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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. We're a quarter way through the regular season and like any other NHL season, there's been plenty of surprises, both good and bad. Let's recap. If you had told me the Flyers would finally unearth a top 15 netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky, they would've been my pick to win the Atlantic. Michael Leighton is skating again but both him and Brian Boucher would find an uphill battle to unseat the Russian netminder with a 12-3-2 record and sixth-ranked .926 SV% for goalies with at least 10 games played. I noted that Claude Giroux was a star in the making but what he's done this far has exceeded my expectations. So how about that Carey Price!? No longer am I somewhat hesitant to voice my support for the BC native who was picked by the Habs to be their franchise goalie and he couldn't have chosen to break out at a better time. Not having to look over his shoulder for Jaroslav Halak has helped him tremendously, but all he needed was just some time, to mature and soak in everything. And you know when Price turned the corner? When he showed his unwavering support for Halak in the playoffs last year. That type of off-ice maturity bleeds on to the ice. Forget about Marc-Andre Fleury, who's an overrated regular season goalie, Price is the future netminder for Canada. He beats out Cam Ward and Steve Mason for that spot. <img src="http://www.nhlsnipers.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/277-Stamkos-Game-Photo-3.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Even as unreasonable a Steven Stamkos fan I am, what he's done this year boggles my mind. He's not going to score 82, or 76 to tie Teemu Selanne and Alex Mogilny, but my bet is that he scores 60. He's the best sniper I've seen since Brett Hull (even looks like him too) and even though he prefers that left face-off spot he can score in a variety of ways, unlike one-trick pony Dany Heatley. But everyone should've seen this coming. The World Championships are often overlooked because of the playoffs, but Stamkos really stood out with 7 goals in 9 games in the 2009 tournament. While both Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin are both adept at scoring goals, they're really fun to watch and compare because they're so different. Ovechkin's a bull - he'll do everything at high speed with raw talent, skill, and strength, but he'll also do the same thing 20 times even if he's failed the previous 19 times. Hal Gill really showed us how they could shut down Ovechkin by taking away just one of his moves. Stamkos is a different. He's a much more finesse sniper. One of the few teams that has really surprised me is Atlanta. I thought the biggest piece Chicago would miss would be Dustin Byfuglien, but it's actually Andrew Ladd that has been the key cog in Blueland. You'd think that losing your most talented player in Ilya Kovalchuk would hurt, and they were better last year with him in the lineup than without, so that Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsay have turned this franchise around in such a hurry is really encouraging news. Dudley, who was with Chicago last year, clearly knew which players he wanted to target. And finally the franchise is putting some confidence in Ondrej Pavelec. Don't let Boston's eighth rank fool you - they've played less games than everyone else and are currently in a slide, but this team is much better than its record suggests. Nathan Horton, with 8 goals in 22 games, is on pace for 30, the most since 2007. A healthy Milan Lucic gives this team an even more physical dimension and he's proving that he's a legitimate top six winger. Tuukka Rask has only one win (no fault of his own - Boston has scored just 12 in his 7 starts) but Tim Thomas has come back more determined than ever. If you need any proof that a good backup is key, just look at what Boston's been able to do, and to a lesser extent, the Jackets' Mathieu Garon, the Rangers' Martin Biron and Vancouver's own Cory Schneider. Are we finally seeing the Cam Ward that we saw (quite unfairly, actually) win the 2006 Conn Smythe? Ward's been posting the best numbers in recent memory. His goals against is trending down and his save percentage is trending up. Ward turns 27 in February, the prime of his career but it may be all for naught if the Hurricanes can't find more breakout players like Jeff Skinner. Drayson Bowman, Jamie McBain, and Zach Boychuk, all highly lauded prospects, haven't had the same impact. It's hard to see Ward's numbers get even better than they already are now because Carolina's just not a very good team. Ryan Miller isn't the best goalie this year and that shouldn't surprise anyone. It's so hard to predict which goalie is going to the best in the league ever year. There was a time when Martin Brodeur dominated every category but he's on the downside of his career so it's wide-open. Case in point. League leaders in SV%: Thomas, Garon, Ondrej Pavelec, Price, and Brent Johnson. Wins: Price, Jimmy Howard, Bobrovsky, Michal Neuvirth, and Thomas. I guarantee you no one had those goalies at the top of their lists in their fantasy draft (except maybe Howard). If Darcy Regier can turn this team around he and Lindy Ruff will stay, but owner Tom Golisano is under some pressure. <img src="http://images.ctv.ca/archives/CTVNews/img2/20101111/600_maple_leafs_lose_101111_430241.jpg?2"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Florida's been another nice surprise this season. Tomas Vokoun has been spectacular as usual (9-8, 2.44 GAA, .923 SV%) on a team that can't score. Their highest scorer, Michael Frolik, has 13 points and Stephen Weiss still hasn't stepped up his game, which I thought he would with Horton's departure. It's nice to see that the Panthers, like the Canucks with Jeff Tambellini, has given proven AHLer scorer Mike Santorelli, formerly of the Predators organization, a chance to stick with the big club. I used to hate having to watch the Leafs every Saturday night, but now I quite like it. Despite what people may seem to think about their lack of effort, I really think it's just a lack of talent. Sometimes it's visible, but most other times they're just plain bad plays and bad giveaways. Phil Kessel may be taking lots of flak for not scoring but it's not hard to see that he plays hard every shift and it's not really his fault he gets knocked on his butt every other time. All teams need to do to shut down the Leafs offense is to contain Kessel. The Leafs don't have a centre to dish him the puck or a strong winger to create some room for him. Most nights it looks like he's carrying the offense all by himself because Kris Versteeg clearly isn't comfortable being to a go-to guy after playing second fiddle in Chicago. The Leafs have improved, despite that awful Kessel deal, since Brian Burke came in. End of story. As long as Kovalchuk is in a Devils uniform, that franchise is going nowhere. It's not so much that he's a bad player, he's really talented, but it's that contract. If that deal costs the Devils Zach Parise, it'd go down as the worst gamble in NHL history. While Lou Lamoriello still has some pieces in the organization, the Devils are certainly trending down. Martin Brodeur isn't what he's used to be and there's no heir apparent. Jeff Frazee isn't ready yet. Even when his team's struggling, Kovalchuk hasn't changed his game to suit the Devils' system. This inability to adapt or change isn't something that's applied to Kovalchuk, but to a lot of Russians. Ovechkin's gotten better at what he does but he hasn't added to his repertoire like Sidney Crosby or Stamkos has. It's also why I'd take Crosby over Ovechkin any day - because I know Crosby will always strive to be a more complete player (and also because he's a centre). St. Louis will only go as far as Halak takes them. When Halak's head is in the game he's great, but once in awhile he'll just implode and let in 7 goals. With TJ Oshie out for the long-term, there hasn't been anybody who's stepped up their game. Patrik Berglund has responded nicely after clashing with Andy Murray last season but Brad Boyes has just 5 goals, David Backes has 13 points, and Andy McDonald, a good centre but miscast as a number one guy, is the team's leading scorer. The team needs to find the consistency that has to be present to win in the West - the Blues go 3 wins to start November, then allow 29 goals in 5 games, then win 3 straight after that. If there's any team that will challenge Vancouver for the division title in years to come it's Colorado. Does anyone see a little Joe Sakic in Matt Duchene? That draft couldn't have worked out any better for the Avs and Duchene and in three years they may be the scariest team in the West along with the Kings. They need that franchise goaltender but the pieces are all there - Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Ryan O'Reilly, and Duchene. Five years down the road, should Dean Lombardi not put his team in some sort of cap headlock, the Kings are going to be the team to beat in the West. A franchise player in Anze Kopitar, a future fab four with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Colten Teubert, and Thomas Hickey, and a franchise goalie in Jon Quick. They've got a good mix of veterans right now and would be a dark horse to win the Cup despite their inexperience. Dallas may have the division lead right now but the Kings will be so far ahead by the end of the season they won't be able to the Stars in the rear view mirror. Is there any other team that is as misinformed as the Sharks? I feel stupid for picking the Sharks to win the Pacific (albeit barely). The Sharks are a non-Cup contender posing as one. Their defense was porous to start the season and since Marc-Edouard Vlasic can't move the puck to save his life it's now just Dan Boyle, Doug Murray, and four other guys. The Sharks, even with Joe Pavelski, are a one-line team. As much as Todd McLellan wants to mix up the Big Three, he's continued to have to force the trio back together because they can't get anything going without one another. The goaltending is suspect and even though you don't need an elite goalie to win the Cup, you can certainly lose a season with two underperforming goalies. There's just no depth on this team. <img src="http://therattrick.com/files/2009/08/48154_Flames_Bouwmeester_Hockey.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">I've also never seen a player with a worse brain to talent ratio than Jay Bouwmeester. This guy can skate like a wind but thinks like a brick. Really, sometimes the stuff he does just makes you question your own sanity. He's paid franchise player money when he clearly can't play like one. As long as he is the anchor of the Calgary defense, and he has to because he's paid the most, they will never win a Cup. My guess is that by the end of the year the Flames will dump Darryl Sutter and ironically name Jay Feaster, the former Lightning GM who defeated the Flames in 2004, as GM. I'm guessing Brent gets another year because a lack of good personnel isn't exactly his fault. I think this is one of the few times i've praised East teams more than West teams and what we're witnessing is a shift in power. it's probably more apparent this year than ever. All the years of the East being inferior to the West is no more. The East has stockpiled so much talent over the years and slowly their patience is being rewarded. All of the league's young stars - Crosby, Malkin, Backstrom, Stamkos, the Staals, Price - are in the East. While the West may have more parity, more and more the good teams are separating themselves from the teams that still haven't adjusted to life in the cap era. Trophy Tracker: Hart: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Vezina: Tim Thomas, Boston Calder: Jeff Skinner, Carolina Art Ross: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Norris: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Lindsay: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Adams: Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay Selke: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Richard: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay But, wait! Where's Vancouver, you say? Well, they get a blog post all of their own and I think it's going to be a dandy, one that (hopefully) gets some good discussion going. Stay tuned!
  3. There is no doubt that the post-lockout NHL is a much more exciting game to watch on TV. Players are faster and stronger and the rules have catered to a more offensive game to open up the ice. There's more room and leeway for players to fly across the ice at top speed. The only problem is that it has resulted in more bad decisions, more concussions, more bad hits, and more suspensions. Gary Bettman clearly doesn't get it - the fail proof way to successfully market the game is to make sure the world's top talents are on the ice. It's not about scoring goals. The amount of goals scored is not directly correlated to the quality of hockey. It's a huge misconception that the league has repeatedly failed to understand. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/45/fullj.77c88536990f67b0597a57a7e1c933b1/77c88536990f67b0597a57a7e1c933b1-getty-102826783dv007_sanjose.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">For example, suspending was the dumbest thing the league could do. It makes absolutely no sense. No wonder Sharks GM Doug Wilson is so ticked off and has thus refused to comment on the matter. In a Thursday night game against the Blues, just as Perron had received a pass and was starting up the middle of the ice, Thornton stepped out of the penalty box after serving a boarding penalty and knocked him out with a shoulder hit to the head. Thornton was assessed a five minute major and a game misconduct and was given a two-game suspension by Gary Bettman which Thornton plans to appeal. There are so many problems with this I don't know where to begin. First, that was a good, clean check. The only problem is that Perron is 5'11" and Thornton is 6'4", making Perron's head shoulder height to Thornton. It was NOT a blindside check because Thornton was IN FRONT of Perron when he made the hit. If referees Dan O'Rourke and Brian Pochmara were to call a penalty, it would've been just a hit to the head two-minute minor. But there's no such penalty. A hit to the head can only penalized if it's "a lateral or blindside hit" as per Rule 48 of the rule book. I've said this so many times before - eliminate that lateral/blindside clause and just penalize hits to the head, regardless of the angle. It would've been unfair to Thornton, who really did nothing wrong, but like an errant high stick you assume these NHL-calibre players have full control of their bodies. But okay, let's assume that O'Rourke and Pochmara interpreted it as a blindside hit. That's fine, referees make mistakes, especially two relatively green ones. Toss Thornton from the game. But Bettman felt the need to step in and hand him an extra two-game suspension, a duty which usually falls to Colin Campbell, the league disciplinarian. Isn't that enough? Thornton is not a repeat offender. He really has no prior history. Third, what's the first rule of hockey? Keep your head up. Eric Lindros' career ended because of it and so will Perron's if he continues to play this way. He was looking at the puck and once he touched it, it was too late to react to Thornton's shoulder. But much more importantly, that was just a plain dumb hockey play by Alex Pietrangelo, the passer. That was a complete SUICIDE PASS. Pietrangelo obviously was not aware that Thornton had just stepped onto the ice and fed Perron a lead pass that put him on the train tracks towards Thornton. If you want to blame anybody, blame Pietrangelo, who has just 27 games of NHL experience. Faster players. Stronger players. Harder hits. More concussions. More suspensions. No Thornton for the Sharks and the NHL should be thankful this is only the second month of the season and not game 80, when a potential division crown or playoff spot is on the line. You know what the solution is? Bring back the clutch and grab. Allow defenseman and players to slow these guys down a little. It could go a long way. (Among other solutions: get rid of those ridiculously huge shoulder pads, put in glass and boards that are more forgiving, change that red lining at the top of the boards into something softer, etc.) Besides, anyone else sick of phantom calls as much as me? I was a hockey fan in the clutch and grab era so I don't understand why we had to change anything. Was opening up the game really that much effective as a marketing ploy? Or was it just simply the overflowing talent the league is currently experiencing, with Steven Stamkos, Matt Duchene, Claude Giroux, and others? If the NHL wants to put a better product on the ice, think about protecting the players, not worrying about how many times the red light will turn on. Keep talent off the ice and you're destroying your own product. Give your head a shake, NHL.
  4. "It's the repetition of affirmation that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen." - Muhammad Ali. For the Vancouver Canucks, in their 40th year in the league, there are only four words: "We. Want. The. Cup." <img src="http://vancouverite.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/kesler.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Some wins will come easier than others, but make no mistake, the Canucks are the team to beat in the West. For Cup contenders facing the Canucks, it is a chance to familiarize themselves with a potential enemy in June. For teams looking to re-build, it provides a golden opportunity for young players to play against the league's best. Unlike Colorado or Phoenix last year, the Canucks aren't going to surprise anyone. Henrik Sedin is the reigning league MVP and twin brother Daniel is just as good. Ryan Kesler will see plenty of Selke Trophies on his shelf before his career is over and Roberto Luongo can always show off his Olympic gold when people question his ability to win big games. But let's not get carried away - there are 82 grueling regular season games to be played and three Western Conference teams that the Canucks must show they can beat before they become the last team standing. The San Jose Sharks have been the West's best team for the past two years but like the Canucks during the West Coast Express' heyday, they still can't win the big game. In the five years since the lockout, all the Sharks have done is win the Pacific Division three times, eclipsed the 100-point mark four times, and claimed the President's Trophy once. But the Sharks always seem to lose their bite when the games start to really count, bowing out from the semis in three straight years and an even more abysmal showing two years ago after being ousted in the opening round by the Ducks. It was only last year did the Sharks manage to parlay their regular season success into the playoffs and reached the Conference Finals, even if only to be swept by the eventual Cup-winning Blackhawks. While becoming one of the four teams remaining is certainly quite the accomplishment, to say the Sharks were satisfied would be an understatement. The Sharks' first ever Conference Final appearance may be short, but now this team knows how to get there. Even with losing captain Rob Blake to retirement and swapping Evgeni Nabokov for a cheaper tandem in Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi, this is a team that has finally learned how to win and that's a dangerous thought. What's more dangerous than a team that knows it can win is a team that has already won and for the Detroit Red Wings they have something that no other Cup contender has: a wealth of experience. Since the lockout, the Wings have averaged 113 points a year, dipped below 50 wins just once (last year with a depleted roster), and been to the Finals twice. Nicklas Lidstrom has 247 games of playoff experience under his belt, over 100 more than Daniel and Henrik combined. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are no strangers either, Datsyuk having two Cup rings and Zetterberg a former Conn Smythe winner. Even the Red Wings' newest addition, Mike Modano, brings plenty of experience with a Cup ring of his own and over 150 games of playoff experience. Detroit is my pick to win the Cup (but I'd love to be proven wrong) and any road to the Finals will have to go through them. And the last time the Canucks met the Wings in the playoffs? 2002, when the Canucks were eliminated in the opening round after blowing a 2-0 lead in a series that is now only remembered by this goal. As the saying goes, "three time's the charm," but as the Canucks strive for their third straight division title you can bet that a third consecutive 4-2 semi-finals loss to Chicago won't be happening again. The Canucks simply won't allow it and a weaker Blackhawks squad would be hard-pressed to deal out the same punishment a third time. Make no mistake, the Canucks would love to see the Blackhawks in the semis again, if only just to show that the two previous playoff meetings were merely flukes. Still, the Blackhawks do have the Canucks' number and are the defending Cup champions. Even with less depth don't be surprised if Jonathan Toews wills this team deep into the playoffs. No other team in the West can deal as much psychological damage to the Canucks as the Blackhawks and as any NHL player will tell you, the playoffs are mentally taxing as they are physically. <img src="http://www.showtimetickets.com/hockey-tickets/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Roberto-Luongo-photos.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">All three teams are tough opponents but nothing the Canucks cannot handle. The truth is, the Canucks' toughest opponent is themselves. Since the 2000-2001 season, the Canucks have made the playoffs seven times but have lost in the semis four times and the quarters three times. During that same span the Canucks have been division champions four times but were upset in opening round by Calgary in 2004 and lost 4-1 to the Ducks in 2007 in the semis after escaping Anaheim with a 1-1 record. Then it was losses to Chicago in consecutive years in the semis in which the Canucks allowed an uncharacteristic 12 goals combined in elimination games. Despite his 112-point regular season performance Henrik Sedin was not a major force in the playoffs and neither was twin brother Daniel and both disappeared for stretches. Kesler had just one goal while Mason Raymond capped off what would've been a great season with just 4 points in 12 playoff games. Roberto Luongo had the worst playoff run of his career and his save percentage dropped from .913 to .895 which led to a subsequent ballooning of his GAA from 2.57 to 3.22. Cup-winning teams should not and do not self-destruct. If the Canucks want to win they just simply have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
  5. 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
  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.
  7. 30. That was Canucks hockey at its finest. Even at the Madhouse, the Blackhawks lacked that extra step all night. But that's what's most frustrating about the Canucks - they can't play their game on a more consistent basis. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/03/mar1909_ob3_b.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">29. I was never a fan of Shane O'Brien, especially in game four when he took two bone-headed cross-checking penalties. No one has ever questioned his toughness but you can't help but notice that his game has improved drastically. His skating and his hockey smarts are two things that have really jumped out at me this season. 28. Will the real Ryan Kesler please stand up? Much like Alex Burrows, Kesler has struggled to find his game in the second round after a fantastic regular season and an even better performance at the Olympics. It's not like Kesler's invisible - that's more Pavol Demitra than anyone - but he hasn't made a big impact in games like we all know he can. 27. Roberto Luongo was better, but not fantastic. He didn't exactly steal the game, although there were more Hawks chances than I'd like to see. It's not exactly like the Hawks are an easy team to play against either. 26. Special teams is vital, especially if it's not the regular season. The Hawks powerplay didn't look nearly as dangerous and Dustin Byfuglien wasn't as noticeable as he was in Game Four. The Canucks didn't allow a single PPG in four penalty kills. A rarity these days. 25. If there was a goat for the entire series, I'm not picking the less than spectacular Luongo. It's Daniel Sedin. Having accumulated only 28 PIM all season, the twin without the 'A' has 12 PIM in 11 games and just one powerplay goal. Daniel was clearly rattled by David Bolland in Game Four and a lot of the penalties he's been taken have just been plain dumb. There was a collective sigh of relief for Canucks Nation when the Canucks came out strong again in the second period after a late hooking call on Daniel. Perhaps this is the reason why Alain Vigneault gave Henrik rather than Daniel the 'A'. 24. Kyle Wellwood can be a blast to watch. He's perhaps one of the best stickhandlers in the league in close quarters, but ask him to do it while skating at full speed and, well, it's probably not going to happen. But either way, I think he was one of the best players out there last night (along with Kevin Bieksa and O'Brien), and I think most will agree. He may be only one of the few returning UFAs and he won't come much more expensive than his current salary ($1.2 million). 23. It's a foregone conclusion that Pavol Demitra is gone after this season. I didn't expect him to be back next year but his overall lack of effort just solidified my case even more. 22. Never mind Patrick Kane - he's a slick puckhandler with great vision and soft hands, but it doesn't seem like he'll be anything more than that. Perhaps it's because his development into a NHL star has paled in comparison to Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews', but even after a couple of seasons in the league I don't think he's improved his defensive game any, if at all. I don't expect Kane to win the Selke, Kesler's going to do that this year, but I know some Hawks fans that cringe when they see 88 loitering around the defensive zone. 21. Kris Versteeg is one of those sneaky fast players that plays hard. If anything, his spirited tilt against Patrick Eaves was a testament to his heart and grit. 29 other teams would love to have him. Asides from Toews, for obvious patriotic reasons, he may be one of my favourite Hawks. Don't shoot me. 20. If the Canucks advance to the finals it won't be because Henrik, Luongo, Alex Edler, or even Christian Ehrhoff elevated their play. It's because of the return of Ryan Johnson, who returns to his regular fourth line spot. The underappreciated centre won 8 of 9 draws (he single-handedly raised the Canucks' FO% by 5%), blocked 2 shots, and dished out 1 hit in 11 minutes of ice-time. One thing that you can depend on Johnson for is quality minutes. Against San Jose defense will be huge, now with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton (finally) hitting their stride. <img src="http://habsinsideout.com/files/hio/imagecache/littleimage/images/0subban_0.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">19. How about that PK Subban? The kid oozes poise and confidence on the blueline and with Hal Gill questionable for an elimination game and Jaroslav Spacek's expected to return (although not necessarily at 100%), expect Subban to log 20 minutes. He's already averaging 18:41 and don't be surprised if Jacques Martin assigns Subban to Sidney Crosby. 18. It's funny how much ink Jaroslav Halak is getting, but once the playoffs are over expect the Halak vs. Carey Price debates to continue. Habs fans have fallen head over heels with Halak but I caution against jumping on the bandwagon too soon. One good season does not make for a good goalie. I'm not doubting Halak's ability, but I am a little appalled how fast people throw Price under the bus. But, I guess that's just Montreal for you. 17. The Flyers have always wanted that elite netminder, but ask any Philly fan and they'll say that Ron Hextall was the last good goaltender they had. But what's Hextall's career save percentage? A rather pedestrian .895. What Flyers fans miss is the toughness and pugnacity Hextall brought to the table but those goalies don't grow on trees. In fact, I think a case can be made to jettison Ray Emery (in all likelihood won't be re-signed, anyone else think he has a career in MMA?) and enter the 2010-11 season with Brian Boucher as the number one and Michael Leighton as the backup. Neither come with starting goalie pedigree (Boucher was a former 22nd overall pick), but the Flyers are a team built for the playoffs and all they need to do is to make it. They got lucky and drew the declining Martin Brodeur in the first round, but Boucher has always traditionally played better when it counts. His regular season numbers aren't exactly stellar (.900, 2.72 GAA career) but his playoff numbers are significantly better (.915, 2.17 GAA career). A Boucher/Leighton tandem will save them money and allow them to keep Simon Gagne. If anything, this would be a one season experiment. I've always felt some backups never get the chance to show what they can really do. 16. Everyone's been saying how easy it was to shut down Alex Ovechkin but how about Crosby? He's almost been a non-factor in the series but like Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma will live or die with his best players on the ice. Evgeni Malkin, last year's Conn Smythe winner, has been invisible for stretches of the game. I actually think the best Penguin in this playoffs has been Kris Letang. So much for finding the right wingers - Ruslan Fedotenko has zero points and Alexei Ponikarovsky was a healthy scratch recently. 15. The new Bobby Orr statue that commemorates the 40th anniversary of his goal against St. Louis will be unveiled tonight. The Bruins are looking to eliminate the Flyers at home (they will) and advance to the Conference Finals where in all likelihood they will face Pittsburgh, which will no doubt be a spirited bout. After facing the 6'7" Gill, Crosby will yet again face another giant, this time the 6'9" Zdeno Chara. Expect more frustration and shattered sticks. Marc-Andre Fleury needs to outplay Tuukka Rask if the Pens want to advance. 14. If there were any doubts over Doug Wilson's job security in San Jose, the Sharks' first appearance in the Conference Finals in six years certainly wiped it all away. Joe Thornton, surprisingly, came up huge and he's been playing really well. But the big coming out party is for "Little Joe" Pavelski, who I thought along with Ryan Kesler, Ryan Miller, and Brian Rafalski was one of the best players for USA. 13. Just a little story on Pavelski. After playing two years at the University of Wisconsin, Pavelski signed an entry-level contract at $850,000 in the summer of 2006. Despite his spectacular college numbers (101 points in 84 games, James van Riemsdyk only collected 74 in comparison), Pavelski initially didn't expect to make the team. He was absolutely shocked when he walked into the locker room one day and saw his familiar #8 (his college number) waiting for him at his stall. He knew then that he had made it. Even his mother has often commented about how the entire family was surprised at how good he was at the game. It's this kind of modesty that really makes great players. The kind of modesty that makes you work hard at your game day-in and day-out. 12. That San Jose made the Conference Finals must be great news for Gary Bettman. After interest in hockey in California began to fade after the Ducks' struggles, the Sharks have finally found that playoff success and the Kings are becoming relevant again. If you were to argue for Bettman's side that hockey will work in non-traditional markets, California is a great example. Former Vancouver Giants standout Jon Blum is from California and a big reason he got into hockey was because of Wayne Gretzky. We could see a big boom in hockey interest in California very, very soon. <img src="http://media.scout.com/media/image/63/634544.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">11. Back to college hockey - if anyone gets a chance, watch the NCAA Frozen Four. I personally dislike watching basketball in general, especially the NBA, but March Madness is a different animal altogether. Just imagine the hype, the skill, the determination, and the hard work, but just on ice. It's a spectacular tournament that unfortunately really doesn't garner enough attention. The player that I've been watching all year and think could have a great NHL career? Former Wisconsin captain Blake Geoffrion (whose squad finished second this year to Boston College), the grandson of Hab legend Boom-Boom Geoffrion and wears #5 in his honour. If there was any family that knows how to shoot the puck, it's the Geoffrions. 10. It's about time the NHL made an award for executive of the year, although I wish they would name it. There is no question that this year's winner is Don Maloney, much like this year's Jack Adams should go to Dave Tippett. What they've done together in Phoenix has been incredible. Should the Coyotes move to Winnipeg, they will already have a solid management group in place, a key ingredient to a successful hockey franchise and ensure that the "new" Jets won't be stuck in expansion mediocrity in its infancy. 9. Next award to introduce? How about an award for most assists? There's a minor award for one of the useless stats in hockey with the +/- award, so why not one for helpers? This isn't some sort of ploy to get Henrik another trophy (he will win both the Hart and Pearson) but playmaking is an art form but is somehow less glamorous than goal-scoring. Let's change that. 8. There's little doubt in my mind that the new hardware being handed out this year is somehow tied to the fact that for the foreseeable future the NHL Awards will be held in glitzy Las Vegas. 7. I'm going to refrain from making any predictions about who will come out of the west for fear of jinxing our dearly beloved, but I am going to say that the East won't be winning the Cup this year. Although I'm sure Bettman is just absolutely jonesing for a Chicago-Pittsburgh tilt. Ratings would be through the roof. 6. My avid golfer dad and I enjoyed the brief absence of Tiger Woods from the PGA Tour. It's not that we don't like the way he golfs - his aggressiveness and competitiveness is second to none - but it's the way he carries himself on and off the course (no more needs to be said here). If you remember, it wasn't too long ago when Woods made a little comment about how "no one watches hockey," which prompted "Mad Mike" Milbury to dub him "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f9hfH_zGKE," I can't help but think how ignorant that comment is. USA Hockey is providing a new surge of talent and if the Olympics were any indication at all, it's going to become really relevant again. That Tiger Woods, the world's most marketable athlete behind LeBron James (the scandal actually did The Masters a favour), is turning a blind eye towards his own country's feats and accomplishments is downright ignorant and frustrating. This has gone on long enough. Now for a short top five things to watch for. 5. Steven Stamkos at the World Championships in Cologne, Germany. He will be Canada's #2 pivot for years to come behind Sidney Crosby. Stamkos is already better than Eric Staal, Vinny Lecavalier, or Ryan Getzlaf when they were his age. No surprises here, but Matt Duchene is also another player to watch and will end up having a more brilliant career than John Tavares. Which is why the Oilers should go with potential and smarts rather than raw skill by selecting Tyler Seguin over Taylor Hall. In fact, maybe Steve Tambellini can dupe Peter Chiarelli into thinking that the Oilers are going to take Hall and somehow swindle a low pick from them to guarantee them that they'll take Seguin first overall. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/aa/fullj.d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921/d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921-getty-98570716jj019_detroit_red_w.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">4. Nicklas Lidstrom may have played his last game as a Red Wing and it's a shame that it has to end on a low note, especially after falling to Crosby and the Pens last year. Had the Wings won the Cup Lidstrom's decision to retire would be much easier, but like most veteran players who are on the fence (Mike Modano included), there's always that question of "what could've been." Either way, congratulations are in order for both Modano and Lidstrom. 3. Mark Messier selected the squad for Canada at Cologne and no doubt the Canadians will achieve some form of success due to the abundance of talent. But managing a NHL team is a different. There's salary caps, trades, negotiations, and PR disasters (the Rangers still have Sean Avery). I certainly hope Messier's success at the international level doesn't somehow get translated into a lengthy NHL managing career. On second thought, that might not be a bad idea. 2. The Canucks somehow played better with 4.5 defensemen (sorry, Andrew Alberts). With Sami Salo expected to out with a potentially ruptured testicle (ouch... but follow it on twitter @salostesticle) this will be a test to how the Canucks respond. The home team has the losing record in this series but look for GM Place to be rowdy as ever. 1. The number one thing to watch? Game Six. Duh.
  8. What a wild playoffs. I've been so caught up with everything that I had neglected to add new entries. Apologies. As a gift, here's everything that's been on my mind for the past 2 weeks. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/89/fullj.7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855/7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855-getty-98063257.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - Colorado just simply ran out of steam. Craig Anderson looked exhausted at times and the game time Peter Budaj saw I'm sure gave Anderson some much needed rest, however brief. Matt Duchene hit a wall and had an obvious difficulty adjusting to the more physical playoff hockey after an outstanding rookie season. Chris Stewart really had a coming out party and could become a legitimate 30-goal power forward. The Sharks almost became another punch line to a choking joke again and even though San Jose can breath a sigh of relief, they still won't make it past the second round. Even Dan Boyle was reluctant to talk about his Game 3 gaffe. If they do, it'd be totally on the shoulders of Boyle, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks' vaunted Big Three have once again pulled their disappearing act. Joe Thornton has 3 assists in 6 games and is -4. Patrick Marleau has 3 points and is -2. Dany Heatley has 0 goals in 5 games. You really have to wonder how long Doug Wilson is willing to hold on to this core. And you also have to really wonder if Thornton can really be considered a franchise cornerstone anymore. - There's no secret that there's a double standard in the NHL and their failure to remain objective in all their disciplinary actions just makes the joke even worse. Zdeno Chara should've been suspended as per league rules but he wasn't, and you can expect the same with Marian Hossa for his hit on Dan Hamhuis. To make matters worse, Hossa was the Game 5 hero, giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead against a Nashville squad. I didn't think Chicago would have this much trouble against a team that pales in comparison in talent, but it just goes to show how far blue-collar hockey can get you. The Hawks will have no problem closing this out on the road or at the United Center. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/capress/d8/fullj.1ee1ab3e17070f7eef2792201806597f/capress-hkn_kings_canucks-232609823.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed"> - The Kings skated with such confidence that it totally disrupted with the Canucks' play and if not for Mikael Samuelsson's (he's been fantastic since the "Sweden Snub") shooting the Canucks wouldn't be in this position. Roberto Luongo still really hasn't found his game while the defense can be criticized, his .882 SV% and 3.11 GAA just won't cut it. The penalty kill has been awful, and for those who wonder how Ryan Johnson and his one-goal season can justify more than a million dollars per year, well, there's your answer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects continue to march on. Henrik and Daniel and Ryan Kesler have continued their great regular seasons. The return of Steve Bernier was big, and the always under-appreciated big forward has caused some havoc in front of the Kings net. I think the last 7-2 thrashing totally shot down whatever confidence the Kings had. Give credit to the Kings - they're a young squad that really exceeded expectations this year, and they're going to be Pacific Division heavyweights for a long time with Anze Kopitar up front and Norris-nominee Drew Doughty on the blueline. If the Canucks can't defend the Kings, they'll have headaches with the Blackhawks. Again. - I think in the Detroit-Phoenix series, experience has really tilt the scales in the Wings' favour. Admittedly I haven't been following this series as closely as the other, but each Red Wing win looks more and more convincing. After an ugly 7-4 win, the Wings have absolutely clamped down on Phoenix's offense, with two goals allowed in their last two games. Pavel Datsyuk's simply a magician on ice and he's led the Wings' attack. Nicklas Lidstrom has remained relatively quiet (as usual) but I somehow expected a little more out of him considering that this may be his last NHL playoffs amidst rumours of retiring or returning to Sweden. Usually, half the teams that make the playoffs one year don't make the playoffs the following year (Edmonton and Carolina being the most extreme examples, no Rangers, Blues, Flames, Ducks this year). I have a feeling Phoenix and Colorado will both fall victim to this because the biggest reason for their success has been their goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov and Craig Anderson have had outstanding seasons but they'd have to do it again to prove to me they're not one-trick ponies. - There's no way the Habs can limit the Caps to one goal again. That simply won't happen. Bruce Boudreau was noticeably flustered with his team's lack of offense in Game 5, but they'll find their game soon. You can shut down Alex Ovechkin for one game, but not an entire series. I really think the wild card here isn't goaltending, but rather Mike Green. Green has just 2 assists and is the Caps' fourth highest scoring defenseman behind USA World Jr. hero John Carlson, Tom Poti, and deadline pick-up Joe Corvo. Alex Semin only has one assist and is driving everyone crazy - he earns $6 million next year on a one-year contract and if he doesn't perform then he will be trade bait. Much like LA's Alex Frolov, Semin's desire to compete has been questioned. I've been impressed with the Habs' effort despite being a much less skilled and smaller team, but I think for the most part they've responded well. Size wasn't an issue here but look for the Habs to address that need at this year's draft where there's plenty of big-bodied centres. - I called the upset, and it was Philadelphia. They were simply built for the playoffs and the Devils just couldn't overcome their aggressive play. The Scott Hartnells, Mike Richards, and even Dan Carcillos of the Flyers simply outworked the Devils. Ian Laperriere required 60-70 stitches to fix his face after taking a shot and it's the little instances like that that can tell you about what sort of personality the team has. They'll face Washington next round (if they win) and that's a tough match-up. All you need in the playoffs to go far is a hot goalie and the Flyers have just that with Brian Boucher. At the heels of the Devils' elimination, it should be no surprise that the rumour mill has started to turn again. With a third straight first round exit, I think it's a definite sign that Martin Brodeur can no longer be the man. His .881 SV% and 3.01 GAA was awful for his standards and it has sparked rumours that Lou Lamoriello may be going after Carey Price. - The Boston-Buffalo series was certainly one that caught me by surprise. I knew that neither team would score much, and I thought Buffalo could hold off Boston's physical attack before the fatigue would set in the second round, but I guess I was wrong. Both goalies have been incredible and I still can't really pick which team is going to win, but I'll have to stick with Buffalo and hope they can win two straight. If the Sabres do win, it'd make me 8 for 8 in my predictions. The winner of this series won't last past the second. After Lindy Ruff told the media that whether or not Thomas Vanek would play would depend solely on him, it's going to be very difficult for Vanek to say no, no matter how far away from being 100% he is. - The Sens played great despite missing some several key pieces and going against two of the most offensively talented players in the league and Selke nominee Jordan Staal. It's tough enough beating all three of them, but with a strong supporting cast (although not as strong as the Pens would like) they prevailed. The series does put the Sens in a bit of a curious position, as moving forward they'll have to decide if either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott is their number one guy going forward, or if they're just going to split everything 50-50. - Very quickly, that sets up San Jose and Detroit, Vancouver and Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia, and then Pittsburgh-Buffalo/Boston. It's going to be a dandy, because I see Detroit and Chicago in the Conference Finals and another Pittsburgh-Washington showdown before Chicago claims the Cup. Bold? Maybe. - The obsession with getting the right match-ups has set a new record for too many men on the ice penalties. It's going to cost a team mightily in the Finals and it'll have to be pinned on the coach. Poor bench management leads to poor communication and it won't necessarily be the players' fault. - John Tavares didn't make the list of Calder nominees that includes Detroit's Jimmy Howard, Colorado's Matt Duchene, and Buffalo's Tyler Myers. It's not that Tavares didn't have a good season - he did, with 24 goals to tie for the lead with Duchene but it was Tavares' -15 that didn't do him any favours. If it were my pick it'd be Howard. Duchene was one of Colorado's top scorers and Myers was Buffalo's top defenseman, but both I think were real beneficiaries of having Anderson and Ryan Miller in net. In hockey the most important position (arguably) is in net and without Howard the Red Wings wouldn't have made the top 8. He's much older but he's the most worthy of the league's top rookie award. - The race for the Selke essentially comes down to two players: Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler. There's no contest for the third candidate, Jordan Staal. I was a little perplexed by Staal's nomination, but in part because Datsyuk and Kesler are in a class of their own. You could replace Staal with Jonathan Toews, who I felt should've gotten a vote, and it still wouldn't have been a contest. Kesler will be hard-pressed to beat Datsyuk for the award but I think considering Kesler's showing at the Olympics and his offensive breakout it's his time to claim the award. - The Lady Byng Trophy is usually the least respected major award and it's not totally fair to give it that label and but indeed it is less glamorous. Datsyuk gets his second nomination this year while Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis both enjoyed great seasons. However, I think Datsyuk will go empty-handed once again and St. Louis, who was snubbed by Canada, will take the award. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/blackhawks/images/upload/2009/01/chi_129_6.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - The most interesting race will be for the Norris Trophy. This year's list of candidates features three first-timers with Duncan Keith, Mike Green, and Drew Doughty. I'm still a little uneasy over Green's nomination because his defensive game is nowhere near Keith's (glug glug) or Doughty's. Someone please make a Bobby Orr Award or something for best offensive defenseman. Anyway, back on topic, has anyone else noticed that none of those 3 players are feared for their hitting? It's clearly a changing of the guard not so much in terms of age, but definitely style of play. All three are incredible skaters. Chris Pronger was never an incredible skater. If it weren't for Green's nomination I think it would've went to Shea Weber. My pick is without a doubt Duncan Keith, no question. - Nashville can't even sell out their playoff games against a division rival. Once again, the futility of hockey in non-traditional American markets should give Gary Bettman an idea of what exactly is going on down there but of course he believes they are still viable markets. Bettman got absolutely lucky with the Coyotes' success this season. It also shows, however, how a successful team, no matter the location, can be with the proper management. It sounds like Tampa Bay is headed in that direction but apparently Martin St. Louis wants no part of it and has reportedly requested a trade. - The draft lottery didn't unveil any surprises, but the Oilers are still shrouded in mystery as to who they're going to pick. They've recently re-vamped their front office by firing assistant GM Kevin Prendergast and a number of trainers, but you have to wonder when Steve Tambellini's going to start touching that roster. If I were the Oilers, I'd draft Tyler Seguin and blow up that entire roster. If Tambellini had to pick one player to not trade regardless of the offer, it'd be Sam Gagner. The kid's a wizard with the puck and competes hard. - It's playoff hockey time and we've already seen our fair share of blood, bruises, and shattered teeth courtesy of Eric Belanger. The winner of this year's playoffs will be the team that has lost the most teeth and pints of blood combined. It's always been like that though. Here's to the Canucks and Kyle Wellwood losing all his teeth. Go Canucks Go!