Monday, December 29, 2008

Claude Lemieaux signs NHL deal with the Sharks

Interesting. The idea has been written about before... in Michael Farber's Sports Illustrated piece "Claude Lemieux Comes to Worcester" and now Lemieux has signed a two-way NHL contract with the Sharks, as reported in this Yahoo! Sports article.

This doesn't mean that he'll be skating on the ice Wednesday against the Minnesota Wild, but it's still very interesting.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

World Junior Hockey Tournament in Ottawa

The annual World Juniors kicked off Dec 26 in Ottawa and features most of the best under-20 hockey players in the world... the exception being those teens already in the NHL whose teams won't release them to play.

Team Canada has won the championship four years in a row and as would be expected, is one of the favorites this year... with the U.S., Sweden and Russia also being viewed as contenders.

There's fairly significant televison coverage in the U.S. provided by the NHL Network with the broadcast schedule posted here (Sunday 12/28 linked). In terms of web coverage, TSN out of Canada has tons of information available online at their opening page on the tournament and then linked pages such as the schedule and video on demand.

Another page off the TSN site, though, illustrates what makes this such a compelling event... the chance to watch some of the future stars of the NHL. Linked here is a listing of the year by year tournament all-star selections. It's quite a list and features from just the last four years current NHL stars like Drew Doughty of the Kings (2008), Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks (2007), Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins (2006) and oh yeah... Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals (2005).

Pretty good company for the players who will emerge as the best from Ottawa over the next week and a half.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Projected (Well, Hoped For) 2009 NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs

Ok, I made reference to it in my prior post, but wanted to devote more space and an entire blog entry about how fantastically fantastical the Eastern Conference playoffs could be this year.

I still think the best two teams in the league are San Jose and Detroit (in some order thereof) from the West, but the greater top level depth and much greater tradition and storylines lie in the East.

Thinking about what we could (keep in mind this is a Christmas list) have in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, let's start with where the standing are at as of today, Dec 23.

1. Boston Bruins *
2. New York Rangers *
3. Washington Capitals *
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. Montreal Canadiens
6. New Jersey Devils
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
8. Buffalo Sabres

Good and compelling teams all, but let's imagine for a moment that the current 11th place Toronto Maple Leafs goes on a hot streak and displaces the Sabres (who currently are 3 points up on Toronto). Then, let's imagine the standing shuffling up a bit and giving us the following playoff matchups...

First Round
1 vs 8: Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs - I know it's a pipe dream for the Leafs to make it, but how cool of a matchup would this be?
2 vs 7: Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Rangers - Rough much?
3 vs 6: Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins - Alexander Ovechkin v Sidney Crosby. Fun.
4 vs 5: Boston Bruins vs New Jersey Devils - With Martin Brodeur benched in favor of Scott Clemmensen. Brodeur then starts affair with hot arena usher.

Second Round
Philadelphia Flyers vs Pittsburgh Penguins - Battle of Pennsylvania reprised.
Boston Bruins vs Montreal Canadiens - Just a battle.

Third Round
Boston Bruins vs Philadelphia Flyers - Bs vs the Bullies. Put on the foil.

Dec 23 Power Rankings

Well... we don't have the weekly rankings from Allan Muir at CNNSI yet, but Ross McKeon at Yahoo! Sports has given us his top 30 list as of Tuesday Dec 30.

A review of McKeon's rankings:
1. Boston Bruins
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. New York Rangers

Well, hard to argue with any of this. The Sharks are still an extremely formidable team, but did get handed a 6-0 blanking at the hands of the Red Wings last week. My thoughts (not counting that I'm ok with San Jose being pushed to 3rd on the list)...

(1) At various points the rest of the reason you'll see the Bruins, Red Wings, Sharks, Flyers and Penguins in the top spot.

(2) Things appear to be setting up for a San Jose-Detroit battle royale in the West (and wouldn't that be fun if Claude Lemieux currently of the Worcester Sharks skated in it?).

(3) That the Eastern Conference playoffs are going to be must-see tv throughout. In this vein, I think a follow-up post is called for...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008-2009 San Jose Sharks: 50 Ways to Win a Game

With yet another victory last night (this one a 3-2 shootout win over the up and coming LA Kings), the San Jose Sharks move to a league best 25-3-2 record.

While this record nets the Sharks the # spot (and justifiably so) in both the Ross McKeon Yahoo! Sports NHL Power Rankings and that from Allan Muir at CNNSI, what's encouraging to me isn't the win-loss record or how experts stack the Sharks up against the rest of the league, but the way the Sharks have gone about winning games.

You gotta keep in mind that wins at this point of the season get lost forever if there's a playoff flameout, but that wins now can also turn out to be very important come playoff time. The two things that can cause these wins to matter are (1) overall team confidence and (2) team confidence in a variety of situations.

Overall team confidence: The last few seasons have shown that whatever team ultimately wins the Stanley Cup for a given season usually started fast. Early season wins can help a team establish a baseline level of confidence so they can weather a tough midseason run (as the Detroit Red Wings had last Jan/Feb), and come out of it still believing in themselves.

Team confidence in a variety of situations: This gets at the part of the Sharks early season success that makes me most excited... they seem to win in all types of situations. This month alone, they've had...

A. Wins in which their skating was matched (12/4 vs the Columbus Blue Jackets)
B. Wins in which their hard work was matched (12/13 vs the St Louis Blues) and
C. Wins in which they had to muck and grind (12/11 vs the Anaheim Ducks)

Throw in a game in which they took an early lead and cruised to victory (12/2 vs the Toronto Maple Leafs), one in which they were down 2-0 and still won (12/15 vs the LA Kings) and one in which they dominated the shot count and lost in OT (12/6 vs the Edmonton Oilers) and you've got a 5-0-1 record month to date.

Not bad results at all, but again... the great thing to me is that they're getting the wins a variety of different ways, which is what the best teams do in the playoffs. Proof will of course be in the pudding, but me thinks it's a good precursor of things to come. I hope, I hope, I hope.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Brett Leonhardt: Caps Web Producer & Backup Goalie Extraordinaire

Man, such a great story out of Washington last week. While it sure would be fun for me if the Sharks won the Stanley Cup or I got free season tickets for life, I'd have to say that would pale in comparison to the experience Washington Capitals web producer Brett Leonhardt had last week.



Leonhardt played goal in college and has since been working in the Caps organization and occasionally filling in at practice when the teams wants to let one of it's two goalies rest.

So... while it wasn't COMPLETELY out of the blue, it must have been a huge shock to him when Leonhardt was told that he would be dressing as backup goalie for a home game against the Ottawa Senators. The details behind this are that Jose Theodore got hurt and minor league goalie Simeon Varlamov wouldn't arrive by the start of the game to serve as backup to Brent Johnson. As a result, Leonhardt took warmup and sat on the bench until Varlamov showed up halfway through the first to take his spot as backup.

Such great stuff. Additional info on this can be found in the ESPN website story (from which the picture of Leonhardt is taken), Caps message board writeup, or USA Today interview with Leonhardt.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

NHL Teams: Who I Like

Given that there's no judgements quite like snap ones, here's my haiku-formatted quick thoughts on each NHL team:

Western Conference
* in no particular order within each category

Teams I like:
- San Jose Sharks: Local team. Fun to watch. Good guys. Need to win in playoffs.

Teams I kinda like:
- Detroit Red Wings: Very good team. Respect them.
- LA Kings: Up and coming team.
- Phoenix Coyotes: Up and coming team.
- Chicago Blackhawks: Great logo and jerseys. Very up and coming.

Teams I don't like:
- Calgary Flames: Dirty team.
- Anaheim Ducks: Good team. Dirty team.
- Dallas Stars: Should be good, but aren't. Like Modano. Don't like Turco. Don't like Ott.

The rest:
- Minnesota Wild: Good, not good enough.
- Colorado Avalanche: Ok, not good enough.
- Vancouver Canucks: Cool secondary logo with the stick. Dirty against Nashville Predators.
- Nashville Predators: Ok, not good enough. Should move to Canada.
- Edmonton Oilers: Ok, not good enough.
- St Louis: Ok, not good enough.
- Columbus: Good, not good enough.

Eastern Conference

Teams I like:
- Boston Bruins: Great jerseys. Great player in Lucic, Immensely fun goalie to watch in Thomas.
- New York Rangers: History. Great jerseys. Cool goalie.
- Montreal Canadiens: Huge history. Fast. Good goalie.
- Philadelphia Flyers: Goons, but way fun to watch.
- Washington Capitals: Ovechkin. Fast. Fun.
- Toronto Maple Leafs: The fans care.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: Great players.

The rest:
- New Jersey Devils: Strike me as boring.
- Atlanta Thrashers: Should move to a better market... or fold.
- Tampa Bay Lightning: Crazy ownership.
- Florida Panthers: See Thrashers, Atlanta.
- New York Islanders: Ok, not good enough.
- Carolina Hurricanes: See Panthers, Florida.
- Buffalo Sabres: Could like. They need to keep their players.
- Ottawa Senators: Downward slope team.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So THAT'S Where McLaren Is

I had known about Kyle McLaren's demotion to the minor leagues for salary cap reasons, but found it really interesting to read this Yahoo! Sports article on his time with the Worcester Sharks.

Not to overstate things, but it's nice to read about the professional approach that McLaren has taken to things and his efforts to make the best of the situation. Can't expect that every other NHL player would go down the same path...

Monday, December 8, 2008

NHL 3rd Jerseys: Ranked 1-19 by CNNSI

From last week, http://www.cnnsi.com/ has put together a photo gallery of all 19 NHL 3rd jerseys. Granted, the jerseys are put out there for the purpose of selling more merchandise, but there certainly are some cool ones.

My favorites (with CNNSI ranking) below:

Pittsburgh Penguins (CNNSI ranking: 1) - Has the elements I love in any jersey... the shoulder pads, the arm bars, the lace in front. Classic look with visually arresting colors in the power blue combined with the Pens (mostly dark) logo.



St Louis Blues (CNNSI ranking: 2) - Solid. None of those vertical stripes that I hate on so many jerseys (home, away and 3rd) out there now.



Edmonton Oilers (CNNSI ranking: 6) - Returning to that from the glory years... I like it.



San Jose Sharks (CNNSI ranking: 9) - Solid. Nothing amazing, but I think a huge step up from the current home and away jerseys.



Philadelphia Flyers (CNNSI ranking: 3) - Strange, but retro cool. Maybe there's a parallel to how I view the Bullies... thuggish, but deliciously fun to watch.



After the Sharks 3rd jersey (again, which came in at #9 in the CNNSI rankings)... I gotta say, there's some pretty boring (Dallas) and lame ones (Ottawa, LA, Tampa Bay).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

San Jose Home Ice Advantage

Not that I make it a practice to complain about any advantage the Sharks receive, but there's an odd thing I've noticed with the travel schedules of some of the teams who have visited San Jose so far this season.

To wit... there seems to be a disproportionate number of games against teams that have to play one night in Southern California (often against the physical... i.e. dirty Anaheim Ducks), then fly into Oakland (love those airport curfews) and bus down to San Jose.

So... it's 3:00 in the morning, boys! Welcome to your hotel in the beautiful South Bay. Try to get your rest... you've got a game to play tonight against the first place Sharks!

Detroit Red Wings
Wed Oct 29 - at Anaheim
Thurs Oct 30 - at San Jose

St Louis Blues
Wed Nov 5 - at Anaheim
Thurs Nov 6- at San Jose

Dallas Stars
Fri Nov 7 - at Anaheim
Sat Nov 8 - at San Jose

Toronto Maple Leafs
Mon Dec 1 - at LA
Mon Dec 2 - at San Jose

Perhaps four of of thirteen home games doesn't signify an huge trend, but it's still interesting to me that the league would schedule in this fashion.

I didn't say surprising as this is the same league that thinks that the game benefits with Versus rather than ESPN and Nashville rather than anywhere in Canada. I also don't think there a grand conspiracy, but rather just assume the league office isn't thinking about this at all.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

NFL Writing by Peter King

I know it's a definite departure from the hockey subject matter I've written about on this blog, but the recent Sports Illustrated article "What The 'backer Sees" is good enough for me to deviate from the past and include here.

Written by Peter King (he of the "Monday Morning Quarterback" columns on www.cnnsi.com), it's an extremely interesting look at how Tampa Bay Buccaneers all-pro linebacker Derrick Brooks approaches his matchups in each game and the amount of study he puts in. As a professional hobby of sorts, Brooks actually scouts college players who he would likely be going up against several years down the line.

Fascinating topic and features very detailed and insightful writing by King.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sharks Shot Differentials with >1 Goal Lead

Interesting question raised below about how a >1 goal lead impacts shots on goal...

-----

Alan Mello has left a new comment on your post "San Jose Sharks Team: Nov 14 Point in Time":

Thinking about your post and reflecting on my experiences with the Sharks, something came to mind. I remember many Sharks games where the Sharks were badly beaten (think Penguins in the 90's), yet the Sharks outshot their opponent.

I wonder if the "New NHL" has changed this. In the old days of clutching and grabbing, when you had a lead, you could just clamp down, not worry about scoring again, and just limit the opponent to long shots.

But in the "New NHL" where "no lead is safe", the strategy may be different. Since, in most of the old games that I was refering to, the Sharks were behind by more than a goal in the first period, I wonder what the stats would look like in today's world. When a team is more than a goal ahead after the first period, do they tend to outshoot their opponent?

-----

My initial reaction would be that the Sharks have done well this year precisely because they continue to at least hold their own in shot differential once they have the lead, but it's always good to examine the #s. Here's what they say...

16-3-1 record.

2 games (both wins) with a lead of >1 goal after the first period.
Average -.8 shots for the second and third periods of these two games.
Average +.5 goals for the second and third periods of these two games.
Conclusion... took a big lead early and then held their own for the wins.

6 games (both wins) with a lead of >1 goal after the second period.
Average -3.5 shots for the third period of these six games.
Average +.2 goals for the third period of these six games.
Conclusion... big lead after two and then held their own for the wins, but the comment about the trailing team having more shots does seem to hold true.

Interesting... not statistically "the whole story", but interesting.

Dallas Stars Hockey: Yikes

Team Captain Brenden Morrow out for the season. Stick a fork in and turn them over... they're done.

Or, will Sean Avery assume the leadership mantle? Yea... about that. I don't think Mike Modano will be nominating him to wear the C in Morrow's absence.

Friday, November 14, 2008

San Jose Sharks Team: Nov 14 Point in Time

Sakes alive. I knew that the Sharks looked good thus far this season and wrote in my post a few days ago the team shots and goals stats, but they've gone and outdone themselves the last two games.

This team that as of the aforementioned two games ago was leading the league in both most shots for and fewest shots against put up the following #s against Nashville and then Calgary.

Shots For/Against: 57-29
Shots For/Against: 46-24

Even more interesting was how the Sharks started the game. The following is just the aggregate first and second periods from each game:

Shots For/Against: 43-18
Shots For/Against: 35-13

That the Nashville game wound up as an OTL loss (with the Calgary game a 6-1 victory) seems secondary to the shot totals and the way the Sharks are playing right now... keeping in mind of course that when the playoffs start, shot totals are NOT secondary to wins and losses.

With two lines scoring in bunches and the defense firing the puck at the net, the offense appears to be tuned up well and as for the D... the player who seems to have done the worst as a regular skater is Douglas Murray, and I'd say he's played pretty well.

Again, this is all preparation for the playoffs, but at this point I don't think there could be a realistic wish for the team to be playing much better.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sharks Shot & Goal Differentials

Shots on goal... what they tell you about a game is an interesting question.

I've been told by a fellow Sharks fan that they don't really tell you a lot... the logic behind this would be that if a team in losing in the 3rd, they'll likely have a lot of shots, but... still wind up with the loss.

While this made sense to me for 3rd period shot differential, I became interested in digging into the #s to see what they would say... and here it is (through 16 games):

13-3 W-L record
37-25
average shots for and against
3.2-2.4 average goals for and against

Impressive #s all, but here's the detail behind them.

1st Period
12-8 average shots for and against
0.8-1.0 average goals for and against

2nd Period
14-8 average shots for and against
1.3-0.5 average goals for and against

3rd Period
11-9 average shots for and against
1.1-0.9 average goals for and against

* The #s below do not include OT shots/goals, just those from the first 3 periods

If you look at these to try to tell how the Sharks are playing thus far this season, the breakdown by period seems to be as follows:

1st Period: Starting fairly well with a slight shot advantage and slight goal disadvantage.
2nd Period: Pouring it on with fairly significant advantages in both shots and goals.
3rd Period: Finishing with slight advantages in both shots and goals. This becomes impressive, though, when you consider that the #s tend to show the Sharks leading entering the 3rd... (with said consideration taking a page from said fellow Sharks fan).

So... this shows how the Sharks have played thus far. As to the question of shots as an indicator... I think they do matter quite a bit in both the 1st and 2nd periods (can't score if you don't shoot). In the 3rd period, I think good teams (i.e. those who have the lead after 2) prove themselves good by holding their own in the shot differential department.

As an aside... if someone would like the Excel file containing the raw data which went into these calculations, just let me know.

Final aside... shots for tonight's game #17 of the season were 57 for SJ and 29 for Nashville... with a final score in OT of 4-3 in favor of the Predators. Well, that's the way it goes sometimes and I feel comfortable saying that on average the Sharks will win most games they're leading in shots 43-18 after 2 periods.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Saved" by Jack Falla

This is the first time I've ever published the same post to both this and my writing blog (http://liketowritestuff.blogspot.com/), but it's also the first book I've read on hockey in years...

"Saved" by acclaimed hockey writer Jack Falla is a fictional look at a goalie in the NHL and blends in stories of family, commitment and life around a hockey tale.



While I would say that the book probably is a bit longer than need be, it did make me interested to learn about and read more from the author...

Jack Falla passed away in September 2008 at the age of 64. His career included stints writing for Sports Illustrated and more recently teaching communications at Boston University.

Some of his most well known writing was about his backyard rink in Massachusetts and can be found in his book "Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds" or in a condensed version at this link to the story "How and Why to Build a Backyard Rink". Early in 2008, Falla also came out with the book "Open Ice: Reflections & Confessions of a Hockey Lifer" discussing his life spent around the sport he loved.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Power Rankings... Once More

Well, whadda ya' know... Nov 4 came and provided us with a new President (can learn all about it here on my writing blog) AS WELL AS new team atop the NHL Power Rankings from both Scott Wraight at CNNSI and Ross McKeon at Yahoo! Sports.

Prior to going to Wraight or McKeon's listings to see who's ranked #1 (for now), here's a clue... the team name rhymes with Sparks, you know... as in America Idol winner Jordin (daughter of Phillippi) Sparks.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Let's Get it Started in Here...

Written here a few days ago was "Power Rankings Revisited"... a look how the teams I arbitrarily perceived to have the best shot at the Cup have fared in month one.

While I felt that it mattered to have a good start (or in the odd case of Anaheim, a terrible first five games followed by excellent second five), I'm now inclined to think it matters even more after reading "Down and Out: The numbers show that a weak October haunts teams that have Stanley Cup ambitions" from the Nov 3 issue of Sports Illustrated. One point made in the the article is that a fast start to the season establishes a team's confidence so that they can emerge fairly unscathed from any low ebbs that the season may provide (as happened with Detroit last spring).

Tieing this idea to the current (as of last Tuesday) Power Rankings from Scott Wraight at CNNSI and Ross McKeon at Yahoo! Sports, teams that aren't towards the top of the the rankings now may well have a tough go at getting there come next June.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Preason Rankings Revisted

Harkening back to my "Great 8: Preseason Rankings" posted just prior to the season, it's now time to revisit since we're almost a month in...

At the time of that post, I felt there were 4 Western and 4 Eastern Conference teams with legitimate shots at the Cup. Let's take a look at how these 8 teams are doing now with their current records and prospects:

Western Conference

Preseason # 1: Detroit Red Wings - 7-1-1... all is well.

Preseason # 2: San Jose Sharks - 8-2-0... need to limit the # of goal allowed, but no need to fear. The pieces are all there.

Preseaon # 2A: Dallas Stars - 3-4-2... most goals allowed in the league (15 more than the Sharks), not good.

Preason # 6: Anaheim Ducks - 5-5-0... a horrific start, but have been much better of late. On the right track.

Eastern Conference

Preason # 4: Pittsburgh Penguins - 5-3-2... not looking too hot. Have injury problems to overcome on D, but also not getting the offensive production (11 shots against the Sharks Tuesday). Scary times in Steel City.

Preason # 5: Philadelphia Flyers - 3-3-3... pretty muddling start for the Bullies. Would like for Martin Biron to revert back to the form he showed in last year's playoffs, but goalies not named Martin Brodeur can be quite the enigma.

Preason # 7: Washington Capitals - 5-3-1... Not bad, could use some more scoring from Alex Ovechkin, but should feel going knowing that he's a superstar and will come around.

Preason # 8: Montreal Canadiens - 6-1-1... Looking good. Much of their success will hinge on the continued maturation of goaltender Carey Price who looks to have a much better playoff than he did in his rookie season.

Off these 8 teams, I'd say the ones facing the steepest climb to maintain/get back to the elite Cup contender level are Dallas in the West and Philadelphia in the East. For the time being, Pittsburgh gets a bit of a pass because even though they definitely need to fix some things, they've got Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malkin.... they're good.

New Kids on the Block

This has all been about the teams that I thought in preseason had a legitimate shot at the Cup, but there's a been a few squads that look to join the group of contenders. The three with the best records are below:

New York Rangers - 9-2-1... very good hockey team. Scott Gomez and Brandon Dubinsky are playing like stars and if Wade Reddon can play D like he did a few years back, they appear to have a definite shot of coming out of the East.

Buffalo - 6-1-2... Buffalo? Really? I didn't see this one coming... won't be convinced until they can do it over a longer period of time.

Minnesota - 6-0-1... You have to respect the record achieved thus far (and without star player and trade bait Marian Gaborik), but I'm also still not convinced (though, it could be that I just find them to play kind of boring hockey and don't want to see that in the Cup Finals).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Goalie Mask Photos from CNNSI

Super cool NHL goalie mask photo feature on http://www.cnnsi.com/...

There are 52 different images (which are all worth viewing at the slide show) so I won't describe each, but I have (painstakingly) put my favorites into some (extremely arbitrary) categories and awarded winners in each:

Creature Mouth Division

Winner: Curtis Joseph



Skulls Division

Winner: Evgeni Nabokov (extra consideration given for the accompanying skeleton)



Mythical Creatures (Not Including Skull Based Dudes) Division

Winner: Marty Turco (huge extra consideration given for different home and away masks)



Pop Culture Division

Tie: Martin Gerber (Darth Vader mask discussed on Mike Chen's blog) & Peter Budaj (note Ned Flanders on the back)






Team Props Division

Tie: Tim Thomas (for having not just a unique paint job, but unique mask itself) & Mikael Tellqvist (for paying homage to the old Winnipeg Jets days before they moved to Phoenix)






Full of Himself Division

Winner: Martin Brodeur (I mean... his initials and # being that large right in front? C'mon...)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Milan Lucic Check on Mike Van Ryn

Goodness gracious... Milan Lucic of the Bruins makes quite the highlight reel hit on Mike Van Ryn. A check like this (for which he did seem to leave his feet) illustrates why Boston fans love Lucic so much. He hits, he scores, he fights... hey, he's like Cam Neely.

Bless their Bruin hearts for being smitten with someone so easy to love, but it does get at a problem that Boston seems to have... they want their players to be like someone else. It's great that Lucic has these similarities and can grow towards the level of Neely's greatness, but it's a lot of pressure to put on someone who hasn't even reached legal drinking age in the US (turned 20 on June 7).

Also, this reminds me of how Bruin fans never seemed to fully appreciate Joe Thornton when he was there. Jumbo Joe is a big guy and very talented just like Cam, but plays a completely different style of game. I think this difference, and the fact that the fans never grasped it, is part of the reason why the San Jose Sharks were fortunate enough to pluck Joe away from the B's.

Ok, all that said... Lucic is a good player now, could be a great one, and throws a very impressive hit below...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hockey Movies: "Slapshot" & "The Rocket"

Having recently watched "Slapshot" (from 1977), I felt compelled to both post a classic scene with the Hanson brothers and bring up another great movie hockey movie... one that not many people have seen.

First Hanson brothers icetime in "Slapshot"



This fun duly noted... on to a hockey movie not as well known, "The Rocket" (also know as "Maurice Richard") from 2005. It probably wouldn't be that interesting to someone who is not a hockey fan, but for someone who is... it's worth it to watch just for the reenactments of games from that era.

Additionally, that was a fascinating period of hockey featuring some interesting subplots such as the influx of French-Canadian players into the NHL.

Trailer for "The Rocket" about Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jiri Fischer Injury: Scary Stuff

Ross McKeon's Yahoo! Sports column on Jiri Fischer and what he's doing now compelled me to go out to YouTube for coverage of the game in which he had a seizure. I've seen it before, but still get choked up a bit watching it...

About a minute into the first video is when Fishcher collapses on the bench.



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Why Good Teams Fight" from SI: & How Bad Players Fight... Riley Cote vs Eric Godard

During the time I've been a Sports Illustrated reader, they've never been known for their love of hockey and I guess them having "Why Good Teams Fight" as their lead article for the NHL preview shows their feeling for the subtleties of the game.

That having been said, it is actually an interesting read with some fascinating contrasting done between the last two teams to win the Cup... Detroit who rarely fights and Anaheim who fights pretty much every game.

Also, of great entertainment value from the article is the quote (by an unnamed opponent) about Philadelphia Flyers winger/fighter Riley Cote... "(He) doesn't even realize there's a puck on the ice."

That's good stuff and below is quite the donnybrook from Tuesday with Eric Godard of the Penguins up against the aforementioned pugilist.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sports Towns: Home & Away

Given my recent football tourism to Nebraska (see: trip recap) and then Oregon (see: trip recap), I've been thinking about the notion of sports towns... both those that people are from and those that I would like to visit.

Sports Towns: Home

Let's think first about hometowns in relation to sports. In the most recent Sports Illustrated, there's a profile on Boston Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay written by Lee Jenkins. In the piece, Bay's hometown of Trail, B.C. is described as an 8,000 factory town (or at least when Bay was growing up) with more than it's fair share of athletic (see: hockey) prodigies... "at least 10 current and former NHL players" to date.

This is all conjecture of course, but I would imagine that Trail is the type of town where almost all the local kids play sports (again, likely hockey first and foremost) and then the town pays a great deal of attention as kids reach into their teens and the best players start to emerge. This type of town wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, of course, but as a dedicated hockey fan, I think it would be a lot of fun to raise a family there (keeping in mind of course the need for a touch of levity around the fact that it's still just a game).

Sports Towns: Away (Tourism)

Pretty much everything written above is about the idea of growing up in a town like Trail, but as I think of my aforementioned college football road trips, I think about the idea of a hockey road trip... one that would visit arenas in these outposts of the game.

Having visited Quebec City during Winter Carnival (but, sadly... after the Nordiques left town), I've seen the passion that people in Canada have for hockey and would love to experience it firsthand.

Might have to look at planning such a trip...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oregon football trip

No, not a hockey trip, but a pretty darn good time at the Oregon-UCLA game.

Approaching the spaceship...




Settling in post-tailgate and pre-game (well, tailgate time actually stretched into game time)...



View from the seats...



Replenishing ourselves at halftime (and a little beyond)...



The final result of our efforts... a 31-24 win over UCLA.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Undefeated San Jose Sharks

Goodness gracious, that Rob Blake is an excellent player.

Pretty solid effort by the Sharks in their season-opening win over the Anaheim Ducks. San Jose outshot them 21-3 in the 2nd period... and that tells the story of how that stanza went.

What was particularly impressive (and good to see) was new free agent pickup Rob Blake firing away from the point. Head Coach Todd McLellan repeated preached the virtues of shots from the blueline and Blake put seven on the net in the second period alone.

Very good stuff... even if (sad to say) it was all done without the just not-signed (can't say he was released as he never had a contract) Jeff Friesen.

Anaheim is a good team and every game won't go like this for the Sharks, but it was sure fun to watch.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sharks Roster Revisited: Friesen Status

I wrote yesterday on this blog of my confusion about the Sharks final roster, specifically whether Jeff Friesen is on it or not. The question to me was if the roster features the below players, wouldn't that mean that he is?

Forwards (12)
Thornton-Marleau-Setoguchi
Michalek-Cheechoo-Pavelski
Grier-Clowe-Goc
Roenick-Shelly-Plihal

Defensemen (7)
Blake-Boyle
Vlassic-Murray
Lukowich-Erhoff
... Semenov

Goalies (2)
Nabokov-Boucher

In the mix (2)
Lukas Kaspar
Jeff Friesen

Injured Reserve (doesn't count against the 23-man limit): Torrey Mitchell

My view was contradicted by a story from the Sharks website making reference to Friesen having to beat out either Kaspar or Plihal. At the time, I couldn't figure out what the competion was exactly for given the numbers.

Now, I really don't know how Friesen would NOT be on the team as in his blog, Dan Rusanowsky writes in the second section down exactly the same roster I envision above... and refers to it as being 23 guys plus one on IR.

I suppose maybe it's just as simple as Friesen is on the team (for now), but is in competition for a spot dressing for the games (given that you can't actually dress 23 players). If it's not that, than I have no idea what's going on... ;)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sharks Roster Trimmed

The much-anticipated Sharks roster move of the offseason has now taken place... Kyle McLaren has been waived.

The overriding cause behind this is his $2.5M salary cap hit and the Sharks need to get under the $56.7M league max by Wednesday afternoon. McLaren will now almost certainly move to another team, whether it be through a trade, outright waiver claim or him first getting sent down, then brought back up and claimed by another team for only half his salary (with the Sharks picking up the other half.

McLaren wasn't an elite-level defenseman with the Sharks, but he was fairly solid and his departure is a bit of a shame... but, necessary to do given the salary cap considerations. Strange how that happens in the salary cap era... you can be good enough to be on a team, if only they hadn't promised to pay you so darn much money.

With the shedding of McLaren, the Sharks not only get under the salary cap, but also get closer to the required 23-man roster limit. Still in the mix, but not yet a lock is former Shark Jeff Friesen who is with the team on a tryout.

That said, let's take a look at the current roster (without great regard for line combinations):

Forwards (12)
Thornton-Marleau-Setoguchi
Michalek-Cheechoo-Pavelski
Grier-Clowe-Goc
Roenick-Shelly-Plihal

Defensemen (7)
Blake-Boyle
Vlassic-Murray
Lukowich-Erhoff
... Semenov

Goalies (2)
Nabokov-Boucher

In the mix (2)
Lukas Kasper
Jeff Friesen

Injured Reserve (doesn't count against the 23-man limit): Torrey Mitchell

The only problem with this list is that the same article on McLaren getting waived refers to Friesen as currently being the 24th (one over the limit) guy... and on this list he's the 23rd.

So... either Mitchell and his broken leg do count against the roster limit, or I'm missing someone. Hmmm... who could it be?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Impressions from NHL Premiere Weekend

Well, I've already given my view on how the league put together this European Sojourn, so I'll focus in this post on the hockey itself...

Rangers-Lightning Games

Given that the Rangers won each contest, it's predictable that I would say they're the better team, but I was struck by a couple of things by New York (good) and Tampa Bay (bad).

New York Rangers

Man, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez sure can skate well with the puck. Particularly when they were on the Power Play, I felt like I was constantly watching last year's free agent pickups skate past people to gain the zone. It's a choice of styles as to whether teams dump and chase or try to skate into the offensive zone, and the Rangers sure have the guys to skate the puck in... at least when they're playing Tampa Bay.

Between they and new Ranger Markus Nasland (as well as Super Sophomore Brandon Dubinsky), I think there's enough scoring there, so it will be interesting to see how the defense (including highly suspect acquisition Wade Redden) fares in front of excellent netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Interesting team that Tampa. By interesting, I mean to say here not so great. They managed to get outshot 41-21 in the first game and then 39-19 in the second. If not for some excellent goaltending from first Mike Smith and then Olaf Kolzig, the games wouldn't even have been close.

The Lightning Marketing Department, though, feels Tampa fans shouldn't fear... they have the subject of the http://www.seenstamkos.com/ to lead them. Steven Stamkos may both be a good player now and turn out to be an excellent one, but I completely agree with this blog post from Mike Chen on Kukla's Korner... no need for the team to set expectations so high on a rookie. As for Stamkos' actual performance, he had at least two rookie errors in the second game... one by icing the puck on a Power Play with about 3 minutes remaining and one by taking a cheap hooking penalty down a goal with a minute to go.

Now that I've covered New York and Tampa Bay, I would like to get into the Pittsburgh-Ottawa games, but... the Sunday VS. coverage wasn't in HD so I didn't really watch. Instead of hockey, the VS. HD channel was showing coverage of the "inagural Turning Stone Championship at Atunyote Golf Club in Verona, N.Y."

Yep, quite the opening weekend for the NHL.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

2008-2009 Regular Season: Game On... sorta

Ahhh... hockey's back. Taking a cue from other league's season opening bonanzas, the NHL brought in the regular season with a bang in a manner sure to bring in the casual fan.

Well, not really...

I was able to wait on hold with Comcast and then sign up to pay $4.95/month to watch the CBC Hockey Night in Canada feed of the Rangers-Lightning game broadcast in non-HD on NHL Network.

Yes, Gary Bettman... this was much better than say, having the games broadcast on ESPN. I mean, why would you want (likely) High-Definition coverage on a network that people don't have to pay extra to get? Oh, I know... to get a few extra dollars in rights fees from a network (VS.) who doesn't even bother to show the first two games of the season.

Amazing. VS. paid for rights to the NHL and didn't even broadcast the first two games. I presume the rocket scientists at NHL HQ in New York (totally different than the NHL War Room in Toronto) would have WANTED these games on TV in the US, so I'm going to operate on the belief that VS. simply chose to air something they viewed as "better".

To see what our friends at VS. likely viewed as more important than the start of the NHL season, I went our to their website (on this note... don't go to vs.com from a work connection; rather than the network website, you'll get something a bit more... naughty).

Here's what I found at www.versus.com during the time slot of the two opening games from Europe:

Kansas at Iowa State
Navy at Air Force

I love college football as much as the next guy (and probably more than the typical hockey fan (if any of us are in fact, typical), but 2nd tier week five college football instead of the first games of the season???

Granted, VS. made I'm sure a business decision based on viewership and contracts they signed, but I'm sure the NHL knew what they might do and feel the league could have scheduled accordingly so the games would be a bigger event. Of course, this is also the league that had an overtime playoff game bumped off NBC in favor of horse racing preamble coverage.

Uhhh... yep, hockey's back. I care, but sure wish that the league office would try to get others to join me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

My "Great 8" - Preseason Rankings

Well, since power rankings seem to be all the rage, I'm going to take a stab and combine together the West and East...

* Included in () below are rankings from some national writers.
- RM: Ross McKeon - Yahoo! Sports NHL Power Rankings posted 10/3
- SW: Scott Wraight - CNNSI NHL Power Rankings posted 10/1

1. Detroit Red Wings
(RM: Detroit)
(SW: Detroit)

2. San Jose Sharks
(RM: San Jose)
(SW: Dallas)

3. Dallas Stars
(RM: Dallas)
(SW: Montreal)

4. Philadelphia Flyers
(RM: Pittsburgh)
(SW: Pittsburgh)

5. Pittsburgh Penguins
(RM: Anaheim)
(SW: San Jose)

6. Anaheim Ducks
(RM: Montreal)
(SW: New York Rangers)

7. Washington Capitals
(RM: Washington)
(SW: Philadelphia)

8. Montreal Canadiens
(RM: Philadelphia)
(SW: Anaheim)

Interesting that between the three lists, there was only one instance of a team being included in the top eight on one list (the Rangers on Scott Wraight's) and not on the other two.

I think the lesson out of this after these eight teams, there's a pretty big drop-off.

That said, these arbitrary designations are nothing if not subject to change and we will certainly see some changes to everyone's top 8 once the puck actually drops.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

NHL 2008-2009 Season: Eastern Conference Preview

Well, the current NFL season has seen a big shift in power from the AFC to the NFC... could this be repeating in the NHL with the East rising and the West falling?

Nah... I don't think so.

That said, let's take a look at the Eastern Conference (including the odds of winning the Cup, however long they may be)...

Playoff Teams

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (8-1) - Even without Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Sergei Gonchar (for 4-6 months), this is still an excellent team. One way to evaluate the potential of a team is to focus on their elite players and the Pens bring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front, Brooks Orpik on the D line and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal. Pretty good elite...

1A. Philadelphia Flyers (8-1) - An impressive team. They're sure to be just as nasty as they were last season, but another year of experience under budding star Mike Richards' belt will only make them better.

1B. Montreal Canadiens (12-1) - Les Canadiens are celebrating their 100-year anniversary this season and their rabid fan base (rabid as in dedicated, not like rabid Flyers fans who are... well, rabid) is wondering if this is the year. Well, it might be. One interesting thing to watch will be what type of season super sophomore netminder Cary Price has, especially what type of playoffs he has.

1C. Washington Capitals (12-1) - Similar to my views of the Flyers, the Caps may wind up better than anyone expects simply due to the brilliance of Alexander Ovechkin. While they might have wanted to keep Cristobal Huet in net, Jose Theodore should be a solid replacement.

5. New Jersey Devils (30-1) - Yep, they still have Martin Brodeur... not expecting much offense, though.

6. New York Rangers (30-1) - Like the Devils in terms of my expectations... good, but not great.

7. Boston Bruins (30-1) - A fascinating team to me. Maybe it's just that I really like their jerseys, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bruins surpass a lot of expectations.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (40-1) - Lotta new faces, could fail, but should be fun to watch.

Teams That Might Slide In

Buffalo Sabres

New York Islanders

Florida Panthers

Atlanta Thrashers

Carolina Hurricanes

Ottawa Senators

Don't Think So

Toronto Maple Leafs - Will be fun to follow the Toronto Press as they cover Coach Ron Wilson.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NHL 2008-2009 Season: Western Conference Preview

Okydoke... it's time. Let's start our pronosticating (with Cup winning odds) at the top...

Playoff Teams

1. Detroit Red Wings (4-1) - Start with a base recipe of the Stanley Cup Champion. Add one of the game's better forwards in Marion Hossa. Throw in a dash of depth in the form of defenseman Brad Stuart and goalie Ty Conklin. There ya' go...

Someone's got to step up to beat the champ (or knock them out of the favorites spot).

2A. San Jose Sharks (8-1) - A good team, probably a very good one. The Sharks have had the talent to compete for the Cup for a couple years now, but have actually done a few different things to try to get different playoff results. The addition of veteran blueliners Dan Boyle and Rob Blake along with former Red Wing assistant coach Todd McLellan behind the bench may not win the Sharks the Cup, but it may (and it's worth a shot).

2B. Dallas Stars (8-1) - Sorta like the Sharks, but a little different. They were a good team last year and should be improved offensively with an entire season of Brad Richards. Additionally, a solid group of young defensemen will be a year older and wiser. The Sharks likely have more talent than the Stars, but I view each team's potential as being on the same plane... high.

4. Anaheim Ducks (10-1) - Always tough, always... well, tough. The Ducks will benefit from the absence of questions about Teemu Selanne and Scott Neidermayer because... they're not absent, but losing Matthieu Schneider to salary cap considerations should hurt. Scoring will come from both the aforementioned Sellane as well as the improving Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and... the much ballyhooed Bobby Ryan.

5. Chicago Black Hawks (20-1) - The bandwagon is already getting pretty full, but I tend to agree with the opinion out there that something interesting is brewing in the Windy City. The addition of solid goaltending in the form of Cristobal Huet and flashy (maybe even really really good) defense from Brian Campbell should combine nicely with the excellent youth provided by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook. I'd be surprised if the Hawks don't make the playoffs... especially in a weak Central Division.

6A. Calgary Flames (30-1) - Well, someone's got to win the Northwest Division, right?

6B. Edmonton Oilers (30-1) - See above.

8. Phoenix Coyotes (30-1) - It's not an easy call to predict the 'Yotes will make the playoffs, but I think they're moving in a good direction. Ilya Bryzgalov will see lots and lots of shots, though, given the loss of young defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton in the Olli Jokinen trade.

Teams That Might Slide In

Minnesota Wild (40-1) - Could make the playoffs out of the very peculiar Northwest Division.

Vancouver Canucks (40-1) - See above.

Colorado Avalanche (30-1) - See above.

Teams Looking to Next Season (The One Some 380 Days Away)

LA Kings (uhh...)

Columbus Blue Jackets - See above.

Nashville Predators - See above.

St Louis Blues - See above.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hockey Night in Canada Radio Back on Sirius

It's getting close... I can both feel the season in the air and listen to that feeling on Sirius Satellite Radio. So very cool...

From www.sirius.com:

Hockey Night in Canada Radio On Hiatus until Sept. 29, 2008After a very successful first season, CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Sirius is taking a short summer break.The show will return on September 29th with all the hockey voices you love - host Jeff Marek, and his special guests Ron MacLean, Kelly Hrudey, Cassie Campbell, Craig Simpson, Scott Morrison, and of course, Don Cherry. CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio will bring you all the news from NHL training camps and explore all the intrigue of the pre-season, as we gear up for the 08-09 quest for the Stanley Cup. You'll hear more superb interviews with players, coaches, GMs, reporters, and anyone else making news in the world of hockey. That's CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio, every weekday from 4-7pm Eastern, on Sirius 122 & 97, beginning September 29th!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Departure from Hockey: Nebraska Football Trip

Straying very far from blog general topic, this post is about my trip to Lincoln, NE to watch some Hokie (Virginia Tech)-Husker college football.

Granted, I haven't made the trip to an enormous number of college football destinations, but this may have been my favorite. Let's take a look at them (in no particular order)...

University of Oregon - Having gone to grad school in Eugene and being a Duck fan, I'm extremely biased, but I'd say it's an excellent venue and city to visit for college football simply because it's so incredibly loud there. Additionally, it's a very cool stadium in an incredibly picturesque setting.

UCLA - It gets credit as a place to visit simply due to the 100,000+ the Rose Bowl (stadium, not the game) in Pasadena holds, but beyond that... it's just ok (not that much of a college atmosphere).

Pittsburgh - My least favorite college location visited. It's no fault of the Pitt Panthers, but it's just not the same experience going to see a college game in a pro stadium (and pro town for that matter). I wouldn't recommend it.

Virginia Tech - Another excellent place to go see a game. Huge stadium with a very impassioned and knowledgeable fan base. Only drawback is if the town of Blacksburg isn't in the middle of nowhere, it can at least see it from there. Probably the best travel route to take is to fly into DC and play tourist for a few days and then drive the 4 1/2 hours into town.

Fresno State - Like one of those wine descriptions you sometimes come across... "Surprisingly vibrant with ...". I certainly didn't expect a lot from the trip since you know... its Fresno, but the stadium is nice and packed full of fans that are way into their team, and were not unfriendly to the opposition fans. If in driving distance, I'd recommend a visit.

Texas A&M - Very very good. College Station is one of those quintessential college towns and it features a gynormous on-campus stadium filled with dedicated fans who cheer in unison (I don't just mean everyone cheers when the Aggies do something good, I mean large portions of the stadium do the same group cheers and songs year after year. The best part of a trip to College Station, though, is the fans... some of the nicest people you could hope to meet.

And, now...

University of Nebraska at Lincoln - We arrived into town on a Friday night, went out for food and a few drinks, and then rested up for gameday... and what a gameday it was. We had previously been told about Sidetracks as THE bar to visit and the need to arrive early. So... bright-eyed and bushy-tailed we rolled in at around 11:45AM and spent the next 5 or so hours cavorting with an amazingly friendly group of Nebraska fans who kept (A) asking if we were having fun, (B) entertaining us songs about Husker football and (C) plying us with free beer.









At this point, we had a few hours left until game time so we headed off in search of that mythical and magnificent creature, the tailgate. It was as if the Nebraska fans metaphorically said to us "rolling into our parking lot with no supplies of your own, no problem! Here's a beer". Suffice to say, we did not lack for good food, good drink or good conversation with some very good people.


From there, we went to the stadium and while it would be next to impossible to measure up to the fans outside the stadium, the venue itself came close with seats for some 85-odd thousand Big Red supporters.


Just a great place to see a game and the fans were so nice, it's almost reason enough to visit Blacksberg for the game next year to return the favor.

Monday, September 22, 2008

2008-2009 NHL Season: Sharks Training Camp

Training Camp has now been open for 4 days and it's never too early to make some bold predictions... you know, if you make enough of them, one's bound to come true.

For the time being though, I'm simply offer up a description of things of note from two of the three Sharks Training Camp open to the public scrimmages...

1. Bad: Torrey Mitchell breaking his leg. With half the players in camp being guys that won't make the roster, why couldn't it have been one of them? Well, I suppose you never want to wish harm on anyone and it wasn't one of the expected big guns. Time frame for Mitchell's expected return is mid-November.

2. Good: Patrick Marleau certainly showed some blazing speed. Adding to that, he also drives what has to be a blazing fast car.

3. Good: Jeff Friesen looked very solid out there (with an extremely nice assist in the Monday scrimmage.

4. Good: New style of play. Prior to hitting the ice for Camp, new coach (formerly of the Stanley Cup holding Detroit Red Wings) Todd McLellan preached the virtues of (A) getting the puck to the net and crashing it hard and (B) in a related story... having the D firing from the blueline.

5. Interesting: New star defenseman Dan Boyle is short (5-11 very generously) and other new star (albeit older) defenseman Rob Blake is tall (6-4).

6. Fear Inspiring: Alexei Semenov and Kyle McLaren were both on the ice. Very up in the air what their roles could be, though (which is much better than if it was known they'll both be on the team and play major minutes).

7. Funny: No rookie scuffles to witness, but several cases of veteran players (Ryane Clowe and Jeremy Roenick as examples) taking exception to rookie feistiness and subsequently dumping them on the ice... with no subsequent rookie aggression.

All this said... very glad hockey is back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nice Career Path

In the Feb 2007 issue of Esquire, Chris Jones (my favorite current writer) writes "Into the Void", a profile of the Minnesota Wild Director of Hockey Operations, Chris Snow, who moved to that post at age 25 after serving as the Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe.

Yep, from sportswriter to NHL executive at 25... pretty solid career transition.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Busy Day in San Jose

I'm having a difficult time deciding exactly how I feel about the moves made by the San Jose Sharks yesterday where first they acquired Dan Boyle from Tampa Bay and then traded Craig Rivet to Buffalo.

As writing about something often helps me gain clarity in my thinking (which may still not agree with that of others), let's take a look here at things to see if any conclusions can be drawn.

Sharks offseason... as the NHL world turns:

1. San Jose exited a disappointing 2008 playoff season knowing that their 2009 playoff campaign would likely require the services of a puck-moving defensemen very similar in ilk to Brian Campbell... an excellent player, but one who the Sharks had in the playoffs and wasn't enough to win. This doesn't put the blame of the postseason on Campbell, but merely points out that he wasn't a magic elixir.

2. Free agency started July 1 and the madness ensued. As Mike Chen details in his blog, the $s being thrown at marginal players (Jeff Finger to Toronto) was nutty, and the $ going to the good ones (Brian Campbell to Chicago) was even more off the deep end. The Sharks sat out the first day or two, and then made their first move with a one-year, $5M agreement with defenseman Rob Blake.

3. Yesterday rolled around and things really started to happen. First, the aforementioned Dan Boyle came to San Jose along with fellow blueliner Brad Lukowich in exchange for Matt Carle, former first round pick Ty Wishart and draft picks. Whilst I was happy to get Boyle based on his reputation as that much-desired puck moving defenseman, I was chagrined about both the 6 year, $40M contract Boyle comes with and the inclusion of Wishart in the package. While I think he could have cut the Sharks a bit more slack, Scott Burside of http://www.espn.com/ details the Sharks letting go of young assets in attempts to win now.

4. Thinking that the next move would be a trade for draft picks, and hoping it would be Kyle McLaren, but wondering about Milan Michalek, the Sharks then proved my guess correct with a trade of Rivet to Buffalo for two picks.

So... all is said and done, Rivet and Carle are gone and replaced by Boyle and Lukowich. Additionally, a future as well as former first round pick are gone and replaced by two second rounders.

The current NHL player switch is definitely a good one for the Sharks and in reality, the potential NHL player switch may not be a bad one. When you consider that the Sabres second round selection may not be that far off from where the Sharks would draft in the first round (hopefully), things become more palatible.

Additionally, I wouldn't be surprised to see another salary dump/draft pick acquisition with either McLaren, Michalek or even Christian Erhoff involved.

Either way, the Sharks are a better team now than they were two days ago and I've got confidence in GM Doug Wilson that he'll continue the current path of looking to win now, but will also work to keep the pipeline of draft picks and young players flowing in the future.

There... I've decided, I like the moves. So, there's that!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sharks Trade Sharks Trade

ESPN is reporting Dan Boyle is coming to the Sharks in exchange for Matt Carle and a 1st round pick... http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=3473536

Thursday, July 3, 2008

2008 NHL Free Agency: 3 Days In... Western Conference

Goodness, gracious, sakes alive there's a lot of money being thrown around out there by some extremely "optimistic" General Managers. Let's think for a second about what exactly they're being optimistic about.

Is it that players will go from decent defensemen who still get scratched in half of their playoff games (see: Fingers, Jeff in Colorado) to brilliant $3.5M/year for four years investments for desperate teams (see: Maple Leafs, Toronto)? Perhaps it's the same GMs assuming that the NHL will suddenly overtake High School Musical in popularity causing the salary cap to continue rising... and making $50+M guaranteed commitments (Brian Campbell in Chicago) make sense. Yikes, probably a bit of both... scary stuff.

Let's take a look for a second at what has transpired starting in the Western Conference. First glance will be fairly superficial in nature and then perhaps we'll revisit things in the future to look at the overall team salary expenditures (probably more specifically to look at the Sharks numbers).

Pacific Division

San Jose Sharks: They wanted Brian Campbell, they got Rob Blake. That's a pretty good way to describe things thus far. The Sharks can't be faulted for not throwing the vault at Campbell like the Blackhawks did, but it would have been nice to see them pick up one of the lesser, but still valuable free agent defensemen. That said, given the money that people like the aforementioned Jeff Fingers got (basically the same as the much more proven Craig Rivet was given a year ago by the Sharks), maybe it's good they stayed out of the fray. Adding Blake means that they're probably looking at a D rotation with the following skaters: Blake, Rivet, Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Carle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kyle McLaren & Douglas Murray. Not too bad, but would be nice to see an upgrade in McLaren's roster spot.
Offseason Grade - Incomplete/C

Anaheim Ducks: Not much doing... they resigned Corey Perry, but their big news was team captain Scott Niedermayer decided to come back for a full season. This will certainly help the Ducks, but a lot of uncertainty has come up with their owner currently barred from doing anything with the team due to SEC allegations of wrongdoing.
Offseason Grade - uhhh... C?

Dallas Stars: Their biggest offseason move was actually a trade deadline move last year when they brought in Brad Richards and the several remaining years on his contract. This was a transaction that paid off in the playoffs and should continue to do so in the future. Additionally, Dallas went out and signed free agent Sean Avery. Yep... Sean freakin' Avery. I'm not really sure how much Avery will add to Dallas, but imagine he'll be a headache on the team and cost them $16M over 4 years to boot.
Offseason Grade - B counting Richards/D with Richards a no-count

Phoenix Coyotes: Good amount of activity. Their big splash was the trade of solid young defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton for Florida Panther offensive standout Olli Jokinen. This will both greatly improve the offense (leaving holes on D, though) and add some much needed buzz to the team. However, the 'Yotes are still building and will likely only be challenging for one of the final playoff spots in the extremely competitive Western Conference.
OffSeason Grade - B-

LA Kings: Building for the future... through both the draft and trades, they're assembling quite a few solid young pieces. Question will be who the heck will lead this team, both behind the bench and in terms of any veteran leadership?
Offseason Grade - B


Central Division

Detroit Red Wings: One sentence comes to mind... the rich get richer. The Wings come off a "clearly the best team" Stanley Cup season and then add the best free agent forward in Marian Hossa. Augmenting this, they brought back trade-deadline pickup Brad Stuart and brought solid backup goalie Ty Conklin into the fold. Oh yeah... let's also make note of the fact that they got Stuart at a good value compared to some of the other D contracts handed out and kept things sane with Hossa in that it's only a one-year deal, and they'll need that money in the future to sign the even more valuable Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Offseason Grade - A+

Chicago Blackhawks: Yowzers! They started free agency with some exciting young players in Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith and have since added on Campbell and Cristobal Huet. Excellent players all, but it will be interesting to see how their financial picture looks going forward. Reason being is Duncan and the Patricks are going to have to get paid eventually and when those contracts do come up for discussion, the Hawks might not have enough left under the cap if it doesn't keep rising. Well, congratulations... you guys got Brian Campbell, now let's see if you're happy to have him for the life of the deal (and I bet you had to include a no-trade clause).
Offseason Grade: B+... for now

Columbus Blue Jackets: Who cares? Well, I'm sure people in Columbus do, but I just don't expect much of interest to come from this team anytime soon.
Offseason Grade - Irrelevant

Nashville Predators / St Louis Blues: Uhhh... see Blue Jackets comments above.


Northwest Division

Edmonton Oilers: New owner, new money... some new things goin' down. The Oilers have been extremely active in the trade market and have brought in some talent in Lubomir Visnovsky and Erik Cole.
Offseason Grade - B

Colorado Avalanche: Lost their #1 goalie in Jose Theodore and added... Darcy Tucker. Oh yeah, Joe Sakic "may" come back and Peter Forsberg... well, no idea what he'll do. Basically not sure what's going on with this team.
Offseason Grade - D-

Calgary Flames: Not much happening. They didn't have a tremendous amount of talent last season and have now basically swapped out Alex Tanguay for Michael Cammalleri. Zippidee-do dah!
Offseason Grade - D

Minnesota Wild / Vancouver Canucks: Both in danger of slipping off the map for a while. Strange division this Northwest.

Monday, June 30, 2008

One Day Till Free Agency

One day from NHL free agency and things are starting to sort themselves out a bit. Fascinating news from Tampa where former Steel City guy Ryan Malone signed a 7 year $31.5M deal with the Bolts.

What isn't terribly interesting is Malone leaving Pittsburgh, but rather him signing with Tampa a day prior to the start of free agency. One has to assume that the Lightning had at least a pretty good idea they would be able to sign him when they made a deal for exclusive negotiating rights. If Malone hadn't somehow indicated a willingness to sign with Tampa, why would they give up a draft pick in exchange for exclusive pre-July 1 negotiating rights? Shocking to think that in today's seamlessly run (note the sarcasm) NHL, such outside the rules shenanigans would take place.

Another interesting move announced today was the LA Kings trading solid defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky for not quite as flashy, but quite a bit younger Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene of the Oilers. The Kings may not (well, probably won't) be a playoff team next season, but they are assembling quite a collection of young talent for the future.

So... a few things have already happened and a few more are to come. The marquee free agents are Mats Sundin of the Leafs and Brian Campbell of the Sharks. At this point, both players appear to be on the move with the Leafs gently nudging Sundin out the door (probably the right strategy for a franchise that needs to go young, but shouldn't slap their loyal superstar by not "trying" to sign him).

Campbell is a different case in that he's talented, he's young and the Sharks woulve love to keep him. However, publically there has been strange communication out of Camp Campbell with statements to the effect of "might have to stay closer to home/Eastern Canada." My guess would be that this means Campbell has already told the Sharks he's not going to sign with them and has asked that this remain quiet while he figures out where he does want to go. While it's true that Campbell would be a very valuable piece of the puzzle in San Jose, not signing him is no disaster in that it does free up probably $7-8M a year over five or so years. This is the type of money that can be used elsewhere... not necessarily for a Brian Campbell (not many of those out there), but for a different D-man, perhaps a Wade Redden, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit or Brooks Orpik.

On a different note, here's to hoping that one hypothetical player move doesn't happen... Patrick Marleau out of San Jose. Marleau's no-trade clause kicks in July 1, but he proved his toughness in the playoffs last year and at $6M/season for the next two years, isn't due crazy $ for a center (much more valuable than a comparably talented wing) of his ilk. If the Sharks got sufficient value for a Milan Michalek, I'd be fine with a move there, but I just don't see the return on Marleau being high enough to let him go.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fan Post-mortem: Western Conference

Previously looked at was the perspective that fans of Eastern Conference teams "should" take when looking back on the 2007-2008 season played by their valiant (or sometimes not so valiant) warriors. Now... on to the Western Conference:

Detroit Red Wings - first place in the regular season, won the Stanley Cup. Yep... me thinks Red Wings fans should feel pretty good. Additionally, next year should bring good tidings as well. I don't see any way the Wings will suffer a steep post-Cup drop-off the likes of which befell Carolina and Tampa Bay. Messers Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Rafalski are simply too talented.

San Jose Sharks - second place in the regular season, eliminated in the 2nd round by Dallas. This is an easy one... fans (myself being one) should feel very disappointed, but also have hope for the future with the recent change in leadership (yes, Ron Wilson... the coach is supposed to lead the team). How the Sharks will perform come clutch time next playoffs is to be determined, but a talented roster (which the Sharks have) is always going to provide a good base.

Minnesota Wild - third place in the regular season, eliminated in the 1st round by Colorado. Not really sure what Wild fans should think. They certainly have a serviceable team, but it's not certain the talent level is on par with the better Western Conference teams. That said, probably shouldn't be too happy with a 1st round elimination after winning the division.

Anaheim Ducks - fourth place in the regular season, eliminated in the 1st round by Dallas. True, they weren't as good of a team as the one that won the Stanley Cup a year ago, but a 1st round defeat (at the hands of a division rival no less) should leave a sour taste in the mouth for Ducks fans. Additionally, next season's Ducks have a large amount of uncertainly in the names of Selanne, Teemu and Niedermayer, Scott.

Dallas Stars - fifth place in the regular season, eliminated in the 3rd round by Detroit. Stars fans should be beside themselves with joy (well, maybe that's a bit overstated, but they should be happy) at the play of their team. A run all the way to the conference finals provided the excitement and now the idea of a full season with Brad Richards on the same team as budding superstar Brenden Morrow should provide the anticipation.

Colorado Avalanche - sixth place in the regular season, eliminated in the 2nd round by Detroit. A peculiar season for the Avs. They struggled mightily at times in the regular season and then loaded for bear with the trade deadline additions of Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg. Injury troubles then followed them through the playoffs where they did manage to win a series before running into the Red Wings juggernaut. Finally, the Avs fired their coach after all this and replaced him with a previously fired coach. This was a strange team which had a strange season.

Calgary Flames - seventh place in the regular season, eliminated in the 1st round by San Jose. Flames faithful should view this as a "decent" season. They got superstar-level play from Captain Jarome Iginla, pretty good play from sometimes superstar Mikka Kiprusoff and not a lot else. All in all, the Flames probably got as far as they could with the roster, but fans probably shouldn't expect much else unless personnel changes are made.

Nashville Predators - either place in the regular season, eliminated in the 1st round by Detroit. Fans in hockey-hotbed (not really) Nashville should be delirious over the play of their team. After having the prior year's roster gutted, the remaining players stepped up and led the team not only to the playoffs, but to their eventual status as "team that gave the Red Wings the most trouble."

So... of the 8 playoff teams in the East, fans of 6 should feel good about the season gone by. Comparatively, only 3 of the Western Conference teams should feel that good. It could be that the Western Conference has better teams, and resulting higher expectations, but regardless of the cause, the result is interesting.

Remaining out of the playoffs Western Conference standings:

9. Edmonton
10. Chicago
11. Vancouver
12. Phoenix
13. Columbus
14. St Louis
15. Los Angeles

Of these teams, one story does jump out... Blackhawks fans should be thrilled with their 10th place conference finish and knowledge that they are very much on the right track to becoming a contending team again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sharks Have a Coach

The San Jose Sharks announced that they will announce tomorrow (??) Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Todd McLellen as their new head coach.

Without knowing much about McLellen himself (but, then I'm not exactly golfing buddies with many potential coaching hires), I'm excited about him getting the job. Let's look for a minute at a decision tree of sorts leading to McLellen...

Decision one - retain or dismiss Ron Wilson: Thank you, Doug Wilson... I would have liked to have seen Wilson let go after the playoff loss to the Red Wings a year ago, but after the defeat at the hand of the Stars, it was definitely time for a change. The question for many around replacing Wilson was who you would hire instead, but me thinks that wasn't as important as simply the need for a change.

Decision two - Go with NHL head coaching experience or a first-timer: There was no shortage of candidates out there who had coached previously... some as recently as this season. The names John Tortorella, Joel Quinville and Pat Burns were bandied about as potential hires, but additionally there were coaches with minor league experience like Kevin Dineen and John Anderson that some viewed as ready for the big time. I've been partial to the idea of a first-time coach not because of an aversion to NHL experience, but because each of the experienced candidates would come with some known flaws. Someone unknown to the general public could of course have shortcomings, but there's something to be said for a completely fresh slate.

Decision three - If you assume that the hire will be someone unknown, then it's simply a matter of the decision gets made and we now see what the results will be. No idea what the Sharks will be like under McLellen, but I can say this... it will be fun to see.