Monday, August 29, 2005

NHL Preview: Part One

With the NHL Pre-Season just around the corner, I figure I would start giving a preview of the league, two divisions at a time; one from the Eastern Conference and one from the Western Conference. It's your basic premise of a season preview with off-season pick ups, chemistry of the team, and all the other fun stuff that you usually see with the season previews. So without any further adu, I present the preview for the Atlantic and Central Divisions.


New Jersey Devils: This off-season, the Devils got hit hard with the loss of Scott Niedermayer to Free Agency. Not only that, but at the time of press, Lou Lamoriello will have to find a way to drop 5 million dollars from their payroll. Regardless of that, the re-acquistion of Alexander Mogilny will give more speed and scoring ability to the top-6. Vladimir Malakhov will try to fill the gap that was left from Scott Niedermayer, though that will be a daunting task to say the least.

Aside from Mogilny, the re-signings of Scott Gomez, Jeff Friesen, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Brian Rafalski will keep most of the core of the team together. Of course, anyone of those players could be dealt in order to get under the cap; but there will be plenty of leaders on this team no matter what.

Not only that, but you have to consider the Devils as a contender for one reason: Martin Brodeur. Having 9 straight season with over 30 wins; you can rest assured that they can expect that kind of performace again from the 2-time Vezina Trophy Winner.

New York Islanders: It seems "Mad Mike" Milbury has been busy this off-season. With the acquistions of Miroslav Satan, Alexei Zhitnik, Brad Lukowich, Brent Sopel, and Mike York; the Islanders look like they could try and counteract the loss of Michael Peca and Adrian Aucoin.

In any case, the Islanders will have to find a way to get into the playoffs and actually have some longevity in them. With early exits to Tampa Bay last year and Ottawa the year before; they will need to get some kind of playoff presence or else heads will roll next summer.

Between the pipes, Rick DiPietro is due for a breakout eventually; at least the Isles brass hopes so. He's been improving little-by-little and should do just fine for the Isles this season, even in the new look of the NHL. If DiPietro falters, they can only hope that Garth Snow can pick up the slack, but after the rules change-- who knows if Snow can adapt to the smaller pads.

New York Rangers: For a team that has abused the salary flow for so long, the Rangers have actually been pretty go in ways of money for this new CBA. With pick-ups like Marek Malik, Martin Straka, and Ville Nieminen; it seems that the Rangers will combine speed, defense, and hard-nose play all in one.

Looking up front, with Jaromir Jagr's disillusion for the new CBA, you have to wonder if he'll give his whole heart out there or if he'll slack off like he has in the past couple of seasons. You have to think with former teammate Martin Straka with him, that he will be able to be the player many are accustom too. Picking up Steve Rucchin to be a leader out there on the ice, the Rangers offense could be turning a corner when it comes to production.

The goaltending should be an interesting site to see. Kevin Weekes has never had a winning season in his tenure in the NHL, Alvaro Montoya is just coming out of College, and Henrik Lundqvist coming over from his first North American season; the last line of defense could be the Achilles' heel for the Blueshirts.

Philadelphia Flyers: Wow-- that's pretty much all you can say when it comes to talking about the Flyers. They picked up Peter Forsberg, probably the biggest UFA out there this summer, Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, and all they had to part with is Jeremy Roenick. Add to that, the young guns in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Flyers look like they're good for now and for the future.

The mentality of the Broad Street Bullies seems to be there with big guys who can hit and take a hit, plus they seem on paper they could take over the Eastern Conference for years to come....but that's on paper. We have seen weirder stuff happen.

With Robert Esche, Keith Primeau, Sami Kapanen, and Kim Johnsson all returning; the Flyers are poised to make a return trip to the Eastern Conference finals, but this time hoping to change the result at the end of the series.

Pittsburgh Penguins: For a team that was almost send into obscurity last year; they have sure made a huge comeback; and that's using the term loosely. When they won the Draft Lottery, you could tell that not only was the team amped up, but that the city was amped up as well. Along with the Drafting of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins got some kind of blue chip to help lure some Free Agents over to the Steel City.

It must have worked because they were able to get Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, and John LeClair. Granted, someone like LeClair is a risk, but if it pays off in the Penguins favor, all the better for the team. Outside of those pick-ups, guys like Mario Lemieux, Dick Tarnstrom, and Mark Recchi will be able to help out along side of the pick ups. However, the big issue is injuries. With Lemieux bad hip, LeClair's bad back, and Jocelyn Thibault's legs, that could be the only thing that would hinder the Pens.

Speaking of Thibault, it looks like he'll be the mentor to Marc-Andre Fleury. Having both of them being French-Canadian and both being QMJHL graduates; this could be the best thing of someone like Fleury to learn more about the NHL game.


Chicago Blackhawks: Bill Wirtz has been known as a cheap owner. He didn't want to put home games on TV, he won't sign players to keep them in Chi-town, and he never would pass up on a bargain. However, he seems to be content with the new NHL and has been doing some shopping that he had longed for. Most notably getting the Stanley Cup winning goalie in Nikolai Khabibulin from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Adrian Aucoin from the Islanders to beef up the back-lines.

What's more important is that the Hawks are hoping that Eric Daze will stay healthy the whole season and that the pick-ups of Matthew Barnaby, Martin Lapointe, along with the stallwarts of Mark Bell, Tyler Arnason, and Tuomo Ruutu will be effective in the season to come.

The Hawks will be starting fresh with a new coach behind the bench and a completely new outlook on the upcoming season. The Chicago fans should be very excited to get out to the United Center because this year, the Hawks could actually rival the Wolves in the AHL this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: In the past few seasons, the defense has been the biggest downfall of the Blue Jackets. It seemed that Doug MacLean finally got the message and went out and signed Adam Foote and Bryan Berard to help mold younger guys like Rostislav Klesa and Radoslav Suchy into better players than they are now.

Up front, the "Rick and Nik Show" seems like it will be in full effect. With Rick Nash signing a multi-year deal after coming off a terrific season in Switzerland and Nikolai Zherdev coming off a good season in Russia, these two look like they could be clicking once again in the Nationwide Arena.

With the signing of Martin Prusek as a back-up, this could take a lot of pressure off the starter Marc Denis and maybe make him play a little harder knowing that someone like Prusek could take over the Number One Spot should he falter.

Detroit Red Wings: There has not been much movement in Hockeytown. The only big name signing was getting Chris Osgood back in a winged-wheel jersey. Outside of that, they had to deal with the departing of Darren McCarty and Derian Hatcher via buyout. However, the Red Wings always seem to find a way to do a lot with a little.

Up-front the aging players the likes of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan could actually benefit from the year off and could rest up and be on their game again. Add Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby to the mix; the Wings do a lot with a little. They will need to get their two young guys, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, under contract in order to balance the old with the new.

With Mike Babcock behind the bench, the Wings could get a shot in the arm and actually make it further in the playoffs than they have in the previous campaigns. However, for that to happen, they'll need to make sure nothing go wrong, or else they could be in for an uphill climb.

Nashville Predators: With their big addition of Paul Kariya to the mix, it actually gives players like Steve Sullivan and David Legwand a linemate that will know what to do in a high-tempo situation. Scott Walker, Martin Erat, and Scott Hartnell will have to show that they can produce like they did in '03-'04 for the Preds to be taken seriously.

The backline for the Preds will be a mix of young and old. With Danny Markov added into the mix, it will give guys like Kimmo Timonen, Dan Hamhuis, and Ryan Suter someone to learn from and someone who can help them out on the depleted back line.

Tomas Vokoun will probably be under the microscope again should his blueline falter. He has played very well in the past couple of seasons and coming off his first winning season in the NHL, he will be heavily tested to help get the Preds to another playoff berth.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues seemed to have been hit hard in the new outlook. With Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight tying up $13 million; they had to cut ties with Chris Pronger by shipping him to Edmonton. In return, they got Eric Brewer and two prospects (Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch); but it left a huge hole on the back line. With Al MacInnis looking toward retirement, they'll have to lean on their young blueliners to carry the load left behind.

Outside of Tkachuk and Weight, there's not many players on the team with the big scoring touch. Guys like Dallas Drake, Eric Boguniecki, Dean McAmmond, and Mike Sillinger will need to step it up big time in order for the Blues to have a productive season on the score sheet.

With the departure of Chris Osgood, the Blues will rely on Patrick Lalime to help backstop them to a playoff spot. With Reinhard Divis slated as his back-up, you can rest assured that Lalime will be a workhorse for the Blues. They can only hope he can bounce back from his dismal performance in the '04 playoffs and help them get deep into the playoff chase.

So that is the way I look at the two Division starting off our preview of the upcoming NHL Season. Next week, I'll focus on the Northeast and Northwest Divisions and what you can look forward to seeing when the puck drops on October 5th.

If you have some comments or questions; feel free to email the Show and we'll talk about it.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Monday, August 22, 2005

New NHL TV Deal: Hitting the Mark or Fishing Without Bait??

As many of you know by now, the NHL has decided to form a new agreement with Comcast and it's Outdoor Life Network for at least two-years with $135 million in that span. The move was because of ESPN leaving the NHL saying that, "given the prolonged work stoppage and the league's TV ratings history, no financial model even remotely supports the contract terms offered." Which leaves people wondering what will happen with the OLN/NHL agreement. Will it be a blessing in disguise or will it be a continuation of the disaster as ESPN??

Well-- if you read the OLN/NHL Press Release, then it seems like something that will actually work for the fans of the NHL and make the game more enjoyable to watch. For instance, the changes that the NHL and OLN is looking at putting into the broadcast:

  • VOD (Video-On-Demand) game highlights and library footage of hockey’s greatest moments with full fast-forward, rewind and replay capability
  • HDTV game coverage in a crisper, faster-moving, more exciting game for hockey fans every week
  • Online streaming of two live games per night (subject to local blackout), broadband highlights, commentary, and library footage
  • Round-the-clock coverage on the NHL Network, to be launched in the US in the future
  • Comcast will have the ability to carry and/or syndicate additional games on Comcast’s regional sports networks where it has the consent of the local team and team’s rights holder
Looking at that alone, it looks to be that OLN is taking this new deal very seriously, calling the NHL its cornerstone for the upcoming fall season. No pressure for the NHL, huh?? Yet, even with all this new stuff coming out about the new US TV deal and how it could possibly help the game of hockey in the lower 48, there is plenty of people that are still unsure about the union.

Some in the New York area will be blacked-out from the Rangers-Flyers season opener because of the OLN Rights. MSG Network, who would regularly carry the game, is blackout because of the fact that OLN is going to show the game as it's top billing. If fans in the New York Metro area want to see the Rangers, Devils, or Islanders; they will have to shell out the extra five buck a month on digital cable to get OLN as a regular channel.

One far more pessimistic approach comes out of Toronto of all places. Bill Lankhof goes on to talk about how this new deal is not progress at all. Also criticize the way Americans think of hockey players and the game itself. What can you expect from a guy who lives in a city with a Napoleon Complex.

In the end, will this whole thing work out?? Well, it depends if OLN is very serious about doing the NHL right. Though ESPN would have been a nice fit, what has the "Excellence in Sports Performance Nightly" channel done for the NHL in the past 2 or 3 years?? ESPN treated the NHL like the red-headed stepchild of the sports spectrum. There's only so many times you can see the Red Wings take on the Avalanche before you want to shoot yourself in the head after hearing "Thornegasm" after "Thornegasm."

If OLN wants to make the NHL their cornerstone then they better stick to what their promising. They have to make sure that every bulletpoint is hit and that everything will be for the betterment of the game and not just the betterment of the network. The people will flock to OLN if they realize that the coverage is good, but if there is word out about how the coverage is equal or worse than ESPN was, then the network has gained an enemy in the eyes of the hockey public. Hockey fans are a small, but powerful group. They are vengeful, vindictive bunch that will remember every screw-job that has happened along the way.

That being said-- I think that the NHL will be a good fit on OLN and OLN will treat the NHL with the utmost professional respect. This is a union that should go a long way....just so long as neither side effs it up.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Friday, August 05, 2005

What the NHL Needed

Usually in August, the NHL takes a back seat. By this time, all the key free agents are swept up by the big money teams and all we're waiting for now is just for the training camps to start and then the season. This year, however, is the bizzaro-world of the NHL Free Agency period. We're not even a week into the new Cap-Era of the NHL Free Agency and the teams who could compete for the big name players are now signing them at bargain basement prices.

For instance, the Nashville Predators signed Paul Kariya to a two-year deal. A name like this that some people in Nashville could recognize will be on their team and in the building for two-years, something that after the lockout-- what the Nashville fans need.

Another one is a team like the Blue Jackets getting some defensive talent out the wazzo. Big time guys like Adam Foote and Bryan Berard join a squad who has been dismal at best on the blue line. Couple that with Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev up front; they could be a team that could make a boat load of noise in the West.

Only in the new Cap NHL will the Penguins, with Sidney Crosby, be able to pull players like Sergei Gonchar and possibly Curtis Joseph into the Steel City, when a couple of years ago that thought would be laughed at and mocked.

The Flames getting Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty, the Oilers getting Chris Pronger and Michael Peca, the Kings getting Pavol Demitra and Jeremy Roenick, the Flyers throwing caution to the wind and signing Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher, and Mike Rathje, and the often closed-wallet of Bill Wirtz's Chicago Blackhawks getting players like Martin Lapointe, Adrian Aucoin, and Stanley Cup winning goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin-- a goalie who won't get injured at the sight of a goal crease....that's right, I'm talking to you Jocelyn Thibault.

All of this is just a brief glimpse into how the "good" came out of this new CBA. With the ability of the smaller market teams to be on a level financial ground as the bigger market teams, the parity of the NHL as a whole will be even better than before. This whole deal will make players who probably wouldn't even look at a small market as an option, realize that it could be the best choice for them in the grand scheme of things.

The excitement carries onto the fans as well. I've been getting emails from fans about where could the next player be going and how their team will look in the future when the puck actually drops. I've seen people post on message boards about how excited they are that their team is getting some big players on the roster. Heck, even people whose favorite team is losing some big players are excited to see how the season pans out because of these wholesale changes that the new CBA is making.

You can nitpick through the CBA and see what kind of damage it could do and you could speculate on how the CBA will have loopholes and all that jazz; but that's life. There's always going to be loopholes in everything.

What people need to do now is to look at the NHL and realize now that this is the time for the rejuvenation of the league. The playing field is level and everyone will have a shot now instead of writing their team off in the pre-season. The fact of the matter is that people are buzzing, people are excitied, people are ready for the new NHL and what it could become starting now and going for the next few years. It's time to tie the laces tight, tie the jersey down, and time to drop the puck.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!