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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.
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
Kent, he of the We Are All Canuckleheads Podcast, is looking like a genius right now. I say this because he was one of the first people I saw making a case for Henrik Sedin for the Hart Trophy. Talk of Henrik being a favorite for the Hart trophy picked up steam earlier this week with an article from Michael Farber over on Sports Illustrated's website (scroll down about midways) who named Henrik Sedin as his pick for the Hart Trophy. (Incidentally, no mention or love for Kesler in the Selke category. Boo.) Michael Traikos of the National Post also had some love for Henrik Sedin as he also picked him to win the Hart trophy. More recently, TSN's James Cybulski gave Henrik some love, saying that the Swedish twin is HIS pick for the Hart. Taking a look at it, I have to say that Henrik has made a great case for himself in the first half of this season to be a leading candidate for the Hart Trophy. The biggest point in favor of Henrik would be the fact that his brother Daniel went down with injury for a prolonged period of time. There are many people out there who will acknowledge that the Sedins are a great duo, but individually they suffer. That line of thinking took a beating reminiscent of the other night as Henrik went on a tear for the Canucks, shouldering the offensive burden without his brother. In the 18 games Daniel was out, Henrik racked up an impressive 10 goals and 18 points, including one hat trick and 2 game winning goals. This is notable given that Henrik has habitually been portrayed as being more of a passer and less of a shooter. Were that the only argument in favor of Henrik Sedin: that he puts up a lot of points and has been able to play well without his brother, it wouldn't make for a very convincing argument in favor of the Hart. Heck, Marian Gaborik scored a lot of goals for the Minnesota Wild and is now doing much of the same in New York (and getting talk of Hart nominations due to the spotlight being shone there. More on that in a second.) But no, there is more to Henrik's Hart and there's a strong argument that can be made in favor of him. There's the fact that Henrik, along with his brother, actually makes players around them better. It's been a long-running joke in Vancouver that you could take anyone and have them play with the Sedins and they'd be made to look like perennial All-Stars. As I mentioned in my 'Third Sedin' article last month, aging veteran Trent Klatt got driven to the airport due to being a Sedin linemate, Jason King got a 'Rookie of the Month' nod for playing with the Sedins, Anson Carter got a substantial pay raise due to being the Sedins linemate and Mattias Weinhandl has been able to take his play with the Sedins back in their SEL days and turn it into, ugh, an Olympic roster nomination. There's also Alex Burrows (pictured above), the Sedins current linemate. Prior to playing with the Sedins, Burrows was a fixture on the team's checking line and wasn't exactly known for his offensive contributions, having scored 22 goals in the past three seasons. In an attempt to fix things for the Canucks, who were in the middle of a horrible losing streak last season, head coach Alain Vigneault decided to stick Burrows with the Sedins and see what happened. The result? Burrows ended up with 28 goals and 51 points by the end of last season and is on pace for the same amount of goals and 62 points this season. Not too bad for a guy who was playing ball hockey and toiling in the ECHL. Burrows' improved play can be compared to the rub Jonathan Cheechoo got from Joe Thornton when they played together in San Jose. Back in 05/06, Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard trophy, the same year that Thornton picked up the Art Ross and Hart trophies. You could also point to Colby Armstrong benefitting from Sidney Crosby when he played with the Penguins, although Armstrong did have his greatest offensive totals while playing in Atlanta. Henrik's linemates should also be noted when discussing other Hart trophy candidates. Unlike Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, Henrik doesn't have the luxury of playing with ridiculously talented forwards like Malkin, Jordan Staal, Hossa, Backstrom, Semin or Norris candidates like Mike Green and Sergei Gonchar. Not to mention guys like Joe Thornton, who get to play with Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. While the Canucks are a good team and Henrik doesn't suffer for lack of quality linemates, Burrows, no matter how driven he is, is a far cry from the likes of Heatley. Basically, not only is Henrik being a great player, he is helping to make other players look great as well. Honest question, would Alex Burrows' back to back hat tricks have happened without Henrik Sedin? Probably not, as Henrik (and Daniel) assisted on 5 of Burrows 6 goals. It's a remarkable example of what Henrik can do for the players that play with him and his brother. Some other stats to chew on and consider: Henrik is second in icetime amongst Canucks forwards, behind only Ryan Kesler. I'd imagine that Henrik might be leading the Canucks in icetime if they weren't one of the most penalized teams in the NHL (3rd worst as of last night's game) as Kesler spends a lot of his time on the PK, something which Henrik isn't as prolific with. Henrik's 4 game winning goals puts him in a tie for fourth, tied with guys like Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Teemu Selanne. His brother Daniel is tied for third with his 5 game winners. His +/- of +19 ties him with linemate Alex Burrows for fifth overall amongst forwards, behind only Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise. Daniel, for that matter, isn't that far off, as his +17 puts him in a tie for seventh overall amongst forwards. Did I mention that he's resting comfortably atop the NHL scoring race with 62 points right now? Should he continue this amazing tear he's been on for the rest of the season, there's a very good chance that he'll be in contention for the Art Ross Trophy. It should also be noted that 5 of the last 6 Hart Trophy winners (Ovechkin, Crosby, Thornton and St. Louis) also won the Art Ross, so being in contention (or even winning!) would be huge for Henrik. There's also the accolades he's been receiving, as he was just named the NHL player of the month for December. He has also led the Canucks in the Molson Cup standings for 2 months now. Although the Molson Cup isn't an official award, it's useful because the Molson Cup standings are based on three star selections, meaning that Henrik Sedin has been getting named one of the three stars pretty frequently, which means his contributions on the ice have been significant. Simply put, Henrik Sedin has been playing amazing. But what about his competitors? Well, let's take a quick look at some other potential Hart trophy candidates. Marian Gaborik is essentially a one man show on the Rangers and is third in the NHL scoring race at the moment and was leading the league in goals scored. There's a good chance that he'll be able to keep up his rate of scoring, but he's one groin injury away from being tossed from Hart contention. There's also the fact that the Rangers are fighting for a playoff spot: they're only 3 points removed from 9th place Philly and 4 points away from the 10th place New York Islanders. Should they not make the playoffs, that will significantly hurt his chances. Ryan Miller has been carrying the Buffalo Sabres on his back for most of this season and has been posting impressive goaltending numbers to boot, even when the team in front of him has been less than impressive. It's been said that members of the media (who vote on the Hart trophy) are reluctant to select goaltenders after Jose Theodore's Hart win and subsequent fall from grace. That said, Miller is no Theodore and will remain a strong candidate if he keeps it up…especially if he is able to take his play for Buffalo and transform it into Team USA medalling at the Olympics. It'll have everyone talking. Sidney Crosby is another favorite and was Pierre LeBrun's pick for ESPN's mid-season awards. With Malkin cooling off this season, Crosby has had to pick up the slack and carry the Pens offense and has done so admirably. It doesn't hurt that Crosby is a one time Hart winner so he has the name recognition that some voters may opt for instead of taking a risk on someone like Henrik Sedin. Alexander Ovechkin has won the Hart twice now and is another guy who is in the thick of the NHL's scoring race, this, despite missing some games earlier in the season. Everybody loves Ovi and it's going to be hard for some sportswriters to resist voting for Ovechkin to make it three consecutive seasons of winning the Hart trophy. The fact that he was just named captain also speaks of how valuable he is to the Capitals organization and will stand out for many. Joe Thornton is also putting up big numbers and up until last night was tied with Henrik in the NHL scoring race. That said, he's playing on an absolutely stacked team with a potential Rocket Richard winner in Heatley, has guys like Rob Blake and Dan Boyle on the backend. Not to mention Thornton's other linemate, Patrick Marleau, who currently leads the league in goals scored. It's going to be hard to argue that Thornton is having the same impact on the Sharks that he did in 05/06 (when he won the Hart.) Compare Cheechoo, a guy who greatly benefitted from Thornton that season, with Heatley a guy who has absolutely killed pretty much since he's been in the league. Assuming that Henrik Sedin manages to continue at the pace he's set for himself and continues to play at the high level we Canucks fans have been enjoying year round, it's going to be hard to say that Hank doesn't stack up against the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin or Joe Thornton. As big of a fan as I've been of the Sedins, even I am finding it hard to believe…but it doesn't mean I'm not enjoying this dominance. Hard to believe that there were folks who thought this team would be better off without the Twins. Trevor Presiloski is a Westerner stuck out East in Toronto. You can check out his website, which features more coverage on the Canucks, at http://www.trevorpresiloski.com. He can also be found over on Twitter at twitter.com/nettrashcan. He is an avid reader and loves the sport of falconry.