Thursday, March 11, 2010

All Things Hockey, March 11th, 2010

It has been way too long since we took a look around the NHL, so I am breaking out the latest edition of All Things Hockey to get caught up. There is a ton to talk about, and I am busy as hell with finals and final papers, so let’s get right into it.

A Bizarre Deadline

I usually take a particular interest in the NHL trade deadline. I wrote columns about it each of the last two years, spanning the entirety of this website. Last year, I wrote a bit of a preview, proposing trades that I thought would help each side. The year before, I ran through the entirety of the deals, giving grades. The drama of teams trying to make themselves better, either for the future or for the stretch run, combined with the endless interest of players changing sides, giving opportunity to judge who won and lost is more than enough to hold my attention. This year, though, the trade deadline was so unusual that it was hard to find too much to say.

First of all, the Olympic break severely screwed up the timing of the deadline. Really there were two deadlines, neither of which served as a full deadline. The first was a roster freeze that took place at the beginning of the Olympic Tournamnet. Just before this freeze, the Devils made what was by far the biggest splash in landing Ilya Kovalchuk from Atlanta. He was by far the biggest prize that would be moved, and was the hilite of the pre-Olympic rush that also saw Dion Phaneuf to the Leafs and Matt Cullen to the Senators.

It turned out that this first deadline would be the one worth discussing. Many, including myself, had expected an explosion of activity in the two days between the resumption of the NHL schedule and the trade deadline. I figured that the two weeks of a freeze would lead to negotiations (which could continue during the break), and deals would be submitted as soon as it was lifted. I was right, but not really. The volume of the deadline was pretty significant. Over 50 players changed teams, but really, there weren’t any headliners. Some of the biggest headlines actually were who stayed put.

When the two day window was closed, the Ducks had played backup goaltender roulette, the Leafs had dumped half the NHLers on their roster, and more mediocre players were changing cities than when the Hurricanes have to play a road game. The lasting image of the day was analysts on the hockey networks reaching in vain for something to say about a Chris Newbery for Jordan Owens or Yan Statsny for Pierre-Cedric Labrie. I don’t want to exacerbate that, so rather than breaking down individual deals, the biggest of which was between Phoenix and Colorado (this should say pelenty about the level of excitement around this), let’s just combine the two deadlines and declare some winners and losers.

5 Trade Deadline Winners

1. Washington Capitals- The Caps, already at the top of the standings in the East, they added Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Scott Walker and Milan Jurcina, all of whom are solid depth pieces, without really giving anyone up. Bonus points for adding WJC hero John Carlson to the lineup from the AHL, something that they would have done earlier if not for the restrictions for playing in the AHL over the break. In a market where there was no top end talent to be added, they did great to add depth, better than any other team.

2. Phoenix Coyotes- Peter Mueller is a talented young player, but he was struggling mightily to reach his potential in Phoenix. A change of scenery will do him well, but to get Wojtek Wolski is a great return for someone who has thus far failed to produce. The Coyotes are one of the big winners, though, because in addition to Wolski, they added 3 players for the stretch, Lee Stempniak, Mathieu Schneider, and Derek Morris, giving up only Sean Zimmerman and Matt Jones.

3. Ottawa Senators- Probably the most surprising of the buyers, as well as one of the most aggressive in this market. Matt Cullen moves at the deadline once again (well, a bit before it, anyways), and is a very underrated player. They picked up another underrated piece in Andy Sutton, although the second rounder they gave up was steep.

4. New Jersey Devils- Unquestionably, New Jersey got the biggest prize of the deadline in Ilya Kovalchuk, but there is a pretty good reason they aren’t higher up in the winner rankings. They gave up a lot in the first rounder, Patrice Cormier, Niclas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya. Sure, these guys together don’t come close to Ilya Kovalchuk, but they gave up four NHL players that they could have had long term. Assuming they don’t botch the pick, that is two or three top two line players, and one or two top 3 defensemen. Again, not enough to offset Kovalchuk, but they don’t get Kovalchuk long term. Kovalchuk turned down a massive contract in Atlanta, which tells me that he wants to test the fre agency waters. If he had any intention of re-signing before he was on the open market, he would have done so when Waddell opened his checkbook. New Jersey will have a chance to retain Kovy, but they will have to go up against everyone else to get him. Still, they got one of the best players in the league, and one that gives them a chance to win it all now, which makes them a winner now, even if it hurts them long term.

5. Atlanta Thrashers- Kovalchuk was gone. They did well to get a lot in exchange. I for one would love to see them grab him once again in the summer rush, then play him with Arshtyukin, a nice pickup, and Bergfors, just to piss off the Devils.

Deadline Losers-

1. Toronto Maple Leafs- Before you all jump off of that thing that looks like the space needle, and the sky dome, let me stress this first. Brian Burke did exactly what he needed to do. He needed to re-buld. The Leafs got a couple of prospects, including Caputi who has already seen time in the NHL. He loaded on draft picks. He got a goaltender that can work with François Alaire. He even got a potential franchise defenseman. He also gave up literally half of their NHL talent for the rest of the season, leaving an embarrassing product on the ice. It was what they had to do, but it still makes them big losers right now.

2. Carolina Hurricanes- They dumped, but they didn’t get that much back for their rentals, and they held on to some assets that they could have moved, most notably Ray Whitney, because of exorbitant asking prices, in exchange for…what, exactly?

3. Buffalo Sabers- They look like a contender, yet they dropped McArthur, a solid player, and picked up Torres, a player along the lines of Scott Nichol and Matt Cooke. That is to say, he is something that rhymes with swoosh.

4. Philadelphia Flyers- They could contend this year, but they have goaltending issues and could use a bit of help on the blueline and up front. They could have done with improvements in all three areas, but they did nothing of consequence.

5. Atlanta Thrashers- Yes, they were winners as well, and yes, they did everything that they could, but come on, they gave up Kovalchuk.

Hope Springs Eternal

Ready for the annual March “there are a ton of teams that have a chance” paragraphs? It seems like every year, we spend time talking about how jumbled the bottom of the standings are, how teams win 3 in a row to go from 14th to 5th, and how a bunch of teams have a chance. With points for regulation ties, a salary cap, division disparity and a host of other factors, it is pretty much inevitable. This year, though, as with many others, it warrants mentioning.

This year, the jumble is to the tune of just 7 points between 6th and 11th in the East. Out west, 8 points take you from the 7th seeded Nashville Predators, all the way down to the 13th seeded Wild.

It is the West, then, that deserves most of the attention. Sure, it is jumbled, but with about 15 games to go per team, there are really only two team in the conference that you could say with confidence will definitely miss the playoffs. That is even more congested than usual, and it means that there are currently five teams on the outside looking in, that could make a run at the post-season. On top of that, the top 6 seem pretty set, with the Aves sitting on a 7 point cushion between them and the going home early 9 spot.

It isn’t the pure numbers, though, that are really impressive about the playoff race. Look at the teams in this mess, and it is hard to believe that 16 of 30 teams make it, and these teams are struggling to include themselves in that. Detroit sits in 8th by 1 point, just 4 out of 10th, having won the Stanley Cup two years ago, and played for it last year. The Flames have been contenders for a while, but sit outside of the playoffs. Same can be said of the Ducks, who haven’t missed the playoffs since the lockout. I wrote earlier, that there was a lot of turnover amongst who was contending, and I am surprised to see that it is largely still there, with teams like Phoenix, LA and Colorado in the hunt for the 4 and 5 seeds, and the aforementioned been-there’s battling for 8th. Same goes for the east, where Boston, Montreal and New York have well known rosters looking for a playoff spot, and Ottawa, and well, just Ottawa I guess, contends for a division title. This is going to make for a great stretch run, and a crazy first round with so much talent around the 7-10 seeds.

Net Negatives

If we are indeed headed towards one of the most wide open cup races of the past few years, and I believe that we are, there is one reason above all else that can explain the chaos in the NHL, and it isn’t the aforementioned cluster at the bottom of the playoff picture.
Right now, there appear to be three dominant teams. Washington, San Jose and Chicago all have more than 90 points, with 97, 93 and 91, respectively. No other team has more than 84. These teams can certainly be caught, but they are definitively the teams to beat right now. This is hardly uncommon. It is pretty much the norm for a few teams to distinguish themselves from the pack at this point in the season.

There is one thing about these teams, though, that I have never seen before. Teams at the top usually share a characteristic, be it depth, top end scoring, rocklike team defense or superstars carrying them. All of those have taken place before. Right now, though, the unifying theme in the Bay, the Beltway, and the Midway is something that you would expect to see at the opposite end of the standings. All three teams have massive, and I mean MASSIVE goaltending issues heading into the stretch run.

It is most obvious in Chicago. Clearly, the Hawks don’t feel comfortable going to Antti Niemi at this point. If they did, they would have at this point. He looks like he has had a good enough season on paper, with a respectable .909 save %, and a very, very good 2.25 GAA. Clearly, though the Hawks see problems. I haven’t seen enough of Chicago, frankly, to say that he is the kind of guy who only stands to benefit from great defense in front of him, although the Hawks should have it (as long as Brian Campbell isn’t on the ice), but that has to be the case. Really, it is difficult to judge goaltenders on their stats, since wins, GAA and save percentage are all heavily influenced by the defense in front of the goaltender, perhaps more so than by the goaltender himself. The only way to really judge a goaltender is to watch him play, see if he makes the saves he should, and a few that he shouldn’t on a given night. If he does, you have a starter. If he doesn't, you have an issue.

Clearly, Chicago has the later, and aren’t convinced that Niemi is a starter as demonstrated by their hesitance to switch to him full time. Niemi has been given the nod for just 21 starts in their 65 games. The other 46 have gone to Christobal Huet, and that has been a disaster. Huet has been the butt of jokes for most of this season, and has a save percentage under .900. He clearly has not lived up to expectations that any team could reasonably have for a starting NHL goaltender, yet they have been hesitant to go full time to Niemi. For that reason, I think that their goaltending woes go as deep as they seem with Huet despite Niemi’s strong(er) showing.
Moving to San Jose, it seems absurd to suggest that the Sharks have massive issues, as I suggested. At least it did a month ago. Then the Olympics happened. Evgeni Nabokov got positively LIT by Canada. I thought that it wasn’t as much his fault as shaky defense by over matched defensemen and forwards with at best a passing interest in their own zone, but it is undeniable that he got shelled in Vancouver. Still, it seems like Nabokov, with a GAA that is second in the league is at least getting the job done.

Coming back to San Jose, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then the New Jersey game came, and he looked worse (yes, worse), than against Canada. At that point, I pronounced his career over via a text message to a few of my Sharks fan friends. He let in shots that an NHL goalie has no excuse for not stopping. He looked like a goaltender who had no confidence, one who had always relied on aggressiveness, no less.

I may have overreacted a bit. Nabokov played well in the third period a couple of days later against the Canadiens for a win, and even though he only faced 22 shots against a shaky Columbus team, he let up only once, an effort you can’t be unhappy with. Sure, I would take this situation with Nabby over that in Washington or Chicago, but goaltending is about consistency, and it is going to be interesting to see if Nabokov can find that for the rest of the season.

In Washington, the Capitals have three goaltenders in Semyon Varlamov, Jose Theodore and Michal Neuverth. Unfortunately, the old saying holds, that if you don’t have one, you have none. Varlamov appeared to emerge in the playoffs last year, and while his 2.55 GAA leads the Caps, it is only good for 19th in the NHL, which is hardly top tier. A groin injury in December has weakened his claim to the job, but like Chicago, it is curious that the Caps haven’t moved to Varlamov full time. That is because Neuverth is too young to judge, but also too young to rely upon in a playoff run. Theodore has been much like his former teammate in Montreal (Huet), in that he has had a dismal year, and struggled to grasp a starting spot despite leading the team in games played.

What is the takeaway? It is hard to say. Obviously, it isn’t killing these teams, since they are atop the standings right now, but it is hard to take too much confidence in any of these guys. Ultimately, I think it hurts Washington, who scores the most, but lacks the team D to make up for shaky goaltending. Really, though, the effect is that it means any of these teams can be beat (although it doesn’t mean they will, necessarily), and that opens the door for anyone who can get into the playoffs.

Cooke-ing up Changes

The general managers’ meetings in Boca Raton, Florida that are currently under way are seeing one topic absolutely dominate the headlines. That is the controversy over headshots in the NHL, as brought about primarily by Matt Cooke’s blow to Marc Savard on Sunday afternoon.

The Cooke hit was a dirty play that led to a scary situation with Savard lying utterly motionless on the ice. Cooke escaped the wrath of the Boston players only because everyone watching the game, myself and the NESN announcers included, followed the puck to the net, and didn’t realize what had happened to Savard before the replays.

Since then, Cooke’s character has been dissected and dragged through the mud, although for what it’s worth, he did look absolutely shocked and visibly shaken when Savard was lying on the ice. This by no means exonerates him, but it bears mentioning that he didn’t look like a guy who had been trying to injure another player. The hit itself though should be taken separately. Rather than making a clean, hard check, Cooke went for the big hit. Did he mean to hit Savard in the awkward, dangerous manner that he did? Maybe, maybe not. But what he did do was forgo the easy, safe play in favor of the big hit, and with upsetting consequences.

That, along with heightened awareness in all sports, has made the talk of the annual GM meetings the headshots that have taken place this year against Savard and Florida’s David Booth. I said before that I don’t like compulsory penalties for situations that come about, and this seems to be a main holding point in the negotiations about a new rule. Having said that, it is hard to watch these hits and say that there is a penalty too severe. The problem, to me, though, is not the head shot as much as it is coming from behind the player being hit.

Hitting from behind is the most dangerous play in hockey. We know this when a guy goes headfirst into the boards, since it is an obvious danger to the head and neck. Even in open ice, though, coming from the blind side is a play which, like along the boards, leaves the player at the mercy of the hitter. What the hitter does with that opportunity is up to him. WE have an intent to injure rule in our game that says if you use your body and equipment to take advantage and endanger another player, that is a penalty. Why shouldn’t this be a play where similar judgment is used. Forget about headshots, the wording the GMs are struggling with should be simple.

If you are behind a player, and you don’t use prudence in how you attempt to separate him from the puck, whether he gets hurt like Savard, or not, whether it is in open ice or along the boards, you go to the box. For 5 minutes. Quite simply, that’ll learn ‘em.

(I will now stop doing my Bill Waters impersonation)

Keeping International Alive: Way Overdue WJCs

When I got back to Santa Clara following Christmas break, I was completely enthralled (as you can ascertain from this site) with the World Junior Hockey Championships, as I am at the end of each year. When my editor for The Santa Clara (where I write about stuff as exciting as mid major women’s college tennis or WWPA Water Polo, and women’s college soccer is comparatively mainstream) said that he wasn’t sure what he was going to write for the one sports column carried by the paper that week, and asked if anyone had any ideas/wanted to write the column, I jumped at the chance. I told him that I wanted to write about the best tournament you have never heard of. I explained a bit, and he agreed.

Fast forward a couple of days, I am about half way done with the column, having written about 800 words, when I decide it is a good idea to ask him how much space I have.

His answer?

400 words.

When I was writing for the Kent News, and they told me I had 900, it was almost impossible. I like to spell stuff out, go on tangents and basically write long form. The standard newspaper 800 words has always seemed shot to me. 400? That is like an introduction for me.
Suffice to say, once I had cut what I was going to write by about ¾, it was hardly the column that I wanted to write. It is online at (under the questionable headline “beyond a miracle on ice”—obviously not mine), but really, I can’t say that it is a must read. Instead, I decided that I would expand it and post it here. Unfortunately, some things came up (all I can say), and so it never got finished. No matter, as I was putting together this ATH, I decided to dust it off, clean it off and wrap it up. Consider this a time capsule, taking you back to a great moment for USA Hockey. If nothing else, read part of it, then watch the highlights on YouTube to get fired up about the red white and blue again after the Olympics.

(By the way, that intro to the column: 364 words. I wasn’t kidding when I said that you can’t do a damn thing with 400. It is almost pointless. In fact I’ll get 400…now. Count it if you want. Now was #400. It is absolutely nothing.)

It is pertinent to absolutely nothing, but here are my 3 month old World Junior thoughts:

If you live anywhere near Walsh Residence Hall, and heard excited yelling around 7:45 Tuesday night, I can explain myself. Already, what is perhaps my favorite sporting event of the year has passed, and it couldn’t have gone any better. The problem is, aside from a few of my annoyed neighbors, hardly anyone noticed.

As with all years, the first week of 2010 has been action packed, so to speak, on the sports calendar. There were the New Year’s day bowl games that are a time honored tradition, but that’s not what got me fired up. Monday, like the 1,523,815 other residents and Idaho, I was ecstatic for my Boise State Broncos capping of the second 14-0 season in college football history, and while there may have been some yelling involved, that isn’t what I’m talking about either. Finally, the Winter Classic, played at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day, may have been appointment television, but while it is closer (the right sport at any rate), it still isn’t the highlight of the young 2010 sports calendar for me.

Rather, the highlight was a tournament played in the sports Mecca of Saskatchewan, Canada that, unless you follow hockey avidly, you probably didn’t even know about. It was the World Junior Hockey Championships, and my, was it a dandy.

For those of you (most of you) who aren’t familiar with the tournament, let me explain. Every year, starting on Boxing Day, the best under 20 players for their respective nations play a tournament, in order to decide which is the best country on earth (for people with skewed priorities such as mine, anyways). This year, as is to be expected in the world of hockey, Canada came in as a heavy favorite. Canada was stacked. Not, ‘every player is pretty good’ stacked, more like ‘every player has a chance to be a star in the NHL’ stacked. In fact, 15 of the 22 players on the Canada roster have been taken in the first two rounds of the NHL draft, and two of the seven that haven’t will be first round picks in 2010, their first year of draft eligibility. Another, Stephan “I might be the anti-christ” Della Rovere may in fact be the sole of the squad (if you are wondering about the anti-christ line, check out his antics in the USA-Canada game last year, you will understand).

The US had a nice squad, packed with future NHL talent, but one not that stood up to the loaded Canadians. On top of that, Canada had home ice advantage, playing in front of 17000 insane Canucks in Saskatchewan, and where ohbytheway five time defending champs of the World Junior tournament.

The first showdown between the rival nations (ok…the US and Canada aren’t really rivals in anything else, but trust me, they are in hockey) took place on New Year’s Eve. The red, white and blue looked primed to knock off their maple leaf loving neighbors to the north, holding a 4-2 lead in the third period, before the Canadian team battled back to tie it, with goals by two guys who you don’t know now but will in a few years, Jordan Eberle and Alex Pietrangelo. A shootout ensued, with the USA losing not only the game, after Canada went 3-3, but apparently their goalie Jack Campbell’s confidence.

(A couple of notes on the shootout:
1- The USA actually had every right to win that, the first goal by Taylor Hall actually hit the post, before caroming off of Campbell and back into the net.
2- Nazim Kadri did what can, at this point, only be described as the ‘London Knights move,’ which I wrote about before. Are they required to do it? Would he have been ostracized back in London had he just shot top glove? Is Tavares allowed to use it or did he not play there long enough? He didn’t even play with Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane, the ones who have done it in the NHL. I’m confused.
3- When I say losing Campbell’s confidence, I mean DESTROYING it. He was done. You could see it on his face.)

The US was therefore forced to play their way into the semi’s, which they did with a win over Finland, before knocking off a tough Sweden team and earning a rematch in the finals with Canada, who eased through the Swiss (like a typical Swiss team or cheese, they were full of holes) after getting a bye for winning their pool after the first USA Canada game. Along the way, though, Campbell’s confidence did prove to be shot, and it was his USNTDP teammate Mike Lee who carried the US to the finals. The rematch was on, and while the first game, which was heralded as an instant classic, was ultimately just for a first round bye, this one was for the whole thing. It would be just as good, maybe better.

Both teams came out flying Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the goalies didn’t. Lee and Canada netminder Jake Allan each gave up two goals in the first, and another in the second, making it 2-2 heading into the third. After the third goal, Lee was pulled, and it was once again Jack Campbell between the pipes for the Americans.

The Americans tallied twice early to start the third. All that they had to do was hold on, in order to break the streak and take the gold.

Canada’s immense talent made this difficult. Campbell, eager to redeem himself, was up to the task for the first 15 minutes of the period, making save after save to keep it a 2 goal game. Unfortunately, with just three minutes remaining, Oiler Draft Pick Jordan Eberle (a name hockey fans will recognize in a couple of years, if they don’t already), the eventual tournament MVP, one timed an Alex Pietrangelo pass past Campbell. One thought crossed my mind, along, I am sure, with the mind of every other USA Hockey fan who was around on New Years Eve, both 2008 and 2009: Here we go again.

Sometimes, you can just feel it. Maybe it was because it had happened twice in the past year (approximately), but Canada was buzzing after that goal. If you had given me even odds on who was going to win the game at that point, I would have taken Canada. I would have hated to do it, but no one who had watched the last two USA Canada games could have disagreed.

Unfortunately, I was right to worry. A minute later Eberle scored his second goal, his fourth in two games against the Americans. I barely remember how he scored it. All I remember is a lot of Canadians going crazy, a goal horn and a feeling of fulfilled inevitability. It was déjà vu, another two goal third period lead up in smoke. I was crushed. Defeated.

The US Team wasn't, though. They hung on, sent it to overtime and after a Jack Campbell save, with the teams tied at 4-4, John Carlson took the puck into the Canada zone 2-1. After a head fake to Derek Stepan, who was charging to the net, Carlson fired it short side, finding twine and giving the USA the opportunity to head back to the locker room and chant about having kicked Canada’s effing ass.

To win was great. To beat a Canada team that everyone who knew about Junior Hockey would have picked was great. To do it in OT was great. The greatest part, though, was that they had done it just when they seemed out of it. To take that game back when Canada had all of the momentum, after it seemed like we had just lost it, was just…great.

So this tournament was great, but I knew it was appointment viewing, one of my favorite events of the year, long before I knew that the United States would pull it out in dramatic fashion. What is it, then, about the World Juniors that is so appealing? There is a lot, but two things stick out.

First of all, this is the only tournament in any of the major American sports that features the best available players, representing their country, in the most important event of their season. The level of talent in the Olympic hockey tournament is staggering. The “Dream Team” in the basketball tournament is great. The problem is, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, despite what some have insinuated, would trade their gold medals in Beijing for NBA championships in an instant. Conversely, none of the players for Canada would have accepted silver had they been given CHL Memorial Cup championships instead, like the USA players wouldn’t trade their Gold’s for NCAA Frozen Four titles (or, if we’re honest, Memorial Cups).

There really is only one tournament that can say this, apart from World Juniors. The soccer World Cup is likely the defining moment of the player’s seasons, but it is neither annual, nor a major sport in America. While it is growing in popularity, soccer still just isn’t up there in terms of interest for Americans.

Add the passion of having a season defined by a tournament, like the playoffs for professionals, with the eyes of the entire NHL on these young players looking to break into the league, and the inherent rush anyone would get playing with for their country, and the result is a brand of hockey the intensity and passion of which is nearly unmatched, even in the NHL playoffs.

There is another thing that is great about the World Juniors, though. Like no other event in the world, the World Juniors give hockey fans a glimpse into the future of a league. Canada’s team was made up almost exclusively first and second rounders. Most guys on the Swedish Russian and continental teams will play in the NHL. Most of the USA team projects to be top 6 forwards. The talent level is insane. You could watch the CHL and college hockey for months, but you wouldn’t match the level of insight gained when you see when the best come together, not for nothing, to face the best.

There is a telling commercial that played during the games. It was of NHL stars, including Ovechkin, Nash, Crosby and Getzlaf, among others, raising their arms after goals. The punch line: “Raise your hand if you got your start in the World Juniors.” Truth in advertizing.

So the USA doesn’t seem care. I did, but we don’t yet. I guess I shouldn’t let that bother me that much, I can still watch the games on NHL Network and online. Believe me though, if you didn’t get angry at Stefan Della-Roverre, be impressed by Jordan Eberle, and go crazy after John Carlson’s goal, you are cheating yourself.

What I Love About…

Sidney Crosby, taken from the last Olympic column. If you read it last week, skip it, but I didn’t have the chance to find anything new for this column, so I’ll just re-run this.

There seem to be two factions here in America, now that Canada has gone back to their igloos, village fishermen and polar bears with a gold medal in the only sport they care about. The first is a sort of ‘good-for-you’ feeling, shared by a lot of sports fans who aren’t so much hockey fans on a day to day basis. The feeling that Canada, which most Americans have always liked, deserved to win on their home soil is certainly shared by many. On the other hand, there is a large dose of Sidney Crosby haterade. Not only do I not buy into this, I actually find it a bit upsetting.
If you happen to be a fan of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, you get a pass on this (I would include the New York Islanders, but as far as I can tell, they haven’t had a single fan since 1994). For these guys, it is a divisional rivalry thing. Personally, I chose to respect, fear and root against special players who are in the same division as the Sharks, but if you want to go all the way to genuine hate (sports hate, at any rate), that is fine with me.

Everyone else, though, you sound ridiculous.

Sidney Crosby only does one thing. That one thing, is do everything right. All the kid wants to do is be the best player that he can be, and win hockey games. Take a look at his career.
As a rookie, the cros was a twice in a generation playmaker (add Iginla to his number and you get the other guy), but not what you would call a pure scorer. This worked alright, especially when Gino Malkin joined him in Pittsburgh, but you could tell that Crosby was never completely satisfied with his role as a setup guy. Still, he killed himself to help his team win games. It is laughable that Ovechkin is sometimes sited by dumb hockey fans as better because “he plays a physical game.” I am the farthest thing from an Ovie hater, but Crosby spends more time in the corner, battling for pucks in a given month than Ovechkin has in his career. Crosby got plenty of help from guys like Malkin and Jordan Stall, but did every single little thing (on both ends of the ice), in leading the Penguins to the cup last year.

Crosby came into the game as an elite talent, but he had found new ways to get better, and to help his team get to championship level. Once they got there, there was only one thing that changed in his desire to get better. This year, he turned it up a notch. He decided that to take the Penguins back to the finals, he would have to be a scoring threat, because, as he said, teams could shut him down as a playmaker (untrue, but don’t tell 87 if you are a Pens fan). He did just that, shooting more, creating more, and racking up a league leading 42 goals.

Less noticeable, but more importantly, Crosby has turned two of what were considered his weaknesses into downright, indisputable strengths. Not just passable skills, but on both counts, league leading statistics. When attempting to find something wrong with the kid as a young player, nitpickers often pointed to faceoffs as something that Crosby could improve upon. All he did was work, and in 2009, he is 11th in the league in faceoff percentage. Same goes for shootouts. Crosby started out his career 1 for 9 in the tiebreaker, but now he has found a move (fake that almost is just a stickhandle to the backhand, back to the forehand to open up the goalie and a quick shot 5 hole), that works for him, and he is second in the NHL with shootout goals, with 6 in 8 attempts this season.

There are two takeaways from this. One is that goons the league over better hope that Crosby is never told that his weakness is that he doesn’t fight enough/isn’t a good enough fighter, because you better believe that if that were the case, he would lock himself in an MMA gym for the summer and come back to break every orbital bone in the league. More importantly, Crosby is, quite simply, the complete package. A supposedly good guy to boot, Sid does everything that you could want on the ice, and if he doesn’t, you can bet he will next year.

Homer Note of the Week--My Take on the San Jose Sharks

I have already rambled on for way too long, given the 15 pages I have to write for Economics and the Poetry (yeah, poetry…) portfolio that I should be getting done right now, so I am going to keep it short and sweet.

I want to remind every Sharks fan that didn’t like what I said about Nichol in the last column that:

a. You probably didn’t like Ehrhoff, and I was right about that one. and

b. This Exists

That’s all.

Save of the Weeks/ Year

I don’t care if he had no idea what he was doing, this stop by Andrew Raycroft is effing incredible. Roberto who?

Goal of the Week

It was a little bit of a difficult week to choose one goal as the goal of the week this time. There were some strong contenders from the likes of Datsyuk, Kopitar and chronic danglitis victim Kris Versteeg. The big winner, though comes to us from our old friend Guillaume Latendresse.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- I don’t know if the formidable trio of Luca Caputi, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel rolled out as the first line for the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday against the Bruins was the worst first line that the NHL has ever seen, but I have to believe that it is about as low as I have seen for a first unit. I actually like these guys, Caputi has some promise, Bozak has been good for the Leafs, and Kessel is an elite goal scorer. The hard truth though, if you hail from Ontario, is that this is a top line consisting of two guys who started this season in the AHL, and would still be there for about 26 franchises isn’t getting it done. Add that to the fact that Kessel is a pure scorer, not necessarily someone who gets the puck onto his own stick particularly well…yikes.

- Just an ugly game in the Boston-Toronto matchup. The Leafs have about 4 NHL forwards, and the Bruins are missing Savard, Raskk, and Chara, and have had massive scoring issues already this year missing the Kessel/Savard combo. Bad times all around.

- I was going to try to rank all 30 teams in terms of young talent, either under 25 or maybe even 23/24. I feel like it would be fun to look at who has talent coming up, and who may need a re-build in a couple of years. I simply don’t have time though. All these papers are cramping my writing style, and a ranking like that is pretty labor intensive. I might try to get it done next week, when I will be going with the classic Kent School exam, lift, write model (maybe four people get that joke…whatever).

- I swear to god, there are less people in the stands every time I see a Thrasher game. More people show up to the PCHA playoffs than the Predators visiting Atlanta. It was depressing how empty that was.

- How come Chris Pronger gets to play by his own rules? The puck gets chipped past him in space, in the neutral zone, and he doesn’t even think about turning around. He just puts two hands into Kyle Okposo so he doesn’t get burned. I get it that it is the only way he can stay in the league, since he is old, slow, and built to play before the rule changes, but GOOD. GET HIM OUT OF HERE!

- Is it just me, or a lot of Olympic goalies struggling since coming back to the NHL? I don’t think that players will have any sort of extra fatigue, but goaltenders, it is possible.

- A perusal of YouTube has PK Subban as a lock to one day join the African-Canadian sports hall of fame, or as it is currently known, ‘Jarome Iginla’s trophy room.’-- I hope no one is offended by my pointing out that this is one of the unintentionally funniest pages on Wikipedia. Because it is. I had no idea that Maestro was the first Canadian rapper to have a top 40 hit.

- Andrew Raycroft and Ilya Bryzgalov absolutely disappeared in the shootout Wednesday night. They combined to give up 7 goals a row, something I don’t think I have seen before, before Bryzgalov finally got a hold of one to get the Coyotes a point.

- Good job by the GMs proposing the OT and Regulation wins tie breaker (basically, if two teams are tied, the one with less points from the shootout gets the nod). Without getting into it, it just seems to make sense.
- The Capitals 99 points in mid-March are really impressive, but less so when you look at the rest of the southeast division. Atlanta is second with 66, and they get to play Florida and Carolina all the time. Yikes.

TOP 8 / bottom eight

On the Up

8. Ottowa- Mainly so I can point out that Cheech got sent to the minors…sad.

7. Phoenix- 85 points and an improved roster…didn’t expect them to be on this list. I demand that if they win the cup, Gary Betteman congratulate himself as the owner, only because of how ridiculous it would be.

6. Vancouver- Have more offense with Sedin-Sedin-Samuelson and Kessler-Burrows-Raymond than people think

5. Pittsburgh- Also made themselves better with Leopold and Ponikorovski

4. New Jersey- Scary offensive team, not your typical Devils

3. Chicago- 3 of the best players in Vancouver, Hossa, Kane and Teows were Hawks

2. Washington- Most points, made themselves better…got jumped?

1. San Jose- My goaltending issues aren’t as bad as your goaltending issues.

On The Down

23.Tampa Bay- I don’t like to go 5/3 on conferences, but I do think the East is weaker.

24. Carolina- Trying to make a run, but it isn’t that it is going to be too little too late, just that the hole is way to big.

25. Florida- Despite a hot Vokun

26. Atlanta- Now significantly less fun to watch

27. NY Islanders- Dissapointing campaign for Tavares, but he is only 19.

28. Columbus- Out of it in the West, and going the wrong way.

29. Edmonton- 0 for January. 0 FOR FREAKING JANUARY.

30. Toronto- The standings don’t say so…yet.

Non-NHL Update

We are over 6500 words…come on, the 2000 words on the World Juniors don’t count? Fine. Uh the Frozen Four is coming up in…a bit…

Award Watch


Obviously, the Olympics don’t count, but in addition to using that tournament to become a national household name, Ryan Millar is putting up a stunningly good season in Buffalo. Miller leads the league with a .931 save percentage AND a 2.15 GAA. He is slacking in shutouts and wins though, he is 5th and 6th, respectively in those two categories. Loser.

Honorable Mention- Who are we kidding, this is sewn up. Vokun is the only one who can even see Miller, but he won’t get it with his team well out of contention.

Adams (Coach)

Look at the standings, now at the Coyotes roster, back at the standings, now the teams that are behind them, you ask yourself why, but you don’t know. Now look at the stats, find the big scorer for Phoenix, he isn’t there, now you are at the goalies stats Bryzgalov, no. Look back at the standings, wonder how, now look at Dave Tippett. He’s on a horse.

Yes, I just imitated this Old Spice commercial. Sue me.

Honorable mention- Joe Sacco (Col), Cory Clouston (OTT)

Calder (Rookie)

It is Tyler Myers. It just is. Tied for second amongst rookies in points (36), and a shutdown D-man to boot. Unbelievable. He should have been on a national team. I’m glad he wasn’t though. Effing trader.

Honorable Mention- Matt Douschene (COL), James VanRiemsdyk (PHI), John Tavares (NYI)

Norris (Defenseman)

82 Point watch (for explanation, look at Norris in that one): Green 66 points, Capitals 67 games. Still, Green has a good shot, especially because he can be streaky. He is the favorite right now, although there are others lurking, who’s deficit in points will be helped by the fact that they are perceived to be better defensively.

Honorable Mention- Duncan Keith (CHI), Dan Boyle (SJ)

Vezina (MVP)-

I want to say Crosby. He does everything. I would kill to play with him If I was starting a team. He would be the no-brainer first pick. Ovechkin leads the league in +/-, goals and points though. It has to be him. It just has to.

Honorable Mention- Sidney Crosby (PIT), Patrick Marleau (SJ), Henrik Sedin (VAN)

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