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  1. Like Trevor Gillies and his antics in the Penguins brouhaha, the league's negative headlines have far outweighed the good. Case in point - Sidney Crosby has now missed two months with a concussion and is now unlikely to return this season, and while that topic has dominated Maclean's covers and sparked talk of amending the rulebook in this week's GM meetings, the best story this season has been the playoff race. Never before do I remember such a close race in the West and two such intriguing storylines with the Leafs and Devils. But one thing's for sure: the Canucks will have to have a colossal collapse and the Wings would have to catch fire if the want to claim the West title. The former is unlikely to happen. This means that the Canucks enter the post-season as the number one seed, locking up home-ice advantage for, perhaps, the entire journey. With so much media scrutiny, so much pressure, and so many past meltdowns, you can't help but think that the Canucks are looking ahead to who they might face. They probably aren't, since they're such a level-headed team, and are concentrating on finishing the season on a high note. But of Minnesota, Anaheim, Nashville, Calgary, Dallas, and Phoenix (excluding Chicago and Los Angeles, who both have 7 wins in their last 10 and are most likely to finish in the top 5), who does Vancouver match-up the best? The worst? It is becoming increasing unlikely that the Wild will make the playoffs, but if they do, it'll present the Canucks with one of the most interesting match-ups. it's no secret - the Canucks stink at the Excel Energy Center in Minnesota, save Cory Schneider. The Canucks are tough at home and if they sweep the first two games then it's all fine and dandy. The only story that really matters is what to do if Luongo struggles. It's unlikely to happen for the 2011 Vezina-nominee (yes, I said it) but having such a strong backup eventually creates goalie controversies to varying degrees. The Ducks have a chance if they have Jonas Hiller, another would-be Vezina-nominee had he not been sidelined with vertigo, in the lineup. Dan Ellis may be hot right now and Ray Emery may be a feel-good story, but even with the addition of Beauchemin the Ducks just don't have enough depth up and down the roster. If the Canucks can play a clean game and keep Teemu Selanne off the powerplay and keep the Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line from dominating, this should be an easy series. The Predators have not won a single playoff series in their history and it's not going to happen this year if they face the Canucks. Even with the unheralded Pekka Rinne, like the Ducks, the Preds just don't have the depth. The Shea Weber-led defense may frustrate the Canucks but the lack of scoring oomph in the Preds lineup may be even more frustrating for Barry Trotz. Let's not mentioning that the Preds will be playing 5 defensemen instead of 6 due to Shane O'Brien's constant bouts of Roxy flu. Of all the teams mentioned, Calgary scares me the most. They have a good goalie, an experienced blueline, and the ultimate warrior in Jarome Iginla. They've been a completely different team since Darryl Sutter was fired and are now playing the kind of hockey everyone expected them to play. They've got enough grit, size, toughness, and skill to at least make this a series. David Moss and Rene Bourque provides some good depth. The only questions here are the Canucks' health on defense and Calgary's poor matchups at centre against the Canucks. The Stars were in danger of missing the playoffs a couple weeks back after Brad Richards went down with an injury and the team was sent into a mini-downward spiral. Since then, the Stars have 6 wins in their last 10 and are trending up. Alex Goligoski was a good pickup for a team lacking offense from the blueline, even if the price was a little high. Marc Crawford is behind the bench and on squads that he's coached that don't feature Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, he's only made it past the quarterfinals once. There's nothing on this Dallas team that really scares me - except for a potential writhing Mike Ribeiro suffering from extreme "back pain." There's just enough drive from Brenden Morrow and Langenbrunner and skill from Benn and the very underrated Loui Eriksson to cause the Canucks some trouble, but remember that in head-to-head matchups this year the Canucks swept the season series outscoring them 20-5. Phoenix is an interesting team. They've got a great coach, good goaltending, a mobile defense headlined by Keith Yandle, and a crop of forwards that gets the job done without an elite forward. If Ilya Bryzgalov gets hot, and we've seen this happen with many, many undeserving Cup finalists, watch out. But that's about it. But here's the REAL low down. When Kyle Wellwood returned with the Sharks, he was quite vocal about the experience and maturity level in the Canucks' dressing room, saying that there's still "lessons to learn." In a way, he is right - the Sharks look much better right now than I've seen in years past and the Capitals enter the post-season as a virtual unknown because of their new commitment to playing defense. Both teams have choked in the playoffs rather dramatically. Upsets over the number one seed in the first round are rare in any sport, but for the past two consecutive seasons, it's happened in the NHL. In 2009, the President's-winning Sharks were upset by the Ducks despite the Sharks setting franchise records in wins (53) and points (117). In 2010, the Habs defeated the President's-winning Capitals in the first round despite the Caps' awe-inspiring 121 regular season points. Both the Ducks and Habs featured hot goalies - Jonas Hiller had shutouts in Games 1 and 4, perhaps the vital games in any series, and everyone knows the Jaroslav Halak story. This is why Phoenix may pose the biggest threat if Ilya Bryzgalov, or even Miikka Kiprusoff, gets hot. The Canucks are set to shatter their franchise record of 105 points and could very will finish the season close to around 115 (7 wins in 11 games - not impossible).
  2. 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!
  3. 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
  4. With Ryan Getzlaf healthy and Corey Perry's emergence as the West's best power forward, the Ducks boast one of the league's best duos. What should be concerning is their defense. The Ducks are expecting Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson, Stu Bickell, Luca Sbisa, and perhaps Cam Fowler, if he makes the team, to log consistent NHL-calibre minutes, but if they can't then the Ducks' atrocious 251 GA (fourth-worst in West) could look even uglier. Offense: B, Defense: C+, Goaltending: B- Other than Jarome Iginla, the Flames are chock-full of underachievers (Matt Stajan, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester) and good depth players (Rene Bourque, Nik Hagman, Ian White). Given the strength of the Western Conference and the lack of consistent weapons the Flames boast making the playoffs will be a challenge. Miikka Kiprusoff is once again expected to play at least 75 games given the relative inexperience of his potential backups (Henrik Karlsson, Leland Irving). Offense: B-, Defense: B, Goaltending: B Oh, how the mighty have shot themselves in the foot. Dale Tallon's mismanagement of the cap has given Stan Bowman headaches with no outs. It's a good thing Tallon has a good eye for talent with a whole new slew of youngsters ready to make their mark for the defending champs having lost a bunch of good depth. The Hawks are finally under the cap but have a questionable duo of Marty Turco and Corey Crawford manning the pipes. If the goaltending can't hold then forget about a second consecutive Cup title. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: C+ <img src="http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/thumbnailfull/craig-anderson-2009-10-15-23-10-58.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Like Phoenix and Buffalo, a big reason for the Avs' success was the play of Craig Anderson. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't come with either Ryan Miller or Ilya Bryzgalov's pedigree. The Avs won't catch anyone off-guard this year because there most likely won't be any breakout performances (Chris Stewart) or surprising rookies (Ryan O'Reilly). Kyle Quincey has become the Avs' best blueliner but he's going to have a big workload in front of him and Anderson needs bailing out. Offense: B, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- Columbus was just on the cusp of breaking out before Steve Mason hit the sophomore wall and the whole team imploded. The team has the pieces in place, although they may be one top pair defenseman away, to be a playoff team. All that has to happen is for everybody, especially Derick Brassard, to perform. Rick Nash is slowly growing into his leadership role and Antoine Vermette still has untapped potential. The Jackets are a young team led by rookie coach in Scott Arniel but GM Scott Howson's acquisition of seasoned veteran Chris Clark will help smooth the bumpy ride. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- One thing about Marc Crawford's squads is that they can really score. That's all great but it's worth nothing if you can't defend and win some games. The six highest paid players on the Stars' payroll have no-trade clauses and none of them, save Loui Eriksson, are entering their prime. With the uncertainty behind the ownership of the Stars, the club has been forced to cut costs. The team has a good group of talented individuals but it's a club that's in limbo. They're not exactly contending for the playoffs and not exactly re-building (which they should) either. Joe Nieuwendyk has provided more stability than the failed Les Jackson-Brett Hull experiment but it hasn't gotten off to a good start. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: C+ <img src="http://nbcsportsmedia.msnbc.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photo_StoryLevel/080515/080515-Nicklas%20Lidstrom-vmed-234p.widec.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Never count out the Red Wings, especially when Nicklas Lidstrom is back to give one last kick at the can. Given the cap troubles of the Hawks and their cost-cutting measures, the Red Wings are in a position to re-take the Central Division crown. It's a golden opportunity for the Wings this season with Jiri Hudler back and GM Ken Holland added some great depth in Mike Modano and Ruslan Salei. Johan Franzen is healthy. If Valtteri Filppula can play like we all know he can, watch out. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- It's hard to get excited about the Oilers' upcoming season but they will feature a bevy of potential superstars: Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle, and Linus Omark. If you're going to watch the Oilers don't expect a win but do expect some razzle-dazzle from its youngsters. The franchise is clearly in re-building mode but I'm not sure if they've found the right coach in Tom Renney. With Sheldon Souray most likely gone 27-year old Ales Hemsky is considered a veteran and will have to help these players grow.. Offense: B-, Defense: C+, Goaltending: C The Kings have been inching towards the top ever so slightly since drafting Anze Kopitar. There's a good collection of young talent, veterans (Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, Rob Scuderi), and prospects (Brayden Schenn, Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Jonathan Bernier) for the Kings to forge ahead. They will be big players at the deadline, looking for that extra piece. While they have no game-breaking winger yet, which was why GM Dean Lombardi went after Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings still have a very solid group that can compete. Willie Mitchell stabilizes the blueline and Drew Doughty has become of the true elite blueliners in this league. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- After committing some big dollars to Martin Havlat (with a few parting shots at Chicago) and a promise from rookie coach Todd Richards to implement a more attacking system, the Wild responded by finishing 13th in the conference. The Wild were relatively quiet this summer save for Mikko Koivu's overpriced extension and the signing of Matt Cullen, but the general belief in Minnesota is that this team can play much better. There's toughness up front with this group but a little short on skill. Brent Burns is still the major X factor and if he plays well he's a great spark for the Wild attack. Offense: B-, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+ Anyone who appreciates hockey has to appreciate the Predators. Led by GM David Poile and Barry Trotz, one of the league's best coaches, the Preds play a blue-collar game and win on a consistent basis. Never mind that they've never won a single playoff series – that they've managed to even make the playoffs consistently with such a strict payroll budget is astounding. Expect more of the same this year. Some things just don't change. Offense: B, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ If the Phoenix Coyotes can win 50 games again this year Dave Tippett may be the best coach in the league. The roster isn't anything to smirk at but it's not exactly intimidating either. The Desert Dogs' fate will be solely based on the play of Ilya Bryzgalov. Picking up Ray Whitney was a shrewd move for a young team and if they can get Kyle Turris and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to make significant contributions they are a dangerous team. But count me in as one of those doubters, especially after losing shot-blocking machine Zbynek Michalek. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: A- Some people don't think the Sharks can win without Evgeni Nabokov, but with an offense that features at least two 40-goal scorers (Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau) and one of the league's best playmakers in Joe Thornton, there's no shortage of weapons up front for Todd McLellan although the bottom six isn't great. Dan Boyle is best powerplay quarterback in the West and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's production can't dip any further. Whether or not this team can succeed in the post-season is yet another question. Offense: A, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ Things were looking so good in St. Louis when they took a giant step back. There's enough talent up front even but David Backes and Brad Boyes need to regain their scoring touches. Jaroslav Halak is more than an adequate replacement for Chris Mason. Erik Johnson is a stud defenseman but they still need Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman to stay healthy. Easier said than done, of course. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+ <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3416/3276791653_6041358afd.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Bar none, the Canucks are the best team in the West. This isn't just some hometown bias working here, it's the truth. No other team can match the Canucks' depth, up front or on the blueline, and there shouldn't be any questions in net... unless Keith Ballard knocks out Roberto Luongo. We may see Mason Raymond score 30 this year and while many didn't like the Raffi Torres signing, I definitely did. After losing out on Arron Asham you can't go wrong with a former 27-goal scorer with some sandpaper for only $1 million bucks. Offense: A+, Defense: A, Goaltending: A STANDINGS 1. Vancouver2. San Jose3. Detroit4. Chicago5. Los Angeles6. Phoenix7. Nashville8. Calgary9. St. Louis10. Colorado11. Columbus12. Minnesota13. Anaheim14. Dallas15. Edmonton
  5. This year's free agent class is probably one of the weakest ones in recent memory but that hasn't stopped teams from throwing their money around. The majority of the signings have been great but others not so much (I'm looking at you, Darryl Sutter). Last year I made a note that Craig Anderson was a great signing by the Avs, although I have to say I didn't see such MVP calibre performances coming from him. He was dirt cheap and more than capable - you can't get any better than that. As usual the first day featured a flurry of signings but after a week the signings are now slowly rolling in. The big fish that remains is Ilya Kovalchuk who has reportedly agreed to a 7 year, $60 million deal with the Devils. He is the one remaining domino that has to fall to set off another chain reaction of events. Expect another flurry of moves as Lou Lamoriello attempts to clear cap space but until then, let's break down what have been great and not so great signings. Buffalo - Jordan Leopold, 3 years, $3 million I've never quite understood teams' fascination with Leopold. A former standout at the University of Minnesota, injuries have really derailed his career after posting 33 points in 2004. Since then, Leopold has either been injured or a healthy scratch and made little impact with the Pens this year. $3 million is a lot to pay a guy who you might get 60 games from. The Buffalo blueline lacks sandpaper already and Leopold doesn't particularly help in that regard. Losing Lydman and Tallinder will really hurt the Sabres this year even if Tyler Myers does manage to build on his rookie campaign. Calgary - Olli Jokinen, 2 years, $3 million and Alex Tanguay, 1 year, $1.7 million Perhaps the most bizarre signings of the day. The argument against these two players is that it's been proven that Jokinen is clearly not the complimentary centre for Iginla while Tanguay's two-year stint in the red and yellow was riddled with more lows than highs despite putting up good numbers. The only part that works in the Flames' favour is that both contracts are short and for relatively little money. For two guys who can put up 70-80 points a season a $4.7 million investment per year is an absolute bargain. However, these moves reek of desperation. It tells us that there's nobody in the Calgary pipeline ready to make significant contributions and that the highly touted Mikael Backlund is not quite ready for full-time duty yet with Jokinen, Stajan, and Langkow down the middle. Colorado - Kyle Quincey, 2 years, $3.125 million The challenge for the Avs going into the future isn't icing a competitive team - with Joe Sacco behind the bench and Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene leading the offense the real challenge is keeping them together. The first step to that is signing their best defenseman last year, and that's Quincey. The Wings may be kicking themselves with this one for years to come (he was waived after failing to make the team) and Quincey was the key piece in the Ryan Smyth deal that sent Captain Canada to Hollywood. Not only did Quincey make significant contributions at both ends of the ice, I thought he really took some pressure off John-Michael Liles, whose -2 rating was 17 points better than what he posted the year before. Edmonton - Alexandre Giroux, 1 year, $500 000 Much like the recently signed Jeff Tambellini, Giroux has always excelled at the AHL level but never managed to translate his success to the NHL. With Washington's deep offense Giroux has had trouble cracking the lineup but he will definitely get his opportunity here. Giroux has put up 200 points in just 138 games in the AHL the past two years but just 5 in 21 NHL games. On a one-way contract Giroux will be motivated and will have a chance to star alongside Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall on the Oilers' offense. <img src="http://www2.pictures.gi.zimbio.com/Phoenix+Coyotes+v+Boston+Bruins+VB3csng__aGl.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Nashville - Matt Lombardi, 3 years, $3.5 million Despite seemingly found his niche in Phoenix after posting career highs in assists (34) and points (53), Don Maloney elected to let him walk and what a pick up by the Predators. The underachieving Lombardi will flourish under Barry Trotz, who has always found a way to make something out of nothing (we will have to see what he can do with Sergei Kostitsyn, however). Lombardi's speed will really compliment a blue-collar team like the Preds. Perhaps Lombardi will flourish once again in a non-hockey market as their number one center ahead of Legwand and the emerging Colin Wilson. New Jersey - Henrik Tallinder, 4 years, $3.375 million and Anton Volchenkov, 6 years, $4.25 million The Devils certainly got better defensively, which is a must now that Martin Brodeur is no longer one of the league's best. After losing Paul Martin to the Pens, Lamoriello shored up his blueline with two capable defenders including Volchenkov, one of this summer's most coveted. Neither comes with a hefty price tag and with Colin White the Devils defense seems impenetrable. It's a shame though that this defense will have trouble moving the puck up the ice to Zajac, Parise, and possibly Kovalchuk. Ottawa - Sergei Gonchar, 3 years, $5.5 million Reportedly talks between Gonchar and the Pens broke down because Ray Shero was not willing to commit three years to the 36-year old rearguard. Because Gonchar is over the 35 age limit, all three years will count against the Sens' cap whether he plays it out or not. There's obviously a risk to that because $5.5 million is a big chunk of the cap, but it seems as though Bryan Murray is willing to wait just a little while longer for Brian Lee, the surprising ninth overall pick in 2005 (one ahead of the late Luc Bourdon) who has yet to make a significant impact at the NHL level, to develop. Gonchar provides a big boost to the Sens' 21st ranked powerplay and will be a worthy mentor to emerging star Erik Karlsson. The real downside to this is that Murray now has 3 players over the age of 35 under contract that he will have to fulfill to the end - Gonchar, Alfredsson, and Kovalev - for a combined total of $15.375 million. A good signing, nonetheless. Pittsburgh - Zbynek Michalek, 5 years, $4 million and Paul Martin, 5 years, $5 million Being able to come to terms with one of the league's best shot blockers and most underrated puck movers is certainly quite the catch for the Pens and more than offsets the loss of Gonchar. While the search for scoring wingers continue, Shero has solidified the back end and with Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik the Pens may now boast one of the best top four in the East. <img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/91385903.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D0818BF4C11B4AFFF0BA841DF76159BCC24592D19F824F1964E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Tampa Bay - Martin St. Louis, 4 years, $5.625 million, Pavel Kubina, 2 years, $3.85 million, and Brett Clark, 2 years, $1.5 million Somehow, between drafting Brett Connolly and signing Pavel Kubina, St. Louis' four-year extension has been overlooked. The Bolts will be on the hook for all four years but it was an astute signing because asides from Steven Stamkos, St. Louis is Tampa's most valuable player. Stamkos, after all, does need someone to play with. Interesting to me that St. Louis signed a four-year pact, giving him ample opportunities to make another case for the Canadian squad in 2014 after being snubbed this year. No doubt Steve Yzerman will be playing a big role in putting that team together. When asked about Brett Clark, most people would probably say, "Brett who?" It's hard to pinpoint exactly what Clark excels at but watch closely next time and you'll notice that he's one of the best positional defenseman out there. At that price Clark may be one of the best signings this summer. <img src="http://www.kuklaskorner.com/images/uploads/hammer.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Vancouver - Dan Hamhuis, 6 years, $4.5 million and Manny Malhotra, 3 years, $2.5 million The Canucks have never quite been big players on July 1 but I think it was a foregone conclusion that the BC native would return home. At $4.5 million, Hamhuis comes relatively cheap and while he doesn't excel at any particular aspect of the game, he will remind Canuck fans of another solid all-round defenseman who also wore #2. Overshadowed in Nashville by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Hamhuis will have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. Don't be surprised if he sets career highs in assists and points with more quality ice-time, specifically on the powerplay. If there's anything I've ever noticed about Malhotra, it's that he's wicked fast. While the price may be a bit cheap for a guy who averages only around 30 points a season, Malhotra's a great third-line centre who will provide some needed footspeed into the Canucks lineup and pressure the opposing defense into making mistakes.
  6. I thought I was in for a long night when Phil Kessel scored just minutes apart and Jamal Mayers wired a shot past an uncharacteristically mediocre Roberto Luongo. It always stings to lose to the Leafs on every level, but Vancouver's big line came through and scored 5 straight goals to seal the win. I don't think the Canucks came out flat in the first, but more so that the Leafs really capitalized on what few chances they had. Vesa Toskala was good in net despite letting in four goals and I think this is the first time in awhile the Leafs have played with some jump in their game. The loss shouldn't be attributed to their lack of work ethic but more so the personnel - they couldn't find a single pairing or line that could match up against the Sedins. Admittedly it's difficult for any team to cover the league's leading scorer but the Sedins completely dominated. Andrew Raycroft rubbed it in to the crowd who obviously really relished the win against his former employers and was happy to get some playing time. Don't worry, Andrew, I think we'll see some more of you on this big road trip. The Canucks have started off quite well. There's little to write on on a big win like this, in part because it's easier to criticize after a loss. All hockey teams in Canada know this. <img src="http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Sports/images-2/brian-burke.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">After their monumental collapse, in which the Leafs fell for the fourth time this season after leading in the first (11-4-3), Brian Burke made some sweeping changes. I honestly thought the Leafs would at least be in the hunting for a playoff spot with their upgrades on the back end and with Kessel coming in, but their disastrous season thus far is worth examining. Anyone who thought this re-building process was not going to be painful and slow should have another drink or two, and let me preface this by saying that I'm a fan of Brian Burke - but you have to like his move to get Dion Phaneuf. Blowing a 3 goal lead, especially to Vancouver and the big Sedin line, must've hurt Burke than the other 39 losses. So amidst the rumours that Phaneuf was the block, which was vehemently denied by Darryl Sutter, Burke went out and got the big fish for literally nothing (at least in terms of long-term assets). As much as I criticize Phaneuf for his bone-headed play, he is a remarkably talented player with a big booming shot. He's a one of a kind defenseman but really lacks that level-headedness that separates him from the league's elite. The Flames also sent Fredrik Sjostrom, a serviceable depth player and good penalty killer to the Leafs, but I think the name that everyone should keep tabs on is Keith Aulie. The 116th overall pick in the 2007 draft, the towering 6'6" defenseman was a stalwart for the 2009 Canadian World Junior squad and the Brandon Wheat Kings. He's the type of player that Burke loves - big, strong, and full of sandpaper - kind of like another Robyn Regehr, whom he idolized. I have no idea what made Sutter give up on him. Aulie has appeared in 43 games for the Abbotsford Heat this season, along with 6 points, 32 penalty minutes, and +1. It would've been nice for Burke to stockpile picks, but this package is probably better than that. You get an established player in Phaneuf and a potential blue chipper in Aulie. So what did the Flames get? Quantity over quality in Matt Stajan, Nik Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White. While I think all four are serviceable players, none of them are what the Flames are looking for - the big playmaking centre for Jarome Iginla. Stajan has the potential to be that guy, especially if he's paired with Iginla, having notched 40 assists in 76 games last season. Inconsistency is a problem here but like Ron Wilson, Brent Sutter demands a lot out of his players and really keeps them accountable. Hagman is a strong two-way player and a hard worker I think Sutter will like, as well as Jamal Mayers who approached Burke about a trade a couple days ago. Ian White is a versatile player and can play defense or wing. White, Stajan, and Mayers are all free agents at the end of the season, although I do believe White is a RFA. The Flames get cap flexibility now that Phaneuf is gone, and you have to wonder if this means more moves are in the works for the Flames, who have been linked to Ilya Kovalchuk. And as I'm writing this, I hear the Leafs have packaged Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake to Anaheim for JS Giguere, who obviously has waived his no-trade clause. The writing was on the wall with Jonas Hiller's recent extension and this move had been rumoured for months. When it becomes a staple in the mill for this long, it was probably bound to happen, much like Burke's departure from Anaheim to take the Leafs job. Despite what anyone says about Giguere being a pads goalie, check his stats - his .922 SV%, a career high, came after the league decided to cut down on pad sizes. He's now re-united with not only Burke, who helped him out with his baby who had eye problems (which led to the no-trade clause), but also highly regarded goaltending coach Francois Allaire. Despite the Leafs having zero offense outside of Phil Kessel and Alexei Ponikarovsky now, Burke has really made progress with these trades. He's building a solid team from the net out. Even if Giguere is not the long-term answer he's a great short-term solution until we can really see what Jonas Gustavsson can really do. The back end is good enough for now, although with Phaneuf you have to wonder if there are more moves coming (cue Tomas Kaberle rumours). Up front it's still a mess, but Burke can address those problems in the off-season. This gun-ho attitude has just landed the Leafs a premium defenseman, a good prospect, and a solid goaltending while giving up players that meant little in the long-term. What does this all mean for Vancouver? Well, for one, we'll really be missing the opportunity to see Phaneuf get completely owned by the Sedins. We also won't be anytime soon either. I don't particularly like the package the Flames got and in the other deal the Ducks mainly benefit from cap relief this summer. Is this a playoff push by Burke? Well, it seems like it, but it also addresses long-term goals as well. If Giguere does re-sign in Toronto, I highly doubt it will be for the same salary he's earning now, which is $7 million. At 33 he's still got some years in him, enough time anyway for Burke to find a more suitable solution. But I think an interesting point to ponder here is Burke. After another playoff collapse, he promised sweeping off-season changes but neither him nor protege Dave Nonis had the opportunity. You have to really wonder what sort of changes Burke had in mind - the big Irishman is no stranger to bold moves.
  7. 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.
  8. I'm convinced that the Calgary Flames took a page from so I really wonder how much the Calgary Flames gave veteran referees Bill McCreary and Stephen Walkom before the game. The problem tonight with the NHL's inconsistent reffing wasn't the fact that there were a lot of phantom or soft calls, but rather that they didn't call anything. It's one thing to let the game play on without any sort of stoppages, especially a match-up as crucial as this one, but it's totally another to let the lack of calls dictate what kind of behaviour the players can engage in. Case in point, Dion Phaneuf. Just by my count, Phaneuf should've been called for penalties on at least four separate occasions, some of them committed right in front of McCreary, but no whistles. FOUR. Letting one go is something, but once Phaneuf realized that his after-the-whistle shot on Daniel Sedin wasn't going to called for a roughing or unsportsmanlike, he took advantage of it and did the same to Ryan Kesler. Had McCreary or Walkom remembered they had whistles on their hands, Phaneuf would've put his team in a giant hole against Vancouver's vaunted powerplay. His antics were dumb and pointless and one day it's going to come back and really hurt his team... and to think that a lot of people picked him for Canada. He's just not a very smart nor disciplined player. Speaking of penalties, where was the call for the slash on Christian Ehrhoff that snapped his stick in half in overtime? I seem to remember that a slashed stick that broke always resulted into a penalty. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20100110/capt.dc63729580e341d28ff45831ce0a9801.flames_canucks_hockey__vcrd108.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Kudos to Kesler for fighting back against Phaneuf because no one else seemed to want to do it. Someone needed to respond with either a big hit or fight to show that Phaneuf's antics won't be tolerated. Instead, we got two Rick Rypien-Brandon Prust scraps that, while entertaining, sent the right message to the wrong player. It should've been Phaneuf there, but I guess with the new "fighting code" in the NHL a fight would've only been warranted had there been a big, clean hit. I'm tired of players thinking it's their job to respond with a fight only after a good hit (see and ). I also have to disagree with Hordichuk's comments on HNIC as well, just because while I do agree that it's his job to spark the team, I think it's almost been ingrained in players' heads that after they make a clean hit someone will always come after them. Even if Hordichuk didn't want to fight, he would've had to because it was clear Krys Barch was looking to do something about it. If the NHL wants to do something about cracking down on these "unnecessary responses" throw in a 2-minute instigator for the guy who responds to a good, solid hit. The league should promote good, legal, physical play and letting the players police themselves in this way doesn't help. The league has refs to prevent escalation but tonight they could've failed miserably in that department. Phaneuf could've been hurt bad had the Canucks really lost their composure (like Tanner Glass in a brief hiccup in an up-and down third frame). The Sedins were up to their old tricks again with a beautiful feed from Alex Burrows to Henrik to Daniel, and once again the twins weren't afraid to mix it up in the scrums. The new-found swagger, I think, has given them confidence and propelled Henrik to the top of the Art Ross race. The Canucks played a confident game all night despite being heavily outshot (quality over quantity, I say) and it has translated over to the penalty box, where in a hilarious sequence the gatekeeper told Rene Bourque (I believe it was him, serving Mark Giordano's penalty, although I could be wrong) to scoot down the bench so he had some place to sit. Bourque proceeded him to give him a little stare while the gatekeeper continued to ignore him. Jarome Iginla was 1-1 against Henrik tonight in the circle and 1-2 overall, but it might as well be 0-2 because neither Shane Heyer nor Brian Murphy could agree on the proper way to drop the puck, something which has drawn the ire of many players and the league had set a standard for the proper technique before the season. Here's an idea: never mind if the player is ready or not - just drop the puck and if one player doesn't have his stick down, well, too bad. I understand that the linesmen are trying to make the face-off fair at a crucial moment in a crucial game, but c'mon, these are pros and if they don't pay attention then make them pay for it. Mikael Samuelsson had a chance to end the game in overtime but missed the net, something that Detroit fans knew all too well about. Other than that miss he had a great game and really showed some great stickhandling and passing. Willie Mitchell also had a big lane to fire his slapper through, but it wasn't a particularly good shot (it kinda fluttered) and it was one of the few instances in which his extra long stick has a drawback. You can bet that the Canucks missed having Sami Salo at the point. In the shootout Kesler's post was the ultimate decider of the game because both goalies were beat three times each. What a call by Brent Sutter though, to use Jamie Lundmark as his last shooter. He played a heck of a game and Roberto Luongo's unfamiliarity with him must've made an impact. It was a hard-fought and great game overall but it's tough to lose in a shootout like that. Until we meet again, Flamers (March 14).
  9. Identical 4-1 wins over Nashville and Edmonton have suddenly vaulted the Canucks to eighth place, finally in the playoff picture at the turn of the new year. A win over Calgary means Vancouver would be second in the division and four points away from first place Colorado, who are 7-3-0 in their last ten and despite a young and somewhat less talented roster have managed to cling onto the division lead halfway through the season. I had the opportunity to take in both games (from the lower bowl!) and a couple of observations: Roberto Luongo played strong in both games and needless to say the captain played his best in the clutch. Although Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Potulny's were of the top-shelf variety, for the most part Luongo stayed on his head, making great stops after great stops. In both games the Canucks dominated for the majority of the game and pulled out with wins with strong efforts from Daniel (6 points in those 2 games) and Henrik Sedin (5 points) and strong performances from Ryan Kesler. The usual suspects have struck again. The Nashville game was a near flawless game and the Canucks completely dominated an uncharacteristically slow Nashville squad. Asides from Jason Arnott and David Legwand, neither J.P. Dumont nor Steve Sullivan generated any offense and for the most part were regulated to the sides of the offensive zone. The Canucks rarely gave away the slot and while the Preds put on a little more pressure in the third Luongo stood his ground but was visibly unhappy that he lost his 50th career shutout when Hornqvist roofed a shot on a semi-breakaway. Kesler and local BC native and Canada hopeful Shea Weber dropped the gloves in a rare fight between two key players and although Kesler landed a couple punches Weber was clearly the strong player and won the fight, but not before a sold out crowd at GM Place stood on their feet and applauded the effort. If anything, Kesler took out Nashville's top defender for five minutes of the game. Nevertheless Weber still logged over 23 minutes in ice-time while former Canuck Dave Scatchard and Jerred Smithson played a combined 4:05. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20091227/capt.4c313d6b586c437cbc344be36112538c.oilers_canucks_hockey_vcrd109.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">A scary moment early in the Edmonton game when Kesler was hit and seemed to injure his leg but after a limping PK shift he was fine the rest of the game and seemed to wanted former Vancouver Giant Gilbert Brule's head. It was a physical affair but the Oilers never quite showed up, except for Lubomir Visnovsky, and their playmaker Sam Gagner and power forward Dustin Penner really didn't generate anything. The Oilers had a couple good shots but Luongo was a brick wall, including an incredible sliding, stacked pads stop on Potulny with seconds to go in the first. Other than Potulny's fluky goal that came after a spirited Rick Rypien-Zack Stortini bout that saw both players land plenty of punches, but in the end it was fan favourite Rypien that stood his ground against the much bigger Stortini (5'10", 181 vs. 6'3", 217). Darcy Hordichuk was dressed in place of Ryan Johnson who is out with a sore foot and despite his beef with Stortini and Brule didn't get an opportunity to drop his gloves although being up in the press box for three straight games put a little more jump in his step. It's not hard to see why the Canucks won both the games. The home team fired more shots, were perfect on the PK, and won a significant number of the face-offs. Nashville's Legwand finished the night going 3 for 12 and Arnott was 4 for 9. Kesler was an outstanding 11 for 16 and Wellwood was up to his usual tricks and finished 6 for 8. Shots were 36 to 21 for Vancouver. Against Edmonton, the numbers followed the same trend. Andrew Cogliano went 3 for 9, Gagner went 4 for 9 before being moved to the left wing, Shawn Horcoff was 8 for 17 and Potulny was an awful 4 for 14. On the other side Henrik was completely dominant going 15 for 23 and Wellwood was 8 for 11. For those naysayers who get fed up with Wellwood's lackluster efforts on some nights, one thing is clear - the guy's a wiz at the circle. The Flames are quickly falling, losing five of their last six and you can bet that coach Brent Sutter is not happy. The demanding coach will make sure his players are ready for tonight's game and Jarome Iginla always shows his stuff against Vancouver. The Flames have scored only 19 goals in December and only two from big #12. This is great news for the Canucks, who are only 6-10-0 on the road this year and have lost five of their last seven at the Saddledome. The last time the Canucks finished with a losing away record was in 2006 when they went 17-22-2 on the road and missed the playoffs.
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