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.