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.