Tuesday, November 29, 2005

When East Meets West

While attending a party with my wife last Saturday, of course you can expect that "Hockey Night in Canada" was on the TV. At this party was Flames TV host Alex Ruiz, who was a friend of the host of the party. We all were talking about the game and hockey as whole, fun time for all. However, one very interesting point arose. While we were chit-chatting about her show and our show-- she posed the question of what we could expect when teams in the Eastern Conference started meeting teams in the Western Conference.

As luck would have it, something exactly like that is coming up in the next few weeks here, so why the hell not talk about it, right?? Let's face it, it's a big deal since each team faces only 5 non-Conference foes a season, once at home and once on the road.

When you look at some of the Western Conference teams, you have a mixed bag. Teams like the Calgary, Minnesota, and Edmonton seem to have defensive first mentality and often win plenty of one goal games in the process. You shift over to the Eastern Conference were you have teams like Ottawa, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and NY Rangers who love to score and really don't care too much about defense, just so long as they outscore the other team in the end.

I'm sure after some of these games are actually played, we'll get a better gauge of the whole situation, but just looking at all of this on paper, I would love to see more inter-Conference match-ups. I understand that the NHL wants to build rivalries, and that's all well and good. However, when you have teams like Ottawa only visiting select cities in the West (luckily, this year it was against the Northwest Division with all the Canadian teams in it), it's slighting the areas that need it. Places like Nashville and Phoenix, who would love to see a high scoring team like Ottawa have to wait a couple years and by then, you don't know if they are going to be the same team they were this year.

Conversely, teams in the West who want to see Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin play, they'll have to wait once every three years to come by. Of course, they can see the darkhorse Dion Phaneuf a lot of times, but since Crosby and Ovechkin are hogging all the rookie headlines; they seem to forget about Phaneuf and all the good he is able to do out there on the ice. It seems to give the shaft to the Western fans, but in the end it's all about create some kind of faux rivalry that may or may not be there.

But anyway-- will the style of play be that much different?? Will the Eastern Conference teams be startled by the actual defense that is being played in the West?? Will the Western Conference teams be force to go balls-to-the-walls on offense and try to find some sort of scoring in their bag of defensive tricks??

Personally, I think in the first few minutes, it could be a chess match between the coaches. They'll feel each other out for the first 4 to 5 shifts, and from there it's all out war. The collision of the Conference should be a dandy to watch and a dandy to be a part of. I think once the NHL sees what it could actually do to the game and attendance, they may have to re-think their idea about limiting the time each Conference meets each other.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Beating Up On The Zebras

The latest trend when it comes to those out there in the NHL Media is to praise the game and tell about how great it is since it has come back from oblivion. That's good-- most of the columnist have a point about it and the game is a better for it. The speed is up, the goal production is up, attendance is up in markets where it needs to be up. However, that's just the media perspective of it. It seems some players, retired and active, don't like the new game and don't see why it is being so hyped up.

First, of course, you had the fiasco with Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn and Mighty Ducks coach Randy Carlyle who were fined for their comments. After that, you had the most penalized man in the NHL's history, Tiger Williams, complaining about how there are too many power plays and how he'd rather watch Pee-Wee hockey. Then finally, this past week, Steve Yzerman was on a tirade saying that this game isn't hockey and that the refs are calling too much.

At least they are all consistant on the fact that the refs are the ones causing the problems by calling so many penalties. However, you have to respect the fact that we're a quarter way into the season and they haven't really stopped calling, what some would call, ticky-tack calls. Plus, I can see the reason everyone is ganging up on the refs, but you also have to realize there is a "higher power" to this all.

When Stephen Walkom first came into power as the new Director of Officiating, it seems he went up to Gary Bettman and Bill Daly and ask what needed to be called and how it should be called. After he got that all straightened out, he relayed that information to his staff and told them they better do it the way they have it mapped out, or else. Of course, the refs, not wanting to get a bus ticket to ref the beer league in Churchill, Manitoba, have been calling it like they should be calling it in the first place.

Granted, I can see what all of the above and others are talking about. It seems that everyone is tenative when it comes to mixing it up in front of the net or along the boards. I can understand the defensemen and goalies when they say there needs to be something done about players in the front of the net, and if there needs to be some pushing and shoving it has to be in front of the net. That being said, the calls that the refs are making are ones that should be called regardless of how big or small it is.

The main goal in calling these penalties is to make the players learn that it's going to be body-on-body or stick-on-stick contact. No more stick-on-body contact, no more free arm gripping to get advantage, nothing. It's finally being called by the book and the refs are doing a fine job in making the calls they should be. The players are the ones that need to learn what is legal and illegal when it comes to the penalties. Sure, if they haven't learned by now, they won't learn, but in the converse to that; they shouldn't be able to bitch and complain when it comes to the calls if they have figured out what they can and cannot do.

Personally, outside of a few minor things that I have seen here and there, the NHL is better off without the clutching-and-grabbing and hooking-and-holding. It makes the game faster, it shows off the talent that these world-class players have, and it shows who should be there and who shouldn't be there. The new rules is slowing become the Darwinism of the NHL and really making it interesting when a 3rd line defense pairing is out there with a 1st line supersquad of forwards. Plus, as mentioned above-- if the players haven't learned 20 games in, they deserved to be called every single time.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

They Must Be Chopped Liver

As I was sitting up in the Saddledome press box during the pre-game skate before the Calgary Hitmen/Prince Albert Raiders game, I decided to take a look into the Hockey Now publication I picked up in the Ed Whalen Press Suite downstairs in the bowels of the 'Dome. As I was looking at the fine, fine publication, I came across something that make me more than a little disturbed.

It wasn't the fact that the "Pump" is back on RBK's new skates, but that it was just saturated with Sidney Crosby as the RBK poster boy. Then I go back and check the press release from RBK and they claim that Crosby is a "hockey hero" and will be starring in a new ad campaign. Once again, not that disturbing, but a little over the top, don't you think??

I know that Crosby does have the skill and all that jazz to be hyped, and so he should. The kid is a good player and deserves all of the hype, but of course-- if you could put me around people who have won Stanley Cups before and could either bury the biscuit or make a tape-to-tape pass while someone is standing in front of a yawning cage, then Jason Bonsignore could have been a 50+ goal scorer in his rookie year and may have actually had a career that lasted more than 79 NHL games.

I think this is all stemming from the fact a majority of the news/sports outlet are having a slurpfest with Crosby and his rookie season. They are ignoring the fact that there are several other rookies out there who could be considered better than Crosby since some don't have all the tools Crosby has around him to get him the points. Point in case, if you swapped Alexander Ovechkin with Sidney Crosby-- how many more points do you think Ovechkin would have with an actual team around him?? Do you think Crosby could get all the points he has now with no team around him?? Do you think Crosby could create plays like Ovechkin has done with the Caps this year??

It seems everyone is missing the point when it comes to the Calder Trophy. Sidney Crosby actually hasn't won it yet because it hasn't been given out. Now, the odds are in his favor because of the fact every writer that matters in the vote is buying into the hype. As sick as it is, I almost hope he flops and goes out with injury just to see if all the people covering him will follow his every move in recovery or scurry around not knowing what to do because they are so one-dimensional when it comes to the rookie race right now.

There are some rookies that most of the casual fans might not know. Here's a little list with a blurb about each one next to it:

Alexander Ovechkin: He was going to be the ROTY if there was a season last year, but he doesn't mind being passed over because that only fuels him more.

Dion Phaneuf: Since he's a defenseman, Phaneuf may not get much notice, but players on the ice are taking notice with his hits and play out on the blue line. Oh, yeah, he has 13 points this year so far.

Jeff Carter: After a slow start, Carter is showing he could be a contender in the Calder race. If he can keep pace, he should be a darkhorse in the voting.

Marek Svatos: Though he's been riddled with injury, he has proven he can hack it in the NHL. There's a chance he could dip, but will bounce back quickly.

Thomas Vanek: Though it took him a while to score a goal, the former Golden Gopher has been dishing out the pucks with the greatest of ease.

Alex Steen: Son of a former NHL, he's a rookie on the Leafs many didn't think would be the standout on the Buds rosters. He has proven his worth and gotten confiedence from Coach Quinn keeping him in the everyday lineup.

That's just a brief look at the rookies-- there's always a chance of a darkhorse coming on in the second half of the season and completely blowing away the critics and may steal the show. It has happened before and will probably happen again.

The end result on this is pretty much to say, I'm sick of it. If you want to give attention to the rookies, that's fine-- but when you give it to only one out of the plenty quality rookies out there-- it's a travesty. I'm tired of all the sports networks, sans The Score, slurping on Sidney Crosby like he's Jesus Christ on skates. For instance, Sidney Crosby scores a shootout goal with a little "kick start" move and beats Jose Theodore top-shelf. Everyone is all over his jock. However, a week earlier, Ovechkin does the same move against the Thrashers, but went ahead and put it five-hole on the back-hand, but since he plays in Washington, no one cares.

Just remember to mark November 22nd on your calendar because that's when the "super-rookies" face head-to-head for the first time this year. Then you'll get to see who's the better of the two for round one.

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

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Hall of Fame "Game"

The inductions into the Hockey Hall of Fame for the Class of '05 is over and done. Cam Neely and Valeri Kharlamov were inducted as players and Murray Costello was inducted as a builder of the game. In a class where there weren't many superstars in the mix made it a little easier for the Hall of Fame committee to make their decision. However, they should reveal in the fact they had an easy choice because the next couple of years should be an interesting time for the Hall of Fame committee and should be something that people on the streets and in the press will be debating and talking about for a long time to come.

For the Class of '06, the no-brainer choice is Patrick Roy-- statistically the best goalie in the history of the NHL. After that, it gets all foggy. Mike Ricther is eligible and probably will be a lock in the grand scheme of the game. Richter was the best goalie for USA Hockey in the past decade and ended the Rangers 54-year Stanley Cup drought. Doug Gilmour is eligible and could get in for '06 as well. His 1414 points and Stanley Cup ring will be something that could help him get in, but it's not always a lock. Just ask Glenn Anderson. Also eligible is Pavel Bure. Bure, who has been out of the game for 3 years and gets in under that loophole, could be a stretch for a first ballot Hall of Famer because of the injuries he sustained and could have to wait like Neely did.

Then we move to the Class of '07 with the "Fab Five": Al MacInnis, Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Igor Larionov and Scott Stevens. The sad part is that only four can get into the Hall at a time and one or two of these players could get the "snub", which will then get the media and die-hard supporters in the uproar. For my own opinion, I wouldn't be surprised to see Francis or Larionov get the snub. Francis, though a great player, was clumped in a group that really had plenty of depth forwards. The only thing that could save Larionov is the fact he had an outstanding International Career with CSKA Moscow, which many people have been vocal about since it is the HOCKEY Hall of Fame and not the NHL Hall of Fame.

On top of all this, you have the guys who have been eligible and haven't gotten the nod, despite the amazing careers they had. Players like Glenn Anderson, Dino Ciccarelli, Paul Henderson, Rogie Vachon, Ron Hextall, Kevin Lowe, Steve Larmer, Brian Propp, Dale Hunter, and the list goes on and on. There are so many greats who don't get the "props" they deserve and may never get those "props" until they have gone to the great rink in the sky.

Yet, that's not the only thing the HHOF has to worry about, you have International Players who never saw the NHL ice, like Kharlamov, but are more than deserving an induction into the Hall of Fame. Then, even on top of that is the uproar of allowing those from the Women's game into the Hockey Hall of Fame as some have been overlooked for their contribution to the game in the past and some who have helped to build the game to the state it is at now. I don't evny the HOF committee at all.

Of course, people have said that the Hall should expand their inductee from four to five or six in order to appease everyone. That's not always the case, because that would do a disservice to all of those who could have been the fifth or sixth entry and wouldn't have to wait longer. The number of nominee is fine and shouldn't be messed with.

The bottom line to all of this is what did the player or builder have to contribute to the game of hockey. Since it is the HOCKEY Hall of Fame, that should be the only basis to pass the first part of the unwritten test. Then you move onto how they matched up to those in their era and how they changed the face of the game. That's really all that should matter. Whether it be in the NHL, WHA, Swedish Elite League, Russian Superleague, International Play or any facet of Women's Hockey; it should be all about how you contributed to the game itself. Maybe that's one thing that the Hall of Fame committee has overlooked, but they should be looking to get the best players from all the eras and all the leagues into the Hall of Fame and not just those who excelled in the NHL.

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

More Views from the Press Box

We continue our look at the ins and outs of the press box from Ray Flowers. ~SW

OK, I broke down and did it, I had my first press box hotdog on Saturday, November 5th, 2005 when the Sharks played the Minnesota Wild (a 3-1 victory for the Wild which you can read about below). I know this might seem to be a rather strange comment to make, but haven’t you ever wondered about those spinning hotdogs at a sporting event? I know I have.

Anyway, game two of my reporting experience for Face Off Hockey Show required less antacid tablets than the first game, which was a pleasing experience, at least for me. I knew where I was going, I knew how to act, now if I can just figure out how to find a way to get my hand-held recorder to pick up the players voice in after game interviews (they talk so softly), everything will be gravy.

My first game I was ready and brought about every piece of equipment I could think of (I kind of looked like someone going on a two week trip to Hawaii, minus the flip-flops). This time I was a more experienced “traveler” and I brought my laptop, a notebook and my trusty recorder. Heck, at least I looked the part this time.

It’s a surreal experience to be a reporter at a place that I have been going to for years as a fan. I look out amongst the crowd and think to myself ‘that was me a year ago, who would of thought I would be reporting now?’ Of course, that thought passes quickly when the action starts. I do have a job to do.

I thought it might be beneficial to list some of the finer points of being a media member reporting on a Sharks event at the Tank.

1- You can wander pretty much anywhere you want within reason. I’m thinking about helping out the food workers in making some killer nachos next time I go.

2. People see you in a tie, and with something hanging from your neck (a press pass), and they think that you are the coolest person they have spoken to since they had that drug induced conversation with Abraham Lincoln in college.

3. Hey, they might serve only hotdogs and pretzels in the Press Box, but free food is free food.

4. You know how you go to a game and some crucial play goes down where you can’t tell if the puck went in the net or not? You look at the jumbotron for a replay but instead they show some guy stuffing popcorn in his mouth because they don’t want to start a riot if the referee made the wrong call. How infuriating is that! Well, in the press box you have a 27-inch TV mere feet from your seat. So now that I know whether or not the referee blew the call another problem arises. I’m a reporter and I can’t yell at him if he did blow the call, it wouldn’t be professional. Damn it.

5. How many times has your bladder told you it needed to make a pit stop, but you couldn’t leave your seat because of the game. Well, in the Press Box there are no lines to contend with so I don’t have to make an agreement with a higher power that if I can just hold out a few minutes longer I’ll name by first kid Moses.

With the frivolities out of they way I thought you might actually like to hear about what happened on the ice. If you do, please read on.


“We weren’t at 100%…we didn’t have the same zip” said coach Ron Wilson after the game. The Sharks lost on Saturday night to the Minnesota Wild 3-1 as Brian Rolston had his first hat trick since Nov. 16, 1996. It was the Sharks first loss in their last 6 games and the first career loss for goalie Nolan Schaefer (5-1) who had become the first Sharks netminder to start his career with 5 consecutive wins. After going 5-1 in their past 6 games, the Sharks pushed their record to 8-6 with 1 OT loss and solidified their position as a team to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.

However, the Sharks find themselves with a bit of a problem, though it is one that every team in the NHL would like to have. The Sharks don’t just have two superb goalies, they have three. In essence, Nolan Schaefer has helped to save the Sharks season with the injuries they have suffered in net to Evgeni Nabakov and Vesa Toskala. Besides starting his career with that amazing 5 game wining streak, Schaefer punctuated the statement that he didn’t want to be sent back to the AHL was a netminder to be reckoned with a scoreless streak of over 143 minutes, just shy of the team record held by Nabakov (145:07). With Toskala back off the IR on Saturday and Nabakov set to come off the list later this week, it would appear that Schaefer will however be sent down to the Barons of the AHL despite his heroics. The Sharks know that they have an ace up their sleeve should anything happen to their top 2 netminders the rest of the way, and it might even open up some trade possibilities come the stretch drive.

The Sharks weren’t the only team with special goaltending on Saturday as the Wild had Dwayne Roloson in net. Roloson, who splits time with Manny Fernandez in net, forms the best goaltending duo in the NHL. With a combined record of 8-6 with a 1.98 GAA and a .938 save percentage (each has played in 8 games), there is no disputing the fact that there was an embarrassment on riches in goal on display at the Tank on Saturday night.

Despite the talent in net, the Sharks felt they could solve Roloson if they followed their game plan. Unfortunately for the Sharks, they didn’t. “You have to be very patient when you play them…most of our shots were low when we should have been shooting high” said coach Wilson.

Despite the loss ending their 5 game winning streak, the Sharks took time to reflect on the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives. Here are some salvos fired by Coach Wilson on two of his other promising rookies (besides Schaefer).

On Marcel Goc who scored the Sharks only goal: “He is always on the right side of the puck.” Wilson also commented that Goc had really improved his skating and was starting to have the look of a player who would have a long and productive NHL career.

On Steve Bernier, playing in just his second NHL game: “He goes hard to the net…[he] deserves his promotion and probably deserves a longer look. For the guys who haven’t played so well it’s a wake-up call.”

So despite the lose the Sharks future looks bright in the net, and don’t forget about the youngsters up front either.

Ray Flowers, a member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR) and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA), can be reached with comments and questions at: ray@fantasyhockey.com. Don’t forget to check out his website www.fantasyhockey.com for more NHL analysis and fantasy hockey insights.