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.