Ryan Miller has been the main stay of the Buffalo Sabres for years. He emerged out of the shadow of Domnik Hasek to win his own Vezina trophy, attend the All Star festivities, and even play an Olympic tournament that was one for the ages. For a few years it looked as if he would bring glory to the team, the city, and the entire upper north west of New York State. The reality is that Terry Pegula stepped up to late to make Miller a champion in the home uniform.

When you look at Miller, and his own individual talent level, there are any number of teams that could, and probably should step to the plate and put in a worthy offer. But the teams that will be most attractive to him, with his no trade clause, and for his future are not so many. At age 33, the Lansing Michigan native has to be aware of how narrow the window is for him to win, even if he believes he can be an NHL starter another seven or eight years.

The list of teams that even if he’s traded to, he probably would not sign a new deal with include teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Florida Panthers. The Flyers have to be every goalies nightmare just based on history. The Lightning, Jets, Panthers and Stars are all in some stage of rebuild and growth and only one is really in advance of the Sabres. It might save a nervous general manager’s job in the short term to acquire Ryan Miller and escape the league basement, but if he doesn’t stick around, whatever assets were expended to bring him in are pure loss.

There are exactly two teams that standout as being ideal places for Ryan Miller to launch the next phase of his career. The first spot is a team with an absolutely star studded roster of mature NHL talent, a hall of fame player turned coach, and is handy to major east coast cities, has and has a very metropolitan lifestyle where mere athletes blend in. The other is an old Canadian market with absurd amounts of young talent, a couple of wily veterans and love of hockey that extends to the depths of the earth.

In Washington playing for the Capitals Miller could give up worrying about goal support, forget about being the only recognizable name that didn’t make fans despair, and simply concentrate on winning. There would be no years long wait for the team to reach peak, and little need for the dramatics he’s indulged in over the past few seasons to draw some emotional engagement out of his teammates.

The Edmonton Oilers are the other obvious landing spot. Today they sit 10th in goals for but tied for worst at 5 goals against per game. Adding Miller just months after the additions of new captain Andrew Ference, David Perron and Denis Grebeshkov would be the signal that now is the time to budding superstars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov. The Oilers may be built around their young stars, but today’s roster is about the same average age as the Boston Bruins team that won the cup just three years ago.

One period of any game this season is enough to convince anyone Miller is healthy, hungry and at the top of his game. That same period is more than enough to convince anyone objective observer that the gap in skill, commitment, and execution between himself and his nearest team mate is similar to the gulf between the NHL and the ECHL.

The Washington Capitals welcomed the sixth coach of the George McPhee era. This one is hall of fame inductee Adam Oates. With no real training camp or exhibition period, the Capitals were trying to absorb their new system for at leas the first month of the season. Among his other innovations was moving Left and Right Wing All-Star Alex Ovechkin from the former to the latter. The first half of the season was not pretty.

With guile, wisdom and no doubt some threats Oates got the team to the playoffs. Since last season, the Capitals have waived good-bye to Roman Hamerlik, Tom Poti, Mike Ribeiro and a few other well known faces. Perhaps the best signing this off season was the Capitals picking up Mikhail Grabovski. As compelling in terms of addition is having Brooks Laich and Mike Green both entering the season healthy.

Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and the crew will open the season with a roadtrip to the windy city where they’ll get to watch the Chicago Blackhawks raise their newest banner. After returning home for a game they will hows the Calgary Flames who start the season without Jarome Iginla for the first time in well over a decade. The Dallas Stars will be their next port of call and they’ll face Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the revamped forward group in the Lonestar state. Back home they will have showdowns with Eric Staal and his Carolina Hurricanes and Gabriel Landeskog’s Colorado Avalanche.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7

The Metropolitan division will be brutally tough.  I have no doubt Adam Oates will do everything he can to motivate the team and let them jump on the division lead early. They don’t have any really stiff competition other than the Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Dallas Stars are no longer pushovers, and even the Avalanche aren’t a gimmie, this is a better team than four of their first five opponents on paper. They need to prove it on the ice.

This feature will follow the various non-news tv shows surrounding the NHL and NHL teams.

What a confusing morass of not a lot. This is an anti-documentary. Zero context, just nothing. They show all 11 goals in the first game without any sorta backbone to it. Utterly formless.  No setup for the goals, no looks at the bench, and you don’t even get an idea how each players is doing in the post season with a given goal. After watching the goals for the first two games, I’m reminded how ugly most of the goals in that series were. But don’t worry, there are exciting interviews with Chris Pronger and Ben Eager. And by exciting I mean Patrice Bergeron’s appearance on NHL36 was more engaging, and Jonathan Toews shows more change of expression on an interview.

Brent Sopel’s goal immediately follows a goal only after review. Also, Michael Leighton is not an NHL goalie He is certainly a traditional Philadelphia Flyers goalie, but his ability to stop pucks is rival only by the ability of the city of Brotherly Love to suck the talent out of netminders. Also, Claude Giroux was useful in this series.

If you had only this show to work on you’d think all the goalies were awful, Dave Bolland was an All Star, and that Chris Pronger was the only Flyer allowed to talk to the media. Fortunately, the playoff beards are mighty. Kris Versteeg looks like a viking,

At 50 minutes into this long program you get to the start of game six. Its a blessing. There isn’t much to recommend this program, and given the weirdness of Kane’s cup clincher, Hossa getting the Stanley Cup from Toews is probably the real emotional highlight of the show.

What horrible production, this was a highlight show without the setup, and a documentary with and documentation. Even as a chance to relive the events if you watched it all, it lacks severely.

A rumor that Boston’s most famous hockey playing fashionista might be returning to the NHL this year set Bruins fans abuzz for hours. Anders Per Johan Axelsson known on this side of the pond simply as “PJ” was a stalwart member of the Black and Gold for a dozen NHL seasons. His penalty killing, work ethic, and fashion sense are greatly missed in some quarters. Axelsson’s agent did not return contact by the time this was published.

There is a new and exciting youth hockey league coming to the USA this fall. September will see the sixteen initial teams of the Midwest Junior Hockey League skate into action in two conferences of eight teams. The conferences will be broken down into four team divisions. The young men will chase the Veterans Memorial Cup. Tryouts, team locations and other information available at their website. Follow them on twitter @MWJHLHockey visit their site MWJHL and like them on Facebook. Tell them @PuckSage sent you.

Tyler Seguin is looking for a +1 for the Batman Dark KnightRises premiere.

Batman premiere tomorrow night. Anyone wanna be the plus 1
@tylerseguin92
Tyler Seguin

The former #2 pick, Stanley Cup Champion, Bruins 7th Player Award Winner, former NHL Young  Sttar and NHL All Star and committed Whole Foods shopper is apparently lacking in companionship. Please help him.

The everlasting gobstopper of hockey stories; Where’s Rick Nash going to be in October has not of course wasted away to a memory. Instead it lingers and brings two other important questions: Who will be captain when he leaves? Who will be the teams (token) All Star representative and likely the captain of one team? Assuming he goes it’s looking more and more like James Wisniewski could be a future NHL captain and All Star. Free popcicles for everyone, not just Sean Avery.

This is the fourth installment of the dive for the first overall pick. Earlier editions can be found at three, two and one.

Ain’t no dive like a Montreal dive

’cause a Montreal dive don’t stop

The Montreal Canadiens were perhaps the most successful divers around the deadline. They kicked the party off weeks early by dropping Mike Cammalleri (@MCammalleri13) for Rene Bourque (@RBourque17). The first has had seasons of 39 and 34 goals as well as being a point per game player in the playoffs over 32 games. Rene Bourque has never topped 27 goals, and his playoff performance is something like one half the quality of his regular season norm over his career. Next out the door was locker room leader, Stanley Cup champion, shutdown defensive defenseman Hal Gill. He too was shipped out in advance of the deadline. Last was a blow to local nightclubs as Andrei Kostitsyn, In both the Gill and Kostitsyn trades the Habs didn’t take back a single NHL player. They did however go with one of their traditional “heritage picks” by grabbing Blake Geoffrion, who wasn’t offensively gifted enough to stay in the Predators lineup.

In a bid to avoid having any sort of quality depth Scott Howson General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets set the asking price for Rick Nash at roughly a Dr Evil like figure. Apparently neither Glen Sather or Pierre Gauthier had working phones the last two weeks. He did also add a defenseman who according to fans of his first team was utterly useless, and lose a former first round pick in the fabled 2003 draft. In order to make sure accountability didn’t creep into the team mentality they gave the aging Vaclav Prospal a hefty raise for turning in a -17 and 8.3% shooting accuracy.  They carefully avoided trading for any quality players in the future as well. As compensation for moving Pahlsson, Smithson, and Vermette they picked up two fourth round picks, a 2nd round pick, a fifth round pick, and UFA journeyman goalie Curtis McElhinney. I’m reasonably certain the entire central division and likely the whole league was put on notice by these shrewd moves.

The Edmonton Oilers are smack dab in the middle of the fourth five year plan to rebuild. In mid February they traded guys none of the beat writers could pick out in a broom closet with the Anaheim Ducks. On deadline day they swapped blueliners with the Minnesota Wild. The trade was greeted with a heaping helping of meh with a generous side of wtf by fans and observers. The team is in danger of not having the most balls in the lottery machine for the first time a while if they don’t somehow find a way to get 11 less points than Columbus the rest of the season. Unfortunately for their quest it appears Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be playing a couple more games as he’s patently refused to stay out of a lineup he lacked the muscle to stay in and stay healthy having recovered from two shoulder injuries already.

The tailgating fans in Raleigh have had little to celebrate this season. Sadly the brain trust of the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t even raise their hopes on deadline day. None of that reason to celebrate came in the days leading up to the deadline. Nor did they happen on the deadline itself. While shedding Alexi Ponikarovsky for  a minor league defenseman and a fourth round pick probably seemed like a great way to make sure the Devils didn’t make the playoffs either, it hasn’t worked out that way. As the deadline drew nearer and nearer Jim Rutherford locked up more and more of the players who have helped the team to a tie for 27th place in the NHL. Showing all the savvy that saw him sign Kaberle to a bloated deal he handed out a number of surprising contracts. Showing none of the savvy that saw him trade Kaberle he didn’t trade any of his players for picks while telling them it was for the good of the team and that things might change in the future.

The good news for New York Islanders fans this season is that people now with an All Star appearance behind him know who John Taveres is. The bad news is pretty much everything else. Rick Dipietro is still healthy as a middle ages town in the grip of the black plague, his contract still expires roughly two years past forever. There is no deal for an arena, and on deadline day they biggest asset they picked up is Marc Cantin. None of the unsigned players like Parenteau or Nabokov who they probably want to keep were locked up, and none of the aging stiffs were shuffled off free tattoo gift certificates or second round picks.

Given the quality of the teams its likely that Yakupov or whoever might go first overall if someone has a stroke on their way to the podium will toil in obscurity for several years possibly as the only player keeping the franchise afloat. Eventually he’ll either leave as a free agent or get sold up the river to another franchise desperate for success but with little else to build with.  Hopefully for his sake he’ll be able to justify the hundred thousand year contract someone will try signing him to.

The NHL All Star voting is done. Aside from the guys getting voted in for the first time, the NHL marketing guys who might have to learn something about a player not named Crosby or Ovechkin, and the all mighty sponsors, does anyone care about the voting?  Does anyone at all care about the sixty minutes of nominal game time? It doesn’t even vaguely resemble real NHL  game play. No one is moving, shooting or going all out, even the officials.

The fact that a guy who played less than ten percent of season is even in the top ten tells us the All Star Game is about marketing first through tenth and everything else is irrelevant.  For actual quality of play this year, Tim Thomas and Erik Karlsson are really hard to argue with. Spezza is 11th in scoring in the NHL, but much as Alfredsson and Michalek are engaging players to watch, its hard to consider them top 10-15 NHL forwards. Dion Phanuef aside from an announcer or two, his agent and apparently some Leafs fans isn’t on anyones list of top five defensemen.

Last night David Pollak and Helene Elliott pumped some hydrogen into the trade rumor fire. Between them they made it clear which teams had scouts at the Ducks and Sharks game, and that only Selanne and Koivu were “untouchable” for Anaheim.  This is as the Ducks sit just one bare point above the Columbus Blue Jackets and hold a league worst +39 goal differential. To make Twitter even more insensible Rick Nash stated he would waive his no trade clause if the team asked him.

What in the world is going on between the ears of the powers that be in Montreal? First they fire an assistant coach. Then they fire a head coach. Then they tell everyone sorry he doesn’t speak French. They they say we’ll hire a new Franco-phone coach for next season. They tell the players they aren’t holding them responsible for not showing up by handing out a big contract to a guy who is regressing offensively. There’s fights in practice, and the guys in charge have made exactly what positive changes? The Habs are 25th in the NHL and four of the teams below them have played less games. None of those teams have three games left against the Boston Bruins either.

The debate  angst over the 1-3-1 deployed by the Tampa Bay Lightning last night against the Philadelphia Flyers is both amusing and reveals how little attention most people were paying to what the two teams were screaming with their actions.

  • The Tampa Bay Lightning were saying: We’ve spent a week filling our pants at the thought of your offense.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers  were saying: Ah, solid defense? No fair, we wanna take our marbles and go home!

All the hand wringing about trapping and boring hockey are completely worthless and insensible. There are a dozen different styles of hockey, and all of them have managed to hold loyal fans. The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadians, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs all employ different systems and each team has their own fans inside and outside their market. More importantly, a team that can win in a number of ways is much more likely to gain and retain new fans.

Games to watch:

  • The best east meets west showdown should be the Boston Bruins playing host to the Edmonton Oilers. 7pm ET
  • Western Conference purists can rejoice in a LA Kings – Vancouver Canucks matchup.

Two rookies made news last night:

  • Devante Smith-Pelly provided what might have been the only bright spot for the floundering Anaheim Ducks when he got his first NHL goal last night against the Nashville Predators and the 7 Million Dollar Goalie Pekka Rinne.
  • Skating onto the ice with Rinne was the man who after a three point effort would end the night atop the rookie scoring race Craig Smith, certain Canadian broadcasters are rumored to have protested the scoring race change as Smith has the bad grace to be both American and from a non-traditional hockey market.

And finally, the NHL should actually start talking about the All-Star game in the coming weeks. Two guys who deserve to be there who haven’t been, or haven’t been recently have been picked at not so random for general voting for those of you who can’t make up your minds who to fill the ballot with.

  • Teemu Selanne (age 41) who has been carrying the Ducks, and many a fantasy team on his back may not get more than ten or twelve more years in the NHL in which he has a chance to play in the All Star game. For him we’ve already started using the Twitter (and I suppose Chime.in ) tag #SelectSelanne. If you don’t know who he is that’s ok, just type him name into Youtube and sit in awe.
  • The other is a guy who got his first round of major NHL attention for his play by being selected for team Canada at the last Olympics. He was the NHL’s first star this January, and then went on to score the game winning, Stanley Cup clinching goal in game seven. Patrice Bergeron can be cheered on with #PickPatrice.

 

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

The Carolina Hurricanes seemed like they would return to the post season until late in the season. They were playing well, Eric Staal had remembered to turn on his personality circuit for the All Star weekend, and the Carolinas were swept up in Beibermania Skinner-Mania as the youngest player in the league skated into the hearts of millions and the NHL Awards show for the Calder Trophy. Even the butchering of the national anthem by Clay Aiken couldn’t dampen spirits in Raleigh. Unfortunately for fans of the wayward Whale things were not meant to be. With the influx of new young talent, and also Tomas Kaberle and Brian Boucher, the Canes are clearly gearing up for something.

High Card:

This one couldn’t be simpler even if the team had a third star quality skater. Eric Staal is far too often overlooked as a player, and yet given the level of talent he’s had around him most of his career he’s still put up some impressive numbers. For my money he’s the most driven athlete in the entire division, and leads his hugely talented draft class in goals and points.  If he has a great season the teams odds of reaching the playoffs are pretty good.

Wild Card:

Cam Ward had the best sv% of his career across a record high number of games played. If he be that dominant again, he’s more than done his part. Unfortunately his .923 sv% is well above not just any other year he’s had but far enough outside his career average to make people nervous about him coming back to earth this season. With new members of the blueline, and some larger more mobile forwards in front of him he may find his job easier this season, or not. It will also be interesting to see how he reacts to having a man who has been considered a #1 goaltender in other cities sharing duties with him.

Since every blog on the internet needs a few regular features just to keep itself going, and I refuse to resort to naked link salads here’s my new one.

Off the Faceoff is a semi-regular feature filled with a varying number of one line thoughts, mostly on hockey.

Faceoff 1:

Someone who was discussing concussions and punishments recently questioned the NHL’s ability to survive the long-term loss of players like Marc Savard and Sidney Crosby.

Response: B!tch Please! If the NHL can survive the lockout, Gary Bettman’s inability to explain anything to his daughter, the retirement of Bourque, Gretzky, Bossy, the coverage on Versus, and the media ignoring it most of the time, even losing two top centers won’t kill it.

Faceoff 2:

Some people have called the Pepsi Maxx commercial with the couple in the park where one party is a touch domineering, and a little psycho is either sexist or racist.

Response:  Are you high? I keep forgetting that not only is every relationship made up of 100% equals in every way with no jealousy, but that’s exactly what will get peoples attention in advertising too. (For the record I’m a black Coke fan.)

Faceoff 3:

Phil Kessel has been telling tales out of school up in Toronto. Apparently he doesn’t like being told to work in more than one zone, and even when it’s clear the coach is more interested in his efforts than his results he’s resumed full sulk mode, with no apparent claim to responsibility.

Response: It’s Phil Kessel. Zero personality, zero drive, zero accountability. I’m convinced if Sean Avery and PK Subban had both been in the All Star Draft they would each have gone before Kessel. Say what you will about Avery and Subban, both bring it.

Faceoff 4:

The Colorado Avalanche recently signed Petr Forsberg to a contract for the rest of the season.

Response: Clearly the thin air is getting to management. When you have a major issue on defense, and particularly with having a mobile defense, and you’re in the top third of the league for scoring you don’t solve the issue of a nonexistent penalty kill by adding a guy who hasn’t played in the NHL since April of 2008, and is one of the 20 oldest skaters in the NHL on top of it.

Faceoff 5:

Ilya Kovalchokes the Hab’s.

Response: Have you learned nothing? Seriously, the evidence goes back years. Kovalchuck is good at head games, feeds off the crowd and does not hate being the villain.