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  1. I must admit it's weird not seeing mounds of snow on the streets in December, seeing how as I have spent the majority of the past four winters in Nova Scotia. But either way, it's the season of giving. So, in honour of that, here are your 20 worst trades in the NHL since the lockout! In chronological order! Hooray! August 3, 2005. Edmonton trades Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch to St. Louis for Chris Pronger. The advent of the salary cap and a potential new ownership meant the Blues had to shed salary to make themselves more financially attractive. Brewer remains in the Blues organization and is their current captain but isn't expected to last beyond this season. Woywitka shuttled between the AHL and NHL for some time and is currently in the Stars' organization. Lynch, a former second round pick, has played the last three years in Austria. Pronger would sign an expensive five-year extension and was a smashing success with the Oilers in his first season, leading them to the finals. August 26, 2005. Minnesota trades Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix for Erik Westrum and Dustin Wood. The Wild saw Michalek, who was undrafted, in 22 games and decided he wasn't worth their time before sending him to Phoenix. What a decision that turned out to be. Westrum played only 27 games at the NHL level and has been playing in Switzerland for the past couple of seasons while Wood never saw time in the NHL. Michalek spend five productive years in Phoenix, leading the league in blocked shots one year and guiding the Coyotes to their first postseason appearance since 2003. <img src="http://www.bestsportsphotos.com/images/t_20631_07.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">November 30, 2005. Boston trades Joe Thornton to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau. This trade eventually cost then GM Mike O'Connell his job. O'Connell, to be fair and honest, wasn't a bad GM - Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci were both drafted by him - but he often butted heads with owner Jeremy Jacobs, who refused to open his pockets to retain their prized free agents like Sergei Gonchar and Brian Rolston. The Bruins were struggling at the time, and perhaps misguided by his anger towards ownership, he traded Thornton for three depth players. The trade sent the Bruins back five years. Thornton would go on to notch 92 points in 58 games with the Sharks and win the Art Ross that year. Primeau and Stuart lasted two season each before departing and Sturm was recently sent to Los Angeles for free. Interestingly enough, O'Connell is currently the Kings' Director of Pro Development. December 5, 2005. Philadelphia trades Patrick Sharp and Eric Meloche to Chicago for Matt Ellison and a 3rd round pick in 2006. Ellison played just 7 games for the Flyers over two seasons before moving onto Milwaukee in the AHL and then the KHL for the past two seasons. Meloche did not play a single game for Chicago and is suiting up for his fourth season with Straubing in the DEL. Sharp, however, has become one of the leaders of a young Blackhawks franchise. Unable to find quality playing time on a deep Flyers roster, Bobby Clarke gave him a chance by shipping him to Chicago, where he has become one of the league's most versatile and intelligent players. Sharp's 11 goals in last year's playoffs was tied for the team lead with Byfuglien. Sharp is shooting for his 5th straight 20-goal season. June 23, 2006. Florida trades Roberto Luongo, Lukas Krajicek, and a 6th round pick to Vancouver for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen, and Alex Auld. For all the hate Dave Nonis has drawn in this city, this should be the deal that negates everything. Luongo, as we all know, is an elite goalie with an Olympic gold medal. Bertuzzi was never quite the same since the Steve Moore incident and lasted just 7 games in Florida before being swapped for Shawn Matthias. Auld was horribly miscast as a starting netminder and the steady but unspectacular Allen remains the only souvenir for Florida in that trade. Oh, and that supposed throwaway 6th rounder? Turns out the Canucks got a pretty decent prospect. You might've heard of him. Sergei Shirokov? <img src="http://miamisportsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/luongo.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">June 24, 2006. Toronto trades Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft. Probably angry that Vancouver was making all the headlines around the league, John Ferguson, Jr. and the Leafs panicked and made a goalie move of their own, moving promising netminder Rask for former Calder winner Raycroft. To be fair, the Leafs had another netminder in the system, Justin Pogge, but he turned out to be a bust. Raycroft is now a career journeyman and backup, and while Rask is stapled to the bench due to Tim Thomas' otherworldly play, he is arguably the most promising goalie in this league. February 3, 2007. Boston trades Kris Versteeg to Chicago for Brandon Bochenski and a conditional 5th round pick in 2008. This was a trade that flew completely under the radar, perceived to be a rather insignificant minor league deal. Versteeg has since been moved to Toronto, but he was a key cog in the Blackhawks' makeup and was a vital secondary scorer with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. For a team that doesn't have a lot of high-end offensive skill, the Bruins would probably like a re-do for this one. As for Bochenski? After teasing fans with 13 points in 20 games playing alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, he had trouble sticking with NHL clubs and despite being a very talented AHL scorer (33 goals in 35 games once), he now plays in the KHL. February 27, 2007. San Jose trades Josh Gorges and a 1st round pick (Max Pacioretty) for Craig Rivet and a 5th round pick in 2008 (Julien Demers). At the time, it was a good trade for San Jose because the Sharks were ready to win now and Rivet gave them one good year, with 35 points and 104 PIM. But it's these kind of deals that have really cost San Jose, who are struggling to keep up with their younger and better stocked Pacific Division opponents. Rivet was traded to Buffalo for two second round picks (Bill Wrenn in 2009 and the other sent to Carolina, who took Mark Alt) and, most likely due to injury, has seen his play nosedive. Meanwhile, Gorges has become one of Jacques Martin's most dependable defenseman and regularly plays against top opposition and logs 20 minutes a night. Pacioretty has yet to find his place in the NHL but he's a player with good offensive potential with 32 points 27 AHL games and 3 points in 3 NHL games this year. <img src="http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/01cFg5M41QfN8/340x.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">June 18, 2007. Nashville trades Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia for a 1st round pick. You can't entirely blame David Poile for this one. The Preds were going through ownership trouble amidst accusations of financial fraud with minority owner William Del Baggio, and could not retain any of its stars, despite at one point being able to land Peter Forsberg for a playoff push. The Flyers quickly locked up the two players and both have been vital to the franchise since. The two players combined for 28 points in last year's postseason. But the real kicker for me is that the 1st rounder the Preds acquired was their own and had been traded to Philadelphia last year for, you guessed it, Peter Forsberg. Perhaps the only redeeming fact is that the Preds used the pick to select former Giant defenseman Jonathon Blum, and I know better than to question the Preds' scouting department when it comes to blueliners. February 26, 2008. Tampa Bay trades Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist to Dallas for Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, and a 4th round pick in 2009. Unable to foot the bill for their star players' salaries, the Lightning elected to part with Richards, who was in the third year of a 5-year, $39 million contract. Diminishing point totals scared management into action, but you'd think for a former 91-point player they could've gotten a better deal. Smith hasn't posted more than 14 wins a season in his career. Jokinen was later traded for a bag of pucks. Halpern is now in Montreal and that 4th rounder was later sent to Edmonton. Meanwhile, Richards posted yet another 91-point season last year and should the Stars elect to deal him, they'll certainly get a better haul than what Tampa got for him. July 1, 2008. Edmonton trades Joni Pitkanen for Erik Cole. The Oilers should've seen this one coming. Cole scored 30 goals in 60 games the year Carolina won the Cup, but dropped to 29 and then 22 before the Oilers snagged him. His tenure in Edmonton lasted just one disappointing 16-goal year before he was shipped back to Carolina, where a slew of neck injuries has really affected his production. Cole's point production the last five years since 2006: 61, 51, 27, 15, 16. Pitkanen, on the other hand, has emerged as one of the league's best unheralded puck-moving defenseman, having notched 46 points last year and with 18 in 29 this year is poised to hit that 40-point mark again. <img src="http://cache3.asset-cache.net/xc/77804113.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921E86F5CE8BE5D78FB39989BC62F51603617BBE599935116B54EB022E0AB10AD13"class="imageFloatRightFramed">July 4, 2008. Tampa Bay trades Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich to San Jose for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, a 1st round pick in 2009, and a 4th round pick 2010 (James Mullin). Boyle had just signed a six-year, $40 million extension in late February, but just four months later ownership decided that his contract was not economically feasible and forced him to wave his no-trade clause. While San Jose's playoff woes have been well-documented, Boyle has been one of the best offensive blueliners in the league, posting two consecutive 50+ point seasons and 18 points in 21 playoff games with the Sharks. Carle suited up for just 12 games in Tampa Bay before moving on to Philadelphia, Wishart is still developing in the AHL, and the 1st rounder was packaged to Ottawa for Andrej Meszaros, who had 33 points and -18 rating over 2 seasons in Tampa, despite totals of 39, 35, and 36 in the three previous seasons with Ottawa. December 14, 2008. Anaheim trades Andy McDonald to St. Louis for Doug Weight, Michal Birner, and a 7th round pick in 2008. For now, Saku Koivu will do, but before that the Ducks had an awful time trying to find secondary scoring. McDonald and Getzlaf formed a fantastic 1-2 punch down the middle when the Ducks won the Cup in 2007, but figured Doug Weight, six years older, was the better option. The Ducks' 2008 campaign didn't last past the first round and Weight left for Long Island. Birner has since returned to Finland and the Blues eventually re-acquired their 7th rounder in a separate deal and drafted Paul Karpowich. McDonald has 154 points in 199 games (0.77 ppg, vs. Koivu's 0.65 ppg) for the Blues. Getzlaf's current point total is nearly double Koivu's and the Ducks continually rely on their big line of Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan. February 7, 2009. Carolina trades Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar, and a 4th round pick in 2009 to Tampa Bay for Jussi Jokinen. Jussi Jokinen wasn't adjusting well to life in Tampa Bay, with just 16 points in 46 games in his first full season with the Lightning. Arguably the league's best shootout player, Jokinen netted 30 goals for Carolina last year playing alongside Eric Staal, and while he's off to a slow start this year he's still third in team scoring. As for Tampa? Neither Brookbank nor Melichar are in the system, and that pick was later traded to Toronto for Richard Petiot (no longer with Tampa), only to be forfeited by the league due to a dispute over Jonas Frogren's contract. So, really, the Canes got a 30-goal scorer and showed off the Leafs' infinite front office wisdom for free. I'd say that's a pretty good deal. <img src="http://www.spox.com/de/sport/ussport/0903/Bilder/christian-ehrhoff-san-jose-sharks-nhl-514.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">August 28, 2009. San Jose trades Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver for Daniel Rahimi and Patrick White. Nonis will be remembered, quite unfairly, as the GM who went off the board and chose Patrick White in the first round in 2007. After Nonis was fired and Mike Gillis stepped in, it was made apparent to him that White, who had scored only 13 goals in 81 game over two seasons at Minnesota, was not in the Canucks' long-term plans. The Sharks were in a cap bind with the acquisition of Dany Heatley and were forced to jettison Ehrhoff, who had hit the 40-point plateau for the first time in his career. Ehrhoff finished his first campaign with Vancouver with 14 goals and +36 with over 22 minutes per game. Rahimi has since returned to Sweden, unlikely to return, and White has just 1 goal so far in his senior year. September 12, 2009. Ottawa trades Dany Heatley and a 5th round pick (Isaac Macleod) to San Jose for Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, and a 2nd round pick. Bryan Murray had his hands tied with this one because Edmonton truly offered a better deal, one that centred around Dustin Penner. Cheechoo was already a shadow of his former self and the 2nd round pick was later flipped to the Islanders for Andy Sutton, now with Anaheim. Michalek, the younger brother of Pittsburgh's Zbynek, is a big, bruising winger, but has just 7 goals in 31 games this year. He's struggling big-time and can't even provide secondary scoring the Sens desperately need. Heatley, on the other hand, was one goal shy of 40 in his first season as a Shark last year. September 18, 2009. Boston trades Phil Kessel to Toronto for a 1st (Tyler Seguin) and 2nd round pick (Jared Knight) in 2010, and another 1st round pick in 2011. In defense of Brian Burke, I don't think anyone predicted the Leafs to finish second last. The jury's still out on this one but with another trying season that 1st rounder in 2011 looks to shape up to be a top 15 pick for an already deep Bruins squad. Seguin, despite being a healthy scratch lately, has wowed with his speed and hands, while Kessel continues to labour and is on pace for just 27 goals. Toronto's 75 GF is only higher than New Jersey and the Islanders. The scales in this trade could still in the Leafs' favour, especially if Seguin or the 2011 1st rounder doesn't pan out, but the chances of that happening are quite slim. January 21, 2010. Calgary trades Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie to Toronto for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White. In a trade that features marquee talent, the team getting the most talent always wins, so score this one for Toronto. Stajan and Hagman are the only remaining Flames from that trade and while both have been quietly producing the team scores too few and far between and rank 2nd last in the West. While "Neon Dion" hasn't fared much better in Toronto, he's by far the most talented player out of this group and Keith Aulie, as I've said before, is an absolute keeper. Keep in mind Toronto's one the youngest teams in the league and they're trending up, unlike Calgary. June 24, 2010. Chicago trades Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu to Atlanta for Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin, New Jersey's 1st round (Kevin Hayes) and 2nd round picks (Justin Holl) in 2010. July 1, 2010. Chicago trades Andrew Ladd to Atlanta for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2nd round pick in 2011. We all know how this happened. As much as Dale Tallon was instrumental in building that Cup-winning squad, he was also terribly inept at handling the cap and didn't file RFA paperwork on time and, as a result, had to overpay to keep his team together. He was fired for his blunder and Stan Bowman was left to clean up his mess, inevitably leading to a mass dump of players to Atlanta, who had just hired Rick Dudley, Tallon/Bowman's assistant in Chicago, as GM. Reasoner was later swapped for Jeff Taffe while Crabb left for Toronto as a UFA when the Hawks still didn't have cap room to keep either. The Thrashers, meanwhile, have a blueliner garnering Norris talks in Byfuglien (33 points in 34 games), named a new captain in Ladd, and have serviceable depth with Sopel and Eager and a decent prospect in Aliu. The Thrashers sit atop the Southeast Division, a place where the Caps had been comfortably sitting for the past 3 years. The Hawks? Currently sitting 8th in the West with 14 losses, third most in the West, and in danger of following in the footsteps of Edmonton and Carolina, both teams who finished in the Finals yet missed the playoffs a year later. <img src="http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0c9f0M9dRg3Je/x350.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">November 30, 2010. Washington trades Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for Scott Hannan. The Avs were moving in another direction, and as a fast and speedy team the cement feet quota had already been taken up by Adam Foote. The Caps were loaded with talent but still couldn't figure out how to play defense, and with the emergence of centres Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, Fleischmann was expendable. The trade made sense for both teams but it couldn't turn out any more lopsided. Since moving to Matt Duchene's left wing, "Flash" has re-found his offensive game, putting up 11 points in 9 games and named the NHL's second star of the week. Despite snapping their losing streak against Ottawa, Hannan hasn't provided the defensive presence the Caps were looking for and is a woeful -9 in 9 games. And there you are, the 20 worst trades since the lockout. There have been some big ones, including the Marian Hossa-Dany Heatley, Jay Bouwmeester, and two more Chris Pronger trades, but in those trades I felt at least both teams have been able to walk away with something substantial. Even the Antoine Vermette trade netted the Sens a decent prospect in Robin Lehner. No trade is fair - there's a reason why some teams continue to struggle while others remain consistently good. I was tempted to touch on the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, but it wasn't the trade that killed the Devils, it was that extension over the summer. Tracking the picks that have been moved over the years has been a real pain, but here's an interesting tidbit I found. I was originally going to include the Edmonton-Anaheim deal that sent Pronger to the Ducks but I held back because of this little nugget. In exchange for Pronger, the Oilers received Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, Anaheim's 2007 1st rounder, 2008 2nd rounder, and another conditional 1st rounder. The 2007 1st rounder was sent to Phoenix, who selected Nick Ross, and the 2008 2nd rounder was sent to the Islanders, who took Travis Hamonic. The conditional 1st rounder would be awarded on the condition that the Ducks reach the finals. (I vaguely remember an article that said Oilers brass were rooting for the Ducks so they could get that extra first rounder.) Anyway, the Ducks did make the finals in 2007 so their 2008 first rounder, 22nd overall, was given to the Oilers. And who did the Oilers end up picking? Jordan Eberle. Hope you enjoyed this post. Happy holidays, folks.
  2. Hockey players have always stood out from basketball, football, and to a lesser extent, baseball players because they carry themselves on and off the ice with a certain demeanor. Some call it boring or calculated, while others say they're humble and down-to-earth. Some of the greatest leaders the NHL has ever seen, including Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, and Bobby Orr, were very soft-spoken players who did more with their stick than their mouths. They were professional and knew their place in the league, respected the veterans, and realized that there was a time and place for everything. Having said that, PK Subban and Linus Omark have all recently attracted a lot of negative attention with their swagger. But, seriously, what's wrong with that? Subban has always been a very confident player. It was the reason why he made a seamless transition from a four-year career with Belleville to Hamilton, where he won the Presidents' Award in his first professional season for his outstanding accomplishments. After logging a team-high 25 minutes against the Oilers on December 1, in which the Habs blew a 3-1 lead and lost 4-3 in overtime, Jacques Martin decided to make Subban his scapegoat and proceeded to make him a healthy scratch for 3 games, all Habs wins. It was Subban's fault that Sam Gagner so easily sidestepped him en route to a shorthanded beauty and a lackadaisical pass to Mike Cammalleri, who also should've been at fault, that led to the Dustin Penner winner. But which rookie doesn't make mistakes? <img src="http://flyersorangecrush.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/0subban_0.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Elliotte Friedman used his 'Price Theory' to rationalize Subban's exile, but I think that Price Theory is absolute junk. Price's game fell apart and there were questions about his work ethic. As far as I could tell, the only mistakes Subban made were in that game. Sure, he talks a lot of trash, but so do two very good players on the Canucks. Mike Richards obviously lost a lot of respect for Subban because he ran his mouth too much, but if that's the reason why Subban's sitting then the Habs are doing nothing but hurting Subban's game. What had become a trademark of Subban's game, enormous talent and a mouth to go with it, disappeared when he returned to the ice against Detroit. It was so obvious that Subban was overthinking the game, trying to stay within the boundaries Martin had drawn, that he became ineffective, and it didn't help matters when he was -3 against the Leafs a night later. Let's get one thing straight: Price was benched because he was awful for a long period and to win games the Habs were better off with Jaroslav Halak that year (as a side note, even though he was heavily criticized Price put up better numbers last year than he did the year before, but if you don't win games you get vilified in Montreal). Subban should've been benched and called out for his play in that Oilers game. But to tell this kid that what had made him so successful on the ice is the wrong way to play sends the wrong message. The Habs went 3-0 without Subban in the lineup, but in the process they potentially killed this kid's season and development. Like Subban, Linus Omark is a confident player whose reputation precedes him, especially after made him a YouTube sensation. Omark isn't a very well-rounded player, but he's got great hands and give him room around the net and he'll make sure the puck goes in, and after what he did in Sweden you can't fault Tom Renney to pick the rookie as one of his shooters. Well, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnsngTNeGTg, and all he did was do a spin-o-rama at center ice before faking a shot and slipping it into the net. After the game, Martin St. Louis wasn't too happy about it and accused Omark of disrespect and showboating. A lot of hockey pundits agreed, and to them, I say: "What!? Are you crazy!?" Let me first remind everyone that this is the same guy that pulled off the in a shootout once that caused as much controversy as Omark's goal. Not only is St. Louis being hypocritical, he's also being a sore loser. Omark did what he did best - he put the puck in the net. As gimmicky as that spin-o-rama at centre ice was, he got the job done, didn't he? That move may have been unnecessary, but I also wouldn't be surprised if that put Dan Ellis off guard. The moment Omark pulled off that move he instantly made himself unpredictable. Ellis probably didn't have a very comprehensive scouting report on Omark and was probably reading deke all the way and that spin-o-rama just sold it. The shootout was meant to entertain fans and Omark did just that. If the Lightning weren't happy about Omark's goal maybe they should've won that game in regulation. If Omark didn't score, this would be a complete non-issue. Stop whining, Marty. <img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/85898170.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF8789215ABF3343C02EA54885FC7A2A8F6E4AD040BA0C0C7507895D4FECAFC04AA11091E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Breaking into the NHL is difficult and most young players have their ups and downs, but often the most successful players are the ones who are confident in their abilities. We don't have to look too far to find better examples. When Daniel and Henrik broke into the league, they were physically unprepared for the rigors of the NHL play and schedule, and after less than stellar rookie seasons I think they were questioning themselves if they had left MoDo too early (yes, they did). It wasn't until it became quite obvious that the days of the West Coast Express were over that they really stepped up their game. I don't think it was a coincidence at all that when Markus Naslund dipped from 32 goals and 79 points to 24 goals and 60 points in 2006, both the Sedins broke out and hit the 70-point plateau. It was then that they realized they could play and the Canucks were counting on them in the future. Their play wasn't all that different - they could still find each other telepathically and no matter who you put on a line with them, be it Wade Brookbank, Trevor Linden, or Taylor Pyatt, these guys found ways to score. They were confident in their abilities. They weren't the sisters anymore. I must admit, I was quite critical of them, even during the 2005-06 to 2007-08 seasons when they put up three consecutive 70+ point seasons. I thought they were statistically good, but had only led the Canucks to the playoffs once in three years and in their only postseason showing they were average at best. But there was one play in particular, and it wasn't of the highlight reel variety, that told me the Sedins were ready to compete. The Sedins are often victim of extra shots and after whistle scrums and for the most part they don't retaliate. Players with confidence and swagger don't back down. I'm not saying the Sedins are easily intimidated, because they're not, but they've never been in-your-face players. It's a trait that I like in hockey players and it's all about body language. I've never seen Subban shy away from a puck in the corner, a hit, a risky play, or a bigger player. I don't think there's a shootout move that Omark wouldn't attempt. But on December 27, 2009, the year that saw Henrik capture the Art Ross and the Hart Memorial in June, I knew the Sedins had arrived. How? After being totally abused by Dion Phaneuf alongside the boards, Henrik got up, headed towards the net, corralled the rebound and scored. That's resiliency. But the swagger? Immediately after the goal, Henrik went up to Phaneuf and just nearly made him cry. Watch the http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx0MYvc-eiY. So, I ask again. What's so wrong with swagger?
  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. First off, a big congratulations to the Big Red Machine, winning gold on home ice. Canada's 14 gold medals, if you haven't heard for the millionth time now, is the most by any country in Winter Olympics history. It's no small feat, and as cliched as it sounds, Canada's success has really united its people from coast to coast. The importance of "Own The Podium" was not lost in the eyes of the government and this is great news for the traditionally under-funded Canadian athletes, with the federal budget expected to double its annual contribution. With such initiatives from the Canadian government expect more and more gold medals for Canada's trophy case. It seems only fitting anyway, amidst the Molson, HBC, and Tim's commercials that we should be good at "conquering winter." Sure, the Americans won more medals, but we can always say we won the most golds, and perhaps the ones that mattered to us most. In both men's and women's hockey the Canadians were victorious over their southern rivals, even though the women's post-game celebrations drew the ire of the IOC. But, as Roy MacGregor says, "so what?"<img src="http://media.nj.com/star-ledger/photo/-da5f91bb0cd558bd_large.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed"> The USA-Canada game was one for the history books and I don't remember Salt Lake even coming close to receiving as much hype as it did. If Gary Bettman still doesn't understand why NHL players need to be in Sochi, then I'm not sure if anything in this world will convince him. Hockey in North America is reaching its peak, with USA Hockey introducing a slew of new stars. Hockey Canada has always had a steady stream of quality talent, but Sidney Crosby has garnered the most attention since Wayne Gretzky. The gold medal game drew the highest TV ratings since the 1980 USA-USSR game and it shouldn't surprise anyone that a vast majority of the American viewers were from the north. However, let's hope that the high viewership in cities without NHL franchises, like San Diego, doesn't give Bettman any funny ideas. Some, however, remain quite pessimistic about hockey's staying power in the States. Of course, it doesn't help Bettman that none of USA's marquee talents play on Southeast Division teams. The days of European dominance, and questions of whether the North American development programs are heading in the right direction or not, are over. Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg, and the stars of yesteryear don't dominate the NHL anymore. Finland and Sweden have probably seen the last of their stars from the '90s, while Russia is re-thinking their strategy and selection process. So disappointing was their performance this year that their Olympic Committee head Leonid Tyagachev has resigned after pressure from President Dmitry Medvedev. Just one day after the Closing Ceremonies, the NHL was right back at it again. I must admit, and I'm sure I'm not alone here, that I was suffering from the Olympic hangover and didn't even realize the NHL had resumed playing until I saw the boxscores. If there was any drawback to the Olympics, and this is a minor one, to say the least, was the somewhat uneventful trade deadline. Despite featuring a record number of players, I felt that most of the moves were lateral moves at the very best, with GMs trading for the sake of trading. Here's some winners and losers... The clear winners, I think, were two playoff teams: the Kings and Capitals. With such a young team, Dean Lombardi made an astute move and got veteran leader Jeff Halpern. The price may have seemed a little steep for the journeyman centre, with Teddy Purcell and a third rounder going the other way, but with the Kings' organizational depth it was something they could afford. I think the Capitals missed some of Chris Clark's presence so they got former Canuck Scott Walker and the underrated Eric Belanger. Milan Jurcina returns to Washington and they also got Joe Corvo as well, and the price wasn't bad. The Capitals really made themselves a contender in this one and I have a feeling they'll top Pittsburgh this time around, despite getting Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Pens just don't seem to be playing as well this year - perhaps the novelty of not having Michel Therrien behind the bench is wearing off a little. Phoenix was surprisingly active during the deadline but I think the bigger story is their success, not their acquisitions. There was, I think, a clear loser on this day and I think that's the Oilers. The 'Canes unloaded what players they didn't need, but at the end of the day the Oilers were still saddled with the same group of players they began the season with. Only two trades materialized for them: shipping Lubomir Visnovsky to Anaheim for Ryan Whitney and then Steve Staios to Calgary for Aaron Johnson and a pick. Unless Johnson impresses, he probably won't be back next year while Whitney's signed through 2013. Whitney perhaps isn't the type of player that brings a new attitude to the locker room, something that Steve Tambellini has been wanting to do, but the Oilers had to take some salary back. Some people wonder why the Oilers struck a trade with the Flames, but I really think that speaks to the futility of the Oilers' position. They obviously didn't have Calgary in its mind as a trading partner, but the lack of interest from other teams, or the reluctance to part with picks and prospects, probably pushed the Oilers to them. They have some immovable assets there. It's a long road ahead for the Oilers. The sweeping changes didn't come and the team will probably make more noise at the draft. Sam Gagner may be the only player really worth keeping but it's a shame he has to toil there. <img src="http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/object2/1850/125/n55157749204_7654.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The Canucks made some depth moves, acquiring Yan Stastny, Andrew Alberts, and Sean Zimmerman. Zimmerman probably won't see any NHL time in his career, Stastny's a call-up at best, while Alberts is a decent depth defenseman. Seeing as how Kevin Bieksa is still out with an injury and Willie Mitchell's status unknown, Mike Gillis didn't make any moves to shore up the blueline. I was personally pulling for Dan Hamhuis, but the Predators elected to keep him for the rest of the year despite his impending free agency. Gillis' big move last year was getting Mats Sundin, but nothing this year. It's perhaps a vote of confidence from Gillis for this team, but it's still missing some pieces before it's a contender in a tough conference. But of course, I'll still be cheering for the blue and green. Back to the NHL we go!
  7. 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.