July 4th, 2012 — Uncategorized
The easy assessment today is that the Wild are a vastly better team today than they were yesterday. Justin Falk will get a Norris worthy mentor, Steve Kampfer will get his second of that caliber. Dany Heatley will get to play without always being the most recognizable offensive threat on the team Backstrom will get a guy in front of him who is healthy, highly skilled and driven. Koivu not only will end up with less responsibility to carry each game, he can sit home and smile for a couple days that he’ll have to playoff experienced veterans of high skill to deepen the talent pool, and help shoulder the burden of success.
A big reason for both Suter and Parise to sign in Minnesota is that both are used to defensive systems that make use of all five players in all three zones. Together with Koivu, Backstrom, and Heatley, they make a compellingly deep team. For all the defensive prowess of the Predators that can’t be said about them. For all the wizardry of Kovalchuk and the promise of Henrique, they aren’t a top team now, with or without Parise.
For the Northwest division, it just got uglier. The Canucks are no longer assured of a playoff spot, division title, and potential Presidents Trophy simply for playing in the leagues worst division. The Calgary Flames should see this as a sign they need to finally set off the explosives while Iginla, Bouwmeester and one or two others will still fetch something. The Oilers are possibly the worst off since a division rival just got better offensively and defensively. Colorado will have to scrap even harder, and get everyone pulling together or just pull the plug but things can’t continue as they have.
Hardest hit is likely one of the teams that never had either, the Detroit Red Wings. With the end of the Lidstrom Era, and the decline and fall of their once dominant forward group, another Dead Wings era may be in the offing, The Predators while losing an enormous talent are likely better off than the Devils. Suter was not the name and face of the franchise. Ideally they will replace him with a quality forward or two who can provide timely offense. For the Devils, some will call this a death knell given their financial troubles, or see it as a betrayal. The truth is the Devils had a great deal of luck getting to the finals last year, and didn’t have the money to upgrade to win.
Next season, the Devils are still likely a playoff team, as are the Predators. What this means for the draft pick the Devils could have forfeited this year is unknown, but this years pick is likely to be higher. Also look for the trade market to spring wide open. This may even include some of the prospects drafted just a couple weeks ago.
June 25th, 2012 — Uncategorized
The Jordan Staal trade short circuited a hype fest that could have gone on all summer and right up to the trade deadline. It’s kinda disappointing honestly. Sure it’ll be fun to see how many times announcers and the press confuse them this season, but hey there are other players who we’ll all get to talk ourselves sick about.
The Ducks don’t want to move him. If they did they would have gotten in on some of the big name players in the last two years. Or they would have traded him for a boat load of picks in this draft. Left wing tends to be the weakest forward position for a lot of teams. And a team as starved for depth as the Anaheim is, shouldn’t be looking a signed all star in the mouth.
Anyone not smart enough to grab him when Florida was dangling him years ago, probably hasn’t wised up. A good solid stroll through the stats will show he’s being used much more defensively in Calgary than Florida. A deeper look will show that for the first two years he was there the scoring was more tightly concentrated than his last two years in Florida showing how much less talent the Flames had than the Panthers in forwards.
Despite the hopes and dreams of 29 other fan bases, I don’t see Zach moving on unless the Devils are getting ready to fold.
Cabbies across the continent can rest peaceful in their beds. The 140lb bane of all livery drivers is a darling of ownership, and too promising a talent to be tossed aside for anything that hasn’t gotten to the point of criminal behaviour that threatens fans or team staff. Even if despite the denials of others he is the only twenty something millionaire to ever go out and party.
Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely have spent forever bad mouthing him and trying to replace him. Those things don’t go hand in hand bros, you might wanna work on that.
Unless someone medicates Scott Howson or Nash and company expand their list, Rick Nash is likely to be a Columbus Blue Jacket for a while longer.
June 11th, 2012 — player
I noticed a curious trend in the last decade. Few of the young players, say twenty five and under who won the Cup seemed to be major impact players later on. At the same time, players who won a bit later were contributing again and again to at least deep runs. Take Rob Scuderi and Mark Recchi as players who won the Cup towards later, and we’ll look at a few of the players who won young below.
While injuries have played a big part in the recent history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, its hard to argue that Marc-Andre Fleury is not playing well below the level he did when they last hoisted a banner. Oddly, the Cup win represents only a mediocre set of numbers for Fluery. The year before in a loss he finished with a save percentage of .933. In winning the cup he dipped to a pedestrian .908sv% and that represents the last time he was above .900sv% in the post season the trend in games played in the post season and overall performance is not pretty either, this season his save percentage was .834 and that’s about as unlovely as it gets.
Eric Staal was in his second NHL season when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. In that season he crushed out 100 points. On special teams he was magic, 19 powerplay goals and 4 short handed goals are more goals than most players will total in a season, the rest of his 45 goals that year came at even strength. In the playoffs he had 28 points in 25 games. Since then he’s only been in the playoffs once more, and has never again been over a point per game.
Patrick Kane peaked in the year the Chicago BlackHawks ended their drought. He had 30 regular season goals and 88 points in the regular season. In the post season on his way to sending the Philadelphia Flyers home with heads hung low he had an eye popping 28 points in 22 games. In the two seasons since he too has trended downwards. He didn’t score a single goal in this years playoffs, this isn’t what was expected when the Blackhawks brain trust drafted him.
For the Los Angeles Kings, the players who entered this season under twenty five are, Anze Kopitar, Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Andrei Lokitinov, Kyle Clifford. New Jersey Devils fans may or may not want to be a bit more relaxed about the question, with just Mark Fayne, Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefson having entered the season under twenty five.
Am I 100% convinced that winning the Cup at a young age is bad for players? No, but it does factor in. And you really have to ask yourself how could it not sap the motivation at least a little? You aren’t even old enough to rent a car in some states or get good car insurance rates, all your friends are still in high school or college or maybe working some entry level job and you’ve just taken home the hardest trophy to win in sports. Having won a cup you’re assured of getting multimillion dollar contracts until at least two years past the point anyone else would have been forced to retire, and you’ll have a nice piece of bling for your hand to remind you of how great you were once.
June 9th, 2012 — Uncategorized
Shocking as it is to hear after last years success with only one American based team in the Stanley Cup finals, this years ratings are lower than last years. There is a reason for this. Just one reason. The solution, is not so easy because it would require a long term change to the way the NHL does business.
The cause of the ratings faltering this year isn’t the style of hockey, it isn’t even that the two teams are expansion teams no one knows about. The ratings have slipped because the National Hockey League can’t market at the same level as a fifth rate used car salesman in some backwater where he’s the only game in town. When your advertisements contain egregious factual errors and you continue to air them (much to the disgust of your hard core fans) you just can’t be taken seriously as an organization.
When you only market two or at most three players across a thirty team league, you can’t expect the bandwagon to fill up when no one knows who any of the players are except those guys and their teammates. Both of these teams have more than enough talent, personality and human interest angles to fill a 24 hour infomercial network. But what does the casual fan from outside those two markets know about them? Almost nothing.
The “redemption” angle on Mike Richards and Jeff Carter alone should be a license to print money. They were the keystones of a Stanley Cup run for the Flyers not long ago, both were jettisoned just last summer, and here they are again right at the cusp of greatness. Dustin Brown is while far younger built very much in the mode of Gordie Howe. He does everything for his team, conducts himself in a flawless manner off the ice and is likely to spend the next ten years running opponents over. Even Dustin Penner is great marketing material, he’s one of the most engaging personalities in the entire NHL, and does it with the sort of humble bearing that can be appreciated by all ages.
On the other coast you’ve got the sensational story of Adam Henrique who could capture the Calder trophy and the Stanley Cup. He’s personable, he’s versatile, and like Jonathan Toews, Ryan Kesler or Patrice Bergeron he contributes on every inch of the ice. Ilya Kovalchuk signed one the longest and most controversial contracts in North America. Love it or hate it he’s going to be with the Devils for years to come. It’s time to make hay. The litany of ways to market this guy is as long as his goals scored video and is being fleshed out by his gutsy one legged performence of the last few weeks.
But the time to start marketing players isn’t when the chips are down in late May and early June. It needs to happen in July, and September, and November, like the players taking care of their bodies, and the teams taking care of their rosters for the present and future it has to be a year round commitment. Zach Parise is a pending UFA. Dangling the “where will he play next season?” carrot over the league and its fans is a sure fire way to get him, his current team, and if he moves on from New Jersey his new team more attention.
If anyone has to explain how to market players like Drew Doughty who has been compared to Bourque and Lidstrom and Leetch since before he laced up the skates in the NHL for the first time, my advice to them is: McDonald’s is hiring. If the marketing department can’t come up with ways to draw attention to Brodeur: Walmart needs greeters.
The NHL has no one to blame but itself if they are disappointed in the ratings. The marketing is bad enough, but when the veteran broadcasters start tossing random letters into the names of players and do it four games running in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s just unacceptable and off putting to the full gamut of fans.
It’s certainly too late to save this years numbers. But to borrow the tag line from another popular enterprise Winter is coming, one should prepare now.
May 30th, 2012 — Uncategorized
This is the the beginning and end for more than just the two organizations playing in the finals. Teams that were eliminated in the first round, or never made it in will spend this last stretch of the marathon evaluating what works best for other teams, who might reach the free agent market, and of course looking at the draft. With the general managers meeting today, some trades will go down as well.
For the Los Angeles Kings, many of whom have never played in the second round before this year, this is a huge adjustment. It’s not just the size of the stage that may start pressing on them. It’s the duration of the season. The bulk of the roster hasn’t played extended NHL hockey. Yes, they are a pretty young group. They have also been lucky enough to have some short series. But this is still an extra two months of hockey, and the Phoenix series was certainly not a gentle one.
Back on the east coast the New Jersey Devils have a far wider span of age and playoff experience. Marty Brodeur has been to the top of the mountain three times. Ilya Kovalchuk had never seen the second round before this year. The Adam’s had never seen the NHL post season until this year. Marek Zidlicky doubled his playoff experience along the road to the finals. The Devils are also a noticeably older team than their opponents, with nine players over 30 to just four on the Kings.
We all know who the best players on each team are. The question is of course who will be the best players in the Stanley Cup Finals. The last two Cup clinching goals were a rarity. Both Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks were already players most hockey fans were familiar with. The two were key parts to their teams and if you were identifying weaknesses or needed changes they’d be on the short list of players titled must keep. That’s not always the case in the Stanley Cup. It isn’t even often the case.
So who will come up big this year? Will Dwight King and Jordan Nolan be the guys who tip the balance of this series? Will Mark Fayne and Peter Harrold finally make the hockey world stand up and take note of who they are? None of the four is even close to a household name today. The Stanley Cup finals can turn some from anonymous grinder to sensation in one flick of the wrist.
For the organizations as whole, the finals appearance is huge. The Devils started the year with ownership concerns. The Kings have spent more than four decades in the NHL and only put their hand on the gate to the promised land once. Tonight for both teams, win or lose is the confirmation that the organizations are build right.
The Stanly Cup Finals are also a beginning. Even wit the looming labor negotiations, someone has to decide what to do with the sixteen pending UFA’s between the two teams. Someone has to figure out which of the RFA’s to tender qualifying offers to by July 1. For team with college players, and prospects playing out contracts overseas, we’ve hit critical mass on inviting these players to camp. Then there’s the behind the scenes contracts for coaches and managers, and of course European, juniors and college free agents. There’s no off season in hockey, just a time when less hockey is played.
May 27th, 2012 — Uncategorized
Back half an eon ago, at least in terms of news cycles I previewed the series. Depth and health were the two keywords, and whiled they did play a pivotal part, the component I don’t think anyone looked at was something that seems obvious.
The New York Rangers did not have any killer instinct. They were good at evening games up, or popping in goals here and there. They had solid defense for the most part. But getting ahead and standing on their opponents throat? Nope, didn’t happen.
By The Numbers:
- 4 : The number of games in the series Lundqvist had a sub .900Sv%.
- 10 : The number of years Brodeur is older than Lundqvist.
- 3 : The number of Rangers who finished the post season with more points than Artem Anisimov.
- 0 : The number of shutouts in this series by Brodeur
- 19:29 : How many minutes Adam Larsson played in this series.
- 1 : The number of points Gaborik had in the series.
- 3: Chris Kreider’s points total for the series.
After killer instinct, the Rangers biggest failure was simply not playing sixty minutes of hockey. Bad first periods, mixed second and third periods are no way to win against talented teams. The Devils biggest corporate asset was the ability to withstand the frankly scary Ranger surges and still maintain composure. First to last this was a series that the New Jersey Devils were more willing to sweat blood for. The Devils got contributions from more players, and were consistent game in and game out.
May 19th, 2012 — Uncategorized
The great injustice of the post season is that there are only two awards that count. The Stanley Cup for a team, and the Conn-Smyth for one individual. In most post seasons there are at least two people who could be given the latter. This season there are more. Given the dynamics of the post season, at least one of them will get to lift the Cup and the day I hear a NHL star say they’d rather have an individual award than a Stanley Cup, I’ll finally have seen a player I don’t even want to watch play any more.
Dan Girardi is a revelation this post season. He leads the post season scoring race among defensemen by two points. And he has done it with remarkably similar fashion to the quiet defense first style he plays with all season. Even more than Lundqvist the regular season and post season star of this team is Girardi.
Arguments for Ilya Kovalchuk to be on the Hart shortlist were met with scorn all season. This despite his leading the league in ice time for forwards by miles, having more short handed goals than anyone else in the top twenty point scorers, playing a lot of minutes on a top penalty killing unit, the post season hasn’t looked much less different. This despite his missing a game with an injury.
Dustin Brown has simply dominated the post season like no other forward. Skating, hitting, scoring drawing penalties and keeping coolly composed and not taking stupid penalties himself. He’s every bit the engine to his team that Toews is to the Blackhawks, Doan is to the Coyotes. You can make arguments that the Kings would be in the same position as they are now without him, but you’ll excuse me if I laugh in your face while you do so.
Mike Smith, hands down the most skilled individual on his team. You could swap out the other three goalies left for any other above average goaltender and that team would be in about the same place. Agent Smith has faced more shots than any goalie this post season. Despite having played one less game than Brodeur he’s made 129 more saves, Quick who has played two less games has had to make 158 fewer saves.
May 14th, 2012 — Uncategorized
The Western Conference has already kicked off it’s final round, and done so in style. The East has its time in the limelight now.
The Rangers and Devils will at least from the perspective of travel both get to play as many home games as it takes to finish the series. That rest could come into play for both teams. The Rangers while a much younger team overall, have had several overtime games including that triple overtime game against the large and physical Capitals. The Devils.
The Devils have the advantages of two less games, notably less overtime, and more rest since the end of a not very taxing series with the Flyers. They may need it. They have a much higher average age, but also have their own rookies in the lineup. In addition to a legend in goal who is playing some of his best hockey in a decade, they have the most skilled player left in the playoffs Ilya Kovalchuk.
- Lundqvist is having hands-down the best post season of his career, one concern might be that the Devils take more shots per game than anyone the Rangers have faced, and part of his success is that the Rangers typically allow very few shots.
- Brodeur looks more like the legend than we’ve seen in recent years. This could be a tipping point either way. If he reverts to the player of the last two or three post seasons that will be the death-knell for the team. If however he has two strong games to start the series he will be in the head of a team who mostly grew up watching him.
- The Rangers forwards have been enough to get the job done, but not spectacular. How well they do will be determined by how well Gaborik and Hagelin use their speed, and players like Callahan and Stepan distribute the puck in a timely manner.
- Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac need to push through a much better defense than they have seen this post season. I expect the adjustment to be harder for Clarkson and Henrique, which means it’s just about time for Ponikarovsky to come out of his coma and contribute.
- The Rangers defense is the most reliable component of the team. McDonagh and Girardi have been huge, Staal has rounded back into Norris-like form, and Del Zotto has been key figure, as a six man unit a defense doesn’t play much better. The question will be how well they handle some of the big, skilled, bodies of the Devils in a seven game series after all the hard play of the Caps, and extra time.
- The Devils defense has seen its defensive defensemen earning the most ice time. It’s a formula that’s worked thus far. The Devils will need timely contributions from the more offensive minded defensemen in order to advance.
Neither team has had to come back from being down 0-3 or run into a game they had to come back from four goal down to win or golf. But neither has had an easy post season, the Devils went the distance with the scrappy Panthers in the opening round, the Rangers will play their fifteenth game of the second season against the Devils. After health which becomes a huge drain this late, depth is going to be huge in deciding the series. Both teams have five players who have scored three or more goals in the post season. The Devils however who have played less games have gotten at least one goal from 15 players, while the the Rangers have had only 11 light the lamp.
These division rivals could also see the return of good scraps to the playoffs. 22 Fighting majors in six regular season games isn’t the type of emotion you can smother in the playoffs.
“Lazy Russian Count”*
“Good Canadian Boy Count”*
*Both counts taken from current rosters as displayed on team websites.
May 9th, 2012 — Uncategorized
With the Philadelphia Flyers out of the greatest sports tournament it all comes down to goaltending. We have a living legend in New Jersey. Martin Brodeur is arguably the greatest goaltender of all time. His statistical records hold records. Mike Smith was discarded by the Tampa Bay Lightning and seen by many in Phoenix as no more than a stand in until a “good goalie” could be found. Well, surprise surprise, Mike Smith is possibly the next best puck handler in the NHL among goaltenders after New Jersey’s juggernaut. The stand-in also has a modest .948sv% this post season. Either the King Henrik Lundqvist, or the baby of the bunch Braden Holtby will advance in the other series, neither has much to complain about this post season. And then there’s the hands down favorite to win the Conn-Smythe, the All American Jonathan Quick, the King of King’s owns the playoffs this year.
With the draft approaching and the resolution of ownership issues for several teams (Sabres, Jets, Blues, Stars, Devils and in theory the Coyotes), the trading action as teams attempt to clear space to go after this summers big fish could be the biggest we’ve seen in years. Parise and Suter will be the biggest fish on the market, but don’t expect Carlo Colaiacovo, Semin, Parenteau, and the rest of the second or even third tier to come cheap. If the market for skaters is shallow, the goalie market probably isn’t even deep enough to wet the whole tread on your average sneaker. Clemmensen, Harding, Vokoun and that’s about it.Vokoun ended the season on the shelf, Harding is injury prone, and Clemmensen has never managed to hold down a starting job.