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  1. VANCOUVER—The Canucks management brass made two deals right at the NHL trade deadline on Monday, Feb.28. The Canucks targeted two players who will come in and help their forward depth, two guys who are interchangeable in the bottom six role on the Canucks. With the opening on the fourth line center ice position all season, after former-West coast express member Brendan Morrison exiled to Calgary for a bigger role, the Canucks had no proper replacement to fit in the fourth line. Roles on the team: Maxim Lapierre: fourth line centre, and occasional shifts on Manny Malhotra's wing if the situation arises. He has the speed and defensive instincts to play a penalty killing duty, lessening pressure on Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows on the PKs. He can take faceoffs with his respectable 53.4% winning rate on the season. Chirs Higgins: fourth line winger with Tanner Glass and Lapierre. Higgins has been teammates with Lapierre before, and they're no strangers to each others play. Look for head coach Alain Vigneault to rekindle old chemistry between the two. Higgins has the hands to play some shifts on the third line with Raffi Torres and Malhotra. He may even get a shot at replacing Mason Raymond on Ryan Kesler's second line left-wing if Raymond struggles. A very versatile player is what the Canucks got with Higgins. Luckily, I've had the pleasure of staying two seasons in Montréal. Following the Canadiens under the spotlight was quite a special experience. They take hockey to a new level. Unlike the Leaf Nation who really has had nothing to cheer for over six decades, I went through the Canadiens Centennial Year celebrations. Royal Canadian Mint designed a Canadiens loonie in celebration of the club's 24 Stanley Cup wins and a big boost to the atmosphere in town. From what I know about Higgins and Lapierre, who both left La Belle Province not too long ago, the Canucks have now got some valuable, quality members at forward. At the end of training camp in September of 2008 the Canadiens were getting set for their 100th NHL season. I can still remember listening to the FAN990, Montreal Sports Radio. They were ecstatic about Higgins. They felt it was Higgins' breakout year offensively on the Habs. Tony Marinaro, who currently hosts an on-air show called "Montreal Forum" predicted that Higgins could reach 40 goals this season. Head coach Guy Carbonneau was also optimistic. Kostitsyns was one year older, Higgins would step up and D'Agostini and Pacioretty were coming up promisingly. We all know that it did not exactly materialize, but the Canadiens did get into the playoffs, only to lose in the first round to the Boston Bruins. As for Lapierre, the Messiah to save our fourth line that we have dreamed for so long has finally arrived. In Montréal, Lapierre was loved by his coaching staff as a "hard-nosed, gritty hockey player," who worked "extremely hard night after night." While Lapierre will not score very many goals for his hockey club, he is very much like a Jannik Hansen or Glass on the Canucks; he gives a consistent effort each game and can really skate well. Lapierre has the speed, and with a faceoff percentage of 53.4%, is very tough to play against. He finishes his checks, gets under the skin of opposing players (mainly due to his tenacity) and he can chirp at will. When asked about chirping he said, "If they want me to shut up, I'll do it." After the trades, I received some strong reactions from Vancouver fans: Voice of the Canucks Nation: "Loved em both. The 4th line is soooo much better!" "Higgins is a great team guy as well." "Yea. Lost a little depth on D in Oberg tho. Should be fine." ~Todd Cordell, former-B/R lead writer, current SportsHaze Canada content manager via text message "A good sign, he's buying in already!" (on Lapierre agreeing to shut his mouth if asked by coaches) ~EvoLu7ioN, member on Canucks.com forum "Great trades today by netting Higgins and Lapierre that should solidify Vancouver's bottom 6 lines" ~Drewbro77, on twitter "Luvin vancouver's acquisition....lapierre & burrows 2 big pests...and underachieving higgins can chip in wtv on 3rd or 4th lines" ~Drizzydre87, twitter "Many props to Gillis for bringing in just what our roster needed. Higgins n lap will be perfect. And for cheap. Love it." ~Robertus97, twitter Thanks for following your Vancouver Canucks. This is Joseph Trenton. Follow Joseph Trenton on Twitter for the latest Canucks, NHL news, as well as CFL news.
  2. I love hockey fights. They should stay in the league. But there comes a time when it goes too far and hockey becomes a petty, score-settling, free-for-all that becomes an absolute disgrace to the best game in the world. That Islanders-Penguins tilt last night was the prime example. Did it all start with Wednesday night's Bruins-Habs match-up that resulted in 14 goals and 12 fighting majors, now known as the in Boston? I thoroughly enjoyed the first two and half periods of the game. Carey Price and Tim Thomas' fight was laughable but neither team really came in danger of really hurting each other until close to the end of the game when the Habs got jumped. I'm not exonerating either team for what they did, but what did Greg Campbell think he was accomplishing by fighting Tom Pyatt? What were Shawn Thornton and Johnny Boychuk trying to accomplish by fighting Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik? It was an 8-5 game at this point with just 49 seconds remaining in the game. The game was obviously over. Then came the Islanders and Penguins http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puMana_bq1o. Even if you factor in the context, a pissed off Islanders team that's absolutely tired of becoming the butt of the league's jokes, facing a Penguins team that knocked out starter Rick DiPietro in a fight (a fair one, mind you), the whole fiasco set the Islanders' reputation back at least another five years. Try climbing out of THAT hole. I get where the Islanders are coming from. They're headed to yet another lottery pick, ownership is bleeding money, they get almost zero support from their fans, there's been talk of relocation, and there's been few bright spots the past fifteen years. You have to be crazy to not think that coach Jack Capuano isn't playing that "us against the world" angle like Pete Carroll. The franchise is frustrated and took their frustration out on a Penguins squad when their failures as a franchise should be burdened by poor ownership and management. Whatever sort of "revenge" the Isles were seeking for Brent Johnson punching out DiPietro in a fair fight should've ended with a middleweight fight between Craig Adams and Michael Haley and a heavyweight matchup featuring Eric Godard and Trevor Gillies. That should've been the end of it. The Islanders were up 3-0, rare territory for them, but instead of trying to win the game it became an absolute gong show. Max Talbot, who's hit on Blake Comeau sparked the entire penalty parade, wasn't clean, but it wasn't dirty either. Comeau didn't have the puck and Talbot came in at an angle that could be argued as the blindside. Regardless, the Islanders didn't like that. In a 6-0 game the score has been settled. The Islanders were blanked 3-0 in their last match-up against the Penguins and have two fighting majors already. But Matt Martin thought it fitting to creep up behind Talbot and sucker punch him. It was eerily similar to the one Todd Bertuzzi landed on Steve Moore seven years ago (more on that in a bit). As many concussions caused by missed head shots and boarding calls, a sucker punch is worse. It's the biggest gesture of disrespect in a league whose players have a tradition of policing themselves. It was already ugly then and it got even uglier. I'm not sure exactly what sort of impact the Islanders think Trevor Gillies can bring to a game but one thing's for certain: you don't win hockey games with a 32-year old journeyman who's scored never scored more than two goals in any professional season and makes a living with his fists. Dan Bylsma deserves some blame here because I don't think Capuano would've dressed Gillies had Eric Godard been scratched. Regardless, I thought it was absolutely gutless of him to go after Eric Tangradi, a player ten years his junior who, despite his 6'4", 220 lbs. frame, is actually known more for his offensive game than his physicality. It was pretty clear that Tangradi was shaken up by a high hit from Gillies yet Gillies felt it necessary to start turning Tangradi into a punching bag. Even after Gillies was sent off the ice he had the nerve to stand at the gate and continue to talk trash while the Penguins' trainer was tending to Tangradi. You know right then and there that Gillies was out there looking to hurt, not to play hockey. What's more ridiculous was rookie Micheal (that's not a typo) Haley, after taking down Talbot, skating all the way to the end of the rink to challenge Brent Johnson, Johnson's second fight in as many starts. If Mike Richards thinks PK Subban's trash-talking and general disrespect for the game and its veterans was bad, I'd love to hear him sound off on Haley, who, like Gillies, has made a name for himself with his fists rather than his skill. I understand that young players who can't score to want make an impression and think they have to drop the mitts to catch the coach's attention, but that's negative attention the Islanders don't need. A young rookie like Haley, who begins the game mouthing off an establish veteran like Adams, ignores the referees after taking down Talbot, and then skates half the rink just to challenge another veteran goalie in Johnson, won't win any brownie points. The Islanders want respect, and to do that you need to win games, but what good memories the Islanders have of in a 9-3 drubbing of a Cup-wining team were completely erased. This game won't be known as the game the Islanders started to gain some respect, but rather a game in which a young, rudderless team got their priorities mixed up and gave hockey another black eye. The whole thing was bush league. But let's not put the blame entire on either of the organizations. Should the league had seen it coming? Perhaps, but there's only so much the league can do in regards to referee assignments and warnings before their jurisdiction ends at the edge of the ice. But the league really has an opportunity here to really throw the book at both teams. Martin's sucker punch requires the most attention because it was certainly pre-meditated. He was eying Talbot, who the Islanders felt wasn't punished enough already, the entire way. Analogous to Bertuzzi's case, Moore had fought Matt Cooke earlier in the game but Bertuzzi was obviously dissatisfied. If Bertuzzi's actions led to an indefinite suspension, which ultimately ended up being close to a one-year ban from competitive hockey, then I fail to see why Martin shouldn't be suspended for the rest of the season. Both games were in blowouts, the Islanders up 6-0 at that point and the Avs holding a similar 6-goal lead in a 8-2 game in the third period. Anything short of that and Bertuzzi looks like a martyr. He's the ultimate poster boy for a league that really picks its spots when it comes to suspensions. Haley and Godard will both have suspensions forthcoming. Both teams should be fined for failure to control their respective teams. The NHL shouldn't publish articles that praise the Islanders' pugilistic methods either with opening sentences like "The New York Islanders exacted the NHL's version of revenge on the Pittsburgh Penguins." Call it what it was - a complete disgrace. Whoever wrote that article needs to give his head a good shake and pack his bags for another profession. It also doesn't help the atmosphere when fans at Nassau were cheering "Crosby sucks!" the entire time, a cheer that's now synonymous with any anti-Penguins sentiment. It was the loudest I've heard Nassau in a long time but for all the wrong reasons. The Islanders were a joke entering the game and now a bigger joke after it. John Tavares can say whatever he wants but even if he does someday find himself having the same scoring touch as Mike Bossy, nobody's going to respect a guy who fails to differentiate between "entertaining" and "ridiculous." First the Evgeni Nabokov fiasco and now this. Will it ever stop for the once-storied Islanders? An owner who knows nothing about hockey but likes to call the shots in Charles Wang, an aggressive and hot-tempered but ultimately under-qualified GM in Garth Snow, and a lack of veteran presence in the locker room is a recipe for disaster. 34-year old Radek Martinek was the oldest Islander to play but he's never been one to count on for leadership. If the Islanders want to get serious about winning they better change that locker room culture. And fast. It's almost out of control. "Respect" is a word that's been tossed around way too much these days. It's a concept that I think has really evolved into something else that means entirely different than what it meant fifty, thirty, or even ten years ago. Let's shelve that word for the time being because it's obviously missing in today's game and not worth talking about until the players get their heads screwed on straight.
  3. Hockey players have always stood out from basketball, football, and to a lesser extent, baseball players because they carry themselves on and off the ice with a certain demeanor. Some call it boring or calculated, while others say they're humble and down-to-earth. Some of the greatest leaders the NHL has ever seen, including Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, and Bobby Orr, were very soft-spoken players who did more with their stick than their mouths. They were professional and knew their place in the league, respected the veterans, and realized that there was a time and place for everything. Having said that, PK Subban and Linus Omark have all recently attracted a lot of negative attention with their swagger. But, seriously, what's wrong with that? Subban has always been a very confident player. It was the reason why he made a seamless transition from a four-year career with Belleville to Hamilton, where he won the Presidents' Award in his first professional season for his outstanding accomplishments. After logging a team-high 25 minutes against the Oilers on December 1, in which the Habs blew a 3-1 lead and lost 4-3 in overtime, Jacques Martin decided to make Subban his scapegoat and proceeded to make him a healthy scratch for 3 games, all Habs wins. It was Subban's fault that Sam Gagner so easily sidestepped him en route to a shorthanded beauty and a lackadaisical pass to Mike Cammalleri, who also should've been at fault, that led to the Dustin Penner winner. But which rookie doesn't make mistakes? <img src="http://flyersorangecrush.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/0subban_0.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Elliotte Friedman used his 'Price Theory' to rationalize Subban's exile, but I think that Price Theory is absolute junk. Price's game fell apart and there were questions about his work ethic. As far as I could tell, the only mistakes Subban made were in that game. Sure, he talks a lot of trash, but so do two very good players on the Canucks. Mike Richards obviously lost a lot of respect for Subban because he ran his mouth too much, but if that's the reason why Subban's sitting then the Habs are doing nothing but hurting Subban's game. What had become a trademark of Subban's game, enormous talent and a mouth to go with it, disappeared when he returned to the ice against Detroit. It was so obvious that Subban was overthinking the game, trying to stay within the boundaries Martin had drawn, that he became ineffective, and it didn't help matters when he was -3 against the Leafs a night later. Let's get one thing straight: Price was benched because he was awful for a long period and to win games the Habs were better off with Jaroslav Halak that year (as a side note, even though he was heavily criticized Price put up better numbers last year than he did the year before, but if you don't win games you get vilified in Montreal). Subban should've been benched and called out for his play in that Oilers game. But to tell this kid that what had made him so successful on the ice is the wrong way to play sends the wrong message. The Habs went 3-0 without Subban in the lineup, but in the process they potentially killed this kid's season and development. Like Subban, Linus Omark is a confident player whose reputation precedes him, especially after made him a YouTube sensation. Omark isn't a very well-rounded player, but he's got great hands and give him room around the net and he'll make sure the puck goes in, and after what he did in Sweden you can't fault Tom Renney to pick the rookie as one of his shooters. Well, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnsngTNeGTg, and all he did was do a spin-o-rama at center ice before faking a shot and slipping it into the net. After the game, Martin St. Louis wasn't too happy about it and accused Omark of disrespect and showboating. A lot of hockey pundits agreed, and to them, I say: "What!? Are you crazy!?" Let me first remind everyone that this is the same guy that pulled off the in a shootout once that caused as much controversy as Omark's goal. Not only is St. Louis being hypocritical, he's also being a sore loser. Omark did what he did best - he put the puck in the net. As gimmicky as that spin-o-rama at centre ice was, he got the job done, didn't he? That move may have been unnecessary, but I also wouldn't be surprised if that put Dan Ellis off guard. The moment Omark pulled off that move he instantly made himself unpredictable. Ellis probably didn't have a very comprehensive scouting report on Omark and was probably reading deke all the way and that spin-o-rama just sold it. The shootout was meant to entertain fans and Omark did just that. If the Lightning weren't happy about Omark's goal maybe they should've won that game in regulation. If Omark didn't score, this would be a complete non-issue. Stop whining, Marty. <img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/85898170.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF8789215ABF3343C02EA54885FC7A2A8F6E4AD040BA0C0C7507895D4FECAFC04AA11091E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Breaking into the NHL is difficult and most young players have their ups and downs, but often the most successful players are the ones who are confident in their abilities. We don't have to look too far to find better examples. When Daniel and Henrik broke into the league, they were physically unprepared for the rigors of the NHL play and schedule, and after less than stellar rookie seasons I think they were questioning themselves if they had left MoDo too early (yes, they did). It wasn't until it became quite obvious that the days of the West Coast Express were over that they really stepped up their game. I don't think it was a coincidence at all that when Markus Naslund dipped from 32 goals and 79 points to 24 goals and 60 points in 2006, both the Sedins broke out and hit the 70-point plateau. It was then that they realized they could play and the Canucks were counting on them in the future. Their play wasn't all that different - they could still find each other telepathically and no matter who you put on a line with them, be it Wade Brookbank, Trevor Linden, or Taylor Pyatt, these guys found ways to score. They were confident in their abilities. They weren't the sisters anymore. I must admit, I was quite critical of them, even during the 2005-06 to 2007-08 seasons when they put up three consecutive 70+ point seasons. I thought they were statistically good, but had only led the Canucks to the playoffs once in three years and in their only postseason showing they were average at best. But there was one play in particular, and it wasn't of the highlight reel variety, that told me the Sedins were ready to compete. The Sedins are often victim of extra shots and after whistle scrums and for the most part they don't retaliate. Players with confidence and swagger don't back down. I'm not saying the Sedins are easily intimidated, because they're not, but they've never been in-your-face players. It's a trait that I like in hockey players and it's all about body language. I've never seen Subban shy away from a puck in the corner, a hit, a risky play, or a bigger player. I don't think there's a shootout move that Omark wouldn't attempt. But on December 27, 2009, the year that saw Henrik capture the Art Ross and the Hart Memorial in June, I knew the Sedins had arrived. How? After being totally abused by Dion Phaneuf alongside the boards, Henrik got up, headed towards the net, corralled the rebound and scored. That's resiliency. But the swagger? Immediately after the goal, Henrik went up to Phaneuf and just nearly made him cry. Watch the http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx0MYvc-eiY. So, I ask again. What's so wrong with swagger?
  4. We're a quarter way through the regular season and like any other NHL season, there's been plenty of surprises, both good and bad. Let's recap. If you had told me the Flyers would finally unearth a top 15 netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky, they would've been my pick to win the Atlantic. Michael Leighton is skating again but both him and Brian Boucher would find an uphill battle to unseat the Russian netminder with a 12-3-2 record and sixth-ranked .926 SV% for goalies with at least 10 games played. I noted that Claude Giroux was a star in the making but what he's done this far has exceeded my expectations. So how about that Carey Price!? No longer am I somewhat hesitant to voice my support for the BC native who was picked by the Habs to be their franchise goalie and he couldn't have chosen to break out at a better time. Not having to look over his shoulder for Jaroslav Halak has helped him tremendously, but all he needed was just some time, to mature and soak in everything. And you know when Price turned the corner? When he showed his unwavering support for Halak in the playoffs last year. That type of off-ice maturity bleeds on to the ice. Forget about Marc-Andre Fleury, who's an overrated regular season goalie, Price is the future netminder for Canada. He beats out Cam Ward and Steve Mason for that spot. <img src="http://www.nhlsnipers.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/277-Stamkos-Game-Photo-3.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Even as unreasonable a Steven Stamkos fan I am, what he's done this year boggles my mind. He's not going to score 82, or 76 to tie Teemu Selanne and Alex Mogilny, but my bet is that he scores 60. He's the best sniper I've seen since Brett Hull (even looks like him too) and even though he prefers that left face-off spot he can score in a variety of ways, unlike one-trick pony Dany Heatley. But everyone should've seen this coming. The World Championships are often overlooked because of the playoffs, but Stamkos really stood out with 7 goals in 9 games in the 2009 tournament. While both Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin are both adept at scoring goals, they're really fun to watch and compare because they're so different. Ovechkin's a bull - he'll do everything at high speed with raw talent, skill, and strength, but he'll also do the same thing 20 times even if he's failed the previous 19 times. Hal Gill really showed us how they could shut down Ovechkin by taking away just one of his moves. Stamkos is a different. He's a much more finesse sniper. One of the few teams that has really surprised me is Atlanta. I thought the biggest piece Chicago would miss would be Dustin Byfuglien, but it's actually Andrew Ladd that has been the key cog in Blueland. You'd think that losing your most talented player in Ilya Kovalchuk would hurt, and they were better last year with him in the lineup than without, so that Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsay have turned this franchise around in such a hurry is really encouraging news. Dudley, who was with Chicago last year, clearly knew which players he wanted to target. And finally the franchise is putting some confidence in Ondrej Pavelec. Don't let Boston's eighth rank fool you - they've played less games than everyone else and are currently in a slide, but this team is much better than its record suggests. Nathan Horton, with 8 goals in 22 games, is on pace for 30, the most since 2007. A healthy Milan Lucic gives this team an even more physical dimension and he's proving that he's a legitimate top six winger. Tuukka Rask has only one win (no fault of his own - Boston has scored just 12 in his 7 starts) but Tim Thomas has come back more determined than ever. If you need any proof that a good backup is key, just look at what Boston's been able to do, and to a lesser extent, the Jackets' Mathieu Garon, the Rangers' Martin Biron and Vancouver's own Cory Schneider. Are we finally seeing the Cam Ward that we saw (quite unfairly, actually) win the 2006 Conn Smythe? Ward's been posting the best numbers in recent memory. His goals against is trending down and his save percentage is trending up. Ward turns 27 in February, the prime of his career but it may be all for naught if the Hurricanes can't find more breakout players like Jeff Skinner. Drayson Bowman, Jamie McBain, and Zach Boychuk, all highly lauded prospects, haven't had the same impact. It's hard to see Ward's numbers get even better than they already are now because Carolina's just not a very good team. Ryan Miller isn't the best goalie this year and that shouldn't surprise anyone. It's so hard to predict which goalie is going to the best in the league ever year. There was a time when Martin Brodeur dominated every category but he's on the downside of his career so it's wide-open. Case in point. League leaders in SV%: Thomas, Garon, Ondrej Pavelec, Price, and Brent Johnson. Wins: Price, Jimmy Howard, Bobrovsky, Michal Neuvirth, and Thomas. I guarantee you no one had those goalies at the top of their lists in their fantasy draft (except maybe Howard). If Darcy Regier can turn this team around he and Lindy Ruff will stay, but owner Tom Golisano is under some pressure. <img src="http://images.ctv.ca/archives/CTVNews/img2/20101111/600_maple_leafs_lose_101111_430241.jpg?2"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Florida's been another nice surprise this season. Tomas Vokoun has been spectacular as usual (9-8, 2.44 GAA, .923 SV%) on a team that can't score. Their highest scorer, Michael Frolik, has 13 points and Stephen Weiss still hasn't stepped up his game, which I thought he would with Horton's departure. It's nice to see that the Panthers, like the Canucks with Jeff Tambellini, has given proven AHLer scorer Mike Santorelli, formerly of the Predators organization, a chance to stick with the big club. I used to hate having to watch the Leafs every Saturday night, but now I quite like it. Despite what people may seem to think about their lack of effort, I really think it's just a lack of talent. Sometimes it's visible, but most other times they're just plain bad plays and bad giveaways. Phil Kessel may be taking lots of flak for not scoring but it's not hard to see that he plays hard every shift and it's not really his fault he gets knocked on his butt every other time. All teams need to do to shut down the Leafs offense is to contain Kessel. The Leafs don't have a centre to dish him the puck or a strong winger to create some room for him. Most nights it looks like he's carrying the offense all by himself because Kris Versteeg clearly isn't comfortable being to a go-to guy after playing second fiddle in Chicago. The Leafs have improved, despite that awful Kessel deal, since Brian Burke came in. End of story. As long as Kovalchuk is in a Devils uniform, that franchise is going nowhere. It's not so much that he's a bad player, he's really talented, but it's that contract. If that deal costs the Devils Zach Parise, it'd go down as the worst gamble in NHL history. While Lou Lamoriello still has some pieces in the organization, the Devils are certainly trending down. Martin Brodeur isn't what he's used to be and there's no heir apparent. Jeff Frazee isn't ready yet. Even when his team's struggling, Kovalchuk hasn't changed his game to suit the Devils' system. This inability to adapt or change isn't something that's applied to Kovalchuk, but to a lot of Russians. Ovechkin's gotten better at what he does but he hasn't added to his repertoire like Sidney Crosby or Stamkos has. It's also why I'd take Crosby over Ovechkin any day - because I know Crosby will always strive to be a more complete player (and also because he's a centre). St. Louis will only go as far as Halak takes them. When Halak's head is in the game he's great, but once in awhile he'll just implode and let in 7 goals. With TJ Oshie out for the long-term, there hasn't been anybody who's stepped up their game. Patrik Berglund has responded nicely after clashing with Andy Murray last season but Brad Boyes has just 5 goals, David Backes has 13 points, and Andy McDonald, a good centre but miscast as a number one guy, is the team's leading scorer. The team needs to find the consistency that has to be present to win in the West - the Blues go 3 wins to start November, then allow 29 goals in 5 games, then win 3 straight after that. If there's any team that will challenge Vancouver for the division title in years to come it's Colorado. Does anyone see a little Joe Sakic in Matt Duchene? That draft couldn't have worked out any better for the Avs and Duchene and in three years they may be the scariest team in the West along with the Kings. They need that franchise goaltender but the pieces are all there - Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Ryan O'Reilly, and Duchene. Five years down the road, should Dean Lombardi not put his team in some sort of cap headlock, the Kings are going to be the team to beat in the West. A franchise player in Anze Kopitar, a future fab four with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Colten Teubert, and Thomas Hickey, and a franchise goalie in Jon Quick. They've got a good mix of veterans right now and would be a dark horse to win the Cup despite their inexperience. Dallas may have the division lead right now but the Kings will be so far ahead by the end of the season they won't be able to the Stars in the rear view mirror. Is there any other team that is as misinformed as the Sharks? I feel stupid for picking the Sharks to win the Pacific (albeit barely). The Sharks are a non-Cup contender posing as one. Their defense was porous to start the season and since Marc-Edouard Vlasic can't move the puck to save his life it's now just Dan Boyle, Doug Murray, and four other guys. The Sharks, even with Joe Pavelski, are a one-line team. As much as Todd McLellan wants to mix up the Big Three, he's continued to have to force the trio back together because they can't get anything going without one another. The goaltending is suspect and even though you don't need an elite goalie to win the Cup, you can certainly lose a season with two underperforming goalies. There's just no depth on this team. <img src="http://therattrick.com/files/2009/08/48154_Flames_Bouwmeester_Hockey.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">I've also never seen a player with a worse brain to talent ratio than Jay Bouwmeester. This guy can skate like a wind but thinks like a brick. Really, sometimes the stuff he does just makes you question your own sanity. He's paid franchise player money when he clearly can't play like one. As long as he is the anchor of the Calgary defense, and he has to because he's paid the most, they will never win a Cup. My guess is that by the end of the year the Flames will dump Darryl Sutter and ironically name Jay Feaster, the former Lightning GM who defeated the Flames in 2004, as GM. I'm guessing Brent gets another year because a lack of good personnel isn't exactly his fault. I think this is one of the few times i've praised East teams more than West teams and what we're witnessing is a shift in power. it's probably more apparent this year than ever. All the years of the East being inferior to the West is no more. The East has stockpiled so much talent over the years and slowly their patience is being rewarded. All of the league's young stars - Crosby, Malkin, Backstrom, Stamkos, the Staals, Price - are in the East. While the West may have more parity, more and more the good teams are separating themselves from the teams that still haven't adjusted to life in the cap era. Trophy Tracker: Hart: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Vezina: Tim Thomas, Boston Calder: Jeff Skinner, Carolina Art Ross: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Norris: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Lindsay: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Adams: Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay Selke: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Richard: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay But, wait! Where's Vancouver, you say? Well, they get a blog post all of their own and I think it's going to be a dandy, one that (hopefully) gets some good discussion going. Stay tuned!
  5. Hockey pundits and fans talk all they want and make bold predictions but once the puck drops the NHL really reminds us of how futile our efforts really are. Carolina, Toronto, and Dallas are all unbeaten. Pittsburgh is winless. Someone once said that sports is the most successful and best reality show in the world. I'd have to agree. Here are some storylines to keep watching for the rest of the year (or just to save myself some embarrassment, the next week). <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/af/fullj.babfaa6716e9bc1feb693b2ab5619ce4/babfaa6716e9bc1feb693b2ab5619ce4-getty-103114207_abe015_leafs_wings.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The Leafs are 2-0 but don't get used to that 1.000 winning percentage too soon because they face off against the winless Penguins next and you know Sidney Crosby won't be letting the former Cup champs slide to 0-3. To the Leafs' credit they've looked incredible so far. Their fans needed this hot start and so did Ron Wilson, who is temporarily off the hot seat but if the Leafs hit the links soon again this year then he won't be back coming back. The looked good in their season opener but remember that the Habs were without two of their top four with Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik both sidelined with injuries. With a healthy Phil Kessel and the addition of the shifty Kris Versteeg the Leafs are noticeably faster this year and caused all kinds of havoc on a disorganized Senators team. But if the Pens' breakouts continue to look like this then the Leafs may go 3-0. I noted Brent Burns as the player to watch in Minnesota and even though they're still having a little trouble putting the puck in the net (only 4 goals in 2 games) in Burns' second game he played 30:57, over 23 minutes on even strength alone. That's Scott Niedermayer/Chris Pronger territory right there. Burns is averaging 28:25 per game, fourth in the league and also has 9 shots, good enough for 8th in the league. While his defensive play is still probably something to be desired if you haven't picked up Burns yet in your fantasy league now's a pretty good time to do so. At least for now all the stars are pointing in the right direction for Burns. Speaking of good starts how about those Oilers? Taylor Hall didn't bulge the twine but he didn't have to. He was probably Edmonton's best player even though Jordan Eberle did steal the show which prompted some good ol' Canadian tongue in cheek humour from the rest of the dressing room. It's a small sample but judging from the Oiler's dressing room atmosphere but it really looks like they've got a team. One of the reasons the Blackhawks were so successful was partly because a lot of their young players matured together. The Oilers could be next with their Big Three (Eberle, Hall, Magnus Paajarvi). It's too early to speak of playoffs but this team is playing with confidence and sometimes the most dangerous teams in the NHL are the ones that no one ever takes seriously, like Colorado and Phoenix last year. Nikolai Khabibulin is no Ilya Bryzgalov but he does have a Cup ring (2004 with Tampa). Consistency may be the Oilers' biggest enemy this year, however. At least Oiler games won't be boring to watch anymore with one of the Big Three expected to score each game. If the Flames keep playing like that, which I suspect they will, they're finishing last in the Northwest. They're slow and old and generally ineffective. That Dion Phaneuf trade looks terrible right now and I do agree with Mike Peca in that Jay Bouwmeester is really easy to play against. He wasn't in the spotlight in Florida because it was mostly on Olli Jokinen (who coincidentally is on the Flames. Again). He didn't want to play for a non-hockey market team but didn't step his game any when he was shipped to hockey-mad Calgary. Bouwmeester is a complimentary player who's earning franchise player money. That just won't work under the cap. Mark my words, Bouwmeester is going to be the next Wade Redden. Last night Eric Francis from the Calgary Sun was on CBC and noted the friction between Darryl and Brent Sutter. My guess is that by the end of the year Brent stays while Darryl gets the boot. It's not exactly Brent's fault he was little to work. Next in line for Calgary's GM position is probably going to be the architect of Tampa's Cup win over Calgary in 2004, Jay Feaster. You get the feeling Calgary's going to be swimming circles all season long. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/ap/e7/fullj.6ee4ff05d92c7d383433a7a4b7863c4a/4964e77c61e840e5a3dc94153a1c0003.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Joe Thornton was named San Jose's captain after training camp ended and I have to say he's the most logical choice. Dan Boyle is relatively new to San Jose and doesn't come with Rob Blake's pedigree and Patrick Marleau had his chance. Joe Pavelski will be wearing an 'A' soon enough but he's a couple seasons away from captain material. Don't make any mistake though, this isn't the same Joe Thornton that briefly captained the Bruins. But like Shea Weber with Nashville and previously Roberto Luongo with Vancouver, I wonder if handing Thornton the captaincy is a goodwill gesture ultimately geared towards coming to a long-term extension. The whole situation blew up in Atlanta's face with Ilya Kovalchuk (more on him later) when they made him captain but San Jose is a contender with plenty of options for Thornton to pass to. Henrik Sedin was also the logical choice to be captain although I have to admit I had Ryan Kesler pegged as wearing the 'C'. Hank was management's choice all along because they felt Kesler's not quite ready yet. At least this time the logic behind this one seems sound, unlike when they made Luongo captain (not that he was a bad one but there's a reason why goalies can't/don't wear the 'C'). The assistants were hand-picked by Henrik himself and unsurprisingly includes brother Daniel, Kesler, and newcomer Manny Malhotra. It may have surprised some that Kevin Bieksa was named the fourth assistant over the steady Dan Hamhuis or high-scoring Christian Ehrhoff or Alex Edler, but I think this is Henrik's first leadership move. By giving Bieksa the 'A' Henrik's publicly (but quietly) challenging Bieksa to assume a leadership role and play better. There's still a chance that Bieksa will remain a Canuck beyond the trade deadline and this season but of course that will depend on how well Bieksa plays and so far it's only been so-so. The NHL opened their season with games abroad, the fourth consecutive year they've done so. Minnesota and Carolina opened in Helsinki, Phoenix and Boston in Prague, and Columbus and San Jose in Stockholm. I think it's absolutely great that the NHL is playing meaningful games overseas, especially in Europe (forget anywhere else), although the selection of teams does leave my head scratching. If anyone had been watching those early games you might have noticed that most of the games, especially Columbus-San Jose, played to quiet and mostly empty arenas. If Gary Bettman wants to maximize these opportunities, which he should, his selection of the teams has to be better. San Jose and Columbus don't have any significant Swedes to speak of and that means less vested interest for Swedish fans. Instead, pick teams with enough significant local flavour to play games. Could you imagine how crazy a Detroit-Vancouver match-up would be in Stockholm? Why aren't national heroes Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne playing in Helsinki when this may be their last swan song together? Why aren't Ales Hemsky or Patrik Elias in Prague? Why not bring Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara to Bratislava? And KHL willing, why not have the Pens and Capitals face-off in Moscow? (My guess is that a Pens-Caps 2-game series in Moscow will just about trounce anything the KHL has to offer and president Alexander Medvedev doesn't want that). Europe's a hockey market. Let's showcase the best of the best. Unlike Bob McKenzie, I didn't have a problem with the that left Ivanans concussed. I agree that the fight really didn't solve anything but the Oilers were completely dominating and it doesn't take much to tick off hockey players sometimes and God knows what it could've escalated to. I bet you that McKenzie would change his tune had Ivanans made a run at Eberle or Hall because MacIntyre refused to fight. Could Ivanans have saved himself from a concussion? Maybe. The truth is, once you lace up those skates you play knowing that there's the possibility of getting hurt. If you drop the gloves you expect to be punched. Ivanans' an enforcer who's job is to hit, fight, and spark his team. MacIntyre didn't want to fight but he knew he had to. Fights happen. Concussions happen. Live with it. McKenzie says there was no point. I say it's just two guys trying to keep their NHL careers afloat and it's just unfortunate one had to leave the game. I think fighting does belong in the game but heavyweights are a dying breed. There's no use keeping a player on the roster for his fists if he can't skate. Speaking of heavyweights as a dying breed, one of the reasons is because stars (some, at least) aren't afraid to drop the gloves anymore. while Henrik Zetterberg tussled with Ryan Getzlaf behind the play. The Ducks were taking runs at the Wings' skill players all game and when you don't have a heavyweight (and given Detroit's success, another reason why you don't necessarily need one) these players have to fend for themselves. This is the way hockey should be. Stand up for yourself and fight. Big props to David Booth for dropping the gloves with Mike Richards upon his return instead of having a plug like Andrew Peters (now a Canuck) doing it for him. And who says you need a good fight to spark a team? Kovalchuk's tilt against Mike Green wasn't spectacular but for a guy who earns $10 million a season and scores 40+ goals to willingly drop the gloves like that and try and generate something speaks a lot about his character. And let's face it, an ugly Kovalchuk-Green tilt is more interesting than some unknown fourth liners in a fight. I'm not sure if anyone's kept track but I thought it was interesting that while
  6. When Ilya Kovalchuk scores, Atlanta was six games over .500. When he doesn't, they were five games under. Even Nicklas Bergfors, who averaged a point per game with more quality in ice-time since his departure from New Jersey, is re-signed, expecting 40 goals out of him is like hoping Sami Salo's body can stay intact for an entire season. The rest of the roster is filled with former Chicago depth players and a bunch of inconsistent youngsters like Bryan Little and Angelo Esposito. Nik Antropov can't carry a team. Rick Dudley has a long road ahead of him to turn this franchise around but he already has a great building block with Zach Bogosian, who I think will end up being better than either Erik or Jack Johnson. Offense: C+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- <img src="http://www.boston.com/sports/hockey/bruins/extras/bruins_blog/2010/06/29/Bruins.jpg"class="imageFloatCenterFramed"> The Bruins won't have any scoring problems this year with Nathan Horton, who I think just needed a change of scenery. There's been talk that the Bruins offense could be potent enough that they can afford to send Tyler Seguin back to Plymouth, given their cap troubles. David Krejci is poised to have a bounce back season and Milan Lucic is healthy. I think Dennis Seidenberg is an upgrade over Dennis Wideman and Tuukka Rask could give Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur a good run for their money as the best goalie in the East. Offense: B+, Defense: B+, Goaltending: A If you expect Ryan Miller to repeat what he did last season, history is working against him. Miller's .929 SV% last year is 15 points higher than his career SV%. Even when Martin Brodeur posted his best SV% in 1997 with a .927 mark, he regressed 10 points the following season to .917, which is closer to his career average of .914. The same goes for Roberto Luongo, with a .931 mark in 2004 then .914 the following season. Brodeur has only managed to post back-to-pack seasons of .920 SV% or greater only once. Looking at that defense, and given the trends that work against Miller, I have a hard time believing the Sabres' defense will hold. Offense: B+, Defense: B-, Goaltending: A Heading into his first full NHL season as team captain, Staal doesn't have a heck of a lot to work with. Only Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen could be considered scoring threats but neither are top line players. Erik Cole is a lost cause and Sergei Samsonov lives in his own little world. Joni Pitkanen is great offensively but can only count on Tim Gleason to save his butt. Cam Ward has yet to replicate his Conn Smythe performance. However, GM Jim Rutherford has collected a good group of young talent that should make a significant impact this season, including Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, and early Calder candidate Jamie McBain. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B This is a transitional year for the Panthers who are preparing to give their entire organization an overhaul. Over half the roster are impending free agents and unless they impress Dale Tallon the majority of them will be gone, possibly by the trade deadline. David Booth is a potential franchise cornerstone but has yet to play a full season. There isn't much in the pipeline to speak of although there are three players (Dmitri Kulikov, Jacob Markstrom, and Evgeni Dadonov) that look to be keepers. The only constant for this team will be Tomas Vokoun's play and Bryan McCabe's giveaways. Offense: B-, Defense: C+, Goaltending: B+ <img src="http://committedindians.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/sharks_canadiens22b.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">I'm probably one of the few people out there that believe the Habs' decision to go with Carey Price is the right one. Out of all their young players I think him and PK Subban have the most upside. If anyone thinks the Habs can repeat what they did last year is delusional. What this team lacks in size they make up for in feistiness and toughness but the season is an 82-game grind and the little guys will wear down. Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Markov are probably the only two players on this roster that are paid what they're actually worth. Offense: B, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B Ilya Kovalchuk or not, the Devils always manage to make the playoffs when everyone writes them off. No one's making that mistake this time after GM Lou Lamoriello made a big splash signing Anton Volchenkov, who combined with Colin White may give the Devils the biggest intimidation factor since Scott Stevens. For once they are also to afford to give Martin Brodeur some rest with the more-than-capable Johan Hedberg. The only problem I see with this squad is the transition game from their blueline which features mediocre puck-moving ability when Paul Martin wasn't adequately replaced. Offense: B+, Defense: A-, Goaltending: A+ Like the Panthers, the Islanders have a slew of players set to become free agents in 2011, which means many of them are going to be motivated. Matt Moulson has to prove he's no one-hit wonder, Kyle Okposo really wants to be the East's premier power forward, and Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp both have something to prove. But this team is still too green to make the playoffs. And you can forget about Rick DiPietro – it's about time Snow looks in a different direction. Offense: B, Defense: C+, Goaltending: C+ Asides from that ridiculous contract to Derek Boogaard, I like what GM Glen Sather has done. Adding Alex Frolov takes some pressure off Marian Gaborik's shoulders and Todd White adds some defensive presence. There isn't anything too spectacular about the Rangers' offense other than Gaborik but if Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, the 5'7" Swedish Elite League MVP can deliver the Rangers might have a legitimate second scoring threat. Wade Redden will dress on Opening Night and Marc Staal is still un-signed but Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Matt Gilroy could improve by leaps and bounds this year. Offense: B+, Defense: B-, Goaltending: A+ For a guy who loves playing in Ottawa, the media sure want to run Jason Spezza out of town. A lot of the blame rests on his shoulders, sometimes rightfully so, but he's a talent that can't be easily replaced. If Alex Kovalev can learn to play hockey again things would go much smoother for Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. The blueline has plenty of talent, highlighted by the emerging Erik Karlsson, but asides from Chris Phillips, whether or not this group can defend their own zone consistently enough to help out Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott is questionable. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- If I had to put money on either Chicago or Philadelphia to make the finals again, it'd be the Flyers. They didn't lose much over the summer, save Chris Pronger's injury and the oft-injured Simon Gagne, and realized they have a potential superstar in Claude Giroux and salvaged a talent in Ville Leino. The blueline could use some work and we'll have to see if coach Peter Laviolette can work some magic on Andrej Meszaros. I expected the Flyers to go with a Michael Leighton-Brian Boucher tandem and they did, so there's no way I'm giving them a thumbs down for not going after Jaroslav Halak or whoever. Offense: A-, Defense: A-, Goaltending: B+ The Penguins didn't have any trouble scoring goals after Sidney Crosby decided to do it all himself rather than wait for Ray Shero to find the right wingers. Defense, however, was another story as the Pens allowed 237 goals, second-most out of the eight playoff teams. That was quickly fixed by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, two of the best signings this summer. Coupled with Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski, the Pens have the most well-rounded and capable six-man group in the East. Marc-Andre Fleury, never a fantastic regular season goalie, will get all the help he needs to notch a 40-win season, his first since his sophomore year. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- <img src="http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8912889/tampa-bay-lightning-vice/tampa-bay-lightning-vice.jpg?size=380&imageId=8912889"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">A testament to how much Steve Yzerman is respected in Tampa Bay shows in the names he's managed to haul in: Pavel Kubina, Simon Gagne, and the underrated Brett Clark. Guy Boucher is a big step up over former head coach Rick Tocchet and he'll most certainly build his offense around Steve Stamkos, arguably the East's second-best centre. But let's be realistic here – the Bolts aren't making the playoffs with that roster. They are, however, going in the right direction. Offense: A, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B- The Leafs severely underperformed last year and this team isn't as bad as many people think. J-S Giguere is no Vesa Toskala so at least there's some solace in that. The blueline isn't bad either if you exclude Jeff Finger. (I met a guy once who tried to rationalize that signing when it was announced – I'd love to see him do it now). There are some question marks up front but you have to give Phil Kessel some credit – he did score 30 goals with zero help. If the Leafs make the playoffs they'll sneak in as the eighth seed. It's plausible because after the top six spots the field is wide open. Offense: B-, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ Whatever question marks the Capitals had heading into last season were erased when Semyon Varlamov emerged as a capable number one goalie. Now with Michal Neuvirth pushing him he'll have to stay focused. Alex Ovechkin must be motivated as ever, losing both the Art Ross to Henrik Sedin and Rocket Richard to arch rival Sidney Crosby so watch out, he's shooting for 60 goals. The team's ability to play defense will determine how far they will get in the playoffs but for now pencil them in as the President's Trophy winner. Offense: A+, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ EAST STANDINGS 1. Washington 2. Pittsburgh 3. Boston 4. New Jersey 5. Philadelphia 6. Ottawa 7. Buffalo 8. Montréal 9. NY Rangers 10. Carolina 11. Toronto 12. Tampa Bay 13. NY Islanders 14. Florida 15. Atlanta
  7. 30. That was Canucks hockey at its finest. Even at the Madhouse, the Blackhawks lacked that extra step all night. But that's what's most frustrating about the Canucks - they can't play their game on a more consistent basis. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/03/mar1909_ob3_b.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">29. I was never a fan of Shane O'Brien, especially in game four when he took two bone-headed cross-checking penalties. No one has ever questioned his toughness but you can't help but notice that his game has improved drastically. His skating and his hockey smarts are two things that have really jumped out at me this season. 28. Will the real Ryan Kesler please stand up? Much like Alex Burrows, Kesler has struggled to find his game in the second round after a fantastic regular season and an even better performance at the Olympics. It's not like Kesler's invisible - that's more Pavol Demitra than anyone - but he hasn't made a big impact in games like we all know he can. 27. Roberto Luongo was better, but not fantastic. He didn't exactly steal the game, although there were more Hawks chances than I'd like to see. It's not exactly like the Hawks are an easy team to play against either. 26. Special teams is vital, especially if it's not the regular season. The Hawks powerplay didn't look nearly as dangerous and Dustin Byfuglien wasn't as noticeable as he was in Game Four. The Canucks didn't allow a single PPG in four penalty kills. A rarity these days. 25. If there was a goat for the entire series, I'm not picking the less than spectacular Luongo. It's Daniel Sedin. Having accumulated only 28 PIM all season, the twin without the 'A' has 12 PIM in 11 games and just one powerplay goal. Daniel was clearly rattled by David Bolland in Game Four and a lot of the penalties he's been taken have just been plain dumb. There was a collective sigh of relief for Canucks Nation when the Canucks came out strong again in the second period after a late hooking call on Daniel. Perhaps this is the reason why Alain Vigneault gave Henrik rather than Daniel the 'A'. 24. Kyle Wellwood can be a blast to watch. He's perhaps one of the best stickhandlers in the league in close quarters, but ask him to do it while skating at full speed and, well, it's probably not going to happen. But either way, I think he was one of the best players out there last night (along with Kevin Bieksa and O'Brien), and I think most will agree. He may be only one of the few returning UFAs and he won't come much more expensive than his current salary ($1.2 million). 23. It's a foregone conclusion that Pavol Demitra is gone after this season. I didn't expect him to be back next year but his overall lack of effort just solidified my case even more. 22. Never mind Patrick Kane - he's a slick puckhandler with great vision and soft hands, but it doesn't seem like he'll be anything more than that. Perhaps it's because his development into a NHL star has paled in comparison to Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews', but even after a couple of seasons in the league I don't think he's improved his defensive game any, if at all. I don't expect Kane to win the Selke, Kesler's going to do that this year, but I know some Hawks fans that cringe when they see 88 loitering around the defensive zone. 21. Kris Versteeg is one of those sneaky fast players that plays hard. If anything, his spirited tilt against Patrick Eaves was a testament to his heart and grit. 29 other teams would love to have him. Asides from Toews, for obvious patriotic reasons, he may be one of my favourite Hawks. Don't shoot me. 20. If the Canucks advance to the finals it won't be because Henrik, Luongo, Alex Edler, or even Christian Ehrhoff elevated their play. It's because of the return of Ryan Johnson, who returns to his regular fourth line spot. The underappreciated centre won 8 of 9 draws (he single-handedly raised the Canucks' FO% by 5%), blocked 2 shots, and dished out 1 hit in 11 minutes of ice-time. One thing that you can depend on Johnson for is quality minutes. Against San Jose defense will be huge, now with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton (finally) hitting their stride. <img src="http://habsinsideout.com/files/hio/imagecache/littleimage/images/0subban_0.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">19. How about that PK Subban? The kid oozes poise and confidence on the blueline and with Hal Gill questionable for an elimination game and Jaroslav Spacek's expected to return (although not necessarily at 100%), expect Subban to log 20 minutes. He's already averaging 18:41 and don't be surprised if Jacques Martin assigns Subban to Sidney Crosby. 18. It's funny how much ink Jaroslav Halak is getting, but once the playoffs are over expect the Halak vs. Carey Price debates to continue. Habs fans have fallen head over heels with Halak but I caution against jumping on the bandwagon too soon. One good season does not make for a good goalie. I'm not doubting Halak's ability, but I am a little appalled how fast people throw Price under the bus. But, I guess that's just Montreal for you. 17. The Flyers have always wanted that elite netminder, but ask any Philly fan and they'll say that Ron Hextall was the last good goaltender they had. But what's Hextall's career save percentage? A rather pedestrian .895. What Flyers fans miss is the toughness and pugnacity Hextall brought to the table but those goalies don't grow on trees. In fact, I think a case can be made to jettison Ray Emery (in all likelihood won't be re-signed, anyone else think he has a career in MMA?) and enter the 2010-11 season with Brian Boucher as the number one and Michael Leighton as the backup. Neither come with starting goalie pedigree (Boucher was a former 22nd overall pick), but the Flyers are a team built for the playoffs and all they need to do is to make it. They got lucky and drew the declining Martin Brodeur in the first round, but Boucher has always traditionally played better when it counts. His regular season numbers aren't exactly stellar (.900, 2.72 GAA career) but his playoff numbers are significantly better (.915, 2.17 GAA career). A Boucher/Leighton tandem will save them money and allow them to keep Simon Gagne. If anything, this would be a one season experiment. I've always felt some backups never get the chance to show what they can really do. 16. Everyone's been saying how easy it was to shut down Alex Ovechkin but how about Crosby? He's almost been a non-factor in the series but like Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma will live or die with his best players on the ice. Evgeni Malkin, last year's Conn Smythe winner, has been invisible for stretches of the game. I actually think the best Penguin in this playoffs has been Kris Letang. So much for finding the right wingers - Ruslan Fedotenko has zero points and Alexei Ponikarovsky was a healthy scratch recently. 15. The new Bobby Orr statue that commemorates the 40th anniversary of his goal against St. Louis will be unveiled tonight. The Bruins are looking to eliminate the Flyers at home (they will) and advance to the Conference Finals where in all likelihood they will face Pittsburgh, which will no doubt be a spirited bout. After facing the 6'7" Gill, Crosby will yet again face another giant, this time the 6'9" Zdeno Chara. Expect more frustration and shattered sticks. Marc-Andre Fleury needs to outplay Tuukka Rask if the Pens want to advance. 14. If there were any doubts over Doug Wilson's job security in San Jose, the Sharks' first appearance in the Conference Finals in six years certainly wiped it all away. Joe Thornton, surprisingly, came up huge and he's been playing really well. But the big coming out party is for "Little Joe" Pavelski, who I thought along with Ryan Kesler, Ryan Miller, and Brian Rafalski was one of the best players for USA. 13. Just a little story on Pavelski. After playing two years at the University of Wisconsin, Pavelski signed an entry-level contract at $850,000 in the summer of 2006. Despite his spectacular college numbers (101 points in 84 games, James van Riemsdyk only collected 74 in comparison), Pavelski initially didn't expect to make the team. He was absolutely shocked when he walked into the locker room one day and saw his familiar #8 (his college number) waiting for him at his stall. He knew then that he had made it. Even his mother has often commented about how the entire family was surprised at how good he was at the game. It's this kind of modesty that really makes great players. The kind of modesty that makes you work hard at your game day-in and day-out. 12. That San Jose made the Conference Finals must be great news for Gary Bettman. After interest in hockey in California began to fade after the Ducks' struggles, the Sharks have finally found that playoff success and the Kings are becoming relevant again. If you were to argue for Bettman's side that hockey will work in non-traditional markets, California is a great example. Former Vancouver Giants standout Jon Blum is from California and a big reason he got into hockey was because of Wayne Gretzky. We could see a big boom in hockey interest in California very, very soon. <img src="http://media.scout.com/media/image/63/634544.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">11. Back to college hockey - if anyone gets a chance, watch the NCAA Frozen Four. I personally dislike watching basketball in general, especially the NBA, but March Madness is a different animal altogether. Just imagine the hype, the skill, the determination, and the hard work, but just on ice. It's a spectacular tournament that unfortunately really doesn't garner enough attention. The player that I've been watching all year and think could have a great NHL career? Former Wisconsin captain Blake Geoffrion (whose squad finished second this year to Boston College), the grandson of Hab legend Boom-Boom Geoffrion and wears #5 in his honour. If there was any family that knows how to shoot the puck, it's the Geoffrions. 10. It's about time the NHL made an award for executive of the year, although I wish they would name it. There is no question that this year's winner is Don Maloney, much like this year's Jack Adams should go to Dave Tippett. What they've done together in Phoenix has been incredible. Should the Coyotes move to Winnipeg, they will already have a solid management group in place, a key ingredient to a successful hockey franchise and ensure that the "new" Jets won't be stuck in expansion mediocrity in its infancy. 9. Next award to introduce? How about an award for most assists? There's a minor award for one of the useless stats in hockey with the +/- award, so why not one for helpers? This isn't some sort of ploy to get Henrik another trophy (he will win both the Hart and Pearson) but playmaking is an art form but is somehow less glamorous than goal-scoring. Let's change that. 8. There's little doubt in my mind that the new hardware being handed out this year is somehow tied to the fact that for the foreseeable future the NHL Awards will be held in glitzy Las Vegas. 7. I'm going to refrain from making any predictions about who will come out of the west for fear of jinxing our dearly beloved, but I am going to say that the East won't be winning the Cup this year. Although I'm sure Bettman is just absolutely jonesing for a Chicago-Pittsburgh tilt. Ratings would be through the roof. 6. My avid golfer dad and I enjoyed the brief absence of Tiger Woods from the PGA Tour. It's not that we don't like the way he golfs - his aggressiveness and competitiveness is second to none - but it's the way he carries himself on and off the course (no more needs to be said here). If you remember, it wasn't too long ago when Woods made a little comment about how "no one watches hockey," which prompted "Mad Mike" Milbury to dub him "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f9hfH_zGKE," I can't help but think how ignorant that comment is. USA Hockey is providing a new surge of talent and if the Olympics were any indication at all, it's going to become really relevant again. That Tiger Woods, the world's most marketable athlete behind LeBron James (the scandal actually did The Masters a favour), is turning a blind eye towards his own country's feats and accomplishments is downright ignorant and frustrating. This has gone on long enough. Now for a short top five things to watch for. 5. Steven Stamkos at the World Championships in Cologne, Germany. He will be Canada's #2 pivot for years to come behind Sidney Crosby. Stamkos is already better than Eric Staal, Vinny Lecavalier, or Ryan Getzlaf when they were his age. No surprises here, but Matt Duchene is also another player to watch and will end up having a more brilliant career than John Tavares. Which is why the Oilers should go with potential and smarts rather than raw skill by selecting Tyler Seguin over Taylor Hall. In fact, maybe Steve Tambellini can dupe Peter Chiarelli into thinking that the Oilers are going to take Hall and somehow swindle a low pick from them to guarantee them that they'll take Seguin first overall. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/aa/fullj.d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921/d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921-getty-98570716jj019_detroit_red_w.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">4. Nicklas Lidstrom may have played his last game as a Red Wing and it's a shame that it has to end on a low note, especially after falling to Crosby and the Pens last year. Had the Wings won the Cup Lidstrom's decision to retire would be much easier, but like most veteran players who are on the fence (Mike Modano included), there's always that question of "what could've been." Either way, congratulations are in order for both Modano and Lidstrom. 3. Mark Messier selected the squad for Canada at Cologne and no doubt the Canadians will achieve some form of success due to the abundance of talent. But managing a NHL team is a different. There's salary caps, trades, negotiations, and PR disasters (the Rangers still have Sean Avery). I certainly hope Messier's success at the international level doesn't somehow get translated into a lengthy NHL managing career. On second thought, that might not be a bad idea. 2. The Canucks somehow played better with 4.5 defensemen (sorry, Andrew Alberts). With Sami Salo expected to out with a potentially ruptured testicle (ouch... but follow it on twitter @salostesticle) this will be a test to how the Canucks respond. The home team has the losing record in this series but look for GM Place to be rowdy as ever. 1. The number one thing to watch? Game Six. Duh.
  8. What a wild playoffs. I've been so caught up with everything that I had neglected to add new entries. Apologies. As a gift, here's everything that's been on my mind for the past 2 weeks. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/89/fullj.7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855/7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855-getty-98063257.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - Colorado just simply ran out of steam. Craig Anderson looked exhausted at times and the game time Peter Budaj saw I'm sure gave Anderson some much needed rest, however brief. Matt Duchene hit a wall and had an obvious difficulty adjusting to the more physical playoff hockey after an outstanding rookie season. Chris Stewart really had a coming out party and could become a legitimate 30-goal power forward. The Sharks almost became another punch line to a choking joke again and even though San Jose can breath a sigh of relief, they still won't make it past the second round. Even Dan Boyle was reluctant to talk about his Game 3 gaffe. If they do, it'd be totally on the shoulders of Boyle, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks' vaunted Big Three have once again pulled their disappearing act. Joe Thornton has 3 assists in 6 games and is -4. Patrick Marleau has 3 points and is -2. Dany Heatley has 0 goals in 5 games. You really have to wonder how long Doug Wilson is willing to hold on to this core. And you also have to really wonder if Thornton can really be considered a franchise cornerstone anymore. - There's no secret that there's a double standard in the NHL and their failure to remain objective in all their disciplinary actions just makes the joke even worse. Zdeno Chara should've been suspended as per league rules but he wasn't, and you can expect the same with Marian Hossa for his hit on Dan Hamhuis. To make matters worse, Hossa was the Game 5 hero, giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead against a Nashville squad. I didn't think Chicago would have this much trouble against a team that pales in comparison in talent, but it just goes to show how far blue-collar hockey can get you. The Hawks will have no problem closing this out on the road or at the United Center. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/capress/d8/fullj.1ee1ab3e17070f7eef2792201806597f/capress-hkn_kings_canucks-232609823.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed"> - The Kings skated with such confidence that it totally disrupted with the Canucks' play and if not for Mikael Samuelsson's (he's been fantastic since the "Sweden Snub") shooting the Canucks wouldn't be in this position. Roberto Luongo still really hasn't found his game while the defense can be criticized, his .882 SV% and 3.11 GAA just won't cut it. The penalty kill has been awful, and for those who wonder how Ryan Johnson and his one-goal season can justify more than a million dollars per year, well, there's your answer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects continue to march on. Henrik and Daniel and Ryan Kesler have continued their great regular seasons. The return of Steve Bernier was big, and the always under-appreciated big forward has caused some havoc in front of the Kings net. I think the last 7-2 thrashing totally shot down whatever confidence the Kings had. Give credit to the Kings - they're a young squad that really exceeded expectations this year, and they're going to be Pacific Division heavyweights for a long time with Anze Kopitar up front and Norris-nominee Drew Doughty on the blueline. If the Canucks can't defend the Kings, they'll have headaches with the Blackhawks. Again. - I think in the Detroit-Phoenix series, experience has really tilt the scales in the Wings' favour. Admittedly I haven't been following this series as closely as the other, but each Red Wing win looks more and more convincing. After an ugly 7-4 win, the Wings have absolutely clamped down on Phoenix's offense, with two goals allowed in their last two games. Pavel Datsyuk's simply a magician on ice and he's led the Wings' attack. Nicklas Lidstrom has remained relatively quiet (as usual) but I somehow expected a little more out of him considering that this may be his last NHL playoffs amidst rumours of retiring or returning to Sweden. Usually, half the teams that make the playoffs one year don't make the playoffs the following year (Edmonton and Carolina being the most extreme examples, no Rangers, Blues, Flames, Ducks this year). I have a feeling Phoenix and Colorado will both fall victim to this because the biggest reason for their success has been their goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov and Craig Anderson have had outstanding seasons but they'd have to do it again to prove to me they're not one-trick ponies. - There's no way the Habs can limit the Caps to one goal again. That simply won't happen. Bruce Boudreau was noticeably flustered with his team's lack of offense in Game 5, but they'll find their game soon. You can shut down Alex Ovechkin for one game, but not an entire series. I really think the wild card here isn't goaltending, but rather Mike Green. Green has just 2 assists and is the Caps' fourth highest scoring defenseman behind USA World Jr. hero John Carlson, Tom Poti, and deadline pick-up Joe Corvo. Alex Semin only has one assist and is driving everyone crazy - he earns $6 million next year on a one-year contract and if he doesn't perform then he will be trade bait. Much like LA's Alex Frolov, Semin's desire to compete has been questioned. I've been impressed with the Habs' effort despite being a much less skilled and smaller team, but I think for the most part they've responded well. Size wasn't an issue here but look for the Habs to address that need at this year's draft where there's plenty of big-bodied centres. - I called the upset, and it was Philadelphia. They were simply built for the playoffs and the Devils just couldn't overcome their aggressive play. The Scott Hartnells, Mike Richards, and even Dan Carcillos of the Flyers simply outworked the Devils. Ian Laperriere required 60-70 stitches to fix his face after taking a shot and it's the little instances like that that can tell you about what sort of personality the team has. They'll face Washington next round (if they win) and that's a tough match-up. All you need in the playoffs to go far is a hot goalie and the Flyers have just that with Brian Boucher. At the heels of the Devils' elimination, it should be no surprise that the rumour mill has started to turn again. With a third straight first round exit, I think it's a definite sign that Martin Brodeur can no longer be the man. His .881 SV% and 3.01 GAA was awful for his standards and it has sparked rumours that Lou Lamoriello may be going after Carey Price. - The Boston-Buffalo series was certainly one that caught me by surprise. I knew that neither team would score much, and I thought Buffalo could hold off Boston's physical attack before the fatigue would set in the second round, but I guess I was wrong. Both goalies have been incredible and I still can't really pick which team is going to win, but I'll have to stick with Buffalo and hope they can win two straight. If the Sabres do win, it'd make me 8 for 8 in my predictions. The winner of this series won't last past the second. After Lindy Ruff told the media that whether or not Thomas Vanek would play would depend solely on him, it's going to be very difficult for Vanek to say no, no matter how far away from being 100% he is. - The Sens played great despite missing some several key pieces and going against two of the most offensively talented players in the league and Selke nominee Jordan Staal. It's tough enough beating all three of them, but with a strong supporting cast (although not as strong as the Pens would like) they prevailed. The series does put the Sens in a bit of a curious position, as moving forward they'll have to decide if either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott is their number one guy going forward, or if they're just going to split everything 50-50. - Very quickly, that sets up San Jose and Detroit, Vancouver and Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia, and then Pittsburgh-Buffalo/Boston. It's going to be a dandy, because I see Detroit and Chicago in the Conference Finals and another Pittsburgh-Washington showdown before Chicago claims the Cup. Bold? Maybe. - The obsession with getting the right match-ups has set a new record for too many men on the ice penalties. It's going to cost a team mightily in the Finals and it'll have to be pinned on the coach. Poor bench management leads to poor communication and it won't necessarily be the players' fault. - John Tavares didn't make the list of Calder nominees that includes Detroit's Jimmy Howard, Colorado's Matt Duchene, and Buffalo's Tyler Myers. It's not that Tavares didn't have a good season - he did, with 24 goals to tie for the lead with Duchene but it was Tavares' -15 that didn't do him any favours. If it were my pick it'd be Howard. Duchene was one of Colorado's top scorers and Myers was Buffalo's top defenseman, but both I think were real beneficiaries of having Anderson and Ryan Miller in net. In hockey the most important position (arguably) is in net and without Howard the Red Wings wouldn't have made the top 8. He's much older but he's the most worthy of the league's top rookie award. - The race for the Selke essentially comes down to two players: Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler. There's no contest for the third candidate, Jordan Staal. I was a little perplexed by Staal's nomination, but in part because Datsyuk and Kesler are in a class of their own. You could replace Staal with Jonathan Toews, who I felt should've gotten a vote, and it still wouldn't have been a contest. Kesler will be hard-pressed to beat Datsyuk for the award but I think considering Kesler's showing at the Olympics and his offensive breakout it's his time to claim the award. - The Lady Byng Trophy is usually the least respected major award and it's not totally fair to give it that label and but indeed it is less glamorous. Datsyuk gets his second nomination this year while Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis both enjoyed great seasons. However, I think Datsyuk will go empty-handed once again and St. Louis, who was snubbed by Canada, will take the award. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/blackhawks/images/upload/2009/01/chi_129_6.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - The most interesting race will be for the Norris Trophy. This year's list of candidates features three first-timers with Duncan Keith, Mike Green, and Drew Doughty. I'm still a little uneasy over Green's nomination because his defensive game is nowhere near Keith's (glug glug) or Doughty's. Someone please make a Bobby Orr Award or something for best offensive defenseman. Anyway, back on topic, has anyone else noticed that none of those 3 players are feared for their hitting? It's clearly a changing of the guard not so much in terms of age, but definitely style of play. All three are incredible skaters. Chris Pronger was never an incredible skater. If it weren't for Green's nomination I think it would've went to Shea Weber. My pick is without a doubt Duncan Keith, no question. - Nashville can't even sell out their playoff games against a division rival. Once again, the futility of hockey in non-traditional American markets should give Gary Bettman an idea of what exactly is going on down there but of course he believes they are still viable markets. Bettman got absolutely lucky with the Coyotes' success this season. It also shows, however, how a successful team, no matter the location, can be with the proper management. It sounds like Tampa Bay is headed in that direction but apparently Martin St. Louis wants no part of it and has reportedly requested a trade. - The draft lottery didn't unveil any surprises, but the Oilers are still shrouded in mystery as to who they're going to pick. They've recently re-vamped their front office by firing assistant GM Kevin Prendergast and a number of trainers, but you have to wonder when Steve Tambellini's going to start touching that roster. If I were the Oilers, I'd draft Tyler Seguin and blow up that entire roster. If Tambellini had to pick one player to not trade regardless of the offer, it'd be Sam Gagner. The kid's a wizard with the puck and competes hard. - It's playoff hockey time and we've already seen our fair share of blood, bruises, and shattered teeth courtesy of Eric Belanger. The winner of this year's playoffs will be the team that has lost the most teeth and pints of blood combined. It's always been like that though. Here's to the Canucks and Kyle Wellwood losing all his teeth. Go Canucks Go!
  9. It may have well been the Vancouver Canucks vs. Jaroslav Halak last night. If there was any question of which young goalie La Belle Province liked better, the Slovakian netminder made 45 saves in a 3-2 win. Jacques Martin decided to not start British Columbia native Carey Price amidst rumours of locker room drama, sitting him for the fifth time in their last six games in which the Habs have gone a rather pedestrian 2-2-1. Halak improves to 15-8-2 and is making a strong push to be Slovakia's starter at the Olympics, supplanting Colorado backup Peter Budaj. However, I don't think this game was won and lost in the goaltending department, although it certainly gave Montreal an edge. The Canucks were atrocious in the circle, going only 20-for-54 the entire night. Ryan Kesler, despite his blue-collar goal to pull the Canucks within one, was uncharacteristically awful, winning just 6 of 21. Henrik Sedin and Kyle Wellwood were both below average, while on the other end of the spectrum, Tomas Plekanec won 17 of 25 and Scott Gomez won 9 of 16. For whatever reason, the Canucks couldn't gain control of the puck for long periods throughout the night. They have to win the little battles if they want to be successful, and if it hasn't been stressed enough already, this 14-game road trip is absolutely crucial. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/a2/fullj.2c6b64587e9c262408dc39e45b9d8783/2c6b64587e9c262408dc39e45b9d8783-getty-90960808rw008_canu_cana.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The defensive play was also poor. There were too many errant passes, either because they were too long, too inaccurate, or just a complete lack of awareness of what was going on. A turnover led to Sergei Kostitsyn's second goal of the season, who has been bumped up to the top line in the absence of Mike Cammalleri and played the most inspired hockey I've seen him play in a while. The even-strength marker was the Habs' first in four games. Maxim Lapierre was johnny-on-the-spot with his fourth of the season on a missed assignment by Brad Lukowich, who played just under nine minutes, and Steve Bernier, who hasn't been quite as effective since coming back from a groin injury. Despite some line-juggling from Alain Vigneault, including a great shift from the speed line of Kesler, Alex Burrows, and Mason Raymond, the poor defensive zone coverage around the net led to Tomas Plekanec's 14th of the season who had not one, not two, but three good whacks at it before crossing the goal line. There is only so much Roberto Luongo can do, and while he didn't play a spectacular game, the team play in front of him wasn't any better. The Habs were largely dysfunctional in their own zone, which led to a lot of Canuck opportunities but were turned away by Halak again and again. The first half of the second period seemed to be a microcosm of the Canucks' play the entire night. Poor blueline management that led to numerous off-sides and a stretch of back-and-forth icings, a result of both teams unable to generate any offense. The Habs did score 3 tonight, but it's the most they scored since January 23 in which they scored 6 on the Rangers. Without Cammalleri, the Habs lacked any sort of real finish tonight and expect that trend to continue. I felt at times the Sedins tried to get too cute with the puck and the Habs did do a good job of really taking away the passing lanes. Of the 47 shots the Canucks fired, I can confidently say that over 30 of them were from relatively long range and/or from sharp angles. I didn't think the officiating was particularly good last night either, and it always frustrates me when there are more penalties called in the third period than the first and second combined (6 to 5). I felt Alex Burrows' interference call on Marc-Andre Bergeron was rather weak, as was Kesler's diving call on a Yannick Weber trip. Kesler's 14th gave Canucks fans a slight jolt of hope with a comeback akin to the one last Saturday against the Leafs, but Burrows' goalie interference call made all that come crashing down with a halt. You have to wonder if Burrows and Kesler's reputations for diving and whining came into play last night. Kesler did draw two penalties earlier in the game on a Roman Hamrlik slash and another Weber trip. Let's cue the conspiracy theorists - perhaps referees Greg Kimmerly and Chris Rooney went up and talked to them between whistles? With the win, and considering Halak's performance, it seems as though Martin will go with him for the time being, given his hot hand. Carey Price is quickly losing favour among Montreal's faithful, including rumours that his carefree, nonchalant attitude has given him the nickname "Superstar." There has been a ton of debate over whether or not GM Bob Gainey should trade Halak or Price, and for now the answer is unequivocally Price. I don't think there's any debate - the Habs should keep both, even when both goaltenders are RFA. Why? Because I don't think the market's been better for goalies, it still hasn't been decided which one is undeniably better than the other, and they will get a decent enough return for either. Dallas is in the hunt for a starting goaltender and either of those guys will be better options than the injury-prone Kari Lehtonen, journeyman Martin Biron, and more established than Cory Schneider. They risk here is that the Habs won't get an offer sheet for either goalie, but given the situation I think that seems rather unlikely. If we stay conservative and believe that both goalies are worth roughly $3.5-$4 million on the open market, the Habs stand to receive 2010 1st and 3rd round picks. Personally, I think Price is the better long term option but like any other goalie he will have to go through growing pains. The Islanders made a mistake by trading away Roberto Luongo too early and it's the ultimate cautionary tale when it comes to goalies. Quick rumour hits (because everyone loves them): - The Leafs aren't done dealing and are talking to the Oilers. The Leafs want to get rid of Lee Stempniak and his $3.5 million salary and Alexei Ponikarovsky doesn't seem to be in the long-term plans either. - The Pens are looking for help on Evgeni Malkin's wing and the word is that Ponikarovsky's their top choice. - The Blues have Eric Brewer, Keith Tkachuk, and Paul Kariya on the block. Tkachuk was rumoured to go to Boston last year but ended up with Mark Recchi instead. The Bruins have Michael Ryder on the block and are interested in Peter Mueller. Kariya may head to the Pens, Kings, or even Canucks. - The Sens want to add more depth given their recent surge and playoff hopes. Brian Lee is their big trade chip and they're looking at more mid-level affordable options like Ray Whitney (also linked to the Kings and Flames) or Andrew Brunette. Ray Whitney has not waived his NTC. - The Kings are supposedly dangling a package that includes a mix of Jack Johnson, Wayne Simmonds, Oscar Moller, Brayden Schenn, and picks for Ilya Kovalchuk but it appears as though those rumours are not true. - The sale of the Lightning might mean cost-cutting moves and that includes Vincent Lecavalier and Andrej Meszaros. Cue the Montreal rumours for Vinny. - The Avs are supposedly in "buy" mode given their surprising season but probably won't part with picks or prospects. - Glen Sather will most likely not be the Rangers' GM next year. Mark Messier has been groomed to fill the void, following a trend that includes Joe Nieuwendyk in Dallas. Personally, I hope Messier fails miserably. Yes, I'm still bitter.
  10. Okay, so this post will be dealing with the Toronto Maple Leafs a little bit, but I promise that it's for a good reason. There's also going to be a lot of Internet nerd talk going on here, so if neither of those points hasn't resulted in you running screaming into the night, thanks. I caught a mention on Twitter not too long ago about how the Leafs are supposedly losing their young fans to video games. Avoiding the easy joke, that the Leafs are probably losing young fans because the Leafs are a horrible, horrible team and have been since the lockout, I found the article to be indicative of just how out of touch Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment are with things and representative of how much work they have cut out for themselves in getting back to being a respectable hockey club. Especially when you compare how the Leafs are handling the big, scary online world compared to how another team handles it. Such as, say, the Canucks. The Vancouver Canucks have long been on top of things in the online world and I'm not necessarily saying that because I'm a fan of the team. Right from the very get go, the Canucks have been online, the earliest possible record I can find of a Canucks site is 1994. The earliest incarnation I was able to dredge up of the Leafs was 1996, not too bad, but amusing to see that one of the biggest NHL franchises has been a little slow in embracing new technology and ways of reaching out to fans. Funnily enough, the more things change the more they continue to remain the same. Using Twitter, something that was elaborated on in the article I linked above, it looks as though the 'official' Maple Leafs Twitter account was being used by a fan or imposter before being utilized by MLSE proper. If you take a look at this snapshot of the account, you'll notice a discrepancy of roughly 700 Tweets recorded versus what is actually there. Unfortunately, there's no way to determine when precisely the Leafs took over the account as I've tried to confirm whether this was the case, but attempts to reach someone at the Leafs haven't yielded anything. That makes determining how long it took to get their fanbase difficult (the Leafs account has 6,692 followers at the time I wrote this.) Not too bad, I suppose, although you'd think that number would be a little higher given that the GTA is one of Canada's densely populated regions. Especially when you look at the Canucks profile and see that they're sitting at a whopping 18,529 followers. What's most interesting to me, though, is looking at the number of Tweets made by each account. The Canucks account has made 1,942 Tweets, or roughly 9.5 followers per Tweet. The Leafs have made 2,287 Tweets for their 6,692 followers or, roughly 2.9 followers per Tweet. This indicates to me that the Canucks have a great online presence (which they do) and don't have to do a whole lot of work to get that fan support online, because fans are plugged in and have things like Twitter available to them. For comparison, the Montreal Canadiens, who generally are neck and neck with the Canucks in terms of monthly site activity for being the #1 active official NHL team site, arguably have the most rabid and devoted NHL fans out there have over 30,000 followers and have done even less Tweeting than the Canucks. The Flames (@NHLFlames) are on pace with the Leafs in terms of followers/Tweets and the Atlanta Thrashers (@ATLTHrashers), a team that has one of the smallest fanbases in the league has, er, a staggering 3,102 followers on Twitter. It's pretty bad that the Leafs are patting themselves on the back for hiring folks to deal with Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, a social networking site that is rapidly going the way of Friendster. Working in Toronto over the summer, I saw advertisements being made for these positions. At the time, I had assumed that they were recently vacated positions but the article seems to indicate that they were newly created roles, which is absolutely baffling to me. Why? Well, two reasons. The first: the Leafs are specificially devoting time, resources and money to establish a presence online, specifically with sites like Twitter and they only have twice as many followers as the Atlanta freaking Thrashers. While the Canucks organization does have a huge fanbase that is passionate about the Canucks, simply having that fanbase isn't enough to drive traffic to your website or have people care about what you're doing. That the Canucks do a great job of providing a reason to check out the team online is what's important and has helped to hold onto these 'young fans' that are eluding the Leafs. Given that the Leafs site went up around 1996, it's sort of amusing that it only took them 14 years to figure that content = visitors. The second reason, though, goes back to a point I made about the Canucks. As opposed to the Leafs, who are the Johnny Come Latelys to this 'Information Superhighway' and have only recently stopped waxing their modems (to try to make it go faster while they surf, you see) the Canucks have a long history of engaging their fans and treating them very well. While the Twitter account is simply the most recent in a long line of online initiatives for the Canucks, it's something that's been going on for a long time. For example, the Canucks.com forums have been up and running for years and have a large, devoted fanbase, one that ranks at the very top of the NHL in terms of overall activity. It's not often that the play of Jan Bulis could crash a website, but the Canucks faithful were able to do so. Another example would be the offering of the Canucks.com e-mail accounts that were good up until a few years ago (signing up for them ended a long time ago and the accounts themselves have since been deactivated.) Going back to the 'losing young fans to video games' comment made in the original article, it's important to note that the Canucks are great at providing free and interesting content to fans. Younger fans typically don't have a lot of disposable income, but they are tech savvy (how many 'my 9 year old knows more about programming my VCR than I do' jokes are there?) and have a lot of time on their hands. Having a forum for fans to congregate together and giving them a ton of content, be it e-mail addresses, quality video from games, along with pre and post-game videos as well as things like Facebook and Twitter accounts are all great ways to engage fans and make them more likely to care about the club. Also, the Canucks have been great at rewarding fans and granting them acknowledgement on the site. If you're a Canucks fan and are on Twitter, chances are you've run into Richard Loat, aka mozy19, who has been heavily involved in Canucks social media and has been featured on the site. Looking over at the Leafs site, the only real Twitter presence are from other MLSE employees. While it's important to have a strong online presence, it's also important to understand the social media is very much a two way street. You have to be careful not to appear as though you're talking down to your audience, keeping them out of arm's reach…especially if you're the Maple Leafs, as the reputation they have is one of being a corporate machine, interested only in their fanbase's money. That's why I find MLSE's blaming video games as stealing away their fanbase to be a stupid argument. It's not because kids don't care about hockey or the Leafs. It's because 'the kids' have no real way to embrace the Leafs, even if it's to vent their spleen over how horrible they've been (misery loves company, after all.) While it may be easy to say that the Canucks have been a successful team and this sort of online love comes as a result of that I'd like to point out that the Canucks have had a ton of negative moments that would sour many fans. Getting eliminated by the Wild back in 2003, the heartbreaker series loss to the Flames in 2004, the Bertuzzi/Moore incident, missing the playoffs 2 seasons post-lockout, all things that can test the faith of most fans, yet the Canucks continue to grow and become stronger, both on the ice and online. The Leafs? Floundering, behind the times and desperately trying to catch up. I'll let you decide whether I'm talking about the Internet or the on-ice product there.
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