Wednesday, January 31, 2007

If I were a hockey player (which I technically am)

Well I guess I was tagged by HG, (or was it MG?), but the point is that I was tagged at some point, so, if I were a hockey player...

Team: I know readers are asking...Flames, or Oilers? The answer? Team Canada!
Uniform Number: 2, in honour of Al MacInnis, probably the Flames all time best player.
Position: I have no scoring talent, so obviously defence. Plus, what forward wears #2?
Nickname: My current hockey nickname is Viper, but all-time is Lupes. Don't ask.
Dream Linemates: Well, Al MacInnis as my D partner, Gretz, Fleury and Messier up front. Broduer or Roy in net.

Rounding out the Powerplay: Are you kidding me? That line would be on a constant PP, except for they would have to make up for me. So it would be more like we would always be down 4 men to 5. Hmm...
Job: Let everyone else do their thing.
Signature move: Chirping the crap out of the other team once a victory was assured. I'm a bad winner sometimes.
Strengths: My Lanny McDonald moustache and dashing good looks.
Weaknesses: My failing knees. I'm just like #4 Bobby Orr!

Injury problem: Everything - my knees are messed, my shoulder is currently messed, and most of the time I have some foot problem related to the fit of my skates.
Equipment: Vapor XXX skates, old worn out gloves, and the piece de pants!
Nemesis: Dominik Hasek - He got us in '98 and he's still going! He's like 80 years old for God's sake!
Scandal involvement: I won't go into it, but suffice it to say it's worse than Kristian Huselius but better than Sean Avery. Interpret that however you want.
Who I'd face in the Stanley Cup final: Well technically it would be the World Cup (Canada Cup), Olympics or World Championship finals, and we'd face the Czech Republic. Those guys are really good.
What I would do with the Stanley Cup after our victory: In the spirit of the Oiler's glory years, I'd get ripped and lose it.
Would the Media love me or hate me: The media would love me. I talk as much as Conroy and I think like Andrew Ference.

I'll tag Finny, Scarlett, the Guys at Oil Pressure. Don't ANY of you dissapoint me, I have a memory like an Elephant!

Oh, and upon request, Steal Thunder over at Completely Hammered!

Welcome Back Craigers!

2 goals, team high 4 shots, 19:21 TOI, and +2. Seems like you CAN come home again...

Monday, January 29, 2007

You can never come home again...?

Wow. I mean, we all heard the rumours about Conroy coming back to Calgary (they've been around for a solid year or so) but as with every rumour, I just tended to ignore them. I heard an interesting take on the idea of Conroy coming back last time the rumours surfaced (beginning of the season or so I think), and it came from none other than ex-Flames GM Craig Button, the man who aquired Conroy in the first place (in exchange for a still underrated Cory Stillman). I'm paraphrasing here, but he essentially said bringing Conroy back would be a mistake because players never come back the way you remember them. Conroy played a huge role on this team, and because of the 03-04 playoff run, we all remember him with a rosy glow. Conroy will be under intense and perhaps unfair scrutiny to help this team to a similar (read: better) performance again this year, especially considering this time he was shipped into a generally adept team, rather than the rebuilding years mess he was jetisoned into last time around.

There is another peculiar thing thats bothering me about this aquisition. It's not that we had to give up Lundmark and a couple of picks, Jamie just wasn't working out (as I aluded to in my Mid Term Report). Its that when Conroy's contract with the Flames expired, he (as I understand) was basically told that he was not worth the amount of pay he wanted. In the end he saw sunnier skies in L.A., got the big contract, and proceeded to have 1.5 mediocre seasons. Losing Iginla as a linemate probably didn't help Craiger's cause, but we are essentially resigning him for more money than we initially believed he was worth and giving up several draft picks to do it. And, at least statistically, he's a worse player than the one we wern't willing to resign.

If this sounds strange to you, it's because it is strange, or it's at least a poorly executed strategy.

Is Calgary a better team than we were yesterday because of this trade? Absolutely we are. But is paying $3 million for a guy who we plan on slotting in on the third line a smart long term plan, keeping in mind salary cap constraints? You tell me.


hockeygirl from Double D(ion)

metrognome from Five Hole Fanatics

Matt from Battle of Alberta
Lowetide from Lowetide

Sunday, January 28, 2007

** Fingers Crossed **

Sportsnet is reporting, according to a 'report in the Sun' that Smytty has been offered a deal between a 4-6 year deal for approximately $5 million a season. Sounds like he'll be looking it over today. $5 million is less than I would expect Smyth would sign for, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Terry Jones of the Sun

Personally, I'll hold off joy until it's been confirmed he's signed.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

This about sums it up

CBC posed this question to After Hour viewers tonight:

Did the NHL make a mistake in not reforming the
schedule for next season?
(839) 94%

(50) 6%
Total Votes:

I think that about sums up my feelings. The NHL gets a product (Crosby, Ovechkin) they market the crap out of, then they refuse to sell it to half their customers. Thats just good business sense.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Steve Yzerman to steer Team Canada in the World Championships?

Following Ron MacLean's hunch (tip?) on Coach's Corner a few weeks ago, it appears Steve Yzerman will in fact GM the team Hockey Canada is sending to the IIHF World Hockey Championships in April.

The recently-retired superstar, who is now a vice-president with the Detroit Red Wings, has had several conversations about the job with Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson. Hockey Canada wants Yzerman to do it. Yzerman, by all accounts, is extremely keen and when he returns from a ski vacation in Colorado, he and Nicholson are expected to nail down the final details and make it official...

Bob Mckenzie

I'm not sure what to think of this. On one hand, Yzerman has no experience at all in a position like this, the Hockey Canada management groups are becoming Old Boys Clubs (of course, I'm sure they were before, just not Old ex-Players Club), and it sounds like if Yzerman does a 'good job' (ie the team wins gold) he'll be put in place to manage Team Canada in Vancouver 2010.

But it sounds like Yzerman is enthusiastic, and if Yzerman holds the same level of self-expectations he had as a player, he is a lock put as much effort into this as anyone. I'm not convinced experience is a tremendous asset in this position anyway. This is a short tournament with a mix of cast-off NHLers that have never (or rarely) played together before, made up mostly of players between 20-27 years old. In other words, success tends to be a total crapshoot.

Few players hold the level of esteem Yzerman does, and you can bet anyone working or playing for him will be expected to give nothing less than %110.

And whats this? Although Gretzky hopes his Phoenix Coyotes will be in the playoffs when World Championship time comes around, his name has popped up as the lead head coach candidate. In other words, Hockey Canada is prepping Wayne to be the coach of 2010.

Gretzky is desperately hoping not to be involved in any way with the World Championship team because as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, he wants to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But it has been suggested that if Phoenix is not a playoff team, Yzerman might toy with the idea of asking Gretzky to coach the World Championship entry.

Bob Mckenzie

Again, its possibly an Old Boys Club that Hockey Canada is devloping. In 2002, many attribute Canada's success to the lack of ego and the focus on taking the best players at the time, regardless of name or past success. By positioning Gretzky to be the coach in 2010, is this philosophy truly being followed? In my opinion, bring Wayne along as an assistant, but Andy Murray or Craig MacTavish (read between the lines Oiler fans) should be the lead candidates for the head coach job.

Of course this is a lot of speculation, but I suspect that's how the situation will play out over the next few weeks, months, and maybe years.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mid Term Grades - Edmonton

Like the Flames report card, this one is based both on point production, impact to the team and expectations of performance.

Jarret Stoll - not only is he second on the Oilers in terms of points, he's arguably their best all round player. He's been physical, he's been winning faceoffs, he's been setting guys up, he's been scoring, and he's been virtually all alone.

Ryan Smyth - Smytty has been Smytty. He's the heart and soul of the team, the goal scoring leader, the guy you want on the ice in every situation. I'm sure MacT wishes he had 23 Smyths out there. Just don't expect him to be in the Oilers jersey much longer.

Ales Hemsky - while Hemsky has been in the lineup, he's done what's expected of him, using his sublime speed and skill to mesmerize opposing teams. Unfortunately right now he's playing with a hurt shoulder, and he hasn't been increasing his shot output so he's still unbelievably frustrating at times.

Fernando Pisani - Despite the huge expectations being a playoff goal scoring leader brings, Fernando has continued to do the things that made him succesful. He makes good defensive plays in both ends of the ice, he buzzes around the net, he's great on the PK (1 SHG), and his smart play has lead to a +9, the best of the team.

Jan Hejda - The most unfortunate thing about Hejda is that he wasn't pulled up from the minors earlier. He's pretty good in the defensive zone, 1-1, is pretty good in breakouts as well. Made a really nice play to pinch in from the point on his first goal in the NHL, and OT GW.

Ethan Moreau - The Oilers miss this heart and soul defensive specialist immensly. Although he sometimes reminds me of Todd Marchant in the way he squanders opportunities, no Oiler is as effective on the forecheck, and his physicality is sorely missed.

Dwayne Roloson - He was the early season hero much like he was the hero in the playoffs, but Roli has been inconsistent at times. It seems when the team played badly, Roli played well, and when Roli played well, the team played badly. Despite this, he's still over .500, has got a +.900 SV%, and is 6th in the league in saves. He just needs some help.

Petr Sykora - His early season success has been marred by his quarter season disappearing act. Now that his best friend Hemsky is playing hurt, I don't expect his team point lead will last.

Daniel Tjarnqvist - He's gotten #1 defenceman ice time, to benched, to hurt. Tjarnqvist has at times been the hero, and at times the goat. But in my opinion, this is a better team with Tjarnqvist playing than when he's not. I had pretty low expectations from the beginning of the year, and he has definately exceeded them.

Patrick Thoresen - The Oiler's newest Norweigan member has been on of their most consistent players. His positional play is outstanding, and he's often involved in good scoring chances. My main gripes are his lack of finish, his lack of speed and sometimes, his lack of compete.

Ladislav Smid - No, he is not the Oiler's top defenseman (I think that probably goes to Staios), but he's played about as well as any 20 year old defenseman I've ever seen (save Phaneuf), and for a guy who was borderline on even making the team at season's start, its an impressive feat.

Jussi Markannen - Jussi started the season a bit soft but has picked up his game a bit in the few games he's played lately. Showed he still has some magic left when he beat Carolina again in December, and I think he should be played more often. Has a .500 record which is not bad for a backup.

Raffi Torres - Keeping up his physical presence every night is an unfair request to make, but he needs to bring it more often than he does, because when Torres hits, good things happen. Is not consistent enough in any part of his game. To his credit, he's a + 7.

Marc-Andre Bergeron - To be fair, MA should really be playing about 12-14 minutes a night, but he's been forced into much more of a top 4 role. Bergeron plays very consistently, in that he consistently gives the puck away in the defensive zone. Bergeron is tied for 2nd in Oilers PPGs with Stoll (first is Smyth, obviously).

Steve Staios - In past seasons, Staios has been voted by his teammates as the Oiler's MVP. He's a great leader on this team who does anything to help the team win. Unfortunately his shortcomings are being exposed - Staois is not a strong skater and sometimes he simply tries to do too much. Despite this, he's a great #4 defenseman, and the team is desperately awaiting his return.

Jason Smith - Despite having the team's worst +/- for a period of time, Smith has climbed back to a somewhat respectable -3. His situation is similar to Staios, he's a great 2nd grouping defenceman, or a complimentary #2 guy to a very speedy skilled #1 guy (Pronger), but with the Oilers' lack of defensive depth, Smith is called on for too many things too often.

Toby Petersen - Toby doesn't do anything extremely well (despite Craig Simpson's insistence he is a PP QB), but he doesn't do anything really badly either. He is a great utility player, it just so happens he plays on a team that desperately needs him to be more.

Matt Greene - For all intents and purposes Matt Greene is a rookie defenceman who at this time is actually the veteran on his pairing. Sure, Greene is slow, sometimes makes bad puck decisions, and is a weak skater, but he brings toughness and pretty good pose for his experience. Think of him as a young Jason Smith.

Mathieu Roy - Roy has played pretty well in almost all areas of the game; Outlet passes, in zone coverage, pinch decisions. But his 1-1 play has been extremely questionable, and thats sort of an important skill set for a defenseman in the NHL.

Sean Horcoff - Big expectations coming into this season, Horc has been snakebitten in terms of points, and he (whether through miscommunication or something else) has been making an awful lot of mistakes in the defensive zone. Will need to transform into the player he was last year if this team is to have any success.

Marty Reasoner - This has been an on and off year for Reasoner. After playing a beauty game against Chicago in late Novevember, Reasoner followed it up with two -2 games in a row. His -12 is simply not good enough from a guy who should be a defensive specialist. He's ranked 11th in the league in faceoff percentage though.

Brad Winchester - For a period of time in late November-early December, Brad Winchester was the best player on this team. Unfortunately he has not been able to consistently deliver the package he should - Size, toughness, intimidation, and a drive towards the net.

C -
Joffrey Lupul - Fairly or not, Lupul will be compared to Pronger, but Lupul is no Pronger. He's been soft on the puck, he tends not to make good plays at either end, and he's got the 2nd worst +/- on the team, despite often playing with Ryan Smyth. He is tied for 3rd in terms of goals on the team though.

Petr Nedved - Nedved's only been here a short time, so his report will be short. His point production has increased here and he gave Smith some innovative help on the backcheck. However, his +/- has only gotten worse, and his physical game has been laughably bad.

Marc-Antione Pouliot - Listening to Lowetide you would think Pouliot was supposed to be the second coming of Hemsky, but lets face it, thats never going to happen. Pouliot needs to make the major league jump soon or its not going to happen at all.
Jean-Francois Jaques

Jean-Francois Jacques - 19 games, 0 points, -9, 11 shots. Thats just unnacceptable.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Grudge Match!

Well, tonight is the rematch for last Saturday's game, but expect tonight's game to have a more physical edge. Horcoff was on tv last night saying the Flames are going to have to work for everything they get, and with all the criticism the Oilers have been taking regarding Boogaard's hit on Hemsky, the Oilers have recalled tough guy Zach Stortini.

In the Flames corner is Eric Godard, who has already KO'd the aforementioned Boogaard.

I give the initial fight to Godard by quite a bit, he seems to be the more skilled fighter, but give Stortini credit, he hung in better than Boogaard. Since this will be the second fight between the two, it will be referred to me as the Grudge Match. If Stortini wins or ties this one, we can call the next fight the Rubber Match.

The edge goes to the Flames, even on the road, against a woefully inept Oilers defence.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Oilers vs. Ducks - Hanging by a thread...

To say the Oilers need to win tonight is probably a bit of an understatement. To say they've stunk lately is an understatement. But these Ducks are ripe for the (hunting?) - no Pronger, no Francois Beauchemin, and most likely no JS Giguere. I would also like to point out that statistically at least, playoff shutout record maker Bryzgalov has been playing terribly. I know this because I have him in Fantasy Hockey. Dammit.

But for far more interesting and in depth pre-game analysis, direct yourself to The Battle of California who astutely point out that both teams are now Prongerless.

Finny over at girl with a puck there is no pregame up as of yet, but rarely a day goes by that Finny doesn't make an entry, so if there is no pregame up by gametime, I would expect a post game. Don't disappoint me Finny!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mid Term Grades - Calgary

Well at this point the season is half over so I thought it's a good time to evaluate player performances this season. Grades assessed are partly due to impact, partly due to expectation.

Jarome Iginla - Mr. Everything. He scores, sets em up, hits, fights, kills penalties, and was having a career year points wise.

Miikka Kiprusoff - Is coming back from early season question marks to provide the Flames with a more than fair chance to win every night, regardless of how 'with it' everyone else is.

Matthew Lombardi - The young centreman has given Calgary something they've desperately needed: Speed. Night in and night out he's been one of Calgary's most consistent players.

Roman Hamrlik - The former fan punching bag (I'll take credit for that) has come back this season to be one of Calgary's best defenceman at both ends of the rink. Tied with Langkow for best +/- on the team.

Kristian Huselius - After being benched and criticized (especially by Hockeygirl Huselius has become an offensive force for the Flames. He's been even better since Iginla got hurt.

Daymond Langkow - Daymond is arguably more of a B+ but his slow first 1/4 kept him to a very solid B. He's now skating better, has more of a physical presence, is setting up guys and putting the puck in the net.

Dion Phaneuf - Dion has been very good for the Flames, doing his usual shtick (hitting, scoring,) especially as a second year ice time muncher. But Dion has been very inconsistent at times.

Rhett Warrener - Rhettsky (or Rhettro) is having his best year as a Flame, perhaps the most consistent defenceman on the team. Warrener is never going to blow you away with his offensive skills, but if you want a guy to consistently and quietly do his job, Warrener is your man.

Jamie Mclennan - Hard to get a read on Noodles this year with only 4 games played, but he's stolen 5 out of a possible 8 points. 2W, 1OTL, 1L in regulation. That's all you can ask out of your backup.

Mark Giordano - Giordano is the Flames #7 defenceman, but he plays more like a top 5 guy. He looks better and better as the season goes on, he plays well with the puck, he's speedy. He does need to learn to pick his spots better, but this guy will have a long NHL career.

Alex Tanguay - Calgary's $5 million man has been at times brilliant, and at times unbelievably frustrating. Calgary needs Tanguay to bring his 'A' game every night.

Byron Ritchie - Lord Byron takes his third line shift ice time and makes the most of it every night. Add to that his recent flash and production playing up on the 2nd line, and you have to like what Ritchie brings to this team.

Robyn Regehr - Robyn has been very good in his own zone without the puck, on 1-1s and on the PK. But Regehr's game with the puck has receded this year.

Andrew Ference - Ference is like Warrener, you know what you're going to get every game. He brings it physically (as much as a smaller guy can), he gives you decent outlet passes, and he tends to make good decisions on the point. Can at times overcommit though.

Stephane Yelle - Sandbox was hurt for a lot of the early season but while he's been around he's still a top PK guy.

David Moss - because small samples tend to the extreme, Moss gets a B- for his early Flame efforts. He's got timely goals, including a game winner, and he's just generally created havoc for opponents.

Brandon Prust - for the few games he played for Calgary he did exactly what was expected of him. Forecheck, skate extremely hard and make solid hits.

Eric Goddard - For the three games he played, Goddard was a physical presence and in his one official fight he knocked out heavyweight Derek Boogaard.

Dustin Boyd - He hasn't had a lot of points, but he's often around when goals are being scored. Only gets 4th line ice time but seems to make the most of it.

Marcus Nilson - Nilson hasn't had a terrible season but I think he's taken a step back in terms of his impact to the team.

Tony Amonte - Tony is having another ho-hum season, he's been very mediocre most of the time. He's around chances, he gets chances, but he no longer has any scoring touch at all.

Ritchie Regehr - hard to rate Ritchie the younger at all, but he's been about what you'd expect from a 7-8 defenceman, which is to say, he's not been great.

Chuck Kobesew - Kobesew's time to be an impact player in this league is quickly ticking away. Much less hyped players have overtaken him in terms of impact to this team and they don't get the minutes or linemates.

Jamie Lundmark - His time to be an impact player in the league is basically gone. The only difference is you barely notice his mediocrity due to his 4th line time.

Brad Ference - Sort of like Regehr the Younger, but worse.

Jeff Friesen - Friesen essentially took over Donovan's role, and is not nearly as good. His first goal of the season was timely, but he needs to do it more.

Andrei Zyuzin - Is Calgary's worst defenceman by far. Will not play for this team next year.

Darren McCarty - To be fair to Darren, he is 'hurt.' But his days of being an even moderately useful player are done as far as I can tell.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Head to Head

One of them was drafted in the 7th round (215th overall) by the Edmonton Oilers in 2000, but went unsigned, re-entered the draft in 2002 and was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 3rd round (90th overall). In his first year as an NHLer his team went to the Stanley Cup final and lost by 1 goal in the 7th game.

The other was drafted in the 2nd round (46th overall) by the Calgary Flames in 2000, went unsigned (due to a now infamous malfunctioning fax machine), re-entered the draft in 2002 and was re-drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round (36th overall). In his 2nd full NHL season his team went to the Stanley Cup final and lost by 2 goal in the 7th game.

I am of course talking about Matthew Lombardi and Jarret Stoll (respectively) and I can't think of two other current players who have such similar and intertwined early NHL careers.

While Jarret Stoll was heavily criticized by the Oiler fandom early in the season for not taking full advantage of his 'soft minutes,' he has arguably become the Oilers best overall player over the last month. Initially Stoll looked like he had the career potential of a very good 3rd line shutdown player and he played the role very well. Somewhere along the way the Oilers started utilizing him on the point during the power play and Stoll has found himself a nice little niche there with his stunningly accurate one timer. In my opinion he is in fact one of the better forwards (defensive wise) on the point during the powerplay because; he tends to make good pinching decisions, and, although he doesn't look pretty, he does a great job shutting down the advancing opposition forwards on a break. He's on pace for a career year statistically, but, just as important for Stoll, he makes good things happen on the ice, whether its a block, a hit, a heads up pass, (as I write this Stoll is breaks up a PP for the Wild with a pass cut off into a breakaway)etc.

Matthew Lombardi was having himself a nice little rookie year for Calgary when a playoff concusion derailed it, and then his sophmore season was put off due to various injuries. This year though, paired with Huselius, Lombardi has really been able to showcase what he's capable of offensively. His footspeed is simply sublime and I would feel very confident estimating he's among the fastest in the NHL, if he is not actually the fastest, and it is that speed, combined with some decent offensive instincts, which make Lombardi such a dangerous opponent. His smart defensive play has lead him to increased penalty kill time and he's 2nd in the league in terms of short handed markers. He is 3rd on the Flames in terms of +/-, 2nd in terms of Game Winning Goals, and most importantly, he's provided the Flames with a legitimate 2nd line centre behind Daymond Langkow. Like Stoll, Lombardi is also a guy who does more than put up numbers, as the numerous offensive chances he creates forces the opposition to turn over the puck, take penalties and take some of the defensive coverage away from Iginla.

One of the things I find most interesting about these two guys is that on paper they would seem to fit in so much better with their original draft team. Lombardi's speed is classic 'Oiler's Hockey' (as Kevin Lowe calls it), and Stoll's defensive mindset and grittyness is much more typical of the game the Calgary Flames play game in game out. But perhaps thats what makes these two guys so effective on their respectve teams, they provide the odd man out service. Lombardi adds a element of speed and finesse to a grind it out club, and Stoll provides the sandpaper to Edmonton's finesse.

In any event, these are, in my opinon, two of the most important guys to keep an eye out for in tonight's Hockey Day in Canada 'Battle of Alberta' classic. Lombardi has been flying since game 1 and Stoll has been one of Edmonton's few positives over the last month.

In case you don't know what Hockey Day is, I highly recommend taking in the events CBC will be brodcasting throughout the day. Some of it is pure cheese, but its really a unique television event. Too often it's easy to get caught up in the fortunes of the local NHL team and forget that hockey is being played on so many different levels, by so many different people, being supported by thousands of terrific volunteers who coach teams, maintain rinks (outdoor especially), ferry kids back and forth from 6am practice, who give players room and board if they are from a foreign city, etc. etc. etc. Their stories are the stories of hockey, and to me, nothing is more Canadian than having a day to celebrate our national sport.

Hockey Day starts at 12ET today on CBC, live from Nelson BC, at 2ET, Montreal plays Ottawa, at 7ET Toronto plays Vancouver, then at 10ET Calgary plays Edmonton.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

No Rory? Jokes' on the Fans...

Well it appears Don Cherry, Wayne Gretzky and Kelly Hrudey got their wish – Likeable journeyman Rory Fitzpatrick will not be in the All-Star game. Although I greatly admire and respect each of these men, I think they have failed to see the forest for the trees.

Like the first past the post voting system, the embarrassment that is fan-voting continues to punish players in small-markets and over-reward players in big markets. While could be Hart Trophy candidate Jarome Iginla (on a career pace, and simply dominating) is off the first ballot, as is highest goal/game in the league ‘grinder’ Ryan Smyth, as is the mini-dynamo Steve Sullivan, or the revitalized Teemu Selanne.

And that’s just the Western Conference.

Who was picked ahead of these three deserving athletes? The underwhelming Jonathan Cheechoo who has been hurt, and when healthy hasn’t even been having a great season. Now, arguably the duel Joes (Thornton and Sakic) have had good seasons, but neither in my opinion have had the same impact Smyth, Sullivan or Iginla have.

In the West, alternate Hart Trophy candidate Martin Broduer lost first ballot to a good, but not nearly as good Ryan Miller. Martin Broduer is pretty much the only reason the Devils are even in the league this year. And Brian Campbell? After all the talk about mediocre defenceman making it…I’m not saying Brian Campbell isn’t a very good 3 or 4 defenceman, but he is simply not on the same level as someone like Jay Bouwmeester.

I agree with Gretzky that only deserving players should go to the All-Star game. That’s exactly why All-Star voting should end as of now.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Big Skates to Fill...

With Jarome Iginla out at least a week (lets face it, probably 3-4 weeks), the Flames will need multiple players to step out of the shadows of mediocrity and come to play every night. Byron Ritchie proved the other night that he is more than capable of filling and surpassing the role the disappointing Chuck Kobasew plays. Alex Tanguay had a 3 point night playing with Lombardi and Kobasew, but if Tanguay believes that takes him off the hook, he is dreadfully mistaken. Since Tanguay's dissapointing start to the season he has been criticized in the media for being nothing more than a supplemental scorer, first behind Sakic, and now Iginla. If there was any chance for Tanguay to prove he can handle the load, this is it.

Kristian Huselius is another man with a question mark after his name. As I've stated numerous times on this blog, I love how he plays, he's a very important member of this team; but can Juice make the most of tough first line minutes, or is his success due almost fully to the presence of Jarome Iginla taking heat from other team's top defenceman?

Will the hurt Daymond Langkow become invisible once his best friend in the whole world isn't around, or will he be able to prove that his impressive stats and sublime gameplay aren't just a biproduct of having Jarome Iginla as his wingman.

The hapless pair of Jeff Friesen and Tony Amonte will not be expected to step up, only because they've been so bad everybody has forgotten they used to be somewhat useful hockey players. Jeff Friesen called his last season in Anaheim 'an embarressement,' so one can only imagine the personal shame he's feeling now. Perhaps that shame is overcome by his hefty $1.6 million paycheque though, as Friesen continues to show very little heart or visible desire to be a help to this team.

Tony Amonte on the other hand, is nothing but hardwork, unfortunately it appears he no longer has the skillset neccessary to score goals. On last Thursday's game versus the Panthers, Amonte was given multiple chances to make a positive impact on the game. He received set up after set up but couldn't convert, although he did manage an assist on a pretty set up play by Warrener.

In my opinion, this is the list of people needed to step up if the Flames are to have success without their captain. Whether the Flames crash and burn like the Oilers without Ryan Smyth, or succeed like the Maple Leafs without Mats Sundin, is a question that will be answered very quickly.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Tonight was a battle from start to finish, and we did a fucking great job!"

Jonathan Toews, I couldn't have said it any better myself. Congratulations to Team Canada for defeating Team Russia 4-2 in the Gold final of the U-20 World Jr. Hockey Championships. This is Team Canada's 3rd Gold Medal in a row!

The Tournament Awards break down as follows:
Most Valuable Player - Carey Price, G, Canada
All-star team
Goaltender: Carey Price, Canada
Defencemen: Erik Johnson, U.S., Kristopher Letang, Canada.
Forward: Alexei Cherepanov, Russia; Patrick Kane, U.S.; Jonathan Toews, Canada.
IIHF Best Player Awards
Goaltender: Carey Price, Canada
Defenceman: Erik Johnson, U.S.
Forward: Alexei Cherepanov, Russia

Also titled 'Idiot Misses the Net' on YouTube

After Gino Reda gave Stefan a minus yesterday on Plus/Minus for being such a disappointment, he goes and does this. Wow.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Price is Right or Toewed by the Bell

In a game where everything seemed decided by the start of the third period, Canada gutted out a 7th round shootout victory over the United States to advance to the U-20 World Jr. Championship gold medal game.

The Americans, counted out by many (including myself) early in the tournament, looked like a completely different team than the one the Canadians faced last week. With a forecheck and puck possession game that seemed to befuddle team Canada, the Americans lead at the halfway mark with a goal by Oilers prospect and team USA captain Taylor Chorney. The goal was a PP that banked in off of Marc Stall's skate, who looked to the sky in frustration after surrendering the first go-behind goal against Canada. While the American PP dealt a crucial blow to the Canadians, the Canadian PP looked anemic at best.

Halfway through the game my idea was to give my 'therealdeal' of the night award to the American PK unit, who dominated the Canadians by blocking virtually every Canadian shot and forcing the Canadians into bad plays. Kris Russel, the player who Pierre Maguire has been lauding for having the ability to get shots to the net, looked absolutely lost and had his worst game of the tournament by far.

During the 2nd intermission, things looked bleak for Canada. Bob Mackenzie talked about how this was a test for Canada, and how this was the first time they faced adversity in this tournament. I couldn't have agreed more with Bob, although my particular conclusion was that Canada was done. They looked terrible, they looked defused, they looked broken. The two bright spots were Carey Price, making what was essentially a perfect effort and keeping Canada in a game they shouldn't have been, and Marc Stall dominating defensively, using his body to make some big hits and using his long reach to defuse several potential scoring opportunities for the Americans.

But from the first faceoff in the third, the Canadians looked like a different hockey team. Players like Kristopher Letang began to win battles along the offensive zone blueline. Eventually the Americans were forced into taking another penalty, then another, leading to a Canadian 5-3 advantage. While the Americans killed off the first penalty, they were not so lucky the second time around, with an otherwise lacklustre Luc Bourdon nailing a one timed shot top corner. While the Americans complained 16 year old Sam Gagne (who was the penalized player the Americans scored their PP marker) was in the crease, the replay clearly showed it was a clean goal.

In overtime, the Americans once again used their speed and puck control to dominate the play. Eventually Kris Letang made a mental mistake and he lazily one handidly high sticked Jack Johnson who was in on the forecheck. The Canadians caught a very lucky break in that the referee only called a 2 minute minor on a high stick that undoubtedly drew blood.

Enter the Carey Price show once again. Up 4 men to 3 because of the 4-4 overtime format, the Americans patiently waited for their chances on the PP. Eric Johnson masterfully quarter backed the PP, even as the boos reigned down upon him from the Canadian fans, still bitter after Johnson's last minute cheap shot on Downie in last years matchup. But every time the Americans got a chance, Price shut them down, and as the last seconds of the 2 minute straight without a whistle PP for the Americans died down, Ryan Parent, after heroically playing the full PK got off the ice, and the Canadians again bent but did not break. With nothing solved in the OT period, even with the Americans outshooting Canada 12-2, the game headed to the dreaded but dramatic shootout.

This is where I witnessed what I believe to be possibly the single greatest individual effort in all of sports history. While Canada won the cointoss and elected to shoot first, initial shooters for both teams (Downie for Canada, Patrick Kane for USA) were shut down, the second scorers for both teams potted a goal (Bryan Little for Canada, and Peter Muller for the Americans). That is where Jonathan Toews stepped in. After scoring a penalty shot goal against the Americans in the round robin matchup of this year, I felt it was unlikely Toews would be successful again. Just look at shootout percentages for NHL shooters in SOs and penalty shots. 50% is an impressive number in the SO. But Canada needed this goal, now.

But score Toews did, nailing a perfect shot low blocker on American goalie Jeffrey Frazee, who played an outstanding game himself. Jack Johnson replied for the Americans a shot later.

After 3 shooters each, the SO moved to 1 round sudden death, in which you could use any shooter you wanted from the previous rounds. Bryan Little, on his second shot, missed, and the Americans had a chance to put the game away. But once again, Carey Price stepped in, stopping Kane on the shootout. Canada went back to Toews for the next shot? What was it I said earlier about successive shots? But again, Toews confidently fired the puck into the top right corner of the net, hitting post and in on what could only be described as a perfect shot. Jack Johnson once again replied for the Americans, an impressive feat by itself. Cogliano shot next for Canada, slamming one in low glove side, and once again, the Americans replied with a goal, fending off elimination.

Finally, Toews stepped up one more time. As he went in it looked like American goaltender Fracee had Toews beat. Toews however had other plans, and he fired it past Frazee for what is essentially a 4th straight one-one goalie battle, (one penalty shot, 3 shootout shots). Peter Muller shot for the Americans, but Price once again stood tall, shutting down Muller's attempted 5 hole shot.

And thats the way the game was. Canada faces the winner of the second semi-final today in the final on Friday.

therealdeal of the night: Obviously Carey Price and Jonathan Toews played a huge role in this game, but for my money, the best non goalie of the match had to be Marc Stall. While the rest of this vaunted defensive group looked tentative, unprepared, overmatched, slow, Marc Stall lead the way, dominating everytime he came near the puck. He was Canada's best player over 70 minutes of play, getting in the way of American players, eliminating opposition offensive efforts down low, making fantastic breakout passes (which were sorely lacking today), getting his long reach and big stick involved in the play, and just generally staying calm amidst what was at one point a sea of panic.

edit: and for those readers wondering why I spelled it 'Muller' instead of 'Mueller,' well I originally had it 'Mueller' but the official game summary provided by Hockey Canada had it spelled 'Muller.' Officially, I'm almost positive it's spelled 'Mueller.'

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Desperation sets in...

Well right now the news is coming out that the Oilers have claimed Petr Nedved off waivers from the Flyers and I can only call the move a desperate one made by a desperate man. Having said that, there are multiple reasons it isn't a terrible move.

Because Nedved was pulled off the waiver wire, the Flyers get the unenviable task of paying for half of whats left on Nedved's contract this year, so the Oilers get the enigmatic centre for a potential bargain.

As Petr's model wife sheds a single tear at having been sent back to Edmonton, I like the idea of picking up Nedved for no other reason than screwing one of the "Former Oiler Bitter Wives Club." Its hard to say how Nedved himself will react - on one hand, he's got an unhappy wifey to go home to, but in another, hes out of the sunken ship that is the Flyers (and into the sinking ship that is the Oilers). But ever since he left the Oilers his fortunes have plumeted, and I would think there is some part of him that still has a desire to succeed in the NHL, to be a premier player again. Whether that will happen or not is debatable.

Nedved has been on and off the waiver wire all this year, and is a combined -20 for the 21 games he's played with the Flyers. He's also only got 1 goal, 6 assists. So how does he fit into this Oiler team?

To make room, Thoresen was sent down to the minors, which I think is the right move. If you ask me, the Oilers need to get back to playing rock em sock em hockey and Thoresen just isn't that type of guy. Sure, neither is Nedved, but at worst its a lateral move. I think in recent weeks its becoming increasingly obvious that for whatever reason Sean Horcoff simply cannot do the job of a number 1 centre, at least this year. I haven't given up on Horc, but sometimes guys just have bad years, and I don't think you could label this anything other than a bad year for Horcoff. Jarett Stoll though, the man who many believed could only be a PP specialist and who faded in the second half last year, has become the Oiler's best centreman, and at times arguably their best player.

I think the smartest thing right now is to shelter Horcoff a bit, put him with the guys he's had success with (Hemsky, Smyth, as MacTavish did last game), put Nedved with his countryman (Sykora) and let Stolly keep doing what he's doing. In my opinion Pisani is doing the things he needs to do to be successful, Torres is inconsistant as usual, but its been the Oilers best line on average.

As for the Oilers continuing defensive coverage, I am going to suggest something bold that most other blogs have completely ignored. In my opinion, and judging from Lowe's comments the other night, there aren't a lot of good defenseman available, period. The Oilers are basically stuck with a defensive group that isn't capable of the workload being thrust upon them.

The answer lies in the way the Oilers played Detroit last year in the playoffs. Change your style of play; go to the trap. The Oilers have plenty of good, speedy forwards, many of whom are very skilled. These are the basic success elements of the trap.

While Roloson hasn't looked like anything remotely resembling good lately, he is not getting much help. Roloson needs to be put into an environment right now that he's comfortable with, he needs support from the rest of the players. I can't count how many goals have been let in off of poor defensive zone coverage over the last two weeks. While in zone coverage used to be the Oilers strength, as witnessed by their former penalty killing success rate, this is now the Oiler's biggest weakness.

I think the team as a whole needs to stop looking for someone to parachute in and save them, and to realize the ingredients for success are in the locker room. I believe in the calibre of players on this team much like I do with the calibre of player on the Flames. Right now the Oilers are a group that are less than the sum of their parts.
Up tommorow: Canada plays The United States in the World Jr. Championship Semifinal. TSN - 6:30amPT/9:30amET