Wednesday, May 31, 2006

End of the Power Brokers

In my head, I had a long, drawn out, probably nonsensical ranting and raving about the hiring of somewhat unknowns to the GM positions. Luckily for me...and for you, our good buddy James Mirtle pretty much did it for me in a clear, concise way so you don't have to try and translate my jibber-jabber.

Pretty much to add to what Mirts said, when you look up and down the NHL GM ranks, the real big "power" brokers are really Glen Sather and Ken Holland. These guys were the ones who always got the checkbook out for whomever was on the market. Pierre Lacroix was another guy who would make the most surprising moves on deadline day and in the free agent pool in the summer. With his departure, you wonder how long it will be before all the big money GMs are gone.

Yet it's all about the evolution of the game. It started with the salary cap and the rules, but you could almost see someone like Lacroix seeing the writing on the wall when the limit wallet to go on. Not that it's a bad thing, of course, you'll have more guys looking out for not only what's good for the product on the ice, but also the final product on the spreadsheet.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Reshuffling the Deck

Shockingly enough, I was thinking about this last night whilst flipping through the late-night television selections. We have also talked about it on our show here and there with Sean-O bringing it up even more recently. It took to a head today, when on the The Score's "The Spin" mentioned it, though it was a little backasswards. You see, Steve Kouleas, Steve Ludzik, and Mark Osborne were talking about if Canada is ready to have a 7th team in the league. I like to take that one step further.

You see, Sean had mentioned in the recent past that teams should have to play their way out of their division to get the Conference Finals. Even earlier on, Sean had mentioned that all the Canadian teams should be grouped into one division to have a chance to be in the Conference Finals each year. For this to become a reality, a lot will happen. First, one team would have to move to Canada, probably Winnipeg or Quebec City. Secondly, the elimination of two teams would need to be done in order to get a four-division, 7-teams-per-division format.

Now, it's a pipe dream, but I'd like to see that happen. It's pretty useless to have the six division format, especially after years of the Southeastern Conference struggles to stay above water. The four division format would take the top four teams in each division, which would be eight teams in like usual. That way, a team has to actually win their division in order to get into the Conference Finals instead of winning it in the regular season. Plus, equal representation from all divisions, which could present a problem in the current conditions if some teams don't get better. In the end, the best teams from each division will play at the final four.

Maybe I'm just all about the old times when I first got into hockey when there were the Patrick, Adams, Smythe, and Norris Divisions. The winners of each division would go on to battle for the Clarence Campbell Conference or the Prince of Wales Conference titles. The game today is great and there's plenty of talent, but there's a time when you step back and see if there's something better you can think of. Personally, if the division play is so important in the NHL nowadays, why not make the playoffs a divisional battle like they want to make the regular season?? There's definitely much more on the line and the intensity would be on an extreme level.

It probably will never go to that, but I can always dream. Of course, if I wanted nostalgia, I'll put in my 1989-90 Washington Capitals "More Than A Team" video, which includes bad, bad karaoke from the Washington Capitals.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The System Works

If the final four teams aren't a reason to see how the new rules and financial state of the league is working, then it's the fans of the Edmonton Oilers that should be a real eye-opener. When you hear about the parties on Whyte Avenue, it's not because they are trying to re-create the Red Mile from Calgary's 2004 Cup run, it's because they know if they can't win it this year, they have as good of a chance next season.

In year's past, many teams, the Oilers included, who were the "Cinderella" team often got their talent plucked the next season because of the contract demands. Now that there is a salary cap and everyone is on a level playing field, teams who couldn't compete without a cap are the deadliest teams out there. If you don't believe me, just look back in September.

I mention September because that's when The Hockey News put out their yearbook for the upcoming season. The beat writers for each team goes over the team, gives their thoughts and all the fun stuff. Just looking at the teams that make up the final four and you can see some surprises out of it and you can see some optimism coming through.

Both Anaheim (B+) and Edmonton (B-) were given high optimism. The Ducks needed Giguere to come through and be his Conn Smythe self, while the Oilers needed some help in goal to become successful. The Ducks and their goaltending was hot and cold, but it seemed like they got the right mix at the end when it was needed the most. The Oilers got Dwayne Roloson who has been keeping the Oilers in the game for the most part. Now, the Oilers have moved on and rest up for their biggest series yet.

Buffalo (C-) and Carolina (D+) were pretty much pegged dead in the water. The Sabres were said to be too young and may not be able to handle the pressure of the "new" game. Well, I don't know if the youth hurt them more than helping them, but the pressure doesn't seem to be an issue. The Canes needed some big step forwards to get them in the playoffs. With the emergence of Eric Staal, Erik Cole, and Martin Gerber, I think the Canes were a little underrated at the beginning of the year by their own beat writer.

Gary Bettman has to be happy with the game. Not only does it have more flow, but the parity even bigger than it was before. Plus, with the even ground everyone is on financially, there is only one team who's future in their city is up in the air, but that's up to the Penguins, the City of Pittsburgh, and hot, hot slots. Regardless, it seems that the year off did the game a wealth of good in the grand scheme of things.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Heading to Game Fours

Going into the Game Fours that will happen in the next two teams, it's a do or die situation for one team, and on the verge of one for another.

Let's be honest, the Ducks need to win tonight (Thursday) or else they are golfing. The speculation is that J-S Giguere will be in net starting to maybe give a little jump to the Ducks. The 2003 Conn Smythe winner hasn't been that good in the playoffs, especially without a high mobility rate. Granted, Giguere's hip and knee injury could be a hinderance, but he will need to be on his "A-Game" if he is in net.

Of course, the Oilers are in the driver's seat. Only twice before has a team lost after going up three games to none. However, the letdown that happened in Game Three could have been fatigue from the flu that was going around or it could have been a wake-up by the Ducks. Dwayne Roloson has been spectacular, but the Ducks know he's not invinsible. It's going to be up to Mike Peca and Fernando Pisani to continue to be the shining stars in this series and to help the Oilers move on and get some much needed rest.

It will take a lot to match the Game Three craziness that happened in the last ten minutes of the game, but if the Ducks can somehow win their first game in Rexall Place since 1999, they would go back home and try to somehow spark some little light of hope they have left. The Ducks have nothing else to loss, so why not try to do something amazing.

In the East, the Sabres were able to hold off an onslaught by the Hurricanes late in the third and take game three and a two games to one advantage. However, it came at a cost, as Henrik Tallinder will miss the rest of the playoffs after breaking his arm after a check by Mark Recchi. That means that Tallinder, Teppo Numminen, and Dmitri Kalinin are out of the line-up. Three top defenseman out for the Sabres, on top of Tim Connolly still being out and Adam Mair being sidelined as well. It's going to be a tough go about it, but it should show the resolve of the Sabres if they can pull out another win and put the Canes to the brink.

The Canes will need to take advantage of the injuries, but they also will have to stay out of the penalty box if they don't want to get burned. Five of the Sabres last seven goals have come with the extra man. The Canes will have to be a little more disciplined to beat the Sabres. Also, the question of whether to keep Cam Ward in net seems to be coming up in the distance. Some have suggested that putting Martin Gerber in would make some sense, just for the same of change. It's not that Ward has been bad, far from it, but if a little mixing up could get a win-- it may not be all that bad.

These teams are showing why it was going to be a close series. Every game has been determined by one goal and the trailing team has always made a surge late in the game to get some momentum going into the next game, plus to maybe even win the game in the dying minutes and second.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Kings Crown Crawford

This is what I was waiting for, folks. The LA Kings announced, officially, that Marc Crawford is the new head coach of their franchise. Of course, we all remember Crawford getting canned by the Canucks earlier in the off-season, and like predicted, it didn't take long for him to land back on his feet once again.

The one thing that will be interesting is who will be on the team for Crow to coach?? The first line of Pavol Demitra, Alexander Frolov, and Craig Conroy will be back in the fold, as will defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky, Brent Sopel, and Captain Mattias Norstrom. Jason Labarbera is the only goaltender under contract and it remains to be seen if GM Dean Lombardi will re-sign Mathieu Garon dispite his streaky season or if he'll give the reigns to Labarbera and bring up someone like Adam Hauser, Barry Brust, or even Yutaka Fukufuji from down on the farm.

I don't know what the expectations will be for Crawford, but he's a guy who can get results. He not only has a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, but he's also the youngest coach of the year and has 411 wins under his belt. If he can convince the Kings they have to play all 82 games of the season, then he should be in business to get the purple, silver, and black back into the playoff.

Luckily for Lombardi, Crawford, and the Kings, they only have $20.3M tied up in 12 players for the '06-'07 season, which could make them a big player in the free agent markets. Don't forget, also, they have some pretty good talent in the Manchester that they could bring up as well to fit into the system.

Of course, now the question is who will pick up Crawford's predecessor, Andy Murray. Murray has been moonlighting as an analyst for TSN and did color commentary for CBC when the Flames took on the Ducks in the first round. There are ample places for Murray to land, and we'll be sure to bring you some analysis when that happens.

Bolts' Richards Re-Signed

This wasn't the news I was touting yesterday, but it will work until that other thing happens. Former Conn Smythe trophy winner, Brad Richards, was re-signed by the Lightning to a 5-year, $39M contract. Coming off the Cup-winning season, Richards led the team in points last season with 91 (23g, 68a) and led the team in points in their short-lived playoff season with 8 points (3g, 5a).

This puts the Bolts in an interesting position right now. Their salary commitments for the '06-'07 season now has 13 players under the cap with a $33.9M price tag on it. That includeds Dave Andreychuk getting his contract honored by the club, plus it has Sean Burke posing as the only going right now. The team has three players making only $5M (Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Richards), which could mean that one of those guys will be on the move, or someone else on the roster will be moving.

Frankly, St. Louis is probably the prime candidate to move along. With his "affordable" contract and the fact both Richards and Lecavalier are the keystones in this Lightning team, St. Louis is probably free to move if the offer is right. However, I wouldn't count out GM Jay Feaster keeping those three and moving someone like Fredik Modin or Vaclav Prospal to not only help out their salary cap issues, but maybe to get some younger talent, not only in the deal, but also to put into the line-up from their minor league club in Springfield (MA).

It's been quite a turnabout for the Lightning. They go from Cup Champs to out in the first round in a swift five-game series. The team, as a whole, really underachieved with the new rules in place, plus it seems there could be a little shakiness when it comes to players-coach relations. There could be heat this summer in "Hockey Bay" and I don't mean from the sun beating down on the St. Pete Times Forum.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Game(s) One Revisited

Since there's not much in way of "big things" happening (officially anyway, I'll get into that more tomorrow), let's review the happenings of the Conference Finals. It's not sheek, it's been done, but I like to submit to peer pressure.

In the West, the Edmonton Oilers took it to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 3-1 on goals from Mike Peca, Ales Hemsky, and Todd Harvey "Danger." The Ducks countered with a PP goal from Andy McDonald right after Peca's goal. You could tell that the Oilers were the team in better game form. With only a day between the end of their semi's and beginning of the finals, they looked like they hadn't missed a beat. For the Ducks, they did show some signs of rink rust, but in the end, they didn't do as badly as other teams did with a long lay off (Devils and Senators take note).

There was a lot of controversy after the eventual game winner by Ales Hemsky. First, it was whether or not Hemsky's stick was above the cross-bar, but after the game, it seemed that the focus was on whether or not Jarret Stoll had come in contact with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. At the end of the second, Teemu Selanne went over to ref Paul Devorski to wonder why something wasn't called. Dwayne Roloson, master of the stall tactic, almost stuck his nose in to distract Devorski with childish least that's what was going on in my head as I saw it. Of course, Bryzgalov wasn't too upset, but that could just have been a rookie mistake on his part for not creating a fuss. He's just too cool calm and collect.

For Game Two, the Ducks will have to win to get some momentum heading into Rexall Place, an arena they haven't won a game in for seven long years. With the intensity that the Oilers fans have had, it could be the toughest place to play in this playoffs.


Out East, this series is looking like it could go all seven if they play their cards right. The Buffalo Sabres got the advantage in a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Ryan Miller and Cam Ward played pretty well for two rookies who are under the microscope. Miller is the guy who kept the Sabres in it and Ward did all he could with the help he was given. No surprise that both Daniel Briere for Buffalo and Rod Brind'Amour for Carolina were on the goal side of the score sheet, but it was a shock to everyone that Jay McKee of Buffalo and Mike Commodore (64) of Carolina was in it for their teams. This was McKee's first playoff goal since the '01 playoffs, whereas Commodore register his first career PO goal.

Eric Staal extended his point streak to 10-games, assisting on the Brind'Amour goal, but he was really roughed up. Not only did the Sabres stick a guy (and sometimes two) on him, but while down he was pushed down on the puck at the half-boards, teammate Brett Hedican was trying to dig out the puck, but whacked Staal above the eye instead. Staal was okay, but it's tough work when you don't know who your friends and enemies are.

Game Two goes on Monday, where the Hurricanes try to split one and take it into Buffalo, all the while when Buffalo is trying to extend their road winning streak to six games. Some pundits claim it was the Sabres worse game of the playoffs. If they can play their worst game, and still win-- that should be pretty scary to other teams.

So, that's that-- the first of the Game Two's get underway tonight. Like I said, something official should happen tomorrow for me to comment on. Some people may or may not know what it is, but if you do, brava; if not-- then just check in tomorrow, why don'tcha??

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The (Other) Final Four

With all of the hoopla that's going on about the NHL Conference Finals, there is one Final Four which will get going this weekend. I'm talking about the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup, the best of the best in the Major Junior ranks go head-to-head for the most coveted title in Junior Hockey. The Memorial Cup takes the three champions from the CHL leagues (Western, Ontario, and Quebec leagues), as well as the host city for a round-robin tournament for the first three games, then into the elimination rounds.

This year is the second straight year that the host of the tournament was also the champions of their league with the Moncton Wildcats taking the QMJHL crown. The Wildcats were piloted this year by former Jack Adams Award winning coach, Ted Nolan. Upfront, the Wildcats were led by Philippe Dupuis (4th Round; Columbus) and Stephane Goulet (7th Round; Edmonton). Backstopping the Wildcats has been Josh Tordjman, who has turned it on since being traded from Victoriaville in late December.

Because the host won, the Quebec Remparts were able to get into the Memorial Cup for getting to the finals. Head Coach Patrick Roy took the club from outhouse at the early going to penthouse at the end. They were led by Alexander Radulov (1st Round; Nashville), who lead the entire CHL with 152 points in 62 games. Rookie wunderkind Angelo Esposito (eligible 2007) lived up to the hype by putting up 39 goals and 98 points in his first season. After going to the Mem Cup last year with Rimouski, Cedrick Desjardins is back there again after an impressive display with Quebec.

Out of the Ontario League, the Peterborough Petes beat out the defending champion London Knights in a sweep. Dan Ryder (3rd Round; Calgary) lead the way for the Petes, while highly touted prospect, Jordon Staal (eligible 2006) put on a strong display, that raised his Draft stock. Florida Panthers' prospect David Shantz played a key role in their championship season, posting a 31-14-3 record in the regular season, while putting up a 16-3 record in the playoffs.

Out West, the Vancouver Giants swept the Moose Jaw Warriors, clearly showing their dominance in the WHL. After being returned from Columbus and an injury, Gilbert Brule put up 38 points in 27 games in the regular season, while posting 30 points in 18 playoff games. Mitch Bartley lead the team with 67 points in the season. In net, Dustin Slade was second behind Justin Pogge in goalie stats in the regular season, while collecting six shutouts in the playoffs.

If you have a chance to catch any of the games, please do so. It is hockey at it's truest form and carries a lot of intensity for plenty of kids who may or may not have a shot at the big time in the future. Going to so many WHL games this year, I have had the chance to catch great hockey and seeing some of the future stars of the game. This is where the big showcase all boils down to. Game on, boys.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Western Conference Finals: Anaheim vs. Edmonton

Here's another pair of teams that I don't think many people thought would be in the final four at the start of the season. This will be the last time the "Mighty" Ducks will be in the playoffs, and the "Mighty" will be dropped, for fear of the wrath of Eisner. The Oilers made some strategic moves in the off-season, and then during the season to get where they are today.

The Ducks could have a little rust on them with the long layoff they have had to endure, but I don't think they are sweating it too much. They have the home-ice advantage and the hottest goalie in the playoffs right now. Ilya Bryzgalov has been playing out of his mind with a 0.87 GAA and .967 Sv%. However, the rest could help the players who have some ailments like Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. The main thing for the Ducks is whether or not their young guns will take control of this series. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Joffery Lupul are showing that the future is now in Anaheim and that they could contend with the best of them for years to come. I'm sure right now, Vancouver fans are rueing the day Brian Burke was let go.

The Oilers have ousted two top seeds. First, they upset the Red Wings, then when the top-4 teams were out in the West, they took out the 5th-seeded Sharks. A lot of intangibles go the way of the Oilers. From their skill in the face-off circle with Jarret Stoll and Michael Peca to their shot blocking from everyone, the Oilers have gotten it done by hardwork. Granted the topic of the has come up more than once, but you have to do what you have to do. In order for the Oilers to really succeed is for Dwayne Roloson not to come down off the high he has been playing on. If that can happen, the Oilers will make this a rough time for the Ducks.

During the season, the Oilers rolled over the Ducks winning all four games. Yet, in the playoffs, you can pretty much throw all of that out to the curb. What's really going to matter is whether or not the Oilers will get worn down or the Ducks have rust built up. It's no rest for the weery Oilers who have to go back at it in two days time, but I'm sure they would rather that than waiting forever and a day.

It should be a good series, but as I said on the show-- I'm going with the Ducks in six games. For some reason, I don't see the Ducks really letting the pressure get to them. They are a pretty laid back team who is really confident, especially coming off a sweep of the Avalanche as they did. The Ducks have the tools to really get the job done and have outworked teams prior to this series. I don't expect this series to be any different.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ticket Restrictions

While I was on the IntoTheBoards message boards, an article from the Buffalo News was posted on there. Apparently, the Carolina Hurricanes and RBC Center are restricting the ticket sales of the Eastern Conference Finals to the states bordering North Carolina. When some Sabres fans were trying to get tickets for a voyage to North Carolina, they got this message:

"Sales to this event will be restricted to residents of bordering states," with residency based on credit-card address. "Orders by residents outside of this area will be canceled without notice and refunds given."
This kind of trend started when Ted Leonsis restricted Penguins fans buying tickets to a series against the Capitals. However, that was because of the history these two teams have and the fact that Penguins fans used to come in droves to watch these match-ups. With a rivalry like that, I can understand the reason.

Even though there is no recent memory rivalry
, I can still understand what the Hurricanes are trying to do out of this. Now, the pressure is on those fans in North Cacka-lacka (as the kids say) to swoop in and get those tickets. If the Canes restrict the sale of the tickets to those in Western New York and people don't show up, then that looks bad on the Canes. However, it could be a success if the RBC Center is rocking full of Canes supporters.

How Good is Marc Denis??

I've been trying to watch Canada's games during the World Championships as much as I can. As I've been watching these games, I've almost had to do a double take when Marc Denis is in net. Watching him play for Canada, as opposed to watching him play for Columbus is almost like night and day. There seems to be a switch that Denis has turned on to make him play outstanding while wearing the maple leaf.

It makes me wonder why Denis couldn't play this same way while with the Blue Jackets. I know this his just a short tournament, but Denis is one of the best goaltenders right now in the tournament. Denis is second in save percentage and first in GAA for all starting goalies. I'm sure Denis would love to have those numbers with Columbus.

Since getting picked up in the expansion draft, Denis has been 84-146-25 with a 3.05 GAA and .903 save%. Up until this year, it's been a tough luck time for Denis. He has been nothing short of a work horse for the Blue Jackets, but never get the recognition he deserved. It was either a lack of scoring or lack of defense, it was always something holding him back from being a top-tier goalie in the NHL. Though, the pressure could often be too much, especially when the prospect train in Columbus when it came to goaltending was never the best.

Luckily for Denis, Columbus could be the best young team out there in the NHL today. Plus, GM Doug MacLean bolstered his defense with Adam Foote and Bryan Berard for this season, which really was a weak link for the Jackets this season. Both Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev found a great scoring touch with the new rules, while Sergei Fedorov and David Vyborny have helped out with guidence. Because of all that, Denis had his best season, record-wise, going 21-25-1 with a 3.25 GAA and .900 save%.

With Marc Habscheid naming Denis the starter for the rest of the World Championships, this could be the confidence boost that Denis needs to push him over the edge and allow him to focus on being the best out there. With two World Junior Golds and a World Championship Gold (though he didn't suit up) under his belt, it could be this tournament which would be the bookmark if Denis were to break out this season.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Eastern Conference Finals: Buffalo vs. Carolina

My prediction gravy train overturned on a hill of mashed potatoes. What that means, I'm not sure-- but if you're relying on these predictions to make your bets, then you're probably out some money and for bad.

Yet, we've come to the Eastern Conference Finals. As it goes, both the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes have to wait until the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks finish their series, which will happen on Wednesday at the earliest. So, we wait, speculate, and something else that ends with "ate." However, this should be a good series with two teams who may have disposed of their opponents early, but it wasn't as easy as they would have made it look.

The Sabres played a tough series with the Ottawa Senators, where all the games were one goals games and three of the five went to overtime to decide a winner. The depth that the Sabres had in their line-up really helped the Sabres outwork, outplay, and some times out smart the Senators. The Sabres best players were always on and rarely did Ryan Miller disappoint. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were amazing, while J-P Dumont and Mike Grier chipped in their fair share of the work.

The Hurricanes made it look easy in the first game, but you could never really count the Devils out with Martin Brodeur in net. Then Eric Staal, Cory Stillman, and Rod Brind'Amour really turned it on. The Canes jumped on the Devils penalty troubles, scoring nine of their 17 goals with the extra man advantage. Cam Ward was pretty lights-out for the Canes, and bounced back real quickly from the 5-1 blow-out on Game Four.

This match-up will be full of speed, finesse, and a story of two hot goalies. Ryan Miller and Cam Ward really have nothing to lose at this point. They have exceed expectation and shouldn't put too much pressure on themselves. Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and J-P Dumont have to show up like they did against Ottawa, while Maxim Afinogenov will need to show up more prominently for the Sabres to really show off their depth. Eric Staal is on a roll and doesn't seem to be hexed in his first playoff appearance. Rod Brind'Amour, Mark Reechi, and Doug Weight have been here before and should be at their best. Let's not for get Cory Stillman, who was in this situation just a season ago.

Defensively, both the Canes and Sabres have pretty "no named" defenses. For the Sabres, Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell, and Jay McKee have really stood out for the Sabres, while on the flip side, Aaron Ward, Mike Commodore, and Bret Hedican will be at their best for the Canes. Both Lydman and Commodore are a little more seasoned with the run the Flames made last season, which could the mentality of both of them out.

Normally, I would make a prediction, but I realized I suck. The only thing I really hope for is a good series. The Sabres/Sens series would have been even better if it would have lasted longer, but I hope the Sabres and Canes are saving their best for towards the end. The rest should really help the minor injuries and all that. The East is usually known for quality Conference Finals, with three of the series going a full seven games since 2000. With these two teams being as good as they are, here's hoping for hockey fans everywhere that it does go that long.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Where To Go From Here

That's the thought on the mind of many Senators fateful (myself included) after a disappointing second round exit. After a first round where they were in the driver's seat most of the time, the Sens met their match in the Buffalo Sabres. Ryan Miller was too much in net, whereas Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were better than the best the Sens could put forth. So much for Stanley Cup favorites.

Unlike in previous seasons, goaltending wasn't really an issue. Ray Emery had an outstanding showing and kept the Sens in it for the most part. However, the offense which scored the most goals in the regular season, seemed to have gotten lost from Tampa to Ottawa. Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, and Daniel Alfredsson were invisible in the first three games, which led the Sens to a 3-0 hole.

The defense did what they could, outside of Game One. Wade Redden was the best player on the ice for the Sens when he was out there, while the youngsters in Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Meszoros almost looked lost. Add that too the poor back-checking, poor 2-on-1 coverage, plus more reasons why forwards shouldn't play the points on the power play, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

Now, with the off-season coming up, owner Eugene Melnyk and GM John Muckler will have to see what they need to do in order to have another shot at glory. However, even with the salary cap being raised, the Sens will have a lot of re-signing to do. Here's a list of who's going to be a free agent for Ottawa:

UNRESTRICTED: Zdeno Chara, Dominik Hasek, Steve Martins, Brad Norton, Brian Pothier, Wade Redden, Vaclav Varada

RESTRICTED: Tyler Arnason, Ray Emery, Brenndan Evans, Martin Havlat, Chris Kelly, Neil Komadosky, Tomas Malec, Brian McGrattan, Mike Morrison, Chris Neil, Filip Novak, Peter Schaefer, Christoph Schubert, Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Lance Ward, Greg Watson

You almost have to figure that Hasek will be gone, so Morrison and Emery will be re-signed. Havlat, Spezza, and Schaefer could be re-signed instantly, while Vermette, Schubert, Kelly, McGrattan, and Neil will get re-signed too. The big thing is what to do with Chara and Redden.

Odds are, one of them will have to go. They are both very important cogs to this team, but when you break it down, who is more important?? Chara, with his size and booming shot, is pretty much the dream of any GM who has the space for him. However, Redden and his vision of the ice, puck maneuvering, and leadership isn't someone to be taken lightly. Both are the same age and have pretty much the same experience. Right now, it's up to Muckler and Melnyk to see what they can do and who they would want as the leader heading into next season.

There will probably be an off-day to let it all soak in, but you can bet that the front office in Ottawa will be hard at work come bright and early Monday morning.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Do You Like To Watch??

Apparently, not everyone does.

The ratings are in from the US-side of the NHL story.....and if it were a horse, it would have been shot a long time ago. Not only did the final numbers come in for the first year of OLN at 0.2 (or 164,000 viewers) on average, but the early returns for the playoffs on NBC is just as pathetic. The Carolina/New Jersey game on Saturday got a 1.1 rating, while the Colorado/Anaheim game on Sunday got a 0.9 rating. To show how bad it is-- these games got beat by taped NCAA Gymnastic and a "shoot your age" golf tournament. Really-- they have those.

Even when ESPN carried the NHL, it wasn't really the biggest draw; but at least the people were able to see it. OLN has been draped in black-outs, contract controversy, and bad production value for it's first season. For one reason or another, and this could come as a shot, many Americans don't like hockey. Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi and Sun Media's Al Strachan have it pretty much down to a "T".

But why though?? USA Hockey has a record number of kids signed up for youth hockey, the talent pool coming out of the US is amazing. Yet, for one reason or another, people can't stand watching it. Is it because of the fact that the rules and everything is too hard to pick-up for casual fans?? Is it because they don't know enough about the game?? Is it because OLN's coverage has been so atrocious that they get motion sickness trying to watch?? For the playoffs, is it because all the big, "sexy" teams like the Red Wings, Flyers, and Rangers are out so early??

We'll just have to wait until it's all said and done before we really start to point fingers at what went wrong with the NHL's TV deals. One interesting point is Kevin Dupont's article about what teams would be good for the NHL's ratings with the "sexy" teams out of it. He does have a point with California being the best for the TV viewing, and with the Ducks through, the Sharks just need to beat Edmonton to assure one California team is in it.

Personally, living in Canada has really gotten me spoiled. There's hockey on almost every night, hockey is always talked about on the sports channels, and it's just a hockey nirvana for me. Living in Maryland, if you didn't have Center Ice, you either had to watch the Red Wings all the time on ESPN or deal with the Caps rebuilding. After a while, you almost get tired of it. That's what could be the problem-- people getting tired of the same old, same old-- while teams with great players aren't getting the TV time they have earned through the season.

It's just me, but if the NHL can't get back on ESPN-- it could be a long, long time before the NHL get the big ratings they want to have.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

When the Best Isn't Good Enough

When looking at all the deficited that the four teams are in (Senators, Avalanche, Oilers, and Devils), there is one big similiarity to all the teams. It's not only the fact they haven't won a game yet in their series, but their best players haven't been the best, which is resulting in their demise thus far.

For the Avalanche, when you're down 3-0 and the first goals of the series (which didn't happen until Game Three) come from Dan Hinote and Jim Dowd, there is much bigger problems than Jose Theodore letting in suspect goals while tending the net. Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, and Alex Tanguay were all huge in the first round win over the Dallas Stars, but now they are MIA. Rob Blake got the third goal of the game, but the Avs lost in OT.

The Sens did have a spirited outing in Game One's 7-6 tete-a-tet, but yet Jason Spezza, Martin Havlat, and especially Daniel Alfredsson have been relatively quiet. Alfredsson hasn't had his wits about it, it seems. Whether it's brain cramps in his own zone, giving up on cross-ice passes to him, or pinching-in on the point, leading into a shorthanded chance-- Alfie hasn't been himself. The play of the leader rubs off on the team, which is starting to show on the Sens efforts.

The EGG (Patrik Elias- Scott Gomez- Brian Gionta) line in New Jersey was the top guns in the Swamp. However, they have only one goal combined in the series versus Carolina. The defense has been strangling that line, which seems to suck the life out of the other lines, resulting in only two goals in the first two games. There's enough leadership and experience on the team to help counteract the woes, but there's only so much a team can go through before all hope is lost.

For the Oilers, you almost have to believe that the Red Wings series took more out of them than many may think. Ryan Smith, Sergei Samsonov, and Ales Hemsky have been fairly invisible, while Chris Pronger and Dwayne Roloson have been holding down the defensive end to give the team a chance. Luckily, they get to go into the Rexall Place where their fans should hopefully re-energize the team.

In the end, when the going get's tough, the tough should get going. All hope may be lost for the Avs, as only two teams ('42 Leafs and '75 Isles) have come back from an 0-3 deficit. Equally grim, only 13% of teams have come back to win after going down 0-2. Even more useless trivia, this is the first time since 1980 that all the series were at least at 2-0. The more you know....

Monday, May 08, 2006

Round Two Early Return

Since I really don't have one particular thing to write about, maybe just doing a synopsis of what's happened so far would suffice, huh??

-The schedule is all kinds of screwed up. Thanks to Dora the Explorer, the Sens/Sabres series had an extra day off, whereas there was one afternoon game on Saturday and no Hockey Night in Canada, which made many weep. Now, when there's a chance to get everyone on the same page, there's three games Monday Night. Crazy off-beat hippies.

-Speaking of the Sens/Sabres, there's almost such a thing as too much scoring. I like a nice fast-paced game as much as anyone, but when the defense on both sides were sloppy as all get out, it makes me want to puke. As a former defenseman, I was yelling at the screen and cursing out both team's defense for awful, awful plays. Maybe, they'll get their act together and actually play a complete game to see if it'll be high powered when everything is clicking.

-The Canes ravaged the Devils in a big way. Now, if they can duplicate that for Game Two, then it could be a long road for the Devils. Sadly, I don't think that's going to be the case. When Martin Brodeur scored three on himself, and the Devils give up 5 PPG, you really can't expect that to happen twice in a three day span.

-Will the Avs ever score again?? Ilya Bryzgalov has been amazing in net and showing that J-S Giguere should be looking through the Want-Ads while sitting on the bench. Amazing how a team with Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, and Alex Tanguay can not have a goal in two games to start a series.

-It's really amazing that Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo haven't been on the scoresheet more often for the Sharks. That's not to say that they are sunk without them, it's really a compliment to their depth. However, even though Patrick Marleau is shouldering the load nicely, I think they'll need to get the best out of their top two guys in order to stay alive. Especially since Dwyane Roloson has been simply superb for the Oilers and once the Oilers get a lead, they tend to....let's say....trap their opponents with some defensive tactics.

We'll see if that long layoff hangover is over for the Devils and Sens' defense. I'm sure it is, but you can never be too sure, especially come playoff time. We've seen stranger things happen in the recent past, so I wouldn't count anything out or say anything is a sure thing as of yet.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

International Incidents

While the Stanley Cup playoffs are going on in North America, the World Championships are going on in Riga, Latvia. There are some interesting stories going down there, too. Here's just some of the things you may have missed if you haven't been paying close attention (and trust me, we'll all forgive you):

-Sidney Crosby netted two goals for Canada in their first game/win over Denmark. Not to be outdone, Alex Ovechkin netted a hat trick in Russian's thumping of Kazakhstan. Alexander Semin, the other Caps Russian, also netted a hat-trick in the beating. Gotta love the youth movement heading the NHL.

-Belarus is at it again. First it was brutalizing Tommy Salo and Sweden, while today it was upsetting Slovakia 2-1. The true test for these underdogs will be the Russians, who will be their next game.

-Though both the US and Canada won their games (to Norway and Denmark respectively), the seemed a bit out of it. You can't really blame either as both are waiting for more reinforcements from the first rounders that are coming over, but it's also a cause for concern. Could the state of North American hockey really be deteriorating, or is it just a transition process from young to old?? The time will ultimately tell.

-Sadly, it seems that the Swiss are the last team not to get caught up in the Nike "swift" jersey trend. Sweden was donning their new swift jerseys on the ice Saturday. There are plenty of people who don't like them, mainly for the fact that they bring no originality to the table. It'll be interesting on what RBK rolls out, if they in fact still go full bore on the idea, in '07-'08; which is when their new "swift" jerseys are supposed to happen. I'm sure hockey traditionalist everywhere will be up in arms of it all.

For more on the IIHF World Championships, just click onto their website for more information. If you're lucky enough to get TSN either cable, dish, or stolen satellite transmissions, then they'll be playing all of Canada's games on the network at around 1 PM. I could go into how they should really not mention this as "Sidney Crosby's team", but I'll leave that for another rant at another time.

Friday, May 05, 2006

And the Award Goes To....

Since the NHL Awards Nominations came out, guys like Captain Bosh, and Bob McKenzie gave their predictions on who will win. I feel it is my duty, nay, my calling that requires me to follow suit and be the sheep that is led to slaughter.....wait a minute-- that didn't sound good at all. Well, here goes nothing:

Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable to Team)
Winner: Joe Thornton: With all do respect to Miikka Kiprusoff and Jaromir Jagr; Thornton showed how valuable to a team and the players around him he is. When he left Boston, the guys he center, Sergei Samsonov and Glen Murray, dropped off the scoring map; while when he arrived in San Jose, Jonathan Cheechoo was allowed to bloom into the start he has become to this moment. Since that's what this award is all about, you have to go with Thornton.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie)
Winner: Miikka Kiprusoff: Kipper won the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against this season, he had 10 shutouts, and was battling down the stretch. Even though you should never count out Martin Brodeur, it's time to give Kipper the nod, especially on a defense first team that the Flames have been, while the Devils start heading the fun-and-gun style.

Calder Trophy (Best Rookie)
Winner: Alex Ovechkin: Come on, this kid is the reason the NHL is looking good with their new changes. Plus, AO is the kind of kid who could change a game with a hit, shot, pass, or rush up ice. If the old adage of goals being "sexier" than assist, AO should be winning this award in a walk over Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf, both whom could have won the award if not for the two rookie classes merging together.

Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)
Winner: Nicklas Lidstrom: Lidstrom had his first 80+ point season, he had more minutes than Scott Niedermayer and Sergei Zubov, he had a better +/- than both, and played very good as a whole in his own zone. The biggest question is how Zdeno Chara was not nominated for this award.

Lester B. Pearson Award (NHLPA MVP)
Winner: Alex Ovechkin: Many players were asked this year who is the player you'd pay to see and more often than not, Ovechkin's name came up. However, if he does get beaten out, this shows you how much of an impact Ovechkin has made on his peers to be nominated for this award as a rookie in the NHL.

Jack Adams Award (Best Coach)
Winner: Lindy Ruff: Here's the longest tenured coach in the NHL at eight seasons, and then he goes off with a rag-tag bunch of grinders and scrapers to win 52 games and go into the second round in the playoffs after three seasons of not even making it to the dance. Peter Laviolette has done a bang up job in Carolina, which should be noted, but I think Ruff will outshine Laviolette.

Selke Award (Defensive Forward)
Winner: Jere Lehtinen: Though he quietly had a 30+ goal season, he's a warrior on the forecheck and defensive situations. However, this award is as wide open as anything else out there. It all depends on how the voters see the aspects of each games and then the meaning of the award.

Lady Byng Award (Most Sportsmanlike)
Winner: Pavel Datsyuk: I'm only choosing this because they are finalist and picked Datsyuk because he had less PIMs than Brad Richards and Patrick Marleau.

Of course, this is one mans opinion. If you want to voice yours, there's a thread at the Face Off Hockey Show Message Board where you can spout off like I have here. Plus, we can see Sean self-destruct when the King Clancy award is mentioned. If you want to watch the awards, they'll be taking place on June 22nd, but I don't know which stations will have the broadcast. More than likely TSN in Canada and good luck in the States, though OLN a/k/a Versus will more than likely bump Ted Nugent to broadcast them

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

First Round Review; Second Round Preview

Well, out of the four series in the East, I was right on three of the four, with Montreal being the only mark against me. I got one exacta in the Buffalo/Philly series, but off on the others. However, I did get the Montreal/Carolina games right, but didn't get the team.

So, let's see if I fare better than the first round, and maybe get some exactas.

(1) Ottawa Senators vs. (4) Buffalo Sabres: Ottawa wins in six games
This is going to be an exciting series, there's no doubt about that. These teams are very matched-up together and really should be interesting. The only thing that is different is that the Senators defense is probably better than the Sabres defense. Guys like Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden command the play and are able to be a difference maker in most games. The Sabres have a fairly young defensive crew in the likes of Brian Campbell and Henrik Tallinder could be the weakness for the Sabres in this series.

(2) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (3) New Jersey Devils: New Jersey wins in six games
Though Cam Ward really carried the Hurricanes through the first round, they didn't play a team that has the offensive prowess that the Devils have. Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta have been spectacular in the playoffs with Jamie Langenbrunner and John Madden chipping in as true role players. Rod Brind'Amour and Eric Staal will really have to step up their game like they did in the last couple of games against Montreal and they could put up a fight.


In the West, I got one game right, probably like some others did. The Sharks allowed me to not get shutout, but no exactas. This round, seeing who's playing in net, how the teams are playing and all that excuse jazz people like to use. So let's take a look at the wild, wild west.

(5) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Edmonton Oilers: San Jose wins in seven games
You can't really call the Sharks win an upset, as it is like an 8/9 game in the NCAA championship. However, Vesa Toskala was lights out in his four wins. Dwayne Roloson hasn't been too bad either, but we have yet to see the best of Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo. The Oilers will need to counter with everything including the kitchen sink. Ales Hemsky, Sergei Samsonov, and Fernando Pisani have played great, but they'll have to be better than great to get anything past Toskala.

(6) Anaheim Mighty Ducks vs. (7) Colorado Avalanche: Anaheim wins in six
The Avalanche have played great in the first round, but something tells me it's because Jose Theodore played rather craptastic. Joe Sakic, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, and Andrew Brunette were the main cogs, but if there's anything the Ducks can do, it's shut down great lines. Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald were getting back on their game in the end of the series with Calgary, while Ilya Bryzgalov has been a beast for the Ducks in net. This series will play out in the first two games.

The Conference Semifinals start on Friday and it should be a great time of year for any hockey fan. Even if your team is not in it, watch anyway, because it's usually when there are dark horses when the true stars start to shine through.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Not-So-Great Jagr-dini

John Wordock from All Things Hockey asked me to do a little something-something about Jaromir Jagr's disappearance in this playoffs. I did a little piece, but I figured I could do so much more than that to elaborate on what happened, or didn't happen, in the Rangers' first round sweep to the hands of the Devils.

I think the question that could be on everyone's mind is why would someone who had 54 goals and 123 points in the regular season would go out of their way to play a tough guy. Scott Gomez not only avoided the elbow after Jagr lost the puck, but he made a beautiful pass to Patrik Elias to allow Elias to net his second goal of the game and his sixth point. Afterwords, you see Jagr, hunched over with his left arm hanging a little lower than the maker would have meant it to be.

Jagr than missed Game Two and claimed it would take "a miracle" to get back for Game Three. Quick-- someone get the angels, he's back on the ice for not only game three, but four as well. In game three, Jagr played just over 17 minutes and was an even rating for the night. In game four, Jagr took a little bump against the boards, but it was enough to put him out of the game, and subsequently, out of the playoffs. It was Jagr's first shift of the game, so he didn't really stick around for the loss.

Amazingly enough, when I heard that Jagr did get his divine intervention and did play in game three, it made me ask myself if this was truly a miracle or a way for Jagr possibly have an excuse to give to the media if he didn't play well. Then Game Four, he pretty much phoned it in after the bump his took.

If this display is not enough to give Joe Thornton the Hart Trophy, then I don't know what it is. Sure, Jagr had gotten back to his old scoring ways and he was a great player to watch-- but I don't think he was more valuable to the Rangers than Thornton was to the Sharks. Because of Thornton's acquistion, the Sharks made a huge run to the playoffs, Jonathan Cheechoo was a 50+ goals scorer, which led to a Richard Trophy win, plus the Sharks could be a threat to anyone in this year's playoffs. Jagr......well.....he has continued to keep the mullet away for an extended period of time. Jagr didn't really make anyone better or made them a threat in the playoffs.

Jagr had a record season, and that really shouldn't be overshadowed. The problem is that he didn't really see it through. It was almost like when he didn't win the Art Ross, he just decided to give up, mainly because he didn't get what he wanted. Here's a guy, who even in short series, has had at least a point per game average after all is said and done.

In the end, there have been reports that Jaromir wants to go back to the Czech Republic after his big 77M contract expires. If this performance is any indiciation of what will happen with the rest of the contract, the Rangers may not want to pick-up his option, though they may be tempted if it gets them in the playoffs. We'll see if he was really hurt or sand-bagging it when it comes to the World Championships. We'll just have to see, but I don't think Jagr's performance will be any better as the time goes on.