Friday, January 27, 2012

All Star Format

I guess I shouldn't be surprised the way Sportsnet is slagging TSNs All Star Fantasy draft, but it is Nick Kypreos after all, and you have to wonder if it's just sour grapes on his part because he has never been a part of any poolies fantasy draft, let a lone an all-star talent pool.

He is right about the players, they weren't the most entertaining guys ever, but hey, if the NHL was concerned about that, maybe more than one of four Captains and Co-Captains would have English as a first language.  The crowd response was obviously positive.  The Ottawa fans roared with every pick, most of which had some form of rivalry implications.

Team Alffy has all of the Swedes and all the Sens, and no other member of a Canadian NHL franchise, while The Habs, Bruins and Leafs representation are all on Chara's side.  It was pretty obvious that each team leader knew there would be little competition over the obvious selections, and that was hugely favourable to Alffy, who virtually protected the top scoring defenseman in the league, one of the premiere goal scorers, the scoring champions for the past two seasons and last but certainly not least, Alex Edler, who is playing his way in to Norris contention.  So who was on Alffie's restricted list?  Tyler Seguin, Dion Phaneuf, Tim Thomas, Carey Price and Phil Kessel.  The only non-Sen from the North Eastern Division on team Alffy was Jason Pomminville, a veteran of the long-running Sens/Sabres NE Division rivalry, who Alffy selected in the late rounds.

The protection of some positional players doesn't seem right.  It would make more sense if no one was restricted, and, if one team say, stacked up on forwards early and then had to fill out their roster with the remaining d-men, that would allow the other to possibly have their pick of remaining talent.  Whatever the case the draft is a winner, but it obviously needs a change of identity because it isn't a fantasy draft, it is real life.  Drop the 'Fantasy' TSN, just make it the All Star Draft.

The NHL will need to change to keep the idea fresh, so, next year, why not put everyone in the pool, no pre-named Captains, and have celebrity or marquee coaches, say Cherry/Orr or Clarke/Lindros, maybe Gretzky/Messier, keep it anonymous and have them pick their teams.  The suspense would unfold with each selection as people would try to figure out the method and the identity of the coaches. 

One other idea, with a bent towards the random, that I feel would work very well, is another black-top team selection process: the Stick Pile.  Why not have one player, the best showman, blindly throw sticks to each side, of course seperating the twigs by position so the teams are balanced, then reveal the team members one by one, and, maybe have some trades to announce the next day, that would prolong the buzz around the event.

With ideas like this I should start my own league.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

random thoughts

Remember 'Making the Cut' ?  I don't know why I thought of it the other night, but for whatever, from some crevace of my mind creeped a memory of the NHL reality show, and I had to think to myself: Why don't they resurrect it?  With the wild success of 'The Ultimate Fighter' why hasn't the NHL gotten back on board with this show.  With the level of talent out there in Europe, the AHL, ECHL and College, there's got to be enough quality players to fill out a roster for the show.  I think the league should bring it back ASAP!

Next in this epic brain-dump, what the heck just happened in Montreal?  Ok, one game, especially the last game before the all-star break, does not a season make, but dropping 7 goals on a veteran savvy Wings team that still is second in the Western Conference in goals allowed is a pretty impressive accomplishment.  The team has been a massive underachievement, and they began righting the ship by firing an Assistant Coach, weeks later the Head Coach and replacing him with a non-Francophoner, and then gassed their premiere goalscorer, recooping an overpaid and oft-suspended power forward with a bad contract.  Recently, they've hung their young phenom defenseman, PK Subban, out to dry in the media, and for whatever reason, the team is finally getting it.  I can't point to anything they've done to rebound, but, quietly, the Bourque/Camalleiri swap is paying dividends, and Tomas Kaberle has stepped in admirably running the powerplay while Subban gets out of his funk and Markov rehabds...still.

Even more interesting in the Eastern Conference is the play of the Tampa Bay Lightning and their French connection, Martin St.Louis and Vinny Lecavalier.  They've won four straight games, including victories over Dallas, Phoenix, Boston and Columbus, tallying 13 goals in that quartet of Ws, a pace of 3.25 goals per game, up from the 2.6 they had averaged previous to this hot streak.  Perhaps more importantly they've allowed just nine goals in that stretch, a pace of 2.25 goals against per game, much improved over the 3.5 they had been pacing all season prior.  OK.  It's not rocket science.  The Lightning are scoring more goals, and have decreased goals against, but it's not just the numbers.  St.Louis and Lecavalier have combined for 13 points over that stretch.

These two teams were surprise members of the bottom-seven in the Eastern Conference, both playoff teams last season, the Lightning infact just one win from a finals appearance, and headed in to the All Star break the tide is turning for both franchises.

If you're like me, the 'Fantasy' Draft before the All Star Game is more exciting than the game or skills competition, but why is it called a Fantasy Draft?  It's really happening isn't it?  I for one would love to see Phil Kessel picked last again this year...why not?  Also, since the game will not feature the games two top talents, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, they should just call it the B-List Skate.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Playoff Picture at the All Star Break

As we approach the All Star Break I can't help but look forward to the Spring season, and what the playoff picture will appear, so here's a bold look at who I think will be in, and who could surprise.


It's a two-dog race in the West, with either the Canucks in the weak North West or any of the three (or four) contenders in the Central destined to take top spot.  My personal thoughts are that it will be the Canucks again atop the west, and likey hoisting the President's Trophy.  While Chicago, Detroit or St.Louis, Boston, Philly and the Rangers may arguably all be better equipped for playoff hockey, the Canucks division is the softest in the league, and they're due to pick-up some easy points.

That said, I had picked St.Louis to win the Central in my preseason picks.  Right now it's the Dead Things riding another lenghty winning streak to the top of the Central, but they've been up and down all year and are known to rest their veterans down the stretch; will they do that at the potential cost of the Division?  Chicago has gotten tougher, but need depth D and goaltending, I think they'll end up third in the Central, while St.Louis edges out the streaky-wings for the division and second place in the west.  Rouding out the division winners will be San Jose, barely holding off the Kings.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE!  Nashville is going to win a round, or two.  We've heard alot about their free-agent situations, and whether they offload Suter and Lindback for help up front or hold on and hope for the best, this team is built for the playoffs.  They had a respectable showing against the Canucks in the second round last year, and are markedy improved in the offense department, and at positional depth in all aspects.  They won't have home ice in the first round, but it won't matter, if they can hang on to sixth spot (and they will) they are destined to play either LA or SJ in round one, and they'll demolish either of those teams, riding a wave of confidence in to a series against Detroit or Vancouver...could be heartbreak against the Nux again this year, but if they see the Wings in the second round the Preds will shut them down. Why?  The maturity of their defense, mostly.  It wasn't enough in my opinion, to excuse the awful trade of Cody Franson, but the cap space that created may come in to play.  If I'm David Poile I hold on to Suter for the playoffs and risk losing him if he doesn't sign.  Josi, Klein, Blum and Ellis can all step up today, so if he gets the big offer somewhere else, good riddance. But that's a conversation for another day.

Despite a noted lack of toughness, Vancouver is going to be healthy and rested coming in to the playoffs, much like last year, and if they can avoid a repeat of last year's first round hiccup are going to be a tough test in the post season for any team.  I almost hope Detroit takes the West and Vancouver plays Nashville in the Western Conference Championship Series, but more likely it will be St.Louis or Chicago, and either way it's going to be one heck of a showdown, with the Nucks returning to the finals again this year.

Here's another BOLD PREDICTION in the West: The Ducks are flying in to 8th place.  They're a hot team right now, and that is swaying my decision slightly, but there's a lot of factors at play here, mostly the Gabby-factor.  We saw Bruce Boudreau turn around a star-laden Capitals team mid-season, and despite his rough start in the OC, he's got the Ducks on track, with only one regulation loss in January and a current streak of five wins, three of which have come against playoff teams.  They have next to no chance of advancing past the first round.  They are short on offensive talent, and that which they do have they will have to run-ragged to get in to the big dance, which will probably cause them to flame out.  Kudos to GM Terry Murray for shaking it up and lighting a fire under this group.  That of course means that the three remaining Northwestern Division teams that have a shot will miss.  Minnesota is free-falling after a surreal start, Colorado will probably be the bridesmaid in 9th, followed closely by another mediocre Flames team.  Super-Dale Tallon can't even get the Desert Dogs in to the postseason this year, though, they probably deseve it, and Dallas, beset with injuries, won't be able to keep pace. 


As it stands right now there are three Canadian teams, in order, on the wrong side eighth place in the Eastern Conference: Toronto, Winnipeg and Montreal.  After examining the Elite Eight, as it stands right now, I think one of those teams north of the 49th parallel will supplant the Devils as the only team currently outside of a playoff spot, and squeak in to eighth place. Why?  Jersey cannot hold on to Parise, and they won't get anything of immediate help in return.  Henrique has come back to reality and the defense is poorly assembled and not deep enough to last a tough playoff push.  As for the goaltending...

So who's it going to be?  The Leafs, as I predicted prior to the season.  Although Kessel is slumping and the goaltending has been mediocre, there's a lot of depth in the T-Dot this season, even if GM Brian Burke doesn't add the goalie and top-six forward he'd like to, they will still scrape in on the strenght of their d-corps, and if they do the electricity around that city could propel them to a surprise win.

Injury woes for the Flyers and Pens will allow the Rangers to hold on to the Atlantic lead, but the Big Bad Bruins will eventually take the Conference win.  Rounding out the top three will be the Caps, who will edge out the upstart Florida Panters for the South East Division Lead.  The Senators will be buyers at the deadline, shoring up their defense in a minor move, say Hal Gill or Tim Gleason, and will edge out the Pens and Flyers for fourth place in the East, and will beat one of them, hopefully the Pens so they can revive a once great playoff rivalry, in the first round, however, I think it will be a beaten and injured Flyer team taking the fall.  The Sens probably have the best synergy in the league, and come playoff time, that counts for quite a bit.  They're playing for each other, and for pride, and they have a lot of heart and epth in the bottom six forwards, led by Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka.  Paul MacLean will be given the Jack Adams award before the playoffs even start.

Boston will clean the floor with the Leafs in the first round - sorry Leaf-Nation.  The Bruins have owned the Leafs all year, and will continue to do so, perhaps even in a sweep.  BOLD PREDICTION: Brian Burke says something controversial after the loss.

The Rangers will turn the Cats back in to pumpkins come playoff time in what may be the most boring playoff round ever.

Sidney Crosby will not (should not) play again this season, but Jordan Staal will return, and the defense and goaltending on the Pens are among the best in the league, especially with the return of Kris Letang, who was recently added to the All Star Game.  They could use an upgrade in the top six, but have little ammunition left to acquire one.  Nevertheless, they've got the horses to beat Ovi's Caps in a thrilling first round series, and author a new rivalry between the two clubs: The Great 8 Vs. The Malk Man - the Malk Man shall deliver.

This will make for one awesome Eastern Semi-Final, with the Bruins eaking out a seven game series win over the Pens, and the Rangers squeezing by the Sens, setting up an original-six Eastern Conference Final with the Bruins going toe-to-toe against the Rangers.  The gang from the Big Apple have the gritt and goaltending to hang with the Bruins, but they don't have the offense.

Am I the only one who thinks the Bruins and Canucks are on a crash course?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Classic NHL

Well, three days in and so much for my 'Don't bash the NHL' resolution.  I should've known it would be impossible to keep, especially when the league wimps out.  The only thing 'Classic' about the January 2nd outdoor game was it's 'Classic' wimping-out by league brass, and of course, 'Classic' poor officiating.

I will start by saying kudos to the NHL for instilling in their dedicated fanbase the anticipation of a New Years day where us in the west can wake up to left-over pizza and an outdoor game.  Even though I knew the 2012 date would be January 2nd I spent five minutes on my cable's guide looking for the game on New Years day morning...then I remember, oh ya, the NHL decided not to go toe-to-toe with the bowls, and so what did I do?  Watch bowl games all day.  What'd I do for the Winter Classic?  Hit the gym because I was at my breaking point of lazy.  I did get the opportunity to see some shabby third period officiating and the end to what was by all accounts an etertaining game.  Am I the only one who thinks the refs were instructed to call everything so that the tenative nature of the outdoor fiasco wouldn't be reflected in the entertainment value?  Phantom calls and even-ups all game.

And why won't the NHL just put their product out in the face of competition from other sports.  There aren't a whole lot of Americans who are going to have an interest in bowl games and ice hockey anyway.  When is the league going to realize they need to start investing in the fan base they have attracted first, and then find ways to expand the game.  We're the ones paying the freight.

Friday, December 23, 2011

random thoughts

I'm just reading an article in the most recent issue of THN about the surprising success of the Minnesota Wild.  Even with the blockbuster trades Wild GM Chuck Fletcher made this past offseason no one in their right mind would ever have thought the Wild would be among the games elite.  When Fletcher boldly stated that the status-quo had to change most in the hockey world assumed that included the style of play, especially when they added two proven top-six wingers, but it didn't...

The Wild are back trapping up the neutral zone under former AHL affiliate Houston Aeros' head coach Mike Yeo took the helm of the big club.  The Wild are winning in dramatic fashion, leading the league in goals against in the third period and most come-from-behind and one-goal wins.  No kidding.

They are still a largely unheralded group with not-so household names such as Gregg Zanon and Clayton Stoner patrolling the blue line and nine rookies dressed so far this season.  So, can a team that is that short-handed in proven talent really trap its way to success in the new NHL?  Apparently so.

It seems the entire team are so bought in to Yeo's system that they would perform ritual sipiku on their own Easton's if they ever disgraced the great neutral zone clogging, or by some dispicable twist attempted to open the game up a little bit.  Here they are, often surrendering the first goal and sticking to their guns and putting up W's.

It's not just the violent allegiance to boring hockey but the familiarity of the team and personnel.  Eleven current roster players won the Calder Cup with Yeo in Houston, and by promotin from within the Wild have grown successfully as a family.  They added some key cogs, but not enough to disrupt the culture, and that is their bread and butter.

I think we'll see this as a trend in the NHL, coaches and systems being groomed in the AHL.  It will probably lead to players or groups of young talent staying in the AHL longer to be programmed by the next guy in line.  Look at what's happening already this season; six NHL coaches have already been gassed, most of them replaced by veteran NHL bench bosses, but are the new guys here for the long run?  Likely not.  Look for a gradual trend towards the Wild approach to it.

As far as Minnesota goes this once depleted farm system was quickly re-stocked by Fletcher when he picked up Charlie Coyle and a draft pick that became Memorial Cup winner and 100 point man Zach Phillips...and Mikael Granlund is looking like he's returned to form after a head injury.  Offensive help is on the way and the Wild are for real.

The trap is old news, but the system of promoting your own talent, on the ice and off of it, together as a unit, is a new recipe for success.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Seems like a lot more coaches than usual are getting canned, especially in a season where parity is as even as it's ever been in the NHL.  Maybe it is the increased competition for a playoff spot that is triggering this many coaching changes this early in the season?  Can that many owners really be laying down the law on the GMs?  It's generally accepted that coaches are being sacrificed to save the General Manager's job, but when you step back and look at it from 10,000 feet does that really make sense?

Think about it.  Only one of the teams to have made a change this season have been better for it, so the evidence is plain as day: it wasn't the coach, it's the team the GM assembled.  And does anybody really think that the GM doesn't know how this will reflect on them?

I agree, a team can get a positive jolt from a coaching change and to date this year it has worked one in six times...not very good odds.  If I'm an NHL GM my train of thought is not to gass the only guy that could eventually be considered a scape goat, it's to hold on to him and hope for the best.  And how does throwing a close working companion under the bus represent you as a GM.  Trying to save your job by making a hockey-martyr of the coach - who's going to hire you now even if you do hold on to your job another couple years.

Aside from this revelation two things are apparent to me: 1 - The teams that have had the gutts to try for consistency have been better off for it, so why is no one else tuning in to this? (See Buffalo...Nashville...Detroit, and until recently Anaheim), 2 - There are so many factors that lead to success or failure in hockey that need to be addressed before the coaches philosophy and ability to get the most out of his team.

I'm not blaming the GMs that fired their coaches this season for assembling bad teams, although some of them are, these guys all have to play the hand they're dealt, and a lot of the markets that have made coaching changes this season aren't known for having the budget to acquire top talent anyway.

If you do have to make a switch to spark your team odds are it's not the guys behind the bench, but the ones on it that need changing.  Take a look at your personnel who are the ones out there trying to win games; if they're not doing that then what is the logical solution?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Call it what you want to call it...

So Sid the Kid is out again with no time-table for return with concussion-symptoms.  Crosby feels the play that re-ignited his concussion problems was an accidental elbow he took on a hit he innitiated in the neutral zone. The Penguins organization is apparently frustrated with the line of questioning that follows, and they feel they have no answer.

One of the answers is telling Sid to pick his spots.  A lot has been made about how Sid worked to recreate his spacial awareness in the time he missed following the David Steckel hit in last years Winter Classic.  If he can rebuild his spacial awareness then he can lay off unnecessary contact.  He plays a very physically involved game but now that he's got a soft melon he has got to learn to atleast choose when or when not to innitiate contact.

The other is Sidney's ridiculous healing process schedule.  Sidney was skating, practicing and working out like his old self for months without playing all the while experiencing symptoms.  What do you expect?  You want to heal your brain, then don't push yourself physically for months and wonder why you're not feeling better.  It was selfish and it showed a lack of trust.  No Doctor in the world would recommend strenous physical activity during a recovery from concussion.  Sid's identity is an intense need to play, and I'm sure he felt he needed to show that he wanted to return by training and practicing, but it is the exact wrong thing to do.

Since his return Sid has felt symtpom free until the bump with Krejci, but the idea that he was involved in physical contact and then began feeling symptoms without it actually being a concussion is ridiculous.  If he is feeling symptoms then he suffered a concussion, and looking at any of the contact he's been involved in since his return it is a pretty scary thought that at any time he suffered a head injury. You don't take a bump and then suffere a setback, you either get hit and suffere a concussion or you're dealing with post-concussion syndrome, and if Sid wants to be fully healed from that he may as well retire. The problem is, as it has been all along, that one of the side-effects of head injuries is dizziness accompanying a heightened heart rate.  You can add lethargy, moodiness, depression, headaches, etc... to that list.

It's likely that Sidney Crosby will never be the same, especially if he wants to have a long and productive NHL career, but the innitialy injuries apparently haven't affected his level of play.  In the games he has played this year he has been every bit as dominating as ever and if he wants to continue with that he needs to pick his spots and adapt to his new reality.