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.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Wish List 2: The West

Ok, so here's what's on the Christmas Wish List for the Western Conference

Minnesota - Is there a bigger surprise than the West leading Wild?  Their meteoric rise under Mike Yeo and his revamped roster is the story of the year, all respect to the Panthers.  But they too have a wish list.  A little more O from the D is in need, and I don't think there's an in house answer.  Aside from that maybe the new, slimmer Guillaume Latendresse could just start playing like the fat, old one and score some goals.

Chicago - Some consistency would go a long way. The Blackhawks have looked like Cup Favourites this season before falling in to innexplicable losing slumps.  The back-end is solid with the growing talents of Nick Leddy and Nick Hjalmarsson and the return to form of Duncan Keith.  Andrew Brunette hasn't been a total flop, but this team could use one more proven scorer - they've got toughness in spades.

Phoenix - Goaltender Mike Smith has all but carried this team.  Radim Vrbata has set the pace offensively, and Ray Whitney is steady as ever, but the offense drops off sharply after that.  Kyle Turris is pointless in five games since ending his holdout.  It might be time to parlay him in to a veteran scorer with some term left on his contract.  One might not be enough though.

Detroit - Pavel Datsyuk is injured and Henrik Zetterberg has shown flashes of his old self, but it's the Mule and Val Filpula who have been carrying the torch offensively for Detroit.  They're heavily rumored in the Alex Semin sweepstakes and they need to be - this team is showing its age and needs to get younger and more explosive ASAP.

St.Louis - three of the top five teams are from the Central, and I stand by the Blues as my pick to eventually lead the division.  Jaro Halak is rounding in to form and Bryan Elliot continues to impress.  This team needs to score more, but won't.  They made the big change to take Ken Hitchcock off Columbus' hands early in the season and he was well suited to a deep blues team. They're incredibly deep down the middle and veteran laden, and they've just welcomed David Perron back in to the fold, so what do they need? A puck moving d-man, which is apparently not Kris Russel - yet.  The young blueliner was also acquired from Columbus and has yet to establish himself as the elite puck-mover we all thought he might one day be.  He probably won't ever so it might be time for St.Lou to shop around.

Vancouver - Cursed?  Nah.  Just unlucky for the entire 41 year history of the franchise is all.  Salo has been in and out of the line-up, and has pretty well been the best defender when he's healthy; when he's not it starts a domino effect for lack of defensive depth.  In a routing of Colorado the Canucks lost David Booth, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo. Lou and Bieksa are back but the top-six forward the Canucks finally landed is out four to six weeks.  Mason Raymond is back and playing well and Cody Hodgson has really stepped up of late, playing his best game ever on the road in Montreal last night.  All this team needs is some health.

San Jose - The Sharks are in seventh and have played three fewer games than most of the clubs ahead of them. They haven't been great at home and though their top-six forwards are among the best in the league collectively they haven't hit the after burners yet. They have allowed a conference low 60 goals this year, fueled largely by the signign of Brent Burns and revitalization of Marc-Edward Vlasic; along with Dan Boyle, Jason Demers, Douglas Murray and Justin Braun this is one of the best groups in the league and they're playing in front of a great goaltending tandem. They will need to add some scoring depth is they want a chance to make the third consecutive run at the West Finals a charm.

Dallas - The Stars are falling fast without Kari Lehtonen.  Brenden Morrow has helped buoy the ship but unfortunately he doesn't play goal.  If this team wants to continue the feel-good story they need to find a goalie fast.  Lehtonen isn't the answer long term anyway, and for this very reason, he's a bandaid, and Andrew Raycroft is not a good enough stop-gap.

Nashville - The Rinne signing was brilliant.  He's the best goalie in the league, period.  This shows a commitment to success that will help land the two stud d-men, UFA Ryan Suter and RFA and team Captain Shea Weber.  Unfortunately Suters stock has never been higher as he is on pace for a career year with near identical stats to the usually more dominant Weber.  They need to lock these two up ASAP and move forward.  Oh ya, they need scoring, what else is new?

Los Angeles - If the Wild are the biggest success story thus far in the West then the Kings are the biggest flop.  Who would've thought they'd be out of a playoff spot this far in to the season? They're awful at home and have lost three straight. A number of players have been slumping of late. They may need a shake-up to their top six to get things right again.  They still have a number of good young D prospects to waste on, I mean trade for top six talent.

Edmonton - The Oilers have lost two straigth and have slowly fallen off the pace they ran to start the season, and they've taken a big hit as Taylor Hall is out with a shoulder injury for an extended period of time.  This team can still make the playoffs this season and the Hall injury may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Magnus Paajarvi has points in two of his last three games.  This team is missing a puck-mover (is there an echo in here?) and hopefully Ryan Whitney can stay healthy long enough to be that guy. Edmonton's D-Corps is underrated but they need a punch in the arm from the back end that they're currently missing.

Calgary - The Flames don't need to blow it up.  They've got a lot of pieces they need to find a way to bring together.  I really don't think Brent Sutter is the coach to turn things around; they may benefit from making a change behind the bench.  Leyland Irving finally got the call after Henrik Karlsson got injured. Kipper has been OK in net this year but Irving's youth might be rejuvinating.  They of course as always need a true number-one centre and should try to acquire one before dumping Jarome Iginla as part of a major rebuild.  They owe it to him.

Colorado - The Avs need scoring help.  David Jones, Brandon Yip and TJ Galiardi have so much potential it's frustrating to watch them underachieve this year...ditto for Paul Stastny. This team is young, and 2011s first round pick Gabriel Landeskog is performing well in this youthful environment but they need scoring help and better D.  Goaltending has been hit and miss but the duo of Giggy and Varlamov are not to blame for the Avs recent slump.

Anaheim - The Ducks aren't who we thought they were.  This team has one good line and one great old Finn upfront but their youth won't develop fast enough to fill this void.  They are basically an AHL team after the top line, and when the top line isn't performing it becomes obvious.  They continue to squander leads under Bruce Boudreau.  Jonas Hiller is spectacular some nights...awful others.  If they can find a taker for Hiller they should unload him; it doesn't look like he'll ever be a true number one and they need the money to shore up the top six.  They also need to start begging Teemu Selanne to come back for another year now.  For all intents and purposes the season is over for the Ducks so they need to start rebuilding.

Columbus - What a mess! Carter wants out already and he's barely played. Derrick Brassard is at odds with the team, and rightfully so.  This teams needs a lot of everything.

Christmas Wish List for all 30 Teams

Heading in to the Christmas season I examine what every NHL team has on their Wish List

Philledelphia - The Flyers have just taken over the Atlantic Conference, and what they need more than anything is a healthy Chris Pronger who has had more surgeries in the last year than Heidi Montag.  Next on their list is a time machine, to go back to unrestricted free agency last year and sign Tomas Vokoun and keep Jeff Carter so the Bryzgalov deal never happens.  If they can't find a way to generate 1.21 Gigawatts then they'll need a Husqvarana to cut down the forest Ilya Bryzgalov is in.

Florida - One of the highest scoring D-corps in the league, has a great line in Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Thomas Fleischmann, all tied with 29 points on the year, but the next highest scorer after that is Thomas Kopecky with 13 - they could use a goal scorer, or, one of Jack Skille, Mike Santorelli or the rest of the crew to pick it up.  If they can't look for them to make a move before the deadline.

Boston - The Bruins, if you don't hate them, are fun to watch.  They are big and bad and they beat their way to success, and it looks like Tim Thomas is on his way to a third Vezina trophy.  They are scoring in bunches and solid on the back end - I can't think of a single thing they need, and that's probably good because they're obviously on the naughty list anyway, well, Santas at least....

Pittsburgh - Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is hoping for a force-field to surround Sidney Crosby as he takes a precautionary two games off.  Zybenak Michalek and Kris Letang both suffered concussions, so, the Pens need a little health, and if the back-end is injured long term they may be in the market for a d-man.

New York Rangers - Emerging as a dark-horse in the East the Rangers are buying in to Torts' system and locking down opponents. They still need some more scoring in a bad way, they have the fewest goals of all playoff teams in the East, fourth fewest in the division overall, luckilly they've allowed the second fewest too. Michael Del Zotto has stepped up in Marc Staal's absence but when Staal is healthy this team might just take it over the top. 

Toronto - The leafs trainers room looks like a scene from MASH. Connoly, McArthur and Grabovski have all missed time, and reinvigerated d-man Mike Komisarek displaced Luke Schenn before suffering a broken arm, and the team struggled without starting goalkeeper James Reimer who missed time for an un-concussion.  Not unlike any team they could use some health.  But in the mean time a little scoring depth would help.  Nik Kulemin hasn't gotten off to the start they'd hopped.  Tyler Bozak's offensive outburst is a pleasant surprise but the scoring drops way off after Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.  When Komisarek is healthy one of the young stud d-men could be trade bait for a veteran scorer.

Buffalo - The Sabres aren't getting a lot of offense from the back end and have been cold of late after a solid start.  Ville Leino was signed from Philly as part of the restructuring that also brought in veteran d-men Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regher.  Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller have both missed time with injury, and Drew Stafford is playing like, well, Drew Stafford again.  The offense drops off after Vanek and Pomminville despite some impressive performances from youngsters Luke Adam and Zack Kassian. Hopefully Tyler Ennis will be the catalyst this team needs to get it back in to gear.

Ottawa - All Ottawa wants for Christmas is to not wake up from the dream they're living in.  Also, some more of whatever Daniel Alfredsson is having.  The veteran Swede is looking like his old, old self and Jason Spezza is looking like Steve Yzerman.  Sergei Gonchar and Philip Kuba are out so the Sens will be leaning on Erik Karlsson even more, but they may need to look for a puck-moving veteran if those injuries are more serious.

Washington - Last game we saw the Great 8 wake up and play with some emotion.  This team is too good to be where they are in the standings.  The tandem of Tomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth were amazing to start the year but have come back down to earth recently; if the goaltending doesn't improve it might be time to dangle some of the young prospects and picks to acquire some help in net.

New Jersey - Pete De Boer is doing a respectable job in New Jersey with the oldest goaltending tandem since Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall. Travis Zajac has been out all year and the team has been riding Ilya Kovalchuk hard. Zack Parise is finally starting to play better and David Clarkson has really stepped up, but this team needs scoring and a goalie and if they're out of it around deadline time Parise may be a chip to be played.

Montreal - The Habs just jetisoned Jaro Spacek to Carolina for Tomas Kaberle; apparently things are worse in Montreal than we thought.  Unless they're planning to convert Kaberle to a winger then it's a saw-off.  This team has got to be one of the smallest up front ever and they lack emotion, effort, team-work...just about everything.  They will need to add a difference maker up front if they have any plans of making the playoffs. It might be time to talk buy-out with Scott Gomez.

Winnipeg - The Jets are flying of late, fighting back to .500 hockey after a terrible start and are doing so on the strength of power forward Evander Kane.  Dustin Byfuglien has regained his form after a tumultous offseason.  All the Jets want for Christmas is for Big Buff not to go to the Big House...a little scoring help would be nice too.

Tampa Bay - The Lightning finally broke a lengthy losing skid, but have lost Martin St.Louis for an extended period.  They'll also be loaning Brett Connolly to Canada for the WJC in December. This might not be the best time to open things up, but they desperately need to improve their ability to score goals and prevent them.  They have a number of young prospects that could land the necessary pieces...oh, and a d-man would be nice too.

New York Islanders - The Isles just climbed out of last place in the East, or did Carolina leave them no option? Either way they're above .500 in their last ten and Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson have woken up in a big way, just in time to save Jack Capuanos job.  If they play Al Montoya the rest of the way they have a chance.  Like the Habs they need to consider a buy-out. Their second leading point scorer on the back end is Milan Jurcina with 4 - this is a problem. They'll need to add a d-man and a little scoring help soon.  They're just two games below .500 and have played the fewest games in the league thus far.  If their wish-list is fulfilled this rag-tag bunch could be a playoff contender.

Carolina - The Hurricanes are a bad team.  They've over-valued their in-house youth and are the victim of Eric Staal's apparent pitty-party which he has been hosting since he hurt is baby-bwutha Marc.  Cam Ward isn't performing any miracles in the crease this season and there is no depth scoring...there isn't even scoring period.  The Canes need to add impact forwards and defenseman soon or they could be in real trouble.

Ok, we'll tackle the West this afternoon.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Re-Aligning the stars

Somewhere between a six-hour round of golf and the all-you-can eat buffet the NHL board of governors found the time to overhaul the landscape of the NHL. I don't hate what they came up with but I'm amazed that they would invite the type of scrutiny they've faced by the lackadaisicality involved.  Meetings didn't start until 3:30 in the afternoon.  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on that the realignment discussion lasted only about an hour. These guys gotta work on their PR.

Realignment became necessary when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg.  The'll play this season in the Southeast but needed a new division before the start of next season.  To accomodate a move to the west it made sense to simply shift one of the more eastern teams in the Western Conference, most likely Detroit, but instead of the simple route the NHL shook things up.

I have never liked the regional conference break down.  Why group teams based on location?  It makes sense to costs and scheduling to try not to spread everything around, but MLB baseball is really the blue print the league should have followed, and really didn't. 

In the MLB Oakland and San Francisco, though just minutes appart, play in different leagues. Same for the New York and Florida teams.  They may not face each other in the regular season as often and that might harm a regional rivalry, but it sets the stage for an inner-state championship - isn't that a lot more appealing?

As a Canadian fan the new model has changed next to nothing.  Under the current format all six Canadian teams are split evenly in two divisions, which means only one even has a chance of taking top spot in their conference.  The teams that don't win have only a 1 in 5 chance of home ice advantage at any point in the playoffs.  The new Jets atleast weren't grouped in the same conference as the other six Canadian teams but they're a long way from competing for home-ice advantage. There's no reason why Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton had to remain all in the same conference under the new format. Same for Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

This, to me, was a failure, but as I examine it further it appears the obvious thing will be that eventually Phoenix will leave Conference A and become the re-born Quebec team in conference D, which will then leave atleast one Canadian team in each conference.  It would be nice with four conferences and soon-to-be eight Canadian teams to have two in each but that's a pipe dream I guess.

I hold out hope that Phoenix will relocate and we will have Canadian representation in each new conference, but even then it's not ideal.  Under the new system four teams from each conference make the playoffs, that means only one Canadian team can come out of each, where as in the current system All three in the West and East respectively could make the playoffs and potentially play in the Conference final.  Now only one can come out of each division.

I like that we've overcome the regional, I just wish the NHL atleast acted like they put more thought in to the process.  Nothing they come up with would be perfect, it would just be nice for optix.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

They still can't draft

I'm enthralled with the NHL Entry Draft.  I think my interest in draft day comes from a love of junior hockey. This particular Sunday afternoon I find myself checking in on the class of 2011.

The Oilers took yet another forward with yet another first overall pick.  The Avs played it safe and went with the dependable Gabriel Landeskog second overall. Florida rejoiced when they were able to snag the leader of the Memorial Cup Winning St. John Sea Dogs, high-scoring forward Jonathan Huberdeau, all the way down at third. The Devils were equally enthused to take a ready-made Swedish defenseman that many still felt should've been the Oilers choice at first, Adam Larsson, way back at fourth. Three of these young men started the year with their NHL clubs. Six of the top eight selections did, and four of them have stuck and are all playing huge roles on teams in or near playoff spots. After Larsson went Ryan Strome to Long Island, Mika Zibanejad to the Sens, the Jets went off the board to take Mark Schiefle at seventh, and the Flyers stole Sean Couturier at eighth, then, the reigning cup champs used a pick they acquired from the Leafs at ninth to scoop Dougie Hamilton and the massive defender is piling up points in the OHL.

And then there were the Minnesota Wild, coming off yet another disappointing season of which the only solace was a top ten pick in a loaded draft which they used to select (insert drum roll here) none other than Jonas Brodin, a slim, average sized defenseman from Farjestads of the SEL. Now in his second full season in Sweden's top league Brodin is still seeking his first career goal. The Avs used their second first round selection to take Ducan Siemens, a beheamoth defender from the WHL's Saskatoon Blades, who unlike Brodin is both big and offensively gifted. Next in line at eleventh were the Carolina Hurricanes who drafted yet another defenseman, Ryan Murphy, from the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. Murphy started the year with the big club but was quickly returned to major junior, tallying eight points in twelve games already.

The list of talented players taken behind Brodin goes on and on, including Sven Bartschi, Jamie Oleksiak, JT Miller, Nathan Beaulieu, etc...

The Wild are first in the West right now, propelled by young coach Mike Yeo and a few good trades by GM Chuck Fletcher in the offseason, but they still can't draft to save their lives.

Luckily they were able to take Huberdeau's teammate Zack Phillips with their other first round selection.  Maybe they'll prove the 20+ other teams that passed on him wrong...but probably not.

Last year's first overall pick Mikael Granlund has overcome a head injury to return to form in the Finnish League.  Brent Bulmer, the first of three second round picks that year looked good in an early nine game stint with the big club, and Jason Zucker, taken 20 spots behind him is doing well in his sophomore season. Nick Leddy, taken with their first pick the season before that, has 16 points this season...for Chicago.  Colton Gillies and Tyler Cuma haven't made an impact at the NHL level.

I'm glad to see a surprise success story in the NHL this season, and they've made it work via the trade route, but I can't help but feeling robbed that the ineptitude of the Wild at the draft table makes them unworthy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wounded Ducks

There are several reports that the Anaheim Ducks on-ice problems are just the tip of the ice berg, and that the team might be making a major trade not just to kick-start the season but to save money.  How can a recent cup winner be in such a bad way?  Given the financial standing of the team I highly doubt they'll fire Randy Carlyle who is now just in the first year of a three year deal.  However, if they're shopping Bobby Ryan or even considering trading one of their top line players then they must be in dire need.  Even listening to offers on one of the big three is a major cause for concern for Duck fans.

It's really sad how fickle the non-traditional hockey markets are when their team isn't producing.  The game is sold at a bargain to Sun Belt teams and win or lose the price they pay is peanuts compared to fans in traditional hockey markets, especially those that have been long suffering. 

The Ducks have a great line, a couple decent defenders and a goalie who is either great or garbage on any given night and suffers from a mysterious vertigo issue.  The Finnish Flash is carrying this team, but the lack of depth is too much to make up for, and Hiller has had more bad starts than good.

If this team is serious about staying in Anaheim and they need to resolve financial issues then trading Bobby Ryan would be far too big of a hit than they can afford long term.  He has three straight 30 goal seasons and will soon be entering his prime.  The reported financial issues really don't jive with some of the Ducks moves, like picking up Nick Hagman's salary on waivers.

Blake, Koivu and Hagman are all off the books next year, so that's huge savings.  If the Ducks are up against the wall they may as well buy these guys out and save a few bucks, ditto for Francoi Beauchemin.  They've got enough bodies to round out a roster, if the situation is that bad then forget the politics of buy-outs, this is survival mode.

If this year is a write-off then the player that needs to be shopped for cost cutting is Jonas Hiller.  I have watched this guy play like a perennial Vezina candidate.  I honestly haven't ever seen him make a bad start, but, the proof is in the pudding and he's currently sporting a sub 900 SV%.  If you can pawn Hiller off on a team desperate for a goalie then you save his 4.5 million for the next few years.  Dan Ellis is playing great and the Ducks have a few top prospects in net.

They've also got a ton of top talent up front and on defense.  If I'm running the show in Anaheim I'm writing the year off - it won't make that big of a difference and they've got a deep system. 

It's tough to find a team with the kind of offensive depth coming up to even compare to Anaheim.  Emerson Etem is scoring a goal a game in the WHL. Peter Holland, Brandon McMillan, Devante Smith-Pelly and Patrick Maroon are already up and Kyle Palmieri is lighting up the AHL. Rickard Rackell was a very solid pick.  On defense Justin Schultz is killing the NCAA ranks. Sami Vaatanen and Mat Clark aren't far off NHL duty.

Trading Bobby Ryan is a huge mistake, unless they are replacing him with someone of equal value, which doesn't seem to be the case in Anaheim right now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Get Young or Die Trying: Part 2

NHL GMs are steamed at having to pay for a players potential and not their list of accomplishments. In 'Get Young or Die Trying: Part 1' it became painfully obvious that contracts to young RFA's that are establishing themselves amongst the games elite are still very affordable and probably better in the long run, now lets examine what this endless crop of young talent means to the on-ice product.

Did you know that 14 of 30 NHL teams can boast that their first or second highest scoring player is 22 years of age or younger? There are a number of other teams with U22's in third and fourth as well, and really, Edmonton's top two leading scorers are both under 22, so it's pretty well half of the league.  In no particular order:

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Age: 20, Points: 20, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins, Age: 19, Points: 21, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, Age: 22, Points: 20, Team Rank: 2nd in scoring (by one point)

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators, Age: 21, Points: 16, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars, Age: 22, Points: 21, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers, Age: 18, Points: 22, Team Rank: Tied for 1st in Scoring, Jordan Eberle (22) and Taylor Hall (19) are second and third.

Kevin Shattenkirk, St.Louis Blues, Age: 22, Points: 12, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in scoring

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche, Age: 20, Points: 16, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, Age: 21, Points: 18, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in team scoring

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils, Age: 21, Points: 11, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in team scoring

Max Paccioretty, Montreal Canadiens, Age: 17, Points: 22, Team Rank: 2nd in team scoring

Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets, Age: 20, Points: 14, Team Rank: Tied for 2nd in team scoring

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes, Age: 19, Points: 21, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

John Tavares, New York Islanders, Age: 20, Points: 16, Team Rank: 1st in scoring

The teams included on this list: The Islanders, Hurricanes, Jets, Habs, Devils, Senators, Avalanche, Blues, Oilers, Lightning, Bruins, Blackhawks, Predators and Stars.

When you look at the teams its hard to say that there's an obvious correlation because some of them have recently won Stanley Cups, many haven't had a few, or even one off year that would allow for the type of youth infusion or high draft picks it might require to have a young star at or near the top of your teams scoring lead.

The draft position used (including Eberle) to take these players: 1st (4), 2nd (1), 3rd (1), 4th (1), 7th (1), 14th (1), 15th (1), 22nd (2), 82nd (1), 98th (1) and 129th (1).

Six of the 15 picks were made by teams that had made the playoffs in that draft year, three of them weren't even first round picks.  It's not the struggle of the team that necessarily leads to the acquisition of the player and the opening of a roster spot for him, as much as the calibre of the player and the forward thinking of the club that selected him, either first overall or in the final round.

In Matt Duchene's rookie season he lead the Avalanche to an unlikely playoff birth. Tyler Seguin is leading the Bruins in scoring in just his second year, he's got a cup ring already. The year Dalls drafted Jamie Benn they had 107 point season. Tampa was in a heap of trouble when they took Stamkos first overall, but he took them to within one game of making the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Max Paccioretty may have been the difference in the Canadiens heartbreaking seven game round-one loss to hated rivals and eventual cup winners the Boston Bruins last season. The year the Sens drafted Karlsson they were a playoff team and just one year removed from a run to the Finals.

Indisputably some of the teams on this list have benefited from their continued failures, but, atleast they had the foresight to take their prized picks and let them play right away.  It didn't hinder their development, and, one of those first overall picks has a cup ring already. Most of them have already been re-signed, some of them before their rookie contracts even expired, so who cares if inserting them directly in to the NHL roster from the draft gets the clock ticking on their next big deal.

As the youth movement strengthens in the NHL this number will grow, and oddly enough as of right now only one of the Eastern teams on this list is in a playoff spot, and only three in the west, but give it a few weeks and those numbers could be anywhere from 0 to 100%.

The point is that there aren't just a whole bunch of starry eyed junior players waiting to get drafted in 2012 and jump straight in to the NHL, the real issue is that there are four years worth of picks in this age group, either in the NHL, major junior, the minors, college or overseas, that could be on this list right now, and will be sooner than later.

Sure, Detroit is currently in a playoff spot in this up-and-down season they've had, but how long can this go on for? Henrik Zetterberg is having a pitiful year, Tomas Holmstrom and Nick Lidstrom are almost done, and there isn't a lot of offensive help coming down the line. And Calgary, wow, this group is putrid. The only team in North American professional hockey they could beat is their farm squad, so the future isn't looking too friendly. If it's not now, or five years down the road, if you're team isn't getting younger then they're not getting anywhere.

Get Young or Die Trying: Part 1

The game that emerged from the lockout was so vastly different than the decades of hockey that preceded that its impact is still, to this day, shooting ripples out into the conventional hockey wisdom.  The rules changed, the game got faster with a heightened emphasis on skill, and so this new, faster, more artistic game simply left a large portion of its former stars in the dust, and this created a level playing field for rookies who were once muscled, hooked, hacked, slashed and obstructed out of the league.

There has been an absolute explosion of young talent hit the scene, and it gets bigger and more rapid every draft.  This is killing the mature UFA market.  It's a young mans game, and now, we will start to see the average career length shrink because of the influx of rapidly improving young talent pushing for jobs in the NHL.  Some GMs hate it. They loathe signing young stars to contracts that will pay them for what they might accomplish, rather than the old system of overpaying a diminishing asset for the things they have done in their prime. But for the collective hockey brass this should be viewed as a good thing.

Lets use John Tavares's signing this past offseason as an example.  The 6 year, 33 million dollar pact JT inked with the Isles is the kind of contract GMs around the league are loathing because there was a time that Tavares would be destined to make far less than his production on the free market would net him, but now with the gloves off between GMs you can't afford to have a disgruntled young star walk due to a hold-out or offer sheet. Tavares was the consensu #1 pick in the 2009 draft since he forced his way in to the OHL as a 15 year old, ammending the league rule book in the process. Even the Islanders couldn't screw up a pick like Tavares, who hasn't put up Crosby-esque numbers yet, but his supporting casts over his first two seasons makes Sid the Kids ealry Penguin teams look like the Oiler Dynasty.  All Tavares did was lead his team in scoring for each of his first two seasons, and this year he is set to do so again.  What other team has a leading scorer making just 5.5 million/year? What makes this deal even more amazing is that Tavares signed it this past offseason, while he still had this year to pile on points under his original rookie contract which pays him 900,000 plus bonuses.

Think Chuck Fletcher would rather be paying a 21-year-old Tavares 5.5 million for 70 points a year than the 7 million he pays Mikko Koivu for similar production on a better team? How 'bout the Habs? They're paying two players more money annually for worse production than JT. The list goes on and on.

The level of disdain that NHL GMs have for this growing trend is mind boggling, and it borders on agism.  Shouldn't a player be paid what he is worth regardless of age?  If Tavares was free to sign with any team next season you have to think he would be getting offered a lot more money, term and perks than just 5.5 Million. Sure, it takes him to the end of his unrestricted free agency, but he's also bound to the most embarassing franchise in the league until that contract is up.  The Isles are so awful I doubt they'd ever be able to attract a free agent of comparable skill and production level to Tavares for any ammount of money.

Another thing to consider is that a young star signing what is now considered a bigger contract then he would've ten years ago is also a better player than most were at that age ten years ago because of the changes to the game, and, the obvious fact is that as they get older they'll get better, as opposed to expensive free agents in their late 20's or early 30's.  Does Brad Richards look like he's stepped it up a notch in New York this year? How about Marian Gaborik when he landed in NY? Ilya Kovalchuck a better player now in New Jersey than he was as a young goal scoring machine in Atlanta? At the end of Tavares' contract the Islanders will be dying to figure out how they're going to retain his services, unlike most big UFA signings whose employers are going to, more often than not, be trying to trade them, send them to the minors, release them or buy them out.

Having to spend more money on the young stars that deserve it might even save NHL GMs from continuing to repeat the failed pattern of shelling out big bucks for fading stars and ultimately wasting the ownerships money and valuable cap space.

Part 2 coming up shortly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Islanders at Crossroads

The rumor mill is buzzing with talks of the Islanders floating Kyle Okposo's availability to other NHL GM's, with as many as four having serious interest.  Okposo, the 7th overall pick in the 2006 draft, flirted with 20 goal seasons twice before injuries limited him to only 38 games last season, and now he's off to a horrible start in 2011-12. Listed at 6'0", 210 Lb. Okposo is a strong, powerful skater with undeniable skill, but is he washed-up? Is he just the type of gifted player that only shines in a strong core of top-six forwards? Is he just too injured?

He's not alone on Long Island. The team in general is playing terribly, including Joshua Bailey, another early first round pick from 2008. He's got 3 points in 18 games to start the year and was rumored to be very close to becoming a Canuck last season.

The Islanders have been so bad for so long they've got a long list of first round picks, some not doing too well in the big leagues while some of the more recent ones seem to be destined to turn out, so, it would make sense that there is some merrit to the Bailey and Okposo rumors, and if I'm an Islander fan I sure hop there is.  This team is sitting on a roster of mis-managed prospects with a whole bunch more waiting in line, and what they need to do is bring in some veteran help (or the assets to help them do so) while the Bailey's and Okposo's are still worth something.

GM Garth Snow is sitting on an embarassment of riches, and the team is on the precipice of repeating history as they rush Nino Neiderreiter to the NHL just to be a healthy scratch.  He's got three games under his belt this season - this is not the way to bring along a premiere power forward.

They need to chalk this season up as a loss, let the kids they have mature and put them through a camp to see what they've got.  There's no quick fix for this problem, and hey, they'll atleast get another crop of high picks for tanking yet again. As it stands they've got about three top six forwards, and only one playmaking defenseman, and possibly no goalie, but they have almost enough in house to ice a competitive squad, it will just take time and the careful acquisition of the right complementary players.

So let's look at what's in the pipeline for the Islanders, starting with forwards

Casey Cizikas - C -  starred for Team Canada at the WJC and is doing well in the AHL this year with 12 points through 18 games.  He's looking like a fourth round steal.

Johan Persson -L - The big Swede is cutting his teeth in the WHL and has 27 points in 22 games so far

Brock Nelson - F - The Isle's gambled on Nelson after his draft stock plumetted.  He was supposed to be a top-ten pick in 2010 but Snow and Co., scooped him with the final pick of the first round and he looks to have finally found his game, putting up near a point per game stats in North Dakotah.

Kirill Kabanov - F - The big Russian winger is tearing up the QMJHL and is finally healthy.  His injury problems knocked him to the third round in 2010 but he is showing his skill now that he's healthy.

Anders Lee - C - The product of the USHL may turn out to be the steal of the 2009 draft. He's a 6'3" power centre (think Ryan Getzlaf) and has nearly a goal per game to start the year in Notre Dame. Not bad for a sixth round pick.

Corey Trivino - C - 8 goals in 10 games to start the year at B.U. The former phenom of the OPJHL is finally showing his promise.

David Ullstrom - C - Another power centre, Ullstrom is up with the big club and has shown a verstatile game in the AHL after learning his trade in the Elitserien.

Ryan Strome - C - It's not very often a 100 point centre falls to 5th overall in a draft year but Strome was a gift and he's looking like a good one.

Don't forget about Rhett Rakhshani, Jesse Joenssu, Jason Gregoire and Justin Dibennidetto who were all taken in the past five drafts and seem destined for NHL careers.

Now on the back end

Scott Mayfield - The Mammoth from Missouri is standing tall in his Freshman season with Denver

Andrey Pedan - The next D-man the Isles took after Mayfield, another 6'4" blueliner, this one a Russian plying his trade in the OHL and showing a good bit of offensive upside

Robbie Russo - The third d-man taken by the Isles in 2011 has 6 points in 12 games as a rookie in Notre Dame.

Brenden Kichton - The Isles had one more blueliner on their wish list at the 2011 draft and took Spokane's 80 point d-man in the fifth round.  He's off to another great offensive year.

Calvin de Hann - The second first round selection the Isle's owned in the 2009 draft they used to select the all-around solid de Haan who has 5 points in 14 games with Bridgeport of the AHL.

Anton Klementyev - Already in his third year in the AHL, not flashy but reliable.

Aaron Ness - Small by NHL standards at 5'10" he is producing in the AHL

Matt Donovan - A fourth round pick in 2008, Donovan left Denver after two productive seasons and is now in his second professional season with Bridgeport where he has 7 points in 17 games to start the season.

Mark Katic, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic are already up with the Isles and have all been taken in the past five drafts.

In a nut shell, it seems like it's due time for succession on Long Island, a great problem to have for Snow.  At a glance I don't see a deeper well of NHL prospects on any of the other 29 NHL teams, and the Isles seem to have improved their drafting capabilities, now they need to develop that talent right and net as much as they can for their current misfits.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


After an uninspired 5 - 2 loss on Broadway to wrap up a six game road trip San Jose Sharks' Captain Joe Thornton said it was a game they should have won and proceeded to critique the Rangers stating: "To be honest with you, they were probably the softest team we played against on this road trip." A roadie that included stops in Boston, Nashville, Detroit, Long Island and New Jersey. Thornton elaborated, "We played some good teams, and I think we probably should have beat these guys, to be honest with you."

I disagree with Thornton, but not in the fact that he did say it but his rankings of teams. New Jersey, Boston and the Islanders are all out of the playoff picture if the season ended today, the Rangers are atleast knocking on the door in 9th with games in hand. Nashville is in 8th in the west but at times have looked awful. I would say the Rangers were more middle of that pack in terms of softness.

I'm not sure if his use of 'soft' meant he felt the Rangers lacked sandpaper but it seems he was implying that overall they were a very beatable team, and what's wrong with coming out and saying that after game?  What's wrong with a team Captain addressing the media and saying, 'Ya, we should've had that one.'? So many other team leaders would've defended their team play that night and pumped the winning teams tires, but not Jumbo Joe, and I applaud him for doing it.

The only problem, as Rangers' Head Coach John Tortorella pointed out today, is that Joe hasn't won anything in the NHL.  That doesn't stop Thornton from addressing a should-be win turned loss but it does set him up for a very easy jab from one of the best verbal sparrers in the game.

Tortorella innitially dismissed the comments but took the opportunity after todays morning skate to shoot back saying, "Joe's a heck of a player, but here's a player popping off about our team and Joe hasn't won a thing in this league. He could go down, as a player, being one of the better players in our league never to win anything. So what he should do is just shut up. It was uncalled for, it was classless, and I've never had it happen like that before."

This war of words could potentially escalate over the next couple days but I expect it to lose mommentum sooner rather than later as these two are from seperate coasts, and that is largely why I feel Joe said it.  He had an opportunity to deflect pressure from his team and put it on himself in a situation that won't be as volatile or long lived if he had, say called out the Ducks, Coyotes, Kings or Stars.  With the exception of a select few NHL hockey players don't typically say things on camera without thinking. Joe also had to know he'd be dealing with a very willing combatent in Tortorella and for his words to resonate they needed a response. Kudos to Joe for taking the weight off his teams shoulders.

This is a Sharks squad that is under tremendous pressure to win now.  They've been on the cusp for years and haven't advanced to the finals despite being eliminated in the third round in each of the past two seasons. GM Doug Wilson had a busy offseason acquiring Martin Havlat and Brent Burns and yet the Sharks have come out of the gate with a modest 6-4-0 start in a tough Pacific Division. Thornton knows the stakes are high and he should be commended for speaking from the heart and giving an honest answer, but, John Tortorella has every right to call him out on his well noted postseason failures, a fact I'm sure Jumbo Joe realizes. The reality is the clock is ticking on his career and the window of opportunity to win in San Jose won't be open forever. Thornton probably relishes the critique from Torts because it's likely not going to happen from within the franchise or his circle of confidants and he might just feel he needs a little extra motivation.

Joe spent last season becoming a better defensive player in his effort to achieve the ultimate goal and now this soft spoken giant is showing the chops to be an emotional leader off the ice. San Jose fans should be happy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A closer look at the Surprising Senators

There were murmurs this past offseason that rebuilding Ottawa had been asked by their only remaining star forward Jason Spezza to facilitate a trade.  Spezza denied it.  He earned a lot of respect by openly addressing the topic and dismissing it as a rumor.  Trade request or not it’s been openly known the Oilers have been trying to pry Spezza out of Ottawa for the past couple years and the package of young talent and draft picks a true #1 Centre nets would have any GM in rebuild mode salivating.  Kudos to GM Bryan Murray for sticking with Spezza through a tough 2010-11 campaign and trusting he could help bring along a young team with limited offensive prospects. Jason has 15 points in 11 games as of tonight, tied for second in the league; his play and leadership have pulled Ottawa from a rocky start to fourth in the East after tonight’s victory in the battle of Ontario.
Tonight’s win was Robin Lehner’s first of the season and the sixth straight for the Sens.  He was recalled to step-in for injured back-up Alex Auld and quickly got in to game action in the second of back-to-back games turning aside 23 of 25 shots in the W.  Lehner was forced in to starting duty last season as a rookie in the spring just after his infamous World Junior performance which included an obscenity laced postgame interview in which he ripped game officials. Despite the signing of Craig Anderson he is still considered the goalie of the future in the Nation’s Capital and will likely return to the AHL when Auld is healthy.
The Senators were questioned when drafting Erik Karlsson from the Swedish Elite League at 15th overall while so many highly touted picks were still available – they were on to something. After just one full year in the SEL Karlsson debuted in the bigs with 26 points in 60 games in 2009-10 and followed that up with a breakout performance last season tallying 45 points and establishing himself as one of the game’s best power play quarterbacks.  He’s off to a flying start this year performing at over a point per game clip. Sergei Gonchar, the prized pick of the UFA market two offseasons ago, had an off year in 20101-11 but has returned to form in the 2011-12 campaign helping the Sens to an astounding 31% power play success rate.
Gonchar and Karlsson are joined by long awaited prospect Jared Cowen who showed a surprising offensive flair in the preseason and David Runblad who was quietly snatched out of St.Louis’ system by Murray in the offseason.  Along with Filip Kuba and veteran Chris Phillips the Sens have an intriguing d-corpse that could round in to one of the leagues finest with experience.  Playing in front of any of three capable keepers, Auld, Anderson or Lehner, this team could put the embarrassing five, six and seven goal against games from early in the season in the rearview in a hurry.
Milan Michalek is on pace for a career year with 13 points through 11 games.  He’ll have to keep it up following the loss of Daniel Alfredson who has been out since a collision with New York’s Wojtek Wolski. It was a tough choice to return one of the few prized forward prospects, this year’s 6th overall pick Mika Zibanijed to the Swedish Elite League but it was the right one. He managed one assist in his nine game trial and will benefit from the increase in ice time he will receive in the SEL. Nikita Filatov, acquired from Columbus this offseason, has been recalled to replace him.  The former first round pick of the Blue Jackets has one of the finest skillsets in the game and hopes to put it all together in a fresh start with the young Sens.
Murray also added veteran centre Zenon Konopka whose pugilistic abilities are seconded only by his faceoff skills. Colin Greening and Zack Smith have come out of relative obscurity to provide depth scoring alongside Chris Neil, Nick Foligno, Jesse Winchester and rookie Stephane Da Costa. Shots against is still over 30 and the penalty Kill is in the low 70s but this team has more depth than they get credit for and a youthful exuberance that will remedy those numbers with time and experience.
Paul MacLean was hired from Detroit to help fit this rag-tag group of career AHLers, rookies and veterans together. His six years of experience in the Red Wings’ system will be invaluable to the team as they find their identity and were clearly targeted in the search to replace Cory Clouston.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Obsessed with the Oil

I am absolutely fascinated by the early success of the Edmonton Oilers.  They have scored the second fewest goals in the league and are leading their division - how is this possible?

I love the multitude of surprises in this young season.  Dallas is leading the Pacific and Colorado was in the lead of the North West until the Oil bursted out the gates at 5-2-2.  In the East Florida and Ottawa are in playoff positions.  Look at the MLB, for example; there are only a handful of teams in competition each season - the same handful give or take a team or two, but in the NHL a team that let in 7 goals in back to back games is in playoff contention.

But back to the Oil, what is with Magnus Paajarvi?  It's obvious that team defense is making them competitive but can Tom Renney not find a way to give this 20 year old who had an impressive 34 points in his rookie season straight out of Sweden some more ice?  He's pointless in nine games to open the year, a minus-1 with no PIMs.  He was doled out a meager 8:39 of ice time over just 13 shifts in Thursday's win over the previously undefeated Capitals.  He's 6'2, 200Lb. already and has decent wheels, an early first round pick with all the tools and he was given eight seconds of power play time in that game out of eight Edmonton odd man advantages - HOW????

You have to give him some minutes, at all, not just meaningful ones but enough to even get his head in the game.  He hasn't played more than 14:50 in the last five games.  He's listed as a left winger but he's at his best playing the right side, his off wing as a left handed shot and using his speed and deft puck skills to create scoring chances.  He had a minute more than Ben Eager in the Capitals game and that can't continue.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

East...the new West

For years we've watched a major imbalance of power between the two Conferences.  The West has way more depth while the stars of the East, namely the Capitals, have flared out in the playoffs after lighting up the lower level competition in the regular season, but the tides are changing.

It's far too early for stats to hold much water, but hey, Minnesota at 3-2-3 and Anaheim at 4 -3 -0 are in the playoffs right now if the season ended today and the scene isn't much different in the East.  But let's throw the early standings out the window and just assess the level of talent in each Conference.

There's a reason why last year's cup winners, the Boston Bruins are their own division, Toronto who are leading the North East and Buffalo who are right behind them made amazing offseason moves and each have a very strong supply of young talent in the pipeline.  Sticking with the North East, do you really think Montreal is a last placed team?  Erik Cole isn't enough on his own to add size to a tiny forward core, but a healthy Markov in that defense and the Carey Price of last year are enough to make any AHL forward group good enough to earn an NHL playoff spot.  Don't look now but Ottawa may have turned a corner. Ok, they're destined for last and Alfredsson's hurt but Jason Spezza is back, Milan Michalek is looking like the player he should be and that young D is going to gel, and let us not forget what goalie Craig Anderson did on a young rebuilding Colorado team in the not so distant past.

The Atlantic is probably the strongest division in the East.  Pittsburgh is looking like they could be the team to beat even without Sid the Kid and receiving spot duty from their other uber-star Geno Malkin.  New Jersey still needs a better transition game but they're looking like a playoff threat and they might end up fifth if John Tavares and the kids from Long Island continue on the current trend.  That leaves the Rangers who are a perpetual threat as long as King Henrik is standing between the red metal.  I think the Rangers are a serious dark horse in the East this year.  Adding Brad Richards has created a possible two headed monster with Marian Gaborik.  They have great leadership in Ryan Callahan and a solid list of experience rugged depth forwards.  When the D is healthy they might have what it takes to win the only 16 games that matter.  Jaromir Jagr served noticed that he is for real with his two goals on three breakaways in last night's primetime match-up with the buds.  Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn are looking like a decent return for the jettisoned Carter and Richards.

That takes us to the South East where everybody's cup favourite is off to a perfect 7-0-0 start.  The Caps look good, and they're very different than the team that has collapsed the past three playoffs.  Florida is sitting in second in the SE and the offseason overhaul is looking like a good one.  Tampa has too much firepower not to make the playoffs and they're in third and Carolina is always a playoff threat.  Winnipeg has a good core - they'll challenge Ottawa for last in the East.

I think the East is only marginally better, but stack it up against the West and you'll see it will be harder to make the playoffs on the East Side.  It should be a fun battle between Carolina, Tampa, Florida, Toronto, New Jersey, New York New York and Montreal.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Better with Higher Competition

Scouting is not an exact science, we all know that.  Over the years I've come to think it's more like some sort of black magic and that the Red Wings have some sort of serious voodoo going on. 

I was cruising the box score of last night's Ducks/Dogs game and and I was shocked to see that Ryan Getzlaf's late tally making it a one goal game was only his second goal in seven games so far this season.  When you look at Getzy's stats they're impressive.  His game is unlike anyone elses now or ever.  His combination of size, gritt, all zones excellence, puzzling playmaking and top ten shot release have never before been seen.  I challenge you, name me one other player that brings all that he does as a true centre.

Amazing that he slipped to 19th in the stacked 2003 draft year...or is it?  Ryan Getzlaf has been an Olympic and NHL champ.  He's topped the 90 point plateau and projects to hang around it for years to come, yet in junior he topped out at 75 points with only 68 in his draft year.

Most of the games stars dazzled in juniors and have yet to reproduce the type of numbers in the NHL that they posted as wunderkinds in major junior, college or European leagues.  It took amazing foresight for Ducks scouting staff to see an increase in production from Jr. to the Show; here are a couple other examples:

-Jordan Staal - drafted directly ahead of higher scoring cetnres Jonathan Toews, Nik Backstrom and Phil Kessel in 2006 made the jump right from Jr. to the NHL and put up 29 goals in his rookie season compared to a career high 28 in junior.

-Patrick Sharp was never a point per game producer in the USHL or college but has emerged a dynamic two way threat.  He's posted five straight 20 goal campaigns for Chicago after GM Stan Bowman plucked him from the Flyer's system and earned a long term contract this off season on the strength of a 71 point campaign - he's got 7 points in 7 games to start this season.

How does a team identify the type of talent that like a fine wine get's better with age?

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Has anyone stopped to consider just how difficult the job of NHL disciplinarian is?

Everyone is questioning Brendan Shannahan's rulings on suspensions, but they all questioned the rule changes coming out of the lockout and they may have been the biggest factor in the relative successes the league has enjoyed since.

How does someone as universally loved by fans during his playing career deserve that much abuse in his new role with the league?

It's extreme, no doubt, but figure it out already wouldya?  We've seen this before. When the new rules were implemented everything was getting called and we got to enjoy new hockey lingo like "parallel stick".  Eventually the players learned the boundaries and the game was better for it.  If discipline for dangerous hits can do for players health and well being what the post-lockout rule changes did for goal scoring then I welcome it with open arms

Monday, October 17, 2011


Canucks Podcast with Josh and Brian:

In the spirit of The Hockey News’ Top 20 by position I was inspired to compile a top 20 for forgotten prospects – sort of a misfits Island from the Rudolph Christmas Special.
20 – Daultan Leveille – The Jr B experiment has yet to net double digits in goals in a single season with Michigan State.  Taken just ahead of Jakob Markstrom and Vyacheslav Voynov.
19 – Oscar Moller – Swedish prospect jumped the puddle to hone his skills in the WHL where his gaudy numbers had Kings fans salivating at the prospect of seeing him in Gold and Purple…or black and white…or with a playing card for a uniform, or whatever logo the Kings cook up next.  He was rushed to the NHL straight from Jr. and then ran home to Sweden.
18 – Chet Pickard – Is sporting a svelt 2.05 GAA….for the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones, taken ahead of fellow puckstops Jake Allen, Jakob Markstrom and (for what it’s worth) Thomas McCollum.
17 – Logan McMillan – The Other Logan of the 2007 draft didn’t even really have first round numbers even in the Q so it’s no surprise he hasn’t panned out.
16 – Jack Skille – This product of the USNTDP experienced early success with an NCAA championship and World Junior Silver but has since been traded.  It looks like the revamped Panthers might be a good fit for him.
15 – Zach Hammil – By the time he was drafted he had played three full WHL seasons, notching an impressive 93 points in the 2006-07 campaign with Everett, the year he was taken 6th by the Bruins. His fading in to obscurity was almost immediate as his points totals dropped significantly the very next season.  He had the great misfortune of being selected directly ahead of Logan Couture.
14 – Bobby Sanguinetti – A near point-per-game effort in his draft year rocketed this d-man up the draft rankings but he’s yet to crack even New York’s paper thin blue line despite having one of the most amazing names in the history of hockey…nay sports.
13 – Kendall McCardle – Tabbed with the 20th pick in the 2005 draft we first heard of McCardle and his inspiring story of overcoming the adversity of being partially deaf as a part of a stacked World Junior team. He’s in Winnipeg now after an up and down tenure with Florida.
12 – Riley Nash – The Oil used their third pick of the first round in 2007 to select Riley out of Jr. A.  Sadly Sam Gagner, taken sixth that year, was the prize of their draft day – unless Alex Plante is the next Larry Robinson.  Going 0 for three with a trio of picks between 6 and 21??? Someone got fired.
11 – Leyland Irving – It’s tough to include goalies on this list as they tend to take more time to mature.  Irving is stuck so far down the depth chart in Calgary that not even consistently .900+ numbers weren’t enough to keep him in the AHL.  He did re-up with CGY this offseason and has a stellar .944 save percentage with the Heat.
10 – Ivan Vishnevsky – This sturdy Russian defender had great offensive numbers in three seasons with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL.  He’s got a couple assists this year with Moscow Oblast Atlant of the KHL.  He might make the big time if the NHL ever had a team with three names.
9 – Robert Nilsson – This guy has seen more leagues than Captain Ahab, spending time (chronologically) in the: Swedish Elite League, Swiss A-League, Swe-1, NHL, AHL and KHL.  The Islanders were extatic to nab him at 15th in the famous 2003 draft, but it was a short honeymoon.  The 21 points he posted as a young rookie in the Swedish Elite League turned to 6 the year after he was's been mostly downhill from there.
8 – Patrick O’Sullivan –For all the grand slams in the 2003 draft there were just as many busts.  Patrick O’Sullivan had a stellar OHL career.  He put up an astounding 93 points in his first year as a pro in the AHL and had a very respectable 53 points playing all 82 games in his first full season with LA.  He has since returned to the team that originally drafted him 56th, the Minnesota Wild, but has also spent time in Carolina, Edmonton and is now trying to hit his stride with Phoenix.
7 – Hugh Jessiman – The Rangers had Jessiman ranked as the fourth overall prospect in the 2003 draft, so naturally when he was available with the 12th pick they jumped all over him.  The 6’6” winger was ECAC rookie of the year with Dartmouth but his production fell of drastically after an injury, then he turned pro bouncing between the ECHL and AHL; he even tried boxing in order to better utilize his size, but to no avail.  He has since been dealt to the Panthers.  Too bad Slats didn’t think too highly of Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Cory Perry, Patrice Bergeron or any of the other franchise players taken behind him in one of the best draft years ever.
6 - Patrick White – might be the worst first rounder of all time.  He would rank much higher on this list if he had in fact been drafted even earlier than 25th by the Canucks in 2007.  He was since traded to the Sharks to offset San Jose’s salary dump, and has concluded an unceremonious NCAA career by recently joining some obscure league in Germany. And who went 26th that year you ask?  David Perron.
5 - Thomas Hickey – Probably the most shockingly high pick since the Isles tabbed Rick Dipietro first overall.  Hickey came out of nowhere, briefly, when he was taken fourth in 2007 by LA – he has apparently since receded back in to that nowhere he came from.  He was at the time considered more attractive to Kings talent scouts then Karl Alzner selected directly behind him.
4 – Marek Schwarz – This guy had an amazing World Junior tournament, good enough to be a high first round pick in 2004. He has 38 saves to his credit over six appearances in the show, bouncing between the NHL and AHL, then down to the Alaska Aces of the ECHL in a crouded crease situation in St. Louis and has finally left the continent for the SM-Liiga.
3 – Chris Borque – It must be tough to be the son of one of the game’s greatest d-men.  Chris, the young borque is a forward in Washington’s system. They selected him 33rd in 2004 and he has since played in the KHL, Switzerland, and briefly for the Penguins before returning to the Caps.  He has amazing AHL numbers, including 8 points in 4 games to start this season.  How could someone so good not deserve a shot even on a loaded Capitals team?
2 – Angelo Esposito – Once considered a lock for the top selection in the 2007 draft Angelo was a victim of his own early success.  A 98 point campaign in 2006 left far too much time for scouts to nit-pick his game before draft day – coupled with inexplicable snubs by Team Canada and a knee injury he slid to 20th.
1 – Gilbert Brule – The gritty Vancouver Giants product who showed a knack for scoring in junior hasn’t found a home in the NHL yet.  Heck, LA GM Dean Lombardi took an injured Colin Fraser over him.  He was arguably stifled in Columbus under Ken Hitchcock and showed flashes of his ability with the Oil, but not enough to keep him with the big club; he’s been sent back to the AHL again.

Canucks podcast with Josh and Brian:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Smyth Elbow

I was just reading the Pens/Oil box score without seeing the game highlight pack and needless to say I was shocked when I saw Ryan Smyth had 15 PIMs.  I immediately youtubed the incident - what a needless call on one of the games classiest guys.  As the linesman is leeding Smyth to the box he's watching the replay on the jumbotron and you can just tell he's concerned about both the play and the player, Chris Kunitz, who made the hit and if you watch the replay also got his elbow up on Smyth.

If Smyth was the aggressor then maybe a 5 but as the guy taking the hit and accidentally getting the elbow up there is absolutely no need to give him a five minute major and a game. 

Then I watched the highlights of RNH scoring his first career goal, a game tying tally on a gritty second effort play in the slot; not bad for a kid questioned for his size.  I'm thinking he's a keeper, and I like my pick of the Oil in 8th in the West even more.

Friday, October 7, 2011

MY TOP 50: Part 2

without further adieu....

25  ROBERTO LUONGO (41) - Postseason struggles don't keep him out of the top 25...barely
24  RICK NASH (20) - May just increase his ranking with a true #1 centre in CBJ now
23  ERIC STAAL (17) - Is going to be huge in the transition of Carolina's young core
22  CLAUDE GRIOUX (25) - Quantum leap for a guy not even in the league last year, sky is the limit
21  DREW DOUGHTY (23) - 40 points last season was considered an off year, will climb to top 10 soon
20  CAREY PRICE (30) - Age and position taken in to consideration he is 20th or better undeniably
19  RYAN GETZLAF (  ) - One of only a few power centres and top five playmakers in the league
18  JONATHON TOEWS (8) - Great young leader, a winner and a stalwart in all zones
17  NICK LIDSTROM (12) - He has to break down eventually, right?  If he was 30 he'd be top 10
16  PAVEL DATSYUK (3) - Injury plagued season last year bumped a perrenial top 10
15  RYAN MILLER (36) - How can you win a vezina and then slide to 36? Still one of top 5 stoppers
14  MARTIN ST.LOUIS (9) - Ageless wonder overcame small stature to put up constant big numbers
13  ZDENO CHARA (10) - Arguably the best in the blue line biz, Captain of the reigning cup champs
12  RYAN KESLER (16) - An unmatched blend of high octane scoring and defensive presence
11  EVGENY MALKIN (22) - One knee injury barely keeps him from top 10 let alone top 20
10  DUNCAN KEITH (27) - Stanley Cup. Check. Gold Medal. Check. Norris Trophy. Check
9    TIM THOMAS (14) - Question his style all you want, the stats don't lie.
8    CORY PERRY (7) - I don't think this year was a fluke, and I don't think it's the end of his progression
7    DANIEL SEDIN (4) - Last year's points leader among best in tight spaces
6    HENRIK SEDIN (5) - I rank him atop his brother because he is a centre and leagues top playmaker
5    PEKKA RINNE (28) - It's insane to keep him out of top 10, let alone 28th.  He's the best at his pos.
4    ALEX OVECHKIN (2) - Consistantly invisible at the highest stakes and coming off a subpar year
3    SHEA WEBER (11) - There isn't a better d-man in the league
2    STEVEN STAMKOS (6) - The guy with the most goals in the past two seasons is secod best fo sho
1    SIDNEY CROSBY (1) - The only consensus on the two top 50 lists (mine and TSN) and there's a reason; you can't just bump him because he got hurt.  His points per game average last season were miles ahead of anyone else, and points totals are just one aspect of what make him the best.

Click the link for my Podcast with BC Lion's Jesse Newman, we're also talking Canucks and MLB Playoffs:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Top 50 (PT 1)

I heard TSN had put out a list of the top 50 players in the NHL, so I had to do my own.  I just read the TSN list and include in brackets the TSN ranking for each player.  Obviously this isn't a list of the top scorers from last year, or even entirely based solely on last year, infact it takes in to account production over the career, value to the players team, age, position, etc... 

50  CAM WARD (NR) - Didn't crack TSN's list but amazing money goalie: count the rings
49  THOMAS VANEK (NR) - Perennial 30 goal threat with potential for more
48  MIKE RICHARDS (38) - Down year and trade slipped this great two way threat
47  PATRICK KANE  (24) - He's got the tools offensively, and a cup, but a little one dimensional
46  PATRICK MARLEAU (  ) - Has had an up and down career, losing the C kinda stings
45  HENRIK LUNDQVIST (34) - Shut out King deserves to be counted among top 5 in the crease
44  KRIS LETANG (NR) - How TSN left this guy off the list is beyond me: 50 PT, 100+PIM in 2010-11
43  TEEMU SELANNE (  ) - Another offseason knee surgery? He's got to slow down this year, right?
42  JOE THORNTON (29) - One of hockey's biggest anomolies - so good reg. season, so bad post.
41  KEITH YANDLE (  ) - Imagine what his point totals would be on a real team.
40  JOHN TAVARES (NR) - TSN didn't have the guts put him in the top 50, forget stats top50 skill fosho
39  DANNY BRIERE (37) - Decent point totals, but amazing playoff performer
38  ALEX SEMIN (NR) - Almost left him off, then realized he is better than anyone behind him at 38th
37  PATRICK SHARP (35) - Could be higher but lets see how he does after surgery and big payday
36  NICK BACKSTROM (48) - 100 points the season before last - how could he be 48 by TSN?
35  DAVID KREJCI (NR) - One of the most underrated guys in the league.
34  HENRIK ZETTERBERG (15) - Skills to be higher but all too often injured
33  JEFF CARTER (44) - 48 Goals two seasons ago and a run to the cup - off year last season cost him
32  BOBBY RYAN (33) - More skill than most realize, will probably continue to increase totals
31  ANZE KOPITAR (21) - He just isn't in the top 25 - Prove me wrong!
30  ZACH PARISE (26) - Just named Captain in Jersey, if he wasn't injured he'd be top 20 fo sho
29  MATT DUCHENE (45) - Many questioned his inclusion by TSN - watch the kid play: UNREAL
28  BRAD RICHARDS (19) - Injury prone playmaker has been a beast come playoff time
27  ILYA KOVALCHUK (32) - Unfair he fell this far, don't forget he is still one of the games best scorers
26  JAROME IGINLA (26) - Had a monster year still without a proven top centre.

OK, top 25 coming tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Kids are Alright

Just reading on that the Hurricanes will have two more teens on the roster this opening night joining last years Calder winner Jeff Skinner.  I love this move.  I think we're only starting to see the life span of the average NHLer shrink.  Eventually star player careers could be as brief as an NFL running back as young competition gets higher and higher, but I digress.

What I like most about this move is that Ryan Murphy, the Canes first round pick in this years draft and Justin Faulk, a second rounder from 2010, are both defenseman, and are small to tiny by NHL standards.

Faulk has had a year in college which he dominated with 33 points in 39 games for Minnesota Duluth.  He came up through the US National Team Development Program and is ready for a test at the next level.  Murphy, a true rookie and standing only 5'11" (on paper at least) ripped up the OHL last year well over a point per game.

Why hold them back any longer?  It's a young mans game.  Let the kids play.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


It’s predictions time!
In the East….
1  Washington – Vokoun is s safety net, holtby and neuvirth will carry the torch, Ovy will bounce back
2  Pittsburgh – With or without Sid this team takes the shockingly weak Atlantic
3  Buffalo – Pegulas return on investment will be high…very high, enough to bounce the Bs
4  Boston – Might even be better on paper this year, but so are the three teams ahead of ‘em
5  Philedelphia – Will take time to gel but expect JVRD to live up to the contract
6  Tampa Bay – Still not enough D, can Rollie (and the aging stars) make it?
7  New York Rangers – Could be a dark horse this spring, more forward depth than you think
8  Toronto Maple Leafs – Just picked up Steckel, and one of the best teams down the middle
9  Montreal – I expect Price to have another stellar year, but Cole and Pacioretty aren’t enough
10  Florida – This is a better team than anyone acknowledges…yet, but they sure will
11  Carolina – Just not enough to really be a competitor but a challenge night in, night out
12  Winnipeg – Team of the future, collection of young stars to rival Pitt, Chi or Edm
13  New York Islanders – Ditto for this group, Tavares to break out this year in a big way
14  New Jersey – No puck moving D, aging tenders, missing top line centre, who wants Parise?
15  Ottawa – Absolutely amazing young D shaping up in the Nations Capital, be a few years tho

And in the West….

1  Vancouver – Will survive early injury problems, lotsa points to be had in weak northwest division
2  San Jose – Gritty Bottom six, Havlat could lead team in scoring, Burns and Boyle amazing tandem
3  St. Louis – Halak needs to play well and he will, perhaps best four line team in league
4  LA – Can Penner and Gagne keep up? No questions on D or in the crease.
5  Chicago – Still very much a contender – Leddy and Bickell to break out in a big way
6  Detroit – Helm ready to step up, core is healthy and Howard will continue to improve
7  Anaheim – Healthy Hiller the key.  If the vertigo comes back the ducks could free fall
8  Edmonton – It’s the 80s all over again. This team will run n gun to a playoff spot
9  Columbus – Tough division will keep ‘em out, might make it if they were in the NW
10  Calgary – Too many health questions with Iggy – Backlund might shine even without him
11  Minnesota – Some young talent and improved offense, but still not enough to compete
12  Colorado – Healthy this is a playoff team, but there top 3 forwards are all bandaids
13  Nashville – Will probably score fewer goals than an MLS team this season
14  Dallas – Crease questions abound and the D is paper thin – Ok top 6 – long year in lone star state
15  Phoenix – Even Kyle Turris wants out and he hasn’t done squat.

If it all comes out this way (which it will) we’ll see some interesting playoff match-ups.
Buffalo and Pittsburgh will meet in the second round with Pegula’s crew winning a nail biter, but losing out to the eventual cup champion Caps in the East final.
Chicago will beat the Nux in the second round adding another chapter to this growing rivalry, and San Jose will make the West final yet again, only to lose out to the Hawks in the West final.

Trophy Time:
ART ROSS: The Sedins are a perennial threat, but Stamkos and Ovi will battle all year – could be a surprise like a Kopitar, Malkin or Tavares, but I think Ovi will nudge Stamkos for the lead.
RICHARD: Perry, Stamkos and Ovi will duke it out all year.  I like Stammer to win it.
CALDER: So many questions, who stays who goes back to the minors.  Based on the preseason stats I’d say RNH is here to stay, and if that is the case he’ll take the Calder.  If not Brayden Schenn will get lots of opportunity in Philly.  This season could be the most highly contested Calder race in decades, the list of possible winners includes: Luke Adam, Tim Erixon, Adam Larsson, Nazem Kadri, Ryan Ellis, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier to name a few.
NORRIS: I think Alex Pietrangelo will take this by a hair over the likes of Shea Weber and John Carlsson, but look for Duncan Keith to bounce back this year and don’t discount PK in the MTL.
VEZINA: Jimmy Howard is going to keep the Wings in the top tier teams this year and Carey Price is going to perform under the pressure of a weak offense, but Pekka Rinne will win out playing in offensively starved Nashville.  I do think Ryan Miller’s numbers in Buffalo will warrant a nomination, but goalies on stellar teams like Lou, Bryzgalov, Fleury and Co. are getting less and less consideration.
SELKE: If Sid is out for a  while then Jordan Staal might just have the offensive numbers to compliment the stellar defensive play, and Manny Malhotra might just earn a nod if healthy but Dean Lombardi didn’t bring Mike Richards in for nothing – look for him to get the icetime in key situations to earn the hardware.
JACK ADAMS: Ron Wilson is going to get the Leafs in to the playoffs, and Tom Renney is going to break all his own rules and run and gun with the kids in Oil Town, but Davis Payne gets the nod for bringing the Blues to the Central Division title.
And the MVPS???? I’d say both Ovi – it’s just Washington’s year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Am I the only person who couldn't find any of the recent suspension yielding pre-season hits on youtube? 

Anyway, I finally got to see it on (here it is incase you're having the same problem ), and I am totally disgusted with the leagues ruling.  This is getting ridiculous.  Repeat offender or not how could any level headed person take a look at that hit and think it should cost the perpetrator half a million dollars.

Columbus is finally getting some innertia and the league hands down a ruling that will keep their first big UFA prize out of the line up to start the year?  This is a sad state of affairs.  I thought I was biased when I felt Aaron Rome got made an example of unfairly but this is even worse.

Bring back Colin Campbell...yeesh.