Thursday, May 27, 2010

Different Roads, the Same Turnaround

There is one story line in the Stanley Cup Finals that no one is talking about, and it might be the best angle going in the media friendly Chicago – Philadelphia series that begins this weekend. It isn’t the clash of the Byfuglien/Pronger titans, or Gary Betteman’s refusal to acknowledge the NHL’s new ‘Marian Hossa has to play in every Stanley Cup Finals’ rule.

Think back to 2007. Something monumental happened in early June that had nothing to do with the Anaheim Ducks winning the Stanley Cup.

For the first time in the history of the draft, two American players were neck and neck, competing for the spot as the number one prospect. One was a winger bound for the University of New Hampshire that had played on the USNTDP team, but was a couple of years from the NHL. The other was a right wing playing across the border for the London Knights, considered ready to step into the NHL immediately. The team with the number one pick went with the guy ready to step in right away.

The Chicago Blackhawks took Patrick Kane. The Philadelphia Flyers went with James Van Riemsdyk.

I probably don’t need to tell you that 3 years later, the two are once again neck in neck for a much more important number one slot.

On the one hand, it is a difficult line to drum up. There is no real rivalry between the two, since they are at much different points in their careers. Van Riemsdyk has taken a roundabout path to the NHL. He spent two decorated years at UNH, starring on the United States World Junior team before making 2009-2010 his rookie year. He has been great for the Flyers, and I wrote the following back in December:

‘I had the fortune of taking in a Sharks-Flyers game in San Jose. For the Flyers, the best player on the ice wasn’t Richards, Carter, Briere or even Pronger. As far as I could tell, their most impressive player was James VanRienmsdyk. JVR was flying every time he was on the ice. He was around the puck a lot, and when he got it on his stick, good things were happening for the Flyers every time. Naturally, then, at whistles and line changes, me and my buddy Andrew would look for #21 in white. We rarely saw him. VanRiemsdyk’s ice time was, for whatever reason, limited to around 13 minutes that night. Even that number surprised me when I looked it up the next morning. Looking at his stats, while he would get second line ice time occasionally, only once did Stevens play him 20 minutes’

I still think that pretty well sums up Van Riemsdyk’s rookie year. He has been great, but he is treated like a rookie. Maybe it is for the best. I thought he could handle more when I watched them, but I didn’t see enough of Philly to know for sure. He has had some big goals though, in the playoff run where he has had a somewhat larger role than he did when I saw him, so maybe that is a bit of vindication.

Kane is at a completely different point in his career. He signed and joined the Blackhawks immediately after he was drafted, making his debut in the 2007-2008 season. By now, he is in his third season, the other rokkie that jumped into the NHL with him that year, Jonathan Toews, is the captain, and he is a marquee player in the NHL, having put up 70 and 88 points the last two years.

Obviously Kane is a better player at this point, but that can’t be taken to mean that he was a better pick because of the developmental stages that they are at, which make it an ‘apples to oranges’ comparison. Kane’s rookie numbers were a fair amount better than JVR’s but that doesn’t settle it either, since Chicago has just turned it around in the past two years, and Kane went into a pretty bad lineup where he was asked to score right away. Van Riemsdyk, on the other hand, went to a team that had already turned their fortunes around from the dismal 06-07 that gave them the pick, and therefore played a different role.

The basic takeaway is that here is no legitimate comparison between Van Riemsdyk and Kane, and that to call it a matchup between the two is misleading since they play such different roles. The lack of a viable comparison, though, is one of the things that makes this such an interesting storyline.

The two players show the volatility of the NHL draft, and the quirkiness involved with the process between draft day and actual NHL production. Kane is not the norm. Even in years when lots of players sign, and even for number one draft picks, very few contribute right away, simply because hockey players are drafted at such a young age. VanRiemsdyk isn’t exactly the prototype number two pick either. At the number two position, most picks would be playing a larger role than he has by their third season of eligibility.

Nothing will be resolved (it isn’t as though if Philly wins, it is proven that picks should wait to enter the league or that JVR is better than Kane), but it is still interesting consider, if for no other reason than to think about how just 3 years after both teams were at the bottom of the league, they find themselves on top, with the rewards of their futility playing important, though different roles.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Requiem for a...Requiem?

I really don’t like writing end of year columns. In fact I will go as far as to say that I dislike them, which is why the past two years, when the Sharks have been bounced from the playoffs having fallen short of expectations, I wrote columns that dealt with the rest of the playoffs rather than eulogizing the Sharks. While the temptation to do just that, if for no other reason than to title a column ‘Requiem for a Team,’ (the easiest awesome column title ever), is strong, this year, I am actually taking a step in the other direction, and breaking down why I don’t like to write end of year columns.

I’m still mad. I don’t want to talk about it.

To say that I have never written an end of the year column is actually patently false. I did. Two Years ago. It was for the 2007 Boston Red Sox. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. Then again, the 2007 Sox won the World Series. 9 times out of 10 (more specifically, 9.66 times out of 10, or 29 times out of 30), seasons end in less glorious fashion. Usually, they end in a cloud of bitterness, regret and anger. Whatever. That is the life of a sports fan. Really, I’m not complaining. It is what makes winning so great. Usually, though, it isn’t something you are eager to re-live, and by the time you are, the story is dated.

Ranting is great, but no one wants to read pure bitterness.

This might sound funny, coming in a sports column, because approximately 99.96% of sports columns are used to complain. Refs, underachievers, overachievers, favorites, other sports writers, fans, rules, commissioners, coaches, owners, you name it, sportswriters can bitch about it. A lot of the time, this can be productive. No one ever bought a paper with the headline ‘EVERYTHING FINE: PEOPLE GOING ABOUT THEIR STANDARD DAYS.’ The nature of writing is to look for something that is wrong. The kind of complaining that would come from a gut reaction to a team you had been rooting for getting bounced, especially earlier than you were expecting (and if you are a true fan, anytime will be earlier than you were expected), won’t be the productive kind. Resoned resentment can make for insightful writing, and angry rants can be made funny, but after a tough loss, neither of those things (humor or reason) are likely to be available.

Resentment can be funny. It can be insightful. But it needs to be reasoned to be those things, and when your team is eliminated, there is no room for reason.

Writing about sports should be fun. Dwelling on what went wrong isn’t fun.

The obvious counter to this is that you can, theoretically, write about the positives. You don’t necessarily have to dwell on the way that the season ended. This sounds nice and all, but really it isn’t true. The bad taste left in your mouth from the loss isn’t one you can get around, and it isn’t one you can just ignore. Funerals are sad, not because people think that their friends didn’t accomplish anything, or that their lives were disappointing, but because the last thing that you are going to remember is the death. On a much less serious basis, the end of a sports season is the same way. The death of a person or a team is the most recent and often starkest memory, and it is going to be the first thing you think of when remembering, at least for a while.

As for the fun angle, I mean it when I say that it this should be enjoyable. I don’t get paid to post columns, and I don’t even owe anyone the work that I put into them. I enjoy writing about sports, so I do it. Even if I were getting paid to do this, it is a job that should be enjoyable, and one that you will do better, the more you enjoy. During the season, dwelling on problems with a team, or even just complaining about them is enjoyable. That’s because there is a next game to look forward to, when you can see if they will be fixed. You have an idea what can change and what will change, so it can be satisfying, even cathartic, to throw out hat you think should happen. When the season is over, there is no next game. There is a next year, but the uncerainity with any team is too much to make any sort of meaningful suggestions. Complaining about a team that has hit the golf course for the spring isn’t fun. It just leads to an empty feeling.

I like the Sharks (/Red Sox/Boise State) because I like hockey (/baseball/football). I would rather talk about what is still out there, since that means I can think about more hockey (/baseball/football).

Whether I check out emotionally, like I claimed I would two years ago, or pick up another team (like I tried and failed to do last year), I will still watch and enjoy the rest of the playoffs. There is still good left in the NHL after the Sharks have been sent home. Simply put, it is more interesting to talk about what is still going on than dwelling on what could have been. Why the Sharks couldn’t get secondary scoring has no implication for the rest of the playoffs. The fallacy of the hot goaltender still does. I’d rather talk about the latter.

On top of that, if you aren’t a Sharks fan and you’re reading this, your interest in hearing about how I feel about the Sharks run is probably somewhere between 0 and well, it is 0. The point of writing a sports column is about 90% to entertain (at least), and bitching about a team that has stopped playing doesn’t do that.

Any sort of prediction for next year would be a combination of guessing and hoping, at this point.

I have no idea if Doug Wilson will shop Thornton, if he will sign Nabokov and Marleau, if he is going to try to bring in Frolov or Plecanec, or if he will even keep his job (although for the record I know he shouldn’t, shouldn’t, should, should shouldn’t and should, respectively). If I wrote about why he will, it would be disingenuous, and if I wrote about why he should, it would be colored by emotion. That isn’t to say that these columns, looking at the offseason, throwing out opinions and making predictions are worthless. In fact I think that I will probably write one, at some point. Immediately after the team is eliminated though, with the playoffs still going on is not the time.

In fact, there is a way that a eulogy could work for your own team. The problem is, that way is by waiting a couple of months before you write it. Unfortunately, by that time, things will have come out, and more importantly 500 columns will have been written, and it will be almost impossible to get an original take.

So this is my Sharks eulogy for 2010. It is just an excuse for why I’m not doing one, but it will have to do. It is probably for the best.

Monday, May 10, 2010

All Things Hockey, Playoff Edition Part IV

Eulogies-- Detroit Red Wings

I don’t want to take anything away from the Red Wings, as they were certainly a good team. Unfortunately, it will be near impossible not to do so though, as this is a team that has been largely overhyped due to the logo on the front of their jersey, and one that exited the NHL’s postseason tournament about where they deserved to do so.

Following their advancement from a hard fought first round series, the Red Wings became a trendy pick to make a deep run with many placing them in the favorite position for the Western Conference. This was set in two lines of reasoning, both of them flawed. The first, and most obvious, was that the Red Wings have been there before...a lot...and therefore seem to be a perpetual threat to come out of the West and compete for a title. The other was the manner in which they clinched the second round birth.

As for the logo on the front, the problem with penciling in the franchise that had seen back to back finals appearances was that this was not the same Red Wings team. It was an older, more tired, and, let’s face it, less talented group. Number 13 and 40 were as good as ever this year. Even in his fourth decade, Pavel Datsyuk is as scary as ever. He still has an ability to track down the puck and create turnovers that can only be described as mystifying. Zetterberg, too, was as productive as ever. The rest of the roster, though, is underwhelming. Guys like Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader, and Darren Helm were passable pieces as role players on the finals team, but in this incarnation of the flying wheels, they were counted upon as secondary scoring, a role for which they aren’t suited, at least not yet.

Beyond the lack of talent, the Wings had put on a ton of miles, with back to back finals runs, the Olympics for many of their key players, and a grueling 7 game series with Phoenix. For all of these reasons, not to mention the questions in goal, there was a clear difference between last year’s Detroit team and this year’s: they just weren't as good.

The second folly made by those who jumped on Detroit is that they looked at a game seven result, in which the Wings absolutely hammered Phoenix with a decisive 6-1 showing. In that seventh game, the Wings looked like an absolute juggernaut, and a lot of people were watching. Those people saw that performance and understandably, they extrapolated that this was a team that could go all the way. The problem is, that was one game. The public ignored the fact that a Phoenix team with a roster that had no business in the NHL playoffs had taken this so called juggernaut to the brink of elimination, even if they got clobbered once they were there.

Anyways, here is what I think about the Red Wings roster: Datsyuk and Zetterberg are great. Franzen is good. Stuart, Kronwall and Ericsson are solid. Lindstrom and Rafalski are old but they still get it done and then some on the back end. Same for Holmstrom up front. Bertuzzi, Maltby, May, and Draper are old and don’t. Howard and Abdelkader are going to get better, but that is really it, and the window seems to be closing. I watched this team intently for five games and really can’t think of anything interesting to say about anyone else, and don’t feel compelled to expand on any of the above. That last sentence pretty much sums it up.

Since there isn’t much to say about the team, I have a couple of thoughts on the fans. I saw the best and the worst of hockey fans in the Red Wings series, through two groups of Red Wings die hards. The first group, the annoying ones, manifested themselves in HP Pavilion, being obnoxious and demonstrating a decided ignorance towards the game. No team brings out bandwagoners like the Red Wings, and that was on display from a group that hasn’t been this upset since the Yankees blew the 3-0 lead in 2004, or even since Jordan retired from the Bulls. I am lumping this group of people in with the ones who make up the Red Wings presence online, who constantly complained and made excuses, refusing to give the Sharks credit for being the better team in the series. These people frustrated me to no end, but the other group made up for it.

The second group, which contributed the upside, was the crowd for game 4. They came in loud, and the Wings fed off of them on the way to a huge lead. Now, as exciting as a home team’s blowout is as the score is being run up, usually a crowd will check out once the game is decided half way through the second period. Not this one, and it was summed up beautifully, with about five minutes to go and the score at 7-1.

During a stoppage, if I remember correctly, before a Detroit powerplay, “Don’t Stop Believing” came on. Obviously, this was apropos for a number of reasons, with the line ‘born and raised in south Detroit,’ and the specter of a 3-0 hole in front of the Red Wings. The place lit up. The entire building, it seemed, joined in with Steve Perry as the players lined up. A cool moment, but not altogether spectacular. Why not scream the name of the town, and besides, who doesn’t love Journey? Like I said, though, a cool moment from a good, old school hockey crowd.

Unfortunately, the linesman was obligated to drop the puck, and the PA was responsible for cutting the music, right after the second midnight train going anywhere line. With the music off, and the play going, though, the Joe took it to another level. Unperturbed by the lack of accompaniment, the crowd continued to sing, loud enough that they rivaled the volume of the commentary while play continued. The crowd got all the way through the chorus with what had to be 90% of the building singing at the top of their lungs, before finally stopping, and giving themselves a self-congratulatory cheer.

I never thought that I could be made happy by a hockey game that the Sharks were losing by a touchdown, but as I watched the Joe sing in celebration, I was smiling. I couldn’t help it, and that is what I want to remember about the 2010 Red Wings.

Stupidity in the Circle

If I were an NHL coach, and I had half decent centermen, my team would go 70% on draws. I guarantee it.

With the NHL’s insane directive to throw out more centers, an easy loophole has opened up, but no one seems to have tried to exploit it yet (emphasis on tried, this isn’t airtight, but I definitely think it could work).

Here is the problem: after the linesman throws out a center, he essentially waits until the winger gets to the dot, and immediately throws down the puck. Don Cherry pointed this out Saturday night, and he was absolutely right. Watch for it. They hardly even look, dropping the puck almost instantly, more or less every time. While vigilance is up big time on the draw, once a player is thrown out, the level of scrutiny from the linesman drops to almost zero.

So, between the increased number of ejections, and the lack of patrolling on the second matchup, an easily exploitable situation is created. All a coach would need to do is put his best faceoff man on the wing when the teams line up. The first guy goes into the circle and cheats as much as he can. He doesn’t have to get himself tossed for the plan to work, since he can give himself a pretty distinct advantage on the draw just by taking illegal position before the puck is dropped.

If the linesman keeps him in the circle, great, since he has a distinct advantage when the puck is dropped. If not, your best faceoff guy comes in to the dot. Knowing that the ref will almost instantly drop the puck, the natural center can take advantage by not setting, again essentially cheating on the draw and gaining an advantage. No ref wants to throw two guys out of the faceoff. They know they will be boo’d, and called out by the coaches for slowing the game. With the advantage of the aggressive center on the second one, again you are giving yourself a chance on the draw that is well above the intended 50/50.

I am convinced that this would work.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- Owen Wilson got a bit of screen time watching the Blackhawks – Canucks game 3. Since I can’t think of a single reason that Wilson would be at the game, I am going to assume that Shane O’Brien saw Wedding Crashers 60 times, with his reaction being ‘that’s freakin’ ME, man,’ and then drunkenly demanded that the Canucks front office ‘get those dudes to the next game, bro!’ (Either that, or they shoot a lot of movies in Vancouver, and Wilson knows how to get some solid entertainment. Either one.)

- Serious question: the Canucks have to be the fattest team in the NHL, right (O’Brien, Wellwood, Bernier…pretty untouchable 1,2,3)?

- What happened to Sami Salo should never happen to anyone ever. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky. Please, can we remove all video evidence of this from the internet?

- I would like to see Modano go out gracefully this year, but Nicklas Lindstrom has a couple more years on the blueline. He should come back.

- Kudos to Mike Babcock for having the dignity to come out and say publicly that, as was the case, the Red Wings were not being screwed by officiating. The Red Wings were slower than the Sharks, and getting beat was forcing them to hook, hold, and take penalties. Babcock said as much, and deserves major credit for it.

- Having said that, the officiating was extremely sketchy in the Sharks – Red Wings series, but it was sketchy both ways.

- The NHL needs to figure out goalie interference. Holmstrom and Franzen lived in the Sharks crease, yet Dany Heatley got knocked from behind while following through, and got a penalty. The Byfugdlein thing was ridiculous, but it was hardly the only goal that has been scored with a goalie being physically unable to stop the puck. It is becoming a major issue.


I’m going with a Sharks theme for the plays of the week this time. I’m a homer, deal with it.


I have long contended, for the past week or so, that Ryane Clowe is the And-1 grinder. This goal is proof of that.


Some people thought that it was a cheap shot, that Douglas Murray laid on Johan Franzen in game five. I didn’t think it was that bad, but would admit it was questionable. This one, though was 100% legal, and is for you, Steve Moore.


Turns out I’m also a Team Slovakia homer too. This beauty by Jaroslav Halak on the guy who just so happens to be the best player in the world

NON – NHL Update

Keeping with the ‘damn that was a good crowd’ theme, it is time for the tournament to crown the number one hockey nation on earth. Not including the players who are in the playoffs. Or the ones who are banged up from the season. Or the ones whose owners, coaches and GMs don’t want them putting on the extra mileage. Or the ones who just can’t be bothered to go. The very best, not including the top 70% or so of the NHL!

Team USA is effectively a ‘C’ team at best. I mean the roster has a backup goalie from the AHL, a starter who will probably be there next year, and one from the Finnish league. It has the same number of 2010 World Junior champions, one, as silver medalists. It features studs like Taylor Chorney, Jack Hilen, and Mike Lundin holding down the blue line for the red white and blue. I mean, calling this team USA is like calling Eurotrip a ‘Matt Damon movie,’ except that Eurotrip is fun to watch, whereas this team is kind of embarrassing.

That is exactly what was on display when they played a German squad with their best goalie Thomas Greiss, best defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, and best forward Marco Sturm still in the playoffs. It was a must see game. Why? It was played in one of the world cup stadiums in Germany, and someone forgot to tell the German fans that the teams weren’t world class. The amount of flags was staggering. The amount of fans was staggering. The enthusiasm after the Deutsche pulled it out in OT, was somewhat confusing (again, the teams…), but still cool. I may be prone to hyperbole, but with national pride on the line, this was like nothing that I have ever seen surrounding a hockey game, and that is no exaggeration. Do yourself a favor, watch the highlights on YouTube, Then do yourself another favor, and ignore the IIHF tournament in Olympic years.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

All Things Hockey, Playoff Edition Part III

(Note-This was mostly done by Thursday night when the second round opened, but on Wednesday night, I came up with a stomach flu that made it impossible to think clearly enough to get it done, so almost a week late, here is the first round wrap up and second round preview I’m sure you have been holding your breath for.)

1. San Jose Sharks - 5. Detroit Red Wings

Advantage Detroit

All I canthink of here is history. The Wings don’t lose in the playoffs. The Sharks do. As a franchise, Detroit has always had the Sharks number (I have no idea if that is true and I don’t feel like looking it up, but we always seem to struggle at the Joe). The only other thing that I would say is that Datsyuk was on a freaking mission in game seven. If he plays like that he will give anyone fits.

Advantage San Jose

As close and excruciating as it may have seemed, the Sharks effectively dominated their first round matchup with the Avalanche. Of course, a veteran squad like Detroit will be harder to control than the young Aves, but then again the Sharks won’t have to, because Jimmy Howard has shown no indication that he is capable of standing on his head like Anderson did (that isn’t to say that Howard has been bad, just that he hasn’t given indication that he is capable of a run like that of 50 save performances). On the other hand, the way the Sharks were firing, only a hot goalie was going to stand in their way (and in the end, not even that could do it). God help the Western Conference if the first line wakes up.


It seems silly to even point out that I will be rooting for the Sharks.


As a Sharks fan, I am confident. I really like the way they are playing, and if San Jose is on their game, it doesn’t matter who is lining up on the other side. Sharks in 5.

2. Chicago Blackhawks - 3. Vancouver Canucks

Advantage Vancouver

The Canucks will certainly take the edge that they have on the defensive end of the ice. Antti Neimi was passable against Nashville, and the young goaltender’s confidence will certainly grow as the postseason progresses, but he is still a rookie. Luongo, on the other hand, remains one of the league’s top goaltenders through his struggles, and represents a pretty decided edge in net for the Canucks. The other factor that the Canucks need to exploit if they are going to take down the Hawks, is depth. Vancouver has a plethora of talent beyond their top 6 forwards, with players like Mason Raymond, Steve Bernier and Pavol Dimitra contributing two way games, and a level of depth at the forward position that Chicago can’t match on paper.

Advantage Chicago

Hossa, Kane and Teows anyone? How about Seabrook and Keith on the point? Vancouver has the depth, but Chicago has 5 of the 6 best players (at least 5 of 7) in this series. Believe it or not, this could work towards their advantage.


I really would like to see Vancouver come out here for a couple of reasons. One is that I think that the Sharks, if they can get past Detroit, have a better shot at the ‘Nucks than the Hawks. The other is that I just like Vancouver. Kessler, Ehrhoff and the Sedins are some of my favorite players. Also there are their sweet 1990s jerseys that will forever give Vancouver a place in my heart.


Unfortunately, it goes against my heart, but I see Chicago coming out of this one. Vancouver could take it, without a doubt, but I think that the Kane goal in game 5 of the Nashville series was a turning point for this team, and that they will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the playoffs. Hawks in 6.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins – 8. Montreal Canadaiens

Advantage Montreal

Jaroslav. Halak.

He is going to need to steal in the neighborhood of 3 games in order fot the Canadiens to have a prayer in this one. Then again, he did just that and the Canadians should have won 5 of the 7 games that they just played against the best team in the regular season, so clearly they can’t be written off.

(On a side note, I need to beat my chest a little bit on this one. I have been a huge Halak guy for a couple of years. I put faith in him in the Olympics for Slovakia, being bullish on them. Before that, I was yelling about him needing to play in last year’s playoffs over Carey Price. So allow me to give myself some credit for being right on this one. For once.)

Advantage Pittsburgh

Outside of goaltending, it is really top to bottom. At forward, the Pens are stronger at top end talent, defensive play, depth, and special teams. That doesn’t leave much in the way of weakness for le Bleu Blanc et Rouge to take advantage of. Really, though, the single biggest advantage for the Penguins is Sidney Crosby, who seems determined to settle any debate about who the best player in the league is, and was by far the best player in round one.


The Habs are a great franchise, and it is fun to see them go deep. Plus, it is always fun to root for the underdog 8 seed. On the other hand, Crosby is putting together such a virtuoso performance thus far in the playoffs, that having lost Ovechkin, the league really needs to see Sid keep going. For my own entertainment, I have to go against the instinctive underdog pick and say I want to see the ice birds keep playing.


On the same page as my heart with this one. The Penguins are too deep, and have too many Sidney Crosbys (1 is too many) to be taken down by a team like Montreal. Even if Halak plays out of his mind again (and even he is likely to return to earth a bit), it shouldn’t be enough to take more than 1 or 2 games. Penguins in 5.

6. Boston Bruins – 7. Philadelphia Flyers

Advantage Philadelphia

Advantage Boston


This is the matchup that everyone had in mind when they looked at the bracket this year, right? ‘Can’t wait for that Winter Classic rematch!’ you all said, no? Me neither. But somehow, that is what we ended up with, as the Boston Bruins are somehow going to get home ice in the second round. As for an interest, it just comes down to likability, and Zdeno Chara is a hell of a lot better than Chris Pronger in that regard, something that can really be extrapolated down the roster. You gotta go with baked beans over cheesesteak in this one.


It is tough to say, since none of the 6-9 seeds in the East were able to really distinguish themselves down the stretch. I like Boston’s goaltending, and they have some solid bite that a banged up Philadelphia squad really can’t seem to match, so give me the Bruins in 6.


Washington Capitals

The Caps fell just short, and became the second consecutive President’s Trophy winner to go out in the first round. Jaroslav Halak played out of his mind after being reinstated from the bench after Cary Price failed to instill a jolt in Les Habitants. Even though it took the Habs 7 games to get rid of the Capitals, and it took back to back 50 save performances to do so, it was an all around brutal performance from the best team of the regular season, and one that is leading to some tough questions around the beltway.

They are questions that should be asked, too, since the Habs could realistically have taken out the Capitals in less than 7 if not for the heroics of John Calrson and Nick Backstrom in game 2, the Habs could easily have taken over earlier. Still, the Capitals were a dominant regular season team, and a first round exit won’t sit well with this franchise.

Ovechkin has taken some heat since the end of the series for failing to come up big when it mattered for Washington. This is probably unfair. Ovechkin was, as always, all over the ice, he just failed like everyone else to solve Jaroslav Halak.

Still, a first round exit for a 1 seed and Presidents’ Trophy winner begs a lot of questions. They will be likely to change something to try to get this team where it wants to be this summer. The Sharks responded by bringing in Dany Heatley. The Capitals can’t swing a piece like that without moving a significant asset to free up space. Really, they shouldn’t, either. They are still a young team and will be back in the coming years. Chances are they just need reps, but the early exit will make for an interesting offseason for Ovechkin and company.

New Jersey Devils

This is the big question mark in this section. What the hell happened in New Jersey. I think that the answer is pretty simple: the Devils just underperformed. Sure, the Flyers were a bit better than your typical 7 seed, but there is no way that they were a better team than New Jersey. That is what happens in the playoffs, though. Ask any Sharks fan. Teams step up and others step down. Four wins isn’t that many. This year, New Jersey was a victim of that.

Still, there has to be more to say about the Devils. They really were one of the most interesting teams in the league this year, and besides, saying that sometimes teams have a bad series really doesn’t explain much.

The best transition is to address something that no one seems to want to talk about, and something that has shaped the award nominations for 2010. That is the fallacy of Martin Brodeur.

No one is trying to say that Brodeur sucks, or that he hasn’t had a great career, so calm down, Newark (30 days without a murder-!). What I am saying is that he has been the most overrated player in the NHL for at least 5 years now, and yet he will somehow escape blame despite being outplayed by Cam Ward and Brian Boucher, neither of whom is likely to join him in the hall of fame, in back to back years. Brodeur was the beneficiary of the dead puck era that his team helped to create.

Brodeur has been great, but he has been the beneficiary of a lot of elements. If Felix Potvin or Mike Dunham, the next goalies taken after Brodeur in the 1990 draft, went to New Jersey instead, do we look at them as potentially the greatest goaltender ever? Probably not, but they definitely would have received significant boosts. More pertinently, though, if the Flames took Brodeur, rather than Trevor Kidd with the pick 9 earlier, and Brodeur never crossed paths with Jaques Martin, Scott Stevens or Scott Niedermeyer, I am sure we would look at him differently.

That actually brings me to my next Devils related point. All that has been made of the Devils in the media has been that they are a Jaques Martin style clog it up team. The problem is, they don’t have the two aforementioned Scott’s, and the game has changed with the subtraction of clutch and grab and the red line. The Devils aren’t dumb. They built a team around skill and speed, with one of the most skilled group of forwards in the East starting a couple of years ago.

This year, they were built like a team that could wheel, and outscore teams. Their style, though, was cramped by Martin and his trap and chase game that stifled Marian Gaborik in Minnesota. Now that he is gone, that team should be dangerous next year. Look for their goals per game to go way up.

The more interesting question, though, is how the Kovalchuk trade will be remembered. Kovy has made it clear that he intends to test the free agent waters (as I said, it has been clear that he wanted to since he turned down Atlanta’s offer, and he has said as much since the Devils lost), so even if he re-signs, it should be noted that it will be because of New Jersey’s pitch more than because he was traded there.

So, disregarding a potential return, it is impossible to call the move anything but a failure. That doesn’t make it a bad move, though. I wrote at the time that Cormier, Bergfors and Oduya was a lot to give up for a couple of months of Kovalchuk, and it looks even more true after a first round exit. Still though, it was a gamble, and gambles don’t always pay off. This one didn’t but that doesn’t make it an error.

Buffalo Sabers

This is another one that I didn’t see coming. They say defense wins championships, and the Boston D core with Tukka Rask in net is certainly formidable, but between Ryan Miller and a deep blue line, the Sabers looked primed to go deep into the tournament. Alas, they didn’t hold up to that end and so American Hero Ryan Miller will watch the rest of the tournament from the bench.

It is hard to pinpoint what it was that kept the Sabers back. Obviously, their goaltending and defense wasn’t a problem, but they had sneaky deep scoring. Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pomminville and Tim Conolly made up a solid and underrated core of forwards. Jochen Hecht, Drew Stafford and Paul Gaustad are solid complimentary guys. This team was better than they got credit for, until they ran into Boston.

As for the series that ended up taking them down, the Buffalo Boston matchup was a close one that really just was a few bounces away from working in the Sabers favor. The 2 OT game comes to mind, in which the Sabers blew a 2 goal lead in the third, but it wasn’t the only one. Two of the B’s other wins came in the form of a 2-1 game decided on a 3rd period goal by Patrice Bergeron, and another saw a 5-3 win after an empty netter after a back and forth game that the Sabers led 2-0 and 3-2. Each game, with the possible exception of game 6, the clincher, was up for grabs, the Sabers just couldn’t seem to hold on to any of them in the end, and it sent them home early.

Ottawa Senators

The 4-5 matchups in hockey are funny. On paper, you would expect them to be the closest of the first round matchups, with the teams separated by only one seed. Oddly enough, because of the 1-2-3 division winners seeding, this is largely not the case. That is what happened in the East this year. On top of that, there were a pretty clear 1-2-3-4 in the Eastern hierarchy, leaving the Sens with a really difficult matchup despite their respectable seed.

Still, Ottawa kept it close with Pittsburgh. They had game 6 wrapped up, and were primed to send it to the ‘Burgh for game 7, but 2 third period goals sent it to OT, and the dagger was delivered by Pascal Dupuis, ending it for Ottawa.

As good a season as was had by the Sens, it was probably for the best. Injuries absolutely decimated this team and they would have limped into the second round (and that is being kind). Milan Michalek was out with a torn ACL to match Alex Kovalev’s, Alfredsson was supposedly playing hurt, leaving their forwards decimated without the two top line level guys.

Still, Ottawa had a good year. They may not have gotten what they liked out of Cheechoo, but Michalek was able to salvage the Heatley debacle and let’s be honest, no one saw this quick of a turnaround for Ontario’s forgotten team. They got production from a previously unknown lineup, and a 5 seed exceeded all expectations. They were dealt with by Pittsburgh, but it still has to be considered a good season in Canada’s capital.

Phoenix Coyotes

Never has a lower seed taking down a higher seed felt less like an upset than in the case of the ‘Yotes and Wings. Hats have to be off around the league to the job that has been done, taking a team in turmoil, without an exceptional roster, and putting them in contention. Still, a first round exit seems about right for Phoenix.

They can be happy to have sent it to game seven though. Sure, a deep run may have had lasting impact on hockey in the Valley of the Oppressively Hot Sun (actually it wouldn’t have, but everyone seems to think it would have so I am going with it), but by creating a little bit of buzz, it will at least….

What the hell am I talking about? Phoenix should have seen their last game. I am sick and tired of people making excuses for that franchise. Look how great their fans are, almost selling games out during the stretch! They are all wearing white, they must love hockey! Please. You watched 2 playoff games and decided Phoenix could be a hockey market? That’s funny, because I looked at their revenue sheet and saw that despite 4 home games in the playoffs, they will still come out at a substantial loss. I watched a game in November where I could count the people sitting in a given section on two hands. Why is everyone so desperate to save hockey in Phoenix? I just don’t get it.

Anyway, I shouldn’t be taking away from this team. The job that Tippet has done is remarkable. The players deserve a lot of credit as well. No one did more with less than Phoenix did this year. I just hope they do it somewhere else next year.

Nashville Predators

There are some things you just don’t come back from. The Predators were primed to put themselves in a position to pull off the biggest upset of the first round (and that is with Montreal-Washington up in the air, still), up a goal with just a minute left, and Marian Hossa in the box for 5 minutes. Rather than burying the heavily favored Hawks, though, they somehow gave up a shortie to Pat Kane, sending the game to OT and with that, the series had swung.

Sure, they could still have won the game on the 4 minutes of ensuing overtime power play, or battled back in game 6 to force a winner take all situation, but really, the Kane goal sealed the fate of the Predators. There are some losses that you just don’t come back from. The Predators giving up a late, shorthanded goal was one of them. Playing a superior team, a Chicago win became a foregone conclusion with the Preds crushed and the Hawks up 3-2.

It didn’t help that the Predators likely had the weakest roster in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne played well for them, Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and they have a solid core of defensemen with Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhius and Denis Grebeshkov but their forwards severely lack luster, and even their strengths are somewhat unintimidating. To be frank, the Predators are the team that I would have liked to see in round one for the Sharks. The big surprise wasn’t that they let it slip away after pushing the Hawks to the brink, but rather that they pushed them there in the first place.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings got a lot of buzz as an upset candidate. They came out of a division with three playoff teams, including the conference leader, play a versatile game, and only had 2 points fewer than their first round opponent, the Vancouver Canucks. It didn’t work out, though, as the Canucks took over after an initial scare and ended the Kings season in 6. For me, this leaves goaltending issues in Los Angeles.

Johnathan Quick was the guy this year, but Jonathan Bernier is in the system as one of the game’s top goaltending prospects, and while Quick jumped out to stellar numbers this year, he had some issues over the 82 game schedule. Quick isn’t exactly old, having played his second year in the NHL, but the Kings will likely have to decide where they are going in the next year or two, and it probably means cutting ties with this year’s backup, Eric Ehrsberg.

The hope for the future in LA is on the blueline, though. They have two of the best young defensemen in the world in Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson. Guys like Matt Greene, Randy Jones and key addition from Pittsburgh Rob Scuderi round out one of the best D corps in the league. The Kings are a young team, and with forwards like Dustin Brown, Alex Frolov and Anze Kopitar, they can build around that core for a promising future for the Kings.

Colorado Avalanche

It is easy to look at the Avalanche’s performance in the quarter finals as an overachievement from a young team. In a sense it was, since no one had this team in the playoffs, let alone putting the fear of god in the 1 seed San Jose Sharks (ok, maybe some people did, but no one would have if it hadn’t been the Sharks). From my perspective, the series itself was something of a shellacking, with the Sharks losing the two games that they did in fluky fashion, and basically dominating an inferior team.

If the Avalanche season is taken as a whole, though, it is in a much different perspective. More than an overachieving group, the Avalanche showed a glimpse of a bright future this year. The team brought 12 forwards and three defensemen 25 years of age or younger to their playoff roster this year. Headliners of this youth include Matt Duchene (19 years old), Ryan O’Reilley (19), Chris Stewart (22), TJ Galliardi (22), Peter Mueller (22, who didn’t even play due to injury), and Paul Statsny (24). To get playoff experience with that many young guys on the roster is extremely valuable and could well help the Aves get to the top of the Western Conference in the next couple of years. Colorado doesn’t have much in the way of prospects coming up, but that is largely due to the fact that they have all of their blue chippers playing in the NHL at young ages.

It clearly wasn’t their year, as much as their veteran/journeyman goaltender, at the seasoned age of 28 tried to make it so in the first round. They got worked by a better team, but in defying all odds to make the playoffs, they gave the Western Conference a scary glimpse of what is to come in the Rocky Mountains with the most promising young core in the NHL.

I Hate California

Here are my thoughts from Phoenix’s win over Detroit to force game 7 on Sunday Afternoon:

The piece connecting the seat to the handles on the stationary bike I was riding while I should have been watching the game was gray.

My iPod is still black.

I rode 21.3 miles in 60 minutes, and burned 749 calories.

Why, you may ask, did I describe the stat bike I was riding when I promised a recap of game 6? Because I didn’t see game 6. I should have, too, since it was on NBC, the one network carrying hockey that we do get at SCU, but I didn’t. That’s because when I went to the gym to work out while I watched the game, I asked the attendant to change the channel, to the hockey game, which is on NBC, which is channel 11 ( I swear on Dany Heatley’s life I told him all three of those things).

I then went and began my work out on the bike. His response to my request was to say ‘sure,’ then to come over a couple of minutes later, presumably to honor the request, but instead what he did was this: He turned the TV (the same one that is constantly on NBC when garbage like the Bonnie Hunt Show or Ellen is on) to channel 11, NBC, per my request. It was on commercials. Fine, I had my game, I knew that it was on the right network, he could go back to his desk. But he didn’t. Instead, he noticed that it was on commercials.

Presumably, since I know for a fact that this kid got into Santa Clara, he doesn’t have an IQ of 42 and knew that if I wanted to watch the game, and that I told him it was on NBC, I wouldn’t hold it against him if I had to sit through a couple of ads before the game came back on. Unfortunately, that isn’t a presumption that I can safely make, because instead, in a virtuoso performance of stupidity, this idiot decided that I would rather watch the NBA game, which was ALREADY ON THE TV NEXT TO THE ONE HE WAS CHANGING.

Then, in what can only be described as the worst customer service I have seen since, well, the last time that I went to Santa Clara’s dining hall, he ignored my ‘excuse me’s. Then, he walked away. Fine, I thought, I’ll watch the basketball game for a few minutes, then get him when he comes back by. But no. This guy left the gym which he was getting paid to supervise, and didn’t come back for over 45 minutes.

In his defense, he was probably still drunk, or at least hung over, from the night before (after all, he was asleep when I got to the desk to ask him to change the channel). On the other hand, he was getting paid. He knew he had to go into work. That isn’t a defense at all.

So why ‘I hate California?’ Because for an hour, while I was peddling and staring at the bike, and occasionally glancing at a devastatingly uninteresting NBA game, I legitimately wanted to transfer. This didn’t seem like something that happened in a place where most kids aren’t spoiled by perfect weather and the spiritual home of participation trophies. It doesn’t happen in places where people don’t for some reason take the NBA, which would be dead if it wasn’t being propped up by ESPN, more seriously than the greatest game in the world (I’m not even an NBA hater like a lot of hockey fans. I enjoy it for the most part, and I have watched quite a few playoff games when hockey wasn’t on. It just isn’t in the same league as the NHL, entertainment wise, and it is impossible to enjoy when I know that I am missing a hockey game for it.).

So if it still sounds like I’m bitter, I’m not. I’m angry. I’m sick of a sense of entitlement amongst workers who don’t know a single thing about customer service. I’m sick of an obsession with a league that isn’t as good as its competition, yet receives all the attention. And I’m really sick of having to work out at the worst run gym that I have ever been to.

Malley Center in particular, California as a whole: Get off you’re a**. Do something. You are not owed anything by the people who pay your salary. At what point did it become ok to do the bare minimum, and to do it spitefully when you are working? Last time I checked, this country’s unemployment rate is reaching 10%. Fire these lazy, contemptuous scums. Find someone who will actually do their job. I don’t even blame the workers (well I do, but I don’t just blame the workers). Doing a crappy job and just scraping by with the bare minimum has to be grounds for dismissal. If you are a boss, it is your job to bring some GD accountability to the workplace. If you are a worker, and you don’t like your job, you need to pretend you do, or we need to find someone who does. Thank You.

Anyways, I am glad as hell that the Red Wings and Coyotes went to game seven, but I couldn’t tell you how it happened. Who knew it was symptomatic of a larger problem.

Having said all that…

I Love California

It is all worth it.

Allow me to brag for a paragraph or two. This Sunday, the second of May, was one to remember. It began by making the 40 minute drive from Santa Clara University to the beautiful beaches of Santa Cruz. The company on the ride was a close friend, and ohbytheway six sorority girls. Good ones.

After making the drive through the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains (although I was a bit distracted from their allure on this occasion), we arrived at the beach. There, we met 65 friends (fraternity brothers), and over 200 girls, almost all of them attractive. The girls broke out their bikinis as we coached them through a 5 round volley ball tournament, with the beneficiary being multiple sclerosis, and, you know, us. (By the way, that isn’t ‘dude there were like 200 girls.’ There were 22 teams of 10. Do the math.)

Anyways, the sun was great, the beach was great, the girls were beyond great, and all in all, it was a great day. It got even better, though, as me and a couple of different friends were forced to skip out shortly after the tournament wrapped up and took our towels, sun burns and 20 phone numbers back to Silicone Valley. It would have been nice, hanging around, talking to the girls and DDing for them if need be, but what we went back to was actually able to top it.

How were we able to top a great beach with more or less every good looking good girl at SCU (there are plenty, by the way)? Because we had the best of the other world back in San Jose. After a quick stop at school, we ended our day at the beach with…that’s right…a playoff hockey game, when we headed to the tank and caught game 2 of the Sharks and the Wings.

At the arena, we got an electric crowd, and a game that didn’t disappoint, with the Sharks staging a third period comeback to take a 2-0 series lead back to the Joe in Detroit. To top it all off, the 5:00 start allowed us to walk out of the arena with daylight and grab a bite to eat before taking the evening to actually be college students and get ready for the week ahead.

So yeah, I think I can put up with the BS for a couple more years as long as California sprinkles in a few days like that to make it all worth it.