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, 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.