough city to support a professional hockey team, and there's plenty of northeast transplants down there to do so, but unless they start putting the right people on the bus to run that team, and put together a competitive lineup, then that organization is bound for collapse. That brings up another interesting point regarding pros and their desires to play for winning teams. Teams like Phoenix, and Columbus, and Long Island can't even entice players to flick boogers in their direction let alone get them on their bench. Although Phoenix has been picking up young talent through the drafts, and they've got the Great One to help cultivate their games, so I believe within the next few years you will see a rise of their level in the standings, but whether or not the city gets behind them is another thing, even when they're winning. But you look at the Isles who snatched up teary-eyed Captain Canada at the Trade Deadline from Edmonton to gear up for their annual first-round 5-game playoff dismissal two years ago. Smyth was running away from Long Island before July 1st was even a thought. Now they pull in has-beens like Bill Guerin and Doug Weight making the team look like a graveyard for past-their-prime players. Milbury drove that team into the ground trading away what is now prime talent of the league. Their fanbase has stuck with them over 20 years after the Dynasty ended, but now with the aid of Milbury, a delusional owner, and a run-down building, the crowd's had enough. Attendance levels are case in point of that, not to mention, two-for-one ticket nights that barely draw 10,000 people. I just don't see franchises like this surviving much longer without either A. better business practice in all levels, or B. aid from the league, and whether or not that's educating the people steering the ship on how to steer the ship, or invading the country to spread democracy, I don't know.

Well I'm salivating for Saturday night, 12 games on. Oh by the way no Hockey Night in Canada on the Center Ice Package anymore, you'll have to flip over to the NHL Network, if you have it, to get that national institution.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

10 Games In...

...and I'm already pretty excited about this season, even though there's another 72 or so to go. A full night for the league, almost every team is playing tonight, but first up, Tampa and Buffalo. Tampa is starting to look like the team that everyone expected them to be with the house cleaning, and Buffalo looks like a playoff team that just keeps coming up empty. Stamkos registers his first goals, the first a tip off a Lecavalier shot, and the other a rifle from the top of the circle on the PP. Everyone was trying to dish it to Stevie to get that pressure off of him. Vanek is still on fire with his ninth goal in the losing effort, but I worry about Miller's durability throughout the season.

Rangers/Thrashers. Columbus is gnashing their teeth watching Zherdev making moves like the one tonight in his new Broadway Blue. If the Thrashers needed any more bad news than the fact that they have to host their home games in Atlanta, Bogosian fractured his fibula with no idea of how long he'll be out.

The Montreal/Minnesota game looked like a combination of shootout drills, and odd-man rushes but Price looked sharp, as did Josh Harding, just nor sharp enough letting 2 past on 21 shots.

Man does Florida play some ugly hockey! If Ottawa wasn't stinking it up I think it would be a lot more obvious.

The Sharks look to be firing on all cylinders, but the key for them, as its been for the past few years, is whether or not they can keep it up in April and into May. Detroit has that never say die mentality getting a late goal to tie the Ducks, but lose in OT the night before, and another, more meaningless, late goal against the Sharks tonight. The Wings had to be spent from the brawl with the Ducks the night before, but nonetheless the Sharks were moving the puck well and finding one another in front of the net. Marleau marks off his sixth goal this year, a significantly better start than last year, with a beautiful feed from Gentle Joe behind the net. Great vision he's got.

Philly is starting to come back to their senses with the help of some soft scheduling lining up two confidence boosting basement dwellers into their rink. Mopping up the sorry Thrashers in a 5-0 blowout, but needing OT to beat the pesky, but still pathetic Isles.

Mason gives up a squeaker halfway through the 3rd, and wonders if its better to be a Blue or a Pred.

But it couldn't be any worse than being Andrew Raycroft who gives up 4 goals on 14 shots, two of which would give justification to a mercy killing, or at least a trip to the woodshed. But the real hero of the night is Jared Boll for Columbus who racks up 22 minutes in penalties, in a hugging match with Ian Lappy, and picking on gingernut Cody McLeod earning a trifecta of a 5 minute major, 10 minute misconduct, and a 2 minute instigator. Nice job Jared!

Calgary is on a roll with their 5th straight win over the B's who visited the Saddledome tonight. Calgary has significantly upgraded in the offseason, and looks like a very different, but still that mucking workhorse team. The Bruins are another team moving the puck well, but came up short tonight.

All NHL games have been postponed until we discover the seriousness of Sidney Crosby's undisclosed injury. Fleury tried to keep the Pens in it, but had no offensive support against a .500, (its still early) Phoenix team.

Mason Raymond skated around the Kings to the front of the net for a beautiful individual effort, as Vancouver easily handled Los Angeles at the building where the Lakers play. Kyle Wellwood will remain on the roster for another week, netting a PP goal for immunity.

And finally Nashville scored one in each frame for a 3-1 victory over Edmonton. Shea Weber looked to single-handedly control the game, while Garon did not look as sharp as Roloson has in the last few games.

Can't wait until the circulation comes back in my appendages, and oxygen returns to my brain. Until next week!

I've been guilty of it before...

...and if I don't hit the nylon with this one, I'm going to break my composite over the iron. Nah, there's no way I could afford another one of those, let alone tickets to a game.

Welcome to my blog of everything hockey and the National Hockey League, and anything else I deem suitable to post. I've been recently inspired by the die-hard hockey fan, and the lack of intelligence of most hockey writers. Specifically the recent Covered in Oil spectacle, and the continued ramblings of hacks on ESPN and at The Hockey News, (worst 50bucks I've ever spent). I've discovered that the saavy hockey fan has gone underground in a modern system, and I feel lucky to even attempt to be a part of it. Besides I love it, and I love playing a small part in intelligent hockey conversation.

I feel like I should use this first post to give you some background on my hockey knowledge, which will more than likely just incriminate me. I was born on Long Island, at the start of the Glory Years at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Too bad I was too young to recall any of it, damn infancy. Was relocated to Jersey, where I spent the majority of my years. Took to the ice a few months later, and rarely came in to warm my feet. Had to suffer through the ignorance of Ranger fans, their sickening hoisting and dropping of the Cup, the rise and trap of the Devils, and their non-sequential Cup runs. Had to escape Jersey and moved to Southern California where the hockey knowledge, and fan is almost as hard to find as an unenhanced pair of breasts. Was fortunate, or unfortunate depending on how you look at it, to be around for the Ducks capturing of the Cup, and the attending of my first Stanley Cup Playoff games. I've joined a beer league where I've found some pretty decent hockey players, and do my best not to embarrass myself by functioning as a stay-at-home defenseman. And while this gives me no more credibility than the next guy, it gives you an idea of my vantage point of the professional hockey world. I think my take is pretty unbiased, and fair (except when I'm speaking of the Rangers), which is why I choose to write about the league in general, as opposed to backing a specific team. (Supporting a consistently worse than mediocre team that even pros don't want to play for will do that to you.) But I can assure you that these posts will be a hell of a lot more interesting, and I hope funnier than this one. This is so boring I can actually smell my brain farting. Enjoy!