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  1. 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.
  2. I wrote last week in my entry "Ups and Downs" that despite what everyone seems to think, this team was not in a slump. To recap, I think a slump is something like what the Kings are going through. The Kings, a team many picked to break out this year given their maturing young stars, finished October with 8 wins and 3 losses, and then kicked off 4 straight wins in December. By no stretch of the imagination was this a fluke - this is a team, after all, with a franchise centre in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, and Jonathan Quick. As of right now the Kings sit 11th in the West. That's a slump. A team that obviously has the tools to win but short of firing Terry Murray or Dean Lombardi has tried everything it can to break out of its funk but only to fail time after time. The Canucks lost 4 in a row prior to a 7-1 drubbing of Dallas, but in those 4 defeats, 2 came in shootouts and one in overtime. That's not a slump, that's just a bump. Of course, having Kari Lehtonen play like he belongs in a beer league helps, but that's besides the point. It's also further proof that the Canucks (read: not specifically Luongo) are horrendous at shootouts, which again begs the question why Vigneault refuses to practise shootouts up until this year, but then you have to blame the Canucks for putting themselves in that position in the first place. <img src="http://www.puckagency.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Mikael-Samuelsson-Vancouver-Canucks.png"class="imageFloatRightFramed">If you're talking individual slumps, then you might have something there, but let's put everything into perspective. Stats are the most misleading aspect of sports. Nothing beats watching players and a game with a naked eye. If you're watching it live, even better. Sports scouting is not done through statistics. (Unless it's baseball, but that's a different topic altogether). It's certainly helpful and at least gives you an idea of how the player is performing, but by no means does it tell the entire story. A 20-goal scorer in the NHL, on average, will score a goal about once every four games. That's not bad, but remember that's the average. Since most scorers in the NHL are streaky and feast-or-famine type players, if that player scores a hat trick in one game, the law of averages say that he has a good chance of going the next twelve games or so without a goal. Take, for example, Mikael Samuelsson. His goal vs. Dallas was his first in 15 games. Before that dry spell, he was on a tear, with 5 points in 4 games (Dec. 20-26). Before that, he had gone 7 games without a goal (Dec. 1-18). Even before that, he had another 7-game goalless drought (Oct. 19-Nov. 4). Goalless droughts for him aren't unusual. So, 15 games is a little longer than anyone would like, but Samuelsson's still on pace for about 20 goals, which would still rank among his career highs. His feast-or-famine scoring ability couldn't be more apparent than last year when he got hot at the right time. Mason Raymond's 11-game goalless streak (Jan. 3-22) sounds terrible, but he had scored a hat trick two games before he got hurt. He's yet to find his groove, just less than one month removed from a hand injury and constantly bounced around in the lineup. Given his pace, he's still on track for roughly 20 goals, like Samuelsson. Manny Malhotra's gone pointless for an entire month, but he also went pointless last year in the month of May and had just one point in April and May combined. He's still on track for his career season averages of a dozen goals and 30-odd points. No more needs to be said about how streaky Raffi Torres can be. The only one that kind of baffles me is Jeff Tambellini, who's getting tons of scoring chances, shoots the puck very well, but just can't find the net. Even very good goal scorers, like Phil Kessel and Marian Gaborik, are prone to stretches of zero production. Before Gaborik's 4-goal outburst vs. Toronto he went 8 games without a goal and Kessel is currently mired in a 7-game drought for the third time this season. Neither Samuelsson nor Raymond are at that talent level so naturally I shrug when they don't score for 7 games. It's expected. When the Sedins are in a 7-game pointless drought, however, then you have a problem... When Dan Hamhuis scored, The Province's Tony Gallagher tweeted: "Hamhuis' first in 25 games not terribly meaningful but after that long we're pretty sure he'll take it." What? Does Gallagher even realize that with Hamhuis' current pace he's on pace to tie or break his career high of 7? Does Gallagher even realize that Hamhuis averages about 25 points per season? (I'm writing that 38-point season off, same with Samuelsson's 30 goals. Don't think we'll see either post those totals again). No one's mistaking Hamhuis for Shea Weber. I'm pretty sure Hamhuis isn't bothered by the fact that he hasn't scored in 25 games because that's not his game and he knows it. He's a dependable defense-first player that's occasionally seeing powerplay time this year because for whatever reason, Vigneault refuses to play Ballard (using Tanev instead vs. Dallas) on the man advantage. But I know better than to argue with results. Vancouver fans and media have been absolutely spoiled this year with such a great team that can, on most nights, seemingly score at will. Once we lost 4 games (3 of which we have collected points) everyone panicked. I like a win as much as the next guy but let's not lose perspective here. Had the Canucks continued their 3-2-4 "slumping" pace, that's still 91 points over a full season, a playoff-bound total. <img src="http://tenderslounge.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/evgeni_nabokov.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Okay, enough Canucks. Let's move ahead. I've had some time to digest the Evgeni Nabokov situation. The whole fiasco is a complete microcosm of why the Islanders still stink: management constantly overrating their value. What do I mean? I mean that Garth Snow thinks Long Island and a decrepit Nassau Coliseum is an attractive place to play, even though Manhattan and the much more storied Rangers are across town. This is a guy who was convinced he had a legitimate shot at signing Ilya Kovalchuk. That he thinks Nabokov, a player who has clearly earned enough money and is much more interested in a lengthy playoff run, would want to play for a team that's headed towards the lottery is lunacy. Is it even in the Islanders' best interests to play veterans and try to win games? The Islanders can't flip him back to Detroit (or any other team) for a pick because Nabokov would have to clear waivers again (he won't). Neither camp is moving and so the Islanders have suspended Nabokov. Dumb. The Islanders are supposed to be geared towards their youngsters. They don't need this distraction and what does this tell Islander players of their current situation when a guy who couldn't find a suitor during the offseason won't come play? Nabokov made it clear his intention was to play for Detroit, and from the information I've gathered, the Islanders didn't bother calling ahead and gauging Nabokov's interest in joining them. There were reports that Nabokov had hung up on Snow on a phone call (after he was claimed), but only because Nabokov didn't realize it was Snow. Does that sound as fishy to you as it does to me? It's not like Snow's brand new to the scene. Snow's quickly garnered a reputation as a very aggressive and sometimes confrontational GM. When he found out Nabokov wasn't coming you don't think he could've went into Bruce Boudreau-mode? If I were Nabokov, I'd hang up on him too. I'm not trying to start rumours or conspiracy theories, but that's just the way I envision it went down. By all means, Snow played within the rules, but that doesn't mean it's not a dumb move (see also: Lowe, Kevin and Penner, Dustin). An equally baffling move is Eugene Melnyk's decision to stick with Bryan Murray and Cory Clouston even though he's essentially admitted that the season's lost. Doesn't that make Murray and Clouston lame ducks? Melnyk may want to keep Murray beyond this season as a senior advisor but for a team that is in dire need of a new game plan, a new perspective, isn't that counter-intuitive? If the re-build starts now, wouldn't it better to bring in a new guy now and let him sell off the assets at the deadline for picks and prospects to establish his own foundation of the team? It seems as though the Sens are delaying the process of moving in a much-needed new direction. And by keeping Clouston, whatever motivational advantage Murray would've had by saying "we're not making any coaching changes, so suck it up and play like he wants you to play" has simply disappeared. I mean, what kind of affect would that have on a guy like Alex Kovalev, who on some nights really looks like he couldn't care less? Or Sergei Gonchar, who is probably really regretting turning down the Pens' two-year offer. On the other hand, you could argue that by doing so you could really tell the difference between players who are self-motivated and those who aren't and need to be shown the door ASAP. Some players may simply wish to play hard because they're looking for that big deal in the summer (Chris Philips, Kovalev) but it's kind of an interesting way to see which players respond and which don't. It's not on the record, but there's a belief that there are only two untouchables on the current roster: Daniel Alfredsson (declining) and Erik Karlsson (stud). It might change over the course of the next two months. Sometimes, you just never know with Eugene Melnyk.
  3. Everyone has been following the on-going Evgeni Nabokov news the last couple weeks and it's mainly be focused around the choices Nabokov has or has not made. First to return to the NHL and then to not report to the Islanders in rather comical fashion by hanging up on the former backup goalie, now general manager of the team Garth Snow. But what about Snow's responsibility in this matter? It was only a few weeks ago he traded away veteran net minder Dwayne Roloson to theTampa Bay Lightning for prospect Ty Wishart. A clear sign that the Islanders are thinking past this season and into the future. A state of mind that players and fans of the team may not like but one that is reasonable in the big picture of the ailing franchise. Then in the middle of last week the Islanders put in a claim for 35 year old Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov a proven vet decided to return to the NHL with playoff aspirations, something that had gone largely unsatisfied during his time in San Jose. The Detroit Red Wings signed him to a contract prorated at $575,000 for the remainder of the season but in order to join the club Nabokov had to clear waivers because a player is subject to waivers in the NHL if they had played in another professional organization during the current season (Nabokov started the season in the KHL). The question therefore arises, somewhat naturally, to the lack of competence of general manager Garth Snow. He had a player of similar value and experience that fulfilled the same role Nabokov would but decided in the best interest of the organization to trade that player only a few weeks prior. Nabokov would have had made it clear to people in the hockey world that he only wanted to return to a playoff bound team and one which he would get an opportunity toplay a few games. Regardless of the fit or player's wishes Snow put in a claim for the player, something he had the opportunity to think over for a few days.The fact that he didn't contact Nabokov before hand shows just how inept the Islanders organization remains. Not only did Snow do Nabokov a disservice by his actions but he now holds the fate of the player in his hands. Could anything be less fair? You would have to think given hindsight young superstar John Tavares would have liked the option of not reporting given the mess this franchise will remain in with Wang and Snow at the helm.
  4. It's a rare time when I fully agree with Bob McKenzie, and apologies to former NHLers Matt Barnaby and Mike Johnson, but I do agree that the NHL was right to suspend Niklas Hjalmarsson his hit on Jason Pominville who is out indefinitely with a concussion. The other suspension this week was handed to Islanders defenseman James Wisniewski, who made an obscene gesture towards the Rangers' Sean Avery and was likewise suspended for two games. There are two problems here that have my scratching my head. First, people who say Hjalmarsson should not be suspended boggles my mind, especially after all the ambiguity that was (supposed to be) erased surrounding blindside hits over the summer. Second, that Wisniewski was suspended for a relatively harmless gesture. Barnaby and Johnson contend that Hjalmarsson's hit is not suspension-worthy for different reasons. Barnaby believes Hjalmarsson shouldn't be suspended because he didn't have the intention of hurting Pominville. Johnson says it's a good hockey hit and that it happens more than once in every hockey game and it was the boards, not Hjalmarsson, that gave Pominville the concussion. Both former NHLers make fair points, but they're missing the big picture. Over the summer the NHL added a new rule to its book on the heels of Marc Savard and David Booth's concussions, giving the referees to penalize players for blindside hits to the head. Was Pominville's head the target of Hjalmarsson's hit? I don't think so, but nonetheless it was a blindside hit that caused a concussion. If you're to follow the rulebook word for word, then Hjalmarsson's hit is not worthy of a suspension. But if the NHL wants to limit these concussions, they have to make all blindside hits illegal, regardless of how, when, and with which part of the body contact was made. Blindside hits aren't just dangerous when the head is targeted, they're just dangerous in general. It's quite clear in the replay that Hjalmarsson hit Pominville from behind his right shoulder so the league was right to suspend Hjalmarsson, although I do think the penalty was a little too light. This was a great opportunity by the NHL to show a no tolerance policy for blindside hits and as usual they completely dropped the ball. Compared to Hjalmarsson's hit, Wisniewski's gesture was relatively harmless. Was Wisniewski's gesture funny? I think it was, especially when considering the victim was Sean Avery, although it must've been a little awkward, from one guy to another. Was it inappropriate and immature? Definitely. Was there potential for anyone to be physically hurt from that incident? No. For that reason alone, that Wisniewski's gesture did not physically harm anyone, I don't think he deserves a suspension. It's definitely worth a hefty fine because it makes the NHL and the Islanders look bad and players need to be reminded that they are playing in front of children and they are considered professionals representing more than just themselves. If anything, it should be an internal issue for the Islanders. They are the biggest losers. If Wisniewski is to be suspended, it shouldn't be by the NHL, it should be from the organization for a blatant lack of professionalism. My verdict? Hjalmarsson gets three games and Wisniewski gets fined for $40,000, a little more than one game's worth of salary before taxes. But you know what? I'm kind of glad Wisniewski did that. It's entertaining. Look how many headlines and discussions it has sparked. Hockey players are often criticized for being too boring and now when their personalities shine through, the league suspends them. See, if it wasn't for Avery's big mouth (he also provided a gem of a quote when asked about Wisniewski's gesture) he'd be a decent hockey player but he gets it. He understands that for the league to generate interest and become an ultimately more marketable product their needs to be personalities. It's what sells. As much as the NBA hates to admit it, Ron Artest does help sell tickets. Chad Ochocinco too. Avery knows he's not the poster boy for the NHL so he's happy to play the villain. Unfortunately for Avery, and to a certain extent the league, no one's taking the bait. Hockey players know when to shut up and play. When everyone refuses to play along just for the sake of drama, the end result is that Avery just looks like a dumb jerk mouthing off to no one in particular. The NHL needs to protect its image and its product which is why I understand their decision to suspend Wisniewski, even though I disagree with it. But more importantly, the NHL needs to protect their players because the best measure of their success is tied to its on-ice product. When talented players like Jason Pominville, John Tavares, and Marc Savard are sidelined, the quality of hockey becomes worse. On a Canucks-related note, they face off against the hapless Ducks tonight. After just averaging 1.5 goals in their first two games the Canucks have a great opportunity to open the offensive floodgates. So far this season the Canucks' supposed potent offense hasn't looked very dangerous.
  5. 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
  6. All things considered, Kevin Bieksa seems to be on the outside looking in. With the acquisitions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard the Canucks don't have enough room to keep everyone. Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff aren't going anywhere, so at $3.75 million Bieksa is a very expensive third pair defenseman. Salo, Hamhuis, and Ballard all have no-trade clauses. I imagine none of the three will be asked to waive those clauses and if asked would be unwilling. Ben Kuzma of The Province lists Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, Columbus, and Dallas as potential suitors, but to me none of those teams make sense, especially when Mike Gillis wants to make "a hockey deal." <img src="http://canucksarmy.com/uploads/old/2009/04/kevin-bieksa_1.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Now in mid-July, training camp is about two months away. It gives Gillis ample time to find a trade he likes, but as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Considering how long this Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes has been going on, Gillis may end up having to jettison Bieksa in a hurry. It would be a little awkward for Bieksa to show up at camp when he knows he's going to be gone. If Gillis wants to make a hockey deal, I can't see him trading Bieksa to a Western Conference team, although it may end up having to happen. As many as ten teams reportedly asked about Bieksa at the trade deadline and perhaps around the same at the draft but obviously nobody offered anything concrete that Gillis liked. Here's a look at some ideal trading partners. Anaheim - The Ducks are swimming in shallow water with their current blueline. Ha. Ha. Ha. Even with the addition of Toni Lydman, the retirement of Scott Niedermayer automatically makes their blueline go from above average to mediocre. Bieksa would be a good fit in SoCal and had Brian Burke still been their boss it would've happened already. But Anaheim is a conference opponent and has bigger things to worry about (re-signing Bobby Ryan) before making any other decisions. Buffalo - It's close to Ontario so maybe Bieksa can find some solace in being traded to one of the most boring cities. Looking at the Sabres defense, I'm going to take a gander and guess that Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier are planning on Ryan Miller to steal at least 10-15 games. The Sabres do have some young players - Philip Gogulla, Paul Byron - worth taking a second look at. Carolina - Quick, name the 'Canes top four. If you guessed Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, Anton Babchuk, and Tim Gleason, give yourself a pat on the back. It may not seem like much, but this group is underrated, starting from the puck-moving ability of Pitkanen to the consistent play of Gleason. Adding Bieksa gives them some toughness and it seems like 'Canes fans wouldn't mind seeing Bieksa there either (although I'd have to pop Wage's bubble and speak for Gillis: "No, thanks."). Digression: Guy to watch for last year was Brandon Sutter. This year it's not Zach Boychuk or Drayson Bowman. It's Jamie McBain. Bonus points for a cool name. Columbus - Of Kuzma's suggestions, this makes the most sense. If Bieksa heads to Ohio, he automatically becomes one of their go-to guys, although I don't think GM Scott Howson and the money-conscious Jackets would like a $1 million seventh guy (Marc Methot). I also believe that Howson would be reluctant to give up any picks or prospects, considering the somewhat promising future of the organization. Although rumours did indicate that Howson was dangling Nikita Filatov I can't see the Russian winger fitting into Gillis' smart hockey, team-first locker room culture. Dallas - Kuzma has already reported that the Stars are on a restricted payroll. That counts them out already even with the Marc Crawford connection. I can't see them adding more salary after re-signing their RFAs. <img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/189/441393950_df854bd0e5.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Florida - Trading with the Cats has always served us well so why not do it again? Bieksa slots in easily as a top four defenseman and that puts less pressure on Russian sensation Dmitri Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby to perform. It seems unlikely, however, that Dale Tallon would part with any picks or prospects as he begins to put his stamp on the team. A name of interest, since Gillis loves his BC boys, is Michal Repik, a Czech native who honed his hockey skills under Don Hay and the Giants. A key player to watch out for on the Panthers is Evgeni Dadonov. I got the chance to see him last year at the Panthers training camp in Port Hawkesbury in an exhibition game against my alma mater, St. Francis Xavier. The kid can fly. And snipe. Los Angeles - If the Kings land Kovalchuk, forget about it. The Kings have $16 million in cap space as of right now, and if Kovalchuk gets what he wants at least half of that will count towards the cap. Tack on Bieksa's salary and it looks workable, but even with Michal Handzus ($4 million) and Justin Williams' ($3 million) contracts expiring next year Lombardi needs to leave enough room to re-sign RFAs Wayne Simmonds, Jack Johnson, and Drew Doughty. In the long run it just doesn't make sense, especially if you consider the fact that the Kings and Canucks are developing a rivalry of sorts. NY Islanders - The Isles need to reach the cap floor. Adding Bieksa won't solve the problem but it helps in the number books and on the ice. With their years of futility it won't be hard to pry a decent prospect from GM Garth Snow although the former Canuck 'tender is quickly developing a reputation around the league as a tough negotiator. San Jose - The Sharks do have enough room to accommodate Bieksa and could use another body on defense but the best package Gillis may get offered by Doug Wilson is a late 1st rounder and a mid-level prospect. Not a bad haul, but again, the Sharks are a Western Conference team that will be playoff staples and their pipeline isn't exactly overflowing with quality prospects. EDIT: Tampa Bay - The Bolts have a good group of forwards and maybe now Vincent Lecavalier can stop whining about not having Vaclav Prospal as his winger with Simon Gagne in the fold. The defense needs work and with arguably their toughest defenseman gone they could use some grit on the back end. Philly fans are going to love Matt Walker. It seems as though Steve Yzerman has been given the green light so the normally cost-conscious Bolts won't be adverse to adding salary. Washington - I honestly thought the Caps would land Anton Volchenkov on July 1. It didn't happen so the Caps defense remains the same: offensively gifted but defensively clueless. Adding Bieksa puts some much needed sandpaper on their back end and as of right now Jeff Schultz is their shut-down man. Yikes. John Carlson and Karl Alzner are all but guaranteed spots for next year's lineup but the Caps' pipeline features plenty of intriguing players like Anton Gustafsson (the son of Team Sweden coach Bengt Gustafsson), Patrick McNeill, Francois Bouchard, Andrew Gordon, and Mathieu Perreault.
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